Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

Kim Stanley Robinson: The Kerala on Human Equality and the Earth as Garden

February 5, 2015

lotus flower

A selection from “The Age of Great Progress” describing the Travancori League, from Kim Stanley Robinson’s alternative-speculative history, The Years of Rice and Salt (2002), p. 522:

“The Kerala laughed, looked at Ismail and gestured at the colorful and fragrant fields.  ‘This is the world we want you to help us make,’ he said.  ‘We will go out into the world and plant gardens and orchards to the horizons […] and terrace the mountains and irrigate the deserts until there will be garden everywhere, and plenty for all, and there will be no more empires or kingdoms, no more caliphs, sultans, emirs, khans, or zamindars, no more kings or queens or princes, no more qadis or mullahs or ulema, no more slavery and no more usury, no more property and no more taxes, no more rich and no more poor, no killing or maiming or torture or execution, no more jailers and no more prisoners, no more generals, soldiers, armies or navies, no more patriarchy, no more clans, no more caste, no more suffering than what life brings us for being born and having to die, and then we will see for the first time what kind of creatures we really are.”

Paul Cezanne, "In the Woods"

Paul Cézanne, “In the Woods”

From Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists

March 16, 2014

blue nude

“Blue Nude,” Pablo Picasso (1902)

This is a link to an important essay by Nihil0 as published on that deals with issues of depression and suicidality among radical critics of existing society.  As the author writes,

“While a variety of factors contribute to individual instances of suicide and the overall suicide rate, I believe that progressive radicals, anarchists, and social justice activists have somewhat unique psychological factors that can also come into play. Although they are probably just as likely to suffer from problems like social isolation or drug dependency, I believe that those who are informed about the myriad of crises that humanity currently faces are given an extra punctuation in terms of reasons to be dismayed. So, in addition to any personal problems they may have, they are also aware that the world seems to be going to hell in a proverbial handbasket […].

When a progressive radical commits suicide it’s equivalent to a fascist putting another notch in his rifle. It is equivalent to the war machine rolling its tank treads over another freedom fighter. This, I hope, is reason enough for many to avoid death at their own hands.”

Hedges on Moby Dick, fascism, and sublime madness

January 27, 2014

anarchy leads the ppl

This is part of the conclusion to Chris Hedges’s “The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies,” a speech given in Santa Monica, California, in October 2013.  In his comments, Hedges reflects on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as an allegory of prevailing society.

“I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I know these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists. And this is a fight which in the face of the overwhelming forces against us requires us to embrace this sublime madness, to find in acts of rebellion the embers of life, an intrinsic meaning that lies outside of certain success. It is to at once grasp reality and then refuse to allow this reality to paralyze us.”

Hedges closes by quoting Turkish poet Nazim Hekmet’s “On Living.”


Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast . . .
Let’s say we’re at the front—
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .

Counterpunch report: “Evil is as Evil Does” by Norman Pollock

July 3, 2013

This is a repost of “Evil is as Evil Does,” first published on Counterpunch on 1 July.  It is written by Norman Pollock, author of the forthcoming book Eichmann on the Potomoc (Counterpunch/AK Press, 2013).

Evil is not banal, pace Arendt; it is in this case (the US in the early 21st century) the systemization in government policy of an advanced capitalist society and political economy at the tipping point of structural-ideological senescence, now seemingly treading water because of economic dislocations more long- than short-term in nature, but actually poised—somewhat in desperation—to advance its militarized global expansion in an effort to maintain its unilateral position of world leadership in an international framework of multipolar centers of power, and therefore, objectively, destined ultimately to fail, a trajectory of decline eliciting a political-military response already in the present of an American-style FASCISM, the familiar concentration of wealth consolidated within and protected by an hierarchical societal formation institutionally directed to market fundamentalism and a compliant working class.  In this setting, an America on the brink of totalitarianism, for good and sufficient reason, centuries’-long intervention, a steadily widening internal class-diifferentiation of wealth and power, xenophobia, and, since World War II, an unreasoning anticommunism having  the result, intended or otherwise, of fear and abject conformity, thus muting if not silencing substantive dissent on national priorities, critical thought of ideological valuing of consumerism and capital accumulation, and informed discussion of alternative modes of social-economic development, President Obama is the near-perfect embodiment of a leader prepared to capitalize on historical trends of counterrevolution in America’s foreign policy and informal methods and mechanisms of social control domestically as uniquely representative of ruling-groups’ interests to carry forward a public policy entailing the financialization and militarization (the two nicely conjoined) of American capitalism.  By this token, Obama is hardly a cog in Arendt’s imagined bureaucratic machinery, implying inertness and perhaps a rote cruelness, but an Eichmann of a different complexion, knowingly and actively performing the role of facilitator and/or enabler of the hegemonic paradigm so long taken for granted and inscribed in America’s ideological consciousness, yet—hence the desperation—no longer easily in reach.

