California’s new fifth season

The Fifth Season is the name of the first book of the Broken Earth series, a critically-acclaimed science-fiction/fantasty trilogy that is set on an alternative Earth that is far more geologically active, to the point where climate catastrophes are routine, civilizations are in a constant state of imminent collapse, and the specter of a sudden and horrific increase in resource scarcity is always looming.  An era of a climate catastrophe is called a “Fifth Season”, and usually lasts years or even decades, and is usually marked by volcanic ash and smoke choking up the atmosphere and blocking out the sun.

It seems likely now that Northern California will be having its own “fifth season” of wildfires and smoke, between fall and winter.  Last year, in October, firestorms wrecked havoc across Northern California, and dumped smoke into the rest of the Bay Area for several weeks.  44 people were killed, and $14.5 billion in damage was done.  It was the first time I can remember that the Bay Area was severely affected by wildfire smoke from the northern regions.

Post-fire wreckage of what was once a suburban neighborhood in Santa Rosa, CA 

Now, its happening for the second year in a row, with devastating fires in Butte County creating even more unprecedented smoke conditions in the Bay Area.  The Camp Fire is already the most destructive in Californian history, with 63 confirmed dead so far and entire towns burned to the ground.  The smoke around Sacramento and the Bay Area has oscillated between “unhealthy” (AQI > 200) and “hazardous” (AQI > 300) levels.  As of right now, the Bay Area appears to have the worst air quality in the world.

Before and after pictures of smoke in Oakland, CA   

This interview from Inside Climate News with a Californian climate scientist sheds some light on how climate change is exacerbating California’s wildfires.  The main points:

  • The usual reminder that climate change doesn’t cause natural disasters, but does exacerbate things
  • California’s fire season has typically been in the summer and especially in the fall, and ends when the first rains hit; but climate change has been disrupting the typical rain patterns and it has been raining later and later in the year, extending the wildfire season into November
  • The warming climate means that trees and other plant matter lose moisture more quickly, making them much more combustible

Another relevant factor is the massive amount of dead trees in California — around 100 – 130 million — which are an excellent fuel source for wildfires.  The dead trees are a result of both the ongoing drought, which is made worse due to climate change, and bark beetles, which have spread from Central America and up the West Coast, all the way into Canada, and have found easy prey in the drought-weakened trees of California.  The warming climate also helps the beetles, by helping them survive the winters.

What will be the result of California’s new fifth season?  Like in the Broken Earth trilogy, it will certainly not help with resource scarcity, especially housing, and put more and more strain on government budgets.  And it will definitely reshape our behaviors and the way we will plan out our cities and our lives; there are serious questions that ought to be raised, such as whether there is a right to protective equipment, when a municipality ought to declare a state of emergency, how to be proactive about smoke damage to at-risk populations, and how to enforce safety standards onto the multitude of corporations that will be sure to drag their workers into the toxic air regardless of what prevailing medical advice is.

It is worth emphasizing that natural disasters are ultimately bounded by what kind of socio-economic system they encounter.  In addition to battling against fossil capital, what we need to do is develop “disaster communism” (see as described by Commune, Libcom, and Verso) as a counter to disaster capitalism, and take advantage of climate chaos in whatever ways we can, both for survival as well as revolutionary class struggle.  

Advertisements

Yemen’s elite factions

I recently read through Yemen Endures: Civil War, Saudi Adventurism, and the Future of Arabia (2017), an excellent journalistic and historical account of Yemeni politics in the last two decades, written by Ginny Hill, who appears to be one of the few Western/English-speaking journalists who have spent a significant amount of time in the country.  The book does much to unveil complex elite networks, and the rivalries and conflicts that have been bubbling under the surface in Yemen, which exploded into full view after the rupture of the Arab Spring and have now drawn in regional and international powers in what may end up being the most catastrophic war in decades, with tens of millions of people at risk.

Perhaps the most interest part of the book is the unpacking of the three factions that were holding together the Yemeni state prior to the 2011 Arab Spring protests.  You had Ali Abdullah Saleh, the regime leader with a vast patronage network, built over decades of rule.  Then you had Ali Mohsin, a major military figure under Saleh who had his own relatively independent support base, and much closer ties with Islah, a Islamist political party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.  And finally, you had Sheikh Abdullah — speaker of the parliament — and his son Hamid — a powerful businessman with his fingers in every part of the economy — both of whom lead the Hashid tribal confederacy and also had ties with Islah.

