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Shell to Sea Saga

There is still plenty of ire left in Ireland as campaigners ready themselves for another summer of action against Shell and their plans to despoil the coast of County Mayo with a new gas pipeline. The project is already a decade late and three times over budget; pretty impressive for a small community fighting one of the biggest multinationals in the world.

However three times over budget suggest a hell of a lot of drinking by Jesus lads the Garda drinks delivery system is believed to have run up an massive overtime bill and you will pay for it once again.

via Direct Action – Satire – spoofs – comedy – cartoons.

via Direct Action – Satire – spoofs – comedy – cartoons.

The Death of Truth

I fear for Julian Assange. I fear for Bradley Manning. I fear for us all.

LONDON—A tiny tip of the vast subterranean network of governmental and intelligence agencies from around the world dedicated to destroying WikiLeaks and arresting its founder, Julian Assange, appears outside the red-brick building on Hans Crescent Street that houses the Ecuadorean Embassy. Assange, the world’s best-known political refugee, has been in the embassy since he was offered sanctuary there last June. British police in black Kevlar vests are perched night and day on the steps leading up to the building, and others wait in the lobby directly in front of the embassy door. An officer stands on the corner of a side street facing the iconic department store Harrods, half a block away on Brompton Road. Another officer peers out the window of a neighboring building a few feet from Assange’s bedroom at the back of the embassy. Police sit round-the-clock in a communications van topped with an array of antennas that presumably captures all electronic forms of communication from Assange’s ground-floor suite.

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), or Scotland Yard, said the estimated cost of surrounding the Ecuadorean Embassy from June 19, 2012, when Assange entered the building, until Jan. 31, 2013, is the equivalent of $4.5 million.

Britain has rejected an Ecuadorean request that Assange be granted safe passage to an airport. He is in limbo. It is, he said, like living in a “space station.”

“The status quo, for them, is a loss,” Assange said of the U.S.-led campaign against him as we sat in his small workroom, cluttered with cables and computer equipment. He had a full head of gray hair and gray stubble on his face and was wearing a traditional white embroidered Ecuadorean shirt. “The Pentagon threatened WikiLeaks and me personally, threatened us before the whole world, demanded that we destroy everything we had published, demanded we cease ‘soliciting’ new information from U.S. government whistle-blowers, demanded, in other words, the total annihilation of a publisher. It stated that if we did not self-destruct in this way that we would be ‘compelled’ to do so.”


“But they have failed,” he went on. “They set the rules about what a win was. They lost in every battle they defined. Their loss is total. We’ve won the big stuff. The loss of face is hard to overstate. The Pentagon reissued its threats on Sept. 28 last year. This time we laughed. Threats inflate quickly. Now the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department intend to show the world what vindictive losers they are through the persecution of Bradley Manning, myself and the organization more generally.”

Assange, Manning and WikiLeaks, by making public in 2010 half a million internal documents from the Pentagon and the State Department, along with the 2007 video of U.S. helicopter pilots nonchalantly gunning down Iraqi civilians, including children, and two Reuters journalists, effectively exposed the empire’s hypocrisy, indiscriminate violence and its use of torture, lies, bribery and crude tactics of intimidation. WikiLeaks shone a spotlight into the inner workings of empire—the most important role of a press—and for this it has become empire’s prey. Those around the globe with the computer skills to search out the secrets of empire are now those whom empire fears most. If we lose this battle, if these rebels are defeated, it means the dark night of corporate totalitarianism. If we win, if the corporate state is unmasked, it can be destroyed.

U.S. government officials quoted in Australian diplomatic cables obtained by The Saturday Age described the campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks as “unprecedented both in its scale and nature.” The scope of the operation has also been gleaned from statements made during Manning’s pretrial hearing. The U.S. Department of Justice will apparently pay the contractor ManTech of Fairfax, Va., more than $2 million this year alone for a computer system that, from the tender, appears designed to handle the prosecution documents. The government line item refers only to “WikiLeaks Software and Hardware Maintenance.”

The lead government prosecutor in the Manning case, Maj. Ashden Fein, has told the court that the FBI file that deals with the leak of government documents through WikiLeaks has “42,135 pages or 3,475 documents.” This does not include a huge volume of material accumulated by a grand jury investigation. Manning, Fein has said, represents only 8,741 pages or 636 different documents in that classified FBI file.

There are no divisions among government departments or the two major political parties over what should be Assange’s fate. “I think we should be clear here. WikiLeaks and people that disseminate information to people like this are criminals, first and foremost,” then-press secretary Robert Gibbs, speaking for the Obama administration, said during a 2010 press briefing.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and then-Sen. Christopher S. Bond, a Republican, said in a joint letter to the U.S. attorney general calling for Assange’s prosecution: “If Mr. Assange and his possible accomplices cannot be charged under the Espionage Act (or any other applicable statute), please know that we stand ready and willing to support your efforts to ‘close those gaps’ in the law, as you also mentioned. …”

Republican Candice S. Miller, a U.S. representative from Michigan, said in the House: “It is time that the Obama administration treats WikiLeaks for what it is—a terrorist organization, whose continued operation threatens our security. Shut it down. Shut it down. It is time to shut down this terrorist, this terrorist Web site, WikiLeaks. Shut it down, Attorney General [Eric] Holder.”

At least a dozen American governmental agencies, including the Pentagon, the FBI, the Army’s Criminal Investigative Department, the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Diplomatic Security Service, are assigned to the WikiLeaks case, while the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are assigned to track down WikiLeaks’ supposed breaches of security. The global assault—which saw Australia threaten to revoke Assange’s passport—is part of the terrifying metamorphosis of the “war on terror” into a wider war on civil liberties. It has become a hunt not for actual terrorists but a hunt for all those with the ability to expose the mounting crimes of the power elite.

The dragnet has swept up any person or organization that fits the profile of those with the technical skills and inclination to burrow into the archives of power and disseminate it to the public. It no longer matters if they have committed a crime. The group Anonymous, which has mounted cyberattacks on government agencies at the local and federal levels, saw Barrett Brown—a journalist associated with Anonymous and who specializes in military and intelligence contractors—arrested along with Jeremy Hammond, a political activist alleged to have provided WikiLeaks with 5.5 million emails between the security firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) and its clients. Brown and Hammond were apparently seized because of allegations made by an informant named Hector Xavier Monsegur—known as Sabu—who appears to have attempted to entrap WikiLeaks while under FBI supervision.

To entrap and spy on activists, Washington has used an array of informants, including Adrian Lamo, who sold Bradley Manning out to the U.S. government.

WikiLeaks collaborators or supporters are routinely stopped—often at international airports—and attempts are made to recruit them as informants. Jérémie Zimmerman, Smári McCarthy, Jacob Appelbaum, David House and one of Assange’s lawyers, Jennifer Robinson, all have been approached or interrogated. The tactics are often heavy-handed. McCarthy, an Icelander and WikiLeaks activist, was detained and extensively questioned when he entered the United States. Soon afterward, three men who identified themselves as being from the FBI approached McCarthy in Washington. The men attempted to recruit him as an informant and gave him instructions on how to spy on WikiLeaks.

On Aug. 24, 2011, six FBI agents and two prosecutors landed in Iceland on a private jet. The team told the Icelandic government that it had discovered a plan by Anonymous to hack into Icelandic government computers. But it was soon clear the team had come with a very different agenda. The Americans spent the next few days, in flagrant violation of Icelandic sovereignty, interrogating Sigurdur Thordarson, a young WikiLeaks activist, in various Reykjavik hotel rooms. Thordarson, after the U.S. team was discovered by the Icelandic Ministry of the Interior and expelled from the country, was taken to Washington, D.C., for four days of further interrogation. Thordarson appears to have decided to cooperate with the FBI. It was reported in the Icelandic press that he went to Denmark in 2012 and sold the FBI stolen WikiLeaks computer hard drives for about $5,000.

There have been secret search orders for information from Internet service providers, including Twitter, Google and Sonic, as well as seizure of information about Assange and WikiLeaks from the company Dynadot, a domain name registrar and Web host.

