Sunday, August 16, 2015

Just because you are right doesn't mean you are not stupid

"I don't give a fuck about the white gaze, I don't. I literally don't." -- Marissa Janae Johnson
"What's true about this moment is that it's not about the tactics. If you're caught up in tactics you're missing the point." -- Alicia Garza 
"Myself and Alicia in particular are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories." -- Patrisse Cullors (in response to an interview question citing a "loving critique" from Jalil Muntaqim)
"When I use Assata’s powerful demand in my organizing work, I always begin by sharing where it comes from, sharing about Assata’s significance to the Black Liberation Movement, what it’s political purpose and message is, and why it’s important in our context." -- Alicia Garza, "Herstory of Black Lives Matter"
"I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one." -- Assata Shakur
"The Black Liberation Army was formed after the repression began to come down on the Black Panther Party and people in the Party were seeing that there had to be a clear separation between military apparatus and aboveground apparatus and they were waiting on the leaders to make this decision. But by then, it seemed like the leaders had sold-out to get out of jail and for $600 apartments, such as Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, so that they weren’t interested in making decisions to save the movement. So that people began to take it on their own since they were the ones getting killed in the process, they were getting framed up and getting arrested and driven underground all around the country." -- Sundiata Acoli, trial testimony quoted in Unearthing the Underground: A study of radical activism in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, PhD dissertation by Gaidi Faraj
"The McGovern people were afraid that the Yippies were endorsing McGovern as a way of destroying him. We had to reassure them that no, this was really on the level, and then they said if you really want to help McGovern stay away." -- Stew Albert
"The fact that Abby [sic] Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Angela Davis, among others, support McGovern should be widely publicized and used at every point." -- Richard Nixon to John Mitchell  
"Assata's legacy represents a mandate to broaden and deepen anti-racist struggles." -- Angela Davis
The "broadening and deepening" of incarceration.
Sandwichman is not a true believer in the emancipatory efficacy of "revolutionary armed struggle." But setting aside my own idiosyncratic old, white, male weirdo populist economic determinism objections to adrenaline and testosterone-fueled adolescent action fantasies, I'm even more skeptical of political posturing that makes dog-whistle allusions to a legacy of armed resistance while denouncing armchair critics for being "caught up in tactics" and "missing the point."

Unless I am mistaken, the "point" of armed struggle has nothing to do with the audience "getting it."

Sandwichman, for one, hasn't miss any point. On the contrary, I find the profusion of points rather fascinating. Here's a few odd ones:

Naomi Klein:
That’s my hope for 2015. That we get off defense and put forward this very clear vision, bringing all of our movements together, because they are mobilizing in incredible ways. Some of you may have read the piece I wrote trying to connect the #BlackLivesMatter movement with the climate justice movement, because so much of what we are fighting for is based on the principle that black lives matter, that all lives matter. The way our governments are behaving in the face of the climate crisis actively discounts black and brown lives over white lives. It is an actively racist response to climate change that we should expose. I think we have to not be afraid to bust down these barriers if we really mean it when we say that if we’re going to change everything, it’s going to take everyone.
Peter Linebaugh:
As concerns Black Lives Matter and the movement, that so far, I think, this year 464 people have been killed by the police, this is sending force against people without trial by jury, not in accordance with the law of the land. And so, when Black Lives Matter began, after the—last August, after the killing of Michael Brown, many of us remembered that slavery itself came to an end thanks to Frederick Douglass’ references to Magna Carta. So Magna Carta has played a major role in American history in the freedom struggle led by former slaves and the African-American population. This is why Black Lives Matter is so important, not only against the racist power structure and the forms of white supremacy that exist in so many ruling institutions, but it’s also a recovery of this long tradition of struggling against sovereignty in the name of habeas corpus, trial by jury and prohibition of torture.
Fucking monomaniacs, eh? Sandwichman eagerly awaits the happy day when Black Lives Matter joins the struggle to eradicate the menace of the bogus "lump-of-labor fallacy" claim. 
"We believe that people should fuck all the time, anytime, whomever they want. This is not a program demand but a simple recognition of the reality around us." -- Abbie Hoffman, "Revolution towards a free society:Yippie!" manifesto, Chicago, 1968.


Thornton Hall said...

I don't really understand why you are digging in.

There is a lot going on here. What Naomi Klein is doing above is close to indefensible.

But "political posturing" is not morally bad in and of itself. And referencing "armed resistance" isn't the same as shooting people. In short, identifying these elements in Garza's statements is descriptive, but fails to actually offer a critique.

