Gandhi’s Followers: Barefoot Mahatma Followers Undermining Capitalism

Gandhi’s Followers: Barefoot Mahatma Followers Undermining Capitalism

RT (2019)

Film Review

This is an odd documentary that tours India “to hear from Gandhi’s modern day disciples.” The title is misleading. I honestly can’t see any way the groups the filmmakers visit are undermining capitalism, especially the group “Bikers Against Animal Cruelty.” The latter use Harley Davidson motorcycle tours to educate high school students about the life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.

In my view it’s more accurate to describe the activist groups depicted as working to undermine India’s devotion to global consumerism. All have a strong focus on voluntary simplicity and care of the poor – both heavily promoted by Gandhi.

I also question filmmaker claims attributing the British decision to quit India to Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign for independence. The nonviolent resistance practiced by Gandhi and his supporters occurred in conjunction with a parallel independence movement that included violent tactics such as bombing, targeted assassination, riots and looting. I suspect that latter were far more influential in persuading the British to leave.

Likewise the far majority of Gandhi followers in the film wear shoes.

 

 

Malcolm X vs Martin Luther King

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Face to Face

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

This documentary compares and contrasts the anti-racism campaigns of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X during the 1960s. It combines commentary from Black scholars and civil rights activists with vintage footage of the two leaders.

Malcolm was highly critical of King for strategies he claimed sought to win the support of white people. Malcolm frequently asked to debate him though King always refused. Malcolm opposed non-violence as a strategy, maintaining Blacks had a right to defend themselves when cops beat them up. He also disagreed with King’s focus on integration and voting rights. He believed asking Black people to trust whites was dangerous and alienated them from deep-seated feelings about the way whites treated them. Likewise he believed voting was useless so long as whites were determined to disempower Black people.

Unlike King, a Baptist preacher, Malcolm also rejected Christianity (“the religion of slavery”) were he became second in command at the Nation of Islam.

It was largely under Malcolm’s influence that African Americans became proud to be Black,  and “Negroes” began referring to themselves as Black.

The two men met only briefly in 1964 at a congressional hearing on Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act.

Following Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination, King seemed to become much more radical, as he took up Black poverty and the Vietnam War as key issues.

 

 

Is It Time to Bring Down Civilization?

Endgame: The Problem of Civilization

by Derrick Jensen

Seven Stories Press (2006)

Book Review

Although the writing style is quite informal, the basic structure of environmental activist Derrick Jensen’s two volume opus is that of a philosophical treatise. In Endgame, Jensen makes two highly controversial arguments:

1. The planet and the human species can only be saved by bringing down civilization.

2. This can only be accomplished by violent means.

Like a philosopher, Jensen builds his case on 20 basic premises listed at the beginning of both volumes (see below). By definition, a premise is mutually agreed assumption (as opposed to a statement of fact) that is used to rationally derive a set of conclusions. In other words, if someone rejects your premises, they will also disagree with conclusions based on these premises.

I myself agree with all but premise 9 and 12. Ten years ago, it was believed that the loss of fossil fuel based industrial agriculture would result in a big drop in population. However more recent research shows that permaculture and biointensive agriculture produce higher crop yields than factory farming. I also believe there is a vast difference between rich and poor people, both in terms of lived experience and power.

In Volume 1, Jensen traces the rise of cities, which by necessity steal resources from distant regions and eventually denude the entire landscape of these resources. After making the case that the corporate elite are voraciously consuming an ever increasing amount of energy, land, water and other resources, Jensen reminds us that we live on a finite planet. He then argues that corporations will most likely continue this greedy consumption until everything is used up – or until we stop them.

Volume 2, which is less structured and more informal, encapsulates many of Jensen’s experiences with the environmental movement and dogmatic “nonviolent” resistance advocates. Given the CIA’s heavy infiltration of both domestic and foreign non-violent resistance campaigns (see How the CIA Promotes Nonviolence), these chapters resonated strongly with my own experiences.

Other than general talk about blowing up dams and cellphone towers, Jensen is deliberately (and in my view wisely) vague about the exact form of violence he’s proposing.

