Sunday, July 4, 2010

The movement for a public inquiry into police actions at the recent G20 summit is growing and coming to embrace many segments of Canadian society. The basic fact is that the police refused to intervene in a mini-riot of less than 100 people but later used this incident as an excuse to go on a massive arrest binge, ending up with over 1000 peaceful protesters in custody, many of them arrested in midnight raids when they were not protesting at all. There has been great public questioning about why a riot was allowed to happen with even 3 abandoned police cars as "bait" while only people unconnected with the riot were arrested. What do you think ? Surely I've missed something in my questionnaire. If you think that another response should be added please give it as a comment below.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The game of "international financial chicken" is continuing with a three pointed struggle involving international finance, the Greek government and the population of Greece. In reality no one side can win in the sense of getting everything they want. International finance (and the EU) cannot pull the plug and let Greece sink. Sovereign default is not the sort of thing that can be risked, especially as there are other dominoes in line. The Greek government cannot afford to go fully one way or the other. It has to placate both its creditors and the populace. The ordinary Greek people, in their demonstrations, also cannot stop all austerity measures, and outside of political rhetoric they know it. Here in North America a certain naive and romantic set of leftists (mostly anarchists) see the events in Greece through rose coloured glasses. They fail to understand that rebellion without a plan is the furthest thing from revolution. Thus they read their own illusions into the events in Greece.
Molly presents this latest questionnaire so that you can give your own opinion. Have fun. It's better than having your pension cut.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Well the poll where Molly asked her readers what their favourite holiday was is long since closed. There were 21 votes, and the plurality went to "Any Holiday Is A Good Day". Close runner ups were "Halloween" and "Some Bizarre Thing Nobody else Has Heard Of". "The Next One" also got more than one vote. "Easter", "Canada Day" and "All of the Above" received none. I'm glad to see that Molly's readers are a fun loving bunch, and almost all of the choices had something going for them. Myself, I voted for Halloween. No religious nor patriotic implications and absolutely voluntary. Also no feel good speeches from politicians or other "public misfigures" whatsoever.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Freedom means different things to different people. It may be economic, personal or political. What sort of freedom a person thinks is important will undoubtedly influence what they consider "the freest country in the world". The various freedoms may be tied together, but they are not unified. A country, for instance, may have extensive "economic freedom for the business class" while being a repressive dictatorship in general and also severely limiting the 'economic freedom' of workers to struggle in their own self interest. China, of course, comes to mind.
Freedom is also not the same thing as "democracy". Switzerland is arguably the most democratic country in the world, but it is well behind many others in personal freedom, as the recent 'minaret vote' demonstrated. Neither is freedom the same thing as "equality", though the two are connected. The Scandinavian countries probably rank higher on some sort of "freedom scale" than say the USA because they are far more egalitarian and thus the "freedom to" is available to a far greater percentage of the population than in America. On the other hand there are unique things about the USA which lead one to say it is "freer" in other ways.
In any case the whole matter is quite arguable. Hence this poll. I've even added a couple of communist countries both for that tiny minority still deluded by same and for the amusement of civilized people. Then, of course, there is the "some other country" option for those who value one particular aspect of "freedom" or who have more geopolitical knowledge than I do. Feel free to write in what you mean ie "which one" as a comment on this post. Yes...we'll even accept 'Vatican City' here. this is, after all, a free speech zone.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To vote or not to vote, that is the question. To make this question a bit easier let's restrict it to voting in 'political elections' ie local, state/provincial or national. No one should (but I'm sure some will) doubt that, if anarchists take part in other organizations (unions, community groups, etc.) where voting is part of normal procedure, they should vote within these groups. The big question is what positions of responsibility anarchists should act in in such groupings. Leave that aside for the moment. Let's also leave aside the question of how decisions should be reached in an anarchist organization. The big debating point there is voting versus consensus. The latter is actually quite great provided that 1)the group is small and intends to stay that way, 2)the group is made up of personal friends, 3)there is basically nothing to decide as the group is of one general opinion anyways, 4)whatever decision the group makes doesn't matter much anyways and MOST IMPORTANTLY 5)the group contains absolutely NO, none, nada people who think that making decisions this way has any significance whatsoever. They should, preferably have never heard the word "consensus" in their lives. As I said, if all of these conditions are fulfilled then consensus is great. If only one condition is not met, especially the latter where those with a certain type of personal ethics disguised as politics make life intolerable for others, then it is destructive and very painful for anyone who has to endure their "righteous presence".