He started slowly, for some reason thought anti-imperialist and economically progressive, such being the power of public relations, liberal political rhetoric, racial identity (as I state elsewhere, as a veteran of civil-rights demonstrations and organizational activity, including helping to forge a civil-rights/antiwar coalition, I am not intimidated by the liberal mindset of political correctness: Obama is not fit to be in the same company as blacks I protested with, or my personal hero Paul Robeson, as well as Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. DuBois, with whom I was privileged to shake hands, etc. etc.), and hitherto undetected perfidiousness in the 2008 campaign.  Axelrod et. al., with  the candidate’s help, put something over on us—until immediately after the Inauguration when suddenly we could start to take the measure of his appointments, notably, Geithner, at Treasury, Clinton, at State, and national-security advisers, such as Brennan, when it became apparent to those not bedazzled by appearance, Democratic-affiliation, the presumed forced-choice of Neanderthal-like reaction, that underlying continuities of policy and intent with the Bush II administration were not sundered, only deceptively glistened, a liberalization of Rightist practice and policy, as in humanitarian interventionism, same old, same old, illegal intervention, or as in health-care reform to sidetrack and obviate the need for the public option, let alone, single-payer, at the same time rewarding Big Pharma and the insurance companies.

Tragic, in the sense of “deplorable,” because the preponderance of what once had been the Left in America, and still styling itself liberal or progressive, has bought hook, line, and sinker, into this charade of social-welfare politics, peaceable international relations, and broad regulatory constraints on the business system (as well, we appreciate in hindsight, as indifference to, or unawareness of, the utter savaging of civil liberties), but also, tragic, in the more profound sense, in which (a) a protagonist has been defeated by (b) a stronger force, with (c) a sad conclusion exciting (d) pity, where (a) is the people, (b) the present government and its near-predecessors, (c) a terror-struck populace becoming habituated to social control at home and the doctrine of permanent war in foreign affairs, and (d) the eclipse of the nation’s democratic structure, form, and legitimacy, through increased reliance on CIA-JSOC paramilitary operations, armed drones for targeted assassination, stupendous military appropriations coupled with, in both budgetary and ideological terms, the shrinking and weakening of the social safety net—all, the burden of this book, under the “stewardship” of Obama, as a qualitative jump within, or intensification of, the broad historical continuum bequeathed by his predecessors.  Obama is more than a sophisticated version of the hapless Bush II, his very sophistication, aided by the aforementioned liberalization of the extant Right, making him the more dangerous, from the standpoint of war policy and planning (e.g., the Pacific-first strategy for the containment and isolation of China) and government-business relations, a process of deregulation started under Clinton and systematized more adroitly under Obama.  Even Cheney, with all his brashness, could not give more favorable treatment to the oil companies than Salazar of Interior.

This could have been written before the revelations of Edward J. Snowden, but the wide net of surveillance spread over the American people (and also foreign nationals) by the National Security Agency is of such moment as to confirm the political-structural-ideological trends toward an incipient totalitarianism no longer dismissible as ranting, conspiracy-theorization, or other forms of put-down.  The danger is real.  My life had been one of activism.  Here I’m not interested in “solutions,” which, frankly, turn out to be, “Please, Mr. President, don’t you see…,” or, write to your congressperson or senator, or contribute to a New York Times ad, or wave a placard and hope motorists will honk as they drive by.  Obama isn’t listening, nor Brennan, nor Feinstein, nor Clapper, Petraeus, Rice, Power, Rhodes.  The more one approaches on bended knee, pleading, as though to reasonable men and women, the more their appetite is whetted for going further, perhaps an unconsciously-driven sadism, perhaps not, confident that the citizenry’s naivete , apathy, ignorance, or, of course, agreement, provides open space for unrestrained conduct.  Add to a faltering political consciousness, as a decisive mass phenomenon of our time, the bred-into-us submissiveness (as Theodor Adorno, in 1950, described in The Authoritarian Personality, or, my interpretation, the institutionalization of ego-loss or individual’s depersonalization by means of the bludgeoning of sensibility to meet the needs of consumerism and a militaristic mindset), and one readily sees the almost-epistemological foundations (because economic and structural factors must also be taken into account) of popular docility toward and inability to mount, or fear of mounting, criticism about America per se, yet personified by its ruling groups, whether political, economic, military,  and increasingly, their seamless connection.

