- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Saturday, 11 May 2013 21:45
- Written by Bromma
The following piece was written as a response to a new piece called "A Commune in Chiapas?" It first appeared on Kersplebedeb. Without endorsing all of its verdicts, I want to point out that is is both a powerful indictment of Euro-chauvinist fantasies about the Zapatista story, and an introduction to the complex process of mutual transformation through which the Mayan people transformed the Zapatistas, and the Zapatistas in turn transformed the people. It is highly relevent to our own discussions of what new communist beginnings might look like.
-Intro by Eric Ribellarsi
Class, Colonialism and the Zapatistas
I started off wanting to like “A Commune In Chiapas?” (This major essay about the Zapatistas, written for the English “liberation communist” journal, Aufheben, is distributed as a pamphlet by Arm the Spirit/Solidarity, Canadian anti-imperialist publishers who represent u.s. political prisoners such as David Gilbert, Albert Nuh Washington and Jalil Muntaquin.) I appreciated its willingness to criticize radicals who “project their hopes onto this ‘exotic’ struggle.” I was ready to agree with its skepticism about the rhetoric of Subcommandante Marcos, about romantic views of indigenous life, about social democracy masquerading as “civil society.” I was glad to see that the pamphlet included some background history about Mexico and a chronology of the Zapatista uprising. Most of all, I looked forward to its attempt to analyze the events in Chiapas from a class perspective.
I shouldn’t have got my hopes up. “Commune” is actually a pretty conservative piece of writing. Conservative in its view of class. Conservative in its distaste for national liberation struggles and radical anti-colonialism. Above all, conservative—even predictable—in its Eurocentric assumptions about Indians. A narrow form of academic Marxism acts like parental web-screening software, preventing the authors from seeing even the basic outlines of the Zapatista struggle.
The January 1, 1994 uprising in Chiapas resulted from a fusion of indigenous peoples’ struggles for survival with a band of revolutionary Marxist guerrillas. This fusion produced an innovative movement which slammed a body blow into global capital. “Commune,” on the other hand, was written by theoreticians who lack respect for indigenous struggle and apparently have little use for real-life revolutionary Marxist guerrillas. Not surprisingly, their main message is that the Zapatistas have limited historical significance.
The pamphlet’s aim is not so much to learn lessons from the Zapatista struggle as to grind ideological axes. The authors claim to represent the voice of moderation, avoiding what they see as twin errors: wishful thinking about Chiapas (which they ascribe to autonomist Marxists, among others) as well as a dismissive attitude among self-styled “ultra-left” groups in Europe. But actually “Commune” is squarely in the dismissers’ camp. Like them, it disdains what it calls “anti-imperialist and Third Worldist ideology.” Like them, it applies a series of formulaic litmus tests to the events in Chiapas, and judges the Zapatista struggle as essentially backward.
- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Monday, 29 April 2013 18:28
- Written by Chepe Martín
What we needed was a new communism, and what we are getting is a new Keynesianism.
This piece first appeared on the blog of Chepe Martín, The Outside Agitator. The following is a draft. Expect an expanded piece soon.
It had been unduly hard to discern where the emerging and sexier trends in Marxism have placed themselves, veiled as they are in ultra-left aesthetics and memes. Sure, plenty of cues are present, but those might’ve been incidental and only indicative of a desire to suggest a broad selection of socialist thought.
The need to investigate has ended. The Jacobin have staked themselves as pink, when what we need is a nice maroon. Bhaskar Sunkara has written a piece for In These Times that has planted his flag down for a revisionist stand for democratic socialism, a turf that seems to be populated by a lot of these groups and editorial boards, including as well The New Inquiry.
It isn’t that democratic socialism is altogether a sad derivation from Marxism. In fact, the energy these people are bringing to the table is welcome, and I, for one, hope their project of growing the democratic socialist left is successful, particularly if it finds a strong tendency toward feminism, ecology, and decolonizing politics. If anything, I would see their project stronger. The historicity of the contemporary moment in social programs that Sunkara lays out is finely laid out although severely incomplete, including its disregard for gender, questions of self-determination, and the significant impact of anarchism, and even more so autonomism, on today’s active radical left. He is right as well that progressive (re: liberal but social democratic) reform is a welcome alternative to the “things must get worse before they get better” strategic thinking that come out of the ultra-left and insurrectionary corners.
But what I will say is that Sunkara’s vision is not the best that Marxism can offer, and it is not the breath of fresh air I might’ve hoped to see. What we needed most was a Marxism that takes all of the lessons of the 20th Century, including decolonization and feminism and the recognition of the failures of the Soviet model, and what it appears we are getting is a retread of the revisionist politics that Lenin and Luxemburg were fighting against. It is a socialism that in the end didn’t challenge empire, held workers back from fighting for power, and devolved into what was termed economism- that is, the fight of socialists for immediate economic gains in lieu of a synthesis between economic struggle and the struggle for political and social power. It is a socialism that pulled back on the insurrections in 1919 in Europe or in France in 1968, rather than having faith in workers and students and oppressed groups to experiment with the seizure power for themselves. What we needed was a new communism, and what we are getting is a new Keynesianism.
- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Thursday, 04 April 2013 04:19
- Written by Bağımsız Sinema Merkezi'ni
RED! is a new documentary film discussing revolutionary strategy in the era of the internet and the rise of revolutionary hackers around the world. It delves into the history of one hacker group pre-dating Anonymous, Red Hack, which has actively supported the revolutionary struggle taking place in Turkey, while supporting radical and revolutionary movements around the world.
Thanks to Zack for pointing this out.
- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 20:43
- Written by Eve Mitchell and Tyler Zimmerman
This article by Eve Mitchell and Tyler Zimmerman is part of an ongoing discussion about what type of theories and strategies can lead to the liberation of women as part of the all around struggle for communism and human liberation. It is a direct response to an earlier article by Nat Winn titled "Not for herself alone: beyond the limits of Marxist Feminism." The Mitchell/Zimmerman piece originally appeared on the Gathering Forces blog. Other parts of the discusion are here and here.
For Herself, and Therefore, for the Class: Toward a Methodological Feminism
by Eve Mitchell and Tyler Zimmerman
Recently, Nat Winn, a member of Fire Next Time and Kasama weighed in on a discussion of Marxist-Feminism begun on the FNT blog originally by Ba Jin and ZoRa B'Al Sk'a and with a response by Eve Mitchell of Unity and Struggle. We welcome the energetic engagement by all parties including those commenting on the Kasama blog on what remains one of the most critical questions of our time: the content and forms of women's liberation.
The scope of Eve's response did not go beyond clarifying the relationship between Federici and James, and discussing broadly the Marxist-Feminist methodology, including the Wages for Housework campaign. Nat has challenged the practical implications of Wages for Housework which is supposedly linked to the political failings of Marxist-Feminism.
What may at first sight appear in Nat's response as merely strategic difference (for instance, whether or not there should be an emphasis on intervention in struggles around reproductive freedom versus that over domestic and reproductive work), belying it is the crucial question of method that must be unpacked.
In Nat's comments, we observe an unnecessary antagonism being drawn between two completely valid arenas of struggle; the content and form of reproductive labor on the one side and reproductive freedom on the other (there is no coincidence in the double use of "reproduction" here which we'll expound further down). The origin of this antagonism is located between a splitting of the subject and object. This is done through a dualistic reading of "economics" and "politics," or, to use the terms Marx employed in the "Preface" to A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, "base" and "superstructure." But there is an immanent unity between subject and object as well as between base and superstructure and what Marxism represents is precisely the unification of these categories. The tragedy of orthodox Marxism is that it represents a reification of them; that is, regarding an abstract duality of the subject and object as a real thing that plays out in the real world in terms of forms of organizing and concrete political orientations.
We'd like to say a little bit about the importance of Marx's conception of labor and unity of subject-object. Only then will the political divergences with Nat come into relief.
Marx's conception of labor and the unity of the subject-object.
Marx's early philosophical texts directly fleshed out his conception of self-, or life-activity, which later in works like Capital, he discussed simply as "labor." In "Estranged Labour," Marx writes,
"For in the first place labour, life-activity, productive life itself, appears to man merely as a means to satisfying a need — the need to maintain the physical existence. Yet the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species — its species character — is contained in the character of its life activity; and free conscious activity is man's species character. Life itself appears only as a means to life." (76)
Self-activity, or labor, is universal; meaning it exists in all modes of production. Further, it is defines our humanity. It is the ever-expanding process of satisfying our needs, introducing new needs, and developing new ways of fulfilling our needs. Labor encompasses everything from our jobs under capitalism to tilling the land under feudalism to creating art and poetry to having sex and raising children.
But labor is not just what we do; it is our ability to choose, reflect upon, and change our labor process. Labor is our process of changing the external world and our internal selves. Later in "Estranged Labor," Marx writes,
"It is just in the working-up of the objective world, therefore, that man first really proves himself to be a species being. This production is his active species life. Through and because of this production, nature appears as his work and his reality. The object of labour is, therefore, the objectification of man's species life: for he duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he contemplates himself in a world that he has created. In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labour tears from him his species life, his real species objectivity, and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him." (77)
Here Marx's conception of the subject-object becomes clear. The external physical world is acted upon by humans, (labor is subjective), but the physical world is also an objectification of human labor, or self-activity (labor is objective).
Marx restated this concept in a polemic against the German "materialist" Ludwig Feuerbach. In the "Theses on Feuerbach," Marx argues that sensuousness is not something merely subjective, perceptive, and one-sided, as Feuerbach postulated. It is also objective and used toward the transformation of the external world. Human beings are both thinking subjects of the world but also objects of their own creation through labor. This is what Marx calls the metabolic relationship between man and nature.
