Discussion: Ferguson and the Unfolding Rebellion in the U.S.

Pages from U+S FERGUSON(1)The recent spike in the size and intensity of the street protests surrounding the racist murder of Eric Garner, most notably in New York City and Berkeley, California, is a profound phenomenon. But while the protests and street battles in Ferguson, Missouri had been consistently maintained since early August, it was only after Eric Garner’s murderer was not indicted, only a week after another grand jury failed to indict the police officer who murdered of Mike Brown, did the protests and street battles really take off.

The rolling over of the struggle between these two incidents represents a unique moment, when masses of people both maintain the continuity of the struggle, and reap the benefits of experience and a higher level of consciousness, with new militants and leaders emerging very quickly.

But these moments of continuity also provide a wealth of experience and information to develop our analyses, strategies and tactics. What follows are a series of discussions written by a number of members of Unity & Struggle based on our experiences and conversation with other militants in the streets. We offer them up, in order to further develop our theory and practice, and welcome other contributions to the discussion.

Also, courtesy of Servius of RIFAMS Distro, a printable pamphlet of the discussion

Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion, 5 Ways To Build a Movement after Ferguson, The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, and Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev.

Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action

by Out of the Flames of Ferguson

Intro

The decision made by the grand jury to not indict Darren Wilson for the merciless killing of Mike Brown came at no surprise. I had been hearing and reading about similar stories prior to that one of Brown and realized the outcomes were pretty much the same. A black man dies at the hands of our American brothers and sisters and the system continues to work flawlessly. No indictment. No charge. Paid vacation. Half of me wishes this was fiction but all of the conscious me knows it is a full blown reality.                 

Knowing that it would not be anytime soon before any kind of justice would be displayed regarding such cases, many individuals including myself took our frustration to the streets. We marched tirelessly throughout Third Ward the following night…                

It seemed as though I had arrived to the protest at precisely the right time. There was at least one thousand people there with signs that read BLACK LIVES MATTER and HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT. The momentum had been building for some time now and I could gather from observation, that at that corner of Southmore Boulevard and Dowling Street, the massive group in its entirety had to make a decision. The energy was perfect and our power as group was getting more intense by the second; however, there was a problem. We had no direction. Our mission has suddenly started to unravel. We began to look like fools in the eyes of the oppressor. While the majority wanted to push through the barricade of horses and pigs in uniform, those individuals who we thought were on our side presented their own agenda.

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5 Ways To Build a Movement after Ferguson

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion,Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action,The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, and Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev.


5ways1

1. Work to abolish police and prisons, not to reform them. President Obama has passed legislation to put body cameras on police officers, but this won’t stop the cops from killing black folks. Eric Garner’s murder was caught on camera like many others, and it didn’t save his life. Even worse, this reform can be used against the people it’s supposed to protect: a recent study showed body cameras help police far more often than their victims.

The police and the prison system can’t be reformed, because their basic role is to maintain a racist, unjust, unequal capitalist society–and this requires violence. As Kristian Williams documented in Our Enemies in Blue, police forces developed in the U.S. to capture runaway slaves, crush strikes, and prevent hungry mobs from taking what they needed to live. The system isn’t “broken” when it kills someone like Mike Brown, it’s working just as intended.

Instead of chasing reforms, we should work to abolish police and prisons. It won’t happen all at once, but we can guide our efforts with the catchphrase: disempower, disarm, and disband. We can disempower the police on the streets, by building neighborhood groups that respond to police abuse, and deter them from terrorizing us. We can demand the police be disarmed, taking away their military gear and firearms. And we can work to disband police units one-by-one, starting with the most vicious.

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Burn Down the Prison

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: 5 Ways to Build a Movement After Ferguson, Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action, The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, and Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev.


Burn Down the Prison:
Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion

by TZ with edits from Chino, HiFi, and JF

 

Work?
I don’t have to work.
I don’t have to do nothing
but eat, drink, stay black, and die.
This little old furnished room’s
so small I can’t whip a cat
without getting fur in my mouth
and my landlady’s so old
her features is all run together
and God knows she sure can overcharge—
Which is why I reckon I does
have to work after all.

