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A Friendly Critique of Bookchin’s Politics

By Usufruct Collective - Usufruct Collective, September 8, 2022

Bookchin is our favorite political philosopher. Which does not mean we think he is right about everything. Despite us agreeing with most of Bookchin’s political philosophy, we also think it is important to critique it. And yet, most every critique of Bookchin’s political philosophy, even when true, leads to an overall politics less coherent and liberatory than his own. Critiques of Bookchin–from those more close and distant to his views– usually straw man him or fail to properly sublate him. Most critiques of Bookchin do not simultaneously take the most liberatory parts from his philosophy, while subtracting the worst parts of his philosophy, while adding other philosophical and political dimensions in such a way that closer approximates coherence, rationality, and ethics. Our goal is to sublate Bookchin; not to straw man him, not to discard liberatory dimensions of his political philosophy and praxis, and not to treat him like he is beyond critique. 

Some people will say that the big problems with Bookchin’s philosophy emerge later in his life. And there is both some truth and falseness to such an evaluation. Older/Later Bookchin simultaneously includes 1. Places where Bookchin made some of his most crucial errors but also where he made 2. Some of his greatest elaborations of philosophy, ethics, and political form, and content. From the 1960’s until 2004 there are continuous features to his overall politics– continuous features that do not amount to a mere skeletal lower common denominator but arguably the most essential features of his worldview in general. Such continuous features include: social ecology, direct democracy, means and ends of communal and inter-communal self-management, the development of oppositional and reconstructive politics as part of a revolutionary process, non-hierarchy, direct action, mutual aid, and libertarian communism specifically. These features are consistent in his work from “Post Scarcity Anarchism” until “The Communalist Project” (Bookchin 2007, Bookchin 2018). And we are in agreement with the above features of Bookchin’s politics. That being said, there are also ways he did change his mind overtime for better and for worse. By discarding features of Bookchin’s politics that we think are errors while adding features to his political project that are not present or sufficiently present in his recorded philosophy and worldview, we would still be agreeing with the most important features of his philosophy and worldview– or at least what we consider to be as such. In this sense, our attempt at a ruthless critique will be relatively friendly. 

We have no answers; we have questions. Urgent ones

By John Holloway - ROAR, May 1, 2021

We live in a failed system. It is becoming clearer every day that the present organization of society is a disaster, that capitalism is unable to secure an acceptable way of living. The COVID-19 pandemic is not a natural phenomenon but the result of the social destruction of biodiversity and other pandemics are likely to follow. The global warming that is a threat to both human and many forms of non-human life is the result of the capitalist destruction of established equilibria. The acceptance of money as the dominant measure of social value forces a large part of the world’s population to live in miserable and precarious conditions.

The destruction caused by capitalism is accelerating. Growing inequality, a rise in racist violence, the spread of fascism, increasing tensions between states and the accumulation of power by police and military. Moreover, the survival of capitalism is built on an ever-expanding debt that is doomed to collapse at some point.

The situation is urgent, we humans are now faced with the real possibility of our own extinction.

How do we get out of here? The traditional answer of those who are conscious of the scale of social problems: through the state. Political thinkers and politicians from Hegel to Keynes and Roosevelt and now Biden have seen the state as a counterweight to the destruction wreaked by the economic system. States will solve the problem of global warming; states will end the destruction of biodiversity; states will alleviate the enormous hardship and poverty resulting from the present crisis. Just vote for the right leaders and everything will be all right. And if you are very worried about what is happening, just vote for more radical leaders — Sanders or Corbyn or Die Linke or Podemos or Evo Morales or Maduro or López Obrador — and things will be fine.

The problem with this argument is that experience tells us that it does not work. Left-wing leaders have never fulfilled their promises, have never brought about the changes that they said they would. In Latin America, the left-wing politicians who came to power in the so-called Pink Wave at the start of this century, have been closely associated with extractivism and other forms of destructive development. The Tren Maya which is Mexican president López Obrador’s favorite project in Mexico at the moment is just the latest example of this. Left-wing parties and politicians may be able to bring about minor changes, but they have done nothing at all to break the destructive dynamic of capital.