While the subject-object dialectic is universal–meaning it exists in all modes of production–under capitalism, this process is interrupted. Our self-activity is no longer unified with our conscious will, and the subjectivity of our self-activity is turned against us. We do not produce for use, and do not have access to our multi-sided needs and corresponding activity; the world we have created is not our own but alien to us, or estranged from us. In contrast, communism is the movement toward uniting the subject and object, or the completely free state of conscious self-activity in which we produce for use; as Marx states in "Estranged Labour," we make our life-activity itself the object of our will and consciousness (76). A lot more can be said about this. For more elaboration, see the Unity and Struggle post, "The Communist Theory of Marx."
Politics and economics, a duality or a totality?
The base/superstructure concept adapted by orthodox Marxism has reified the subject-object split. It sees the "base," or economy, in a structuralist/sociological manner that exists independently of human initiative and which determines all activity and thinking. So capital, wages, and money are mere objects. On the other hand, "superstructure," or politics, is understood as subjective and confined to ideas or an abstract kind of activity that isn't metabolic with nature but divorced from it and determined by the base.
Marx never had a dualistic understanding of these categories and posited quite conversely that "economic categories are only the theoretical expressions, the abstractions of the social relations of production." (Poverty of Philosophy, MECW 6, 165) For Marx, capital, wages and money are the various phenomenological forms of alienated labor; they are subjective and objective social relations in disguise, not ahistoric things as political economy conceives. The economy and politics, or capital, wages and money can only be separated logically because concretely and in the real world they exist as a social and dialectical whole.
A dualistic conception of economy and politics ignores Marx's emphasis on living labor and fails to understand the unity of subject-object.
The splitting of the intrinsic unity of the subject-object and the dualistic reading of base/superstructure creates a dynamic where struggles around work are seen as narrow and economistic.
Struggles that emerge broadly around the wage, and which are not always simply about getting higher wages for a small group of workers, are not automatically economistic. And struggles that take place outside workplaces are not automatically political. For example, it was precisely the "economist" types who sought women's liberation through selling their labor-power during second wave feminism. Such a strategy was predicated on capital's fundamental social relations and confined gendered alienation to a question of receiving "equal wages for equal work."
This economism is typified precisely by a disconnect between the struggle to maintain access to abortion and the struggle against the gendered division of labor. This typically looks like mass protests that emerge to keep abortion legal without consideration not only for what sections of the class have access to sexual/reproductive healthcare but why there's a contradiction between many white women who are oftentimes coerced into keeping children and black women who face forced sterilization.
Economism refuses to challenge the racial and other important divisions within the class and which allow it to be recuperated by the movement's "official" leaders, by capital, the State, and the value-form. This also implicates various problematic forms to combat the encroaching hand of the State over women's bodies whether it be by petitioning, lobbying, symbolic protests, etc. Demands against the State are just as easily absorbed by the ruling class into new forms of rationality as demands for higher wages directed to employers, and many forms wind up acquiescing the fight before one actually begins.
When we enter the factory gate, or the domicile kitchen, we don't leave the political world behind us. Likewise, when we exit, we don't leave the realm of economics. There are manifold "political" dynamics that manifest at work, that implicate race and gender, from the wage scale, to the division of labor, to sexual harassment. Such factors not only undercut the specific, local, or sectoral interests of workers engaged in that workplace but become generalized features of class life institutionalized by the State. Similarly, outside of work, in the streets where women are fighting to maintain access to abortion have all kinds of economic implications.
Given this, the abstractions "economics" and "politics" cannot be separated. Our sense is that it is partly the job of communists to tease out the political implications of various spontaneous struggles that emerge, whether they take form at work or in the streets.
Marxist-Feminism, production and reproduction, labor and capital: finite or universal?
The methodology of orthodox Marxism, whereby the subject and object are split into a determining base (object) and a determined superstructure (subject), necessarily has consequences for how the content of women's liberation is to be understood. And this framework is exactly why reproductive labor and reproductive freedom are counterposed. For Nat,
"women's liberation from a communist point of view has to do with unleashing the capacity for every woman to be able to reach her full human potential in a society where human knowledge and technology along with natural resources are shared in common."
"women's liberation [is]...far beyond a discussion about waged and unwaged labor and an economic struggle for wages for housework."
If, then, women's liberation goes beyond labor, what we are dealing with is a framework that is ahistorical. Patriarchy is not something that statically exists separate from the mode of production; under capitalism patriarchy takes the form of gendered alienation, the gendered division of labor, etc. We cannot understand patriarchy without a critique of political economy and vice-versa. Furthermore, the form of reproductive labor under capitalism, which is gendered, exists in a unity with controlling our bodies as a means of production, and determining what kind of labor-power capital needs. This coincides with a racial division of labor which we've discussed above.
There can be no "reproductive freedom" if reproductive workers aren't freed from the gendered division of labor, i.e. unless there is a coordinated attack against the multifarious forms of alienated labor. Under the capitalist gendered division of labor, women's uteri and women's bodies are both means of production of labor-power that they are radically separated from. This condition is reinforced by the State in many forms, from limiting women's access to abortion and forced sterilization, to austerity measures that force women to increasingly bear the burden of caring for young, elderly, and disabled members of the class.
