Tuesday, August 26, 2014

True Believers

There are some other things that have been on my mind lately.

The people who have been reading my blog since the beginning will know this. When I first became interested in Marxism-Leninism, it was not a "cool" thing thing to be. This was around 2007-2008 in a time when Ron Paul and his brand of free market libertarianism (or just his persona, more generally) were starting to become the big alternative to mainstream politics. Marxism had been virtually dead in the academy for fifteen years; it wasn't until right after the financial crisis hit that being a Marxist became fashionable again.

Now, when I worked primarily with these Marxist-Leninist groups, there were two kinds of people that I observed. The first were the Marxists who were openly authoritarian and power-hungry. These were the people who knew Marxist theory very well, and who would make their entire case for socialism based on Historical Materialism - the science of history - rather than what they continually denounced as "bourgeois morality". They desired an extremely hardline socialism complete with total control of the superstructure, reproducing the dominant communist ideology in order to interpellate us into good little revolutionary communist subjects.

Then there were the people who just wanted communism to hold their hand. These were the humanists, the Trotskyists, Luxemburgists, and "left communists" who read lots and lots of Marxist humanist authors and who made their entire case for socialism on ethical principles or Enlightenment ideas. This was the kind of socialism that would make its case based on human rights and international law and similar things. It was obvious that this was a rather touchy-feely conception of socialism, where the socialist state would act as something akin to a security blanket, protecting humanity from all the evil things in the world.

I will say this: I actually like the first group a lot better. This isn't because I agree with their authoritarianism, but because something about them makes me believe they are much more sincere. They practice what they preach. This may sound pretty facetious, but looking back, I find it very telling when leftists proclaim they understand theory but then resort to making their case for communism solely on wishy-washy ideas of ethics.

As well, I'm finding more and more anarcho-syndicalist/chomskyite types who start taking an interest in Frankfurt School writings. It surprises me, since most of these chomskyites tend to follow Chomsky's line on philosophy: dialectics are hard, psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience, Marx was a fraud, Hegel was a fraud, Freud was a fraud, anything from continental tradition is a gateway drug to fascism, and so on (granted, this is a bit of a hyperbole, but you get the point); on the other hand, the Frankfurt School were highly Freudian and took most of their Marxism from Marx's early writings, which were still pretty Hegelian. Then again, it's obvious that these people aren't reading that stuff for the Hegelianism or the Freudianism; they're reading it for the straight-up humanism.

Now, there were these socialists who took up a soft approach to things, and then there was another group that we thought was even worse: sociology undergrads. I didn't like most sociology majors - they were either some of my best friends at McDaniel or I couldn't stand listening to them. The primary reason for this was, they would do exactly what all good philosophers do not do: make profound statements about things they know very little about. Sure, they have all the statistics, but when you ask them about why certain societal phenomena happens, they always respond with: "It's just poverty! It's just divorce! It's just privileged people not checking their privilege enough!" These kinds of statements further my assertion about science never ever being able to replace philosophy - ever. And these are usually the same people who make statements about how communism has "never been tried" and were very quick to apologize for the horrible shit the Soviet Union did, i.e. "Leninism isn't real Marxism!". I actually find statements like that to be far more insulting to actual dedicated Marxists than the statements about Marxism being authoritarian.

Hell, I remember one time when I was in the Hoover Library reading through The German Ideology when I was approached by an acquaintance for a small conversation. When I asked her what she knew about Marxism, she admitted she didn't know all that much aside from the theory of alienation and whatnot. And I was thinking, trying to understand Marxism primarily through Marx's early works would be like trying to understand Christianity simply by reading the Gospel of Matthew. I know I shouldn't be making these kinds of judgements about how the field of sociology is taught at my alma mater when I've never taken a sociology course there, but still. I never liked the amount of super-sappy liberals I saw at my college.

Perhaps I should mention: up until my last semester at McDaniel (fall 2012) when I seriously began diving into Critical Theory, I actually had no problem with the views of many of these people. In fact, I would say all that theory lead me to destroy the market anarchist views I had once and for all.

I'll give another example that's much more telling. Last spring, I was sent a private message on reddit by a user who told me her life story (obviously this was before my account was shadowbanned). I'll just call her "Xanthippe" (a nice Ancient Greek name) to protect her identity. She messaged me because she saw my posts critiquing "anarcho"-capitalist ideology using many of those points from Critical Theory. Anyway, she told me that she grew up in a very right-wing household in the Midwestern US (Indiana I think, or maybe Michigan, I don't remember) with strict Evangelical parents who sent her and her siblings to private religious school. When she was in the 9th grade she was a free market libertarian who worked on the first Ron Paul campaign, and when she was in the 10th grade she became a full-fledged ancap. She said she was so overwhelmed by the ideology that she would spend days alone in her bedroom reading Rothbard, Mises, Hazlitt, all those people. As well, she would frequently debate other conservatives and right-libertarians whom she saw as being unprincipled. Xanthi, who was always pressured by her fanatical right-wing parents, felt the need to go above and beyond anything she did. After she graduated from her private Christian high school, she went to George Mason University in DC in order to dual-major in economics and history (as GMU's economics faculty is entirely Austrian Schooler and/or ancap). She said she wanted to be either an economist, or a historian who wrote world history through an ancap narrative, and use her position to take in lots of power within the academy. She got to know some of the more well-known professors in the Econ department, namely Caplan and Boettke, whom she admired at the time.

