Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beneath the Pavement, the Beach

Three years after the 2005 riots in the suburbs of France post-Marxist sociologist, Slavoj Zizek, wrote that the rebellion was meaningless and without "any positive utopian vision."

Enter: a post-ideological era.

It's not that we no longer have ideologies, of course, but the dominating capitalist ideology has disguised itself so well that the ruling class can get away with unfounded impassés. We say "economy" instead of "capitalism"; we say "journalism" instead of "spectacle"; "community policing" instead of "racial profiling", etc.

Above all, what better proof is there of capitalism's triumph in the last three decades, Zizek asks, than the disappearance of the very term "capitalism"? Or perhaps the disappearance of an anti-capitalist narrative? And the disappearance of an "anti-social" narrative, where social unrest - especially 'violent' unrest - is "anti-social", and violent social stratification is ordinary.

"The fact that there was no program in the burning of Paris suburbs tells us that we inhabit a universe in which, though it celebrates itself as a society of choice, the only option available to the enforced democratic consensus is the explosion of (self-)destructive violence."

This is the most difficult task for us. To be able to explain why - what looks like "self-destructive violence" - is actually a tremendous breakthrough. There is a tendency, however, to see unplanned explosions of revolt as "without program". Zizek contrasts the suburb riots with May 1968's positive utopian vision in France. But it is true that even in 1968, the social rupture had no clear objectives most of the time either.

"The fact was that to anyone who asked rationally enough 'What do you want?' I had no answer," said a radical recalling the first Night of Barricades. "I couldn't say that I didn't even know who these comrades were, couldn't say that I was demonstrating for the sake of demonstrating."

In other words he couldn't say whether the outburst had any program, at least that he was aware of. The promise of a better world lying beneath the cobblestone street can seem like a surreal joke, once it failed to meet its objectives. Having expected nothing less than the overthrow of the dominant social order, the surreal then turned on itself.

Jacques Lacan was similarly pessimistic, though he and Foucault, too, befriended the '68 radicals - became themselves '68 radicals. Foucault threw the cobblestones at police from an occupied university building. Lacan's challenge to the spirit of '68 was this: "As revolutionaries, you are hysterics who demand a new master. You will get one."

That prediction came true. The Gaullist regime disappeared; postmodern times came after, and May '68 was not a revolution - at least not politically or economically. Now in the shadow of their failed expectation, we live in an age where revolt is supposedly not utopian, not positive, and is not articulated. We have a stronger master, and a more sophisticated super-structure.

A photograph from Greece this week:


Underneath the broken cobblestones there is still a beachhead, though for some the utopian vision seems a bit quaint. What is our program? It goes without saying that we want a world without presidents and prime ministers; we want worlds of our own constructed with directly democratic structures, not states. We start by breaking the spell. And then, piece by piece, regain control over our lives through cooperation.

We realize that surrealism is a success. - At least in the context of a world that has yet to be fundamentally transformed. We realize that for the most part we are playing this game, naturally, with our hands tied behind our backs.

An image from a Swedish newspaper:


Only in the context of a game where we are able to cooperate fully are we successful. The continuing delay of mass action devoted to cooperative activity, however, along with inadequacies in counter-culture, have reduced our vision to pitfalls, recuperations, and dead-ends.


Meanwhile there is a lot gossip about angry, raging youth. What do they want? We have seen tremendous increases in the amount of wealth accumulation, through trade, through the exploitation of Africa, etc. without any corresponding increase in the real possibilities of everyday life through deliberate forms of democracy. There is more stuff to fill the lives of Americans and Europeans, but less food elsewhere, and less democracy everywhere.

When tipped off, it results in outbursts without programs. We react cruelly against the cruel world we find ourselves stuck in, by burning down Christmas trees, by destroying police cars. Some riots may have lacked pretense to a particular kind of vision - one that requires privileged or experienced people to write communiques and press releases - but they still reflect the surrealist state of mind.

Underneath the police car, the pavement. And the beach? Not far away...

Monday, December 29, 2008

What happens in Athens...

... does not stay in Athens ...

And revolt is everywhere, even close to home.




A Greek interviewed with Crimethinc said that some of their best direct and indirect organizing methods included indymedia and word-of-mouth. Even though the aim of the media has been to downplay insurrection, indeed, to suppress it by all sophisticated means available, it has not succeeded. Even the most tolerant of the bourgeois media such as the BBC sees its role as protective. And while some resort to name-calling, others have adopted a policy of 'no coverage'.

Curiously, the Greek National Council of Radio and Television announced during the first week of the Greek uprising that its media networks needed to:

"avoid viewing scenes of extreme violence and incidents in a way that can be interpreted as an encouraging demonstration of extreme antisocial behavior."

It goes without saying the death of the author was somehow overlooked, and now they're just being obnoxious. Anti-social behavior, such as striving towards a non-hierarchical society, will not be televised. "... Journalism is not simply a matter of switching on the cameras and letting them roll. You have to think about what you're broadcasting," said Jean-Claude Dassier from the LCI news service in France - one of France's largest TV news networks. He said during the Autumn 2005 riots in France's suburbs that LCI would not "fan the flames of violence" by broadcasting the images. So they fanned the flames of obedience and viewed nothing.




