May 30, 2013

Book Review: We Will Shoot Back: Armed resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement

We Will Shoot Back: Armed resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement
By Akinyele Omowale Umoja
New York University Press
New York and London

This is a good and valuable book and it should be read by anyone who is interested in the Black Freedom Struggle, the Civil Rights Movement, New African politics and struggles for self-determination.

The book represents an intellectual and nuanced breakthrough in how we look at social movements. The author makes this breakthrough by showing convincingly that the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi was big enough and was rooted enough in people's struggles to contain trends which were both integrationist and also supported Black self-determination. Akinyele Omowale Umoja has uncovered a "hidden history" of the Movement which is very much at odds with the dominant narratives. These narratives incorrectly see the Civil Rights Movement in the Solid South as non-violent, channelled through established national and regional organizations and dependent upon outsiders---mainly white outsiders---for their success.

The author is anti-dogmatic in his approach and gives proper weight to the Deacons for Defense and Justice, the Regional Council for Negro Leadership and other organizations which built collective Black leadership and resistance. The book also provides much information on local leaders such as Amzie Moore, Hartman Turnbow and E.W. Steptoe. These were strong leaders who consistently reflected the strivings of their communities. They carried on in a context which was shaped by both their African heritage and their American surroundings. Resistance of any kind, armed or passive, would have been impossible without them and others like them. Much space is given over in the book detailing how accountability of leadership was built and maintained over time, how organizing in rural and urban areas was developed and how formulas for successful organizing developed and were put in place. The book also shows how white supremacist reaction unfolded in the face of people's advances.

But what were Black people resisting? The author correctly names the struggle as being one against an essentially apartheid system which depended upon underdevelopment, brute force and and a legacy of white supremacy that reverberated through peculiar and specific class, national and gender relations for its survival. The response was bound to be dramatic and violent, even as parts of Mississippi industrialized, and the book captures that quite well.

This is also an invaluable local history and it should challenge and inspire others to unearth and publish other "on the ground" accounts of the Movement in the Solid South. Particularly interesting in Umoja's work is the incontestable demographic information provided. It must be remembered---and the book does this---that Black people formed solid majorities or near-majorities in the areas studied here. If that explains or contextualizes some of the features of the Movement, it also raises the question of how a white minority could safely hold so much power for so long.

Umoja argues in his introduction that "Black resistance in the United States cannot be solely interpreted through the lens of Western philosophical constructs" and he does a strong job of showing a continuity of Black organizing and resistance over time. The African roots of this organizing and resistance have been obscured or written out of history by the politically inept and blind. Still, his methodology is dialectical to the core and his particular emphasis on local leadership, which he points out was often intellectual and activist at the same time, echoes the work done by the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci. Perhaps "solely" merits continued discussion and analysis. The book offers the hope that we can eventually get past a Western Marxist vs. African or New African philosophical or interpretative divide, return to our roots and reimagine dialectical methodology as something which adequately and necessarily serves the interests and needs of all oppressed peoples.

I recently had the opportunity to ask the author why he capitalized "W" in "White" throughout the book. He patiently explained that he did this in order to balance his capitalizing "B" in "Black." It's a nice thought, but the evident respect and balance may well be unwarranted. We should not see white people as constituting a people or a nation.

Some white people will no doubt see in this book a partial vindication of the worst fears and propaganda of the white supremacist forces: Black people were armed and had political agendas all along which transcended demands for integration. We must be prepared to defend those agendas and the right of oppressed people to engage in all forms of struggle. Others will get hung up on the space given to New African consciousness and activism. We must also be prepared to point out the essential humanism and internationalism of this consciousness and practice. Umoja repeatedly places New African identity in the proper historical context.

This is not a book about or for the white left, although white leftists frequently get their due in the book. The book should serve to remind us that those on the left who surrendered to reformism in the 1940s and afterwards and gave up the programmatic demand for Black self-determination in the Solid South and the right of Black people to secede on their terms were in error. The questions of where were the Movement's white allies and where was the white working-class self-interest which would have, or should have, struggled alongside of the Freedom Movement naturally arise as we contemplate the lessons Umoja gives us.

There is one unfortunate typo in the book. The Communist Workers Party is mistakenly identified as the "Community Workers Party." Other than that, there are no obvious errors in the text.

Akinyele Omowale Umoja comes to this work as a scholar and as an activist, as a dedicated militant. Read this book!  


Cuban Lunch In Corvallis (OR) June 1st

Cuban Lunch!
Noon, Saturday June 1, 2013
 at 101 NW 23rd St, Corvallis

Fundraiser for the Pastors for Peace 24th Cuban aid caravan, dedicated to repairing the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in Santiago, Cuba, and celebrating the 60th anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution.  Traditional Cuban meal of beans, rice and ropa vieja
No cost to attend, but donations will be accepted.  Program will discuss the successes of Cuban healthcare, education and organic agriculture, updates on the struggle for normalization of relations, freedom to travel, current challenges and opportunities.

Sponsored by the Corvallis Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism -
Information on P4P at:
For event information, contact Mike Beilstein at 541 754 1858.

May 29, 2013

Lynne Stewart: Despite Prison Warden Granting Compassionate Release, The Government Delays

As her Stage Four Breast Cancer advances the Federal Government fails to act.  Thursday May 30th is International call-in Day for her release to Sloane-Kittering Cancer Center.

We must call the numbers below on Thursday, May 30, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM EST 

• US Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels202-307-3198-ext. 3
• US Attorney General Eric Holder202-514-2001
   President Obama202-456-1111
   Sample message to leave:

My name is ___________   ______________.I am from _____________ (City/State). I ask that you grant Lynne Stewart COMPASSIONATE RELEASE immediately. In sentencing Lynne to prison Judge John Koeltl stated that attorney Stewart, who steadfastly represented poor people for a lifetime, is a "credit to the legal profession and to the nation."  Let the law prevail and allow Lynne, who is suffering from Stage Four Breast Cancer, return to her family and loved ones while receiving the best medical treatment available to prolong her life. Thank you for your kind consideration. Let peace and justice prevail. Thank you. 

Letter from Lynne Stewart 
Dear Friends and Supporters:
     One month ago I made a request for compassionate release, which was honored by the warden at Carswell Federal Medical Center.  Today the papers are still on a desk in Washington, D.C. even though the terminal cancer that I have contracted requires expeditious action.
     Although I requested immediate action by the Bureau of Prisons, I find it necessary to again request immediate action from you, my friends, comrades, and supporters to call the three numbers listed above on Thursday, May 30 and request action on my behalf.
     This could result in my being able to access medical treatment at Sloan Kettering so that I can face the rest of my life with dignity surrounded by those I love and who love me.

