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north america / mexico / anarchist movement / opinion / analysis Monday April 15, 2019 01:32 byWayne Price

In the 1980s I participated in a "dialogue" about anarchism and Marxism. Re-reading my writing now, when I am a revolutionary anarchist, I think that much of what I wrote then was wrong--with one exception. I went over certain key issues, such as the strengths and weaknesses of Marxism, the state, the revolutionary party, election participation, and national liberation--topics which are still important for anarchists and other radicals to consider and debate.

In 1985, I participated in a “dialogue” between the unorthodox-Trotskyist organization I was then a member of and an anarcho-syndicalist organization. The topic was “Where do anarchists and Marxists differ, and can we learn from each other?” From my current perspective as a revolutionary anarchist, I now believe that much of what I then said was wrong.

By the mid ‘fifties, the radical organization I was a member of—the Revolutionary Socialist League—no longer felt comfortable describing itself as Trotskyist or Leninist. We had held a libertarian-democratic-proletarian interpretation of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky. Almost all the other Marxists interpreted them as authoritarian and statist (and were for this). We were no longer sure that we alone had the correct (radically democratic) interpretation of Marx and key Marxists, while most everyone else was wrong.

To help us reassess our politics, we reached out to the anarchist movement. We participated in several continental anarchist gatherings. We made contact with members of the Workers Solidarity Alliance (then the Libertarian Workers’ Group in New York). Like us, they were revolutionary and based their politics on working class struggle, while supporting other struggles against oppression. This led to a forum where both organizations expressed their views, later reprinted in the WSA’s journal, ideas & action, (Winter 1985, no. 5; pp. 16—27). I spoke for the RSL and Mike Harris for the soon-to-be-WSA.

At the time I was in the process of developing my thinking, as were others in the RSL. We had never been orthodox Trotskyists. We never accepted Trotsky’s opinion that the Soviet Union under Stalin was still somehow a “workers’ state” due to its nationalized property. Instead, we had developed a version of “state capitalist” theory. We had always emphasized what we saw as the radically-democratic and libertarian aspects of Marxism. This included the goal of a classless and stateless society and the view that the working class must free itself rather than rely on elite saviors. We downplayed the authoritarian aspects. We had strongly supported women’s liberation and LGBT liberation.

Now we were in the process of evolving from unorthodox Trotskyism to anarchism—although individuals developed their own perspectives. (See Taber 1988.) We did not yet call ourselves anarchists, preferring the term “libertarian socialists” and saying we were for “participatory socialism.” (I was somewhat unusual in that, before I became a Trotskyist, I had been an anarchist-pacifist in high school. So I had some background in anarchist theory.)

Re-reading what I said and wrote about 25 years ago, I find that I still agree with the basic values expressed then. With my other comrades, I was for a bottom-up international revolution of the working class and all oppressed people, to create a free, cooperative, ecologically-balanced, and radically democratic society. I still am. But on almost all the specific questions in this discussion, I was mostly wrong—with one significant exception.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Marxism

While increasing critical of Marxism, I still believed that it had valuable lessons for revolutionary libertarian socialists. Speaking for the WSA, Harris also wrote positively of “our synthesis of anarchism and Marxism….We agree with the basic marxian critique of capitalism.” However, he emphasized, “we are more anarchist than Marxist.” (23)

I wrote then that the strength of Marxism was its analysis of how capitalism worked—Marx’s “critique of political economy.” Marx’s theory could lead to an understanding of the post-World War II period of prosperity and its crisis-ridden end, of the period we are now living through. It made it possible to understand capitalism’s drive toward ecological catastrophe. Strategically it explained the importance of the modern working class and its tendency to become self-conscious and to struggle for human freedom. (However, a “tendency” is not an inevitability.) While some former members of the RSL have since rejected all of Marx’s Marxism, I still believe this. (See Price 2013.)

The main weakness of Marxism which I then mentioned was “the same search for historical patterns…when the patterns are seen as rigid, objective laws, the ‘inevitable’ path of development, about which we can be 100% certain. With such a view, the struggle for socialism no longer requires workers’ self-consciousness and freedom….Socialist revolution ceases to be something that people do; it becomes something which happens to them.” (18)

Such teleological determinism leads to authoritarianism, opportunism, sectarianism, and elitist repression. Whether it is a “fair” interpretation of Marx is beside the point. This fatalist determinism does appear in some aspects of his work (even if not in all of it). It was adopted by the mainstream of the Marxist movement (both social democracy and Stalinism) and even by some of the more libertarian Marxists.

While this criticism of Marxism is an important insight, it is somewhat abstract. I should have also pointed to the weaknesses in Marx’s program. Marx believed in workers’ democracy, but he saw this as being implemented through a centralized state. He advocated that the workers establish a party which would take over the state—either the old one through elections or a new one through revolution. The state would nationalize and centralize the economy. He predicted that this state would—eventually—die out as a repressive, class-based, institution. But there would still be some sort of (presumably benevolent) centralized planning body. This was stated in the Communist Manifesto and never fundamentally altered.

