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Posts tagged Revolution

Market-Women and the Revolutionary Market-Place (Gold Coast/Ghana, 1947-1948)

From C.L.R. James, Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (1977/1982):

Chapter 3. The People in 1947.

. . . There was yet another social feature of Gold Coast life, which was specifically African and was to prove of enormous importance to the revolution. For the great mass of the common people the centre of African life has always been the market. The Ewe week consisted of four days, the day before market day, market day, the day after market day, and stay at home day. The traders for generations have been the women (Nkrumah’s mother was a petty trader), and this function has been maintained and developed until today a large proportion of the retail distribution of goods, and the main channel through which the distribution of commodities flows from the big wholesale importers to the private home is the market, in small villages as well as in the big towns such as Accra and Kumasi. Thus in Accra there are thousands of women in action in the market, meeting tens of thousands of their fellow citizens every day. European visitors and officials up to 1947 saw in these markets a primitive and quaint survival in the modern towns. In reality here was, ready formed, a social organisation of immense power, radiating from the centre into every corner and room of the town. [p. 56] Instead of being confined to cooking and washing for their husbands, the market-women met every day, dealing with the European and Syrian traders on the one hand and their masses of fellow citizens on the other. The market was a great centre of gossip, of news and of discussion. Where in many undeveloped communities the women are a drag upon their men-folk, these women, although to a large extent illiterate, were a dynamic element in the population, active, well-informed, acute, and always at the very centre of events.

Chapter 7. Positive Action.

. . . [p. 130] In cold blood, writing from documents and information, I find it hard to believe that Nkrumah expected the government to capitulate before the general strike. At best it could be the beginning of a new series of negotiations. At worst, the people might, without or with provocation, lose their control. There would be a horrible massacre. There was another by no means remote possibility. The people might, by the usual combination of force and persuasion, win over the local government forces and repossess themselves of their country and of themselves by force. They were perfectly able to do it.

There were other possibilities. There is no need to go into them. It is enough to understand that we are here in the presence of imponderables. With this objective before them and the people behind them, these young men, now at the climax of a long preparation, did not flinch. They threw down the challenge.

The party had taken no chances. The people were well prepared and knew what they were doing. During December they had been warned, sometimes from the public platform by Nkrumah himself, that they were to save their money and not spend it in Christmas festivities so as to be ready to endure the privations of the coming strike. The cooks of the Europeans found it difficult to buy food in the markets because the market-women were reserving the food [p. 131] for the strike days.

It may seem strange to the Western reader that the party seemed to be able to call a monster meeting at such short notice. The party propaganda vans would tour the city calling the people to the Arena. The market-women could get out thousands of people at the shortest possible notice, and Nkrumah’s often-repeated statement, the market-women made the party, conveys one of the great truths of the revolution. Here (and in many other places), we get curious reminders and indications of politics in that most political of social formations, the Greek city-state. In his speech on the crown, Demosthenes in an enigmatic passage describes how, at the news that Elatea had been taken, the high officials of the assembly went into the market, drove out the people and set fire to the wicker stalls while trumpeters summoned the population to the assembly. This was done from above and it was the last days of the democracy. The market-women in the first days of Gold Coast democracy did it from below.

— Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution, 55-56; 130-131.
C.L.R. James, 1977.

See also.

Revolution Day / Shameless Self-promotion Sunday

Happy Sunday, everyone — and happy Revolution Day. In honor of the occasion:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it …. [W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

— Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

The 4th of July is a date that marks the death of a tyranny, and a declaration of the right of revolution against any and every government that violates the unalienable rights that belong to all people, regardless of any assigned political status. Of course, in a typical statist inversion, the date has been taken over, twisted, made into a date marked off for the exact opposite of what inspired it — for nationalist bromides, the celebration of a counterrevolutionary Constitutional government, and grotesque attempts to link up this historic event in the history of anti-imperialist guerrilla warfare with some kind of uncritical celebration of the U.S. government’s standing army. So it’s worth remembering that today is not, really, a holiday to honor armies or States-men or any form of consolidated government anywhere. To-day is a day for radicals and revolutionaries. For people who realize that if it was worth anything at all, the American Revolution is a struggle that’s far from over. Not something dead and embalmed in the necropolis of Washington, D.C., but a living struggle against any and every attempt to tyrannize people, to compact them into political formations without their leave and against their will. It is a day for standing up and standing by the most marginalized, the most criminalized, the most exploited and oppressed, against the powers that be, against the arbitrary violence of soldiers and States-men, and against every form of political regimentation. A government is always the death of revolutions, and real revolutions — when we win — are always the death of governments. As another American revolutionary said of another Revolution:

