Tuesday, September 29, 2020


Nothing would please me more than if peaceful, constitutional means could be found to overcome the number one problem of our time – the climate crisis. What joy it would bring to me if the self-styled progressive parties would tackle the crisis with the same seriousness the way WW2 or the present Covid 19 crisis were dealt with. (As so many activists have pointed out) This is not the case, nor is there any hope that they will get serious. All the major parties talk, but do not walk. We can speculate why this is - they are tied to the fossil fuel industry, to the developers, speculators, the construction companies. They may be afraid of retaliation by the Chinese Government if we are not haulers of wood and water for them. The NDP is tied to the resource-based business unions and local developers who stand to gain from the status quo. Whatever, barring a miracle, there is no hope from this quarter.
What about the Green Party?, you ask. It says the right things but it is tiny. There is a real political disconnect with the populace. Overwhelmingly, people are worried about the climate crisis, but these same people vote for the talkers who are not doers. For many, the climate crisis is further down the road than issues like unemployment or healthcare. Thus, they vote for the big parties who can actually do something about these immediate concerns.
If parliamentary means are closed off, change must occur from outside the system. When significant change is induced from outside the “regular channels” it is called a revolution. This seems to be our only option.
But revolutions are not made by small groups of activists, they occur “spontaneously.” I put quotes around the word because in the decades prior to a popular rising, there are many smaller actions, and many groups and individuals promoting or engaging in new ideas and practices. The revolution arises as a single salt crystal placed in a supersaturated solution makes the whole solution crystallize.
Without the correct set of conditions there can be no revolution. These conditions are the complete failure of the established system to deal with serious problems stemming from that system and the will of a significant section of the population to act. Furthermore, this action must be a clear break with the old system and involves the creation of new political and economic structures. As few as 10% of the population acting – providing the majority are not hostile – can make revolutionary change.
Here is the problem. If people cannot bring themselves to vote for candidates who are serious about the climate crisis, how in the world can you expect them to “take to the streets” by the millions? A partial answer is that political parties divide people and mass movements unite. People may be divided between Liberals, NDP, and Greens party-wise, but the pre-Covid pipeline struggles brought together embarrassed Liberals, NDPs, Greens, anarchists, Communists and the non-aligned. Revolutions do the same.
Nevertheless, it is hard to see millions in the streets. A revolution seems like a distant dream. Across this land there may be a few hundred thousand people willing to act. This is certainly better than the past, but we need ten times that number or more. The problem of climate change is that it is like the story of the frog in the pot of water that is gradually being heated. Many people are concerned, but the water is still not unbearably hot. They will act when they have no choice, when adjustments are no longer possible, when it is without too much exaggeration, “do or die.” Historically this has been the case, with many revolutions, the problems engendered by the old regime become unbearable and a breaking point is reached.
This is the most pessimistic scenario, but there are always those “black swan” incidents. An event like the Arab Spring may trigger a rising before we reach the point of no return climate-wise. This is always possible. All revolutions seemingly come out of nowhere, and it is only in retrospect do people interpret the causes. Thus, one must never give up hope, even if chances are slim.
Either way, change will probably come too late. The clock is ticking, we have only a few years to act, every year that goes by without dealing with emissions, is another year frittered away. Revolution is needed for going into survival mode, even if we cannot create the ecologically sane alternative we wish.
If we cannot trust the rulers with doing something about the climate crisis, how can we trust them to create a situation where a significant portion of humanity can survive when the disaster really strikes? They do not care about us, other than as bodies and minds to exploit, and certainly won't care about us in our grim future. Their concern will be about saving their own skins and continuing to dominate and exploit what is left of the world's population. They have to go. (No, I am not saying we should exterminate them, though they deserve it, but give them an island some place where they can bully each other and leave the rest of us in peace.)
Even if it is too late to “save civilization”, the revolution will be necessary. It will be necessary as a means to maximize the survival rate and maintain the culture and knowledge that has accrued over the centuries. It will be necessary to deal with the fascists and regular criminals who will attempt to take advantage of the chaos. It will be necessary to eliminate the dominator-system that has brought us to this calamity and prevent it from ever re-establishing its cancer-like existence over humanity and the natural world. 
End of Part One
Part Two – What Might a Contemporary Revolution Look Like?
and Part Three – What Is A Revolutionary? Coming later...


