Remembering Joe Hill

November 19, 2021

Today is the 106th anniversary of the murder by the state of the great Wobbly songwriter and martyr Joe Hill.

A minute’s silence, and then back to the important work that still remains unfinished.  As he said: “Don’t mourn; organize!”

Wise Words

September 24, 2021

Happy Birthday, Wobblies!

June 27, 2021
Globe logo with the letters I.W.W. separated by three stars. Encircled by the name, "Industrial Workers of the World."

Today is the 116th anniversary of the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (the I.W.W.)

The I.W.W. was, and is, an industrial or class union aimed at unifying the working class under the slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all.” The One Big Union was in direct opposition to the trades unions that seek to divide workers into narrow crafts.

The Wobblies were founded by some of the great people of the labour movement — heroes such as Big Bill Heywood, Daniel de Leon, Eugene Debs, Mary other Jones, and so many others. The Constitution they struck was a marvelous call to arms:

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wage system.” It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. 

The Epicurean Life

April 5, 2021

Something I was reading recently reminded me of my 2013 review of “The Swerve: How The World Became Modern” by Stephen Greenblatt, the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard.  I think it bears repeating.

The Swerve” tells the story of the re-discovery in 1417 of a long poem in Latin by Lucretius called “On The Nature of Things” which, the author claims, led to a flowering of the humanist movement, to a modern scientific view of reality, and to the disintegration of (or at least a serious challenge to) the accepted world view of the Catholic Church.  Enormous claims, and the author does a fine job of defending them.

Lucretius’ poem is a discourse on the philosophy promulgated by Epicurus (341-270 BCE), that life should be led without any fear of death, that the pursuit of personal well-being should be the prime motivator of one’s existence, and that all life and all things are composed of “atoms” that collide and coalesce and then disaggregate once again upon death.


The Epicurean belief that there is no creation, the universe is eternal, that death is the final end, that there is no afterlife would prove to be a major challenge for the Church, a challenge they met with both cruelty and disdain.  It is from their deliberate twisting of these teachings that most people today consider Epicureanism to be a form of gluttony and greed and little more.

The first half of the book gives an excellent background to the Europe of the late medieval period, discusses the growth of humanism through the re-discovery of Latin and Greek texts, and follows the life of Poggio Bracciolini, a Papal secretary who found, copied and circulated a manuscript of Lucretius’ De rerum natura.

The second half describes the Epicureanism of Lucretius in some detail and it is worth noting the major points:

  • Everything is made of invisible particles that are eternal, infinite in number and are in motion in an infinite void
  • Nature ceaselessly experiments
  • The universe was not created for or about humans
  • Humans are not unique
  • The soul dies; there is no afterlife; there are no angels, demons or ghosts
  • All organized religions are superstitious delusions, and are invariably cruel
  • The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain
  • The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion
  • Understanding the nature of things generates deep wonder

The book then travels forward through history to show the extent of the poem’s influence.   Early humanists, such as Giordana Bruno, were burnt at the stake for preaching its beliefs.  Thomas More wrote Utopia as a direct attack on Lucretian Epicureanism, while Lucretius was the direct inspiration of Botticelli’s Primavera.  Montaigne’s Essays are infused with epicureanism, and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a materialist masterpiece, even mentioning “little atomi” in its description of Queen Mab. Gallileo was clearly influenced by the poem,and the Puritan Lucy Hutchinson wrote an early English translation.

Perhaps the most famous political influence was in the work of Thomas Jefferson, a self-confessed Epicurean, who added “…the pursuit of happiness” as one of the three inalienable rights of all people.

This was a fascinating read.

The Paris Commune: 150 Years On

March 18, 2021

On March 18th 1871, the revolutionary, anti-religious, and radical socialist communards of Paris refused to accept the authority of the the French government, and for two months ruled the city in the name of the people.

The background to the uprising was the defeat of the French in its war against Prussia, the capture of Emperor Napoleon III, and a two month siege of the capital by the Prussians. During the siege, the city was defended by the local National Guard (not the regular Army). In February of 1871, the new French government signed an armistice with the Germans. In March, the French government attempted to take into their control the cannons that had defended Paris; they were rebuffed by local militia and the revolution began.

