Marxist-Feminism vs. Subjectivism: A Response to Fire Next Time

2013 February 11

The East Coast network Fire Next Time recently posted this dialogue between two of their members, Zora and Ba Jin, contrasting Silvia Federici and Selma James.  The post argues that Federici’s Marxist-Feminist understanding of primitive accumulation in her book, Caliban and the Witch, forefronts global migration, colonization, and international connections among women and people of color.  On the other hand, the post asserts, James’ Marxist-Feminist analysis centers on the U.S.-centric housewife role and only secondarily takes up the question of waged women’s work and Third World and Black Feminism.  The post further critiques Wages for Housework as a liberal feminist goal, arguing that “it seems like a weird coexistence with capitalism.”  In response to this post, I feel the need to clear a few things up and ask some questions in the spirit of comradely debate.

1.  Why force a wedge between Federici and James?  

Federici and James are a part of the same Marxist-Feminist tendency.  A third person I would put in this longstanding tendency is Mariarosa Dalla Costa, who co-wrote “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community” with James, and still writes alongside Federici for The Commoner journal.  In fact, in the “Preface” to Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, she writes:

“The thesis which inspired this research was first articulated by Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, as well as other activists in the Wages for Housework Movement, in a set of documents in the 1970s that were very controversial, but eventually reshaped the discourse on women, reproduction, and capitalism [7].”

Furthermore, Federici wrote pamphlets in support of Wages for Housework in the 1970s.  In addition to their theoretical contributions, Dalla Costa, Federici, and James have done similar organizing through the years, for example with sex workers and in communities in the third world.

It is not clear what James’ and Federici’s relationship is today, but in discussing their contributions between (roughly) 1950 and 1980, their arguments (both historically and theoretically) strengthen and uphold one another.  The following will explain why.

2. James’ analysis of the housewife and reproductive work under capitalism.

First, I would like to look more closely at James’ discussion of the housewife.  At face value, the housewife is a one-sided experience at best, and a dated concept at worst.  As Zora describes,

“The whole wages for housework thing seems alienating for me, because it’s not applicable to that many people in the U.S. There is a history here of women of color being pushed into waged domestic work, in which you weren’t paid that much, and your worker’s rights weren’t protected. So it has already been capitalized on. You pushed multiple groups of people, who were not white women, into this domestic work to take care of white women’s children. And the wages for housework thing makes me think, “Well is that your end goal? To be co-opted by capitalism, and to make your work legitimate under capitalism?” It seems like a weird coexistence with capitalism instead of addressing how capitalism is reaching all the way down into reproduction, and developing a strategy to combat that, beyond just demanding wages.”

However, James’ methodology (along with Federici’s) is much more complex than Zora acknowledges.  James discusses the particular, or one-sided expression of the division of labour under capitalism, in conversation with the totality of social relations.  James explicitly acknowledges that the experience of the unwaged domestic labourer is one particular experience of the many different types of labour due to the capitalist division of labour.  For example, consider the following quote from James’ pamphlet, “Sex, Race and Class:”

[James quoting Marx's Capital] “‘Manufacture…develops a hierarchy of labour powers, to which there corresponds a scale of wages.  If on the one hand, the individual laborers are appropriated and annexed for life by a limited function; on the other hand, the various operations of the hierarchy are parceled out among the laborers according to both their natural and their acquired abilities.’

“In two sentences is laid out the deep material connection between racism, sexism, national chauvinism and the chauvinism of the generations who are working for wages against children and pensioners who are wageless, who are ‘dependents.’

“A hierarchy of labor powers and a scale of wages to correspond.  Racism and sexism training us to develop and acquire certain capabilities at the expense of all others.  Then these acquired capabilities are taken to be our nature, fixture our functions for life, and fixing also the quality of our mutual relations.  So planting cane or tea is not a job for white people and changing nappies is not a job for men and beating children is not violence.  Race, sex, nation, each an indispensable element of the international division of labour.” [Sex, Race and Class p. 96].

Under the capitalist division of labour, we become our jobs.  We are relegated into one form of work (we are teachers, bus drivers, call center workers, etc.) that we are to perform over and over again.  Marx calls this alienation.  Capitalism has a gendered and racialized hierarchical division of labour, where certain kinds of work, as James points out, are “naturalized,” to people of color, women, and children.
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These forms of work are historically de-valued under capital, and therefore women’s labour power is de-valued, a point that Federici explains in her account of primitive accumulation.  Further, the appearance of the value of labour power is the wage, and so women’s work is unwaged and/or underwaged.  This means that the housewife’s position in the division of labour as an unwaged worker, is tied to an immigrant domestic worker’s low-waged position, and a school teacher’s position, etc.

