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(en) Canada, A&S*, Upping the Anti #1 - Editorial

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 18 Apr 2005 09:28:53 +0200 (CEST)


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Our name Upping the Anti refers to our interest in engaging with
three interwoven tendencies which have come to define much of
the politics of today's radical left in Canada: anti-capitalism, anti-
oppression, and anti-imperialism. These three political tendencies,
while overlapping and incorporating various contradictory elements,
together represent the growth of a radical politics in a space outside
of the "party building" of the sectarian left and the dead end of social
democracy. Despite their limitations, movements based on these
"anti" politics have grown out of a real process and practice of social
contestation and mobilization, and they point towards ideas and
activist practices which will have a significant role in shaping the
form and content of new revolutionary movements born out of future
cycles of struggle against exploitation and oppression. This journal
is intended to provide a space to address and discuss unresolved
questions and dynamics within these struggles in order to better learn
from our collective successes and failures.

ANTI- CAPITALISM, ANTI-OPPRESSION, ANTI-IMPERIALISM
Our involvement in and conception of these movements in Canada
is based on the politically formative moments of our generation,
beginning with the fall of Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, and the Oka
crisis of 1991. In the decade following these events, anti-corporate and
anti neo-liberal movements began to emerge in response to a renewed
capitalist offensive implemented by all political parties at every level
of government. As the 1990s wore on, different kinds of mobilizations
against the cutbacks emerged from within the student movement, the
labour movement, and poor and oppressed communities, and a definite
anti-capitalist current began to take shape. The first signs of the new
anti-globalization movement and the anti-capitalist tendencies within
it were publicly manifested during the 1997 Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC) demos in Vancouver, and they were dramatically
confirmed by the battles on the streets of Seattle during the November
1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Over this same period of time, and in response to patriarchal,
racist, and heterosexist dynamics in the radical movements of the
1960s and 70s, feminist, anti-racist and queer liberation movements
continued developing an analysis of power relations and domination
both within and outside of our movements. Moving from individual
and small group "consciousness raising" into a wider politics of
"anti-oppression," these perspectives sought to collectively address
different forms of oppression. As liberal aspects of "anti-oppression"
became increasingly co-opted in the guise of multiculturalism and
identity politics, radical trends within these movements continued
to articulate a politic that combated capitalist, (hetero)sexist, racist
and neo-colonial domination. This political tendency has been most
pronounced in women's centers, campus activist groupings, and in
political formations of queers and people of colour. Anti-oppression
politics became intertwined with the emerging anti-capitalist
movement, and insisted that issues of process and internal dynamics
within our own movements be considered as seriously as the outside
structures and institutions we were trying to change. Anti-oppression
politics provided a critique of the white- and male-dominated
leadership of movements, advocated a politics of representation
within these movements, and argued that the political formations
of the privileged needed to learn from and work in solidarity with
those most affected by the processes of capitalist globalization and
imperialist domination.
The development of a pronounced anti-imperialist current within
radical organizing in the Canadian state has been a more recent and
less prominent phenomenon than that of the anti-oppression and anti-
capitalist movements, though it was always present in small pockets of
activists working around specific issues, especially around indigenous
struggles and solidarity projects with third world liberation movements.
The more recent manifestations of the dynamics of imperialism
and neo-colonial domination on the world stage have given rise to
new anti-imperialist movements, as the second Palestinian Intifada
erupted, attacks on immigrants and refugees intensified in the wake
of 9/11, and the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq became the focus
for global protests. Within the Canadian context, the struggle against
imperialism is evident in attempts to expose Canadian involvement in
the anti-Aristide coup in Haiti, in support for anti-colonial indigenous
struggles at Sun Peaks, Grassy Narrows, and Kanehsatake and in
recent attempts by formations like "Block the Empire," the June
30th Coalition, and the Mobilization Against War and Occupation to
point to the complicity of Canadian capital and the state in wars and
occupations at home and abroad.
BEYOND CHEERLEADING: TOWARDS A
CRITIQUE OF THE "ANTI'S"
The movements defined under the rubric of anti-capitalism, anti-
oppression and anti-imperialism represent the organic striving of
many hundreds and indeed thousands of activists within the Canadian
state who are seeking to challenge the entirety of the system which
dominates our lives. Despite the advances made by these movements,
one of the most glaring problems we face is the fact that our definitions
and understandings of the systems we oppose have often been limited
to reactions against various forms of injustice. We have rarely developed,
much less popularized, a systematic critique of these problems, and by
and large most theoretical development of these issues has remained
at the rhetorical level.
Often, "anti-capitalism" is used as an empty phrase, a catch word
for being opposed to the entirety of the system. Very rarely are those
of us who use the term able to explain exactly what capitalism is, how
it works, and what can possibly overturn it. Our "anti-capitalism" is
an article of faith, located outside any real tradition of anti-capitalist
critique. Without an analysis that goes beyond understanding
capitalism as a static "thing" that we oppose, we can't get beyond a
moralistic rejection of a vague and general "system."
