Posts Tagged ‘indigenous’

What Were Stalin’s Real Crimes? Critique of “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective” on Stalin (Part II/III)

November 15, 2018
Fergana

The meaning of forced collectivization: an irrigation project in Fergana, Eastern Kazakhstan, 1935 (courtesy David Goldfrank)

“It is in the nature of ideological politics […] that the real content of the ideology […] which originally had brought about the ‘idea’ […] is devoured by the logic with which the ‘idea’ is carried out.”

– Hannah Arendt1

What’s the biggest problem with the “criticisms” of Stalin raised by the “Proles of the Round Table”? That they are so disingenuous and anemic. One of the three critiques raised—about Spain—in fact isn’t critical of Stalin, while we’ve seen (in part I) how the “criticism” on deportations is entirely misleading. A related question might be to ask how it looks for two presumably white U.S. Americans to criticize Stalin for some (1-2%) of his deportations of ethnic Germans, but not to do so when it comes to the dictator’s mass-deportations of Muslims, Buddhists, and other indigenous peoples. At least Mao Zedong judged Stalin as being “30 percent wrong and 70 percent right.”2 For Jeremy and Justin, though, Stalin appears to have been at least 90%, if not 95%, right. Maybe we can soon expect the “Proles of the Round Table” Patreon to begin selling wearables proclaiming that “Stalin did nothing wrong.”

Besides the aforementioned Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the May Days, and the mass-deportations of ethnic minorities, let’s now consider five of Stalin’s real crimes.

1. “Socialism in One Country”: Stalinist Ideology

His revision, together with fellow Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin, of the tradition of socialist internationalism to the reactionary, ultra-nationalist idea of “socialism in one country.” Stalin and Bukharin arrived at this conclusion to compete against Lev Trotsky’s rival concept of “permanent revolution,” which calls first for a European and then global federation of socialist republics. This Stalinist doctrine, which demanded that the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy be considered first within the Third International (or Comintern), can explain both the General Secretary’s demand to crush the anarchists in Spain in 1937 and his effective facilitation of Hitler’s rise to power by means of the disastrous Comintern policy that considered the social-democratic (that is, non-Stalinist) opposition to Hitler to be “social-fascist.” The General Secretary would only reverse course and endorse a “Popular Front” strategy after Hitler had taken power.3 Stalinist ultra-nationalism finds contemporary purchase among neo-fascist, national-Bolshevik movements, whereas—perhaps ironically—the Comintern doctrine on “social fascism” has echoes today among ultra-leftists disdainful of coalition-building with more moderate political forces (e.g., as in the 2016 U.S. presidential election). Moreover, Stalin’s preference for “socialism in one country” can help us understand the Soviet Union’s continued sale of petroleum to Mussolini following this fascist’s military invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935.4 Within this same vein, and anticipating the affinity of today’s neo-Stalinists for campist “analyses” of international relations, Moscow variously supported the feudalist Guo Min Dang (GMD) in China, the Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Iranian Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Afghan King Amanullah Khan, and Ibn al-Sa’ud (founder of Saudi Arabia) during this time on the grounds that these leaders staunchly opposed the West, despite their great distance from any kind of socialist paradigm.5

Civilizatsia

Courtesy Voline, The Unknown Revolution

2. Stalinist Imperialism

His “Great-Russian” chauvinism, as manifested in his brutally imperialist policies toward ethnic minorities—particularly the deportations of Muslims (as mentioned above in part I)—and other subject-peoples of the former Tsarist empire, whose colonial project Stalin enthusiastically embraced. Though Georgian by origin (his birth name was Ioseb Jughashvili), Stalin (whose Russian nom de guerre means “man of steel”) was “the most ‘Russian’ of the early leaders” who advanced not only “socialism in one country,’ but […] a socialism built on a predominantly Russian foundation.”6 According to Dunayevskaya, Stalin’s “national arrogance” was “as rabid as that of any Tsarist official.”7 In contrast to his mentor and supervisor Vladimir I. Lenin, who at least formally supported the right of self-determination for the oppressed nationalities of the Tsarist empire while greatly violating this principle in practice, Stalin was openly imperialist on the national question: according to the terms of this relationship, the colonies were to be “plundered for raw materials and food to serve the industrialisation of Russia.”8 It therefore remains clear that, under the Soviet Union, “Russia was not a nation state but an empire, an ideological state. Any definition as a nation-state would probably have excluded at least the non-Slavs, and certainly the Muslims.”9 Accordingly, the official history taught in Stalin’s USSR rehabilitated the mythical Tsarist narrative that the Russian “Empire had brought progress and civilisation to backward peoples.”10

Map_of_the_ethnic_groups_living_in_the_Soviet_Union

Ethnographic map of the former Soviet Union. Date unknown

In Georgia, a former Tsarist-era colony located in the Caucasus Mountains, the social-democratic Menshevik Party declared independence in 1918 to found the Georgian Democratic Republic, otherwise known as the Georgian Commune, wherein parliamentary democracy and a relatively collaborative relationship among the peasantry, proletariat, and political leadership lasted for three years, until Stalin and his fellow Georgian Bolshevik Sergo Ordzhonikidze organized a Red Army invasion in 1921 which crushed this courageous experiment in democratic socialism. The errant ex-colony of Georgia was thus forcibly reincorporated into the ex-Tsarist Empire—by then, the “Transcaucasian Federated Soviet Republic,” part of the Soviet Union.11 Besides Georgia, this “Transcaucasian Federated Soviet Republic” would include Azerbaijan and Armenia, which had also been occupied by the Red Army in 1920.12

In the Muslim-majority provinces of Central Asia, otherwise known as Turkestan, the poorest region of the former Tsarist Empire, Lenin and Stalin sided with the interests of the Russian settlers against the Muslim peasantry.13 In Orientalist fashion, the Bolsheviks considered Central Asia’s “Muslims as culturally backward, not really suitable to be communists and needing to be kept under a kind of tutelage.”14 Yet in light of the sustained Basmachi revolt waged by Muslim guerrillas against Soviet imperialism in the first decade after October 1917, Stalin also recognized the significant threat these colonized Muslims could pose to the Soviet Union—hence his active discouragement of pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism by means of cutting off the USSR’s Muslims “subjects,” many of them ethnically and linguistically Turkic, from the rest of the Ummah (Islamic global brotherhood or community) abroad. An early 1930’s law punishing unauthorized exit from the USSR made observation of hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, quite impossible.15 The expulsion from the Communist Party (1923) and subsequent imprisonment (1928) of the Volga Tatar Sultan Galiev, a pan-Islamist “national-communist” who envisioned organizing the Turkic Muslims into a fighting force against Western imperialism, followed a similar logic.16

In the Stalinist conception, the numerous subject-peoples of the Soviet Union could be classified hierarchically according to their “stage of development,” as based on their mode of production and whether or not they had a written language, such that supposedly more ‘advanced’ peoples would qualify as ‘nations’ that were granted the status of “Soviet Socialist Republic” (SSR), whereas “less developed” peoples would be granted “Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics” (ASSR), while those without written languages would be placed in “Autonomous Regions” (AR), or “National Territories” (NT). In 1953, the year of Stalin’s death, there existed 14 SSR’s, 20 ASSR’s, 8 AR’s, and 10 NT’s in the USSR.17

Soviet_Union_Administrative_Divisions_1989

Map of Soviet administrative subdivisions, 1989. Notice the numerous ASSR subdivisions in Central Asia

This systematic atomization of oppressed nationalities followed Stalin’s “principle of the dual bridgehead,” whereby the State would favor those minorities that could assist the USSR in expanding its reach while repressing other minorities whose existence could serve as a “fifth column” for the USSR’s rivals. In part I of this critique, we saw how this rationale played out in Stalin’s mass-deportations: the General Secretary felt justified in forcibly transferring the Turkic Muslim Meskhetian people, among others, because they were supposedly too close to the Turkish State headed by Kemal Atatürk. Furthermore, this principle can be gleaned in the Soviet Communist Party’s initial favoring of Uzbeks over Tajiks beginning in 1924, followed by a 180° shift in perspective upon the overthrow of Afghanistan’s King Amanullah (a Pashtun) by Bacha-i Saqqao, a Tajik, in 1928—leading to the proclamation of the Tajikistan SSR in 1929.18 The capital city of Dushanbe was subsequently renamed as “Stalinabad.”19 In addition, whereas the Communist Party favored its own Kurdish minority, some of whom included refugees, because it could use them in the future as pawns against Iran and Turkey, it had refused to support Kurdish and Turkmen rebellions abroad against Turkey and Iran in 1925. Above all, Stalin’s nationalities policy achieved its greatest “success” in its complex partition of Turkestan by means of the drawing-up of borders that were defined along ethno-nationalist lines: just look at the region’s current borders (see map above), which are based on those concluded by Stalin’s regime. In thus pitting Central Asia’s mosaic of different ethno-linguistic groups against each other, Stalin definitively laid the pan-Islamist specter to rest.20 Dunayevskaya’s observation here seems apt: it was in Stalin’s “attitude to the many [oppressed] nationalities” that the General Secretary’s “passion for bossing came out in full bloom.”21

soviet imperial mural

A Soviet mosaic in Karaghandy, Kazakhstan (Courtesy The Guardian)

Stalin’s imperialist assertion of power over Central Asia, which imposed the collectivization of cattle herds and the nationalization of bazaars and caravans managed by indigenous peoples while promoting Russian settlements, resulted in famine and revolt.22 It involved a high-modernist assault on Islam in the name of emancipating women and remaking traditional patriarchal Turkic social relations, as we shall examine in more detail in the third part of this response.

Regarding Ukraine, see the section on Jeremy and Justin’s Holodomor denial in the third part of this response. Briefly, Jeremy’s Russian-chauvinist attitude toward all matters Ukrainian comes through at a fundamental linguistical level when he refers to Ukraine as “the Ukraine.” This formulation, like the Russian «на Украине» (“in the Ukraine”), is an imperialist way of referring to the country, which is not just a colony of Russia or the Soviet Union (as in, “the Ukrain[ian province]”). The proper way is to refer just to Ukraine, as in the Russian equivalent «в Украине» (“in Ukraine”).

Such attitudes are shared by Ó Séaghdha, who falsely claims Ukraine today to be a “bastion of the far right and neo-Nazism,” just as Justin compares “Ukrainian nationalists” to the U.S.-based Proud Boys. One’s mind is boggled: as of July 2018, the ultra-nationalist Svoboda Party had only 6 seats, or 1.3%, in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, while in both rounds of elections held in 2014, Svoboda and Right Sector alike gained less than 5% of the vote.23 In fact, Ukraine has held its first major LGBT Pride marches following the Euromaidan protests which overthrew the Putin-affiliated President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Meanwhile, by focusing on the supposedly ‘fascist’ Ukrainians,24 Ó Séaghdha and his guests deny the global reach of Putin’s neo-Nazism, from his 2014 occupation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine and his subsequent mass-detention of Crimean Tatar Muslims, including in psychiatric hospitals, to his regime’s criminalization of homosexuality, decriminalization of domestic violence, and genocidal intervention in support of the Assad Regime in Syria—to say nothing of his mutual affinities for the Trump Regime. How ironic is this misrepresentation, then, considering that Ukraine was the “centerpiece of Hitler’s vision of Lebensraum.25

Soviet harvest

A typically socialist-realist depiction of a collective farm celebration, by Arkady Plastov (1937): presumably, this is how neo-Stalinists and ‘Marxist-Leninists’ idealize the outcomes of forcible collectivization in the Soviet Union.

