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Neo-Liberalism and the Defanging of Feminism

Allende was Wrong: Neoliberalism, Venezuela’s Student Right and the Answer from the Left

Venezuela Analysis

February 10, 2015

By Lucas Koerner 

P1040903

“Defend university autonomy for a true popular democracy.” “Freedom and Autonomy.” “Movement 13 welcomes you to study, struggle, and love.” 

No, these slogans I saw adorning the walls were not copied from the University of Chile, where I studied in 2012-2013, researching and struggling alongside the Chilean student movement that is militantly fighting to overturn the neoliberal educational regime imposed under Pinochet. But they very easily could have been. No, I was not at a militant Leftist public university; I was in Mérida, at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Los Andes (ULA), which is regarded as the principal recruiting ground for Venezuela’s rightwing student movement.

On Friday, January 23, the ULA erupted once again in violent student protests in which masked students temporarily set up barricades and attempted to forcibly enter several local stores. For local residents, these protests represented a bitter reminder of the “Guarimba,” the several months of violent opposition demonstrations in which rightwing students together with Colombian paramilitaries shut down major avenues with barricades and assassinated police and Chavista activists in a desperate bid to force the salida, or exit, of President Nicolás Maduro.

What is most confusing and troubling is the fact that the discourse of “university autonomy” has always been a slogan of the Left, which young people from Chile to Greece have utilized to defend themselves from outright repression at the hands of dictatorial regimes as well as from the far more nefarious structural violence of neoliberal privatization. Moreover, the practices of donning the capucha, or mask, setting up street barricades, and hurling molotov cocktails in pitched street battles with police are tried and true Leftist tactics developed in the course of grassroots struggles against the authoritarian capitalist state in contexts as distinct as Venezuela, France, and Palestine.

Yet in contemporary Venezuela, these historically Leftist forms of struggle, encompassing discourses, symbols, and tactical repertoires, have been appropriated by rightwing students, but with an ideological content that could not be more radially opposed: far from rebels or revolutionaries, these rightwing students are reactionaries through and through, bent on reversing the gains of the Bolivarian Revolution and restoring the oligarchic order firmly in place for 500 years prior to the conquest of power by the revolutionary grassroots movements that comprise Chavismo.

Here we are confronted by the stone-cold realization that there is nothing inherently revolutionary about young people, or students for that matter. Sadly, we are forced to concede that Salvador Allende, who famously said, “to be young and not revolutionary is a biological contradiction,” was wrong.

In what follows, I will offer some cursory notes towards an explanation of this rightward shift among certain segments of Venezuelan students together with their paradoxical appropriation of historically Leftist modes of struggle, focusing on the gentrification of the Venezuelan university as well as the ascendancy of neoliberal ideology as two crucial conditions for this overall process of ideological mutation. I will conclude with an interview with Javier, a student of political economy at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, who currently put his studies on hold to pursue worker organizing in coordination with local communal councils. Javier will discuss the Bolivarian University as a radical pedagogical alternative from below as well as the struggles faced by revolutionary students in the face of a resurgent Right.

The Gentrification of the Venezuelan University

This dramatic ideological metamorphosis undergone by Venezuelan student movements cannot be explained outside the context of the neoliberal “gentrification” of the university. Nonetheless, this neoliberalization only came in the wake of the brutal repression of decades of radical student struggles that sought to bring down the walls that separate the “ivory tower” from the social reality of the poor, excluded majority.

At its height; the 1969 movement for “Academic Renovation” fought for a radical democratization of the university, whereby students, faculty, and university workers would have equal decision-making power; which George Ciccariello-Mahr terms a “radicalization of the very notion of autonomy itself, one that asserted autonomy from the government while insisting that the university be subservient to the needs of the wider society of which students and workers were a part.”1 As we will see later, it is precisely this more nuanced, dialectical notion of autonomy that is lacking among those presently claiming to speak on behalf of Venezuelan students.

The revolutionary Renovation movement was savagely crushed by the government of Rafael Caldera, who unceremoniously sent tanks to close down the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). Nonetheless, this outright repression was tame by comparison to the “more insidious… subtle, and long-term policy of ethnic cleansing within the public university [which was realized] by limiting popular access and returning the institutions to their previous status as refuges for the most elite segments of society.”2 This progressive embourgeoisement of the Venezuelan university prefigured a similar process that would occur globally in the context of the neoliberal turn of the subsequent decades, in which public universities from the University of California to the University of Chile saw ruthless cuts in public funding, privatization of services, dramatic tuition hikes, and creeping technocratization, all with profound implications for social class composition. That is, the youth filling the halls of Venezuelan public universities came increasingly from the ranks of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, which rendered them all the more vulnerable to the seductive appeal of neoliberal ideology.

Unfortunately, this tendency has not been entirely reversed under the Bolivarian governments of Chavez and Maduro. While the Bolivarian Revolution has seen the creation of a new system of Bolivarian universities in an effort to outflank the traditional public universities as we will see below, the government and the array of radical social forces driving it from below have thus far been unable to launch a frontal assault.

In other words, whilst these traditional universities are “public” in name and nominally free for all students, historic public universities such as the UCV nevertheless retain all kinds of classist filtering mechanisms, such as entrance exams and additional fees for registration, books, etc., that serve to effectively bar working class students from attending. Most egregious in this respect are the so-called “autonomous universities” such as the ULA, which are conferred unquestioned authority over internal decision-making, while at the same time receiving full state funding, amounting in some cases to the budget of a Caribbean nation, for which they are obligated to give little in the way of formal accounting.

Moreover, this lingering bourgeois form of education in the traditional universities is matched by a thoroughly technocratic content, in which education is conceived as the production of upwardly-mobile experts insulated from the daily struggles of the masses, who are destined to serve the bureaucratic state or capital. As Javier, a student of political economy at the recently founded Bolivarian University succinctly put it, this capitalist model of education is about getting you to subscribe to the bourgeois careerist fiction that you need to study in order to “be someone,” fetichizing education as a sterile commodity purchased like any other in order to augment one’s “human capital,” as consistent with neoliberal logic.

Given this disproportionately elite class composition and thoroughly bourgeois educational paradigm, it is no wonder then that the student federations of public universities like the UCV and the ULA are now governed by the Right.

Neoliberalism: The Illusion of Subversion

While the changing class composition of Venezuelan universities over previous decades represents an important structural factor behind the rise of Venezuela’s rightwing student movement, we cannot neglect the particular characteristics of neoliberal ideology, namely its seductive capacity for passing as radical or revolutionary. But first, what is neoliberalism?

Neoliberalism might be defined as “historical, class-based ideology that proposes all social, political, and ecological problems can be resolved through more direct free-market exposure, which has become an increasingly structural aspect of capitalism.”3 Emerging as the political response on the part of the capitalist state to the economic crisis of the 1970s, neoliberalism sought to roll back the “democratic gains that had been previously achieved by the working classes, and which had become, from capital’s perspective, barriers to accumulation.”4 It was in this context of the ‘68 revolt that the revolutionary Left and the neoliberal Right would share a proclaimed common enemy, namely an overbearing, bureaucratic state engaged in bloody imperialist wars abroad and fierce repression at home, although the anti-statism of the latter was pure rhetoric, as neoliberal politicians were content to use the state to implement their class project.5

In what followed, the post-’68 demands leveled against the capitalist state for formal individual rights by the hegemonic variants of the feminist, LGBT, civil rights, etc. movements were perfectly compatible with the neoliberal agenda, which in turn spawned the “NGOization” of Leftist politics whereby non-profits progressively took over the leadership of social movements and channeled them in a de-radicalized, localized direction.In what followed, the post-’68 demands leveled against the capitalist state for formal individual rights by the hegemonic variants of the feminist, LGBT, civil rights, etc. movements were perfectly compatible with the neoliberal agenda, which in turn spawned the “NGOization” of Leftist politics whereby non-profits progressively took over the leadership of social movements and channeled them in a de-radicalized, localized direction. These developments gave rise to the normalization of petty-bourgeois lifestyle politics, especially in the newly gentrified universities, wherein demands for “diversity” and “inclusion” of underprivileged minorities could safely be made without ruffling any feathers. Thus, the dangerous lure of neoliberal ideology lies in its ability to render individualistic lifestyle politics, i.e. demanding access to consumer items, as cathartic acts of authentic revolt and resistance. Even as critical a thinker as Michel Foucault was seduced by neoliberalism’s apparent radicalism, joining in its chorus against the welfare state and praising it as a vehicle to promote the rights of the “excluded” (prisoners, LGBT people, women, those deemed “mentally ill,” etc.).6

We should not, therefore, be surprised by the fact that a segment of Venezuelan students don the traditional clothing of the Left and actually consider themselves revolutionaries facing down what they consider an oppressive dictatorship. But we must not be fooled. What the Venezuelan Right is attempting to do is appropriate the historic slogans, symbols, and tactics of the Left, but strip them of all collective emancipatory content, which is replaced with bourgeois individualist demands for consumer choice. Thus, the “freedom” that they demand has nothing to do with the plethora of social rights conquered under the Bolivarian Revolution, but here connotes unregulated access to dollars, weekend getaways to Miami, the “right” to own and exploit.

The “autonomy” that they clamor for amounts to nothing short of total unaccountability to the rest of society, while continuing to lay claim to the latter’s resources. The militant tactics of the street barricade, the capucha, and the Molotov do not figure here as legitimate forms of mass resistance or revolutionary intervention, but represent instances of fascist, paramilitary violence enacted by individuals against a government of the people. Nonetheless, it is precisely the apparently “anti-authoritarian” character of neoliberal ideology that enables the Venezuelan student Right to retrofit traditionally Leftist forms of struggle with reactionary bourgeois content, effectively disguising their shrill cries for individualist consumer choice as a righteous chorus of social rebellion.

However, this rightwing appropriation does not go uncontested. If symbols like the capucha and the barricade ultimately constitute what Ernesto Laclau terms “empty signifiers” that can be filled with any ideological content, then their meaning is perpetually disputed in the heat of social struggle. In other words, the Right’s usurpation can and must be reversed by new generations of revolutionary young people, struggling to at once reclaim the past and win the war for a socialist future.

The Bolivarian University of Venezuela: The Answer from the Bolivarian Left

The flagship of the Bolivarian government’s revolutionary initiative for higher education, the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) was founded in 2003 as part of the Mission Sucre, which has saw the radical expansion of access to quality public education among the popular classes historically excluded from the Venezuelan educational system. Today, the UBV annually graduates more students than any other institution of higher education in the country. Apart from rupturing with the traditionally oligarchic form of Venezuelan higher education, which has historically been the province of the elite, the UBV also proposes a revolution in the practical content of education, which it defines as “liberating, with criteria of social justice, inclusive, free and quality.”

I had the opportunity to sit down with Javier, a student of political economy at the Bolivarian University, who has temporarily frozen his studies in order to take on worker organizing in his community in 23 de Enero, located in the vast working class area in the west of Caracas known as Catia. He also works as a facilitator in the Bolivarian University for Workers “Jesus Rivero” in the Capital District government, which aims to raise political and class consciousness amongst public workers and prepare them for “assuming the direct and democratic management of the social process of work”. All facilitation sessions take place at the workplace itself.

His words paint a provisional picture of the depth of the revolution in educational praxis currently underway in Venezuela.

Q: Can you speak about the popular pedagogical project of the Bolivarian University?

A: Well if I were to talk about a popular project towards the structural transformation of the state and also the structural transformation of our thinking that we have currently, I would openly uphold [the example of] the Bolivarian University of the Workers, because, it’s a university that breaks with the top-down, positivist framework of education. The worker or compañero takes on the process of self-education in the space of work itself. This leads to the complete reevaluation of the education I have in my mind that I reproduce in practice, and this critical reevaluation of thought and practice lets me reinvent myself. The thinking that I have is a different kind of thought pattern that breaks with the frameworks of the capitalist system.

