Chalkboard #2: @ Taxonomy

The chalkboard series is where I think out loud.

Proposed Anarchism Taxonomy:

FIRST WAVE ANARCHISM (CLASSICAL ANARCHISM): from Godwin to Spanish Civil War, attenuated to present. Individualist, mutualist, collectivist, syndicalist, communist, etc.

SECOND WAVE ANARCHISM (LEFT ANARCHISM):
Phase One (1965-1985): countercultural (Diggers), Situationist (Motherfuckers), New Leftist (Yippie!, Bookchin). Phase Two (1985-present): anti-imperialist, Third Worldist, revolutionary (Love and Rage).

THIRD WAVE ANARCHISM (POST ANARCHISM?):
1985 to present: post-left (Bey, Black, Zerzan, et al), insurrectionary/communizing (Tikkun/Invisible Committee).

WHAT’S NOT ANARCHISM OR LIBERTARIANISM:
Free market “libertarianism” and “anarchist capitalism” which dates from 1967, or fascist “national anarchism” which spawned circa 1997.

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Party like it’s the 1960s: “What’s Left?” July 2017, MRR #410

“Welcome to our humble abode,” Jake greeted us at the front door with a bow, doffing his dented black top hat with a flourish.

I was with a gaggle of fellow peaceniks from the Action Committee for Peace and Justice in Ventura. We were visiting Jake and Connie’s home, a rented two-bedroom bungalow in Ojai. It was a balmy summer night in 1970.

I turned 18 in a month and was required to register for the draft, having graduated from high school. As a peace activist in good standing, an anarchist pacifist with plans to pursue a Conscientious Objector deferment, I was freaked out. I’d also just started smoking marijuana or, more precisely, I’d just started feeling the effects after having inhaled for several weeks before. I wanted some smoke to calm my nerves.

“Hey Jake,” I said to the tall, skinny UCSB student wearing a tie-dyed vest. “Do you know where I can score some grass?”

“Connie can give you a referral,” he laughed, then tossed a thumb over his shoulder. “She’s somewhere back there.”

The party was wall-to-wall, with people also crowded into the rambling backyard. Sixties rock music blared, at the moment “Buffalo Springfield.” Most in attendance wore some sort of head gear, as hats were one of the party’s themes. Long hair and marijuana smoke abounded, as did tobacco smoke and denim apparel. I was tempted to ask any of the individuals passing around joints to pass one my way, but I was shy. Besides, I was interested in quantity, an ounce at least, and I didn’t want to get fucked up before negotiating the purchase. I found Connie, a zaftig woman who also attended UCSB, in the tiny kitchen pouring shots of tequila and arranging them on a serving tray. She wore a colorful Spanish peasant dress and an incongruous brown fedora. I declined when she offered me a shot, as I hadn’t yet started drinking alcohol.

“Anybody you know selling any grass?” I asked.

“Nigel’s got weed, acid, mescaline, coke, crosses, reds, anything you want.” She smiled and downed some tequila. “He’s around somewhere. Black bowler hat.”

Just then, a pair of scruffy males in their thirties I knew all too well from various anti-war meetings barged into the kitchen, arguing and exchanging insults. One wore a teal Mao cap with a Peoples Liberation Army star, the other a dark gray Bolshevik cap a la Lenin with a Red Army star. As they upped the volume of their row, Connie rolled her eyes at me, and hastily exited the kitchen carrying the tray of tequila glasses.

“You’re a fucking moron, Roger,” the Bolshie cap bellowed. “The NLF is the legitimate armed guerrilla force of the Vietnamese people in the south. I’m no fan of people waving the VietCong flag at demonstrations, but that’s the proper flag for Vietnam’s revolution.”

“That’s a nationalist rag, not a righteous working class banner, numbnuts,” the Mao cap retorted in kind. “I’m surprised, truly shocked in fact Bill, that you can renege on your professed proletarian internationalist principles so easily and surrender to bourgeois nationalism.”

