Happy Birthday Khalil Gibran

January 6, 2023

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I am not a particularly spiritual person, but I have always appreciated the philosophy espoused by Gibran’s “The Prophet“. I have been particularly attracted to his views on Love …

“When love beckons to you follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him,

Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.”

and Children:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

Gibran was born 140 years ago today in Lebanon.


Wise Words

November 25, 2022


I’m A Luddite

November 23, 2022

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I would guess that many people who know me would — absent my computer use — consider me a Luddite: I own no car, no mobile phone, no microwave, I’ve never been on Facebook, I don’t watch much TV, and I have very little time for the things out there.

I might have argued that the term should NOT apply to me because I don’t agree with mindless destruction. But an excellent article in The Conversation has straightened me out on the history of Luddism and I now gleefully accept the designation.

“Our circumstances today are more similar to theirs than it might seem, as new technologies are being used to transform our own working and social conditions — think increases in employee surveillance during lockdowns, or exploitation by gig labour platforms. It’s time we reconsider the lessons of Luddism …

“The contemporary usage of Luddite has the machine-smashing part correct — but that’s about all it gets right. First, the Luddites were not indiscriminate. They were intentional and purposeful about which machines they smashed. They targeted those owned by manufacturers who were known to pay low wages, disregard workers’ safety, and/or speed up the pace of work. Even within a single factory — which would contain machines owned by different capitalists — some machines were destroyed and others pardoned depending on the business practices of their owners …

“Luddism was a working-class movement opposed to the political consequences of industrial capitalism. The Luddites wanted technology to be deployed in ways that made work more humane and gave workers more autonomy. The bosses, on the other hand, wanted to drive down costs and increase productivity …

“It wasn’t the invention of these machines that provoked the Luddites to action. They only banded together once factory owners began using these machines to displace and disempower workers …

Sounds so much like today.

“Today, new technologies are being used to alter our lives, societies and working conditions no less profoundly than mechanical looms were used to transform those of the original Luddites. The excesses of big tech companies – Amazon’s inhumane exploitation of workers in warehouses driven by automation and machine vision, Uber’s gig-economy lobbying and disregard for labour law, Facebook’s unchecked extraction of unprecedented amounts of user data – are driving a public backlash that may contain the seeds of a neo-Luddite movement …

A neo-Luddite movement would understand no technology is sacred in itself, but is only worthwhile insofar as it benefits society. It would confront the harms done by digital capitalism and seek to address them by giving people more power over the technological systems that structure their lives.”

Well-worth taking the time to read the article.


Remembering Joe Hill

November 19, 2022

Today is the 107th 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!”


Happiness: A Film by Steve Cutts

August 27, 2022

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A profound movie.


Happy Birthday, Wobblies!

June 27, 2022
Globe logo with the letters I.W.W. separated by three stars. Encircled by the name, "Industrial Workers of the World."

Today is the 117th 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 Paris Commune: 151 Years On

March 18, 2022

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.


The End of Democracy?

February 2, 2022

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In less than thirteen months, both the United States and Canada have seen civil insurgency movements grow in prominence: from the U.S. Capitol riots in January 2021 to “truckers” in Ottawa and Coutts this week.

Whatever level of political power they may leverage through their actions is magnified a hundred-fold by the sensation-seeking media desperate to fill their quota of advertiser-based airtime. We are constantly blasted with headlines like “Is This The End of Democracy?” Today I googled “the end of democracy?” and the following ad appeared, showing a set of recently-published books on the subject.

Talking heads needing a paycheque go on and on about how dire is the condition of this institution we call democracy and how it’s history harkens all the way back to those wise souls — the ancient Greeks. Certainly the word “democracy” comes from them, but their “democracy” did not look much like ours.

