Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On Anarchism

On Anarchism: An Interview with Andrew Gavin Marshall

This is a transcript of an email interview I had with Andrew Gavin Marshall, Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. In it we discuss anarchism, trace its beginnings, delve into some of its history in both the United States and around the world, and conclude by discussing anarchism’s effect on today’s Occupy movement.

Devon DB: Could you provide a working definition of anarchism?

Mr. Marshall: Anarchism is difficult to define simply because it is such a diverse political philosophy, with so many different variants. So the definition tends to alter as the particular brand of anarchism differs. However, at is core, anarchism – in its original Greek wording – means simply to be “without a leader.” Running in opposition to traditional Liberal thought, such as that articulated by Hobbes’ notion of anarchy as a “state of nature” mired in war and conflict, and thus the State was necessary to maintain order, one of the original anarchist thinkers, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon countered, “Anarchy is Order.” Despite the connotation of the word “anarchy” to that of “chaos” and “disorder,” anarchism and anarchist societies are highly organized and ‘ordered.’ The central difference between an anarchist conception of order and others is that anarchy removes the structures of authority, so that society is organized through free association and non-hierarchical organization. It promotes both the individual and the collective, simultaneously. This is opposed to Liberal thought, which promotes the individual above all else, or socialist thought, which promotes the collective above all else. As one of the most influential anarchist thinkers, Mikhail Bakunin, described anarchist thought when he stated, “We are convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.” This has often led anarchism to be synonymous with what is referred to as “Libertarian Socialism,” which is where the root of Libertarianism lies, but has strayed quite far from. Ultimately, what underlies all anarchist thought is a heightened and radical critique and questioning of power and authority: if a source of authority cannot legitimize its existence, it should not exist.

Devon DB: Who and where was anarchism first thought of? What was the societal context that anarchist thought originated from?

Mr. Marshall: Anarchism is not like Marxism or Liberalism or other firm and concrete ideas, where the originators can be properly identified and understood. Just as it espouses a philosophy of being “without a leader” so too does a great deal of its historical development take place “without a leader.” Anarchist thought developed – to various degrees – throughout much of human history, in different times and place, often without any contact between the various civilizations themselves. It is, in this sense, an organic idea that can originate within any context. The first evolution of anarchist ideas has been identified as originating in ancient China, among the Taoists. Peter Marshall wrote in his quintessential, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, that, “Throughout recorded history, the anarchist spirit can be seen emerging in the clan, tribe, village community, independent city, guild and union.” It emerged in various strains of thought in ancient Greece, and later during the Christian era, most especially with the peasant revolts of the Middle Ages. This all took place, however, before anarchism came to be defined as an ideology or philosophy in and of itself.

This process took place after the end of feudalism, with the rise of Capitalism, and largely brought about by both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The Renaissance brought forth the ideas of the individual, and the Enlightenment conceptualized of social progress. It thus arose as a more coherent and distinct philosophy in reaction to the development of centralized States, nationalism, industrialization and capitalism in the late 18th century. Peter Marshall wrote, “Anarchism thus took up the dual challenge of overthrowing both Capital and the State.” William Godwin is largely considered the “father of anarchism” as having first articulated the desire for an end to the state, the German philosopher Max Stirner closely followed, but it was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in France who was the first to call himself an “anarchist.” Proudhon articulated a number of anarchist ideas and slogans which still have resonance today, such as the concept that, “Just as man seeks justice in equality, society seeks order in anarchy,” and the popular sayings, “Anarchy is Order” and “Property is Theft.”

Next followed the Russian revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin, the father of “Libertarian Socialism,” and the man who became the principle ideological opponent to Karl Marx. Another Russian, Peter Kropotkin, was one of the most influential anarchist philosophers in history, developing it into a more systematic social philosophy. In the United States, Benjamin Tucker was among the first anarchist thinkers, adding a particularly individualistic character to it. Other prominent anarchist thinkers include Leo Tolstoy, who brought in a religious element, and Emma Goldman, who developed a feminist strand of thought in anarchism. All of these thinkers collectively shaped the development of anarchist thought and practice in the 19th century and paved the way for its evolution over the 20th.

Devon DB:  What form did anarchism first take? How did the state and the populace at large react to it?

Mr. Marshall: Anarchism took different forms in different places and times. Throughout its modern history, regardless of location, the State always reacted defensively and often violently. Since one of the main tenets of anarchism is the abolition of the State, the state has in turn sought (with arguably more success) the abolition of anarchism. Anarchists have been demonized, infiltrated, spied on, deported, killed, or had entire movements violently destroyed. Anarchism was arguably most represented in labour and immigrant movements and activism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly among unions and Jewish emigrants out of Eastern Europe. Poor Jewish emigrants who had to flee Eastern Europe and Russia following the pogroms of the late 19th century took with them an ideology which found a deep grounding in a people without a state, a philosophy which reflected a stateless vision of global solidarity. Many of the Jews who fled were also socialists and Marxists, and radicals of all types, but the most prevalent force was with anarchism. These radical emigrants helped spread the ideas of anarchism into Western Europe, to London, France, Spain, to the United States, and even helping facilitate a massive anarchist movement in Argentina, much larger than the local communist movement.

Radical Jewish emigrants who were articulating anarchist philosophies generally incurred two reactions from their new countries of residence: the poor and working class people and immigrants welcomed these radicals, who struggled for the rights of all, and who were often at the forefront of movements for social justice, labour rights, anti-war, and empowerment; and, on the other hand, the State and media would promote the idea of dangerous “foreigners” and often promoted conceptions of anti-Semitism in order to push this idea. Thus, the reaction from among the general (at least poor and working class) populations was to undermine anti-Semitism and promote cross-ethnic solidarity, while the State and established powers further promoted anti-Semitism, anti-immigration laws, and enhanced police responses. This in turn facilitated police cooperation and coordination between various states, from Western Europe, to the United States and Argentina.

Devon DB: How did anarchism evolve over time and spread?

