By AK Press | April 25, 2014
Did you know that some of the folks involved with the Institute for Anarchist Studies (anarchist grant-givers extraordinaires, and also the co-publishers of our Anarchist Interventions series!) put out a journal, too? Well, now you do—and if you’re the journal-reading type, you should really check it out. It’s been looking pretty snazzy as of late, thanks to some new cover designs and illustrations by Josh MacPhee. And it’s not just good looking! It’s got substance, too—including, in their new issue (#27), contributors’ different takes on the idea of “strategy.” You can see more about the issue, and order your copy (or back issues) HERE.
To give you just a taste of what’s included in the new issue, here’s part of an interview by Perspectives editor Lara Messersmith-Glavin:
An Excerpt from “OCTAVIA’S BROOD: SCIENCE FICTION STORIES FROM SOCIAL JUSTICE MOVEMENTS—An Interview with Walidah Imarisha.”
Co-editors adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha are compiling an anthology of science and speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, and magical realist short fiction, all written by activists working for social change. Under the umbrella of what they call ‘visionary fiction,’ the editors seek to draw from the imaginative and creative potential that exists in the realm of literature to inspire and guide the strategies and dreams of the radical movement.
My co-editor adrienne has said that sci fi is the perfect “exploring ground,” that it gives organizers the opportunity to play with different outcomes and strategies before we have to deal with the real world costs. Based on that, adrienne has been doing Octavia Butler Emergent Strategy Sessions across the country, coming out of a Transformative Justice space at the Allied Media Conference a few years ago. In the Transformative Justice Science Fiction Reader a collective of folks put out, they wrote, “We are four power geeks who come to the Allied Media Conference every year, and we have been developing a space for conversation around science fiction as a tool for our organizing and futurizing… Over the past few years we found each other out, as people thinking about TJ, and as sci fi geeks seeing interesting examples of potential futures rooted in TJ approaches in our isolated reading experiences.”
Emergent strategy focuses on the idea of strategizes that arise organically. You collectively have a shared vision and values, but rather than having a five year strategic plan, you recognize that in a constantly changing landscape, your strategies must be fluid and flexible, must react to the surroundings. It also allows you to use the resources around you, to find value in things that previously you may have dismissed as trash. This idea is really encapsulated in Butler’s book Parable of the Sower, which follows the main character Olamina, who is a young Black woman who lives in a slightly more dystopic future in a gated community. She begins studying skills needed to survive outside of the walls, packs a survival kit bag, and begins envisioning other ways the world could be. When the community is attacked and the walls fall, she finds herself on the outside with her bag, her knowledge and her dreams. She finds people along the way who collectively dream with her to imagine what a new community can look like.
I wrote an article “Science Fiction and Prison Abolition: Lessons To Build Our Futures” for an upcoming issue of The Abolitionist, because I feel that sci fi is actually an ideal place to explore something like prison abolition. Many folks are completely unfamiliar with the idea of community accountability processes that do not depend on the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex. So this is a great opportunity to have that exploring ground adrienne talked about, to say, without confining us to reality at first, what else is there?
One of our stories in Octavia’s Brood does just that – Kalamu ya Salaam’s story “Manhunter” (an excerpt from a larger piece) focuses on a community of women warriors and leaders who are attempting to keep the human race alive. One of the warriors kills another, and they have a gathering to decide what is to be done with her. It is a powerful scene that shows the complexities of community accountability, and offers solutions rooted in healing rather than retribution.
My partner David Walker, whose story “The Token Superhero” also appears in Octavia’s Brood, wrote, “Life would be easier if people understood that you can be a hero without having a villain.”
Our ability to tell stories shapes how we view our reality around us. If we only hear stories that neatly package good and evil with no understanding of the complexities of situations, how can we begin to see the world through lenses that take into account complexity?
As Black feminist thinker and poet Alexis Pauline Gumbs (also an Octavia’s Brood contributor) said when asked how abolition and science fiction connected to her, “For me prison abolition is a speculative future. It imagines a species with a set of fully developed powers that are right now only fledgling. We are that species.”
Your forthcoming collection owes a great deal of its framework to the thought and writing of Octavia Butler. Ursula LeGuin is often cited as a sci fi writer who explores issues of gender (Left Hand of Darkness) and anarchist social organization (The Dispossessed); Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy grappled with revolution and coalition-building on a planetary scale; Marge Piercy contrasted utopian and dystopian possible futures (Woman on the Edge of Time.) Who are some of the writers that have moved you the most, politically speaking, and what kinds of issues or insights did they address the most successfully? Which issues remain untouched?
Yes, we definitely owe much to Octavia Butler. We call ourselves her brood (a nod to her collection of books Lilith’s Brood) – her children; we do not claim to be Octavia or to do what she would, but we believe we are carrying on that work in countless multitudes of ways, just as she carried on the work handed down to her.
