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The following book review was published in the Fall issue of Fifth Estate. I originally wrote a much longer version here. This one’s short and sweet. [alex knight]
Silvia Federici’s book, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation, is an essential read for those of us seeking to overthrow systems of domination and build a liberated future.
What is most fascinating about Caliban and the Witch is how it challenges the widely-held belief that capitalism, though perhaps flawed in its current form, was at one time a “progressive” or necessary development. Uncovering the forgotten history of the Witch Hunt that consumed Europe in suspicion and fire for more than 200 years, Federici demonstrates that capitalism has always relied on spectacular violence, particularly against women, people of color, workers, and those cultivating a more egalitarian future.
The book recalls the enormous and colorful peasant movements of the Middle Ages, which pointed towards non-capitalist futures for Europe, and by extension, the world. However, these paths were blocked. The “shock therapy” of the Witch Hunt was used to terrorize rebels and visionaries, impose new discipline on the body, on female sexuality in particular, and usher in a new social system based on a landless working class and the devaluation of women’s labor.
Federici writes, “It is impossible to associate capitalism with any form of liberation or attribute the longevity of the system to its capacity to satisfy human needs. If capitalism has been able to reproduce itself it is only because of the web of inequalities that it has built into the body of the world proletariat, and because of its capacity to globalize exploitation. This process is still unfolding under our eyes, as it has for the last 500 years.”
I’m excited to bring a guest post from my friend Jack Grauer, a Philadelphia-based political writer. Over the last couple decades, as academia has gotten increasingly competitive, forcing more and more alienated labor out of students, many have turned to Adderall and other drugs to artificially keep focus through coma-inducing schooling. Now schools are attempting to crack down on drug use, especially against those students not deemed worthy, such as working class students and students of color. Jack’s article sheds light on this hypocritical clampdown.
What is the function of academia for the capitalist system? Certainly the free/cheap research for corporate and military institutions is important. The classification and indoctrination of students, preparing youth for lifetimes of service in the capitalist apparatus, is absolutely necessary as well. But what is less mentioned is the more pervasive enclosure and specialization of knowledge – the creation of a dichotomy between the few “experts” who have done years of research on increasingly specialized and miniature fields of study, and the general public, which is put into a position of ignorance and helplessness simply by failing to possess a degree. Academia does not pursue or create the kind of knowledge that is useful to ordinary people; it creates knowledge which serves the system.
This is not to say that no radical or revolutionary ideas can be found in the university, because of course the academy is one of the few careers that radicals can enter without totally surrendering their integrity. However, if one is to attempt to remain true to a revolutionary transformation of society from within academia, one must constantly subvert the kind of knowledge-production inside its walls and attempt to translate any useful ideas into practical language for social movements and regular folks on the outside. [alex]
Adderall and Higher Education’s Delusion of Meritocracy
by Jack Grauer
Universities have good reasons to call for stiffer regulation of stimulant study drugs; they are addictive and potentially dangerous. But defending the wheezing fantasy that postsecondary education was ever fair in the first place is not one of them.
Imagine you’re a college teacher. Some of your medically insured students have diagnoses for ADHD, i.e. the inability to stare at paper for a long time. They take prescription drugs like Adderall to treat it. Other students of yours buy and use these drugs illicitly; they do so not only to enhance their academic performance, but also to get high. Still other students of yours feel uncomfortable taking Adderall, which the DEA groups with oxycodone and morphine in terms of addictiveness and abuse potential, to do well in school. What you don’t know is which of your students get and take what drugs, how, or why.
You must now assign final semester grades.
the following 12 songs were written/compiled by me for the People’s Victory Parade, hosted by Occupy Philly on 12/31/11.
they’re mostly Christmas/holiday tunes transformed into Occu-Carols, with a couple others thrown in as well. my favorite is #6 “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
let’s be a movement that sings!
OCCUPY PHILLY SONGBOOK
1. WE WISH FOR A REVOLUTION
(by Alex Knight to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”)
We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
In the coming New Year!
Tunisia was first
Egypt heard the call
Then Occupy Wall St.
Inspired us all.
