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(en) US, San Francisco, Train in vain?: A critical analysis of our effort to foment a "social strike" on SF's MUNI

Date Wed, 07 Dec 2005 11:03:07 +0200


The following is the beginning of a work-in-progress.
'Train in Vain' analyzes the recent attempt by a number of us to
foment an Italian-style "self-reduction" campaign against the Sept. 1st
MUNI fare hike, service cuts and intensified exploitation of MUNI operators.
by Kevin Keating, formerly of Muni Social Strike Monday, Nov. 21, 2005
The following article analyzes the strengths -- and there were a few --
and the larger failings of an effort in the summer and fall of 2005 to
catalyze an Italian-style self-reduction movement against austerity
measures on San Francisco's MUNI transit system.
...Most of the anarchists involved in this effort put an admirable amont
of time and effort into the social strike -- on an individual basis. But
collectively, we, myself included, failed to function in any kind of
resolute COLLECTIVE anti-capitalist manner, with regard to the pro
wage-labor left who attached themselves to this effort. By pro-wage
labor left I mean people who wanted to see the fare hike and service
cuts resisted without any larger opening for an anti-market/anti-state,
direct action politics among working people emerging out of the issue.

This effort, and everything that happened city-wide with regard to it,
was initiated by people in Muni Social Strike. But the initiative got
taken away from the aspiring anti-capitalists by some of the usual
crowd of leftist failures. At the end with both the press conference and
the ridiculous, empty ritual march to City Hall, the anarchists had
become the camp followers of liberals and at least one Leninist. This
has happened time and again with anarchists, and it's extremely
fucking exasperating to me.

The first pro-wage labor leftist who grafted himself onto the project
was able to steer the larger struggle into a statist and completely
un-radical direction. He was aided and abetted in this by people in
Muni Social Strike not being capable of collectively deciding what we
believe in as a solid group, and moving forward on that basis against
leftist hustlers in a determined and resolute manner.

From the get-go, it was clear that Muni Social Strike was to be about:

--Drivers and riders taking action together,

--using direct action,

--antagonistic to electoral politics, market relations and the state.

There was no escape clause in any of this, saying, this will be a direct
action, anti-statist effort, until someone who is more decisive than us
comes along and plays us for suckers, at which point we will turn into
work-within-the-system guys.

Everybody involved appeared to be clear on the character of the effort
and agree on it. There was nothing vague or abstract or equivocating
about it.

1. To begin our efforts, we held three town hall meetings to rally
public opposition to the austerity measures.

Soon after the second town hall meeting, this other group, Muni Fare
Strike, with a name almost identical to Muni Social Strike, sprung up
toadstool-like, positioned to the immediate political right of Muni
Social Strike. It rapidly became clear that Muni Fare Strike was going
to be just like Muni Social Strike, only with all the better aspects
shaved off. They wanted this to be exactly the sort of thing that leads
to empty gesture demos on the steps of City Hall.

The leaflet that became the main tool for MFS's perspective said
nothing about joint action with drivers; this was moronic for the
practical effectiveness of the effort, as well as flat-out politically wrong.
An effort like this could never fly if the drivers weren't at least
passively going along. And an effort like this should never be mostly
about the immediate smaller goal, but always mostly about the bigger
goal, which has to be the creation of a larger movement of working
people acting around our own needs against capitalist social relations,
rooted in the everyday life conditions we face in the main problem
country of the world. That means all exploited people together; not
just some exploited people balkanized into a sort of sub-identity as an
interest group of transit system riders.

