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Monday, July 14, 2014

Quick Thought: Coffee

In France, when you get a coffee at a cafe, you receive it in a small ceramic cup and drink it at the cafe, where you read and speak to others as you finish it.

In the United States, on the other hand, you usually buy a coffee at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts or a similar fast food chain, and bring it with you as you head to work. It's commonplace to see people hauling around extra large iced coffees at work.

Caffeine is the perfect drug for the workplace: it keeps workers stimulated to keep them productive. I wonder to what extent French vs. American coffee customs correlate to their attitudes on work. American culture is driven by the constant need to be productive, at any time, in any context. Even young children are brought to "play with a purpose" as they're subordinated and molded into this culture (just look at how children are started on technology from earlier and earlier ages in hopes that they'll "grow with the tech" as an example). We caffeine addicts drink with a purpose.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Barcelona: City of Anarchists

Barcelona was the next stop on my trip. I had wanted to visit this city for years. There was the time when I "worked" (although I wouldn't call it "working" in the traditional capitalist sense) at the Lucy Parsons Center in Boston where I was exposed to all sorts of anarchist texts on the Spanish Revolution; the images of the barricades and CNT-FAI members taking over factories and shooting at fascists stay with me to this day. Like many people who go through their "enlightenment" phase while first studying anarchism, I was fascinated by all of it, holding that anarchist revolution was indeed possible.

Barcelona today obviously isn't what it was 78 years ago. The big political stance prevalent throughout the city and its region is Catalan nationalism, not anarcho-syndicalism. Reminiscence of that time are still present though. The CNT still exists, albeit as a shadow of its former self with a few split branches. Anarchists remain heavily active in the city. During my first full day in Barcelona I walked to the premises of the CNT branch. There, I spoke to a man who told me in his fairly decent English that the building was closed until very late in the afternoon. One of the older members manages a bookstore in that space and comes and goes as he pleases. Unfortunately, I didn't wait around until then.

That evening I headed to the Sants neighborhood, location of the Can-Vies squat and the home of many young and old anarchists. News of the pending squat eviction and its resistance had been all over the internet back in May. Since then, the squat was recaptured in an act of solidarity and remains. It was assumed some of the squatters would be around that night, and I hoped to meet them to hear their stories. I approached the squat right as the sun was setting on the city. A large chunk of the building had been demolished, but what remained was intriguing. It had a "yard" that was fenced off, with tables and chairs and plants (guerrilla gardening?), and a mural lined the very top.


Unfortunately, none of the squatters appeared to be around. I was extremely nervous. My first thought was, if anyone from the squat saw me wandering around their home aimlessly, they would assume I was a cop or informant. I've known my fair share of comrades who have been in those situations before - there's a reason why radical leftist circles are highly security-conscious - and the last thing I wanted to do was appear in a way that would cause these comrades to look at me suspiciously.

I walked further into the neighborhood, amidst the buildings covered in street art, the smell of gasoline coming from all the motorcycles, and the giant puddles on the road from the earlier rain. Anarchy symbols, squatter symbols, ANTIFA slogans, and feminist-themed images were painted all over. Several other buildings were undoubtedly anarchist squats. Being all alone in this space with nothing but my thoughts was almost enchanting. The existence of squats, the layers of artwork, the unashamed declarations for anarchism all spoke as a reminder of the possibility for a different world. These islands of anarchy floating in a sea of authority and remain in that context, but they are more a symbol that resistance to the dominant ideology and culture exist now. They try to throw off the old values and means of surviving through their organization. Liberated areas, as small as they may be, should be celebrated as authentic attempts at the creation of the new.

When I reemerged into the spectacle, I felt it hit me, like a bad taste. Leaving the anarchist neighborhood to the luxury hotels, exclusionary high-end restaurants, and clutters of advertising stirred up feelings of anger. Entering into the metro and purchasing corporate food from the vending machine felt shameful for some reason or another. It takes a moment in a liberated space to see the ugliness of the reality we know and remain immersed in.

