Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 7, 2013

Drip, drip, drip

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

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

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

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

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

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

[people speaking gibberish]

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

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

March 13, 2013

Greek anarchists and Greek politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 17, 2012

The Hardt-Negri declaration

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

Michael Hardt

Antonio Negri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2, 2012

Montreal anarchists try to catch a big one with donut bait

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

November 6, 2011

Berlusconi’s mousetrap

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

June 28, 2011

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

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

Mark Mazower

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

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

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

Lehmann’s article begins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 11, 2010

An anarchist critique of the black bloc

Filed under: anarchism — louisproyect @ 12:13 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 7, 2010

The G20 protests: provocation and state repression

Filed under: anarchism,repression — louisproyect @ 5:36 pm

July 1, 2010

An analysis of the G20 protest and the black bloc

Filed under: anarchism — louisproyect @ 1:37 pm

(This appeared as  a comment by Ritch on my last post. It deserves to be highlighted as a guest post.)

The events at the G20 demonstration on Saturday have provoked a series of responses already. This article is not meant to review the events of the day itself but to look at the questions raised by the demonstrations.

Suffice to say the reaction of the police in arresting, detaining, and brutalizing nearly 1,000 people in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history exposes the serious attacks on civil liberties we face.

On Friday before the demonstration I was having a beer with a comrade in Halifax and of course discussion turned to the G20, we both agreed that this would be the perfect demonstration to go off without any property damage. If at the end of the day tens of thousands marched, thousands did sit-ins by the fence but the tactic of smashing windows was not employed then the summit would be a defeat for Harper.

We drew this analysis based on the fact that every where you went there was anger at the billion dollar price tag for security. At a time when thousands are struggling to make ends meet and see the cost of the Summits as exorbitant. Many, consciously or not, recognize that this money is being spent to the architects of the crisis; protecting those who gave billions to the bank while leaving workers and the poor to pay for it. Furthermore, in the lead-up, there was a growing polarisation with many being angry or frustrated with Harper’s attacks on civil liberties, on women’s rights, on the climate, on the economy, and more.

To have had a day of mass demonstrations and militant but non- violent action would have left Harper with egg on his face and given more confidence to those want to find ways to challenge Harper and the market.

Instead, the day went just like clock work—much like other summits. There’s a mass demonstration. A layer of people do a split from that march and then some engage in expressing their rage against the system by smashing windows and other acts. Given the world we live in, it is surprising that more of this doesn’t happen more often.

In response, the police hold back until the main march disperses. They wait for some damage to be done, and then they go on the offensive. They round-up and brutalize everyone left on the streets, including passers-by, peaceful protesters and those engaged in property damage. In Seattle, Quebec, Genoa, etc. this script has played out over and over again. The police wait until the mass organisations leave, then go after the rest. This strategy suggests that the police and the state are keenly aware of who they want—and don’t want—to provoke.

Within this the “black bloc” and their supporters utilise the larger rally and split marches to launch attacks on property and the police. Usually the police wait long enough for damage to be created before they respond. In these situations it is one of the few times the police wait to crack down.

Then, when the cops attack, the “bloc” usually retreats and tries to merge with others. In Genoa, the black bloc ran through a group of nuns engaged in a sit-in which resulted in the police attacking the nuns. In New York City, at a demonstration against WEF, the black bloc ended up running from the police and trampling down women Steelworkers from Toronto, who were then attacked by the police as the black bloc hid behind the Steelworkers.

Then the media and police trot out the usual line “We are ok with protests, but a small minority of criminals can’t be tolerated”. Those innocents that were arrested were an unfortunate by-product of protecting the city and its inhabitants. The police and politicians then justify the violence against protestors as necessary to stop any further violence.

