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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Response to Party-Building in the 21st Century 

A couple of weeks ago, Louis Proyect posted an excellent article to The North Star site, Party-Building in the 21st Century. Proyect, the unrepentent Marxist, writes from the perspective of someone who has survived the sectarian stuggles of the last 40 years. Accordingly, there is much in the article that merits praise.

For example, Proyect is scornful of those Marxist formations that have seemingly existed solely for the purpose of denigrating the efforts of others to organize broad based anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist coalitions. He emphasizes that it is essential for the left to engage people in terms of the difficulties that they experience in their daily lives. Hence, his positive references to Lenin's 1899 draft programme for the Russian Social-Democrats, the Black Panther breakfast program and the recent SYRIZA 40-point program, which, along with structural measures like cutting military spending, taxing the banks and reforming the electoral process, includes proposals such as housing the homeless in churches, government buildings and banks, opening dining rooms in public schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to children and free health benefits to the unemployed, homeless and those with low salaries. For someone like me, who lives in a city, Sacramento, that has been devastated by the bursting of the real estate bubble, with a proliferating homeless population that constituted one of the most prominent features of the local Occupy effort, such an approach has great appeal.

Interestingly, as acknowledged by Proyect and Pham Binh, anti-authoritarians grasped this concept while Marxists did not, working upon issues within Occupy that were seemingly at odds with their vision of society. As a result, we have observed the peculiarity of anarchists participating in the defense of people threatened with foreclosure, protests against university fee increases and resistance to the closure of public schools. Of course, it only appears peculiar if one is unaware of the anti-authoritarian emphasis upon the need to provide support for those victimized by the deprivation and violence of the capitalist system. It remains an open question as to whether they can continue to do so, but they should be credited for the right response at a critical moment.

With Occupy currently out of public view as a consequence of police repression, there is much discussion how to proceed. Proyect, not surprisingly, along with other Marxists, sees the way forward through through a humanitarian program that forms the basis of a new socialist party, evoking the tangled history of such efforts going back to the 19th Century. Given that he knows his history well, his presentation, on its own terms, is flawless. But what does it mean to engage in party-building in the 21st Century by reference to examples that, in some instances, are over 100 years old? Of course, there is much to learn from them, but one must also account for the social evolution that have occurred during this period, with one of the most significant aspects of it being the disintegration of collective social institutions that engaged the working class. When anarchists and Marxists competed for the support of workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these workers, whether Marxist or anarchist, had networks of housing, schools, social centers, gymnasiums and newspapers. They created such networks because the governmental and non-profit programs that provide such services today either didn't exist, or were grossly inadequate. One of the paradoxes of the creation of the liberal social welfare state is that it substituted the governmental and non-profit provision of assistance for earlier efforts created by workers, providing, at least until recently, higher levels of support while simultaneously disempowering them. In parts of the world that experienced industrialization after the United States and northern Europe, like Italy and South America, this process was not concluded until the 1970s. Contemporary neoliberalism is distinctive because it extracts the value of these governmental forms of social assistance for the benefit of private investors.

For purposes of this discussion, however, it is essential to understand that the socialist parties described by Proyect emerged, in most instances, as part of the vibrant, independent institutional universe created by workers prior to the creation of the welfare state. In other words, party-builders had fertile ground in which to construct them, with workers readily accessible to them and thereby responsive to an attempt to assert their interests through a collectively organized party structure. Along these lines, even Proyect's reference to the Black Panthers is consistent with this, as many African Americans, in places like Oakland, Los Angeles, Detroit and Newark, had been excluded from the benefits of the welfare state through discriminatory practices (consider, for example, that there was a housing shortage in Watts just prior to the 1965 riots while thousands upon thousands of homes were being constructed for whites in the Los Angeles suburbs nearby). Accordingly, it was still necessary for them to rely upon informal networks of social support that were no longer necessary for others, especially the white working class. Even anarchists, while hostile to the electoral process, did, in many instances, as anarcho-syndicalists, participate in unions that served a similar purpose.

In this, the great socialist parties of the 20th Century, the Labor Party in the United Kingdom, the Parti Comunista Italiano in Italy, the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the Socialist and Communist parties in France, among others, were all dependent upon a collective ethos that facilitated the emergence of the mass based, modern political party. The repudiation of this collective ethos is one of the most salient features of our time, and presents a challenge that must be confronted by anyone, like Proyect and, to a lesser extent, Binh, who proposes a socialist party-building enterprise for the left. We need not linger long over the evidence of this repudiation, it is all around us, the abandonment of the political parties by larger and larger segments of the population, the atomization of people within their communities and the prominence of a virtual culture that increasingly manipulates people through simulation and stimulation, as anticipated by intellectual figures like Bifo and Baudrillard. Constructing a party in such circumstances requires more than a willingness to participate in coalitions and the creation of a platform that speaks directly to needs of people.