Assange’s suitcase and computer were stolen on a flight from Sweden to Germany on Sept. 27, 2010. His bankcards were blocked. WikiLeaks’ Moneybookers primary donation account was shut down after being placed on a blacklist in Australia and a “watch list” in the United States. Financial service companies including Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Bank of America, Western Union and American Express, following denunciations of WikiLeaks by the U.S. government, blacklisted the organization. Last month the Supreme Court of Iceland found the blacklisting to be unlawful and ordered it lifted in Iceland by May 8. There have been frequent massive denial-of-service attacks on WikiLeak’s infrastructure.

And there is a well-orchestrated campaign of character assassination against Assange, including mischaracterizations of the sexual misconduct case brought against him by Swedish police. Assange has not formally been charged with a crime. The two women involved have not accused him of rape.

Bradley Manning’s heroism extends to his steadfast refusal, despite what appears to be tremendous pressure, to implicate Assange in espionage. If Manning alleges that Assange had instructed him on how to ferret out classified documents, the U.S. might try to charge Assange with espionage.

Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy after exhausting his fight to avoid extradition from the United Kingdom to Sweden. He and his lawyers say that an extradition to Sweden would mean an extradition to the U.S. If Sweden refused to comply with U.S demands for Assange, kidnapping, or “extraordinary rendition,” would remain an option for Washington.

Kidnapping was given legal cover by a 1989 memorandum issued by the Justice Department stating that “the FBI may use its statutory authority to investigate and arrest individuals for violating United States law, even if the FBI’s actions contravene customary international law” and that an “arrest that is inconsistent with international or foreign law does not violate the Fourth Amendment.” This is a stunning example of the security and surveillance state’s Orwellian doublespeak. The persecution of Assange and WikiLeaks and the practice of extraordinary rendition embody the shredding of the Fourth Amendment, which was designed to protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.

Two Swedes and a Briton were seized by the United States last August somewhere in Africa—it is assumed to have been in Somalia—and held in one of our black sites. They suddenly reappeared—with the Briton stripped of his citizenship—in a Brooklyn courtroom in December facing terrorism charges. Sweden, rather than object to the extradition of its two citizens, dropped the Swedish charges against the prisoners to permit the rendition to occur. The prisoners, The Washington Post reported, were secretly indicted by a federal grand jury two months after being taken.

The persistence of WikiLeaks, despite the onslaught, has been remarkable. In 2012 it released some of the 5.5 million documents sent from or to the private security firm Stratfor. The documents, known as “the Global Intelligence Files,” included an email dated Jan. 26, 2011, from Fred Burton, a Stratfor vice president, who wrote: “Text Not for Pub. We [the U.S. government] have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.”

WikiLeaks’ most recent foray into full disclosure includes the Kissinger files, or the WikiLeaks Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy. The files, which have built into them a remarkable search engine, provide access to 1.7 million diplomatic communications, once confidential but now in the public record, that were sent between 1973 and 1976. Henry Kissinger, secretary of state from September 1973 to January 1977, authored many of the 205,901 cables that deal with his activities.

In the files it appears that the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi may have been hired by the Swedish group Saab-Scania to help sell its Viggen fighter jet to India while his mother, Indira Gandhi, was prime minister.

In 1975 Kissinger during a conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Turkey and two Turkish and Cypriot diplomats assured his hosts that he could work around an official arms embargo then in effect. He is quoted in the documents as saying: “Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, ‘The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.”

The documents, along with detailing collaborations with the military dictatorships in Spain and Greece, show that Washington created a torture exemption to allow the military government in Brazil to receive U.S. aid.

The documents were obtained from the National Archives and Record Administration and took a year to be prepared in an accessible digital format. “It is essentially what Aaron Swartz was doing, making available documents that until now were hard to access or only obtainable through an intermediary,” Assange said in the interview.

Swartz was the Internet activist arrested in January 2011 for downloading more than 5 million academic articles from JSTOR, an online clearinghouse for scholarly journals. Swartz was charged by federal prosecutors with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The charges carried the threat of $1 million in fines and 35 years in prison. Swartz committed suicide last Jan. 11.

Assange, 41, works through most of the night and sleeps into the late afternoon. Even though he uses an ultraviolet light device, he was pale, not surprising for someone who has not been out in sunlight for nearly a year. He rarely gives interviews. A treadmill was tilted up against a wall of his quarters; he said he sets it up and tries to run three to five miles on it every day. He has visits from a personal trainer, with whom he practices calisthenics and boxing. He is lanky at 6 feet 2 inches tall and exudes a raw, nervous energy. He leaps, sometimes disconcertingly, from topic to topic, idea to idea, his words rushing to keep up with his cascading thoughts. He works with a small staff and has a steady stream of visitors, including celebrities such as Lady Gaga. When the Ecuadorean Ambassador Ana Alban Mora and Bianca Jagger showed up late one afternoon, Assange pulled down glasses and poured everyone whiskey from a stock of liquor he keeps in a cabinet. His visitors chatted at a small round table, seated in leatherette chairs. Jagger wanted to know how to protect her website from hackers.  Assange told her to “make a lot of backup copies.”

It is from this room that Assange and his supporters have mounted an election campaign for a seat in Australia’s upper house of Parliament. Public surveys from the state of Victoria, where Assange is a candidate, indicate he has a good chance of winning.

Assange communicates with his global network of associates and supporters up to 17 hours a day through numerous cellphones and a collection of laptop computers. He encrypts his communications and religiously shreds anything put down on paper. The frequent movements of the police cordon outside his window make sleep difficult. And he misses his son, whom he raised as a single father. He may also have a daughter, but he does not speak publicly about his children, refusing to disclose their ages or where they live. His family, he said, has received death threats. He has not seen his children since his legal troubles started. The emotional cost is as heavy as the physical one.

Assange said he sees WikiLeaks’ primary role as giving a voice to the victims of U.S. wars and proxy wars by using leaked documents to tell their stories. The release of the Afghan and Iraq War Logs, he said, disclosed the extent of civilian death and suffering, and the plethora of lies told by the Pentagon and the state to conceal the human toll. The logs, Assange said, also unmasked the bankruptcy of the traditional press and its obsequious service as war propagandists.

“There were 90,000 records in the Afghan War Logs,” Assange said. “We had to look at different angles in the material to add up the number of civilians who have been killed. We studied the records. We ranked events different ways. I wondered if we could find out the largest number of civilians killed in a single event. It turned out that this occurred during Operation Medusa, led by Canadian forces in September 2006. The U.S.-backed local government was quite corrupt. The Taliban was, in effect, the political opposition and had a lot of support. The locals rose up against the government. Most of the young men in the area, from a political perspective, were Taliban. There was a government crackdown that encountered strong resistance. ISAF [the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] carried out a big sweep. It went house to house. Then an American soldier was killed. They called in an AC-130 gunship. This is a C-130 cargo plane refitted with cannons on the side. It circled overhead and rained down shells. The War Logs say 181 ‘enemy’ were killed. The logs also say there were no wounded or captured. It was a significant massacre. This event, the day when the largest number of people were killed in Afghanistan, has never been properly investigated by the old media.”

Operation Medusa, which occurred 20 miles west of Kandahar, took the lives of four Canadian soldiers and involved some 2,000 NATO and Afghan troops. It was one of the largest military operations by the ISAF in the Kandahar region.