After a hastily arranged campaign, a governing Commune was elected on 27th March with a heavily-radical majority. The next day, in their first acts, the Communards abolished military conscription and the death penalty, and adopted the red flag rather than the tricolour. Over the following weeks, they imposed a policy of church and state separation, elimination of rents during the siege, and the right of employees to take over a business if the owners had fled. Canteens and orphanages were established throughout the city.

By March 20th the Thiers government at Versailles had raised enough troops (mainly returned prisoners of war) to start skirmishing with Commune forces on the outskirts of Paris. At the end of the month, the Commune decided to take the fight to Versailles, but their advance was quickly overwhelmed by French Army forces.

During April, the French forces pressed their attacks on Paris. The Commune established a Committee of Public Safety (the same project as operated the Reign of Terror in the 1790s) and arrests of suspected French allies began.

The final assault on the Commune by the forces of reaction began late in May. 60,000 government forces found a way inside the city and neighbourhood by neighbourhood they destroyed the communards. The National Guard had not expected the government forces to be able to enter the city and few barricades had been erected inside. The National Guard was greatly outnumbered and out-gunned by the government Army, and soon mass executions of Guard prisoners were taking place.

After a week of vicious street fighting, executions and counter-executions, the cemetery of Pere Lachese was the final holdout for the Commune. After a fight that lasted all day, the last 150 National Guard surrendered and were executed.

In the end, there were 7,300 casualties on the French Army side (of whom about 900 were killed), while the number of Commune defenders killed reached perhaps 10,000.

Anarchists played a large part in the activities of the Commune, and the subsequent death and imprisonment of anarchist leadership strongly affected the growth of the movement for decades thereafter. Marx, Lenin, Engels, Bakunin and others wrote about the Commune as the first great proletariat revolution.

The Paris Commune has been the inspiration for any number of later similar events, in Moscow, Petrograd, Shanghai, and elsewhere. The early Soviets adopted the red flag and called their Ministers Commissars in direct tribute to the events in Paris.

In Memory of Pyotr Kropotkin

February 8, 2021

Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of the Russian anarchist and scientist Pyotr Kropotkin.

Kropotkin was a proponent of a decentralised society free from government and based on voluntary associations of self-governing communities and worker-run enterprises. Among other books and articles he wrote the important Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.

After spending most of his life in exile, he returned to Russia after the Revolution but was disillusioned by the Bolsheviks. He died of pneumonia aged 78.

In Memoriam: Kanno Sugako

January 25, 2021

On this day in 1911, the Japanese authorities executed by hanging the radical feminist anarchist Kanno Sugarko for her role in what was called the High Treason event.

She was 29 when she died having moved in her short life from an interest in Christian welfare organizations through socialism to an understanding that only revolutionary anarchist direct action could improve the lives of Japanese women and people in general.

Kanno Sugarko was the first woman political prisoner executed in modern Japan.

Fukuyama’s “Origins”

January 8, 2021

A while ago I finished Francis Fukuyama’s very valuable “The Origins of Political Order.”  One certainly doesn’t have to agree with all or indeed any of Fukuyama’s perspectives to appreciate the enormous amount of useful information (historical, philosophical, and otherwise) that he packs into 500 pages of highly readable text.

I particularly appreciate this section from the introductory paragraph and hope it serves as a reminder both to me for my own work and for others:

“I do not confront the general reader with a big theoretical framework at the outset … Putting the theory after the history constitutes what I regard as the correct approach to analysis: theories ought to be inferred from facts, and not the other way around … [A]ll too often social science begins with an elegant theory and then searches for facts that will confirm it. This, hopefully, is not the approach I take.”

This book is strongly recommended, even to those Marxists who will not necessarily appreciate Fukuyama’s ability to find the fundamental flaws in Marx’s own work.

Wise Words

December 9, 2020

The Anarchists of Neo-Impressionism

December 5, 2020
Felix Feneon (centre), then clockwise from top left Signac, Seurat, Pisarro, and Luce

“The ultra-composed Neo-Impressionists aren’t obvious angels of chaos, yet Georges Seurat, Camille Pissarro, Paul Signac and Maximilien Luce all advocated anarchist positions, including ‘the propaganda of the deed’, aka bomb-throwing. This is one of the riddles of modernist art, and at its centre is the sphinx Félix Fénéon (1861-1944), great champion of Seurat and company, brilliant critic and editor, sophisticated dandy and gallerist – and committed anarchist.”

