HOW TO BECOME A MARXIST: 36 – Anarchists and the Precariat

The Occupy movement has completely shaken up the political establishment in the US and emboldened more working class people to become political actors through direct involvement in Occupy events, protests, and organizing. The Occupy movement has got the ball rolling in re-awakening class consciousness within the US masses as well as re-awakening the perspective that for us to win our demands, we have to protest.

One of the interesting things about the way this phenomenon is developing in the US is that there are no major organizations in the US that can trace their roots much further back in time than the 1960s or 1970s. Furthermore, many of the organizations that can go that far, or further back in US history, have survived as political supporters of the Democratic party.

This absence of a US organization with a long, battle tested history of radical politics and organizing forces the Left in the US to start from scratch with theories and analysis every time it is pushed to re-develop itself.  This has created some interesting and innocent mistakes that are worth discussing here.

For one, many active members of the Occupy movement believe that occupying spaces, public or private, is a brand new tactic that has never been used before. Without an organization that can promote a history of working class struggle, it takes a lot of effort to explain to people that the working class has always had to occupy spaces to win it’s demands. Whether occupying parks for, and with, the homeless in England, to occupying factories in the US, the working class has always relied on occupations to further the struggle.

A different issue is also the theoretical analysis claiming that there is now a new class that has been created by the financialization of capitalism: the precariat. The theory of the precariat is more or less sophisticated depending on who you are reading or talking to. But in a nutshell, the idea is that at one time in history workers were guaranteed  job security, and that now jobs are completely insecure. This new, and growing, layer of precarious workers are considered to be an entirely new class, different from the job secure proletariat of Marxs’ day.

Here again is a moment of disconnection between the history of the working class the re-development of the modern Left. Let us take a look at the capitalist system and see if this new class analysis really does fit the current state of things and the bigger historical picture.

Under capitalism, there are four classes: the bourgeoisie, the petit-bourgeoisie (small business owners and management), the proletariat, and the lumpen proletariat (the homeless, petty criminals, transitory workers, etc.). Without going into a major analysis of the whole system, we can focus here on the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie is defined, within society, as the people who own the means of production. They are the business owners that own the stores, the machines, and pay out our wages. The proletariat work in the capitalists’ stores, work with the machines, and exchange labor power for wages. For these two classes, the class is determined by the social relation to the means of production: do you own the means of production or do you work with them? Do you own the hamburger grill or do you flip the hamburgers? Do you own the computers in the office or do you work on those computers? Do you own the defibrillator to restart someone’s heart, or do you do the defibrillating?

In all of these scenarios, from the hamburger flipper at McDonalds to the surgeon in a major hospital, the worker can be fired at any time. The whole point of the capitalist system is that those with the wealth to own also have the power to hire/fire individuals at will. So at all times in history, all workers are always precarious. At all times there is the concern that if an individual does not work hard enough, fast enough, behave appropriately, pretend to be happy with the bosses decisions then they might end up unemployed.

At no time in capitalist history has the capitalist class surrendered the power to hire and fire people at will. To take this power away from the bourgeoisie would involve a revolutionary movement. So at all times in capitalist history, the proletariat has been in a precarious position. It is precisely this precarious position, which is always exacerbated by cyclical capitalist crises, which pushes the proletariat to engage in struggle and revolution.

So is the precariat a new class? While I absolutely respect the Anarchists and Post-Modernists for acting vigorously to study the current dynamics of society, it is ultimately incorrect to think that the precariat is a new and unique class. The level of precariousness that workers face has definitely fluctuated throughout the history of capitalism. The lowest points for workers, the periods of the highest levels of precarious employment and wages, have been the points in which the bourgeoisie was experiencing the lowest levels of organized resistance by the working class. The highest points for workers, the periods with the lowest levels of precarious employment and wages, have been the points in which the bourgeoisie was experiencing the highest levels of organized resistance by the working class.

But the key feature here is that it is the level of worker’s resistance that determines how precarious our existence is, or isn’t, as a class.

The level of precariousness that many of us workers face today is not because we have developed into a historically unique class. We are experiencing this precariousness because we are entering into this world in a period after 40 years of the capitalists slowly, but surely, convincing us that “we are all middle class” and that we don’t need to engage in class struggle. We are coming into a world in which the last 40 years were full of union busting and attempts to whittle away all of the things that the workers won in the 1930s and 1960s-70s.

This material and ideological employers offensive was “subsidized” by the hyper-exploitation of the global south after World War II. With only two major imperialist players after WWII, the US and the Stalinist USSR, the US was free to run around the world setting up sweatshops, relocating heavy industry, and providing cheaper consumer goods through the starvation wages of peoples in Latin America and around the world.

