I recently finished this fascinating book by C.L.R. James, detailing the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1803. This was the first (and only?) time in history that an entire colony of African slaves revolted against their masters and succeeded in establishing independence.  The magnitude of such a feat, considering all the European backlash and repression, from no less than Napoleon, is shocking to this day.

C.L.R. James is famous for being one of the most outspoken anti-colonial Marxist thinkers of the 20th Century.  His political career started in his native Trinidad, took him through Trotskyism to the Johnson-Forest Tendency, which defined the Soviet Union as state capitalist. After being deported from the US, he spent his final years living in London and married to Selma James, the influential Marxist feminist and founder of the Wages for Housework campaign.

The merits of this book are obvious, it is a blow-by-blow account of how the slaves of Saint-Domingue became the free citizens of Haiti. For its profound social history, it has become required reading for post-colonial theorists, pan-Africanists and anti-capitalists of all stripes. The book is made more relevant by the ongoing injustices against the Haitian people by the US government and international NGOs, which have kept Haiti in a state of poverty and dependence. It is important to remind ourselves that the Haitians are proud people with a history of self-empowerment.

The flaws of the book are perhaps more interesting. James wants to paint Toussaint L’Ouverture in the same stripe as Vladimir Lenin, who James sees as actually a heroic revolutionary leader. From this error stem all the peculiar sections of the book where Toussaint’s character become the main focus.  Most interestingly, James also criticizes some of Toussaint’s worst moves, correctly charging them as cowardly or counter-revolutionary, yet does not hesitate to explain them away by referring to Toussaint’s “genius.”

For me the bottom line is that humans instinctively desire freedom. We don’t need any authorities to create it for us, we either all create it together or we lack it. Generals like Toussaint tend to want to appeal to authority, whether Napoleon or the bourgeois Jacobins in Paris. It is a simple fact that people in power are more concerned about what other people with power think, rather than what the people think. Here lies Toussaint’s mistake, and the mistake of Leninism as well.

None of this should discourage the reader from reading and absorbing the social history behind one of the greatest popular democratic victories of all time. The point is to read history critically.

One such critical reader is my friend Daniel, who wrote the excellent review which follows, and which brings the contradictions of James’ work to life. [alex]

The Black Jacobins

C.L.R. James, 1938

Review by Daniel Meltzer.

This book was an excellent read. The strengths included breathtaking battle scenes, rousing rhetoric for freedom and against slavery, brilliant stories of liberation, and page-turning political intrigue. The weaknesses in the book come from self-defeating politics of discipline for the sake of discipline, and the heart-rending compromises that Toussaint L’Overture makes with people who see him and the republic he created as nothing more than slaves to be punished for their insubordination.

Millions of slaves were stolen from Africa in bondage to work in Haiti. Most would die on the slave ships or in the fields.

The utter brutality and injustice of slave ownership, and the barbaric treatment of slaves is scandalous. You will literally shake your head at the stories of how slaves were treated under the law in Haiti. A particularly unnerving example is the slavemasters filling a slave up with gunpowder and lighting a fuse, exploding the body of the slave, perhaps for punishment, but seemingly just as often because the slavemasters could.

The slaves began creating a series of low-level daily resistance to such a situation that is tragic and fascinating. “The majority of the slaves accomodated themselves to this unceasing brutality by a profound fatalism and a wooden stupidity before their masters. […]Through the shirt of [a slave] a master can feel the potatoes which he denies he has stolen. They are not potatoes, he says, they are stones. He is undressed and the potatoes fall to the ground. “Eh! master. The devil is wicked. Put stones, and look, you find potatoes.” Read the rest of this entry »


[There are a lot of thought-provoking ideas in this article, as we reflect on the Occupy movement, what it was, what it meant, and where we go from here in our movements against zombie-capitalism and for a better world.

I intend to write much more about my reflections on Occupy, don’t worry. – alex]

Originally posted on Bay of Rage (May 16, 2012) (broken link 5/28).

THE COMMUNE

For those of us in Oakland, “Occupy Wall Street” was always a strange fit. While much of the country sat eerily quiet in the years before the Hot Fall of 2011, a unique rebelliousness that regularly erupted in militant antagonisms with the police was already taking root in the streets of the Bay. From numerous anti-police riots triggered by the execution of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, to the wave of anti-austerity student occupations in late 2009 and early 2010, to the native protest encampment at Glen Cove in 2011, to the the sequence of Anonymous BART disruptions in the month before Occupy Wall Street kicked off, our greater metropolitan area re-emerged in recent years as a primary hub of struggle in this country. The intersection at 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland was, more often than not, “ground zero” for these conflicts.

