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Kurdistan: A Family Album • Susan Meiselas • Magnum Photos
"Susan Meiselas’ work on the Kurdish people’s historic, and ongoing, struggle for statehood"



"Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas’ retrospective show ‘Mediations’ is one of four bodies of work shortlisted for the 2019 Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation Prize. ‘Mediations’ drew on Meiselas’ work spanning four decades, and included projects like Prince Street Girls and Carnival Strippers, as well as her reportage on Nicaragua’s insurrection and revolution spanning 10 years, and her longterm work on the Kurds, which became the book Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History.


Described by New York Times reviewer Karl E. Meyer as a ‘family album of a forsaken people’, the project saw Meiselas create a visual archive of the Kurdish peoples’ struggle for nationhood through her own interviews and photographs as well as collected historical, ethnographic, and personal images. Christopher Hitchens, in the Los Angeles Review of Books wrote that, “Susan Meiselas has, with infinite labor and tenderness, composed a collage, framed a composition, designed a frame, confected a design and by means of a deft balance between text and camera, brought off a thing of beauty as well as instruction…”


Meiselas’ Kurdistan project is on show at The Photographer’s Gallery in central London, until June 2, as part of the Deutsche Borse exhibition. Here, we reproduce Meiselas’ introduction to Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, alongside a selection of the book’s images."
susanmeiselas  2019  photography  kurds  kurdistan  turkey  iraq  iran  syria  ussr  history  1990s 
may 2019 by robertogreco
John Berger, Written in the night: The pain of living in the present world
"I WANT to say at least something about the pain existing in the world today. Consumerist ideology, which has become the most powerful and invasive on the planet, sets out to persuade us that pain is an accident, something that we can insure against. This is the logical basis for the ideology's pitilessness.

Everyone knows, of course, that pain is endemic to life, and wants to forget this or relativise it. All the variants of the myth of a Fall from the Golden Age, before pain existed, are an attempt to relativise the pain suffered on earth. So too is the invention of Hell, the adjacent kingdom of pain-as-punishment. Likewise the discovery of Sacrifice. And later, much later, the principle of Forgiveness. One could argue that philosophy began with the question: why pain?

Yet, when all this has been said, the present pain of living in the world is perhaps in some ways unprecedented.

I write in the night, although it is daytime. A day in early October 2002. For almost a week the sky above Paris has been blue. Each day the sunset is a little earlier and each day gloriously beautiful. Many fear that before the end of the month, US military forces will be launching the preventive war against Iraq, so that the US oil corporations can lay their hands on further and supposedly safer oil supplies. Others hope that this can be avoided. Between the announced decisions and the secret calculations, everything is kept unclear, since lies prepare the way for missiles. I write in a night of shame. By shame I do not mean individual guilt. Shame, as I'm coming to understand it, is a species feeling which, in the long run, corrodes the capacity for hope and prevents us looking far ahead. We look down at our feet, thinking only of the next small step.

People everywhere, under very different conditions, are asking themselves - where are we? The question is historical not geographical. What are we living through? Where are we being taken? What have we lost? How to continue without a plausible vision of the future? Why have we lost any view of what is beyond a lifetime?

The well-heeled experts answer. Globalisation. Postmodernism. Communications revolution. Economic liberalism. The terms are tautological and evasive. To the anguished question of where are we, the experts murmur: nowhere. Might it not be better to see and declare that we are living through the most tyrannical - because the most pervasive - chaos that has ever existed? It's not easy to grasp the nature of the tyranny for its power structure (ranging from the 200 largest multinational corporations to the Pentagon) is interlocking yet diffuse, dictatorial yet anonymous, ubiquitous yet placeless. It tyrannises from off shore - not only in terms of fiscal law, but in terms of any political control beyond its own. Its aim is to delocalise the entire world. Its ideo logical strategy, besides which Osama bin Laden's is a fairy tale, is to undermine the existent so that everything collapses into its special version of the virtual, from the realm of which (and this is the tyranny's credo) there will be a never-ending source of profit. It sounds stupid. Tyrannies are stupid. This one is destroying at every level the life of the planet on which it operates.

