Things That Caught My Eye This Week

Here are some links of interest that I ran across this week.

Rauner, Public Unions Not Close On Contracts

The contracts for more than 40,000 Illinois state workers will expire at the end of the month, and their unions and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s negotiating team apparently aren’t close to agreeing on new ones. The impasse has gotten more public attention in recent days, with union members staging nearly 100 protests throughout the state to rally public support to their calls for fair contracts. With the potential for a far-reaching strike or lockout looming, here are things to know.

What Would a Sanders Administration Do on K-12 Education?
The most progressive candidate in the 2016 race has some interesting ideas on public education.

Right-to-Work’s big moment | TheHill
People can reasonably debate the merits of unions or how labor law should balance the interests of employers, employees and labor organizations. But the contemporary push for Right-to-Work, like its historical predecessors, doesn’t do this. Today it is being used to burnish the credentials of aspiring politicians on the right and as a blunt instrument to defund a political adversary. The well-being of employees has always been much further down the list.

The Real Meaning of Obama’s Trade Defeat | Robert Kuttner
The real story here is a deep and principled split between the Congressional wing of the Democratic Party, most of whose members are still fairly progressive, and a presidential wing that has been in bed with Wall Street at least since Bill Clinton and Bob Rubin (who among his many other roles is the mentor and patron of Obama’s top trade official, Mike Froman).

To be an anarchist | Adbusters
When an “entire society,” i.e., almost everything around you, seemingly to the smallest detail, reflects assumptions contrary to your most deeply held convictions about what the world is and can be,  merely to persevere in imagining and acting on the assumption of the possibility of another kind of world is, in itself, a monumental and continual effort of resistance.

Don’t Call Me A Liberal

Once upon a time, I thought I was a Liberal, and I thought the terms “Left” and “Liberal” meant pretty much the same thing. Then a funny thing happened. I began to read.

Some of the things I began to read were outside of what is often called “the main stream” of American political discourse. I read The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. It rang true to me, accurately describing our society in a way that I hadn’t seen it described before. It turns out that Debord was a Marxist. Who knew?

I began to have an aching sense that what I believed in my heart to be true was not really reflected in the actions or the statements of the Liberal politicians who generally received my support and approval – people like John Kerry, Dick Durbin, Claire McCaskill or Barack Obama.

At some point, I ran across an interesting tool for defining and assessing a candidate’s or an individual’s political tendencies. It’s called The Political Compass.

Instead of defining the political spectrum as “Liberal to Conservative” or “Left to Right” the Compass is a Johari Window, with a Libertarian/Authoritarian axis as well as a Left/Right axis. A person can fall into one of four quadrants: Authoritarian Left; Authoritarian Right; Libertarian Left; and, Libertarian Right. Also, degrees and shades within each quadrant are assessed.

I was surprised to learn that I am about as far down in the Libertarian Left as one can be.

noebie-political-compass

That little red dot represents me.

The really astonishing revelation came when I looked at the analysis of historical figures, and current day American politicians. It looked something like this.

historical-compass

Wait a minute. What are my Liberal heroes doing up there in the same quadrant as Reagan? Obama is just barely to the Left  economically of Hitler? What the heck is going on here?

As I studied more, I learned that I would be considered a “Left Wing Anarchist/Marxist” based on my answers on the assessment. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at first. Puzzlement would probably be the best description. I did, however, attempt to learn more about what all of those scary terms mean.

Then another funny thing happened. It was called “Occupy Wall Street.”

Although I didn’t understand precisely what was going on at first, the things I was hearing from the folks in Zuccotti Park rang true to me, in the same way that Debord’s book had, in a way that was a revelation. They were articulating the alienation that I felt, and the injustice that I saw, putting it all into focus for me – giving me a context and vocabulary that I had lacked. Their criticism of the Obama Administration was refreshing. Here was a group of folks being called “the Tea Party of the Left” and yet they seemed to have no interest in catering to the Democrats. By then, neither did I.

Once I gave myself the space and permission to question Liberal orthodoxy, I nurtured my newfound political identity with a wider range of information. I had never read Marx. I had never read Bakunin or Emma Goldman or E.V. Debs or James P. Cannon. I had never listened to the songs of Joe Hill.

I read, and began to search my heart, and realized that I had accepted a lot of ideas that don’t hold up well under closer scrutiny. For instance, almost anything falling into the category of “bipartisan consensus” was tossed by the wayside pretty quickly. The more I questioned, and the more I learned, the more the label “Liberal” became a pejorative term. In fact, in gatherings with other Leftists, I found that calling someone a “Liberal” could be fighting words.

Here’s why this matters and why it is important to correctly name things. When we don’t properly describe the political landscape, it limits the range of discussion and critical thinking that is publicly acceptable. For me, that little bit of space between Obama and Romney is just not enough. When we accept the typical U.S. Liberal/Conservative continuum as the only thing that exists, it precludes an entire world of ideas, analysis, strategies and potential solutions. It also reinforces the “lesser evil” narrative that liberals always trot out in election season. “Yes, we’d like to see more progress too, but this is the real world. Do you want another Scalia on the Supreme Court?”

When we take pains to understand and properly name the entire range of political currents and tendencies, we can also begin to reclaim our history, and to see the connections between the politics of the past and the politics of our own time. We can learn that vigorous, fighting labor unions are the best bulwark against totalitarianism, and realize that opposing Scott Walker’s or Bruce Rauner’s corporatist anti-union agenda places you on the same side of history as those who opposed Adolf Hitler. Such is the great power in naming things accurately and placing them in context.

