Autonomy: an idea whose time has come

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I'll be reading the Ciudad futura site. For far too long, the Argentine left has been under the influence of "left Peronists". I hope this can mean a real break from that history.

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..hope you share your thoughts when you do lagatta. :)

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Working Class Movement Must Be Independent

A new chapter in the history of the South African working class was opened in Soweto on 21-22 July 2018, when representatives from over 147 South African working-class formations represented by 1000 delegates assembled to unite workplace and community struggles.

It made huge strides forward to lay the foundations for building a new, independent, democratic and militant mass working-class movement to turn the tide against the attacks on jobs and living standards which are pushing more and more South Africans into poverty and despair.

This assembly of the working class, rural poor, the downtrodden and marginalized brought together formations that have never met under the same roof before. It was historic and unprecedented that 147 formations of the working class would meet as equals with mutual respect of one another and in search of a common ground.

This Working Class Summit (WCS) was characterized by a commitment to unite working class formations, the employed and unemployed workers, those in the informal sector and in more secure work, the students and the landless, the homeless and those fighting against the water crisis and the scourge of violence against women and children, into mass campaigns to struggle for a truly free, just, democratic and equal society.

As SAFTU President Mac Chavalala said in his rousing keynote speech:

“As the working class we have been on a junk status for far too long. We are not here to moan but to announce a radical and revolutionary programme that will unite ourselves behind common demands and mass programme of mobilization.

“Our warning to all those who seek to keep the status quo is simple – the holiday is over! From now going forward, we will engage you in the streets and the boardrooms.”

Capitalism is the Common Cause of Our Misery

The Working Class Summit not only endorsed the binding principles around which it will unite such as anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-patriarchy and anti-xenophobia, but unanimously agreed that capitalism is the common cause of the misery experienced by the majority.

There was unanimous agreement that the working class movement must be independent and adopt a bottom up approach to democracy. In that regard the Working Class Summit agreed to build the working class power in every workplace, in every community and society in general to defeat the logic of capitalist accumulation that has not only pauperized workers across the continent but it has caused the widest inequality and deepest poverty ever recorded in the history of humankind.

It was resolved to convene working class assemblies across the country, in cities and towns, factories and farms, townships and informal settlements to deliberate on how to unite struggles of the poor. South Africa is the protest capital of the world but these struggles have tended to remain localized and movements fragmented. A special appeal was made for trade unionists to become active in these struggles because they are members of communities before they are unionists. In this way, the foundations of the all-important unity of the working class can be established....

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No Future: From Punk to Zapatismo and Connected Multitudes

Amador Fernández-Savater speaks to Catalan-Mexican writer and activist Guiomar Rovira about collective action, technologies, the online, “off-life” divide and more.


Amador Fernández-Savater: “Activist networks” is how you characterize the first historical period described in your book. One of its fundamental ingredients was punk, something that you personally experienced while living in Barcelona during the eighties. How did punk influence the creation of these networks?

Guiomar Rovira: I like it that you want to start there. “No future” is one of the most important messages in punk. In a way, contemplating that “there is no future” opens up a new politics, a much more prefigurative politics. It’s no longer a question of waiting and dreaming of utopias, but of doing what we need to do here and now, and in the ways we can and want to. We’re not waiting for further instructions or permissions to get started. We will take ownership of music and spaces. In punk, anyone can pick up a guitar while someone else starts singing, speaking, doing. This is where we find the DIY spirit, with whatever you have at hand. The cultural becomes political: it is a way to exit the defined boundaries of the system that constantly procrastinates and sacrifices in service to the promise of a non-existent future.In that sense, from fanzines to squatting, punk is very rich. There is no future, so we have to live. Now. There is no housing, so we have to squat buildings. It’s a movement that also becomes transnational, not embedded in state or national structures but in the spaces in the cities, in the creation of networks. An extended sense-making community. A global movement with its local appropriations, one that needs not ask permission to build a politics and ways of making culture and communicating. A movement where anyone can say what they want to say.

In that sense, from fanzines to squatting, punk is very rich. There is no future, so we have to live. Now. There is no housing, so we have to squat buildings. It’s a movement that also becomes transnational, not embedded in state or national structures but in the spaces in the cities, in the creation of networks. An extended sense-making community. A global movement with its local appropriations, one that needs not ask permission to build a politics and ways of making culture and communicating. A movement where anyone can say what they want to say.

In a way, punk prefigures the hacker mentality. At that time, I was part of a magazine called Lletra A. We made it by cutting and pasting the whole thing manually. We also had a very important network for occupying houses in Barcelona. We opened our modest self-organised social center, el Anti. The idea was, “there is no future, let’s build our lives now”. It wasn’t limited to counter-information, it was about creating a distinct ecosystem....

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Zapatismo and the Hope International

Amador: There is a second social movement that would be central to the creation of those activist networks. I’m referring to Zapatismo which, unlike punk, wouldn’t be a “dark” movement. Zapatismo opens a horizon of hope, removed from the metropolis. What can you tell us about the relation between Zapatismo, technologies and communication?

Guiomar: We have to take into account that in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and we lived in a unipolar world marked by the “end of history”. But suddenly, from the most surprising and unexpected place, there is rebellion, hope, and a movement that speaks to us, and where I found myself.

I feel that the significance of Zapatismo is that it allowed for a global common framework. This was a moment marked by despondency across all struggles: the global left was despondent, the Latin American guerrillas were in the doldrums, and so on.  Suddenly, an interpellating framework that rescued us from isolated processes of resistance was born. A framework for active mobilization that allows many different struggles to have a shared sense of identity and a common foe. It is humanity against neoliberalism, the Zapatistas say. And who proposed this framework? The indigenous peoples of Chiapas, the most forgotten, the smallest, coming from a corner of the world where many weren’t even aware that there were indigenous communities, or resistance, or the possibility of struggle.

This was still a global media event, accordingly relayed by traditional mass media (newspapers, radio, television). The World Wide Web was barely a year old, hardly anyone was using it. After a few days, though, the newspapers and radio dropped the story. Nevertheless, people sought ways to keep abreast and intervene in what was happening in Chiapas, supporting this rebellion as a locus of hope for the world.

Amador: This is when the appropriation of the Internet takes place. At that time, it was a new means of communication. How did that come about?

