Friday, January 18, 2019

More Green New Deal and Elections

A number of critical debates are taking shape in the Eco-Left community around strategy, around a Popular Front or Dual Power or Deep Green Resistance. Much of this revolves around the question of who gets to define The Green New Deal; progressives or radicals. This is a reply to those like Mc Kibben that cling to the dream of green prosperity in the hopes of attracting unions and "the masses":

"Some in the climate movement believe in the 100-percent dogma and the dream it holds out: that the (affluent) American way of life can keep running forward in time and outward in space without breaking stride. There are others who know that to be an impossibly rosy vision but urge the movement to limit public discussion to such green dreams, because talking about a regulated, low-energy economy would crush hope and enthusiasm at the grassroots."

The concern is that the masses aren't ready for a cultural shift towards limits, that is sounds too much like austerity. The other heated debate, brought on by Bernie and Alexandria Occasio Cortez (AOC)concerns the role of elections. Lots of smart people trying to get the camel through the eye of that needle:

From Mathew Andrews (SCNCC) : But I also think it is simplistic to throw out all electoral strategies under our current system exactly because independent voices are so excluded. This harsh exclusion is what makes independent challengers so radical."

What is mostly missing in so much of this analysis is the remorseless ticking of that climate clock. Each minute that passes, more bad shit gets locked in. This is a grim, but linear progression, still comprehensible. But what is harder to think through is that singular minute that passes by where you have locked in unstoppable, cascading, self-reinforcing effects (climate forcing), the point where your possibilities are foreclosed, where drinking becomes the only viable strategy. All these well-meaning leftists think there is still time to build this social movement from below, this mass revolutionary organization or this radical Labor Party that represents " working class" interests. How can that be?

This is how the EZLN expressed the dilemma on the 25th Anniversary of the War Against Oblivion:
"Alone we rose up to awake the people of Mexico and of the world, and today, 25 years later, we see that we are still alone. But we did try to tell them, compaƱeras and compaƱeros, you were witness to the many gatherings we held as we tried to wake others, to speak to the poor of Mexico in the city and in the countryside.

Many people did not listen. Some did and are organizing themselves—we hope they continue to organize themselves—but the majority did not listen."

They have tried dual power and electioneering. This is why we need to introduce one more critical element into any strategy, one that accelerates the process. Run for office if you wish, but with a platform that is guaranteed to lose. Demand the impossible if you expect to be heard at all. And then create the conditions of possibility, the conditions that would allow a break from this inertia.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Hate Me

From a speech by FDR in 1936 for the second New Deal:

"Give me your help not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people."

These words could be those of Ocasio-Cortez or any populist who believes capitalist democracy can be reformed in service of the majority. And of course, FDR showed that it could be...temporarily. He famously "welcomed the hate" of Big Business and its ideological allies and pushed through programs which made life better for workers and which we still enjoy. But Capital has played the long game.

Lately, a version of those words was spoken by arch-conservative Tucker Carlson. He sees Capital gouging a little too deeply, stirring up anger and resentment at both ends of the ideological spectrum. Like FDR, he hopes to maintain labor peace, make a few concessions and let some steam off. Another temporary fix remarkably close, ideologically, to Jon Stewart or liberals of that ilk. Of course, Tucker doesn't hear the climate clock tick. Liberals plug their own ears and pull the wool over their own eyes.

On a more radical front, a group calling itself Symbiosis is planning a conference to help unite libertarian ecosocialists on a program focused on local initiatives. Then there are the debates within The Great Transformation folks around de-growth and the role of markets. Over at SCNCC there is a fierce debate around the anarchist/ munincipalist critique of The State and how to "scale up".

Voting, building local co-ops, engaging in protest, in strikes, proposing legislation, supporting "blockadia"; basically Alinsky-style community organizing in general is the question of the day. It is universally accepted (even by Tucker Carlson)that this is how change happens,a basic orthodoxy ; at the level of tactics it is Nation Magazine versus Jacobin Magazine versus Anarchismo; but is it strategically correct? Or is it enough?

I claim community organizing is probably necessary but certainly not sufficient. That before a new script can be written the old one must be demolished in some fashion. You can talk and reason with people and get them to come to a meeting perhaps, but they will be carrying tons of baggage in the door. Bags and bags of ideological rubble which they are willing to carry as long as the illusion of order is maintained. The illusion of systemic coherence and function.