Some of Marx’s work pointed in a more radically democratic and decentralist-federalist direction, such as his writing on the 1871 Paris Commune. But right after the defeat of the Commune, he began a campaign to get the First International to establish workers’ parties in every country it could, in order to run in elections and to try to take over the existing European states. The anarchists opposed this state-oriented, centralizing, program, which is why Marx expelled Bakunin and other anarchists from the First International. However much Marx believed in workers’ democracy, his program naturally led toward the pro-imperialist, statist, reformism of the social democrats and then to the totalitarian state-capitalism of Marxism-Leninism.

The State

I agreed with the radically-democratic version of Marx’s view of the state, which still accepted the need for a state. Our interpretation was based on his writings about the Paris Commune, and on Lenin’s State and Revolution (Lenin’s most libertarian-democratic work). Like anarchists, we believed that the existing states (the capitalist states) should be destroyed by the workers and oppressed and replaced by new, participatory-democratic institutions. Workplace councils, community assemblies, democratic militia units, and voluntary associations, should federate to create a new social power. This would be different from any state which had ever existed, because it would be the self-organization of the big majority. It would not be a bureaucratic-military-police elite machine, standing apart from and over the people, serving the interests of a ruling minority. It would not be the traditional state. I am still for this perspective.

However, like Lenin I continued to call this popular institution a “state” (the “commune-state”). I recognized the need for institutions to carry out certain tasks which the state had done in class society: social coordination, cooperative decision-making, protection against armed capitalist restorationists and against anti-social individual actors, etc. But as anarchists pointed out, by calling the proposed council-system a “state” I denied the big differences between the self-organization of the workers and the repressive elitism of all past states.

By accepting that the working class needed a “state,” then—like Lenin—I opened the way to accept more bureaucratic—statist—forms of a “state.” Lenin wrote in State and Revolution that the revolutionary state would “immediately begin to wither away,” but when he got into power he (and Trotsky) created a one-party police state. This laid the basis for Stalin’s totalitarianism. In my essay, I quoted several of Lenin’s more libertarian-sounding statements, without clearly stating my opposition to the main aspects of his strategy, especially his state-building.

The Party and Elections

I made a similar mistake when discussing “the party.” I believed that revolutionary libertarian socialists should gather themselves into a democratic federation. This would help them to develop their theory and programs and to coordinate their activities, as they worked among broader organizations (unions, community groups, anti-war movements, etc.). This is sometimes called“dual-organizationalism.” In anarchism, it goes back to Bakunin’s Alliance for Socialist Democracy, to Malatesta’s arguments with the syndicalists, to Makhno and Arshinov’s “Platform,” to the Spanish FAI, and to Latin American especifismo. It is not counterposed to the self-organization of the workers and oppressed but is a part of the process.

Yet I (mistakenly) continued to call this a “party.” This overlooked the difference between this conception and that of the traditional “revolutionary vanguard party” of Leninism. The anti-authoritarian revolutionary political association does not aim to take over the popular organizations. It does not aim to “take power” over society, through either elections or revolution. It does not want to create a new state. Rather it urges the people to organize themselves, to take over society for themselves, to form self-governing mass movements, and to reject the elitist politics of all the political parties (left, right, and center) which do want to become the new rulers.

On elections, again, my comrades and I were in general agreement with the anarchists in the abstract. We rejected “electoralism” (or “parliamentarianism”), the belief that the working class and oppressed could take over the state through elections, and then use the state to begin socialism. “U.S. capitalist democracy was not built so that workers could take capital away from the capitalists.” (22) It was built so that the factions of the capitalist class could resolve conflicts and make decisions (without relying on a dictator or civil war), and so that the working people could be fooled into thinking that they run society themselves. In particular, the Democratic Party has repeatedly served as a trap to capture left-moving movements, to enmesh them in state and capitalist politics, and to kill them off.

However, I still thought that it could be useful for a revolutionary grouping to run in elections, not to get elected but to use them as platforms to spread revolutionary ideas. I did not consider that this also spread the idea that even revolutionaries believe that elections are real reflections of popular power. It also spreads the idea that people should rely on political leaders to speak for them, to lead them, and to be elected in order to go to far-away places in order to be political for them.

I also spoke of the possibility of a U.S. labor party or a Black party, in which revolutionary libertarians should participate. I did not consider that such parties, in personnel and in programs, would continue the reformist, pro-capitalist, politics of the Democratic liberals, union bureaucrats, and African-American “community leaders.” This would simply be a third capitalist party, existing to head off independent mass action by a rebellious population. Like Sanders or Warren today, their programs would be wholly inadequate to deal with the crises we face.

I actually used the example of the German Green Party, as something which—if it developed in the U.S.—we would want to participate in. Since then, the German Greens have been ministers in the German imperialist government. Following the logic of government-participation, they have supported foreign wars and generally betrayed their principles.