It was during her second semester at GMU when she had her nervous breakdown. What happened was, she was growing far more confused in her beliefs and values, like everything she had been conditioned to believe was slipping through her fingers. She felt as though her fellow Econ classmates - most of whom were also self-proclaimed ancappers - were very half-assed in their principles. She said she absolutely hated the "voluntaryists" who upheld the idea that a tyrannical state would be okay so as long as everyone voluntarily agreed to have one. To her, as someone who based her free market views on deontological ethics, that was a completely unprincipled position. But she kept seeing it again and again. She would show people from her Econ classes passages in Rothbard's writings about privatizing all sidewalks and businesspeople using private police to get rid of the homeless, and these other students would react in a very wishy-washy way. All of this lead Xanthi to seriously question what she had been taught. She felt so ill and confused that she withdrew from all of her classes and dropped out of the university, choosing to stay at her new boyfriend's apartment right outside of DC for the rest of the spring.

Her boyfriend, who, at the time, was a junior philosophy and religious studies major at GMU, was very much into postmodernism, of all things. During those spring and summer months, Xanthi read through some of the PoMo texts on his bookshelf, in particular, stuff by Foucault, Lyotard, and Baudrillard. Over time, she said, reading these texts was a giant breath of fresh air that cleared up a lot of the things lingering in her mind. She knew for certain she could never go back to the "Gods and markets" way of thinking in which she had been stuck. Contrary to what her GMU Econ professors were saying, it's not just the Federal Reserve manipulating the interest rate that's the problem, it's this whole damn culture that's the problem, as she now understood. These classical liberal values championed by most ancappers were fully and utterly obsolete. In the West, we had the Enlightenment where we destroyed the power of the king, destroyed the power of the Church, decided we would have private property, free markets, and free minds that would now be ruled by Reason and Logic rather than the superstitions of the past. Now that we've had the Enlightenment, we have a whole new set of problems we have to deal with that we're still dealing with (for the record, this is exactly what Critical Theory talks about).

Xanthippe told me she still lives in the DC area with her boyfriend and plans on returning to GMU as a history or psychology major. She frequently goes back to the campus, where she occasionally meets freshmen enrolled in GMU's economics courses. For her, it's very strange to see young people fresh out of high school who are just getting interested in free market dogmas. She told me she tells them something along the lines of: "You know, that according to Rothbard, landlords who own entire roads and sidewalks in an 'anarcho'-capitalist utopia have the power to forcefully remove homeless people from those sidewalks, right? And they can create racially-segregated communities just fine, right? And ocean privatization is a-okay, right? And this isn't from one of those more obscure theorists, but one of your primary authors, right?" Now she's convinced that many of these students don't really believe in anything, but are merely attracted to this ideology because it seems edgy and "cool" and is a nice way to freak out their parents and come across as intellectual (albeit, a pseudo-intellectualism full of buzzwords and poor understanding of social theory) at the same time. If they were serious about it, she thinks, they wouldn't be trying to sugar-coat everything. In fact, she related her experience with these "edgy" GMU students back to what read in Baudrillard: nothing has meaning anymore; the horribly commodified society has made it impossible to be truly original or authentic, because the market and other ideological apparatuses have already dictated our lives and our way of thinking. Everything is a simulation, and in this case, it's no different. These university students are really just hipsters who have taken on a warped way of thinking because it resembles a paradigm shift, but in actuality, it merely reinforces the same paradigms that brought us to where we are now.

Who Xanthippe really is, or whether she's an allegory for multiple people whose stories all share similar elements, doesn't matter. Her story is not something hard to understand.

What I mean to say with all of this is, there's a lot of people who are politically active who really do mean what they preach. Philosophy isn't some harmless thing that no one really gives a shit about, and the people I know who understand this don't need others trying to explain things away. This may rustle more than a few people's jimmies but, I want to give a big middle finger to all the whiny college kids who try to apologize for individuals taking philosophy seriously. If you don't adhere to the science of history, if you make essentialist and teleological statements about "the working class" or "the oppressed" having some natural impulse to rise up and demand their self-management and are therefore alarmed by ideology which denies it, and if you're terrified of the fact that authoritarian Marxist-Leninists would actually practice what they preach, start fucking fighting all of this shit. Just sitting on the fence like this...

But I digress.

