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Contra a Transparência

Passa Palavra (meaning “Free the Word”), an impressive libertarian Marxist organization based in Brazil and Portugal with whom Unity and Struggle has a great deal of political affinity, recently translated a piece by Jocelyn and James that we posted earlier last year called “Against Transparency”. We feel very honored to be featured on their site, and encourage everyone to check out their prolific writing. In addition to putting out theory, Passa Palavra organizes in daily struggles, and have been intimately involved in the anti-fare hike movement, as well as far left peasant struggles against the left-leaning Brazillian state. We encourage you to read their writing on Brazil in English which was posted in Insurgent Notes.  

Contra a Transparência

2 de fevereiro de 2014
O trabalhador militante não deveria ter medo de fazer exigências que não cabem no orçamento na sua forma atual; uma exigência desse tipo é a essência do radicalismoPor James Frey e Jocelyn Cohn

A exigência por transparência surge inevitavelmente nas lutas no local de trabalho, especialmente quando estão envolvidas organizações liberais [*], sindicatos ou Organizações Não Governamentais (ONGs). “Abram os livros!”, exigem alguns, “e nos deixem ver de onde o dinheiro está vindo, para onde está indo e exatamente quanto pode ser gasto!” O imperativo de abrir os livros pode ser inspirado por intenções nobres, como o desejo por uma democracia radical no lugar de trabalho, e aparece em resposta ao mistério criado pela gerência sobre a fonte da riqueza da empresa. No entanto, a exigência de ver o orçamento dos patrões implica que os trabalhadores são um custo para o qual é necessário encontrar dinheiro, quando, na verdade, somos nós o componente mais necessário da produção, e a fonte de seja lá o que for encontrado no “orçamento”.

Então qual é a origem da exigência por um orçamento aberto? Exigir transparência parece conseguir uma prova irrefutável da desigualdade: se “seguirmos o dinheiro”, podemos mostrar que os patrões conseguem mais dele do que os trabalhadores e, armados desse conhecimento, nós, enquanto trabalhadores, podemos mostrar que muito dinheiro é “desperdiçado” nos salários dos gestores. Esse argumento é especialmente proeminente quando cortes salariais são apresentados sob o disfarce de “corte de custos” ou “austeridade”. “São os salários dos gestores que estão custando tanto, não os nossos! Corte no topo!” são os gritos por um orçamento aberto. Mas para aqueles trabalhadores que exigem uma igualdade desse tipo a fonte de riqueza da empresa continua sendo, como interessa à gerência, um mistério. Parece que essa riqueza vem de uma atividade externa ao trabalho, como compras feitas e lucros obtidos no mercado, juros adquiridos nos bancos, ou benemerência de doações generosas. A causa da má situação dos trabalhadores seria, assim, a subsequente má gestão desses fundos nas mãos dos patrões gananciosos. Desse ponto de vista, a pobreza do trabalhador pode ser facilmente corrigida – basta circular o dinheiro! Mas os trabalhadores em luta contra suas condições descobrem algo diferente. A desigualdade entre patrão e trabalhador não é acidental, causada apenas pela incompetência ou ganância; ela é fundamental ao trabalho na sociedade em que vivemos. A desigualdade é inerente às relações sociais entre a classe dos patrões, senhorios e políticos e a classe dos trabalhadores, inquilinos e a gente comum. Continue reading Contra a Transparência

Some remarks on Bloom and Contend: A Critique of Maoism

We received these remarks in response to Chino’s “Bloom and Contend”.  We feel the response is a useful contribution to the discussion and debate.  We welcome additional feedback, debate, and questions in the comments sections of both pieces.

by John Steele

There’s a lot in this essay to agree with, and I appreciate the attempt by the author to situate the discussion of Maoism within the concrete development of the Chinese revolution; as he notes, this was “one of the great world-historical revolutions of the 20th century.” But in carrying this out, some problems arise.

