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How to build a new world in the shell of the old

By By Mason Herson-Hord, Aaron Vansintjan, Jason Geils, and Katie Horvath - The Ecologist, April 23, 2018

Every city has its graveyard of nonprofits, cooperatives, social clubs, and community centers. Without a strategic vision, local projects cannot possibly amount to a systemic alternative to capitalism. The latest contribution from the SYMBIOSIS RESEARCH COLLECTIVE

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” - Arundhati Roy

In the first two articles of this series, we alluded to a new strategic vision that is emerging across many different movements, through which we can achieve a genuinely democratic, egalitarian, and ecological society. In this next installment, we sketch this vision of a transition out of capitalism through grassroots organising to build the new world in the shell of the old.

If we want real change, should we draw up a sketch of a just society and then simply march towards it? We think it's better to look around and find the seeds of a better future—perhaps dormant—in the present, and nurture them into a viable alternative that can challenge and transform the world around us.

Even as we carry the dream of ecological utopia in our hearts, our visions of the future cannot be divorced from the process by which they could realistically come about. To bring about lasting change, we need to identify, build up, and bring together existing utopias in the present, creating actual power in the places we live and work.

How power works

To build power, we need to understand how it works. The German-American political philosopher Hannah Arendt argued that intolerable situations such as ours can be cast aside by the public’s withdrawal of support from its governing institutions. While not a leftist, Arendt was a prominent theorist of totalitarianism, political violence, and direct democracy who developed important concepts that can help us chart a path forward.

Power is conventionally understood as the ability to make others do things, often through violence or coercion. In On Violence, however, Arendt argues that power works quite differently. She defines “power” as people’s ability to act in concert—the capacity for collective action, and thus a property of groups, not individuals. Leaders possess their power only because their constituents have empowered them to direct the group’s collective action.

Arendt asserts that all power, in every political system from dictatorships to participatory democracies, emerges from public support. No dictator can carry out his or her will without obedience from subjects; nor can any project requiring collective action be achieved without the support, begrudging or enthusiastic, of the group.

When people begin to withdraw their support and refuse to obey, a government may turn to violence, but even that control lasts only as long as the army or police choose to obey. “Where commands are no longer obeyed,” Arendt writes, “the means of violence are of no use… Everything depends on the power behind the violence.” Power, for the rulers as well as those who would resist them, comes through collective action, rather than force.

As a basis for a revolutionary political strategy, Arendt’s theory of power has several important limitations—limitations which we think can be overcome by focusing our efforts into organising real democratic institutions in communities where we live, in our everyday lives.

How to change the course of human history

By David Graeber and David Wengrow - Eurozine, March 2, 2018

The story we have been telling ourselves about our origins is wrong, and perpetuates the idea of inevitable social inequality. David Graeber and David Wengrow ask why the myth of 'agricultural revolution' remains so persistent, and argue that there is a whole lot more we can learn from our ancestors.

1. In the beginning was the word

For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking. Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery…) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy, and most other great human achievements.

Almost everyone knows this story in its broadest outlines. Since at least the days of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has framed what we think the overall shape and direction of human history to be. This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility. Most see civilization, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity. Some dream of returning to a past utopia, of finding an industrial equivalent to ‘primitive communism’, or even, in extreme cases, of destroying everything, and going back to being foragers again. But no one challenges the basic structure of the story.

There is a fundamental problem with this narrative.

It isn’t true.

Excerpt from the new book, ‘On Anarchism: Dispatches from the People’s Republic of Vermont’

By David Van Deusen - It's Going Down, January 18, 2018

What follows is an excerpt from the new book On Anarchism: Dispatches From The People’s Republic of Vermont. Dispatches contains works written by David Van Deusen, and in some cases, the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective. This excerpt is the introduction to a strategic plan that was put forward by the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective in 2004. The proposal, until now, how never been made available to the public.

The Old Socialist Labor Hall, Barre, Vermont 2004 – The current social and political dynamic within North America, and much of the western industrialized world, is one of both growing hope and an escalation of capitalist oppression.[1]  While workers are being attacked by the forces of capital, and while the U.S. ruling class embarks upon imperialist campaigns of war, conquest, and cultural-political-economic homogenization, a mass movement is building within the very walls of the empire.

The 1999 Battle of Seattle witnessed the coming together of a great and diverse new American left.  As the anti-globalization movement matured, culminating in the 70,000-100,000 strong Battle of Quebec City in 2001, a mass anti-capitalist, pro-democracy movement was in full swing.  This momentum was effectively stalled due to the hesitation demonstrated on the part of the left immediately following the tragic September 11th terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, and the four civilian jetliners.

