Eat the Rich

Americans like to keep things simple and direct, so here it is: they rule. For the simple reason that they (the ruling class) have all the money. The top 5% of US citizens own almost 2/3 of the country’s wealth, or 63.5%. Compare that massive share to 12.8% for the bottom 80% — that is, “the rest of us,” as Rhonda Winter puts it in the excellent article from which this pie chart is taken.

Now go a little further, into the research she drew her chart from — a briefing paper of the Economic Policy Institute called “The State of Working America” — and you find that the top 1% holds over 1/3, or 35.6%, of the country’s net worth. Elsewhere, in The Nation, you will find such interesting tidbits as “In 2006, the top 0.01 percent averaged 976 times more income that America’s bottom 90%” — a thousand-fold gap between “them” and “the rest of us.”

click it for the big picture

The whole point is, though, that very few people go any further, because very few people have any idea how unequal the United States has become. We are, apparently, a nation of idealists, which is a good thing. We are also, however, a nation of blind idealists, which is a pretty bad thing across the board. A couple of psychologists named Norton and Ariely did a study comparing people’s ideas of what inequality is and what it should be with the actual facts on the ground. Anyone interested in creating a more progressive political order should turn up the attention meter right here.

It turns out that in strictly economic terms, Americans are not full-on egalitarians, but on average, they think everyone should have at least a piece of the pie. They think the top 20% should have around 30% of the wealth, the bottom 20% should have around 10%, and so on according to a smoothly sliding scale. They realize it’s not true, of course, and they estimate that the top 20% may in reality be holding over half of the spoils. What they do not realize is not only that the top 20% swallows a whopping 85% of the pie (with, of course, the top 5% taking the lion’s share of that). Even more crucially, they also do not realize that the bottom 40% — what economists call the 4th and 5th quintiles — are for all practical purposes off the chart, simply invisible, because they (or maybe “we,” depending on who you are) own only 0.2% and 0.1% of the wealth respectively. Let’s put that in plainer terms. Almost half the people in this country get virtually nothing from the deal.

source: Norton and Ariely, pdf here

I would draw two conclusions from this psychological study. The first is that the United States is ripe (and even wildly overdue) for a political revolt against the plutocracy. No doubt you will reply, “But that’s exactly what the Tea Party is calling for!” And so they are…in part. But every day the newspaper shows that most of the Tea Party rage against Wall Street is being successfully channeled into rage against Big Government, while the resentment against taxation acts to preserve the massive tax cuts that for the past thirty years have overwhelmingly benefited the super-rich. An atavistic fear of Obama’s black skin and a constant barrage of ideology from Fox News and the Koch brothers’ think tanks and political action committees seem to be doing the job just perfectly for the plutocracy. However, as unemployment rises even while the profits of the super-rich increase, I am not sure this situation can go on indefinitely. Beware the day when right-wing rage from the red-state grassroots finds a serious political translation, because even if it castigates the rich, the sound of that vengeful and nationalistic voice will not be agreeable to your ears.

This leads to my second conclusion. We organic intellectuals on the Left — and this “we” is finally serious, I am speaking to those who might actually read this site — are not doing our job. We have no Tea Party. We are for equality, social democracy, outright socialism, a workers’ revolution, all power to the multitudes or whatever, but we are not getting the word out to the left-of-center masses. We have the information, thanks to studies like the ones I have been quoting, but we are not able to turn information into action, not even on the simplest of demands: tax the rich and control the banksters. Yet these very simple demands could lead directly onwards to more progressive policies that we are all support, such as cutting the military budgets, achieving universal health care, restoring public education and replacing the prison economy with job-producing community development programs. It’s clear that the Dems will not do these things, because in their vast majority they belong to the upper 5%. So we have to create the conditions for a political revolt from the grassroots, and we have to do it in a way that is not simply cooptable by smooth-talking people like the current president.

Here’s one idea, only one among many. Copy the image at the top of the article and take it down to your local button-making shop. Pick a fat button and ask them to put big letters around the bottom that say, “Eat the Rich!” Get a whole bunch of those buttons, wear them, distribute them and start talking to whoever you meet about the facts and figures that are discussed in this blog post and in any of hundreds of readily available left-of-center publications. Start an open, public, regular meeting group to discuss those facts and figures and many other things that make the present what it is. Do your job as a public intellectual, educate the people around you and learn from them, build grassroots awareness and rage wherever your roots happen to be. Hold the course in that direction as the unemployment figures rise, and make contact with as many similar groups as you can find. All of this will lead in very interesting directions. Keep it up and maybe soon we’ll all get together for a big ‘ole political banquet and finally eat the rich!


  1. Editors says:

    Note: Prior to publication, some OE editors expressed concern about the absence of support for more aggressive forms of direct action in the above article. Brian Holmes responds to this concern below.

  2. Brian Holmes says:

    The point about direct action: Well, actually, I am about to start an autonomous seminar and discussion group, Three Crises, with collaborators in Chicago. The idea is to draw different sorts of people into this kind of talk shop, which is neither a far-left sect nor an incomprehensible theory group, but instead a place for strengthening understanding and resolve. Of course it aims at action. Not direct action though. At this point in the US, absent a mass movement, direct action in the style of the late 90s and early 2000s just amplifies the ambient fascism. It produces the spectacle of the police, upsurges of nationalist paranoia, cascades of neocon rhetoric. I think we need to intensify grassroots discontent and give it the teeth of a convincing analysis, one that starts on a level graspable in daily speech, but builds toward something deeper and stronger. You know I was very involved with direct action ten years ago, at the point when many of us thought it could touch off a wider struggle. Today the overwhelming majority of people with whom we could directly act are sunk in debt, confusion and despair. We need to create political community, to recognize other political communities, to act massively and decisively against – what else to call it? – the ruling class. We cannot appeal to any pre-existing politics in order to launch this grassroots movement. We have to create that politics.

  3. Louis-Georges Schwartz says:

    You say, “We cannot appeal to any pre-existing politics in order to launch this grassroots movement,” but the piece does have a specific politics, that of taxation and regulation. This stops well short of a critique of capitalism itself. Unless people move to a politics of expropriation and communization capital will inevitably recreate current conditions. I’m all for these stats and for struggle against the ruling class, but I am not interested in reforming capitalism. I am interested in ending it. As for the idea that direct action only increases ambient fascism, I’m afraid that such an increase cannot be avoided in any meaningful, systemic struggle. Instead of being afraid of that, I think we should embrace it. This is not to say that I would not align myself with this program to a certain degree, but that for me, the grass roots movement envisioned is rather unambitious.

    • DKEN says:

      Take a look, please, at the last 100 years of the political dialectic and tell me which system of governance gave the average man on the street the best chance for economic wellbeing. Was it communism, facsim, or capitalism? Hundreds of millions of people were outright murdered at the hands of their own leaders under just the very system you would put in place in the USA. Just because we have allowed the “ruling class” (as you call them) to co-opt the system and manipulate the financial structure to their advantage is no reason to throw the baby (capitalism) out with the bathwater (the corrupt economic socialistic vampire sucking the lifeblood from the proletariat).
      Lou, if you want to remove the one system in all of recorded human history that gave the working man real freedom on all levels and replace it with communism, well, you probably are for reducing the population of earth to sustainability so jump off of a cliff.


  4. Marc Herbst says:

    The grassroots.
    I’m reading (and writing) this as a position outside of insurrection fantasies and inside the space of
    generalizing dissent.

    Its clear to me that the scope of the problem in the US is larger then any singular insurrectionary practice, and that going large is best defined not by an proscriptive politics embracing of the state’s reactionary counterpunch but instead framed by the open defining of a “rage wherever your roots happen to be.”
    People know the time (kind of-see above), what we don’t have is the form to embody this knowledge.
    A political art (read here an avant-garde political) is only as effective as the movement around it. Unless the avant-gardists are really lucky… which is a possiblity.
    I’m not saying that the criticisms above are wrong, but I am saying that both positions may possibly have truths. The moment is stunning in the staggering lack of a generalized movement, not the radical knowledge/situation the “radical position” seeks to embrace.
    In my read of history, its not the singular acts which make the difference its the quality of resistance over-all.

  5. Louis-Georges Schwartz says:

    Dissent at the level of increasing taxes on the rich and regulation is pretty widespread dispite the perception stat in the piece. Even Warren Buffet wants that, and one thing I know is that his interests are never mine. All over the US and the Eurozone the ruling class is asking to be taxed because they do not want to see the system fold. Furthermore, taxation and regulation will only help if they spur economic growth, which I am against.

    I wonder why Brian and Mark feel the need to use such dismissive language about insurrection (“whatever,” “fantasies”) the fact is that insurrectionary tendencies manifest as a broad spectrum of social antagonism are on the rise in the US. I am trying to find a way to work with this, but Ifeel like I keep getting told to just move to Tarnac.

  6. Marc Herbst says:

    Louis, my point is more about “you know it would be a good thing became more repressive” which I think is a fantasy about the general effect of repression-after-insurrection. The glob movement ended in the US because of repression- so this is based on particular experiences.

    I like BH’s proposal because it discusses the ability and possibility of generalizing dissent instead of prioritizing particular tactics. I agree with you that if the only form of a response is “raise taxes”, that’s kind of lame.

