Category Archives: Co-operatives

Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds

I’ve often wondered about the limits of activist’s reach and the lack of coherent, organized progressive social movements in the US. Does it come down to the precarious nature of our jobs, the stress, strain, and exhaustion caused by the realization of being a paycheck away from penury? Or is it all the fault of our monopolistic media, with the puppet strings controlled by their advertisers, the corporate giants and multinationals? Is it geographic distance from Europe where socialism advanced far broader and deeper into society? Could it be the anti-communist Red Scare that dominated the binary and delusional cold war mindset? Was it the very real threat and use of violence via COINTELPRO, and overseas with Operations Gladio, Condor, etc? Is it deeper psychological issues stemming from the trauma of having to grow up in a cold capitalist world which leads to false consciousness?

It would seem to be a mixture of all of the above. Yet millions of citizens still are able to see through the mendacities inherent in our empire, in our collective cultural death-wish, and many millions more would be able to if provided the education, tools, and resources to see through the lies of our global system of capital.

Activists and educators must reconsider their approaches in light of the repeated failures of international progressive organizations. In short, part of the failure lies with the leadership of non-profits, NGOs, community leaders, and the type of worldview they adhere to. For one, unstable vertical hierarchies are reproduced, with not enough feedback from concerned citizens and community-based, small-scale pressure groups. Also, technocrats and lawyers are relied far too heavily upon to perform band-aid, stopgap procedures in the social and environmental justice fields. Endless petitions and protests are planned which do not lead to fundamental change.

Organization in the majority of so-called progressive movements mimics the neoliberal order. Pedestals and soapboxes are lined up for the official learned classes, who are offered cushy positions to run vote campaigns, to lobby (beg) a corrupt Congress or Parliament to do the right thing. This is turn creates a new split between the middle-class non-profit lawyers, campaigners, and managers; and the working class constituencies, which only fuels social division and alienation.

These maladies contribute to the false consciousness of the mostly liberal, white, middle-class, urbane, college-educated non-profit and social justice managerial class, as well as progressive activists. All of the racist, sexist, and classist baggage is carried alongside these organizations, as we can see so clearly in the faux “progressive” areas like Silicon Valley.

Let us take this line of thought further. I believe the lack of rigor and effectiveness also shows up with so-called radical activists and intellectuals who believe they are sincerely committed to revolution. It works in a few ways: radicals take on the feelings of others in unhealthy ways, bottling up anger and sadness that legitimately occurs and is expressed in subaltern groups. Another point involves the expectation of success, the attachment to pet projects and the personal rage that spills out when failure occurs.

US progressive and radicals are, for the most part, not versed in modern scientific advancements, ecology, or Eastern traditions. There is no tolerance for balance, paradox, and contradiction. Most are stuck on treadmills and attached to their egos and personas. Then there is the problem of speed: trying to catch up with every travesty the establishment and corporations impose on us (playing defense), as if one could bail out a sinking Titanic with a bucket. There is the notion of taking on social justice burdens as a very Christian-like type of “work”, instead of blending work and play into a post-modern, post-coercive labor environment that could put humankind on a type of threshold, a liminal state, towards a saner society of free association and mutual aid which could end much unnecessary suffering.

Running in Circles

There is most likely an inverse relationship between how seriously one takes oneself and one’s wisdom. The most serious among us are almost undoubtedly the least wise. The vast majority of the endless running around from protests or events or conferences or speaking engagements are just a series of distractions.

There are appropriate times for all those things, to be sure. Yet it must be noted that the predominant mode of liberals, leftists, and progressives is predicated on constantly reacting to and diagnosing mainstream culture, rather than arriving at any original prescriptions for changing society.

Many people in the US of all political persuasions are quite aware of the near terminal nature of politics: and many are looking for a model that works. The diagnosis has been made countless times. People are ready for an alternative to our broken system.  Obviously, with no capital this is nearly impossible for poor and marginalized communities.  An international network of direct action, worker co-ops, and communal agriculture must begin as soon as possible to fight neoliberal economics and the looming challenges of climate change.

Brecht’s Stance

A few years ago, I stumbled across Bertolt Brecht’s Stories of Mr. Keuner. The first passage is entitled “What’s wise about the wise man is his stance.” Here is the full passage:

A philosophy professor came to see Mr. K and told him about his wisdom. After a while Mr. K said to him: ‘You sit uncomfortably, you talk uncomfortably, you think uncomfortably.’ The philosophy professor became angry and said: ‘I didn’t want to hear anything about myself but about the substance of what I was talking about.’ ‘It has no substance,’ said Mr. K. ‘I see you walking clumsily and, as far as I can see, you’re not getting anywhere. You talk obscurely, and you create no light with your talking. Seeing your stance, I’m not interested in what you’re getting at.’

Now we’re getting somewhere! As Sean Carney explains in Brecht and Critical Theory: Dialectics and Contemporary Aesthetics:

The most important thing to draw from Brecht’s play, then, is the attitude it displays, which Brecht also calls a kind of wisdom that is performed or staged for us. It seems important here to distinguish between the form of wisdom, and the content of wisdom. Brecht, for his part, is concerned only with the former, the posture of wisdom, wisdom as an action. The form of this wisdom is dialectical and historical.

There is no space to flesh out all the implications here. A few thoughts will have to suffice.

When Western activists scream, “Rise up!” they should be reminded: “Sit down.” Always consider the antithesis. Slowing down, sitting: calling for nationwide wildcat general strikes would do much greater good than marching around with placards along predetermined protest routes.

When others shout “Speak out,” we can remind them: be silent (just imagine kids in school refusing to speak the pledge of allegiance or taking a knee in high school sports in solidarity with Kaepernick). When protestors implore: “Wake up,” they can also be chided and reminded: “Keep dreaming!” (of a genuine revolution, not stopping the imagination at some milquetoast progressive reforms led by the DSA or other pseudo-leftists, which, while helpful, do not go nearly far enough). I am not advocating not speaking truth to power here, or any escapism, only that in certain cases we should ignore the constant dramas and tragedies engendered by the corporate ruling-class and focus on building parallel structures and intentional communities to bust an escape hatch from global tyranny.

Non-striving

It should be recognized that many so-called “radicals” mimic the striving, combative, and authoritarian nature of the neoliberal order. Raised in an ultra-competitive society, some proponents of revolution refuse the inner work necessary while clinging to whatever social capital or insignificant platform one can muster up.

We live in a culture of constant striving, clinging, petty jealousness and egomaniacal childishness. It is no wonder that it shows up on many outlets of progressive outlets as well as on social media, and in activist circles.

Instead, we should begin the work of instilling a radical patience. Not because we have a lot to time left to act (we assuredly don’t), but because attaching oneself to unobtainable goals in the very short term only has the effect of tiring out and disillusioning many sincere people. Western activists could learn something by practicing non-attachment.

Only by giving up hope can we become present in the moment. This has continually been best expressed among Buddhists. As Pema Chodron writes:

As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot. In a non-theistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put ‘Abandon Hope’ on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like ‘Everyday in everyway, I’m getting better and better.’ We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment. If hope and fear are two different sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence. If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.

Thus, this brutally honest reflection (on our individual lives, but also on the fate of our civilization as we hurtle into the Anthropocene) leads to self-love, joy, and to vulnerability. This is a baseline for giving our collective culture what Rollo May called The Courage to Create. May contrasts happiness (in this sense a cessation of wants, a sense of security) with basic joy (quoted here):

Happiness is related to security, to being reassured, to doing things as one is used to and as our fathers did them. Joy is a revelation of what was unknown before. Happiness often ends up in a placidity on the edge of boredom. Happiness is success. But joy is stimulating, it is the discovery of new continents emerging within oneself…Happiness is the absence of discord; joy is the welcoming of discord as the basis of higher harmonies. Happiness is finding a system of rules which solves our problems; joy is taking the risk that is necessary to break new frontiers.

One cannot understand joy without noting the sense of timelessness: the past, present, and future all converging into the present moment. Athletes, artists, scientists, and others call this “flow” or “being in the zone.” Time moves more slowly, certainly everyone has experienced this phenomenon at one point or another. Relativity has proven that this is possible, as well as studies in consciousness, meditation, and psychedelics.

Is any of this useful as a guide towards activism today? I will leave it to you to decide. Is it possible to “create light” when you speak, or be in tune with “higher harmonies?”

Time

Regarding time, we can turn to Brecht’s friend, Walter Benjamin, and his notion of the Jetztzeit. In order to break free from “homogenous, empty time,” which, notably, Francis Fukuyama unintentionally expressed so well as the ever-looming backdrop to the neoliberal era in The End of History, Benjamin writes that society must struggle towards “the messianic zero-hour of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the struggle for a suppressed past.”

That is to say, only by looking backwards in time can we assess the damages of the present age, even as the storm of progress pushes us further away from mending the wreckage, as Benjamin explains Klee’s Angelus Novus. Only in the zero-hour, the ever-present moment, can we blast open a historic event. This explains Benjamin’s concept of the monad, a “constellation overflowing with tensions.”

On the Horizon

Does any modern science conform to these ideas of reality as a constellation of energy and matter, something like Benjamin’s monad, influenced by Leibniz, overflowing with possibilities, tensions, and constant flux? Put another way, are there are empirical/scientific fields which show a healthy stance or posture of wisdom?

Here we turn to some of the modern science that corroborates what people like Benjamin, the German Idealists, process philosophy, Leibniz, and before him, Spinoza, Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, and various Eastern traditions have contributed to: a systems view of life and the universe that explains phenomena holistically. In a nurturing system such as this, cross-discipline studies would expand, converge, and enrich social life and ecosystem health.

In many ways, modern science shows a return to the old ways of knowing: concepts in relativity and quantum mechanics were foreseen millennia ago, such as in Buddhism’s principle of dependent co-arising, for example.

Chaos Theory

Some of the greatest 20th century scientists were: Einstein, Watson and Crick, Margulis and Lovelock. Yet the most influential of all may turn out to be the little known meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, pioneer of chaos theory, the butterfly effect, and the strange attractor.

For a thorough introduction, James Gleick’s Chaos is a great start. For those mathematically inclined, I recommend Manfred Schroeder’s Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws.

It is this system-view approach that can explain, even, the formation of life on this planet: self-organizing proto-nucleotides and amino acids along with fatty membranes and mitochondria/chloroplasts which gave rise to the first unicellular organisms. It is these non-linear dynamics which do, in fact, create higher harmonies- Poincare’s three body problem being the first modern example.

In non-linear systems based on power laws, when the variable in the function passes a certain limit (dependent upon the initial conditions), the function starts to behave chaotically. The next figure cannot be predicted from previous answers. Eventually, a bifurcation will occur: this simply means that further on in the progression, the function bounces back between two figures, back and forth. If the parameter is pushed higher, period-doubling occurs: this simply means that instead of bouncing between two numbers, the function doubles to bounce between four, then eight, 16, etc. This applies to many dynamic systems and can start with any integer, so depending upon the function, you could have period doubling of 3, 6, twelve; four, eight, 16, etc. Period halving is possible, too.

The scientist Robert May was the first to prove this in population biology, and many fields have found it a useful tool for studying dynamic systems since. The point I want to make clear is in regard to climate and weather: all climate scientists and meteorologists accept weather cannot be predicted after 3 weeks, weather is inherently chaotic, yet climate, for now, is stable.

Without significant changes, the positive feedback loops currently warming the planet will eventually push the relatively stable, homeostatic climate model into the “Hot house Earth” model. Wild changes in weather are more likely to occur. Not only that, but much higher-level droughts and flooding will occur more frequently; i.e., climatic normality may switch into an non-linear, chaotic state.

In the US, the Southwest in particular will be hit hard. Consider central Arizona, where the ancient Hokoham population could have reached 80,000 around 1300 CE. The area around Phoenix could have provided for 10,000 people. You make think, well, that was before modern irrigation and food transportation. You would be wrong. The Hokoham were masterful farmers with over 500 miles of canals and estimates of over 100,000 acres of cultivated, irrigated land. Today, metro Phoenix has approximately 4.7 million people. This won’t end well. By 2050, much of Arizona and the wider region could be ghost towns.

The second point: self-similarity is inherent in nature at many scales, as observed in fractals. How does this apply to culture? Direct democracy can be implemented at all scales (local, from worker councils to communal town meetings; to international, with a trans-national body such as a re-imagined UN.)

Chaos theory applies to the brain as well: there is evidence that psychedelics reform and rearrange new connections of neurons, changing the “criticality” of its structural firings. This is what is able to cure patients of depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., by changing the flow of thoughts and giving a wider expression, to get your mind out of a rut or a bad habit of harmful/fearful thinking.

There is plenty of sociological and anthropological evidence that mimetic theory (pioneered by Rene Girard) has some merit. Mostly, this is studied cross-culturally (horizontally), but we should consider the vertical dimension of hierarchies: at levels of coercion and exploitation are imitated at all scales of the socio-economic pyramid. The ruthless hierarchy was not that different between the mind-numbing conformity and bureaucratic chicanery of state-capitalist countries, contrasted with the crushing alienation and faux-competitive crony capitalism of neoliberal nations. If the structure is rotten at the top, most state and local governments mimic and take their cue from the power relations above them.

This played out very clearly on the international level after 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Once the Patriot Act, NDAA, and AUMF were passed, once NATO and ISAF forces invaded Afghanistan, with troops and spooks using “rendition”, “enhanced interrogation techniques”, with nighttime raids on civilians, and outright drone murder was rolled out by the US, other nations followed suit, with a rash of authoritarian copycat legislation, as well as police and military brutality playing out around the globe. For instance, the uptick in violence by Israel in 2002-2003 during the second Intifada is telling. Without the September 11 attacks and the relentless anti-Muslim propaganda coming from the US, there is little doubt that the IDF would have been so emboldened.

On a positive note, it’s quite telling, and appropriate, that the self-similar snail shell (caracol) became the emblem of the Zapatistas, and the model for their communities. Rebecca Solnit explains this well, and quotes a wonderful passage from Marcos, who draws from his folk hero, “Old Antonio”:

The wise ones of olden times say that the hearts of men and women are in the shape of a caracol, and that those who have good in their hearts and thoughts walk from one place to the other, awakening gods and men for them to check that the world remains right. They say that they say that they said that the caracol represents entering into the heart, that this is what the very first ones called knowledge. They say that they say that they said that the caracol also represents exiting from the heart to walk the world…. The caracoles will be like doors to enter into the communities and for the communities to come out; like windows to see us inside and also for us to see outside; like loudspeakers in order to send far and wide our word and also to hear the words from the one who is far away.

Contradiction, Paradox, Nuance

There is a great passage in an old Marcos communiqué, “The retreat is making us almost scratch at the sky.” As the echo chambers, petty infighting, and silos build up on the Left, I thought it’d be appropriate to share his thoughts on how to respond to those fearful of heterodox-postmodern-non-ideological-anarchic stances:

After these confessions, he of the voice was exhorted to spontaneously declare himself innocent or guilty of the following series of accusations. To each accusation, he of the voice responded:

The whites accuse him of being dark. Guilty

The dark ones accuse him of being white. Guilty

The authentics accuse him of being indigenous. Guilty

The treasonous indigenous accuse him of being mestizo. Guilty

The machos accuse him of being feminine. Guilty

The feminists accuse him of being macho. Guilty

The communists accuse him of being anarchist. Guilty

The anarchists accuse him of being orthodox. Guilty

The Anglos accuse him of being Chicano. Guilty

The antisemitics accuse him of being in favor of the Jews. Guilty

The Jews accuse him of being pro-Arab. Guilty

The Europeans accuse him of being Asiatic. Guilty

The government officials accuse him of being oppositionist. Guilty

The reformists accuse him of being ultra. Guilty

The ultras accuse him of being reformist. Guilty

The “historical vanguard” accuses him of calling to the civic society and not to the proletariat. Guilty

The civic society accuses him of disturbing their tranquility. Guilty

The Stock Exchange accuses him of ruining their breakfast. Guilty

The government accuses him of increasing the consumption of antiacids in the government’s Departments. Guilty

The serious ones accuse of being a jokester. Guilty

The adults accuse him of being a child. Guilty

The children accuse him of being an adult. Guilty

The orthodox leftists accuse him of not condemning the homosexuals and lesbians. Guilty

The theoreticians accuse of being a practitioner. Guilty

The practicioners accuse of being a theorist. Guilty

Everyone accuses him of everything bad that has happened. Guilty”

I take inspiration from this; I see a sort of playfulness, a glimpse of his “inner child”. Today, we could also say: to those who, without nuance, accuse others of being heretics or dogmatic; to those who would accuse us of rather having a messy, non-violent, and imperfect revolution on the streets rather than continue to perpetuate a self-congratulatory, alienating, bloviating, insular, suffocating, and self-defeating movement in substance and style, we must reply: we are Guilty.

Quantum Theory

Our understanding of reality and consciousness has grown by leaps and bounds with advances in quantum physics. The parallels between Eastern thought and quantum mechanics are uncanny, and no one has explained this better than Fritjof Capra in his bestseller The Tao of Physics. Exploring connections between the sub-atomic world and Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy, Capra takes the reader on a tour-de-force. Of course, it was the early physicists who worked on the uncertainty principle, double-slit experiment (wave-particle duality), complementarity, and quantum superpositioning who originally noted the connections between Eastern philosophies. Thus, consciousness and the observer effect somehow influences these experimental designs in ways science currently has no answer for.

Capra synthesizes this and builds upon these models: he insists on the interrelationship operating at certain scales of reality, and calls it a holistic/ecological worldview in his afterword to the 3rd edition.