3. Stalinist State-Capitalism

His advocacy and implementation of state capitalism in the Soviet Union, whereby the basic relationship of exploitation between capital and labor persisted after the Russian Revolution, with the difference that capital in this case was managed and expanded by the Communist Party bureaucracy rather than the private capitalist class.26 Upheld by the Army and police, the Soviet economy reduced workers to mere slaves: during the existence of the USSR, workers could not regulate, choose, or control their overseers and administrators, much less anticipate not having any, as through anarcho-syndicalist organization, or autogestion (самоуправление). In the USSR,

“[t]he State [wa]s [the worker’s] only employer. Instead of having thousands of ‘choices,’ as is the case in the nations where private capitalism prevails, in the U.S.S.R. (the U.S.C.R. [Union of State-Capitalist Republics: Voline]) the worker ha[d] only one. Any change of employer [wa]s impossible there.”27

Following the Revolution, “[f]or the Russian workers, […] nothing had changed; they were merely faced by another set of bosses, politicians and indoctrinators.”28

Peasants under Stalin were similarly reduced to serfs, particularly during and following the forced collectivization process that began in 1928. Continuing with the precedent of the Bolshevik policy of “War Communism,” which had involved considerable extraction of grain and the conscription of young men from the peasantry, Stalin declared war on the countryside, expropriating all lands held by these peasants and concentrating these into kolkhozi, or “collective possessions,” and sovkhozi, or State farms, which were to be worked by the peasants in the interests of the State.29 This nationalization did not discriminate between “rich” peasant, or kulak, and poor—in contrast to the misleading presentation Jeremy and Justin make of Stalin’s forcible collectivization campaign. The “Proles of the Round Table” deceptively explain the emergence of the “kulaks” by referring to the Tsarist Interior Minister Peter Stolypin’s land reforms of 1906, while saying nothing about Lenin’s “New Economic Policy” of 1921, which formally reintroduced private property. They also completely misrepresent Stalin’s collectivization policy, which proceeded at the points of bayonets, as a natural outgrowth of the traditional peasant commune (mir or obshchina), which had resisted the Tsarist State for centuries. In fact, it was arguably through Stalinist forcible collectivization that the Russian countryside fell under the control for the first time.30 As peasant resistance to this “total reordering of a rural civilization from the top down” mounted, including an estimated 13,000 “mass disturbances” just in 1930, Stalin’s regime resorted to atrocious counter-insurgent tactics to bring the countryside to heel, including mass-executions, reprisals, and the resulting famines of 1931-1933 in Ukraine, South Russia, and Kazakhstan.31 The Stalinist regime conveniently expanded the definition of exactly who was a “kulak” from a class-based to a political definition, such that even poor peasants who opposed forcible collectivization could be labeled “kulaks” and deported to Siberia, the Far North, and Central Asia, as about 1.8 million peasants were in 1930-1931. As during the numerous other episodes of mass-deportations devised by Stalin, mortality rates among “dekulakized” peasants were high.32

Puzzlingly, the “Proles of the Round Table” claim this collectivization to have been “extremely successful” in providing “stability” by the mid-1930’s, the resistance of at least 120 million peasants to the Terror campaign and the “excess mortality” of between 6 and 13 million people such Terror caused during this period notwithstanding. By precisely which standards can this campaign have said to have been “successful”? The historian Catherine Evtuhov observes: “From any humane perspective, the terrible costs were far greater than the rewards.”33 In contrast, Jeremy and Justin either do not recognize the brutality of the Stalinist regime’s campaign, or they simply explain away mass-death during collectivization as resulting from natural disasters—thus ‘naturalizing’ the Soviet regime’s contributions to famines—and/or “kulak resistance.” By so easily dismissing mass-death, they imply that the millions of poor peasants who were destroyed as a result of forcible collectivization deserved such a fate.

Jeremy and Justin are very insistent on arguing that the deaths associated with collectivization were “not due” to Stalin’s policies—against both logic and evidence. They have nothing to say about Stalin’s reconstitution in 1932 of the Tsarist-era internal-passport system, or propiska, in order to tightly control the movements of the Soviet peasantry and proletariat during forced collectivization. Upon its proclamation in December 1932, such “passportization” was effected and mandated in “towns, urban settlements, district centers, and Machine and Tractor Stations, within 100-kilometer radiuses around certain large towns, in frontier zones, on building sites and state farms”: it thus openly revoked the freedom of movement of the majority of the Soviet population, including peasants and ethnic minorities.34 With this in mind, it would appear that the “Proles of the Round Table” do not to want to concede the possibility—and reality—that Stalin’s “dekulakization” campaign involved the oppression and dispossession of many poor peasants, whether these were insurgents against whom the State retaliated for defending their communities against Stalinist incursion or simply peasants whom the parasitic bureaucracy considered mere objects of exploitation and either killed outright or left to die during forcible collectivization—thus reflecting the extent to which internal colonialism characterized the Stalinist State.35

Indeed, Stalin’s “dekulakization” campaign followed a very clearly state-capitalist rationale, both requiring and (once established) providing mass-labor inputs. Based on the economic theory of Yevgeni Preobrazhensky, Stalin’s massive State project to centralize the peasantry so as to more deeply exploit it represented the phase of “primitive socialist accumulation” that was considered as necessary to finance a rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union. In parallel to the colonization of the New World, the enslavement of Africans, and the enclosure of the commons by which capitalism arose as a historical mode of production,36 Preobrazhensky essentially argued that the Soviet State must exploit the peasants and use the surplus value extracted from them to accelerate the growth of capital and industry.37 This brutally mechanistic logic, which has served as the model for similar industrialization processes in countries led by Stalinist bureaucracies such as Maoist China and Ethiopia under the Derg,38 openly exhibits Marxist-Leninism’s fundamental bias against the peasantry, whether “kulak” or otherwise. Such bias was clearly on display on Ó Séaghdha’s podcast, given the embarrassing side-comments about “comrades cuddling” during the horrors of forced collectivization, and Jeremy and Justin’s astonishing conclusion that this collectivization which took the lives of millions of poor peasants had been “extremely successful.” These Stalinists thus appear to have no class analysis of the peasantry, instead considering them all as reactionaries and “capitalists” whose oppression and destruction signifies progress. They malign the peasants and laugh over their corpses while saying nothing about the conditions of “second serfdom”—represented by barshchina (State labor requirements), extraction, and low pay—that formed the basis of Stalinist industrialization.39

Within Soviet class society, according to Voline (writing in 1947), there existed approximately 10 million privileged workers, peasants, functionaries, Bolshevik Party members, police, and soldiers (comprising approximately 6% of the population of the USSR/USCR), as against 160 million effectively enslaved workers and peasants (or 94% of the USSR/USCR’s population).40 The basic structure of the Soviet Union, on Paul Mattick’s account, was “a centrally-directed social order for the perpetuation of the capitalistic divorce of the workers from the means of production and the consequent restoration of Russia as a competing imperialist power.”41 This ‘total State’ “resembled an army in terms of rank and discipline,” and atop it all “lived Stalin, moving between his Kremlin apartment and his heavily guarded dachas. He and his cronies indulged themselves night after night, in between issuing commands and execution orders, feasting and toasting in the manner of gangland chiefs.”42

child labor

The meaning of forcible collectivization: child labor on an irrigation project in Fergana, Eastern Kazakhstan, 1935 (courtesy David Goldfrank)

4. The GULAG Slave-Labor Camp System

The deaths of the conquered are necessary for the conqueror’s peace of mind.” Chinggis Khan: a phrase of which Stalin was fond (Evtuhov 676)

His regime’s founding (in 1930), mass-expansion, and vast utilization of the GULAG slave-labor camp system, known officially as the “State Camp Administration,” which played a central role in the General Secretary’s “Great Purge,” otherwise known as his “Terror.” These purges served the goal of “ensur[ing] the survival of the regime and Stalin’s position as its supreme leader” by eliminating the remaining “General Staff of the [Russian] Revolution” as well as the workers, peasants, and intellectuals who resisted Stalin’s state-capitalist plans.43 The General Secretary’s insistence on obedience, his paranoid vengefulness, his equation of any kind of opposition with treason, and the fear felt by Communists that the Soviet Union was militarily encircled, particularly in light of a newly remilitarized and fascist Germany, can help explain the Terror, which involved the arrest of at least 1.5 million people, the deportation of a half-million to camps, and the execution of hundreds of thousands. The total camp population reached 2.5 million in 1950.44

As Yevgenia Semënovna Ginzburg’s memoir Journey into the Whirlwind attests to, the GULAG system was designed in such a way as to partially recoup the financial losses involved in the mass-imprisonments which followed from Stalin’s Purges of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: instead of summarily being executed or idly rotting away in prison, many detainees were forced to work for the State with little to no material compensation. Ginzburg shows as well that political prisoners suffered greater discrimination in access to health services, nutritional intake, shelter, and types of labor performed in the GULAG, relative to other convict groups: the ‘politicals’ were always assigned hard labor. Many GULAG prisoners died performing slave-labor, whether clearing forests or constructing railroads: such was the fate of numerous enslaved prisoners forced to construct the Moscow-Volga Canal from 1932-1937.45 Within the Magadan camp located in Eastern Siberia where Ginzburg was held, the discrepancy between the housing conditions of Hut No. 8, a “freezing cold” “wild animals’ den” where the female political prisoners lived, and the abodes of those convicted for lesser offenses, in which lived individuals with “healthy complexions and lively faces” enjoying “blankets in check patterns” and “pillows with hemstitched linen covers,” clearly illustrates the discrimination.46 This same dynamic seems to explain the contrast in appearance—and physical comfort—among the female slave-labor teams assigned to the Kilometer 7 work site: the “peasant women” “had managed to keep their own coarse scarves” and some of the “ordinary criminals” had sheepskin coats, while the political prisoners “had not a rag of [their own]” and wore footwear which was “full of holes [and] let in the snow.”47 Ginzburg’s fellow inmate Olga was therefore right to anticipate that Stalin’s regime would expand the use of “hard-labor camps” in the wake of the downfall of NKVD head Nikolai Yezhov in 1939, especially considering that the majority of those imprisoned by Stalin were of prime working age.48

In a reflection of the maxims of Stalinist state-capitalism, Ginzburg reports that the slave-labor system to which she was subjected in the GULAG would dole out food only in proportion to the output that a given team would achieve. For teams like hers comprised of intellectuals and ex-Party officials who lacked experience with manual labor, then, this dynamic would result in a downward spiral of production—and welfare, since they were unable to achieve a basic threshold for production which would allow them access to the very food they needed to maintain and increase production in the future.49 Yet slave-laborers were sometimes provided with food relief if mortality rates were deemed ‘excessive.’50 Ginzburg’s memoirs thus suggest that, as far as political prisoners were concerned, the GULAG system was designed to torment such ‘politicals’ by maintaining them at a minimal level of sustenance, rather than starving or otherwise killing them outright.