Ideology apart, its power is based on two threats. The first is intervention from the sky by the most heavily armed state in the world. One could call it Threat B52. The second is of ruthless indebtment, bankruptcy, and hence, given the present productive relations in the world, starvation. One could call it Threat Zero.

The shame begins with the contestation (which we all acknowledge somewhere but, out of powerlessness, dismiss) that much of the present suffering could be alleviated or avoided if certain realistic and relatively simple decisions were taken. There is a very direct relation today between the minutes of meetings and minutes of agony.

Does anyone deserve to be condemned to certain death simply because they don't have access to treatment which would cost less than $2 a day? This was a question posed by the director of the World Health Organisation last July. She was talking about the Aids epidemic in Africa and elsewhere from which an estimated 68 million people will die within the next 18 years. I'm talking about the pain of living in the present world.

Most analyses and prognoses about what is happening are understandably presented and studied within the framework of their separate disciplines: economics, politics, media studies, public health, ecology, national defence, criminology, education. In reality each of these separ ate fields is joined to another to make up the real terrain of what is being lived. It happens that in their lives people suffer from wrongs which are classified in separate categories, and suffer them simultaneously and inseparably.

A current example: some Kurds, who fled last week to Cherbourg, have been refused asylum by the French government and risk being repatriated to Turkey, are poor, politically undesirable, landless, exhausted, illegal and the clients of nobody. And they suffer each of these conditions at one and the same second. To take in what is happening, an interdisciplinary vision is necessary in order to connect the fields which are institutionally kept separate. And any such vision is bound to be (in the original sense of the word) political. The precondition for thinking politically on a global scale is to see the unity of the unnecessary suffering taking place. This is the starting point.

I WRITE in the night, but I see not only the tyranny. If that were so, I would probably not have the courage to continue. I see people sleeping, stirring, getting up to drink water, whispering their projects or their fears, making love, praying, cooking something whilst the rest of the family is asleep, in Baghdad and Chicago. (Yes, I see too the forever invincible Kurds, 4,000 of whom were gassed, with US compliance, by Saddam Hussein.) I see pastrycooks working in Tehran and the shepherds, thought of as bandits, sleeping beside their sheep in Sardinia, I see a man in the Friedrichshain quarter of Berlin sitting in his pyjamas with a bottle of beer reading Heidegger, and he has the hands of a proletarian, I see a small boat of illegal immigrants off the Spanish coast near Alicante, I see a mother in Mali - her name is Aya which means born on Friday - swaying her baby to sleep, I see the ruins of Kabul and a man going home, and I know that, despite the pain, the ingenuity of the survivors is undiminished, an ingenuity which scavenges and collects energy, and in the ceaseless cunning of this ingenuity, there is a spiritual value, something like the Holy Ghost. I am convinced of this in the night, although I don't know why.

The next step is to reject all the tyranny's discourse. Its terms are crap. In the interminably repetitive speeches, announcements, press conferences and threats, the recurrent terms are Democracy, Justice, Human Rights, Terrorism. Each word in the context signifies the opposite of what it was once meant to. Each has been trafficked, each has become a gang's code-word, stolen from humanity.

Democracy is a proposal (rarely realised) about decision-making; it has little to do with election campaigns. Its promise is that political decisions be made after, and in the light of, consultation with the governed. This is depend ent upon the governed being adequately informed about the issues in question, and upon the decision-makers having the capacity and will to listen and take account of what they have heard. Democracy should not be confused with the freedom of binary choices, the publication of opinion polls or the crowding of people into statistics. These are its pretence. Today the fundamental decisions, which effect the unnecessary pain increasingly suffered across the planet, have been and are taken unilaterally without any open consultation or participation. For instance, how many US citizens, if consulted, would have said specifically yes to Bush's withdrawal from the Kyoto agreement about the carbon dioxide greenhouse effect which is already provoking disastrous floods in many places, and threatens, within the next 25 years, far worse disasters? Despite all the media-managers of consent, I would suspect a minority.

