CCLXXXIV

“The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement definitely seeks alliances with other groups, and the idea of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement is to build a movement of what we call a new Afrikan people. And a new Afrikan people is the same thing as black people, or so-called “African-American people.” But it’s also to build a movement of people, period. In other words, to create a positive, progressive movement across the borders of the United States and internationally.

We fully understand that there’s no freedom for us unless there’s freedom for everybody [italics mine]. Martin Luther King said that at one point, and I think it’s very true. So we seek different kinds of relationships, and we want to spread the things that we are doing, which we think are useful and can help people in other places. Of course, people are going to have to organize and plan based on the conditions in their own areas.” (Chokwe Lumumba)

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CCLXXXIII

“It was less about spearheading a revolution from above than creating a climate of radical thought and experimentation that could take on dynamics of its own.”

[Source]

“For the Left, a few lessons in particular should be drawn from [his time in office]. Lumumba governed to inspire movements from below, not to administer austerity. There need not be a contradiction between holding office, even executive office, and building a radical opposition.”

CCLXXXII

On the privilege of consensus-base decision-making:

“There is considerable evidence that consensus decision-making provides those who are time rich with substantially more influence than those who are time poor because of parental responsibilities and/or paid work commitments.” (Brian S. Roper)

There’s another thing to add: I’ve always had the suspicion that some people actually want the meetings to go on for longer, because it lets them take up more space (because everyone else was bored or busy and left).

[more: “There is an important class and gender dimension in this respect that Graeber fails to address adequately. He poses the question: “Is it reasonable to expect people to constantly attend fourteen-hour meetings?” His answer is that it is not and that possible solutions include making long meetings entertaining by introducing ‘humour, music, poetry, so that people actually enjoy watching the subtle rhetorical games and attendant dramas’ and having facilitators who impose tight time budgeting (pp.226-227). But this ignores the fact that for women with dependant children and men working 40 hours or more in paid employment, an important consideration given that in all capitalist societies women typically do more unpaid work than men, while men spend longer hours in paid employment, time is precisely of the essence. (Disturbingly, Graeber fails to emphasise the importance of childcare provision to ensure greater female participation in the consensus decision-making process he advocates.) In order to ensure equality of participation and influence over decision-making it is vitally important to ensure that the discussion doesn’t drag on for hours, in which case many people simply have to leave, and voting is a mechanism that enables decisions to be made within set time frames. In my experience, and the experience of many other participants in the Occupy movement, consensus decision-making is actually more rather than less alienating than voting in situations where a consensus cannot be easily reached. As one socialist activist who was involved in OWS observes: ‘While the possibility for democratic participation offered by this system has been invigorating for experienced and first-time activists alike, it also has limitations that have gradually become more evident over time, including the length of time it takes to reach a decision, the tendency to avoid difficult questions and seek the lowest common political denominator, and the ability of small minorities to overrule large majorities, which has made it difficult for the GA [General Assembly] to make many important decisions or to act quickly in situations requiring an immediate response. According to its supporters, consensus prevents decisions from being made that would alienate any members of the group, but as the debates within OWS have shown, it creates as much or more alienation as it avoids.'”

CCLXXXI

The Marxist-Leninist solution to overcoming the (constitutive) “conservativeness” of the leadership: more leadership!

“The working class needs a party to change society. If there is no revolutionary party, capable of giving a conscious leadership to the revolutionary energy of the class, this energy can be wasted, in the same way that steam is lost if there is no machine that can use its power. On the other hand, each party has its conservative side. In fact, sometimes revolutionaries can be the most conservative of people. This conservatism develops as a consequence of years of routinist work, which is absolutely necessary, but can lead to certain habits and traditions that, in a revolutionary situation, can act like a brake, if they are not overcome by the leadership.

At the decisive moment, when the situation demands a sharp change in the orientation of the party, from routine work to the seizing of power, the old habits can come into conflict with the needs of the new situation. It is precisely in such a context that the role of the leadership is vital.” – (Alan Woods)

CCLXXX

“This change in the content of the novel necessitated changes in form as well. While the historical dramas often focused on ‘world-historical individuals’ (think of Shakespeare’s histories), Scott’s protagonists were often persons rather removed from the centers of historical conflict. Lukács argues that this choice allowed Scott to investigate all sides of historical change with detail, where choosing a figure closely linked with any faction of the struggle necessitated a reduction in depth of portrayal of the opposing factions. Scott’s average protagonists, unburdened by historical responsibility, could plausibly interact with different sides, and thus allow the novel to attain a fuller representation of social totality.

This choice of protagonist also allowed world-historical individuals to appear in the novels with proper mediation. The varied experiences of the protagonist across the social landscape creates a portrait of social forces so that, by the time major figures such as kings and the like appear, it is clear that their importance arises not from their extraordinary personal characteristics in abstract, but from the way they represent the important social forces of the day. Lukács combines this critique of a great man theory of literature with a critique of attempts to write ‘literature from below’ which ignore the goings on of the higher levels of society. In a critique of anarchist mistrust of official politics, he argues that ‘[t]he appeal to the immediate, material existence of the people, which had been the starting-point of a really enriched picture of the social world, is transformed into its opposite, if it remains in this immediacy’ (210). For Lukács, the best novels narrate neither from above nor below, but with an aspiration towards totality.”

