Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 7, 2018

The alt-right and antifa: way past their shelf-life

Filed under: anarchism,anti-fascism,Fascism — louisproyect @ 7:53 pm

Richard Spencer (l) with his lawyer and fellow fascist Kyle Bristow (r), who has retired from politics

Despite the meltdown of Newsweek, there is still some decent reporting going on. In a piece dated March 5th, Michael Edison Hayden poses the question “Is the Alt-Right Dying?” and provides ample evidence to the affirmative. Needless to say, this will have consequences for the adventurist-prone elements of the anarchist movement that takes its cue from Mark Bray’s “Anti-Fascist Handbook” rather than the Marxist classics. Among Hayden’s findings:

–Kyle Bristow, an attorney and key ally to Richard Spencer was dropping out of politics a day before he was slated to host a white nationalist conference in Detroit, Michigan.

–Richard Spencer was only able to attract an audience of 30 to 40 people at a talk he gave at Michigan State on March 5th. As expected, the antifa people came there spoiling for a fight and got one. Perhaps the arrest of 24 antifa activists, 12 on weapons felony charges that carries a five year prison term, might persuade others of a similar inclination that another approach is needed when seen in cost-benefit terms. After all, Spencer got media coverage that a talk to a tiny audience ignored by the left would have never generated.

–After Spencer aligned with the Traditionalist Workers Party led by Matthew Heimbach, the Daily Stormer began to deride the alliance since it saw Heimbach as “good-natured but socially awkward fat kid” whose “communist” rhetoric would turn people off from the fascist cause. Heimbach is consciously modeling himself on Gregor Strasser, not likely the sort of thing that will draw the average bigot into his ranks. As for Spencer, it seems that he is a huge fan of Chapo Trap House.

Remember when an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley provoked the kind of fighting that some viewed as a precursor of a virtual civil war of the kind seen in Weimar Germany in the late 20s? His appearance on the Bill Maher show convinced some that we had to get ready for some kick-ass street-fighting (at least if you were under 25 and had an excess of testosterone.)

Now, Yiannopoulos is yesterday’s news. To a large extent, the cancellation of a big book contract by Simon and Schuster had something to do with that. Unlike Bill Maher, Yiannopoulos’s editor was not particularly taken by him as his feedback to the half-wit would indicate:

Comment [A3]: Avoid parenthetical insults—they just diminish your authority. Throughout the book you’re [sic] best points seem to be lost in a sea of self-aggrandizement and scattershot thinking.

Comment [A185]: This is definitely not the place for more of your narcissism.

Comment [A293]: …You can’t just toss out poorly thought out theories about “going back into the closet,” as you might in a college lecture.

Comment [A407]: Tiresome and off the point.

Comment [A418]: The whole chapter is a problem in tone. Your usual style NEGATES any value your information might have.

Comment [A424]: Ego and self-aggrandizement backfire in book.

(For other editorial comments, read here.)

Perhaps the biggest factor in the marginalization of both the alt-right and antifa is how clearly the focus has shifted toward the “normal” functioning of the state rather than any fascist movement that by its very definition aims at the overthrow of the state. One can understand why the Krupps would have funded Adolf Hitler in 1925 but why in the world would the Kochs fund Richard Spencer when Trump and company are doing such a great job at smashing what’s left of the welfare state? Keep in mind that Hitler was needed to destroy the Weimar Republic, which despite all its flaws was far to the left of the DSA’s most utopian dreams of socialism.

Another thing to keep in mind is that anybody with their head screwed on right recognizes that the embryo of mass resistance to Trumpism was on display in West Virginia this week when schoolteachers inspired by the legacy of militant coal miner resistance to the bosses went out on strike and won a 5 percent pay raise that is almost unheard of in today’s austere economic environment. I worked 21 years at Columbia University and never got more than a 2 percent raise.

It is funny to see how the anarchists reacted to the strike. On the It’s Going Down website, you can read an article about the strike by an IWW member who after writing several thousand words about how important it was decides to distinguish his revolutionary purity from the ordinary resistance of ordinary people:

Though, this may not be my idealized idea of struggle, I recognize that this is a working-class struggle, unique in its moment while also deeply rooted in the militant class struggle that West Virginia is famous for. I encourage us to explore the use of churches and other cultural structures that make up the fabric of sometimes rural and sometimes geographically isolated communities that many workers come from as avenues for revolutionary networking.

Maybe this person should realize that his or her “idealized idea of struggle” (idealized idea? Talk about redundancy) should be laid to rest. Struggles grow organically out of the lived experience of the people who take part in them, not by reading Bakunin.

Finally, the teachers strike might drive home the reality that armed groups like Redneck Revolt have passed their shelf life. The real struggle in West Virginia is not having shoot-outs with a practically non-existent neo-Nazi movement but trying to figure out ways to build the mass movement. That takes brains, not trigger fingers.

August 28, 2017

The Ugly Side of Antifa

Filed under: anarchism,black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 11:30 pm

Yesterday, at the anti-Alt-Right rally in Berkeley, I watched groups of masked Antifa members in Black Bloc formation swarm individuals who were apparently antagonizing them, and pummel them with their fists, feet, and flagpoles. When the victims tried to escape, they were run down, and in at least one case, cut off by the Antifa mob and beaten down some more. In the incidents I witnessed, about 5 or 6 Antifa members at a time participated in the attacks, while perhaps 100 others stood behind them, forming an impenetrable wall that blocked bystanders from intervening, or documenting the violence on camera. Those people would also help chase the victims when they fled.

In one case, as a crowd of non-Black Bloc protesters yelled at the assailants to let their victim go, an Antifa activist yelled, “He’s a Nazi!” over and over again, justifying the assault. Then, abruptly, maybe after realizing that the victim was not, in fact, a white nationalist, he changed his mantra. “He doesn’t have to be a Nazi!” he now shouted. The suggestion was that even if the victim wasn’t a fascist, he still deserved to be beaten. For what was unclear. Maybe because he supported Trump? Or he objected to Antifa’s tactics? Or refused to do something they ordered him to do? Who knew? The only thing those of us watching from a few yards away could tell was that a man, by himself, was on the ground, with a bloodied face, covering his head with his arms, being kicked and punched by a group of masked people, who were shielded by dozens of their comrades. My guess is that a lot of the Antifa people in the crowd who were passively assisting in the violence, including the guy yelling that he was a Nazi, didn’t know anything more than that, either.

Last week, Mark Bray, a historian of Antifa, said on Trumpcast, Slate’s podcast on all things Trump, that Antifa members are “some of the most caring and compassionate people I’ve met.” I just finished directing a short documentary about the online origins of the Alt Right, for which we interviewed several Antifa members, and I can affirm his depiction. To a person, our interviewees cared deeply about egalitarianism and anti-racism, and spent much of their day-to-day lives either working professionally or volunteering for organizations and in activist groups that fought for the social and economic rights of the disenfranchised. They gave eloquent and persuasive explanations for why fascism must be confronted head-on, with tactics up to and including violence.

But parsing out the nuances of moral justifications for violence in a quiet room somewhere is an entirely different thing than standing in a park with a mask on and a flag in your hand, with hundreds of your comrades, and making snap decisions about whose ass to beat and whose not to. Or whether to back up your comrades when they start beating someone up, when you have no idea how the altercation even began, or who the victim is. Or whether to go online afterwards and claim that everyone who got beat deserved it because they were all Nazis.

