For Folks in the Seattle Area: Feb 4th Anti-Capitalist Smackdown

Several different anti-capitalist tendencies have come together in the Occupy movement. Now is a chance for us to meet publicly and clarify where we agree and disagree on a few key points.This event is free & open to the public. It will be audio-recorded, and selections will be published online for the benefit of anti-capitalists everywhere.

Participating tendencies (in alphabetic order)
- Anarcho-syndicalism
- Black Orchid
- Communization
- Insurrectionary anarchy
- Nihilism

Schedule
3-5PM: debates on
- The enemy (capitalism or civilization?)
- Revolution (ultimate goals and how to get there)
- Class & identity
- The role of revolutionaries

5-6PM: dinner break

6-7:15PM: debates on
- Unions & solidarity networks
- Prefigurative (anti)politics
- The Occupy movement

7:15-8PM: open discussion with audience

Submissions from the various tendencies are all being finalized and lateral responses are being formulated! This should be a great event!


Revolt of the abstract capitalist

Courtesy Jesse at http://www.lawsonry.com/

In his latest essay at the London Review of Books site, Slavoj Žižek covers a lot of ground ranging from class in China, Marx and the general intellect, and introducing “surplus wage” earners as the transformed bourgeois. The last item was particularly challenging, especially as it leads him to his critique of assumptions about the titular political protests.

His description of the salaried bourgeoisie is informed by some wertkritik insights into post-Marx marxism, and posits what could become part of a critical class analysis (bold added for emphasis -DC):

This new bourgeoisie still appropriates surplus value, but in the (mystified) form of what has been called ‘surplus wage’: they are paid rather more than the proletarian ‘minimum wage’ (an often mythic point of reference whose only real example in today’s global economy is the wage of a sweatshop worker in China or Indonesia), and it is this distinction from common proletarians which determines their status. The bourgeoisie in the classic sense thus tends to disappear: capitalists reappear as a subset of salaried workers, as managers who are qualified to earn more by virtue of their competence (which is why pseudo-scientific ‘evaluation’ is crucial: it legitimises disparities in earnings). Far from being limited to managers, the category of workers earning a surplus wage extends to all sorts of experts, administrators, public servants, doctors, lawyers, journalists, intellectuals and artists. The surplus they get takes two forms: more money (for managers etc), but also less work and more free time (for – some – intellectuals, but also for state administrators etc).

Working his way towards a fresh perspective on a tiring topic (what else would be the point of opinion commentaries like his blog at LRB?) he overturns the dominant understanding of the anti-capitalist nature of the protests. I agree that “anti-capitalist” protests like OWS aren’t always anti-capitalist (it’s not about greed or the 1%!), but Žižek sees the defense of middle-class privilege:

Although their protests are nominally directed at the brutal logic of the market, they are in effect protesting against the gradual erosion of their (politically) privileged economic place.

Ayn Rand has a fantasy in Atlas Shrugged of striking ‘creative’ capitalists, a fantasy that finds its perverted realisation in today’s strikes, which are mostly strikes on the part of a ‘salaried bourgeoisie’ driven by fear of losing their privilege (their surplus over the minimum wage). These are not proletarian protests, but protests against the threat of being reduced to proletarians. Who dares strike today, when having a permanent job has itself become a privilege? Not low-paid workers in (what remains of) the textile industry etc, but those privileged workers with guaranteed jobs (teachers, public transport workers, police). This also accounts for the wave of student protests: their main motivation is arguably the fear that higher education will no longer guarantee them a surplus wage in later life.

This might be reaching, Žižek. I guess there’s some truth in this critique, yet it neglects that 1) the minimum wage (and even a surplus over the minimum wage) is not a living wage — for the first time in American history a subsequent generation is expected to do worse than a previous one; 2) even strikes of the salaried bourgeoisie (who Žižek cites as teachers, transit workers, and police!), though they might not be proletarian, affect minor reforms in capitalism (for what that’s worth); 3) at a basic level the strikes and protests resist new austerity; and, 4) at their best, today’s strikes open up the possibility for increased agitation among all workers. Just because the middle class acts as part of the abstract capitalist does not mean that any action they take reinforces capitalism.