Guiomar: The appropriation was almost natural, spontaneous even. Given the lack of information from the traditional media, alternative media moved to occupy that space. Like many others present, I was participating and publishing in hegemonic media, important newspapers…but I was also sending a wealth of information to alternative radio stations, alternative media, fanzines…

In the midst of all this, these gringos (sometimes gringos can also bring about good things!) kept telling us, “you have to use the Internet”. They were the first hackers, tramping around with their spiky hair, installing modems and strange artefacts in your computer. We had no clue what those maniacs were on about. Less than three months later, we were all using the Internet. When I say “all”, I’m referring to the journalists, the NGOs, the activists. The first websites covering the revolution in Chiapas appeared spontaneously. Some US students decided to follow the situation and began publishing the EZLN’s communiqués. These were sent by fax and then published in the website (called Ya Basta). More people turned up spontaneously and started translating to English, French…

That is how information began to be shared and an informational scaffolding was built around the situation in Chiapas. This was huge: at that time the Mexican government was still quite invested in pushing a positive image internationally (that is no longer the case). But information was not the only thing circulating; many people were travelling to Chiapas, visiting the communities, and generating even more information. There were inputs and outputs, a communicative atmosphere supporting an indigenous rebellion and indigenous rebellion proposing the idea that another world is possible. An interpellation finding resonance in many places around the world and allowing for common action, aside from any differences in our ways of doing.

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Building the Future

Around the world, new municipal movements are transforming the way we provide – and think about – housing. From campaigning against evictions to innovative forms of public housing to requisitioning empty properties and engaging many more people in decisions about how and where we live, municipal projects are responding to the global housing crisis, locally.

In Hungary, A Varos Mindenkie (The City is For All), an action group of people who have experienced homelessness and their allies, has been campaigning for an end to evictions and housing rights. In Romania, Căși Sociale ACUM! (Social Housing NOW!) campaigns for housing justice.

In the US, the Richmond Progressive Alliance has introduced rent controls and measures to protect tenants from eviction. The alliance’s housing action team is transforming abandoned properties into affordable housing, pushing the local school district to complete a housing project for teachers, and exploring ways to encourage homeowners to take advantage of new laws designed to make it easier for people to build accessory dwelling units (often known as ‘granny flats’ in the UK), one of the cheapest ways to provide affordable homes.

The path to rent control wasn’t smooth – early attempts to impose rent controls were blocked by the California Landlord Association. It became a key issue in the 2016 municipal elections, and with pro bono legal help and support from the Service Employees Union as well as other community organisations, Richmond became one of the first cities in California to pass rent control in 30 years. The town’s February 2018 State of the City report showed the impact: average rents were down 11 per cent from September 2016, the first rent control board was operating, and funds for affordable housing were being spent on new public housing. Now the alliance is working to appeal Costa-Hawkins, a 1995 California law allowing landlords who rent single-family houses to raise rents without limits, exempting them from rent-control laws that now apply to flats....

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Jackson Rising


The Jackson-Kush Plan

The Jackson-Kush Plan is a strategy for building an unapologetically revolutionary movement that doesn’t just make promises about the future, but has a method for delivering in the present. Developed by the MXGM from the early 2000’s and made public in 2012, the Plan draws on centuries of political organising, reaching back to the National Negro Convention Movement (between 1831-1864), the establishment of the Freedom Farm Cooperative in 1969, and the efforts in local self-governance driven by NAPO and the Republic of New Afrika (RNA).

The Plan is built around three fundamental pillars ‘designed to build a mass base with the political clarity, organizational capacity, and material self-sufficiency to advance the objective of building an autonomous power’ in Jackson and the broader Kush region. These pillars include the ‘Building of a Broad-based Solidarity Economy; the Building of People’s Assemblies; and the Building of an Independent Black Political Party.’ Although the landslide elections of both Lumumba and Lumumba Jr. are important, they have to be understood in the context of this broader plan.


Building People’s Assemblies

The People’s Assembly in Jackson developed as a popular response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and follows in the tradition of the Black Liberation Movement’s efforts of self-determination. The MXGM define a mass peoples’ assembly as the bringing together of at least one fifth of the population of a given territory (such as a neighbourhood, district, or city) to address essential social issues. This means orientating towards ‘developing solutions, strategies, action plans and timelines to change various socio-economic conditions in a desired manner, not just hearing and/or giving voice to the people assembled’.

Currently gathering on a quarterly basis, with the will of the assembly acted on by a series of committees that collectively form the “People’s Taskforce”, the Assembly has two broad functions. Firstly, it’s a vehicle for initiating ‘self-organized’ social projects, which range from forming people’s self-defence campaigns to organising housing occupations. Secondly, it operates to exert pressure on existing government structures, ranging from coordinating direct action campaigns through to boycotts or non-compliance campaigns.

Whilst the Peoples’ Assembly is a direct organising tool, it’s also another component of the ‘consciousness raising’ that it is hoped can be achieved through the practices of the solidarity economy. The Peoples’ Assembly – and any other participatory democratic process for that matter – is seen as embryonic of new forms of collective self-governance. The Assembly is both an experiment in exercising leverage over existing conditions, and a process of learning new ways to govern.

Building a Black Independent Political Party

The third pillar of the project demands ‘engaging electoral politics on a limited scale with the express intent of building radical voting blocs and electing candidates drawn from the ranks of the Assemblies themselves’. Where the majority Black population has been routinely exploited, beaten and oppressed by the state apparatus, the decision to occupy established state institutions is contentious. Yet as the Plan cautiously outlines, ‘we have learned through our own struggles – and through our analysis of the experiences of many other revolutionary or liberation movements – we ignore the power of the state at our own peril’.

Crucially, the role of the municipal institutions is not to ‘deliver socialism’ on behalf of its citizens: there is no belief that revolutionary change will be delivered through the electoral system. Rather, the municipal institutions are engaged initially as a defensive effort ‘to negate its repressive powers and to contain the dictatorial power and ideological influence of monopoly capital in Mississippi’. On the other hand, it is hoped that through rejecting established political parties and running candidates selected from the movement, it will prove possible to ‘create political openings that provide a broader platform for future struggles to be waged to restore the “commons”, to create more public utilities (i.e. universal health care and comprehensive public transport), and for the democratic transformation of the economy’.

Most immediately – in practice – this looks like promotion of a procurement policy that prioritises the solidarity economy, the development of a “cooperative incubator” that provides a range of start-up services for cooperative enterprises, supporting the establishment of a legally recognized ‘human rights charter’ that must be adhered to in future council policy, the roll-out of participatory budgeting, formally recognising and responding to the Peoples’ Assembly processes, and re-municipalising services from water management to energy production.

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..2.5 min video

New Municipalism

Stir to Action has worked in partnership with the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort University in Leicester to produce a new video resource for the municipalist movement. The video was inspired by CURA’s Municipal Socialism in the 21st Century even in June 2018, and highlights the latest concepts in the movement, summarising why it is growing, and explains some of its main concerns.

We have created this resource for all of us to use, to help others understand the key thinking behind this transformative politics. We actively encourage you to use it yourselves and share it with others. We hope you find it useful in lectures, at conferences, on educational programmes, on your website, in your news stories, or simply to share over your social media.

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Amara Enyia running for mayor in Chicago. Election to be held in Feb/19.



That neoliberal philosophy looks like:

• Half-baked ‘big projects,’ while potholes gather and grow
• Plans to put the City billions further into debt on terms only a banker could love

To set good financial terms municipalities have to ensure banks receive regular payments, transferring income and wealth from taxpayers through the government into banks and bondholder accounts.