Moreover, our university sets down [the model of] self-education through reading, debate, and writing. This means that we don’t deny existing theories. We read the current theory, which is the systematization of struggles, for theories are the systematization of the struggles of the people, of the experience of the people. We debate this systematization, and we see if it can be adjusted to our present moment in order to not be dogmatic, but rather dialectical. Continuous, collective, integrated, and permanent self-education, that is the strategy. It is collective, because we all educate ourselves through the exchange of knowledge. It is continuous and permanent, because it never stops and we are always educating ourselves. It is integrated: We can specialize in an area, but we truly have to also know a little about everything, because labor is not an individual process, but a social one, where we all participate and we are all important in the development of the nation.

We also address the question of the management of the social labor process in order to be able to bring about structural transformations. When we talk about taking on the management of the social labor process, it’s the whole process. We realize this when we look at the arepa: the person who sows the corn, the person who harvests the corn, the person, who transports the corn, the person who processes the corn. In other words, the arepa comes out of a process in which there are very many people participating, the truck driver, the compañero in the factory, the compañera amassing the cornmeal; it’s all important work. So we propose that we take on the whole process and view ourselves as equals in struggle. This then is what permits us to truly form a culture of work that is not the competitive culture of work of the capitalist system, but rather a culture of work that guarantees the happiness of our people, we ourselves taking over the organization of what is truly socialism, the structural transformation of the state that we have.

Q: I want to follow your last point to a more macro level. How do you place the Bolivarian University in the context of the socialist struggle more broadly in society, particularly in terms of struggles over education?

A: Many of the universities teach the students a [large] number of lies that we at the Bolivarian University of Workers work to dismantle. We therefore have to dismantle the [large] number of lies that the capitalist system has sold us. One of these things that that they sell you in the universities is that you have to study to be someone. But they don’t explain to you that from the moment that you are in your mother’s womb, you already are someone, someone important. If you were to lose vital signs in the womb, your, mother would feel a great pain, and not only your mother, but your father, your closest family members. So, we are headed towards breaking with this framework of education, this deceitful education that continues to view you as labor-power.

[In contrast], the Bolivarian University of the Workers teaches, which is fundamental and essential, the review of the development of struggle in our society from the perspective of labor. How did our society undergo transformations? How were the instruments of labor forged, and how also how were the mechanisms of social division created? How did this social division take us to the point of creating systems of domination? In one moment, we lived under what was primitive communism, then we lived under slavery, and then what was feudalism, and now we are living under a system that continues to be slavery, that is the capitalist system, where they continue to dominate us with miserable wages and there’s no just distribution of wealth.

In our revolutionary Bolivarian process guided by our President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias, he addressed all of these historic struggles, but he also set down the important and timely objective in our Constitution and organic law of the just distribution of wealth. And if a compañero has a great factory bought with what he says is the product of his labor, we don’t believe him above all because the amount of property that he has is the product of alien labor and he pays [his workers] a miserable portion of the wealth that he receives from their labor. So, we are going to rupture with this system, go about rethinking, to understand that we can have other forms of organization for managing public administration. It could be a counsel administration, of counsels with revolutionary leadership, where the most dedicated compañeras and compañeros are vindicated and recognized. In this dynamic, we are not saying that we [the workers] are the only historic subject of our Bolivarian process, but rather that the campesino, the fisherman, the transport worker are also important. The path of communal [organizing] is also important, and so is the struggle of the compañeras and compañeros in the student centers, who keep on despite being pounded by this education of the capitalist system. For us, it is the recognition of all of the compañeras and compañeros in our struggles that matters.

We have also proposed that this process of collective, continuous, integral, and permanent self-education has to reach the communal councils, the communes, the colectivos, the social movements, whatever organizational expression that they might have. It has to reach [these spaces], because, we have to break with and decentralize the [traditional] conception of the university. It’s a great struggle we all have to take on, because what is the university, but the universalization of knowledge. You, I, all of  the compañeros here, the bus driver, all of the people who are here in this medium of transport possess knowledge.7 What we have to do is create the spaces where we can expound the amount of knowledge that we have and expound as well the amount of needs that we have, and in function of this, begin planning [society, especially the economy] ourselves.

Q: Many young people in this society, in the universities, have been deceived, and there’s a struggle for hegemony among young people in this country. For instance, we have a rightwing student movement that is producing openly violent and fascist leaders. How do you view the role of these alternative pedagogical projects in this struggle with the Right?

A: For us, the fact that the compa is young does not mean that he is revolutionary, that he is for structural transformation. The Right has many young people, but they are old in their thinking, because they continue upholding capitalist thinking. One has to be young in different areas, physically, but above all in one´s thinking. If there is a man who we could say marked a watershed in our history, not just for decades, but for centuries, it is Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias, because he shattered the framework, he imploded the schema of the bourgeois state. He imploded a space of great domination with new thinking. With liberating thinking, he imploded the space of the army, of our armed forces, a repressive organ that was directed against its own people on February 27th and 28th, 1989.8 He had a reflexive capacity, because Comandante Hugo Chávez Frias had already been doing this work. It’s continuous, it’s work that is going to take a long time, and we have to dedicate our heart and soul to the work that we are called to do and not neglect a single area.

The other task is to recognize our advances. The fact is that we have graduated an amount of compañeras and compañeros who have not graduated in forty years during which they didn’t have access to education. Yes, we can and must deepen our revolutionary process to advance towards socialism, but it’s also important to recognize all of the advances that we’ve had thus far.

Q: I went to the ULA last week and I fascinated by the discourse of autonomy and freedom appearing in their murals, the capucha that they use, all of which is an appropriation of the discourse and symbolism of the Left. How do you respond to this?

A: They have always tried to take our symbols away from us. For us, the capucha is a symbol of struggle. It’s ours. It was us who had to mask our faces [and protest in the streets], because we didn’t have an adequate education, above all in high school, but also in the university. We had many problems during the Fourth Republic, and we had to take to the streets, because they raised the student transportation fare. We had take to the streets, because we had to have class on the floor, because there were no chairs, because the roof was leaking. We lived through all of this, and for those reasons, we went out into the streets.

Today, there is a movement that is trying to take the streets, but responding to the interests of the private companies and the private media, which regrettably under our revolutionary process continue to have an economic power, which is expressed in the media, in the rumor campaigns. What we have to do is dismantle this vast amount of lies, but these rumors have an effect, because there’s a number of lies that we still have in our heads, that we have not yet dismantled. It’s a great challenge.

Evidently, many groups there [at the opposition marches] are paid, many groups that don’t truly represent our people. You can ask them. There were some compañeros of the people interviewing  some of the people who participated on January 24th in the “March of the Empty Pots,” which we might rather have called the “March of the Empty Heads,” because they don’t think. So they interviewed them and asked them if they were poor, to which they quickly respond, “I’m not poor.”

Besides, this is an example of them trying to steal our symbols, the pots, which our people took out to the streets before the Caracazo and after the Caracazo, because the pots were truly empty, there was nothing to eat. Today no, it’s an economic war, they are hoarding everything, and everyone has seen the amount of food that we have. They tell us that there is no flour, but there’s not a single arepera closed. They say that that there’s no milk, but there’s no shortage of yogurt. So they are trying to escape from the regularization of the sale of these products in order to reap greater profits, but not only to reap greater profits, but also to boycott the revolutionary government and that this unrest be directed against the revolutionary government of Nicolás Maduro.

From here, we have to go out in the streets with an alternative popular communication that engages face-to-face with our people and dismantles the large amount of lies, but we also must develop the productive forces. Beyond a crisis, well there is a crisis, but it´s a crisis of their system, a crisis of capitalism, because the socialist system still doesn’t exist yet. So we have to take advantage of this crisis of the capitalist system and come out of it advancing ahead with the development of our productive forces, evidently organized according to a distinct logic of work, a new culture of work that is liberating: labor that truly educates you to build this new republican order envisioned by our philosopher and pedagogue Simon Rodriguez, the teacher of Simon Bolivar.

 

 

Notes

1 Ciccariello-Maher, G. (2013). We created Chávez: A people’s history of the Venezuelan revolution. Durham; Duke University Press, p. 113.

2 Ibid., p. 112.

3 Marois cited in Weber, J.R. (2011). Red october: Left-Indigenous struggles in modern Bolivia. Brill: Boston, p. 30.

4 Panitch, L., & Gindin, S. (2012). The making of global capitalism: The political economy of American empire. Verso: London, p. 15.

5 Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford University Press: New York, p. 42.

6 See Zamora, D. (2014). “Can we criticize Foucault?” Jacobin, 10 December 2014. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/foucault-interview/

7 Note: This interview was conducted on a public metro bus en route from Ciudad Caribia to Metro Gato Negro in Catia.

8 February 27 and 28, 1989 refers to the Caracazo, the explosion of mass social mobilizations rejecting neoliberal measures imposed by the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez, under whose orders the army occupied the streets of Caracas and proceeded to gun down anywhere between 300 and 3000 people.

How to Uphold White Supremacy by Focusing on Diversity and Inclusion

December 10, 2014 | 2014 in Review

Liberalism’s Inherent Racism

by Kyra

Since the civil rights movement, white people have exploited every opportunity to conceal their colonialist legacy and longstanding (ab)use of white supremacist power. They’ve proven time and again that they have no interest in rectifying that history, only in dealing with the fact that they could no longer deny the reality of those injustices. One effective tactic has been to separate white supremacy and colonialism from the way racism is understood and taught through schools, history textbooks, news media, and through any white-controlled institutions. These lessons, of anti-racism as-told-by-white-people, will be familiar to you: that racism is only explicit racial prejudice; that separatism is the essence of Jim Crow (and therefore inclusion is the antithesis to de jure segregation); and that the remedy for a racist society is a colorblind one.

All of these assumptions are grounded in liberalism: the egalitarian principle which works to ignore and erase difference rather than to undo oppression. It strives for a post-feminist, post-queer, post-racial or racially colorblind world. Liberalism as an ideology deems equal rights and equal treatment as a higher priority than? material justice, or as an effective means towards ?it. Its presumptions of equality are false, as individualist equality may be written into law and policy while material inequality thrives. It effectively abstracts and obscures power dynamics along lines of race, class, and gender. The difference between material justice and liberalism is the difference between actually making reparations for a long history of racism and countries like Austria, Finland, Hungary, France, and now Sweden removing all mentions of “race” from their legislation.

Liberalism is not the opposite of conservatism on a left-right political spectrum, but a set of values that informs various other political ideologies including conservatism and libertarianism. Even the most popular manifestations of feminism and radical political thought (anarchism, communism, and socialism) are their most liberal forms. You can recognize the influence of liberalism in any political philosophy or practice that?, ?consciously or not?, ?focuses on individual equality before social power. What is it that says that ending racism means setting aside our differences and finding commonality? Liberalism. What is it that says that we need love to bring us together and to end the hate which drives us apart? Liberalism. What is it that says to choose unity over disunion? Liberalism. What is it that says racism/sexism/sizeism hurts everyone? Liberalism.

A large public art structure with alphabetical blocks spelling out 'LOVE'.

Photo CC-BY jm scott, filtered.

All of these ideas value a certain perception of equality at the expense of those who suffer due to social inequality. That’s why you’ll notice this rhetoric so frequently employed to dismiss oppressed people who direct their anger…at their oppressors. Through a white-writing of history (and history textbooks) that erases and minimizes all of the revolts that were necessary for change, liberals are able to demand that protesters remain totally peaceful, pacifist, and nonviolent (by which they mean non-destructive of property) in the face of dehumanization, degradation, and absolute repressive violence (the actual destruction of human life). White liberals and their sympathizers take ideas and quotes from Martin Luther King out of context and use them to shame disruptive protesters as rioters and looters, dismiss more militant activists as spiteful and vengeful, blaming them all for their own conditions.

