Liberation: personal versus political?

It’s very possible to be a dumb Millennial and to blow too much of your time and your life on things like activism or watching Breaking Bad for 30 hours straight instead of focusing on getting a career so you can move out of your parents’ house or whatever.

Why are you into politics?  Is it because you feel bad for others who are suffering?  That’s understandable, I dig that, but it’s not my main motivation.  For me it’s my own freedom.

So after spending countless hours working on political projects which ultimately mean little if they do not feed into a revolution which is kind of iffy, you begin wondering if maybe you shouldn’t just bail out and start pursuing the more typical capitalist methods of self-liberation.  Try to focus on a career, try to focus on a small business.

It’s true, some of these things can help.  Maybe you can move out of your parents’ house, maybe you can buy some nice appliances and get some better health insurance, yeah this is all possible.  Maybe you can work in an air-conditioned office instead of a meatpacking plant.  I guess these things are worth pursuing and I’m getting better at pursuing them.

But the wall that I always hit is that the true capitalist dream of liberation is not just small improvements.  To be truly free, which can only mean to be free of work, means that you have to build up something called “passive residual income.”  You have to have enough investments that are paying some kind of dividends or interest or profits that you can live off of them without having a regular job.

Only 54% of Americans even have stock investments, and that includes people who only have a handful of shares.  The amount of people who can live off them?  Basically no one — pretty much the 1%, possibly the top 10%.  We can’t even retire, let alone live off of an automated money machine during the prime of our lives.

So maybe pouring those hours into the revolutionary process isn’t such a mistake, when you know that when using capitalist methods, probably 95% of us will just never be free.

When I work on political stuff, even if I do it in total isolation, I still feel an incredible togetherness with the world movement.  I feel like I am stepping into a stream that includes the strikers in China, everyone who went to Occupy, the Middle East revolutions, politicos all over the Internet, everyone all over the world who is fighting for themselves, and giving solidarity to each other.

When I do apolitical, self-centered things, I get a noticeable lack of this feeling of togetherness.  I realize that there are things in life which no one else will do for me, things which it almost does not even make any sense to talk to anyone about, because they’re so completely individual.

The Left would have you think that you could live with it forever.  It constantly pulls you in, it invites you into its warm fold of causes and collectivity and crowds, and often enough will demand more and more and more of your time until it’s like it’s all you do.

Here’s an great example of the distinction.  Comics like this are great reminders of what women have to deal with when it comes to body image problems — our society’s whole visual display is one giant reminder to women that they “don’t look good enough.”

This is odd for me as a male.  Of course I think that social pressures are unhealthy, that the images of women provided by the corporate media are unrealistic.  And yet I find these subconscious cues continue to exist in my thinking.  Obviously it comes up when thinking over things like “would I date her?”  The worst part is, no matter how I may fight it, it ends up leaking into other judgments too — my basic non-romantic judgments of a person’s character.  I’m not alone in this.

I’ve been chubby, so I know it’s rough.  It’s hard to lose weight when you live in a McDonalized culture and you blow all your energy working — especially if you work a standing job and your legs hurt too much to go running at the end of the day.

However, I still can’t help feeling that a person who controls their weight just has their shit together more.  You have to ask yourself, at what point in a person’s weight gain did they just decide “fuck it, I give up on ever trying to reverse or even halt this?”

It’s not just my judgments of others.  I guess I happen to be one of the few males out there who is openly dissatisfied with his body image.  Maybe it’s because I actually possess objectivity unlike many males who just think they’re hot shit without ever taking a critical look at a mirror, or maybe I’ve somehow internalized comparing myself to people on TV the way many women do.

So yeah.  I’ll stand together with people who are saying that we should smash body image expectations, that we should value everyone.  I think Marx was really onto something when he wrote “Social progress can be measured exactly by the social status of the beautiful sex (the ugly ones included).”  Because deep down I think the hard objective truth is that not everyone is beautiful, that there are beautiful and ugly people superficially, so maybe we should get better at valuing people in unrelated ways.