Please do this.
 Yours truly,
Lynne Stewart FMS CARSWELL-53504-054

Letter from Lynne Stewart Defense Committee

Dear Friends of Lynne Stewart,
I just returned from visiting Lynne Stewart at FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas during the Memorial Day weekend. Lynne is dying! She had been diagnosed with Stage Four Breast Cancer. But she is not without hope. Her spirits are high and determination to live and fight on intact. The medical staff at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC is waiting for her arrival and prepared with state of the art treatments that could prolong her life and maybe even save it. I have known Lynne for fifty four years. She is not one to give up on any struggle for human rights and justice. This time the struggle is for her life. Please make the calls and pass this on to every person who cherishes humanity's struggle for a world free from injustice and oppression. I have lots to say about my 12 hours with Lynne last weekend, but now is the time for action. Lynne is counting on you at this very special moment.

In solidarity,
Jeff Mackler, West Coast Coordinator, Lynne Stewart Defense Committee
510-268-9429  jmackler@...

May 27, 2013

Rescuing Nazim Hikmet From His Saviors

Nazim Hikmet: the life and times of Turkey's world poet
By Mutlu Konuk Blasing
Persea Books, 294 pp. $27.95

Nazim Hikmet (Salonika, 1902-Moscow, 1963) was one of the outstanding Communist poets of the twentieth century. He should be mentioned in the same breath as Neruda and Darwish. He changed both the form and content of Turkish poetry,  gave an international voice to the oppressed people of Turkey and wrote much about facing prison and death. Hikmet's poetry reached its highest and defining points when it took up the connections between the individual and the world, cause and effect, essence and appearance, possibility and reality and necessity and chance. He spent many hard years in Turkish prisons for his poetry and artistic work and for his involvement and leadership on the left. In 1951 he was forced into exile and spent the rest of his life in Romania, Poland and the USSR. As a leader of the World Peace Council he also travelled extensively and contributed to the international peace movement during his time in exile. Much of his work is still unavailable in Turkey due to censorship.

A cottage industry is popping up around the memory and work of Nazim Hikmet. There are festivals, books and academic papers analyzing his work and it seems that many people who knew him and were directly influenced by him have written memoirs in Turkish, Russian, French and English. We have at least three volumes of his work in English available--a fragment of what he wrote. Still, there is a troubling lack of engagement with Hikmet's ideas while his name and presence are being branded. Just as troubling is the matter of Hikmet's full body of work still not being available in Turkey fifty years after his death.

Mutlu Knonuk Blasing has written a just-published overview of Hikmet's life and work entitled Nazim Hikmet: the life and times of Turkey's world poet and she has translated into English, and will soon be publishing. Hikmet's final novel Life's Good, Brother. Many of the translations of Hikmet's work that we have in English come from Blasing and her husband.

In Nazim Hikmet we meet Hikmet as a quasi-Sufi, a quasi-nationalist and as a quasi-Trotskyite---none of which is accurate. We do not meet him as a serious Communist---which he was. Blasing comes close to saying that prison was good for Hikmet because it allowed him to meet and interact with Turks from various regions and social stations, but it was prison that destroyed his health and nearly caused him a mental breakdown.

Blasing seems to have no background on the left and so she makes a number of political errors. There is the constant and false counterposing of poetry to revolutionary politics and political struggle. There is the inability to imagine the USSR and the Warsaw Pact nations as democracies or to appreciate what criticism/self-criticism meant to artists in those countries during the Cold War. She did not make full use of the USSR's archives in writing the book. The Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) existed as an underground organization when she says that it did not. This is important for the book because so much of Hikmet's work, and so much of the persecution that he faced, had to do with his involvement and leadership in the TKP. She uses only a few direct sources for much of the book and none of them are Communists. So it is that we get a very one-sided view of Hikmet, his politics and his work.

Late in life Hikmet apparently departed from communist morality---yes, there is such a thing---but Blasing cannot see this for what it was. Even if she could not make this leap, she might have asked if Hikmet's lapses were due to disease or advanced age or were the lasting effects of what he experienced in Turkish prisons. Instead, she puts these unacceptable departures from ethical behavior solely on Hikmet without context and without apology. She throws in an odd tidbit about Stalin cancelling a meeting with Hikmet after Hikmet made critical remarks at a Writers' Union meeting, but she does not draw the necessary conclusions from this: Hikmet was still published in the USSR, he was still treated quite well there and whatever disagreements he may have had with Stalin were less important than his freedom to travel and work. Blasing spends quite a bit of space documenting that Hikmet's freedom was circumscribed in the USSR, but she does not take up the question of what freedom means in a socialist society and how this compared to "freedom" in the capitalist countries during the Cold War. Could Hikmet have escaped to the US in those years? What would have happened to him here?

Blasing quotes Hikmet as being critical of the USSR and Stalin on many occasions. It seems quite possible to me that some of his criticisms were accurate and deserved and it is to the credit of the USSR that these criticisms could be made. Other criticisms, however, are given by Blasing without context. Since the quotes are so short and the sources (like an older Yevtushenko) so dubious, we don't know what Hikmet actually said or was trying to say.

Blasing gives an interesting, if too brief, overview of Turkish society during Hikmet's life. She does not directly take on the important question of how secularism arose in Turkey and what it meant for the left and artists there. And also missing from this account is any mention of the Armenian Genocide, a determining event in modern Turkish history. We do not know how Hikmet responded to the Genocide, or if he responded at all.

The book makes much of Hikmet's social and class origins and seems to say that Hikmet could never overcome his upper-class origins and become a proletarian. Let's settle the question by making two important points. First, the proletariat is not a club one joins. Class is a process at least as much as it is a category. Second, Hikmet did indeed overcome his origins through great personal and political struggle.

Blasing admits to engaging in her own form of censorship when she says in a footnote

In choosing poems to translate into English, Randy Blasing and I avoided poems that overtly voice a Party line. Translatability into a different time and context, as well as a different language, itself constitutes a criterion of value for a literary work. Technically, of course, translation of of poetry is impossible, but the effect and import of a poem should be transposable to differrent social and political contexts. And, on the whole, most of Nazim's poems meet that standard.  

Blasing has set a political standard which determines which poems will and will not be translated by her and her husband.

Three concluding points:

*Blasing does not fully explore Hikmet's contact with Paul Robeson. This would have been an interesting path to follow.
*The passing comparison Blasing makes between Hikmet and the fascist Ezra Pound is wholly inappropriate.
*The book leaves us with an unanswered question: what influence does Hikmet's writing have in Turkey today?