What Use Is a Good Job If You Don’t Have a Home to Come Home To?

Socialist Dog Catchers (or Presidents) Won’t Save Us

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.

A blueprint for a party of an old type

By Scott Jay - Libcom.Org, November 27, 2016

A Blueprint for a New Party recently published in Jacobin Magazine is more of a strategy for campaigning for Democrats than a path to strengthening social movements.

These are desperate times. The victory of Donald Trump promises a rightward turn in US policy as well as an emboldened far-Right in the streets. Immigrants will be among the first attacked by Trump’s promise to expel them en masse, but they and others will also continue to see an increase in daily harassment, racist attacks and organized vigilante violence.

In response to these horrors, Jacobin Magazine, which enthusiastically promoted Bernie Sanders as a route to rebuilding the Left, has published an article by Seth Ackerman which provides what he calls “A Blueprint for a New Party.” Having put all their eggs in the Sanders basket for the past year, Jacobin and Ackerman now lay out the possible next steps for what the Sanders campaign supposedly promised all along–a newly formed independent third party to the left of the Democrats. Ackerman describes this, at the end of the article, as a Party of a New Type.

What Ackerman provides is a lengthy history and analysis of attempts to build third parties, in particular the US Labor Party, and challenges to attaining and keeping access to the ballot. What he does not provide is much a of a picture of how this Party of a New Type is going to be built, or by whom, or why anybody would want anything to do with it. It is not even clear what sort of politics it would have or what–if anything–it would do besides run candidates, although it may not even run candidates, apparently. How it would even build the membership and resources to eventually run candidates is left as an exercise for the reader, as they say in a graduate seminar.

Before we proceed, imagine for a moment that instead of the Left enthusing over Bernie Sanders for the past year they had focused on organizing among working people and oppressed people in defending themselves from the daily onslaught of capitalism. Imagine what a stronger position we would all be in now, as the newly empowered far-Right seeks to assault the lives and dignities of immigrants, women, African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, and others. Instead of talking abstractly about the possibilities of a New Party, we would be talking about how to stop deportations, racist attacks and sexual assaults. There are people around the US who have been doing just that, who do not call themselves Leftists or read socialist periodicals, who have been working on protecting their family members and neighbors from being deported or being beaten by the police.

Ackerman’s proposal seems less interested in these problems and instead focuses on the question of whether or not an electoral party should seek its own ballot line, to which he boldly answers: “Sometimes.”

The centre-left’s narrative on climate change has convinced no one

By Alex Randall - Red Pepper, November 2016

The election of Donald Trump reflects the unraveling of the centre-left across the West, and with it a fragile consensus on climate change. For two decades parties of the centre-left have created narratives about climate change that they do not really believe. They have done this to try and convince their fragile coalition of supporters and to try to bring they’re political opponents on the right into the fold. These attempts have failed.

The centre-left long ago abandoned ‘typical' green messaging in the way it talks about climate change. You don’t hear Obama, Clinton or Justin Trudeau talking about polar bears, sinking Pacific Islands or even climate change as a human rights issue. The go-to arguments of the centre-left (and to some extent centre-right politicians like Germany’s Angela Merkel) are these:

  • Climate change will create war, terrorism and migration—it’s a national security issue
  • The solutions to climate change could create millions of jobs in manufacturing and industry—in areas hit most by industrial decline
  • Tackling climate change is an opportunity for economic growth—there is money to be made by entrepreneurs

How did the centre-left end up making these arguments? And why does no one believe them?

Election of Trump clarifies the struggle for climate justice

By Nicolas Haeringer and Tadzio Müller - New Internationalist, November 11, 2016

Until Donald Trump’s electoral success, there was at least some reason to believe that the momentum was finally on the side of climate justice. After a cycle of failures and defeats, our mobilizations were finally proving to have an impact – from actions targeting infrastructures to the divestment movement, there were important successes, amplifying what seems to be the irresistible rise of a 100 per cent renewable future.