It is a little more than a century ago that Dvořák composed his Symphony From the New World. He wrote it whilst directing a conservatory of music in New York, and the writing of it inspired him to compose, 18 months later, still in New York, his sublime Cello Concerto. In the symphony the horizons and rolling hills of his native Bohemia become the promises of the New World. Not grandiloquent but loud and continuing, for they correspond to the longings of those without power, of those who are wrongly called simple, of those the US Constitution addressed in 1787.

I know of no other work of art which expresses so directly and yet so toughly (Dvořák was the son of a peasant and his father dreamt of his becoming a butcher) the beliefs which inspired generation after generation of migrants who became US citizens.

For Dvořák the force of these beliefs was inseparable from a kind of tenderness, a respect for life such as can be found intimately among the governed (as distinct from governors) everywhere. And it was in this spirit that the symphony was publicly received when it was first performed at Carnegie Hall (16 December 1893).

Dvořák was asked what he thought about the future of American music and he recommended that US composers listen to the music of the Indians and blacks. The Symphony From the New World expressed a hopefulness without frontiers which, paradoxically, is welcoming because centered on an idea of home. A utopian paradox.

Today the power of the same country which inspired such hopes has fallen into the hands of a coterie of fanatical (wanting to limit everything except the power of capital), ignorant (recognising only the reality of their own fire-power), hypo critical (two measures for all ethical judgments, one … [more]
johnberger  2013  presence  present  consumerism  pain  ideology  worldhealthorganization  aids  africa  health  healthcare  priorities  power  powerlessness  kurds  turkey  iraq  war  tyranny  baghdad  saddamhussein  democracy  decisionmaking  participatory  participation  dvořák  us  military  freedom  economics  capitalism  language  euphemisms  media  resistance  words 
january 2017 by robertogreco
ROAR Magazine: Bookchin: living legacy of an American revolutionary
"A selection of articles, interviews and reviews from ROAR’s archives to honor and celebrate Bookchin’s long life, important work and great achievements.

The American revolutionary theorist Murray Bookchin passed away on July 30, 2006. Interest in his work and life has been revived in recent years, thanks in part to the Kurdish freedom movement in Turkey and Syria, which has begun to put his ideas about “a rational, ecological libertarian communist society, based on humane and cooperative social relations” into practice.

Long before the more recent upsurge of interest in his work, Bookchin’s writings, which go back all the way to the 1950s, influenced many on the left. Spending his life in revolutionary circles, Bookchin joined a communist youth organization at the age of nine and became a Trotskyist in his late thirties, before switching to anarchism and finally calling himself a ‘communalist’ after developing the theory of social ecology and libertarian municipalism.

To celebrate Bookchin’s long life and to honor his important work, we share a selection of the articles, interviews and reviews that ROAR has published over the years, highlighting the extraordinary intellectual achievements of this great radical thinker.

BOOKCHIN’S REVOLUTIONARY PROGRAM — JANET BIEHL
For Bookchin, the city was the new revolutionary arena, as it had been in the past; the twentieth-century left, blinded by its engagement with the proletariat and the factory, had overlooked this fact. Historically, revolutionary activity in Paris, St. Petersburg, and Barcelona had been based at least as much in the urban neighborhood as in the workplace. During the Spanish Revolution of 1936-37, the anarchist Friends of Durruti had insisted that “the municipality is the authentic revolutionary government.”

Today, Bookchin argued, urban neighborhoods hold memories of ancient civic freedoms and of struggles waged by the oppressed; by reviving those memories and building on those freedoms, he argued, we could resuscitate the local political realm, the civic sphere, as the arena for self-conscious political self-management.

Continue reading… [https://roarmag.org/magazine/biehl-bookchins-revolutionary-program/ ]

BOOKCHIN: LIVING LEGACY OF AN AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY — DEBBIE BOOKCHIN
One of Murray’s central contributions to Left thought was his insistence, back in the early 1960s, that all ecological problems are social problems. Social ecology starts from this premise: that we will never properly address climate change, the poisoning of the earth with pesticides and the myriad of other ecological problems that are increasingly undermining the ecological stability of the planet, until we address underlying issues of domination and hierarchy. This includes domination based on gender, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation, as well as class distinctions.