On a more positive note, Stalin’s death in March 1953 brought “hope [to] the [inmates of the GULAG] camps,” inspiring both the June 1953 workers’ uprising against Stalinism, which not only overthrew State power in several cities and work-sites in East Germany but also involved workers’ liberation of prisons and concentration camps, and the unprecedented strike by political prisoners at the Vorkuta slave-labor camp which followed just two weeks later.51 Dunayevskaya comments in a manner that remains completely germane today that both of these episodes represented an “unmistakable affirmative” response to the question of whether humanity can “achieve freedom out of the totalitarianism of our age.”52

5. Assassination of Trotsky

What specific characteristics in a man enable him to become the receptacle and the executor of class impulses from an alien class[…]?” – Raya Dunayevskaya53


His ordering of the assassination of Lev Trotsky, as carried out by the Spanish NKVD agent Ramón Mercader in Trotsky’s residence in Coyoacán, Mexico, in August 1940. Whereas there is little love lost between us and the “Old Man,” as Trotsky was known, given his status as the butcher of the Kronstadt Commune, the would-be executioner of Nestor Makhno, an advocate of the militarization of labor, and an apologist for State slavery54—still, Stalin’s brazen attempts to assassinate him in Mexico City not once but twice remain shocking in their brutality to this day. They may well have inspired the commission of similar atrocities on the part of the C.I.A.,55 the Israeli Mossad, and even Mohammed bin Salman’s recent murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

First, on May 24, 1940, the Mexican surrealist and muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros led an assassination-squad in an assault on Trotsky’s fortified family residence, which the exiled Bolshevik leader had been granted by Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas, who had afforded him asylum and personal protection. Mercader represented Stalin’s back-up plan. Having adopted an elaborate “deep-cover” false identity as “Jacques Mornard,” a Belgian aristocrat unconcerned with political questions, Mercader had seduced and used Sylvia Ageloff, herself a leftist Jewish intellectual from Brooklyn connected through her sisters to Trotsky, for two years to get close enough to facilitate both assassination attempts. While the complicity of “Jacques” in the first plot remained undetected, this was only possible because Siqueiros’ team captured and murdered Trotsky’s young American security guard Robert Sheldon Harte, whom Mercader knew and also used to gain access to Trotsky’s residence in the early morning of May 24. Yet a combination of luck; quick-thinking by Natalia Sedova, Trotsky’s wife, who isolated and shielded her partner’s body from the would-be assassin’s bullets; and the imprecise strategy to kill Trotsky that morning ensured his survival.56 Nevertheless, following a dry-run to assassinate Trotsky in his study using an ice-pick on the pretext of discussing a political article he had begun to write, Mercader invited himself back to Trotsky’s residence on the hot summer day of August 20, 1940, to discuss some revisions he had supposedly made to improve the same article. Concealing his ice-pick under a heavy raincoat, Mercader provoked Natalia Sedova’s suspicions about his presentation:

Yes, you don’t look well. Not well at all. Why are you wearing your hat and raincoat? You never wear a hat, and the sun is shining.”57

Nevertheless, despite Natalia Sedova and Trotsky’s own intuitive misgivings, this Stalinist agent did ‘succeed’ in assassinating the exiled Bolshevik that day—precisely by burying an ice-pick into Trotsky’s head from behind, as the “Old Man” was distracted turning the page while reading the very essay Mercader had brought him:

The moment was rehearsed. Wait until he finishes the first page, [NKVD officer] Eitington had coached. Wait until he is turning the page, when he will be most distracted.”58

What a fitting allegory for Leninism and Stalinism: conflict-resolution according to the principle of “might makes right.”59 Trotsky’s fate also openly displays Stalin’s anti-Semitism: in so ruthlessly murdering his primary political rival, a world-renowned Bolshevik leader and Jewish dissident,60 in Coyoacán, which lies approximately 6,000 miles (or 10,000 kilometers) from Moscow—after having exploited Sylvia Ageloff, a fellow Jewish intellectual, to gain access to the desired target—the “Man of Steel” flaunts his attitude toward the relationship between Jews and his false “Revolution.” Mercader’s assassination of Trotsky therefore illuminates the clear continuities between Stalin and the bourgeoisie, in terms of their shared instrumentalization of human life, and the “full-circle” development of the Russian Revolution, proving Voline’s point that “Lenin, Trotsky, and their colleagues [as Stalin’s predecessors] were never revolutionaries. They were only rather brutal reformers, and like all reformers and politicians, always had recourse to the old bourgeois methods, in dealing with both internal and military problems.”61

Notes

1Arendt 472.

2Elliott Liu, Maoism and the Chinese Revolution (Oakland: PM Press, 2016), 68).

3Evtuhov 697-698.

4Henry Wolfe, The Imperial Soviets (New York: Doubleday, 1940).

5Alfred Meyer, Communism (New York: Random House, 1984), 92-93.

6E. H. Carr, Socialism in One Country, 1924-1926, vol. 2 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), 195-196.

7Dunayevskaya 318.

8Hensman 36.

9Olivier Roy, The New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 52.

10Hensman 53-60.

11Eric Lee, The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution, 1918-1921 (London, Zed Books, 2017). See a review here.

12Ibid 160-166.

13Roy 50-51, 83.

14Ibid 50.

15Evtuhov 692.

16Roy 45-46, 52-53, 66.

17Ibid 64-65.

18Roy 67.

19Evtuhov 692.

20Roy 46, 68, 73.

21Dunayevskaya 318.

22Evtuhov 689-690.

23Hensman 88-89.

24This line is disturbingly close to that of the neo-fascist Aleksandr Dugin, who welcomed Russia’s 2014 invasion of Eastern Ukraine by calling for “genocide… of the race of Ukrainian bastards [sic].” Alexander Reid Ross, Against the Fascist Creep (Chico, Calif.: AK Press, 2017), 233.

25Plokhy 259.

26Wayne Price, Anarchism and Socialism: Reformism or Revolution? 3rd ed. (Edmonton, Alberta: Thoughtcrime, 2010), 186-189; Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Role of Bolshevik Ideology in the Birth of the Bureaucracy,” in Bloodstained: One Hundred Years of Leninist Counterrevolution, eds. Friends of Aron Baron (Chicago, Calif.: AK Press, 2017), 282.

27Voline, The Unknown Revolution (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1975), 359-361.

28Paul Mattick, “Bolshevism and Stalinism,” in Bloodstained: One Hundred Years of Leninist Counterrevolution, eds. Friends of Aron Baron (Chicago, Calif.: AK Press, 2017), 271.

29Voline 372-375.

30Evtuhov 670.

31Ibid 668; Voline 374.

32Evtuhov 668-669.

33Ibid 670.

34For a translation of the text of the December, 1932 decree of the USSR Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars, see M. Matthews, Soviet Government: a Selection of Official Documents on Internal Policy, J. Cape, 1974, 74-77.

35Hensman 34-35; Plokhy 249-250.

36Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (Penguin: London, 1976), 873-904.

37Evtuhov 642.

38Jason W. Clay and Bonnie K. Holcomb, Politics and Famine in Ethiopia (Cambridge, Mass.: Cultural Survival, 1985).

39Evtuhov 685.

40Voline 380, 388.

41Mattick 264.

42Evtuhov 688, 730.

43Plokhy 255; Dunayevskaya 320.

44Evtuhov 671, 676, 693, 730.

45Ibid 675, 688.

46Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg, Journey Into the Whirlwind, trans. Paul Stevenson and Max Hayward (San Diego: Harcourt, 1967), 366, 368.

47Ibid 402.

48Ibid 258.

49Ibid 405-406.

50Ibid 415.

51Dunayaevskaya 325-329.

52Ibid 327-329.

53Ibid 317.

54Ida Mett, “The Kronstadt Commune,” in Bloodstained: One Hundred Years of Leninist Counterrevolution, eds. Friends of Aron Baron (Chicago, Calif.: AK Press, 2017), 185-190; Voline 592-600; Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control (London: Solidarity, 1970).

55Arendt xxn4.

56John P. Davidson, The Obedient Assassin (Harrison, NY: Delphinium Books, 2014), 48, 193-199.

57Ibid 274.

58Ibid 276.

59Voline 374.

60A dissident relative to Stalinism in power, that is, but not relative to anarchism or libertarian communism.

61Voline 431-432 (emphasis added).

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On Climate Satyagraha: Interview with Quincy Saul

April 9, 2015

Published on Counterpunch, 10 April 2015

The socio-ecological catastrophe that is global capitalism is clear for all to see. We are in dire need of an alternative system which does not ceaselessly destroy nature and oppress and impoverish the vast majority of humankind, including our future generations, whose lives may very well be highly constrained if not outright canceled due to prevailing environmental destructiveness. It is in this sense of contemplating and reflecting on alternatives to capitalist depravity that I was fortunate enough recently to discuss the present moment and some of the possible means of displacing hegemonic power with Quincy Saul of Ecosocialist Horizons (EH). Quincy and the rest of the members of this collective have envisioned a compelling means of overcoming the environmental crisis: that is, through climate Satyagraha.

The latest biological studies show a decline of a full half of animal populations on Earth since 1970, and an ever-burgeoning list of species and classes of vertebrates at immediate risk of extinction: a quarter of all marine species, a quarter of all mammals, and nearly half of all amphibians are on the edge.1 Moreover, two independent studies published in Science and Anthropocene Review in January conclude that the present rate of environmental destruction essentially threatens the fate of complex life on the planet.2 Meanwhile, global carbon emissions continue in relentless expansion, with each new year bringing a new broken record, whether in terms of total greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures, or both. Truly, then, this is a critical moment in human history, one which could lead to utter oblivion, as through the perpetuation of business as usual, or alternately amelioration and emancipation, as through social revolution.

Quincy, could you share your assessment of the global climate-justice movements at present, some seven months after the People’s Climate March (PCM)—a development of which you were famously highly critical—and five months after yet another farcical example of the theater of absurd that is the international climate-negotiation process, as seen at the Twentieth Conference of Parties (COP20) in Lima, Peru?

Thank you Javier for compiling those statistics. There’s such an immense range of data out there, and it’s important to hone in on the key information. In terms of the climate-justice movement, the problem I see is that the whole doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. So you have this amazing, fearless, courageous work that’s happening on local levels, all over the world—too numerous to even start listing. When it comes to resistance struggle, people are resisting mines, pipelines, and destructive development projects from the Altiplano of Peru to central Indian jungles, the Amazon River, indigenous reservations in the U.S., the factory-cities of China, the Niger Delta—uncountable acts of courage that people are taking to defend their ecosystems and their lives, whether climate change is the central issue, or it’s about defense of a single ecosystem. And then on the prefiguration side, there are people on every continent who are working really hard laying the foundations for the next world-system. Seed-saving, agroecologies—people are combining ancestral productive projects with appropriate technologies, building community resilience, and constructing community democracy in the context of war and natural disaster. So this is hopeful and wonderful work that has be encouraged. But somehow it’s not adding up.

One example I’d pick is this wonderful campaign that’s happening around the island-nation of Palau to create the world’s largest marine reserve. They want to ban commercial fishing in this whole area. It would be an unprecedented development, and it deserves our full support. But if ocean acidification is not addressed at the level of the whole earth-system, then a ban on commercial fishing is not going to save those beautiful marine ecosystems. That’s kind of the problem. The key question is convergence—how all these local movements could add up to something more than the sum of their parts. But what we have now is almost the opposite: when all these groups get together, they add up to something less. So what I wrote in that article is what Al Gore said many years ago: that he couldn’t understand why people weren’t undertaking massive nonviolent civil disobedience campaigns to shut down coal plants. And we’re still not seeing that. Everybody gets together, and it’s less than Al Gore: it’s petitions, it’s rallies, books, movies, advertisements. There isn’t even anything illegal. Not that illegality is the measure of what we should be doing or not doing. But whether we’re talking about the gatherings in New York, Durban, or even Lima, I don’t think it’s much of a difference. Durban and Lima were much more militant than New York, but these actions are still not at all commensurate to the scale of the catastrophe you just illustrated.

Our friend Sky Cohen said to me when I last saw him, “Look, I don’t think anyone is doing the work they should be doing. I mean, Bangladesh is going under water.” He was funny; he said, “Even Subcomandante Marcos isn’t doing enough!” And I resonate with that. Who’s doing enough? I got some criticism for what I wrote, but what’s the balance sheet? I think that now is the time for those who defended the march to speak up. What changed? Was there any payoff for this multimillion-dollar PR campaign? Did we concretely reduce carbon emissions? Did we change the United Nations agenda? Did we put climate change as a question on the map that now has to be addressed? Is it being addressed? All the things they said: “the biggest climate change march ever,” “this changes everything.” Has it? Let’s see. We can measure these things. But we aren’t; I think on some level people are afraid to.