The climate summit in Paris was not Copenhagen. COP21 enabled the climate movement to enter a new stage with clearer strategic perspectives building stronger alliances among very diverse actors. COP21 (and the momentum it created) has not only changed the political landscape from a movement’s perspective. It has had an impact on the institutional sphere too. As such, this is no guarantee that world leaders will finally opt for bold climate action. But it enables us not only to demand actions but also to hold public actors accountable for decisions they’ve made. It makes our demands stronger: they’re not ‘only’ about climate anymore, but are demands for democracy, and leave us the space to defend the idea of a ‘climate state of necessity’.

Of course, these successes and progresses came with issues, doubts and debates within the movement. But we had this strong feeling that we were beginning to win: after an action this May in the East German lignite region of Lusatia, a thousand people in a circus tent shouted ‘we are unstoppable, another world is possible!’ – and meant it!

It is pretty easy, after Wednesday’s US presidential election result, to give up on hope – and consider Trump’s victory a serious setback. It is only going to be a setback if we let it be so. In that perspective, his victory ironically comes with a clarification, and a major simplification of the climate math. If Trump is to do what he said he was going to do (i.e. drill, drill and drill), it concretely means that the carbon budget for the rest of the world has in fact dropped to zero on election night.

That fact shouldn’t scare us. It is actually a very powerful and simple tool, which shows us what the next steps for the climate movement should be: if the UNFCCC process isn’t going to stop climate chaos, and if the US is being run by a madman – then the movements need to stop it themselves, and those outside of the US have to step up their game to impose fossil-fuel phase-outs everywhere. It also shows us what our solidarity with the communities at the frontline of the fight against climate change and fossil fuel extraction in the US should look like: the best way to build and show that solidarity is by freezing fossil fuel infrastructures everywhere.

To be sure: in a world where someone who claims that climate change is a ‘hoax cooked up by the Chinese’ has just been elected to what is perceived to be the most powerful office on the planet, it is not enough to simply claim that science, truth and reason now dictate how we step up our fight against the fossil fuel industry. After all, Trump’s success rested to a significant extent on the fact that he ignored established ‘truths’, and that his supporters frequently did not care that he was lying, or making utterly absurd statements about building walls and ‘making Mexico pay’ for them.

If Trump’s success is also the success of a ‘post-truth politics’, what does that mean for climate justice politics? It means that we need to leave the intellectually easy certainty of science and of ‘carbon budgets’ behind to a certain extent – science has played a huge role in shaping our movement and our successes, and there is no reason for it to cease. But the laws of physics don’t care about politics, and last night the former proved to be more powerful than the latter. In a trumped-down world, we might respond that the laws of politics don’t care about physics, that ‘truth’ as we traditionally understand it plays less and less of a role.

Trump won because his political discourse resonated with people on an affective level, that is to say: it made them feel understood and it made them feel powerful. Politics in the liberal/leftist tradition too often concerns itself with interests and truths (and then we often wonder why people vote ‘against their interests’, implying, rather arrogantly, that they have been duped by something we like to call a ‘hegemonic ideology’). But in the words of philosopher Baruch Spinoza, since people ‘are led more by passion than by reason, it naturally follows that a multitude will unite and consent to be guided as if by one mind not at reason’s prompting but through some common affect’.

If this is true – and we believe it is, all the more so in an age where neoliberal and centre-left elites have for decades used seemingly inescapable truths (‘There Is No Alternative’) as a battering ram against the historical achievements of working class movements, and where social media are producing multiple-truth-echo-chambers – then climate (justice) politics has to leave the high ground of science.

It has to recreate itself as a politics that makes people feel empowered, that starts not from carbon budgets per se, but from the struggles of those frontline communities most negatively affected, and that, quite simply put, is appealing enough to fight the racist, sexist, nativist juggernaut currently remaking the global North.

In short: we need less COP23, and more Ende Gelände; less potentially doomed fights for carbon taxes in Congress, and more effective, powerful and inclusive struggles like those against the Keystone XL or the Dakota Access pipelines – or rather, we need to embrace them and build them into one movement. Which means more organizing, more peaceful civil disobedience and less time in the political halls of the UN.