In relegating the gendered division of labor into an objective "base," and similarly assigning reproductive freedom to subjective "superstructure," Nat sets up a false dichotomy that can have devastating practical consequences. According to Nat,
"There has been an aversion to [the fight over reproductive freedom] in Marxist Feminism, perhaps because it is not a strictly 'working class' struggle. But this to me is a rigid type of Marxism which narrows everything down to the relation between labor and capital. To me this is a mistake. A revolution isn't a narrow economic act, it is a complex struggle involving real world alignments, consciousness, and political struggles. When we ignore real politics we stay isolated."
Again, labor/self-activity/production is posed as either objective economics on the one hand or subjective politics on the other. Further, this rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of Marx's conception of "labor." In contrast to this dualistic framework, we can return to Wages for Housework and the Marxist-Feminist methodology.
Wages for Housework emerged out of very real struggles of women in the post-war period and departed from the theory of the role of reproductive labor as a whole, struggles that find their historic origin in the split between productive and reproductive labor. The split of these two was necessary toward the development of the capitalist division of labor (which had a visible gendered content). In previous modes of production, reproductive labor was not so distinct, and individuals were not radically separated from the means of production and confined to a single sphere of work. This passage from Mariarosa Dalla Costa's and Selma James' "The Power Women and the Subversion of the Community" is not only illuminating but quite emphatic:
"In the same way as women are robbed of the possibility of developing their creative capacity, they are robbed of their sexual life which has been transformed into a function for reproducing labor power: the same observations which we made on the technological level of domestic services apply to birth control (and, by the way, to the whole field of gynaecology), research into which until recently has been continually neglected, while women have been forced to have children and were forbidden the right to have abortions when, as was to be expected, the most primitive techniques of birth control failed." (30)
Here, Dalla Costa and James confirm that labor and capital aren't narrow, they are universal categories. Certainly they've been narrowed in the orthodox Marxist tradition from Kautsky to Althusser, both in their theoretical scope and in their practical conclusions. But labor isn't just wage labor and capital isn't just factories. Labor and capital express the universal antagonistic movement between living labor and dead labor which is capital. This dynamic is one where things control us rather than us controlling things, between monotonous, one-sided work in the division of labor and the social relations between things we make. This is the picture Marx gives us from "Estranged Labour" to the "Critique of the Gotha Programme" and nowhere does he see labor and capital as reductive by any stretch.
Reproduction constitutes all those various labors that are essential to maintaining human beings and which are also historically developed; where the "nature" of humans change as they deepen their consciousness and many-sided labors, as opposed to a narrow naturalist and fixed conception of reproduction (babymaking).
We are told by Nat that "the discussion was suffocated in its scope because of its confinement within in a certain 'workerist' conception of how to look at women, sexuality, reproduction, and liberation." Nat counterposes and unnecessarily polarizes defending abortion versus struggles over reproductive labor and this is done precisely with the dualistic understanding of "base" and "superstructure" rooted, again, in the split of the subject-object. This also has bodily implications: where a woman' hands are concerned, it is economic, where it concerns her uterus, it is political.
Nat points out that Wages for Housework was not relevant in the 60s and 70s (and is still not relevant today) because it has never had popular currency with women engaged in struggle. Nat writes:
"Ultimately I think that women's liberation from a communist point of view has to do with unleashing the capacity for every woman to be able to reach her full human potential in a society where human knowledge and technology along with natural resources are shared in common.
To do that there needs to be a break away from the traditional role of women, namely traditional roles of giving birth to and raising children and other domestic roles.
Now due to the development of global capitalism since the 1970s, but also due to the fight of women at that time against traditional relations, there has been a break away from tradition.
The Wages for Housework tendency was correct in stating that a break from the home in and of itself would not liberate women or destroy capitalism. However, it was wrong politically to not unite with what was correct. We need to recognize the necessity of such a demand when placed within an overall communist vision of women's liberation."
We agree with Nat that women needed to break the isolation of the home in order to develop their communist potential, and that Wages for Housework never caught on. We also agree that revolutionaries should develop a strategy that both understands the current conditions and is informed by the self-activity of the class. But our approach is distinguished specifically by Marx's subject-object dialectic.
The Marxist Feminists understood the relationship between the objective conditions of society and the subjective self-activity of the class. They used this understanding to develop a programmatic strategy that would resolve contradictions within the class in favor of revolution (and abolition of gendered value relations):
This was a time in which capitalism was in crisis, and needed a strategy to overcome crisis (which later materialized in strategic shift from Keynesianism to neoliberalism). Entering into the workforce and receiving higher wages there would only allow capital to subsume increased labor-power, which would solve the crisis in the interest of capital. Wages for Housework would have caused increased devastation to capital by forcing capital to concede profits for unwaged domestic labor. In other words, the Marxist-Feminists argued that equality politics would add labor to women's plates instead of forcing capital to relinquish profits for work already being done. On top of this, Wages for Housework would have broken the isolation of the home and the patriarchy of the wage. Again, this strategy is based on the subject-object dialectic.
