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Tagged ‘Pacifism as Patholgy‘

Extinction Rebellion Training, or How to Control Radical Resistance from the ‘Obstructive Left’

May 6, 2019

By Cory Morningstar

 

 

“New Power” – “The ability to harness the connected crowd to get what you want”

– Jeremy Heimans, co-founder Purpose/Avaaz, B Team Expert

 

Above: XR local coordinator training document. Diagram: The “US” circle on the top signifies Extinction Rebellion. The middle circle identifies “mostly obstructive” political activists (“hard left”) that must be bypassed in order to reach the bottom circle. The bottom circle represents the non-political citizens, the target audience of XR.

Background

Extinction Rebellion (XR) officially launched on October 31, 2018. On November 2, 2018, a video was uploaded to the Extinction Rebellion YouTube account. The video documents the training session held by XR co-founder Roger Hallam: “This was filmed at the Extinction Rebellion Local Coordinator training in Bristol. Roger Hallam explains some the key dynamics of building a mass movement from the level of personal resilience to creating system change.”

Here, it is critical to remind oneself, that this is the XR mass organizing model for the mobilization of a global citizenry. Consider between the official launch on October 31, 2018, in the UK, to December 6, 2018, it grew to over 130 groups, across 22 countries. By January 29, 2019, the Extinction Rebellion groups spanned across 50 countries. On April 27, 2019 XR reported they were nearing 400 branches globally.

The global expansion is being led by Margaret Klein Salamon [Source], founder of The Climate Mobilization, who launched the Extinction Rebellion US Twitter account on October 31, 2018 – the same day as the launch of Extinction Rebellion in the UK. The Extinction Rebellion demands are not only complementary to The Climate Mobilization’s emergency strategy now in motion; they are a mirror image of it with the slogan, “Tell the Truth”. [Further reading: The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – for Consent: The House is On Fire! & the 100 Trillion Dollar Rescue, ACT IV]

Training the XR Local Coordinators

Above: Extinction Rebellion co-founder Roger Hallam

During the training session, Hallam draws a chart with three circles. The small circle on the top signifies Extinction Rebellion – people that want to get things done. The middle circle is quickly identified as the contentious one. This circle identifies the “mostly obstructive”, highly political, a “hard left”, which must be bypassed in order to reach the bottom circle. The bottom circle, the largest in size, represents the non-political citizens, the target audience of XR: “The people who’re shitting themselves and want something to be done but aren’t highly political.” [Source: XR Local Coordinator Training]

Hallam:

“I’m just going to finish on something that’s a bit of a taboo subject, okay? But it’s another major issue you’re going to find when you organize, which is difficult, political people.

 

Okay, so I’m going to do a little chart here.

 

You usually find, like most of us people in this room, that are really political, but we’re really practical because we want to get some things done. Okay?

 

And then below us, in inverted commas, there’s another group of people that are really political and don’t want to get things done, because they’re so political. (lots of laughter). I will separate those people out in a minute.

 

And then below that, this is like a thousand times bigger, they really want to do something well there actually not political, you see what I mean.

 

These people really want to get things done. Then they go down here and try to involve these people, and these people basically grind it to death.”

Hallam speaks of the dangers posed by the “extreme hard left” viewpoints, “extreme intersectionalism” (“we need to be all perfect and that sort of stuff”), extreme desire for diversity, “extreme veganism”, etc. His examples are deliberately misleading and ridiculous. His mention of anarchism provokes more laughter.

Hallam concedes “and often they’re right” yet has zero interest in empowering this group to further empower the bottom “non-political” masses targeted by XR. Rather, his aim is to recruit the ones that can be persuaded into adopting pragmatism, while silencing those that refuse to conform.

In the Rebellion business, ethics isn’t a driving force, rather it is a detriment:

“Look, all the most effective movements have a central concept and that concept is balance. Balance the pragmatic need and the ethical imperative to change society versus the need to be eternally ethical.”

The message is clear – target the practical and pragmatic. Distance yourself from the self-centered “purists”.

“They’re [the 20%) not actually interested in political effectiveness. They’re interested in a political approach that makes them feel good.”

Although XR claims, “We are working to build a movement that is participatory, decentralised, and inclusive” – this runs in stark contrast to XR’s own conduct:

“The name of the game is to bypass these people, or at least recruit the little bit of them that get it … and go down here. And that’s how we’ve managed to mobilize thousands of people in three months. By having a public meeting. And if the public meeting is constructed around participative principles, you won’t have the SWP [Socialist Workers Party] guy standing up at the end. Everyone’s feeling good and he does a rant about how it has to be socialist, otherwise it’s rubbish. Which brings everybody down. It happens over and over again. And how we do that, we don’t have a Q & A. Q&A’s encourage nerdy people and absolutists, (laughter), we all know this, right? I mean you can have a Q&A if you’re super confident and you’re in a group of people that are generally like, in the real world, but if you have a public meeting 8o% of the people will be normal people, who are basically interested in the issue, and 20% of the people will be political absolutists. And they will there to appropriate your energy.”

And this ideology upheld by Hallam is the very foundational ideology being taught, encouraged and nurtured by Extinction Rebellion. Hallam: “This is how you mobilize lots of people.”

This , in essence, forms the key strategy of Extinction Rebellion. To isolate radical voices and to dominate the narrative. While targeting the non-practical and pragmatic. A narrative and an orchestrated campaign that serves the ruling class. To give a faux sense of inclusion, while mocking those who have, first and foremost, an allegiance to the Earth. Framing those who recognize that the very capitalist system destroying all life on our finite planet, will not and cannot be magically reformed to save us, as “political absolutists”. As Hallam effectively frames those identified in the middle circle as not “normal”, he seeks assurances from his students by ending sentences with a pleasant “yeah?” and “okay?”, at which point – largely due to the power of conformity in a group setting – they agree. Laughter ensues. There is no challenge to Hallam’s diatribe. The deliberate framing of those that do not conform as “obstructive” is effective social engineering.

Although Extinction Rebellion takes no position against capitalism, Hallam has no issue with taking a swipe at socialism. Using the Mondragon experiment in Spain as an example, Hallam explains that the central concept must be balance, “not socialism or anything”.

These are the main points captured by/for the XR Local Coordinators:

“They’re [the middle group] not interested in political effectiveness, they’re interested in things being perfect and good. This is not a personal judgment, but it won’t help.”

 

The majority, to be herded like cats (GCCA/TckTckTck – Global Call for Climate Action) are “[T]he people who’re shitting themselves and want something to be done but aren’t highly political.”

 

“Don’t have a Q & A. This allows the extreme people who want it to be one way to bring everyone else down.”

 

80% are normal people [and] 20% political absolutists. There to appropriate your energy.”

 

“It’s not about climate change information, it’s about the emotional way that we say it – needs to create that emotional response, personal reactions are incredibly powerful.”

For XR leadership, the enemy of Rebellion is not corporate dominance such as Unilever or Volans (as recently confirmed by XR Business). The enemy of Rebellion is not the capitalist economic system devouring everything in its path. The enemy of the Rebellion is the radical activist, prepared to defend the Earth “by any means necessary”.

 

Pacifism as Pathology

“In certain situations, preaching nonviolence can be a kind of violence. Also, it is the kind of terminology that dovetails beautifully with the ‘human rights’ discourse in which, from an exalted position of faux neutrality, politics, morality, and justice can be airbrushed out of the picture, all parties can be declared human rights offenders, and the status quo can be maintained.” —  Arundhati Roy, How to Think About Empire

Hallam recommends to his students that they study: “The Psychology of Persuasion“, “The Radical Think Tank” (“How to Win“), and “This is an Uprising” by Mark Engler (with glowing forewords by 350.org’s Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein).

Here, is another orchestrated and ongoing effort to further pacify the working class in servitude to the state. One would be wise to toss “This is an Uprising” and instead read “Bloodless Lies: Book Review of This is an Uprising” (November 7, 2016). This is an excellent example of what those enmeshed in the non-profit industrial complex do not want you to read.

Rather than educating citizens why it is paramount that we become revolutionaries in order to protect the last vestiges of the natural world, Hallam encourages his newly-minted coordinators to embrace the role of “generalists”. [XR Generalists: “run meetings, be good with people, know how society changes, etc.; Revolutionary theorists – hard work is already done!; Books to read – This is an Uprising (Mark Engler)”] [Source]

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The Elites in Service to Capital

As touched upon in the conclusion of the Manufacturing Greta Thunberg for Consent series, ACT VI, Extinction Rebellion ties to some of the world’s most powerful NGOs at the helm of the non-profit industrial complex (Avaaz, 350.org, Greenpeace et al.). A largely white-led movement serving white power.

XR co-founder Gail Bradbrook, is also highly influential with decade-long ties to the tech industry. In his workshop, Hallam chuckles when he laments, “Like Gail, she’s got these connections with the elites. She’s on the phone with George [Monbiot]”. Bradbrook’s “connections with the elites” is no exaggeration. Featured in “The Financial Times”, the prestigious publication writes of Bradbrook: “Clad in a crimson coat and matching hat as she dashes between fundraising discussions with a London hedge-fund owner and meetings to rally Extinction Rebellion volunteers…” Indeed, “activism” has never been so en vogue, and a £50,000 donation by a hedge-fund owner to Extinction Rebellion [Source], raises no eyebrows whatsoever. It is safe to say that the hallowed out remnants of Western environmentalism have reached a new stage of commodification and normalization of such. This is not rebellion. This is business. Of course Bradbrook is not the only elite at the helm.

Above: Farhana Yamin at the prestigious Extinction Rebellion headquarters [Photo: Vice]

Farhana Yamin is “one of the movement’s leading voices” in Extinction Rebellion (Financial Times). Yamin who “spent 27 years in UN climate negotiations” and “helped midwife the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions” serves as a board member/trustee to Greenpeace. [Source: The rise of Extinction Rebellion, The Financial Times, April 12, 2019]

“Yamin, the international lawyer, who is also a trustee of Greenpeace UK and will soon take up an advisory role at the World Wildlife Fund, wants to build a bridge with existing organisations to forge a much bigger “movement of movements”. “We need to tap into the new form of leadership that’s being asked of us now,” she says. [Source: “Extinction Rebellion, inside the new climate resistance”, The Financial Times, April 10, 2019]

Former Vogue “climate warrior” (2015), Yamin is the founder and CEO of Track 0: “Track 0 is an independent, not-for-profit organization serving as a hub to support all those transitioning to a clean, fair and bright future for future generations around the world compatible with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. We convene leaders and provide strategic research, training, advice, communications and networking support to governments, businesses, investors, philanthropies, communities and campaigns run by civil society.”

Partners of Track 0 include GCCA (TckTckTck), CAN (Climate Action Network), Avaaz, ClimateWorks (The Climate Group, We Mean Business), The Rockefeller Foundation, E3G (founder of GCCA), The Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group, European Climate Foundation and Chatham House. [Full list]

Advisory members of Track 0 include Sharon Johnson, “CEO Havas Media Re:Purpose”. This is incredible yet not surprising as Havas created the 2009 TckTckTck campaign a decade ago. Other advisory members include Betsy Taylor (served on boards of One Sky which merged with 350.org, Ceres, The Climate Mobilization, etc.), and Bernice Lee, Director, Climate Change at World Economic Forum.

One can glance through the Track 0 “Individuals & Organizations on Track” section to understand who is considered “on track” for “net zero” by Yamin et al. Certainly not those obstructionists found in Hallam’s middle circle.

In addition to founding Track 0, Yamin is an associate fellow at Chatham House and a member of the Global Agenda Council on Climate Change at the World Economic Forum.

 

Above: Track 0, Twitter

Yamin served as an adviser to the European Commission on the emissions trading directive from 1998-2002, later serving as special adviser to Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action. “She is lead author of three assessment reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on adaptation and mitigation issues. She continues to provide legal, strategy and policy advice to NGOs, foundations and developing nations on international climate change negotiations under the UNFCCC.” [Source]

As discussed in “A Decade of Strategic and Methodical Social Engineering”, while the International Policies and Politics Initiative and GCCA controlled the “movement” at COP15,  the same forces also controlled the message via the Carbon Briefing Service (CBS). The news service was launched by Jennifer Morgan (WWF, WRI, Greenpeace,etc.) and Liz Gallagher (E3G) in late 2014 with additional funding by the ClimateWorks Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Oak Foundation, the Villum Foundation and Avaaz. [Source] Yamin was a participant of the invitation only group. [Source]

In 2015 Yamin attended a week-long retreat hosted by Avaaz. [Source]

Those who have read my past work as well as the Greta series, will know Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund are both founders of GCCA (TckTckTck) – and are both at the helm of this faux movement. These NGOs and others at the helm of the non-profit industrial complex are tasked with creating another “Paris moment” momentum needed for the coming financialization of nature to be implemented in 2020 (#NewDealForNature) – as well as the unlocking of monies needed for the fourth industrial revolution (to save capitalism itself).

Above: Track 0, Twitter

Above: Avaaz endorsement by Christiana Figueres [Source: Avaaz website]

Above: Track 0 highlights, September 24, 2014

Here we witness the social-organizational psychology experts grooming tomorrows “new champions“, “global shapers” and “new power” “thought-leaders” as determined and ultimately dictated by the world’s most powerful elites. In the 21st century, psychology is not only an extremely important tool in influencing public opinion, it is now considered to be perhaps the single and most important tool. The necessity to comprehend the mental processes, desires and social patterns of the populace at large cannot be understated. Working in lock-step with controlled media and the best marketing executives foundation money can buy, today’s faux activists, thought-leaders and media lapdogs are the very mechanisms of modern-day perception.  – The Pygmalion Virus in Three Acts [2017 AVAAZ SERIES | PART II]

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[Further reading: The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – A Decade of Social Manipulation for the Corporate Capture of Nature, ACT VI – Crescendo]

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In 1966, Stokely Carmichael stated: “And that’s the real question facing the white activists today. Can they tear down the institutions that have put us all in the trick bag we’ve been into for the last hundreds of years?”

This is the real question facing legitimate activists today. Are we tearing down the institutions, or keeping them propped up? Extinction Rebellion has been tasked with the propping up of the very institutions we must dismantle. There is a reason manufactured “environmentalists” and celebrities are recognized as key influencers. It is a deliberate undertaking that Hallam recommends “Rules for Revolutionaries” (based on US Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential run), rather than highlighting true revolutionaries such as Marilyn Buck, Malcolm X, or the land defenders on the frontlines today. The ones who often receive no press (until they are murdered). The ones that would belong to Hallam’s middle circle. It is a burying of radical political resistance. A reframing of resistance – into an obedient compliance. Note that Rules for Revolutionaries is written by Zach Exley, current advisor to US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It is notable that praise for the book, from a bevy of authors includes Robert B. Reich, author of Saving Capitalism.

The influencers for the ruling classes are worth their weight in gold.

We Mean Business – Top Ten Climate Change Influencers, Twitter

British actress/celebrity Emma Thompson, Extinction Rebellion festivities, April 19, 2019

Emma Thompson for Global Optimist. The Climate Optimist campaign was launched in 2017 by The Climate Group in partnership with Futerra

Emotion – Not Information

Another critical imperative Hallam highlights for mass mobilization is “emotion – not information”. Hallam laments that the people who will lead the “rebellion” will be young people:

“The last thing to reiterate is the emotion – not the information … so the people that are going to lead this rebellion are going to be young people, 14 & 15 year olds …omg – a 14 year-old is in tears, right?, on television, about what’s happening…”

Thus, a key strategy for XR was (and continues to be) “How to engage with younger people – youth mobilisation, talks in schools/colleges, figuring out how to engage on ‘youth’ social media.” [Source]

We Mean Business is ecstatic over the climate strikes. As is Christiana Figueres.

Figueres, an anthropologist, economist and analyst having studied at London School of Economics and Georgetown University presided over the negotiations that led to the 2015 Paris Agreement. For this achievement Ms. Figueres has been recognized as “forging a new brand of collaborative diplomacy”. With almost four decades of experience in multilateral negotiations, high-level national and international policy, coupled with extensive involvement in the corporate/private sector, in 2016, TIME magazine named Figueres one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Today, Figueres serves as vice-chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy; member of the board of directors of ClimateWorks; World Bank Climate Leader; B Team leader, leader of Mission2020 (“exponential transformation” focusing on six sectors that will play a key role in municipal governments and “Green New Deals”); and board member of the World Resources Institute.

Christiana Figueres (top right corner) podcast series: It’s Going To Be Tremendous

When the oppressor and the oppressed find themselves cheering as one, this is indeed “tremendous” for the elites. Yet, as the designs of the ruling elites take hold, which is already well under way, we will soon recognize that the citizenry themselves were grossly manipulated to usher in a nightmare that would only further their own demise.