In Chile and Greece
Now Russia we see
The people are rising
Now Philly has joined
We’re ready to rock
We’re just getting started
And we’ll never stop!
We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
In the coming New Year!
2. THE TWELVE DAYS OF OCCUPY
(inspired by other versions, including one by Gina Botel)
On the first day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
A tent and a community.
On the second day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Two woolen blankets and…
On the third day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Three warm meals…
On the fourth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Four clarifying questions…
On the fifth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
FIVE LONG GA’s…
On the sixth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Six working groups…
On the seventh day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Seven drummers drumming…
On the eighth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Eight signs a-painting…
On the ninth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Nine marchers marching…
On the tenth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Ten locked arms…
On the eleventh day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Eleven cops a-raiding…
On the twelfth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Twelve new encampments… Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been meaning to post this for a while! It’s a great short essay / pamphlet on race and racism, written for the Occupy movement. Please read! Race is an issue we ignore at our own peril. [alex]
Whiteness and the 99%
By Joel Olson
Occupy Wall Street and the hundreds of occupations it has sparked nationwide are among the most inspiring events in the U.S. in the 21st century. The occupations have brought together people to talk, occupy, and organize in new and exciting ways. The convergence of so many people with so many concerns has naturally created tensions within the occupation movement. One of the most significant tensions has been over race. This is not unusual, given the racial history of the United States. But this tension is particularly dangerous, for unless it is confronted, we cannot build the 99%. The key obstacle to building the 99% is left colorblindness, and the key to overcoming it is to put the struggles of communities of color at the center of this movement. It is the difference between a free world and the continued dominance of the 1%.
Left colorblindess is the enemy
Left colorblindness is the belief that race is a “divisive” issue among the 99%, so we should instead focus on problems that “everyone” shares. According to this argument, the movement is for everyone, and people of color should join it rather than attack it.
Left colorblindness claims to be inclusive, but it is actually just another way to keep whites’ interests at the forefront. It tells people of color to join “our” struggle (who makes up this “our,” anyway?) but warns them not to bring their “special” concerns into it. It enables white people to decide which issues are for the 99% and which ones are “too narrow.” It’s another way for whites to expect and insist on favored treatment, even in a democratic movement.
As long as left colorblindness dominates our movement, there will be no 99%. There will instead be a handful of whites claiming to speak for everyone. When people of color have to enter a movement on white people’s terms rather than their own, that’s not the 99%. That’s white democracy.
The white democracy
Biologically speaking, there’s no such thing as race. As hard as they’ve tried, scientists have never been able to define it. That’s because race is a human creation, not a fact of nature. Like money, it only exists because people accept it as “real.” Races exist because humans invented them.
Why would people invent race? Race was created in America in the late 1600s in order to preserve the land and power of the wealthy. Rich planters in Virginia feared what might happen if indigenous tribes, slaves, and indentured servants united and overthrew them. So, they cut a deal with the poor English colonists. The planters gave the English poor certain rights and privileges denied to all persons of African and Native American descent: the right to never be enslaved, to free speech and assembly, to move about without a pass, to marry without upper-class permission, to change jobs, to acquire property, and to bear arms. In exchange, the English poor agreed to respect the property of the rich, help them seize indigenous lands, and enforce slavery.
This cross-class alliance between the rich and the English poor came to be known as the “white race.” By accepting preferential treatment in an economic system that exploited their labor, too, the white working class tied their wagon to the elite rather than the rest of humanity. This devil’s bargain has undermined freedom and democracy in the U.S. ever since.
As this white race expanded to include other European ethnicities, the result was a very curious political system: the white democracy. The white democracy has two contradictory aspects to it. On the one hand, all whites are considered equal (even as the poor are subordinated to the rich and women are subordinated to men). On the other, every white person is considered superior to every person of color. It’s democracy for white folks, but tyranny for everyone else. Read the rest of this entry »
A very useful article showing how the needs of people to be heard, to listen, and to have their voices count for something, are met through the General Assembly process of the Occupy movement. [alex]
A Therapist Talks About the Occupy Wall Street Events
Originally published by In Front and Center.