Put bluntly, it additionally requires a traumatic delegitimization of the existing structures of political, social and cultural authority. We can identify three places where it has occurred: Venezuela, Bolivia and Greece. In Venezuela, the 1989 caracazo ignited a process that lead to the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez and the implementation of measures designed to alleviate the extreme inequality within the country. In Bolivia, Evo Morales and the Movement Towards Socialism took power through the generational efforts of indigenous social movements in opposition to neoliberal policies and drug eradication measures dictated by the United States. Meanwhile, in Greece, the imposition of extreme austerity measures since 2009 has resulted in the success of SYRIZA, a coalition of leftist parties, in recent elections. Greece, and, perhaps, Bolivia as well, presents the prospect of a possible socialist formation contemplated by Proyect, while Venezuela remains a country where power is still exercised through elites, with the mobilization of the populace through participatory political structures being tentative at best.

Proyect has periodically said that he expects conditions in the United States to continue to decline because of the rapaciousness of global capitalist elites. It is a rational assessment with a high probability of being accurate. He therefore insists that there is a great urgency towards the undertaking of the party-building effort that he advocates. Perhaps so, but if it proceeds, it is likely to move forward absent the vanguardism that he mentions in relation to the Nicaraguan revolution. SYRIZA relies upon a consensus decisionmaking process that preserves unity around a coherent statement of policy objectives in opposition to austerity. By doing so, it highlights the fact that future socialist formations, to the extent that they can be considered parties at all, will not administer themselves in accordance with the Leninist practices of the past. Instead, they will operate more horizontally, exposing the irrelevancy of anti-authoritarian critiques centered around the pernicious hierarchies within them. Accordingly, we may be moving towards a squaring of the circle whereby anti-authoritarians concede the necessity of participation within the electoral processes of the state, while Marxists acknowledge that it must be done through a formation that is horizontal to the greatest degree possible.

But can this be done in the United States as proposed by Proyect? I tend to believe that the country is too large, too fragmented, too much in the thrall of capital and militaristic nationalism for it to happen anytime soon. Instead, there will be a prolonged period of direct action and mutual aid efforts to expose the deprivation of the system and ameliorate its effects. In doing so, the participants must necessarily engage the populace in terms of their daily needs. But building the new in the shell of the old is not just an aphorism, it is considered a realistic, immediate strategy for dealing with the loss of jobs, housing, educational opportunities and medical care required to survive in this society. Hence, the parents of children in the Oakland Unified School District, faced with the closure of 5 elementary schools, didn't decide to organize a local socialist coalition, instead, they seized one of the schools planned for closure, Lakeview Elementary, and reopened it to continue to educate their children. Through the proliferation of such actions over time, the left may accumulate sufficient power to accelerate the collapse of American capitalism. But I doubt that it will happen peaceably through participation in the electoral process. At most, such participation, if it happens, will merely be one instrument among many that the left pragmatically utilizes to bring about this outcome.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

The People's School for Public Education @ Lakeview Elementary 

UPDATE: From an article written by Ryan Phillips of Oakland North:

The entrance to Lakeview on Grand Avenue was guarded by Occupy Oakland protesters on Thursday, who tried to limit who came and went from the school to only parents and students. Inside the campus, elementary-school aged children worked in the garden and then inside the classroom of longtime Lakeview teacher Pamela Chinn-Scoffern on art projects, including designing a logo for the People’s School.

Nirali Jani, who lives near Lakeview, sat behind her 3-year-old son at the art table on Thursday afternoon. Jani said she was hoping to send her son to Lakeview when he got old enough because this is our neighborhood school. When Jani heard about the protest this week, she decided to pull her son out of preschool in the afternoon and bring him to the People’s School. Thursday was his first day.

The activities here are really beautiful, and hands-on, and I felt like since it’s summertime I wanted to get our hands dirty, Jani said as she watched her son draw at the table. I think it’s important to be around parents and teachers who are building together.

As she was leaving campus when classes ended at 3 pm, Jani spoke with Velasquez about returning to the school next week to help teach a social justice course. Still, she knows police could move in at any time and evict the protesters. I see it as an inevitability, Jani said.