But...political elections ?? The "anarchist general line" has usually been that elections should be boycotted. Anarchists have often actually run 'Don't Vote' campaigns, and I've helped with a few of these in the past myself. There are, however, exceptions. Proudhon was actually a Deputy in the French Assembly before he came to a stricter anti-political point of view. In our own time the Communalist/Social Ecologist followers of Murray Bookchin made voting in municipal elections pretty well the key point of their strategy. There are actually many others, but the most telling one is the Spanish anarchists in the CNT and FAI in early 1936 when they deliberately "muted" their traditional anti-electoral stand in order that the Popular Front would win the election. I have read different versions of the actual organizational responsibility of this decision. One version says that the CNT carried out the low key campaign. The other said that the responsibility was passed on to the FAI. They had their reasons, most particularly the hope of release for thousands of political prisoners should the popular front win. In any case this may have been an unique situation, one where anarchists were influential enough so that their decision about whether to vote or not (or whether to tone down their rhetoric so that-wink,wink,nudge,nudge many would vote) actually made a significant difference. There is certainly no country in the world today where whatever anarchists say or don't say will make a tinker's damn to the results of an election. That's a reality, and recognizing reality is the first step to changing it.

Which brings me to some observations of 'votophobia'. The first observation is that voting or not voting is not a principle; it is a means to an end. Whatever their opponents may think of them anarchists are, by and large, a very moralistic bunch, and they far too often confuse means with ends. As a matter of fact that confusion is part and parcel of standard anarchist theory, and it has great merit- up to a point. The means very much influence the end result, and it is unrealistic to expect any political party, reformist or revolutionary, to usher in the sort of democratic, egalitarian, decentralized society that anarchists want. That being said there is a vast ocean of difference between the two poles of total stasis and total change. Some outcomes are more desirable than others. What anarchists far too often fail to do, however, is ask the hard question: "what do we actually hope to accomplish by publicly urging people not to vote ?" There is, of course, a trend in anarchism, most prevalent in the USA, which views any hard questions as something akin to treachery, and they do their damnedest to reply to such in as abusive and pseudo-intellectual form as they can muster.

In the presence of a large, dynamic and influential anarchist organization(s) with a well thought out course of action and the influence to at least carry out some of its plans there is actually an alternative that can be offered to the question from John Q. Sceptic, "What do you have as an alternative ?". Outside of Spain, and even there to a great degree there is no such organization on Earth today. The offer of benefiting from an identification with the anarchist movements, such as they are, is plainly pretty skimpy fair, and it's best that some of the more narcissistic elements get over their self love enough to recognize the absurdity of this 'alternative'. An organization can use an anti-electoral campaign to offer their own plan of action, but a vague subculture can not. All that it has to offer is its own proselytism. All that I can say to this is that we live in a world where at least images are transmitted to most of the world's population. If a certain anarchist subculture was inherently so much more attractive than ordinary life well then we would all be walking around with tongue piercings and eating nothing but vegan food today. As a matter of fact identifying anarchism with a subculture has more minuses than it does pluses. It recruits those who want such identities, but it also repells those who have no need of such crutches.
But back to 'voting'. What do we hope to accomplish by mounting a 'Don't Vote' campaign ? If we are realistic the answer is obviously "very little". If such campaigns are carried out in the absence of a legitimate anarchist organization, an alternative to dependence on political parties and at least the bare bones of a realistic 'plan' then the proper answer is "nothing". In such situations one is reduced to rather petty considerations ie whether an anti-voting campaign can "recruit" members for an organization or whether it can get publicity for same. The idea of recruiting 'members' to a vague, and often repulsive, subculture is absurd. That's best done by social contact in the non-political venues in which things properly belong.