REVOLUTION TODAY - Some Thoughts On Revolution Part 2
Revolutions are not made by ideas or revolutionaries. They are made by material conditions. However, when ideas are taken up by a significant section of the populace and converted into action they become a material force. This is what quietly occurs in the years prior to a “spontaneous” rising - ideas and actions are tried out and become part of the consciousness of the most advanced sector. 
We see this occuring in the last 20 years; the militant environmental struggles, the post-Seattle anti-corporate globalization movement, the black blocs, the Arab Spring, Occupy, Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, the Indignados, les Gilets Jaunes, the Wet'su'weten struggle, Antifa, Extinction Rebellion and the pre-covid insurrections in Hong Kong, Chile and Lebanon. The awareness of these struggles globalizes with instant communications and people learn from each other, see what works and does not, and these ideas sink into the consciousness.
But what are we trying to do? How can we really effect change in a dominator system? For that we must have a clear picture of what we are up against. The form that the dominator system takes in our era is capitalism, in both its corporate and statist aspects, which in the last 40 years take on multinational forms. The heart and soul of capitalism is perpetual capital growth. A low or negative profit rate is a problem for the system and if this should occur for any length of time, the system goes into crisis. The card up the sleeve for revolutionary change lies in that fact.
If a mass of people can significantly effect capital's growth rate, or devalue its fixed capital, (machinery, buildings, etc.) it can force the ruling class to reform, if not open a breach within the system that would eventually allow us to liberate the economy and society in general from domination. Ruling classes are typically divided, one group favours reform (give a little and not risk losing everything) and another favors repression and fascism. The idea is to split the ruling class, unite the people and thus create an opening for significant political and economic change.
Before the neoliberal destruction of the industrial working class (in Europe and North America that is) a significant force for change lay with action in the factories. It was soon discovered that merely going on strike was not enough, workers could be beaten or gunned down. Thus came the factory occupations of the 1930s. While a worker's life wasn't worth a cent to the cappies, their plants and machinery were of immense value. Sending in thugs to dislodge the workers could result in severe damage to their fixed capital. The moderate faction of the rulers gave in. The unions were recognized and many reforms enacted, reforms that gave rise to the so-called middle class living standard for industrial workers in the period 1950-1980.
The loss of industry has weakened plant occupation a great deal. This can no longer be the complete focus for revolutionary action, though ports, airports, rail and trucking, if shut down would have a major impact. The focus must now shift to the city, and part of this has to do with the change in direction that capitalism took with neoliberalism.
Due to the lower rate of profit in industry, capital has flowed in no small measure to real estate speculation. An enormous amount of capital is tied up in city property. Add to this corporate businesses located in the cities, such as banks, multinational corporate shops and restaurants, etc. If a significant number of people were to occupy the down towns of major cities, they would simultaneously threaten the profit margins and hold all that real estate wealth hostage. The goal would be to shut down business as usual and the shutting of the ports, rail and trucking would be part of this.
Note the phrase “significant number”. The police can drive away and arrest a few thousand people and the action becomes only symbolic, a few broken windows, some garbage cans on fire. Hundreds of thousands of people is another story. You simply do not want to piss off 400,000 people in the down town core. If the movement has erupted in all major cities, even the army could not contain the revolt. The movement does not need to engage in violence or property destruction. Just being there, occupying, makes the profit rate slide. However, the movement cannot be counted to maintain its good nature if attacked. This puts the dominators in a quandary. If they repress, they stand to lose billions in property damage. If they don't repress, their business remains at a standstill.
The movement ought not to engage in “positional warfare”. This was the mistake of Occupy. Defend a territory for an indefinite time period and people get tired and drift away. The climate also may be your enemy for long term occupation. Be non-violent guerrillas. It is better to shut things down for a couple of days, go home, rest up then do it again, until you win the changes you seek.
The movement will most likely form direct-democratic assemblies to self-govern. These can choose recallable delegates for any negotiations. Modified consensus or super-majorities should be used to prevent hostile takeovers by the political sects, who are the bane of any mass movement. Such assemblies and delegation are also a prefigurative political formation and point the way to a possible replacement of our “elective dictatorship” with genuine democracy.
Movements are rarely “just political” and this one will certainly be no different. In the same way that we have a recent history of social movements which are in some manner prefigurative, we also have a prefigurative economy. This consists of the cooperatives, worker coops, land trusts, cohousings, mutual aid associations, not to mention urban farming, alotments, local production, farmers markets and the “simple living” and food security movements. There in embryo we have a cooperative economy, which could in time replace our present authoritarian corporate and statist systems. Also, as more and more people opt for localism, cooperation and reject consumerism, this too effects the corporate profit margins. The idea of the alternative economy is to “starve the cancer.”
You have probably noticed by now that I do not refer to an instantaneous and universal overturning of the system. I feel that such ideas as exemplified by the storming of the Winter Palace are obsolete. Revolutions are much more drawn out PROCESSES, not THINGS that can be imposed. Thus a significant reform, brought about through revolutionary action, is itself, revolutionary. Example - everyone serious about the climate crisis seeks to radically cut back on emissions, stop the plundering of the biosphere and end the cult of growth. Such demands, if enacted, would not abolish capitalism, but would end up severely restricting it. Like a cancer, without eternal growth it dies, or at most encysts and becomes managable. The economy could gradually evolve into cooperation and capitalism would fade away as did the feudal remnants within the capitalist state.
Ah, yes, the big problem, getting that mass, that minimum 10% of the population that will act, and that majority, who at worst, show benign indifference. Polls show that the majority would like to see serious action about the climate crisis and other pressing problems, even though the vast majority of them vote for foot-dragging parties like the Liberals and NDP. I suspect that as conditions worsen, and the rulers continue to drag their feet, an increasing number of people will be ready to take action and that this will grow exponentially as we get ever closer to complete environmental collapse. If this does not happen, we are hooped. What else can I say? End of Part 2


