Marx, Democracy and Freedom

Members of Unity and Struggle are often asked what sets us apart from socialists and statist Marxists on the one hand, and Anarchists on the other.  We have wrestled with many labels, debating whether to call ourselves “anti-state communists,” “libertarian Marxists,” simply, “communists,” or something else entirely.  Ultimately, we have left this to individual members to decide.  As a group, we draw heavily from Marxism, considering its philosophical and theoretical tradition to be our foundation.  We seek to synthesize this with some of the strongest aspects of other traditions, including Anarchism and post-modernism.  However, at times it is helpful to clearly and precisely articulate what it is about a Marxist foundation that is so compelling for us.

We are reposting this accessible but sharp interview with Peter Hudis on KPFA’s Against the Grain.  Hudis recently released Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism via Haymarket Books.  Hudis relies on Marx’s early and philosophical works to flesh out the democratic and liberatory crux of Marx’s method.  This is similar to work we have done in our series, “The Communist Theory of Marx.”  While not every individual in Unity and Struggle will agree with 100% of what Hudis says, we locate ourselves within a tradition that he carves out in this interview.  While, at times, these concepts are not easy to describe, and often cannot be boiled down to a few talking points, Unity and Struggle strives to make them accessible and compelling.  As movements internationally begin to pick up, we will increasingly face questions surrounding the role of the state, the statist Parties, and what a transformation of social relations, or communization process, can look like.  We are hoping to see more conversations about Marx’s conceptions of freedom and democracy, and in varied media.  We encourage you to send comments, links, hashtags and other ways people are discussing Marxism, freedom and democracy.  Enjoy the Hudis interview.

KPFA: Marx on Life after Capitalism w/Peter Hudis

Tigertown Beats Nazis Down: Reflections on Auburn and Mass Anti-fascism

Members of Unity & Struggle and other comrades collaborated on this piece, which challenges us to reflect on the strategy and tactics of revolutionary anti-fascism. Originally featured on Lifelong Wobbly.

Written by three members of the Atlanta General Defense Committee[1]

“Outside Agitators” – but who’s agitating?

The scene in Auburn, AL when we showed up was one of the most bizarre we’ve ever seen in a political context. Neo-nazi spokesperson Richard Spencer had just been allowed to begin his speech in Foy Hall, after a local judge negated Auburn University’s decision to cancel his event. The live stream showed a packed audience, though some were opponents. Outside, there was a large crowd of students and onlookers. Standing in the crowd, looking to our left and right, it was often impossible to tell if our neighbors were spectators, trolls, anti-Spencer Auburn students, college republicans, or fascists.[2] We were able to identify some people in the crowd as fascists due to their MAGA hats or giant American flags, but they did a much better job of blending into the crowd than many of the anti-fascists did.[3] Many of the anti-fascists were dressed in black and  were armed in helmets and other aspects of the “uniform” that made them stand out from anyone from Auburn.[4] The most visible fascists themselves were already in the auditorium, which meant that for the next several hours, the only visible “outsiders” for the crowd were the anti-fascists. For people in the crowd, anti-fascism looked like a specialized thing, while the fascists themselves were abstract and out-of-sight.

Before we talk more about what happened, let’s talk about Alabama and Auburn. It seems unlikely that many anti-fascists were familiar with Auburn before Spencer’s speech was announced or had ever spent time in Alabama.. We don’t mean to score cheap points here. Obviously, most of us have not been to most parts of the US, and may not have heard of every city. However, we think that the US left simultaneously ignores and scorns the South in general and the “deep south” in particular. Furthermore, Auburn – home to one of Alabama’s two main universities – has its own particular culture and significance within Alabama. Think of the biggest deal you can imagine people making of college football – double that, and add a little more for good measure. That’s how important football is for Alabama, and Auburn is their number two school. To say the town’s culture revolves around football, and the state’s culture revolves around the football of the University of Alabama and Auburn University, would be an understatement. Alabama head coach Nick Saban has been called “the most powerful man in Alabama,” and that’s probably not an exaggeration.[5] Indeed, it seems that one of the biggest missteps Spencer took in Auburn was to speak against black football players and berate people for supporting them – attacking Auburn football may have galvanized the school and the town against him in a serious way.[6]

There is a dominant stereotype that white people in the Deep South are ignorant conservatives. This stereotype comes from liberal institutions (think of the character Kenneth on 30 Rock), and it carries over into the left if it is not consciously challenged (which it usually isn’t). Of course this contributes to a hostile or skeptical attitude from Alabamians when there is any engagement. There hasn’t been any meaningful Left presence in Alabama since the 70s, and very few attempts by contemporary left groups to engage seriously with Alabama.[7] When the US left spends decades ignoring the deep South, we are telling ourselves and the rest of the world that we don’t believe there’s any meaningful organizing to be done there. The right wing doesn’t make the same mistake. In Alabama, groups like “The League of the South” have open meeting halls, billboards by the highway, and have announced the formation of a “Southern Defence Force”.