One of our contributors Alexis Pauline Gumbs quotes from an interview Octavia Butler did in the 1980s, where she was asked how it felt to be THE Black female sci fi writer. And she said she never wanted that title. She wanted to be one of many Black female sci fi writers. She wanted to be one of thousands of folks writing themselves into their present and into the future. We believe that is the right that Octavia claimed for each of us – the right to dream as ourselves, individually and collectively. But we also think it is a responsibility she handed down – are we brave enough to imagine beyond the boundaries of “the real,” and then do the hard work of sculpting reality from our dreams?
And we also want to honor many other writers, especially those living at the intersections of multiple identities and oppressions, who have dreamed new worlds and then set about the hard work of making them reality. We know WEB DuBois wrote visionary fiction in 1920, using it as another avenue for discussing the racial landscape of this country, and we want to honor that this lineage of work is long. It is actually ancient. Specifically for adrienne and myself as two Black women, we know that our enslaved ancestors were visionary fiction creators; while in chains, they dreamed of us, their children’s children, free, which was complete science fiction at that time. And then they bent reality to create us. It’s vital for those of us from communities with historic and collective oppression to remember each of us is science fiction. And as such, this is part of that responsibility Octavia laid down for us – we have a responsibility to those who came before, and to those who come after.
To read the rest of the interview—and lots more—check out the new issue!
By AK Press | April 17, 2014
We’re counting the minutes. At some point today, a truck will arrive with newly minted copies of our Malatesta anthology: The Method of Freedom. We’re all big fans of Malatesta’s thought and writing, his tactical insights, his no-nonsense approach, and his uncommon ability to remain generous and comradely even as he debates opponents into smithereens. We like him so much that this anthology will be followed, year by painstaking year, by our ten-volume The Complete Works of Malatesta.
For now, we offer an excerpt as evidence of Malatesta’s continued relevance. It’s his take on the relationship between riots and revolutions (turns out he’s a fan of both), with a few additional paragraphs addressing the question of police infiltration, the nineteenth-century version of snitchjaketing, and how a vital movement should deal with both.
|Click here for the excerpt.|
|Click here to learn more
about the book.
By AK Press | April 11, 2014
Members of the Against Equality collective have an impressive list of events lined up this spring throughout the U.S. and Canada, to celebrate the release of Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion. If you’re lucky, you can catch an event near you. And if you’re not so lucky this time around, you can always get in touch with them and invite them to speak on their next tour!
SPRING 2014 EVENTS:
Apr 12 @ 10:50am: Radical Archives Conference, Cantor Film Center Theater, New York University (NYC)
Apr 16 @ 4:30pm: Kagin Ballroom, Macalester College (Saint Paul, MN)
Apr 19 @ 7pm: Bureau of General Services – Queer Division (NYC)
Apr 22 @ 4:30pm: Axinn 229, Middlebury College (Middlebury, VT)
Apr 23 @ 6:30pm: Concordia Coop Bookstore (Montreal, QC)
Apr 24 @ 8pm: Queer Possibilities Lecture Series, Alteregos Cafe (Halifax, NS)
Apr 26 @ 7pm: Calamus Books (Boston, MA)
May 2 @ Time TBA: Bates College (Lewiston, ME)
May 4 @ 6pm: Artists at Work Space, Maine College of Art (Portland, ME)
May 5 @ 4pm: UC San Diego (San Diego, CA)
May 6 @ 4pm: MultiCultural Center Lounge, UC Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA)
May 10 @ 7:30pm: Stories Books & Cafe (Los Angeles, CA)
Keep an eye on the Against Equality website for the most up-to-date tour news and event information.
By AK Press | April 5, 2014
The interview below was conducted and published by the group Anarchist Affinity, in Melbourne, Australia. You can read the original (and check out their site) here.
Michael Schmidt is an investigative journalist, an anarchist theorist and a radical historian based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has been an active participant in the international anarchist milieu, including the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front. His major works include ‘Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism (2013, AK Press) and, with Lucien van der Walt, ‘Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism’ (2009, AK Press).
In your recent book, Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism (AK Press, USA, 2013), you argue that anarchists have often failed to draw insights from anarchist movements outside of Western Europe. What lessons does the global history of anarchism have to offer those engaged in struggle today?
The historical record shows that anarchism’s primary mass-organisational strategy, syndicalism, is a remarkably coherent and universalist set of theories and practices, despite the movement’s grappling with a diverse set of circumstances. From the establishment of the first non-white unions in South Africa and the first unions in China, through to the resistance to fascism in Europe and Latin America – the establishment of practical anarchist control of cities and regions, sometimes ephemeral, sometimes longer lived in countries as diverse as Macedonia (1903), Mexico (1911, 1915), Italy (1914, 1920), Portugal (1918), Brazil (1918), Argentina (1919, 1922), arguably Nicaragua (1927-1932), Ukraine (1917-1921), Manchuria (1929-1931), Paraguay (1931), and Spain (1873/4, 1909, 1917, 1932/3, and 1936-1939).
