The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

15 February 2017
by skzb

Anarchism and Communism

A comrade—or perhaps I should say a “fellow worker”— on Facebook asked a series of excellent questions about the differences between anarchism and communism.  I thought the questions were good enough to deserve their own post.  There is nothing academic about this issue.  Trumpism is creating both outrage and disorientation.  We’re seeing mass protests triggered by Trump’s reactionary, racist, anti-immigrant anti-working class policies; we’re seeing the Democrats attempt to turn all of this outrage into support for war drives against Russia; we’re seeing anarchist groups—maybe led by provocateurs, maybe not—attempt to substitute themselves for the masses by committing individual acts of violence.  We need to ask: what is our end game?  What are we fighting for?  A President Pence?  Raise your hand if you think that’s a good idea.  Back to the attacks on living standards and human rights, and the wars of the last 16 years, that put us into a position where a Trump could win an election?  Even if possible, that would only create conditions for a Trump v2, which would be worse.

If our goal is, as I think it should be, the revolutionary reconstruction of society based on human need rather than individual profit, then it is worth taking some time to look at where we’re trying go, and to me, the questions I was asked strike to the heart of that.  So, let’s begin:

Isn’t “true” communism ultimately a state-less organization of cooperative and planned labor and distribution, without coercement or, again, the state?
IF this premise is correct (and again, please correct me), then how is this fundamentally different from a form of anarchism?

Yes, that is fundamentally correct.  The difference is this: Marxists believe that, as the state exists to protect property, capitalist property relations must be destroyed first; efforts to destroy the state while capitalist property relations still exist strike me as implausible—which is to say, I don’t know how anyone would go about it—and catastrophic if it were to happen. While capitalists still have their wealth and privileges (ie, property) they would simply use these to secure the armed forces to protect them, which is, in essence, the state. Whereas once the mechanisms of the state (military, police, jails &c) are in the hands of the working class, these mechanisms can be used to enforce the expropriation and to protect the working class from counter-revolution.

You might argue that, in the first case, the armed masses themselves would prevent counter-revolution. But this requires organization, and once you have organized armed bodies prepared to do violence over property rights, you have—the state.

Also, in my understanding, socialism is a mid-point in the path toward communism, right? Where the state still exists but is truly of, by, for the people/laborers?

That is also my understanding, yes.

If it’s the function of ownership protection, except instead of protecting the capitalists’ ownership but rather the proletariats’ ownership, then, isn’t the belief it’ll “whither away” naive? Because state involves power, and no one ever allows their power to just be voted away. Is this where “permanent revolution” comes in? (Seriously asking, here.)

The state exists to enforce property rights on behalf of a definite social class. When property is in the hands of the working class, it exists to protect those rights and prevent capitalist restoration. But what happens later, when there are no capitalists? When everyone is working class, no one is working class; and if there are no classes, then there is no one for the state to protect property from. Why, then, would it continue to exist? Certainly, some forms of organization must still exist, because we live in a complex society that requires coordination; indeed, this ability to planfully coordinate the economy in the interests of all is one of the strengths of communism. But I can think of no reason why this coordination would require armed force, or coercion of any kind.

Does that answer your questions?

10 February 2017
by skzb

Rant: Germany, Nazis, Historical Ignorance

Rant on

You never know what Twitter will do with a casual remark.  Yesterday, just because it was on my mind, I tweeted this: 

My favorite line from Captain America: “People forget that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own.” 

I guess it struck a chord, because it kind of took off; it seems other people had been thinking the same thing.  But the part of that quote that gets the emphasis in my head is, “People forget.”

