being a post-apocalyptic radical

This is what all the video games are about: R(A)GE, Red Faction: Guerilla, Fallout to an extent, etc.  Maybe The Hunger Games too but I haven’t read it.  So this article is inspired by those, as well as the book Disrupted Cities.

This scenario would have the USA in a post-consumerist situation, where instead of the nation being one giant mass welded together by solid, saturated lines of production, distribution, and communication, the US would return to being more of a network of semi-self-reliant communities.

The strength of marxist revolution is typically in that it does not fight a war against the infrastructure, but attempts to galvanize the working class to fight over the infrastructure, against the infrastructure’s current owners.  In a situation where the infrastructure has been badly damaged, these assumptions might go out the window.

Rather than being a base-line assumption, advanced infrastructure might become the domain of the privileged.  In that scenario, attacks on the infrastructure could seem much more justified.

It is really impossible to know what any of us would do in a scenario of infrastructural collapse, much like the tough guys who say they’d fight to the death in the Holocaust.  However I think I would still counsel pro-infrastructure views.  I think I’d attempt to find ways of achieving political change which avoid damaging the remaining infrastructure, or even utilize the independent construction of infrastructure as a subversive force.

In this scenario we would have to understand both facets – both infrastructural development itself as progressive, and also the role of infrastructure in acting as a neo-feudalist Capitol City that uses its relative technological advancement as a launching pad for a physically-enforced domestic imperialism over the other communities.  What had once been simply the police and military, in a scenario of infrastructural fragmentation, become much more literally/obviously the Capitol’s occupation force.  The character of the managing force in both the Capitol(s) and the other communities would truly be a contemporary return to feudalism, with that managing force being alternately formed out of the old military/police, gangs (old and new), a community-generated military caste, or revolutionist guerrillas (who may not differ in practice very much from the rest, because of the low level of economics – good intentions can’t make food).

A technocratic element may occur as well, with certain practical specialists such as doctors, electricians, agricultural specialists or mechanics becoming all-important.  This is critical for marxists.  I think one of the primary tasks of marxists in a post-collapse scenario is to assist the process of infrastructural development.  That means find a mentor, or look for old-world information sources and become a specialist yourself.  It also means assisting the specialists as much as possible — become their errand-runner, find them materials they need, etc.  But of course there is also a political question: infrastructure for whom?  Obviously marxists must insist that the infrastructure be used to benefit all, though in survival situations, this may either be a non-argument (of course save everyone!) or impossible (we don’t even have enough to do that!).  More politically, I believe that the mere construction of infrastructure off the Capitol’s grid creates a pole of opposition.

Furthermore, any effort to fairly distribute resources – even a dearth of resources – will probably be far superior to what the Capitol is doing.  The Capitol will typically only attempt to maintain “order” in a military/policing sense without providing aid in any serious way, if US disaster response in Katrina and Haiti are any future indication.  So rather than just trying to get electricity back online, radicals should be part of post-collapse efforts to salvage supplies and distribute relief, as well – perhaps even initiating these networks.  The “Followers of the Apocalypse” from Fallout: New Vegas were a network of doctors and medical staff influenced by anarchism whose activities created a civil pole of opposition to the brutes of New Vegas, the Legion, the raiders, and the New California Republic.  However we don’t have to resort to fiction here.  The Black Panther Party got the entire federal government to start feeding children breakfast by doing it themselves first and causing embarrassment.  A food distribution network which Philly Socialists was part of caused such a ruckus that the Philly city government attempted to ban open-air food distribution!  And then of course there is Occupy Sandy, the hurricane response team which de-legitimized the state by providing more immediate relief.

So should we simply fight the Capitol with guerrilla warfare, until it keeps to itself and the rest of the land is left to a sort of anarchy?  Or should we fight for revolution and re-organization within the Capitol, recasting it from an oppressive center to a gem and hub of economic, cultural, and technological progress?