If I say Johnny Cash wore black and that I am therefore "skeptical", I haven't offered a critique, but rather, a non sequitur.

Sandwichman said...

"I don't really understand why you are digging in."

Perhaps because I'm not digging in? I am thinking out loud. You would be surprised.

What Naomi Klein says is indefensible, period. No "close" about it. But it is also symptomatic of the ambivalence of a critique that ends up "calling upon [the state] for protection from its own agents."

When I call bullshit on Garza and Cullors, it's not because I am defending the leftism Garza calls "weirdo populist economic determinism." It is because their superficial "alternative" amounts to a minstrel show Marxism-Leninism starring Black folks in blackface. In contrast, here is critique of "class-first leftism" (from "The Prison Slave as Hegemony's (Silent) Scandal" by Frank Wilderson) that I can get sink my teeth into:

"Capital was kick-started by the rape of the African continent, a phenomenon that is central to neither Gramsci nor Marx. … something about the Black body in and of itself made it the repository of the violence that was the slave trade. It would have been far easier and far more profitable to take the white underclass from along the riverbanks of England and Western Europe than to travel all the way to Africa for slaves.

"The theoretical importance of emphasizing this in the early 21st century is twofold. First, capital was kick-started by approaching a particular body (a black body) with direct relations of force, not by approaching a white body with variable capital. Thus, one could say that slavery is closer to capital's primal desire than is exploitation. It is a relation of terror as opposed to a relation of hegemony. Second, today, late capital is imposing a renaissance of this original desire, the direct relation of force, the despotism of the unwaged relation. This renaissance of slavery, i.e., the reconfiguration of the prison-industrial complex has, once again, as its structuring metaphor and primary target the Black body."


"The worker calls into question the legitimacy of productive practices, while the slave calls into question the legitimacy of productivity itself."

Sandwichman said...

Or consider this from "The Avant-garde of White Supremacy," by Steve Martinot and Jared Sexton:

"To the police, a wallet in the hand of black man is a gun whereas that same wallet in the hand of a white man is just a wallet. A cell phone in the hands of a black woman is a gun; that same phone in a white woman’s hand is a cell phone.

"There were local movements in each of these cities to protest acts of police murder and in each case the respective city governments were solicited to take appropriate action. Under conventional definitions of the government, we seem to be restricted to calling upon it for protection from its own agents. But what are we doing when we demonstrate against police brutality, and find ourselves tacitly calling upon the government to help us do so? These notions of the state as the arbiter of justice and the police as the unaccountable arbiters of lethal violence are two sides of the same coin. Narrow understandings of mere racism are proving themselves impoverished because they cannot see this fundamental relationship. What is needed is the development of a radical critique of the structure of the coin.

"There are two possibilities: first, police violence is a deviation from the rules governing police procedures in general. Second, these various forms of violence (e.g., racial profiling, street murders, terrorism) are the rule itself as standard operation procedure. For instance, when the protest movements made public statements they expressed an understanding of police violence as the rule of the day and not as a shocking exception. However, when it came time to formulate practical proposals to change the fundamental nature of policing, all they could come up with concretely were more oversight committees, litigation, and civilian review boards ('with teeth'), none of which lived up to the collective intuition about what the police were actually doing."

Now we are cooking with gas!

Sandwichman said...

And particularly, this:

Interviewer: The antagonism according to the Marxists is that between capitalist and worker. Would you agree that the central antagonism in social relations, in political relations, is between capitalist on one side and worker on the other?

Wilderson: No. All of my work is an interrogation of that assumptive logic. I am sometimes understood to be saying that I have left Marxism. I am sometimes understood to be saying that the cognitive map that Marx gives us should be thrown out. That’s not what I’m saying. How do you throw out a cognitive map that explains political economy so well? What I am saying is that in Das Kapital Vol.1, Marx has two opportunities to think through the relation between the slave and everyone else. And each of those opportunities presents him with a paradox, a conundrum, and instead of meditating on that, he bounces off of that and continues to posit that the world is out of joint because there is a dichotomy between haves and have-nots. There’s a dichotomy between those who accumulate capital and those who work for a wage. What I am saying is his kind of hit on the slave, and then bouncing off of that, or disavowal of the nature of the slave relation is symptomatic of the problems of political organizing and political thought on the Left.

(via, March 2015) said...


Count me with Thornton as becoming confused about this set of threads that initially provided some interesting historical details, some of which I had known. But where this is going, or, to be more precise, where it is at, I am very unclear.

