Friday, December 28, 2012

No Justice! No Peace!

Report from the December 19th Press Conference called by the Illinois Campaign to End the New Jim Crow.

Today members of the Illinois Campaign to End the New Jim Crow were joined by the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression, parents of those wrongfully convicted, police torture survivors, family members who have lost loved ones to police murder, and concerned community members and activists at their press conference early this afternoon in front of the mayor’s office at City Hall. The group’s message focused on demanding accountability from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez around their recent atrocious statements concerning wrongful convictions and denying the Chicago Police Department’s Code of Silence.

Marco Roc, a graduate student and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who also organizes with the Illinois Campaign to End the New Jim Crow (ILCENJC), opened the press conference indicting the Mayor and State’s Attorney for their continued support of the Chicago Police Department’s Code of Silence, and active denial of the mounting problem of wrongful convictions. Roc had this to say,

“We are here to show that there’s a strong contingent of people that oppose the actions of Anita Alvarez and Rahm Emanuel. Further violence and silence of the CPD will not be tolerated. We demand that these public officials be held accountable for their actions, and we are inviting all concerned residents of all Chicago communities to stand up and fight against the racism, sexism, and overall violence of the Chicago Police Department. Let us stand up together and empower our communities. All power to the people!”

Ted Pearson, activist organizer with the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression (CAARPR), enumerated a list of demands including the resignation of Alvarez, and the immediate removal of all CPD officers who have any allegations or records of misconduct and abuse from active duty street patrol- this list was delivered to a mayoral representative along with a demand for a sit-down meeting with the mayor to include family members who have lost loved ones at the hands of CPD officers, the organizers were denied entrance to the mayor’s office to directly present their demands.

Emmett Farmer, father of Flint Farmer who was killed by Chicago Police in June of 2011, spoke about the difficulty of losing a loved one so wrongfully at the hands of the police and shamed Emanuel for remaining silent, and supporting the police in their quest for more “justifiable” claims of murder.

Mark Clements, a Jon Burge torture survivor and member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, urged people to become involved at the grassroots level and hold crooked politicians, like Emanuel and Alvarez’s feet to the fire. Citing his own experiences with forced tortured confession and subsequent wrongful conviction, Clements remarked that Alvarez’s statements made to 60 Minutes were obscene, and showed how committed she was to imprisoning Black men, regardless of physical or DNA evidence of an alleged crime.

Barbara Lyons, an activist working on Gregory Koger’s case, also spoke out about wrongful convictions. She cited that evidence that exposed the lies of State witnesses was barred from the jury along with video evidence shown in open court several times being barred from appellate court shows clearly how this legal system exists to incarcerate those who speak out against it. Koger, a well-known peace activist and radical, has done nothing to violate the terms of his bail for the past three years and still may face more time in jail.

Annabelle Perez, mother of Jaime Hauad, spoke on behalf of parents supporting the Unfair Juvenile Sentencing legislation, explaining that the trend in harsh sentencing steals children and young adults away from where they rightfully belong, with their families and communities.

Jesse Carver, a hospital worker at Rush University Medical Center, was the final speaker for the press conference. He recounted his experience with what he called, “walking while Black.” He was stopped by UIC police while walking to work one day; he was questioned, searched, his identification was confiscated and he was detained and arrested based on the accusation of a white woman from the UIC campus stating a Black man committed some offense and was near her building, and he looked like the accused. Carver was held for two days, without a lineup, or rights read to him, or an allowance to contact the hospital where he worked to explain why he was absent. In Carver’s retelling of this story it was clear he wasn’t saying anything unnatural to the status quo- this is the everyday lived experience of Black and Brown people in the city of Chicago.

Between speakers supporters chanted, “Racist Police have got to go! We must stop the New Jim Crow!” as well as,  “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Anita and Rahm have got to go!” “Accountability, not Impunity!” and finally “No Justice! No Peace! No Racist Police!” The energy of the crowd was palpable, these were people who were fed up with racist business as usual in Chicago and who have said “enough is enough,” and are calling on the whole of Chicago to fight back against police terror, demand Alvarez resign, and see killer cops off the streets.

One attendee, John Snowden had this to say reflecting on the stories he heard during the press conference, “It's so important to hear these experiences.  They give agency to the victims sharing their stories, taking back the humanity the cops stole from them.  They remind us why we fight, who we fight, and who we fight for. “

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Labor Fought Back in Lansing

The following is a transcription of my notes about our skirmishes with the police at the Save Michigan Anti-Right to Work rallies in Lansing. 

Matthew, Ashley and I arrived at the capital building around one o'clock in the afternoon, upon arrival we noticed a swelling of people and a lot commotion happening around the George W. Romney State Building. Around one hundred workers and demonstrators had begun gathering in the open-air foyer of the building outside of the entrances in what was a supportive action for the dozen or so union workers sitting-in and blocking the entrances to the building where Gov. Snyder has an office.

There was a heavy presence of union organizers, students and workers chanting, and singing labor songs. Police began filing in around the perimeters, and a line splitting down the center of our crowd. An electrical worker in the IBEW shouted out, “They got a hard hat! They’re beating a hard hat!” And those of us tall enough to see could see the police wrestling a worker in a hard hat to the ground. Another voice shouted out, “Everyone sit down!” The majority of the crowd began sitting-in and chanted, “Sit!” and “Shame!” at the police and continued shouting at the police to stop interfering with our right to assemble.

