Posts filed under Power to the People

Translation of Report from San Cristobal, Tachira (Anonymous, reprinted by El Libertario)

Here is another report from the streets in Venezuela, posted online by the Venezuelan anarchist paper EL LIBERT@RIO. Inline links and editorial notes in footnotes are added by me. The same caveats apply as elsewhere; if you notice any mistakes or mangling please feel free to point them out in the comments, and I’ll attach a note or a correction to the text here.

Report from San Cristóbal, Táchira, 19-February-2014

Anonymous

Feb. 2014: protest in San Cristobal

This morning the sun rose on San Cristóbal desolated by the bloody attack perpetrated by the Bolivarian National Guard against students who were posted at the intersection of Avenida Carabobo with Ferrero Tamayo. The deployment was striking and devastating: birdshot,[1] expired gas cannisters,[2] tear-gas bombs, stun grenades, and a contingent of the motorized brigade of the military corps that was escorting a tank and two armored vehicles that trashed the tactical reserves of the students.

In spite of such a bloody attack the boys battled them for a space of hours, until fatigue put a dent in them, due to the orchestrated plan of attack; after razing the place, the troops kept on with their devastating frenzy, completely destroying the barricades set up by the active citizenry, who kept a vigil until late into the night. Neighbors from various streets of Barrio Obrero, La Romera, La Avenida Carabobo, Avenida Ferrero Tamayo and the whole high part of the city, are witnesses to what I’m saying.

It is important to highlight that in addition to the Bolivarian National Guard, groups of gunmen on motorcycle were encountered, who intermittently attacked different parts of the city, returning to the outside of the state capitol to refill their ammunition and fuel for their motorcycles after carrying out the raids on the sites previously analyzed.

As if all that weren’t enough, the same commando group that attacked the students, posted in the site previously mentioned, set off for the vicinity of Táriba, where, revealing all their training in military tactics, they mounted a frontal attack, without any pity, on the collectivity; due to the brutality of the attack, over there the actions were much quicker. Next they headed over to retake control of the bridge of Las Vegas de Táriba, an important access point that allows a connection by ground with the plains. Once again the Bolivarian National Guard showed their worst face, and used everything to attack those who protested in the zone. It’s noteworthy that the neighbors in the Conjunto Residencial Don Luis (a group of buildings) were affected by the effects of the different gasses that were thrown without any coherent reason into the middle of that town.

The city revealed its worst face; they were breathing air loaded with a fetid stench and the smell of burning rubber and plastic. Public transit was paralyzed in 99% of the city, rising to 100% before eight in the morning; the barricades showed up in every part of San Cristóbal, some upright and steady, others partly standing, and some completely collapsed, the community has reflected its powerlessness in the asphalt that has served as a blackboard for messages of “SOS” and “HELP.”

The thing that San Cristóbal has lived through is without precedent, a hostile situation, which the armed “collectives” have exploited to rob, destroy and attack those who were obliged to stay at the few workplaces that can still be found open. Speaking of business, shops have closed for the day, the street vendors have disappeared completely from the streets, the only places that have opened their doors are some supermarkets and public markets, which were motivated by pressure from different government authorities, which threaten them with fines and additional legal actions.

At this time (6:30pm) the fuse of protest has been lit once again. I’m informed that encounters with National Guard troops in the high part of the city, and neighbors and organized civil society have appeared strongly resisting the attacks of the Bolivarian National Guard, which is making use of aerial tactics through the use of Mi-17V-5 helicopters, one of the latest assault and transport models of the legendary Russian helicopter, purchased by the Venezuelan government, which in addition to flying over and reporting is also conducting airlifts between the Buenaventura Vivas base in Santo Domingo and the airport in Paramillo.

— Translation of Reporte desde San Cristóbal, Edo. Táchira, 19/02/2014 by Anónim@. Translated by Charles W. Johnson.