Obama, deregulation, militarism, a systemic infusion of patriotism through media coverage, sports, even for some, the celebrity culture, as well as the failure to address climate change, unemployment, poverty, mortgage foreclosure, together point to a reification of America as God’s Own Kingdom on Earth and to other nations the Holy Grail for which they are zealously ever in quest (however, not its deficiencies in public policy, such as affecting the social safety net, of which they almost unanimously oppose), or so we are asked to believe.  Reification is a maddening psychological-epistemological process, as measured by an unmediated political consciousness, not subject to screens which filter out adversarial and alternative thinking, projects, values, the product broadly speaking of cultural conditioning, selectively promoted, to satisfy ruling-groups’ needs and goals.  Reification is the materialization of patriotic abstractions, such as freedom and democracy, which themselves have been largely honored in the breach, thus rendering the individual two steps removed from the real world on which critical awareness and heightened political consciousness depend.  He/she introjects (or, if one prefers, internalizes) the very structure of power and affiliated ideas that, in turn, oppresses and/or confines the individual.  Each individual becomes the incarnation of the nation in its mature, monopoly-capitalism form, a walking about in the persona of a mighty armed fortress-state, celebrating the glories of wealth accumulation and the military triumphs of battles won (even keeping a scorecard on opponents’ losses), while fending off as “enemies” domestic and foreign those who dare question “legitimate” Authority, as sanctified primarily by legislation which owes its supposed legitimacy to the existing (and historically, successively replenished and renewed) structural-economic configuration of wealth and power.

Through political-cultural conditioning, then, we absorb the systemic forces, notably, the hierarchical class structure inculcating obedience and passivity, which nullify the very concept of class in its positive guise: the instrument of social protest to achieve goals particular to the class; simply, class self-interest as the organizational base for challenging society’s dominant groups.  This is wholly antithetical to the current practice of shielding the copartnership of government and business, a structural framework of capitalism intended to allow corporations and banks write their own regulations, then transmuted into legislation as the law of the land.  Secretiveness here in the private realm corresponds to classification of government documents in the public, for the Obama Administration a giant repackaging of the Capitalist State for the obvious task of concealment of practices that, with public exposure, would be viewed as confirmatory of a totalitarian direction.  Secrecy is antithetical to democracy, if by the latter we include government by the consent of the governed.  Unless each and every case of classification can be justified by an impartial tribunal (itself now hopeless, given the politicization of the judiciary and of the law itself), classification is a lame pretext for deterring and ultimately suppressing the investigating and publicizing of government wrongdoing and criminality.  Obama’s passion for impaling whistleblowers is by now self-evident.  Edward Snowden is his Osama bin Laden, in both cases the essential fulcrum which enables him to mount an expansion of Executive Power, relatedly, enlarge the military budget, a key to that expanded power, in which militarism (the civilian window dressing for which is counterterrorism, as a parallel and complementary state of mind) forms an integral part, and to ensure completeness of the Obama paradigm of governance thus far, reduce the guarantees of Constitutional rights and attendant civil liberties, as now, the dastardly practice of widespread surveillance of the American public, whose reach encompasses the interlocking networks of “friends and allies” so as to constitute a global menace.

Evil, as I use it here, signifies the institutionalization of class political-structural-military dominance, not, however, as an impersonal force or process, but as the consciously furthered activity of power-groups in American society, determined on the globalization-of-one, a world system of capitalism, US-inspired as to ground rules and controlled as to patterns of trade, investment, and, not least, geopolitical and geostrategic arrangements and principles.  Egocentric, but why also evil?  Let the ghost of the vaporized child in Pakistan answer, the victim of a missile fired from an armed  drone; or, the ghost of the infant in Cuba who died because of medicine denied by the American embargo for a treatable cancer; or the living ghosts in Guantanamo prison who are in a protracted hunger strike in protest against torture and unwarranted imprisonment.  We don’t require disputatious academics dancing on the head of a pin to tell us what evil is.  It is in front of our eyes, and if you need a mailing address, try 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., with instructions to mimeograph copies to be handed out to the national-security advisers on Terror Tuesdays.  Of course, said message will be instantly classified and stamped “Top Secret.”

“Autonomy: An Idea Whose Time Has Come” by Jérôme E. Roos

June 26, 2013


I would like here to share a link and PDF copy of Jérôme E. Roos’ recent essay, “Autonomy: An Idea Whose Time is Come,” as published originally on ROAR (Reflections on a Revolution) on 23 June.  It is a very excellent essay appraising the present situation of anti-systemic struggle and the various promises of autonomous social relations.  It is optimistic, noting that the future possibilities of popular, democratic self-management–as expressed via the council system–lie presently within the diverse set of anti-capitalist modes of being seen throughout the globe.  The author cites the Paris Commune, revolutionary Barcelona (1936), and the example of the Good-Government Councils of the EZLN as “concrete forms” of autonomous examples.

Unfortunately, Roos is mistaken in claiming that the Commune of 1871 held out for almost a year against the French military–far less time than that, just over two months!

In solidarity

Autonomy” (PDF)

One Year On: Under Empire, All Life is Imperiled

May 24, 2013

ILRACC cover

This is my latest published writing, and my first appearance in CounterpunchI wrote it for the one-year anniversary of the publication of Imperiled Life.


