If It Isn’t Anti-Capitalist, It’s Astroturf

I ratify everything Lorenzo has written in this post, which by way of examining Daily Show alum John Oliver’s Last Week, superbly lays out the problems of ostensibly “left” media celebrities and their confused fans. Just about everything Lorenzo has written about Oliver applies to any left media star, including the ones with by-lines: that they’re effectively centrists and liberals, when they’re not outright reactionaries; that they promote imperialist propaganda; that they whitewash things like Indian Prime Minister Modi’s fascism while stigmatizing Latin American socialists; that they foster a fetish for information to the exclusion of analysis; and that they don’t genuinely oppose corporate power, for reasons that should be obvious.

Lorenzo’s jumping off point is this Jacobin article by Thomas Crowley, which disappointedly observes that “John Oliver is mad at corporations but not capitalism” and then wishes it were otherwise, as if it actually could be.  By Lorenzo’s lights, people to the left of Oliver like Crowley, give Oliver and his ilk a pass for working within a difficult system, and for sometimes producing real, if modest, change. But as Lorenzo points out, their political shortcomings are not  “anywhere as benign as their supporters make them sound” and illustrates with Jon Stewart’s avid promotion of imperialism and ruling class criminals, which his audience wouldn’t buy “if coming from a different salesperson.”

In his concluding paragraph, Lorenzo writes:

Maybe “nascent left-wing reform movements” aren’t just smothered by Rahm Emanuel, but by a whole ecosystem of pseudo-left figures. Held up as examples of robust dissent, they’re actually a vital part of the mechanism for co-opting discontent and steering criticism away from the capitalist system.

This is another way of saying — correctly — that the professional left is effectively astroturf. It doesn’t lead toward partisan politics the way old school astroturf does; instead, it leads people away from systemic critique and genuine opposition and points them toward information consumption, handwringing, hero worship and passivity. Perhaps it’s no accident that so many of our most celebrated professional dissidents are represented by a PR company specializing in astroturf.

This idea is, I think, the real dividing line between people who criticize the professionally leftish and people who criticize people who criticize the professionally leftish. I’m assuming, of course, there actually is an analytical, tactical side to the latter group, though too often it doesn’t amount to more than, There are The Bad People and The Good People. We must never criticize The Good People.

But if we are differing less on politics than on tactics, what I want to know is: What makes people like John Crowley think that Time Warner (or Vice or First Look or Fusion or MSNBC)  will ever be a partner in undermining capitalism? What makes people say that anyone pointing out the extreme unlikeliness of this ever happening — because a tactical alliance with capitalism to defeat capitalism is absurd on its face —  is a kooky conspiracy theorist? Finally, what, exactly, are the benefits of giving a pass to smirking, self-pleased, fascism-minimizing, socialist bashing twerps like Oliver just because they take the odd swing at some Bad Apple or another? What’s in it for anti-capitalists?

I’ve been asking a similar question about Sy Hersh, to people who think I’m peddling conspiracy madness when making reasonable inferences about Hersh’s lifetime dependence on senior officials in the Intelligence Community, the State Department and the military. Even if I am overstating Sy Hersh’s service to professional imperialists  — I’m not, but let’s pretend — what, exactly, are people seeing in this OBL story? Why doesn’t it matter to people that Hersh’s source for 90% of his blockbuster is an anonymous senior intelligence official? Why doesn’t it matter that his story is simply an embellishment of a story a security analyst published in 2011? Why doesn’t it matter that every time he’s interviewed he does a sales pitch for imperialist meddling and extols the essential virtue of imperialist meddlers?

Rewinding a little more, what does Greenwald contract troll Mona Holland mean here, with the suggestion that Snowden’s shitty politics are irrelevant to an assessment of his whistleblowing? More specifically, why is it irrelevant that the Snowden Affair is an extended lesson in obedient disobedience, the overall worthiness of The Intelligence Community, and the private sector’s immense usefulness as a partner in fighting surveillance? That, under its influence, what passes for a Left is morphing into a neoliberal campaign for transparency and internet privacy that readily makes common cause with defense contractors, oligarchs, Apple and fascists? Does it mean the differences between Snowden and, say, Philip Agee — who wedded his disclosures to a withering critique of capitalism that called for its dismantling — are insignificant? If so, why? I honestly can’t imagine.

Unless, of course, our differences aren’t tactical, after all. They’re political. Hence, Holland finds Snowden’s politics irrelevant because she agrees with them. Perhaps when Holland’s colleague Greenwald says shit like this —


— it’s because he agrees with Snowden’s politics also, and is simply astroturfing against radicalism, by marginalizing it as inauthentic, and playing to a crowd that, despite some affectations, doesn’t like radicals any more than he does. He does this quite a lot, and I’ve mostly just laughed at it. But I’m going to dispute it now because words mean things, and as neoliberalism colonizes the left via astroturfing celebrities, it’s important to recall what those meanings are.