So, everybody you talk about seems to be a bad guy: current leaders of the Black Lives Matter group for having the temerity to say they are "trained Marxists," (or at least one of them); the Black Liberation Army for dissing earlier leaders of the Black Panther party for "selling out to get out of jail,"; those leaders (Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and one other, forget who) for selling out; black power leaders at SNCC for expelling whites (sort of like current attitudes of BLM?); whites who were expelled, especially the self-promoting Abbie Hoffman, and, well, I am beginning to lose track. Are all of these people just despicable dogs who should start repeating your views about the lump of labor fallacy?

So, we have at least three people not mentioned who might have been, and I guess maybe that they are good guys. Is this right, S-man. One is Bernie Sanders, whom the Black Lives Matter folks have disrupted recently. Curiously today he has come under criticism for bungled communications with them, one of his assistants apologizing for his behavior with him and them him disagreeing with his assistant. I don't know what is up with this or what you think of it, although it does not exactly make him look like he is ready for prime time, much as I respect his views.

The other two missing persons are two of the co-founders of SNCC, one of them just dead, Julian Bond, who had his problems, but is very widely respected and being praised now at this time of his death. Is he guilty of any of the bad behavior at SNCC? (I think he got out of there before that, but I am not sure). The other is Congressman John Lewis of GA, who had a bitter primary fight with Bond in 1986 that he won, leading to him holding the congressional seat that he holds to this day. He has praised Bond on his death, saying that they made up, and the evidence is there that they did. He is sort of untouchable, very close to ML King, as was Bond, and beaten at the Selma bridge crossing to achieve voting righgts a half century ago.

So, maybe they are good guys, and all the people you actually mentioned are loser bozos we should all have contempt for? Really, S-man, I am not sure what the message is here in all this. said...

Oh, and I think I disagree with both you and Thornton about Naomi Klein's posted remarks. I am not a big fan of hers and view her as way overrated, sort of the Left's equivalent of Amity Shlaes, who also sells lots of books and gets lots of attention, but regularly is wrong about crucial stuff.

Ok so this is sort of half-baked political posturing, but it is true that poor African-Americans regularly are victims of pollution in the US more than other groups. Her basis storyline is correct, even if her political strategy is somewhat confused and bungled, or perhaps you are down on her because she takes BLM seriously rather than giving them some speech about how they are awful because some of their leaders somehow descend intellectually/politically from a-holes who removed white a-holes from SNCC a half century ago.

Denis Drew said...

I'm a trained -- or at least indoctrinated -- Jimmy Hoffa-ist.

These days I’m putting the riots in Ferguson and other places down to what I call Lilliputian law enforcement. Not for killing who must have been one of the craziest police assaulters on record – but for telling him and others not to walk down the middle of the street on their on suburban back block and like purposeless intrusions – multiplied ten thousand and one. In New York they call it Broken Windows policing. Zombies with ticket books driving everyone to distraction (can’t cross between NYC subway cars anymore). Black everyday lives matter most (Lilliputians may be coming to your multi-color neighborhood – cops getting fussy about riding wrong way on one-way street lately?).

Getting everyone on the same economic plane would probably heal the divisions most practicably — identify too much with each other.

Takes a powerful economic urge to put 100,000 Chicago youth in street gangs out of my guesstimate something like 200,000 gang age, minority males. (Al Capone would drool.) Where have all the American born taxi drivers (like me) gone? Did we inhale too many leaded gas fumes for too long (starting 1976 in the Bronx for me) until we quit and went Zombie?

Or is American born labor of all colors simply unwilling to work for sub-LBJ minimum wages? (Chicago’s meter now 50 cents a mile lower than when I started in 1981, subways built to both airports, unlimited limos opened -- and -- 40% more cabs added.)

To end street gang violence (and the bulk or other street crime) we have to go in the opposite policing direction in the American so-called labor market: make something that is not even a ticket now into a big, big felony: union busting.

Forcing employees to bargain only on their worth compared to other employees — as in today’s American market cul-de-sac — rather than testing labor’s worth to the ultimate paymaster, the consumer, via an effective ability to withhold labor for its best price is the most unfair of all predatory economic pratices.

State violations would invoke federal RICO prosecution (33 states have their own RICO statutes).

Denis Drew said...

correction: should have said "riding a _bicycle_ the wrong way on a one way street" :-(

Thornton Hall said...

I think the key word in the diss that got this started is "deterministic". Marx, like Neoclassicals, imagines a mechanical economic world. The reductio ad absurdum is to point out that a mechanical system is necessarily (and inescapably) deterministic. And while--as an intellectual matter--I'm an agnostic re: free will, my economic existence certainly doesn't feel predetermined.

