On Getting Perspective

I don’t have the time to waste in these arguments any longer. I can feel the clouds gathering on the horizon. The storm is coming, and when it does, there will be no time left for pointless arguments and accusations.

From Emma Kathryn

This week I’ve been gently reminded to be careful not to commit cultural appropriation. Twice. In talking about the loa, Papa Legba to be exact, I was told that I should be careful not to appropriate the African gods.

Now let me just make clear that this is not going to be yet another essay describing what is and what is not appropriation, but the whole incident got me thinking. I mean, the advice was offered in good faith, I’m sure it was meant well (and the person giving said advice wasn’t to know I’m an obeah woman, was she now?), and they seemed nice enough in all regards, but there was something that left me feeling a bit blah about the whole conversation after that remark.

I could have taken the time to reassure the person of my cultural heritage (though even to some that wouldn’t be good enough!), I could have expounded upon my experience and practise.

I did none of those things. Instead I left the conversation.

I don’t have the time to waste in these arguments any longer. I can feel the clouds gathering on the horizon. The storm is coming, and when it does, there will be no time left for pointless arguments and accusations. There never was any time for them really, it was a folly by us all, but I’m rambling.

There are plenty of folks who are nice, who don’t want to upset anyone and want to walk that middle ground, but it’s not enough. It’s not enough to just ignore the real wrongs that this world faces.

There are many real instances of racism and appropriation that the person could involve themselves with, if they really wanted to, but I guess it was much safer for them to confront me over my mention of the loa.

And that’s the real problem.

It’s like the Hollywood sex scandal, and the silent protest by many actors at the Golden Globes and their decision to wear black. It doesn’t achieve a single thing, except perhaps to get them more column inches, more TV coverage, keeps them relevant. These people, with their fortunes and with their platform could affect some real tangible change, that could help other survivors of abuse, others going through it, who don’t have the money or the platform.

But instead they chose to wear beautiful dresses that cost more than most women can even dream about.

And let’s not forget the precursor to this, the Me Too campaign. Regardless of whether or not you agree with it, what real change, for all women has it actually achieved? You barely hear about it now. Is it enough to highlight something most people, and certainly most women already know happens?

These campaigns rarely benefit all women, especially the ones undergoing abuse, the ones with no support, with no one and nothing. Yes, it must be such a comfort to know that these women, these celebrities are going to these extravagant awards shows looking fabulous whilst they are in their homes struggling to survive. A real help.

And this in turn highlights another problem, that often the people at the bottom, the poorest in society usually fall through the safety nets. Or perhaps the safety nets aren’t deep enough to begin with.

I can’t help but think that so much of what we argue over are very much middle class issues, and this is coming from a working class woman.

Only this week, a BBC presenter quit her role because of gender pay disparity. Now of course, obviously people doing the same job should be paid the same wage, it goes without saying, is so very obvious, isn’t it? But at the same time, to the poor, who can only ever hope for such sums of cash, it just seems so otherworldly. It doesn’t even compute. Added to that she still works for the BBC, but in a more junior position, well, what can I say?

When there are such distances between the classes, the haves and the have-nots, it can be difficult to see how we can move forward, I mean, I am always banging on about unity and the dangers of false divisions. Because of course racism, appropriation, sexism  and wealth are all false divisions used to separate people based on superficial differences.

So we need to get back to community, and that doesn’t mean we have to like everyone within that community, but it does mean that we don’t let our differences divide us. That’s part of the reason I like small town life ( when my little sister comes home for visits, back up north, she often says she’s coming back to the sticks!).

My little town was recently described in a BBC report as one of the most deprived places  and also the worst place to grow up poor in the UK, citing poor job security and prospects for the young, amongst other things. But to the poor, being poor is nothing new. It’s just life.

My estate is considered rough, but the people stick together. Whenever there’s something wrong with the car and no money for mechanics, you can guarantee that after a few minutes tinkering under the bonnet, there’ll be a couple of neighbours lending a hand. When kids go missing, the whole street will be out looking. Generally, the people are good, but life is hard for some, and sometimes people are forced to act in ways that are not always acceptable. Generally though, most of them are good people making the best of bad situations.

And it’s not just my street either, the whole town rally around in times of need. A few years back there was an explosion in someone’s house and they pretty much lost everything. The whole town pulled together, donating money, clothes, food shopping, utensils, furniture, all of the basics of living. People who didn’t have much to give gave anyway, for people they didn’t know.

We must pull together in times of need, with those who are closest to us, and also to others who are also in need, against those who would keep us down, keep us pitted against one another, blaming one another for real or perceived wrongs, even when the blame does not lay with any of them.

I also think we must remember the past, most particularly our ancestors, and we must learn whatever lessons there are to be learned.

One thing I will leave you with though, a little story of how a British Goddess became an African Loa. About pulling together in times of need to overcome the true threat, the one thing that united women, women who came from different worlds.

I have a particular fondness for the loa Maman Brigitte, often pictured with fair skin and red or brown straight hair..

What is not often known is that Maman Brigitte is the very same celtic Goddess Brigid, Brigantia, worshipped many centuries ago in my part of Britain. This ancient Goddess of the British isles was taken to the hearts of African slave women, introduced to them by white Irish and Scottish women, slaves themselves ( though it was called indentured service). These Irish and Scot women bought with them their beloved goddess, for solace and protection, and she offered aid and comfort to the African women too and was taken into the hearts of all women. The story of Maman Brigitte, her origins and how she was so loved by all women shows us that there is more that unites us than separates us.

Don’t get me wrong though.. Maman Brigitte is a fierce loa, protectress as well as a loa of death. This isn’t a story about forgiveness and acceptance, about being all loving , but rather a rally to those who also would overthrow the oppressors of us all.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magick, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


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The Democratic Party Is Not What You Think

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Hillary Clinton speaks at the 2016 DNC. Image: Wikimedia Commons

At first, my friend didn’t realize he was a professional Democrat. When he got a job canvassing for “progressive causes,” he took them at their word: they raised money for nonprofits so they could do community work.

During his last week there, we got coffee during his lunch break. He told me how once a year, they received a list of candidates to fundraise for – not from the NGOs they contracted with, but from the Democratic National Committee. The “DNC push” meant higher quotas and heavier pressure from field managers. Now, most new hires couldn’t take the extra heat. Those who could, though, would have a chance to rise through the ranks, eventually becoming Democratic Party “bundlers” (functionaries responsible for persuading wealthy Democrats to write checks for thousands of dollars). Officially, the canvassing firm was independent. In reality, it was integrated into the Democratic Party, following the Party’s directives and funneling its most promising employees into Party careers.

If you listened to political common sense, you’d get the feeling that the Democrats are hapless, incompetent, and disorganized in the face of Republican discipline. Supposedly, they’re a loose coalition, with little in common besides opposing the GOP.

That’s false. On the ground, the Democrats are a tightly organized party with strong central discipline – much stronger than either their critics or most of their supporters realize. And unless US leftists learn how the Democratic Party actually works, their organizing will continue to fail.


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27th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Two concepts undergird this analysis. The first, drawn from Marxist-Leninist theory, is the cadre party. High school civics is wrong. Neither major US party is actually a heterogenous coalition. The tight-knit Leninist vanguard model describes them much more usefully.

The second concept here is the social and political base. Now, journalists often say “Democratic base” when they mean “Democratic voters.” However, a base is both more specific and more expansive than that. It isn’t simply the individuals who happen to support something. A base is a durable, organized community, capable of directing itself in a coordinated way. It’s brought into being by the set of social institutions whose day-to-day activities structure their constituents’ collective life.

What Is a Cadre Party?

According to Leninism, working-class revolution doesn’t happen spontaneously. It requires years of careful preparation, carried out by revolutionary leadership – dedicated Marxists who organize political struggles, spread revolutionary ideas, and (above all) establish a disciplined and militant organization capable of fighting and defeating the capitalist government.

That organization is the cadre, or vanguard, party. This party pursues the long-term interests of the entire working class, agitating for revolution while leading day-to-day struggles. It doesn’t let just anyone join – party members must not only commit substantial time and effort to the party, but also adhere to line discipline, enacting and defending all of the party’s positions (even those they privately disagree with). They become professional revolutionaries (also called cadres), completely dedicated to making revolution. Sometimes, that means literally working for the party full-time.

Now, there’s a contradiction emerging here. On one hand, the party has to inspire the support of as much of the working class as possible. To effectively engage in class struggle, it needs to bring as much of the class into its orbit as it can. But, it restricts membership to those who meet very high standards. So, most of the people it wants to win over aren’t actually eligible to join.

Leninism solves that by creating a second level of organization. The party proper forms a hard core of committed revolutionaries. At the same time, it directs a network of mass organizations (or, less charitably, front groups). While they follow the party’s lead, they have a much lower barrier to entry. So, the party can incorporate a large number of people without watering down its membership requirements.

When Leninist parties have historically been most successful, those mass organizations would lead to something greater than just a pool of supporters. They’d create a base.


 

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Protestant flag outside the Christian Right organization Focus on the Family. Image: Wikimedia Commons

What Is a Base?

