Posted 12 months ago on May 24, 2012, 7:17 a.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
During the recent NATO counter-summit in Chicago, we sat down for tea with the ghosts of Emma Goldman, Lucy Parsons, and Rosa Luxemburg, who granted us a rare interview. (The ghost of Mikhail Bakunin, crashing on the couch while in town for the protests, also chimed in.) We discussed Occupy Wall Street, NATO, the demonization of anarchists, May Day, the crisis in the European Union, prison reform, the U.S. Presidential elections, and more.
OWSt.ORG: The recent mass mobilization here in Chicago was one of the most significant events in the young Occupy movement’s history. We were joined by veterans against war, nurses for a Robin Hood Tax, anarchists opposed to police brutality. What are your thoughts on NATO? Why is it relevant to Occupy?
EMMA: We Americans claim to be a peace-loving people. We hate bloodshed; we are opposed to violence. Yet we go into spasms of joy over the possibility of projecting dynamite bombs from flying machines upon helpless citizens. It's quite saddening.
LUCY: Yes, but the NATO protest which has just been observed in Chicago was a great success from many standpoints, notably among which was the increased number of young people who took part in it. Very inspiring.
MIKHAIL: Why are so many people generally discontented with NATO today? The ruling class (the 1%, as your slogan goes) – which created NATO to protect its commercial and industrial transactions against the terrifying red phantom [the Soviet Union] – had not reckoned with the fact that a military regime is very costly, that through its internal organization alone it paralyzes, it upsets, it ruins nations, and moreover, obeying its own intrinsic and inescapable logic, it has never failed to bring on war; dynastic wars, wars of honor, wars of conquest or wars of national frontiers, wars of equilibrium – destruction and unending absorption of States by other States, rivers of human blood, a fire-ravaged countryside, ruined cities, the devastation of entire provinces – all this for the sake of satisfying the ambitions of Wall Street and their favorites, to discipline populations, and to fill the pages of history.
ROSA: The action at the Boeing headquarters was particularly brilliant for highlighting the connection between business and war. Armaments and wars, international contradictions and colonial politics accompany the history of capitalism from its cradle. It is the most extreme intensification of these elements, a drawing together, a gigantic storming of these contradictions.
Anarchists at the NATO summit
OWSt.ORG: Do you support the military veterans who returned their medals at the NATO summit?
EMMA: Absolutely. It is probably even more important to carry the truth into the barracks than into the factory.
OWSt.ORG: Surely by now you’ve heard of the #NATO5 (originally the #NATO3 before 2 more were arrested), the alleged anarchists being accused of making molotov cocktails during NATO who are now being charged with terrorism. The case bears striking resemblance to the anarchists who were arrested before May Day in Cleveland. In both examples authorities are being accused of entrapment, even planting evidence. What are your thoughts?
LUCY: How little has changed from our day. As you know, all of us here have been imprisoned and/or murdered for our political views. Our comrades were not murdered by the State because they had any connection with the bombthrowing, but because they were active in organizing the wage-slaves. The capitalist class didn't want to find the bombthrower; this class foolishly believed that by putting to death the active spirits of the labor movement of the time, it could frighten the working class back to slavery.
EMMA: That every act of political violence should nowadays be attributed to anarchists is not at all surprising. Yet it is a fact known to almost everyone familiar with the anarchist movement that a great number of acts, for which anarchists had to suffer, either originated with the capitalist press or were instigated, if not directly perpetrated, by the police. For a number of years acts of violence had been committed in Spain, for which the anarchists were held responsible, hounded like wild beasts, and thrown into prison. Later it was disclosed that the perpetrators of these acts were not anarchists, but members of the police department. This is one of the many striking examples of how anarchist conspiracies are manufactured. That the American police can perjure themselves with the same ease, that they are just as merciless, just as brutal and cunning as their European colleagues, has been proven on more than one occasion. We need only recall the tragedy of May 4th, 1886, known as the Haymarket Riot – here in Chicago, no less. No one who is at all familiar with the case can possibly doubt that the anarchists, judicially murdered in Chicago, died as victims of a lying, blood-thirsty press and of a cruel police conspiracy. The Judge of the case himself said: "Not because you have caused the Haymarket bomb, but because you are anarchists, you are on trial."
