Monday, December 5, 2011

Seizing a Bank

In the middle of a nation-wide crackdown on the occupy movement, and facing serious threats to the local movement from police harassment and the cold weather, a group of activists in Santa Cruz including both Occupy Santa Cruz community members and UC Santa Cruz students organized the occupation of a former bank located at 75 river street, successfully defending it for 4 days from Wednesday November 30th to Saturday December 3rd.

The bank, formerly 'Coast Commercial Bank' has been empty and unused since it was consolidated into Wells Fargo's empire and closed in March of 2008; one of the many unused, vacant offices and commercial buildings in Santa Cruz which stand as monuments to the depth of the economic crisis and the contradictions of a system which maintains massive homeless and unemployment amidst foreclosed homes and vacant offices. The occupation of the building, its reappropriation for use by the community, represented the first time in over three years that the building had seen any use and the first time ever that it functioned as a productive rather than parasitic force in the community.

The seizure of the bank was promoted and built in advance in an open and democratic way. Although the tactical restrictions of a building occupation make it necessary to conceal the target, the event was promoted as a picketing of banks and an attempt to reclaim a foreclosed property. By presenting the action in this way it was possible to build momentum around the action in advance and to do broad outreach, including announcing the march to student occupiers at the Hahn Student Services building at UCSC on Monday. Although the crowd gathered for the initial rally at the Occupy Santa Cruz encampment was comparatively small, about 100 people, most knew what to expect from the action and were prepared to actively defend the space.

The group assembled at 2:30 and then marched with chants and a mobile sound system to picket outside a local branch of Chase Bank before moving to the target, located next to a branch of Wells Fargo. As protesters stormed the bank, flyers were passed out announcing the action and declaring that "Spaces like this one, reclaimed from the wealthiest 1%, are places where we can seek redress to our grievances. In the years to come, this space will be used to organize humanitarian efforts, house a library, and provide a forum for discussions." Occupiers opened the doors to the public, no trespassing signs were torn down and furniture, bedding, food and other supplies were brought in to begin transforming the bank into a home. Almost immediately about 8 police officers attempted a first sortie to shut down the occupation, however as the crowd outside linked arms and rallied in defense the cops retreated temporarily.

A banner proclaiming the slogan "Occupy Everything", an idea which first made its appearance in 2009 at an occupation at UC Santa Cruz, was hung from the roof. A real estate sign claiming the space as available was painted over to say Occupied. Signs were hung up with slogans such as "Capitalism left this place to die. We're here to bring it back to life." and "This Bank Occupied our lives... Now, we occupy it!"

Around 4:35 the police started to block traffic from passing in front of the occupied bank and it became clear the police were massing in the parking garage of the building. Reconnaissance by protesters revealed that the police had set up a lookout post out of a second story office in the closed Wells Fargo Bank next door from which they were spying on protesters and preparing to co-ordinate the coming assault.

The assault came rapidly and unexpectedly at 6:24, protesters and occupiers were caught off guard as about 30 riot cops attempted to seize control of the entrance to the building and push back the protesters. Although the police succeeded in preventing the doors from being closed, rapid and effective construction of barricades in front of the door prevented the police from being able to gain entrance. Although initially taken off guard the crowd, which had by now swelled to about 150 outside with more than a dozen inside the bank, reformed itself and surrounded the cops to the inspirational music of The Coup and NWA's 'Fuck the Police", with the front lines of the crowd linking arms and advancing on the police. After a 20 minute standoff, the riot police, outnumbered and outflanked, began to retreat and were forced to ask the crowd for permission to leave.

The mood among the crowd was a surge of exhilarating confidence and joy, protesters from newcomers to old veterans recognize the tremendous significance of the victory. Facing a co-ordinated police assault, the riot cops who seemed almost invincible throughout weeks of repression around the country, have been turned back and forced to ask permission to leave because of the militant solidarity and resistance of those within and without the occupied bank. It was clear for those of us participating that whatever happened later in the night, the victory in terms of the consciousness of those of us who participated in the action and succeeded in routing a police assault was one which would last the rest of our lives and could not be reclaimed by any further assault on us or the reclaimed building.

In the aftermath of the victorious confrontation with the police, protesters worked on expanding the defenses of the occupied space. Rocks were spread out to create rough terrain that would make a police advance in formation more difficult, and traffic cones seized from the police added to the primitive defenses. Attempts to improve the geography and reinforce the defenses within the building itself did not detract from peoples perspactive that is was recognized the number of people mobilized within and without to defend the building which would be the decisive factor.

Around 8:00pm a General Assembly was convoked of around 75 people. At this meeting the historic character of action was emphasized, with several speakers eloquently expressing the power of the example this action could set to the rest of the Occupy movement, with one speaker saying "I want to be a part of history" and exhorting others to join in the process of moving the Occupation movement inside, into a bank which presents the perfect target.

Around 50 people slept in the occupied bank overnight, expecting a second police assault to come at any moment. However the demonstration of militancy and commitment by protesters outside earlier, and the political climate created by the widespread popularity of the movement around the country, turned out to be sufficient to prevent another attempt by police to break up the occupation. After a mostly sleepless night the occupiers awoke to help further publicize the occupation in order to gather more people to its defense.

While activists mobilized and did outreach to the campus and community, the local elite mobilized their own campaign through the local media. Although Media coverage at the beginning of the occupation was comparatively objective, as the occupation continued the local media, in particular the Santa Cruz Sentinel, transformed itself into a transmission belt for the sentiment of the local 1% and for the intimidating threats of the Santa Cruz Police Department.

The threats and statements of the Santa Cruz Police Department were the most revealing. In response to concerns from other property owners who have vacant property, Police Chief Vogel declared Friday morning that “You can always count on police to kick people out”, clearly demonstrating that the Police stand with the 1%.

Early Saturday Morning in an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel posted at 1:30am the threats became more vicious, underscoring the threat which the occupation posed to the local ruling class. Police Chief Kevin Vogel threatened protesters with the possibility of felony vandalism and even burglary charges. Deputy Chief Steve Clark declared that among those inside "Mothers are going to jail. Babies are going to Child Protective Services."

The media campaign was not limited to threats of physical violence and imprisonment, a property manager, Darius Mohsenin, threatened a tenant supposedly involved in the occupation, declaring that "If he's not going to respect the rights of this property owner, then I'm going to evict him.”

The Occupation held strong over 4 days, functioning as a community center and a rallying point for the movement. However as protesters faced a combination of physical exhaustion, escalating police threats and difficulty mobilizing sufficient supporters to defend the building forced a tactical withdrawal.

In response to the exhaustion felt by many occupiers living in a constant state of siege for 3 nights, and due to the inability to mobilize community support in the numbers that would have been necessary to maintain the space over a longer period of time, occupiers Saturday night decided to clean and vacate the building. The statement released by the occupiers stands as a fitting epithet to the action.