The STATE IDEA, the authoritarian principle, has been proven bankrupt by the experience of the Russian Revolution. If I were to sum up my whole argument in one sentence I should say: The inherent tendency of the State is to concentrate, to narrow, and monopolize all social activities; the nature of revolution is, on the contrary, to grow, to broaden, and disseminate itself in ever-wider circles. In other words, the State is institutional and static; revolution is fluent, dynamic. These two tendencies are incompatible and mutually destructive. The State idea killed the Russian Revolution and it must have the same result in all other revolutions, unless the libertarian idea prevail….

… There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another, This conception is a potent menace to social regeneration. All human experience teaches that methods and means cannot be separated from the ultimate aim. The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose; they influence it, modify it, and presently the aims and means become identical. —My Disillusionment in Russia (1923).

All power to the people!

Here in this secessionist republic of one, we honored this international revolutionary holiday with a pleasant afternoon Feeding The Revolution with Food Not Bombs. And — given the overlap in the festival days to-day — we’ll also with some commemorative Shamelessness. How about you? What have you been up to this week? Write anything? Leave a link and a short description for your post in the comments. Or fire away about anything else you might want to talk about.

Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism

Here’s what I got in the mail Monday afternoon. It took a week longer to reach me than it did to reach Roderick; I don’t know whether that’s one of the perks of being an editor rather than a mere contributor like me, or simply because I’m way out west and he’s in Alabama.

A hardbound copy of Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country? Edited by Roderick T. Long and Tibor R. Machan. Published by Ashgate Press (pictured here).

Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism

The purpose of this essay is political revolution. And I don’t mean a revolution in libertarian political theory, or a revolutionary new political strategy, or the kind of revolution that consists in electing a cadre of new and better politicians to the existing seats of power. When I say a revolution, I mean the real thing: I hope that this essay will contribute to the overthrow of the United States government, and indeed all governments everywhere in the world. You might think that the argument of an academic essay is a pretty slender reed to lean on; but then, every revolution has to start somewhere, and in any case what I have in mind may be somewhat different from what you imagine. For now, it will be enough to say that I intend to give you some reasons to become an individualist anarchist,1 and undermine some of the arguments for preferring minimalist government to anarchy. In the process, I will argue that the form of anarchism I defend is best understood from what Chris Sciabarra has described as a dialectical orientation in social theory,2 as part of a larger effort to understand and to challenge interlocking, mutually reinforcing systems of oppression, of which statism is an integral part—but only one part among others. Not only is libertarianism part of a radical politics of human liberation, it is in fact the natural companion of revolutionary Leftism and radical feminism.

My argument will take a whole theory of justice—libertarian rights theory3—more or less for granted: that is, some version of the non-aggression principle and the conception of negative rights that it entails. Also that a particular method for moral inquiry—ethical individualism—is the correct method, and that common claims of collective obligations or collective entitlements are therefore unfounded. Although I will discuss some of the intuitive grounds for these views, I don’t intend to give a comprehensive justification for them, and those who object to the views may just as easily to object to the grounds I offer for them. If you have a fundamentally different conception of rights, or of ethical relations, this essay will probably not convince you to become an anarchist. On the other hand, it may help explain how principled commitment to a libertarian theory of rights—including a robust defense of private property rights—is compatible with struggles for equality, mutual aid, and social justice. It may also help show that libertarian individualism does not depend on an atomized picture of human social life, does not require indifference to oppression or exploitation other than government coercion, and invites neither nostalgia for big business nor conservatism towards social change. Thus, while my argument may not directly convince those who are not already libertarians of some sort, it may help to remove some of the obstacles that stop well-meaning Leftists from accepting libertarian principles. In any case, it should show non-libertarians that they need another line of argument: libertarianism has no necessary connection with the vulgar political economy or bourgeois liberalism that their criticism targets.

