Me and my columns

My next column is actually two columns. My regular MRR one is about pattern recognition and antisemitism while my non-canonical one is why proto-capitalism in the Middle Ages didn’t “take off” as European Jewish communities were being attacked and expropriated. What links the two pieces, besides a survey of Jewish history, is the bibliography. Lately I’ve been including lists of sources at the end of my columns to provide more extensive, related materials expanding on the subject matter of the column in question. The bibliography is at the end of my regular MRR column, but it overlaps with my non-canonical one.

I write every day. Finishing a particular piece of writing is another matter however. I recently started a column about the self-isolating process of writing itself and what it feels like to write in a time of plague. I had already finished my two current columns (now scheduled to post on April 1) and I’d hoped to finish this new one in time to switch it for the completed ones. The new one is more timely than the two slightly older ones. The writing is taking a lot longer than I anticipated and while I fully expect to complete it in due course, I haven’t managed that yet. I never suffer from writers block, but I do experience distractions and delays in my writing process. I’m never too anxious about it. My only deadline is for my MRR columns which are posted the first of the month, and I keep a cache of completed columns on abiding topics in reserve just in case something like this happens. I’m usually a nervous, antsy person but I’ve learned to “chill” and “go with the flow” when it comes to my writing.

Tim Yohannan. ¡Presente!: “What’s Left?” May 2019, MRR #432

[E]verything that was in opposition was good…
Michael Baumann, How It All Began, 1975

No one who likes swing can become a Nazi.
Arvid (Frank Whaley), Swing Kids, 1993

It was Movie Night at Maximum Rocknroll at the old Clipper Street headquarters circa 1994. The featured movie was Thomas Carter’s 1993 film Swing Kids. It was Tim and me and maybe one other person. I think Tim actually made Jiffy Pop popcorn and I had my ubiquitous six pack. The plot was simple; as the Nazi Party rises to power in pre-WWII Germany a tight countercultural scene of young kids grow their hair long, wear British fashion and use Harlem slang as they listen to banned American swing music, hold underground dances and street fight the Hitler Youth. Two rebellious young men take different paths—one into the Hitler Youth, the other into the Swing Kids and eventually jail.

The parallels to the mid-1990s were clear, with the rise of the Right politically and the explosion of punk’s second hardcore wave in the streets. After the closing credits rolled and Tim popped out the VHS tape he made the connections explicit. “Punk is like swing was in Nazi Germany. It’s the core of a revolutionary youth culture with rebellious kids resisting fascism in the streets.”

Tim loved punk, no doubt about it, but he was also on a mission. He not only wanted to cover the scene and its music, he wanted to push the politics of punk to the fore. And that link between punk music, the scene, its politics, and the fight against the Right is crucial to understanding both Tim Yo and his project, MRR. Tim considered MRR a lynchpin between punk music and the punk scene on the one hand and the Left’s fight against reactionary politics on the other hand.

Tim was a friend. We both loved punk rock but whereas I had eclectic tastes ranging from pop to noise Tim insisted on only the rawest, most aggressive three chord rock’n’roll. We didn’t hang out together at shows although we were sometimes at the same shows. We were both politically on the Left although he was a mellowing Marxist-Leninist and I was an aspiring libertarian Marxist. Tim had a loud raucous belly laugh, could hit a fly ball over the fence, and was dedicated to the punk scene like nobody’s business. But he was also rigid, authoritarian, and sometimes an unmitigated asshole. In fact, when Tim was dying of non-Hodgkins lymphoma and preparing MRR’s transition team to take over, he advised us never to shy away from being an asshole when it was warranted. Meaning, we needed to stand firm about making the tough decisions—firing idiot shitworkers, refusing connections with sketchy bands and labels, cutting out cancerous corporate influences—whenever necessary. Tim and I were friends, but we weren’t ever “besties.” And I was never part of the coterie of friends who played Risk at the MRR house. Tim had modified the rules to make the game more ruthless, and there was no better metaphor than that long-running Risk game for Tim’s aspirations to punk rock world domination.

This tribute to Tim is also about the print edition of MRR. But MRR, which began publishing as a zine in 1982, started much earlier as a radio show in 1973. Both the early years of the radio show and the beginnings of the magazine involved a quadrumvirate of pioneering punkers—Tim Yo, Ruth Schwartz, Jeff Bale, and Jello Biafra—who changed punk rock in the Bay Area and internationally. Never the sharpest shōnen knife in the punk rock drawer, Jello fully deserved losing the Dead Kennedys back catalog for ripping off his band. Now a para-alt-rightwinger, Jeff Bale dropped racial epithets when his vintage sports car was vandalized by black kids. A millionaire hipster capitalist, Ruth Schwartz abandoned her faux conscious capitalist ethics when confronted with unionizing efforts by workers at Mordam Records. Having known and worked with them all, the only one I truly trusted was Tim Yo who, despite his personal flaws and political problems, was forthright, genuine, and completely dedicated to the scene. Tim helped me get the job at Mordam and in turn I fed him inside information about the distributor. When Tim moved to drop Mordam as MRR’s distributor, I gave Tim detailed backroom distribution and sales information ahead of the move, and provided him with lists of the distributors and sub-distributors Mordam dealt with. My punk loyalty was to Tim and MRR, first and foremost.

Tim’s influence on punk rock was epic and wide ranging. Tim and MRR arguably coined the term DIY—do it yourself—as well as defined the anti-corporate, bottom-up, decentralized nature of punk rock with regular scene reports and calls to “support your local scene,” two crucial characteristics of punk. Punk projects that Tim initiated—from the radio show to Gilman Street—are still going strong today. He made “no major labels” the magazine’s rallying cry. And Tim was an adamant anti-fascist, insisting that the magazine and affiliated projects have absolutely no truck with Nazis. He routinely confronted Nazis when the entire Gilman Street community shut down punk shows in response to Nazi skins in the pit. The vagaries of print media notwithstanding, MRR kept publishing for 16 years under Tim’s direction and 20 years after his death, quite a feat for an all-volunteer not-for-profit punk zine. Tim’s insistence that punk rock get back to basics with his 1994 purge of MRR’s record collection and music coverage forced punk to return to three chords and the truth, the basis for the music’s original greatness that fostered a revival of the genre.

Ultimately, the connections Tim fostered through MRR between punk music, the youthful punk scene, its leftist politics, and the fight against the Right and fascism influenced me the most. It’s facile to argue that because the young are rebellious by nature there can be no particular political philosophy innate to any form of rock’n’roll. The young are considered rebels without a cause and therefore without a clue. “Just don’t fucking tell me what to do!” is supposedly their mantra. But while the young are often individually rebellious for the sheer sake of rebelliousness, with all opposition considered good, there were definite political trends brought about by concrete material circumstances. As social phenomena, the rebellious hippie counterculture of the 1960s and the defiant punk subculture beginning in the 1970s were viscerally anti-authoritarian, which stimulated interest in and a revival of anarchism each time. No similar interest in conservative politics emerged, putting the lie to the claim that “conservatives are the new punk.” Fascism remained anathema irrespective of these youthful rebellions.

It’s equally facile to contend that because Tim witnessed the ’60s radical youth counterculture firsthand and was rumored to have been in the Revolutionary Communist Party in the ’70s he intended MRR to be a punk rock Bolshevik Party. As I pointed out above regarding MRR’s origins, Tim worked with a collection of fellow punks who differed wildly from him politically. MRR was frequently criticized as narrow-minded, politically correct, and elitist, but it never attempted to be a political vanguard for punk. The magazine’s shitworkers and columnists were diverse and their politics, while generally left wing, were eclectic. Tim had strong opinions and politics, but he was never a punk rock Stalin.

I was making links between punk and politics before I moved to the Bay Area. Joining MRR and working with Tim not only deepened those links, it changed my life. Not miraculously, but nevertheless significantly. My musical experience broadened dramatically as a result of hanging out at the MRR house. The anti-statist and anti-authoritarian components to my left libertarian politics grew more sophisticated, thanks in large part to Tim making me a columnist. I was always a writer, but I became a published author with a literary and internet presence during my tenure as “Lefty” Hooligan. I’ll continue writing and probably do some version of my monthly “What’s Left?” column online until they pry my cold dead hands from my keyboard. As of this writing, the future of MRR as a punk project remains to be determined. It began as a radio show, so it looks to continue as a radio show for the foreseeable future. The record reviews and other punk related reviews should be going up online shortly. And slowly, painfully, the full archive of MRR’s print era, the magazine in all its glory, will eventually be posted online. “Long live Maximum Rocknroll” is a reality, and the project will go mostly digital to survive.

There’s a long tradition on the Latin American Left of using the word ¡Presente! (Here! Present!) to invoke the memory of those comrades who died in the struggle for a better world. So this is only fitting:

Tim Yohannan. ¡Presente!

 

 

Promoting Maximum Rocknroll: “What’s Left?” February 2019, MRR #429

In retrospect, this is my saddest column. I wrote it when MRR was in crisis, but when I still had hope the print edition of the magazine could be salvaged. I wanted to do my part to drum up support for it, but subsequent developments proved me wrong.

***

Whenever I’m out and about wearing my gang colors (read: my MRR t-shirt) and aside from comments like “cool shirt” I get questions. “Are they still around?” (Yep, 37 years and counting.) “Where can I get a copy?” (Order a copy online or buy one in select stores.) And, very rarely: “How can I help MRR out?” Here’s my rather lengthy answer to that last question.

GIVE MONEY

Money is the most and least important way you can help MRR. Most important because, as the song goes, “money makes the world go ‘round.” Money is crucial to the production of the magazine and the survival of the overall project. But it’s also the least important element because people frequently give money without doing anything else, often to assuage their guilt for not doing anything else. We’re still glad to take your cash, and there are several ways to give it to us. NO STRINGS ATTACHED: Just give us the money. In the old days, punks would send MRR cash in the mail. Of course, it was in payment for subscriptions or records or what have you, but the result was that Tim Yo had lots of spare cash to use without reporting it to the Feds. Those days are long gone and we don’t recommend you send us money via the post. But if you don’t need your donation to be tax deductible, then just send us a check or money order. Sorry, MRR doesn’t do BitCoin. TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS: MRR is a not-for-profit, not a nonprofit. You can’t give us money directly if you want it to be tax deductible. Fortunately, we partner with a great little nonprofit, San Francisco All-Ages Art & Music Project (SFAAAMP), which is a legit 501(c)(3). You can send your donation to SFAAAMP, c/o John Downing, 3653 24th Street, Ste. 2, San Francisco, CA 94110. Make sure to mark it for MRR.

MRR is also happy to exchange product for money. It’s called commerce, and there are several ways you can purchase stuff from us. BUY SINGLE ISSUES: We can sell you single issues or multiples of any single issue—current or back issue—so long as it’s still in stock. They make great gifts for friends and family. There are deals for 6 back issues, and you can download PDFs of the current issue and select back issues online. SUBSCRIBE: This is the best way to get your copy of the magazine. Subscriptions are available for 6 and 12 months respectively. Not only do you get it for a discounted price, subscribing gives us a steady dependable income we can count on for the duration of your subscription. Gift subscriptions for friends and family are also awesome. OTHER PRODUCTS: MRR offers records and comps, as well as lots of great t-shirts, for you to buy. We give away free buttons and stickers when you purchase stuff from us. ADVERTISE: If you have something punk related (music, zine, book, etc.) advertise it in the pages of MRR. Our rates are cheap. Depending on what you do, we can do an ad exchange. ROUND UP: A 6 month subscription sent to anywhere in the US costs $26.00. Why not round up to an even $30? Most of our styling t-shirts go for $15 apiece. Why not round up to $20? That’s the idea. DO A BENEFIT: You can organize your own benefit for MRR in your local scene, or have your band play a show to benefit MRR. You can even sell MRR at local shows and we’ll send you a bundle.

LEND SUPPORT

            There are lots of ways to support MRR non-monetarily. Whenever you find the magazine at your local record shop or bookstore, make sure to tell them how glad you are to find MRR there. If your favorite record shop or bookstore doesn’t carry us, ask them to do so. See if your local library will carry us. MRR is on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Like us, follow us, comment on and repost our stuff on your social media. Mention and review us on websites, blogs, podcasts, and everywhere possible on the internet. Do the same in the remaining analog media like print magazines, newspapers, and books. If you do a zine, mention us, review us, and put up a free MRR ad. Patronize the businesses who distribute the magazine and patronize our advertisers. Make sure they know you like us. Attend MRR PRESENTS shows and events. Listen to and follow Maximum RocknRoll Radio online and on your local radio station. If your radio station doesn’t carry the radio show, ask them to do so. Tell the bands, labels, authors, zine publishers, etc. you like that you saw them in the pages of MRR. And send us your music, zines, books, comics, etc. so we can review your stuff in the magazine.

VOLUNTEER YOURSELF

            There are shitworkers, reviewers, columnists, and coordinators listed on MRR’s first two Top Ten pages, but we’re all volunteers. I like to divide the volunteers into two basic categories: IN IT FOR THE GLORY and BEHIND THE SCENES. In It For The Glory are volunteers who want to see their names in print reviewing records, demos, books, zines and movies, doing interviews, recording radio shows, listing top tens, and writing columns. Behind The Scenes are volunteers who do things for MRR without wanting credit in the magazine. That includes picking up the mail, distributing the magazine locally, to subscribers and internationally, green taping and filing records, cleaning up the office, tabling at events, putting on shows or other events, coordinating various departments of the magazine, and coordinating the entire magazine. Of course, volunteers can be in both categories. I used to be listed as a shitworker under “George Impulse” and as a columnist under “Lefty Hooligan” until the coordinators made me decide how I wanted to be credited. Being the glory hound that I am, I opted for columnist. All MRR’s volunteer positions are open to anyone who wants to step up, provided you have a commitment to the magazine and punk rock. In It For The Glory volunteers should also be informative, entertaining, and provocative in whatever they write or record for MRR. At their most basic, Behind The Scenes volunteers can just show up and do their job. Those Behind The Scenes volunteers who coordinate specific departments or who coordinate the whole enterprise need to be vetted by MRR as a whole because they are responsible for running and producing the magazine. In general, volunteers should be consistent and dependable because nobody likes a flake. But any punk can and should volunteer for MRR if you want to support us.

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SCENE

I’ve always been into weird, edgy bands—Deviants, 13th Floor Elevator, The Up, MC5—so getting into punk wasn’t a stretch when I lived in San Diego. I can’t remember whether I saw The Ramones at San Diego State University in December, 1978, or October, 1979, as my first ever punk rock show. I was a heavy drinker in those days, so things are hazy. I was a regular at San Diego’s Skeleton and Zebra Clubs. I did a two-sided broadside called Point-Blank (subtitled an anarchist no wave monthly) in 1984 and a regular zine called San Diego’s Daily Impulse (an anti-authoritarian news journal that went from bimonthly to quarterly and then to monthly) from 1985 through 1989. I regularly tabled at shows and progressive events, and organized two Anarchy Picnics at Balboa Park and one Hardcore Picnic at Mariner’s Point that turned into a full blown riot. I put on several benefit shows and helped set up various anarchist affinity groups and anti-authoritarian organizations, including the short-lived Borderlands Anti-Authoritarian Community and a chapter of Anti-Racist Action.

Such was my local punk street cred when I moved to the Bay Area in 1991. I immediately got involved with MRR. Not exactly the Bible of punk rock despite Tim Yo’s tongue-in-cheek issue touting that status, MRR was a leading international magazine of punk rock that made a point of covering local punk scenes. It still is and does, despite the general decline of print media and punk music. So, by all means, support your local scene. But if you do a zine or play in a band or put on shows or record a podcast or whatever else you do in your local scene, send it to MRR. We’d love to cover it. By supporting your local punk rock scene you can support MRR.

A critique of Fourth Worldism

No more Negative Ned. Instead of critiquing Leftist practice and politics as I often do, I’m writing about something positive and hopeful this essay. To develop some PMA. I wrote a stupider version of this critique many years ago, from which I split off my July 17, 2017, piece called “San Cristobal and Zomia, an exercise in fantasy.” And like that essay, this commentary is not an official MRR column. It’s not Hooligan canon, but apocrypha.

***

Lenin formulated his theory of imperialism in 1900 which differentiates the world capitalist economy into the capitalist national centers of European empire and their exploited colonial periphery. In a Marxist anti-imperialist context, French social scientist Alfred Sauvy coined the term Third World in 1952 as an analog to the Third Estate of the French Revolution. Also jumping off from Leninist anti-imperialism, Mao propounded his Three Worlds Theory by 1974 in which the First World is the developed capitalist nations, the Second World is the socialist nations posing as an international alternative, and the Third World is the orthodox category of undeveloped, underdeveloped and developing  nations. Starting in 1974, Immanuel Wallerstein charted the differentiation of the present world capitalist economy via the consolidation of nation-states and national economies into the fully developed core region, an undeveloped, underdeveloped and developing exploited periphery, and a semi-peripheral region in between. These tripartite schemas imply a fourth geographic tier, a Fourth World in Maoism and an outer periphery in the case of Wallerstein encompassing the marginal territories and peoples incapable of consolidating viable nation-states and national economies.

The left communist critique of Third World national liberation struggles—socialist or not—is that they substitute group identity for class struggle, to the benefit of entrenched local elites. The unity and emancipation of the national, racial, or ethnic group in question is elevated above the unity and emancipation of the international working class, to the advantage of that group’s ruling class and the preservation of capital. State power replaces workers power, national self-determination replaces class self-emancipation, and anti-imperialism replaces anti-capitalism.

I grew familiar with this International Communist Current-based critique during the Vietnam War. While I was impressed with the argument’s uncompromising purity I was also troubled by its lack of nuance and flexibility. Yes, the Vietnamese Communist Party was relentlessly centralizing, eventually purging and absorbing the broader, more populist Viet Cong. In the name of national unity, Communist Vietnam regularly suppressed and liquidated political dissidents (Trotskyists, anarchists), ethnic minorities (Hmong, Montagnards), and religious groups (Catholics, Buddhists). And both the NLF and NVA thought nothing of sacrificing vast numbers of Vietnamese civilians to achieve their military goals. But this was in the face of the United States, the world’s greatest military and economic superpower, which was more than willing to bomb Vietnam back to the stone age, slaughter millions of Vietnamese, pave the country over and convert it into a parking lot for capital, all in the name of “liberal democracy.” Some respect was due the Vietnamese people for their audacity and courage.

The Leninist Third World and Maoist Three Worlds of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s has since transmogrified into a neo-Marxist dependency analysis of Global North versus Global South. From Old Left to New Left, and particularly through the anti-Vietnam War movements and the New Communist Movement, support for national self-determination became a movement unto itself called Third Worldism. Comprised of developing nations emerging from the decolonization wave after the second World War, Third Worldism sought independence from and neutrality between the US/USSR superpower rivalry, a Nonaligned Movement intent not just on international political unity but also a vanguard role for autonomous socialism. In turn, the overlapping politics of Leninist Third World, Maoist Three Worlds, and non-aligned Third Worldism entered American anarchism after 1968, so much so that by the founding of Love and Rage circa 1989, national liberation struggles were critically embraced by a growing number of left anarchists. By 1996 and L&R’s demise, they had pioneered an uncritical acceptance of Chiapas, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), and what would become the next wave of Third World national liberation struggles.

Alternately, embracing a schematic “quadrium quid” (fourth something) has given rise to a socialism that seeks to defend “indigenous peoples, stateless ethnicities and localist/autonomist political models—the ‘Fourth World’” against the ravages of capitalism and the nation-state. [Bill Weinberg, CounterVortex] This category includes hunter-gatherer, nomadic, pastoral, and certain subsistence farming peoples living outside the modern industrial system, various sub-populations excluded socially from the present international order, and minority populations residing in First World countries with Third World living standards. Socialist Fourth Worldism champions “secular, progressive anti-imperialist forces” around the globe and therefore supports libertarian socialist national liberation struggles, indigenous secessionist movements, and non-state resistance movements for local autonomy all fighting against the current world order.