The last spot left to redivide, again, is Africa. Which, as a side note, may again be one of the major matches to light the next world war.

The reason I have gone this long explaining the flaws in the precariat analysis is that for some on the Left, particularly the impatient and the anarchists, is that this analysis promotes the idea that not only is the proletariat no longer central to struggle, but that they can also be considered obstacles to struggle that need to be circumvented or even attacked.

This is a dangerous political perspective to take because it actually promotes the idea of direct action and police confrontation without considering what the ramifications are on the people that will be deliberately involved in activity. Let me sketch two examples. One is a Marxist example in which working class people involved in the day to day activities of Occupy link up with the workers at a dock to plan a dockworker strike and protest.

In this case, out of the recognition that it is the dock workers who will ultimately be affected by a protest at their work place, and also understanding that the dock workers are the people that need to be won to the need for struggle to make the action democratic and affective (since the dockworkers could easily continue to load/unload ships and just plow through protesters with their giant trucks), it makes practical and political sense to work with the dock workers for a successful action.

Lets take a precariat analysis of how to organize a protest. The working class is irrelevant as a class and the precariat class, by being allegedly bigger or more revolutionary, has the revolutionary duty to make a protest happen at the docks, whether or not the dock workers have been won to the idea of launching a struggle on their turf. So these precarians show up, without having previously built up the mutual respect and solidarity, and try to impose a “strike” on the workers by trying to create a human chain or human blockade to prevent the loading/unloading of ships.

Management can use the event to punish on-site workers, even though the workers themselves were not consulted on the matter.

Furthermore, the aggressive and authoritarian action could actually trigger the dock workers to resent the Occupy movement and see it as conspiratorial and elitist for not reaching out to them directly.

Finally, due to a lack of consent between the Occupy activists and the workers, many workers may rightly feel justified in crossing the human chain or blockade, which would naturally instigate a fight between Occupy and the dock workers, further damaging relations and preventing future cooperative and democratic actions.

As Marxists, it is important to understand that the vast majority of people belong to the working class. The Occupy movement is a movement that has been born of predominantly working class people, operating in a non-workplace environment (i.e. public parks, public streets, etc.). But for the movement to become a revolutionary challenge to the 1%, the lessons of Occupy actually have to be applied in the workplaces. It isn’t enough to just occupy a park. We also have to occupy our docks, our factories, or hospitals, our schools, or cafes, electric companies, etc, etc, etc.

The best way to begin down that road is to maintain the Marxist analysis that the proletariat is the central actor in revolution and that we need to work democratically within our proletarian class to win reforms, like greater job security and a living wage, and to ultimately overthrow the 1% so that no one ever has to worry again about whether or not they will be fired.

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HOW TO BECOME A MARXIST: 35 – Anarchists and a Bartering Economy

Whenever I hear Anarchists talk about a future world economy, they always talk about a bartering economy. So what would a bartering economy look like? Why is this the anarchists’ model for a future economy? Is this the same as what the Marxists view as a future worker’s economy?

First of all, a bartering economy would essentially mean that everyone would produce whatever they wanted to produce, or knew to produce, and they would then trade these things with other producers for things they needed. So if I made computers, I would barter may computers for your shoes, or our neighbor’s clothes, or some other neighbor’s food stuffs, etc.

In theory, this would replace money, which should, as the anarchists see it, create a more egalitarian society.

So why do the anarchists see this as the economic ideal? Because for them, the principal of absolute freedom of the individual is their starting point for formulating all political concepts. Absolute freedom for the individual means the individual would have their own workplace, produce whatever they produce, and then deal with other absolutely free individuals to trade their products for other products. But the central point is that for anarchists, the complete freedom of the individual informs all of their other concepts.

Originally, anarchism came from the peasant and artisan classes. It came from the classes of people that were accustomed to “being their own boss,” producing their own goods, and then dealing with other people as necessary. The peasants and artisan’s of earlier centuries were economically annihilated with the growth industrial capitalism and the capitalist’s ability to steal peasant land and undercut artisans through mass production.

The peasants and artisans wanted to return, back in time, to an idealized era where there were no big capitalists and instead there were only the mini-capitalists that were able to more easily compete with one another. The inability of the smaller peasants and artisans to compete with the capitalists drove them to become workers for the capitalists. The longing to return to a position of being their own boss, of owning their own means of production, of working for themselves was the initial seed of anarchism.