In contrast, Nat's arguments against Wages for Housework (and for engaging in reproductive rights struggles) is based on the assumption that when a programmatic strategy is not popular, it is not relevant and should be abandoned: "In fact, the ideas of Marxist Feminism have never caught on among large sections of women outside activist circles."
Are things valid only to the extent that masses of people say they are? Is Marxist-Feminism invalid because it has not been a banner waived or slogan employed by millions of women? We don't think Nat is implying this, but in its logical extension are found a host of problems, including working within the various trade union bureaucracies or the Democratic Party, or that revolutionaries should fight for all sorts of things just because they are popular. In any case, it seems that here Nat is conflating the subject and object, arguing that the current activity of the class, whatever the form, is the objective conditions of capitalism. The practical implications of this methodology is to "meet the class where they are at...and leave them there," meaning the current activity of the class dictates the program, strategies and tactics, instead of dialectically informing them.
Marxist-Feminism, like Marxism itself, is the distillation of the experiences of working class women. Where else does theory come from but those experiences? What was Marxism if not the logical content of the working class movement considered in its totality?
Programmatic strategies for women's liberation today
As stated in "Marxist-Feminism vs. Subjectivism: A Response to Fire Next Time", there is no problem in asking if Wages for Housework is relevant today. However, this must be done through grappling with the subject-object dialectic.
On the one hand, we must look at the objective conditions of capitalism and how that manifests in a gendered way today. One side of this Nat explains, including recent legislative and right-wing attacks against women's access to abortion. In the comments to Nat's post, commenter Liam Wright adds to this to include street harassment, rape and gendered assault. To this we would add super-exploitation in feminized workplaces, from nonprofits and schools to street sex work/prostitution and maquiladoras. We have explained above how these issues are at once both economic and political.
We would also include unwaged reproductive labor in the home (the majority of housework is still done by women in the home). However, the character of labor in the home is different today than it was in the 60s and 70s. A contradictory result of second wave feminism was that many of the things that women traditionally did in the home have been broadened out and entered into the circulation of capital. For example, the introduction and expansion of the fast food industry has on the one hand offered some relief to women but on the other, established a new sector of highly exploitative workplaces. This is both a win and a loss for women and therefore the class. It is also relevant that many more women are in the workforce these days; according the the U.S. Census, in 1960, only 15% of women worked full time, and in 2010 this number was up to 43%. This is not to say that struggles around unwaged, reproductive labor are irrelevant, but that workplace issues are far more relevant for women today.
The other side of the subject-object dialectic includes looking at the subjective activity of the class. Nat points toward mobilizations to defend abortion/women's health clinics. While these struggles are absolutely worth paying attention to, they are simply not representative of a generalized activity of the class. A large majority of the class is not mobilized at this time.
These expressions in content are a small sector of the class engaging in liberal methods to stop anti-abortion bills and restore funding to nonprofits. This strategy does not illuminate the State's interest in capital and patriarchy. Instead, it relies on the State to be women's protector, and ensures women's exploitation and eroded communist potential through protecting women's "right" to sell labor-power in nonprofits.
In the comments, Liam Wright points to Slut Walk as another strata of women's self-activity. While Slut Walk was a bit more broad, it was a series of permitted marches that culminated in open mics where people shared stories about being raped, sexually assaulted, stalked etc. There was no confrontation with the State or capital. In some ways, Slut Walk sought to break down the public/private split (women's bodies and sexuality is reserved for the private reproductive sphere), yet it did so only to rebuild women and reaffirm their subjectivity. This is important work that is necessary in building up women's ability to stand up to patriarchy and in developing a social fabric woven from the objective conditions of gendered alienation. This consciousness-raising activity, a historical carryover from the strategies of the 60s and 70s, is a hugely important aspect of our work as organizers and revolutionaries. However, consciousness-raising does not substitute for direct confrontation with patriarchy, and therefore capital and the State.
To be clear, we are not arguing for political abstention from liberal or reformist struggles, or consciousness-raising circles, when they are expressions of the self-activity of the class. However, a principled intervention would not be to participate in legislative reform but to argue for a strategies that would seek to damage capital, break down gendered antagonisms within the class, and forefront the demands of women. This is precisely what the Marxist-Feminists did during second wave feminism.
This gets back to Nat's fundamental question: what forms of activity should we practically engage in today?
Based on the analysis above, we would argue that Wages for Housework does not seem like a relevant strategy today. Instead, here are some examples of concrete areas of struggle that speak to the objective experience of women in the U.S. today:
- Grassroots clinic defense takeovers and/or nonprofit worker committees/unions that build solidarity across worker-"client" lines. This model would build on the work of the Jane Collective, socializing the skills women need to control their own bodies while taking advantage of the de-skilled advances of capital (for example, in general everyone who works in an abortion clinic, right up to the front desk girl, knows how to perform a manual abortion and there are no specialized skills needed for a large majority of medical abortions). This model could be broadened out to things like hormone therapy, HIV and STI treatment, and health care in general for the class.