Last night I was talking with a group of activists/organizers from around the country about their impressions of the OWS movement. They were curious how the insights of a therapist and conflict facilitator schooled in Worldwork (which was developed by Arnold Mindell) might be useful to folks in the movement. After our teleconference, the activists encouraged me to write this.
First off, OWS is surrounded by a host of critics, from long-time social change organizers to mainstream media. (Much of the media criticism has been debriefed, so I’m focusing on internal criticisms I have heard.)
We can learn from critics in at least two ways. They can help us improve by pointing out what we genuinely need to change. Paradoxically, they may be criticizing us for something we actually need to do more congruently. Seen from this angle, critics may be highlighting strengths we don’t yet know we have.
Take one criticism: The General Assemblies lead to a kind of individualism of people wanting to be heard and contribute, unaware of the impact on the thousand people listening. In one recent GA, a small group of frustrated men hijacked the meeting, cursing and physically threatening the entire assembly. Even in less dramatic situations, most GA’s are filled with judgment, fracturing statements, and individuals repeating each other just so they can get themselves heard.
From one point of view, the criticism is valid. Yes, Western individualism can be very problematic and it is always a good time to learn to become communitarian. But perhaps there is also something beautiful about this individualism. People have the sense that they can finally speak up about the economy, that their voice is important, that they do not have to shut up and listen to talking heads who supposedly know better.
It can be useful to think about this in terms of roles. (Just as an actor plays many different roles, we all play different roles in our lives, sometimes without awareness.) Individuals wanting to be heard at a General Assembly might be in the role of someone who wants attention. “Pay attention to me! I have something to say!” For years our “democratic” system has ignored these voices. They have been excluded by money, a political system that merely offers citizens a chance to vote, and a financial system bent on inequality. But now this role is finding a public voice.
A timely and valuable article by one of the facilitators of the Occupy Wall St. process, David Graeber. I was there for the occupation’s humble beginnings last Saturday, but since then it has become a sensation among the conscious and concerned population of this country. Why? Because finally there is an ongoing, unignorable, and vibrant manifestation against the Wall St. crooks who quite blatantly stole trillions of dollars from us.
Whether the occupation on Lower Manhattan lasts, or grows, or dies in the coming weeks, the global upheaval will continue and become an ever-present feature of the 21st Century. Our theory is that capitalism has entered a crisis from which it will never recover. The youth can feel it, we know we have no future within the existing system. The only question is, what alternative models can we move to, when everything feels so bleak?
The Wall St. occupiers have followed the examples of Egypt, Greece, and Spain in using the direct democratic process of the “general assembly.” This means thousands of young people are having their first exhilarating taste of their voice being part of the actual exercise of power – participating in a movement. In truth, this is our best hope, so spread it and bring that exhilaration to your friends and family.
If we have a general assembly in every town, every workplace, every school, then capitalism is over for real. [alex]
“Occupy Wall St. Rediscovers the Radical Imagination”
by David Graeber
Originally published the The Guardian UK, September 25, 2011.
The young people protesting in Wall Street and beyond reject this vain economic order. They have come to reclaim the future.
Why are people occupying Wall Street? Why has the occupation – despite the latest police crackdown – sent out sparks across America, within days, inspiring hundreds of people to send pizzas, money, equipment and, now, to start their own movements called OccupyChicago, OccupyFlorida, in OccupyDenver or OccupyLA?
There are obvious reasons. We are watching the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are looking forward to finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous and unforgivable debt. Most, I found, were of working-class or otherwise modest backgrounds, kids who did exactly what they were told they should: studied, got into college, and are now not just being punished for it, but humiliated – faced with a life of being treated as deadbeats, moral reprobates.
Is it really surprising they would like to have a word with the financial magnates who stole their future?