  1. [1] Perdigones, pellets. The Bolivarian National Guard frequently uses small-gauge shotgun fire as a crowd-control weapon.
  2. [2] Expired tear-gas cannisters were frequently used against Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square, leading to some claims that the expired cannisters might cause more dangerous reactions in people exposed to the gas. The idea is not widely supported by scientists, but the accusation that expired cannisters are being used in Venezuela has led to an investigation.

Translation of Caracas, 15-F: Impressions from the street (Humberto Decarli, in El Libertario)

A lot of folks have been trying to follow what is going on in Venezuela; unfortunately, much of the discussion in U.S. radical Left and anti-war media has been heavily dependent on reports from government-controlled media, or limited to information from the English-language press; and commentary has been far too much dominated by simplistic binary narratives that present U.S.-supported politicos and the Bolivarian revolutionary government as the only alternatives. Over the next few days, I hope to translate and post some of the news and commentary being put out by Venezuelan anarchists. This article is a short commentary by Humberto Decarli, published in the Venezuelan anarchist newspaper EL LIBERT@RIO. Inline links and editorial notes in footnotes are added by me. Because of the rapid development of events in Venezuela, you should be aware that I’m trying to produce these translations relatively quickly, and while I read Spanish fluently, what I’ve studied has usually been either Castilian or North American Spanish; so I’ve tried to consult friends who are native speakers from South America where I was unsure about what seemed to be idioms or local references peculiar to Venezuela. I apologize in advance for any mistakes or mangling of local idioms, which are of course solely my own responsibility. (If you notice any ambiguities or mistakes in the translation, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments, and I’ll attach a note or a correction to the text here.)

Caracas, 15-F: Impressions from the street

15-F, 9 p.m.: repression of the protesters in Plaza Altamira

Humberto Decarli

I was in the Plaza Altamira today, February 15, until about seven[1] thirty p.m. I observed that, it being a Saturday at that hour there were many students, youths and motorizados, from about the Hotel Caracas Pálace up to a quarter south of the Torre Británica in Altamira Sur. There was an atmosphere of combatividad but without organization. No flyers, few banners, few papers and hardly any agitation. The few chants were: “Este gobierno va a caer,” sung (“This government is going to fall”); “No me da la gana, es una dictadura igualita a la cubana” (“I don’t want it, it’s a dictatorship exactly like the one in Cuba”); “El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido” (“The people, united, will never be defeated”); “El pueblo, arrecho, reclama a sus derechos” (“The people, arising, are taking back their rights”) (these last have been around since my student days against the Acción Democrática / COPEI governments.)

They are students without experience in politics or the struggle in the streets but all the same they have come out to challenge the bullets of the government’s “tontons macoutes-C.D.R.”[2] The National Guard is ready to intervene and every second they are making feints to frighten the people that runs but also comes back. What also sticks out, interestingly, is the non-existence of manipulation by the political parties or national leaders, which is highly satisfying. Neither, fortunately, are there electoral slogans, because there’s no election-carnival this year. There is initiatve because folks feel indignation at the scarcity, shortages, inflation, insecurity and frightening repression exercised by the “patriotas de los colectivos,”[3] a type of gang of thugs financed and armed by the government’s politico-military committee.

It pleases me to see the capacity for mobilization, but the question is, can it last? Are we in the presence of another Arab Spring? Is this the awakening of the Venezuelan people? It would be aprioritical to answer at this moment. What’s certain is the continuation of inflation, repression, scarcity, shortages, insecurity, etc. And the State’s got no answer because, being an import economy, it has no hard currency, because they arranged for dollars to come in bypassing the Central Bank; when the foreign currency that entered the country and was liquidated through CADIVI,[4] the government’s cronies carried off a third in their briefcases[5] — Giordani[6] dixit — without anyone, no matter how low on the totem pole, facing justice for it. To make matters worse, Iran has made an arrangement for its conflict with the West, to accept supervision of its nuclear program, and they are now dismantling the economic sanctions, and will go ahead with exporting 1.6 million barrels daily for the month of may, which will knock the market off its bench. Difficult moments for the militarist regime in Venezuela. All they have left is the exercise of force, appealing to what Foucault called the disciplinary power, or direct enforceability.

