Neither Trade Talks nor Peace Talks: I & II

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at
Fri Jul 4 03:30:30 MDT 2003

"Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few."

- Percy Shelley

Neither Trade Talks nor Peace Talks:

Notes On Resistance, July 2003.

I: Introduction: By Way Of Analogy.

II: A Better World Is Possible: Practice It Now.

III: Nationalism: Canada and North America.

IV: Trade Unions, Imperialism and Revolution.

V: Analysis by Anecdote: Anti-war, and the City of Vancouver.

VI: On The Question Of Leadership.

VII: Palestine: What Kind Of World Are We Struggling For?

VIII: An End To Shame & A New Beginning.

I: Introduction: By Way Of Analogy

So don't expect it all to happen

In some prophesized political fashion

For people are different

And so are nations

You can borrow ideas

But you can't borrow situations
---Billy Bragg[1]

This computer I sit at is constantly having this or that program added to
it, and sometimes (indeed, too often) the way I do a particular installation
doesn't work. When that happens to someone, one must find a different way to
do the particular installation. I know that seems simple, but apparently not
for us in the 'first world left'. Are we currently trying to find a new way
out of this mess? Or has the answer been brought back, again, that we must
engage in "building" what is called "the movement"? Are we to do so in a
fashion that has yet to succeed in helping to develop a method that clamors
for power? That breaks from class-collaborationism at some unforeseen point,
way into the future?

Before I really get going, I want to first of all start by explaining a few
terms I use rather freely, because I have yet to come across substitutes for
the meanings they convey for me; they are rather precise in what I believe
they conjure so I have no substitute for them.

When I speak of "entropic capitalism" I am referring to the dimensions
within the global economy that are irreversibly breaking down at all times.
The precarious state of the global economy and the likelihood of further
Enrons (yet no event having in itself the political stamina to damage any of
the Bush Junta's major players) does indeed mean that the tendency of
capitalism to destroy itself, to create the very conditions that eliminate
its strength as such-remains with us in the most profound way, and more than
ever before.

When I speak of an "exterminist[2]" stage or phase, I speak of the
environmental reality being created by the miracle of modern fossil fuel
based resource extraction and the wars fought over these resources. As I
hold that the very fabric of modern society (late entropic capitalism and
imperialism) is woven with oil; oil is in the production of the tires, the
interior seat, the clothes on the driver as well as producing the car
itself- not merely that which is burned as fuel & bought at the pump. As our
current oil consumption is within an imperialist society, and as we are
commonly accepted to be beyond the peak oil production level, i.e. of
remaining oil reserves (and therefore also beyond the global economic system
's ability to maintain itself either environmentally or economically) we are
now entering a world era that will start to kill itself off in a fashion not
yet understood truly by those of us "on the left". Late imperialism will now
begin to exterminate life on the planet.

  I do not want to give the impression I fancy myself a sort of economist, I
don't. Nonetheless, I am heavily indebted to these two concepts, both of
which are not the same but interconnected. I am also grateful to the late
Mark Jones who made many of these ideas clearer through his words and
research on oil[3]. He spoke of both these ideas and wrote about the
historical juncture we are at:

"This is the global context in which we have to think thru our revolutionary
politics. It is a worse crisis than 1914-1917, worse than 1941, worse by far
than any in the history of either the capitalist class or the working class.
We should find a political rhetoric, as well as an organisational mode,
which does justice to this."[4]

To this analysis, add my belief that the current Junta in control is no
longer legally accountable, either judicially or through electoral means.
'Junta' for me is the clique that has seized control of the United States
Empire through the following events.

