Why autonomists make good journalists

Much loathed and admired within the leftist community, autonomists represent a small but mixed bunch. With their focus on the daily, small-scale class struggle, their squats and auto-reduction, and their sometimes incomprehensible jargon they elicit both fascination and contempt from other marxists. Yet it is easy to let our view of them be dominated by theoretical considerations alone, thereby ignoring how their ideology and composition molds them to be excellent journalists, offering key lessons for re-igniting a working-class media to counter hegemony.
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Building Revolution — Article from the ‘United Irishman’, May 1971

National OrganiserDuring the 1960s and 1970s, the Irish Republican Movement evolved from a conventional nationalist project with a strategic emphasis – if not obsession – with militarism to an explicitly socialist project which placed a premium on mass politics.

That evolution was not uncontested and, under the pressure of state reaction to a militant civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland in 1969, the move to abandon abstentionism, and an adroit intervention by the Southern government to bolster the old school nationalists within the movement, the IRA and Sinn Féin split into two camps: Officials and Provisionals.

Seán Garland’s article from the May 1971 edition of Official Sinn Féin’s newspaper, The United Irishman, is part of the working out of a theoretical perspective of what ultimately would become The Workers’ Party. Written in the context of a serious ratcheting up of the violence in Northern Ireland, which would have had a massive emotional pull on the movement’s activists, the article is part of the process of providing an alternative conception of the way forward, one towards mass, socialist politics.

Although the national question retains a position of importance, the conception of revolution as working class power is notable, as it the distinction between “insurrection” and “revolution”, the necessity for revolutionary organisations, and the need to engage in mass politics and to connect it with the ultimate aim. [J. O'B]

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The Many Prongs That Lead to Ferguson

Bobby Hutton, killed in 1968 by the Oakland Police.

Bobby Hutton, killed in 1968 by the Oakland Police.

There are a number of strands that can be picked up from the recent, much-publicized events in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson is a suburb on the innermost ring of St. Louis’s quite extensive “fat belt”, a European term for the series of developments and municipalities that co-exist, sometimes symbiotically, more often parasitically, with the larger cities they surround. Though the mass media has, as can be expected, been considering almost to the exclusion of all other questions the issue of Michael Brown’s race — a critical issue in the unfolding events, no doubt, but nothing new in the grand scheme of things in a long chronicle of police brutality and racially-instigated abuse of power by the privileged subclass designated to enforce the laws in the United States – it seems that more fundamental structural, institutional as well as cultural problems are unearthed, if one digs more than at the surface level of these events. Continue reading

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“Tax is the Lifeblood of Democracy”: An Interview with John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network

John Christensen from a Guardian piece

John Christensen from a Guardian piece

Recently, I sat down to talk with John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network, to talk about his organisation and what it does. Topics as wide ranging as state subsidies of corporations and the role of the OECD as “a think tank dominated by the rich countries” were discussed. We got into some of the major work the organisation has done over the years, including the Price of Offshore, the Financial Secrecy Index, International Accountancy standards and more recently, automatic information sharing. I learned alot, including that, if I wanted to set up a shady company of which I wanted no record, I didn’t have to go far: Wyoming is apparently a booming secrecy jurisdiction, part of the new American Wild West. The interview is about an hour in length. Sorry for the bad sound quality, hadn’t quite got the settings right.

The interview audio for downloading or streaming:
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Review: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century

Thomas Piketty's CapitalThomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the 21st Century, or “Capital” for short, has made a massive impression in the media. He has been elevated to something of an economic super-star status. People who never were interested in economics have joined reading groups of Capital, and an unprecedented number of articles has appeared outside of the “business” pages on the question of economics.

I’m going to review some of the content of this book, and give a brief explanation of what Piketty has done.

I’ll focus on some of the contributions that I think are useful and important. Then I’ll describe some of the problems that I think are inherent to Piketty’s approach.

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Catholic Marxism

Pick your Messiah

Pick your Messiah

At first glance Marxism and Catholicism have little in common: one is thoroughly materialist in outlook, the other a prime defender of idealism.