Such is the substance of the first paragraph in Hal Foster’s London Review of Books review, At MOMA of the museum’s exhibition of Feneon’s influence.

The end of the 19th century was a time of tumult and revolution in Paris. Government scandals and anarchist bombings punctuated the news. Feneon — who as an art critic and collector had coined the name “Neo-Impressionists” in 1886, and who worked at the Ministry of War —

“cut a dashing figure on the literary scene too, animating several journals, attending Mallarmé’s Symbolist salon and editing Rimbaud’s Illuminations. Amid all this, he also found time for anarchist activities, publishing subversive articles anonymously and pseudonymously.”

In 1894 he was arrested for the bombing of Restaurant Foyot. His wit and intelligence saw him found not guilty by the jury, but he was fired from the War Ministry. For many years thereafter, he edited La revue blanche and later was curator at the prestigious Galerie Bernheim-Jeune.

The Neo-Impressionists worked through strict formalism — what Seurat called ‘a systematic paradigm’ — while riffing off the colour deconstructions of the Impressionists. The order in which they worked seems not to gel with the idea of a chaotic anarchism but, as Foster notes, “[a]lthough anarchists seek to overthrow the state, they do so only to claim a more fundamental order.”

“For Signac the arrangements of painting and society were isomorphic: ‘Justice in sociology, harmony in art: same thing.’ This analogy between a just painting and a just world isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. Subsequent artists with anarchist sympathies, such as Mondrian and Barnett Newman, thought along similar lines – though, fortunately for them, they weren’t trying to depict the golden age.”

The Neo-Impressionists were deeply respectful of autonomy.

“This autonomy takes nothing away from the singularity of a Seurat painting, a Fénéon text, or an anarchist action: individuality, the sine qua non of anarchism, is not sacrificed – on the contrary. ‘This uniform and almost abstract execution leaves the originality of the artist intact,’ Fénéon wrote of Neo-Impressionist technique, ‘and even heightens it’.”

Foster’s piece is a deeply fascinating essay on several levels and I have barely scratched the surface with my notes above. Well worth the read.

Remembering Fred Hampton

December 4, 2020

The Black Panther revolutionary Fred Hampton was murdered by the FBI, the Chicago Police department, and the Cook County Attorney General’s office on this day in 1969.

Among a host of other radically progressive actions in his short life, he founded the Rainbow Coalition, an organization that brought together the Black Panthers, Young Patriots and the Young Lords, and an alliance among major Chicago street gangs to help them end infighting and work for social change.

Fred Hampton was shot and killed in his bed during a predawn raid at his Chicago apartment.

Some idea of his significance to the culture of black progressivism can be found on YouTube where a search on “Fred Hampton” produces hundreds of items, including video recordings of his speeches. And quoting wikipedia:

“Jeffrey Haas, who, together with his law partners G. Flint Taylor and Dennis Cunningham and attorney James D. Montgomery, were the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the federal suit Hampton v. Hanrahan, wrote a book about these events. He said that Chicago was worse off without Hampton:

Of course, there’s also the legacy that, without a young leader, I think the West Side of Chicago degenerated a lot into drugs. And without leaders like Fred Hampton, I think the gangs and the drugs became much more prevalent on the West Side. He was an alternative to that. He talked about serving the community, talked about breakfast programs, educating the people, community control of police. So I think that that’s unfortunately another legacy of Fred’s murder.”

Fred Hampton and his groups showed that there was an alternative to Dr. King’s firm moderation, and both were shot down for speaking up for the people against the power.

Wise Words

November 29, 2020

“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. Without a prison, there can be no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society. ”

— John Fire Lame Deer, a Mineconju-Lakota Sioux

“There was not a pauper in the Nation, and the Nation did not owe a dollar … Yet the defect in the system is apparent, because they own their land in common … there is no selfishness, which is at the bottom of civilization.”

— Senator Henry Dawes

Remembering Joe Hill

November 19, 2020

Today is the 105th anniversary of the murder by the state of the great Wobbly songwriter and martyr Joe Hill.

A minute’s silence, and then back to the important work that still remains unfinished.

To Those Who Would Lead Our City & Province

October 15, 2020

Some things to think about:

“By exercising practices of direct democracy in our communities by developing cooperative forms of social and economic relationships we can directly challenge not only the specific forms of oppression that we experience in our daily lives but we can get to the bottom of overturning those deep-seated patterns of hierarchy that have damaged social relationships through much of human history and have fundamentally shaped the mindset of domination with which current society has come to exploit all of nature.”