— Translation of Caracas, 15-F: Impresiones desde la calle by Humberto Decarli. Translated by Charles W. Johnson, with some extremely helpful assistance from Sergio Méndez.

  1. [1] [six: originally mis-written as six, due to my careless error. Thanks to Joe in the comments below for the catch. —CJ 22.Feb.2014]
  2. [2] Tonton Macoute, an infamous force of paramilitary death squads formed by the Haitian dictator François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, which murdered more than 60,000 Haitians from 1959-1986. CDR, Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, a Cuban network of Communist paramilitary/neighborhood snitch organizations initiated by Fidel Castro in 1960 to monitor and suppress “counter-revolutionary” activity.
  3. [3] Patriots of the collectives.
  4. [4] The Comisión de Administración de Divisas, “Commission for the Administration of Currency Exchange”), the agency in charge of legal foreign currency exchanges in Venezuela.
  5. [5] Literally, “una tercera parte se las llevaron las empresas de maletín.” “Empresas de maletín,” lit. “briefcase enterprises,” are politically connected firms, which typically get government contracts by means of political preference or corruption. They are often “ghost” enterprises, which snag the government contract and then subcontract all the work to other companies.
  6. [6] Jorge Antonio Giordani Cordero (b. 1940), the current Minister of the People’s Power for Central Planning in Venezuela, responsible for most of Venezuela’s monetary policy during the current crisis.

We Will: The Radical Possibilities of Freed-Market Social Activism

One of the Five Pillars of left-wing market anarchism that Gary Chartier and I identify in the Introduction to Markets Not Capitalism is a commitment to the radical possibilities of market social activism:

… [M]arket anarchists also see freed markets as a space not only for profit-driven commerce, but also as spaces for social experimentation and hard-driving grassroots activism. They envision “market forces” as including not only the pursuit of narrowly financial gain or maximizing returns to investors, but also the appeal of solidarity, mutuality and sustainability. “Market processes” can — and ought to — include conscious, coordinated efforts to raise consciousness, change economic behavior, and address issues of economic equality and social justice through nonviolent direct action.

— Charles W. Johnson and Gary Chartier, Introduction. 3.
Markets Not Capitalism (Autonomedia/Minor Compositions, 2011).

Here’s some more on that, thanks to the kind efforts of DFW Alliance of the Libertarian Left. This is some broad orientation on what it means and why it matters. The specifics I’ve talked about for quite a while here; it was also the topic of my recent talk at Libertopia. More on that soon, I hope. But for now: This clip is excerpted from a much longer interview with Jason Lee Byas and Grayson English at Liberty Minded / Speaking on Liberty. (Thanks, y’ALL!)

Transcript included below for folks with screen readers, et cetera.

Grayson English: I think it’s all very interesting, all this about thicker commitments, and different things that libertarians tend to ignore, and some of the more ethical concerns that go into these social issues. But I think there’s been a pretty devastating critique on Facebook about how left-libertarianism has nothing to say about ethics, and it’s basically just saying that whatever the market does, is good. I don’t know, I just think that seems somewhat problematic for this philosophy of thicker commitments, and indirect coercion. What do you think of that?

Jason Lee Byas: … The great agora that is Facebook, for philosophical symposiums in every thread, yeah …

Charles Johnson: Yeah, I’ve definitely talked with some folks about this, on Facebook and elsewhere. I fear that Facebook is actually, like, systematically the worst possible medium for having involved discussions about this kind of stuff, for various reasons.

But, broadly what I’d say is this: left-libertarianism involves a claim that without state coercion, and without various forms of legal privilege, there are a bunch of forms of social and economic inequality, and social and economic privilege, that would tend to be systematically undermined — that would be much weaker than they are in society as it is. It doesn’t involve a claim that just freeing the market, and seeing whatever will happen, without your intervention, when markets are free, — is what either free-market anticapitalism in particular or what left-libertarianism is all about. That’s not the end of the day for either of those views.