In the process, hundreds get arrested while the media spends the next several days reducing the estimated numbers of demonstrators, erasing on-site reports of police brutality, critiquing the police as being too passive. Then the police say they weren’t able to protect property at the start because they were committed to facilitating the peaceful protest. Afterward they “did everything possible to restore order”. Throughout all this, stories begin to emerge about undercover officers mingling with crowd, engaging in and trying to stir up “action”. Eventually a handful get charged with some serious offences and the majority arrested get released with few or no charges.

Despite the media hype there was nothing new about the events in Toronto. The question for militants is: what are the lessons? How do we interpret events and what do they mean for the left?

To answer, we need to look at what the mobilisations can achieve and why they are important. This is the critical starting point. Since the rise of the anti-globalisation movement, this has been a point of debate.

The mobilisations around summits are important because they provide an opportunity to mobilise people beyond the ranks of those already active. It is more possible because the media builds the events far beyond the reach of the left. The fact that the summits raise a broad set of issues, mean that they unite in opposition broad sets of movements. The demonstrations that result can often be greater than the sum of the parts of movements. They unite various movements – labour and environment for example. They provide an opportunity to bring wider layers into the.movement.

Some have argued that these demonstrations are pointless one-off events and that those who go to them are “summit-hoppers”. Strangely these critiques are often raised by people who themselves go to the events.

But this misses the point that while the mobilisations are one-off’s they are important in the sense that they pull struggles together and allow those not plugged into activism to find a space to join the movement. Secondly the protests show to millions of others that there is mass opposition to the system.

Of course the idea that the protests themselves will change the agenda of the rulers is mistaken and naive. But the more important point of the protests is to galvanise and mobilise opposition to the system. For the left, the demonstrations offer a crucial opportunity to grow and sink deeper roots in new areas. These mobilizations also help maintain momentum and break down barriers between struggles that often go on in their own silos. In short, these protests forge new bonds of solidarity.

So it is important to mobilise against these summits, not because we can change the agenda or that capitalism will grind to a halt if the summit is shut down. Some thought because of the collapse of the Doha round or the inability to get a deal at the FTAA Québec City round, that capitalism would be forced into a retreat. But the reality is that these summits are attempts to overcome divisions between various ruling classes in various nation states. What they can’t get through global agreements, they will try through regional agreements. What isn’t accomplished regionally is taken up bi-laterally. Basically, summits are where the world’s largest economies jockey with each other for a better deal for their own ruling classes.

This doesn’t mean we can’t wrestle reforms from these leaders, and without the demonstrations it would be even harder to win reforms or prevent even more damaging policies from being implemented. Even NGO’s who aren’t committed to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, understand that mobilising is vital to back their call for reforms.

In this context, the object of mobilising for the summits should be to try and take advantage of the moment presented to broaden and deepen the left and build the movements.

This is the objective from which our tactics flow. It is not the summit itself that matters but the ability to draw larger numbers onto the streets and into action. It offers the potential to increase people’s confidence and consciousness.

To establish tactics before determining the larger strategic objectives, raises tactics to a point of principle and robs the working class of the tactical flexibility that will maximize success. It is juvenile and creates the quixotic adventures we saw on June 26.

So what about “diversity of tactics” and the black bloc?

It should be clear that the actions of the black bloc reflect their politics. The actions in Toronto mirror those tactics used elsewhere. The tactics and politics regardless of their intent are inherently elitist and counter-productive. In fact they mirror the critique of reformism many on the left have. The NDP says vote for us and we’ll do it for you, the black bloc says in essence the same thing – we will make the revolution for you.

At best the tactics of the black bloc are based on a mistaken idea that the attacks on property and the police will create a spark to encourage others to resist capitalism, at worst they are based on a rampant individualistic sense of rage and entitlement to express that rage regardless of the consequences to others. The anti-authoritarian politic they follow is imposed on others. Very rarely will you see a black bloc call its own rally, instead the tactic is to play hide and seek with the police under the cover of larger mobilisations.