Overall, in Chino’s approach and in the basic “lesson” he strives to draw, there is a merging of two different questions:

Maoism as the ideology of the Chinese revolution, and

Maoism as a present-day theoretical or ideological basis for revolutionary analysis and action

The author strives to argue and move from a critique of the former to a critique of the latter, and this second critique (of present-day Maoism) seems to be the chief aim of the essay, even though the first occupies far more space. A major problem I see in this approach is that the historical examination is made the servant, to large extent, of a polemic or argument against a present-day political tendency or tendencies. But it would be perfectly possible to make good arguments and polemical points against Maoism as a basis for contemporary revolutionary politics, without drawing this out of Maoism in the Chinese revolution. And it would be, I believe, far better to do so, for under this approach historical analysis tends to be conducted through the terms of contemporary political polemic, thus pulling away from examining Maoism (in this case) within its historical context. (I think how we view the great revolutions of the 20th century is an important question today, and one that’s almost never answered in a very fruitful way.)

The problem often boils down to the use of very insufficiently developed categories as if they were transparent terms of analysis. The chief culprits here are ‘Stalinist’ and ‘state capitalist’, two adjectives which are subject to a great deal of ambiguity and polemical superficiality.As far as I can see, the only explanation that the former term receives is a brief polemical characterization on page 6: “What we call ‘Stalinism’ today is essentially a distorted version of Marxist theory, taken up and reworked for use as the ideology of a new ruling class.” In the case of ‘state capitalism’ there is a bit more discussion:

I use the term “state capitalist” to refer to any system in which the exploitation and capital accumulation described by Marx occurs in a system in which the vast majority of the means of production have been nationalized, or otherwise placed under the control of a state apparatus. In such a system, the fundamental aspects of capitalist social relations remain. A proletariat, defined by its lack of access to and control over the means of production and subsistence, is forced to alienate its labor to a separate social group and attendant institutions, which to an ever greater degree comes to resemble a distinct ruling class. As ongoing exploitation yields capital accumulation, this becoming-class continually expands its control over wealth and political power through its position in the relations of production, and determines the trajectory of the reproduction of society. 

…as long as the conditions described above exist, “value” in the capitalist sense continues to exist as well. This “value” in the capitalist sense will provide the metric through which use-values are equated, production is conceptualized and coordinated, and foreign trade is conducted. The resulting “law of value” will tend to impose seemingly objective limits and presuppositions on those living under its auspices, including those in positions of state power—no matter their subjective intentions or political pedigree. (2, 3)

Fine so far, but I think the question is more subtle, in the context of both USSR and China, than this general characterization can get at. (I hope to show what I mean in saying this, in a forthcoming piece on 20th century socialism as a “mode of production.”) Chino implies, in the sentence which begins the next-but-one paragraph (“to explore the implications of this concept further, we must examine the broad path of the Chinese revolutionary experience”) that the bulk of the rest of the essay – which does look at the course of the Chinese revolution – will be in service of clarifying this concept in these historical circumstances. Instead, however, state capitalism is simply used through the rest of the essay as if it is already a basic category which is clear and transparent.
Continue reading Some remarks on Bloom and Contend: A Critique of Maoism

Statement by Resist and Multiply in NYC: Beyond Wall Street

A small, multi-tendency, anti-capitalist group working out of Hunter College in New York (part of the City University of New York) that a member of U/S is in as well, recently wrote up an analysis and basic strategic outline regarding Wall Street.  Many of us have been spending some time at Wall Street, but also trying to build at the CUNY schools in a cross-sectoral struggle with workers, workers in the community (such as locked out sotheby’s workers who are picketing daily just 4 blocks away)  and students.  As the situation in New York and the world changes literally minute by minute, at the CUNY schools we are working hard to build ongoing militant organizing.  You can find RAM at resistandmultiply.wordpress.com.

Beyond Wall Street

A statement on strategy

by Resist and Multiply, based out of hunter college made of community members, students and workers, fighting for a free cuny.
All over the world, mass protest is becoming the norm.  People are rebelling against dictators, corrupt governments, and austerity regimes, all of which are part of an exploitative economic and political system.  For the past month, thousands have been occupying Zuccotti Park in New York in a revolt against Wall Street which has both contributed to the global wave of dissent and given new legitimacy to collective protest and organization in this country. Discussion of expanding the occupations has recently begun, but the questions remain of where, why, and how.

What are people so upset about?
People wonder what the protesters at Wall Street stand for because everyone seems to have a different answer. However, the only reason the movement has been able to stay alive this long, and even grow, is because the protesters agree: The society we live in works to benefit a very small few at the expense of the majority.  The problem is not based on greedy individuals in power, but rather the whole capitalist structure. Even if we agree that this is the problem, our solutions are different because the system is complex and affects all of us differently.

