Sep 28, 2005

Continental Drift

[Brian Holmes is offering the seminar “Continental Drift" in September and October, 2005 in New York City in conjunction with the 16 Beaver art group. Autonomedia will publish a collection of Holmes' essays, Unleashing the Collective Phantoms, this winter.]

This seminar is called “Continental Drift,” and it's about the different sorts of regional blocs that are forming in the world and in our heads. Now, the first questions to ask could be these:

Why even talk about regional blocs or continental integration? Isn't that just about the European Union, and its attempt to regain some lost power? Why not pursue the bottom-up theory of the multitude that was launched with the book Empire? Or conversely, why not admit that the real force of globalization is American imperialism? How can the abstractions of geopolitics have any meaning for the ordinary individual? And what does “continental drift” have to do with art, or with activism?

What I mainly expect is not to answer these questions, but to make them sharper and deeper and more urgent.

read more

Sep 27, 2005

Notes on Women and Right-Wing Movements - Part One

Notes on Women and Right-Wing Movements - Part One
by Matthew

A "three-way-fight" approach to fascism challenges simplistic frames of analysis. In particular, it challenges (1) a dualistic "Oppressor-versus-Oppressed" model of struggle, (2) caricatures of far-right movements as simply agents of top-down repression, and (3) the idea that the left is the only insurgent force that speaks to people's grievances and needs. These points are clear in three-way-fight discussions of fascism's potential to rally mass working-class support.
We need to use this same nuanced approach when it comes to discussions of fascism and women. Women and gender politics are major issues for the right, and our analysis of fascism needs to address this in a central way. In particular, we need to address the following realities:

* Far-right movements range from some that are mostly or virtually all male to others that include large numbers of women activists.
* While all far-right movements are male supremacist, they embody a range of doctrines and policies on women and gender issues -- including some drawn from the left and even feminism.
* Far-right movements don't just repress and terrorize women but also mobilize them -- largely by offering them specific benefits and opportunities.

(I'm using "far right" here to include both fascist movements and also right-wing populist movements that are related to fascism in terms of ideology, organizing dynamics, and social base, but which stop short of fascism's revolutionary challenge to the status quo.)

I offer here some tentative thoughts about the ways right-wing movements have addressed women and gender issues, which I hope will stimulate further discussion, research, and debate. Part One of these notes concentrates mainly on classic European fascism and its political descendents -- what we might call “conventional” fascism. Part Two will discuss religious-based movements, such as the Christian right and Hindu nationalism, which fall outside the conventional fascist tradition but have a lot in common with it. Both parts include a list of sources and suggested readings at the end.

Since the end of World War I, when fascism first emerged as a major organized force, far-right movements have promoted gender politics based on some synthesis -- or contradictory mixture -- of four themes:

* Patriarchal traditionalism - Often formulated in religious terms, this current promotes rigid gender roles based on a romanticized image of the past. Women are confined to domestic roles as wife, mother, caregiver, plus at most a few (under)paid jobs that extend these roles into the wage economy. Women are to obey men, especially fathers and husbands, who provide them security and protection (especially, in racist versions, protection against sexually aggressive men of other ethnicities). Traditionalism emphasizes the family as the main framework for male control over women. This is the most conservative current of far-right gender politics, although the "traditions" being defended are arbitrary, selective, and often made up.

* Male bonding through warfare - This theme emphasizes warfare (hardship, risk of death, shared acts of violence and killing) as the basis for deep emotional and spiritual ties between men. It is often implicitly homoerotic and occasionally celebrates male homosexuality openly, and is frequently at odds with "bourgeois" family life. In the cult of male comradeship, women may be targets of violent contempt or simply ignored as irrelevant and invisible. In Europe during and after World War I, this current flourished as an ideology that spoke to the cameraderie of the trenches and later street-fighting organizations.

* Demographic nationalism - This theme embodies fears that the nation (or privileged classes or ethhnic groups within it) is not reproducing fast enough. A variant says that the quality of the national "stock" is declining because of cultural degeneration or racial mixing, and therefore eugenics programs are needed to control human breeding. Demographic nationalism says women's main duty to the nation is to have lots of babies (and, in the eugenics variant, the right kind of babies). This doctrine rejects homosexuality as a betrayal of the duty to reproduce, but also sometimes clashes with patriarchal traditionalism -- for example in the Nazis' program to encourage out-of-wedlock births among "racially pure" Germans. Demographic nationalism (especially eugenicist versions) also tends to centralize male control over women through the state, which weakens patriarchal authority within the family.