And then, at the same time, I’ll continue to be a product of my environment.  I’ll pay more attention to women who are stereotypically attractive, and fight like hell to look better myself, knowing that others are not just judging my attractiveness but even my competence by it.  I’ll do it alone, without anyone’s help.  The difficulties and the results won’t belong to anyone but me.  Much of my soul belongs to the Left, and its great celebration of human unity.  Some of my soul, though will always be separate and apart — not just distinct, but perhaps even antagonistic, putting up a necessary wall of buzz-killing selfish pragmatism against the big happy human embrace.  I guess that’s the dark side.

Issues in demonstrations

When we throw a demonstration, who is the intended audience?

Is it a media event?  (Doesn’t being a media event alone tend to channel things toward small, snappy-looking groups instead of building mass-coordination between many people?)

Is it meant to reach the public bystanders wherever we march?  The pedestrians, the motorists, or both?

Is the demonstration meant to impress or intimidate the politicians?  (If so, can they even see us?  Are we hoping they see us in person or just hear about it over the news?)

Are we trying to re-energize ourselves, and give isolated participants a sense of our collective strength?

Is it one of these?  All of these?  Some and not others, which combination?

And of course, the big question – is our demonstration actually geared to effectively reach our intended targets?

If we want to be seen by pedestrians, are we friendly and welcoming to them, or do we seem threatening and menacing?  Is the activist milieu from a different demographic than the people who are witnessing us?

Do we have a sharp presentation, or do we look like a waddling blob?

Is our chanting sensitive to the context?

Do we chant “We are the 99%” when there’s only five of us?  When we chant “WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!” do the people who witness us feel like they are part of the “us” and they are taking over the street with us, or do they feel like the activist Left just forcefully seized what was previously everybody’s street?

Is anyone else annoyed that there are about ten different socialists newspapers circulating at every demonstration?  Even worse, when you try to sell one, do you find yourself completely foiled by the fact that the entire place is covered in free copies of People’s Weekly World?

Free speech: a distinction

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Many people wildly wave American flags over their freedom.  What precisely they mean by “freedom” I’m not quite sure.  The freedom to “do what you want?”  By that do they mean entering into the cannibalistic bloodbath of hierarchy and servitude which is sometimes called “the market?”  They must mean something else.

Perhaps they mean “free speech.”

Oh boy.

It’s true that in certain social systems, you can’t do things that you can do in America.  In America you can whine and complain, hell, you can even ejaculate on photographs of Senators in the privacy of your own home (I have never done this).  You can even ruin dinner by having political conversations with your family or neighbors, even political conversations in which the current official puppets are sharply criticized.

It’s true, you can do these things in America.  However, I wouldn’t call this “free speech” in the political sense.  I would instead say that the American system is one in which the state does not interfere in the population’s aimless chatter.  This is actually very effective: if you can blabber about the dresses at the Oscars without restriction, it kind of feels like freedom.

Wave that flag!

Here’s what you cannot do in the USA: make an actual difference.

The fact that other social systems have actually gone so far as attempt to purge criticism of the government from all media and even from ground-level conversations means that what I previously called the “population’s aimless chatter” actually does play a critical role in politics, especially at certain junctures.  No revolution yet started without people first growling in bars about how they should have one.

However, it’s still no substitute for the ability to create an articulate political organization, which actually behaves as an embodiment or coordinating point of consciousness within the working majority, which becomes large and influential enough to threaten changing the economic system or the government.

The Industrial Workers of the World did this in the 1910s and was hit by the Palmer Raids.  The Communist Party and other reds in the near-insurrectionary 1930s were subsequently wiped out by McCarthyism.  During the 1960s the Black Panther Party faced infiltration, the sewing of divisions, and assassination by COINTELPRO, and other social movement organizations like the National Organization of Women and Students for a Democratic Society were also infiltrated.  Wikileaks, while not intentionally a revolutionary organization, has still proven “dangerous” enough to invite repression; it may have helped provide documentation which fueled some of the Middle East revolutions of 2011.  Violent police evictions as well as some arrests utilizing the PATRIOT Act were used against Occupy Wall Street.

So it’s not like every single cop is continually engaged in counter-revolution.  Hell, half the time, they’re just pulling cats out of trees, it’s true.  It’s not like they rip down the flyers for our political events or arrest us for hanging them up.

Why?  Because an organization is only repressed if it matters, if it’s a threat.  Boring liberal organizations are never repressed, no matter how large — they’re not a threat.  Tiny radical groups are almost never repressed because they’re not a threat either, unless they start blowing stuff up, which is more of a legit public nuisance than an actual contender for altering the politico-economic system.

