NJ Boneheads Tried to Cause Trouble at Philly I.C.E. Protests

from Idavox

L-R, Dan D’Ambly of the NJEHA and Ron Sheehy

Ron Sheehy and Dan D’Ambly led a crew of four people to harass members of the Jewish community and their supporters protesting Trump’s concentration camps. Gee, whatever got their dander up?

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Neo-Nazis, two who were readily identified as participants in the 2017 “Unite the Right” Rally in Charlottesville, were seen at an anti-ICE protest at Independence Hall today.

Jewish-American organizations across the country organized this week to be a national “Never Again Week of Action,” and are holding similar marches across the U.S., linking the current immigration enforcement tactics employed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the Holocaust. “As Jews, we’ve been taught to never let anything like the Holocaust happen again,” the Facebook event page reads. “Now, with children detained in unacceptable conditions, ICE raids targeting our communities, and people dying at the border while seeking safety in the US, we are seeing the signs of a mass atrocity. We refuse to wait and see what happens next.”

During the march, four White men identified as neo-Nazis were heckling the passing protesters with anti-Semitic language. Of the four, two were identified because of their notoriety. Dan D’Ambly of the New Jersey European Heritage Association (NJEHA), raised the Betsy Ross American flag while shouting at passers-by, while Ron Sheehy, once of the Advanced White Society joined him while videotaping those he was heckling on his cell phone. According to a since deleted post from his “Tremley” account on Stormfront, the other two were members of NJEHA.

Sheehy also said the four of them later attempted to lay a wreath emblazoned with NJEHA decals on the grave of Ben Franklin but was met with opposition. “We all paid $3 each to get into the Cemetery, and we asked if we can lay a Reef (sic) on Ben Franklin’s Grave Site so we can take a Picture,” he wrote. “(T)hey said ok, but once we did, 2 queer guys who worked there flipped out and tried taking the Reef (sic) away from us. A lot yelling back and forth with them calling us White Supremacist and stuff, so we left after that.” Sheehy also went to an anti-I.C.E. protest earlier this week at the offices of Rep. Tom Malinowski where he heckled the protesters while videotaping them. It is not known at this time if anyone joined him there.

D’Ambly is best known for attempting to hold a rally in Princeton, NJ but failed to show once the residents learned of his plans. The NJEHA seldom, if ever, hold public rallies, opting instead to post flyers on telephone poles in various cities around the state. Sheehy has been seen often at anti-immigration events over the past decade in the New York City area, and just like D’Ambly was photographed at the rally in Charlottesville which cost this life of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed when White Supremacist James Fields plowed his car into a crowd of protester. D’Ambly was also identified as one of the participants of the “Unite the Right 2” rally the following year in Washington, DC, with his NJEHA organization.

Dozens of protesters were arrested during the Fourth of July Parade while marching through demanding those being held in what has been referred to as concentration camps be removed from such establishments, one of them being in Berks County, PA.

Slouching Towards The Ethnostate: Inside The American Identity Movement

from Unicorn Riot

[Philly Anticap note: This post only contains the sections of Unicorn Riot’s article about Philadelphia. To read the entire post visit the link above.]

While [American Identity Movement] exact plans have not yet been announced, recent actions by the American Identity Movement’s core members provide a likely template. In May 2019, a few members of AmIM targeted crowds at a baseball game in Philadelphia, and brought a vinyl banner celebrating Kate Smith, a former singer of the National Anthem at the Philly stadium whose statue was recently removed due to her history of making racist comments.  The small group of white supremacist activists brought the banner into the crowd arriving for the game, and managed to entice several unsuspecting passerby into posing with them in footage later released in a propaganda video.

A message in the American Identity Movement’s private online chat for members, posted by ‘Konrad-MD,’ requested donations to recoup costs paid out of pocket to pull off the small media stunt.

Kurtis Buckingham aka ‘Konrad’ solicits donations for racist activism in the American Identity Movement’s MatterMost chat server.

Unicorn Riot has identified ‘Konrad’ as Kurtis Bailey Buckingham, an active member of AmIM’s Maryland chapter who appears at most of the group’s national actions. Buckingham is one of the newer hardcore members of the group, with leaked Discord logs showing that he joined Identity Evropa in August 2018.

Kurtis Buckingham aka ‘Konrad-MD’ at the white nationalist American Renaissance conference in May 2019.

The Philadelphia Proud Boys: An Introduction

from Dox Your Local Proud Boy

Remember, Gritty is always watching.

Philadelphia Proud Boys- 1. John Lombardo, 2. Joseph Ruff, 4. Tom Moermann, 5. Nicholas J. Magner, 9. Sonny Sullivan, 10. Donovan Chiarlanza, 11. Zachary Rehl, 13. Stephen Hartley, 14. John David Williams
More Scum- 2. Tyler Yamaguchi, 5. Jason Wiltsley, 6. Sean Curran, 7. John David Williams, 8. Mark Anthony Tucci, 9. Stephen Hartley, 10. Nicholas J. Magner

Philadelphia’s chapter of the Proud Boys has existed since mid-2017, though they have for the most part tried to remain out of the public eye and off the radar. Their attempts to hide however, have been decidedly ineffective.

So what is the point of exposing a group with no real public presence or visible effect on the world? The real question one should be asking is why wait until this group has caused harm to act? The Proud Boys on a national level have very clear intentions and are responsible for a rash of violent incidents across the country, like gang beatings in New York, and Portland. They are founded on carefully coded white supremacist and misogynist rhetoric, bigotry that makes them rotten to the core and often flares up among individual members despite PR efforts by the group as a whole to simply appear as conservatives. By willingly accepting the name and associations of the Proud Boys, this Philadelphia chapter has made their intentions clear. They have seen what the group has done across the country and decided that they too wish to be a part of that. They have made their clear and conscious decision, a decision that makes their state of mind and eventual goals apparent, and they should be responded to accordingly. Why wait until they’ve committed violence?

The first mentions of this chapter were in the spring of 2017, when prospective members began to organize on reddit. Among the initial organizers were president Stephen Hartley and vice president Tom Moerman, who began mentioning their membership on social media around this time. The group steadily gained numbers behind the scenes throughout 2017 and into 2018. Almost all of their activity up to this point was social in nature, consisting mostly of drinking outings and outdoors activities like rafting or boating. During this time, members like John Williams and Stephen Hartley cavorted with prolific national personalities in the far right like Gavin McInnes, Milo Yiannopoulous, and Sal Cipolla, attending national Proud Boy events like parties in New York, or their music festival, West Fest.