    In my read, goin’ back to Tarnac is about communization. Its about knowing when to conflict, and knowing when its best not too. Its about generalizing dissent… thus your project of “I am trying to find a way to work with this,” seems just about the right thing to do in my book.

    (That said, my reading of Tarnac is based not on the text- I initially thought was defeatist and lame, Instead its the Tarnac I read 2 years later in my imagination.)

  7. Louis-Georges Schwartz says:

    Fair enough. I only want to add that I don’t hear the anti globalization moment as over in the US. That refrain will return forte in Chicago during the NATO and G 20 meetings. The historiography of this war has a musical form and advances through resonance, I think.

  8. Brian Holmes says:

    Louis-Georges, I’d say don’t move to Tarnac but let’s engage the discussion and see how to move ahead, out of this truly disastrous situation in which all the so-called capitalist democracies are plunged. I lived in Europe for a long time and participated in the radical left politics there, both on the ground and as a theorist. It was dismaying to see all that we could not achieve. The ability to take the streets is something I very much believe in, but there is always a day after on which society must reorganize itself. Generally it’s reorganized just like the day before and in that respect, I well understand that you don’t want just taxation and regulation. You’re right, not only the social-democratic political establishments but also a certain number of billionaires and corporadoes are calling for exactly that. I totally agree about the limits of such a politics. My text is meant to make people angry, to make us all indignant, and to delegitimize this kleptocracy or plutocracy or whatever you want to call it. But the question is what to do next?

    As I said, I participated in the counter-globalization movements from the beginning, in France where I lived at the time. These were very large movements, we saw them as multitudes (and I was part of the journal under that name). Why did they achieve so little in Europe and North America? Why, on the contrary, did they contribute to real changes in Latin America? I now think that we did not strike the right balance between a critique of capitalism as it is, and practical concepts which could be used to reorganize social relations. On the one hand, we seriously over-estimated the capacity of our protests to proliferate and become effective. And on the other, we were not able to sink deep enough roots into daily life and into the complex social relations of production that we live in and continue to depend on. Collaborative production on the basis of commonly held resources – my working definition of “communization” – cannot simply be won on special days amidst a crowd, even if those special days are vastly important for many people, in terms of sparking the desire for another life. Somehow the sense of indignation and the desire for a different kind of cooperation have to be widely shared, far beyond those committed leftists who have acquired that culture through a long history. I think it means we have to create, not just a critical but also a constructive culture, as the old-time communists tried to do, but without the industrial fetish, and with much more attention to democracy and to the rights of groups and individuals to disagree.

    That’s especially true in the US, where left culture has not widely reproduced itself over the great divide of the 1980s and the onset of neoliberalism. We have not seen any insurrectionary turn during this most recent crisis, except from the libertarian right – a fact which must give you pause. At present, the great day of revolt is not coming from the American left, which may in fact mean that the nature of resistance, revolt and the form of social alternatives must all be reconceived. We cannot just wait for the day, but instead we have to make it happen on a scale that has not been seen since the 60s.

    This is why I now think we need fresh inquiries into twentieth-century history and into the conditions of the present. But not just inquiries in the university on an alienated basis, nor just among very small sectarian and identitarian groups that have no way to communicate beyond their coded languages. In the US, we need to invent frameworks in which political thinking can form both local community and national/international webs of mutual recognition and discussion, the discussion of daunting realities which care nothing for our sentiments or ideas of justice. I mean, this is just how I see it. I really think we need to merge this kind of discussion with social action, which includes both transforming existing institutions and making entirely new ones. The point is to do all this while maintaining and deepening the critique of the capitalist system, which will kill us all if it continues on its inherent course. This was my position during the UC strikes as well: I think we need autonomous universities that can rival with and change the existing ones.

    This website and quite a lot of other projects were founded out of one of those moments when the movements did not go far enough. Anyone who asks for more, who wants to work with these issues, is welcome here I do believe.

  9. Louis-Georges Schwartz says:

    I fully support the creation of autonomous universities, though here in Ohio, I haven’t been able to get beyond the reading group. I have a short piece related to the topic on this site.I have some misgivings about the notion of multitude, at least as worked by Hardt, Negri, Virno et al. Predictably enough, I tend to think more in terms of an “imaginary party” or a set of bloqs. But that may be splitting the hairs of a coded language. I think the reason that the large Latin American movements were more successful is that Latin America is a crucible of exploitation in a way that Europe and the US aren’t (with the exception of certain zones in Southern Europe.) When soveriegn default is a real issue not only the means of distribution (as in London) but also the means of production (as in Argentina) can be seized. As a result, I think that we need to deepen the economic crisis through such tactics as organized mass default (which I think might be on OE’s agenda) and trying to find a way to encourage the bursting of the real-estate bubble in china, where, as you know, social antagonism is already on the rise. I do not believe that the right are the only insurgents of this crisis. There are also the Philadelphia flash mobs, certain anti cuts actions around the group Bay Of Rage and the occupations at UCB, Davis and other UC and Cal State campuses, to name only a few examples.
    I completely agree that communization isn’t something we do on special days. Sorry if this response is sleepy and sloppy. I found your comment above quite helpful.

  10. robby herbst says:

    I really really appreciate the conversation here following the article. It is one that I have been trying to have, less successfully, in other forums.

    A few (long) points:

    I think the comments regarding the counter-globalization movement are interesting and key. While I do think it is incorrect to say that the movement is “over” (it’s like saying “civil rights” are over) I think it is very important to consider the movement that coalesced in Seattle, the elements that made it what it was, and look at it in relationship to the three decades preceding it. Also I think it’s important to consider it’s successes (which I do think were sizable considering it’s specific context and goals in the States). Finally I think it’s important to analyze what has been that movements lasting impression on the culture in our current political landscape. Finally, I agree that it is significant to consider the ideological and political formations which have emerged as dominating discourse in radical sphere since that millennium moment with an eye towards other historical moments, trajectories and discourses from the last century, that have been sidelined because of the condition of historical amnesia of our nation and our particularly millenarian moment.

    I don’t have the time or space to undertake that here. But I think it is significant to remember the counter-globalization movement in three ways; as a successful theoretical intervention, an organizational coup, and a partial political success. I think it’s important to remember these three things because these facts seem to have slipped away with a single seductive and incomplete image of an “anti-capitalist” breaking a window remaining.

    1: Theoretical intervention: To be broad, the globalization movement reframed political discourse and introduced the very possibility of anti-capital theory. Up till then everyone was largely talking about simulacra, ends of histories, and simulations in largely depoliticized contexts. The current focus on anti-capitalist, post-structuralist theories of the multitudes (thanks Brian among many) and states of exception immediately became relevant to worlds of discourse when the counter-globalization movement showed that another world was demanded if not “possible” first in Chiapas, then in the US, Italy, Bahrain, Sweden etccc…
    Our current radical lingua franca is not a historical but is a condition of its birth. We are frequently unaware of other discourses that precede it and will replace it when the heat of conversations around it cool off. As other’s have pointed out, we are in a moment where French Theory from Tranca or Italian theory from the 70’s is seen as particularly relevant. Right now we are experiencing a moment where everyone is focused on catching up learning that language and discussing conditions through those lenses. The opportunity cost here is of course (as all ways) developing a lingua franca that answers to North America in 2011 (or maybe the IWW at the Turn of last century).

    2: The coup of the counter-globalization was Organization- and a new kind of organization- a mix of Horizontal and Vertical organization. Marc (above) wrote briefly about the relationship of vanguards to movements, and the counter-globalization movement was one that arrived in Seattle with a strong suite of players; from the conservative Unions, to Moderate to Progressive NGO’s, To the Radical social organizers, to the ultra radical black block. Some players in this coalition could get 5 minutes of bill Clinton’s time- some wouldn’t let him buy them lunch. To make a very long story short- the only story that has generated heat in the last ten years is horizontal structure, while “organizing” itself has largely disappeared from the lexicon (or is something to disown if you’re a major political candidate and former community organizer). Movements to be successful and healthy need movement- and movement is generated through dense ecologies of perspectives that thrive in diverse Petri dishes- generating strange heats. Agonism acknowledges that society is made through a spectrum of mutual antagonistic perspectives battling it out to find solutions. This does not foreclose having a radical perspective- it just acknowledges that radical shifts happen through effective intersubjective communications- rather than ideological isolation.

    3: The lesson I draw from the counter-globalization movement is not of the failure of “globe hopping activists”. It is that people with an agenda entirely outside of the frame of discourse could effectively complicate the wheels of capital through effective coalition building, creative movement building, and refusing to play the game that was presented by those in power. I am among many who immediately saw Bush’s 9/11 power grab as an effective challenge to the ideological hegemony of the globalization movement. I am convinced that if it were not for this, the counter-globalization movement would have transformed itself fully into the “global-justice” movement it could have been. I hold this all up because this whole story seems to have been compressed into a single image that only tells a small partial story of an anti-capitalist saying no.

    Why is it that the focus here is on anti-capitalist action rather than organizing effectively help stop evictions and transforming banks to engines of sustainable development?