Anarchy in the USA -- Live at Zuccotti Park

By Zoltan Zigedy

In my last posting, I deplored the state of the US left, citing the rise of utopian and reformist alternatives to socialism. Deeply ingrained anti-Communism explains the ready acceptance of the shallow and muddy alternatives to capitalism served up by academic oracles like Professor Gar Alperovitz. These wishful options come at a time when more and more US citizens, especially young people, are showing a hunger to learn more about socialism. But the thin gruel of cooperatives and other small-scale and locally owned enterprises will not satisfy that hunger. Nor does monopoly capital seem too alarmed by the prescriptions of the good Professor. The threat of one, two, three... thousands of little “socialisms” has left big business singularly unmoved in spite of Alperovitz's reach well beyond the left establishment.

Among those fans of Alperovitz who wish to slink away from Marxism and revolutionary politics it has become customary to cite Lenin's essay “On Cooperation” from 1923. This shamefully dishonest tactic rips Lenin's praise of agricultural cooperatives from its context. Writing at the time of the New Economic Policy, Lenin emphasizes that cooperatives are only viable because of Soviet power, the monopoly of“political power is in the hands of the working-class.” He is crystal clear on the cooperative movement under the capitalist state:
There is a lot of fantasy in the dreams of the old cooperators. Often they are ridiculously fantastic. But why are they fantastic? Because people do not understand the fundamental, the rock-bottom significance of the working-class political struggle for the overthrow of the rule of the exploiters. We have overthrown the rule of the exploiters, and much that was fantastic, even romantic, even banal in the dreams of the old cooperators is now becoming unvarnished reality.
“Fantastic, even romantic, even banal...”
Seasoned veterans of the left know that any strategy that promises to be non-threatening and enters through the front door of the monopoly media should be received with suspicion.
Occupy Revisited
For the above reason, I read a recent The New Yorker article with a jaundiced eye. While nearly everyone acknowledges that the Occupy Movement is --if not dead --splintered and marginalized, a New Yorker “critic at large” Kelefa Sanneh, picked this moment to revisit it. Moreover, the usually attuned-to-the-cutting-edge editors indulged five full pages of copy to the movement's “godfather”and the allure of anarchism.
Just weeks ago, before the elections in Venezuela, the magazine published a long piece scathingly critical of the Bolivarian Revolution and its late leader, Hugo Chavez. No doubt with the approval of The New Yorker's dogmatic Cold War editor David Remnick, who still sees Stalin lurking under every bed, the author revived the tired canard of Chavez “preventing a coup like the one that put him in office.”[my italics] Of course Chavez didn't come to office through a coup, a fact that The New Yorker later acknowledged with a small correction. Certainly joining with the mainstream media to trash Chavez and his socialism doesn't dispose me to expect The New Yorker to experience a sudden change of heart and promote any genuine alternative to capitalism. And they don't disappoint.
Paint Bombs: David Graeber's 'The Democracy Project' and the Anarchist Revival(5-13, 2013) is a stealth exercise in distraction and diversion. Where many of us saw the Occupy movement as an incipient anti-capitalist movement degraded through its failure to generate organization and focus, Sanneh sees a noble struggle against“verticals” and in defense of the procedures of the“horizontals.” Sanneh crows: “Occupy resisted those who wanted to stop it and those who wanted to organize it”.
Imagine wanting to organize the Occupy movement! The shame!
The self-styled and New Yorker-anointed guru of the “horizontal” movement is David Graeber, an anthropologist and author of an interesting, eccentric book on debt. Sanneh acclaims Graeber as “the most influential radical political thinker of the moment” (Take that, Gar Alperovitz!). The arch enemies of the “horizontal” movement are “verticals”represented by Marx, the Soviet Union, and parties, leaders, and demands. Sannah claims to see this through the prism of Occupy:
...instead of arguing about economics and ideology, the Occupiers could affirm, instead, their unanimous commitment to freedom of assembly. Occupy may have begun with a grievance against Wall Street, but the process of occupation transformed the movement , peopled by activists demanding the right to demand their rights...
Perhaps no one could say exactly what the Zuccotti Park occupation wanted, but lots of people knew how it worked.
At a critical moment in an economic crisis adversely affecting millions, the “horizontals” were able to transform a movement against Wall Street into a statement “demanding the right to demand... rights.”Thankfully, this does not characterize all Occupy experiences outside of Zuccotti Park. In many cases, Occupiers joined activists in their cities and neighborhoods fighting for health care, jobs, economic justice, and against US aggression. They found righteous demands and learned valuable lessons in organized struggle.
Sanneh concedes that the “rehabilitation of the anarchist movement in America has a lot to do with the fall of the Soviet Union, which lives in popular memory as a quaint and brutal place-- an embarrassing precursor that modern, pro-democracy socialists must find ways to disavow.”
So it's embarrassment and not ideology, disavowal and not commitment that drives the popularity of anarchism. Does this not reek of opportunism? An opportunism that prefers to swiftly and resolutely condemn and separate from the Soviet experience in the face of a“popular” inquisition rather than candidly address both the Soviet strengths and weaknesses?
However, embarrassment should be felt for the anarchist blueprint for forging a new society. Rather than the vision offered by “grim joyless revolutionaries,” Graeber wants “a kind of de-centralized socialism, with decisions made by a patchwork of local assemblies and cooperatives...” – in his own words - “something vaguely like jury duty, except non-compulsory.” Thus, the road to an other-than-capitalist future is paved with “open mics,”assemblies, cooperatives, and a fuzzy analogy.
Adding more to the anarchist strategy are the views of a fellow anthropologist and ally, Yale professor James C. Scott. Scott salutes anarchism for “its tolerance for confusion and improvisation.” He finds anarchism's foot print in such acts of resistance as“foot-dragging, poaching, pilfering, dissimulation, sabotage, desertion, absenteeism, squatting, and flight.”
“Grim joyless revolutionaries” will be surprised to learn how easy is the road forward. Instead of tiresome organizing, demonstrations and marches, instead of demands and manifestos, instead of meetings and planning sessions, instead of party-building and coalition work, acts of individual and often covert defiance mark the way.
One suspects that despite the rhetoric of radical and participatory democracy advocated by Graeber, Scott, and other anarchist “influentials,” their ideas were not forged in the cauldron of struggle, their thinking was not the product of collective,“horizontal” decisions. The professors decry leadership, but contradictorily speak authoritatively for their movement with little hesitation. They are unsanctioned spokespersons for a leaderless movement. Strange.
To appropriate an old expression: Scratch an anarchist and find an angry, embittered liberal. Like all liberals, modern-day anarchists are obsessed with procedure. It's not a program that defines their agenda, but the ritual of decision making. It's no surprise that the liberals at The New Yorker are fascinated. And it's no surprise that they take us no further from a decadent, crisis-ridden capitalism.