This would really depend on what exactly the Capitol was like.  If the Capitol was little more than a glorified military base, serving only a repressive role, then it really ought to be destroyed entirely, with the hope of future progress falling to the rest of the communities.  If a Capitol merely becomes an economic center and doesn’t oppress anyone, then it’s a completely different story; rather than oppose it, marxists should then join it, operate politically within it, and become part of the next Renaissance.  Another possibility is that the Capitol be a confused hybrid of both military and infrastructural power.  The critical point here would be the forging of personal, organizational, and military links between the Capitol and non-Capitol resistance.  Internal sabotage would be an extension of countryside guerrilla warfare.  The brave resistance of the guerrillas would inspire the truly more critical Capitol resistance.  Because people in low levels of infrastructure and emergency-mode often forego democracy, let alone socialism, the political resistance inside the Capitol will often take the form of a pro-democracy rebellion against martial law (though the authorities may be careful to pretend that the martial law is democracy).  In fact, resistance in the center is so vitally important that post-collapse marxists should strongly consider relocating to the Capitol.  Whether resistance in the Capitol becomes a matter of urban guerrilla insurrectionism, or organizing and civil mass-protest, depends largely on what kind of Capitol you’re up against; the civil route gains importance in proportion to the more developed the Capitol is, and the larger the number of civilians living there.  Of course one strategy may bleed into the other (literally), but it’s important to build legitimacy by attempting civil methods first.  The closer the Capitol is to re-attaining modernity, the more we should use modern (civil) methods.  If we are dealing with not simply a Capitol but an entire developed region (New California Republic), then it makes sense to pursue classic civilian-only organizing, just on a more microcosmic scale, and possibly even opposing the imperialism of your own region with the post-collapse version of a domestic antiwar movement.  The Maoist idea of Protracted People’s War, with guerrillas and protesters being all part of one resistance, makes sense in post-collapse, in a way that it does not make sense in the contemporary USA.

The USA would be plunged into the dilemmas faced by third-world revolutionaries such as Maoists or even to an extent the Russian Revolution.  Can you build socialism without an already-existing strong/industrialized economic foundation?  Can you have a political faction who believes in socialism take over the state, be as humane and democratic as possible for now, while leading that society toward infrastructural development which would make a country more properly socialist, in the classic Marxist sense?  It would certainly be more progressive than leaving the old state in place, but ultimately the revolutionary political faction would face the problem of itself becoming a new ruling class (orthodox Trotskyist dogmatism aside, as if bureaucrats cannot be rulers, what idiocy).  Ultimately that new ruling class would probably have to be overthrown later down the line, like the Chinese Communist Party.  But was the Chinese (or Cuban) revolution progressive, despite the troubling trajectory of attempting socialism in a country that isn’t even capitalist?  Despite my libertarian tendencies, I think it was at least progressive, if not properly socialist.

What all of this really underscores is that we should be thankful we live in times of rampant development, where more and more of the third world is brought online into capitalist commodity production rather than pre-capitalist family agriculture, and many of the first-world countries are not only super-productive but are even “over-productive” to the point that they have more output than they can sell.  We should not entertain stupid ideas of a “revocalypse.”  Of course the revolution will feel apocalyptic; it will feel like an All-Overthrowing Reckoning.  But it’s important to attack the power structure, not the infrastructure.

Occupy could have endured and expanded

Occupy’s death was not inevitable.  Occupy could have become a sustained organization which refocused itself on its core attracting theme of class warfare, and continued growing.  In order for that decision to even be made, Occupy would have had to overturn its decision-making model of consensus.  For that to have occurred, a faction within Occupy needed to emerge, a faction ready to challenge consensus , and a faction which could also have fought for the transition from vague encampment to explicitly-purposed organization.  If this had happened, the USA could have an immense and strong coalition against austerity instead of the noticeable void of Occupy’s collapse.  In fact, the USA could even have a functioning third party by now.

But Occupy did not change.  No one organized effectively to change it.  It died, and we remain in the weak and powerless position of having no mass organization of the working majority, when we could actually have one presently.  Worst of all, there is literally no one to blame but ourselves.

It’s pretty much the worst outcome I can imagine.