That is not a novel idea, to encourage obedience, nor one that comes only from the newscasters. A document from France's Parliamentary Assembly called Riots in European Cities: lessons and the Council of Europe response echoes the same "concern". The assembly reported it needed to research the alleged link between media coverage and riots,

"...with a particular focus on the long-term consequences of limited or recurrent coverage of violent riots in the media and in some countries the no coverage as a policy of government."

The French Parliamentary Assembly admits that no coverage could lead to further human rights abuses in some places. But it seems open to the possibility of pursuing the policy in liberal democratic regimes.

In light of this tendency, the revolution will be blogged.
During the revolution, you will be put in the driver's seat. Don't hate the media - be the media.


[Edmund] Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.

- Thomas Carlyle, the Hero as Man of Letters

Friday, December 26, 2008

...Said the shotgun to the head

... the name of a poem by Saul Williams, but also, a real life story.


The Nation Institute recently uncovered some brutal new stories of an older news topic: the hidden race war during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath in New Orleans, when white residents fearing black looters formed citizens' militias that systematically targeted black residents.

In one neighborhood, Algiers Point - a small, white neighborhood surrounded by a black residential area - became an explosive environment. Whites rounded up shotguns, pistols, and rifles, and prowled the neighborhood for "niggers" who looked out of place. Black residents were murdered in the street, after which the white residents stretched the bodies out on the sidewalks to scare away "looters". One vigilante described, "in this neighborhood we take care of our own." According to a government aid group, by 2006 about 2,300 people had still not found after Hurricane Katrina, 3/4 of whom were black. The Nation says probably 11 people were murdered by the Algiers Point militia.

The Algiers Point militia was praised during the time period. Once the National Guard arrived, there was a flag-waving celebration, the murders forgotten, and the motivations never investigated. The article details the accounts of black residents who searched for drop-off and evacuation points and were harassed by the armed gunmen. Some were told to run, and then shot at - regardless of whether they lived in Algiers or not.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My subverts are better than your adverts

This is a story of capitalist recuperation. It begins with Saul William's song List of Demands.





Saul Williams is a spoken-word poet and hip hop activist. In List of Demands he attacks conspicuous consumption. Written in the voice of "the impoverished and oppressed," including the "factory worker," Williams said in an interview with Morphizm that the last thing the song reinforces is hyperconsumption. He wants his money back because he's drowning in McDonald's fatty burgers; he is compelled to stand; he has a better plan.

But it doesn't matter how you attack it, the commercial enterprise will figure out a way to recuperate its opposition and sell it back to you in a different package. It has perfected the art of recuperation.


a brief description of recuperation


The situationists - who were the first artists to notice what what most revolutionaries had yet to realize - articulated the importance of fighting the bourgeoisie on cultural, as well as economic and political fronts. They articulated recuperation, gave it definition, put it in context. During their heyday in the 50s and 60s the situationist-organized 'art strikes' had intensified class struggle and demoralized the capitalist spectacle to some extent.

What is the spectacle? It's everything - humor, advertising, television, and so forth - comprising today's "spectacular level of commodity consumption and hype," as Kalle Lasn wrote in Culture Jam. And to show how deep the spectacle's recuperation has penetrated social life, successors of situationist theory have been absorbed into the spectacle they fought against. Having become marketing experts, advertising consultants, and advanced campaign managers, many of the culture jammers are now the prizes and trophies of capitalist domination.

Not just an ancillary source for marketing gurus, radicalism and rebellion are the dialectical anti-thesis of capitalism and thus the perfect synthesis for "post-ideological", late capitalist domination. This Jack in the Box advertisement that I photographed is a perfect example.




(Someone I shared this ridiculous image with has since added their own recuperation to it. After vectorizing, it was underlined with pro-consumption slogans, "Submit, Conform, Consume", to emphasize the overtness of fastfood recuperation. To learn how this works download the zine How to Make Adverts Better.)



In the recent book Coming of Age at the End of History, an embittered Generation Y activist, Camille de Toledo, narrates the story of how commercial experts came to treat situationist texts themselves as troves of treasure and information which helped them understand cultural products and how to improve the commodification of counter-culture. Now 30-ish, de Toledo is unsurprisingly cynical toward this historical moment where we are all being continuously recuperated. "All that remains of the spirit of revolt are annoying slogans."

In a German film about aged-anarchists, Was tun, wenn's brent?, one of the characters is a former activist who runs an advertising agency that exploits anti-capitalist and radical iconography. It is not just radical imagery that can be recuperated, it's the radicals themselves. In this film the former radicals have to become radical again, in fact, in order to save their bourgeois social status. In so doing, they relive the experiences they had as radicals.

On Guy Debord's own account, the SI was already actually recuperated by 1972, when too many elements of its work had been co-opted against itself. McKenzie Wark details this phenomenon in 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International, where she wrote, "Having invaded the spectacle,

... the spectacle invaded it in return. It was no longer a secret enemy of spectacular society, but a known one. Its theory became ideology, mere contemplation. Contemplation of the Situationist International is merely a supplemental alienation of alienated society."


back to the List of Demands...