It is also important to point out, that complete freedom is also what the capitalists want. They want the complete freedom to exploit, oppress, wage war, destroy unions, increase hours, increase work tempo, lower wages, eliminate benefits, transfer jobs overseas, etc. The big capitalists of today were the small capitalists of yesterday. The difference is that, through cunning, luck, theft, and other means these particular capitalists were able to out-compete their rivals and grow into the multinational corporations that we know today.

The capitalists just use different wording for complete freedom and autonomy. They call it “open markets” or “free market capitalism.” Today, it is also usually called “neo-liberalism.”

So would a bartering economy be the solution to today’s crisis? Does a society of individual producers cure the issue of capitalism? Isn’t a society of autonomous producers exactly how capitalism started in the first place? A bartering economy is an economy where individual producers are active in an unplanned economy where there may or may not be a demand for their products. Or at best, where worker’s participate in cooperatives, but must still compete with other cooperatives or individual producers.

Bartering, while perhaps less destructive than today’s financial economy, is still about one producer trying to trade for more than they necessarily deserve from the person they are bartering with. This is because a bartering economy is still an economy of scarcity as no individual producer is guaranteed their basic needs like food, housing, clothing, education, etc. Hence, the need to barter for those goods.

Just like in the modern capitalist economy, some will be better at bartering than others. Slowly, some will begin to accumulate more and more wealth while others will lose more and more of their wealth until they are forced to work for others to sell their labor power. Then we are right back at capitalism. In essence, a bartering economy is just a primitive form of capitalism, before the big capitalists emerge.

So then what do the Marxists offer in contrast to a bartering economy? Instead of looking backward in time toward a romanticized time of autonomous production, the Marxists argue for a democratically planned economy. For Marxists, “freedom” is not a timeless principal, but a political tool reflecting the interests of specific classes at specific times in history. At one point, freedom represented the interests of peasants and artisans. At another time, it represented the interests of the bourgeoisie.

For Marxists, materialism is the basis for our analysis and solutions to the problems that we face today. For us, the development of capitalism lead to the development of the working class. The working class, because it must work cooperatively within the work place, is also the most democratic class. Unlike the peasant that owned their own land, or the artisan that owned their own workshop, workers work in factories, hospitals, schools, restaurants, etc. that they must work with other proletarians to maintain. So for the working class, the solution is to network the various workplaces of the world, locally, nationally, and internationally to create a democratically planned economy.

Democratically planning what to produce, where to produce it, how to produce it, and how to distribute the products is the only way to eliminate the anarchy of an unplanned market economy based on speculative, and competitive, production.

Marxists are not interested in the complete freedom of the individual to starve or become rich through exploitation. Marxists are concerned with the collective ownership of society by the working class, as a class, which can only share and work the collectively owned workplaces and materials through democratic decision making.

History has shown that the working class is capable of developing organs of direct democracy through workplace councils. These workplace councils are democratic bodies that determine how a workplace will be run. These are the embryo of a political body that can reflect the interests of the working class through direct democracy and can be networked at larger and broader levels.

A democratically planned economy is the Marxist forward-looking alternative to the backward-looking bartering economy of the Anarchists.

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HOW TO BECOME A MARXIST: 34 – Understanding Mass Radicalization and the Growth of Anarchism

Today, in the wake of the Occupy movement in the US, there is a spike in people turning to Anarchism to provide them with solutions, strategies, and tactics to solve the problems we are all facing in the Great Recession. But what does this mean in the bigger political picture?

This is a magnificent development. The growth of Anarchism in the US is a first indicator that the Left is in a genuine process of rebuilding itself.The last time the Left was in the process of being rebuilt was in the mid-late 90s, with the big moment being the Battle of Seattle in 1999. Since then, 9/11 shattered the US left, which was largely influenced by modern anarchism and it’s idea that the state no longer mattered because they had been replaced by multinational corporations.

Before this, the last time the Left had been rebuilt was in the 1960s through the rise of the Civil Rights movement, which then set off a variety of other movements against the war in Vietnam, Women’s liberation, etc. Before that, the Left had been rebuilt in the 1930s through the rise of groups like the Communist Party, the International Worker’s of the World, and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

In all of these instances, the Democratic Party was able to co-opt the leadership of the various movements into funneling political and material support toward themselves. Every instance when the Left in the US has had an opportunity to rebuild itself and create permanent organizations that might carry the Leftist history and lessons on to future generations, the Democratic Party crushes it (through politics or police), forcing new generations of US workers to repeat the process of developing class consciousness and radical politics from scratch.