The results of the historically-revealed universalism are vitally important to any holistic understanding of anarchism/syndicalism:
Firstly, that the movement arose in the trade unions of the First International, simultaneously in Mexico, Spain, Uruguay, and Egypt from 1868-1872 (in other words, it arose internationally, on four continents, and was explicitly not the imposition of a European ideology);
Secondly, there is no such thing within the movement as “Third World,” “Global Southern” or “Non-Western” anarchism, that is in any core sense distinct from that in the “Global North”. Rather that they are all of a feather; the movement was infinitely more dominant in most of Latin America than in most of Europe. The movement today is often more similar in strength to the historical movements in Vietnam, Lebanon, India, Mozambique, Nigeria, Costa Rica, and Panama – so to look to these movements as the “centre” of the ideology produces gross distortions.
The lessons for anarchists and syndicalist from “the Rest” for “the West” can actually be summed up by saying that the movement always was and remains coherent because of its engagements with the abuse of power at all levels.
How is anarchism still relevant in the world today? What do anarchist ideas about strategy and tactics have to offer people active in social movements today?
I’d say there are several ways in which anarchism is relevant today:
1) It provides the most comprehensive intersectoral critique of not just capital and the state; but all forms of domination and exploitation relating to class, gender, race, colour, ethnicity, creed, ability, sexuality and so forth, implacably confronting grand public enemies such as war-mongering imperialism and intimate ones such as patriarchy. It is not the only ideology to do this, but is certainly the main consistently freethinking socialist approach to such matters.
2) With 15 decades of militant action behind it, it provides a toolkit of tried-and proven tactics for resistance in the direst of circumstances, and, has often risen above those circumstances to decentralise power to the people. These tactics include oppressed class self-management, direct democracy, equality, mutual aid, and a range of methods based in the conception that the means we use to resist determine the nature of our outcomes. The global anti-capitalist movement of today is heavily indebted to anarchist ethics and tactics for its internal democracy, flexibility, and its humanity.
3) Strategically, we see these tactics as rooted in direct democracy, equality, and horizontal confederalism (today called the “network of networks”), in particular in the submission of specific (self-constituted) anarchist organisations to the oversight of their communities, which then engage in collective decision-making that is consultative and responsible to those communities. It was the local District Committees, Cultural Centres, Consumer Co-operatives, Modern Schools, and Prisoner-support Groups during the Spanish Revolution that linked the great CNT union confederation and its Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) allies to the communities they worked within: the militia that fought on the frontlines against fascism, and the unions that produced all social wealth would have been rudderless and anchorless without this crucial social layer to give them grounding and direction. In order to have a social revolution of human scale, we submit our actions to the real live humans of the society that we work within: this is our vision of “socialism”.
In sum, anarchism’s “leaderless resistance” is about the ideas and practices that offer communities tools for achieving their freedom, and not about dominating that resistance. Anarchists ideally are fighting for a free world, not an anarchist world, one in which even conservatives will be freed of their statist, capitalist and social bondage to discover new ways of living in community with the rest of us. Read the rest of this entry »
By AK Press | April 4, 2014
The Winter We Danced is a brand-new collection of writing on the Idle No More movement. We at AK Press Distro have been anxiously awaiting getting this new book from our friends at Arbeiter Ring Publishing, ever since we first heard about it. And we weren’t the only ones—we’ve been fielding lots of calls and emails from other folks eager to read the words of the folks involved in this inspiring moment of Indigenous organizing. The waiting is over: the book is here in our hands, and can be in yours too! The publishers were gracious enough to give us permission to post the editors’ introduction to the book here, to give you all a better sense of the book so that you, too, can be excited about it. So here it is, we think it speaks for itself.
Indigenous peoples have been protecting homelands; maintaining and revitalizing languages, traditions, and cultures; and attempting to engage Canadians in a fair and just manner for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, these efforts often go unnoticed—even ignored—until flash-point events, culminations, or times of crisis occur. The winter of 2012-2013 was witness to one of these moments. It will be remembered—alongside the maelstrom of treaty-making, political waves like the Red Power Movement and the 1969-1970 mobilization against the White Paper, and resistance movements at Oka, Gustefson’s Lake, Ipperwash, Burnt Church, Goose Bay, Kanostaton, and so on—as one of the most important moments in our collective history. “Idle No More,” as it came to be known, was a watershed time, an emergence out of past efforts that reverberated into the future. The clear lesson regarding this brief note of context is that most Indigenous peoples have never been idle in their efforts to protect what is meaningful to our communities—nor will we ever be.
This most recent link in this very long chain of resistance was forged in late November 2012, when four women in Saskatchewan held a meeting called to educate Indigenous (and Canadian) communities on the impacts of the Canadian federal government’s proposed Bill C-45. The 457 pages of multiple pieces of legislation, an “omnibus” of new laws, introduced drastic changes to the Indian Act, the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the Navigable Water Act (amongst many others). Entitled Idle No More, this “teach-in” organized by Sylvia McAdam, Jess Gordon, Nina Wilson and Sheelah Mclean raised concerns regarding the removal of specific protections for the environment (in particular water and fish habitats), the improper “leasing” of First Nations territories, as well as the lack of consultation with the people most affected even where treaty and Aboriginal rights were threatened. With the help of social media and grassroots Indigenous activists, this meeting inspired a continent-wide movement with hundreds of thousands of people from Indigenous communities and urban centres participating in sharing sessions, protests, blockades and round dances in public spaces and on the land, in our homelands, and in sacred spaces.