INITIAL POST:

On June 14th, parents, teachers, students and other members of the community announced their intention to enter Lakeview Elementary and conduct a sit-in after it had been ordered closed by the Oakland Unified School District:

At the end of this school year, the Oakland Unified School District plans to close 5 public elementary schools and hand children’s school buildings over to private charter schools and district administration offices. Hundreds of the displaced students have been placed by the district in elementary schools that are 10 miles away, and the school district has offered no guarantee that transportation will be provided for families. In response . . .

Oakland Parents and Teachers Are Sitting-in to Keep Neighborhood Schools Open!

We Need Your Support!!

On June 15th, after the last day of school, Oakland parents and teachers will sit-in at Lakeview Elementary demanding that the district keep all neighborhood schools open. The district has not listened to lawsuits, pleas from parents and teachers, or protests. We know the money exists, but still they insist on closing flatland schools serving predominantly black and brown children. We say no more excuses! We’re keeping the schools open the last way left to us, by sitting-in. But we cannot do this alone. We need your support! Demand the district and the politicians give us full funding for quality education in neighborhood public schools. Join the fight for our kids’ futures.

After taking over the school property, they reopened the school on Monday and began to conduct classes and organize activities for children, and continue to do so. As one person in the video says . . . we start to build the world we want to see in the shell of the old.

Tomorrow, if you live in the Bay Area, there will be a rally and march in defense of this action. You can also show your support by signing a petition and donating funds. By visiting saveoaklandschools.org and the Twitter hashtag @LakeviewSitIn, you can stay informed in regard to breaking news, as the police have already posted a stay away order. Not surprisingly, it appears that the school district is losing money by shutting down Lakeview and 4 other elementary schools in lower income areas, but, then, I guess money is no object when it comes to subsidizing the expansion of charter schools. Yesterday, California legislature leaders reached an agreement with the governor for a revised budget that decreases funding for the public schools by 3 billion dollars while increasing the block grant for charter schools.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Film Notes: Andrew Sarris 

UPDATE: Sarris was known for considering film directors to be auteurs, engaged in a creative process when they made a movie analoguous to a painter or a novelist. It is a dubious concept for several reasons, such as, for example, the perpetually evolving economics of the film industry and the large, variegated, talented group of people required to make a movie on both sides of the camera. Fassbinder was considered a classic example of an auteur, and yet those who worked with him, cinematographers, set designers, actors and costume designers all acknowledged the latitude he gave them. Usually, a general instruction was enough, as when he told the costume designer for Berlin Alexanderplatz that the prostitute characters in late 1920s Berlin were middle class women trying to survive, and that their dress should reflect it. A commercial studio production is always the result of the accumulated efforts of many creative workers. Sarris' description of film directors as auteurs will probably be remembered more for facilitating the marketing of films, for branding them, than for its accuracy in explaining how films are made. In any event, none of this detracts from the fact that he had an acute sense of the the most artistically compelling films of his era.

INITIAL POST: Film critic Andrew Sarris died yesterday at the age of 83. Upon looking over his lists of best films going back to the late 1950s, I was stunned. When something new, dynamic and provocative was released, such as, for example, Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract, he recognized its importance immediately. For his selection of Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz as the best release of the 1980s alone, he is entitled to enduring, unqualified posthumous respect. And, if he failed to perceive the brilliant, harsh diversity of 1960s Japanese film and experience the joys of the Taiwanese and Hong Kong cinema of the 1990s beyond Wong Kar-wai (oddly enough, Sarris selected one of his lesser efforts, Fallen Angels, for a ten best list), well, nobody's perfect.

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Botched Paramilitary Police Raids 

An extraordinary graphic representation of police violence in the US courtesy of the Cato Institute, with detailed background information about each incident.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

firedoglake on Life Support (Part 2) 

UPDATE 2: The implosion of firedoglake continues. TBogg, known for calling a critic of his support for drone strikes a fucking retard and telling that person to blow me without consequences, is now complaining that the conduct of others is driving people away from the site:

I’d like FDL to have a much bigger readership, but it is hard to do that when the same people keep showing with the same tired arguments, and the attendant goal post moving, which only makes regular readers run away, And, believe me, they do; I get emails from people all the time who say they won’t come back. That frustrates the crap out of me.

This, from someone who, in addition to hijacking the comment thread of a post written by someone else, frequently seizes upon the legitimate transgressions of the Catholic Church and turns them into offensive posts certain to drive even progressive Catholics away. Indeed, the anti-Catholicism of TBogg and, sometimes, Teddy Partridge, is arguably the most self-destructive feature of the site, if measured by Hamsher's aspiration to create a progressive town square.