 I believe this group began groping for a seizure of power most clearly back
in 1997, with the "Lewinsky Scandal". Though Bill Clinton was as dedicated
to imperialism as any President, he did not share the clear ambitions of the
people who have signed or otherwise endorsed the "Project for the New
American Century[5]". This group (signatories include Dick Cheney, Paul
Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Jeb Bush among others) was a part of what I
believe was a stolen election; stolen on many levels-particularly the
deregulation of thousands of black voters by a Republican-owned firm
contracted to deal with voter rolls (by Florida Governor Jeb Bush), all
completed quietly long before a single chad had dangled. Thousands of people
who had no reason to be denied the right to vote were, almost exclusively
black. Whole neighbourhoods were disrupted from proper voting. This brought
us the George W Bush Administration, almost all of whose most important
players received their positions as appointees. Every one is a
multi-millionaire and many are connected to oil. And since 9-11, we have
seen the emergence of what amounts to a ruling Junta in behavior and a
fascist-minded contempt for the people they ostensibly represent.

September 11, 2001 has many questions that still need answering. The very
least is that it became immediately a facilitator for what amounts to a
coup. Ever since the Twin-Towers collapsed all investigations into the
events of that September day have been suppressed by the very government
supposedly attacked. The military high command was re-shuffled, those who
were responsible for Defense were promoted (Richard B Myers became Joint
Chiefs of Staff Chairman, promoted from Vice Chair on October 1, 2001[6])
instead of fired and half the American Constitution was torn up in a series
of bills and de facto 'extra-judicial amendments'. The most ominous changes
were the passing of the PATRIOT Act as well as the rounding up of 1200
people immediately following the events on September 11. The same time as
all of this, the concept of "unlawful combatants" was introduced with the
holding of hundreds of Afghans and others in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base,
Cuba-and as of July 3 (would have been too ironic on the Fourth, one would
imagine) this year, it is now official that military tribunals for
non-citizens that have no legal standing anywhere in the world will begin at
the same naval base, 'Camp X-Ray'[7]. Civil rights have been eliminated, the
sovereign state of Iraq has been invaded without even a standard fig leaf
excuse, international law has been further decimated and what little was
left of the United Nations has been murdered. All of this while the American
economy is entering a freefall phase.

Recently it has become more common knowledge that computer run ballots and
counting mechanisms-i.e. without a paper trail- with a patent on the very
technique for the programmed machines owned by a Far-right Republican
conglomerate (The owners do not have to disclose how the technology works,
that's not public domain due to intellectual copyright law.)[8]-are to be
used for more and more elections at all levels of government in the United
States. So far, this fact isn't deemed relevant to many as part of their
analysis of what our strategy should be, but the relevance of this ought to
be impossible to overstate. It appears nothing is sacred except the
superficial appearance of normalcy. But what is to be done?

Are we then, as revolutionaries, to build around actually putting discussion
of a new society on the agenda? Or do we simply plea for less North American
Fascism? Well, in the last four-odd years somewhere between yes and no, but
ideals alone are getting us nowhere quickly. We have repeatedly demonstrated
an ability to get into what a first year psychology student learns is called
"fixation". A fixation in this manner is, for example, a child taking blocks
of different shapes with the obligatory little round wooden hammer and a
small piece of plywood with holes of a different configuration of shapes and
sizes. Then, the child must learn to take a four-sided block and put it
through the four-sided hole. This demonstrates not just the observational
skills of the child, but also the adaptation skills. If the child gets
frustrated when a rectangular shape cannot be put through a pentagonical
hole, sometimes the child will angrily take his or her little mallet and
start to beat on the four-sided block over the five-sided entrance. This
demonstrates a lack of being able to see that there is little to no point in
pursuing things the same way and rather than adjust the way the child is
looking at the problem, the tools, the plywood, the block-anything but the
approach to solving the problem gets blamed. What is really telling is not
the blame on something else, however. The true signs of fixational patterned
thinking are the repeated attempts to continue to beat a rectangular shape
through the hole, and an apparent inability to do anything else.