Mr. Marshall: As previously mentioned, a great deal of the spread of anarchism was facilitated by the mass emigration of radical Jews out of Eastern Europe and Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The modern history of anarchism is intrinsically linked to modern Jewish history, to a recent history of anti-Semitism, and even to the history of Zionism. This had both negative and positive effects, and promoted two major stereotypes for Jews. On the one hand, it promoted the stereotype of the radical Jewish immigrant, which received a good deal of favour among oppressed populations, but also a great deal of anxiety, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism among the ruling classes. On the other hand, Jews were subjected to the stereotype of the rapacious Capitalist, mostly by making reference to the Rothschild banking family.

Many of these stereotypes exist to this very day, but they lack their proper historical context. For example, the Rothschilds in London were very concerned about the radical Jewish emigrants who were entering England and other West European countries from Eastern Europe. These Jews were holding demonstrations and organizing strikes in London and other Western cities, threatening the very interests that the Rothschilds were invested in. The first impulse was to impose immigration restrictions, though this would be perceived as very similar to the expulsions from Eastern Europe, so a new strategy was needed. It was around this time that the Rothschilds became interested in Zionism. Zionism itself had several different brands of thought, and evolved over time. It was originally very radical, and even socialistic. The ideas of Peter Kropotkin and Leo Tolstoy were very influential among many Jewish emigrants in Palestine in the early 20th century, who established the kibbutz movement, a libertarian socialist collective community in Palestine, based originally on agriculture, rejecting the idea of a Jewish nation state and instead promoted Arab-Jewish solidarity.

The Rothschilds had for many years refused to support – whether ideologically or financially – the Zionist movement, and for a number of reasons: it’s radical socialist ideas were opposed to the very nature of how the Rothschilds became the Rothschilds, and perhaps more importantly, because the Rothschilds feared that if they promoted the idea of a Jewish nation, they would be forced to leave Western Europe and go to that very nation. As circumstances changed, however, the Rothschilds promoted a non-radical vision of Zionism, not socialistic or anarchistic, but distinctly Western and capitalistic. It became an opportunity to push the spread of Jewish radicalism into a more controllable ideology, and instead of deporting radical Jews, to support immigration to a new location (the Rothschilds were among the main financiers in personally providing for the means to transport Jews to Palestine).

There were, of course, other representations of anarchism. In Russia, the anarchist movement had a great strength and powerful base of support. During the Russian Revolution, there were three main factions fighting: the Reds (the Communists), the Whites (supported by the West as liberal democrats), and often forgotten from history, the anarchists. Both the Reds and Whites would attack and seek to destroy the anarchist movement during the Russian Revolution and civil war. Trotsky himself led armies against anarchist factions in Russia. The Whites and Reds were fighting for control of the State, while the anarchists were struggling for a society without the state. Ultimately, they were of course destroyed in this battle.

By far the most impressive representation of anarchism in modern history was in Spain. As Peter Marshall wrote, “To date, Spain is the only country in the modern era where anarchism can credibly be said to have developed into a major social movement and to have seriously threatened the State.” Spain was in part specially suited to this because of its long history dating back to the Middle Ages of having many independent communes with their own particular local laws. Anarchism in Spain became popular among the rural poor in the late 19th century, often inciting local insurrections. In time, the philosophy made its way into mining communities and working communities in Barcelona and Madrid. It became popular among young and radical intellectuals, and reportedly even attracted the likes of a young Pablo Picasso. Spanish anarchism was a struggle primarily against both the Church and the State. Just as in France in the 1890s, Spanish anarchism often had violent expressions in bombings and assassinations, met with brutal government repression.

In time, however, the inability of terrorism to overthrow the State became clear, and instead of violence, propaganda became the primary tactic, of spreading the philosophy among workers and peasants. In 1907, in the midst of industrial unrest, libertarian unions in Catalunya, Spain, formed the syndicalist organization, Solidaridad Obrera (Workers’ Unity), and in 1909 it called a general strike. Street battles broke out in which roughly 200 workers were killed, and after which the unions decided to form a stronger and larger organization, the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), which by 1919 had a membership of one million. Between 1917 and 1923 it organized revolutionary strikes all across Spain. In 1919, the CNT adopted the principles of communismo libertario is its main ideology, uniting many unions and workers in opposition to authoritarian socialism.

The highly decentralized structure of the CNT made it resilient to repression, just as several anarchist groups in Russia during the Revolution and Civil War. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the moderates and reformers were pushed out of the CNT, and the more radical Federacion Anarquista Iberica (FAI) took centre stage. Anarchist workers and peasants attempted to form insurrectional communes across Spain in the early 1930s, often leading to violent state repression. More strikes and insurrections were attempted, one of which included an uprising of 70,000 miners in 1934 which was violently crushed (with the help of Moroccan troops), with hundreds killed. In the following two years, Spain was drifting toward civil war. In 1936, a vision of a new society was outlined at the national congress of the CNT, representing half a million workers by this time, promoting libertarian communism in a society of communes, based on free association syndicalism, linked through regional and national federations, void of social hierarchy.

The individual and collective were simultaneously promoted, so that one was not sacrificed for the other, but rather, both were strengthened in support of one another. Diversity was accepted and promoted, understanding that communes would take on different forms and represent different ideological strands. Education was to be concerned with literacy so that people may think for themselves, and there was no distinction between intellectuals and workers. Courts and prisons were without purpose. These resolutions adopted at the 1936 congress were not to be a blueprint, but rather, “the point of departure for Humanity towards its integral liberation.” Between the time of the congress and the end of the year, the membership of the CNT had grown from 500,000 to 1.5 million. Franco rebelled against the Spanish Republic in July of 1936, was his forces were quickly disarmed by popular militias.

Franco still managed to take control of half the country, though the anarcho-syndicalists were running Barcelona, and Catalunya was essentially an independent republic. Ultimately, however, the concept of the social revolution was being sacrificed in order to fight against Franco and his fascist faction. Still, workers and peasants were being organized to manage their own affairs, and Libertarian Communism seemed not only possible, but actual. Anarchists and other groups formed militias to fight against Franco. George Orwell, who was in Spain fighting against Franco, was also correcting the perceptions given about the anarchists, explaining the incredible achievements of Spanish anarchism.