First: organizing an internal opposition

Socialist groups often have a “ho-hum” attitude about the rise and fall of Occupy, as if its decline was inevitable (this is called determinism).  That’s sad because I think they were some of the only ones who could have redirected the movement, but they failed to even try.

Socialist groups believe that they are a sort of stable anchor that persists through the rise and fall of movements, growing out of each.  But of course socialist groups had no substantial growth out of Occupy, and what little growth they had was not retained.  This is probably because their interaction with Occupy was completely incompetent, and just as confused and lacking in strategy as the movement itself.

I had hands-on experience in a socialist organization which had its own meetings during Occupy (these meetings in a meeting room away from the encampment).  They constantly discussed Occupy, and things that were wrong with it.  I agreed with their criticism but they entirely failed to raise these issues in the movement itself.  Part of my Occupy-salvation strategy involved (1) gathering the socialists who had these criticisms together, and (2) using this team to launch a forceful, coordinated intervention into Occupy to fix its problems.

It seems that in my locality, Occupy Philly, most of the socialist groups had indeed formed an alliance by which they attempted to influence the movement in general.  This was the Occupy Philly Labor Working Group (OP LWG, a mouthful).  So Part 1 of that plan was accomplished – the factional entity existed – but Part 2, where it actually fought to change Occupy – did not happen.

The LWG in Philly did some positive things, like launching some more traditional demonstrations based on class issues.  However, neither the OP LWG, nor the direct-actionist OP Radical Caucus, did the most important things that they should have done.  They did not provide a lead for how the movement should reorient itself.  The LWG mainly responded to debates within Occupy as they emerged, rather than attempting to reframe the debate entirely, and save the movement from its clear trajectory of self-destruction.  (To anyone who says the police killed Occupy, I must insist no, we made the job of the police very easy and really did it for them; we killed Occupy.)

For my part, I attempted to convince the local branch of my socialist group that we should argue within the LWG, which we participated in, for the LWG to stand up and fight for the changes which everyone in the LWG already believed in anyway.  This idea was basically stonewalled, part-democratically and part through an argument that leading figures in the LWG were scared of this, and “this is just the way it is,” which I should not have accepted.  (On the first anniversary of Occupy, I quit that group, because there is no reason to work with people who democratically reject their stated basic purpose of spreading socialism by leading in movements.)

I also heard about an individual who went around doing things like getting a petition signed to end consensus.  I was never able to track him down.  I attempted some similar things on my own, but my efforts were stifled by the fact that they were essentially breaks from my group’s democratic centralist discipline.  (Too bad I didn’t quit then, not later, and continue trying.)

But that was the critical thing that needed to be done: an internal opposition needed to be formed which was prepared to forcefully raise and debate the critical issues of the movement – not just to debate the issues which the movement itself raised, but to raise the macro-strategic and organizational fights that needed to be raised.  This would be the hypothetical team which could have then argued for and carries out the next steps, whether gathered through the socialist groups, or independently without them, through Occupy’s sea of humanity.

Second: overthrowing consensus (and how!)

The socialists argued that actually raising their issues would have only alienated them, but that has never stopped them before – I always see socialists intervening with their ideas in various movements.

Occupy seemed heavily dominated by anarchists, which I think was the main thing making the socialists skittish in Occupy’s case.  I do not believe this domination was as thorough as people seemed to think it was; instead it was more of a case that anarchists were enjoying their status as movement-initiators and had won some initial organizational debates.

The real, critical thing that would have saved Occupy, as stated above, would have been transitioning from confused encampment to a class-war organization.  But even though such a decision would probably have enjoyed wide support in Occupy if it could have been raised, Occupy’s structure prevented it from being raised or discussed fairly.

Consensus was responsible for, or at least reinforced, (1) Occupy’s massive dwindling as normal people (real 99%ers) could not take part in excessively long consensus meetings (2) Occupy’s dismissal of anyone who was not sleeping at the encampment, as consensus is so time-consuming you can really only participate if you live there anyway (3) Occupy’s domination by anarcho-cliques and thus anarcho-politics, due to #1 and #2.