I am not a pseudo-radical. I’m a radical, which is a political orientation that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I’ve stolen government files or whether or not a whistleblower ever made me rich. I’m a radical because I oppose all forms of domination and exploitation, including capitalism and imperialism. I think radical change, not fetishized secrets, better cryptography or beneficent oligarchs is the answer to the world’s woes. As a radical, I critique infotainers like Oliver and Greenwald through a radical lens — which amounts to no more, really, than lifting Chomsky’s exemption from his own analysis — and conclude that they serve power. If you think that’s pseudo-radical, you’re probably a liberal.

As a friend wrote recently, “we are at a point in human civilisation where anybody trying to justify capitalism should be dismissed as a joke.”  Good advice. Let’s get serious.

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54 Responses to If It Isn’t Anti-Capitalist, It’s Astroturf

  1. Moyers just recently said this:

    What happens to a society fed a diet of rushed, re-purposed, thinly reported “content?” Or “branded content” that is really merchandising — propaganda — posing as journalism?
    And what happens when PR turns a profit and truth goes penniless? One of my mentors told me that “News is what people want to keep hidden, everything else is publicity.”

  2. banjolinbuddha says:

    I agree with pretty much everything here, but would add that it’s not just a difference in politics – in other words it’s not just that people agree with Snowden’s politics, and thus dismiss them as irrelevant – and it’s not just a difference in tactics (death by a thousand paper-cut reforms) – it’s that so much of what is being done (tactically, politically) by these same folk relies on a difference in assumptions about reality.

    Forgive me for using the dreaded “real radicals” here, but… real radicals aren’t willing to accept that the platform we’re standing on looking around is ‘just the way things are’. Had this discussion on twitter recently too – and I think I saw YSF on there expand on it – it’s not just that people accept capitalism as being a valid ideology- it’s that they don’t see capitalism as an ideology *at all*.

    Imagine you’re standing at a fence with a knothole in it, and on the other side of that knothole is the entirety of reality. When you put your eye up to the knothole and look through, you have this view of what’s real, what’s valid, etc – and the boards around you that comprise the fence aren’t actually registering because they’re buried in your periphery. All of your judgments/tactics/etc are based on what you see through that knothole. So in that context you don’t question whether the boards were placed to strategically shape your view; you’re not even seeing them. Radicalism takes a step back and says “wait, why were these boards built in the first place? Who got to choose where that knothole was placed?”

    So in context to your post:

    “Why doesn’t it matter to people that Hersh’s source for 90% of his blockbuster is an anonymous senior intelligence official? Why doesn’t it matter that his story is simply an embellishment of a story a security analyst published in 2011? Why doesn’t it matter that every time he’s interviewed he does a sales pitch for imperialist meddling and extols the essential virtue of imperialist meddlers?”

    It doesn’t matter to these same folks (putting aside the ones for whom this is a willful obfuscation) because intelligence agencies are the boards of the fence. Armies are the boards. Governments are the boards. Their interest comes in widening the view through the knothole (reforms), or at best replacing boards that seem to be broken; questioning the fence, or the motives of those who built it, means stepping back from the assumptions you’ve made based on your knothole view. The astroturfers job, 100% of the time, is to make sure you’re so outraged by what you’re seeing that you’re not questioning the limits of the vantage point itself.

    I think I may have beat that metaphor to death, but you see where I’m coming from.

    UPDATE: The text of YouSeemFine’s tweet that was mentioned in this comment:

    another really awful thing about capitalist ideology is how it deludes its hardest core believers into thinking it’s not ideology at all

    YSF’s acct is private. The thread is here.

    • Tarzie says:

      The astroturfers job, 100% of the time, is to make sure you’re so outraged by what you’re seeing that you’re not questioning the limits of the vantage point itself.

      That’s a good analogy.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    I feel compelled to like, plus one, retweet, and favorite this.

  4. Dirty says:

    Great essay. Goes to the root. Astroturfing just markets Capitalism(Surveillance, Imperialism, Free Trade(Slave Labor),etc) as something that can, ultimately, be reformed to everyone’s satisfaction. An effort that bolsters the most destructive ideology(to ALL life, not just humans) in history.

  5. mickstep says:

    Embrace the nothingness, die the death that only you could embrace. embrace those words that only you could speak if only you could bring yourself to articulate them

  6. Dissent Now says:

    This was really lovely. I have nothing to add, but will teach this wherever I can.

  7. Russ says:

    Those are two excellent posts on the pro-capitalist media, and I have
    little to add on that.

