The Environmental Strike?

Slowly, painfully, I’m studying Russian revolutionary history.  I know it’s important, and I wish I could tell you I was enthralled, but the truth is I’m mostly confused by all the terminology (“defencists?”), slightly jumbled chronologically, and easily distracted by Facebook and the neighborhood kitten outside my apartment.  Plus I’m sick, as evidenced by the Everest of crumpled tissues on my coffee table.  (Don’t worry; I’ll clean it before you come over.)

Clockwise from top left: general strike in Indonesia; miners’ strike in South Africa; WalMart strike in U.S.A.; strikes in Egypt; Cambodian garment workers’ strike protesting sexual harassment.

Anyway.  One of the things I’m learning in my intermittent reading bursts is the difference between economic and political strikes.  Far as I can tell, economic strikes are the more common ones, where workers stop production in order to force owners to give them higher wages, or health care, safer conditions on the job, the firing of a racist or sexist manager, etc.  Economic strikes generally happen within a specific company, since you’re trying to lessen the acuteness with which that company exploits you.

Political strikes, on the other hand, have to be bigger, because the target isn’t just one company, but broader policy or the government itself.  Strikes for the 8-hour work day, ending child labor, or trying to force a government to end a war, change regimes, or block austerity measures must necessarily grow huge and widespread to have a chance of succeeding.  Only then can “organized labor become a political actor.”

This is basically what I gather, and in Russian history they have these pretty cool charts showing the breakdown of economic and political strikes around the time of revolutions in 1905 and 1917.  Moreover, the two types are related: at least according to Lenin, political strikes need a strong foundation of tangible economic gains in order to win popular backing from the working class.

In a political strike, the working class comes forward as the advanced class of the whole people. In such cases, the proletariat plays not merely the role of one of the classes of bourgeois society, but the role of guide, vanguard, leader. The political ideas manifested in the movement involve the whole people, i.e., they concern the basic, most profound conditions of the political life of the whole country. This character of the political strike, as has been noted by all scientific investigators of the period 1905–07, brought into the movement all the classes, and particularly, of course, the widest, most numerous and most democratic sections of the population, the peasantry, and so forth.

On the other hand, the mass of the working people will never agree to conceive of a general “progress” of the country without economic demands, without an immediate and direct improvement in their condition. The masses are drawn into the movement, participate vigorously in it, value it highly and display heroism, self-sacrifice, perseverance and devotion to the great cause only if it makes for improving the economic condition of those who work. Nor can it be otherwise, for the living conditions of the workers in “ordinary” times are incredibly hard. As it strives to improve its living conditions, the working class also progresses morally, intellectually and politically, becomes more capable of achieving its great emancipatory aims.

One of the perverse truths of capitalist industrialization, though, is that in striving to survive, or even improve its living conditions, the working class also becomes the mechanism (though not the cause — that’s still capitalism) of environmental destruction.

Last week, when I posted on Facebook an article about how fracking releases radioactive substances that remain hazardous to life for 16,000 years,  my friend Nichola responded,

Oh crap. They have started fracking like crazy in NE Ohio, all around the area where my parents and family live, and everyone is going crazy with visions for new prosperity. It’s the new gold rush there, with lots of new jobs having been created. But I have been having this scary feeling about it, and here it is. Sharing.

Talk about a rock and a hard place.

The way our capitalist class society jams, capital needs to extract surplus value (profit) from workers in order to expand itself and keep growing.  That’s what “drives” the economy.  To ensure a steady supply of people from whom to extract surplus value, the owning class needs plenty of workers: the proletariat.  These workers (or non-workers, the unemployed proletariat) don’t have private homesteads to grow our kale, build our huts, weave our blankets and sustain ourselves, so we need jobs and money in order to eke out an existence.

Pretty much since this coercive system took over the world’s economies (replacing other, differently coercive systems), people who need to sell their labor-power to live have been taking on dangerous and unhealthy jobs — from crab fishing to combat, mining to manicures, un-self-determined sex work, etc.  You do what you gotta do to get by under capitalism.