[quote]“In response to heavy, increasing, and underhanded threats from city officials and police on our community, we agreed by consensus to withdraw from 75 River Street, and did so earlier this evening. Though our establishment in this physical space was unfortunately brief, our goals were in part successful: to show that through courage, determination, and action, we the disenfranchised can seize our dreams. The case for community self-empowerment stands stronger than ever. For every occupation repressed, a dozen will rise in its wake. This is just a beginning.”[/quote]

The occupation of 75 River Street for the 4 days in which it was managed under popular control stands as a powerful example of what can be done with the resources left hollow and lifeless by an economic system in which human needs only exist insofar as they can be made to serve private profit. It has also set a powerful example for the Occupy movement around the country.

As camps and tents are increasingly battered by the winter cold and police repression, the occupation presents an example of a line of advance for the movement which directly confronts the property of the financial aristocracy, which provides real shelter and a more effective organizing space to activists, and which most importantly begins to reveal the stark contrast between what it is possible to build with the vast wealth our society possesses, and the threats of violent repression which the state of the 1% must resort to in order to prevent that wealth being put to work in the interests of humanity.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Austerity Comes to California

Appropriately signed behind closed doors without a formal ceremony, and coming 2 days after Democratic Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill giving California’s agricultural workers the right to unionize through card check, the latest California budget is a toxic mix of shallow hopes in economic recovery and a ruthless evisceration of services and programs essential to working class Californians.Having surrendered the plan of regressive taxation meant to shore up the budget proposal Brown released in January (See ) Brown and the Democratic legislature have moved forward with an all austerity budget. Other than some additional revenue expected from forcing online retailers to pay sales tax (itself a product not of the Democrats taking a stand for taxing the rich but instead of lobbying by Amazon’s retail competitors like Wal-Mart) what has emerged is nothing short of an open declaration of class war and a clear pronouncement that not only Jerry Brown but the whole of the California Democratic Party is lining up on the side of Capital in the struggle over California’s future.

A testament to Jerry Brown’s ideological commitment to austerity is the pride with which the Office of the Governor’s official website declares as positive the fact that “California’s General Fund spending—as a share of the economy—is now at its lowest level since 1972-73.” This budget includes $15 Billion in total cuts, with additional cuts of $2.5 Billion to be triggered if hoped for additional revenue fails to materialize.This reliance on additional revenue is built on shaky economic ground, depending on an additional $4 Billion in revenue based on a hoped for surge in income among California’s rich. For California’s ruling elite however it’s a win-win; if the additional revenue fails to come through they’ll be unaffected by cuts which eviscerate public education, if it does materialize then they’re riding high on their own spectacular wealth increase in the midst of generalized poverty and unemployment.

The bulk of the new budget however clearly relies on an assault on the services California’s poor and working people depend upon. Brown vetoed an earlier all cuts proposal from the Democrats as having been insufficient to meet California’s need for “very strong medicine”, a ‘need’ which Brown is meeting in part through a massive assault on California’s low income public health insurance program. Californians will face higher co-pays and be limited to 7 doctor visits a year, a limit which is potentially disastrous for those with chronic conditions or ongoing medical problems. $345 Million of the nearly $1.8 Billion cut and an additional $103 million cut to California’s health insurance program for children, teens and pregnant mothers is unallocated and so the full consequences of the budget are not yet known.

The state’s welfare to work program, CALWORKs, is gutted in the latest round of cuts. Grants for those in the work program have been slashed by 8% to an average of $460 for a family of three, less than 30% of what the federal government considers necessary for a family of three to meet the most basic needs in the state with one of the country’s highest costs of living. In addition this meager cash assistance is cut from 5 years to 4 years and the programs employment services and child care components have been slashed to pieces.

While the state continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into maintaining the death penalty and billions into the prison industrial complex as a whole, prisoners themselves who face inhumane levels of overcrowding are also going to be subject of further cuts to their already inadequate healthcare, with $82 million cut this year and $160 million cut next year. A $350 million cut to Court systems will likely grind the system to a halt. While this may provide an opening for activists seeking to utilize more militant tactics against the government with the assumption that charges will be dropped, it also means that those in jail awaiting trial and especially those denied or unable to afford bail will be incarcerated for longer.

Students who have faced unprecedented fee hikes in the last few years face another $1.7 Billion in cuts, including cuts of $650 Million each to the University of California and California State University systems, a 23% slash in state funding. California Community Colleges, supposed to provide a low cost alternative to those who can no longer afford four years at a UC or CSU, face a $400 Billion cut which will provoke a 38% fee hike and reduced course offerings and admissions for students. If the additional revenue doesn’t materialize then a further $72 million cut to community colleges $100 million cuts to both UC’s and CSU’s will be imposed.

K-12 Schools, battered by years of underfunding and neglect, will have $2.1 Billion “borrowed” from their budget for the year. If sufficient additional revenue doesn’t appear then a $1.5 Billion cut to K-12 will be triggered, slashing 7 classroom days away down to 168 days a year in a move which will further rob teachers of a job, working parents of effective daycare and children of their intellectual potential. The effects will be compounded for the poorest students, with a $248 Million cut which ends school bus transportation likely to make it difficult for them to even get to their underfunded schools.

In addition to the major cuts outlined above the budget is riddled with smaller but profoundly impactful cuts that will affect the quality of life for all but the wealthiest Californians. 70 State Parks will close, cutting off access to many of California’s stunning natural parks and beaches. The budget eliminates all state funding for public libraries which have already been gutted over the last few years. A $15 Million cut to California’s Emergency Management Agency in a State which has been long overdue for another major Earthquake has the potential to kill. An 11 percent cut to state funding for preschool and child care programs will force an estimated 25,500 children to lose access. The Governor went out of his way and used his line item veto to axe $234.6 Million in state funding for mass transport which millions of poor Californians, unlike the Governor and his friends, rely upon to make it to work and school ever y day. In addition there will be a $308 Million cut to State Employee Compensation. If the hoped for revenue doesn’t come through, among the first to suffer will be a further $100 Million to In-Home supportive services hours and $100 million to the Department of Developmental Services, once more robbing from California’s disabled and elderly to maintain corporate tax breaks.

As he signed the bill Brown declared that it “really does put our fiscal house into much better shape, but we’re not finished.” In fact it was only the complete intransigence of Republicans in the latest budget cycle that kept Brown from offering them the pensions of public sector workers on a platter, and as the crisis continues to unfold and shallow hopes of economic rebound continue to appear real only to Wall Street investors, the cuts are only going to grow more intense, more frequent and more terrible in the violence they wreak on the lives of millions of Californians.

A section of the Wall Street Journal’s “Wealth Report” was headlined “Why the Rich Fear Violence in the Streets”, describing how according to a new survey among those with over $1 million in liquid assets, “94% of respondents are concerned about the global unrest around the world today.”Anecdotal stories of the extent of despair in the US, like that of a North Carolina man who made national headlines robbing a bank in the hopes of receiving healthcare in prison, provide the negative counterpart to the positive examples of mass resistance which have emerged in Wisconsin. Yet they are emblematic of the pain and frustration ripping through tens of millions of students and workers raised on the lie of the American Dream who stand confronted with a reality of a capitalist system shedding any remaining illusions of compassion or humanity in order to salvage a few more percentage points of profit.

