communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Tag: brooklyn rail

Nowhere to Go: Automation, Then and Now

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by Jason Smith

Part One

It is in this serious light that we have to look at the question of the growing army of the unemployed. We have to stop looking for solutions in pump-priming, featherbedding, public works, war contracts, and all the other gimmicks that are always being proposed by labor leaders and well-meaning liberals.

– James Boggs, The American Revolution

In 1963, James Boggs, a black autoworker employed for over two decades at a Chrysler plant in Detroit, published a short book focused on the nefarious effects of automation on class struggle in the United States. The story told in The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook begins with the early 1930s, the decomposition of the old craft unions, and a global economy in the throes of an unprecedented near-collapse; it arrives at a high point with the late 1930s, with a now-forgotten wave of sit-down strikes that tore through the tire and auto industries between 1933 and 1937, most famously at the Flint General Motors plant in early 1937.1 This was, in Boggs’s estimation, the “greatest period of industrial strife and workers’ struggle for control of production that the United States has ever known.” But this period also gave rise, under the reformist efforts of the New Deal and in a climate of mass unemployment, to the Wagner Act and the institutionalization of class struggle. The UAW, which just a few years earlier organized the sit-down strikes in the auto industry, had by 1939 banned the tactic in the plants. In the cast shadow of imminent war, the union’s no-strike pledge, along with the inevitable encrustation of a bureaucratic stratum more at home in the offices of management than on the workbenches, left workers to wildcat their way through the war. The Second World War witnessed thousands of work stoppages: an astonishing 8,708 strikes implicating over four million workers took place, according to Boggs, over one two-year period while war production was in full swing. Union pledges of discipline notwithstanding, order did not therefore always prevail. Workers, many of them from the rural South, and new to the world of the factory, consistently bucked against the dictates imposed by management and enforced by their own representatives. The wildcat strikes were not, however, always defections from the dictates of union bureaucrats and the boss. In 1943, a UAW-organized Packard plant was the site of a “hate strike” organized by white workers to push back against the influx of black workers into the factories, and the integration of assembly lines. Soon after, a tumultuous “race riot” broke out in the city, as white workers attacked black workers who now competed with them for housing. Dozens were killed, hundreds wounded; mostly black, and primarily at the hands of police and the National Guard. The city would be occupied by federal troops for a full half year after. Such was, for better and for worse, the American workers movement at its most militant.2

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Field Notes: February 2017

Editor’s Note

No one could call globalization a failure: To the succession of the hottest years ever must now be added the achievement of a distribution of wealth in which eight men (six of them Americans) own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorer half of humanity.

 

Elephant Blues

Shortly before Donald Trump’s electoral victory, a bizarre alliance of sorts emerged: from one side, military and foreign policy bureaucrats, neocon hawks and politicians, mainstream liberals and their favorite press outlets (Financial Times, New York Times, the Economist, etc.); from the other, left-wing militants, anti-racist activists, social justice warriors, and other fans of democracy.

Standing with Syrians: An Open Letter to an Anti-Imperialist

Eva is a real person whom I have known since 2007, as described in this article. But in this text Eva stands for many politically engaged individuals, whether outspoken or silent supporters of the Syrian regime and its allies. I will not re-post her photo here. In a world flooded with images, it is important to maintain our ability to imagine a moment.

 

Passing Notes with Refugees

The Iranian refugees in Calais sewed their mouths shut and went on a twenty-five-day hunger strike, after authorities destroyed the tents they were living in while they waited for asylum.

Anti-worker’s Inquiry

Open the door, turn on the light, heat up the water, check the refrigerators, lay out the chairs, clean the tables, light the candles, put out the ashtrays, check the register, count the change, cut the limes, put on music, wash the glasses, turn on the fan, pour the beer, mix the drinks, serve the customers, listen to their stories, comfort their loneliness, make the ice, clean the counter, tell a joke, take the money. The floor is wet, pool table scratched, darts bent, ash on the couch, smoke in the air, glasses broken, wallets stolen, clothing torn. The night is long and full of terrors.

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Red-eyed zombies shuffle slowly around the room, gurgling liquid nonsense. They require fuel, and my job is to serve. I release kegs of sorrow-drowning forgetting juice to hordes of thirsty animals. The early ones are old, mostly men, alone, talking at me nonstop, like a television you can’t turn off. I nod and try to act busy, pretending to listen, which turns into actually listening. I hear stories of work, family, and loss; of sports, weather, and sex. They speak of the old times before the Wall came down, or before the Wall went up; of living in the East, was it better, was it worse; of the squats, punk, and the autonomen; of all the immigrants, the Greeks, Spanish, and Portuguese; the Jews, Arabs, and Turks; the Russians and Poles, Czechs and Serbs; the refugees from Syria, Somalia, and Sudan; of war and death, parties and politics. I hear about the new Berlin, poor but sexy, with enough cultural capital to compete with Brooklyn: full of street art, start-ups, and stardom. Half-liters of pilsner go down like water to these senior proletarians and punks of the Federal Republic.