MIKHAIL: [muttering under breathe] There is no horror, no cruelty, sacrilege, or perjury, no imposture, no infamous transaction, no cynical robbery, no bold plunder or shabby betrayal that has not been or is not daily being perpetrated by the representatives of the States, under no other pretext than those elastic words, so convenient and yet so terrible: “for reasons of national security...¨
EMMA: Yes. What, then, are the objections? First, anarchism is impractical, though a beautiful ideal. Second, anarchism stands for violence and destruction, hence it must be repudiated as vile and dangerous. Both the intelligent man and the ignorant mass judge not from a thorough knowledge of the subject, but either from hearsay or false interpretation.
NATO is the real terrorist
OWSt.ORG: What are your thoughts on the proposed removal of NATO troops from Afghanistan by 2014?
ROSA: What is being prepared by the ruling classes as peace and justice is only a new work of brutal force from which the hydra of oppression, hatred, and fresh bloody wars raises its thousand heads. Remember that your victorious capitalists stand ready to suppress in blood our revolution. You yourselves have not become any freer through the “victory,” you have only become still more enslaved.
OWSt.ORG: After seeing all of the horrific livestream and photos of police violence against peaceful protesters last week, many people in the movement find ourselves again asking: are police part of the 99%?
LUCY: People have become so used to seeing the evidences of authority on every hand that most of them honestly believe that they would go utterly to the bad if it were not for the policeman's club or the soldier's bayonet.
EMMA: Referring to the American government, the greatest American anarchist, David Thoreau, said: "Law never made man a whit more just; and by means of their respect for it, even the well disposed are daily made agents of injustice."
The police state in full force in Chicago
Occupy Wall Street
OWSt.ORG: Clearly, one of the most significant accomplishments of OWS was to shift political discourse away from debt and markets and toward economic inequality and human need. For example, slogans like ¨the 99%¨ versus the ¨the 1%¨ are now commonplace in popular culture. How important is this shift?
MIKHAIL: Thanks to Occupy, one would have to be a sophist to deny the existence of the abyss which separates these two classes today. As in the ancient world, our modern civilization, which contains a comparatively limited minority of privileged citizens, is based upon the forced labor (forced by hunger) of the immense majority of the population who are fatally doomed to ignorance and to brutality. But what of the objection that this contrast, this gulf between the small number of the privileged and the vast numbers of the disinherited has always existed and still exists; just what has changed? It is only that this gulf used to be filled with the great fog banks of religion, so that the masses were deceived into thinking there was a common ground for all. Nowadays, the Great Revolution has begun to sweep the mists away; the masses, too, are beginning to see the abyss and to ask the reason why. This is a stupendous realization. From the moment this question was asked, the people everywhere, led by their admirable good sense as well as by their instinct, have realized that the first condition for their real emancipation or, if I may be permitted to use the term, their humanization, was, above all, a radical reform of their economic condition. The question of daily bread is for them the principal question, and rightly so.
ROSA: [nods] Naturally no one could predict the lightning-like way in which this idea would succeed and how quickly it would be adopted by the working classes.
OWSt.ORG: Rosa, you were a big proponent of May Day. How did you feel about the Occupy General Strike on May 1st?
ROSA: The brilliant basic idea of May Day is the autonomous, immediate stepping forward of the proletarian masses, the political mass action of the millions of workers who otherwise are atomized by the barriers of the state in the day-to-day parliamentary affairs, who mostly can give expression to their own will only through the ballot, through the election of their representatives. What could give the workers greater courage and faith in their own strength than a mass work stoppage which they had decided themselves? What could give more courage to the eternal slaves of the factories and the workshops than the mustering of their own troops? The first of May demanded the introduction of the eight-hour day. But even after this goal was reached, May Day was not given up. As long as the struggle of the workers against the the 1% (as you Occupiers say) and the ruling class continues, as long as all demands are not met, May Day will be the yearly expression of these demands. And, when better days dawn, when the Global 99% has won its deliverance then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honor of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past. This is to say, let’s make next May Day even bigger!