Jensen’s (somewhat abbreviated) premises:

1. Civilization can never be sustainable, especially industrial civilization.
2. Traditional (ie indigenous) communities do not give up or sell their resources unless these communities are destroyed.
3. Industrial civilization would quickly collapse without its reliance on widespread violence.
4. Civilization is based on a clearly defined – violence by those at the top of the hierarchy against those at the bottom is often invisible.
5. The property of those at the top of the hierarchy is more valuable than that of those at the bottom.
6. Civilization isn’t redeemable – it will never voluntarily undergo sane transformation.
7. The longer we wait to bring down civilization, the messier the ultimate crash will be.
8. The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.
9. Some day there will be far fewer human beings on the planet than there are today.
10. The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.
11. From the beginning this culture – civilization – has been a culture of occupation.
12. There are no rich people and no poor people. The rich delusionally believe they own all the land and the police enforce these delusions. The poor buy into these delusions almost as completely as the rich.
13. Those in power rise by force. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can decide how best to resist them.
14. From birth on, we’re acculturated to hate life, the natural world, women and children, to fear our bodies and to hate ourselves.
15. Love doesn’t imply passivism.
16. The material world is primary (to the spiritual world). Real world actions have real world consequences.
17. It’s a mistake (or more likely denial) to base our decisions on whether the actions stemming from them will or won’t frighten fence sitters or the mass of Americans.
18. Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology.
19. This culture’s main problem is the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.
20. Within this culture economics – not community well being, not morals, not ethic, not justices, not life itself – drives social decisions.

The 2011 documentary EndCiv: Resist or Die is loosely based on Endgame.

Hidden History: US Workers’ Bitter Struggle for Labor Rights

Plutocracy II: Solidarity Forever

Directed by Scott Noble (2016)

Film Review

Plutocracy II (the sequel to Plutocracy) covers the resistance movements that arose in response to the brutal sweatshop conditions of US mines and factories in the late 19th century. Prior to the rise of the labor movement, most US workers earned starvation wages, as well as experiencing the highest rate of work place accidents and deaths in the developed world.

This documentary traces the rise of the Molly Maguires, the United Mine Workers, the Western Federation of Miners, the American Railway Workers Union (started by Eugene Debbs), the American Federation of Labor (which only represented white male skilled workers), the Peoples Party (aka the Populist Party), the Socialist Party, the International Workers of the World (IWW) and the progressive and anarchist movement.

Solidarity Forever also highlights the extreme violence used by industrialists and federal and state governments to suppress these movements. During this period, the Pinkerton’s guards (a private army hired by corporate elites), national guardsmen and even US troops openly shot and killed nonviolent strikers without fear of legal repercussions.

The parts of the film I found most interesting concerned the IWW and the anarchist movement. I was previously unaware of IWW’s strict code of nonviolence, despite the stark brutality they experienced at the hands of government authorities. I was also unaware of their role in empowering Mexicans, African Americans and women to assume lead organizing roles – nor that the IWW organized the highly successful (women’s) textile workers strike in Lawrence Massachusetts in 1912.

I was also intrigued to learn about a faction of the early anarchist movement that engaged in “Propaganda of the Deed,” planning and carrying out assassinations of industrialist, generals and politicians in the hope of inspiring mass insurrection.

I was previously unaware of the involvement of the early progressive movement (which had its origins in middle class Christianity) in the eugenics movement and Native American residential schools.

 

How Prostitutes and Ex-Slaves Saved Us from the Protestant Work Ethic

a renegade history

A Renegade History of the United States

by Thaddeus Russell

2010 Free Press

Book Review

I absolutely adored A Renegade History of the United States. Historian Thadeus Russell offers a totally unique but compelling perspective on the expansion of personal liberty in the US and other English speaking countries.

Unlike Zinn’s The People’s History of the United states and similar “working class” histories, Russell argues that that most of the person freedoms we enjoy aren’t the result of political movements. In his view they originated from the refusal of renegades, degenerates and discontents to accept the puritanical work ethic the founding fathers tried to foist on us. In other words, we should thank America’s drunkards, prostitutes, pirates, slackers, “shiftless” slaves and juvenile delinquents for the unprecedented levels of personal freedom Americans enjoy.

Parts of Russell’s book really surprised me, especially where he describes the uptight, repressed social conservatives (including Martin Luther King) who led American campaigns for abolition, women’s suffrage, labor rights and civil rights. Despite their high profile campaigns for specific legal “rights,” the leaders of these movements expended enormous time and energy trying to correct the “inappropriate” behavior of the masses they claimed to represent.

The Role of Prostitutes and Ex-Slaves

The unquestioned heroes of A Renegade History of the United States are prostitutes and ex-slaves. In the 19th century the only women who owned property, had sex outside of marriage, performed or received oral sex, used birth control, wore make-up, perfume or stylish clothes were prostitutes. In fact, it was prostitutes who won these and other rights that modern American women take for granted. When women were barred from most jobs and wives had no legal right to own property, prostitutes, especially in the Wild West became so wealthy that they funded crucial irrigation and road building projects. Likewise when most states banned birth control in the early 1800s, prostitutes continued to provide a market for contraceptives that stimulated production and distribution.