- Neighborhood groups engaged in tenant struggles with the capacity to deal directly with violence against women in the community.
- Parent, teacher, and student alliances that struggle against school closures/privatization and for transforming schools to more accurately reflect the needs of children and parents, for example on-site childcare, directly democratic classrooms and districts, smaller class sizes, etc.
- Sex worker collectives that protect women from abusive Johns and other community members, and build democratically women- and queer-run brothels with safe working conditions.
- Workplace organizations in feminized workplaces like nonprofits, the service industry, pink collar manufacturing, etc., or worker centers that specialize in feminized workplaces and take up issues and challenges specific to women.
Having said all of this, we want to stress again that any strategies we call for are premature, given the lack of generalized movement among working class women today. Of course, it is still important to struggle in ways that we see as best given the circumstances. However, it is impossible to know whether these activities are the best strategy for today without collective self-activity in opposition to gendered value relations. We raise this to say that it is actually possible that wages for housework is a relevant demand. Only the self-activity of the class will clarify this for us. It is not the task of communists, as Marx once famously said, to write recipes for the cookshops of the future.
- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Thursday, 14 February 2013 20:45
- Written by Doug Enaa
This new book may be of interest to our readers. Posting here is not an endorsement of its analysis.
From the website of Aaron Leonard:
The Heavy Radicals: The Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980
Book to be published in early 2014
[The RU's] Bill Biggin and the Free Press are even more dangerous than the Panthers
— Philadelphia Police Commissioner, Frank Rizzo, 1970.
The Revolutionary Union / Revolutionary Communist Party was the largest Maoist organization to arise in the United States in the tumultuous period of the late 1960s early 1970s. This is acknowledged not only by other Left political trends, but also by the Federal Government, which had it as subject of no less than four Congressional Hearings in its key years. Oddly though it largely stands outside established histories of the period; it is not taught in the academy, appears hardly at all in academic papers, and is passed over in the more popular books of SDS and sixties radicalism.
The reasons for this are manifold. The organization is victim of its own discipline that had little interest in promoting its history beyond whatever campaign or controversy it was involved in at the moment. Further those leaving the organization were circumspect in talking about their time there — either out of standing respect for the group’s discipline, a desire to move on with their lives, or the belief that a return to "the mainstream" necessarily involved disassociating themselves from their sixties revolutionary past, or some combination of each.
There was also a penchant for the established media and other institutions to promote more sensational trends. Groups such as the Weathermen — while more marginal, were ideologically more amenable as emblematic of the ‘madness’ of extremes or despair of fighting for lost causes. It is also the case that the dominant culture in the United States has no interest promoting the concept of domestic revolutionaries embracing Maoism and undertaking the long term work of preparing for insurrection in a highly developed capitalist country.
Yet the fact remains that a significant Maoist formation did come about. In contrast to many who became radicalized quickly and nearly as quickly were in decline by the early 1970s, the RU/ RCP was ascendant in the same period. Indeed it attempted, not entirely unsuccessfully, to penetrate layers of the mainstream of U.S. society, including sections of the working class, and imbue it with a new radicalism. This stands as a counter-narrative to the dominant one of the sixties; that of activists rushing pell-mell back to accommodation with that mainstream as soon as the Vietnam war was over.
The death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the corresponding turn in China from a socialist to a market economy would bring all that to an end. From 1977 on the group would undergo first a major political schism, then a period of prolonged - but never final - disintegration. The reasons being not just the tectonic shifts in the global terrain, but the too often blind adherence to questionable (and worse) principles and methods the communist movement had brought forward historically.
Regardless, for a time this group cohered some of the most radical elements of the day. Indeed, to attempt to understand the upsurge of that period without understanding the role of the RU/RCP is to miss something important. For all its faults the RU / RCP was the most influential component of the New Communist Movement. Further, contained in the RU/RCP's story are hard garnered lessons and crucial experience essential to those who today dare to envision a radically better world. Whether one is curious, sympathetic, or detractor; this book will serve as a primer and surprising window into a heretofore overlooked critical player in a wild and insurrectionary time.
- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Thursday, 31 January 2013 18:57
- Written by Arturo, Gio, and Nat Winn
A debate is emerging sparked by a flier in NYC being handed out to striking bus drivers. This discussion touches on larger questions about revolutionary consciousness and strategy. The following comments first appeared on the Fire Next Time network blog. Other parts of the debate on Kasama can be found here and here.
Proletariat ideology is not merely a matter of theoretical analysis. It is a weapon and armory with which we must arm and surround the American working class and particularly those who face the enormous tasks confronting us in the present period. —CLR James, Marxism for Our Times
- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 13:41
- Written by Will
How do communists fuse their politics with broad sections of people? A debate has begun around a flier that was distributed to striking New York City bus drivers. Mike Ely has criticized the flier, arguing that it fails to "sing our song", to present to the workers a message that goes beyond the limits of self-interest of the bus drivers and even beyond the limits of a united working class. The following article is a reponse to Mike's article by Will, a member of the Fire Next Time network.