Any threat to those payments, the rating goes down, interest goes up and more tax dollars go to the banks. That’s what I call a rigged system.
Of course, we have an answer – a public bank. Imagine -a bank whose allegiance is – not to profit – but to the public.

A Bank of Chicago will allow us to finance our own projects without paying a fortune in tax dollars to private banks in contrived fees and service payments. It could actually generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of millions of dollars in savings.

We believe in an inclusive economy that can reverse decades of stagnant incomes and the continued decline of far too many communities – an economy that actually builds generational wealth from the ground up and rebuilds the fabric of communities. That’s why I propose making Chicago the number one city in the country for cooperative economic models – worker-owned cooperatives, community land trusts, housing cooperatives –enterprises that are democratically owned and operated, that build community ownership and wealth- for a Chicago that is inclusive, thriving, and strong, This is the vision for our future....

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LA Voters to Consider Creating Nation’s First Municipal Public Bank

A charter amendment that will go before Los Angeles voters on November 6 could put LA on track to create the nation’s first municipal public bank. If created, the bank would put public dollars, that’s things like tax dollars and electric bills, into the hands of public officials. Proponents of the historic measure say that unlike for profit banks, which finance things like weapons manufacturers and fossil fuel extraction, the public bank would make loans to LA for things like public education and transit and invest in solutions to issues like homelessness and climate change.


DHARNA NOOR: Yeah. Here in Baltimore we’re intimately familiar with some of the dangers of big banks like Wells Fargo operating with near impunity. Baltimore is the birthplace of the subprime mortgage crisis. In 2012, they agreed to pay a one hundred seventy five million dollar settlement because they steered mostly Black people into subprime loans. But if this amendment passes, if Charter Amendment B passes, what exactly would it do? What would the path to the creation of a public bank look like?

PHOENIX GOODMAN: That’s a good question. The Charter Amendment B is actually pretty simple and a really low hanging fruit towards a much longer process for the ultimate success. All it does is it removes a single barrier in the amendment to allow this discussion to begin. Right now, the city cannot engage in commercial enterprises, as the charter currently states, and it would simply amend that to create an exception for a public bank. Once that’s created or passed, assuming it passes, there’s going to be a whole slew of steps ahead; creating a business plan, creating a new type of charter at the state level and other details like that that will have to unfold over the next few years until the bank is actually created. But Charter Amendment B is the very first step in beginning that process.


And it’s one of those rare cases where we can have our cake and eat it too, because unlike other social programs which require increased taxes and spending in order to get funds, because this would be a public sector bank that would produce profits, all the interest that we currently pay to Wells Fargo – which by the way, in Los Angeles, it’s 1.1 billion dollars a year to the various Wall Street firms, including Wells Fargo, that we pay for infrastructure or on interest – that would be recaptured by the public bank. And instead of going to their quarterly profits, which end up getting either sent to offshore tax havens or reinvested it into weapons and private prisons and all the other things that they invest in, or their bonuses that are unearned, that would be recaptured by the city, and then can be used to reinvest.

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Cape Town Housing Movement Uses Occupy Tactics to Battle Apartheid's Legacy

“It was an important milestone and victory for poor and working class people in the struggle for decent affordable housing,” members of a housing activist group in Cape Town, South Africa, called Reclaim the City, said following a recent municipal government announcement to build hundreds of social housing apartments in the Waterfront area of the city center.

This news this fall was testament to the pressure mounted by the housing movement that continues to make ground in a city still strongly divided by racial inequality. Founded two years ago, Reclaim the City employs a broad range of tactics that include occupying government land and leading a popular participative movement of tenants and workers. Their movement works outside the city's institutions to pressure action, demonstrating an effective pathway and model for radical municipalism.

The long walk to equality

Social movements that succeed pushing cities to build social housing in central, desirable locations is an achievement anywhere. In Cape Town, it is more remarkable and desperately needed. The city is built on structural racism, which was set into law during South Africa's apartheid period of 1948 to 1994.

Now, a quarter of a century after the fall of apartheid, the city still faces a long journey toward economic equality. The legacy of apartheid remains especially visible in the realm of housing, which makes Cape Town's decision even more notable a milestone.


Inequality is particularly stark in Cape Town. Billionaires moor their super-yachts in the same Waterfront area where the new social houses are to be built. It is truly a tale of two cities: the whites with money shop and relax in the Waterfront area, while the predominantly poorer black population travels for hours to reach work in the same Waterfront area. This type of inequality has only been compounded by Cape Town's recent drought.

Occupying 'public land' to make it public

Reclaim the City was born in early 2016, founded by Ndifuna Ukwazi, a clinic of lawyers who advocate on behalf of social justice issues and provide information for community activism and human rights. Conceived of as a tenant and workers movement, its first aim was to pressure the government to turn publicly held land into social housing rather than sell it off to developers.

In autumn 2016, the local government was far from interested in listening to Reclaim the City. Members of the organization visited municipality offices to discuss turning the former site of a school into social housing. But the city refused to even come down from their offices for the meeting. So Reclaim the City occupied the building's lobby.

Reclaim the City has not only held sit-ins in government offices. They have also occupied empty publicly owned properties. One example is the abandoned Helen Bowden Nurse's Home, a Waterfront property occupation that Cape Town's premier wants to end.

In March 2017, people who lacked affordable housing occupied the buildings that formerly housed nurses. The site had been deemed suitable for social housing as early as 2012, but the Western Cape government had ignored the proposal.

Along with the occupation, Reclaim the City is also pushing through official channels. For instance, it wrote to the city's deputy mayor about converting a plot of public land in the Green Point area into public housing.

Ndifuna Ukwazi, which translates as "dare to know," carries out strategic litigation including cases aimed at pushing for the right to housing, and often takes claims from residents to challenge specific housing sales or evictions. Recently the group uncovered how the local government drastically undersold a large plot of Cape Town to a developer.

The occupied former nurses' home has become a focal point in the Cape Town housing struggle. Controversies surround the occupation; one being the unanswered questions around a dubiously expensive security contract taken out by the municipality. One of the security contractors is accused of murdering a Reclaim the City activist, Zamuxolo Dolophini....

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Translocal Solidarity and the New Municipalism

The Fearless Cities gathering, hosted by Barcelona en Comú in June 2017, made it clear that the “new municipalism” is not peculiar to the Spanish context: more than 700 people from around the world attended the event. Initiatives such as Massa Critica (Naples, Italy), Ciudad Futura (Rosario, Argentina), Beirut Madinati (Beirut, Lebanon), Zagreb Je Nas (Zagreb, Croatia), and the Jackson-Kush Plan/Cooperation Jackson (Jackson, Mississippi) demonstrated that the municipality is becoming a strategically crucial site for the organization of transformative social change.