Today I do not try to persuade friends, family members, and co-workers to not vote. Individual votes do not amount to much. Nor does it matter how the few radicals in the U.S. voted. But I argue that we should advocate a non-electoral program for large masses of people: for the unions, the African-American community, organized environmentalists, feminists, the LGBT community, the anti-war movement, immigrants, etc. This would include union organizing, general strikes, and mass demonstrations. As Mike Harris argued, “Wouldn’t it make more sense if movements used direct actions such as sit-ins, sit-downs, disruptions, occupations, and so forth to make some headway?” (24)

National Liberation

The most stubborn disagreement I have had with many anarchists, including the WSA, was over “national liberation.” Harris wrote, “We find it hard to accept that revolutionaries should support all movements for national liberation ‘regardless of who is leading them.’ ….There can be no middle ground.” (24-25)

Let me outline my views, which I still hold (as do most other former members of the RSL). (See Price 2017.) In particular, “national liberation” (or “national self-determination”) is not the same as “nationalism.”

Nations exist and people identify with their nations (whether we want them to or not). A minority of nations oppress the people of other nations. Some nations are directly oppressed by other countries which occupy and “own” them, as was true under colonialism. This is still the case for Palestine, the Kurds, Puerto Rico, Tibet, Chechnya, and so on. Under modern neo-colonialism, most nations have political independence but are dominated politically and economically by the big imperialist powers. The people of such nations (who are mostly workers and peasants) do not want to be dominated and exploited by the ruling classes of other countries. They want national liberation. They want to decide their own fate (“national self-determination”).

There are various programs which are proposed for such liberation. The most common is “nationalism.” This is the belief that the main issue is the oppression of the nation, which is treated as a bloc, downplaying divisions of class, gender, religion, or minority nationalities. Its goal is for each people to have its own national state and national economy (traditional capitalist or state capitalist). This results in a new ruling class and state with the continuation of internal exploitation, and continuation of international exploitation by the world capitalist market (dominated by the U.S. and other imperialisms). Revolutionary libertarian socialists reject the program of nationalism. We oppose the nationalist misleaders of the struggle who will take the people into this dead-end.

Instead, we believe that only a world-wide revolution of the working class and all oppressed people can free all nations, end all imperialism and national oppression, and bring about true national liberation—along with other freedoms. That is our program. We are for saying this.

When an oppressed people fight against an imperialist power, we should be in solidarity with that people, on their side against the oppressor. Our solidarity should not depend on whether they agree with us (are for internationalist anarchism rather than statist nationalism), but on their struggle against oppression. Meanwhile we should seek to win them over to our program of internationalist revolution. (This is, obviously, a general statement of principles, not a discussion of tactics and strategies to be carried out by a revolutionary grouping in any specific national setting.)

Our attitude is similar to our solidarity with workers who go on strike under the leadership of a conservative business union. We criticize the union’s bureaucrats and conservatism, we oppose its leadership, but we are in solidarity with the workers. And if the state jails union officials, we “support” the bureaucrats against the state and the capitalists in the immediate situation, because this is really an attack on the workers. But we are the political opponents of these officials.

Contrary to the ignorance of many anarchists, this view is consistent with anarchist tradition. Michael Bakunin asserted his “strong sympathy for any national uprising against any form of oppression…every people [has the right] to be itself…no one is entitled to impose its customs, its languages, and its laws.” (quoted in van der Walt & Schmidt 2009; 309)

Peter Kropotkin wrote, “If we say no government of man by man, how can [we] permit the government of conquered nationalities by the conquering nationalities?” (quoted in McKay 2014; 45-46) Iain McKay writes, “Kropotkin was a supporter of national liberation struggles….Anarchists, Kropotkin argued, should work inside national liberation movements in order to…turn them into human liberation struggles—from all forms of oppression, economic, political, social and national…the creation of…a free federation of free peoples no longer divided by classes or hierarchies.” (2014; 45—47)

Errico Malatesta was an influential Italian anarchist who had been a comrade of Bakunin and Kropotkin. He wrote, “We are internationalists…so we extend our homeland to the whole world…and seek well-being, freedom, and autonomy for every individual and group….Now that today’s Italy invades another country [Libya—WP]…it is the Arabs’ revolt against the Italian tyrant that is noble and holy….We hope that the Italian people…will force a withdrawal from Africa upon its government: if not, we hope that the Arabs may succeed in driving it out.” (In Turcato 2014; 357) This did not imply agreement with the Arabs’ leadership.

During the wars which followed the Russian revolution, Nester Makhno and other anarchists organized a military resistance in Ukraine. Their forces opposed the capitalists and landlords, integrating these class issues with a Ukrainian national war against German, Polish, and Russian invaders. Similarly, during World War II, Korean anarchists organized a military resistance to the Japanese invaders.

As Lucien van der Walt summarizes, “One anarchist and syndicalist approach…was to participate in national liberation struggles, in order to shape them, win the battle of ideas, displace nationalism with a politics of national liberation through class struggle, and push national liberation struggles in a revolutionary direction.” (van der Walt & Schmidt; 2009; 310–311) That means, in a revolutionary, internationalist, libertarian socialist, direction.