 

Some of the Philadelphia Proud Boys on a rafting trip with other chapters

They began to intersect with other portions of the Philadelphia Far Right, namely the group Sports, Beer, & Politics (On facebook, Sports, Beer & Politics II), led by Zach Rehl and Sonny Sullivan. Sports, Beer, and Politics and their connections to other Far Right groups has been outlined before http://archive.is/8CIpg. Zach and Sonny first began to appear as known members of the main chapter of the Philadelphia Proud Boys in the Summer of 2018, though how long they had interacted before this is unknown. It should be noted that another group, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, was active in Philadelphia and is considered an offshoot of the Proud Boys. Members of this group organized closely with Sports, Beer, and Politics in 2017 and provided the personal security detail of Neo Nazi Augustus Invictus in Charlottesville. The Alt-Knights have not been very active in quite some time and their associations with the main group that refers to itself as the “Philadelphia Proud Boys” is unknown.

For the Philadelphia Proud Boys, their public debut was at the “We the People Rally” in Philadelphia, on November 17th, 2018. Zach Rehl, one of the members, was one of the main organizers of this event and welcomed Proud Boys both local and national, with open arms. While Proud Boys initially openly pledged allegiance to this event, they quickly backpedaled after the negative press that came out after a weekend of violent incidents and arrests in New York and Portland. They were instructed not to show up in their distinct uniform of Black and Gold Fred Perrys, and not to appear in any organizational capacity, but just as “patriots”. The still referred to themselves as Proud Boys in the security organizing chat leading up to the event though. Such duplicitous behavior is a trademark of organizer Zach Rehl. Indeed many of them showed up to the rally on the 17th, thinking they could disguise themselves in Plain Clothes. Several of them are seen together at a cigar bar after the rally, some of them apparently having changed into their Proud Boy uniforms. After a concerted doxing campaign on twitter, many of them panicked and went quiet and it seems the ranks were shuffled a bit. Zach Rehl would attempt to organize several fascist rallies in the Northeast, with a rogues gallery of boomer militias, meathead goons like Alan Swinney, and hardcore fascists like American Guard. All of these events fell through due to a mix of infighting and extreme incompetence on the part of everyone involved. Nonetheless, small crews of Philly Proud Boys would show up to various events in Philly later in the spring, with a contingent of them showing up to harass protesters outside a speech by Candace Owens at UPenn, and another group of them showing up to an anti-abortion rally. Most recently, Thomas Savasta seems to be rising through the ranks, even attending a national event where the Proud Boys declared a defamation lawsuit against the SPLC. Their most recent appearance was at Philadelphia pride- ostensibly for the purpose of participating with their gay members and appearing nice and liberal and tolerant. Of course, this is all a trick of optic’s sake- don’t be fooled. They are still working with the same base material of a group founded in bigotry, no matter how much they try to deny it. A polished turd is still a turd.

This attempt to manifest publicly was alarming and set in motion a concerted effort to root out and expose the members of this group, as a counter to their attempts to remain out of the spotlight. They will be dragged into it. Knowing who is organizing this group and who is involved in it allows us to defend our communities from any violence they may commit or invite in the future.

In general, their ranks seem to be drawn from men in their late 20s-early 40s, with most of these ‘boys’ being in their mid 30’s (Imagine calling yourself a ‘Proud Boy’ at that age… absolutely pitiful). Almost all have an inclination towards right-libertarian politics. This chapter appears to be much more optics conscious than other chapters, trying to maintain a sanitized image free of overt bigotry. This is done to the point of even being regarded as “liberal” by other members of the far right across the country. Indeed they only let their bigoted views loose in settings they believe are private or unwatched, or under different names. They love to play the game of plausible deniability, watching their tongues carefully to try and prove they aren’t racist. It must be remembered that joining into an organization with White supremacist roots, that is heavily laden with hardcore white supremacists, bolsters their actions and violence, and makes you complicit.

One strain of bigotry that seems to run consistently through the group and on the surface is Islamophobia- considering the massive spike in Islamophobic violence since Trump got elected, it is reasonable to assume that this group is a danger to Muslims in Philadelphia. Many of them seem to be drawn from the Pop Punk/Metalcore/Easycore/Metal fandoms and people who actively participate in those are warned to keep an eye out for them.

Please note that addresses given are, as a result of the data collecting method used, not confirmed as entirely true unless there is some form of on the ground evidence that that person resides there.

So who are the known members of the Philadelphia Proud Boys? Some of the key figures have provided a glut of information on their lives and activities, while others are more halfhearted about their dedication to the group and their public image, so of course there is a lot more information on some rather than others.

Anathema Volume 5 Issue 3

from Anathema

Volume 5 Issue 3 (PDF for reading 8.5 x 11)

Volume 5 Issue 3 (PDF for printing 11 x 17)

In this issue:

  • Powerplant
  • Racist Cops
  • Sinkhole
  • What Went Down
  • Youth Migrant Jail
  • Talking Repression
  • A-Space Conflict
  • Giannis Escapes!
  • American Sonnet

Anathema Volume 5 Issue 2

from Anathema

Volume 5 Issue 2 (PDF for reading 8.5 x 11)

Volume 5 Issue 2 (PDF for printing 11 x 17)

In this issue:

  • What is a Collective?
  • Tactics Innovation Update
  • What Went Down
  • Whither the Insurrection II
  • Representation is Indirect Action
  • Galleanist Centennial
  • Vaughn 17 Update
  • In Memory of Mauricio Morales
  • World News
  • Immanent Immigration Arrests
  • Go-Gurt Reportback
  • Whereas (Poem)

RED: Breaking Ground

from Facebook

Check out RED’s latest zines: https://radicaleducationdepartment.com/zines/ “RED: Breaking Ground” includes our manifesto, an account of our emergence and objectives, a conversation with our comrades at Cutting Class, and an assessment of our first year of work.

