Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Beats, Rhymes and Justice: Hip Hop on Rikers Island

Photo: L-R, Darnell Hannon, Ryan Burvick and Cameron Rasmussen who lead the Beats, Rhymes and Justice programme on Rikers Island. Credit: Jason Bergman

MC and producer Ryan Burvick takes us behind bars on Rikers Island, New York’s largest and troubled Jail. He leads a music production programme there called Beats, Rhymes and Justice, which helps inmates write rhymes, make music and imagine their future off the island in a different light.
We hear from three of its students, all aged between 18-21 and awaiting trial. Ayosay has been on Rikers for five months. He’s an experienced rapper from New York who dreams of making it in hip hop. Trigger is working on two tracks that express his desire to make a better life for his four-year-old daughter. Suave, a former student from the Beats, Rhymes and Justice programme, has recently been released after spending over two years in jail and is trying to adapt to life at home with his mother in the Bronx. We hear these student making music in Ryan’s portable studio on Rikers.
Rikers Island is located on an island in the East River, between the Bronx and Queens. Around 8,000 people are incarcerated there, across multiple complexes. Rikers’ has a long history of violence. Earlier this year Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to close the jail, with the council calling it “a stain on our city’s great reputation.”
The Beats, Rhymes and Justice programme, organised by Columbia University’s Centre for Justice, is one of many attempts to reform the jail. Ryan and the team from Columbia University use hip hop to take the inmates out of their cells and their immediate surroundings, to encourage self-expression and to give them hope.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Our Position - Federation of Russian Anarchist Communist Groups of U.S. and Canada

I transcribed this pamphlet from the PDF version uploaded for libcom.org

1934 positions adopted at conference by exiled Russian anarchist-communists in the US and Canada on the matters of war, fascism, bolshevism, the United Front and political prisoners.
Scanned for libcom.org by New York/New Jersey Workers Solidarity Alliance archives.

Our Position

Resolutions adopted at the Chicago Convention (2-3 Sept, 1934) by the Federation of the Russian Anarchist Communist Groups of USA and Canada.