What happened in practice in Berkeley yesterday was that anybody who challenged the Black Bloc made themselves a target, whether they were a white supremacist looking to stir shit up (and there were maybe five or six of those in a crowd of thousands), or a liberal who yelled their disapproval at their tactics, or a reporter taking pictures after being commanded to stop. If you pissed someone in the Black Bloc off, and someone came after you, the rest of the bloc followed. Suddenly you were facing a hostile mob, the time for arguing your case expired, literally fearing for your life.

I was at the protest with a film crew, working on a documentary. We were in a public park. It was a big news event, where everybody knew there would be media. Activists in the Black Bloc were concealed by sunglasses and ski masks to protect their identity for exactly this reason. They carried flags and banners, to make themselves a spectacle. Yet for their personal security, many of them decided that it was their right to command photographers not to take their pictures, to physically block them from doing so, and if they persisted, to smash their equipment and assault them. That’s what apparently happened to the guy who the Antifa member kept calling a “Nazi,” until he changed his mind. One of my filmmaking partners and I got pushed around by Antifa, too. We were targets because we had cameras. The only reason we didn’t get administered a beat down is because when we were ordered (not asked) to point our cameras elsewhere, we only pushed our right to film them so far. Had we pushed it a bit farther, we probably would have ended up with some smashed equipment and black eyes.

There was a moment of triumph during the demonstration, before all the violence began, when just after facing what looked like the beginning of a confrontation with the Black Bloc, the police line that surrounded the park retreated, the checkpoints into the park, where police were searching bags for contraband, were taken down, and everybody outside of the perimeter flooded onto the field. Following upon the unambiguous victory over the Alt Right in San Francisco the prior day, it should have been the capstone of the weekend. The Alt Right had surrendered; the people had taken their public space back from both the “fascists” and the police. But it probably hadn’t been an hour before that feeling dissipated entirely. Soon, it was Antifa, instead of the police, who were occupying the park. The rest of the crowd, who many of the masked radicals probably disdained as wimpy, bourgeois liberals, shrank from the violence that had begun to overtake the scene, as well as the yelling and the physical domination and the general sense of schoolyard bullying emanating from the massive Black Bloc. At one point I turned around and all I could see was Antifa. They had spread throughout the park, and everybody else had gone home.

When you criticize Antifa members or their defenders for the tactic of mob violence, the reflexive response is usually something like, “There are literal Nazis marching in the streets, and you’re attacking us over your precious little non-violence principles?” But Antifa doesn’t have a monopoly over concern for what’s happening in this country. They’re no more woke than the squishy liberals who showed up to protest with their signs and their voices and not with their fists. The revulsion to violence on the part of most people on the left, from liberal to radical, is not born of naïveté over the scale of the right-wing threat. It’s the expression of basic moral principle, as well as a pragmatic political understanding that random mob violence by masked vigilates on the left isn’t going to defeat the Alt Right. In the Bay Area this weekend, the Alt Right was already defeated. All Antifa did was transform that message of people-powered victory into a cascade of headlines bolstering Trump’s “both sides” talking point.

The revulsion to Antifa’s violence is also an indication of the paucity of trust Antifa has established with much of the wider, non-activist world. People want the white nationalist movement smashed into dust; that’s why they’re showing up by the thousands and the tens of thousands to protests against the Alt Right. That doesn’t mean they want to hand leadership over to a subcultural vanguardist movement that barks at them from behind masks and shields and threatens to beat those who disagree with them into submission.

Most Antifa members are anarchists. It was an ironic thing to see these anti-authoritarian, anti-government activists essentially acting as a de facto state on that little quarter acre of lawn, ordering photographers around, deciding who could be in the park and who couldn’t, responding to dissent — even from liberals — with physical confrontation, and dishing out violence on whoever they decided deserved it, whether they were a “Nazi,” a non-compliant liberal protester, or a reporter with a camera. It was a bleak alternative to the far right dystopia we face under Trump. It was much more like the last days of the Occupy movement than like the first. It was dark, it was scary, and it was ugly.

(This appeared originally at http://leightonwoodhouse.com/the-ugly-side-of-antifa/)

August 20, 2017

Boston and Vancouver, models for the anti-fascist struggle

Filed under: anarchism,Fascism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

One of the difficulties I faced in writing about antifa adventurism was the lack of a positive example. Someone derided me for referring to the struggle with the KKK that I and other socialists were involved with in Houston in the early 70s. What a moldy fig I was. Didn’t I know that punching Richard Spencer in the face was the way to stop fascism?

Fortunately for me and fortunately for the need of the movement, two demonstrations epitomize exactly the approach I have been advocating. I consider them enormous successes and hope that a national movement can emerge that adopts their strategy and tactics.

Yesterday 40,000 protestors converged on Boston Commons to show their opposition to a “Free Speech” rally at the same location. As you probably know, people like Milo Yiannopoulos and his ultraright supporters have cynically been trying to get sympathy because of the bans on his appearances or attempts by small groups of antifa activists to shut them down. His freedoms are being denied, you see. Poor thing gets his chance to make his case before millions on the Bill Maher show after the antifa idiots throw a tantrum at Berkeley.

I don’t have much use for the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League but they have a useful report about the people who organized the event that they characterize as “alt-lite”, meaning people who do not use white supremacy language but vilify feminists, immigrants and Muslims.

They like to straddle the fence. For example, there’s an outfit called The Proud Boys that is led by Gavin McInnes, which calls for “Reinstating a Spirit of Western chauvinism” but dubbed the Charlottesville event as “racist”, plus the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler is a member.

Last Monday, McInnes announced that he was dropping out of the event, as would Cassandra Fairbanks, a former reporter for Sputnik. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, some of these types were getting cold feet. Angelus Invictus, a member of the military wing of the Proud Boys, announced that he was no longer going to speak.

Another featured speaker was Based Stickman, who was charged with a felony at a protest in California carrying his eponymous weapon of choice at a fascist protest. He was to be followed by Shiva Ayyadurai, an Indian-born American scientist who claims that he invented e-mail. Just by coincidence I heard him being interviewed this morning on the radio. Mostly he was defending himself from critics who consider him a fraud rather than expressing any political views. Ayyadural is running as a Republican to unseat Elizabeth Warren, making nativism a key plank. Naturally, he has been a guest on Infowars.

Apparently, the Free Speech rally fell apart a short time after it began. Scheduled from noon to 2pm, it was all over by 12:50. Probably a combination of the toxic fumes left over from Charlottesville plus the immense build-up to the counter-protest a few days before Saturday aborted the event.

Even if there wasn’t much to protest, the appearance of 40,000 disciplined and serious protestors was a major shot in the arm to a burgeoning movement. For background on the organizers on this event, who shared a socialist rather than an anarchist background, I recommend an article on The Uptake (http://theuptake.org/2017/08/19/how-boston-counter-protesters-organized-against-free-speech-rally/). It was a coalition of ANSWER Coalition and the DSA, plus a group called The Coalition To Organize And Mobilize Boston Against Trump (COMBAT) that I know nothing about. I have no way of proving this but I suspect that the DSA’s high profile helped to turn out the numbers. Good for them.

Apparently some antifa idiots tried to stage a melee as the event was winding down but they were largely ignored, thank goodness.

The same thing happened in Vancouver. An anti-Muslim rally called at City Hall drew a couple of dozen people while 4,000 counter-protestors ringed the building. As was the case in Boston, ultraleftists were marginalized.

For a full report on the action, see http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/anti-immigration-rally-at-vancouver-city-hall. As was the case in Boston as well, the fascist rally was stillborn:

At the peak of the counter-protest at around 2 p.m., when organizers from the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam Canada and the Cultural Action Party of Canada had been expected to speak out against federal immigration policy, about 4,000 people surrounded city hall, according to a police estimate.