Fixations lead to an absolute freezing of progress at this stage, whether it
is in thought or action. North America has never had a revolutionary left,
although many revolutionaries have worked brilliantly and valiantly towards
particular reforms that were highly laudable some sixty-five years ago (and
on the rare occasion since). There have also been revolutionary inspired
struggles that have been taken up by movements or entire communities facing
a choice between annihilation or revolutionary response: the Black Panthers,
American Indian Movement and other indigenous activists defending their
sovereignty are a few examples. For 'normal' primarily white-conceived North
America since the end of the 1930's, and in a few cases the 50's, many of us
on this left have been fixated on whatever particular belief of how struggle
works that we embraced at the start of our political thinking. Most often,
this has a workerist[9] undertone. Part of the problem lies in how we
conceive of progress. We currently view this according to what we are
struggling for "in the long term", and what manner will be used to get

There are two types who engage in targeting reforms through quiet, primarily
mass oriented "movement building": One is the social-democrat who is trying
to reshape particular policies of the current state, often towards trade
unions in the imperialist countries. Sometimes the topics extend to
humanitarian missions for the worst victims of imperialist violence, in the
form of either wars or sweatshops and similar reform-oriented "anti"
campaigns. Resistance by "unofficial" members of this society-such as the
Woodward's Squat of 200 homeless people here in Vancouver or indigenous
sovereignty battles located at Burnt Church, or in the "Battle of Seattle"
with activists successfully "locking down" and shutting down WTO
meetings -are most often abandoned to fend for themselves. These social
democratic reformist activists can make wonderful allies on short-term
projects, but they cannot imagine a world beyond the current one of
competing classes, NGO's and imperialist multi-party systems of governance.
At the juncture when the movement is about to advance into either open
confrontation with the powers that be or accommodation to the framework of
the imperialist state machinery, the activism will inevitably be channeled
into pressure tactics, cattle-style marches to "demand" the importance of
the current lobbying issue and an over-all premium placed on keeping things
"respectable" and "avoid alienating" the popular masses who are in any case
insufficiently aware of anything but the narrow demand the social democratic
coalition adopts. So that there is no mistaking the reason I state this, let
me return to one important premise a couple of times: The nature of
social-democratic movements is historically inevitable and not to be
condemned. The days of the false dichotomy between suspending all
revolutionary or vision-oriented politics in order to "participate in the
mass movement" versus launching hapless attacks on the perceived leadership
of the social-democratic coalitions as if this were the arena for
revolutionary struggle must be cast aside. No, the old-time formulas in the
imperialist centres for mass movement building cannot be transformed into
revolutionary movements. No, revolutionaries and anti-capitalists should not
be waging a struggle against "reformist elements" in the movement, either.
We need to develop entirely new manners of thinking, entirely new ideas need
to shake our collective cobwebs, while we speak of and develop a new world
simultaneously. For reformist-oriented Trade Union Bureaucrats (TUB's
hereafter) and NGO-types, the using of methods outside the system cannot be
looked at as _the_ strategy instead of a mere tactic in the pursuit of this
or against that current reform.

 There are also other "movement leaders" who want an end to capitalism and
imperialism. The mass movement building for these comrades then becomes a
means to an end. The basic idea seems simple enough: through coming into
open conflict with the state and achieving a series of reforms, the working
class (seen through the prism of trade unions or mass movements of social
democratic NGO's, small reform oriented "labor" parties, etc) will:

A)   Be won over to one idea, struggle for it, then the next idea, move a
little forward, and so forth-down the course of things people will reject
the entirety of the system after rejecting it piecemeal over time;

B)    Then, with the previous reforms having taught struggle first hand and
shown the need to take a confrontational approach not for one or another
policy decision but the whole system, workers and allies can then look for
revolutionary ways to fight the current order;

C)    Taking a direct, confrontational approach would not be of strategic
value at this time, and instead serve to alienate other possible allies; the
need for radical attempts to stop the current everyday descent into
exterminist late imperialist capitalism is not understood by many people
beyond those of 'us' who will guide them out eventually.