Later, when the sun goes down, the young ones rush in like flies to a light bulb: the party kids from England, France, and Australia; the students from Mexico, Canada, and Japan; the IT workers from Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark. The noise reaches a peak pitch. The air is impenetrable. I sweat, run, fall, take, give, pour, spill, clean, and try to become pure labor-power. But they want the whole human: the ears that listen, the voice that responds, the eyes that look back, and the hand that feels the fingers through the bills. I try not to think, but I’m a trained thinker in my other life, and so my thoughts overpower me, firing out indiscriminately at unsuspecting guests. Snippets of conversation hang in mid-air as I interject with non-sequiturs, hoping for a better tip. A few activists debate the demise of the left; a few soccer fans discuss the decline of their team. Turkish wrestlers, French conspirators, American hustlers are locked in a vicious game of foosball. Cops knocking, neighbors calling, bosses yelling, tables falling—I need a new job.

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Communist Round-Up

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The Great Wheel by Phil Neel

Fuck freedom, I concluded. Fuck having to choose between a variety of identically vacuous options and identically fucked futures and then being forced on top of it to enjoy them because they were, after all, my choice. I didn’t want freedom, I didn’t want choice. I wanted the raw, impersonal logic of sheer chance. No systems, no skills, no betting high, no bluffing, no holding aces, no revolver in the back pocket, just the one wheel—red or black, the ball spinning like the dead thing that it is and landing wherever for no reason and that complete absence of reason determining whether I make or lose a hundred dollars, two hundred, a week’s pay even, the win or the loss without any work or myths about how much I earned it or how badly I invested. No self-help books. No inspirational stories and no cautionary tales. Just democracy by lot. Absolute equality in the most unequal of times.

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Defending Rojava by AM Gittlitz

The time is right to redraw the map, former US lieutenant colonel and Fox News talking head Ralph Peters argues, with a Free Kurdistan as the New Middle East’s crown. “Stretching from Diyarbakir through Tabriz, it will be the most pro-Western state between Bulgaria and Japan,” he says, continuing a century-long tradition of treating the Kurdish people as a talking point in negotiating borders, disciplining Turkey or invading Syria or Iraq. As the most effective fighting force against ISIS and the faction most likely to set up a stable secular democracy, Western hawks like Peters are once again championing the Kurdish cause, so long as it fits the daily agenda. Often equally instrumentalizing, the Western left has taken a newfound interest in the allegedly revolutionary situation in the Kurdish-majority region of Rojava in northern Syria. There, a new system of stateless governance has formed and their rhetoric against patriarchy, neo-liberalism, and the nation-state quickly lead to both enthusiasm from those who see the embattled Kobane as the new Catalonia, and scorn from those who see it breeding short-sighted and faux-revolutionary nationalism.

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Interview with Adolph L. Reed, Jr.

I think anti-racism is beyond useless as a politics. It is now an artifact of neoliberalism and has been for quite some time. Its inadequacies even for making sense of the carceral state are made clear by contrast with Marie Gottschalk’s new book, Caught, some of the key themes of which she articulates in a recent interview. As Gottschalk notes, even if all the racial disparities in criminal justice were eliminated, for example, the United States probably would still lead the world in carceralization. Anti-racism—along with anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, etc., as well as diversity as the affirmative statement of them all—is a species of a genus of social and economic justice that is utterly compatible with neoliberalism: parity in the distribution of costs and benefits among groups defined by essentialized ascriptive identities. That is what is commonly referred to as identity politics. Despite the chatter among its proponents about group celebration and recognition, the substantive ideal of identity politics is a condition in which costs and benefits and potential individual winners and losers are sorted in rough proportion to their representation in the society. A “Left” committed to this metric, in addition to identifying outrages, focuses on cleansing opportunity structures of invidious and unjust discrimination along identitarian lines within what remains a regime of increasingly ruthless upward redistribution. That is a vision that marks the ultimate triumph of Gary Becker’s utopia.

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The Anthropocene Myth by Andreas Malm

A single average US citizen emits more than 500 citizens of Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Mali, or Burundi; how much an average US millionaire emits — and how much more than an average US or Cambodian worker — remains to be counted. But a person’s imprint on the atmosphere varies tremendously depending on where she is born. Humanity, as a result, is far too slender an abstraction to carry the burden of culpability. Ours is the geological epoch not of humanity, but of capital. Of course, a fossil economy does not necessarily have to be capitalist: the Soviet Union and its satellite states had their own growth mechanisms connected to coal, oil, and gas. They were no less dirty, sooty, or emissions-intensive — perhaps rather more — than their Cold War adversaries. So why focus on capital? What reason is there to delve into the destructiveness of capital, when the Communist states performed at least as abysmally?