Roger followed the Progressive Labor Party line on Vietnam, and Bill the Socialist Workers Party line. They had been good friends in 1965 when they’d both been affiliated with the US-Soviet Friendship Committee. Roger had been married to Susan, a social democrat, and Susan had an affair with Bill before coming out as lesbian. A fistfight followed, and acrimony persisted. Roger drifted into Maoism, Bill into Trotskyism. They were now bitter enemies, always attacking each other at meetings, denouncing each other to acquaintances, each fantasizing how to get even with the other. As I eased out the kitchen door before the shouting match came to blows, I realized I was learning a valuable political lesson:

THE PERSONAL IS ALWAYS POLITICAL

The first outstanding example of personal enmity becoming political antagonism, indeed the archetype for this aphorism, was Trotsky versus Stalin. Both members of Lenin’s Bolshevik party, they had an abiding personal dislike for each other, apparently due to personality differences. Trotsky considered Stalin lugubrious, provincial, crude, and plodding, while Stalin thought Trotsky arrogant, Westernized, bohemian, and elitist. With the death of Lenin, a power struggle erupted between the two within the party which took on ideological overtones. Trotsky opposed the bureaucratization of the Soviet state, promoted permanent revolution, and insisted on the rapid, forced industrialization of the country while Stalin was a master of bureaucratic manipulation, defended socialism in one country, and stood behind Lenin’s mixed economic NEP program. Stalin outmaneuvered Trotsky for control of the party, expelled him from Russia, and eventually had Trotsky assassinated in Mexico.

On rarer occasions, honest political differences breed personal hostilities. We come to profound political conflicts often assuming that our opponents are detestable human beings when they’re not much different from ourselves.

I threaded through the boisterous crowd in the combined dining and living rooms as Pete Seeger boomed over the stereo system. No bowler hat in sight, but I did notice a couple of sexagenarians I knew sharing beers on a couch nearby. Frank, an Industrial Workers of the World member from the 1920s, wore a blue striped railroad engineer’s cap, and Farley, in the Socialist Labor Party since the 1930s, had on a modest tan cowboy hat. I heard snippets of their conversation—the Palmer Raids, the split between the IWW and the WIIU, the death of Haywood and De Leon—but I didn’t stop to chat. Both organizations had been moribund by 1960, but were experiencing a revitalization thanks to the 60s youthful counterculture/New Left. I even had a little red IWW membership book at the time, more out of nostalgia then anything else. The IWW continued to experience membership and organizing ups and downs, whereas for the SLP the spike in activity was only temporary before it finally became a shell of its former self, bringing me to my second political metaphor of the evening:

THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

The Left is littered with zombie organizations which refuse to die. Occasionally, groups merge, and even more rarely, cease to exist altogether. But defunct political organizations, like the defunct political ideas that spawned them, tend to persist. Just as De Leonism and syndicalism can still be found somewhere, if only on life support, so can the various iterations of Trotskyism and Schactmanism, the numerous Maoist strains of the New Communist Movement, classical anarchism and left communism, ad nauseam. Well, many of them anyway. I mean, there are still beatniks, hippies, and goths around for fucks sake. It seems that once something arises, it keeps on trucking along until a wooden stake is forcefully driven through its heart to kill it off, and then not even.

As for Frank and Farley, while I subscribed to the New Age platitude that the elderly needed to be valued and their wisdom cherished, to be honest I had little time for historical sentimentality. I was part of the New Left, with an emphasis on the new. The future of politics belonged to us, the youth of 1970, and I certainly didn’t anticipate getting old before we made The Revolution. So I averted my gaze and skirted their conversation, looking for my man.