The toxic effects of liberalism are clear in diversity advocacy and its language. Take the reframing of affirmative action as an initiative to promote diversity. Affirmative action was created in recognition of a centuries-long legacy of racism and historically discriminatory hiring/admissions practices. It is remedial in nature, and requires the recognition of past and ongoing wrongs that need to be righted. In stark contrast to this, diversity emphasizes the pragmatic benefits to morale, productivity, and profits. Diversity is the practice of mixing together different bodies within a common organization, and is a prime resource to be capitalized upon by businesses and organizations that are white owned and/or operated. Diversity still benefits those in power by taking advantage of the various experiences and vantage points of different racial/gender/sexual backgrounds. Rather than respecting difference and redistributing power based on it, diversity only “celebrates” difference in order to exploit multiculturalism for its economic value.

There is a reason that diversity is consistently promoted as being beneficial to everyone, disregarding who benefits most from various arrangements of diversity. As a dominant mode of thought, we must challenge liberalism if we hope to challenge the structures of domination that it both masks and reinforces, through diversity or otherwise.

A wall that reads 'Imagine' with a peace symbol on it.

Image CC-BY Matteo Piotto, filtered.

“Inclusivity” and “exclusivity” are politically meaningless without context and divert attention away from specific power dynamics. In common use, they are assigned inherently positive and negative values without specifying who is being included or excluded. This is why you might see a group proudly promote itself as being more “open” and “inclusive” than a group which is intentionally exclusive to create a safer space for a specific marginalized group. This is because de jure segregation is so strongly associated with racism. Still, segregation is not racist in and of itself. It is racist depending on a history of white supremacy, depending on who is enforcing segregation, and depending on the material impact of said segregation.

While after a history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, fighting for desegregation was obviously necessary, but that progress is not inherent to diversity and inclusion. They are only valuable insofar as they reduce a white stronghold on power. How would racial diversity or the inclusion of men benefit the organizational team behind Black Girl Dangerous? What about organizations like the Trans Women of Color Collective or INCITE! which could only be opened to more racial diversity through the inclusion of whites? Diversity and inclusion whitewash and undermine the very basis of their value for racial justice and feminism: providing access to resources, representation, and power to identity groups that lack them. Not only is “inclusivity” politically meaningless, but to frame the benefits of stronger representation of marginalized races, genders, etc. within “diversity” gravely strips the progress it provides of its power and political significance. There is then danger in uncritically advocating for—or even just discussing power dynamics in terms of—diversity or inclusivity.

Closed spaces for marginalized identities are essential, especially ones for multiply marginalized identities, as we know from intersectionality (not to be confused with the idea that all oppression is interconnected, as many white women who have appropriated the term as self-proclaimed “intersectional feminists” seem to understand it). Any group, whether organized around a shared marginalized identity or not, will by-default be centered around the most powerful within that group. For example, cisgender white women will dominate women’s groups that aren’t run by or consciously centering trans women and women of color. A requirement for all groups to be fully open and inclusive invites the derailment and silencing of marginalized voices already pervasive in public spaces, preventing alternative spaces of relative safety from that to form. Hegemony trickles down through layers of identity, but liberation surges upwards from those who experience the most compounded layers of oppression.

So why do so many people seeking racial justice, female empowerment, and queer liberation still choose to advocate for “diversity” and “inclusion”? They appeal to liberalism. They prevent oppression from being named. They prevent us from speaking truth to power. They make progress sound friendly to those in power. Companies can tokenize women and people of color throughout their advertising. They can get way more credit than they deserve for being not 100% white men. They can profit from the increases in efficiency and productivity associated with more diversity. All of the above ignore the fact that companies needed to have diversity initiatives to make them less overwhelmingly white in the first place; that white people are the ones in the position of being able to grant access in the first place. When we work for justice and liberation, we can’t accept progress that is conditional on being economically beneficial.

The only way to prevent that is to name oppression for what it is; to speak truth to power. If a group is dominated by whites, men, and other privileged classes, don’t let that be reduced to a diversity issue.

You may have seen the phrase before and possibly even used it yourself, but if you still focus on inclusion and diversity, you don’t truly understand: assimilation ? liberation. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we necessarily position marginalized groups as naturally needing to assimilate into dominant ones, rather than to undermine said structures of domination. Yes, we need jobs; we need education; we need to access various resources. What we don’t need is to relegate ourselves to the position of depending on someone else to offer us inclusion and access to those resources. Inclusion is something they must give, but our liberation is something we will take. The cost of assimilation is always in the well-being and lives of those who are not close enough to power to be able to assimilate. Another less popular expression of our expression more sharply calls attention to these dangers of uncritical integrationism: assimilation = death.

 

This work is licensed under the Decolonial Media License 0.1.

 

[Kyra is a Chinese-Amerikan trans woman working to create space for radical racial justice through technology where progress has been limited to liberal white feminism. She serves on the board of directors of the Free Culture Foundation and founded the Empowermentors Collective, a skillshare, discussion, and support network for trans, disabled, and queer people of color who share a critical interest in race, gender, and technology. She Tweets in spurts and bouts @kxra.]

Western Intervention and The Colonial Mindset

conformity-is-unity-3
Poster courtesy of Mark Gould
January 20, 2015
By Prof. Tim Anderson
+++

In these times of ‘colour revolutions’ language has been turned on its head. Banks have become the guardians of the natural environment, sectarian fanatics are now ‘activists’ and the Empire protects the world from great crimes, rather than delivering them.

Colonisation of language is at work everywhere, amongst highly educated populations, but is peculiarly virulent in colonial culture. ‘The West’, that self-styled epitome of advanced civilisation, energetically reinvents its own history, to perpetuate the colonial mindset.

Writers such as Fanon and Freire pointed out that colonised peoples experience psychological damage and need to ‘decolonise’ their minds, so as to become less deferential to imperial culture and to affirm more the values of their own cultures. The other side to that is the colonial legacy on imperial cultures. Western peoples maintain their own culture as central, if not universal, and have difficulty listening to or learning from other cultures. Changing this requires some effort.

Powerful elites are well aware of this process and seek to co-opt critical forces within their own societies, colonising progressive language and trivialising the role of other peoples. For example, after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the idea that NATO forces were protecting Afghan women was promoted and gained popularity. Despite broad opposition to the invasion and occupation, this ‘humanitarian’ goal appealed to the missionary side of western culture. In 2012 Amnesty International put up posters saying ‘NATO: keep the progress going’, on women’s rights in Afghanistan, while the George W. Bush Institute collected money to promote Afghan women’s rights.

The unfortunate balance sheet of NATO’s 13-year occupation is not so encouraging. The UNDP’s 2013 report shows that only 5.8% of Afghan women have had some secondary schooling (7th lowest in the world), the average Afghan woman has 6 babies (equal 3rd highest rate in the world, and linked to low education), maternal mortality is at 470 (equal 19th highest in the world) and average life expectancy is 49.1 years (equal 6th lowest in the world). Not impressive ‘progress’.

In many ways the long ‘feminist war’ in Afghanistan drew on the British legacy in colonial India. As part of its great ‘civilising mission’ that empire claimed to be protecting Indian women from ‘sati’, the practise of widows throwing themselves (or being thrown) on their husband’s funeral pyre. In fact, colonial rule brought little change to this isolated practice. On the other hand, the wider empowerment of girls and women under the British Raj was a sorry joke. At independence adult literacy was only 12%, and that of women much less. While India still lags in many respects, educational progress was much faster after 1947.

Such facts have not stopped historians like Niall Ferguson and Lawrence James attempting to sanitise British colonial history, not least to defend the more recent interventions. It might appear difficult to justify colonialism, but the argument seems to have a better chance amongst peoples with a colonial past seeking some vindication from within their own history and culture.

North American language is a bit different, as the United States of America claims never to have been a colonial power. The fact that US declarations of freedom and equality were written by slave-owners and ethnic-cleansers (the US Declaration of Independence famously attacks the British for imposing limits on the seizure of Native American land) has not dimmed enthusiasm for those fine ideals. That skilful tradition certainly influences the presentation of Washington’s recent interventions.

After the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq we saw a change in approach, with the big powers enlisting sectarian fanatics against the independent states of the region. Even the new Iraqi state, emerging from the post-2003 rubble, was attacked by these fanatics. An ‘Arab Spring’ saw Libya trampled by a pseudo-revolution backed by NATO bombing, then delivered to a bunch of squabbling al Qaeda groups and western collaborators. The little country that once had the highest living standards in Africa went backwards decades.

Next came brave Syria, which has resisted at terrible cost; but the propaganda war runs thick. Few in the west seem to be able to penetrate it. The western left shares illusions with the western right. What was at first said to be a nationalist and secular ‘revolution’ – an uprising against a ‘dictator’ who was killing his own people – is now led by ‘moderate rebels’ or ‘moderate Islamists’. The extremist Islamists, who repeatedly publicise their own atrocities, are said to be a different species, against whom Washington finally decided to fight. Much of this might sound ridiculous to the average educated Arab or Latin American, but it retains some appeal in the west.

One reason for the difference is that nation and state mean something different in the west. The western left has always seen the state as monolithic and nationalism as something akin to fascism; yet in the former colonies some hope remains with the nation-state. Western populations have never had their own Ho Chi Minh, Nelson Mandela, Salvador Allende, Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro. One consequence of this is, as much as western thinkers might criticise their own states, they are reluctant to defend others. Many who criticise Washington or Israel will not defend Cuba or Syria .

All this makes proxy wars more marketable in the west. We could even say they have been a relatively successful tactic of imperial intervention, from the contra war on Nicaragua to the proxy armies of Islamists in Libya and Syria. So long as the big power is not seen to be directly involved, western audiences can find quite attractive the idea that they are helping another people rise up and gain their ‘freedom’.

Even Noam Chomsky, author of many books on US imperialism and western propaganda, adopts many of the western apologetics for the intervention in Syria. In a 2013 interview with a Syrian opposition paper he claimed the foreign-backed, Islamist insurrection was a repressed ‘protest movement’ that had been forced to militarise and that America and Israel had no interest in bringing down the Syrian Government. He admitted he was ‘excited’ by Syria’s uprising, but rejected the idea of a ‘responsibility to protect’ and opposed direct US intervention without a UN mandate. Nevertheless, he joined cause with those who want to ‘force’ the Syrian Government to resign, saying ‘nothing can justify Hezbollah’s involvement’ in Syria, after the Lebanese resistance group worked with the Syrian Army to turn the tide against the NATO-backed jihadists.

How do western anti-imperialists come to similar conclusions to those of the White House? First there is the anarchist or ultra-left idea of opposing all state power. This leads to attacks on imperial power yet, at the same time, indifference or opposition to independent states. Many western leftists even express enthusiasm at the idea of toppling an independent state, despite knowing the alternatives, as in Libya, will be sectarianism, bitter division and the destruction of important national institutions.

Second, reliance on western media sources has led many to believe that the civilian massacres in Syria were the work of the Syrian Government. Nothing could be further from the truth. A careful reading of the evidence will show that almost all the civilian massacres in Syria (Houla, Daraya, Aqrab, Aleppo University, East Ghouta) were carried out by sectarian Islamist groups, and sometimes falsely blamed on the government, in attempts to attract greater ‘humanitarian intervention’.

The third element which distorts western anti-imperial ideas is the constrained and self-referential nature of discussions. The parameters are policed by corporate gatekeepers, but also reinforced by broader western illusions of their own civilising influence.