The threefold structure of my argument draws from the three demands made by the original revolutionary Left in France: Liberty, Equality, and Solidarity.4 I will argue that, rightly understood, these demands are more intertwined than many contemporary libertarians realize: each contributes an essential element to a radical challenge to any form of coercive authority. Taken together, they undermine the legitimacy of any form of government authority, including the limited government imagined by minarchists. Minarchism eventually requires abandoning your commitment to liberty; but the dilemma is obscured when minarchists fracture the revolutionary triad, and seek liberty abstracted from equality and solidarity, the intertwined values that give the demand for freedom its life, its meaning, and its radicalism. Liberty, understood in light of equality and solidarity, is a revolutionary doctrine demanding anarchy, with no room for authoritarian mysticism and no excuse for arbitrary dominion, no matter how limited or benign. . . .

1. For the purposes of this essay, I will mostly be using the term anarchism as shorthand for individualist anarchism; since the defense of anarchism I will offer rests on individualist principles, it will not provide a cogent basis for communist, primitivist, or other non-individualist forms of anarchism. And I will use the term individualist anarchism in a broad sense, to describe any position that (1) denies the legitimacy of any form of (monopoly) government authority, (2) on individualist ethical grounds. As I will use it, the term picks out a family of similar *doctrines*, not a particular self-description or historical tradition. Thus it includes, but is not limited to, the specific nineteenth and early twentieth-century socialist movement known as individualist anarchism, whose members included Benjamin Tucker, Victor Yarros, and Voltairine de Cleyre. It also includes the views of twentieth and twenty-first-century anarcho-capitalists such as Murray Rothbard and David Friedman; contemporary self-described individualist anarchists and mutualists such as Wendy McElroy, Joe Peacott, and Kevin Carson; and of others, such as Gustave de Molinari, Lysander Spooner, or Robert LeFevre, who rejected the State on individualist grounds but declined (for whatever reasons) to refer to themselves as anarchists. Many self-described socialist anarchists deny that anarcho-capitalism should be counted as a form of anarchism at all, or associated with individualist anarchism in particular; many self-described anarcho-capitalists deny that socialist anarchism should be counted as a form of genuine individualism, or genuine anarchism. With all due respect to my comrades on the Left and on the Right, I will use the term in an ecumenical sense, for reasons of style, and also because the relationship between anarchism, capitalism, and socialism is one of the substantive issues to be discussed in the course of this essay.

2. See Chris Matthew Sciabarra (2000), Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. See also Sciabarra 1995a and 1995b.

3. Libertarianism as discussed in this essay is a theory of political justice, not as a position on the Nolan Chart. Small government types who speak kindly of economic freedom or civil liberties may or may not qualify as libertarians for the purpose of my discussion. Those who treat liberty as one political good that must be balanced against other goods such as social stability, economic prosperity, democratic rule, or socioeconomic equality, and should sometimes be sacrificed for their sake, are unlikely to count. Since they are not committed to the ideal of liberty as a principled constraint on *all* political power, they are no more likely to be directly convinced by my arguments than progressives, traditionalists, communists, etc.

4. Of course, the male Left of the day actually demanded fraternité, brotherhood. I’ll speak of solidarity instead of brotherhood for the obvious anti-sexist reasons, and also for its association with the history of the labor movement. There are few causes in America that most twentieth-century libertarians were less sympathetic to than organized labor, but I have chosen to speak of the value of solidarity, in spite of all that, for the same reasons that Ayn Rand chose to speak of the virtue of selfishness: in order to prove a point. The common criticisms of organized labor from the twentieth-century libertarian movement, and the relationship between liberty and organized labor, are one of the topics I will discuss below.

— Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism in Roderick T. Long and Tibor Machan (eds.), Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country. Ashgate Press, ISBN 978-0-7546-6066-8. 155–157.

The good news, for those whose interest is piqued and who would like to read the whole thing, is that the book is now available for pre-ordering and will be shipped somewhere around the end of the month. The bad news is that it’s about $80.00 for the hardcover edition, which is, for the time being, the only edition there is. (If you’re interested in reading the essay but are unlikely to have the bread to buy the book anytime soon, contact me privately.) In any case, for those who do get a chance to read the essay, I’d be glad to hear what you think, or any questions you may have, in the comments section at this post.