As the ruling classes’ neoliberal program of austerity in California, across the United States and internationally seeks to expand the assault on unions, to gut welfare and reduce the working class to a condition of immiseration unseen since the 1930’s, the rich are right to be afraid. Outside their gated communities, in the factories and workshops and retail stores where workers are bled bit by bit body and soul, and in the projects and tent cities and prisons where Capitalism’s surplus humanity is sent to be forgotten, a storm is brewing. From the occupations of University administrative buildings by students being shackled to chains of debt to the hunger strikes of prisoners locked in State Prisons, resistance is sprouting up amidst the assaults of the establishment. The worlds rich should be afraid, because when the world working class begins to fight back, it will not be “finished” until all the Jerry Brown’s and Barack Obama’s of the world are swept aside, until the very state through which they rule and enforce their dictates of austerity is smashed by the tide of workers’ democracy, and until the social system which produces a super-rich at the expense of the human potential of billions is buried and forgotten like the Feudal and Slave systems which preceded it.

As the German revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg once proclaimed, as the more honest and self-reflective sections of the ruling class seem to be remembering, and as those like Brown at the frontlines of enforcing austerity are soon to discover;

“Your 'order' is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will rise up again and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I shall be!"

Monday, February 7, 2011

Jerry Brown's Assault on California

Jerry Brown's Assault on California

A washed up, aging Republican movie star is replaced by a Democratic governor who leads the state to adopt a budget cutting program vastly more conservative then that of his right wing predecessor. He gains a reputation as a fiscal conservative and is applauded by the right wing while those hoping for progressive change are left sorely disappointed. The year was 1975 and the aging movie star was a man by the name of Ronald Reagan who was just replaced by a Democrat named Jerry Brown. Karl Marx's famous quip that history repeats itself "First as Tragedy, then as Farce" has never seemed more prescient then it is in California today as the same Jerry Brown, 36 years later, has replaced Schwarzenegger in the governors house and is moving to implement on an exponentially more catastrophic scale the sort of cuts and austerity measures which made him one of the Right wing's favorite Democrats.

Far from the progressive that unions and liberal organizations have sought to present him as, California Governor Jerry Brown's history reveals that he's been as staunch a conservative as any Republican and economically would fit in well on the far right of the Republican Party.

In his previous tenure as Governor, Brown managed to be significantly more conservative then Ronald Reagan. Whereas Reagan had actually boosted spending an average of 12.2 percent a year, Jerry Brown cut it down to 4.6% in his first year, less then the rate of inflation effectively imposing cuts on California.

Although he was initially opposed to Prop 13, after it passed he spearheaded its implementation, declared himself a "born-again tax cutter" and won the praise and vote of the Republican who sponsored the act. Polls showed that by the end most Californians actually believed Jerry Brown had supported Prop 13. This fervent commitment to cutting taxes paid off for him in his re-election when he managed to carry Orange County, the states bastion of wealthy republicanism.

Jerry Brown's economic policies have been consistently far to the right of even mainstream American politics. In his 1980 Presidential Campaign he called for a constitutional convention to support a balanced budget amendment. Later in his 1992 Presidential Campaign he went so far as to call for and supported the institution of a flat income tax and flat sales tax, one which forces poor people barely getting by to pay the same percentage of their income as billionaires, an idea which is considered beyond the pale by even most of today's Republican Party.

Brown's more recent reign as mayor of Oakland is well described by a glowing review he received from American Conservative magazine.

"As mayor, Brown allied himself with cops and developers. He shooed away citizens who fretted that a new condo would disturb some ducks, aggravated labor activists by courting investment from The Gap, allowed the Marines to conduct urban-warfare training maneuvers in the city, and pushed through public funding for the Oakland Military Institute, a prep school for members of the California Cadet Corps."

Finally as attorney general he buried one of his few redeeming features, opposition to the death penalty, and pushed for the resumption and execution of the death penalty in California. Ending the Death penalty in California, a solution conspiciously absent from budget discussions in Sacramento, could easily save the state as much as $1 Billion over 5 years.

It should be clear from this that working class Californians do not have a friend in the Governor, and that Jerry Brown's resume as an "ally of cops and developers" places him front and center as an opponent of California's working class. A reputation which he is moving to reinforce by spearheading the latest round of Austerity measures in California.

While budget cuts have been a frequent and devastating aspect of life for all Californians who suffered through Republican Governor Schwarzenegger's tenure, this new assault by Jerry Brown constitutes nothing less then an attempt to impose Greek levels of austerity which will devastate working class people and cut lifelines for those most vulnerable in the state. The proposal includes

* $1.4 Billion in cuts from higher education, including $500 Million each from the UC and CSU systems and $400 million from the Community College System. The result will be slashed services, slashed wages for workers and the acceleration of the privatization of education.
* $1.7 billion from Medi-Cal, including vastly increased copays which will drive poor Californians to put off medical care to the last minute or be unable to seek it at all.
* $1.5 billion from California's welfare-to-work program, a massive attack on one of the few programs to provide work and help to the unemployed. As the real level of unemployment in California reaches over 20%, this will be a devastating blow to the state's poor
* $750 Million in cuts to child care, eliminating services for 11 and 12 year olds, and decreasing eligibility from 75% to 60% of median income. In a state where the Median family income of $56,000 is already considered less than what's needed to get by the costs of the crisis will be pushed on to families already struggling to raise their children.
* $580 million from state operations and employee compensation, a new round of pay cuts to workers already suffering through furloughs and cuts for the last few years. Expect continued assaults on state worker's pension funds.
* $200 million in cuts to the court system. If you don't have the money to make bail, expect to spend months if not years awaiting trial.
* Although K-12 Is being left as it is in the current proposal, Brown's budget will take $1billion dollars from Prop 10 which helps fund children's programs and prepares younger kids to be able to go to school.
* Almost all state funding for libraries will be slashed
* An end to housing aid for those transitioning out of Foster Care

Many of the most devastating cuts however are going to be directed towards the mentally and physically disabled, those least able to fight back against what's an unprecedented assault on services which were already insufficient for supporting the state's disabled. These include

* Supplemental Security Income, benefits for those affected by disabilities or mental illness, will be cut to the bare minimum of $830 a month
* A reduction in the hours In-Home Supportive Services workers care for elderly and disabled residents by 8.4 percent
* $750 Million in cuts to regional centers overseeing care to the developmentally disabled
* $861 Million will be "borrowed" , which is to say stolen, from funding set aside by voters for Mental Health services.

The only taxes Jerry Brown is considering putting through are regressive taxes on the working class. Brown is pushing for an extension of increases in the sales tax and vehicle registration fees, both of which will disproportionately affect poor and working class Californians.

These tax hikes were the same ones presented by Schwarzenegger in 2009 and rejected as the regressive taxes they were. Interestingly enough, and quite revealing of California Politics, one of the biggest funders of the 2009 initiative were California Oil Corporations hoping to make sure they avoided any of the taxes they're subjected to in every other state, including and especially even Alaska.