Evangelical white Protestants – the Christian Right’s core demographic – only make up a quarter of the US. But somehow, the Christian Right exercises an outsize influence not just on government policy, but also on the overall social fabric of the areas in which it’s concentrated. Where conservative evangelicals are strong, they shape culture and dictate norms – but even in a place like Texas, where their influence is hegemonic, they’re less than one-third of the population. So where does their power come from?

In the 1970s, very few people were out as gay. Gay Liberation was a fringe movement, even in places with comparatively large gay communities. However, where gays were concentrated, they began to exercise influence – they sent Harvey Milk to the San Francisco city council, and over the years gay and countercultural values came to define the city’s image. But, San Francisco has always had an overwhelmingly straight majority – how did gay people get their influence?

In the 1800s, Irish immigrants were economically and politically marginal, even in cities with large Irish communities. But, they came to exercise not just electoral power via urban political machines, but also social and cultural clout – Boston has never been majority-Irish, but St. Patrick’s Day and Irish Catholicism have become integral to its identity. How did that happen?

Even in their core areas, each of these groups has always been outnumbered. In the latter two cases, they started out categorically excluded from social and political power. Yet, they all became highly-organized forces, dedicated to pursuing their interests with vigor and discipline. That let them grow powerful.

Each of them became a base. Conservative Christians aren’t simply individuals with private beliefs. They’re constituted into a base by a network of institutions: churches, charities, para-church groups, media outlets, and even businesses (anyone who’s been to the small-town South has seen the Jesus fish on everything from auto parts stores to restaurants). Those institutions then coordinate the community’s overall activities and goals, allowing it to act in a unified way. Because they’re integrated into the day-to-day lives of their participants, to opt out of them is to opt out of the collective life they facilitate. The same analysis holds for San Francisco’s gay bars, bathhouses, publications, and activist organizations, and for Boston’s Irish churches, mutual aid societies, labor unions, and social clubs.

With a coherent infrastructure of institutions, a disjointed population can become an organized and powerful base.


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Image: Polk County Democrats

On paper, the Democratic Party is a broad coalition. In practice, it is a cadre party.

It is controlled by professional Democrats – activist NGO managers, politicians’ staffers, “political operatives,” etc. These cadres set the Party’s priorities, oversee its day-to-day work, and keep any potential leftist competition under control. Some of them work for the Democratic Party proper, but most don’t. Officially, their “progressive nonprofit” employers aren’t Democrat-affiliated. Materially, they are the Democratic Party’s front groups. The small, self-selecting core uses them to bring in supporters. It’s not coincidence that the same person grant-writing for Greenpeace one year is working for Emily’s List the next. It’s the same people. They are their Party’s cadre structure, and they keep their front groups in line.

Sure, they align with different internal factions. Their competition is important enough to keep plenty of political reporters employed. But the drama of Bernie vs. Hillary obscures a deeper, more important reality. The faction fights and power struggles never step outside the overarching ideological boundaries of the Democratic “party line.” Sure, Berniecrats want comparatively more social programs, and Hillary supporters comparatively fewer. However, none of them deviates from the Party’s core program:

  • A capitalist economy with some regulation, but very little state ownership;
  • Collaboration between the government and businesses for “job creation” and social services provision;
  • Social liberalism, expressed through moderate affirmative action, anti-discrimination laws, official statements of support for oppressed demographics, and a few changes to police codes of conduct;
  • An expansive military through which the US enforces its global hegemony;
  • Nominal support for immigrants’ rights, but without full amnesty or open borders;
  • Opposition to expanding ballot access for minor parties;
  • A day-to-day political practice of lobbying, running campaigns for office, and symbolic “expressive protest.”

No member of the Democratic cadre structure would dare deviate from that framework. If they did, they’d risk losing their job; certainly, their career prospects would vanish. Do they always interpret the core program the same way? Of course not. But they do always uphold it.

Why does that matter, though? What, concretely, does their discipline mean? Well, nearly every activist organization in the US is a Democratic front group. After all, even if they didn’t want to be, their commitment to “conventional activism” demands it. When you spend your time waving signs and, perhaps, lobbying officials or supporting candidates, what’s your mechanism for enacting change? The only way you can bridge the gap between protest and power is through the support of Democratic politicians – and you can’t get that support if you won’t align with their Party. And, of course, activist groups don’t typically want to be independent in the first place. After all, their leaders and staffers are Democratic cadres. Their careers will take them across the whole extended Party structure.


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Image: Greater Seattle Neighborhood Action Coalition

The Democratic Party and its fronts don’t just have passive supporters. They’ve grown an entire community and social scene around their institutions. Because of that, they shape the social and cultural fabric of the places where they’re strong, wielding influence disproportionate to their numbers. In other words, the Democratic Party has a base, constituted through its fronts.

That base doesn’t overlap with the activist subculture – it is the activist subculture. There is no distinction. The activist scene exists because the day-to-day activities of the Democratic Party’s fronts bring it into being, providing an anchor for the informal activities and social networks that surround it. To participate in the activist subculture is to join the Democratic Party’s base.

That doesn’t just go for consciously Democratic liberals. Anarchist affinity groups form out of protest-based social scenes; concretely, they need protests in which to operate, and large protests only happen when the Democratic Party uses its fronts to mobilize people.  The anarchist scene emerges from the Democratic base and relies on the Democrats’ institutional infrastructure.

Leninist organizations run fronts of their own, attempting to imitate the more successful Democratic ones. However, they also depend on the Democratic base. They draw on the same pool of activists, advocate for the same causes, and usually show up at the same demonstrations. So, they only attract support when they hide their Leninist affiliation and follow the Democrats’ lead – as Refuse Fascism (a Revolutionary Communist Party front) discovered in November, when it called for protests without Democratic support and nobody came.

Of course, occasionally radicals do start an organization with the potential to break away from Democratic control. When that happens, Democratic cadres work very hard (and sometimes very ruthlessly) to co-opt it. Because of its institutional position, the Democratic machine can recuperate nearly anything that emerges from the activist subculture. Just look at the Greater Seattle Neighborhood Action Coalition. Founded after Trump’s election by an ad hoc left-liberal coalition, GSNAC explicitly took inspiration from the Rojava revolution. Officially, it committed to practicing direct action and mutual aid while abstaining from electoral politics. With that program on offer, GSNAC initially attracted several thousand participants. However, within a few months, a clique of professional Democrats seized control of the organization by undemocratic means. Without consulting other members, they not only began committing to liberal lobbying campaigns in GSNAC’s name, but also unilaterally filed incorporation papers, naming themselves as GSNAC’s officers. Within a couple of months, the overwhelming majority of participants left. They’d been promised something different than conventional activism, but the Democrats made sure GSNAC didn’t deliver that.

The US Left may not realize it, but nearly all of it is part of the Democratic Party’s extended machinery. However, leftists are excluded from the Democratic cadre structure; they can’t actually direct its course. That leaves them with two options: embrace the Democratic line, or marginalize themselves.

Do you support leftist politics? Leave the activist subculture.


The task of radicals, at present must be digging in deep to the class, going “to the masses,” building long-term relationships with layers of oppressed and working class people, and organizing in our neighborhoods and workplaces. This is the punishing, demoralizing grind work that activists prefer to avoid, but it constitutes the only way forward.

Tim Horras

The Left shouldn’t take part in conventional activism. But what should it do?

Well, what does the Left want? Strategy follows goals; tactics follow strategy. For revolutionaries, the goal is to literally overthrow the government. Revolution means replacing the existing political and economic system with a better one, based on the mass cooperative control of economic, cultural, and political life. The working class carries out all the activities that sustain human life and society. However, it’s excluded from power and subjected to oppression by the capitalist class of business owners and investors. So, it has the ability to carry out a revolution – the capitalists need it, but it doesn’t need them. Further, because of its position of exploitation, it stands to benefit from the abolition of class distinctions.

But how, exactly, can it go about that? If revolution isn’t on the menu yet, what’s the path from here to there? Well, the working-class must become a well-organized social force – so well organized that it can exercise power and assert its interests, even when the the ruling class uses violence to try to stop it. So, carrying out a revolution means first developing an institutional infrastructure capable of directly combatting the capitalist state. In communist lingo, a structure like that competing with the government is called “dual power.”

Now, obviously, a dual power situation can’t be willed into being overnight. Its constituent institutions must be built, piece by piece, however long that takes. Since the process of doing so means organizing the entire working class to act for itself in a coherent way, the working class must become a base. So, the “dual power strategy” for revolution is fairly straightforward: you develop autonomous institutions of class confrontation and mutual aid, through a process of base-building. Eventually, you reach a “critical mass” and can challenge the government directly.

When leftists engage in conventional activism, they pre-empt their ability to do that. Do you go to protests and wave signs? You’re competing with the Democratic Party on its home territory. You’re going to the Democratic base and telling it to stop being pro-Democrat. But it can’t stop. It only exists in the first place through the Democratic Party’s fronts. You have to go somewhere else and build a revolutionary base, instead.