I looked out over the backyard as people awkwardly tried to dance to Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun.” Jake and Connie had arranged lit tiki torches around the yard’s perimeter, so the grotesque shadows of partygoers contorted across the unkempt lawn. A gibbous moon silvered the night air. I returned to searching for my dealer, just not in the hosts’ bedroom which had been commandeered by three couples intent on an impromptu free love orgy. The other bedroom had been converted into a combination trips/meditation/sewing room/office, which is where I finally found the man with the bowler hat holding court. With his English accent, coal-black eye shadow, and silver nobbed cane, Nigel anticipated the droogies of “Clockwork Orange” by a scant year.

“Spectacle, spectacle, all is spectacle,” he patronizingly addressed my friend Thomas, a fellow anarchist who wore a dark gray whoopee cap like the cartoon character Jughead.

“Is smashing the state mere spectacle?” Thomas asked. “Is a spontaneous peoples revolution against the government so easily dismissed?

“Your sad sub-anarchism suffers from the mystics of nonorganization,” Nigel said with a condescending smirk. “It’s spontaneism denies the power of the revolutionary proletariat and plays into capitalism’s rigged game. What is needed are moments of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and a game of events. What is needed is the revolution of everyday life.”

Nigel talked a good Situationist game. With two slim, styling Carnaby Street girls fawning over him, I admitted he impressed me. Associated with King Mob and the Angry Brigade in England, he was an ambassador’s son with diplomatic immunity, which was how he kept himself and his drug dealing business from getting busted. The raw noise of the MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams” blasted through the party as I shopped in Nigel’s briefcase drugstore emporium, sampled some seed-heavy Columbian Gold, purchased an ounce, and rolled a couple of joints to share around. As I and everybody in the room got high, or higher, I still hadn’t learned the lesson of:

LOOKING FOR THE NEXT BIG THING

The Situationists were revolutionary raconteurs and carny hustlers, a theater troupe that held one successful Paris performance in May-June of 1968 but hadn’t been active since. To me however, they were the next big thing. They certainly wowed impressionable young Leftists, anarchists in particular, with their panache and pizzazz. Situationist and post-Situ wannabes continue to proliferate to this day, but the real legacy of the Situationist International was a virulent sectarianism. Split after split reduced the SI to two remaining members by 1972, when the organization dissolved itself. I was impressed by the Situ-inspired Dutch Provos, but my real inspirations back in the day were the more wide-ranging, broadbased San Francisco Diggers and Dutch Kabouters. The search for the next big thing on the Left continues to the present, with insurrectionary anarchists and communizing ultraleftists still playing that game.

I was tripping when my Ventura friends collected me for the ride home. An owl swooped down silently to snag a mouse in the front yard as we climbed into a brightly painted VW minibus, it’s owner and driver none to sober herself. Me, I wore a soft gray British flat workers cloth cap, a newsboy cap with a snap button brim. As we meandered along Highway 33—soon to be immortalized in the godawful song “Ventura Highway” by the schlocky soft rock band America—I dreamed about becoming a political columnist for a famous future rocknroll magazine in an as yet unborn youth counterculture. Naw, that can’t happen I thought, and fell asleep.

DISCLAIMER:
This is a piece of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Voting and rioting: “What’s Left?” May 2015, MRR #384

Was it a millionaire who said “Imagine no possessions?”

Elvis Costello, “The Other Side Of Summer”

I vote.

In admitting this, I always feel like someone undead confessing my vampiric tendencies, only to be met by torch-wielding mobs waving silver crucifixes, er, circle a’s, hoping to ward off evil, um, political incorrectness. That’s how many in the anarcho/ultra milieu view any admission of electoral participation, as if merely by punching a ballot for five minutes I actively affirm the entire bourgeois edifice of capitalism and the state and all that is heinous about our society today. Those who employ this reductio ad absurdum argument would brand me a class traitor for simply casting a vote every two years.

As a détourned bumper sticker I once saw expressed it, I riot and I vote. I do less and less rioting the older I get, but that’s a different matter. More precisely I organize, I protest, I act, I demonstrate, I resist, I give money, I rebel, I back unions, I riot, and I vote. Way too long for your average bumper sticker message. I engage in, support, and appreciate a wide variety of political activity in the course of any given day. I don’t consider all political activity equal, either in commission or experience. I rank direct action above voting as I would favor social revolution over streetfighting. But I prefer doing something over doing nothing.