I still think a concentrated effort to overthrow consensus at the GA’s would have succeeded.  A real movement against it there would have shattered the false legitimacy of all the other factors.

But how do you even overturn consensus?

Obviously you develop a set of arguments about why it is negative – mainly its alienation of the working masses – but how do you start in one decision-making process, and from that process, decide to enter into a different one?

No, I do not think we should have worked through consensus to end consensus.  This would have been entering their quagmire and playing their game.  If consensus is not legitimate, then we do not respect it before-or-after we overthrow it.  The political space between two decision-making processes is a beautiful realm I call “chaos.”

In chaos, decisions tend to be won by people voting with their feet, moving toward the thing they support.  What the majority wants, what it ultimately will do, cannot be ignored, and the minority must either split (which they are often unwilling to do) or admit defeat and go along with the new process.

I am confident that a majority could have been swayed against consensus, toward classic majority democracy.  But no one tried, or no one tried effectively, because there was no coordinated opposition faction.

Third: from encampment to organization

With an opposition faction formed and consensus defeated, this next part would have been a piece of cake.

Now it’s true that Occupy did have some other issues – we had an intersectionality overload.  Actually I think what went wrong was the way we handled it.  People kept bringing up issue after issue after issue which, while progressive, was not precisely the purpose of Occupy.  (Remember, it was Occupy Wall Street.)  That being said, all these issues could have been synthesized into a coherent movement, but it seems like people were more interested in snarkily attacking people who did not agree with them than actually trying to find a productive intersectionality synthesis.

Still, with a coordinated faction, this problem could have been easily overcome.  We could have insisted that class warfare was the main attraction of Occupy (which everyone knew and agreed with whenever I said it) without dismissing the other issues at all, but merely insisting that “99%ism” had to be the focus through which all the other issues were interconnected.

Occupy could have then easily evolved into something like Class War in Britain, or Option Citoyenne in Quebec, or what US Uncut is attempting to be in the US (but without Occupy’s momentum and numeric muscle).

This coalition, open to any progressive issue but founded out of class anger, could have then become a needed alternative to mere “solidarity with unions,” whose structures and leaderships are generally so authoritarian and bureaucratic as to completely repel any mass volunteer motion.  It could have been a real fighting movement for the working class not tied to the limits of formal union membership.

Option Citoyenne is particularly important to bring up because it merged with a previously-formed union of different socialist tendencies to form the party Quebec Solidaire, which stormed the polls.

And then, with a broad party constructed, possibly around socialism, or left-populism or whatever, who knows what would have been possible?  A united current of revolutionists could form within that party, pushing it to ever-greater heights, all the while winning real reforms, through both elections and mass struggles (which it would have the organized numbers to launch itself).  It could achieve changes like universal healthcare, wage increases, a halt to empire, and all the stuff we want and demand.  And from there – the next American Revolution?

Post-mortem: what now?

The psychological trauma of knowing that Occupy could have snowballed from Occupy to a Coalition, to maybe a Party possibly leading into the Revolution, but did not do any of these, is just too much to fucking bear.  I took up smoking afterwards, and even tried World of Warcraft.  Many people I know dropped out of politics entirely.  Some kept their formal affiliations with socialist groups but basically drifted out of any real active participation.  Others quit completely over various seemingly-unrelated issues.  Socialist groups continue zombie-walking through their politics-as-usual of working in small local coalitions and following the trends from issue to issue.  They seem to be successfully pretending that nothing happened and there is nothing wrong with this.  Depression reigns.

Socialist Alternative is admirable for their “opening shot” of socialist entry into electoral politics, in the form of Kshama Sawant’s and Ty Moore’s city council campaigns.  The tragic thing is that they should not have to start from zero the way they are being forced to.  There should be a whole party by now, or at least its initial construction process.

What did Occupy do, positively?  It helped shift consciousness to the left.  A November 2012 Gallup poll said that 39% of Americans now have a positive view of the word “socialism.”  Merriam-Webster announced that “socialism” and “capitalism” were the most-looked-up words of 2012, too.

