Monday, April 07, 2008

Anarchist-Marxist Convergence: Part One

I have not yet gone into too great a detail regarding the underlying socio-political theory which animates this blog. Although it is rather obvious from the title of the blog as well as from the content of the posts, the operative underlying theory has been and continues to be derived from the anti-capitalist, anti-state, socialist-left, the specificities of this theory have not yet been fleshed out in detail.

As comrades of mine already know, the specific tendency which animates my perspective is a dialectical convergence between several dynamic traditions. It would be impossible to give a full account of the various interrelated tendencies which converge and supplement the general underlying theory in a single post without doing a grave injustice to all of the separate yet related tendencies as well as to the dialectical amalgamation there from derived.

This post shall then be the first in a series of serial installments within which I will hence forth describe the specific individual tendencies which I draw from, their history, and their coalescing with various other related tendencies.

I will begin by drawing attention to the convergence and near indistinguishable nature of the anarcho-syndicalist tendency, represented by the anarchist theorist Rudolf Rocker, and the council communist tendency, represented by the left-Marxists Anton Pannekoek and Paul Mattick.

I have noticed that what Noam Chomsky pointed out is correct, that there is a fundamental convergence between anarcho-syndicalism – best expressed by Rocker’s work of the same title – and left Marxism, such as Pannekoek’s council communism. In fact, I am uncertain what differentiates Pannekoek’s council communism from Rocker’s anarcho-syndicalism.

Both posit that capitalism must be dismantled, socialism being the alternative. That strikes are the primary method by which the proletariat achieves class consciousness and is, as Rocker claims, “the focal point of the political struggle.”[1] Pannekoek explains “…mass strikes of the workers tend to become most serious attacks against State power, that fortress of capitalism, and most efficient factors in increasing the consciousness and social power of the working class.”[2] Rocker concurs stating that, “the strike is for the workers not only a means for the defense of immediate economic interests, it is also a continuous schooling for their powers of resistance, showing them every day that every least right has to be won by unceasing struggle against the existing system.”[3]

It was this premise that was the cause of conflict between Kautsky and Luxemburg. Luxemburg rightly took the position that the mass strike was foundational to any revolutionary socialist movement, as she said “the mass strike is the first natural, impulsive form of every great revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and the more highly developed the antagonism is between capital and labour, the more effective and decisive must mass strikes become.”[4]

Both Pannekoek and Rocker conclude that workers’ councils have and shall be established spontaneously and organically through trade unionism and strikes and that these councils are in embryo the organism of the future socialist society. They realize that organization is required in order to achieve workers’ control and that it is through strikes and the subsequent organic formation of workers’ councils that this organization will develop.

As Pannekoek explains, “In a big strike, all the workers cannot assemble in one meeting. They choose delegates to act as a committee. Such a committee is only the executive organ of the strikers; it is continually in touch with them and has to carry out the decisions of the strikers. Each delegate at every moment can be replaced by others; such a committee never becomes an independent power. In such a way, common action as one body can be secured, and yet the workers have all decisions in their own hands.”[5]

He goes on to explain that “Councils are the form of organization only for…the working class as a whole..They originate and grow up along with the first action of a revolutionary character. With the development of revolution, their importance and their functions increase. At first they may appear as simple strike committees…In a universal strike the functions of these committees are enlarged. Now delegates of all the factories and plants have to discuss and to decide about all the conditions of the fight…When the revolution develops to such power that the State power is seriously affected, then the workers’ councils have to assume political functions…They are the central bodies of the workers’ power…”[6]

Rocker points out that “The lancehead of the labour movement is, therefore...the trader union, toughened by daily combat and permeated by Socialist spirit. Only in the realm of economy are the workers able to display their full social strength, for it is their activity as producers which holds together the whole social structure, and guarantees the existence of society at all...the trade union is by no means a mere transitory phenomenon bound up with the duration of capitalist society, it is the germ of the Socialist society of the future, the elementary school of Socialism in general. Every new social structure makes organs for itself in the body of the old organism. Without this preliminary any social evolution is unthinkable."[7]

The points of convergence are many and the examples here are merely first approximations.

[1] Anarcho-Syndicalism by Rudolf Rocker

[2] Strikes by Anton Pannekoek

[3] Anarcho-Syndicalism by Rudolf Rocker

[4] The Mass Strike by Rosa Luxemburg

[5] Workers’ Councils by Anton Pannekoek

[6] ibid

[7] Anarcho-Syndicalism by Rudolf Rocker

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Anti-Americanism and Totalitarianism

I would be willing to wager that just about every social activist and dissident has at one time or another been charged with the so horrific crime of “anti-Americanism.” One simply cannot within the rotting economic and reactionary social climate today so prevalent present damning analysis and critique of state power without large segments of society, most likely proto-fascist segments, instantaneously spewing forth hysterical charges of “anti-Americanism” and other related slurs and rhetorical bile.

What is “anti-Americanism” and just what qualifies one as being “anti-American” or “un-American”? Simply asking this question and searching for an adequate answer goes a long way in demonstrating that “anti-Americanism” is simply empty, reactionary propaganda and smut, derived straight out of the ideology of totalitarianism.

In a totalitarian society the state, party or dominant institution of concentrated power, used to exert the ruling elite’s dominance over the larger population - through the military, guerilla death squads, massive ever-present propaganda campaigns and so forth – is the mafia Don and any attempt to challenge the Don’s position of power is met with an immediate reaction, in many places imprisonment, torture and murder; in other places, propaganda campaigns to marginalize and demolish the theorists and their analyses and critiques through media networks owned by massive multinational corporations running twenty four hours a day.