James’ work in this area was an important step for challenging Orthodox Marxism’s assertion that class struggle only took place in the factory.  These arguments could be extended to feudal peasantry, for example, arguing that the peasantry in countries who had not yet been colonized by capitalism had their own unique communist potential.
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History and the Social Forms of Existence

2013 January 21
by HiFi

This is the second part in an ongoing series on some of the key ideas in Marx’s thought. The first part can be found here.

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The preceding section discussed Marx’s understanding of human beings in the abstract. However, a true picture only emerges when one grasps humanity in the concrete; that is, in its actual living existence. So, for instance, in the beginning of the previous section the relationship between essence and existence was described as a matter of “standpoint.” This terminology is important because it suggests how Marx conceived of humanity as a dialectical unity between its essence and its mode of existence. One can only view human beings from different, distinct sides that, nonetheless, constitute a whole. As was emphasized above, essence only comes into being through existence and its content only exists objectively as form.

To develop this methodological point further it is necessary to consider the important role of abstraction in Marx’s thought. In order to understand the concrete phenomena of society, it is necessary to abstract from their particularity. Since a specific phenomena cannot be comprehended in itself, but only in its relation to other phenomena, it is necessary to discover new concepts that explain their unity. One thereby moves toward a conception of the totality of all relations in society. Without the relations between phenomena, the concrete becomes merely empirical. Once again, in Marx’s approach there are no “things,” but only relations and moments of totality. However, it is also necessary to grasp the concrete or else the relations from which phenomena emerge would become abstract. As a result, social reality and its concrete historical movement could not be comprehended at all. Marx’s methodology regarding abstraction and the concrete will be returned to later and developed further.

With these considerations in mind it becomes clear that Marx’s philosophical break in the “Theses” and ‘Estranged Labor” does not really begin to take methodological shape until he grounds his categories in history. For Marx history is the movement of the successive modes of existence humanity has created. History is the result of and the process of the objectivity of sensuous activity he speaks of in those early writings. In this light it is possible to understand more clearly Marx’s turn to the critique of political economy. Of course, this move was necessary to critique bourgeois ideology. But this critique proceeded in immanent fashion by grasping the movement of human activity in its concrete forms of existence. Marx’s aim was to show how in class society, humanity’s essence and existence come into contradiction with each other.

Mode of Production and the Mode of Life

When Marx turns to history he does not look at human beings in isolation, but rather in society. It is not possible to think of humanity as separate individuals. Human beings only come into being and gain awareness in mutual association with each other. In The German Ideology, Marx writes that if “consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other” people, then “consciousness of the necessity of associating with the individuals around [them] is the beginning of the consciousness that [they are] living in society at all.” Consequently, Marx’s concept of self-activity must be understood as being a social process, one that involves human beings reproducing themselves only in relation to each other.

We are not dealing with the materialization of a single individual, but a collective realization. Only in mutual association do human beings therefore “distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation.” The means of subsistence are the objects produced by people in association that consist of the tools and knowledge that subsequently absorbs and gives shape to the labor that follows. The means of subsistence is the basis for society because it is the foundation for the reproduction of the people who comprise that society. As Marx notes, “By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life” (The German Ideology). The result of this mutual materialization is the creation of the means of labor.
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Notas Del Capítulo Uno De El Capital

2013 January 10
tags: ,
by Parcer

Lo siguiente es la primera parte de algunas notas del capítulo uno de El Capital. Esta es mi primera vez traduciendo un artículo tan complejo como éste. Así que si lees algo que no está traducido bien o hay un error gramático le agradecería su ayuda en corregirlo. Puedes conseguir el artículo original en Ingles aquí.

Originalmente escrito por HiFi y traducido por Parcer.