So where do I stand today ? Presently I don't see the utility of mounting anti-election campaigns in either my own country, the USA or most of Europe. I'm inclined to view such things via the old commie label of "diversionary". There may indeed be situations where such campaigns are appropriate, especially as recruiting devices, but I haven't seen such in the last little while. As somebody who, from habit and inclination, takes a 'long view' I think that elections should basically be ignored. This wasn't my opinion years ago. It is my opinion now. If anarchism is going to be a potent reality it has a long road ahead of it, of building at the base. I see little reason to put effort into campaigns that cannot have any effect because of our present small numbers. If anarchism is ever a serious competitor for the 'public mind', which it is not today, then other, more Machiavellian considerations might come into play. I personally, however, don't expect to see such a situation in my lifetime, except perhaps in Spain.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The following revolves around a perennial question in the anarchist movement- what is our relationship to unions, and by implication other mass movements. To all intents and purposes this question was settled in the late 1800s when the French CGT advanced the theory of anarchosyndicalism in opposition to both the fad of individualist terrorism in their own country and the idea of "exemplary insurrection" in the Italian sense. The idea of anrchosyndicalism went on to "coonquer the world", at least that of anarchism, and the present labour movements of a large part of the world, in Europe and Latin America have an "anarchosyndivalist grandmother" in their family line. Needless to say anarchosyndicalism experienced an eclipse, losing ground to the totalitarianism of both communism and fascism and also to "liberal trade unionism" on the English/German?Americam model. Recent decades have seen a resurgence of anarchosyndicalism as anarchists seek for a realistic way to put their ideals into practice. The outstanding example is the Spanish CGT, but even the IWW has seen an influx of anarchists who are determined to see anarchism as a reality and not as a talking shop subject.
It is in the situation of this revival of anarchosyndicalism that Molly asks the two most recent questions on this blog. "What is the Anarchist Attitude to Unions ?". This has always been a big subject of debate in anarchism, and I doubt that I have covered the many nuanances of the participants by the questionaire that I have set up. There is first and foremost a section of so-called anarchism, most popular in the USA, which denies the relevance of social class entirely. For those people unionism would, of course, be something that they merely list as one more thing that they feel superior to. For the rest of us ordinary mortals, however, who live ordinary lives in class society and see no reason to listen to the superior pronouncements of those who preach an end to civilization- while living very high on the hog by its benefits-how we will go about remedying our situation is a valuable question.
The "new anarchists" who have come to the movement in the past few decades (unlike Molly who became an anarchist in the early 70s with all the socialist baggage attached) are gradually moving to practicality, and their influx into organizations such as the IWW is evidence of same. The new anarchists carry their own baggage. No...civilization won't end. It can't ( the last community in the world with a knowledge of metallurgy will conquer the rest in a few years), and any hoped for collapse will lead to a situation far worse than the one we have today. No...showing off the size of your balls in ritual combat with the police, where you are always defeated in the end, at international ruling class gatherings is not a sensible way to anything but more ritual combat. No...the claim of those "post-leftist" anarchists to the "individualist anarchist" heritage is tenuous at best. No...there is no quick and easy way to bypass long term organization amongst ordinary people (if this requires shedding subcultural badges of superiority so what) via either riot or terrorism.
We come back to the perennial question of "what is to be done". For the best of the new anarchists this means trying to carry their ideals into reality via a connection with ordinary people, and unionism is one of the primary ways in which this will be done. There are other ways, of course, such as community organizations, but unions should be a primary focus of anarchists today.
All of this, of course, eventually comes down to specifics. If there is one thing that a site such as Molly's Blog/Molly's Polls can provide it is an independent view of the possibilities for anarchist efforts today, without the need of any loyalty to a specific organization or point of view. Without the need of enthusiasm. In the spirit of this I lay out the following difficulties as to one anarchist effort at organization, the organization of places such as Starbucks. I do not do this out of a desire to discourage activists engaged in these efforts but merely out of a desire to point out the difficulties and discourage excessive optimism.
1)There is a simple fact. There is only one Starbucks that has been unionized in the entire world- one in Regina, Saskatchewan, organized by the independent RWDSU of Saskatchewan which is small but has a geographical concentration in an area that has a tradition of radical political action (of which the RWDSU is part). This fact should speak volumes about the difficulties of organizing such a workplace.