May 26, 2013

Now What? Labor Unions and the Inevitability of Class Struggle by Bill Fletcher, Jr.

There is a story that I often use to make a point regarding one of the central problems in organized labor in the USA. It goes like this: A man jumped off of the Empire State Building in New York. As he was dropping past the 30th floor he was overheard saying “…so far, so good…”

For more than five decades organized labor in the USA has been in decline. At first the decline was not particularly noticeable since, through the early 1970s, organized labor still represented more than 25% of the non-agricultural workforce (down from 35% in 1955). Nevertheless the decline rapidly increased in the aftermath of the recessions of the 1970s and the advent of President Ronald Reagan and Reaganism (the homegrown variety of neo-liberal economics).

Having purged its left-wing in the late 1940s and abandoned any coherent sense of being a social movement on behalf of a class of people, organized labor drifted, slowly at first and then with increasing speed as gravity took hold.

Despite evidence of decline, most of the leadership continued to insist that the situation was not ‘that bad’ and that either (1) their particular labor union would survive intact, and perhaps grow, or (2)the pendulum of U.S. politics would inevitably shift and unions would rise again.

Yet the rate of decline increased. In 1947 a Republican Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act which amended the National Labor Relations Act. There were many regressive components to this statute but one in particular has performed like a slow-acting poison in the political system: so-called ‘right to work’.

Thus, ‘right to work’ is really the ‘right to be greedy.’ It would be the equivalent of saying that citizens did not need to pay taxes to their city but would, regardless, receive access to the police, fire department, sanitation, for free! Reasonable?

Organized labor objected to ‘right to work’ [Section 14(b) in the Taft-Hartley Act] but never mounted a serious challenge to it. Initially ‘right to work’ was contained in the South and Southwest. A direct challenge to ‘right to work’ would have involved both a national legislative strategy and an active organizing campaign(s) in the South and the Southwest. Organized labor refused. After the failure of the Congress of Industrial Organization’s “Operation Dixie” in the late 1940s, the bulk of organized labor abandoned any real thought to organizing the South and Southwest.

By not challenging ‘right to work’, organized labor was providing the conditions under which this poison could—and did—spread. In that sense, the recent ‘right to work’ victories, first in Indiana and most recently Michigan, should have come as no surprise. Tragic, yes; surprise, no.

Challenging ‘right to work’, however, would have involved more than lobbying and, indeed, more than a traditional organizing campaign. ‘Right to work’ was nothing short of a component of the declaration of war against workers represented by Taft-Hartley. As much as organized labor objected to Taft-Hartley, the dominant forces in the movement refused to accept the full implications of this assault.

To have moved against ‘right to work’ would have necessitated abandoning the anti-communism that fueled the purges of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. It would have also necessitated an approach to organizing in the South and Southwest that would have by necessity taken on the form of a mass social movement, akin to but more advanced than what took place in the 1930s and early 1940s. The reason for this is that to have conducted successful union organizing in the South and the Southwest would have involved taking on “race”, and specifically organizing African Americans in the South and Chicanos/Mexican Americans in the Southwest; organizing these groups, not as an afterthought, but as core constituencies.

Evidence of the turn away from being a movement for social and economic justice for the working class was precisely found in this monumental failure. Yes, for years union orators would decry ‘right to work’, but at the end of the day they believed that it could be contained. The spread of ‘right to work’ becomes an example of the extent of the crisis facing the unions, but it is not the sum total of the crisis. Yet, to address the continuing poison of ‘right to work’ there must be a transformation of the US labor movement on a scale that mirrors a reformation precisely because taking on ‘right to work’ is part of a larger challenge for labor. That challenge is summed up by the initial story: the ground is fast approaching.

Renewal? Some years ago in a discussion with a very wealthy businessman, I was instructed on key steps in turning around a company that has collapsed or is near collapse. In thinking through his analysis, I realized that there are valuable lessons that are directly applicable to organized labor (and of course, there are some that are not at all applicable).

Consider the following: New leadership: It is very difficult to turn around any formation with the old leadership still in command. This does not necessarily imply a complete change, but it does mean that those who are in commanding heights must move on. One is reminded of the opening scenes from the film Patton with George C. Scott, where he takes command of US troops in North Africa after the disastrous battle at Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. The complete failure of the operation necessitated new leadership rather than tinkering around the edges.

Organized labor in the USA needs new leadership. Many of the new leaders are already within the ranks of unions andother social movements. They are prepared to introduce new strategies and build new alliances. Most especially they recognize that the status quo is not only unacceptable but is, at best, temporary. They realize, in other words, that the ground is fast approaching.

Mission clarification and internal education: Organizations and movements can become lost. Their missions, developed in a different era, may have nothing relevant to say about the current moment and the near future.

Organized labor in the USA lost its mission in the late 1940s. Actually, it abandoned its mission and replaced it with a different one: the building of a labor lobby within the context of the mainstream USA. More than anything else organized labor refused to accept the inevitability of class struggle and instead insisted that the elimination of the left-wing in labor helped to ensure that a productive relationship could be built with capital. The elimination of the left-wing was not only the elimination of people and organizations, but it was also represented by unconditional support for US foreign policy and the repudiation of any sense that organized labor had a direct responsibility to un-organized labor, i.e., to the rest of the working class.

Turning this situation around necessitates a reassertion of a mission focused on social and economic justice founded upon a cold appraisal of the realities of class struggle in 21st century USA, and for that matter the 21st century planet Earth. It is a mission that involves a level of global labor solidarity the likes of which most of us have not seen in our life-times. But it also involves the building of strategic alliances in the USA that aim towards winning power for working people.

The mission, however, is only as good as are those who are prepared to implement it. This means that within the unions and allied worker organizations, there must be a process of large-scale member education that helps to create the framework for understanding the dynamics of contemporary capitalism and the sorts of strategies that are necessary in order to address it. Too many organizations alter their missions only to stagnate due to the failure of the members to ‘own’ the result.

Organizational assessment and retooling/restructuring: In the aftermath of any major failure there must be an assessment. While part of that involves assessing strategies, organizational forms must be reconsidered. In the case of organized labor, the movement must assess how it is structured, including but not limited to its relationship with worker organizations that are not formal unions. To put it another way, organized labor must ascertain what is necessary in order to build a genuine 21stcentury labor movement. One example of this is that of the unemployed who, for all intents and purposes, most of organized labor has abandoned. Building a movement of workers necessitates organizing and mobilizing the unemployed, therefore, one must determine what that means at the levels of program and organization.

