Last Statement to Socialist Alternative Leadership

This document was the final official communication between myself and members of the Socialist Alternative Executive Committee before the Austin branch formally voted to split from the formation and form an independent socialist collective. Though this document was written in the spirit of attempting to remain in Socialist Alternative and reasonably address the concerns from both sides, the aftermath has overwhelmingly confirmed our impulse to leave. However, this document does not represent any kind of “final summation” of the whole branch’s decision to leave, nor does it speak for anyone other than myself. Further, after numerous emails from the EC demanding a “serious political response,” the EC neglected to respond to any of the points made in this document or make any serious attempt to resolve the crisis between the Austin branch and the EC. 

The most “successful” US Marxist formations seem to follow a common pattern: the establishment of “tight-knit politics” based on the affiliation to some particular legacy of Marxism-Leninism, rapid growth up to between 750 – 1200 members across the country, different wings develop, a political crisis ensues, then the formation either splits or collapses. This goes for so-called “Stalinist” formations, Maoist formations (whether Mao Zedong Thought or MLM) and Trotskyist formations. Every single one of these traditions has managed to produce nothing more than an ever dizzying array of micro-sects, each claiming the sole true legacy of the “pure” Marxist-Leninist tradition. In Socialist Alternative’s terms, this came across with the nauseating term “Winning Ideas” being bandied about with little reflection or self-awareness.

In addition to the political differences surrounding the development of the sect model of revolutionary organizing, Socialist Alternative leadership was fundamentally incapable of looking reality in the face and admitting that, far from a national organization, Socialist Alternative is a regional organization based in states with high labor union density (Washington, New York, Illinois, California and Massachusetts) and that this reality shapes their overall political strategy: orient towards the left-liberal wing of the Democrats in order to peel off or “split” that wing from the “establishment” wing of the Democrats. Regardless of whether this strategy is prudent in and of itself, in areas with very low union density, like the South, this model is moot. Yet the leadership of SAlt refused to recognize the unevenness of the United States and referred to the Southern demands for more political flexibility and support as calls for “Southern exceptionalism.”

I would go so far as to say the overwhelming majority of Socialist Alternative’s membership are smart, sincere and capable comrades in the struggle for a socialist world. It was disappointing that SAlt was unable to address the needs and circumstances of so many of the Southern comrades, forcing the overwhelming majority of us to leave the organization. Should Socialist Alternative’s political methods remain the same, they will never develop any serious roots in the South, nor will they likely develop much beyond the hard-working but relatively tiny sect that they are today.


The most recent email we received demanding “a serious political reply” came at a rather inopportune time, leading into the critical period before our strike. I’ve worked to fit as much of what I consider the most pressing disagreements into the response. Please forgive any mistakes in grammar or spelling I may missed in my hurry to get this response out.

Where we have had ideological disagreements, I have chosen to focus on the most pressing political questions that I feel affect the broadest part of the Party. Regarding the Sanders turn, I try to frame it in relation to the South and questions of political consolidation. While I can’t answer all the questions that PL, BK and RK have directed at other comrades, such as questions regarding the study program, I tried to pay due attention to the space where I have the most to offer, the Fight for 15. Where there are particularly sharp grievances in our branch, namely the “forced resignations,” I chose to address those as best I could, including some suggestions on how to begin moving forward. I understand that the three National comrades will feel strongly inclined to continue this debate, but I would hope it will be taken into account exactly how much drafting and redrafting these responses takes and that the bulk of our branch is made up of full time workers.

On Ideology and Politics

I would like to begin by clarifying what I feel is an important distinction between “ideology” and “politics.” It is easy to get the two confused and they often are, but it is important to understand the difference between them. This will, hopefully, help clarify that while there might be a collection of ideological difference within our branch, we have, over the course of our branch’s life, functioned faithfully to the politics of the Party.

Indeed, ideology is an abstract understanding of politics; questions of history, of orientations, of splits and mergers, of various theories and ideas produced over the long course of history. Questions of whether the Chinese Trotskyists were correct to remain in the city when Mao began his long march or if Trotsky was correct to choose not to unseat Stalin based on Lenin’s final testament are questions of ideology.

This isn’t to say ideology is fundamentally unimportant; ideology and theory are vitally important. However, given the limited time and space to address critical issues, I worry that it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of ideological debates. In that sense, I will not be addressing questions of Maoism or Identity Politics here, though I think those questions are tremendously important. Hopefully we can take up ideological debates at a later date and under better circumstances.

While this might seem heretical based on the culture of the current Left, Ideological disagreements often hold very little practical bearing on our politics, which is where ideology meets action. Imagine, for instance, how ludicrous it would have been for the Bolsheviks to declare as a point of fundamental unity a single position on Babeuf or whether the Paris Commune should have made a better effort to reach the provinces! Bolshevik unity was always based on unity of action.

Yes, Lenin delineated some clear lines of principle that demarcated the boundaries of the party, but these are principles for Marxists in the same way that natural selection is a principle for biologists. Those principles (the working class as a central actor of revolutionary struggle, the need for revolution, the need for organization, etc) aren’t abstract or historically anomalous; these are the key advances that Lenin put forth that are universal in character.

In a similar way, Trotsky provided fundamental advances that are clearly necessary in a genuine proletarian formation. For instance, “Socialism in One Country” is not a question of abstract ideology; it is fundamentally linked to the method of the Popular Front, which has proven to be a historical failure. The question of the Permanent Revolution, in a similar but opposite manner, also holds tremendous practical import, particularly for an International formation that seeks to build revolution across the underdeveloped world. Permanent Revolution is also seamlessly linked with the United Front. I have yet to find anyone in our branch who actively disagrees with any of those principles.

Now, the key task at hand is not ideological, but political, which is to say a question of how our ideas relate to our activity and vice versa.

On Consolidation

The heart of this current conflagration is decidedly political, and I expressed as much to RK when we were meeting for several hours at Taco Cabana. National made a political decision to orient towards the Sanders campaign as its key political task, rather than focusing on consolidation. All across the South, comrades were begging for support, for even just one full-timer to be sent to support us, even for just a few weeks, to help us consolidate our branches.

Is it reasonable to assume that a new, remote branch like Austin, under profoundly different circumstances from the rest of the Party, would be able to mechanically consolidate without deliberate stewardship and investment? Had our branch never engaged in serious work, never made an effort to study CWI politics, never raised money, phone banked or sent volunteers for the Sawant campaign, then the intensity of the EC’s response to our branch might be understandable. Perhaps if we had been systematically breaking with Democratic Centralism or publicly undermining work around the Sanders turn (which a long time comrade from Chicago did to Austin regarding our Fight for 15 work), then the sense that our branch is being actively pushed out of the Party, after so many of us who spent so much time, energy and resources working for it in good faith, would seem less shocking.

The Executive Committee made the political decision not only to neglect consolidation in the South, but also to shift a bulk of full-timers to NYC, a city with long established branches and clearly consolidated leadership.  Southern comrades were not consulted or informed about this decision; we were left simply twisting on the vine. Coupled with the Sanders turn, in which we were also not included, morale across the South began to decline precipitously. Indeed, on a phone call immediately before this crisis, I told RK that the morale of the branch was low. We had been working hard for over a year and a half to try to build a branch in good faith, with absolutely minimal support from the national center. Had national made a serious effort to keep in touch with the branch, it would have known our situation and worked to help soothe the frustrations and boost our morale.

However, watching what began as a disagreement and misunderstanding continuously escalate has been eye-opening to the political methods of the three comrades with whom we have had exclusive contact in regarding this dispute. This isn’t to say that Austin, myself in particular, has been blameless or made no mistakes in handling the situation, but I don’t think it can be said that we have not made any attempts in good faith to begin rebuilding the branch’s relationship with national. We were working to rebuild our Branch Committee, offer an amenable study program and working to reestablish our dues levels when we learned of the so-called “forced resignations.” In what way can what was functionally an expulsion be seen as acting in any kind of good faith?

On Methods of Intervention

Regarding newspaper sales, I would welcome a more active role from National explaining methods and reasons for selling the newspaper. I frequently asked RK to help us set up a table and show us how to sell the paper. Unfortunately, there was only one attempt to do that and it was auxiliary to RK’s primary purpose, which was to debate the Sanders turn with us. Even more unfortunately, the one attempt made was at a location with little foot traffic. It would have been very helpful had RK or someone from National taken time to come down for even just a week and help us learn how to find useful locations around the city, set up an attractive table and sell the paper.

Nevertheless, the paper is not the key question around methods of intervention; used properly it is indispensable. However, I personally find the method of intervention that seems to be promoted to our branch – not by the CWI or the tradition of SA – but by the national leadership directly, to be not particularly useful. It seems to me that there is a fixation on our current leadership having already worked out Winning Ideas. In this formulation, the leadership can stand on the outside, and through contemplative analysis, work out ahead of time the proper line of march for any new movement that might pop up. All that needs to be done is their Winning Ideas must be properly transmitted down the line to the rank and file. The rank and file, now brimming with our as yet untested but still Winning Ideas, will go forth to various meetings and actions and “intervene” through the force of our argumentation style and Winning Ideas.

In Gramsican terms, it is a one-sided focus on the War of Maneuver. War of Position is the space where forces are consolidated and prepped for battle, relationships are built and solidified and an organic, democratic unity is cemented. Without the War of Position, without patient investigation, modification of tactics and perspectives, consolidation of forces, the War of Maneuver will be a disaster. Forces will become disorganized, demoralized and disunited, and interventions will take place in a mechanical and often forced manner, external to the inner life of whatever movement or force we are trying to shape.