So what is the answer? How do we get the whole to add up to more than the sum of its parts? I don’t have the one answer, but I do think that part of the diagnosis of what’s wrong is that there’s a problem inside of us: I think we lack imagination about what a real movement would look like. I think too many of us identify too much with this Earth-destroying system, such that we can’t imagine what it would be like to make a break from it. This is especially the case in a place like New York City, which epitomizes “empire as a way of life.” The other problem is that we keep chasing the ruling class around to all their conferences. I can’t get over it; when are we going to stop doing this? We know what the outcomes are going to be: they’re going to have a big PR campaign, they’re going to open up new markets for false solutions. We’ve seen this process happen so many times. When are we going to stop just conference-hopping around the world, putting up a big pagoda, and having the “alternative people’s tent”? An alternative precedent was set in Cochabamba, Bolivia, when they made the Cochabamba Declaration, which is still the most radical document out there on climate change, in terms of calling for even less than a 2°C rise in average global temperatures—a 1.5°C cap. They just held their own conference and set their own agenda on their own schedule.

I think these are the key things: We need to stop chasing the ruling class around the world, and we need to build our own autonomous bases of resistance and prefiguration. Again, all this amazing local work, how do we help it converge? How do we help it become more than the sum of its parts? I think the first step is that we have to imagine what that would look like, and that means imagining a break from the system that we’re dependent on. Concretely, how would you not have fossil fuels be part of existence anymore? Not as a consumer decision, but as an ontological life movement?

Recently, I read Truth and Dare: A Comic Book Curriculum for the End and the Beginning of the World (Ecosocialist Horizons/Autonomedia, 2014), which you helped to edit and write, as I understand. This work is divided into ten chapters or sections, and comes with an appendix listing seemingly hundreds of recommended readings. Could you speak to the vision which led you to put Truth and Dare together, and the hopes you have for it?

Thank you Javier, I’m very honored that you read it. Just to give some credit: I can be blamed for it, because I was the final editor, but I must credit Fred Ho, Seth Tobocman, Joel Kovel, and many other people who sent in suggestions for that curriculum. It was a big collective effort.

The vision? All the literature that was out there about ecosocialism was pretty academic, and we wanted to break out of that. We wanted to break out of the academic perspective and make ecosocialism a perspective that’s available to children, to people who don’t have the time or energy or inclination to read The Enemy of Nature or Imperiled Life or any of the many books out there that illustrate our problems. Specifically, we wanted to give an illustration of how our collective understands ecosocialism, which differs from the way some other groups have put it forward, as you’ve noticed.

Specifically, this comes through in our understanding of gender and the role of patriarchy in the development of capitalism; it comes out in our understanding of indigeneity, which relates to the question of intrinsic value; it comes through our attention to spiritual traditions and their role in emancipatory politics; and in terms of our perspective on questions of revolutionary strategy, where we understand struggle and prefiguration as equally important. So in those four areas, our conception of ecosocialism differs in some ways from what other people are putting out there. We wanted to put all this into an accessible framework. Another part of the vision is that we wanted the artwork to be of high quality. The whole first chapter has no words. We wanted to do that, to draw people in.

In terms of hopes for it, we just hope that it is both useful and inspiring. For rookies, it can be a point of departure to learn about all kinds of things. And for people who already know a lot, if it can inspire them, or maybe give them a new perspective on ecosocialism—even if they disagree with it—hopefully it will help them think more deeply about things. The curriculum at the end includes everything from children’s books to movies to scholarly theoretical texts, so hopefully all ages will find a way to make use of it. We also want to do translations. We have some inroads for Chinese, Spanish, Swahili, and Arabic versions. We hope that people read it and review it.

I particularly liked Paula Hewitt Amram’s illustration of the toad in “The Ecosocialist Horizon”: the panel in question says, “Nature has intrinsic value: it has value independent of us.” It is both telling and ironic that an amphibian should be chosen to depict this point, in light of the sordid fate to which humanity and capitalism—or better, capitalist humanity—has consigned these animals.

There’s this documentary I saw recently about a water struggle on a Diné (Navajo) reservation. They were fighting for their water, and a younger native woman repeated what one of the elders had told her—that actually the water didn’t even belong to the Diné people. The water belongs to the frog.

You highlighted the question of intrinsic value. In one word, what is ecosocialism? It’s socialism plus the intrinsic value of nature: a non-anthropocentric socialism, that’s what we’re going for here. In terms of how we see an ecosocialist horizon, that’s one of the crucial things. We differ from a lot of socialists who have a much more Cartesian outlook about inanimate, “clockwork” nature, here for human use and abuse. So we are breaking from those socialists, but on the other hand we are connecting to every single indigenous tradition on every continent. Perhaps there are very few universal things, yet one of the universal things it that every non-state or pre-state people—whether you call them tribal, indigenous, aboriginal, etc.—have some sense that nature is alive, even if it’s inanimate—that it has value outside of us. And I want to expose some of the socialists on this, because it’s very hip now to pay lip service to indigenous struggles. All socialists do this, and that’s great, a big change over a few decades ago. But in terms of the actual ideology, a lot of these socialists have a paternalistic, condescending attitude toward indigenous cosmovisions—they don’t believe in the Pachamama or in the Great Mystery; they don’t believe that value really exists independent of human labor. They think that this spiritual stuff is some sort of anachronism that will be overcome through social labor on the factory floor. And that’s just a disaster. That’s Manifest Destiny. So what we want is an anti-Manifest Destiny socialism, a non-anthropocentric socialism—not only for the humans, but for the frogs as well. I really want to expose that: If you want to have real solidarity with the first nations, you should pay attention to what they say, not just support them as bodies which just happen to be blocking a pipeline. No, genuine solidarity with first-nation peoples should be built on ideological unity, on a shared belief in and commitment to the defense of intrinsic value of nature.

Last summer, you attended the conference of the Pan-African Network for Nonviolence and Peacebuilding in Cape Town, South Africa, and the document which issued forth from this convergence was the “Call for Climate Satyagraha!”  Please speak about the proceedings at this conference, and what you mean by climate Satyagraha.

Thanks for reading. This was a historic conference. It was organized by War Resisters International together with local sponsoring organizations. It was the first fully Pan-African conference on non-violent resistance, in the sense that there had been a few others, but they were smaller and more localized. There were people represented from over 30 countries in Africa, from some 50 countries globally, and from every continent. And everybody came with some kind of a base; people were representing organizations.

We were invited to bring the ecosocialist perspective to conversations around nonviolence and anti-militarism. We did three things: we handed out invitations to a discussion on the draft document of the “Call for Climate Satyagraha; we did a big event, which included speeches, a tribute to Dennis Brutus, who was a very visionary person in terms of ecological struggle and climate change; and several world-class musical acts of local and international musicians. We were also part of a working group that met every day called “Resisting the War on Mother Earth and Reclaiming our Home.” A lot of the Working Group’s time was spent discussing the climate Satyagraha proposal, and refining it.

I’ve read a fair amount about struggles throughout Africa, about historical and contemporary genocides, but I had never really met people from a lot of these places. It changes things when you’re talking to someone from South Kordofan, Darfur, or the DRC. These are people who are here for a conference on nonviolence and peacebuilding, not on climate. And they’re coming from places where there’s not a lot of room for bullshit. Life and death: they’re taking a risk even being there. I was expecting people not to reject the environmental analysis in any way, but just to say, “Well, that isn’t really what we’re working on. This is a good idea I support, but we’re focused on trying to get these two ethnic groups to not kill each other.” But that wasn’t the case. People have a very acute awareness of how environmental factors are going to immediately play out into violent, warlike situations. They have an acute awareness of how climate change is going to precipitate violence in their communities. So to really meet people from these places and to know that whenever you talk about “the climate-justice movement,” you’re not just talking about some activists in New York, Lima, or Durban; you’re talking about these people! It was really transformative for us, to realize that these too are the faces of the climate justice movement, that this is a world-wide struggle which includes everyone.

There was a very positive response from so many people. We approached it with a lot of humility: we handed out our draft, and we said, “This is an invitation to discussion. We’re interested in any feedback or critique you have.” We had to push people to critique, because they were really into the idea from the beginning for the most part. It was, and remains very inspiring and challenging to understand that.

In terms of the idea of Satyagraha, it’s an old idea. It means “to hold onto truth,” “love force,” “truth-power.” There are many different definitions and translations. It’s a method of political struggle, an action and a process, which combines resistance and prefiguration. The Satyagrahi, or the person who engages in Satyagraha, has to embody the principles they’re fighting for. In this sense, I think this is really the antidote to a lot of the dead-end NGO activism in the U.S., where politics is a career. I think it’s this kind of salaried activism that is getting us nowhere. It’s not about going to work with your styrofoam cup of coffee, sitting at your computer all day sending emails, and calling that a climate justice movement. You have to really embody what you’re fighting for. This has a negative and a positive element, a rejection and an affirmation: You have to resist the war on Mother Earth, and you have to embody the alternative, “being the change you want to see in the world.” So I think as a framework, Satyagraha is hugely important. There’s a long history, very complex, in many countries, especially in South Africa and South Asia. I think specifically for people in the US, where we’re very colonized by the NGO activist culture, and its endless divorce of means from ends, it’s liberating for us to think about Satyagraha.

Climate Satyagraha: we need a climate Satyagraha now because 2015 is our deadline! The IPCC has been saying since this 2007, with their Fourth Assessment Report (4AR). In the 4AR, the IPCC said that 2015 is the deadline for a carbon emissions peak if we want to keep a temperature increase below 2°C, which as you know from Cochabamba isn’t even enough. Still, it is a threshold to be recognized, because if you get beyond that point, the various positive feedback loops in the earth-system are triggered, and it all slips out of our hands. So what do we do? We’ve chased the elite, we’ve written petitions, we’ve done everything short of what Al Gore called for, which is actually blocking the production and further use of fossil fuels. So that’s what we need, a mass nonviolent prefigurative resistance movement to keep the oil in the soil. The one strategic element we’re adding is the attention to ports and logistics, as we’ll see in the next question.

To turn to the question of spirituality: Let go of your ego form of the self for a moment and think about the future generations, about what’s going to be left on this planet after you die, and the opportunity that we have now. We have every technical ability to turn the tide. If you read David Schwartzman and a lot of other people—even if they don’t get a lot of publicity—there are actually immense strides in terms of solar technologies that could enable us to contain contain climate catastrophe and also reduce energy poverty. We already have climate catastrophe, but it could get hellishly worse. So we have that opportunity right now, but it’s a year-long opportunity. Next year carbon emissions need to begin a rapid decline. What, then, does it take? We can’t know the future, but we can know the path: I think Satyagraha lights the way forward. We have to hold on to the truth, which is love, which is power: that we can change the course of history.

What it says in Truth and Dare is that we need a convergence. “All of the world’s profound spiritual and revolutionary traditions converge for the preservation of life and beauty, in a world and time in which both are threatened.” Bottom line, all of these forms of organized spirituality value life—all the major world religions. Everybody needs to come together in a struggle against the big multinational corporations and their puppets in government.

As economic and ecological catastrophe continues, breaking-apart societies are going to get pretty ugly, and that ugliness will be expressed though all of our social contradictions, one of which is religion. So I do present a rather “pro-spiritual” line, but I know that Third Reich meant “Kingdom of God.” Religion is not inherently emancipatory in any way. During the decolonization movement in India, they would have big rallies for Hindu-Muslim unity. People of both religions wanted decolonization, and they had some foresight to see that things would get ugly if they didn’t emphasize strongly that they were united on this. And it wasn’t enough, but it also was something. We’ll talk about the Sarvodaya villages in Sri Lanka, some of which have acted as firewalls for the spread of ethnic and religious violence, because the people of those villages stood up to the mobs. Similarly, we must emphasize and educate around inter-faith unity here, as this will be a key part of our resilience to climate change. If we don’t do that type of work more and more, it’s going to get even worse, and it’s already terrible, especially for Muslims in this country.