Assange searched for accounts of reporters who were on the scene. What he discovered appalled him. He watched an embedded Canadian reporter, Graeme Smith of the Toronto Globe and Mail, use these words on a Canadian military website to describe his experiences during Operation Medusa:

In September 2006 I had one of the most intense experiences of my life. I was on the front lines of something called Operation Medusa. It was a big Canadian offensive against the Taliban who were massed outside of Kandahar City. The Taliban were digging trenches and intimidating locals, and the Canadians decided to sweep in there in big numbers and force them out. And I was travelling with a platoon that called themselves the “Nomads”. These were guys who had been sent all over, you know, sort of, a 50,000 square kilometer box out to the very edges of Kandahar City, and so they were moving around all the time; they were never sleeping in the same place twice and they’d even made up these little patches for their uniforms that said “Nomads” on them. The Nomads took me in and they sort of made me one of them. I spent what was originally supposed to be just a two or three day embed with them, stretched out into two weeks. I didn’t have a change of underwear. I didn’t have a change of shirt. I remember showering in my clothes, washing first the clothes on my body, then stripping the clothes off and washing my body, and that was just using a bucket as a shower. It was an intense experience. I slept in my flak jacket a lot of nights. We were under fire together, you know, we had RPGs whistling in. One time I was standing around behind a troop carrier and we were just sort of relaxing—we were in a down moment—and I think some guys had coffee out and were standing around and I heard a loud clap beside my right ear. It was like someone had sort of snuck up behind me and sort of played a prank by clapping beside my ear. I turned around to say hey that’s not really funny, that’s kind of loud, and all of the soldiers were lying on the ground because they know what to do when an incoming sniper round comes in, and I didn’t because [laughs] it was my first time under fire. So I threw myself to the ground as well. They had sort of made me one of them and so they gave me a little “Nomads” patch that I attached to my flak jacket and you know as a journalist you try to avoid drinking the Kool-Aid, but I did feel a sense of belonging with those guys.

“The physical demeanor of this man, the way he describes life in the great outdoors, led me to understand that here was someone who had never boxed, been mountain climbing, played rugby, been involved in any of these classically masculine activities,” Assange said. “Now, for the first time, he feels like a man. He has gone to battle. It was one of many examples of the failure by the embedded reporters to report the truth. They were part of the team.”

Assange is correct. The press of a nation at war, in every conflict I covered, is an enthusiastic part of the machine, cheerleaders for slaughter and tireless mythmakers for war and the military. The few renegades within the press who refuse to wave the flag and slavishly lionize the troops, who will not endow them with a host of virtues including heroism, patriotism and courage, find themselves pariahs in newsrooms and viciously attacked—like Assange and Manning—by the state.

As a reporter at The New York Times, I was among those expected to prod sources inside the organs of power to provide information, including top-secret information. The Pentagon Papers, released to the Times in 1971, and the Times’ Pulitzer-winning 2005 exposure of the warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens by the National Security Council used “top secret” documents—a classification more restricted than the lower-level “secret” designation of the documents released by WikiLeaks. But as the traditional press atrophies with dizzying speed—effectively emasculated by Barack Obama’s use of the Espionage Act half a dozen times since 2009 to target whistle-blowers like Thomas Drake—it is left to the renegades, people like Assange and Manning, to break down walls and inform the public.

The cables that WikiLeaks released, as disturbing as they were, invariably put a pro-unit or pro-U.S. spin on events. The reality in war is usually much worse. Those counted as dead enemy combatants are often civilians. Military units write their own after-action reports and therefore attempt to justify or hide their behavior. Despite the heated rhetoric of the state, no one has provided evidence that anything released by WikiLeaks cost lives. Then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in a 2010 letter to Sen. Carl Levin conceded this point. He wrote Levin: “The initial assessment in no way discounts the risk to national security. However, the review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure.”

The New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde and Der Spiegel giddily printed redacted copies of some of the WikiLeaks files and then promptly threw Assange and Manning to the sharks. It was not only morally repugnant, but also stunningly shortsighted. Do these news organizations believe that if the state shuts down organizations such as WikiLeaks and imprisons Manning and Assange, traditional news outlets will be left alone? Can’t they connect the dots between the prosecutions of government whistle-blowers under the Espionage Act, warrantless wiretapping, monitoring of communications and the persecution of Manning and Assange? Don’t they worry that when the state finishes with Manning, Assange and WikiLeaks, these atrophied news outlets will be next? Haven’t they realized that this is a war by a global corporate elite not against an organization or an individual but against the freedom of the press and democracy?

And yet Assange is surprisingly hopeful—at least for the short and medium term. He believes that the system cannot protect itself completely from those who chip away at its digital walls.

“The national security state can try to reduce our activity,” he said. “It can close the neck a little tighter. But there are three forces working against it. The first is the massive surveillance required to protect its communication, including the nature of its cryptology. In the military everyone now has an ID card with a little chip on it so you know who is logged into what. A system this vast is prone to deterioration and breakdown. Secondly, there is widespread knowledge not only of how to leak, but how to leak and not be caught, how to even avoid suspicion that you are leaking. The military and intelligence systems collect a vast amount of information and move it around quickly. This means you can also get it out quickly. There will always be people within the system that have an agenda to defy authority. Yes, there are general deterrents, such as when the DOJ [Department of Justice] prosecutes and indicts someone. They can discourage people from engaging in this behavior. But the opposite is also true. When that behavior is successful it is an example. It encourages others. This is why they want to eliminate all who provide this encouragement.”

“The medium-term perspective is very good,” he said. “The education of young people takes place on the Internet. You cannot hire anyone who is skilled in any field without them having been educated on the Internet. The military, the CIA, the FBI, all have no choice but to hire from a pool of people that have been educated on the Internet. This means they are hiring our moles in vast numbers. And this means that these organizations will see their capacity to control information diminish as more and more people with our values are hired.”

The long term, however, may not be as sanguine. Assange recently completed a book with three co-authors—Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn and Jérémie Zimmermann—called “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.” It warns that we are “galloping into a new transnational dystopia.” The Internet has become not only a tool to educate, they write, but the mechanism to cement into place a “Postmodern Surveillance Dystopia” that is supranational and dominated by global corporate power. This new system of global control will “merge global humanity into one giant grid of mass surveillance and mass control.” It is only through encryption that we can protect ourselves, they argue, and only by breaking through the digital walls of secrecy erected by the power elite can we blunt state secrecy. “The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation,” Assange writes, “has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen.”

The U.S., according to one of Assange’s lawyers, Michael Ratner, appears poised to seize Assange the moment he steps out of the embassy. Washington does not want to become a party in two competing extradition requests to Britain. But Washington, with a sealed grand jury indictment prepared against Assange, can take him once the Swedish imbroglio is resolved, or can take him should Britain make a decision not to extradite. Neil MacBride, who has been mentioned as a potential head of the FBI, is U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, which led the grand jury investigation, and he appears to have completed his work.

Assange said, “The grand jury was very active in late 2011, pulling in witnesses, forcing them to testify, pulling in documents. It’s been much less active during 2012 and 2013. The DOJ appears ready to proceed with the prosecution proper immediately following the Manning trial.”

Assange spoke repeatedly about Manning, with evident concern. He sees in the young Army private a reflection of his own situation, as well as the draconian consequences of refusing to cooperate with the security and surveillance state.

Manning’s 12-week military trial is scheduled to begin in June. The prosecution is calling 141 witnesses, including an anonymous Navy SEAL who was part of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Assange called the Navy SEAL the “star diva” of the state’s “12-week Broadway musical.” Manning is as bereft of establishment support as Assange.

“The old media attempted to remove his alleged heroic qualities,” Assange said of Manning. “An act of heroism requires that you make a conscious act. It is not an unreasoned expression of madness or sexual frustration. It requires making a choice—a choice that others can follow. If you do something solely because you are a mad homosexual there is no choice. No one can choose to be a mad homosexual. So they stripped him, or attempted to strip him, of all his refinements.”

“His alleged actions are a rare event,” Assange went on. “And why does a rare event happen? What do we know about him? What do we know about Bradley Manning? We know that he won three science fairs. We know the guy is bright. We know that he was interested in politics early on. We know he’s very articulate and outspoken. We know he didn’t like lies. … We know he was skilled at his job of being an intelligence analyst. If the media was looking for an explanation they could point to this combination of his abilities and motivations. They could point to his talents and virtues. They should not point to him being gay, or from a broken home, except perhaps in passing. Ten percent of the U.S. military is gay. Well over 50 percent are from broken homes. Take those two factors together. That gets you down to, say, 5 percent—5 percent on the outside. There are 5 million people with active security clearances, so now you’re down to 250,000 people. You still have to get from 250,000 to one. You can only explain Bradley Manning by his virtues. Virtues others can learn from.”