* Quasi-feminism - This current advocates specific rights for women, such as educational opportunities, equal pay for equal work, and the right to vote, and encourages women to engage in political activism, develop self-confidence and professional skills, and take on leadership roles. But quasi-feminism can't go too far with this, because like other fascistic ideologies it assumes that humans are naturally divided and unequal. This means that quasi-feminism accepts men's overall dominance, embraces gender roles as natural and immutable, advocates only specific rights for women rather than comprehensive equality, and often promotes rights only for economically or ethnically privileged women. (None of this is unique to the far right, of course.)

One of fascism's distinctive features is the tension between forward- and backward-looking tendencies -- what Michael Staudenmaier has called a "dialectic of nostalgia and progress." Gender politics is one of the main arenas where that tension gets played out, and the four themes outlined above are one way to think about that. If patriarchal traditionalism represents fairly pure nostalgia for the past (even if it's an imaginary past), each of the other three themes represents fascism's forward-looking side, its push to shake things up and create something new. By combining these conflicting themes fascism not only appeals to constituencies that want different things but also speaks to people's self-contradictory longings and impulses.

In addition, quasi-feminism embodies fascism's tendency to take on, in distorted form, elements of political movements it aims to destroy. It's the same dynamic that produces fascist "socialism" -- which attacks specific features of capitalism and specific groups of capitalists, but not the principles of economic exploitation and class hierarchy on which capitalism is based.
In the era of "classic" fascism (1919-1945), quasi-feminism was generally the weakest of the four themes shaping far-right gender politics. But in certain contexts where feminism had made an important impact (notably through campaigns for women's suffrage), quasi-feminism played a surprisingly important role on the far right. Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists supported women's right to work for pay equal to men's, and recruited former suffragists who saw fascism as a way to continue fighting for women's rights. In the U.S., the 1920s Klan movement (a right-wing populist movement that had many fascistic characteristics) included a semi-autonomous women's organization, Women of the Ku Klux Klan. The WKKK built directly on earlier women's suffrage and temperance movements, in which racism and nativism were rampant. The WKKK criticized gender inequality among White Protestants and described the home as a place of "monstrous and grinding toil and sacrifice" for women. (On the BUF, see Durham; on the WKKK, see Blee.)

These patterns have continued in recent decades among classic fascism's political descendents. Neofascist groups embody all four of the gender politics themes outlined above. In North America and western Europe, neofascist groups tend to be explicitly male supremacist and mostly recruit men. But some of them have also tried to mobilize women and neofascists sometimes incorporate feminist-sounding themes in unexpected ways.

White Aryan Resistance, a leading third positionist group in the 1980s US, sponsored a women's affiliate called the Aryan Women's League, which promoted the slogan "White power plus Women's power!" Germany's Republikaner opposed abortion but declared in their 1990 platform that "women and men have equal rights. The right to self-actualization applies equally to women and men; this is especially true in occupational life." The Italian Social Movement (MSI), which for decades was Europe's largest neofascist party, urged a "no" vote on the 1974 referendum that legalized divorce, yet advocated a salary for housewives.

A 1985 MSI poster highlighted the contradictions of fascist quasi-feminism. It denounced Marxist feminism ("which is based on an equality which goes against nature") but also rejected "the exploitation of traditions, which relegate women to restricted and historically obsolete roles." Instead, the poster called for a form of equal rights based on the complementarity of the sexes and women's "unrelinquishable freedom to choose which roles to pursue in society." (On the Republikaner and the MSI, see Durham, pp. 86-88.)

It would be an exaggeration to treat these sentiments as typical of neofascist gender politics, just as it would be a distortion to treat working-class fascism as a major reality. In both cases, we are dealing with subcurrents that deserve special attention -- because they're key to the far right's potential to "take the game away from the left."

(To be continued)


* Kathleen M. Blee, Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).
* Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossman, and Marion Kaplan, When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984).
* Victoria De Grazia, How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy, 1922-1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).
* Martin Durham, Women and Fascism (London: Routledge, 1998).
* Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family, and Nazi Politics (New York: St. Martin's, 1987).
* Stefan Kuhl, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
* George L. Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality: Middle-Class Morality and Sexual Norms in Modern Europe (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985).