Srsly Wrong Podcast #219, 2 Oct 2020

Anarchist Situationalism and Individual Hysteria

October 4, 2020

I wrote this ten years ago today. Whatever happened to these folks?


What a gas this “prank” is:

A half-dozen fast-food restaurants and one hotel in North Vancouver fell victim to an elaborate phone scam this weekend, as pranksters convinced employees and hotel guests to smash sprinklers and activate fire alarms.  The caller duped staff at restaurants such as McDonald’s, A&W, Denny’s and Subway into setting off their fire-alarm systems on Saturday evening, causing major damage from sprinklers and fire-retardant foam that sprayed doused kitchens, RCMP Cpl. Peter Devries said. A day earlier, eight rooms at the North Vancouver Hotel were ruined after a man, who contacted guests over the phone, pretended to be the hotel manager and persuaded guests to pull the pin on their in-room sprinklers …

The pranks bear the hallmarks of an online group known as PrankU or Pranknet, whose members have convinced unwitting hotel guests in the United States to set off sprinklers, throw televisions out of windows and even consume their own bodily waste … Last month, a Nebraska Holiday Inn suffered $115,000 in damages last month after a phone prankster conned a 47-year-old hotel guest into smashing a sprinkler in his hotel room. More than 18,000 litres of water flooded the room and adjacent meeting rooms, hotel staff said.   In November, an elderly man at a South Carolina Motel 6 was awakened and told of “highly sophisticated” cameras hidden in his television and mirrors. After throwing the TV out his window and smashing the mirrors in his room with a wrench, he was goaded into tearing away Sheetrock from a wall to supposedly free a four-foot-tall man trapped behind.  In June 2009, a wave of calls swept four southern states, convincing guests they needed to break windows or smash sprinklers to avert a gas explosion. One man drove his truck through the door of a hotel lobby in Nebraska, supposedly to turn off a fire alarm, while another hotel guest followed instructions to throw a toilet out his window.  In February 2009, employees at a KFC in Manchester, N.H., were even tricked into undressing and urinating on each other to neutralize a toxic chemical that was supposedly seeping from the restaurant’s sprinkler system.

Police seem to link these “pranks” to a group called PrankU which may or may not be just one guy.  What a fabulous track record!

No person really gets hurt; a little inconvenience — covered by insurance and goodwill — is all.  But there is a loss to the corporate enterprise and its insurers; maybe a million dollars of anti-capitalist sabotage — what a gas!

This whole affairs works on so many levels: As public spectacle it works as a fine Situationist project; As direct action it works with the financial and physical damage to the body corporate; As a source of directed anxiety it works — none of the people involved will ever be sure again that society can protect them from such a situation; And as irony it works by utilizing capitalism’s own creatures — telecommunications networks, in-house “safety” devices, a weltschmertz that allows ordinary people to believe what they are told by seeming authority figures — to damage the capitalistic structure.

It is fascinating that the system wants us to treat these as “pranks” and nothing more serious.

Bravo to more of this stuff!


Liberals and “Human Rights”

October 3, 2020

One of my many problems with liberals is that modern-day liberals have become firmly attached to the idea of “identity politics” — that the gays, blacks, women, natives, spiritualists, etc. should somehow be separately equal — which is merely a deeply abased form of “human rights.”  In fact, I strongly suspect that every self-described liberal in North America and Europe would include some sort of agreement with the importance of the concept of “human rights” in their own description of “liberal.” This would be considered by most to be a defining characteristic of liberalism in comparison to, say, conservativism.

The National Interest has an interesting review by John Gray of Samuel Moyn’s The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History in which Gray demonstrates that the entire history of “human rights” began no earlier than the 1970s. He traces the actual birth of the concept to the publication in 1981 of John Rawl’s A Theory of Justice. He carefully and concisely links the modern “human rights” movement to both utopianism and the modern nation state. These “human rights” exist only in the context of the nation state; they are “universal” only in the sense that every nation state should be held accountable to them and be responsible for their protection. There is no “liberal” scenario that would allow for these “human rights” to exist outside the jurisdiction of nation state(s).