I walked for a long time down Sloane Street after leaving the embassy. The red double-decker buses and the automobiles inched along the thoroughfare. I passed boutiques with window displays devoted to Prada, Giorgio Armani and Gucci. I was jostled by shoppers with bags stuffed full of high-end purchases. They, these consumers, seemed blissfully unaware of the tragedy unfolding a few blocks away. “In this respect, our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words, they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences,” Albert Camus wrote in “The Plague.” “A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they have taken no precautions.”

I stopped in front of the four white columns that led into the brick-turreted Cadogan Hotel. The hotel is where Oscar Wilde was arrested in Room 118 on April 6, 1895, before being charged with “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons.” John Betjeman imagined the shock of that arrest, which ruined Wilde’s life, in his poem “The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel.” Here’s a fragment:

A thump, and a murmur of voices—

(“Oh why must they make such a din?”)

As the door of the bedroom swung open


“Mr. Woilde, we ’ave come for tew take yew

Where felons and criminals dwell:

We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly

For this is the Cadogan Hotel.”

The world has been turned upside down. The pestilence of corporate totalitarianism is spreading rapidly over the earth. The criminals have seized power. It is not, in the end, simply Assange or Manning they want. It is all who dare to defy the official narrative, to expose the big lie of the global corporate state. The persecution of Assange and Manning is the harbinger of what is to come, the rise of a bitter world where criminals in Brooks Brothers suits and gangsters in beribboned military uniforms—propped up by a vast internal and external security apparatus, a compliant press and a morally bankrupt political elite—monitor and crush those who dissent. Writers, artists, actors, journalists, scientists, intellectuals and workers will be forced to obey or thrown into bondage. I fear for Julian Assange. I fear for Bradley Manning. I fear for us all.

via Truthdig – The Death of Truth.

via Truthdig – The Death of Truth.

A Call to Educate


The following will focus on the relationship between planned political education and left activism. If there is a justification for this, it lies in the history of the worker’s movement itself. Almost every significant step toward the self-emancipation of the working class has rested on a deep and thoroughgoing emphasis on the educational development of those indispensably involved.

Careful planning and organisation of political education among activists and workers, within and without their respective organisations, is always centrally important. In an attempt to provoke discussion, some questions are raised about the different strategies for the development of educational forms worthy of the movement the present generation of socialist activists hope to build.

The most influential socialists of the 19th and 20th centuries all realised the necessity of ensuring workers take ownership of, and develop, the knowledge necessary for self-emancipation. Certainly Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, along with many other pioneers of the movement, were never prepared to neglect this necessary work, not under threat of exile, not in the midst of revolutionary upheavals, not during imprisonment, conditions of civil war and/or counter-revolutionary witch-hunts. Realising that action has to be theoretically informed, they never stopped studying, analysing and writing, throughout their lives. They have done much to prepare the ground, providing many useful signposts for subsequent generations, yet the necessity for intensive scholarship and focused dissemination of knowledge has not diminished in the slightest. Socialism is, after all, inherently educational; it is in essence one great international and intergenerational educational movement. The development of every new socialist activist rests on the materials purposely left for them by previous generations. The books and pamphlets left behind are essentially the materials to facilitate distance education; the goal of each contribution being to facilitate the creative power of the proletariat on an individual and collective basis. The task of socialist activists is to facilitate the working-class in its efforts to take its destiny into its own hands. Doing so presupposes a heightened political consciousness, which is perhaps why Rosa Luxemburg insisted ‘we shall hardly make any progress without a clear understanding of the work of proletarian self-education’.

Most present day socialists do recognise that political education is a major part of their role as political activists.  Few really expect to fully develop their theoretical knowledge, their critical skills when applying political ideas to a changing system, through practical activism alone. Yet sometimes little thought is given to the kind of educational philosophy adhered to, or sufficient consideration given to what is most appropriate to the organisations being built. Where little thought is given to this the educational development of activists is dealt with in an ad hoc way; emphasis may be given to ‘learning through struggle’ – a key element of any organised attempt to facilitate the educational development of rank-and-file activists, but still only an element.

Assuming that attempts to remedy the general neglect will intensify in the immediate future, the question remains: what kind of education is appropriate to the self-emancipation of the working-class? The first concern must be, I would argue, to free activists (and all those they hope to influence) from what Latin American educators refer to as the ‘banking’ form. Brazilian Marxist Paulo Freire used the concept of banking to characterise educational practices in which intellectual leaders ‘deposit’ knowledge and then ordinary activists assume the passive role of ‘depositories’ of that knowledge. These relations of intellectual domination and subordination are analogous with Freire’s depiction of formal schooling, where oftentimes, instead of communicating, the teacher uses communiqués and makes deposits, which the students patiently receive, memorise and repeat. The scope of action allowed to the participant extends only as far as receiving, filing and storing the deposits.

It should be immediately obvious that educational practices that in any way resemble the above are not conducive to the self-education and self-determination of activists, and not particularly helpful to a working class struggling against bourgeois ideological forms. However, such relationships are not at all uncommon among the organisations of the left. Those that fail to prioritise and carefully plan political education inadvertently permit elements of the banking form to hold sway. This would not be so inappropriate if the goal were to help people blend seamlessly into the multiple bureaucracies that comprise contemporary capitalism. But something entirely different is required if the freest and fullest intellectual development is to be attained, if the levels of political consciousness required for self-emancipation are to be realised among any significant number. Conservative educational forms are generally repellent to workers in any case; they usually see enough hierarchy in the workplace, and very often, have had enough of education that rests on authority. An ‘education for liberation’ requires dialogical exchanges rather than communiques, collaborative learning rather than ‘top-down’ hierarchal instruction, and an emphasis on learning how to think rather than what to think.

It is often said that to change the world it is necessary to understand it first. To put it another way, the self-emancipation of the working class can only proceed through the self-education of the working class. But what is the best way to facilitate this? It goes without saying that socialists learn through experience. Of course they do. All human beings learn through experience, whether at the individual or the organisational level. However, an experience (through struggle or otherwise) does not teach anything in particular. The same experience can teach the socialist one thing, the religious fundamentalist another, the bourgeois economist yet another. What is learned largely depends on the vantage point in the structure of social economy, and on the level of political culture. Quite apart from class interests, the same set of experiences can lead socialist activists, within their respective formations, to draw very different conclusions from one another. This is because the significance and meaning of an experience has to be uncovered through its formulation within a particular communicative environment. It is no accident that groups with different theoretical and analytical means of interpreting an experience can draw different lessons from it. In the end it is theory, coupled with the level of political culture previously attained, that determines whether or not lessons appropriate to the goal of self-emancipation will be learned. The political consciousness of activists and workers advances through experience, but the potentiality for that development is something that has to be carefully planned and acted upon in advance.

There are several possible approaches to political education and to facilitating the development of political consciousness. One way is to encourage that key texts be read. Another is to attempt to teach the basic tenets of Marxism via semi-public lectures, debates etc. All are helpful. But the means by which an activist comes into contact with useful information is perhaps less important than how the process of self-education is facilitated. To begin that process the participant has to move beyond reading and listening, and on to the independent application of ideas to the world that needs to be understood / transformed. That presupposes the formation of dialogical and collaborative relationships with co-learners/facilitators, which presupposes a relative independence from bureaucratic control, formal leaderships and approved experts.

Unfortunately, sometimes on the left a teacher/learner dichotomy is allowed to emerge. When this happens a select few become intellectual leaders, and then education becomes rote. This is never appropriate. Where this happens, only the pretence of free discussion can remain. In the absence of progressively planned educational provision, knowledge tends to be treated as a possession to be handed down. In the process, basic egalitarian principles, such as ‘the fullest development of each must be the condition for the fullest development of all’ hardly feature, and much of the alienation that prevails in capitalist society is reproduced among activists. In some cases a rough division of mental and manual labour prevails, coupled with attendant justifications, which approximate the bourgeois myth of meritocracy.