Last column, I made the case for critical support for the military advances of Rojava in western Kurdistan and for the electoral victory of Syriza in Greece. Last June, I talked about stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership and embracing the idea of “see something, leak something.” All of these issues are decidedly reformist, but I haven’t suddenly forsaken revolution for reformism. “Can we counterpose the social revolution, the transformation of the existing order, our final goal, to social reforms?” Rosa Luxemburg once famously asked in her pamphlet Reform or Revolution. “Certainly not. The daily struggle for reforms, for the amelioration of the condition of the workers within the framework of the existing social order, and for democratic institutions, offers to the Social Democracy the only means of engaging in the proletarian class struggle and working in the direction of the final goal—the conquest of political power and the suppression of wage labor. For Socialist Democracy, there is an indissoluble tie between social reforms and revolution. The struggle for reforms is its means; the social revolution, its goal.”

I offer up Luxemburg’s quote to short-circuit the usual bullshit political runaround about the relationship between reform and revolution. We’re told either to accept the “lesser of two evils” or to demand “all or nothing at all.” We’re told either to be reasonable in our demands, or to demand nothing and seize everything. The full social dialectic between reform and revolution is belittled by such simplicities. A few days before he was assassinated in 1965, Malcolm X visited Selma, Alabama, and spoke in secret with Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King. “I didn’t come to Selma to make his job more difficult,” Malcolm is supposed to have said to Coretta about Martin. “But I thought that if the White people understood what the alternative was that they would be more inclined to listen to your husband. And so that’s why I came.” The dynamic relationship between reform and revolution cuts both ways.

This discussion of reform and revolution flows easily into the related discussion of tactics and strategy. Occupy Wall Street introduced issues that Occupy Oakland brought to a crescendo with respect to the debate between nonviolence and what has been called a “diversity of tactics.” Unlike the tactical rigidity of traditional nonviolence however, the anarcho/ultra milieu’s effusive embrace of a “diversity of tactics” is not for tactical flexibility, but rather a glorification of tactics without strategy, a justification of fucking shit up for the sake of fucking shit up. Again, I don’t fuck shit up nearly as much as I used to, but that’s not the point. The absolutism embedded in the latter’s insurrectionism and communization, no less than the moralism inherent in the former’s pacifism, are inimical to forging winning strategies for social change. And frankly, I find it as tiresome arguing in the abstract against the supposed counterrevolutionary reformism of electoral participation or union involvement as I do in countering the histrionic, emotional outrage over the wrongs and evils of coercive violence. I mean, isn’t it middle-class, suburban white kids with everything who are always talking about “Demand nothing?”

People forget that the point is to win. Not by any means necessary, but by means sufficient to achieve victory and by means commensurate with the ends desired. No more “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” as is ubiquitous in the anarcho/ultra milieu, and no more “destroying the village in order to save the village” as is the practice of the authoritarian Leninist Left. No more beautiful losers, and no more one-party totalitarian states disingenuously called socialism. As much as I want principles to align with pragmatism, I’d rather be pragmatic over being principled, if I had to choose.

Plus, I like focusing on the practical every now and again as a welcome addition to my usual mashup of theory, history, news, reviews, commentary, and tirade. After twenty-four years and some two hundred and fifty odd columns, I frequently repeat myself. Too often, I struggle to say the same old shit in slightly different ways. I still manage to raise some controversy and an occasional stink. Unfortunately, it’s rarely in the letters-to-the-editor pages of this magazine, and almost entirely on the intrawebz.

This month, another old-time columnist bites the dust. I’m the only OG columnist left who got my benediction direct from Tim Yo himself. Without going into details (and since no one asked my opinion) all I’ll say is that there’s a difference between being an asshole punk rocker and being an asshole to your fellow punk rockers. I’ll leave it at that.