Now, base-building is slow. It’s a grind. It’s not sexy and it’s rarely cathartic. You don’t get the high of being one of thousands of people in a big demonstration, chanting and raising energy. You don’t get the quick gratification of networking with established activists and feeling like you’re part of an “authentic social movement.” Instead, you spend your time serving the people: creating constituencies by creating institutions and knitting them together, struggle by struggle, project by project.

The dual power strategy is not for the impatient. This work is too important to rush. There are no shortcuts. The activist subculture may look like one. And sure, taking over a ready-made base looks appealing, next to the difficulty of creating your own. However, it’s a pipe dream. The Democratic base can’t be separated from its Party. It only exists through that Party’s institutions.

Now, the human cost of capitalism grows every day. And thanks to climate change, there’s an ecological clock ticking. Slow and patient, on the face of it, hardly feels appropriate. The need for change is urgent; can we afford such a protracted approach? The dual power strategy is an uphill fight, sure, but at this point it’s the only possible shot. There’s no more time to waste on dead ends.

So stop protesting. Build a base instead.


 

Sophia Burns is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism

We Are All Bears

From Judith O’Grady: “Rather than ‘correctness’ we have to cultivate ‘mindfulness'”.

Referencing the story of Goldilocks we, in my family, refer to the making of some kind of people into not-people by some other kind of people (poor people into not-people by rich people, drop-outs into not-people by university attendees, women into not-people by men) as “they are just bears”. The bears do not actually own their possessions and so Goldilocks can freely eat and break them.

The first step in hating someone is to declare them to be a bear. Once they are bears you can discredit their opinions and beliefs, take away their possessions and homeland, refuse them the right of consent and enslave or rape them, believe that they do not feel pain as you would in their position…….

Historically, in general the ‘people’ have been those in power and the ‘bears’ have been the powerless. In my lifetime (I am old but not yet history), the Evil Bear-makers (those who think of themselves as ‘people’) have been the Conservatives, the Men in Charge, the Old Guard, the Privileged. Let us call them ‘The Exclusionists’; their mantra is that they and they alone have the right to govern, to possess, to be wealthy because they have always been the ones who have done it in the past, they alone have the necessary qualifications and experience to do these things, and that those things cannot effectively be done by Bears. They exclude everyone but those exactly like themselves from power and ownership.

My political self came of age in the era of civil rights demonstrations in the American South. The people (older than myself but not much older) who marched and died for those rights can, I believe, be typified as ‘The Inclusionists’. Their mantra was that there was commonality between white, young-adult, college student Northerners and black, older, share-cropper farmer Southerners; that they were all just people who should be able to vote, to go to school together, to be included in the same legal system. Those beliefs were idealistic and without great success (largely leading to covert replacing overt) but correct—- those peoples do have commonality.

Fast-forward to present day. Unlike the civil rights activists, many of whom were inclusive of not only all the people demonstrating with them but also the antagonists, current activists often demonize the people who are on ‘the same side’ but with differing beliefs or actions or goals as well as their antagonists. This is a terrible skew all down the line because then the torch-y white supremacists are primarily, but not the only wrong-headed bears. Their primal nature must be growling and hitting because they are not people like the good, non-violent, black-inclusive allies. So that dialogue changes from ‘you are wrong in your beliefs’ to ‘you are bad bears and must be outed, punished, shamed’. Even more troublesome is the othering of the people on the same side of the line who differ in belief. ‘Those black-wearing, face-hiding protestors use violence. They are bears’.

The Black Bloc have thought it over and have decided to stand between the defenceless and the aggressive, while also messing with Power-Holders’ structures on the route. Perhaps you feel that torching cop cars doesn’t advance your agenda, but they may also feel that wearing cute pink vagina hats doesn’t advance theirs. But you can agree on the bits of agenda that you agree on and both groups can act to stop hate speech. Or you can have an endless and useless argument about correct action, correct wording, correct stance. Every moment you spend fighting over minute ideology or word usage some fucktard is yelling about hatred unopposed.

But in reality none of any people are bears. The argument that any people are bears is specious because they are all people, just like anyone. That argument not only others them but others you as well. The people on the perceived moral high ground believe that they would not do whatever the non-people are doing— burning cop cars or fomenting hate. But it’s not that simple. To use a less-loaded example; most first-world people don’t eat insects or grubs (except escargot, the outlier). But it’s just culture; if you grew up in a culture in which rotten-log grubs were prized and eaten at festivals they would be like those chocolate eggs filled with sugary goo that only are available at Easter. If you grew up in a culture where women are sexualized and demeaned it would make perfect sense that they would be paid less than men.


Unless (here’s the catch) for some unprecedented reason you thought about it really hard. Out of the blue, you say to yourself, “Why IS it bad and embarrassing to have Dandelions in your yard? I like Dandelions.” That seems easy but the splash-back comes with culture. The across-the-street neighbour comes over to lecture you about “infecting the neighbourhood with Dandelions and driving down the housing values” (true story, actually) and suddenly you’re not discussing yellow Spring flowers but as a short traditionally-raised woman you’re having to mouth back to an elderly man who (20+ years in the military) is dripping with privilege and the implied threat of violence. It’s a lot harder than you envisioned.

Here’s another example. Back when I was firming up my beliefs by argument, I so so often heard the ‘family’ stance. Now, I believe in meeting violence with violence and have for quite some time. Right up there with the Prime Law for humans, ‘Everybeing has Free Will’, is the Prime Law for countries, ‘Don’t March Down Other People’s Streets’. Freedom Fighters (or terrorists, depending which side the speaker is on) have my respect. But many of the conventional Liberals saw violence as marking one out as ‘bad’ (infected with Dandelions) and described themselves as ‘non-violent’. But with a caveat, “If someone threatened my FAMILY then no holds barred!” But if some Evangelical started yelling at their teen-aged daughter on the bus about her hubcap-sized Pentacle, wouldn’t they want someone to step up for her even though she isn’t THEIR daughter? Of course.

People like to define themselves as Warriors, even when their lives do not routinely include violent confrontation. They’re waiting for the definitive moment when they can stand up in confrontation to the Blond Burly Guy in a flash uniform that mis-uses Runes. Not only will that likely not happen but if it did they would suddenly find that risking your life for belief is quite a bit more difficult than they envisioned.

What does happen, over and over, is that they don’t make a small gesture when they could. They know that if they confront privileged people irl, those people will use their privilege against them. They don’t step up to the trash-talking men and call them out; they don’t even go and sit with the clearly uncomfortable young woman. They collect their lunch and sit somewhere else. But, yo! With LOOKS OF SCORN.

Bringing up one example, I don’t shop at Walmart. I buy a lot of things at second-hand stores, so the argument (which I have heard numberless times) that I am making a privileged person’s choice is actually bullshit. When I had small children (that time of life when you need larger clothes every week) I mended my children’s play clothes and belonged to a clothes-exchange group of mothers. I remember the day when my friend heaved a sigh and said, “I can’t buy non-slave labour underwear anywhere and I really would like new underpants; I’m going to have to make an exception.”

Or the time that I mentioned in discussion that all of my family picked up trash wherever they were. One of the impassioned young men in the group turned on me and said that I was having no effect on the global trash load by that ineffectual action. “So you just let the trash lie?” I countered. He didn’t see my point. He was waiting until the Ocean Warrior sailed up to his land-locked door with a personalized invitation to board and until then he wasn’t putting any trash in the pockets of his natty coat, tyvm.

On the one hand, we are all faced with small decisions time after time, day after day. We must train ourselves to see the tiny crux and sometimes make a non-cultural choice. We have to live in the moment and in that moment see what is really happening. Rather than ‘correctness’ we have to cultivate ‘mindfulness’. We must look at that bear and see a person. What if I had been exposed to that wrong-minded culture in my childhood? What if my friendship group all decided on an action that I was uncomfortable with?

What would work? Screaming out,

“You are a POS Bear!!”

No. Somehow both antagonists must perceive what Right Action is:

“I am not a bear, nor are you.”

Again falling back on the small example, I had a brother-in-law. His mother had ‘never worked’ (ie held a paying job) and when he married he decreed that his wife would not ‘work’ either. She could grow and preserve a large vegetable garden, she could mind in-home day care toddlers, she could manage a difficult budget, but she could no longer be an executive secretary. After having two sons (“I want them to be tough”) he had a daughter. Suddenly, the world changed:

she must learn self-defence, she must play with blocks, she could not have a pretend kitchen for Christmass, she must excel at school (“I don’t want her dependant on some man for income!”). Why? The best of all reasons, love. Suddenly women were no longer bears; they could want for themselves what he wanted (“If she doesn’t want to wear the frilly dress she doesn’t have to!”)

On the other hand, violence should be met with violence. If you incite violence towards a wrong-thinking POS, then you should expect violence to be offered to yourself. If you step up and deny the threat of violence by force of will you may find that the Gods favour Right Action. If a person can stop a tank by force of will than a person can stop another person. Of course that confrontation may go badly, the aftermath of Right Action may not be happy, but someone’s point of view may change as a result. And, gradually, change will infect a culture. Like Dandelions, which are now ubiquitous because my province has banned poison herbicides. Like drunk driving, which has now become a crime rather than a juvenile expression of high spirits.