By 1937, roughly 3 million people were living in collective rural communities. Many villages were established, where money was abolished, collectivizing the land, eradicating illiteracy, and the popular assemblies often included woman and children, responsible for electing an administrative committee which would be accountable to the assemblies. There were also some communities which were ‘individualist’, where people would work their own individual plots of land, while Barcelona became the centre of “urban collectivization.” Public services and industries were run remarkably well in a large and diverse city. Between July and October 1936, “virtually all production and distribution were under workers’ control.” However, the social revolution was undermined by the war against Franco, and the increasing struggle with other factions, such as the Communists.

Some anarchist  leaders were being co-opted into government, and the CNT became increasingly ineffective. As the other factions were receiving foreign support, with the Communists getting support from the Soviet Union, Franco getting support from Hitler and Mussolini, and other factions getting support from Western liberal states, the CNT felt that it would have to incorporate with the state in order to get aid in order to win the war. Thus, by the middle of 1937, wrote Peter Marshall, “the greatest anarchist experiment in history was virtually over; it has lasted barely a year.” The communists had begin to replace the anarchists due to their foreign aid from the Soviet Union, who also organized a secret police which began a reign of terror, largely against anarchist groups, and ultimately the government itself crushed anarchist resistance and imposed censorship of the CNT.

The conflict between the Communists and Anarchists was perhaps the central reason why the Republicans lost the war against Franco, who ultimately conquered Spain in 1939, establishing a fascist dictatorship which lasted until 1976, and which had caused half a million radical Spaniards to flee into exile. Thus, Spain represented both the greatest achievement and failure of anarchism in the 20th century.

Though the movement itself was largely debased during the Cold War, the ideas continued to evolve, and new strands emerged, such as ecological anarchism and even anarcho-Capitalism, which came to be a driving force behind the modern American libertarian movement.

Devon DB: What role did anarchism play in the 19th century labor movement? How was anarchism received in the general labor movement and the regular populace?

Mr. Marshall: In the 19th century United States, labour struggles were a consistent historical development. As anarchism became an articulated idea and philosophy, along with Marxism and Socialism, these radical philosophies became increasingly associated with labour movements, especially in the formation and operation of unions. In the 1860s, two anarchist federations were formed in the United States, the New England Labor Reform League and the American Labor Reform League, which, according to William Reichert, “were the source of radical vitality in America for several decades.” Arguably the most influential American anarchist of his time, Benjamin Tucker, translated the works of Proudhon in 1875, and started his own anarchist publications and journals.

From the 1880s onward, many immigrants to the United States, such as Emma Goldman, helped facilitate the growing popularity of anarchism. Anarchist ideas had some grounding in the revolutionary labour movement in Chicago in the period of the 1870s to the 1880s, noted especially in the Haymarket Affair in 1886, which was connected with the struggle for the eight-hour workday. Across the country on May 1, 1886, roughly half a million workers demonstrated in support of this idea, with the most extreme cases in Chicago, with the largest strikes and demonstrations. Three days later, on May 4, a bomb was thrown at a protest rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, killing several police officers and leading to the shooting deaths and injuries of an unknown amount of protesting workers by the police.

The bombing, though its origins remain a mystery, led to the Chicago elite leading a crusade against revolutionary workers movements, with over 200 members of the International Working People’s Association (IWPA) arrested and several tried, with the state prosecutor proclaiming, “Anarchy is on trial.” Following the Haymarket Affair, working class organizations and unions became increasingly radical, many of them adopting distinctly anarchist principles of organization and ideology, and in turn, state repression became more violent and pronounced. The reason why radical unions did not survive the following decades was not due to some intrinsically American spirit of “rugged individualism,” and the national mythology dictates, but rather due to the violent and consistent state repression. Thereafter, and until this very day, May 1 has been celebrated internationally (though ironically not in the United States or Canada) as International Workers’ Day (or May Day).

This radical movement that had emerged out of Chicago in this era has often been referred to as a blending of Marxism and Anarchism, as “anarcho-syndicalist,” “revolutionary socialist,” or even “communistic-anarchist.” It did indeed have a profound impact upon all labour struggles in the following era, upon the agitation and strikes, and upon union organization and ideology. However, as it evolved into the 20th century, unions became increasingly crushed, co-opted, and dismembered, so that instead of united and international federations, they became industry and even company-specific, they became reformist, not revolutionary, and they became even corporatist, in which they sought to work with big business and government instead of against.

This is most emblematic today in the organization and ideology of the largest union federation in the U.S., the AFL-CIO, whose leaders are members of the Trilateral Commission, regularly speak at the Council on Foreign Relations, and are involved in foreign imperial policy for the United States, going with U.S. financial backing to poor nations to organize workers along corporatist lines, drawing them away from radical and revolutionary organization and ideology.

Devon DB: How has anarchist philosophy been distorted over time?

Mr. Marshall: This is a very important question. Anarchism is often considered synonymous with violence and chaos, when in truth, it has far more to do with peace and order. Anarchism has been very easy to dismiss and discredit simply because of its vast diversity. It has had no consistent and rigid structure of thought or action. Yes, there have been violent anarchists and violent agitation, terrorism, and assassinations, and this has done a great deal to discredit an entire and incredibly diverse realm of philosophical thought, but there is much more to anarchist ideas and actions. Anarchist history is often written out of official histories, such as with the Russian and Spanish revolutions, such as with Argentina and the spread of Jewish emigrants. Even today, many in the “alternative” media demonize anarchists.

Anarchist groups were among the first documented cases of having police infiltrators in London in the late 19th century. Infiltration of anarchist groups often still takes place, or more common, is that infiltrators in protests or other demonstrations simply aim to appear like “anarchists”, who are often associated with the Black Bloc, wearing black and with faces covered by masks or bandanas. Many in the alternative press blame police infiltrators for all the violence at protests, which is a misrepresentation, and simultaneously they often portray anarchist groups such as the Black Bloc as entirely consisting of police infiltrators, which is also a misrepresentation. In turn, the state and media portray these same anarchistic groups as violent thugs and criminals, and justify state repression against protesters.

Now, while infiltration of such groups has been documented, we cannot conclude therefore that the entire group or its membership is. This is especially true for anarchist organizations, which reject hierarchical organization, and are therefore more challenging to co-opt or control through traditional means. While certain infiltrators may be present, it does not imply that the entire grouping is being led by such individuals, and the groups are often so loosely-knit that they do not even have a traditional organization as we typically understand it. However, such groups are subject to propaganda from all sides, and this has done a great deal to demonize anarchism as a whole.