The patronage network that held the regime coalition together was largely fueled by oil profits.  This worked, for a time — but Yemen’s crude oil production peaked in early 2001, meaning that as the decade dragged on, the regime elites were facing a zero-sum game over a shrinking pie.  This also seems to have been underpinned by different factions cultivating ties with various international actors.  Saleh managed to get closer to the US military apparatus after the start of the War on Terror by playing up the presence of al-Qaeda in the country, even as he played a double game and diverted funds and training to boost up his own loyalist wing of the military, the Republican Guard.  Meanwhile, Hamid’s powerful holding company, the al-Ahmar group, cultivated increasing ties with regional and international capital and steadily increased control over various parts of the Yemeni economy.

Meanwhile, Ali Mohsin was at the head of the 1st Armored Division.  The growing rivalry between Mohsin and Saleh lead to a rather chaotic situation during the Houthi insurgency in the later 2000s.  The 1st Armored Division was tasked with leading the fight against the Houthis, but kept being cut off by peace deals negotiated unilaterally by Saleh.  At some points there were even violent clashes around the northern city of Saada between the Republican Guard and the 1st Armored Division, as these intra-regime tensions began to increasingly boil over.  The Houthis, for their part, generally held their own militarily, and even successfully fought back some tepid Saudi attempts at military intervention at the northern borders.  This is some of the more recent historical context of the current war, that saw Saleh and his loyalists join forces with the Houthis to fight a full-on civil war against the post-Arab Spring regime, supported by Mohsin and Hamid and Islah.

And of course, always lurking above Yemen, is the US empire, who has in recent years stepped up their increasingly confused military actions, which appear to be carried out with little to no understanding of Yemeni politics, and yet can reverberate and shake up the entire country.  This was seen in a most dramatic fashion in May 2010, when a drone strike killed a deputy governor and powerful tribal leader, during a meeting where he was trying to negotiate a settlement between the regime and al-Qaeda.  The al-Shabwan tribe attacked oil pipelines in revenge, which lead to a shortage of fuel in the capital city of Sana’a.  To deal with the shortage, Saleh diverted fuel from the south, which lead to blackouts and fuel shortages in the southern city of Aden, provoking riots and further contributions to southern separatist sentiments.

Today, it seems that the old regime factions are becoming increasingly irrelevant, and getting picked apart by the Houthis, the Southern Movement, and al-Qaeda — movements that have an actual mass base, rather than consisting of self-interested opportunists bought off via bribes and subsidies.  Saleh is dead, killed by the Houthis after he attempted to switch sides again and make his own deal with the House of Saud.  Mohsin’s forces were humiliated by the Southern Movement as they finally began flexing their armed wing.  Much of Hamid’s business empire has been expropriated by the Houthis, and the Hashid confederacy has disintegrated.  The fate of the country is up in the air, but the one sure thing is that the old elites of Yemen are withering away into history.

US Marxist-Leninist electoralism in the ’70s and ’80s

I recently read two good things on US Marxist-Leninist groups in the ’70s and ’80s: Out of Oakland: Black Panther Party Internationalism During the Cold War (2017), and “Lessons From One Left to the Next: Revolution in the Air Revisited”.  The first is a book on the Black Panther Party (BPP) and its international organizing efforts, and the second is a book review on the New Communist Movement.

It is extremely interesting to see how the BPP, as it started to fall apart after 1971, started to very rapidly turn toward electoral politics.  And this turn didn’t even try to maintain much of a veneer of revolutionary communism.  In 1973, the BPP more or less fully pivoted away from revolutionary struggle and focused on electing Bobby Seale as Mayor of Oakland, and Elaine Brown to the Oakland city council.  Their leaflets urged voters to “Elect Two Democrats”; they advocated for the economic benefits of having police officers live within city limits; and they proposed a “Multi-Ethnic International Trade and Cultural Center” on the grounds that it would help trade and cultural exchange with developing countries and help grow local businesses and tourism.  By the end of the decade, the BPP was basically nothing more than an appendage of the Democratic Party; Elaine Brown attended the 1976 Democratic National Convention as a delegate for Jerry Brown’s presidential campaign.  (Malloy 217-9).

What the hell happened?  The book doesn’t go into much detail, since its much more about the way BPP’s politics and philosophy on internationalism changed over time, than about the internal dynamics of the party domestically.  My own hypothesis, as argued here, is that the BPP was materially dependent on social bases outside of its lumpen-proletarian core membership, namely elite white liberals and black businessmen.  For a short while, these groups were willing to support the BPP in its radical program.  But as the Vietnam War winded down and the US government opened up space for the emergence of a black middle class, these groups became increasingly moderate, and the BPP was forced to follow this moderating trend.

