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International Women's Day Rally and March 2018

Leanne's blog - Thu, 12/04/2018 - 8:34pm

International Women’s Day was celebrated in Sydney on Saturday 10th March 2018, with a rally and march, and members of Jura were there among the more than 2,000 participants (ABC News). The brightly-dressed Asian Women at Work troupe headed up the march from Hyde Park along Castlereagh Street to Belmore Park.

Since 1995 Asian Women at Work supports Asian migrant women workers in low paid and precarious employment across Sydney, including clothing outworkers, cl othing factory workers, cleaners, restaurant workers, manufacturing workers, nail and beauty workers, aged care workers, and child care workers. Michelle Zhou from Asian Women at Work shared many stories of migrant women being exploited, including this one: "A group of migrant workers where I used to work are suffering from urinary tract infections, because they are not allowed to take regular toilet breaks."

Report and photos by Leanne.

Categories: Blog

Thorstein Veblen and the American Way of Life - a review, and some thoughts on Veblen

Guest blog contributions - Fri, 06/04/2018 - 9:30am

Jura is pleased to publish this article by John August. John reviews "Thorstein Veblen and the American Way of Life", which is published by Black Rose Books Canada, and is available at Jura. From time to time, Jura publishes articles on our blog by guest contributors. Please note that articles by guest contributors do not necessarily the position of the Jura Collective.

 

Thorstein Veblen and the American Way of Life - a review, and some thoughts on Veblen

Thorstein Veblen and the American Way of Life - a review, and some thoughts on Veblen

I've long been a fan of Veblen, who had some very interesting things to say; I've also read "Mutual Aid" by Kropotkin, which had some intriguing biological ideas. So, when I saw this book by Louis Patsouras, I thought it would be interesting to get an anarchist perspective.

But what was so fascinating about Veblen, at least, his "Theory of the Leisure Class"? You can look at the ruling ( "Leisure" ) class and their abuses. But Veblen made a quite different attack. While the wealthy justified themselves through their supposed contribution, Veblen took a crack at what it meant to be wealthy.

Rather than being the "enterprising" people they claimed be, they were some sort of hybrid of the "upper class twit" out of the UK, together with the vain superficial elements of the French Royal Court. They were a bunch of inane, superficial, stupidly competitive idiots.

Veblen came up with "conspicuous consumption". The leisure class were consuming for show, not use, in competition with others who were doing the same. Rather than fist waving against the injustice, his analysis was anthropological, with a moderate amount of distance combined with a tone of wry amusement. Because it was not "fist waving", it had all the more impact.

He undermined other ideas about consumption. For example, the more you have of something, the less you want. But, if you're putting together a collection, or you're trying to show off, more is better. Having 10 prestige cars rather than just 9 makes a difference.

The leisure class made a show of distancing themselves from manual labour. Women were ornaments, and it was important that they consume for show, to make the husband worthy. Veblen called it "vicarious consumption". It was also important that women not do anything useful, which might be seen as work.

The effort in selling, not making, undermined the "productive economy". It's an echo of Galbraith, that the economy sells useless stuff people don't need in order to keep people employed. Of course, in the background, there is technological innovation we benefit from, but the "waste" is also clear.

Then there's "planned obsolescence". Things can fail early, prompting replacement. Further, you might replace something before it has stopped working, because the replacement is more "modern" ... or perhaps even, just "more trendy". In using something better, you've thrown the old one away. Have you really progressed that much?

Veblen undermined the idea commodities were useful and worthwhile. When something is only socially appreciated rather than "useful" - why was it so important to make it? The economy making "fairy floss", so to speak? So, the economy does not really provide "useful" goods. Given this underlying waste, there's a certain muddle headedness in trying to make the economy more "productive". You're not generating more happiness - just more stuff to be wasted.

Of course, even with this in the background, people live in poverty, and there's a concentration of wealth. Nevertheless this "underlying waste" does undermine efforts to "reform" the economy in pursuit of "greater productivity". I mean, did our society actually do something useful with the previously existing productivity?

Apart from these issues, Veblen also wrote about labour and other details of the economy. However, for whatever reason, Patsouras does not seem to give much attention to the ideas noted above, for me a significant and intriguing part of Veblen's perspective.

Patsouras looks at Veblen's contemporaries, along with intellectual, political, economic and world developments since. He considers US imperialism, and its pursuit of economic interests with military force. These discursions are interesting in their way, but Patsouras does seem to struggle to link them to Veblen's original ideas.

While the book does consider Veblen, it seems to be an excuse for Patsouras to delve into his favourite passions in US economic history and developments since. There's a review of the "Robber Barons", the hold of financial institutions, the strange way in which these brutal market players were also philanthropists. I don't want to complain too much - I suppose it was going to be an anarchic commentary, that was the whole point. At times these excursions are interesting. In many cases there was something that was new to me, but I could imagine them being boringly familiar for some readers. At other times I was a bit dazed, with a string of one thinker after another.