This is important because it heavily influences how we approach a situation like this. For those of us who believe in a mass-based, working-class-oriented anti-fascism, it comes down to some central questions. Can we imagine a mass anti-fascist movement in Alabama? Can we actually imagine that large numbers of Alabamians would agree with our program and strategy for fighting fascism? Or do we basically think that mass anti-fascism might theoretically work elsewhere, but not in a place like Alabama? Continue reading Tigertown Beats Nazis Down: Reflections on Auburn and Mass Anti-fascism

The Hammer in our Hamlets: Patriarchy on the Left Part 3 of 4

by Eve Mitchell[1]

This is the third in a four-part series on Patriarchy on the Left.  This series is organized from the universal to the particular; it looks at large questions like “what is patriarchy?” in the first part and ends by discussing micro-level questions:  How do we deal with particular instances of patriarchy in our everyday organizing and political milieus?  What tools do we have to combat patriarchy on the left?  The first two pieces, looking at the totality of patriarchy, and the particular expressions of sexism within left communities, were co-written with Jocelyn Cohn, another member of Unity and Struggle.  This piece and the fourth installment of this project (written by Jocelyn Cohn individually) will look at specific methods for dealing with patriarchy on the left with some critiques and comments.

Links to associated articles:

No Lamps, No Candles, No More Light:  Patriarchy on the Left Part 1

No Safehouses: Patriarchy on the Left Part 2

hammer

Image Credit: Lita Box

Continue reading The Hammer in our Hamlets: Patriarchy on the Left Part 3 of 4

Morbid Symptoms: The Downward Spiral

The following post is the second part in our notes on Trump. Part one can be found here. We’ll look at the limits and potentials of the forces arrayed against Trump in part three.

In our last post, we located the Trump regime within a global right wing resurgence enabled by capitalist crisis and the failures of social democracy. Now we can examine how this resurgence developed in the U.S. context. In this piece, we will explore how conservative hegemony emerged from the crisis of the 1970s, developed through the Reagan years and exhausted itself in the Obama era. We will then trace how Trump builds on the history of conservative hegemony even as he rends it in two, and outline the degree to which the incoming Trump regime stands to deepen authoritarianism.

For decades, the U.S. neoliberal elite legitimated falling wages and living standards by keeping the economy afloat with successive credit-fueled bubbles and playing on white racialist resentments. But this strategy began to collapse with the onset of the Great Recession, after years of erosion. Now the the content of conservative hegemony is turning against itself, and Trumpism is the result. On one side are neoliberal efforts to contract social reproduction, and thereby struggle to renew the profitability of capitalism. On the other side are appeals to white populist nationalism, which increasingly undermine the norms of the bourgeois state and civil society. Both elements have been integral to neoliberal rule, but they can also become contradictory. As they contend in productive tension, they threaten a spiraling descent into authoritarianism and deepening capitalist retrogression.

Trump’s election signals that the turbulent waters of social contradiction have begun to spin faster. To grasp the dangers of this dynamic and how to overcome them, we have to trace their emergence from our own history, starting with the current capitalist crisis.

A New Hegemony from the Wreckage

In the late 1970s the U.S. capitalist class faced economic stagnation, rising inflation, and working class revolt in the streets and on the assembly line. In a bid to renew investment, they turned to attacking the costs of labor power, creating a new kind of working class in the process and detonating the Keynesian consensus that had stood for forty years. The 1970s crisis did not lead – as many had hoped – to a revolutionary challenge to capitalism, but to the emergence of a conservative hegemony that would expand and deepen for four decades.