It is difficult to learn to think critically, if pressured to uncritically accept analyses and positions handed down by a select few. Messy as it is, a culture of intellectual mistrust is always essential. It was not for nothing that Marx lived by the motto ‘doubt everything’. There can be no deferral to a leadership when it comes to investigating, questioning and setting knowledge against developments in the real world. It is not enough for a select few to take theoretical work seriously. Theory is what distinguishes Marxist organisations from other organisations, and only to the extent that ordinary members have managed to make the theory their own, developed it within themselves and in the struggles/campaigns they find themselves involved in. It is necessary that the vast majority learn how to apply theory to events, to develop themselves as Marxists. Any organisation committed to the self-emancipation of the working class must proactively facilitate this. The political consciousness of activists cannot be advanced by simply listening to and accepting the various positions developed centrally. To treat people as passive recipients of ‘correct ideas’ is to propagandise. As Freire puts it, it is to ‘domesticate’ rather than ‘educate’. It is to realise acceptance of the organisation’s analysis and various positions, but without adequately facilitating the activist’s own capacity to comprehend and analyse. Conversely, where self-education is facilitated, the activist builds him/herself up, necessarily drawing knowledge indiscriminately from every available source, growing with every position challenged and every contribution made to the memory of the organisation they are building.

Two questions immediately present themselves: (1) given the central importance of education in the worker’s movement, why is political education very often neglected on the far left? (2) given that we know the difference between educational forms that facilitate critical independent thought, and those that serve to stunt it, why do we opt for the latter?

I would suggest that these questions cannot be answered apart from the problem of left sectarianism, which is always and everywhere a major problem. The standard (though inadequate) definition of sectarianism is: putting the narrow interests of one’s own organisation ahead of the interests of the working class. Quite obviously, this is a major obstacle insofar as it prevents the necessary pooling of educational resources across the left and those available to the working class generally. In addition to preventing activists from working together to build the most effective struggle against the common enemy, it creates an inability on the part of activists to accept and/or build upon the ideas of other forces on the left. It severely limits exposure of activists to new ideas and undermines the possibility of constructive dialogue. It helps perpetuate group-think among leaderships, and directs rank-and-file members who are hungry for knowledge into intellectual strait-jackets, ultimately repelling them.

The more sectarian the organisation the more inclined it is to neglect rank-and-file education, or to adopt quite conservative educational practices. Insofar as intellectual leadership is conferred on particular individuals, insofar as a division between intellectual and practical activity is permitted to emerge, the goal of education becomes that of propagating the view among members that their own organisation is the repository of truth, that the perspectives of its leadership represent true socialist principles.

A closely associated problem with the development of activists on the left is a high turnover of members (excepting the few organisations that are comprised of a small number of lifelong members). Where a high turnover is expected any relaxation of the organisational focus on recruitment necessarily leads to decline. As such, many of the forces on the left are forced to enter into a perpetual competition for new ‘customers’. There are many laudable methods for ensuring that potential new members choose one organisation over another, but the easiest method seems to be to fetishize ‘our analysis’ and to paint competing organisations in as bad a light as possible. This is what lies behind a great deal of what passes for criticism. When this method is adopted by competing organisations a vicious circle of mutual suspicion and reaction develops. Thereafter, it becomes difficult to deal with the issue of sectarianism in any serious manner, since it is only ever raised in a sectarian way. The would-be activists among the advanced layers of the working class are understandably repelled by this. They are further repelled by the bureaucratic centralism that they experience when interacting with the left in campaigns. But to the activist fully caught in the logic of sectarianism, most other groups appear to be sectarian (one’s own group appears free of the problem).

Though particular organisations exhibit the effects of sectarianism in a more obvious way than others, it has to be understood as a systemic problem. It finds expression all across the left in so many different ways, with almost every activist, in (or outside of) every formation somehow affected – no matter how hard some struggle to rise above it.

The point is that associated practices are always and everywhere incompatible with the free exchange of ideas and the full exploitation of educational resources and supports otherwise available. The effects do not merely prevent collaboration among the organised left. They can take the form of blanket hostility to independent activists and fellow travellers, for example with respect to the perspectives of academics and independent scholars. As with every other expression of anti-intellectualism, this is something that socialists can have nothing to do. All too often ideas that need to be taken seriously are dismissed as ‘elitist’. Sometimes it is because the ideas run contrary to established positions and views, but occasionally it is simply a matter of ‘I don’t understand this discussion, I feel excluded by it – therefore it is elitist’.

There does not appear to be any clear criteria for blanket dismissal of analysis produced by apparent rivals on the left. Evidence-based criticism tends to be dismissed as quickly as purely sectarian ‘criticism’. When judging the ideas of rival organisation the source often appears more important than the content. In some cases the fact that some of the necessary intellectual work takes place in third-level institutions is enough grounds for dismissal, even if those involved consciously subordinate their own interests, voluntarily spending a great deal of their time producing analyses that they hope will be of use to all forces on the left. No doubt third-level institutions produce esoteric trivia by the bucket-load. However, ideas should never be ignored because they appear impenetrable to most of us, or simply because of where they are produced. Ignoring any scholarly or scientific work, and failing to establish links with those developing it, is always a major mistake. There are after all socialists in third level institutions. Most may not be interested in joining the left as it exists, but many could still play a useful role in helping to build a left movement. On top of this they have considerable influence; quite apart from the public credibility they might command, they represent a bridge to the 150,000 students enrolled at third-level in Ireland (including Northern Ireland) at any given time.

Though the charge of elitism is very often justified, the sad reality is that educational practices in political organisations on the left can be far more elitist than anything existing (or tolerated) in third-level institutions. The exceptions to this tendency demonstrate that this does not have to be the case. Education can either foster an unquestioning adherence to the views advocated by an intellectual leadership, or it can function to facilitate each and every member to develop their theoretical, analytical and argumentative skills to their fullest possible potential. This can only be realised in an environment of dialogue, based on an equality of participation.

Every form of activism is communicative. Every form of activism is educative. People become active in order to change society, and know that this can only be realised by working with others to change people’s minds. When people become activists they are always partly motivated by their own quest for knowledge, for a heightened level of political consciousness, for understanding, meaning, self-determination and capacity to influence others positively. One of the great problems faced under capitalism is that of unrealised human potential; the system increasingly stands in the way of fulfilled lives, of a fully human development. It cannot be assumed that an activist will remain in a group where nothing is offered in response to this condition – in organisations that do not facilitate their development as activists (which has to be seen as a lifelong development), and that do not offer them the opportunity to make the meaningful and worthwhile contributions they are capable of making. Failures in this respect mean that both the activist/s and the organisation/s suffer. There is really no way around it; left parties/organisations have to use whatever resources are available to facilitate the fullest possible educational development of all that need it, which means everyone. An education that is hierarchical, limited according to the opinions of intellectual gatekeepers, or limited to approved lists of key classical readings can in no way suffice.

Insofar as the conditions touched upon here represent obstacles to effective political education across the left, the solution lies with group work, with dialogue, with inclusive and participative educational structures. It has to be acknowledged that members listen more, question more, contribute more and develop more, in small self-directing learning groups. If self-education is the goal then speechifying has to be replaced with spaces that permit, and require, all participants to practice formulating and verbalising thoughts in response to every event/topic/struggle. Education does of course require that the most useful knowledge be made available to participants, that there are educators/facilitators capable of providing initial guidance in this respect. However, participants can quickly learn how to do this by themselves on a collaborative basis. They do not need to know everything, or create the impression that they know everything. Since the goal is to begin, and thereafter foster, the process of self-education among activists, participants have to take responsibility for their own education, for evaluating existing perspectives, for learning to set perspectives against available evidence and developments, in this way building new knowledge, identifying gaps and further complexity, making a worthwhile contribution to individual and collective understanding.

There are, it should be noted, a considerable number of independent activists, a few party activists, and several newly formed forums/groups/initiatives, that recognise the immediate need to resolve the above issues. Even more fortunately, there is a growing appetite among a smaller but expanding group of activists to meet this challenge head on.

via Irish Left Review | A Call to Educate.

via Irish Left Review | A Call to Educate.

‘A Revolution We Can All Dance To’ (Part 2)

In this two part interview Andrew Robinson introduces the political philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. In this second part we moved from political imaginary to political strategy; discussing Deleuzian alternatives to democratic-centralism for implementing revolutionary change.