“After the catastrophes that have happened, and in view of the catastrophes to come, it would be cynical to say that a plan for a better world is manifested in history and unites it.” – Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics

Channeling Adorno, it would I think prove difficult today to characterize the prevailing world-situation as anything other than highly negative.  Such an interpretation is arguably seen most readily in reflection on environmental matters—specifically, the ever-worsening climate emergency, not to mention other worrying signs of the ecological devastation wrought by the capitalist system.

Perhaps a short summary of key recent findings on the state of the environment is here in order.  Less than two weeks ago, the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawai’i confirmed that the average global carbon dioxide concentration had reached 400 parts per million (ppm)—more than 50 ppm higher than James Hansen and the eponymous movement claim to be a safe level, and approximately 120 ppm higher than pre-industrial (or pre-capitalist) concentrations.  According to the Guardian, such CO2 concentrations have not been seen on Earth for the last 3-5 million years, during the Pliocene geological era, which saw an ice-free Arctic, savannahs in northern Africa (where currently the Sahara resides), and sea levels between 25 and 40 meters higher than those which obtain today.  In Professor Andrew Glikson’s estimation, the annual rise of 3 ppm in atmospheric CO2 seen last year (2012-2013) is entirely unprecedented during the past 65 million years; as he writes, “regular river flow conditions such as allowed cultivation and along river valleys since about 7000 years ago, and temperate Mediterranean-type climates allowing extensive farming, could hardly exist under the intense hydrological cycle and heat wave conditions of the Pliocene.”  This should hardly be surprising, given that such atmospheric CO2 levels as those we suffer today have never been seen in the entire history (and prehistory) of Homo sapiens sapiens, though our ancestral Homo habilis arguably did endure them.  Indeed, the Earth’s current average global temperature—a slightly different matter than the atmospheric CO2 level, given lags in the latter’s contribution to the former, in addition to the masking effect of aerosols (SO2 et al.) emitted by industry—has recently been found to surpass 90% of all average global temperatures experienced since the emergence of agriculture some 12,000 years ago—and hence also of “civilization.”  Arguably most worrying is Nafeez Ahmad’s recent citation of a 2011 Science paper which projects that, given the current, unprecedented rate of increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, global average temperatures could rise a full 16°C by the end of the century—that is to say, nearly three times  the worst-case scenario considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 report (a 6°C increase).

Such considerations are no doubt horrific; they are nonetheless reality.  Some other truths manifested of late that can be associated with these trends include the following climatological news and reports: the 260,000 persons, half of them young children, who the UN recently announced to have perished during the 2011 famine in Somalia, itself catalyzed by the region’s worst drought in the past 7 decades; the hundreds of millions who Lord Stern has recently reported can soon be expected to be forcibly displaced from their homelands due to unchecked global warming; the millions who will face starvation in Africa and Asia as agriculture withers under unprecedented heat; the numerous people of Bangladesh who are losing access to freshwater as rising sea levels cause saltwater to intrude into aquifers, or the millions of Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Burmese, and Rohingya threatened by cyclones like Mahasen; the innumerable species, plant and animal, that face destruction and extinction under the projected average global temperature increases promised by climate catastrophe…  The nauseating list goes on indefinitely.

Consideration of these problematics is the focus of my Imperiled Life: Revolution against Climate Catastrophe, published a year ago now by AK Press in collaboration with the Institute for Anarchist Studies.  Strangely enough, this one-year anniversary of publication is, unlike the case with more joyous occasions, hardly one to be celebrated, for the problems considered within the volume unsurprisingly have only worsened over that time, in keeping with the laws of physics and chemistry.  I would nonetheless continue to vouch for the work’s conclusions: its “diagnosis, prognosis, and remedies,” as mentioned in the preface by my editor Paul Messersmith-Glavin, stem from a social anarchist, anti-systemic perspective on the ecological crisis that I believe to be rational and helpful—insofar as such standards have a place today within political and environmental thought, as I should hope they might.

In structural terms, it should be clear to all honest observers that the climate crisis is the result of the dominance of the capitalist mode of production over the entirety of planet Earth; basing itself fundamentally on ceaseless expansion, the imperatives of capital profoundly contradict the modes of living—cooperative and competitive—observed throughout the world’s various ecosystems.  Capital’s “grow-or-die” maxim resembles that of the cancer cell or a deadly virus more than it does human, animal, or plant life, as theorists from Murray Bookchin to John McMurtry have rightly noted.  As against liberal analyses, then, the State has proved itself to be a mere facilitator of capital’s ecocidal project: consider Obama’s recent profession of enthusiasm for the “development” of the substantial hydrocarbon resources that are believed to reside below the Arctic ice cap, once capitalism has melted that away entirely.  In this vein, David Schwartman is right to cite Michael Klare in his formulation of the U.S. military as constituting the “oil protection service” of transnational capital: imperialism’s long and sordid history of accommodation with its autocratic Gulf petrol-enablers—and its various intrigues and interventions targeting those, from Mossadegh to Qadhafi, who might seek alternative uses of such resources—is well-known.  Recall the Iraq War.