FDR could welcome the hate of capitalists because he effectively employed Americanism to serve his cause. The system was not functioning and had lost its coherence. Most of the bourgeoisie realized it was a long game and he was just saving capitalism from itself. And they had all the time in the world. Which we don't.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Porcupine Angel

In an interview with China Mieville, the subject of Klee's "Angelus" comes up again, with an interesting twist. He envisions:

the “porcupine angel,” a creature who takes shelter from the winds of history within the wreck of civilization itself.

CM: I mooted the “porcupine angel,” Angelus erethizon, as an exemplary figure chimera-ed from two travelers in the storm of history: Walter Benjamin’s back-blown angel, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s articulation of a Swampy Cree notion of the porcupine bracing itself in a crevice in the face of danger, “to speculate safely on an inhabitable future.” We are buffeted, but still we might brace, and bristle."

Mieville helps publish the magazine Salvage, along with Richard Seymour. He says the dystopia is already here. Because it matters which baseline you use- the Dark Ages? Mad Max? The 1950's America.

As for strategy moving forward, Michael Lowy ( who collaborated with Joel Kovel) tries to articulate "non-reformist reforms" but I remain skeptical. He writes:

"Without illusions about the prospects for a “clean capitalism,” the movement for deep change must try to reduce the risks to people and planet, while buying time to build support for a more fundamental shift."
Michael Lowy

Buying time? Interesting analogy,that. If we had 30 years I would buy in ( pun intended). I still contend the work is to create not a crack but a major faultline, a 10.0 quake that makes today's rubble look smooth. Everyone was getting ecstatic over Alexandria Cortez and her Green New Deal. Here is some of the language that is,how should we say, problematic?

"A Green New Deal creates signals that encourages private capital to move into these new and expanding markets, and new businesses will generate demand for more workers."

From the Data for Progress report lead author Greg Carlock. Of course Nancy Pelosi and the other Democrats are putting the young upstarts in their place ( Shocker!) and the "select committee" is not to be. Even this corporate ejaculation is too radical for these guardians of the status quo.

This we can call Annihilation by Attrition. To stall is to kill. Each day the sun comes up and the coal is mined and the oil pumped. Each evening the sun goes down and the Guardians have done their job and can rest easy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Kind Slave Master

Once upon a time in the Confederacy, a benevolent slave owner named Orrin noticed some of his property acting...restless. When I say benevolent I mean he recognized that a well-fed slave, one with decent housing and a mattress would be more productive. So Orrin went the extra mile to provide certain amenities, certainly more than his neighbor the Cruel Slave Master, who had a different business philosophy. This Cruel man starved his chattel and then whipped them to extract as much labor as possible before they perished. The Kind Slave Master thought this foolish in the extreme. Like leaving a perfectly good tool out in the rain.

Still, he was nervous about his slave's grumbling and the hard looks they would at times send his way. So he came up with a brilliant plan. He called them all together one Sunday after Church and announced that he had decided to let them vote! Not on everything, of course, but on minor decisions. For instance; whether to have grits or oatmeal for breakfast, when to plant the corn and cotton, or which mule to use for the day's plowing. He let them elect a representative who might visit the Big House on occasion. He even began to address the slaves as "associates" so they might feel invested in the operation.

All this accommodation was looked on as madness by the other slave owners but it proved itself to be a brilliant stroke of...well, you hate to use the word, but yes, genius. Where the other slave holders faced violent revolts, the Kind Slave Master found his property deciding to build a soccer field. Where cruel Slave Masters had to spend all their profit chasing runaways, the Kind Slave Master just threw in a Bingo Night! Where the cruel Slave Masters were slaughtered in their beds, the Kind Slave Master found his property arguing among themselves. They fought over who was corrupt, who was extracting a few more favors. They fought over their various identities, they fought over religious differences, they fought over Outsiders and Rights and morals and such. They argued over whether it was better to vote or to pray. ( Both equally effective, it turns out)

What they never argued about, however, was over who was the most cruel; the Slave master who treats his property poorly or the one who treats them nice.