[Further reading: So who exactly is Christiana Figueres?]

Above: The We Mean Business newsletter, April 30, 2019

April 30, 2019: “Welcome to the April edition of the We Mean Business coalition newsletter…Amid fresh waves of protests demanding accelerated climate action, more and more businesses and policy makers are stepping up and delivering the level of systemic change required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

We Mean Business – “a coalition of organizations working with thousands of the world’s most influential businesses and investors.” The founding partners of We Mean Business are: Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) (full membership and associate members list), CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), Ceres, The B Team, The Climate Group, The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

The Climate Group was incubated by Rockefeller Brothers Fund as an in-house project that later evolved into a free-standing institution.

Together, these groups represent the most powerful – and ruthless – corporations on the planet, salivating to unleash trillions of dollars for the fourth industrial revolution. This, coupled with the financialization of nature, will create new markets, reboot global economic growth, and most importantly, rescue the global economic capitalist system that is destroying our biosphere.

We Mean Business, February 20, 2019: “People are desperate for something to happen.” Twitter

Christiana Figueres, B Team Leader [Source]. The B Team is a founder of We Mean Business

Emotion To Mask Information: BioEnergy Carbon Capture Storage

“The Institute has a unique and unrivalled membership including governments, global corporations, private industry and academia. Amongst its representation, are the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Japan and Australia, and multinationals such as Shell, ExxonMobil, Toshiba, Kawasaki and BHP.” — The Global CCS Institute, website

In the May 3, 2019 Extinction Rebellion newsletter (#20), the subject line reads “Parliament meets our first demand!” In the body of text: “There’s plenty of more obvious good news, though – most prominently Parliament’s declaration of climate and environment emergency.” What XR does not share with the public is that the UK CCC climate legislation was a victory for the carbon capture and storage (CCS) industry. In similar fashion to the financialization of nature, carbon capture legislation and projects are making huge strides behind closed doors – with zero opposition.

Global CCS Institute, May 2, 2019, Twitter:

“The Institute welcomes @theCCCuk report, which recommends that the UK commits to cutting its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net-zero by 2050 and highlights the crucial role #carboncapture and storage needs to play to achieve this goal.  #NetZeroUK #climateaction”

A zero emissions industrial civilization is not possible. For the continuance of industrial civilization, CCS is a necessity.  This is the promise of unabated business as usual. The future of energy will be dominated by the burning of our remaining forests, coupled with CCS. Akin to the depleted uranium left for future generations to contend with, CCS will inject the increasing CO2 into the ravaged Earth. This is the gift to be left to Greta Thunberg and the youth she inspires.  A gift to span generations.

More than this, “net zero” does not mean zero emissions. And it never did. Yet another inconvenient truth is that ‘The terms ‘net zero emissions’ and ‘carbon neutrality’ are interchangeable. This is the beauty of language and framing.

“Carbon Neutral is a term used to describe the state of an entity (such as a company, service, product or event), where the carbon emissions caused by them have been balanced out by funding an equivalent amount of carbon savings elsewhere in the world.” Carbon neutrality is most often sought/achieved through carbon offsetting (purchasing offsets, trading and projects).

Question by Richard Branson’s The Elders NGO to Farhana Yamin (2014): How is carbon neutrality different to ‘net zero emissions’?

Answer by Yamin: “The terms ‘net zero emissions’ and ‘carbon neutrality’ are interchangeable.”

Q: Global News, Dec 3, 2018: What is net-zero emissions?

A: Catherine Abreau, executive director of the Climate Action Network: “In short, it means the amount of emissions being put into the atmosphere is equal to the amount being captured.”

Militarism – as one of the key drivers of climate change, ecological devastation, and death of millions, remains a non-issue. The global “green new deals” guarantee further imperialism and an escalation in wars. These realities have been deliberately and successfully removed from the conversation. They are buried in the 20% circle with the purists.

“The evidence makes it clear. CO2 needs to be removed from the atmosphere, known as carbon dioxide removal (CDR), using negative emissions technologies (NETs) to meet global warming targets. Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is emerging as the best solution to decarbonise emission-intensive industries and sectors and enable negative emissions.” — March 14, 2019, Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage, The Global CCS Institute

 

“[F]or BECCS technology to be truly effective in reducing CO2 emissions, massive tracts of arable land need to be cultivated and these are not always available, or easily utilised.” The Global CCS Institute

Emotion to Mask Information: The Financialization of Nature

 

The next phase for the implementation of the financialization of nature commenced April 29, 2019 with the IPBES Global Assessment gathering (the IPCC for Biodiversity).

The “first global biodiversity assessment in 14 years”, will be released on May 6, 2019, with the expected “summary for policymakers” section. We can expect a top “scientific endorsement” for a full package of financialization of nature policy tools, including global metrics for valuation, commodification and offset schemes.

The five-day gathering was held last week at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, ending on May 4, 2019.

There were no protests.

Above: John Elkington: Co-founder of Volans, B Team expert (founded by Richard Branson, The B Team is a co-founder of We Mean Business), member of the WWF Council of Ambassadors, and Extinction Rebellion Business signatory (along with Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion)

Together, these deals read like the biggest land grab since Britannia ruled the waves. This is the big deployment of measurement and financial instruments that the corporate sector, finance and ruling classes have developed. Every little bit of sequestration will be used to further satisfy natural capital ambitions under the guise of climate protection.

The public face of this grotesque undertaking are the campaigns “New Deal For Nature” and “Voice For The Planet”. These are being led by WWF – co-founder of GCCA. The NGOs comprising the GCCA have played the lead role in orchestrating the global mobilizations for climate change over the past decade, in full servitude to their funders.

The “Voice For the Planet” is especially egregious, as it is presented by the World Economic Forum “Global Shapers” youth group.

The gross exploitation of youth for capital expansion rivals only the gross exploitation of Indigenous peoples. The appropriation and utilization of Indigenous imagery to promote market solutions is long documented.

The world’s most powerful corporations and NGO partners appropriate Indigenous culture imagery for emotive branding as they unleash and uphold market “solutions” which further displace Indigenous peoples. They undermined the 2010 Indigenous led People’s Agreement and then buried it. They speak of Indigenous protection – while they actively promote “green” marketing schemes and “green new deals” that will further displace Indigenous peoples. That will further accelerate the ongoing genocide of Indigenous Peoples.

Promotional illustrations/video for Green New Deal by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis for support of the New Green Deal

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They exploit the global youth to steal the natural world the beneath their feet.

They exploit the love for nature – to further enslave nature.

As GCCA co-founder WWF aids and abets Indigenous displacement, beatings and deaths, under the guise of conservation, GCCA partners are silent. This is the normalizing of a continued colonization repackaged under the guise of conservation and “green”.

Industrial civilization – is the enemy of the natural world. We defend industrial civilization – or we defend the planet. This is the choice. The question is, which side are we on?

And the answer to that question is perhaps the most terrifying thing of all.

“No One Believed in Capitalist Schemes and Promises Any More” part of the new “Scenes from the Revolution” series. Acrylic on canvas, 30″x30″, Artist: Stephanie McMillan

 

 

[Cory Morningstar is an independent investigative journalist, writer and environmental activist, focusing on global ecological collapse and political analysis of the non-profit industrial complex. She resides in Canada. Her recent writings can be found on Wrong Kind of Green, The Art of Annihilation and Counterpunch. Her writing has also been published by Bolivia Rising and Cambio, the official newspaper of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. You can support her independent journalism via Patreon.]

 

Further resources:

“Trees don’t grow on money – or why you don’t get to rebel against extinction”, by Tim Hayward

Climate Capitalists, by Winter Oak Press

“This Changes Nothing, The Paris Agreement to Ignore Reality”, by Clive Spash

Video: Selling Extinction, by Prolekult

Between the Devil and the Green New Deal

“New Power” – “The ability to harness the connected crowd to get what you want” – Jeremy Heimans, co-founder Purpose/Avaaz, B Team Expert

Is It Time to Critically Interrogate Nonviolence & Nonviolent Direct Action?

Black Agenda Report

March 15, 2018

By Doug Henwood

time to question nonviolence

Time to question nonviolent direct action as the path to change.

Activism. Democracy. Change through nonviolent direct action. These, Doug Henwood points out, have been fetishes for much of the US left for quite some time, especially that portion of the US left that takes its marching orders from corporate funders. Gene Sharp, the founder of the Albert Einstein Institute who passed away at the end of January was regarded as the father of American nonviolent direct action.

I usually write a weekly piece for Black Agenda Report, but this time I’m going to use that space to republish somebody else’s work, easily the most important thing I’ve heard so far this month. It’s an hour long Doug Henwood interview for the weekly radio show Behind The News on KPFA radio. Doug talks with Marcie Smith, who is writing a book on Sharp’s long and problematic career in the service of the US national security apparatus. Smith is an adjunct econ professor at John Jay College. She reveals how Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institute which he founded weaponized and deployed nonviolent direct action in the service of successful and unsuccessful US attempts to overthrow the governments of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, China, Myannmar, Iran, Egypt during the Arab Spring, Venezuela, the former Yugoslavia and the Baltic States.

Besides deploying nonviolent direct action to topple governments standing in the way of Uncle Sam’s global empire, Gene Sharp and his funders have mentored a good deal of what some regard as the US left – at least those parts of it under the influence of one-percenter philanthropy – in the tactics and what passes for the philosophy of nonviolent direct action. According to Sharp’s and the Albert Einstein Institute’s peculiar philosophy, property destruction is violence, while the ravages of poverty and deprivation, of economic blockades and lack of medical care just to name a few phenomena, are not. Sharp’s views on the methods and importance of nonviolent direct action are highly influential in such quarters as Moral Monday and the so-called New Poor Peoples Campaign, parts of the environmental movement, and other places. Whether or not we embrace or espouse nonviolent direct action as an occasional tactic or a bedrock and fundamental strategy we owe it to ourselves to understand the origin of this idea, why the national security state promotes it, how and for whom it works and does not work, and why.

It’s time to critically interrogate the fetishes of nonviolence and nonviolent direct action as a path to the world we need to build. This great interview is a good start to that conversation. Here is the link. Click to listen or download it.

 

[You can find Doug Henwood’s Behind the News shows archived for the last several years at http://leftbusinessobserver.com .]

FLASHBACK: If He Can’t Lie, It’s Not His Revolution: Chris Hedges vs. Emma Goldman

Affect

November 6, 2013

by Lorenzo Raymond

emma-goldman

Most people I know who actively work for social justice make an effort to ignore Chris Hedges.  When he puked up a nasty little screed demonizing militancy in the Occupy movement last year, Hedges –  in the words of Occupy Wall Street organizer Amin Husain – “almost derailed us” [1]  (Sadly, Amin was wrong about the “almost” part).  But it’s hard to look the other way when Hedges drags the name of several generations of anarchists through the dirt, as he did in a recent column; and it is perilous to ignore the fact that he represents a powerful network of liberal recuperators who have been undermining resistance in this country for years while claiming to promote it.

A few weeks ago, Hedges wrote a column entitled “Sparks of Rebellion,” which was one of his periodic forays into Grand Movement Strategy. [2]   He opens with a shallow intellectual history of modern radicalism in which virtually none of the statements are true, particularly in regards to anarchists: Kropotkin was not a gradualist but a revolutionary – hence his autobiography is called Memoirs of a Revolutionist; Bakunin did not elevate déclassé intellectuals above the proletariat (or anyone else), but envisioned all oppressed classes making the revolution [3] –  and so on and so forth.  Hedges clearly believes his Pulitzer prize gives him entitlement to stuff a book’s worth of assertions into a paragraph without any supporting evidence.

Equally disconcerting is that once Hedges gets to introducing his own propositions about revolution, none of them are coherent:  We’re told that a modern revolt must not be “reliant on the industrial or agrarian muscle of workers”, but will rely on “the dispossessed working poor”, but “It is not the poor who make revolutions.”, but “service workers and fast food workers…will be one of our primary engines of revolt.”  Does anyone have any questions?

In the end, all this name-dropping and sophomoric analysis is a bait-and-switch for what Hedges really wants to talk about: the importance of pacifism – which he finally gets to in paragraph six.  Hedges evokes the much-touted and under-scrutinized Harvard study by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan which “examined 100 years of violent and nonviolent resistance movements and concluded that nonviolent movements succeed twice as often as violent uprisings.”  To judge how accurate this study is, one might want to note that the authors omitted all civil rights and labor struggles from their data set. [4] Even more problematic is Chenoweth’s meaninglessly amorphous criteria of nonviolence which has no relationship to the strictures that Gandhi, Gene Sharp or Chris Hedges would impose on us: One of the study’s featured cases is the Philipine revolt of 1986 which originated as an armed coup, and climaxed with a bomb dropped on the presidential palace. [5] In the wake of the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Chenoweth took to publishing commentaries praising the Egyptian rebellion for its nonviolence even as hundreds of police stations firebombed by protesters were still smoldering. [6]

But the foulest aspect of Hedges’ scribble is the attempt to divide the present generation of militant anarchists from their respected classical forebears.  The liberal journalist has never retracted a word of his “Cancer in Occupy” meltdown, and takes another passing shot at “the Black Bloc” in this article.  In contrast to the cancerous youths, Hedges holds up a mature, mythologized Emma Goldman who “came to be very wary of…the efficacy of violence.”

The tendency of pacifists to co-opt every conceivable radical icon into their ideology never ceases to amaze; thus the new school of pacifist history portrays the Russian Revolution as nonviolent[7]  – even though at least as much property was destroyed there as in Egypt [8] – and now Red Emma is assimilated as an apostate from militancy.  How Goldman could also have been, in the last decade of her life, a key information officer for anarchist militias which executed fascist commanders with regularity isn’t explained. [9]  Her correspondence during the Spanish Civil War shows distaste for the bloodshed, but it also records her explicitly rejecting Gandhian strategy as hopelessly naive.[10]  Goldman was as nonviolent as Sherman was when he lamented that “war is hell” just before he burned down Atlanta – a common sense human impulse, not a strategic analysis; she was wary of every aspect of force except the efficacy of it.  But if Hedges can’t lie, it’s not his revolution.

The grotesque irony here is that Emma Goldman rejected this game of demonize-and-assimilate whenever it was applied in her own time.  Hedges claims to be “reading and rereading the debates among some of the great radical thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries,” but somehow he missed the debate between Goldman and V.I. Lenin during the Russian Civil War.  In her autobiography, Goldman recounts how she and Alexander Berkman went to the Kremlin to protest the mass arrests of anarchists during the Bolshevik terror.  Lenin dismisses the objections saying responsible anarchists like her are respected in Russia, and he only attacks “bandits” and “Makhnovtsy” (supporters of militia leader Nestor Makhno).  Goldman recognizes the psychology of counterinsurgency immediately –

Imagine,” I broke in, “capitalist America also divides the anarchists into two categories, philosophic and criminal. The first are accepted in highest circles; one of them is even high in the councils of the Wilson Administration. The second category, to which we have the honor of belonging, is persecuted and often imprisoned. Yours also seems to be a distinction without a difference. Don’t you think so? [11]

Reading this passage, it’s striking how little has changed.  It isn’t difficult to imagine, say, Rebecca Solnit – “philosophic” anarchist and Obama campaigner [12] – being feted at the White House in reward for her work bashing radicals, while at the same time “criminal” anarchists like Marie Mason and Oso Blanco rot in prison.

The revolution may not start tomorrow, and we hope it won’t be a bloodbath when it does.  But diverse tactics are needed to end the assaults on the water, the air, the climate, on all our lives and dignity.  The moribund pacifism of the establishment left has failed, and the failure is so terminal that they must stoop to falsifying history in order to even make a case for themselves.

 

[Lorenzo Raymond is an independent historian and educator living in New York City.]