Once, when I was in prison, a new inmate was brought into our unit. Short, but well-built, this inmate wore both round framed eyeglasses and a chip on his shoulder. He came in under the impression that, based on his previous experience, he knew exactly how his current experience would play out. He attempted to strong arm an older inmate, only to discover that this older inmate had a much bigger and very protective younger nephew. Because of the new inmate’s commitment to his own Winning Ideas, he failed to take the time to investigate the social terrain into which he was entering. He ended up knocked out cold and bleeding on the concrete jailhouse floor.

The lesson here is when entering into new terrain, terrain that has already been held by other, competing social forces, it is wise to prioritize learning and understanding of said terrain before launching into a forceful expression of Ideas that might seem Winning at the time, but without the proper understanding of how to flexibly apply said ideas, they may end up being expressed in a decidedly Losing manner.

The first edition of The Militant contained the line, “We need to educate and be educated.” This is a precisely Marxist formulation, yet where in the current leadership’s formulation is the information and data that flows to the top? How does the lived experience of our membership in the struggle on the streets find its way to the leadership, to help correct and modify Winning Ideas that might in fact not be so winning? If the leadership practices this two way flow of information and perspectives, it has escaped our Austin branch. This linear relationship is not how the CWI was built. The current leadership stands outside of our own traditions in how it has related to Austin and the broader South.

Of course the CWI has scored tremendous victories in the past, and of course the election of Kshama Sawant was a historic victory that every single member of our branch is proud to have been a part of helping make happen. I have been involved in radical politics for about 14 years and never joined a party before this one. I did not take joining lightly and did so deliberately and because I felt then and continue to feel now that Socialist Alternative represents the best Marxist party in the United States. Though I have had and continue to have sharp disagreements and frustrations with elements of the Executive Committee, I happily acknowledge some of the great achievements over the past year and a half, not only with the reelection of Kshama Sawant, but also with the overwhelmingly successful Million Student March.

However, this does not in any way mean that all of the ideas that come out of the Executive Committee lead automatically to winning conclusions. It is would be hubris to assume that one victory leads automatically to the next. Where there are sharp political disagreements, it is the right of party members to voice those within the party and to the membership and the leadership, whether that is regarding methods of intervention or orientation to active struggles like the Fight for 15.

On the Fight for 15

Our disagreements with the methods of intervention coming from the current leadership does not at all mean our branch does not see itself as “interventionist.” It is simply intervening in a traditional Marxist manner, in line with the tradition of the CWI. After all, Militant was built inside the Labor Party over time, working to support workers struggle directly, even if the Labor Party or a particular union was in the grips of a right-wing leadership.

When I talk to people in our Party around the country about their relationship to the Fight for 15, they invariably say they have an awful experience with organizers, or, as they are sometimes referred, bureaucrats. When I investigate the manner of the intervention, it is always at a single, discrete point in time. They attempt to talk to workers at a meeting or at a strike, but when I ask if anyone has gone to try to speak to fast food workers beforethese events ever happen, I get blank responses. The very idea of speaking to workers outside those single moments has never occurred to them.

But let’s consider it, no? Let’s look through the eyes of the organizer. This person has spent likely somewhere around 60 or more hours a week grinding through the field, talking to workers, driving them to their shifts, helping them get their groceries home, breaking bread with workers’ family members. They have suffered emotional disappointment when workers seem fired up and then vanished, when worker leaders suffer family hardships or when those worker leaders find better jobs and leave a vacuum in the local movement and on the shop floor.

The workers that go out on these strikes have seen these organizers many, many times. They have learned to trust these organizers and have faith that they have their best interests at heart. That relationship has been built over time.

What reaction would you expect when, at the moment of spectacle, some stranger comes up, having made no attempt to get to know the worker ahead of time, and says, “Hey, that organizer is actually just using to you to get Hillary elected and they don’t really care about you. Come join us because we actually know the way forward. We have the Winning Ideas. Just look at our newspaper.”

The organizer is going to treat you like an asshole and the worker is going to think you’re a weirdo. Period. Interventions are not moments. They take place over time and respect has to be earned by using building as intervention itself. The “intervention” must be spread over time, building the base necessary to launch a successful intervention. The War of Position and War of Maneuver must interrelate organically and develop dialectically. Going to a meeting and forcefully arguing a good point alone will not succeed in and of itself. The legacy of the CWI and Militant prove that point.

When I wrote that no one in the leadership knows how the Fight for 15 works, I didn’t mean abstractly. Of course it was understood that the demand for $15 was critical and the leadership properly oriented to it in Seattle and, it seems, in good but so far less successful ways in other cities. I meant that no one knows the actual mechanics of how the Fight for 15 functions. When I spoke to RK before our Nov 10th strike, I told him that we were taking workers out on strike, yet RK discouraged that. He felt that the workers actually would not go out on strike. Further, neither he nor PL were familiar with how the strikes function, that they were Unfair Labor Practice strikes and thus protected by the Federal government. If we are going to analyze and intervene in such an important movement, doesn’t it seem reasonable that these factors might play into developing Winning Ideas? Maybe make them Winninger Ideas?

The question of the difference between the Fight for 15 and the Presidential election is being presented in a superficial and inaccurate way. No one in our branch, at least since late last year, has said we should fundamentally reject developing an active orientation towards the Presidential elections. My argument is where the center of gravity should be. Should we put our center of gravity in the electoral campaign and work to draw social movements into it or vice versa? Based on the lessons of Trotsky, I would have to say the latter. The first formulation smacks of Popular Frontism, linking our program with his and blurring our political lines. The latter is a United Front, which works to engage in a nonsectarian way with mass movements in order to draw the best elements behind proletarian leadership.

There is also a clear disagreement about the role that quantity vs. quality plays in drawing political conclusions. True, the campaign, now, during an elections season, holds all the cards on quantity. There are millions of people who are interested in Sanders, with many of them extremely fired up for his candidacy. There are only several hundred workers across the country going on strike. If quantity is important then the former is obviously the place to prioritize.

However, my point is that quality is a critical factor. As a working class organization, SA seeks to find the most advanced sections of the proletariat in order to win them to the Marxist method of analysis and action. Which holds the cards on quality? The former leans left but holds no clear class dynamic. It is made up of a hodgepodge of people from a wide range of social classes. Yes, Sander’s program is a broad, Keynsian program that has some overlap with our own and yes people are drawing important conclusions about how rigged the Democratic Party is, but those who are engaged in the campaign alone are learning how to vote, how to phone bank, how to petition. They are not learning how to strike, how to organize, how to build a shop floor organizing committee. In this sense then, the Fight for 15 as a movement holds the cards on quality.

It is entirely disingenuous to say that the Fight for 15 is just a scheme to get people to vote for Hillary any more than the orientation towards Sanders, who has been clear from day one that he would encourage people to vote for Hillary were she to become the nominee.  The formulation of the EC that the FF15 isn’t “developing independent worker leaders on a significant scale” is ridiculous. What would you call the National Organizing Committee, which is made up entirely of worker leaders throughout the country? This reflects what can only be considered a fundamental lack of faith in workers to do anything other than what they are told, indeed a fundamental lack of faith in the working class overall.

When you wrote that the leadership of the movement is hostile to independent worker action, could you provide any kind of evidence? How do you define independent worker action? Upon what data or investigation are you basing this? Does independent worker action only mean “Socialist Alternative’s ideas”? I know that workers are encouraged to work out strikes even if they don’t correspond to national days of action. For instance, in Florida, a group of workers in a single shop went on strike over the issue of air conditioning, getting it immediately replaced. I mean, the whole way our branch got involved with the Fight for 15 is because they supported our organizing at In-N-Out from day one. Is this not independent worker action?


Socialist Alternative has achieved genuine, historic victories in recent times, but this does not guarantee ongoing success on all fronts. Socialist Alternative now struggles to properly integrate the South into itself and wrestles with the implications of the Sanders turn. This is a real problem and should be taken seriously. It is shocking to all those in the South how flippantly leadership has treated Southern branches, with RK explicitly saying that it’s perfectly fine for the entire Austin branch to leave the Party, even if this means losing San Marcos and possibly even Mobile. How is that leadership which new Party members in the South are supposed to respect?

Indeed, the leadership methods of the EC do not inspire faith in this new period. Regarding the lowering of dues, no one in the branch contested the loss of voting rights until those dues were raised. We were going to take the time to patiently work with those comrades to convince them to raise their dues or to allow them to resign of their own volition. It is extremely troubling that three of those five comrades immediately responded that they had intended to raise their dues, with KL even explicitly saying so to LP before the expulsions, yet the EC failed to respond to those comrades in a reasonable amount of time in good faith.

This means the “resignations” can only be considered a backdoor disciplinary purge. The question isn’t whether it is ok or not to lower dues for political reasons. The question is whether it is appropriate to remove a Party member from the organization by executive action without any due process or deadline to imply inaction will be assumed as resignation. Everything we’ve come to understand about this Party is that it takes the removal of comrades from the Party extremely seriously, yet this was done in an almost offhand manner. This leads us to believe that the current leadership is directly violating the spirit of the Party it purports to uphold.

It is also hard to swallow that the expulsions were not over political questions when the email we received contained the line: “Should you in the future want to apply to re-join our organization, we are very open to discuss all the issues involved. But the Executive Committee will insist on clarifying our political and organizational methods before this could be accepted.” In what way could this backdoor expulsion not be seen as having clear political content? It is plain that these expulsions should be immediately reversed and the leadership should acknowledge their haste in removing these comrades and apologize, regardless of whether the comrades want to remain in the Party or not.

Finally, the timing of the expulsions makes matters even worse. I had just sent out a new BC slate that satisfied both the conditions the EC had sent down (me remaining as BO; not non-male majority; all had restored their dues) plus I had sent a revised version of RK’s study program, regarding which we still have yet to receive comment. Suddenly, and without warning, and a week before an actual workers strike, we receive notice that five of our branch comrades were no longer in the Party. This looks like an attempt to sabotage the branch as a whole, disrupting our attempts to rebuild our BC and take up consistent study, with the intention of pushing the entire branch out of the Party.