Fourth Worldism has its problems, like Third Worldism, starting with its uncomfortable proximity to Fascism. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy proclaimed solidarity with “proletarian nations” against “bourgeois nations,” post war neo-fascism defended a “third way” beyond capitalism and Marxism, and Keith Preston’s white nationalist fascism calls itself pan-secessionism. The negative territory where Third World and Fourth World overlap brings to mind Robert Kaplan’s dystopian realpolitik in his essay The Coming Anarchy, which he subtitled ““how scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet” and which augers the rapid disintegration of existing nation-states. Gone are dreams of world revolution and socialist internationalism, replaced by the nightmare of ever-increasing fragmentation and powerlessness in the face of world capitalism. Or as Nicole Aschoff paraphrased in Jacobin #19 when critiquing “the small-scale, community-based models pushed by many international NGOs, who increasingly work hand-in-glove with multinational corporations and project the interests of Northern governments,” small is not necessarily beautiful.

Third World national liberation struggles also have fraught relationships with imperialism. Returning to Vietnam, the country was a client state of the Soviet Union, practices an Indochinese-wide imperialism, and often views its highland Fourth World peoples as threats. And Fourth World struggles have sometimes been allied with imperialism in response to repressive national liberation struggles—Montagnards in Vietnam, Hmong in Laos, Miskito in Nicaragua, ronda compesina in Peru, etc. Even contradictions between the EZLN and the Lacandons in Chiapas represent this conflict.

I’m dubious that a Maoist Third World will eventually rise up, surround, and overwhelm the capitalist First World in a town vs country struggle analogy, much less the possibility of some decentralized people’s war of global liberation against what Subcomandante Marcos (Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente/Subcomandante Galeano) called neoliberalism’s and globalization’s Fourth World War: It is not only in the mountains of southeastern Mexico that neoliberalism is being resisted. In other regions of Mexico, in Latin America, in the United States and in Canada, in the Europe of the Maastricht Treaty, in Africa, in Asia, and in Oceania, pockets of resistance are multiplying. Each has its own history, its specificities, its similarities, its demands, its struggles, its successes. If humanity wants to survive and improve, its only hope resides in these pockets made up of the excluded, the left-for-dead, the ‘disposable.’ But there is a positive territory where Third and Fourth Worlds overlap. Marcos comes out of the Latin American politics of indigenismo with an indigenous Marxism—an indigenous politics of the poor and working class—although he himself realizes that any Fourth World liberation will be piecemeal, if it happens at all. In my estimation such a liberation movement is, at best, a desperate rear-guard action hoping for mere survival in a world where capitalism threatens extinction and the nation-state portends annihilation. The EZLN’s practice of horizontal autonomy, mutual aid, indigenous Mayan leadership, women’s independence, and mandar obedeciendo in Chiapas are exemplary and inspirational, but remain largely curtailed.

The EZLN originated from the Ejército Insurgente Mexicano (Mexican Insurgent Army) and César Germán Yáñez Muñoz’s Fuerzas de Liberación Nacional (Forces of National Liberation) in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Both the EIM and the FLN were orthodox Marxist-Leninist guerrilla forces of a decidedly Guevaraist bent that experienced ideological and organizational changes as they skirmished unsuccessfully against the Mexican state. The EZLN’s theory and practice evolved from decades of struggle—both social and armed—with Marcos being the Zapatista’s most prominent but by no means its sole leader. The situation of Kurdish Rojava is related but different, starting with Abdullah Öcalan’s Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The PKK was rabidly Marxist-Leninist to the point of Stalinism/Maoism, with Öcalan creating a cult of personality around himself that would have made Stalin envious. Indeed, Stalin and Öcalan both favored the adoring nickname “uncle.” Öcalan and the PKK have been accused of engaging in intense ideological conflict, and at times open warfare against Kurdish tribal, right-wing, moderate, and Marxist elements. In becoming a paramilitary group, the PKK not only spearheaded integrating women into its guerrilla forces, it pioneered the use of female suicide bombers. As a founding member of the ultra-Maoist Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) the PKK advocated for a scorched earth “people’s war” strategy that rivaled Peru’s Shining Path/Sendero Luminoso in its violence.

The de facto autonomous region of Rojava in northern Syria is comprised of three self-governing Kurdish cantons (Afrin, Jazira, and Kobanî); defended in large part by the PKK-affiliated People’s Defense Units (YPG/J); and conferred by fiat with democratic confederalist politics by Chairman Öcalan. Democratic confederalism is the contrasting paradigm of the oppressed people. Democratic confederalism is a non-state social paradigm. It is not controlled by a state. At the same time, democratic confederalism is the cultural organizational blueprint of a democratic nation. Democratic confederalism is based on grassroots participation. Its decision making processes lie with the communities. Higher levels only serve the coordination and implementation of the will of the communities that send their delegates to the general assemblies. Originally derived from Murray Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism, democratic confederalism may have been bestowed upon Rojava by democratic centralist diktat. But Rojava and the YPG/J remain intimately entwined with the political fights between a myriad Kurdish parties, not to mention the overall nationalist struggle for a greater Kurdistan.

Both the ostensibly libertarian socialist political systems of Chiapas and Rojava champion women’s liberation, bottom-up autonomy, and assembly-style popular democracy. The EZLN’s socialism developed organically and gradually while the YPG/J’s was imposed almost overnight by decree. And whereas the EZLN/Chiapas struggle remains localized and contained, thus tending toward anarchism, the YPG/Rojava struggle continues to extend regionally and nationally, thus tending toward the nation-state. Both the EZLN and currently the PKK/YPG unequivocally reject Leninism, though neither are explicitly anarchist. The putative synthesis of Third World with Fourth World, of anarchism with libertarian Marxism being pioneered in Chiapas and Rojava are admirable and potentially far reaching. Whether they are capable of winning remains to be seen.

WWTYD? Memory & History: “What’s Left?” March 2017, MRR #406

0010-tim-the_finger-by_tom
WWTYD?

An MRR alumnus lettered this acronym on a black button over a copy of Tim Yo’s old column header; a skinny menacing Yohannan brandishing a rolling pin and spatula beneath the name “Tim Yo Mama.” What Would Tim Yo Do? The button was an instant success on FB, with commenters waxing nostalgic about Tim, sharing stories about the old days, recalling his meticulous if quirky attention to detail, remembering what outstanding things he said and how he belly laughed. It was a fun thread about a joke button, until I googled and posted another reference to “What Would Tim Yo Do,” this one from an online pop rock radio show called “All Kindsa Girls.”
When it comes to unyielding doctrine the MRR crowd give religious fundamentalists a run for their money.  I have no doubt that on a daily basis young punks around the world were asking themselves- WWTYD (What Would Tim Yo Do).  And not just regarding music- it was politics, clothes, consumer products- you name it, Tim and his people had a strong opinion about it.  And God help you if your favorite band got signed or even got a distribution deal with a major label  because then you could expect a sh*tstorm of hate to rain down on them in the pages of Maximum Rocknroll.  The Clash were on a freaking major label for God’s sake! [#150, 6-16-16]
Needless to say I was harshing everybody’s mellow, so it was taken down soon after I posted it.

This is a grim portrayal of Tim Yo and the MRR gang which likened us to a humorless fundamentalist religious sect bent on denouncing anyone or anything we deemed not punk enough. Yes, Tim and the rest of us volunteering at the magazine were certainly extremely opinionated and more than willing to use the pages of MRR to promote those opinions as the truth, especially when it came to what we thought was or was not punk. There was a fair amount of consensus, but there was never a party line about what constituted punk rock, major label involvement, appropriate scene activity, and what not. Tim had a great sense of humor and working with my fellow shitworkers at MRR HQ was nothing if not memorable. Then why are there two so widely differing descriptions of the same experience?

These are personal memories which are subjective by definition and therefore not accurate. Amassing numerous individual memories into a collective memory doesn’t necessarily improve their accuracy. Collective German memory of the second World War differed markedly depending on whether the Germans in question were Christian or Jewish, and was demonstrably inaccurate even concerning fundamental facts of record within and between these two groups. Whether individual or collective, memory must first be documented, then combined with primary and secondary sources in prescribed ways to constitute evidence for the events of history. Historical evidence is more accurate because of this process, but such evidence is not fact, and certainly not truth. Consider the interminable debates still raging around the Nazi Holocaust as to who and how many were killed, by what means where, even whether it happened at all, to determine the veracity of recorded history and its methods.

But first, when I use the word history I mean written history, not some Marxist abstraction with agency. We can argue endlessly about whether or not history demonstrates causality, pattern, or meaning; what it isn’t is capital “H” History with a life of its own. People make their own history, to paraphrase Marx, but not under circumstances of their own choosing. This brings me to my second point. History is clearly distinct from the current post-fact/post-truth thinking that says simply believing in something makes it so. Simply believing that crime in the US is exploding or that all Muslims are out to kill us or that America actually won the Vietnam war or that climate change is a hoax doesn’t make them facts, or true. And jumping off the top of a skyscraper while thinking you can fly doesn’t negate the reality of gravity. Finally, history is not some vast conspiracy where everything and everyone is connected and some cabal runs the show from behind the scenes. According to obsessed conspiracy theorists, history is governed more by design and the will of secret elites than it is by causality, pattern, and meaning. While history records many conspiracies as determined by the evidence, history doesn’t equal conspiracy.

So, what will history make of, and blame for Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat? Bernie Sanders and angry BernieBros, Jill Stein’s third-party swing-state votes, the Clinton email Russian/Wikileaks hack, FBI Comey’s interference, last minute GOP-instigated voter restrictions, persistent sexism and the rising alt.right’s racism, the fake news smokescreen? The reasons are myriad, yet ultimately secondary. Clinton’s overconfident, complacent, and strategically bumbling campaign combined with the Democratic Party’s arrogant, top-down, corporate campaign management guaranteed her electoral defeat. Yes, Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million even as she lost the electoral college vote. But it’s bullshit to claim “he’s not my president” or “I want my country back.” That’s how the game of electoral politics is played in the United States, for better or worse. Instead of being sore losers, we need to transition from discussing the elections to where to go from here. Or “what is to be done,” to use a tired old leftist trope, since part of what we need to do is reevaluate the Left and leftist politics.

Ah, but before we can go forward, we need to sum up where we’ve been, or so the mainstream Marxist Left would have it. Summing up? The Left is endlessly summing up everything from the Russian Revolution onward and coming to fractious, diametrically opposed positions. Such summing up often paralyzes people into ceaseless rumination, keeping them stuck in thinking rather than in having them act. It would be far better to take people where they’re at, with whatever backgrounds and beliefs they have at that moment, and start them acting together. There’s much Marxist thinking (György Lukács, Martin Glaberman, Antonio Gramsci, et al) that “action precedes consciousness.”

As I write, mobilizations are under way for “no peaceful transition” to “stand up to Trump” and “make it ungovernable” on January 20, Inauguration Day. It would be nice if such protests could shut down Washington DC as was done in Seattle, 1999, around the WTO. I’ll be sure to cover events of that day next column. Just for comparison, in May of 1971, the May Day Tribe organized three days of mass protests and civil disobedience in the capitol against the Vietnam War intended to shut down the US government. Over 35,000 protesters participated, facing off against 10,000 federal troops, 5,100 Metropolitan Police, 2,000 DC National Guard and President Nixon’s internal security forces implementing combined civil disorder emergency measures. The protesters engaged in a variety of creative tactics (such as launching tethered helium-filled balloons to ward off low-flying helicopters), but the use of mass civil disobedience was stymied when troops secured major intersections and bridges ahead of time while the police roamed through the city firing tear gas and making mass arrests. In response to the police sweeps, protesters resorted to hit-and-run tactics throughout the city, disrupting traffic and causing chaos in the streets. Politicians were harassed and federal workers, who were not given the day off, had to maneuver through police lines and protest roadblocks. In all 12,614 people were arrested, including construction workers who came out to support Nixon, making it the largest mass arrest in U.S. history. Neither Washington DC nor the US government were shut down.

A friend who participated in the 1971 May Days was tear gassed, almost run down by a motorcycle cop while walking on the sidewalk, and ultimately arrested for civil disobedience. The DC jails were filled to overflowing, so he was housed in a fenced-in emergency detention center next to the DC Stadium (now RFK Stadium) and denied food, water, and toilets while in custody. He eventually had all his charges dropped as did all but 79 of his fellow arrestees. Thousands of protesters pursued a class action suit through the ACLU. In the end, the US Congress admitted the arrests were grossly illegal and agreed to pay financial compensation to those arrested as part of a settlement that set an historic precedent by acknowledging US citizens’ constitutional right of free assembly were violated by the government. My friend received a small check for his troubles over a decade and a half later.

Unlike May, 1971, when protesters had only DC residents and workers to contend with, Inauguration Day 2017 is anticipated to have 2 to 3 million people in attendance. The government’s police and military powers have been greatly expanded since Nixon’s day, as have urban disorder contingency measures, and the forces of law and order will be under Obama’s control until Trump takes the oath of office. I have no doubt that a willingness to protest Trump can fill the streets of DC, but not if those protests are dispersed and divided. So I predict that the protests will be contained, Trump will be inaugurated without incident, and the US government will not be shut down. I don’t think it’s likely that the independent @/ultraleft actions in Mcpherson Square Park, Workers World Party protest in Union Station, and ANSWER Coalition demonstration in Freedom Plaza will get out of control, let alone merge their separate events and run amok through the city, reprise Seattle 1999 in the nation’s capitol, or declare a Columbia Commune. If protests intended to go beyond run-of-the-mill 60s mass marches and demonstrations into mass nonviolent disruption couldn’t break the government in 1971, it’s unlikely that protest-as-usual and limited, targeted civil disobedience or even some streetfighting can do so now.

We’ll talk about how to go beyond ineffective protest into effective direct action, but I’ll first evaluate the present-day American Left in the next column or two.

Belated Schrödingerized Election Analysis: “What’s Left?” February 2017, MRR #405

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[I finish a column by the 5th of the first month. My column is laid out in InDesign and sent off to the printer digitally at the end of that first month. The print issue of the magazine is delivered to MRR HQ by the first week of the second month in this process, with a date of the third month on the cover. At a minimum, there’s a month and half delay between when I finish my column and when the issue in question hits the newsstands at the beginning of the third month.]

I started my self-publishing career writing, typing, and mimeographing an underground newspaper with a group of friends during my high school senior year—spring of 1970. We were a ragtag handful of students, more New Left than counterculture, with sympathies for anarchism, Third Worldism, Maoism, and guerrillaism. About the only thing we agreed on was our admiration for and desire to join Students for a Democratic Society, which was ironic because SDS had already crashed-and-burned due to sectarian infighting.

John McConnell, the principal, was a John Bircher who took the opportunity of our first issue to convene an evening presentation in the HS auditorium open to the public on “The Dangers of Communism in Our Schools,” and he used SDS and our newspaper as clear-and-present examples. Of course we were flattered, so we did an adulatory, pro-SDS article in our next issue superimposed on a raised fist graphic, which promptly got us busted not because we published it but because we distributed it on campus. McConnell called me and my parents into his school office where he proceeded to lecture my somewhat bewildered mom and dad about how I was hanging out with the wrong crowd, consorting with seditious characters, and flirting with the red menace. Both my parents, Polish refugees who’d experienced the horrors of the second World War first hand, told him that they had left Europe to get away from people like him and then walked out of the meeting.

Of course, mom and dad argued with me all the way home and through the night against my infantile leftism, naive utopianism, and abstract idealism that the USA to which we’d immigrated was a pretty sweet place to live. In particular I remember from that back-and-forth my dad pointing out that despite all my radical ideas from books and revolutionary examples from history about helping to liberate humanity, I didn’t really do much on a daily basis to make many other individual human lives much better. I remember my parents preparing thoughtful, compact “care packages” to be mailed to our relatives in Poland “behind the Iron Curtain.” Care, Inc, as a refugee relief agency started from the humanitarian disaster that was Europe after the second World War. I still lived at home, so my dad garnished a portion of my spending money for the next year to contribute to Care for African Famine Relief.

It was to teach me a lesson, that an abstract love of humanity should not come detached from loving real live human beings.

I spent the column before last (MRR #402) detailing how various pendulum swings into oppressive conservatism under the GOP resulted in increased misery but not overt fascism as a way of saying that if and when Trump wins it’s not the end of the world. No doubt we’re in for some heavy-duty repression. But Jon Stewart recently quipped regarding Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as White House strategist: “You know, somebody was saying, ‘There might be an anti-Semite that is working in the White House.’ I was like, have you listened to the Nixon tapes? Like, forget about advising the president – the president. Like, have you read LBJ? Do you know our history?” What I learned from such previous political hard times is that it helps to do what you love to do, plus do a little bit of good in this world, in order to keep your sanity during the present shitstorm. My writing always comforts me, and while charity, mutual aid, or solidarity won’t save the world, it can help individuals—including myself—feel better and maybe even survive. I’m currently looking for somewhere to volunteer, but in the meantime let’s talk about how it all went south.

It felt like a Schrödinger’s cat election from the get go. For you quantum geeks, that’s when it’s yes or no or yes and no at the same time. Take the notion that the United States is a democracy. Out of the total population of the country as of 2016, approximately 28.6% were ineligible to vote due to age, court order, or felony record, and 29.9% of the remaining population simply didn’t vote. That means only 41.5% of the population actually voted, a clear case of minority rule. If we then realize that 19.8% voted for Clinton, 19.5% voted for Trump, and 2.2% voted for third party candidates, that means less than one fifth of the total population decided who would be president this last election. So, is the US a democracy? Yes, no, or maybe yes and no at the same time. Throw in the decidedly undemocratic results of the electoral college and we have to ask if Trump actually won the election? Yes according to the electoral college tally which Trump won by 74 votes and no according to the popular vote which Clinton won by some 2 million votes, further Schrödingerizing the elections.

Michael Moore warned early on that unless the Democrats paid attention to the blue collar, rust belt, American white working class savaged by neoliberalism and deindustrialization, Trump would win them and the election. Nate Silver remained the most conservative pollster throughout the run up to the election, predicting at one point that Clinton had a 60% chance of winning when other polls gave her a 90+% of winning, but also warning that Clinton’s lead remained within 3 percentage points of Trump in his polling algorithms which was well within his “margin of error.” I myself predicted that Clinton’s victory over Trump would be uncomfortably narrow. But then I read that Nate Silver gave both the Cubs and Trump one in four odds of winning, so when the Cubs won the World Series I feared we were in for an upset. For the most part, Trump duplicated Romney’s 2012 election results numerically and demographically, with Romney’s hold on 27 million white male voters shifting from more educated to less educated when it came to Trump in 2016. By contrast, Clinton couldn’t maintain the numbers or the demographics of the Obama coalition’s electoral victories. Her campaign saw a decline of some four million Democratic voters, and lost support among women and minorities and Democratic firewall states, especially the Big Blue Wall rust belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. It was Clinton’s election to lose, and she did just that.

Yet she also won the popular vote by 2 million votes, which is why I consider this electoral prediction of mine a Schrödinger one.

It was Clinton’s overconfidence that did her in. She was already an unpopular candidate and her hubris generated a corresponding complacency among her followers. She even repeated the same mistake she made in her 2008 run against Obama by not vigorously campaigning in the rust belt states she needed to win to maintain the Democratic Party’s Big Blue Wall in 2016. (Sanders also campaigned energetically in the rust belt states while Clinton kept flying out to California to sequester herself in the private homes of ultra-wealthy donors.) The canard perpetuated by her campaign—that Trump exploited the racism and sexism of the old white male working class to win—was particularly heinous. Trump’s most vociferous supporters were indeed older, white, and male, but they were predominantly small business owners and professionals, not the working class still loyal to a Democratic Party committed to free trade and stripping the country of its industrial base at the expense of American workers. Of the dwindling white working class, poorer rural white workers swung toward Trump while solidly blue collar urban white workers actually swung toward Clinton. Thus the American white working class continued to vote for Clinton and the Democrats, when they bothered to vote at all, despite being betrayed by the anti-worker policies of the Democratic Party. Clinton may have won the popular vote, but she played a lousy strategic game and lost the electoral college. The Republicans continue to control both the US Senate (51/48) and US House of Representatives (240/194). Combine this with Republican control over 33 State governorships and 32 State legislatures (up from 21 governors and 23 legislatures in 2009), and Trump’s promise to nominate conservative Supreme Court justices—what we have is a Republican clean sweep.

