Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Otautahi happenings: Film and Hui

A friendly reminder on some upcoming events in Otautahi over the next week or two!

Ethel MacDonald: An Anarchist’s Story
A BBC Documentary on Ethel MacDonald and the Spanish Revolution

Film Screening:
Thursday 28 May, 6.30pm
At the WEA (59 Gloucester Street)

Join us, to follow on film, the compelling true story of Ethel Macdonald — a remarkable individual, working-class woman and Scottish anarchist. In 1936 Ethel left for the frontlines of the Spanish Civil war to join the revolutionary struggle in Barcelona. Through written accounts and radio broadcasts on the impact of fascist forces on the Republic, Ethel became the voice of the anarchist movement in both Spain and England.

With a combination of narration, historical video, re-enactments and Ethel’s own personal accounts, BBC Scotland has successfully put together an exhilarating and inspiring documentary on Ethel's life and the Spanish Revolution. We encourage you to come and see the film, and join us for discussion afterwards.

Drinks and nibbles provided but BYO food welcome!

Entry by koha/donation.

Please forward widely — All welcome!
Contact: Jared garage.collective@gmail.com
Check out: http://www.spanishcivilwarfilm.com


Calling all friends, radical wåhine, community organisers, curious bystanders, anti-capitalist children, militant gardeners, workplace delegates and self described (or unidentified) anarchists! Come along to what will hopefully be the first of regular ANARCHIST TEA PARTIES, to catch up, meet and greet, share food and ideas, and brainstorm on ways of organising in Otautahi.

Bring your picnic gear, a plate of food to share, your kiddies and your thinking caps as we look to explore possible future actions, as well as creating solidarity and sustainable friendships for the future.

Some ideas to brainstorm could include (but may not be limited to):

— regular get togethers, educational events, public assemblies, tea parties and a regional hui.
— an Otautahi Network of groups, or a mailing list/conatct email at the very minimum.
— an Otautahi broadsheet/newspaper of libertarian ideas, actions and activities.
— any other exciting ideas!

Latimer Square — 11am onward

We look forward to your company and your ideas!

In solidarity,
Jess, Dan, Al and Jared.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Quote of the Week

"The pert file clerk across the hall lets me know of her disdain for unions. Her immediate boss, a young accountant, who describes himself as 'management', nods solemnly. They put in eight hours a day. When I ask them how their eight hour day came to be, their faces are pure Mondrian — the absence of any detail"

Oral historian Studs Turkel in 'The Great Divide'.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

To work or not to work? Is that the question?

Recently read Gilles Dauve's 'To work or not to work?' over at the great libcom.org library. Like most of his writing I found parts of it difficult, but clarity always seems to come at some stage, or at the end of the text. I'd recommend reading it in full as what I'm going to post is parts of the tail section only, parts which captured my attention with regard to the current low state of class struggle and determinist theories around Capitalism (ie eventually it will destroy itself). Reading the whole text sets the historical and theoretical background for what Dauve puts forward, but his main points can still be gathered from the parts below.

Also, a note on the term 'communism' used in the text. Dauve writes from a viewpoint blending council communism, libertarian marxism and ultra-left currents not dissimilar to anarchist thought. For Dauve, communism doesn't imply the authoritarianism history has often proved in some forms of marxist thought, but rather a stateless, classless society. Enjoy!

From the section titled 'REVOLUTION IS NO EXACT SCIENCE':

"Some comrades postulate the coming of an ultimate stage when the inner working of the system won't just upset it, but destroy it. They believe that whatever has happened before that final stage has been necessary, because up to now the workers have only been able to reform capitalism. Now there comes a threshold when reform becomes utterly pointless, a threshold that leaves no other option except revolution. Past radical proletarian activity has only contributed to bring about the historical moment that makes revolution possible -- or necessary, rather. Until then, the class struggle has provided the required sequence of phases preparing the final phase...

...The methological flaw is to believe in a privileged vantage point that enables the observer to grasp the totality (and the whole meaning) of past, present and near future human history.

We would prefer to say that there is no other limit to the life-span of capital than the conscious activity of the proletarians. Otherwise, no crisis, however deep it might be, will be enough to produce such a result. And any deep crisis (a crisis of the system, not just in it) could be the last if the proletarians took advantage of it. But there'll never be a day of reckoning, a final un-mediated showdown, as if at long last the proletarians were directly facing capital and therefore attacking it.

"The self-emancipation of the proletariat is the breakdown of capitalism", as Pannekoek wrote in the last sentence of his essay on The Theory of the Breakdown of Capitalism (1934). It's significant this should come as the conclusion of a discussion on capital's cycles and reproduction models (Marx's, Luxemburg's and H.Grossmann's). ..

