Wise Words

November 25, 2022


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!”


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.


Cafe Deux Soleil and Mutual Aid

January 6, 2022

.

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

.

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 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.


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 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.


On Theft: An Anarchist POV

May 12, 2020

There is a valuable piece at boingboing.net 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.