New Republication: Text of a radio talk delivered by Stan Iverson

Last year Open Revolutions began to collect and transcribe materials relating to Seattle’s anarchist history, much of which is still not yet represented online. Rekolektiv is republishing one of the completed transcriptions from the Bulletin of the Seattle Group, the text of a speech that Stan Iverson delivered over the radio in 1965.

Iverson, one-time communist, book store owner, and house boat resident, sums up the anarchist critique of authoritarian socialism and gives it a sexy twist at the end. Pure 1960s anarcho gold.

Libertarian Socialism, or if you please, anarcho-socialism, makes as its point of departure from orthodox socialism, its criticism of orthodox socialism as relying too heavily upon centralism, leadership concepts, parliamentarianism; and as depending too heavily upon the experience of socialisms which are striving to emerge in underdeveloped countries where the major economic problem is to carry thru what has already been accomplished in capitalist lands, an industrial revolution.

Complete text.


Review: Félix Fénéon, Novels in Three Lines

Felix Feneon is a man who lived many lives; even during his own time he was hard to know. A close friend aptly described him as “invisibly famous.” For, indeed, Feneon balanced between living on two distinct poles of French society. One part of his life was spent in the shadows, writing pseudonymous political missives, and possible engaging in terrorist activities. The other part was as a renowned art critic, a model employee in a state bureau, and a famous wit.

“Novels in Three Lines” is a collection of Feneon’s writing that appeared in a French newspaper anonymously. Although the pieces are most obviously notable for their sheer succinctness, there is also a distinct stylistic charm to them that bring out stories and tragedies greater than simple prose ever could. As a collection, this book reminds us of the power of Feneon’s brilliance, especially because it is a genius that didn’t want to be remembered.


Some thoughts and questions on Bakunin, Nietzsche, and Marx on the study of history

I just encountered an interesting take on the study of history from Bakunin’s idiosyncratic work, “God and the State”:

If it is justifiable, and even useful and necessary, to turn back to study our past, it is only in order to establish what we have been and what we must no longer be, what we have believed and thought and what we must no longer believe or think, what we have done and what we must do nevermore. -Mikhail Bakunin, “God and the State”

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Upcoming: DC and Kevin Anderson on Marx and the State

MARX AND THE STATE

SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012

2:00-4:00 PM

Westside Pavilion, Community Room A
Corner of Pico and Westwood Boulevards, Los Angeles
Community Room A is on 3rd floor, behind food court
Free parking – first 3 hours

Speakers:
DC, historian and activist
Kevin Anderson, author of Marx at the Margins

The collapse of most of the statist regimes ruling in the name of Marxism has contributed to the rise of anarchist and left communist currents. The collapse of statist communism has also led to a rethinking of Marxism and an increased sense of separation between Marx and his political heirs, above all Lenin. This meeting will explore Marx’s mature writings on the state, especially those on the Paris Commune, wherein he argued for the abolition of both the state and capital.

Suggested reading, from Marx’s “Civil War in France”

Sponsored by West Coast Marxist-Humanists, an affiliate of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization
More information: arise@usmarxisthumanists.org

http://www.usmarxisthumanists.org/


Emma Goldman ❧ “Anarchism Defined”

The emotions of the ignorant are continuously kept at a high pitch by the most blood-curdling stories about anarchism. Not a thing is too outrageous to be employed against this philosophy and its exponents. Therefore anarchism represents to the unthinking what the proverbial bad man does to the child — a black monster, bent on swallowing everything; in short, destruction and violence.

Destruction and violence! How is the ordinary man to know that the most violent element in society is ignorance. Anarchism is the philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence and are therefore wrong and harmful as well as unnecessary.

Originally published in “The Agitator” (1910-12: Seattle, WA).



DC interviews the Comité Organizador de la 3ra Conferencia Anual de la NAASN, Puerto Rico

The Comité Organizador de la 3ra Conferencia Anual de la NAASN, Puerto Rico accepted the heavy mantle of organizing the third annual North American Anarchist Studies Network Conference in Puerto Rico this year, which is scheduled for January 7-8th, 2012 in San Juan. The organizational committee includes two teachers, a farmer, an artist, a student, and a poet. In this interview they provide an in-depth introduction to the history of organizing the conference, the state of anarchism in America and Puerto Rico specifically, and the past, present, and future of anarchist studies.
For more background on the Committee and the Conference, see their mission statement.