    I did want to say a few words on the question of focusing on
    corporations as opposed to
    capitalism in the abstract, since there’s controversy about that. I
    think much of it arises from the conflation of two very different kinds
    of emphasis. I focus on the clear
    operational goal: abolition of the corporate form. From there I view
    all strategic/tactical prescriptions and agitational material from that
    point of view, rather than argue in the abstract about capitalism. Of
    course it’s not an either/or – we can and must simultaneously attack
    the corporate organizational form of capitalism as well as capitalism
    as such. It’s a question of emphasis. But abstract fulminating against
    an undifferentiated “capitalism”, especially among the type who want to
    attack the anti-corporate focus, and who like to take potshots at
    analytical concepts like globalization, imperialism, neoliberalism,
    financialization, disaster capitalism, often itself seems like a
    kind of escapism, as well as being a flat-earth level of analysis.

    So the abolition prescription is nothing like the ad hoc liberal, “bad
    apple” critique of the “abuses” of, say, Monsanto or ExxonMobil or
    Apple. A measuring line there is, do you think there’s such a thing as
    corporate “abuses”, or do you recognize that anything a corporation
    does, however quantitatively extreme, and whether or not it technically
    “breaks the law”, is typical and part of its intended use.

    However, there’s lots of potential here for various kinds of tactical
    alliances. It has great potential vs. extractivism, for example, and
    vs. the poison-based agricultural and food system. Then we have the
    growing numbers of people who don’t reject “capitalism” in principle
    but are willing to really fight against specific manifestations of it,
    including some of the most critical like fracking and
    poison/patent-based agriculture. From that point of view, it’s often
    tactically worthwhile to attack corporations rather than “capitalism”.
    Of course the people I’m mostly thinking of aren’t the readers of
    leftish websites in the first place, but are mostly those who have
    previously been inertial and mostly apolitical, but who are now finding
    themselves increasingly under corporate assault and are now looking for
    ideas and actions for what to do about it.

    The real question, as always, is what’s the nature of a given action or
    advocacy. Even if nominally “reformist”, is it actually on a vector
    which structurally weakens the system. If so, it’s worth far more than
    all the internet abstraction in the world, however impeccably
    anti-capitalist in theory.

    Corporate abolition, or even the widespread propagation of the idea of
    it, would be a severe blow to capitalism as it actually exists. Combine
    this with the intensifying ecological and energy-based limits and
    resistances, and the escalation of real, local/regionally-based
    delaying/obstructionist/gridlocking/monkey-wrenching action (what Klein
    calls “Blockadia”, and which is the real strategic/tactical
    takeaway from her recent book, not the social-democratic
    window-dressing, though that too must be part of our basic program) and
    the many other
    structural weaknesses of a system based primarily on corporate welfare,
    speculative bubbles, and thuggery, and we’d be doing the best we can do
    to destabilize and help bring down the structure.

    From this point of view, hypothetical arguments about, say,
    non-corporate forms capitalism could take (or other, non-capitalist
    forms of economic/political tyranny), or what would follow the collapse
    of corporate rule, or whether there could ever be a “good” form of
    capitalism/”the market”, or whether mutualism/market anarchism could
    work, etc. etc., is just that – purely hypothetical. The amount we can
    really know ahead of time about what would follow the
    dismantling phase of a revolution is always the same – zero. So there’s
    no point making a big, agonized fuss about it. Since we seek a much
    better world and will fight for it, and since the promises of
    liberation, freedom, justice, equality, health, happiness, and
    prosperity are always
    necessary parts of revolutionary philosophy and agitation anyway, it
    follows that where it comes to system politics (as opposed to real
    campaigns to build the new within the old, especially food sovereignty),
    there’s no reason to do anything but launch operationally-targeted
    campaigns and promise this will lead to these outcomes. But there
    seems to be little point to all the ideological sound and fury in
    itself. Where it’s just the appendage of a clearly focused abolition
    movement, it may be benign but not very important. If it insists upon
    itself as a substitute for this movement, then it’s not only worthless
    but malign and misdirectional, an astroturf in itself.

    Therefore this comment is meant to be a rebuttal of, for example, the
    type who would angrily insist that purely verbal condemnations of
    capitalism comprise a better form of action than,
    say, throwing up actual roadblocks (literal or figurative) against the
    progress of fracking and pipelines, something which actually hinders
    and renders more costly a critical capitalist project. The same goes
    for calling the basic organizational form of fully-developed
    capitalism, the corporation, into question. In whatever way possible
    getting large numbers of people (even those who aren’t consciously
    “anti-capitalist”) to question the form itself;
    getting people to agree that corporations are not “people”, have no
    “rights”, and shouldn’t exist at all; developing action campaigns that
    would actually target and damage/destroy these “rights” and the form as
    such; this kind of movement, it seems to me, would really damage

    As for the likes of Oliver, I see no reason in principle we can’t cite
    the reportage while warning against its lack of any necessary or
    sufficient prescription. That’s what I try to do with the NGOs whose
    reportage I often cite but whose prescriptions are often insufficient
    or flat-out bad. I’ve explicitly said learn from the good reportage but
    shun the meager prescription.