This last one, "C" is not always the case. The premise that this sits upon,
however, must fundamentally be flipped upside down. People have a sense that
this entire existence is not sustainable. It is not a matter of the workers
of what must be the revolutionary class not seeing the world consumed by
disorder-it is that the current disorder seems impenetrable and people also
have been blunted by TINA (There Is No Alternative) thinking. It's the
prominence of TINA that must be combated: People often don't engage in
reformist battles because they see no point. Worse, we seek to tell them
that yes, the system can be reformed! Yes, it can. But the real battle lies
in the idea of a new world free from the aerial slaughter of innocents and
from the dead end trap of capitalism and neo-liberalism at home. We will
slow down the assaults here and there to establish the existence of an
alternative. Before something can exist as a real alternative it must first
be brought into the realm of the possible by practice.

II: A Better World Is Possible: Practice It Now.

    For many reasons, the existence of a mass movement that is

in conception and character is far harder (in North America) than before 911
to conceptualize and tangibly come in contact with. The isolationism and the
unilateral adventures of the state both at home and abroad have helped build
a mass movement across North America that has more cohesion in concerns. The
trick of this reality is that organizers hopefully recognize this as a
historical outcome of the ultra reactionary conditions of the day. In other
words, just as it wasn't Naomi Klein or Subcommandante Marcos who inspired
people to protest late imperialist economic policies (called
 "globalization"), it is not the work of organizers, no matter how hard and
dedicated, that produces the anti-war movement. It is George W Bush, Tony
Blair and Ariel Sharon. The simple fact is that the Iraqis, Koreans,
Palestinians and Fortress North America's home policies are continuing to
build the anti-war movement.  Throughout Europe, the anti-corporate
globalization movement has continued to advance-- and the synthesis of the
participant's analyses from anti-war & anti-corporate globalization have as
well. Not here in North America, and this is a fundamental order of the day
strategically. This must be re-captured; we must see things as not Canada
and the United States but North America. Many of us already know that
anti-globalization and anti-war are both essentially anti-imperialist
formulations. This needs crystallization among our forces inside what Ché
once called the belly of the beast. Thus may a renewed Cross-Pond
consciousness rescue some segments of the "Anti-Globalization" movement in
North America, back to what it was before the WTC attack. This,
ideologically, is the greatest threat we face. Can North American radicals
start to re-imagine how the success of the struggle is determined by the
strength of our alliances internationally?

The people organizing the antiwar movement who have revolutionary goals and
try to impose them inside the social democratic movement are well meaning
but ill advised. Trying to revolutionize a social democratic coalition that
is by historical necessity playing a social democratic role and that serves
a separate purpose is a waste of energy. It is infused with a belief that
going to a social democratic event and talking about radical politics
somehow changes the nature of the event. Or, put another way, it confers a
belief that coalitions (with or without Martin Sheen) lead the movement
rather than are led by it. It also has an implicit premise that the job of a
coalition is something more than facilitation of space for anti-war
sentiment to go. If people feel disempowered by a lack of ideas about
actions to slow down the advance to war, you are not alone. We must not seek
to make enemies of the social democrats within the anti-war movement
(broadly defined) for doing what it is that social democrats do, whether out
of personal or political conviction. The question is what approach to
resisting the ongoing war, the attack on civil liberties and the ravages of
the neo-liberal economic agenda do revolutionaries need to use.