The police immediately escalated the situation coming with more force into the crowd- stepping on people (Matthew’s thigh was stomped on by a Michigan State Police officer, who wasn’t wearing a name badge or badge number), and pushing people over. It was clear though that they didn’t have specific orders, and also didn’t know how to handle to crowd because they just stood there in the midst of the crowd for a long while, immobile, without a working plan for dispersal.

Finally the crowd stood back up, began more chants, “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?” and the police began picking us off one by one and escorting us away from the crowd with force. At first it wasn’t clear what was happening- arrests, being detained, just clearing the area etc. Of our group Matthew was grabbed first and the officers pulling him away wouldn’t respond affirming or denying arrest. The crowd shouted back at the police, demanding to know what was happening with those being escorted away.

An older man, a worker with an Occupy Detroit patch on his jacket, sat back down and told the police they would have to drag him away- that he was staying to exercise his right to assemble and protest. They roughly picked him up by his wrists and ankles and dragged him away. Ashley and I were grabbed next shouting over and over, “We are exercising our first amendment rights!” We were pushed out of the foyer and found Matthew, comrades and the other removed protestors there.

Then they brought out the older worker who was carried and in front of our crowd dropped him on his back onto the concrete, Matthew knelt down by him to check and make sure he didn’t hit his head, and a state police officer kneed Matthew in the back, kicking him over, causing him to fall. At this point another rally where we had all been escorted to was forming with chanting and singing- then a woman union carpenter took the bullhorn from an organizer and started shouting, “The Cops are bullies! They’ve always been bullies. They’re traitors!”

It was at this point that we saw the lines of horsed police officers forming, and moving into the street. Several lines of union workers formed, and they literally chased off the horsed officers causing them to retreat. People looking on chanted, “Get that animal off that horse!” The police tried to reform lines and move the horses onto the sidewalk flanking the crowd, but were pushed back again.

A riot line of police then began to form near the street blockade, and they approached those of us milling around in the street with immediate aggression. The police chanted, “Move Back!” were horizontally pumping their batons in our direction. Linked-arm lines of protestors formed in response to this and I was hit in the clavicle and breasts (by an officer not wearing a name or badge number), Ashley hit in the cheek and neck repeatedly (by an officer named Milner), Matthew kicked and chest checked, and Trish hit in the breast-bone. 

We buttressed ourselves and held the street for around 10-15min before the police converged on a protestor, and police from the capital started filing in elongating the riot line. By this point we had the police surrounded on all sides- the crowd had filled in behind the riot line in the absence of the mounted police. People were chanting a range of mixed consciousness type messages at the police, “They’re gonna come for you next, and we won’t be here to back you up!” “Pigs!” “Cowards!” “Class Traitors!” “You should be on our side!” “Our kids go to the same schools!” “Why are you protecting Snyder?” and even a “Fuck off, you boss bitches!” As the police line began to move it side-stepped in a single file retreat pushing along with them another man they had arrested, and conceded the street to the demonstrators. There was a final chant of “Whose streets? Our streets!” before people began breaking off and milling around giving fist pumps and high-fives for standing their ground.

Photo credit: Neil Blake

Also, if you were wondering where the photo of Ashley being hit in the face with a riot baton went, the "owner" of that photograph called me posting it (and also notedly attributing it to him) illegal. So I removed it to stop a fuss. Something that should be said though to this guy: you don't own a moment in history. You also don't own an image of a women fighting for what she believes in. You do not own art. If you continue treating "your" captured images that way, you won't get far with the people you're documenting. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grand Jury Resisters

The following is the original collaborative piece written for Socialist Worker with co-author Benjamin Silverman. The final piece can be found here, with further contributions by Johnny Mao, under the title An anti-anarchist witch-hunt.

“I do not look forward to what inevitably awaits me today, but I accept it ... My convictions are unwavering and will not be shaken by their harassment. Today is October 10th, 2012, and I’m ready to go to prison.” Thus said 24-year old Leah-Lynn Plante, the third anarchist in the Pacific Northwest, after Matthew Kyle Duran and Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik, to be sent to jail for refusing to testify in front of a federal grand jury. She faces as much as 18 months in prison.

Plante and the others were victims of a series of raids on July 25th conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force--supposedly in response to instances of vandalism during this year’s Seattle May Day protests. The warrant granted to the task force allowed them to raid the homes of activists in three cities. The FBI was then able to make residents hand over any “anti-government or anarchist literature” along with flags, black clothing, cell phones, hard-drives and address books. “As if they had taken pointers from Orwell’s 1984, they took books, artwork and other various literature as ‘evidence’ as well as many other personal belongings even though they seemed to know that nobody there was even in Seattle on May Day,” said Plante. This is a clear case of political leanings, instead of any substantive action, being used as proof of criminality. As Plante said earlier last week, “They are trying to investigate anarchists and persecute them for their beliefs. This is a fishing expedition. This is a witch hunt.”

The activists were brought before a federal grand jury where they were asked questions in regards to their political opinions and the political circles and individuals they associate with. The significance of grand juries is that when you enter one you lose your 1st and 5th amendment rights to remain silent. Prosecutors can ask you any question, some such infamous questions being, “Have you, or anyone you know, ever been a member of the Communist Party?” and refusal to answer will land you in contempt of court. This is why grand juries have the power to intimidate and harass activists, and simultaneously force them to disclose their political activity and snitch on their comrades.