Deleuze presents us with an exhilarating political imaginary, but to what extent is such an imaginary a means for attaining itself? Particularly given that, as you write, desire is expressive rather than instrumental? Doesn’t the success of a revolutionary movement partly depends on its ability to maintain its unity and discipline against the dangers of fragmentation and division—a kind of regimentation of desire that Deleuze opposes?

The argument you’re advancing here makes a certain sense, because the rhizomatic movements of the last few decades have suffered from a great decline over the last decade or so.  But really, there isn’t much evidence of organised parties doing much better.  The fashion for disciplined, united, democratic-centralist parties largely followed from the success of the Bolshevik Revolution—and then later, various guerrilla-led revolutions.  But the applicability of this model is questionable.  Firstly, has this model served well in other contexts?  There are dozens of groups trying to reproduce this model in Britain, Europe, America, all over the world in fact, and they all seem to end up either as groupuscles or mainstream parties.  It’s very noticeable that the big upsurges in struggle for the last half-a-century haven’t really stemmed from these groups at all.  Secondly, did the Bolsheviks really “win”?  The regime ossified into authoritarianism pretty quickly, and ultimately deformed back into capitalism.  This happened repeatedly with regimes which went the same way.

Why do you think that was?

I think there are two explanations for this.  Either the communist model is not really a pursuit of liberation in a Deleuzian sense to begin with—it seeks to replace an “illegitimate” domination with a “legitimate” domination, one which authentically represents instead of misrepresenting, which represents a true essence instead of a false one, and which thereby simply reproduces renunciation, repression and the state, through its structural isomorphism with the way in which capitalism/statism already works.  Or the communist model is a pursuit of genuine liberation, but seeks it by means of its opposite—using the state to bring about the withering-away of the state.  If the latter, then the question arises, does the state really wither away when a revolution is achieved this way?  Is there, for that matter, an egalitarian society or a sustainable society?  It fails because ultimately, the party model reproduces the structure of alienation: the separation between leaders and led, intellectual and manual workers, specialists in revolution and non-specialists reduced to a follower role.  I think these questions have been asked within communist movements, in which certain fractions—the Italian autonomists for instance, and the Zapatistas—have moved towards a more Deleuzian model.

What is the Deleuzian a model of political organisation?

There are various models of political organisation in Deleuze and Guattari—the war-machine, the band or pack, the rhizome, the subject-group.  War-machines are taken from Clastres‘ work on Amazonian bands, who form war-parties when they are aggrieved.  According to Clastres, this is a way to prevent any group from concentrating too much power in its own hands. Packs or bands are small groups with limited numbers, unstable connections, and an avoidance of fixed hierarchy.  The band detaches things from their usual connections or territories, bringing them into new combinations. Rhizomes are networks which connect different points without a central trunk or hierarchy.

What advantages do horizontal formations have over traditional, hierarchical parties?

A number of advantages. They can’t be “beheaded” the way parties can—the way the Black Panthers were, for example.  They can incorporate a far wider diversity of groups and perspectives.  They have a certain resilience against repression, because they can regroup on the band level.  Ultimately – and this is recognised for instance by Arquilla and Ronfeldt , on behalf of the US state—rhizomes defeat trunks in prolonged conflicts.  The recent cases of quasi-Leninist revolutions occurred because forces such as the Vietcong, the Algerian FLN, and the Maoists adopted an organisational model with certain rhizomatic traits.  The state and capital have had to adapt by adopting rhizomatic tactics themselves (while keeping the core hierarchy intact, of course).

And this issue is also very contemporary.  I’ve written elsewhere on the politics of the excluded, on emergent forces of resistance appearing at the margins of capitalism. There are a lot of these forces, many of which are barely known about in the North, and some of them are remarkably successful in carving out autonomous zones, creating new practices of living, even defeating states in particular localities.

Such as…

Groups like the Zapatistas , MEND , KRRS , Abahlali and similar groups, the MST , the Mapuche resistance , Argentine piquetero groups , La Ruta Pacifica , APPO; movements such as the Cochabamba uprising, the ‘gas war’, the Kabylie uprising , the Arab Spring; and ongoing struggles in places like El Alto, the Andes, the Amazon, the Himalayas, and the Caucasus. Some of these groups and movements are rhizomes or war-machines, some of them are hybrid groups combining elements of the rhizome with elements of the Leninist party or the guerrilla cell.  They either use the informal small-group model, an inclusive network model, or some kind of general assembly.  They arise out of, and remain densely connected to, local knowledges and forms of life specific to each setting, which actualise non-capitalist living through practices such as land occupation, subsistence farming, and indigenous rituals.  And the basis for this phenomenon is that a lot of people, in a lot of the world, live in rhizomatic ways in at least some parts of their lives.  I think of these groups as autonomous social movements, similar in certain respects to the groups in the North discussed by people such as Katsiaficas .  But the numbers and power of these movements are on a scale unlike anything in the North.  Even where revolutionaries still use state-forms, these forms depend crucially on movements of the excluded—a Chavez, Morales, Thaksin, or Aristide can only take and hold power by channelling such movements, or even stimulating them if they don’t already exist.

So we have good reasons to be optimistic? I must admit the last three decades in Britain haven’t filled me with optimism.

There is pressure in the UK or US to feel hopeless, because the state is deploying huge resources to smash movements before they develop any momentum.  But on a global scale, the system seems to be fraying round the edges, falling apart in places, or hanging by a thread.  If we think also about groups which use a rhizome or war-machine model, but with a reactive or hierarchical goal, then we can see a strong parallel between this model and a tendency towards state collapse in the most peripheral areas—places like Afghanistan, Somalia, Northeast India, the Niger Delta.  In these kinds of spaces—termed ‘black holes’ by the state—the nomadic war-machines are actually stronger than the states.  Of course, these kinds of situations frequently become quite nasty, because the force which is unleashed is at least as much reactive as active.  The Zapatista situation, where localised state collapse is simultaneously a progressive move, is still quite rare.  But the potential is there, and certainly seems more likely than a Leninist revolution or a new social-democracy.  If there’s a new social-democracy, it will emerge because the system needs to contain revolt.

The criticism that sometimes comes from socialists is that hierarchies develop in ostensibly horizontalist group formations anyway and without any formalised procedures to recognise this and hold power to account hierarchies can become much more oppressive. Indeed much of the inspiration for Deleuze comes from Nietzsche who developed his political philosophy precisely as a rejection of attempts to bound power around certain reified *universalist* principles.

Can you clarify if you’re criticising Deleuze for being universalist, or for being anti-universalist?

I was suggesting that Nietzsche sees universality principles as a version of “slave morality”. So that would make it (to the extent that Deleuze is following Nietzsche) a criticism of Deleuze’s anti-universalism. Deleuze’s embrace of horizontalism could be construed as a universalist principle—but I think socialists would argue that unless this commitment is formalised into specific democratic procedures we are threatened with a situation in which a group pays lip service to horizontalism while in practice is quite oppressive.

Of course, this sometimes happens.  The question would be, why do horizontal groups revert to hierarchical forms?  Is there something inherent in human beings which makes us form hierarchies, however we try to live—so the best we can do is democratise the hierarchies?  This view seems to lead back to a conservative stance: human nature is fixed, people are basically bad, so conflict is inevitable, and the best we can do is civilise oppression a bit.

Alternatively, do hierarchies arise because the techniques for the maintenance of autonomy are so far insufficient, incomplete, or maybe forgotten?  Perhaps people in social movements have not overcome reactive desires after all.  Perhaps people revert to familiar, habitual relations even when trying to transcend them. In which case, the point is to develop better ways of locking-in horizontal relations.

I’ve seen this kind of dynamic (i.e. informal hierarchies) in social movements, and I think a lot of it comes down to personality types or communicative styles—some people have quite passive or dependent outlooks, whereas others come across as charismatic or knowledgeable, and get interpellated as leaders, or perhaps seek it. There are big gender and class differentials in which style people adopt, so this reinforces the persistence of gender and class dominance as well.

Wouldn’t democratic procedures ameliorate this?