When one searches for the answer to the questions previously posed one finds that what constitutes anti-Americanism ranges anywhere from organizing terrorist attacks on innocent civilians, such as the attacks of 9-11, perpetrated by al-Qaida, all the way down to the act of exposing and criticizing the United States for its egregious abuses of state power; a recent example being the murderous bombing of Basra, which has so far led to the deaths of more than 300 people. Which illustrates rather well one of the underlying assumptions and fallacies of the ideology which supports the charges of anti-Americanism, that there is no distinction to be made between state power, the government and its affiliates, and the general population and that any action by the state power is by definition just.

This gross conflation causes many problems and allows the possibility that the state power will be defended over and against general populations and mass social movements, even when the state’s actions are illegitimate or when the state is itself illegitimate, as all states ultimately are. This view, which reflexively adopts the positions of the state and the powerful, many times in direct opposition to social movements and the general population, is also expressed in international law.

As Noam Chomsky observed, “international law is, in many respects, the instrument of the powerful: it is a creation of states and their representatives. In developing the presently existing body of international law, there was no participation by mass movements of peasants. The structure of international law reflects that fact; that is, international law permits much too wide a range of forceful intervention in support of existing power structures.”

This is of course not to undermine all of international law, which is arguably the best and most enlightened attempt to create a coherent system by which to defend human rights and so forth; as Chomsky goes on to say, “in fact there are interesting elements of international law, for example, embedded in the Nuremberg principles and the United Nations Charter, which permit, in fact, I believe, require the citizen to act against his own state in ways which the state will falsely regard as criminal. Nevertheless, he's acting legally, because international law also happens to prohibit the threat or use of force in international affairs, except under some very narrow circumstances, of which, for example, the war in Vietnam [as well as the present war in Iraq] is not one. This means that in the particular case of the Vietnam War, which interests me most, the American state is acting in a criminal capacity. And the people have the right to stop criminals from committing murder. Just because the criminal happens to call your action illegal when you try to stop him, it doesn't mean it is illegal.”

Returning to the conflation of state power with the general population and culture at large, Arundhati Roy illustrated the absurdity of the conflation, which is inherent within the charge of anti-Americanism, by asking what anti-Americanism actually means. She asks “[d]oes it mean you are anti-jazz? Or that you're opposed to freedom of speech?...That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean that you don't admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans?

This sly conflation of America's culture, music, literature, the breathtaking physical beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with criticism of the U.S. government's foreign policy (about which, thanks to America's "free press", sadly most Americans know very little) is a deliberate and extremely effective strategy. It's like a retreating army taking cover in a heavily populated city, hoping that the prospect of hitting civilian targets will deter enemy fire.

But there are many Americans who would be mortified to be associated with their government's policies. The most scholarly, scathing, incisive, hilarious critiques of the hypocrisy and the contradictions in U.S. government policy come from American citizens. When the rest of the world wants to know what the U.S. government is up to, we turn to Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Ed Herman, Amy Goodman, Michael Albert, Chalmers Johnson, William Blum and Anthony Amove to tell us what's really going on.”

The doctrine that underlies the charge of anti-Americanism is better understood within a broader context. Chomsky provides the context thusly:

“The people who are called ‘intellectuals’ are those who pretty much serve power. Others may be equally intellectual, but they're not called intellectuals. And that goes all the way back to the origins of recorded history. Go back to the Bible; who were the people who were respected, and who were the people who were reviled? Well, the people who were respected were the ones who, a thousand years later, were called false prophets. And the ones who were reviled and jailed and beaten and so on are the ones who years later were called prophets. And it goes right up until today. In the United States, people respected Soviet dissidents, but they weren't respected in Soviet society. There, they respected the commissars. So you are a respected intellectual if you do your job as a part of the system of doctrinal control. Raise questions about it and you're just not acceptable -- you're anti-American or some sort of shrill and strident something or other. Why was Walter Lippmann one of the "responsible men," while Eugene Debs was in jail? Was it that Walter Lippmann was smarter than Eugene Debs? Not that I can see. Eugene Debs was just an American working-class leader who raised unacceptable questions, so he was in jail. And Walter Lippmann was a servant of the major powers, so he was respected. And it would be amazing if it was anything else.”

Anti-Americanism, a derivative of anti-nationalism, as Arundhati Roy points out, is fallacious on the basis that it assumes the person so classified “is against his or her own nation and, by inference, is pro some other one. But it isn’t necessary to be ‘anti-national to be deeply suspicious of all nationalism, to be anti-nationalism. Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century.”

In the final analysis the charge of anti-Americanism, hurled with such vitriol, is but one extension of imperial power and the propaganda which serves this power; dissidents, no matter the support they enjoy, and critics of excesses of state power and abuses of human rights and so forth, are automatically deemed “anti-American” and are thus marginalized and dismissed before their analyses and arguments are even heard. The charge is thus used as an ideological weapon, derived from the ideology of totalitarianism, by which critics of state power are bludgeoned into marginalization, in the very same way Soviet dissidents were treated with the charge of being “anti-Soviet.”

As Arundhati Roy goes on to say: “The term "anti-American" is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and, not falsely - but shall we say inaccurately - define its critics. Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they are heard, and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.