...you know what had to happen. Given all that led up to this blog post, of course, it was bound to happen: it wasn't long before some corporation figured out a way to use Saul William's anti-capitalist art to reinforce capitalism itself. In this case, the shoe manufacturer Nike was quick to use the List of Demands song - a chart-topping single in 2007 - in an advertising campaign called "better than your better". Have a look:








After two successful commercials the advertising team added a third, using the List of Demands lyrics instead of the previous bullshit. List of Demands is now inseparable from the sporty image that Nike bestowed upon it through popular consumption.

I was curious so see what Saul Williams thought about this, whether he gave Nike permission, or whether they simply used it. So I searched and found that Nike obtained the rights to use it from the record label. Williams welcomed Nike's use of it. In the Morphizm interview he remarked that,

"My intention remains for these songs to be heard by as many as possible. They are the virus that I wish to spread. I’ve infected Nike and all within their reach with a song that raises awareness as well as fists. It is indeed written in the voice of the impoverished and oppressed, which includes the factory worker. They know its their song when they hear it. The last thing it does is make someone want to go buy sneakers, but it may encourage someone to hit their boss over the head with a tennis racket. So be it."

As a 'public pedagogy', using capitalism as a vehicle does not seem to have succeeded. Williams essentially claims that Nike's bold move to use his List of Demands to advertise the opposite of what he is demanding puts Nike at risk of being recuperated by radicalism. It risks détournement, which is when commercial iconography becomes subverted. Détournement as a way of "infecting" the world with his anti-capitalist message, he says, could work.

Through détournement, radicalism creates moments of what Julia Kristeva in Word, Dialogue and Novel called the "carnivalesque" enacted to fight against the spectacle of everyday life. The carnival, according to Mikhail Bakhtin in Rabeilas and His World, is created using folk humor positioned outside the officially sanctioned culture of those in power. According to Williams, his song is an entirely different order of détournement. But it is the same logic use to détourne the Jack in the Box advertisement.

This is the logic:

  1. It was positioned, from the beginning, outside the spectacle.
  2. Now it is inside because of recuperation.
  3. The song is so powerful that it will pull what is inside back outside with it.

This is hard to believe. Nike has framed the List of Demands so firmly in consumer iconography that it's impossible to imagine that this could be realistic.

Artists seem to think the commercialization of art is the best way to reach a wider audience. Anarchist punk band Anti-Flag aggravated fans by signing with major record label, Sony BMG, for example. The music giants have a new strategy. They want to maintain the "authenticity" of their recuperated artists by encouraging independent work. Meanwhile the innovations are used for commercial purposes. KRS-ONE explains in an interview with Digital Journal that,

Today, artists like myself or Chuck D or Talib Kweli hold a degree of credibility that’s attracting companies like Red Bull, Cadillac, or Nike. Executives at these companies are our fans. And they are really sick of the state of music. So what they’ve done is spend $250,000 of their own money, in the case of Nike, to create a song with Kanye West, Nas, Rakim, and KRS ONE. We don’t rap about the shoes because they don’t want us talking about that. They just want us to create a song they can play on their website. Authenticity is the new business model and these companies need a product that’s not destroyed by an artist's shady image.

There is something else that easily results from this business model too, which destroys radicalism from two directions at once. Corporations directly use recuperation in order to sell ordinary consumer products; they indirectly use recuperation to sell consumer products that imitate radical lifestyles, resulting in hipsterism.


I don't want to end on a depressing note because while recuperation can be a source of anxiety, others take it as an acknowledgment that radical creativity threatens bourgeois production. I'd like to know what other people think about this.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Capitalism Hits the Fan - Richard Wolff's look at the collapse




JCD posted this video, but I found a less grainy version of it. This is Richard Wolff, economist at UMass Amherst.

In Understanding Marx, a book by a another Marxian professor at Amherst, Robert Wolff, says that the economics faculty at Amherst are the finest of American radical and Marxian theorists...

"... the entire university is virtually unique in this country as a center of serious radical thought."

One way to study Marx is to learn linear algebra and differential calculus, he notes. In Understanding Marx Robert Wolff offers a less formulaic and more of an annotated walkthrough of Das Kapital. Here is a good excerpt from his chapter on Marx's theory of natural price, something JCD is discussing over on his blog.

"The truth, Marx asserted, is this: profit, ground rent, and interest, all originate as surplus value extracted from workers in the process of production. The total amount of surplus value generated in the eocnomy as a whole in a single cycle of production is deteremined by the difference between the number of hours of labor performed by the wage laborers and the number of hours of socially necessary labor directly or indirectly required to reproduce the work force (to feed, clothe, and house them and their families) for another time period. Competition moves capital around in search of the highest rate of return on the total money value of invested capital, with the result that natural prices in general deviate from labor values."


After that, a slew of managerial types - the bankers, landowners, retail merchants, and financiers, etc. - appropriate another chunk of the total surplus value generated by workers in the form of rent, profits, and interest. I think this is the point Richard Wolff is getting at in this video above when he talks about the American working class. More financial tools were created in this "bonanza" of capital accumulation and worker exploitation. These tools and tricks made it easier for Americans to take debt out on everything. But their wages, flat. So the overworked American takes on more debt to finance real wage stagnation, and then eventually a bubble came out of this. And we know, of course now, that the bubble is bursting.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Notes on the undercovers

They look like your mom. They look like your older brother. They even cry when you doubt that they're really friends with you, and say they'll stick up for you.