Of course, the BPP wasn’t the only revolutionary group operating during this time period, even if it was the biggest and most visible.  The New Communist Movement saw a number of radical left groups organizing explicitly around Marxist-Leninist lines in the ’70s and ’80s, in the aftermath of the New Left movements of the ’60s.  Unfortunately this area of organizing seems rather understudied comparatively to the ’60s movements, which is why resources like Paul Saba’s bare-bones website, part of the Marxists Internet Archive, are so useful.  The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which is now a creepy cult around its leader Bob Avakian, is one relic from this era.  Another large and relatively well-organized group was the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), which was founded in 1977 and collapsed in 1982 — perhaps for the better, given that the party opposed gay liberation, supported the Khmer Rogue, and called on the US to arm mujaheddin fighters in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in ’79.  This report, written by a leading member who resigned in 1980, seems like very interesting and insightful reading on the trials and tribulations of the CP(ML).

Around the same time, another very interesting group formed, the League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS), which unlike the CP(ML) was largely composed of people of color organizing around national liberation movements.  The LRS was a merger of I Wor Kuen (made up of Chinese Americans), and the August 29th Movement (made up of Chicanos).  It soon merged with the East Wind Collective (made up of Japanese Americans), Seize the Time (made up of Blacks and Chicanos), and Amiri Baraka’s Revolutionary Communist League.

Sounds super cool, right?  Except, skimming through the documents, the most active campaigns that the LRS seems to have engaged in was…campaigning for Jesse Jackson in the Democratic Party primaries in 1984 and 1988.

What is it with Marxism-Leninism and milquetoast electoralism???

But snark aside, the post-’68 movements are extremely interesting, not to mention important, given that they were attempting to organize and (supposedly) trying to stir up revolutionary struggle at precisely the time when capitalism was restructuring into its modern neoliberal form.  Taking a closer look at the activities and internal debates of the New Communist Movement groups could tell us a lot about how to deal with such a terrain of struggle, give us a better understanding of US radical organizing that is more recent than the ’60s, and of course give us valuable lessons for today at a time when the debate within the radical left around democratic socialism, revolutionary struggle, and the Democratic Party is heating up.

Google and Microsoft workers are starting to rebel against imperialism

Several weeks ago, Google workers successfully got the company to not renew its contract with the Pentagon around the development of artificial intelligence technologies for drone warfare — a surprising victory, and a demonstration that such struggles have room to continue to grow and move into more radical directions.

Now, a similar struggle appears to be developing at Microsoft, where workers are vocally upset at the company’s contract with ICE.  This contract isn’t new, but the current political mood has shifted drastically into one of disgust and anger at the Trump administration’s policies around family separation and child detention at the border, and so its an opportune time to shed light on one’s company’s connections with odious institutions.  And as discussed in the case of Google, this is also an opportunity for Microsoft workers to push for workers’ control, as argued in this piece from Notes From Below from Wendy Liu, a former Google worker, which dives deeper into issues of engineering ethics and worker power.

It is interesting to examine how the two struggles reveal particular contours of contemporary imperialism.  Project Maven is about drone warfare, which is primarily taking place across the Greater Middle East (North Africa to South-West Asia), in areas that have been drawn into the increasingly flailing and unending War on Terror.  The Azure-ICE contract is about immigration and border control, whose main hot-spot is at the US-Mexico border, where people are attempting to flee northwards away from gang warfare and generalized social decay, which is in no small part due to the effects of US-backed militarization and free trade policies.  The infrastructure that keeps imperialist violence in operation in these areas is sprawling and monstrous, far beyond the scope of tech contracts.  But nonetheless, the fact that tech workers are struggling to deny the Pentagon access to cutting-edge AI tech, and ICE access to advanced cloud-computing, should be a good morale boost for all.

Notes on Endnotes on class decomposition and technical labor

As summarized in my last post, the main essay series of Endnotes Issue 4, “A History of Separation”, is all about dismantling orthodox Marxist mythology around the importance of the industrial worker as the main protagonist of overthrowing capitalism and establishing socialism.