Of course, it’s never so monolithic or cut-and-dried. Because of the winner-take-all nature of US electoral politics, the appearance of overwhelming GOP control is belied by Republican fractiousness, and a persistent factionalism only increased by Trump’s own surprising victory. Combine this with the lack of governing experience in Trump’s transition team and I predict that, by the time Trump gets the hang of how to run things in Washington, the 2018 midterm elections will hand the US Senate back to the Democrats. Given the Democrats’ dismal performance to date, I’m tempted to say “Fuck the Democratic Party!” But I’m not at all sure whether the Democratic Party should be abolished, ignored, embraced, reformed, or rebuilt from the bottom up. Nor do I have my old ultraleft confidence that bourgeois political parties or even revolutionary parties have no role to play in bringing about social change, let alone social revolution. The whole issue of electoral politics is highly problematic from a number of perspectives, so I think it best to put aside the Democratic Party in discussing what is to be done in the wake of Trump’s win and the Republican Party’s victories.

What I am certain about is that an active and engaged mass social base is needed in order to take the next step, whether that is forming a progressive, labor, or revolutionary party; building an extra-parliamentary opposition; or attempting radical reforms or even social revolution. The two necessary components to an effective, vibrant mass social base are lively autonomous social movements and independent street politics based on direct action. And crucial to any mass social base with agency in my estimation will be an organized and organizing working class committed to direct action in the streets. Combine these two components, and true social power begins. I can endlessly debate the need for extra-parliamentary politics; what is absolutely necessary are broad, non-parliamentary social movements in the streets.

In order to challenge, combat, and eventually overthrow our society’s reactionary, autarchic government, we need to cultivate an independent, autonomous, rebellious social base. Maximize the potential for self-activity and self-organization at the base and you maximize the possibility for self-emancipatory politics to arise. In History and Class Consciousness, Georg Lukacs argued that action precedes consciousness. Or to flip Funkadelic’s famous album title: “Move your ass and your mind will follow.”

Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, part 1: “What’s Left?” March 2016, MRR #394

VIDAL (loftily): As far as I’m concerned, the only pro- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself. Failing that—
SMITH (moderator): Let’s, let’s not call names—
VIDAL: Failing that, I can only say that—
BUCKLEY (teeth bared, snarling): Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddam face, and you’ll stay plastered—

Best of Enemies (film) 2015
transcript from ABC News coverage, 8/28/68

It was a case of the seven-second delay, or lack thereof. ABC News hired William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal to debate the 1968 presidential nominating conventions in real time on live TV as a way of classing up its coverage. The argument got heated, epithets were exchanged, and the above infamous interchange was broadcast uncensored because no profanity delay was in place.

My columns covering the current state of American electoral politics have a built-in delay, not to prevent obscenity, but as a consequence of this magazine’s print cycle. Prompted by the film Best of Enemies, I’m writing this column in December for an early January deadline in MRR #394, March 2016. I lay out the columns section, including my own, by the end of January, which is the last moment I can make changes to the text. By the time issue #394 gets into your grubby little hands, this column will be over a month out of date, and maybe closer to three. So much for up-to-the-minute electoral coverage and timely political analysis.

The seven-second delay has become ever more ubiquitous, even as the internet has done an end run around censorship in all mainstream media. By tacit agreement, every major and most minor media outlets quickly censored the broadcast, print, and digital images of the Bataclan’s blood soaked dance floor after the terrorist attack of 11-13-15. Yet it’s easy to find the original uncensored picture online. In 1968, when Buckley and Vidal exchanged their insults, they were seriously upstaged by the rancorous floor fights within the Democratic National Convention as well as the carnage of Chicago police run riot outside the Convention. ABC News allowing Buckley to drop the “q-bomb” on live TV was the least of the network’s problems, what with journalists getting beaten up by cops in the streets of Chicago and their contentious, often lurid visuals making the news on TV and in daily papers. By contrast, the well-oiled Republican National Convention earlier in August nominated Richard Nixon on a strict law-and-order platform. The GOP’s appearance of firmness, reasonableness and stability in the face of Chicago’s chaos helped earn Nixon his landslide victory.

Today, we’re faced with the reverse.

The Democratic National Convention (July 25-28) looks to be a snooze, with Hillary the foregone nominee and Bernie promising not to buck the party process. The Republican National Convention (July 18-21) has all the makings of a good old donnybrook, a full-fledged political melee, thanks to Trump’s candidacy. There’s talk of a split convention with a nasty floor fight over who to nominate. The old-white-male GOP establishment is thinking about brokering the convention, with Trump and Carson threatening to jump ship. Simply put, the Republicans are clusterfucked.

If Trump is nominated, he will lose to Hillary. Most observers agree that the Republicans will lose big time, on a par with Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat in 1964. If Trump loses the nomination and bolts the Republican Party with an independent presidential candidacy, the GOP will split, and both the party and Trump will lose. This is the Ross Perot Third Party scenario, and it holds to a lesser degree for Carson. The only way that the Republicans have even a chance of winning against Hillary would be if Trump loses the nomination, gracefully accepts the GOP’s decision and throws his full weight behind the party’s nomination. Not fucking likely. Any way you look at it, the Republicans will be bruised and bloodied at the very least, but more likely irreparably splintered into warring factions. In turn, the GOP’s efforts to remain viable are seriously threatened because the unity and respectability of the conservative movement underlying it has completely unraveled.

Tim Yohannan marshaled MRR’s shitworkers into keeping this magazine running after he was diagnosed with terminal non-Hodgkins lymphoma. No, Tim never promised Mykel Board a columnist position in perpetuity, and yes, he wanted to give MRR to George Tabb who turned it down because he couldn’t figure out how to move the magazine to New York City. For Tim Yo, the single most important characteristic of someone capable of running MRR was being an asshole when required, with the ability to make the hard decisions—like firing columnist Jeff Bale or refusing ads from Caroline Records because of their major label involvement or even pulling out of Mordam Records because Mordam was no longer punk enough—and to take the heat for making them.

But there are assholes, and then there are assholes.

Gavin McInnis argues that “Trump is crass and rude and irrational [and an asshole], but that’s what we need. We need hate. We need fear mongering.” Trump supporters are more than willing to see the GOP crash and burn in order for Trump to win. “The Republicans are pussies,” according to McInnis, and if they can’t get behind a Trump nomination, they deserve to lose. It’s not because clowns like McIinnis have no skin in the political game as a new Canadian immigrant recently turned American citizen. Younger Republicans and youthful conservatives are simply no longer willing to abide by Buckley’s dictum to: “Nominate the most conservative candidate who is electable,” or Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment that: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” They’re prepared to hold onto their conservative principles and make their point come hell or high water, even if it means trashing their fellow Republicans, wrecking the GOP, and destroying the conservative movement.

In supporting a conservative asshole like Trump, a younger generation of 30-to-40-something conservatives is ignoring the legacy of yet another conservative asshole, William F. Buckley, Jr. National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg praised Buckley for employing “intellectual ruthlessness and relentless personal charm to keep that which is good about libertarianism, what we have come to call ‘social conservatism,’ and what was necessary about anti-Communism in the movement. This meant throwing friends and allies off the bus from time to time. The Randians, the Rothbardian anarchists and isolationists, the Birchers, the anti-Semites, the me-too Republicans: all of these groups in various combinations were purged from the movement and masthead, sometimes painfully, sometimes easily, but always with the ideal of keeping the cause honest and pointed north to the ideal in his compass.” (NR Online, 10-27-05) Buckley relentlessly purged the conservative movement with the excuse of ridding it of anti-Semites and wingnut conspiracy theorists. According to Paul Gottfried however, Buckley’s “victims became ‘wing nuts’ by virtue of having been purged and slandered. The purges were not a passing or merely ancillary aspect of conservatism; they were a defining characteristic of a movement, whose function was to stake out ground where the Left had been the moment before.” Gottfried calls this Buckley’s “Great Purge” in service of building, maintaining and defending a respectable “Conservatism, Inc.”

But the GOP’s many tendencies and factions were never purged and the conservative movement was never purified. After arch-conservatives took control of the 1964 Republican National Convention to nominate Goldwater for his disastrous presidential run, Goldwater’s conservative base was decimated. Moderate-to-liberal Republicans like Nixon and Rockefeller gained ascendency, but the GOP’s conservative wing did not evaporate. Instead, these conservatives went underground and grassroots, organizing from the base up until they elected Reagan in 1980 for eight years of neoliberal dominance. Moderate Republicans are now endangered, and the liberal ones extinct. Today, conservative tendencies and factions abound; not just Randians, Rothbardian anarchists and isolationists, Birchers, anti-Semites, and me-too Republicans, but also Tea Partiers and neoliberals, white nationalists and supremacists, New Rightists, AltRightists and neo-reactionaries, evangelicals, paleoconservatives, neoconservatives and social conservatives, lone wolves and conspiracy nuts, libertarians and Establishment Republicans, yada, yada, yada. Is it any wonder that Trump’s candidacy has prompted the GOP to come apart at the seams and the conservative movement to descend into internecine warfare?

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a bad thing, the GOP going down in flames. Hilarious, in fact. I just wish there was some equivalent, serious opposition in the Democratic Party and the wider progressive movement to the juggernaut that is Hillary, Inc. Of course, Bernie will make a valiant primary effort at the Democratic National Convention, but he will lose and just as valiantly accede to the party’s nominee. Maybe Black Lives Matter will stage some level of protest inside or outside the convention, but I don’t see mass leftie protests targeting the Democrats anytime soon. And much as I like an acrimonious, bare-knuckled, equal brawl, that’s not likely to happen either. My prediction at this point in the print cycle is that Ted Cruz will be nominated by the Republicans, but Trump will only grudgingly step aside. With the GOP at less than full strength, Hillary will win the presidency.

Great! Four more years of Republican whining and right-of-center Democratic gloating and nothing ever getting done. If the GOP survives, that is. American politics are so fucking lame and unsurprising. A Public Policy Poll recently asked: “Would you support or oppose bombing Agrabah?” Of the Republicans who responded 57% were not sure, 13% opposed it, and 30% said they supported it. When it came to Democrats 55% were not sure, 36% opposed bombing Agrabah, and 19% said they supported it. Agrabah is the mythical kingdom in the 1992 Disney movie Aladdin.

(Copy editing by K Raketz.)

Affordable glass housing

A while back, a former MRR columnist who was canned by the coordinators asked for my support. He had the delusion that he was entitled to his columnist position on the basis of a verbal promise Tim Yo had supposedly given him, even though no one else at the magazine—past or present shitworkers, contributors or coordinators—could confirm this. This former columnist is a free speech absolutist, and he raised holy shit whenever anybody—Tim Yo or the coordinators since Tim died—dared to change a comma in what he wrote. Yet he never ever raised a peep whenever another MRR columnist who covered oi! and street punk music was regularly censored for what he wrote. And he routinely censors posts critical of him on his Facebook page and on his other websites. So I wrote a couple of columns calling him an asshole.

Now, I’m being asked to remove references to someone’s legal last name in a recent post below by the individual in question. I was quoting another post online in which his legal last name appears, and he knows full well that once something has been posted on the web, it is essentially in the public domain and therefore a joke to expect anyone to remove the offending post. He is accusing me of collaborating with the original poster in doing him harm by quoting the post with his legal name, even though he has spent the last decade telling my friends and enemies alike that I was allegedly behind various online pseudonyms and flame wars. Needless to say, I’m declining his request.

I call bullshit on anyone who demands anonymity for themselves yet who routinely outs others, as well as on anyone who protests against censorship of their right to free speech yet who regularly censors others critical of them. People who live in glass houses are always advised not to throw stones.

Trigger warning: “What’s Left?” July 2014, MRR #374

Observant readers will know something is up once they’ve checked out the staff box. I’m only on the periphery of the latest changes, and in any case I’m not at liberty to discuss them in this column. Suffice it to say that what has recently been occurring at this magazine is forcing me once again to contemplate the 16 or so years I’ve been working for MRR, out of the 32 plus years that this magazine has been publishing. Place this in context of my some 36 years of involvement in punk, initially printing my own zine and putting on shows, and my need for reflection about the over three and a half decades of participation in the punk scene should come as now surprise. That’s just a decade shy of the time I’ve spent in lefty politics, 46 years and counting. Little wonder I’ve been doing some hard thinking lately regarding these aspects of my life and my part in them.

In turn, my concurrent political ruminations were triggered upon seeing the disconcerting YouTube of a feminist “intervention” at the May 9-11, 2014 Portland, Oregon Law & Disorder Conference. That and the increasingly acrimonious debate between Kristian Williams and the organizers of the event Patriarchy and the Movement over the tactics of individuals and groups professing identity politics within larger leftist political circles are themselves worthy of extensive analysis and discussion. For now, I was struck by the, to my mind, discordant use of the term “The Movement” by those seen in the video and the people debating these subjects on line.

I have on my bookshelves a 9×11 752-paged tome entitled “The Movement Toward a New America” edited by Mitchell Goodman. This massive cardboard-bound volume reprints news reports, articles, essays and commentary from the underground press from 1968 to 1970, along with photos and graphics, everything from the Berkeley Tribe and the Old Mole to the early Rolling Stone and the long defunct Ramparts Magazine. This book would have remained a quaint bit of nostalgia in my library but for the jarring employment of this term of inclusion by folks most of whom weren’t even alive at the heyday of the word’s currency, but who now are vociferously arguing over who or what is or isn’t a part of The Movement.

My friends and I considered ourselves part of The Movement during the 1960s and 70s. We used The Movement synonymously with the terms Socialism and The Left, one of many problems with the concept and application of the phrase The Movement. I became aware of the absurdity of The Movement label as I eased away from anarchism toward ultraleftism. And having never really felt comfortable with the whole hippie thing, I got interested in punk right around the same time, from 1979 on. Now, punk is a term both vaguer and more concrete then that of The Movement. Certainly one of the highlights of punk rock in the Bay Area in the 1990s was the creation of a substantial scene infrastructure; magazines like MRR, record labels like Alternative Tentacles, distributors like Mordam Records, all-ages venues like 924 Gilman Street, social spaces like Epicenter Zone, etc. Now that punk rock has receded from this high water mark, I’ve returned to contemplating how a magazine like MRR might insure its capable operation and financial health fr the future.

It least I’m not chasing my tail in some endless dispute over who or what is or isn’t punk. That we all feel the need for self-identification and self-definition should be obvious from the commitment and loyalty, not to mention rancor and vitriol generated by these respective idioms, The Movement and punk rock. But detailing the context and what exactly is wrong with the current use and implied definition of expressions like The Movement and punk is going to take several issues to unpack. For the moment, I’m glad that the magazine I work for doesn’t come with a “Trigger Warning.”

Themes: “What’s Left?” May 2014, MRR #372

I don’t know why humans like stories that involve death and misfortune; these are the stories that we’re drawn to again and again. […] In terms of the episode itself, for the writers, we had dug in from the beginning in terms of going for maximum impact, giving the characters a real sense of victory and triumph but also coupling it to an inevitable sense that triumph never comes without loss.

Jonathan Nolan, executive producer
“Person of Interest,” Hollywood Reporter interview (11-20-13)

Literary types, and I count myself among them, try to ascertain how many basic plots can be found in literature. There are those few who contend that life has no plot, and therefore literature shouldn’t either. But plotless novels are generally not worth the effort to slog through. Try reading a Kathy Acker novel for kicks sometime. Then there are the monotheists, who argue that there is only one real plot: conflict. Life, and story, are based on conflict. Or more specifically, plot must be structured around one central conflict. There are those who believe that there are only three basic plots: man vs the environment, man vs man, or man vs self. Another triad would divide basic plots into happy endings, unhappy endings, or literary plots in which things are complex and a tad fated whether the ending is happy or unhappy. Matters quickly proliferate from there; 7 plots, 20 plots, 36 plots, etc.

I bring this up because I’ve been writing this more or less monthly column for over twenty years now. I’m bound to repeat myself, mostly here and there, but occasionally in whole. I have my themes, my pet subjects or my axes to grind. I do know that I’ve changed over the past two decades. When I started writing for MRR, I was a newly-minted left communist, having just transitioned from anarchism. I believed that revolution, no matter how unlikely, would eventually succeed; that the working class, no matter how beleaguered, would eventually triumph; and that communism, no matter how fanciful, would eventually come into being. Now, I’m convinced that it’s all fucked and that we’re all doomed. I’m an ex-anarchist, ex-communist, ex-everything who still wishes things might be different but who knows things will only get worse.

When I started writing my columns, I tried changing things up at first; switching from expository essays to three dot news and commentary, rants, satire, reviews of my favorite newspapers and magazines, micro fiction, multi-part in-depth research replete with footnotes, extended discussions of this or that personality, book, film or event, etc. Now, I’m happy to stick to the short essay format, with the occasional foray into other forms. And I’m content to restate and recapitulate, in whole or in part, what I’ve said before. I’m not the most original writer, nor the cleverest. I continue to critique common enemies—state and capital in all their iterations—as well as friends—those to the left of the Left. But without the certainties of my younger years, indeed with a profound despondency over our present and future, my analysis has been fragmented, my scorn has been blunted, and my anger has been rendered aimless.

Without the rubric provided by the early “Lefty” Hooligan, the potential to see the uniqueness in everything is possible. In lieu of my bygone pissed-off politics that had me seeing red—so to speak—most of the time, I now try to cultivate a less judgmental mindfulness. A Theravadan Buddhist forest monk, Achaan Chah Subato, commented: “One day some people came to the master and asked ‘How can you be happy in a world of such impermanence, where you can­not protect your loved ones from harm, ill­ness and death?’ The mas­ter held up a glass and said ‘Some­one gave me this glass, and I really like this glass. It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sun­light. I touch it and it rings! One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already bro­ken, so I enjoy it incredibly.’” Yet, far from realizing that every experience is singular and every moment precious, the loss of a unifying context often makes me deplore everything as shit. Without meaning. Not worth the effort. I no longer subscribe to my old ultraleftism, which allows me to more easily determine what’s bullshit from what’s not. I’m far from being an iconoclast however, having been troubled at times with a forlorn isolation.

Still, I’m drawn to the tragedies, the disasters, the train wrecks. The psychology of why we can’t look away, indeed, why we want to look, is well documented. I was a fan of “Slow Motion Apocalypse” by Grotus, mostly the music but also the album title. It doesn’t take a radical to realize that we live in a slow motion apocalypse when the planet is being gradually gutted, humanity is being marched (or perhaps sauntered) to the edge of a cliff, and each of us faces a rather grim future. Everyone knows by now that lemmings jumping to their deaths is a myth, perpetuated by Disney whose film crew engineered the whole spectacle. What’s harder to swallow is that so-called revolutionaries seem hell-bent on self-destruction and suicide. Different cliff, same leap, and in our own language, “self-organized.” No triumph despite loss, no heroic self sacrifice that wins out in the end, no nothing.

Nothing is as nothing does.

Let’s Roll!: “What’s Left?” July 2012, MRR #350

Rock is dead. Long live paper and scissors.

—bumpersticker

I have an acquaintance who has this incredibly annoying habit of proclaiming something dead once it no longer conforms to his expectations, his principles or what he thinks ought to be done. Everything from a simple reading room/library project to a complex social movement like Occupy Oakland, things that he sometimes initiated, but definitely jumped into and at first enthusiastically supported, eventually go belly up in his estimation. Oh, they continue on and perhaps even achieve important things, but he has pronounced them D.O.A. and thereby dismissed them.