Clearly, the question of logistics and the prospect of physically blockading the flow of capital is not foreign from current events, in light of the 2015 labor dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). How do you think labor can be radicalized (or radicalize itself), both in the U.S. and throughout the world, and come to the revolutionary consciousness which is such a necessary prerequisite for engaging in material struggle against climate catastrophe from below? What can you say about the relationship between workers at the point of production and concerned outsiders, such as climate activists and radical intellectuals?

On the first question, I spent a couple of years working in and around organized labor. I worked with the United Electric Workers in Chicago and later I came to New York and worked with a Teamsters local, through a program at the Murphy Institute. These groups I worked with are exceptions to the norm: the United Electric Workers, like the ILWU, are some of the few radical unions left, who paid the price, and their membership got decimated, because they refused to sign Taft-Hartley. I only know in detail the U.S. labor movement. But let’s be honest, there’s not much of a labor movement in this country, unless you call retreat a movement. It’s important to say that, because leftists do a lot of “rah-rah labor movement,” but the only obvious movement is retreat. Union density has been declining for the last several decades, and people are fighting noble defensive struggles, but you can’t necessarily call that a movement.

I think the old answers still hold true: people are radicalized and revolutionized through struggle and collective action. The problem is I think what Guy Debord said, that the representatives of the working class have become the enemies of the working class. We spent a lot of time in the Teamsters fighting our own International reps, and against other mobbed up locals. There are important exceptions, obviously, but there’s really very little collective action or struggle. The labor “movement” is often all about corporate campaigns—meaning a bunch of union staffers doing media smear campaigns against the corporation, and the workers aren’t involved at all. Every few years they have election drives where workers are rounded up to vote for the less anti-union candidate. And then there are Potëmkin organizing drives. Every once in a while, they’ll do a big “Rah-Rah” spectacle. I think that’s what happened in the recent Walmart strike, to be perfectly honest; we were lied to. The whole country was told that workers were striking at Walmart. But go talk with them now; see what’s happening. They haven’t built a movement.

It’s not about building working-class power. The words “working class” barely even appear in mainstream labor movement discourse. It’s about integrating people into the middle class—that’s what they’re trying to do. That’s the state that things are in. But on the brighter side, if you look at labor-movement history, you see that change never comes from the established leadership. The CIO was born in a fist-fight on the floor of the AFL: John Lewis punched William Hutcheson, and the rest is history. Another thing that you see is that union organizing doesn’t come gradually; it always comes in surges. In the late 1920s union density was at a historic low. Within a decade it was the highest in U.S. history. So change is going to come from outside the established union leadership, and it’s going to come suddenly. I think we saw some seeds of that in Wisconsin when the state house was occupied. Who ended the occupation? It was the union leadership; they literally told people to “put down their picket signs and pick up their clipboards.” The people are ready, but the leadership is holding them back.

In terms of the relationship between workers at the point of production and climate activists: I think the novelty in the call for Climate Satyagraha is that we’re not talking about the point of production, but rather about the point of distribution. These are the new commanding heights, the new lynchpin of the global economy, and I don’t think that’s really been grasped by a lot of people—the way global political economy functions structurally today with just-in-time production. When you buy something from Walmart, it’s shipped two hours later from Shenzhen, so that Walmart doesn’t have to stock their shelves with excess product. Capital when not in motion ceases to be capital, so it’s constantly in motion; department stores get restocked several times per day. Then you have these mechanized ports, such that the entire port of Shanghai is run by a handful of workers. It’s an amazing opportunity for an intervention, for workers’ control. Chicago has about a hundred thousand workers in the logistics industry through whose hands pass about 60% of all commodities in North America. A hundred thousand workers is not that many. I think this is the equivalent of the GM Fisher No. 1 Plant that was famously occupied in the 1930s. If you occupy that one plant that none of the rest of the factories can function without, you can shut down the whole supply chain. That’s where the focus has to be.

But let’s be honest, in terms of relations between workers and activists, they’re terrible. With important exceptions, people don’t know each other, and they don’t even speak the same language. I think part of the problem is the climate-activist identity, which I think comes out of the dominant NGO culture. The NGO culture has transformed the way we think about social change over the past 60 years for the worse. Once climate activists and radical intellectuals start speaking a language that the people working in the ports can understand, and once they start leading lives that these people can relate to—instead of just conference-hopping and emailing—as soon as we can concretely build solidarity in door-to-door organizing, then we can see a change. I would emphasize the door-to-door approach. Hardly anyone one does that anymore. That’s the way to organize; you go door-to-door. As soon as the climate activists start doing that in the ports, I think you could see serious results.

I understand that you and David Schwartzman, author of “Solar Communism” (1996), have been working together to concretely propose that the Bolivarian government of Venezuela play a significant role in simultaneously advancing renewable energy and anti-capitalism on the global stage. Please explain how you envision this process unfolding. For me, the contradiction between petrosocialism and ecosocialism is fundamental and daunting. Why do you think the Venezuelan State would champion a dialectical transcendence of the very extractive economy on which it has depended for its power and prestige?

They have to. In 2013, they came out with a new Plan de la Patria, which was the campaign that Chávez ran on for his last reelection. It wasn’t just something that they wrote up in a room. It was a constituent process of creation. Some of the people I spoke to last time I was there said it was almost on the scale of the constituent assembly for the constitution (1999). It was a massive effort to get this document together, and it’s worth reading. Venezuela is the first government in the world to officially call for ecosocialism. So what does that mean? That’s the big question, and that’s literally being determined now at all levels of society. There are people in Venezuela who are counter-revolutionary, people who are opportunistic, people who are very radical. This fight is happening inside the ministries and it’s happening in in the fields—with the Green Revolution being practiced on one side of the street and agroecology on the other. It’s everywhere.

Why would they transcend petrosocialism? In terms of their mandate, they have to. They have a mandate to ensure the “general wellbeing” of all their citizens, in a healthy environment, for all perpetuity. So if they burn all the oil in the Faja del Orinoco—they just discovered a field that may be bigger than Saudi Arabia, though it’s hard to believe these oil predictions—everybody in the country and the whole world is going to be at severe risk. So they can’t. It says in the Plan that ecosocialism is another stage in socialism, where we respect the rhythms and cycles of nature, wherein we learn from indigenous peoples—all the language is in there. So the question is how, and also it’s a question of conscientization, to use Paolo Freire’s term. Ecosocialism has to be expressed at the level of poder popular, and that’s starting to happen.

There are contradictions in the Plan de la Patria, because they call for a coordinated mass-movement for climate justice, yet they also call for increased extraction of natural resources. When I was there for the Fourth Congress of Biological Diversity, this was all being debated. I think Brecht was right when he said, “in the contradiction is the hope.” These are the stages that we have to get through to move forward in a revolutionary process. How do you use oil to get off oil? It’s a huge challenge, and it’s not just a domestic problem—some people were very explicit there, saying quite plainly, “If we stop exporting oil, we get invaded by the Yanquis.” That’s the primary reality; they just prevented a coup!

So how do they do this? They have the mandate, and they’re required to do it based on what the people have asked of their government, and the government is constituted on poder popular. I think they’re better situated to do it than anyone else. Why? Because they’re sitting on a giant gold mine. Just use all that oil money to become the solar-energy hub of the entire world. Bring experts in from all over the world, build up the industry, train cadre in appropriate solar technology, and then send them out all over the world, like the Cubans send doctors. The key, qualitative tipping point that has to be reached in terms of renewable energy, is to build solar panels with solar power, no longer with fossil fuels. Venezuela has the money to start that process. Not only that, they also have the political process and the level of political consciousness among the general population to be able to precipitate something like that. You need it all. You can’t just have good people in government; you can’t just have a mass movement. You need these people situated at all levels to be able to push something like that forward. That’s the context of the proposal that David and I wrote—for people in the grassroots and in the government—for a new Gran Misión to solarize the economy of Venezuela and jumpstart the transition in all the Mercosur countries.

There is a revolutionary process underway in Venezuela, which you can’t necessarily tell without visiting it or studying it in detail. The key thing is, how do we play a role in this? We have to side with the people in Venezuela who are fighting for the ecosocialism that we want, which isn’t the Green Revolution, nor is it the opportunism of the Chinese Communist Party. It’s grassroots democracy built around communes, agroecology, and ancestral cosmovision. Those forces are there to be supported. This is the most important point to make, really. Using existing oil reserves, Venezuela can create a fully solarized economy within the next decade, stop using oil, and moreover provide all the seed money for the same transition in the whole region. The fact that that kind of proposal can potentially be heard and responded to in the mountains, in the jungles, in the barrios, and in the corridors of power in Venezuela is extremely unique.

Returning to the concept of climate Satyagraha, which we know to be a model that is clearly influenced by Gandhi and the Sarvodaya movement: given that you are proposing a “return” to Gandhian strategy, what is your assessment of the legacy of the Sarvodaya (or “common good”) movement during Gandhi’s lifetime and since? Our friend John Clark writes a very friendly account of the movement in The Impossible Community (2013), wherein he notes it to essentially be an anarchist mass-movement, given the stress on direct action, decentralization, ahimsa (non-violence), self-management, and (voluntary) redistribution of lands to the poor peasantry.3 John also discusses Sarvodaya Shramadana, a community-based alternate-development movement that blends Gandhianism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and he likens it even to the Zapatistas’ liberated territories. Yet I do not think that Gandhi’s approach should be considered as being beyond reproach, in light of his numerous critics, both from his day and ours.

Definitely. I recently read B. R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste that just came out with a long introduction by Arundhati Roy. I learned a lot from this, and I’m a lot more critical of Gandhi than I was before reading that book. In fact, I would go so far to say that the discussion of Satyagraha has to be completely divorced from the person of Gandhi to move forward progressively. Gandhi may have been a political genius but he had big blind spots and prejudices, to say the least. Yet in this complex matrix of contradictions is the path to truth. Gandhi, and Roy credits him with this, got something that Ambedkar didn’t, which is that Ambedkar saw the “liberated future” as an urban metropolis, whereas Gandhi had the vision to see—even if it wasn’t born of a specifically ecological understanding—that the future may lie not so much in a massive urban metropolis but in a return to village economies, as set forth in Hind Swaraj.

I recently got back from Sri Lanka, where I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the Sarvodaya movement, which is inspired by Gandhian ideas. Sarvodaya means “the awakening of all.” A. T. Ariyaratne, the founder of the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka, contrasts this to utilitarianism—the philosophy from European liberalism of “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Sarvodaya is about everyone, not just the majority. Sarvodaya Shramadana means “the awakening of all through collective work.” Founded i>n 1958, they started by going door-to-door, the way everything starts, by going to people’s houses in a village and talking to them about their lives and their needs. Then they would bring people from the city—Ariyaratne was a college professor, so he brought his students—and they would do this work together with the people of the village. Then someone in the next village heard about it and invited them to come. Fifty years later, there is a network of 15,000 villages, and over 2,000 are self-governing and self-reliant. It is a very unique formation in the whole world.

One of the things that is really compelling is the methodology they’ve developed. They’ve come up with a whole vocabulary for development, so that they’re not always stuck with the Western paradigm. It’s a five-step program: it starts with individual awakening (Purna Paurusodaya), then family awakening (Kutumbodaya), then village awakening (Gramodaya), then national awakening (Deshodaya), and finally world awakening (Vishvodaya). That’s the program. Recently they’ve just started the Deshodaya campaign—that’s how long they’ve taken. There’s a saying that bad news travels fast and good news travels slowly. This is a slowly building movement, and it’s good news! I think part of what appealed to me is about Sarvodaya was the culture—it was such a breath of fresh air! Everyone was so kind and generous. You could tell that everybody had been through a process of really soul-searching for why they’re in this work in the first place. That isn’t something you encounter much in the U.S., where people are involved for all kinds of crazy reasons, which can be a big obstacle to moving forward over the long term.