So we cannot look to the State for meaningful assistance in the struggle to overturn the trends which are delivering humanity and Earth’s systems into ruin—as John Holloway notes rightly, the State is “their organization,” referring to the capitalist class.  What of the putative non-governmental organizations which espouse environmental concerns?  Clearly, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and company rightly merit the label of “Gang Green,” in light of their toxic incrementalism and their related willingness to accommodate the very structures which are perpetuating environmental destruction.  Similarly, Cory Morningstar has recently written a legitimate denunciation of Bill McKibben and on these pages, declaring McKibben’s world-famous yet entirely reformist and thus inadequate organization to represent little more than the “soma of the 21st century,” given its papering over of any critique of capitalism, productivism, militarism, or imperialism.  Essentially, then, what we are faced with is the omnicidal steamroll of the capitalist machine as oiled by the world’s rich and their State, and then the anemic responses from the official “opposition” which has taken it upon itself to attempt to resolve the various environmental crises by doing essentially nothing of substance to achieve those ends.

Thankfully, of course, the story does not end there.  Humanity, as I write in the penultimate paragraph of Imperiled Life, cannot be reduced to the forms of capital and the State; these “do not have the final word.”  We are, then, on a desperate search for radical groupings among the subordinated, or l@s de abajo (“those from below”).  In strategic terms, it would seem that generally to diffuse anti-systemic ecological analyses—assuming these be tied together with humanistic, emancipatory concern for social oppression—remains a crucial task at the present juncture: the counter-hegemonic war of position today retains all of its relevance!  As should be self-evident, of course, efforts seeking merely to “raise consciousness” and metaphorically arm the populace with critical perspectives on the present multi-dimensional crisis should hardly be taken as the end of organizing; rather, such should serve as means to the “happy end” (Ernst Bloch) of a world freed from capitalist and State control, and the attendant looming risk of climate apocalypse.  How these two trends might inter-relate—and whether we can even theoretically hope that they will, this late in the game—is the question on everyone’s minds (or, at least, it should be).  As Allan Stoekl closes his recent review of Adrian Parr’s The Wrath of Capital: Neoliberalism and Climate Change Politics, summing up the struggle to achieve a post-capitalist ecological society: “But how to get from here to there?”  The question is a burning one.  In this vein, we can turn to Max Horkheimer’s obvious yet crucial point that “[t]he revolution is no good” insofar as it “is not victorious.”[1]

Horkheimer is right: it would indeed seem problematic for thought merely to appeal to airy philosophical abstractions amidst the decidedly pressing matter of capital’s destruction of the world—to speak of the promise of the Hegelian Geist, say, or the inevitable triumph of the proletariat, as managed by an enlightened Leninist vanguard—but I would argue that Hannah Arendt’s conception of natality could prove particularly useful at the present moment.  As I understand, she first introduces this idea at the close of her Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), when she counterposes the possibilities of birth to inherited tradition and history, particularly of the imperialist and fascist varieties: “With each new birth, a new beginning is born into the world, a new world has potentially come into being […].  Freedom as an inner capacity of [humanity] is identical with the capacity to begin.”[2]

Arendt expands upon these fragmentary comments on interruption and beginning in her 1958 magnus opus The Human Condition.  Largely repudiating the repressive, fatalistic philosophy of her former mentor Martin Heidegger, she writes the following: “If left to themselves, human affairs can only follow the law of mortality, which is the most certain and the only reliable law of a life spent between birth and death.  It is the faculty of action that interferes with this law because it interrupts the inexorable automatic course of daily life, which in its turn, as we saw, interrupted and interfered with the cycle of the biological life process.  The life span of man [sic] running toward death would inevitably carry everything human to ruin and destruction if it were not for the faculty of interrupting it and beginning something new, a faculty which is inherent in action like an ever-present reminder that [humans], though they must die, are not born in order to die but in order to begin.  Yet just as, from the standpoint of nature, the rectilinear movement of [humanity]‘s life-span between birth and death looks like a peculiar deviation from the common natural rule of cyclical movement, thus action, seen from the viewpoint of the automatic processes which seem to determine the course of the world, looks like a miracle […].  The miracle that saves the world, the realm of human affairs, from its normal, ‘natural’ ruin is ultimately the fact of natality, in which the faculty of action is ontologically rooted.  It is, in other words, the birth of new [people] and the new beginning, the action they are capable of by virtue of being born.  Only the full experience of this capacity can bestow upon human affairs faith and hope.”[3]

This hope for new beginnings—essentially, for a multiplicity of interventions which, à la Albert Camus and his Rebel, assert to power that it has transgressed vital brightlines, and hence cannot be allowed to continue on its path of destruction (“thus far, and no further”)—accords well with Walter Benjamin’s vision of a “leap into the open sky of history,” or Adorno’s contemplation of “a praxis which could explode the infamous continuum.”[4]  Each of us likely has similar visions, whether waking or unconscious—“fuck the police,” “world peace,” “fire to Babylon,” “there is no planet B.”  It is crucial that we somehow coalesce these anti-systemic passions into a generalized movement to overthrow the totalitarian systems that degrade and abuse humanity and, in a most final sense, threaten to destroy future human generations as well as much of the rest of life—millions of species—on the only planetary system that we know is amenable to its emergence and evolution.  Hope today, then, is not passivity and sedation (as with religion) but rather radical struggle (as in revolution).