[For reading online For printing]

Vaughn 17 Trial Begins for Roman Shankaras: Mastermind to Puppet Master, Depending On Who’s Describing Him

from Support the Vaughn 17

The third trial in Delaware’s prosecution of the Vaughn 17 began on Monday, May 6th, 2019. This time, Roman Shankaras is a solo defendant, fighting the same charges that fifteen of his co-defendants also faced — conspiracy, felony riot, assault, kidnapping, and murder — for allegedly participating in the February 2017 prisoner takeover of C-building at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware (two additional prisoners were also indicted on the same charges except murder). What’s changed is that at this point, the state has been unable to successfully convict five of them, and subsequently dropped their case against another six defendants. Another co-defendant, Kelly Gibbs, died under suspicious circumstances after writing a dying confession to the murder that also named the state’s star rat, Royal “Diamond” Downs. The question is, why does the state continue to pursue a bunk case built on the lies of prison snitches?

In opening statements, we learned that the prosecution is relying on Delaware’s accomplice liability theory in order to convict Roman for the entire uprising. The state doesn’t have any physical evidence related to Roman, aside from two “kites” (prison notes) written from Roman to Royal Downs, who Roman had not known was already collaborating with the police. Although even the state acknowledges that Roman never held a weapon and remained in his cell the whole time, they are trying to hold him responsible for everything that happened during the uprising — including the death of a cop — by alleging that he helped plan the takeover.

So far the prosecution has called in various police investigators and correctional officers to testify against Roman, but the only witness who claimed to identify him was Royal Downs. For anyone who has been following the trials, his lies this time clashed significantly from his previous testimony. Multiple times he identified another defendant, Lawrence Michaels (a.k.a. Smoke), as doing things in the takeover that, during the first trial, he testified to seeing Jarreau Ayers (Ruk) do. The coincidence is not lost that Michaels never had his charges dropped, and his trial is scheduled for October 2019.

Downs also previously claimed to have smuggled the kites out in a visit with his sister, and he is now testifying that he mailed it out in a card. He is no longer claiming for the jury’s benefit that testifying is the hardest thing he’s ever had to do and that given the chance he wouldn’t do it again, after that strategy failed under cross-examination in both the previous trials.

So far media has been silent on the major fallacies and inconsistencies of the case, attempting instead to rile up the public by reporting on new evidence recently found at Vaughn, which is irrelevant to this case.

Meanwhile, for the first time over the course of the three trials in which they’ve testified, both Lieutenant Charles Sennett and Detective David Weaver cried (obviously fake) tears while on the stand in order to influence the jury. The state is desperate, and this time they are resorting to tactics of red herring evidence and emotional play in addition to outright lies.

The state argues that the two kites show that Roman helped orchestrate the prison takeover and that therefore he is legally responsible for everything else that happened during it. So far, Diamond has testified that other Vaughn 17 defendants who’ve said they helped plan the takeover — Dwayne Staats and Jarreau Ayers — were in Roman’s cell during the uprising and consulted with Roman, Lawrence Michaels, and several others to make key decisions. On Wednesday, Diamond characterized Roman as the uprising’s “puppet master,” but the details of Diamond’s testimony indicate that major decisions about hostage negotiations were made spontaneously over the radio by Diamond and Staats in a different room, not in Roman’s cell.

Moreover, the state’s interpretation of the letters themselves is in question. In his opening statement, Roman’s lawyer — Patrick Collins — noted that, as we’ve heard in previous trials, what was planned for February 1, 2017, depends on who you talk to. Some inmates planned to stay in the yard as a nonviolent protest, while Diamond says he’d learned there would be a takeover but that he never heard that violence would be involved. Another plan was a coordinated violent takeover. But it’s still uncertain which prisoners intended to participate in which plan.

This means that the state would first have to prove that Roman’s letters unequivocally show that he helped plan a takeover of C-Building, as opposed to a nonviolent protest, and then also prove that Roman intended the takeover to be violent. In the language of Delaware’s accomplice liability law, they would have to show that Roman planned to commit an “unlawful act” with others in which the assaults, murder and kidnapping was “reasonably foreseeable” as a possible outcome, even if he never personally held a weapon. It is unclear how the state would decisively prove this based on Roman’s letters and the snitch testimony they’ve presented so far — which is supposed to be the strongest part of their case. As Collins pointed out, under the standard of reasonable doubt, even the jury thinking Roman is “probably guilty” is not enough to return a guilty verdict.

The state’s entire case against the Vaughn 17 has been based on snitch testimony, and it’s important to note that the two kites that the state is presenting as hard physical evidence in this case were written in communication with a snitch. In cross-examination, the defense has already established Diamond’s extensive influence in the prison as someone with time, and these letters seem to be a sting set-up.

So far, the state has failed to secure any convictions in its entire case against the Vaughn 17 except for what the defendants personally attested to having done. In the fall, Dwayne Staats was found guilty on all charges but intentional murder after he explained to the court that he had helped plan the uprising, knowing it could turn violent. Jarreau Ayers, also serving a life sentence, was found guilty of conspiracy, riot, kidnapping and assault based on his own testimony that he helped facilitate the takeover once it began. Deric Forney (called Twin) maintained his innocence and was found not guilty.

Following the second trial, in which all four defendants maintained their innocence, the jury found Abednego Baynes and Kevin Berry not guilty on all charges and came to no decision on a few final charges for John Bramble and Obadiah Miller, effectively acquitting them as well. The state has since quietly dropped those final charges for good.

After the second trial, the state also dropped most of the remaining defendants’ cases. Lawrence Michaels and Alejandro Rodriguez-Ortiz are still facing trial in October of this year.

Having completed his sentence soon after the uprising, Roman should have already been released from prison. Instead he is still being held on $2.8 million cash bail pending the outcome of this trial.

The seven Vaughn defendants who have already stood trial, along with an additional four whose charges were dropped, have since been moved to different prisons in Pennsylvania. After more than two years of state retaliation and abuse, they are all still being held in solitary and denied privileges, despite almost all having been exonerated by Delaware’s so-called justice system.

Roman’s trial will resume on Monday, May 13, at 9:45am in Room 8B of New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington and will be in session every day for the rest of this coming week except Wednesday, May 15th. Court support is welcome and encouraged!

For more information on the Vaughn 17.