Despite the liberatory possibilities implicit in an anti-oppression
analysis and practice, an understanding of oppression occurs all too
often outside a consideration of the totality of social relations, and
once again patriarchy, racism and (hetero)sexism, for example, are
treated as static and un-changing "things." The question remains: how
do we understand the intersection of class oppression and economic
exploitation with race, gender, and sexuality? While many activists
doing anti-oppression work are striving to make these connections in
both theory and practice, different priorities and answers are emerging
within various communities of resistance.
A similar dynamic occurs in the context of anti-imperialism, where
what we consider to be the relationship of imperialism to capitalism
can determine a great deal about our movement's strategic orientation.
While discussions of "imperialism" in the anti-globalization and anti-
war movements is a welcome development (and reflects a certain
radicalization) too often "anti-imperialism" amounts to grafting
revolutionary sounding phrases onto the assumptions of liberal
anti-corporate populism and left-nationalism, and so can ultimately
undermine strategies of resistance. For instance, there is a definite
left-nationalist camp within Canada that sees "imperialism" solely as
a phenomenon of US domination, a separate enemy from capitalist
elites here in Canada or in Europe, which are considered somehow
more progressive, multilateral, or "humanitarian." More is at stake
when this perspective, as within the specific context of the Canadian
state, serves to mask the continuing reality of colonial oppression faced
by indigenous peoples, and the historic and still politically relevant
oppression of francophones inside and outside of Québec.
A similar problem exists in our comprehension of forces directly
combating imperialism, which has important implications for how we
consider our anti-war work, and the positions we take in relationship to
anti-imperialist movements. For example, in opposing the occupation
of Afghanistan and Iraq, how can we concretely and effectively build
solidarity while at the same time organizing against the "war at home"?
Do we support all forces resisting US occupation, even those that are
led by reactionary religious fundamentalists and that carry out tactics
we reject? If so, how do we do this in an effective manner that is in
keeping with our political principles?
Because activists have largely only dealt with theoretical questions
like these as they relate to tactical issues of immediate concern,
we often end up in cycles of floating from issue to issue. Coherent
critiques have been made of "anti-globalization summit hopping"
and the current state of anti-war organizing has exposed our inability
to sustain long-term movements capable of drawing on widespread
popular support. On the other hand, the search for meaningful forms
of local organizing has tended to transform militants into "radical
social workers."
There is a long tradition of radical community activism that
involves mobilizing social services, advocacy and support aimed
at addressing and meeting the immediate needs of different
communities. For example, radical feminists in the 1960s and 1970s
mobilized to create women's centres and shelters in response to
violence against women, and to provide spaces for feminist organizing
and empowerment. However, despite an origin in radical politics,
this connection has been lost over the years as many organizations
providing these vital community services have become bureaucratized
and "professionalized."
Those organizations that have maintained their connection to
movements, on the other hand, are likely to be defunded or to come
under attack. The focus on meeting the needs of the community
and resisting attacks from the state has drained the ability of these
organizations to focus on longer-term strategic goals as they fight,
day-by-day, to remain open. Additionally, they are often forced to
distance themselves from radical coalitions and movements in order
to survive.
In the midst of today's global restructuring of government roles
and responsibilities, activists have again responded to crises felt in
their communities. In trying to replace or maintain underfunded state
structures (that may only offer palliative solutions to deep structural
problems) advocacy and front-line support work has again been
influenced by, and in turn influenced, broader social movements. The
fact remains that without a connection to movements that "fight to
win" and an orientation to radical social change, this work can become
depoliticized and depoliticizing, preventing us from developing
strategies for going on the political offensive.
DEBATE, DISCUSSION, CONSOLIDATION:
THE NEED FOR POLITICAL SPACES
With the relative absence of spaces within the movements of the
"three anti's" to make theoretical contributions about how we can
best combat capitalism, imperialism, and various forms of oppression
there has been no real space for integrated analyses to take shape.
Outside of the left-liberal media, the main places in which analytical
and theoretical contributions to understanding these issues are being
made is in academic institutions, left wing party formations and within
personal and informal networks of activists.
In academia, the theoretical work that is being done is almost
always disconnected from actual struggles taking place. Written in
a language of specialists, this work is rarely aimed at making useful
interventions in the movements on whose behalf it supposedly
militates. Generally speaking, right wing and corporate attacks have
been successful in greatly reducing the capacities of universities to
serve as spaces where the production of radical political thought and
action can take place. This could well change in the face of future
mass radicalizations, since universities have often been flash-points
of social conflagration, but the fact remains that most academic work
being produced today is greatly lacking in terms of its ability to actually
connect to radical movements.
Another source for producing and disseminating revolutionary
knowledge has been far-left socialist organizations. The problem here
is that most of these groups remain stuck in trying endlessly to repeat
the "lessons" of revolutionary practice drawn from the Bolshevik
revolution or the works of this or that influential Marxist. While there
are great insights that can be drawn from Marxist thinkers and from all
previous revolutionary upheavals, these insights can only be realized
by considering them in their real historical context, and understanding
how our own situation may or may not make these perspectives
relevant. Real revolutionary praxis must be willing to criticize past
practices ruthlessly and assimilate the lessons of past revolutionary
movements and theorists without becoming enslaved to their ghosts.