 

Notes:

1. Democracy Now, “No Work, No Shopping, Occupy Everywhere”, May 1, 2012 – http://www.democracynow.org/2012/5/1/no_work_no_shopping_occupy_everywhere

2.  https://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/09/30-6

3.   As Paul Avrich has noted, Bakunin had a “conception of an all-encompassing class war.”  This definitely included “fervent, energetic youths, totally declasse, with no career or way out,” but they were only one part of an ” ‘all-embracing’ revolution… including, besides the working class, the darkest elements of society…the unemployed, the vagrants and outlaws…the instinct of rebellion was the common property of all the oppressed classes of the population.”  Avrich also writes that, “While entrusting the intellectuals with a critical role in the forthcoming revolution, Bakunin at the same time cautioned them against attempting to seize political power on their own…On this point Bakunin was most emphatic.” Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists (1967)  – http://www.ditext.com/avrich/russian/1.html

4. Note 35 of Chenoweth, Stephan “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict”  International Security, Vol. 33, Issue 1, Summer 2008 – http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/isec.2008.33.1.7

5. Monina Allarey Mercado, Francisco S. Tatad, People Power: Eyewitness to History (James B. Reuter, S.J., Foundation, 1986) p202-209

6. Erica Chenoweth, “Give Peaceful Resistance a Chance” The New York Times, March 9, 2001-  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/10/opinion/10chenoweth.html?_r=0  ;  David D. Kirkpatrick, “Mubarak orders crackdown with revolt sweeping Egypt” The New York Times, January 28, 2011;  Lorenzo Dubois, “PEACE AND FIRE: Diversity of Tactics in the Egyptian Revolution (Jan-Feb 2011)” -http://boston.indymedia.org/feature/display/214110/index.php

7. Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People (Metropolitan, 2003) p169-170

8. Richard Stites, Revolutionary Dreams : Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution  (Oxford University Press, 1988), p67

9. David Porter, editor, Vision on Fire: Emma Goldman on the Spanish Revolution (AK Press, 2006) p226 – http://zinelibrary.info/files/Goldman%20-%20Vision%20on%20Fire%20-%20Emma%20Goldman%20on%20the%20Spanish%20Revolution.pdf

10. Goldman wrote to a young US anarchist in 1936: “…the organized force used against the followers of Gandhi has finally forced them to use violence, much to the distress of Gandhi…Most important of all is that mechanized warfare and violence used by the state make non-resistance utterly futile.  What do you think non-resistance could do during bombardment from the air – a daily occurrence in Spanish cities and towns?”  She concludes that “…as a method of combating the complex social injustices and inequalities, non-resistance cannot be a decisive factor.”  David Porter, Vision on Fire, p239-240;  Goldman also attributes the collapse of the social revolution to the CNT “suddenly turning pacifist” when it came to resisting internal repression from the Stalinists.  “Gandhi could not have done better,” she notes with bitterness. Vision on Fire, p228 – –    http://zinelibrary.info/files/Goldman%20-%20Vision%20on%20Fire%20-%20Emma%20Goldman%20on%20the%20Spanish%20Revolution.pdf

11.  Emma Goldman, Living My Life (Alfred K. Knopf, 1931), p766 – http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/goldman/living/living2_52a.html

12. http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175598/

The Postmodern Left and the Success of Neoliberalism

Libcom

January 5, 2016

by Scott Jay

The Postmodern Left and the success of neoliberalism

 

The international Left promotes its own image rather than engaging in the bitter reality of resistance against neoliberalism. It does not need to believe in postmodernism because it is postmodernism.

The rise of neoliberalism across the globe for decades, and its continued resilience since the 2007-2008 financial crisis in particular, forces us to ask why there has not been a more successful resistance against it.

We might start with the changing structure of the working class, especially in the West, and that would be worthwhile, but it is not as though neoliberalism has abolished working class resistance entirely. It is not as though there have not been multiple general strikes in Greece, for example. Additionally, the United States just recently saw a series of urban rebellions against police killing Black people, with buildings set on fire and police cars destroyed in revolt against the conditions imposed upon them by the state. Many of the participants have since been convicted of arson and other crimes and are now serving out years-long prison terms.

The problem is not that militancy is not possible or even at times imminent. Working class people in the US have shown great courage against police terrorism, and in Greece refused to accept yet another round of austerity even with European capital holding their economy hostage.

The alternate question to ask, then, is why has the Left specifically failed to resist neoliberalism?

We might answer this question in dozens of ways, one answer for each Left that exists. But the failure of SYRIZA in Greece to resist yet another wave of austerity measures–in fact to embrace austerity–sharpens and clarifies the problem, posing uncomfortable truths.

That is, perhaps the Left hasn’t failed to resist neoliberalism. Perhaps it has not even tried.

Wasn’t SYRIZA a decade-long project to build up an alliance of radicals in response to the collapse of social democracy into neoliberalism? It certainly seemed so at the time, probably to its participants most of all. And yet the entire project collapsed so immediately and so spectacularly, going from the cutting edge of the international Left to the symbol of all that is wrong with it, in less than a week.

The defining moment of SYRIZA and of the international Left of the current generation occurred in the early morning hours of July 11, 2015. Many histories will forget this detail as just one of many parliamentary sessions, yet this was by far the most significant. In this moment, just days after the spectacular “Oxi” vote by the Greek people rejecting austerity, their parliamentary representatives chose to embrace it. With 149 seats in parliament, only two members of the radical coalition of the Left dedicated to ending austerity found themselves voting “Oxi” along with the people they claimed to represent. It was a stunning moment that no radical should forget for the rest of their life, unless they simply want to repeat these exciting failures over and over indefinitely.

Certainly, the votes improved later in the month, but the collapse of July 11 should not be so easily forgotten. For a brief moment we saw the crux–or one of the cruxes–of the problem of the international Left.

In short, these members of SYRIZA were more committed to the image of SYRIZA as a united coalition of the radical Left than they were in actually opposing austerity when the opportunity to do so was right in front of them. They recoiled from reality and its consequences and embraced the image of what they had built instead. This is the Postmodern Left in practice.

In the face of unrelenting neoliberalism, the international Left has embraced postmodernism, not in theory but in practice, putting style over substance and feel good moments and flashy leaders over the brute reality of resisting capitalist exploitation. The Postmodern Left does not reject metanarratives or objective reality in theory. In fact it embraces the metanarrative of its own centrality to altering the course of history, but when it finds itself at the center of historical development, then history is treated like an ethereal, formless blob that nobody can make any sense of. It simply happens, and no options are possibly available that can shape it. Once the Left is placed in the driver seat, there is no alternative other than to passively participate in the machinations of the system. Anything else is just too difficult

The Postmodern Left avoids building actual power among the poor and the oppressed, instead focusing on self-promotional spectacles which feel like struggle and power but are entirely empty.

The Postmodern Left talks about “class struggle unionism” then carries out pension reform in the name of a balancing the budget and then insist that they never supported any such thing because words are meaningless and have no relationship to objective reality.

The Postmodern Left is detached from reality because it makes its own reality.

The Postmodern Left does not believe in postmodernism. The Postmodern Left is postmodernism.

The material roots of Postmodern Leftism

The Postmodern Left is not the result of the declining relevance of objective reality. On the contrary, it has a solid material base from which it arises, and to which it is shackled, specifically in the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) form. Under neoliberalism, the destruction of social welfare programs and other sources of stability for working class people have been replaced by services granted by NGOs, funded by foundations and governmental grants as well as directly from corporations. This organizational form has extended beyond the service sector and into the Left itself, where protest movement organizations can build up an infrastructure of full-time staff members through many of these same grants. The problem for NGOs, then, is to challenge the status quo without challenging the elite sources which fund the operation. This has proven to be an impossible problem to solve, and instead NGOs have served to reproduce neoliberalism rather than challenge it.

A few examples will illustrate this.

The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung is a global network of organizations based in Berlin and New York that celebrates the life of Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish revolutionary best known for her role in the German socialist movement as a critic of its support of electoral reformism and imperialism. She was later killed by her reformist comrades when they came to power. Meanwhile, the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung has taken her name while supporting the the United Nations and hailing the electoral victory of Alexis Tsipras after he embraced austerity. Her name has become little more than a tool for garnering funding.

DeRay McKesson is an activist who rose to prominence during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, especially in Ferguson, MIssouri. While he is known as an activist, few people can point to what he has accomplished beyond amassing an enormous Twitter following and gaining the accolades of the corporate media. McKesson was also a school administrator associated with Teach For America, a pro-corporate school “reform” organization which weakens teachers’ unions by supplying schools with inexperienced, low-cost and temporary teachers fresh out of college. More recently, McKesson quit his job to become a “full-time activist” working with the Democratic and Republican parties, Twitter and other corporate sponsors to host presidential debates. In short, DeRay McKesson is not really a left-wing militant, but at times he sure looks like one. The problem is, there are so many McKesson’s on the activist scene, typically much less tied to corporate interests than he is, that it can be difficult to discern the difference between a “real” militant and “fake” one.

A group of non-profit organizations recently held a housing and tenants rights conference in Oakland, California. This is a city where two-bedroom apartments regularly rent for $2,000 or more and the Black and Latino working class is rapidly being displaced. One of the sponsoring organizations was recently bargaining with the City of Oakland over a $320,000 contract to oversee Oakland’s Day Laborer Program, which supplies low wage immigrant labor to various employers. Meanwhile, one of the speakers at the conference plenary session declared the enemy to be no less than the capitalist system itself. Recently deposed mayor Jean Quan, who was sitting in the audience and maintains a close alliance with many of the organizers, did not bat an eye at such a statement, and neither will anybody in Oakland City Hall, because this is all just window dressing to create the illusion of radicalism. Nobody who takes $320,000 from the city is going to threaten the political alliances that helped them garner it, no matter how loudly they proclaim their opposition to capitalism.

The Left exists in the general milieu of NGO activism created by such organizations. That is, not all radicals have to succumb to the NGO form, they merely need to adapt to the activism led by NGOs, which is the appearance of militancy, in order to build up a base of support and win reforms, without the substance of militancy, in order to avoid embarrassing important funding sources and allies. In short, the image of something that seems fundamentally revolutionary–Rosa Luxemburg, and the urban rebellions against police terror–can be used by people whose aims are totally compatible with neoliberalism.

The Postmodern Left does not need to take money from the City of Oakland, or even have a tax-free status. It merely needs to confuse such activism as a challenge to the system without identifying its severe limitations. And why would anybody do that? Because this sort of activism is so exciting! And everybody else is doing it. And being the sole figure in the room who says there is something wrong here is a terribly lonely place to be, especially when you are attempting to build a base or recruit people or just mobilize people around anything at all in the hopes that something will be a basis for future struggle. But instead of struggle we get the performance of struggle.

Anybody who attended one of the larger meetings of the British Socialist Workers Party in the past will be aware of the performative aspects of this organization. Having failed to build a workers party during its decades of existence, it must create a performance as though it is a workers’ party, otherwise workers won’t join it, capped off with chanting “The workers united will never be defeated!” Who they are chanting to is unclear. There are no bosses nearby, so it is more likely directed to the workers in attendance, or perhaps just to the party faithful to remind themselves of their commitment to the working class. It is not as though they are not committed–they certainly believe they are–rather the problem is that their commitment is a performance. Rather than build a workers party, they simulate one in the hopes that the workers will join it.

The Postmodern Left is the simulation of a Left, with all of the chants, banners and other paraphernalia of a militant Left with few to none of the acts of resistance. It simulates struggle, basks in the glorious imagery, then wonders why it never achieves victory, which is impossible unless there is an actual battle. Most of the time these battles will end in defeat, so the Postmodern Left accepts the happy illusion over the sad reality. Of course, working class people cannot ignore the bitterness of their own lived reality, but the Postmodern Left generally does not inhabit this world so it is not a problem for them.

On the one hand, Postmodern Leftism has completely failed to challenge neoliberal austerity measures. On the other hand, we can see that full-time staff of the Postmodern Left has done a spectacular job of staving off austerity once we realize that the only jobs they are committed to protecting are their own.

Postmodern social movements

Arun Gupta discussed the postmodern method behind many social movements, describing the People’s Climate March in 2014, a stunning victory of style over substance. He noted that there were “no demands, no targets,and no enemy. Organizers admitted encouraging bankers to march was like saying Blackwater mercenaries should join an antiwar protest. There is no unity other than money.”

How could a march of hundreds of thousands be made so powerless? Because it was run by NGOs committed most of all to continuing their own stream of revenue. All that was necessary was the image of a mass march, the feeling that we are doing something. That this was entirely inadequate to the problem at hand–saving the planet from destruction by capitalism–is not so much a problem if your real goal is to get donations, sell books and set up speaking engagements. In other words, this is not struggle but merely marketing in the form of struggle. It is merely a simulation.

Or, as Gupta described the logic:

Branding. That’s how the climate crisis is going to be solved. We are in an era or postmodern social movements. The image (not ideology) comes first and shapes the reality. The P.R. and marketing determines the tactics, the messaging, the organizing, and the strategy.

One of the most blatant current examples of illusory struggle is the Fight for Fifteen campaign, particularly at the national level, which has led thousands of low-wage workers in strikes against fast food employers. Or have they? One participant describes her experience: “In Miami, I’ve attended Fight for $15 demonstrations in which the vast majority of participants were paid activists, employees of NGOs, CBOs (Community Based Organizations), and union staff seeking potential members.” In fact, many people who have attended these actions will look around and ask, who is really on strike here? There are certainly people who risk their jobs to participate, but in many cases the hundreds of people who attend one of these “strikes” are simply supporters of the idea of low-wage workers striking. The striking workers are far and few between, with a small handful designated as media spokespeople and none others identified at all.

Jane Macalevy is a former staffer with the Service Employee’s International Union (SEIU), the union which runs the Fight for Fifteen in the background, but quietly in order to maintain the image of a worker-led campaign. She has described how illusory this campaign really is: “The problem is that there isn’t any depth to the Fight for 15 campaign. We call it the Berlin Rosen campaign: one hot-shot media firm that’s gotten something like $50 to 70 million from SEIU to paint, through social media, the illusion of a huge movement.”

Berlin Rosen is a public relations firm employed not only by SEIU but also by the current Mayor of New York City and was involved in the bankruptcy of Detroit, the belly of the beast of neoliberalism. They were also employed by the leadership of the United Auto Workers to convince Chrysler employees to accept a contract after these same employees rejected an earlier one that did not go far enough in cancelling the two-tier wage system. In this case, postmodern activism and neoliberalism are one and the same. Berlin Rosen proves, if nothing else, that there is good money to be made in postmodern social movements.

SEIU has since endorsed Hillary Clinton, who does not support a $15 per hour minimum wage. Meanwhile, the most recent Fight for $15 strike ended with appeals to get out the vote in 2016–we can imagine for whom–and has shifted its campaign slogan to “Come Get My Vote.” That is, the movement is being openly positioned to being co-opted by the Democratic Party. This is not usually how a national workers’ rebellion plays out, but might be how a simulated one could be directed.

Richard Seymour described the empty, feel good activism, in which the good feelings of people finally able to express their opposition to the horrors of neoliberalism overcomes the question of what can we do to actually stop these things. Why ask these difficult questions when it feels so good just to finally be marching?

It was, indeed, a joyous occasion [Seymour writes of a march against austerity]. The people thronged into streets barely big enough to contain them, and chanted and sang in notes of cheerful defiance. Those who claim that such events are ‘boring’ are wrong in point of fact, and give the impression of political thrill-seeking. We all had a lovely time. And this was precisely the problem.

A minimum condition for sentience on the left is an awareness that this protest is itself evidence of at least five years of catastrophic failure. There is something powerfully and stunningly incongruous in the subjectivity of a left marching as if in recreation, when we know we are also mourning for the casualties and the dead. It suggests that we don’t really mean business. It suggests that, rather than wanting to shake the walls and pillars to the earth, we want to grab some ice cream and go home.

What Seymour describes is the problem posed by February 15, 2003, the high point of postmodern activism, when millions around the globe marched against the war in Iraq in possibly the largest day of demonstrations in world history. Millions of people flooded the streets and for many it felt like the most empowering moment of their lives, and yet how little power we actually had. Of course, millions of people have an enormous amount of power, but not when they just stand there on the street, even if they are carrying a banner or wearing a political t-shirt. The Postmodern Left can still be heard, from time to time, saying how we nearly stopped the war in Iraq. Nothing could be further from reality, but reality does not bother the Postmodern Left.

“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living,” wrote Marx in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. In this case, it’s more like a daydream, a fantasy of struggle with all the imagery of resistance and none of its substance. If this is all we can do, and no more, then we are utterly lost.

Some people have been grappling with the problem posed by February 15 for the last decade. Others are perfectly content to repeat this same process over and over again, as it allows them to continue selling books, booking speaking engagements, recruiting people to their organizations and funding their non-profit organizations. These machinations can continue indefinitely and are entirely compatible with the capitalist system. One can make can make quite a satisfying career and lifestyle as a revolutionary of sorts, so long as it is all within the confines of the Postmodern Left.

SYRIZA’s Postmodern Neoliberalism

If this is the age of illusions, then the rise of SYRIZA in Greece must be the penultimate illusion. Sadly, but predictably, the SYRIZA bubble has been popped and we have all been forced back down to reality. Since SYRIZA’s acceptance of austerity, former SYRIZA Central Committee member Stathis Kouvelakis has written a number of autopsies of what was once the SYRIZA dream. In one especially revealing statement, he notes how so many moves by SYRIZA were so contrary to what any radical Leftist would accept.