Analysis of Action Following the Police Shooting of Kaleb Belay in West Philly

from It’s Going Down

A collection of texts from Anathema, an anarchist publication out of Philadelphia, about anarchist action and analysis following the police shooting of Kaleb Belay in a rapidly gentrifying area of the city.

It’s well known that West Philly is rapidly gentrifying. Developers and more moneyed renters and buyers continue to successfully take more space from poor and working-class Black people. In this process, one of the few negative consequences these newcomers might experience is getting robbed in the neighborhood. In January, the number of robberies in the heart of gentrifying West Philly shot up, in the area between 41st and 49th streets (from east to west) and between Ludlow and Cedar avenues (from north to south). At least eight robberies were reported during that month, according to a University City District (UCD) report. Four homes on Hazel and Larchwood avenues between 49th and 51st streets were also burglarized during this time.

In response, a few of the more unapologetic gentrifiers not only reported the incidents to the police, but also attended a “community meeting” hosted by the police. Following the meeting, the Philly police announced that they would have an increased police presence in the area, including foot patrols specifically in the area between 48th-52nd streets. Sure enough, residents have noticed a lot more cop cars as well as cops on foot in the area since.

On Wednesday, March 6, this increased cop presence and paranoia culminated in the cops shooting a young Black man who live near 49th and Hazel — exactly where gentrifiers had been complaining about burglaries and robberies taking place. Claiming that they had been called to the scene in response to a “stabbing incident” (no stabbing victim was found at the scene) and that he was holding a knife outside a house on the street, the cops shot 25 year old graduate student Kaleb Belay six times (three in the chest). As of this writing he is stable condition at Penn Presbyterian Hospital.

It’s never worth it to call the police over some lost property — and we personally won’t call them to deal with any of our problems. The high 40 and low 50 streets are undergoing intense gentrification. Know that the police’s role is to attract more gentrifiers and push people originally from the neighborhood out. That’s what happened when University of Pennsylvania cleared out an entire neighborhood (what was once called the Black Bottom) of West Philly in order to move the school there decades ago — that’s why UCD security roam the neighborhood.

The police are just looking for an excuse to roll in and further the dispossession and extermination of Black people from the neighborhood.

Resistance Following the Shooting of Kaleb Belay

The night after the police shooting, a group of 20-30 people marched down Baltimore Ave with a banner reading “Fuck the Police.” At least two new buildings on the ave between 50th and 48th streets, all with gentrifying new architecture, had windows broken, and one had “Fuck Cops” written on it. The Mariposa Co-Op, which has been a beacon of gentrification in the neighborhood for a long time (known for calling the police on panhandlers), had red paint thrown at one of its surveillance cameras. Anti-police tags and stickers were put up. After the police arrived, things calmed and the march went to the hospital where Kaleb is recovering before dispersing. Throughout the march many passersby and drivers shouted “Yeah, fuck the police!” and other words of encouragement. There were no arrests.

On March 8th, opportunists Refuse Fascism/Revolutionary Communist Party held a candle-lit vigil for Kaleb near the site of the shooting. This event was poorly attended and seen by many as an attempt to use the grief and anger around the shooting to recruit for their organization.

On March 10th, the Philadelphia Ethiopian Community held a debrief and discussion at the Ethiopian Community Center in West Philly. Kaleb’s lawyer and his boss/family friend gave updates on his situation. Next steps to assist Kaleb and his family were planned. Over the weekends of March 16-17th and 23-24th there were fundraiser events for Kaleb at the Ethiopian Community Center.

A march demanding justice for Kaleb went to the district attorney’s office on April 6th. Simon Haileab, Kaleb’s attorney, reports that Kaleb is recovering slowly; he is out of the intensive care unit but remains at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. Police are charging him with aggravated assault, simple assault, and possessing an instrument of crime. Anyone interested in donating money to Kaleb can do so by visiting his gofundme here or dropping off money at Bookers Restaurant at Baltimore Ave and 50th St.

An Analysis Of the Anti-Police March Following the Shooting of Kaleb Belay

When some discontents spray-painted and smashed windows after the police shot an immigrant graduate student in Cedar Park, many were quick to condemn the attacks. These criticisms did not target the anti-police and anti-gentrification sentiment behind the attacks, but rather their choice of targets. The thing about anger and revolt is that it strikes out at what is perceived as oppressive.

No uprising has ever surgically delivered anger to the doorstep of only the most oppressive and powerful, while excluding the lesser contributors of a stifling society. Not everyone is going to track down the head honcho of this or that realty company when they see an example of gentrification around the corner.

In relative terms, what happened to the businesses on Baltimore Ave is calm; police violence has sparked much more devastating responses in other contexts – like the burning of entire neighborhoods.

It also bears mentioning that at the time of this writing, despite many critics suggesting better targets for vandalism (the police, University of Pennsylvania, money lenders, banks, etc), none of these targets seem to have been vandalized. These critics seem content to suggest how others express their anger and direct their rebellion without doing so themselves. If these people are waiting for the ideal targeting of the proper institutions and yet they do not plan on going after them themselves, they are simply waiting. When people start to condemn all but the most pure and correct actions, they climb the stairs of an ivory tower.

Will arrogance about how others struggle move someone closer to freedom? It seems more likely to lead to further separation from those who are struggling and making concrete their rebellion, to create a roadblock for feelings of solidarity. Throwing paint at the expensive Mariposa Co-Op grocery store and breaking the glass door of a fancy-looking new apartment building along Baltimore Ave, some of the actions during the demo that were later criticized by others, targeted small businesses whose gentrifying impact is felt in this particular neighborhood where police shooting took place.

It is gentrification that led to the increased police presence in this neighborhood, which inevitably led to a black man getting shot. In addition to wanting to push back against gentrification in this area, those who criticize colonialism, or ecological destruction, those who hold nihilist perspectives, and even the less discriminating among the anti-capitalists may see the destructive actions on Baltimore Ave as a step in the right direction. We don’t all imagine liberation in the same way, but it should be understood that a dramatic transformation of society is necessary, so when we see that taking place on a small scale as destruction we can understand it to be part of that liberatory transformation even if you would go about it that way yourself.

“There are many who await the hour of liberation impatiently, but how many work to bring it closer?”