A key part of this argument, which I didn’t touch on in the summary, is relationship between technology, class, knowledge, and political identity.  Back in the earlier stages of industrial production and industrial labor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when revolutionary workers’ movements were blossoming, it was very easy for a worker to see themselves as part of a class that was the actual force that built and maintained society.  Workers sweated and toiled alongside each other in massive centralized plants, stitching clothes, building cars, refining oil, chopping trees, etc.  Workers were key to the production process, and they understood the process just as well as, if not better than, the capitalists who pocketed the profits.

However, as development and industrialization proceeded (under both capitalist and Marxist-Leninist regimes), worker knowledge of the means of production diminished.  The industrial use of technology fragmented the labor process, separated the supply chain across entire regions and countries, and made work repetitive and dull, and in general, destroyed the old basis for a common, positive identity around being an industrial worker.  From “The Strange Victory of the Workers’ Movement”:

In spite of the development of the productive forces, labour, it was insisted, remained the source of all wealth, its latent power and knowledge reflected precisely in that development. That turned out not to be true: knowledge of the production process was no longer located in the place of the collective worker, but rather (if anywhere), in the place of the collective technician. That was a key point because — while it upended the foundation-stone of the workers’ movement — it also finally confirmed Marx’s perspective in the “fragment on machines” (reproduced more soberly in Capital).

…It was increasingly the case that human labour was no longer the main productive force; science — often applied to the worst ends of industrial “development”— took labour’s place. That profoundly affected workers’ self-understanding, their experience of what they did and their place in the world: workers could no longer see themselves as building the world in the name of modernity or a better, more rational way of living. On the contrary, that world was already built, and it was entirely out of their hands. Modernity presented itself as this imposing thing, which workers’ confronted, not as subject, but rather, as an object to be regulated and controlled.

…Society is no longer just the means of production, a set of factories that can be taken over and self-managed by the workers who run them…The bases of social power are now much more dispersed. They are located not just in the repressive apparatuses of the police, the jails and the armed forces and the so-called “ideological” apparatuses of schools, churches, and television. They include also power stations, water-treatment plants, gas stations, hospitals, sanitation, airports, ports, and so on. Just like the factories themselves, all of this infrastructure relies on a legion of engineers and technicians, who keep the whole things running from minute to minute. These technicians possess no collective workers’ identity, nor were they ever included in the programmes of the workers’ movements.

The comments on the rise of science, and the importance of technical labor, stuck out since of course it connects with what I’ve been musing about regarding the current politicization and radicalization of workers in the tech industry in the US.

To me, what’s key here is the fact that the workers’ movement did not adapt or evolve in step with the evolution of class as it was restructured by capitalism, to acknowledge the growing importance of scientific and engineering labor in the increasingly complicated complex of production, distribution, and circulation.  Some groups did this, but had to split from the old vanguard in order to do so.  Two examples that I’ve taken a closer look at: 1) the Students for a Democratic Society’s “Port Authority” statement looking at the new class composition of the US, that included skilled technical workers, and 2) debates among French Marxists in various parties over the nature of the new classes in light of the post-1968 period.

The latter is particularly interesting in the context of the comments by Endnotes because it precisely shows how class recomposition provoked crisis and splits in Marxism and the workers’ movement.  The French Communist Party (PCF) stuck with the industrial workers as their social base, but bizarrely tried to build a reformist coalition with the new middle classes who they saw as non-revolutionary and more conservative.  This was presumably a reaction to the fact that parts of this middle class, particularly the skilled technicians, played a key role in the upheavals of 1968, even as the PCF was playing a backseat counter-revolutionary role (which begs the question why they continued to see these classes as less radical than themselves).  Meanwhile, theorists like Serge Mallet of the  an Alain Touraine adapted the old logic of the workers’ movement to uphold the skilled technical workforce as the new vanguard of technologically advanced and automated capitalism, as the only fraction of the working class which could grasp the complexity of post-industrial society.

However, at this point in time, it certainly doesn’t seem like any identity around a “collective technician” has emerged, let alone one that is revolutionary and anti-capitalist (yet!).  Nonetheless, its very worthwhile to go back and look at these older debates around the class nature of technicians and engineers and scientists, to help us in the present figure out how to go about composing a revolutionary proletarian composition that is dynamic and cohesive across an increasingly fractured landscape.

Notes on Endnotes’ “A History of Separation”

Endnotes Issue 4, “A History of Separation”, is all about situating the workers’ movement of the 1800s and 1900s into its historical context.  It continues with Endnotes  rather heretical central thesis that the industrial proletariat is not the class that will overthrow capitalism, and that in fact capitalism will not automatically create a revolutionary class in the first place.