And, sure enough, someone had to jump in with a comment to the effect that the quote seemed to excuse the Germans.  And there you have it: historical ignorance in the service of reaction.   It does not seem to matter to this person that “the Germans” were divided into classes, a petty bourgeoisie and a lumpen-proletariat that rushed to Hitler’s banner, a bourgeoisie that financially supported him, and proletarians that were prepared for any sacrifice to stop him.  It doesn’t matter to this person that many of these Germans whom he wishes not to be “excused” were heroic fighters, waiting by the millions for a signal from the Social Democrats (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) or the Communist Party ( Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands)—a signal that didn’t come until it was too late.  But yes, blame “the Germans.”   It doesn’t matter that Hitler was so hated by the working class that, as late as 1936 there were major industrial cities he didn’t dare enter, because they couldn’t guarantee his safety.  Hell, it doesn’t seem to matter to this person that many of these Germans were Jewish!  They were Germans, and let us, by all means, not excuse them.

If there is no scientific understanding of the class basis of Nazism, if we view racism and xenophobia apart from the class interests they serve, if we do not think things through, we will find no way forward.

Fascism: What it is, How to Fight it

What is National Socialism?

Rant off


4 February 2017
by skzb

Guest Post by C’helle Egalite Griffin: Trump Didn’t Fall From the Sky

A comrade posted this on Facebook, and I believe it deserves a wider audience.  I reprint it here with permission of the author.

Trump is malignant. He is repellent. He absolutely must be fought. But no one ever just wakes up to a phenomenon like Trump. And if we had, we could take him out with the force of the Constitution.

That’s not what happened, though. Trump did not materialize in a vacuum, hermetically sealed from social forces and fed upon the ignorance of the working class (and even if that were true–it doesn’t answer to why workers might be ignorant).

That’s not the way we got stuck with him. He is here because both the GOP and the DNC knew that we, the people, were turning sharply left in the face of their coordinated assaults upon our standard of living. They knew we were sick of their covert wars, their spying, their lying, and the austerity that underwrote all of that. And they sent out their antennae to see how far leftward we might go, and how far rightward they could force us to go.

The Democrats accomplished this reconnaissance and recovery by using Sanders and his faintly socialist sloganeering. He ended up being far more popular than they expected, and instead of gathering voters back into the fold for Clinton, the end of his candidacy propelled many of his supporters out of the democrats’ orbit for good.

At the same time, Trump was used to see how far rightward people would go. And the DNC dismissed him as a clown, as did the Republicans. They didn’t bank upon the wide swathes of ruined petty bourgeois (or scared petty bourgeois) who would vote for him. They didn’t bank upon members of the ruling class gathering behind him in favor of his tactics and war plans, which, while different, were not significantly so from the DNC’s.

No one banked, with such a heated campaign cycle, upon a vote of no confidence from the majority of the populace, who refused to vote on the shinier of two turds.

And that “apathy,” if you want to call it that (you’d be wrong), was earned. It was earned by a quarter century of war, under Bush v1, which increased in pitch and scope by leaps with each successive administration—Clinton, Bush v2, Obama. Each administration expanded upon executive privilege. Each administration expanded upon military operations. Each went ever deeper into the realm of deep state tactics of domestic spying, covert military operations, and regime change. Each went a few steps farther in the total annihilation of Constitutional guarantees.

And finally—with our last president, a Constitutional scholar, No less—We went into the realm of kill lists, the realm of extrajudicial assassination of US citizens. With each successive administration, there has been less spent upon infrastructure, healthcare, nutritional programs, and education. With each successive administration, There has been more spent upon warfare, surveillance, and various stock market bubbles.

We didn’t just wake up one day to a tyrant. I will not sit here, knowing fully well that we did not, and feign surprise. I will not sit here, after poring over the Constitution passionately my whole life, and say that this is an anomaly that cannot be understood. And I certainly will not defend those who helped bring us here. Whatever side of the aisle they sit on in the legislature, they were not there to watch out for your rights or mine, and while I may not be significant or important, i can nevertheless refuse to sign my name to a lie wherein they did.

We do need unity at this time, but it has to be a unity based upon facts. It cannot be the false unity of the DNC. They have failed us too many times. The New Deal is gone with the wind, it is not coming back. They can produce no deus ex machina: they will only send another shyster up through the hell mouth to mislead and misdirect.