These leadership decisions are clumsy and unhelpful and do have done little to help build either our branch or the Party. I hope the EC will consider this email sincerely and realize the error of the expulsions and seek a more investigative and collaborative relationship not just with Austin, but with the South as a whole. I also would encourage active mediation via another, neutral member of the National Committee in order to help soothe tensions and begin moving forward in preparation for the National Convention.


The Politics of Poverty Work: Part 1

The West Coast communist formation Advance the Struggle recently published a new piece reflecting on the current fast food and minimum wage struggles taking place across the US. In it, they make a solid, if limited, attempt to understand the current terrain of struggle and the politics contained therein.

Much of the essay is built around economic questions: inflation, unemployment, profit, etc. This is an important start, but a reader might be left with some technical economic questions. I was happy to see the quote from Marx’s Capital, Vol. 3 regarding wages and inflation, but that only begins the argument; it doesn’t end it outright. For instance, what is the elasticity relationship between wages and prices? Is this elasticity universal among firms or do different forms of commodity production have different elasticity ratios? And what of profits? The article uses the categories of “profit” and “net income” interchangeably. Profit must include funds that will be invested, not only consumed. Is this the same as net income?

These questions, among many others, are of a technical nature and I would suggest those interested turn to an excellent piece published by the formation Unity and Struggle on their website, and while we must begin answering these questions sooner rather than later, these answers lie outside the scope of this essay. Here I want to address the political questions surrounding SEIU, the strengths of the Fight for $15 campaign and it weaknesses, as well as some potential alternatives.

The A/S piece did a good job beginning to lay out some of the economic questions, but what of the social terrain of fast food and minimum wage workers? Analyzing the social terrain is critical because it can help unite the objective conditions of a particular historical moment with the subjective possibilities of practical, programmatic struggle. It is the duty of Marxists to analyze each in order to help transform limited struggles for piecemeal economic reforms to a revolutionary struggle for political power by the working class.

One of the common arguments heard regarding an increased minimum wage is that fast food workers are mostly teen workers entering the job market for the first time. Is this case? Let’s look at some facts.

According to an article published June 9, 2014 by the New York Times, the average age of a minimum wage worker is 35 years old, with a whopping 88% of all minimum wage workers 20 years or older. In 1979, the percentage of teens was 27%, showing an increasing concentration of older workers as traditional blue collar jobs are either automated or globalized. Twenty-seven percent of current minimum wage workers also have children, with 19% of all children in the US benefiting from a minimum wage increase.

Further, 54% of low wage workers are full-time, with 32% working at least half-time (20-34 hrs/week). Women, who make up 48% of the work force, are overrepresented in low wage jobs at 55%. The NYT article goes on to point out that “[m]ost are white, but minorities are overrepresented” by 8% for Latinos and 4% for Black workers. Low-wage workers are also more educated than ever: 78% graduated high school, about 33% have some college and 10% of minimum wage workers have college degrees.

This demographic image of low-wage workers paints a powerful image of organizing potential. SEIU, facing an increasingly desolate situation for organized labor, saw this potential and decided to act. Advance the Struggle’s article points out, “SEIU rightly saw this glaring contradiction as a point of intervention.”

SEIU’s strategy of intervention has three key points:

  • Engage massive numbers of people in campaigns to raise wages.
  • Unite workers across campaigns to demonstrate a groundswell demand.
  • Drive the message that the way to get the economy going again is to put more spending in money in the hands of workers

The first point is (sadly) an important innovation in the modern labor movement: actually organizing masses of unorganized workers. It calls for an important degree of classic labor struggle, including “union organizing, inside our industries (e.g. airports, child care), beyond our industries (e.g. fast food, retail, etc.) and by other unions (e.g. Walmart).” Aside from the important but limited campaigns of the IWW, such organizing drives haven’t been heard of since the Justice for Janitors movement in the 90’s. Those workers, however, had largely already been union, but lost representation due to the subcontracting reorganization that industry had gone through. This new SEIU strategy calls for the penetration of labor organizing into the largely untouched industry of fast food, long written off as impossible to organize due to issues such as franchising and high turnover rates.

SEIU’s strategy also calls for Federal and state minimum wage increases. Five traditionally conservative states just passed new minimum wage legislation at the same time the GOP was taking full control of both branches of Congress. Local wage initiatives, like in Seattle and San Francisco, are also included under the first strategy point, as are Federal, state and local procurement policies and collective bargaining campaigns.

The tactics suggested to carry out the first strategy point aren’t important only because they are practical and proving effective, but because securing them fundamentally means drawing rank-and-file workers into concrete class activity. Even if the union organizing and collective bargaining are done in the most frustrating and bureaucratic manner (which, rumor has it, is the case), workers still must be drawn into the movement as workers in struggle. The wildfire spread of the minimum wage and fast food fight shows that workers are ready to stand up and fight back and SEIU is providing at least limited leadership and opportunity.

The second point seeks to unite these local struggles into a national movement. This component of the overall strategy is critical for Socialists because movements have a way of moving beyond the limits of its initial leadership. A national movement provides a critical space for socialists to intervene against the limits of SEIU.

The third point – getting the economy moving – is where A/S finds the greatest problem, referring to it as “the spoon full of tar in the jar of honey.” The argument is that this perspective promotes class collaborationism. “By such thinking,” the article says, “bosses and workers are a team, and breaking that harmony is destructive.” Though SEIU has a bad reputation for collaboration with bosses at the expense of their workers, this argument is a little tough to swallow.

True, SEIU is deploying a classical Keynsian trope: redistribute wealth, increase worker disposable income, consumption goes up, aggregate demand goes up, the economy moves forward. It is a very straightforward argument. And what of the Socialist response? It would be a mistake to simply invert the argument, to say that arguing to “get the economy moving” amounts to arguing to fire up capitalist exploitation.

It has been pointed out time and time again that Marx divided the commodity into the component parts of exchange value and use value. He went on to point out that the labor required to produce these commodities is also split into the component parts of abstract labor and concrete labor, respectively. This means that the “economy” writ large is also divided into the same component parts: an abstract economy developed out of the abstract labor that produces exchange value appropriated by capitalists as surplus value, and the concrete economy built on concrete labor that produces concrete use values like food and shelter.

Though each component part is distinct and stands in opposition to the other, they are inseparable; their relationship is dialectical. Correspondingly, the political conclusions follow class commitments. Both capitalists and workers want the economy to “get moving,” but for very different reasons. Capitalists seek surplus generated from the abstract component of the economy. Socialists seek the wealth generated by concrete labor to satisfy social need and empower individual growth and development.

Socialists, therefore, must argue not only that these minimum wage policies will “get the economy moving,” but indeed that the economy is in fact hemmed in by capitalism and can be only fully developed when the working class leads the economy. This is the only practical, principled way to apply a dialectical method as opposed to the mechanical response put forward by A/S.

However, SEIU, despite the strengths of its strategy and tactics, inevitably comes up against definite, critical limits. SEIU is a business union, tied down and hemmed in by particularly repressive U.S. labor law. This reality is no vulgar dismissal of the legal trade union form universally, but simply a recognition of SEIU’s particular limits. One particular conundrum demostrates these very real limits: the franchiser-franchisee relationship.

Because of SEIU’s relationship to labor law, the franchiser-franchisee relationship becomes a tremendous obstacle, particularly from the point of view of the rank-and-file workers. Both the franchiser and the franchisee use their relationship to deflect responsibility on the other. The franchiser argues that each franchisee is an independent owner/operator, solely responsible for wages and benefits. The franchisee, on the other hand, argues that he or she is almost entirely under the thumb of the big franchiser, with profit margins too slim to allow for a significant, across the board raise for employees.

This means that while each deflects immediate responsibility on the other, the muddiness of their legal relationship further complicates SEIU’s ability to clearly compel legal recognition. Who is to bargain with the union, the franchiser or the franchisee? While largely unsympathetic courts and bureaucrats work to (very) slowly resolve the issue, workers are left in limbo, with very few legal options to move forward independently.

These concrete legal barriers carry an initially economistic struggle into the political realm. Yet what political form is tied to SEIU’s business union form? None other than the Democratic Party, the very same party that lost the most recent midterm elections to a completely degenerate Republican Party. Still, voters turned out to pass very progressive legislation, including those minimum wage increases mentioned earlier, when they weren’t connected to the bankrupt brand of the Democratic Party.

As I pointed out in my essay titled “On Shutdowns and Party Politics,”

The Democrats, however, represent a paradox themselves. While still trying to maintain a functionally Keynsian political base, its leadership has capitulated to the logic and parameters of neoliberalism wholesale. With such a sharp contradiction between social composition and practical leadership activity, the Democrats not only are unable to mobilize their base consistently to fight, they actually work to demobilize and confuse their various constituencies. Making up the left wing of finance capital, the Democrats now float in the air, vulnerable to the most damnable and nauseating bouts of shameless opportunism.

SEIU and the Democrats are thus two sides of the same coin, products of the assault on the standards of living for working people and entirely beholden to paying lip service to a mild, semi-Keynsian renovation of a system wholly unwilling to renovate except under pain of death.

This leads to a stark contradiction. On one hand, SEIU’s strategy is based on both an accurate assessment of the contemporary moment as well as a practical plan of action with which to intervene. This has given the struggle for $15/hr minimum wage powerful historical content. Socialists and anti-capitalists would be abdicating their moral responsibility if they were to abstain from this struggle along petty sectarian lines.

However, the inverse of abstentionism – uncritical cheerleading – would be equally criminal. To ignore the very real obstacles presented by SEIU and the Democratic Party would be to leave low wage workers, the vast majority of whom are brand new to labor struggle, disoriented and vulnerable in the face of inevitable opportunism and betrayal from liberal forces. As powerful and relevant as the content of the minimum wage and fast food struggle is, the form that it is held into by SEIU is in the final result equally destructive to workers’ struggles.