On the gripping hand, I am not a follower of that guy who mandated that we should love our enemies. But, unless we are being stalked by a coyote pack (happened to my son— he went back into the house without finishing his end-of-day cigarette), our enemies aren’t not-people either. We have some commonality and, standing on that island of commonality, we can struggle to explicate our disagreement. Not only should we give out what we want back, but if our cause/belief/reality is actually right then it must be able to be elucidated without the screaming of epithets. Mere explanation must be enough to carry the point. When I had small children to enculturate I had a rule about fighting,

“No hitting. No hitting back.”

So I never had to listen to endless sobbing stories about justification; all play stopped and everyone went off to think it over.

How might you carry your point without screaming and throwing plastic action figures?


Judith O’Grady

image1is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).


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On Unity And Power

When we are unified, when we stand together, the vast horde that is The People, there would be no way of stopping us. The state knows this, and thus the only way to stop it is to distract us with infighting, brainwashing, and financial manipulation, to not let it happen in the first place.

From Emma Kathryn

 

In my last essay, I spoke of recognising the tools that divide us, which you can find here.

Since then, and as is often the case, some of the comments got me thinking about unity and affinity and how these concepts can be applied to the good fight.

Affinity with anything is great. When you find someone or a group of someones with whom you just click, who are like soul brothers and sisters, then that is awesome. It’s natural to stick by, stand with and fight with and for those people.

It is more difficult to stand with others with whom you may not know, or whose suffering and oppression does not affect you, when their rights and lives are under attack.

When another’s suffering doesn’t affect us, when it is seen as a snippet on the evening news, when people are so tired from the hours of graft, when family time is squeezed in between those short few precious hours between getting home, doing chores and bed before the cycle begins again, it is no wonder it is easier to turn over. To watch some mindless reality TV. To enjoy the short-lived thrill of spending money we don’t have on shit we don’t need. To switch off.

Sometimes we feel helpless. What can we do as individuals against the tidal wave of shit that this world faces, nearly all of it man-made?

When I talk about unity, I do so with the meaning that it is standing with others, even when they are not in our family, friendship, or any other group. It’s about standing with strangers when they’re under oppression, even though their oppression has no effect at all upon our lives. It’s about standing up against the corruption of state and of capitalism, even when survival is not a struggle for you.

It’s about not being divided by petty shit.

How many times do we get involved in online debates and arguments that really do not mean anything? What I mean by this is that there are so many of these discussions, where people are listening, not with an ear to really understand the other perspective (which would be a good thing), but instead to come back with a witty or clever sounding comment that refutes what the other has said, and with various links to back it up.

To and fro these discussions go, and people get so hot-headed, because they are sure in their very soul that they are correct, and therefore, the other must be wrong. It’s an argument that goes round and round with nothing ever coming from it only more dislike, sometimes even hatred. Division.

They are pointless because they achieve nothing. Absolutely nothing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all online debates go this way, but many do. And often times, the viewpoints or opinions and beliefs of those arguing aren’t really all that far removed from one another.

What is often lacking is genuine, intelligent discourse. The free and open exchange of ideas and opinions between people and  groups can only be a good thing, can only lead to genuine understanding, but what often happens is that people argue over side issues, or try to gloss over them.

An example of this can be seen when I, or others often speak out or write against the capitalist state, or the oppression of Peoples, or the devastation we cause the planet.

Some think, that because I call for an end to unfair systems that crush the many for the benefit of the few, that I must mean that I want to put another system in charge of us. That we must all be equally poor, or that the state becomes a workers state where we are all equally oppressed.

I would no more have those systems than the one we are currently under.

It’s not about handing power over us to one group or another, but seizing it for ourselves. It’s not about voting left or right, here in Britain, Conservatives or Labour. They are both different sides of the same coin. Those politicians are not like us, indeed, I often think what it is that makes someone want power over others. It takes a special kind of arsehole. Most of them have never had real jobs, outside of the bubble of government. They ‘streamline’ the education system, cutting the budgets, but you can guarantee their kids don’t attend the local comprehensive high school. They are forever cutting the NHS, again always spinning the lie they are delivering better value for money, but you can bet they have private healthcare. Their lies and duplicity are evident.

Oh yes, I am sure there are those that enter politics because they want to help others, but those individuals are few and far between. The big guns, the cabinet members. Those who make decisions about how others should live are not like us. They think they are untouchable, that they are above the laws that apply to the rest of us. And yet they abuse their power. In the last few weeks, Parliament has been rocked by sex scandals, stories of sexual abuse and harassment covered up or totally ignored.

No, it’s not about handing power to others who would use it against us, who would abuse it. It’s not about replacing the ones at the bottom now with others. It’s about taking power back for ourselves.

I believe this starts with unity.

When we can stand together, and look out for those who are different, in whatever way, to ourselves, then we can begin to take back power.

If we’re not busy arguing amongst ourselves about which political party has done the most damage, and instead recognise the ploy for what it is, we can focus our attentions on the things that do matter, that do make a difference.

So what system should be in place then?

One where people are put first. One where people can go to work and not have to struggle to live, to survive. One where the laws are for protection of the people, and not for big business and corporations. One where people are put before profit and property. One where people are not discriminated against, where equality means equality for all people. One where nature is given the respect she deserves. That’ll do for starters.

I don’t know how we get there today, but I believe it starts with unity.

When we are unified, when we stand together, the vast horde that is The People, there would be no way of stopping us. The state knows this, and thus the only way to stop it is to distract us with infighting, brainwashing, and financial manipulation, to not let it happen in the first place.

How many of us work full-time hours, or as many as we can get, how many parents both work and still can’t afford to cover the basics of living, too tired to do anything else other than scroll through social media or watch mindless TV once the kids are in bed? How many of us worry about work, how many of us are on zero hours contracts or cannot get enough hours at work because the business wants to cut costs, doesn’t want to pay the extra tax? All of these things are distractions, all keep us separate, and harden us against the suffering of others because it is difficult to see past our own suffering, the unfairness faced by others because we too are treated unfairly.

Unity is the key to any true revolutions, to any meaningful change. Surely it has to be. If we are not unified, then how will change come, if the vast majority are silent. It only takes silence for evil and wrong doing to flourish. How many choose to ignore the abuse of others, even though they find it abhorrent, because it doesn’t affect them. It’s ‘none of their business’.

We must find unity if we are to effect any real change in this world.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magick, of course!

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Recognising The Tools That Divide Us

Recognising the tools that are used to divide us is the first step in fighting back.

From Emma Kathryn


I often say that the only real freedoms we have left to us are what we think and how we spend our money.

I am wrong.

Our spending habits are dictated largely by our needs in life. Make the cost of living, the cost of surviving higher, then you are already well on the way to snatching this freedom from us. How many of us, in so-called rich, first world nations, struggle to survive, struggle to eat, to heat our homes, to even keep the roofs over our heads? How much of our income is left over, so that we may enjoy ourselves in a world where everything costs?

For many, this freedom does not exist, and for those whom it does, it is eroded daily. If you can’t even afford to survive, if you can’t afford to buy the basics necessary to survive, then you are not free.

We are sold the dream of normality: our own house, a car or two, branded clothes and package holidays. How many people aspire to such a mundane existence? How many think this is living the dream? Any deviance from this norm, from this mindless, thoughtless norm is regarded with suspicion. If you don’t achieve these things, you’re a failure. It doesn’t matter that this lifestyle is financed for many by debt: car finance; mortgages; credit cards and loans.

It doesn’t matter, so long as it looks like we’ve ‘made it’, that it looks like we are successful.

We are the freaks, those of us who know our true nature and strive for our own dreams and wants. We who shun this false norm, who forge our own paths, we are the weirdos, we free thinkers are the odd ones. Embrace your weirdness, your otherness–for it is this that will keep you free.

Our thoughts, how we think and what we think, are the last bastions of true freedom, and thus, the tools of state, of capitalism seek to destroy this. Thoughts are powerful things. The greatest (and the worst) achievements of the human race all ascend from mans ability to think.

If you take a moment to consider man, as an animal, he is a poor specimen. By rights, we shouldn’t have survived as a species. We aren’t particularly fast, we aren’t physically strong, we have no fur to survive the cold, we’re physically slow. The list of man’s inadequacies to survive in the natural world is long. And yet we dominate the planet, are at the top of the food chain. If not for our brains, for the power of our thoughts, who knows what would have become of mankind! Thoughts are powerful things. If in doubt ask any occultist!

So to dismantle the tools of state, of capitalism then, we must familiarise ourselves with the tools they would use to control us.

The attack on what and how we think is insidious, sneaking in to all aspects of life. Schools are failing our children, so instead of educating them, kids are taught to pass tests, the pass rate and Ofstead (a government body that inspects state schools) rating of the school more important than teaching the children quality knowledge, how to think for themselves. Instead individuality is crushed.