In Montreal, for example, anarchists have often been blamed for most of the violence and vandalism, when in fact it is the police (in official uniforms) who have been the most violent and destructive against the burgeoning students movement which began back in February. If you look at the “anarchist” violence, it typically consists of vandalism against bank property, such as smashing bank windows, or throwing rocks at police. Some others among the protesters have also participated in these actions, which are almost always reactions against the police brutality that has been taking place. Reading statements of student protesters who were present on the May 4 protest in Victoriaville, Quebec, where several students were shot in the face with rubber bullets by the police and nearly killed, we see another side to the so-called Black Bloc. Students described being tear gassed and falling to the ground as the riot police approached. Then it was members of the “Black Bloc” (or at least identified as looking like members, since there is hardly a membership roster), with their faces covered and goggles on, who would assist these fallen students, bringing them away from the riot police, treating their eyes, getting them to a medic, kicking the tear gas canisters back to the police. In many protests, when the police violence takes place, it is these individuals who appear to be on the “front lines.” And while their specific actions may not be condoned, they do reflect a popular anger among a rather large segment of the students. So in terms of the demonization of anarchists, or very specific anarchist actions of violence, there is a difference between condoning the act, and condemning the anger.

Simply because the act itself may not be helpful in terms of gaining popular support for a cause, or because it “justifies” police repression in turn, does not mean – as many in the alternative press articulate – that the anarchists are “working for the State,” are all agent provocateurs or infiltrators. Though this is the case at times, it is misleading to portray it as exclusive, and it simplifies rather complex situations, circumstances, and reactions. When a police truck was driven into a group of students at Victoriaville on May 4, it was a small group of average student protesters who picked up rocks to throw at the truck.

The vast majority of students were peaceful in the face of police violence and repression, but the fact that some will react violently is not a reason to dismiss, but an important point of understanding: it informs us that the situation is more extreme, that the reaction is more intense, that the circumstances are more dire. In the same way that when you corner an animal it becomes both its most vulnerable and most vicious, we are seeing this emerge in various protest movements and demonstrations around the world. Simply blaming “anarchists” does little to quell the violence and unrest, and does a great deal of harm to properly understanding these situations and how best to resolve them. Ironically, as anarchists in Montreal have been blamed for most of the violence at protests here over the past 15 weeks, the most organized and openly admitted anarchist event was in holding a large book fair.

Anarchism is still an intellectual pursuit, and because of its refusal to become a rigid ideology, and because of its acceptance of diversity, there will always be more radical and even violent elements and tactics, but ultimately, it is a philosophy built around the concept of solidarity and cooperation, of free association, liberty, and peace. The most common argument against anarchism, from those who typically do not understand what anarchy is, is that without some form of “authority,” the world would be chaos, people would be killing each other, and we would have disorder and destruction.

The simplest answer to this, is to ask the person what we have in the world today: we live in a world of extreme authority, of more globalized authority in every sector of human action and interaction than ever before in human history, yet so much of the world is in chaos, disorder, destruction, war, starvation, decimation, division, segregation, exploitation, and domination. It is not a lack of order and authority that has brought this to be, but rather the exercise of authority in the name of order. People see anarchy as a paradox without acknowledging the paradox of the ideology versus reality of the world we currently live in. This has been the greatest success in distorting the philosophy of anarchism.

Devon DB: How has anarchism been used in other parts of the world as a means of resistance?

Mr. Marshall: Anarchism historically spread to London, France, Spain, Italy, the United States, and especially Argentina in Latin America, as some of its most obvious examples. As it was largely destroyed as a powerful movement following the two World Wars, it had a re-emergence during the rise of the New Left in the 1960s. The New Left was pivotal in the political agitation and protest movements in Europe and the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It helped to re-invigorate an anti-Capitalist ideology and thinking, and in some cases, spawned an anarcho-Capitalist ideology itself. As the environmental movement emerged, so too did an anarchistic brand of environmentalism. Thus, as new movements and social agitation emerged and erupted, new brands and ideas of anarchism would adapt and evolve to the changed circumstances, just as it has through a great deal of human history.

Devon DB: What is your opinion on modern-day anarchism, specifically anarchists who are a part of Occupy?

Mr. Marshall: Modern anarchists are simply too diverse to hold a single opinion. It comes down, as it always has, to recognizing the diversity, and forming diverse opinions on different groups and tactics. As I referenced earlier, I may not condone the act, but I cannot condemn the anger. There was a time when I too would portray all violence as destructive and mindless and would even point as those who committed it as mere infiltrators and agents provocateurs. However, after having been witness to and caught in the midst of the student rebellion erupting in the Canadian province of Québec over the past 15 weeks, after having seen the national propaganda campaign against the students and the violent state repression enacted on a daily basis, it does not surprise me to see some people turning to acts of violence in their resistance. It ultimately is not helpful for the student movement as a whole, as it demonizes them and reduces popular support. But what I have come to understand is that it is a symptom of a large and growing anger, frustration, and discontent.

Violence and terror are reactions of the desperate, so instead of demonizing the act itself, we must come to understand the desperation. For if we truly want peace, and peaceful protests, we must understand the origins of violent reactions. Anarchist groups and ideas are re-emerging around the world to a larger and quicker degree than perhaps thought possible. We see anarchists as part of protest movements in Britain, Spain, Greece, Quebec, the United States, in the Occupy Movement, in Iceland and Italy. The tactics and specifics vary from place to place and person to person, of course. For example, in Italy, there was a recent case in which an anarchist group took responsibility for kneecapping an Italian nuclear company executive, and threatened more shootings. I think it is likely we will see a type of historical parallel to what took place in the 1880s in many places around the world, where we see acts of violence and terror which are attributed to or undertaken by individual or specific anarchist groups, and that as these tactics are presented as unhelpful, as counter-productive and problematic, there may be an increased tendency to renounce all forms of violence and to focus on education and “propaganda,” which the vast majority of anarchists focus on already.