What also became clear at Fearless Cities is that, while there is no blueprint for what a municipalist strategy looks like, there are some undeniable commonalities between movements that arose completely autonomously of one another. Certain debates or currents seem to animate these diverse movements in different ways, such as a commitment to disrupt the form of local-state infrastructure in an effort to distribute power and decision-making, the active support and promotion of the commons and solidarity economy, and an effort to feminize politics.


The Dangers of Entering the Institutions

The problem — at least as it has been experienced in the Spanish context — is that as soon as movements look to “scale up” their politics to the regional or national level, they rapidly lose the very qualities and capacities that defined them as transformational. This has been the case both in Barcelona, with the movement’s engagement in the Catalonian regional administration, and for those coming from A Coruña organizing at the Galician level. Seemingly inevitably, there are certain dynamics that start to develop once one loses the ability to work closely with other activists and start developing more hierarchical and independent structures.

When municipalist movements speak of feminizing politics, for instance, the emphasis is on fundamental changes to politics itself — inserting empathy into the core of political action, questioning traditional understandings of strong leadership, learning how to distribute power throughout society, and decentering the role of institutions towards the horizon of collective self-governance. The reality is that developing this politics of care takes a lot of time and energy. It is no coincidence that as soon as one starts trying to win power at “higher” levels of government, organizations become more hierarchical, men usually take the lead, discourses become more theoretical, and urgency tends to trump trust in collective intelligence.

Something similar happens when one enters formal institutions, even local ones — once you are in, they simply swallow you. People are absorbed by the dynamics of a machine that is designed to process things in a standardized way; to divide the public from the private; to adapt the rhythm of politics to the rhythm of bureaucracy; to distinguish people according to their position and block dialogue between those at different levels.

As an activist involved within Massa Critica put it, “the idea is to be prepared not only to win something, but immediately to change it. If we think that we win and we change the world — or our country, or our city — only by going to manage it, we fail.” If we really want to transform these institutions, it is crucial to stay grounded in everyday life outside of the institutions. This means finding ways to open up institutions, to generate new relationships with social movements and — very importantly — with those ordinary citizens who are not mobilized.

The central question thus becomes: at what scale are we able to conduct these transformative political experiments? Or, conversely, at what political scale are our experiments most likely to have a transformative impact? This is not to ignore the realities of how power currently functions — one cannot pretend that the nation-state, amongst other scales, does not clearly delineate many of the ways municipalities can act — but to pose the municipal scale as a fundamental starting point for the organization of transformative change.

We can see this commitment to a prefigurative politics running through global municipalist movements. As one municipalist organizer from Madrid has suggested, municipalism “is not a way to implement the ‘state conception’ of the world at a smaller scale. It’s a way to actually modify this level of the local government into something that is different.”

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In Rosario, Argentina, the movement-party Ciudad Futura had around ten years of experience in developing social infrastructure — such as secondary schools, farms, food cooperatives and construction cooperatives — when they successfully stood a number of councilors in the 2013 elections. Last year, one of their councilors suggested that:

when social movements start to contest the institutional arena, we don’t want to appropriate or monopolize these constructs or these experiences in any way, as the state would usually do. Rather, we want to do the opposite, to develop and expand the diverse social management that exists from within the state apparatus.

The demand to simply “scale up” municipalism, which tends to be based on a vision where the local state is considered an instrument or tool to be wielded differently on behalf of the working class, is in significant danger of misinterpreting what many within these initiatives are looking to achieve. If we instead view the local state as a set of processes and relationships, the emphasis of politics thus becomes — at least in part — to attempt to substitute the old ways of how we relate to one another (as service users, as managers, as decision makers, as representatives, as voters, and so on), with new processes and relationships that are more horizontal, open, deliberative and in touch with ordinary people.

In this sense, the municipalism of the international Fearless Cities network is quite different from simply winning locally and doing the same that parties would traditionally do, but just better. More than simply implementing more innovative leftist policies locally, they are aiming to change how to do politics to begin with. They recognize that one cannot keep on trying the same recipes and waiting for something different to happen. But this is also why the municipalist movements are works in progress: there are no roadmaps or blueprints to work with.

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture now when i look at the new van city council and mayor i will ask what are they changing? how are they transforming the city way of doing things. last post on the above piece.


Towards a Politics of Scaling-Out 

This emphasis on transformation that characterizes these new municipalist movements seems particularly important, then, in challenging us to think differently about internationalism. Firstly, and this is a simple but important point, we may need to reconsider the term internationalism, which of course means “between nations,” and consider substituting it with the idea of “translocal solidarity” — or something along these lines — to speak to the idea of a broader transformative movement that is firmly rooted within local context.

Of course, it is not the words that are fundamentally important here, but the broader challenge to the “state conception” that leaves intact certain inherited scalar understandings of power. If this conventional state conception demands that we overcome the limitations of municipalist institutions through scaling up — that is, focusing on governing at a “higher” level — then perhaps the more prefigurative municipalist approach should start thinking in terms of “scaling out.”

While it might sound a bit clunky, it is important to understand that these municipalist initiatives are not just rolling out some pre-existing political strategy based on inherited understandings. They are trying to think and act differently. Consequently, any internationalist political project that begins with these municipalist initiatives is liable to look quite different, challenging some of our deeply ingrained assumptions about organizing beyond borders. Again, this is a process of learning by doing, and one that has to constantly negotiate the tensions between the world as it is and the world we are trying to create.

Perhaps the best way to start fleshing out our understanding of what it would mean to “scale out” is thus to start with questions that many within these movements are asking themselves: how do we, as municipalist movements, meaningfully act in solidarity with one another? How can all these “small” acts of transformation become something greater than the sum of their parts? How can we amplify our successes, so that they “trickle outwards” and strengthen the capacity of others to organize?

Can our municipalist strategies develop “transversal” identities based not on where we are from, but where we live and what we participate in? Can this logic erode identities based on borders and boundaries? It is through producing answers to these questions in practice that we can begin to develop an answer to a broader question: what is it that allows us to talk about this as a transmunicipal social movement with the potential to drive deep and broad-based social change?

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As many as 5 socialists could join City Council after election successes Tuesday

If their success on Tuesday carries over to the April runoff election, as many as five members of the Democratic Socialists of America could be on the Chicago City Council — the most in more than a century.

Two won aldermanic seats outright. Three others made the runoffs.

“The oligarchs are shaking in their boots tonight,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) told supporters Tuesday at Puebla Restaurant celebrating his re-election over challenger Amanda Yu Dieterich. “Our continued organizing and movement-building over the last four years is paying dividends. And it appears to be a total transformation of political power at City Hall from the bottom up.”

Rosa is one of the two members of the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America who got the majority vote needed to win without a runoff. The other, Daniel La Spata, upset Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno in the Near Northwest Side’s 1st Ward.