Further as has been noted in many cases, the tactics and politics of the black bloc and some anarchists and some others on the left, leave them prone to being manipulated by the state. In almost every summit protest, police and others (in Genoa it was also fascists), infiltrate or form their own blocs to engage in provocations. The politics of secrecy and unannounced plans and a quasi-military (amateur at best) approach to demonstrations leave the door open to this.

The tactics also open the door for the justification of further police repression. This has been debated before, with some arguing that the state doesn’t need justification for repression. The idea that the state doesn’t need justification for further repression exposes the total lack of understanding of both the state and the consciousness of ordinary people.

If the state didn’t need justification for repression, then we would all be in jail. Capitalism isn’t a democratic system, but needs the facade of political rights to maintain some buy-in about how free we all are. If the state didn’t need justification for repression, then we accept that people are just automatons who do what they are told.

But the reality is that most people oppose police brutality and most people believe we are living in a democracy. Therefore when the police go on a rampage, they have to have an excuse. It is highly naive to think that the police and the state won’t and don’t need a justification to repress people. If they didn’t we wouldn’t have a war on drugs – it would have just been a war on the poor.

Some argue that we have to support some of these tactics because they are “radical”. But what is indeed “radical”. Let us put aside the notion of “economic disruption” caused by a few burning cop cars and broken windows, as some use this to justify so called militant actions. The reality is the Tamil community created much more economic disruption with their non-violent occupation of the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto. Further the workers in Sudbury valiantly fighting Vale Inco are doing much more to disrupt the economy than a thousands black bloc actions ever could.

The tactics of the black bloc make it clear that for them, it is more important to smash windows than to try and march with thousands of workers and engage them in arguments about how to move struggles forward or that the problem is capitalism.

So how radical is it to trash a few windows? It depends on what one means by radical. Radical is about workers gaining confidence and consciousness to fight back, not just at work, but in solidarity with others. Radical is about developing a sense of mass power, organising based on moving others into struggle, winning others to challenge the power in their workplace or community collectively, beyond the individualisation of our society. Radical is about going to the roots of the system—not trashing its symbols.

So it is much more radical organising a Starbucks, or winning co-workers to fight homophobia, or defending women’s rights than it is smashing a window.

When the black bloc does its thing, does it move struggles forward or backward? Does it in the eyes of those questioning the system, or moving into struggle, or thinking that something is wrong, radicalise them and give them confidence?

The answer is that outside of a small minority, these actions at best can inspire passive support from those who do not like police. But the majority have no confidence to engage in these actions themselves or agree with them. Instead of giving confidence, the tactics generally produce confusion and play into the hands of the state that would prefer it if no one ever protested. They allow the state to justify its repression and expenditures. In essence outside of an already radicalised minority they don’t leave anyone with a deeper sense of confidence about the ability to fight capitalism. Instead at best they leave the impression that the fight against capitalism can only be carried out by a heroic minority at worst they leave people worrying about going to demonstrations. The tactic is far from radical because it does nothing to challenge capitalism in any way; it does nothing to instil confidence in others to resist.

The debate shouldn’t be about violence, per se, but about tactics and strategy. Of course we defend the right of workers and oppressed communities to self-defence. The response from the left to the riots in Toronto after Rodney King is a good example: many defended the justified outrage at both the racism of the justice system and the beating of Rodney King. It was a justifiable rage against a system of racism, but it also wasn’t a strategy to defeat racism.

The black bloc however, isn’t an oppressed community resisting oppression and defending itself.

Those on the left who see the problems with the black bloc and the cover given to them by those who elevate “diversity of tactics” to a principle need to organise coherent responses to this.

We need to join the battle for interpretation without getting distracted by blanket pronouncements of “pro” this or “anti” that. We need to focus on strategy and the tactics that flow from it. This will allow us to regroup those activists who see the centrality of the working class as the key to social change, who recognize that intended or not, “diversity of tactics” is not radical but a cover for self-aggrandisement by some sections who have no faith in the self-activity of the working class.