 Just as a contrast, while it may be the case that an anarchist group has shot at industry executives in Italy, an anarchist intellectual – Noam Chomsky – has for decades been speaking softly and eloquently, writing and reading and agitating not with fists but words. Ultimately, Chomsky has done more to advance anarchism and anarchist ideas than any act of violence has or could. This is the direction that should be most pursued, and along the lines of anarchistic organization. If you simply look at the Occupy Movement itself, there are many cases of anarchistic structure: the lack of hierarchy, the general assemblies, the public libraries, etc. The libraries are a fascinating case, especially in this time of “economic austerity” in which libraries are increasingly coming under the harsh gaze of the State to have their funding cut.

What the Occupy groups have shown is that if the State takes away the libraries, people can simply organize their own. In Greece, the State demanded that a hospital close down due to budget cuts. Workers at the hospital occupied it and began to run it themselves. There are also reports that some communities in Greece are attempting to form their own currency or trading system. Around the world we increasingly see workers occupying factories and taking over the management collectively, demonstrating the lack of need for professional “managers” (who take all the profits), and the amazing ability of workers to be both decision-makers and producers. These cases are not discussed often or reported frequently, simply because they represent the problem of a good idea: other people might notice. In this sense, if we understand but don’t emphasize the violent actions of a few, and instead if we come to examine and understand anarchism for the vast diversity of philosophy and tactics it truly represents, we are able to see a great degree of hope and progress coming from this movement in the future.

Where the State and corporations and banks work against the people (which is everywhere), where they close factories, foreclose on homes, cut education and health care spending, demand increased costs for people, while decreasing taxes for the rich, there are anarchistic answers and possibilities. In regards to where I currently live in Quebec, with a massive student movement sparked by a 75% increase in tuition, we are suffering under an old paradigm of education, of a political, social, and economic system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. While the first response is to ‘defend’ the educational system as it currently exists, the long-term solution is to radically reorient our conception and organization of education itself. For example, when the university system originated in the Middle Ages, there were two initial brands of university education: the Paris model, and the Bologna model.

In Paris, the school was run by administrations and cultural-regional elites. Over time, as the nation-state and capitalism evolved, these became the patrons and administrators of universities. In Bologna, Italy, the school was run by the students and staff. For obvious reasons, the Paris model won out, but it would seem that in the face of our current global social, political, and economic crises, it is time for the Bologna model to win the historical battle in a resurgence. The notion of students and staff running schools is distinctly anarchistic, in the same way that workers running factories is. As Proudhon declared, “Anarchy is Order,” and in a world of so much chaos and destruction and authority, perhaps it is time for a little anarchy and order.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Slavery By Another Name

Slavery By Another Name: The Convict Lease System

After the Civil War, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional amendments were passed which aided newly freed slaves in being equally treated under the law, or so the story goes. The fact of the matter is that slavery was- and still is- completely legal in the United States and not only that, but it took on a much different form. The institution of slavery changed as instead of having the direct enslavement of blacks with an entire apparatus that had to be created to keep slaves in their condition, elements of the state apparatus were used to enslave blacks, namely the legal and prison systems. Yet, the enslavement itself was changed as black convicts were no longer slaves to individual masters, but rather they were enslaved to the companies which they were leased out to. To create this system there not only had to be the involvement of the Southern judicial system and individual Northern and Southern elites, but also the involvement of the corporation and reinstitution of slavery within a corporate context.

The 13th Amendment

To attain a full understanding of the convict lease system, there must first be a reexamination of the 13th amendment. It has been stated in history books and in classrooms across America that this amendment ended slavery, yet this is quite false. The 13th Amendment states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” [1] (emphasis added) Thus, slavery is completely and totally legal if it is part (or the whole) of a punishment for someone who was convicted of a crime.

When debating the 13th amendment, many in Congress were not thinking of slaves, but rather white labor, with Senator Henry Wilson saying “The same influences that go to keep down and crush down the rights of the poor black man bear down and oppress the poor white laboring man.” [2] Senator Richard Yates of Illinois was much blunter, stating that he had “never had the negro on the brain” [3] when discussing the amendment. Such notions are in the absurd! Wilson is correct to an extent when he argues that both slave and white labor are oppressed by the same system; both are oppressed in that they are being manipulated and played off one another by the elite of both the North and South. Still, Wilson ignores the fact that white labor was very much less oppressed than black slave labor as white laborers were seen as human being, deserving of dignity and respect, rather than treated worse than animals. White laborers were free to do as they pleased, not having to worry about ensuring that they consistently had papers on their person as to prove their freedom.

The passing of the 13th amendment should be examined within the context of an economic competition between black slave labor and free white labor. The South’s economy was built around slave labor and the ability to have the slaves produce more than they were ‘worth,’ seeing as how slaves were viewed as not just general property but a long-term economic investment which helped the Southern plantation elite. Yet, due to the existence of slavery, white labor suffered as not only did they lose out on the income they were making when slavery was first introduced as well as the potential future income, but also white labor was unable to make advances within the South as slave provided a source of labor that was less expensive in the long-term.

Senator Henry Williams illustrates these points and other problems that white labor had with slavery. He stated that

slavery was evil because it destroyed much of the richest land in the South; it degraded labor and the meaning of labor for poor white working men in the South; it robbed the South of culture by degrading the efforts of laborers; and it allowed southern aristocrats to further insult northern white workers by demeaning their laboring efforts as crabbed and mean. It was the association between labor and slavery in the minds of southern aristocrats that demeaned the efforts of industrious northern laborers. Thus, slavery pulled white workers down in two ways: one, by direct competition with slave labor in the South, and two, by associating all the industrious efforts of workers with those of the degraded slaves. [4] (emphasis added)

Thus, the only way for white labor to triumph in their struggle for rights such as a fair wage and regular working hours was for the abolition of slavery. White labor had a direct interest in the nullification of slavery.
Yet, there was a difference of opinion in the minds of Southern elites who wanted to continue slavery, but on different terms.

Southern Elites

Before discussing the Southern elites, one must first examine it within the context of the Southern economy after the Civil War. It was utterly in shambles, one could make quite the argument that it had been decimated and demolished in virtually every conceivable way. The entire economy of the South was built upon the institution of slavery and agriculture. With the end of the Civil War, not only was the Southern economy damaged by the freeing of black slaves, but also the land was deeply scarred and hurt, thus creating an immediate economic problem. However, among all of this there was an opportunity reorient and reconstruct the economy around a new labor source as cheap labor would be needed to rebuild the region.