Anathema Volume 5 Issue 1

from Anathema

Volume 5 Issue 1 (PDF for reading 8.5 x 11)

Volume 5 Issue 1 (PDF for printing 11 x 17)

In this issue:

  • Manifest Gentrification
  • Update on the Shooting of Kaleb Belay
  • What Went Down
  • Save on Septa and Get a Free Pizza!
  • Hearing the Calls
  • Dockless Scoots and Bikes
  • Campus Organizing
  • Assessing Risk
  • Ongoing Infrastructure Scars Across the Land
  • Whither the Insurrection?
  • Identity and Power
  • The Revolution Will be Messy
  • International Solidarity
  • Super Happy Fun
  • We Can Fight Gentrification
  • Revolutionary Letter

The Immiseration of Labor: Capitalism, Poverty, and Inequality in Philadelphia

from Gathering Forces

 

“…the more alien wealth they [the workers] produce, and… the more the productivity of their labor increases, the more does their very function as means for the valorization of capital become precarious.”[1]

“…within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productivity of labor are put into effect at the cost of the individual worker; …all means for the development of production undergo a dialectical inversion so that they become means of domination and exploitation of the producers…”[2]

The Theory of Immiseration

How are we to understand the contemporary economic situation of most people, who experience increasingly unstable conditions of employment and life?

This essay analyses the growth of poverty and income inequality within the context of a developed capitalist[3] economy, using Philadelphia as a case study. Some might think that this city is an extreme example; for many years now Philadelphia has ranked the poorest of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.[4] However, the basic thesis of this essay is that immiseration is not an exception but instead a normal outgrowth of the capitalist economy.

The concept of immiseration is usually associated with Karl Marx, who insisted that the nature of capitalist production resulted in the devaluation of labor, specifically the decline of wages relative to the total value created in the economy. For Marx, this meant that the proletariat class,[5] or working class, was fundamentally defined by precariousness, i.e. material instability, uncertainty, insecurity, and dependency. This theory stems from Marx’s analysis of the changing organic composition of capitalist production and the reduced demand for labor that emerges as technology develops and labor becomes more productive. With increasingly productive machines, less labor produces more commodities at a faster rate, leading to the gradual replacement of labor by machines. Marx observed that the realities of capitalist competition necessitated this tendency towards mechanization and rising productivity. If a factory in the South restructures production to raise its productivity—allowing it to sell more commodities, at a faster rate, and at a cheaper price, while employing less labor—while a rival factory in Philadelphia does not, then after a while the factory in the South will run the factory in Philadelphia out of business. In order to protect their market from more productive competitors, therefore, capitalists must reinvest part of their capital into increasing productivity, or perish in the long run.

As capitalists competed and became more productive, Marx noted that labor became more impoverished: “The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The unceasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious.”[6] In other words, increases in capitalist productivity were uneven in their effects—they benefited the capitalists, not the workers. As capitalism became more productive and labor produced more capital in a given amount of time, economic output increased; but at the same time, real wages stabilized and even declined, because the input of human labor stayed the same or declined relative to the output of capital.

This constellation of ideas would later be referred to by Marxists as “the immiseration thesis.” However, this term is somewhat misleading since throughout his life Marx developed several theses about the absolute and relative immiseration of labor under different phases of capitalist development. Nonetheless, Marx always theorized the devaluation of labor relative to the self-valorization of capital, and in this sense, he did posit a general theory of immiseration.

An Uneven Economy

Even accounting for periodic crises and recessions, it seems that the US economy is strong and growing, locally and nationally, from the standpoint of those who rule it— the capitalist class.[7] It is still the largest national economy in the world;[8] the world’s largest producer of petroleum and gas[9]; the world’s largest internal market for goods and services[10]; and the world’s largest trading power,[11] with roughly a third of this trade based in the export and import of international commodities, while domestic trade between regions in the US generates even more capital, accounting for roughly two-thirds of US trade.[12]

The majority of this trade is concentrated in the 10 largest metropolitan areas of the US. Those ten metro areas, ordered by largest total trade volume, are: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, San Francisco, and Boston. All the commodities that move throughout the nation, in freight trains, trucks, and shipping containers, flow through a vast transportation infrastructure made up of rail lines, roads, and ports that link these ten metropolitan areas in an extensive network of “trade corridors.” New York and Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Riverside, and San Francisco and San Jose are among the largest corridors within the national network.[13] These regional trading networks also provide access to distant markets that allows US capitalists to take part in global commodity chains. Still, the largest single part of capitalist value in the US comes from domestic trade.

Primarily as a result on their complementary industries in energy, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and mixed freight, New York and Philadelphia are the largest trading partners in the national interstate network,[14] making the New York-Philadelphia trade corridor the most valuable in the nation.[15] Because it serves as a crucial node in the national trade network, Philadelphia is home to the 7th largest metropolitan economy in the nation,[16] generating the 4th highest gross domestic product in the nation, and the 9th highest among the cities of the world.[17]

The Philadelphia metropolitan economy, which includes Camden, Chester, Norristown, and other peripheral cities and towns, continues to generate massive profits for those who own it. Still, for most people—who are not capitalists, but workers—wages are low, jobs are increasingly insecure, and poverty continues to grow.[18] Despite regional economic growth, poverty has increased more rapidly in Philadelphia than any other major city since the 1970s. However, this trend is not isolated to Philadelphia; poverty has steadily increased throughout the nation since the 1970s.[19]

In the same time period that people became poorer, the national economy continued to grow and wealth continued to concentrate in fewer hands than ever before. After two decades of relative stability following World War Two, US income inequality once again began to grow starting in the early 1970s and continued to grow despite rising business cycles in the 1980s and 1990s.[20] By 2013, the top 1 percent of households received about 20 percent of all pre-tax income, in contrast to about 10 percent from 1950 to 1980.[21] By 2017, the income of the top 20% of households in Philadelphia was up by 13% since 2007, while the income of the bottom 60% of households was below 2007 levels.[22]

While a strong national economy in the late 1990s helped drive down the number of people living in poverty for the first time in decades, this trend was short-lived. Not long after the 2000s began, the bursting of the dot-com bubble sent the nation into a recession, a regular occurrence in capitalism. Millions of people lost their jobs and incomes during the early 2000s, and poverty continued to grow even as the economy recovered by the mid 2000s. The onset of the Great Recession of 2008-2009 only accelerated this trend, and the number of people living in poverty grew even faster. Even with the end of the Great Recession, poverty continued to grow throughout the nation, and Philadelphia registered declines in typical worker wages during the first five years of the recovery. By 2010-2014, 14 million people in Philadelphia lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 40 percent or more—5 million more than before the Great Recession and more than twice as many as in 2000.[23]

Although poverty increased among white Americans in the post-Recession period, for black Americans and Latino Americans poverty rose even more sharply, locally and nationally.[24] In particular, black Philadelphians today continue to experience record high levels of poverty[25] and low teen employment.[26] This racial disparity is the result of a longstanding pattern in which white workers, allied with capitalists (who are almost entirely white), exclude black and brown workers from the better paying, more secure jobs.