But such a broad critique is easily waved away as not sufficiently well-read in the Marxist canon. And so the battle goes into the weeds. This exactly parallels the fights over Neoclassical economics as well. The problem--forcing Newtonian science to describe a totally un-mechanical system--is so straight forward and obvious that condescending hand-waving accompanied by very difficult math can quickly succeed in raising an endless and pointless debate about the details.

"Capital" as an animate object does not exist. Even if it did exist it would not "act" on white or black bodies in a uniform and consistent manner that could be described intelligently in a sentence or even a paragraph.

#BLM has come to the conclusion that many self-defined lefties cannot be reasoned out of their insistence on understanding the murder of Eric Garner as an economic act, the murdet of Trayvon Martin as the product of economic conditions, and the plight of black men and women stamped with the enduring badge of slavery as somehow an argument for a carbon tax.

So they have decided to bang your head against the curb a few times while ordering you to stop resisting. You're not supposed to get it. You are supposed to say "uncle", then take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth, just temporarily, so we can pause for a moment and make sure everyone is totally clear on one basic thing; white people do not know how it feels to be black, they will never know, and whenever it comes up in future discussions they should, again STFU.

john c. halasz said...

Thornton Hall:

You're confabulating again. While it's true that "neo-classical" economics has often justly been accused of "physics envy", (and I think the whole enterprise is confused about systemically derived structural constraints and actual physical causality), not all neo-classicals were or are so confused. Alfred Marshall, for instance, rejected Walras' mathematical equilibrium as so much Cartesian nonsense, and rejected physical analogies in favor of evolutionary biological ones. In fact, his recommendation was to do the math first, then erase it, and articulate the result in clear conceptual and descriptive prose.

As to Marx, well, there this thing called "dialectics". While it's true that many strands of Marxism claiming allegiance to the great grey beard hisself, adopted a mechanistic-deterministic economic reductionism, it's not likely that any full warrant could be found for such an interpretation in Marx' writings themselves, even if they contained various lacunae. (Whether Marx misunderstood Hegel in adopting his conceptual-reflective method, by simply declaring his own version "materialist" is another matter).

I myself think that there is something off in Sandwichman's musings here. But I think that what he is sensing is that there is an exercise in po-mo synthetic ideology going on here, (making a hash out of a hash-tag), which obviously only the college-educated would be able to access or even understand, rather than any street-level organizing discourse, in its own terms. Rather than any historically informed and trenchant socio-structural analysis and criticism, with practical import.

Sandwichman said...


1. Bernie Sanders is ABH. I don't know that there is a lot to say other than that. I am not of the opinion that the Democratic Party is redeemable. That makes him the lesser of the lesser evils?

2. When people assume leadership roles, conduct or condone public actions and spend a good portion of their biography criticizing folks who "just don't get it," they should have something substantial to say for themselves. It doesn't mean they are "bad people" if they don't. It just means they are not prepared. They are not taking their self-appointed importance seriously.

3. I don't feel like I was dissing SNCC. I was talking about organizational conflicts they were documented to have had.

4. Abbie Hoffman was an asshole. He was a sometimes entertaining asshole who presumably meant well some of the time.


I see you haven't read and considered my previous replies. If what you wrote is intended as a defence of #BLM analysis and tactics all I can say is with allies like you, they won't need enemies.

john c.,

I don't have the answer. I'm searching for it. I think I have found a GOOD analysis that won't be to everyone's liking. What I am trying to say is this is HARD, unrewarding stuff -- as in there are no pots of gold at the end of the critical rainbow. No pots of gold. But we have to go there anyway.

Sandwichman said...

Thornton Hall: "So they have decided to bang your head against the curb a few times while ordering you to stop resisting."

Which would be fine with me if they didn't at the same time grant an exemption to Madam Clinton. Glen Ford makes this much clearer than I could. “The strategy – if one could dignify it as such – is inherently impotent.”

"It is painfully evident from the video of last week’s meeting between a #BlackLivesMatter delegation and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that the organization is philosophically incapable of making demands on the political representatives of the rulers of the United States. #BLM’s leadership is either confused as to the nature of political demands, or has decided to reject the most fundamental lessons of mass movement politics – indeed, of human social dynamics. Political movements are defined by their core demands. The video of #BLM’s closed-door encounter with Clinton in New Hampshire, August 11 – after the five activists had been prevented from attending and, presumably, disrupting her campaign event – should become a staple for future political education classes on what happens when would-be movement operatives enter the lion’s den unarmed with political demands: they are humiliated and eaten alive."