But some of these environmental dangers smell to me like a whole new type of terrifying.  Like, Unit 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility has already sunk 31.5 inches since the earthquake and tsunami, and if it collapses, could cause a fire in the atmosphere.  Bad news for Japan; bad news, evidently, for everywhere the sky reaches.

Could Japanese labor have organized itself as a biocentric actor and refused to construct nuclear power plants in the first place?  Obviously we’ve seen locals intervening against nuclear energy, and indigenous people resisting the accumulation of their land for ecocidal and literally shitty exploitation. Realistically, though, when it comes to organized labor, it seems next to impossible (please tell me I’m wrong!) to collectively reject employment in entire industries on the basis of their longer-term environmental consequences — no matter how mind-numbingly horrible those consequences may be.  As Stephanie McMillian writes on Kasama, no one wants to champion short-term sacrifices.  Socialist / communist struggle is supposed to be Helpful now and lead to Splendor later, right?

Yeah, so…about that post-revolutionary socialist productivity…

On the left, the theory of productive forces has led to a widespread productivist/mechanical view of reaching socialism: by developing and fully mechanizing production, we will reach abundance and the end of labor itself. It is increasingly obvious that this scenario is at odds with the reality around us, yet there is a general reluctance to tell the truth: that a lot of production, everything not necessary for survival, simply has to end. No one likes being the person who brings the bad news that we have to make do with less. It’s harder to organize around.

And so the idea of socialism, the common ownership of the means of production and equitable distribution of goods, also doesn’t go far enough. We need to change our relationship with the natural world. It is not there for us to use, but instead we are part of it and depend on its overall health. We need to define a different relationship with it than as a set of resources. A sustainable economy can only involve production that is subordinate to nature and that fits within its physical limits to reproduce itself — that is determined not by human desires and whims, but by our actual needs, which are dependent on a healthy planet above all.

Okay, so maybe it depends how we define post-revolutionary Splendor.  Current U.S. middle-class standards: clearly unsustainable if generalized.  But still, hopefully there will be enough for everyone, and everyone will be able to access what feels like enough.  (Questions of contentment and scarcity in Marxism is a whole nother subject I’m working on for later.)

That hope for abundance, though, seems to wane more and more each day, while a sense of urgency escalates.  It seems that the historical task of the working class may not only be organizing to overthrow capitalism, but also (and there is definitely overlap here) organizing to help stop the irrevocable fucking up of the planet, ASAP.  Coral reefs and their food supply supporting millions of poor people?  Doomed.  Lungs of the earth?  Wheezing.  Edible biodiversity?  Less than robust.  Drinkable water?  …okay now I’m depressing myself.

So fill me in.  Do you know of any examples of what I’m provisionally calling environmental strikes?  Meaning: not labor struggles over immediate safety conditions in the workplace, but more on the level of political strikes in that they attempt to impact entire environmentally destructive industries or operations, perhaps with a broad or long-term perspective in mind?

Do tell.

Jellyfish succeed where anti-nuclear organizing fails: at least four nuclear power plants in Japan, Israel, and Scotland have had to close because of millions of jellyfish clogging their filtration or cooling systems.

Solar Oven

winter is coming.
winter is coming.
winter is coming and this august-born body
never did like the cold.
bad circulation
deadens my brown fingers
turns them the greenish-white
of hospital walls.

winter is coming
and i quietly beg my freckles to stay.
me and my freckles leave the hearthless apartment
to sit in my parked car, huddled
like a batch of hopeful chocolate chip cookies
in a fifth grader’s solar oven.

i hate winter.
i want heat all the time!
almost all the time.
i want enough heat to make me happy.

when winter comes i layer up
then shrink from the inside
like an old pea shriveled in its pod
like the illinois corn disastrously shriveling in its husk
as we speak,
as meantime the miners of south africa steel themselves
against the next ANC attack
and most of africa rustles inchoate
against the next round of land grabs
and everyone can see the thick-tongued famines approach.