Assessment will necessitate examining everything from the role of staff in unions, to structures like central labor councils and state federations, to the relationship of US-based unions to what are known as “global union federations.” And it will also necessitate evaluating whether those in leadership and on staff have the proper tools in order to perform their jobs. For too many union activists this is an unsettling proposition since they may have performed their duties in a certain way for years and are unwilling or unable to change to meet the demands of the present, let alone, the future. Such individuals may need to beencouraged to move on or retire.

Moving forward: The other element of turning around from a collapse is that one must keep moving. This is to say that change does not take place while standing still. When Patton took over after Kasserine Pass the U.S. could not call a truce with the Germans while they got their act together. The transformation had to take place as they were preparing for battle.

This is just as much the case for organized labor. While there will be moments necessarily taken for ‘retreats’ and trainings, this happens while at the same time the ‘ground is fast approaching.’ It takes place while we fight battles such as in Michigan against ‘right to work’. Moving forward is essential also in order to ensure that demoralization and confusion does not spread. There must be a sense of progressive motion otherwise there will be a sense of stagnation.

Seeds of renewal, and then what? The seeds of renewal can be seen, both within organized labor but also outside of the formal structures of the labor union movement. The Chicago Teacher’s Strike is a major example of a different approach to unionism that transformed a battle between teachers and the City into a struggle by led a union on behalf of parents and students. The strikes by thousands of workers at WalMart facilities shook not only that corporation but much of the employer class. Striking dockworkers on the West Coast and separately organized dockworkers on the East Coast that had been preparing for a major strike, pointed to the continued vulnerability of contemporary capitalism to mass action by workers.

There are additional developments. The rise of the New York Taxi Worker Alliance and the spread of taxi worker unionism to other parts of the USA demonstrated that workers who have been so restricted by the law can find a means for collective action. The emergence of the National Domestic Workers Alliance evidenced a movement of an ‘invisible’ workforce that has periodically risen over the last century. The National Day Laborers Organizing Network fused the fight for immigrant rights with the fight for economic justice. The Right to the City Alliance is seeking to build an urban-based workers movement against gentrification and the class-cleansing of our cities. Independent worker centers have developed over the last twenty years addressing the needs of the working poor. Although most of these advances have not taken place within the context of organized labor, they nevertheless point in the direction of a reconstruction and redefinition of a labor movement for the 21st century.

Yet none of this can happen in the absence of a Left, a point Dr. Fernando Gapasin and I sought to make in our bookSolidarity Divided. In fact, the Left has a critical role today in breaking organizing labor away from the notion of narrow trade union struggle and instead replacing that with a concept of 21stcentury class struggle. The implications of this are critical. The issue here is not mainly one of struggle or militancy, but rather scale and objectives. The existence of neo-liberal capitalism has meant, both in theory and in practice, the movement toward the elimination of labor unions and other forms of worker organization. It has also meant the systematic constriction of political democracy and restrictions of all sorts on forms of dissent.

For organized labor, then, the task presented is the building of a social justice unionism that is prepared to battle not only the “1%” who dominated society, but battle the system that reinforces the privileges and domination of the “1%” (who are actually more like the 10%). Unions must be the vehicle for the “47%” that Mitt Romney so cavalierly derided prior to his electoral defeat. Actually it is more than that 47% but Romney created for the broader public a clearer sense of contemporary class struggle than has any other mainstream leader in some time. He was prepared to suggest that close to half of the population of the USA should be written off. A renewed labor movement must offer a different approach.

There are those . . . . . .who suggest that the current union movement cannot sustain itself and that out of its ashes will arise something new and better. Such views are at best wishful thinking and at worst irresponsible. The complete marginalization of the union movement, or its demise, will certainly not mean that struggle will cease. But it will mean that a critical vehicle to organize workers will be lost, at least for the short term.

The marginalization and demise of organized labor also would come at a moment when very reactionary forces are moving swiftly to secure total political and economic control. Efforts, as we saw in the lead up to the November 2012 election, toward voter suppression along with various forms of Republican gerrymandering plus demagogic appeals to right-wing populism among whites all point in some very dangerous directions.

Unions, as they are currently constituted, organized and theorized, are not up to the challenges of the 21st century. The existing union movement, however, can play a role in the building of that new labor movement for the not-so-new 21st century. Embracing other forms of worker organizations; building organization and activism among the unemployed; creating strategic alliances with other progressive social movements in order to fight for political and economic power; engaging in global labor solidarity in order to challenge global capitalism as manifested by transnational corporations and the governments that back them, these are the challenges that can and must be undertaken at this very moment.

This cannot await a new and better union movement. We must be part of building that future movement…and building it now! *********************************************************************** Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and international activist and writer. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum; the co-author of Solidarity Divided; the author of“They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions; and currently works with the American Federation of Government Employees. He can be reached at The contents of this essay do not necessarily represent the views of any group with which Fletcher is associated.

May 25, 2013

Why CounterPunch Owes Women An Apology

Sharon Smith argues that Angelina Jolie deserves better than derisive and sexist "humor" for making public a health decision that all women dread being faced with.