For example, he notes the acceptance of an early agreement on February 20, 2015, to extend the bailout, well before the July capitulation:

Its first and most immediate consequence was to paralyze the mobilization and destroy the optimism and militancy that prevailed in the first weeks after the January 25 electoral victory. Of course, this downgrading of popular mobilization is not something that started on January 25 or February 20, as a consequence of a particular governmental tactic. It is something that was preexistent in Syriza’s strategy.

This is the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen, but the facade had to be maintained. Kouvelakis then notes the rapid decline of internal democracy in SYRIZA in the last few years.

What we saw being constructed after June 2012 — step by step but systematically — was a party form increasingly leader-centered, centralized, and detached from the actions and the will of the membership. The process went entirely out of control when Syriza went into government.

None of this should be unexpected. These are the well known consequences of electoral strategies, which Marxists have been aware of for a century, since the capitulation of European Social Democracy to World War One and repeated many times since. Yet, eager Marxists the world over looked to SYRIZA as something different, but it was merely the illusion of something different. In the end, it was exactly the same sort of radical electoral strategies of the past, but the appeal that these plucky Marxist intellectuals and activists could take on the European powers was far too seductive. In SYRIZA, the international Left saw itself, and could not imagine that it, too, might collapse in much the same way under similar circumstances.

The problem is that these strategies appeal to a certain brand of Leftist occupying a certain social position–specifically, intellectuals and NGO leaders–including those who have spent their careers explaining the limitations of electoralism. The appeal of electoral glory is simply too great for these people to be withstood against a rock-solid critique of reformism.

After July 11, no serious Leftists can ever, for the rest of their lives, look a prominent left-wing figure in the eye and take their promises at face value. We just cannot take ourselves seriously if we continue to pretend that lofty promises from self-important, self-selected leaders can be trusted. And yet, this is precisely what the Postmodern Left will continue to do, assuring everybody that no, this next project is not an other SYRIZA, even though they almost certainly said the some sort of thing about SYRIZA itself.

Greece has had dozens of general strikes over the last few years and some even predicted that the working class might rise up in response to SYRIZA’s capitulation. There was even a one-day general strike of public sector workers carried out the day that the first round of austerity was approved by the Greek parliament on July 15. Surprisingly, this general strike seemed to have no impact whatsoever on parliament. “The fight is now on,” heralded one breathless commentary announcing the impending strike. “It is not off: it’s the period of shadow boxing that is over.” The strike came and went, but the mere shadow boxing continued.

We are left to wonder whether or not working people can challenge their own governments if even a general strike cannot alter the course of history. There is, of course, an alternate explanation, which is that at least some of these may have been mere simulations of general strikes, turned on and then turned off by the union leadership with little threat of disrupting much beyond halting a days’ work, after which order was fully restored, if it was ever even threatened in the first place.

If we cannot tell the difference between simulation and reality, we risk descending from a healthy pessimism over the current state of affairs into believing that working class struggles can have no impact simply because it deceptively appears that they don’t.

Simulation hits reality

SYRIZA played out like a simulation of Marxist theory. The collapse of social democracy required a new electoral force to take its place. In stepped SYRIZA, an electoral alliance that assured everyone that they were actually going to take on the financial powers in Europe. Marxists around the world who have documented in detail how social democracy has flailed and decayed for decades suddenly believed that yes, this electoral reform project would succeed, and no, there was no reason why it was any different than the failures of the past. Without a “fake” Marxist Left–the Stalinists, reformists and other revisionists of the past–the “real” Marxist Left stepped in to take its place, heralding the dawn of a new age in Europe, for a few exciting months anyway.

It can seem impossible at times to tell the difference between the real and the fake, the simulation and reality, but ultimately we do not live in a postmodern world. We simply live in a world where so many on the Left act as though it is. Nonetheless, all of these simulations do eventually confront the brute material forces of reality, and suddenly the complete inadequacy of the simulated Left–not just in SYRIZA but across the board–is laid bare for all to see. Eventually, a Ferguson or a Baltimore revolts and the irrelevance of the Postmodern Left to the project of organizing working class resistance is made completely clear.

If there is any way out of this rut, it is to reject the spectacle and the simulation in favor of substantive material resistance. The feel good moment of triumph with a hollow center, the exuberant meetings and chants that people remember for the rest of their lives, just might be an obstacle toward building something with actual power. The image of revolt, and even talk of socialism and–hold onto your seats!–“political revolution” coming from the Bernie Sanders campaign for President will go nowhere. It is the courageous act of resistance and the rein of terror that it must face in response from the neoliberal state that transforms a class into a force for rebellion.

In short, if social movements do not directly hurt the people in power–and not just mildly embarrass them–or empower the exploited and oppressed–and not just temporarily mobilize them–then it may not be a worthwhile strategy. It may simply feel like one.

In other words, if it feels good, don’t do it.

We may struggle to see past the illusions from our current vantage point. No doubt, we will find ourselves in the trenches of class war, only to look outside and realize that the entire spectacle has been constructed by a charlatan. This will continue to happen, so long as neoliberal capitalism provides career opportunities for charlatans, as it no doubt will.

There is a great need, then, to breakdown the facade, to no longer allow the false images of resistance that surreptitiously enable neoliberalism and distract from the fundamental project of resistance. The SYRIZAs of the world will insist that this is counterproductive to their project. And that is exactly the point.

WATCH: Not Your Climate Movement

Submedia TV

December 21, 2015

“This we bring you a recap of the COP21 climate clusterfuck in Paris, with Jim Hansen’s reaction to the historic non-agreement and 350.org’s condemnation of comrades who defied the protest ban. Over in Greece we look at the yearly riots that commemorate the police murder of Alex Grigoropoulos. Our featured interview is with three brave comrades who managed to stop the flow of dirty tar sands oil to the entire eastern seaboard of Turtle Island, with three bike locks and some egg sandwiches.” [Source: Submedia TV]

Arundhati Roy: Things that Can’t be Said, Tamed Tigers & the Missionaries of the “New Economy”

gates frow rich

“Grow Rich – Help Others” – “Indian Children’s Role Model – Uncle Bill: School children wear masks to celebrate the birthday of ‘Uncle Bill’ , the Microsoft founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates on the occasion of his 60th birth anniversary celebration in Chennai.” October 29, 2015  [Source]

WKOG admin: In the May 11, 2015 article Life in the Celebrity Circuit author Jay Taber writes:

“The American aristocracy has long fostered activist charades as a prophylactic against democracy, but the wholesale choreography of fossil-fueled puppets is unprecedented. Arundhati Roy’s blurb on the cover of This Changes Everything is thus particularly disturbing.

I wonder what kind of incentive was provided to Roy. What we know is that Arundhati is bright enough to comprehend Naomi Klein’s fraud, and that her name on the cover of Klein’s book functions as a shield for Naomi, and increases her prestige among the 350 cult.

Roy already has significant prestige herself, so the question is why she would publicly support a vapid sell-out who is undermining what Roy purportedly stands for. Was it bribery, extortion, or a misguided sense that Klein’s Wall Street-funded revolution could be hijacked by socialists? It doesn’t make sense.”

After reading the provocative interview published on November 30, 2015 (excerpts below), Taber’s questions are more compelling than ever. Do “the things we can’t talk about in a civilised society, if you’re a good, domesticated house pet” include discussing the role of appointed “leaders” within the non-profit industrial complex, who ultimately serve to protect both capital and state? We have found that this is a critical issue that no one with far reach on “the left” will touch (Hedges, Pilger, etc.).

“The structure and organisation of the climate cartel can be compared to a toadstool. 350.org is the cap of the fruiting body, very visible, poisonous, and laden with spores, This Changes Everything (TCE); book, social movement, and documentary form the stalk expanding and reinforcing key messages, and TckTckTck/Global Call for Climate Action (GCCA) – a coalition of 20 key international organisations including 350.org, Avaaz, WWF, and Greenpeace form the mycelium stretching vast distances and connecting to other fruiting bodies and other vast networks. The soil it has grown from is the NPIC with it’s phalanx of institutes and think tanks feigning care for the earth while plotting the future for the oligarchs.” —Metrics as a Proxy for Social Change: The Climate Cartel, Impact Funding, and the Abandonment of Struggle [Source]

In the interview below Roy states: “When you look around and see how many NGOs are on, say, the Gates, Rockefeller or Ford Foundation’s handout list, there has to be something wrong, right? They turn potential radicals into receivers of their largesse – and then, very subtly, without appearing to – they circumscribe the boundaries of radical politics.”

So what do we make of Roy’s glowing endorsement of Klein’s book (and film) project financed by the very elites Roy so articulately deconstructs?

Consider that Susan Rockefeller is the Co-Executive Producer of the documentary film This Changes Everything and founding partner of Louverture Films, the production company for the documentary film This Changes Everything in partnership with The Message Productions, LLC / Klein Lewis Productions. The fiscal sponsor of this endeavour was New York-based Sustainable Markets Foundation (SMF). SMF is financed by foundations such as Rockefeller Family Fund, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Energy foundation, Park Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Schmidt, Global Wallace Fund, Tides, etc. In addition, Tides receives millions in funding from Warren Buffett laundered through the Buffett family Fund NoVo. [Source: Financing “The Message” Behind Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ Project]

For now, we will leave the last word to Roy who states in the interview below: “We’re all being managed, and we don’t even know it… They have so much money, they can fund everything, very bad things as well as very good things – documentary films, nuclear weapons planners, gender rights, feminist conferences, literature and film festivals, university chairs…anything, as long as it doesn’t upset the “market” and the economic status quo.”

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animalsindian31

Tiger Approaching a Waterhole, Kotah, c. 1790. Watercolor and opaque watercolor

AlterNet

November 30, 2015

by John Cusack and Arundhati Roy

Excerpt from part 1: John Cusack in conversation with Arundhati Roy.

JC: So, what do you think? What do we think are the things we can’t talk about in a civilised society, if you’re a good, domesticated house pet?

AR: (Laughs) The occasional immorality of preaching nonviolence? (This was a reference to Walking with the Comrades, Roy’s account of her time spent with armed guerrillas in the forests of central India who were fighting paramilitary forces and vigilante militias trying to clear indigenous people off their land, which had been handed over to mining companies.)…

Excerpt from Part 2: “We Brought You the Promise of the Future, but Our Tongue Stammered and Barked” by Arundhati Roy

“Our tragedy today is not just that millions of people who called themselves communist or socialist were physically liquidated in Vietnam, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, not just that China and Russia, after all that revolution, have become capitalist economies, not just that the working class has been ruined in the United States and its unions dismantled, not just that Greece has been brought to its knees, or that Cuba will soon be assimilated into the free market – it is also that the language of the Left, the discourse of the Left, has been marginalised and is sought to be eradicated. The debate – even though the protagonists on both sides betrayed everything they claimed to believe in – used to be about social justice, equality, liberty, and redistribution of wealth. All we seem to be left with now is paranoid gibberish about a War on Terror whose whole purpose is to expand the War, increase the Terror, and obfuscate the fact that the wars of today are not aberrations but systemic, logical exercises to preserve a way of life whose delicate pleasures and exquisite comforts can only be delivered to the chosen few by a continuous, protracted war for hegemony – Lifestyle Wars….

But seriously – what is one couple doing with that much money, which is just a small percentage of the indecent profits they make from the corporation they run? And even that small percentage runs into billions. It’s enough to set the world’s agenda, enough to buy government policy, determine university curricula, fund NGOs and activists. It gives them the power to mould the whole world to their will. Forget the politics, is that even polite? Even if it’s “good” will? Who’s to decide what’s good and what’s not?…

JC: What is the meaning of charity as a political tool?

AR: It’s an old joke, right? If you want to control somebody, support them. Or marry them.
(Laughter)

JC: Sugar daddy politics….

AR: Embrace the resistance, seize it, fund it.

JC: Domesticate it….

AR: Make it depend on you. Turn it into an art project or a product of some kind. The minute what you think of as radical becomes an institutionalised, funded operation, you’re in some trouble. And it’s cleverly done. It’s not all bad…some are doing genuinely good work.

JC: Like the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)….

AR: They have money from the Ford Foundation, right? But they do excellent work. You can’t fault people for the work they’re doing, taken individually.

JC: People want to do something good, something useful….

bill gates getty

AR: Yes. And it is these good intentions that are dragooned and put to work. It’s a complicated thing. Think of a bead necklace. The beads on their own may be lovely, but when they’re threaded together, they’re not really free to skitter around as they please. When you look around and see how many NGOs are on, say, the Gates, Rockefeller or Ford Foundation’s handout list, there has to be something wrong, right? They turn potential radicals into receivers of their largesse – and then, very subtly, without appearing to – they circumscribe the boundaries of radical politics. And you’re sacked if you disobey…sacked, unfunded, whatever. And then there’s always the game of pitting the “funded” against the “unfunded,” in which the funder takes centrestage. So, I mean, I’m not against people being funded – because we’re running out of options – but we have to understand – are you walking the dog or is the dog walking you? Or who’s the dog and who is you?”

JC: I’m definitely the dog…and I’ve definitely been walked.

tigers

Bengali scroll painting. Painted scroll on paper mounted on cotton. Murshidabad School, Eastern India, 19th C.

AR: Everywhere – not just in America…repress, beat up, shoot, jail those you can, and throw money at those whom you can’t – and gradually sandpaper the edge off them. They’re in the business of creating what we in India call Paaltu Sher, which means Tamed Tigers. Like a pretend resistance…so you can let off steam without damaging anything.

JC: The first time you spoke at the World Social Forum…when was that?

AR: In 2002, I think, Porto Alegre…just before the US invasion of Iraq.

JC: In Mumbai. And then you went the next year and it was….

AR: Totally NGO-ised. So many major activists had turned into travel agents, just having to organise tickets and money, flying people up and down. The forum suddenly declared, “Only non-violence, no armed struggles….” They had turned Gandhian.

JC: So anyone involved in armed resistance….

AR: All out, all out. Many of the radical struggles were out. And I thought, fuck this. My question is, if, let’s say, there are people who live in villages deep in the forest, four days walk from anywhere, and a thousand soldiers arrive and burn their villages and kill and rape people to scare them off their land because mining companies want it – what brand of non-violence would the stalwarts of the establishment recommend? Non-violence is radical political theatre.

JC: Effective only when there’s an audience….

AR: Exactly. And who can pull in an audience? You need some capital, some stars, right? Gandhi was a superstar. The people in the forest don’t have that capital, that drawing power. So they have no audience. Non-violence should be a tactic – not an ideology preached from the sidelines to victims of massiveviolence…. With me, it’s been an evolution of seeing through these things.

JC: You begin to smell the digestive enzymes….

AR: (Laughing) But you know, the revolution cannot be funded. It’s not the imagination of trusts and foundations that’s going to bring real change.

JC: But what’s the bigger game that we can name?

AR: The bigger game is keeping the world safe for the Free Market. Structural Adjustment, Privatisation, Free Market fundamentalism – all masquerading as Democracy and the Rule of Law. Many corporate foundation-funded NGOs – not all, but many – become the missionaries of the “new economy.” They tinker with your imagination, with language. The idea of “human rights,” for example – sometimes it bothers me. Not in itself, but because the concept of human rights has replaced the much grander idea of justice. Human rights are fundamental rights, they are the minimum, the very least we demand. Too often, they become the goal itself. What should be the minimum becomes the maximum – all we are supposed to expect – but human rights aren’t enough. The goal is, and must always be, justice.

BBC answers 4

October 8, 2015, BBC: Can you cost the Earth? Play our fun game and find out.

JC: The term human rights is, or can be, a kind of pacifier – filling the space in the political imagination that justice deserves?

AR: Look at the Israel-Palestine conflict, for example. If you look at a map from 1947 to now, you’ll see that Israel has gobbled up almost all of Palestinian land with its illegal settlements. To talk about justice in that battle, you have to talk about those settlements. But, if you just talk about human rights, then you can say, “Oh, Hamas violates human rights,” “Israel violates human rights.” Ergo, both are bad.

JC: You can turn it into an equivalence….

AR: …though it isn’t one. But this discourse of human rights, it’s a very good format for TV – the great atrocity analysis and condemnation industry (laughs). Who comes out smelling sweet in the atrocity analysis? States have invested themselves with the right to legitimise violence – so who gets criminalised and delegitimised? Only – or well that’s excessive – usually, the resistance.

JC: So the term human rights can take the oxygen out of justice?

AR: Human rights takes history out of justice.

JC: Justice always has context….