I am in Fire Next Time, have been involved in the bus drivers strike, and have passed out the flyers Mike is talking about.
I find Mike Ely's criticisms misplaced because he has little information on what the purpose of the flyer was. If he does know the context, he does not contextualize the rational of the flyer in his blog post.
Part 1: The Flyer
The flyer came out of a lot of conversations we had where bus drivers wanted to know what happened in 1979 (I am going to repeat this point many times). The myth of 1979 was fairly large. We saw almost all the workers having an orientation that was very legalistic and sectoral minded, praying for the unions to take care of the situation. We thought we could do something useful in providing the history of that event. Not because the event had all the answers, but because the bus drivers themselves were referencing the event. So when Mike writes in "Where's the Communist Work," questioning whether" bus drivers are more open to lessons drawn from their own past," he ignores the real conversations which we had and Mike did not. That is pretty frustrating. That is just one example of Mike's mistakes. I will go into all of them, but it shows the dangers of making the judgments Mike does.
- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Sunday, 27 January 2013 14:15
- Written by Matthijs Krul
This is a review of a book analyzing the economic development of capitalism-imperialism from a thirdworldist "Settlerist" point of view. An important question posed in this review is what are the implications for revolutionary strategy contained in Zak cope's political economy? How closely are political economy and revolutionary strategy linked? The following article oiriginally appeared on the Notes & Commentaries blog.
- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Sunday, 27 January 2013 11:07
- Written by Mike Ely
by Mike Ely
The following was a comment posted on an open thread called Zizek is wrong: Previous socialism was not just failure.
The discussion on that thread quickly evolved into a debate about whether we should ever post bad analysis. The following is Mike Ely's argument for posting and engaging wrong analysis.
"I want to express again frustration that we have rarely opened a complex topic on Kasama, without someone running in, angry or offended, to announce that we have no right to have this discussion. It is amazing to me.
"Taking angry offense at the ideas of others is (as we all know) very often a default mode of entering discussion in many parts of today's U.S. left. It is a terrible practice. Everyone is constantly told to shut up. And such drama often obstructs productive discussions."
"My view is that we need to engage views that are influential or interesting. Not just the ones that are most interesting and sophisticated... but also sometimes bad theories that are influential."
"If the critique of Zizek is too poor to be engaged with, why not find a stronger critique of Zizek and engage with that?"
ok, good question.... let me respond to that:
First, it is unfortunately true that bad critiques are often influential. There are quite a number of decent people (in the U.S. and quite often around the world) who don't understand the value and contribution of theory produced by people like Zizek and Badiou. This is particularly true in the global communist movement -- where a defacto view of "closed system" has taken hold (i.e. the assumption that our philosophy is fixed and known, and that other philosophical work is judged against that closed system.)
There is great value in answering (repeatedly and convincingly) why we can't approach communist theory as a closed system.
And the argument by Karlo above is quite typical and quite influential: I.e. Lenin explained imperialism in 1916. He described the global capitalism of his time as "the highest stage of capitalism." He polemicized against Kautsky's ultra-imperialism. So we can (supposedly) judge the views of people today (including here Zizek) against a checklist of Lenin's points and verdicts.
Now, on one level, it is rather startling that such "closed system" thinking has such influence. First, because there were forces within the international communist movement (most notably the Comintern increasingly over its life) fighting to "codify" and fix Marxism, and then promote it as a definitive and closed system. But second (and important for our purposes), new people coming to communism are often (understandably and correctly) impressed by the coherence and power of previous communist synthesis. The first time you read the "classics" of Marxism-Leninism there is often the breathless excitement of discovering a coherent answer to the many infuriating philosophical and political "standard" thinking of capitalism. And it takes a while for many people to see communist theory as a contradictory and moving thing -- more like a bush than a layer cake (as we have put it).
So for example Lenin's "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism" is often seen as the final word on many questions -- even though you can see (if you look at Lenin's methodology in that work) how he himself used and synthesized many creative analysts of his day, including many who were (obviously) not communists. In other words, the lesson of the best communists we study is precisely that they drew from many contemporary sources and treated their own theory as an open system. (And Lenin's Imperialism was a major rupture with the inherited marxism of his day -- a rupture with Marx and Engels, and with those who, in an orthodox way, clung to Marx's verdicts in a new time.)
My view is that we need to engage views that are influential or interesting. Not just the ones that are most interesting and sophisticated... but also sometimes bad theories that are influential.
Like you, I think we should post and share high level engagements with key questions (including, in this case, people who engage Zizek in a sophisticated way). And we ourselves should engage (in these threads) in such a sophisticated way (when we can).
But I also think we should engage influential views, even when they are not particularly sophisticated -- for reasons that should be obvious. And my hope, in posting Karlo's essay was to make that possible.