However, momentum against the empire not only became reinvigorated, but grew to massive proportions with the people’s movement against the imperialist invasion of Iraq.  Let us not forget the more than half-a-million people who marched in opposition through New York City on February 15th.  Nor should we forget the tens-of-thousands of others who marched in hundreds of other North American cities and small towns.[2] Let us also remember the 13 million people who took part in sister demonstrations across the world, making February 15th, 2003, the largest day of global protest in the history of humankind.

While we did not succeed in stopping the war, we did, temporarily, make the neo-conservative’s scale back their rhetoric about invading other nations such as socialist Cuba, communist Korea, Ba’ath controlled Syria, and Islamic Iran. And like in the streets of Seattle, DC, and Quebec, this opposition included millions of union workers (i.e. U.S. Labor Against The War), socialists, anarchists, students, environmentalists, and many others.  In short, while the audacity of the ruling class grows, so too does our movement towards socialism and direct democracy. It is with this in mind that NEFAC must begin to up the ante, and develop a coordinated strategy with the end goal of popular victory.

What is this popular victory?  While it would be arrogant to state exactly what a post-capitalist, democratic, socialist world would look like (as this will be defined by the people themselves), we can, at minimum, say that it will be one where communities are organized by directly democratic assemblies, industry and agriculture will be coordinated by directly democratic unions, and all people will have (among other things) access to food, housing, healthcare, higher education, childcare, jobs, and social security.

Below & Beyond Trump: Power & Counter-Power in 2017

By Black Rose Anarchist Federation - It's Going Down, December 23, 2017

This analysis was developed by ongoing discussions among members of the Black Rose / Rosa Negra (BRRN) Anarchist Federation’s Analysis and Strategy Committee and sent as a discussion document to our August 2017 convention, where it generated deep discussion and further feedback.  It is organized into four sections: an analysis of ruling class power, an analysis of social movements, a statement of basic organizing principles in light of the current moment, and some suggestions for the federation moving forward.

Its main points are that we see real potential to build popular power and social anarchism in the coming period. The U.S. ruling class is fractured, the political terrain has shifted dramatically, and there is mass discontent with corporate politics as usual. This provides numerous opportunities for pro-organizational revolutionary anarchists to intervene as social movements arise. At present the mass discontent is being channeled by the institutional left – unions, non-profits, and other institutions traditionally aligned with the Democrats — into explicit reformism and electoral politics. We argue for promoting independent social movements outside of the institutional left while putting forward within new and existing social struggles the need to advance class struggle, collective direct action, direct democracy, and a vision of libertarian socialism.

Why Redneck Revolt Says Deal With Racism First, Then Economics

By Zenobia Jeffries - Yes! Magazine, November 29, 2017

Moved by the need for control, for an unchallenged top tier, the power elite in American history has thrived by placating the vulnerable and creating for them a false sense of identification—denying real class differences where possible.
—Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

There is no shortage of media commentary discrediting “identity politics,” particularly the focus on Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, and immigrant communities calling for justice and equity. Economics is our real problem, a counter argument goes, not race, sex, gender, citizenship. But as author Nancy Isenberg points out in White Trash, “identity has always been a part of politics.”

Laws have been written to oppress and exploit particular identities—Native Americans, Black Americans, Asians, homosexuals, transgender, and women—in a successful effort to maintain a system of White supremacy. Yet, members of these communities have worked for the rights and equality of everyone. In turn, White allies have joined in these anti-racism fights.

The Redneck Revolt is one such organization. The self-described anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-fascist group challenges working-class White people to stand against White supremacy.

I recently talked to Brett, one of the members who heads up the network’s Southeast Michigan Chapter. (Because of hostilities toward the organization, Redneck Revolt members use only their first names publicly.) There are about 40 chapters nationwide. He explained why the group focuses on anti-racism rather than economics even though it seeks out white working-class and poor people in economically struggling rural areas.

Market Economy: Deep Roots Of Dysfunction

By Jane Roelofs - Global Justice Center, December 2, 2017

There is nothing new in the disaster anticipated from NAFTA. The market  economy hasn’t “broken down,” or suddenly reached environmental limits. Its inherent faults are simply more clearly manifest in an age of mass communication and heightened consciousness. Here I will focus on the conflict between the market—the backbone of capitalism—and Green values.