UPDATE 1: Predictably, it didn't take long. Hamsher banned someone who made a comment in response to her post that she didn't like. There is no longer any evidence of this person associated with the site at all. Furthermore, if you inquire about it, or, even worse, post about it, you risk virtual disappearance. So much for being a town square where a fair discussion of the merits of all sides can take place. A better, more inclusive approach would have allowed members to vent in response to her post today, while firmly insisting upon future compliance with the new policy, but that would have run contrary to her reflexive need to assert control. In this instance, there was also the side benefit of expelling a strong, third party voice, and, probably, many of those who liked him, from the site as well. Hence, expect a manipulation of this standard for posts and comments to the benefit of those supporting the reelection of President Obama.

INITIAL POST: Jane Hamsher has spoken in response to intensified snark guerrilla warfare among the remaining die hards at firedoglake:

Accusing someone of having ulterior, nefarious and unacknowledged motives isn’t discussion. It’s nothing but an attempt to shut down discussion.

The rule is clearly stated. Don’t pee in the pool or you’ll be kicked out of the pool. If someone thinks their special brand of ambrosia-scented pee pee doesn’t count, and they want to give a good squirt and demand a deal in order to comply with the rules, they’re gone.

The no wee-wee policy could not be any more unambiguous. I suggest maybe zipping up and rethinking how you want to approach this conversation, rather than accusing us of an unacknowledged desire to to shut down criticism of the veal pen.

It is what it is. The rule is the rule, and it is iron-clad. If someone can’t accept that, this is the end of the road for them at FDL.

I guess that one of the privileges that comes with funding your own website is that you can say anything, no matter how ridiculous. In this instance, she has developed such an impenetrable sense of denial that she no longer recognizes that she is the one of the people that most frequently violates this rule to manipulate the content of the site, as she did in order to drive me away. Is she really so oblivious that she doesn't understand that the snark wars that have overwhelmed the site are being caused by people emulating her oftentimes arrogant, dismissive and insulting style of communication? Or, maybe, she cynically believes that the remaining members will uncritically accept anything she says. Only she knows. But, for those of us on the outside, it is becoming more and more evident that firedoglake no longer possesses any capability to motivate people to politically organize themselves. And, that, for reasons that I have previously explained, is a great loss. If she had candidly admitted her own shortcomings in relation to the current situation at the site, she might have been able to turn things around. But Hamsher isn't known for acknowledging that she makes mistakes. The reporters, Dayen, Walker and Gosztola, remain well worth reading, though.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

SYRIZA and the American Left 

Pham Binh of the The North Star asked me, along with several others, to submit a post about the significance of the success of SYRIZA in Greece. Please go here to read all of the offerings, which should be posted by early next week. Here's what I sent to him:

What Can American Leftists Learn from the Success of SYRIZA?

Even now, the significance of SYRIZA’s success in the recent Greek parliamentary election is not well understood. While leftists bicker over whether SYRIZA is reformist (ones senses the ghosts of the German SPD Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Italian PCI Communist Party (PCI) lingering in the background), Greek workers are beginning to sever past political relationships under the pressure of the brutal austerity being imposed upon them. They are gravitating towards radical left parties, with SYRIZA in the forefront. In May, these parties received a combined vote unprecedented in post-war Greek history. On June 17th, these parties are likely to receive even more votes, perhaps so many that SYRIZA will have the opportunity to form a leftist, anti-austerity government.

While we await the election result, SYRIZA has already accomplished something that years of anti-authoritarian confrontation on the streets of Athens has failed to do: it has terrified the neoliberal elites of Europe. Along with the contemporaneous election of Socialist Party candidate Hollande in France, SYRIZA is forcing these elites to confront the prospect of a reinvigorated left if the European Union and the International Monetary Fund continue to insist upon austerity. President Obama perceives the peril as well, as he is trying to persuade German Chancellor Merkel to relent in her opposition to measures that could marginally ameliorate the crisis.

SYRIZA, more accurately described as the “Coalition of the Radical Left”, first emerged as a national electoral participant in 2004 after various components of the Greek left acknowledged that they could work together against neoliberalism despite other differences. It is arguably the most successful organization to emerge out of the anti-globalization efforts of the late 1990s, if one measures success by its survival and expanding base within the Greek electorate. Starting in 2004 with over 3.3% of the vote, it has consistently increased its share of the electorate in subsequent elections, garnering a second-place finish with nearly 17% of the vote and 52 members of the Greek parliament in the May 6 elections. With this most recent breakthrough, it now has a European, if not global, voice, as most recently demonstrated by media coverage of SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’ trip to Paris where he condemned austerity as a catastrophe for Europe.