Considering class and the nature of ownership seems more to Patsouras' liking. For Veblen, absentee ownership and forcing others to labour for you were bad things, though it was reasonable to own land which you directly worked and occupied. This was an important distinction I had not realised.

Coming out of Catholicism, you had "distributivism" - lots of people would own stuff, but it where they worked and lived as a network of artisans, with no concentrations of ownership.

Patsouras notes the worth of Henry George's perspective, where the privilege of ownership would form a tax base, meaning that at least the absentee owners would pay for the privilege.

George considered an "injustice" - of people reaping an undeserved - an unearned - bonus, and the worth of fixing this. But - hopefully - this would mean higher wages so workers could assume cooperative style ownership of industries. Patsouras is skeptical about taxing land, preferring to think that "capital" and "profits" should also be taxed at a similar rate. Still, I side more strongly with the Georgists here. An issue is how much "central" and "different to other capital" land is. Veblen did in fact defend George, in particular against people who claimed that land ownership was "sacred", unions an anathema, and so forth. It is not clear how much he was a "Georgist", as compared to his other concerns with the way the economy worked.

There was the push at the time towards standardisation and mass production, in pursuit of greater profitability, which would eventually be self-defeating. This is to be contrasted with today's emphasis on "customisation". Mass production undermined the worth of individual "artisans" and "guilds". Veblen notes good things: empathy with others; "workmanship", or the worth of being akin to an artisan and making stuff others find useful as an equal partner; idle curiosity, a curiosity about the world which is not just about your own financial and other progress. While "workmanship" can be uplifting, it can be marginalised by a "slave labour" relationship, and there's the "alienation" of work, with work being "drudgery" in the production line, and work more like slavery than a choice.

Depressions were an issue. Apologists claim that the system automatically seeks balance. "Say's Law" claims that production automatically creates its own demand. Challenging this was Keynes idea that net demand can lag behind production, and that government spending is needed to balance out the picture. The Leisure class would be motivated to be apologists, because while the suffering resulting from depressions was mostly borne by the working class, to react to this would be to, perhaps, put a brake on the privileged who are trying to further take advantage of and develop their privilege.

Apart from Keynes, Marx also spoke of the "paradox of production". Overproduction, and insufficient margins to warrant production. And Veblen too, saw that the pursuit of "productivity" - itself a consequence of "selfishness" - would put people out of work and lead to economic crisis. Now, looking at issues of "individualism" as compared to "selfishness", "rights" and "anarchy". Veblen proclaimed anarchism to be "extreme", though Patsouras claims that comes from a misunderstanding of nuances around rights. Patsouras agrees that a strand of anarchism is based on the rights of the individual, but also notes that there are strands of Darwinian mutual aid and the Romantic revolt. He also notes that Veblen goes from "human characteristics" to a broader political conclusion, and endorses activist initiatives and cooperatives that had an anarchist flavour.

Veblen railed against "individualism", and was against "selfishness", whether capitalist or otherwise. Where hedonism was embraced in capitalism, this was because of its notional - supposedly positive - consequences. Into the mix, Herbert Spencer, a "right wing" apologist of the time ( so to speak ), railed against "compulsory cooperation", with capitalism supposedly the only one to provide "voluntary cooperation". Here, Veblen was a socialist.

Spencer claimed poverty was inevitable, an unfolding of a natural principle - social darwinism. Competition would always mean that there would be some people better off and in consequence, the poor would be a natural outcome. However, there was a cooperative emphasis with evolutionary theory. This was much developed by Kropotkin, but Darwin also spoke about cooperation and human moral sentiments reinforcing each other.

Apologists claimed cooperation would only occur within families, with the broader world being dog eat dog rather than cooperative, feeding into a broader discussion about whether mankind was good or evil, and what our early history tells us.

Patsouras reviews the debate over early civilisation and its consequences. I'm more inspired by the mother city of Caral in Peru. This was the first dramatic increase in prosperity in that part of the world, and was the result of cooperation with the coastal community. The city was open plan without defences - suggesting that apart from small tribal skirmishes, large scale conflict resulted after there was something to fight over, larger scale conflict did not precede or develop simultaneously with the development of prosperity.