In Conclusion

The Revolutionary Socialist League continued for a while, until it dissolved, with some of its members joining anarchist organizations (Love and Rage, then NEFAC, etc.) Some former members now put out the journal The Utopian. We did not merge with the Workers Solidarity Alliance, which continues to exist.

I came to identify myself as a revolutionary anarchist, who has been influenced by libertarian-autonomous Marxism. Over time I have changed my views more often than I like to admit, always trying to do better. I am not ashamed of my mistakes. My values and overall goals remain the same.

References

McKay, Iain (2014). “Introduction.” In Direct Struggle Against Capital: A Peter Kropotkin Anthology (ed. I. McKay). Oakland CA: AK Press. Pp. 1—97.

Price, Wayne (2017). “National Self-Determination, Internationalism, and Libertarian Socialism” Anarkismo
https://www.anarkismo.net/article/30659?search_text=Wayne+Price

Price, Wayne (2013). The Value of Radical Theory: An Anarchist Introduction to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy. Oakland CA: AK Press.

Taber, Ron (1988). A Look at Leninism. NY: Aspect Foundation.

Turcato, Davide (ed.) (2014). The Method of Freedom; An Errico Malatesta Reader (trans. P. Sharkey). Oakland CA: AK Press.

van der Walt, Lucien, & Schmidt, Michael (2009). Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. Oakland CA: AK Press.

*written for www.Anarkismo.net

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north america / mexico / miscellaneous / non-anarchist press Tuesday February 19, 2019 16:42 byJames Parisot

In the midst of the U.S. Civil War (1861 – 1865), as somewhere between half a million to three quarters of a million bodies lay dead from bullets and disease, Emanuel Leutze completed a painting titled Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way for the U.S. Capitol. The painting celebrated empire as central to American history. Included in the final draft of the painting was a free black man, subordinate to the leadership of the white men forging the path of empire across the continent; supposedly saved from slavery with their leadership.1 Of course, as W.E.B. Du Bois famously discussed, central to the Civil War was the “general strike of the slaves”; their resistance was key to abolition. Regardless, Leutze’s painting was one representative of the broader trend, going back to the initial creation of an independent American government, in which so-called democracy and freedom were felt through the vision of empire.

White settler colonialism, though, always had a complicated relationship with capitalism. While most Americans today embrace capitalism as normal, this was not always the case. It was to an extent in the South. In the beginnings of empire in the 1600s here, the Virginia Company’s investment capital led to the production of tobacco on a large scale for profit produced initially by white indentured servants and then black slaves. This led to a trajectory of racialized capitalist empire as state regulations were created to divided white from black, as, for instance, laws banning interracial marriage were put in place to organize social relations along racial lines so that the colony elite could build consent for their power among poorer whites who could insist, for all their troubles, ‘at least I am not black’.

But in the north, circumstances were different. Rather than elite gentlemen-capitalists, poor white servants, and slaves, middling families moved across the ocean, escaping pressures of land dispossession in England. The type of society that formed in the north meant that, as one historian put it, “the equality of the society was nothing less than the equality of economic interests which lies at the heart, not of modern pluralistic democracy, but of Marxist Leninist democracy.”2 White settlers organized their communities around a communal orientation in which religious obedience triumphed over the power of capitalism. Production was not primarily oriented toward profit, but sustaining the colony. While some merchant activity did occur, it was done within the confines of what was acceptable to the religiously oriented social hierarchy. For instance, the prominent merchant Robert Keayne was repeatedly in trouble with colonial society, accused of overcharging for goods and he wrote his last will and testament defending himself against these charges.3 In general, land, housing, trade, and the movement of peoples were all regulated according to the moral economy of colonial society rather than the power of capitalism.

White Settler Empire
Through the colonial era and beyond, the white settler empire was consolidated and celebrated through the ethnic cleansing of native peoples. As one commentator put it in the 1830s:

“whatever colour poetry may lend to the removal of the Indians, it is, nevertheless, but the removal of a sick bed from a place where death is certain, to one from which it is more remote. Neither is it the death of youth or of manhood, but that of old age and decrepitude, which the Indian is doomed to die; and in his mouldering ashes germinates the seed of empires, destined to change the world.”4

Empire was built through the elimination of native peoples as even the Christianized and relatively assimilated Delaware community in Gnadenhutten, Ohio were massacred in a bloodbath of nearly 100 people in 1782.

The battle over empire also played a role in causing the American Revolution in the first place. Following Pontiac’s Rebellion, as, over time, native peoples grouped together to challenge the path of empire, the British enacted the Proclamation Line of 1763. This limited the extent to which settlers could legally expand west, upsetting many British subjects. Thus from the start, as the so-called founding fathers organized their ‘democratic’ Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 by locking all the doors and putting guards at the building, the idea of the United States was created as an imperial idea. The ideology of ‘Manifest Destiny’, born in the 1840s, was simply the result of the basic organization and goal of the American state: to conquer western space, eliminate native peoples, and spread whiteness across the territory.