The task now is for Socialists to fully engage the content of this moment while working to develop new forms of worker struggle: 15 Now, informal workers’ committees, renovated solidarity networks, independent rank-and-file unions and ultimately a fundamentally new Party capable of coordinating and leading these various component parts of this movement – as well as other movements – into a concerted political struggle for state power under the working class.

Let’s get to work.

On Shutdowns and Party Politics

Most “Millenials” today are a little too young to remember the last two shutdowns under Clinton, so the events that have unfolded over the last week are really a new experience for a group that has been much discussed and often maligned in recent weeks. What is absolutely, frustratingly familiar, however, is the wading pool shallow discussions parading themselves around as serious journalism and analysis. Professional loudmouths and hand wringers dance and shuffle around on cable news, the best print journalism maps only the surface technicalities and the worst tries to split the difference between cowardice and insanity. Of course, no one has anything approaching a serious practical – or even “impractical” by today’s bankrupt “pragmatism” – suggestion on what to do whatsoever to escape this trajectory of self-destruction.

The first, most obvious, most undeniable point to be made is this: the current shutdown in the Federal government today is a direct result of the rise of a new Tea Party faction in American politics. While the mainstream media has largely been obsessed with the theatrics of the debacle, the U.S. Left has failed to provide even a glimmer of an analysis that is compelling or practical in any way whatsoever.

The phrase that the two parties are “two wings of capital” has been repeated by fellow activists by rote so many times that it has become completely bankrupt. The Socialist Worker has largely hopped on this same trope in recent days:

So it will be all the more important for those who want an alternative to the status quo in Washington to remind themselves and others of a hidden-in-plain-sight truth about American politics–that the Democrats and Republicans agree about much more than they disagree.

The key problem with this kind of sloganeering is that it actually tells us nothing. It simply freezes capital into a seemingly eternal thing, with two wings also frozen in loyal opposition, only superficially different but ultimately homogenous and unchanging. This is cheap nonsense masquerading as analysis and needs to be recognized as such.

To begin, capital is not a “thing.” Capital is a particular form of social organization that has developed and is continuing to develop over time. The capital that the two parties represented during the Johnson administration is far different in its functioning and composition than the capital represented by Reagan and Clinton. In fact, it is this transition from one form of capital to the other that is so critical to understand if a person hopes to begin to not only make heads or tails of why the shutdown has happened but also what we should do about it now.

American capitalism post-WWII was marked by massive industrial output. Having come out of the war basically alone in having an entirely intact industrial base, production proceeded apace. America was booming and Keynsianism was spreading the wealth around. The slogan “What’s Good for GM is Good for America” rang from coast to coast. A well funded public school system, extensive social programs, a significantly organized industrial labor force, and a rising standard of living were characteristic of the dominance of industrial capital over the society that America’s Greatest Generation was building. Things seemed rosy and never ending.

Yet end they did. The mid- to late-70s marked the beginning of a crisis for American industrial capital. The Marshall Plan had functioned as designed and now Germany and Japan were once again competing internationally, putting ever increasing trade pressure on the US. Anti-colonial struggles were securing (ultimately dubious) victories, culminating in a debilitating OPEC oil embargo. American Labor, fat on the milk and honey of Keynsianism, was refusing to submit to the market discipline of unemployment. Industrial capital was in crisis; something had to change.

The Pinochet coup in Chile in 1973, led by Milton Freidman and his “Chicago Boy,” represented the opening shot in a pitched struggle for power, the Volcker shock a decisive blow, and the rise of Reagan and Thatcher the ultimate march to victory of finance capital over industrial. In short, Wall St. demanded its turn at the helm and Detroit had to no choice but to acquiesce. The end of the so-called American dream enabled by Keynes marked the beginning of the neoliberal nightmare of globalization.

The critical success of Reagan was enabled by fusing together a coalition of the finance capital of Wall St., the military and law enforcement, and certain petite bourgeois and working class elements that were made up of the most reactionary and conservative sections of American society found in White, Southern, Christian evangelicals. A lasting legacy from the end of the Civil War in the US and reacting strongly against the last throes of the struggles of the 60’s, this last faction is to play a critical role in the story to come.

This coalition, however, was one of opportunity, not of principle. Each faction utilized the strength of the others to crush common enemies, namely the Black working class, labor unions, and social programs in general. Each faction also tolerated sacrificing certain positions to others in their coalition. The evangelical section, largely consisting of petite bourgeois elements or reactionary and backwards sections of the working class, weathered attacks on their standards of living in exchange for the political prioritization of their social issues. The much more secular Wall St. tolerated increasing restrictions on things like abortion or art in exchange for, among many other things, much lower tax rates and regulations. The key point here is that while these two factions functioned together very well over a particular historical period, the reality is that they also have very conflicting interests.

There developed over the course of three decades of uncontested neoliberal rule three key pillars that helped maintain the Reaganite coalition. First, there was the institutionalization of a “bubble-to-bubble” economic policy, rolling one crisis into another without ever fundamentally addressing the problems that gave rise to the crises in the first place, desperately clawing to keep the economy growing at whatever cost. Secondly, and intimately bound up with the first, was the utilization of expanded debt and credit in order to mask stagnant or declining wages and a declining standard of living that went with it. Lastly and critically was the rise of not just the 24 hour cable news cycle, but the development of a media hegemony via institutions like Fox News and conservative talk radio, which were able to professionally crank out political ammunition in the fight against any hope of a Keynsian resurgence.

However, the current crisis is stretching the coalition to its limits. Since each faction had conflicting interests, the coalition was only stable during periods of strong economic growth. With finance capital increasingly less able to provide a stable standard of living, the petite bourgeois evangelical wing is finding its position in the coalition increasingly less tenable and is becoming increasingly vocal and confident in its demands, coalescing around the Tea Party label. Further, this petite bourgeois wing is itself beginning to show fractures, with one wing shifting hard to the right over social issues like immigration or abortion, and another wing shifting left into the Libertarian camp, though these lines still remain largely blurred.

There exists in America today an increasing sense that our parliamentary process is in a deep and intractable crisis. The rout of popular forces under the Reaganite assault has given finance capital free reign of the toy box. One critical blow to an already moribund political process was the Citizens United ruling; the other was the rise of gerrymandering.

The American political process has always been entirely beholden to the monied classes of the U.S., but there was, under The Great Society, at least a pretense of electoral regulation. With Citizen United, the financial dominance of Wall St. over Washington was made legal and blatant. Finance capital now unabashedly controls the purse strings of American politics and thus faces very little serious challenge to its hegemony through the ballot box.

The second phenomenon, gerrymandering, has been seized upon by the lower sections of the right coalition. The right wing upsurge of 2010 was in response to the election of a Black Democratic president and came right during the time of electoral redistricting. This allowed the more extreme right elements to carve up their respective districts, making any serious grassroots challenge to their power much more unlikely. This has given the Tea Party a relatively secure parliamentary base of about 60, half hard line and half sympathetic, House members from which to wage their struggle from the hard right. However, while secure in their own districts, they will never be able to muster the strength to defeat finance capital and the political mainstream on parliamentary grounds. Assuming no unforeseen economic amelioration, the conditions that are developing and radicalizing the far-right petite bourgeoisie faction will only deepen.

Yet with a decided inability to advance any further through parliament, the possibility of a right-wing break with the ballot box as the sole terrain of political struggle will begin to loom ever larger on the horizon. The popular base and the historical conditions for a new form of Fascism or proto-Fascism, called by a much different name, will continue to grow unless relentlessly combated by a genuine, militant U.S. Left.

That this confrontation could happen through the Democratic Party is a complete impossibility. Democrats under Clinton retreated completely under the assault of neoliberalism and finance capital. It became accepted as a given that Democrats must operate in the new world that Reagan had built. They continued resolutely down the path of free trade agreements, deindustrialization, and attacking social programs.

The time has come for a break to the left of the Democrats. The traditional argument against third parties is the fear of splitting the left and empowering the far-right. As the Reagan coalition continues to fracture, this argument begins to take more and more irresponsible form. The Right is advancing resolutely ahead of the Left, beginning to develop militant leadership and is no longer shaken by the fear of splitting or fracturing the broader party, calling at all points of its advance for a principled, practical unity. This method is serving to show the power of a disciplined political minority if properly trained and organized. Despite the demographic trends showing what looks to be an inevitable end to at least the far-right and potentially the whole GOP, the Tea Party continues to advance and organize itself.

The Democrats, however, represent a paradox themselves. While still trying to maintain a functionally Keynsian political base, its leadership has capitulated to the logic and parameters of neoliberalism wholesale. With such a sharp contradiction between social composition and practical leadership activity, the Democrats not only are unable to mobilize their base consistently to fight, they actually work to demobilize and confuse their various constituencies. Making up the left wing of finance capital, the Democrats now float in the air, vulnerable to the most damnable and nauseating bouts of shameless opportunism.

The conditions now are ripe to begin to gather those social forces abandoned in the collapse of Keynsianism: intellectuals, teachers, and students at schools and universities, immigrants pressed into mass migrations under the forces of free trade and globalization, the skeletal remains of industrial and organized labor, those bodies warehoused under mass incarceration, and the new “precariat” of service, temp, and intern workers. These all represent major sections of American society but have been largely rendered mute through a lack of any serious political vehicle from which they could speak or fight.

The parliamentary limits faced by the Tea Party Right will operate with an equal or even greater ruthlessness for the Left. While the possibility of principled obstructionism would remain for the handful of candidates who might be elected under this new third party, the real power base for it would have to rest squarely in the schools, workplaces, and prisons. Here our party would be able to disrupt the smooth functioning of the merciless dominance of finance capital.