    Final thing: As someone whose aware of history and a fan of Brian’s work- I always can’t fail to consider the implications of “Bowling Alone”, post-fordism and flexible individualism. I’m always struck by the fact that within a decade, early student radicals who were to make up SDS went from trying to get a seat at the table at the Democratic Party with Fannie Lou Hamer’, to experimenting with forms of cross race urban organizing with ERAP, and then finally to vanguardist forms of organizing with the Weather Underground. How much of the current forms of radicalism are both an inheritance of the New Left’s rejections of the old lefts- and how much of the organizational aesthetics, seen within these newest ultra lefts, are symptomatic of the society that came with the demise of the old New Lefts inability to challenge the world that succeeded in isolating it?

  11. robby herbst says:

    I meant to write:
    “Why is it that the focus here is on anti-capitalist action rather than theories of organizing effectively to help stop evictions and transforming banks to engines of sustainable development?”

    Also with saying “here” I am responding to the implications that something was lacking in this essay if there are “concern(s) about the absence of support for more aggressive forms of direct action.”

  12. Jane says:

    Because my response here will be skeptical, I want to start by affirming a longstanding appreciation for Brian’s work. This particular proposal seems to me of certain horizons in anticapitalist organizing — including then very horizons it describes.

    I think that Louis-Georges’ positional critique is well-taken: that this is a program for taxation and regulation, which history has shown repeatedly to be a temporary oscillation of capital in the course of exploitation. But let’s bracket that for a second. I think there are two other matters of concern here.

    ONE: despite this essay taking it as a naturalized assumption, I am not convinced that the root problem is that people don’t know this information. I am sure *some* people don’t know it. But the vast majority of quiescent people I encounter *do* know this data, or some adequate approximation. They are quiescent anyway. The supposition that the substantive problem is that people need to be educated is of course a flattering one for intellectuals, but almost no experience I have had talking, educating, and organizing in the last four years leads me to believe that the barrier to action or radicalization is in not knowing these data. The cognate misapprehension is in academia, where humanities faculty announce and are told, over and over that if they could just “articulate the mission of the humanities” a little bit better, funding could be restored. Despite that going against every theoretical, historical and empirical account of economic motion, it is a claim that professional articulators do like to hear. We can conclude here, I think, by suggesting that if blah blah uber-theoretical blah blah insurrectionary dreams are a kind of fantasy in which a very narrow and absolute antagonism imagines a broad force it will never have, the precisely complementary fantasy is that a program of simply dispersing information that is already widely known will ever transform into actionat all. Indeed, Brian notes that “We have the information, thanks to studies like the ones I have been quoting, but we are not able to turn information into action.” And yet the proposed route of turning it into action is…more information. This is a horizon indeed.

    TWO: this is perhaps just a brief change rung the previous point, but there’s a very nice article on the Endnotes site right now (links all over fb) which reminds us that in a crisis, capital is *more* equipped, relatively speaking, to fight for and win a larger share of the static or declining social surplus. We aren’t having a global crisis because of increasing wealth inequality but are seeing increasing wealth inequality as a result of an ongoing crisis of accumulation that is best understood as a weak economy of some forty years duration give or take two. If there is not some intervention into the wellspring of that crisis — which means either restoring the capitalist project of global accumulation at a rate of at least 3% compounded annually, or ending capitalism — there will be no arguing the plutocrats out of their current share, I don’t think.

  13. Brian Holmes says:

    I think it’s interesting that this text, which I just dashed off one morning because I was pissed, provokes so much debate. It’s encouraging. We all agree that the point is not information. The point is anger, how to access it and how to put it into effect. The people who wrote the communiques of the occupations movements know something about this….

    Right now I want to do some things which for me are different, and it’s just an experiment, so let’s see what happens. The first is the slow burn. I think there has to be a way to cultivate anger that makes it into a more long-lasting and pervasive force, one that can be warm as well as fiery, one that is deeply resistant. Knowledge, which is different than information, can have shaping effects on people’s lives, especially when they make it together. I was always impressed by the influence of people like Lefebvre, or Freire or Boal for that matter, and I guess this is a time in life where that kind of activity attracts me. I don’t think it is possible to create effective knowledge in the official institutions anymore, or it’s rare anyway, and this country in particular is missing sites of articulation. So creating knowledge autonomously seems worthwhile.

    Another thing is to go for a more popular language, to work with starters like the 5% statistic, and see how far it goes. Reflecting on the shortcomings of recent movements, one thing that I notice is that for some reason it is relatively easy to shift from super-cultivated and even relatively abstruse kinds of vanguardism to radical gestures, which however remain gestures and produce all sorts of unintended lashback consequences. What’s missing are huge amounts of mediations that don’t put out the fire or damp the anger, but give it a way to become constructive. Otherwise, the idea of ending capitalism is just up in the air, a slogan. The social relations have to change and today, no one can see the way. Nothing will happen if you can’t point the way, not to an apocalypse but to a pragmatically different life which is still a viable and satisfying one, in which people’s efforts have a greater return on existential levels that can replace the andrenaline flashes of corporate war and the pseudo-sexuality of capitalist products. So a sharable anti-capitalist knowledge becomes an issue. A kind of social pathway that you create while walking it.

    Would it be possible to move from popular language to a philosophy of praxis, and back again? Anti-capitalism ought to be about getting radically practical, not in the one-dimensional pragmatics denounced by Marcuse but still in terms of signs, of energy flows, the stuff of everyday life in the city, and the country too for that matter. An awful lot of society runs on the languages of exchange and the can-do of engineering. How to reconnect them to something other, cultural & cosmic? There is not much language for these things on the left anymore. Yet they remain decisive. The plutocrats will never be argued out of their power, of course I agree. People will have to rise up massively to push them off the stage, while demanding a different articulation between nature, machines, exchange and human time. It’s a lot to ask for, so many things. I just think anything less won’t do it.

  14. Marc Herbst says:

    “And yet the proposed route of turning it into action is…more information. This is a horizon indeed.” I don’t see the proposal as “more education.” I take it as quite the opposite, more socialization towards communalization. Jane, for many of us at OE, we don’t have a classroom in which to continue dolling out information. Instead for some of us, our spheres are more generalized, “in the streets” and among social forms. The social formation of academia proscribes “more information to passive audience ready to fill pre-existing structures”, but the social formations that Brian and others suggest are either not yet invented or not yet enclosed.

    “Why is it that the focus here is on anti-capitalist action rather than theories of organizing effectively to help stop evictions and transforming banks to engines of sustainable development?” Proposals and actions that generalize dissent through localisable issues with connections in the social experience of the day-to-day create movements in which multiple blocks can more effectively do their things.

    My and I think Robby’s critique of more radical action isn’t proscriptive against radical action, it is proscriptive against the fetishization of “radical action”.

    I very much agree with Louis and Robby’s points that the globalization movement didn’t end, but that the rhythm changed.

    The policing of protest, and (as Robby points out) the 911-fear-factor-game-changer was effective in curtailing the social formations that Robby discusses in two ways; hitting organizers in one side of the face and the general populace on the other side.

    Bush was able to force a new narrative that countered the clearly functionalizing critique of corporate power that made Seattle successful. Again, As Robby points out, Seattle was not possible only because a few people picked up tripods and blocked streets, it was possible because skills had been honed for years, the City Council of Seattle publicly sided with protesters in advance of the protesters and from the halls of power questioning the role of police in advance of protest. Unions, rock bands and EF! all showed up.(And, as an important side note, as individual actors, institutional players participated in far more tactically radical action then you would expect.) This lesson of Seattle should have been highlighted. But more it was the spectacular tactics that continued with varying success (often based the relative antipathy of surrounding communities to either the protesters or The Man.)

    With the Globalization Movement continuing in its most mediatic form as a protest-hopping narrative confronting the Bush-911-them-terrorist-narritive, the more effective radical tactics began to isolate themselves from the broader society. This isolation quickly became a two-sided event with the general population not feeling the liberatory core of counter-summit protest. instead radical protest was effectively confounded into the 911/fear narrative.

    Moving forward, these are lessons that I don’t want to forget. As much as a radical critique is missing, the popular vessel capable of holding critique is also lacking.

  15. Louis-Georges Schwartz says:

    I do not believe there is such a thing as sustainable growth under capitalism, and any growth within capitalism is based on increased extraction of surplus value, on increased exploitation. So I’m not going to do or theorize anything that attempts to “make banks into engines of sustainable growth.” From an economic point of view, such a strategy makes as little sense as micro financing.

  16. robby herbst says:

    Don’t you know it’s that one sentence that you spent the least amount of time with…

    I’d really rather it to read-

    “Why is it that the focus here is on anti-capitalist action rather than theories of organizing effectively to help stop evictions and transform banks from cesspolls of finance to democratic engines of radical social development that transform the nature of human species relationships?”

    Don’t know what that does, but I’d rather talk around the above than my earlier and poorly articulated sentiment. Louis if you still couldn’t have that conversation, that’s understandable- but I’d rather this version stand for my thoughts than what I had earlier. Nuff said.

  17. Louis-Georges Schwartz says:

    I could totally have that conversation, but my position would be that such a transformation is only possible under a non-capitalist economic system.

  18. Jane says:

    [just a side comment, really, on the developing false binary between “classrooms” and education “on the streets.” I doubt anyone here disagrees that the institutional classroom presents structural limits on the move from pedagogy to action — which is why nobody here works exclusively in the classroom. While I have enough experience within academia to have a set of opinions about its possibilities and failures, the great majority of the experience to which I refer above — that is, discussing the data Brian presents, and noting the role such data distribution plays — has been precisely in the non-academic spaces. And I worry it might be a bit paternalistic to suppose that in those spaces, people are less well-informed about such data, and really just need to be brought the news by us “organic intellectuals.”