And it’s not the teachers fault! Here in the UK, teachers and successive governments (all governments too, left and right) are always at loggerheads. Teachers increasingly have to teach children things that were traditionally taught in the home, through example and experience and just general parenting. There is often talk of extending the school day in line with working patterns, and in this world where both parents must work full-time but quality childcare is unaffordable, it sounds like a good idea. The erosion of the family (and that’s family in any form!) is not a conspiracy theory!

Then there’s advertising and television programming (they’re called programs for a reason!), all hinting at what we should feel in regards to this stimuli or that. Opinion pieces and chat shows, morning TV, the news, are all designed to elicit certain responses. It’s like a drip effect.

What actually spurred me to write this piece, though, was a government report into race inequality that was recently published. This particular report, the ‘race disparity audit’, looked at the link between races and wealth and privilege factors, including the ownership of homes. The report found that white British people are more likely to own their own homes and be in employment than those from ethnic minorities.

I stumbled upon this story whilst scrolling through Facebook, and though I know I shouldn’t have, I couldn’t help but read the comments section. I had hoped to see people call the report out for what it so blatantly was – a piece designed to invoke difference and friction. What the report ‘found’ was nothing new, offered no new insight, no insight at all really, and only served to make people defensive. Defensive people fight back.

Whilst people were busy blaming one group or another for being ‘lazy’ or ‘privileged’ (divide and conquer indeed!), they were missing the obvious flaws of the report. For one thing, in Britain, and as far as I have experienced, issues of race and culture can be quite complicated. For example, the report looked at White British, Black, and Asian, all seemingly very concrete, very different subsections of society. But what the report fails to do, or doesn’t make clear, or outright ignores, is that such differences, in real life, are often very blurred. For example, I’m mixed race (White British and Afro Caribbean if you’re wondering), and British. Half of my family are white, the other half black, where would someone like myself fit into it all? And that’s the problem, issues like this aren’t clear-cut, are multifaceted, with many contributing factors. Reports like this are designed to cause friction between friends, neighbours, and sometimes even family.

Reports like this are designed to distract us. Whilst we are busy arguing amongst ourselves about man-made castes and classes, we aren’t scrutinising the government. I think people sometimes forget that governments are meant to be our representatives, are meant to govern for us, not over us. I think governments have forgotten this as well. Or maybe they haven’t, hence the need to divide us all over shit that doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t matter.

And distract us they do! How many pointless online arguments are there between groups and people, who often times have quite similar beliefs and opinions? Instead of uniting, people get caught up on the semantics of a concept, arguing obscure points that mean absolutely fuck all in the real world (what I mean by the real world is the everyday lives of the people who just want to get on and live their lives ). We argue over the most trivial things, blame one another for the problems created by an unfair system.

This separation of people, this ploy to distract us can be seen in all aspects of modern life, personal and professional. At work recently, my manager had to do a progression plan with a head office type. We have a small staff in the shop, and we all get on, are a team. In an employee survey, our manager received full compliments from us, his staff, and instead of this being seen as a good thing, the manager was told it was too much! That he shouldn’t be so popular amongst the other plebs, because that is what we are, what we are seen as.

When the plebs, the people, (because we are all plebs in the eyes of government)  unite, it spells danger, not only in work, but in life generally.

Any kind of unification of the people is a danger to governments. Look at Catalonia! Look how other governments around the world denounce the Catalonian people and government. It reminds me of the Brexit campaign, when other governments threatened us with no trade agreements, that we as a country would be ‘at the back of the queue’. Fear is a motivating factor, and as such, another tool that governments use to separate us.

It’s hard to stick to your guns when your threatened with this and that, harder still when you have children or others who depend on you. It is scary, change and the unknown, but we are powerful, we must stand united, all people, from all backgrounds. It’s the only chance we have for any real change.

And so, an important aspect of the good fight is to learn to recognise the tools the state would use to divide us. Learn to recognise media reports that aim to set one group against another. Do your own research, form your own opinions based on solid research because media reports often try and portray a certain perspective, elicit a particular response. Get out and about in your community, because a good, strong community cannot be turned in on itself, neighbour will not turn against neighbour when they know one another. Start at the grassroots level, because everything stems from there.

We are powerful things, and we must learn to recognise the tools and tactics capitalism, and thus The State, would use against us. Recognising the tools that are used to divide us is the first step in fighting back.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magick, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


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You Have to Deliver

panthersicklecell.png
Black Panther Party free sickle cell testing in Boston, 1973. [Credit: It’s About Time BPP]

Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.

Amílcar Cabral

The US Left is having a renaissance. It’s more visible now than it has been for generations. Left ideas have wide exposure and most Millennials oppose capitalism.

So why is the Left so weak?

The Left’s growth hasn’t translated into concrete power for the working class. It hasn’t developed a mass base of participation (at least outside of the pre-existing protest subculture and the “weird Twitter/Facebook” corners of the internet).

Now, some of that can’t yet be helped. After barely existing for decades, the Left has re-emerged into an environment dominated by neoliberalism. But ultimately, external conditions don’t excuse its failure. Yes, the rules of the game are stacked against it. You can curse that fact all day and all night, but in the end, leftists have not adapted to a situation that they know will remain hostile. Sure, they’re hampered by unfriendly conditions – but the Left’s internal problems are what prevent it from meeting that challenge. Unless revolutionaries change their political practice, they will remain what they are now: visible and ineffective.

But what can radicals do differently?


women2
Despite his ideas, this man is not being taken seriously. [“The Morning Ride,” James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot, 1898]
Your ideas do not entitle you to be taken seriously.

Socialists know their theory and they know their Russian history. So what? That by itself does no one any good. Nobody owes you a hearing – the people you want to organize don’t owe you a single thing.

How many times have you seen socialists show up for something they have no prior connection to, thinking that they’ll “explain the revolutionary perspective” and then, somehow, be welcomed as leaders on the sheer strength of their ideas? Activists keep hopping from cause to cause based on whatever’s currently getting media attention. Does that develop collective power for anyone? Political ambulance chasing is fine for NGOs (and the micro-sect fronts that impersonate them). Unless they’re on top of whatever’s in the news, they’re at a disadvantage in competing for donors. Besides, the lack of deep and sustained community work lets the activist scene’s big fish keep their pond nice and small. But revolutionaries aren’t after careers in the nonprofit-industrial complex. If you want a mass revolutionary movement, you can’t afford that provincialism.


leftysymbols
Are these symbols outdated? That isn’t the right question to be asking.

This isn’t about branding. Should radicals say “communism,” “socialism,” or a euphemism like “economic democracy?” Should they drop 20th-century leftist iconography? Who cares? The issue isn’t which symbols the Left uses. Rather, it’s the way radical organizing so rarely commits to specific communities, stays for the long haul, builds up useful institutions, and lays the groundwork to expand them.

Sure, it’s better to have compelling rhetoric than not; neither talking down to people nor academic obscurantism does leftists any favors. The dichotomy between impenetrable theory-speak and over-simplified sloganeering both proceeds from and reinforces the distance between most socialists and the constituencies they seek. Those are bad habits not only of speech, but also of thought. If you don’t talk like a human being to people, it doesn’t matter if what you’re saying is true. It ends up irrelevant to real life, and it makes you sound like a jackass.

In the end, though, language and presentation aren’t the root issues. Your ideology isn’t necessarily what you believe. It’s what you’ve internalized through practice. If that mostly consists of debating on Facebook and reading articles, then your language and thought patterns will reflect that. Intentionally or not, you learn to think and speak in the way that works best for what you’re actually doing. Similarly, if most of your activism involves going to protests with liberals, then you’ll learn to be concerned with how to make radical ideas sound good to moderate ears. Why wouldn’t you bend over backwards to avoid scary words like “communism?” (Of course, that does mean other activists will think you’ve got something to hide. They aren’t fools – if you aren’t quite saying what you mean, then people will treat you accordingly. Trying to dodge the stigma attached to radicalism rather than confronting it just comes off as dishonest.)

That said, though, revolutionary leftism does still carry a lot of stigma. Most people’s default attitude towards it is skepticism. But if innovative rhetoric isn’t enough to push past that, what is?

What does get taken seriously?


tcd

You have to deliver results. You have to prove that when you act on your ideas, your community’s life gets better. You have credibility only to the extent that when you organize a project, it gives people more power and a better conditions in a concrete, tangible, material way. If you put that off until after the revolution (or after your socialist candidate wins), your revolution will never arrive. No one will support you besides a few political hobbyists – and why should they?

Are your ideas insightful and true? Prove it. If you can’t deliver, your ideas are wrong. No one will or should listen to your arguments unless you show, in practice, that they mean something (no matter how hostile the external conditions).

In Washington State, Tacoma Clinic Defense believes that anti-abortion fundamentalists should not be allowed to picket in front of clinics. Its participants began claiming that when anti-choicers are marginalized and isolated, life improves for the whole community. So, they went out to prove it: they physically placed themselves in front of the protesters at reproductive health clinics. By providing a calm, positive, and visible pro-choice presence, they functioned as a “lightning rod,” drawing the anti-choicers’ attention away from their intended targets. They did so every time the fundamentalists showed up – and, over time, the picketers got demoralized. Fewer and fewer of them turned out, and those who did became less bold. Now, after several years of attrition, the fundamentalists no longer come to the clinics at all. They’ve been reduced to holding small, silent prayer circles several blocks away, out of sight of the patients. People respect Tacoma Clinic Defense and its ideas – it got results. It went into the field and proved its ideas true.