Who are they? The undercover fuzz.

The Campus Anti-War Network has just exposed an informant named Jason Mumford who was informing the FBI about numerous individuals involved in the Wild Rose Rebellion group and University Of Iowa Anti-War Committee. (I would tell you that this information came from a facebook message but then I'd have to kill you, you see.)

Here's a video of him infiltrating his own rally:




Sometimes I wonder just how many people actually work for the FBI. It looks like in 2004 the FBI had 28,576 total employees, which was before a 2004 executive order created even more employment for the FBI and doubled the number of CIA employees. Needless to say, the number of FBI or CIA employees does not include the number of informants. You can be an informant who does not actually work for the FBI or CIA, and can still be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to ruin other peoples' lives.

I think this confirms that during the RNC the FBI was using technology that "would allow them to locate an individual through their cell phone." The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is one of the organizations mentioned in previous link, which means police had been using satellite photos to track people during and probably before the convention. NORTHCOM, a domestic military chain-of-command created after September 11th for Homeland Security, was involved in the security planning and operations as well. Originally NORTHCOM was given a limited role in civilian law enforcement after 9/11 - limited, that is, by posse comitatus. Now as you probably know, they're set to patrol the streets and aid local law enforcements.

An article titled 'Anarchist looked like someone's mom' in the Minneapolis Star Tribune is worth reading. It's about FBI informants who cry, pout, turn on each other, look like moms and nieces, show up for more potlucks than you do, and then eventually, rat you out without any evidence. Here is an excerpt.

Nathanael Secor, one of the RNC Eight, said "a level of comradeship" developed between activists and the operatives and it was disappointing to learn they were spies. Still, he says, "We had the feeling we were under surveillance from the beginning. It did not come as a complete shock."

...

At one meeting of various groups, "somebody made a joke that based on looks, he's the one who looks like a cop," Plotz said. "He kind of smiled and didn't say anything."

At a meeting where Hedstrom was the facilitator, a kind of chairperson, an anarchist expressed concern that he was a cop, a report said. Dugger "became emotional and told them how bad he felt, he wiped his eyes and blew his nose." He denied he was an informer.

The memo said two anarchists told him they "don't think he is a cop. They said a cop would have just walked away and never returned and wouldn't cry."

Dugger even got into the act. By August he was urging an anarchist to suspect another anarchist of being an informer.

In the reports, the anarchists talk with bravado, with occasional references to breaking windows and damaging vehicles. They told each other it was not violence, since they had no plans to injure people.

Many meetings involved no talk of property damage, or even protests. They dealt with tasks like finding places to stay. The local anarchist core was small, and the reports offer a glimpse into strains --and even gripes -- among them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Up against the wall motherfuckers! We've come for what is ours...

Students occupying the Polytechnic University in Athens may not be in classes but are writing manifestos, press releases and stories about where Greece might be going. Solidarity actions have been initiated in Europe and the Americas. The students at the Polytechnic have called out for European and global-wide actions of resistance on December 20th in the memory of all assassinated youth, migrants and all those who were struggling against the lackeys of the state.

Students in France are also protesting a conservative education reform plan announced by Sarkozy this week. From the government's perspective, now was not the best time to reveal to students that bailing out the banking system meant 'balancing' the education budget. So French politicians were concerned that the Greek riots would spread elsewhere. Well, too late.




Occupied London has been translating the Greek texts into English, German, French, and also Turkish, Spanish, and Italian for widespread dissemination. Up against the wall motherfuckers! We've come for what is ours... is the title of one - it gets its name from the radical New York anarchist and artist affinity group (they were the first to use the phrase "affinity group") from the heyday of Ben Morea and Dan Georgakas, who were known as Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers!

This communique or manifesto from the Polytechnic is on OccupiedLondon.org/blog. Here are some excerpts.


In these days of rage, spectacle as a power-relation, as a relation that imprints memory onto objects and bodies, is faced with a diffuse counter-power which deterritorialises impressions allowing them to wonder away from the tyranny of the image and into the field of the senses. Senses are always felt antagonistically (they are always acted against something) – but under the current conditions they are driven towards an increasingly acute and radical polarisation.


But these Days of Rage are certainly more exciting, and waking thousands of people from the 'imprinted memories', and bringing them toward a more antagonistic attitude - than the original Days of Rage in Chicago, which was actually just four days and only 200 people showed up. A poll in Greece "confirms" this is a wide cross-section of society who are involved in the general strike, the sit-downs and the blockades. But the media still does not have a clue. iReporters on CNN know absolutely nothing about the situation. They found an American named John to tell CNN watchers what is happening in Greece, how insightful. (I think he just wants a job with CNN). Anyways, the phrase "deterritoralisation" comes from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guttari.


...The history of the legal order and the bourgeois class brainwashes us with an image of gradual and stable progress of humanity within which violence stands as a sorry exception stemming from the economically, emotionally and culturally underdeveloped. Yet all of us who have been crushed between school desks, behind offices, in factories, know only too well that history is nothing but a succession of bestial acts installed upon a morbid system of rules. The cardinals of normality weep for the law that was violated from the bullet of the pig Korkoneas (the killer cop). But who doesn’t know that the force of the law is merely the force of the powerful? That it is law itself that allows for violence to be exercised on violence? The law is void from end to bitter end; it contains no meaning, no target other than the coded power of imposition.