This all seems to be a part of a greater debate over whether violence, suffering and inequity are "natural" or "unavoidable". One justification for inequity is that the wealthy were genetically destined to, and society is just working through an existing blueprint. Of course, rather than thinking of successive generations being the custodians of wealth because it is something "in the blood", this could result from the fact that wealth can be used to sustain itself. Patsouras considers this, along with intelligence, ability and the nature of class - something which I found most intriguing in the light of my interest in evolution. Patsouras also looks at the reactions people had to the economic injustices around them. One was the formation of utopian separatist communities, which operated with varying degrees of success, and represented one way of "fixing the problem" - "getting out of the kitchen". Patsouras notes Owen's "New Harmony" ( not much on "New Lanark" in the UK) and Brookfarm, with "transcendentalism" being the foundation.

Another reaction was activism around strikes and demanding greater pay. Veblen saw that few workers were motivated around socialistic activity and a broader awareness. There were journalists and writers ( including the so called "muckrakers" ) writing about condition of the working poor. There were theorists, analysing the current system and drawing attention to its problems and shining lights on alternatives, and responding to events in the Soviet Union.

Patsouras considers utopian theories, Marx's approach, and various schools of thought in US history. He also looks at the European influences on socialist and anarchist thought, considering Kropotkin, and the intellectual heritage of some US commentators going back to Europe.

But, what Patsouras failed to consider was "socialism before Marx" in the UK - cooperatives, and also the actions of enlightened capitalists - such as Owen's "New Lanark" ( which demonstrated that, contrary to opinion of the time, you could look after workers well - and make a profit). Going back still further, you had the Chartists, and then the diggers and levellers.

Of course, any synopsis is going to leave stuff out, that's the price you pay. Maybe it's a justifiable and understandable omission. Or maybe he really should have included these items. I don't have enough objectivity to judge.

Patsouras claims the story of Adam and Eve is one of ownership and production. I understand from mainstream biblical scholarship that its origins are in the epic of Gilgamesh, with the original sentiment being that moral awareness comes at a cost. Patsouras here seems to be over-reaching way beyond his competence. Hopefully on matters of more recent economic history and ideas he is on better ground.

Speaking of religion, Patsouras does note the duality - religion was used to justify slavery, but also underpinned revolutionary movements. Some religious utopian colonies had a genuine interest in equality. Veblen however saw religion as a superstition, an odd belief in nonsense. Patsouras did a good job of engaging with the two sides.

But, getting back to anarchism. You do wonder exactly what anarchism is. Can you draw a line around it? Or is it just something you recognise when you see it? For all his meandering around various anarchic ideas and commentators, with Patsouras it seems you can't see the wood for the trees. I have a lot of sympathy for anarchist ideas, and while there's a lot of good stuff in the book, you do wonder if you're more or less confused about anarchy at the end.

Patsouras notes some commonality between Veblen's ideas and anarchism. Perhaps there is, but the separation seems to be a bit clumsy, and he seems to struggle in developing an anarchist perspective on Veblen. There's not a clear sense of "Veblen says this; he was reacting this; in contrast, anarchism would have this position". The author goes into diversions into whole other realms of history and theory, and it is sometimes hard to follow and see how it all relates to Veblen. Was it a commentary on Veblen, or was Veblen just a springboard to talk about a lot of other issues? I'm still not actually sure. But, in spite of its problems, it is still a worthwhile read. But perhaps it's worth knowing what's ahead of you when you open the first page of the book!

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John August, Host, Roving Spotlight, 2RSR 88.9FM Tuesdays noon-2pm
Vice-President, NSW Humanists - www.hsnsw.asn.au
Permutations : johnaugust.com.au
Pirate Party Candidate, Bennelong 2016

---

John August, Host, Roving Spotlight, 2RSR 88.9FM Tuesdays noon-2pm
Vice-President, NSW Humanists - www.hsnsw.asn.au
Permutations : johnaugust.com.au
Pirate Party Candidate, Bennelong 2016

Categories: Blog

Society under Surveillance

Stuart's blog - Sun, 24/09/2017 - 5:53pm

I sent a letter about the following incident to the editor of Sydney Morning Herald. Of course they didn't publish it.  At 9pm on Thursday 22 June at Bankstown station I was taken off the train to Liverpool by police. They searched my bag and me. Reason? They said a guard saw someone of my description put something down the front of my pants. 