There has been lots of push-back from other physicists since 1975 when the first edition appeared. The science is not in debate at the sub-atomic scale, rather, how it applies to the macroscopic world is what is at stake. There are plenty of scientists that dismiss Capra completely without acknowledging the very qualified, modest theory he put forward.

The new revelations about quantum entanglement push this line of thought further. The basic idea is: two electrons become “entangled” where the spin of one is connected with the other regardless of distance. When one electron’s spin is measured, the second spin correlates instantaneously, faster than the speed of light. This is what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Non-locality is another name. This flies in the face of the fundamentals laws of physics.

So what does this mean? The best analogy I can come up with (paraphrasing from someone, somewhere) is that when measuring (observing) the first particle, you are pushing through the fabric of space-time with your finger to “touch” the second particle at the same time, bypassing the physical distance between the two.

What are the implications here? Physicists insist this phenomenon doesn’t “scale up” to the macroscopic level. If we look at today’s level of scientific knowledge in physics, they’re right. There is little evidence to suggest this.

Yet, the simple fact that this can occur on sub-atomic levels is staggering. No one knows where these new teachings will take us.  Certainly, though, there are parallels with shamanic/animistic ways of thinking, or, to put it in the words of Stephen Hawking: “every particle and every force in the universe contains information, an implicit answer to a yes-no question.”

However, this interpenetration of levels/worlds in the social and mental realms, is quite pronounced, say, in medical facts. The higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, in poor and working class communities as well as for minorities is tied to the mental strain and stress of living in substandard housing without proper nutrition, lack of access to education, etc. African American women are 3-4 times more likely to lose children in childbirth compared to white women, due to lack of pre-natal care, and sometimes because their doctors won’t listen to them. Women who’ve suffered a heart attack are more likely to survive if their doctor is a woman, rather than a man. Again, because women doctors are generally: more competent, listen to patients’ symptoms better, and show higher emotional intelligence and compassion.

Gaia Theory

Turning to Earth systems, it was the pioneering work of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock who together formulated Gaia theory. Thinking of the Earth as a self-regulating super-organism is helpful in many fields, from geology to climate science to evolutionary biology. From the simple-programming of Lovelock’s Daisyworld, today we can model ecosystem resiliency, albedo effects in the Arctic Sea, and deforestation in tropical rain forests, the lungs of the Earth, all in terms of feedback loops which can tie into trends such as global warming, species extinction, desertification, and declining biodiversity.

Scientists are now willing to combine the shocking implications of chaos theory within Gaia: in the journal Nature Barnosky et al. write of “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere.” The authors write that “the plausibility of a future planetary state shift seems high” and they acknowledge the uncertainty about when it may happen. They also point out: “it is extremely unlikely or impossible for the system to return to its previous state.” Thus, if a hothouse Earth scenario becomes a reality, there will be no going back. Real estate speculation on Antarctica could be a thing in 100 years.

There are reasons to be hopeful. One line of thought was taken up recently by Bruno Latour, who along with a co-author, postulate what they call Gaia 2.0. Simply put, they are referring to a global system where:

…deliberate self-regulation—from personal action to global geoengineering schemes—is either happening or imminently possible. Making such conscious choices to operate within Gaia constitutes a fundamental new state of Gaia, which we call Gaia 2.0. By emphasizing the agency of life-forms and their ability to set goals, Gaia 2.0 may be an effective framework for fostering global sustainability.

While they posit this self-conscious biomimetic planning of bioregions as new, because they see it as the first chance to endeavor to perform this on a global scale, the novelty only really applies to a certain brand of Eurocentric/anthropocentric materialists, anti-intellectual monotheists, and other deniers of common sense and basic ecology. Indigenous groups have used bioregional eco-friendly practices for millennia, with First Nations sustainably caretaking land from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle.

Consider terra preta in Amazonia, the miraculous change from teosinte to maize which many estimate domestication circa 9000 years ago, mountain terracing in the Andes, super-high productivity with Central American milpas, multiyear field rotation for fallow lands to rejuvenate nutrients, seasonal burns throughout North America which increased deer and upland game bird populations, with agroforestry “forest farming” of chestnut (Chestnut Trees could produce over a ton per acre in vast portions of America before the die-off occurred), hickory, butternut, oak (acorns are used as a food source removing tannins with water) and more. Not to mention the thousands of uses of native plants and fungi for herbal/traditional medicine, preventive/holistic care, and shamanic/spiritual uses.

I would say one of the most interesting debates about what Gaia 2.0 could look like is mostly ignored, because it is occurring on the far side of the globe: Aotearoa, aka New Zealand. Their government has already launched a “Predator Free” program for 2050, where all mammalian predators are hoping to be eliminated with a variety of programs forming in the near future. Intense debate surrounds the gene drive approach, some techniques using CRISPR and some using other gene editing technology, to in effect, using genetic manipulation, create all male future generations of predators and thus, lead to localized extinction of these mammals in Aotearoa and its small outlying islands.

The bioethics are being debated by UN and national groups and many conservation groups are totally against the idea. Some Maori are open to the possibilities of gene-drive technology, yet they understandably critique the bad faith of the scientists involved, citing:

[An] increasing lack of cultural accountability in academic journals who seem happy to publish anything without thought, consideration, or commentary from the communities those papers have extracted from, taken swipe at, or made promises to… The second issue is what I deem bad research-dating behaviour, or rather how to build respectful relationships with indigenous peoples/communities… Relatively few, however, are actually committed to investing their time into building long-term relationships, despite being continually told that that is what is required… However, some researchers by-and-large continue to push an extractive model whereby they attempt to take intellectual property from communities in return for ‘the greater research good’. This model is naïve to the political situations that indigenous communities are operating in, and often places those communities in culturally unsafe positions.

Fritjof Capra notably calls the first step in transitioning to such a state of ecological awareness and cultural sensitivity “eco-literacy” and the next step eco-design. He’s on point. The funny, sad, and tragic thing (to me at least) is that exposes the orthodox technophile Western Left (seemingly the majority) as supporters of what many like to call Industrialism, the over-arching system, including capitalism and state socialism, of fossil fuel exploitation which is killing the planet.

According to the technophile proponents of unrestrained instrumental reason, many of us, well, sane and sensible people, who, in advocating for appropriate-scale technology, have the basic common sense to understand that Small is Beautiful, are a bunch of Luddites, crazy hippies, anti-civ, lifestylists, primitivists, nihilists, and/or misanthropes.

This type of thinking exposes the narrowness and superficiality of many “Leftists” who espouse all the right mantras, yet never bothered to take Marx’s example and actually study and stay abreast with key scientific and ecological advances.

I try my best to remain calm, patient, and equanimous, yet it is difficult with unabashed technophiles- again, possibly the majority of what qualifies as what’s left of the Left. There is a discomfort from listening to the droning on of progressives, and also many banal Leftist economists and historians who pay lip service to sustainability, while not even giving token acknowledgment of the nature of spiritual transformation required.

Many of these people, even on “progressive” alternative media, are unaware of their own immiseration via lack of engagement with the natural world, which I take no pleasure in pointing out, so my queasiness doesn’t qualify as schadenfraude, but apparently, there is another German word for what I’ve been feeling: Fremdschämen: “‘exterior shame’, for those of you who cringe in phantom pain when others make a fool of themselves, this is your word. It describes the feeling of shame when seeing someone else in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation.” Perhaps Mr. Keuner was feeling this, as well.

Planting Seeds

Well, there is no high note to end this on. Most of activism goes towards wasting time attempting to change the minds of adults whose conditioning and social infantilization have already reached epic proportions. There is no systemic, global plan for engaging the youth in ecological-cultural restorative practices. This is absolutely ridiculous and a severe oversight of academia, including lackadaisical teachers and administrators, as well as conservatives and liberal-progressives who insist on vote-campaigns and the wonders of traditional higher education which indoctrinates and obfuscates class issues: yet the idea of revolutionizing public education never crosses their minds.

Revolutionary artists have always understood this, as well as indigenous tribal societies and many poor and working class communities. Yet today, the hungry ghosts of global capitalism are here to consume the sustenance and life force of future generations in an era where information is at our fingertips as never before.

The current education model effectively imprisons children in unsafe and unhealthy schools, with psychotropic drugs, authoritarian teachers, mind-numbing boredom and ennui functioning as social conditioning for a future hellscape with billions in poverty worldwide, no decent jobs, benefits, or forms of belonging; alongside a crushing tyranny of corporate rule, oligarchy, global war, climate chaos, and a culture ruled by a principle of “repressive tolerance.”

Thus, it is inevitable that the most important thing to do is raise our children in a healthy way. This will require social engagement on a spiritual, intellectual, communal, emotional and material basis (i.e., sharing extra housing for homeless and low-income families, paying child-rearing adults a living wage for their time and labor, equal pay for women, ending oppression against the LGBTQ community, serious environmental education, etc.). Patriarchy and racism will not be solved, until youth are gifted the freedom and opportunity to pursue their passions unencumbered by structurally racist and sexist policies which enforce hierarchy, capitalism, and war, until pathetic guidelines advocating rote memorization in school are abandoned, and crippling conformity fueled by vapid pop culture and the psychically numbing effect of social media is no longer glorified. Poverty, war, and disease cannot be significantly lowered or eliminated without a fundamentally redistributive model.

Furthermore, some sort of restorative healing measures, including some sort of reparations for minorities, including but not limited to redistributing money, property, land, and the means of production, via a process truth and reconciliation in the public sphere, is absolutely crucial. This would necessarily coincide with the dissolving of corporate and state power.

Public and private land must be given back to citizens: we are only free when given the ability to use the means of production to transform corporate agriculture into communal, appropriately-scaled endeavors where communities can directly and deliberatively interact, and transform as need be, to the world-historical changes (climatically, ecologically, and socially) on the immediate horizon.

This would seem to entail relaxing the grip of the Apollonian style of “emotionless” pure logic (techne/episteme), and instrumental reason; and coming to terms with the obverse: the Dionysian, where the shamanic/animistic, nomadic, and anarchic ways of being are accepted. This shift, with the science to back it up, is seen in a many counter-culture belief systems: the push for radical intersubjectivity, expanding studies of the realms of consciousness, a hylozoic belief system, and formulating a new model of recognition (see Taylor, Fraser, Honneth, Butler, among others) which does not re-invigorate the power of capital.

There is no hope of this happening in today’s 24/7 mainstream media, driven by fear and sensationalism. Only a world-historical process, a paradigm shift, can overturn this momentum, which would require inner work to be done on a mass scale in the Western world alongside collective general strikes, debt jubilees, a bit of carnivalesque (Bakhtin)/festival/regional cultural appreciation/in the spirit of a Communitas, and a counter-cultural force which does not overly privilege the economic at the expense of other social struggles.

This critical way of teaching is a sort of “stance”: a tendency towards what Aristotle called eudaimonia, “the good life,” informed by virtue, areté. Another way of phrasing it would be “human flourishing,” and here this referred to a moral sensibility, but also an aesthetic, a form of posture or “stance” if you will, an art of living, a way of (Hölderlin-esque) dwelling poetically upon the Earth.

From another angle, we could consider this a search for The Ethics of Authenticity. As Charles Taylor describes, what is structurally called for is:

…a many leveled struggle, intellectual, spiritual, and political, in which the debates in the public arena interlink with those in a host of institutional settings, like hospitals and schools, where the issues of enframing technology are being lived through in concrete form; and where these disputes in turn both feed and are fed by the various attempts to define in theoretical terms the place of technology and the demands of authenticity, and beyond that, the shape of human life and its relation to the cosmos.

Yet, again, this type of work should get started by educating children, because under the current conditions of liberal democracy, there is no acknowledgment of “interlinking”. There is only the autonomous individual: at least understood by most adults, whose notion of civic duty is voting, or volunteer work, or donating to charity. Rather, youth could be asked to inquire, as Rudy Rucker wondered:

One might also ask whether a person is best thought of as a distinct individual or as a nexus in the web of social interaction. No person exists wholly distinct from human society, so it might seem best to say that the space of society is fundamental. On the other hand, each person can feel like an isolated individual, so maybe the number-like individuals are fundamental. Complementarity says that a person is both individual and social component, and that there is no need to try to separate the two. Reality is one, and language introduces impossible distinctions that need not be made.

We can imagine a single cell in our body asking itself the same question: am I an individual or just part of a wider integrated whole? We can shift the scale but the self-similarity always follows: it’s turtles all the way down. This famous saying, of course, echoes what we know about fractals, and the possibility that we’re in a multiverse. There are also the First Nation stories about Spider Woman, or Grandmother Spider, who created the world. Again, we find the notion of the web- the basis of our bio/psycho/social being, and also a connection to string theory: spider-woman’s creation song; i.e. vibrations held by interconnected threads.

My preferred analogy to the individual/social false binary is mycological (or rhizomatic, though I’ll save D+G for another day): our conception of ourselves (ego) is the mushroom, the fruiting body which rises above the soil, while the unconscious mycelium sustains us below the surface. Although we stand above the detritus (wreckage, as Benjamin says) we are deeply enmeshed in it, history “is not even past” and it feeds, and thus can warp, our consciousness and sensibilities.

Thus we must tend to the soil, nurture the sprouts and green shoots of this new culture. The meager results of our efforts can be depressing (April really can be the cruelest month) yet we must move on, without clinging to hope.

As for the problem of language which Rucker mentioned, it’s worth reminding our sisters and brothers that propaganda is all around us today. As Malcolm X said: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Now is the time for the “revaluation of all values.” The struggle continues.

Realities and Challenges of Recuperated Workplaces in Argentina

Workers demonstrate in defense of Cerámica Zanon and other recuperated ceramics factories, in 2003 (Photo: Indymedia Argentina)

In this interview we talk to Andrés Ruggeri, anthropologist and researcher who directs the Facultad Abierta programme (Open School) of the University of Buenos Aires, dedicated to researching and supporting workplaces recuperated by their workers. Ruggeri tells us about the history of this movement, the challenges it faces, the relations with recent governments in Argentina, and much more.

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Ricardo Vaz:  Can you tell us a bit about this programme, Facultad Abierta?

Andres Ruggeri:  Facultad Abierta (Open School) is something that in Latin America is usually known as a University Extension, understood as the university function that is dedicated to the community. Usually these have to do with cultural aspects, courses, workshops, and this issue has also been commodified recently.

We started the programme in 2002. In the School of Philosophy and Literature of the University of Buenos Aires we set up a tiny extension unit to work with social movements, popular movements, that were flourishing at the time, among them the recuperated workplaces. We quickly turned to the subject of worker self-management, or workers’ control, on one hand doing research, and on the other taking part in the processes, trying to support the organizations that emerged.

RV: So it is not just a matter of doing research and documenting. What is, so to say, the contribution in the opposite direction? What do recuperated workplaces look for from Facultad Abierta?

AR: We never come with an attitude of telling the workers that “this is what needs to be done,” rather we look to work on a joint analysis of the issues, that will help with self-management. There are many aspects to it. One of them is actual participation: spreading information, supporting the occupations, collaboration in specific tasks, as well as articulating with other professionals. For example, we work with engineers, lawyers, accountants, people from the exact sciences, that may on occasion collaborate with a given company.

At the same time through the canvassing of recuperated workplaces, and the reports that are always discussed with the workers, we are generating a body of knowledge. I think at this point the work of Facultad Abierta is something that the movement has embraced as one of its tools. There is a documentation centre of recuperated workplaces that works out of a cooperative which is Imprenta Chilavert. There we document an endless number of things that have fuelled this relationship, as well as share the day-to-day life of this cooperative. At this point, it is sometimes hard to tell apart what is the movement and what is Facultad Abierta.

Facultad Abierta also edits the “Cuadernos para la autogestión,” (“Self-management notebooks”), produced at the Imprenta Chilavert.

RV: Does the movement also extend its reach beyond the Argentinian borders?

AR: Yes, another important development are the international meetings, called The Economy of the Workers. This was also an initiative of ours, in 2007, but it now extends far beyond Facultad Abierta.

These are meetings that bring together workers, activists, movements, and researchers. These international meetings were planned to be held once every two years, and later regional meetings started taking place in the intermediate years. Last year we had the sixth international meeting, with participants from over 30 countries, many different recuperated workplaces from around the world. It took place in Textiles Pigüé – a recuperated factory from the south of the province of Buenos Aires.

Billboard for the VI International Meeting Economy of the Workers, which took place in 2017 in Textiles Pigüé.

RV: The recuperated workplaces [note: we will often use the Spanish acronym ERT (Empresas Recuperadas por sus Trabajadores)] emerge strongly with the crisis in late 2001. Were they building on an existing tradition?

AR: Argentina is probably the Latin American country with the oldest history of cooperativism, dating back to the late XIX century. It is related to the history of migration and the emergence of the workers’ movement itself, just like in Europe. The workers’ movement, trade unions and cooperatives, emerge more or less in parallel, before diverging over time. But a certain tradition of cooperativism remained, even if generally separate from the question of production.

With the implementation of neoliberalism, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a shift in the economic structure: the country starts getting de-industrialised, lots of production chains are destroyed, resulting in lots of unemployed workers. Some unions, very few, start to promote and form cooperatives in the companies that were being shuttered. They were mostly small metal workshops, print shops, these kinds of companies. And the unions were essentially of metalworkers from the south of Greater Buenos Aires, from Quilmes, and the Buenos Aires Graphics Federation. Then in some locations in the interior other cooperatives also sprung up, as means of resisting against this process.

RV: Is it fair to say that these are more cases of abandoned companies than of occupied ones?