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El Carácter Doble de la Mercancía es el Carácter Doble Del Trabajo 

Marx empieza capítulo uno de El Capital describiendo el carácter doble de la mercancía. Un lado de la mercancía se define por la forma en que se utiliza. Marx llama a esto el “valor de uso.” Él define uso por cómo la mercancía “satisface necesidades humanas, de cualquier clase que ellas sean” (3). La idea de “necesidades humanas” representa una función importante en el pensamiento de Marx y toma una multitud de significados interrelacionados. En La Ideología Alemana él argumenta “El primer hecho histórico es, por consiguiente, la producción de los medios indispensables para la satisfacción de estas necesidades, es decir la producción de la vida material misma, y no cabe duda de que es éste un hecho histórico, una condición fundamental de toda historia” (28). A lo largo de la historia los seres humanos han producido cosas, o “usos,” para atender sus necesidades básicas y ampliadas, que causa formas particulares de la sociedad, determinados tipos de relaciones sociales y subjetividades.

Cuando se observa sólo como un uso, la mercancía es indistinguible del proceso de satisfacer necesidades como una característica general de todas las sociedades humanas. Así, como diversos tipos de usos para cumplir con nuestras numerosas necesidades, la mercancía “forma el contenido material de la riqueza, cualquiera que sea la forma social de ésta.” Sin embargo, Marx deduce en El Capital que una mercancía asume características que son específicas de la sociedad capitalista, que sólo se aclarará cuando se mira al otro lado de la mercancía: el cambio. “En el tipo de sociedad que nos proponemos estudiar [en Capitalismo], los valores de uso son, además, el soporte material del valor de cambio” (4).

La producción de usos para satisfacer necesidades en la sociedad capitalista asume una forma específica de cambio. Aunque históricamente han habido otros tipos de cambio, estos reflejaban no capitalista formas de sociedad. Una de las tareas de Marx es mostrar cómo la forma de cambio en el capitalismo, y por lo tanto las relaciones sociales o forma de esa sociedad no tiene precedentes históricamente y es algo nuevo.

Así, la tendencia de la producción de usos para satisfacer las necesidades para asumir una forma específica de cambio es el otro lado de la mercancía. ¿En qué forma se realiza este cambio en el capitalismo? “A primera vista, el valor de cambio aparece como la relación cuantitativa, la proporción en que se cambian valores de uso de una clase por valores de uso de otra” (4). Como explica Marx:
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A Moving Story by James Frey

2012 November 25
by JC

By James Frey

The following piece, by James Frey, was originally posted at Libcom, and is the story and analysis of organizing in a precarious workplace in New York, where a significant part of the working class works at-will, without health insurance, and several jobs at a time.  The piece includes important lessons for organizing precarious work places, as well as a range of important political critiques, made concrete through the questions raised by this struggle.  Frey can be reached at movingstorycontact@gmail.com

In the Summer of 2012 the exploited workers of a New York City moving company autonomously organized our shop and began the fight for control over the conditions of our lives. This is one worker’s account of how it all went down.

“They Just Run Us Into The Ground…”

Our struggle was born in the cabs of box trucks all over the city. Stopped in traffic, cramped and stewing in diesel fumes, and working off the clock due to flat-rate travel pay based on mythic road conditions, we have spent countless hours in the privacy of our little boxes enumerating our grievances endlessly. In these scenes, the individual gripe is always the germ of systematic critique. And such grievances are in no short supply when the starting rate for workers at our dangerous job has progressively fallen over the past four years, rolling back a full five dollars and coming to rest on the precipice of minimum wage, as has the pay cap for our nearly nonexistent pay raises, which can only be negotiated individually and secretly with management, in competition with our co-workers, and are rarely granted. Medical benefits are non-existent, though the threat of severe bodily harm comes with every day’s work, more reliably so than the gratuity with which each of our customers, in morally satisfied ignorance of our pay rate, are expected to subsidize our basic social needs out of sheer generosity. “Have a few drinks tonight!” they’ll chortle along with a meager tip, as we wonder if this keeps us on track to make rent. The undesirable conditions at our shop have created a high turnover which makes for unsafe working conditions, only exacerbating the daily struggle to make ends meet and make it home one piece.

Work in our shop comes in a pattern of feast or famine. We list which days we are available, and work is assigned to us based on necessity. This “flexibility” (as it is presented in the job interview) is misleading, as it is necessary to make oneself available almost every single day in order to make enough hours for the week, and work is announced with less than 24 hours notice. Many days we are available there is no work at all, especially for the newer workers, who can go two weeks at a time without hearing from the company. Often the most competent, experienced, and professional of our ranks view the job as an unfortunate short-term situation, explicitly citing lack of pay, reliable scheduling, and above all, dignity, and these workers have one eye on the door from the start.