From the perspective of our collective and based on the curated articles in this book, the Idle No More movement coalesced around three broad motivations or objectives:
- The repeal of significant sections of the Canadian federal government’s omnibus legislation (Bills C-38 and C-45) and specifically parts relating to the exploitation of the environment, water, and First Nations territories.
- The stabilization of emergency situations in First Nations communities, such as Attawapiskat, accompanied by an honest, collaborative approach to addressing issues relating to Indigenous communities and self-sustainability, land, education, housing, healthcare, among others.
- A commitment to a mutually beneficial nation-to-nation relationship between Canada, First Nations (status and non-status), Inuit, and Metis communities based on the spirit and intent of treaties and a recognition of inherent and shared rights and responsibilities as equal and unique partners. A large part of this includes an end to the unilateral legislative and policy process Canadian governments have favoured to amend the Indian Act.
Admittedly, the movement goes beyond even these issues. The creativity and passion of Idle No More necessarily revealed long-standing abusive patterns of successive Canadian governments in their treatment of Indigenous peoples. It brought to light years of dishonesty, racism and outright theft. Moreover, it engaged the oft-slumbering Canadian public as never before. Within four months, Idle No More moved beyond the turtle’s continental back and became a global movement with manifold demands.
Idle No More is, in the most rudimentary terms, a culmination of the historical and contemporary legacies emerging from colonization and violence throughout North America and the world. These involve land theft, treaty violations, and many misunderstandings. There is therefore much to talk about, reflect upon, and take action to redress. In this way, Idle No More represents a unique opportunity: a chance to deepen everyone’s understanding of the circumstances and choices that have led to this time and place; and a forum for how we can come up with solutions together. This movement represents an important moment for conversations about how to live together meaningfully and peacefully, as nations and as neighbours.
That being said, the nature and enormity of Idle No More meant that it was sometimes bewildering in scope and complexity. As it grew, the movement became broad-based, diverse, and included many voices. There were those focused on the omnibus legislation, others who mobilized to protect land and support the resurgence of Indigenous nations, some who demanded justice for the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and still others who worked hard to educate and strengthen relationships with non-Indigenous allies. Many did all of this at once. Idle No More adopted a radically decentralized character, having no single individual or group “leader.” Instead, communities would join together for distinct purposes, temporarily or for long-term activism. Events were local, regional, and wide-scale. This often confused and frustrated those (particularly in the media) who looked for the “voice” of the movement or somebody who could—or would—speak on behalf of all participants. Idle No More, however, was inherently different. It defied orthodox politics.
By AK Press | April 3, 2014
Javier Sethness-Castro, author of Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe, conducted a lengthy and pretty fascinating interview with Noam Chomsky on the ongoing environmental crisis, its capitalist causes, and what anarchism might contribute to a solution. We’ve included an excerpt below. You can read the whole interview on truth-out.org, or watch it in glorious living color here.
JC-S: You have described humanity as being imperiled by the destructive trends on hand in capitalist society – or what you have termed “really existing capitalist democracies” (RECD). Particularly of late, you have emphasized the brutally anti-ecological trends being implemented by the dominant powers of settler-colonial societies, as reflected in the tar sands of Canada, Australia’s massive exploitation and export of coal resources, and, of course, the immense energy profligacy of this country. You certainly have a point, and I share your concerns, as I detail in Imperiled Life: Revolution against Climate Catastrophe, a book that frames the climate crisis as the outgrowth of capitalism and the domination of nature generally understood. Please explain how you see RECD as profoundly at odds with ecological balance.
Noam Chomsky: RECD – not accidentally, pronounced “wrecked” – is really existing capitalist democracy, really a kind of state capitalism, with a powerful state component in the economy, but with some reliance on market forces. The market forces that exist are shaped and distorted in the interests of the powerful – by state power, which is heavily under the control of concentrations of private power – so there’s close interaction. Well, if you take a look at markets, they are a recipe for suicide. Period. In market systems, you don’t take account of what economists call externalities. So say you sell me a car. In a market system, we’re supposed to look after our own interests, so I make the best deal I can for me; you make the best deal you can for you. We do not take into account the effect on him. That’s not part of a market transaction. Well, there is an effect on him: there’s another car on the road; there’s a greater possibility of accidents; there’s more pollution; there’s more traffic jams. For him individually, it might be a slight increase, but this is extended over the whole population. Now, when you get to other kinds of transactions, the externalities get much larger. So take the financial crisis. One of the reasons for it is that – there are several, but one is – say if Goldman Sachs makes a risky transaction, they – if they’re paying attention – cover their own potential losses. They do not take into account what’s called systemic risk, that is, the possibility that the whole system will crash if one of their risky transactions goes bad. That just about happened with AIG, the huge insurance company. They were involved in risky transactions which they couldn’t cover. The whole system was really going to collapse, but of course state power intervened to rescue them. The task of the state is to rescue the rich and the powerful and to protect them, and if that violates market principles, okay, we don’t care about market principles. The market principles are essentially for the poor. But systemic risk is an externality that’s not considered, which would take down the system repeatedly, if you didn’t have state power intervening. Well there’s another one, that’s even bigger – that’s destruction of the environment. Destruction of the environment is an externality: in market interactions, you don’t pay attention to it. So take tar sands. If you’re a major energy corporation and you can make profit out of exploiting tar sands, you simply do not take into account the fact that your grandchildren may not have a possibility of survival – that’s an externality. And in the moral calculus of capitalism, greater profits in the next quarter outweigh the fate of your grandchildren – and of course it’s not your grandchildren, but everyone’s.