For our purposes as Marxists, seeing the rise of Anarchism is a wonderful development. It shows that significant sections of the masses are radicalizing beyond the limits of liberalism and are taking on questions about the capitalist system as a whole, rather than simply questioning specific aspects of it.

So if large sections of the masses are radicalizing, why are they turning to Anarchism rather than Marxism?

Well, the US has a long and impressive history of political and media smear campaigns against Marxists. Add to that the bloody history of Stalinism, and it has created a situation in which many radicalizing leftists the road to socialism as a dead end. This is a large part of why the US is the only industrialized country with no viable socialist or communist party to run in elections.

There is also a more practical aspect to the initial turn toward Anarchism. Many of the people being radicalized right now are in the thick of participating in activism. The initial flurry of activities, the rush of the rising tide, leads many people to think that there is no time for historical study and political research. In stead, they want answers that are quick, sound approximately right, and are easy to digest.

Marxism uses a materialist analysis of history to determine why the world is today as it is and who the historic political agents are to build a better world. Frankly, this requires lots of reading, research, debate, attending conferences, coupled with active participation within broad organizations and movements while also recruiting revolutionaries to a revolutionary party. This is three things in one that are the responsibility of every Marxist.

But compare that to Anarchism. What could be easier than Anarchism? It is against all authority and it holds freedom as a timeless and universal political principal. This is a moral approach to politics and therefore does not require materialist study and analysis. How would you analyze freedom? It is above science, and therefore it becomes the easy to digest motto of the Anarchists. “Against all authority! Freedom for everyone!”

The rest of Anarchism is also easy to digest. Capitalism is for the bourgeois government, so the Anarchists are against all government. Capitalism is for Women’s oppression and gender roles, so the Anarchists are against Women’s oppression and gender roles. Capitalism is for racism, so the Anarchists are against racism and for white guilt. Etc, etc. It has a basic contrarian approach to politics that does not require study groups, political discussion, or reading complex books.

Moreover, part of the Anarchist framework is that people are either divided into authoritarians or anti-authoritarians. For the most part, these lines are seen as permanently drawn and therefore there is no real need to recruit from the masses or win them to Anarchist ideas. The Anarchists, being enlightened, will either carry out the revolution themselves, or lead the way for the rest of us with their dramatic actions like spray painting walls and deliberately starting fights with the police.

So there is no need for exhausting, thankless work like recruiting to a revolutionary party that will provide leadership for the masses by empowering the masses to take power them selves as a class. So whereas the Marxists are busy trying to win over individuals and groups of people to the idea of revolution by the working class, for the working class, as a class and the need for a revolutionary party to help lay the groundwork for this, the Anarchists are more or less a clique that will work with people when necessary but will also take matters into their own hands when they feel it is necessary. Again, like in fighting the cops in the middle of a protest, which ends up landing everyone in the protest in jail. Or getting undocumented protesters deported!

And that is the other point as well. The Anarchists don’t even need to work within the mass movements. They can strategize amongst themselves and carry out actions on their own, in the name of the movement, without having to actually engage in building the movement or winning people in the movement to their perspective.

For a lot of young people that are being radicalized, this clique aspect of Anarchism is also very attractive. The Anarchists have a “rebel without a cause” persona. They are against basically everything and are therefore very attractive to someone that is fed up with society as it is and is also impatient for action. The ultra-leftism of Anarchism makes it an ideal place for newly radicalized people to turn when they feel frustrated with the knowledge that they have begun down the road of class consciousness but everyone around them seems to be lagging behind and sticking to liberal ideas about politics and society.

So what does this trend toward Anarchism mean for Marxists?

It is a brilliant step in the Left direction. It means that our usual struggle to discuss politics with people and win them to the idea of revolution is eliminated amongst the Anarchists since most of them want revolution as well. Instead, it frees us to discuss with them what revolution looks like, how do revolutionaries relate to the masses to help win a revolution, why do we need a revolutionary party. But the big question that liberals see as absurd, the question of revolution, is already won!

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that discussions and organizing with the Anarchists will be a walk in the park. Marxism is always the minority political trend until it doesn’t matter anymore (either because the revolution is won or we’re all murdered by reactionary violence). The debates with the Anarchists, and the organizing experience with them will have it’s own obstacles which will be different from, but similar to, the obstacles amongst the liberals.

But this still represents a tremendous step forward for the class consciousness of the working class as a whole and for the redevelopment of the Left. The challenge is to win the Anarchists to a Marxist perspective through frank debates and dedicated participation within the movements that we find each other in. Many of the Anarchists of today will be our Marxist comrades tomorrow, but only if we engage them in an honest and consistent fashion while also providing Marxist leadership in the movements that we participate in.