“Chicago had a way of doing politics, and I feel like that died tonight,” Rodríguez-Sánchez said. “I’m very very confident that I’m going to win” in April.

Byron Sigcho-Lopez, who heads the Pilsen Alliance, credited the socialist organization — which says it’s not a party but instead a “political and activist organization” — with helping him in the race for the seat vacated by retiring Ald. Danny Solis (25th). Sigcho-Lopez will face Alex Acevedo in the runoff.

“DSA members were instrumental, and I’m thankful to the volunteers who spent hundreds — thousands — of hours campaigning,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “We’ve had a rubber-stamp City Council beholden to corporate interests, and that’s why the DSA candidates resonated with people.”


What´s going on here in Guatemala re their electoral campaign is getting interesting, what with the CODECA radical movement establishing a Party.

In our regions of El Estor and Cahabon the local autonomy movements have put up their candidates to contest control over their Territories (municipios), whilst in the case of El Estor, a Court constituted Popular Consultation guaranteeing the Maya Qeqchi, their right to determine whether or not mega projects may take place, is set for before the election.....

meanwhile the communities on the front lines vs. the Russian oligarchy´s nickel etc mining operation, have decided to wait out the election and Consultation, before relaunching their direct attacks on the physical far 2 people have been killed 3 seriously wounded in this little war!

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Chicago Makes Herstory: First African-American Woman and Gay Chicago Mayor Wins in Landslide



Out there tonight, a lot of little girls and boys are watching. They’re watching us. And they’re seeing the beginning of something, well, a little bit different. They’re seeing a city reborn, a city where it doesn’t matter what color you are, and where it surely doesn’t matter how tall you are, where it doesn’t matter who you love, just as long as you love—let me say that again: where it doesn’t matter who you love, just as long as you love with all your heart. In the Chicago we will build together, we will celebrate our differences, we will embrace our uniqueness, and we will make certain that all have every opportunity to succeed. Thank you.


BARBARA RANSBY: Yes. Thanks for having me, Amy. You know, there’s significance on two levels. I mean, I would be, as a historian, the last to deny the significance of having an openly gay African-American woman as the mayor of the third-largest city, because the way that racism has worked in this city and in this country in the past is through exclusion, right? So, the fact that we have overcome that hurdle in terms of representation is significant.

But what’s more significant is the way in which this generation of activists, particularly young black activists, have transcended narrow identity politics and have really insisted that politicians like Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle and others adhere to a set of progressive demands and issues that have defined this campaign. So I think, you know, on another level, the real victory is that movement organizers, young black and Latinx organizers, have put critical issues on the table and that the two contenders both had to present themselves and make promises around a progressive agenda. The question now is: Will they keep that agenda?

I should also say, in all fairness, that there were critiques of both candidates. And I think that reflects a level of political savvy and sophistication, that it wasn’t enough to say we’re going of a black woman mayor, that many young black queer activists, for example, were very critical of Lori Lightfoot’s role on the police board and didn’t feel that she really fought hard enough to hold police accountable, to punish police for police crimes and so forth. So, they weren’t timid about doing that simply because she was an African-American woman and an out gay black woman.

So, the twofold victory is that, in some ways, the white-led machine in Chicago politics has been wounded, if not defeated, but it’s also a challenge that, you know, a whole ecosystem of black and Latinx and anti-racist white activists in Chicago have shaped the debate around this campaign and will continue to push after the inauguration in May.

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Long Live the Women’s Committee

MadyGraf is an occupied and self-managed printing factory in Buenos Aires. The factory was formerly the property of RR Donnelley, a US corporation with headquarters in Chicago. Workers and their families occupied the factory in 2014, when — after announcing the dismissal of 123 workers of a workforce of 400 — the management decided to shut down in response to the workers’ resistance.

Following the occupation, ex-Donnelley workers formed a cooperative (MadyGraf), which is currently affiliated with the printing workers union (Federación Gráfica Bonaerense, FGB). Today the factory is facing an uncertain future, due to the austerity policies implemented by Macri’s government, which have thrown the economy into recession, and to the skyrocketing inflation, which is making energy and raw material costs prohibitive for the cooperative.

A Pillar of the Struggle

One of the pillars of the occupation is the MadyGraf women’s committee, which was originally formed in 2011, when the management threatened to dismiss around twenty workers. At the time the entire factory workforce was male, and the women’s committee was formed by the workers’ partners, wives, and sisters, who came together in order to support them in their struggle against the management.

While initially the women’s committee was simply meant to be a support group, it rapidly evolved into something else. It became a place where women could come together and discuss not only the factory’s situation, but also their own lives and needs as working-class women. The dynamic further changed in 2014, when the workers occupied and took over the factory, with the women’s participation. One of the greatest changes occurring at that moment was that a number of women — wives, partners, and relatives — entered the factory’s workforce. Many of the committee’s women had been housewives until then, while others had been employed as nurses, domestic workers, and teachers.

As Veronica, a member of the women’s committee, recounts this moment:

We started organizing with our husbands to defend their jobs. The workers’ resistance was so strong that the company decided to shut down. We occupied the factory together with our children: we would have our meals together in the factory, we had a lot of support from the community, we had a fund, we received gifts for our children. We also started reaching out to the other wives, because there were workers who did not want their wives to participate in the struggle. At some point there was the need to employ more workers to manage the occupied factory: it is at this moment that several wives, mothers, and sisters started working in the factory as well.


A Space of Radicalization

The decision-making body of the cooperative is the workers’ assembly. It was the workers’ assembly that decided to reduce production on March 8, 2017 and 2018, in order to allow the women workers and some men to take part in the feminist strike and marches against gender violence and for the right to abortion.

The women’s committee was key in putting forward this proposal, as well as other proposals that were approved by the assembly: the institution of a “woman’s day” (a day of leave during menstruation), wage equality among men and women as well as six month paid maternity leave and a sick day for children. The assembly also challenged a strict division of roles within production: workers are allowed to change their task, and the division between “female” and “male” jobs has been abolished. As a consequence a number of women started working as machine operators. Monica recalls how she “learned to operate the machines by observing how they were used and asking many questions. At some point I was asked if I wanted to try to operate the machine and I said I did”. She is now a regular machine operator....

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Feminist assembly at Madygraf.

Michael Moriarity Michael Moriarity's picture

George Monbiot has come out with a video in the aftermath of the British election debacle, suggesting that local action is the correct antidote to oligarchic control of conventional politics.

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..agreed! txs mm.

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..monbiot's antidote can take many forms

Municipalist Syndicalism: From the Workplace to the Community


A partial answer has come from a broad swath of socialists: rank-and-file power. This means union members exercising control over their unions, rather than union bureaucrats or officials doing so. The 2018 re-release of Kim Moody’s “The Rank-and-File Strategy” has most widely propagated this approach. Moody’s rank-and-file strategy has become the terms of debate within Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and a point of discussion for socialists in general.