In America you have the right to chat but only if that chatter does not change anything.  People talk, but if you cut off the head — if you wipe out the articulate organizations — that anger often never materializes into struggle, or the struggle turns out to be confused flailing which is easily repressed if it doesn’t die from its own aimlessness first.

The threat is when you connect the few self-conscious radicals to the “apolitical” angry masses — the threat is when you activate the swarm.

resurrecting uniforms, marching, coordination in the Left

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This very recent scene from Game of Thrones is the sweetest shit ever.  (Edit: link broken due to YouTube copyright issues.  It was a reference to the liberation of the Unsullied.)

It raises a lot of questions in my mind about the aesthetics and politics.  Can leftists have uniforms?  Can they march in formation?  Should they look badass and have a forceful presence like that, or does that scare people away?  Is this compatible with organizational democracy?  With movement democracy?  I happen to think the answer to all these is yes.  After all, we’ll have to do more than march in formation to take down the ruling class…

It’s almost a cliché that the bad guys have the best looks.  The Nazis, riot police, the Galactic Empire.  Can we pull off the look without becoming bad guys?

Let’s check some examples, past and present.

PRETTY PICTURES

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Here’s a march type that most leftists could probably get down with.  It has a simple but effective formation.  It’s got coordinated T-shirts or at least coordinated colors, which falls way short of having a more serious uniform – like the Panthers.

Every time I find myself thinking “God damn it the Nazis had the best uniforms,” I remind myself that the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense happened.

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Matrix, anyone?

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FORCE.

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Hot logo.

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A further throwback into history would be POUM, the Trotskyists of the Spanish Civil War.  No discomfort with formations here, either!

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Fast-forward to the present.  Anonymous, the V for Vendetta crew, the Guy Fawkes masks.

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It’s got its whole cool religion behind it, the cool phrases like “We Are Legion” and all that.  Occasionally you get just one dude at a protest with the mask, sometimes they all wear em.  Both Anonymous and the mask tactic seem more chaotic and unplanned than the disciplined formations displayed above – more Internet-y, perhaps more swarm-like?  That has its ups and downs.

And of course, if the contemporary Left has a combat uniform, it would unmistakably be the Black Bloc.  I have criticized the Bloc as a tactic pretty often in the past – though to be honest, my criticism is more of insurrectionist-anarchists who try to turn every demonstration into a riot, which yes I have had to contend with personally and is not a strawman.

So maybe I’m warming up to the Bloc, not really even for the sake of anonymity, but just for being visually badass.

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^LOL

Egyptian Bloc

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Again, like POUM, nice flag useage.

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YOU CALL THAT “MARCHING?”

^That.  I have never actually been to a leftist “march,” despite all the national demonstrations being called “marches.”

Whatever that thing we do is called, that waddling down the street in a blob, it looks shabby and sloppy.  It’s totally demoralizing to be part of; after most “marches” I want to go home tired and sad.  It probably has something to do with how I was basically forced to walk like a zombie (the slow kind not the fast kind) by being packed like sardines into a crowd which, true to unorganized form, inched forward like a long line at a grocery store.

The horrible presentation we give at demonstrations reinforces everyone’s stereotypes of the Left: weak, unprofessional, undisciplined, unserious.

This is not just an issue of how we look, but also potentially tactical.  A crowd appears as a solid unified mass of people but in reality it is just a blob.  If you hit one part of the crowd, especially in American protests, there is no indication that the crowd will react in unison, either fleeing or retaliating.  Often when you hit one part of a crowd, that’s all you’re doing – hitting that one part of a crowd.  If you watch any YouTube videos of crowds that get hit by police, you’ll see what I’m talking about – the reaction to the police assault is absurdly localized to the exact spot in the crowd where it is occurring.  The rest of the crowd has fundamentally the same interests as the attacked spot, but does not respond.

Why?  Lack of preparation, lack of prior coordination.

How, precisely, could leftists have an actual march, instead of a blobbish procession?  How could we have a crowd capable of a coordinated response, instead of being a disconnected mass?