This is a natural show of progress for the working class and it must be seized.

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HOW TO BECOME A MARXIST: 33 – What is Revolution?

If socialism is the dictatorship of the proletariat against the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, and a socialist is a class conscious fighter who works within a revolutionary party to provide leadership for the proletariat to build socialism through revolution, then what is a revolution?

Revolution is the highest level of direct political activity by the greatest number of people in society, particularly the working class. Most of the time, the only people actively participating in politics are the bourgeoisie, as they are naturally the most class conscious section of society, and their professional political tools like politicians and media demagogues.

Most of the time, most people are so screwed over by this system, and so focused on surviving from pay check to pay check, that the thought of being involved in something that seems superfluous, like politics, is out of the question.

But revolutions are not “most of the time.” Revolutions are the time when most people stand up and say “enough is enough.” You could not have the mass occupation of Tahrir Square in Egypt if only a handful of radicals were dedicated to the revolution. You could not have the overthrow of an entrenched, US-backed dictator like Hosni Mubarak unless the majority of the population of Egypt had participated in his overthrow. Revolution is when the masses, without ever having intended to be political, are forced to participate in political activity due to the circumstances forced on them by capitalism.

This is where it is useful to listen to this talk by Joel Geier from WeAreMany.org on Marxism and Revolution.

I don’t have time to transcribe, or even briefly discuss a lot of the points he makes in this talk. But suffice it to say that Geier tries to cover several stages that are often seen in revolutions, including the recent revolution in Egypt, 2011. What I can do, is create a brief bullet point of Geier’s talk in the hopes that it adds to the understanding of what a revolution is, and also what it looks like.

==============

I. Marxism and Revolution
A. “Marxism is the theory and practice of revolution”
1. The proletariat is the most revolutionary class in history
2. The proletariat is the only class capable of abolishing classes forever
B. Capitalism…
1. Is a system that, at one time, pushed human civilization forward
a. Promotion of science, centralization of labor, development of industrial revolution
2. Has now come into conflict with its modes of production
a. Millions starve while food is mass produced and left to rot because it cannot be sold    for profit
3. Is a system that must systematically run into economic crisis
a. The Great Recession, The Great Depression, all the recessions and depressions between and before
b. The crisis inherent to capitalism cannot be solved by capitalism
c. The inability to solve the crisis pushes the masses into action
C. The Masses take the stage of history
1. The majority of the masses have no prior activist history or political training
2. The majority of the masses rush to action with no predetermined plan of action and resolution
3. The initial focal point (i.e. king, dictator, president, etc) of the economic unrest is overthrown
D. The revolutionary process begins
1. Revolutions are not specific events covering a specific time or date
a. Revolutions are a process which can span weeks, months, or even years
2. Honeymoon period – The momentum of the revolution leads everyone to be “for” the revolution
a. In fact, counter-revolutionary elements are only pretending to favor the revolution to gain mass support
- Example: “The people and the military are one,” which is “the revolution and counter-revolution are one”
3. Cleansing period – The masses kick out the secret police, abuse bosses and managers, fascists, etc from work places and neighborhood organizations
4. Class differentiation period – the military, the liberals, and bourgeoisie try to stop the revolution from continuing
a. The workers are told that by continuing the revolution they are being selfish and endangering the revolution
b. Liberals, military leaders, and capitalists try to reassert the old laws and institutions to “benefit” the revolution
c. The workers, having been the actual fighters in revolution, resist settling for political changes while leaving economic changes unfulfilled
5. Period of overcoming class division – the ruling classes try to re-entrench old prejudices
a. Workers were united to fight the original focal point of the revolution
- Now it is a struggle to sustain that unity against racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. propaganda by rulers
- Example: Egyptian military council is scapegoating Coptic Christians
6. Development of Proletarian organs of Direct Democracy
a. Workers begin to form their own councils to directly determine how to organize work places, neighborhoods, cities, etc.
- A proletarian revolution is only really a proletarian revolution once these organs begin to emerge
- Read more about worker’s council in Revolutionary Rehearsals and Ours to Master and to Own
- Historically, workers councils have popped up spontaneously all over the world during revolutionary periods as the only practical way for workers to organize their resistance and revolution
7. Dual Power
a. If workers councils are able to spread, grow, and develop then the become an alternative government in opposition to the existing bourgeois government
– Again, this can take place in work places, neighborhoods, and link all the way to a national network
8. Refining of the Counter-Revolution
a. “The revolution made progress, not by its immediate tragicomic achievements but by the creation of a powerful, united counter-revolution, an opponent in combat with whom the party of overthrow ripened into a really revolutionary party”
– As the consciousness and organization of the proletariat develops, so does the consciousness and organization of the counter-revolution
– The attempt by the counter-revolution to take away all of the reforms and empowerment that the revolution has won pushes the revolutionary movement to press forward or risk losing everything
– Example: The Kronilov Coup in Russia, 1917
9. Ripening of revolutionary consciousness and organization
a. The whole revolutionary process is one in which the workers gain a higher level of class consciousness which is built up in their basic struggle to win and defend their gains
b. The revolution is then the stages of maturation of worker’s collective class consciousness
c. This involves the working class ridding itself of all the old prejudices to unite and remain united against the common enemy: the bourgeoisie and their right-wing tools
d. The revolutionary process and maturation of consciousness is the essence of Socialism from Below
10. The Revolutionary Party
a. This is the highest level of class consciousness a class comes too
b. The party is like the piston box that is able to focus the steam of proletarian power
c. The party gains the worker’s confidence based on its political positions, leadership, and participation before and during the revolution
11. Revolutionary parties grow during revolution
a. These parties should be built before a revolution
– To develop reliable networks of leaders, cadre, and experience
b. If revolution breaks out before the formation of a party, it must be built while in revolution
– Example: Egypt today, Germany in 1919
12. It is the duty of residents of the US to prepare for revolution
a. Build the party by winning others to revolution and revolutionary organization
b. The US is the world center of counter-revolution
c. We owe it to our brothers, sisters, comrades internationally and to ourselves