California is currently the third largest oil producer in the state yet is the only major oil producing state to give companies like Chevron a free ride. A mere 6% tax on oil extraction could raise $1 Billion, if the tax was the same as it is in Alaska, 25%, that would be over $4 Billion dollars. Since all Oil Companies are doing is essentially pumping money out of the State of California into their profit margins it wouldn't be unreasonable to demand a much higher rate of 50% or even full control of California's own oil resources, something which would more then cover the cost of the cuts being proposed this year.

Yet even the subject of taxing oil in California leaves out the most obvious solution to the problem and the one which any working class citizen of the state should demand, taxing the rich.

According to the California Labor Federation, the state gives a way more then $50 Billion in tax waivers and loopholes for the rich and Corporations. The four richest Californians alone have a net worth of $69 Billion, more then 3 times the budget deficit. In fact the combined wealth of only those billionaires wealthy enough to make the Forbes 400 2010 list is $250.85 Billion, 10% of which would provide enough to close the deficit and even expand services without a single budget cut or tax on the working class.

And it's not like the wealthy have been hurting over the past year, not long ago Merrill Lynch unveiled it's World Wealth Report, which charts the finances of the world's super-rich, this year the wealth of those with over $1million in liquid assets grew by 18% with the numbers even higher among those in wealthier brackets. This is all wealth which has overwhelmingly come from stock market speculation and the dividends the super-wealthy have received from the bank bailouts financed by the country's poor and working class.

Yet taking back even a slice of this wealth won't be on the table under California's Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. Instead, workers, students, the unemployed, families and the mentally disabled have become the target of one of the most vicious budget cuts in California history. The necessity of building mass resistance independent of and opposed to the Democratic Party is about to become not only an urgent political need but for Californians about to be thrown off aid, cut off from services and left stranded without help it will become a prerequisite to survival.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

We Know...

You feel it as an irresistible sense of overwhelming release, one which you only begin to fully understand as your mind readjusts itself away from the confines of the knowledge factory.

A break, even for only a few days or few weeks, in the assembly line of university indoctrination to which we have offered our tacit if grudging consent. A learning process built on monotonous lectures by a dry old professor standing at the head of the whole hollow edifice because they produced the lengthiest and most sweet sounding articles for a stale academic press. The production of papers recognized as farcical as much by the student toying with the margins as it is by the overworked TA reluctantly tossing out B+’s as a landmark to their own incapacity to truly teach within a University Structure aimed at unteaching.

The feeling emerges, seemingly paradoxically but in actuality perfectly, as a real conscious lust for learning. A desire to create. A desire to reshape and grow and grasp the potential for human-being as an act. Books, documentaries, articles, conversations, interaction and feeling are ripped from the ghostly specter of a forced construction into essential tools with which we begin to articulate in imperfect language what we have always known and yet which the University has sought to deny us.

Namely, the very fact that we have known.

That we as subjects of oppression and commodification in a part of its horrid and decadent multiplicity know within ourselves and eachother the character of the world in which we exist, we know the social worlds we have constructed better then we could ever articulate them, we know there can be more to our existence then the fragile mix of coercion and collusion which has kept us mute.

We yearn

For knowledge which is our own

We Know

Another World is Possible

-We Shall Be All

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Call for University of California Wide Action November 16th from the UC Santa Cruz Strike Committee (Responsible for the Successful Campus Shutdown on March 4th)

Call to Action for November 16th

The University of California Administration and the UC Regents in particular have continued to demonstrate their callous disregard for the lives and futures of the Students and Workers who make up the University. The malicious assault which they are now leading against the pensions of employees, the conditions and wages of academic workers, and the future of students with a new proposed fee hike of as much as 20%, demonstrates not only the depth of their commitment to privatization but also their amnesiac forgetfulness regarding the events of last year. In the relative calm of the last few months they have forgotten the magnitude of the discontent which exploded in the form of mass occupations and strikes last November and on March 4th. As the regents meet to consider further austerity measures, we must act to demonstrate that if they fail to repeal the fee hikes implemented so far, if they continue to impose intolerable conditions on the Students and Workers of the University of California, we will render the University ungovernable. The UCSC Strike Committee calls upon Students and Workers across the UC system to take action on their campuses November 16th, both to demonstrate the continuing strength of our resistance and build the social power which can make the threat of an ungovernable university a reality.

-UC Santa Cruz Strike Committee

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Neoliberal University: Part 1

Summary and Review of “Universities in a Neo-Liberal World” by Alex Callinicos (Bookmarks 2006)

Although the scale of both the neoliberal assault and student/worker resistance has increased dramatically in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the privatization of higher education has been underway for decades. While written in 2006 and from a British perspective, Alex Callinicos' pamphlet “Universities in a Neo-liberal World” provides a valuable overview of that transformation and of the new form capitalism is imposing on the University.

Callinicos finds the ideological foundation of the modern University more broadly within Neoliberalism, but specifically within the concept of the “Knowledge Economy” which came to the forefront during the dotcom bubble of the 1990's. Essentially the advocates of the knowledge economy advance the idea that with a shift in production from material to service goods production becomes more knowledge intensive, relying on highly trained workers, “human capital” which is the key to maintaining global competitiveness. Although the claims of “knowledge capitalism” are highly questionable, as are the claims of a relationship between a nation's “competitiveness” and the actual well being of it's poor and working class, it remains the dominant ideology driving a turn towards neoliberalism and competition within the University.

In line with most of the practice of neoliberalism the neoliberal university is not only leaner and more “efficient” but where it is funded it serves as a direct public subsidy to corporate interests. As Capitalism has come to rely on increasingly more and more advanced technologies the cost of research and development has skyrocketed, causing major corporations to move from in house research to a reliance on external firms, whether research powerhouses, smaller venture capitalist sponsored enterprises, or public and private Universities. It is as a research powerhouse for corporate projects that Universities, which have had their standard budgets gutted, are to reborn as “efficient” and “competitive” institutions.

As the logic of capitalism has imposed itself on the University it has been reflected not only in budget cuts and overcrowded classrooms but increasingly in the measurement and production of academic work. Seeking to quantify knowledge and creativity the new business oriented management of Universities has constructed elaborate and bureaucratic evaluation systems which privilege quantity and “quality” of academic publishing in determining the future of academic workers.* These evaluate academic employees based on crude measurements of research output which become harder to live up to as more workers adhere to and seek to compete within the framework. Ironically Neoliberalism, the pure logic of capitalism, finds that it's academic reflection bears more in common with the absurdities and inefficiencies of a Stalinist bureaucracy, desperately and tragicomically attempting to judge theory and knowledge by the same categories as tractor production.