So it’s a very slow, non-violent revolution. You don’t often hear words like anti-imperialism or anti-capitalism; they don’t always come up. It’s very much rooted in satisfying people’s basic needs, and they’ve defined basic needs democratically. There are some interesting things about this. One is that employment is not included. They don’t think that it’s our purpose here on this planet to have a job. Instead they talk about leading fulfilling lives. Also they say that they are working for a world without poverty or affluence. So there are elements which are very revolutionary, but they don’t rant and rave about it. The politics are all prefigured in what they’re doing. Their conception of a society based on human needs sounds simple, but if you push it to its limits you realize it’s challenging capitalism at the level of the individual, the family, the village, the nation and the world.

It’s really amazing what they’ve built. At this point, about one in twenty people in Sri Lanka has gone through a Sarvodaya training process—about 1 million in a country of 20 million people. They’re everywhere, and they work with everybody. They’ll work with other NGOS, even with USAID, but they don’t get corrupted by it. Their guiding philosophy acts as a force field against the corrosive influences in the mainstream.

Our whole political culture in the U.S. left is built around protest and opposition; resistance and struggle. We’re not used to a politics that starts with meditation, and focuses on working with and caring for our neighbors. These Sarvodaya villages have acted as firewalls to contain the spread of ethnic violence, as I’ve said, so their politics are very real. We have a lot of discussion in the U.S. about what climate resilience. It occurred to me while visiting a self-managed village in Batticaloa, in the wake of a tsunami and a civil war, that the best resilience you can have is community democracy. When disaster strikes, are people going to know each other? Are they going to be able to work together to do things? Resilience is built by going door-to-door and finding out what your neighbors are doing and how to work and live together. So to go back to some of the other questions—I think Sarvodaya challenges us to rethink, what is the revolutionary subject? Who is the real climate justice activist? What does the revolution look like? Fifty years ago, A. T. Ariyaratne said, look, we need a revolution against capitalism and imperialism, but we are taking the long, slow, non-violent path to get there. Now five decades later, they are still on that path. They don’t protest, so they aren’t immediately recognizable as part of the left. But there are millions of people who protest all the time—and how many village economies have they built based on self reliance, democracy, and respect for nature? I was very inspired by what I saw and learned there.

In your critique of the People’s Climate March, entitled “Like a Dull Knife: The People’s Climate ‘Farce,’” you close by invoking the counter-image of the peoples of the U.S. autonomously deciding to overthrow the historical relationship we have maintained with the rest of the world for centuries: that is to say, parasitism and predation. You anticipate that we will abandon our “imperial hubris” and join the revolutionary ecosocialist uprisings of the Global South. How do you envision this transition proceeding in the imperial core of the capitalist world-system, or the “belly of the beast”?

Good question. I think this is the kind of thing that a lot of people haven’t really thought out. As far as I know, Marx and Engels said, “We don’t write recipes for the cooks of the future.”

Or, as they write in The German Ideology: “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”

Right—so we’ll see, and we are seeing. But on the other hand, climate change gives us a deadline, so we have to move a little more quickly here. First of all, this is an empire. It’s different than just any oppressive regime: there’s a major qualitative difference. We have a responsibility not only to our own population to bring it down, but as a matter fact to the entire world, whose emancipation is held back by our failure to overthrow it from the inside.

All empires fall the same way: through reclaiming the land. Sometimes it takes a long time. It took about three hundred years for the Roman Empire to fall. But it started on the peripheries, with people taking the land back. I think there’s no reason to think it will happen any differently here. It has already to some degree begun in the sense of the Monroe Doctrine falling apart. We no longer have any military bases in South America—

Colombia?

Well, Colombia is a U.S. military base. And so is Costa Rica. But the point is that, forty years ago, all these countries had military bases. So this process has begun, but it has to happen in the heartland too.

There’s a contradiction here: because we need more coordination and coming together than ever before, but we also need to break up the empire. So how does that look? That’s the question. For socialists, the question is, do you believe in the Socialist United States? Or is that a contradiction in terms? This is not a nation built on freedom, but on slavery and genocide. Let’s understand that and move forward. There are some wonderful things that happened in this country’s history, and we can continue to honor those things and respect them. The “founding fathers” said some great things—even the North Vietnamese copied their constitution! But the fifty states as we know them are an imperial project. So the people need to reclaim the land. The key element is how do we make sure that these reclamations—these secessions—are progressive. This is really a key thing, because if you look at the progressive things that have happened in our country’s history, it has mostly been federal legislation—Civil Rights, women’s suffrage, and so on. These are not things that the states decided. Grassroots democracy has to prevail over grassroots fascism. So this is a challenge: We need to break up the empire, but make the breaking-up a greater coming-together. We need to realize that the empire actually is in the way of our coming together closer.

This is controversial, but I would say that the vision for revolution in the belly of beast is not one of seizing power; it’s one of exodus. I think that’s very concrete in a coastal city like New York—we literally have to leave, because it’s going under water. So we should immediately, starting now, begin to plan the exodus. Sometimes the exodus is a physical movement; sometimes it doesn’t have to be a relocation. It can be a change in the way of life—a secession from empire as a way of life. Go back and read Exodus. It’s an interesting analogue to our times. Lots of people didn’t want to leave the pyramids; they liked the flesh-pots of empire. We’ve got a lot of nice flesh-pots around here: all the fast food and smartphones. We have to give that up. And along the way, some people are going to want to turn back. They’re going to make a little golden iPhone and worship it.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think that that’s the model: A revolutionary exodus which dismantles the pyramids. My ideal vision would be an ecosocialist confederation of maroon societies. And I think you can actually see the seeds of this starting to grow in places like Troy, New York, in northern Vermont, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—all the places where we’ve organized convergences with Ecosocialist Horizons, we’ve tried to focus on places where the system is already breaking down, and people are already in the midst of building something new. Again, the key question is how to make the breaking-apart of empire a greater coming-together of the people? It’s the same path, we just have to learn how to walk it, and since time is short, to run it.

1 Damian Carrington, “Earth has lost half its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF,” The Guardian, 29 September 2014; Robin McKie, “Earth faces ‘sixth extinction’ with 41% of amphibians set to go the way of the dodo,” The Guardian, 13 December 2014; Tom Bawden, “A quarter of the world’s marine species in danger of extinction,” The Independent, 30 January 2015

2 Oliver Milman, “Rate of environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, say scientists,” The Guardian, 15 January 2015.

3 John P. Clark, The Impossible Community: Realizing Communitarian Anarchism (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 217-45.

The First Global Festival for Anti-Capitalist Resistance and Rebellion

January 26, 2015

Published on Counterpunch, 26 January 2014

Organized by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), the first annual Festival Mundial de las Resistencias y Rebeldías contra el Capitalismo, or the Global Festival for Anti-Capitalist Resistance and Rebellion, was held in central and southern Mexico over a two-week period at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015. The event’s subtitle sums up its purpose well: praxWhile those from above destroy, those from below rebuild.” Taken as a whole, this new Festival recalled the different “intergalactic” meetings hosted by the EZLN in Chiapas in the 1990’s, such as the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neo-Liberalism (1996). According to the statistics made known at the event’s close at CIDECI-Unitierra in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, the number of officially registered participants at the Festival came to over 3400 Mexicans, including 1300 individuals belonging to 20 indigenous ethnicities, and 500 foreigners from 49 countries—though the total number of those who attended the Grand Cultural Festival in Mexico City and the EZLN’s year-end festivities at the Oventik caracol at other points over the course of the Festival must be considered as amounting to several times this total. While the Festival generally focused on the numerous problematics faced by Mexico’s various indigenous peoples amidst the power of capital and State—due in no small part, indeed, to the central participation of the CNI in the event—the distressing case of the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Normal School who were forcibly disappeared by police in Iguala, Guerrero, in late September also took central stage throughout the event.

The Anti-Capitalist Festival was inaugurated in Mexico state on 21 December, and the comparticiones (“sharings”) followed for two days afterward in two locations in central Mexico. While I was present for neither, I can here relate the reports made ex post facto at CIDECI regarding the goings-on at these spaces. The launch of the comparticiones took place simultaneously in San Francisco Xochicuautla in Mexico state and in Amilcingo, Morelos. San Francisco Xochicuautla has become an emblem of socio-ecological resistance in Mexico lately, as the local indigenous Ñatho peoples have opposed themselves to the imposed plan of building a new private highway on their territory—a project that implies vast deforestation, and which has to date seen State repression meted out on those in opposition—while, as two Nahua CNI delegates from Morelos explained to me as we waited together outside the Zapatista Good-Government Council’s office at Oventik on New Year’s Eve, the case of Amilcingo reflects the problems of domestic and foreign rackets, extractivism, and profit in Mexico, as these exigencies result in the plundering of territory (despojo) and fundamentally violate indigenous autonomy. In Amilcingo, in accordance with the vision set forth in the “Integral Morelos Plan” (PIM) that has been on the books for years, there has been an attempt to construct a natural gas pipeline that would supply a planned thermal power station, this despite the various dangers posed to the integrity of such structures within such a seismically and volcanically active area as Morelos. In Amilcingo, as in San Francisco Xochicuautla, indigenous Nahuas have mobilized to prevent the construction project from being carried through. At both sites on 22-23 December, representatives from indigenous ethnicities represented in the CNI and affiliates of the National and International Sixth—that is to say, those who subscribe to the EZLN’s Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (2005)—made presentations about their struggles, philosophies, and commitments.

In San Francisco Xochicuautla, the Las Abejas Civil Society from the highlands of Chiapas discussed the December 1997 massacre which they suffered at the hands of State-supported paramilitaries—an attack on the community of Acteal in which 45 people, mostly women and children, were murdered, with this number coming ominously close to the number of students currently disappeared from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa—and they described how, though the attack was an act of State terror that should demand international prosecution, the Supreme Court for Justice in the Nation (SCJN) has in recent years instead liberated scores of indigenous men who had been convicted for having participated in the massacre, such that now only 2 out of the 102 individuals who had originally been held for the crime remain incarcerated. Similarly, ejidatarios from San Sebastián Bachajón, Chiapas, reviewed their historical struggle against the state-government’s attempt at privatizing their lands for touristic ends, as at proposing a new highway between San Cristóbal and Palenque—again for purposes of “developing” the tourist sector—in addition to the repression they have faced at the hands of paramilitaries belonging to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, which in addition to dominating the country’s executive, also holds power now in Chiapas in the person of Governor Manuel Velasco Coello, “el Güero,” or “the White Guy”), which has resulted in the murders of two of their comrades in the past couple of years. The Voz del Amate, a group of former and current political prisoners who similarly subscribe to the Sixth Declaration, also shared its experiences in Xochicuautla.

For their part, the Yaquis from northwestern Mexico revindicated their just struggle to prevent the waters of the Yaqui River from being massively diverted in order to supply the burgeoning industries and populations of cities like Hermosillo, Sonora, and they declared themselves in resistance to the systematic violation of their traditional laws and customs, to which they are entitled under international law, particularly the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169. At the first of two days of the Festival’s conclusion at CIDECI, in fact, Mario Luna, a Yaqui political prisoner who has been imprisoned precisely for having led the struggle in defense of the Yaqui River, was allowed to communicate by phone with the assembled: expressing his gratitude to the EZLN and CNI and the indigenous revolutionaries of Xochicuautla and Cherán, Michoacán, he affirmed his people’s right to govern themselves differently, in spite the conscious efforts that have been made to suppress such alternatives; making mention of the horrific fire at the ABC Nursery in Hermosillo which took the lives of 49 children in 2009, Luna announced that, despite his unjust incarceration, he continues firm in his convictions. International adherents to the Sixth Declaration from Argentina denounced the ingression of transgenic crops, the expansion of open-pit mining, and the repressive socio-psychological forgetting of the foundational genocide that took place in that country, while comrades from the Anarchist Federation of France (FA) declared themselves opposed to the degradation of the rights of workers and the destruction of nature. An additional group from Italy that was present described its political work as “anti-fascist, anti-sexist, anti-capitalist,” and in favor of mutual aid and solidarity.