The USSR due to her entrance into the circle of capitalist states plays the same role as all other states. Since the foundation of the USSR is laid upon the system of hired labour and commodity production, the Union, as the rest of the capitalist states, has need of foreign markets and spheres of political and economical influences. Each of these in turn, inevitably pushes the Union down the path of imperialist policy sand militarism (Witness Georgia and Mongolia).
The regime of the USSR has developed despotism to the highest degree and has destroyed all political freedom of the toiling masses, established state slavery and converted the whole country of Russia into a hard labour prison. The long years of the “building of socialism” justifies in full Bakunin’s statement that “socialism without liberty is slavery and bestiality.”
Therefore, we, the Russian Anarchist-Communists of the USA and Canada, do not concede it possible from any point of view to differentiate the USSR from the general run of state capitalist countries and consequently to apply to it a special gauge, as do the Communists and Socialists. These latter consider the USSR (in spite of all said above) as a country which builds Socialism, and as the “Fatherland” of the workers and peasants. Realising these facts, in case of war involving the Soviet Union, we stand for the conversion of this war into a Social Revolution with the aim to establish Anarchist-Communism.
Our international policy regarding war must not follow the policy of defence of the “right side,” as does the Labour Socialist International, because this policy will lead inevitably to the sad memory of the “patriotism” of past Imperialist war. On the contrary, we must fight against war in general, against combatant sides, against the “defensive” as well as the “offensive.” In case of war, the belligerent powers (i.e. Japan and USSR) must be isolated.
The international proletariat by the various means of direct action must not only restrain their respective governments, their capitalists from supplying belligerent sides with money, provisions and ammunition, but must compel them, by means of an open protest and by means of a general strike to stop immediately bloodshed.
However, in the light of the analysis of the contemporary international situation we come to the conclusion that a war between any two great powers, as for example, between Japan and the USSR due to economic and political interests of other states, cannot be a war of only these two powers. It inevitably will be the beginning of a new international war which will divide the world into two hostile camps. In this case the aim of the international proletariat is to turn the bayonets against their own bourgeoisie and to convert the world war into the world Social Revolution. In such a situation every worker, every honest man must know that the real enemy is in his own country and regulate his revolutionary tactics accordingly.
In concrete, these tactics must consist of an individual and a mass refusal of military service, of strenuous revolutionary and anti-militarist propaganda on the front as well as behind the lines, of individual as well as mass refusal from work in munitions factories, of collective refusal to load, unload and transport military provisions and equipment, of preaching fraternity among the belligerent soldiers, of partial strikes as well as a general strike which is the beginning of a forcible abolition of the existing state and capitalist regime.
The revolutionary proletariat must recognise only one war- the war of labour against capital, the war of freedom against oppression. The participants in this war must include every toiler because only after the victory of international labour over international capital is accomplished will the era of peace and freedom arrive.
The regime of the so-called “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the USSR has absolutely deprived the country of all political freedom and has established state slavery. The socialists of the Second International also tend toward dictatorship, and practice as do the bourgeoisie, the policy of active opposition to the libertarian, anti-dictatorship, revolutionary workers movement (i.e. in Spain where the Socialists of the Second International were in power, the revolutionary worker’s movement was persecuted by Fascist means.)
Therefore, in the light of these facts, we, the Russian Anarchist-Communists of the United States of America and Canada, consider a United Front with the parties of dictatorial socialism, which is in itself the spiritual father of Fascism, absolutely impossible.
It is possible to talk about a United Front only after a rejection by the Socialist and Communist parties of dictatorship, and after re-establishment of rights in the USSR, the release of all political prisoners and exiles by the Russian Bolsheviks, and the establishment of a United Front in the USSR itself.
Without the fulfillment of these preliminary conditions, a United Front against International Fascism which the Communists and Socialists offer is a lie, covering up the Communist Fascism in the USSR.
Without the fulfillment of these conditions a United Front against exploitation and capitalism throughout the world is a lie, covering up the same dreadful exploitation of the Russian proletariat and defending the most obnoxious kind of capitalism, State Capitalism.
Without the fulfillment of these conditions a United Front for the Liberation of Class Prisoners from capitalist prisons is a lie, for the Communists of all countries justify the despotism in the USSR and with this false justification in mind, they take upon themselves the responsibility for all shootings, imprisonment and exile of all non-partisan Russian revolutionary workers, peasants, Anarchists and Socialists.
A United Front without the fulfilment of these conditions is a lie for the Socialists of the Second International approved and approve, and therefore take upon themselves the responsibility for the Fascist methods of the Spanish Socialists who declared the revolutionary worker’s movement outlawed, who had stifled the workers’ press and by the thousands railroaded revolutionary workers and peasants to the prisons.
A United Front is absolutely necessary, but it can be and will be created only by the militant working class itself through direct action against the state capitalist system. It must be created not only without the political parties of State Socialism and Communism, but directed against them as well, because their full triumph in Russia has led to the establishment of “Red Fascism.”
We are for a war against Fascism. Such a war means first of all, a war against any dictatorship which is the foundation of all Fascism. Therefore, we are for the Social Revolution which will liberate the proletariat and all humanity from the yoke of capitalism and the chains of the state. This social revolution is not only a war against Fascism, but a war for the establishment of anarchist communism.