This is not the first time the government has persecuted radicals. With door-busting tactics that span generations, the U.S. government has made a habit of black bagging “supposed threats” to national security. It appears we haven’t come far since the Palmer Raids of 1919 and 1920. A. Mitchell Palmer was appointed by Woodrow Wilson in 1919 as Attorney General and charged with investigating left-wing organizations and communists/anarchists. Palmer quickly recruited Hoover as a special assistant- and together they used the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918 in order to justify launching a witch-hunt against anti-capitalists.

The methods of targeting radicals have seen numerous political manifestations for example targeting individuals and groups in not only the “Red Scare” periods but during the  FBI's COINTELPRO program from the 1950s to 1970s; and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001. The Patriot Act contains provisions criminalizing "material support" for "terrorism;" convenient language that is being used to target activists.

With recent raids occurring with frequency in specifically the Muslim American and anti-war activist communities. In late September of 2010, the FBI raided eight homes and offices of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. The granted search warrants indicate FBI agents were looking for connections between antiwar activists and groups in Colombia and the Middle East. The warrants authorized agents to seize items such as electronics, videos, photographs, address books and mail. Despite a Justice Department probe finding that the FBI improperly monitored activist groups and individuals from 2001 to 2006 these raids continued. Eight people were issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago.

The American Civil Liberties Union has stated, “In the wake of 9/11, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security initiated sweeping programs that amount to racial profiling on a federal scale — ranging from suspicionless searches and arbitrary detentions of Arabs and Muslim Americans to counterterrorism financing and material support laws that unfairly target Muslim organizations and charities. No area of American Muslim civil society has been left untouched by discriminatory and illegitimate government action.” This sort of racist targeting is also felt within the activist community.

When Muslim Americans speak out about Islamophobia and the US’s role in political repression they face a doubly motivated persecution based on their ethnicity and politics. The case of Tarek Mehanna is such as case. For several years Tarek has been victim to FBI surveillance and harassment. He was targeted for being a politically conscious, outspoken Muslim leader. The FBI approached Tarek to become an informant. When Tarek refused to inform against his community, the FBI continued to harass him with threats of criminal charges if he would not comply. After his 2009 arrest, Tarek was denied bail twice and spent over 2 years imprisoned at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in 23-hour solitary confinement awaiting trial. Tarek’s trial began on October 27th, 2011 and lasted only 2 months. He was convicted on all 7 counts on December 20th, 2011.
This is not a system designed to deal out ‘justice’ of any sort. This is a system designed to only control and terrorize a population, to keep dissenters in line and paranoid.

The three defendants, Plante, Duran and Olejnik, have done nothing wrong. They were subpoenaed in the hopes that they would be intimidated into giving information on others, and in protest of this injustice, they have refused to cooperate with the grand jury. As Plante said after her second appearance and refusal to answer questions before the federal grand jury, “No, I will not answer their questions. I believe that these hearings are politically motivated. The government wants to use them to collect information that it can use in a campaign of repression. I refuse to have any part of it, I will never answer their questions, I will never speak.”

Understanding that this is a witch-hunt, and what cooperating with it would mean for other activists is what motivated Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik to make her statement upon entering prison in late September, “For me choosing to resist a grand jury is about humanity – I cannot and will not say something that could greatly harm a person’s life, and providing information that could lead to long term incarceration would be doing that. For me choosing to resist a grand jury is about freedom of speech and association – I cannot and will not be a party to a McCarthyist policy that is asking individuals to condemn each other based on political beliefs.” For their stand against this security state, the three were found in contempt of court and sentenced to over 18 months in prison. Matthew Kyle Duran has spent some of which in solitary confinement but was recently released into the general population.

The mainstream media has covered the case of Pussy Riot in their stand against censorship and repression in Putin’s Russia, as they should have. But so far the same media has refused to adequately cover the same sort of bravery occurring right here in the Pacific Northwest. The three grand jury resistors, and all other political prisoners caught in America’s criminal injustice system, are our Pussy Rioters, our heros. They have been resilient before police repression, stood by their principals and have refused to collaborate in any way with this witch-hunt. Their defiance, courage and the example they give are worthy of our admiration.

In Matthew Kyle Duran’s statement, before beginning his prison sentence in early September he said, “Do not stop the struggle, keep organizing and fighting or they will have won. When the Haymarket massacre took place all those years ago and the martyrs were hung for their desire for a better life, the State attempted to crush all radicals. Clearly, this did not work then and it won’t work now. If this was their desire, they have failed in every aspect of it as I have not seen anything other than flagrant disregard for them across the globe.”

We encourage all to write letters of support to Leah, Matthew and Katherine in prison to show them solidarity, that they are not forgotten and lend them strength during these difficult times.

Leah-Lynn Plante #42611-086
FDC SeaTac
PO Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198

Katherine Olejnik #42592-086
FDC SeaTac,
P.O. Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198

Matthew Kyle Duran #42565-086
FDC SeaTac,
P.O. Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198

You can donate to the grand jury resistors legal fund at:

Monday, August 6, 2012

Batman: What has risen?