A few western journalists have reported in sufficient detail to help illustrate the Syrian conflict, but their perspectives are almost always conditioned by the western ‘liberal’ and humanitarian narratives. Indeed, the most aggressive advocacy of ‘humanitarian intervention’ in recent years has come from liberal media outlets like the UK Guardian and corporate-NGOs such as Avaaz, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Those few journalists who maintain an independent perspective, like Arab-American Sharmine Narwani, publish mostly outside the better-known corporate media channels.

Imperial culture also conditions the humanitarian aid industry. Ideological pressure comes not just from the development banks but also the NGO sector, which maintains a powerful sense of mission, even a ‘saviour complex’ about its relations with the rest of the world. While ‘development cooperation’ may have once included ideas of compensation for colonial rule, or assistance during a transition to independence, today it has become a $100 billion a year industry, with decision making firmly in the hands of western financial agencies.

Quite apart from the dysfunction of many aid programs, this industry is deeply undemocratic, with powerful colonial overtones. Yet many western aid workers really believe they can ‘save’ the poor peoples of the world. That cultural impact is deep. Aid agencies not only seek to determine economic policy, they often intervene in political and even constitutional processes. This is done in the name of ‘good governance’, anti-corruption or ‘democracy strengthening’. Regardless of the problems of local bodies, it is rarely admitted that foreign aid agencies are the least democratic players of all.

For example, at the turn of this century, as Timor Leste gained its independence, aid bodies used their financial muscle to prevent the development of public institutions in agriculture and food security, and pushed that new country into creating competitive political parties, away from a national unity government. Seeking an upper hand amongst the ‘donor community’, Australia then aggravated the subsequent political division and crisis of 2006. With ongoing disputes over maritime boundaries and petroleum resources, Australian academics and advisers were quick to seize on that moment of weakness to urge that Timor Leste’s main party be ‘reformed’, that its national army be sidelined or abolished and that the country adopt English as a national language. Although all these pressures were resisted, it seemed in that moment that many Australian ‘friends’ of Timor Leste imagined they had ‘inherited’ the little country from the previous colonial rulers. This can be the peculiar western sense of ‘solidarity’.

Imperial cultures have created a great variety of nice-sounding pretexts for intervention in the former colonies and newly independent countries. These pretexts include protecting the rights of women, ensuring good governance and helping promote ‘revolutions’. The level of double-speak is substantial.

Those interventions create problems for all sides. Independent peoples have to learn new forms of resistance. Those of good will in the imperial cultures might like to reflect on the need to decolonise the western mind.

Such a process, I suggest would require consideration of (a) the historically different views of the nation-state, (b) the important, particular functions of post-colonial states, (c) the continued relevance and importance of the principle of self-determination, (d) the need to bypass a systematically deceitful corporate media and (e) the challenge of confronting fond illusions over the supposed western civilising influence. All these seem to form part of a neo-colonial mindset, and may help explain the extraordinary western blindness to the damage done by intervention.

 

 

References

Tim Anderson (2006) ‘Timor Leste: the Second Australian Intervention’, Journal of Australian Political Economy, No 58, December, pp.62-93

Tony Cartalucci (2012) ‘Amnesty International is US State Department propaganda’, Global research, 22 August, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/amnesty-international-is-us-state-department-propaganda/32444

Ann Wright and Coleen Rowley (2012) ‘Ann Wright and Coleen Rowley’, Consortium News, June 18, online: https://consortiumnews.com/2012/06/18/amnestys-shilling-for-us-wars/

Noam Chomsky (2013) ‘Noam Chomsky: The Arab World And The Supernatural Power of the United States’, Information Clearing House, 16 June, online: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article35527.htm

Bush Centre (2015) ‘Afghan Women’s Project’, George W, Bush Centre, online: http://www.bushcenter.org/womens-initiative/afghan-womens-project

Some detail of Syria’s ‘false flag’ massacres can be seen in the following articles:

Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh (2013) ‘Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack’, MINT PRESS, August 29, online:http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/

Rainer Hermann (2012) ‘Abermals Massaker in Syrien’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 7 June, online: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/neue-erkenntnisse-zu-getoeteten-von-hula-abermals-massaker-in-syrien-11776496.html

Stephen Lendman (2012) Insurgents Named Responsible for Syrian Massacres’, ICH, 11 June: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article31544.htm

Richard Lloyd and Theodore A. Postol (2014) ‘Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013’, MIT, January 14, Washington DC, online:https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1006045-possible-implications-of-bad-intelligence.html#storylink=relast

Marinella Correggia, Alfredo Embid, Ronda Hauben, Adam Larson (2013) ‘Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity for the Syrian Houla Massacre of May 2012’, CIWCL,May 15, online: http://ciwclibya.org/reports/realtruthhoula.html

ISTEAMS (2013) ‘Independent Investigation of Syria Chemical Attack Videos and Child Abductions’, 15 September, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/STUDY_THE_VIDEOS_THAT_SPEAKS_ABOUT_CHEMICALS_BETA_VERSION.pdf

Seymour Hersh (2013) ‘Whose Sarin?’, LRB, 19 December, online: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

Souad Mekhennet (2014) ‘The terrorists fighting us now? We just finished training them’, Washington Post, August 18, online: http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/08/18/the-terrorists-fighting-us-now-we-just-finished-training-them/

Marat Musin (2012b) ‘THE HOULA MASSACRE: Opposition Terrorists “Killed Families Loyal to the Government’, Global research, 1 June, online: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-houla-massacre-opposition-terrorists-killed-families-loyal-to-the-government/31184?print=1

Sharmine Narwani (2014) ‘Syria: the hidden massacre’, RT, 7 May, online: http://rt.com/op-edge/157412-syria-hidden-massacre-2011/

Sharmine Narwani (2014) ‘Joe Biden’s latest foot in mouth’, Veterans News Now, October 3, online: http://www.veteransnewsnow.com/2014/10/03/510328joe-bidens-latest-foot-in-mouth/

Truth Syria (2012) ‘Syria – Daraa revolution was armed to the teeth from the very beginning’, BBC interview with Anwar Al-Eshki,YouTube, 7 November, online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoGmrWWJ77w

Book Review: This Changes Everything

By Kim Hill, Deep Green Resistance Australia

Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything, is based on the premise that capitalism is the cause of the climate crisis, and to avert catastrophe, capitalism must go. The proposed solution is a mass movement that will win with arguments that undermine the capitalist system by making it morally unacceptable.

This premise has many flaws. It fails to acknowledge the roots of capitalism and climate change, seeing them as independent issues that can be transformed without taking action to address the underlying causes. Climate change cannot be avoided by building more infrastructure and reforming the economy, as is suggested in the book. The climate crisis is merely a symptom of a deeper crisis, and superficial solutions that act on the symptoms will only make the situation worse. Human-induced climate change started thousands of years ago with the advent of land clearing and agriculture, long before capitalism came into being. The root cause—a culture that values domination of people and land, and the social and physical structures created by this culture—needs to be addressed for any action on capitalism or climate to be effective.

I’ve long been baffled by the climate movement. When 200 species a day are being made extinct, oceans and rivers being drained of fish and all life, unpolluted drinking water being largely a thing of the past, and nutritious food being almost inaccessible, is climate really where we should focus our attention? It seems a distraction, a ‘look, what’s that in the sky?’ from those that seek to profit from taking away everything that sustains life on the only planet we have. By directing our thoughts, discussions and actions towards gases in the upper atmosphere and hotly debated theories, rather than immediate needs for basic survival of all living beings, those in power are leading us astray from forming a resistance movement that could ensure the continuation of life on Earth.

This book is a tangle of contradictions. An attempt to unravel the contradictions and understand the thinking behind these arguments is what drew me in to reading it, but in the end I was left confused, with a jumble of mismatched ideas, vague goals, and proposals to continue with the same disjointed tactics that have never worked in the past.

This Changes Everything advocates for socialism, then explores why socialism won’t stop fossil fuel extraction. It is against capitalism, yet insists ‘there is plenty of room to make a profit in a zero-carbon economy’. Renewable energy is promoted as an alternative, yet the objections of people whose land and livelihoods are destroyed by these developments is acknowledged and respected. The book promotes the rights of indigenous people to live on their land in traditional ways, and at the same time claims they need jobs and development. It sees the extraction and burning of fossil fuels as the main cause of the climate crisis, yet recommends solutions that require more of the same. It supports economic development while opposing economic growth. It says that ‘compromised, palatable-to-conservative solutions don’t work’ yet is selling exactly that.

One chapter is devoted to promoting divestment from fossil fuel companies, even though this is openly acknowledged to have no economic effect. Apparently it will ‘bankrupt their reputation’ rather than actually bankrupt them. This strategy is unlikely to work, as corporations spend millions on PR campaigns, and control the media, so anyone outside this system will struggle to have any real effect on their reputations. And corporations are powered by money, not morals, so moral campaigns on their own can’t shut down a company. And if they did, this targeting of specific companies, rather than the entire economic system, will only create space for others to take their place.

Another chapter explains why ‘green billionaires’ won’t save us, which seems unnecessary in a book arguing for dismantling capitalism—of course more capitalism won’t help. Strangely, Klein is disappointed that Virgin CEO Richard Branson, despite investing many millions of dollars to invent or discover a ‘miracle fuel’ to power his ever-expanding airline, did not achieve this impossible goal. What difference would it make if he had been successful? Whatever this fuel might be, it would still need to be extracted from somewhere, and burned. Unless money really can buy a genuine religious miracle, and even then, the airline industry requires massive amounts of land, mining and manufacturing, and a globalised economy. If fuel costs were not a limitation, these industrial processes would expand more quickly, destroying everyone and everything in their path. A miracle fuel still leaves us with a culture of travelling the world at jet speed, rather than a localised culture of dialogue and relationship with nature. This is the disconnected thinking that comes from engaging with climate as an isolated issue.

The book concludes with a call for a nonviolent mass movement, and ‘trillions [of dollars] to pay for zero-carbon, disaster-ready societal transformations.’ The requested transformations are a transition to renewable energy, and building more infrastructure. These won’t stop capitalism or climate change, and would make the situation worse. A mass movement would require a mass of people who both share these goals and believe that a mass movement is the way to reach them. Given the compromised and conflicted goals, and the corporate influence on the climate movement recently, this is unlikely to happen.

Mass movements using only moral arguments have never changed systems of power in the past. The global Occupy movement is a recent example. While a great deal was achieved, the capitalist system is still with us, and it will take more than peaceful demonstrations to take it down. The infrastructure of capitalism needs to be physically dismantled, using a diversity of tactics, and the culture of domination that legitimises extraction and exploitation must be confronted, and replaced with land-based cultures that value relationship with all living beings.

Image modified from original art by Mark Gould: http://theartofannihilation.com/this-changes-nothing-why-the-peoples-climate-march-guarantees-climate-catastrophe-2/

350 Sacrilege

A Culture of Imbeciles

February 5, 2015

sacrilege-2 (2)

350’s shameless usurping of Civil Rights icons in their propaganda is ripe for ridicule. Comparing the Rockefeller-sponsored Blue Team to the Freedom Riders, or the police-escorted People’s Climate March to the marches from Selma to Montgomery, or college campus divestment to BDS in South Africa is a sacrilege.

Absolution for the sin of consumerism is implied in 350’s scapegoating of industry that fulfills consumer demand. 350’s revolutionary rhetoric, that panders to progressive identity, exploits progressive frustration while institutionalizing progressive powerlessness.

Real revolution requires commitment, sacrifice and hardship. 350’s  Love Boat champagne circuit somehow fails to measure up to that standard.