It is easy for anti-authoritarians of both the Marxist and anarchist kind to dismiss SYRIZA. We all know the arguments: the electoral process is a sham, SYRIZA will get co-opted, capitalists will exploit SYRIZA to legitimize this ongoing reorganization of the global economy to the detriment of the working class. I know them because I have developed a similar perspective about the U.S. political system, especially after the brazen embrace of finance capital by Barack Obama after running for president as a progressive, reformist candidate. Upon hearing these objections, one imagines Tsipras attending Davos, participating in a forum with George Soros and Gerhard Schroeder, with Bill Clinton praising him for his intelligence and pragmatism.

Perhaps, this will happen, perhaps not. But this perspective about SYRIZA is narrow and misguided.

Regardless of the future of SYRIZA, there is much to be learned from its experience. SYRIZA has been able to attract the support of working class and some middle class Greeks, and continues to do so. It is an example of a relatively inclusive political organization that, because of its focus upon the intensifying economic distress of Greeks, has become more and more influential. It speaks to the reality of daily life in a society where people are struggling to survive, with a program consciously designed to alleviate their suffering. Not surprisingly, there are those on the left who malign this program as “reformist.”.

If only I, and millions of other Americans, could be “victimized” by such reforms! We would be living in something akin to a Scandinavian Scandinavian-style social democracy, which, while beset with its own contradictions, would constitute a substantial improvement in living conditions. But this is a digression that accepts the boundaries of this cramped debate about SYRIZA in relation to participation in the electoral process. Instead, the lack of any political formation in the U.S. comparable to SYRIZA is the much more pressing problem. If Americans are confronted with an economic collapse comparable to what has transpired in Greece, how will they respond? A cursory examination of recent American history suggests that many will accept populist, right-wing explanations for their predicament, as they have often done since the late 1970s. U.S. radicals should therefore look to SYRIZA for guidance as to how to achieve unanimity around a program that engages millions of Americans already impoverished by austerity. Such an effort is not necessarily in conflict with anti-authoritarian practice.

For example, the late Colin Ward advocated an inclusive form of anarchism that could assist in this endeavor. Ward believed that there was a perpetual struggle between the centralization of power and its dispersal through people and organizations capable of fulfilling the needs of society non-hierarchically. He identified strongly with the lived experience of people within their communities, and proposed policies that prioritized their ability to address their problems themselves. He refused to wait for revolutionary conditions for the creation of anarchist institutions, and conceded that a world dominated solely by anarchist practice might be a sterile one.

One of the most striking aspects of Ward’s vision was his refusal to stereotypically dismiss large parts of the population as being inherently hostile to anarchist principles of social organization. Where others saw weeds, he found hidden flowers. It is an attitude that is lacking among leftists in the U.S. While many in Occupy have made efforts in this direction, there is still much to be done. There is an urgent need to find points of agreement within a pluralistic world of participation. If SYRIZA had not done so, it would be moribund today.

This is the essential concept that we must grasp from SYRIZA’s success.

Such an effort requires a willingness to communicate directly with people that is now almost absent in the U.S., a willingness to speak with them candidly and without preconditions about their social experiences. This is the promise that still remains within Occupy, even after its suppression. If fulfilled, we could develop support for a program of economic intervention and demilitarization that empowers people to govern their own communities, and thereby take a small step towards the implementation of Ward’s utopian vision.

Given the rigidity of the U.S. electoral process, it is likely that such a movement will invariably grow outside the electoral process. SYRIZA is a coalition in a country with somewhere around 11 million people. In other words, Greece has about twice the number of people as the San Francisco Bay Area. Hence, any effort to replicate SYRIZA in the U.S. would require a daunting organizational effort, one that would require incomprehensible amounts of money and volunteer time. But SYRIZA remains an example of what is possible if people organize within a reasonably sized community. Any effort of this kind should be measured by a simple standard: the extent to which it expands participation with a recognition of the inherent violence and inequality of American society.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

International Support for the UC Davis Dozen 

International support for the students and faculty at UC Davis that shut down the US Bank branch on campus:

Sometime in July, in a court in Yolo County, California, eleven students and one professor at the University of California Davis will stand trial, accused of the willful and malicious act of protesting peacefully in front of a bank branch situated on their University campus.

There has been in recent months a great deal of online coverage of the brutality of public order policing at Davis. The treatment of the Davis Dozen, however, promises more longstanding injury. If found guilty, each faces charges of up to eleven years in prison and $1 million in fines.

The immediate history of the case stretches back to autumn 2008, when state budget cuts trickled down to the partly state-funded University of California. The administration of that University responded by announcing that tuition fees would be increased by 32%, prompting several months of vocal student protests and campus occupations, violently suppressed by the state authorities.