Of course, it’s common practice to declare dead that which one no longer considers significant, or hopes to make insignificant. Socialism, communism and the Left were all declared dead when the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s. The Republican Party was declared dead with Johnson’s landslide electoral victory over Goldwater in 1964, as was the Democratic Party in 1980 and 1984 with Reagan’s victories over Carter and Mondale respectively. American democracy was declared dead when the Supreme Court sided in favor of George W. Bush over Al Gore in the Florida deadlock of 2000, and again in the Citizens United ruling of 2010. Rather than delve into such highly political debates, lets bring this practice a little closer to home. We’ll inject politics into the discussion soon enough.

Rock and roll has been declared dead time and again. Folks into 1950s style rock considered psychedelic rock to be the music’s death knell, while fans of 1970s prog-rock were aghast at punk’s angry snarl and were more than willing to bury the whole genre. No need to cite the numerous times punk itself has been erroneously pronounced dead. Of course, there are always people who aren’t appalled by the changes in music so much as think that things have evolved beyond what the standard categories allow, as when David Byrne said: “As I define it, rock and roll is dead. The attitude isn’t dead, but the music is no longer vital. It doesn’t have the same meaning. The attitude, though, is still very much alive—and it still informs other kinds of music.” In general though, those willing to declare rock’n’roll dead hate the current state of the music, and are looking to abandon the present for some nostalgic past.

This very magazine has been declared irrelevant, if not dead, a few times itself. When Punk Planet, Hit List, Heart attaCk and Shredding Paper emerged circa 1994, these zines all harbored the notion that MRR was a punk rock monopoly that needed to be broken, if not killed off and buried. MRR’s main competitor at the time, Punk Planet, made no secret of its opinion that we were obsolete and moribund. And yet, who remains standing today? One of MRR’s columnists who jumped ship to join Punk Planet, Larry Livermore, made it clear he thought we were history and, years after Punk Planet bit the dust, he expressed sneering surprise that MRR was still alive and kicking. Now, he claims, in the pages of this very magazine, that he is excited once again to be contributing to MRR.

Fucker.

Mention of Larry Livermore brings up another way of thinking about such matters, that being of the living dead, or more accurately, of the undead. There are numerous countercultures, subcultures and youth cultures that gave up the ghost years, even decades ago, but which still wander the land like mindless zombies or blood-sucking vampires. Beatniks, Teddie boys, mods, rockers, hippies, New Romantics, Rastas, Heavy Metal maniacs, skinheads, et al, exist side-by-side with todays punks, Hip-Hoppers, and Rappers; a sad melange of faux rebelliousness and rampant consumerism. Those youthful tendencies, the individuals of which had or still have revolutionary intentions—their aspirations seem quaint, if not outright ludicrous.

Declaring this fragmentation of “youth culture” to be a nefarious capitalist plot to co-opt potential revolutionary youth movements, to redirect youthful energies, or just to get kids to buy lots of shit is absurd. Social atomization, niche marketing, and conspicuous consumerism is the way capitalism rolls these days, for everybody. Frequently, these characteristics of capitalism are more than sufficient to dispel working class militancy, nationalist agitation, and social unrest without need for state intervention, at least in the developed West. When they don’t, or in the rest of the world where capitalism is still engendering a consumer oriented middle class, government violence can be meted out proportionally to maintain the status quo.

The Arab Spring is actually the exception proving the rule in this case. Born of societies where young people are majorities, youth spearheaded the uprisings in the region, where it affected some eighteen Middle Eastern countries, but resulted in only four regime changes. The quintessential example of the Arab Spring’s success, Egypt, is still ruled by the military, which recently disqualified a slew of candidates in the lead-up to presidential elections.

The flip side of declaring something dead, whether it is or not, is to trumpet that something is vital and alive, when clearly it isn’t. The acquaintance mentioned above also suffers from this equally annoying flaw, nowhere clearer than his evaluation of the so-called Egyptian revolution. Labor unrest in Egyptian textile mills, pharmaceutical plants, chemical industries, the Suez Canal and Cairo airport, the transportation sector and banks during the Tahrir Square protests was heralded by him as the beginnings of a proletarian insurrection, with workers councils imminent. The rather rapid dissipation of this working class agitation, not to mention elections held from November 28, 2011 to January 11, 2012, which brought into Parliament a sizable Muslim fundamentalist majority, have failed to dispel his fantasy of a revolutionary uprising right around the corner. And never mind that former, mostly secular protests have now become fundamentalist riots. One textile factory remains on strike, so that must be the spark that will start a prairie fire, that will usher in a true Soviet Egypt.

Chump.

Digital bodies, virtual communities: “What’s Left?” May 2011, MRR #336

William Gibson once replied to critics of his cyberpunk science fiction, of his portrayal of dark, dystopian futures, that he considered his early novels rather optimistic. At least he believed there would be a future. Given the Cold War standoff of mutually assured nuclear destruction, which generated so many apocalyptic nightmares and end-of-the-world scenarios among Baby Boomers and subsequent generations, the prospect of a future, no matter how bleak, is considered a plus.

Or is it? It’s oh-so-punk to proclaim “No Future.” Perhaps it’s more punk to acknowledge there is a future, but that the future blows. For me, a rather dismal future is right around the corner, because I never got my wish that “I hope I die before I get old,” to quote another great rock’n’roll band.

A central technological and cultural dynamic for the past sixty plus years has been the transformation of the analog into the digital. To date, this has meant the increasing use of digital recording methods over analog, and the switch from analog distribution methods to digital. As someone born in the ‘50s and raised in the ‘60s, I grew up with all sorts of analog media—records, books, comics, newspapers, photographs, movies—as well as a panoply of real world distribution options— record shops, bookstores, comic book nooks, newsstands, singleplex movie theaters. Daily existence, whether as artistic performance or real life, remains analog. Yet, in the last forty years, recording and distributing reality has shifted to the digital. Today vinyl, film, printed material, analog media of every sort is rapidly disappearing. Retail distribution for music, art and print is fast vanishing, and independent versions of such establishments are virtually extinct in huge swaths of this country, including major cities like LA and New York. The extant analog and digital media are distributed more and more online, via the Internet, which makes every computer a virtual store.

I don’t need to argue to readers of Maximum Rock’n’roll that analog media is better than digital. The qualitative superiority of music on vinyl over CDs is common knowledge to this crowd, and lets not even talk about that godawful crap called MP3. Less well known is the difference between analog and digital photography/film making. For instance, those involved in old-fashioned photography and darkroom photographic printing contend that the depth and nuance of black as a color cannot be matched currently by digital photographic techniques and printing methods. I might then assert that an art form like film noir is impossible using digital media, but my point is not to rehash all the endless debates over analog versus digital media. Much more important for me is the loss of the tactile world as a consequence of moving from analog to digital distribution of whatever media that exists.

But first, a confession. I am complicit in the destruction of analog media and analog distribution. In 1983, I tested whether an Apple Lisa could come close to matching CAD-CAM blueprinting systems of the day for a corporation doing government contract work. In 1984, I purchased my first Mac, upgrading to a Mac Plus in 1985 to learn PageMaker in particular, and desktop publishing in general. I’ve been a Mac user ever since. I published most of my zines and political propaganda, and formatted my first novel, on Macs. I earned my living as an Apple tech for nearly a decade and a half. At my last job, a book publishing company, the art department made the transition from Apple’s Classic operating system (OS 9) to unix-based OS X (10.2, Jaguar, to be exact). I worked with a particularly arrogant independent contractor to make the conversion, and I admit to being surprised when I noticed that Apple had changed its startup from a version of the colorful Happy Mac to an ominous grey Apple logo.

“Yep,” the asswipe consultant said when he noticed my shock. “It’s a whole new community now.”

I was even more appalled by his abuse of the word community. It was the first time I realized how thoroughly the term had been degraded. From meaning a group of people sharing everything—geographic location, work, play, raising children, creating local culture—“community” had been reduced to meaning a group of people owning or using the same kind of computer. And this grotesque, deforming reductionism is what is essential to the dynamic of transforming the analog into the digital. Clearly, as record shops, bookstores, comic book nooks, newsstands, and movie theaters evaporate, to be replaced by online, Internet shopping, consumption, and other sterile interactions, traditional, analog community is fast devolving into virtual, digital community. There is the loss of the sensuous, the tactile, the concrete.

And so we return to William Gibson. “The body was meat,” to be digitally transcended. Real life is to be replaced by Second Life, a collection of digital avatars pretending to community. A longtime friend, and fellow Mac aficionado, got so immersed in his Second Life that he would come home from work and plug into his computer, entirely ignoring his wife and his actual life. Finally, out of desperation, his wife joined Second Life in order to have some sort of interaction with her husband.

Now, that creeps me out.

Attacking Iran (Again): “What’s Left?” May 2008, MRR #300

There I was, boring some friends with the story of how I got politics at 16 in 1968. For that tumultuous year, and several thereafter, most of my friends and I thought that The Revolution was just around the corner. We predicted a popular uprising any day against Nixon’s law-and-order fascism. To which the crusty nonagenarian of the group, Ben, commented, “What in hell were you smoking?”

Exactly!

I published a science fiction novel, End Time, in January of 1994 in which, among other things, the people of southern Mexico rise up in anarchist revolution led by a group calling themselves the Zapatistas. Coincidental to the book’s publication, the EZLN launched their uprising in Chiapas. I in no way predicted the real Zapatista rebellion, but had simply used history to create plausible future scenarios for my story. Most reviewers thought I had, however, so I played up this fortuitous circumstance to get more publicity, and sell more books.

I’ve never been very accurate in my forecasts, even though I’m not shy about making them. Five months ago, I predicted that it would be Clinton and Giuliani in November, and that the US would bomb Iran this spring. It now looks like Obama and McCain will be squaring off for the presidency. I can only hope that my forecast of US military action against Iran is equally wrong. For while few could have predicted the current economic crisis that began with the breakdown of the US sub-prime mortgage market and has expanded into an economy-wide credit collapse, the consequences of attacking Iran should be obvious to anyone.

Just in case they aren’t, let me spell them out, one more time.

I assume that the US engages in military aggression in conjunction with Israel. Their combined attack is a comprehensive assault targeting, not just Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but also that country’s military and political infrastructures, launched sometime this spring when the weather is optimal. The goals are to significantly set back Iran’s nuclear research and development program, and to affect some form of regime change. It’s doubtful that the disastrous results of such a military campaign would be significantly mitigated if the US opts for an American-only strike, or limits military targets solely to nuclear facilities. So let’s start with Iran, and move outward.

Military attacks alone cannot achieve regime change in Iran. The general populace does not rise up against the government, nor do regional or ethnic uprisings seriously threaten Iran’s national stability. What does happen is that hard line forces associated with the Revolutionary Guard, already on the ascendancy over the arch-conservative theocratic mullahs, use any US/Israeli strike to consolidate their power and take out their opposition. Iran stops selling oil to the US and Europe. That country is in a “state of war” with the West, which involves, in part, harassing petroleum shipments from Iraq and the Gulf states, if not blocking the Straits of Hormuz altogether. On a wider front, Iranian terrorist elements initiate attacks on US, Israeli and European interests around the world.

Shiite Iran makes an alliance of convenience with the Sunni Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan to strengthen and broaden the guerrilla resurgence against US and NATO forces. In Iraq, the Shiite population of the south rises up and makes that part of the country a no-go area for the US military, effectively removing southern Iraq’s oil supplies from US control as well. The Sunnis of western Iraq also revolt, driving the US military out, into the last, remaining region of Iraq still friendly to America, the Kurdish north, with perhaps a territorial corridor to the Green Zone in Baghdad. The US-installed Iraqi government pretends to function for a while longer, but the country has splintered de facto into three mini-states. That fact is not lost on Iraq’s neighbors. Iran trains and arms the southern Shia to the teeth, as does Syria and Saudi Arabia the western Sunni. Turkey, now cognizant that northern Iraq is a Kurdish state in all but name, invades and occupies the northern mountainous region of this Kurdistan, ostensibly to “help” the US fight Kurdish PKK terrorism. The Kurds respond to the Turkish invasion by intensifying their guerrilla war inside and outside of Turkey. The US, too preoccupied with problems in the rest of Iraq, is unable to stop this escalation. Meanwhile, oil reaches $400 a barrel and the industrialized North, with the exception of Russia, slides into a prolonged economic depression.

The outright participation of Israel in the third American assault on an Islamic nation in less than a decade reverberates throughout the Muslim world. Lebanon collapses into another civil war, with Hezbollah now the dominant military and political player. Pakistan completely loses control of its western provinces, taking one more step toward becoming a failed state. A failed state with nuclear weapons. Fundamentalist Muslim attacks on US forces, corporations, and individuals skyrocket internationally. Many European countries with substantial Muslim immigrant populations experience varying degrees of urban insurrection, and the United States is once more subject to terrorist attacks on its soil. Civil liberties are curtailed, conscription is reinstated, internment camps are built and populated, total surveillance becomes the norm, and civil society is thoroughly militarized.

You’d think that the quagmire-like nature of US military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the dire circumstances of the American economy, would dissuade Bush and Company from further military adventures in Iran. The recent forced resignation of Admiral William Fallon, Central Commander responsible for the Middle East, has been widely interpreted as a sign that the US executive is indeed preparing to go to war with Iran. An Esquire interview reveals that Fallon was a vocal critic of the administration’s military policies in Iraq and belligerence toward Iran, and describes him as the lone man standing in the way of Bush attacking Iran. Yet I’ve been foretelling an impending US military strike on Iran for the past four years now, thankfully without much accuracy. I appreciate how damned hard predictions are to make as I finish this column in the middle of March, with spring yet to begin. Readers of this issue, the May issue and the 300th issue of Maximum Rocknroll will probably know the accuracy of my prognostications. I do hope that mine are wrong.

Three hundred issues. Who would have predicted it?

Anarchism of Fools: “What’s Left?” April 2008, MRR #299

Part One: Anarchism of-by-for Fools

We Fascists are the only true anarchists. Once we’ve become masters of the state, true anarchy is that of power.

The Duke in
Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Pier Paolo Pasolini

Today, both communism and fascism, ideologies that the French fascist Robert Brasillach once called “the two poetries” of the 20th century, seem exhausted given the triumph of multinational capitalism. Yet periods of ideological decay often breed strange new variants, such as the “Red-Brown alliance” in the former Soviet Union, which do not easily fit into conventional political-science categories of “left” and “right.”

Dreamer of the Day
Francis Parker Yockey and the
Postwar Fascist International
(1999)
Kevin Coogan

It was the December, 1993 annual general meeting, at the old MRR Clipper Street house. The one with the spacious, downstairs record library slash radio-recording studio. It was the night of the Great Purge.

I’d been doing shitwork at MRR for almost two and a half years, ever since I moved to the Bay Area in July, 1991. I’d also written a couple of guest columns under the pseudonym “Lefty” Hooligan. Tim Yohannan liked them enough that he proposed I do a “three dot” Herb Caen-style news column for the magazine’s recently revived news section. “All The News That Fits” was a regular feature of the news section by the time of the general meeting, though no one outside of Tim and I knew I was “Lefty” Hooligan.

Downstairs was jammed with volunteers, on rumors that something big was in the works. It was Tim Yo’s show that night, and he did a pretty fair impersonation of Mao, the Great Helmsman, unleashing the Cultural Revolution. First, he axed two-thirds of the music the magazine covered, claiming that what he was excluding just wasn’t punk rock. Then, he canned MRR co-founder and conservative columnist Jeff Bale, arguing that he didn’t want political opinions expressed in the magazine that could be read in the mainstream media. Tim proposed that individual columnists could cover the kinds of music-pop punk, crossover metal, emo, oi, etc.-that were now outside MRR‘s official purview. He also offered to let Jeff continue to do record reviews, an offer Jeff refused. The compromises were choreographed, as was combining Jeff Bale’s firing with the music purge, in a heavy-handed Stalinist minuet.

Tim sought to play off the right-Jeff Bale who wholeheartedly supported the music purge-against the left-those volunteers who liked what Tim considered to be non-punk music but who also didn’t like Bale’s increasingly conservative political bent. There was a lot of protest and grumbling but, for the most part, the strategy seemed to work. The only time Tim got worried, he later confided, was when Larry Livermore tried to rally the opposition to Tim’s actions. Larry pointed out that, without the magazine’s dedicated shitworkers, Tim couldn’t publish MRR, then went on to argue that since “we all” had recently turned out the Republicans from the White House by voting for Bill Clinton, MRR‘s volunteers should vote down Tim’s proposed changes to the magazine.

I was a drinking man in those days. I was on my third bottle of Red Hook, and feeling little pain. I don’t remember if I actually interrupted Larry’s ersatz Joe Hill speech, or simply waited for a pause in his diatribe to interject my little jab.

“I kinda remember the election of Bill Clinton to the presidency,” I said, gesturing with my nearly empty beer bottle. “But I don’t remember the election of Tim Yohannan to run Maximum Rocknroll.”

That broke Larry’s momentum. Within minutes, a dozen folks were voicing versions of “yeah, this is Tim’s zine, and he has the right to do what he wants with it.” The debate shifted from Bale’s firing and the music purge, to whether Tim had the authority to do what he was planning. And even though Larry excoriated the rest of us as sheep in his next column, when it came down to it, most of the volunteers sided with Tim’s right to run the magazine as he saw fit.

I still have great affection for Tim Yo’s memory. To call him a Stalinist would not have insulted him in the least. He was a hard assed bastard, often puritanical, who prided himself on being an outright asshole, when necessary. He ran Maximum like a well-oiled machine, and he never lacked for conviction in pursuing what he felt was right. The man had balls, and while his decisions in 1993 eventually spawned HeartattaCk and Punk Planet zines in response, they also helped revitalize punk rock yet one more time by insisting on a return to musical basics. Most of us shitworkers at the time thought Tim was too dogmatic in his political opinions, and too rigid in his musical tastes. Yet we respected the man, and worked for him, not merely because he was willing to stand up and fight for what he believed. When Tim decided to take on an issue or an individual, he gave no quarter, took no prisoners and fought to the bitter end.

I was reminded of the Great Purge recently when a locally administered anarchist internet board had one hell of a time ejecting a lone, locally based national anarchist who joined up to propagandize the anarchist milieu. The contrast couldn’t be more striking. I trust that anybody with access to Google can search out the parties in question, so I don’t have to name any names here. Frankly, I don’t want to give the national anarchists any more publicity. As for the anarchist board, they’re a bit of an embarrassment. It took them over a week of some of the most spineless debate imaginable to agree to ban the anarcho-fascist, and then only after it was pretty convincingly revealed that the NA was pursuing a strategy of political entryism. With all that, the administrator only reluctantly decided to shitcan the NA because he didn’t “have the (emotional) time to be arguing about this with strangers right now.” Is it any wonder anarchists keep losing revolutions?

The emergence in the Bay Area of self-declared national anarchists that regular anarchists now have to contend with is one more turn in the syncretistic politics on the far right. There are already national revolutionaries, autonomist nationalists, and National Bolsheviks. Rather than waste column space detailing the convoluted and arcane evolution, say, of national anarchism from the pro-Catholic International Third Position and the pro-Qadddafy National Revolutionary Faction, I’d like to make some broad comments on political syncretism, left and right.

Syncretistic tendencies seeking to combine seemingly opposing political ideologies can be found across the political spectrum, of course. But anarchism has proven to be wildly, almost indiscriminately syncretistic, hence the anarcho hyphenation that virtually every anarchist employs. One is an anarcho-pacifist, -individualist, -capitalist, -mutualist, -feminist, -syndicalist, -communist, -primitivist, or some combination thereof. Why not anarcho-fascist? That fascism enters the house of anarchism through the door of nationalism should not come as a surprise. For all of modern anarchism’s vehement opposition to the nation-state, nationalism and patriotism, there are several points at which anarchism is vulnerable to the siren song of nationalism.