A revolutionary is not a self-righteous moralist, a dogmatist or a hair-splitter. Nor is a revolutionary someone who always spouts ultra-militant or violent rhetoric. What then, is a revolutionary?
First and foremost, a revolutionary is a materialist. By this I mean philosophical materialism - basing one's decisions on an examination of the real, empirically existing world, rather than attempting to force fit that world into the confines of some set of ideas like a dogma or ideology. If the real world conflicts with the dogma, out goes the dogma and in comes a new set of ideas that conform more closely with reality. [I know that some of you may object to the term, materialism, we could also call it “realism” except this would create confusion with the 18th Century Scottish Realist Philosophers, with which it bears little resemblance.]
We see the application of a materialist analysis with both Marx and Lenin. Marx did not talk much about the political organization of the future society, but along came the Paris Commune and he saw that this was the method and adopted it. Lenin realized that introducing a broad-based open social democratic party was impossible in a totalitarian state like Tsarist Russia, and borrowing from the earlier Narodniks, came up with the vanguard party concept. It does not matter that Marx was an opportunist and the Paris Commune was largely the work of Proudhonist anarchists or that Lenin's vanguard party had a serious downside, the point is, they took account of material reality.
When the Magon brothers first attempted to overthrow the Diaz regime in Mexico, they did so under the guise of the Liberal Party of Mexico. Liberalism was about as radical as was allowed under that brutal dictatorship. Moralists and ideologues would have overtly declared themselves anarchist communists – and found themselves dead within a week. The Magons took account of the material conditions. They were also cognizant of the other philosophical aspect that true revolutionaries possess – an awareness of the dialectic of struggle.
Just to speed up the process, they inserted a clause within the program of the Liberal Party that would help transform the movement in the direction of anarchist communism. Among the regular list of democratic and human rights they included land to the peasants. The Magons knew it did not matter if their movement started out moderate, the struggle against the regime would radicalize the movement, transitioning it from liberal to anarchist. When conditions changed some years later with the revolution in full swing, the Liberal Party program was changed to include anarchist communism.
Why do you think that Marx practically jumped up and down with joy when the 10 Hours Bill was passed or Rosa Luxemberg wrote glowingly of mass strikes? Because they understood the dialectic of struggle. The 10 Hours Bill marked the first time the working class had imposed itself politically on the capitalists and Marx realized it represented the beginning of a long process of political class struggle. Luxemberg saw the mass strikes as a prelude to revolutionary change. Pseudo-revolutionaries see a “moderate” mass movement and sneer because it does not measure up to their ideals. They do not understand such movements soon radicalize in the conflict with the authorities. It also shows a contempt for the people, as though they would be fooled by the moderates and would not be intelligent enough to realize the limitations of a movement.
It is important to know the difference between the People and the enemies of the struggle. It should be obvious that white supremacists, anti-Semites, Nazis, misogynists, climate-crisis deniers and those who promote all variety of hateful conspiracy theories are beyond the pale. While the People clearly reject such reactionary views, we also cannot expect them to be saints. If we wait for the mantle of sainthood to descend upon the masses we will wait an eternity. Essentially, we must take the People as they are, contradictions and all, at the same time encouraging education and through the process of the struggle overcoming any residual prejudice and ignorance they might have. This is the difference between the materialist and the moralist, the revolutionary and the pseudo-revolutionary.
The true revolutionary is an opportunist par excellence. Not in the pejorative sense, a synonym for sell-out, but taking advantage of any given situation, jumping on it and using it to further the struggle. Dogmas, ideologies, puritanical moralizing – into the garbage heap with them! The motto should be the revolution first and foremost. Within reason, everything must be sacrificed for that end. In a limited sense, the “ends do justify the means” This does not mean discarding the ethical core from which stems the revolutionary impulse – a revolution based upon planned atrocities will become a new tyranny - but simply ignoring the dogmas and posturings that get in the way of making effective social change.
A true revolutionary understands their limitations – they are sparks, not the bonfire. The masses in motion make the revolution, not the individual, not the revolutionary organization. The task of the revolutionary is to bring together as broad a coalition of the oppressed as possible based on key transformative issues. 
Sometimes these transformative issues can be reduced to slogans -”Land and Liberty”, “Peace, Land and Bread”, “Land to the tiller, the workshop to the workers”. They are all “common sense” to the people and point in the direction of revolutionary change. If acted upon, they ARE the revolution.
Groups who try to force-fit the workers into some narrow purist program, may think they are revolutionary, but they are irrelevant poseurs. At the same time such groups suffer from programatic diarrhea – every aspect of existence must be covered with their shit. It is better to focus on key issues and save the rest for the mission statement. By narrowly defining everything, they cannot help but create division, whereas a focused program, based upon the fundamental needs of the populace, brings unity.
The transformative issues change with time and with the situation. What might seem revolutionary in the past may seem moderate today, and what now appears moderate may in fact, be revolutionary. It all depends upon the stage of capitalist development. The revolutionary must understand the epoch in which she lives. Applying yesterdays concepts to today's situation, is a good recipe for failure. An example of what I mean - during capital's heady post-war prosperity, the system could allow significant social reforms. Capitalism in crisis cannot do this – it will fight to the bitter end to prevent reform, hence today the process of seeking reform can create a revolutionary situation.
An example? The greatest challenge we face today is the climate crisis. Any genuine attempt to combat the crisis means imposing limits on capitalism. Since capitalism requires eternal growth or it goes into crisis, this means the super-cession of capitalism. Thus reformist demands for a “steady state economy”, “degrowth” or “Green New Deals”, are revolutionary, if sincerely acted upon.
There is the question of violence. Some militants talk about the need for violence and what enemies of the struggle the promoters of non-violence are. “One size fits all” is the problem here. Once again, the nature of the struggle depends upon material conditions. The Magon's rhetoric, once the Mexican people rose up in arms, that is, was to encourage revolutionary violence. Malatesta, who had actually taken part in insurrections and maintained the need for such all his life, did not off-handly dismiss those who disagreed with insurrection. They were part of the movement too. Marx and Engels were moderate in speech, befitting the tolerant and non-revolutionary situation in England. During the Revolution of 1848, however, they were on the barricades.
The revolutionary seeks the least violent social change possible, if not from ethics, from practicality. Who wants to inherit mountains of corpses and smouldering ruins? The October Revolution had ONE fatality – it was the following civil war that was bloody, not the revolution. Workers do not need to be told to be violent – they know what violence is, having experienced it practically from birth. And if violence is needed, they will be far more effective at it, than many a self-styled revolutionary.
Like it or not there is a “vanguard” - some people are just more experienced, better educated (formally and informally) than others. The mistake has been to turn this vanguard into bosses of the movement, rather than just exemplary figures and resource people. “True leadership is obedience”, say the Zapatistas and I concur. It is not up to us to tell the people what to do.
 Need I point out those “key transformative issues” I wrote about earlier, do not spring from the heads of the revolutionary minority, but are a distillation of the popular consciousness. They are there already. Peasants always want their land back from the “noble” robbers. Most workers think most managers are incompetent boobs and they could do better without them. Millions of people are deeply concerned about the climate crisis. Most First Nations people are concerned about the crimes perpetuated upon them which continue with the pipeline imposition and millions of non-First Nations people support them. And so on.
See, it exists already. In a sense the revolution is now, because it is encapsulated in those material, ie, really existing, key issues. The revolution, in the sense of transformation of the system, is merely the generalization of those issues. The true task of revolutionaries is foster that generalization.