Tens of thousands of workers, unions, immigrants, and Occupiers march together on May Day, 2012 in NYC
OWSt.ORG: Occupy has been critcized for ¨not having demands¨ or for ¨demanding the impossible.¨ How do you respond?
ROSA: In our time, the legal eight-hour day was one of the demands on our minimal program. i.e., the very least minimum of social reform which we, as representatives of the workers’ interests, must demand and expect from the state. The fragmentation of even these minimal demands into still smaller morsels goes against all our tactics. We must make our minimum demands in unamended form. Even if we are ready to accept any installment, we must leave it to the bourgeois parties themselves to whittle down our demands to fit their interests. If we ourselves start believing that our demands are excessive and practically impossible, then we are making the saddest moral concession. Certainly our policy should and can only endeavour to achieve what is possible under given circumstances. But this is not to say how, in what manner, we should endeavour to achieve what is possible. This, however, is the crucial point. Precisely because we do not yield one inch from our position, we force the government and the bourgeois parties to concede to us the few immediate successes that can be gained.
EMMA: [nods] Every daring attempt to make a great change in existing conditions, every lofty vision of new possibilities for the human race, has been labelled utopian.
OWSt.ORG: Since the brutal crackdowns on our encampments last fall through to the attempted re-occupations in the winter and spring, and now even the militarization of home evictions in response to Occupiers nonviolent resistance to foreclosures, more and more Occupiers are becoming the target of the criminal (in)justice system. Many are, for the first time, learning what poor people and communities of color have long experienced – that police and prisons, far from making us safer, are actually used to control and suppress marginalized communities and dissidents. Emma, as an early proponent of prison abolition, what are your thoughts on Occupy’s role in supporting prisoners?
EMMA: With all our boasted reforms, our great social changes, and our far-reaching discoveries, human beings continue to be sent to the worst of hells, wherein they are outraged, degraded, and tortured, that society may be “protected” from the phantoms of its own making. Prison, a social protection? What monstrous mind ever conceived such an idea? Just as well say that health can be promoted by a widespread contagion. We are spending at the present $28,284.16 per year for every person in a federal prison institution. In 2009, 7,225,800 adults were under correctional supervision — 3.1% of adults in the U.S. And that in a democratic country. Such unheard-of expenditure for the purpose of maintaining vast armies of human beings caged up like wild beasts! The most absurd apology for authority and law is that they serve to diminish crime. Aside from the fact that the State is itself the greatest criminal, breaking every written and natural law, stealing in the form of taxes, killing in the form of war and capital punishment, it has come to an absolute standstill in coping with crime. It has failed utterly to destroy or even minimize the horrible scourge of its own creation. On the other hand, the widespread prison investigations, agitation, and education during the last few years are conclusive proof that we are learning to dig deep into the very bottom of society, down to the causes of the terrible discrepancy between social and individual life. That said, I am not very sanguine that any real change can take place until the conditions that breed both the prisoner and the jailer will be forever abolished. If Occupy is to address the problem of prisons, this must be the goal.
Emma Goldman addressing anarchists in Union Square, NYC
The US Presidential Elections
OWSt.ORG: President Obama came to power based on promises of change. A lot of people got behind this and have been disappointed and are now starting to question whether genuine change can come from above. How can we keep making tangible improvements to our living conditions while remaining independent from the corrupt mainstream political system?
ROSA: Never in world history has a political party gone so miserably bankrupt, never has an exalted ideal been so disgracefully betrayed and dragged through the mud! Anyway, as we said in my day, it is clear that you must not demand a ten-hour day if you want the eight-hour day. Do the contrary and you’ll do well: if there is any possibility of getting legislation to limit working time to ten hours, it is only by constantly pressing for an eight-hour day. All our experiences point this up. Only by demanding from bourgeois society all that it is capable of granting have we succeeded here and there in obtaining a small part. It is a very new principle of so-called “practical politics” in our party to hope, on the contrary, to get great effects through mutest and moderate demands. No matter how popular and appealing this tactical turn may seem, it altogether misses the mark. Nobody can possibly believe that our too extreme demands made it impossible for the bourgeois parties to show their good will. No. It is exactly by demanding the eight-hour bill that we can force the bourgeoisie to show its good will at least with a more modest reform. Here as in other cases, it was only our pressure, our pushing the bourgeois reforms to extremes, which squeezed a quarter ounce of “good will” out of the bourgeoisie. It is obviously bad logic to count on bringing its so-called good will out by taking the pressure off.