GETTING TACTICAL: SOME COORDINATION BLUEPRINTS

One of the organizations I have worked with has a good chanting system for demonstrations.  There was a central initiator with a megaphone, and a few “officers” (never called that) placed throughout the contingent with megaphones.  Typically they would practice the chants beforehand, quietly repeating them while various speakers were pontificating, before the actual walking part of the “march” began.

Now of course, this group was made of people who were comfortable with a certain degree of being told what to do for the sake of maximum effect and creating a greater resistance.

What if we wanted more than just coordinated chanting, but a response system for various issues?  What if we wanted to have a coordinated response to police assault instead of a spontaneous, localized one?  What if we just wanted our contingent to be able to march around a corner without slowing down like a disorganized blob?

Truth is, earpieces are cheap, and two-way radios aren’t that expensive, especially if you have a whole crew chipping in.  In the same way that you have selected some trusted people to be chant-relayers, you could use the same infrastructure to set up a system of responses.  Your group could shift formation to handle a turn better, it could respond with linked arms up front and pressure from the back against police lines, it could quickly change protest routes in case of a roadblock, it could have a signal to release the confetti for all I care.  If you’re really good, each relayer could have a group of demonstrators roughly assigned to them and they could completely change the shape of the contingent to deal with shifting police formations (or just to get down a narrower street without blobbing).

Most importantly, the communication would not have to be one-way.  This would create a central nervous system by which the relayers could inform the center of a localized event, to which the center could then signal a coordinated response.

PRIOR PLANNING, DEMOCRACY, CROWD SITUATIONS

Any plans to actually march or have any other type of coordination could absolutely NOT be imposed right there on the spot.  An agreement would have to be built in the organizations attending during the organizing process and meetings building up to the event itself.

If some people are just really uncomfortable with true marching, how will that be handled?  Personally I think most groups should just vote on something like this, and if the minority loses, they should just roll with it.  But then maybe in your group you could set up a way to have a marching section and a walking section for whoever is into either.  This would be the time to figure out stuff like uniforms or matching colors too.

Obviously some of the planning meetings before the demonstration will have to be dedicated to practice – how to actually march, deciding what precise formation people should be in.  (If you don’t decide on a formation, it will revert to just being a blob and then people won’t have the leg space to actually march.)

If you’re using a coordination system as described in the previous section, the prior planning meetings would be the time to elect your field directors.  This might make some people uncomfortable and is obviously completely incompatible with purist anarchism.

Here’s the thing: the more coordination you need in a tight, short period of time, the less libertarian it can be.  This is why militaries have traditionally been some of the most authoritarian organizations in human history – they have to contend for physical space in short bursts of time.  Well, so do we.

BUT – we don’t have to accept that as our permanent style of organization in order to be coordinated during demonstrations.  We can use a system of alternation: democracy during the organizing process, unity during execution.  Bolsheviks (their historical value) call this “democratic centralism,” a term which has certainly been abused by authoritarians but is still nonetheless useful.  Pirate ships used to function the same way – equals during sailing, with the captain as merely an elected figure for instances of combat.  Any system that uses delegates to a larger representative body essentially functions the same way.  Anarcho-syndicalists in Spain successfully used a system of immediately-recallable delegates elected directly from workplaces, though again I suppose that would violate the anarcho-purist allergy to representation.

This is also how aesthetics would have to be decided.  Compromise in art can often lead to a gross mix-and-match that is visually awful, so democratic centralism might be the best way to make uniform/fashion decisions as well.  Once again, maybe the group could be partitioned into a section who is down with the Panther getup and a section who is not.

So we elected the field coordinators, we review their in-the-moment decisions later.  If the group concludes that they screwed up too badly, then we don’t trust them with that pivotal tactical role again.  Next time we vote to empower someone else with those responsibilities.  It is before and after the operation that the group should also establish its level of comfort with police confrontation and its preferences regarding keeping all activities legal, crossing that line, or figuring out where it resides in the gray area.  The field coordinators should respect these guidelines.

There’s also the issue of including last-minute arrivals, spontaneous march-joiners who may jump in from the sidewalks along the march route, and people who show up to a march from who-knows-where without being a regular part of any of the groups that set up the demonstration.  Would this dissuade people from jumping in?