Unfortiunately, that has not been possible so far, largely because we have had (instead) a debate over whether we (here on Kasama) have a right to even post such a work (!) because its misunderstandings of Zizek veer so far.
"Sure, you can engage with bad critique, but this discussion makes it rather obvious that engaging with a bad critique will lead you to debate about its poor quality rather than engage in a critical discussion about Zizek."
Is it necessary that wrong ideas WILL lead to sterile debate about why we are engaging them? I don't believe that. "Poor quality" is often subjective -- one person sees that it is an awful analysis, but others sometimes think it is astute. That's the point of debating such things.
We've often have very fruitful discussions of wrong ideas and terrible analysis (and the archives of Kasama are full of them).
I am frustrated that our thread here is not about Zizek, but about whether Kasama can even debate bad ideas. But we can get to a culture where that doesn't happen -- and where we have a substantive refutation of bad ideas, not another tailchasing debate about what ideas mau be heard.
Perhaps we can (out of this current conversation) get some common ground on the importance of engaging both influential and interesting views.
Now, some people may not believe that orthodox Marxisms are influential -- sometimes arguing "No one I know cares about those people." Or "anyone who believes such things should not be respected in our plans." Or "If we engage old dogmatism, no one will take us seriously."
That is largely (in my opinion) a problem of "frog in a well" localism. If you were with Liam and Natalio in Nepal right now, you would suddenly become aware (talking to even the best communists there, and from around the world) how powerful the influence of some theories of orthodoxy still are.
We are internationalists (or at least we should be). We don't limit our discussion (on Kasama) simply to what is relevant in our own immediate or personal practice (with the few specific people right around us).
Finally, I just want to express again my frustration that we have rarely opened a complex topic on Kasama, without someone running in, angry or offended, to announced that we have no right to have this discussion. It is amazing to me.
But taking angry offense at the ideas of others is (as we all know) very often a default mode of entering discussion in many parts of today's U.S. left. It is a terrible practice. The tangents caused by such drama is a repeated obstruction to productive discussions everywhere.
And there are several arguments raised in such protests here on Kasama:
Sometimes people believe that their own views are so obviously correct that it is offensive and stupid to engage the differing views of others. I.e. that Karlos is so obviously wrong that his arguments can't be worth dissecting.
Another argument raised is that if you post and discuss a "wrong idea" you are just advertising it, giving it more reach, and you must (in fact) be wanting to promote it. If you allow a bad idea to be discussed on Kasama, you must secretly agree with it.
Let me be clear on this: This is essentially an argument against scientific inquiry and open discussion. It says that peopleallowing ideas to be dissected must agree with those ideas.
If i post (for discussion) a wooden critique of Zizek, then I must (in the views of some people) want to promote woodenness (not critique of woodenness).
The disturbing implication of this view is (after you have run into it for a while) to demand all kinds of discussion to simply be shouted down.
For example: The views of backward among the people can't be engaged (racism, sexism, individualism, patriotism etc.) -- they must simply be denounced with great offense (in small "safe spaces" of subcultures). Or orthodox and conservative forms of communism can't be discussed because they are (supposedly) beneath contempt. And so on.
I don't agree. I will never agree.
I think we should engage wrong ideas, we should dissect them, we teach ourselves how to answer wrong ideas in deep ways, and we should even expect learn from ideas that we dont' agree with. (Mao says even shit serves as fertilizer....)
Just shouting down wrong ideas (or demanding that they be ignored) doesn't arm anyone to defeat wrong ideas (where they really must ultimately be defeated.... in the minds of humans).
I hope we can get to a political culture where the first impulse (at the sight of new controversy) is not for people to announce they are "offended" and to tell others to just shut up. I want us to fight for a different kind of culture among us.
- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Sunday, 20 January 2013 18:32
- Written by Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson
The following comes to Kasama from Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson, a prisoner and member of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter. As always, Kasama shares this piece for discussion. No endorsement of its analysis is implied.
Wimyn Hold Up Half the Sky! On the Question of Wimyn's Oppression and Revolutionary Wimyn's Liberation versus Feminism (2008)
by Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson
“Women comprise one half of the population. The economic status of working women and the fact of their being specially oppressed proves not only that women urgently need revolution, but also that they are a decisive force in the success or failure of the revolution.” - Mao Tse-tung, Peking Review, 1974
We acknowledge that presently, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC) lacks a substantial femyl membership. Because of this situation some mistaken views have developed concerning our position on the questions of wimyn’s oppression and liberation. That we lack a femyl presence right now in no way reflect our views on these fundamental questions. Actually the major cause of this predicament is the uncommon circumstances under which our Party was founded, namely, by brothas who are isolated away from sistas by their confinement in various U.S. prisons. Another contributing factor is that unfortunately very few prison activists have maintained active ties with wimyn prisoners, with the result that these sistas’ ideological and political educations and active involvements in social justice struggle has been minimal. However, we are in the process of taking affirmative measures to remedy these situations. And along with these efforts it is also imperative that we set out our line and position on wimyn’s oppression and liberation with special attention given to the plight of New Afrikan wimyn.