The De-Industrialization of Labor

How do we explain this disconnect, between growing wealth at the top, and deepening poverty at the bottom?

It’s obvious in retrospect that the rise of poverty in Philadelphia and other former industrial centers is the result of a shift in the capitalist mode of production—from manufacturing industries to service industries, and from city to suburbs. During most the 19th century Philadelphia was a center of craft-based industrial production, well-known for its diverse array of small and medium-sized manufacturing industries—textiles, metal products, paper, glass, furniture, shoes, hardware, etc. By 1900, manufacturing workers made up about one-half of the city’s entire labor force.[27] However, manufacturing jobs began to decline in Philadelphia in the 1920s, and by the 1970s, the service industries came to eclipse manufacturing entirely. Rather than manufacturing, most people now work in the service industries—food service, retail, health service, and logistics sub-industries such as warehousing, transportation, and delivery services. This “de-industrialization” of the economy and workforce resulted in a loss of income for most workers.[28]

The de-industrialization of Philadelphia, and the corresponding rise in poverty throughout the region, began earlier than most other cities in the North American Rust-Belt, shortly after the economic upturn that came with World War One (1914-1918), which resulted in growing mechanization, automation, and standardization of production on a national and global scale. In contrast, Philadelphia’s manufacturing businesses for the most part continued employing the labor of highly skilled craftsmen who worked in small and medium-sized firms, known as “workshops,” which produced custom goods for niche markets. The “Workshop of the World,” as Philadelphia was still known in the 1920s, could not compete with mass industrial production, for mass marketed consumption, by means of the unskilled and disposable mass assembly line workers of the factories in Northern cities like Detroit, Chicago, and New York. The new system of mass industrial production signaled the end of the highly specialized manufacturing processes which characterized most of industrial Philadelphia before World War Two.[29]

With the national economic downturn of 1929, major sections of the city’s craft-manufacturing base began to collapse. By the 1930s, the only manufacturing businesses that remained in Philadelphia were the few that developed mass production methods—factories along the peripheries of the city in Manayunk, Germantown, Kensington, etc. These were the only manufacturing businesses in the city that could actually compete on a national level.

Eventually, the demand for manufacturing in Philadelphia would pick up as a result of the revival of the national economy during World War Two (1939-1945), when federally funded factories hired over 27,000 new workers.[30] The wartime economy opened new possibilities for black workers to join the industrial workforce; while only 15,000 African-Americans worked in manufacturing jobs in the city in 1940, their representation rose to 55,000 by 1943. Although this represented an increase in wages and jobs for black workers, more than half of these jobs were in unskilled positions that offered the lowest wages.[31]

Despite a boost in production during World War Two, Philadelphia’s manufacturing industries began a steep decline during the peacetime transition. Industrial capitalists continued to face the challenge of superior competition, and this time the competition was increasingly global. International trade grew in the decades after the war, as European and Japanese manufacturers began to compete with US manufacturers. In this context, most factories in Philadelphia either went out of business or left the city. By 1955, fewer than 1,000 workers were employed in the city’s formerly expansive textile industries.[32]

Black industrial workers hired during World War Two were particularly affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs. A big factor in this process was the seniority system embodied in most union contracts, which meant that when recession, closure, or layoffs happened, those with the least seniority were the first to go. Since black workers were usually the last hired, they were also usually the first fired.

By the early 1970s, when other major cities throughout the North and Midwest were beginning to experience de-industrialization, most of the manufacturing businesses in Philadelphia had already shut down or relocated to the suburbs, as well as to cities in the South and West of the country. The few industrial firms that remained in Philadelphia were those that invested heavily in automation and raised their standard of productivity.[33]

In the 1980s and 1990s the pattern of de-industrialization became international, as it began to hit most nations in Europe, as well as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Since the beginning of the 21th century, the Southern and Western cities of the US that once drew manufacturers from the older cities have also struggled with the loss of manufacturing jobs. After the economic crisis of 2008, the effects of de-industrialization only intensified on a global scale, especially in underdeveloped nations in the global South.[34]

In conclusion, the de-industrialization of Philadelphia, and the concomitant rise in poverty, was mostly the result of capitalist market competition. Industrial Philadelphia was mostly composed of craft-based manufacturers; these could not compete with highly mechanized and increasingly automated factories elsewhere. The manufacturers that kept up their profits in the face of competitors stayed in business by investing in technology that increased productivity. Some also relocated their businesses to cheaper, less regulated labor markets. In the process, these transformations led to the devaluation and displacement of labor.

Besides the pressures of market competition, another important factor influencing de-industrialization was the militant resistance of the workers who carried out mass strikes and secured higher wages, pensions, health benefits, and better working conditions during the 1930s and 1940s. With the help of the leadership of the major industrial unions (the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations), the capitalist class responded to the workers movement by shutting down or relocating their facilities to the non-unionized South and West in the 1950s. In this way, de-industrialization undermined the power of the unionized working class, and took back the wages and benefits that the capitalists conceded to the workers in previous decades of struggle.