Eradicating those forms of oppression immediately raises the question of how to organize society in a fashion that maximizes freedom. So the ideas about popular assemblies presented in this book grow naturally out of the philosophy of social ecology. They address the question of how to advance revolutionary change that will achieve true freedom for individuals while still allowing for the social organization necessary to live harmoniously with each other and the natural world.

Continue reading… [https://roarmag.org/essays/bookchin-interview-social-ecology/ ]

MURRAY BOOKCHIN AND THE KURDISH RESISTANCE — JORIS LEVERINK
Over the past decade, democratic confederalism has slowly but surely become an integral part of Kurdish society. Three elements of Bookchin’s thought have particularly influenced the development of a “democratic modernity” across Kurdistan: the concept of “dual power,” the confederal structure as proposed by Bookchin under the header of libertarian municipalism, and the theory of social ecology which traces the roots of many contemporary struggles back to the origins of civilization and places the natural environment at the heart of the solution to these problems.

Continue reading… [https://roarmag.org/essays/bookchin-kurdish-struggle-ocalan-rojava/ ]

LEARNING FROM THE LIFE OF MURRAY BOOKCHIN — EIRIK EIGLAD
Janet Biehl treats complex ideas with remarkable ease, and the footnotes reveal careful research into the many movements, figures, and events that were significant to his political life.

Biehl extensively researched personal and public archives, and conducted long interviews with old colleagues. Her account is balanced, yet engaging. And it is never “objective.” Indeed, toward the end of the book, Biehl necessarily enters the book, and becomes part of the story. Yet, her account is in no way “self-aggrandizing”—indeed, much of it is not even flattering—but I think overall she provides a fair account of the personal doubts, frailties, and tensions that often accompany an intense political life.

Continue reading… [https://roarmag.org/essays/ecology-or-catastrophe-biehl-bookchin-review/ ]"
2016  murraybookchin  janetbiehl  anarchism  politics  philosophy  urbanism  cities  debbiebookchin  ecology  climatechange  freedom  socialecology  society  jorisleverin  kurds  confederalism  democracy  municipalism  libertarianism  history  environment  sustainability  capitalism  economics  eirikeiglad  gender  ethnicity  race  class  pollution  agriculture  earth  hierarchy  friendsofdurruti  spanishrevolution  stpetersburg  paris  barcelona  revolution  communalism  libertarianmunicipalism 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Smart on Isis from Tim Dickinson on Twitter
"1/Obama has done his homework when he says ISIS wants us to start a ground war, and will use our occupation of a foreign land to recruit

2/ ISIS propaganda is rife with references to scriptural prophecy regarding the last great battle of our time which will begin when

3/ The "Romans" (us) invade Dabiq, a town that still exists today in Syria. In scripture that battle sets the stage for the end of times

4/ leading to a showdown between "Muslims" (they think this refers only to them) and their enemies, in which the enemies are vanquished

5/ Remember it was in Dabiq that ISIS killed US hostage Peter Kassig, a former U.S. Army Ranger, as a way to underscore this point

6/ While it's hard to get our heads around this, I have spoken to enough ISIS fanboys & members by now to believe that they mean this

7/ ISIS *wants* U.S. boots on the ground, and wants us to engage them militarily. It would do wonders for their recruitment pitch

8. Question is: Can fight against this group be won from the air & via proxy forces on the ground, ones which are divided ethnically?

9/ Here is what I saw in Hasaka, Syria in July where I was embedded with YPG militia fighting ISIS & what I saw in Sinjar, Iraq last month

10/ where I was embedded with the PKK and with the Peshmarga, two more local forces fighting ISIS: In both places ISIS folded quickly

11/ In Hasaka, I saw frontline jump several miles in a few days; In Sinjar, I saw airstrikes & local forces take city in 48 hours

12/ But here's the rub: The proxy forces *only* succeeded because of heavy U.S. air support & air support will need to continue indefinitely

13/ If we let up the freed areas will be reinfiltrated. Already there are reports that Hasaka, which was declared liberated when I was there

14/ has been re-infiltrated by ISIS cells. Second big problem: The proxy forces fighting ISIS are nearly all Kurdish (YPG, Peshmarga, PKK)

15/ And they will only fight for historically Kurdish areas. Last month, I went to a sandbagged position overlooking the city of Mosul, Iraq

16/ Mosul was so close, were I wearing running shoes I could have jogged there and back. But the Peshmarga commander holding the position

17/ explained to me that when invasion of Mosul occurs (believed to be many months away) he would only fight to roughly halfway in to city

18/ Why? Because that is the ethnic faultline, and as a Kurdish commander he did not think it would be appropriate to go further in.