AR: I sound as though I’m trashing human rights…I’m not. All I’m saying is that the idea of justice – even just dreaming of justice – is revolutionary. The language of human rights tends to accept a status quo that is intrinsically unjust – and then tries to make it more accountable. But then, of course, Catch-22 is that violating human rights is integral to the project of neoliberalism and global hegemony.

JC: …as there’s no other way of implementing those policies except violently.

AR: No way at all – but talk loud enough about human rights and it gives the impression of democracy at work, justice at work. There was a time when the United States waged war to topple democracies, because back then democracy was a threat to the Free Market. Countries were nationalising their resources, protecting their markets…. So then, real democracies were being toppled. They were toppled in Iran, they were toppled all across Latin America, Chile….

JC: The list is too long….

AR: Now we’re in a situation where democracy has been taken into the workshop and fixed, remodeled to be market-friendly. So now the United States is fighting wars to instal democracies. First it was topple them, now it’s instal them, right? And this whole rise of corporate-funded NGOs in the modern world, this notion of CSR, corporate social responsibility – it’s all part of a New Managed Democracy. In that sense, it’s all part of the same machine.

JC: Tentacles of the same squid.

AR: They moved in to the spaces that were left when “structural adjustment” forced states to pull back on public spending – on health, education, infrastructure, water supply – turning what ought to be people’s rights, to education, to healthcare and so on, into charitable activity available to a few. Peace, Inc. is sometimes as worrying as War, Inc. It’s a way of managing public anger. We’re all being managed, and we don’t even know it…. The IMF and the World Bank, the most opaque and secretive entities, put millions into NGOs who fight against “corruption” and for “transparency.” They want the Rule of Law – as long as they make the laws. They want transparency in order to standardise a situation, so that global capital can flow without any impediment. Cage the People, Free the Money. The only thing that is allowed to move freely – unimpeded – around the world today is money…capital.

JC: It’s all for efficiency, right? Stable markets, stable world…there’s a great violence in the idea of a uniform “investment climate.”

Democracy Masquerade: Uniform investment climate. A phrase interchangeable with Massacre.

AR: In India, that’s a phrase we use interchangeably with “massacre.” Stable markets, unstable world. Efficiency. Everybody hears about it. It’s enough to make you want to be pro-inefficiency and pro-corruption. (Laughing) But seriously, if you look at the history of the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller, in Latin America, in Indonesia, where almost a million people, mainly Communists, were killed by General Suharto, who was backed by the CIA, in South Africa, in the US Civil Rights Movement – or even now, it’s very disturbing. They have always worked closely with the US State Department.

JC: And yet now Ford funds The Act of Killing – the film about those same massacres. They profile the butchers…but not their masters. They won’t follow the money.

AR: They have so much money, they can fund everything, very bad things as well as very good things – documentary films, nuclear weapons planners, gender rights, feminist conferences, literature and film festivals, university chairs…anything, as long as it doesn’t upset the “market” and the economic status quo. One of Ford’s “good works” was to fund the CFR, the Council of Foreign Relations, which worked closely with the CIA. All the World Bank presidents since 1946 are from the CFR. Ford-funded RAND, the Research and Development Corporation, which works closely with the US defence forces.

JC: That was where Dan worked. That’s where he laid his hands on the Pentagon papers.

AR: The Pentagon papers…. I couldn’t believe what I was reading…that stuff about bombing dams, planning famines…. I wrote an introduction to an edition of Noam Chomsky’s For Reasons of State in which he analyses the Pentagon papers. There was a chapter in the book called ‘The Backroom Boys’ – maybe that wasn’t the Pentagon papers part, I don’t remember…but there was a letter or a note of some kind, maybe from soldiers in the field, about how great it was that white phosphorous had been mixed in with napalm…. “It sticks to the gooks like shit to a blanket, and burns them to the bone.” They were happy because white phosphorous kept burning even when the Vietnamese who had been firebombed tried to jump into water to stop their flesh from burning off….

JC: You remember that by rote?

AR: I can’t forget it. It burned me to the bone…. I grew up in Kerala, remember. Communist country….

JC: You were talking about how the Ford Foundation funded RAND and the CFR.

AR: (Laughs) Yes…it’s a bedroom comedy…actually a bedroom tragedy…is that a genre? Ford funded CFR and RAND. Robert McNamara moved from heading Ford Motors to the Pentagon. So, as you can see, we’re encircled.

JC: …and not just by the past.

AR: No – by the future, too. The future is Google, isn’t it? In Julian Assange’s book – brilliant book – When Google Met WikiLeaks, he suggests that there isn’t much daylight between Google and the NSA. The three people who went along with Eric Schmidt – CEO of Google – to interview Julian were Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas – ex-State Department and senior something or other on the CFR, adviser to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. The two others were Lisa Shields and Scott Malcolmson, also former State Department and CFR. It’s serious shit. But when we talk about NGOs, there’s something we must be careful about….

JC: What’s that?

AR: When the attack on NGOs comes from the opposite end, from the far right, then those of us who’ve been criticising NGOs from a completely different perspective will look terrible…to liberals we’ll be the bad guys….

JC: Once again pitting the “funded” against the “unfunded.”

AR: For example, in India the new government – the members of the radical Hindu Right who want India to be a ‘Hindu Nation’ – they’re bigots. Butchers. Massacres are their unofficial election campaigns – orchestrated to polarise communities and bring in the vote. It was so in Gujarat in 2002, and this year, in the run-up to the general elections, in a place called Muzaffarnagar, after which tens of thousands of Muslims had to flee from their villages and live in camps. Some of those who are accused of all that murdering are now cabinet ministers. Their support for straightforward, chest-thumping butchery makes you long for even the hypocrisy of the human rights discourse. But now if the “human rights” NGOs make a noise, or even whisper too loudly…this government will shut them down. And it can, very easily. All it has to do is to go after the funders…and the funders, whoever they are, especially those who are interested in India’s huge “market” will either cave in or scuttle over to the other side. Those NGOs will blow over because they’re a chimera, they don’t have deep roots in society among the people, really, so they’ll just disappear. Even the pretend resistance that has sucked the marrow out of genuine resistance will be gone.

 

Read the full article at Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/world/john-cusack-and-arundhati-roy-things-can-and-cannot-be-said

 

 

COP15 FLASHBACK: The Dead End of Climate Justice

Counterpunch

January 8, 2010

by Tim Simons and Ali Tonak

COP15--Angry-Mermaid-awar-019

(From L) Paul de Clerck (Friends of the Earth International), Dorothy Guerrero (Focus on the Global South) and  Naomi Klein announces the winner of the Angry Mermaid award on December 15, 2009 at COP15. Monsanto received 37% of the votes ahead of Royal Dutch Shell 18% and the American Petroleum Institute 14%.

Six years later, in 2016, Klein serves as the Rockefeller financed 350.org’s most valuable asset. Although Klein awarded Monsanto the “Angry Mermaid” award in 2009, consider 350.org founded TckTckTck (GCCA) with partner WWF (and 18 other NGOs) prior to COP15 where the TckTckTck alliance dominated the international conference grossly undermining small nations such as Bolivia. WWF’s alliance with Monsanto is extensively documented. [Photograph: Olivier Morin/guardian.co.uk]

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On the occasion of its ten-year anniversary, the antiglobalization movement has been brought out of its slumber. This is to be expected, as anniversaries and nostalgia often trump the here and now in political action. What is troublesome, though, is not the celebration of a historical moment but the attempted resurrection of this movement, known by some as the Global Justice Movement, under the banner of Climate Justice.

If only regenerating the zeitgeist of a radical moment was as simple as substituting ‘Climate’ for ‘Global’; if only movements appeared with such eas! In fact, this strategy, pursued to its fullest extent in Copenhagen during the UN COP15 Climate Change Summit, is proving more damaging than useful to those of us who are, and have been for the past decade, actively antagonistic to capitalism and its overarching global structures. Here, we will attempt to illustrate some of the problematic aspects of the troubled rebranding of a praxis particular to a decade past. Namely, we will address the following: the financialization of nature and the indirect reliance on markets and monetary solutions as catalysts for structural change, the obfuscation of internal class antagonisms within states of the Global South in favor of simplistic North-South dichotomies, and the pacification of militant action resulting from an alliance forged with transnational NGOs and reformist environmental groups who have been given minimal access to the halls of power in exchange for their successful policing of the movement.

Many of these problematic aspects of the movement’s rebranding became apparent in Copenhagen during the main, high-profile intellectual event that was organized by Climate Justice Action (CJA) on December 14 . CJA is a new alliance formed among (but of course not limited to) some of the Climate Camp activists from the UK, parts of the Interventionist Left from Germany, non-violent civil disobedience activists from the US and the Negrist Disobbedienti from Italy.

The event, which took place in the “freetown” of Christiania, consisted of the usual suspects: Naomi Klein, Michael Hardt, and CJA spokesperson Tadzio Mueller, and it was MCed by non-violent activist guru Lisa Fithian. In their shared political analysis, all of the speakers emphasized the rebirth of the anti-globalization movement. But an uncomfortable contradiction was overarching: while the speakers sought to underscore the continuity with the decade past, they also presented this summit as different, in that those who came to protest were to be one with a summit of world nations and accredited NGOs, instead of presenting a radical critique and alternative force.

Ecology as Economy and Nature as Investment Capital

“What’s important about the discourse that is so powerful, coming from the Global South right now, about climate debt, is that we know that economic debt is a tool of domination and enforcement. It is how our governments impose their neoliberal capitalist policies around the world, so for the Global South to come to the table and say, ‘Wait a minute, we are the creditors and you are the debtors, you owe us a huge debt’ creates an equalizing dynamic in the negotiations.”

Let’s look at this contemporary notion of debt, highlighted by Naomi Klein as the principal avenue of struggle for the emerging climate justice movement. A decade ago, the issue of debt incurred through loans taken out from the IMF and World Bank was an integral part of the antiglobalization movement’s analysis and demand to “Drop the Debt.” Now, some of that era’s more prominent organizers and thinkers are presenting something deemed analogous and termed ‘climate debt’. The claim is simple: most of the greenhouse gases have historically been produced by wealthier industrial nations and since those in the Global South will feel most of its devastating environmental effects, those countries that created the problem owe the latter some amount of monetary reparations.

The idea of climate debt, however, poses two large problems.

First, while “Drop the Debt!” was one of the slogans of the antiglobalization movement, the analysis behind it was much more developed. Within the movement everyone recognized debt as a tool of capital for implementing neoliberal structural adjustment programs. Under pressure from piling debt, governments were forced to accept privatization programs and severe austerity regimes that further exposed local economies to the ravages of transnational capital. The idea was that by eliminating this debt, one would not only stop privatization (or at least its primary enabling mechanism) but also open up political space for local social movements to take advantage of. Yet something serious is overlooked in this rhetorical transfer of the concept of debt from the era of globalization to that of climate change. Contemporary demands for reparations justified by the notion of climate debt open a dangerous door to increased green capitalist investment in the Global South. This stands in contrast to the antiglobalization movement’s attempts to limit transnational capital’s advances in these same areas of the world through the elimination of neoliberal debt.

The recent emergence of a highly lucrative market formed around climate, and around carbon in particular cannot be overlooked when we attempt to understand the implications of climate reparations demands. While carbon exchanges are the most blatant form of this emerging green capitalist paradigm, value is being reassigned within many existing commodity markets based on their supposed impact on the climate. Everything from energy to agriculture, from cleaning products to electronics, and especially everything within the biosphere, is being incorporated into this regime of climate markets. One can only imagine the immense possibilities for speculation and financialization in these markets as the green bubble continues to grow.

The foreign aid and investment (i.e. development) that will flow into countries of the Global South as a result of climate debt reparations will have the effect of directly subsidizing those who seek to profit off of and monopolize these emerging climate markets. At the Klimaforum, the alternative forum designed to counter the UN summit, numerous panels presented the material effects that would result from a COP15 agreement. In one session on climate change and agricultural policies in Africa, members of the Africa Biodiversity Network outlined how governments on the continent were enclosing communally owned land, labeling it marginal and selling it to companies under Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs) for biofuel cultivation. CDMs were one of the Kyoto Protocol’s arrangements for attracting foreign investment into the Global South under the guise of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. These sorts of green capitalist projects will continue to proliferate across the globe in conjunction with aid given under the logic of climate debt and will help to initiate a new round of capitalist development and accumulation, displacing more people in the Global South and leading to detrimental impacts on ecosystems worldwide.

Second and perhaps more importantly, “Climate Debt” perpetuates a system that assigns economic and financial value to the biosphere, ecosystems and in this case a molecule of CO2 (which, in reductionist science, readily translates into degrees Celsius). “Climate Debt” is indeed an “equalizing dynamic”, as it infects relations between the Global North and South with the same logic of commodification that is central to those markets on which carbon is traded upon. In Copenhagen, that speculation on the value of CO2 preoccupied governments, NGOs, corporations and many of the activists organizing the protests. Advertisements for the windmill company Vestas dominated the metro line in Copenhagen leading to the Bella Center. After asserting that the time for action is now, they read “We must find a price for CO2”. Everyone from Vestas to the Sudanese government to large NGOs agree on this fundamental principle: that the destruction of nature and its consequences for humans can be remedied through financial markets and trade deals and that monetary value can be assigned to ecosystems. This continued path towards further commodification of nature and climate debt-driven capitalist development runs entirely antithetical to the antiglobalization movement that placed at its heart the conviction that “the world is not for sale!”

The Inside in the Outside

One of the banners and chants that took place during the CJA-organized Reclaim Power demonstration on December 16 was “Whose summit? Our Summit!”. This confused paradigm was omnipresent in the first transnational rendezvous of the Climate Justice Movement. Klein depicted her vision of the street movements’ relationship to those in power during her speech in Christiania as follows:

“It’s nothing like Seattle, there are government delegations that are thinking about joining you. If this turns into a riot, it’s gonna be a riot. We know this story. I’m not saying it’s not an interesting story, but it is what it is. It’s only one story. It will turn into that. So I understand the question about how do we take care of each other but I disagree that that means fighting the cops. Never in my life have I ever said that before. [Laughs]. I have never condemned peoples’ tactics. I understand the rage. I don’t do this, I’m doing it now. Because I believe something very, very important is going on, a lot of courage is being shown inside that center. And people need the support.”

The concept that those in the streets outside of the summit are supposed to be part of the same political force as the NGOs and governments who have been given a seat at the table of summit negotiations was the main determining factor for the tenor of the actions in Copenhagen. The bureaucratization of the antiglobalization movement (or its remnants), with the increased involvement from NGOs and governments, has been a process that manifested itself in World Social Forums and Make Poverty History rallies. Yet in Copenhagen, NGOs were much more than a distracting sideshow. They formed a constricting force that blunted militant action and softened radical analysis through paternalism and assumed representation of whole continents.

 

 

In Copenhagen, the movement was asked by these newly empowered managers of popular resistance to focus solely on supporting actors within the UN framework, primarily leaders of the Global South and NGOs, against others participating in the summit, mainly countries of the Global North. Nothing summarizes this orientation better than the embarrassingly disempowering Greenpeace slogans “Blah Blah Blah, Act Now!” and “Leaders Act!” Addressing politicians rather than ordinary people, the attitude embodied in these slogans is one of relegating the respectable force of almost 100,000 protesters to the role of merely nudging politicians to act in the desired direction, rather than encouraging people to act themselves. This is the logic of lobbying. No display of autonomous, revolutionary potential. Instead, the emphasis is on a mass display of obedient petitioning. One could have just filled out Greenpeace membership forms at home to the same effect.

A big impetus in forging an alliance with NGOs lay in the activists’ undoubtedly genuine desire to be in solidarity with the Global South. But the unfortunate outcome is that a whole hemisphere has been equated with a handful of NGO bureaucrats and allied government leaders who do not necessarily have the same interests as the members of the underclasses in the countries that they claim to represent. In meeting after meeting in Copenhagen where actions were to be planned around the COP15 summit, the presence of NGOs who work in the Global South was equated with the presence of the whole of the Global South itself. Even more disturbing was the fact that most of this rhetoric was advanced by white activists speaking for NGOs, which they posed as speaking on behalf of the Global South.

Klein is correct in this respect: Copenhagen really was nothing like Seattle. The most promising elements of the praxis presented by the antiglobalization movement emphasized the internal class antagonisms within all nation-states and the necessity of building militant resistance to local capitalist elites worldwide. Institutions such as the WTO and trade agreements such as NAFTA were understood as parts of a transnational scheme aimed at freeing local elites and financial capital from the confines of specific nation-states so as to enable a more thorough pillaging of workers and ecosystems across the globe. Ten years ago, resistance to transnational capital went hand in hand with resistance to corrupt governments North and South that were enabling the process of neoliberal globalization. Its important to note that critical voices such as Evo Morales have been added to the chorus of world leaders since then. However, the movement’s current focus on climate negotiations facilitated by the UN is missing a nuanced global class analysis. It instead falls back on a simplistic North-South dichotomy that mistakes working with state and NGO bureaucrats from the Global South for real solidarity with grassroots social movements struggling in the most exploited and oppressed areas of the world.