How many socialist groups can say the same?


And a lot of people will tell you, by the way, Well, the people don’t have any theory, they need some theory. They need some theory even if they don’t have any practice. And the Black Panther Party tells you that if a man tells you that he’s the type of man who has you buying candy bars and eating the wrapping and throwing the candy away, he’d have you walking East when you’re supposed to be walking West. Its true. If you listen to what the pig says, you be walkin’ outside when the sun is shining with your umbrella over your head. And when it’s raining you’ll be goin’ outside leaving your umbrella inside. That’s right. You gotta get it together. I’m saying that’s what they have you doing.

Now, what do WE do? We say that the Breakfast For Children program is a socialistic program. It teaches the people basically that by practice, we thought up and let them practice that theory and inspect that theory. What’s more important? You learn something just like everybody else.

Fred Hampton

Why do so many working-class people align with Protestant fundamentalism?

Christian Right churches give them reasons to join. Their safety net often out-competes the government’s; they offer food and clothing and shelter, community, existential purpose, social support, help with childcare and elder care, and even mental health services (through pastoral counseling and 12-step groups). That’s how the Christian Right has gotten such a massive and well-organized base. Its network of parallel institutions allows it to wield disproportionate power. In Texas, for instance, the Christian Right dominates state politics – but only 31% of Texans are evangelical Protestants! There is power in a base of autonomous institutions.

The revolutionary Left doesn’t offer much competition. Why not learn from the enemy? Radicals can prove through practice that they can build programs that not only improve people’s material conditions, but also operate according to participatory democracy (which Christian Right churches do not). If that alternative was there, how many more poor and working people might become radical? Most people don’t choose to become socialists because socialism isn’t offering them anything they need. It’s perfectly reasonable to reject an ideology that talks big but isn’t actually improving your life.

If you want support, build something that works.


Nothing better defines Trump’s appeal, nor Obama’s before it, than a feeling of finally being heard. Though Trump made some memorable campaign promises (the wall, the travel ban, etc.), he offered participation in an affect — despair where Obama once offered “hope” — more than he appealed with plausible political proposals. And the liberal reaction to the Trump presidency continues in this political mode. When liberals insist that the point of protest is to “have your voice be heard,” they are actually describing the fascist mode of political participation. To be satisfied with “feeling heard” in and of itself, as the goal of political activity, without pointing that expression toward building real material power, is to be a contented fascist subject.

Willie Osterweil

Ideas come from social practice. Whether or not you’re conscious of it, your worldview is made of the lessons your practice has taught you. For instance, most working-class people reject electoral politics not due to revolutionary theory, but because it’s shown itself to be useless – no matter which politicians win, things keep getting worse. Until revolutionaries start delivering actual results, the class they want to organize will not embrace their ideas, either. All the rhetoric in the world means nothing if it can’t help feed your kids.

The approach most US leftists take isn’t working. However, a few groups have found success by taking a different approach:

Don’t believe it when people say that there could never be a mass revolutionary movement in the US. It won’t be easy to create one. The Left will be struggling every step of the way, since larger political conditions do make a difference. But so do conditions within the Left. The US Left may not succeed. But, if it adopts a strategy of institution-building through confrontation, construction, and deep organizing, then it will, at least, stand a chance.

The only alternative is to keep failing.


Sophia Burns is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Click here to support her on Patreon.

 

Irony Is Dead and God Is an Absurdist: The Post-Reality Manifesto

irony is dead and god is an absurdist

As I am writing this, the 2017 summer eclipse season has begun. Eclipses come in pairs: A lunar eclipse on the full moon and a solar eclipse on the new moon, one after the other. Or the other after the other. Astrologically, eclipse season is half a moon cycle on either side of the pair of eclipses, and is said to be a time the world is spinning around, the world is upside-down.

I know, I know, how are we supposed to distinguish that from life in general these days? Every day brings a fresh new breakdown in everything we thought was real and true, sometimes candy-flavored, sometimes shit-flavored. As a wise man once said in a meme, Everything Is on Fire Forever.

I am that wise man. And so are you. Or wise woman. Or wise person of some other gender. There are infinite genders. I told one of my best friends that, based on astrology, their gender looked to be, on one hand, tomboy drag queen, and on the other hand, healer. They appreciated the insight.

What was I saying?

Oh right. Everything Is on Fire Forever.

EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE FOREVER
[Image reads “Everything is on fire forever” in retro 80’s font] [this is for screen readers for the visually impaired] [in case you were wondering] [people tend to wonder about that]
It certainly feels that way, doesn’t it? But therein lies the magic. Everything we knew is currently busy vomiting its guts up over the edge of the cruise ship into the void, until there will be nothing left of it but a Buy American sticker made in Nepal, and then even that will have an existential crisis and cease to exist as anything but a post-meme shared on Facebook to an insular social bubble. And when everything we knew has ceased to exist, what will be left?

Anything. Anything at all.

A pony fighting for its right to design salad dressings. Leftists infighting on Facebook to prove their moral superiority to a ham sandwich. Tap-dancing legions of the dead. The most delicious strawberry you have ever tasted, a religious experience unlike anything most people ever touch, lasting until the diner closes and you’re asked to pay your tab. Grant Morrison’s manga adaptation of King Lear. A thousand apocalypses being conceived and aborted every 12.5 nanoseconds. Memes.

We are living in a post-reality era, and it’s time we embraced the absurdity like I embrace my friends, and let me tell you fine folks, I’m the best damn hugger this side of gentrified Brooklyn.

Embrace affection too.

Embrace love as an excruciatingly painful and radically uplifting force of nature. Embrace humor as a weapon to wield against our own egos and those who would hold us back and warn us not to find the crumbling empires funny. Embrace your friends, unless they don’t like to be touched, but if they do like to be touched, be conscious of their boundaries around affection by having a goddamn communication about it. Embrace the terror of having communication about your embracing of things. Embrace the infinitine splenitude of glitchified fractalline multi-reality as it co-collapses in on themselves. Embrace made-up words like most of the previous sentence.

Embrace the feeling like it’s all made up.

Because it is! It’s all made up! We’re all making it all up as we go along, all the time, every time, and it’s high time we took the time to acknowledge that. Nothing seems to make sense anymore because nothing ever made sense in the first place, we just got so used to it that we convinced ourselves that it did, because it was “normal,” whatever the Lemur that’s supposed to mean.

“Normal” never existed in the first place.

I don’t exist. You are hallucinating this entire essay. I am you, and you don’t exist either. “Existence” doesn’t exist. Everything you ever thought was real is a joke told by an idiot to itself in a crowded room full of other itselves who would rather be raiding the snack bar but they have to watch their figures but they don’t know the figures because they forgot how to do basic math.

We Are the Ones They Warned Us About.

We are the lunatics at the switch, and I’m ready to instigate the collectivization of the asylum. We are the nonsense-peddlers, the madmen, the lucid loose women, the queer things that happened one day. We are the ones yelling “FREEBIRD!” at the dubstep concert. We are the ones sampling potato salad recipes in our DJ sets. We are the heroic harlequins, the heart-heaving harlot heralds, the heavy hitters of honest hopefulness, the half-held ideas in the lost minds of the gods.

We are the outcasts outrageously outfitted on the outskirts, and the new world is the world we always knew would come, so here we come, ready to make it our own.

In conclusion, this is barely the beginning. We have entered the Post-Reality era. We are the Post-Realitists. So buckle up, Alice, ‘cause this tea party is gonna get lit af.

Signed,

Arthur Lipp-Bonewits

aka Gluten Stormbeard

aka Hardly Golightly

aka Infinitine Splenitude


Arthur Lipp-Bonewits

Headshot NYE 2016

Arthur Lipp-Bonewits does not exist. When he does exist, he lives in an apartment in Brooklyn with over a dozen archangels as his roommates. He works as a professional psychic and meme-maker when he isn’t studying psychology. You can buy things with the memes he has made on RedBubble. You can find him on Instagram at @readingsbyarthur and Twitter at @simplyarthur. You can think dainty ideograms about him and he will appreciate it.


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Why Suffer for Social Justice?

 

lourdes_sign_for_confession
Outside a Catholic confessional in Lourdes. Wikimedia Commons.

Last month, a town near me saw its first May Day rally in decades. Because “working class” means more than “blue-collar white men,” the organizers invited me to talk about disability and other speakers to address white supremacy, climate justice, and patriarchy.

My speech observed that the paid work of formally-employed workers and the unpaid work of unemployed workers (housework, childcare, social and emotional support, etc) depend on each other. Society can’t run with just one of them. They’re like a nail and a hammer: without both, you can’t build a thing. Disabled and abled workers are both part of that reciprocal process, including disabled people who will never have access to paid work. But under capitalism, the ruling business-ownership class controls the economy, government, and culture. So, no one but them has meaningful social power, even though society only exists because of our collective labor (paid and unpaid). Therefore, we share an interest in doing away with the current system. Sticking up for each of us is in the enlightened self-interest of all of us. We don’t need moralistic notions of allyship – we need to fight for each other, together, because otherwise only the ruling class wins.