    Note: I am never opposed to knowing stuff or taking part in others knowing stuff. I think there’s just a vast missing moment here, between providing and discussing the data, and actual structural change. That moment is the *kind of real antagonism* that will get the goods. That missing moment is the one of tactics, strategy, and logistics — in the most material senses — and I am really reluctant to elide that moment. If one has the (quite reasonable) sense that current strategies and tactics aren’t working, the pressing task is to articulate better ones and try them out — not to continue to dwell in the moment where we suppose that if people just knew what time it was, they would get busy in some (always-unstated) way.]

    • Leslie Rivers-Garrett says:

      This looks like as good a place as any (maybe better) to put in a comment:

      I believe that it’s not that more people need to be more “educated”, but that they need to be “reminded” often. There is so much deliberate misinterpretation and falsehood continuously spread by corporations, politicians, media etc., and the distractions of technology, entertainment, and just trying to cope, that finding ways of keeping the current facts and the truthful interpretations of them, in front of everyone’s’ noses is, I believe, very necessary, and may lead to naturally developing appropriate action.

      I also worry about the perception that only out of “anger” will people be motivated enough to act. You don’t need to be angry to be motivated to intervene in and correct a situation that is perceived as unjust for yourself or others.

      Thank you for permitting me to rudely jump in and out of the conversation like this.

  19. Marc Herbst says:

    Values concurrent with the Globalization Movement are successfully implemented in Central and South America, as Louis says because,” Latin America is a crucible of exploitation in a way that Europe and the US aren’t.”
    I would agree but put it this way- my experiences in SA showed me that the state didn’t even exist for so many. There was hardly ever any legitimacy, no windbag structure to diffuse ambivalent (or very clear) notions about what’s wrong. It was always clear. As such, alternative ways of knowing, being and acting have been thriving in this era.

    I agree with you Jane that knowledge is not the problem. Do we both agree that Its the capacity (or even just the clarity) to act in light of knowledges (or just plain notions) that is part of the problem? I’ll let Brian speak for himself, but I see this comment as focused on structural change, “What’s missing are huge amounts of mediations that don’t put out the fire or damp the anger, but give it a way to become constructive. Otherwise, the idea of ending capitalism is just up in the air, a slogan.” Is shaking the rusty cage of radical action effective or is it one more spectacle that results in putting out the fire? Yes, that’s another false binary, (yes, I agree it is false and useful for the sake of this discusion).

    So then back to the first false binary- I focus on the object lesson of Academic knowledge versus street knowledge- not in a sense of paternalism, but instead in the sense of what pre-existing or allready possible forms have to offer to what it means “to know.” And they know.

    In this false binary, one form has political and cultural wheels, one doesn’t. And the one that has no wheels, we both agree, is the one that is about more talk, less rock.

    I think this essay by Stephen Shukaitis is of value here.

  20. Jane says:

    Marc (et al), I really appreciate your willingness to think this through with me and everyone else. It’s nice to pursue this in a relatively even-tempered way (and not so common!).

    So let me try to revisit what I am trying to say, as I am having the dreamlike feeling that I am pointing at a hole and saying “look! a hole!” and then someone points at the hole and says “that’s no hole, because it’s a hole, and I just said it, so it must be something, and not a hole.”

    Step One, Brian proposes an educational project. We can certainly agree that his proposal wants the education to move toward action, and that it recognizes that the problem is that education hasn’t been moving toward action.

    Step Two, someone (in this case me, but I think others as well) points out that he has nonetheless proposed an education program, when education isn’t the problem. It may be [a] problem, but we seem to agree it isn’t [the] problem, regarding anticapitalist mobilization.

    Step Three, someone says, well, we are talking about a *different* kind of education, one that *will* move into such a mobilization. On how that happens: silence.

    Step Four, someone (again, me in this example) says, look, this can be divided into three moments: education, mobilization, changed world. We have enough education. Changed world is perhaps premature, but actually people will hold forth at great length about what that world should look like, so that’s not an absence, really, just very uncertain. But we have NOTHING in that second moment. There’s no specific proposal for a strategy, a tactic, a logistical frame (in the material sense) that would have sufficient force to change the world. So let’s talk about that. What goes in that second moment?

    And here is your response: “What’s missing are huge amounts of mediations that don’t put out the fire or damp the anger, but give it a way to become constructive. Otherwise, the idea of ending capitalism is just up in the air, a slogan.” Is shaking the rusty cage of radical action effective or is it one more spectacle that results in putting out the fire?”

    You see how that works? You have dismissed radical action — which is by all means your right. I am not taking issue with your reasoning (well, I am — I think it’s wrong — but that’s a different discussion — friendly smiley-face here — and I am fine with you reaching a different conclusion). But what you have proposed in its place is “huge amounts of mediations that…become constructive.” OK, how do they do that? How do they bcome? What is constructive? What is the specific tactic, strategy, or logistical frame *beyond education* that is being proposed here? There isn’t one. Still a hole, with the claim that the education will [somehow] convert into an [always-unstated] action.

    So: one last time. I am NOT saying, you must support radical action. I am saying, if the rejection of radical action constrains you to never arriving at specific tactics, strategies and/or logistical frames for action of such character and force that it could get the goods, then the rejection of radical action is an absolute horizon on action itself. But as best I can tell from above, we are still in the moment of supposing that education will turn into some excellent action or another, in some quasimagical way, even though we agree that education isn’t the problem. If there is a concrete proposal here which is not education, I have missed it. (which is possible! I have missed many things before! But that is why you gots to help me out on this).

    As a matter of historical analysis of the concrete global situation now, rather than some fidelity to Jacobin Terror or whatever you might imagine, I think it is too late in the game, and things are moving too fast, to be stuck at this barrier.

  21. Brian says:

    It’s excellent to read all this!

    Certainly there is a tremendous amount of things unstated in this discussion, but maybe we can get around to that, it does take time. Among the missing statements: WHICH radical system-changing action are we talking about? And WHY could we suppose this would in fact change a system like that of the United States, or any other of the so-called advanced capitalist countries? Now, that question is a real one and it would be great to hear the answers.

    As far as education goes, the very word supposes some conservative authorities, which are not gonna change what I think is the essence: basic obedience to the priorities of the current form of society. I am interested in why the internalization of current social values exists within the technocratic service classes, of which I consider myself a relatively alienated and fairly heretical part. If this deep internalization, this basic identity-shaping obedience, did not exist, people would call upon all kinds of other values to demand a change in the social deal: values of equality, democracy, solidarity, freedom, autonomy, ecology, there are many dissenting values which could correspond to different people. The fact is that very few are appealing to such values in any visible or audible way. A transformation in the consciousness of people like ourselves, who were once called progressives and have historically been a very strong class in the US, would be basic to any possibility of radical change. As of course would be the capacity to cooperate with people coming from other class backgrounds.

    Of course, there is the argument that we are all proletarians now. I look up from my Chinese computer with the Linux OS, to my lover’s bookshelf with Hegel, Kierkegaard, Latour, Greil Marcus, Nanotechnology for Dummies, and I struggle to remember the proletarian roots of my grandparents — except they were farmers, and my parents were high-school teachers.. Hmmm. It’s true I don’t have health care but also true that I don’t work much because my culture tells me its a waste of a short life. Alas, I must be a member of the iniquitous technocratic service classes. Proletarianized in the economic sense, but still attached to all that accumulated knowledge-capital. Let’s get back to the possibilities of social change.

    Taking it to the streets certainly helped stir a difference in myself, which is why I tend to show up and be part of such things whenever they go on. But after many years of considering that to be basically the only way, I started to see that it corresponded only to one kind of person – a pretty small kind, percentage-wise, mostly young white men too. I started asking myself and others what they thought would work better or at least in parallel. In the US, a lot of people will reply community, formed collaboratively and caringly over time around different kinds of institutions, cooperatives and such. In Chicago we make a lot of our own culture, which is an interesting start. However, I feel there is an anti-intellectualism in this country that really leaves deep holes in the kinds of action that could last for years and change social structures. Marc’s comment rings true: “As much as a radical critique is missing, the popular vessel capable of holding critique is also lacking.”

    Jane, you seem to think everybody knows how the United States works, everybody knows the essentials, has all the necessary information. That is not my experience. I find very many people deeply ignorant of not only basic things like where their water or food or electricity comes from, but also equally important things like how the ruling class gets its money and what the different sectors of the economy are, nationally and internationally. Beyond the great probability that a leftist insurrection would, as an adjunct labor organizer I was just having a drink with said, be slaughtered in a day with all the guns kept under the beds of the right-wingers in the suburb where she lives, there are some other unpleasant realities to be considered. Control over things like privatized and computerized money, the capacity to organize workers into very large transnational corporations, the ability to orchestrate highly effective research in universities and then make it operational in government and through the marketplace, all that gives tremendous structuring power to the ruling classes — and their power flows from sophisticated forms of knowledge. We have seen them use it to reroute and neutralize the 3rd world liberation movements of the 50s and 60s, then the new social movements of the 60s and 70s, then really existing communism, and more recently many of us watched the counter-globalization movements be stopped at exactly that dizzying moment when we seemed to be on the verge of a ne hegemony, as Robby pointed out. All of this was done through the strategic application of sophisticated knowledge.