2)The record of organizing other "fast food joints" in the world is also negative. I cannot find any example of where a McDonalds has been organized anywhere. The record of failure, which at least in Canada, has involved major unions should give campaigners pause. Not all of the failure can be ascribed to the "non-libertarian" nature of a major union such as the CAW (in their campaign to unionize Starbucks in the 1990s). A lot of it can be ascribed to the simple difficulty of the task.
3)What is the nature of the difficulty ? From Molly's point of view the transition between "simple unionism" and "libertarian unionism" involves the situation where workers at a given workplace go from simply demanding better conditions of employment to seeing that they have property rights to their jobs and eventually to the workplace itself. this is all well and good and even possible at a factory where a worker expects to spend a good portion of their working life at. The whole idea of workers at a fast food joint or such a place as Starbucks (whatever bullshit the company puts forward) aspiring to spend years, let alone the rest of their life at the same job hardly accords with reality. This leads to point #4.
4)The workforce at any place such as Starbucks or any other such service outlet is necessarily transient. This doesn't mean that it is "unorganizable". It does, however, mean that any union in such a place will have to prove its worth to new membership at the rate of about every 2 years. Such an union may have staying power if it has enough community penetration that the bosses can be assured that any new employees are at least as troublesome as those that the business has shed. Hence the need for continued propaganda in the community in support of the union.
Where to go from here ? Frankly I don't know. All that I know is that the effort to unionize such places as Starbucks will require tactics that the ordinary run of the mill unions haven't even begun to conceive of. Hopefully anarchist inspired unions will be more successful.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Molly has posted before about the subject of how city managers, on duty during the Toronto civic workers strike, beat homeless man Brian DuBourdieu when he attempted to access a shelter in Toronto. Here from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) is what they intend to do tomorrow, July 20. If you live in the Toronto area try and show up to lend support.
Monday: Come Speak Out Against The Seaton House Beating‏:
Seaton House refused to release Brian DuBourdieu's incident report.
We are giving Seaton House July 20th to produce it.
Join us:
Monday, July 20th
Seaton House
339 George Street(east of Jarvis Street, south of Gerrard Street)
We will go back to Seaton House on the 20th and demand Brian get his incident report. We will continue to demand that charges be laid against the managers that assaulted Brian, that his missing property be returned and that an apology and restitution are given.
About 50 people, including Seaton House residents, CUPE picketers and supporters gathered to condemn city management who attacked Brian DuBourdieu. Towards the end of the press conference, Brian and OCAP member Gaetan Heroux went into Seaton House to get his incident report, a form that he has a right to have for a number of reasons, including to appeal his bar from the shelter.
City management, who are staffing the shelter because of the CUPE strike, refused to give Brian the report. They told him to file a freedom of information request(holy sweet Jesus, Freedom of Information requests are the privilege in our society of those who have both thousands of dollars to spend in legal fees and the patience to wait two years for whatever may come. this sort of thing is actually rarely used by news reporters, with all their backing, let alone homeless people and their cash strapped supporters. It looks good on paper but the reality of such laws is very far from the high sounding rhetoric of the law-Molly ) something the city doesn't even have to reply to for six weeks. The refusal of an incident report was unheard of by the people attending the press conference, including social services workers with years of experience with the shelter system.
Brian asked for something to eat and was told all that they had was a peanut butter sandwich (to which Brian has a serious allergy). The city manager then threw the sandwich at Brian. Upset, Brian threw the sandwich back and kicked a door (causing no damage). Five city managers then tackled him to the ground and three of them held him down while the other two kicked his legs repeatedly.
Two weeks after the beating, Brian's doctors could not tell him if he needs surgery because his leg is still too swollen to properly assess it.
Molly Note:
It sounds to me like Toronto city management are taking out their frustrations about actually having to work for a living on whomever comes into their sights. To say the least if city cops had done this there would have been a police inquiry under this or that piece of legislation. I guess that the managers who had been assigned the graveyard shift at the shelter that night thought that they could punch and kick their way through it without calling the cops. Well yeah...they could because they outnumbered the victim. The result, however, is such that there may have been serious injuries from their actions. Too bad the cops weren't called (or maybe the omission was deliberate) because the first question that shows up in the local papers about almost any assault is "whether alcohol was involved". One wonders. one wonders. One wonders. What exactly happens on the boneyard shift when it is manned by those who are unfamiliar with actually working.