But that mass-consciousness remains unorganized.  In fact, I’d say there are even higher barriers to organizing it now than before, precisely because of Occupy.  “A second Occupy” will not flare up because people are so burned by the first one that they will absolutely refuse to invest their time and emotions in a second run – unless a strategy – and not just any strategy but an effective, intuitive strategy – is developed in advance, and promoted as the justification for trying again.

I think the best strategy now is to organize a mass, united socialist party – not as a distant possibility in the talking stages, but an organized campaign to work on building it, in the here and now.  I helped start such a campaign and it is called Campaign for a United Socialist Party.

Another alternative possibility would be the Option Citoyenne/Class War/US Uncut route.  But I think people are tired of protesting and seeing it go nowhere, tired of not building actual institutions of popular power.

I’m with Jodi Dean.  Name her commander, and make me a soldier in her army.  Build the party.

Too much culture

 

There are too many shows.  There are too many bands.  There are too many movies.

Apparently in the 1950s there were only a handful of channels.  Apparently in the ancient world everyone would go to see the same plays or dramas.

Supposedly this profusion of different channels of communication and art forms has led to a democratization of culture – I’m sure someone has said that.  But I’m not sure.  The mainstream is still the mainstream, the odd radical voices are marginalized in their pigeonholes, and most of it is still low-quality anyway.

Instead the result has been to turn us into catatonic media-heads, always trying to keep up with one damned thing or another, our attention spans maxed out and burned out on so much “fun” that feels increasingly like obligatory duty.  To have a “full cultural experience” in 2013 would be the equivalent of a second full-time job, just to keep up with it all.  I can’t keep up with it all.  I can’t keep up with the books or the shows or the current trendy Leftist professors or dead philosophers, either, which is really just more of the same shit.

There is a world beneath the noise.  What is it?

If only these shows, books, songs, movies had perfect plots, perfect characters, and sometimes yes they do come oh-so-painfully-close.  And it if truly was perfect, it’s possible that we should just go skipping along through our lives not worried about a damned thing, on a continual buzz of being Loyal Fans of the Perfect Show.  But reality always seeps in.  There is always something not quite fitting about the plot, always something not quite in-depth about the characters, always something not quite relevant about the whole damn thing.  Art can never disappear entirely into its result; the production process is always visible.  In this case, it’s the fact that they just never get sufficient-quality writers, they never do, or those writers always screw up.  So the cracks in the façade are visible.  We, the viewer, are asked to indulge them – asked to suspend our disbelief.

And we try, but we fail.  Deep down you just can’t ask a person not to see a thing.  And we experience the vacuum of our attempted emotional investment in an empty vessel, and we are thrust into the desert of the real.  And reality hurts.

And then begins the next attempt at running away, the next plunge into fiction, the next cycle of psychological investiture in the world of culture.  But in psychology as in economics, the contradiction has got to collapse.  We can’t sustain this.

Race and Class in America: the Era of Unwritten Rules

There’s no rule that says prisons must be disproportionately filled with blacks, or that blacks must be poor, nor that stop-and-frisk must target them, nor that they must be deprioritized during job openings, or that insurance prices are higher in ghettos,  or that you can shoot a black person and get away with it (especially if you’re a cop). There’s no formal rule that says these things, and yet, these ARE the rules.

The greatest difficulty of the Era of Unwritten Rules is the constant denial that we are in it. There is no Legal Segregation to attack, no open denial of voting rights (except in a few cases). White people can bumble about having no idea that we live in this Era, because it does not exist formally or legally, only empirically and statistically — it is based on real lived experience and actual practices, not something publicly declared, and the authorities take great pains to make sure it is not publicly declared.  Even blacks have difficulty talking about this Era because all they have are their own experience, their own anecdotes — they tend not to have social science degrees.  Anecdotal discussion invites the counterargument that “you’re just some whining black person” and “everyone has it rough,” arguments which are horrible but are, in truth, equally non-statistical to black people’s anecdotal-yet-heartfelt complaints about their reality.  The Era of Unwritten Rules can only be proven in aggregate, quantitatively, with numbers.