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Trayvon Martin Video and Police Violence in Black Neighborhoods

I watched this video on WeAreMany.org titled Trayvon Martin and the Fight Against the New Jim Crow. This video is unbelievably important for a number of reasons, a few of which I wanted to briefly review in this post.

For starters, I remember reading an article by Chris Harman called The Summer of 1981: A post-riot analysis. The article talked about the revolutionary potential within riots as well as racial and class dynamics that ignite, and play out, within riots. One of his observations centered around the fact that in both the US and the UK, racist violence had often been the catalyst.

The big distinction he drew between both countries was that, as of 1981, the UK was much more heavily integrated than the US, which led to more multi-racial riot participation in England compared to the US. The fact that in England the white community and communities of color where often integrated caused the white community to witness certain injustices more readily. Compare that with the US in which the police violence that Black communities experience are either ignored or simply seen as interesting news clips, disconnected from any lived experience for white communities.

To quote Harman:

The fact that the areas are not ghettos has important effects. It means there is not the de facto segregation of the educational system that exists in some US cities, so that there is a certain tendency for mixed gangs of youth to grow up. It means that the very high levels of inner city unemployment affect whites as well as blacks (so that in Handsworth in 1977 19% of Asians and West Indians were unemployed but also 13.3% of white, with long term unemployment tending to be about the same level for whites and West Indians [100]; while in Toxteth earlier this year, 47% of blacks were jobless but also 43% of whites [101]). It means that police harassment is something witnessed, and to some extent suffered, by whites. Thus in Moss Side, after the riots ‘ordinary law abiding folk and supporters of the established order … were shocked to see the Police in a new light during the riots. They are coming to believe that long standing complaints from the black community about police harassment and racism may have some substance …’

(Emphasis added)

This quote was the first thing that I thought of when I saw the video on WeAreMany because it was the stories of lived police violence by members of the Black community themselves. The video, linked up above, is so brutally honest about what the people speaking have suffered, as well as the suffering of their murdered loved ones. This video is exactly what everyone in the US needs to watch. Instead of being ignored stories, or distant 30 second news clips, these are heart-wrenching and infuriating stories of injustice and the will to resist.

It is precisely because the US is so hyper segregated that this video needs to circulated and re-circulated amongst US residents. Especially amongst people that have never lived in a predominantly Black community.

The other reason I think that this video is so important is because of the “Kony 2012″ phenomenon. Kony 2012 is, quite simply, a white-man’s-burden campaign about ridding the world of a legitimate monster, Joseph Kony, through the use of US military intervention. As we have seen with Iraq, Afghanistan, and any other country ever occupied by an imperialist power: things go from horrible to unbelievably horrible.