Imperialism was also a gendered process. White men travelled to the frontier as a performance of their manhood. They conquered the ‘virgin’ territory, forcing their wives, children, and slaves to follow, leaving all their social connections behind. Whiteness and masculinity were continually reproduced on the edge of empire.

The relationship between empire and capitalism was always a complex one, though. In the north, while speculators (such as President George Washington) saw the west as a vast open space to generate profit from through land speculation, for the small farmer patriarch, his goal was to build what was called, at the time, ‘competency’. This meant to own a farm, and produce primarily for the household, with only small amounts of market production if necessary for goods that could not be made at home. Rural communities would organize their labour on a patriarchal household basis with a gendered division of labour as men tended to farm, hunt, and so on, while women and children took care of more domestic tasks including cooking and cleaning. But when it came time to build a farm or shuck corn, among other activities, all the neighbours came out in a festival of work, in which the household organizing the event would supply food and, most importantly, whisky.

Racism and Sexism
Meanwhile, while some northerners had the idealistic idea that somehow slavery would die out as it expanded across the southern half of the west and became more diffuse, rather, the opposite happened. As the cotton boom took off in the 1820s and 1830s, so slavery was intensified and invigorated, pushing the empire of slavery as far as the Texas frontier. The revolution of white settlers in Texas against Mexico, for instance, was in part pushed by the fact that Mexico wanted to regulate and even abolish slavery: white slaveowners in Texas, of course, did not.

Plantation slavery pushed expansion across the south. This was driven by a ruthless form of capitalism organized along racial lines in which not simply the working time of the labourer was purchased, but the total body of the labourer themselves. That being said, not all of the south was large plantations. Scattered throughout the south in the ‘pine barrens’ and less fertile – and therefore less profitable – areas, small farm households, similar to those in the north, but in some cases with a slave or two, existed. And holding the entire social structure together was racism and the idea of black and native American inferiority.

Over many decades, though, what aspects of non-capitalist (but still patriarchal and racist) life in North and South existed were gradually destroyed. The remaking of the state before, during, and after the Civil War also played a key role in creating the political conditions for capitalism. The Republican Party formed in the North as a messy alliance between different groups all with an interest in limiting the expansion of slavery, and through the 1850s ‘free labour’ ideology gradually took off, as the idea of American ‘freedom’ shifted from independence from market dependence and control over one’s labour to being a wage labourer. And Democratic Party ideology shifted toward ‘acceptance of the results of the war’,5 as the post-war southern black population was resubordinated to white power through the rise of sharecropping and as northern capital moved south in what was now a more accessible zone of investment.

By the time settlers pushed to the midwest and southwest, through Montana and Colorado, and on to California, the forces driving empire were decreasingly those of small patriarchal farm families. Rather, agribusiness took control of the midwest as Chicago became the central transportation network of the region. In places like Montana and Colorado the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers surveyed the resources, mapping an advanced path for capital to take control of and exploit through mining and resource extraction. And by the time empire reached the Pacific Coast, capitalism in California took off (fueled by the famous Gold Rush), organized around a complex amalgam of Chinese, Latin American, black, white, and immigrant workers.

Even by the 1870s and 1880s, though, some pockets of small farms remained. Just as today, capitalism is never entirely ‘pure’; non-capitalist relations exist scattered throughout the world. Most significantly, northern politicians were able to use the Civil War to pass the Homestead Act in 1862 which distributed land to small farmers moving west. But the amounts of land which went to these farmers dwarfed in comparison to the giant land grants given to railroad companies and capitalist interests who remade ‘the west’ in the image of capital.

Through this history, then, empire became capitalist. From here, the domestic basis was created for the global expansion of American Empire: an international process with no end in sight. •

Endnotes
James Parisot, How America Became Capitalist: Imperial Expansion and the Conquest of the West, London: Pluto Press (2019), 1.
Kenneth A. Lockridge, A New England Town: The First Hundred Years: Dedham, Massachusetts, 1636–1736, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. (1970). Cited in How America Became Capitalist, 52.
How America Became Capitalist, 35.
Francis J. Grund, The Americans in their Moral, Social, and Political Relations Volume II, London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman (1837). Cited in How America Became Capitalist, 7.
How America Became Capitalist, 187.
north america / mexico / culture / opinion / analysis Thursday February 14, 2019 19:18 byLAMA

This review looks at the movie about the life of Ex-Vice-President of the USA, Dick Cheney.

“A week is a long time in politics” is a well worn phrase and is even more outdated in the age of Trump and the internet. When you have a political leader who is all about constant self-promotion and when the news cycle changes so rapidly, its hard to keep up with what’s happening. This no doubt effects collective memory too. Trump is sometimes seen as sui generis and makes his predecessors look highly capable, whether they were or not.