Early anarchist writers like Proudhon and Bakunin distinguished between nationality and the nation-state, championing self-determination for the former and abolition of the latter. In turn, early anarchist movements in Russia, China, and Mexico had a decidedly grassroots nationalist caste. It was only in response to the persistent internationalism and class analysis of Marxism, which came to dominate workers movements after the Russian Revolution, that anarchism became more critical of nationalism, and more internationalist in perspective. This populist (some call it völkisch) form of nationalism reemerged in the anarchist milieu via the British Alternative Socialist Movement and the Black Ram Group in the 1970s and 80s, which attempted to reclaim various pre-Marxist utopian and socialist concepts from the far right. Finally, a number of former Black Panther Party members, and other individuals associated with the black liberation struggles of the 1960s, rejected their previous authoritarian politics for anarchism, all the while retaining their commitment to revolutionary black nationalism.

Mention of the Black Panthers points up that Marxism’s fervid internationalism has frequently been blunted, syncretized time and again with nationalism. The social democratic parties of the Second International voted to support the war efforts of their respective national governments during WWI, and Leninism has allowed Marxism to be hyphenated, until we come to Mao who wrote: “in wars of national liberation, patriotism is applied internationalism.” Needless to say, Lenin’s own support for national self-determination and his theory of imperialism greased the slide into an almost indiscriminate support for wars of national liberation, socialist or otherwise. And let’s not forget the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran, which has managed to meld its Marxism-Leninism with orthodox Islam.

Perhaps the most syncretistic kind of politics comes from the right in the form of fascism. Historians of fascism are still at a loss to come up with a minimum definition of fascism that the field can agree upon, precisely because of its capacity to incorporate apparently unrelated, even outright contradictory political ideas. The clerical fascism of Portugal’s Salazar, the justicialismo of Peron’s Argentina, the European empire of Yockey and Evola, the electoral fascism of the British National Party, the thousand European flags of de Benoist, the faux-socialism of Mussolini’s Salo Republic; fascism is all over the place. There are even those historians, like Zeev Sternhell, who reject that fascism is a creature of the right at all, and contend that it expresses a synthesis of ultra-right and ultra-left desires for a post-bourgeois social order that essentially goes beyond right and left.

Indeed, it is possible to cite a number of individuals, such as Mussolini and Sorel, who started as socialists but who became fascists. Small sections of the syndicalist and anarcho-syndicalist labor movements in France, Spain and Italy came to embrace kinds of national syndicalism in sync with fascist corporatism. Yet Robert O. Paxton’s observation in his The Anatomy of Fascism holds true. While fascists often talked a strident anti-capitalist polemic, they never walked the walk by attempting to abolish private property, liquidate the bourgeoisie, give power to the working class, radically restructure the state apparatus, or the like. At most, fascists strictly regulated the capitalist economy within the national territory they controlled, subjecting the native bourgeoisie, sometimes harshly, to what they perceived as the interests of the nation.

For it is in the exaltation of the nation through extreme nationalism that we find what is essential to fascism. Despite its bewildering diversity, there hasn’t been a type of fascism independent of virulent nationalism. Yockey’s European-wide imperium and de Benoist’s tribal ethnes are merely variations on this theme, quite easily reconciled through an updated feudalism that, like Charlemagne’s mythic empire, would continentally unite a thousand autonomous European ethnicities. National distinctions may often account for fascism’s syncretistic idiosyncrasies. Certainly, the fact that fascism’s foundation stone is nationalism defines it as of the right.

A former professor of mine likened politics to farting into a whirlwind-you never know where the smell winds up. Political syncretism can sometimes present one with the choice of working with some rather odious people who claim to be on the same side. The National Anarchist who caused such paroxysms on the above-noted anarchist board did argue that his being against the state and nation-state were what defined his politics, that his type of tribal nationalism (read, decentralized racial separatism) was incidental to his fundamental anarchism, and that anarchists of all persuasions should be able to connect, communicate, and perhaps cooperate in opposing their common enemy, the state.

Keith Preston, an individualist anarchist, has also argued on his American Revolutionary Vanguard website that left and right anarchists, separatists and secessionists should all work together to overthrow the government. It is no coincidence that these calls for left-right collaboration, like the original call to go “beyond left and right,” invariably originate on the right. The right seems to actively syncretize with the left along the axis of revolutionary opposition to the state, a characteristic not limited to fascism. In the late 1960s, a significant segment of William F. Buckley’s conservative, college-based Young Americans for Freedom split off as anti-war, anti-state, right-wing libertarians and anarcho-capitalists. Under the influence of folks like Murray Rothbard, who published Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought with Karl Hess from 1965 to 1968, these right-wingers veered decidedly to the left and energetically courted left-libertarian elements on the moribund New Left of the day.

Jerome Tuccille describes all of this, rather humorously in his books It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand and Radical Libertarianism, from the perspective of one of those right-libertarian rebels. I was a left-wing anarchist at the time, and I’m here to confess that I was suckered into believing that some sort of left-right libertarian cooperation was possible. I participated in a couple of dismal efforts at seeking out some sort of common ground between left and right libertarians. I came to the realization, during a so-called left-right study group in which all the right libertarians were extolling the joys of hording gold and silver, that it was a waste of time trying to work with anarcho-capitalists.

Our supposedly minor differences-cooperative vs. competitive economics, social property vs. private property, collectivism vs. individualism-far outweighed our single, prominent commonality-our shared desire to abolish the state. We seldom attended the same events, we rarely took the same actions, and we hardly spoke the same language. What’s more, it wasn’t as if left leaning anarchists had all managed to get along, much less work together. And the shibboleth of unity on the Left was as much a pipedream, then as now. There was no good reason for left-wing libertarians to try and form an alliance with right-wing libertarians.

Just as there is no good reason today for the rest of the anarchist milieu to have anything to do with the joke that calls itself national anarchism. That won’t stop addled anarchos from paraphrasing Rodney King and pontificating that all anti-statists should try and get along. A couple of regular posters did just that on the anarchist board in question in response to calls to ban the national anarchist. At least King had the excuse that he was beaten senseless by the LAPD.

That nationalism proved instrumental in the process of syncretism in all but one of the historical examples described in this column is what’s particularly telling. As a stone internationalist of the Marxist persuasion, I’m aware of how much Marx underrated nationalism as a social force, and of how little the ultraleft has done to correct this deficiency. The same could be said for race and racism. And while these inadequacies are part of the reason I no longer call myself a left communist, this column has gone on far too long to discuss them here and now.

Next month, predictions gone awry.

Religion Reconsidered: “What’s Left?” March 2008, MRR #298

One of my many contradictions, from a Marxist perspective, is that I’m a wimpy, waffling agnostic, not a hardcore, commie atheist. The reason I’m an agnostic instead of an atheist has nothing to do with finding flaws in atheism’s arguments against the existence of God, or with finding redeeming features in the horror show that is religion. I’m undecided about whether or not God exists because, throughout my life, I’ve had personal experiences that might be described as spiritual, mystical, even religious.

I’ve had these experiences since I was a kid, long before the psychedelic drug use of my hippie days. A momentary, overwhelming sensation that I was a part of everything, and that everything was a part of me. A fleeting, all pervasive feeling that I had suddenly risen high above this mundane, everyday existence. The inexplicable awareness that I had briefly stumbled upon some greater reality, the true, scintillating reality behind this dingy, decaying façade that was life. I’ve had these experiences well after I stopped doing psychedelics. As for the psychedelics-acid, mescaline, psilocybin-they produced quasi-mystical experiences forcefully driven, selectively amplified, and seriously distorted by the chemicals in question.

I was loosely raised Catholic, though I don’t associate my childhood spiritual incidents with Roman Catholicism. My parents wanted me to get the sacraments up to Confirmation, just in case the Big Guy was Catholic. I was on my own after that, and I never bothered to go back to church. I’ve never tried to cultivate these mystical moments by pursuing a spiritual practice or, Marx forbid, an organized religion either. I simply experienced them, marveling at many of them, enduring the rest, and getting something out of them all. Of course, I’ve come to my own understanding of what Tom Wolfe, in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, referred to as the kairos, the how and why and what-for of this “time out of time,” this “most propitious moment.”

The how is simple enough. The actual experience, no doubt, is biochemically based, a natural, internal analog to the psychedelic drugs I experimented with during the early 1970s. That said, establishing such a cause-and-effect doesn’t reduce the spiritual event to a biochemical phantom, nor does it relegate the whole episode to some mechanical, materially determined process. To grasp why this is the case, we need to delve into a little bit of Marxism, in particular, Marx’s notion of dialectical materialism.

For Marx, the economic base of society gives rise to a superstructure comprised of society’s legal and political structures, as well as of the “higher ideologies of the art, religion and philosophy of bourgeois society,” as Karl Korsch described it in Marxism and Philosophy. Yet, just because the social superstructure is a product of the economic base does not make it any less real. “[Marx and Engels] always treated ideologies-including philosophy-as concrete realities and not as empty fantasies.” “[I]t is essential for modern dialectical materialism to grasp philosophies and other ideological systems in theory as realities, and to treat them in practice as such.” What’s more, society’s political and ideological superstructure achieves a measure of autonomy to act back upon the economic base to change it, creating a dialectical relationship between the two that defines “bourgeois society as a totality.” Or as Marx himself put it in the Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “Theory itself becomes a material force once it takes hold on the masses. Theory is capable of taking hold on the masses … once it becomes radical.”

This clearly distinguishes dialectical materialism from the crude materialism of Newtonian science, in which one billiard ball hits another in a simple linear chain of causality. I’d argue that dialectical materialism is much more akin to the systems and information theories pioneered by Gregory Bateson in the areas of psychology, biology and ecology. But how does dialectical materialism relate to my discussion of personal spiritual experiences?

In contending that mystical moments have a biochemical basis, similar to the endorphin high produced by vigorous exercise, I’m not refuting the reality of these events. No doubt, all individual thought and feeling can be traced back to biochemistry, yet it cannot be denied that these thoughts and feelings frequently have material effects and consequences in that we act on them. In the same way, human interest in and pursuit of spiritual experience spurs activities intended to reproduce and refine those experiences, generating on the one hand spiritual practices like yoga, meditation, chanting, and ecstatic dancing, and on the other hand the practices, institutions and ideologies of organized religion.

This isn’t to repudiate the fact that society’s economic base leaves profound marks on spiritual practice and organized religion, only to assert that the initial impulse for both resides elsewhere. Nor would I be surprised to learn that millennia of spiritual and religious activity, in turn, have acted upon this biochemical substrate to distill and shape it, and that the two have coevolved over time. The great Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, like Notre Dame or Chartre, can be appreciated, in part, as finely tuned machinery incorporating a variety of spiritual technologies designed to induce mystical experiences in the participating individuals. While the triggers for spiritual episodes are often social and cultural then, their impetus is transhistorical, imbedded in that problematic realm known as human nature. The instances of spontaneous, unbidden spiritual awakening, some resulting in the founding of entirely new religions, bear this out. The capacity for mystical experience seems to be hardwired to some degree into most of us, perhaps as a peculiar expression of the wider human pursuit of altered states through drug use, artistic endeavor, SM, asceticism, exercise and sport. The question is, why? What function does it serve?

Marx posited a kind of human nature in asserting that we are social beings, a concept covered by the hotly debated term species being. You can be sure that human sociality and spirituality are keenly related within the context of species being. That there is overlap between spirituality, sexuality and power also goes without saying. The spiritual experience is often described as fiery, capable of reducing all that is false to ash. In its crucible is forged the certainty of individual belief and the unity so necessary for social cohesion. I’m not sure what Marx thought about individual spiritual practice, but his views on the rituals, churches, traditions, theologies and holy wars of organized religion are well known:

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.

Gotta love those dialectics. That religion in bourgeois society serves to delude, comfort and pacify the masses doesn’t tell us much more about the function of the more elemental mystical moment however. Aside from acting as a kind of experiential superglue for personal belief and social unity, there’s another aspect to spiritual episodes that’s worth discussing.

First, let’s talk a little bit about consciousness. Human consciousness arises from a very small number of neural circuits in the brain that monitor the rest of the mind, and the body. Given that consciousness relies on a small percentage of gray matter to function, it cannot possibly be all encompassing, and the scope of human awareness is thus severely limited. With regard to sensory perception, for instance, we are flooded with sensory information all the time, yet our conscious mind is only aware of a small fraction of that information. As an example, our clothing is in constant contact with the skin under it, stimulating our sense of touch over a wide area of our body. We’re not conscious of everywhere our clothing touches our skin though. We feel our clothes only in certain places, particularly when they impinge or restrict us. Therefore, the sensory input from the rest of our skin in contact with our clothes is filtered out of our awareness. Aside from purely biological filters, there are also cultural, social and personal filters that further restrict this torrential sensory flow.

We receive, and process, vast amounts of sensory data on many levels other than the conscious. Aldous Huxley proposed, in The Doors of Perception, that psychedelic drugs temporarily knock out these filters so that we experience heightened sensory impressions, even forms of synesthesia. Whether or not this is the case, the overwhelming influx of sense perception that comes in under the radar of consciousness does have other interesting side effects.

Sometimes, bits and pieces of this unconscious sense data percolate up into an individual’s awareness. The result is a hunch, an intuitive feeling, which cannot be pinned down to anything obvious. When patterns begin to emerge through this process, something quite innocuous can trigger a sudden, epiphanal moment. Then we say “everything fell into place,” “the scales fell from my eyes,” “all was revealed,” and “I saw things as they truly were.”

I’m intentionally using quasi-religious phrasing here in anticipation of my next point. There is a certain category of spiritual experience known as “the road to Damascus” moment, when the mystical episode bowls over the individual and literally changes his or her life. Paul, of the New Testament, had a profound religious awakening on his way to Damascus, and went from being a Jewish persecutor of Christians to a Christian believer. Paul’s personal sense of his place in the scheme of things radically shifted in an instant. Perhaps this kind of spiritual experience is like a hunch on steroids.

What I’m postulating is that certain life-changing mystical incidents act on the deepest levels of human perception, our sense of ourselves and of our place in the universe. None of my spiritual experiences were ever that profound, though I always learned something from them. That all such spiritual moments come permeated with a sense of the supernatural Other, what we interpret as the sacred and the divine and call God, is what gives me pause. Ultimately, it’s why I can’t declare myself an atheist.

BBC-TV did a movie, Longford, about the English aristocrat and prison reformer who became involved with one of Britain’s most notorious criminals, child-killer Myra Hindley. Hindley gets one of the film’s better lines, the implications of which would fill another column. I’ll close on the character Myra’s words. “Evil can be a spiritual experience too.”

For Communism: “What’s Left?” January 2008, MRR #296

I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it. But if by some freak of history communism had caught up with this country, I would have been one of the first people thrown in jail.

-Pete Seeger

I’ve been in a confessional mode for these past few columns. I owned up to being middle class in the November issue, and talked about how that’s not a sure bet for economic security anymore. This is part of a larger issue I’ve been grappling with lately, that being the role of the working class in revolutionary social change. In December, I admitted that I no longer considered myself an anarchist or left communist because I didn’t think that social revolution was sufficient to realize a revolutionary society. That’s part of a larger realization that what seems to be possible is not communist, and what is communist doesn’t seem possible.

Right off, I’d like to anticipate some of my critics, who would seek to use my own Marxism against me. Given that I’ve confessed to being middle-class, perhaps I’m following my own economic interests in disassociating myself from these potentially revolutionary traditions. No longer working class, no longer radical, so the argument goes.

The current state of the world, if anything, has strengthened my analysis that thoroughgoing social revolution is absolutely necessary if we are to avoid a barbarism that’ll make the Dark Ages look like a Grateful Dead concert. Ecological collapse, social disintegration, war without end, mountains of corpses; it’s not a pretty picture unless there are some radical changes, and soon. Which makes it all the more difficult to admit that the ways I’ve pursued revolutionary social change for the past forty years haven’t been up to snuff. Or, that I really don’t know where to go from here.

I was in a similar indeterminate state in the mid-1980s, when I found the theory and practice of anarchism less and less tenable. I started reading Marx then, and gradually made the transition to left communism. I plan to do a lot of reading in my current state of limbo, maybe join a study group to talk out some ideas. Normally, I would also channel my political energy into projects that harbor a post-anarchist/post-left communist potential, while remaining on the lookout for ways to go beyond anarchism and left communism in whatever political work I’m doing. I haven’t been doing a whole lot of politics lately, however.

You see, I’ve become all too familiar with both the local anarchist and left communist milieus in the fifteen years I’ve lived in the Bay Area. And, you know what they say familiarity breeds. I’ve met some intelligent, committed, well-intentioned individuals. But, for the most part, I’ve encountered self-righteous, intolerant bastards, neo-anarchist trustafarian college kids, preening, solipsistic egomaniacs, subcultural, drug-addled crusty punks, belligerent, sectarian wingnuts; the list of dysfunctional types to the left of the Left is long. I don’t trust most of the people I’ve met and worked with to properly wipe their own asses, let alone do what it takes to win a social revolution and maintain a liberatory society.

That aside, there’s a more-revolutionary-than-thou attitude endemic in anarchist and left communist circles that I now find tedious. I have little use for the purity so often espoused by such folks. Myself, I’m a communist, but I’m riddled with contradictions. My crimes are many. I shower daily, I eat meat, I like dining in decent restaurants, I have a middle-class existence, I hold a union card, I vote, just to name a few. If, by some historical fluke, anarchism or left communism took hold in this country, bringing one or another gaggle of assholes to power, I’d be one of the first tossed into an anti-authoritarian reeducation camp.

I recognize that I’ve become a bit of a curmudgeon over the years. Yet the thought of going to a meeting and finding any number of local characters-A-squared, bolo’bolo Boy, C-squared, Puffy Amiyumi, K-squared, et al-in attendance, gives me the creeps. I’ve chosen discretion, and nicknames, as the better part of valor here. Life is too short to waste dealing with such idiots. And I’m also looking for a better way to do politics altogether.

Speaking of life being too short, Lance Hahn died on October 21, as I was beginning this column. I first met Lance in San Diego during the late 80s, when Cringer played several times at Bob Barley’s Vinyl Communications sound studio. They even did a benefit for projects I was doing through my ‘zine, San Diego’s Daily Impulse. I wasn’t a big fan of his next musical incarnation-J Church-because it was just too pop punk for my tastes. Plus, I didn’t care for their pro-situ, postmodern bent. But they were always a fun band to watch perform live. While in San Francisco, and besides the band, Lance had his record label, volunteered for Maximum Rocknroll, Gilman Street, and Epicenter Zone, worked a regular, paying job, and always had a half dozen other projects in the mix. He was musically prolific, multi-talented, and an all-round nice guy.

Lance died of complications from kidney failure. His last years were spent in DIY dialysis because he didn’t have health insurance. He had to ask the punk scene to help defray his medical expenses. (Those medical expenses are still formidable, and folks can contribute at vulcanvideo.com.) Lance was only forty years old when he died. Perhaps he had so much going on because, on some level, he sensed he didn’t have all that much time on the planet.

Forty years is about as long as I’ve been involved in politics, mostly spinning my wheels as it turns out. I have no desire to squander any more time and effort on fools, nor do I want to pursue political dead ends and pretend I’m accomplishing something. I certainly don’t want to exploit the memory of an exemplary punk rocker and a fine individual. Rest in peace, Lance Hahn.

2008 PREDICTIONS

I may have done one or two of these in the many years I’ve written a column for Maximum Rocknroll. I know it’s kind of cheesy, but I feel compelled to make a couple of predictions for the year, seeing as how this is the January issue.

US Bombs Iran in the spring. I really do think Bush thinks he’s on a mission from God to battle the evildoers, plus he wants to have as part of his legacy that he “took care of Iran.” Of course, he will leave the Middle East, and the world economy, in shambles. Spring, because that’s the best weather for a comprehensive military attack.

President Giuliani. It’ll be Clinton and Giuliani neck and neck, and Giuliani by a nose. Pack your bags for Canada, Manhattan’s Mussolini is headed for the White House.