There is an old saying that goes approximately like this: If you don't use
your rights, they quickly disappear. However, even allowing for the initial
'shock' of 9-11 to wear off, this is precisely the tack taken by all sectors
of the two young continent-wide movements. Herein lies why the defeat of the
Calgary mobilization against the G8 of a year ago remains so strong and
demobilizing to all forces of resistance. The gauntlet was dropped at our
feet when the ministers went to Kananaskis: It was a total challenge to our
mobilizing strategy and our very rights to protest and resist. When the G8
ministers moved to Alberta's mountains and forests, the movement based on a
strategy of disruption had no answer. When the government moved in the
military and proclaimed the right to shoot demonstrators under
anti-terrorist legislation, the demonstrations mostly vanished. A challenge
went horribly un-met. Now, when the global anti-war movement sees that wars
and imperialist occupations are accelerated and carried out despite 30
million in the global street, we also must either retreat or escalate. A
similar junction is here: we must identify the defeatism currently underway
and regroup instantly, based I believe on a strategy of disrupting the
current flow of life "as normal". The alternative could be catastrophic and
the largest movement in history could have the greatest despair and
demobilization in history. From London to Berlin and from Vancouver to New
York-but more importantly from Berlin to Vancouver, we cannot "wait" for the
shift to take place.

The 50th anniversary of the Attack on the Moncada Barracks in Cuba is
approaching (July 26, 2003), so let us revisit Fidel on this very question:

"There are those who believe that it is necessary for ideas to triumph among
the greatest part of the masses before initiating action, and there are
others who understand that action is one of the most efficient instruments
for bringing about the triumph of ideas among the masses. Whoever hesitates
while waiting for ideas to triumph among the masses before initiating
revolutionary action will never be a revolutionary."[10]

            This is compounded if you share my notion that people already
believe this system must go, and that it cannot be fixed. It is not the need
to do the changing, but the viability of the alternatives that hold back
momentum in our society. If this is true, then it also must be true that
restricting ourselves to pamphlets, slogans and non-tangible places of
struggle must also be brought into question. The reason that 9-11 was so
frightening to many was that by having once had such an act carried out,
such an act would hereafter be in the realm of the possible. The same is
true when we act to transform the world: we create the political space for
the opening of a dialogue on how to build a world worthy of human beings.
Nothing less is on the agenda of history.

            What needs to be understood is that this is not to deny the
importance for many in being able to participate in the 'mass movement' (the
large demonstrations and rallies, with or without songs, organized by
historical necessity inspired coalitions). We must also note or that such a
mass movement doesn't exist as a rejection of taking a confrontational,
disruptive approach. This last point is almost never understood by either
the organizers (both the NGO and TUB types as well as the self-described
anti-capitalists) of the large demonstrations or the 'radicals' who denounce
them from afar. Taking a radically different approach to what it is that one
uses to try and mobilize those who would come to either the "mass movement"
or how to try and help create a political space for those who already oppose
accommodation to 'business as usual' for the present historical juncture
should be seen as complimentary to the existing anti-war and social justice
oriented movements; People indeed, as the story goes, need to feel they have
a place inside the movement and that can be a matter of acting directly as
surely as expressing their sentiment through establishing their presence at
a march. While surfing the internet for alternative information shortly
after the full-scale invasion of Iraq March 20, 2003 I remember coming
across the testimony of an individual in Chicago. The streets of Chicago
were flooded with people determined to disrupt daily normalcy so long as the
illegal war was under way. As in places as diverse as New York to San
Francisco and elsewhere, Chicago saw multitudes of these very activists
arrested. The gentleman started off by saying that he had not been a
participant in the entire lead-up to the war but instead had sat at home
quietly agreeing with the protestors. He saw the mass arrests taking place
on television and decided "he now had to get involved" as a result of this.
He was simply joining the marches as another body-but he had been inspired
to do so by the realization that other people were not going to allow
business as usual and had been taken to jail for their actions of refusal.
Here we have a man joining the "mass movement" as a result of the repressive
actions of the state on antiwar activists. By moving the whole political
debate into a new arena he was mobilized out of apathy. The political space
created because of militant disruption and confrontational tactics moved
such resistance from the realm of dreams or theory into the realm of
reality. Within those parameters, he joined the marches. The forms of
resistance are neither diametrically opposed nor even incidental. They are
complimentary and feed off of one another. Within all the left forces at the
outset of building a movement a general amnesty must be declared with an
understanding of this for the sake of the movement as a whole.


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