This interpretation of the law as power dynamics is like what critical legal studies theorists have argued, but the point is driven more forcefully here. But this has always been a powerful critique, one that the advocates of the corrupted jurisprudence theories never adequately take on.


...The global capitalist crisis has denied the bosses their most dynamic, most extorting response to the insurrection: “We offer you everything, for ever, while all they can offer is an uncertain present”. With one firm collapsing after the other, capitalism and its state are no longer in a position to offer anything other than worse days to come, tightened financial conditions, sacks, suspension of pensions, welfare cuts, crush of free education. Contrarily, in just seven days, the insurgents have proved in practice what they can do: to turn the city into a battlefield, to create enclaves of communes across the urban fabric, to abandon individuality and their pathetic security, seeking the composition of their collective power and the total destruction of this murderous system.

At this historical conjuncture of crisis, rage and the dismissal of institutions at which we finally stand, the only thing that can convert the systemic deregulation into a social revolution is the total rejection of work. When street fighting will be taking place in streets dark from the strike of the Electricity Company; when clashes will be taking place amidst tons of uncollected rubbish, when trolley-buses will be closing streets, blocking off the cops, when the striking teacher will be lighting up his revolted pupil’s molotov cocktail, then we will be finally able to say: “Ruffians, the days of your society are numbered; we weighted its joys and its justices and we found them all too short”. This, today, is no longer a mere fantasy but a concrete ability in everyone’s hand: the ability to act concretely on the concrete. The ability to charge the skies.


Amazing!

One of my friends and I were talking about "manifestos" a few weeks ago, and she remarked that when a set of ideas has reached a point where a group decides it can be embodied into 'a manifesto', it implies that many things before it had been leading up to that point. She has a dialetical theory about how ideas get embodied into manifesto. It certainly seems true now. All of the post-modern theory I have read is somewhat depressing when you wake up from the spectacle-as-commodity fairy tale and realize what it means. But is it culminating to something? Will it be a positive culmination? Is Greece the start of something new? These are questions I am grappling with now.


If all of these, namely the extension of the conflict into the sphere of production-circulation, with sabotages and wild strikes seem premature, it might just be because we haven’t quite realised how fast does power decomposes, how fast confrontational practices and counter-power forms of organising are socially diffused: from high school students pelting police stations with stones, to municipal employees and neighbours occupying town halls. The revolution does not take place with prayers towards and piety for historical conditions. It occurs by seizing whatever opportunity of insurrection in every aspect of the social; by transforming every reluctant gesture of condemnation of the cops into a definite strike to the foundations of this system.

Off the pigs!



"Off this pigs" was a Black Panther Party slogan, and the name of that communique actually comes from a poem called "Black People" by Amiri Baraka, and the poem was used against him in trial. The poem itself was - the white jury said - enough to incite riots in Newark, because you know, free speech "contains no meaning, no target other than the coded power of imposition," in the words of the Polytechnic students. Baraka's original poem goes:

You can't steal nothing from a white man, he's already stole it he owes you everything you want, even his life. All the stores will open if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall motherfucker! this is a stick up... We must make our own world, man, our own world, and we can not do this unless the white man is dead. Let's get together and kill him my man.


UATWMF also took part in the 1969 student sit-in at Columbia University, where members of the black community and radical university students barricaded Columbia, holed themselves in, and outfoxed the police when they tried to invade. Their goal was to prevent the university's gentrification of New York and the IDF's military weapons programs which was complicit with the Vietnam occupation, but it grew into something bigger. This photo is a screenshot from the student-made documentary film Columbia Revolt (part 1, part 2).


Thanks to Occupied London for translating these invaluable texts.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Athens: We are the Image of the Future

The anarchist movement in Greece is world-renowned, especially now. Anarchist neighborhoods throughout Europe - such as Copenhagen's Christiania neighborhood or Athen's Exarcheia district - have battled with governments to maintain autonomy. Each time agents of government suppression target the neighborhoods, the anarchists strike back. But this time, all over the world.

The bullets that killed Athenian boy Alexis Grigoropoulos this week "may have hit one person, but it was meant for us all," a German anarchist banner read early in the week. The "birthplace of democracy," some people are saying, "has descended into anarchy."



Exharcheia in the 1970s



Greek politicians - from military colonels to business leaders - since the 1970s have
denounced Greek rebels as "anarchists," "nihilists" and, in classic Greek disparagement, "barbarians" with no aim whatsoever. The same mantra again this week. But Greece, often considered the birthplace of democracy, is also the site of an ongoing struggle against fascism. The fascists who lost power in the 1970s did not disappear - they simply work behind the scenes. Today's political structure in Greece - "Athenian democracy" for whatever it is worth - owes itself to an anarchist and student movement which organized in the 1970s against a US-backed military regime.

History:



In the early 1970s students barricaded the National Technical University in Athens, law students used radio transmitters to broadcast anti-state communiques, and workers throughout Greece joined the General Strike. The city was in revolt and people gathered around radios to hear students broadcast from the occupied university, "This is the Polytechnic! People of Greece, the Polytechnic bears the standard of our struggle and your struggle, our common struggle against dictatorship and for democracy!"