As the collapse of the US banking sector caused the State of California to withdraw its funding for its public Universities, those same Universities turned to the banking sector for financial support. On 3 November 2009, just two weeks before riot police would end a student occupation at UC Berkeley by firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the students and faculty gathered outside, the University of California Davis announced on its website a new deal with US Bank, the high street banking division of U.S Bancor, the fifth largest commercial bank in the United States.

According to the terms of that deal, US Bank would provide UC Davis with a campus branch and a variable revenue stream, to be determined by the University's success in urging its own students to sign up for US Bank accounts. In return UC Davis would print US Bank logos on all student ID cards, which from 2010 would be convertible into ATM cards attached to US Bank accounts. Just at the moment when, on the campus of UC Berkeley, riot police were beating up and shooting students who protested against austerity, fee increases, and their handmaiden, debt, the management of UC Davis was selling the debt of its own students to U.S. Bancor, the corporate beneficiary of austerity.

The poet and critic Joshua Clover, who has written extensively on those police actions, is among the twelve who sat down in front of the Davis branch of US Bank in protest, and who now faces the prospect of sitting in a cell in the Monroe County Detention Center until 2024, has argued that the rise in tuition and indebtedness simply is the militarization of campus. These processes, Clover says, are one and the same. The claim concerning police violence will not seem exaggerated to anyone who has watched the videos on You Tube of the police action at Davis.

The sit-down protests outside the UC Davis Branch of US Bank, in which the UC Davis Dozen were only a few of many participants, were not only peaceful; they were, in effect, the active demilitarization of campus. Their point was to make explicit the connection between corporate banking, state austerity and an increasingly militaristic police presence in universities.

US Bank closed its branch in the UC Davis Memorial Union Building in March. The sit-down protests were a success. That such effective protest cannot be tolerated is evident from the response of the University administration and the Yolo County District Attorney. The charges against the Davis Dozen have a notable history of service: Obstructing movement in a public place was an indictment invented to criminalise homelessness in Alabama. The Davis Dozen are to learn – on behalf of everyone affected by austerity – that protest against the conditions which lead to homelessness is criminalised by the same legislation that makes homelessness illegal. For the bankers, millionaire University administrators and state functionaries for whom revenue is to be maximised no matter what the cost to the people they serve, this paradox is no paradox at all.

We are grateful to the Davis Dozen for the example of principled and eloquent bravery in response to intolerable extensions of police and corporate power at a time when the poorest are being deterred from university study by the prospect of unmanageable debt. We, internationally located artists, critics, and writers, ask that the Davis Dozen be acquitted of these extraordinarily severe and ignoble charges, to which they have courageously pleaded not guilty.

Signed:

Dr. David Nowell-Smith, Université Paris VII - Denis Diderot, Prof. Robert Hampson, Royal Holloway, Dr. Daniele Pantano, Edge Hill University, Olivier Brossard, Maître de conférences, littérature américaine, Université Paris Est-Marne la Vallée, David Gorin Jean-Jacques Pouce, Fellow, Internationales Kolleg Morphomata, Genese, Dynamik, Medialität kultureller Figurationen, Daisy Fried Abigail Lang, Maître de conférences (Associate Professor), Université Paris-Diderot, Paris, Michelle Levy Schulz Dominique Pasqualini, Directeur de l'école EMA Fructidor (School of media and fine arts, Director), Chalon-sur-Saône, Sean Bonney, Marianne Morris, poet, UC Falmouth, Keston Sutherland, Reader in English, University of Sussex, Orlando Reade, University of Cambridge Binh Nguyen, San Diego, CA, Janet Holmes, Boise State University B, arry Schwabsky, art critic, The Nation, Robert Kiely, Birkbeck College Kent Johnson John Wilkinson, poet, Professor of Practice in the Arts, University of Chicago Alvin D. Greenberg, Boise State University Dr. Alberto Toscano, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths Stacy Blint, Disappearing Books Katy Balma, Fulbright Fellow and Teaching Assistant, University of Connecticut Wendy Battin, poet and essayist David Lau, Lana Turner Magazine Nick-e Melville, poet and lecturer at Motherwell College, Scotland Peter Phillpott, Great Works, modernpoetry.org.uk Patrick Pritchett, Lecturer, History and Literature, Harvard University Robert Archembeau, Professor of English, Lake Forest College (Illinois) Rob Holloway, Joseph Kaplan, Dr. Jeffrey Pethybridge, Susquehanna University Dr. Don Stinson, Northern Oklahoma College George Cunningham, Hansa Arts Joseph Walton Hugh McDonnell, University of Amsterdam Megan Kaminski, Creative Writing Lecturer, University of Kansas Jose A. Alcantara K.E Allen, Lecturer in English, Comprehensive Studies Program, University of Michigan Allan Peterson, Gulf Breeze, FL Siobain Walker Dr. Nina Power, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Roehampton Francesca Lisette Caitlin Doherty, University of Cambridge Frances Richard, Barnard College Ryan Dobran, University of Cambridge Dr. Cathy Wagner, Miami University, OH John Bloomberg-Rissman, University of California, Riverside Carla Harryman, Associate Professor of Literature, Eastern Michigan University Robert Ellen Joel Duncan, University of Notre Dame Jared Schickling, Adjunct Professor, Humanities Division, Niagara Count Community College Dr. Ian Patterson, Fellow, Tutor, Director of Studies in English, Queens' College, University of Cambridge Dr. Lisa Samuels, Associate Professor, University of Auckland, New Zealand Ian Heames, University od Cambridge Prof. Alex Davis, University College Cork John Temple Jonathan B. Highfield Dr. Jennifer Cooke, Lecturer in English, Loughborough University Dr. Zoe Skoulding, Bangor University Kashka Georgeson David Grundy, University of Cambridge Luke McMullan Josh Robison, University of Cambridge Josh Stanley, Phd Student, Yale University Luke Roberts, Phd candidate, University of Cambridge Gareth Durasow.