    • mickstep says:

      Sometimes I think to avoid being blamed for the inevitable crash of capitalism I might be necessary to allow them to get away with all their destructive shit, just so they can’t claim our meddling in their great ideas is what caused it.

      If only we wouldn’t meddle in their attempts to externalise all costs and inflict them on the environment they’d be able to continue their industrial economies. That it was pesky meddlers, rather than the environment itself which brought it all crashing down.

      • Tarzie says:

        Who cares what they say about us? Seems like an odd rationale for accelerationism.

      • mickstep says:

        I was not advocating not speaking our minds, I am advocating the complete opposite, to say exactly what we think and not try to cater it for the largest audience.

        I think what Russ was suggesting is to limit what we say to try and get the widest support for what we want to do, and limit peoples understanding of the our rationale behind doing it.

        I say put exactly what you think out there and let the chips fall where they may.

      • Tarzie says:

        I was just responding to this:

        “so they can’t claim our meddling in their great ideas is what caused it.”

        I agree with you on putting it all out there.

      • mickstep says:

        Well I think in that case the term accelerationism is a bit off. I mean in terms of crashing the economy, that is likely to occur sooner if we stop externalising all the damaging costs of our economic activity onto our environment. However the fall will likely he harder if we wait for the environment to force our hand.

        I think also it’s not just what they might say about us, it’s what they might do to us, which might be a whole lot worse than ignore us and attempt to restart their activities.

    • Tarzie says:

      With all due respect, I’ve grown weary of leftists who approach this shit like a marketing project which invariably becomes a policing project: of language, what to wear to protests, how to reach libertarians etc. Every movement has a put-on-a-suit crowd and I hear echoes of that here. Don’t talk about capitalism, you’ll scare the libertarians and the liberals! I like the fact that this anti-capitalism-that-doesnt-call-itself-anti-capitalism has a concrete goal, the abolition of corporations. I’m not sure it’s concrete enough to protect it from liberalism or libertarianism and becoming something else. I see our root problem as capitalism, and I think it’s easier to argue against things like police and incarceration from an anti-capitalist rather than anti-corporate framework. I think the rubes can handle it. I also don’t see how anti-corporationism articulates things like social programs or opposition to meritocracy. I think these things are easier to argue in an anti-capitalist, class conscious framework also.

      You talk about tactical alliances, but what I hear is concern about potential allies to your right, which everyone to your left (at least rhetorically) is supposed to take account of too. This is always how tactical alliance talk goes. But I’m an anti-capitalist who has absolutely 0 intention of quitting the anti-capitalist fulminating and who thinks there is *tactical* benefit in making opposition to capitalism explicit and shaping movements accordingly. So you can see me as a potential tactical ally as well, so long as you don’t try to tell me what to call things — to spare me from being useless — or continue to point out the good side of astroturfing infotainment.

      if anti-capitalist critique is so off-putting to the little people, why is it almost entirely embargoed from mainstream discourse? Why are so many professional leftists being deployed to appropriate the left so as to keep it liberal? Seems to me what capital doesn’t want is the best guide to what one should do.

      As for the likes of Oliver, I see no reason in principle we can’t cite
      the reportage while warning against its lack of any necessary or
      sufficient prescription. That’s what I try to do with the NGOs whose
      reportage I often cite but whose prescriptions are often insufficient
      or flat-out bad. I’ve explicitly said learn from the good reportage but
      shun the meager prescription.

      Good, I’m glad you find astroturf useful. I don’t. I think it’s toxic — which is what it’s intentionally designed to be — and I think your recommendation blunts media critique, gives out a pass for more analysis-free handwringing, as well as ignores how entirely unnecessary riff-raff like John Oliver are. Why does everyone work so hard to find the Olivers and the Greenwalds necessary? It’s almost like their celebrity demands it.

      I can sort of see your point on using NGOs because they do research and might have useful data, though I think it would be better if it’s possible to get it somewhere else. But there’s no argument to be made for astroturfing infotainment. Everything John Oliver or Greenwald talks about is available without arsenic laced into it. You’re back to sleeping with the enemy to undermine it, completely ignoring the fact that Oliver and Greenwald won’t provide you with a fucking thing that’s going to put even a superficial scratch on the system that made them rich, whatever you call it.