The importance of slaves and their descendents in the expansion of personal freedom relates to the tenacious manner in which they preserved a culture characterized by sensuous music, rhythms and dancing in a culture that condemned these activities as depraved and harmful to the work ethic.

Following the Civil War, there was a strong expectation that slaves would renounce these pleasurable pastimes and embrace the work ethic as good American citizens. Many eagerly embraced the discipline and self-denial emancipation demanded of them. Most didn’t.

In 1865 Congress confronted this dilemma by creating the Freedman’s Bureau to train ex-slaves how to become “good citizens.” Most enrolled eagerly, thinking they would be taught to read and write. Instead the classes focused on the ideals the founding fathers had promoted – frugality, self-denial and most importantly a love of work, even poorly paid work, as a source of virtue.

Russell cites letters and interviews with ex-slaves who saw no point in being free if it meant they had to work harder than a slave did. Many northerners, who acquired southern plantations cheaply during Reconstruction, complained that ex-slaves made terrible workers. Not only did they come and go as they pleased, but they demanded days off and refused to work in inclement weather. Many ex-slaves also resisted pressure to adopt legal norms of marriage.

Martin Luther King’s Campaign Against Un-Christian and Un-American Blacks

For me, the most interesting section of A Renegade History of the United States is the chapter about Martin Luther King and his little known campaign to persuade so-called “bad niggers” to embrace the puritan work ethic and cult of responsibility and sexless self-sacrifice that has characterized the dominant American culture.

In 1957, Reverend King launched three projects simultaneously: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), to coordinate a nonviolent campaign to desegregate buses across the South, the Campaign for Citizenship to campaign for voting rights and a church-based campaign to rid African Americans of what King referred to as “un-Christian” and “un-American” habits. In 1957 he delivered a series of sermons condemning blacks who led “tragic lives of pleasure and riotous living” (see Problems of Personality Integration).

In 1958 he wrote articles in Ebony and published his first book, Stride Towards Freedom, in which he claimed black poverty was as much due to laziness and a lack of discipline and morality, as to institutional racism. He also condemned rock and roll.

The Role of Violence in the Civil Rights Movement

Russell also weighs in on what “diversity of tactics” debate that ultimately split the Occupy movement. He lays out compelling evidence that 1) only a tiny minority of southern blacks participated in King’s nonviolent movement and 2) it was “bad niggers” and violence, rather than King’s nonviolent campaign, that won the first major civil rights victories in 1963.

A Rebel Comes of Age by Stuart Bramhall

***

I was really touched by this review, by a teen blogger, of my young adult novel. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling that “teenage-related problems” made the book seem more real for her. Her revelation that she has never read a book like this also grabbed me. I guess it’s pretty rare to encounter books on protest and political change in modern bookstores and libraries.

The Failure of Nonviolence

failure of nonviolence

The Failure of Nonviolence: From the Arab Spring to Occupy

 By Peter Gelderloos (2013 Left Bank Books)

Book Review

You occasionally read a totally mind bending book that opens up a whole new world for you. The Failure of Nonviolence by Peter Gelderloos is one of them, owing to its unique evidence-based perspective on both “nonviolent” and “violent” resistance. It differs from Gelderloos’s 2007 How Nonviolence Protects the State in its heavy emphasis on indigenous, minority, and working class resistance. A major feature of the new book is an extensive catalog of “combative” rebellions that the corporate elite has whitewashed out of history.

Owing to wide disagreement as to its meaning, Gelderloos discards the term “violent” in describing actions that involve rioting, sabotage, property damage or self-defense against armed police or military. In comparing and contrasting a list of recent protest actions, he makes a convincing case that combative tactics are far more effective in achieving concrete gains that improve ordinary peoples’ lives. He also explodes the myth that “violent” resistance discourages oppressed people from participating in protest activity. He gives numerous examples showing that working people are far more likely to be drawn into combative actions – mainly because of their effectiveness. The only people alienated by combative tactics are educated liberals, many of whom are “career” activists working for foundation-funded nonprofits.

Gelderloos also highlights countries (e.g., Greece and Spain) which have significantly slowed the advance of neoliberal capitalism via combative resistance. In his view, this explains the negative fiscal position of the Greek and Spanish capitalist class in addressing the global debt crisis. Strong worker resistance to punitive labor reforms and austerity cuts has significantly slowed the transfer of wealth to their corporate elite, as well as the roll-out of fascist security measures.