There is a sense in which that ridiculous meme, wherein Obama switches off the lights in the White House only for the entire nation to go dark, is absolutely correct. As long as you remember that he has been, like his predecessors, steadily dimming the lights on our rights and our culture for years, leading us to our current state. Rome didn’t fall in a day. The Dark Ages didn’t represent a sudden shadowing over the lights of the classical age. And we didn’t just wake up one morning to Tyranny.


C’helle Egalite Griffin is a writer and mother in the Deep South of the United States

2 February 2017
by skzb

A Statement On Yiannopoulos and the Berkeley Protests

To judge from my social media feeds, the protests at Berkeley that prevented white supremacist neo-fascist Milo Yiannopoulos from holding a rally have led to a lot of confusion and disorientation.  Here is my view:

I unconditionally defend the legal right of Yiannopoulos to speak, and Berkeley’s right to give him a platform.

I unconditionally defend the right of protesters to shut him down, drown him out, and interfere with his ability to spread his filth. Arguments that protesting against him “gives him attention” are bunk: every rally he is permitted to speak at gains him forces among the despairing, especially among the most frightened elements of the petty bourgeoisie.

I believe making these protests violent, at this stage of the struggle, does nothing more than open us up to police attacks and provocateurs, and so is ultimately reactionary, however well-intentioned are those engaging in it.

I’ve said before that freedom of speech is an important right, gained in the struggle against autocracy, and must be defended; we must never, ever, appeal to the courts or the laws or corporations to silence our enemies for us. But freedom of speech is not a magical principle that somehow exists apart from the class struggle. To fetishize it, to view it as separate from the fight of contending classes, to raise it above society, is philosophical idealism at its most destructive. The ideas of Yiannopoulos reflect material forces, and are used to rally and organize those forces. In this fight, they have the guns, the courts, the jails, the major media; we have our social position as the creators of all wealth, and our numbers.

When you say, “But if you have the right to use mass action to shut him up, doesn’t he have the right to use mass action to shut you up?” I say, yes, he has that right. Bring it on. At that point it becomes a test of strength, and I have confidence in our strength.

The desire to shut up Yiannopoulos is entirely healthy, and I salute the protesters who did so.

Such protests, however, are inherently limited. To move forward from here requires more than outrage, and even more than a willingness to take to the streets; it takes a perspective, a scientific understanding of the social forces at work, and a clear notion of where we’re going. The spread of overt fascism, along with the actions of the Trump regime and the cowardly caving in of the Democratic Party, whose leaders are rarely even making a token resistance, is a clear signal that we need to prepare to carry this fight through to the end, and that means building a leadership within the working class to fight under a revolutionary socialist program.

30 January 2017
by skzb

The Mythical Trump Voter

Please note that when I say “you” in the following remarks, I mean only some of you, and I’m pretty sure you know who you are.

Facebook has been full of memes and comments about the evilness of the Trump voter, generally taking the form, “Why should I be kind to them?” as if deciding whether or not to “be kind” were a finished political position.

In my opinion, social class determines interest, and in the long run is far more significant in every way that matters than what someone is thinking at any given moment; revolutions have more far-reaching effects than elections.  But, hey, let’s forget that; let’s pretend that what people are thinking is the key determining factor.  I’ll play that game with you.

So, what is the thinking of those who voted for Secretary Clinton?  To even ask the question in that way is hopeless.  We all know very well that those who filled in that box and pulled those levers were all over the map in terms of why they did so.