Many people, even some socialists, believe that both trade and  commodification are beneficial. These processes, essential to the creation of a market economy, are considered progressive because they offer both more choice and a larger amount of stuff. While these effects cannot be disputed,  their hidden costs in human and environmental terms must be taken into account. In contrast to conventional economics, Green economics does not measure progress in terms of expanded production and consumption. A further supposed benefit of markets, saving of labor and increased leisure, is highly questionable. Even consumption becomes “work”: e.g., driving to a shopping mall to purchase an exercise bicycle to compensate for a sedentary lifestyle.

International markets intensify the dysfunctions, although these effects may occur whenever there is trade. We are less aware of the conditions abroad, and we feel little responsibility for the labor and environmental policies (or lack of them) of other countries. However, the practices of the developed countries, and UN agencies controlled by them (e.g., the World Bank) are often directly responsible for production conditions in other countries. An obvious example is the foreign-trained “death squad” which  targets labor organizers in Third World countries. Even without outside prodding, countries anxious for export growth will intensify exploitation of workers and destruction of the environment. The Quayle-headed “Council on Competitiveness” was an instance of this operating in a “developed” nation.

International trade, and the consequent competition for markets and raw materials, has historically been the occasion for militarism and war. This remains true today, and now includes covert actions and counter-insurgency warfare.

Gulf South Indigenous Led Mutual Aid for Hurricane Harvey: How You Can Help

By Anonymous Contributor - It's Going Down, August 31, 2017

We want to bring special attention to Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, Louisiana Flood Relief, Another Gulf, and Bayou Action Street Health for work in compiling this list and providing aid on the ground. 

We are the moving floating water protector camp L’eau Est La Vie located in the basin on Houma and Chittimacha land where Energy Transfer Partners is attempting to put down Bayou Bridge Pipeline, the tail end of DAPL. We believe there are no natural disasters, only sociopolitical ones. “Disasters” happen when colonization interferes with nature. Hurricane Harvey and disasters we’ve done mutual aid for in the past (Louisiana Flood of 2016, Katrina, Sandy…) are crises caused by capitalism, colonization, and climate change. not nature.

Aid in these times is constantly developing as situations evolve. The process of us organizing and carrying out aid for ourselves during crisis is incredibly complicated. There are many internal politics and nuances that will never be articulate unless you are there, and even then there’s so much most of us don’t understand. We are all we got when our situations don’t benefit capitalism. But unity doesn’t look like not calling out problematic behavior, it looks like unlearning that behavior. Emergencies currently mean sometimes being near organizations that are not trustworthy or are affiliated with the government. But there is no such thing as revolutionary work that also involves racism or oppression of any kind. Clyde Cain who represents Louisiana Cajun Navy (NOT Cajun Navy 2016 the more trusted group) said racist things about looting and shooting during his “aid,” managing to be a white savior, white victim, and white superior in his time working in disaster situations.

Us organizers need to work on dismantling racist tenancies in disaster situations and we need to do it in between emergencies. At a time when Texas is keeping ICE checkpoints running during evacuation and the political climate is less safe than ever for “undocumented” indigenous people, organizers must assist in their safety not erase their struggle! At a time when black people and people of color are being criminalized for salvaging goods to survive, we must assist their survival, not call them looters. At a time when trans people are turned away from shelters, organizers must make space for them.

We are literally knee deep in the issue right now, and the groups with these problems have a lot of resources. we believe we can use these resources without working with them. For example, using their rescue maps to organize our own rescues while communicating with them to let them know. and you can DEFINITELY avoid aiding them in any way. If you’re trying to do a donation drive and not come down, we recommend monetary donations. Giving stakeholders the power to help themselves and purchase what they need is a crucial way to give them agency when so much is being taken from them. They know what they need. People don’t need to be saved, they need knowledge of their power and means to access it.

Antifa and Leftists Organize Mutual Aid and Rescue Networks in Houston

By Candice Bernd - Truthout, September 1, 2017

"It's been a hell of a few days," says Andrew Cobb, whose house in Houston's Fifth Ward was spared the brunt of Hurricane Harvey's flood waters. His decentralized, grassroots relief effort called the "West Street Response Team" started with a simple scouting mission to a nearby flood plain across Highway 59 on Sunday.

After he and his roommates arrived at the location, they began coordinating with neighbors from the area on social media to find specific addresses of people needing rescue. They paddled more than two miles out in an inflatable kayak to make their first rescue of a mother and son, who they brought back to their own home to shelter for a few days.