Here is a summary of the arguments that stood out to me.


The workers’ movement of the 19th and 20th century was couched in a very specific identity, that of the industrial worker.  This identity was rooted in the conditions and experiences of laboring in the factories, but also in the institutions and social spaces built by the workers’ movement to help reproduce this identity and pave over divisions of language, religion, etc.  This was all closely connected to the orthodox Marxist valorization of the industrial worker as the producer of all value in society, and thus the rightful heir to the wealth being produced by capitalism.

This not only informed, but overdetermined the class politics of the era.  Early communists believed that capitalism, as it developed, would inexorably proletarianize the rest of society, expanding the ranks of the industrial workforce and uniting them in the factory across divisions of nation, language, religion, etc., and creating a revolutionary force that would overthrow capitalism and establish socialism, a dictatorship of the proletariat.  This seemed correct for a time as industrialization, urbanization, and the expansion of the industrial workforce proceeded; but as capitalism developed and became fully mature in the mid-20th century, the real long-term trend became deindustrialization and the marginalization of industrial workers, as automation steadily reduced the relative need for industrial labor, and produced all sorts of different sectors and strata of workers with no real shared experience or identity — and in particular, a growing population of surplus people of no use to capital.  Capitalism did not unite the masses into a homogeneous collective industrial class, but instead alienated and separated them from one another; the only unity produced by capitalism is the unity of being atomized from everybody and everything, and being dependent on the market.  Unity-in-separation.

The excessive focus on the industrial worker by the workers’ movement also explains the policies of the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist states, which took hold in societies which were backwards and agricultural.  These states saw their primary task as developing the productive forces and creating the proletariat in the first place, and so ruthlessly attacked and undermined and displaced peasants and other rural/agricultural classes, driving them into the factories.  The underlying logic was to produce the revolutionary class that the old regime, dominated by feudal elites who stifled capitalism, had failed to produce.  But this focus on expanding industrial production and industrial workers replicated in the socialist bloc the same dynamic as in the capitalist bloc: the tendency toward the technological displacement of workers and the production of alienation and separation.

Deindustrialization and the full realization of unity-in-separation also meant that the shortcomings of the workers’ movement — whose self-identification revolved largely around the figure of the semi-skilled white male worker — became obvious, thus leading to the relative increase in importance of the various social movements around gender, race, sexuality, etc. in the 1960s and afterwards.  With the identity of the worker no longer able to mobilize a strong and powerful force, other identities became more materially powerful.

None of this is about whether communists at various times had mistaken ideas in their heads about how to go about revolution.  Rather, it is an assessment about how the leading revolutionary strategies of history were emergent from their specific material context, with regards to the particular phase of global capitalism at the time.

Since the long-term tendency of capitalism is the production of a unity-in-separation, the task for revolutionary communists is to engage with the problem of composition, of how to add up different fractions of the exploited masses into a revolutionary force.  What’s necessary, then, is not “class consciousness”, but a “consciousness of capital” as the common enemy of all of our disparate and differentiated lives.  From the last paragraphs of the second-to-last section:

Ours is a society of strangers, engaged in a complex set of interactions. There is no one, no group or class, who controls these interactions. Instead, our blind dance is coordinated impersonally, through markets. The language we speak — by means of which we call out to one another, in this darkness — is the language of prices. It is not the only language we can hear, but it is the loudest. This is the community of capital.

When people make the leap out of that community, they will have to figure out how to relate to each other and to the things themselves, in new ways. There is no one way to do that. Capital is the unity of our world, and its replacement cannot be just one thing. It will have to be many.


So how much of this do I agree with?  A lot, I think.  Its absolutely necessary to not be weighed down with the traditions and myths of the past, and moving beyond the heroic figure of the industrial worker in favor of examining capitalism and class as it actually exists today is a vital task.  In this regard the arguments of Endnotes echos that of Autonomist Marxism, and indeed “A History of Separation” starts with a quote from Mario Tronti.  There is no doubt that the working class today is heterogeneous and stratified, encompassing everybody from software developers to teachers to meatpackers to waitresses.  Building a basis for unity must be the point of organizing, not something assumed or asserted.

The points on automation and decomposition are also on the mark.  This essay goes into more depth on the question of automation and employment, and reaches more or less the same conclusion: that while automation expels the working class from some segments of production, there is a corresponding increase in labor demand in other sectors, mainly lower-wage and more precarious service work, or what Endnotes terms as “surplus population” (surplus to the core sectors of capital but not to the capitalist economy).