The Muni Fare Strike leaflet was bereft of any argument for why Muni
riders should engage in an action that doesn't have any precedent in
this part of the world. It made no effort to pursuade. Being
un-persuasive and un-radical in five languages only compounded the
political worthlessness of the Muni Fare Strike leaflet. Working people
around here need a convincing argument for why they should try
something that might get them ticketed or arrested; this isn't Italy or
Argentina, there's no collective culture of resistance right now in the
US, here people are generally very timid and mystified. And from
beginning to end nothing Muni Fare Strike did or said articulated any
larger opposition to the world of wage labor and the market. The
reasons for this are clear -- the leading figure of the Muni Fare Strike
group, Marc Norton, is a pro-wage labor, pro-state leftist. Muni Fare
Strike, its perspectives and its all-too-predictaible actions, were a
function of the essentially pro-system politics of Marc Norton.
Regardless of their subjective intentions or occassionally overheated
workerist jargon, the leftists who grafted themselves onto the project
proved to be a part of the left-wing of capital's political apparatus...

WE'RE NOT 'THE PEOPLE'S JUDEAN FRONT' -- WE'RE 'THE
FRONT FOR PEOPLE'S JUDEA!'

The comically derivative name of the Muni Fare Strike group alone
should have been a clue to anyone capable of finding their ass with
both hands that something fishy was up. But on top of that, a guy
named Tom Wetzel said that he overheard Marc Norton, who
subsequently became the leader of the Muni Fare Strike group, saying
at the second town hall meeting that he "didn't think much of what
those young anarchist kids and Kevin Keating were getting together."
That's not a direct quote, but it was words to that effect.

Then, if putting two and two together exceeded the political
sophistication and analytical skills of some of the Bay Area Anarchist
Council and Muni Social Strike (MSS) people, there's three out of
three.

When Muni Fare Strike came into being I got an e-mail from my
former comrade Aaron Hackett ordering people in MSS to give out the
content-poor Muni Fare Strike (MFS) leaflet. Although Aaron used a
fake name I could tell it was Aaron, because after a decade of
friendship and various efforts to do stuff politically together I had
broken things off with Aaron in a series of acrimonious e-mails, and
the language in the e-mail with the fake name was identical to the
language he'd used in our recent exchanges. He made it completely
fucking clear in his e-mail that Muni Fare Strike had come together in
antagonism to Muni Social Strike.

So, one of the people in the doppelganger group openly said their effort
was antagonistic to MSS -- did this need to be made any clearer for the
politically unsophisticated? People who think that the class war means
trudging around at peace rallies with a baner that says, 'CLASS
WAR!' with a circle spray-painted around the letter "A" in the words
'class' and 'war?'

This is where my ability to communicate with several of the BAAC
people broke down in a big way. I repeatedly attempted to discuss this
on the e-mail list. I got repeatedly blown off on this. A certain
anarchist ideologue in particular was adament that no substantive
political discussion should take place on the list. There's never been
any substantial political discussion in any meeting of BAAC that I've
attended, and that group has been meeting for a number of years, so I
guess this principle was supposed to extend to the socialstrike list as
well.

The fact that Marc Norton and his underlings were out to play Muni
Social Strike like a kazoo sailed over the tops of various individuals'
anarchist level of consciousness. I'm not claiming that I'm psychic,
but I saw what happened coming regarding the effort as a whole in the
long run from this, and I saw it from the beginning -- anybody could,
other than most of the anarchists in this effort.

I started posting stuff on the socialstirke list demanding that Marc and
his buddies say, one, what there politics were; an honest response
from Marc Norton should have given everybody fair warning. I also
demanded -- not politely requested, demanded, that two, they explain
why they were in a seperate group, three, what their differences with
Social Strike were, and four, that if they were in a group with political
differences with us but still got to be on the e-mail list and got to show
up and spout off at social strike meetings that they had to pony up a
commitment of time and labor to the stuff we in social strike had
already agreed to do.

What was the response from my valiant anarchist comrades? In the
subsequent MSS meetings several of the anarchists basically folded
like napkins in regard to Marc and company. These anarchists didn't
have enough backbone or political smarts to demand anything of those
guys from the other group -- no explanations, no time and labor, no
nothing.