They took away my backpack and an officer put it on a seat on the platform and looked inside. Meanwhile they took me up in the lift into a room on the station concourse. About six of them surrounded me, ready to jump on and subdue me at the first sign of resistance.  They asked whether I was wearing underwear, before making me undo my pants so that they could have a bit of a look.  (What the guard had probably seen on the train's surveillance camera was me putting something, my wallet or handkerchief perhaps, in my pocket, at the front of my pants.)  They did a cursory rather than thorough search, suggesting that they didn't expect to actually find something, such as an illicit drug, weapon or explosive, but rather were carrying out routine harassment and humiliation. They were responding to a report rather than acting on their own initiative.  It was a quiet night. Not many people around.  They were probably bored.  In my hand I had a copy of The Match! - an anarchist journal from the US, that I'd been reading on the train. That issue happened to contain a letter to the editor from me critical of NSW Police!  I put it on the table so that I could undo my pants as they ordered.  "What are you reading?" one cop asked. "A magazine," I replied, stating the bleeding obvious. They didn't look at it or pursue the line of questioning.  "Where did you catch the train?"  "Erskineville."  "What were you doing there?"  "I was browsing bookshops in Newtown."  I answered their questions to begin with so as not to appear suspicious, as if I had something to hide.  But after a while I refused to answer any more.  Why should I submit to the harassment?  I'd done nothing wrong and didn't have to explain myself to them. They seemed to respect my right not to cooperate further.  One cop made a comment to the effect that they can't be too careful these days, with all the things that are going on. What was he alluding to there, I wonder?  Was I a terror suspect, a potential suicide bomber?  There was another remark, that I was 'unusual.'  Unusual?  Because I was someone of anglo appearance, in the ethnically diverse Bankstown area?  Because they don't usually 'profile' (harass) people like me?  When I've seen them harassing someone it's generally a young non-white person.  At the end I was asked whether there was anything I wanted to say to the police.  Well yes, there were a few things, but I wasn't going to say them!  All I wanted was to get away from them and resume my journey home.  Another passenger on the platform, who must have seen what happened, asked whether I was going to take the matter further.  I thought of the last time I lodged a complaint against police, of the officer smiling to himself as he wrote down details of long-lasting pain inflicted gratuitously on me during an arrest at a protest against John Howard in Darwin. Of course nothing came of the complaint.  I ended up taking some action of my own, naming and shaming publicly the officer concerned. I was publicly harassed and humiliated for nothing.  What kind of totalitarian police state do we live in?  Am I supposed to feel grateful I wasn't bashed or shot dead? Police get paid generous salaries from taxpayers' dollars to waste their own time and other people's. 

Funnily enough, before boarding the train I'd noticed the sign at Erskineville station saying, 'If you see something, say something.'  There's a photo of someone talking to police.  To the guard who dobbed me in, I'd like to say, "Congratulations! You have made an impressive contribution to the government's Fear, Suspicion and Paranoia campaign." The government wants us all to feel threatened by shadowy (Islamist) terrorist organisations.  It's a case of deja vu.  Up until 1990 it was the communist threat that we were told to fear, the Soviet Union and 'reds under the bed.'  The fear of 'the other' is always promoted - those who are not like 'we good people' and who want to do us harm.  Our good, strong government is supposed to be there to protect us and save us from evil. Though unfortunately we do have to sacrifice some of our liberties in return for the security provided. Whereas in reality the main threat to our freedom is the government itself, any government, and usually its business end, the police.  (By the way, isn't it bizarre how they have that announcement on the trains advising that if you're feeling unwell, don't risk boarding the train?  The announcement claims that there are medical staff at stations waiting to treat your illness. Is there anyone that actually believes this obvious lie?  Many stations are not staffed at all most of the time.) This incident caused me to reflect. The fact is that these days we're all being subjected to unprecedented surveillance.  Privacy is becoming an outmoded concept.  Just think of the trains for example.  The old trains have no cameras in them but the new ones have, I think, 8 cameras in each carriage.  That makes 64 on one train.  How does one guard monitor that many?  S/he could not possibly see all that is going on, and how good would the resolution and detail of an image be?  But that's probably not the point.  Increasingly, in this modern version of the panopticon - a prison in which many cells are simultaneously visible from a central vantage point - someone could be watching us at any time.  We don't know whether someone is seeing us at a particular time but we get used to acting at all times as if we are being watched.   The all-seeing god of earlier times has been replaced by the ubiquitous surveillance cameras, in train stations, shopping precincts and other public areas.  We don't know who is watching us, whether images are being recorded and stored, and if so, for how long.  Who has access to all this footage?  We don't know.  Add to this the vast amount of data being gathered from electronic communications.  Billions of people volunteer masses of personal information without knowing who has access to it and what it will be used for.  George Orwell would be horrified to see the nightmarish dystopia in his novel '1984' becoming the accepted reality.  How long before the surveillance cameras are in each room, including bedrooms and bathrooms, as we learn to welcome the benevolent gaze of Big Brother in every aspect of our lives?  Who could possibly object?  Only those with something to hide.  All decent citizens naturally want to see the end of the scourges of pedophilia and violence against women.  We know that information is power but too often we continue to surrender it without a fight to bosses like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg who seem to aspire to divine status.  Yes, life is as always a struggle to survive, make ends meet and somehow preserve our sanity, but shouldn't we be trying to redress the power imbalance, or at least taking the time to stop and think where we're heading with this mass surveillance society, before it really is too late?  Just because Big Brother wears a smile and has a soothing voice doesn't mean he's our friend.  Ps. Do not put your bag on the seat. Doors closing. Please stand clear.    Society Under Surveillance I sent a letter about the following incident to the editor of Sydney Morning Herald. Of course they didn't publish it. 

