Sunday, October 17, 2010

Some things of note from the last week

To the left of this article you can see our Reddit feed, which we update regularly with items, mostly articles and news, that we find interesting. That feed gets continually added to, usually several times a day, as we encounter ideas and information that we think are worth considering. If you sign up for Reddit, you can comment and discuss them.

But because of the volume of news that gets posted to the feed, sometimes things can get missed that I think deserve a closer look, so from time to time I like to highlight some of the more important things that showed up on our feed during the week.

(1) The first item I want to point out is Rowland Keshena's piece "J. Sakai and the Struggle for Onkwehonwe Liberation". I first ran into Sakai's ideas in early 2001 with his interview/pamphlet "When Race Burns Class", a deep critique of the revolutionary potentiality of the white working class (and whites generally). This essay, which takes what can only be said to be a deeply pessimistic view of whites' ability to engage in liberatory activity, led me to Sakai's book, "Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat" and then on to Red Rover and Butch Lee's "Night-Vision: Illuminating War & Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain" and "The Military Strategy of Women and Children".

These works are interesting in their almost nihilistic assertion that the white proletariat represents a bought off labor aristocracy which, even when it appears to be defending larger libertarian goals, is in fact defending its privileged status within American imperialism, a deal it enjoys at the expense of the rest of the class. This stands in stark contrast to race traitor thought, for example, which recognizes the contradictory position of whites in society without writing them off entirely. Indeed, following the Settler logic, one inevitably comes to the same conclusions that Weather did in the 70's: if the white working class is reactionary by nature -- and unredeemable -- then what else can one do but "fight the people".

This is problematic for a variety of reasons, including, as the author points out, the obscuring of class differences within whites by painting them instead with a broad brush. But it also denies the agency of whites in their own liberation and the liberation of others. I find this particularly wrong-headed not least of all because US history provides plenty of examples of whites struggling against white supremacy and the cross-class alliance that it represents. Consider the Abolitionists, to use an example that PCWC is fond of. How does Sakai explain them? To him, they are exceptions, plain and simple. Keshena does a good job of taking on Sakai's arguments and showing their weaknesses.

One thing in particular that I think is worth considering that Sakai misses entirely is the power of the negative example of whiteness. Whiteness, constructed as it from the top and at the same time from below (as Sakai probably correctly points out), while not liberatory, is still a sign of the ability of the white working class to act politically. That is, whiteness is a political relationship to power (by the way, that's a main reason why the "national anarchists" are not anarchists at all, since they defend that relationship) and as such it shows that whites are capable of thinking and acting politically, however wrongly at times.

Indeed whiteness itself is precisely constructed to limit the political imagination of whites -- to ensure that their struggles reinforce rather than challenge power -- and this is in part why some of the most imaginative and transformative periods in American history have been times when whiteness was in crisis. However, this, combined with the examples of whites acting against white supremacy gives us direction where Sakai fails: it allows us to approach the problem of whites and politics from the perspective of tacking how we can change the basic facts and assumptions that lie beneath their choices, how we can frame a politics that doesn't revert back to the short-sighted politics of white supremacy.

In PCWC's opinion, this has always meant fighting to foster the crisis in whiteness. Or, as the race traitors say, to create situations where whiteness cannot be counted on to resolve in the favor of the powers that be. When that crisis happens, dramatic change becomes possible.

(2) The second piece I want to single out is the article "Leninist front-groups and the problems of 'tail-ending' the Left", posted at PropetyIsTheft. As was pointed out at our most recent Beer & Revolution featuring Lawrence Jarach, I think a lot of us here in Phoenix have had a refresher course this summer in the failures, opportunism, obstructionism and parasitism of the left, delivered free of charge by out of town organizations like the so-called Revolutionary Communist Party and local leftists, Puente and Tonatierra.

Time and time again groups like these have proven their unfailing ability to head off militant and radical action, to collaborate with the police in attacks on anarchists, to co-opt grassroots struggle and to divert actions into useless and ineffective petition drives and inane marches. Nothing epitomizes this more than the idiotic attempt by Left party apparatchiks to divert the migrant struggle away from broadly democratic and empowering tactics like general strike and into voting and boycotts. Voting, for instance, is a silly waste of time in any movement, but in this one, composed as it is of such a high percentage of non-citizens who by definition cannot vote, reaches heights of absurdity not seen around these parts in quite some time.

This feature of anarchist history (indeed, general history) -- that tendency to be sold out and attacked by our supposed "comrades" on the Left -- remains a difficult lesson for anarchists to learn, it appears, because the tension reoccurs in every movement. In my organizing experience over the last decade and more, it has been a constant feature of the anti-globalization movement, the anti-war movement and the migrant struggles of today. Such problems have bedeviled anarchists since time immemorial, from the splits of the First International to the Spanish Civil War to the various uprisings in Eastern Europe against communist domination and on through the French May Days of 1968 into the present day. Indeed, I just read John W. F. Dulles' "Anarchists and Communists in Brazil, 1900-1935", and the same thing went on then. It turns out that anarchists and communists don't really want the same thing at all. Who knew?

This simple fact, as obvious as it may seem, still remains very hard for many anarchists to grasp. Post-leftism within anarchy, as I understand it, is an attempt to struggle to recognize this basic truth and to consider ways of relating, supporting and opposing various tendencies and organizations in society as we struggle to overthrow the state and capitalism. Primarily, what post-leftism does is bring into question these generally accepted but also undiscussed quiet alliances, maintained for a variety of reasons (habit seeming prominent among them), between anarchists and the Left that often work not just to our detriment as anarchists, but also to anyone who seeks out genuine self-organization as opposed to that imposed by bureaucratic socialists and capitalists.