Monday, August 25, 2014


A few days ago, I was talking to a friend of mine about the topic of suicide. With everything that's been in the news about Robin Williams and suicide prevention and whatnot, she mentioned her anger at the way this topic is presented in public discourse. Mainly, she expressed a real contempt for all the quasi-hysteria that the media tends to engender. She had dealt with suicide several times in her life: her father killed himself when she was very young, and her high school dealt with several student suicides (one of them being her best friend's boyfriend) during her years of attendance. Now, she grew up in a rural part of Pennsylvania where unemployment, drug use, and suicide are quite high compared to the rest of the country, and all have become normalized in a way. Though she did mention, the way suicide is talked about always appears either as condemnation ("you're so selfish") or as the topic of hysteria. And I agree with her: suicide causes a rupture in society. For a moment, people see how life doesn't always have a happy ending. Then, there is the drive to understand why the person in question did this, hence the hysteria aspect; people demand to know what creates a suicidal individual, and attempt to shoehorn the details of that person's existence into a logical framework aptly explaining why they chose to take their own life.

Now, my friend's field is English literature and mine is philosophy, so the two of us were exposed to many of the same paradigms while in college. Both of us spoke of the dramatic suicides found in Classical Greek drama (as a classical civilizations minor, I can tell you Ancient Greece was very much a shame-culture, and individuals would often kill themselves when they lost their honor). In this, there is the image of the fallen hero, a formerly noble individual who falls from grace and ends up dead by their own hands to escape the shame. My friend related it to literature and popular culture today, where suicide has become romanticized in a sense. All the time, you see the trope of the troubled genius who kills themselves in order to escape the same pain that inspires them. Even writers, philosophers, musicians, and other public figures who killed themselves, like Virginia Woolf, Walter Benjamin, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, Guy Debord, etc., are given this martyr status. Hipster subculture, in particular, tends to heavily glamourizing suicide and death in this way. (Mind you, it should be understood that hipsterdom isn't just a fashion statement but a cultural phenomenon, arguably created from the ashes of meaning and purpose that market forces have been destroying for over 30 years.)

I would argue, both the hysteria surrounding suicide as well as its romanticization by hipsters are very much the result of the way our culture talks about death. I personally don't feel as though we talk about death in the right way; it's either outright fear and hatred of death, or silence on the topic (after all, silence is discourse). Suicide, in particular, is rarely mentioned at all. From what I've witnessed myself, the ethical debate surrounding suicide is almost always based on those same abstract ideas of rights and bodily autonomy ("Do you have the right to take your own life?"). One immediately sees how the discussion is framed, with the all-autonomous individual who bases their decision on logic, and if they do end up taking their own life, their decision must come with a reason that can be shoehorned into the mold of logic. I must ask if this is truly the best way to talk about the subject. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of any discussion on suicide is the realization that, regardless of ethic judgements and arbitrary ideas of rights, one can opt-out of their existence entirely. What does that say about our culture's views on death - and life?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Video: Cops Use Teargas on PEACEFUL Protesters (Ferguson, MO)

Unarmed Black teen shot dead, city takes action against the pigs, city faces marshal law: welcome to 2014's Amerika.

Here are a few infographics on how to deal with tear gas.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Budapest and Some Others

I spent almost a week in Hungary, namely the cities of Budapest and Dunaújváros.

Many McDaniel students want to attend and end up attending the college's European campus in Budapest. Several of my friends from the school told me of their semesters there with all the partying, drinking, and being lost in remote parts of the city where few people understood English. Indeed, Budapest today appears to be a hipster city, where young, 20-something expatriates go to live when they want to escape the US. After all, the city is cheap, as are most places in Eastern Europe.

Dunaújváros, on the other hand, would be classified as "Rust Belt": it was established as a city during the early socialist period in Hungary (my friend Kristof, whom I stayed with, told me its original name literally translated to "Stalin City") and its economy was primarily based on the giant steel mill in the middle of town. Work was, for the most part, sex-segregated, with men working in steel and women in clothing and shoes. With the fall of communism, Dunaújváros went to hell. A large amount of workers lost their jobs and pensions. Today, much of the remaining industry is owned by Ukrainian oligarchs. As well, there's a shopping mall in the center of town (something I learned was, shopping malls are often seen by Hungarians as hated symbols of Western capitalism overtaking the fallen Eastern Bloc). Unsurprising, the people tend to be very nostalgic for the Kadar era.

Staying in Hungary for a few days, I also learned of modern Hungarian politics. Yes, there is a fascist political party with a decent amount of popular support. Yes, the Hungarian prime minister is a crypto-fascist, going so far as to call for the end of "Western democracy". Yes, the fascist party has links to Golden Dawn and other far-right parties throughout Europe.

In Budapest, I was taken to see all the sights downtown: the parliament, the riverside, Blaha. Daniel and I even ventured into the anarchist neighborhood, which lies in an older part of of the city. In that area you see the perfect metaphor for the city: old buildings on one side, new "modern" style apartment buildings made for the wealthy and a shopping mall on the other. The new capitalists seem eager to do away with Hungary's socialist past, as everything in the city is transitioning to a new era of Western capitalism and nationalism.

 I don't have much more to say except for the delicious food and kind people I met during my stay.

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

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.

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)


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).

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.