I mention this in the essay, but I’d like to repeat it here while I have the chance: the debts I accumulated in the process of writing this essay, and the earlier work on which it drew, are too numerous to give an accounting of them all, but I would especially like to thank my companion Laura and my teacher Roderick. The essay would have been much the poorer, or simply nonexistent, without their patience, inspiration, collaboration, encouragement, and detailed and very helpful comments

Res ipsa loquitur

For those who may be curious, here’s my attitude towards the Ron Paul primary campaign. I would not vote for Ron Paul, even though I don’t have any in-principle objection to voting defensively in government elections. The short explanation is that I don’t vote for anti-abortion candidates, and I don’t vote for candidates who are significantly worse than the status quo on immigration. Unfortunately, whatever it’s other merits, Ron Paul’s campaign features both of these poison pills. On the other hand, currently he is running in a primary, and so to some extent I wish, without much hope, that he might somehow manage to defeat his current opponents, i.e., the other Republicans, i.e., that bunch of howling bare-fanged war-fascists.

But that’s about all the enthusiasm I’ve got. Many anti-war types and many libertarians are getting positively gleeful about the campaign, claiming that even if Ron Paul has little real hope for electoral victories, the campaign will at least provide a platform for outreach and education about libertarian and non-interventionist ideas, both through media notoriety and also through attracting an obviously enthusiastic and organizationally clever following of base supporters. For my part, I certainly hope that the Paulians learn something in the process, but the first problem is that Ron Paul’s positions, however preferable a select set of them may be to the positions espoused by the rest of the pack, are not libertarian; they’re Constitutionalist, which is something different. He can’t even always be counted on to mount principled, non-legalistic arguments against the war, and that issue’s the centerpiece of his campaign.

The second problem, even setting aside the ideological differences, is that the usual dynamics of electoral horse-racing, and the sometimes ridiculous tone of uncritical personal adulation toward Ron Paul’s personal virtues and the shining radiance of Ron Paul Thought, give me a lot of reason to fear that whatever lessons are drawn may very well be the wrong lessons, and that in any case the enthusiasm and activity around his campaign is likely to collapse into frustrated torpor more or less immediately after their sole vehicle for activism, the Ron Paul political machine, closes down for the season, and stays shuttered for the rest of a multiyear election cycle. Unless something changes, but soon, I see no reason to believe that the flurry of activity, as exciting as it may seem, is going to survive the end of this one maverick candidate’s personal electoral prospects.

Micha Ghertner recently posted a good article at The Distributed Republic, which touches on some similar themes and makes a number of other good points besides, focusing on the way in which the choice of electoral politics as a vehicle seriously hobbles the prospects for accomplishing much in the way of successful education about freedom or anti-imperialism through the Ron Paul machine. Thus:

But it is unreasonable to expect most of the target audience, having been successfully persuaded that Ron Paul is the candidate to support, to then go through the trouble of seperating the wheat from the chaff and come to the self-realization that implicit in Paul’s message of liberty is the notion that our focus should not be on selecting a candidate with admirable qualities such as honesty, integrity, and devotion to constitutional limits on government, but instead our focus should be on the inherent threat to liberty of the system itself, regardless of who happens to be temporarily at its helm. Bundling these two things together involves a self-contradiction between the medium and its message. Expecting people to ignore that contradiction, expecting people to hear the message we actually intend to send while rejecting the message of the medium itself, is expecting too much.

— Micha Ghertner, The Distributed Republic (2007-11-28): The Medium Is The Message: Why I Cannot In Good Conscience Support Ron Paul

Meanwhile, in the comments section, in order to prove that Ron Paul’s supporters really are approaching this from the standpoint of fair-minded principle, really are making the necessary careful distinctions, and really are putting principled concern for liberty over electoral politicking and partisan cheerleading, an anonymous paleo comes along in the comments to reply that You beltway libertarians are morons and that Micha’s remarks sound like the uninformed commentary of Hillary Clinton pollster.

Well, I guess it’s a fair cop. What could be more inside-the-Beltway than considered opposition to making an incumbent Congressman’s candidacy for the Presidency of the United States the main vehicle for your social and political vision, or encouraging means of activism, education, and resistance that bypass the machinery of the federal government?

More for the Revolution

Ron Paul’s supporters have been putting a lot of volunteer work into amateur ads promoting his campaign. With all this activity, I feel like I ought to set aside my carping, and do my part after all. So here you go, Ron Paul Revolutionaries: a couple of contributions of my own, in accordance with the spirit and the general tone of ads like this recent Land of the Free video. Behold:

Long live our great leader Chairman Ron!

Chairman Ron is the Red sun of our hearts!

Hold high the great red banner of Ron Paul Thought–thoroughly smash the rotting counterrevolutionary revisionist line in Constitutional law!

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