As Socialist Worker described the viral Kony 2012 video and its politics:

Maybe the most important of Russell’s omissions is any suggestion of a positive role for Africans to play in solving their own problems. The only Ugandans portrayed in “Kony 2012″ are the “bad guys,” their victims or politicians who call for U.S. help. The premise of the video is that “nobody knows” who Kony is, a claim that can only be directed to people who don’t live in East or Central Africa.

(Emphasis added)

So here, at the same time, are two very different approaches to solving the problems of the Black community, whether within the US or internationally. One approach, the approach supported by any socialist, is about the empowerment of the victims of oppression and exploitation to rise up against their oppressors, and in doing so, teach the whole of the oppressed and exploited classes about the need for solidarity and international revolution.

The second approach, the racist “white-man’s burden” approach, domestically is to push for Charter schools and more heavy policing in Black neighborhoods. Internationally, the approach is to rely on the capitalist US government to send in it’s imperialist army into an African country already ravaged by a history of imperialism.

What the people of Uganda need is access to clean water, food, housing, education, and all of the other resources that all humans need to lead stable, dignified, fulfilling lives. Capitalism, and its history of imperialism in Africa, has literally stolen Africans from the continent, carved up the continent along various lines based on the imperialist power that claimed it a particular time in history, and then denied Africa any form of industrialization. Furthermore, after the anti-colonial struggles of the mid-1900s, Africa was then saddled with enormous amounts of debt that naturally prevented any form of economic development.

If Ugandans need anything from the US, it is for US working class to rise up and end military aid to the Ugandan state and cancel all African debt. That would be a proper solution. Military intervention in Uganda is only about exacerbating an already horrific situation.

This is the crucial difference between these two approaches. The video on Trayvon Martin and the Fight Against the New Jim Crow is precisely about the Black community organizing itself beginning the long, but necessary, process of resisting police violence. Struggles like this can empower the Black community and become struggles that go beyond police violence, into questioning the whole “justice” system, and ultimately raising the issue of the overthrow of the capitalist system.

I hope this encourages anyone coming across this blog to watch the Trayvon Martin video, share it, and begin the process of building the multi-racial, working class resistance necessary to end police violence, end racism, and replace capitalism with socialism.

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NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: Hunger Games and Class Struggle

Most of the reviews I have found online for this movie have been about what was or was not different in comparison to the original book. This is not what I am here to discuss. In fact, I’ve never even read the books! Here is what I saw, and if you have not seen the movie, then please stop reading: THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT.

For anyone familiar with REAL US history, the home district for the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen’s District 12, is a direct reference to the militant miners that have fought for workers’ rights, like the right to unionize. The story is dripping with class conflict between The Capitol, which I presume to be in District 1, and all of the oth districts in descending numerical order, which also represents their descending access to wealth and increasing expoloitation. The whole premise of the hunger games themselves is that they are an annual ritual to reinforce the superiority of The Capitol and their domination over all other districts, whose exploitation keeps them wealthy and living lives of decadence.

A clearer description between the ruling class and the lower classes could not be drawn. This is, after all, a book and movie series intended for children. Better yet, the people in the Capitol are fellow countrymen of the oppressed districts. So unlike many similar stories that may involve exploitation by aliens or monsters, here are people, fellow “patriots,” exploiting their fellow brothers and sisters. This leaves out any scapegoating of other people, such as the current mania over scapegoating countries like China, India, and Russia for our economic suffering back home.

There are a ton of other things to say about the movie and the story, but lets just say that you should go see it right now. So go!

What I want to talk about most is a scene that was shot specifically by Steven Soderbergh. In the movie, after (SPOILER ALERT) Rue dies, Katniss treats her with the utmost respect and gives her the most proper and dignified ceremony someone can have while in an arena full of opponents. After doing so she makes her sign of solidarity (an adjustment of the solidarity fist in the air) and then runs off to continue the “game.”

In the movie, this act of solidarity between two comrades that so genuinely looked out for each other, and two inter-racial comrades, sets off a riot in District 11, Rue’s home district. As the multi-racial crowd in District 11 sees this touching moment of solidarity and the simultaneous injustice that every is forced into these barbaric games by The Capitol, the residents of District 11 rise up and start to attack the peacekeepers (cops) and vent their frustrations against the system that oppresses them.

The scene is very short. It might be 3 minutes long at most. But it is not only cinematically elegant and visceral, but it is also one of the most touching cinematic moments I have ever seen.

Riots are always made out to be a moment of collective insanity by the media and bourgeois idealogues. But the fact is that if anything, a riot is a moment of collective clarity: “this system is rigged against us, we’ve had enough, and we want to do something about it and we are going do to it NOW.”