While there indeed have been positive signs in the past few years in the direction of the development of what dissident historian George Katsiaficas terms a “global people’s uprising,” clearly such developments have met with distressing limitations, many of them indeed emanating from constituted power—think of the police’s dismantling of the Occupy/Decolonize encampments in the U.S., or the various imperial manipulations of and interventions against the numerous uprisings in the Arab-majority world.  The preferred approach, in my view, remains what György Lukács saw as a “mass rising on behalf of reason,” an idea he took from the 500 million signatures to the 1950 Stockholm Agreement calling for unconditional nuclear disarmament—a tradition we have seen well-illustrated throughout the streets and squares of much of the world in recent memory.[5]

The point, in sum—as well as the hope—is to radicalize and intensify these encouraging social strides from below against the system, to help along the birth of the new—or, as Bloch termed it, the “Not-Yet.”  It is past time to sound the tocsin, whether physically like Jean Paul Marat did to defend the Great French Revolution, or musically like Dmitriy Shostakovich did in defense of the memory and future promise of the 1905 Russian Revolution (as well as other revolutions).  The alarm must be continuous, not so that we grow accustomed to it, but rather so that we never lose sight of the substantial tasks with which we are confronted today, and the anarchist means by which we would most likely best respond to these.  Positively and concretely, I would here reiterate some of the proposals for action made by my comrade Cristian Guerrero nearly a year ago in the run-up to planned counter-protests against the G-20 summit in Los Cabos, México: agitation, indignation, mobilization, direct action, occupation, blockade of capital, popular assembly.

Particularly promising, I would say, is the Industrial Workers of the World’s new conception of the ecological general strike, whereby environmental sanity is to be achieved through the disruption of capitalism’s colonization of the life-world and its replacement with participatory economic models.


[1]   Max Horkheimer, Dawn and Decline: Notes, 1926-1931 and 1959-1969, trans. Michael Shaw (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), 39.

[2]   Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (San Diego: Harvest, 1968 [1951]), 465, 473.

[3]   Ibid, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 246-7.

[4]   Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms (trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1967), 117.

[5]   György Lukács, The Destruction of Reason (Torfaen, Wales: Merlin Press, 1980), 850.

For a revolutionary new year

December 25, 2012

Ecosocialist Holiday!

Statement regarding Anti-Colonial, Anti-Capitalist March in San Francisco

October 8, 2012

As published on Indybay:

“Around 150 people gathered in Justin Herman Plaza [on Saturday, October 6]. They were against everything: the military jets making metal of the air, the hordes of tourists thoughtlessly awing at the spectacular display of death above the city, the office towers and malls hanging above the waterfront, the unrestrained and uninterrupted reign of capitalism, slavery, colonialism, the empire.

At 3:30 pm they left the plaza carrying a banner that read RESIST GENOCIDE – DESTROY WHAT IS CIVILIZED. They headed towards the streets behind the Embarcadero Center mall. The riot police immediately began to follow alongside the march, and just as quickly the first paint bomb was thrown at them. The police declared the march illegal before it had walked a block. Along the route several luxury cars had their windows smashed and their tires deflated. The cops continued to get hit with bright paint as people proceeded towards Market Street.

They attempted to stop the march at one point but were outmaneuvered and the march was able to continue another two blocks. It was not until the police attempted to apprehend a single individual that the march was halted and a brawl began. The police swarmed in, two dozen of them on motorcycles, and began to isolate lone individuals and smaller groups of people. A Starbucks had its windows smashed as people were dispersing and in the end at least 19 people were beaten and arrested as the military jets thundered overhead.

The hordes of enthusiastic and wonderstruck tourists and baseball fans coursed through the metropolis, unaware of what was taking place behind Embarcadero Plaza. The virus that was planted in San Francisco hundreds of years ago was still expanding, neutralizing all resistance, and keeping itself alive. To all those marveling at the war jets in the sky, it is difficult to make sense of a mob of people who are against the colonial system. To be against colonialism, capitalism, and civilization are not popular causes—at least in affluent places like San Francisco wherein most have been convinced by the virus that its glitters are to their benefit. But this was why people went onto the street, and this is why they were attacked so severely.