Its worth remembering that as little as nearly 20 years ago, people were decrying another President with shallow understanding and who had an even more devastating effect on the world. George W Bush was inarticulate and superficial and headed a regime that went to war on spurious grounds, a war that in one form or other is still going. Michael Moore has made a bio-doc of Trump, Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018) in his now very tiresome ‘gotcha’ style, but nobody has made a feature film yet. Bush received attention in W (2008) but its about time somebody went back to re-visit the period, now that a new generation has come-of-age since then. That wish has been answered in the suggestively titled film VICE (2018).

This movie doesn’t look at Bush himself, but covers the personal and to a greater degree political life of his Vice-President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale). As portrayed in this account, the still little known Cheney began life as a young tear away with intelligence but limited academic aptitude. Through the intervention of his more astute wife Lynne (Amy Adams) (not God as supposedly was the case with Bush), he turned his life around and found his way into the Washington bureaucracy. There he came under the wing of Donald Rumsfeld, played with great relish by Steve Carell as an almost ideology-free player of personal realpolitik in the scandal riddled Nixon White House.

Various ups and downs ensue, with Cheney working steadily and mole like in various positions, resurfacing briefly as a possible candidate for President himself at one point. Simply put, he was so poor in the limelight, this option was never going to be realistic. In probably the best segment of the movie, ‘Dubya’ (Sam Rockwell) appears as an alternative for President and seeks out Cheney as a Vice President. Cheney initially turns the offer down. Then in a scene that employs internal monologue and an extended visual metaphor, we see a master fisherman luring in a flashy but dumb ‘fish’ onto his line. In some ways its a bit of a blunt idea but the acting of Bale helps carry it.

The central thesis of the film when it covers the time in power is simply that it was Cheney himself who had that power. It wasn’t that he acted as some kind of Svengali or Caligari figure, controlling W as a puppet master behind the throne. The claim is more that using a highly authoritarian interpretation of executive power and a team of underlings as Machiavellian as himself, he redefined the usually under powered Vice Presidential role to affect a practical coup-by-stealth that by-passed the normal checks and balances. How much of this is speculation and how much can be backed up, is probably still open for some debate. Even if some of it proves not to stand up, it is an interesting take on things and makes you sit up and notice all such grey, bland figures who lurk in the corridors of power around the world.

In his previous movie The Big Short (2015) Director Adam McKay took the equally important and dull subject of the prime mortgages scandal and decked the story out with a series of flashy techniques that served the story well. For example, breaking the fourth wall by having famous personalities speaking to the audience as themselves, helping to explain the otherwise banal aspects of the financial crisis. In that film it worked. Here, he resurrects similarly ostentatious methods, including an unreliable narrator who offers the viewer direct-to-camera soliloquies, a false mid-story ‘ending’ with a re-wind and most absurdly a surreal interlude where the main protagonists launch into Shakespearean dialogue while in bed. Unfortunately in this case, it works contrary to the greater good of the story and runs right up against the very effective acting Christian Bale injects into his central character. Bale has a long career and has sometimes gone overboard in his method approach. In VICE, he does a good job of portraying somebody who is largely an enigma, but holds a calm power and some of the techniques described undercut this.

To conclude, VICE is a good reminder that a power structure is an edifice with many components. It doesn’t consist solely of the flashy front-man who distracts the crowds. There are often others behind the scenes who we need to be made aware of. Despite some faults, this movie serves that important function and is worth watching to remind us that the past is still with us.

north america / mexico / environment / feature Wednesday January 02, 2019 18:49 byWayne Price
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The idea of a "Green New Deal" has been raised in response to the threat of climate and ecological catastrophe. Two such proposals are analyzed here and counterposed to the program of revolutionary libertarian ecosocialism.

north america / mexico / anarchist movement / review Wednesday November 28, 2018 08:29 byWayne Price

There are almost no books on anarchism and African-American liberation, which makes this an exceptional work. It places racial oppression at the center of U.S. society, interacting and overlapping with all other forms of oppression and exploitation. The strengths and weaknesses of the work are reviewed.

There are almost no books on anarchism and African-American liberation, which makes this an exceptional work. In the last period of radicalization (the “sixties”), very few radicals, African-American or white, were anarchists or other types of libertarian socialist. Almost all radicals were attracted by the apparent anti-imperialism of Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Castro, and the leaders of liberation struggles in Africa. Therefore those who organized and theorized about revolutionary African-American liberation were overwhelmingly Marxist-Leninists and/or statist nationalists. If I had to think of someone who did not fit this category, I would have to go back to the Black revolutionary, C.L.R. James, who was a libertarian (autonomist) Marxist (James 1948). (Anarchists were involved in the U.S. Civil Rights movement, but mainly as anarchist-pacifists. They were perceived as nonrevolutionary pacifists.)

After the height of this period, there were a number of African-American militants who had been members of the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. When in prison a small number reconsidered their politics and philosophies. Mostly unconnected to each other, they turned to revolutionary anarchism. (See Black Rose Federation 2016.) Meanwhile, there had been a general failure and conservatism of the “Communist” states, from the Soviet Union to China to Vietnam and Cuba. Among those who rejected the oppressive, racist, and exploitative status quo, there was now a rejection of Marxism-Leninism. There was a revived interest in the other revolutionary tradition, that of anarchism.