"Leninist front-groups and the problems of 'tail-ending' the Left" doesn't identify as post-Left, but it is essentially grappling with the same issues, the problems that come from orienting oneself and the movement towards the Left, especially the authoritarian Left. Finding one's way through disentangling the various biases and reflexive relationships of support and opposition that come with an uncritical relationship with the Left is hard. It requires considering one's moves carefully because one doesn't want to risk, by unshackling oneself from the Left, the danger of adhering somewhere even worse, like the Right, as has obviously happened with the racist unanarchist "National Anarchists".

With PCWC, we have opted to engage critically in all directions. We have reached out to libertarians on the right, and received some criticism for it within the anarchist and Left milieu -- criticism that essentially boils down to the knee-jerk opposition to all elements on the Right that comes with the default affiliation with the Left. This even though our appeals and interactions with the libertarians have been exclusively around anti-racism, anti-fascism and the defense of free movement. And despite our deeply critical and open discussion of what we view as the flaws in the Right libertarian movement in Arizona. The Leftist is concerned primarily with contagion, as if one can engage with authoritarians on the Left without fear but that any association with libertarian elements on the Right is inherently dangerous.

Likewise, when we have stood up in solid opposition to movement hacks and outside authoritarian communist groups, we have been similarly attacked for the Leftist sin of sectarianism, as if remarking on the fact that a group wants a society that is distinctly un-anarchists is a crime against the movement. But which movement? As is pointed out in the piece, maybe it all comes down to how you look at it.

Are anarchists merely a minority wing of a movement that we concede to the more authoritarian, manipulative sections? Or, instead, are we a movement unto ourselves, tireless defenders of self-organization, and participants in a broader struggle that we refuse to allow to be dominated by authoritarian factions. A movement that overlaps various other groups and individuals, but which has its own distinct aims and objectives? Answering this question is at the heart of the way forward, I think, if anarchists are to be anything but the alternating conscience and punching bag of whatever movement happens to be in vogue at whatever time.

(3) Lastly, I want to share an excellent little film (about an hour long), entitled "The Betrayal by Technology" about French theorist and technology critic, Jacques Ellul. Despite the long description of our group in the sidebar, PCWC has always sought to remain un-ideological about our anarchy. We may have a very specific kind of anarchy, with regards to the general anarchist milieu, but we try to avoid getting ourselves too wedded to a particular set of ideas. That's why you see a wide variety of perspectives at our Beer & Revolution night: not because we are big tent anarchists, but because we want to promote ideas that we find valuable and useful, even if we don't agree with the entirety of the rest of the presenter's politics. We've tended, I think, to take what's worth taking and ditch the rest from various strains of anarchism.

And, more often than not, we've likewise tried to use anarchist ideas as critiques rather than reifying them as holy writ. For instance, PCWC is deeply critical of technology, but we approach it from a variety of angles. Our range of influences with regard to technology start first and foremost with our own lived experience, but are also informed by technology critics as varied as labor historian David F. Noble, who focuses on technology as a class war attack on workers and our ability to self-organize our own lives; by technology critics like Kirkpatrick Sale and his analysis of the early resistors to industrialism; and by primitivists like John Zerzan and his deeper questioning of the nature of technological society and the inherent alienation that derives from it.

We do not necessarily identify as primitivist explicitly, although I do think that PCWC falls within the anti-civilization current in a lot of ways, or at least we are not in opposition to it. However, what we do appreciate is the criticisms that primitivism makes possible, both of society and history, but also of movements and the often unstated goals and assumptions that frequently underlie movements, such as ideas about work, resource extraction and the faith in progress. By merely using primitivism as a tool rather than an ideology, we are free to consider the questions it raises, but at the same time to free ourselves from the burden of defending it as a part of our identity. We recognize that there are various ways of looking at technology, even from within the anti-tech current (hell, even from within the labor movement), and each offers something useful when it comes to understanding our relationship to capitalism, the state and technology.

In this film, Ellul makes a point that really resounded with me. Discussing a friend of his, a surgeon, who was confronted with a person amazed at the wonderful advances in transplants made possible by modern medicine, the doctor replies that all those wonderful transplants must be done with healthy, young organs, which means that people with those organs -- young people, naturally -- must die. And most of those young people die in auto accidents. In that sense, as the safety of car travel improves, the availability of organs and the miracles of modern science, diminishes. At the very least, there is a hidden relationship between the two which, if not interrogated, remains obscured largely because of the blind ideology of progress hides it.

At several points in the film Ellul expounds on his general thesis that, despite any sentiments to the contrary, in reality technology is at odds with freedom, a point he drives home most clearly in his analysis of the automobile, that most revered symbol of modern capitalist, industrial freedom. A car on fire at a demonstration is shocking, he says, because it is an attack on the central symbol our modern religion, a technology that purports to deliver us to freedom, but instead drives us to the surgeon's table to be parted out under the knife.

Summing up, I'd like to invite people interested in the ideas PCWC puts out there to join our Reddit feed. There discussion can be had about various issues, political and otherwise. We've considered various other ways to engage with people, including a message board, but until then hopefully the Reddit can be one more way that those of us interested in these kinds of politics can find each other and debate, and hopefully move the anarchist movement out of the activist ghettos and university classrooms, beyond the cliques and scenes and towards something approaching relevant to people and movements outside ourselves, where we can deliver an updated, meaningful anti-authoritarianism as a viable option to the boring, limited movements and ideologies of the present day.

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