19/ The cities that need to be taken back (Mosul, Raqqa etc) are mostly Sunni, not Kurdish, and the U.S. has yet to find a Sunni proxy force"
rukminicallimachi  isis  2015  syria  kurds  iraq  war  barackobama  mosul  dabiq  pkk  peshmarga  ypg  kurdistan  rojava 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Why the Kurdish struggle is so important | Green Left Weekly
"This pamphlet aims to provide a short introduction to the Kurdish question for non-Kurdish readers in Australia. The focus is on Turkey and Rojava (the Kurdish majority liberated zone in northern Syria) where the struggle is being led by the revolutionary democratic wing of the Kurdish movement. That is, the People's Democratic Party (HDP), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

This is a mass struggle, involving hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.

Inescapably, there is little in the pamphlet about Iraq and Iran. It also does not deal in any detail with Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan's current war against the Kurds as he schemes to get a majority for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the November 1 parliamentary elections.

The articles, by myself and Tony Iltis, aim to provide essential information and perspective. Apart from that, we felt it was important to let key figures speak for themselves so readers could get a feel for the struggle.

So we have the eloquent and powerful 2013 Newroz (Kurdish New Year) message from jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş's luminous vision of a new Turkey.

Then there are the inspiring interviews with HDP co-leader Figen Yüksekdağ and two Women's Protection Units (YPJ) commanders, which show very clearly the tremendous role women are playing in the fight on both sides of the border.

The final item touches on Australia's minor but shameful role in the conflict — its criminalisation of the PKK as a banned terrorist group.

Importance of Rojava

All around the world, in a myriad of struggles, people are fighting against oppression and exploitation. As socialists we support them all, so what makes the Kurdish freedom struggle today so special?

The answer is the Kurdish freedom struggle in Turkey and Rojava has a clear goal — the creation of an inclusive, secular, radically democratic, feminist, ecological society. It has a revolutionary leadership worthy of the heroism and sacrifice of the people and a strategy to achieve its aims.

So much of what we hear about the Middle East involves sectarian and inter-communal violence. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) embodies this with its murderous intolerance and extremely backward ideology.

The Middle East is a tremendously rich mosaic of different ethnic and religious communities. Fundamentalists of all stripes want to destroy this beautiful diversity through ruthless violence.

This is clear in Syria and Iraq, where the ISIS fanatics control a large territory. It is also the case in Turkey, where the Erdoğan regime — following in the footsteps Turkish government's since the founding of the republic in 1923 — seeks to imprison the whole country in the straitjacket of a mythical Sunni Muslim “Turkish nation”.

Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazedis and a host of other ethnicities and faiths all endure discrimination and oppression.

Celebrating diversity

The progressive Kurdish movement has explicitly rejected such reactionary nationalism. In his Newroz message, Öcalan puts forward a revolutionary perspective in these very moving words: “We shall unite against those who want to divide and make us fight one another. We shall join together against those who want to separate us …

“The peoples of the region are witnessing a new dawn. The peoples of the Middle East are weary of enmity, conflict and war. They want to be reborn from their own roots and to stand shoulder to shoulder …

“The truths in the messages of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are being implemented in our lives today with new tidings. People are trying to regain what they have lost.”

The great success of the HDP in the June 7 elections was based on this approach. It sought to be the party of the oppressed and exploited across the whole country.

And in Rojava, diversity is built into the very foundations of the revolution. Kurds are the largest ethnic group, but conscious efforts are made to engage and incorporate Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen and so on into the self-governing structures of the cantons.

In Cizire canton, for example, where the population comprises Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs and Armenians, the official languages are Kurdish, Arabic and Aramaic. All communities have the right to teach and be taught in their native language.