Saturday, September 12, 2020



Much has been written of late about “right-wing populism.” Sorry, but there is no such animal. Populism, genuine populism, is the agrarian socialism with a dash of anarchism, that flourished in Russia and North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and in Latin America from the 1930s to the present. It is anything but backward looking, opposed to science or in favour of irrationalism. 1. The Russian populists practically worshiped science and many were imprisoned or killed trying to educate the populace. For the Americas, both North and South, education stood at the forefront of all populist movements.

Right-wing populism” is little more than neo-fascism, an appeal to the basest instincts of a dumbed-down and lumpenized sector. For such “populism” the elite consists not of billionaires, but anyone who reads books, even if that person lives below the poverty line. For authentic populism, the elite is the ruling class of industrialists, financiers, big landowners, and the political, academic, governmental and corporate managerial class who work for them. The “people” are the great mass dominated, and thus exploited, by this elite; the farmers, artisans, workers, professionals and small traders. Right-wing populism is a sign of decadence, true populism sees the masses educating themselves, lifting themselves up from their degraded situation by their own efforts and building a “culture of resistance”, not those who wallow in servility to their masters.

Unlike “Orthodox Marxism”, which zeroed-in on the working class as the revolutionary subject, let alone the vulgar Marxists, who stupidly reduced that class to manual workers alone, populism saw the revolutionary potential in all the exploited. They were proven correct by the great revolutions of the Twentieth Century; Mexico, Russia, China and Cuba - all peasant-based. Enough of that, let us examine the populist movements in some detail.

Russian Populism, The Narodniks and The Socialist Revolutionary Party

The most important influence on the development of Russian populism was Nikolai Chernyshevsky's socialist feminist novel “What Is To Be Done” published in 1863. It became a “best seller” and the Russian youth devoured it like candy. In this novel “Russian young intelligensy found... an appealing solution” to Tsarist Russia's multitude of problems. For Lenin, the novelist stood as “the greatest and most talented representative of socialism before Marx.” 2. The book, as well as a love story, is a paean to scientific rationalism. The rejection of Christian and conventional morality in favor of science and rational self-interest earned the youth who followed these precepts the name “Nihilists” - as though the rejection of convention was a rejection of ethics in general. On the contrary, no generation of youth was more self-sacrificing and torn by moral conflict than these “Nihilists.”.

The movement must be put into historical context. Tsarist Russia was the “prototype of the modern police state.” 3. and was infamous for its cruelty and oppressiveness. Populist youth were hanged for teaching peasants to read and for having “illegal” printing presses. There was even secret police persecution for giving medical treatment to peasants. 4.

Around a million people were deported to Siberia in the 19th Century, many used as forced labor in the mines. Like Stalin's gulags – undoubtedly modeled on the Tsarist system – the death rate of prisoners was very high. One example was the Barguzin camp , “By spring of each year one quarter to one third had died of tuberculosis, typhoid fever, malnutrition, or failed attempts to escape.” 5.

Influences on Chernyshevsky included the Proudhon-influenced socialist Alexandre Herzen, Louis Blanc's and Robert Owen's, cooperatives and Fourier's utopian socialism. His feminism came from reading George Sand, 6. A big influence philosophically was the materialism of Feuerbach. 7. Like both Herzen and Bakunin, Chernyshevsky saw the peasant commune [the Mir] as a basis for socialism. Russia would not have to go through the brutal transition to capitalism. 8. [ Marx was of a similar opinion see page ] Bakunin's influence ought not to be underestimated, as at this time he was the major figure among Russian revolutionaries.

Peter Lavrov, helped create the Zemyla i volya (Land and Freedom Party) in which a later split-off became the Narodnaya Volya, or People's Will, [hence “Narodniks”] in the 1870s. He was influenced by Proudhon, Fourier, Chernyshevsky and Herzen. Lavrov was also one of Marx and Engels closer friends, and while sympathetic to them in many ways, maintained his intellectual and political independence. 9.

Nikolai Mikhailovsky spanned the era from the Narodniks to the formation of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR's) in 1901 and was thus regarded as “the grand old man of Populist socialism.“ He was “strongly drawn to Proudhon” and learned his feminism from reading John Stuart Mill. Mikhailovsky, while philosophically a materialist, rejected Positivism and Social Darwinism. While respectful of Marxism, like Lavrov, he maintained his independence as a thinker. 10. [The SR and the later Left SR continued the earlier Narodnik agrarian socialism, best encapsulated in the slogan “land and freedom.”]

The feminist strain within Russian Populism meant that many of its important leaders were women. There was Vera Zazulich, a leader of Zemlya i Volya, friend of Marx and Engels, and later, editor of Iskra. Vera Figner, a leader of Narodnaya Volya (armed struggle group of the Narodnik movement) spent twenty years in solitary confinement for her activities. Katarina Breshkovsky, member of Narodnaya Volya, founder of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and leader of the SR Battle Group (armed struggle organization) She was commonly known as “Babushka ” (Grandmother of the Revolution) There was Maria Spiradanova, member of the SR Battle Group, founder and leader of the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party, member of the Petrograd Soviet, President of the First Congress of Peasants' Soviets and part of the coalition that toppled the Provisional Government in October 1917.

The loss of these brilliant, capable and above all revolutionary women in leadership positions due to lengthy prison sentences and Siberian exile had a negative effect on the development of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Compromising male politicians took over from the revolutionaries after the failed 1905 Revolution. They foolishly supported the First World War, then gave rise to the dithering, incompetent (and stupidly pro-War) Provisional Government, which the Bolsheviks and Left SR bloodlessly overthrew in October 1917.

North American Populism

Populism in North America did not fall from the sky, but was “the culmination of a united development beginning with Grangerism and Greenbackism in the early 1870s.” 11. [The Grange was an early farmer's organization and the Greenback Party sought to change the monetary system to one that benefited the populace and not just the bankers and industrialists.] In Canada populism was also rooted in the Grange and another farmer organization, The Patrons of Industry. 12. The ground had been well seeded beforehand, first by radical Abolitionists and early socialists like the Proudhon and Fourier influenced Horace Greely, Arthur Brisbane and Charles A. Dana. These three men spread their ideas through their newspaper, The New York Tribune. The Tribune was the first mass circulation and national newspaper in the USA. [ It's European correspondent was Karl Marx]

The first North American populist party was the Greenback Party, organized in 1872, uniting farmers and labour. Their plan was for the government to issue low interest loans to the public to create worker cooperatives and get the farmers out of the clutches of the usurious banks. “Greenbackism was a direct attack on the banks and private ownership.” 13.