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

firedoglake on Life Support (Part 1) 

Over the years, I have been preoccupied with how radicalized people can be effectively organized in this atomized society. Hence, my interest in the demise of labor unions and their self-absorbed leadership that considers any sincerely motivated rank and file social activism as a threat. Instead of challenging the neoliberal order, they have aligned themselves with it, policing the boundaries of acceptable, innocuous protest, as they did in Wisconsin, with disasterous results. I find myself experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance in regard to them, recognizing that they lost their historical agency decades ago, but incapable of identifying an alternative.

Similarly, I have looked to the Internet for places operated by people with a sufficiently independent turn of mind outside the progressive establishment. In 2006 or so, I discovered firedoglake, a progressive site operated by Jane Hamsher and Christy Hardin Smith, although Hardin Smith has not been involved with the site for several years, possibly for health reasons. firedoglake was interesting to me, as was the late Steve Gilliard's The News Blog, because anti-imperialists and leftists openly posted there without being moderated out of existence. Both were a marked contrast to mainstream progressive sites where the participants self-censored themselves in regard to challenging the Democratic Party and got rid of anyone who didn't do so. I posted comments on Gilliard's site frequently, he relished hard nosed political discussion, the more contentious, the better. I still remember going back and forth with him about whether US soldiers who enlisted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be held morally responsible for that decision. Conversely, I declined to post comments at firedoglake because I had an intuitive sense that I wasn't going to get along well with the kool kids who ran the site, epitomized by Hamsher herself, an intuition that was confirmed earlier this year. Even so, I was a lurker because I noticed that posters and commenters had a relatively ideologically free hand. Moreover, it was evident that the people forming the firedoglake community were going through a radicalized political evolution, the kind of evolution that many of us on the left hope, against all odds, to happen in this country. As with any such evolution, it was messy, erratic, abrasive and inconsistent.

But it was an evolution experienced by people who were trying to put into practice the old adage attributed to Lenin: Be as radical as reality. Accordingly, the initial approaches were reformist, with an emphasis upon more and better Democrats and an insistence upon subjecting the malefactors of the Bush administration to the rule of law. While I was indifferent to both approaches, ridiculing the expectation that US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald would accomplish anything of political significance through his investigation of Lewis Libby, I perceived that the people involved in these efforts were going through an important educational process. By 2008, after the bitter progressive disappointment with the 2007 Democratic Congress, a disappointment intensified by the betrayals of some newly elected representatives who had benefitted from firedoglake fundraising efforts, Hamsher had the good sense to stay out of the fight between Obama and Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, even though most of the people who posted and commented on the campaign were Obama supporters. firedoglake participants were not immune to the euphoria associated with Obama's candidacy. Perhaps, she perceived, in light of her experience with the 2007 Congress, that there was much worse to come.