This is a matter of life and death for the Rojava revolution. The forces of darkness are constantly trying to turn communities against each other. If the revolution cannot adequately counter this, it will fail.

The ISIS killers have gained worldwide notoriety for their barbaric treatment of prisoners — and their public celebration of it. Captives have been beheaded, burned alive and shot in mass executions.

The People's Protection Units (YPG) and YPJ in Rojava have repudiated such inhuman behaviour. Prisoners are treated correctly. Individual lapses are always possible, but the Rojava authorities have an exemplary record on the humane treatment of prisoners.

The YPG/J have also signed the Geneva Conventions on not using soldiers under the age of 18 and have discharged many combatants found to be underage.

However, one has to put things in perspective here: when a 15- or 16-year-old has seen family members killed or when ISIS attacks a village threatening to kill everyone, it is entirely natural that many youth will pick up a gun and join the resistance, irrespective of their age.

Women in the forefront

All great revolutions have drawn women into the struggle. But I think it is true to say that the role women are playing in the Kurdish freedom struggle in Turkey and Rojava is unprecedented in history.

In Rojava women have their own armed force, the YPJ, making up at least a third of the combatants. They are also in the YPG. Women are combatants at all levels, including in the command. They have furnished hundreds of martyrs to the struggle.

Women in Rojava are fighting for a new society in which real gender equality prevails. The Rojava Charter (constitution) says: “Women have the inviolable right to participate in political, social, economic and cultural life … [the charter] mandates public institutions to work towards the elimination of gender discrimination.”

In Afrin canton in 2013, for instance, women made up 65% of the administration. The Prime Minister is a woman, Hevi Ibrahim.

We do not need to idealise anything. Rojava society is patriarchal but under the pressure of war, revolution and a revolutionary leadership, things are changing. Young women cannot be stopped by their fathers or brothers from joining the YPJ or the Asayish, the public order force.

While not everyone is on side and some people are disenchanted, the revolution has inspired and involved whole layers of the population.

I especially like the photo by Yann Renoult on the back cover of our pamphlet. This shows a revolutionary Kurdish family in Rojava looking out with what seems to be hope, determination and courage. There is Ocalan's image on the wall; all the couple's sons and daughters had joined the defence forces as teenagers.

One son had fallen in battle at the age of 18. Their parents were behind them, especially their mother, said the photographer.

Yes, the situation is terrible, but people know what they are fighting for and that gives the revolution a tremendous strength.

I hope this pamphlet can help spread awareness of the Kurdish freedom struggle, build support for it and play a role in the development of a more effective solidarity movement here in Australia."
kurds  2015  women  gender  democracy  rojava  ethnicity  diversity  nationalism  progressivism  secularism  feminism  ecology  environment  sustainability  freedom  newroz  division  inclusivity  fundamentalism  daveholms  tonyiltis  inclusion  abdullahöcalan  ypg  kurdistan 
october 2015 by robertogreco
BBC - Blogs - Adam Curtis - HAPPIDROME - Part One
"In the battle for Kobane on the Syrian border everyone talks about the enemy - IS - and the frightening ideas that drive them. No-one talks about the Kurdish defenders and what inspires them.

But the moment you look into what the Kurds are fighting for - what you discover is absolutely fascinating. They have a vision of creating a completely new kind of society that is based on the ideas of a forgotten American revolutionary thinker.

He wanted to create a future world in which there would be no hierarchies, no systems that exercise power and control individuals. And the Kurds in Kobane are trying to build a model of that world.

It means that the battle we are watching night after night is not just between good and evil. It is also a struggle of an optimistic vision of the future against a dark conservative idea drawn from the past.

It is a struggle that may also have great relevance to us in the west. Because the revolutionary ideas that have inspired the Kurds also shine a powerful light on the system of power in Britain today. They argue that we in the west are controlled by a new kind of hierarchical power that we don’t fully see or understand.

There are two men at the heart of this story.

One is the American revolutionary thinker. He is called Murray Bookchin. Here is a picture of Bookchin looking revolutionary.