The populists of the 1890s also read Henry George's “Progress and Poverty” in which he, unaware of Marx's Capital, showed how capital was essentially labour. George made clear that land and natural resources were given by nature, and thus should not be monopolized by a minority, but shared by all. He proposed as a first step, that land alone should be taxed as a way for the general public to get a share of what ought to have been held in common. [Hence the “Single Tax” - which became a movement after the demise of the People's Party. Henry George's influence also extended to the formation of land trusts and land trust based intentional communities.]

Populism in North America was a class movement that united farmers and workers in the face of an industrialization process that was grinding them down. It was not backward looking, and favored new technology. They were simply opposed to capitalism, desiring an economic democracy based upon cooperatives and mutual aid. “Very often a fine line separated Populism from Socialism.” 14.

In Canada the “cooperatives were a virtually a metaphor for a type of democratic public organization.” 15. Radical democracy in the form of decentralization and delegation was important to most Canadian Populists. Guild Socialism [an amalgam of democratic socialism and anarcho-syndicalism] was also an important influence. 16.

By the 1880s farmers in the US had come together in the Farmer's Alliance. They had a well developed cooperative system. 17. and these coops were the “central organizing and educational tool.” 18. By the 1890s there were about 1000 Populist newspapers being published and educating the populous. 19. Some 250,000 African American farmers formed the Black Farmers Alliance. 20. The People's Party of 1892 was a coalition of the Farmer's Alliance with the proto-syndicalist Knights of Labor. (KOL) “Wealth belongs to him that creates it” was their slogan. [The KOL's economic alternative to capitalism was a system of worker cooperatives.] 21.

Terrorism and lynching were used against the Populists, especially in Georgia and Louisiana. 22. Jim Crow was in no small way used to prevent a multi-racial populist farmer movement in the South. Along with terror and the hate propaganda in the MSM of the day, the capitalist businesses worked to destroy the cooperative movement. They came down hard on the Knights of Labor coops as well as farmer cooperative efforts. Railroads boycotted their production, manufacturers would not sell them machinery or spare parts and they were refused raw materials and capital. The loss of the cooperatives was a death sentence for the KOL, 23. and a “ a decisive blow” against the People's Party. 24.

Farmer-Labor cooperation which looked so promising with the Greenback Party, the People's Party and the Knights of Labor, never fully materialized. With the destruction of the Knights, the American Federation of Labor became the major force of organized workers. The Samuel Gompers-dominated AFL opposed the farmers for being too radical. This “guaranteed [Populism's] ultimate downfall.” 25. Many Populists went over to the Socialist Party – which helps explain that organization's strength in the agricultural states. Others formed Non-Partisan leagues in their regions and fought for progressive social reform. Some became progressive minorities within the Democrat and Republican Parties and in the South some White Populists drifted to the right as Jim Crow advocates and KKK.

In Canada, the Populists who did not return to the fold of the old line parties, helped form the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) along with Socialists in 1932. In little more than a decade, the social democrats took over the CCF and the Socialists and Populists became a beleaguered and frustrated minority within that party.

Latin American Populism

Populism in Latin America has Indigenous roots and undoubtedly some anarchist influences, since anarcho-syndicalism played a prominent role there for the first three decades of the 20th Century. This form of populism differs from the Russian and North American varieties in its strong anti-imperialism. Those who saw the need for an Indigenous- based revolutionary politics included the Peruvians, Gonzales Prada, (an anarchist) Jose Carlos Mariategui, a libertarian Marxist, Haya de la Torre, the chief ideologue of Latin American Populism, and the Bolivian anarchist, Luis Cusicanqui. The Mexican Revolution was an inspiration to all, both for its land reform and opposition to US interference.

Most Populists were influenced by Marxism, but found it lacking in a theory of development suitable to their situation of imperial dominance. Hence, they created their own theory. These movements were mainly influenced by Haya de la Torre, and were oriented to an Indigenous conception, were anti-imperialist, pro-labor, democratic, revolutionary , federalist, and decentralist, with a cooperative form of economy. 26.

Haya de la Torre attempted to create a populist international, which did not come to much, but did influence revolutionary movements throughout the continent. 27. He formed a revolutionary party, APRA, which gained some traction in his native Peru. The movement was brutally repressed with execution of militants and massacres of supporters. The worst of these occurred in 1932 in the city of Trujillo, where 6000 people were gunned down by the military. 28. Populism came to the fore in the 1930s and 40s, interestingly enough the same period in which anarcho-syndicalism went into steep decline.

In the 1940s and early 1950s there were a series of populist governments and revolutions. Costa Rica rose in 1948, which gave rise to major social reforms and Bolivia in 1952, nationalizing the tin mines and extensive land reform. The populists in Guatemala were overthrown in a US sponsored military coup. The Accion Democratica party toppled the Venezuelan dictator in 1946, and a year later was repressed in a right-wing coup. Finally, in 1958, the populists tossed out the dictator Jimenez. Once in power, they nationalized the petroleum industry. [One must not underestimate the level of violence and repression that the populist movements endured. Many thousands died.]

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara both started their political lives as populists, the former in the Orthodoxo Party, the latter as a left-wing Peronist, so the Cuba Revolution can be seen as a continuation of this historical tendency. Over time, these parties either became corrupt or evolved into social democracy. In the case of Cuba, the influence of Moscow-style Marxist-Leninism soon overshadowed – never completely – the revolution's populist roots.

In the 1980s the revolutionary movements in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador, while speaking a Marxist Leninist language, were highly populist in their programs and actions. Populism, in varying degrees resurfaced as part of the 'pink wave' in the early 21st Century with the movements and governments of Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez, Nestor Kirshner , Christina Fernandez and Lula.