The biggest mistake this new formation could make would be to simply advance as program a return to the sadly mythologized Keynsian past. The conditions that made such an arrangement possible are long, long gone today. This third party must develop from its ranks a new vision, a vision of struggle and mobilization.

This government shutdown is only one episode of a much longer series of events yet to play out, each one increasingly more desperate than the last. The older layer of my generation came to age under the second Bush administration. Our future and our world looks increasing wracked by crisis and creeping dystopia every day. How many young people find themselves laying in bed some nights, unable to sleep with thoughts of student debt and declining economic opportunities? Our generation just can’t keep playing by the same playbook, marching in rank and file formation to cast our votes for parties and programs we no longer believe in.

We have to fight. We have to do something to fend of this dark spectre of desperation and collapse.

Our mobilizations must be prepared to inevitably break labor law or civil order laws and disrupt the status quo in the same way Americans of the past put themselves on the line to break and eventually defeat criminal Jim Crow laws. We must build our new party to carry on the legacy of struggle passed down. This crisis is more and more revealing itself to be intractable and uncontrollable. Our time is running short and the opportunity for bold and energetic action is now. The future is ours, whether to win or to lose.

Not One Clinic Closed!

No one, certainly not the Senate Republican majority, expected the spontaneous upsurge of popular energy that derailed their shockingly repressive SB5. This bill, if passed, will shut down 37 of the 42 women’s health clinics that provide abortion services, leaving only 5 clinics to serve the entire state of Texas. The geographic location of the remaining clinics would serve to place the most vulnerable women of the South and West, largely working class and rural, under such duress as to functionally send them back to the 1950’s.

Thousands of people showed up to the capitol building filled with the passion and determination to support and eventually carry through Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster. Through parliamentary tricks and manipulations, Republicans managed to shut down Sen. Davis’ determined stand. It was literally only through the mass “People’s Filibuster” that the bill was ultimately killed, even though Republicans, desperate to crush one of the most critical rights women have won, sunk as low as attempting to digitally alter the official timestamp of the vote.

The capitol crackled with the electricity of history, filling those present with a sense of triumph and elation. This victory was, however, no triumph. It was much closer to being thrown off a cliff and managing to hang on by just your fingernails. This is where we now find ourselves, dangling over a precipitous drop.

The very following day Gov. Perry announce that he was calling another second session for the express purpose of passing SB5. With the second session lasting 30 days and only three bills remaining – SB5 being the first piece of legislation to be handled – a filibuster has been rendered impossible. Republicans stand with their boots poised to stamp our faces off the cliff to which we so desperately cling.

And where are the Democrats? What course do they offer? Sen. Davis’ filibuster was both commendable and critical to defeating the bill and drawing in the massive crowd that carried the day. Yet however commendable that action may be, it cannot be separated from the overall strategy and program of the Democratic Party itself.

What was it these warriors of the Democratic Party urged the galvanized crowd to do to carry the struggle forward? The only thing they could, of course: vote! Have not these same people watched the vicious onslaught of the Republican Party on the Texas electoral system? Weren’t these the same people that were unable to stop the massive partisan redistricting except through now fruitless court action? Sen. Davis herself was only able to cling to her seat by challenging the redistricting map under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the very same section that was gutted by the Supreme Court just as Sen. Davis was preparing to launch her filibuster. Attorney General Greg Abbot has already made very clear that the moment the redistricting plan is legally able to be implemented, it will be.

So the call to “Vote! Vote!” must ring hollow on the ears of any honest Texan. The Democratic Party,  being fundamentally bound to the ballot box – and only the ballot box – is unable to face the awful truth: the vote has now been thoroughly and completely robbed from the regular Texan and our State Government has now functionally become a One Party System. Our only hope to maintain even a semblance of impact at the ballot box now is to go beyond the ballot. What began in that rose rotunda must be carried into our workplaces, our schools, and the streets. Robbed of formal democracy, our hope lies now only in an insurgent democracy of civil disobedience, work stoppages, and school walkouts.

Of course, there will certainly be many legal challenges to the new provisions of SB5, and these should certainly be supported, but while lawyers and judges are wrangling over women’s lives, where does that leave women themselves, as well as those who love and support them? Should everyone sit politely with hands folded, hoping for the best while preparing for nothing, after our system has failed us so many times and in so many different ways? We must work alongside any legal challenges to both support them while they unfold as well as to prepare to escalate our struggle should those challenges fail, and those who fight those legal battles should support our efforts outside the courtrooms just as we support theirs inside it. While legal challenges shouldn’t be condemned out of hand as “irrelevant” or “reformist,” just as critically should those same legal challenges not be used as an excuse to demobilize the popular sentiment that is clearly developing an impulse to stand up and fight back.

As practical measures, we offer here Four Points of Action to carry this struggle forward in the face of a defeat at the second session:

  1. Work to agitate and persuade clinic workers and doctors to occupy their clinics upon orders of closure and refuse to close their clinics.
  2. Organize groups ready to move and defend clinic buildings, workers, and doctors with whatever tactics are  deemed the most effective, regardless of legality. This could run from sit-ins and lock-downs to actively building and defending barricades as we have seen all over the world now. It must be remembered that in addition to police violence, clinics may face terrorist violence as well.
  3. Organize in our schools and workplaces with the intention of developing the organizational capacity and infrastructure to mobilize coordinated, political work stoppages and school walkouts regardless of legal constraints.
  4. Organize city-wide and ultimately state-wide action committees to coordinate and carry out the first three points of activity on an open and transparent democratic basis. Differences over strategy and tactics around our single issue of agreement – these closures must be stopped – must be made public and debated openly so all participants can decide the methods of struggle democratically. The political independence of the Action Committees is paramount for strictly practical, if not ideological reasons. They must not be called on to endorse or actively support any electoral candidates.

Developing these broad organizational roots in schools and workplaces is critical in the long-term not only to defeat SB5 now, but to be able to mobilize in the future as well. If Perry had to face down not just a peaceful occupation of the capitol building, but coordinated work stoppages and school walk-outs, the pressure on him to choose not to call the second session would have been much more intense.

Democrats can now and forever only throw us so much thread and call it rope. Legal challenges are a gamble and exclude the vast majority from any level of serious participation. Our only hope to defend Texas women lies in our own strength to disrupt business as usual. The time to hope for change has passed and the time to fight for change has arrived.

Lessons at the End of the Book

At midnight on May 27, 2013, the whole term of my Federal sentence came to a quiet and official close. Born in much chaos and fury, it was laid to rest with an equal amount of anticlimax; a brief and unofficial phone call and the quiet stroke of the clock. Though the full scope of the experience in many ways still overwhelms me, I’ve decided to eulogize this passing with a brief and incomplete reflection over these four years and nine months – on one hand to distill a selection of critical political lessons, but on the other as a means of some level of catharsis.

The documentary film of my experience gave me many amazing opportunities to speak to crowds eager to try to understand the lessons of my story. This pushed me to develop and clarify what I had learned and eventually I became fairly competent at expounding upon these lessons. However, I never attempted the critical task of writing anything down. So for that reason, I have chosen here to finally reflect in writing on the historical nature of the informant/provocateur, four political lessons regarding the issue of security, and finally a brief reflection on the nature of revolution and being a revolutionary.

It is a common understanding that no one respects a snitch, not even the police, who are perfectly able to distinguish between respectability and utility. Since Brandon Darby’s open letter confirming and clumsily attempting to defend his decision to work as a Federal informant, much bitter and acidic vitriol has been relentlessly directed at the man. It is, of course, a perfectly logical thing to expect. However, this vitriol brings me neither sympathetic feelings nor elated validation. Far from being the compelling character he was initially believed to be, most now see him for what he is: a rather sad, desperate, and intellectually clumsy shill, a paper match who’s small flame burned furiously but for a moment and now the noxious odor left behind is being steadily blown away to nothing.

Destined to forever be at most an incidental character, what makes the character of Darby important to this story is not what makes him unique, but what makes him universal: his part in the rise of the modern informant/provocateur, set in motion by the sprawling repressive machinery of the FBI. What concerns us is not the odious and craven nature of the informant/provocateur as an individual, but the development of this character as a political tool to address broad historical problems.

I received my first insight into this process not from any left-leaning literature, but from another inmate named Blue, an insight repeatedly affirmed throughout my incarceration.

Blue and I were in the “bullpen,” or court holding at the Minneapolis Federal building. I was lamenting the injustice of my situation and the role Brandon played in it by stoking and instigating a culture and situation that, without him, wouldn’t have come to pass. Instead of offering any consolation to the unique and extreme nature of my case, he laughed.

My case, he assured me, was neither unique nor extreme. He then proceeded to tell me his story. After his release from State prison, Blue, now in his 30’s, was attempting to straighten out from gang life. Unfortunately, gang life wasn’t quite prepared to straighten out from him. Threats of violence began to work their way back to him, but he didn’t immediately take them seriously. An acquaintance of his, however, did, and offered Blue a pistol for sale.

Initially, Blue refused, but as time passed both the threats and his friend inveighed upon him to purchase the gun. Finally, he relented. Blue purchased the pistol, left his friend’s house, and crossed the street, whereby he was quickly apprehended by a mass of Federal agents.

His friend was, of course, an informant. Blue was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

This particular story reflected the general experiences of many other inmates, and though anyone who casually takes the word of inmates at face value is a fool, over time you come to learn to distinguish between inmate bullshittery and the actual motion and experience of modern mass incarceration. The ethically dubious use of informants had become both common and legally defensible. For a revolutionary, the question became, “How did this happen? What role does it play in the development of capitalism? What can we learn to fight it?”

The answer, I believe, lies in the legacy of the 80’s and the rise of the era of neoliberal capitalism and the reality that the methods of repression the Left today is beginning to feel were first pioneered and perfected against poor people of color.