Sep 6, 2005

I received the following article from an email list I'm on. Normally, I would not have posted the story in it's entirety, but it seems that it is a fresh report and not actually published yet. Therefore no web address to link to.

It is one of the best accounts of the situation in NO I have seen so far and details the relationship between various folks trapped in NO, their interactions with cops and the National Guard, and how they had to organize to save themselves. I think we will be seeing more detailed reports coming out now that many people are able to step back and digest what they have been through.

Eye witness accounts by two Paramedics in New Orleans:
Hurricane Katrina - Our Experiences by Larry Bradshaw, Lorrie Beth Slonsky

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen's store at the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City. Outside Walgreen's windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry.

The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the windows at Walgreen's gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreen's in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with "hero" images of the National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the "victims" of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed,were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

Most of these workers had lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that was not under water.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that that was our problem, and no, they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement".

We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City. The crowd cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, "I swear to you that the buses are there."

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched pasted the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move. We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses.

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot. Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have air-conditioners. In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome. Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.

Sep 3, 2005

I have been seeing various anarchist and far-Left online articles rejoicing in the shootings at cops and the National Guard in New Orleans. Some have even said (to paraphrase), "We should be figuring out ways to announce and support the Rebellion in NO. The oppressed have had it and are taking action against the State".

Some one made a comment to me privately that the 3Way Fight stuff isn't the priority (which I never thought it was or that it necessarilyily trumps everything else). My friend said that debates on the power grabs between various elites is not what we should be focusing on, there is armed action being undertaken by the Black oppressed of NO. The pissed off Black poor in NO is currently the vital element in the US social crisis - that is where we should be orienting.

My friend is from the Race Traitor school of action and thought. I don't dismiss his ideas on the oppressed being a type of lynch pin in society, especially right now with the mass disaster in NO and the surrounding areas. I'm not gonna drag out a debate on Race Traitor here, this isn't the post that will address that point, but for clarity, I sympathize with my friend on key questions regarding the struggle against White Skin privledge. But that is a different discussion...

As for a rebellion I have yet to see any evidence of that; at least a rebellion that has energized a mass of people to action and has some (if even minimal) objectives. What I see (from my detached, far off keyboard) is a social collapse and the lack of any ability to put into practice a new social program from below. I really am waiting to see more news and some substantial reporting on the situation from a perspective that isn't tied to the dominant logic of White Supremacist America.

Otherwise, the situation is absolutely crazy and with a multitude of complexities. There is defitnitley small scale actions that are being carried out by people trying to survive and help others do the same. For instance, the "renegade bus" incident where a 20 year old commandeered a bus, loaded it up with other folks and drove it to the Houston Astro Dome, in fact being the first bus there.

Or this story

AP wires - A woman at the city's convention center says she's barely seen the police. She says the thugs and the criminals are the ones who saved her from her flooded neighborhood, using a stolen speedboat and moving truck.

At the Superdome, another Katrina evacuee says the looters have been distributing food to the evacuees there. Otherwise, he says, they'd starve. Some looters have been anxious to show they need what they're taking. A gray-haired man at a Rite-Aid pulled up his T-shirt to show a surgery scar and explained that he needs pads for incontinence.

Another man showed a reporter toothpaste, tooth brushes and deodorant.

We can only assume that there are all kinds of social acts taking place in which folks are getting together and taking independent action in the void of State assistance.

But we are also hearing reports from everyday people caught in the crisis who are pleading for help to get away from New Orleans. There are reports of criminal elements terrorizing other poor people, there are reports of rapes and abuse. How much stock we can put in the media reports is always questionable, but I think we would be naive to discount these stories. I would really think that under the situation there is a wide spectrum of thinking and acting - some human and community minded, and then activity which represents the most abusive and anti social.

The following are some links to reports and stories

'This is criminal': Malik Rahim, a veteran Black Panther, reports from New Orleans.

Notes from Inside New Orleans By JORDAN FLAHERTY

Will the "New" New Orleans be Black? By Glen Ford, Co-Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, of the Black Commentator

These are just a few useful links.

I am wary of the calls of Rebellion. Outrage and armed action are a definit. But attacks on the State, even by the oppressed, are not a simple turn towards a Left notion of revolt. Many of the poor of NO are a marginalized and desperate populace where all sorts of tendencies and valus are moving towards the surface. For many of us we can only wait and see what unfolds. Back in reality, I can only hope the folks who have been trapped in NO can get to safer ground.