The Colonial Machine, with their cops, laws, and order, attacked in order to silence our resistance and solidarity with others against a toxic system created to keep us in cages. From the belly of the beast, people rebelled against everything that fuels this empire. Cops attack to maintain order with their guns and badges, people attack with paints to liberate walls and brighten the darkness. There is no freedom in Amerikkka, there is no justice on occupied land. 520 years later, Indigenous people resist genocide and slavery through occupations. Decolonize the Empire, rebel for life. Decolonize the New World, liberate all walls, brighten the darkness.”

Samsara review, textual and visual

September 13, 2012

Samsara (Sanskrit for “suffering”), the sequel to the 1992 film event Baraka (“blessing”), has long been awaited, its treatment of various world-phenomena imagined and fantasized about. Having had the privilege to see the film, I can say that in some ways it is a blessing, following in part from Baraka, and it surely does depict suffering, human and non-human, in a number of forms. It is unclear, though, how interested the filmmakers are in aiding in the struggle to attempt to overcome the vast suffering and destruction caused and upheld by presently dominant hegemony: this follows from the work’s status as a mass money-making scheme—a racket. Of course, Samsara is not only a racket.

Like Baraka, Samsara is stunning in its portrayal of various manifestations of the natural and social beauty of Earth. Worthy of experience in this sense are the timescapes of arid climes set to the music of Armenian duduk player Djivan Gasparyan, or the depiction of Buddhist monks creating art at the opening of the film, signaled by a trumpet blast, presumably in Nepal or Tibet.

Beyond illustrating some of the positive and beautiful aspects of life and human society, Fricke in Samsara definitely also recognizes the social exclusion and structural violence of existing capitalist society: the film shows African cities and extensive “slums” in the Philippines, following similar coverage in Baraka of the favelas of Brazil and homeless people everywhere. Fricke also includes a few shots of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Moreover, he spends considerable time depicting the highly mechanized and hierarchical industrial-production regimes ruled by automation that are responsible for mass human alienation: a stand-in for this entire system could well be Fricke’s close-ups of bionic Asian human look-alikes, which are very close to their models in appearance but without the power of speech. Samsara is further testament to the inanity and absurdity of the totality of capitalist production: an extended sequence depicts the alarming assembly and production of weapons, armaments, bullets. Fricke then shows different males of color bearing small arms—different than in Baraka, in this film he omits treatment of imperial war-machines (bomber-jets, etc.), instead going here for historically colonized peoples who are shown as engaging in armed struggle without that positionality being situated within the violence of the reign of capital.

In the parts depicting African cities (Lagos, perhaps?), Fricke concentrates on the enormity of electronic waste exported to these materially impoverished communities—a capitalist trade-practice similar to the exchange of hazardous/nuclear waste, imperial war, and the arms trade. Samsara includes a sequence on impoverished peoples wading through landfills for objects to find and sell, in the struggle to ensure their social reproduction as well as that of those to whom they are attached. In Baraka a similar scene depicts South Asian females doing similarly, in a strong repudiation of capitalism:

One wonders (I wonder) how Ron Fricke and co. compensate the impoverished peoples they portray in these films. Beyond this, I ask precisely what Fricke is doing depicting a ritual performed in a Filipino prisoner whereby the imprisoned engage in elaborate dance for the pleasure of their overseers? Does Fricke mean to be critical of this practice, and/or the prison and the carceral system at large? As is evident to those who have seen Baraka, Samsara too carries a high risk of colonialism.

In keeeping with these considerations, the film’s introductory sequence closes with a fetishistic panning of the sarcophagus of one of the Egyptian pharoahs (Tutankhamun?), rising from the inferior tip of his phallic beard to take in and revel the youth’s facial beauty—or at least, its representation by the artists who adorned the pharoanic funeral-mask. In general terms, there is in Fricke’s film a special focus on pyramidal, inegalitarian structures, whether architectural and physical or more abstractly social: prominent in terms of the former are the Giza pyramids, Dubai, Gothic churches, the Vatican, Bagan temples, the Blue Mosque (Istanbul), and Mecca’s al-Ka’aba.

The film generally has an Asiatic focus, and unfortunately seems entirely to lack recordings from Mexico and Mesoamerica, and depicts little from the two continents of Abya Yala. In the segments from China, scores of children are shown practicing Shao lin kung fu, following the commands of an off-screen master, while compatriot workers separately are depicted as engaging in similar martial-exercise activities in preparation for labor in the factory. Near the film’s beginning, adults in Ma’asai bands are seen to be living convivially, proud of the infants of the newly born generations they share with the camera. The framing of these various others by Fricke is very particular: for example, there is no acknowledgment made in Samsara of the dire environmental conditions suffered in recent memory by the Ma’asai and the Turkana of northern Kenya—drought, desertification, death—for which imperial societies can be said to be responsible due to climate change. Similarly uncritical, Fricke’s take on religion in the film is not in any sense one suggestive of the desire to break with religiosity; Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism are instead taken as an integral aspects of human development over the millennia, seminal contributors to the historical expression of beauty.