      • jason says:

        “Promoting Mormonism, Anarchism, Pacifism.” these people could not be more delightfully american. love ’em. (the site looks moribund but i think there are similar active sites out there. and, wth, brigham young kids were not happy about dick cheney speaking at their school commencement a few years back.)

        what kind of tactical alliances would your group make with mormon commies? what kind of personal relationships? what would you(r group) overlook & what would you advertise, in some way, that you could not overlook? (it did my sclerotic heart good to find these people. i just tho’t all mormons moved directly from the mission field to the george h.w. bush langley facility.)

      • Tarzie says:

        I don’t understand your questions. I never ruled out tactical alliances with anyone. I ruled out tempering my politics and behavior to accommodate them. We would find common ground on anarchism and pacifism (though I’m not a pacifist) and probably disagree on religion.

      • Russ says:

        With all due respect, I’ve grown weary of leftists who approach this shit like a marketing project which invariably becomes a policing project: of language, what to wear to protests, how to reach libertarians etc. Every movement has a put-on-a-suit crowd and I hear echoes of that here. Don’t talk about capitalism, you’ll scare the libertarians and the liberals!

        I’m sorry you misunderstand me so poorly. I certainly mean no such thing, though I do recognize that we’re not quite in a revolutionary situation yet, nor do I see any real constituency for a revolution, even among the readers of these blogs. But to be more blunt, I see jack shit other than failure and idiocy from “leftists”, and for that matter no will to fight. You, too, disavow any fighting goal, but rather seek just a “space for less stupidity” as you put it. Not quite wanting to storm the heavens, is it? That’s pretty typical of “left” blogs today: “I’m not trying to figure out what to do!” I’ve seen that over and over. I think the pseudo-left media scammers you specialize in analyzing would have less traction if there was some meaningful alternative to “Left” business as usual. Well, I’m trying to figure out something new, since I’m really not a writer at heart, I want some kind of action, and besides we really have no choice if humanity is to continue to eat. You see, it’s not just academic bullshit for me and for anyone who cares about that.

        I see opportunities to stall and roll back the corporate agricultural project, so that’s what I’m going to keep working on, and I’ll keep recommending that people who are interested in other sectors look for the similar ways to hinder and damage corporate rule.

      • Tarzie says:

        Russ —

        You seem to think I’ve condemned your overall effort, when in fact I’ve been signal boosting you and entirely supportive of you directly. I particularly like how prescriptive you are. I simply didn’t like your stealth anti-capitalist proposal. It’s along the lines of “Why We Lose” discussions that talk about how we lack a sense of humor and get lost in theory and blah blah blah. In fact, we lose because we are going up against the fucking ruling class and it’s armies. It’s certainly not because radicals use the word “capitalism.” That’s all I was saying. Obviously. I also differed with you on the usefulness/perniciousness of astroturfers like John Oliver. But that’s a quibble also.

        I think the pseudo-left media scammers you specialize in analyzing would have less traction if there was some meaningful alternative to “Left” business as usual.

        Undoubtedly, but isn’t that a chicken/egg thing? Won’t an addiction to corporate mediated dissent theatre starring rebel proxies like Greenwald and Oliver keep people from seeing what else is out there even when it develops? Hell, it could be out there now, gasping for air — Black Lives Matter is auspicious — while young middle class leftists obsess over the NSA and in their dimwitted, total misapprehension of how power works, hope for John Oliver’s sharp left turn to true anti-capitalism. While I make no apologies for simply wanting fewer dimwitted rubes in my midst, is it entirely useless to warn people off really bad shit while other things coalesce? Do you think the appropriation of left politics by corporations is just for the money?

        Why not turn your animus on people who aren’t even thinking and writing and bringing like-minded people together? And the either/oring you’re doing suggests writing and activism are entirely separate. To get people to come along with you on the road you’re going down, don’t you have to tell them what that is, and why you’re doing it? Isnt that the kind of thing one does with words? You know the way armchair radical bums like Marx did? Have you noticed how much undoubtedly paid effort is going into shaping Black Lives Matter into a movement that excludes radicals? Shouldn’t someone point that out? Counter it? If writing and talking is doing nothing, why do the ruling class and its lackeys work so hard at monopolizing the conversation and silencing interlopers?

        What you call my disavowal of fighting is simply something I say when people seem to think I’m trying to change Greenwald and co. Or that there’s no point in writing about them if I can’t. However, since we’re on the subject, I’ve paid my activist dues. But with neoliberals busily erasing everything that was once left in the left to adoring audiences of sneering, middle class know-nothings, aspiring hacks and NGO workers there is nothing I feel optimistic enough about to warrant more masochistic engagements with police. Occupy certainly wasnt worth it. Unlike so many of the comrades, “Left” isn’t a religion for me, so martyrdom and sacrifice for no good goddamn reason but to justify my useless writing hobby has no appeal. I like your ideas on community and home food production, though. That’s more my speed right now.