I don’t think formal procedures or elected hierarchies solve the problem at all—because the same, dominant types of people then manage to get even more power.  They’ll be the loudest, most confident speakers in assemblies, and the most likely to seek and gain election in representative systems.  Actually, if anything, it’s mitigated a bit in small groups, because people who are less confident are less anxious about speaking.  To be honest, I don’t have a solution here, but I think the issue is probably a critical literacy issue—people need to be more reflexive about the relationships they’re in, some people need to become more assertive and gain a sense that they have valid knowledges and contributions, and some other people need to learn to listen and to situate their own perspectives as partial.

When thinking about social power, I’d suggest that there are actually at least two axes.  I’d think about concentrated and diffuse power on the one hand, and formal and informal power on the other.  The libertarian left has traditionally favoured diffuse formal power, such as local assemblies.  Occupy, and some of the social movements I talked about before (the Zapatistas and the MST for example), have diffuse formal power structures.  The assembly or the commune is the main site of power.  Formal state systems are based on concentrated formal power.  Leninists and social-democrats have traditionally sought to capture concentrated formal power so as to use it in more benign or authentically representative ways. The same problems come up with all of these approaches—diffuse formal power can slip into concentrated formal power, and concentrated formal power usually turns into dominance for the benefit of those in power.

If formality increases the risk of concentration, a Deleuzian ideal would be a diffuse informal power?

Yes. And I think Deleuze tries to sketch some of the structural conditions for diffuse informal power, particularly in relation to war-machines, bands and so on. He suggests that diffuse power can be mobilised to prevent concentrations of power, but it takes particular “affects”, particular zones of desire for it to work.

It’s interesting that you raise the question of universalism. Actually, there’s an influential critique of Deleuze—the critique coming from Alain Badiou , Slavoj Zizek and Peter Hallward for example—which maintains precisely the opposite—that Deleuze does have a universal, that he’s a closet universalist!  I think part of the reason for this is that Deleuze makes general claims about the qualitative basis of existence—that it is always based on becoming, it has virtual and actual aspects, it is based on active force, it is an expression of univocity and differenciation, and so on.  It doesn’t lead to an overarching normative position as to how everyone should live, but it has general implications.

Was I wrong to present him as an anti-universalist?

Deleuze is anti-universalist in the sense of being immanentist. He doesn’t believe traditional kinds of morality and ontology which suggest an additional dimension above the world, which judges or structures the world—like God in mainstream Christianity for example.  He doesn’t want some particular site to become the focus of power, integrating all the rest.  Part of the reason for this is that arborescent (tree-like) power necessarily produces hierarchies and inequalities.  Deleuze, like other poststructuralists, thinks that this kind of universalism isn’t really universal.  It always ends up as the perspective of some particular group, portrayed as universal to dominate other groups.  This is similar to Marx’s theory of ideology—what appear as moral absolutes are really particular interests of the bourgeoisie.

Does this make him hostile to grand totalising projects?

Deleuze isn’t in line with a lot of the Anglo-American poststructuralists who think it’s too dangerous to try to create a big political project.  He wants to change the general frame.  Certain structures are oppressive of desire as such.  These structures might be diffuse and capillary, but they also have a centralising logic, and an alienating logic.  In this sense, Deleuze is a revolutionary theorist.  He sees cumulative, capillary resistances, but he also sees them reaching a point of critical mass which will change the course of the world.  This isn’t a universalism in the sense of a philosopher-king delivering a truth to humanity.  But there’s a certain sense in it of humanity in general, or life in general—that on the whole, we’d live better without hierarchies than with them.

Doesn’t this make him an anti-universalist on universalist grounds?

Deleuze goes along with the Nietzschean idea of “beyond good and evil”, but if we read this closely, it doesn’t mean there are no values.  It means values are constructed starting from active power as “good”, and defining what’s “bad” in relation to it.  What’s “bad” is what blocks the power of active desire or active force.  This sometimes means things are only “bad” from one point of view, and “good” from another—if two active forces come into conflict.  But I think Deleuze also wants to say that some things are “bad” in general, because they run counter to the functioning of active force as such.  Hence he has a kind of general project of overcoming certain kinds of structural oppression which are counterposed to active force as such—the capitalist axiomatic, the state, bureaucracy, arborescence, striation of space, rigid segmentarities, unmarked terms and so on.  These are forces which block the emergence and expression of active force as such.  They aren’t just bad in relation to a particular desire.  In a sense, they’re ‘universally’ bad, because active force is ‘universally’ good (even though active forces can desire diverse, incommensurable things).  Part of the theoretical dynamism in Deleuze’s thought come from the attempt to maintain this kind of universalist anti-transcendence while also emphasising radical immanence.

Andrew Robinson is a political theorist and activist based in the UK. His book Power, Resistance and Conflict in the Contemporary World: Social Movements, Networks and Hierarchies (co-authored with Athina Karatzogianni) was published in September 2009 by Routledge.

via New Left Project | Articles | ‘A Revolution We Can All Dance To’ (Part 2).

via ‘A Revolution We Can All Dance To’ (Part 2).

‘A Revolution We Can All Dance To’ (Part 1)

In this two part interview Andrew Robinson introduces the political philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. In this first part Andrew discusses Deleuze’s political concept of ‘desire’; its radical promise as well as the dangers of cooptation.

Gilles Deleuze is famous for the statement ‘desire is revolutionary’. Presuming that Deleuze was not championing the politics of consumer capitalism, what did he mean by the phrase and how could a politics of desire promise to reshape our political landscape?

The phrase “desire is revolutionary” has different connotations today from what it had when it was written. Today, it sounds like it could be an advertising slogan! But when it was written, it was really mouldbreaking. Deleuze was part of the ‘68 generation, the extended conduits for the most recent great revolutionary wave. The Deleuzian vision is very similar to what the Situationists call “non-renunciation”. We shouldn’t surrender our desires to the system, or renounce them to become a good subj

In what sense mouldbreaking? What came before it?

The dominant stance before ‘68, was a kind of authoritarianism which was radically opposed to desire. Not only the right, but a lot of the left were like this. Authoritarians reject desire and identify with various images of order and propriety. Because they repress their own desire in order to conform, they become afraid of desire. So they look for scapegoats—other people who they think are having too much enjoyment, not renouncing enough. In Deleuzian theory this is associated with reactive desire, fixed identities and ‘microfascist’ tendencies. A quick skim through the comments on news sites will show how active this type of personality still is.

But, at least on the surface, desire is something which capitalism seems keen to embrace.

Yes. Today, the dominant stance of the capitalist system is a bit different. Capitalism has used the aesthetics and language of ‘68 to elaborate new forms of domination. People are told to be empowered, to be who they can be, to make the most of opportunities. People are meant to be rational subjects, aiming for “success” in terms of conventional goals. In many ways, it’s a recuperation of the outburst of ‘68.

But scratch the surface and it’s at least as repressive as the old authoritarianism, because there is no space for difference past a certain point. Not only is difference not recognised, but it’s seen as a threat, a disruption. It has to be excluded absolutely from public spaces, or even from life itself. This is still a renunciation of desire. The underlying desires are subordinated to the ‘self’ and its life-project, they’re suppressed in the name of the person (the good subject) someone is trying to become. Whereas the desires should be deciding what kind of people we’re trying to become.

So what is presented as a ‘liberation of desire’ is really nothing of the sort?

No. At the moment, for most people, the system is deciding. So desire is allowed, but only if it’s a recognised desire. Not to desire squats where there are empty buildings, graffiti where there are blank walls, or free parties where the cars are meant to be. Not to desire land rights in Chiapas, electricity in Soweto. Deleuze is looking for a world composed only of networks. Capitalism uses networks, embedded within hierarchical structures of knowledge and power.

Desire is revolutionary because, when it follows its course, it leads outside the various social apparatuses such as capitalism and the state. It causes people to form combinations, points of energy, configurations of force which aren’t accountable to dominant social norms or systems.