I don’t think it would, I think people could be welcomed aboard.  Keep an open mind, invite them into your formation, tell them roughly how it’s supposed to work, and don’t be too hard on them if they do it wrong or look funny.  Especially if you have a system of coordinators, perhaps walking freely and not bound to the formation, they could run over and serve as the welcoming committee/integration for any newcomers.

What if someone, maybe someone part of the pre-organized group, or maybe someone who just spontaneously joined the event, had some zany idea that seemed adventurous or fun?

Anyone trusted with being the temporary commander would have to be a fairly-open minded person, not the bureaucratic/sectarian type whose first instinct upon hearing outside suggestions is to distrust and reject.  If possible, the suggestion should be implemented.  But of course, in order for the coordination structure to hold up, this has to be the sole call of the elected central coordinator.

Of course the coordinator would have to weigh the need to embrace spontaneity with the security of the group.  If the person’s spontaneous idea is to immediately charge the police lines or do something else illegal, the elected coordinator would have to make a call about how this fits in with the group’s established preferences on confrontation and degrees of legality/illegality.

THE POWER OF BEAUTY, THE BEAUTY OF POWER

America worships force – and so do I.  There is an ethical side to life, which comments on how things should be, and there an amoral side to life which simply wishes to have desires granted, and to appreciate the awe of the structures that exist, even if they are totally heinous and destructive.  I think Game of Thrones is a case study of this; I have never seen a world so evil be so beautiful – except, perhaps, real life?

Everyone has this dark attraction.  Maybe you’re uncomfortable with it, but you need to come to terms with it in yourself, and more importantly in other.  The further you are from being a leftist intellectual and the closer you are to being an ordinary American, the more power this dark attraction can have over you.

Because the ruling class has such tremendous resources, it is usually only institutions dominated by them (police, military, intelligence) that are capable of motivating people (with paychecks) to work in the tight coordination that is not just effective but also beautiful.  And beauty is one of our greatest weapons.

Sometimes people need figureheads too (Zizek on the need for a Leftist Thatcher).  They’re a synthesis in people’s minds between political leanings and the simple, concrete reality of a person.  It’s effectively another form of branding, with logos replaced by individuals.

Clearly in that Game of Thrones clip there was a big “hero and crowd” divide going on that makes for great movies and potentially horrible, authoritarian politics.  But not necessarily.  I think pretty much every political movement has its romantic hero.  It often happens to coincide with a person who has a lot of say in how the movement goes.  What’s important here, though, is the structure and culture of the movement.  Can the figurehead be questioned?  Can they be removed if necessary, by election or recall?  Are they formally questionable and removable, but there is such a strong informal culture of discouraging dissent that the formal mechanisms are effectively useless?  You can have a movement with a folk hero which still gives its ordinary members voting power over its direction and actions.  Eugene Debs is a great example.  Hugo Chavez walked a knife edge between allowing initiatives from below in his movement and using bureaucratic methods to steer things into his personal control.  Overall I think he was just using Machiavellian power plays to push the movement as far forward as it could possibly be pushed.  But overall I think he is another great example of a people’s hero who also wielded some power without being totalitarian or harmful to the movement.

People are inspired when a leftist organization really has its shit together – they love us not just for our ethical stance, but for our effectiveness as a machine.  Our presentation should reflect this as well – unless of course we are in fact horribly coordinated, in which case we need to work on that.

radicals, outsiders, the shaman archetype

Radicals are caught between a strong connection with all humanity and a frustrating isolation as a fringe minority group.  We want the best for almost everyone, we bring up issues that affect everyone, we speak to a deep longing within all humanity for unimaginable liberation and a joyous global future.  And then our ideas go through long historical periods of being either unpopular or entirely unknown, and are certainly almost never predominant.  Materially we are often in the same position as the rest of the working majority; mentally, we are somewhere else entirely.

So in some ways we are the soldiers and voices of the world-spirit; in some ways we are total outsiders.

The outsider is faced with a number of problems.  One obvious one is alienation.  They possess a difference which no one (or few people) around them can bridge.  They may go about their lives imitating normality, but this is painful; otherwise, they act out their strangeness and possibly suffer social and economic consequences.  This is not a passing threat: the natural social networks which a person often possesses (family, churches, community groups, friends) can very often get them an economic connection at some point – a job, a deal, something they wouldn’t have if they weren’t part of that group.  Straying from the norm can damage these networks or your place in them.  Obviously church may go out the window for any number of reasons, but even family and friend networks can deprioritize you on the list of who they give referrals if you’re a weirdo.