Particularly in Britain the competition among individual workers to speed up academic production has been reflected in a broader acceleration of competition and selectivity among Universities. Competition is fierce to attract the most renowned researchers and maintain the kind of "efficiency" which attracts the bulk of state and corporate funding. The results are that “At both the institutional and individual level, success and the rewards associated with it come from research performance”. This despite and seemingly in contradiction to the growth of a “now all pervasive ideology that treats students as customers exercising freedom of choice when applying for courses”. Yet the development in Britain reflects international trends towards a minority of renowned research powerhouses and a majority of underfunded teaching institutions, with a middle ground desperately trying to make it into the former rather then be dragged into the latter.

This transformation of the University has led in turn to a transformation of the class dynamics at work within it. A definite managerial elite, bureaucratic, hierarchical and emulating the corporations they seek to bring the University close to, sits at the top. Vice Chancellors act as the new CEOs, with a mix of former Academics and business school graduates comprising their well paid managerial arm. While a minority of renowned researchers and publicists remains well paid, most university teachers are increasingly “reduced to the condition of highly qualified wage laborers” with temporary lecturers and graduate students taking on the most precarious and poorly paid positions within the system. At the other end is a growing mass of students, increasingly overburdened with debt and low pay retail work, struggling to attain the education that will bring them into the middle-upper strata of the working class.

The acknowledgement of these dynamics however is more then a sad overview of the existing state of affairs, it provides a key to understanding the resistance they must provoke. Callinicos, writing in 2006, points to student uprisings in France and the coherence of a labor movement among lecturers and Britain as the main signs of the potential for resistance in the University. Today it's easy to expand the list of such actions to a student movement which has emerged from Germany to California, as well as a small resurgence in labor organizing in the US by lecturers and graduate students in particular.

For any movement seeking to oppose the neoliberal forces transforming academia and education an effective theorization of the development and direction of the University is essential. Callinicos' Pamphlet while mostly limited to the British context draws out many trends which are being applied by Capitalist governments and corporations internationally. As such it can provide a valuable and effective, if not complete, guide to the neoliberalization of Universities here in the United States and around the world.

The PDF of "Universities in a Neoliberal World" is available here

[Part 2 will explore more in depth the development of these trends in the United States and specifically in California where a significant new movement has emerged to oppose the privatization of Higher Education]

*(For a more in depth and theoretical analysis of the emergence of “Academic Taylorism”, I would recommend “Cognitive Capitalism and the Rat Race” by Massimo de Angeles and David Harvie in Historical Materialism 17)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: Revolutionary Suicide

"By having no family I have inherited the family of humanity.

By having no possessions I have possessed all.

By rejecting the love of one I have received the love of all.

By surrendering my life to the revolution I have found eternal life.

Revolutionary suicide."

“Revolutionary Suicide” by Huey P. Newton was recently republished and made broadly available as part of the Penguin Classics series. As an autobiography and as a window into the life of the Black Panthers it is extremely significant. However the power of “Revolutionary Suicide” lies not merely in the story it tells but for the way in which it enunciates the moral foundations upon which broader revolutionary theory and practice is based. In this way Newton earns his place not only among the great revolutionary activists of the world, but stands with and of the tradition of authors like Maxim Gorky, giving voice to the inspiration behind lives dedicated to the struggle against capitalism.

Newton begins the book aptly enough not with a discussion of birth but one of death. He opens with reflections on the growing rates of suicide among black men which came to his attention while reading during his imprisonment. Basing himself on the Sociologist Emile Durkheim's conception of all suicides being based in broader social conditions, Newton elaborated his theory of revolutionary and reactionary suicide. Reactionary Suicide is “the reaction of a man who takes his own life in response to social conditions that overwhelm him and condemn him to helplessness”. Beyond reactionary suicide and even more degrading is the cynical acceptance of ones own oppression, “a death of the spirit rather then of the flesh” which consigns its victims to a life without meaning or decency, a life of “quiet desperation” which is a death of it's own kind.

In contrast the path of the revolutionary, of any human being seeking to retain dignity and self respect in the face of oppression, is one of resistance at any cost. “I do not think life will change for the better without an assault on the Establishment... Thus it is better to oppose the forces that would drive me to self-murder then to endure them. Although I risk the likelihood of death, there is at least the possibility, if not the probability, of changing intolerable conditions.” Revolutionary Suicide is nothing less then the total commitment to demand respect and humanity at any cost, a demand which as history would prove was sure to bring the state's murderous represseion down upon the Panthers. Yet this is not to be confused with a cynical acceptance of death or repression, in contrast it, like all revolutionary ideologies is grounded in the hope and longing for a world that could be. “The concept of revolutionary suicide is not defeatist or fatalistic. On the contrary, it conveys an awareness of reality in combination with the possibility of hope – reality because the revolutionary must always be prepared to face death, and hope because it symbolizes a resolute determination to bring about change.”

Newton relates his background and upbringing (including the somewhat surprising origin of his name), his progress from a disillusioned youth to one of the founders of the Black Panther party, his trial and imprisonment, release, and the work of the Black Panther Party in the aftermath of the split with Eldridge Cleaver. Newton's writing style is direct and clear, yet rhetorically effective and engaging. He succeeds in weaving the underlying philosophy of revolutionary suicide into each conflict and transformation, demonstrating in practice what he advocates in theory. Though at times the narrative appears dragged down by some of the infighting within and without the Black Panthers, the work is a product of it's time of which the first cracks in the Party are as much a part of as the incredible revolutionary devotion the book captures. "Revolutionary Suicide", and in particular the revolutionary philosophy Newton incorporates into each aspect of his story, is in many ways a more accurate representation of the spirit and potential of Newton and Panthers then any history showing their decline and collapse in the face of resurgent conservatism and state repression could be.

Monday, July 26, 2010

We Will Sweep them Aside

[March 4th, 2010, Main Rally of Successful UC Santa Cruz One Day Strike]

Nearly 50 years after the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, we find ourselves in a world in which all the traces of a progressive society, every organ of resistance and every concession rested through years of struggle has been so emaciated by decades of reaction that the very thing against which they rebelled appears to us almost like a fantasy.

Whereas the radicals of the 1960′s were inspired to rebel against a process in which they were crafted and shaped into products for Corporate America, we now find ourselves compelled to revolt against a world which no longer wants the product we’re mortgaging more and more of our lives to become.

Yet there is a unity to these two eras, both then and now the institution of the UC and it’s role within society has remained essentially the same. The UC was created not in any way to advance social justice or equality, but as an instrument of corporate welfare. A so called “Knowledge factory” through which society as a whole would finance the training of workers for big business. The offices and laboratories constructed through student fees and state funding host research advancing the interest of Corporate America.

What is happening now is that all the frills and fringe benefits are being stripped away leaving only the corporate core of exploitation.

What we are experiencing here at the UC is a structural adjustment, liquidation on a scale contingent with the closed factories of Michigan, the ruins of New Orleans and the slave conditions under which everything we consume is produced.

The slashing of worker’s wages and the exponential growth of student fees to pay for administrator salaries and construction contracts is part of the same program behind the bank bailout and the Health Insurance sellout, a program which constitutes nothing less then the relentless exploitation, taxation and immiseration of the Working Class to maintain a system in crisis. A system which has become so broken and so incapable of managing society that it has begun to turn on and devour every positive, human achievement it was made to spawn.