‘Configurations of force’ sounds more ontological than subjective (ie. to do with the nature of existence rather than perception)

Deleuzian revolutionary desire isn’t the same as conscious desire.  It’s about specific desires people have, but it’s also a kind of general force, like the Force in Star Wars.  And it’s a term for ‘assemblages’, for the production of connections.  All the specific desires and assemblages are expressions of the underlying force of desire, its ‘differenciation’ as Deleuze says, its splitting into difference. But some of these expressions flow smoothly from the underlying force, and some of them turn against it, or get trapped in fixities which block it.  At the base level, desire is always revolutionary, because flows of becoming escape particular orders – desire as force is always revolutionary. But desires can be turned against themselves – turned into a desire to suppress desire.

Desire is revolutionary when it is:

[The] schizorevolutionary type or pole that follows the lines of escape of desire; breaches the wall and causes flows to move; assembles its machines and its groups-in-fusion in the enclaves or at the periphery” (Anti-Oedipus)

There’s something about this which feels tremendously revolutionary to me. It’s almost possible to feel horizons opening up, other worlds becoming visible. It implies that everyone matters. We’re all part of the great flow of desire. We shouldn’t be valued by how closely we conform to some particular model. Each of us is a ‘singularity’ as Deleuze calls it, a unique point in the flow of desire, and at the same time part of this flow.

It sounds quite individualistic.

On the one hand, it’s an ‘egoist’ stance, a bit like Stirner. It’s a middle finger to the people telling us to conform and fit in. But it’s also a deeply compassionate stance, looking for the magic of desire in others, the combinations of affirmative power, rather than their usefulness or social position. And it’s a stance which allows us to embrace change and becoming, but at the same time, to reject unwanted changes, to distinguish becoming from capture.  It’s not simply the replacement of one dominant system by another. It’s a world where all worlds fit, a world where everyone makes their own world.

This is a theory which speaks to those of us on the outside or on the margins – those of us who feel radically alienated from the dominant system – that our desires matter, that what we are matters. It cuts like a scythe through the ideologies which say that we only matter if we’re productive, or conformist, or successful, or law-abiding. And against the common view that life can’t go on without renunciation, it offers a vision of a different world, a world without renunciation, without hierarchy or control, without hatred for difference, without exclusion or marginalisation.

Is there a danger with a desire that is necessarily parochial rather than universal? For instance it is quite possible to imagine a desire that is not reactive (it affirms newness, makes novel connections, is horizontal, etc) but is nonetheless one that is more or less indifferent to the plight of the powerless and dispossessed.

I think you’re right, that it’s possible in a Deleuzian approach for someone to actively desire something which is unsustainable or unjust, or at least indifferent as you say.  It’s possible but not common, because Deleuzian theory rejects a lot of the dominant configurations as reactive –I guess we’d be getting into issues of the extent to which desires constructed through mass consumer society are active, and whether they’d persist in the absence of capitalist machineries for managing desire.

There are several resources in Deleuzian theory for addressing these kinds of things.  The first is that Deleuzian desire constructs a kind of meta-ethics of supporting active desire.  In a sense, an active desire which is educated, which is aware of the forces which threaten it, will form a general opposition to hierarchical forces and to forces which produce scarcity.  Secondly, people are seen as divisible, molecular selves with connections to other people, objects and so on.  Compassion therefore is most likely part of desire.  It isn’t something counterposed to our desires.  Thirdly, there’s a critique of desire within capitalism.  Capitalism doesn’t really believe in desire.  It believes in preferences and self-interest.  Capitalism tries to manipulate desire, to turn it into self-interest or market demand.  Of course this means that there’s always scarcity, that people are always competing, and that people will consume unsustainably unless something stops them.  Deleuze rejects this view of desire.  He thinks desire is primordially abundant and affirmative, not scarce.  It’s about forming connections, not possessing.

You may have partially answered this question but what about the argument that addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems (global warming, the unequal distribution of wealth etc) necessarily entail people in the first world being prepared to give up their desires for certain luxuries?

I think Deleuze would expect liberation to come from the rebellions of the excluded and oppressed, not from the in-group renouncing its privileges.  Deleuze is in favour of diffuse, decentralised forms of power, which are focused on local intensities and not on “power-over” – the band or pack, the war-machine and so on.  When power takes this form, the local group will defend itself militantly from exploitation and inequality, and from the destruction of its environment, which is a site of lived intensity.  Look at the Mapuche, the OPM or the Zapatistas, or the Bougainville revolution, or the Chipko movement.  This is what happens when local groups act on intensities using diffuse power.  On the other hand, Deleuze is all for the in-group renouncing its privileges – it’s called “becoming-minoritarian” in his theory – and sees this as a broadening and liberation of desire, an escape of desire from fixed categories.

I think the problem is mostly apparent rather than real.  Deleuze rejects renunciation, and therefore rejects the line of response which sees a law, a normative code, a generalised repression as the guarantee that desire will not exceed what is just or sustainable.  Again in capitalist theory, we’re assumed to be self-interested first of all, and any kind of concern for others has to be imparted later – through market forces or deterrent punishments or some other controlling force.  I’m not convinced that this works for a number of reasons.  One of these is, once certain people have the concentrated power in their hands to force others to conform, why wouldn’t they use this power for self-interest instead of the common good?  Another is that this kind of attitude—the constant suspicion of others, the vigilance of constantly looking out for free-riders and shirkers—is actually corrosive of compassion.  It produces reactive closure.  Think of those authoritarians in the comments sections again.  They go on and on about concern for others, about not doing what one wants, but they don’t seem to have much compassion for anyone else.  This might be because their worldview has misanthropy and scarcity built into it.

But scarcity from an environmental perspective is real.

Deleuze and environmentalism might seem a bad fit, but there are radical ecological theorists whose concepts are very similar to Deleuze’s—Feral Faun and John Moore for example, or Derrick Jensen’s “Beyond Hope”, or the article “Desire is Speaking” in the Earth First! journal Do or Die.  It all depends where one situates the locus of active desire.  If we think of desire in terms of forming connections, living the intensity of lifeworlds, creating spaces of existential abundance, then there’s a lot of overlap between Deleuze and deep ecology.

Andrew Robinson is a political theorist and activist based in the UK. His book Power, Resistance and Conflict in the Contemporary World: Social Movements, Networks and Hierarchies (co-authored with Athina Karatzogianni) was published in September 2009 by Routledge.

via New Left Project | Articles | ‘A Revolution We Can All Dance To’ (Part 1).

via New Left Project | Articles | ‘A Revolution We Can All Dance To’ (Part 1).

Climate Talks end with Promise to Continue Dithering!

In Doha, another round of climate talks comes to a close with promises to come back next time and continue arguing the same old points again and do as much as is required to fobb off the electorate in the interim.

Essentially the third world countries got a bollocking for cutting down their trees and not hugging tigers, the capitalist western rich climate destroying nations got moaned at for paying lip service to the whole thing.

The Americans don’t want to pay for climate change because ‘they didn’t mean it’ all they wanted do do was make harmless trillions by filling the air with chemicals for which they take no responsibility whatsoever.

Who knew right?

Everyone did, including the Americans!

There then followed much niggling about the ‘exact wording’ of this and that, some clapping, patting of backs and then a chorus of ‘Thanks F*ck that’s over for another year’ by all concerned.

They then jumped into their bird killing jets, ate a dinner that cost more money than a Somalian Village earns in a year, typed texts and emails on a variety of far-from-carbon-neutral mobile devices and then went home to prepare for another extravagant Christmas.

Dr Kelly Michaels from Sevenoaks University has calculated that the annual cost of Hypocrisy is roughly equivalent to that of the Italian national debt (a sum so large that it requires a specially designed wide-screen cash-point to display).

Calls for an anti-hypocrisy summit have thus far fallen on deaf ears as most governments would have little to say at such an event without contravening its underlying principle.

Meanwhile, polar bears are eating their cubs, more bad things ‘the size of Belgium’ are happening each years, four orangutans die  to make one packet of jammy dodgers and China has started paying for fish with giant pandas because they’re too bloody expensive to look after and it gives them an air of environmental benevolence.

God, as usual, is keeping very tight lipped over the whole affair.

via Climate Talks end with Promise to Continue Dithering!.

via Climate Talks end with Promise to Continue Dithering!.

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