one night
not long ago,
i was walking my parents’ dog
a dog i don’t particularly like
though dogs in general aren’t really my thing.
well i was walking the dog
in the quiet nighttime suburbs of Sacramento
and all of a sudden i looked at a lawn and thought:
“goodbye, grass”
and even though i know lawns are awful,
i felt tender toward this one
and a little tender toward the dog.
then i thought:
“this feels like a melancholy indie film.”

winter is coming
and my oven has been broken for weeks.
i told the benevolent slumlord, who replied with the usual
benevolent slumlord promises.
bugging him seems risky
since i want his permission to paint the walls
the same golden yellow i always paint
to warm up my heart when i’m indoors
and not enwindowed in a winter car.
so my oven stays broken
and i have no backup solar version
no cob alternative
i am too pessimistic, lazy, and single to attempt to construct either one.
i just want to laze in the day-drenched summer forever
on a planet full of native grass and coral reefs
a planet free of shit-snow on sacred mountains
a planet with its own miracle of clean water
and enough for everyone.

unfortunately for me,
for us,
winter is coming
resentment won’t stop it
so i guess we had better get creative.

Back To Basics: CyberMindfulness


this week, life is prompting me to bring my email / internet life back into balance. prompting me in pleasant ways; prompting me in unpleasant ways.

among the unpleasant: multiple times i’ve handed my laptop to a friend to borrow, and watched them go bug-eyed at the number of tabs constantly open in my browser. “i feel like i’m having a sympathy panic attack,” one half-joked. yikes.

on the pleasant side: a scheduled meditation retreat at the end of this month comes at a perfect time, reminding me that at times in my young adulthood i’ve survived weeks or even months without checking email. of course, work and livelihood looked very different then. still, retreat time helps in that way. helps un-narrow the focus, relax the grip of habit.

i like this person’s advice on Coping with Email Overload:

I bulk process my email three times a day in 30-minute increments, once in the morning, once mid-day, and once before shutting down my computer for the day. I use a timer and when it beeps, I close my email program.

Here’s what I’ve found: I don’t miss a thing.

In fact, it’s the opposite. I gain presence throughout my day. I am focused on what’s around me in the moment, without distraction. I listen more attentively, notice people’s subtle reactions I would otherwise overlook, and come up with more ideas as my mind wanders. I’m more productive, more sensitive, more creative, and happier.

sometimes it helps me to imagine analog metaphors for digital activities. in this case, it really does make much more sense to ‘open your mailbox’ just a couple times a day. see if there are any letters, bills, deliveries. sort them. appreciate the sweet ones. handle the rest.


I Know It’s Science, But It Feels A Lot Like Magic

our 10" pan, after stripping and de-rusting

Having finished and submitted a grad school paper today, I am rewarding myself with another round of re-seasoning our cast-iron skillet.

Did you know that it’s virtually impossible to find out how to properly season one of these puppies just by looking it up on the Internet? Oh, sure, you’ll find instructions and opinions, but they differ wildly from person to person, sharing only the barest of fundamentals: you need to put oil in the pan and heat it up; then the pan will be smooth and non-stick.

But how? Why? Really?

Sheryl’s Blog explains. Fantastically. Scientifically. Read and be amazed.

What A Poem

I originally found this great blog, 2 Eyes Open, through This Is A Takeover, Not A Makeover.  Hadn’t checked up on it for months.  Then today, I found a treasure (even for someone who’s not a huge fan of poetry).

Wrote This On a Plane to Houston, On My Way To Guatemala

I like to pretend sometimes,
that I got this hunching spine
from working so meticulously at my craft.
Each day carefully placing my toolbox on the table,
unfolding the lid and curling my soft pink fingers into their positions
to forge these words into some kind of weapon,
to whittle at these ideas until they pierce the chest.