Next column, fifty shades of anarchy.

Marketing 101: “What’s Left?” March 2014, MRR #370

Now, that’s marketing.

My wife and I recently went to see a movie at The Kabuki, a local cinema that’s now part of the Sundance independent movie theatre chain. The Kabuki is a multiplex in San Francisco’s Japantown, with a couple of big auditoriums and several smaller theaters, reserved seating, and food service that includes alcohol in certain over-21 areas. We were there to see The Book Thief. Hard to imagine someone making a bit of sentimental smarm out of an anti-Nazi subject, but there you are. Anyway, the building was thronged due to two near-simultaneous showings of the The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second part to the trilogy that tracks with the young adult novel series of the same name. The place was jam-packed with adolescents, mainly teenaged girls, with some of their parental chaperones. I hear that this movie does have appeal to older people. When I was maneuvering through the crowds, headed to and from the bathrooms, I noticed a couple of teen clusters giving each other the film’s distinctive assignation, a three-fingered salute touched to the lips and then held out that comes to represent a sign of resistance against the ruling regime in the movie. Along with the four-note tune called “Rue’s Whistle Song,” and the mockingjay symbol worn by the lead protagonist Katniss Everdeen, these have become symbols in the movie of the failed rebellion against the government. “The odds are never in our favor” is the graffiti summing up the film’s theme. Talk about the clever marketing of rebellion to an adolescent demographic.

Produced by the studio Color Force and distributed by Lionsgate, they should have taken a page from the folks who market those Guy Fawkes masks. Based on a stylized representation of that English terrorist and folk hero who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605 and was executed for his temerity, Guy Fawkes also became associated with the celebratory bonfires set on November 5 to commemorate what was called the “Gunpowder Plot.” Guy Fawkes Night featured grotesque effigies of the man, and soon children used similarly masked effigies to beg for money around Britain. Eventually, cheap cardboard masks of Guy Fawkes were sold for Guy Fawkes Night festivities.

Then came V for Vendetta, the graphic novel and the film based on same. The main character in both wears the mask, which is manufactured by Time-Warner as a movie-related product. The initial sightings of the mask’s use seem to be somewhat random, beginning with its appearance in a YouTube video connected with “Epic Fail Guy,” a stick figure that fails at everything he/she does. But it soon became associated with protestors hoping to hide their identities, or to make a point. When the hacker group Anonymous adopted it, things took off. Anonymous started using it in their public events and PR releases, and the hacktivist community at large became associated with it. The mask appeared in graffiti and was worn at protests and demonstrations around the world, from Poland and Ukraine to Brazil and Turkey, from various countries involved in the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street actions. V for Vendetta novel writer and anarchist Alan Moore has said that he was “quite heartened” by the mask’s uses and impact in popular protest, almost like “a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction.” Illustrator and co-creator David Lloyd is quoted on BBC News (10-20-12):
The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I’m happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way. My feeling is the Anonymous group needed an all-purpose image to hide their identity and also symbolise that they stand for individualism – V for Vendetta is a story about one person against the system. We knew that V was going to be an escapee from a concentration camp where he had been subjected to medical experiments but then I had the idea that in his craziness he would decide to adopt the persona and mission of Guy Fawkes – our great historical revolutionary.

All the while, the Guy Fawkes mask as marketed by Time-Warner has become a top selling product on Amazon.com. “It’s quite ironic, actually. In their attempts to take down large corporations, Anonymous actually pads the pockets of one of them.” So reports Time Magazine on 8-29-11 (“How Time Warner Profits from the ‘Anonymous’ Hackers,” Nick Carbone). “But there’s one unintentional consequence – their disguise is earning big bucks for a major media conglomerate. Warner Brothers, the Time Warner subsidiary who produced the movie, owns the rights to the Guy Fawkes mask – and they earn royalties on every sale.” The original New York Times article (“Masked Protesters Aid Time Warner’s Bottom Line,” Nick Bilton, 8-28-11) concurs: “What few people seem to know, though, is that Time Warner, one of the largest media companies in the world and parent of Warner Brothers, owns the rights to the image and is paid a licensing fee with the sale of each mask. […] Indeed, with the help of Anonymous, the mask has become one of the most popular disguises and — in a small way — has added to the $28 billion in revenue Time Warner accumulated last year. It is the top-selling mask on Amazon.com, beating out masks of Batman, Harry Potter and Darth Vader.”