However, this strategy overlooks the potential for rank-and-file interventions on various forms of structural racism. Such interventions translate into a rank-and-file strategy that does not consign itself to a simplistic focus on bread-and-butter and the point of production but rather points itself towards the interwoven wealth issues of racialized housing and education. This brings us to a modified union position that accounts for and immediately acts upon the dynamics of an immediate and racialized lived-space: municipalist syndicalism.

Municipalist syndicalism broadly means democratizing unions as a means to democratizing local and regional public power. This is done through advancing an anti-racist dual power agenda for the labor movement by building and acting with communities of color on issues beyond the job. Jobs are simply not enough, even as unions often exclusively focus on them as a means of community empowerment while harmfully conceding total control over land use. Yet, as Marnie Brady notes, “Pitting decent jobs against decent housing is a false dilemma,” particularly where the legacy of “redlining” (housing discrimination and wealth differentiating residential segregation) is still with us.

Thus, a municipalist syndicalist rank-and-file strategy begins with pluralistic “militant minorities” democratizing unions so as to include the rank-and-file of neighborhood, housing and other municipal struggles. It means reorienting labor unions towards funneling resources into constructing and sustaining vibrant tenant unions that in the long term seek to democratize residency and bring about a housing and homes guarantee and reducing harmfully long commutes.

Just as Big Capital increasingly controls real estate, making the lives of workers more precarious, One Big Union is needed to combat this. It means One Big Union includes not just labor unions, but tenant unions and those struggles addressing structural racism head on — and this One Big Union finally takes municipal and regional power and democratizes it.

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The role of planning in the ecosocialist transition – a contribution to the debate


The semiannual French review Les Possibles, a publication of Attac France, in its most recent issue (23) features a number of articles on planning for the ecological and social transition. Most are addressed to the issue of socialist planning vs. capitalist markets that was prominent in the debates of 20th century socialism. The contribution by Michael Löwy puts this debate in the ecosocialist framework that has emerged in this century. My translation of it is published below.

Michael Löwy is a Franco-Brazilian philosopher and sociologist, and emeritus research director at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). He is the author of numerous books, including The War of the Gods: Religion and Politics in Latin America and Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History.” He is also a leading member of the Global Ecosocialist Network.

Richard Fidler

* * *

Ecological and social planning and transition

By Michael Löwy

April 3, 2020

The need for economic planning in any serious and radical process of socio-ecological transition is winning greater acceptance, in contrast to the traditional positions of the Green parties, favorable to an ecological variant of “market economy,” that is, “green capitalism.”

In her latest book, Naomi Klein observes that any serious reaction to the climate threat “involves recovering an art that has been relentlessly vilified during these decades of market fundamentalism: planning.” This includes, in her view, industrial planning, land use planning, agricultural planning, employment planning for workers whose occupations are made obsolescent by the transition, etc. “This means bringing back the idea of planning our economies based on collective priorities rather than profitability….”[1]

Democratic planning

The socio-ecological transition — towards an ecosocialist alternative — implies public control of the principal means of production and democratic planning. Decisions concerning investment and technological change must be taken away from the banks and capitalist businesses, if we want them to serve the common good of society and respect for the environment.

Who should make these decisions? Socialists often responded: “the workers.” In Volume III of Capital, Marx defines socialism as a society of “the associated producers rationally regulating their interchange (Stoffwechsel) with Nature.” However, in Volume I of Capital, we find a broader approach: socialism is conceived as “an association of free men, working with the means of production (gemeinschaftlichen) held in common.” This is a much more appropriate concept: production and consumption must be organized rationally not only by the “producers” but also by consumers and, in fact, the whole of society, the productive or “unproductive” population: students, youth, women (and men) homemakers, retired persons, etc.

In this sense, society as a whole will be free to democratically choose the productive lines to be promoted and the level of resources that should be invested in education, health or culture. The prices of goods themselves would no longer respond to the law of supply and demand, but would be determined as much as possible according to social, political and ecological criteria.

Far from being “despotic” in itself, democratic planning is the exercise of the free decision-making of the whole of society — a necessary exercise to free ourselves from the alienating and reified “economic laws” and “iron cages” within capitalist and bureaucratic structures. Democratic planning associated with a reduction of working time would be a considerable step forward by humanity towards what Marx called “the realm of freedom”: the increase in free time is in fact a condition for the participation of workers in democratic discussion and management of the economy and society.

Advocates of the free market tirelessly use the failure of Soviet planning to justify their categorical opposition to any form of organized economy. We know, without getting into a discussion on the successes and failures of the Soviet experience, that it was obviously a form of “dictatorship over needs,” to quote the expression used by György Markus and his colleagues from the Budapest School: an undemocratic and authoritarian system which gave a monopoly over decisions to a small oligarchy of techno-bureaucrats. It was not planning that led to the dictatorship. It was the growing limitation of democracy within the Soviet state and the establishment of totalitarian bureaucratic power after Lenin’s death that gave rise to an increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic planning system. If socialism is to be defined as control of production processes by workers and the general population, the Soviet Union under Stalin and his successors fell far short of this definition.

The failure of the USSR illustrates the limits and contradictions of bureaucratic planning with its flagrant ineffectiveness and arbitrariness: it cannot serve as an argument against the application of genuinely democratic planning. The socialist conception of planning is nothing other than the radical democratization of the economy: if political decisions should not be made by a small elite of leaders, why not apply the same principle to economic decisions? The question of the balance between market and planning mechanisms is undoubtedly a complex issue: during the first phases of the new society, markets will certainly still occupy a significant place, but as the transition to socialism progresses, planning will become increasingly important.

In the capitalist system use value is only a means — and often a device — subordinated to exchange value and profitability (this in fact explains why there are so many products in our society without any utility). In a planned socialist economy, the production of goods and services responds only to the criterion of use value, which entails spectacular economic, social and ecological consequences.

Of course, democratic planning concerns the major economic choices and not the administration of local restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, small shops, craft businesses or services. Likewise, it is important to emphasize that planning does not contradict the self-management of workers in their production units. Whereas the decision to convert, for example, an automobile factory to bus or rail vehicle production would be up to society as a whole; the internal organization and operation of the factory would be managed democratically by the workers themselves. There has been much debate over the “centralized” or “decentralized” nature of planning, but the important thing remains democratic control of the plan at all levels — local, regional, national, continental and, hopefully, global — since ecological issues such as climate warming are global and can only be addressed at that level. This proposal could be called “comprehensive democratic planning.” Even at this level, it is planning which contrasts with what is often described as “central planning” because economic and social decisions are not taken by any “center” but democratically determined by the populations concerned.