"We posted about that and there was just a huge response, with some videos from that. And so, people were like, 'What can we do? What's up?' And I was like, 'We need boats. We need trucks. We need to get out there, and ... people just responded in a big way," Cobb tells me over the phone after nightfall -- the only time when his team isn't actively on rescue dispatch -- earlier this week.

The group started formally raising money, and their house has since been transformed into a volunteer dispatch base running several rescue operations each day, including the rescue of a woman who was low on oxygen, whom they paddled and drove across town to another set of volunteers who got her across the final leg to a home with an oxygen concentrator.

Cobb's team's activities aren't limited to rescues. They have also been working to drop food, water, clothing and dog food for stray animals to shelters and to certain drop-off spots at cross streets in his area.

Cobb is just one of many Texans braving Houston's rapids from sun-up to sun-down to organize decentralized rescues in the early days of Hurricane Harvey's devastation. Pre-Harvey, he organized with a local Food Not Bombs chapter and with the Society of Native Nations to oppose Energy Transfer Partner's Trans-Pecos pipeline in far West Texas.

His work providing homeless people with food via Food Not Bombs has amplified his disgust for the journalists and city officials ridiculing Houstonians for providing for themselves during a time of crisis.

"Calling it 'looting' is just such an absurdity when you have no food in the neighborhood. So, people were getting what they need, but we were hearing that supplies were limited, and the closest real grocery store was Fiesta, and there was a four-hour line to get in," Cobb says. "It's a food desert in normal times, and right now it's even more so."

His team is already working with outside groups from Austin to coordinate resources, including acquiring more technical gear for rescues, in the coming days. It's a sign of the emerging coalitions among leftists, radicals and anarchists, including those involved in antifascist organizing, that are beginning to solidify in the wake of Harvey. While Cobb says his response team opposes fascism and supports a diversity of tactics, they do not identify specifically as antifa. But many other leftists, including those who do identify as antifa, are poised, ready and waiting, for the water to recede to begin providing direct relief.

Lies That Capitalists Tell Us

By William Hawes and Jason Holland - CounterPunch, June 26, 2017

While idiotic supporters of our two-party system wring their hands over the sensationalist nonsense reported by the mainstream media, we thought it might be worth touching on the most dangerous lie of all-time: capitalism. It’s an all-encompassing delusion, including: the myth of continual technological progress, the mendacious assumptions of endless economic growth, the lie that constant bombardments of media and consumer goods make us happy,  and the omissions of our involvement in the exploitation of the planet and the resources of distant, poorer nations, among other things.

We’ve taken the time to hash out some of the most pernicious mendacities we’ve come across in our (relatively) young lives, in the workplace, in our private lives, and in the media. ***

Please share these counter-arguments far and wide, in order to educate your fellow citizens, and, if necessary, to provide the intellectual beat-downs needed when arguing with pro-capitalists. So without further ado, here is our list of the most devious “Lies that Capitalists Tell Us”:

1) Wealth will “trickle down”

It’s hard to believe an economic policy that conjures images of urination could be wrong, but the idea is as bankrupt as the lower classes who have been subjected to the trickling. Less than ten people now have the financial wealth equivalent to half the planet, and the trickling seems a lot more like a mad cash-grab by the (morally bankrupt) elites. Rather than trickle down, the 1% and their lackeys have hoovered up the majority of new wealth created since the 2008 crash. After 40 years of stagnant wages in the US the people feel more shit on than trickled upon.

It’s not a mistake that the elite reap most of the profits: the capitalist system is designed this way, it always has been, and will be, until we the people find the courage to tear it down and replace it with something better.

From Solidarity Networks to Class Organisation in Times of Labour Hallucinations

By Angry Workers World - LibCom.Org, June 24, 2017

Dear sisters and brothers,

Some comrades from Frankfurt got in touch recently, wanting to set up a solidarity network. They approached us with some concrete questions. [1] We want to use the opportunity to reflect more generally on our limited experiences with our solidarity network initiative so far and about the political direction we want to take steps towards. We do this against the current background of post-election ‘Corbyn-mania’ and a surge in political activities focused on the Labour Party. The first part of this text briefly explains our opposition to the focus on electoral activities, whether that be through the Labour machinery or in the more post-modern form of ‘municipalism’ [2] – despite the fact that locally in our area, the election circus had less of an impact, given that most workers here are not allowed to vote anyway. And as an alternative to this electoral turn, the second part focuses on our political proposals towards a locally rooted class organisation. We then go on to talk in more detail about our concrete experiences with the solidarity network in west London.