How I Sanitized the Feminist Outrage over the Montreal Massacre

How I Sanitized the Feminist Outrage over the Montreal Massacre

Ottawa Citizen

December 6, 2014

by Shelley Page

 

 

Ecole polytectnique massacre victims

 

I arrived in Montreal four hours after the killing was done.

Yellow tape wrapped l’École Polytechnique like a macabre Christmas present; surviving students gripped each other in numb disbelief.

I was 24, sent by the Toronto Star to write about the slaughter of female engineering students, all around my age; fourteen of them.

Stranger Danger: The Infiltration of Dissident Communities by Freedom House’s Sarah Kendzior

Anti Social Media

 

Stranger Danger - Not A Game

I can forgive you if you can’t recognize a hustle when you see one, let alone identify when you yourself are being targeted by that very hustle. Con artists, after all, rely on your confidence and trust in order to get what they want from you.

Cons, however, are something I know a little bit about; I once made my living playing poker – a game where exploiting the confidence of your opponents is crucial to survival.  To win at poker, you need your opponents to have confidence in their own hands, to overestimate their odds against you and to believe so much in your weakness that they’ll actually put their own survival on the line against you – when, in fact, you’re actually in a position of strength. You want to “get it in good;” to manipulate your opponents to ensure that you do and then hope your odds hold up. There is no other way to win. Eventually, everyone has to go “down to the felt.”

In poker, recognizing the tricks, feints and gambits that your opponents use against you, as well as, of course – their “tells” – is an indelible part of the game. Constant observation is key to differentiating a trick from a tell and also discerning their meaning. After all, trusting the way an opponent presents oneself is never a good barometer of who they are or what they’re doing. The only thing one knows for sure is that everyone is an enemy. A good poker player, then, is always asking herself, “What does that mean? What is my opponent trying to tell me?”

Overwrought flattery, wry smiles, winks, trembling hands, a tremulous voice, belabored breathing, heavy sighs, the shuffling of chips and other tells (both deliberate and incidental) are all part of the mystifying tapestry collectively woven at a table that a player must rend – thread by perplexing, individual thread – if they’re intent on winning the game. The woman in the Cartier bracelet spinning yarns about her wealth may be overplaying a bad hand with the very last dollars to her name, while the guy with dirty fingernails in the grungy hoodie who hasn’t said shit all night is often a professional shark sitting on a monster hand and waiting for his chance to clean you out. It takes studied observation over time to identify who is trying to trick you and who is telling you information you can use to win.

Performance of identity is an integral aspect of poker itself – and that performance is all about deception. Who am I today? Am I presenting as the brash, overconfident rube – the backwards-hat-wearing frat boy that I’m not – but am performing in order to agitate my opponents so they go “on tilt?” Or am I really that asshole? Who is to tell? A good player will keep you guessing.

While deceit is an inextricable part of poker, poker players have agreed on certain parameters; secret collusion amongst players is forbidden, for example. Furthermore, the goal of the game is apparent to everyone playing at the outset: win the last pot and take home everyone else’s money. There’s no confusion there. That’s why everyone came to the table to begin with.

Activists and organizers who use Twitter or other social media tools as part of their strategy to organize against power aren’t so lucky. The myriad ideological or personal goals of the many players involved in this space aren’t openly agreed upon or even known and, in fact, they may actually be in very real conflict, even if they don’t seem so at first glance. Let’s face it – we’re not all here for the same reason. There are, as there always have been, strangers amongst us on the internet.

So, without conclusive evidence that a player in the game isn’t playing above board – that they may, in fact, be working against your interests – it’s crucial to consider the patterns of behavior and the results of those behaviors themselves rather than to speculate about the motives behind them. Of course, if a player at the table openly says they work for the fucking casino itself, it’s probably important to consider that information, too.

 

 

“All these scattered Uzbek dissidents began having blogs, began using social media, began having all these political conversations they’d never been able to have in a public space before and so I thought that was, you know, that was very interesting, and I wanted to continue to track that.– Sarah KendziorWe’re not playing a game, here, folks – this isn’t poker – and those who continue to treat online organizing as a game (or merely as something to paternalistically observe, “track” and comment on exclusively when it services their personal, career trajectory) put those of us arrayed against the state at very real risk. Their professional distance and detachment from struggle itself and their far-too-often, far-too-cavalier attitudes about our collective security (our reputations, our ideological coherence, our pseudonymity and our ability to effectively organize) should be cause enough for alarm.

This alarm, the spine-tingling feeling that something is amiss – that someone is out of place and is doling out social capital or public discipline to obscure that simple fact – is a phenomenon I’ll call “stranger danger.” If you’ve felt this feeling, a gut-wrenching unease I’ve felt about Sarah Kendzior for some time now, it’s time we actually heed that alarm.

Sarah Kendzior has consistently tugged on the heartstrings, flattered the egos and promised (or actually delivered) real, material aid to an entire cadre of misguided, naive and demonstrably dangerous flacks whose personal investment in the public artifice of “Sarah Kendzior” has too often led them to viciously slander anyone they deem a threat to her unassailable #brand. This brand investment, one that seemingly leads otherwise intelligent folks to abandon all critical reason, is something we need to constantly examine in these spaces and a task OLAASM always committed ourselves to exploring.

Members of “Generation Like,” it seems sadly, can now seemingly be bought off for trifles like “Retweets” or “Favs,” and this cheap dispensation of social capital has been Kendzior’s stock and trade as long as I’ve followed her on Twitter. If you are in her social media orbit and have been instrumentalized by Kendzior to defend her on this or any of the patternized occasions where she relied on others to help obscure her politics, I urge you to reflect on one question: is it possible you’ve been hustled? What did you get for it? How cheap was your own complicity for her purchase?

This shouldn’t be a cause for shame, of course. In Edward Bernays’ seminal text Propaganda, Bernays – the master manipulator – observes:

 

“If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway.”

 

Bernays continues:

 

“The group mind does not think in the strict sense of the word… In making up its mind, its first impulse is usually to follow the example of a trusted leader.”

 

If Kendzior selected you for flattery, cajolery or any of the other promises a stranger will often use to curry your future favor – it probably means, as a propagandist, she has identified you as a “leader.” Don’t be ashamed. It’s a compliment! Of course it’s embarrassing to get fooled, but we all get hustled eventually. Every poker player has once been fooled and it’s almost always their own ego that fools them in the end.

This is, unfortunately, a demonstration of how power always operates: carrots are dispensed for the select few who play along, sticks are wielded against the recalcitrant masses – swung all the more harshly against those whose very existence alone threatens power the most. Kendzior’s recent, scurrilous and unprincipled attack on the character of Doug Williams should serve as a clarion call to anyone committed to using social media spaces toward collective organizing. The attacks on him have been unscrupulous lies and ignoring those lies in deference to her well-cultivated, essential “victimhood” seems now nothing but the boilerplate deflection tactic of a well-coordinated PR blitz.

We must confront this behavior – a well-documented history of gossip, slander and character assassination – before it hurts anyone else, or before it further impairs our ability to organize ourselves against the greatest power known in human history: the kyriarchy that maintains the US empire itself. To that end, it’s important to consider the source of so many left-bashings in this space herself – Sarah Kendzior.

How have I come to think Sarah Kendzior is a lynchpin in this always-left-obliterating superstructure of social capital dispensing/destroying Twitter fuckery? Why am I singling her out? Studied observation. Again, this isn’t my first poker game.

 

– – – –

 

I used to support Sarah Kendzior’s work. As Williams himself keenly observed recently in The New Inquiry, her “discourse is wrapped in the language of concern and the language of the ally.” This a seductive affectation for anyone who believes intercommunal solidarity is essential to all our struggles. It’s also effective simply because I fucking care and can be confused by others who seemingly do, too.

I have come, however, to see Kendzior’s adept use of this discourse as little more than “mirroring;” a fraudulent co-optation of language insidiously employed only to insinuate herself within dissident communities. This is all the more dangerous because it obscures her very dangerous, reactionary politics.

Remember: Sarah Kendzior is – by her own admission in a recent interview  – a professional infiltrator of online, dissident communities. Her extensive, PhD-level career training as an anthropologist itself may very well reinforce what Diane Lewis called Anthropology’s “professional exploitation of subject matter” that itself is “an academic manifestation of colonialism.”

What does Kendzior do to actually challenge – let alone subvert – this inherently colonial power dynamic in her field? As a white Western observer, reporting through the very real “white gaze”, Kendzior occasionally gestures at inclusivity in media. That’s nice. But let’s remember: she does this while occupying an elite-and-whiteness-enabled perch within mass media herself – and while also seemingly never deconstructing how she herself got to that position or stepping back from her own privilege in any way to actually make space for others.

Disagreeing with how she wields her inordinate privilege is one thing, of course, but it strains credulity to believe that someone who earned a PhD studying a Uzbek dissident group’s use of social media can continue to be the source of so much strife within our own, dissident online community without knowing exactly what she is doing. That an “awww, shucks” cacophony continues to accompany Kendzior’s near-constant, bad faith provocations in this space belie her obvious intelligence and abundant, scholarly training in this very field.

Kendzior has proven herself immensely capable of utilizing social media spaces and wielding them to serve her will, to promote her own work and those of others whose politics she wants centered. That Kendzior is, yet again, not to be held accountable for her lies, manipulations, smears, state-serving politics and neoconservative-think-tank-funded red-baiting because she is a “she,” is a perilous position for any radical to take. How are her politics and how she embodies them not to subject to the same scrutiny we’d give a Brandon Darby?

Further, regardless of whether the wreckage Kendzior consistently creates in her wake is a result of naive disregard or willful sabotage, it should still be enough to just look at the wreckage itself and move to distance ourselves from a very obvious wrecking ball. So, let’s look at that wreckage.

—–

 

The first time I became aware of Sarah Kendzior, she had written perhaps one of the most unethical, slanderous and unprofessional hatchet jobs ever posted, even to a mere blog. She got a lot of clicks for what is essentially little more than cherry-picked, blog-mining libel of another woman struggling to raise a family and share her own struggles. Kendzior decontextualized everything “Anarchist Soccer Mom” had written about over years of blogging, slapped it down under her own masthead to serve her own, finger-wagging narrative and essentially demanded her readers despise their author rather than empathize with her struggle. Is this the ethical stuff our media heroes are to be made of?

I don’t know anything about the subject of motherhood, so I didn’t really delve into it then – but what fascinates me now is not the subject of that kerfuffle itself, but rather how Kendzior responded to the inevitable pushback against her horrifyingly libelous screed:

 

The Mommy Blogger community has a threat problem...

Anonymous email threats. Go on an unethical, smeary attack – then retreat into the sanctity of unquestionable victimhood. Remember that. It might be relevant later.

So, I continued to follow Kendzior on Twitter, like some 31 thousand others, because she covers topics of interest to me and has a concise style that resonates there. It’s actually hard to avoid her in that space, so widespread is her reach. Anyway, I usually like smart people, particularly ones who seem to have an inclination toward leftist politics and (seem to) articulate the same. It wasn’t until May of 2014 that I was given real cause to suspect her politics weren’t at all what I had been led to believe they were.

On May 21, 2014 – the SEIU held a large demonstration at McDonald’s headquarters as part of their “Fight for Fifteen” campaign. That campaign, however, has taken real criticism from comrades like Scott Jay, who observed that while assuring “low-wage workers in Oakland, and elsewhere, are very likely going to get a long overdue raise,” the SEIU’s organizing tactics themselves seemed “to weaken such struggles and not further them.”

To compound suspicion, as the arrests themselves were unfolding that day, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry took to Twitter to thank police for their “diligence and service” in arresting workers! Labor historians don’t need to dig too deep to tell you that the police are the historical antagonist of collectivized, worker action. But as Jay had previously noted, it seemed obvious that SEIU was once again manufacturing “the veneer of struggle while limiting the power and political consequences of their actions.”