The following day I went to Montjuic to visit the final resting places of Durruti and Ferrer. Sure enough, their graves were covered with red and black flags and anarchist-themed images. It must be a site of pilgrimage.

My only regret is not meeting up with other comrades in this city. There were probably a hundred things I missed.

Monday, July 7, 2014

In the South

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert
I'm currently in Barcelona, staying at a hostel, though I recently finished up six days of visiting southern France (Agde, Montpellier, and Toulouse).

I stayed in Agde for a few days with my friend Clare, whom I know from McDaniel. Her mother has a small flat in the middle of the city, which she shares with their four dogs. I hadn't seen Clare in person in a long time and we had been planning to get together some time in France before she relocates back to the US. We ate lots of local food and went to the beach. One day we also took a trip to the town of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, which was absolutely gorgeous. During one of the days when I was staying in Agde, I ventured over to Montpellier. I only saw the downtown due to time, so I didn't get much of a chance to feel or understand the city. Well, I do know of Brassens' songs about the region - that's good enough.

Toulouse
On the morning of the 6th I left for Toulouse. The train went through the countryside, with its long plains and mountains that fade into the clouds above. Toulouse is huge. The city metro is actually clean. The buildings downtown are all red brick colored and the street signs are all bilingual French and Occitan.

I should mention, I've seen more than a handful of cars with bumper stickers in Occitan in the South (much more so in Agde, of all places), as well as numerous flags with the Occitan Cross. During the last elections, the far-right (FN) won gains in the southern cities; not only are they openly xenophobic and anti-immigrant, they are also against any sort of recognition or revival of France's regional languages. I wonder if the apparent increase in regionalism is a symptom of this political atmosphere, where supporters of regional identities seek to resist a pending suppression.

Tourists to the region often hear things about Southern French (Occitans) despising Parisians. From what I've observed, I would definitely say their grievances against Paris are legitimate. Politically speaking, France is highly centralized, meaning each of the regions have very little space to do much outside of what Paris orders, which makes it hard for the regions to develop on their own. Southerners are frequently mocked for their distinct accents and alleged inability to speak "proper French". And then there's the fact that wealthy people from Paris and elsewhere buy up property in the Midi, which - as is very much the case - causes costs to go up and the cities to cater to rich transplants rather than the locals who have been there for years. I very much got that impression in Agde, where working-class whites and Maghrabi immigrants resided in the old center of town with the outer part full of larger homes surrounded by concrete fences. Rich get richer, poor get poorer, walls get higher.

I'm too tired to write any more tonight. I have a busy day planned out in the morning.
 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Video: activists demonstrate in solidarity with Greek prisoners on hunger strike (27.6.2014)


Translation:

Evening intervention in solidarity outside prison Corfu on June 27, 2014, during a hunger strike against the bill for prisons type III.

The sound has been processed with aid to sound the reactions of prisoners. On the day of the intervention, 120 hunger strikers from prison Corfu participated in the largest hunger strike ever made in the country, with more than 4000 hunger strikers nationwide ...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Little Sights

Thionville (Diedenhofen)
I've been living in the EU for a month, and in that time have learned a lot.

My French is slowly but surely getting better. Living in a "foreign" land with minimal knowledge of the language is still fairly complex, but I manage. Frequently, I find myself going into Thionville (the closest city to where I'm staying) where I eat at the cafes and attempt to read through books and magazines.

I also find it amusing how, when restaurant and retail workers in town see that I'm not fully understanding their French, assume I'm a German tourist and immediately start speaking German! Though that's not surprising at all: this region happens to get plenty of tourists from Germany during the summer. I would think Germans living in Germany would take an interest in visiting the Moselle (as well as Alsace) given that these regions were once part of Germany and maintain plenty of German cultural elements (such as the food: beer, wurst, bretzel, sauerkraut, mushrooms, and flammeküche are everywhere).