The Gene Sharp Brand of Nonviolence

Gelderloos begins by defining the term “nonviolent” as the formulaic approach laid out by nonviolent guru Gene Sharp in his 1994 From Dictatorship to Democracy and used extensively in the “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. This approach focuses exclusively on political, usually electoral, reform. Gelderloos distinguishes between political revolution, which merely overturns the current political infrastructure and replaces it with a new one – and social revolution, which overturns hierarchical political infrastructure and replaces it with a system in which people self-organize and govern themselves.

The nonviolent approach Sharp and his followers prescribe relies heavily on a corporate media strategy to promote their protest activity to large numbers of people. This obviously requires some elite support, as the corporate media consistently ignores genuine anti-corporate protests. As an example, all the nonviolent color revolutions in Eastern Europe enjoyed major support from the State Department, billionaire George Soros and CIA-funded foundations such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the National Republican Institute.

Is Nonviolence Effective?

Gelderloos sets out four criteria to assess the effectiveness of a protest action:

  1. It must seize space for activists to self-organize essential aspects of their lives.
  2. It must spread new ideas that inspire others to resist state power and control.
  3. It must operate independently of elite support.
  4. It must make concrete improvements to the lives of ordinary people.

As examples of strictly nonviolent protest movements, Gelderloos offers the “color” revolutions (see 1 below), the millions-strong global anti-Iraq war protest on February 15, 2003 and 2011 Occupy protests, which were almost exclusively nonviolent (Occupy Oakland being a notable exception).

In all the color revolutions Gelderloos describes, the goal has been strictly limited to replacing dictatorship with democracy and free elections. None attempted to increase economic democracy nor to reduce oppressive work and living conditions. In fact, most of the color revolutions forced their populations to give up important protections to integrate more thoroughly into the cutthroat capitalist economy.

So-called “democracies” such as the US are just as capable as dictatorships of engaging in extrajudicial assassination, torture, and suspension of habeas corpus and other legal protections. However US corporations generally find “democracies” more investment-friendly. Owing to greater transparency, they are less likely to nationalize private industries or arbitrarily change the rules for doing business.

Besides failing to meet any of his criteria, the 2003 anti-Iraq war movement failed to stop the US invasion of Iraq and the 2011 Occupy protests failed to achieve a single lasting gain.

Successful “Combative” Protests

He contrasts these strictly nonviolent  protests with nearly 20 popular uprisings (see 2 below) and two (successful) US prison riots that have incorporated “combative” tactics along with other organizing strategies. Most have been totally censored from the corporate media and history books or whitewashed as so-called “nonviolent” actions (e.g., the corporate media misportrayed both the 1989 Tiananmen Square rebellion and the 2011 Egyptian revolution as nonviolent protests).

The US, more than any other country, uses prison to suppress working class dissent. Most prison struggles employ a diversity of tactics combining work stoppages and legal appeals with property damage, riots and attacks on guards. Nonviolent protest tends to be particularly ineffective in the prison setting. A nonviolent hunger strike usually reflects a situation in which prisoners have so little personal control that the only way to resist is to refuse to eat.

Gelderloos also analyzes a number of historical combative uprisings, pointing out their relative strengths and weaknesses. He devotes particular attention to the Spanish Civil War (a failed working class revolution), the anti-Nazi partisan movements during World War II, combative Indigenous peoples resistance to European colonizers and autonomous liberated zones created in Ukraine, Kronstadt, and Siberia following the Bolshevik Revolution and in the Skinmin Province of Manchuria in pre-World War II China.

Who Are the Pacifists?

He devotes an entire chapter to the major funders and luminaries of the nonviolent movement. Predictably most of the funding comes from George Soros, the Pentagon, the State Department and CIA-funded foundations such as USAID, NED, and NIR. Among other examples, Gelderloos describes the Pentagon running a multi-million dollar campaign to plant stories in Iraqi newspapers to promote “nonviolent” resistance to US occupation.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