Marc Norton made it difficult for the anarchists in Muni Social Strike
to collectively assert their uncompromising anarchist principles, since
he didn't show up at meetings with a stack of unreadable Leniniod
newspapers hanging over his arm; he didn't wear a Mao cap or a Che
Guevara T-shirt, and his facial hair doesn't directly mimic that of
Lenin or Trotsky. Unlike the anarchists who I repeatedly attempt to
function with, for a quarter of a century now, this Leninist is a
sufficiently serious and politically skillful individual to refrain from
wearing his particular flavor of dogma on his sleeve, and as a result he
was capable of macking on a posse of callow and naive anarchos in the
recent social strike effort. The Leninist ended up playing the
anarchists for chumps from the beginning -- because the anarchists let
it happen.

My effective political connection to several anarchists who I've tried to
do things with for about two and a half years evaporated under the
first, extremely slight, external pressure. This is consistent with my
past experiences in dealing with anarchists; we are "comrades" as long
as it doesn't imply anything real and there is no substance to it, then,
as soon as there is any difficulty or trouble, all the anarchists
immediately morph into anarchists of the individualist stripe.

This grows out of a flaw that every anarchist group I have ever been
involved in since the spring of 1981 in DC has shared. No anarchist
group that I have ever been in has ever had any process of political
clarification as part of its development as a group, where we devote
part of our collective activity to reading and discussing revolutionary
history and theory. This is neccessary in order for anyone who is
serious about a collective effort for radical social change:

1. To figure out if we can function together,

2. To give us some collectively-worked out ideas of where our actions
against this society can be most effective, and,

3. Perhaps most importantly, to give a group of people the cohesion to
become a for-real-revolutionary-political group, a group that will stick
together in the face of opposition and adversity.

I despise Maoism and Trotskyism, but unlike anarchists, Maoists and
Trots are serious enough about what they believe in to devote a central
part of their activity to "reproducing their ideology" internally. Their
politics are no good, but their very-un-anarchist political seriousness
in this and many, many other things cannot be faulted.

In all the anarcho groups I've been in, everybody just calls themselves
an anarchist, or something close to it. We get together a
lowest-common denominator "Statement of Principles" to avoid the
difficulty of dealing with differences, and as long as we don't venture
outside of the anarchist subcultural scenester-scene or simpleminded
stuff like being the black bloc at peace demos everything goes
smoothly. But when groups built on this kind of flimsy basis attempt
anything more ambitious, in the complex larger society we live in,
they are either totally ineffective, or they collapse altogether, or they
end up ceeding all the initiative to whichever leftist outfit has a clearer
idea of what it wants, and is aggressive enough to go for it. All three of
these things happened at various points with the anarchists of Muni
Social Strike. This unfortunately confirms my impression, formed over
25 exasperating years, that anarchists are against leaders because
anarchists are more comfortable being followers.

I think that the anarchists in MSS becoming the dupes of the first
Leninist who put any real time and effort into playing them didn't
happened because the anarchists in question are born chumps, but
because none of the BAAC/MSS anarchos that I know of have any
prior experience in any kind of real life struggles of working people in
the real world; their practical political experience is limited to maybe
being in some harmless student group at Cal, or running around a
anti-war demo wearing dirty laundry and a bandana on their face.
Consequently they were over-awed by what we were trying to pull off
and were frantically grasping for a life-preserver. But I also think this
kind of will-to-fail or willingness to get hustled is hard-wired into
anarchism; it is clearly integral to what anarchism is all about.

Anti-authoritarianism is a useful concept -- when limited solely to
individual personality development. In any kind of collective social
struggle it becomes a gun that only fires backwards.
Anti-authoritarianism comes down to anarchists always having a lame
excuse to never take the lead in anything, and always tag along behind
anyone who isn't as indecisive as them. It happened with anarchism's
great moment of catastrophic failure in the Spanish Civil War, and it's
happened countless times in smaller struggles since, like the recent
one...

To be continued...
----------------------
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