This situation has engendered an entire class of disposable workers hired for the extreme short term and not expected to stay beyond a month, at which time they can be replaced by another crop from the inexhaustible Craig’s List precariat. They are hired at a pay rate which most often precludes any experience, and in many cases precludes maturity and responsibility. It is not uncommon to find among new hires an apathetical approach to this labor intensive and dangerous job. Surely, nobody among us can really blame workers making close to minimum wage for behaving accordingly. A while back a worker in this pay rate was an hour late on a Saturday morning, and one of the veterans joked “He just paid $8 to sleep in for an hour.” However, the most experienced and responsible crew members on each job must train each new worker behind the customer’s back while doing the work of two, and to turn their attention away from the new hire to perform a technical task or to even use the bathroom is to risk catastrophe.

And catastrophe strikes often, in the form of avoidable damages resulting from basic errors or carelessness, for which the company regularly doles out thousands of dollars, overcompensating the customer in the name of preserving its good standing in the public eye. The same is true for drivers, who the company is unwilling to hire at a competitive rate for commercial trucking. Instead it opts to underpay inexperienced drivers who routinely cause expensive wrecks and drive up the company’s insurance costs, while posing an obvious threat to the safety of all. In a bitter irony, the myriad expenditures stemming from constant turnover in an underpaid, often inexperienced, and increasingly apathetic workforce are cited as the reason we cannot receive raises, which of course would help obviate accidents and damages, and the cycle continues as wages are driven ever downward by the imperative to minimize costs in the short-term. This lends some weight to the view that in the wage relation, domination of the labor force is the primary concern for the accumulation of capital, and the importance of low wages to immediate concerns of profit is secondary.

Those of us who work our hardest do so not because it reflects our pitiful remuneration, but out of a basic human desire to take pride in the application of one’s faculties to a day’s work, and to recognize one’s efforts in the quality of the product. This is of course a complicated relationship within the paradigm of exploitation, and it leaves especially the most adept and responsible workers feeling like suckers. “The company uses us the same way they use the [notoriously unmaintained] trucks”, one seasoned worker commented morosely. “They just run us into the ground.”

“My Mover Has Read Goethe!”

We have all worked plenty of “shit jobs” before and came to this company with no illusions about the nature of precarious work in the present day. But the real insult to injury for most of us lies in the company’s hipster “niche market” status. According to its literature, our company only hires artists and other creative people, whose creative endeavors the customer can “support” simply by hiring us. This is a major selling point with the customers of course, but also with new hires, with whom it is used to justify low wages. The company dons the “starving artist” trope for itself in dealings with the staff, to whom the trope actually applies. And the idea that “we” are a “collective” of “artists” suggests to the average customer that there is some kind of common ownership or stake in the company, or at the very least, that the workers are compensated anywhere near the mean industry rate. After all, how could a company so hip and cool and with it pay its workers minimum wage? Instead, tips are a major source of our income, though we are prohibited from discussing it with the customers, and many customers seem legitimately unaware of how much we need gratuity to survive. Worst of all, this sort of company manages to drape a layer of DIY hipster obfuscation over the basic relationship of exploitation. This fools the willfully ignorant customers, who don’t want to think ill of their precious luxury item, but can also make things difficult for organizing those among the staff with somebody else supporting them, a type often drawn to this kind of hip company, whose class privilege allows for some distance between the exploitative wage and the material necessities of their lives.

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Against Transparency

2012 November 10
by JC

by James Frey and Jocelyn Cohn

The following piece by JC and James Frey (an independent marxist and labor organizer in NYC, and author of “A Moving Story” ) takes a look at the demand for “transparency”, and presents a critique from the perspective of communist labor organizing.

The demand for transparency will inevitably arise in the course of workplace struggle, especially when liberal organizations, trade unions, and non-profits are involved. “Open the books!” some will demand, “and let us see where the money is coming from, where its going, and just what can be afforded!” The imperative to open the books can be inspired by noble intentions, notably, the desire for radical democracy in the workplace, and it comes as a response to the mystery created by management about the source of the company’s wealth. However, demanding to see our bosses’ budgets suggests that workers are an expense for whom money is to be found, when in fact, we are the most necessary component of production, and the very source of whatever is to be found in the “budget”.

