Rethinking Anarchism


Alienation and Commitment
June 6, 2010, 5:25 am
Filed under: Random Shit, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve been reading John Reed’s “Ten Days that Shook the World.” There is a preface to the mid-1960s edition I am reading that describes the alienation Reed felt as an upper class intellectual who saw the horrors of war and exploitation that undergird the peace, prosperity, and happiness of the possessing classes. Alienated from the community of the bourgeoisie, he found a place in the movement of the workers against their oppression. Today, some might say he ‘bore witness’ or ‘accompanied’ the oppressed in their struggles. Reed overcame alienation through commitment to the cause of the proletariat, pursuing this commitment to an early death. He is buried in Red Square in Moscow.

Almost 100 years after the October Revolution, the world is still in the hands of a bloodthirsty and greedy capitalist minority. Their rule is now entirely global. The geographic breadth of the reign of the bourgeoisie’s reign is complemented by the depth of their cultural hegemony. The specter of communism still haunts the world. but it has been reduced to just that- a spectral apparition appearing only faintly, washed out by capital’s brilliant projection of itself as an eternal Reich.

The situation is basically hopeless. The proletariat is nowhere to be seen. I wish I could say otherwise, but there have been no large, serious autonomous workers movements in the US since before World War II. There have been occasional ruptures, even up to the present with the May Day 2006 marches for immigrant rights, but nothing stays. The movement does not grow, the struggles do not intensify, even as the horrors of global capitalism become even more horrific. The situation is alienating in the extreme.

In the face of total alienation from the mediated bourgeois society, some seek to create a kind of “community” with vegan potlucks, radical community meetings, countercultural bike collectives, and worker co-ops. The contrived “communities” of the radical left are merely the mirror image of the alienated “community” of the commodity society. The radical left seeks to elevate community as a value in itself, severed from any rooting in a material base. By attempting to overcome alienation, the ‘radical community’ succeeds only in commodifying, and thereby alienating, the concept of “community” itself. There is no way out. We are in the desert of advanced capitalism.

What flower can grow in this desert? We need forms of organization and modes of struggle that can flourish and thrive in these toxic sands. Such forms can only be derived from the proletarian struggle itself. We must scatter our seeds on the most fertile ground, the substrate upon which capital reproduces itself must also be the ground upon which we build the struggle.

The task of revolutionaries today is to take on the most difficult tasks- to accept total alienation , to go into the desert and seek to put down roots amongst the exploited and oppressed masses to participate in and build the struggle. From our alienation must come our commitment to build the workers movement. If there is any happiness to be found on this earth, it can only be in the struggle.

Advertisements


The Battle of the Sandwiches: What does the bosses’ offensive look like?
December 6, 2009, 8:32 am
Filed under: Analysis, Random Shit | Tags: , , , ,

If you read stuff about the 1970s and 80s, there is a lot of talk about the “bosses’ offensive,” an aggressive attack on workers movements by capital.

A friend of mine from Italy told me that in 1977, the bosses and pro-boss workers (we call these people ‘scissorbills,’ because their words cut you) staged a march of several thousand people in opposition to the continued wildcat strikes, sabotage, and occasional kneecapping, kidnapping, or assassination of bosses in the plants of northern Italy. This action was sufficient to change the climate and turn the cultural tide against the workers’ insurgency.

In my own workplace, we have seen an ebb and flow of class struggle on a micro-level. Initially, when the union went public, the boss was so afraid of us that he would sneak in and out the back door of the store without us knowing. We actually had a hard time planning actions because we could never find the boss to make demands.

The company replaced our boss with a new, more authoritarian manager. She set about breaking the union. Many of our fellow workers quit of their own volition before the union-busting really started, so we were already weak when the boss went on the offensive against us.