Capitalism is the reason we’re in debt, unemployed, and struggling to pay rent. But capitalism also affects the way we think about ourselves and the way we relate to each other.  Most of us have been told over and over again that rich people are rich because they work hard; that we need to look out for “number 1” in order to succeed like them. But living this way makes us feel like shit. It destroys our sense of community and meaning in life, and we feel apart from our neighbors, co-workers, and classmates.  We feel alienated.

The thing that unifies Wall Street protesters is the opportunity to overcome this alienation through experiences of shared social responsibility through collective decision making and based on achieving a better future. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

Bringing Wall St. to your job, school and community: disrupting the system
Have you ever thought you could do a better job than your boss? Felt taken advantage of at your job? Noticed that some people get to go to school while others don’t, and that it has a lot to do with the neighborhood they come from? When it comes down to it, capitalism exploits the majority so that the few on top can maintain their fortunes, while the rest of us have to work hard just to survive.  Furthermore, some of us are more exploited than others. It is not just about saving our pensions or paying less in taxes, because most of us don’t even have those options.  We are struggling to take care of ourselves, our families, and for our day to day survival.

But we have the power to transform our struggle into our liberation. We are not just the 99%: we are people of color, immigrants, women, and poor people. WE do the work, WE control our bodies, and WE take care of society.  But we can’t do it as individuals– we need to work together.

How do we do this?
The Occupy Wall Street movement won’t change the system itself. It will, however, open up space for us to bring this struggle to our schools, where we are trained to be good workers; to bring it to our places of work, where we make society function; and into our communities, where real power lives. We need to organize ourselves: go on strike, occupy our schools, have walkouts, do work slowdowns and build community centers for self-determination. Each of these actions can be pieces of a new system built right here and now, just waiting to link up with each other. When we do these activities together, we disrupt the profit of bosses and the power of politicians.  Instead of turning to them for answers, we create our own.

Why CUNY?
CUNY is the largest secondary educational institution for working class people of color in New York, and a major employer in the city.  CUNY used to be free, but tuition was established in 1975, soon after protestors changed the composition of the system from mostly white to mostly people of color by using sit-ins, walkouts, and strikes.  Historically, larger issues in our society have been fought over and won on CUNY campuses:  the fight against white supremacy in the open admissions struggle and battle for Black and Puerto Rican studies, the establishment of Hostos and Medgar Evers, and the fight against drafting working class people to go to Vietnam.

But now, CUNY is used as a testing ground for neoliberal capitalist policies: tuition hikes, overcrowding classrooms, hiring adjuncts at low rates to do hard work, and making scholarships and remedial classes harder to access, is making CUNY whiter and more upper class—its makes us feel like the people who fought for it don’t even belong.  Occupying, striking, and other direct actions allow us to build a movement that does fundamentally new: a direct democratic, open, and free CUNY, that works in relation to the rest of society, and addresses struggles against gentrification, police and state violence, and the devaluing of caring and teaching labor that go far beyond campus walls.

If you wanna throw down:
www.resistandmultiply.wordpress.com
resistandmultiplynyc@gmail.com

 

 

 

Perspectives on Occupy Atlanta from Revolutionary Voices

This piece was written by one of our members and her comrades in Atlanta, who have been taking part of Occupy Atlanta since day one.

A public, revolutionary perspective of the ongoing occupations across the nation has been lacking. There is much talk within radical communities, organizations, and blogs about the occupations, but few written declarations have been made from those within the occupations themselves. This is our small attempt to address this problem.

We do not represent the voices of every occupier, but we also recognize that our own voices must be heard. We followed the Occupy Wall Street movement when it was just several hundred people in New York City, and we watched, thrilled, as it spread across the nation. We were ecstatic to find out that folks, here, in Atlanta were starting to organize our very own Occupy. But we were also cautious—cautious because we knew there were very serious critiques of the racial, class, gendered, and political makeup of the occupations that we largely agreed with and didn’t want to see replicated in our own city.