At 9pm on Thursday 22 June at Bankstown station I was taken off the train to Liverpool by police. They searched my bag and me. Reason? They said a guard saw someone of my description put something down the front of my pants. 

They took away my backpack and an officer put it on a seat on the platform and looked inside. Meanwhile they took me up in the lift into a room on the station concourse. About six of them surrounded me, ready to jump on and subdue me at the first sign of resistance.  They asked whether I was wearing underwear, before making me undo my pants so that they could have a bit of a look.  (What the guard had probably seen on the train's surveillance camera was me putting something, my wallet or handkerchief perhaps, in my pocket, at the front of my pants.)  They did a cursory rather than thorough search, suggesting that they didn't expect to actually find something, such as an illicit drug, weapon or explosive, but rather were carrying out routine harassment and humiliation. They were responding to a report rather than acting on their own initiative.  It was a quiet night. Not many people around.  They were probably bored.  In my hand I had a copy of The Match! - an anarchist journal from the US, that I'd been reading on the train. That issue happened to contain a letter to the editor from me critical of NSW Police!  I put it on the table so that I could undo my pants as they ordered.  "What are you reading?" one cop asked. "A magazine," I replied, stating the bleeding obvious. They didn't look at it or pursue the line of questioning.  "Where did you catch the train?"  "Erskineville."  "What were you doing there?"  "I was browsing bookshops in Newtown."  I answered their questions to begin with so as not to appear suspicious, as if I had something to hide.  But after a while I refused to answer any more.  Why should I submit to the harassment?  I'd done nothing wrong and didn't have to explain myself to them. They seemed to respect my right not to cooperate further.  One cop made a comment to the effect that they can't be too careful these days, with all the things that are going on. What was he alluding to there, I wonder?  Was I a terror suspect, a potential suicide bomber?  There was another remark, that I was 'unusual.'  Unusual?  Because I was someone of anglo appearance, in the ethnically diverse Bankstown area?  Because they don't usually 'profile' (harass) people like me?  When I've seen them harassing someone it's generally a young non-white person.  At the end I was asked whether there was anything I wanted to say to the police.  Well yes, there were a few things, but I wasn't going to say them!  All I wanted was to get away from them and resume my journey home.  Another passenger on the platform, who must have seen what happened, asked whether I was going to take the matter further.  I thought of the last time I lodged a complaint against police, of the officer smiling to himself as he wrote down details of long-lasting pain inflicted gratuitously on me during an arrest at a protest against John Howard in Darwin. Of course nothing came of the complaint.  I ended up taking some action of my own, naming and shaming publicly the officer concerned. I was publicly harassed and humiliated for nothing.  What kind of totalitarian police state do we live in?  Am I supposed to feel grateful I wasn't bashed or shot dead? Police get paid generous salaries from taxpayers' dollars to waste their own time and other people's. 

Funnily enough, before boarding the train I'd noticed the sign at Erskineville station saying, 'If you see something, say something.'  There's a photo of someone talking to police.  To the guard who dobbed me in, I'd like to say, "Congratulations! You have made an impressive contribution to the government's Fear, Suspicion and Paranoia campaign." The government wants us all to feel threatened by shadowy (Islamist) terrorist organisations.  It's a case of deja vu.  Up until 1990 it was the communist threat that we were told to fear, the Soviet Union and 'reds under the bed.'  The fear of 'the other' is always promoted - those who are not like 'we good people' and who want to do us harm.  Our good, strong government is supposed to be there to protect us and save us from evil. Though unfortunately we do have to sacrifice some of our liberties in return for the security provided. Whereas in reality the main threat to our freedom is the government itself, any government, and usually its business end, the police.  (By the way, isn't it bizarre how they have that announcement on the trains advising that if you're feeling unwell, don't risk boarding the train?  The announcement claims that there are medical staff at stations waiting to treat your illness. Is there anyone that actually believes this obvious lie?  Many stations are not staffed at all most of the time.) This incident caused me to reflect. The fact is that these days we're all being subjected to unprecedented surveillance.  Privacy is becoming an outmoded concept.  Just think of the trains for example.  The old trains have no cameras in them but the new ones have, I think, 8 cameras in each carriage.  That makes 64 on one train.  How does one guard monitor that many?  S/he could not possibly see all that is going on, and how good would the resolution and detail of an image be?  But that's probably not the point.  Increasingly, in this modern version of the panopticon - a prison in which many cells are simultaneously visible from a central vantage point - someone could be watching us at any time.  We don't know whether someone is seeing us at a particular time but we get used to acting at all times as if we are being watched.   The all-seeing god of earlier times has been replaced by the ubiquitous surveillance cameras, in train stations, shopping precincts and other public areas.  We don't know who is watching us, whether images are being recorded and stored, and if so, for how long.  Who has access to all this footage?  We don't know.  Add to this the vast amount of data being gathered from electronic communications.  Billions of people volunteer masses of personal information without knowing who has access to it and what it will be used for.  George Orwell would be horrified to see the nightmarish dystopia in his novel '1984' becoming the accepted reality.  How long before the surveillance cameras are in each room, including bedrooms and bathrooms, as we learn to welcome the benevolent gaze of Big Brother in every aspect of our lives?  Who could possibly object?  Only those with something to hide.  All decent citizens naturally want to see the end of the scourges of pedophilia and violence against women.  We know that information is power but too often we continue to surrender it without a fight to bosses like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg who seem to aspire to divine status.  Yes, life is as always a struggle to survive, make ends meet and somehow preserve our sanity, but shouldn't we be trying to redress the power imbalance, or at least taking the time to stop and think where we're heading with this mass surveillance society, before it really is too late?  Just because Big Brother wears a smile and has a soothing voice doesn't mean he's our friend.  Ps. Do not put your bag on the seat. Doors closing. Please stand clear.  