-Langston Hughes, “Necessity”

“A lot of people in the bourgeoisie tell me they don’t like Rap Brown when he says, ‘I’m gon’ burn the country down,’ but every time Rap Brown says, ‘I’m gon’ burn the country down,’ they get a poverty program.”
-Stokely Carmichael, Free Huey rally, 1969

“We may risk the prediction that we are entering into an era of riots, which will be transitional and extremely violent.  It will define the reproduction crisis of the proletariat, and thus of capitalism, as an important structural element of the following period. By ‘riots’ we mean struggles for demands or struggles without demands that will take violent forms and will transform the urban environments into areas of unrest; the riots are not revolution, even the insurgency is not revolution, although it may be the beginning of a revolution.”
-Blaumachen, “The Transitional Phase of the Crisis: The Era of Riots,” 2011

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The Old Mole Breaks Concrete

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: 5 Ways to Build a Movement After Ferguson, Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion, Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action, and Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev.


The Old Mole Breaks Concrete:
The Ongoing Rupture in New York City

by JF and friends

“When history is written as it ought to be written, it is the moderation and long patience of the masses at which people will wonder, not their ferocity.”
-
C.L.R. James

Toward a Practical Grasp of the Present

The US working class is on the move. The Ferguson militants are the vanguard of a rebellion threatening to generalize across the United States. Individual cases of police murder are escaping the confines of their particular context and blurring into the total condition of life under white supremacist capitalism. The ruling class is breaking ranks on the question of police violence. The movement politicians are running behind the movement. The police are scared. There is no talk of the 99%.

As unarmed black men murdered in the street by pigs who the state calls innocent, Michael Brown and Eric Garner have many things in common. But most important to understanding the last four months in the United States is that they both stood up and said no more. Ordered rudely out of the street in Ferguson, Michael Brown refused. Harassed constantly by the NYPD, Eric Garner took a stand: “This stops today!” We can cite a million subtle causal factors for the ensuing mass movement, but we should not lose site of its grounding in brave acts of defiance that cost two black people their lives.

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Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev

After a recent discussion and debate with the NYC local, we asked Noel Ignatiev (formerly of Sojourner Truth Organization and the journal Race Traitor) to clarify some of his theses on the status of race in the US on the eve of the Ferguson grand jury decision. We hope Noel’s position can serve as a prompt for a reinvigorated and principled discussion, grounded in US history and our understanding of Marx.

While the present moment is unique, we hope to understand the activities of the class today as part of an unfolding of the broader history of struggles against white supremacy and capitalism. If you are interested in responding to this piece at length please get in touch with us.

Noel’s piece is also one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: 5 Way To Build a Movement after Ferguson, Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion, Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action, and The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, .


 

Noel Ignatiev: Capital is race-blind; the capitalist mode of production (cmp) tends to reduce all human beings to abstract, undifferentiated, homogenous labor power. However, the pure cmp exists nowhere; all existing societies, including those in which the cmp prevails, contain elements left over from the past as well as elements that are the product of the political intervention of various groups.

Racial oppression is not universal to capital. Four places developed historically on the basis of racial oppression: the U.S., South Africa, Ireland, and Palestine.

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Burning All Illusions Tonight

U&S NYC will be at the #IndictAmerica action tonight at 7pm, beginning at Union Square.  If you’re in NYC, meet us at the Northwest corner of the Square at 7pm by the #IndictAmerica flag.  Below is our statement, written with other members of the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee.

Burning All Illusions Tonight

Another black youth dead. The killer pig walks free. This is “justice.” And we’re supposed to just take it.

The Ferguson grand jury confirms what many already know: this system will never give us justice. The only way to prevent another Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride or Sean Bell is to dismantle the whole damn system. To abolish the cops, the prisons, and the fake-ass democracy of capitalist rule.

Capitalist white supremacy requires that cops kill us. Real talk: the police exist to serve and protect capitalism, wealth and the people in power. It’s their job to attack anyone who gets in the way. If we want to stop killer cops, we have to burn the system to the ground, and replace it with something completely new. Not small businesses, or new politicians, or even a new state–but a world run by us, the people, to fulfill our own needs and wants. True freedom. We build this world by fighting back.

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Against Climate Exceptionalism

Today, members of Unity and Struggle, along with comrades from Sloths Against Nuclear State and Barnard Columbia Divest for Climate Justice * will be engaging in the People’s Climate March in New York City.  We wrote a short pamphlet to share with people who are engaging in these struggles, and who are working through questions of reform and revolution in regards to climate change and environmental destruction.

“Climate Change is Not an Environmental Issue”
It’s easy to forget the roots of climate change.  For many people, climate change and environmental destruction are synonymous with human society, or population growth.  Non-profits, academics, and even some radicals blame environmental destruction on the “anthropocene” and “human intervention.”  But we want to call the origin of the crisis what it is. We are not only dealing with an environmental crisis.  The same root cause that creates climate change is behind inequality, poverty, many contemporary illnesses, homelessness, and everyday alienation.  This root cause is not humans, or “human society” writ large.  It is instead a particular form of human social relations: capitalism.