AR: It is a bit of both. Actually the workers occupy companies that are being abandoned, it is a simultaneous process. When the bosses are looking to close doors, or when there is a fraudulent bankruptcy, that is the moment when the occupation takes place. In the 1990s, we estimate there were around 30 cases in which cooperatives were set up, because there were many others in which it was attempted but it was not possible.

What happens in 2001 is that this becomes a movement. This movement acquires an identity, calls itself “recuperated workplaces,” organizes, sets forward demands, and in some sense creates a strategy of “what to do” when a company is abandoned, in order to preserve jobs, which is to form cooperatives and fight for expropriation. The movement’s slogan, which is actually borrowed from the MST [Landless Workers Movement, from Brazil], sums it up: “Occupy, Resist, Produce.”

RV: Do new cases of ERT keep appearing after 2001?

AR: According to our estimation of currently existing recuperated workplaces, which is around 380 with some 16.000 workers, there have been more recuperated workplaces after 2001 than the ones that took place at the time. The thing is that in 2001 there was a tremendous concentration of occupations, with massive mobilisations, with lots of social and political impact.

RV: In terms of the relationship with the state, how was the relationship between the Kirchner governments and the ERT? What was their perspective?

Andrés Ruggeri being interviewed during the sixth international meeting (Youtube screenshot, video available here)

AR: Kirchnerismo was very contradictory in what concerns recuperated workplaces, just like they were with many other issues. Nevertheless, they were not hostile to recuperated workplaces, even if they did not particularly favour them. Within their neo-keynesian conception of development, workers’ control and all of this did not really fit. All of the state’s policies for economic recovery were geared towards – and with great success for the most part – recovering employment and production by focusing on the internal market, but with a national bourgeoisie leading the way.

Then as the economy recovered, all these expressions such as cooperatives, small companies, even social movements, would tend to disappear because people would go back to formal employment, thus strengthening the unions. This was the plan. In that sense, the Kirchner governments collaborated with the ERT, with some programmes of subsidies and support. But never with an economic policy, it was rather a social policy, of managing conflict, with the perspective of helping people that had lost their jobs and formed cooperatives. However, ideally these people would go back to work in the formal job market.

Naturally the entire policy of kirchnerismo had this idea as its base, but it morphed over time. At some point, especially with the international crisis in 2008-2009, we see that the economy is troubled and that it cannot meet this goal of full employment. Then state programmes for creating cooperatives appear, although these were “cooperatives” in which the state paid salaries and said what was to be done. In the end you had a kind of two-faced policy, in which the cooperatives seemingly did not fit but were fostered at the same time.

RV: We could say that support towards cooperatives and ERT was due to necessity…

AR: Precisely. And a significant debt of kirchnerismo towards the recuperated workplaces was that it did not contribute to solving the judicial problems that have lingered and are now a liability for many ERT, such as the Hotel Bauen.1 These are usually disputes surrounding property. Not necessarily with the former owners, but since these are often bankrupt companies, they are still involved in legal proceedings, there are still creditors, who want to collect debts with property. The property is in the hands of the workers, but not legally, and that creates many problems.

RV: How was this sector affected by the arrival of Macri?

AR: We produced a report midway through 2016, and subsequent events proved us right. The general economic policy of the Macri government affects cooperatives just like it affects all aspects of the productive economy destined towards the internal market, small and large companies alike. These are the common effects of neoliberal programs, especially in Latin America.

It is a policy dedicated to weakening the working class, to lowering salaries in favour of an economy designed for the exporting of raw materials and energy, and for the prevalence of financial capital. The results are massive layoffs, both in public and private sectors, a decrease in the purchasing power and the consumption capacity of the population. As a result, production goes down, demand goes down, cooperatives cannot fight against that, they need to accommodate. To this we must add the opening up to imports. There are very cheap products coming in especially from China, and national production, cooperative or otherwise, cannot compete.

Finally there is the tarifazo, which is something incredible that has multiplied utility costs in a way that completely breaks cooperatives. Many recuperated workplaces, for example, currently have gas bills that are higher than their revenue. This means they either not pay or try to stop their electricity from being cut off, but this does not stop debt from building up. The goal is somehow to buy time, waiting to see if there is a change in the political arena.

RV: Beyond its economic policy, does the government have an ideological position with regards to the ERT?

AR: Besides the economic choking there is a constant hostility and, when an opportunity arises, the government acts against the recuperated workplaces. The clearest case is the Hotel Bauen, which never saw its situation regularized, it was never expropriated. There was an attempt to do so in the last parliamentary session with the previous correlation of forces of kirchnerismo, it then went to the Senate when Macri was already in office, and Macri vetoed the law.

Rally in favour of the expropriation of Hotel Bauen (Photo: workerscontrol.net)

The same thing has happened to every expropriation bill coming out. The law of expropriations was a mechanism that we had managed to put in place as a way to legalise the ERT. Macri will always use some pretext, but ideologically he is clearly against everything that has to do with workers’ control. This in turn is reflected on the judges, who are ever less inclined to helping the workers.

RV: But the justice system, in principle, would not be a natural ally…

AR: Definitely not. Nevertheless, on labour matters there have often been more or less favourable rulings, as the judicial power is also influenced by mobilisations, by the political context. When the political context was a bit more favourable there were decisions that prioritized the continuity of production, the safeguarding of labour as opposed to the seizure of assets. The bankruptcy legislation was modified, in 2011, to offer a legal way out for bankrupt factories and companies so that they were taken over by workers’ cooperatives. But this always implies putting pressure on the judges.

All of this is now much more difficult. The judges that by nature are against the working class are now much more so. Another thing that macrismo is trying to do is to stop factories from being recuperated. The factory closes and the police is there to ensure that it does close, avoiding any occupation. They stay one step ahead to stop workers from trying to occupy.

RV: Can you describe the relation between trade unions and ERT? Because they operate with different logics.

AR: Trade unions, with the establishment of fordism and of the welfare state, have occupied a place that is generally understood, by the organisations themselves as well, within the framework of struggle, or negotiation, between capital and labour. But the traditional base of the wage-earning, formal worker, has been shrinking with the rise of precarious and informal work, and most of the unions retain a “classical” mindset, they have not found a way to represent these new kinds of workers.

In general it is hard for them to think about what happens to a worker after he loses his job. Some unions simply do not care because they can no longer extract anything from this worker, neither a union fee nor a social security contribution.2 But leaving the corrupt unions aside, the ones that take part in fraudulent closures of companies in exchange for something from the bosses, the traditional union will go as far as trying to stop the company from shutting down, to stop the workers from losing their jobs. However, once these jobs are lost, there is nothing left to do. This is the approach, more or less.

Then there are some unions that have asked themselves: if we do not manage to stop the closure, because there is a general policy, an economic context that leads to this, what do we do? That is where the support for eventual recuperated workplaces appears. Some unions have long understood this issue, and others are coming to grips now.

RV: Are these, for the most part, smaller unions?

AR: Yes, very small unions in general. It also has to do with the interests they have. Unions also work as corporations that negotiate. For the larger unions, especially the industrial ones, it is very hard for them to embrace such as strategy.

Smaller unions, or from specific crafts, are ever more interested in the subject, also because practically all of their companies are shutting down. For example, the union of marroquineros, leather workers, if it does not actively intervene to stop companies from shutting down or to recuperate them somehow, it is doomed to disappear because there will be no workers left. Because of this I see a growing support for this struggles from trade unions.

RV: Turning now to political parties, in Argentina we find this strong ERT movement without there being a strong “workers’” party. How do the leftist parties position themselves vis-a-vis the ERT? Is it a struggle that is common to all of them?

AR: No, leftist parties have not always been favourable to this question of recuperated workplaces. Some have, but here the left is a minority. Within peronismo we could say there is a left, and in general the left in peronismo is very favourable to the recuperated workplaces. I believe that in the large majority of ERT, the leaders identify themselves, despite all the contradictions, with this political position.

The non-peronista left, be it trotskyist or otherwise, also has a very classical conception of class struggle, where self-management in general does not fit. Some have even declared themselves against self-management because, from their perspective, it does not contribute to the path towards revolution. This discussion was very visible in 2001-2002. There were recuperated companies whose leaders identified with some of these parties from the trotskyist left who were against forming cooperatives. Their goal was nationalisation, or state ownership, with worker control.

This is a slogan that may be fine as an horizon, but which is unfeasible with a state that is not a revolutionary state, so to say. Therefore many of these cases ended up in dead ends. With each experience of a recuperated workplace, we can derive many things that question capitalism in its foundations: property, democracy in the workplace, the division of labour, horizontality, all of that. But that is not necessarily the goal of the recuperated workplace. The goal, first and foremost, is to safeguard jobs.

RV: More important than having the correct horizon is addressing the immediate needs of the workers…

AR: Exactly. If the proposal is maximalist and offers no way out to the specific situation, the workers will turn their backs on you. This is a problem of the left. While peronismo perhaps does not have this horizon of workers’ control, nor of the socialist revolution for that matter, nevertheless it understands these situations of workers fighting for their jobs. From the left, where we would expect this, these experiences are often rejected because they do not conform to the manual…

 

The incomprehension from sectors of the left is due to a lack of ideological flexibility, but also a lack of presence in the working class. Because if it had delegates, workers in each of these experiences, it would understand them much more clearly. Not having them, and coming from the outside, it ends up clashing.

To give an example, in 2001-2002 there were two cases that everyone was hearing about, both in Argentina and abroad, which were Zanon and Brukman,3 [3] which had ties to the PTS [Socialist Workers’ Party], a trotskyist party that is now part of FIT [Workers’ Left Front]. In Zanon the leaders were trotskyist militants and their vision was widely shared by the collective, but in the end Zanon ended up forming its cooperative, and walking the same path as all the others, although it is a very interesting and creative experience. In Brukman it was different. The workers did not even have a union, the militants arrived from outside looking to direct the struggle, but the direction was according to the manual. And with the manual they were doomed.

RV: In a 2006 article you talked about a “social innovation” component in the ERT. What is the importance of the ties to the community for these companies?

AR: Nowadays I think I would not talk about “social innovation” because it is a term that is also being used from the neoliberal side. But yes, clearly there are changes in the economic rationale of a recuperated workplace, which articulates with the political and social spheres. And that would be this question of ties to the community, which I believe are important.

 

Not all recuperated workplaces have this concern, or this strategy. For the most part, the opening up to the community is something that the workers see as positive, but also a strategy to build strong ties to the neighbourhood, to the people, articulating with organizations, etc. Because the ERT are often small or mid-size companies, and each on its own does not have the strength to implement self-management without these social networks of support, everything that mobilises around a recuperated workplace.

Workers’ assembly in Cerámica Zanon (Photo: La Izquierda Diario).

I think any time a company is recuperated there is a strong wave of mobilisation and support that is generated, reaching way beyond the strength of the workers themselves. Therefore the workers realise this and want to do right by it, to give something back for the support. But later, along these lines of innovation, or of changes in the production rationale, many ERT activities make no sense from a business standpoint. This, I should stress, has nothing to do with “corporate responsibility” or anything of the sort. It has no logic, it does not generate business…

RV: Nevertheless, the goal is also to overcome this separation between economic, social and political spheres…

AR: Of course. Since they transcend this logic, they break the concept that a company is a mere tool for the accumulation of capital. It is broken in two ways. For one, because the workers are not necessarily interested in accumulating capital. What they want is to keep their jobs, and they can possibly manage with much less than it would take for a capitalist to, within his rationale, keep the company running.

At the same time, there is a risk that a recuperated workplace will operate in a conservative fashion, doing the bare minimum to survive, with no growth or renovation. There are ERT that have been around for several years, and it is clear that when the workers retire, or die, the cooperative will disappear. But if on the other hand we take into account this opening up to the community, reaching into social and political spheres, that is another avenue of growth that does not necessarily have to do with accumulation.

RV:study of around 100 ERT suggested that around 20% of their economic activity is with other ERT or with the solidarity economy. Do you think this is progress in terms of creating a sub-system that is not 100% capitalist?

AR: Yes, but it is much harder than it sounds. The numbers, I believe, are not that high. We usually track this in our reports. But it is a necessary step, one which we are working on. Sometimes, precisely in the context of economic growth we had before, with a dynamic internal market, this was not seen as a priority because each company could survive on its own in the market.

Now that the situation has completely turned, there is a bigger concern that there is a need to build links, even create a sort of special market, with different rules, that will allow both for survival and for growth. This will also demonstrate that an alternative is possible. Nevertheless, it is much more complicated than it looks, even with the 400 recuperated workplaces by themselves. We need to extend to other cooperatives, other types of organisations.

In one case we are trying to articulate Textiles Pigüé, a very recent ERT that produces clothing for children, and another cooperative that produces fabric in the north of Argentina, and we are working on a common product. One of the ideas is also to place production in solidarity networks in Europe, not just for sale but also to bring these products to migrants and refugees.

I do not believe the challenge is just to build chains inside the same sector. Textile factories do not just require products from other textile factories, the same for metallurgical ones. Production can be integrated in other chains and inputs can come from other sectors. We need to create wider networks and also fight in terms of consumption. This means getting people to consume products from sectors where there is no exploitation of labour, or at least not to the same degree as in capitalist companies, and where environmental concerns are taken into account. There are a number of struggles ahead. But this one is a struggle against capitalism in its economic core.

RV: In your opinion, where does the state stand in all of this? Sometimes a very romantic vision is generated, of an ecosystem on the margins of capitalism, but is there not still a need to struggle for the state?

AR: Yes, I think this struggle for the state should not be abandoned. This romantic vision exists, of creating a ghetto where we, the good guys, stand, without capitalism or the state. But the state will still exist. Both the state and capital will not sit idly by while we build the economy of the future! In fact, the experiences of the recuperated workplaces have shown time and again that the struggle is always on 2 or 3 fronts at the same time, against the capitalist market, against the state, even when the state thinks it is helping.

Worker in Imprenta Chilavert. (Photo: Taringa).

Therefore, obviously all the state policy tools we can put to use to strengthen the movement need to be used. No matter how much we want to stay outside or want nothing to do with the state, the state still wants something to do with you. That is the question. And although the neoliberal state is weak in terms of allowing financial capital and large corporations to run rampant, it remains strong and repressive in what regards us, with no concern for legality whatsoever.

RV: Almost all the ERT form cooperatives. Is there a difference between these cooperatives and others which are not borne out of this struggle to preserve labour posts?

AR: Indeed. In general the discourse we find among the workers in recuperated workplaces is that they are cooperatives out of necessity. Because there is also a romantic vision of cooperatives like the one we were just discussing.

Even within this more traditional cooperative movement, for a long time the ERT were questioned because they were not true cooperatives, they were so only out of necessity, did not share the values, etc. And in truth this sector is reviving this old cooperativism, giving it a content that had been lost, of a cooperativism which is not just about companies coexisting with capitalism with no issues whatsoever. On the contrary, they are part of the same capitalist economy with almost no contradictions.

Of course, a cooperative is not the same as a corporation, a capitalist company with a boss, but in many cases it is hard to tell them apart. In general the juridical form is called work cooperative, in the case of the ERT these are cooperatives of the workers. This is not the same as a consumption cooperative, or a credit one, or a housing one, or one that provides services, and which in turn hires workers.

RV: This self-management/worker control component is missing…

AR: Precisely. Even the non-exploitation of labour is not a cooperative principle, for example. Cooperatives will often outsource work or exploit workers just like other companies. I believe the emergence of these cooperatives, the ERT, has generated an important contradiction inside this more traditional cooperativism. It is a breath of fresh air that is bringing back an old tool, which at its inception belonged to the workers.

RV: In their struggle to survive in a capitalist market, the ERT will also be tempted to sub-contract workers, or resort to other practices of capitalist companies. Are these contradictions that need to be confronted all the time?

AR: I believe so. The ERT emerge from different kinds of workers’ struggles. Therefore, at least at the beginning, they are more or less vaccinated against the exploitation of other people. Not necessarily against their own self-exploitation, which is an equally complicated matter. Now, as time passes, the market mechanisms also influence and condition self-managed companies that emerge within capitalism, because it is not a case of a movement that is fighting capitalism and building something else. Rather, these emerge as solutions to the very problems and the lack of options that labour faces in capitalism nowadays.

Therefore, within this context there can very well be processes of bureaucratisation, or of the leaders identifying with market values such as competitiveness, efficiency, etc., and starting to see that the economic viability of the company requires certain kinds of practices. The fact that one works in a context of self-management/workers’ control does not imply that one has the conscience that this is the economic system worth promoting. It is an ongoing struggle to learn from the self-management experience and to change how we envision labour.

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• First published in MR on line

Andrés Ruggeri is an anthropologist and directs, since 2002, the Facultad Abierta programme in the School of Philosophy and Literature of the University of Buenos Aires, dedicated especially to the issue of workplaces recuperated by workers. He is the author or co-author of several works on this subject [in Spanish], including Qué Son Las Empresas Recuperadas (What are the recuperated workplaces) and Crisis y Autogestión en el Siglo XXI (Crisis and self-management in the XXI century). Ruggeri is also the director of the Autogestión magazine.

  1. The Hotel Bauen is symbolic as an ERT due to its central location in the city of Buenos Aires. It is also a space where popular movements gather. Andrés Ruggeri has written a book about the history of the Hotel Bauen.
  2. In Argentina a part of social security is managed by trade unions.

The Working Class Strikes Back

Reading the daily headlines, it’s easy to forget that the corollary of a civilization in precipitous decline is a world of creative ferment, a new world struggling to be born. If you could have a God’s-eye view of all the creative resistance rending the fabric of political oppression from the U.S. to Indonesia to Colombia, you would surely be persuaded that all hope is not lost. This conclusion is borne out in detail by a book published earlier this year, The Class Strikes Back: Self-Organised Workers’ Struggles in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Dario Azzellini and Michael G. Kraft. The chapters, each dedicated to a different case-study, survey inspiring democratic activism in thirteen countries across five continents. The reader is left with the impression that the global working class, while facing an uphill battle in its fight against imperialism, business and state repression, and conservative union bureaucracy, may yet triumph in the end, if only because of its remarkable perseverance generation after generation. Its overwhelming numerical strength, too, bodes well.

In their introduction, the editors concisely state the book’s purpose: “This volume aims to examine how new, anti-bureaucratic forms of syndicalist, neo-syndicalist and autonomous workers’ organisation emerge in response to changing work and production relations in the twenty-first century.” Traditional unions, which they observe have been “part of the institutional setting to maintain capitalism” (my italics), have deteriorated on a global scale. In their place have sprung up more radical and democratic forms of resistance, such as blockades, strikes, and workplace occupations and recuperations. Workers’ actions have even made decisive contributions to the toppling of governments, as in Egypt in 2011.

In this article I’ll summarize several of the most compelling case-studies. Unfortunately I’ll have to pass over many interesting chapters, including ones on the workers’ movement in Colombia, the solidarity economy and radical unionism in Indonesia, the sit-ins and ultimately the worker cooperative at a window factory in Chicago (about which I’ve written here), and the South African miners who were attacked by police and massacred in August 2012. The book is too rich to do justice to.

Greece

The crisis in Greece that followed the economic crash of 2008 and 2009 saw a savage regime of austerity imposed on the population, which resulted in a “diffuse precariousness” across the labor force. Conventional unionism and national collective bargaining have been among the victims of this neoliberal regime. And yet the general strikes that the trade union bureaucracy was compelled to declare early on, particularly between 2010 and 2012, were the most massive and combative of the past forty years. “Long battles with the police, crowds which refused to dissolve and regrouped again and again, the besieging for hours of the house of parliament, self-organisation and solidarity in order to cope with tear gas and take care of the wounded—all have become part of the normal image of demonstrations during strikes, replacing the nerveless parades of the past.”

Outside the framework of conventional unionism there have arisen exciting new forms of struggle. Since early 2013, the Vio.Me factory has operated under worker self-management, after its initial owners abandoned the site. Aside from the lack of hierarchy, the job rotations, and the directly democratic structure of the business, one innovative practice has been to run the factory in cooperation with the local community and, indeed, the whole society. After taking over the factory the workers consulted their community about what they should produce; they were asked to stop making poisonous building chemicals and instead to manufacture biological, eco-friendly cleaning products. A “wide network of militants and local assemblies” around the country has supported the effort from the start, which has enabled even the distribution of the firm’s products to be done in a completely new way, “through an informal network of social spaces, solidarity structures, markets without intermediaries and cooperative groceries.”

In general, labor struggles in Greece have become more intertwined with social movements. Early in the crisis, structures of mutual aid sprang up everywhere:

Throughout the country collectives have established community kitchens and peer-to-peer solidarity initiatives for the distribution of food, reconnected electricity that was cut down to low-income households, organised “without middlemen” the distribution of agricultural produce, established self-organised pharmacies, healthcare clinics and tutoring programmes and organised networks of direct action against house foreclosures.

Later on, grassroots initiatives became more political, in an effort to create institutions that would be long-lasting and relatively independent of capital and the government. The Greek squares movement of 2011 spread to almost every city and village in the country, leaving behind a legacy of local assemblies and social centers. It also “unleashed social forces which boosted the social and solidarity economy and the movements for the defence and the promotion of the commons.”

All this flowering of alternative institutions has not occurred without significant problems and defeats. There has been little success in establishing solid organizations of the unemployed, and grassroots labor struggles have failed to form durable structures that can challenge institutionalized unionism. Certain victories, nevertheless, have been impressive. Social movements were able to prevent the government’s privatization of public water corporations in 2014. Even more remarkably, after the government closed down the influential public broadcaster ERT in 2013, ERT employees, together with citizens and activists, took over the production of television and radio programs by occupying premises and infrastructure. For almost two years the self-managed ERT transmitted thousands of hours of broadcasting on the anti-austerity struggle, serving as an important resource for the resistance. When Syriza came to power in 2015, it reestablished the public broadcaster.

Worker and consumer cooperatives exist all over the country. Cooperative coffee shops and bookshops, for example, exist in most neighborhoods of Athens and Salonica, functioning “as the cells of the horizontal movements in urban space and the carriers of alternative values and culture.” Broadly speaking, labor identities are becoming more socialized, “because more embedded in local communities and grassroots struggles.”

The Greek experience is of particular interest in that other Western countries, including the U.S., are likely to replicate important features of it in the coming years and decades, as economic crisis intensifies. We ought to study how Greek workers and communities have adapted and resisted, to learn from their failures and successes.

Egypt

The mass movement that felled Mubarak’s regime in 2011 received sympathetic coverage from the establishment media in the West, but the key role of workers’ collective action was, predictably, effaced. Strike waves after 2006 not only destabilized the regime but also gave rise to the April 6th Movement in 2008, which would go on to catalyze the 2011 rebellions. Even after the fall of Mubarak, the flood of labor actions didn’t let up.

As everywhere around the world, neoliberalism meant decades of pent-up grievances against working conditions, privatizations, low wages, and economic insecurity. Finally in December 2006, 24,000 textile workers went on strike at Misr Spinning. Within a few weeks, “similar strikes were spreading between public and private sector textile producers, and from there to civil servants, teachers, municipal refuse workers and transport workers.” In the next couple of years, many more strikes occurred, frequently taking the form of mass occupations of workplaces.

Workers even managed to form the first independent unions in more than fifty years, beginning with the Real Estate Tax Authority Union (RETAU), established in December 2008. The conservative and bureaucratic Egyptian Trade Union Federation was unable to cope with all the sit-ins, strikes, and waves of democratic organizing, and saw its influence over the labor movement wane. RETAU’s consolidation “accelerated the development of other independent unions and proto-union networks among teachers, public transport workers, postal workers and health technicians,” raising their expectations of what could be achieved through collective action.

After the steadily rising wave of worker and popular resistance crested with the resignation of Mubarak in early February 2011, labor actions didn’t cease. In fact, Mubarak’s fall was followed by “a new tidal wave of strikes and workplace occupations, with nearly 500 separate episodes of collective action by workers recorded in the month of February 2011 alone.” Strike waves ebbed and flowed over the following two years, and did much to undermine the military and Islamist governments that succeeded each other before the crisis of the summer of 2013, when, after Mohammed Morsi fell, a successful counterrevolutionary offensive was launched by the Armed Forces, the Ministry of the Interior, the judiciary, and the media.

After the fall of Mubarak, a ferment of self-organization resulted in the founding of many new independent unions, which often engaged in intense battles for tathir, or the “cleansing” from management positions of the ruling party’s cronies. This was especially the case in public institutions. Public hospitals in Cairo, for example, “were the scene of attempts to assert workers’ control over management to a much greater degree than had been possible before the revolution.” These experiments weren’t always successful, but in a number of cases they did at least force the resignation of old directors and were able to establish, temporarily, democratic councils to oversee work.

In the end, the workers’ movement was unable to impose its demands on the agenda of national politics. Its leaders “did not score victories at that level on the question of raising the national minimum wage, or forcing a lasting retreat from privatization, or even of securing full legal recognition for the independent unions themselves.” Still, the authors comment that the nationwide revival of self-organization was an astonishing feat. “Factory and office workers created thousands of workplace organisations, despite conditions of acute repression and the lack of material resources. There have been few examples on this scale of a revival of popular organisation in the Arab world for decades.” Memories of these uprisings will not be erased easily, and will inspire the next generation of activists.

Venezuela

Venezuela differs from the other cases in that its Bolivarian revolution has entailed a commitment to elevating the position and the power of workers. So how successful has this process been? In recent years, of course, Venezuela’s severe economic crisis has undermined the Bolivarian process, with increases in poverty and less money going to social programs. But the achievements have not all been destroyed. The account in the book goes up to early 2016, well into the crisis years.

Until 2006, the Chavez government focused on promoting cooperatives (in addition to nationalizing the oil industry and expropriating large landowners). In nationalized medium-sized companies, for example, workers became co-owners with the state. Whereas Venezuela had had only 800 registered cooperatives in 1998, by mid-2010 it had 274,000, though only about a third were determined to be “operative.” It had been hoped that these businesses would produce for the satisfaction of social needs rather than profit-maximization, but the mixed-ownership model, according to which the state and private entrepreneurs could be co-owners with workers, vitiated these hopes.

By 2006 a new model was spreading, which was more communally based. Its political context was that “communal councils” began to be recognized as a fundamental structure of local self-government: in urban areas they encompassed 150 to 400 families, while in rural areas they included a minimum of 20 families. “The councils constitute a non-representational structure of direct participation, which exists alongside the elected representative bodies of constituted power. Several communal councils can come together to form a commune. By the end of 2015, over 40,000 communal councils and more than 1,200 communes existed.” Councils and communes can receive state funding for their projects, which now began to include community-controlled companies instead of cooperatives. “In these new communal companies, the workers come from the local communities; these communities are the ones who, through the structures of self-government…decide on what kind of companies are needed, what organisational form they will have and who should work in them.”

In 2008 a new model for these companies emerged, the Communal Social Property Company (EPSC). “While different kinds of EPSCs can be found in the communities today, their principal areas of activity correspond with the most pressing needs of the barrios and rural communities: the production of food and construction materials, and the provision of transport services. Textile and agricultural production companies, bakeries and shoemakers, are also common.” Under the initiative of workers, even some state enterprises are partly under community control, at least regarding their distribution networks.

Despite Chavez’s commitment to workers’ control, it has not been easy to shift the orientation of a state and a private sector deeply hostile to workers. Workers’ councils and struggles for worker participation can be found in almost all state enterprises and many private ones—and workers have taken over hundreds of private businesses, sometimes after the state’s expropriation of the original owners—but even in the chavista state bureaucrats were apt to undermine the Bolivarian process. Whether through corruption, mismanagement, obstruction of financing to state companies with worker-presidents, or other means, ministerial bureaucracies and even corrupt unions impede workers’ control. In many state enterprises the situation is ambiguous: workers don’t control the company or even participate in management, but “they control parts of the production process, they decide on their own to whom they will give access to the plant, [and] they are in a full-scale conflict with the management.”

Despite all the advances made under Chavez, the fact is that the economy’s social relations of production have not really changed and capitalist exploitation remains the norm. Private interests are still too powerful and have too much influence over the government, promoting mismanagement and corruption. It is still a rentier economy. But a revolutionary process has begun and is being carried forward by communities and workers across the country. The transformation of a society from authoritarian to democratic does not happen overnight.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Like the rest of the post-Soviet world, Bosnia-Herzegovina has suffered terribly from the privatizations, asset-stripping, marketization, and rampant corruption that have attended its transition to capitalism since the mid-1990s. Unemployment and economic insecurity are at epidemic proportions. In 2014, workers in Tuzla, Bosnia’s third largest city, organized a massive mobilization against their deteriorating conditions, the first since the 1992–95 conflict. While the movement didn’t last, its legacy may inspire further mobilizations in the future.

The 2014 demonstrations were a response to the wretched situation of workers in a laundry detergent factory, DITA, which at one time had provided 1,400 jobs. After its privatization in 2005, things started to go downhill. The company paid them minimal wages, issued meal vouchers only in bonds rather than cash, and eventually stopped paying them pension funds and health insurance. In 2011 they began a long strike, but in December 2012 the firm closed, having ignored all their demands.

Picketing the factory and filing lawsuits didn’t secure justice for the workers, so in February 2014 they teamed up with their counterparts from four other nearby factories to stage demonstrations in front of Tuzla’s canton court. All five work forces had similar demands: investigation of the questionable privatization processes that had destroyed their livelihoods; compensation for unpaid wages, health insurance, and pensions; and the restarting of production. Their demands didn’t get a very sympathetic hearing: during one of the demonstrations, riot police secured the entrance of the canton building and fired teargas and rubber bullets. This brutality only further inflamed the workers, who kept up their resistance the following couple of days. The number of demonstrators rose to 10,000 as students and other citizens joined the protests, finally setting the government buildings on fire.

Chiara Milan’s summary of the ensuing events is worth quoting:

The action [of burning government buildings] resonated throughout the country. Within days, rallies in solidarity with Tuzla’s workers took place across Bosnia-Herzegovina. Increasing discontent among the social groups suffering under government policies led tens of thousands to join in the main cities of BiH [i.e., Bosnia-Herzegovina]. Like a domino effect, the rage spread and the revolt escalated. On 7 February the government buildings of the cities of Mostar, Sarajevo, and Zenica were set ablaze by seething protesters. While politicians tried to hide the plummeting economic conditions of the country by constantly playing the ethnic card, the workers of Tuzla triggered wider social protests, arguing that rage and hunger do not recognise ethnic differences. The protests spawned a mass movement of solidarity that overcame the ethno-national divisions inside the country, travelling across the post-Yugoslav space. Rallies in support of the workers were reported in nearby Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia…

Soon, directly democratic assemblies called plenums were set up across the country. “The citizens gathered in leaderless, consensus-based assemblies where everybody had the right to one vote and nobody could speak on behalf of other people.” Each plenum had working groups addressing such issues as media, education and culture, and social problems. “Demands that arose during the plenums were collected and delivered to [these] working groups, in charge of reformulating them in a coherent way. Once reformulated, the demands typically returned to the plenum for a final vote [after which they were submitted to the cantonal government]. All the plenums were coordinated through an organisational body called interplenum…”

A new labor union was also formed in the wake of the protests, called Solidarnost, which quickly reached 4,000 members from dozens of companies. It was intended as an alternative to the conventional unions that had so signally failed to protect the interests of their rank and file. While it didn’t succeed in winning the battle for the workers, it did keep fighting for years afterwards, as by staging weekly protests in front of the canton court.

The moment of collective outrage slowly faded away, especially after the flood that hit the country in May 2014 turned into a national emergency. The workers at the DITA factory, however, still did not give up: in March 2015 they occupied the factory and restarted the production of cleaning products, publicly appealing for international support. Shops and retail chains decided to sell the “recuperated factory’s” products, and groups of activists volunteered to help the workers optimize production.

In general, Milan comments, the uprisings left a legacy of solidarity and activist networks, which challenge “the dominant rhetoric of ethnic hatred” and may be drawn on in future struggles.

*****

The path forward for the working class in an age of neoliberal crisis is tortuous and uncertain. Given the near-collapse of mainstream trade unionism and many left-wing political parties, it’s necessary for people the world over to forge their own institutions, their own networks, to fight back against the rampaging elite and construct a new, more equitable society. The stories collected in The Class Strikes Back are an encouraging sign that workers everywhere are already waging the war, that democratic institutions can germinate in even the most crisis-ridden of societies, and that the ruling class’s hold on power is, in fact, ultimately, rather tenuous.  The next generation of activism is sure to bring major changes to a morally corrupt civilization.

The Incredible Weight of Not Being

If I Don’t Feel It, The Problem Doesn’t Exist

You know we are cooked when the middling middle class, with educations from Duke, USC, Vanderbilt, Princeton, Columbia, and gobs of money in the bank, and an east coast upbringing, now California dreaming, are astonished that there are actually homeless veterans.

This is the state of the lobotomized America, one country that is a mix of Disneyland, Zombie-land, Filthy First Families, War Economics, General Anxiety Disorder gone rampant, and, well, everything one can imagine the White Race (sic) has become under the crystal meth bubble of money, debt, TV, Netflix, Cowboys and Indians Entertainment, and a population in a dervish of debt spiral while the hooked-brained Point Zero Zero Zero One Percent has us as slaves.

On the surface, everything looks fine in America when zipping down the streets of LA, Seattle, Phoenix, Atlanta, if one wants to believe normality is that baseline of gutters full of 7-11 hot dog wrappers, millions of miles of strip malls with attendant boarded up storefronts, smoke-pot-booze-armament-nickel and dime shops, concrete, tar, 300,000,000 cars pushing and pulling people to precarious jobs and off-the-clock mortgaged lives, and the endless serpents of 18-wheelers crisscrossing America with the goods of depravity, obsolescence, and despair.

It’s a blitzkrieg of sound bites, biting hatred toward anyone different than that narrow creepy species of white people with kids and two homes depicted on TV. The white race, even though it is shrinking, is like a plague. It takes only a few microbes to disease a pond with cholera, and it only takes a few whites in a board room or in a bureaucracy or corporation to turn the air to putrid, disease-causing sickness, where punishment is measured in how much the few can take from the many.

So I go back to the astonishment of friends and relatives on the West Coast, Southern Cal: How can there be homeless veterans . . . as if the only veterans in the minds of these upper middle class are four-star triple-dipping multimillionaire generals, or Ollie North types selling their filthy Christo-Zio murderous brand of America to FOX, the NRA and some glass church on the hill making profits from private prison hell.

We are talking about 50 K veterans homeless, hundreds of thousands basically screwed because of the enormous disabilities for which the time spent “serving” has exacted as the second and third level of punishment this sadistic system of indoctrinating people into believing they are doing anything for the country (not) in the form of pushing around dirt, cranking wrenches, tooling around in this disgusting excess of overpriced dangerous polluting equipment that literally takes food out of the mouths of babes and grannies.

Then the millions of veterans hobbling around with herniated discs, diabetes, dead knees, metal hips, PTSD, rotting teeth, a thousand varieties of internal injuries, diseases and maladies. And we pay dearly in this structural violent land of Bernie Sanders’ pet F-35 project, or McCain’s aircraft carriers, or Filthy Trump’s “we make the best stuff, the very best guns and missiles and killer jets and bombs in the whole world, the best . . .” and untold bio-chem-putridity created by the US Armed Forces.

I attempt to tell these la-la land folk that even one base, Camp Lejeune, killed thousands of military and civilians from 30 years of contaminated water exposure that was covered up by those big brass officers, generals and retired triple-dipper civil servants.  They guffaw, and then eyes glaze over when I repeat there are 130 other US-based military compounds that are toxic dumps.

Brother can you spare a dime is sister can you spare a tooth extraction

This is the lead up into my work, daily the stories and the crises, the onion peeled back, multiple bizarre incidents in the veterans’ lives. Bombarded with not only propaganda, but shock waves, chemicals, murder teams like the Phoenix Program or MK-Ultra or DARPA, you name it, the things these many times economically-drafted people have endured would rip the souls from most of the middling ones, the flag wavers and cocktail umbrella twirling Republicans and Democrats.

The filthy Trumps and Don’s entourage and millions upon millions of Kool-Aid drinkers, believers, deplorables, oh, they are, whether they are calling themselves stock brokers or sausage makers, when you lick the shoes of this sort of filthy fellow, we know we have slipped in our insanity – from all these other bastions like Ike, Truman, Nixon, Bush, Ford, Bush, Clinton, Obama, Carter, hell, these are cutouts of the two parties for which they flip billions and billions of shekels in the name of the corporate Satans.

Here I am, in the richest country in the world (ha, ha) in the weirdest town in the USA, Portland, Oregon, where the influx of money from California has turned this into a winter and summer playground for the 20 Percent with thousands of homeless in tents along freeway off-ramps, kids with heroin track lines intertwined with tattoos selling trinkets, thousands of people in drug recovery programs, and an army of civil servants and social services personnel making shitty livings off of some really shitty shitty situations.

We have this Pacific Northwest billionaire and millionaire club, the Boeings and Alaska Airlines and Intels and Nikes and Amazons and thousands of companies that give shit about the near homeless, the houseless, the struggling ones their own shitty companies hire on to do the heavy labor and mindless digital shuffling required in this usury and punishment world of the Goldman Sachs prostitutes.

I can rail on and on, but the reality is, punks like me could change the world, with just the right marketing, connections, exposures, moments of epiphany, conversations with the right person at the right time at the right place, etc.

Think 20- or thirty-acre venues, in the forests around Mount Adams and Mount Hood, anywhere in this PNW, where we could, with the right funding, get tiny homes built with sweat equity, around communal all-purpose rooms-kitchens-gathering points. Homes with toilets (compostable), solar arrays, and gardens circling this mix, and then, well, hundreds upon hundreds of these with tens of thousands of people, mixed races, mixed ideas, mixed ages, supporting each other. Ebenezer Howard comes to mind, oh those Garden Cities, but with a 21st century punch. School buses, ready for the crusher, retrofitted for homes, that is, college kids and high schoolers and Pk8 working to learn the tricks of working with hands, design, construction, art, engineering, food growing, and social services.

This organic concentric circle of tiny homes, cabins, containers, school buses, like a giant sunflower, with other circles and rings of gardens, livestock pens, work arenas, amphitheaters.

It could be done in five years. Land is plentiful. We have these creeps at Google wanting self-driving vans, buses, so get their billionaire butts involved – shuttles for those veterans and non-veterans getting to hospitals, or, better yet, do the Stan Brock (Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom sidekick) thing of Remote Area Medical and have docs, dentists, PAs, shrinks, gerontologists, child social workers, holistic healers, naturopaths, et al. I can give the links below, but the stories and solutions have already been written, for sure, and if it takes these thieves like Musk-Tesla and Bezos and Buffet and Walton and Gates and the countless gluttons, war profiteers, the scabs of humanity – industrial military-finance-education-ag-energy-legal-IT-prison-insurance-retail complex – to fund it, voluntarily, or with a Eugene Debs reality, then so be it.

Here’s the segue into one example of a veteran at the place where I work who could be the Johnny Appleseed or Pied Piper of this project, going to the captains of industry, the colonels of Wall Street and the generals of filthy rich wealth with a dervish of a man like me showing the plans and crunching the numbers.

Who’s Giving this Guy Right Out of a Quadruple Hollywood Script the Time of Day?

I will call him Stephen. He’s in the homeless shelter a second time. The first time, man, a few years ago, he was here, with a lot of sobriety under his belt, but, he ended up at a 7-11, loaned out some money to a friend, and then bam, the friend offered to pay back the loan with crystal meth. Stephen, living in our shelter, which is family and sober based, jumped out the window to not embarrass himself or put the program at risk.

From 1977 to ’82, 82nd Airborne. He did the radical macho stuff, in the Army, and he tells me that he always wanted to be in the military, since age 10. Northern California roots, athlete, family with military history – Army, Navy, Marines. He worked in a trailer factory in high school, and other outfits.

The drinking started in the Army. Guys back from Vietnam as company leaders, with plethora of drug abuse, drinking, and hell, the Army barracks had beer machines installed next to cots. The 82nd Airborne then, Stephen says, was called “The Jumping Junkies.”

He bounced around after military, working at Bank of America, married and divorced. Biker clubs (gangs) and things got hard when his son was murdered by the mother’s (his ex) boyfriend. That’s when the anger set in, and the drugs, but he ended up being a number one supervisor for construction sites building Wal-marts and the other box stores. Six figures, and, he ended up owning his own company, 12 acre plot of land and home he paid cash for. He moved up to even higher pay doing supervision of hospital construction and refab sites, in California, and earthquake mitigation.

A functional cocaine-speed-methamphetamine abuser with a lot of anger but more compassion. Prison terms for selling, a few property crimes, no violence.

He counts homelessness in years, living in storm drains, living out of dumpsters, and even told me about waking up many times with a piece of drop cloth covering him and snow packed on top of that.

He looks like a cross between Tommy Lee Jones and Scott Glenn. He talked of turning 60 in September. He’s strong, and counts his lucky stars his body held up.

Now, he makes $3000 a month, and that’s from his service connected disabilities. He is on his road to 23 months sober, and before he came back to our shelter, he was 31 days living in the forest parks around Portland that are such a draw for those same Californians who think there is no way in hell a veteran can be homeless.

Stephen’s got all the elements in this day and age of flash in the pan so-called business leaders. He has the biographical narrative that shows how some people can go from here to there back to there, hit rock bottom a few times, almost bite the dust, get criminally involved, let the drugs be the monkey on the back, and, then, bam, the spirit takes him.

He goes to Narcotics Anonymous, is a member of a local church, takes other vets belongings to their new digs, and he’s shooting for community college in the fall for an AAS degree in alcohol and chemical dependency, and he wants the BA, and more.

A tailored shirt to display his buff frame, short-sleeved to show the tattoos, and boots and new jeans and a briefcase, and, rolled up site plans for these garden villages, and the right knock-knock-knock to Bill and Melinda, or Oprah, or, whomever.

The problem in America, though, as Stephen and I talk, are the doors – which doors, how to get to those doors, and in many cases the rich and powerful hide behind a house of mirrors with all sorts of false doors. Too many middlemen and middlewomen, too many great pretenders, too many self-absorbed so-called community leaders and heads of non-profits.

You Go to Jail to Get Mental and Addiction Help!@?#

Hell, head clerk at the prison, completion of a robust program in Portland, Bridges to Change, volunteering, peer support training, volunteering at the labor force office helping recently released prisoners with resumes and finding housing for the bottom of the barrel ex-cons – those charged and time served for sexual offenses.

I keep being told I am where I am at – precarious, job to job, old now, on the far edge of power – because I piss people off, because I call a spade a spade, and that I can’t accept baby steps and the power of the offensives this white supremacist country sets forth upon the land. True.

nicevillage

The mantel is Stephen’s, and I might just be an idea generator, a big bag of hot air blowing ideas and criticisms and theoretical platitudes so far out of sync with the language of punishment and dog-kill-dog capitalism, that I am in la-la land.

So, this is how Stephen got sober the last time, two years ago – he jumped out the window his shared bedroom of the shelter, wandered for a few hours, and then, exactly 48 hours later, he went into a Subway, grabbed a milk from the fridge, plopped it on the counter, and told the attendant, “This is a robbery. Call the police.”

Stephen proceeded to put the milk back, and, waited for the cops. Attempted robbery, and a rap sheet, so two years inside a minimum-security penitentiary taking every available class in cognitive behavioral therapy and anger management and addiction recovery.

He’s the guy that could manage these garden villages, training any number of people how to lead, how to design and implement the building and construction and maintenance of the villages. One village at a time, times 5 or 20.

While these fat-cats invest in parasitic capitalism, investing in yachts and gold faucets to their penthouses. While these thugs with billions crusade across the land to smear us, the working class, attack us, those with a collectivism that would outperform any of their deceptive tricks to triple bookkeeping and felonious investments and punishment spread across the seas in their transnational capital crypto-currency Mafioso.

Brother, can you spare a million people? Sister, can you spare a few million young people from the endless toil of the fulfillment centers (sic) and kill-your-self-slowly Gig Economy.

The Three Magnets from Garden Cities of Tomorrow, 1902

Howard’s socialist vision of garden cities tied to the people and cultural implications of these thriving communities over the spatial holism of the cities/towns: Article.

The Veterans Community Project (VCP) is on a mission to eliminate Veteran homelessness by providing transitional-housing and enabling access to exceptional 360-degree service solutions. Focusing first on the Greater-Kansas City area, VCP aspires to use Kansas City as the blueprint for achieving similar successes in cities across the United States. VCP has a long-term goal of eliminating Veteran homelessness nationwide.

For many years, it has been tough to find a way to house the homeless. More than 3.5 million people experience homelessness in the United States each year, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Shortages of low-income housing continue to be a major challenge. For every 100 households of renters in the United States that earn “extremely low income” (30 percent of the median or less), there are only 30 affordable apartments available, according to a 2013 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.  Source: Yes! Magazine.

Remote Area Medical (RAM) is a major nonprofit provider of mobile medical clinics. Our mission is to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free, quality healthcare to those in need. We do this by delivering free dental, vision, and medical services to underserved and uninsured individuals. RAM’s Corps of more than 120,000 Humanitarian Volunteers–licensed dental, vision, medical, and veterinary professionals–have treated more than 740,000 people and 67,000 animals, delivering $120 million worth of free health care services.

Image result for ebenezer howard

The Incredible Weight of Not Being

If I Don’t Feel It, The Problem Doesn’t Exist

You know we are cooked when the middling middle class, with educations from Duke, USC, Vanderbilt, Princeton, Columbia, and gobs of money in the bank, and an east coast upbringing, now California dreaming, are astonished that there are actually homeless veterans.

This is the state of the lobotomized America, one country that is a mix of Disneyland, Zombie-land, Filthy First Families, War Economics, General Anxiety Disorder gone rampant, and, well, everything one can imagine the White Race (sic) has become under the crystal meth bubble of money, debt, TV, Netflix, Cowboys and Indians Entertainment, and a population in a dervish of debt spiral while the hooked-brained Point Zero Zero Zero One Percent has us as slaves.

On the surface, everything looks fine in America when zipping down the streets of LA, Seattle, Phoenix, Atlanta, if one wants to believe normality is that baseline of gutters full of 7-11 hot dog wrappers, millions of miles of strip malls with attendant boarded up storefronts, smoke-pot-booze-armament-nickel and dime shops, concrete, tar, 300,000,000 cars pushing and pulling people to precarious jobs and off-the-clock mortgaged lives, and the endless serpents of 18-wheelers crisscrossing America with the goods of depravity, obsolescence, and despair.

It’s a blitzkrieg of sound bites, biting hatred toward anyone different than that narrow creepy species of white people with kids and two homes depicted on TV. The white race, even though it is shrinking, is like a plague. It takes only a few microbes to disease a pond with cholera, and it only takes a few whites in a board room or in a bureaucracy or corporation to turn the air to putrid, disease-causing sickness, where punishment is measured in how much the few can take from the many.

So I go back to the astonishment of friends and relatives on the West Coast, Southern Cal: How can there be homeless veterans . . . as if the only veterans in the minds of these upper middle class are four-star triple-dipping multimillionaire generals, or Ollie North types selling their filthy Christo-Zio murderous brand of America to FOX, the NRA and some glass church on the hill making profits from private prison hell.

We are talking about 50 K veterans homeless, hundreds of thousands basically screwed because of the enormous disabilities for which the time spent “serving” has exacted as the second and third level of punishment this sadistic system of indoctrinating people into believing they are doing anything for the country (not) in the form of pushing around dirt, cranking wrenches, tooling around in this disgusting excess of overpriced dangerous polluting equipment that literally takes food out of the mouths of babes and grannies.

Then the millions of veterans hobbling around with herniated discs, diabetes, dead knees, metal hips, PTSD, rotting teeth, a thousand varieties of internal injuries, diseases and maladies. And we pay dearly in this structural violent land of Bernie Sanders’ pet F-35 project, or McCain’s aircraft carriers, or Filthy Trump’s “we make the best stuff, the very best guns and missiles and killer jets and bombs in the whole world, the best . . .” and untold bio-chem-putridity created by the US Armed Forces.

I attempt to tell these la-la land folk that even one base, Camp Lejeune, killed thousands of military and civilians from 30 years of contaminated water exposure that was covered up by those big brass officers, generals and retired triple-dipper civil servants.  They guffaw, and then eyes glaze over when I repeat there are 130 other US-based military compounds that are toxic dumps.

Brother can you spare a dime is sister can you spare a tooth extraction

This is the lead up into my work, daily the stories and the crises, the onion peeled back, multiple bizarre incidents in the veterans’ lives. Bombarded with not only propaganda, but shock waves, chemicals, murder teams like the Phoenix Program or MK-Ultra or DARPA, you name it, the things these many times economically-drafted people have endured would rip the souls from most of the middling ones, the flag wavers and cocktail umbrella twirling Republicans and Democrats.

The filthy Trumps and Don’s entourage and millions upon millions of Kool-Aid drinkers, believers, deplorables, oh, they are, whether they are calling themselves stock brokers or sausage makers, when you lick the shoes of this sort of filthy fellow, we know we have slipped in our insanity – from all these other bastions like Ike, Truman, Nixon, Bush, Ford, Bush, Clinton, Obama, Carter, hell, these are cutouts of the two parties for which they flip billions and billions of shekels in the name of the corporate Satans.

Here I am, in the richest country in the world (ha, ha) in the weirdest town in the USA, Portland, Oregon, where the influx of money from California has turned this into a winter and summer playground for the 20 Percent with thousands of homeless in tents along freeway off-ramps, kids with heroin track lines intertwined with tattoos selling trinkets, thousands of people in drug recovery programs, and an army of civil servants and social services personnel making shitty livings off of some really shitty shitty situations.

We have this Pacific Northwest billionaire and millionaire club, the Boeings and Alaska Airlines and Intels and Nikes and Amazons and thousands of companies that give shit about the near homeless, the houseless, the struggling ones their own shitty companies hire on to do the heavy labor and mindless digital shuffling required in this usury and punishment world of the Goldman Sachs prostitutes.

I can rail on and on, but the reality is, punks like me could change the world, with just the right marketing, connections, exposures, moments of epiphany, conversations with the right person at the right time at the right place, etc.

Think 20- or thirty-acre venues, in the forests around Mount Adams and Mount Hood, anywhere in this PNW, where we could, with the right funding, get tiny homes built with sweat equity, around communal all-purpose rooms-kitchens-gathering points. Homes with toilets (compostable), solar arrays, and gardens circling this mix, and then, well, hundreds upon hundreds of these with tens of thousands of people, mixed races, mixed ideas, mixed ages, supporting each other. Ebenezer Howard comes to mind, oh those Garden Cities, but with a 21st century punch. School buses, ready for the crusher, retrofitted for homes, that is, college kids and high schoolers and Pk8 working to learn the tricks of working with hands, design, construction, art, engineering, food growing, and social services.

This organic concentric circle of tiny homes, cabins, containers, school buses, like a giant sunflower, with other circles and rings of gardens, livestock pens, work arenas, amphitheaters.

It could be done in five years. Land is plentiful. We have these creeps at Google wanting self-driving vans, buses, so get their billionaire butts involved – shuttles for those veterans and non-veterans getting to hospitals, or, better yet, do the Stan Brock (Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom sidekick) thing of Remote Area Medical and have docs, dentists, PAs, shrinks, gerontologists, child social workers, holistic healers, naturopaths, et al. I can give the links below, but the stories and solutions have already been written, for sure, and if it takes these thieves like Musk-Tesla and Bezos and Buffet and Walton and Gates and the countless gluttons, war profiteers, the scabs of humanity – industrial military-finance-education-ag-energy-legal-IT-prison-insurance-retail complex – to fund it, voluntarily, or with a Eugene Debs reality, then so be it.

Here’s the segue into one example of a veteran at the place where I work who could be the Johnny Appleseed or Pied Piper of this project, going to the captains of industry, the colonels of Wall Street and the generals of filthy rich wealth with a dervish of a man like me showing the plans and crunching the numbers.

Who’s Giving this Guy Right Out of a Quadruple Hollywood Script the Time of Day?

I will call him Stephen. He’s in the homeless shelter a second time. The first time, man, a few years ago, he was here, with a lot of sobriety under his belt, but, he ended up at a 7-11, loaned out some money to a friend, and then bam, the friend offered to pay back the loan with crystal meth. Stephen, living in our shelter, which is family and sober based, jumped out the window to not embarrass himself or put the program at risk.

From 1977 to ’82, 82nd Airborne. He did the radical macho stuff, in the Army, and he tells me that he always wanted to be in the military, since age 10. Northern California roots, athlete, family with military history – Army, Navy, Marines. He worked in a trailer factory in high school, and other outfits.

The drinking started in the Army. Guys back from Vietnam as company leaders, with plethora of drug abuse, drinking, and hell, the Army barracks had beer machines installed next to cots. The 82nd Airborne then, Stephen says, was called “The Jumping Junkies.”

He bounced around after military, working at Bank of America, married and divorced. Biker clubs (gangs) and things got hard when his son was murdered by the mother’s (his ex) boyfriend. That’s when the anger set in, and the drugs, but he ended up being a number one supervisor for construction sites building Wal-marts and the other box stores. Six figures, and, he ended up owning his own company, 12 acre plot of land and home he paid cash for. He moved up to even higher pay doing supervision of hospital construction and refab sites, in California, and earthquake mitigation.

A functional cocaine-speed-methamphetamine abuser with a lot of anger but more compassion. Prison terms for selling, a few property crimes, no violence.

He counts homelessness in years, living in storm drains, living out of dumpsters, and even told me about waking up many times with a piece of drop cloth covering him and snow packed on top of that.

He looks like a cross between Tommy Lee Jones and Scott Glenn. He talked of turning 60 in September. He’s strong, and counts his lucky stars his body held up.

Now, he makes $3000 a month, and that’s from his service connected disabilities. He is on his road to 23 months sober, and before he came back to our shelter, he was 31 days living in the forest parks around Portland that are such a draw for those same Californians who think there is no way in hell a veteran can be homeless.

Stephen’s got all the elements in this day and age of flash in the pan so-called business leaders. He has the biographical narrative that shows how some people can go from here to there back to there, hit rock bottom a few times, almost bite the dust, get criminally involved, let the drugs be the monkey on the back, and, then, bam, the spirit takes him.

He goes to Narcotics Anonymous, is a member of a local church, takes other vets belongings to their new digs, and he’s shooting for community college in the fall for an AAS degree in alcohol and chemical dependency, and he wants the BA, and more.

A tailored shirt to display his buff frame, short-sleeved to show the tattoos, and boots and new jeans and a briefcase, and, rolled up site plans for these garden villages, and the right knock-knock-knock to Bill and Melinda, or Oprah, or, whomever.

The problem in America, though, as Stephen and I talk, are the doors – which doors, how to get to those doors, and in many cases the rich and powerful hide behind a house of mirrors with all sorts of false doors. Too many middlemen and middlewomen, too many great pretenders, too many self-absorbed so-called community leaders and heads of non-profits.

You Go to Jail to Get Mental and Addiction Help!@?#

Hell, head clerk at the prison, completion of a robust program in Portland, Bridges to Change, volunteering, peer support training, volunteering at the labor force office helping recently released prisoners with resumes and finding housing for the bottom of the barrel ex-cons – those charged and time served for sexual offenses.

I keep being told I am where I am at – precarious, job to job, old now, on the far edge of power – because I piss people off, because I call a spade a spade, and that I can’t accept baby steps and the power of the offensives this white supremacist country sets forth upon the land. True.

nicevillage

The mantel is Stephen’s, and I might just be an idea generator, a big bag of hot air blowing ideas and criticisms and theoretical platitudes so far out of sync with the language of punishment and dog-kill-dog capitalism, that I am in la-la land.

So, this is how Stephen got sober the last time, two years ago – he jumped out the window his shared bedroom of the shelter, wandered for a few hours, and then, exactly 48 hours later, he went into a Subway, grabbed a milk from the fridge, plopped it on the counter, and told the attendant, “This is a robbery. Call the police.”

Stephen proceeded to put the milk back, and, waited for the cops. Attempted robbery, and a rap sheet, so two years inside a minimum-security penitentiary taking every available class in cognitive behavioral therapy and anger management and addiction recovery.

He’s the guy that could manage these garden villages, training any number of people how to lead, how to design and implement the building and construction and maintenance of the villages. One village at a time, times 5 or 20.

While these fat-cats invest in parasitic capitalism, investing in yachts and gold faucets to their penthouses. While these thugs with billions crusade across the land to smear us, the working class, attack us, those with a collectivism that would outperform any of their deceptive tricks to triple bookkeeping and felonious investments and punishment spread across the seas in their transnational capital crypto-currency Mafioso.

Brother, can you spare a million people? Sister, can you spare a few million young people from the endless toil of the fulfillment centers (sic) and kill-your-self-slowly Gig Economy.

The Three Magnets from Garden Cities of Tomorrow, 1902

Howard’s socialist vision of garden cities tied to the people and cultural implications of these thriving communities over the spatial holism of the cities/towns: Article.

The Veterans Community Project (VCP) is on a mission to eliminate Veteran homelessness by providing transitional-housing and enabling access to exceptional 360-degree service solutions. Focusing first on the Greater-Kansas City area, VCP aspires to use Kansas City as the blueprint for achieving similar successes in cities across the United States. VCP has a long-term goal of eliminating Veteran homelessness nationwide.

For many years, it has been tough to find a way to house the homeless. More than 3.5 million people experience homelessness in the United States each year, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Shortages of low-income housing continue to be a major challenge. For every 100 households of renters in the United States that earn “extremely low income” (30 percent of the median or less), there are only 30 affordable apartments available, according to a 2013 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.  Source: Yes! Magazine.

Remote Area Medical (RAM) is a major nonprofit provider of mobile medical clinics. Our mission is to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free, quality healthcare to those in need. We do this by delivering free dental, vision, and medical services to underserved and uninsured individuals. RAM’s Corps of more than 120,000 Humanitarian Volunteers–licensed dental, vision, medical, and veterinary professionals–have treated more than 740,000 people and 67,000 animals, delivering $120 million worth of free health care services.

Image result for ebenezer howard

Rescuing Food Sovereignty in the Venezuelan Andes

Village of Gavidia in the Venezuelan Andes (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

In the remote village of Gavidia, in the state of Mérida, a very interesting experience is taking place: the rescue of the native potato and other native foodstuffs; something that is fundamental in terms of food sovereignty. In this article we discuss this experience after visiting Gavidia and talking to one of the people involved, Cantalicia Torres.

*****

Cantalicia Torres, commonly known as “Alicia”, is a member of the Vertientes de Agua Viva cooperative. It currently has 12 members, a number that has more or less kept constant, Alicia stresses, despite some people coming in and others leaving. The name has to do with the original idea, which remains a goal, of launching a water bottling project, making use of a natural spring in Gavidia.

This village is at an altitude of over 3500 meters, and is made up of around 70 families. If we add the two other villages in sight, Micarache and Las Piñuelas, the total is of around 600 people. They mostly survive off of what they produce, and usually need to go down 13 steep kilometers to reach Mucuchíes, the municipal capital, to find other foodstuffs such as sugar or – something Cantalicia stresses as very important – coffee, which cannot be grown at this altitude.

Nevertheless, the main activity of the cooperative is rescuing the native potato. As Cantalicia explains:

We started when professor Liccia Romero came to do her thesis in Gavidia, and Bernabé – one of the founders of the cooperative – enjoys being a “rescuer” of old things, so he used to say that we were not going to let this potato disappear. The main difference is that the native potato yields a harvest every 8 months to a year, whereas the commercial potato can yield one as quickly as 5 months. So since it was less profitable the farmers stopped growing the native potato.

The rescue of the native potato is essential in the current context, not just because of general food sovereignty issues, but because, with an economic and commercial blockade, the state has ever fewer resources to import seeds. In the case of the commercial potato (also called granola potato), it comes from countries such as Canada. Additionally, seeds imported by the private sector have unaffordable prices for (small) producers.

There are currently eight potato varieties being grown, although many more exist. The differences with respect to the commercial one are not just the frequency of harvests. Cantalicia points out that, while the commercial potato rots fairly quickly, the native one can last up to a year after being harvested. The same holds true for the seeds, which last a long time without rotting.

Native potato varieties (Photo: EcoFestival de la Papa Nativa)

In addition, the agriculture here is much more friendly towards the land. Although the sowing is manual or with cattle, it is biological, without recourse to agrochemicals. Pests are controlled with traps, or with worm humus, produced locally in garden beds, and the fertilizers are also organic, produced using cattle manure.

But it is not just the native potato being rescued up in the Andes. Cantalicia adds that:

Besides the potato there are other foodstuffs that have being rescued, such as the cuiba, the ruba or the mashua. These are not usually commercialized, but we have them here. They are native foodstuffs of the Andes that practically disappeared from consumption. Nevertheless, they have excellent nutrition properties.

Rubas are small potatoes, also called “smooth potatoes” or “ñucos”. They come in two varieties, one of them yellow or green, and the other one red, Cantalicia tells us. They are a bit juicier than a potato and can be used, for example, to make spicy sauces. Cuibas are similar to carrots, and very nutritious. They can be used in salads, soups, juices or even eaten raw. Mashuas are spicy, and mostly used in sauces, and they are said to be good for those suffering from diabetes. Their leaves can also be used to make tea or infusions.

Cuibas, one of the native foodstuffs being rescued in Gavidia (Photo: EcoFestival de la Papa Nativa)

The isolation of Gavidia, coupled to the fact that the producers do not own a truck that would allow them to take their produce to markets, leaves them at the mercy of middlemen when they need to sell part of their crops. These intermediaries come with their trucks and effectively end up fixing prices that allow for huge profit margins when re-selling later on.

In spite of this, the isolation is being broken little by little. On one hand more and more farmers are becoming aware of this experience and coming over to acquire native potato seeds, thus extending its production. And on the other hand, initiatives of organized distribution and consumption are also springing up, allowing for a bigger protection against intermediaries, for producers and consumers alike.

The “Mano a mano, agroecological exchange” collective, like other initiatives throughout Venezuela, has a component of direct organization of producers, which includes the Vertentes de Agua Viva cooperative, in order to sell produce directly to people at fair prices. More than that, it is a market that looks to boost native foodstuffs that had been forgotten, as well as encouraging producers to switch from conventional agriculture towards agroecology. However, the worsening of the crisis – Cantalicia says – also affects the regularity and reach of this kind of initiatives.

Agroecological market “Mano a Mano” (Photo: “Mano a Mano” facebook page)

When we discuss rescuing native seeds, it is important to point out that (imported) genetically modified seeds have two fundamental problems.1 First of all, there is the fact that it is impossible to reproduce or reuse the seeds, since they have patents, which leaves farmers totally in the hands of multinational corporations such as Monsanto (now Bayer), who acquire monopolistic positions in the market. Secondly, and this is related to the previous issue, the use of genetically modified seeds also requires the use of herbicides such as glyphosate, which carry deadly health and environmental effects.

In this sense, the seed law approved in December 2015, after a process of tremendous mobilization and popular organization, was an important step to lay the bases for a model of ecological agriculture that would allow Venezuela to safeguard its food security and sovereignty.

The experience in Gavidia is, so to speak, a little seed in this journey. It is not a matter of glorifying a model of subsistence farming, or yearning for an idealized and glorious past, but of understanding that food sovereignty, as an essential element in any emancipation project, requires control over the entire production chain, and this naturally starts with seeds23 The challenge is to strengthen and articulate these kinds of experiences, joining a bunch of remote corners in a stream of dignity and popular power.

• Special thanks to Silvana Solano for having come with us to Gavidia and for her comments and suggestions on the article.

• First published at Investig’Action

  1. This without going into the health effects of genetically modified food.
  2. Naturally, there is a previous step that has to do with ownership of the land.
  3. For a detailed analysis of these issues see this article by Ana Felicien, Christina Schiavoni and Liccia Romero.

On Purpose, In Kabul

Writing this week for the Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman called a U.S. Government report on the war in Afghanistan “a chronicle of futility.” “The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction” report says the U.S. spent large sums “in search of quick gains” in regional stabilization – but these instead “exacerbated conflicts, enabled corruption and bolstered support for insurgents.”

“In short,” says Chapman, the U.S. government “made things worse rather than better.”

Gains, meanwhile, have certainly been made by weapon manufacturers. On average, during Trump’s first year in office, the Pentagon dropped 121 bombs per day on Afghanistan. The total number of weapons – missiles, bombs – deployed in Afghanistan by manned and remotely piloted aircraft through May this year is estimated at 2,339.

War profiteers deliver hellish realities and futile prospects, but the Afghan Peace Volunteers have not given up on bettering their country. In recent visits to Kabul, we’ve listened as they consider the longer-term question of how peace can come to an economically devastated country where employment by various warlords, including the U.S. and Afghan militaries, is many families’ only way to put bread on the table. Hakim, who mentors the APVs, assures us that a lasting peace must involve the creation of jobs and incomes with a hope of sustaining community. Inspired by Mohandas Gandhi’s calls for self-sufficiency, and the example of his Pashtun ally, Badshah Khan, they resist war by fostering education and creating local cooperatives.

Miriam is a student in the APVs’ “Street Kids’ School,” which prepares child laborers to pursue schooling while helping their families stay afloat with monthly rations of rice and oil. Sitting with me in the garden of the APVs’ Borderfree Center, her widowed mother, Gul Bek told me of the hardships she faces as a single mother of five.

Each month, she struggles to pay for water, rent, food, and fuel. Some years ago, a company installed a water pipeline leading to her home, but every month a representative from the company comes to collect 700 – 800 Afghanis (about $10.00) in payment for the family’s water consumption. An impoverished household – even free of war’s ravages – can’t easily spare $10. She tries hard to conserve. “But we must have water!” says Gul Bek. “We need it to clean, to cook, to do laundry.” She knows how important hygiene is, but she doesn’t dare go over her budget for water. Gul Bek fears she might be evicted if she can’t manage rent. Would she then go to a refugee camp in Kabul? She shakes her head. I asked if the government helps at all. “They know nothing about how we live,” she said. “At the beginning of Ramadan, we couldn’t even have bread. We had no flour.” Her two eldest sons, age 19 and 14, are beginning to learn tailoring skills and they attend school part time. I asked if she ever considers allowing them to join the military or the police to earn something closer to a living wage. She was adamant. After working so hard to raise these sons, she doesn’t want to lose them. She won’t allow them to carry guns.

Visiting a refugee camp several days later, I could understand her horror of moving into a camp. The camps are overcrowded, muddy, and dangerously unsanitary. An elder from the camp, Haji Jool, was entrusted with the keys to a control room for a well that two NGOs recently installed. On that day, the valves weren’t functioning. 200 of the 700 families in the camp depend on that well for water. I looked at the worried faces of women who had been waiting, since early morning, to collect water. What would they do? Haji Jool told me that most of the families had come from rural areas. They fled their homes because of war or because they lacked water. Kabul’s battered infrastructure, in desperate need of U.S. reparations for fifteen years of war, simply can’t sustain people.

Our APV friends, recognizing the need to create jobs and incomes, have begun forging ahead with impressive work to establish cooperatives. In early June, they initiated a shoemaking cooperative, led by two young men, Hussein and Hosham, who’ve already been trained and have taught their skills to Noorullah. They named their store “Unique.” A carpentry co-op will soon be up and running.

The APV are grateful to the many internationals who, over the past six winters, have assisted their annual “Duvet Project” to bring much-needed blankets to Kabul residents lacking protection from harsh winter weather. The “Duvet Project” has donated winter blankets to some 9,000 destitute families in Kabul and has offered a winter income to as many as 360 seamstresses. Yet, the APV have grappled with a persistent plea from seamstresses who, while appreciative of the seasonal project, express their acute need for an income throughout the year.

This year, APV are forming a seamstresses’ cooperative which will manufacture clothing year-round for inexpensive local sale and will also distribute duvets.

The U.S. exerts massive power from the skies of Afghanistan, raining down hellfire in ever greater quantities. Its Security Zone and its military bases, within and near Kabul, help to drain the local water table faster than wells can be dug. It persistently causes hatred and harm. Meanwhile, it might sound like a cliché, but in imagining a better world our young friends are helping to build one. With sustainable projects to support the neediest, they embrace Gul Bek’s refusal to cooperate with war. Their simple, small actions do strengthen Kabul.  They give themselves over to compassion, to strengthening their neighbors. They plant the seeds that may or may not grow a forest there – they use, rather than wasting, what power they have. They aren’t rewarded with the titanic achievement of having shaped and ruined a country, but instead with purposeful intent to stop the vicious cycle of war and resist the cruel hierarchies attempting to prevail. We at Voices are grateful for the chance, with them, to reject despair. In supporting their projects, we can make reparations, however small, for the persistent futility of war.

Girls and mothers, waiting for their duvets, in Kabul (Photo by Dr. Hakim)

Economic Insanity Close Up

Capitalism as it is practiced is economically insane, and it is devouring the American dream. So says the author of one of the books I have reviewed.1 Part 2 of this series adapts and adds to that review.

Roger Terry wrote a book in 1995 on “economic insanity” (no, it isn’t a “mis”fortune telling of the insane economic meltdown of 2008 thirteen years later). He’s certainly not a mainstream economist nor do I think even a maverick one. Rather, I assume business management is his professional field because he mentions once having students in his management classes in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University. He is the co-founder of the “funcompany,” which is in the publishing and stationary business. His company gives him an opportunity to practice some of what he preaches.

Terry contends that the growth-driven capitalism of big, authoritarian, and unaccountable organizations is devouring the American dream. As proof he points to the erosion of the good life of being happy; how we have become a nation not of citizens but of consumers of “life-style enhancing” things, yet in actuality we produce more (in waste) than we consume in products and services; how seeking limitless economic progress is both illusory and self-destructive; how we live in a capitalistic society, but most of us are dependent wage earners, not independent capitalists; and how the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer-an inevitable result of capitalism.

I could not agree more with his aspersion toward “big, authoritarian, and unaccountable organizations.” My very first book not only railed against them, but better still, offered a model of an organization that was the direct antithesis of today’s behemoth hierarchical organizations.2

Note his reference to “independent capitalists.” We shall encounter that idea more than once as we proceed through the series.

In the first part of his book, Terry questions three underlying assumptions of our current capitalistic system that he contends are so inherently wrong that the system can’t be fixed; 1) limitless, perpetual economic growth is an imperative good, 2) increasing productivity is a cure-all for an ailing economy, and 3) maintaining a good life depends on continuous technological advances. I could add some more underlying inherently wrong assumptions, like that of assuming that debt is the basis of our economy.3

The growth imperative, he argues, is illogical, immoral, misguiding, and destructive. It’s illogical because we consumers buy products we don’t really need (e.g., personal computer upgrades) from companies that are fearful of not making and selling new products lest their competitors do so and grab more of the market share. It’s immoral because it lets companies rationalize wrongdoing for the sake of survival.  It’s misguiding because companies are diverted from what should be their true purpose, to serve society in useful ways. It’s destructive because our planet and our pocketbooks are being irretrievably depleted by a growth-driven, consumer-oriented economy. I agree with him completely, and as a side note, I have reviewed another book that propounds the opposite, “double-digit” growth.4

He argues that productivity increases, contrary to the prevailing assumption, don’t make the economy grow and thereby don’t improve our standard of living. He observes that while productivity has gone up over the last 25 years, real wages haven’t. Productivity increases, instead, are siphoned into the pockets of the rich, into pay for support people (e.g., consultants) who don’t produce anything, and into payments on un-forgiving huge debts fueled by the growth imperative. Not to mention, I would add, the unconscionable hiatus between the haves and have nots that are reflected not only in individual incomes but also in misery, insufferably poor living conditions and health, and sometimes death from failing health.

Technological advances, he claims, are “inherently self-destructive” because they are “quickly bankrupting us.” Only a few select companies and the more affluent among us can afford the technology race. The rest go out of business or into deeper debt.

In Terry’s opinion, the assumptions are so inherently wrong that the system can’t be fixed, so in the second part of his book he offers ideas for a new kind of capitalism. In that sense, Terry’s ideas are very much at home with this series (obviously, or I wouldn’t have included him).

In the second part of his book, Terry outlines the features of a new economic system. It would be a structurally different capitalism, one we’ve never seen before. It would be a “Nation of Owners,” in which there are three levels of ownership: (a) small enterprises, like his own, with the founders and a few partners who share ownership commensurate with their seniority and other factors like start-up funding; (b) larger enterprises, the corporations of today, would be owned collectively by their members, who would elect managers for limited terms of office; and (c) public enterprises, such as utilities, education, defense, and the like, would be created and managed by public boards or local governments. Now that, I would add and enthusiastically emphasize, would be real economic sanity!

Here is a sketch of what he says life would be like under this different capitalism. It would be a “truer form” of capitalism because anyone able-bodied and “even minimally motivated would own capital and in reasonably equal portions,” thus guaranteeing freedom of opportunity and markedly reducing inequality of income. There would no longer be a Wall Street since absentee owners; i.e., shareholders, would gradually be replaced by working owners, which in turn would eliminate the motive of short-term profits and its immoral consequences. Our government would be much different — it wouldn’t be controlled by a corpocracy. Our economy would be developing better rather than growing bigger. Businesses would be motivated to serve society instead of serving themselves. There would be no more drudgery at work, exploitation of workers, cutthroat competition, takeovers, downsizings, wholesale firings, ballooning personal and collective debt, frivolous products, superfluous support structures, or any other ills you might associate with the present system. Sounds like utopia, doesn’t it? Unless you’re a fat-cat CEO or you can’t wait for the next computer upgrade.

But he obviously wasn’t writing for the fat-cat CEOs or the impatient PC owners; no, he was writing instead for people “who will inhabit America’s future and dream the American Dream” and “leaders—among us (who) have yet to find their voices.”

Terry forged this book out of what he calls “a disjointed pile of half-baked, angry ideas.” His purpose in this less angry final product is “to identify a new way of looking at our organizational and individual lives through rejecting certain assumptions that drive our economic system.” Some of it is indeed a new way for me and maybe for you, too.

In Closing

Roger Terry has given us an innovative alternative form of capitalism. Terrific! But there’s more! Wait until you see the rest of this series!

An Internet friend of mine who is also an editor and writer wrote not long ago that capitalism is intrinsically a despicable economic system that has caused the U.S. to be the scourge of humanity, so to speak.5 I posted this response to his article:

Capitalism, on the other hand, is not intrinsically the curse of humanity as you suggest. In two of my books, The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch; and, Corporate Reckoning Ahead, I present six viable, alternative forms of capitalism, none of which resemble the present form. And I laid out a way to put the latter in the dustbin of history. Of course, Americans have been duped by the corpocracy to accept the present form of capitalism as the only form, and unless they wise up and rise up America and the rest of the world will continue to suffer until the bitter end, which will also sweep away the power elite but not soon enough.

That commentary of mine underlies this series. By its end you will have come to your own conclusion if not way before.

• Read Part 1 here;

  1. Terry, R. Economic Insanity: How Growth-Driven Capitalism is Devouring the American Dream, 1995.
  2. Brumback, GB. Tall Performance from Short Organizations Through We/Me Power, 2004.
  3. Brumback, GB. “Economic Sanity and Alternative Economic Systems: Part 1. Introduction to the Series“, OpEdNews, May 16; Dissident Voice, May 17, 2018.
  4. Michael Treacy. “Double-Digit Growth: How Great Companies Achieve It-No Matter What”, New York: Portfolio, 2003.
  5. Pear, DW. “On U.S. Imperialism, Capitalism and Fascism”, OpEdNews, May 12, 2018.

“May Day” Militancy Needed To Create The Economy We Need

The Popular Resistance School will begin on May 1 and will be an eight-week course on how movements grow, build power and succeed as well as examine the role you can play in the movement. Sign up to be part of this school so you can participate in small group discussions about how to build a powerful, transformational movement. REGISTRATION CLOSES MIDNIGHT APRIL 30.

Seventy years of attacks on the right to unionize have left the union movement representing only 10 percent of workers. The investor class has concentrated its power and uses its power in an abusive way, not only against unions but also to create economic insecurity for workers.

At the same time, workers, both union and nonunion, are mobilizing more aggressively and protesting a wide range of economic, racial and environmental issues.

On this May Day, we reflect on the history of worker power and present lessons from our past to build power for the future.

May Day Workers of the World Unite, Melbourne, Australia, in 2012. By Johan Fantenberg, Flickr.

In most of the world, May Day is a day for workers to unite, but May Day is not recognized in the United States even though it originated here. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the US walked off their jobs for the first May Day in history. It began in 1884, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed at their convention that workers themselves would institute the 8-hour day on May 1, 1886. In 1885 they called for protests and strikes to create the 8-hour work day. May Day was part of a revolt against abusive working conditions that caused deaths of workers, poverty wages, poor working conditions and long hours.

May Day gained permanence because of the Haymarket rally which followed. On May 3, Chicago police and workers clashed at the McCormick Reaper Works during a strike where locked-out steelworkers were beaten as they picketed and two unarmed workers were killed. The next day a rally was held at Haymarket Square to protest the killing and wounding of workers by police. The rally was peaceful, attended by families with children and the mayor himself. As the crowd dispersed, police attacked. A bomb was thrown—no one to this day knows who threw it—and police fired indiscriminately into the crowd, killing several civilians and wounding forty. One officer was killed by the bomb and several more died from their own gunfire. A corrupt trial followed in August concluding with a biased jury convicting eight men, though only three of them were present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred. Seven received a death sentence, the eighth was sentenced to 15 years, and in the end, four were hanged, one committed suicide and the remaining three were pardoned six years later. The trial shocked workers of the world and led to annual protests on May Day.

The unity of workers on May Day was feared by big business and government. That unity is shown by one of the founders of May Day, Lucy Parsons, who was of Mexican American, African American, and Native American Descent. Parsons, who was born into slavery, never ceased her work for racial, gender, and labor justice. Her partner was Albert Parsons, one of those convicted for Haymarket and hanged.

Solidarity across races and issues frightens the power structure. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland severed May Day from its roots by establishing Labor Day on the first Monday in September, after pressure to create a holiday for workers following the Pullman strike. Labor Day was recognized by unions before May Day. The US tried to further wipe May Day from the public’s memory by President Dwight Eisenhower proclaiming “Law and Order Day” on May 1, 1958.

Long Shoreman march in San Francisco on May Day 2008 in the first-ever strike action by U.S. workers against U.S. imperialist war. Source: The Internationalist

Escalation of Worker Protests Continues to Grow

Today, workers are in revolt, unions are under attack and the connections between workers’ rights and other issues are evident once again. Nicole Colson reports that activists on a range of issues, including racial and economic justice, immigrant rights, women’s rights, a new economy of worker-owners, transitioning to a clean energy economy with environmental and climate justice, and a world without war, are linking their struggles on May Day.

There has been a rising tide of worker militancy for years. The ongoing Fight for $15 protests helped raise the wages of 20 million workers and promoted their fight for a union. There are 64 million people working for less than $15 an hour. Last year there was also a massive 36-state strike involving 21,000 mobility workers.

Worker strikes continued into 2018 with teacher strikes over salaries, healthcare, pensions and school funding. Teachers rejected a union order to return to work. Even though it included a 5 percent raise, it was not until the cost of healthcare was dealt with that the teachers declared success. Teachers showed they could fight and win and taught others some lessons on striking against a hostile government. The West Virginia strike inspired others, and is followed by strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona. These strikes may expand to other states, evidence of unrest has been seen in states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as Puerto Rico because courage is contagious.

Graduate students have gone on strike, as have transit and UPS workers and low-wage workers. The causes include stagnant wages, spiraling healthcare costs, and inadequate pensions. They are engaged in a fight for basic necessities. In 2016, there wasn’t a single county or state in which someone earning the federal minimum wage could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at market rate.

Workers are also highlighting that women’s rights are worker’s rights. Even before the #MeToo movement took off, workers protested sexual harassment in the workplace. Workers in thirty states walked off the job at McDonald’s to protest, holding signs that said “McDonald’s Hands off my Buns” and “Put Some Respect in My Check.”

Last year on May Day, a mass mobilization of more than 100,000 immigrant workers walked off their jobs. This followed a February mobilization, a Day Without Immigrants. The Cosecha Movement has a long-term plan to build toward larger strikes and boycotts. There will be many worker revolts leading up to that day.

The Poor People’s Campaign has taken on the issues of the movement for economic, racial, environmental justice and peace. Among their demands are federal and state living wage laws, a guaranteed annual income for all people, full employment, and the right to unionize. It will launch 40 days of actions beginning on Mother’s Day. Workers announced a massive wave of civil disobedience actions this spring on the 50th anniversary of the sanitation strike in Memphis, at a protest where they teamed up with the Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for Black Lives.  Thousands of workers walked off their jobs in cities across the country.


Unrealized Worker Power Potential Can Be Achieved

The contradictions in the US economy have become severe. The wealth divide is extreme, three people have the wealth of half the population and one in five people have zero wealth or are in debt. The U.S. is ranked 35th out of 37 developed nations in poverty and inequality.  According to a UN report, 19 million people live in deep poverty including one-quarter of all youth. Thirty years of economic growth have been stagnant for most people in the US. A racial prism shows the last 50 years have made racial inequality even wider, with current policies worsening the situation.

May 5 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of economic philosopher, Karl Marx, the failure of US capitalism has become evident.  Over the last fifty years, in order for the few to exploit the many, labor laws have been put in place to weaken workers’ rights and unions.  Andrew Stewart summarizes some of the key points:

First, the National Labor Relations Act, signed by FDR, that legalized unionization. Or more precisely, it domesticated unions. When combined with the Taft-Hartley Act, the Railway Labor Act, and Norris-La Guardia Act, the union movements of America were forced into a set of confines that reduced its arsenal of tactics so significantly that they became a shell of their pre-NLRA days. And this, of course, leaves to the side the impact of the McCarthy witch hunts on the ranks of good organizers.

In addition, 28 states have passed so-called “right to work” laws that undermine the ability of workers to organize. And, the Supreme Court in the Janus case, which is likely to be ruled on this June, is likely to undermine public unions. On top of domestic laws, capitalist globalization led by US transnational corporations has undermined workers, caused de-industrialization and destroyed the environment. Trade must be remade to serve the people and planet, not profits of the few.

While this attack is happening, so is an increase in mobilizations, protests, and strikes. The total number of union members grew by 262,000 in 2017 and three-fourths of those were among workers aged 35 and under and 23% of new jobs for workers under 35 are unionized. With only 10 percent of workers in a union, there is massive room for growth at this time of economic insecurity.

Chris Hedges describes the new gig economy as the new serfdom. Uber drivers make $13.77 an hour, and in Detroit that drops to $8.77. He reports on drivers committing suicide. One man, who drove over 100 hours a week, wrote, “I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.” This while the former CEO of Uber, one of the founders, Travis Kalanick, has a net worth of $4.8 billion. The US has returned to pre-20th Century non-union working conditions. Hedges writes that workers now must “regain the militancy and rebuild the popular organizations that seized power from the capitalists.”

Solidarity across racial and economic divides is growing as all workers suffer from abuses of the all-powerful capitalist class. As those in power abuse their privilege, people are becoming more militant. We are seeing the blueprint for a new worker movement in the teacher strikes and Fight for $15. A movement of movements including labor, environmentalist, anti-corporate advocates, food reformers, healthcare advocates and more stopped the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This shows the potential of unified power.

In recent strikes, workers have rejected proposals urged by their union and have pushed for more. Told to go back to work, they continued to strike. The future is not unions who serve to calm labor disputes, but unions who escalate a conflict.

The future is more than re-legalizing unions and raising wages and benefits, it is building wealth in the population and creating structural changes to the economy. This requires a new economy where workers are owners, in worker cooperatives, so their labor builds power and wealth. Economic justice also requires a rewoven safety net that ensures the essentials of healthcare and housing, as well as non-corporatized public education, free college education, a federal job guarantee and a basic income for all.

The escalation of militancy should not demand the solutions of the past but demand the new economy of the future. By building community wealth through democratized institutions, we will reduce the wealth divide and the influence of economic inequality over our lives.

Challenging Capitalism through Workers’ Control

Workers’ assembly at Officine Zero, a former night train repair facility, in Rome (Photo: Officine Zero)

A common feature in every crisis situation, from the upheavals of the early 20th century to the neo-liberal re-structurings of the late 20th century, is the emergence of workers’ control – workers organising to take over their workplaces in order to defend their jobs and their communities. We interviewed Dario Azzellini* to talk about this issue in depth: the emergence of new values and social relations not just in the recuperated workplaces but also in the communities, the need to re-orient production, the overcoming of the separation between political, economic and social spheres, and the role of workers’ control in the larger struggle against capitalism.

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Ricardo Vaz: Why is workers’ control an important issue?

Dario Azzellino: It is an important issue because if we look at what is socialism, what Karl Marx described, the living example for him is the Paris Commune. It is the people taking matters into their own hands, and the state as such disappears because power is no longer delegated.

But I would say that workers’ control is one first step on a path to socialism, in the sense that control over production and workplace should not be only on behalf of the workers but also of the communities, the self-organised people in general. And even that is still not the last step, because as Marx says, the commune is the finally discovered political form, so it is still a political form. Socialism, or communism, is about going beyond politics, achieving the self-organisation of life.

So these are all intermediary steps, and even the commune would not be the final form, but we cannot even imagine the final form, because we are trapped in the imagination of what we know and what has been done. What has to be developed is probably beyond our imagination now.

RV: Nevertheless it is important also in the immediate context…

DA: Yes, because if workers take charge of their workplaces and decide on production, the labour processes, the values, everything changes. We have seen that in worker-controlled places. Security and health questions become central, and they are far from it in capitalist workplaces. For example, many worker-controlled workplaces start working with organic, or less toxic, production, because they are exposed to it.

Workers’ Control Poster

So once workers can decide, these questions become central. The struggle is no longer only about wage raises, which is the only struggle more or less allowed in the framework of capitalist society. Instead workers’ control is automatically challenging capitalism. We have a central field of conflict, and obviously all the other fronts, like gender, race, etc., are equally important. But labour and production are not only fundamental for society but also a field we all have in common and that is absolutely fundamental for our survival and to the structuring of the whole society. In this field all other contradictions obviously have to be tackled too.

We should not forget that the predominant way in which the economy and production are organised reflects on the rest of society. For example, as long as the dominant form of production was Fordism, the rest of society (universities, schools, bureaucracy) was organised in a Fordist way. So there is some kind of leverage if we are talking about labour and workers’ control.

RV:  In both books you have edited you describe lots of historical scenarios where workers’ control comes into play. What was the purpose of bringing together all these different experiments?

DA: We try to show, with the books and the research, how workers’ control is an important and recurring question, and we have to dig and make it known, because nobody is really interested in making it known. Unions have no interest in showing that workers can organise by themselves. Parties, which are based on the principle of representation, are also bypassed if the workers organise themselves. And, of course, capitalists would have even less interest.

But it is interesting that workers’ control comes to the fore in every kind of crisis, political, economical, in anti-colonial struggles, during the revolutions of the early 20th century, after WW2 or other wars, when capitalism is not able to develop because capitalists will invest into speculation and commerce and not into production. It happened during the neoliberal re-structurings of the early 80s, etc. So it happened always, not because the workers knew of previous experiments, but because it was something anthropologically present in the workers – get together, self-organise in a democratic way and try keep up the production, benefiting themselves and the people around them.

RV: What are the common features among all these different workers’ control attempts?

DA: This is the first common aspect, that in any situation of crisis, there are always workers that take responsibility for their jobs, for their workplaces, and for the people, for society. The second thing is that they choose democratic structures that are based on equality. They do not simply elect a new boss. Hierarchies disappear. It does not really matter what position was previously held in the production chain. That does not determine what one is able to do in a crisis.

For example, there is the Junin clinic that is now under workers control in Córdoba, Argentina. I visited it and the head of the cooperative now is the former janitor and technician, because he was the person who was most able to organise the struggle.  So he was elected as the formal head of a cooperative, which is still deciding everything in assemblies on a democratic base. This shows that the skills or capacities that are seemingly important in a capitalist hierarchy are not the same ones in a democratic and workers’ assembly-based structure.

Rally in support of the Junin Clinic which was taken over by the workers in Córdoba, Argentina (Photo: Junin Clinic)

Another common feature is that the workplace switches from a hierarchically organised workplace where the central aim is to produce as much surplus value as possible, to a place where the well-being of the workers and the purpose of production, what you produce and for whom, become the central question. So the social relations in the factory change, especially if these places go through a process of struggle or occupation, against former bosses, or political struggles. There is a trust that is built during these struggles which inevitably forces a change in the social relations.

One example of this is that it becomes less rigid that people have to fulfill the same amount of work. Or if people are sick or cannot come to work because their kids are sick, it is not a problem. It is understood by the other workers because of this relation of trust that I mentioned. This naturally contrasts with workplaces with a boss. But also in many traditional cooperatives, which do not have to go through this trust-building struggle, there is also more of a tendency to demand that everyone has to fulfill the same amount of work, there are conflicts about work hours, internal conflicts, etc.

RV: So recuperated factories/companies do not just go back to reproducing the old logic…

DA: Precisely. Especially if they have had a length of struggle, they do not go back, they do not re-install the hierarchies they got rid of. It is a bit different in places that did not have a long struggle. There was a bit of contradictory phenomenon, for example, in Venezuela1, where you had a government that was (supposedly) in favour of workers’ control. Workers would occupy a workplace and after two weeks the government would step in, expropriate the workplace and put in some provisional administration to then supposedly pass it over to the workers. At first glance this sounds great, but at the same time the workers did not have the time to form a collective, to build this conscience.

So very often you end up having conflicts among the workers, or you would never get to workers’ control because the administration was reluctant to do so. I say it is contradictory because you do not wish that people have to struggle for years without an income for their workplace, but on the other hand it is what then makes these worker-controlled companies really democratic and successful.

Ford Motor Company assembly line (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

RV: You mentioned cooperatives, and this is an important point to discuss. Most of these worker-controlled or worker-recuperated companies register legally as cooperatives. But as you have said, they are not like usual cooperatives. What are the main differences?

DA: The first main difference is that traditional cooperatives usually mean that people that already have similar ideas and values come together to build the cooperative. A workplace recuperation is very different, because everyone is involved. Everyone that is working there is also potentially there when the recuperation takes place. It is something that Gramsci describes when referring to the workers’ councils. He says that they are the real class organisation, because the whole class is there, not just political tendencies.

Another very important difference is that traditional cooperatives tend very much to base the right to decide on property, on being an owner of the cooperative. And that is problematic because it is the same logic as capitalism. Recuperated workplaces have democracy on the shop floor, and their starting point is to question private property of the means of production, so capitalism is immediately questioned. At the same time, almost none of these recuperated workplaces have models based on individual shares, or unequal shares, or even outside investors, or employ wage labour, features that are common for cooperatives.

So you have all these differences. Most of the time it is still more pleasant to work in a cooperative than in a pure capitalist private company, but what I stress is that cooperatives as such are only a democratisation within the framework of capitalism. Many cooperatives are driven by entrepreneurial or ownership logic, and by doing that they lead workers into what I call a “class limbo”. Workers no longer know that they are workers. This is especially strong in the US, where cooperatives are presented as an alternative business model, and not as an alternative model for society, or communities, or part of the workers’ struggle, which is what cooperativism historically meant. But given the way they live, the way they work, they are not entrepreneurs. They are workers!

This is in high contrast with the recuperated workplaces, where workers, having gone through these struggles, see themselves of part of the workers’ movement. There are a lot of recuperated companies in Argentina, for example, that have the rule that one day of the month they go and support other workers’ struggles, and it is part of their work. In Uruguay when companies in a given sector go on strike, workers in recuperated companies of the same sector go on strike as well so as to not undermine the struggle of the other workers.

Assembly in the recuperated Cerámica Zanon company in Argentina (Photo: La Izquierda Diario)

In a nutshell, cooperatives wage a struggle for survival in a capitalist system. Recuperated workplaces wage a struggle against the bourgeois law, often manifested in state repression, against the capitalist owners and private property. So workers are reinforced in their subjectivity as struggling workers, and as workers without a boss, and that is a fundamental difference.

RV: How would you characterise the relationship between recuperated workplaces and labour unions?

DA: It varies a lot.  It depends on how the unions work. There have been examples of unions that have supported worker takeovers, and this is very good because they can reach out to a broader public. But most of the times the unions either ignore or intervene in a negative way in these struggles, unfortunately.

In any case we should not see trade unionism and workers’ control as antagonistic projects, They are simply two different things, two different fronts of the struggle. One thing is a self-organisation in the workplace that allows for struggles that would not be possible with unions. Unions have their formal recognition and are interested in sticking to rules and laws to keep up this status of a “reliable partner”, so they will not do certain things, like wildcat strikes or occupations. They are not as flexible and not as fast in their decisions as the workers’ assemblies obviously are.

Rimaflow plant in Milan. Formerly a manufacturer of air-conditioning pipes for BMW, its activities under workers’ control now range from recycling of household appliances to producing artisanal liquor (Photo: still from “Occupy, Resist, Produce”)

RV: You mentioned how new social relations are produced in the workplace, but recuperated companies also create new social relations with their communities. Can you talk about that?

DA: Yes, the relation with the community and with other social movements is fundamental. In fact, we can put it the other way around. Of the examples of recuperated workplaces (factories, restaurants, print shops, hospitals, etc.) it is usually the ones that have a strong relationship with communities and other social movements that tend to be successful. The ones that tend to be isolated and do not have these strong relationships, often with time either turn into more or less traditional workplaces or cooperatives, withdrawing from the larger struggle, or they simply fail, because they did not have the necessary support.

And there is one question that is central to that. In the capitalist system closing down a workplace is simply a legal question. It is not a social question. It is not a political question. The law of the land is a bourgeois law that is based on property. Within these boundaries the chances of achieving something are minimal. So the main challenge for all these workers is to turn a legal question into a political question, and for that you need as much support as possible. You need the support of the communities, of other movements, of unions, maybe even of institutions and political instances. And with that you can win everything.

One example is the Republic Doors and Windows, the factory now called New Era Windows in Chicago, which is producing eco-friendly windows. When it was closed down and occupied for the second time, together with Occupy Chicago in 2010-11, the occupation got the workers the possibility to be at the negotiating table about the future of the factory, which they later agreed to buy. And the workers did that by forcing the banks that had taken over the bankrupted factory to pay them 1.5 million dollars for lost wages. Usually if there is money left (e.g. from selling machinery) it goes to the creditors. But the workers managed to do a political campaign that generated so much public support that the banks saw themselves forced to pay the workers 1.5 million dollars, even if legally they were not obligated to do that.

Workers of New Era Windows (Photo: workerscontrol.net)

RV: So they managed to turn a legal question into a political one…

DA: Exactly, and once you do that you can win everything, even things that seem completely impossible or that are not in the existing legal framework. That is one of the big reasons why it is important to have bonds with other movements and communities. The second one is that you create new values. Factory work is usually not fun, not even in a recovered factory. What keeps you working in capitalism is money, but in a recovered workplace the workers find new values, and one of the values is to be useful for society, not just for capitalism.

Many of these workplaces, if we are talking about industrial workplaces, are usually situated in poor communities. There are no factories in Beverly Hills! One usual feature of these poor communities is that they lack space. They lack space for social, collective activities. In Argentina, for example, where there are more than 400 recuperated workplaces, more than 60% give permanent space to community activities, from bachilleratos populares; i.e., the possibility for adults to re-do their school, to community radio stations, libraries, even just community festivities. So they become an important focus of community life, and the spaces in a certain way become commons, because they are used for other activities which are not immediately linked to production.

RV: Can you talk about the need for recuperated factories to re-orient production? Because if these factories are closed because they are not profitable any more, workers cannot just go back to what they were producing before.

DA: Indeed, often it is simply not possible to continue the production that existed before. One example is Officine Zero 2, a former night train repair facility in Rome. Night trains are almost gone in Europe. There is only one facility left which is enough for the few night trains that still run. Most of the trains are fast-track trains now, so you cannot continue planning to produce or repair night trains. The workers that took over the factory now engage in a number of activities, such as recycling domestic appliances or furniture, and have continued the workshops they had – upholstery, carpentry, iron works and others.

Another example is Rimaflow in Milan3 which was producing air-conditioning pipes mainly for BMW cars. The owner took out the machines, but even if he had not, BMW was not going to buy air-conditioning pipes from an occupied factory! So you have to re-invent yourself. But that is good, because then the workers start thinking about useful production. Rimaflow started with a mix of activities, for example, upcycling and recycling of household electric appliances and computers.

Later they raised money for an air-conditioning system and set up a hall to recycle industrial pallets. So they collect industrial pallets from all kinds of factories, put them back together and sell them back. They also started an artisanal food and liquor production, cooperating with organic cooperatives. They produce Rimoncello, which is a lemon liquor (originally Limoncello), together with cooperatives from Southern Italy which pay fair wages to immigrant seasonal workers, and they produce Amaro Partigiano (a digestive liquor) together with the Italian Institute for Partisan Studies.

A traditional economist might call this “patchwork”. But I would disagree. This does make sense. We have to transform our society in every sense, so these successful examples of industrial conversion make sense, because naturally we are not occupying the workplaces to simply go on with the same capitalist production we had before. We do not want to take over everything and then keep producing military helicopters!

RV: Along these lines: in capitalist societies, in liberal democracies, there is a separation between economic, social and political spheres. How do worker recuperated companies, by themselves and through their relations with communities, challenge this separation?

DA: Yes, I think that is a central aspect of what we can call “council democracy” as a model for communes, worker-controlled workplaces, etc. Capitalism, and bourgeois society, is always based on the division of spheres. The first step is the division between the political and social spheres, which is never justified. It is there to be accepted a priori. Because there is no reason why some people should be governing and others should be governed.

The second separation is that the economic sphere is supposed to be separate, autonomous, often likened to living organism that society has to keep feeding. We get to this point where it sounds mythological, like the market is this kind of dragon that needs to be fed all the time otherwise it will get angry and destroy everyone! Which is also totally absurd, because the economy should be serving society, it should be serving the people, not the other way around.

The recuperated workplaces are obviously an overcoming of that. First of all because usually there is no representation, there are only spokespeople. The decisions are taken by the people concerned with the issues and not delegated, which is the foundation of the separate political sphere. Secondly, the economic decisions are also taken directly by those involved in the production process, and subject to their political decisions and social needs. So this separation of spheres is tendentially overcome.

Officine Zero in Rome. A former night train repair facility, it is now under workers’ control, and its activities range from recycling appliances and furniture to holding workshops (Photo: still from “Occupy, Resist, Produce”)

There is a second division of spheres which is characteristic to capitalism and bourgeois society that is also tendentially overcome, namely, the division between intellectual and manual work. The person that is unloading the pallets from the truck has as much to say in the assemblies as the engineer that is adjusting the computer-led production process, for example. It is also quite common to have much more job rotation, people learning new tasks and developing new ideas; therefore there is much less of the traditional division of labour and particularly between intellectual and manual work.

Also when we talk about overcoming the division between political, social and economic spheres, we should always stress that this is a “tendency towards…”. Because as long as we are in a capitalist system it would be an illusion to think that we can be totally move beyond that.

RV: You cannot just create an island…

DA: You cannot create a happy island in the capitalist system. You can work towards overcoming the system, which means you have to expand. One of the things they always stressed in Rimaflow was that they needed to build a new economy because the economy of the bosses is not working anymore, and we can be successful if examples such as Rimaflow occur 100, 1000 times. A happy little island will not survive. The system will crush it.

Many cooperatives had a lot of idealism concerning this issue, and their ideals faded away with the age of the members and immersion in capitalism, or the cooperatives got big and got bought up. That is why I am always speaking of a tendency towards building a new economy, overcoming the separation of spheres, etc.

RV: With globalisation and the evolution of capitalism, there is a fragmentation or an atomisation of the production chain. Does this present new challenges for workers’ control, or make this question more urgent?

DA: Yes, it presents new challenges but also new opportunities. For example, the necessity of building local and regional economies is growing. Because of the ongoing globalisation, capital is concentrating more and more in ever fewer metropolitan spaces. So the necessity to build local and regional economic systems, and to keep wealth where it is produced, is becoming more urgent. This represents a chance for workers’ control and more localised production and distribution.

The fragmentation of the production chain is itself a very contradictory issue. For example, in the US, there is a tendency of insourcing again. Car manufacturers in the US are insourcing again a lot of production steps that they had outsourced before. This proves that the outsourcing was never about saving money or being more efficient, it was simply about the destruction of the workers’ power. So now that they have destroyed the unions in the car sector, that used to be some of the few strong unions in the US, they are insourcing again all these production steps.

Artistic rendering of the Fiat Factory in Longotto, Turin (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

But the fragmentation, which is not only a fragmentation of the production chain but also inside the workplace itself, makes it a much more subjective act to be collective and to struggle than it was before. You had companies like Fiat, which had 70 or 80 thousand workers which were automatically organised because 95% of them had the same contract and the same work conditions. You look now at the same Fiat factory, It has 12 thousand workers that have probably 40 different kinds of contracts, from part-time contracts, to sub-contracted labourers, to insourced work, or seasonal labour, and at the same time you have another 70,000 workers in the greater region of Turin which are working in different outsourced, independent companies, or even as independent workers.

So in Fordism the factory was the entity doing the workers’ movement a “favour” by homogenising the workers, in some sense creating the class and class conflict (the class constitutes itself as conflict, it does not exist as such or derive from a certain position in the production process). Now work is fragmenting and differentiating people. That makes it much more difficult to create a collective vision and struggle, to avoid turning against each other. Because capitalism will then point to a group and tell them they cannot earn more because of the privileges of the other group over there…

RV: It becomes a race to the bottom…

DA: Exactly, it becomes a race to the bottom, in the form of part-time contracts, or temporary work, and with all these divisions among workers. It is creating a very problematic situation, also from the point of view of production, and that is why I think it is very important to take over as many workplaces as possible, and to use these workplaces, as well cooperatives that place themselves into a political/labour/class struggle logic, to build production chains.

For example, in Argentina, a study of about 80 recuperated factories showed that over 16% of the commercial activity, sales or buying resources and parts, was done with other recuperated workplaces, and almost 2% was with the solidarity economy or other kinds of cooperatives.4 This means that almost 20% of what they are doing is in a cycle that, while not being complete out of capitalism, does not strictly follow the rules of capitalism. You are supporting different labour relations and social relations by having these economic relationships. Therefore I think it is important that we have as many worker-controlled workplaces as possible and that we also start thinking about creating production chains.

After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Rimaflow launched “Amaro Partigiano” in 2017 (Photo: Rimaflow)

RV: To finish, do you want to tell us about the website workerscontrol.net that you helped found?

DA: What we are trying to do is to create a virtual archive with workers’ control experiences from all kinds of epochs and different languages. We have functioning Spanish, Italian, French, English, German, Portuguese and Greek. The idea was to build a network of researchers and activists from recuperated workplaces, to make available as many experiences as possible. Because up to now there was nothing like that. You only had websites or sources dedicated to specific authors or to specific recuperated workplaces.

We founded it also as a decentralised network. There is no central group reviewing what can be on the website or not, so all the nodes are autonomous and free to publish whatever they think is useful in the framework of workers’ control. It is an interesting network of collaboration between people with different political orientations, people that consider themselves council communists, or more anarcho-syndicalists, others Luxemburgian or Gramscian, others Trotskyist, others might be more workerist/operaist, others more traditional Marxists.

What we all have in common is that we support workers’ control and want to create access to as much information as possible. We are now in a process of redesigning the website, which will be relaunched in a few months with a new design and more visibility.

• First published in Investig’Action

*Dario Azzellini is a sociologist, political scientist, author and documentary filmmaker. He has worked and written extensively on the issue of workers’ control, including two recently edited books, Ours to master and to own. Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present (with Immanuel Ness) and An Alternative Labor History: Worker Control and Workplace Democracy. He has also produced a series of documentaries on this issue called “Occupy, Resist, Produce” (with Oliver Ressler). More information about his work can be found on his website.

  1. A second interview with Dario Azzellini on the issue of communes and workers’ control in Venezuela will be published shortly.
  2. The documentary “Occupy, Resist, Produce” dedicated to Officine Zero is available here.
  3. The documentary “Occupy, Resist, Produce” dedicated to Rimaflow is available here
  4. Information from this report, pages 35-36.