      • mickstep says:

        Russ, I also want to roll back to corporate agricultural project, but you need to understand for that to happen, people need to lose their belief in it’s ability to feed people.
        At the moment people put all their faith in technological progress, which means they put all their faith in all the new GM and pesticides. You need to make the case that heading further down this road with lead to disaster, but if you can’t convince them, which I suspect will be the case, then you simply need to let it happen and do what you can to pick up the pieces when it does.

        Only when western countries enter their equivalent of the cuban “special period” will what you have been talking about truly resonate with the masses, until then you need to be preparing for that moment.

        Like I said above if you go about sabotaging their system you rather than its own unsustainability will be blamed for its demise. So sure write about it, predicts it’s demise all you want, advocate land reform, write about transitioning towards an agrarian future, completely reorientating our economies and when we enter our special period people will listen to you.

      • jason says:

        by “you” i meant the people dialoguing here and a more abstract, lefty “you.” i’m not that interested in debating anarchist mormons about how their mormon theology contradicts their avowed anti-patriarchalism/pro-LGBT rights/etc. but why not march with them?

      • Tarzie says:

        why not march with them?

        no reason

    • Jeffrey says:

      Who is this hypothetical person who is willing to throw up roadblocks to stop fracking but is unwilling to consider criticizing “capitalism”? I have never met this person (and am pretty sure they don’t exist outside of your mind).

      Stop smokin’ dat shit bra.

      • Tarzie says:

        There are certainly liberals who do civil disobedience and obstruction in a reformist vein. But I doubt too many of such people get the hives on hearing anti-capitalist critiques. This is all so theoretical though. People just aren’t, in their day to day politics, going to temper their radicalism to keep pro-capitalists on board. Even if they should — which I don’t believe — they’re just not going to do it. It’s asking people to perform.

      • Goldfish Training Institute says:

        Right, it’s called a popular front, and it’s used depending on what your goals are. And how you organize varies on what your goals are, how large your group is, your actual location, and your material conditions to begin with. Yes it’s collaboration, but fighting the larger overarching goal subsumes the immediate collaboration.

        If you’re protesting fracking, then bringing popular protesters into the fold is necessary. You want the liberals, the libertarians, anybody and everybody who is willing to stand against fracking. The larger the group, the better. This holds true especially for small towns, out in the country, or in less class conscious areas, where you might not be able to mobilize a lot of people. So you probably won’t be seeing banners and signs that say “Communism now” or “Destroy capitalism.” The messages will be more specific, more local.

        But again it depends on who is involved and the action. Believe it or not, there’s an entire subset of organizing that deals with how to word signage, depending on the identification of the activists, their goals, their level of consciousness, and the locale. A protester who isn’t anti-capitalist but doesn’t want fracking in their community probably isn’t going to want to carry a sign that says “destroy capitalism.” If you’ve got 50 protesters showing up and she’s one of them, give her a sign that says “stop fracking” or “clean water now” or whatever. Because 50 people is better than 49 people. And there are many places around the U.S. where this is happening.

        The tactics you use in larger more revolutionary (radical) places, like Oakland, Chicago, Seattle, will be completely different. You organize accordingly. Like Tarzie says, this is where liberal and pro-capitalist participation is not tolerated. (Don’t get me started on Move On, I’ve seen them “move in” and steer large swaths of protesters away from the anti-cap action.) Other problems with more revolutionary groups are agents provocateur. Anarchic breakaways. Cop brutality, penning, violence. The list goes on. These aren’t necessarily issues in small towns, rural local protests, whatever. Totally different material conditions, different tactics required.

        But good anti-cap organizers know how to work with people coming from different levels of understanding and consciousness. What are the starting points of protesters in terms of their understanding of class struggle? Of how the enemy works? Do they even know who the enemy (capitalism/ruling class) is? What do they know about tactics? About what will work and what won’t work?

        None of this is new, it’s Mao’s mass line theory.

  8. Jeffrey says:

    My point is just to say give the guy/gal a sign that says “fuck fracking” and leave the “ontological” debate (about whether they are anti-caps, liberals, OR libertarians) at home or at whatever college classroom taught u to think in such a way.

    • Tarzie says:

      I don’t think anyone disagrees with this, though I must admit I have less faith in tactical alliances than I used to. I used to disparage radicals who made libertarians feel unwelcome in Occupy, but now I kinda get where they were coming from. Let’s say you have an anti-fracking protest. Who speaks? And what do they speak about? It’s an important question because it will shape the movement. Look at Black Lives Matter. Should it be liberal? Should it be radical? The answers to those questions will determine what its proposing and how it proposes it. Right now it’s making extremely liberal proposals that don’t look very promising.