The need for a bigger stronger socialist movement in Toronto couldn’t be greater. But the role of socialists isn’t to gingerly tail those who support “diversity of tactics”, but to politically debate and expose the bankruptcy of those ideas for moving struggles forward. And it goes without saying that while we do that, we must also be defending those arrested, exposing the brutality of the police and patiently explaining to co-workers and neighbours what really happened and why people protested.

We need this clarity to avoid the sort of splits that occurred after Québec City and after 9/11. We need this clarity and upfront politics to win those pulled by the anger at the system and its barbarism to a more effective—if less sexy—strategy, based on building a mass struggle against capitalism that can pull the system up by its roots.

June 30, 2010

Holding the black bloc up to scrutiny

Filed under: anarchism — louisproyect @ 8:48 pm

Although the black bloc tactic has been around since the 1980s, it was the Seattle anti-globalization protests of November 30, 1999 that lent it the high profile it would enjoy for an extended period. Around this time, anarchism had become rather trendy as this article from the Style section of the April 4, 2000 Washington Post would indicate:

“Is this the Anarchist Soccer League?” asks the girl with the pierced lip and eyebrow. She catches the eye of a guy whose black T-shirt identifies him as “Poor, Ugly, Happy.”

He informs her that, yes, this is the regular pickup game of the Anarchist Soccer League, held on Sunday afternoons amid the minivan-and-merlot enclaves of upper Northwest Washington.

She surveys the dusty field near Woodrow Wilson High School, where 30 players have amassed to kick a ball around to promote physical fitness, camaraderie and the defeat of global capitalism. They’re mainly college-age men and women–energetic, fairly decent players. They know how to cross and dribble. They wear cleats and shin guards. “It looks too organized to be the Anarchist Soccer League,” the pierced girl says dismissively. She adjusts the black bra under her white tank top, wondering whether to join in.

“I need a cigarette,” she decides, and roller-blades off to find one.

But soon she’ll return to get into the game. She’s a punk rocker, a supporter of an activist group called Refuse & Resist. She wants to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted cop killer.

Her name is Barucha Peller. She wears Abercrombie & Fitch pants and carries a Nine West wallet. She’s not entirely sure that she’s an anarchist–“I’m 17, too young to pick any ideology”–but she definitely doesn’t like The System.

In some respects, the black bloc tactic used by anarchists is something like a team sport, with young people (mostly white males) in uniform fighting over territory with other men in uniform—the cops. Breaking through a fence, stopping a meeting from taking place, inciting the cops to wade in and beat up peaceful protesters in order to educate them how “rotten the system is”—all this amounts to a GOAL in soccer.

For a good introduction to the black bloc tactic, I’d recommend Daniel Dylan Young’s article Masking Up And The Black Bloc: A Pre-Seattle History on Infoshop.org, a key anarchist website run by Chuck Munson, a ubiquitous presence on the Internet who goes by the nom de guerre Chuck 0. Young explains that the tactic was cooked up by European autonomists, a radical movement inspired by the writings of Antonio Negri, the Italian ultraleft Marxist and co-author of “Empire”, a book that ironically praised the penetration of global capitalism into the Third World, as long as it was done with the consent of the penetrated. As disgraced weatherman Tex Antoine once put it: “With rape so predominant in the news lately, it is well to remember the words of Confucius: ‘If rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it.'”

Here is the key passage in Young’s article:

From the beginning the West German state did not take kindly to young Autonomen, whether they were occupying nuclear power plant building sites or unused apartment buildings. In the winter of 1980 the Berlin city government decided to take a hardline against the thousands of young people living in squats throughout the city: they decided to criminalize, attack and evict them into the cold winter streets. This was a much more shocking and unusual action in Germany than it would be in the U.S., and created much popular disgust and condemnation of the police and government.