No art can escape the epoch in which it was created, and the best art is that which attempts to undermine the social mores of the period that produced it. The Dark Knight Rises seems destined to go down in history as the first film of the post-Occupy world. Each frame of the 164 minute blockbuster burns with anxieties of social crisis and class-conflict that cannot help but evoke allusions to the Arab Spring, the square occupations that spread across Europe and most poignantly the Occupy movement that gripped public imagination in the United States last fall (This is not the intention of the film maker. The Dark Knight Rises was written before Occupy set up camp in Zucotti Park and was filmed deliberately away from the park, but this is nevertheless the lens through which the film is viewed).  Doubly confounded by its social content and dual figure archetype Bruce Wayne/Batman, however, The Dark Knight Rises is not only unable rise above its contemporary milieu but it is ultimately bound to reinforce the status-quo rather than contest it.  

To continue reading this article, visit Red Wedge Magazine

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Origin of the Family, Private Property,& Zombies

You know you live in a messed up world when your first thoughts about all of this zombie business are:
1. Is this a ploy to get me to buy more bottled water?
2. I bet the government is experimenting on
   poor people again.
3. I f ’ing knew this was going to happen.

Recently two gruesome incidents have sparked a tongue-in-cheek debate about the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse.  In Miami, Florida, Rudy Eugene was shot and killed by a police officer while chewing the face of 65-year-old Ronald Puppo, a homeless man who survived the attack, although he sustained severe injuries. According to Miami Police, Eugene is suspected to have been under the influence of bath salts, a strong hallucinogenic when used as a narcotic.

In Hackensack, New Jersey, 43-year-old Wayne Carter allegedly disemboweled himself in front of police and then cut, ate, and threw pieces of his flesh and entrails at the officers. The police were responding to a call from a witness saying Carter had threatened to harm himself. Carter, who has a history of mental illness was subdued and hospitalized.

Still other stories have been fueling the zombie hysteria. A mysterious disease has been affecting children in Northern Uganda since the 1960s. Dubbed the Nodding Disease, some 3,000 children are suffering under a strange affliction that leaves them ‘zombified,’ unresponsive and prone to extreme acts of violence such as arson. Treatment of the Nodding Disease is non-existent. Desperate parents are binding their children by their hands and feet in an effort to keep them under control.  According to the World Health Organization, specialists are baffled as to what causes the sickness, though some experts speculate a microscopic worm carried by the Tutsi fly causes the disease.

More thoughtful commentators have pointed out that these incidents are not connected to a zombie out break at all, but are endemic examples of deep seated sociological problems where people turn to drugs as a means of escapism, access to mental health is a social privilege, and the imperialist rape of the African continent has left millions without access to sanitation and clean water. But in a larger sense, these events are indicative of a zombie outbreak indeed. They are the characteristics of a vampyric economic system, refusing to die, remaining undead to plague the barely living. This is capitalism in no uncertain terms.

The relationship between zombies and capitalism is not new. The most formidable films of the zombie-horror genre have exhibited strong allegories to capitalism and social crises. Director George Romero filmed three seminal zombie classics Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Land of the Dead (2005) that are expositions on racism, consumerism and classism respectively.  28 Days Later (2002), a more contemporary rendition of the zombie meme by director Danny Boyle, profiled militarism, pharmaceutical giants run amuck, and genetic modification. Still another, Dead Snow (2009), a cult hit by Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola featured Nazi zombies rising from under the snow of Scandinavia in a clear nod to the disquieted ghosts of fascism in Europe. 

Perhaps the most relevant theme was driven home in the 2004 film Shaun of the Dead in which the protagonist spends the first hours of the zombie apocalypse stumbling through his daily routine, oblivious to the catastrophe around him until it confronts him directly. The film begs the question whether the audience is aware of its own social setting, and what it may take for them to react to it.

So who then are the real undead? Those gnawing away at the productive living in new and terrifying ways. The ruling class of the world spreads greed, alienation, and terror much like a disease; infecting the world with their profit wars, and draining the planet of its vitals. If pop culture teaches us anything- it’s how to deal with a zombie.

The recent zombie incidents raise the issue of life imitating art, but also drive home the absurdity of the system we live under. The tragic case of Rudy Eugene not only underscores the insanity of abusing bath salts as an escapism, but also the unqualified failure of the drug war that proffers bath salts as a easily obtainable alternative to illegal narcotics. Eugene, who according to those who knew him was mild mannered, could have been subdued using non-deadly force to interrupt his attack, but instead he was shot in the head, another victim of lethal police force.

Wayne Carter is a victim of a social safety net left threadbare by decades of neoliberalism in the United States. Carter, clearly suffering from mental illness, remained unnoticed until his act of desperation brought him to the headlines. Shouting at police officers “I’m going to die today… I’m sorry but I’m going to heaven.” Carter stabbed himself as many as forty times during a two-hour standoff before a SWAT team subdued him. In Carter’s case, violent self-harm is only the mirrored response to the systematic and equally violent treatment that the poor and working class are subjected to daily by an economic system prone to crisis.

Likewise in Uganda, where the bloodied rags around the hands of children reflect the bloodied flags around those who kill for profit, an inhuman system has plundered a continent and left swaths of humanity without healthcare, jobs, basic resources or amenities.

The reality is that despite the hype behind these events, they are not unique. They are the alarm bells that sound daily in a world lashed by wars and austerity. A world crying out for an alternative, where the needs of all are met, and the abilities of all are fulfilled.