Whereas Marxism is dedicated to a new social order, the Church has been intimately associated with conservative, even reactionary politics for the last few centuries. And yet there are commonalities: religious figures have engaged in dialogue with Marxists in Latin America, often leading to the establishment of mass socialist parties. Perhaps, Hugo Chavez more than any other personified the gelling of socialism and Christianity. But he is a representative of a trend; his conception was by no means unique.
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Why is the left so obsessed with degeneration?

There is a specter haunting the radical left, the specter of degeneration. Okay, that might sound a bit dramatic but the left today really is scared a great deal of something called various things to various people. Whether we call it reformism, opportunism, or revisionism, it mainly comes down to the violation of what the group and/or individuals in question consider as the core principles of their sub-ideology within the radical left. This phenomenon is a veritable obsession, and not a day goes by without the left bickering over it, leaving bitter factionalism and splits in its wake. Such is our obsession that many of the groups within the radical left point to the struggle against opportunism as one of their main tasks. But is it healthy to focus so strongly on fighting it? Or should we find other tasks to engage with? Surely the fight against ideas that deviate too much from our ideology’s basic principles is warranted? In this article we will consider the value of and the problems associated with this collective obsession.
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Critical notes on the “Manifesto of the Initiative for Democratic Socialism” (MIDS)

iniciativa-za-demokraticni-socializem-logoThis is a critique of the Manifesto of the Initiative for Democratic Socialism (Slovenia)

The ideological dominance of capitalism as the only feasible mode of production is coming to an end. In the second half of the 1970s, when rapid and stable economic growth came to a halt in the ‘developed’ world, the forces of capital intensified their attack on workers’ rights that has not ceased to this day. The foundation on which the ideological domination of capitalism was based had started to wither away, and the advocates of capitalism increasingly justified its existence by turning to the mere fact of its existence. The fact that unlike really existing socialisms, capitalism has not collapsed – although it had to be rescued by fascist gangs and military juntas many times – underpinned the claim that there simply is no alternative and that we must accept any sacrifice in the name of capital accumulation. If growing inequality, poverty of the majority of the world population, terror of dictators and devastation of nature are the price to be paid for capital to flourish, then so be it.

The passage above is well phrased in general, however it misses what has been a key ideological point of right wing argument since the 90s, that only capitalism is compatible with democracy, and that the spread of capitalism will lead to the spread of liberal democracy. Explicit support for military junta’s has been much less common since the 90s. So when confronting the post soviet ideology of the upper classes reference to military junta’s misses the main target.
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Posted in Proletarian politics | 1 Comment

Notes on Ideology, Power, the Media and the Irish Crisis

An introduction to the study of ideological power structures and their relevance in the Irish economic crisis (Notes from a presentation to the Dublin Left Forum 10/05/2014)

Introduction

Mural: Sunday Morning, Operation Control, Mind Control, Life Control, Operation Mind Control

Since the onset of the crisis that the Irish state thus far has not had to resort to coercion in any serious manner; a co-opted trade union movement alongside a generally homogeneous mainstream polity has meant that all austerity measures, including direct cuts to pay, conditions and the social wage have been successfully introduced. While the Fianna Fail party was almost wiped out in the 2011 election, the Irish system of ‘two and a half parties’ has meant Fianna Fail’s twin party centre right party Fine Gael, backed up by the Irish Labour Party has been able to continue the austerity project without missing a beat. While there have been many defensive protests on single issues such as individual hospital closures and the regressive household tax, some partially successful, the elite have been able to successfully implement a universal austerity programme of cuts and attacks to pay, conditions and the social wage. It is the belief of this author that ideological processes expressed mainly but not exclusively through the media has had an important role in this process. The aim of this paper is to introduce the various concepts of ideology and their role in both economic and political power structures; to apply those concepts to the media sphere and finally to apply the concepts to the role of ideology and specifically to mediated issues of economics and political policy in the Irish crisis.
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What is at stake with the Labour Theory of Value

Image of Labour Bund campaign against child wage slavery.Marx has been getting a lot of media attention recently, with articles exploring his relevance in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Time Magazine, Forbes and many others. A quick search on Google trends for “was Marx right” shows a blip after the crisis but a stream of mentions since 2011.