The Labour of wishful thinking

  • * We understand that ‘hope’ is needed amongst a divided and beaten working class and that Labour’s rhetoric of social unity and equality is welcomed.
  • * We would criticise our comrades of the radical left if they merely proliferate this ‘message of hope’ and material promises (end of austerity), without questioning the structural constraints which will make it difficult for a Labour government to deliver on their promises. Syriza in Greece has shown how a hopeful high can quickly turn into an even deeper depression once ‘our government’ has to turn against us.
  • * For us it is less about warning the working class not to vote on principle or focusing on Corbyn’s problematic power struggle within the Labour apparatus, but about pointing out the general dynamic between a) a national social democratic government, b) the global system of trade, monetary exchange and political power and c) the struggle of workers to improve their lives. In other words, all of the historical lessons have shown us that the outcomes of channelling working class energies into parliamentarism within a nation state that fits into an overall system of capital flows, has always ended up curtailing a longer-term working class power.
  • * The Labour party proposals in general are not radical as such, e.g. their promise to increase the minimum wage to £10 per hour by 2020 (!) under current inflation rates would more likely lead to a dampening of wage struggles amongst the lower paid working class, rather than instigating them. The minimum wage regulation introduced by Labour under Blair in 1998 had this effect in the long run.
  • * An increase in taxation to mobilise the financial means to deliver on their promises will increase capital flight and devaluation of the pound – most capital assets which bolster the UK economy are less material than in the 1970s, therefore it would be difficult to counter the flight with requisition (‘nationalisation’), a step which Labour does not really consider on a larger scale anyway.
  • * While any social democratic program on a national level is more unlikely than ever, the Labour program focuses workers’ attention increasingly on the national terrain: struggle for the NHS, nationalisation of the railways etc.; (in this sense the leadership’s leaning towards Brexit is consequential and at odds with most liberal Corbynistas); while officially Labour maintains a liberal approach towards migrants, those Labour strategists who are less under public scrutiny as politicians, such as Paul Mason, are more honest: if to carry out a social democratic program on a national scale means to have tightened control over the movement of capital, by the nature of capital-labour relation, this also means to tighten the control over the movement of labour; it would also mean re-arming the national military apparatus in order to bolster the national currency that otherwise wouldn’t have the international standing the pound still has. [3]
  • * A social democratic government needs a workers/social movement on the ground in order to impose more control over corporate management, e.g. through taxation. At the same time it hampers the self-activity of workers necessary to do this – e.g. through relying on the main union apparatus as transmission belts between workers and government.
  • * In more concrete terms we can see that groups like Momentum or local Labour Party organisations have done and do very little to materially strengthen the organisation of day-to-day proletarian struggles on the ground, but rather channel people’s activities towards the electoral sphere, siphoning off energy and turning attention away from concrete proletarian problems. Many ‘independent’ left-wing initiatives – from Novara media to most of the Trot organisations – became election advertisement agencies.
  • * While for the new Labour activists – many of them from a more educated if not middle-class background – there will be advisory posts and political careers, we have to see their future role with critical suspicion.
  • * If a Labour government would actually try to increase taxation and redistribute assets, the most likely outcome is a devaluation of the pound and an increase in inflation due to a trade deficit, which cannot be counteracted easily (see composition of agriculture, energy sector, general manufactured goods etc.)
  • * The new Labour left – trained in political activism and speech and aided by their influence within union leadership – will be the best vehicle to tell workers to ‘give our Labour government some time’, to explain that ‘international corporations have allied against us’ and that despite inflation workers should keep calm and carry on; wage struggles will be declared to be ‘excessive’ or ‘divisive’ or ‘of narrow-minded economic consciousness’. More principled comrades who told workers to support Labour, but who would support workers fighting against a Labour government risk losing their credibility and influence.
  • * Instead of creating illusions that under conditions of a global crisis ‘money can be found’ for the welfare state we should point out the absurdity of the capitalist crisis: there is poverty despite excess capacities and goods (for which ‘no money can be found’ if they don’t promise profits for companies or the state). We have to be Marxists again, analysing structures rather than engaging in wishful thinking.
  • * We should focus our activities to a) build material counter-power against bosses and capitalist institutions that makes a difference in the daily lives of working class people and b) prepare themselves and ourselves for the task of actually taking over the means of (re-)production. [4] For this we need to be rooted and coordinated internationally. We can clearly see that in the face of these big questions our actual practice seems ridiculously modest, but we want to share our experiences honestly and invite others to organise themselves with us. [5]

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