The strong leader figure seems to be a particular aspect of Latin American populism, unlike its counterparts in Russia and North America. This has led caudillos such as Brazil's Vargas, Juan Peron and the Peruvian military of the 1960s, to adopt elements of the populist program in an attempt to build a support base. The existence of such caudillos as well as genuine populist strong leaders has tended to obscure the reality of Latin American Populism as an otherwise essentially democratic movement.

While making many substantial reforms and engendering economic development, Latin American Populism has never been able to create the independent, cooperative, egalitarian society that it envisioned. US imperialism and the oligarchs that support it, have proven too powerful. Even those hard-won reforms and economic advances have been rolled back by right-wing coups and IMF and World Bank 'moneterrorism'.

  1. p. 4, p. 8, Norman Pollack, The Populist Response to Industrial America, Harvard, 1962

  2. pps 31, 32, Introduction, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, What Is To Be Done, Cornell, 1989. Also of interest is that the first English language translation and publication was by the American anarchist, Benjamin Tucker, p. 35, ibid.

  3. p. 32, Margaret Maxwell, Narodniki Women, Pergamon, 1990

  4. p. 26, fn, p. 30, ibid.

  5. p 136 ibid

  6. pps 9-11, 18, Introduction, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, What Is To Be Done, Cornell, 1989.

  7. p. 16, ibid.

  8. p. 19, ibid.

  9. pps 120-121 Russian Philosophy, Vol 2, Quadrangle Books, 1965

  10. pps 170-173, ibid.

  11. p. 8, Norman Pollack, The Populist Response to Industrial America, Harvard, 1962

  12. p. 5, David Laycock, Populism and Democratic Thought In The Canadian Prairies, Univ of Toronto, 1990.

  13. p. 70 John Curl, For All The People, PM Press, 2009

  14. pps 11, 19, 97, Pollack

  15. p. 99, David Laycock, Populism and Democratic Thought In The Canadian Prairies, Univ of Toronto, 1990.

  16. p. 104, ibid.

  17. p. 32, Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment, Oxford, 1978

  18. p. 66, ibid.

  19. p. 206, ibid.

  20. p. 118, ibid.

  21. p. 106, Curl

  22. p. 190, ibid.

  23. p. 107, ibid.

  24. p. 299, ibid.

  25. pps, 61-64, Pollack

  26. pps 164-165, Victor Alba, Politics and the Labor Movement in Latin America, Stanford, 1968.

  27. p. 163, ibid.

  28. p. 171, ibid.

Friday, September 11, 2020


VISITING LIBERTYVILLE September 4, 2026  - A Free City

There was strong pressure on the NDP-Green coalition government to do something real about the housing crisis. There was also the on-going social crisis with the breakdown of community and the looming environmental disaster. How to tackle all three at the same time? Members of Extinction Rebellion, anarchists, eco-socialists, co-housing, trade unionist and cooperative activists got together and devised a plan which they called “the Libertyville Project.” Proponents of the Green New Deal long ago said we should tackle the climate crisis with as much fervour as we took on fascism in WW2. The building of “Liberty ships” came to mind. So why not the same effort put into building affordable, ecologically sound genuine communities and kill three birds with one stone? So the Libertyville Project came to be.

In the previous decades activists had to move mountains of bureaucracy to create cohousing developments and an eco-village on Vancouver Island. Rather than this uphill battle, why not have the various levels of government assisting and encouraging such projects?

Liberty ships were up to 10,000 tons and it was realized that a city of 10,000 inhabitants, by using a combination of old and new miniaturized technology could provide most of its own material, cultural, social and educational requirements. It was also small enough that people could easily take a direct hand in its governance. (More about that later.)

The Covid Crisis of 2020-2021 showed how vulnerable neoliberal policies had made us, but also showed how we could all come together in solidarity to defeat a problem. People now spoke openly of a “Triple Crisis”, environmental, social and economic. Nevertheless, the various levels of government dragged their feet, as they had previously. This all changed with the Canada Day Riot of 2022.

Canada Day 2022 drew about a hundred thousand people into down town Vancouver, who used the opportunity to peacefully protest the housing and climate crises. A group of counter-demonstrators comprised of neo-Nazis, climate crisis deniers and anti-vaxxers attacked the crowd, injuring a woman. Unfortunately for these fascists, they had chosen to attack the very moment a contingent of construction workers was marching by. The workers began turning the right-wingers into low grade hamburger, and seemingly out of nowhere a Black Bloc arrived and joined in the fun. Then cops appeared, protected the right-wingers and tried to arrest the workers and black clad youth. Cell phones spread the news within seconds and all hell broke loose. Some $50,000,000 dollars of damage was done to corporate businesses and luxury apartments – the Trump tower burned for hours. While the police could dominate a few thousand ideologically minded militants, a hundred thousand bitter, angry working people were beyond control. The insurrection only ended when people got exhausted and straggled home.

All levels of government got the message. No more dilly-dallying. No more totally panderring to the developers and financial interests. They would now have to march a fine line between the wishes of the people and the one percent. Greens and left-wing members of the NDP suggested examining the Libertyville Project. They met with the organizers and agreed to a pilot project on Vancouver Island. A land trust was set up and 150 hectares was donated to it.

The basis of the project was that land trust. The trust owns the land in perpetuity and leases it out to groups and individuals on 99 year leases. The lease cost goes to pay for services, to finance projects and to fund future Libertyvilles. The leases are little more than what one would pay in property taxes in a regular city. Cooperatives and cohousing developments are encourgaged, though individuals may lease too. In order to prevent any monopolization there is only one lease per person or family.