All capital, but U.S. capital in particular, is racialized. This means that the flow and contours of capital are shaped by racial divisions, producing uneven development based on these racial lines. In the U.S., this has meant that White workers have often occupied industries that were insulated from the shocks and dislocations of capitalist attacks on other workers as a whole.  This has produced in White workers the historical tendency to simply defend their higher standards of living regardless of the situation of non-white workers, as well as a broader political allegiance to nationalism.

Black workers, however, having a much clearer view of the social and historical situation, have tended to be willing to move towards broader and deeper critiques of American society, which at one point reached a fevered pitch at the height of the Black Power movement, where explicitly revolutionary Black organizations were drawing all radical social forces behind their leadership.

While the State pursued political repression as a means to destroy formations like the Black Panthers by rather clumsily working to either exacerbate the internal contradictions that led to ultimate collapse of those formations or outright murder and political arrest of individuals, capital as a whole began to tear up its problem of Black rebellion at the root by destroying their economic base. Capital now began the process of the historical destruction of the Black working class as a serious social force.

The development of both increasingly sophisticated automation as well as the globalization of production facilitated a full-scale assault by capital on traditionally Black industrial centers. Almost before the nation’s eyes, cities like Detroit, Baltimore, and Oakland were transformed into dystopias of unemployment and desperation. Public funds for social programs such as education were gutted. The historically unprecedented project of mass lumpenization was underway.

The combination of the collapse of revolutionary leadership, the disappearance of the industrial wage, and the evisceration of public programs left massive sections of the Black working class facing functional genocide. Into this desperate void began to flow destructive and addictive drugs like heroin, cocaine, and eventually crack. Finding both those desperate enough to sell as well as consume these drugs, the transformation from Black proletariat to massive surplus labor to lumpen was complete.

Alongside this mass lumpenization grew what was to become the largest and most comprehensive peace-time mass incarceration system the world had ever seen. Policing became increasingly militarized. Legislation became harsher on the convicted, especially those convicted of drug crimes, at the same time it was lowering standards and demands on law enforcement and prosecutors. This explosion of violence and repression fell under a now familiar banner – War on Drugs.

At the same time neoliberalism was securing its repressive apparatus at home, it was also looking abroad. Third World Liberation movements had largely reached their terminal limits, with a few heroic but doomed attempts in Latin America. The Global Left had almost totally collapsed, but Imperialism, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, saw before it a freshly open field.

Regardless of whatever Milton Freidman might say, these two phenomena – Left collapse and Imperial advance – could not, of course, solve the grievances of those who suffered under the shadow of violence and domination. It simply meant that leadership in the struggle against Imperialism shifted from Left to Right, from the revolutionary leadership of workers and peasants to the reactionary leadership of the petty bourgeoisie, namely religious clerics and bazaar merchants under siege by secular international capital. With no revolutionary program to carry forward, this right wing Anti-Imperialism  turned to the only tactic available to it: an international campaign of reactionary terrorist violence.

Against a backdrop of increasingly popular feelings of being under siege, a rhetorical shift began to take place in American political life. The framework of “responsible” political debate began to shift away from the traditional rubric of “Democracy v. Communism” to “Security v. Terror.” Through this shift, the clumsy methods of COINTELPRO lost their explicit political content and began to quietly find new life and rigor, as well as legal and political legitimacy. It was in this shift that the modern informant/provocateur began to develop, exploding into explicit systematic use after the attacks of 9/11.

The smoke and mirrors of “security” attempts to hide the political content of modern repression behind a neutral facade. The reality is otherwise and the implications are clear; this mystified, implicitly political project is being inexorably expanded to include explicitly political targets, initially Anarchists and Animal Liberation activists, now frequently political hackers, and ultimately whatever other forces begin to become troublesome for neoliberalism in the future.

The most basic and urgent task borne out of this historical process is the fundamental need to rebuild a mature, organized revolutionary Left that is able and willing to begin the Herculean task of confronting neoliberal capital, that hideous Medusa with a Yankee head and hideous snakes sprouting therefrom and slithering through each nation on the planet. It must develop a genuinely Anti-Capitalist program that can draw the lumpen behind its leadership through a comprehensive proletarian critique and attack on the War on Drugs, from its roots of mass economic dislocation to the crooked and wicked branches of police repression and systematic racism.

It must develop and remain steadfastly committed to Internationalism in the face of the terror of reactionary Anti-Imperialism on one hand and the militarized behemoth of national chauvinism on the other.

Our generation must urgently, immediately take up the task of rebuilding a revolutionary left, if not for high-minded humanitarianism then at least for the sake of basic survival and self-preservation. I have personally been deeply invested on unraveling the answer to this massive question. Sadly, I have no complete answer. I do, however, have some small and basic suggestions, borne out of a combination of study and personal experience. They are very limited and likely controversial. Nevertheless, I state them because I believe they are simple and correct and also clarify my position within the context of this project of rebuilding.

  1. Reams upon reams have been written attacking patriarchy and sexism. Obviously comprehensively taking up the issue is beyond the scope of this essay. I will make one clear point, however. Patriarchy in the form of political machismo is a lightning rod for perhaps well-meaning but ultimately irresponsible and destructive adventurism, and as such is also a lighting rod for the informant/provocateur. Taking up the fight against machismo and patriarchy must be a fundamentally central task of revolutionary struggle. This means combating the tendency to measure political tactics based on their intensity, thus reflecting the participant’s level of seriousness and commitment, as opposed to measuring tactics based solely on their objective political and strategic merits. Any position that elevates “action” as the supreme expression of revolutionary will while at the same time degrading theoretical work as cowardly hand-wringing much be relentlessly attacked as the chauvinist adventurism that it is. The alternative revolutionary position defending and advancing the position of the dynamic tension between theory and practice must prevail over irresponsible adventure driven by ego and insecurity.
  2. The task of confronting patriarchy becomes a political question of revolutionary security against State provocation and repression. Much as been written about “security culture” from a technical perspective, but very little from a political perspective. The reality is that political, which is to say theoretical, development must be the foundation of any technical application of security culture. All the vouching processes in the world can’t protect you if you make yourself vulnerable through political miscalculation. The State, as well as our generation’s low level of political development, will constantly send in disruptive elements into our project. There is, however, no easy way to tell the difference between the two, one a committed and implacable enemy and the other an immature element to be developed and won over to a practical revolutionary strategy. Clear, coherent, and consistent political arguments are the only effective way to separate the wheat from the chaff, winning over the genuine while isolating the destructive and dangerous.
  3. The capacity to develop those clear political arguments brings up the frequently uncomfortable, but no less critical, question of revolutionary leadership. Young and inexperienced militants always come into movements looking for leadership. When responsible revolutionary leadership is either unavailable or simply rejects its role as leader, this void is only too happy to be filled by the informant/provocateur. The issue of leadership becomes critical. The duty of healthy revolutionary leadership is not to drill dead political formulas into the heads of young “followers,” but to patiently help new militants develop the critical thinking skills to ultimately approach political questions in an independent, thoughtful, principled way. Responsible revolutionary leadership doesn’t reject its role outright, as though this mechanically and automatically removes the historical question of leadership. Responsible revolutionary leadership works to be self-negating by the consistent and systematic generalization of the skills and content of leadership.
  4. These previous suggestions only make sense in the context of developing a serious revolutionary organization. Organization is the only thing that can make the revolutionary project – and the need for security that accompanies it – stable, consistent, and efficiently reproduceable. Organization, while not eliminating the threat of informants completely, works to dramatically reduce their threat and eliminates the dangers of provocateurs. The question becomes a political question in an organizational context. Informants become a pivot of struggle between the State and the revolutionary organization. A quote from Lenin regarding a high level Bolshevik discovered to be a police informant:

    “Malinovsky was forced, in order to gain our confidence, to help us establish legal daily papers, which even under tsarism were able to wage a struggle against the Menshevik opportunism and to spread the fundamentals of Bolshevism in a suitably disguised form. While, with one hand, Malinovsky sent scores and scores of the finest Bolsheviks to penal servitude and death, he was obliged, with the other, to assist in the education of scores and scores of thousands of new Bolsheviks through the medium of the legal press.”

All this begs the question though, “Why deal with this? With the stress and repressions? I only have on life to live. Should I spend it burdened by political work and maybe even as a potentially hunted human being?”

This is the question that weighed on my mind as I lay on my prison bunk. For our generation, the question of revolution and being a revolutionary often feels abstract or even a little silly, like playacting. Little confronts us to dissuade us from this insecurity.

I was suddenly in a place where abstraction had suddenly materialized into concrete and steel. The question became urgently real, with very real consequences to whatever answer I chose. I spent no small amount of time meditating on the question.

The answer at which I arrived was that revolution itself was no metaphysical abstraction needing my belief to be real, like some deity above. Revolution is as real as gravity, an historical phenomenon placed squarely in front of us. It is an immanent component of all our daily lives, in the cost and type of food we eat, where we live, the debt we hold, the jobs we work, or what we are taught to believe. To be a revolutionary is to simply choose to take a hard look with clear eyes at the world, not as we wish it was but as it actually is, and then taking up the task of practically solving our problems. The common cliche is that reformists are the grounded realists and revolutionaries are idealists with their heads in the clouds is the exact opposite. Anyone who wants to simply tinker around the edges to solve today’s problems is truly a deluded Utopian.

The question that squarely faces our generation is plainly: “Revolution or Death.” To take up the task placed before us is to be fully, completely human and alive. To refuse it is simply to wait for death, not only as an individual but as a species entirely. I will close with one beautifully written quote by the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci:

“Give up to life your every action, every ounce of faith. Throw all your best energies, sincerely and disinterestedly, into life. Immerse yourself, living creatures that you are, in the live, pulsing tide of human existence, until you feel at one with it, until it floods through you, and you feel your individual personality as an atom within a body, a vibrating particle within a whole, a violin-string which receives and echoes all the symphonies of history; of that history which, in this way, you’re helping to create.”