Enter Kendzior, who had written a middling, Jacob Riisian effort to propagandize the SEIU’s “Fight for Fifteen” campaign in April and hopped on Twitter to promote her previous work, as any brand manager might. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody took issue with her over boosting the minimum wage workers’ struggle while the SEIU action was unfolding. It’s an important fight and it’s good that it’s getting attention.

Then, as part of a series of tweets promoting her article from April (ostensibly to generate page-views in conjunction with the ongoing SEIU action that day), Kendzior tweeted this:

"Not All Corporations"

I’m not a scholar™ – but I’m pretty sure many of my comrades might take issue with this individualistic/moralistic pablum delivered as a grossly imprecise, absolutist pseudo-platitude. Criticism of the tweet was swift and ran the gamut from my own, “height of liberalism” riposte to more measured, anticapitalist exposition. What happened to the more engaging, left criticism – you might ask? Kendzior went on an immediate uninformed, disingenuous and eventually ad hominem attack:

Multi-generational, East Coast elite says worker only  supports "labor as an abstraction."

Now, I don’t know where Kendzior got the notion that “Emma Quangel” only supports “labor as an abstraction” or that disagreeing with Kendzior’s liberal assessment of corporations meant she did “not appear to support workers.” From my vantage point, both of these were bad faith attacks that grossly misrepresented Quangel’s position and cast doubt on her legitimacy as a worker. If I were Quangel, I would’ve been furious. This, of course, would only prove more absurd coming from Kendzior after I investigated her highly privileged background, but I digress. Glass houses and whatnot…

But this back-and-forth is when the “rape threat” of Jacobingazi legend apparently was emailed to Kendzior. Now, I’m not concerned with whether she got a threat or not. I imagine she did because she says she did and prominent women are continually harassed in ways meant to silence them. But I do want to address two things that weren’t adequately addressed during that Social Media upheaval.

First, what purpose would threatening Kendzior serve to anyone trying to actually get her to go on the record with what are clearly, at best, her atrocious liberal, “#NotAllCorporations” politics? Threats of violence are attempts to silence people. Nobody I know wants Kendzior silenced. I want to know exactly what her politics are – and threats of violence, particularly gender violence in this space – undeniably prevent that from happening.

Second, and this is important: by Kendzior’s own account, she received an “anonymous email.” Keep in mind that she had just written (in April) a piece uncritically lauding the SEIU’s “Fight for Fifteen” and was arguing on behalf of fast food workers when she was threatened. And yet immediately, she identified the source of the threat to who? “Brocialists”:

Mocking threats

Now, overlooking the “mocking” tone that Kendzior herself first employed above (for her own, political purposes), anyone with even a cursory understanding of counterintelligence knows that “anonymous letters” were the bread and butter of the US’ COINTELPRO operations against domestic dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s. I’d be hard-pressed to imagine similar strategies aren’t at work today in these spaces. Kendzior, however, a PhD whose focus was on Uzbek dissidents using social media, took the allegedly leftist (anonymous) author at their word and began mocking “brocialists.” And that was that. A star was born.

The “left” now had a wholly manufactured “rape threat” problem (which, of course it does have – because the world has a rape problem), despite the utter impossibility of assigning an anonymous email to anyone (of any political ideology) at all. And, despite giving her space, nobody ever got Kendzior to further articulate her “not all corporations” inanity. Then “Bro Bash” was published and the shitstorm of lies went “full tilt.”

Why nobody stopped to ask how anyone knew the rape threat had emanated from a leftist, I’ll never know. What I do know is that I observed, dishearteningly, as many organizers and activists stoked fires of outrage against my hated/beloved “left” over an anonymous, wholly-unsourceable email. At the outset, assigning it to a “brocialist” was unverifiable. This, of course, was the first thing that rang my “stranger danger” alarms about Kendzior. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) add up.

So I started doing research and kept paying attention.

– – – –

 

“The performative anti-sexist is certainly capable of learning and navigating those very same grammars to his advantage. It’s many a “good leftist guy” who has done all the reading, learned all the terminology, and used it as evidence of his harmlessness.” – Amber A’Lee Frost, Bro Bash

 

Having now seen a few of Kendzior’s “tells” up close, I stepped back. I observed. At Molly Crabapple’s private urgings, I publicly denounced “rape threats.” (Who wouldn’t?) But as I sat back and watched, I thought a lot about Frost’s words: “capable of learning and navigating those very same grammars” struck me as particularly significant. I wondered if they could be applied to other folks touring in anti-oppression communities. Scholars? Activist Journalists? Over-hyped doodlers?

I kept an eye on the Celebrity Left and, as always, engaged them – as I would and have anyone, really – whenever their rhetoric struck a discordant note. The way radical language and ideas are churned up by power, stripped of their revolutionary potential, sanitized and then redeployed by liberals has always interested me, so I pay attention to it. Further, any “anarchist” can tell you what it’s like to spar with “Libertarians” or “Anarcho-Capitalists” who continue to encroach on our identifying words, “Libertarian Socialism” and “Anarchism.” It’s a constant struggle against the churning machine of appropriation.

Then in early August, Mike Brown was brutally murdered by the pigs in Ferguson and the people rose up. I hate cops, so I paid rapt attention.

Doug Williams, the target of Kendzior’s most recent libel, apparently noticed some of the same things I saw as events unfolded in Missouri. Kendzior (among many others, to be sure) dropped any pretense of gesturing at leftism and began parroting dangerous, historically racist language and even cited white supremacist websites to back her claims. She “othered” anarchists, exposing my comrades to more scrutiny by the hyper-violent state (and the self-appointed “peace police”) at a time when the focus should’ve been wholly on the cops and the white supremacist system they undoubtedly serve.

Williams, of course, openly addressed similar concerns in both Jacobin and The New Inquiry. So as Kendzior wrote “After Ferguson,” sang “We Shall Overcome” and ushered folks into her friend Antonio French’s Democratic Party Premature Healing Campaign while National Guard soldiers still patrolled its streets, Williams articulated observations I myself could all but stammer angrily on Twitter.

In Love Me, I’m A Liberal, he wrote:

 

As seen in the responses to Ferguson, many liberals today excel at aping leftist aesthetics in order to earn trust into a community while simultaneously resurrecting anti-leftist slurs like “outside agitator.” They pulverize words like “intersectionality” into a meaningless oblivion, and turn them into signals that, yes, they have also taken a Sociology 201 class. They “get it.”

 

Williams’ words reminded me, almost immediately, of Frost’s “performative anti-sexist,” only with Kendzior “aping leftist aesthetics in order to earn trust into a community” instead of a “good leftist guy.” Could Kendzior be “capable of learning and navigating those very same grammars” in order to insinuate herself into our dissident communities, online and in Ferguson? Well. Isn’t that exactly what her PhD trained her to do?

I think now, upon further study, that Kendzior’s knee-jerk reversion to state-supporting narratives at the height of the rebellion in Ferguson betrayed her neoconservative, colonial tourism that is otherwise so expertly swaddled in left-gesturing niceties. This is of concern to me, because as Williams observed in Nothing Short of A Revolution, I agree that:

 

Language matters. The forces of reaction, repression, and revanchism have long understood this, and they have used it to their advantage. Let us use our own language, that of liberation, working-class power, and revolution, to ensure that Michael Brown’s death was not in vain.

Sarah Kendzior knows language matters. She’s a PhD who had to learn a relatively obscure, Central Asian language out of necessity during the course of her studies in order to gain access to Uzbek dissidents on social media. She hails from a long line of Ivy-educated, Connecticut Yankees who have had important, government careers defending police from charges of wrongdoing and murder. Her grandfather worked for Wendell Willkie, the founder of Freedom House – a notorious, neoconservative NGO Kendzior would later work for that was expressly founded to propagandize US imperial adventures… Wait, what?

%22Opportunistic Communist%22 torch

Yup. Sarah Kendzior, who openly bashed communists in Ferguson worked for Freedom House, an organization that “took up the struggle against the… great twentieth century totalitarian threat, Communism” and is widely considered “a flak producing machine”, “an infamous CIA/State Department outfit” and “nothing but a façade for the special services of the United States.”

Is it possible she’s learned our radical Twitter language, too? Mastered hip, liberal white feminist “intersectionality” to either study it or destroy it, or just use it as a tool to further her career as a colonial observer? I can’t imagine leftist Twitter jargon is as difficult to learn as Uzbek, is it?

Now know this: I don’t want any harm to come to Sarah Kendzior of any kind and I definitely don’t want her “silenced.” I want her to actually start talking. As Joe Macaré has said, “be accountable.” If the damage she has done was accidental, she could start by apologizing to the hardworking comrades she has smeared relentlessly for the past year and acknowledge the issues raised above. She could start with Doug Williams and work her way back to Jacobingazi.

She could explain how working for Freedom House didn’t challenge her ethics, but writing under revised editorial guidelines at Al Jazeera did. She could address working for Freedom House at all. She could articulate any politics whatsoever other than a general, progressive headnod. She could explain what “Not All Corporations” means. She could explain why she linked to white supremacist website to smear communist organizers. She could explain why she seems so driven to get on to the healing in Ferguson, despite Gary Younge’s observation after the Zimmerman verdict that “Those who now fear violent social disorder must ask themselves whose interests are served by a violent social order in which young black men can be thus slain and discarded.”

She could do all of this, but I doubt she will. Because she isn’t a part of our community and doesn’t feel a need to be accountable to it. Because it isn’t “infighting” if you’re questioning the political opportunism of a libel-spewing neocon. And her neoconartist brand has not yet once apologized for any of its abuses.

And if she won’t be more forthright, the wreckage she has created and the troubling fact that she has openly played for the casino itself is enough for me to cash out of this game and to tell all my comrades to avoid playing with her or anyone who continues to play with her. Is she a paid, government provocateur? I can’t say for sure. But I, for one, won’t get hustled by someone playing at the table with house money. I know those are terrible odds.

It’s not a game.

The Blankest Canvas: On Art, Opportunism, Erasure & Whiteness

Anti Social Media

October 7, 2014

rauschwhitepainting51h15

“An empty canvas is full.” – Robert Rauschenberg

 

1951 was a big fucking year for whiteness. The United States, the last scion of both Western Imperialism and the white supremacy at its core, would finally fight to a stalemate on the Korean Peninsula – beating back both the Red Menace and the new “yellow peril” to the 38th parallel. But threats to the fragile reign of white supremacy’s new champion abounded.

At home, The Man From Planet X  opened in US theaters, dramatizing the collective fear of an alien invasion that would grip white Amerikkka and menace its lily-white, Enid Elliot-like daughters for the remainder of 1951 and beyond. That white panic on the big screen, however, found two real world targets – rabble-rousing commies and the black people they had allegedly duped to serve their alien agenda.

The “Second Red Scare,” already raging in 1951, was weaponized by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, which launched its second investigation into Hollywood. Back then, “blacklists” weren’t just empty threats on Twitter made by intentional nobodies, but a reality imposed by power that threatened the livelihoods of some of our best artists. The year also saw Julius and Ethel Rosenberg tried, convicted and eventually executed for espionage. The “traitorous and disloyal” outside agitators the US was fighting in Korea, it seemed, would have to be fought at home, too.

White Supremacy, as always, reserved its most brazen terror for black people. 1951 was no different. Despite a valiant campaign led by Communist William L. Patterson, the grandson of a slave who had himself famously been arrested protesting the execution of Sacco & Vanzetti, seven black men were executed for raping a white woman in Martinsville, Virginia. Willie McGee, another black man railroaded on charges of raping a white woman, was also executed that year in Mississippi.