How did our new boss attack us? The same way we attacked our boss. She picked a winnable issue- something that we cared about but that we would be unable to defend. An issue that would isolate us from our coworkers, where we would not have “common sense” or the moral high ground behind us. In this case, it was the day-old sandwiches. We used to keep the sandwiches we didn’t sell at the end of the night for the workers who would come in the next day to have for lunch. Since we’re all so damn poor, this small gesture of solidarity meant a lot- it saved us money, and sometimes meant we got to eat when we would otherwise miss a meal.

The boss took away our sandwiches and put a note in the back room instructing us that we were no longer allowed to keep the sandwiches.

We were outraged. She was taking food out of our mouths. Immediately, two workers confronted the boss and demanded we be able to keep the sandwiches, explaining how important it was to us, how we didn’t make enough money to buy lunch every day, and how upset all the other workers would be.

The boss had prepared an answer in advance. She said it was against health code to keep the sandwiches, and that her boss would not allow it. We went back and forth a bunch of times to no avail.

The next day, I packaged up the sandwiches and put them in a stapled-shut bag, labeling it for a coworker who worked the next morning. He got the sandwiches and shared them with others on his shift. This was a direct action, directly contradicting the boss’ wishes.

I got called in the back room the next day. I was informed that if I did this again, I would be written up. Two writeups and I would be fired.

What could we do? We could do another march on the boss. A strike? A picket? A phone-in? We couldn’t figure out how to escalate. Our coworkers were not comfortable openly disobeying the boss, especially with the legitimacy of “health code” behind her.

Our boss won. We lost the sandwiches. We did not have the organization we needed to defend ourselves.

This was the first defensive battle of a long retreat. Once you lose once, the effect can be devastating. People lose confidence in their ability to win and your organization crumbles. The boss gets increasingly brazen in their attacks.

But their brazenness generates agitation. You might have to bide your time, but eventually, the time will be ripe for a counterattack. It’s important to understand this dynamic in order to be able to beat back the bosses’ offensive, but also to be able to take the occasional loss in stride, pick our battles, and stay on the offensive more effectively.



The Production of Gender
December 5, 2009, 8:01 am
Filed under: Analysis, Random Shit | Tags: , , , , ,

For most of my life, I’ve felt that men and women were different. Women like to do certain things and men like to do certain things. I felt like this had something to do with the special character of men and women. It seemed to be true because in fact, most of the men and women I know conform to these basic stereotypes. Growing up, I was told that it was OK to break with these stereotypes because, frankly, it wasn’t a big deal and it doesn’t hurt anyone if some men love other other men and act feminine, or some women love other women and/or act masculine. But the categories remained intact, despite the acceptability of some deviations.

It seemed like there was a natural way for the majority of both sexes of act.

I started working at a multinational clothing retailer recently. I only work a few days, mostly nights. Actually, I’ve probably been fired because I haven’t been scheduled to work in the last two weeks because I called in sick too much because I work too much because none of my jobs pay enough so I work too many hours.

Anyway…

Most of the time at this job all I do is fold clothes. Somethings I work in the early morning unpacking new shipments of clothes and putting them on the sales floor.

I mostly work on womens’ floor, because womens’ clothing sells much more than mens’. There is more work to do because women buy way more clothes than men do. Maybe they’ve got something to sell, too.

One day I focused the lights on both floors. The boss told me to focus the lights on certain things in order of priority  1) Visuals (this means mannequins that are set up by the “visual team”- a labor aristocracy of workers who set up mannequins while the mass workers fold clothes) 2) Marketing- there are giant blow-up photos of women and men wearing the clothes we are selling. The womens’ floor has pictures of all women. The mens floor has pictures of all men. 3) Product- piles of shirts and jeans. This was the order of priority for what the corporation wanted customers to notice.

The company I work for launched a marketing campaign to market womens clothes to women and mens clothes to men. They bought ads on TV and on Facebook.

People came streaming into the store to buy the products. Men bought the mens clothes. Women bought the womens clothes.

Would anyone know what was right for women and men if the corporations didn’t tell us? I doubt it.