Now the settler-colonial societies are particularly interesting in this regard because you have a conflict within them. Settler-colonial societies are different than most forms of imperialism; in traditional imperialism, say the British in India, the British kind of ran the place: They sent the bureaucrats, the administrators, the officer corps, and so on, but the place was run by Indians. Settler-colonial societies are different; they eliminate the indigenous population. Read, say, George Washington, a leading figure in the settler-colonial society we live in. His view was – his words – was that we have to “extirpate” the Iroquois; they’re in our way. They were an advanced civilization; in fact, they provided some of the basis for the American constitutional system, but they were in the way, so we have to extirpate them. Thomas Jefferson, another great figure, he said, well, we have no choice but to exterminate the indigenous population, the Native Americans; the reason is they’re attacking us. Why are they attacking us? Because we’re taking everything away from them. But since we’re taking their land and resources away and they defend themselves, we have to exterminate them. And that’s pretty much what happened – in the United States almost totally – huge extermination. Some residues remain, but under horrible conditions. Australia, same thing. Tasmania, almost total extermination. Canada, they didn’t quite make it. There’s residues of what are called First Nations around the periphery. Now, those are settler-colonial societies: there are elements of the indigenous populations remaining, and a very striking feature of contemporary society is that, throughout the world – in Canada, Latin America, Australia, India, all over the world, the indigenous societies – what we call tribal or aboriginal or whatever name we use – they’re the ones who are trying to prevent the race to destruction. Everywhere, they’re the ones leading the opposition to destruction of the environment. In countries with substantial indigenous populations, like say in Ecuador and Bolivia, they’ve passed legislation, even constitutional provisions, calling for rights of nature, which is kind of laughed at in the rich, powerful countries, but is the hope for survival.
Ecuador, for example, made an offer to Europe – they have a fair amount of oil – to leave the oil in the ground, where it ought to be, at a great loss to them – huge loss for development. The request was that Europe would provide them with a fraction – payment – of the loss – a small fraction – but the Europeans refused, so now they’re exploiting the oil. And if you go to southern Colombia, you find indigenous people, campesinos, Afro-Americans struggling against gold mining, just horrible destruction. Same in Australia, against uranium mining; and so on. At the same time, in the settler-colonial societies, which are the most advanced and richest, that’s where the drive is strongest toward the destruction of the environment. So you read a speech by, say, Obama, for example, at Cushing, Oklahoma – Cushing is kind of the center for bringing together and storing the fossil fuels which flow into there and are distributed. It was an audience of oil types. To enormous applause, he said that during his administration more oil had been lifted than any previous one – for many, many years. He said pipelines are crossing America under his administration to the extent that practically everywhere you go, you’re tripping across a pipeline; we’re going to have 100 years of energy independence; we’ll be the Saudi Arabia of the 21st century – in short, we’ll lead the way to disaster. At the same time, the remnants of the indigenous societies are trying to prevent the race to disaster. So in this respect, the settler-colonial societies are a striking illustration of, first of all, the massive destructive power of European imperialism, which of course includes us and Australia, and so on. And also the – I don’t know if you’d call it irony, but the strange phenomenon of the most so-called “advanced,” educated, richest segments of global society trying to destroy all of us, and the so-called “backward” people, the pre-technological people, who remain on the periphery, trying to restrain the race to disaster. If some extraterrestrial observer were watching this, they’d think the species was insane. And, in fact, it is. But the insanity goes back to the basic institutional structure of RECD. That’s the way it works. It’s built into the institutions. It’s one of the reasons it’s going to be very hard to change.
By AK Press | April 1, 2014
Persons in and around the Twin Cities area, two AK Press authors are in Minneapolis. You should see them, listen to them, and maybe even buy their books!
By charles | March 29, 2014
Speech to Metalworkers: Anarcho-Syndicalism for South African Unions Today?
Lucien van der Walt
This is an abridged transcript of Lucien van der Walt’s discussion at National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) Political School. The school was held on the theme of “The Political Role of Trade Unions in the Struggle for Socialism” in September 2013. NUMSA is the largest trade union in South Africa. It is an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and has been a radical opponent of the policies of the ruling African National Congress to which both COSATU and the the South African Communist Party (SACP) are formally allied.
Lucien was debating anarcho-syndicalist versus Leninist views of the potential of trade unions, with Solly Mapaila, Second Deputy General Secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP). He makes an interesting case for the revolutionary potential of (some of) today’s trade unions. So, for those of you who have abandoned such hopes, read on.