    Knowledge is not just information, but a link between theory, practice and identity-sustaining belief. This is what runs society. The idea that society will be changed without a transformation in the production of knowledge, is in my view, false. Humans are knowledgeable bodies. Radical breaks are the products of previous accumulations of culture. Splits in identity are created through the transmission of philosophy and poetry – but also through that historical leftist speciality, sociology. The “I’m for action not information” argument seems to me like another one of those false binaries. On my bookshelves there’s a lot of Foucault. Counter-knowledges and counter-conducts are my thing.

    As in the past, this is a damn good debate! Thanks to all.

  22. Louis-Georges Schwartz says:

    I hope this isn’t taken as an attempt to have the last word. It’s just a philological addendum, and a minor one at that. I finds Brian’s references to sociology and Foucault to be less than decisive because the question of which sociology and which reading of Foucault should be in play here. To a certain degree, I keep myself fed by being a professional reader of Foucault and would continue to teach him were I able to do my work in the context of an autonomous university. So, I feel obliged to point out that the most widely influential texts on insurrection in recent times also co tain the most original and compelling readings of Foucault. Namely, the writings of Tiqqun and the Invisible Committe. Some of the authors were trained by , a leading neofoucaultian. So, to suggest that reading Foucault should lead us to prioritize acting directly on knowledge formations is not necessarily correct. In fact, I would argue that Foucault suggests that it is impossible to change an episteme, or even a disursive formation by spreading information or thinking differently. I know Brian the reading of Foucault Brian suggests also has a lot of support among whoever is still reading theory. My point is that Foucault’s writings have Littleton say about taking action and are ambiguous enough that reasonable readers can come to a variety of conclusions about that matter.

  23. Jane says:

    Brian, thanks for your lengthy and eloquent responses/post; you are someone I really value being in conversation with. And I think you’ve made some important assessments about the power and place on knowledge-power-formations.

    At the same time, you haven’t done you case any favors by caricaturing my own points: “Jane, you seem to think everybody knows how the United States works, everybody knows the essentials, has all the necessary information.” Of course I never said that. I said, rather clearly, that I thought some people knew these things (perhaps more than is assumed here) but that, having worked among both people who are and are not aware of the data you present above, I have encountered little support for the proposition that *not knowing the data* is the barrier to radicalization. The passage is above in my first response, if you’d like to revisit it.

    Since I think we are trying to say relatively direct and practical things rather than high-faluting theory (despite the odd recourse to Foucault), here is my practical experience from multiple decades of organizing, across different communities and focalized by different struggles, from antinuke stuff to ACT-UP, from Direct Action to Stop the War to walkouts and occupations in the UCs. People are radicalized by participating in an intense action with friends and comrades (positive radicalization), and from relatively direct experience of their friends or themselves being visibly, materially threatened, harmed or killed by the good ol’ Repressive State Apparatuses (negative radicalization).

    Again, I register no opposition to knowing things, and to taking part in the transmission of knowledge. I am simply noting that, as much as I might wish otherwise, the (always unstated) way in which that transforms into a material antagonism which can force structural change remains a hole in your account, both theoretically and empirically. Indeed, once again, in your otherwise extraordinary and thoughtful preceding response, you have perfectly elided the entire zone of tactics, strategy, and logistical frameworks — *as if you wanted precisely to prove my point about the limits of your own line of reasoning.* The only time you take it up is to remind us that “we” would be slaughtered by right wingers should anything radical be assayed.

    Maybe so. Ain’t gonna be no change — even to tax structures, at this point — without a real fight. See (again) the percipient Endnotes article clarifying the extent to which it is *harder* to wrest money from capital during crisis. Counter-knowledges and counter-conduct have, I suppose, their occasions. But I think we betray our comrades in Greece, in Chile, in Argentina, in Austria, in Zagreb, and down the street if we don’t commit to a real, material fight we might lose.

  24. Marc Herbst says:

    Good to have this conversation. Thanks all.
    Now I get where you are coming from Jane- and I should clarify where I am going with my thoughts.
    As I have said continually, I am ambivalent about radical action, not against it and often happy to see it.

    What I am interested in is building up social movements like Act-Up, broad based movements with sustained commitments and solidarities who are capable of organizing across communities and to act on many levels (in the streets and elsewhere).

    I agree with this, “I suppose, their occasions. But I think we betray our comrades in Greece, in Chile, in Argentina, in Austria, in Zagreb, and down the street if we don’t commit to a real, material fight we might lose” but don’t understand why this apparently does not mean doing some good organizational work (or perhaps it does and I am on a side of a conversation, not a center.)

    And I also need to say that we don’t help our fellow humans and animals if we rush headlong into conflict without any chance of winning. Yes, the song in their heart of the American movement will soar momentarilly as it is surely broadcast, but to paraphrase Patrick Reinsborough of smartmeme- “The task before us is very urgent so we must slow down.” That doesn’t necessarily mean years of organizing, but it does mean to act smart.

    I’ve been working with several projects that talk about time in relationship to organizing and cultural change.My current focus has been on how cultural workers specifically catch this beat and work to build and maintain autonomous space.

    Some projects that might serve as object lessons for the question of the relationship between action and organizing (which is, at its core what I think we are talking about):
    Conceptual Artist turned organizer turned Artist, Ian Millis from Australia has been telling me about the history of Australia’s radical/environmental Construction Worker Unions. In the early and mid 70’s in Australia, community groups and construction worker labor unions, banded together to fight developments in environmentaly sensitive areas surrounding urban (sometimes counterculture neighborhoods.) Reading the histories, these were not easy fights- they were characterized by the bonds of labor, solidarity, deadly repression. These groups have morphed into the left establishment in Australia (with Ian’s mediatic help) that continues maintaining socialist social programs won out of struggle.

    Ultra-red art collective tells me about their work with the very inspiring Union de Vecinos in Los Angeles and how the Union uses Freirian forms of popular education from a base of liberation theology to do radical self education within their own communities… over time, educating themselves how the system works to screw over uneducated, poor immigrant communities. And then learning how to respond (not quickly, but with solidarity and dignity) when it is time to act.

    I have been reading how rural towns in the northeast have been working around politics (in other words, outside of identity politics but based on real structural needs) to create sustainable and counter-hegemonic community relations that enact a post-oil/post-post-fordist politic.

    I’ve enjoyed recent conversations with Brian Holmes who tells me how the Midwestern Radical Cultural Corridor has been organizing ways in which people might come to understand their Midwest- see it not as a fly-over state or a great grain bin full of hair bands and repressive Christians but instead understand it as a place to fullfill a radical legacy. A place for something different (this here being mediatic work)

    I’ve been talking with thinker/writer Marc J. Leger who proposes that we should join a political group. Not necessarily a political party, but a political group. This has gotten me thinking about a commitment towards organizing and coordinating thought and action in the political field. Dont Rhine of Ultra-red and I have had interesting conversations regarding the need for a third power, something outside of politics, something external to the organization of social life (in our case, if I remember this correctly, as artists.) This third force is something akin to a party…. something akin to a place where there is agreements on programs, projects and actions.

    I will take one more moment to type about what I like about Brian’s proposal to “create a huge amounts of mediations that don’t put out the fire or damp the anger, but give it a way to become constructive.” I appreciate that it is it allows for antagonisms to come in to play, over time. So, whether we organize culturally (as the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor Does), aggressively, or organizationally, as long as we don’t blow our load- its all good.

  25. gaby romeri says:

    Fantastic piece and much-needed discussion. I’d like to add three things:

    1. If we could unite the grass-roots movements already underway, and unite not just the Left but reach across our choirs to inform the Right, then we become a Supermajority, able to circumvent this system. We could begin by electing Independents who hold one thing dear: Representing the People. (Also, check out the Modern Whig platform, which has the potential to unite liberals & conservatives.) A much-needed third party that draws from and appeals to both camps, that comes together over the basics, leaves ‘hot-button’ issues at the local level, and puts country & people first. I know it’s hard to imagine us all coming together, but once they realize they have no other choice, we will arise.

    2. It’s not capitalism so much as unbridled capitalism that has created this plutocracy. True free-market principled capitalism was supposed to offer a level playing field – for all. But unbridled capitalism has created conditions of such inequality that we now mirror communist Russia, with the ethics of China. I think it’s possible for capitalism to be forced to develop a conscience; by making them answerable to their crimes against labor and humanity. BUT, we need to have a separation of Commerce and State as definitive as that between Church & State. It’s a farce that our legislative branch openly accepts money in exchange for votes. All money, aside from salary, must be removed from the process.

    3. I like your “eat the rich,” though I’d prefer we starve them, by withholding all our money that helps feed them. There should be community-based banks with federal incentives for reinvesting in local projects, factories & jobs, leveraging the real money from our mortgages, etc. Though Roemer has some sharp ideas about transforming the tax code to benefit US manufacturing once again, I think We are the only ones we can count on for job creation, and we need to start locally.