No Longer Ultra: “What’s Left?” December 2007, MRR #295

[W]henever a revolutionary upsurge comes along, drawing its strength from the bottom, without guidance from the top, the proletariat-or at least its most active segment-tends each time in differing ways and circumstances to spontaneously set up more or less identical democratic institutions. Councils are by no means particularly Soviet. Representatives democratically elected by the working people in a given locality or on a larger scale, and tending to take on legislative and executive powers, can be seen in the shop-steward committees in Britain, as well as in councils formed in Bavaria, Turin, Hungary, Catalonia, and elsewhere. The mere existence of councils does not automatically solve the problem of political power, of course. They can go on being “parallel” bodies right up until they are repressed. And historically, councils and committees set up spontaneously by workers seem to follow the initial burst of energy, with a subsequent rapid loss of momentum, due to lack of cohesion and an accelerated process of delegating responsibility.

Gérard Chaliand,
Revolution in the Third World

Okay, so now for the question, the answer to which you’ve all been waiting for with bated breath. Why don’t I consider myself an anarchist or left communist anymore? Here’s the short answer.

The Paris Commune, 1871; Russia, 1905; Mexico, 1910-19; Russia, 1917-21; Ukraine, 1918-21; Germany, 1918-19, Bavaria, 1918-19; Northern Italy, 1918-21; Kronstadt, 1921; Shanghai, 1927; Spain, 1936-39; Germany, 1953; Hungary 1956; Shanghai, 1967; France, 1968; Czechoslovakia, 1968; Poland, 1970-71; Portugal, 1974; Angola, 1974; Poland, 1980-81; Argentina, 2001-02.

But, you ask, aren’t these the exemplary revolutionary moments in history that both anarchism and left communism claim in their genesis and resurgence, hail as undeniably liberatory, and consequently hold up for guidance and inspiration? Yes indeed, which brings up the much longer answer as to why I no longer profess to be part of either radical current.

Of the various examples of spontaneous revolutionary upsurge cited in the above paragraph, some considered themselves anarchist, others communist, and still others socialist. (With the rather dubious exception of France, 1968, however, none were explicitly left communist, or council communist.) Many of these upsurges never called themselves anything other than revolutionary, and anybody and everybody, including diehard Leninists, have mercilessly appropriated their history. But whatever their politics, and however liberatory their practice, these revolutionary historical moments lasted no more than a few days, weeks, or months, or in some cases a few years. Neither anarchism nor left communism has managed to create a revolutionary society that has lasted for any length of time.

“Oh, but that doesn’t mean that these short-lived social revolutions collapsed because of internal problems, or social contradictions, or human nature, or anything of the sort,” is often the rejoinder. “Nor is this history of failure an indication that anarchist ideas or left communist theory has failed in some fundamental way. These revolutionary moments were either crushed by the superior power of liberals, capitalists or fascists, or else Leninists, social democrats and other sordid leftists betrayed them.”

Anarchists are often heard spouting this pitiful excuse, even going so far as to contend, all evidence to the contrary, that these stillborn experiences actually prove anarchism to be correct. Left communists are usually more nuanced, conscious of contradictions, and self-critical of internal problems. All subtlety aside, let’s take this reasoning at face value. Shouldn’t anarchists and left communists be painfully aware that social democrats and Leninists are no friends of revolution, especially of bottom-up revolution, and are perfectly willing to suppress, sabotage or seize control of them? And, if a genuine, liberatory revolution is incapable of defending itself against the forces of reaction, how will a truly revolutionary society be possible, except by sheer accident?

A social revolution has to do more than just happen. A social revolution has to be able to defend itself, not just militarily, but politically, economically, and socially. It has to be able to win out against all enemies, externally and internally, and then it has to endure. So far, nothing remotely anarchist or left communist has been able to do this.

So, let’s set aside for the moment the destruction wrought by outright enemies and false comrades of these social revolutions. That leaves us with the particular mistakes and failings of the revolutionary forces themselves in each historical instance. In the Spanish Revolution, for example, the anarchists subordinated themselves to a Republican government dominated by social democrats and Stalinists out to subvert their July 1936 revolution-on-the ground, whereas the ultraleft POUM realized, too late by May 1937, that they needed to make common cause with Spanish anarchism in order to avoid the Stalinist ice pick. We can also consider the general mistakes and failings of anarchism and left communism as such. For anarchism, this includes a consistent failure to deal with the issue of power, increasing theoretical incoherence, and a pie-in-the-sky idealism that considers anarchist ideas sufficient to inspire successful anarchist revolution. For left communism, this includes an inability to sustain mass working class movements after the 1920s, a penchant for adopting undeclared revolutionary events like Hungary 1956 as its own, and the tendency to isolate itself in a metacritique of the rest of the Left.

I think it would be a mistake to stop there, though. As Gérard Chaliand’s quote at the head of this column suggests, there might be something in the very nature of these spontaneous revolutionary upsurges “from the bottom, without guidance from the top,” that make the ultra-democratic institutions they give rise to insufficient to the tasks of carrying a revolution through to victory. At least, that’s what I’ve come to conclude after forty years divided almost equally between anarchism and left communism.

I no longer think that the workers councils, factory committees, general assemblies, partisan bands, peoples militias and guerrilla armies of such social revolutions are up to the rigors of consolidating, defending and extending a revolutionary society for any significant length of time. In the crucible of the Spanish Civil War, the Friends of Durruti decided in 1937 that things weren’t working, and that anarchists and ultraleftists had to radically change their strategy for the Spanish social revolution to have any chance of succeeding. Among other things, the Friends of Durruti proposed a revolutionary junta-comprised of themselves, the POUM, and the CNT-FAI-to take power, as well as the forging of a disciplined Red Army to fight Franco. I, too, think that things aren’t working, in that social revolutions have uniformly failed, and that anarchism and left communism need to radically change their theory and practice as a consequence. Unlike the Friends of Durruti though, I don’t have a clue as to what to recommend.

There is a rather silly notion that moments like Hungary in 1956 and France in 1968 are the orgasms of history; exciting, ecstatic, but of necessity short lived. As such, the social democratic or Leninist retrenchment that follows, even the ossification and bureaucratization of the original revolution, are all but inevitable. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’ve concluded is that social revolution and the institutions it creates, by themselves, are insufficient to sustain a revolutionary society. A pretty harsh verdict, I know, but one that took me four decades to reach. That’s forty years of studying history, engaging in theory and practice, and trying to put my politics to use in the real world.

While I can’t claim to be an anarchist or left communist anymore, I haven’t decided that Leninism or social democracy or some other brand of Leftism, or perhaps even liberalism, is the way to go. My commentary and analysis as “Lefty” Hooligan is still 85% left communist and 15% anarchist, as these are the political currents to which I still feel closest. But I’m actually in a kind of limbo, no longer really a part of these political milieus, yet outside the grace of knowing what is to be done. I know what hasn’t been working, but I don’t know what will. And while I would go to the barricades for an anarchist or left communist uprising in a heartbeat, I have no faith that it would succeed. That’s the politics behind why I no longer call myself an anarchist or left communist.

If pressed, I guess I’d still call myself a communist; an unaffiliated, nondenominational, small “c” communist. After all, I haven’t pulled a David Horowitz or a Larry Livermore, where I rabidly denounce everything I formerly believed in while rushing headlong to the right. In fact, I’m proud to be a commie pinko, even though, personally, I’m not too fond of most of the folks I’ve had to associate with, politically speaking. Again, that’s the subject for a future column.

Being Middle Class: “What’s Left?” November 2007, MRR #294

I no longer have to work for a living, thanks to circumstances I won’t go into at the moment. I can do my own projects full time, and I can actually enjoy the rest of my life. I’ve got credit cards and investments. I own a car and a house. No doubt about it, I’ve become middle class.

In a way, I’ve loosely paralleled my parents’ journey up the social ladder. They started out as working class Polish immigrants from war-torn Europe in the mid-1950s. By the time I went off to UC Santa Cruz in 1972, they were solidly, comfortably middle class. I dropped out of graduate school in 1979 to join the wage-laboring proletariat. Now, I too am middle class, though my social status is far more precarious than was my parents’.

Take health care, for example. I exhausted my eighteen months of Federal COBRA Blue Shield health insurance from my last job a few weeks ago. I paid the full cost of the insurance, that is, what the company paid as well as what had previously been deducted from my paycheck, plus a COBRA administration fee. Now I’m on Cal-COBRA, the California-mandated equivalent, for the next year and a half. That’s costing me almost forty dollars a month more, for the same coverage. And, unless Ah-nold manages to push through his market-based knock-off of universal health care, I’ll use Federal HIPAA regulations to convert to a permanent health insurance policy, which promises to cost even more for less coverage.

Being middle class, I can afford to purchase supplemental health insurance to augment my HIPAA policy. That I’m now entirely dependent on legally protected health care and insurance portability has not escaped me, however. When COBRA screwed up a couple of months ago and reported that I wasn’t paid up, resulting in the temporary cancellation of my coverage, I completely freaked out. My anxiety went through the roof and I was in a panic until I straightened out the error. One of my middle class lifelines is my health care, and the incident demonstrated how shaky that was.

My parents made their climb up the economic ladder when folks had careers. People sought to work for a company for life. Unions had a measure of strength in those days, and one of their top demands was always job security. My dad worked most of his life for the government, a civil servant who went from loading dock foreman to managing the Pacific missile range. He retired early, and was guaranteed perks like access to high-level health care and a pension with built-in cost-of-living adjustments.

By the time I toppled out of the ivory tower’s rarified atmosphere, into the murk and mire of wage slavery, the idea of a career had become a joke. The deindustrialization of the United States was beginning in earnest, unions were crumbling, and corporate capitalism was demonstrating its lack of loyalty to the American working class in spades. Workers were reciprocating, and no one expected to work for the same company for life. I never worked at the same job for more than six or seven years. Many of the companies I worked for tried their damnedest not to provide benefits to their employees, one in particular going so far as to declare all its workers freelancers and independent contractors until busted by the government. My last job canned me, allowing me to take an early retirement as well, but leaving me with bare bones health care.

I realize that having shitty, expensive health insurance is better than having no health insurance at all. Forty seven million Americans-mostly working class and poor-are uninsured, so I hold onto my pitiful policy tooth and nail. Nor am I ashamed to say that if the Governator pushes through a better deal for me, I’d take it in a New York minute. My point is that, while being working class is still hell, becoming middle class is not the guarantee of security it once was.

My mom didn’t have to work. Now, it takes two people, sometimes working two or three jobs each, to maintain the middle class life my dad could afford on his salary alone. Not only has the range of health care and pension benefits become shabbier, it’s no longer a sure thing as health insurers regularly deny or cancel coverage, and corporate pension plans go belly-up one after another. Middle class saving has plummeted over the last forty years, and a good number of people in that middle class are also just one or two paychecks from the street. So, while it can be debated as to whether the American middle-class has shrunk demographically in the past few decades, there can be no doubt that, today, it takes a lot more time and effort to maintain a middle class existence that is far more economically precarious.

Now, for the sixty-four dollar question. Might there be a reason for this, other than the relentless avarice of corporations needing to maximize profits?

My parents were part of a post-World War II economic wave that saw the explosive growth of private-sector wealth, suburbs, the white middle class, and a consumer-oriented economy. In 1958, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote a book, The Affluent Society, the title of which neatly summarized how America portrayed itself going into the ’60s. And affluence meant the ability to buy more and more commodities, with the growing leisure time to enjoy them. Both the threat demonstrated by union organizing and the socialist upsurge during the Great Depression, and the need during the Cold War to outperform the Soviet Union, helped to underpin an economic prosperity that, in turn, produced its own discontents.

This much-touted affluence did not include significant parts of the society-black people for instance-which helped precipitate a civil rights movement, race riots in America’s cities, the rise of a black middle class, black power, and revolutionary nationalism. The burgeoning affluent white middle class raised a generation with the comforts of abundance, only to see significant numbers of their children rebel, even reject their middle class status, by protesting the Vietnam war, immersing themselves in New Left politics, or dropping out to become hippies. By turning affluence into austerity and putting the screws to the middle class, it was hoped that a repeat of the social unrest of the 60s could be avoided.

There was an interesting notion circulating in those years that uprisings by the oppressed didn’t occur when social conditions were at their worst, but actually happened when there was the glimmer of improvement. The rising expectations and aspirations sparked by incremental progress was what prompted rebellion and revolution in the lower classes, not the total desperation of being up against the wall with nothing left to lose. Fostering a climate of increasing scarcity in which even the middle class finds it harder and harder just to tread water helps insure that America’s oppressed minorities don’t get any wrong ideas.

Those who participated in the various social movements of the 1960’s who neither flew off into the ether of Hindu/LSD mysticism nor sank into the quicksand of one or another kind of Leninism-that is, those who straddled the divide between the counterculture and the New Left-often came to similar conclusions about America’s affluent society. The more politically aware communalists, Diggers, Yippies, Provos, Motherfuckers, et al, realized that US society was so wealthy, so abundant in commodities and leisure time, that an entire alternative social order could maintain itself, even flourish, simply on what this society threw away. Some even fancied that their marginal cultural and political spaces would grow strong enough to entirely supplant the dominant society. The absurdity of this fantasy aside, any potential for creating an alternative social order by siphoning off or stealing a fraction of society’s prosperity was easily annulled by replacing abundance with scarcity. If the lower and middle classes spend all their waking hours just struggling to make ends meet, that possibility is effectively negated.

Not to be too heavy handed, but the history lesson here bears repeating.

America’s economic collapse in the Great Depression generated unprecedented labor organizing, the most radical elements of which had called for both revolution and socialism. The bourgeoisie responded to this threat with equal parts carrot, stick, and diversion. The diversion was entry into the second World War, which drafted American workers and shipped them overseas to fight and kill German and Japanese workers. The stick was a savage post-war anti-communism, under the catchall called McCarthyism, which domesticated the American working class and gelded its union movement. And the carrot was a post-war consumer economy and leisure society built on the myth that everyone was middle class. When the affluent society failed to lull significant segments of the population into soporific acceptance of the status quo, and instead produced the racial conflicts, political protests, and countercultural experimentation that we now call the ’60s, it was time for a further tweak. Austerity replaces affluence, the middle class is driven to the edge, and the ruling class once again turns their full attention to maximizing profits.

What may disturb some of you is that I seem to think that the capitalist ruling class-the bourgeoisie-is some kind of secret, totally evil, smoke-filled backroom cabal that is consciously conspiring to fuck over the rest of us. Nothing could be further from the truth. I really do loath conspiracy theories, of any sort. But I do assume that, nine times out of ten, people act out of their economic interests, and that different social classes in society have different economic interests. After that, systems theory and Marxist notions of “class consciousness” can adequately explain how the capitalist class asserts its interests, and control, over the working class.

A basic tenet of systems theory is that, an ecosystem for example, can be entirely self-organizing and self-regulating based solely on the autonomous, self-activity of its members. There is no “grand council” of the redwood forest for instance, yet the redwood forest functions just fine without one. There is overwhelming evidence that biological systems, and growing evidence that social systems, abide by this rule. All living systems, and in theory human social systems, thus have an innate capacity to self-organize and self-regulate. That this can apply to social classes within a larger society is not much of a stretch.

Follow up systems theory with Marx’s idea that one of the preconditions for a social class to gain power in society is for that class to become self-aware. In other words, class conscious. This requires that the class in question go beyond the unconscious self-activity, self-organization, and self-regulation common to all systems, towards the creation of organs and institutions of self-reflection. self-governance, and self-defense. In Marxist terms, the social class must move from being a “class in itself” to a “class for itself.” The bourgeoisie exemplifies just such a “class for itself” with its various business newspapers and journals, its numerous commercial and manufacturing associations, its vast private security and intelligence apparatus, and its well-oiled lobbying and influence machinery. Thanks to such class conscious activity and organization, they are in de facto control over government at all levels of society, affirming Marx’s definition of the state as “the executive committee of the ruling class.”

The capitalist ruling class, therefore, does not have to conspire to globalize the economy, or bust the unions, or undermine the middle class. It does so openly, discussing such matters candidly in the Wall Street Journal and then carrying them out through the marketplace and government policy. Obviously there is obfuscation, public relations, and influence buying. But out-and-out conspiracy? It’s hardly needed. Nor, I might add, is the bourgeoisie particularly evil. It is merely pursuing its class interests, with a vengeance.

Common wisdom used to be that the poor far outnumbered the rich, and that a strong, prosperous middle class was the best possible bulwark against the poor ultimately expropriating the rich. Supposedly, this was one of the lessons the bourgeoisie learned from the Great Depression. This astute observation no longer holds much influence these days as the middle class gets driven to the wall. Whether this means that poor and working people will rise up and “expropriate the expropriators” is, at this point, the subject of another column.

25th Anniversary: “What’s Left?” September 2007, MRR #292

I don’t care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right.

-George M. Cohan

The 25th anniversary issue of Maximum Rocknroll slipped right past me.

Mykel Board often laments that he doesn’t get any hate mail anymore. No hate mail, no love letters, no real responses to his columns no matter how over the top they might be. There was a time when a good Mykel Board April Fools column would keep the letters pouring in for months. No more.

That’s not Mykel’s fault. He’s as outrageous and controversial as ever. But when you write a monthly column for twenty-five years, your readership becomes inured to all your provocations. Plus, it’s different times.

I haven’t written my column for nearly as long. Only fifteen years. Nor have I been nearly as successful at stirring up shit. Though that’s what Tim Yo intended. I’d written a couple of guest columns for MRR in 1991, anonymously under the pseudonym “Lefty” Hooligan, when Tim recruited me to write a regular three dot journalism feature for his resurrected news section. The news section tanked. My column didn’t.

That’s because my column raised enough shit-in the form of letters to the editor, even denunciations at MRR general meetings-to warrant Tim Yo keeping me on. To this day, I can remember Jeff Bale accusing Tim-at a general meeting when I was still anonymous-of recruiting an RCP hack to write my columns, just because I was openly Marxist. That was the general meeting Tim Yo cancelled Jeff’s columnist ticket.

I also enjoyed being a troublemaker. I was bummed, if not a little bored, when my column settled into that no comment limbo that familiarity, and regular publishing, breeds. So, I was thrilled to get, not one, but two letters recently taking me to task for what I’d written about the whole anarchist book fair/BASTARD to-do. I’m a tad disappointed at the caliber of the responses. If that’s the best that post-left anarchism has to offer in terms of critical thinking, that tendency might as well call it quits. Still, I’m happy once again to engage in a little political sparring over what I write.

If you like any of MRR‘s columnists, I suggest that you write them some hate mail. Or a love note, or some comment on what they had to say. It’s sure to make their day, if not give them a renewed interest in writing their columns. It will certainly liven up the letters section, and may even help revitalize this venerable punk rock zine, which is older than many of the punks who read it.

History and Empire: “What’s Left?” August 2007, MRR #291

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

-George Santayana

Let’s hope that nobody actually believes that if we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it.

First off, and by definition, history is the chronicling of that which is unique. The battle of Hastings, in 1066, is a unique event, signifying the Norman conquest of England, another unique event. Analogies can be drawn, comparisons can be made, patterns can be discerned, but in the final analysis, the battle of Hastings in 1066 is a unique historical event.

Saying that historical events are unique does not make them discrete. Of course cause-and-effect, developmental trends, even evolving patterns can be found in the historical record. Seeing connection and meaning in historical events should be a descriptive rather than a prescriptive exercise, however. Not every revolution becomes a tyranny, and not every democracy becomes a dictatorship. And while it is possible to learn from history, both the lessons and their application are far subtler than Santayana’s aphorism would indicate. Indeed, it is often an obsessive effort to learn from the past that hamstrings those who would make history in the present.

There is the old adage that the American military is always fighting the last war this time around. Thus, the Pentagon was attempting to wage a conventional, WWII-type or Korean-style war in Vietnam, against an enemy who relied heavily on unconventional guerrilla methods. The inability of the US to come to terms in a timely manner with the new type of warfare that Vietnam represented is credited with helping to defeat America’s military intervention in Southeast Asia.