But the outsider has a gift, too.  Their lives are not pure difference.  Oddly enough, they may understand most people better than most people understand themselves.  Their outside perspective can give them an objectivity about society which other people, smack in the middle of it without a second thought, never attain.  To really understand what’s ticking in the minds of the American cultural norm, it may require people who just aren’t part of it.

The shaman or wizard archetype often has the same cycle to it.  They go away from society, they go to some “out there,” maybe the wilderness, maybe up a mountain, maybe they commune with the spirit world, whatever.  Crazy stuff happens that could only happen alone or in that “other” place.  Out there, they have some kind of experience, or they learn something, or they literally find something, some object.  They return ready to make a greater contribution to society, creating a new synthesis between whatever new thing they learned and the old society to which they returned.  They new synthesis is an altered society, whether they just have a better medicine man now or the wanderer returns with some sort of prophetic idea about the way things should run.

In secular terms this reminds me of when radicals, individually or collectively, sometimes retreat into high theory – rather than focusing on active social movements, they do deep reading and research to figure out an overall framework.  It’s necessary for every radical to go through such a phase at least once, and to possibly revisit it, in small bursts balanced with active involvement or in longer spells, depending.

“Awareness”: Kill it with fire

Earth Day!

Photo: Thinking we can move toward sustainability through buying different products from capitalists, who will happily sell us any old crap as long as it's profitable, is about as effective as giving a bike to a fish.

For starters, let’s talk about what kind of groups use “awareness.”

Firstly, K-12 school assemblies, which any true radical understands right off the bat as being one of the most heinous vehicles of large-scale capitalist mental programming.  If they even work.

Another type are groups which are dominated hard by paid staff, give basically no thought whatsoever to organizational democracy, treat attendees to their “educational” event as passive observers, or probably as numbers that paid organizers can/must check off to get credit with their superiors.  (Yes, paid organizers are often forced to work by piece-rate, so while you think you’re talking to a human being, you’re probably just talking to a sales robot.  A similar assumption of non-human communication should be made with bureaucrats.)

So what happens at these “awareness” events?

Typically, some kind of perspective is provided which is politically horrible – not in the sense that it raises an important issue, but in the sense that it implies the audience is entirely to blame for the problem.  First-worlders are made to feel horrible about third-world starvation, first-wolders are made to feel horrible about environmental damage from the consumerist lifestyle (which is obviously determined by them, and not the corporate-political elite?), and occasionally whites are made to feel horrible about racism.  But not just “horrible” in the sense of, there is a problem that needs to be fixed.  The total lack of solutions provided, mixed with a political culture of liberalism which basically depicts all social groups as hostile but sides with the “left” ones, just makes anyone who is American or white feel horrible about themselves for no reason.  While rarely, there are some “awareness” events which provide information that makes the audience angry instead of guilty, this is rare, and it begins to spill over from “awareness” to actual politics.  This, of course, is generally not encouraged, because it violates the radical centrist banality and “neutrality” which the hosting institutions thrive on.

And that really is the thrust of what happens at “awareness” events: nothing.  That is, at the end, there is no call to action.  There is no invitation to be part of a regular, self-directed organizational effort.  At best you are told to throw your bottles in the recycle bin, to watch the garbage collectors just throw all that shit in the same pile anyway.  They may ask you to call or write your representative, who will shake your hand and appreciate your input before going back to their expensive lunches or stuffing wads of campaign cash in their pockets between rim jobs (definition) for corporate lobbyists.  At worst, you may be asked for money which you will certainly never see or hear about again and will probably go mostly to paying the salaries of the charity.  On the off-chance that they call a demonstration, it will be a one-time thing with no organizational follow-up.

I suppose there is a “dialectic” or dual nature to awareness.  Is it good to make people care about the world’s issues?  Yes, certainly.  On the flipside, though, I think society is already so saturated with system-propagated “awareness” of the stereotypical “awareness” issues that no more is really necessary.