Enforced Homogeneity of Tactics

Aligning the movement with those working inside the COP15 summit not only had an effect on the politics in the streets but also a serious effect on the tactics of the actions. The relationship of the movement to the summit was one of the main points of discussion about a year ago while Climate Justice Action was being formed. NGOs who were part of the COP15 process argued against taking an oppositional stance towards the summit in its entirety, therefore disqualifying a strategy such as a full shutdown of the summit. The so-called inside/outside strategy arose from this process, and the main action, where people from the inside and the outside would meet in a parking lot outside of the summit for an alternative People’s Assembly, was planned to highlight the supposed political unity of those participating in the COP15 process and those who manifested a radical presence in the streets.

Having made promises to delegates inside the Bella Center on behalf of the movement, Naomi Klein asserted that “Anybody who escalates is not with us,” clearly indicating her allegiances. Rather than reentering the debate about the validity of ‘escalating’ tactics in general, arguing whether or not they are appropriate for this situation in particular, or attempting to figure out a way in which different tactics can operate in concert, the movement in Copenhagen was presented with oppressive paternalism disguised as a tactical preference for non-violence.

The antiglobalization movement attempted to surpass the eternal and dichotomizing debate about violence vs. non-violence by recognizing the validity of a diversity of tactics. But in Copenhagen, a move was made on the part of representatives from Climate Justice Action to shut down any discussion of militant tactics, using the excuse of the presence of people (conflated with NGOs) from the Global South. Demonstrators were told that any escalation would put these people in danger and possibly have them banned from traveling back to Europe in the future. With any discussion of confrontational and militant resistance successfully marginalized, the thousands of protesters who arrived in Copenhagen were left with demonstrations dictated by the needs and desires of those participating in and corroborating the summit.

Alongside the accreditation lines that stretched around the summit, UN banners proclaimed “Raise Your Voice,” signifying an invitation to participate for those willing to submit to the logic of NGO representation. As we continue to question the significance of NGO involvement and their belief that they are able to influence global decision-making processes, such as the COP15 summit, we must emphasize that these so-called participatory processes are in fact ones of recuperative pacification. In Copenhagen, like never before, this pacification was not only confined to the summit but was successfully extended outward into the demonstrations via movement leaders aligned with NGOs and governments given a seat at the table of negotiations. Those who came to pose a radical alternative to the COP15 in the streets found their energy hijacked by a logic that prioritized attempts to influence the failing summit, leaving street actions uninspired, muffled and constantly waiting for the promised breakthroughs inside the Bella Center that never materialized.

NGO anger mounted when a secondary pass was implemented to enter the summit during the finalfour days, when presidents and prime ministers were due to arrive. Lost in confusion, those demonstrating on the outside were first told that their role was to assist the NGOs on the inside and then were told that they were there to combat the exclusion of the NGOs from the summit. This demand not to be excluded from the summit became the focal politic of the CJA action on December 16. Although termed Reclaim Power, this action actually reinforced the summit, demanding “voices of the excluded to be heard.” This demand contradicted the fact that a great section of the Bella Center actually resembled an NGO Green Fair for the majority of the summit. It is clear that exclusionary participation is a structural part of the UN process and while a handful of NGOs were “kicked out” of the summit after signing on to Reclaim Power, NGO participation was primarily limited due to the simple fact that three times as many delegates were registered than the Bella Center could accommodate.

In the end, the display of inside/outside unity that the main action on the 16th attempted to manifest was a complete failure and never materialized. The insistence on strict non-violence prevented any successful attempt on the perimeter fence from the outside while on the inside the majority of the NGO representatives who had planned on joining the People’s Assembly were quickly dissuaded by the threat of arrest. The oppressive insistence by CJA leaders that all energy must be devoted to supporting those on the inside who could successfully influence the outcome of the summit resulted in little to no gains as the talks sputtered into irreconcilable antagonisms and no legally binding agreement at the summit’s close. An important opportunity to launch a militant movement with the potential to challenge the very foundations of global ecological collapse was successfully undermined leaving many demoralized and confused.

Looking Forward: The Real Enemy

As we grapple with these many disturbing trends that have arisen as primary tendencies defining the climate justice movement, we have no intention of further fetishizing the antiglobalization movement and glossing over its many shortcomings. Many of the tendencies we critique here were also apparent at that time. What is important to take away from comparisons between these two historical moments is that those in leadership positions within the contemporary movement that manifested in Copenhagen have learned all the wrong lessons from the past. They have discarded the most promising elements of the antiglobalization struggles: the total rejection of all market and commodity-based solutions, the focus on building grassroots resistance to the capitalist elites of all nation-states, and an understanding that diversity of tactics is a strength of our movements that needs to be encouraged.

The problematic tendencies outlined above led to a disempowering and ineffective mobilization in Copenhagen.Looking back, it is clear that those of us who traveled to the Copenhagen protests made great analytical and tactical mistakes. If climate change and global ecological collapse are indeed the largest threats facing our world today, then the most important front in this struggle must be against green capitalism. Attempting to influence the impotent and stumbling UN COP15 negotiations is a dead end and waste of energy when capital is quickly reorganizing to take advantage of the ‘green revolution’ and use it as a means of sustaining profits and solidifying its hegemony into the future.

Instead of focusing on the clearly bankrupt and stumbling summit happening at the Bella Center, we should have confronted the hyper-green capitalism of Hopenhagen, the massive effort of companies such as Siemens, Coca-Cola, Toyota and Vattenfall to greenwash their image and the other representations of this market ideology within the city center. In the future, our focus must be on destroying this reorganized and rebranded form of capitalism that is successfully manipulating concerns over climate change to continue its uninterrupted exploitation of people and the planet for the sake of accumulation. At our next rendezvous we also need to seriously consider if the NGO/non-profit industrial complex has become a hindrance rather than a contribution to our efforts and thus a parasite that must be neutralized before it can undermine future resistance.

 

[Tim Simons and Ali Tonak can be reached at: anticlimaticgroup@gmail.com]

 

Why NGOs and Leftish Nonprofits Suck (4 Reasons)

Skewed News

by Stephanie McMillan

October 13, 2015

 

About 20 years ago, in a conversation with a Bangladeshi organizer, the topic of NGOs* came up. He spat in disgust: “I hate NGOs.” At the time, I didn’t really get why he was so vehement about it. I knew NGOs had negative aspects, like siphoning off some revolutionary energy from the masses, but I also still half-believed their claims that their work was more helpful than not. Didn’t you have to be kind of a dogmatic asshole to denounce free health care and anti-poverty programs? But I didn’t yet fully appreciate how terrible they really are.

Since that conversation, NGOs have proliferated like mushrooms all over the world. First deployed in social formations dominated by imperialism, they’ve now taken over the political scene in capital’s base countries as well. They’ve become the hot new form of capital accumulation, with global reach and billions in revenue. So while ostensibly “non-profit,” they serve as a pretty sweet income stream for those at the top, while fattening up large layers of the petite bourgeoisie and draping them like a warm wet blanket over the working class, muffling their demands.

After much observation and experience both direct and indirect, I now understand and share that long-ago organizer’s hatred of NGOs. Just how terrible are they? Let us count the ways:

1) NGOs are one of many weapons of imperialist domination.

Along with military invasions and missionaries, NGOs help crack countries open like ripe nuts, paving the way for intensifying waves of exploitation and extraction such as agribusiness for export, sweatshops, resource mines, and tourist playgrounds.

Haiti is the most extreme example. Referred to by many Haitians as “the republic of NGOs”, the country had already been infested with 10,000 NGOs before the 2010 earthquake, more per capita than anywhere else in the world. 99% of earthquake relief aid was funneled through NGOs and other agencies, who made out like bandits, ripping off most of the money that people had donated in good faith with the expectation that it would actually help the masses affected by the catastrophe.

This shit is not new. Decades ago, USAID and the World Bank were already imposing export-led economies and concomitant “structural adjustment” programs on Haiti and elsewhere. Even 20 years ago, 80% of USAID money wound up back in the pockets of US corporations and “experts.” As the process matured, NGOs evolved into the favored entity of this parasitical form of accumulation, capitalizing and feeding on the misery created by “aid” in the first place.

In many dominated countries, NGO directors have become a fraction of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, using the state as their source of primary capital accumulation. For the past 20 years or so in Haiti, many of those who initiated and led NGOs also came to occupy political roles from President to Prime Minister to members of Parliament, including Aristide, Préval, and Michèle Pierre-Louis.

Now that capitalism is in a deepening global structural crisis, structural adjustment is being imposed on its core social formations as well. Like imprinted ducklings, NGOs follow in its wake. There are 30 new ones formed in the UK every day, and 1.5 million of them plague the US. They’ve become the survival option du jour for unemployed graduates navigating a global crisis economy.

2) NGOs undermine, divert, and replace autonomous mass organizing.

“What you resist, persists”—the cliché is not without strategic usefulness. Accordingly, instead of fighting the Left head-on as they once did, capitalists have smothered it in their loving arms.

By abandoning working class struggle, the Left had already set itself up for impotence—when it swings a fist it hits air; it can’t connect with the enemy. This weakened state made it vulnerable, liable to accept when the Rockefeller Foundation or some other capitalist entity hands it a check to “fight for empowerment and social justice and against corporate greed.” Boom: capitalists have neutralized their greatest threat. They’ve bought it, tamed it, pulled its teeth.

They’ve replaced it with a social phenomenon that appears to be (even sometimes declares itself to be) its opposing force, but which has become nothing more than a loyal and useful pet. Instead of going for capital’s throat, it (whatever it is, it should no longer be called “the Left”) nips playfully at its new master’s heels.

Let’s examine what this looks like on the ground.

You’re at a demonstration. How do you even know it’s real? You have a bunch of paid activists all holding pre-printed signs. They’re shouting slogans – but how do we know they even mean what they’re saying, when they’re following a pre-determined script? How can we trust that if their funding was cut, they would they still be there, that they would still care?

Sincere people often believe they will be able to “get paid to do good,” but it doesn’t work that way. Capitalists didn’t take over the world by being fucking stupid. They aren’t going to pay us to undermine them.

How many times have you seen this scenario? Some atrocity happens, outraged people pour into the streets, and once together, someone announces a meeting to follow up and continue the struggle. At this meeting, several experienced organizers seem to be in charge. They say some really radical, bad-ass things that sound fairly awesome. They offer to provide training and a regular meeting space. They seem to already have a plan figured out, whereas no one else has yet had time to think about it. They exude competence, explaining (with diagrams) how to map out potential allies, and whipping out a list of specific politicians to target with protests. They formulate simplistic “asks” to “build confidence with a quick win.”

Anyone who suggests a different approach is passive-aggressively ignored.

Under their guidance, you all occupy some institution or the office of a politician, or you hold a march and rally. Your protest is loud and passionate and seems quite militant.

Next thing you know, you find yourself knocking on a stranger’s door with a clipboard in your hand, hoping to convince them to vote in the next election.

NGOs exist to undermine, divert, and replace mass struggle. They’re doing an excellent job. I recently spoke with a radical from New Jersey, who said that a protest she attended turned out to be the project of a graduate student, no doubt destined to be an NGO director in the near future. Sounding pretty shocked and pissed off, she said that since then, she doesn’t even feel like going to protests anymore because she doesn’t trust that they’re real. That right there is a win for capital.

In Miami, I’ve attended “Fight for $15” demonstrations in which the vast majority of participants were paid activists, employees of NGOs, CBOs (Community Based Organizations), and union staff seeking potential members. Black Lives Matter protests in Miami have been similarly led and largely populated by paid activists, who need to show they’re “organizing the community” in order to win their next grant.

At these types of mobilizations, when a previously unorganized person is spotted, they’re surrounded like fresh meat in a circle of hyenas, instantly devoured by activists looking to meet their recruitment quotas. The next time you see these new conscripts, they’re clad in the purple, red, orange, or lime green t-shirt of whatever org brand they’ve been sold.

These nonprofits pick up and drop campaigns not for reasons of conviction or long-term strategy, but strictly in line with the funding they receive, and confine them to the parameters dictated by foundations. Riding on the grunt work of trusting volunteers hoping to “make a positive difference,” many organizers achieve lucrative careers within the nonprofit bureaucracy, or use the experience as a launching pad to climb into high-level bourgeois politics.

Activism is being thoroughly capitalized and professionalized. Instead of organizing the masses to fight for their interests, these institutions use them for their own benefit. Instead of building a mass movement, they manage public outrage. Instead of developing radical or revolutionary militants, they develop social-worker activists along with passive recipients of assistance.

Not to sound like a cranky oldster, but once upon a time—believe it or not!—it was normal for organizers to not be paid. Revolutionaries took up the fight against The System from the perspective of international working class interests, from our conscience, and with a burning desire to crush the enemy and change the world. We understood it would be extremely difficult and involve hardship and repression, but would not be discouraged. A revolutionary militant gladly dedicates her/his life to this great cause.

Today, organizing without financial compensation seems to many like an alien concept, even a chump move. When I go out leafletting (yeah we still pass out paper leaflets), people often inquire: “How do I get a job doing that?” When I explain that I don’t do it for pay but out of conviction, their faces smush up in disbelief.

Sigh.

No wonder we’re so weak and scattered. The capitalist class, five steps ahead of us as usual, has been extremely effective at eating the Left alive. Until we break the NGO spell, we’re reduced to skeletons lurching around in activist purgatory.

The takeaway (to use nonprofit jargon—my eyes are rolling) is this: If capitalists are keeping us too busy and exhausted to organize our own shit, if we are reduced to being their foot soldiers working on their agenda instead of ours, then we are not going to win the revolution.

3) NGOs replace what the state should be doing.

So-called “aid” agencies funded by large capitalists and imperialist governments have taken over the functions of states in dominated countries that have been forced to cut social benefits as conditions of loans by those same imperialists. Conflict of interest much?

In the imperialist core and the periphery alike, NGOs are taking over state responsibilities to meet social needs. This “withering away” of state-run social programs doesn’t mean that capitalist states have become weak (sorry, anarchists and libertarians). It simply means they can devote more of their resources to conquest, repression and accumulation, and less to worrying about preventing the populace from rising up in mass discontent.

We’ve become conditioned to get our needs met by shuffling from cheap clinic to food bank to a myriad of other “civil society” agencies. Health care, food, water, shelter, childcare, and meaningful employment are basic necessities of human life. They should be provided by any decent society, but we’re being made to feel like humiliated beggars as we wade through red tape and argue with functionaries. This is bullshit. We deserve decent lives. We need to organize and fight for them together.

4) NGOs support capitalism by erasing working class struggle.

The structural placement of nonprofits in the economy (as vehicles of accumulation) make them incapable of challenging capitalism. They offer the struggling petite bourgeoisie (the so-called “middle class”) a way out, an alternative to proletarianization, by giving them jobs. They are Haiti’s largest employer. Everywhere they operate, they inflate the petite bourgeoisie as a buffer to overshadow and substitute themselves and their strivings for the struggles of the working class. NGOs seek to mitigate the most egregious effects of capitalism, but never to eliminate it.

The petite bourgeoisie, underpaid in the circulation of capital rather than exploited in production (as workers are), are dominated by capital but not in a fundamentally antagonistic relation with it (as workers are). Thus the natural tendency for the petite bourgeoisie, in asserting their class interests, is to fight for equality within the capitalist framework. The capitalist class relies on them to dampen working class struggle and divert it into reformism, into burying their struggles in establishment political parties and collaborationist unions.

Historically, whenever the working class opens its mouth to call for revolution, the soft pillow of the petite bourgeoisie has been willing to suffocate it. Capitalists always build up the petite bourgeoisie exactly to act as enforcement agents for capitalist domination of the working class. The challenge for the serious progressive, radical or revolutionary militant who happens to be a member of the petite bourgeoisie is to jump this imposed track, to consciously reject this role, and prevent being used (inadvertently or otherwise) for reactionary purposes.

The horrific effects of capitalism—oppression, ecocide, wars of conquest, exploitation, poverty—can’t be eliminated without eliminating their cause. If we really want to make the changes we say we want to make, we need to strip ourselves of any residual petit bourgeois loyalty to capitalism, and fight under the leadership of capitalism’s fundamental enemy: the working class.

A Note to NGO Employees:

I’m not questioning your sincerity. Many good young people genuinely want to make a difference. Jobs are scarce, and you need to make a living. It is supremely tempting to believe that these two imperatives can be combined into one neat package, allowing you to serve humanity while ensuring your own survival.