...Who could argue that communism is bound to happen? The communist revolution is not the ultimate stage of capitalism... Determinism would gain credibility if it gave us useful forecasts.


Revolution is not a problem, and no theory is the solution of that problem. (Two centuries of modern revolutionary movement demonstrate that communist theory does not anticipate the doings of the proletarians.)...

...When the proletariat seems absent from the scene, it is quite logical to wonder about its reality and its ability to change the world. Each counter-revolutionary period has the dual singularity of dragging along while never looking like the previous ones. That causes either a renunciation of critical activity, or the rejection of a revolutionary subject, or its replacement by other solutions, or a theoretical elaboration supposed to account for past defeats in order to guarantee future success. This is asking for unobtainable certainties, which only serve to reassure. On the basis of historical experience, it seems more to the point to state that the proletariat remains the only subject of a revolution (otherwise there won't be any), that communist revolution is a possibility but not a certainty, and that nothing ensures its coming and success but proletarian activity.

The fundamental contradiction of our society (proletariat-capital) is only potentially deadly to capitalism if the worker confronts his work, and therefore takes on not just the capitalist, but what capital makes of him i.e. if he takes on what he does and is. It's no use hoping for a time when capital, like a worn out mechanism, would find it impossible to function, because of declining profits, market saturation, exclusion of too many proletarians from work, or the inability of the class structure to reproduce itself.

A current subtext runs through much of revolutionary thinking: The more capitalism we have, the nearer we get to communism. To which people like J.Camatte retort: No, the more capitalism we have, the more capitalist we become. At the risk of shocking some readers, we'd say that the evolution of capital does not take us closer to or farther from communism. From a communist point of view, nothing is positive in itself in the march of capital, as is shown by the fate of classism.


In practice, classism was the forward drive of the working class as a class within capitalist society, where its organisations came to occupy as much social space as possible. Labour set up collective bodies that rivalled with those of the bourgeoisie, and conquered positions inside the State. That took — and still takes — many forms (social-democracy, CPs, the AFL-CIO...), and also existed in South America, in Asia and parts of Africa.

In theory, classism is the vindication of class difference (and opposition) as an end in itself, as if class war was the same as the emancipation of the workers and of mankind. So it's based exactly on what has to be criticised, as classes are basic constituents of capitalist society. Whether it's peaceful or violent, the mere opposition of one class to the other leaves both facing each other. Naturally any ruling class denies the existence of class antagonisms... What is revolutionary is not to uphold class struggle, but to affirm that such a struggle can end through a communist revolution.

Nowadays, the decay of classism and of the labour movement is visible and documented enough for us not to dwell upon it. Some revolutionaries have rejoiced over the demise of the worker's identity and of the glorification of the working class as the class of labour, and they've interpreted that demise as the elimination of a major obstacle to revolution — which the labour institutions and that ideology no doubt were. But what has the critique of the world really gained by their withering away? We'd be tempted to say: Not much, because of the rise of even softer practices and ideas.

Being freed of their workers' role and hopes just didn't turn wage-earners into radical proletarians. So far, the crisis of the working class and of classism has not favoured subversion. The past twenty years have brought about neo-liberal, neo-social-democratic, neo-reactionary, neo-everything ideologies, the emergence of which has coincided with the symbolic annihilation of the working class. This wiping out is a product of capital class recomposition (unemployment, dis-industrialisation, proletarianisation of office work, casualisation, etc.). It also results from the rejection by the wage-earners themselves of the most rigid forms of worker identity. But this rejection remains mainly negative. The proletarians have shattered the control of parties and unions over labour. (In 1960, anyone handing out an anti-union leaflet at a French factory gate risked being beaten up by the Stalinists.) But they haven't gone much further. Proletarian autonomy has not taken advantage of bureaucratic decline.

We are experiencing a dislocation of class struggle. In the 60s-70s, the unskilled workers stood at the centre of the reproduction of the whole system, and other categories recognised themselves in the "mass worker." No social symbolical figure plays such a pivotal role — yet....

...If a working class entangled in its identification with work did not make a revolution, nothing yet proves that the proletarians now liberated from it will act in a revolutionary way....

"WE ARE NOT OF THIS WORLD" (Babeuf, 1795)

We find it hard to share the optimism of those who see the present period as entirely dissimilar from the 60s-70s or from any previous period, with a capitalism that would systematically downgrade the living conditions of wage-earners, thereby creating a situation that would soon enough be intolerable and lead to a revolutionary crisis. The limits of proletarian upsurges from Algeria to Argentina, and the rise of radical reformism in Europe and the US, rather suggest that it's reform - not revolution - that is becoming topical again...