The race situation in the US, therefore, has something closely in common with the class situation.  The class situation, too, is based on Unwritten Rules.  There is no rule that says a CEO must make 200 times what their employees make, and yet it is what happens.  The disparity in American net worth is not an open law.  There is no law that says “we must have one group of ridiculously fucking rich people, and another group of worker-slaves.”  No, that’s the horrific beauty of capitalism: it hides its true nature.  “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.”

The Fight for $15 struggle, for these reasons, presents itself to me as both a class struggle and a struggle against racial oppression.  Because the oppression of blacks is based on real material conditions and not open discriminatory laws, what benefits the working class disproportionately (and rightfully!) benefits black people.  This is not to say we should not protest police brutality or shut down the prisons, of course we should, but I will say this: the only type of political event where I have seen whites and blacks in the same space in roughly equal numbers was at union events.  (But that is, I suppose, only my unscientific anecdotal experience.)

It’s not that complicated

 

I’m a marxist of the stupid meathead tendency.  Our tradition believes that things really aren’t that complicated.

I have lost my interest in political reading to a great extent.  I know – for a marxist, that’s like losing your libido.  Well, I’m almost 25, so I guess I’m getting to that age, huh.  All the reading just seemed like a mania for no purpose.  It’s not that I’m not around enough political people.  Even when I was lucky enough to be in a place with more Left organization, it seemed like the only purpose the high-level reading served me was to help me argue with sectarians.  It didn’t help me communicate with normal people.  Actually it made me worse at that.

I’m not kidding, I really do think it’s a cultish thing where people all feel like they need to climb some group hierarchy by memorizing the most shit.

I confess to having once read Capital Volume I.  I benefited from it, it’s true.  But I just don’t think telling people to read an 800-page book of translated 1800s German is the way to do it anymore.  We can boil the economic ideas down into short and simple language.  I’ve read Lukacs, too.  But that really could’ve been shortened down a lot as well – maybe a pamphlet explaining the power of ideas.

Can we stop with “theory?”  Theory sucks.  Ideas, concepts, socialism, anarchy, politics, those are all great. Maybe even a little history, if you can choke it down, though it is honestly asking a lot.  But what people mean by “theory” anymore is not directly relevant or even indirectly relevant to organizing.

Look, you want to talk about dialectics?  It’s all about (1) everything is connected (2) if you’re a Perfect Marxist, that connection is material not magical (I believe in both) (3) the forward motion of things comes from the tension between different bodies or forces (4) it’s possible to find a “unity of opposites” or synthesis, like instead of being a sectarian on the sidelines or a participant who hides their views, be a radical-in-a-movement.  There.  It’s not complicated.  Maybe it deserves a slightly longer treatment, especially the parts relevant to organizing, but not too much longer.  Most of the verbiage and length confuses more than it clarifies and so hurts, not helps.

Again on “theory.”  I find all that stuff completely unreadable.  “Being,” “the object,” “ontology,” I have no idea what’s going on.  I don’t care.  Those postmodernists writing in loop-de-loops piss me off.  They make up all these words, and not just postmodernists, either.  It’s like the entire Left is infected by Grad School.

I’d like a Left of the high-school level, not the grad school level.

And everyone makes shit too damn long, too.  So I’m gonna stop here.

West/Hedges on the Black Prophetic Tradition

West/Hedges on the Black Prophetic Tradition

As someone who is increasingly religious myself, increasingly enthusiastic about all fusions of spirit and subversion, this article touched on things I’ve been thinking about deeply.  America needs flagellants demanding it repent, but not the Westboro kind — we need to repent against capitalism, we need to repent against our listless acceptance of the way things are, against our failure to translate our sentiments into action and organization, and against our lack of self-respect.

The best American example of spirit and rebellion moving as one truly is the Black Prophetic Tradition.  The American working class is the Biblical Jews in their sad, long wandering, in their Exodus — but none more especially than African-Americans.