The anti-Islam rally organizers were nowhere to be found.

This week Noam Chomsky denounced antifa activists in an interview with the rightwing Washington Examiner, a sign once again of declining judgment. If you wanted to criticize ultraleftism, it would have been much better to do it on ZNet or any of the other publications that worship at his feet. Chomsky told them, “”As for Antifa, it’s a minuscule fringe of the Left, just as its predecessors were. It’s a major gift to the Right, including the militant Right, who are exuberant.”

Stung by Chomsky’s criticism, there was the customary anonymous answer to him on Libcom, an anarchist website that along with the It’s Going Down website constitute the “punch a Nazi in the face” faction of the left.

Titled “6 reasons why Chomsky is wrong about antifa” (http://libcom.org/blog/6-reasons-why-chomsky-wrong-about-antifa-18082017), the first reason struck my eye since it referred to antifa’s predecessors being more significant that Chomsky believed and as well a party I once belonged to, I wondered how in the world they could equate their adventurism with how Trotskyists dealt with the Silver Shirt fascist movement in Minneapolis. Libcom wrote:

In Europe, they are the Red Warriors of Paris or the Revolutionary Front in Sweden. And in North America they were the Teamsters who formed a defense guard against the Silver Shirts in the 1930s, or Anti-Racist Action who took on Klansmen and the National Socialist Movement from the 1980s until very recently.

They link to an excerpt from Farrell Dobbs’s book “Teamster Politics” that is very useful in understanding how fascism was resisted in the 1930s. As even the anarchists are forced to admit, Dobbs took Leon Trotsky’s advice and formed a defense guard. As the name implied, this was an armed detachment made up of working class veterans of WWI who were charged with defending union headquarters from attack. Dobbs is quoted:

It became known immediately that Zachary’s main theme had been to call for a vigilante attack on the headquarters of Local 544….This situation called for prompt countermeasures. So Local 544, acting with its customary decisiveness, answered the threat by organizing a union defense guard during August 1938….

In the 1930s, the CIO organized defense guards during strikes all across the USA. Mostly, they used clubs or tire irons but were not above using guns if the occasion called for it. This is a far cry from today when groups like Redneck Revolt fetishize weapons as if groups led by Richard Spencer or his co-thinkers were being backed by the big bourgeoisie as was the case in the Little Steel strike when the CEO of Bethlehem Steel et al hired and armed thugs with machine guns and hand grenades.

When the leader of the Silver Shirts was scheduled to speak in St. Paul, the Teamsters sent 300 members of the defense guard to confront him. The sight of this contingent was enough to call off the meeting. Would the Teamsters have used their weapons on the people at the meeting? Of course not. That would have allowed the cops to arrest them all and break the union.

It is important to understand the context for all this. Four years before the confrontation, there was a general strike in the Twin Cities. In an article for Jacobin, Canadian historian Bryan Palmer described the assault on working people there:

The mayor backed a vindictive police force led by a chief determined to crush the workers and willing to execute strikers and strike supporters in the street if necessary. “You have shotguns, and you know how to use them,” Police Chief Johannes instructed his officers in July 1934.

A picket captain described the police carnage in one infamous battle, memorialized as “Bloody Friday”: “They just went wild. Actually they shot at anybody that moved. … they kept on shooting until all the pickets had either hid or got shelter somewhere. Oh, they meant business.” Novelist Meredel Le Sueur’s account was more gruesomely lyrical: “[T]he cops opened fire.. . . men were lying crying in the street with blood spurting from the myriad wounds buckshots make. Turning instinctively for cover they were shot in the back.. . . Not a picket was armed with so much as a toothpick.”

Two workers died on “Bloody Friday”: Henry Ness, a striker, riddled with buckshot, succumbed to his wounds almost immediately. John Bellor, an unemployed strike supporter also critically injured in the battle died, days later. Forty thousand lined the streets and marched in Ness’s funeral procession.

Many years ago when I was in the SWP, comrades used to speak about the ultraleftists of those days. They said that if you mistake the first month of a pregnancy with the ninth, you are likely to end up with a abortion. With the raw youth of the antifa movement making the same kinds of mistakes as the Weathermen in 1971, you might even say that they are mistaking the first week of the pregnancy with the last.

There are no class battles taking place today that have the slightest resemblance to those of the 1930s. Back then, combat between the workers and the class enemy was a deadly serious business. And also back then, men assigned to work in defense guards or flying battalions in militant strikes were democratically elected by trade unions and were usually members of the Communist Party or other radical groups well known to those whose class interests they were defending.

Today, we have antifa people who are only known to each other. Nobody votes to have them turn a peaceful march into a battleground. Libcom and It’s Going Down feature articles written by people cloaked in anonymity. Many of their members show up at protests with their faces covered. This is not the kind of movement we need. I hope that some of them will learn from the success of the Boston and Vancouver protests since they foreshadow the kind of movement that we need. It is hard for people to reverse themselves politically but when you are as young as them, there is hope.

August 18, 2017

The Fetishization of Violence: Reflections on Charlottesville, WWII and Activism

Filed under: anarchism,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 12:44 pm

The Fetishization of Violence: Reflections on Charlottesville, WWII and Activism

“The experience that we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is fundamentally a lie – the truth lies outside, in what we do.”

― Slavoj Žižek

A Most Violent Nation

In the United States of America, violence remains one of our greatest pastimes. From slaughtering Native Americans and enslaving, torturing and killing African Americans, to conquering Filipinos and incinerating the Vietnamese, the history of the U.S. reads like a horror story. Without question, this is a nation built and maintained by violence.

Today, Americans shoot and kill each other and themselves at unprecedented levels, and disproportionately when compared to our industrialized counterparts. Uncle Sam, as Chris Hedges routinely mentions, speaks in the “language of violence.” When children grow up watching their presidents and civic leaders threaten to use violence, it should come as no surprise when those same children resort to violence to solve their problems.

Growing up, I was immersed in violence, both personally and socially. My father’s friends spent their time on the streets. They understood how violence works in the real world. They also understood the utility of violence. But they paid the price for their devotion to violence. Many of them turned into alcoholics. Some died from drugs. Others are in jail. Their families and victims pay the ultimate price.

I was born in 1984. I grew up on COPS, Rambo and Navy Seals. I played with toy guns, and eventually, real ones. I grew up shooting. I grew up with cops and military veterans visiting our childhood homes. They spoke in the language of violence. They drank, and smoked, and cursed. They were angry. They remain angry.

Violence, when employed correctly, is extremely effective. That’s why it’s so tempting to use violence as a means to an end. People who argue that violence solves nothing have never encountered much violence. Unfortunately, violence is horrifically powerful and quite useful in many contexts. That said, the long-term social, ecological and cultural consequences of violent behavior are equally destructive.

From the perspective of a nation-state, violence can solve short-term issues, but it cannot solve complex long-term challenges such as climate change, institutional racism, militarism, etc. Right now, U.S. Empire is quickly learning the limitations of protracted violence. The U.S. Empire is collapsing under its own weight, as the historian Alfred McCoy routinely notes.

Any empire, republic, political movement or individual who bases their movement on violence will ultimately succumb to extreme violence. The more the state apparatus lashes out in violent ways, and the more rightwing extremists engage in terrorism, the more likely the Left will respond with violence (a point we’ll return to later in the essay). The cycle of violence must end, and soon.

Breaking from 400 years of colonial history and violence will not be easy, but it can be done. There is no law or rule that says we must continue down this violent and destructive path. However, much like a life-long alcoholic, it will take great efforts to change the mindset and culture that encourages people to think and behave violently. More importantly, we must dismantle the economic, cultural, social and psychological institutions and mechanisms that create the conditions for violence.