    As this revolution begins, I am reminded of what Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, on the day that our Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress, proposed to be the phrase for the seal of our country:

    Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God

  26. robby herbst says:

    Hey Jane could you post a link to this Endnotes article?

  27. Jane says:


    Re Gaby’s comment: I rest my case.

  28. Brian Holmes says:

    Jane said somewhere early on that it’s great to actually _have_ this kind of discussion (strong, substantial and direct) in a way that sustains it, so it doesn’t just blow out in polemics. I totally agree. I haven’t meant to caricature anyone’s thought and I appreciate the clarifications.

    Louis-Georges is right to say there are neo-Foucaultian elements in Tiqqun: like Agamben himself, to the extent that he develops the concept of biopower. In the plainest terms possible (to keep down the high-falutin’ stuff) Agamben’s work is about the total power of the militarized state over human life. Those ideas proved very serious over the last decade. But Foucault himself attempted to get behind the “cold monster” of the state, and to struggle in those psychosocial places where knowledge and obedience are at one with self-identity and belief. I think there is a real politics there, the possibility of what Marc calls a “third power.” Of course it develops primarily in words, through a conversation; but that conversation has to happen in physical places and on topics that are at variance with the norms, among bodies disposed to build on what they say. I would place such a power outside the first two, namely the really existing militarized state and spectacular politics. It seems that one of the real matters under discussion here is what kind of antagonism should such a third power engage with spectacular politics and above all, with the really existing state. I’d like to hear more on that from Louis-Goerges and his particular Foucaultian perspective.

    Jane, the holes in our two positions remain symmetrical. The problem I have with what seems to be your strategy (insurrection? but of what kind? by whom?) is that I don’t think there is enough of a third power behind it, not here in the US. While awaiting to hear more about your strategy (or not, depending on what you want to say about it), let me explain where mine actually comes from and what it consists of. Such as it is – because I don’t have any great claims. A lot of it has to do with some observed differences between the US and Europe.

    First of all, I was really impressed on those days in Genoa to see upwards of two hundred thousand people in the street. Of course I had been on the streets in Paris with many more than that, sometimes a million: but in Genoa this was a direct confrontation with state power, and indeed, with the transnational state. The sweep of people involved in that demonstration was tremendous: the Cobas unions, the civic ecologists (with their high-school students getting tear-gassed!), hundreds of NGOs, multiple Trotskyists, the left-wing Catholics, the third-world solidarity types, the Tute Bianche no-globals, the anarchists, the black blocs who ended up infiltrated by the police. This kind of thing is possible because of the depth of both the old left (communist parties and unions, anarchist parties and especially unions) and of the new left (ecologist parties, decentered labor coordinations like Cobas, autonomist Marxist networks like the Tute Bianche/social centers/etc etc). I have never been part of anything like that in the US and I have the impression that only in the Bay Area is there anything even approaching that kind of social composition. In Quebec at the FTAA summit you had a composition more like you would find in the Bay Area: and the local city-dwellers supported it, the print media even took it seriously for a few days until (I suppose) they got their orders. This kind of broad support protects extraparliamentary politics and gives it force in society. In the US there were, as far as I know, only two acts after Seattle: the Washington IMF demos that were immobilized and the Miami FTAA meeting that was preemptively snuffed by extreme police violence. I would come back to the US to talk about the movement of movements and people would look at me with glazed eyes. It was very weird.

    The above is a serious problem, one which points to the limits of radicalization by repression. This is not only true in the US. On my last trip to Europe I met someone from Berlin trying to write a thesis about fear. Where does that come from in your personal experience, I enquired? “The fear of waking up with the police at the door.” That has happened to people around you? “All my friends, especially in Austria and Greece, they’re all in jail.” The repression in Europe began in earnest, alas, after Genoa. In France the whole thing was somewhat less significant and in 2005 the banlieue riots, sparked directly by the interior minister Sarkozy, were followed by massive protests against a proposed flexible labor law (the CPE). Those days, culminating with a million people on the streets of Paris alone, were the only time I saw Tiqqun-style activists out in full force. A university building was occupied for a few days. There was definitely something interesting about an ethos that pushed people to quite radical acts, about which they said almost nothing publicly after it was all over. Subsequently Sarkozy won the presidential elections with exit-poll results showing decisive support from those whose automobiles had been burned in the banlieue riots that he had engineered. Several percentage points (thus, a winning margin) were attributed to this. Since then, as far as I can tell, France has gone into a period of deep regression. I don’t really know where Tiqqunism is at now and would be very curious to hear more about it.

    The point here is not to dissuade anyone from political action on the basis of fear. The point is to ask what kinds of strategies could be successful. I have come to the conclusion that under a militarized state like ours, which has imposed itself through spectacle-politics and additionally has whipped up a formidable grassroots fascism connected to the constant pursuit of foreign wars and resource-extraction operations, the priority is to deepen the articulation of the left, not as a sect but as a spectrum. The aim is to arrive at a form of opposition which cannot be polarized around issues of violence where the structurally violent side always wins. This deepening entails the production of a discourse about society, what it is, how it works, where its hold over individuals and groups ceases, and how to organize in those areas. For those who want to understand more about such a strategy I suggest the history of Argentina. First in the 70s, when political radicalization produced truly nightmarish consequences. Then in the last decade, from the revolt to the current Cristina Fernandez government. Today, a society having learned from the dead-ends of the seventies — but also, mind you, a society with a deep and tenacious left, BECAUSE OF the engagements and loyalties forged in the sixties and seventies — has set about shaping a confrontational process that can actually undo the power of its oligarchy. After previous trips in 2004 and ’05, I recently spent a month in Argentina doing autonomous research on this subject. More on that some other day.

    Now, if we want to get back into the Invisible Committee that joins and separates us, there is an interesting dialectic. They were not so invisible since as I recall the police even followed them to Canada and picked up some documents that fell out of someone’s pack while making an exciting illegal border crossing (that’s the story, right? however, what do I know, it could be disinformation). Anyway, the man was clearly on their tail and later framed them with the so-called train sabotage suggested in their book. The interesting result was the tremendous success of a book which contains a great energetic critique of vacuous existence in the control society along with a more or less apocalyptic idea of insurrection. That was followed by a multiplication of small groups who think they can keep a secret plot secret by whispering about it. Here I am not trying to caricature what you say, Jane, but instead, sum up what I have seen around me in France. For full disclosure the Tiqqunists were always after us at Multitudes because they thought Toni Negri, and more accurately, Yann Moulier Boutang, were reformists. We thought they were a relapse into a dead end that we had seen before, but hey, that never stopped me from speaking against their incarceration or from admiring the virulent accuracy of their portrait of contemporary society. Plus, Yann Moulier Boutang _is_ a reformist and a lame one at that, as I argued in a polemic which ultimately broke Multitudes apart, so there is some cross-over in our views. To return to the discussion of strategy, I think there is not only the question of radicalization, i.e. how to produce a break, an experience of disaffiliation. I also think there is the question: What to do with that break? Where does it lead in society?

    Maybe it’s because I am now living in the Midwest, and not the Bay Area (where I lived in the 70s and 80s), but I am more interested in the effects and prolongations of what just happened in Wisconsin than I am in the Invisible Committee. For two reasons: first, the movement was not lured onto the terrain of confrontation with the militarized “police” (police is a misnomer for what they now send out into the streets), and second, because the upshot of the events proved the futility of engagement with spectacular politics. What’s interesting in Wisconsin is that it contained the potentiality of the kind of general strike that frequently happens in places like France, Italy, Spain and Greece. Critics of the outcome said that the movement should have followed the calls for a general strike rather than being led into the political referendum process. Obviously the thinking of a third power could find some space in this discussion of a general strike. The interesting thing is, were such a strike to lead to confrontation, it would be much harder to isolate a few individuals and label them as criminals. However, the discussion does not only have to go in that direction, towards the great confrontation. Equally and maybe more importantly, it can ask: On what basis will an entire spectrum of social forces resist the operations of corporate concentration and military statization of the economy that are underway in the present crisis?

    In short, I think we need to articulate a split which already exists in American society, between us and them – them being the rich, the capitalists, the upper 5%, the ruling class, and us being the still amorphous remnants of the old and new lefts. To do so we have to seize on every conflict not only to denounce the appalling social realities of the current system but also to propose ways of running it differently. I think this should be done in a spectrum where we argue among each other but also recognize what we share. In the 20s and 30s as in the 60s and 70s, many anti-capitalists were able to work in ways that pushed the entire system in more positive directions. The mass education programs that were forced on the capitalist state from the 30s all the way to Johnson’s Great Society programs were ultimately able to defeat the war party in Vietnam. This is what I mean when I say that the technocratic services class, as articulated by the Progressive movement, has been historically powerful. There is an impressive declaration from former North Vietnamese colonel and statesman Bui Tin that says this: “Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses. We were elated when Jane Fonda, wearing a red Vietnamese dress, said at a press conference that she was ashamed of American actions in the war and that she would struggle along with us… The conscience of America was part of its war-making capability, and we were turning that power in our favor. America lost because of its democracy; through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win.”