The State
Categories: Blog

Russian Revolution book reviews

Sid's blog - Thu, 09/03/2017 - 9:47pm

This month sees, not only International Women's Day (March 8th), but also its connection to the Russian Revolution, which celebrates its 100th anniversary. One hundred years ago, women in the bread lines, of the cold March of 1917, began protests and riots that led to the overthrow of the 300 year Romanov monarchy. Now, before history-phobia sets in, remember that the events that those women and the larger revolution initiated, affected hundreds of millions of people, have huge lessons for revolutionaries of today, and show as much what shouldn't be done, as what could be done to live on this planet in a peaceful, creative, fulfilling, sustainable way.

Here are some short reviews of books that are relevant to exploring those events which still resonate today. The first is by an overt marxist (Murphy), the second by an academic who is more critical and presents a more realistic view (Pirani). The next group of authors are anarchists, the first a participant in the revolution (Makhno), the other an historian with a cultural background in the area he writes about (Skirda) and the third by an anarchist/libertarian-socialist/councilist and neurologist, (Brinton), should have been read and adsorbed by Murphy, and even Pirani.

Kevin Murphy's Revolution and Counterrevolution: Class struggle in a Moscow metal factory has many fine features, including using recently opened Russian archival material, and attempting to bring women into the revolutionary story. One of the strongest features of the book is in bringing the reader into many of the struggles and arguments on the factory floor during the revolutionary period and the 1920s to early 1930s. Like the next book reviewed, by Pirani, this is a marvelous window into the past, and includes aspects of the social life of the workers and bureaucrats as well as into the factory floor meetings. However, Murphy's main theme is to show how the life of workers was so much better during the era when Trotsky was around as compared to Stalin's rule. What he does not do is recognise how the repression of the Russian people started with the beginning of Bolshevik rule, and certainly may have accelerated under Stalin, but Trotsky, Lenin and the rest were just as complicit in the silencing dissent. Stalin merely built his machine on the foundations of the previous rulers. Much of evidence that the author presents is based on the Bolshevik/Communist Party's meeting minutes, thus a biased account is inevitable. Murhpy just seems sour that Stalin gained the crown instead of Trotsky: there is no evidence to say that Trotsky would have behaved any better, and much to say the opposite. On a positive note, the attempt to look at what was happening 'on the factory floor' is a bonus. Just keep your eyes open as you walk with the author, or you may trip over a litter of 'the party directed' and the 'the party committee expelled x' – accepting the party records as an almost solely valid account of worker reality leaves me with wanting a fuller, more accurate account.

Simon Pirani's book The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-1924: Soviet workers and the new communist elite is along similar lines as Kevin Murphy's book, reviewed above, however it is a vast improvement. The main strength is in not having a seemingly ulterior motive, an inherent bias that clouds the narrative. Pirani does take us onto the factory floor, but uses a wider range of evidence and has a far more refined analytical capacity. Here we read an honest attempt to examine the relationship between the Bolshevik/Communist Party and the working class in the factories, not merely examine the arguments between one set of authoritarians within the Party and other sets of would-be bosses, each set wanting to take over the reigns of power via that very same Party. While Pirani uses similar archival material from Party and Secret Police records, his aim is to find out why and how the growing bureaucratic machine succeeded in destroying worker's power, democratic worker decision-making structures, and the increasing terror used to maintain control over the population, although focusing on this process in the working class factories and districts. Given the focus on the period 1920-1924, the author misses analysing the previous period, 1917-1920, when the foundations for the revolutionary retreat began and the tactics used to repress dissent within the Party were formulated to repress those revolutionaries outside the Party. Good book, though.