The military, furious, crashed through the University's barricades with tanks, then beat and killed students and workers near Exarcheia and the campus premises. The military regime was eventually overthrown, in large part due to the student-worker organizing from the campus. Since then Greek campuses were deemed off-limits to government police and military. It is illegal for police to be on campuses.


The Greek anarchists who shouted "This is our life!" just before Army tanks and paratroopers stormed their campuses in 1973, as shown in these pictures, is burned into the memories of many survivors.

What did it take to topple this regime?
It was the anarchists, students, and workers who toppled this regime.


Yesterday and Today



But much of what was reported then sounds like what is happening today, and the media is constantly dismissing the youth as hackneyed, easily-angered, aimless etc. Even the BBC wants things to return to normal:

"In Athens, too, shopkeepers are fed-up... there must be something in their head."

But what is in their head - who dares to ask?

While some Greeks may be confused about how this situation exploded out of thin air, the media is telling them which side of the barricades they should be on.
They complain that students are "exploiting a legal loophole" to occupy university campuses where police cannot go. What does that mean: People are "exploiting"? the fact some places where the state cannot go exist. Aren't the police exploiting a legal loophole which allows them to be everywhere else?



Consciousness is Born in the Streets



It isn't only who the media calls "self-styled anarchists" getting rowdy this entire week. Workers began an Athenian General Strike early on, and the Association of Employees in the suburb of Agios Dimitrios released a statement urging all Greeks to take to the streets, saying profoundly, "Don't watch the news, consciousness is born in the streets!" and "We are in Civil War: with the fascists, the bankers, the state, the media wishing to see an obedient society."

Comparing reports from Greek media via the New York Times in the 1970s to 2008, three artifacts stand out in similarity.

  1. Tens of millions of dollars in property damage caused by rebels;
  2. Police shot and killed people in the street;
  3. The government essentially took control of the media and gave the impression that anarchists were a "minority" fueled by "the communists". (This was a US-backed regime, by the way, so anarchists had to be controlled ultimately by communists. Today, of course, anarchism has to be controlled by hormones and nothing else.)

For example:

NYTimes abstract archive, April 28th, 1972:

"400 Greek physics students, in open defiance of martial law in Greece, stage silent march from campus at Goudi to main univ bldg in Athens in protest against discrimination in examinations procedures; police attempt to disperse illegal march half-way, but students persevere, advancing in small groups; police forces step in at univ, forcing marchers to flee."

NYTimes abstract archive, November 18th, 1973:

"[President Papadopoulos] asserts that he tried to lead nation toward normality, but that 'anarchist elements, aiming at overthrow of all lawful order and exploiting naivete of unrealistic people as well as self-interest of politicians,' have created dangerously explosive situation; declares his determination to take all appropriate measures for consolidation of law and order; decries Greek politicians for siding with 'subversive demonstrations of nihilistic minority'; invites politicians to recant and think of their responsibilities to nation"

NYTimes abstract archive, November 25th, 1973:

"mil judiciary is carrying out thorough investigation of events that led to student-worker riots; asserts that police estimates of damage caused to private and public property during riots are in 'tens of millions of dollars'; [the secretary of information] says he does not know when martial law will be lifted."

NYTimes abstract archive, December 12th, 1973:

"Greece's mil police asserts on Dec 11 that former politicians instigated Nov student revolt but then lost control to anarchists who attempted to seize power"


Apology



After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Western bloc - specifically Britain and the U.S. - admitted that it had puffed up the military regime in Greece, which bloodily suppressed the student movement. Bill Clinton gave an apology for this in 1999. He said in Athens,

"When the junta took over in 1967 here, the United States allowed its interests in prosecuting the cold war to prevail over its interest -- I should say its obligation -- to support democracy, which was, after all, the cause for which we fought the cold war. It is important that we acknowledge that."

Each year there is a commemoration on November 17th to honor the rebellion. Athenian students and anarchists - even some politicians - pay their respect to the Polytechneio students killed in struggles mainly from the 1940s through the 1970s, but also to remember recent struggles. A march that begins every year at the Polytechnic university ends at the United States embassy compound, where the people shout anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist slogans. This picture is from 2008:



There is an old saying. Winston Churchill said "History is written by victors". The revolutionaries who successfully ousted a dictatorship in the 1970s are, because victorious, celebrated in Greek society. They faced a spectacle powerful enough to control the soldiers and the police, but the people revolted. Today that spectacle is even more powerful.



Murder in Exarchia



When state police entered the anarchist district of Exarchia looking to murder some anarchists earlier this week, it was as if the shots were "heard 'round the world". This brought loosely-connected anarchist groups in dozens of cities beyond the Aegean out into the streets.

Here is what happened.

Witnesses shown on this Greek news channel several days later said the police had walked down a street in Exarcheia with their guns drawn. A translation is available here. The police cussed at some young people, telling them to "Come here punks, come and settle this." When some kids approached, "Suddenly, without any other intervention, the patrol car abruptly departs and some time later the officers return. They stood in front of the kids and gunshots were heard. One of the kids, fell." They fired three shots to make sure they hit him, since they missed at first. Someone shouted that he was wounded, but "The police turned their backs, as if nothing had happened, and left."

"They will get away with impunity in the courts," echoed anarchists around the world, "but not on our streets."