So what is the origin of the demand for an open budget? Demanding transparency seems to promise irrefutable proof of inequality: if we “follow the money”, we can show that the bosses get more of it than the workers, and armed with this knowledge, we as workers can show that so much money is “wasted” in management salaries. This argument is especially prominent when cuts to wages come under the guise of “cost cutting” or “austerity.” “It is management’s wages costing so much, not ours! Cut from the top!” are the cries for the open budget. But for workers demanding equality of this kind, the source of the company’s wealth remains, as management would have it, a mystery. It appears that this wealth comes from activity external to the work itself, such as purchases made and profits gained on the market, from interest accrued in the banks, or from the benevolence of generous endowments. The source of the worker’s misery is, therefore, the subsequent mismanagement of these funds at the hands of greedy bosses. In this view, the poverty of the worker can be easily rectified—move the money around! But workers in struggle against their conditions find something different. The inequality between boss and worker is not incidental, caused only by incompetence or greed; it is fundamental to work in the society we live in. Inequality is inherent in the social relationships between the class of bosses, landlords, and politicians and the class of workers, tenants, and everyday people.
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The Communist Theory of Marx

2012 November 2

The link for the Spanish translation of this post can be found here.

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“Organization Document”, Chapter 1: Partial synthesis of Marx, Section 1: The Communist Theory of Marx

The Communist Theory of Marx

The history of communist organization cannot be separated from the history of marxism as a critique of its own history. Since the crisis of the revolutionary left is, in part, a crisis of revolutionary theory we must, to some extent, begin again by returning to Marx. The history of revolutionary theory itself is marked by such returns in which revolutionaries attempted to understand their society in the light of past ideas and struggles. This has been a critical and necessary part of communist practice historically.

Since today we again face an impasse defined by a lack of categorical knowledge and analysis we must struggle again to find ground upon which to stand. Only with clarity can we arrive at a more solid foundation for revolutionary work.

The understanding of revolutionary organization must be rooted in a categorical approach and it is for this reason that we attempt to synthesize some of the fundamental premises of Marx’s thought. The aim here is somewhat limited. We have neither the space nor the time at the moment to cover the sum of Marx’s thought. This involves his critique of capitalist society as a whole, including the critical volumes two and three of Capital. Instead, we hope to concentrate on the bare outline of his view of humanity and its relations in capitalist society.

What follows is a somewhat abstract presentation. It is meant to function as a foundation for the further development of theory, investigation, strategy and tactics. The achievement of categorical knowledge and methodology is absolutely necessary to avoid the empirical, pragmatic and economistic perspectives that haunt the American Left – symptoms of its own decay. What follows is meant to provide the basis for the concrete investigation of the actual, real, and moving society. Without clear categories and methodology, strategy and tactics become increasingly delinked from anything concrete, and thereby reified in their abstraction.
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Notes on Lars Lih, Lenin Rediscovered

2012 March 9

What follows are some notes on Lars Lih, Lenin Rediscovered. An upcoming second post will conclude these notes with some separate conclusions on the continuing relevance of What is to be Done? in regards to thinking about revolutionary organization.

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Lenin Without “Leninism”

Lars Lih, Lenin Rediscovered: What is to Be Done? in Context is a major reevaluation of the famous (and infamous) work by Lenin. The status of What is to Be Done? in the history of the revolutionary Left since the Russian Revolution has obscured the actual context and meaning of Lenin’s arguments on organization. While Lenin’s book became one pillar for the “vanguard party-building model”, it also evolved into a kind of shorthand for what was to become known as “Leninism”. Taking apart the myth of What is to Be Done? is the subject of Lih’s book, which consists of an almost 700 page commentary and a new translation.

Lih not only takes issue with the revolutionary Left that claims the “leninist” mantle. He also critiques those who see in What is to Be Done? the foundations of authoritarianism and one-party dictatorship. However, it wasn’t only Cold War era academics in the West who crafted this kind of argument. A highly developed form of this idea was also developed by revolutionary marxists, which has continued to characterize WITBD ever since. It is best summarized by Trotsky’s attack in 1904 that what Lenin actually proposed was “subsitutionism” in which “the organisation of the party substitutes itself for the party as a whole; then the Central Committee substitutes itself for the organisation; and finally the ‘dictator’ substitutes himself for the Central Committee”. Luxemburg brought an even more distinct leftwing critique, citing Lenin as an example of a marxist who theorized a party of “blanquist” intellectuals as the agent of history rather than the working class.