...The eagerness to celebrate the twilight of worker identity has led some comrades to forget that this identity also expressed an understanding of the irreconcilable antagonism between labour and capital. The proletarians had at least grasped that they lived in a world that was not theirs and could never be. We're not calling for a return to a Golden Age. We're saying that the disappearance of this identification owes as much to counter-revolution as to radical critique. Revolution will only be possible when the proletarians act as if they were strangers to this world, its outsiders, and will relate to a universal dimension, that of a classless society, of a human community."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Quote of the week

"There is no question that at present the current university offers a unique combination of circumstances which allows some of its members to criticise the whole of society. It provides time, mobility, access to peers and information and a certain impunity — privileges not equality available to other segments of the population. But the university provides this freedom only to those who have already been deeply initiated into the consumer society and into the need for some kind of obligatory public schooling.

The modern university offers the privilege of dissent on those who have been tested and classified as potential money-makers or powerholders. Schools select at each successive level those who have, at earlier stages in the game, proved themselves good risks for the established order. Having a monopoly on both the resources for learning and the investiture of social roles, a university co-opts the discoverer and the potential dissenter."

— from Ivan Illich's landmark text 'Deschooling Society' (Penguin Books, Education Specials, 1971).

Type rest of the post here

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An Anarchist's Story: Doco screening in Otautahi/Christchurch

An invitation to . . .

Ethel MacDonald: An Anarchist’s Story
A BBC Documentary on Ethel MacDonald and the Spanish Revolution

Film Screening

Thursday 28 May, 6.30pm
At the WEA (59 Gloucester Street)

Join us to follow on film the compelling true story of Ethel Macdonald — a remarkable individual, working-class woman and Scottish anarchist. In 1936 Ethel left for the frontlines of the Spanish Civil war to join the revolutionary struggle in Barcelona. Through written accounts and radio broadcasts on the impact of fascist forces on the Republic, Ethel became the voice of the anarchist movement in both Spain and England.

With a combination of narration, historical video, re-enactments and Ethel’s own personal accounts, BBC Scotland has successfully put together an exhilarating and inspiring documentary on Ethel's life and the Spanish Revolution. We encourage you to come and see the film, and join us for discussion afterwards.

Drinks and nibbles provided but BYO food welcome!

Entry by koha/donation.

In solidarity,
Dan, Al, Jess and Jared

Contact: Jared garage.collective@gmail.com

Type rest of the post here

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Crime, media and the militarisation of everyday life

I can't help but wonder how the events of the weekend and the media hype around it will aid the 'militarisation of everyday life', especially when the October 15th arrestees are due in the High Court soon. Michael Laws is already talking about arming police without a second thought on the conditions and structures that cause the majority of crime. I realise the danger of simplicity with the argument that 'capitalism is bad and the cause of all ills in society', but a quick look around clearly illustrates some worth to the statement. From anarchistfaq.org:

For anarchists, "crime" can best be described as anti-social acts, or behaviour which harms someone else or which invades their personal space. Anarchists argue that the root cause for crime is not some perversity of human nature or "original sin," but is due to the type of society by which people are moulded. For example, anarchists point out that by eliminating private property, crime could be reduced by about 90 percent, since about 90 percent of crime is currently motivated by evils stemming from private property such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and alienation.

"Crime", therefore, cannot be divorced from the society within which it occurs. Society, in Emma Goldman's words, gets the criminals it deserves. For example, anarchists do not think it unusual nor unexpected that crime exploded under the pro-free market capitalist regimes of Thatcher and Reagan. Crime, the most obvious symptom of social crisis, took 30 years to double in Britain (from 1 million incidents in 1950 to 2.2 million in 1979). However, between 1979 and 1992 the crime rate more than doubled, exceeding the 5 million mark in 1992. These 13 years were marked by a government firmly committed to the "free market" and "individual responsibility." It was entirely predictable that the social disruption, atomisation of individuals, and increased poverty caused by freeing capitalism from social controls would rip society apart and increase criminal activity.

The social atomisation required and created by capitalism destroys the basic bonds of society - namely human solidarity - and hierarchy crushes the individuality required to understand that we share a common humanity with others and so understand why we must be ethical and respect others rights.

As is often stated, prevention is better than cure. This is as true of crime as of disease. In other words, crime is best fought by rooting out its causes as opposed to punishing those who act in response to these causes. For example, it is hardly surprising that a culture that promotes individual profit and consumerism would produce individuals who do not respect other people (or themselves) and see them as purely means to an end (usually increased consumption). And, like everything else in a capitalist system, such as honour and pride, conscience is also available at the right price -- hardly an environment which encourages consideration for others, or even for oneself.