The Administration here say that our strike is impeding learning, that we are destructive, that we are even violent. Their unbridled hypocrisy would be amusing if it were not believed by so many.

You say we are impeding learning? Who’s the one slashing majors, cutting classes and firing lecturers?

You say we are destructive? What’s a dirty carpet or broken table against the corrupt way the UC regents are appointed and the shattered dreams of students saddled with debt?

You say we are violent? Who’s the one obliterating the wages and hours of workers, enforcing cuts that will rip food off working class tables and push families out of their homes?

The strikes and occupations which our movement advances are acts of self defense by the Students and Workers of this University against the systematic violence being perpetrated against us.

We are here shutting down this campus here rather then begging for crumbs in Sacramento because we do not merely seek the rejuvenation of this University, we seek its transformation. We seek a University which moves beyond a hollow facade of commitment to social justice and which under Student and Worker control actively provides an emancipatory education to catalyze the construction of a human society.

We are a generation which woke up to find itself abandoned by the establishment. With every layoff, with every fee hike, with every liquidated job and every cut social service we are witnessing the thin veneer which has concealed a society of exploitation being stripped away and the naked emperor of the Market revealed in all it’s vile, disgusting mass.

Yet we have woken up to find each other. To find lying next to us the unemployed, the workers, the oppressed and exploited of the world who have been suffering even more and for longer then we’ve been alive.

And we have found that together, united in solidarity, we can, we must Struggle.

And we will struggle until we compel their surrender.

We will struggle until we force them to see that the growing discontent of world’s exploited in the face of their program of cutbacks and bailouts is the real crisis.

We will show them, that if they are unwilling or incapable of allowing us a decent existence, if they can’t find the money for education and food and health care while they still find all the money in the world for their executive bonuses, then we will sweep them aside and advance our own radical vision of a society without them as an accomplished fact.

One Year of Obama

[January 14th, 2010]

January 20th, a little less then a week from today, will mark the first anniversary of Obama’s inauguration. Obama’s promises of change and reform, as well as the historic nature of electing the first African American President, was able to galvanize the hopes of millions, mobilizing students, workers and communities of color to help bring about an unprecedented Democratic majority in the House and Senate. Before I became a Socialist and a Marxist I was actually one of them, and I remember with a mix of nostalgia and embarrassment supporting him against Clinton in the Primaries even as I began to take left politics more seriously. Yet the campaign promises of Obama as he was elected, not to even mention those pushed in the primaries, seem like a wistful dream compared to the reality of a Democratic Administration.

Today, the list of issues progressive expected real action on reads like a mass funeral

Employee Free Choice Act, expected to reward Organized Labor for the immense support it lent Obama in the election, would have helped to combat the drastically undemocratic and illegal union busting practices of big business. It was eviscerated by Democratic Party controlled Committees before being sent off to die without a fight

Health Care Reform, after having the public option whittled down and finally cast away as “unrealistic” despite broad public support, is set to pass in a form that will drastically reduce access to Abortion for most women and which mandates that everyone purchase a broken product from Private Insurance Companies. It provides some government subsidies which will for all intents and purposes act as a massive financial donation to an industry which has betrayed the interests of Americans for decades. And as if the betrayal of Labor over Employee Free Choice Act was insufficient, the Democratic Party Health Care Plan with the support of Obama rubs sulfuric acid in the wounds with a plan to tax the few, hard won decent healthcare plans that Unions have struggled and sacrificed to maintain, in order to finance a tragically backward reform that stands as a firm rebuke to the popular will in the country and the dreams of so many.

Financial Reform has, despite Trillions of dollars being taken on in debt to cover the costs of a corrupt investment banking system, failed to materialize whatsoever. In fact quite ironically, it’s John McCain who’s proposing a bill for financial reform being opposed by President Obama that does precisely what Obama the candidate claimed was necessary by restoring the Glass-Steagul Banking Act that was repealed under Clinton.

In Foreign Policy despite formally dropping the term “War on Terror” Obama has practically maintained continuity with the Bush administration, from the initial disappointment around the maintenance of Robert Gates as Defense Secretary, to a new surge into Afghanistan, an expansion of bombing into Northern Pakistan and now, recently, the expansion of US Military operations to Yemen. Obama had the audaucity to accept the Nobel Peace Prize and use his platform their to justify a policy of continued militarization and occupation that has brought misery to millions.

Not that long ago in late December, according to a UN investigation, 8 Afghan school children, one as young as 11 years old, were executed by NATO forces, some of them being roused from their sleep and then handcuffed before they were murdered. Crimes like this put to rest claims among some liberals that although Bush waged the war badly, Obama will wage it in a just and humanitarian fashion that would be an exception to the whole history of US Foreign Policy.

Closely related to Foreign Policy is the administrations atrocious failure to make any significant improvement for Civil Liberties. Bush policies on indefinite detention in oversea prisons like Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition of prisoners to be tortured overseas, warrantless wiretapping, trial by military tribunals and protection for officials and corporations involved in violating civil rights have all been continued under Obama.

Much of this I’m sure many of you were aware of, and given your presence tonight I suspect most of you don’t need that much more convincing to be disappointed with the results of the Obama Administration’s first year. However the question in the air in the broader left is how did this come to be? How did the promise of the campaign turn into the reality of a compromised Presidency.


The answer can be found on two closely related levels. First the nature of the state Obama leads, and the role of the Democratic Party within that State.

First, the big question, What is the State? The State as Marxists have traditionally defined it is the instrument through which one class maintains it’s dictatorship over another. Taken at face value this is an almost indefensible statement, we have a government made up of elected representatives, with near universal suffrage and free elections every two years. Taken in isolation, as frequently done in Political and Social Science classes, our governmental structure is an imperfect if democratic government for which it would be ridiculous to claim it was some sort of dictatorship under the rule of Capitalist Oligarchs, complete with top hats, monocles and cigars, sending out their dictates from a smoke filled back room.

In fact the Marxist view stands completely in opposition to this sort of caricatured view. We could actually even assume for the purpose of argument the most democratic imaginable government, the very ideal of liberal ideology unimpaired by the electoral system, campaign financing, etc.– and we could still claim it to be the instrument of Class Rule. This is because however democratic the government appears in isolation, it can only be understood in the real world as an entity part of and fundamentally shaped by the totality of Global Capitalism.

Everything in the world exists within the reality of Capitalism, a system predicated on the organization of everything that creates social wealth as Private Property, in which the Market will compel the concentration of private property in fewer and fewer hands, shaping a world like the one today, in which just the richest 2% of the world controls half the world’s wealth, in which the poorest 50% of the world controls just 1% of the wealth.*

It is a system driven by the process of accumulation, the search for profit which takes the immense circulation of commodities to a scale almost beyond our comprehension, with Trillions of dollars pouring into this or that region, this or that financial market or sector and rushing back out again in the course of moments of trading on the stock exchange. One which can liquidate factories and jobs, which can make or break lives and bury nations according to the whims of the Market. Under these conditions anything which threatens that process of accumulation, any social program maintained through higher taxes or reform aimed towards reigning in these forces, will be punished by the withdrawal of Capital.