The Charlottesville—Military Connection

James Alex Fields Jr., the rightwing terrorist who drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing Heather D. Heyer and injuring another 20 people, is an Army veteran. According to media reports, Fields was a loner and a confused teenager who became interested in WWII and Nazis during his high school years. Since the attack, pictures have surfaced showing Fields participating in Vanguard America rallies.

While Fields represents the sort of misguided and irrational terrorists he likely despises, the more interesting character in this tragedy is Dylan Ulysses Hopper, the CEO of Vanguard America, and one of the primary organizers for rightwing groups who descended on Charlottesville.

Hopper, a former Marine Corps sergeant, officially became a white supremacist in 2012, around the same time he became a Marine Corps recruiter in Ohio. Quickly, Hopper ascended the ranks of Vanguard America, using his recruitment skills and military training to boost the ranks of the white supremacist organization. Hopper, a veteran of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, represents a growing trend in the U.S. military. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, citing an FBI study:

White supremacist leaders are making a concerted effort to recruit active-duty soldiers and recent combat veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new FBI report. The unclassified FBI Intelligence Assessment, titled ‘White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel Since 9/11,’ bolsters the findings of a 2006 Intelligence Report exposé that revealed that alarming numbers of racist extremists were taking advantage of lowered wartime recruiting standards to enlist in the armed services.

‘Military experience is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement as a result of recruitment campaigns by extremist groups and self-recruitment by veterans sympathetic to white supremacist causes,’ the FBI report states. ‘Extremist leaders seek to recruit members with military experience in order to exploit their discipline, knowledge of firearms, explosives and tactical skills as well as [in the case of active duty soldiers] their access to weapons and intelligence.’

Of course, none of this should come as a great surprise. An institution that’s built on racism, genocide, xenophobia, dehumanization, extreme violence and toxic masculinity should be expected to create such monsters. From the Hells Angels to the Oklahoma City bombing, white supremacists have always found comfort within the ranks of the U.S. military.

During my time in the Marine Corps, it was routine to hear my fellow jarheads refer to black marines as ‘dark green,’ or worse, ‘niggers.’ Iraqis and Afghans were referred to as ‘Hajis,’ ‘towel heads’ or ‘sand-niggers.’ Female marines were called ‘WM’s,’ which stands for ‘Walking Mattresses.’ Hispanic marines were labeled ‘wetbacks’ or ‘spics.’ And Asian marines were routinely called ‘gooks’ or ‘rice patties.’

This sort of behavior and regressive ideology is prevalent in many institutions that are dominated by white men, including sports teams, fire departments and police departments. Remember Officer Jason Lai of the San Francisco Police Department? He was the cop who got busted sending texts to fellow officers that read, “I hate that beaner but the Nig is worse!” “Indian ppl are disgusting!” And, “Burn down Walgreens and kill the bums!”

Officer Lai, of Asian American descent, fully identified with and espoused the sort of rightwing-reactionary views of his white supremacist colleagues in the SFPD. And to think, we’re talking about San Francisco, not Miami, Birmingham, St. Louis or Chicago. One can only assume that the majority of Lai’s fellow police officers in the SFPD hold similar views. One can only imagine what police officers in various departments across the U.S. think about people of color, the poor, Muslims or protesters.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we don’t have to guess as we have more than enough evidence to prove that these sort of racist and violent outbursts are not isolated incidents. Ongoing and past tragedies, from Charlottesville to Oklahoma City, are nauseatingly predictable. Institutions such as the military inherently feeds the white supremacy that plagues American society and culture.

The Myth of World War II & The Power of Propaganda

In light of recent events, online activists and others have taken to posting pictures of troops storming the beaches of Normandy as a way to tie current anti-Fascist struggles to the defeat of Italian Fascism and German Nazism during World War II. The problem with this sort of reactionary protest is that it feeds the ongoing myths surrounding WWII: namely, the notion that the U.S. got involved in the war to defeat Fascism and Nazism.

The U.S. Empire, like all previous empires, does not engage in wars because it’s the right or moral thing to do. The U.S. Empire has interests. And its interests are not our interests. If within the scope of U.S. imperial interests something positive takes place, such as the defeat of Nazism, it’s a mere coincidence, not a calculated objective. The primary objective of nation-states are not moral crusades (though moral crusades under the guise of enlightened Christianity were commonly used to dominate people around the globe), the primary objective of nation-states is to consolidate and wield power.

Without doubt, the momentary defeat of Nazism and Fascism should be hailed, but not in the way in which it’s currently being lauded. Remember, the Communists defeated Fascism, not the Americans. Some estimates suggest that the Soviet Union lost close to 27 million people during WWII. The Communists bore the brunt of Fascism and Nazism. Yet, Americans revel in the myth that our 500,000+ deaths were the deciding factor in the war effort. Let’s also remember the hundreds of thousands of anarchists, communists, socialists, Jews, Gypsies and others who valiantly fought against Fascism.

Today, the myths surrounding WWII continue to haunt the American psyche, crippling our ability to critically examine U.S. history, ideology and nationalism. Most Americans have concluded that our war against Japan was just, and our efforts against the Germans and Italians righteous. Yet, as the late-great historian Howard Zinn notes in his classic work, A People’s History of the United States:

When Mussolini’s Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, the U.S. declared an embargo on munitions but let American businesses send oil to Italy in huge quantities, which was essential to Italy’s carrying on the war. When a Fascist rebellion took place in Spain in 1936 against the elected socialist-liberal government, the Roosevelt administration sponsored a neutrality act that had the effect of shutting off help to the Spanish government while Hitler and Mussolini gave critical aid to Franco. Offner says:

“… the United States went beyond even the legal requirements of its neutrality legislation. Had aid been forthcoming from the United States and from England and France, considering that Hitler’s position on aid to France was not firm at least until November 1936, the Spanish Republicans could well have triumphed. Instead, Germany gained every advantage from the Spanish civil war.”

Was this simply poor judgment, an unfortunate error? Or was it the logical policy of a government whose main interest was not stopping Fascism but advancing the imperial interests of the United States? For those interests, in the thirties, an anti-Soviet policy seemed best. Later, when Japan and Germany threatened U.S. world interests, a pro-Soviet, anti-Nazi policy became preferable. Roosevelt was as much concerned to end the oppression of Jews as Lincoln was to end slavery during the Civil War; their priority in policy (whatever their personal compassion for victims of persecution) was not minority rights, but national power.

It was not Hitler’s attacks on the Jews that brought the United States into World War II, any more than the enslavement of 4 million blacks brought Civil War in 1861. Italy’s attack on Ethiopia, Hitler’s invasion of Austria, his takeover of Czechoslovakia, his attack on Poland-none of those events caused the United States to enter the war, although Roosevelt did begin to give important aid to England. What brought the United States fully into the war was the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Surely it was not the humane concern for Japan’s bombing of civilians that led to Roosevelt’s outraged call for war-Japan’s attack on China in 1937, her bombing of civilians at Nan king, had not provoked the United States to war. It was the Japanese attack on a link in the American Pacific Empire that did it.

So long as Japan remained a well-behaved member of that imperial club of Great Powers who-in keeping with the Open Door Policy- were sharing the exploitation of China, the United States did not object. It had exchanged notes with Japan in 1917 saying ‘the Government of the United States recognizes that Japan has special interests in China.’ In 1928, according to Akira Iriye (After Imperialism), American consuls in China supported the coming of Japanese troops. It was when Japan threatened potential U.S. markets by its attempted takeover of China, but especially as it moved toward the tin, rubber, and oil of Southeast Asia, that the United States became alarmed and took those measures which led to the Japanese attack: a total embargo on scrap iron, a total embargo on oil in the summer of 1941.