Corporate America controls the media. The media produces the common sense of our society- our idea of what is right and what is wrong. In our own time, the means of production also includes the means of producing culture. The corporati0ns produce our sense of self-hood through control of culture. They tell us what is right for women and men. Without the perpetuation of the gender binary by corporate america, people would likely find expressions of their sexuality much more comfortable than those given to us by the bosses.

Which makes me wonder- why are they so invested in producing men and women?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that until workers control the means of production, the bosses will control our most basic emotions about what it means to be a man, a woman, and to be human.



For Communism
September 21, 2009, 7:15 am
Filed under: Random Shit | Tags: , , , ,

organize

A friend of mine recently told me that he has realized that the radical left doesn’t really do anything. Sure, there are journals and blogs, ink and pixels spilled over theoretical questions, punctuated by the odd mass mobilization. But what the fuck does the radical left actually do in society?

Not a whole fucking lot for people who claim to be revolutionaries.

As someone who spends almost every waking minute talking to workers or fighting my own boss, I find this very frustrating.

I think it’s time to clean house. There is no longer any room for anyone above the struggle. The world has been interpreted enough. The point is to change it.

The “movement” is not made up of those who necessarily self-identify as revolutionaries, anarchists, marxist, or what have you. It is made up of those who struggle against their own masters from their own class position. As Marx wrote, “communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established , an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”

For this reason, the starting point of our politics must be concrete and direct involvement in the struggle of our class. In a truly revolutionary movement, there is no room for staff organizers, professional intellectuals, and everyone who makes a career or hobby out of someone else’s struggle. We’re all in this together.

What is the deal with peoples’ fear of mass work? You are scared of talking to strangers? And you want to smash the state? Let’s have first things first, shall we?

I’d like less talk and more action.



Notes on Student Syndicalism
June 23, 2009, 3:50 am
Filed under: Random Shit | Tags: , , , ,

I wasted 3 1/2 years of my life in pointless pseudo-radical campus organizing projects. Here’s what I think I should have been doing:

1. Actively supporting labor struggles through organizing, community education, and direct action

2. Learning the skills of community and workplace organizing through training and experience

3. Learning the history of labor struggles and various theories of organization

4. Organizing a union of students to fight for our interests.

This is pretty much what I’d like to see a student union movement do in the US. The group could move through these tasks more-or-less sequentially. First, organize in solidarity with unions and workers. Second, get training and experience in organizing. Third, during this process, learn the histor and theory of radical labor. Fourth, organize a militant student union to fight against tuition increases, student debt, and unfair treatment.



Student Syndicalism
June 16, 2009, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Random Shit | Tags: , , ,

I think that students should build unions. They could fight for free education, better treatment, and more of a voice on campuses and in society. In most countries, there are student unions of some sort. Like ASSÉ in Quebec. They call massive strikes , usually involving aggressive direct actions, to fight off tuition increases. Often, student unions take action in solidarity with labor struggles.

We should have student unions in the United States. Maybe then workers wouldn’t end up with thousands and thousands of dollars of student debt, effectively tethering them to the workplace for the rest of their lives.

With the number of students in the organized anarchist movement, this seems like it could be a great initial project.



Here We Go Again…
June 12, 2009, 5:32 am
Filed under: News, Random Shit | Tags: , , , ,

http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=20090610193012591

The G20 is coming to Pittsburgh. Maybe I’ll go. I’ve honestly got better things to do, but I need a break. Work sucks. Organizing is hard. Time for a tear gas holiday?

Anarchists have been effectively corralled into regularly-scheduled spectacular protest. Everyone’s got a part to play. We do our thing. The cops do their thing. Everyone says- see you at the trial! and heads home for a few months.

The next protest comes, it starts all over again.

We need to go outside the experience of the enemy. Change the terrain and the actors. Capital is an enormous beast. Let’s find the weak spot and attack it there. I mean this metaphorically. I mean that we should organize rather than protest.