If this murder was by "by accident" as the police said then I find excerpts from the murderer's 11-page testimony extremely contradictory. The testimony builds a case against Grigoropoulos' personal and moral character. It is a moral justification for his murder. They condemn Grigoropoulos and provide information on his family background, his education, and his friends. They say he was a corrupted youth.

"Justice is", according to Thrasymachus, Socrates' interlocutor in The Republic, "nothing other than the advantage of the stronger."

The defense lawyer for the police - whose office was burned down after this testimony - stated, "It is now only up to the Greek justice to decide whether the youth was justly killed, or not."
Juridical tactics in Greece have not changed much since Socrates - who was tried and executed for "corrupting the youth of Athens".



In this picture you can see Greek police firing live ammunition at people in the street this week.

The photographer who snapped this picture for
Eleutheros Typos and the Associated Press, Kostas Tsironis, was also fired from Eleutheros Typos for publishing it. The original site (in Greek) where I found that information is here, and a blogger on this site has translated it.

Firing photographers in a time like this is "police news management". In a democracy, you see, the police don't have to actually be looking over your shoulder during rebellion because even moderate sympathizers and the media will police themselves and each other. The obedient society will also look the other way as police collude with fascists.

Neo-nazis and "far right supporters" have disguised themselves as anarchists in order to get amongst them and stab people with knives this week. Most seem to be members of the neonazi group Golden Dawn, a group which kidnaps and murders migrants. Some protesters have been stabbed in Patras, Athens and elsewhere as detailed on Athens Indymedia. Yahoo! News apparently gathered some photos from the wire, but does not provide any further insight.


One student says a mysterious "shadow" state is working with police blessings.

These unreported provocateurs, instructed by police, also destroy small shops in Exarcheia and Patras, blaming it on the students and anarchists. But those people in red and black have targeted only banks and large corporations. Members of Golden Dawn were also encouraged to go ahead and stab demonstrators, many of whom are high school students.

In Patras, before demonstrators had thought about erecting barricades, members of Golden Dawn in collaboration with the police threw rocks and chased people through streets with clubs. "For this reason," says a Patras student in this account, "rudimentary barricades were put together in the streets around the University of Patras". Then: "the neonazis were running with clubs & knives towards the demonstrators." People ran away in terror. The Greek media is calling the neonazi group "infuriated citizens," (implying that the citizenry has sided against demonstrators.)

Another account says that Golden Dawn and the police were "perfectly coordinated", and that the media has also called the neonazis "local business owners" who are "taking the law into their own hands". In the picture below (via Athens Indymedia) the man holding the blue flag is alleged to be a member of Golden Dawn, and minutes later he enters a crowd of Athenians to stab people.




We are the image of the future



In just one night "normality" can die in any society.

Greece is filled with fire. Some are saying that democracy is merely an easier way to lie to people, to give them false representation. "Democracy died because it was built on the backs of slaves. In the country in which democracy was born, a grand apology and solution is being given to the world it poisoned."

If normality dies in other societies around the world, will the shadows take over under the banner of patriotism as they have in Greece?
Can't fascism be disguised and rationalized? Who is the shadow? Who can you trust?

Students, future engineers, future doctors, are Greece's future. But they do not want the same future as the rest of Europe; their vision is for a better world. Now Exarcheia is barricaded, streets are barricaded, some 15 universities are barricaded. Athenian hearts, as well as over seventy police stations, burning...

A wall in Athens reads, "We are the image of the future".


The International Anarchist Conspiracy, communique #5:


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Comment on "Anarchy" in Somalia

Somalia is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. While international eyes scorn the recent hijackings of over 40 shipping vessels off Somalia's coast and berate the perceived "lawlessness" of the pirates who hold them for millions of dollars ransom, the pirates have accused European multi-national corporations (specifically, Swiss and Italian) of dumping toxic waste (radioactive uranium, lead, cadmium, and mercury) off the coast of Somalia.

One pirate crew is demanding $8 million for a Ukranian ship which was hijacked while moving tanks to fractious Sudan and claims the money will go towards toxic clean-up. Other ships, like the Sirius Star - a tanker carrying 2 million barrels of Saudi crude oil - are being held for over $30 million ransom.


"The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas."

- Somali Pirate

When the 2004 tsunami hit Indonesia, it washed up toxic materials onto the shores of Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia where some of the hijackers live, exposing decades of cheap and out-of-sight dumping that took place in the Horn of Africa since the 1980s. The people of Puntland have radiation sickness now. They report skin infections, abdominal bleeding, and strange bleedings at the mouth. Animals, fish and livestock have also become sick and died. And with such an untidy brew of chemicals in the sea this may only be the beginning of a long and drawn-out health crisis. Nick Nuttall, a United Nations Environmental Program spokesperson, reiterated the pirates' point, adding that

"There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it."

- Nick Nuttall, UNEP

This all came to light by 2005 at the latest, and no one took action against it. A UN report was prepared and buried under dozens of other UN reports chronicling the devastation of humanity.

On the one hand we have a bunch of starving people with guns. And on the other, you have very wealthy people without guns going right past them on big boats. Any system tends to equilibrium, and so, before too long, a balance was struck whereby the hungry people got something to eat, while the wealthy people got the guns pointed in their faces.