A much longer version was printed in ASR #61 2014, pp. 11-20. The PDF is available here
Lucien begins by responding to David Masondo’s presentation, titled “From Rustenburg to Ongoye: The Evolution of the SACP’s Programmatic Approach”
[…] LUCIEN: Okay now, Comrade David, you lay out only two options.
First: we fix the SACP or, second, maybe we set up a SACP Mark 2, the new version, the new edition.
Comrades who are auto workers know that every couple of years you bring out a new car. The problem is that a car is a car. And a car can’t fly, and if there is a problem with cars only some changes can be made. There are certain things that they can’t do and certain things they can do. Same for parties.
Maybe the question is to think about the political form itself. Is the political party an appropriate form? Do we need a party to carry out the political vanguard role of the working class? Why can’t this role be done by a trade union? Right now, actually, that’s what’s happening. We are debating if it’s a possibility, but right now we have a situation where NUMSA is ALREADY providing a vanguard leadership to the working class. Not just in its own ranks. Sections of COSATU [the Congress of South African Trade Unions], sections of the unemployed, sections of social movements, they all look to NUMSA.
You now want to bring the SA Communist Party back on track, although you have left it far behind. You’ve left it behind; you, the unions, are far ahead of that party. You are also two steps to the left of the Communist Party. You are playing a vanguard role that the Communist Party hasn’t done. But then, you say: “No, we must go back to the Communist Party to have a vanguard”!
FLOOR: Laughter and applause
LUCIEN: So that doesn’t make sense to me. I am saying that it’s a issue about the form, and the method. If you want to give political direction to the working class, why can’t you, the unions, do it?
Why can’t the union be a vanguard ideological and mobilizing force? Why can’t NUMSA, for example, be the core of a union movement that shifts things?
That’s what you have done already! It’s not my idea, it’s YOUR idea and it is what you have done already.
So that would be my suggestion:… I ask: is there not a third option? Not SA Communist Party Mark 2. Not SA Communist Party, the 2014 edition. Not SA Communist Party rebranded as a “mass worker party.”
But rather, a third form of politics here, which is a REVOLUTIONARY TRADE UNION MOVEMENT that will provide a link between the different layers of the working class. Provide the basis of a bottom-up coalition of social movements and other unions in class struggle. And that will put on the forefront, not nationalization by the state, but collectivization: workers’ control of the means of production through the union. Through the union, not through the state: through the union.
So, I will leave it there…
MC (Oupa Bodibe): [...] I have several questions for you. Lucien, there are two arguments that should be taken forward today. One is the view that trade unions tend to “standardize” capitalism. They support it, okay? Because if you looking at the capitalism that has become more social friendly, or more developmental and also more pro-poor, workers now have a much bigger role to ensure the equal distribution of resources. That is the point I want to make.
The second argument is that one that Comrade Dinga Sikwebu talked about earlier: the inherent conservatism of the trade union movement. This is something that is coming up in meetings.
Do you think these statements are valid for all times? Or do they speak to different historical positions and balances of power in the trade union movement?
LUCIEN: Let’s step back. The arguments that I will criticize, the arguments that Comrade Oupa is alluding to, the arguments that unions are always inherently limited, reformist and economistic, are summed up in V.I. Lenin’s What is To be Done?
So what does that work say? And is it right? If we take What is To be Done? at face value, it essentially suggests that it is the normal nature of unions to be concerned only with day-to-day and narrow economic issues.
If we have to take Lenin’s What is To be Done? at its face value, it also says that unions are reformist, in the sense that they only look at small issues. That in fact they are unable, in a fundamental way, to look at larger issues. That this is partly because they supposedly divide the working class. And there’s something in this: NUMSA deals with metal and allied industries, while other COSATU unions deal with, for example, teachers and schools, and you are all in different unions.
So from Lenin’s perspective, part of the problem is that unions are dealing with small issues, they are dealing with the narrowest economic issues, and they reflect the divisions within the working class.
And for Lenin, these reasons meant that unions really struggle to think beyond the immediate issues. They struggle to think beyond capitalism and to imagine a better, transformed society. And this is where Lenin then brings in the argument for the unions having to be permanently led by a so-called Marxist “vanguard party,” a party of the type that the SA Communist Party claims to represent. To put it another way, the unions cannot be revolutionary, and cannot play a key role in fighting for socialism, UNLESS [says Lenin] a Marxist vanguard party is giving them orders. They can be “revolutionary” only when they aid a Communist Party, and even then, only by providing some muscle, not a political direction, not a leading role.
But is this line of thinking really correct? Well, I think one way to look at all of these issues is to be historical. And if we do that, we have to admit that some unions – and there is no way we can doubt that – some unions are conservative. Some unions are reformist, and all they interested in is better wages and better conditions. In this sense they are also economistic. They fit Lenin’s model.