I spent several days visiting Libertyville and saw how well the town functioned. It is a genuine city with a proper downtown comprised of shops and public buildings, not like most small cities, which are a down town slum with suburban sprawl and shopping malls ripping out its guts. The city is compact and no one is more than a kilometer from the center. There are down town arcades, but no malls. No building may exceed 5 stories to keep the city human scale and each must have apartments on the third to fifth floors. The commercial buildings are cooperatives, thus rent is very low and this encourages the sort of creative enterprises ruled out by high rents in regular cities. Every street is lined with deciduous trees to cool the city in summer, provide oxygen and maximize sun light in the winter. All downtown shops that deliver must do so gratis and by electric vans. A tram connects the neighborhoods with downtown.

You might think putting 4000 living units on 300 acres would require a shoe horn, if not high rise towers. Not so. In regular cities, not to mention suburbs, much space is wasted. Streets are unnecessarily wide, dwellings are set far from the sidewalk and the houses are unnecessarily large and poorly designed. The average Libertyville row house has a 600 square foot surface. (Two floors plus basement equaling 1512 square feet of living space, accounting for width of outside walls) Add to this 800 for the back yard (20x40 feet) and 300 square feet for the sidewalk and the “share” of the street (20x15 feet) and you have only 1700 square feet. This works out to 25 units per acre. If 40% of the land is set aside for public and commercial spaces, you could actually have 4500 units, not 4000. When you consider that all commercial buildings have apartments on their upper floors, approximately 500 units in total, half the land surface has easily been set aside for public and commercial purposes.

All buildings have been built to the highest environmental standards – zero energy. All have solar panels feeding into the grid and solar hot water heating. Initially, this was more costly than regular construction, but was more than balanced out by the vast savings in utility bills. All roofs are metal, thus no costly roofing every 20 years. Shutters keep the heat in during winter and the heat out in summer. Building orientation and the use of deciduous trees also is a factor in heating and cooling.

Not having to pay a share of an expensive lot, low utility and maintenance costs, the smaller size of dwelling and yard, the use of row housing, all brings down the overall cost of a dwelling to genuine affordability. But this is not all. Sweat equity lowers costs even further. Many residents, guided by skilled tradespeople, have worked on their own dwellings. Since everything you need is within walking distance, deliveries and the tram are free and there is regular bus service to the Big City, 25 km away, an automobile is unnecessary. Many of the cohousings also have their own van. If you really need a car there is the auto coop. Since most families in Canada pay 17% of their income on transportation, you can see the huge saving. But I am still not finished with the savings. Flood and fire insurance for buildings does not exist. A housing activist realized it was far cheaper to rebuild a damaged house out of lease funds, than have everyone pay large sums for insurance.

Neighborhoods are the basic unit and there are seven of them. Each neighborhood has a large park known as “Mutuality Parks” as in the “Ginger Goodwin Neighborhood Mutuality Park.” The park has a Neighborhood House and an assembly area for mass meetings. Each neighborhood is mixed use and therefore a genuine community not the oxymoronic “bedroom community” – dwellings, allotments, shops, schools, non-invasive enterprises all together.

Governance– Each neighborhood meets at least twice a year in its assembly ground. Policies are decided by modified consensus, or if need be, supermajorities. Recallable delegates are selected to go to the City Delegate Council. The sole mandate of the delegates is to carry out the wishes of the Assembly. Important issues that arise in Council that might differ from the original position of the Assembly, must be taken back to the Assembly for final decision. Libertyville does have a mayor, an older woman whose wisdom is universally respected, who was selected by the delegates after public nomination. She has no vote and is there to help create unanimity and “cut ribbons”, not tell people what to do.

As far as bylaws and regulations go, the unwritten rule is to have as few as possible. The land trust sets the basic egalitarian and environmentally sane paradigm, which cannot be changed. One regulation in place is that democratic/human rights as well as the environmental code trumps property rights. The authoritarian meddling one sometimes sees with condos, such as being forbidden to place election posters in your window, everyone having to hang the same types of blinds and not being allowed to have a clothesline, are seen as violations in Libertyville. The phrase you often hear from citizens is “:Harm no one,” that is, you can do what you wish provided you are not undermining the health and saftey of the community. As such, there is a great deal of experimentation and imagination used in home building and public structures, forbidden by city bylaws elsewhere.

Neighborhood Committees. (NC's) These are extremely important and along with the neighborhood assemblies form the basic level of governance. The NC meet at least once a month at the Neighborhood House where they also have a permanent (but small) office. It can bring issues to the attention of the Assembly or Council Delegates. Issues dealt with by police or bylaw officers in “regular” cities are often handled by the NC. Example -– suppose a woman is being stalked or harassed by her ex. They will be asked to attend a meeting of the NC and resolve the conflict. Refusal to attend is looked on very negatively. There is a sliding scale of actions that the NC can carry out against the perpetrator, based upon the Seattle Solidarity method. (Please Google) The NC's also oversee any public (commons) areas of the neighborhood such as parks, street furniture etc.

City Works – Since the citizens have twice as much free time as the average person there is a great deal of volunteering, which is also encouraged by the various institutions. Much of what is usually done by paid staffers is done by volunteers. There is a small city staff comprised of skilled workers who assist the volunteers and do the work they cannot do. The the daily running of city works and all other departments is by self-management, eliminating costly and inefficient bureaucracy. The cost of running essential city services is lower than elsewhere. Since the city belongs to all citizens and not just its employees, City Works is overseen by a board comprised of Neighborhood Committee representatives and city workers.

Schools. In order to eliminate bureaucracy and the problems of bureaucratic control, schools are owned by the neighborhood and run by boards comprised of student, teacher and parent delegates. Every school is within walking distance and thus a costly school bus system is eliminated. The curriculum emphasizes critical thinking, social, historical, and environmental awareness combined with cultural and “practical” skills. Volunteers from activist groups, coops, trade unions, along with local scholars, writers, artists, and craftspeople all participate in the education of the children.

Health Care is provided by community owned clinics and mutual aid societies. The hospital is owned by the community. Clinic doctors are required to do home visits. All facilities are under worker self-management and overseen by elected worker-community rep boards. The pharmacy is run as a cooperative and is part of the Libertyville Food Cooperative.