I like to pretend sometimes
that this glow is a kiln,
I wipe my brow, and it makes no matter
that my hand comes away dry.
Because this feels like the work of a workman,
and I make like I’m adjusting my spectacles
and gripping my tweezers
as I deftly shift another syllable.

I like to pretend sometimes
that I’m just like that man I watched
crack firewood with ballet strokes,
cut grass finely with a dull machete,
coax coffeebeans to fall with massaging fingers,
like the spider spindling the fly.

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Zine Week Day 4: New Thoughts On Animal Liberation

What, you thought Zine Week would adhere to linear time?

Just kidding; sorry for the lapse! Today’s zine, from a member of Austin-based group ¡ella pelea!, is especially exciting for its application of class consciousness theory from Advance the Struggle’s Oscar Grant pamphlet (featured on Zine Week Day 2) to the Animal Rights Movement (ARM) in the U.S.

in Buena Vista Park, SF

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Hella Marxist Buddhism

Loving the first reading from a new Socially Engaged Buddhist study group that’s getting started this month: chapter 11 of Nalin Swaris’ book The Buddha’s Way To Human Liberation: A socio-historical approach. Swaris argues that karma is not properly understood (either in terms of actual functioning, or in terms of how the historical Buddha explained it) as an individual inheritance of bad or good deeds committed in past lives that determines one’s social station in this birth. Such commonplace/hegemonic conservative interpretations are basically ruling-class ideology, serving to legitimize the group(s) in power. “You were born a brahmin/king/rich light-skinned dude? You must’ve accumulated lots of merit in past lives. You were born ugly/a woman/poor/Black? You must’ve done some bad shit in a past life.”

Instead, Swaris defines karma as the inherited social and material conditions fashioned by previous generations of humans as a group, which then delimit but do not determine individual and collective actions in the present. Essentially, he locates Marxist historical materialism and dialectics within the original teachings of the Buddha. Dope! And kind of hilarious, in a makes-me-giddy-but-I-take-it-seriously sort of way.

Human Agency – A Species Potential

To understand what is meant by the ‘species nature’ of humans, one must turn to Karl Marx who introduced the concept. This recourse to Marx may seem like an attempt to read into the Buddha’s teaching on interpretation of kamma which has no basis in the canonical scriptures. I ask the reader to bear with me, follow the theoretical clarification and see its relevance to understand the Buddha’s extraordinary elucidations of human nature and human agency.

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Happy Pi Day From North Oakland

Sweet Potato Pie from Lois The Pie Queen

Do any of y’all celebrate Pi day?  π = 3.14 = March 14th!  My high school math teachers were the first to introduce me to the holiday, which is honored by eating pie.  Sign me up!

This morning I headed down the block to Lois The Pie Queen’s place and picked up a couple slices from the wonderfully warm folks there.  Having just read my friend ChakaZ’s thoughtful, incisive piece touching on gentrification in Oakland (a process that often leads to the overthrow of pie queens, and the replacement of barbecue shacks with fancy coffeeshops), it was even more gratifying to support a Black-owned, Black-cultural business that’s been in the neighborhood — and in their family — for 50 years. And clearly not, might I add, as a gimmicky “exotic Southern food for upscale whites” kind of establishment, but as a low-key, proud-yet-humble, neighborly sort of place.

Image from Sweet Mary

In addition to the beauty above, I also got a piece of banana cream, but a bumpy ride on the bus left it unfit for open-casket photos.

Later in the day, being unable to finish both slices by myself, I would leave the leftover banana cream in its takeout pod in a big paper bag, hidden conspicuously behind a bush in Berkeley.  Fortunately, my hopes were realized: a man named Terry found and enjoyed what remained of the treat.  Unfortunately, I know that Terry found and enjoyed it because Terry also found my cell phone, which I forgot inside the paper bag.

I must have had some good karma on my side, though, because Terry seems like a really nice guy.  Tomorrow we’ve arranged a hand-off for the mobile.  I think I’ll bring him another slice from Lois’.  He was really wild about that banana cream.