      • Jeffrey says:

        Not sure I am up enough on BLM to answer those questions so I will try to continue with the fracking line of things for now. I would say who should speak should be whomever can do so articulately and they should limit their speaking in so much as possible to just the ills of fracking and how awful it is. After that portion of the event is over they can chat about political idealogies with whoever wants to stick around /and whomever seeks them (the speakers) out. If there is a strong consensus among these individuals around a certain flavor of political idealogy, say, small a anarchist (as you put it) anti-cap thinking, then they can proceed to meet and or organize along those lines separate from the fracking issue. To put it another way, perhaps one could say I believe in a polite, reasonable, separation of (short term? Or shorter term) issue and (long term, ‘bigger picture’) idealogy, to hopefully allow people to find their own comfort zone and not exclude too many.

      • Tarzie says:

        That recommendation works better with fracking I think than with other things. The demand of anti-frackers is very straightforward: Don’t frack. Things like police brutality are more complicated. You can come at it from several different angles and ideology is likely to matter.

      • jason says:

        yes. some issues are black & white. the knowledge & technique that enable nuclear weapons (& “civilian” reactors) is not the issue, nuclear weapons are the issue. not every issue is so cut & dried…which reinforces the desperate need for systemic critique.

      • Jeffrey says:

        In my experience there is still usually a common denominator level at which most people who perceive a problem could agree in just about every issue. If you organize a protest around this level, the problem of critique is kind of “externalized” 😉

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, I just don’t agree.

        I see very little evidence that taking all comers and finding common ground is the best idea in the long run or even the short term. It might be fine in mass protest situation, but then protests are only one tactic and even then you run into really obnoxious conflicts, like gang members enforcing the cop curfew in Baltimore. The common ground is always liberal. I don’t see evidence of this having worked out very well at all. I can’t think of a single time in history when liberals were anything but obstructionist. How long does this incrementalist shit have to fail before people give up on it?

      • Jeffrey says:

        Aw shucks- you are probably right.

      • Goldfish Training Institute says:

        How long does this incrementalist shit have to fail before people give up on it?

        Until oppressed people find their consciousness and are able to suppress and overcome liberal elements. You can see beginnings of it, in Ferguson, in the immediate aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death – those were revolutionary uprisings. That’s why the curfew and Nat Guard were rolled out.

        It’s true that those most likely to be won over to struggle are the people experiencing oppression in their daily lives, and BLM reflects that anger, it’s simply not mobilized for revolutionary struggle (yet).

        But any mass protest runs the risk of being pushed by right forces until the majority is conscious. There may have been communist and anti-cap groups and individuals on the ground at that Baltimore BLM protest, but it’s not enough to suppress the push to the right. In time it can be. Just not now.

        I get your frustration, though.

        I don’t know anything really about BLM in Baltimore, but in Oakland BLM activists are being arrested. They blockaded police HQ and City Hall and we had a joint action with Port Longshoremen to close the port for one day in solidarity against economic injustice towards black workers. Different groups are reflecting different levels of consciousness and activism depending on the location which is not surprising. But like you I wasn’t impressed with the BLM overall “demands” off the website which don’t seem reflective of revolutionary thought.

        But the struggles continue. The ruling class isn’t giving a fucking inch for POC and workers and in fact will double down and get more aggressive, which means more uprisings in the future. It’s either consciousness to the left or fascism. Time will tell.

      • davidly says:

        And this is exactly the point, idn’t it? One need only to have attended any demo to have gotten a glimpse of coattailoring co-opters whose agenda..er, excuse me, “solutions” are decidedly not that of the organizer’s intent.

        There’s too much anti-bad-corporations pushing the capitalist agenda as it is. Not sure why anti-capitalists would want to assist them with that agenda.

      • jason says:

        the failure of a meliorist proposal (e.g., “stop marijuana prosecutions”) demands a systemic analysis. the failure of past meliorist accomplishments demand a systemic analysis (lots of hoohah here in D.C. about Brown vs. Board of Ed. well isn’t all of that a bunch of pissing into the wind? hey, they got MLKj down here on the mall!) at the moment of action, not all things are clear. but in the moment of reflection, of statements, etc., why dissemble? i work to stop hydro-fracking here. my beliefs demand the end of hydro-fracking everywhere. b/c of dissemblers, agents provocateurs, etc., as “goldfish” mentions, the commitment in the moment of action can never be entirely clear. that’s no excuse to falsify the end objective.

      • jason says:

        IF IT’S NOT ANTI-CAPITALIST, IT’S ASTROTURF. the beast is hungry & will devour & shit out all kinds of “lefty” BS.

        in one’s day to day face to face experience, life is more complicated than a anti-capitalist vs astro-turf statement. people come to their beliefs from all over the map.

        but in media-ted experiences, it’s a goddam good rule of thumb.