Leaving aside the justification for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, it’s important to remember that prior to WWII, the U.S. had an atrocious track-record of defending struggles for freedom and democracy.

Ask the Libyans (1801-1805), Haitians (1791-1804. 1888, 1891, 1914, 1915-1934), Cubans (1814-1825, 1906-1909, 1912, 1917-1922, 1933) Filipinos (1899-1913), Mexicans (1806-1810, 1842, 1846-1848, 1859, 1866, 1873-1896), Puerto Ricans (1814-1825), Chinese (1843, 1854, 1855, 1866, 1894-1895, 1899, 1900, 1911-1941), Russians (1918-1920), Nicaraguans (1853-1857, 1867, 1894-1899, 1910-1925), Panamanians (1856, 1865, 1885, 1912-1925), Algerians (1815), Hawaiians (1870, 1874, 1889-1893),  or Guatemalans (1920) — just to name a few occasions when the U.S. military was used to protect U.S. interests and repress struggles for freedom and democracy.

Instead of glorifying state-sanctioned violence, activists in the U.S. would be wise to highlight the real heroes of WWII, people such as Gunnar Eilifsen, those who participated in the Warsaw Uprising, Irena Sandler, Lepa Radic, and countless unnamed others who defending their families and communities from Nazism and Fascism. They weren’t drafted. And they weren’t backed by the most powerful military empire in the world. They were true resistance fighters, and we should remember their sacrifices.

Meanwhile, we should do our best to challenge U.S. nationalism, historical myths and the fetishization of violence, which has reared its ugly head in light of recent white supremacist attacks on leftwing protesters. In the end, WWII was the single-greatest tragedy in the history of the human species. And that’s exactly how it should be remembered.

Antifa, Redneck Revolt, Black Bloc and The Left

Recently, I posted an article written by Louis Proyect entitled, “Antifa and the Perils of Adventurism,” on social media and received some limited backlash, but also some interesting reflections. Unfortunately, it’s clear that many people in the U.S., including seasoned activists and organizers, are having a very difficult time processing recent events in a way that’s not overly emotional or irrational in nature.

One person wrote, “Bottom line: Either you’re with Antifa or you’re with the Fascists!” This lack of nuance is symbolic of a Left that doesn’t look in the mirror, a Left that refuses to ask serious questions about its movements, organizations and members, and a Left that lacks discipline, vision and strategy. Remember, vision should dictate strategy, which in turn dictates tactics. Today, many leftists in the U.S. have the equation backward: they focus on tactics first, fail to discuss strategy, and a lack a long-term vision.

Existing anti-Fascist groups such as Antifa and the more militant organization Redneck Revolt, have filled a vacuum at protests, but their tactics are sloppy and their strategy and vision is non-existent. The overwhelming majority of Antifa activists are white, male, middle-class and disconnected from the ongoing day-to-day efforts of organizers and activists. To be fair, some do all of the above, but that’s a rare breed.

Proyect’s point about ‘adventurism’ is well understood: I’ve encountered many ‘adventurists’ over the years, especially during the Occupy Wall Street protests. I also experienced similar phenomena at antiwar protests during the Bush Era. In Charlottesville, the evidence is clear that leftwing protesters weren’t prepared for the Right’s violence, nor were they prepared to provide security for their marches.

As I watched video clips of Fields’ grey Dodge Charger ramming into a crowd of protesters, killing one, I immediately thought to myself: “Why was no one watching their six?” — military terminology for, “Who’s covering the perimeter and our backs?” Undoubtedly, it’s easy to make such critiques from the sidelines, but I’ve been in similar situations, notably in Iraq.

If leftwing activists are serious about security, especially at protests, they would enlist the help of antiwar veterans who have the knowledge and skills to provide the sort of security that’s required at such events. We know how to set up perimeter security. We know how to conduct vehicle check-points. And we know how to stand post. We know how to march in unison, follow direct orders and give direct orders. We know how to patrol city streets, and we know how to operate in teams of 4o (platoon), 12 (squad team) and 4 (fireteam).

Each person has a specific task. Each person’s task operates in tandem with other members’ tasks and skills. Everyone is trained in these skills and tasks for months and years at a time. The training process never ends. Indeed, even in the most disciplined and strict units, grave mistakes were made. People were killed during training exercises. And plenty of folks were injured.

You see, I have no moral qualms about violence or militant resistance. In fact, in many contexts, it’s absolutely required for survival. Here, in the U.S., however, I worry that my leftwing friends are getting ahead of themselves. Should communities be able to defend themselves? Absolutely. But what does that actually look like in the real world?

I would like to break down our security dilemma into three sections:

Internal Security: Are the activists who seek to provide protection at rallies (Antifa, for instance) operating in affinity groups? If not, they should. And to be clear, there are many different forms of affinity groups. What mechanisms are they using for communication? Person-to-person is the best, but there are also supposedly secure electronic applications available. Are activists talking about their challenges and plans on social media, via email or on the web? If so, they’re breaking some of the fundamental rules of security culture. Existing leftwing organizations should be having difficult discussions about the sort of security culture they wish to see in their respective organizations. Over the past 11 years, I’ve seen very little to convince me that this sort of sophisticated organizing is taking place on a broad scale. On the other hand, leftwing activists must be careful not to over-exaggerate our security threat. I’ve seen plenty of folks fall prey to unjustified paranoia. And most of the time this happens because groups don’t have a proper security culture in place. If they did, it would be much easier to operate in a rational manner, and to easily determine who/what is a threat, and who/what is not.

Security for Events: Here, I would highly suggest that leftwing activists seek out military veterans who’ve been active in the peace and justice movement. Make sure they’re vetted. Talk to their friends. Talk to people they’ve worked with. Are they accountable to a community or organization? If not, don’t work with them. It’s that simple. Only the most seasoned activists should be allowed to work in a security capacity at events where Fascists and white supremacists are expected to show up, or in a counterdemonstration against such groups. Newer activists can be trained in the proper methods of security at smaller-scale events: local protests, speaking engagements, workshops, fundraisers, etc. Operating as a team requires strict discipline and adherence to a set of values and rules. Without strict rules, people cannot survive in a combat zone. The same is true for rallies that descend into chaos. All of this is contrary to the typical anarchist-leftwing view that any form of authority is bad and must be rejected. In certain circumstances, extreme authoritarianism is required. Combat zones and riots are two examples.

External/Ongoing Security: Here, I’m thinking of the police and various other governmental entities that wield great power and violence. Going head-to-head with the police is usually a losing strategy. Leftwing activists don’t have the numbers or collective coherence required to overwhelm them, and we don’t have the weapons to stop them. This is true both at single events, and on a day-to-day basis in our local and regional communities. Dismantling the structures that produce violence and fear should always be our primary goal. In the meantime, however, people still require security. Poor communities are scared of both the cops and street gangs. Women are scared of their male partners. Domestic violence is a huge issue. Are leftwing groups prepared to respond to incidents of domestic violence? How can we expect people, particularly those who are vulnerable, to not call the police under those circumstances? Are neighborhoods and communities organized enough to do regular patrols, not so much to keep an eye on their neighbors, but to thwart the influence and power of street gangs and the police? Defending ourselves against rightwing militias or political organizations requires the same level of discipline and organization. Right now, there is no evidence that leftwing groups are prepared to engage in this level of security. That must change if we’re serious about providing alternatives to the state.