I'm also loving the accessibility. No one needs a car to get around, as there are cheap buses and trains that can take you from Thionville to Metz and everywhere in between. I've been told it's much more expensive to own a car in the EU than in the US and it wouldn't surprise me, but given the efficiency of the mass transport it wouldn't matter. The infrastructure of the cities and towns tends to be very centralized though, which makes it easy to walk through but creates limits on how the land can be used (in other words, no one here other than farmers own over an acre of land, and while plenty of people grow gardens the plots are quite small).
Metz

I haven't been back to Paris in weeks. It turns out the SNCF workers began their strike the day before I was set to take another trip. Coming from the US, I'm definitely not used to seeing workers take those kinds of actions all the time. A common topic amongst American anarcho-syndicalists is how little unions and direct action by labor are present in the US, and the lack of a strong union culture creates a huge problem for advocates of militant unionism. (Granted, yes, most unions are not radical in their politics, but they exist. And yes, I also have my own critiques of contemporary anarcho-syndicalism, but I'll save that for another post.) The French Left may have legitimate problems - as far-leftists from elsewhere will eagerly point out - but I can't help but think the American Left's internal problems are even worse.

In many ways, I still feel as though most Americans are highly uncultured compared to the French, as we're never exposed to this amount of high art as the French appear to be. I almost feel ashamed whenever I come across a 16-year old reading a piece of classical literature or philosophy; in the US it's gotten to a point where reading is considered a niche hobby for hipsters. It makes me wonder why that sort of progressiveness and "cultured" environment is so heavily furthered. I guess it's easier to see how ideology functions when you're a spectator rather than a participant.

I'm making plans to visit Budapest this weekend, and after that I will be in the Languedoc for a week.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Quick Thought on Left-Wing Nationalists

Yesterday I was talking to a friend of mine (who is a Marxist-Leninist) about the problems that come with injecting hyper-nationalist tendencies into far-left political ideologies. Both of us see it every now and then in our respective circles, where self-proclaimed anarchists or Marxists will take stances on issues that are blatantly or subtly nationalistic moreso than they are anarchist or Marxist. To sum up his general views, this friend of mine used a quote by Fanon that we both like: "Nationalism is not a political doctrine, nor a program." Even under circumstances where national liberation struggles are arguably necessary, it's quite problematic to think of any sort of nationalistic tendencies as ends unto themselves.

A few months ago I wrote a short post that briefly dealt with the concept of progress and those who deny it (primarily under the guise of some belief in a static "human nature"). The same line of thinking should demonstrate some of the problems seen with far-left nationalism. In many cases, this way of thinking tends to cling to culture as it exists now, thereby resisting any attempts at moving in a more revolutionary direction. It could even be argued that the very basis of this ideology is dependent on breeding metaphysical aspects into particular nations or cultures (i.e. that nations or cultures are static, or ought to be static, because, well, just because). There is little to no understanding of how culture is, in the last instance, very much determined by relations of production, and will need to undergo a revolutionary change as the social relations of production in a socialist (be it state-socialist or libertarian socialist) system. (That isn't to say we shouldn't be defending peoples and cultures that are under attack, or that we shouldn't enjoy the better aspects of culture as they exist, but rather to understand these things so we don't romanticize the status quo and demand that these elements be preserved when the conditions move them away from their current state. It also doesn't mean some cultural elements shouldn't be used strategically as a means of winning people over to anarchism or Marxism, but again, that's not the point.)

I'll use an example: a while back, another very good friend of mine was debating alongside a radical feminist against one of these far-left nationalists on the topic of the Family Unit. Now, both my friend and this radfem were stating the obvious: the Family Unit, like most other aspects of culture, has been very much shaped by the dominant economic system and will almost certainly change as the dominant relations of production change. They were quoting Engels from Origin of the Family as well as some other texts concerning the role of women in feudalist and capitalist societies. However, this far-left nationalist - by the sound of it, at least - was in total denial: "Well, in MY CULTURE the Family is DIFFERENT!" She also accused both my friend and his feminist comrade of subtle racism. Now, I don't think anyone claims the makeup of the Family Unit is a monolith across all cultures, but to be that willfully ignorant of how economic and political structures very much determine the nature and makeup of family structures is pretty problematic from a Marxist or social anarchist point-of-view (this particular individual in question calls themselves both, for the record). This might not be the best example (I should probably use actual examples from history rather than the internet), but it shows the way attachment to nations or culture as some kind of metaphysical entity can offset the desire for progress.