    I don’t know why the left is unable to own this declaration, what a victory! Google the quote (or just put “Hanoi Jane”) and you will see it is massively discussed by the right wing and the militarists. However I don’t think you can get anywhere today on the basis of celebrating the glories of the 60s, and I think the Progressive tradition is outdated by far. We need to describe the whole system of the present political economy and its consequences (not just its psychic manifestations among the relatively privileged middle classes, as you find in The Coming Insurrection); we need to shred its legitimacy with arguments that people understand and can repeat and rework for themselves; and we need to become aware of all the groups which are actively opposing different aspects of this system, so as to support each other more fully and start achieving results. Marc’s last post gets very close to the kinds of things I am involved with. I think intellectuals can make a substantial contribution to this kind of process – but of course, it has to be an operative contribution and not just a comment from a theoretical distance.

    Now, all that is supposed to be part of committing to a real, material fight. It’s not supposed to be about burying one’s head in the sand of empty verbiage. I share the desire not to betray comrades in Zagreb or Athens or Vienna or more recently, the people who could no longer take the discrimination and repression in the suburbs of London and Manchester and other UK cities. However, when it comes to working with friends down the street we had better not polarize the US situation in a way that gives advantage to the right, given what the right just did under Bush — which is the mother of all regressions, resulting in tremendous damage around the world (need I recall that Sarkozy is a neocon modeling himself after Bush?). I don’t believe in what is called “la politique du pire” which I think in English goes “it can only get better when it really gets worse.” It’s already worse: to the extent there is an opportunity in crisis, it is here and now. But it could also become radically worse, perhaps at levels difficult to imagine, and the question is how to finally start getting it better.

    Jane, I may be misattributing the Tiqqun stuff to you, because it’s Louis-George who has spoken about it explicitly. If you’re interested to do so, you could explain your own ideas more or just give a pointer to where you have already done so. We could also talk some more about political economy, what this crisis is, where it’s going and what kinds of political opportunities it presents, which is the subject of our upcoming project here in Chicago. Anyway, this kind of written dialogue is quite useful and I am glad to hear the strong and direct and substantial views of everyone who is participating. Best, BH

    PS: The Three Crises project is described here:

  29. robby herbst says:

    This is great. What I’ve been looking for.

  30. robby herbst says:

    Also Jane (or Louis or anyone), I am interested in hearing about your experiences and analysis of Direct Action To Stop The War in light of this conversation and in terms of the challenges it faced with its goal to “bring the war home” beyond the semi-successful instance of shutting down the Bay Area war machine on the day of the declaration of the war in Iraq… and then beyond…

    The analysis I’ve heard from Bay Area organizers regarding those actions and their lessons would seem to have informed current Bay Area practices like Bay Of Rage/Anti-Cut. Though I don’t see any carry through from one project to the other (please correct me if you know otherwise)- which in my estimation is unfortunate. Also it’s easy enough to switch theoretical lenses to other Bay Area organizers/activists such as Judi Barri and imagine how some one steeped in working class politics, wobblieism, direct action, and environmentalism would approach today’s crisis – playing themselves out in the Bay and beyond. Yes I know that late 80’s/90’s is a world away from today- and perhaps her position within labor may be a non-starter for some, but still I think it’s an interesting and meaningful to this conversation to do this thought experiment.

    I strongly agree with Brian regarding the contextual nature of theory and made comments to that effect up top. I very much appreciate the further unpacking of that regarding the dialectic emerging here.

    Regarding Anti-cut, much of what I’ve said here comes from conversations I’ve had regarding it. That all said- I am wildly supportive of Anti-cut’s willingness to experiment – I am just unsure of the goals there. It does seem that much of anti-cut’s stuff is geared towards “mediatic moments”, rather than the tangible goal of organizing among peers and allies to accomplish the demands of say keeping books in libraries and making that anti-capitalist state. My thoughts regarding those actions- are not “They are all wrong” but rather “I wish I felt more was being played out here than a script of the current radicalism”. But I am very interested in others thoughts…

  31. gaby romeri says:

    After reading through all your eloquent thoughts, at 6am, i am left feeling quite binary myself. A) i should not attempt to engage intellectual giants who put my own intellect to shame, and B) enough talk, we need to act already, or at least plan…as i believe Jane emphasized.

    While i appreciate the need to think these weighty things through, we could spend an entire generation just on semantics. The reality is that people are being exploited, our democracy is now a plutocracy, the oppressed are just now discovering the culprits, and it’s time to revolt already.

    The problem isn’t only information: the war is between reality and belief. People don’t want to believe the truth when they can instead have a prefab reality served to them directly that engages their prejudices while framing it in a *Christian* or *logical* way. It’s just easier than cognitive dissonance, or research, and people are already weary.

    i speak from experience. My parents are wonderful people with huge hearts, but they are right-wing-nuts. Repeatedly, they fall for snakes because those snakes frame things in a way that appeals to their *Christianity* and moral high ground — as shocking as that may sound. The snakes find a way to engage both their minds and their hearts (often by lying).

    When i asked far wiser people how this can occurs, i’m told that it’s because of our language — how we frame things: we’re not communicating across the divide in a way that can engage and empower them — that they can understand and relate to; while the right side has mastered the word without deed, exploiting God as a means, while twisting truth to serve their ends. And of course, sadly, neither party is worth fighting for anymore, and no one is willing to cross to the other side, period. And why would they.

    That’s why i urge us to reach across the isle, to find a new 3rd way forward that’s inclusive of all. Let’s face it, the people are ready for it, the seesaw is killing us and expecting change from the same two sides just means we’re crazy. At this point, we need a Rescue Party. For now, lets push independents beholden to the people; & seriously, check out the Whig platform. Please.

    We can’t try to figure everything out first, because it’s not really up to us; we have to get people in office that represent the people — together, in a representative democracy, then we decide things.

    Also, i came here from Argentina during the height of the dictatorship. The only reason things have gotten progressively better there (barely) is because the worst has already happened – torture, death camps, with at first only a parade of silent mothers to protest the carnage. Fascism and repression happen so subtly that before you can be sure what’s going on, you’re dead. We don’t have more time to waste.

    That dictatorship also taught me that radical, violent action would be met with disproportionate violence, as well as black flag operations that turned truth on its arse and confused reality to this day. Those who use violence already will not hesitate to create reasons to abuse of it. That’s why i subscribe to Gandhi, in that there are many causes for which i would gladly give my life, but not one for which i would take it (unless i was a soldier…) But we have another ally on our side now — technology, wielded by the youth, who are indeed willing to protest, organize, and act.

    There’s talk of a conference on a Constitutional Convention, which shows how far we’ve strayed. And as dire as our situation is, no one has united all the grassroots forces yet; all the religious and education and labor and eco and Peace Corp and on and on. All the teaparty animals with a right to be angry and no nontoxic outlet. All 90% of Americans feeling this economic repression.

    We have time to join forces together, and plan a real march on Washington.Perhaps memorial and labor day, giving the people an entire wknd to come together under good weather. A march that invokes MLKs civil rights struggle, for our generation, to save our democracy. A march that empowers people who support Obama as well as all the rest; to show our determination and sheer numbers, so as to convince him to fight for us. To spur him to act on the people’s behalf in his last 4 yrs. (i doubt there is any more viable candidate for this next election, unless Buddy Roemer teams up with B Sanders or E Warren:) Though i do hope we can replace just about every single congress member with an independent who represents actual people — not corporations, my friends.

    Regardless, it will show that we are prepared to act, despite Washington. In fact, by coming together as one supermajority, as one nation, we can effectively leave them all behind, as they left us.

    Sorry for going on and on. If you’d like my thoughts or help, for what they’re worth, i’m @cy_guevara. (Also, i’ve been rewriting Paine’s Common Sense, for our generation, on the off-chance it may help.) Thank you all for taking this moment in our history so seriously.

  32. Jane says:

    I’m actually not sure how much I have to add — I know I am daunted by Brian and all’s willingness to type things out at length. I will offer a couple very brief notes, with apologies for failures of patience or eloquence, and a general agreement that this is a discussion very much worth having — though not having forever.

    I mean something specific by that last semi-quip. It concerns the spectre of political economy Brain raised. For various reasons, my specific accounts of tactics and strategies won’t get mentioned here; even pseudonymity has its limits. And those of you who know what I do when I am not being Online Jane will know that I have written and given talks at some considerable length on the matter of political economy in relation to the current world situation — as a logistical framework for orienting action. The talk this spring at HMNY was particularly turned toward logics of space and logics of time when it came to the matter of interrupting circuits of capital valorization. I’m happy to send a version of that along if anyone wants to send an email address. But meanwhile, some thoughts in brief, sorry for the bullet-pointy feel of it all.

    # I don’t find Robby’s (and others’) language of “script for curent radicalism” either useful or persuasive. There is no doubt that such a complaint has a real history: in fact, in *every* significant historical confrontation between state and non-state forces, more or less the same chanrges have been leveled from the soi disant left. Tactics are old until they are new in a contextual way; forms are borrowed from history. And I think the easy but accurate rejoinder to Robby’s position is: is there *any* tactic which feels more like a script than the tactic of accusing militants of empty action etc etc? Such a plaint might look like some sort of objective and adult and insightful long view; it might look like quiescent demobilization. I think it’s very hard to take seriously (which is not to say that the *vast majority* of militant actions are not flawed and doomed to fail. Still, you don’t get anything without’em, except for temporary dispensations that are granted only when the accumulation rate is pretty solid).