We are for a United Front of revolutionary workers of the whole world.
For us, this United Front means the union of class, revolutionary, and economic organisations of the proletariat, which practice the direct method of struggle and which combat any attempt of political parties to dominate them. We consider, therefore, that it is our sacred duty to create such a United Front and to be in the front ranks of the proletarian army to call upon the workers to join us in the fight first, against the state, capitalism, dictatorship and terror in all countries,- second, for the establishment of libertarian communism.
Strikes, boycotts and other drastic means are our answer to fascist provocation for any dictatorship. Down with any kind of dictatorship, the survivor of barbarism! “Liberty without Socialism,” says Bakunin, ”is privilege and injustice; Socialism without liberty- slavery and bestiality,” therefore, long live the revolutionary struggle of workers and peasants for libertarian communism!
If in the very beginning of the Bolshevik domination and at the time in the civil war in Russia, there as any basis of justification for the policy of terror, every semblance of justification has now vanished. The terror in the USSR during these many years bears already a definitely reactionary character and has long since turned from “red” to “white.”
At present the terror, which from our point of view is always the means of reaction even when it is practiced by the most red revolutionary government, is no longer a means of defence of the revolution as it was first armed. It is a means on monopolistic domination of the Bolshevik party; - a means to preserve political and economic privileges of a new class- Bureaucracy. It is a means of immortalising of political despotism and economic slavery of the workers of the USSR. Therefore, we, Russian Anarchist-Communists, come out with a resolute demand for the re-establishment of all rights in the USSR and for the release of all political prisoners.
We consider it our duty to continue with unremitting energy to expose the Bolshevik despotism before the labouring masses, to call them to protest against the government terror of the USSR and to demand the release of all political prisoners.
The Communists of all countries with the Third International at the head defend and justify terror in the USSR. Consequently they bear the responsibility for it as much as the Russian Bolsheviks. Therefore, we recommend a protest not only against the Bolshevik government but also against all Communist parties and against the Third (Communist) International.
The struggle against the Russian government and the Third International must go under the slogans:
Communists of all countries, you are accomplices in the murders and oppression of thousands of Russian revolutionary workers and peasants!
Communists, open the prison doors for Anarchists, Socialists, and all revolutionists of Russia!
Communists return the usurped freedom before the terrible hour of retaliation arrives,
Workers, demand the release of all political prisoners from the prisons of the USSR. Fight the Bolshevik reaction- the most dangerous and the most depraving!
Labourers of all countries, demand from the Communist parties, Communist workers’ unions of your countries the release of political prisoners and the cessation of terror in the USSR!
Friends and Fellow workers:
Winter is again knocking at our doors: the cruel, terrible Russian winter, hard enough even for those who have a roof over their heads, who can keep warm, who have food... but a deadly winter for the disinherited, for the exploited, for the persecuted.
Our imprisoned and exiled comrades, whose life is but one endless nightmare of misery and physical and moral torture even in summer, write to us from Soviet Russia letters full of an anguish they can barely hide.
No day passes without the Soviet Government cutting further down the means of subsistence. Deported to farthest and most forsaken unhealthy corners of the country, our exiled friends have to undergo unheard of privations. In the enormous majority of cases, it is impossible for them to find any work, and if they do happen to find employment, they are not paid for it. Frequently, insurmountable difficulties are met within the finding of a room. It is verily a life of hounded beasts in the fullest sense of the word. More than that: many of our comrades, “politically” freed, after long years of imprisonment and exile, continue to be ruthlessly persecuted “economically”: they obtain no right to work, no right to rent a lodging, to obtain assistance of any kind.
... They feed when and how they can and are frequently compelled to sleep in the fields... “I am thinking with horror of the winter that comes”... “My husband is in exile, I do not know what will happen to us, to myself and my children”...”I cannot bear it any longer...I cannot see my children’s sufferings”...
This is what we read in the letters from our exiled friends, from their wives and parents... All of them know that hunger, disease, agony and slow death awaits them, their nearest and dearest ones...
They beg of us not to forget them, not to abandon them, to help them. Our moral and material support remains their sole hope, their only “joys” among the misfortunes and sufferings that have befallen them.
They are numerous, our unhappy friends, banished by a “socialist fatherland” outlawed, condemned to a slow but sure death in the prisons and man forsaken corners of the wide country of theirs.
If we are to help them, however, slightly, we must have money, and still more money. And what is most important- we must have regularly flowing in money, without gaps, without too long intervals. We must be able to send every month, regularly the few dollars to our comrades, that they may keep body and soul together and hope for better days.
We appeal to this effect to all our labour organisations and to all workers and comrades individually.
Do all that is in your powers to help our friends.
Spread broadcast our appeals.
Circulate subscription lists.
Organise concerts, evening parties in favour of Anarchists and Anarchosyndicalists fallen victims of the Bolshevist regime.
Build groups of aid and assistance.
Wherever possible, introduce the system of regular contributions.
Have special anniversaries and collecting days or weeks.
Help-immediate help- is urgently needed. Do it at once, because the more the Stalin reaction grows, the more tragic becomes the state of our comrades.
Left to their own fate, lost in the wilderness of the immense country, friendless and forlorn, without help or support, they are all doomed to perish soon. Many of them are already at the end of their tether.
It is upon you alone, comrades all, that depends their fate and their salvation.
Send funds to:
“Freie Arbeiter Stimme,” “Russian Fund.”
45 W. 17th St., New York

Monday, 5 February 2018

Listen Gamer!