Aimless wandering children, adults inflicting harm on themselves and others without regard- personifying the system that created them. The hands of the dispossessed, reaching out and clawing for meaning in world that wasn’t built with them in mind. Mindless, rag-filled, starved, infected, untreatable, without diagnosis, madness. These themes might make good fodder for this year’s Halloween blockbuster, but are in fact the hallmarks of the capitalist system.
Capitalism breeds zombies.

Welcome to the Apocalypse.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Striking the Ultra Left Generally

Dinosaurs with lasers are calling for it. Black cats in ties are demanding it. Unicorns and rainbows are wishing for it. But what is really behind the call for General Strikes…

There are frayed threads running throughout the fabric of Occupy. Taking form mostly to call for “FTP” marches, General Strikes, and unanimous consensus in the movement- except when it comes to the autonomy of diverse tactics. These threads take on many, or proactively “no” label, but can be identified as ultra-left. The theories and debates of these threads, once pulled in a practical motion, begin to unravel. What follows is another humble tug[1].

The term ‘ultra left’ carries with it a certain historical weight that must be taken into consideration. The goal here is not to resurrect past debates nor shadow box old enemies, or to cast contemporaries into the mold of contenders for past movements. An honest question must be posed and an equally responsible answer given. Can activists within the Occupy movement be accurately represented as ultra-left? Or more artfully, do tendencies within Occupy bear the historical mantel of Ultra-leftism both in content as well as in form. Is the answer yes or no, both or either?

Historically, the Ultra Left can be traced back to the onset of the modern era. In the French Revolution, the ultra left were known as the Les Enrages[2]. Les Enragés were a loose amalgam of radicals active during the French Revolution. Politically they stood to the left of the Jacobins, and believed that liberty for all meant more than just constitutional rights. The demands of the Enragés included: price controls on grain, repression of counterrevolutionary activity, progressive income tax to be immediately implemented. In the 19th Century the revolutionary Louis Auguste Blanqui[3] typified the perspectives of an elite clique of revolutionaries that called for general insurrections in the abstract hope that the masses were to follow them.

In the early twentieth century, the ultra left perspective was contextualized by the hegemonic positions of the Bolshevik parties on the revolutionary left in general, placing ‘Ultras’ on the extreme left flank of the Marxist tradition. These tendencies favored the autonomy and spontaneous self-organization of the working class, argued for abstention from national electoral politics, eschewed trade union activity outside of revolutionary unionism, and called for no collusion with the bourgeois state. The articulation and practical application of these perspectives set ultra-leftists in opposition to both Bolshevism and reformism typified by Leninism[4] and social democracy respectively.

These ultra-left tendencies bore strong affinities toward anarchist politics. The conquest of political power by the Russian proletariat in 1917 sent such reverberations through the world that authentic revolutionaries were drawn into the orbit of the Bolsheviks. The Belgian anarchist Victor Serge became one of the finest historians of the Russian Revolutionary experience. In the United States, such outstanding figures of the Syndicalist left as Bill Big Haywood and James Cannon became founding members of the American communist movement.  Emma Goldman likewise, for a time, lent critical support to the Bolsheviks. 

Anarchists played an important role in support for the Soviet government as well as in the propagation of communistic principles throughout the world. Some, like Serge freely supported the Bolshevik program until his death at a date well beyond the Stalinist disfiguration of the Russian Revolution. Others such as Goldman pivoted quickly from support to outrage at state repression within Soviet Russia. Still others joined left-communist tendencies propagated by figures such as the Dutch Marxist Anton Pannoekek, and the Italian communist Amadeo Bordiga, posturing the hard left stances enumerated above.

In answer to the question “Does the Ultra Left today carry the mantel of yesterday,” let us argue in the affirmative. Though many activists have traded Bordiga for Bakunin, they bear witness to the tradition in practice of the Ultra Left, especially in regards to the trade union question.

Today the ultra-left perspective occupies much of the same position as it did nearly a century ago, though ultra-left tendencies now fall under the general arc of contemporary Anarchism rather than Marxist communism. Just as ultra-left hostility toward Bolshevism and reformism remains intact, so too does a tactical penchant for political abstentionism, no compromises with the capitalist state, and no collusion with reformist trade unions. The terrain upon which the tendency rests has changed, but not its position upon it.

The significant differences between then and now are questions of political terrain and climate. Nowhere today does the proletariat hold state power, nor likewise are mass revolutionary political parties contending for state power, nor are there tendencies within these parties vying for the allegiance of millions of workers.  The congealing effect of the Occupy movement has, however, brought many disparate tendencies back together under one roof and has re-sparked many of the past debates. Similarly, the spike in struggle in other areas of the world has ignited new arguments about fight back in a world of turmoil.

Today the hegemony of the Marxist tradition over the revolutionary left has been broken and the left generally has been beaten back and atomized. The failure of the Bolshevik revolution to spark a world revolution and the distortion of Bolshevism by Stalinism were the first cracks in the Marxist edifice. The disrepute of Stalinism to the world was ensued by the collapse of the Eastern Block and the creation of Chinese Communist billionaires. Activists serious about changing the world began leaving the official Communist parties in the 1920’s and never looked back.