And, so I think it is true, that if you get rid of — and it’s really important not to forget this; this is the reason we stress so much the importance of state monopoly in upholding capitalist privilege, for example — is not to suggest that, in a society freed of government intervention and regulation, that the freed market would automatically solve every social problem, every form of inequality, cancer, tooth decay, and that the seas would become the temperature and flavor of lemonade.

The specific claim is that there’s a bunch of stuff that would tend to sort of systematically get better just in virtue of kicking out the supports from institutions that are actively making it crappier. So there are a lot of forms of privilege that would tend to sort of sink and falter under their own weight, without the ongoing efforts of the state to subsidize them and to burn out competitors. But — whatever forms of social inequality, and whatever social evils — and there’s plenty that would remain, even if in a weaker form — are things that libertarians ought to take a direct hand in organizing nonviolent social confrontation against. Where these things don’t fall under their own weight, we have a responsibility to get together and push them over. And that means a serious commitment to grassroots community organizing and to social activism within the context of this freed market that we’re imagining.

That’s something I’ve always tried to emphasize in my work as very important — if you’re wondering who will stop the rich from running everything in a free society, part of the answer has to be that we will. And there are straightforward ways in which it’s connected with this commitment to the radical possibilities of freed market social activism. That is closely connected with seeing that being in favor of market relationships, is not the same thing as just kicking back and saying, Well, I don’t have to lift a finger because the market is going to take care of all my problems for me… . —

Jason Lee Byas: Market take the wheel!

Charles Johnson: — I mean market forces just are us; they’re people acting rationally in the world. We shouldn’t just be consumers of social conditions, but entrepreneurs of social conditions. That’s going to mean things like mutual aid associations forming up, fighting unions, neighborhood associations. It’s going to mean feminist activism, culture jamming, consciousness-raising, — all kinds of zaps and activism and building counter-institutions that are in the hands of ordinary folks, rather than in the hands of a socially or economically privileged bureaucracy. Any conception that takes market relationships *fully seriously,* is going to have to include social activism as an essential component of a flourishing free society. Not something that we’re bringing market relationships in instead of, because we don’t want to get our hands dirty with that stuff. It’s stuff that can, and should, and almost certainly will be happening in a free market society. And if you don’t see it happening, the solution is to be the change — to be the one that makes it happen.

Discussion from DFW ALL here. Full interview here. Speaking on Liberty interview series here.

Also.

Direction of Fit (Progressive President Edition)

In a recent Change You Can Believe In piece, I linked to this video, tagging it with a rather bitter joke: Man, this guy sounds pretty awesome. I hope he runs for President in the next election, so we can have a chance to change this Administration’s increasingly repressive policies.

Barack Obama (2007)

Over on Twitter, Kevin Carson (@KevinCarson1) re-worked the joke into 140 characters or fewer, like this:

Charles Johnson: Vote — to replace Obama with this guy!

But of course the real bitterness of the joke comes from the fact that it is a trick. The real trick is that actually you could not possibly vote to replace President Obama with that guy. You can only vote to make that guy into President Obama. And that has made all the difference.

On Detroit, or: Cities don’t go bankrupt, city governments do.

If you have been reading news headlines over the past couple weeks, then I think it might be important to keep in mind that the city of Detroit has not been razed or destroyed in the past few days. The city of Detroit is not over; the city of Detroit has not failed; and the city of Detroit is not gone. It’s still right there, where it has been all these years; see, look, here it is:


View Larger Map

Here’s what has happened, over the past several days, and all that has happened: One institution, out of the millions of things going on in Detroit — specifically the single most confining and abusive and irresponsible institution within the city — the government which latched on to the city of Detroit and has tried to rule and exploit it for decades — has announced that it no longer intends to pay off the people and the institutions and the banks who paid it loans in advance of future tax revenues. That one institution, which claims, arrogantly and fraudulently, to speak for the whole city of Detroit, and which intends to force the whole city of Detroit to pay for its mistakes — the same city government which has bulldozed Detroit neighborhoods and tried to sell out the city to the auto cartel and to corporate developers at every opportunity — the same city government whose attitude towards the people of the city has over the years ranged from one of constant low-level antagonism and hectoring, to one of repression and open warfare against them — the same city government which is now run by an appointed Emergency Manager from the state government, installed in a last-ditch effort to loot the city without the normal political restraints, for the sake of institutional bondholders, before things came to this pass — that one institution within the city of Detroit has announced that it wants to default on debts that most of the city never were asked about and never agreed to take on. And this may mess up that institution’s budgeting process for some time to come. What’s happened is something notable, but it is also something far less important than it’s being treating as, and something with far more political fascination than human significance.