Against these mindless suggestions, those who oppose patriarchy can for example hold the processions in Mecca critically, noting for one the total exclusion of females from the areas adjoining the Ka’aba, just as the children trained in kung fu can exercise their skills in defense of their lives and that of humanity and the chance for revolution.

One remarkable part of Samsara is an extended sequence near the film’s end regarding the brutalization of non-human animals—chickens, cows, pigs—that are slaughtered for human consumption. Fricke includes harrowing scenes of decapitated pigs being carried down an assembly line for further processing; he shows the sadness of a sow giving of her body to her newborn piglets—behavior that normally would aid in their survival and flourishing, were they not imprisoned later to have their lives destroyed to satisfy brutish human tastes. The scene by which this disturbing act opens shows the saddening harvest of chickens from their overcrowded pen, as operated by a machine which efficiently and coldly sucks one bird at a time into a tube destined for some off-screen location in the slaughterhouse. Indeed, this very scene, like the sequence taken as a whole, follows from Fricke’s similar depiction in Baraka of the methodical, systematic burning-off of the beaks of chicks destined to cohabitate in industrial-agricultural conditions, until they were to be slaughtered—their beaks forcibly being removed so as to prevent the overcrowded chicken population from killing each other in a craze, and so averting “capital losses.”

Close in time to the animal-slaughter sequence, Fricke in Samsara also shares a segment of film on the industrial production of white-skinned, female-bodied sex models, with their immense breasts and putatively arousing face makeup. No connection is made by Fricke as to who the buyers of such commodities might be—whether Euro-American, Asian, and so on—but, juxtaposed with the scenes of the brutality of animal slaughter, the inclusion of this treatment of patriarchy could well be taken as a strong indictment on Fricke’s part of social relations which promote objectification—commodification, but more than this: domination, in general. It is to be hoped that viewers will consider adopting and advancing vegetarianism and anarcha-feminism after watching Samsara, however divergent this may be from the filmmakers’ likely goals.

Unlike Baraka, Fricke’s new film does not dedicate much of the film’s reel to the depiction of imperialist-capitalist societies—other than flybys of the financial district of downtown Los Angeles that seem more celebratory than critical. While Fricke does not show viewers some of the many destructive realities that arrangements like Los Angeles demand in the present—Iraq is entirely absent from Samsara—we ourselves can conceive of the vast scope of world-alienation these entail, recalling a myriad of images and moments not depicted by Fricke: the 2010 BP Gulf oil spill; the devastation of the Niger Delta; the degradation of the Amazon rainforest (shown in Baraka); the destruction prosecuted by U.S. imperialism since 1992, particularly in the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq; the fate of the Arctic sea ice; the dying oceans.

Samsara is not the environmentalist Home (2010), nor is it Werner Herzog’s haunting Lessons of Darkness (1992); it is not much of a profound investigation or consideration of the phenomenon of catastrophe, a perennial and central feature of late capitalism—as our present world shows. An art-work which comes to mind that can serve as Samsara‘sfoil of sorts is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The World for World is Forest (1972), a novel which depicts the life of the Athshean humanoids who reside on an entirely forested planet that is progressively destroyed, its residents enslaved and murdered, following attempted colonization of Athshe (simultaneously “forest” and “world” in the tongue of its indigenous peoples) by humans from Earth. This brutalization comes to an end only with the generalized rebellion of the Athsheans against the infrastructure of systematic oppression—an image which the contemplation of history also suggests to us, as in France in 1789, Saint Domingue/Haiti in 1790, France again in 1871, Russia 1905 and 1917 (February), Spain in 1936, and so on. The various insurrectional attempts made by the colonized and formerly colonized peoples of the South of course also belongs to this tradition—this doing-other and -against in relation to capitalism and domination.

Clearly, Samsara and its developers have limitations; they are not revolutionaries, nor do I think the film can be considered revolutionary art. As already noted, it is at least in part—if not largely—the work of a racket, one that unsurprisingly does not focus its lens on some of potential means by which we can conceive of liberation from the ills it does consider—insurrection, mass-general strike, blockade of capital, agitation, revolt, revolution. The importance of the film in my opinion can be found in its celebration of beauty on the one hand and its examination of the mass-collective nature of human society on the other. This latter consideration in particular is critical for the present, as mass-action by the subordinated—the constituents of existing society—could against conformity and passivity be activated toward the end of intervening and resolving many of the serious problems illuminated by Samsara, as well as the numerous others we can think of using experience, knowledge, and mind.

Tariq Ali’s address to Occupy Oakland

November 13, 2011

Pakistani-born Marxist and New Left Review editor Tariq Ali speaks to those assembled at Occupy Oakland on the afternoon of 29 October 2011.


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