Imagine itching to join your favorite protest wearing your trendy Guy Fawkes mask, only to learn that your local costume shop is back ordered until Monday. Stores can’t keep it in stock. Balking at lining the corporate coffers of Time-Warner, some activists are even having faux Guy Fawkes masks mass produced in Asia, according to CNN (“Guy Fawkes mask inspires Occupy protests around the world,” Nick Thompson, 11-5-11). But are these replica masks sweatshop free?

I’m sure glad some enterprising group of anarchists hadn’t managed to copyright, trademark and then market the anarchy symbol.

Thomas Pynchon wrote about a conflict between two secret, underground mail services in his uncharacteristically slim novel The Crying of Lot 49. Thurn and Taxis, once an actual 18th century postal system, is at war with the fictitious Trystero/Tristero, which is symbolized by a muted post horn that surfaces at odd moments and locations throughout the work. Every time the Trystero post horn appears, the book’s main character, and indeed the reader, senses that something conspiratorially mysterious, and perhaps entirely wonderful is about to be revealed.

That’s akin to how I felt, growing up, when I saw the circle A symbol. An anarchist myself, I felt a part of some covert movement, some exotic liberation struggle, whenever I encountered the circle A scrawled as graffiti in public. It was extremely rare in the 1960s and 70s and, as such, highly provocative. Your average citizen had no idea what it meant and thought anarchism to be synonymous with chaos and destruction. Most folks versed in politics didn’t have a clue either, with the exception of a few highly cognizant individuals―left, right and center―who almost universally denounced anarchism as hopelessly idealistic, if not outright dangerous. The Left back in the day, specifically hardcore Marxist-Leninists, utterly disdained the politics and people behind the symbol. I felt smug, an insider, someone in the know, part of a conscious elect out to change the world whenever I came upon the circle A symbol.

Today, of course, the circle A is ubiquitous. There are literally scores of businesses and consumer products sporting the circle A as part of their logos or marketing strategies. Elements of the ML Left, discredited by the practice of “real existing socialism” throughout the 20th century, now take anarchism seriously, if only for the purpose of recruiting, but often ideologically in formulating a “leaderless Leninism.” People versed in mainstream politics are also familiar with what the circle A symbol means, with certain libertarians even describing themselves as anarchist capitalists (see my last column). And the general public is also well aware of the circle A―spray painted as it is on virtually every wall, building and sidewalk in most urban areas―if not the symbol’s implications. Thanks to the bullshit perpetrated by certain tendencies of anarchism in the Occupy movement, most people consider anarchists to be anything from childish idiots to inept wanna-be terrorists. Me, I now cringe whenever I see a circle A.

I no longer call myself an anarchist, or left communist, as readers of this column are well aware, and for reasons other than current events. But the sheer amentia of anarchism’s insurrectionary vanguard, responsible for the smashy smashy excesses of Occupy Oakland, would have gone a long way toward driving me out of anti-authoritarian politics. The so-called strategy of these insurrectionists amounts to fucking shit up 24/7, a pathetic excuse for politics, or in this case, anti-politics. Symptomatic of the ideological exhaustion and decay of our time, a consequence of multinational capitalism’s global triumph, anarchism’s insurrectionary dead end now can’t give away ice cream in hell, let alone convince radicals that the anarchy symbol amounts to shit.

Now, that’s anti-marketing.

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