As an anti-statist anarchist myself, I have always rejected the concept of “human rights” based on a dissected population (whites, blacks, rich, women, LGBT, left-handed, etc, etc etc.) It is a defining characteristic in my definition of being a non-liberal.   However, this is a fascinating history of a theory and well worth reading.

This is Democracy For You

October 1, 2020


On Theft: An Anarchist POV

May 12, 2020

There is a valuable piece at about an anarchist group’s view of crime and punishment.

The Firestorm Bookstore Co-op is an anarchist enterprise in Asheville, North Carolina.  Their storefront was recently broken into and $150 stolen from the cash register. The damage to the store added $450 to the loss.  Their reaction?

“No, we didn’t call the police. There really isn’t anything law enforcement could do for us that we couldn’t do ourselves and if someone is desperate enough to risk their freedom for $150, maybe we’ve all failed them. It’s tough feeling vulnerable, and seeing our storefront broken open brought up a lot of emotions, including anger — but incarceration is not justice and punishment can only multiply harm.”

Worth thinking about.


Chomsky Speaks

April 23, 2020

This afternoon I was privileged to attend an hour-long Zoom chat with Noam Chomsky, hosted by National Observer.  There were about 700 people on line. These are my notes.

He began by reminding us that the covid-19 crisis is not the main issue we are facing; that it will pass, whereas the destruction of the planet through climate change is far more serious and long term.  However, both can be seen as aspects of the class struggle between the “Masters of the Universe” and the rest of us.

Chomsky noted that inequality today is worse now than it has ever been, and that this has been increasing for the last fifty years under neo-liberalism. However, it is not revolutionary to believe that we can return to a better place.

Discussing the Trump administration, he suggested that Mitch McConnell is the “thinker” of the government. The McConnell stimulus bills ensure that States — who have “wasted” their money on foolishness like pensions and welfare — get little or nothing, while corporations — already fattened with excess profit that they spend on executive salaries and dividends — get billions. He related these current events to the recent neo-liberal history of subsidies to fossil fuel companies, combined with the elimination of regulation and control

He noted that the GOP’s “sadism” is now openly transparent. They are happy to see the “end of organized human society” for the masses while maximizing the retention of wealth by the few.

He broadened the argument to include the scrapping of the INF Treaty, the desire to end the Open Skies agreements, and their refusal to renegotiate the START talks. These international treaties are of no importance to them as it hampers the growth of the arms industry. Under Trump, arms control is dead.

Chomsky said that when the Great Depression hit, there were two options available:  fascism, and a “regimented capitalism”.  America chose the latter and it proved of benefit to most. However, since Reagan, the regulated system has been torn up by the neo-liberals in favour of corporate “freedom”, creating the vast abyss between rich and poor that we see today, and leading directly to the destruction of the environment.  He believes that Trump and the McConnell are unconcerned about the current pandemic and will re-open the economy rapidly because most victims will be the masses rather than the rich, and their deaths are inconsequential when compared to the profits to be made.

As an aside, he noted that Trump is personally disliked by most of the Davos crowd because he is vulgar. However, he is forgiven because he is so good at feeding dollars to the rich.

Chomsky was clear, however, that not all is lost. He pointed to Greta Thurnburg and the youth movement on climate change. He also said he was encouraged by the mutual aid self-help groups that the pandemic has spawned.  There are moves to initiate a Progressive International to oppose what he called the Reactionary International of Trump, Egypt, Brazil (where Bolsonaro is even more evil than Trump), Israel (“harsh and brutal”), the Gulf states, India (where secular democracy is being replaced by a religious ideology), and Hungary etc.

In the Q & A session, he said that public pressure is working. The Reactionaries have heard the peasants and their pitchforks, and are working hard to sell the idea that modern corporations can be “soulful” as he puts it. As an example, he notes that just a few years ago the idea of a Green New Deal was considered a joke by the the rulers but will probably be co-opted by them.

Whatever happens after the pandemic can be our decision. As a start, we must insist that stimulus funds come with conditions that at least bring us back to the situation pre-Reagan. Such hopes, he insists, are not utopian.

Having spent weeks watching the dangerous buffoonery of Trump’s briefings, it was a delight to listen to someone speak so calmly and with so much obvious erudition. Thanks to the National Observer for organizing the event.

Gibran’s The Prophet on Death

April 8, 2020

You would know the secret of death.

But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;

And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.

Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.

Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.

Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?

Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?

And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.