The Growth of Inequality

As capitalism reorganized itself, the service industries came to supersede manufacturing as the primary source of working class employment. Today, the number of industrial jobs in Philadelphia represents only 5 percent of the total workforce of the city, while service jobs represent 40 percent of total employment, making the service industries the largest sector of the city’s workforce.[35] Even within the few manufacturing businesses that remain in the region, they employ increasingly fewer workers, and those they do employ are increasingly part-time, part-year and paid less.[36]

The social composition of the service industries is much more diverse than that of the manufacturing industries, which are highly unionized and still dominated by white men. Women make up over half of all service workers, while black workers form a higher than average concentration in lower-paying service jobs. While service jobs have grown by 56 percent since the 1970s, the overwhelming majority of these jobs are part-time, part-year, require few skills, pay low wages, and offer few to no benefits. At the same time, the number of high salary professional and managerial jobs has grown by 85 percent since the 1970s.[37] This means that de-industrialization has improved the earnings of those in the top-tier of the workforce, while most workers have seen their incomes shrink or stagnate since the 1970s.

Further exacerbating the livelihood of the urban proletariat, jobs have increasingly shifted towards the suburban peripheries of the city, after the pattern of large cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest. This transformation was facilitated by the massive construction of interstate highways in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. While low-income populations in the region concentrate in Philadelphia, Camden, and a number of older urban centers, most jobs are now in the suburbs, often in areas accessible only by automobile, and distant from housing that is affordable to these workers. If city residents do manage to find a job in the suburbs, their wages are effectively lowered because of substantial traveling expenses; if they decide to move to the suburbs, wages are effectively lowered because of higher rent.[38]

The decline of manufacturing jobs was particularly devastating for black workers, who concentrated in unskilled manufacturing jobs and in service jobs within the city, but were almost completely excluded from professional/managerial jobs and skilled trades. As a result of the loss of manufacturing jobs, coupled with the suburbanization of the rapidly expanding service industries, black workers have seen their incomes and jobs decline dramatically since the early 1970s. Although employment rates declined for both white and black men since the 1970s, the black decline was twice that of whites. Furthermore, while there was an increase of employment for white women in Philadelphia since the 1970s, the employment rate for black women hardly changed at all.[39] In this way, de-industrialization eroded the gains made by black workers in the industrial sector in the decades after World War Two.

The Immiseration of Labor

As I’ve shown, the transformation of the Philadelphia economy—from manufacturing to services, and from city to suburbs—has resulted in a deepening of poverty and inequality for most workers in this city. The question remains, why does capitalism develop itself in such a way that results in the immiseration of labor? This much is clear from the outset: nature does not produce, on the one hand, fewer and fewer rich people, and on the other hand, a growing army of workers who own nothing but their labor, which they must sell for an increasingly lower wage. The immiseration of labor results from the contradictions of what Marx called the “capitalist mode of production.”

In brief, Marx argued that capitalism was distinct from all other modes of production in its unique aim: the creation of capital. Whereas other modes of production might find their purpose in producing useful things to satisfy human needs (communal production), or in producing a surplus of luxuries to satisfy a class of nobles (feudalism), capitalism, in contrast, produces the abstraction known as capital. Capital is not produced for the private consumption of its owner, the capitalist. If this were the case the aim of capitalist production wouldn’t be the creation of capital but the consumption of things (or what Marx called “use-values”). Under capitalism, however, capital is not produced for use or consumption; capital functions as an end in itself—it is the starting and finishing point of production.[40]

Beginning with the industrial revolution in the late eighteenth century, capitalists made labor more productive by investing a greater part of capital into the instruments of production, introducing newer, more efficient, and more expensive machines. Such an accelerated development of the forces of production did not exist in any other mode of production before capitalism. Theoretically, this heightened level of productivity could raise people’s standard of life while reducing the amount of time that they have to labor for others. However, Marx was quick to point out that “[capitalist] production is only production for capital and not the reverse, i.e. the means of production are not simply means for a steadily expanding pattern of life for the society of the producers.”[41] Under capitalism, labor is only an instrument for the valorization of capital, i.e. capital accumulation, and nothing else. Instead of serving the needs of society as a whole, capitalist production serves the specific needs of capital accumulation, which requires the devaluing of labor in order for capital to expand. The immiseration of labor, therefore, is not an aberration, but a fundamental feature of the capitalist mode of production.[42] Thus, Marx concluded: “On the basis of capitalism, a system in which the worker does not employ the means of production, but the means of production employ the worker, the law by which a constantly increasing quantity of means of production may be set in motion by a progressively diminishing expenditure of human power, thanks to the advance in the productivity of social labor, undergoes a complete inversion, and is expressed thus: the higher the productivity of labor, the greater is the pressure of the workers on the means of employment, the more precarious therefore becomes the condition for their existence, namely the sale of their own labor-power for the increase of alien wealth, or in other words the self-valorization of capital.”[43] This is a fundamental contradiction of capitalist development: as capitalism becomes more productive, and the means of production become more extensive and technically more efficient, the labor that works up those means of production becomes increasingly devalued and unnecessary.

According to Marx, the drive to accumulate capital at the expense of labor is not based on greed or any other negative psychological trait on the part of the capitalist. If a capitalist does not accumulate capital, if profits are not continually transformed into a further increment of value, then that capitalist is unable to keep up with competitors and eventually goes out of business.[44] This is what Marx refers to as the coercive law of capitalist competition. Workers lose their jobs and their incomes not because of the ill will of particular capitalists, but because the sole aim of capitalism is the valorization of capital, which depends on the maximum extraction of value from labor. In the face of obstacles like market competition and (to a lesser degree) labor struggles, capitalists perpetuate the accumulation of capital by reducing jobs/wages/hours, mechanizing and automating production, and relocating to cheaper, less regulated labor markets.

Marx provided us with the analytical tools for thinking about this internal contradiction of capitalist development—the contradiction between the declining value of labor and rising surplus value, i.e. the basis of capital formation. As capitalist production becomes more productive, the working class can only become more precarious, since the increasing accumulation of capital requires an increasing devaluation of labor. This contradiction is inherent to capitalism—it arises independently of the level of class struggle, fluctuations in wages, state interventions in the economy, or economic crises. At the same time, the relative intensity of the immiseration of labor can rise or drop with the limits set by the accumulation process, depending on the degree of control that workers as a class exert over the economy and the state. At different times in history workers have asserted their interests over and against the drive for capital accumulation, and as a result, have been able to gain a larger share of the total value that their labor produces. Still, for Marx, even if wages and standards of living rise for a time, this does not end the immiseration of labor. That would require the end of capitalism.