Not because the latter are wrong or bad or necessarily ineffective (though unfortunately they often are) – but because in a world where Trump is president of the US, if climate politics remain tied to reason and truth, and to global elite jamborees, it will necessarily fail.

Only a climate justice politics that exceeds the affective attractiveness of the jargon of the other side can win the fights we need to win. This is what many groups are already doing – those who are on the frontline.

After Bern: An Open Letter to the Newly Disheartened

By unknown - It's Going Down, June 8, 2016

Several years ago, I worked as an after school program teacher. In the 3-4 hours I spent with kids before their parents arrived, instead of playing outside or relaxing after a long day at school, I helped administer tests, monitored performance, oversaw homework, and handed out worksheets. The school I worked at didn’t have much money; neither did the kids or the people who worked there, and due to low test scores we were threatened with being taken over by the state. Administrators wanted to get these scores up and looked to the after school program to raise performance. The kids of course, had other ideas.

The kids wanted to do anything but be in another 3-4 hours of school. Once, we did an activity where they made posters about how they would change the school for the better if they had the power to do so. Almost every kid in the classroom of about 20 drew the school on fire. The natives, as they say, were restless.

When I did attempt to implement instruction the kids would goof off, talk back, or sometimes exploded by flipping over their desks or walking out of the room. The stress of almost 10 hours of schooling was too much for many of them, who also had to go home to blue-collar families that were often struggling.

In order to better manage this chaotic and stressful situation, bosses and specialists gave us a set of tools which by all accounts were completely, ‘democratic.’ We would start by “making agreements” with the kids and creating “buy in” for activities and completed work. In order to further create an environment of law and order, I often would appoint student helpers from the class that worked as an auxiliary police force in exchange for special privileges or candy.

In many ways, this classroom environment mirrored the creation of the United States. A powerful elite helped to manage and shape a unruly population of indentured servants, slaves, and indigenous people. But to do so, it needed a police force. In order to get there, it gave privileges to some (what became white people) while curtailing them for others (everyone else).

The colonial powers used anti-Blackness and white supremacy, I used Skittles and extra hall passes.

But government is much more than carrots and sticks, politics involves overall the spectacle and myth of democracy. For instance, in our training sessions we were told, “Get them to create a set of agreements around rules and behavior in the classroom, but make sure you shape and guide these rules. Obviously, don’t let them get out of hand.” Meaning, we were to help give the appearance of the students shaping the guidelines for their behavior, however at all times we (who were ruled over by the administration and them by the US government) in actuality were there to create the physical framework. But moreover, we existed to guard against school and thus government authority being attacked by the unwashed young masses hell bent on doing zero work and collectively singing J-Lo songs.

Lastly, in the eyes of the school powers that be, the ultimate goal of such a project was that the kids would essentially grow to govern themselves, but always how we wanted them to be governed. To keep them from agreeing to actually set the school on fire, we had to make them think that they were the ones organizing their day to day activities which they hated so bitterly. In short, we had to make them appear as the chief architects in their own immiseration.

2016 and Beyond: Bernie Sanders, American Labor, and the Left

Official Statement - Madison IWW, September 3, 2015

Many labor activists and progressives are taking heart from the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Some even fantasize that the corporate- and Wall Street-dominated Democratic Party might allow him to actually win the presidential nomination.

Others hope that the popular outpouring for Sanders will at least push the Democratic Party and Hilary Clinton (or whatever corporate Democrat gets the nomination) to the left.

There is a long history of progressive and populist Democrats running for president in primaries, drawing disaffected progressives back into the party and then inducing them to support "lesser evil" Democrats in general elections.

Meanwhile, in recent decades the Wall Street-run Democratic Party hasmoved steadily to the political right, following only a few steps behind the Republicans in union-busting, offshoring, financial deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, governmental austerity, militarism, imperialism, etc.

It is time for Wisconsin progressives to understand that it was this dependence on the Democratic Party which hollowed out and neutered the Wisconsin labor movement and left it unprepared to mount an effective direct action response to Walker in 2011 or since.

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