Prison is a place where people struggle a lot with issues around purpose, death, life, loss, and spirituality. Though I consider myself an atheist, it is more a title of mourning than celebration, more a loss than a liberation. I know this isn’t something a “good” atheist is supposed to say, but to be honest, I’m a terrible atheist. I’m fine with that.

“I was lying in my cell tonight wondering what passion, love, laughter, etc. are and why we ave evolved these characteristics. I think they are ways for self-conscious creatures to cope with such a heavy burden. Anything that had to struggle with self-realization but couldn’t laugh or cry or love or be moved by beauty would off itself. It would just be too empty and pointless without these things. I think spirituality is the same thing. It is a way for us to cope with mortality, not by removing altogether the fear of death, but by creating a framework for life that makes death bearable, acceptable.

Faith is about life, not death.”

Prison is a pla…

Prisoner’s Vanguard

This was a piece I wrote inside with an eye towards using it to actively organize inside prison:

    With almost 2.5 million people incarcerated within the U.S., the crime epidemic is both shocking and undeniable. The Land of the Free has more of its citizens locked up per capita than any other Western nation, and perhaps even the world. The consequences – social, political, and economic – are far reaching.
    But why such an explosive boom in incarceration rates? Could it be because there is a sudden, inexplicable rise in “bad” people? Or could there be a logical, materialistic way of looking at it that can help expand our understanding of not just this increase in criminality but also shed some light on the way our whole society functions?
    To begin, it is important to understand the role of prisons in societies generally. Are they simply to keep the bad people away from the good? Well, maybe partially. After all, murder, rape,  and assault have pretty much always been illegal, right? But haven’t prisons also been used against people that, looking back now, had no business being incarcerated? Think of the heretics of the Spanish Inquisition or Soviet or Chinese dissidents. Surely we wouldn’t consider these people in the same thread as murderers, right? So what is it that murder and dissent, even non-violent dissent, have in common?
    Well, imagine any society that had people running around murdering and raping with no recourse to control that small segment of the population. People couldn’t go out for fear of attack, social trust would disintegrate, and the society would be completely destabilized.
    So now if we think of a repressive theocracy having heretics running all over questioning the power of God or the Pope, then we can start to see a common characteristic. The same is true with a one-party dictatorship. It simply must control dissent or it will become destabilized. Prisons exist to provide stability to the respective system in which they serve.
    If this is true, then the U.S. must have a huge destabilizing force working within it. What is it? Let’s look at the make-up of the prison population and try to find out.
    U.S. prisons are full of all kinds of people committing all kinds of crimes. There are, of course, violent criminals: murderers, rapists, and the like. These are “classic” criminals and, as we went over previously, would be tremendously destabilizing if not controlled. Now, whether prison or mental health would be the best ways of “controlling” these elements is a different, although very important, debate, but goes beyond the scope of this essay. The fact is, it has to be controlled one way or the other and prisons serve that job today.
    Our prisons also contain perpetrators of white collar crime: securities fraud, Ponzi schemes, and embezzlement. Even though we live in a capitalist system and many of these criminals are from the capitalist class, the rules that keep capitalism flowing can’t be broken. This would also destabilize our social system.
    But the great bulk of our prisons are filled with neither “purely” violent nor white collar criminals. Our prisons are primarily filled with drug-related and immigration-related criminals and the extreme majority of these are poor and working class people. Here we begin to hit at the heart of the matter. In a capitalist system, where the poor and working class are the most potentially destabilizing force through their own self-organization, prisons serve as a mechanism to control society by controlling the poor.
    Also, by looking at prison statistics, we can see that the working class isn’t one big blob that’s the same all the way through. It is divided. It is divided in many ways, but one of the deepest and most prominent, as well as being one of the most vital to understanding our situation, is race. This is reflected by the wildly lopsided incarceration of Black and Brown people in the United State. Though each group makes up a minority of the U.S. civilian population, both groups overwhelmingly fill out our prison ranks. This can only be explained two ways: either both Black and Brown people are genetically predisposed to commit crime or the institutions in our society are built around racism.
    Even though scientific, genetically-based racism has been thoroughly debunked by the 21st century, let’s quickly go over where science now stands on the issue. The fact is, genetic studies of humans have shown that there isn’t nearly enough genetic diversity to properly divide humans in to neat little racial groups and what diversity that does exist is spread broadly, not categorically. This means genetically and scientifically, no one can point to a specific genetic point and say, “This is where ‘Black’ begins and here is where it ends. Here is where ‘White’ begins and here is where it ends.” We just aren’t designed like that.
    What we call “races” are more accurately defined as “clinal variations.” Instead of sharp, defined categories, humans function on a gradient, like grayscale on a computer. Clinal variations are just characteristic changes in the same basic human model. Race is a social and historical creation, not a genetic one. All racial divisions are created by social forces and must be learned. They are not inherent to the human condition.
    This means the shocking difference in incarceration rates can only be explained by understanding our social institutions. We mentioned earlier that we live in a capitalist society and it is divided into the capitalist class – also known as the business class – and the working class. The whole history of our social institutions is the history of the struggle between these two classes, and between the divisions that exist within these classes, like race or gender. The business class is always trying to keep the working class under control, often through those racial or gender divisions, so they will always have workers to build roads, work in cubicles, wait tables, or raise the next generation of workers. This is how the capitalist class makes its profits and maintains itself from generation to generation.
    The working class is always trying to find ways out of this relationship. Slaves revolted, workers formed unions, students rebelled, and people of color marched, sat in, and took up arms. Sometimes the working class even formed its own organizations and parties that had total revolution of the system as their goal. But so far, the capitalist class has unfortunately found a way to hold them in it.
    Often, the way capitalists accomplish this is by using those divisions in the working class to work out a deal with part of it and brutally repressing the rest of it. A recent example of this, and one very relevant to understanding our prison system today, was the struggle for Black Liberation in the ’60s and ’70s.
    Before the Civil Rights struggle, Blacks were specifically and systematically oppressed by the law. This didn’t just hurt Black people, but also working class White and Brown people too. This is because the capitalist class used – and continues to use – racial alliances to create vertical alliances between the capitalist class and part of the working class. This gives one section, almost always the White section, a few more privileges than the rest of the class that isn’t White, but then prevents the working class from creating the important anti-racist alliances that strengthen the working class struggle to break out of capitalism.
    The Black community fought hard and bitter battles to end this legal oppression. The capitalist class, recognizing the powder keg on which it was sitting, ended the legal oppression but couldn’t end the over all social conditions that continued to cause the Black community to rebel. The creation of advanced technology in factories created higher unemployment rates overall, which more harshly affected the Black community. This is because the business class must provide Whites with the privilege of getting hired first and fired last in order to maintain the uneasy class alliance.
    Black people began to move towards a class conscious understanding of the racial situation in the United States. They build revolutionary organizations that were breaking the racial alliances between the classes and creating anti-racist working class alliances. By far the most popular example of this was the Black Panther Party. Strength to break out of the system was building rapidly.
    Since the capitalists couldn’t provide jobs that didn’t exist, it ahd to find a way to replace the wage in working class Black communities to break their rebellion. It also needed a way to destroy alliances and control Black people. Thus the War on Drugs and our modern prison system was born.
    Started officially under Nixon in the ’70s, it was dramatically escalated throughout the ’80s under the Reagan administration. Drugs served as the perfect solution to the business class’s problem Poor Black people stopped struggling for access to well-paying jobs the system couldn’t provide when their communities were flooded with highly destructive and addictive, but extremely lucrative, drugs. This broke the alliances that had developed within these communities and they collapsed into chaos and violence.
    Further, by harshly criminalizing these dangerous and destructive drugs, the potentially destabilizing force – the rebellious Black community specifically and the entire working class generally – could be more easily and dramatically controlled.
    The White working class, with its class allies in the Black community broken, couldn’t escape the attack the capitalist class turned on them. Throughout the ’90s, trade agreements around the world led to a further contraction in available work as even more high-paying manufacturing jobs were shipped out of the country, where labor is much cheaper. Meth began working its way into the White community in the same way crack destroyed the Black community, with the same highly criminalizing effects. Brutal violence and criminality began to take over poor White communities.
    With the flood of new cases in the legal system, a strategy to cope with them had to be devised. Sentences were dramatically ramped up to put pressure on defendants to sign plea deals and avoid trials. High mandatory minimums were assigned to drug crimes that are the hardest to beat, namely conspiracy. The “substantial assistance” statute, or 5k.1 in the Federal system, was made the only way to get below the harsh mandatory minimums, often 10 years for first time felons. This highly incentivized incriminating testimony, even false or embellished testimony, which only deepened the fractured relationships within the working class communities.
    By understanding prisons and the Drug War from an historical class perspective, we can understand not only why the system functions the way it does, but also some things we can do to fight against our current crisis. It’s important to understand that inmates need an organization to be strong. Many smart and capable people turn away from positive revolutionary struggle to negative, self-destructive activity like drug dealing or gang violence because they don’t feel they can do anything alone. And it’s true. Alone we are weak, but by organizing ourselves we can become strong.
    This is the purpose of Prisoner’s Vanguard: to help people turn away from self-destructive activity to positive revolutionary activity. Prisoner’s Vanguard wants to break the racial alliances that keep our captors strong and us locked in fruitless battles. It aims to build strong, positive class alliances within the U.S. prison system. Prisoner’s Vanguard wants to give prisoners the opportunity to gain knowledge and perspective that helps them struggle and fight against the conditions that keep them locked inside and struggling outside. Prisoner’s Vanguard aims to build revolutionaries that will transform the system that builds the prisons that destroy our communities, our families, and our lives. Nothing short of this will do.


i dream of bright blue skies like bright blue eyes,
dabbed with weightless cottonpuff sketchpads for the imagination,
of rolling green mattresses that make you
itch all over when you lie on them just so you know
they weren’t made for you.
it’s important to know none of it
was made for you

or cosmic dreams of
black construction paper flecked with countless glittering points,
shimmering blue and white and red so faintly
that you probably aren’t seeing them properly.
but if you stare deeply into the blackness,

through it,
all the way to the end of it,
don’t worry because
as that overwhelming sense of smallness washes over you,
insignificance envelopes you in its inescapable embrace.

let your breath escape
with a heaviness that
carries the weight of your burdens
because if you don’t matter,
none of it matters,
everything will be okay.
no matter what.

those dreams bear the fruit of Christmas-morning happiness.
dreams of undulating light gently lapping at wet toes,
held in earnest conversation with the wind in the trees.
it’s very good conversation because the wind never shouts.
it just murmurs its points quietly and moves on.

soon enough, dawn-crack morning light
will burn up these gossamer dreams.
i’ll be able to wake up to her bright blue eyes,
the bright blue skies, and philosophizing trees,
with these flat grey walls
fading away instead.