Every riot is basically a communities’ opportunity to express, in no uncertain terms, how angry they are at how they are treated. In another light, a riot is also a missed opportunity, because had their been the appropriate politcal leadership and organization, every riot has the potential to become the spark of revolution.

Right after Katniss does her solidarity salute, the camera cuts to a Black man in District 11 how turns from the screen televising the Hunger Games, and he knocks over some items. From there, a multi-racial riot ensues with unbelievable camera work. You watch the scene and you feel for the rioters and you fully understand why they are rioting, you understand that they are justified in rioting, and you cheer them on as they work together to overturn everything and beat back the cops.

Something I thought about aft I left the movie was that this is the new generations’ equivalent of The Matrix. When I was in high school, The Matrix was THE movie that inspired young folks to fight the system and caused us to view the world for what it is: a system of domination to exploit us. The key difference here is that while The Matrix had a predominantly bleak and elitist view of how to affect change (tiny group of people escape society and pick up weapons) the Hunger Games provides the potential for hope based on collective participation of the masses in overthrowing the state of things.

With that one riot scene, the Hunger Games was able to surpass the achievements of The Matrix.

On a separate note, I have read some reviews that have called Hunger Games the next Twilight. Let us be clear, if Hunger Games stands in any tradition, it is in the tradition of The Matrix and Harry Potter (i.e. LEFT WING stories), not that right-wing story about teenage, Mormon Vampires.

Please go see the Hunger Games and share it with as many friends and family as possible.

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HOW TO BECOME A MARXIST: 32 – What is a Socialist?

So from discussing a bit about what socialism is, it is also important to understand what a socialist is. A socialist is someone who agrees with the general Marxist analysis of society. They understand that society is divided into classes and that these classes are in a constant state of struggle under varying intensities and that the only solution is the self-emancipation of the working class, by the working class, as a class.

A socialist also understands that class society simultaneously raises the level of class consciousness through its periodic crisis and daily brutality and humiliation, while also stifling class consciousness by promoting different forms of bigotry and enforcing injustice through the use of bodies of armed people like cops and soldiers to put down the working class. So consciousness develops unevenly.

A socialist also understands that part of this uneven development comes from a myriad of forms of leadership that develop from, or are imposed on, the working class. These various forms of political leadership span the political spectrum, though the vast majority tend to be defenders of capitalism to one degree or another. The leadership of the working class is presented as speeches from the Whitehouse or senate, famous TV personalities or news media politicos, or as community, campus, or workplace militants.

Socialists understand that as capitalism pushes people into struggle, these various forms of leadership will influence how far struggles go or how fast they are demobilized but that the only way to learn from the struggles, teach others in the struggle, and affect change is to actively participate in those struggles.

Understanding that the working class must liberate itself en masse, and that it is pulled in various political directions by various sources of leadership, a socialist understands that the only way for the proletariat to achieve its revolutionary potential is to also have the leadership a revolutionary socialist party that can both articulate the current mood of the proltariat, while also offering solutions for how to move struggles forward.

This means that a socialist has to understand various factors about the mechanics of society and human interaction, while also simultaneously participating in the struggle and building the revolutionary party. To build this party, a socialist understands that it is important to network with, as well as recruit, the most militant and class conscious activists, the radicalizing minority, participating in both big and small struggles.

Socialists understand that struggles grow and shrink, come and go, and that it is our duty to push these struggles as far as they can go. But in the interests of these struggles it is also important to learn how and when to aggressively push forward as well as how and when to call for an orderly retreat to be better prepared for the next upsurge. We also understand that aside from achieving the paramount tasks of gaining reforms, that the organizations built in struggle can last long after the initial struggles themselves are over. Also, that the experiences and lessons of people participating in those struggles raises their level of confidence and combativity.

With all of this in mind, a socialist understands that building a socialist party today, helps strengthen the overall capacity of the proletariat to win the struggles of tomorrow. This means that no matter what, a socialist is always active under a system of democratic centralism to participate in and shape the party as well as shape the struggle.

Finally, every socialist understands the importance of producing and selling socialist literature, especially the revolutionary paper. The revolutionary paper is not only a basic way to promote the theories, strategies, and analysis of socialists, but it also provides a rallying center for those involved in struggle, a barometer for the mood of the masses, and a platform for radicalizing workers to express their opinions. At a minimum, it is a training tool for socialists to learn how to engage others in active debate, recruitment, and building a revolutionary prescence.

In a nutshell, a socialist is a class conscious person who is actively organized within a revolutionary party to work with, and provide socialist leadership for, the masses to bring the coming revolution to success.

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