EMMA: Politics is the reflex of the business and industrial world. Our institutions and conditions rest upon deep-seated ideas. To change those conditions and at the same time leave the underlying ideas and values intact means only a superficial transformation, one that cannot be permanent or bring real betterment. "All voting," said Thoreau, "is a sort of gaming, like checkers, or backgammon, a playing with right and wrong; its obligation never exceeds that of expediency.¨ A close examination of the machinery of politics and its achievements will bear out the logic of Thoreau. Universal suffrage itself owes its existence to direct action. If not for the spirit of rebellion, of the defiance on the part of the American revolutionary fathers, their posterity would still wear the King's coat. No real social change has ever come about without a revolution. People are either not familiar with their history, or they have not yet learned that revolution is but thought carried into action.
OWSt.ORG: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has defended the 1%, claiming they are the job creators who will save the economy. Under this logic, what we really need is to let the market and the self-interest of bankers fix the financial crisis. What do you say to those who claim that market deregulation, privatization, and spending cuts – austerity, as they more honestly call it in Europe – is the best way out of the Great Recession?
MIKHAIL: It is in vain that we might say, with the economists, that an improvement in the economic situation of the 99% depends upon the general progress of industry and commerce in each country, and their complete emancipation from the supervision and protection of the State. The freedom of industry and of commerce is certainly a great thing, and one of the essential foundations of the future international alliance of all the peoples of the world. As we love freedom, all types of freedom, we should equally love this. On the other hand, however, we must recognize that so long as the present States exist, and so long as labor continues to be the slave of property and of capital, this particular freedom, while it enriches a minimum portion of the 1% to the detriment of the immense majority, would produce one benefit alone; it would further enfeeble and demoralize the small number of the privileged while increasing the misery, the grievances, and the just indignation of the working masses, the 99%, and thereby hasten the hour of destruction for States.
LUCY: The grandest works of the past were never performed for the sake of money. Who can measure the worth of a Shakespeare, an Angelo or Beethoven in dollars and cents? Agassiz said, "he had no time to make money," there were higher and better objects in life than that. And so will it be when humanity is once relieved from the pressing fear of starvation, want, and slavery, it will be concerned, less and less, about the ownership of vast accumulations of wealth.
EMMA: Indeed. The oft repeated slogan of our time is, among all politicians, that ours is an era of individualism. Only those who do not probe beneath the surface might be led to entertain this view. Have not the few accumulated the wealth of the world? Are they not the masters, the absolute kings of the situation? Their success, however, is due not to individualism, but to the inertia, the cravenness, the utter submission of the mass. For now at least. [smiles]
More scenes from the NATO summit
OWSt.ORG: Since the housing bubble collapsed and the financial crisis in 2008, progressively larger segments of the middle class are slipping into poverty. Others are living one paycheck or medical bill away from being homeless. How do you feel that this has changed politics, and what relevance does it have for Occupy?
MIKHAIL: We might truthfully say that the petit bourgeoisie, small business, and small industry are now beginning to suffer almost as much as the working classes, and if things go on at the same rate, this respectable bourgeois majority could well, through its economic position, soon merge with the proletariat. It is being destroyed and pushed downward into the abyss by big commerce, big industry, and especially by large-scale, unscrupulous speculators. The position of the petit bourgeoisie, therefore, is growing more and more revolutionary; its ideas, which for so long a time had been reactionary, have been clarified through these disastrous experiences and must necessarily take the opposite course. The more intelligent among them are beginning to realize that for the decent bourgeoisie the only salvation lies in an alliance with the people – and that the social question is as important to them, and in the same way, as to the people.
OWSt.ORG: Mikhail, as one of the earliest advocates for a federation of European States and of internationalism, how do you feel about the situation right now in the Europe and the coming potential of a Greek exit from the Euro?