In Amilcingo, the padres de familia (parents) of the disappeared students opened the compartición, naming the principal responsible parties for the atrocities to which their sons have been subjected to be the federal and Guerrero-state governments, the narco-paramilitaries, the Army, and President Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN, from the PRI). Constructively, they proposed the physical occupation of major mass-media outlets in the country as a means of intensifying the calls that have resounded throughout the country these past three months to demand the return with life of their sons. From Tepoztlán, Morelos, CNI delegates discussed the case of another planned highway expansion designed in accordance with the PIM, for which they blame private capital and State together. Hailing from Oaxaca’s Tehuantepc Isthmus, national adherents to the Sixth Declaration spoke to the expropriation of communal property by international firms like Mareña Renewables that have sought to install scores of wind-energy towers in the area in recent years, and they announced a caravan for January 2015 to highlight the problematic of looting and systematic violations of free, prior, and informed consent by these corporations. Other national Sixth adherents who presented at Amilcingo include the Anarchist Black Cross; the environmental wing of #YoSoy132, which declared itself opposed to transgenic maize and the newly approved energy and rural reforms spearheaded by EPN; comrades from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, who denounced the ongoing femicides, militarization, and war-footing for which that city is known, as well as burgeoning oil-extraction and fracking schemes in the region; the “Lucio Cabañas” collective from the Xochimilco campus of the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) of Mexico City, which shared its experiences with police repression following the mobilizations they had undertaken for the disappeared 43 students in November; CACITA Oaxaca, which has for years worked in favor of a generalized adoption of ecologically balanced and appropriate technologies, including bicycle-operated machines and dry bathrooms; as well as an environmentalist grouping from Mexico City that resists attempts to privatize the Chapultepec forests in that city. Internationally, comrades from Ferguson arrived to share their experiences with police brutality and to highlight the effective racial segregation on hand in U.S. society, while Parisian rebels lamented the annihilation of anarchist social spaces which has resulted from processes of gentrification in the French capital; commemorated the life of 21-year old Rémi Fraisse, who was murdered in November during a police clearing of the ZAD (Zone a Défendre) encampment in southwestern France; and detailed the various actions they have taken in solidarity with Ayotzinapa and the political prisoner María Salgado. Representatives from the Norwegian Committee for Solidarity with Latin America similarly explained the concrete actions they had taken of late to protest the criminalization of social protest in Mexico and elsewhere.

Thus was the first part of the Festival completed, with the comparticiones lasting two days in San Francisco Xochicuautla and Amilcingo each. The next phase of the event—part two of five, we can say—took place in the Iztapalapa district of Mexico City, at the Lienzo Charro, a stable located near the Guelatao metro station, named for the birthplace in Oaxaca of the celebrated indigenous president of Mexico, Benito Juárez, who repelled the revanchist French invasion of 1862 that sought to install Maximilian von Habsburg as emperor and weakened the hegemony of the Catholic Church over Mexican society, in accordance with his Liberal principles—which are very far from the liberal (or neo-liberal) values known in the U.S.! Indeed, the “Grand Cultural Festival,” which started on 24 December and lasted three days, until the 26th, took place a short walk from the “Cabeza de Juárez,” a huge structure commemorating the Liberal Oaxacan president. Principally, the space at the Lienzo Charro was divided between a massive tianguis cultural—a cultural market of sorts, full of food vendors offering huaraches and tacos; anarchists and other radicals selling books, shirts, and prints; and intellectuals representing Praxis en América Latina, which takes after Marxist-humanism and the thought of Raya Dunayevskaya—and two stages for musical and theatrical performances: one named for Compañero Galeano, a Zapatista support-base (BAEZLN) who was killed in a paramilitary attack on the La Realidad caracol in May 2014, and the other for Compañero David Ruiz García, an Otomi indigenous man who died in a traffic accident after having attended the meeting held between the Zapatistas and the CNI that very same month to mourn Galeano. The Grand Cultural Festival also provided various activities for children, hosted chess and soccer tournaments, and opened space for various workshops addressing such questions as urban gardening, traditional Mexican medicine, eco-villages, prisoners’ rights, digital self-defense, and solidarity economics.

When I arrived to the Festival on the morning of the 24th, the activity on hand on the “Compañero Galeano” stage was a series of speeches made by padres de familia and even by students who had survived the police attack in Iguala of 26 September. At least one father and mother expressed the hope that their sons were in fact still alive, in this way rejecting the official account of the events of 26-27 September which was presented by Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam in early November: that is, that the 43 students had been expeditiously handed over by the Iguala municipal police to the “United Warriors” drug cartel, who subsequently murdered them and incinerated their remains. Omar García, a student-survivor who has become a spokesperson of sorts for the padres de familia, announced that, though the 43 students had been unarmed at the time of the police attack against them and the forcible disappearance which followed, many of the parents now wished that their sons had actually been carrying weapons that night with which to defend themselves. That morning of the 24th, which was marked by strong rains, the padres de familia were organizing their action for that night, Christmas Eve—known as Noche Buena (“The Good Night”) in Spanish—which was to involve a public protest outside the Los Pinos presidential residence. The action, which proceeded despite the rainstorm which raged that night, was meant to demonstrate to the government and Mexican society as a whole that, for the parents of the disappeared, there could be no Noche Buena. At the tianguis that day, I came across a print commemorating the life of Alexander Mora Venancio, 21 years old, the only one of the 43 whose remains have been positively identified by Argentinian forensics experts to date.

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Hasta siempre compañero”: a print commemorating Alexander Mora Venancio, 21 years of age, being the only student among the 43 disappeared whose remains have been positively identified since the police attack of 26 September 2014. The man depicted as holding Alexander’s image is Lucio Cabañas, a guerrillero from Guerrero state who founded the Party of the Poor in 1967.

After this sobering beginning, the Grand Festival Cultural proceeded principally to open space for a multitude of rebellious and revolutionary theater-artists, dancers, and musicians to share their art and vision with the masses of people who came to attend the event, even in spite of the heavy rains on the 24th. That morning, a Nahua man and his comrade provided a thorough public explanation of how the imagery of the Virgen de Guadalupe—originally depicted by a Nahua artist, in fact—preserves and expresses a myriad indigenous symbols, from the stars and flowers which adorn the Virgin’s dress to the waxing moon on which she stands. The duo showed that the iconography of the Virgen communicates the Nahua notion of Tonantzin, or “our beloved mother,” “la madre más primera” (“the first or most important mother”), and as such stands in for la Madre Tierra, Mother Earth. Notable musical artists from that first day of the Cultural Festival included the collaboration between Raíces Libertarias (“Libertarian Roots”) and Mentes Ácratas (“Anarchist Minds”), who melded stirring hip-hop beats with a profound anti-authoritarianism to simultaneously entertain and enrage; Inercia (“Inertia”), a group of young punk rockers who dedicated at least one song to the inertial manner with which humanity would seem to be careening toward eco-apocalypse; and a Chilean rapper who concluded one of his songs using the following lines, palpably referring to the contemporary eco-political situation identified by “Inercia”: “La tierra un infierno / Y la humanidad en cenizas” (“The Earth, an inferno / And humanity in ashes”).

The Grand Cultural Festival continued with musical celebrations on the 25th and 26th as well. The former day, reggae artist El Aaron sang the praises of cannabis while condemning the police (“Policias en helicopteros / Buscando marijuana”), in this way presenting an embodied rebellion against Zapatista rebelliousness: for it is known that all drugs are forbidden in EZLN communities. The all-women’s group Batallones Femininos (“Female Batallions”) provided raps having to do with feminist issues on the evening of the 25th—much as they would do live on Radio Insurgente during the night of the first day of the Festival’s closure at CIDECI just over a week later. Also the same evening from the “Galeano” stage, Sonora Skandalera provided everyone who so desired and could the opportunity to dance to the tune of their joyous music.

In contrast to the first two days, which were open to all, entrance to the third and final day of the Cultural Festival was limited to those who paid 70 pesos to attend a concert that doubled as a fundraiser for the CNI. A number of celebrated Mexican and Latin American groups performed this day, including El Sazón María, Mr. Blaky, Polka Madre, Antidoping, El Poder del Barrio, and others. Among the most impressive artists who performed on this final day was the Mexikan Sound System. Like El Aaron, Mexikan Sound System played a song explicitly dedicated to the legalization of marijuana, and much of the rest of the duo’s oeuvre would seem to be similarly politically radical, discussing State terror, migration, and the drug war. Another one of their songs, “No Te Olvido” (“I Will Not Forget You”), which is dedicated to “all those who have given their lives in the attempt to form a world in which many worlds fit,” features the following gripping refrain: “Pasarán los dias / Pasarán los meses / Pasarán mil anos / Pero no te olvido” (“Though days, months, and even a thousand years may pass, / I will not forget you”). Impressively for an artist who identifies consciously with the reggae musical tradition, Gabo Revuelta, the Mexikan Sound System’s MC, explicitly affirmed sexual diversity in personal comments between songs, both during this performance at Lienzo Charro, as at a subsequent one he did in collaboration with Panchito Rha, Sista Gaby, and Manik B (Al Sentido Kontrario) at El Paliacate Centro Cultural in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. In contrast, Lengualerta, another celebrated Mexican reggae artist who performed at the Grand Festival on the 26th—and in fact dedicated a song to Compañero Galeano, having modified the lyrics of the famous “Hasta Siempre Comandante” song to accommodate the murdered Zapatista—saw a brawl break out at the end of his concert with Al Sentido Kontrario in San Cristóbal a week later, owing to controversy surrounding the place of LGBTQ individuals in his vision for resistance against Babylon.

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The Mexikan Sound System at the Grand Cultural Festival in Mexico City, 26 December 2014.

I left the Cultural Festival early in the mid-afternoon of the 26th to attend a protest-action being organized to mark three months since the forcible disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa. The mobilization was massive: having started at the Ángel de la Independencia on Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma, it proceeded to entirely fill the Monumento a la Revolución (the Monument to the Mexican Revolution). One of the more telling banners I encountered read—as an inversion of René Descartes’ Cogito, ergo sum—that “I think, therefore they disappear me.” At the Monumento, padres de familia and student-survivors spoke to a rally of the assembled protestors; one father described how the parents of the disappeared had just been protesting outside the Germany embassy in Mexico City, given that new findings showed that the Iguala municipal police had used Heckler & Koch G-36 assault rifles in their attack on the students on 26 September, while another called on all Mexicans to boycott the upcoming 2015 elections—declaring that in Guerrero state, no elections would be held at all! Alongside the padres de familia, Omar García spoke again, as did another student from Ayotzinapa who had survived the police attack that horrible night, providing details of their ordeal: the caravan of three buses that had been appropriated by the students to raise funds for their participation in the upcoming 2 October protests in Mexico City, which happen every year to commemorate the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968 that took the lives of hundreds of student radicals; the sudden encirclement of the caravan as it passed through Iguala, followed by an entirely unprovoked barrage of gunfire from the police against the students; the escape of the students from the first two buses and their tribulations seeking refuge from police and military alike in a local medical clinic, and thereafter in the home of a compassionate elder who agreed to take them in, once the nurses in said clinic had washed their hands of them; and the fate of the third bus, which contained the 43 students who are currently disappeared. Adán Cortés Salas, the 21-year old international relations student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) who became an instant national and international celebrity after interrupting the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malaya Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi on 10 December to call on the pair not to forget Mexico and the disappeared students, also addressed the rally, leading an emotive count-down to 43.