So, in other words, the major problems with far-left nationalism as a political program are 1) it's reactionary, 2) it's undialectical, and 3) it has no real use beyond anti-colonial or anti-imperialist struggles.

I just wanted to finish off by saying: even though I strongly disagree with many elements of their theory and practice, I can respect left-wing nationalists who openly admit to being left-wing nationalists (after all, they might have decent reasons for taking that route); but when you try to saturate your hyper-nationalism with Marxism and anarchism, and then bash on Marxists and anarchists for rejecting your stance, that's just being hypocritical.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Barcelona is Bubbling

Reblogged from annarky:

The Can Vies, was an abandoned building in Sants district of Barcelona, owned by the city's transport authority, it was occupied in 1997 by young people as a protest against the lack of public facilities in this mainly working class area. It remained a squat and social centre since then until last week, when the authorities decided to evict the occupants.

What has followed has been three continuous nights of rioting, that has spread to other districts and pushed the authorities to bring the full force of their repressive regime to bear on the protesters.

Of course our babbling brook of bullshit the mainstream media, has not give it much cover, they never like to show people fighting back against any Western authority.

Spain, like Greece, is at the forefront of the Financial Mafia's looting attack, as the greed merchants attempt to plunder all public assets in rapid fashion. However, what the Financial Mafia should think on is, that when you have everything stolen from you, you have nothing to lose by fighting back. We should watch and prepare as the plundering is going on in all our countries, it is just at  a different pace, but the end result will be the same, poverty and deprivation for us, and unbridled wealth for the few, unless----
 
An extract from Anarchist News:
 If the chronicles of the recent events in Barcelona have turned into summaries and the summaries grow shorter, this does not reflect a diminishing of activity, but the contrary.
During the day, conversations among friends repeated what was more or less insurrectionary common sense: today is the key day. A riot continuing from one day to the next was unprecedented in Barcelona since the end of the dictatorship. Now, if it could continue for a third day, it would have the chance to expand. Otherwise, calm would be restored until the major protest convened for Saturday, politics as usual with or without riots. 
Until nightfall, normality reigned, although people across the city were discussing the events. In the evening, people gathered in many different neighborhoods. In Nou Barris, a potentially rebellious proletarian zone, a strong police presence prevented the gathering. In Sant Andreu, a gathering blocked a major avenue with burning dumpsters. Most other neighborhoods went to Sants, probably making things easier for the police to contain, but giving many first-time or unexperienced participants who did not yet feel prepared to take over their neighborhoods a chance to win street experience.---
Read the full article HERE:

Update from the Bourgeois Press: Squat Demolition Called Off After Four Nights of Rioting in Barcelona

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

France

I finally made it here, after a long and tiring trip, and an even longer hiatus. I flew into Paris from Boston on Wednesday morning, and stayed there for some time before boarding a train to Metz. One thing I noticed very quickly when on the metro from the airport to downtown was the amount of street art all over the buildings in that area; the only other place where I've seen murals and graffiti on every wall was the Bay Area in Northern California. All over the city were cafes, pastry shops, bread stands, and bicycles. Like New York - or even Boston or DC for that matter - elitism is everywhere. Paris is said to have the most magnificent buildings, prettiest streets, richest history...

To be honest though, I don't really like the American view of Paris. I don't want to visit this area as a tourist - I want to live here. It's the difference between being a spectator vs. being a participant; the spectator is not engaged in anything that isn't fully self-serving. I was embarrassed by the way the American tourists at the airport assumed everyone working at the airport or the métro spoke English. These tourists didn't even make an effort to speak French at all! It seems like such a waste, to arrive somewhere new and not even bothering to pick up the language(s) of the inhabitants.