BREAST CANCER is no laughing matter--certainly not for the roughly 232,340 U.S. women who will be diagnosed with it this year, or the 39,620 women expected to die from it.
Yet the editors over at the CounterPunch website were apparently guffawing over Angelina Jolie's recent decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy. Their e-mail promo for an article posted on the site on May 14 reads: "Ruth Fowler unsnaps Angelina Jolie's bra and exposes privilege, health care and tits." Presto! A double mastectomy morphs into locker room fodder.
Fowler's article never actually mentions the word "tits." But like smirking adolescents, the editors insert it yet again in their contemptuous title: "Angelina Jolie Under the Knife: Of Privilege, Health Care and Tits." One can almost hear them howling with laughter at their own perceived cleverness. Presumably they also laughed their way through Seth McFarlane's sophomoric "We saw your boobs" spoof at the Academy Awards, while millions of women cringed.
But using boob jokes to introduce an article about undergoing a double mastectomy to prevent a potentially deadly disease constitutes a descent from sexism to misogyny.
Like so many Hollywood actresses, the sexual objectification of Jolie's own face and body has been a key component of her fame. Jolie should certainly be commended for her courage in choosing to make her double mastectomy public--in order to help reassure other women confronting the possibility or reality of mastectomy to understand that losing one or both of their breasts does not mean losing their sexuality. In her May 14 op-ed piece in the New York Times, she wrote, "On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity."
In a society as sexist as ours, in which women are so often judged in relation to the perceived desirability of their individual body parts--as if in suspended animation from the rest of their personhood--this message could not be more timely.
The essence of this message is entirely lost on the CounterPunch gang. They seem blissfully unconcerned that their own use of the degrading term "tits" is yet more evidence of the damaging impact of the sexual objectification of women. The fact that they do so under the guise of left-wing commentary only compounds this damage.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
FOWLER'S ARTICLE is devoid of boob jokes, but is also teeming with contempt toward Jolie.
Fowler ridicules Jolie for "your elaborately reconstructed chest and your incredible bravery in submitting to top-end, essential preventive treatments in order to avoid a painful and abhorrent death," as if Jolie endured multiple surgeries over a period of months as a colossal act of narcissism.
But Angelina Jolie made the decision to undergo a double mastectomy because she heard the news that every woman dreads: She tested positive for a faulty BRCA1 gene, which gave her an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. The fact that her mother died of ovarian cancer after a nearly 10-year struggle at the age of 56 is a further indication of what the future would likely hold.
One might reasonably ask why Jolie has been singled out for such scorn. Fowler's article uses reverse (some might even say reactionary) logic: She disparages those who do have access to quality medical care instead of demanding that all women gain access to the same standard of care. Thus, Fowler dismisses the option of genetic testing in asking: "[W]hat good is knowing that there's a test out there only privileged rich people can get?" This is bad advice for women facing the possibility that they carry a defective gene.
Jolie is far from silent on the issue of access. As she argued in her op-ed piece:
Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live. The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.
Fowler dismisses Jolie's comments above as offering merely "a trifling nod" to class inequality, asking, "Why don't you raise our awareness of your own overpriced, privileged medical treatment a little more, and continue to NOT raise awareness of any actual fact?" Yet since Jolie's op-ed was published, the Internet has been abuzz with debate and discussion about this important subject, demonstrating that Jolie has indeed opened a much-needed conversation.
Fowler's resentment is misplaced. Hollywood actors neither created nor can resolve the health care crisis. That responsibility lies squarely with the medical-industrial complex, including its government lackeys, who sustain the class disparities of the for-profit health care system. The conditions are ripe for a movement that demands health care for all, but it must take aim at the appropriate targets to be effective.
It should not be difficult to understand why millions of women who, facing an epidemic of breast cancer, breathed a sigh of relief on May 14 upon reading Jolie's honest and eloquent account of removing her breasts to save her life.
And I strongly suggest that those who find her struggle amusing lift their snouts out of the trough long enough to discover why so many women are not laughing. An ounce of empathy for women's health and dignity would go a long way.

This article was published on
There is also a response to the CounterPunch editor’s refusal to publish this article:

May 22, 2013

Black Agenda Report: Can Black Politics Be Revived?

Obama’s presidency has been disastrous for African Americans, who have been economically crushed and disconnected from their historical roots in social struggle. Political fantasists now urge us to put our faith in demographics, claiming that change will inevitably flow from the darkening of America’s population. But, that’s a trap which leads to a descent into South Africa-like conditions.

Can Black Politics Be Revived?
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
The Black America polity has rendered itself useless to the struggle for a just and sustainable world.”
The Age of Obama, now in its second and final quadrennial, has largely succeeded in divorcing African American politics from the historical Black consensus on social justice, self-determination and peace. What remains is play-acting and role-modeling, an Ebony magazine caricature of politics that leaves the great bulk of Black people with, literally, no avenues of resistance to the savage depredations of capitalism in decline. Shamefully, through reflexive support for President Obama’s relentless assaults on international order, the Black America polity has rendered itself useless to the struggle for a just and sustainable world.
None of this is written in stone, of course. The quickening cascade of crises that define our times – the prelude to collapse – will each provide opportunities to alter Black America’s political course. As Obama’s exit approaches, the African American delirium begins to palpably break, like a spent fever. Black politicos rush to revise the histories of their own post-2007 behavior, inventing examples of their “constructive criticism” of the First Black President and their alleged misgivings and anxieties about the corporate, militarist direction of his policies – in order to position themselves for the post-Obama era.
But the crisis in Black politics was building long before Wall Street selected the talented young actor from Chicago to implement its austerity and global war agenda. The Black Misleadership Class, representing political tendencies indigenous to Black America, is the problem. Having no vision of the future beyond populating it with more Black faces in high places, they will inevitably imbibe other Black-flavored corporate potions in hopes of reviving some version of the Obama euphoria.
Black politicos rush to revise the histories of their own post-2007 behavior.”
Other, slicker operatives promote the dangerous notion that progressive political aims will be achieved by virtue of rapid demographic change in the United States. Rather than defend Obama’s indefensible record in office, Bill Fletcher and Carl Davidson described the 2012 election as a contest that pits “the changing demographics of the U.S.” against the forces of “far right irrationalism” that are trying to turn back the “demographic and political clock.” In this construct, the substance of politics is totally removed, replaced by faith in the innate political inclinations of younger whites and the growing non-white population. Obama’s expanded theaters of war, his disregard of international law, his servility to Wall Street and contempt for the historical Black political consensus – none of this matters to Fletcher and Davidson, whose article was titled, “The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama's Record … Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him.”
It is becoming a common theme: that the darkening of America will somehow lead inexorably to profound changes in power structures. Just sit back and wait for the demographic revolution. Such thinking is appropriate to Madison Avenue, which plots demographic changes like the wolf anticipates the migratory patterns of the caribou. Demographics are important, but are not magic. All that can be safely predicted based on U.S. demographic trends is that there will be more Black and brown (especially brown) faces in positions of authority, elected and appointed, and that the presence of these darker faces may actually make Wall Street’s rule more palatable. Four years of Obama has already provided us with that lesson.
The numbers paint a picture that looks very much like South Africa, with the white minority on top.”
For those who are looking for an easy route to the Promised Land, one without struggle, in which the course of the revolution can be numerically charted just as McDonald’s displays its billions of hamburgers sold, 2042 is the magic number. That’s when U.S. Census demographers project that persons now classified as non-white will outnumber white Anglos. But, who will actually occupy the pinnacles of power in this non-white majority nation, and wield whatever influence the U.S. retains in the world? Based on current trends, according to a 2012 report by Boston-based United for a Fair Economy, “the overwhelming share of the nation’s income and wealth will remain solidly in White hands.” Tim Sullivan, co-author of the report on “The Emerging Majority,” says the numbers paint a picture that looks very much like South Africa, with the white minority on top, requiring a vast police presence to keep the non-white majority in check.
Such an outcome is not written in stone, either, but is likely in the absence of a sustained movement to topple corporate power and disassemble the structures of U.S. imperialism. However, such a movement will never coalesce under the guidance of the Fletchers and Davidsons, who counsel folks to go with the demographic flow. And, we have already experienced the disaster of corporate rule via dark proxy.
2042 will only be a good year if people fight to make it so. Majorities hold no magic, and never have.
If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” - Frederick Douglass.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