On a side note, I should mention a few things about weapons. First, I don’t trust anyone with a gun. I grew up with guns. I own guns. And unlike 99.99% of the leftwing activists, I’ve used guns to kill people. As a child, we spent hours upon hours learning how to clean, safely handle, and shoot our weapons. In the Marine Corps, that training was taken to its most extreme. In short, your individual liberties and rights go out the window once you start carrying a weapon.

One of the reasons the military is such a hyper-disciplined and authoritarian entity is because that’s the only way to survive when operating in groups of hundreds and thousands, with everyone carrying their own weapon. There must be a chain of command. Orders must be followed. If not, expect negligent discharges and unwanted deaths. In case you’re wondering, weapons are no joke.

The fetishization of guns isn’t new. The U.S. was built on the fetishization of guns and violence. Hence, it comes as no surprise that a bunch of folks who can’t even hold regular meetings or conduct effective campaigns are all of the sudden interested in picking up weapons and pretending to be revolutionaries.

From my perspective, maybe less than 1% of the activists and organizers I’ve encountered over the years are prepared for ‘militant resistance.’ They’re prepared to punch Nazis in the face, which is fine, but they’re not prepared to actually do battle with those same Nazis. In Charlottesville, leftwing activists would’ve been killed without the protection of the state. The same was true two years ago when I found myself attending an anti-Fascist rally in Coburg, a small suburb outside the city of Melbourne.

Currently, we can’t ‘outfight’ the Fascists, but we can out-organize them. Going toe-to-toe with people who are more than happy to employ violence is a losing strategy for the American Left. We lack the numbers, training, discipline, vision, coherence and seriousness to properly wage militant battles.

If you want to know what a revolutionary struggle looks like in the real world, talk to a Zapatista. Learn about their day-to-day struggles. Then, and only then, tell me that they’re ready to wage a revolutionary struggle. As my friend Sean says, and he’s right, “If you’re not ready to rats, sleep on the ground, kill people and pick up your dead friends, don’t talk to me about revolution or militant struggle.” I agree.

Dismantling White Supremacy

White Supremacy isn’t a series of attitudes or opinions, it’s a structural-systemic-institutional problem. Indeed, most of the activists and writers on the Left treat racism as if it’s a personal fault. It’s not. It’s a structural issue. The difference between individual racism and structural racism is important.

Since the Civil Rights Movement, one could argue that individual racism is much lower. Yes, there are White Supremacists who feel comfortable espousing their reactionary views online, but nowhere near the number of whites who felt comfortable doing so several decades ago. Yet, structurally, with regard to the prison industrial complex, housing, wealth and education, we’ve made little gains, and in many cases, have taken several steps back.

As a result, leftwing activists are confused. They lash out at racists on an individual level, but have no serious plans to deal with racism on a structural level. Dismantling White Supremacy requires dismantling or significantly altering existing institutions, including the corporate media (TV, Radio, Internet, Hollywood), the prison-industrial-complex and criminal justice system (Courts, Jails, Private Prisons, Police), the U.S. Empire (Bases, Weapons Contractors, Private Security Firms), global capitalism (Private Banks, Property Rights, Corporations, Trade Agreements) and a series of relationships, mechanisms, and institutions that uphold White Supremacy.

The difference between calling out and/or confronting individual racists and addressing structural racism is the difference between Neoliberal Activism (hyper-individualism) and Leftwing Activism (hyper-collectivity). Neoliberal activists have no ties to a collective body of people. They only address racism on an individual/subjective level, and fail to engage in the sort of collective work that it takes to actually dismantle the systems that produce the sort of racism they find so abhorrent.

In the end, the only response to large-scale collective challenges are large-scale collective political projects. In our context, that means creating new economic, political and cultural institutions aimed at radically changing society. And radically change society we must, at least according to the living world. Today, the concept of a new society is no longer an ideological pipe-dream, it’s a basic requirement for planetary survival.

As organizers, educators, activists and artists, it is our primary duty in the context of Neoliberalism to constantly remind people that our challenges are collective in nature. It’s also our responsibility to think critically and constantly improve upon our existing programs, campaigns, and so forth. The Right is playing to win. Are we?

Vincent Emanuele is a writer and community organizer who lives and works in Michigan City, Indiana. He is the co-founder of P.A.R.C. (Politics, Art, Roots, Culture), and a member of the National Writers Union – UAW 1981, and Veterans for Peace. He can be reached at vincent.emanuele333@gmail.com


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Vincent Emanuele writes for teleSUR English and lives in Michigan City, Indiana. He can be reached at vincent.emanuele333@gmail.com

March 29, 2017

Anarchists in solidarity with the Syrian Revolution

Filed under: anarchism,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:14 pm

I have big problems with the black bloc but this reminds me why I grew to admire the anarchist movement for its refusal to fall into the “Marxist” geopolitical chess game mode of thinking.

February 7, 2017

Vanity of the bonfires

Filed under: Academia,anarchism,black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 7:59 pm

Encounters with David Graeber, George Ciccariello-Maher, and Shon Meckfessel on social media reminded me that the black bloc does have its fans in the academy. As might be expected, the three professors are anarchists. Over the past five years I have developed a deep respect for anarchism’s refusal to line up with the “anti-imperialist” pro-Assad mindset of so many Marxists and especially for the late Omar Aziz, who Leila al-Shami, the co-author of “Burning Country”, commemorated on Tahrir-ICN:

Through his writing and activity he promoted local self-governance, horizontal organization, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid as the means by which people could emancipate themselves from the tyranny of the state. Together with comrades, Aziz founded the first local committee in Barzeh, Damascus. The example spread across Syria and with it some of the most promising and lasting examples of non-hierarchical self organization to have emerged from the countries of the Arab Spring.

Al-Shami followed these words that ones that relate more directly to the problems I have with the infantile ultraleftism that has cropped up since January 20th and expressed particularly by the viral Youtube clip of Richard Spencer getting punched and the misadventure in front of the Berkeley Student Union.

In her tribute to Omar Aziz, Budour Hassan says, he “did not wear a Vendetta mask, nor did he form black blocs. He was not obsessed with giving interviews to the press …[Yet] at a time when most anti-imperialists were wailing over the collapse of the Syrian state and the “hijacking” of a revolution they never supported in the first place, Aziz and his comrades were tirelessly striving for unconditional freedom from all forms of despotism and state hegemony.”

In a 2002 NLR article, Graeber made the case for what he called “The New Anarchists”:

The effort to destroy existing paradigms is usually quite self-conscious. Where once it seemed that the only alternatives to marching along with signs were either Gandhian non-violent civil disobedience or outright insurrection, groups like the Direct Action Network, Reclaim the Streets, Black Blocs or Tute Bianche have all, in their own ways, been trying to map out a completely new territory in between.

Odd that within Graeber’s definition of the arsenal of tactics that can be used against the state, mass action of the sort that was mobilized to end the war in Vietnam gets reduced to “marching along with signs”. Menu alternatives are limited to three choices: civil disobedience, outright insurrection or anarchist affinity groups. It is the third that Graeber opts for, a “completely new territory” that is actually not very  new since it became pretty old when I was an activist in the late 60s.

David Graeber

On his death at the age of 90 in early January, John Berger’s 1968 article “The Nature of Mass Demonstrations” was circulated by Marxists. Written during the period when millions were “marching along with signs” everywhere against the war, Berger made some essential points about their value:

A mass demonstration distinguishes itself from other mass crowds because it congregates in public to create its function, instead of forming in response to one: in this, it differs from any assembly of workers within their place of work – even when strike action is involved – or from any crowd of spectators. It is an assembly which challenges what is given by the mere fact of its coming together.