Nestor Makhno wrote an autobiography, now published in English in three volumes by Black Cat Press in Canada, The Russian Revolution in Ukraine, Under the Blows of the Counterrevolution (April-June 1918), and The Ukrainian Revolution. These books tell the story of Makhno, a peasant/proletarian's role in building a huge voluntary army in 1917 to fight the invading armies after Lenin ceded the Ukraine to the German & Austro Hungarians in order to end Russia's involvement in World War One. The Ukrainians didn't like the deal and Makhno, the former factory worker, with a small band of supporters, took up a guerilla campaign to free the predominantly agricultural region from the new oppressors. Not only was it a struggle against invaders, but also a fight to establish a revolutionary society that was based on anarchist principles. Within a few months a large area was liberated and new social systems developed by the peasants on the land and the workers in the towns. This is an exciting account of the ups and downs of four years of struggle, not only against foreign invaders, but also against local would-be rulers who wanted to crush the Ukrainian Revolution. Well worth reading this original history.

Alexandre Skirda has written an authoritative account of the Makhnovist movement during the Russian Revolution, Nestor Makhno: Anarchy's Cossack. The Struggle for Free Soviets in the Ukraine, 1917-1921. In one book, this historian has used more recently available material, as well as primary sources, such as Makhno's autobiography and those of others in the Makhno Insurrectionary Army. Skirda examines not only the brilliant military tactics of Makhno and the strategists who fought along side him, but the politics and the revolutionary principles they fought for and the revolutionary structures that were put in place, not only among the anarchist troops, but also by the Ukrainian people that had been liberated. Often missed is that the Makhnovists fought some of the greatest and last of the world's cavalry battles – against the invading Austro-Hungarian and German armies, the reactionary White Russian armies, and finally the Bolshevik troops. Stirring stuff, an exciting and fast paced read.

Maurice Brinton (aka Chris Pallis) wrote The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, 1917-1921: The state and counter-revolution in 1970, but don't let that date put you off, as it hasn't really been surpassed for sharp critical analysis of the facts that happened on the factory floor during the Russian Revolution. Importantly, he firstly untangles the notion of 'workers' control' and notes that many political tendencies have trumpeted that as a slogan, from social democrats, Trotskyists, libertarian Marxists and anarcho-syndicalists. But what do they mean, and what does the concept sensibly mean at all. If the Bolsheviks said that they had installed workers control in, say, 1918, when they began dismantling the original Factory Committees that workers themselves build, and replaced them with Party controlled 'factory committees', is that the same idea? Can it be the same beast? Can it lead to the same sort of worker-controlled decision making? And ultimately, the same sort of society? Crucial questions, and ones that we still need to consider, mull over, argue around and come to conclusions about. A must read for any revolutionary, or aspiring change agent in the current times.

The Russian Revolution may have begun 100 years ago, but the challenges that it posed, not only to the monarchy of the time, to the growing capitalism, but to authoritarianism of any sort, and are as relevant today as they were then.

Categories: Blog

The Egyptians: A Radical Story - the book that Noam Chomsky couldn't stop reading

Christian's blog - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 8:27pm

It's hard for me to find enough superlatives to do justice to this excellent book. So instead, to get an idea of how good it is, it's worth reading what other people have said about it.
 
Take Noam Chomsky for instance. He tends to dish out fairly bland acclaim for lots of left-wing books, and isn't usually given to hyperbole or wildly extravagant statements. Not for The Egyptians: a radical story though. "I started reading this and couldn't stop," he gushes on the back cover of the book. "Remarkable."
 
Another critic seemed equally dazzled, writing that it was "truly astonishing," while someone else rated it as "revolutionary journalism at its finest" which "belongs in the bookshelf next to George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia." The Guardian and the Economist both listed it as one of the top books of 2016. And, to cap it off, the military government in Egypt banned it. So it must be alright.
 
The Egyptians: a radical story is journalist Jack Shenker's attempt to cover Egypt's revolution and counter-revolution from below. Rather than portraying the events of early 2011, which saw the overthrow of one of the Middle East's longest reigning dictators, as some kind of sudden outburst, he traces the roots of the revolution back through decades of struggle. And rather than framing the story as some kind of battle to win free markets and liberal democracy – as much of the media did – Shenker shows that its motive forces were, above all, aspirations for social and economic justice.
 