Colorlines: Obama To Black Grads: Good Job. Now Stop Being A Failure

By Kai Wright
Graduation season is upon us, and with it the time-honored ritual of big, important graduation speeches. This weekend, Barack and Michelle Obama each gave theirs at historically black colleges—the president spoke at Morehouse, the first lady at Bowie State. This is a fabulous thing on its face. And both talked explicitly about race and opportunity.
The problem is that both also continued a pattern we have too often been forced to examine—using the world’s largest bully pulpit to browbeat black people for the personal failings that the Obamas seem to believe are our largest challenge.
In both speeches, the Obamas veered into finger-wagging lectures about personal responsibility’s triumph over structural inequity. The president issued now-familiar urgings for black people to stop making “excuses”—a plainly strange demand to give a room full of young people who are celebrating a big, hard achievement. The first lady told us even our dreams are insufficient, that black kids must fantasize about being successful professionals rather than celebrities. You’ll not find similar themes in their speeches to non-black audiences.
This is familiar stuff, of course. From Booker T. Washington through to Bill Cosby, there’s always been a deeply conservative strain of black politics that embraces the American ideal that we get only what we earn. That we dwell on racism and inequity at our own peril, because America helps those who help themselves. That we bring the white man’s scorn down upon ourselves with our sloth. Pull up your pants and turn off that darn rap music! You look like a hoodlum! That kind of thing.
Of course, it’s also true that unemployment among the black graduates Obama addressed will be twice the rate of their white peers if nothing changes in the government he leads. The parents of the students he lectured are far more likely to have lost their homes to predatory lending than to have financed their kids’ education with that wealth. And the students are far more likely to be graduating with a large debt burden than their white peers. Who’s making excuses for these realities? Are they mere acts of nature?
In any case, Ta-Nehisi Coates dug into the Obamas’ finger-wagging dynamic at the Atlantic yesterday. The short essay is a must-read for those who don’t understand why some black political observers struggle with President Obama’s posture toward our community. Here’s the take home:
I think the stature of the Obama family — the most visible black family in American history — is a great blow in the war against racism. I am filled with pride whenever I see them: there is simply no other way to say that.
But I also think that some day historians will pore over his many speeches to black audiences. They will see a president who sought to hold black people accountable for their communities, but was disdainful of those who looked at him and sought the same. They will match his rhetoric of individual responsibility, with the aggression the administration showed to bail out the banks, and the timidity they showed in addressing a foreclosure crisis which devastated black America (again.)They wil weigh the rhetoric against an administration whose efforts against housing segregation have been run of the mill. And they will match the talk of the importance of black fathers with the paradox of a president who smoked marijuana in his youth but continued a drug-war which daily wrecks the lives of black men and their families. In all of this, those historians will see a discomfiting pattern of convenient race-talk.

May 21, 2013

Oregon Climate Action Day - May 22, 2013

Oregon Climate Action Day
May 22, 2013 from 11 am – 4 pm  at the Capitol, Salem, Ore.
Noon Rally - speakers, music, networking, storytelling & inspiration!

10 am: event orientation & lobby training - UCC Church (700 Marion St. NE)

Earlier this year, thirteen hundred Oregonians decorated recycled cardboard to creatively express their concerns about climate change.  On February 17th, the pieces were assembled into a 117-foot mosaic of a salmon in Medford, generating national attention.

On Wednesday May 22 the salmon is migrating to Salem!

Network with leaders & celebrate climate action.  Trained citizen lobby teams will ask legislators to support a predictable, revenue-neutral carbon tax. With Oregon’s proud history of bipartisan problem-solving & innovation on tough issues Oregon can again lead the country on humanity’s greatest challenge yet: climate disruption.
Event website:

May 18, 2013

Bill Fletcher, Jr.---She’s No Terrorist: The Bizarre Move By The FBI Against Assata Shakur

(Bill Fletcher will be speaking in Salem this Sunday!)

Seemingly out of nowhere the FBI announced that fugitive Black activist Assata Shakur was now declared a “terrorist” on their Most Wanted list. In addition, a bounty for her capture was raised from $1 million to $2 million. There are several questions that immediately arise but the most important is perhaps this: why now?

Assata Shakur, known earlier as Joanne Chesimard, was a leading member of the Black Panther Party.

Following the split in the Panthers in 1971 she became involved with the Black Liberation Army, an organization that saw itself as the military wing of the Black Freedom Movement. In 1973 Assata Shakur was in a car that was stopped by the police on the New Jersey Turnpike. A shootout took place during which she was wounded, a comrade of hers was killed along with a police officer. After several very controversial trials covering various allegations against her, Assata was ultimately convicted of murder and assault in connection with the Turnpike shootout, despite evidence of her innocence. In 1979 she escaped prison and fled to Cuba where she was granted political asylum. She has lived there ever since.

Assata Shakur has lived in relative silence, only periodically offering interviews. The Black Liberation Army was crushed, and in either case never engaged in military attacks on civilians. The Cuban government saw in Assata’s case that of an individual who was politically persecuted by the United States government and, therefore, concluded that she had a legitimate right to remain in Cuba and not be forced to return to prison.

Independent of any organization in the USA and living in a country that has been victimized by terrorist acts by US-supported Cuban exile groups, Assata Shakur has been the ‘poster child’ for segments of the political Right in the USA, including but not limited to those in the Cuban exile community. Elements of the law enforcement community as well as those who wish to freeze any discussion of normalized relations between the USA and Cuba have periodically seized upon the image of Assata Shakur in order to suggest that not only is she a terrorist but that the Cuban government is aiding and abetting terrorism. This begs at least one question: has there ever been a connection between Assata Shakur and terrorism?

The simple answer is “no,” but that answer necessitates further explanation. Assata Shakur, like many other activists in the 1960s—including but not limited to African Americans—witnessed the active infiltration and repression of liberal, progressive and radical movements by the US government. Through programs such as the notorious COINTELPRO (the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program), an active effort was undertaken by various branches of the US government to disrupt and suppress a wide variety of social justice movements and organizations. This disruption and suppression included the use of murder, such as the infamous drugging and killing of Chicago Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by the Chicago Police.

It was in this environment of severe repression that certain elements within the Black Freedom Movement concluded that a military organization needed to be built to both defend against attacks from the government (and from non-governmental right-wing organizations) as well as prepare for what many people thought was a pending revolution. Assata Shakur was part of that section of the movement.