What we have — so-called “representative democracy” — with parties and elections allowing for the occasional participation of an ever-widening franchise — is barely 250 years old. The old Greeks were indeed much wiser. They were “well aware of the tendency for elections to throw up charismatic leaders with tyrannical pretensions. This is why they considered elections an aristocratic mode of political appointment, quite at odds with democratic principles … allowing commoners to decide who among the well-born should be considered best of all; and well born, in this context, simply meant all those who could afford to spend much of their time playing at politics.”1

Rather, they preferred to pick their public officers by sortition, or a lottery in which all adult citizens were enrolled and obliged to participate if chosen. As Aristotle puts it: “It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.”2 To which Herodotus adds that “the rule of the people has the fairest name of all … The lot determines offices, power is held accountable, and deliberation is conducted in public.”3

Offices were held for one year and, as I understand it, a citizen could only be selected once. A test was applied to establish basic competency, but very few selected were ever refused on this basis.

Some might suggest that the modern world is too complex and requires technocrats and managers to be in charge. However, the ancient Greek city states were important centers of trade, administration, and military organization and yet the citizens chosen by lot managed with the barest of staff. Today we have armies of professionals to operate the levers of civil administration.

It would do us no harm therefore, I believe, to return to a genuine people-oriented system of random selection for political decision-making. It worked for millennia across multiple cultures and can work again here and now. Rather than the end of democracy, this would be a return to it.

Notes:

  1. Graebner & Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything, p. 356, 367
  2. Aristotle, Politics, 4.1294be
  3. Herodotus, The Histories, 3.80.6


Cafe Deux Soleil and Mutual Aid

January 6, 2022

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Just a couple of days ago I reported on the sale of the popular Cafe Deux Soleil on Commercial Drive. And just yesterday I was musing about the need for more mutual aid and co-op structures to combat capitalism. Well, in a tweet last night, those two thoughts melded:

“[W]hat if we crowd funded to buy cafe deux soleils and turn it into a worker co-op. it is such a great community space and i will be SO SAD if it disappears,” tweeted Serena Jackson, which gathered a whole thread of supporting comments.

It would be a marvelous community achievement if we could do it. Maybe the CCEC or similar could help with financing? Comments and suggestions about getting this ball rolling?


Occasional Thoughts: Class & Change

January 5, 2022

There are only two classes in the capitalist world: the exploiters and the exploited. It is this most basic truth that needs to be stressed over and over.

One of capitalism’s key strategies has been to incentivize a slice of the exploited class into becoming sub-exploiters — kulaks by any other name; those who happily lord it over their brothers and sisters — by doling out to them a miniscule portion of the wealth stolen from the exploited. It does this both as an operational necessity but also to create a layer of the exploited who will welcome their exploitation and support its continuance through the capitalism-captured “democratic” process.

The great tide of electoral reformism that swept across much of the world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a tide that could and should have resulted in genuinely transparent one-person-one-vote systems of self governance, was instead kidnapped by the political operatives, the apparatchiks, of the capitalists and molded to their requirements, to ensure that an elite managerial class would forever govern.

Democratic forms, universalist humanist values, and incremental Welfare-State-ism are no more than window dressing for class domination.

It matters little whether the machinery of the exploitation is in the hands of “democratic” parties, or state organizations, or the army, or technocrats. In each and every case, the exploited class is given just enough to keep them working, creating the excess wealth and power that is then expropriated by the exploiters through their control of taxation, regulation, and a legal system which prioritizes property over humanity and the State over individuals.

With the way the world is set up, the exploited can never genuinely upset this state of affairs no matter what they do within the system. Even revolutions get tainted quickly, reverting to old forms. The only path to ending exploitation is for the exploited class to operate outside of the system as much as possible: community-based mutual aid groups, co-ops, farmers’ markets, and new credit unions come immediately to mind. Anything that reduces contact with the capitalist marketplace.

We need to start treating capitalism like an infectious virus. We need to protect ourselves from its worst effects and to isolate ourselves as much as we can from the virus and its carriers. Common sense and fairness will be our vaccine.

The transition may be long in completion, but we are good at the long game. And we know that good science always wins out over bad, in the end.


Pyotr Kropotkin (1842-1921)

December 9, 2021

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Peter Kropotkin quotes (141 quotes) | Quotes of famous people

Today we celebrate the birthday in 1842 of Peter Kropotkin, founder of modern anarchism, and author of the book “Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution” which has influenced important thinkers such as Murray Bookchin, and Emma Goldman. In the book he developed a scientific view of the communitarian anarchism that he favoured.


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.

Epicurus

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