There would, of course, be tensions and contradictions between self-governing institutions and local democratic administrations and other larger social groups. Negotiating mechanisms can help resolve many such conflicts, but in the final analysis, it will be up to the larger groups involved, and only if they are in the majority, to exercise their right to impose their opinions. To give an example: a self-managed factory decides to dump its toxic waste in a river. The population of an entire region is threatened by this pollution. It may then, following a democratic debate, decide that the production of this unit must be stopped until a satisfactory solution to control its waste is found. Ideally, in an ecosocialist society, the factory workers themselves will have sufficient ecological awareness to avoid making decisions that are dangerous for the environment and the health of the local population. However, the fact of introducing methods to guarantee the decision-making power of the population to defend the most general interests, as in the previous example, does not mean that questions concerning internal management should not be submitted to the citizens at the level of the factory, school, neighborhood, hospital or village.

Ecosocialist planning must be based on a democratic and pluralist debate, at each level of decision. Organized in the form of parties, platforms or any other political movement, the delegates of the planning bodies are elected and the various proposals are presented to everyone they concern. In other words, representative democracy must be enriched — and improved — by direct democracy which allows people to choose directly — locally, nationally and, ultimately, internationally — between different proposals. The whole population would then make decisions on free public transit, on a special tax paid by car owners to subsidize public transport, on the subsidization of solar energy to make it competitive with fossil energy, on the reduction of the hours of work to 30, 25 hours a week or less, even if this entails a reduction in production.....

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The Left Remakes the World: Amna Akbar on Canceling Rent, Defunding Police & Where We Go from Here

We look at another looming crisis for the American public: mass evictions. More than four months into a pandemic that has left millions unemployed, eviction freezes across the country are ending, even as case numbers rise and states reimpose lockdown measures. As the Cancel the Rent movement inspires rent strikes and protests nationwide, a coalition of labor unions, workers and racial and social justice groups in 25 states plans to stage a mass walkout this Monday called the “Strike for Black Lives.” We speak with Amna Akbar, law professor at Ohio State University, who wrote about how to respond to all of this in her op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times headlined “The Left Is Remaking the World.”



But I want to take a moment to unpack “cancel rent” and “defund the police,” which are two really important demands that organizers and social movements are making across the country. Police and private property are central, defining institutions of life in the United States. We know the centrality of police to local budgets now, and the immense power that they have and their sprawling scale, because it has been on spectacular display for the last two months, since Minneapolis police killed George Floyd.

But it might be worth taking a moment to talk about private property, which is also everywhere and structures our everyday lives, but is arguably a bit more subterranean in how it does. Private property is the basis of our legal regime. It’s a settler regime, a capitalist regime, a racial regime. It creates these relationships where some people own property and most people don’t. And if you don’t own property, you have to pay for it. This is pretty weird, if you think about it. We are human. We have physical bodies. We need space to exist, to sleep, to eat, to take care of one another. But we live in a society where you need to pay for space to live. The private property regime then creates a direct contradiction with meeting people’s needs.

And so, both police and private property are rooted in the histories of enslavement and conquest. They are not systems rooted in collective care and social provision. And it’s not as if we have the police over here and private property over there. These are fundamentally interconnected institutions that prop one another up. They are central to the stories, the structures and the relationships that sustain things as they are. And so it might be helpful to think for a moment about the connection between these institutions, because part of what I argued in the piece is kind of this radical imagination coming out of today’s social movements that’s telling interwoven stories about the world that we live in and the world that we must build.

So, many police killings around the country have happened in gentrifying neighborhoods, including here in Columbus, where Columbus police killed Tyre King, Henry Green and Julius Tate, young Black men and boys, in gentrifying neighborhoods. Police arrest people for stealing food to eat or selling loosies to survive or living under a bridge or squatting in a home when they have nowhere else to go. And all over the country, sheriff’s offices work with landlords to evict people who can’t pay their rents. And so, contrary to this popular idea that we have the market over here and the state over there, we see that the state works to protect the more powerful players in the market by lending them untold volumes of arsenal.

And, of course, central to the defund demand is precisely this critique of neoliberalism, that the state has been stripped of virtually all of its provisioning function, which we see on spectacular display right now in response to COVID-19. We don’t guarantee housing. We don’t guarantee food. We don’t guarantee healthcare or PPE. Instead, all of our tax dollars are going to prisons, police and jails; sustain things as they are; enact so much violence on poor, working-class, Black and Brown people; and distract us from the real work of collective care and social provision.

And so, the pandemic and the uprising have put a magnifying glass on how the most powerful institutions in the most powerful country on Earth have absolutely failed to meet the needs of the vast majority of Americans. We have a federalist system with layers of government, right? We have local, state, federal. And none of it guarantees any of the basics that we need to survive. We’re always told it’s too expensive and we can’t afford it. But now we know that we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on building prisons, jails and detention centers to house 2.3 million people in cages. We pay the salaries and benefits of 800,000 police around the country for their tanks and guns and horses and bikes, Tasers and StingRays. And in that case, it’s no surprise that the police responded so quickly and in such a coordinated fashion across the country in response to the protests, and the state completely failed to respond to COVID-19.

And, of course, on the other hand, the pandemic and the uprising have reminded us of our collective power and our collective resilience. We have the power to consent or refuse. We have the power to build alternatives. So, when today’s movements and organizers are calling to cancel the rent or defund police, these demands are calling for material changes to make a real impact in the daily lives of everyday people. And the demands, in themselves, are throwing into crisis the very shape of the state today, because they ask the state to step in on behalf of people over property, and people over police. And we live in a society where both of those institutions — private property and policing — take precedent over the lives of working-class people.

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..more from the above piece


AMNA AKBAR: Thanks, Juan. So, we are about a decade into sustained social movement activity in the United States. If you think back to Occupy, Occupy focused our attention on capitalism and income inequality through an exercise of prefigurative politics through the encampments that we saw all around the world. And then, through Ferguson and Baltimore, Black Lives Matter and more, all of those kind of protest moments made us confront the long history of anti-Black violence in the United States. Standing Rock made center stage Indigenous struggle and how the state and powerful corporations work together to take, take, take from the land in blatant violation of treaty rights, connecting Indigenous resistance to environmental justice, and environmental degradation to capitalism. And now with defund police, we have a new call, kind of a new moment, where left social movements, young people of color are calling for these various modes of reforms that are designed to imagine and start to build a different kind of world.

And now — you know, and then the moments I just named are kind of the spectacular headline moments, the moments of the whirlwind, and all the while, long before and long after, you have the slow work of organizing. So you have base building, political education, toolkits, campaigns, coalition building and canvassing. And so, in the last decade, we have built our power and our analysis, expanded our collective muscle for a wide array of strategies and tactics, and built all sorts of institutions, organizations, coalitions, magazines, podcasts, bail funds, mutual aid networks and more. And so, while there are certainly differences in analysis and theories of change across the left and working-class organizing, there’s also a growing overlap with more and more people understanding why the status quo can’t stand, how the status quo is a product of a global and local history, and the need to come together to build alternatives.