Chalk it up to neoconservative hubris as to why Junior Bush’s administration wasn’t at all concerned with learning lessons from Vietnam before they invaded Iraq. Delusions that US troops would be greeted as liberators, that regime change and free markets would be sufficient to rebuild Iraq into a shining example of freedom and democracy, and that a free, democratic Iraq would bring peace and stability to the region were the blinders that kept US policymakers from anticipating that the US invasion would eventually be met with popular resistance.

Called unconventional, guerrilla, low intensity, or asymmetrical warfare, it’s a venerable military strategy by no means limited to Vietnam. The American colonists used a version of it as part of their overall military strategy to win independence from Britain. It’s a myth that this kind of military strategy guarantees victory to those who employ it. America quelled just such a popular insurrection in the Philippines from 1899 to 1913, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in the process. The US and UK helped defeat a Communist-led, Yugoslav-supported partisan insurgency in Greece after the second World War, with a considerably smaller death toll thanks to Stalin’s failure to support the guerrillas. Military juntas in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil suppressed varying degrees of domestic resistance, rebellion, and revolution with “dirty wars” in the 1970s that disappeared, tortured, and murdered tens of thousands of their respective citizens. Had the US anticipated the possibility of guerrilla resistance, and the need for a counterinsurgency strategy from the get go, the Pentagon would not have invaded Iraq with minimum military force and minimum contingency planning.

The lack of historical depth exhibited by the neocons actually can be put at the feet of a general American historical amnesia. One would be hard pressed to find a thorough philosophy of history espoused by any of the rightist tendencies in this country, which for the most part are homegrown and quite parochial. Those folks who like to wear Nazi uniforms and give the Roman salute have an alien feel to them, their whole shtick imported from Europe. It is in Europe that we can perceive a cyclical view of history, a la Oswald Spengler, that’s embraced by the right, in which history repeats, not out of ignorance, but from design. The American Left also gets its sense of history from Europe, in particular from European Marxism with its progressive stage schema of history. Even anarchists, long on a critique of state power, derive their economics and historical philosophy largely from Karl Marx. And it was Marx, in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, who said: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

The Left has a particularly slavish devotion to learning from history, to endlessly breaking down and summing up the lessons of the past. Walk into the general meeting of any ecumenical Leftist organization, say Bay Area United Against War or the Peace and Freedom Party. Find an opportunity to ask the people at the meeting what they think of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Then sit back and watch the shit fly. Or, to quote Loren Goldner:

What I really wanted to write you about is my inability, 90 years on, to shake free of the Russian Revolution. Symptoms: in Ulsan (South Korea) in December, the worker group there asked me to speak on the differences between Rosa and Lenin, which I did (not terribly well, and with a very mediocre interpreter). In no time we were deep into a two-hour discussion of what happened in Russia in the 20’s (the agrarian question). And this was not some cadaverous nostalgia piece as might be served up at a Spartacist League meeting, but with intense back-and-forth and questions and furious note-taking. The point is that no matter where you start out, somehow the question of “what went wrong in Russia” comes front and center. (“Left Communism and Trotskyism: A Roundtable,” 2007)

Goldner’s rather sad observation, that the Russian Revolution is still a pivotal question for the Left, speaks to something in the culture of the Left itself. For Maoists, who pretty much accept the Bolshevik role in the 1917 Revolution as sacrosanct, the issue shifts to debating Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China. For the Bolsheviks themselves, questions about the lessons to be learned from the French 1789 Revolution, as amended by the 1871 Paris Commune, were paramount.

Trotsky’s claim that Stalin’s consolidation of power marked the Russian Revolution’s Thermidor notwithstanding, Lenin and the Bolsheviks helped insure that 1917 was not a repeat of 1789. In turn, Mao and the Chinese Communist Party were two of many reasons why the Chinese revolutionary experience was not a rerun of the Russian. Thus historical debate on the Left advances, even though the Left’s obsessive historical framework is never superceded. If only this were the case when it comes to discussions about the analogy between the United States and the Roman Empire.

“President and emperor, America and Rome: the matchup is by now so familiar, so natural, that you just can’t help yourself.” So says Cullen Murphy in an excerpt from his recent book in Vanity Fair. (“The Sack of Washington,” June 2007). He goes on to contend that some parallels between America and Rome do hold up, “though maybe not the ones that have been most in the public eye. Think less about decadence, less about military might-and think more about the parochial way these two societies view the outside world, and more about the slow decay of homegrown institutions. Think less about threats from unwelcome barbarians, and more about the powerful dynamics of a multi-ethnic society. Think less about the ability of a superpower to influence everything on earth, and more about how everything on earth affects a superpower. One core similarity is almost always overlooked-it has to do with ‘privatization,’ which sometimes means ‘corruption,’ though it’s actually a far broader phenomenon.”

Murphy’s nuanced comments do not directly address the question haunting many who compare America to Rome. Has America stopped being a republic and instead become a full-blown empire? Between the polar opposite positions of America as a reluctant defender of freedom and democracy worldwide, and America as an imperial enterprise from its colonial origins, arguments have been advanced that the US became an empire when it assumed Manifest Destiny, asserted the Monroe Doctrine, won the Spanish-American War, entered the first World War, or emerged from the second World War. This is similar to the argument on the Left as to when the Russian Revolution went bad. It’s also a misguided concern based on a false distinction.

America’s founding Federalist fathers were also obsessed with the example of Rome, of a freedom-loving republic degenerating into an autocratic empire. As they saw things, a central dilemma was the one posed by Montesquieu, an Enlightenment political philosopher who claimed that “it is natural to a republic to have only a small territory, otherwise it cannot long subsist.” The greater the territory governed, the less republican the government, with empire being the logical outcome of government over a wide territory. Two consequences followed if Montesquieu’s principle was rigorously adhered to, according to the Federalists. First, the new nation of the United States would have to break up into much smaller units in order to preserve their republican form of government, resulting in “an infinity of little, jealous, clashing tumultuous commonwealths” according to Alexander Hamilton. Second, each of these tiny, relatively homogeneous republics would be dominated by one or two factions, read special interests, whose particular interests were not necessarily the same as the interests of the community as a whole.

In Federalist Paper number ten, an essay that should be familiar to anyone who has studied US history in high school, James Madison advanced a novel solution to this dilemma. He astutely argued that “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.” Conflict between factions was the most important threat to liberty, property, and stability in a republic, for which the cure was not direct democracy. Direct democracy would simply result in a dictatorship by the majority in which, to paraphrase the old John Birch Society, 51% of the people could vote to take away the toothbrushes of the other 49%.

Madison advanced the idea of a republican government of elected representatives that would eventually involve a constitutional system of separated powers, guaranteed rights, and checks-and-balances. His point in paper number ten however is that a representative republic will be able to cover a much larger territory and still remain a republic. More territory means more people, and thus a greater quantity and variety of factions under a single government. He assumed that the competition between a large number of factions with disparate interests would prevent any one faction from attaining a majority and ruling unilaterally. He also assumed that the future United States would continue to expand to the west.

Federalist Paper number ten makes the question of whether America has transitioned from a republic to an empire a la Rome entirely superfluous. Madison and other Federalists intended all along to create a hybrid, a republican empire. What we have in the United States, from the beginning then, is the fusion of a republic (representative democracy, constitutionally backed rule of law and guaranteed rights) with an empire (a penchant for territorial expansion, and for projecting power beyond its borders). No doubt the Federalists saw their solution to Montesquieu’s problem as offering the best of both worlds, republican government with expansive ambitions. Today, we can see that this sewing together of republic and empire in the United States has produced a Frankenstein monster, a monstrous hybrid that seeks nothing less than the end of history, as when Francis Fukuyama wrote:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. (Summer 1989, The National Interest)

Josh Wolf: “What’s Left?” June 2007, MRR #289

But to live outside the law, you must be honest.

-Bob Dylan, “Absolutely Sweet Marie”

I recently viewed Josh Wolf’s controversial, unedited video of an anti-G8 anarchist riot in San Francisco posted on his website. My first thought was, Josh spent 226 days in jail in civil contempt of a federal grand jury for this piece of crap? What a waste.

I’ll briefly recap what this is all about, for those of you who have been living in a cave for the past couple of years.

In solidarity with worldwide protests against the G8 summit held in St. Petersburg, Russia, Anarchist Action called for an anti-G8 demonstration in San Francisco’s Mission district on July 8, 2005. Around 200 anarchists, most of them wearing masks, started marching down both lanes of Mission Street from the 16th Street BART station a little before 9 pm. The SFPD responded with fully equipped riot police, fleets of cop cars and paddy wagons, and repeated announcements that the demo was illegal.

All hell broke loose when the cops attempted to force the demonstrators onto the sidewalks. The crowd, which had swelled to nearly 300, broke into smaller groups that ran in every direction. The anarchists dragged newspaper boxes into the street to block traffic, trashed the KFC, BofA, Wells Fargo, Skechers, Shoe Biz, and a Shell gas station, burned flags, set off smoke bombs and firecrackers, lit garbage cans on fire, and played cat-and-mouse with the cops by regrouping and splitting up in different parts of the Mission well into the night. In turn, the police confiscated the demo’s sound equipment, made numerous attempts to force people onto the sidewalks, arrested several people, tackled, beat up and clubbed down several more people, fired teargas, and repeatedly drove their police cars at demonstrators and into the crowd.

During this melee, two significant incidents occurred. A demonstrator bashed a cop’s head in with a skateboard, fracturing his skull. And, by accident or intent, a cop car was briefly set on fire. Or, at least, an attempt was made, which was all the excuse the Federal government needed. Called in when the SFPD contacted the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the FBI to investigate the assault on the cop, the Feds used the fact that the SFPD gets Federal funds to help pay for its vehicles to supercede the local DA’s Office and empanel a Federal grand jury to investigate the attempted arson, thus federalizing the case. This being the proverbial elephant’s nose in the tent, it was assumed that the grand jury would go on to investigate who might have perpetrated the assault on a police officer, and who might have instigated the riot.

Josh Wolf attended the anti-G8 demo both as an anarchist and a frequent local IndyMedia news contributor. Needless to say, he knew many of the other demonstrators. Josh recorded some twenty minutes of that night’s donnybrook. He posted a short clip on IndyBay right after the event, followed by a longer, edited clip. He also sold a clip of the demo to local KRON TV news, which broadcast it. The grand jury subpoenaed Josh to testify and to hand over the outtakes, thinking that he might have recorded either the downing of the cop or the cop car’s ignition, and seeking to use Josh’s testimony to identify participants. Josh refused and was cited and jailed for civil contempt on August 1, 2006.

Wolf was defended by the National Lawyers Guild, which contended that, as a journalist, freedom of the press protected Josh from testifying against the people he was reporting on, as well as from having to hand over the unpublished segments of his digital video recording to the government. Josh always insisted that there was nothing incriminating on the rest of the dvr, and offered to have it reviewed in the privacy of a judge’s chambers. US District Judge William Alsup didn’t buy the NLG’s arguments, nor did he accept Josh’s offer, and thus began Wolf’s jailhouse saga, which ended only when a deal was struck. Josh agreed to make his recording of the demo available in its entirety, which he did first by posting it on his website and then by turning it over to the court. The Feds in turn agreed not to demand that Josh testify before the grand jury and name names.

The video recording is grainy, jerky, and murky after dark. Neither the downed cop, nor the alleged attempted arson on the cop car is depicted. Lesser crimes-marking up a city bus advertisement with graffiti, damaging property and obstructing traffic by dragging those chained-together news racks into the streets, setting off pyrotechnics-are shown, though it’s next to impossible to determine who’s doing the minor mayhem. Identifiable, unmasked folks are in attendance at the staging area, when the demo gets under way, and after the demo turns to riot, but this dvr couldn’t be used to indict anyone for anything.

My initial negative reaction to seeing the video however wasn’t because it is unremarkable, poorly shot footage of people either just standing around or endlessly marching around. I wondered why the fuck Josh Wolf was willing to spend so much time in jail defending a bunch of yahoo anarchist dilettantes whose idea of class struggle and class solidarity was to trash one of San Francisco’s solidly working class, ethnically diverse neighborhoods. When tens of thousands of demonstrators shut down San Francisco’s financial district at the start of the 2003 Iraq war-now that was an appropriate target and a righteous action. Anarchist rioting in the Mission was merely a Mickey Mouse stunt.

I say this having called myself an anarchist for fifteen years from 1969 to 1984, having participated in my first riot in 1971, and having donned the street fighting uniform of the black bloc for anti-Columbus Day protests in San Francisco in 1992. Longtime readers of this column know I took part in shutting down the financial district on March 20, 2003, with a small group of friends, without wearing a mask. Earlier in the day the rampaging Black Bloc had been lead by the nose into an SFPD trap that resulted in some 200 arrests. I’d realized long before then to be leery of the whole breakaway/black block/anarcho scatter mob approach as it often proved too reactive, easily manipulated, not very creative, and lacking in strategic intelligence.

Young anarchos in this country have appropriated the tactics of the black bloc from Europe’s autonomen without grasping the strategy behind them. This is typical, as when anarchism embraces Situationism’s libertarian forms (detournement, constructed situation, derive) without any understanding of Situationism’s Marxist content. It’s the reason why anarchists can claim to be in solidarity with working people while trashing their working class neighborhood.

I don’t really want this to turn into yet another anti-anarchist screed. In returning the focus to Josh Wolf though, I’m not at all concerned with the question of whether or not he qualifies as a bono fide journalist. I’m a bit more interested in efforts to challenge the Federal government’s dubious claim of standing in the case. Ultimately, the legal niceties of Josh Wolf’s predicament bore me.

I think what’s important in all of this is the deal Josh struck to release the full, unedited recording of the demonstration in exchange for a promise by the Feds not to call him to testify before the grand jury and identify demonstration participants. I have a facility for identifying human voices by their pitch, cadence and timbre, and I can often recognize a singer within a few notes of a song I’ve never heard. Even though I haven’t been around the Bay Area anarcho scene in years, as I watched the tinny video on Josh’s website, I was able to pick out three people I knew immediately based on their voices. All three wore masks throughout the recording. Josh, as an active participant in the local anarchist milieu, could have easily fingered scores of people who were involved in the riot in testimony before the grand jury, or spent several more months in jail on contempt charges for refusing to do so.

Yet releasing the dvr wasn’t risk free. Clearly, the Feds were on a fishing expedition here. Given the time, a zealous prosecutor, or a Federal government truly bent on a witch-hunt, could have given the recording the full CSI treatment. No doubt, others would have been subpoenaed. Obviously, Josh Wolf was between a rock and a hard place on this one.

The US Attorney’s Office spun the deal Josh made by falsely claiming that Wolf had complied with the original subpoena, a gross distortion picked up by the SF Chronicle when it reported on 4-4-07 that Josh had been freed only after giving up and turning over the video. Finally, a Chronicle op-ed piece on 4-9-07 by Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, claimed that the Feds made a mistake in going after Josh for evidence he never had, that Josh made a mistake in going to jail over material that was not evidence, that indeed the whole thing was a “huge misunderstanding.”

Contrary to the US Attorney’s Office and the Chronicle, Josh didn’t comply with the original subpoena, nor did he give up. He did manage to force the government to back off from making him name names, essentially running out the clock on the investigation. The Federal grand jury is set to expire next month, in July, without having accomplished much other than keep Josh Wolf in jail. Josh made about as principled a decision as was possible, given the circumstances.

Notice I’m not discussing whether Josh “did the right thing.” In 1968, when everybody was carrying around that godawful tome Atlas Shrugged by second-rate writer Ayn Rand, I was reading Nietzsche’s snazzy, slim volume Beyond Good and Evil. I agree with the critique of morality, though I don’t use it to justify a sophomoric nihilism that Nietzsche himself rejected. As any good Marxist well knows, activity precedes consciousness, but once consciousness arises, it influences activity. It is possible to derive and practice principled behaviors from a theoretical understanding of reality. It is then possible to learn from the successes and failures of those behaviors to modify one’s original understanding of the world.

It’s called praxis.

A couple of years ago, the BASTARD conference presented self-admitted police snitch Bob Black conducting a workshop. A number of folks had principled objections to Bob Black’s presence-from concerns about personal and collective security to the argument that, if the state is the enemy, than a police informant is a state collaborator. These protestations were dismissed as moralistic by the conference organizers. The puerile nihilism of the BASTARDs aside, I would contend that anarchism in general fails to grasp the importance of principled praxis. Along with failing to see the forest for the trees, this flaw also contributed to anarchists wreaking havoc in a working class neighborhood in the name of working class solidarity.

It’s nice to know that at least one anarchist is capable of principled behavior.

There I go again, disrespecting anarchism. Not so long ago, I was praising to high heaven the role of anarchism in Seattle 1999 and the subsequent anti-globalization movement. This column’s header is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to that historical moment. Anarchism has a very long history of losing it at the moment of greatest influence, of self-destructing with success at hand, of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I guess I’m pissed that I witnessed yet another episode in that sad tradition.

Attacking Iran: “What’s Left?” May 2007, MRR #288

One sign of serious mental illness is when an individual does the exact same thing over and over, each time expecting a different outcome.

Junior Bush militarily attacked Afghanistan in 2001, the first campaign in his international War on Terror. Lip-synching the neoconservative refrain that combating terrorism may require preemptive war, Bush applied the solution favored by his neocon advisors, regime change. The war was expected to be short, and result in a free, democratic and grateful Afghanistan. Today, and despite having ostensibly turned over military operations to NATO, the US accounts for over half of the 50,000 troops in the country that are fighting a Taliban guerrilla insurgency on the rebound. Acts of terrorism are on the increase throughout the region and Pakistan’s western provinces are a de facto jihadist state. Expecting a spring offensive, the Pentagon moved a brigade of 3,200 soldiers originally destined for Iraq–the 173rd Airborne–to Afghanistan, according to a 2-14-07 CNN report. And the US is haranguing its NATO allies not just to commit more troops, but also to commit them to much more dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

The Numbnuts in Chief then invaded Iraq in 2003, round two of the War on Terror. Preemptive war and regime change in Iraq were expected to be a cakewalk according to most neoconservatives, with the citizens of that country greeting American troops as liberators, showering them with flowers and candy. Freedom and democracy in Iraq, in turn, were supposed to spread throughout the region, bringing about peace and an end to tyranny in the Middle East. Today, the 152,000-plus US soldiers in Iraq, in addition to 15,000 troops comprising Junior Bush’s miniscule Coalition of the Willing, are ass deep in a Sunni jihadi insurgency, and a bloody civil war between Sunnis and Shias fueled by Shia dominance in the new national government. Iraq is on the brink of splitting into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish mini-states, the entire region has been destabilized, terrorism is on the rise throughout the Middle East, and Iran appears to be the primary beneficiary of all of this. As I begin this column, the US House of Representatives has just passed a toothless, non-binding resolution condemning Junior Bush’s 20,000 troop surge.

Rumor has it that, sometime this spring, the lesser Bush intends to follow the advice of various neoconservative pundits to launch the third installment of his War on Terror with a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “As cited by former CIA officer Philip Giraldi in the most recent edition of American Conservative, Bush’s charges that Iran is supplying bombs to Shi’a militias to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq; the seizure by U.S. forces of Iranian diplomatic and intelligence officials there; the deployment of two aircraft carrier groups with a flotilla of minesweepers to the Gulf; the supply of Patriot anti-missile batteries to Washington’s allies in the region; the unprecedented appointment of a navy admiral and former combat pilot as the head of Central Command; the ‘surge’ of as many as 40,000 troops into Iraq; persistent reports of U.S. covert operations inside Iran-all suggest that Washington is preparing for a military confrontation, and soon.” (Jim Lobe, “The Neo-Con Dog That Isn’t Barking,” Inter Press Service, Feb. 16, 2007)

Israel will be America’s partner in this operation, if not its avant garde. A 2-19-07 BBC report claims that “US contingency plans for air strikes on Iran extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country’s military infrastructure,” including “Iranian air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centres.” Neocon true believers have long insisted that the goal of such a military first strike must go beyond merely deterring Iran’s nuclear weapons development capabilities, all the way to regime change.