Just as in Europe, we are seeing the results of colossal social failure. The occupiers are the very sort of people, brimming with ideas, whose energies a healthy society would be marshaling to improve life for everyone. Instead, they are using it to envision ways to bring the whole system down. Read the rest of this entry »
This was written in the Fall of 2010. Although the complete series will remain unfinished for some time, I am publishing these finished sections because when you put hundreds of hours into something, it makes more sense to share what you’ve produced than to keep it in the closet forever. [alex]
Why Marxism Has Failed, and Why Zombie-Marxism Cannot Die
Or My Rocky Relationship with Grampa Karl
by Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com
Part 3.1 – September 19, 2011
This is part of an essay critiquing the philosophy of Karl Marx for its relevance to 21st century anti-capitalism. The main thrust of the essay is to encourage living common-sense radicalism, as opposed to the automatic reproduction of zombie ideas which have lost connection to current reality. Karl Marx was no prophet. But neither can we reject him. We have to go beyond him, and bring him with us. I believe it is only on such a basis, with a critical appraisal of Marx, that the Left can become ideologically relevant to today’s rapidly evolving political circumstances. [Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.]
What Marx Got Wrong
Although Karl Marx provided us crucial and brilliant anti-capitalist critiques as explored in Part 2, he also contributed several key theoretical errors which continue to haunt the Left. Instead of mindlessly reproducing these dead ideas into contexts where they no longer make sense, we must expose the decay and separate it from the parts of Marx’s thought which are still alive and relevant.
I have narrowed down my objections to five core problems: 1. Linear March of History, 2. Europe as Liberator, 3. Mysticism of the Proletariat, 4. The State, and 5. A Secular Dogma.
I submit that Marx’s foremost shortcoming was his theory of history as a linear progression of higher and higher stages of human society, culminating in the utopia of communism. According to Marx, this “progress” was manifest in the “development of productive forces,” or the ability of humans to remake the world in their own image. The danger of this idea is that it wrongly ascribes an “advance” to the growth of class society. In particular, capitalism is seen as a “necessary” precursor to socialism. This logic implicitly justifies not only the domination of nature by humanity, but the dominance of men over women, and the dominance of Europeans over people of other cultures.
Marx’s elevation of the “proletariat” as the agent of history also created a narrow vision for human emancipation, locating the terrain of liberation within the workplace, rather than outside of it. This, combined with a naive and problematic understanding of the State, only dispensed more theoretical fog that has clouded the thinking of revolutionary strategy for more than a century. Finally, by binding the hopes and dreams of the world into a deterministic formula of economic law, Marx inadvertently created the potential for tragic dogmatism and sectarianism, his followers fighting over who possessed the “correct” interpretation of historical forces.
(These mistakes have become especially apparent with hindsight, after Marxists have attempted to put these ideas into practice over the last 150 years. The goal here is not to fault Marx for failing to see the future, but rather to fault what he actually said, which was wrong in his own time, and is disastrous in ours. In this section I will limit my criticisms to Marx’s ideas only, and deal with the monstrous legacy of “actually existing” Marxism in Part 4.)
“Rooted in early industrialization and a teleological materialism that assumed progress towards communism was inevitable, traditional Marxist historiography grossly oversimplified real history into a series of linear steps and straightforward transitions, with more advanced stages inexorably supplanting more backward ones. Nowadays we know better. History is wildly contingent and unpredictable. Many alternate paths leave from the current moment, as they have from every previous moment too” – Chris Carlsson, Nowtopia (41).
Much of what is wrong in Marx stems from a deterministic conception of historical development, which imagines that the advance and concentration of economic power is necessarily progressive. According to this view, human liberation, which Marx calls communism, can only exist atop the immense productivity and industrial might of capitalism. All of human history, therefore, is nothing but “progressive epochs in the economic formation of society,” as Marx calls it in his Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859):
“In broad outlines Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production… the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism [communism].” Read the rest of this entry »
I just saw this film and was blown away by its realism and its heart. “Land and Freedom” (1995) is roughly based on George Orwell’s experience as a volunteer in the Spanish Revolution / Civil War of 1936 – 1939, which he journaled in his fantastic book Homage to Catalonia.
David is a British radical who goes to Spain to fight the Fascists, and discovers the reality of revolution, counter-revolution, and love. The film does an excellent job portraying the political debates, struggles and betrayals between the various factions (Fascist, Communist, Anti-Stalinist Marxists, and Anarchists). The entire film is available in one video on youtube (109 min). It is directed by Ken Loach, and is in English and Spanish. Highly recommended!