In 1968, SDS leaders grew frustrated by the seeming inability of mass actions to end the war in Vietnam so they chose another course of action, one in which the protests were much smaller but far more violent. This culminated in the infamous “Days of Rage” in October 1969 that an anarchist author connects directly to the black bloc tactic:

The Black Bloc can trace its historical roots all the way back to when- and wherever people comprising an oppressed class or group militantly rose up against their oppressors. Elements of the particular tactics of the Bloc were previously utilized by the Weather faction of Students for a Democratic Society (the SDS) in North America during the “Days of Rage” in 1969.

For Graeber, groups like the black bloc (yes, I know, it is only supposed to be a tactic but it is a loosely organized group that carries it out on a consistent basis) are a form of horizontalist direct democracy that are based on consensus rather than majority vote. Yeah, who needs a cumbersome and verticalist procedure such as voting that would only get in the way of a determined horizontalist bunch of people wearing bandannas over their faces intent on raising cain. If a black bloc spokesperson with a bullhorn had asked the 1500 or so Berkeley students in front of the Student Union protesting Milo Yiannopoulos to raise their hands if they favored busting windows and shooting skyrockets into the lobby of the building, they might have had the gumption to reject such tactics. We can’t abide such laggards getting in the way of bold actions, can we?

Essentially, the black bloc is as elitist and verticalist in its own way as the self-declared vanguard groups of the Leninist left that aspire to control mass organizations. Groups like the American SWP that I belonged to for 11 years used to caucus before a meeting to make sure that the membership followed a predetermined line before a critical vote even if in the course of discussion they decided that the SWP was wrong. Meanwhile, the black bloc does not bother with votes at all. This is a Hobson’s Choice, if there ever was one.

I had never paid much attention to George Ciccariello-Maher prior to his being the target of the alt-right over his “White genocide” tweet. All I knew about him was that he wrote about Venezuela and was something of an ultraleft based on his social media posts that were rather intellectually vacuous and often fixated on violent confrontations of one sort or another. Since academics tend to use social media as a form of “slumming”, I never paid much attention to them.

But after he began posting about the Berkeley adventure in a way that suggested his approval of the black bloc, I concluded that these were his politics. After unfriending him (and a bunch of other pro-black bloc types) with a post alluding to his support for the hijacking of the Berkeley protest, he lashed back at me as I expected. If anything, Ciccariello-Maher is nearly as hotheaded as me. What I didn’t get was his claim that it was only his FB friends that supported the black bloc and that my problem was with them.

That does not square with the arguments he made in 2011 against Chris Hedges, who had blasted the black bloc’s role in the Occupy movement and likened it to a cancerous tumor. Joining with Graeber, who had debated Hedges in an article titled “The Violent Peace-Police”, George wrote his own article making essentially the same arguments. Titled “Counterinsurgency and the Occupy Movement”, it goes the extra mile against Hedges:

Many, notably anarchist theorist David Graeber, have rightly attacked not only the misrepresentations in Hedges’ argument, but crucially its implications: by singling out and denouncing a sector of the movement, by dividing ‘good’ protesters from ‘bad,’ this purportedly nonviolent writer was in fact encouraging police violence himself (after all, surgical removal of a tumor is nothing if not violent). Less noted, however, is the degree to which Hedges’ discourse literally does the work of the police by contributing to actual policing strategies as they have developed in recent decades. By grasping the development of these strategies, we will be in a better position to avoid the pitfalls of the hysterical liberalism espoused by Hedges and others, and by understanding our enemies, we will be better prepared to confront them.

Unlike Graeber, Ciccariello-Maher is less concerned about whether black bloc tactics work or not. The brunt of his article is designed to conflate peaceful protesters and the black-clad vanguard. If you denounce them as a cancer, you are siding with the cops: “Much has been said about the violence-versus-nonviolence debate within and prior to Occupy, and it is true that we need to defend the violent as well as the nonviolent and accept not only a diversity of tactics but also a diversity of strategies for building the new world.” This diversity of tactics argument of course is associated with the NGO’s that tolerated the black bloc at each and every protest against the WTO. Like Graeber and Ciccariello-Maher, their emphasis was less on building a mass working-class based movement and more on making a “statement”.

George Ciccariello-Maher

That being said, the professor does appear to have a fetish for violence. In a Salon article titled “Riots Work”, he is ready to condemn mass protests against racial oppression that do not produce results according to some timetable. Like the Weathermen judging the antiwar movement as a milquetoast affair, Ciccariello-Maher seeks something much more dramatic:

Some insist that riots only provide a ready-made image to the media that emphasizes the “negative” over the “positive” (meaning the “violent” over the “peaceful”). But this view has little to say about whether so-called “peaceful” protests are effective in bringing attention to police murder, offering instead a moral imperative: the media should cover peaceful marches, the system should respond. But they don’t, and it doesn’t, and if so-called peaceful tactics don’t bring change, then they lose their status as a “positive” alternative, and even become complicit in continued systemic violence.

Well, I don’t know. It was peaceful protests, those people “marching along with signs”, in New York that were largely responsible for the stop and frisk laws being abolished. I was at one of them in 2012, the Silent March that was among the most impressive I have seen in the past decade.

Would a riot have ended the stop and frisk laws? I tend to doubt it, even if that risks being seen as pro-police in Ciccariello-Maher’s eyes. For him, there’s not much difference between a riot and the national liberation movement in Algeria that involved millions in a protracted war against the French imperialist army:

Frantz Fanon insisted that to break the smooth surface of white supremacy requires something more than peaceful protest. It requires the explosive self-assertion of the oppressed, through which the oppressed themselves can come to understand their own power.

If we were only so fortunate to see the Black liberation struggle in the USA beginning to take on the dimensions of the FLN. There was one attempt made by Malcolm X to build such a movement and he was killed for his efforts. For what it is worth, Malcolm tried to build a powerful organization instead of preaching about the need for disorganized riots.

Ciccariello-Maher has a new book out titled “Decolonizing Dialectics” that is based on the ideas of Fanon, a Latin American philosopher named Enrique Dussel, and Georges Sorel. I know Dussel only by name but wonder if he has overdosed on Georges Sorel. In an article titled “To Lose Oneself in the Absolute: Revolutionary Subjectivity in Sorel and Fanon” that likely formed the basis for the new book, he sees Sorel’s fetishization of violence in pretty much the same way as he sees Fanon—as a kind of mixture of existential revolt evoking Camus and his own peculiar interpretation of Marxism:

When united with proletarian violence, on the other hand, the myth becomes essentially a mechanism for the consolidation of revolutionary identity. In Sorel’s context, this takes the form of a working-class separatism embodied in and established through the proletarian general strike—the unity of liberatory violence with the absolutism of mythical identity—in which a strike against the bosses is transformed into a “Napoleonic” battle and “the practice of strikes engenders the notion of a catastrophic revolution”.

Sorel is problematic to say the least. After becoming dissatisfied with the CGT, France’s major trade union, in the same way that the Weathermen became impatient with peaceful protests, Sorel hooked up with an outfit called Action Française that was led by Charles Maurras. During WWII, AF supported the Vichy government and Maurras spent seven years in prison for his collaboration with the Nazis.