As I finish this column, Iran has not yet been attacked. I hope MRR readers are not witnessing US/Israeli military action against Iran as they read these words. By now it ought to be clear that a preemptive attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities amounts to strike three in a disastrous foreign policy that cannot possibly bring peace, democracy, prosperity, or stability to Iran, let alone to the Middle East. If the idiocy of the neocons has prevailed however, let me offer a few predictions about the consequences of military action against Iran, just to see how close I come to the unfolding reality.

There will be tremendous collateral damage in Iran in the form of civilian deaths, property and infrastructure destruction, and radioactive pollution that will allow the country’s theocratic hardliners to eliminate all opposition and consolidate their power. Iran’s Shi’ite allies in Iraq will stage an uprising with Iranian arms and perhaps Revolutionary Guard intervention throughout the south that, with the Sunni insurgency in Anbar province, will drive US forces out of all but the Kurdish parts of Iraq. Moderate, pro-western Muslim regimes will be unwilling and unable to draw any distinction between American and Israeli foreign policies, and it will be assumed that they are identical by the entire Muslim world. Muslims worldwide will be outraged as the region between Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast and Pakistan’s autonomous western provinces descends into chaos, resulting in a dramatic increase in international terrorism against US, Israeli, Jewish, and Western targets. The international flow of oil will be severely disrupted, due to Iranian economic retaliation and Revolutionary Guard attacks on Persian Gulf shipping, bringing about a worldwide economic depression.

Is Junior Bush so mentally addled, or so much a tool of the neoconservatives, that he would risk even part of the above coming true? Are the neocons completely insane in their apocalyptic brinksmanship? It might be a bit more insidious than that. Joshua Micah Marshall first hit upon what’s actually going on in his April 2003 Washington Monthly essay “Practice to Deceive,” when he argued that far from being a nightmare scenario, chaos in the Middle East is what Bush and his neocon hawks have in mind.

The model here is the second World War and its aftermath, particularly in Europe. Then, an entire continent had collapsed into chaos as a consequence of savage warfare. The Western allies-France, Britain, and the US-used the opportunity of that chaos to reshape Europe. Borders were redrawn, old enmities as between France and Germany were buried, and authoritarian countries like Germany, the western part at least, were transformed into showcase democracies. Indeed, it was the successful democratization of both Germany and Japan after the war that is the cornerstone to the neoconservative delusion of democratizing the Middle East. Instead of seeing the widening instability in the region as evidence of some fundamental strategic bankruptcy, neoconservatives interpret the growing chaos as a vindication of their imperial designs, an affirmation of ur-neocon Leo Strauss’s implied theory of “creative chaos.” Indeed, the neocon recipe assumes that a whole lot of eggs will have to be broken in order to make this democratic omelet. Thus, Condoleezza Rice could oversee Israel’s devastation of Lebanon and callously call it “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.”

I needn’t point out that Lebanon hasn’t turned out the way Bush and Co. wanted either.

The notion that geopolitical collapse and international chaos will help facilitate the creation of a democratic Middle East makes about as much sense as hoping that the US remains bogged down in Iraq because the potential for imperial collapse and social chaos will make social revolution in this country that much more likely. Aside from the fact that both scenarios are against the interests of working people here and around the world, the proposition that a worthy future can be built upon mountains of corpses is extremely dubious. Unfortunately, mountains of corpses are all but guaranteed in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.

Recently, one neocon pundit after another revealed in Vanity Fair (11-3-06) that they believe Bush bungled Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, that Bush didn’t commit the manpower and resources to do the job right, that Bush compromised away their vision of democratic imperialism to traitorous State Department “realists,” that Bush wanted to talk their talk but was unable to walk their walk. It’s hard to sell the public on “creative chaos,” so it’s CYA time for the neoconservatives, who are now making excuses for why things didn’t turn out quite the way they’d planned. Junior Bush may very well have been incompetent and done a half-assed job implementing the neocon agenda. Yet complete devotion to democratizing the Middle East would not have accomplished much more. As admirers of the influence wielded by the Roman Empire at its prime, neoconservatives have great difficulty accepting that the US has neither the troop levels, military strength, or imperial will to emulate ancient Rome.

If the neocons remain wedded to their delusions despite the facts, why then are they not more excited by the prospect of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear capabilities sometime this spring? Journalist Jim Lobe writes that “[I]f an attack on Iran is on the near-term agenda, the neo-conservatives have been decidedly off-message. […] This tack may simply be a ruse to lull anti-war forces into complacency. Or it may reflect a fear that, given their record on Iraq, beating the drums for war with Iran may prove counter-productive […]. Or it may indicate that prominent neo-cons have somehow lost touch with the hawks in the White House and Cheney’s office who are now determined to go to attack Iran this spring.”

Whether the neocons are lying low so as not to attract undo attention to an imminent US/Israeli military strike on Iran, or perhaps know “that any such attack is still some time off, if it takes place at all” (per Jim Lobe), will be obvious by the time this issue of MRR officially hits the newsstands. I for one have no desire to count up how many of my predictions about the consequences of a military strike on Iran proved to be on the mark.

BASTARDized Anarchy: “What’s Left?” March 2007, MRR #286

What’s the latest, earth-shattering controversy in the Bay Area anarchist milieu? Is it a profound disagreement over an analysis of state power or a viable revolutionary strategy? Is it a weighty difference over what is appropriate day-to-day anarchist practice? Is it an intense dispute over how anarchists should respond to the war in Iraq or the erosion of civil liberties or police brutality in minority communities?

In your dreams!

The thing that’s got the knickers of local anarchos in a twist is that the Anarchist Bookfair Committee (ABC/BT), an autonomous part of the Bound Together bookstore, expanded the 2007 book fair from one Saturday in March to two days, the weekend of March 17th and 18th. Those who put on the BASTARD (Bay Area Students of Theory and Research & Development) Conference the Sunday after the usual Saturday book fair cried foul. The BASTARDs wrote an open letter charging that the ABC/BT had made the change without first consulting Bay Area anarchists who schedule their events around the book fair date, and the far-flung vendors who set up merchandise tables at the book fair. The BASTARD letter ended with “requests” that ABC/BT make their decision-making more transparent, consult with other local anarchists before changing the book fair, and allow vendors the option of signing up for one day instead of two.

Folks to the left of the Left here really are trying to keep a straight face.

After putting on the immensely successful Without Borders anarchist continental gathering in 1989, individuals from Bound Together decided to turn their newly acquired expertise into organizing an event in 1996 that became the annual Anarchist Bookfair. The book fair did so well, and attracted so many people to the Bay Area to attend, that other local anarchists jumped on the book fair’s coattails. For a while, there were Anarchist Coffee Houses, and about seven years ago the BASTARDs started doing their conferences. Presently, there’s a week’s worth of events scheduled around the book fair, and a few things need to be said about them.

First, none of the individuals or groups behind the non-book fair events ever asked or consulted with the book fair about scheduling or organizing their events. Second, while the ABC/BT folks were happy to see other anarchist-type events happen around their book fair, they neither officially endorsed nor worked on nor coordinated with any of those events. Finally, without exception, the other anarchist events never drew more than a fraction of the attendance of the book fair.

As for the organization of the book fair, the Anarchist Bookfair Committee has always been affiliated with the Bound Together bookstore, but never subject to it. The ABC is completely autonomous, which means it makes its own decisions independent of the bookstore. In fact, individuals can be members of the ABC and work on the book fair without being members of BT. That said, the ABC/BT never actively solicited outside participation or input. This self-containment and disinterest in matters outside the book fair raised the ire of non-anarchists when, in 2006, plans for the book fair coincided with the mass antiwar demonstrations scheduled by ANSWER in San Francisco on the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. Efforts to have ABC/BT move the book fair so as not to conflict with the demo fell on deaf ears, and the book fair organizers were accused of divisiveness, sectarianism, and a desire to stick it to the Leninist asswipes behind ANSWER. Those criticisms have resurfaced this year because the book fair once again overlaps with ANSWER’s plans to sponsor their antiwar events on the exact same weekend in March.

To rephrase, those who regularly attend ABC/BT meetings work on the book fair. In turn, the ABC/BT adheres to the idea of workers’ control, that those who work on organizing the book fair have the right to make all the decisions concerning the book fair. At first blush, the BASTARD letter would seem to raise an equally valid, and frequently conflicting anarchist principle of workers’ control, that of community control. The ABC/BT anarchists are part of a larger Bay Area anarchist community, so the argument goes, and therefore should consult with and defer to that community in making decisions about the book fair.

Invoking some mythic, feel-good anarchist community does not make that community a reality however. Indeed, BASTARD’s own actions belie the existence of any community among Bay Area anarchists. Quick to insist that ABC/BT consult other anarchist “comrades” when BASTARD’s conference ox was gored by the decision to run the book fair for two days, BASTARD completely ignored the outrage of many in the anarchist “community” when they scheduled police snitch Bob Black to speak at their conference last year. Thus, BASTARD’s talk of anarchist comradeship and community is utter bullshit.

The other issue raised in the BASTARD letter, that ABC/BT failed to consult with vendors who set up tables at the book fair, is also equally bogus. It was the book fair vendors themselves, many of whom travel long distances to set up for a one-day event, who suggested making the book fair two days. Out of fifty-odd vendors, only two approached ABC/BT directly to voice concerns that a two-day book fair would cause them problems, and ABC/BT immediately accommodated their concerns. Oddly enough, even though the BASTARDs decry “uncritically embrac[ing] the development of anarchist shop keepers at the expense of other aspects of anarchist activity,” they go on to admit that their main conflict with a two-day book fair is that many members of the BASTARD organizing group are vendors at the book fair, as are many of the presenters at the conference. Were Marx witness to this bit of hypocrisy, he would correctly label the BASTARD mentality petit bourgeois in the extreme.

Finally, there’s the way in which BASTARD chose to address their differences with ABC/BT. A BASTARD representative attended a Bound Together bookstore collective meeting, instead of going directly to the Anarchist Bookfair Committee meeting. Then the representative BASTARD said that he would read their open letter out loud, but that he would only allow “clarifying questions” afterwards. This numbnuts insisted that, because BASTARD as a group was entirely ad hoc, it didn’t really exist, and that he was not really a representative of BASTARD, so he couldn’t talk to Bound Together, but only read the open letter written by a group that didn’t really exist. That went over as well as you might expect, and anarchists being anarchists, the Bound Together folks proceeded to rip the BASTARD rep a new asshole, after letting him read his letter, of course.

Not getting the response they’d hoped for from BT, the BASTARDs then posted their open letter all around the internet, thinking to elicit sympathetic outrage over ABC/BT’s book fair process and decision. That also didn’t work out quite as planned. By my admittedly subjective count, comments defending ABC/BT and attacking BASTARD have predominated in a rather feeble debate. A disturbing sideshow to the BASTARD internet campaign has been the expression of the usual conspiracy idiocy based on the charge that ABC/BT’s actions represent the triumph of shopkeeper anarchism.

According to the anarcho-conspiracy buffs in question, it was actually AK Press’s idea to extend the book fair to two days because AK Press has the most tables, merchandise and sales at the book fair. And, “as everyone knows,” AK Press secretly controls the BT book fair committee or the BT bookstore or both. AK Press is further derided as the Nike of anarchism whose monopolistic marketing practices drive other anarchist distributors like Left Bank out of business, and whose success depends on paying its collective members shit wages while not paying its authors at all.

These very well might be legitimate criticisms of AK Press’s business practices. Yet, in this context, they are used to bolster the idea that an ultra-capitalistic AK Press is manipulating its sock puppet Bound Together in a sinister conspiracy to maximize profits at the book fair at the expense of the much nobler pursuit of knowledge and discourse as epitomized by the BASTARD conference. Complete nonsense.

For their part, the BASTARDs insist that they won’t give in to this anarchist shopkeeper mentality and so will hold their conference on Sunday, March 18, come what may. Of course, that means that now the BASTARD conference is also in direct conflict with the ANSWER-sponsored antiwar demo, scheduled for Sunday in San Francisco. True to my hooligan tendencies, I do delight in seeing how well BASTARD’s idyllic anarchist community functions. I also gloat that the anarcho-dilettante who called my columns sectarian at last year’s book fair, and who I took to task a few columns ago, is one of the main BASTARDs denouncing “the rise of the age of the anarchist merchant” and conducting internet jihad against ABC/BT. A sterling example of the pot calling the kettle sectarian.

My greatest pleasure, though, comes from seeing how weak the controversy is, despite all of BASTARD’s efforts to the contrary. There’s not a whole lot of flaming outrage going on in various anarcho forums or IndyMedia or InfoShop about BASTARD’s po’ widdow conference getting trampled by that evil Bound Together/AK Press capitalist cabal. It’s truly a tempest in a teacup, perhaps because everybody else realizes that a two-day Anarchist Book Fair will neither conflict with ANSWER’s antiwar demo nor hurt the BASTARD conference. If anything, a two-day book fair will bring more people to town for the weekend, more people who can then participate in all three events at their leisure.

This should be a no-brainer.

Not that my former haunt, the ultraleft, doesn’t have its share of incredible assholes. Remind me sometime to talk about left communism’s drunken, venomous one-man-sect I affectionately call K-Squared. I attended two different years of the BASTARD conference. It’s a glorified, pseudo-academic circle-jerk in my estimation. I might get roped in to tabling for comrades at the Anarchist Bookfair again this year. There’s a lot more entertainment value at the book fair, but I don’t think I could handle more than a day of that lifestyle zoo. What the whole book fair brouhaha unfortunately points up is the oh-so-sad state of anarchism in this country.

Goldwater Reconsidered: “What’s Left?” February 2007, MRR #285

It’s one of the most famous television commercials in history. Called the “Daisy Girl” ad, it opens with a little girl in a sun-drenched field, picking the petals off a daisy. As she counts the petals, the voice over segues into a launch countdown. The girl fades into a nuclear explosion, and the ad ends with a pitch to vote for Lyndon Baines Johnson.

The Daisy Girl ad was instrumental in defeating Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential elections. Johnson portrayed Goldwater as a dangerous extremist, and used Goldwater’s support for the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam to put the fear of global nuclear holocaust into the American electorate. Johnson won a landslide victory, and Goldwater’s faction of the Republican Party was thoroughly crushed.

Goldwater’s was the conservative wing of the GOP. Conservative on all counts. His was the original small government, free market, anti-communist, isolationist conservatism we associate today with paleoconservatives like Patrick Buchanan. Goldwater sought to roll back both the New Deal and federal involvement in the civil rights movement which ended legal segregation, guaranteed blacks the right to vote, and attempted to halt racial discrimination in housing, education, and employment. Goldwater’s free market economics was trumped by a patriotic nationalism that sought to protect American industry from unfair foreign competition, much as his isolationist, anti-interventionist foreign policy was trumped by a virulent anticommunism that sought to forcibly role back the Soviet bloc, with nuclear weapons if necessary.

In the 1964 primaries, Goldwater’s Republican faction trounced the GOP’s other major faction, the liberal wing led by Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller’s Republicans basically accepted the New Deal, government economic intervention, the welfare state, and federal support for civil rights, though perhaps not as fervently as the New Deal liberal wing of the Democratic Party led by Johnson. The Democratic Party also had a second main wing, a conservative faction, a gaggle of pro-segregation, populist, states rights southern Democrats led by George Wallace. All four groups were anti-communist, of course, with the Republican Party more zealously so.

[The claim that the United States is a democracy with two distinct political parties can be challenged on the basis of this political line-up alone. Despite American politics having moved decidedly to the right since 1964, one would be hard pressed today to separate out two ideologically distinct political parties based on the likes of Junior Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Clinton, and Zell Miller, each politician representative of a major political tendency in their respective political parties.]

The GOP’s liberal wing gained ascendancy after Goldwater’s defeat, contributing to Richard Nixon’s presidential victory in 1968. And, given the rightward shift in US politics over the last three decades, it’s accurate to describe Nixon as America’s last liberal president. He continued to push through civil rights legislation, ignobly ended the Vietnam War, recognized Red China, and implemented wage-and-price controls to combat economic stagflation, all of which were anathema to the Republican Party’s conservative faction. Decimated by Goldwater’s rout, GOP conservatives made a crucial strategic decision to return to their base-churches, communities, civic organizations-and rebuild their power, with the goal of eventually retaking the leadership of their party.

School boards were often the first steppingstone for these conservatives in retaking the Republican Party, followed by municipal and state governments. Formulating an ideological and programmatic consistency-admirably accomplished by the New Right and evangelical Christianity-was also critical, as was establishing effective party discipline. Moderate and liberal Republicans were labeled RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), attacked by conservative Republicans as vehemently as Democrats, subjected to political dirty tricks during Republican primaries, denied funding and support from party institutions, and shorn of power and influence once in office. In addition, Southern Democrats, long disenchanted with their party for its championing of desegregation, civil rights, and affirmative action, and denied a third-party alternative with the defeat of George Wallace’s American Independent Party, deserted the Democratic Party in droves to become conservative Republicans. The conservative wing of the GOP first tasted national victory with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, thanks in part to support from working-class “Reagan Democrats.” Conservatism’s triumphant comeback was sealed with the capture of Congress in 1994 under Newt Gingrich and the “Contract for America.” The Republican Party’s conservative wing has maintained its dominance in national politics every since.

[An interesting sidebar to this discussion comes from realizing that the very recent rise to national prominence of Republican neoconservatives is actually not a part of this conservative Republican “revolution.” Neocons are often nowhere near as socially, politically, or economically conservative as their properly conservative brethren, and they’ve junked traditional conservative isolationism for an aggressive democratic imperialism that has the Republican Party aping the Democrats in initiating major military campaigns around the globe. Riding the coattails of the conservative GOP’s rise to power, the neocons should be considered usurpers, not inheritors, as folks like Patrick Buchanan make clear.]

This brief analysis of how Goldwater’s conservative faction of the Republican Party went from abject defeat to sweeping victory is why I don’t hold much hope in things significantly changing, now that the Democratic Party has narrowly seized control of Congress. The Democrats, especially moderate and liberal Democrats, did not learn the vital lesson from their defeats in 1980 and 1994 that long-term success requires they return to their social base to rebuild their political power. As a consequence, the Democratic Party lacks effective organization, forceful party discipline, a unifying program, and an inspirational vision to challenge Republican hegemony. Democrats won by default in 2006. Put another way, the Democratic Party did not win, the Republican Party lost. The Iraq debacle, a string of ethical and moral scandals, a lackluster economy, and hemorrhaging federal spending eroded the Republican conservative base to a degree. More important, these issues drove independent voters en masse into the arms of the Democratic Party. Without anything substantive to hold them there however, it’s not a matter of if, but when, the Democrats once more find themselves out of power.

Regular readers of my column know that this isn’t my main beef with those who are ecstatic over the Democrats gaining majorities in the House and Senate. Even if the Democrats somehow, despite the odds, retain control of Congress for the next six years, and even if the Democrats miraculously manage to win the presidency in 2008, nothing much will change, because there isn’t a rat’s ass worth of difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. All the differences between the four factions of the two parties I outlined above would fit nicely into a single European political party, with room to spare, in a system of parliamentary democracy that frequently includes significant participation by fascists, communists, monarchists, and greens. Democrats got us involved in the first and second World Wars, not to mention Korea and Vietnam. And much as it took a Republican president-Nixon-to normalize relations with Communist China, it took a Democratic president-Clinton-to gut LBJ’s Great Society welfare state. I predict that when Medicare and Social Security go under the axe, it’s a Democratic president who will be doing the chopping.

That Barry Goldwater wouldn’t exactly be welcome in today’s conservative GOP is an enlightening footnote here. Goldwater hated the influence of religious extremism in politics, supported racial desegregation, considered abortion a matter of personal choice, favored the legalization of marijuana, and didn’t have a problem with homosexuality. Karl Hess, in his autobiography Mostly On The Edge, understood that Barry Goldwater was as much the father of modern day American right-wing libertarianism as he was of GOP conservatism. In the end a self-reliant communitarian anarchist, Hess started as Goldwater’s speechwriter, credited for penning the famous quote: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

A sentiment that’s anathema to today’s GOP.

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