Monday, December 17, 2018

More Rupture and Slime

"there needs to be a qualitative moment of rupture, to break with its treaties and the austerity measures, the privatization, the Semester process [European Commission checks on national budgets] they impose" Peter Merten, leader of the Belgian PTB Party (Marxist-Leninist)

Andreas Malm uses the term "induced implosion" and quotes Benjamin 'The destructive character has the consciousness of historical man, whose deepest emotion is an insuperable mistrust of the course of things and a readiness at all times to recognize that everything can go wrong...What exists he reduces to rubble- not for the sake of the rubble but for that of the way leading through it....It is Nature that dictates his tempo, indirectly at least, for he must forestall her. Otherwise she will take over the destruction herself."

The title of Malm's book; "The Progress of This Storm", refers to Benjamin's thesis around Angelus Novalis,and it is mostly a broadside aimed at Bruno Latour and other "Hybrid" philosophers (most I had never heard of). Instead he re-enforces the ecosocialist arguments put forth by Bellamy-Foster, Clark and York. My only knowledge of Latour comes from TRYING to read Timothy Morton and understand his OOO Object Oriented Ontology and I now feel better about my confusion.

Malm's text is far more accessible' "Devolution in ecosystems- say,'the rise of slime' in the oceans: the ascent of jellyfish and toxic algae, the descent of coral reefs and apex species- has a fitting counterpart in the current state of Western politics."

He quotes Donna Orange: "Blindness to our ancestor's (colonial) crimes, and the way we 'whites' continue to live from these crimes, keeps the suffering of those already exposed to the devestation of climate crisis impossible for us to see or feel".

Saturday, December 15, 2018


The contortions of organized labor when confronting climate change are difficult to watch. It was inevitable that the Grand Bargain they had entered with Capital, labor peace for middle class lifestyles, would unravel at some point. Globalization was that point. But the contradiction of industrial production ecological stability is putting the nail in the coffin. All these miners and drillers and refiners and auto workers and pipeline construction workers, the list goes on and on, must have seen the writing on the wall. So they turned a blind eye. A strategy which only gets you so far. Here is a report from COP 24 in Poland, a country dependent on coal fired energy:

"Just hours after Frick invokes 1980s Solidarity as a model for activism, the current Solidarity—whose union headquarters are just blocks from the conference center—releases a joint press release with the Heartland Institute, an American think tank dedicated to climate denialism. The release calls climate science an “international dogma of the United Nations” and affirms Solidarity’s commitment to protecting its workers and the coal they mine."

And of course we know how organized labor is reacting here in the US; totally schizophrenic. On the one hand the leadership is using the language of "just transition" to try to appease the extractors. But if you start to add up the jobs that are linked to the fossil economy you start to see the enormity of the problem. And the old question "which side are you on" takes on new meaning.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Street Fighting Man

The Yellow Vests, like Occupy, are yet another post-modern example of what Mark Fisher described as "ideological rubble" and the images coming out of Paris coincide perfectly with this descriptor. For several days none of the commentariat was willing to hazard an analysis; interviews of participants made clear it was mostly carnivalesque riot in the old French tradition, but because it ostensibly stemmed from a raise in gas taxes, a little political meaning could be attached. depending. Like Occupy, it is the perfect empty signifier, a revolt or rebellion based on wide-ranging grievances, lacking unified manifestos or spokesmen and any consensus is arrived post-event by pundits with their own cause to promote.

The leftist Edourd Louis sees a popular rather than populist formation, but what are these "popular classes" he sees,and does this "rural poor" display any more class-belonging than they do here in the US? Noting the instances of racist and homophobic speech, Louis claims it is "our responsibility to transform this language" into something emancipatory, but this is tricky business at best. It takes slogans and coalescing around demands. Those who still find hope in a vague "horizontalism" or the fact the yellow vests haven't been "hijacked" by established political parties could find the movement disappears as rapidly as it formed.

Less optimistic observers like Daniel Cohn-Bendit see a populist right revolt against "the political class", whatever that is. This would be in line with global trends of rising resentment and fear of the unknown. In either case, it is a movement against. Maybe the problem is the "1%", maybe it is migrants, maybe it is access to credit. Maybe it just feels good to smash something on the weekend, before going back to some bullshit job.

In any case, I can imagine the cops taking this as a practice run for when the real food riots break out. It is increasingly a shadowy line between order and breakdown and I wonder if the fact that in the US the "rural poor" are so well armed that it actually contains and subdues them in some strange, counter-intuitive way?