He knows what he'd talking about. Shenker speaks Arabic and lived in Cairo during 2011 and for years leading up to it. He writes about a country convulsed by rebellion: "the far-flung communities waging war against transnational corporations, the men and women fighting to subvert long-established gender norms, the workers dramatically seizing control of their own factories, and the cultural producers (novelists, graffiti artists and illicit bedroom DJs) appropriating public space in defiance of their repressive and violent western-backed regime." And he so obviously sympathises with and shares the aspirations of the people he describes. The book is beautifully written – at times almost poetic – and overflows with humanity.
 
Like Chomsky, I found The Egyptians: a radical story almost addictive. It was completely thrilling and exciting to witness millions of people struggling on such a massive scale against nearly unbelievable levels of repression. It’s so moving that at the end I was quite shell-shocked. And above all it gave me a much-needed shot of confidence that the great mass of people really can overturn the existing order and create a new society – not just in some past era, like 1936 or 1968, but right now.

The Egyptians: A Radical Story is available at Jura for $20.

Categories: Blog

The Case for Anarchism or why Hierarchy should be Abolished

Drewy's blog - Sun, 07/08/2016 - 8:45pm

This short work outlines the current state of society, the structure of that state, and the dialectic of hierarchy and anti-hierarchy and the conclusion of said dialectic.

 

When you look at society today, what do you see? You see workers and business owners, citizens and policepeople, policepeople and commanders, citizens and government, soldiers and officers, agents and agencies, renters and property owners, users and intellectual property owners, and so on. How did these relationships materialise? Quite simply, "primitive communism" led to warring tribes, with territories expanding, and stronger members of tribes oppressing others. Following the invention of farming and stronger weaponry, these tribes had a revolution, with the creation of the hierarchy of feudalism. The king ruled supreme, with the knights and lords and peasants all in hierarchical subordination. After a while, the bourgeoisie toppled the feudal hierarchies of the world creating their own hierarchy - haute bourgeoisie, state, petty bourgeoisie, proletarian. This bourgeois hierarchy has been in effect for roughly 200 years and continues in this class subordination.

 

Looking at the hierarchical relationship of today's society, what do you see? You see two things. Obviously you see a relationship between an inferior and a superior. You see a relationship between an oppressor and suppressed, a leader and a follower, an educator and a student. And so on. Then you see the psychology of the two in this relation. The person below sees the person above as having authority, whether intellectual, strength, power in numbers, etc. They see themselves as necessary being in the lower rung in the relationship. They do not believe they are intelligent, they do not believe they can make decisions for themselves, they look to their superior as knowing best, they do not believe in themselves. The oppressor in the relationship lets their negative human qualities consume them. Power, greed, malice, domination, sadism. They draw energy and feed on their subordinates in a sick fashion. This relationship only gets worse the higher they propel themselves into the hierarchy of society, whether it be the corporation, the state, or whatever institution it may be.

 

Hierarchy clashes with basic human character. When we have a friend we do not try and control them, dictate what they can and cannot do. We do not talk down to them. We do not delegate, or decide their lives. Similarly, when we work in a team, unless we are in a hierarchical institution, we do not have a leader materialise who does nothing and tells everyone what to do, we work collaboratively and cordially, with mutual respect and co-ordination. Why is it then, that the contradiction of hierarchy plagues every society on earth?

 

The simple answer, as mentioned before, is that the modes of production have fundamentally stayed the same for thousands of years. Hierarchy and domination.

 

What people don't realise, is that their mode of thinking is not immovable. People can start to think, why do I need to government to decide what's best for me, why can't I consult with my local community to decide what is good? Why do I need a policeperson to "protect" me? Why can't the local community join in solidarity to protect each other. Why do I need a political party? Why can't we all decide things with equal weighting? Why do I need a landlord? Why can't people share the land equally? Why do I need money? Why can't people share their goods and services equitably? Why do I need a boss? Why can't we all own entities collectively? Why can't I decide things at work without asking my boss? Why do we need an army? Why can't we just unite with other workers around the world and destroy all killing machines. Why do we need spies? With no private property the spies cannot rat on who might want to share. Why do people own software and books etc? Why can't we share our works?

 

Why do we need a state? The very thing that enslaves us.

 

But the propaganda of media - TV, books, shows, news, sport, political coverage - all teaches us to be divided and helpless, and to see our oppressors as not only necessary, but infallible.

 

But, human nature will always win, even in hierarchical society there have been many victories and systems of anarchism operating within this hierarchical monstrosity. Hierarchy will be destroyed, sooner or later.

 

Hierarchy must be smashed. Destroyed. Obliterated. It must be pulverised so hard that it may never surface again. The people who are not at the bottom of the hierarchy must be divested of their authority and learn to live co-operatively, socially and fairly, on a horizontal basis. Only through the total implementation of anarchism can we be truly free.

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Categories: Blog