Since the Great Depression, the trade unions, and later the civil rights leadership, has been steadily incorporated into capitalist production and the state. In exchange for labor peace and increased productivity, they were promised expanded democratic rights, racial integration into civil society, and rising real wages. This period marked the definitive transition to the real domination of capital: the incorporation and reorganization of the whole of society according to the needs of capitalist value production. It resulted in a reduction of labor power, not only in terms of the gap between wage levels and the immense surpluses created at the time, but also through labor’s subjugation as an appendage of automation and the remaking of everyday life. The gap between the condition of workers and the enormous productive forces of capitalism continued to widen, sharpening a key contradiction of capitalism. Living standards in the postwar period rose for many layers of the working class, thanks to the growing number of cheap consumer goods. But this trend could only continue as long as the worker generated surpluses rose even faster. With economic stagnation in the 1970s–a combination of falling growth and soaring inflation–the material basis for the Keynesian regime dissolved. The capitalist class had to find a new way to rule.
Continue reading Morbid Symptoms: The Downward Spiral

Morbid Symptoms: Fascism and Anti-Fascism

As an interlude while we prepare the next installment of “Morbid Symptoms,” we’ve uploaded a short talk and reading list below. We hope these will help U.S. revolutionaries to analyze the phenomena of fascism and the Trump regime, and develop anti-fascist strategies on the ground that bring us closer to freedom.

Further reading on fascism and anti-fascism:

  • Beetham, David. (1984). Marxists in the Face of FascismTotowa: Barnes & Noble Press.
  • Guerin, Daniel. (1994). Fascism and Big Business. New York: Pathfinder.
  • Hammerquist, Don. (2002). “Fascism and Anti-Fascism.” In Confronting Fascism. Montreal: Kersplebedeb.
  • Passmore, Kevin. (2014). Fascism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Payne, Stanley. (1983). Fascism: Comparison and Definition. University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Sakai, J. (2002). “The Shock of Recognition.” In Confronting Fascism. Montreal: Kersplebedeb.

Morbid Symptoms: The Rise of Trump

The following series attempts to understand the rise of Donald Trump, particularly in the context of capitalist crisis and the emerging power of the populist and far right. Part one is below. Part two is here.

                                                 *****

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.
– Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

The election of Donald Trump––despite his losing the popular vote––has come as a shock to many Americans. While most recognized that the campaign had tightened after the intervention of the FBI, it was assumed that Clinton would edge out Trump on election day. But even if the Democratic Party had narrowly won the presidential election, it would have told us nothing about the development of mass rightwing populism and white nationalism in the U.S. This force represents both an immediate threat and a long-term strategic challenge to those of us seeking liberation. How can we understand what has happened? And what can be done?

Capitalist Crisis and the Rise of Trump

Trump’s rise is a consequence of the ongoing and deepening crisis of global capitalism. Since the 1970s capital has faced the problem of falling profits, and the resulting crises have made it difficult for the political and economic order to reproduce itself in a reliable way. For decades capitalists confronted this problem by cutting costs, especially the cost of labor power: slashing wages, benefits, health care, education, and housing. In the former Third World this entailed gutting the developmentalist regimes that took power after decolonization. In the capitalist core (like the U.S. and Europe) it required dismantling social democracy.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, capital sought to remove any roadblocks to profitability, starting with institutions such as unions and labor parties, and the rights won through a century of worker, civil rights, women’s, and queer struggles. The great concentrations of industry and proletarian power were broken apart through globalization. Labor parties and nationalist governments were incorporated into the management of capital, and made partners in exploitation. In many countries, new technocratic politicians and managers came to control national governments, state bureaucracies, and major institutions like schools. This was the “neoliberal” elite.

The neoliberals operated on a consensus that cut across the political spectrum: the economy would only be sustained through capitalist globalization abroad and austerity at home. In the capitalist core, this meant abandoning sections of the working class that had previously enjoyed some political representation and economic benefits, largely through the inclusion of unions and social democratic voting blocs. The elites carrying out this program united former “progressives” alongside conservatives. Bill Clinton––who signed NAFTA in 1993, expanded mass incarceration in 1994, and gutted welfare in 1996––is a great example.
Continue reading Morbid Symptoms: The Rise of Trump

Crackers in the Concrete

On August 21, a group of armed white supremacists held a White Lives Matter rally in Houston. This rally took place in front of the NAACP office in the Third Ward, which is the center of gravity for BLM protests and home of Houston’s Black Nationalist organizations. Simultaneously, a white supremacist reaction to the BLM movement has been spreading nationally, and has raised many questions for organizers around self-defense. To understand how it is that a group of armed crackers was able to hold a rally in front of the NAACP headquarters in the most militant black community in Houston, it is important to see how the right has developed in recent moments, and how the left has failed to develop an adequate self-defense strategy within the movement.