After he became a partisan of the Bolshevik revolution, the Italian fascist movement still revered Sorel no matter his heterodox Marxism. It seems that the feelings were mutual. In a 1921 letter to Benedetto Croce, an admirer of Mussolini who would eventually break with Il Duce, Sorel wrote: “The adventures of fascism are, perhaps, at present, the most original social phenomenon in Italy; they seem to me to surpass by far the combinations of the politicians.” In a letter to Jean Variot, a close ally of Sorel, he wrote:

It is possible, it is even probable that Benito Mussolini has read me. But, attention! Mussolini is a man no less extraordinary than Lenin. He, too, is a political genius, of a greater reach than all the statesmen of the day, with the only exception of Lenin. . .. He is not a Socialist a la sauce bourgeoise; he has never believed in parliamentary socialism; he has an amazing insight into the nature of the Italian masses, and he has invented something not to be found in my books: the union of the national and the social-something I have studied  without ever developing the idea.

Well, that’s for damned sure. Mussolini never did believe in parliamentary socialism.

While I have neither the time nor the inclination to wade through Ciccariello-Maher’s new book, something tells me that his distinctly odd infatuation with Georges Sorel is consistent with his immature posting of violent confrontations on social media. It is rather sad to see a tenured professor acting so foolishly.

Shon Meckfessel

Let me conclude with a look at Shon Meckfessel’s new book titled “Nonviolence Ain’t What It Used To Be” that is based on his doctoral dissertation and that reminds me a bit of Regis Debray’s “Revolution in the Revolution”. Where Debray fetishized rural guerrilla warfare, Meckfessel fetishizes the black bloc. At least Debray can be forgiven for basing his book on a success—the Cuban revolution. Meckfessel inexplicably elevates a movement that has achieved nothing except getting its adventures written up in the bourgeois press.

Although it is highly possible that there are some discrepancies between the new book and dissertation, I am taking the chance that they are relatively small and will refer to the dissertation in the following remarks.

Since chapter three is titled “The Eloquence of Targeted Property Destruction in the Occupy Movement” and chapter four is titled “The Eloquence of Police Clashes in the Occupy Movement”, there is little doubt that what you will be getting is a sophisticated defense of the indefensible.

There’s not much to distinguish Shon from Ciccariello-Maher as this passage from chapter three would indicate.  Although some might think that plagiarism was afoot, I think that both of the professors are simply reflecting the zeitgeist of the widespread ultraleft milieu that would naturally lead them to admire Fanon and Sorel uncritically:

If targeted property destruction works to assert comparisons within and across categories of violence in the hopes of destabilizing ideological chains of equivalence and triggering a revaluation, its affective reconfigurations in the discursive field of subjectivity are equally eloquent in its rhetorical strategy. In his classic “Reflections on Violence,” Georges Sorel put forward his notion of the General Strike as a myth which condensed all of the desired political values of proletarian struggle; violence, in his formation, “is assigned the important function of ‘constituting’ an actor.” (Seferiades & Johnston 6). Similarly, Fanon put forth the celebrated formulation in The Wretched of the Earth (1968) that decolonization requires a violence to be done to the colonizer’s body in order to disarticulate its sacred inviolability, and thus constitute the post-colonial subject through the act of violation. Contemporary practices of public noninjurious violence, such as targeted property destruction, can be seen to enact analogous discursive actions of subjectification while avoiding the dehumanizing effects of bodily harm, as can be heard in the words of Cindy, one observer of the Seattle May Day 2012 riots:

I think that property destruction has a good effect on those who carry it out… I think most people need to unlearn submission and show themselves that they have the 165 capacity to act for their own liberation. I think that when people burn cop cars, break bank windows, or blockade a road (thwarting the transfer of goods and or law enforcement) they are also demonstrating to themselves some of the magnitude of their ability to resist. (Cindy interview)

In the next chapter, Shon refers to the “eloquence” of fighting the cops with a reference to Judith Butler:

As with the uneasy boundary between the materiality and discursivity of bodies examined in Judith Butler’s Bodies that Matter (1993), the materiality of individuals enacting oppressive behavior is not simple to divorce from the discursivity of their role.

I can’t exactly say that I understand this jargon but I do know this. Butler found nothing “eloquent” about the Berkeley Student Union misadventure. In an email cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education, she stated: “I deplore the violent tactics of yesterday and so do the overwhelming majority of students and faculty at UC Berkeley.”

I find something vaguely dispiriting about college professors in their 40s and 50s being drawn to such juvenile antics. In a strange way, they remind me of the neglected minor masterpiece “Little Children” that starred Patrick Wilson as a law student who is not sure that he is cut out for the profession. In what might be called a case of “arrested development”, he spends hours on end watching teens skateboarding at a nearby rink. They remind him of the youth he once enjoyed doing the same sort of thing. At the end of the film, they talk him into having a try on one of their skateboards that results in a nasty spill and a hospital stay. Let’s hope that the three professors’ infatuation with the “eloquence” of fighting the cops is only of a Walter Mitty sort. Cops are capable of extremely brutal behavior and the three professors all have good jobs and families and/or students who rely on them. My only other recommendation is that they read Leon Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution” that is a much better guide to revolutionary change than Georges Sorel.

May 15, 2015

The Life, Loves, Wars and Foibles of Edward Abbey

Filed under: anarchism,Counterpunch,Ecology,Film,literature — louisproyect @ 12:56 pm
Monkeywrenching the Machine

The Life, Loves, Wars and Foibles of Edward Abbey


Fifty-three years ago, long before I had heard of Edward Abbey and Abraham Polonsky, I saw a film titled “Lonely are the Brave” that was based on Polonsky’s adaptation of Abbey’s novel “The Brave Cowboy”. The film remains one of my favorites of all time with Kirk Douglas’s performance as a fugitive on horseback trying to elude a sheriff played by Walter Matthau permanently etched into my memory.

Many years later I would have the pleasure of hearing Abraham Polonsky speak at Lincoln Center at a screening for “Odds Against Tomorrow”, a film for which he wrote the screenplay three years before “Lonely are the Brave” but for which he did not receive credit. Using a “front” of the sort Woody Allen played in Walter Bernstein’s very fine movie about the witch-hunt, Polonsky was taking a first step toward reestablishing himself as a screenwriter.

In the panel discussion following the screening, Polonsky was asked whether he had problems writing a script with criminals as central characters when he spent so many years in the Communist Party and still retained progressive politics even after his resignation. He replied that American society itself was criminal and that the film’s characters were just trapped within the system.

“Lonely are the Brave” was by contrast a film with a most sympathetic character, a cowboy named Jack Burns who provokes a bar fight just to land in jail to help break out his old friend, a sheep rancher who has been arrested for sheltering undocumented workers from Mexico. I had no idea at the time how radical the film was, an obvious result of Edward Abbey’s ability to make such an outlaw look like a saint compared to the corporate malefactors that were destroying America’s greatest asset: its wilderness.

The very fine new documentary “Wrenched” that is available from Bullfrog Films is a loving tribute to Edward Abbey’s life as an artist and activist as well as a very astute assessment of Earth First!, the radical environmentalist group that was inspired by Abbey’s writings. Directed by ML Lincoln, a young female director and activist since her teens, it is a follow-up to her first film “Drowning River” that recounts the struggle against the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona that found a fictional counterpart in Abbey’s most famous novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, from which her new film derived its title.

We learn that Abbey, who was born in 1927, became drawn to anarchism at a very early age under the tutelage of his aptly named father Paul Revere Abbey who was both a socialist and an anarchist—and obviously from a different ideological tradition than the one to which Abraham Polonsky belonged. As he matured and began to develop his own worldview, the son obviously aligned completely with anarchism, a result of his commitment to preserving wilderness—a goal unfortunately that has not been fully appreciated by Marxists, as I will explain later on.

Read full article

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


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.



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