The aura of this protest-action, particularly following the concluding interventions of these two youth, was fraught with trauma and horror; in fact, a number of individuals fainted over the course of the rally’s two hours, provoking calls for assistance from nurses and doctors alike. Leaving the action after hearing of so much negation and re-entering the usual flow of things in downtown Mexico City, I was reminded of an observation made by a survivor of the 2 October 1968 atrocity, as reproduced by Elena Poniatowska in La Noche de Tlatelolco (translated into English as Massacre in Mexico), that, once she had successfully maneuvered through the military barricades surrounding the Plaza de las Tres Culturas—the site of the mass-shooting, that is—and rejoined “normal” society, she felt that she had chanced upon an entirely foreign world, wherein people had little to no concept of what had just happened blocks away. Of course, I do not want to say that the masses of Mexicans one sees in the streets of Mexico City are uncaring or unaware of such shocking crimes as that which took place in Iguala. Still, I felt that I had passed from a place of profound rage, suffering, and dignity—la digna rabia—into the larger world, governed by the vast cruelties of the capitalist everyday.

The third part of the Anti-Capitalist Festival consisted of another compartición, this time held in Monclova, Campeche state, on the Yucatan Peninsula, from 28 to 29 December. There, as at other points during the Festival, 43 empty chairs were set up to commemorate the disappeared students from Ayotzinapa; the Yucatan being a tropical region, moreover, the comparticiones were interrupted on various occasions because of torrential rainfall. Those in attendance at Monclova were told of land-grabs in neighboring Quintana Roo state, where 26,000 hectares have been bought up in recent years by Mennonite families and German, Filipino, and Japanese corporations, leading to a mass-exodus of campesin@s from their formerly communal territories, in a continuation of processes which acutely worsened with the coming into law of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Monclova itself is the site of a civil-resistance movement whose members refuse to pay for electrical energy provided by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), holding out the alternative of a popularly managed energy system that makes electricity available at affordable prices. In this sense, the movement in Monclova, which is comprised of 20 participating communities, echoes the resistance taken up by groupings like PUDEE (Peoples United in Defense of Electricity) in Chiapas, as elsewhere in the country. Beyond this, those participating at the compartición in Monclova heard from representatives from the “La 72” migrant-home in Tenosique, Tabasco, about the “exterminationist policies” overseen by the three levels of the Mexican government as regards the transit of Central American migrant workers through the country toward the USA—such that the Mexican side of the border is reportedly full of mass-graves containing the bodies of such economic (and environmental) refugees. In fact, the Central American mothers who have long organized periodic missions to seek out their children who have gone missing after passing through Mexico en route to el Norte estimate that a full 70,000 migrants have gone missing in the country in the past three decades.

The fourth part of the Festival took place during New Year’s Eve at the EZLN’s Oventik caracol—appropriately given the name “Resistance and Rebellion for Humanity”—in the highlands of Chiapas, not far from San Cristóbal. Indeed, the year-end’s event at the caracol can in some sense be considered the climax of the Festival. At Oventik, Zapatistas from the five regional caracoles—La Realidad, La Garrucha, Roberto Barrios, and Morelia, besides Oventik—were present en masse, resting under large tarps to shield themselves from the rain. The thousands of Mexican and international guests who arrived that day were invited to camp in tents, or join the BAEZLN under the tarps if need be—such that, by midnight on 31 December, the Oventik campus had become a veritable tent-city! The size of those gathered at the caracol that night was seemingly even larger than the previous year, when the EZLN celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its 1 January 1994 insurrection. While the legacy of those twenty years (and the thirty since the EZLN’s founding) provided much of the impetus for reflection at last year’s celebration at Oventik, as reflected in Comandanta Hortensia’s speech that night, the case of the disappeared students from Ayotzinapa was the focus this time, with Subcomandante Moisés himself—now the effective “chief” of the EZLN, following Subcomandante Marcos’s “suicide,” as announced in “Between Light and Shadow,” a discourse that was presented before the CNI in La Realidad last May—dedicating a substantial proportion of his comments to the struggles of the students and their parents. In fact, before Sup Moisés’ address, two padres de familia spoke publicly before the multitude assembled at Oventik—one being a mother who believed that her son had in fact been murdered, and the other a father whom I had seen speak both at the Grand Cultural Festival, as at the protest-action on 26 December. The most moving moment of the night—and perhaps of the Anti-Capitalist Festival as a whole—came when Sup Moisés interrupted his discourse to embrace each and every family-member of the disappeared who was standing alongside him on stage. Subsequently, the BAEZLN present followed suit, providing hugs “of tenderness, respect, and admiration.”

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Zapatistas embracing relatives of the 43 disappeared students on New Year’s Eve at the Oventik caracol, following the example of Subcomandante Moisés (pictured at the microphone).

Much like the previous year, live music was performed from the Oventik stage before and after the “political act” which saw Sup Moisés and the padres de familia make their public addresses. This music included various cumbias that brought the BAEZLN and their sympathizers alike to fill the basketball court adjoining the central stage and dance to welcome the change in year. In fact, both the cumbias and dancing continued on through the night until shortly after dawn. In contrast to the case at year’s end 2013, the weather cooperated through most of the night this time, with the rains coming only around 3 or 4am. The next morning, for this reason, Oventik was a veritable mudscape. But that, taken together with the heavy fog which accompanied the mud (lodo, in Spanish, or che, in Tsotsil), did not stop the BAEZLN from continuing with their planned volleyball and basketball tournaments on the morning of 1 January.

The fifth and final act of the Festival took place at CIDECI-Unitierra in San Cristóbal de Las Casas from 2 to 3 January, as has been mentioned. The CIDECI-Unitierra has had a long history of supporting the Zapatistas and various other autonomist-indigenous political movements. (CIDECI itself stands for the Center for Integral Indigenous Education and Training.) Every Thursday evening, indeed, the space’s director, Dr. Raymundo Sánchez, hosts an international seminar for reflection and analysis of current events, considering local, national, and global matters. The second day of the conclusion at CIDECI, then, resembled a typical night at the Unitierra seminars, only taken to a much higher level—for, while the first day of the Festival’s conclusion at CIDECI summarized the three comparticiones that had taken place during the previous two weeks, the second was dedicated to consideration of popular proposals from below and to the left for confronting the hegemony of capital and State. This remarkable exercise in deliberative, participatory democracy was open to any and all registered participants, being adherents to the EZLN’s Sixth Declaration, who wished to share their views.

Though essentially all the proposals made by participants at the closure of the Festival shared a generally radical political analysis, the specific details varied in each case, and though I cannot review all the recommendations that were made, I will mention some of the most illuminating ones. One of the first speakers noted that capitalism is destroying the world, and it was for this reason that she had responded to the calls by the CNI and EZLN to attend the Festival: she posed the fundamental question, “How it is that we will destroy capitalism?” Another participant suggested that we work to report on the situation in Mexico and wherever else the plundering of land and resources is a pressing issue; arguing that we must struggle in the interests of future generations, she designated the State as enemy. A number of attendees separately called for a return to the traditional cultural and political forms of indigenous societies as a means of rejecting capital. Furthermore, a representative from a Mexican collective focusing on disability issues shared his view that disability per se is not a problem, as it is considered in the medical model, but rather that the hardships faced by people with disabilities have to do with social exclusion. Affirming the proposal that has been advanced by some of the padres de familia of the disappeared students, one individual person called on all Mexicans to boycott electoral politics, while another called for a new constituent power to intervene and form a new constitution, toward the end of instituting a “transitional government” in 2018—the very year, incidentally, in which the current Chiapas governor, Manuel Velasco Coello (el Güero), hopes to run and be elected president as the PRI candidate.1 A male in the crowd advocated that we all decolonize our minds specifically by identifying patriarchy as a principal enemy of the Sixth National and International, and engage in direct action against violence against women, which in Mexico is taking on epidemic proportions. Advocating the transcendence of national borders, a representative from CACITA Oaxaca announced a Caravana Mesoamericana para el Buen Vivir (a “Mesoamerican Caravan for Living Well”) that will launch its journey in April of this year—in many ways echoing the mission of the Caravana Climática por América Latina (“the Climate Caravan through Latin America”), which began its action-tour through Mesoamerica and Central and South America in northern Mexico a year ago, only to face repression at the hands of the “revolutionary socialist” government of Rafael Correa days before it had planned to arrive at the Twentieth Conference of Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with this destination having been the original end-goal sought by the caravaner@s.

Omar García then addressed those assembled at CIDECI, thanking the CNI and EZLN for their support and presenting the proposal that Mexican society be transformed through the participation of everyone from below. An indigenous Purépecha male followed by expressing his rejection of industrial agriculture, while a representative from UAM Xochimilco mentioned the new “Cooperative of 26 September” that will provide space for exchanging seeds. A university instructor openly advocated a general strike to demand the presentation with life of the 43 disappeared students, and another individual called for boycotts against those corporations that are engaged in the looting of the lands and resources of the peoples represented in the CNI. One young activist presented an especially compelling vision for dual power and transition, outlining a vision whereby the national territory is to be divided into a multiplicity of local assemblies that are to meet twice a month and thereafter coordinate through bimonthly regional assemblies and, less periodically, national ones; he identified the minimum objectives of such a strategy to be the reversal of the plundering of lands, the liberation of all political prisoners, and the cessation of femicides, with the ultimate end sought by such action being the very abolition of capital. Affirming vengeance for those massacred by the State, he provoked a general cry from the assembled: “Los compadres masacrados / Serán vengados / Y, ¿quién lo hará? / ¡El pueblo organizado!” (“Our massacred comrades / Will be avenged / But by whom? / By the people, organized.”) Lastly, a Colombian male called on the Sixth National and International to adopt veganism, considering the vast waste of resources implicated in animal agriculture at present, and especially in light of the inescapable suffering of non-human animals who are instrumentalized for the end of human consumption. Taking a page from the more traditionalist political accounts heard earlier, he argued that pre-Hispanic societies consumed far fewer animal products than Latin Americans do now, thanks to the imposition of Spanish dietary preferences through colonial processes.

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Banner of the Anti-Capitalist Festival at CIDECI, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, 3 January 2015.

In closing, the CNI agreed to organize further meetings between the padres de famila and its constituent communities, while the Sixth International pledged to assist in the organization of an international caravan for the parents of the disappeared. The general conclusion was that we must construct social relations outside of capital: autonomy in the countryside, as in the cities, and in the spheres of education, health, communication, politics, and nutrition. Addressing those who might have been disappointed by this conclusion, those assembled at CIDECI declared that “it is not a question of coming up with a grand program for national, global, and intergalactic struggle; […] there are no magical formulas that can change the world. The struggle cannot be reduced to one path, as we ourselves are not just one [but many].” In the official document produced in the final session at CIDECI, those present note rightly that “[i]t will only be through our rebellion and resistance that the death of capital will be born, and a new world brought to life for all.”

1José Gil Olmos e Isaín Mandujano, “Al estilo Peña Nieto, pero con madre vicegobernadora.” Proceso no. 1992 (4 January 2015), 16-19.

Noam Chomsky, “Who Owns the Earth?”

July 6, 2013

monkeywrench flag

From Truthout, 5 July 2013:

‘That the Earth now desperately needs defense from impending environmental catastrophe is surely obvious to any rational and literate person. The different reactions to the crisis are a most remarkable feature of current history.

At the forefront of the defense of nature are those often called “primitive”: members of indigenous and tribal groups, like the First Nations in Canada or the Aborigines in Australia – the remnants of peoples who have survived the imperial onslaught. At the forefront of the assault on nature are those who call themselves the most advanced and civilized: the richest and most powerful nations.

The struggle to defend the commons takes many forms. In microcosm, it is taking place right now in Turkey’s Taksim Square, where brave men and women are protecting one of the last remnants of the commons of Istanbul from the wrecking ball of commercialization and gentrification and autocratic rule that is destroying this ancient treasure.

The defenders of Taksim Square are at the forefront of a worldwide struggle to preserve the global commons from the ravages of that same wrecking ball – a struggle in which we must all take part, with dedication and resolve, if there is to be any hope for decent human survival in a world that has no borders. It is our common possession, to defend or to destroy.