From December 1980 on there was an escalating cycle of mass arrests, street fighting, and new squatting in Berlin and throughout Germany. The Autonomen were not to be cowed, and each eviction was responded to with several new building occupations. When squatters in the south German city of Freiburg were mass arrested, rallies and demonstrations supporting them and condemning the police state’s eviction policy took place in every major city in Germany. In Berlin on that day, later dubbed “Black Friday,” upwards of 15,000 to 20,000 people took to the streets and destroyed an upper class shopping area…

In response to violent state oppression radical activists developed the tactic of the Black Bloc: they went to protests and marches wearing black motorcycle helmets and ski masks and dressing in uniform black clothing (or, for the most prepared, wearing padding and steel-toed boots and bringing their own shields and truncheons). In Black Bloc, autonomen and other radicals could more effectively fend off police attacks, without being singled out as individuals for arrest and harassment later on. And, as everyone quickly figured out, having a massive group of people all dressed the same with their faces covered not only helps in defending against the police, but also makes it easier for saboteurs to take the offensive against storefronts, banks and any other material symbols and power centers of capitalism and the state. Masking up as a Black Bloc encouraged popular participation in public property destruction and violence against the state and capitalism. In this way the Black Bloc is a form of militance that mitigates the problematic dichotomy between popularly executed non-violent civil disobedience and elite, secretive guerilla terrorism and sabotage.

With all due respect to Young’s well-researched article, this does not sound that much different from SDS Weathermen “trashing” that occurred a good fifteen years earlier in the USA. Property destruction was supposed to be an insurrectionary act, a kind of litmus test for whether you were a genuine revolutionary rather than reformist Trots with their peaceful and legal antiwar demonstrations.

From what I can gather, a shift took place in the late 1980s when the modern anti-globalization movement took shape. From that point on, the anarchists would employ the tactic from within the mass protests, like a kind of parasite. These protests were intended to be peaceful and legal like the 1960s antiwar demonstrations. At least back then and in the Autonomen protests in the 1980s, those who wanted to fight the cops went off on their own. At Seattle and elsewhere, including Toronto this week, the trade unions and NGO’s only sought to call attention to rotten trade agreements like WTO rather than get caught up into violent sporting events with the cops that would leave their members beaten and arrested.

There was a certain rethinking of the black bloc tactic when a youthful protester was killed in Genoa in July 2001. It was one thing to throw a riot and get hit by a rubber bullet or tear-gassed. Getting killed was another. This is not to speak of the usual round of beatings and arrests that a working class demonstrator sought to avoid.

But more to the point, the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon redirected the movement away from street theater and the propaganda of the deed and in the direction of serious and focused mass antiwar demonstrations. For several years the left was successful in mounting huge protests that limited the power of the warmakers to some extent. For example, Turkey denied the use of its territory to invasion forces.

It is beyond the scope of this article to analyze the shortcomings of the antiwar movement, but I would be remiss if I did not mention several important factors:

1. The Shi’ite leadership collaborated closely with imperialism.

2. The Sunni opposition was religiously sectarian and failed to project a revolutionary alternative to Baathist restoration.

3. The jihadists were even more sectarian than the Baathists and drove the Shi’ites even further into collaboration with the USA.

4. The antiwar movement in the USA was divided between the CP and its allies on one hand and the Workers World Party on the other. The first camp tail-ended the Democratic Party while the second maintained a tight control on its own “coalition” in order to preserve a narrow “anti-imperialist” perspective.

5. There was no draft, nor was there wartime austerity.

Given all these factors, it is remarkable that any resistance to the war was mounted at all.

During this period, the anarchists went into hibernation except for the occasional foray into one gathering of the imperialist ruling class or another. Fences were assailed, Starbucks windows were smashed, rocks were thrown at cops but world imperialism kept on its merry way.

Moving forward, we find a new opportunity for anarchist street theater when Greece was struck by a terrible financial crisis that forced working people into the streets against the austerity drive. We can expect such protests to proliferate given the almost unanimous consensus of the ruling class to follow Milton Friedman type solutions.