But that’s not the same thing as saying that ALL unions, in ALL circumstances, are narrowly trapped in reformism and economism. I think if we want to look more historically, it becomes possible to see a range of union experiences that go far beyond what Leninist theory would predict
The problem with Lenin’s argument is that while unions have reformist tendencies, they are just TENDENCIES. There are OTHER forces going in other directions, and these can take unions much further than Lenin’s What is To be Done? suggests.
So we can find many unions which conform perfectly to Lenin’s model. And maybe the Russian trade unions that Lenin was dealing with conformed perfectly to his model.
But if we look historically and globally there is a wide range of unions which are something beyond reformist, something beyond economistic, something beyond simply dividing the working class.
I find it strange at a NUMSA Political School, a union political school, which is dealing entirely with socialism and larger issues of strategy, and which is almost being driven entirely by union activists and intellectuals and associated people, a whole congress that isn’t being led by a party, to be debating whether unions are reformist and suggest unions are helpless without parties.
Right here, you are refuting Lenin through your actions. If Lenin’s argument is right, this Political School could not be happening. This could not be happening! This event is all an illusion. If unions are always reformist and economistic, and Lenin is right, well then maybe you are not even in this room. And if you are, you are wasting your time here. You get me?
But I don’t think it is an illusion… I think Lenin is simply wrong. Read the rest of this entry »
By AK Press | March 11, 2014
We’re always glad when the ideas in our books jump off their pages and morph into real-life (or online!) discussions, so we were pleased to see that one of the pieces from our recently published book Queering Anarchism has been making the rounds online lately. Jamie Heckert’s contribution, “Anarchy Without Opposition,” has just been excerpted on OccupyWallStreet.net. Here’s a taste:
“Anarchist politics are usually defined by their opposition to state, capitalism, patriarchy, and other hierarchies. My aim in this essay is to queer that notion of anarchism in a number of ways. To queer is to make strange, unfamiliar, weird; it comes from an old German word meaning to cross. What new possibilities arise when we learn to cross, to blur, to undermine, or overflow the hierarchical and binary oppositions we have been taught to believe in?
Hierarchy relies on separation. Or rather, the belief in hierarchy relies on the belief in separation. Neither is fundamentally true. Human beings are extrusions of the ecosystem—we are not separate, independent beings. We are interdependent bodies, embedded in a natural world itself embedded in a vast universe. Likewise, all the various social patterns we create and come to believe in are imaginary (albeit with real effects on our bodyminds). Their existence depends entirely on our belief, our obedience, our behavior. These in turn are shaped by imagined divisions. To realize that the intertwined hierarchical oppositions of hetero/homo, man/woman, whiteness/color, mind/body, rational/emotional, civilized/savage, social/natural, and more are all imaginary is perhaps a crucial step in letting go of them. How might we learn to cross the divide that does not really exist except in our embodied minds?
This, for me, is the point of queer: to learn to see the world through new eyes, to see not only what might be possible but also what already exists (despite the illusions of hierarchy). I write this essay as an invitation to perceive anarchism, to perceive life, differently. I’m neither interested in recruiting you, nor turning you queer. My anarchism is not better than your anarchism. Who am I to judge? Nor is my anarchism already queer. It is always becoming queer. How? By learning to keep queering, again and again, so that my perspective, my politics, and my presence can be fresh, alive.
Queering might allow recognition that life is never contained by the boxes and borders the mind invents. Taxonomies of species or sexualities, categories of race or citizenship, borders between nations or classes or types of politics—these are fictions. They are never necessary. To be sure, fictions have their uses. Perhaps in using them, we may learn to hold them lightly so that we, in turn, are not held by them.”
You can read the full excerpt here, and then check out the thoughtful response to “Anarchy Without Opposition” that was published recently on the “cultivating alternatives” blog. Here’s just a bit of it:
“At some points, Heckert calls for an anarchism with ‘no borders, no purity, no opposites,’ which seems a bit unrealistic in practice, since our lives are full of all kinds of borders and boundaries, some of which are desirable, and others that we can’t simply get rid of (refusing to ‘see’ the borders of private property will probably land you in jail). But I think his main point is that we don’t have to take these borders for granted; they can be queered, unsettled, and shifted. In this sense, this isn’t a call to get rid of all borders or divisions or oppositions, but to pay attention to what happens to them; to attend to them, to loosen them up, rather than assuming that they’re necessary or good or right…”
“…Furthermore, the really important and interesting stuff happens at the borders, not inside them. Heckert draws on permaculture’s insight that edges are the most productive and fertile parts of ecosystems, suggesting that anarchism would benefit from attending to the social edges, where people and communities permeate and connect: ‘The more that anarchism, a many branched river in our social ecosystem, mixes and mingles with swamp and stone, soil and soul, the more diverse forms of life will benefit’ (69).