Implications for the Future

The story of the immiseration of labor in Philadelphia is particular but not exceptional; it can serve as the basis for general observations on the dynamics of labor-capital relations within a developed capitalist economy. Capitalists in Philadelphia adapted to the challenges of market competition and labor struggle in much the same way that capitalists did in most mid to large-sized manufacturing centers—by shutting down, relocating, and/or automating production. Over time, the bulk of jobs in most US cities shifted to the services sector and to the suburbs. In every city that these changes took place the results where the same: the decline of wages and regular employment for the urban poor.

After having analyzed the antagonistic nature of capitalist production, we can see that the immiseration of labor is the natural result of capitalist development. Therefore, there is no prospect for a return to a so-called “golden-age” of capitalism characterized by moderate wages, benefits, and full-time employment. The easing of income inequality in the developed nations immediately after World War Two was an exception, not the rule, in the history of capitalism. Outside of this brief period in the 1950s and 1960s, capitalism has not delivered on its promise of upward class mobility for most workers, and this promise can only continue to fade as capitalism continues to develop.

Today, most people find themselves within the throes of a drawn-out process of immiseration that shows no signs of reversing itself. Incomes have declined since the 1970s to allow for a greater acceleration of capital formation and accumulation. Even as total economic output continues to increase, and even as the job market continues to grow, working class incomes continue to decline, since most jobs are now in the unskilled, unprotected, low-wage service industries. Under these circumstances, the instability that a developed capitalist system subjects the employment and working conditions of the workers becomes a normal state of affairs.[45] The production process reaches a point of no return, continually reproducing a permanently marginalized mass of low-paid laborers with no hope of a professional career.

Rather than functioning as a site for upward mobility and income growth, the late capitalist megalopolis increasingly functions as a warehouse for low-wage service workers. Over the past fifty years, these structural trends have steadily asserted themselves on global level, especially in the global South.[46] As Mike Davis painstakingly details in his devastating book, Planet of Slums, poverty and occupational marginality are especially prevalent in the cities of underdeveloped nations, where urban existence is increasingly disconnected from mass employment. With unprecedented barriers to large-scale emigration to developed nations, slum populations continue to grow at an unprecedented rate in the global South. For Mike Davis, this is the real crisis of world capitalism: the crisis of the reproduction of labor and the inability of capitalism to stabilize (yet alone improve) the livelihood of the proletariat.

The growing division of the workforce into 1) a small, privileged core of professionals and managers that can expect continuous, high-paying employment, and 2) a large periphery of precarious “floaters,” to which capitalists provide little more than a low wage, for as long or as short a time as capitalists require these workers—this division will only widen as capitalism continues to develop. To the extent that most workers have access to increasingly irregular employment and smaller wages, the trend toward racial and class inequalities will persist, globally and locally. Black workers will continue to be the “last hired, first fired.” White workers will continue to act as labor aristocracy, allying themselves with capitalists to monopolize the professional and managerial  jobs, while relegating workers of color—especially black workers—to the worst paying, least secure, lowest status jobs.

The housing market will continue to reflect the uneven distribution of income and jobs. The white workers who hold the managerial and professional jobs will continue to predominate in the suburbs, or in some comfortable, tree-lined areas of the city like Chestnut Hill, and in the gentrifying neighborhoods close to center city. In contrast, low-income workers will remain in the vast stretches of row houses in Philadelphia and Camden and in the older suburbs like Chester or Norristown.

The Struggle For a Classless Society

Capital seeks to gain their greatest return on its investment in labor and means of production. In pursuing this end, capital has reorganized the production process and with it the realities of working class existence. This raises strategic questions from the standpoint of class struggle: what forms of struggle are developing today that point to a different future? If industrial production created a particular conception of class struggle, what do the service industries mean for the future of class struggle? What does working class power look like in the context of a service economy?

These are complex questions that must be explored via further research of the class composition and dynamics of class struggle in specific regions. Unfortunately, this is beyond the scope of this essay, which at the most serves as the groundwork for such an investigation. Still, on a general level, this research makes this much clear: as long as capitalism continues as the dominant state of affairs, the contradiction between capital and labor can only become more pronounced. Therefore, it is not enough to reform capitalism or morally condemn capitalists—we must develop a plan to overthrow the structure of capitalism in its entirety.

Of course, the design and implementation of such a plan would take different forms depending on the conditions of working class existence in different regions. Nonetheless, at its core, this plan must entail the abolition of private property in the mode of production and the organization of a system of production that is no longer carried out with the goal of capital accumulation, but instead in a way that is systematically regulated by society—not the capitalists, not the market, not the state, but society as a whole. The members of such a society would have to reorganize the production process in such a way that frees their labor from the constraints of capital—an external, independent force standing above society.

However, given the contemporary circumstances of late capitalism, it is unclear whether workplace-centered struggle is the primary organizational form for building this social project. Even though capital continues to accumulate in industrial production, employment has shifted from the sphere of direct commodity production (agriculture, manufacturing) to the sphere of circulation (services). In such an economy, workplace struggles pose little to no threat to capitalism. Even if workers took over every McDonalds or Walmart, the economy would continue to operate in highly automated essential sectors like agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and logistics. If a proletarian revolution were to occur in such a context, the communization of production would not entail proletarian control of workplaces—as conceived by the traditional approach to labor struggle—so much as proletarian expropriation and elimination of workplaces, most of which are nonessential (i.e. most of the services industries) and serve no useful purpose outside of the context of capital accumulation.

The critical period in US mass industrial relations, which began about a century ago and saw a rapid growth in the power of industrial workers’ unions in the 1930s and 1940s, was followed by capitalist counter-organization and restructuring. By the early 1980s it was clear that the New Deal order of relatively strong labor unions was over in the US. Today, the material basis for workplace oriented struggles has fallen apart, shattered by capitalist automation, deindustrialization, and decentralization.

Despite these difficulties, there is still no logical argument for why a classless society is impossible. Even when such a society can only be achieved with difficulty and struggle—in light of rising poverty and racial inequality; in light of constant imperialist wars; in light of the ecological destruction brought about by capitalism—in light of all that, there are still good reasons to fight for a world beyond capitalism, where production is carried out by an association of free people who collectively regulate their own labor. To be victorious, however, we must build organizations that correspond to the present circumstances, instead of simply inheriting the idealized and ready-made organizational forms of the past.