This short book is a product of the new period. It is an expansion of the authors’ essay, “The Anarchism of Blackness.” They quote repeatedly from one of the Black anarchists, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin (but, surprisingly, not from any of the others). Their main point is that African-Americans are not and cannot be fully merged into U.S. society, a white supremacist state established as a colonial-settler society. Black people remain essentially outside of and oppressed by this society. Despite the end of legal Jim Crow, the passage of anti-discrimination laws, and various forms of “affirmative action,” African-Americans remain primarily on the bottom of society, among the most oppressed and exploited parts of the population. Meanwhile there are on-going attacks on whatever gains have been won (such as the right to vote). Therefore the struggles of African-Americans, pushing upon established order from below, continue to fundamentally threaten the whole system of “law and order,” of established politics, and the normal electoral alternatives. They point in a different direction altogether.

We are Black because we are oppressed by the state; we are oppressed by the state because we are Black.” (Samudzi & Anderson 2018; 9) “Black people’s place in the fight against white supremacist capitalism is unique since so much of structural violence entails anti-blackness….Blackness is the anti-state just as the state is anti-Black….Black Americans [are] a group of people upon whose suffering the state is constructed…. Understanding the anarchistic condition of blackness and the impossibility of its assimilation into the U.S. social contract, however, could be empowering.” (112—113) This points to a goal of “a complete dismantling of the American state as it presently exists….” (3) and “creating an alternate system of governance that is not based on domination, hierarchy, and control.” (xvii)

This rejection of “assimilation” as a goal does not lead Samudzi and Anderson to adopt Black nationalism. Partly because they believe that “Black nationalism in the United States can sometimes entail these quasi-settler claims to the land….” (25) This raises “the question of the fate of the Native American communities in those states” (26) “We are not settlers. But championing the creation of a Black majoritarian nation-state, where the fate of Indigenous people is ambiguous at best, is an idea rooted in settler logic.” (28) They also doubt that a nationalist approach is adequate to deal with the dire threat of world-wide environmental catastrophe caused by the system. And they point out that the upholders of Black oppression are not only European-Americans. “There are many politicians and state operatives of color, Black and otherwise, working for white supremacy.” (13)

Samudzi and Anderson especially object to “Black nationalism’s frequent exclusion of” Black and other women and LGBTQ people (70—71). “We must also explicitly name different gendered and sexual identities within blackness. Any truly liberatory politics must speak to the unique needs and vulnerabilities of Black women and girls, especially Black queer and transgender women and girls.” (68)

Others have rejected both total assimilation (“integration”) and Black nationalism, such as C.L.R. James and Malcolm X in his last year. Probably most African-Americans do not want to separate from the U.S.A. They mostly want to win the democratic rights promised by the U.S. tradition==but without giving up their Black identity and pride and their special organizations (such as the Black church and communities).

However, under the great pressures and upheavals which might lead to a revolution, it is possible that many African-Americans might come to want their own separate country (whether with its own state or as an anarchist community). If this should develop, surely anarchists should support their right to have this if that is what they want. We believe in freedom. This is not discussed in the book.

Samudzi and Anderson advocate “a truly intersectional framework and multifaceted approach to Black liberation.” (28) “Our work to end the deterioration of nature must be understood as a necessary and inseparable component of a global anticapitalist movement.” (35) They call for a more united U.S. Left. “There is not a unified Left in this country…If we do not build that functionally cohesive Left…the rights of all people oppressed by capitalist white supremacy will inevitably continue to erode.” (17) But the book is weak in terms of how to build that unified Left as part of a global anticapitalist movement--nor does it distinguish between the statist, authoritarian, Left and a libertarian, anti-statist, Left. They are undoubtedly right to raise a pro-Black, pro-feminist, pro-LGBTQ, and pro-ecology orientation. (They have a discussion of armed self-defense and gun control which I found rather confused.) But how can these be integrated into an “intersectional and multifaceted framework”?

African-American Liberation and Class

The weakest part of the book is its lack of analysis of why African-Americans are oppressed, and what functions this oppression performs for the system. This should lead to an analysis of the economic role of white supremacy in producing a surplus of wealth to maintain the ruling class, the corporations, the state, and all other capitalist institutions—a surplus of wealth which is squeezed out of the working population. They refer frequently to “capitalism” and sometimes to “classism,” but do not see that the capitalist class system is a system of exploitation, of draining wealth from working people.

Africans were not brought to the Americas in order for white people to have someone to look down on. They were kidnapped and enslaved to become a form of worker (chattel slaves). They were bought and sold on a market so they could be used to produce commodities (tobacco, cotton, etc.) to be sold on the world market.