I would encourage you to take The Political Compass assessment yourself, and learn more about their model and what each quadrant means. It may offer you some new perspectives on our politics and where you fit in. I know where I belong now.

So please, don’t call me a Liberal.

May Day Joint Statement

The first of May is a moment for us to remember the Chicago Haymarket Martyrs of 127 years ago. These Chicago anarchists helped to lead the major battle of the day, not only for the 8 Hour Day, but also for social liberation.

Chicago’s Four Star Anarchists and several other allied groups have issued a joint statement titled Remembering the Past, Fighting for Tomorrow. It includes a short history of May Day, an examination of present conditions, a positive vision for our world and a call to action.

I commend it to you as appropriate for this May Day, 2013. Click here to read it.

Solidarity!

★★★

In November, We Remember

Red November, Back November
by Ralph Chaplin

Red November, black November,
Bleak November, black and red.
Hallowed month of labor’s martyrs,
Labor’s heroes, labor’s dead.

Labor’s wrath and hope and sorrow,
Red the promise, black the threat,
Who are we not to remember?
Who are we to dare forget?

Black and red the colors blended,
Black and red the pledge we made,
Red until the fight is ended,
Black until the debt is paid.

In memory of the Haymarket Martyrs, who were executed by the State of Illinois in November of 1887.

What Does an Anarchist Look Like?

Some of the mainstream journalists in Chicago seem to asking the right questions. Who are these Anarchists and what do they really believe?

A couple of articles hit my news aggregator this morning (both originally from the Sun Times).

What does an anarchist look like — or stand for? [Chicago Sun-Times] – I know what you’re thinking: Unwashed skinny guys wearing dirty black jeans, dirty black shirts and dirty black bandanas covering their dirty white faces.

Tired of wars, anarchist seeks new social order. [Four Star Anarchist Organization] – John Slavin, 30, teaches chemistry at City Colleges, performs post-doctoral research as a visiting scholar at Northwestern University and lives in Logan Square with his partner and their soon-to-be 1-year-old child. He’s also an anarchist.

A Curse For Kings

A curse upon each king who leads his state,
No matter what his plea, to this foul game,
And may it end his wicked dynasty,
And may he die in exile and black shame.

If there is vengeance in the Heaven of Heavens,
What punishment could Heaven devise for these
Who fill the rivers of the world with dead,
And turn their murderers loose on all the seas!

Put back the clock of time a thousand years,
And make our Europe, once the world’s proud Queen,
A shrieking strumpet, furious fratricide,
Eater of entrails, wallowing obscene

In pits where millions foam and rave and bark,
Mad dogs and idiots, thrice drunk with strife;
While Science towers above;–a witch, red-winged:
Science we looked to for the light of life,

Curse me the men who make and sell iron ships
Who walk the floor in thought, that they may find
Each powder prompt, each steel with fearful edge,
Each deadliest device against mankind.

Curse me the sleek lords with their plumes and spurs,
May Heaven give their land to peasant spades,
Give them the brand of Cain, for their pride’s sake,
And felon’s stripes for medals and for braids.

Curse me the fiddling, twiddling diplomats,
Haggling here, plotting and hatching there,
Who make the kind world but their game of cards,
Till millions die at turning of a hair.

What punishment will Heaven devise for these
Who win by others’ sweat and hardihood,
Who make men into stinking vultures’ meat,
Saying to evil still “Be thou my good”?

Ah, he who starts a million souls toward death
Should burn in utmost hell a million years!
–Mothers of men go on the destined wrack
To give them life, with anguish and with tears:–

Are all those childbed sorrows sneered away?
Yea, fools laugh at the humble christenings,
And cradle-joys are mocked of the fat lords:
These mothers’ sons made dead men for the Kings!

All in the name of this or that grim flag,
No angel-flags in all the rag-array–
Banners the demons love, and all Hell sings
And plays wild harps. Those flags march forth to-day!

– Vachel Lindsay (1915)

Anarchism To The Rescue

When someone says the word “Anarchist” what images come to your mind? Are they cartoonish little guys in black fedoras and trench coats carrying bombs? Is the one “fact” you remember about Anarchists from your high school world history classes that one of them was “to blame for the First World War?”

Entire volumes have been written in an attempt to explain what Anarchism is, how it developed and why it may still be relevant today. At its center, though, is the longing for freedom and for solidarity within the working class.

Nathan Schneider has written an excellent essay for The Nation, exploring what Anarchist roots have brought to the Occupy movement.

At its core, anarchism isn’t simply a negative political philosophy, or an excuse for window-breaking, as most people tend to assume it is. Even while calling for an end to the rule of coercive states backed by military bases, prison industries and subjugation, anarchists and other autonomists try to build a culture in which people can take care of themselves and each other through healthy, sustainable communities.

Schneider outlines some of the limitations that these roots seem to have placed on the Occupy movement, and the frustrations that a stubborn commitment to consensus has caused for traditional political leaders and groups. He cautions us to recognize what the movement is not (and will never be), but also points to what it has already done. “They’ve reminded us that politics is not a matter of choosing among what we’re offered but of fighting for what we and others actually need‚ not to mention what we hope for.”

 

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Read Nathan Scneider’s Essay: Thank You Anarchists [The Nation]

Learn More About Anarchism: AK Press

A Definitive History of Anarchism: Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt