Tuesday, September 30, 2008

That Financial Meltdown

On the agit prop "let's get our message out there" level, the left is not worth listening to when it comes to the financial crisis gripping the capitalist world. Or at least not yet.

It's not that what is being said is wrong, it's that what's being said is just so plain obvious. An ignoramus such as myself could think up the stuff most left groups and commentators have churned out so far, and the op ed and business pages of most ruling class newspapers have just as informative analysis.

This isn't a criticism, just an observation. And it's probably normal in the midst of rapid change, of the sudden transformations that the ruling class are calling catastrophe, that even superpowered theory can at best keep up with and explain what is going on, rather than provide some kind of philosopher's stone with which to extract what we want from the crisis.

So rather than try and map out the minutiae of where the ruling class misstepped, or guess at what saves and stumbles lie ahead, i'm just going to note a few perspectives from amongst the dozens of angles folks must have. i could be full of shit, in which case let me know, but better to be wrong trying to understand where we are is what i figure...

The ruling class is almost unanimous in supporting massive state intervention to save their economy from a bloody nose. How long it takes them to do so may be a barometer of how dysfunctional their political culture is, but they will do so. And this is neither inconsistent not a break with tradition: despite the hype, the capitalists have always supported state spending, but in their "neo-liberal" stage it has been important to clothe this in acceptable militarized or repressive garb: the war on drugs, war on terror, etc. What is key about the current situation is their need to do it in the open, and for something as mundane as their economy.

The middle classes who support and benefit from this system are mixed about the idea of massive state intervention to support the financial sector. They fear that the money is going to be used to save the big rats while the small rats like them get proletarianized. They may be right, but it's hard to see what alternative they have: it is just stupidity to think of the system they support as some productive machine being exploited by nasty parasitic financiers, while it is in fact a wholly and unambiguously nasty parasitic machine, of which the financiers constitute a key part. These people, in their disgust at seeing the system's true nature, could swing far to the left or far to the right. Depending on the political weight of this panicked middle class, those sects which try and court them may find themselves in fact being pulled into their frenzied gravity well.

Different kinds of "solution" may be found depending on this interplay between the ruling class and the middle classes, but for the most oppressed no solution will be forthcoming "from above". Either neo-keynesian "managed capitalism" (is there any other kind?) or the spectre of "every MAN for himself" barbarism, in both cases the implication is continued exploitation, regimentation and pain for the oppressed.

However, gotta be clear: the levels of misery could certainly be ramped up dramatically either as part of the "solution" or as a result of further breakdown.

Other "crises" facing the capitalists - the lost wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, climate chaos, interimperialist rivalries from Georgia to the North Pole - will all be accelerated by the financial turmoil.

The only question of importance at this point is whether it is possible to use the current juncture to organize today for resistance tomorrow. It takes more than an opinion or a point of view to be able to do so, one needs more than a plan, one needs to be actively following that plan.

The military thinker Clausewitz referred to the consequences of such a concrete plan as a "state of tension". In the book On War (posthumously compiled by his widow and co-thinker Marie von Clausewitz), it is explained that:
if neither party [in a conflict] wills something positive, there is rest, and consequently equilibrium... As soon as even one of the two parties proposes to himself a new positive object, and commences active steps towards it, even if it is only by preparations, and as soon as the adversary opposes this, there is a tension of powers…
What's more:
In a state of rest and of equilibrium a varied kind of activity may prevail on one side that results from opportunity, and does not aim at a great alteration. Such an activity may contain important combats – even pitched battles – yet it is still of quite a different nature, and on that account generally different in its effects.

If a state of tension exist, the effects of the decision are always greater partly because a greater force of will and a greater pressure of circumstances manifest themselves therein; partly because everything had been prepared and arranged for a great movement. The decision in such cases resembles the effect of a mine well closed and tamped, whilst an event in itself perhaps just as great, in a state of rest, is more or less like a mass of powder puffed away in the open air.
i think it is undeniable that in the metropole for years now there has been nothing but a "state of equilibrium" between the revolutionary left and the state, to the point that one really has to wonder in what sense "revolutionary left" remains a useful term in North America, for anyone. This was true during the antiwar mobilization of 2003 ( for "Such an activity may contain important combats") and remains true today, and as such even this great crisis of capitalism risks passing without our making any meaningful intervention ("like a mass of powder puffed away in the open air").

The challenge is reversing this situation quickly, and intervening in a way which lays the ground for something new.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

[Kasama Blog] Misuses of the Erotic: Debate Among Revolutionary Youth

An interesting post by Jed Brandt on Mike Ely's Kasama blog about the anti-queer political line advanced by the (u.s.) Revolutionary Communist Party up until a few years ago: Misuses of the Erotic: Debate Among Revolutionary Youth.

The Demise of the USSR

Soviet SS-21 short range missile, aimed at Western Europe and the People's Republic of China starting in 1978...

Some time ago i posted a poll, on the effect the demise of the Soviet Union had on revolutionaries in the imperialist countries and in the Third World, the options being Easier, Harder, Bit of Both, or Neither. (An additional joke "The Soviet Union was never defeated" appeared in the list for the imperialist countries, and got four votes.) Obviously, only a very few people answer these little polls i put up, so the results are not really the point, but they do provide a way to discuss a question.


EASIER: Only four people thought that the demise of the Soviet Union made things unambiguously easier for people in the imperialist countries, nobody thought it had this effect for comrades in the Third World.

This was in line with my first expectations, the line being that in the imperialist countries the Soviet Union was such a negative example of what communism or socialism could look like - a despotic, highly stratified class society where people lived hard lives with few freedoms - that it helped to keep people hostile to the left. Whereas in the Third World this kind of negative example was assumed to have less weight, and the Soviet Union provided material aid to anti-imperialist insurgencies and regimes like Cuba and Nicaragua.

Nevertheless, i can't help but suspect that this appraisal of the USSR's effect on struggles in the Third World misses some nuances. While the Soviet Union did provide aid to almost any and every anti-American insurgency during certain periods, it must be remembered that it also supported anti-communist insurgents and regimes when these were seen as being the best bet to counter the west. One of these days i'd like to look into this more...

HARDER: Six people thought that the demise of the USSR made things harder on revs in the imperialist countries, twelve people thought it made things harder on people ion the Third World.

i'm not sure why these twelve think things got harder in the imperialist countries for revolutionaries. The Soviet Union provided neither aid nor effective leadership, and (through the Communist Parties) often sabotaged and deradicalized struggles here. On the other hand, despite its obvious shortcomings, when the USSR fell apart and the u.s. emerged as the "winner", there was a sense of euphoria on the right and demoralization on the left, not because people had liked the "real existing socialism" of the USSR but rather because it was interpreted as a sign of American strength, and spun as a personal victory for such reactionaries as Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.

As for making things harder for people in the Third World struggling against imperialism, the argument is more obvious. As mentioned above, the Soviet Union had provided material aid, including military aid, to insurgencies and to anti-imperialist regimes like Cuba.

BIT OF BOTH & NONE: Eight people thought the demise of the USSR had mixed results on revs in the imperialist countries, five people thought it had mixed results in the Third World. At the same time, only two people thought it had no effect in either.

And that's that for that poll...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jean-Pierre Lizotte Remembered

Jean-Pierre Lizotte

From today's Montreal Gazette, an excellent op ed piece by No One Is Illegal member Jaggi Singh, about the 1999 police murder of Jean-Pierre Lizotte, a homeless PWA, in the trendy Plateau Montreal neighbourhood:
The ‘poet of Bordeaux’ spent many years in prison, but he possessed a simple dignity

Lawyer Michael Stober takes offence at a Gazette report on the death of Jean-Pierre Lizotte in 1999. In his Gazette opinion piece (“Police were not responsible in the death of homeless man,” Sept. 12) Stober, lawyer for Montreal police constable Giovanni Stante, writes that the report gives the “false impression that Lizotte was a victim of police brutality.”

Stober reiterates that Stante was acquitted by a jury in 2002, and cleared by the Police Ethics Tribunal for inappropriate use of force just last month. These are cold, hard facts.

Stante stands acquitted, but it’s still completely valid, and necessary, to question the actions of the Montreal police, despite the police procedures that apparently allow for the punching of an unarmed man held by someone else. One simple fact that readers should consider: Police did not reveal Jean-Pierre Lizotte’s death in 1999 to the public until 53 days later.

There is one witness to the events on the early morning of Sept. 5, 1999, outside the Shed Café on St. Laurent Bvld. who will never get to tell his side, and that’s Jean-Pierre Lizotte himself. Lizotte died following the substantial injuries he suffered that fateful night.

While vigilantly defending Stante almost a decade after the incident, Stober goes on to cite Lizotte’s extensive criminal record. Dead men tell no tales, as the saying goes.

But, fortunately, despite two decades in and out of prison, this particular dead man had a lot to say, and he said it poignantly and insightfully. Jean- Pierre Lizotte deserves his voice, too, as much as Stante has his voice through his lawyer’s skillful advocacy.

Thanks to a remarkable radio program called Souverains anonymes, which encouraged the creative side of prisoners at Bordeaux, we still have a record of many of Lizotte’s words.

After learning of his death, the producers of Souverains Anonymes recalled something Lizotte wrote to Abla Farhoud – a Quebec playwright, writer and actress, originally from Lebanon – who had participated in one show at the Bordeaux prison. Lizotte was responding to the words of the main character of Farhoud’s novel, Le bonheur a la queue glissante, who observed, “My country is that place where my children are happy.”

Lizotte’s response to Farhoud is moving, as he seeks common ground while reflecting on his own life. It’s worth citing in full:

“Hello Abla, my name is J-P Lizotte. For the 21 years that I’ve been returning inside, prison has become my country. When I leave it, I become an immigrant! I experience all that an immigrant might experience when they miss their country of origin. When I’m inside, I want to leave. And when I’m outside, I miss the inside. Sometimes I say to myself, ‘If I had a grandmother or a grandfather, things would have been different for me.’ But how can you have a grandmother when you’ve hardly had either a mother or father. The memories that I have make me cry, so I won’t tell them to you. But, a grandmother, like the one in your novel, is not given to everyone. So, I say to everyone who has a grandmother or grandfather, take advantage of it. Thanks.”

(The French text of Lizotte’s note and other writings are available at: http://www.souverains.qc.ca/recidivi.html)

His fellow prisoners dubbed Lizotte the “Poet of Bordeaux,” and he wrote prolifically. His poems, in a rhyming and often humourous style, address deeply personal themes: his difficult childhood, his lack of a caring mother, his father’s alcoholism, depression, his HIV-positive status, his drug problems, along with subjects like music, prison and revolt. He even wrote an unpublished memoir about his itinerant life titled, Voler par amour, pleurer en silence.

Clearly, there are underlying and understandable reasons why Lizotte was in and out of prison for more than two decades, beyond the list of criminal offences that Stante’s lawyer provides, without context.

Lizotte lived a harsh reality, right from his childhood, as he shared in his poems and writings with simple honesty.

On Sept. 5, 1999, on a trendy and expensive part of St. Laurent Blvd., Lizotte’s reality came up against the contrasting reality of restaurant patrons, bouncers and police officers. Lizotte was allegedly causing some sort of disturbance, and he had to be restrained in a full-nelson hold and punched at least twice, according to Stante’s own testimony. (Some witnesses claim that Lizotte was punched “repeatedly” and excessively.) Witnesses said there was a pool of blood left at the scene. One witness referred to Lizotte being thrown into a police van “like a sack of potatoes.”

Stante was duly acquitted by a jury in 2002. Police officers are often acquitted – on the rare occasions that they’re charged – within a criminal-justice system that appropriately demands proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” before conviction.

But, what if there were a video of what happened outside the Shed Café in 1999, instead of the imperfect and contradictory memories of witnesses at 2:30 in the morning? What if JeanPierre Lizotte were present in the courtroom, in a wheelchair and paralyzed, in front of the jury’s own eyes?

At Stante’s trial and again in The Gazette’s pages, Stante’s lawyer put a dead man who can’t defend himself on trial. Lizotte openly acknowledged who he was. What’s unfortunate is to continue denying Jean-Pierre Lizotte – the homeless “criminal” – his full humanity and dignity, because he possessed both in such stunning abundance.

Rearview Mirror Glance at August's Riot

As most readers will know, Montreal's unusually cool summer included a very hot August, hot with the bitter heat that comes from tragedy.

On August 9, a group of teenagers were playing in a park in the proletarian neighbourhood of Montreal North. Cops drove up and busted one of the kids, who had a warrant outstanding. His younger brother, the 18 year old Freddy Villanueva, was one of many kids who got in their faces about this. While accounts differ as to the exact chain of events, what is clear is that within a few minutes a police was firing their weapon into the kids, hitting three of them, including Freddy. The kid died that night.

The next night there was a vigil called in the neighbourhood. This happens sometimes (rarely) when a cop murders someone in this city. More often than not there is nothing for weeks or months, or even ever. But this time it was the next night, already a "good" sign, if one can talk of "good" in this context.

But what came next was better... youth from the neighbourhood, many of whom (like the young Villanueva) children of the immigrant working class, started to set things on fire, and to fight the cops. There were molotov cocktails, and one cop got a flesh wound, shot by a rioter.

All this points to the fact that inspiring, high levels of consciousness exist just out of (whose?) sight, that some people understand what solidarity means, even though (unlike leftists who rarely riot) they it may not be word they drop into every conversation. That this level of consciousness exists in one of the key neighbourhoods of the immigrant working class in Montreal is no coincidence, no accident.

Of course, consciousness can play both ways. Police were able to engage "law abiding citizens" in its post-riot repression, using images from local business's security cameras to catch rioters - according to a news story that appeared today, 71 people were arrested, 51 of them due to this latest police tactic. This had already been used earlier this year during the largely apolitical Hockey Riots, and it seems it is going to be a regular problem in cases of mass resistance. It remains to be seen how long it will take for rioters to mask up as a matter of course.

i am of course not saying that everything, or even most things, that happen during a riot are "good" or "correct". Nor is it a matter of assuming that everyone who displays advanced consciousness in such a situation is a comrade in the next. But what it does point to is a much more promising and less decayed situation than one normally finds after a cop killing.

And the effect it had was exactly what everyone and anyone would expect. Within twenty four hours sections of the establishment were opportunistically distancing themselves from their pitbulls in blue, were talking about the need for an "impartial investigation", for a "public inquiry", for an end to police harassment and racism. While other members of the establishment played the same old racist tune, insisting that people in Montreal North should be better parents and then their kids wouldn't be shot by the nice police officers. Both developments predictable, and positive because by forcing matters quickly the ruling class was prevented from putting forward a united front.

So yeah, i haven't been blogging much, but hope to get back in the swing. In the meantime, if only for posterity, i thought i should jot down these few sketchy thoughts...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Working Class Struggle in Quebec: 1970-

There was an excellent talk yesterday by Richard St-Pierre, about his own personal experience of working class struggles in Quebec since his politicization as a teenager in 1970.

This was probably one of the best talks i have ever heard in Montreal, and it is a real shame that it was not recorded. St-Pierre's itinerary is like many of his generation: a working class teenager, he was initially attracted by the "social gospel" of Roman Catholicism and the idea of armed struggle to win an independent and socialist Quebec. He then quickly became one of the tens of thousands of people who rejected these ideas to plunge into the Maoist movement that was so active in 70s Quebec.

Where St-Pierre differs from most of his comrades is that he has not only remained politically active but after a few twists and turns his commitment to working class revolution led him to left communism, specifically the tiny International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party. Despite his current adherence to the IBPR, St-Pierre did us all the service of recounting the groups and struggles he had been involved in as he saw them at the time, while not being shy to point out, and take responsibility for, specific errors.

The talk was organized in a non-sectarian, comradely manner, by the Montreal local of the North East Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC), and perhaps forty people attended. While he spoke for over two hours, St-Pierre had time to get through less than half of what he had prepared, and particularly frustrating to me, the section he had to skip was the section on "consciuosness", which i'm guessing would have been the most provocative and interesting bit.

If he speaks again, i strongly encourage you all to attend. In the meantime, with a bit of luck and time over the next few days, i'll try and write up a more detailed report from the notes i took.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents From the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners

Look what just arrived back from the printers:

This is the book that killed two months of my summer, doing layout like i'd never done it before and finally breaking in InDesign. It's a 912 page brick, full of historical documents collected by Matt Meyer (of Resistance in Brooklyn and the War Resister's League), all giving a very particular and interesting perspective on some of the key campaigns to free political prisoners over the past twenty years.

Apart from the foreword by Argentinean former political prisoner (and Nobel Peace Prize recipient) Adolfo Pérez Esquivel there are also afterwords by Lynne Stewart and Ashanti Alston. Not to mention writings by Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, Ramona Africa, Dan Berger, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, Terry Bisson, BO, Marilyn Buck, Safiya Bukhari, Chrystos, Angela Davis, Susie Day, Bill Dunne, Jill Soffiyah Elijah, Bob Lederer, Jose López, Oscar López Rivera, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Jalil Muntaqim, Luis Nieves Falcón, Leonard Peltier, Ninotchka Rosca, the San Francisco 8, Assata Shakur, Meg Starr, Jan Susler, Linda Thurston, Desmond Tutu, Laura Whitehorn, and many more.

As the back cover blurb explains:

Let Freedom Ring presents a two-decade sweep of essays, analyses, histories, interviews, resolutions, People’s Tribunal verdicts, and poems by and about the scores of U.S. political prisoners and the campaigns to safeguard their rights and secure their freedom. In addition to an extensive section on the campaign to free death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, represented here are the radical movements that have most challenged the U.S. empire from within: Black Panthers and other Black liberation fighters, Puerto Rican independentistas, Indigenous sovereignty activists, white anti-imperialists, environmental and animal rights militants, Arab and Muslim activists, Iraq war resisters, and others. Contributors in and out of prison detail the repressive methods – from long-term isolation to sensory deprivation to politically inspired parole denial – used to attack these freedom fighters, some still caged after 30+ years. This invaluable resource guide offers inspiring stories of the creative, and sometimes winning, strategies to bring them home.
This is almost a reference book, providing snapshots of the work being done on the oustide, and of the condtions on the inside of amerika's gulag system. For me personally, some of the most interesting pieces were the contributions by political prisoners, many of which were sent in to Resistance in Brooklyn for photocopies booklets they produced in 1992 (Dissing the "Discovery") and for the "John Brown 2000" conference. Let Freedom Ring also provides a good framework through which to get an idea of some of the forces in the national liberation movements of the internal colonies - Indigenous people, Puerto Ricans, Chican@s, and Black/New Afrikan people - and a glimpse at the reasoning and worldviews that have motivated people from these movements from the 1960s on.

For more details, feel free to check out the appropriate page on my Kersplebedeb website: http://www.kersplebedeb.com/letfreedomring.html


Seeing as this is a brick, weighing almost three pounds, postage is going to be a pain in the ass. In fact, by my reckoning Canada Post is going to charge me almost $20 to ship a copy anywhere in the u.s. - definitely a bother.

To ease the pain, i'm going to be charging $15 postage and for a limited time will be throwing in a FREE copy of the 2009 Certain Days Freedom For Political Prisoners calendar with every order. You can email me (info@kersplebedeb.com) for more details, or else just use the paypal button here to pay online:

and yes, i will be posting about Certain Days soon, but in the meantime you can check here for more details: http://www.kersplebedeb.com/mystuff/books/cal2009/index.html

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Thinking & Forgetting


thoughts without discipline
a lot like leaves
for the wind to come