  9. Goldfish Training Institute says:

    Who needs Black liberation when we have the successful NSA Rebellion led by vanguard Snowden!

    • Tarzie says:

      Greenwald once tried to say that it was racist to be somewhat uninterested in the NSA brou ha ha. The gist being that people of color are most affected, which, may or not be true, but it’s not like the DEA or the FBI. And Greenwald’s could not be whiter with shit like Merkel’s cell phone, industrial espionage, Kim DotCom’s New Zealand woes.

      • Goldfish Training Institute says:

        I guess he didn’t qualify his statement by saying, “Obviously dismantling the racist colonialist imperialist oppressive state would be the better alternative.” No, didn’t think so!

        I don’t know how or if the NSA ties in with cop brutality, but I’d say the more pressing issues for POC are cop murders, brutality, the prison nation, and economic injustice.

      • Goldfish Training Institute says:

        His latest is supporting Dennis Hastert. If GG had any anti-establishment cred greater than zero before that piece, I’d say he definitely shot it to hell when he said “Dennis Hastert is a slime bag but arresting him is wrong.” It is incredible how he gets away with that shit. The Intercept clown commenting corps could not say enough good things about him. “Thank you Glenn!” “Spot on Glenn!” “Took the words out of my mouth, can I clean your toilet Glenn!”

        Maybe the only worse comment is “Which billionnaire am I supposed to work for!” Jesus.

      • Mallam says:

        Holy shit. GG is defending Dennis Hastert? From what? Why is that scum worth defending of anything? More “if I don’t defend him then someone will come for me?” nonsense? I just can’t even fathom what the defense would be.

      • Tarzie says:

        It’s the my client is an asshole but…defense. Poor Hastert is the victim of prosecutorial zeal and bad laws.

  10. Mallam says:

    “You can come at it from several different angles and ideology is likely to matter.”

    Holy shit tell me about it wrt police brutality. Don’t know if you read “DrugWarrant”, but I commented over there based on a statement positively quoted as “what would community and police relations look like today without the drug war?”

    I mean how deluded do you have to be to know the answer is “it would look more or less the same, slight trims around the edges”. Last I checked, while police abuse is an issue, as is the drug war, the cops didn’t redline these neighborhoods.

    The other issue is that society — and white America in particular — has decided that this is how policing should be done. And in general, as the lack of accountability for killer cops shows, even with video evidence, they’re perfectly ok with that.

    I quoted billmon at length, and it go me all sorts of downthumbs because these peons see the drug war and only the drug war as the issue:

    “Problem with focusing solely on police violence (like: Conor Friedersdorf) is it glides over the economic violence that conditions it. Libertarian (I controlled myself & left off the g) focus on cops is understandable, and it is what #BlackLivesMatter is proximately about but the cops did not destroy the black industrial working class, or finance the slumlords, or redline poor neighborhoods. Police brutality isn’t the only reason that #BlackLivesMatter. And not being unlawfully killed is a pretty minimal standard for “mattering.” The near-complete economic abandonment of urban America since the U.S. unconditionally surrendered in “the War on Poverty”. The labeling of every social program as “welfare” (and the racialization of that word) — the criminal justice system didn’t do these things. The cops, courts and prisons were given the job of controlling & containing what the other elements of the system refused to deal with. Ending the “war” on drugs, reining in the Prison Industrial Complex, reforming the cops — these are all worth doing. But for glibertarians (oops), they’re an ideologically safe substitute for a real urban policy. And so the policy “debate” becomes limited to: “Black men: Should we let the cops kill them or not?” Which is fucking sick. Or: “Should America have an incarcaration rate that’s 10 times higher than the rest of developed world? Or just 5 times higher.” Again, sick. If we’re going 2 insist the criminal justice system stop treating the poor like they’re inmates who happen to be temporarily out of prison we have to make neighborhoods like West Baltimore less like open-air prisons to begin with. Because expecting to be able to reform the criminal justice system while leaving places like W. Baltimore the way they are now is a fantasy.”

    • Tarzie says:

      That’s a great illustration of how ideology matters. Nice to see Billmon, who’s been avidly eating up Greenwald’s context free minimization of the surveillance problem can see the big picture in this case and attempt to raise expectations. I’m becoming increasingly bothered by how so many self-assigned Black Lives Matter representatives present police brutality in isolation from everything else.

      This gets at the limits of this Left/Libertarian fusion we’re supposed to be so overjoyed with.

  11. bholanath says:

    This might be of interest, tying in with the astroturf, plus info on the Myanmar situation, if you haven’t seen: https://ingaza.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/cognitive-dissionance-on-democracy-now-read-this/
    Great discussion here! Best.

  12. Pingback: The impeachment charade: The Democratic machinery on the offensive – Revolutionary Tide

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