Capitalism is the organization of society around production purely for exchange and profit, as opposed to use.  Capitalism requires overproduction, debt, endless growth, and most important of all, inequality. Capitalist social relations are inherently anti-democratic. Whether you work for an NGO or for an energy company, you are working for something that exists outside of your direct control.  Without inequality, there would be no workers to exploit, no land to grab, and no rents to raise.  Without hierarchy, capitalist production would become obsolete–as the people formerly on the bottom would take democratic control over the means of production, and end exploitation.  Inequality, hierarchy, exchange, misery, and alienation are all sources of life for capitalism, and sources of death for working and poor people.  The state (congress, the police, local civic bodies, courts) exist to maintain inequality and hierarchy, and work out conflicts within the ruling class. Continue reading

Green capitalism seeks sustainable misery.

On the eve of the “People’s Climate March” 2014, a member of U&S NYC offers up some theses for discussion. It has been rightly observed within U&S that these theses do not engage directly with the crisis itself, and its particular relationship to capitalism. In this regard, they can be understood as supplementary reading to the excellent pamphlet “Why Climate Change is Not And Environmental Issue“. A more rigorous engagement with these questions is forthcoming.

 

I. The first person to fence off a piece of land and say “this is mine” was the original “climate criminal”. The first person to defend this right was the forebear of today’s “green capitalist”.

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II. Green capitalism tells us that the “environmental crisis” can be resolved within capitalism, by capitalist means — legislation, lobbying, fundraising, protest parades, and direct actions that “speak truth to power” and get the wheels of reform turning. Talk of “climate criminals”, the nefarious “Wall Street”, and the need for “climate justice” is perfectly consistent with green capitalism. For green capitalism, the solution to the climate crisis is more effective capitalist democracy, fairer capitalist justice, “Main Street not Wall Street”, or in other words: better capitalism.

 
III. Branding oneself “anti‐capitalist” hardly makes one any less capitalist; quite the opposite. A savvy eye to niche marketing makes the “anti‐capitalist” promoter of green capitalism a capitalist, par excellence.

 
IV. Green capitalism parcels out ecological crisis from the struggles we face in our daily lives and forces us to fight for “the environment” in abstraction from the fight for control of our lives. Torn from our everyday experiences of capitalist exploitation (wage labor, austerity, racism, gentrification, patriarchy, sickness, depression…), we are transplanted to the specialized site of the “environmental” struggle: whether through petitions in the halls of power, the theatrics of the ballot box, or long train rides to spectacular demonstrations in neighborhoods where nobody but a “climate justice” non‐profit director could afford to live.

 
V. Green capitalism seeks not to empower people to take control of their daily lives, but to manage peoples’ outrage into channels deemed acceptable in advance. These parameters are typically defined by legality and adherence to the institutions of the capitalist state, but also allow for a measured illegality as a means of blowing off a little steam. This type of management is intrinsic to the “non‐profit” form, to the political party (reformist and revolutionary), and to all organizations which do not accept the secondary role they play to facilitating independent activity outside of and exceeding their control.

 
VI. Speaking truth to power, and thus recognizing its legitimacy, offers access to official society as an acknowledged leader, favorable coverage in the press, book deals, “political” credibility in academia, cushy NGO jobs, and even access to ruling class representative politics when one should decide their days of sewing wild oats to be over. Building counterpower — defying self‐appointed movement managers, forging bonds across struggles resistant to leadership from above, and helping to push situations beyond the bounds of any recuperation — offers none of this, as it threatens the ruling class, rather than flattering it.

 
VII. If the central, albeit unspoken demand of Occupy Wall Street was the right of return to the middle class by those freshly expelled from it, green capitalism offers that possibility to a milieu of young activists who want to put their technocratic smarts to use and be the change they want to see in the world. In this perverse way, the middle class aspirations of Occupy may succeed for its most dedicated partisans, on an individual basis. Whether or not this rope ladder to social mobility is accepted (has and) will determine which side of the class line young activists fall in today’s struggles and the struggles ahead.