The social order must be examined as well. While the slaves were now free and able to do as they pleased, there was still a deeply embedded racism within the minds of Southern whites. Just because blacks had fought in the Civil War did not suddenly mean that the perception of blacks had changed; rather to the Southern elites, they still viewed blacks as inferior and only good for labor, longing to perpetuate the slave system but within a new industrial framework seeing as how the agricultural framework had been destroyed. This new system was to be found in the convict leasing.

The leasing out of state convicts to private hands has its basis in the minds of such people as John T. Milner of Alabama. Milner was no ordinary man, rather he was a Southern elite who “was in the vanguard of that new theory of industrial forced labor,” writing in 1859 that “black labor marshaled into the regimented productivity of factory settings would be the key to the economic development of Alabama and the South.” [5] Milner’s idea of using regimented black labor can be seen in his involvement of a project for the Blue River, a railroad company, in Alabama. In 1859 he issued a plan for the laying of rail in Montgomery, “presenting statistical evidence to demonstrate the potential economic benefit to Montgomery of securing connections with Decatur,” a city north of Montgomery. He argued that the Blue River could build its own track in nearby Jones Valley with the use of slave labor. Yet, in Milner’s mind, this slave labor had to be managed by whites. He stated “A negro who can set a saw, or run a grist mill, or work in a blacksmith shop, can do work as cheaply in a rolling mill, even now, as white men do at the North, provided he has an overseer, a southern man, who knows how to manage negroes." [6] (emphasis added) After the end of the Civil War, Milner’s plan changed, but he was convinced that “the future of blacks in America rested on how whites chose to manage them.” [7] To this end, in the 1870s, he moved with purpose to acquire the black convict labor that Alabama’s prisons were offering up. He took these convicts and put them to work in coal mines, treating them barbarically.

Records of Milner’s various mines and slave farms in southern Alabama owned by one of his business partners- a cousin to an investor in the Bibb Steam Mill- tell the stories of black women stripped naked and whipped, of hundreds of men starved, changed, and beaten, of workers perpetually lice-ridden and barely clothed. [8] (emphasis added)

Black Americans, many of them former slaves, were essentially re-enslaved but within the context of a corporate structure with an alliance between the state and the corporation. Yet, the judicial system was greatly involved in allowing this to occur, from the laws passed to sheriffs selling of convicts to companies.

The Judicial System

In order to allow for the convict lease system to exist and for blacks to be reduced to their former state as a labor source, it required that the law limit the rights of blacks and criminalize black life to the point that blacks could be imprisoned on the most frivolous of offenses. Such laws took the form of Black Codes.
To understand the creation of Black Codes, it is necessary to understand the social order that motivated elites to push for such legislation. North Carolina is a prime example. After the war, the elite would have preferred the system to revert back to the status quo that existed under the slave system, yet this was not possible due to the liberation of blacks and free whites caused by the destruction of the slave system. This problem was greatly exacerbated by the fact that “in suppressing the war to dissolve the Union the whites were deprived of arms while many Negroes had easily obtained them,” thus “A general feeling of insecurity on the part of the whites” resulted. [9] Armed blacks were a threat to elite interests as by being able to defend and protect themselves; blacks would be able to ensure that they would not be re-enslaved. Furthermore, it presented a problem to the overall white power structure as having weapons would empower blacks to stand up for themselves and assert their rights not only as Americans but also as human beings and such a situation bought the memories and worries of a slave revolt back to the forefront of the minds of elites.

To put blacks back ‘in their place,’ the elite pushed several laws that were passed in the state legislature such as defining “a Negro as any person of African descent, although one ancestor to the fourth generation might be white.” [10] The fact that racial identity was dependent on the mother rather than the father made the situation all the worse as blacks who had white fathers, whether by marriage or by rape, were now considered to be black and thus would be subject to the worst aspects of living within a white supremacist society.

Another example of the law being used to punish blacks was those laws concerning vagrancy. In North Carolina there was a problem concerning labor as after the Civil War, blacks and whites were working on their own fields, yet

Many others less energetic, white and black, were flooding the towns and refusing work of any sort, for in the days of bondage, master and slave had been taught that to labor with the hands was undignified: consequently, freedom to many Negroes meant a deliverance from hard labor. [11]

These workers proved a problem to North Carolinian industrialists and agriculturalists as few could afford to pay workers a wage until the crop had been grown, not to mention that neither employee nor employer were familiar with a wage system. A solution was found in creating vagrancy laws. Of the workers who refused to do any labor, vagrancy laws were passed that stated that a person who had no means of survival or refused to work would be regarded a vagrant and sent to court, however, a payment could be offered which would be conditional upon the good behavior of the vagrant for one year and thus would allow the person to get off scot free. Yet if the person was unable to make such a payment, they would be convicted a vagrant and fined, imprisoned, or both. When concerning now freed slaves, the laws was much harsher as many of them, once convicted, were apprenticed to their former owners under a contract or being leased to a corporation. In the contract, the owner was to feed, clothe, and instruct the freed slave in reading, writing, and arithmetic and, upon the end of the apprenticeship, they were to be given money, a new set of clothes, and a new Bible as payment for the work done. However, such repayment rarely occurred or was enforced by the state government.

Overall in the South, vagrancy laws were so vaguely defined that any free black that was not under the protection of a white person could be arrested. Such laws allowed for police to “round up idle blacks in times of labor scarcity and also gave employers a coercive tool that might be used to keep workers on the job.” [12]

With the judicial system having established a means to ensure a continuous supply of cheap labor, the leasing could now begin.

Convict Leasing

The act of leasing out convicts isn’t anything new as in states such as Alabama, where the government had no interest in caring for convicts; prisoners were leased out to companies. While this may have helped prisons get convicts off their hands, they made no extra revenue from it. After the Civil War, such leasing began to pick up steam as corporations had access to almost free labor.