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60 Days Older and Deeper in Debt by TPTG

Only a new insurrectionary, self-reflective proletarian movement that will manage to impose the needs and interests of the proletariat on the capitalist state on a European level can subvert both austerity and moral panics ideology. Surely not a left government which prevailed on the basis of the retreat, the defeat or the recuperation of previous class and social struggles and which moreover is not willing to sacrifice its practical eurocentrism over its theoretical left keynesianism. Neither any faction of the Greek ruling class. The latter has been entangled into an unresolvable contradiction: on the one hand, by submitting itself to the protection of the hegemonic neoliberal/neomercantilist powers in the Eurozone it managed to submit the working class to labour and wage discipline. On the other hand, the ridiculous ideology of “expansionary contraction” in the EU, i.e. the policy of permanent austerity, especially as it has been implemented in its extreme version in Greece, has led to a disastrous devaluation of total social capital and contractionary effects on private domestic demand and GDP from which there seems to be no exit.

Fragments of Europe

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by Jacob Blumenfeld,  May 6th, 2014, Brooklyn Rail

Strolling down the promenade in central Madrid on a Thursday afternoon, I glance left and see a Museo del Jamón (Museum of Ham), I look right and find a shop full of Catholic kitsch, left again and it’s a bar selling overpriced tapas, right again and there are two glass doors brimming with hundreds of shielded riot cops about to explode onto the Puerta del Sol. They are waiting for the 20,000 high school students marching against austerity and cuts to education. If anything goes wrong, they are ready. Too bad though. The first windows are broken elsewhere.

With around 25 percent unemployment, and 50 percent youth unemployment, the prospects for a good life in Spain are not high. The economic crisis has crushed many dreams and evicted many locals, but the royal palaces and grand museums are still polished clean and packed with tourists. The squares are no longer centers of political discussion; that was already exhausted in 2011. Discussing ¡Democracia real YA! in public is a fine step, but it’s no substitute for the overthrow of economic domination. A social strike on the scale of March 29th, 2012, which shut down the economy in Barcelona and most of Spain, has not occurred since. People protest, barricades are built, bank windows are broken, buildings are claimed, squats named, centers socialized, pamphlets spread, and the museums are still full.

If Lisbon is the most beautiful city in Europe, it is also the most abandoned—decrepit, for sale, slowly decaying like Detroit. But this is not due to deindustrialization, urban politics, or endemic poverty. It’s a story of debt and crisis, capital flight and real estate bubbles, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. Every once in a while, a protest or a strike will pass by your street or through a gorgeous square demanding this or trying to stop that. But to whom are they speaking when they chant? Is it Merkel, “Brussels,” the Portuguese, the rest of Europe? Who hears their provincial wails?

It’s Saturday in Berlin, the sky is half blue and half black, and right as I’m about to begin working my shift at the bar, lines of riot cops march down the street, van after van after van full, followed closely by a small demo, 200 maybe, mostly autonomists, antifascists, communists, housing activists and some locals holding signs about rising rent, gentrification, capitalism. Behind them, another few thousand riot police. Nothing happens, as usual.

A few days earlier, a nearby square occupied by refugees, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, was cleared. For almost two years, refugees lived in this Platz with makeshift tents, food donations, and some support from leftists. Politicians and policemen have been trying to evict them for a while, claiming health and safety reasons, but they were blocked thanks to the strong solidarity from anti-racist groups. But on this one foggy morning, the strategy was found: choose some leaders from the camp, make a deal with them, and then let them dismantle the camp themselves. And so it was done. When the activists arrived, the chaos was too far-gone. The police intervened later, after the fights within the camp had already broken up any hope of unity. The square is now a permanent police-zone.

Berlin has become a mecca for crisis refugees from southern Europe, with Spaniards, Greeks, and Portuguese competing for jobs with Polish and Russian immigrants from the former Soviet states, as well as the long-term Turkish community and, of course, the decadent Germans themselves. Along with floods of British partygoers, American tourists, Israeli exiles, and French Erasmus students, migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, Iran, and Syria are making a presence in this formerly homogenous place. Vietnamese and Korean zones exist on the outskirts, with the center of the city still negatively shaped by the history of the wall. With its low unemployment, cheap cost of living, and reasonable welfare provisions, Berlin is an ideal city for global surplus populations evading the terrors of economic and political catastrophe in their own lands. Germany itself has a negative birthrate, and so immigration has been encouraged by the government to make up for the gap in job-seekers. This process has reshaped Berlin from an Eastern outpost of the Cold War into a cosmopolitan hipster millennial party-town. The new class composition that undergirds this development has yet to express itself in struggle. For now, everyone is a member of the partying proletariat, no one a member of the party.

In a former nuclear silo an hour north of Berlin, 60,000 people dance non-stop for four days every summer to electronic music of every sort on 20 stages with no cops in sight, all self-organized by a bunch of older and younger antifascists, punks, and technofreaks. It’s a self-proclaimed communist holiday in which music, theater, cabaret, film, art, sculpture, workshops, dance, food, drinks, and fire are produced by each according to their ability and distributed to each according to their need. This communism lasts four days long. Then it’s back to work.

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