Lih calls these approaches to What is to Be Done?—whether from the left or right—the “textbook interpretation”. He defines this approach as one that sees WITBD as a break with the prevailing social democratic marxism of its time. While the rightwing use of the “textbook interpretation” argued that WITBD cast in terms of organization an authoritarian and undemocratic worldview, the leftwing use said that it showed a clear rejection of the central role of worker self-activity.

Lih equally takes to task a more subtle use of the “textbook interpretation”. He writes:

The textbook interpretation is thus, on the whole, a postwar creation. One reason for its rise is a great forgetting of what prewar international Social Democracy was all about. The principal reason for this loss of context is the watershed of the 1917 revolution, which split prewar Social Democracy in two and gave the name ‘Social Democracy’ only to the more moderate side. On the other, a number of writers with no or very shallow roots in the Second International—Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Karl Korsch—created a theory (not shared by Lenin) that Leninism was the principled rejection of the fatalistic Marxism of the Second International and of Kautsky in particular. (32)

Lih points to a version of this interpretation in the Trotskyist tradition. Perhaps the best example is Tony Cliff’s classic four-volume work on Lenin. The Trotskyist recuperation of WITBD, Lih argues, sees Lenin as establishing a real if not completely realized break with social democratic marxism. While there is no doubt, the argument goes, WITBD overstates the role of a party working on an “unconscious” proletariat, Lenin “bends the stick” back during the 1905 Revolution, to not only reinsert the category of workers self-activity into his theory of revolution, but also into his approach to organization when he castigated rank-and-file bolsheviks for not “opening up” the party to the masses of newly radicalized workers.
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Perspectives on the Fight Back by Occupy and the ILWU Rank-and-File in Longview

2012 February 7
by U&S

From Insurgent Notes:
All Eyes on Longview: An Injury to One is an Injury to All

The breaking of Local 21 will undoubtedly be a prelude to further attacks on the ILWU up and down the west coast, with automation another battering ram. Clearly, the bosses and the state are out to pit ILWU workers against Occupy militants in order to isolate and weaken both. They recognize and fear the demonstrated power of joint Occupy/ILWU action.

In spite of that threat, the ILWU International called for confining the protest to EGT and Longview and for not shutting down other ports. They will tell the longshoremen to cross Occupy picket lines everywhere except Longview. On January 6, ILWU thugs attacked a meeting of Occupy Seattle that was planning solidarity actions with Longview.

Local 10 oppositionists, including former officers and rank-and-filers, declare that they will shut the Port of Oakland down if the ship attempts to land. In fact, the thugs who attacked the January 6 Occupy Seattle meeting did so just when retired Oakland longshoreman and Local 10 opposition leader, Jack Heyman, told the meeting that the ILWU rank-and-file in Oakland, Portland and Seattle had voted with their feet to honor the Occupy picket lines and close those ports on December 12, Occupy’s West Coast port shutdown, and would do so again when the grain ship docks at Longview. Whether or not this will happen, against the intense pressure being brought by the state and the bosses, with the complicity of the ILWU International and several Local presidents, remains to be seen.

[...]

The Longview confrontation will be the latest, and hardest test to date of the ability of the forces which shut down west coast ports on November 2 and December 12 to continue to mobilize mass support. Key to its success will be a serious, class-wide alliance of rank-and-file dock workers, the much larger numbers of unorganized truckers in the ports, and the casualized mass which forms the radical wing of Occupy. Turn this defensive struggle into an offensive one now!

 

From the Black Orchid Collective:
Longview, Occupy, and Beyond: Rank and File and the 89% Unite!

To be clear, at this potluck our friends were not saying that unemployed, precarious, non-union workers of color should have more authority than the ILWU to decide tactics in the Longview struggle.  Instead, they were pointing out that the D12 port shutdown was not just about solidarity with the ILWU so it was not up to them to decide whether or not it should happen.  In Seattle, it was about the proletariat showing our collective power by breaking the norms of capitalist legitimacy and legality. For one day, we were able to exhibit our power to blockade the flow of capital with a barricade at the port, cutting capitalist profits at the point of distribution. It wasn’t an attempt to co-opt the ILWU; it was an action done autonomously from the ILWU as well as in solidarity with port workers’ struggles.