1. Examples of political/regime change color revolutions:
  • Philippines – Yellow Revolution 1983-86
  • Serbia – Bulldozer Revolution 2000
  • Georgia – Rose Revolution 2003
  • Ukraine – Orange Revolution 2004
  • Kyrgyzstan – Tulip Revolution 2005
  • Lebanon – Cedar Revolution 2005
  • Kuwait – Blue Revolution 2005
  • Burma – Saffron Revolution 2007
2. Examples of combative uprisings:
  • 1999 Battle of Seattle – contrary to media whitewashing (I was there), the combative component wasn’t a matter of a few Black Bloc anarchists breaking windows. Numerous “peaceful” marchers joined in destruction of corporate storefronts, looting and throwing rocks at police. Inspired 3rd world WTO delegates to shut down Doha round of WTO negotiations.
  • 1990 Oka Crisis (near Montreal) – in which Mohawk warriors took up arms to stop a golf course expansion on their lands. Successful in defeating the golf course expansion.
  • 1994 Zapitista (Mexico) – armed uprising against NAFTA. Successfully seized space, liberating numerous villages which continue to be run by popular assemblies.
  • 2000 2nd Palestinian Intifada – successful in seizing and defending space, defeating the CIA/Israeli army invasion of Gaza in 2009. Inspired combative insurrections in Tunisia and Egypt.
  • 2001 Kabbylie Black Spring armed protest to liberate Berber territory occupied by Algeria. Successfully seized space to bring back traditional assemblies and reverse erosion of Berber culture. Won increased autonomy of Kabylie, including official recognition of Berber language.
  • 2003-2005 Bolivia Water and Gas Wars against strict water privatization implemented by Bolivian government and Bechtel. Successful in ending years of Bolivian dictatorship, slowing advance of neoliberalism and restoring indigenous autonomy. Received no elite support until 2005 union and political party support elected the movement into government, putting neoliberalism back on track.
  • 2006 Oaxaca (Mexico) Rebellion – coalition of indigenous people, teachers and workers fought police and military and ran Oaxaca by popular assembly for one month. No elite support until assembly taken over by politicians who convinced them not to fight back against the military. Greatly improved quality of life while it lasted.
  • 2006 CPE France – combative (rioting, burning cars, fighting police and occupying public buildings) uprising against new legislation allowing bosses to fire younger workers without cause. Defeated new law.
  • 2008 Athens insurrection – millions-strong armed uprising (consisting of arson attacks on banks and police stations, occupation of vacant lots and buildings to create community gardens, community centers and popular assemblies) triggered by police murder of a teenager. Besides destroying debt and tax records and providing brief period of self-governance, it inspired new cycle of anarchist activity throughout Greece.
  • 2009 Guadalupe General Strike – inspired by poor living standards, especially high cost of living combined with low wages and high unemployment. After three days of rioting, setting fire to cars and businesses and opening fire on the police, demonstrators won an increase of $200 euros per month in the lowest salaries and 19 other demands.
  • 2009 Oscar Grant riots (Oakland) – prompted by police murder of an African American named Oscar Grant. Spontaneous rioting, property damage, looting and shooting back at police. Resulted in first case in California history in which an on-duty police officer was charged with murder. Influenced Occupy Oakland to adopt a diversity of tactics that included combative resistance.
  • 2010 Tunisian revolution – contrary to corporate media white washing, this was a violent uprising in which protestors burned tires and attacked the office of the ruling party. It failed to create any new self-organized spaces. It only received elite support, which pressured Tunisians to accept a purely political solution (i.e. regime change), when local authorities failed to quell popular unrest. Economic tyranny and police abuse/violence remain unaddressed.
  • 2010 15 M Movement and General Strikes (Spain) – millions took part in general strike against austerity measures incorporating sabotage of the transportation infrastructure, blockades, looting, rioting and fighting with police. Established numerous police-free zones (which persisted for months) throughout Spain run by popular assemblies. Occupied numerous hospitals and primary care centers and established urban gardens and collective housing facilities. Prevented privatization of numerous health clinics and inspired anti-capitalist focus of Occupy movement.
  • 2011 Egyptian revolution – combative rebellion (contrary to corporate media claims that it was nonviolent). Protesters burned over 90 police stations and used clubs, rocks and Molotov cocktails to defend themselves against police and government thugs. Set up self-governing assemblies in Tahrir Square and inspired a large number of activists to remain in the streets to fight the repressive Islamic government that replaced Mubarak.
  • 2011 Libyan Civil War – began as spontaneous uprising but quickly transformed into a foreign military intervention. Gelderloos uses Libya to demonstrate why revolutions that wish to end oppressive social relations must never allow military or political revolution to assume precedence.
  • 2012 Quebec student movement – rioting, looting, property damage and fighting back against the police prompted by massive tuition hike. Provided thousands of young people direct experience of self-governing assemblies and successfully spread critiques of debt, austerity and capitalism throughout Canada. Forced government to reverse tuition hike.
  • 2013 Mapuche (indigenous nation occupied by Chile and Argentina) struggle – long history of combative resistance continues to present day. Employs both nonviolent and combative methods, including arson, sabotage against mining and logging companies and armed land occupations. In January 2013 (5th anniversary of unprosecuted police murder of Mapuche teenager) they liberated large tracts of land.

Originally published in Dissident Voice