Unfortunately, much of today's "Marxist" left is stuck in the defence of
static party lines, deploying pre-packaged "revolutionary" theory with
just enough politics to be able to reproduce their own organizations.
Each party remains the bastion of its own brand of absolute truth, each
has failed to adequately grasp the new conditions with which we are
faced, and each has by and large refused to grapple with and make the
necessary political innovations to learn from the enriching critiques
of (and contributions to) Marxism made by feminist, anarchist, anti-
racist, and queer movements.
The third space of theoretical production is the local and informal
level within anti-capitalist, anti-oppression and anti-imperialist
movements. Many of us are involved in the anti-globalization movement,
in organizing around indigenous struggles, in Palestine solidarity work,
in putting on anti-racism workshops, in operating women's centres
and creating queer spaces, in creating small anarchist collectives, info-
shops and bookstores. We are all engaged in a process of theorizing
and trying to learn the lessons of past and present experience when we
gather informally to talk about what in our organizing has worked, and
what has failed. Our biggest challenge is to create common spaces for
those of us dealing with similar problems and questions in different
cities and social circles. In the absence of a formal, structured, and
open political space of debate, most of these discussions remain
isolated within informal networks. Political pronouncements tend to
come from the mouths of prominent activists, often chosen for their
visibility by the mass media, and because many of our organizing spaces
are so committed to immediate and specific campaigns, theoretical
reflection is discouraged and limited by the immediate necessity to
"do something." The challenge that currently faces us is how to get this
much-needed process of debate, discussion and resolution to occur
beyond small groups, personal networks and prominent individuals,
and to have it take place openly and transparently where it can be
critiqued and developed by all who have a stake in our struggles.
CONCLUSION:
The growth of these three sets of "anti" politics represent the
striving of a new political generation for some kind of revolutionary
change. While against "capitalism," "oppression," and "imperialism,"
these movements offer no conceptual and practical alternatives to the
system that currently exists, and no strategies for getting there. While
these movements are not yet coming up with revolutionary answers
to the age old question of "what is to be done," we think they will
increasingly, under the force of circumstance, be pressured to do so.
For contrary to ruling class ideologists, we have not reached the "end
of history." All of the evils of class society remain and are intensifying
in the form of new ruling class offensives carried out under the banners
of "free trade," "globalization," and the "war on terrorism."
As gloomy as the situation may seem today with the continuing
global weakness of the left, a gathering ecological crisis, the retaining
of state power by Bush and his cronies, and the brutal terror being
wrought daily against the people of Palestine, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan,
and Colombia (to name just a few examples), we believe that the balance
of forces will eventually shift and that new revolutionary movements
will emerge on a world scale. Already new sources of counter power
to capitalism and imperialism are developing in the circulation of
struggles between the anti-globalization and anti-war movements. We
are inspired by the example of the Zapatistas and other socio-political
movements in Latin America, as well as the steadfastness of the
resistance against US and Israeli occupations. We believe that it is not
at all unrealistic to expect that in the coming years both resistance to
global capitalism and its own contradictions will produce new openings
for revolutionary movements not seen since the last major upsurge of
struggles in the late 1960s. In such a radicalization, the question of
what kind of a system we are fighting, what can replace it, and how we
can do this without creating a new and more repressive system in its
place will become questions of world historic importance.
We do not presume that we or others writing in this journal can
provide definitive answers to questions that can only be resolved by
millions of people mobilizing to achieve their own needs, desires,
and struggles. What we do believe is that building spaces in which
to discuss and to begin to formulate some preliminary answers to
these questions is absolutely vital to the continued development and
transformation of the radical left in the Canadian state. For if we do
not take on the responsibility of building these spaces for discussion
about what it is we are trying to achieve and what the best way is to
do it, these questions will continue to be defined and answered by left-
liberals, disconnected academics, social democratic reformists and
trade union bureaucrats, and the vanguardist socialist left.
In this spirit, Upping the Anti will try to address questions such as:
What do we mean by terms such as oppression, capitalism, imperialism
and revolution? How can we build and connect labour, anti-racist,
feminist, queer, and anti-capitalist movements and perspectives?
What can we learn from the successes and failures of anti-capitalist
activists in the anti-war and anti-globalization movements? How
do we understand capitalist social relations, and what social forces
might give rise to real alternatives to capitalism? How should anti-
capitalist activists connect with working class struggles both within
and outside the labour movement? How can revolutionaries organize
in ways that maximize our effectiveness but that don't replicate old
patterns of elitism, domination and sectarianism? What can we learn
from different strands of Marxist and anarchist theory as we grapple
with these questions?
Given the constant (re)production of ruling class hegemony by
the mass media and apologists for the capitalist system, and given the
tireless efforts of reformist forces to recuperate radical movements,
our success in upping the ante in struggle against oppression and
exploitation will depend on our ability to articulate our own visions
and strategies of transformative change on a local, inter-national and
global scale. Upping the Anti intends to be a space where we can attempt,
in small but important ways, to begin doing just that. We invite you to
join us in this endeavour.
=============================
* A&S - Autonomy & Solidarity is an anticapitalist antiauthoritarian
revolutionary network in Canada.]


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