MIKHAIL: There is but one way to bring about the triumph of liberty, of justice, and of peace in Europe's international relations – to make civil war impossible between the different peoples who make up the European family. Unity is the great goal toward which humanity moves irresistibly. But it becomes fatal, destructive of the intelligence, the dignity, the well-being of individuals and peoples whenever it is formed without regard to liberty, either by violent means or under the authority of any theological, metaphysical, political, or even economic idea. Recognition of the absolute right of each nation, great or small, of each people, weak or strong, of each province, of each commune, to complete autonomy, provided its internal constitution is not a threat or a danger to the autonomy and liberty of neighboring countries. The fact that a country has been part of the Eurozone, even if it has joined that State freely and of its own will, does not create an obligation for that country to remain forever so attached. No perpetual obligation could be accepted by human justice, the only kind of justice that may have authority amongst us, and we shall never recognize other rights or duties than those founded upon liberty. The right of free union and of equally free secession is the first, the most important, of all political rights, the one right without which the federation would never be more than a centralization in disguise.
OWSt.ORG: Occupy was inspired, in part, by the indignad@s, or 15-M movement, and the amazing uprisings against austerity in Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal and other countries (which, in turn, were partly inspired by the Arab Spring). What do you think Occupy has to offer to the so-called ¨Eurozone crisis¨?
MIKHAIL: The European Union can never be formed from the States as they are now constituted, considering the monstrous inequality which exists between their respective economies. Occupiers should therefore bend all their efforts toward reconstituting their respective countries, in order to replace their old constitution – founded from top to bottom on violence and the principle of authority – with a new organization based solely upon the interests, the needs, and the natural preferences of their populations – having no other principle but the free federation of individuals into communes, of communes into provinces, of the provinces into nations, and, finally, the entire world eventually.
OWSt.org: In the face of such repression and a near-total media blackout, is Occupy dead – as many of our detractors would claim?
MIKHAIL: Is it necessary to prove that Occupy is not dead? We need only see what is going on all over the world today. Behind all the diplomatic gossip, what serious question is facing all the countries if it is not the social question? It alone is the great unknown; everyone senses its coming, everyone trembles at the thought, no one dares speak of it – but it speaks for itself, and in an ever louder voice. The cooperative associations of the workers, these mutual aid banks and labor credit banks, these trade unions, and this international league of Occupiers in all the countries – does it not prove that they have not in any way given up their goal, nor lost faith in their coming emancipation? Does it not prove that they have also understood that in order to hasten the hour of their deliverance they should not rely on the States, nor on the more or less hypocritical assistance of the privileged classes, but rather upon themselves and their independent, completely spontaneous associations? It took Christianity 400 years to conquer Europe, are we surprised Occupy hasn’t succeeded the far more difficult task of creating economic justice in 8 months?
EMMA: The history of human growth and development is at the same time the history of the terrible struggle of every new idea heralding the approach of a brighter dawn. In its tenacious hold on tradition, the Old has never hesitated to make use of the foulest and cruelest means to stay the advent of the New, in whatever form or period the latter may have asserted itself. Nor need we retrace our steps into the distant past to realize the enormity of opposition, difficulties, and hardships placed in the path of every progressive idea.
OWSt.ORG: Ok, one final question. Where should Occupy go from here?
EMMA: The ultimate end of all revolutionary social change is to establish the sanctity of human life, the dignity of humanity, and the right of every human being to liberty and well-being, of course.
LUCY: The manifestations of discontent now looming upon every side show that society is conducted on wrong principles and that something has got to be done soon or the wage class will sink into a slavery worse than was the feudal serf. I say to Occupiers everywhere: Think clearly and act quickly, or you are lost. Strike not for a few cents more an hour, because the price of living will be raised faster still, but strike for all you earn, be content with nothing less. Just look at Spain and Germany, or just across the border to our comrades in Quebec, and right here this week in Chicago. The voice of the people will yet be heard.
Up to 500,000 people took to the streets in Montreal on the 100th day of protest against tuition increases, austerity, and state repression