But the narrative failures on the Marxist left during the Twentieth Century only partially explains the state of the left today. We must also take into account the activity of the world ruling class, its wars and interventions, its Red Scares, and its ability to stay thus far in power in the face of economic disasters and mass discontent.

Today’s left was rendered defeated, disparate and sect ridden. The activist left suffering blow after blow from the employer’s offensive; the academic left floundering within identity politics and privilege theory; neither of these bodies collaborating much with one another to prove the other false. So an honest assessment of the sincere left today is much needed. This assessment reveals that the dominant political trend is some variant of Anarchism. That is not to say that Anarchism is hegemonic, which implies a certain level of like-mindedness that is missing from the anarchist movement of today. But the lack of a cohesive organizational line to come out of the left for the past 30 years has broken fertile ground for an upsurge in anarchist groupings that require little more than a hostility toward Capitalism and the conviction to do something about it.

Ultra-left tendencies bring with them obstacle ridden debate into growing movements. This is rooted in the tendency’s principles and practice to push against growth, and to emphasize a culling of the movement for the sake of political purity. There is impotence in this so-called purity. Why? Because it disempowers, it removes struggle from the realm of mass collective activity and it sequesters it to the corners of the “most militant” the “most radical.” Nonsense! The most radical thing to do is help push an existing struggle to victory and learn a thing or two from the workers fighting alongside you! Their struggle marginalization is conservatism in action. They react with anxiety toward liberal groups or individuals within the movement. Their actions are cast as romantic revolutionary struggles, which they intend to serve as a “wake up call” to the masses. The cascading brick, the smashed window; clouds of tear gas spreading thick across an urban landscape. This is the currency of the Ultra Left today.  

In the Occupy movement, it has been these groupings that have contextualized much of the movement’s outlook and action. Anarchism and Ultra-Leftism have now become synonymous terms. Horizontalism and consensus are evident expressions of anarchist methodology within Occupy. It is these groups on the left that are fueling perspectives on diversity of tactics, and calls for general strikes.

Horizontalism is an organizing model that advocates the creation, development and maintenance of structures for the equitable distribution of management power. These structures and relationships function as a result of dynamic self-management, involving continuous participation and exchange between individuals to achieve the larger desired outcomes of the collective. This sounds like a progressive egalitarian model, except in practice it is far from it.  Under this model, a body of leadership that could be seen as above the movement is abandoned for a clique within the movement. Far from horizontal, the method is elitist to the core. While propagating a model that seems egalitarian is creates a space for unaccountable, non-elected leadership that operates as an unofficial cliquish apparatus that doesn’t have to answer to the movement as a whole. This creates an inherently elitist grouping that calls for the respect of diverse tactics while remaining aloof from the main current of the movement. It’s groupings like these that consistently champion the consensus decision making model as well.

Consensus in practice is just as stodgy and potentially dangerous to decision making as Horizontalism is to leading. Consensus is defined by first, general agreement, and second, group solidarity of belief or sentiment. It is used to describe both the decision and the process of reaching a decision- requiring a unanimous vote to proceed on the matter in question. Without unanimous consent an issue is tabled, or dies. It also can manifest a tyranny of the minority, where a small clique of individuals can prevent certain issues from moving forward- this sort of voting bloc lends itself to infiltrators or fringe political line.

In practice, these perspectives force debate and discussion outside of the movement. Not only does consensus establish a functional base for a minority of activists to block the will of the majority, it also critically hinders the decision-making bodies of the movement.  In Occupy, when faced with the prospect of hours long debates in the General Assemblies, many activists opted to work in smaller committees or specialized working groups in order to accomplish a given task. Debates were therefore taken out of the General Assemblies because consensus model made them too unwieldy.

Horizontalism and consensus practically put brakes on a movement. A practical remedy put forward by the ultra left is ‘diversity of tactics.’ Here again with perhaps little more than a nod for approval toward the General Assemblies, debate is taken away from the mass participatory engines of the movement and placed within the purview of a handful of activists. Lost in this process is any general discussion about strategy or movement perspectives as a whole. Under the guise of acceptance and respect for different tendencies within the movement, the movement itself is atomized into semi-random ‘one off actions,’ again narrowing the field of active participation for most members of the movement.

The culmination of these perspectives is the opening for a clique of likeminded activists to act in the name of the movement and yet operate with wonton independence. These are the activists who with improvised shields engaged the police in a violent square off in Oakland last winter and then broke into and vandalized City Hall. Our criticism is relative to the content of these actions which by their nature reduce the number of activists who can and will participate in them, and also that these actions where planned and initiated outside of the decision making bodies of Occupy Oakland.

Let’s examine diversity of tactics in practice. By necessity fewer people can participate. This narrows the goal of galvanizing people to call for action. If you need smaller insurgent groups to instigate an action, your goal is not to outreach to communities, campuses, churches, unions etc. The object of an insurrectionary campaign in our current political climate doesn’t resonate with everyday people who are presently rediscovering that their voice and participation in direct action matters. The object doesn’t allow everyday people to lead the struggle; it can actually keep them from participating in a movement where they feel directly threatened from forces within.

Counter-intuitive though it may seem, in practice these left anarchist tendencies are conservative and elitist. Conservative in that they hamper the movement’s growth and limit its participatory capacity, elitist in that they create cliques to carry out actions in the name of the movement that are not beholden to it. Let us instead have official, accountable, and recallable bodies based on a simple majority mandate.