In Houston this dynamic has a unique development which can be traced back to the Trayvon Martin rallies in 2013, and has moved and changed alongside the evolution of the BLM movement.

Continue reading Crackers in the Concrete

Incarcerated Workers Take the Lead: Prison Struggles in the United States 2008-2016

Jesus Manuel Galindo, 11.29.1976 – 12.12.2008

The Houston Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (I.W.O.C.) would like to dedicate this pamphlet to the memory of Jesus Manuel Galindo, a detainee at the Reeves County Detention Complex in Pecos, Texas.  His death was not in vain.

Introduction

The following summary was completed on the heels of the Texas work stoppage, a mass strike taking place in April of this year, but the idea for it came out of discussions two years prior after a series of hunger and labor strikes spread across the US.  These strikes occurred in both private and public facilities – in prisons that housed primarily US-born workers and also detention centers responsible for the incarceration of undocumented workers and even families.

We are writing this for you–our fellow workers locked down and forgotten by mainstream society–and for us, since we know our own struggles against the bosses and the State on the outside are inseparably tied together with your struggles.  Living in the country with the largest prison population in the world, many of us have family, friends, and comrades who are already incarcerated.  We know that where you are is where we are all headed unless we organize and fight back.

Continue reading Incarcerated Workers Take the Lead: Prison Struggles in the United States 2008-2016

The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Book Review

One year has passed since the streets of Baltimore erupted in rebellion after the police murder of Freddie Gray. While people will recall the dramatic footage of a CVS on fire and rebellious youth dispersing police lines in the streets like leaves in the wind, we look deeper to understand the full significance of what occurred. What follows is a book review of the sharpest account of the Baltimore Uprising to date, and we invite readers to join the discussion and share their own reflections in the comments section.

Baltimore1

“Looking at a lot of shit different now”:
Research and Destroy’s The 2015 Baltimore Uprising

By Rosa DeLux and Chino Mayday

The story of a rebellion is usually told from the perspective of its opponents. Those who subdue the rebellion define the narrative, while the real movement of revolt––the sound of store windows breaking, the feelings of elation when cops break formation and run, the curious mix of self-doubt and bravado one encounters in the street––is lost to history. That is, until the rebels tell their story themselves. The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary tells the story of last year’s Baltimore riots from the perspective of its participants, offering an exciting, humorous and deeply provocative snapshot of young rebels in motion.

Compiled by Research and Destroy New York City[1], Uprising collects hundreds of tweets from the teenagers who turned Baltimore on its head in April 2015, after police murdered Freddie Gray in the back of a patrol van. Uprising is filled with their outrage, their feelings of “west baltimore making history,” and their meditations on the value of black life, and this alone makes the book required reading for anyone trying to understand where the black movement in the United States may be headed. A few reviews hyped Uprising when it came out,[2] but this piece highlights a theme from the book that deserves more attention: how young people in Baltimore came to understand themselves as active subjects shaping the course of history. This theme challenges commentators––both right-wing and left-wing––who saw only nihilism in the riots, and it demands consideration by anyone who wants to abolish white supremacy. Yes, the rebels of Baltimore rejected our oppressive society. But they also made themselves anew in the process.

Continue reading The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Book Review

Learning to Fight, Learning to Heal

Like everybody else, Unity and Struggle members have grappled with how to address abuse and patriarchal behavior in our society, and in left organizations including our own. We don’t have easy answers, but we’ve found it helpful to study the nature of abuse under capitalism and different responses to it. Below is the syllabus for an abuse study that some U&S members and friends are currently test-driving in several cities, based on interest. We hope other groups will take up the reading list, adapt it to their needs, and use it to craft responses to abuse in our movement and lives.

UPDATE 6/5/2016: We’ve added a few more discussion questions to this study guide, to reflect some of the themes that came up as we finished reading everything.

Sit El Banat, stencil tribute to the women who were beaten, dragged and stamped on by military forces in December 2011. Image from SuzeInTheCity

Abuse Study Guide

1. Defining Abusive Relations.

Objectives: (1) Gain empirical understanding of the broad range of physical and emotional abuse in intimate partnerships; (2) Explore relationship between objective social relations and individual experience of abuse, consent, trauma; (3) Develop our own definition of abuse;

 

Continue reading Learning to Fight, Learning to Heal