With the end of slavery, African-Americans continued to be oppressed, serving two functions. First, they were kept as a vulnerable group which could be super-exploited. They were paid less than the rest of the working class and given the worst jobs, therefore producing a large amount of profit. Second, they were used to keep the working class as a whole divided and weak, so long as the white workers accepted the “psychological wages of whiteness,” namely feeling superior to someone. While the white workers got some small benefits (more job security, slightly better pay, etc.), they paid a high price in economic and political weakness. (Their inability, to this day, to win universal health care, unlike in every other Western imperialist country, is only one example.) The hopeful aspect of this situation is that it is in the immediate material interest of white workers to oppose racism—as well as being morally right. This gives anti-racists something to appeal to.

On the second function of racism: In the 1800s, the great Black abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, wrote about his experiences as a rented-out slave on the Baltimore shipyards, surrounded by racist white workers. While well aware of the difference between chattel slavery and wage slavery, “Douglass keenly grasped the plight of the white poor. In their ‘craftiness,’ wrote Douglass, urban slaveholders and shipyard owners forged an ‘enmity of the poor, laboring white man against the blacks,’ forcing an embittered scramble for diminished wages, and rendering the white worker ‘as much a slave as the black slave himself.’ Both were ‘plundered and by the same plunderer.’ The ‘white slave’ and the ‘black slave’ were both robbed, one by a single master, and the other by the entire slave system. The slaveholding class exploited the lethal tools of racism to convince the burgeoning immigrant poor, said Douglass, that ‘slavery is the only power that can prevent the laboring white man from falling to the level of the slave’s poverty and degradation’.” (Blight 2018; 77) To this day, the “crafty” capitalists continue this game of divide-and-conquer, between white workers and African-American workers, and also among Latino, Asian, and immigrant workers.

While not referring to this key aspect of capitalist racism, the authors do discuss the relationship between the oppression of African-American women and exploitative labor. There has been, and is, a “raced and gendered labor extraction [in]…the functioning of capitalism…Black women’s labor was central to the development of the capitalist state and the American slaveocracy….Gendered anti-blackness formed the cornerstone of Jim Crow modernity….” (71) African-American women faced a “triple labor (domestic, industrial, and sexual…).” (72)

This is entirely true and very insightful. It is odd that the authors do not further discuss the “raced labor extraction” from Black workers (of all genders and orientations) which plays a central role in the “labor extraction” from the entire, multiracial, multiethnic, multinational, and multigenderred, working class. Historically, Black workers, female and male, have played key roles in U.S. working class struggles, as well as in broader African-American struggles. An intersectional working class strategy should focus on this (which was the point of James 1948).

The Revolutionary Goal?

The book lacks a strategy for African-American liberation, beyond broad insights. “People may ask for answers as though there are distinct formulas….The solution to capitalism is anticapitalism. The solution to white supremacy is the active rejection of it and the dual affirmation of Indigenous sovereignty and Black humanity.” (114) This is not good enough.

It is not clear whether their rejection of the U.S. state and white supremacist capitalism implies a revolution to them. I do not mean a popular insurrection as an immediate goal, but as a strategic end-in-view, a guiding goal of eventually overturning the state and all forms of oppression. “It is possible that a people’s liberation is a perpetual project and must constantly be renewed and updated.” (114) Samudzi and Anderson write of “a long struggle [in which] meaningful steps toward liberation do not have to be dramatic.” (115) Fair enough, but they do not speak of how to get to an eventual destruction of the institutions of racist-sexist-antiecological-capitalism. A revolution may be a “long struggle” but not “a perpetual project.”

It is not clear whether they are anarchists. I do not mean that I doubt their sincerity, since I take them at their word. But they themselves waffle on whether to call themselves anarchists. They took “anarchism” out of the title of their book (from the original essay), and write, “We may choose not to limit or misrepresent the diversity of our struggle by explicitly naming ourselves as anarchists…”(66) Their values and perspectives seem to be consistent with anarchism. They were clearly influenced by Black anarchists. I do not raise this point to condemn them—they may call themselves whatever they like. But this wishy-washy attitude toward owning the “anarchist” label weakens their revolutionary perspective. Similarly, while they repeatedly refer to “anticapitalism,” they never write of “socialism” (let alone “communism”).

Conclusion

There are very few writings on anarchism and African-American liberation, which makes this an interesting work. It clearly places racial oppression at the center of U.S. society, interacting and overlapping with all other forms of oppression and exploitation. It insists that Black liberation will mean the destruction of the present U.S. state and sexist-racist capitalism. Its main weaknesses are a lack of a strategy and a failure to integrate a class analysis of capitalism into its program and perspective. They fail to see the special role of African-Americans in the working class and in the U.S. revolution.

References

Black Rose Federation (2016). Black Anarchism: A Reader.
https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/black-rose-anar...eader

Blight, David W. (2018). Frederick Douglass; Prophet of Freedom. NY: Simon & Schuster.

James, C.L.R. (1948). “The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the U.S.” https://www.marxists.org/archive/james-clr/works/1948/0...r.htm

Samudzi, Zoe, & Anderson, William C. (2018). As Black as Resistance; Finding the Conditions for Liberation. Chico CA: AK Press.

*written for www.Anarkismo.net

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