But "the last thing the world needs right now," says the Economist Magazine, "is disruption of one of its busiest shipping lanes and a spike in insurance premiums." You can see more double-dealings with Africa glossed over elsewhere in the mainstream press. Some are saying this is the most booty ever captured by pirates anywhere at any time in history. It's worth pointing out, however, that the Sirius Star is carrying only about a quarter of the daily output of Saudi oil. Either the world business community can continue to view the disruption as an "outrageous" act of opportunistic thievery, or it can view the disruption as the price they must pay for years of negative externalities.

What else? Blood money and weapons sent by the CIA to finance secular Somali clans empowered "the same Islamic groups it was intended to marginalize" since the 1990s. And because the American chain-of-command is so impervious to criticism, when a US State Department official, Michael Zorzick, criticized the CIA-backed warlordism in Somalia, he was transferred to Chad from his post in Mogadishu. Arms, military matériel and financial support continue to "flow like a river to these various actors," according to a UN Security Council report in 2006. Even as the CIA is secretly encouraging carnage all over the country, armed American, British, Ethiopian, and Eritrean forces (as well as private security contractors) have been very openly blasting Somali fishing villages to pieces in their search for shadowy bin Ladens.

The recent leak of the Al Qaeda Network Exord stated that US forces had long been operating "frequently" in 15 to 20 countries without Congressional approval, and against ineffective UN rulings. One of those 15 to 20 countries had been Somalia. The New York Times wrote that "members of a classified unit called Task Force 88 crossed repeatedly into Somalia to hunt senior members of al Qaeda". Firing missiles into villages from remote locations, as the Times article states, American forces just "occasionally" dropped in to assess air strike results.

Curiously, the mainstream media conclude that the cause of Somalia's problems is the persistence of none of the aforementioned injustices, but "anarchy". Now that they have mine and your attention, Somalia is an opportunity for anarchists and anti-authoritarians to unveil the facade of "peace-keeping" imperialism in Africa and the effects of environmental racism all over the world. The comments of anarchists are relevant. Anarchist Derrick Jensen, in his book Endgame, writes,


"Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Titling's reverse causal effects on the poor

This is a conventional view advanced by the World Bank: land rights are more secure and transferable through the titling process - that is, assigning titles to parceled bits of land so that urban and rural poor can then use the land.

Titling land provides a guarantee to the informal urban and rural markets that the fruits of their investments will not be appropriated by the government or private land holders, and this can be done with a "flick of the wrist" as Hernando de Soto writes. All Third World governments and lawyers need to do is look at squatted land and write up a legal sheet documenting their formal ownership and welcome them to the private housing system.

Yet for almost every study showing that the titling process leads to greater security of land tenure, there are studies showing that causality runs the other way around. Instead of increased security of land tenure (titling is one of several ways to do that) causing long-term investment, it has been argued that investments themselves cause security of land tenure. The causality is reversed.

One example of this are the studies that have looked at investments in cash crops. Planting profitable trees - coffee, eucalyptus, for example - enhances tenure security (Atwood, 1990; Besley, 1995; Otsuka et al., 1997; Brasselle et al., 2002; Sjaastad, 1997; Place, 2001). Other findings show that tenure insecurity has little effect on the decision of farmers to plant trees and invest in the land (Holden, 2002). These findings cast considerable doubt on the need for embarking on ambitious land registration and titling policies, if the goal is increasing investments or standards of living.

Most of the literature finding a link between tenure security and long-term durable investments in the land have sidestepped the question of causality and have jumped to the conclusion that widespread titling should increase tenure security - (and do not mention titling's adverse effects on landless, indigenous and the new urban poor.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bluetech, like a school of fish

One of my favorite downtempo artists recently came out with a wicked new set of tracks. Evan Marc is Bluetech, a Portland-based synth sorcerer, who whips up modest tunes and chords that leave my head spinning for days. Here are some samples of his older work.




In the movie Ring of Bright Water, there is a picturesque set where the hero and heroine are looking over a beautiful scene together. The hero sighs finally and says, "I really must get back to work. I can't keep idling the rest of my life." The heroine replies, "Why not, if it serves a purpose?"

Just what the purpose was is not very explicit, but that's part of the story's charm. I don't think she was against the hero having a purpose, but against the attitude the he should always have a purpose. I think she would agree that having a purpose might sometimes serve a very useful purpose, just as spontaneity can sometimes serve a grand purpose too.

I have also found it extremely hostile and destructive to ask another person what their purpose is. I am thinking of those who ask "Why would you want to learn philosophy or art?" Isn't it enough to want to learn them? The presumption is that philosophy and art are purposeless, or meaningless. Similarly, the question "What do you do?" is not "What sorts of things are you enjoying lately?" It's "What is your relation to the means of production in our society and how much social capital do you have compared to me?"

I have traveled far from the topic. What I am suggesting is that music can transcend this nightmarish duality of purpose and purposelessness. When I'm listening to a hypnotic scenescape it's as if I am unlocking the secret groove to the universe, a balancing act between work and play; a place in the mind where you can move headway through work like a school of fish. Like coffee, only less wiry... It also distracts me immensely from my work. Damn, I can't idle all day listening to Bluetech and Boards of Canada. Somebody please tell me to chill out because it's only a Saturday.