I think that institutional “awareness” breeds such heavy demoralization that it is actually equally hostile of a cultural phenomenon/ideology to outright conservative myths supporting the free market, etc.  That is to say, along with liberalism, conservatism, fascism, etc., the list of counter-revolutionary ideologies must now include “awareness.”

To raise an issue, to “create awareness” without building a movement to resolve that issue, actually is not neutral.  It is reactionary, it is hostile.  It takes social energy toward solving a problem and it disperses it, demoralizes it, or in some cases even channels existing energy into a dead end.

Any actual political resistance must be sharply directed towards turning observers into organizers and audiences into demonstrators.  Otherwise, it is “awareness,” and it is the enemy.

why socialists should care about anarchism

Don’t worry, I have one going in the other direction.

THE ANARCHIST TENSION

I haven’t read the entire thing, and I think forcing myself to do so would be very much against the point contained within.  But I feel like the title alone gets to the point.  There’s something deeply personal about anarchism.  Rather than a structured theory of history like marxism, anarchism has that Fight Club feel to it – anarchism is about feeling the whole rest of the world pushing down on you from the outside, as a hostile force, and returning fire with a fuck you I won’t do whatcha tell mee, pushing back in every direction.  While most of my political theories remain largely marxism-that-is-compatible-with-anarchism, I find this emotional vibe alone to be reason to take up the old label again.  I am an anarchist.  I am against the system because the system is against me.  It’s personal.  I feel it every day – every second.

ALL POWER TO THE IMAGINATION

Marxists can get so dogmatic, analytic, intellectual, and systemic that it becomes impossible to even have new thoughts.  If perfection breeds conservatism, then marxists need to, once more, pull a Fight Club and disrupt themselves.  A periodic existentialist re-evaluation of your ideas is as necessary for mental hygiene as brushing your teeth.

Marxists are often the grumps who serve the sad-but-necessary role of reminding people that certain forms of struggle are just not yet possible or intelligent.  Insurrection, for example.  So we find other, lower-intensity forms of resistance to engage in.  But by acting as the reality principle of social movements, marxists sometimes miss the fact that conditions have shifted in our favor and that new, more aggressive tactics are now possible.  I don’t necessarily mean riots; maybe now we could start running candidates where it was previously just not worth the resource investment.

Because anarchists are always chomping at the bit to escalate the intensity while marxists are typically reminding people that it’s really not the insurrection yet, anarchists tend to win the day when circumstances have shifted and an escalation in tactics is appropriate.  For example, many socialists initially dismissed Occupy Wall Street as a “voluntaristic” action by a few that was ridiculous because nobody would camp for very long.  They might have been correct about the camping, but before Occupy fizzled out, it pretty much went globally viral, making many city governments feel physically threatened, and resulted in riots in many places.

As another example, while many marxists dismiss civil disobedience as a foolish anarchist fad for people who have no long-term strategy, actually it isn’t always bad.  Yes, it can get in the way of building a broad movement by creating an implied hierarchy of heroes vs. “passive” crowd, but actually sometimes it’s necessary.  When?  I’m not here to give you a schema, just think for yourself and figure out when it’s good for yourself.  But here’s one example: Wisconsin.  Maybe you can think of others.  Maybe you should just think creatively and independently.

For all the Trotskyist prattling about “transitional demands,” actually I think transitional demands are very simple.  They are about expanding the imagination.  Obviously you need to back up the checks that your mouth tries to cash – you need to prove that America is wealthy/productive enough to actually afford things like universal healthcare, abolishing tuition, massive redistribution of wealth, etc.  But no really, let’s dream wildly about the way the world could be, the way our lives could be, and place that directly into our political demands when we protest or demonstrate or talk or whatever.

SELF-GOVERNANCE

There’s a quote by some dude, Bakunin I think, “Freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice…Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.”  Don’t hold me to it, I wasn’t there and I don’t blog to make myself do more research.  Point is, he’s right.

                There is a tremendous lack of discussion of direct democracy in the USA’s political culture, even the US Left.  Socialists often make noises about believing in workers’ self-management, but don’t really acknowledge how they’re going to have to do the heavy lifting of popularizing direct democracy before workers’ councils can even be a concept in most people’s minds.  It seems that the groups most willing to discuss direct democracy are anarchists and especially anarcho-syndicalists.