In 2015 the company Ubisoft released another game in its Assassin's Creed franchise called Syndicate. The game was set in London in 1868 and some of its decisions caused a bit of a stir on social media and in the comments sections of video game websites. There were several different but often tangentially related controversies, but I'm only focussing on one, the inclusion of the minor character Karl Marx.
If your not familiar with the game series, don't worry the games themselves didn't have anything to do with this particular argument, all you need to keep in mind is that the game takes place in London 1868 and it has Karl Marx in it.
Right wing types were very angry about his inclusion, but that's to be expected and I'm not going to waste anyone's time on that one. Instead I'm focussing on another counter backlash from gamers whom either identify as Marxists or at least identify as pro Karl Marx in some sense. If you take a look at the above image you'll see the core of the disagreement. On the left is a representation of Karl Marx from the game, his character model and a quotation from one of his lines of dialogue, juxtaposed with a quotation on the right hand side. Essentially some Marxist gamers were accusing the company of a deliberate distortion of the man.
And having played the game and read some of Marx's work, I have to disagree. Some background info, the quotation on the left "killing people and destroying property solves nothing. Democracy is the only way to Socialism". Is said by Marx when he wants the player character (PC) to stop an anarchist friend of his from taking stolen explosives and trying to blow up parliament. As far as I'm aware Karl Marx never said that statement in those exact words, but I've not read everything he ever wrote so I'm not going to rule it out entirely. However when the statement is broken down into its two parts
  • Karl Marx disapproves of terrorism
  • Karl Marx thinks democracy is a necessary condition to move onto socialism
Then yes it is very representative of the historical Karl Marx. Karl Marx and Engels were quite open about being resistant to terrorism carried out by individuals or small groups. To pick one example in 1867 just one year before the games setting there was bomb attack by Fenians in Clerkenwell, this is Karl Marx responding to it in Ireland and the Irish question
The last exploit of the Fenians in Clerkenwell was a very stupid thing. The London masses, who have shown great sympathy for Ireland, will be made wild by it and be driven into the arms of the of the government party. One cannot expect the London proletarians to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of the Fenian emissaries. There is always a kind of fatality about such a secret, melodramatic sort of conspiracy.
I'm honestly a little surprised that so many declared Marxists take issue with this part of the phrase since anecdotally speaking their views on these tactics were quite well known and many other well known Marxists developed it further. Trotsky for example wrote several pamphlets outlining what he called a Marxist case against terrorism.2
Onto point two, again its not hard to find both Marx and Engels talking about how necessary democracy is for the revolution. In principles of Communism written by Engels in 1847 an entire section is dedicated to this. Section 18 What Will the Course of this Revolution be?
Above all, it will establish a democratic constitution, and through this, the direct or indirect dominance of the proletariat. Direct in England, where the proletarians are already a majority of the people. Indirect in France and Germany, where the majority of the people consists not only of proletarians, but also of small peasants and petty bourgeois who are in the process of falling into the proletariat, who are more and more dependent in all their political interests on the proletariat, and who must, therefore, soon adapt to the demands of the proletariat. Perhaps this will cost a second struggle, but the outcome can only be the victory of the proletariat.
Democracy would be wholly valueless to the proletariat if it were not immediately used as a means for putting through measures directed against private property and ensuring the livelihood of the proletariat. The main measures, emerging as the necessary result of existing relations, are the following:
The above is the opening remarks, the bolding is my own.
Now that's Engels, personally I'm not a fan of treating the two as conjoined, so what did Marx say? Well in 1848 in the Manifesto of the Communist league he had this to say,
We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the
proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the
bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State,
i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.
Democracy is key to the Proletariat becoming a ruling class, and only through becoming a ruling class can the proletariat begin attacking bourgeois property relations.
Also in 1848 Marx gave a short speech commemorating the second anniversary of the Krakow insurrection. The speech was later called Communism, Revolution and a Free Poland. In the speech he rubbishes the claims of hostile European governments that the revolt was a communist one, i.e. an attack on property, but he does champion its democratic aims and at the conclusion notes positively that the rising has left a big influence on the Democrats of Europe and has sparked similar movements elsewhere.