The Rupture of Value and the Crisis of Housing

This is a writing I found that had no title and only one out of eight pages. What I found though seems really interesting in light of the current development and the fact that I wrote this in ’09 at the latest. I was reading a lot of Cleaver and old Negri (Marx beyond Marx) at the time. I really wish I could find the rest of it:

    Within housing, we see the dialectical relationship between exchange and use value not as static unity but as dynamic struggle, class struggle. This dynamic struggle must be contained by capital through force, the State. During times of “stability,” capital’s command contains working class struggle over affordable housing through State planning – social spending – and to a lesser degree the police. However, when capitalism’s inherent crisis deepens to catastrophe, planning breaks down and violence becomes the primary means of control. In our current situation, the foreclosure rate is too high and grew too rapidly for the State to respond. The Obama administration is struggling to get a handle on the situation so planning can replace the police eviction.
    This rupture contains revolutionary possibilities because it is the explosion of the relationship between values and thus classes. A concerted effort of foreclosure resistance through popular civil disobedience seizes on the moment’s revolutionary potential by directly breaking capital’s forced domination of exchange value. It deconstructs capital’s economy and opens space for immediate economic reconstitution.
    These two parts of our overall strategy, deconstruction of capital’s economy and destabilizing capital’s political regime, bring forth the underlying logic within the working class of separation from capital. The logic of the working class is not to perfect or rationalize work, the imposed work of capital, but to abolish it. The goal of workers is to cease to be workers altogether. Only by abolishing work and with it capital can productive activity become redefined and reorganized under the principles of free association and democractic planning.

Introduction to The Dialectical Method


The word dialectic is closely related to the word dialogue. If you can imagine an argument or debate, then you can basically understand dialectics. To begin any argument, there must be a disagreement between two parties. In dialectics, this disagreement is called a “contradiction.” Contradictions are central to the dialectical method. In the same way a dialog is the method of understanding disagreements, dialectics is the method of understanding contradictions.
Just as a disagreement has two distinct sides, each contradiction has two sides as well. The primary, or positive, side of a contradiction is called the “thesis.” The thesis is the main idea or status quo. It contains within itself the inherent contradiction or contradictions which give rise to the second side of the process, the “antithesis.” As the name implies, the antithesis is the exact opposite of the thesis. Just like any argument, even the best argument, every thesis contains flaws and contradiction which are manifested in the antithesis.
But like any good dialog, there is a dynamic tension and force between these two sides. They are not static. So also like a dialog, the purpose of the dialectical method isn’t to remain frozen between two points, but to reach new conclusions. This new conclusion is called the “synthesis.”
The synthesis is like the agreement reached at the end of the argument. It takes the positive aspects of the thesis and resolves the contradictions of the antithesis, creating something better, higher, and more accurate. However, even this new conclusion will contain contradictions because nothing stands still. Thus, the synthesis becomes the new thesis and the whole process starts again. Now we can ultimately see that dialectics is the process of growth and development.

Dialectics is made up of three laws:

Law 1: The Law of Unity of Opposites
Law 2: The Law of Quantitative and Qualitative
Law 3: The Law of the Negation of the Negation

The Law of Unity of Opposites

This first law asserts that in any contradiction, the two sides are both the exact opposite of each other, as well as mutually dependent upon each other for existence. There can be no up without down. Good is meaningless except in relation to bad.
In our society, you can see this unified opposition in many different ways. One of the most common and fundamental can be seen in the relationship between business owners, or capitalists, and their employees, or workers. The interests of the capitalist is to work their employees the hardest and longest they can while paying them the least amount possible because this increases their profits. The interest interests of the worker are the exact opposite; to work as lightly and as little for the highest wages possible. Their interests are exactly opposite.
Yet in capitalism, capitalists need workers to do the work in their businesses and workers need capitalists to provide jobs. The survival of each is dependent on the other. Therefore, they are unified.
Another example can be found in the current economic crisis. Throughout the ’90s, there was a global economic boom that created billions and billions of dollars in more wealth, increasing what This American Life called the “Big Pool of Money.”
But there was a problem, a contradiction. The owners of all this newly created wealth needed somewhere to invest it, because A) they can’t put billions of dollars under their mattresses and B) they wanted to invest it so they could get a return on it.
The problem was, though, pretty much all the available investments had been taken. There was simply too much money and not enough investment opportunities.
So now we can see the opposites of too much and not enough and we can also see that each side of that is meaningless without the other. You can’t have too much unless you also have not enough. You can’t have too much hunger unless you have not enough food. You can’t have too much clothing unless you have not enough closet space. Now we can, in a real world example, the Law of Unity of Opposites.

The Law of Quantitative and Qualitative

The second law of dialectics is that of the relationship between quantitative change and qualitative transformation. While these two words may sound cumbersome, they are really quite straight forward. Quantitative means the quantity of a thing, such as how much, how many, or to what degree. Qualitative means the quality or nature of a thing.
As an example, imagine liquid water. If you heat it up, this is a quantitative change because it is just a change in the temperature. The quality of water remains liquid, at least to a point. Eventually though, the quantitative energy can’t be contained and there is a rapid jump in the nature of the water. It begins to boil and transform into a gas. This is a qualitative transformation. Quantitative changes are slow and build energy. Qualitative transformations are rapid and release that built up energy.
This law can also be demonstrated in the current financial crisis. The creation of more and more wealth was quantitative. Nothing fundamental changed nor was anything particularly new created. This went on, building energy as more and more wealth was created with fewer and fewer places to put it. Suddenly, there was a qualitative transformation: the creation of mortgaged-backed securities.
These new securities were created for the express purpose of finding new places to begin investing all that newly created wealth. Previously, mortgages were too big of a hassle for large investment banks to deal with. They were left mainly to smaller commercial and community banks.
The drying up of investment opportunities put tremendous pressure on the investment banks to create some type of solution. They found it by devising a way to buy up individual mortgages from the smaller banks and package them into securities. These securities were then sold as major investments with highly profitable returns. The problem had been solved with this qualitative transformation and energy was released as profits soared.
This is the law of quantitative change and qualitative transformation.

The Law of the Negation of the Negation

The third and final law of dialectics is the negation of the negation. This law in instrumental in understand dialectics as a process of development.
As stated earlier, the resolution of the contradiction between the thesis and the antithesis is called the synthesis. This synthesis, however, also contains inherent contradiction. Thus the synthesis becomes the thesis, which creates a new antithesis based on the new contradiction, which is resolved with a new synthesis. This is the negation of the negation. The synthesis is the negation of the first contradiction, which is then negated by the synthesis of the next contradiction.
The process is a cycle but it never arrives back at the point it began. It’s like a spiral with each resolution higher than the last. This is what makes dialectics developmental.
Imagine the seed of a plant. You plant it and it grows. When it is mature, it creates more seeds and then dies. This is the negation. The plant doesn’t just create one seed to replace the original though.. It creates many more seeds. So we see the original grows to become greater than itself. These many new seeds grow and create new plants, which negates the negation. These new plants create more seeds and process is repeated, creating more and more plants. It is a process of cyclical development.
This final law can be applied to the economic crisis as well. We already saw that mortgage-backed securities were the synthesis to the contradiction between too much wealth and not enough investments. But these new securities contained contradictions as well. To create them, there had to be enough individual mortgages to package up.
This wasn’t a problem at first and all the mortgages packaged up were the type backed by good credit. and responsible lending. These securities were so popular and profitable that banks began lending more mortgages in order to create more securities, creating a quantitative change in the number of mortgages and securities.
When the good mortgages had all been lent out, banks began issuing riskier and riskier ones. Before too long, you didn’t even need a job to get a mortgage. This wasn’t a problem as long as housing prices kept rising.
But we already know that nothing stands still and everything contains inherent contradictions. The problems started when houses kept being built but all the mortgages had been lent out and people began defaulting on bad mortgages. The contradiction became obvious that there were too many houses and not enough people to buy them.
Suddenly, housing prices plummeted. Banks began writing off billions in losses. Evictions ran at record numbers. The Dow dropped like a rock, erasing the record profits of the last decade in a matter of weeks. The Federal government, in concert with other governments around the world, had to intervene in their economies in ways never before seen. A qualitative transformation of the global financial system had begun. The negation was being negated.


Taken together, these three laws make up the basic method of the dialectical process. By understanding them, the dialectical analysis can be used like a tool in a tool box. Like any tool, it can’t be used for every problem, but if used properly then it can be key to understanding the interconnectedness and development of our social world. It is not mystical and cannot allow a person to see into the future. It is simply a logical process that allows a person to untangle the threads of the past and make the best decision in the present to move into the future.