Labor scarcity between states was a major problem and thus concerted efforts were made by each state to keep black prison labor within their borders. This was done be waging war on emigrant agents, people who specialized in moving labor from where it was abundant to where it was scarce. They had done this when slavery was still existent and it continued under the newly freed slaves. Such agents were viewed as a threat to white farmers as by moving black labor here and there, it threatened the establishment of a stable labor source. Though in the early months emigrant agents were ignored, many states established anti-emigrant agent laws due to their need to keep in black labor. One example is in 1876 when Georgia, “Hard hit by black movement to the West,” passed legislation that “levied an annual tax of $100 for each county in which a recruiter sought labor. A year later she raised the amount to $500.” [13]

Convict leasing, interestingly enough, resulted in power being taken from the state level and given to those on the local level to the point that sheriffs became quite powerful soon after the Civil War ended as “County sheriffs and judges had dabbled with leasing black convicts out to local famers, or to contractors under hire to repair roads and bridges, beginning almost immediately after the Civil War.” [14] This economic empowerment of sheriffs created an incentive for them to convict and lock up as many freedmen as possible and keep a steady supply of labor. An entire economy eventually formed around the convict lease system, including a speculative trade system in convict contracts developed.

The witnesses and public officials who were owed portions of the lease payments earned by convicts received paper receipts- usually called scrips- from the county that could be redeemed only after the convict had generated enough money to pay them off. Rather than wait for the full amount, holders of scrips would sell their notes for cash to speculators at a lower than face amount. In return, the buyers were to receive the full lease payments- profiting handsomely from on those convicts who survived, losing money on the short-lived. [15]

While there was much profit to be made in the convict lease system, not everyone was happy with it, namely, white labor.

Labor’s Reaction to Convict Leasing

Just as how white labor was against slavery due to it undermining their struggle for better working conditions, they were also against the convict lease system for the very same reasons. Never did they stop to consider the fact that both worker and freedman were being manipulated by the very same systems that governed them.

Labor’s anti-convict leasing sentiments were felt long before the Civil War began. In 1823 in New York City, journey men cabinet makers conducted a mass meeting to discuss prison-made good being introduced to the market and how it threatened their trade. In that same year, also in New York City, mechanics petitioned the state legislature to end the use of prison labor. [16]

During the Civil War, labor unions were opposed to the use of convict labor, arguing that it “tended to lower the wages of thousands of laborers, and in some instances has virtually driven certain kinds of labor out of the field” and that” the contractor is seeking cheap labor and cares nothing for the welfare of the prisoner.” [17] However it should be noted that unions were not opposed to all convict labor, as they stated that they were fine with prisoners building a state prison. Thus, the labor unions didn’t truly care about the brutal, inhumane treatment of convicts, but whether or not the convicts were encroaching on their area of employment.

Yet this should not be examined as a separate battle between free labor and convict labor, but rather a continuation of the struggle between the two groups. Once again, the only way white labor’s goals could be achieved was with the destruction of most of the convict lease system to protect their own industries.
While the convict leasing may have been profitable for a select few and a thorn in the side to many, eventually the system would have to end.

The End of Convict Leasing

Due to a mixture of the changes in economic and social landscape, convict leasing would eventually die out. However, it is important to first note that the economic and social justifications for such a system reinforced each other as not only was it “an expedient by which Southern states with depleted treasuries could avoid costly expenditures; it was also one of the greatest single sources of personal wealth to some of the South's leading businessmen and politicians.” [18] The Southern elites benefited greatly from the system and thus put all their efforts into perpetuating the system for as long as possible.

If one only looks on the surface at the abolition of convict leasing, they may assume that its demise was due to the public indignation that arose against the system yet this is not the case- far from it, rather it involved a combination of race, politics, and economics depending on the state. For example, in Louisiana, convict leasing was abolished due to it being “part of a reform package which had as its purpose the complete triumph of white supremacy in political affairs” whereas in Tennessee, its leaders

decided that the demands of fiscal responsibility dictated abolition when the expense of maintaining the militia at convict stockades-a cost incurred by an armed rebellion on the part of free miners who were displaced by convict gangs-proved greater than the income from the leasing contract. [19]

In this system was embedded racism, politics, and economics, but it was also just as much embedded in violence and brutality. Men and women were beaten, bloodied, bruised, and valued only so long as they were able to do labor. They were reduced to nothing more than human resources, human tools to do the bidding of and enrich white industrialists and agriculturalists from the North and the South. From the Civil War to World War Two, black Americans were re-enslaved under a new system that was no better than the first.


1: Legal Information Institute, 13th Amendment of the US Constitution,

2: Lea S. VanderVelde, “The Labor Vision of the Thirteenth Amendment,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 138:2 (1989), pg 440

3: VanderVelde, pg 446

4: VanderVelde, pg 466

5: Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War 2 (New York, New York: Anchor Books, 2008) pg 51

6: W. David Lewis, “The Emergence of Birmingham as a Case Study of Continuity between the Antebellum Planter Class and Industrialization in the ‘New South’,” Agricultural History 68:2 (1994), pg 67

7: Blackmon, pg 51

8: Blackmon, pg 52

9: James B. Browning, “The North Carolina Black Code,” The Journal of Negro History 15:4 (1930) pg 462

10: Browning, pg 464

11: Browning, pg 466

12: William Cohen, “Negro Involuntary Servitude in the South, 1865-1940: A Preliminary Analysis,” The Journal of Southern History 42:1 (1976) pg 34

13: Cohen, pg 39

14: Blackmon, pg 64

15: Blackmon, pg 65

16: Henry Theodore Jackson, “Prison Labor,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 18:2 (1927) pgs 244, 245

17: Theodore Jackson, pg 246

18: Matthew J. Mancini, “Race, Economics, and The Abandonment of Convict Leasing,” The Journal of Negro History 63:4 (1978) pg 339

19: Mancini, pg 340

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Syria: The Road to War Continues

It has been revealed in recent days that the US and Turkey are in fact aiding the Syrian rebels and that the push for intervention is growing. It is important to realize the effects of this not only in Syria, but also for that of Iran and Russia, two of the most prominent and vocal backers of the Assad regime.

The Washington Post stated recently that the Syrian rebels “have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials.” [1] (emphasis added) It was also recently noted by The Telegraph that Turkey is arming the Syrian rebels. Michael Weiss wrote

Rebel sources in Hatay told me last night that not only is Turkey supplying light arms to select battalion commanders, it is also training Syrians in Istanbul. Men from the unit I was embedded with were vetted and called up by Turkish intelligence in the last few days and large consignments of AK-47s are being delivered by the Turkish military to the Syrian-Turkish border. No one knows where the guns came from originally, but no one much cares. [2] (emphasis added)

There is also help from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt which has “opened its own supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy private individuals and money from gulf states.” 