(As a contemporary example, earlier today I was watching an episode of PBS’ Bill Moyer’s Journal, a liberal program, in which they pointed out that in the face of increased taxes and regulations the UK’s local branch of Goldman Sachs was threatening to move to Switzerland.)

In our theoretical ideal liberal democracy, the state is continuously forced to adapt to the whims and temper tantrums of the Market which determines people real livelihoods, how they eat and sleep, all things which constitute the real essence of power in society. Unless confronted with mass power and presented with a situation potentially dangerous enough to threaten Capitalism, as existed in the 1930′s and 1960′s, the Capitalist Class will not impose the kind of discipline upon itself that makes it allow significant reforms to preserve the system.

This explains why much of the more serious reform expected by people from Obama has failed to materialize, yet even with the role of Capital in mind, much more might be possible even under existing conditions and the parameters of what the Market considers acceptable. This is where the fact of our being a very, very imperfect democracy comes into play and the role of the Democratic Party becomes apparent.

The Democratic Party must be understood as something which is, above all else in the world, committed to electing Democratic Party Politicians. Leadership of movements for Social Justice has never come from Democratic Politicians, the New Deal was the result of concessions wrested by the organized Radicals of the Old Left, the Great Society and Civil Rights legislation was the product of the active struggle of what was and what became the New Left. Throughout the most tense moments of rising struggle, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, every politician in office would tell the movement “Dont hold this march” “Dont be too radical” “Let’s be reasonable and wait”. The movement only advanced when these warnings were defied.

The Democratic Party will adapt itself to whatever way seems the most comfortable way of maintaining power. In our Modern State, this means accommodating to the Corporate Lobbyists that make their election possible, the Democrats took more money in this last election then the Republicans, and keep in mind, it would actually be illegal for a corporation to make any investment it didn’t think would pay off for it’s shareholders. While Capital may be willing to make some concessions, it’s eager to prevent whatever it can and the Democrats are happy to accomodate them.

Lance Selfa in his book The Democrats: A Critical History[Haymarket 2008], highly recommended reading for understanding the present moment by the way, describes the Democrats as “History’s Second Most Enthusiastic Capitalist Party”. It is true that the Republicans are even more objectively the Party of Business, however the Democrats fulfill a very specific role by stepping in whenever people become fed up with blatantly being screwed over, they act effectively as the reserve contender in the Tag Team of one Business Party.

This is not to say Democrats have not implemented changes and very significant reforms, rather that the historical role they fulfill is primarily as the wing of the government which absorbs mass discontent and diffuses it, when they can through nothing but symbolic changes, when they must through the implementation of real reform. Today, the Democrats have not been forced by a large enough swell of popular upheaval to be made to implement real gains for the Working Class.

(Though here at the UC we may be beginning to see a change to this state of affairs, although Schwarzenegger’s proposal is fundamentally flawed and must be opposed, the acknowledgement that the protests were the reason for it shows we are starting to have an impact)

In Sum, there has not been Change because the balance of Class forces is not yet in our favor, the will of the Working Class which constitutes the vast majority of the population, has on the one hand been diffused into the Democrats and on the other has not adopted the depth of anger that can be directed towards more threatening, revolutionary acts. If we are to win reforms, from the Republicans, the Democrats, and who knows, maybe some Third Party soon, then we must focus on building the kind of independent infrastructure through Mass work like the fight against the Budget Cuts and through the strengthening of Revolutionary organizations like the ISO that can help direct discontent into rank and file militancy that can change the world.

Throughout history radical organizations have played an essential part in building and pushing forward meaningful protests. From the dawn of the labor movement and the struggle for an 8 hour day to the General Strikes and Unemployed Riots of the 1930′s, from the Civil Rights movement of the 60′s and the contemporary movement for LGBT Equality, the struggle against War and the fight to stop Budget Cuts, Organized Socialists have been the most consistent, dedicated activists most clearly able to understand theoretically and practically how to encourage and direct rank and file struggle. Socialists are the ones who helped bring you the weekend, decent working wages, public education, voting rights and welfare, and as we enter a new period of struggle to defend and advance those past gains, you can expect socialists to continue that leading role. But, if we are going to win real change, we’ll need a lot more socialists to do it. And that’s why we need you to join us and help us in the struggle for a better world.

What We Mean by Socialism

[October 13th, 2009]
-Published at, see

AS MANY of you have no doubt witnessed, the word "socialism" has returned to the forefront of the American political debate. Newsweek had a front cover declaring "We Are All Socialists," the Nation magazine had a forum on what socialism is today, and even the New York Times had a discussion on the meaning of the word.

Socialism, depending on who you're talking to, can mean anything from the bureaucratic dictatorship of the Soviet Union, to the social reforms of Western Europe, to even, in the case of people like those in Glenn Beck's "9/12" movement, a guttural curse word to be spat at every policy deviating slightly from the reactionary cesspool from which they emerged.

What I, an actual living socialist, will advance tonight as socialism differs fundamentally from all of these, and is the definition of socialism which stands in the revolutionary, self-emancipatory tradition of Marxism--a tradition which takes as it's foundation that it is those who work and produce and farm and create who are responsible for all the wealth in the world, and that it is they, not an elite of the super-rich or a bureaucratic clique, that have the right and power to take and manage the world's resources in society's interests.

However, this idea--that people should be able to come together to democratically decide their future as a community, as a county, city, nation and ultimately species--one which seems on the surface so self-evident, is one which is completely at odds with the capitalist system under which we live today.

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DESCRIBING CAPITALISM to us today can seem almost like describing water to fish--it so permeates our existence as to be almost invisible and is presupposed in every dominant form of discourse. Yet this was not always so. Capitalism is, in fact, a relatively recent phenomenon in the scope of human history.

Capitalism was born in fits of world-shaking violence out of the old feudal society. It emerged on a foundation of the extermination of aboriginal lives and cultures the world over.

As the Spanish galleons hauled off the gold of two ravaged continents, capitalism was beginning to crawl forth from the womb. As millions of African slaves, ripped from their families, were made to suffer unspeakable indignities, as they shed their blood and tears and anguish, capitalism drank deep its violent sustenance and grew. As nations from Egypt to India to China were exploited under the yoke of European colonialism, capitalism took its first steps and prepared for the epoch of its reign.

With the blood money of countless atrocities, the accumulated misery of most of the world's population, were built the looms and engines and factories which would constitute private property. Industrialization, then in its ruthless efficiency, swept away all the old modes of production, the small farmers and the artisans, building from their expropriation a growing class of those left with nothing to sell but their labor--their time, in essence, their very lives--for nothing more than the ability to continue living, a working class living in a condition of wage slavery.

Capitalism is, in essence, this relationship--this process in which the vast majority of the human race is compelled in order to maintain their existence to sign over control of how, and for what, their existence counts to an elite of owners.