In Florida, Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall exercised his right to white vigilantism and summarily executed one black man and critically wounded another who were being transferred for reprosecution after their “Groveland” rape convictions were overturned by the US Supreme Court. Harry and Harriette Moore, who had organized for the NAACP in Florida and had boldly demanded charges be brought against Sheriff McCall for his crimes, were killed weeks later in a bombing at their own home that was never solved. This is, of course, why racist rumors started by a white woman that reduce a political opponent to a menacing black man isn’t a game, but that’s another story…

Ironically, the number one Billboard song of 1951 was “Too Young,” sung by Nat King Cole. Seriously. A black crooner singing about young love that others wouldn’t understand, while black men were being killed for looking at white women – that was the song on top of the charts. To end a year like that, then, could it have surprised anyone when Paul Robeson and William Patterson submitted a document called “We Charge Genocide” to the United Nations?

At last, in lesser-but-still-big-all-encompassing-whiteness news from 1951, Bette Nesmith Graham invented correction fluid in her own kitchen, making it easier for typists everywhere to “white out” their mistakes.  After all, whiteness adores erasure. Remember that. And while a dying Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote his Remarks on Colour, the coup de grâce to 1951 and its triumphant whiteness emerged when a pretentious asshole named Robert Rauschenberg began his White Paintings. Because, why the fuck not?

 

—–

 

Robert Rauschenberg was an insufferable, Neo Dadaist asshole. Neo Dadaists, it should be noted, are the folks who made us question not “what is art,” but rather, “are these fucking assholes joking?” In but one of many examples of his legendary assholery, when commissioned to do a portrait of Iris Clert, Raueschenberg instead sent a telegram that read “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.” He was that kind of precious asshole – the kind of precious asshole who inspired generations of other assholes to struggle to use a can opener to open a can of spaghetti-o’s in a room full of other precious assholes and then piss oneself, and then boldly call it “high art.” The kind of precious asshole who would inspire Yoko Ono to whitewash a chess set and uncritically title her racist work “Play It By Trust.”

As an asshole, Raueschenberg was surrounded by other, similarly-inclined assholes. Assholes tend to attract other assholes, it seems. His asshole friend, John Cage, “composed” the famous “4’33” – which is just four minutes and 33 seconds of utter fucking silence. The blank canvas, creating nothing but a void where anything could be projected (even a politics), was now itself considered substantive and important “art.”

Rauschenberg and his coterie, in short, clearly presaged today’s trolls. And I’m glad he’s dead. I wish he’d died sooner, before his brand of utter and irredeemable, detached cynicism became as popular as it is today – because this airy, unaffected distance is, of course, a pure manifestation of privilege, be it racial, class or otherwise.

In Creative Tyranny, Rob Horning explains how many artists often reveal their real class allegiance:

“Because artists, unlike wage laborers, have a direct stake in what they produce and face no workplace discipline other than what they impose on themselves, their political attitudes are structurally different from those of the working class, who know they are interchangeable parts in the machine of capitalism and must organize collectively to resist it. ;“The predominant character’” of the contemporary art scene, on the other hand, ‘“is middle class,’” Davis contends, referring not to a particular income or earning potential but rather to artists’ relation to their labor. Artists work for themselves, own what they make, and must concern themselves with how to sell it. Though art has often made a mission of shocking middlebrow taste and artists have often congregated in urban Bohemian enclaves in working-class neighborhoods, they are less vanguard proletarians than petit bourgeois.”

 

So it was that in 1951, a few years before taking a nod from Bette Nesmith Graham, erasing a drawing by Willem de Kooning and calling that erasure itself “art” – Rauschenberg set off on perhaps his most famous act of trolling, his White Paintings. What had started as a joke between above-it-all, petit bourgeois art school buddies – when actually taken seriously outside of their insular bubble – soon became serious art. It then had to be retroactively justified when it had really just been a joke.

Of course, it’s important to say that Rauschenberg’s White Paintings can’t rightly be called mere “blank canvasses.” They’re actually paint on canvas. But they’re painted monochromatically white in such a way as to reveal nothing. They are the nothing. They aren’t a state of blankness, of emptiness – they are the essence of whiteness – the void-of-anything space that must consume everything around it in order to give itself any meaning at all. Nothingness has to appropriate to have anything, which is what whiteness itself tends to do, isn’t it? Indeed, as Raueschenberg himself observed, “an empty canvas is full.”

—–

weev_small


“If you’re going to do something as passionate and idealistic as be a full time artist, you need to be the toughest, most cynical, most opportunistic street fighter around.”Molly Crabapple

 

“Artists are eager to identify themselves with—and even lay claim to—efforts like the Occupy movement, but their involvement, Davis argues, muddles protest and derails organizational efforts more often than not… But because artists are celebrated by capital for their seeming independence from it, they are liable to become confused about the social role they play. They think being above wage labor gives them automatic solidarity with those who want to abolish it. They think they are fellow travelers when really they are running dogs.” – Rob Horning, Creative Tyranny

In July, Emma Quangel explored The Weaponized Naked Girl, where she observed that Molly Crabapple is a self-described mercenary entrepreneur and former naked girl who seemed to earn her credentials on reporting the topic of Syrian “revolution” by way of her being an unofficial spokeswoman and artist for Occupy Wall Street.” To be sure, the fact that Molly Crabapple was once a burlesque dancer is the least interesting thing about her, to me. I’m far more concerned with the role she continues to play as a mercenary for White Supremacy. Again, in her own words, I’m more interested in her success as both an opportunist and a cynic.

In his recent offering at The New Inquiry, The White Women of Empire, which echoes many of the concerns raised in July by Quangel, Willie Osterweil poses a stark but important question: “what happens when the white woman is the protagonist of the imperialist story?” Osterweil elaborates:

“It is clear that the helpless and/or metonymic white woman of imperial fantasy will no longer do. The historical victories of feminism have forced empire to interpolate (mostly white) women as its agents as well as its objects.”

It’s apparently easy for some folks to continue to ignore Crabapple’s expressed, imperial politics – her repeated role as Osterweil’s “agent” of empire. However, from Syria to Venezuela, Crabapple – promoted as a reliable, political commentator after Occupy Wall Street – has consistently articulated a politics that serve the white supremacist power structure and its inheritor, US neocolonialism. Erasing an actual fucking Nazi’s misogynistic past is actually a part of her art. She has made the supremacist, eugenics argument herself, Beauty is survival, not distraction. Beauty is a way of fighting. Beauty is a reason to fight.”

Even before writing her paean to an avowed, white supremacist, the cynical, opportunistic and – by her own admission – “mercenary” Molly Crabapple had regularly oriented her politics to the unequivocated service of white power. Crabapple, then, has proven her art is anything but a blank canvas; instead, she has repeatedly espoused a politics that – like Rauschenberg’s White Paintings – are actually canvases slathered in whiteness. Her work isn’t emptiness, it is whiteness.

It’s actually my job as a white revolutionary race traitor, in constant struggle, precisely to criticize that. Always. To struggle with it. To destroy it. And I won’t apologize for it. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.” I believe Molly Crabapple is the petit bourgeois, “cynical,” “opportunistic” and “mercenary” white supremacist she herself says she is. No artistic flourish, no flair and certainly no vacuous, repeatedly-self-repudiated revolutionary gesturing can change that. After all, we have previously discussed – at some length – that liberals are fully capable of performing in revolutionary hats and that anyone can and will serve Nazis, for the right price.

Yet people continue to misapprehend whiteness and their own complicity in it. As Tamara K. Nopper observed in The White Anti-Racist Is an Oxymoron: An Open Letter to “White Anti-Racists”:

 

“people such as Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and many, many others who are perhaps less famous, have articulated the relationship between whiteness and domination…

 

Further, people such as Douglass and DuBois began to outline how whiteness is a social and political construct that emphasizes the domination, authority, and perceived humanity of those who are racialized as white. They, along with many other non-white writers and orators, have pointed to the fact that it was the bodies who were able to be racialized as “white” that were able to be viewed as rational, authoritative, and deserving.”

 

Nopper, perhaps presaging Molly Crabapple’s racialized whiteness and service to white supremacy itself, continues:

 

Don’t assume that when I see you get the attention and accolades and the book deals and the speaking engagements that this does not hurt me (because you profit off of pain).

 

Also, vis-a-vis Crabapple’s claim of proximity to whiteness – and to the authority whiteness itself conveys – I think it’s important to consider an amazing contribution by my comrade, Chris Taylor, who – in Whiteness Supreme: Towson University and Liberal Ironists – reminded us:

 

“Whiteness is a property, a possession, one unevenly distributed across the social terrain. White supremacists tend to have diminished access to the supreme property of whiteness. White supremacy is thus an aspirational politics, one that attempts sticking close to what it imperfectly is in order to become what it should be.”

 

How does Crabapple use her art to stake a claim to the authority vested in whiteness? In her most recent work, Scenes from Daily Life in the de Facto Capital of ISIS published yesterday in Vanity Fair, Crabapple inserts herself as the authority and interlocutor between her audience and a Syrian’s own experience and art. This is gatekeeping, plain and simple. After all, although Crabapple’s claim that “art evades censorship” may be true, it doesn’t seem to evade her editorializing. After all, Crabapple’s is “extremely editorial art” that “no one could look at…” and “not know what side [she is] on.” Whiteness. Empire. If the “who do you protect/who do you serve” chant so often levied at the police were levied at Molly Crabapple, we should know the answer.

If there is still doubt, then we should examine her famous work whitewashing Weev, a vile misogynist and avowed white supremacist, who Crabapple herself “cared for” so much so she wrote a lengthy hagiography about. And as any propagandist might, from Leni Riefenstahl to Shepherd Fairey, she went further and  “created an icon” of her “weevil one.”

What would Molly Crabapple say of Robert Rauschenberg, who joked with his Neo Dadaist buddies and trolled the art world, for his antediluvian “lulz?” Would she misjudge “sincere belief as trolling?” Would she think his White Paintings meant more than mere emptiness? Could she see the whiteness in them? Would she acknowledge that whiteness itself is domination, and that unexamined proximity to whiteness itself is what makes being friends with an actual fucking Nazi possible? I have a lot of questions, but Molly Crabapple isn’t interested in talking about anything that makes her uncomfortable. And I guess that’s her right. But it sure isn’t very revolutionary.

“Quinn Norton once advised me to write about what I loved,” Crabapple wrote. And she, who so loved empire and its foundational white supremacy (or the money and fame it afforded her), wrote words that flattered it, and urged us – as eugenicists often do – to “fight for beauty.” As many mercenaries before her, Crabapple has identified that she lives in a time when artists are brand bots, obediently self-plagiarizing from their last success“ and that journalism often feels like vampirism.” But it doesn’t have to be this way. It is this way because of whiteness itself.

We have an opportunity to have art that doesn’t reinscribe white supremacy and other ruling class values. We have an opportunity to communicate directly with each other, without intermediaries like Molly Crabapple – who refashion photos from Syria and reimagine them for us. Who editorialize them for us. We could see photos from Syria ourselves. We could hear stories from Syrians ourselves. We don’t need better intermediaries who may prove themselves so tempted by lucre and committed to brand management that, in their endless pursuit of being “New Yorker respectable. Museum of Modern Art respectable,” they paternalistically make an actual Nazi respectable for us.

However, if we insist on replicating power structures here – among them, in this space, white supremacy – we will lose. We have lost. And that’s why criticism of our faves matters, I guess. Because earnest criticism isn’t “trolling,” no matter what the white women of empire say.