The other man is called Abdullah Ocalan. He is the leader of the Kurdish revolutionary group in Turkey - the PKK

Here he is in 1999 after he had been captured by Turkish security forces and was on his way to a jail on a tiny island in the Sea of Marmara where he would be the only prisoner.

In his solitude he would start to read the theories of Murray Bookchin and decide they were the template for a future world.

Both men began as hardline marxists.

Murray Bookchin was born in New York in 1921. In the 1930s he joined the American Communist Party. But after the second world war he began to question the whole theory that underpinned revolutionary marxism.

What changed everything for him was the experience of working in a factory. Bookchin had gone to work for General Motors - and he realized as he watched his fellow workers that Marx, Lenin and all the other theorists were wrong about the working class.

The Marxist theory said that once working men and women came together in factories the scales would fall from their eyes - and they would see clearly how they were being oppressed. They would also see how they could bond together to become a powerful force that would overthrow the capitalists.

Bookchin saw that the very opposite was happening. This was because the factory was organised as a hierarchy - a system of organisation and control that the workers lived with and experienced every second of the day. As they did so, that hierarchical system became firmly embedded in their minds - and made them more passive and more accepting of their oppression.

But Bookchin didn’t do what most disillusioned American Marxists in the 1950s did - either run away to academia, or become a cynical neo-conservative. Instead he remained an optimist and decided to completely rework revolutionary theory.

Here is Bookchin in 1983 talking about how his thinking became transformed - and how his factory experiences led him towards anarchism. It’s part of a fantastic film called Anarchism in America - as well as Bookchin it’s got a great bit with Jello Biafra, and it’s really worth watching if you can get hold of it.

[video]



Watching these sections of the film does make you think that what is being described is spookily close to the system we live in today. And that maybe we have misunderstood what really has emerged to run society since the 1980s.

The accepted version is that the neo-liberal right and the free market triumphed. But maybe the truth is that what we have today is far closer to a system managed by a technocratic elite who have no real interest in politics - but rather in creating a system of rewards that both keeps us passive and happy - and also makes that elite a lot of money.

That in the mid 1980s the new networks of computers which allowed everyone to borrow money came together with lifestyle consumerism to create a system of social management very close to Skinner’s vision.

Just like in the mental hospital we are all given fake money in the form of credit - that we can then use to get rewards, which keep us happy and passive. Those same technologies that feed us the fake money can also be used to monitor us in extraordinary detail. And that information is then used used to nudge us gently towards the right rewards and the right behaviours - and in extremis we can be cut off from the rewards.

The only problem with that system is that the pigeons may be getting restless. That not only has the system not worked properly since the financial crash of 2008, but that the growing inequalities it creates are also becoming a bit too obvious. The elite is overdoing it and - passive or not - the masses are starting to notice.

Which makes the alternative - the vision put forward by Lewis Mumford in the film, and which inspired Murray Bookchin - and the Kurds, seem more interesting as an alternative.

Here is Mumford from the film. He starts by criticising the managed utopia - how it turns people into sleepwalkers. He has a great quote:

“You reward them. You make people do exactly what you want with some form of sugar-coated drug or candy which will make them think they are actually enjoying every moment of it.

This is the most dangerous of all systems of compulsion. That’s why I regard Skinner’s utopia as another name for Hell. And it would be a worse hell because we wouldn’t realise we were there.

We would imagine we were still in Heaven.”

Mumford then goes on to describe eloquently the alternative, a system of direct democracy where we would all awake and become genuinely empowered - able to take part properly in deciding our destiny.

It is a powerful and optimistic vision of a new kind of progressive politics. But it has one very serious problem.

It means we would have to spend a lot of time going to meetings."
anarchism  2014  kurds  iraq  kobane  isis  murraybookchin  abdullahocalan  labor  marxism  hierarchy  hierarchies  horizontality  anarchy  oppression  revolution  optimism  jellobiafra  capital  capitalism  wagelabor  work  power  control  bfskinner  economics  domination  exploitation  gender  socialism  liberation  lewismumford  utopia  politics  oligarchy  neoliberalism  elitism  conditioning  compulsion  autonomy  behaviorism  hermankahn  hudsoninstitute  technocrats  1983  technocracy 
november 2014 by robertogreco

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