Last Friday was the first night of Occupy Atlanta. At six pm, the scheduled time for the first General Assembly, over 500 people gathered in Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta. It was exciting to see so many people come out to something that had been planned so quickly. It was a testament to the excitement and rage in the air. At the same time, there were lots of problems from the start. White men moderated the entire three hour discussion, spoke almost the whole time, and made it very difficult for anyone else to speak because of the “process” of the meeting. Many of us had to wait almost twenty minutes, several times, to say one word even though no one else was on stack. The meeting was at times boring, tedious, and incredibly frustrating. Yet, it was also an exercise in democracy, and the biggest collective decision making body most of us had ever witnessed.

During the GA, Congressman John Lewis, the celebrated civil rights leader, showed up in expectation of addressing the crowd. We were informed that he wanted to address the crowd at that very moment, and were not told until far later that he had a prior engagement and thus could not wait until later to speak. Hundreds of people were in the midst of a critical meeting and knew that there was a place at the end of the agenda for people to address the crowd. Furthermore, recognizing that one of the central values of the Occupy movement is the belief that no individual or group of individuals is more valuable than any other person—particularly those already over-valued and over-represented in the very governmental institution we are opposing—many folks in the crowd felt that the meeting should not be interrupted for an “important” figure. The folks asking Lewis to wait until the scheduled speaking time were not only white folks, as has been suggested by some, but a diverse group of people, and ultimately made up the majority. Those asking Lewis to wait wanted Lewis to speak—they recognized his legacy, his importance, and his value for many of us, especially to the black community—but they also wanted him and every other individual to respect the process of a democratic meeting.

Yet, this collective ask prompted a handful of black folks to leave the crowd, telling some individuals they felt alienated and upset by what had happened. One woman of color was in tears on the phone, speaking to a friend, saying that those who claimed to speak for her were unaware of what she needed—John Lewis was a radical man whom empowered his community, and here was a mostly white crowd shooing him away. This was so upsetting to witness for many of the radicals in the crowd, as we were already concerned about the racial dynamics and did not want the decision to ask Lewis to wait to be construed as a rejection of such a prominent black leader, and therefore, as a major affront to POC and the black community. In the days that have followed, the John Lewis story has not died down, but rather gained steam and turned into something it absolutely was not. So let us be clear, as witnesses—John Lewis was asked to wait until the specified time for speakers to address the crowd. He did not stay; he had to leave for an appointment. He expressed absolutely no ill will towards us, publicly.

What happened is unfortunate. But those of us writing this document must be clear—if we have to rely on the presence of Lewis to attract and retain folks from the black community at a protest, something is fundamentally wrong. The situation should raise an altogether different question—why were only white men speaking and moderating? If a black woman had been on the bullhorn and had been the one to say Lewis needed to wait until the end, how would things have been interpreted differently? On the one hand, we need not to fetishize the democratic process. On the other hand, we need to recognize the influence of an individual like Lewis in the hearts of so many. However, the solution and discussion shouldn’t be limited to letting Lewis speak or making him wait. Again, if there were more women, more POC, more queer folks, up at the front of the crowd, and if they were the ones telling Lewis he needed to wait, what then would there action from the crowd have been? We ask this question because we are adamantly against the privilege baiting that has gone on in regards to the Lewis debacle. Far too often, these privilege politics (you are white and thus you have no right to ask Lewis to wait) are often masking political beliefs of individuals that are deeply imbedded within the non-profit industrial complex and black capitalist class which is nowhere more prominent than in Atlanta. Additionally, the privilege baiting attempts to erase the countless voices of women and people of color that also voted for Lewis to wait.

Again, the issue from the onset is not about Lewis being asked to wait; it is that people of color, queer folk, women—those upon whose backs capitalism was built and perpetuates its oppression—were not adequately reached out to in the preparatory stages of Occupy Atlanta, and were not actively included once it began. Using Facebook and word of mouth to spread information about an occupation, or any movement for that matter, is insufficient. These forms of communications rest on friendship ties, and friendship ties in this case were predominantly between those already existing in the progressive Atlanta community (which is very white). The Atlanta occupation, and those all across the country, have been planned, dominated, and frequented by mostly white, middle class, young men and women. This is the true issue at the forefront of these occupations, and many social movements. It is the sharp contrast between those speaking and those needing to speak that must be brought up, discussed, and publicly addressed by radicals, lest we fall into the same paradigms of non-profits, whom claim to speak for the disenfranchised, but in reality, rob and maim the voices of the oppressed classes.