Thornton Hall said...

I think even Frederick Douglass went through a couple of learning experiences.

Thornton Hall said...

The "physics envy" reply is a standard Neo-Liberal defense mechanism that limits the critique in the same way that "politics of envy" misrepresents and limits points about inequality.

And you are far better at the taxonomy than I will ever be. Please hunt me down if I ever use "ordo-liberal" in a sentence. Whatever you want to call it, it's still wrong.

Another defense mechanism is "We've got a sub discipline for that!" You see it all the time. Rational choice is wrong? No we have economists who study emotion's role in decision-making! We have economists who... Study dis-equilibrium... Study complex systems... Incorporate Darwin.

And yet... Nothing changes. Equilibrium, markets that clear, supply and demand, rational actors (with or without bounds), cost benefit analysis, probabilistic reality, yada, yada, yada... It's all still the core and it's worse than useless.

Thornton Hall said...

After BRs comment I made a general comment about the series of posts, not your addl comments which I did read and are far more interesting and sensible than any of the actual posts.

But if you feel the Democrats are irredeemable... well, the academy is the right place for you... Out here among the living there is work to be done.

Thornton Hall said...

By the by, after reading Cornell West in a NYT op-ed interview that substitutes jargon and metaphor for analysis.

Once you wander into the world of radical left wing politics there are all sorts of special words that one must use and these words must be used correctly or else they lose their specialness. You can't just use "praxis" in a sentence because it sounds good!

Shorter SMan to West and #BLM; "This is why we can't have nice things!"

Thornton Hall said...

Here's the fact that needs explaining: no one since Keynes has said anything true about the reality of the sub-section of human social organization known as economics and been credited with "doing good economics".

Such a state might obtain. For several decades in an otherwise healthy science. Dietary fat and cholesterol do not affect heart disease in the vast majority of people. But that's getting corrected.

The issue is a near century of wrongness. The only hypothesis that fits the facts: all the critiques of the dominant paradigm fail to attack the foundational problems because they share the same wrong foundations.

As Halasz puts it: so much Cartesian nonsense. Capital does this. Capital does that. It's like saying China is Confuscian and then predicting foreign relations as the billiard ball of Confuscianism colliding with the ball of American Entrepenuerialism and then insisting that anybody who thinks that the interaction will change the meaning of both Confisianism and Entrepenuerialism as insufficiently well read.

Human social organization is not mechanical. The process you are studying changes the meaning of the words you have slapped on your subjects. No wonder why the internicene debates like the one S-Man is having with the #BLM Marxists break out: the passage of time guarantees they talk past each other as words change their meaning.

Thornton Hall said...

Yes. I realize that's a dialectic. But no, I don't think citing chapter and verse on that subject actually clears Marxism of the charge of mechanical analysis.

Sandwichman said...


My objection to the critique of Marxism as "mechanical" is that it is BOTH superficial and over-generalized. There is no generic Marxism any more than there is a generic animal or fruit. There are only cats and dogs and apples and bananas, etc. A more fundamental critique of Marxisms is that they invest in the magical thinking of narrative -- they make (fictive) sense of what is fundamentally devoid of meaning. This flaw Marxism shares with all enlightenment discourses. In reality, we're fucked. Is there nothing we can do about it? Two things: imagine and forget.

But we must never forget that we re imagining and we must never imagine that we are not forgetting.

Thornton Hall said...

I appreciate the response. It's thoughtful, but it's also a bit of a dodge. From a historical perspective, lots of stuff is still fucked b/c of the the Enlightenment belief that Newton paved the way to make an "ology" out of everything. Political science uses Newtonian optics as a model for politics, and then is surprised to learn that hating black people and liking free trade agreements are not related like violet and blue. Trump can jumble them all up in total violation of everything we know about light refracted thru a prism.

But some fields are not stuck. Darwin broke free and established a totally different way to think. Economists seem to imagine that biology can be reduced to physics, but it's simply not the case. One must choose Darwin or Newton, and if you choose wrongly then you become Sam Brownback.

The truly bizarre are people like rosserbj see this, correctly apply Darwin, and then say, "But the rest of it is surely Newtonian like you say, Romer."

Enlightenment or "we're fucked" is a false choice. The fact that the press is reporting the police murder of black people, after 50 years of silence rationalized thru their Newtonian notion of "objectivity" which could be achieved by a room of nothing but college educated (therefore mostly rich) white men, is a sure sign that some of the wrongness of the Enlightenment can still be corrected.