An important problem with all this (and I wished he spent more time on this) is the fact that these ways of being aren’t just beliefs that we can change by thinking critically or declaring ourselves otherwise. As Heckert puts it: ‘declaring a politics to be nonhierarchical, anarchist, feminist, safe, or queer does not magically make this happen. It takes a different kind of magic: practice’ (70). Both the positive and negative ways of being are held in our bodies; they’re accumulated habits of relating to ourselves and to each other, and they’re often-unconscious attachments and investments. And working at being otherwise means working that through our bodies, and shifting our unconscious desires. How? I think Heckert’s suggestion is that we practice radical acceptance: of ourselves, of others, of the world, and of its hierarchies and borders (even if we want to tear them down): ‘there is no such thing as evil; there is nothing to oppose. Instead, we might learn to both empathize with the desires of others, and to express our own’ (71). This is a politics ‘that starts off accepting everything just as it is. From the basis of acceptance, we might then ask, what service can be offered? How can anarchy be nurtured, rather than demanded, forced?’ (71).”
You can read the whole response here.
And of course, if you haven’t already, we encourage you to check out Queering Anarchism to read “Anarchy Without Opposition” its entirety, as well as the many other thought-provoking pieces in the collection!
By AK Press | March 7, 2014
“We don’t see the prison-industrial complex as broken; we see it working very, very well at surveilling, policing, imprisoning, and killing exactly who it targets.”
Former AK Press collective member and current communications director of Critical Resistance, Isaac Ontiveros, gave a brilliant interview to Vice magazine recently. Read it and learn why abolition is the only real solution, not only to our twisted prison system, but to the whole interconnected and thoroughly racist network of surveillance, policing, the courts, and imprisonment. Support Critical Resistance, please…and read the book we co-published with them: Abolition Now! Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle against the Prison Industrial Complex.
Here’s an excerpt (you can read the whole thing on here):
VICE: What does it mean to be a “prison abolitionist”?
Isaac Ontiveros: What we mean is that we want to end the whole system of mutually reinforcing relationships between surveillance, policing, the courts, and imprisonment that fuel, maintain, and expand social and economic inequity and institutional racism. So, not just prisons.
By “abolition,” we mean that we are interested in doing away with the system rather than finding ways to make it work better or for it to be kinder and gentler. We don’t see the prison-industrial complex as broken; we see it working very, very well at surveilling, policing, imprisoning, and killing exactly who it targets. As abolitionists, we work to diminish the scope and power of the prison-industrial complex while simultaneously increasing the ability of those communities targeted by it to be stronger, healthier, and more self-determined.
Why do you think imprisonment came to be the dominant means of delivering “justice” in America?
The US government, along with state and local governments, has always been involved one way or another in enforcing racial inequities—whether through social codes, laws and statutes, policing policies and practices, encouragement of vigilante violence, or outright domestic warfare against certain segments of the population. And poor people of color have borne the brunt of this violence—and, importantly, they’ve also been at the forefront in fighting back.
Think about the incredible political repression that goes on in this country; think about the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), unleashed against organizations like the Black Panther Party. Think of the massive cuts to social and health services, massive job loss, attacks on organized labor, and de facto permanent unemployment. Think of the war on drugs, the war on gangs, the war on terror. Think of the thousands of new offenses added to the criminal codes—the equivalent of one federal offense a week between 2000 and 2007. Think of the positively virulent anti-black racism that goes along with this. Think of the militarization of the US-Mexican border and immigrant detention. Think about even small towns having a SWAT team and zero-tolerance policing and of the largest prison-building project in world history in the state of California. Think about the disenfranchisement and dispossession of formerly imprisoned people. Think of the absolute pervasiveness of surveillance as well as media images that perpetuate some of the basest and most racist stereotypes imaginable of who is a criminal, or an undesirable, or a terrorist. And now think of the instability created by such violence and the need to control that instability—and the need to keep people from fighting back.
The US doesn’t actually imprison all that many violent people. Most of those behind bars committed nonviolent drug or property offenses. But what about the violent ones? Aren’t we better off having murderers and rapists off of the streets?
Well, I think an interesting part of that question is that even as the US has managed to lock up more people than any other country in the world, and has built probably the most massive and repressive policing, legal, and imprisonment system in history, we still tend to be pretty terrified in this country. This is not to say that violence—including sexual violence and murder—isn’t a real thing or a real fear. But I think in order to build up any hope of moving beyond the bleak situation we are in… we have to ask a few tough questions, and we have to change quite a few things. How do we relate to violence in our communities vis-à-vis the terrible violence that is wrought by the US government on a global scale, or by the prison-industrial complex domestically on a daily basis? How do we understand violence in relationship to the devastation caused by racism and economic inequity? How do we relate to sexual violence when we are inundated with horrendously misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic images? Our fears might be real, but our fears are also being produced and exploited. And then, of course, how do we think of anything else but prisons and police when we’ve be indoctrinated with this idea that all problems are solved by locking people up?
At the same time, violence is a very real concern, especially in the communities that are most impacted by the prison-industrial complex. I think we are better off if we can develop sustainable and transformative ways to confront, address, and intervene in situations of harm and violence. And the thing is, for the most part, especially in marginalized communities, people are already working to resolve conflict and address harm without using police or imprisonment all the time. And they are doing it around some egregious forms of harm, including murder and sexual violence. And sometimes some things work better than others. As an abolitionist, I am always interested in figuring out ways to address harm and violence that don’t rely on using the police.
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