[Source]

Not only good novel-writing advice, this is a good description of socialism-from-below: neither “above” nor “below,” but with an aspiration towards totality.

CCLXXIX

People talk about the importance of “great individuals” or “the leadership,” often as if they were the same thing. They seem to think that a person’s “becoming politicized” has to involve, at least at first, the reference to a great leader (such as Lenin, Mao, etc.)

In doing so, they confuse two distinct ideas:

1) that the “signifier” is important, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to take on a proper name. For example, look at how the Red Square (“Carré Rouge“) functioned within the Québec student movement: it wasn’t a symbol of a person, or an “official” organization, but of an idea. Even though it represented an idea, it nevertheless it was more real than the others.

2) that individuals are important, but they are oftentimes not those that are the most “well-known.” The phrase “it takes one” (friend, acquaintance, etc. to introduce something new) takes on a whole new meaning.

[An example of this is how Louis Althusser, an academic Marxist if there ever was one, came to be a communist. He didn’t start off with finding the “greatness” of Marxism through any of the “great” texts.

“It was in the camp that I first heard about Marxism from a Parisian lawyer who was passing through. I also made the acquaintance of one lone communist. This man, whose name was Pierre Courrèges, appeared in the camp during the final months, having spent a year in a unit for incorrigible prisoners at Ravensbrück under a very tough regime. Daël [the former liaison between the prisoners and the officials] had ceased to be a trusty for some considerable time and a tall, rather colourless individual, an undertaker by profession, had replaced him. Simultaneously, certain irregularities or compromises which had existed previously began to resurface. Not on a large scale however. Though no one asked him to do so, Courrèges intervened off his own bat and in the cause of honesty and fraternity. The effect was incredible. He was straightforward, direct, warm, and natural and seemed capable of talking and acting quite effortlessly. His presence alone transformed the camp and we were totally astonished by him. All the accommodations and semi- compromises with the Germans disappeared overnight and we felt an atmosphere in the camp which had not existed since Daël’s ‘reign’. This surprising change had been brought about by one single individual acting on his own, a man who was certainly ‘different from the rest’, another ‘oddball’ (communists are ‘different’, a propaganda theme I became familiar with later on). Thus I began to have great respect for militant communists. At the same time I realized one could act differently from Daël, that other approaches were possible, other forms of action, and that the possession of certain skills was of secondary importance when one’s actions were motivated by genuine ‘principles’. There was no need to resort either to ‘sharp practice’ or trickery. Courrèges was an astonishing man and he gave me my first practical lesson in communism! I have met him since in Paris, and he is still the same warm person, though he is just an ordinary man like everyone else. But I did not believe then that he could be an ordinary man.”
[Louis Althusser. The Future Lasts Forever: A Memoir. New York: New Press, 1993, pg. 110-111]

CCLXXVIII

On American Exceptionalism (or individualism):

“Give a man a fish and he’ll become an unending burden on the limited resources of the state. Teach a man to fish and you’ve placed the burden for his education on those who have no responsibility to help him — he should be able to figure out for himself how to fish, and if he can’t, well, that’s not our problem.”

[Source]

CCLXXVI

“The most elementary figure of dialectical reversal resides in transposing an epistemological obstacle into the thing itself, as its ontological failure (what appears to us as our inability to know the thing indicates a crack in the thing itself, so that our very failure to reach the full truth is the indicator of truth).” (Slavoj Žižek. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. London: Verso, 2012, pg. 17)

“Marxism since Marx has often lost sight of his theoretical project and its quintessentially political character. In particular, there has been a tendency to perpetuate the rigid conceptual separation of the ‘economic’ and the ‘political’ which has served capitalist ideology so well ever since the classical economists discovered the ‘economy’ in the abstract and began emptying capitalism of its social and political content. These conceptual devices do reflect, if only in a distorting mirror, a historical reality specific to capitalism, a real differentiation of the ‘economy’; and it may be possible to reformulate them so that they illuminate more than they obscure, by reexamining the historical conditions that made such conceptions possible and plausible. The purpose of this reexamination would not be to explain away the ‘fragmentation’ of social life in capitalism, but to understand exactly what it is in the historical nature of capitalism that appears as a differentiation of ‘spheres’, especially the ‘economic’ and the ‘political’.” (Ellen M. Wood. Democracy against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pg. 19)

CCLXXV

Elliot Rodger was a misogynist and severely mistaken in his views.

It is also worth pointing out that he killed two women and four men. Patriarchy (like other forms of oppression) is never just one “block” of people fighting against another; division between groups also exist between members of those groups.