—–

“When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian said simply, ‘Ours.’”‘ – Vine Deloria, Jr

The power of terministic control is a monopoly on the naming of things maintained by power. For example, as Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “there would be no oppressed had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation.” However, power, particularly in the discourse on public demonstrations against it, often makes a point to discern when “protests became violent.” The fact is, protests “become violent” whenever the armed enforcers of the state’s monopoly on violence – the police – arrive. Their presence itself is the violence that created and maintains an oppressed class. Terministic control, then, is what allows power to say otherwise.

Take the word, “trolling.” Crabapple has asserted that she mistook Weev’s retrograde, supremacist politics for mere “trolling,” or insincerity. As if insincere fascism is acceptable. Crabapple has also derided her critics as “trolls.” Does she think I am likewise insincere? Maybe, but consider that instead I have sincere complaints about her service to white supremacy. The naming of things, and controlling how those words take meaning, is terministic control. Crabapple, as an artist working under a pseudonym, knows more about this than she lets on.

One aspect of liberation has historically been seen as wresting back control over the power to name things, particularly oneself; to identify oneself instead of being identified. According to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad in Message to the Black Man in America, if a black man doesn’t assert that power, he has “never gotten out of the shackles of slavery. [He is] still in them.” From the US Organization, the BPP and BLA’s eschewing of “slave names” to our trans comrades’’ struggle against being misidentified by “dead names”: asserting one’s own identity instead of being named by power is an important terrain of struggle.

So, then, what might it mean if an artist or celebrity changed their name to one that more closely identifies with power itself? What might it mean if one were to orient oneself, through their own naming, in closer proximity to whiteness – to assume a name that may very well be the ne plus ultra of whiteness itself? What would it mean if Assata Shakur decided she wanted to be called “Becky?” What does it mean if Jennifer Caban draped herself in gothic whiteness, stole other people’s art and stories and rebranded herself with a name unmistakable in its own white blandness?

Now, close your eyes and repeat after me: “Molly Crabapple.”

I’m done being trolled by insincere, whiteness-made Rauschenbergs and Crabapples. I want something real, directly from people who don’t need whiteness as authority, whitewashers, sanitizers and those who will labor to make their own friends respectable, even if they are actual fucking Nazis, as intermediaries. We can’t go back to 1951, and frankly, I question anyone who would want to.

Fuck fighting for beauty, or New York’s conception of it – those white women of empire. I want to be in solidarity with what whiteness says is ugly. I’m not trolling Molly Crabapple, and I don’t hate her. I disagree with her politics, her mercenary vision for the world and her near-constant insincerity. Please. She can keep her white paintings.

Update 2

Trolls of a cynical, fascist feather… In her AMA, Crabapple noted:

My art is extremely editorial. No one could look at my bulging insect cops, or my pictures of Weev’s prosecutors, and not know what side I’m on. I try to convey my truth, rather than a party line, but they are deeply subjective.

Well… US Government propaganda tool and otherwise state-sponsored troll@ThinkAgain_DOS, knows exactly what side Crabapple’s art speaks to:

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 10.55.34 AM

Crabapple, of course, feigned surprise:

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 10.55.04 AM

It’s probably a good time for your people (whoever they are) to collect you.

Update 1

As if on cue, Molly Crabapple’s “most cynical,” “most opportunistic” auteur persona reemerged today. Crabapple –who, like Robert Rauschenberg – occupies the rarified, insincere space where blank white canvasses are just “trolling,” published a middling, wanna-be “ACAB” article at Vice today (which I have dutifully archived to limit her clicks, here). After plodding through the inextricable viciousness of the police institution, name-dropping her pals and actually interviewing a prison abolitionist, Crabapple concludes her otherwise superfluous piece with a bit of fascist whimsy:

Or here’s another, if somewhat facetious, idea: America is vengeful and loves punishment, so why not create a police force whose sole job is to arrest the police?
These meta-cops could be given quotas of officers to arrest each month. They’d no doubt lean heavily on quality of life violations, arresting cops who made communities unpleasant by groping black teens or hassling street vendors. As cops do now, these meta-cops could be promoted based on their arrest numbers. They might sometimes detain cops for rudeness, or failing to present ID, but that’s to be expected. Their jobs would be stressful. They’d have to lay down the law.

I don’t know any revolutionaries who think the creation of an über-cop is worth even “facetious” consideration. Also: the Feds already exist. Again: Keep your white paintings, Molly.

The White Women of Empire

The New Inquiry

October 1, 2014

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Despite the fact that advertising is the cutting edge of ideological production, there is little critical engagement with advertising outside of occasional controversies and industry-specific work. Truth in Advertising is a new monthly series which hopes to investigate how advertising is constructing psychic life and cultural narratives in the metropolis, often doing its work silently and unnoticed. To trace how often those narratives then emerge “naturally” as cultural criticism, political debate or interpersonal discussion: Behind every think piece, a subway car full of ads. This piece is also informed by Emma Quangel’s The Weaponized Naked Girl.

In imperialist fantasies, the most famous role of white women is the damsel in distress, the pure and purifying object of sexual desire menaced by the unclean, violent, sexualized colonial subject: Faye Wray in the grips of King Kong. There’s another major role for white woman in imperialist narratives, however: as the metonym of the homeland, the representation and image of civilization. The white woman “back home” is the reason the male protagonist goes forth, it is her image he fights for and against which the savagery of the colony is thrown into starkest relief. He may cheat on this mythical white woman with a sexualized, state-of-nature beauty, but he always returns to her in the end: To fail to do so is to fail the colonial project.

But what happens when the white woman is the protagonist of the imperialist story?

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This image collapses all those subject positions into one. What and where is the “homeland” here? The homeland is present both in the form of the white woman, and as the thing implicitly menaced by the fact of her difference from those around her. It is the values of the homeland that the burka’ed other imperils, violent invasion of the homeland which their sea of monotonous similarity promises. The very idea of a “homeland” only makes sense as something which can be defended from barbarians, in this instance uniform, colorless, de-sexualized barbarians whose country we must infiltrate and dominate to protect our citizens from current danger and our culture from future threat.

But it is clear that the helpless and/or metonymic white woman of imperial fantasy will no longer do. The historical victories of feminism have forced empire to interpolate (mostly white) women as its agents as well as its objects.

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It’s bold to claim a TV show clearly about the previous Secretary of State is “not politics as usual.”  Indeed, the “NOT” obviously takes up excess space in the image and is easily cropped out or visually ignored–it’s enough to make you feel like you’ve got a pair of Rowdy Roddy Piper’s magic sunglasses:

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But it’s no brilliant subversion of the ad to point it out. That’s literally within the framing of the imagery: The sight lines all center on Téa Leoni’s eyes. The advertisement’s visual language undermines its own tagline, but this makes the ad that much more effective at capturing its liberal prestige-TV-loving target audience. If it works on those naive enough to believe a show about a female secretary of state is subversive, it also flatters the media-savvy viewers imagining themselves to be deconstructing the ad and to be “above” those naive fools who believe the tagline. The purposefulness of this effect is visible in the billboard as well, where the crop is perhaps even more obvious.

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The ad campaign for State of Affairs, meanwhile, offers us a younger, sexier secretary and a more vulgar, militarized vision of power, the 24 to Madame Secretary’s West Wing.

"All the president's men are nothing compared to her"

And then, just in time for the fall season, the Democratic Party’s main rag publishes a think piece about the shows, pretending all this Hillary worship is some fascinating cultural phenomenon emerging from the creative ether, not an obvious piece of the Party’s electoral machine preparing for 2016. As though the entertainment industry didn’t go 5 to 1 for Obama, and, as a result, get favorable administration action on intellectual property enforcement.

Of course, empire isn’t just administered by the federal government. There are all the local internal colonies to deal with, the carceral state to defend. But as white women’s imperial function is localized, the marketing is made more immediately bodily, more familiar, more sexualized and ridiculous. As the women get closer to home, so to speak, the advertising becomes more traditionally sexist.

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She has nothing to do with the law — this Bad Judge upholds and breaks “the rules.” Her casual sexiness, her red hair (as opposed to the Aryan-differentiation-from-brown-women blondes), her come-hither stare, her short skirt and ample bracelets: This judge is fuckable. Why get caught in a confusing nexus of ideological and symbolic desire production when you can just have the audience desire the state, directly, in one of its flesh and blood incarnations?

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The marketing campaign is terrible–that font!–which never bodes well for either the show’s prospects or the network’s confidence in it. But the show also goes too directly for the ideological money shot, its political project is too obvious, its premise too icky. People don’t find judges desirable: The pop culture judges (Joe Brown, Judy, etc) are older, stern, maybe sassy but never hot. They evoke folk wisdom, righteous anger and final authority, not fucking. Cops, however, make much more sense in the daily circuits of family, desire, and work…

Catching bad guys. Raising naughty ones

This tagline is almost identical to the tagline from Bad Judge. But Laura here has one more role than the judge. Not made sufficiently schizophrenic by her roles as a woman and an agent of the state, Laura is also just as much a mom, the perfect triumvirate of lean-in feminism subjectivities (career-haver, family-maker, cis-white-woman), the pathetic pun on mysteries (indeed, how does she do it?) already resolved visually: Laura is literally tripled in the image. Just like Bad Judge she’s a redhead, not a blonde. Just like Madame Secretary, the pitch is the “novelty” of a woman in a man’s role, but it is a wink-wink novelty, it is actually normal, normalized, and everyone knows it.

Here the anti-feminism is particularly strong, equating the work of mothering with the work of policing. It’s a variation on the old myth of controlling mothers–a misogynist inversion of the fact that in a traditional hetero-patriarchal family, it is dads who are structurally always cops, while the relation of the mother to order and oppression is more complicated and ambivalent.

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But not in these ads. In the beautiful world of the spectacle, things aren’t complicated, they’re great: Women are detectives, moms are cops, judges are babes, look at all this progress we’ve made, get ready for Hillary, rah-rah-rah to the war against those Middle Eastern women in their burqas, the horrible unspeakable women who do not give themselves to our gaze, who refuse our liberal democracy, who could never be a sexy Secretary of State, a sexy homicide detective, a sexy storm trooper with her high-heeled boot sexily poised on the throat of some horrid barbarian.

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Wont you please help her help you help her save herself, the homeland? Or at least tune in on Sundays and watch her try?

 

Consumer Culture and Mental Health

A Culture of Imbeciles

October 6, 2014

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I was thinking about what a rich opportunity it is, in the aftermath of the climate week hoopla, for academic associations — particularly in anthropology, sociology and psychology — to solicit papers and schedule conferences on communications, journalism and public mental health in a netwar environment. 
The social engineering and self-delusion on climate change is so pervasive and lethal in consequence, that I would expect at least a couple noteworthy op-eds in mainstream media, and maybe a high profile counter-narrative that views the celebritization of Naomi Klein as a mental health symptom of consumer culture thriving on fantasies.
This would be an appropriate topic, for instance, as a theme issue at IJOC, the International Journal of Communication. Maybe a feature story in Harper’s or the New Yorker.
Recent research shows that renewable energy cannot even begin to come close to replacing fossil fuels at the level of US consumption, and that this consumer demand is increasing. Indeed, American culture is based on high consumption, and US society is mentally ill as a result. World Health Organization statistics note this mental health crisis is particularly pronounced in the US, and negatively affects immigrants when they try to adapt to the American way of life.
I think that many Americans who hope we can continue consuming four times the energy per capita as the rest of the world  — by developing some magical “clean energy” — will become psychologically depressed as reality intrudes on this chimera. In my view, this geography of mental ill health (as well as official corruption) prevents the international community from achieving anything useful on the Kyoto Protocols, Cochabamba Accord, or UNDRIP.
Some conclude that Americans don’t care enough about suffering in the rest of the world to curb their consumption.
My take is that Americans are politically illiterate, and in their infantile level of awareness, changing US society is so far beyond their collective ability that they cannot imagine anything but fantasies based on false hope and advertising.