It is in light of constant attacks on the legitimacy of non-union workers and unemployed people to conduct such a direct action, that we began to define ourselves as one big union of the 89% and unemployed, in unity with rank and file union members. We want to express explicitly that we, too, have a stake in class struggle. By using the label “89%,” we do not mean to suggest that the 11% of union workers are our enemy.  We are not comparing them to the 1% or the capitalists.  Instead, we wish to point out two things. First, that union leaderships who claim to speak for the 11% of union workers, cannot, and do not, speak for the rest of us. In fact, many times they do not even speak for the members of their unions. Second, we use the language of the “89%” to convey that labor struggles in this country must go beyond efforts  to preserve existing unions. Those defensive struggles are important, but for those of us who are not unionized, our class struggles in our authoritarian casualized workplaces, communities and neighborhood, need to be recognized as such: class struggle, even when they are not “sanctioned” by unions that are officially recognized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

[...]

When revolutionaries act as if legitimate class struggle only happens through NLRB-recognized unions, they ignore the very real and material divisions between union and non-union workers, many of whom see unionized workers as remote and unrelated to their lives at best and as privileged workers who do not understand the realities of the proletariat at worst.  If we do not understand this sentiment by the majority of the proletariat, then we cede this ground to the right wing, who will gladly use it to mobilize anti-union attacks on a populist basis. It’s ironic that the ISO accuses us of supporting right wing anti-union politics when that is precisely what our 89% rhetoric and organizing aim to challenge.

[...]

When fighting for liberation, oppressed people have and will utilize varying forms of organization to succeed. Unions have been and continue to be one of those forms. NLRB-unions have a dual nature under capitalism. They at once ensure that union workers have the ability to negotiate with bosses about wages and benefits by way of collective might. However, they also adhere to laws which hinder the potential of this collective might and it’s ability to end a situation in which a majority has to negotiate for its survival. Our critique of the bureaucracy lies in the fact that regardless of how progressive individual labor leaders may be, their positions rests in some manner on their ability to adhere to the contract which they have negotiated with the capitalists.  They end up helping management and the courts enforce this contract even when it goes against the interests of the workers.  In other words, they play a role in maintaining labor power as a commodity and in ensuring some level of discipline at the workplace .

“Guide to the Exploited Non-Profit Worker” by Tituba’s Revenge, a new NYC anti-capitalist collective

2011 December 15
by JC

with Wen

Tituba’s Revenge is a collective of anti-capitalist nonprofit workers who are majority queer women of color in NYC. We began to get together this year to discuss the challenges and contradictions in our workplace and aimed to develop tools and analysis as a collective to deal with workplace exploitation. We read Marxist-feminist texts such as Silvia Federici and Maria Mies to gain deeper insights into our alienation and devaluation as women caring laborers. In the past decades, the professionalization of nonprofits has drawn a significant amount of women – progressive activists from our communities in particular – into the low-wage, long hours, and non-unionized working conditions.  We feel that there is a vacuum in the analysis of the exploitation in the nonprofit workplace.  Nonprofits are serving as an integral part of the capitalist society rather than operating outside of it.  We want to dispel the myths we are told about nonprofits to create an active project aiming to develop an anti-capitalist analysis of the material oppression of the communities we work within through fighting against our shared exploitation in the workplace.

The pamphlet is part of an ongoing working project. We hope to continue to develop more in-depth analysis between the role of nonprofit in capitalist relations as well as strategies to facilitate workplace organizing.

About “Tituba”:

The name “Tituba’s Revenge” comes from a Black Caribbean woman named Tituba who was enslaved and brought to Salem, Massachusetts. She was persecuted in the witch trials particularly because she was an African healer.  We want to acknowledge the centuries of women’s struggles against capitalist patriarchy that appropriates and alienates us from our knowledge and labor and find ways to fight back in our own workplaces.

……………….

Download the PdF Here or visit http://titubasrevenge.wordpress.com

Guide to the Exploited Non-Profit Worker

Libertarian Marxism meets Leninism: some thoughts on STO’s “Towards a Revolutionary Party” (1971)

2011 November 2

Towards a Revolutionary Party, the Sojourner Truth Organization

I am a member of Unity & Struggle in Texas and I want to share an early pamphlet of the Sojourner Truth Organization (STO) that I re-read recently that has been a critical supplement for me of our group’s organizational studies.  It is called “Towards a Revolutionary Party” (TARP) and was written in 1971, just two years after STO was founded and after the collapse of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the national student civil rights and anti-war network from which it emerged.