Yet, we found ourselves questioning, why despite all of these problems, do we remain occupying? This is our answer: We remain occupying precisely because of these problems. We are revolutionaries, and the job of revolutionaries is not to ignore a mass movement of people breaking out just because it has problems, but to insert ourselves directly into the movement to raise, critique, and help fix the problems. We must stay here so we can bring up these non-coincidental issues of color, class, and gender-orientation representation and strive to change them. We must stay here so that we can raise the revolutionary character of these movements, challenge the participants to think and act differently, and incorporate the voices of those that have thus far been absent.

The authors of this document, along with countless others occupying cities across the nation, stand against capitalism, patriarchy, and racism. We recognize that capitalism would not be possible without the original, and ongoing, oppression of women, queer folk, and people of color. Capitalism was built upon our backs. This economic crisis has been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years for queers, people of color, and women—it is nothing new. These communities have also been fighting back since the beginning of their oppression—resistance is also not new. We recognize that it is only when the homes of white, middle class Americans get taken away, when their jobs are lost, when they begin to suffer, when they begin to fight back, that the media and the politicians begin to pay attention.

But we also think there is a space to recognize and critique these factors from within the current occupation movement. We refuse to abstain from the largest mass activity that any of us have seen in our lifetimes, just because there are problems.

The authors of this document believe that the occupy movement reflects the biggest self-organization of the people that we have seen in decades. People are joining together to address the problems they face. But we also recognize that full realization of the demands that occupiers are making, such as putting people over profit, are impossible under the capitalist society in which we live. Full victory will never be possible as long as economic relations continue to be driven by the profit imperative. It is only through a revolution, created and led from the bottom up, by the people, for the people, by the 99% that are most affected, that we can move beyond the corruption and corporate rule we are witnessing today.

Yesterday, three women from this document moderated a 100 person general assembly. We are currently working on a workshop on white privilege and male privilege. There are more brown faces at the occupation each day, than the day previous. We renamed Woodruff Park, the park which we are occupying, Troy Davis Park. We are organizing a walk out at our school in which more than 30% of the students are black. There is a workshop on Saturday at Troy Davis Park about free, radical childcare. There is a march on Friday in support of a homeless shelter nearby that is in danger of being forced to close. We have fed hundreds of mouths, many which would have gone to bed hungry without our homemade peanut butter sandwiches and bean burritos.

Here’s the thing: We’re sick of asking for change, and we’re not going to do it anymore. We’re sick of being told to lobby and to vote, and if we just supported Obama a little more, things would be different. We’re sick of being told to join a non-profit, however radical it perceives itself to be. We’re sick of being told that change can happen within the system if we only just participate more. We’re sick of being told we’re racist, or sexist, or classist, for participating in a movement that has problems. We’re sick of sitting on the sidelines and refusing to actually engage in a movement while writing on our blogs and Facebook about how screwed up things are. We’re sick of asking and we’re sick of waiting. The time to act is now, with every ounce of our brown, female, and queer bodies.

When we lose control of our labor power

by Will

Background to the 1844 Manuscripts

Some of us around Gathering Forces are reading a selection from The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 by Karl Marx. We should be careful not see this document as just a brilliant piece of writing coming from a solitary brain of an intellectual giant. Instead this writing is a powerful product of its time with all sorts of issues and events shaping its coming together. Four things which stand out in shaping this document are: a) Marx was breaking from Hegel who thought history moved through a world spirit and alienation was only mental. b) Marx was heavily influenced by the working class and specifically the Silesian weavers uprising in Germany. This was an important moment for Marx has it continued to propel him to break from bourgeois radicalism and left-wing Hegelianism. He saw that the movement of history was the process of production, that it was materially located in the working class. So two things are solved in this piece: alienation’s material dimension and the labor process as the central thread of human history. What placing the labor process as central to human history meant was that by only solving the contradictions in how humans work can we hope to build a radically new society. Or as Raya says, “He began with the proletarian activity at the point of production. He separated labor from product and from property, and looked for the contradiction within labor itself. It is through this contradiction that the laborer would develop, that is, would overcome the contradictions in the capitalist method of production (Marxism and Freedom, 55).” c) Marx was separating himself from the various dimensions of French socialism. It’s a big list so I won’t go into it here but folks can look up Utopian Socialism, Auguste Blanque, and Proudhon to get a sense of what I mean. d) He was using British political economy as a basis for his critique of political economy.

Continue reading When we lose control of our labor power