Skip to main content


Showing posts from December, 2013

Socialism from Behind

When Hal Draper's theory of socialism from below  was first becoming popular amongst post-Trotskyist circles in Toronto––circles that, at one time, defined what was fashionable amongst the marxist left––there were some queer socialists connected to these circles who joked that they were more interested in socialism from behind .  While this joke might, at first glance, appear to be an unserious rejection of a theoretical province, it contained a kernel of critique: there was little reason to be interested in a theory, regardless of its rhetorical force, that was utterly unremarkable when it came to the concerns raised by the non-marxist anti-oppression discourses.  After decades of feminist, anti-racist, and queer theory, therefore, how did Draper's insights really matter?  Simply put: they did not. And yet the rhetorical force of the slogan socialism from below  is compelling.  After all, many of us indeed want a bottom-up socialism that, while retaining key aspects of Lenin

Argh! Lifestyle Consumerist Politics!

My first experience with actual activism, just when I was deciding I was an anarchist and trying to figure out what that meant, was in an organization that equated political radicalism with anti-consumerism.  This was precisely what Murray Bookchin, who I would later come to love in the twilight years of my anarchism, would have deemed lifestyle anarchism  but at the time I was just a kid who wanted to make a difference and this kind of politics appeared compelling.  Specifically, I was part of "Students Against Sweat Shops" (or SASS because it was so sassy !) that, without any analysis of imperialism, treated the problem of the export of capital as something that could be defeated by fair trade policies and a refusal to buy sweat shop made commodities.  Although I eventually grew up and quit being even a mature anarchist, apparently so many others remain trapped at this stage of infantile anti-consumerism.  This kind of politics is possibly endearing when it is practiced by

Once Again: on trade unionism and economism

In numerous past posts I've discussed the limitations of the trade union movement in Canada and the need for communists to avoid a political strategy that is primarily based on trade unionism.  Based on discussions with friends and comrades, however, I feel that it is important to clarify the meaning of this position because it is often misunderstood, intentionally or unintentionally, as a form of anti-union ultra-leftism rather than an important strategic clarification.  The problem with trade unionism articulated by myself and the Maoist groups I support should not be conceived as a bland anti-unionism––or even some vague and anarchist rejection of "union bureaucracy"––but a critique of economism and, in this critique, an extension of Lenin's distinction between trade union and revolutionary consciousness. Having come from the trade union movement, and having spent years working as an anti-capitalist within a union, there is a part of me that cannot help but r

Obituary: Nelson Mandela

It is somewhat ironic to read all of the liberal media obituaries that are praising Nelson Mandela when, at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, many of these same media sites were castigating the ANC for its violence and supporting apartheid.  There are, of course, those honestly reactionary news sites that are still attacking Mandela as a "communist" who redistributed the land and property of hard-working white Afrikaaners (a strange claim considering that only 7% of land was redistributed and the vast majority of Afrikaaners kept their colonial property post-apartheid), but this kind of openly racist defense of apartheid, common in the 1980s, is now considered bad form. Mandela's death should leave us with conflicted feelings.  On the one hand, there is the undeniable fact that he was the leader and figurehead of a revolutionary anti-colonial movement aimed at smashing South Africa's apartheid state: this Mandela argued for revolutionary violence, land refo

From the Anticolonial to the Decolonial

In 1981 A.M. Babu wrote African Socialism or Socialist Africa , an attack on the cultural nationalism promoted by Julius Nyerere.  Leading ideologue of Umma, the revolutionary organization that led the decolonization of Zanzibar, Babu had good reason to write this polemic; Nyerere's ujamaa  movement had, by 1964, annexed Zanzibar into Tanzania, liquidated Umma, and smashed the socialist initiatives post-colonial Zanzibar had taken.  Rejecting the ideology of "African Socialism", which argued that African culture was essentially socialist and so the key to a successful post-colonial state would be a return to an authentic past, Babu sided with Fanon and other anti-colonial theorists who argued that cultural nationalism was a "pit-fall" that could never produce socialism. We know now, thanks to Amrit Wilson's recent book , that Nyerere's annexation of Zanzibar, and subsequent crushing of Umma, was directed by the CIA.  The consummate "African Soci