As Marx is known as having given a powerful and substantive critique of capitalism, it’s natural that whenever it is suggested that capitalism may have endemic problems, that his name will be invoked.

Many economists, including Greenspan, were claiming that crisis was permanently a thing of the past. New Labour famously proclaimed on their advent to power in 1997 that they would put an end to the cycle of “boom and bust” capitalism, only to preside over the biggest bust since the Great Depression.

Marx’s critique, by contrast, held that in fact crisis is inherent to capitalism. With two centuries of periodic crisis it’s clear that any analysis which can claim to be predictive is going to have to account for these crises.

However, something which has not been examined very clearly is how Marx’s critique of political economy was capable of describing crisis, or of making any of the other predictions which it has done. It’s important that we take stock of the analytic tools which gave rise to these predictions so that we can evaluate if we should be using them again in order to understand our current situation.

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Strategy of Attrition: Part II

Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus

(Outside of the Church there is no Salvation)

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica

In order for strategies to become more permanently established they need to be theorised.

Just as the Leninists, from 1919 on, theorised the de facto dictatorship of the Bolshevik party into the theological knots of vanguardism and the Anarchists theorised the workers councils as the vehicle of liberation, Kautsky and the Marxist Centre theorised the mass socialist-labour organisations as the agents of socialist transformation.

The view was brought out in the debates between Otto Bauer and Kautsky over the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s. Bauer argued that there could be a Russian road to socialism; that the backward conditions found there facilitated the crash-course of industrialisation which would pave the way for socialism in the future.

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The Strategy of Attrition: Part I

Conquest or Destruction of the State?

Citizen Engels

St Paul preaches to the Victorians

Right from its beginnings in early 19th century, socialism has been bedevilled by debates over strategy in a way that right-wing ideologies have not.

Would salvation come, as Fourier dreamed, from wealthy benefactors funding new communist colonies or maybe, as Proudhon envisaged, through workers founding their own mutualist enterprises and bypassing politics altogether?

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Democracy and the role of the party

Democracy in Crisis

“In sharp contradiction to the belief that democracy is only a way to Socialism is another viewpoint which is also quite popular in Socialist ranks, namely, that true democracy is possible only in a Socialist society and that what we have now as democracy is an illusion and has only a formal character.”
–Karl Kautsky

Petrograd Soviet, 1917Everywhere in Europe, but with special intensity in Spain, a strong distrust of politicians, parties, and to a certain extent representative democracy, is gaining currency as the feeling of the vast majority. Expressions like “they’re all the same” or “voting is useless”, which were never unheard of, are nonetheless acquiring the social imprimatur of common sense, although paradoxically many of those most likely to utter them will, when it comes to the crunch, show up at the polling station and have a care for what ballot they put into the urn. It’s undeniable, though, that there is a crisis of legitimacy, and the belief that those who in theory represent us for the common good are in fact looking to their own sectional interest (or that of their patrons) not just first, but exclusively, is increasingly widespread.

There are many responses to this situation: resignation (it is inevitable that someone must rule and that they will be corrupted in so doing), depoliticisation (what is required is a neutral, capable, non-ideological government by technicians), relativism (my party is bad but it is not as bad as your party), and of course a number of more rupturist views. The general thrust of these is that what we have right now is not truly democratic, and that some formal or procedural change is required to introduced so-called real democracy. That was the name of one of the primary movements during the 15M, Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now). Likewise, the structure of parties such as Izquierda Unida (United Left) or the PCE is regarded as undemocratic because of their internal structure. Some of these claims have some merit, but many are ultraleft wishful thinking dressed in liberal language.

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Working Class Hero

Proletarian swinging a pickThere is a fairly widespread argument concerning the working class that goes something like this:

The Working class is now only a small fragment of the population. The old class politics is therefore permanently dead and can not be resuscitated. Instead we need a focus on freeing the expression of various groups and protecting the most vulnerable in society. These include many different groups of which the working class is only part of this vulnerable section.

The first part about the working class no longer existing, I have for a long time found a fascinating subject. That this view is almost invariably given to me by people who sell their labour power in the market in order to subsist, causes me to shake my head in a mixture of confusion, horror and amusement.
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