“She has advocated policies that I believe to be good.”
“Whatever happens, having a woman in the White House will be a step forward.”
“Trump has threatened to target groups I care deeply about.”
“I’ve voted Democrat all my life, and I’m not changing now.”
“She is obviously more competent than Trump, and as a Patriotic American, I value competence.”
“I can’t vote for a climate change denier.”
“Trump is too irresponsible to be permitted access to nuclear codes.”
“I’d love to vote for Trump because he recognizes my problems, but he’s such a bigoted asshole I just can’t.”
“Yes, she has committed terrible human rights violations, but Trump will commit those same acts plus worse.”
“My hamster would do less damage than Trump, and is smarter and has more integrity.”
“She will continue the policies of President Obama and I approve of those policies.”
“She will continue the policies of President Obama but I’m voting for her anyway because Reasons.”
“The Supreme Court; ’nuff said.”
“Bernie promised that she will do something about income disparity.”
“One’s corrupt, the other personifies corruption. Guess I’ll go with the corrupt.”
“I’ve hated every Trump supporter I’ve ever met.”
“I’ve hated every Trump supporter I’ve ever met even though I’ve never met one.”
“I hate her, but Bernie said it’s important to vote for her, and that’s good enough for me.”
“Russia has been The Enemy since I was a kid, so if Russia is supporting Trump, I’m against him.”
“Lies, lies, lies. She never did anything wrong and anyone who says otherwise is being sexist.”

And so on. There is, as we see, a huge range of reasons in the case of voting for Secretary Clinton. Why is it, then, that when it comes to the Trump voter, you create this image in your mind of not only who he is, but exactly why he voted for Trump? He is a white male (obviously) and a sexist, and a bigot, and homophobic.  Or, at any rate, doesn’t have problems with racism and sexism and homophobia, because that is all Trump ever talked about and no one could possibly see it any different.

It does not seem to occur to you that, just as some of you were in denial about or excused or justified or ignored Secretary Clinton’s Wall Street connections, her actions in Haiti, in Libya, in providing enthusiastic aid to President Clinton’s racist and anti-working class “war on drugs,” that some of these people were in denial about or excused or justified some of Trump’s positions.

Of course, if your goal is to feel morally superior, then fine, please keep your image of the Trump voter intact and move on with your life. And if your political position starts and ends with the question of whether to “be kind,” then feel free to be kind or not be kind to whomever you please.

But we are now living in a country in which the chief executive officer is a fascistic demagogue, and in which police state measures are being introduced even faster than I had thought they would be.  I beg to submit that to fight him effectively is going to take hard work, it is going to take organizing, it is going to take thinking things through, and it is going to take some of the 63 million people who voted for him. I further beg to submit that immense numbers of them will come to hate him, and for good reason.  If fighting Trump seems more important than feeling morally superior, then it might be worth your while to consider that there might be more going on in the thinking of those 63 million people than the image of them you’ve created in your head.

I freely admit, this can be dangerous. It might lead you toward questions you don’t care to look at, such as, how far has capitalism degenerated when such an election can take place, an election that was conducted somewhere below the level of discourse one finds in a junior high locker room? You might need to consider that such easy answers to what happened as, “The Republicans lied,” ignore the fact the Republicans (and the Democrats, but skip that) have been lying for decades.  You might need to consider that there have been Trump equivalents floating around for at least a century, but now, at this point in history, one got elected.  You might need to consider, why did so many people find the idea of “more of the same” so utterly unacceptable? You might start thinking that glib answers such as, “they’re racists,” and “they’re sexist” bring up more questions than they answer.  You might come to realize that the machinations and maneuvering of the two parties of big business are far more a reflection of and reaction to the state of capitalism than a determinate.  You might even discover the immense suffering of those people who you’ve been assured have no problems except what’s in their heads.

Winter is coming.  Things are going to get worse before they get better.  We have not yet had Trump’s version of the reichstag fire, but it doesn’t take a psychic to predict it.  People’s thinking changes in response to changing conditions.  In case you haven’t noticed, conditions are changing really fast right now.   This is exactly the moment when serious, thoughtful, principled intervention can have the greatest effect.

As Trump’s attacks on the working class increase in intensity, so will resistance against him. Many of those 63 million people will be on the front lines of that resistance. Where will you be?