If we had chosen to follow the specific trajectory prescribed by Adbusters and the Zucotti-based organizers of Occupy Wall Street, we would have staked out our local Occupy camp somewhere in the heart of the capitol of West Coast capital, as a beachhead in the enemy territory of San Francisco’s financial district. Some did this early on, following in the footsteps of the growing list of other encampments scattered across the country like a colorful but confused archipelago of anti-financial indignation. According to this logic, it would make no sense for the epicenter of the movement to emerge in a medium sized, proletarian city on the other side of the bay.

We intentionally chose a different path based on a longer trajectory and rooted in a set of shared experiences that emerged directly from recent struggles. Vague populist slogans about the 99%, savvy use of social networking, shady figures running around in Guy Fawkes masks, none of this played any kind of significant role in bringing us to the forefront of the Occupy movement. In the rebel town of Oakland, we built a camp that was not so much the emergence of a new social movement, but the unprecedented convergence of preexisting local movements and antagonistic tendencies all looking for a fight with capital and the state while learning to take care of each other and our city in the most radical ways possible.

This is what we began to call The Oakland Commune; that dense network of new found affinity and rebelliousness that sliced through seemingly impenetrable social barriers like never before. Our “war machine and our care machine” as one comrade put it. No cops, no politicians, plenty of “autonomous actions”; the Commune materialized for one month in liberated Oscar Grant Plaza at the corner of 14th & Broadway. Here we fed each other, lived together and began to learn how to actually care for one another while launching unmediated assaults on our enemies: local government, the downtown business elite and transnational capital. These attacks culminated with the General Strike of November 2 and subsequent West Coast Port Blockade.

Read the rest of this entry »


Yesterday I had the honor of speaking alongside George Caffentzis to answer the question, “What is Capitalism?”  Certainly this is one of the core questions of our era, as millions of people are becoming politicized during the unending economic crisis and looking for an analysis that can explain what is happening to them. In order to make a better world, we first need to define the system that dominates the current one, and that is capitalism.

Yesterday’s packed event was the first in Occupy Philadelphia‘s ten-part educational series “Dissecting Capitalism.”  It was audio and video recorded, the audio is already online HERE.  Listen in!

[update 2/13: and here is the video of the talk, in two parts!]

Part 2:

Below is the outline I created for my talk (downloadable HERE). I tried to bring a holistic analysis of the system that could be understandable by the average person, but still contain a nuanced perspective of all the ways capitalism has screwed us over and screwed over our planet.  I’ll be fleshing this out over the next several days to revamp the “What is Capitalism?” section of the website. [alex]

What is Capitalism?

Know Your Enemy” – Rage Against the Machine

2/1/2012 – LAVA

Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com

  1. Capitalism is a Global System of Abuse
    1. Common Sense Radicalism – speak to the core issue in a way everyone can emotionally understand
    2. How does it feel to live in a capitalist system? Like an abusive relationship.
      1. The problem that has no name.”
    3. Social and ecological trauma
    4. BP Oil Disaster demonstrates system’s logic: profit over all, total lack of accountability
  1. Power, Abuse, Resistance
    1. Power-Over and Power-With
    2. Internalized Oppression vs. Inherent Need for Self-determination
    3. Systems of Abuse/Oppression: Patriarchy, White Supremacy, Class
    4. Some Features of Class Societies:
      1. Inequality – the few benefit at the expense of the many
      2. Economic production disconnected from human need
      3. Forced labor – slavery, wage slavery
      4. State violence – punishment, repression
      5. Warfare, Conquest
      6. Propaganda
      7. Unsustainable ecological abuse
      8. Popular resistance
    5. Capitalism is the most advanced Class Society
  1. Capitalism: Pyramid of Accumulation
    1. Financial Speculation
    2. Commodity Trading, Commodities
    3. Wage Labor, Wage Labor, Wage Labor
    4. Enclosures: the largest, but invisible part of the iceberg
      1. any energy, resources or labor taken by force or without just compensation
  1. Stages of Capitalism: 1492 – Present
    1. Read the rest of this entry »

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!
alex

image by Larry Swetman

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.

(Chorus)

In Chile and Greece
Now Russia we see
The people are rising
For democracy.

(Chorus)

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

Originally published by Bring the Ruckus, 10/20/11.  A printable PDF of this piece is available for download here, and a readable PDF is available here.

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.

The cross-class alliance that makes up the white race.

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

Occupy Philly General Assembly, October 6, 2011

By Lane Arye

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Youth of the multiracial working class - always at the front of things. Police arrested over 80 people during this 9/24 march, and pepper sprayed more. Photo by davids camera craft

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

Marxism has ceased to be applicable to our time not because it is too visionary or revolutionary, but because it is not visionary or revolutionary enough” – Murray Bookchin, “Listen, Marxist!

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.)

Capitalism is "advancing" us right off a cliff.

1. Linear March of History

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 »

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