If so, Hamsher was correct. To her credit, she put her personal resources to work through the site, exposing the mendacity of those involved in the Obama administration with the same rigor that she had done in regard to the Bush one. She hired journalists like Jon Walker and David Dayen to cover almost every aspect of Obama's capitulation to capital: the conscious refusal to provide sufficient stimulus for an economic recovery, the bank bailouts, the extension of the Bush tax cuts, the refusal to stem the tidal wave of foreclosures and, of course, health care reform. While she did not personally emphasize it, journalists and posters exposed the horrific violence of Obama's variation on the war on terror. For this, she was reviled by mainstream progressives aligned with the Democrats as they called people who identified with her site firebaggers. She even embraced the effort to defend Bradley Manning when everyone other than gays and lesbians and radical leftists considered him a pariah. Along with leftists like Louis Proyect, Pham Binh and Richard Seymour, she immediately recognized the importance of Occupy, and hired Kevin Gosztola to cover it, and raised money to provide supplies for occupations.

Unfortunately for firedoglake, however, Occupy has proven to be more polarizing than unifying, partially because it emerged just prior to the 2012 campaign. It emboldened those who had rejected the US electoral process to express themselves more aggressively, while those who remained aligned with Obama responded in kind. There have therefore been a number of nasty arguments on the site that have been poorly moderated by people who support Obama and the Democrats, a conflict that exploded, curiously enough, when someone was banned for posting an anti-Zionist article. If the number of comments are any indication, site traffic dropped significantly after this episode. Meanwhile, contemporaneous with this, Hamsher became paranoid about what she perceived as efforts to disrupt the site, as most embarrassingly revealed when she characterized me as either a Department of Homeland Security or K Street operative. Or, at least, she came across as paranoid, but it could have been an instance of crazy like a fox, hiding behind the absurdity of police and lobbyist infiltration to justify running off people like me from the site, people that she understands all too well. If so, she succeeded, as demonstrated by the melancholy tone of those who remain in the firedoglake community. One even comes across references to those who have been driven away, and elliptical statements to the effect that the damage is real and major.

Indeed it is. And while firedoglake is merely one website among many, it was, until recently, a popular one, and, more importantly, one that facilitated the social and political education of many sincere, highly motivated people. I doubt that it has the capacity to do so any longer, and, for those of us who understand that the radical transformation of this country is dependent upon spaces, however imperfect, it is a great loss. In this, it prefigures Occupy and efforts that will invariably emerge in the future. As with the struggles within Occupy Oakland, it is essential that we learn from them in order to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Police as the Expression of the Bourgeois Subconscious 

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a UC Davis student at KDVS 90.3 FM after I had finished my radio show. She told me about how she had lived in the Mission District in San Francisco and observed how the prostitutes down on the street by her apartment were abused by their pimps and the police. I thought about this for a moment, and recalled what I see here in Sacramento. I frequently walk along the nearby K Street Mall during my lunch break, and see encounters between the police and the homeless. Invariably, the police conduct themselves in an arrogant, conscending manner. Even in situations where the officers have no intention to arrest or cite anyone, they subject the homeless to ridicule.

Perhaps, you consider such conduct minor compared to more egregious episodes such as surveillance of Muslims, shootings of African Americans and stops and frisks of thousands of people of color, and, of course, it is. But it also provides insight into the psychological features of social control facilitated by the police. Generally, the police focus their attention upon people and behaviors that frighten the middle class. Accordingly, they subject African American males to a degree of surveillance and violence that no one else, with the possible exception of Latinos and Native Americans, experiences. Likewise, Muslims and Arabs are similarly subjected to surveillance and undercover entrapment operations. Anarchists have apparently also earned the perverse honor of such police activity as well.

Clearly, in relation to police conduct directed towards people of color, Arabs and Muslims, racism and religious bigotry are significant factors in the rationalization of it. But race and culture bias are not the only expressions of middle class anxiety requiring law enforcement intervention. Interwoven within this mosaic is a middle class contempt for people who live outside the bounds of social acceptability. Hence, the police also serve the function of ensuring that the homeless stay away from residential and commercial districts favored by middle income people, while treating them in a demeaning fashion considered suitable for others considered inferior. Prostitutes receive even worse treatment, as their visible public presence is an affront to middle class standards of sexual propriety. In both instances, the police are given the task of not only enforcing the law against them, but doing so in the most degrading way possible. As the objective is to render such people as invisible as possible, it is essential that they aggressively convey the moral message of disapproval as well.

Such an objective is necessary to preserve a middle class life of comforting appearances. For people immersed in this false sense of nostalgic security, it is unnerving for them to drive down the street away from their neighborhood and encounter vacant buildings, the homeless and prostitutes (not to mention African American males wearing hoodies) because it shatters mutually reinforced illusions about everyday life. Similarly, in the evangelical middle class context, the prospect of a mosque nearby is equally alarming. More broadly, such a suppression of the inconvenient realities of daily life finds its international expression in the refusal of many Americans to acknowledge the violence inflicted by the US military upon peoples all over the world.

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