The calls for General Strikes are the most forward articulation of ultra-leftism within Occupy. These calls revolve around the principle that the traditional mechanisms for mass working class mobilization have been compromised and weakened by the onslaught of capital in the late twentieth century. Unions therefore are circumvented in favor of “new and imaginative” methods of struggle--methods that don’t come with the mess of confronting union bureaucracies or mixed consciousness within the rank and file. Getting hands dirty was the old way of doing things. General Strike calls are meant to draw out the most advanced workers from among the unorganized (the so-called 89%) to expose them to the ‘idea’ of a strike, or to otherwise allow them the opportunity to participate in a mass action.

But calls for these general strikes are really propagations for the notion of a strike generally, or more succinctly a strike in the abstract. Since all the requisite processes for developing a truly general strike, in which a multiplicity of unions, support organizations, unemployment councils, etc. strike together in solidarity, are either bypassed for being non-existent, or otherwise shunned as conservatively unresponsive, bureaucratized apparatuses - a general strike, in the historical sense is not being called. And we are sorry, but no amount of cute, or ironic images using cats or unicorns is going to change this fact. I can haz historical conditions plz? LOL[5]

Such abstract strikes are taken up based on an analysis of the economic climate as well as impatience with the development of the workers’ struggle. The argument follows that the economic circumstances are ripe for a development in struggle, but the historical circumstances compel radicals to facilitate the ignition of that struggle from without. The guiding principle of an abstract strike is such that an action might ‘wake up’ critical sections of the working class and motivate them to carry the struggle forward. The existing historical hinge that connects workers with necessitated workplace organization isn’t being tightened- the door is being slammed in the face of workers. Doing this is to ignore the reality that the workplace is the fulcrum of struggle- and to impatiently bypass the door and walk bloody-nosed into a wall.

It’s timely to report that Occupy Oakland won’t be shutting down the ports this May Day, but rather the ILWU will be. A trade union with a history of radical protest, they have within their union coordinated and planned for a mass union walk out in honor of May Day. This is the kind of worker self-activity that should be supported and solidarity actions organized around.

In the current political climate fight back is a certainty, though the success of struggle certainly isn’t. The economic brew of wars, austerity, and the gap between rich and poor compel working people to resist. The form that resistance will take frankly has little to do with Occupy or the sincere left in general, outside of our ability to lay the ground work, agitate, and relate to struggles when and where they develop. The notion that radicals can call for a General Strike by bypassing all that goes into building for a it is tantamount to demanding that history bends to our will. History may come our way, but it will have little to do with our imperative. The role of revolutionaries is to actively work to raise consciousness while simultaneously bolstering actions called by workers waging a fight back.

The majority of the workforce in the United States is unorganized. Even so it is a certainty that spontaneous struggle will develop out of this circumstance. It is true that workers will build new and imaginative methods of organizing that may or may not develop along lines of previous trade union struggles, but will certainly be shaped by the existing unorganized character of the American working class. Calling these methods into existence from outside the workplace or self-activity of workers however, is like invoking a gathering storm to rain. It either will, or it won’t. Standing on the dry dirt of the American political economy, we are certainly in favor of rain, but even if we were not, rain would be just as likely.

Strikes are to an economic crisis what lightning is to a storm. In a storm you can expect lightning, but there is no point in predicting where it will strike. The best you can do is set up lighting rods in anticipation of lightning. Likewise, in a broken economy it makes most sense to orient around ‘lightning rods’ in workplace struggles that can channel militancy to broader layers of the working class. Workplaces that are already organized are the most advantageous positions to start from since the principle methods of organization already exist and the workers already have a modicum of protection. 

This raises the issue of a Wildcat strike. Ultra lefts argue that open participation in a “General Strike” may inspire Wildcat strikes within workplaces. Again let us say that the self-activity of the working class is an inevitability in an economy lashed by wars and austerity, but that calling for a Wildcat strike from without the workplace is just as foolish and misleading as the calls for General Strikes in the first place. Hypothetically, a successful Wildcat strike puts workers in a position where they will have to move toward unionization immediately to defend themselves against the boss’s retaliation and retain what they have earned in struggle. This instance further raises the question of striking workers entering existing unions, which ultra lefts criticize for their bureaucratic conservatism, or otherwise forming unions of their own. Neither of these are altogether undesirable outcomes. In the abstract sense, the left should support all kinds of workers’ organization and activity, but nothing guarantees these freedoms from the existing contradictions that plague the union movement today.

To further this point, calling for a strike from outside of the workplace establishes the immediate obstacle of having called a strike and bypassed any functional apparatus to bring workers out of the workplace and into the strike. Propagandistic methods can be applied, but propaganda under these conditions functions practically as little more than an invitation and is open to a myriad of subjective interpretations. Propaganda for a strike is like trying to control the weather. I can’t be done. You might as well invite lighting to strike at an exact time and place.[6] The failure of propaganda in this circumstance may also result in moralist injunctions against those workers who do not come out because of a perceived inherent conservatism. Theories that breed hostility toward the last vestiges of the existing unions in this country make no attempts to reach out to the tens of thousands of sympathetic workers within them. This abstention characteristically leads to adventurous political acts based on a flat interpretation of the role unions play.