When the Greek black bloc contingent threw a fire bomb into an Athens bank resulting in the death of three workers, there was a soul-searching that hopefully would retire this form of machismo politics once and for all. On http://www.occupiedlondon.org/blog/, a repository of anarchist reports from Greece, a penetrating critique was posted just a few days after the tragedy. It said:

Some people during the last general strike march, seeing 200,000 protestors roaring in rage and some even trying to storm the steps to Parliament, could only think of a means to perform their own petty identity as the vanguard of militancy. For that is what this cult has at its core: rituals of performativity, rituals of sustaining and reproducing the equilibrium of “toughness”, of “strength”, of “militancy”, of “fist-readiness”, or what may the symbolic order of rebel-masculinity consist of. Violence, so abstractly demonised by the bourgeoisie, is only a functional component of this process – not the objectified problem but the effect of an acutely problematic relation. A relation of competition for the most “advanced”, the most “dynamic” action, the most aggressive and seemingly uncompromising “attack”, the most one-dimensional being-in-the-world. What connects all these performances of “revolutionary singularity” is not their violence per se, but the vainglorious competitive culture of militaristic machoness. The establishment of a gendered hierarchy of “will” to the exclusion of the open mass-struggles that are developing throughout the country: a new Stalinism.

While this retreat from the madness that resulted in the death of three workers must be welcomed, there is still an unresolved contradiction in anarchist circles that persists to this day. It centers on the role of revolutionaries. In anarchist terms, it is clearly a self-mandated mission to inspire the non-radicalized mass of society into action through exemplary actions. Even if the Greek anarchists have renounced firebombing, there is still a nagging sense that they are in the business of “the exemplary deed”.

An article dated June 16th recounted an anarchist action against a supermarket:

On 14/06/10 we stormed into a super-market of the chain Masoutis on M.Kyriakou street, we took basic need goods (olive oil, pasta, milk etc.) and destroyed the anti-theft systems and the surveillance camera while we also smashed the cashiers and burnt all the money they had inside.

From the beginning we had decided that the goods of the appropriation would be distributed among the comrades who participated, not outside the super-market. With this choice of ours we want to make clear that this, and other practices aim not at promoting some of us as saviours of the society – rather, we want society itself to familiarise itself with such practices and to embrace them without waiting for the “revolutionary” philanthropist/ friends of the poor. Especially in a period like this one, where the rottenness of the present system is pushing it toward collapse. As for the term “Robin Hoodies” (in Greek: Super-market Robins) we believe it consists another typical attempt to twist the meaning of such actions by Mass Media, which present comrades as some sort of elite stealing for the poor. In result, the distribution of the goods is presented in a way that refers to the narcosis and the passivity reflected in the thinking “someone will think-act-take care of us”.

With all due respect to the anarchist comrades, this will not address the burning issue of hunger in Greece as the austerity drive mounts. It will take powerful mass actions to make sure that the bourgeoisie does not slash the social safety net—number one—and then to make steady encroachments on the state power to expand spending for working class needs, including jobs, housing, medical care and food. If it shows itself incapable of meeting those needs, then workers councils should move forward to replace the state with one that is so capable. This will take the spread of revolutionary consciousness and a tightly organized combat party to move all of society together against its sworn enemy, the rentiers and imperialist hangers-on—as well as the rotten social democratic politicians who are keeping the infernal thing going.

Finally, a word or two about the black bloc anarchists in Toronto who through its idiotic provocations gave the cops an excuse to beat and arrest 900 people. While this is likely not the last intervention from this crew, it certainly will serve a useful purpose by alerting the broader radical movement about its reactionary function. Whether or not they are cops in disguise is immaterial. Willy-nilly, they are doing just what the cops want them to do and they have to be stopped. Maybe the next mass anti-globalization protest will have some beefy trade unionists to keep this riff-raff in line.

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