Q Interest in having Puerto Rico host this conference began a long time ago – I know that in Toronto last year the idea was certainly floated around, and people on the listserv began suggesting it immediately afterwards.
What was the initial reaction to the idea among Puerto Rican anarchists?
Who picked up and ran with the idea in the early stages?

A We cannot speak of a concerted reaction among Puerto Rican anarchists because although there’s an always evolving non-written history of organizing, there isn’t that much of an anarchist milieu going on from where to draw any explicit opinion. Nevertheless, there are certainly some moderately small groups with different agendas, in addition to anarchists in other socialist organizations as well as individualists, who have nodded their heads in agreement, recognizing the importance of opening spaces for the discussion of such thinking on a bigger scale. At first, members of the ad hoc NAASNPR committee presented the project of housing the third NAASN conference to other groups akin to anarchist thought, but since they were mostly focused on other projects it was put on hold. The first formation of the organizational committee structured the foundations of what would be the conference itself (booking the first venue, the call for papers, the announcing of the event, etc.) and eventually other comrades got in touch to help volunteer with issues such as food, artwork, planning, logistics, writing, and transportation, among others.

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Wukan! Wukan!

Reports from Wukan, Guangdong, the Chinese village in revolt against local government, have generated more shocked gasps from the Anglophone media than in-depth reporting, resulting in a general paucity of information, let alone insightful analysis. But thanks to a 52-minute homemade video about the protest and one other report online at iSun Affairs we’re getting a little more detail. The following is a rudimentary translation of the timeline of events provided at the iSun report. I welcome any advice on the translation:

1993: Wukan Hong Kong Industrial Development Co., Ltd. is established; The Wukan government begins selling village land.

April 3rd, 2009: A leaflet appears in Wukan village entitled, “A letter to fellow townsfolk of Wukan — We’re not ‘Dead Village Slaves.’” More village land is sold, the village government alters the elections as the majority of the villagers discuss the issue of the leaflet.

April 3rd, 2009: More than 20 young people from Wukan travel to petition Guangdong provincial government leaders, soon arriving in Guangzhou’s Zhongshan Park to plan the formation of the “Wukan Hotblooded Youth Group.” The group members go on to petition eleven provincial, city, county-level city, and small-town governments.

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Food for Fraught

Over at Recomposition: Notes for a New Workerism an anarchist hospitality worker in New Zealand shares their story of life on the job. Having been a food service employee myself, I can relate to the profound alienation of that particular industry. Hospitality work is something I hope to never be reduced to again.

It’s not that preparing and serving food is inherently degrading work; in fact, I love that aspect of the job. The co-workers in restaurants frequently develop close bonds working in a fast-paced environment and doing a job well is rewarding in itself. As the author at Recomposition rightly points out, some tasks like chopping vegetables are even pleasantly relaxing.

However, the downsides that inevitably plague food service are the boss, the management, and the culture of entitlement from customers (which are brilliantly summarized in the pamphlet “Abolish Restaurants“). Minor indignities are par for the course when you’re a wage slave at a restaurant. It’s an entry-level job (for the most part), and in an economy full of competition for employment the boss can use your precarious position as leverage to pressure you into otherwise unacceptable situations. I remember being scheduled for a shift at a pizza restaurant an hour before the shift was supposed to start (which ruined my day and wasn’t an isolated incident). I’ve had a boss forge my signature on official documents. I worked a temporary part-time position for five months (I was working two other temporary part-time food service jobs simultaneously) where I was expected to show up for work at the lunch rush every day and was dismissed whenever there was a lull. The minimum wage I reserved for these two hours of work a day barely covered my expense paying for lunch myself, not to mention my commute. I’ve even worn a work uniform with a cartoon caricature of my boss embroidered on the chest. At times working at a restaurant feels like a humiliating parody of life.

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