Before May 1, the organizers needed a speaker bio. I didn’t hesitate to talk about my political work, but I agonized about whether to mention that I’m autistic. I didn’t believe that simply being disabled qualified me to speak. I thought that my knowledge of the issues and on-the-ground political practice did. However, I intended to say that disabled and abled workers ultimately have exactly the same interests and that neither has meaningful social power. So, I finally did disclose my disability. After all, I was criticizing the basic assumption of most social justice disability politics: that all abled people benefit from the oppression of disabled people and, therefore, are complicit in it. If I hadn’t announced my autism, I could have exposed the event to accusations of booking an abled Marxist to “ablesplain.”

As it happened, my speech was well-received. The crowd wasn’t the typical activist scene; nearly everyone there was from either the AFL-CIO, the Industrial Workers of the World, or a local, independent farmworkers union. However, based on past experience, a less unusual “anti-oppression” crowd (say, college student activists) would likely not have been so receptive. In situations like that, I’ve noticed three typical responses:

  1. The audience ignores the content and responds as though it had been the standard social justice position.
  2. The audience attacks the speaker as not actually part of the oppressed groups they’re part of and chalks up their disagreement to privilege.
  3. The audience reflexively defers to the critique on the basis of the speaker’s identity – and instead of actually engaging with the substance, confesses their own privilege while changing neither their ideas nor their practice.

You may notice a pattern there. While those committed to allyship-model politics may talk about taking marginalized voices seriously, in practice there’s not much room for anyone, regardless of identity, to dispute their basic political assumptions.

The credibility they grant ostensibly on the basis of identity actually depends on political agreement. They might say “disabled people are telling us to check our privilege and understand our complicity in ableism,” but disabled people who don’t say that tend to get brushed over or called out.

Now, that in itself isn’t necessarily a problem. Defending opinions one agrees with and attacking other views is just part of what it means to take ideas seriously – it’s legitimate and necessary for any sort of politics. But why, then, frame it in terms of who is talking rather than what they’re saying? It’s empirically untrue that all members of a given identity group have basically the same politics. Why does social justice talk as though they do?


Alexander_Jakesch_-_Old_History
Old History, Alexander Jakesch. A woman expresses her pain for a small audience. Wikimedia Commons.

Disclosing my autism gave some cover to the rally’s organizers. But, I could have gone further.

Broadly speaking, social justice says that being disabled should be the main qualification to talk about disability. Even so, I could have boosted my credibility further by claiming additional marginalized identities. For instance, “autistic person” carries less intersectional weight than “autistic nonbinary trans woman.” For the subculture, more marginality means more right to speak – at least on the surface.

But for social justice, there’s more to identity than just the identities people have. “Autistic nonbinary trans woman” might give my words more intersectional force than “autistic,” but “autistic nonbinary trans woman who has survived rape and abuse” carries me substantially further. That ought to sound pretty strange – after all, having been raped isn’t an identity. Every identity group has some members who have been raped. It’s an experience, not an attribute.

Identity and privilege, though, tend to get framed almost exclusively in terms of “lived experience.” For instance, non-men are often assumed to understand patriarchy in ways men simply can’t because of their fundamentally different lived experiences. The line between what you are and what you’ve been through starts to melt away. But why should that be? What puts “being a woman,” or “being disabled,” in the same category as “having been abused by a partner?” What’s the common thread between a specific act of violence and an identity that’s there throughout your entire social existence?

Perhaps the social justice subculture doesn’t actually care about identity. It cares about suffering.

After all, it’s not the neutral features of my autism that would qualify me to speak about disability (such as flapping my hands when I’m happy or rocking back and forth when I sit). It’s my experience of ableism, of alienation and discrimination – in other words, not my identity, but my pain. And if I don’t put on a good enough show, I might lose the right to talk in the first place.


“Oh, baby, don’t you have a story? Of abjection, ruin, despair?  Did you lose a child?  A lover? Were you not raped?  Beaten?  Oppressed? How could you possibly go through all that and not confess, confess, confess?  How can we possibly think of you as real if you don’t confess?  No tragic dramas?  Make them up! But, always: Confess and Reveal.”

Yasmin Nair

In the US, like the rest of the world, most people are in the (paid and unpaid) working class. The social justice subculture, though, is different.

It’s rooted in cultural studies classrooms, student clubs, Facebook cliques, Democrat-in-practice “non-partisan” nonprofits, and the recent graduates that fill out the scene. While working-class people can be found as individual participants, it’s the professional-managerial class that holds (sub)cultural hegemony: its ideas, interests, and preferences dictate the entire community’s priorities and beliefs. And like the rest of the professional-managerial class, the “anti-oppression community” is richer, whiter, and more privileged in general than the working class.

When marginalized people suffer in public for a social justice audience, not everyone watching is very privileged. However, as a rule the allies far outnumber the self-advocates (hence the preoccupation with allyship and privilege over liberation and strategy in the first place). So, when the subculture proclaims the pain of the oppressed, the point isn’t to “amplify and normalize marginalized voices.” It’s a performance with a very particular purpose. The social justice subculture exploits oppressed people’s pain to prove to its members that their politics are moral.

On May Day, why did I resent having to foreground my disability? I wasn’t ashamed of being autistic. I just hated the thought of being a prop. I don’t want the subculture to use my suffering as Exhibit A to prove how right their beliefs are (especially since I think many of their beliefs aren’t right at all).


“We do not advocate exhorting white workers on an individual basis to give up their privileged status. What we do advocate is promoting vigorous struggle with the ruling class with equality at the forefront and to articulate the lessons of these struggles.”

David Ranney

Don’t take social justice at its word.

It has no desire to radically transform anything. When it slanders class-based politics as intrinsically white, straight, cis, abled, and male, it isn’t telling the truth.

There’s another agenda in play. The professional-managerial class doesn’t want to lose control of progressive politics. We will have to force it to, because otherwise the working class will keep losing. Working-class power is the soul of any Left worth the name. But the social justice subculture doesn’t want revolution – it wants self-congratulation. Paradoxically, that goal is served by its fixation on suffering, privilege, and personal complicity in larger social systems. When “anti-oppression” activists self-flagellate, they create a nearly Protestant sense of collective morality. You want grace? Admit your sin. You want validation? Admit your complicity, your privilege.

Thankfully, their underlying beliefs aren’t true. The ability to change society comes from the latent power of the people who create society (and everything in it): the working class, paid and unpaid. We can only free ourselves by getting rid of the ruling class. Now, for anyone who wants working-class unity, privilege isn’t a useless idea. In fact, it’s vital. Male, white, abled, and otherwise-privileged members of our class are materially less exploited than other workers. They receive tangible and intangible benefits that set them apart from the rest of the class. Working-class unity doesn’t just drop out of nowhere. It has to be knit together, thread by thread, struggle by struggle. Unless fighting privilege and class-based organizing happen through and alongside each other, we will defeat neither capitalism nor privilege. Privilege is part of the class system. It doesn’t float around somewhere in the ether; nothing under capitalism is outside capitalism. Revolutionaries who ignore it can only fail. In a white supremacist and deeply patriarchal society like the US, cultural and material privilege does more to destroy working-class unity than anything else, and avoiding the issue doesn’t make class-based organizing easier. It makes it impossible.

However, the social justice subculture has no useful role in that work. It doesn’t actually break down privilege within the working class. That would mean helping privileged workers understand that opposing their privilege is not self-sacrifice but enlightened self-interest, and proving it through the experience of class struggle. But the subculture prefers to dismiss (or even attack) the working class, while acting as though privilege is a law of nature instead of something we can abolish. The trope that “working class” is a euphemism for “white men who think they’re not privileged” is not honest analysis. It’s psychological projection – the social justice milieu is irredeemably by and for the professional-managerial class, which is disproportionately white and male. We should reject it as such.

You don’t get justice with the politics of guilt. You get it with the politics of solidarity. Freedom doesn’t come from shame. It comes from treating an injury to one as an injury to all (because for the working class, it objectively is).

Do you want social change? Don’t look to the social justice subculture. If, like most of us, you’re a worker (paid or unpaid), help build your class’s power instead.

How else do you think you’ll get free?


Sophia Burns is a communist and devotional polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her at Patreon.

Ash, Oak and Thorn: Clarification on the Death of British Paganism

The crisis of Paganism is directly tied to Capitalism

Cultural and religious analysis, from Jonathan Woolley


Ash die-back

Last month, I wrote an article in which I argued that the British Pagan Movement was dying. I was pleased to see it provoked(1) quite(2) a bit of(3) interest(4). As I expected, some people agreed with what I had to say, while others did not. Whenever you broach a controversial topic – and my article most certainly did so – there will always be some measure of disagreement. So before I move forward and offer some solutions to the problem as I see it, I thought it might be worthwhile to make some points of clarification.