I’m not nearly as pessimistic as the essay is with regards to the problem of composing a revolutionary force.  At the risk of sounding like a simpleton I think it is pretty easy to assert that there is more that binds us than separates us, and despite the mass production of unity-in-separation its not at all a hard sell for most people that regardless of our occupations, national backgrounds, etc. we all gotta eat, and we all have to take shit from some kind of boss.  Pushing this generic observation to actual material alliances built around class struggle is another story, of course, but I’m optimistic about these prospects based on the organizing I’m seeing around me, particularly in the tech industry where workers across strata are working together and slowly grasping toward a common identity built through struggle.

Indeed reading Endnotes makes me outright optimistic, despite them being labelled as “bleak” by magazines like N+1, possibly because it echoes what I’ve been hypothesizing on my own in recent years: that the key task of revolutionary communists is to act as catalysts for different fractions of the working class to come together in common struggle, by facilitating communication and collaborative efforts, unveiling avenues of concrete solidarity, and doing whatever else it takes to recompose the working class.

Sophia Burns on ambulance-chasing and revolutionary strategy

I generally think that the radical left in the US does very little in the way of strategic thinking, so its always nice to read pieces like “Chasing Ambulances” and “Strategize, Don’t Moralize”, both written by Sophia Burns, a radical out in the Pacific North-west.

“Chasing Ambulances” critiques the common leftist practice of bouncing around different hot-button issues that are sparking protests and rallies, in an effort to spread the good word of revolution or whatever and find new recruits.  This is often weird and alienating and annoying to the people who are actually organizing the events and who have been engaged in long-term organizing around a particular issue or community.  And even when leftists aren’t being weird and opportunistic, there is still a tendency to put out all manner of resolutions and endorsements and whatnot as a way to “support” a cause — and it usually ends at that, which makes it highly questionable what the actual point of them is.  Burns argues that instead of running around and chasing after causes, leftists ought to instead be actual organizers, and engage in base-building in specific communities, with a long-term strategic perspective.  Sounds obvious, but then again, look at all the different cliques and sects running around in urban centers of the US that can be found at the fringes of any protest action, but have no meaningful organizing activity of their own, aside from trying to recruit people and raise awareness of socialism or whatever.

However, I would nuance this line of argument by saying that there are leftists who can and are engaging with flare-ups in social movements, like the ongoing teachers’ strikes, in what seems to be an effective and fruitful manner.  This engagement isn’t based on trying to recruit or preach, but on mutual communication and on the basis of learning.  There are plenty of radicals in education and academia who can and are connecting with the West Virginia wildcat teachers on the basis that they, too, are facing similar styles of exploitation and subjugation.  And of course it certainly helps that radical organizations like the IWW have been actually helping out in West Virginia.

“Strategize, Don’t Moralize” is a more explicit discussion of the need for revolutionary strategy, and a critique of the common leftist practice of debating about tactics in the abstract, divorced from context or strategy.  For example, its ultimately meaningless to talk about whether punching Nazis is good or bad in the abstract; you have to discuss it in the context of specific goals, which themselves must be connected to a larger strategy.  For revolutionaries, this strategy of course needs to be oriented around the prospect of revolution, which requires the synthesis of many different tactics — direct action, mutual aid, etc. — that have appropriate times and places to implement.  Without a coherent strategy, then leftists are left debating and implementing tactics in a vacuum, and arguing ideas without implementing practices, and thus remaining marginal to both the masses and to political and social relevance.

Burns doesn’t explicitly connect this line of argumentation with the one about ambulance-chasing, but the connection should be clear: when leftists aren’t acting in accordance with an explicit long-term strategy, then the impulse to abstractly moralize means that their actions are dictated by the issue of the month, and the need to “be correct” or “take the right position” on all manner of topics that, in the end, they have no concrete ability to influence.  The war in Syria is an excellent example of this.  Everybody is so damn caught up in yelling at each other about the correct line on Syria that nobody has stopped to realize that none of them have any power whatsoever to influence the situation in the first place, so the debate is ultimately irrelevant.  Instead of this style of moralizing, we need to take a step back and think about how to get from point A (being irrelevant to the situation in Syria and global capitalism/imperialism as a whole) to point Z (being a serious revolutionary force capable of intervening against imperialism).

Strategize and build power, don’t run after ambulances!