Yet even this is not the full extent of capitalism's tyranny over humanity, for even the capitalists do not have control over what they do.

There can be no appeal to their individual generosity or humanity, because every concession they make to any value besides the bottom line is something which strengthens their competition, which makes them less able to invest or pay off shareholders, and which buries them beneath the weight of the marketplace. What they have, workers produce, and what they pay workers, how they organize the factory, and how many workers they hire is all determined by the dictatorship of the market.

We live under capitalism in an absurd condition, under which in the name of "liberty" and "freedom," we spend most of our lives subjected to the boss' dictatorship in the workplace, in which the bosses are subjected to the dictatorship of the market, in which in sum, humanity is subjected to the yoke of the inhumane, in which the Frankenstein of the market let loose by our accumulated suffering rules over us all and restrains us from achieving any measure of genuine freedom.

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SOCIALISM IS the reasonable and necessary answer to this absurdity.

Throughout history, capitalism, through its basic inhumanity and through the economic crises which are endemic to it, has bred resistance to the system spearheaded by the working class, which is simultaneously both the most exploited and potentially the most powerful force in society.

It is through the strikes and protests--through the shutdown of factories or ports or university campuses--that labor is able to wring concessions from capital. It was by fighting and not by begging, through mass protests and general strikes which shook the system, that we won the weekend, the 40-hour work week, and all the benefits of the New Deal.

Yet although these reforms are important and valuable, they do not provide a lasting solution to the problem. Though concessions may be made here and there, as a whole, any protest which does not threaten the system, does not plan to go beyond it, will ultimately be rendered helpless, and the reforms which they won will slowly but surely be taken back.

The past 30 years have been a perfect example of this--though worker productivity has soared and the economy has grown, real wages have actually decreased, and the average person is worse off now than they were in the 1970s.

Today, a 40-hour workweek seems like a dream to many Americans forced to work multiple full-time jobs, and every attempt to organize a union or fight for better wages is met with the threat of outsourcing or liquidation.

Reforms on a local, individual scale are harder than ever to achieve and hold, the scope of what common sense will deem possible is being increasingly reduced to where a decent existence becomes an impossible demand. And it is when the people's demands go beyond the reforms that the establishment deems acceptable, when what is humanly necessary goes beyond what business is willing to concede, that the real struggle emerges.

There have been many times in history when this struggle has broken out in ways which shook the world and forced the world's rich to hold their collective breath. In 1871, the Paris Commune rose up as the first democratic workers' government in history, and gave one tremendous historical example of what is possible, before it was crushed by the French and Prussian armies.

In Russia in 1917, for a few short years, the soviets--Russian for councils--ruled and began to sweep away all of capitalism's refuse, beginning to abolish sexism, racism and homophobia in ways which, a hundred years on, we have not achieved under capitalist democracy. This revolution, too, was strangled, from without, by more than a dozen invading armies, including the United States, and from within by a growing new bureaucratic class.

Other glimpses of revolution occurred in Germany in 1919, France in 1968, Iran in 1979 and Poland in 1980. In all of these, a new power emerged to challenge the old state in the form of workers' councils--bodies of elected, recallable workers' delegates who began to take control of the industries, the productive forces of our society and run them democratically.

These workers' councils are a genuine participatory democracy, in which all delegates are accountable to those they represent and actually have the power to shape society and human destiny. It is not merely another form of democracy, but a qualitatively different organization of the state, in which the dictatorship of the minority in the interest of capital is finally supplanted by the rule of the majority in the interests of humanity.

They are powerful examples of what is possible, and ones in the face of which the old state inevitably vacillates between extreme violence and resignation to defeat, attempting to exterminate them by force, and failing that, being rendered impotent with the knowledge that the consent of the governed has abandoned them--that a new power has arisen, that a truly mass revolution has begun to cast them and all their petty ideological illusions into the same refuse pile into which they cast the kings and queens of old.

Workers' councils are the real embryo of a socialist society. Socialism exists only in the mass uprising and seizure of power by the working class, for the working class, on a world scale--one which renders the attempts of a minority to institute counter-revolution like those forced on all previous revolutions impossible.

Everything else, the parodies of Marxism-Leninism that exist in China and North Korea, the attempts of a select elite to conspiratorially institute utopian society from above, the attempts to expand the revolution by the bayonets of an army or the attempts to lobby bought-off legislatures in the name of a working class that is left passive--these are all dead ends which have not and cannot emancipate humanity from the chains which bind it.

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YOU MAY say, and you would be justified in doing so, that this all sounds very good, but the reality we are presented with makes this all seem so unrealistic in the face of present conditions, class consciousness and struggle that is nowhere near these levels. There certainly aren't any workers' councils forming today, and so many previous struggles against the state have ended in defeat that we should expect a similar fate for future ones.

And you would in some ways be right, if we were to confine ourselves to passively waiting for spontaneous action--if we were to act as mere observers waiting for our specific theoretical predictions to be proven true, we would be waiting forever.

Yet we are not here having this meeting so a few more can become enlightened about the inevitable. We are here because to bring about this new form of society, we need to build the kind of organization that can act to make revolutionary situations a reality and that can provide the leadership in them to push the struggle forward to victory.

Every supposedly spontaneous action is in reality the culmination of years of built-up grievances, agitation and propaganda, of small struggles here and there providing examples of the way forward. An earthquake does not occur out of nowhere--it is the product of years, decades of stress, building and building until finally a small movement sets loose world-shaking consequences. Similarly, in every great spontaneous upheaval of the masses, the patient work of organized socialists working within the movement for years played an essential role in bringing it about.

As we enter a new age of crisis and turbulence, we will need this kind of organization more than ever.

We need an organization that unites militants from across different arenas of struggle, union work, LGBT rights, antiwar organizing, immigrants rights--the whole spectrum of struggles against injustice which face working-class people.

We need an organization in which these people come together to critically examine their experiences--to compare and contrast and vigorously debate how to move things forward, how to mobilize people around immediate demands and unify the struggles in ways which point out the contradictions and injustices inherent to the system as a whole.

Only an organization which is welded together by vigorous democratic debate and unified dedication to action can provide a strong enough challenge to capitalism to achieve real gains and ultimate victory for the working class.

This is the organization that we in the ISO are seeking to build, and one which if you share our vision of what a just society needs to look like, you should join us in building.

Socialism is, in summary, a system and an idea that takes as its foundation that people should be able to democratically come together to determine how and for what people work--to meet human needs and structure our resources and our society in such a way as to allow for every individual to reach their real potential. It is people coming together to take back their lives from the inhumane forces which control them.

The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky put it best when he said: "The historic ascent of humanity, taken as a whole, may be summarized as a succession of victories of consciousness over blind forces--in nature, in society, in man himself."

Everywhere around us, we see the havoc blind forces are wreaking on our educations, our health, our livelihoods, and the havoc they wreak through the whole world with wars and starvation and exploitation. The question I pose to you is this: Will you take action and step up to the historic task of building the organizations and movements that will make that next great victory of consciousness and triumph of human potential over human misery a reality?