Association House was developed to encourage the formation and growth of voluntary associations. In a regular North American context, small voluntary groups have to spend much time fund raising to have an office or meeting place. Association House provides both for a nominal fee, freeing the groups to do what they were created to do. City-wide associations belong to the down town Association House. The same service is provided by the Neighborhood Houses for any group that serves only that neighborhood.

Media- There is a Media Coop Federation which consists of cooperatives in radio, TV and a weekly newspaper. Publishing is also provided at cost for local authors. In this manner the media are democratized and people are no longer subjected to a combination of corporate propaganda and the ignoring of important stories and issues.

Urban Farming. Libertyville is – or soon will be – surrounded by small farms. This is part of the plan. The City, through its land trust agreement can never encroach upon on farmland or forest. Combined with garden allotments and home gardens, much of the seasonal food is grown within the city and its immediate surroundings. Feedlots, caged animals, GMO's are absolutely forbidden and only organic farming is allowed.

Once the whole of Libertyville is built up – that's it. The city is self-limiting in size and thus population. Those in future who wish to live there but cannot because all the spaces are taken will be asked to join the Libertyville Foundation, which provides financial and technical support for the development of new free cities. As I write there are some dozen or so new projects being built or planned.

Libertyville is the freest and most egalitarian city in North America, if not the world. Low costs of housing, transportation, services and taxes means that an average family need work half as much as families in other towns. This is an immense gain in freedom. With self-government and self-management, there is individual input into every important decision, whether at the neighborhood, city or workplace level. Since all institutions are run on a democratic basis, including large shops, all of which are cooperatives, there is not an area of life in which the citizen does not have a say. Exercise, healthy local food, the freedom to control ones life, the connection with people though community and voluntary associations and the resulting lack of stress, has given rise to a population that is physically and emotionally the healthiest in existence.

Of course, this is a fantasy. But it is not an airy-fairy utopia. Everything mentioned here, except for one aspect alone, already exists, has existed for a long time, and functions better than the “regular” way. There are land trusts. Neighborhood associations exist, and just need beefing up. Neighborhood houses are not unusual, Association Houses are common in France. Every environmental building method mentioned is being done. 40% of Germans live in housing cooperatives, 50,000 Danes in co-housing. There are eco-villages worldwide. A million people belong to worker cooperatives and a billion to regular cooperatives. Towns in New England and cantons in Switzerland are run on the assembly-delegate method. And so on and so on. The one fantasy is that a government, even in the face of an uprising, would be willing to stand up to corruption and introduce the Libertyville Project. That I doubt, but would love to be proven wrong.

Sunday, September 06, 2020


Many of us are familiar with land trusts - associations owning property removed from the market, hence unavailable for speculative purposes and protected in perpetuity. The most familar use is to defend forest and wet lands from development. They should also be used for affordable housing and the creation of small organic farms for food security. [By affordable housing, I mean 25-30% of income, not housing that is just below market value, for it still could be “inexpensive” yet still gobble up 50% of someone's already limited income]

How would this work? A trust would be formed with bylaws preventing any changes in the trust's status or in the agreements made with those who lease from the trust. The trust is either granted land from the government and/or buys up parcels of land with the goal of creating a number of large blocks of property. What happens on that property would depend upon its size and the type of terrain.

A large block unsuitable for crops could become the site of a village, and I mean a genuine village, not a suburban development. Priorities would be given to cooperative and cohousing developments. The center of the village would be given over to public buildings and shops. Streets would be narrow and everything would be within walking distance. A block too small for a village could be the site of a single building or several smaller buldings, once again priority given to coops and cohousing. No building could be more than four or five stories to keep a human scale. Land with potential agricultural possibilities would go to any group or individual willing to involve themselves in organic production.

All developments would lease from the trust – on 99 year leases – at about the present cost of a civic tax. If the land has been granted, the money generated from the leases would immediately go into a fund to purchase more land, thus ever expanding the trust. If the initial ground has been purchased, lease money will be used to pay the mortgage. Once the mortgage is payed, leases will go to expanding the trust. Where property is leased by an individual or company, there will be only one lease allowed to prevent possible monopolization. “Key money” or any other scam to capitalize on a lease will result in the immediate cancellation of the lease. The individual or cooperative lease holder owns any buildings they construct on the lease and may freely sell them, but the land they sit on can never be sold.

The trust would legitmate and enforce strict environmental regulations. The rule would be compact rather than sprawl – townhouses, rowhouses and apartments – other than on the agricultural leases where SFD's are allowed. All buildings would be placed next to the street – no wasteful set-backs. The the by-law minimum size requirement would be based on health standards alone, [tiny houses welcome] and a maximum dwelling size would be enforced to prevent the construction of ecologically and financially irrational “McMansions.”All buildings would be zero energy and have both solar panels and solar hot water installations. Rainwater would be collected and piped into a pond for the larger developments. All townhouses and row houses would have a modest garden space and allotments for apartment dwellers.

How would this keep the cost of housing down – aside from the obvious factor of not having to spend a quarter of a million on a building lot? Scale is one aspect – it is cheaper per unit to build a six-unit row house rather than six individual dwellings. Proper design – no waste space, triple garage or obese master bedroom foolishness – means you get the same bang for the buck in a smaller space and a smaller dwelling is less costly to build than a big one. A zero energy dwelling will usually cost more material-wise than the equivalent standard construction, but it will be much cheaper when you factor in the savings in energy costs. Then there is “sweat equity”. Those who want to reduce costs in this manner would be taught some basic construction skills by tradespeople and help work on their own dwellings. The equivalent of a union rate of pay for the given work would be deducted from the dwelling costs. Owner-built construction, especially in user-friendly and inexpensive materials, such as cob, straw bale and light clay would also be encouraged, unlike at present when seemingly no effort is spared to prevent people from building their own homes. The above policies could apply both to individual as well as collective (coop) projects.

What would result from such land trusts? Restoration of community, better mental and physical health, less need to work, less need for day care, less need for cars, more time to get a life.
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