 
VIII. Green capitalism needs a “media strategy” because it has no desire to engage people by any other means. Through spectacular “actions” neatly staged for the press cameras, green capitalism summons modernity’s most effective tool for imposing disempowerment and isolation — capitalist mass media — to “get out the message” in the exact manner of the Ford Motor Company. For green capitalism, the alienation of struggle from daily life becomes the struggle to determine the form alienation should take: green capitalism needs alienated consumers of… green capitalism. It’s no coincidence that so much of “the movement” is preoccupied with what kind of consumers people should be.

 
IX. Green capitalism deliberately separates tightly-controlled lawful demonstrations from the sanctioned illegality of the “disobedient” direct action. The illegality of the latter allows for the movement-policing of the former, and is a source of its legitimacy. Thus there is a symbiosis, reinforcing their exclusivity. Even in illegality, human activity is tightly managed from above by green capitalism. Meanwhile “civil” illegality itself is scrupulously codified, and put to work peacefully in the service of an improved legality. Illegality which refuses to speak to power, adopting instead a language of its own understood only by its participants, is deemed illegitimate, divisive, and devoid of content. Occupy briefly challenged this dynamic, but many brave blockaders of the Brooklyn Bridge soon amended their story to become victims of a police plot.

 
X. The specter of the proletariat taking decisive action on its own terms, generalizing its daily struggles toward the struggle against environmental ruin, and pushing beyond the conservative parameters of “the environmental movement” is the nightmare of green capitalism. When this day comes, the self‐appointed leaders of “climate justice” will either suppress the movement back into neatly parceled channels, or will be left on the sidelines to order each other around while the class moves on its own. And there will be no question of willfully turning oneself over to the state for symbolic arrest. How we relate to green capitalism today will partially determine which direction is taken at this coming juncture, though the thrust of this movement will be (thankfully) out of anyone’s hands.

 
XI. Green capitalism seeks sustainable misery. Its dubious dream — of capitalism surviving ecological crisis and prolonging its project to degrade and disfigure humanity for thousands of years to come — is more horrifying than the prospect of humanity ceasing to exist altogether. Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.

Capitalism and the Value Form

The following post is the third installment in an ongoing series on some of the key ideas in Marx’s thought. Part one can be found here. The second part is linked here. The last two parts will follow as they are completed: “What is Capital?” and, lastly, “Communism”.

Capitalist Society and the Value Form

Marx begins Capital by raising the question of wealth: “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’; the individual commodity appears as its elementary form” (125). In putting forward the contradiction between increased productivity of labor and the division of labor, Marx was able to show that as wealth grows so does exploitation and misery. It is only with capitalism that this contradiction reaches its limit. In no other form of society has the concentration and accumulation of productive powers been so great and exploitation so immense. In capitalism, as Marx writes elsewhere, “the wretchedness of the worker is in inverse proportion to the power and magnitude of his production” (“Estranged Labor”).

So far we have been discussing Marx’s ideas for all societies in general. But Marx’s aim was to understand what was particular about capitalist society, a form of production that was, from a world perspective, only embryonic in his own day. For Marx capitalist society is characterized by the value form, a form of existence and social relations unique in human history. What follows is an attempt to summarize and synthesize this concept.

The Dual Character of Labor

For Marx, central to understanding the organization of capitalist society is the dual character of the commodity. He argues in Capital that one side of the commodity is defined by how it is used, or “use-value.” He defines use by how the commodity “satisfies human needs of whatever kind” (125). We have seen how the idea of “human needs” plays an important role in Marx’s thought. Throughout history human beings have produced uses to satisfy and express their needs, giving rise to particular forms of society.

When looked at as a use the commodity is indistinguishable from the process of fulfilling needs as a general characteristic of all human societies. As such, commodities “constitute the material content of wealth, whatever its social form may be” (Capital, 126). However, the production of uses takes, or, more precisely, cannot be separated from a specific form in each society or historical epoch. In capitalist society, Marx argues, the production of uses has a dual character that consists of its use and its exchange value. As he writes in Capital: “In the form of society to be considered here [uses] are also the material bearers of exchange value” (126).

Marx defines exchange-value as “the quantitative relation, the proportion, in which use-values of one kind exchange for use-values of another kind” (Capital, 126). This type of exchange is necessary because of the division of labor in capitalist society, which is composed of separate workers producing privately and selling their labor power to produce single uses. He writes:

The totality of heterogeneous use-values or physical commodities reflects a totality of similarly heterogeneous forms of useful labour, which differ in order, genus, species and variety; in short, a social division of labour. This division of labour is a necessary condition for commodity production….Only the products of mutually independent acts of labour, performed in isolation, can confront each other as commodities. (Capital, 132)
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