STO, like many New Communist organizations, grew out of the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) opposition to the Progressive Labor Party’s (PLP) dominate tendency in SDS called Worker Student Alliance (WSA).  When PLP took the position that all nationalism is reactionary it overnight put them in opposition to every national liberation struggle and hence every revolutionary Left tendency including the American Black movement which was then seen by many as a national liberation fight.  RYM formed as a broad opposition to the WSA which inevitably led to another broad opposition to the Weathermen faction (which became RYM I), a group that emphasized and undertook armed struggle then and who felt that the American working class was inherently backward, and RYM II.  It was out of RYM II that many Marxist Leninist pre-parties and grouplets would take shape and this included what would become the STO.

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Statement by Resist and Multiply in NYC: Beyond Wall Street

2011 October 22
by JC

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

2011 October 16
by Alma

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.

“There are so many more Troy Davis’”

2011 October 10
by Alma

There has been an enormous amount of attention paid to the execution of Troy Davis and the international outcry that developed in the days preceding his murder. As a native of Atlanta, I was long aware of the case and the campaign attempting to get Troy off of death row. However, the campaign was largely dominated by non-profits and from my understanding, lacked any formal or public critique of Troy’s imprisonment and murder as directly caused by a racist and capitalist social order. As a result, I decided to orient myself towards other political action that had a more explicit political critique and would allow me to meet and develop alongside radicals, not those forever tied to the non-profit industrial complex.

But as news came of Troy’s impending execution, everyone I knew, radical or not, felt the need to act. Not only did we recognize the importance of being able to temporarily suspend our own organizing when sudden and important moments occur, but we also saw how many people who had never acted before were outraged and pouring into the streets (or the sidewalks at this point, because we hadn’t yet learned to take the streets together).  In this piece, I will first attempt to reconstruct my own experiences in the week leading up to Troy’s murder specifically the protest outside the prison on the September 21st. I will then address some of the critiques that have been made about the movement in relation to my own analysis not only as a witness, but as a committed revolutionary. This is a long piece, but bear with me, as I strongly believe this was one of the most important political ruptures many of us have ever seen, especially here in the South.
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Thoughts on Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins

2011 September 16

Marx at the Margins is an important summary of Marx’s thought concerning the relationship between the capitalist and non-capitalist world, colonialism and social development, as well as nationalism and internationalism. The book provides a general overview of Marx’s thinking about these issues, especially as Anderson draws together and gives some narrative form to an extremely wide-ranging number of Marx’s writings. However, Anderson doesn’t always step back to consider this material from a more conceptual standpoint. Therefore these notes try and synthesize Anderson’s reading in order to lay the groundwork for a more schematic understanding of the issues raised in the book.

The overall argument of Marx at the Margins is that Marx develops from a position relatively uncritical of colonialism to one that is far more complex and oppositional. Specifically, Anderson shows how Marx’s early work on the non-western world and the peasantry tended to be undialectical, reflecting a unilinear conception of history. Marx was inclined, Anderson argues, to conceive of historical development in non-western societies as inevitably mirroring that of Western Europe. Furthermore, the peasantry was to gradually wither away into the proletariat. The problem with such thinking is that it lends itself to a stagist understanding of the historical process, one that has had profound political consequences. Anderson contends that it was not until the Grundrisse that Marx began to arrive at an alternative view, one that was more dialectical and global perspective. Anderson characterizes Marx’s developing theory of history as multilinear, rather than unilinear. These ideas are outlined in chapters one, five and six in the book. Chapters 2-4 focus on Marx’s understanding of nationalism and capitalist development. Those issues are not covered here.

A “never changing natural destiny”

Anderson notes that Marx’s early writing on non-western societies was “clearly influenced by Hegel.” For instance, examining his “harsh critique” of Indian society, Anderson quotes Hegel’s racist disregard of “India as a society that ‘has remained stationary and fixed’.” Therefore, “as a society where no real change or development had occurred, India had no real history,” Anderson concludes. Hegel accepted “colonialism as the product of historical necessity”; that is, the inevitable outcome of the absence of historical dynamism. India, like most of the non-Western world, was for Hegel characterized by a fundamental inertia, a lack of antagonism which “undergirded internal despotism.” Nevertheless, citing anthropologist Lawrence Krader, Anderson holds that, all things considered, Hegel could be distinguished from his contemporaries by his “concrete and historical” approach—something Marx was to later develop in more liberating directions (14).
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