This perhaps is the most calamitous of all likely outcomes to calls for strikes in the abstract. These calls do not function in a vacuum but lay over the existing political terrain in our society, subject to all of its prejudices, anxieties and yes also the persistent hope for a better future. These attributes are not mutually exclusive. A worker invited to participate in an abstract strike is very likely to see this as a motive contrary to their betterment, if they perceive their betterment and their position at work as one in the same. Let us say that we believe that a future under capitalism is no future at all, and that all workers are at their best when they act according to their collective rather than individual interests. But let us also say, that activists unwilling to understand or engage with individually based motives, play a detrimental role in our movement.

Rather what should be argued for is the advancement of the movement. What activity will pull large numbers of people to it? Understanding the consciousness of the terrain is just as important as acting upon it. Activating passive layers of support comes most readily by meeting those people where they are at- regarding the struggles in every day life, not from showing off adventurous tactics without regard to effective strategy. We should stand firmly against the ultra-left currents and instead strategize over ways to win masses of workers organized and unorganized to the cause of our movement. Workers need to see themselves as apart of the movement not a part from it.

At all odds we should avoid a circumstance that cultivates a perspective that pits radicals against workers. Instead we should say that workers are radicals and radicals are workers. Rather than the ultra left perspective that in practice would see the working class follow the lead of the radicals by attending their General Strike and accommodating their activities, we as revolutionaries should take the lead from existing class struggles and help push them to victory. We want to prove again and again that workers can fight back and get something. We don’t want to propagate the abstract idea of a strike, but show in concrete practice that workers can organize, that workers can win, and that revolutionaries can contribute to the process. Let all the flowers bloom. Some will thrive; others will wilt and cast their seeds to the wind. Workers in struggle are the real radicals; the lead we take should be from them.

A General Strike, in the abstract, will be neither a strike, nor will it be general. Calling an abstract strike a General Strike is as dishonest and misleading as attempting to lead the workers struggle without engaging with the existing institutions of that struggle. Workers self-activity is a certainty just as calling for it is a redundancy. Struggles within the workplace are bound to rise in the wake of Occupy and it is on these struggles that our movement should pivot.

The mantra of the revolutionary today ought be- “we are not what we want to be, but we want to become it together,” bringing all the disparate elements of the workers’ struggle into a crescendos tide against Capitalism. The mantra of the Ultra-Left remains- “we are already what we want to be, and we want you to join us.” As Lenin said, "It is far more difficult--and far more useful to be a revolutionary when the conditions for direct, open, really mass and really revolutionary struggle do not yet exist." Our collective work in Occupy has made a tremendous step toward open struggle, but revolutionary struggle does not yet exist in the United States. Let us engage ourselves in the more useful –and difficult task of joining with existing struggle and building from it the revolutionary tide.

[1] This will not be a repeat of the Chris Hedge’s “article.” Because seriously, fuck that guy.
[2] Literally translated to “The Enraged Ones.”
[3] Blanquism distinguishes itself from other socialist currents of the day in numerous ways. Contrary to Karl Marx, Blanqui did not believe in the preponderant role of the working class, nor in popular movements: he thought, on the contrary, that the revolution should be carried out by a small group, who would establish a temporary dictatorship by force. This period of transitional tyranny would permit the implementation of a new order, after which power would be handed to the people. In another respect, Blanqui was more concerned with the revolutionary process itself than with the future society that would result from it.
[4] In Marxist philosophy, Leninism is the political theory for the democratic organization of a revolutionary vanguard party, and the achievement of a direct-democracy dictatorship of the proletariat, as political prelude to the establishment of socialism. Championing democratic centralization and political education the vanguard party along with the militant layers of the working class lead revolutionary activity.
[5] Burn.

Jon K. & Jason N. also contributed to this article. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Articles published in Socialist Worker

We've each contributed to several articles featured in Socialist Worker in 2011, and we wanted a centralized locale for them. We've also listed our most recent pieces of the new year- and will continue to add to the list! Why are we so hooked on SW? 
Here's a bit more about the publication: began as the online version of the weekly Socialist Workernewspaper, founded in 1977 and published by the International Socialist Organization. As a newspaper and now a daily Web site, Socialist Worker has been committed to giving a voice to those struggling for a better world.
We've sought out the stories of labor struggles that are seldom reported in the mainstream media--and never reported on from the point of view of those fighting back. From interviews with striking miners in Kentucky in the 1970s to a day-by-day account of the Republic Windows & Doors factory occupation in Chicago in 2008, we've tried to bring workers' experiences and opinions to a wider audience.
We've reported on campaigns for social change and economic justice in the U.S. and around the world--from the movement against South African apartheid in the 1980s to the one against Israel's apartheid against Palestinians today; from the soldiers' resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan to the LGBT movement for equality, and much more. is committed not only to reporting from the front lines of these struggles, but to providing a forum for discussion and debate of the political questions facing activists.
We also seek to present a socialist analysis of world news and events, and to keep alive the rich and too-often-hidden history of working-class struggle and the socialist tradition. You'll find left-wing and Marxist analyses of important questions of the day from a broad range of voices on the left.         (Taken from 

Beginning with the most recent:
January 23, 2012
January 19, 2012
December 8, 2011
November 16, 2011
September 12, 2011
September 7, 2011
August 22, 2011
August 11, 2011

When "recovery" means "austerity"