In addition, a society based on hierarchical authority will also tend to produce anti-social activity because the free development and expression it suppresses. Thus, irrational authority (which is often claimed to be the only cure for crime) actually helps produce it. As Emma Goldman argued, crime "is naught but misdirected energy. So long as every institution of today, economic, political, social, moral conspires to misdirect human energy into wrong channels; so long as most people are out of place doing things they hate to do, living a life they loathe to live, crime will be inevitable, and all the laws on the statues can only increase, but never do away with, crime" [Red Emma Speaks, p. 57]

Eric Fromm, decades latter, makes the same point (and fitting for the weekend just past):

"It would seem that the amount of destructiveness to be found in individuals is proportionate to the amount to which expansiveness of life is curtailed. By this we do not refer to individual frustrations of this or that instinctive desire but to the thwarting of the whole of life, the blockage of spontaneity of the growth and expression of man's(sic!) sensuous, emotional, and intellectual capacities. Life has an inner dynamism of its own; it tends to grow, to be expressed, to be lived . . . the drive for life and the drive for destruction are not mutually interdependent factors but are in a reversed interdependence. The more the drive towards life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive towards destruction; the more life is realised, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life. Those individual and social conditions that make for suppression of life produce the passion for destruction that forms, so to speak, the reservoir from which particular hostile tendencies -- either against others or against oneself -- are nourished" [The Fear of Freedom, p. 158]

This comment from Indymedia today was a good one:

"At the moment if an officer is approached by a violent offender they generally retreat and call in backup, this is often enough to resolve the situation. If an armed officer was approached by a violent offender there is a high chance the officer would pull their gun out. If the offender kept approaching they would get shot. Anyone can see that armed police are going to escalate the situation. Offenders knowing that cops are armed would increasingly carry weapons, cops at current ackknoledge that there is an unspoken agreement between police and offenders that weapons are not used in crime or policing. If the cops start carrying weapons then the results are going to be obvious.

The entire operation in Napier was a media blow up and the police were obviously using it as a chance to practice with all the new units and toys they have been given. All that was nessecary was two or three squads of AOS to cordon the area and disable the offender if he came out armed.Yet the police seem to have flown or driven all their exciting new units to the area as if there was a terrorist attack unfolding. It was obvious from the moment I heard about this that the offender was only a danger to himself.

I dont like to see anyone get shot but I dont see anything that could have been done to prevent the inital shooting of the police. Shootings of cops are rare - there are many more dangerous proffessions out there. The state and police will of course use this even to their advantage, the budget for armed units and the scope of their operations will be vastly expanded over the next few years. The police will increasingly talk of the threat of terrorism and by the time the rugby world cup rolls around I would place money of armed cops being a visible presence.

Anyhow to sum up the police response completely outweighed the threat this lone guy posed. And the state and police will use this to push for increased access to weapons."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Monteiths, maybe's and May Day 09

May Day 2009 saw a number of folks converge on the sleeping giant that is Blackball, continuing a long and vibrant tradition of West Coast working class celebration. And while the weekend kicked of with stories, songs and semantics of a working class long gone, it wasn't mere nostalgia that brought us all to Blackball (some for the 13th time running). Lured by the promise of the famous Hilton hospitality and a planned forum on neo-liberalism, it wasn't hard to attract a small but diverse range of people to what was arguably the birthplace of twentieth century revolutionary syndicalism in Aotearoa and the 'Red' Federation of Labour.

'Can we still think the system or does the system think us?' was the provocation of the weekend's poster, which was then continued with multiple provocations from various people during the course of the two hour forum. A wide range of topics naturally reflected the wide range of of politic positions — education, the family unit, the nature of work, trade unions, community organising, feminism and motherhood, childcare, childbirth, collectivism, revolution? And while no specific answers or strategies were given, discussion was thought provoking, challenging and at all times inspiring (well for myself anyway). I think being able to hear other points of view not always considered was a major highlight of the talk — and if some felt even more depressed after the collective realisation that everything most on the left has been warning against for the last ten years has come true, then it wasn't shared by me. Personally, it simply re-enforced the fact that the old ways of organising, the old ideologies, the old party line, the old trade union talk, quite simply, has failed. Depressing? Not at all.