It’s a nice idea. It just happens to be untrue. An established structure will change you before you can change it. “The unity of the chicken and the roach happens in the belly of the chicken.”

Quitting isn’t the answer. We’re all trapped in the enemy’s economy. They’ve created these circumstances, compelling us to work in their industrial sector, their service sector, or their nonprofit sector. All of it is to extract value from us and reproduce their domination over us. We can’t simply decide to exit on an individual basis. The only way out is to organize with the aim of rising up together in revolution, and rupture the whole framework. Either we all get free, or none of us will.

What we must avoid in the meantime, though, is confusing NGO (or collaborationist union) employment with real autonomous organizing. Understand its nature: your job at an NGO is not to organize the masses, but to disorganize them, pacify them, lead them into political dead ends. So do your real organizing elsewhere.

Capitalism doesn’t assist us in destroying itself. Should we actually become effective in building an anti-capitalist mass movement, they won’t issue us a paycheck. Instead, they will do everything possible to discredit, neutralize, imprison and kill us.

Real revolutionary organizers don’t get paid.

—————————–

 

* NGOs: Non-Governmental Organizations, or “non-profits,” usually in fact funded by governments and/or corporate foundations.

[Note: This article was initially solicited by Jacobin magazine, went through several versions of editing before being finally rejected by them. This is very close to my original version. Another version exists, which is co-authored—Vincent Kelley of Grinnell College joined the project to add his perspective and to help revise it according to the Jacobin editor’s requests. We attempted to do so without diluting the content. Their requests included making the language less informal and more “academic,” and culminated in what we both interpret as blatant attempts to erase the working class from its content (the Jacobin editor disagrees). When we refused to remove what we felt was our central point, Jacobin decided not to run the piece. The co-authored version is at http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/20/the-useful-altruists-how-ngos-serve-capitalism-and-imperialism/]

 

[Stephanie McMillan’s daily comic strip “Minimum Security” is syndicated online at Universal Uclick’s gocomics.com. She also draws and self-syndicates a weekly editorial cartoon, “Code Green.” Her website is minimumsecurity.net.]

What’s Worked in the Past Learning From Ferguson [Part II]

Counterpunch

December 19

by Peter Gelderloos

michael_brown_2-shirin-barghi-e1408343220377

The officer demanded that the two “get the f—k on the sidewalk, Johnson says. “His exact words were get the f—k on the sidewalk.” -gawker.com  

 

The announcement of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson caught me on the road, traveling to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday. The next day I found myself in a protest, one of over a hundred occurring across the country. There I witnessed a scene that has played out many times before, and was probably being repeated at that exact moment in other cities.

A few protesters had just vandalized a yuppie restaurant on a strip targeted for heavy gentrification in that particular city. The windows were spraypainted with a slogan related to the murder of Michael Brown, and the restaurant’s sandwich board was stolen and pulled into the streets.

“What are you doing?” a young white person complained, looking on with a combination of shock and disgust. “We’re here to protest for Michael Brown!”

One of the offenders, identity obscured by a black mask, looked over at their interlocutor and laughed sardonically, “Oh yeah, gentrification and police violence have nothing to do with each other!”

“We have to do this peacefully!” the other marcher persisted.

“When has that ever worked?” the black clad anarchist scoffed.

“Um, hello? Martin Luther King!” She rolled her eyes as though she were stating the most obvious, self-evident fact in the world.

“Martin Luther King had armed bodyguards at his events, learn history!” the would-be rioter shot back.

The crowd was racially diverse. I wasn’t counting, and the makeup of the protest was constantly shifting, but at times a majority were people of color. Yet the three times that I saw people object to “violence” (the use of fireworks, the vandalizing of the restaurant, and the dragging of a reflective barrier into the road as the march took to a highway, rather a safety oriented action if you ask me, given that it was dark and the protesters needed to warn off the oncoming traffic), the peace police were white. Meanwhile, the people who could be seen shooting fireworks at cops, dragging obstacles into the streets, insulting the cops, and yelling things like “burn it all down,” or applauding any of these actions, were black, latino, and white.

While I did not see any white people lecture any people of color that they should be peaceful because “Martin Luther King,” it is something I have seen happen elsewhere, and it is a message that constantly gets reinforced subtextually.

There is a very real debate to be had about tactics and strategies when we take to the streets in response to police killings. As I argued in Part I of this essay, that debate is largely shut down by those who seek to regenerate the police by reforming, rather than talking about abolishing the police; such reformers have the habit of vituperatively attacking others who raise that question.

It was dealt with more honestly in the streets of Ferguson, though. According to one participant’s account:

“anytime I heard someone say we shouldn’t throw things at the police (not because it was wrong, but out of fear they’d shoot us) I was able to have good conversations—saying it’s a way we take power from them and give it to ourselves. Even when people were super upset, by the end of the conversation even if we still didn’t agree it was clear we respected each other.”

Wherever order reigns, however, the non-debate plays out as I have described above. There is a widely held belief, among white people anyways, that history has already spoken, and that the only effective and ethical response to systemic injustice, and especially racism, is meek nonviolence, because, well, you know, “Martin Luther King.”

Beyond this discursive chokehold lies a very complex history that has been, in large part, falsified, and a problematic relationship between white people and people of color that seems to be repeating itself, revealing tragic parallels between white people’s involvement in the Civil Rights struggle and white people’s involvement in the unfolding movement against police violence today, even as many of those same white people cite a distorted version of the earlier struggle’s history, stripped down to exclude all the failings and all the lessons that might be learned.

I could start by pointing out how the form of nonviolence that is pedaled by the mostly white progressive Left today is a pathetically watered-down, superficial, meek comfort-zone politics compared to what was being used during the Civil Rights movement, but I will leave that to the pacifists. It’s not my responsibility to get nonviolence back into fighting shape, since I don’t believe in it anyways, given that it has always been complicit with state power, it has always been parasitical and authoritarian towards other currents in the social movements it joins, and it has always tended to water itself down over time.

Instead I will start with the argument made by the protester in black, that “Martin Luther King had armed bodyguards at his events.” Such a comment will be perplexing to most white people, but in fact it is historically accurate. Coincidentally, it has only been in the past year that a certain fact has been rescued from the memory hole: that the Civil Rights movement was an armed movement and that nonviolence was a minoritarian exception—some might say aberration—within that movement, as well as in the lineage of movements against slavery and white supremacy going back centuries. Previously, only radical historians, ex-Panthers, anarchists, and followers of C.L.R. James dealt with those forgotten episodes of history, but recently the memo has even gotten to NPR with the publication of books like This Nonviolence Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible, by Charles E. Cobb, Jr. or the forthcoming Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South.

In a summary of the former, we can read: “Visiting Martin Luther King Jr. at the peak of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, journalist William Worthy almost sat on a loaded pistol. “Just for self defense,” King assured him. It was not the only weapon King kept for such a purpose; one of his advisors remembered the reverend’s Montgomery, Alabama home as “an arsenal.” ”

For a long time these have been forbidden histories, and I believe they were intentionally silenced, and largely by white people. Not only those working for the same power structures that have been trying to disarm people of color for centuries, but also those who hold power in social movements, who since the repression and the defeats of the ’60s have preferred a progressively more comfortable vision of “change”. It is unfortunate for the authorities that these forbidden histories are being resuscitated now, just in time for a post-Ferguson society, but we still face an uphill battle to return this historical memory to the collective consciousness. (Most protesters in the streets, for example, are still unaware). And one of the chief obstacles—perhaps executioner would be a more accurate term, since they hardly play a passive role—to the dissemination of this knowledge are the same progressive whites who are always ready to whip out a pithy “Martin Luther King!” faster than a cop can draw his handgun.

So far, the histories that have hit the mainstream still maintain the myth of the dominant character of nonviolence in the movements of yesteryear. In Cobb’s book, valuable as it is, armed self-defense is still auxiliary to a movement of civil disobedience. And while proponents of nonviolence should know that civil disobedience has never worked against a murderous enemy—like the Klan or the cops—without making recourse to armed self-defense or falling into a symbiotic relationship with a combative wing of the same movement, that is ultimately their problem. I would not be worried about nonviolence having fallen to such an absurd level of patent ineffectiveness if they didn’t try to extinguish the struggles of people who actually believe in fighting back against oppression, rather than negotiating with it. Or staging ritualistic die-ins in front of it, or better yet, working for it (see the relationship between Gene Sharp‘s protégé Otpor and global intelligence company Stratfor).

There was an underlying tension throughout the Civil Rights movement between nonviolence (albeit an armed nonviolence) and paths of struggle that foregrounded self-defense and did not seek compromise with the existing power structures. After all, the nonviolent practice that emerged in the movement at the end of the 50s and early 60s was largely imposed by the SCLC, the SNCC (in its first incarnation), and the white New England liberals who provided most of their funding.

Beyond the Deacons of Defense, who organized armed protection to many desegregation campaigns throughout the South in the 1960s, there is the example of Robert F. Williams, president of the Monroe, North Carolina, chapter of the NAACP, one of the few chapters of the national organization that was predominantly working class. Having fought in World War II, Williams led his local chapter in advocating armed self-defense after a nonviolent campaign for local desegregation failed. In his book, Negroes With Guns, he describes one occasion when he had to protect himself from a lynch mob.

As the mob is shouting for gasoline to be poured on Williams and his friends, and begins to throw stones, Williams steps out of the car with an Italian carbine in hand.

“All this time three policemen had been standing about fifty feet away from us while we kept waiting in the car for them to come and rescue us. Then when they saw that we were armed and the mob couldn’t take us, two of the policemen started running. One ran straight to me, grabbed me on the shoulder, and said, ‘Surrender your weapon! Surrender your weapon!’ I struck him in the face and knocked him back away from the car and put my carbine in his face, and told him that we didn’t intend to be lynched. The other policeman who had run around the side of the car started to draw his revolver out of the holster. He was hoping to shoot me in the back. They didn’t know that we had more than one gun. One of the students (who was seventeen years old) put a .45 in the policeman’s face and told him that if he pulled out his pistol he would kill him. The policeman started putting his gun back in the holster and backing away from the car, and he fell into the ditch.

   “There was a very old man, an old white man out in the crowd, and he started screaming and crying like a baby, and he kept crying, and he said, ‘God damn, God damn, what is this God damn country coming to that the n*****s have got guns, the n*****s are armed and the police can’t even arrest them!’ He kept crying and somebody led him away through the crowd.”

When Williams was expelled from the NAACP for his militant views, the local chapter simply elected Mabel Williams as their new president, and continued their practice of armed self-defense. Highlighting the importance of economic injustice, both Williams developed a socialist politics and lived in exile in Cuba after fleeing the country to evade trumped up kidnapping charges.

The Black Panther Party, which was demonized in the media at the time of its existence, is obviously well known, for it plays a different function within the process of historical amnesia. The BPP has become a symbol for all forms of black militancy in the ’60s, even though there were hundreds of different strains and currents of revolutionary thought and practice in the movement. And what is remembered about the Panthers is little more than their style. Their program, their splits and conflicts, their relations with other groups and movements at the time, their eventual evolution into the Black Liberation Army, and all the lessons that can be gleaned from this knowledge, has been consigned to the memory hole. They were merely the ones with the afros, the berets, and the rifles, who met with a tragic end, reconfirming the pacifist contention about the futility of violence.

The Panthers are either romanticized or vilified. To me, they were an authoritarian and macho organization (though no more authoritarian and macho than King’s SCLC) composed of many intelligent, brave, radical individuals trying to take an important step forward in the struggle, achieving some accomplishments and committing some errors.

More interesting to me are the nameless ones, the people who did not participate in any formal organization, yet who played a critical role in the few gains the Civil Rights movement achieved. More disparaged even than the BPP, these individuals have been consigned by the dominant historiography to the mob. Just like the rioters of Ferguson, whom we all have to thank for keeping Michael Brown’s memory alive, without whom this conversation would not even be possible, those who were assigned mob-status in what are portrayed as the darker moments of the Civil Rights movement are presented as cruel, unthinking, self-destructive, and demonic.

In fact, the mob member is nothing more and nothing less than the archetype for a person of color, in the white supremacist imagination. It was this same archetype that was drawn on to create the concept of race, primarily in the Virginia colony, as transplanted aristocrats had to divide and conquer an unruly labor force of exiled Irish, kidnapped poor from the English cities, Africans stolen from their homes, and enslaved Natives. In the early years, these enslaved underclasses often ran away together to the mountains or the swamps, and from time to time they rebelled together, killing their masters and breaking their chains. It is this image that is preserved in the figure of the mob, and this elite fear that we reproduce when we also spurn, disparage, or avoid such a formation.

I do not believe that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, but I do believe that my enemy’s nightmare can serve as a figure of hope or beauty. Colonial society’s obsession with law and order, its fear of the dark Other, which coalesce in its absolute condemnation of the mob, illuminate another way forward.

In the Civil Rights movement, the story of Birmingham provides a perfect example of the intelligence and effectiveness of this acephalous, decentralized formation of resistance, a true hydra, to refer to the writings of ex-Panther and prisoner Russell “Maroon” Shoatz or historians Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker.

Most people only know half the story. In 1963, a civil disobedience campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, the bastion of segregation in the South, forced the desegregation of the city and paved the way for the Civil Rights Act, which was the major victory of the Civil Rights movement, as far as legislation is concerned.

What fewer people know is that the Birmingham campaign was a repeat of SCLC’s 1961 campaign in Albany, Georgia, which turned out a complete failure. King was banking on being able to fill up the jails and still have recruits willing to engage in civil disobedience, shutting the system down, but the authorities simply made their jails “bottomless” by shipping detainees elsewhere. A couple years later, black residents of Albany rioted, suggesting what they thought about their experience with nonviolence (these riots are not mentioned in most chronologies of the movement).

In Birmingham, the 1963 campaign was unfolding the same way, and King was running out of recruits willing to offer themselves up for arrest. Then the riots started. Thousands of locals fought with police, injuring many of them, burned the very white businesses that were refusing to desegregate, and took over a large part of downtown, holding it for days. By fighting back directly, they instantly made a desegregated, cop-free zone in the center of their city. Anxious to keep other people from learning the same lesson, Birmingham business leaders and politicians immediately agreed to legislate the desegregation that rioters had already accomplished (in fact they had won something even more potent: not only could blacks enter white businesses, but they didn’t have to pay for anything). President Kennedy finally started paying attention and urged Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act. It was the rioters who won civil rights.

Some veterans of the SNCC write about the decreasing effectiveness of civil disobedience in those years:

“The philosophy of nonviolence hit shakier ground when SNCC began its period of community organization in the South, having to face continual threats of perhaps deadly violence from whites. [… ]As a result, once strict guidelines of nonviolence were relaxed and members were unofficially permitted to carry guns for self defense. […] Eventually whites began to understand the tactic, and nonviolence became less powerful. […] If there was no more public violence for SNCC to rise above, SNCC’s message would be weakened. Thus, protesters were no longer beaten publicly. Instead they were attacked and beaten behind closed doors where newspaper reporters and television cameras could not reach. As southern whites intended, discrete violent oppression began to destroy the image of martyr that SNCC had carefully constructed through nonviolent protest. […] Soon after, the Harlem Riots took place. It was the first urban race riot, and brought the topic of black-initiated violence into public debate. Such actions were no longer assumed to be counter productive. This event, and eventually the rise of black power, led to the fall of nonviolence in SNCC.”

So whenever somebody says “Martin Luther King,” the message should be, “We know, we know, nonviolence doesn’t work.” Even King was moving away from a strict attachment to nonviolence, speaking in favor of rioters and the armed Vietnamese, before they killed him. This was after 1963, years in which he doesn’t appear in the official histories, when he was doing things and saying things that white progressives never refer to.

For example, King told Alex Haley in 1965: “Over the past several years, I must say, I have been gravely disappointed with such white “moderates” [those who consider themselves “enlightened” and “sympathize with our goals but cannot condone our methods of direct action”]. I am often inclined to think that they are more of a stumbling block to the Negro’s progress than the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner.”

This quote raises an interesting question. What was the role of white people in the Civil Rights movement? They seem to be absent from the stories above, as well as the best known episodes of the movement. The only real exceptions are Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two white New Yorkers killed in Mississippi alongside James Chaney.

In fact, a large number of white people participated in the movement, working alongside King in the SCLC, taking part in other organizations like CORE, going on Freedom Rides, and above all, helping fund the movement and putting pressure on media and politicians. There were also mostly white organizations like SDS and Weatherman that formed a part of the larger constellation of social struggles that were influenced by the Civil Rights movement and fed back into the continuing battle against racial oppression. Weatherman, for example, maintained ties with the Black Panthers.