There is no threnody of grief to be had here, no punishment for hubris or failures or sins, no final unraveling to reveal, no long-coming tragedy of decline or death for the city, if the city is supposed to mean anything at all other than the government. That government has taken over and inserted itself into so many parts of the city of Detroit that this may make things rough. Perhaps it will even make things rougher than they already were — although the reasons that are usually given for thinking that always seem to me to depend on some assumptions about the role of government in Detroit which I think are probably false. (If it is hard for the city government to allocate more money to the Detroit police department, is that going to make life worse in the city? It probably depends on what end of the stick you find yourself on.)

But the important thing is this. Detroit is not the crisis of a handful of elected, appointed and installed government officials. Detroit is not its most abusive institutions; it’s not a political project; it’s not a single institution at all, no matter how dominating its intent or arrogant its claims. It’s something much bigger, much better, and much more important than that. Detroit is the Ujamaa Food Coop and the Masonic Temple, UAW Local 174 and the Reuther Library. Detroit is the Tigers, Friday fish-fries and Paczki Day, the Red Wings and the Pistons, the Movement Electronic Music Festival and John King Books, the giant tire on I-94, the Eastern Market and the Afro-American Music Festival. the People’s Pierogi Collective and Joe Louis’s arm.

Here is a photo of the cast bronze statue of Joe Louis's arm and fist
Jefferson & Woodward, downtown Detroit

Detroit is fresh kielbasa and original Coney Islands (whichever one you think deserves the title); barbecue pork, and felafel and fries with a fruit smoothie; blind pigs and warehouse raves, Arabic signs[1] and pointing to the knuckle of your thumb to show where you’re from. Detroit is 19 year olds making the pilgrimmage to Windsor for booze[2] and to Royal Oak for coffee. Detroit is the home of Rosa Parks and of Grace Lee Boggs. Detroit is the Michigan Citizen and the Metro Times. Detroit is the Rouge plant and Fifth Estate. And Detroit is the long history of displacement, homecoming, work, music, food, culture, strife, love and building that the city grows up out of. Detroit is bigger, stronger, more resilient and much more important than the government’s budget.

Detroit did not cause this crisis. The city government and the state government and the bankers they deal with, who dominate and exploit Detroit, did that. And though Detroit will be forced to pay much of the bill, Detroit is not threatened by this crisis and will not be ended or killed, because Detroit never depended on the city government or the state government or the institutions they deal with for what it is or what it has done. To grow, and to survive, and to thrive, Detroit depends on its people, on the collision and the seeping-together of its many cultures and subcultures and neighborhoods and scenes, on those people’s work and their industry and their craft and their experiments and their interconnection and solidarity and mutual aid. The city of Detroit is its people, not its politics, and it will live on in those people over, above, beyond, and in spite of, the ongoing efforts of local governments and state-appointed emergency governments and corporate-political managers to somehow bail out and save government’s place within Detroit. Everyone would be better off if the austerity government, along with all other local governments, just took this as an opportunity to pack it in and leave the city entirely alone — rather than attempt to somehow auction off, bail out, and save the essential command-posts for its political takeover of people’s space and public life. But even without that, the city continues, and lives, no matter how much the politics falls apart.

Also.

  1. [1] These are of course mostly in and around Dearborn. But Dearborn is of course part of Detroit. Detroit is its communities, not its municipal administrations or the lines that they draw on maps.
  2. [2] Yeah, that’s in Canada. It’s the part of Detroit that happens to be across the Canadian border. Detroit is all its communities, not its municipal governments. Or its national ones.