Besides the amazing weather and Monteiths Original on tap, the afternoon session on the Blackball 08' Strike Memorial was also rewarding. Ideas were brainstormed on the proposed museum and sculpture to be built in Blackball celebrating the 1908 strike, with particular emphasis on future May Day events, educational workshops and various activities for who the day celebrates — workers, of all shades and forms. From oral history podcast and participatory learning to May Day picnics and other class-conscious events, the future of May Day in Blackball and ongoing attempts to encourage the self-organisation of those who toil looks both positive and constructive.

Before exiting Blackball we were left with a special insight into the thought patterns of Paul Maunder via the performance of 'The Curator of Baghdad: a story of Guantanamo'. While I'm still processing the ideas of faith frequented by the narrator, and feel the review below by Francie is more than adequate to capture the spirit and form of the performance, I will tentatively put forward the conclusion I took from the performance. As our protagonist Yassif stumbles through the Iraqi desert and stripes back the layers of accumulated knowledge, status, faith and ideas of his individual life, and upon the painful recognition of the lack of any real value in all that had come before — there appears snippets of hope on the horizon. A meal, a community, and a little faith.

A review: The Curator of Baghdad: a story from Guantanamo
Performed Saturday 2nd May in Blackball.

Enter the church by the back door. Be punctual or you won't be let in. The door is slammed shut. File into the church proper. A cage made of scaffolding – a Guantanamo Bay cell – in Blackball Community Church. Sit on a pew facing the cage.

Yassif (Paul Maunder) sits on the bed in the cage. Caroline Selwood and Garyth Bensley are alternately soldiers and voices off.

Yassif goes searching for God to avoid family obligations to side with the Americans. He is fed and sheltered by a communist and becomes a messenger. He is arrested and caged. Bagged. Tortured. Transported to Guantanamo Bay. The story is interspersed with the never ending present at Guantanamo Bay.

This play, written to be performed in a chapel, is based on 'the difficult conclusion that Guantanamo Bay is the spiritual centre of late capitalism.' It is intimate and uncomfortable in its proximity, and powerful in its depiction. Here's hoping it tours.

Photos coming soon!

Type rest of the post here

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Quote of the week

"Unfortunately, we have been brought up on parlor games, where the participants discuss whether or not they are 'for' or 'against' violence. Can you picture a similar discussion on whether we are for or against disease? Violence, class struggle, and disease are real. They do not go away through mystification... those who deny the reality of violence and class struggle — like those who deny the reality of disease — are not dealing with the real world."

— Blase Bonpore in 'Pacifism as Pathology' by Ward Churchill.

Type rest of the post here

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What is Class?

A wee note on class I just added to the Constructive Anarchism mailing list:

Firstly, a quote from Marx:

"Capital, first and foremost, is a form of social relations".

Which leads nicely onto Solidarity's definition of class, and one that's influenced my thinking the most lately (from 'The Bolsheviks And Workers' Control' by Maurice Brinton):

"We hold that the 'relations of production' - the relations which individuals or groups enter into with one another in the process of producing wealth - are the essential foundations of any society. A certain pattern of relations of production is the common denominator of all class societies. This pattern is one in which the producer does not dominate the means of production but on the contrary both is 'separated from them' and from the products of his own labour. In all class societies the producer is in a position of subordination to those who manage the productive process. Workers' management of production - implying as it does the total domination of the producer over the productive process - is not for us a marginal matter. It is the core of our politics. It is the only means whereby authoritarian (order-giving, order-taking) relations in production can be transcended and a free, communist or anarchist, society introduced.

We also hold that the means of production may change hands (passing for instance from private hands into those of a bureaucracy, collectively owning them) with out this revolutionising the relations of production. Under such circumstances - and whatever the formal status of property - the society is still a class society for production is still managed by an agency other than the producers themselves. Property relations, in other words, do not necessarily reflect the relations of production.They may serve to mask them - and in fact they often have..."

So obviously class is upheld through power relations: some having more control over the relations of production, or simply the control over another's life.

According to www.anarchistfaq.org, there are two classes, the working class and the ruling class, with a whole lot of grey areas within them. Obviously the ruling class is made up of those who control the relations of production, and this relates to both capitalism and state socialism/communism. For the working class in particular, I think this means that class is more than simply those who work and those who don't, but could include anyone who does not control the relations of production talked about above, inside and outside of the workplace. From the Anarchist Federation's On The Frontline: Anarchists at Work:

"To be a worker or working class does not simply mean being chained to a factory bench for 12 hours a day. It means being forced to participate in the production of profit for a minority whatever you do"

This would include those not working for a wage (housework, unemployed etc), and even to what we do in our leisure time ie shopping, our consumer culture and bourgeois cultural pursuits — as these still contribute to the circulation of capital and the generation of profit for someone else, and perpetuate the relations of productions in capitalism.