And so, whether this is a more powerful formation or powerful moment than any other one across the — you know, in the history of the United States or around the world, that I don’t know. But I do know that over the course of my life, this is certainly the strongest the left and working-class movements have been. And I feel hopeful about where we are. And, of course, I feel apprehensive, because our opponents are not going to pack up and go home, as Rachel Herzing put it the other day when I was talking to her. We are going to see, and we are seeing, state repression all over the country, whether it’s federal prosecutions of protesters or all sorts of local and state prosecutions, not to mention the ongoing criminalization and prosecution of working-class people for their survival. And so, the odds against us are long, but we are also stronger than we have been over the last few decades.

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Until Black Women Are Free, None of Us Will Be Free

I first encountered the Combahee River Collective Statement in a women’s-studies class, my second year of college at suny Buffalo. We had been reading about divisions within the feminist movement in the late nineteen-sixties and early nineteen-seventies, and the emergence of a body of thought captured in the framework of “Black feminism.” The Combahee River Collective was a small organization, but it involved some of the luminaries of Black feminism: Barbara Smith and her twin sister, Beverly Smith, as well as Demita Frazier, Cheryl Clarke, Akasha Hull, Margo Okazawa-Rey, Chirlane McCray, and Audre Lorde. Equally dismayed by the direction of the feminist movement, which they believed to be dominated by middle-class white women, and the suffocating masculinity in Black-nationalist organizations, they set out to formulate their own politics and strategies in response to their distinct experiences as Black women. But they were not only reacting to the deficits they found in organizations led by white women and Black men. They were also inspired by the national liberation and anti-colonial movements, from the Algerian struggle against the French occupation to the Vietnamese resistance to the American war. The C.R.C. saw themselves as revolutionaries whose aspirations far exceeded women’s rights: they aspired to the overthrow of capitalism.

The Black women of the C.R.C. were not the first to break with white feminist and Black-nationalist organizations. In many ways, they built on the work of the Third World Women’s Alliance, which was an outgrowth of the Black Women’s Liberation Committee—a caucus of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. What distinguished the C.R.C. from those groups was the explanatory power of their statement, which was first collected in Zillah Eisenstein’s anthology “Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism,” in 1978. Reading the statement for the first time, two things struck me. The first was its effort to combine socialist politics with feminism. I had been a socialist since I was fourteen, and, in the groups that I had become active with, feminism was always painted as hostile to socialism. As it was explained to me, feminists saw the world as divided between men and women and not between classes. The Combahee Statement obliterated that premise. Theoretically rich and strategically nimble, it imagined a course of politics that could take Black women from the margins of society to the center of a revolution. Because Black women were among the most marginalized people in this country, their political struggles brought them into direct conflict with the intertwined malignancies of capitalism—racism, sexism, and poverty. Thus, the women of the C.R.C believed that, if Black women were successful in their struggles and movements, they would have an impact far beyond their immediate demands. As they put it, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”....

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..pdf file

The Combahee River Collective Statement


2. What We Believe Above all else,

Our politics initially sprang from the shared belief that Black women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is a necessity not as an adjunct to somebody else's may because of our need as human persons for autonomy. This may seem so obvious as to sound simplistic, but it is apparent that no other ostensibly progressive movement has ever considered our specific oppression as a priority or worked seriously for the ending of that oppression. Merely naming the pejorative stereotypes attributed to Black women (e.g. mammy, matriarch, Sapphire, whore, bulldagger), let alone cataloguing the cruel, often murderous, treatment we receive, Indicates how little value has been placed upon our lives during four centuries of bondage in the Western hemisphere. We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work.

This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else's oppression. In the case of Black women this is a particularly repugnant, dangerous, threatening, and therefore revolutionary concept because it is obvious from looking at all the political movements that have preceded us that anyone is more worthy of liberation than ourselves. We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.

We believe that sexual politics under patriarchy is as pervasive in Black women's lives as are the politics of class and race. We also often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously. We know that there is such a thing as racial-sexual oppression which is neither solely racial nor solely sexual, e.g., the history of rape of Black women by white men as a weapon of political repression. Although we are feminists and Lesbians, we feel solidarity with progressive Black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white women who are separatists demand. Our situation as Black people necessitates that we have solidarity around the fact of race, which white women of course do not need to have with white men, unless it is their negative solidarity as racial oppressors. We struggle together with Black men against racism, while we also struggle with Black men about sexism.....

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..more from above.

Until Black Women Are Free, None of Us Will Be Free


Most important, the C.R.C. saw themselves as socialists and as part of the broader left, but they understood that no mass movement for socialism could be organized without responding to the particular forms of oppression experienced by Black women, Chicana women, lesbians, single mothers, and so many other groups. Their point was a simple one: you cannot expect people to join your movement by telling them to put their particular issues on hold for the sake of some ill-defined “unity” at a later date. Solidarity was the bridge by which different groups of people could connect on the basis of mutual understanding, respect, and the old socialist edict that an injury to one was an injury to all. It was mind-blowing!

To be honest, I didn’t know what to do with the Combahee Statement. It was so unlike anything I had ever read before in politics, and it clashed so violently with what I had come to believe about feminism and “identity politics” that I did not know how to integrate it into my activism. I had to put it away.

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..yet more


The women of the C.R.C. drew on their experiences in Black, male-dominated organizations. Demita Frazier had been a member of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, right up until the Chicago police helped to assassinate the Panther leader Fred Hampton, in 1969. More generally, Black men dominated the leadership of the organized Black left. As a result, many Black women felt shut out of directing those organizations, just as they felt that their experiences as Black women were ignored.

They fared no better in organizations led by white women, who, for the most part, could not understand how racism compounded the experiences of Black women, creating a new dimension of oppression. The overwhelming majority of Black women were working-class and were forced to labor both outside and inside their homes. But Black women who tried to utilize public welfare so that they could spend more time caring for their children were demonized as freeloaders, even as white women who chose to work at home were celebrated for prioritizing their families over personal ambition. In the reality of organizing, these tensions manifested themselves in white women’s desire to focus their organizing on abortion rights, while Black feminists argued for the broader framework of reproductive justice, which included the struggle against forced sterilizations of Black and brown women. These were hardly doctrinaire disputes. The eugenics programs of the early twentieth century continued into the nineteen-seventies, as tens of thousands of women in the United States were subjected to sterilization procedures without their informed consent.

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More than a fifth of Black women live below the poverty line, but their lives are largely invisible. Instead, popular culture and mainstream media outlets are fixated on Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé Knowles, and Michelle Obama, to whom they turn for insights into the experiences of Black women. Much of what is meant by identity politics in its contemporary idiom is simply representation—the presence of Black, queer, gendered, and classed bodies with almost no attention paid to their political commitments. But the radicality of Black women’s politics was based on their position at the bottom. The view is decidedly different from the top. The C.R.C. gave us the political tools to understand the difference between bottom-up and top-down politics, and their distorted manifestation in the identity politics of today.