Anyway, as I was waiting for the train to Metz, I stopped by a little convenience store in the station and saw walls of books for sale, works by Gide, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, all that classical French literature from the 20th century. I went to the magazines and found four different philosophy-related publications (two of them had Foucault on the cover, as it's been 30 years since his death) and several different ones dealing with history and world economy. This isn't to romanticize French culture too much - after all, they have their own issues - but it's not something you'd see at convenience stores in American rail stations.

I'm now living in a small village in Lorraine, north of Metz. This entire region is absolutely gorgeous - and I'm speaking as someone coming from a very scenic part of North America. Though the Moselle doesn't remind me that much of New England. Rather, it reminds me of the Mid-Atlantic: rolling green hills, farmland that never ends, a backdrop of mountains, industrial-style apartments, and old, abandoned factory buildings which can be seen from the railway.

One thing that does scare me being in the EU is how quickly EU states are moving to the far-right politically speaking. Just now, the fascist party swept the elections. (Granted, according to the statistics I've read, only 2/5ths of French eligible to vote actually voted, but still. Things do not look good.) It's frightening to see not just this country, but several places on the politically-created continent move in that direction. The re-emergence of fascism, the repressive apparatuses becoming all the more repressive, the general anger of the population and occasional riot: these are the telltale signs of capitalism in decay (at least, from the perspective of those living in a "first world" nation).

This past weekend I went back to Paris, as I was invited to a gathering at a coffee house with other far-left radicals. I arrived very late that evening as I made my way through the neighborhood where every wall was marked with graffiti or posters for ANTIFA demonstrations or folk concerts. While at the cafe, I found myself struggling to communicate, not just because of the language barrier (even though I'm certain most of the comrades there have some knowledge of English), but due to my insecurities. I have to continually remind myself that I'm far away from the life I had back in the States.

I'm reminded of when I was 18 and thought I could run away to Los Angeles right after high school - that is, if you count going to university on your parents' dime an act of "running away". Big, pompous cities tend to attract those sorts of people who are desperate to escape from whatever demons they possessed back when. The life of a drifter has always appeared as something fascinating in its own right: living without being tied to a particular place or lifestyle and all their obligations.

I'll keep everyone updated.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Stumbling

I'd like to give everyone an update about what I'm doing right now. I'm doing the final plans for my eventual move overseas, and am all set to leave next week, but that's not the primary reason why I'm missing-in-action right now. I'm also trying to finishing researching and writing this very long paper which I hope to eventually submit to a publication. I'm also working on a few other writing projects that I'll post on here once completed.

My May Day sucked. I fell ill as I came into Boston that day. When I got off the T on my way to Chelsea, I almost collapsed and took a second bus back to South Station. I wished the college-aged dude at the station's corner store a happy May Day. I should have probably told him about the events going on in Chelsea that day; maybe he would have joined in later on that evening.

This week I was out and about in downtown Salem, getting the stuff I need before I go overseas. When I was at the Tuscan Market I was approached by a Free Stater, who told me she recognized me from the internet. She was an agorist who went by the name of Eris (a name I thought was quite odd for her to adopt, considering how the agorá is usually promoted as an orderly and peaceful place of voluntary trading; of course, those of us who have studied Classical Athens will tell you it was not, but I digress). She rambled on about how "dirty" Salem is, and how she's planning to move up to Claremont or some other town up north. Well, there aren't any jobs up north; even if you're working underground you're not going to find many consumers since very few people have much money. Northern NH, aside from its beautiful scenery, is nothing but ghost towns, trailer parks, and vacation homes which remain empty for ten months out of the year, yet she claimed that's what she wanted. She told me of her time on an "agorist farm" in the Upper Valley where she tasted and purchased several bottles of raw - "real" - milk and untreated - "real" - well water, and how her experience was truly eye-opening for someone who had lived in a big city for most of their life. I take it these forms of commodity relations appear even when you're in a small-scale community away from mass advertising.

The other day I went to the doctor's to get blood work done. The young woman working as the receptionist happened to be a person I knew from high school. Neither she nor I liked each other very much then, and our encounter must have been as awkward for her as it was for me.