The anarchist principle of self-governance is pretty much the corrective for almost everything that has ever been wrong with bolshevism.  Some nitpickers might say “true bolshevism was always about self-governance” but if I said true Christianity was always about kindness and not child rape, you might see my point about how labels can get abused regardless of good intentions at the beginning.  It becomes difficult to say “Stalinism is not true bolshevism” when so many people describing themselves as bolsheviks have either been Stalinists, Russian ultra-nationalists, or these days, orthodox Trotskyists who are dangerously close to Stalinism anyway.

When you have a nationalized economy without effective democratic control over that economy, it’s not anything deserving of the word “socialism.”  Having formal voting power, having formal workers’ councils while the KGB breathes down your neck threatening to send you to the gulag for saying the wrong thing, doesn’t count.  I really don’t care about the ortho-Trot arguments that nationalization is somehow magically workers’ property, while workers are ground beneath the gears and the apparatchiks enjoy their nice places and cars.  I don’t care about their sophistry, insisting that the theory of state capitalism violates the Gospel of Marx and Trotsky, as if the mission of human self-liberation centers around quoting dead people while ignoring clearly-existing but yet-unnamed structures of economic class and political power.  As Trotsky himself said in Revolution Betrayed,

If a ship is declared collective property, but the passengers continue to be divided into first, second and third class, it is clear that, for the third class passengers, differences in the conditions of life will have infinitely more importance than the juridical change in proprietorship. The first-class passengers, on the other hand, will propound, together with their coffee and cigars, the thought that collective ownership is everything and a comfortable cabin nothing at all.

Yes, I adhere to the left-revisionist deviation that a workers’ state must actually be controlled by workers.

NO REALLY – FUCK AUTHORITY – AND YES THAT MEANS YOU, PARTY HACKS

Everyone knows it, no one wants to admit it – there is something deeply wrong about how contemporary socialist/”Leninist” organizations deal with having paid staff.  Everyone knows it, no one wants to admit it – the way things are done now breed a culture of party hacks.  It is important to be anti-authoritarian within resistance organizations, not just in society broadly, and the organizations which claim to be anti-authoritarian are no exception.

Even if a group is organized to be “democratic,” the conferences where the democratic decision-making is performed are generally dominated hard by the paid staff of the organization.  It’s not just that they control the formal procedures.  It’s also that, after the same paid staff are in office for decades, an informal culture within the organization arises.  That unwritten rule says, “The only statements to take seriously are ones from the leadership; the rest are to be answered either with knee-jerk condemnation or awkward silent non-response.”  If you think this doesn’t apply to you, watch your own thoughts and behavior at your next political meeting (party hacks aren’t the paid staff; they’re the people who never question the paid staff).  I think it is impossible to ever remove these decades-long “cadre” (a word pretty much defined to mean “anyone who has been around a while and agrees with the leadership perspective”).  I think they are so entrenched, so hostile to being removed, because they have worked in a socialist organization for so long that their job history would make it impossible to do anything else.  You may think it’s necessary to build up people who have practice doing something, but I think it’s more important to spread those skills and experience out to have true democracy.  I think given the way the SWP leadership closed up around and defended Marty Smith from charges of sexual assault demonstrates how this decades-long clique becomes just that – a clique, with all the organizational implications that implies.  It begins to act as a faction campaigning within the organization, rather than just a leadership that administrates necessary functions and is free to send mixed signals by being internally divided on various issues.  This dynamic is obviously clear to anyone who has been following the crisis in the British SWP, though oddly enough it applies to some of the very organizations that have been giving encouragement to the SWP dissidents.

This isn’t just about being an anti-authoritarian for the sake of it.  In fact I think it’s necessary to keep an organization alive.  If you’re in an organization and you fall into the passive routine of going through the motions, selling your papers and holding your meetings, without any evaluation of your success, and you just go on doing it for years without any traction, this can literally spell death for an organization.  You need to constantly be applying critical thought and results-evaluation to your own efforts.  You need to completely liberate yourself from dogma or leadership pressure as you do this.  You need to be organic, to have a sense of the spirit of the times, perhaps borrowed from your leadership but also self-created by the process of being on-the-ground, hitting the sidewalk and the coalitions, trying to organize and educate.

Every organization could use a little more anarchy.