This is what I shall attempt to do below; by means of a naturalistic metaphor. Much of my academic research has been concerned by exploring the ways in which the human and non-human worlds affect one another; how the forces of belief, profit, and bureaucracy percolate out through the landscape, and create patterns in the land and its people that closely mirror one another. Although I agreed with much of what John Beckett had to say in his response to my article*, what I found rather iffy about it was his use of evolution as a way of thinking about the development of religious communities. Using evolution as a model for understanding the spread or decline of human societies has a long and rather dubious history in anthropology, and contemporary social science has generally left metaphors of this particular kind behind.

While I still think nature can be – to use Levi-Strauss’ famous phrase – “good to think with” regarding social relations, I’d deploy it in a rather different way to John. So I thought I might demonstrate this, here, before I move on.

It will show, I hope, three things. One, it will help us appreciate what kinds of social groups I am talking about – in short, what I mean by “The British Pagan Movement.” Two, it will help us understand what “death” means here; what conclusions the evidence supports, and what conclusions it does not. Three, it will help us to understand why this process is inextricably bound-up with global flows of capital.

Clarification 1) Primroses

pagan things are not (necessarily) Paganism

There is a little wood, not far from where I live, that is mostly ash trees. As of this moment, the place is in a state much like many other ancient woodlands in the UK, managed for conservation; the branches are alive with birdsong, the forest floor is covered with a carpet of bluebells, primroses and lush spring grass. New life is flourishing everywhere you look. But if you look up, you see that a good number of the trees have brown lesions on their bark, and that last year’s withered leaf stalks are still clinging to their branches. Many of the older saplings are dead. Signs on the gate posts at the entry to the wood warn you – the whole place is suffering from Chalara, or Ash dieback. This fungus has already hit 90% of Denmark’s ash trees, and it is now spreading rapidly across the British Isles. Although mature trees can survive with an infection for many years, it decimates saplings, preventing the ash population from regenerating.

But remember – we are at the height of spring, and the forest is green, and many of the older trees will still put out leaves this year. So the majority of human visitors might imagine – even those who know the wood well – that there is no problem; hence the need for signs. But unless a solution is found, Britain’s glorious ash woods will die out. This does not mean the end of woodlands in general, nor does Chalara affect all plant species that live in ash woods – many of whom can and do thrive in woods of other sorts of trees. But if the ash trees all die out, then the woodlands defined by them will likewise disappear.

My previous article on Gods and Radicals made a similar diagnosis regarding British Paganism. I observed that – like the ebullient undergrowth in my ash woodland – the level of interest in “pagan” (note the small p) things is flourishing like never before. We’ve just celebrated May Day here in England, and there have been festivities up and down the country of a decidedly “pagan” feel. Despite many of these traditions have deep roots, I cannot remember them being celebrated so widely, or being publicised so much in the media.

I myself spent May Morning in Oxford with some friends, and 27,000 other people, who listened to the choir of Magdalene College sing to the rising sun, before a blessing was called out upon the Earth, our Mother, and the flourishing of the verdure for which the English springtime is famed. As the bells rang in the day, and Morris Men and other folk dancers jangled their way down across the Radcliffe Camera, the people of Oxford spread out to pubs and cafes – open especially early for that Morning – to toast the summer. And although there were initiated Pagans like myself present, by far and away the majority of those out on May Morning were not. The blessing was called out by an Anglican vicar, after all, and the choir were singing Hymnus Eucharisticus, a 500 year-old hymn about the Incarnation of Christ.

Events and activities of this kind, though undoubtedly “pagan” in a sense, should not be conflated with the Pagan Movement in Britain – which, as I stated in my original article, is a network of historically-related initiatory traditions, membership organisations, mailing lists, moots, and shops, all built around a genre of spiritual books, published from the late 19th to the present-day. This retail and voluntary framework supports a group of small religions and mystery schools that have grown dramatically in size during the 1980s and 1990s.

In the comments, a number of people suggested that because interest in pagan things like May Morning were doing so well the Pagan Movement itself must be flourishing. This reveals a common tendency  within both the advocacy and the study of Paganisms to claim pagan groups, ideas, and customs as part of the Pagan Movement, in a way that bolsters the Movement’s perceived size. An extreme version of this approach is represented in Michael York’s Pagan Theology, where he argues that indigenous religions, Hinduism, Shinto, African Traditional and Diasporic Religions, and Chinese Traditional Religions should all be reclassified as Pagan. This view has been heavily criticised for being a wild oversimplification of theological and ritual diversity in the traditions concerned, and for appropriating the independent philosophies of people of colour for confessional ends – despite the fact that followers in those philosophies would certainly reject the “Pagan” label.

I suggest we see a similar mistake being made when cultural events like May Morning, or the Stonehenge gathering at the Solstice, are treated as evidence for initiatory Pagan traditions themselves being in fine fettle. True, small-p paganism might encourage some people to seek out deeper mysteries, but I see little evidence that supports the view that the former necessarily leads to the latter in all cases. To dismiss the prospect of a gradual decline in popularity of initiatory Pagan groups or membership associations in Britain out of hand, simply because of the popularity of “pagan” cultural themes in Britain today is a bit like saying the ash trees can’t be dying from Chalara, because the primroses are doing awfully well.

Clarification 2) Saplings:

A lack of young people, and a lack of volunteerism are the problems; not an immediate collapse in membership

In my article, I identified evidence of decline with two observations; that there appear to be fewer people under 40 attending events organised by British Pagan traditions than previously, and that far fewer members of our community are volunteering to organise events. In the comments to my article – and in some rather frantic critiques published elsewhere – a lot of people went on to assume that the actual number of new members had collapsed, and that the existing membership figures of organisations like OBOD were falling. I have subsequently received clarification that – at least in the case of OBOD – this isn’t the case.

OBOD is increasing its membership rapidly to the point that the office is positively bustling; I have been informed that there are now nearly 20,000 members worldwide, an increase of roughly 4,000 over the past four years. Though reassuring, this bit of quantitative detail doesn’t necessarily affect my original observations – as OBOD doesn’t record the age of its members, it could be that this growth in membership is taking place solely amongst the over 40s. And as I argued in my original piece, if young people are joining the Order, but not coming to events, that still represents a problem. If millennials and younger members of Generation X are not being reached by the Order now, we have no guarantee that this will change as they get older – so the lack of young people at events could still indicate a problem that needs to be resolved. Nor does this continued growth indicate the extent to which people are willing to volunteer their time to organise moots, camps, or rituals.

With our ash woodland, the point is not that all the ash trees are dead already, or that no new seeds are able to germinate – rather, the problem is that Chalara is preventing the trees from flourishing as well as they might, to the point that a almost a whole generation of saplings has withered away, and this will have consequences long-term. The lack of young people at events, and the lack of ready volunteers, indicates that such a process may be ongoing in the British Pagan Community.

Clarification 3) Biosecurity:

Capitalism is, in fact, the causal factor

One might imagine that a fungal disease attacking ash trees and the combination of market forces I identified as being so deleterious to Britain’s initiatory Pagan traditions would have very little to do with one another. But in fact, both track the impact of global capitalism on local communities of different kinds.

Chalara – a species native to Asian forests, where it does no harm whatsoever – was imported into Europe in mass-produced furniture and ornamental plants. Rather than put in place adequate biosecurity measures to protect our forests from such diseases, the UK government opted for deregulation, preferring to protect the free movement of goods over the safety of our forests. It was neoliberal ideology – the religion of late capitalism – that brought Chalara to our shores. Just as Britain’s trees are blighted by the demands of capital, so our mysteries are deprived of the means of their reproduction by those self-same demands.

In the epic poem by Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook’s Hill, the nature spirit Puck explains that – apart from himself – all the magical people of England have left

“The People of the Hills have all left. I saw them come into Old England and I saw them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, goblins, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heath-people, hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people, little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes and the rest — gone, all gone!”

Only he remains, for “I came into England with Oak, Ash, and Thorn, and when Oak, Ash, and Thorn are gone I shall go too”. This powerful poem contains, I suggest, the seeds of the sort of radical “saving vision” that John Halstead suggests we must pursue, not just to save our Movement from long-term decline, but to make it worth saving. While Britain’s ash trees wither due to the spread of Chalara, other threats – like the devastating Emerald Ash Borer – lurk on the horizon. Britain’s oak trees, too, are in danger – with Sudden Oak Death being another species introduced by the trade in exotic plants, without adequate biosecurity. It is the responsibility of initiated Pagans to lead the charge in protecting Oak, Ash, and Thorn, making the land welcoming again for The People of the Hills.

For if we do not, then who shall?

*However, as he believed his remarks were in disagreement with my own, I suspect he wrote more of a response to the title of my article, rather than its content.


Jonathan Woolley

1b&w copyJonathan is a social anthropologist and human ecologist, based at the University of Cambridge. He is a specialist in the political economy of the British landscape, and in the relationship between spirituality, the environment, and climate change. A member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and an eco-animist, Jonathan maintains a blog about his academic fieldwork called BROAD PATHWAYS.


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