Assata Shakur has never denied having been a member of the Black Liberation Army. She has also never denied being a revolutionary. She has a very well developed critique of US capitalism, imperialism and racism. In no case has anything ever associated with terrorism been alleged against her. Just to be clear, the armed actions that were taken never conformed to any approximation of the notion of “terrorism,” i.e., the use of military/violent actions against civilians in order to advance a political agenda.

The label of “terrorist” in this case then has nothing do with actual terrorism. Assata never targeted civilians; her political beliefs and practice never suggested actions be taken against non-combatants. Yet the label of terrorist, particularly in the post-9/11 world is a very convenient means of stirring fear and irrationality among many people and, in effect, of getting a segment of the public to simply stop thinking. Label someone a “terrorist” and all sorts of actions can be justified, including targeted killings whether through drones or renegade bounty hunters.

Read more here.

May 17, 2013

REVOLUTION!: No Thanks, We Are Autonomists..

This is the first in a series of critical notes on Marina Sitrin’s “Everyday Revolutions: Horizontalism and Autonomy in Argentina” (Zed Books, 2012).
Marina Sitrin is one of the most prolific, visible, and eloquent theorists of “horizontalism” and “autonomy” (hereafter referred to jointly as horizontalist autonomy). Thanks to her years of activism and journalism in Argentina and the U.S., and the writings and speeches based on them, I believe she now surpasses John Holloway as the most prominent exponent of the “don’t take power” school of thought.
So a critique of her works is not meant to single her out as politically worse than any of the school’s other thinkers or practitioners, just as the most (at least for now) important.
As I write this, teachers in Greece are preparing for a strike tomorrow (Tuesday, May 14), likely to be followed by another strike on the 17th, and the distinct possibility of solidarity strikes on both days. The government has responded by threatening to impose—for the third time this year—“mobilization” orders, in essence breaking the strike by enrolling all teachers overnight into the military, AND thus making it “illegal” for them to walk off their jobs.
What would the theory of horizontalist autonomy advise the strikers to do in the face of the government’s threat? What would these theories have to say about the hope of Greek workers in general to build a different society, one in which their own ruling class, and their partners in the “Troika,” can no longer exploit them—in which in fact there is no ruling class?
In the introduction to the book, Sitrin says (referring to movements she has studied in Argentina and elsewhere): “These movements define themselves as autonomist precisely because they do not want to take over the state, and see themselves in a position different and separate from the state, therefore autonomous. They do not desire state power, as many left-wing groups and political parties have in the past, but rather want to try to create other forms of horizontal power with one another, in their communities and workplaces. This concept of power and revolution is about a total transformation of society, but one that takes place and continues to expand from below. As the Zapatistas in Mexico say: ‘From below and to the left.’”
The movements in Argentina, she writes, “are prefiguring the change that they desire.” They are “creating horizontal relationships … with a focus on that relationship deepening and expanding. This conceptualization of revolution as an everyday transformation, not a storming of the Bastille, is an important distinction put forth at the outset of the book.”
Now Greek workers—and those of many other countries on the continent—have engaged in repeated general strikes in recent years, none of which have yet substantially altered the balance of power, much less overthrown the state. Millions of Europeans are wondering what changes in strategy, tactics, and goals might reverse that situation.
Clearly, Sitrin would not recommend to them that they try to overturn the states that have tried to crush or outlaw their strikes, the states that have imposed the savage cuts demanded by the IMF and the corporations. For her, Greek and other workers should “prefigure,” they should “transform,” and not with a long-term vision, but simply on an “everyday” basis.
But let’s leave aside even the question of trying to dismantle such pernicious states. Sitrin’s advice is of even more immediate danger: While acknowledging the repressive role of the state, and the concrete consequences that role has for the very movements she defends, she has no suggestion at all for how these movements might defend themselves. Or to be more precise, her advice is to sidestep the state, to avoid confrontation with it.
On page 12 she writes: “In the later sections of this book I discuss what happens when the state becomes cognizant of a society moving ahead without it. It is in these moments that those creating these vast new landscapes face some of the most serious challenges. It is most often, in this time of reaction to and from institutional power, that autonomous communities are defeated. Inherent in the role of the state is its resistance to people organizing outside of it, much in the same way as corporations resist parallel economies; it is here that often these institutions apply direct repression and cooptation, or a combination of the two.”
Her answer to this threat is simply to point with satisfaction to the beginnings of signs that those movements that have been repressed and/or coopted have begun rebuilding themselves. That’s it.
What’s worse, Sitrin takes this approach a step further, and argues for a more general approach of non-confrontation. On page 13, in the section, “Challenging the contentious framework,” she criticizes sociologists studying social movements who assume the latter are always “in a contentious relationship to the state, or another form or institution with formal ‘power over,’ whether demanding reforms from or desiring another state or institution.”
This framework, she argues, “is not sufficient in explaining these contemporary, autonomous social movements, because of these movements’ choice not to focus on dominant institutional powers (such as the state), but rather to develop alternative relationships and forms of power. This reconceptualization of power is linked to the nonhierarchical and directly democratic vision of their organizing.”
This should sound familiar to those who remember the heated debate within the Occupy movement around whether to place demands on the 1% or its state, with the overwhelming majority of those most frequently active—usually heavily influenced by anarchism—arguing against placing demands for just the reasons Sitrin spells out.
Elsewhere in the book Sitrin argues for “everyday revolutions” not as preparatory steps, as building blocks, to a revolution to change society as a whole, but rather as superior substitutes for such a revolution. She explicitly counterposes storming the Bastille, or soviets taking power through an insurrection, to building co-ops and self-managed factories and participatory neighborhood health or education groups, all busily occupying (pun intended) themselves with their little everyday revolutions, and spreading their example bit by bit—and not, god forbid, preparing themselves for what Sitrin herself sees as an inevitable attack by the state!
For revolutionaries, those struggles—like the ones engaged in by the heroic teachers of Greece—are means of accumulating the self-confidence needed for workers to take power as a class through their democratic organs of struggle. But for Sitrin, they must limit their scope and ambitions (in much the same way as the liberal wing of Solidarnosc demanded a “self-limiting” revolution—one that ended up handing power back to Capital against the wishes of genuine Polish revolutionaries).
In future posts I’ll look at some more examples of problems with horizontalist autonomy as revealed in this book. Let me just close here by noting in passing that given all the above, it’s not surprising—although extremely disquieting—to read on pages 99-100 a passage from Grace Lee Boggs explicitly counterposing Martin Luther King Jr. to Malcolm X, insisting that the (supposed) absolute nonviolence of the former should have been adopted by the Black movement of the 1960s, and even blaming its downfall at least partly on their failure to have done so.
Photo: Occupy Wall Street.  By Tony Savino / Socialist Action