And though many white people did go to prison, only a few faced the level of repression the FBI brought down on the black liberation movement (and usually it was white people who had engaged in armed struggle, like David Gilbert or Harold Thompson). In other words, many more white people survived the struggle intact; what’s more, they were able to become influential academics, politicians, or business leaders. The implication is that they are the ones, above all, who have written the official history of that era, a history that has been amputated, distorted, and falsified. And while they may have been radicals in their youth, they and the generations they have influenced have become increasingly like the “enlightened” moderates King warned about.

Mumia abu-Jamal writes about how Dr. King was “calming” for the white pysche, whereas the Panthers were frightening. And in many ways, the white middle class was the audience that a large part of the movement was performing for. They constituted, and they still constitute today, a virtual public, mobilized by the media, that lays down the norms for acceptable civic behavior. They determine whether a dissident social group is granted some legitimacy, or whether the police will be justified in annihilating them.

The same dynamic is reproduced today as white progressives essentially audit the rebellions that are sparked by the inevitable casualties of heavyhanded policing in poor neighborhoods primarily inhabited by people of color. They can refuse to see those rebellions as acts of resistance, instead fearfully dismissing them as senseless race riots, as was generally the case with the L.A. Riots of 1992. Or they can participate, in order to tame them, to make them more comfortable for the typical white person who does not have to put up with daily police violence.

I am absolutely not saying that nonviolence is a white thing and violence is what people of color use. I don’t believe that race predetermines people’s opinions or experiences, though it does generate patterns in terms of what people are subjected to by a racialized society. I know that within black communities of resistance, to name one example, there are still debates on what lessons to draw from the Civil Rights and black liberation movement. I personally take inspiration from the thinking of certain ex-Panthers, like Ashanti Alston, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, and Lorenzo Komboa Ervin. There are also veterans of the more militant wing of the struggle who still believe in a hierarchical, Maoist-inspired method, and there are still those who believe in nonviolence.

While I do think that an honest reading of history disproves the commonplace that “nonviolence worked,” which is basically what white people mean when they exclaim, “Martin Luther King!”, I don’t think that history is univocal, that it leads to any single, correct answers regarding how to create a better world. What’s more, how could there be one answer? Every individual and every community has different needs, and everyone faces different consequences when they go up against this system.

A person of color is going to face a higher risk of injury or imprisonment if they fight back than I would. This means that I cannot make tactical decisions for anyone else. But in the hands of many white progressives, this fact turns into the argument that fighting back is “privileged,” something only white people can do. This assertion is as patronizing as it is inaccurate. While the “Black Bloc” method of rioting is still carried out mostly by white people—after all, it was imported from Germany—this is only one of many ways that people choose to fight back. In fact, a politics of comfort, the ability to dissent without being punished, is one of the defining privileges of whiteness, though white people have to play by certain rules to enjoy it. And peacefulness is chief among those rules.

When something like Ferguson happens, people of color will suddenly appear in the media in greater quantity, urging nonviolence. White progressives take this as confirmation that their stance is not inflected by race, and in fact their comfort politics is just a way for them to be good allies following the leadership of people of color. But that is exactly how they are supposed to react. The legitimization of nonviolence is nothing but a spectacle, and they are the intended audience.

I don’t know if the activists, ministers, and scholars cast in the role of “community leaders” by the media engage in fair debates within their communities, if they’re making good tactical decisions in their circumstances, or if they even believe what they are saying. It isn’t my place to say. Regardless, they are used as figureheads by white media to deliver a reassuring message to a white audience. The same activists, with the same credentials, would not be given any air time by the big media corporations or the big NGOs and protest organizations, mostly reliant on white philanthropy, if they questioned the validity of nonviolence. Like consumers with a big budget, white progressives are determining the kind of products that are being sold to them without ever being aware of the marketing. Whether it’s designer shoes or protest strategies, the dynamics are the same, and above all they reinforce the worldview where buying and selling are normal activities and the market is understood as a natural force.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to view these opinions as products, at least when they are being packaged by the media. At every level of the spectacular treatment of this conflict, property relations are asserting themselves over and against human life. When kids are getting shot down in the streets, some vigilantes are taking up arms not against the police but against the looters, to defend “property rights”. By other means, proponents of nonviolence are doing the same thing, since a condemnation of the riots is above all support for the sanctity of property over life.

I think it can be a good thing that more white people are finally reacting to police violence and taking to the streets, but not if they participate in the unfolding movement in the same way as they participated in the Civil Rights movement.

After all, the current movement is in many ways a continuation of Civil Rights. And the latter was just one manifestation of the centuries-old fight against oppression and domination, which in this country has largely been about race, due to the way North America was colonized. There is a strong argument for the assertion that the Civil Rights movement neither won nor ended. If the shared goal of the movement was to end racial inequality and oppression, it was principally the legal-minded, college-educated portions of the movement who were asserting that the focus of that goal should be change at an institutional, legislative level. Their assertions have proven false. Perhaps the only concrete victories of the movement were to end Jim Crow segregation, institute a legal basis for racial equality, and substantially increase the percentage of registered black voters. At least as far as statistical evidence is concerned, these changes have not been accompanied by an increase in the quality of life for black people and other people of color, nor a substantial decrease in the disproportions between white people and people of color in any significant criterion from income to incarceration and police killings.

Jim Crow segregation is over, but a subtler form of segregation that had already been developed in northern cities from New York to Chicago by the time of the Civil Rights movement is the law of the land. As city administrators smelled the changing winds in the ’50s and ’60s, they applied for federal “urban renewal” grants and demolished thriving black neighborhoods across the South, from places like small, rural Harrisonburg, where I used to live, to southern Harlems, cultural centers like Richmond and Miami. In their places they built highways and incinerators, or they constructed new buildings for white businesses, and located new housing projects for the displaced black residents in less desirable neighborhoods. Housing and Urban Development proved to be a much more potent weapon than the Ku Klux Klan for the maintenance of a white supremacist system. And who needs the Ku Klux Klan when you have Google? Even more efficient than a powerful government bureaucracy, tech companies like Google or Microsoft are rapidly gentrifying historically black and latino neighborhoods from San Francisco to Seattle.

If you consider that the outer boundary of San Francisco’s gentrification is Oakland, these two beachheads of the new style of gentrification line up with sites of some of the fiercer and more innovative battles against police killings in the last five years: the cases of Oscar Grant and John T. Williams.

This is not a coincidence. Policing is crucial to the gentrification of a neighborhood, as well as to the maintenance of slum status in poor neighborhoods like Ferguson that the system intentionally neglects. And while many aspects of police strategies in these two kinds of neighborhoods differ—“broken windows” theory and hyperaggressive policing against quality of life offenses in the former, military-style operations, denial of services, and even complicity in the drug trade in the latter—both strategies result in the killings of people of color.

Though the media and the other institutions that educate us have cut us off from our histories and achieved a widespread social amnesia, we are affected by the past, and we continue to play out dynamics that began a long time ago. Whether we reference dominant histories or subversive histories—people’s histories—determines whether we learn from past mistakes or repeat them.

Nonviolence has the dubious honor of narrating people’s histories that are almost identical to the official history. Nonviolence worked, the Civil Rights movement won, and so on. In the Ferguson solidarity protest I attended, a young black person, before urging us to “burn everything,” said “this has been going on since Emmett Till.” He was referencing a much different history than the white person who tried to stop a few vandals by spouting “Martin Luther King!”

Many people in Ferguson and greater St. Louis have decided to take up arms against the police, first in August after Michael Brown was killed, and again in November after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson was announced. Both the proponents of nonviolence and the media have been downplaying the use of weapons by protesters, but the gunfire, aimed in the air or directly at police, has been a transformative characteristic, setting Ferguson apart from previous responses to police killings, and presenting a real danger, and therefore a limit, for the cops, as well as a danger for the protesters (several of whom were injured by friendly fire). Rather than shy away from the danger, shouldn’t we at least be talking about whether it is preferable to the one-sided war that police, in times of social peace, are continously waging against some of us?

Leave it to Fox News to denounce those who take up weapons as mindless thugs or demons. I think people who live on the frontline of the war being waged by police know exactly what they’re about. I also think we should grant them the respect of placing them in the same tradition as Robert Williams and the Monroe NAACP, the Panthers, and militias of freed slaves a century before that.

There are also plenty of black people in Ferguson or beyond who have chosen to respond peacefully. Some have the very real fear of being shot by police. Others are careerists, or belong to vanguardist organizations like the New Black Panther Party (pretty uniformly denounced by members of the original Panthers). Some want to make a nonviolent strategy work in the present circumstances. Others wanted to give the courts a chance to right the wrong of Michael Brown’s murder, and have since given up on a peaceful response.

As a white person, I have to ask myself how to relate to this struggle. White proponents of nonviolence will typically try to cast other whites who engage in riskier and more combative tactics as privileged and racist, while they cast themselves as “allies” following the lead of people of color. However, those they tokenistically claim to follow are the ones the media have given the loudest voice, and those who are preaching the exact form of peaceful protest they already have a preference for, that won’t require them to go out of their comfort zone or face a level of confrontation with police that their privilege usually protects them from.

Clearly, people on the ground in Ferguson have responded with a variety of forms of resistance. It turns my stomach when outsiders basically go shopping and choose the form that fits their preconceived preferences and notions of resistance, and then claim they’re in solidarity with “Ferguson,” as though that were some homogenous body.

I think true solidarity can only exist between people or groups that have their own autonomous struggles. And while white people will never know what it is like for people of color in this society, I don’t think I can trust a white person who does not have their own reasons for hating police. If they make all the right choices that white people are taught to make—go to university, get a high-paying job, be a good citizen, and if you must protest, do it peacefully, if you must riot, do it at a sports match—they may not have had any experience with a cop worse than an argument over a speeding ticket (although I think a certain dogmatic view of white privilege erases the experiences of poor whites or whites with mental health problems, who often have demeaning run-ins with cops, and who are frequently attracted by right-wing discourses, perhaps because only the Right will grant them victim status).

But if they do not make the normalized choices, if they do not accept the limits of what is supposed to pass for freedom under democratic capitalism, they will learn firsthand, either in their own bodies or watching it happen to loved ones, about prison, police torture and beatings, surveillance, repression, and the presumption of guilt. In other words, they will learn the nature of police.

Once I understand the nature of the police, it makes sense to me to respond every time the cops kill someone. Solidarity means that I seek out others who are facing the same problem, albeit inevitably from a different perspective. Naturally, those who prefer peaceful methods will link up with others with the same preferences, just as those who prefer combative methods will find each other. It makes for a more robust struggle if people with different methods also form relationships and learn how to complement rather than denounce one another; however the historical lesson that reformists and those who seek institutional dialogue and advancement will inevitably sell out the grassroots and the more radical currents, could help avoid major betrayals during the process of forming relationships across difference.

At a minimum, solidarity in this current struggle dictates that we do not constrain the choices of those who are most affected by police killings (though I think the label of “most affected” in this case excludes not only whites but also economically mobile activists of color who fly in from across the country). One way that white people might fail at that is by starting a riot every time locals were trying to organize a vigil. That didn’t happen in Ferguson. What did happen was that progressive whites, together with professional activists of various races, tried to criminalize and prevent non-peaceful responses. They faced an uphill battle in Ferguson, but they succeeded in pacifying solidarity events around the country, preventing protesters from taking the lead of folks in Ferguson, experiencing rage at the same level, or engaging in the same bold process of taking over space and learning how to fight back.

It’s a shame that this happened, because a multiracial crowd can accomplish things that other crowds cannot. I have mentioned how police in Ferguson and St. Louis were uncharacteristically restrained, and did not open fire on rioters and looters the way they did in L.A. in ’92 or New Orleans in ’05.  Perhaps they held back this time because there were more white people in the streets, or because they feared a wider insurrection, or both. In any case, if more white people took part in fierce, combative responses to police killings rather than constraining those responses, the State would either have to step back as crowds pushed cops out of entire neighborhoods, allowing communities to experiment with police-free zones and other forms of autonomy, or they would have to start shooting more white people, which would drastically undermine one of the most important hierarchies for upholding State power in this country.

An honest conversation about tactics and strategies in the streets is sorely needed, and at a broader scale than has happened in the past. A long list of manipulations and clichés makes that conversation impossible, aided by the fact that many people still trust the media as a forum for a social conversation, or they don’t notice when discourses crafted in and for the media (often by academics and NGO activists who are seduced by the power of a sound byte) infiltrate their own thinking. The media weigh in heavily on the side of nonviolence, finding purchase in the common misconception that nonviolence has worked in the past.

If we can resurrect subversive, or even just factually vigorous, histories of the Civil Rights movement and other struggles, and rediscover the thread of continuity from those times to the ones we currently inhabit, we can lay the groundwork for a much more intelligent discussion of how to move forward.

But moving forward requires us to think about where we are going, and the artificial consensus on nonviolence pales in comparison to the consensus that has been manufactured around the police; good or bad, they are necessary, and at the very most they must be reformed.

The rocks on which the present movement will founder and break apart, or which it will climb to finally leave behind the cesspool of problems that have cycled and recycled for centuries, is the question of a world without police.

If we can effectively engage with this question, we might be able to surpass the miseries of reformism that devoured the Civil Rights movement and left us with the problem of police killings that haunts us today.

 

[Peter Gelderloos has participated in various initiatives to support prisoners and push the police out of our neighborhoods. He is the author of several books, including The Failure of Nonviolence.]

 

 

 

The NGO-ization of Resistance

Massalijn

September 4, 2014

By Arundhati Roy

 

ngoization

 

A hazard facing mass movements is the NGO-ization of resistance. It will be easy to twist what I’m about to say into an indictment of all NGOs. That would be a falsehood. In the murky waters of fake NGOs set up or to siphon off grant money or as tax dodges (in states like Bihar, they are given as dowry), of course, there are NGOs doing valuable work. But it’s important to consider the NGO phenomenon in a broader political context.

In India, for instance, the funded NGO boom began in the late 1980s and 1990s. It coincided with the opening of India’s markets to neoliberalism. At the time, the Indian state, in keeping with the requirements of structural adjustment, was withdrawing funding from rural development, agriculture, energy, transport and public health. As the state abdicated its traditional role, NGOs moved in to work in these very areas. The difference, of course, is that the funds available to them are a minuscule fraction of the actual cut in public spending.

Most large-funded NGOs are financed and patronized by aid and development agencies, which are, in turn, funded by Western governments, the World Bank, the UN and some multinational corporations. Though they may not be the very same agencies, they are certainly part of the same loose, political formation that oversees the neoliberal project and demands the slash in government spending in the first place.

Why should these agencies fund NGOs? Could it be just old-fashioned missionary zeal? Guilt? It’s a little more than that. NGOs give the impression that they are filling the vacuum created by a retreating state. And they are, but in a materially inconsequential way. Their real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right. They alter the public psyche. They turn people into dependent victims and blunt the edges of political resistance. NGOs form a sort of buffer between the sarkar and public. Between Empire and its subjects. They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators.

In the long run, NGOs are accountable to their funders, not to the people they work among. They’re what botanists would call an indicator species. It’s almost as though the greater the devastation caused by neoliberalism, the greater the outbreak of NGOs. Nothing illustrates this more poignantly than the phenomenon of the U.S. preparing to invade a country and simultaneously readying NGOs to go in and clean up the devastation. In order make sure their funding is not jeopardized and that the governments of the countries they work in will allow them to function, NGOs have to present their work in a shallow framework, more or less shorn of a political or historical context. At any rate, an inconvenient historical or political context.

Apolitical (and therefore, actually, extremely political) distress reports from poor countries and war zones eventually make the (dark) people of those (dark) countries seem like pathological victims. Another malnourished Indian, another starving Ethiopian, another Afghan refugee camp, another maimed Sudanese…in need of the white man’s help. They unwittingly reinforce racist stereotypes and reaffirm the achievements, the comforts and the compassion (the tough love) of Western civilization. They’re the secular missionaries of the modern world.

Eventually–on a smaller scale, but more insidiously–the capital available to NGOs plays the same role in alternative politics as the speculative capital that flows in and out of the economies of poor countries. It begins to dictate the agenda. It turns confrontation into negotiation. It depoliticizes resistance. It interferes with local peoples’ movements that have traditionally been self-reliant. NGOs have funds that can employ local people who might otherwise be activists in resistance movements, but now can feel they are doing some immediate, creative good (and earning a living while they’re at it).

Real political resistance offers no such short cuts. The NGO-ization of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9-to-5 job. With a few perks thrown in. Real resistance has real consequences. And no salary.