    # I have great respect for the Tiqqun/IC people. They are my friends and comrades. I think they are brilliant about certain things: in the widest frame, I think they are brilliant about the admixture of attack and withdrawal, of antagonism and subtraction. But their account is not my own. They work within a framework of “power* (though they draw an important distinction between *pouvoir* and *puissance*). I work within a framework of capital, and the systemic unfolding of the value circuit. Speaking of which:

    # It’s later than you think. We are in year 38 (roughly) of a crisis in systemic accumulation. Another way to phrase this is, we are in year 38 of the decline of the US hard-soft imperium. Arrighi is a useful guide here. There is no reason to think that the US geofinancial order can stabilize the globe for another forty years; if historical patterns have any weight, it is more likely to be 10-25 years. In that horizon, there will be the clear ascendance of a different world-hegemony capable of restoring global accumulation; or extraordinary chaos; or a non-capitalist order. One thing that *absolutely will not happen* is the long term restoration of a US-led accumulation cycle.

    # Two linked facts derive from this: first, the Endnote point that, with a greatly diminished pool of social surplus, the relative power and absolute desperation of capital to claim a larger portion of hat smaller surplus increases. It’s not that I don’t think a peaceful revolution is possible (I don’t) but that at this point, I don’t think a peaceful *tax revolt* is possible, because of capital’s entrenched power and its exigencies within a scenario of static accumulation. One can lay out as many semi-radical phrases as one wants (“Eat the Rich!”) but what is propsoed above is quite familiar social democracy. I do not think that US/global capital is in a position to accept that proffer. Hence my sense that an educate/regulate/redistribute program will not get the goods.

    # Second, it’s worth reversing the telescope here. I would suggest that the dream of non-militant regulation/redistribution is basically a US-centric worldview. The further you get from the imperial core, the more evident it is that increasing fractions can not and will not wait for some social-democratic reversal that isn’t forthcoming. Austerity isn’t temporary, and it isn’t new — the current model has simply been moving toward the OECD and the US from what we used to call peripheral economies since the Seventies if not before. Or to put this all anther way: *the riots are coming*. Only in the US and perhaps Germany is that not totally obvious. They will come fitfully, and will of course appear to be about local and/or incoherent causes without any historical continuity or purposes, as in the banlieues and Tottenham. They will nonetheless be part of a great historical continuity, just as we can place the real and regional specifics of Tahrir and Pakistan and etc also within a historical continuity: the inability of the US-led regime to magnetize the globe toward its own interests.

    # So, in closing, I guess I could offer the following précis: the political-economic question is not “how do we get a better distribution of social surplus?” The real political-economic question is, “What is one’s orientation toward the riots?” Being for or against them, for or against militancy, is a non-question. It is *already* a militant situation. And being unimpressed with the (admittedly tender, uncertain, reccyled, unpracticed) attempts toward militancy in the US may *feel* like a kind of prudential wisdom, and a way of insisting on some better, safer way. I do not read the current situation that way. There is currently no greater mistake nor abdication than in waiting for some (always unstated) better way that will arise (somehow) out of some (infinitely perfectible) knowing. That is my reading of the objective situation.

    OK, I haven’t much to add to that, so I’ll bow out. But I will call you all comrades (with the exception of any proponents of parliamentary solution, which is impossible, intolerable, and absurd), and hope to see you on a street corner someday.


  33. Brian Holmes says:

    That the riots are coming is clear. That a good outcome can be created from them is up to us. I also think that the whole system is head for crash and metamorphosis in exactly the way Jane says: out of a cyclical change that could create a new power center, or open up a qualitatively new kind of system. These will be important years.
    Solidarities, Brian

  34. robby herbst says:

    Well said all.

    • Marc Herbst says:

      In closing then, as someone ambivalently positive to the here and coming insurrections , I don’t see it as a full use of my capacities to singularly wait for the least socialized of human responses. We can do better.

      There is probably more agreement then less.


  35. robby herbst says:

    Here’s a post-script or a footnote.

  36. razldazl says:

    Pretty much EVERYone I know agrees that the poor and middle class are screwed. NOBODY I know, barring a very very few individuals would give up their time to do anything to help further the cause. People are all too comfortable, and don’t want any trouble, and if it isn’t happening in front of their faces, they will not lift a finger. It’s a pathetic pathetic place full of pathetic, do nothing, liberals.

  37. Nicholas Morris says:

    This is a fantastic article.

    Thankfully, it looks like the “left” or “the 99 percent” (basically anyone not super rich) has started a national movement, starting with #occupywallstreet.

    I would like to hear your opinions and views on this.

    • Brian Holmes says:

      Yeah, right on, I think it’s a MAJOR development. To the exact opposite of the earlier comment about the general apathy, it’s a sign that people have had enough with the government of society by money. I support all the occupations of the financial districts now going on and I will go to New York and take part in it too. The thing is, there is another national movement that’s against neoliberal finance, but it’s the Tea Party, they’re on the right, their proposals come complete with nationalism and racism and a naive antitax, antigovernment agenda that obviously plays directly into the hands of the big corporations and even the financiers themselves. From all I can gather there are as many or more people who believe in equality and solidarity and grassroots internationalism, we do a lot of protesting and a lot of community work too, but it does not receive the same coverage from the corporate media. Well, #occupywallstreet has its own media and people are out there changing the mass-media agenda, bursting the bubble of apathy and thought control. This is the tip of a beached iceberg that’s about to melt into a flood. I think it’s the beginning of much bigger things to come.
      lets do something at last, Brian Holmes

  38. Eric Baetscher says:

    The relative tranquility that has defined American life since 1945 may be reaching its twilight. Our generation may endure challenges on a scale not seen since our grandparents time. We must seize the future with resolve and courage, but also with prudence and restraint.

    The best we can do as humans – and as a society – is to honestly take stock of our reality, and then make decisions through our morality. Let us heed the lessons of the past, as we try to realize a vision of the future.


  39. Chuck says:

    I’m defiantly knot “rich” That said why do you all dislike successful people? The people I know of that I consider “rich” are motivated hard working people. They are not lazy waiting for someone else to take care of the people. I work hard every day, most days day light to dark. I don’t think anyone owes me anything. Why do you think that you are owed? I don’t understand your position.

  40. Paul owes Peter says:

    Pie charts and bar graphs don’t put money in peoples pockets. What system works to achieve wealth? A system that would protect individual rights. It is called the constitution, remember? Can we trust the system when in the course of human events we allow a federal reserve to print money out of thin air to expand government beyond its scope in a constitutional representative framework?

    Bleeding hearts want to redistribute the wealth. If you want something why don’t you just pay for it yourself with your own money, I say. Don’t take the fruits of my labor so someone else can prosper without my consent. I want my money that I have earned; I don’t want to give it to anybody through
    a coercive mandate or anything I do not myself need i.e.- T.A.R.P. or Q. E. 1, 2 etc.. Less government is the answer.

    Society cannot be forced by government through the barrel of a gun to be moral.

    Get a freaking real job for crying out loud. If you want to save the world, OCCUPY your time doing so without a plan to get money out of my pocket with government forced taxation as a means. If you want to be productive don’t ever work the government and spend other peoples money.

  41. Brian Blackburn says:

    I see a lot of dialogue on the web regarding the rich. Most of those dialogues do not ever define what exactly is “rich”. To me there is a world of difference between the guy who works hard and/or took chances with his money and grew it into a million or a few million, even tens of millions and the families that control hundreds of millions and billions who are simply born into vast fortunes. The cards are stacked so that these rich “aristocracy” will stay on top indefinitely. The true problem with that is that over generations you are more and more likely to breed lazy useless selfish people who are so out of touch with the average man yet controlling the resources needed by so many. Now if these heirs where actually superior to the common man it would be less of a disgrace but the fact that the majority of them never learned life lessons instilled by hard work and sacrifice makes these the worst possible choices to control such a big piece of our planets resource. Now perhaps the ancestor who made the fortune was a great person…perhaps they where a criminal….or maybe came from nobility it doesn’t really matter as their descendants never had the experiences they did.

    It is these kind of fortunes that cause political and social strife in my opinion. First off so many of those born to real wealth are huge consumers who do little for society. The trash man is FAR more vital than a privileged consumer of vast resources. Secondly the influence they wield is used to perpetuate their fortune at the expense of pretty much everything else including the environment, human rights, justice, safe working conditions, living wages, affordable health care and so on.

    The right wing likes to take the hard working average man and put him up as the target of the left wing….like Joe the plumber. That is not who I want to target and I suspect that is not who the majority of the progressive movement wants to target. I don’t even want to target Joe if his plumbing business really takes off and he builds a fortune of 20 million. I just don;’t want him to take advantage of tax loopholes that ONLY someone with a fortune can hire people to take advantage of for them. I don’t want Joe’s hard earned fortune to be used to breed the next line of privileged elite who contribute nothing and use so much.

    There must be some middle ground between taxing Joe higher for pulling in $250K in a year and General Electric paying ZERO taxes. I wish the movement would make it more clear who they think the target is because otherwise the other side is going to portray it for you, and I promise it wont be the Forbes 400 it will keep going back to poor Joe.

  42. Piero Giorgi says:

    And think that the HUGE financial institutions are taking over Europe.
    Goldman Sachs made it to be in the Italian Government and the Central European Bank. Scary.