This influx of weapons is having a positive effect on the fighting as the Post noted that a clash that occurred in May 14th near the city of Rastan, the rebels overran a Syrian army outpost, killing a total of 23 Syrian troops according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. Yet, it could potentially boost the Assad regime as now the Syrian government's claims [3] that the violence is being caused by outside interference are verifiable.

It is quite important to factor in the role of the Russian government, one of the staunchest supporters of the Assad regime. Russia has been one of the few countries involved in Syria that seems to be legitimately interested in peace. The New York Times reported in February that two senior Russian officials, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Mikhail Fradkov, the director of Foreign Intelligence, had gone to Damascus to discuss “dialogue with the opposition, offering a referendum on a new constitution, and the Arab League resuming its ‘stabilizing’ mission.” [4] But they too, have their own interests namely military and commercial. Militarily, the Kremlin are concerned with ensuring that they are able to maintain their naval facilities at the port of Tartus, the only naval access Russia has into the Mediterranean, whereas commercially, Russia has made a considerable amount of money by selling arms to the Assad regime such as $500 million in weapons contracts. [5] Thus, if the Assad regime falls, the Russians will have to deal with a serious economic loss and have to confront the fact that they may be ejected from the Mediterranean, leaving them not only with a loss of power projection, but also being left out of the massive amount of oil and gas found there [6] and the economic and geopolitical power that comes with controlling such natural resources.

Iran, another major backer of the Assad regime, must also be kept in mind. It has been noted that Iran is aiding Assad financially by sending them money which is “funneled in through banks in Lebanon” and is assisting in other ways “includ[ing] small arms and assistance in helping the Syrian government use computer monitoring to root out opposition using social media and other Internet tools.” [7] Iran is aiding Syria due to the fact that Syria is Iran’s only ally in the greater Middle East region. If Syria falls, Iran will be completely isolated and that, when coupled with the push to go to war in both the US and Israel, may very well result in an attack or invasion of Iran.

The increase in violence plays into the hands of the West, especially the United States. Weiss wrote that “Turkey wouldn't take such a course of action without express American consent or encouragement” and that Senator Joseph Lieberman wouldn’t “indicate that the administration was inching toward a military response to the humanitarian crisis […] unless he was fairly sure it was indeed doing so.” Thus, the violence is being fomented by the US and its allies in an order to make way for ‘humanitarian’ intervention which will only result in regime change. This may be coming closer than we think as CNN reported that

While troops from 19 countries, including the United States, have converged in Jordan for the Eager Lion military exercise, U.S. and Jordanian elite forces are doing additional training to prepare for potential fallout should Syria's government collapse.

U.S. Army Green Berets are training Jordanian special forces in a number of so called "worst-case scenarios" including Syria's chemical and biological weapons falling out of the control of government forces, U.S. sources tell CNN. (emphasis added) [8]

One must question as to why the US and Jordanian military would be preparing to go into Syria if it doesn’t seem as if the current regime is going to go under anytime soon. It may be because the US and its allies are currently in the process of creating a situation as to where they will be able to send boots on the ground to secure Syria’s chemical and biological weapons as well as have soldiers there to train and aid the Syrian rebels.

The road to war continues.


1: Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly, “Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors’ money, U.S. coordination,” Washington Post, May 15, 2012 (

2: Michael Weiss, “Syrian rebels say Turkey is arming and training them,” The Telegraph, May 22, 2012 (

3: Associated Press, “Syrian leader Assad says terrorists are behind unrest,” Fox News, May 17, 2012 (

4: Dmitri Trenin, “Why Russia Supports Assad,” New York Times, February 9, 2012 (

5: Fred Weir, “Russia closes deal on $550 million worth of warplanes for Syria,” Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2012 (

6: F. William Engdahl, “New Mediterranean oil and gas bonanza,” Russia Today, February 26, 2012 (

7: Barbara Starr, “Iran propping up Syria's dwindling cash reserves,” CNN, May 21, 2012 (

8: Ibid

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Quebec Steps Closer to Martial Law

Quebec Steps Closer to Martial Law to Repress Students: Bill 78 is a “Declaration of War on the Student Movement”

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

On Friday, May 18, the Québec legislature signed a special “emergency law” to “restore order” in the province following three months of student protests in a strike against the government’s proposed 80% increase in the cost of tuition. A legislative debate lasted all night and resulted in a vote of 68-48 in favour of the legislation. The legislation has three main focal points: (1) it “suspends” the school semester for schools majorly affected by the strike, (2) it establishes extremely high fines for anyone who attempts to picket or block access to schools, and (3) it imposes massive restrictions on where and how people may demonstrate and protest in the streets. The law is set to expire by July 1, 2013.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Meet Canada’s Ruling Oligarchy

Meet Canada’s Ruling Oligarchy: Parasites-a-Plenty!

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

As hundreds of thousands of students in the province of Québec continue to strike into their 13th week against tuition increases, as the provincial government continues to employ legal repression and state violence against the youth, as Canadian families are over $100,000 in debt, as a looming housing crisis begins to rear its ugly head, as youth unemployment increases, student debt explodes, jobs vanish, poverty deepens, and oppression increases, it’s time to meet those responsible, those who are doing better than ever, those who are making record profits, sitting comfortably in their estates which are larger than the entire island of Manhattan, who travel by helicopter and private jet, who co-mingle with the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Spanish royalty, presidents and prime ministers at home and abroad: meet Canada’s ruling oligarchy.
As this series, “Class War and the College Crisis,” is more focused on the issue of education, I will focus here on the composition of the oligarchy in terms of how they control our educational system. This part in the series will be part article and part research annex. First, I will introduce the reader to Canada’s most powerful family, our version of the Rockefeller’s south of the border, or the Rothschilds in Europe, and of course, all these families are close in both business and social circles. Such is the nature of being an elite in a globalized world. The Desmarais family, located in the province of Québec, are without question the most influential and powerful family in the country, and it’s no wonder, considering their power is vested in an investment company known as Power Corporation.