The Krakow revolution has set all of Europe a glorious example, because it identified the question of nationalism with democracy and with the liberation of the oppressed class.
Even though this revolution has been strangled with the bloody hands of paid murderers, it now nevertheless rises gloriously and triumphantly in Switzerland and in Italy. It finds its principles confirmed in Ireland, where O'Connell's party [the Irish Confederation, founded January 1847] with its narrowly restricted nationalistic aims has sunk into the grave, and the new national party is pledged above all to reform and democracy.
Again it is Poland that has seized the initiative, and no longer a feudal Poland but a democratic Poland; and from this point on its liberation has become a matter of honor for all the democrats of Europe.
So its not entirely unreasonable that 1868 Karl Marx would say something like this, especially as an alternative to individual acts of terrorism.
Now there's also an interesting bit of context missing from the "real" Karl Marx on the right. The passage "We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror. " comes from an 1849 edition of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Specifically the last issue of that paper because the Rhinish government had just ordered it closed and given the editor Marx, 24 hours to voluntarily leave the Rhineland or they would forcibly expel him. So understandably he was very angry, but more importantly is that he isn't talking about the final stages of the revolution. On the contrary the "we" and its "terror" is democratic social republicanism. He's attacking the noble class that ruled the German states, and he's threatening them with the spectre of a victorious republic.
And at that time we were speaking with the judiciary. We summed up the old year, 1848, in the following words (cf. the issue of December 31, 1848):
"The history of the Prussian middle class, and that of the German middle class in general between March and December shows that a purely middle-class revolution and the establishment of bourgeois rule in the form of a constitutional monarchy is impossible in Germany, and that the only alternatives are either a feudal absolutist counterrevolution or a social republican revolution."
Did we therefore have to advance our social republican tendency only in the "last pieces" of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung? Did you not read our articles about the June revolution, and was not the essence of the June revolution the essence of our paper?
Why then your hypocritical phrases, your attempt to find an impossible pretext?
We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror. But the royal terrorists, the terrorists by the grace of God and the law, are in practice brutal, disdainful, and mean, in theory cowardly, secretive, and deceitful, and in both respects disreputable.
So in a sense the "real" Karl Marx is supporting the views of the "fake" ubisoft Karl Marx, just in more explicit language.
Conclusion - Why on earth does this matter?
Well I'm not going to pretend this is an earth shattering opinion or an event that everyone must take a stand on. I'm only talking about this now because its been popping back up again. I just thought it was worth pointing out that we have a backlash against a depiction of Karl Marx for being phoney, and in process discovered that quite a few self declared Marxists aren't very familiar with the man or his ideas.
I'd just like to finish up here with my own comments on Karl Marx in Syndicate.
A quick summary,
  • Karl Marx in the game wants the PC's help to protect him while he organises an underground meeting to discuss Trade Unions.
  • Karl Marx wants the PC to talk his friend the Anarchist called Morris out of what he thinks is a counter-productive action.
  • Karl Marx wants the PC to collect information on a factory about the working conditions and its accident rate to support his political work.
  • Karl Marx wants the PC to be security at an open air meeting with London dock workers so he can talk about exploitation.
  • Karl Marx also remarks that he's had to suffer police surveillance and harassment for most of his time as an activist.
  • Karl Marx is really wants to build what he calls the Workers Party
Its not perfect, reuses the reform word a bit too much for my liking, but considering he's a character in a video game that caters to a large mainstream audience and not made by overt Marxists, and is not trying to be a complete accurate record of historical events, its pretty good. Especially when you factor in that for many this will be the first time they've encounter Karl Marx directly. It probably goes a bit too far in presenting him as a do gooder, but Marx in the popular conciousness is still heavily associated with state terror and mass murder, thanks to the legacy of several regimes. So maybe pushing him in this direction is actually a good thing.
I don't know, here's a video that has all of his cutscenes; feel free to judge his depiction on your own.
It cuts out the speech he gives, but sadly the only videos I can find that keep that in have the player talking over it.

Search This Blog

#blog-pager { display: block !important; float: none!important; } .blog-pager-older-link, .home-link, .blog-pager-newer-link { background-color: #FFFFFF!important; }