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Uniting to Win: A Review of Chris Crass' "Toward Collective Liberation"

By Jason Hurd
TruthOut
September 22nd, 2013

As a white Southern man, military veteran and organizer, I remain deeply aware of the race and gender inequalities that structure American society, my own local community and our actions worldwide. This awareness comes from my own active participation in and subsequent reflection on such systems.

My East Tennessee upbringing rooted me in these concepts of oppression and hate; my parents and friends taught me white supremacy, homophobia and gender inequality from an early age.

My military experience exposed me to new people and ideas. Nonetheless, racism fundamentally structured my 2004 military deployment to Iraq, where American soldiers regularly used terms like "Haji" when referring to Iraqi citizens. I joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) in 2007, seeking a movement that challenges oppression and militaristic American values. Our work often presents a daunting task, and I, like many organizers, struggle to find the mentorship, skills and vision needed for success.

I struggle with questions of leadership, organizational development, strategy and privilege. What is my role in creating change? How can I support the leadership of historically marginalized people? How can we create powerful, dynamic movements to achieve our goals? How do we counter the divide-and-conquer strategy of the power elite? Where can a new organizer find the right guidance? Where can experienced organizers look for encouragement, inspiration and growth?

Author Chris Crass recently has written an honest, humble and inspiring book on social movement building titled Toward Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy available for $20 from PM Press. I recommend this book to change-makers and organizations at any stage of development, especially to those working in majority-white or male-dominated communities.

This collection of Crass' essays and interviews with other highly skilled organizers provides deep insights, showing how anti-racist, feminist practice helps our movements win by transforming the systems that divide us and undermine our collective success. Crass' writings push me to examine my own life - my upbringing, military experience and subsequent activism - seeking lessons that illuminate a vision for the world we need as well as the pathway to realize that vision.

Crass' title recalls feminist author bell hooks' concept of collective liberation - the idea that systems of oppression cut across lines of difference like race, class, gender and sexuality - thus my own freedom from oppression remains deeply connected with yours despite any difference. For Crass, "[i]f systems of liberation are connected, then we must help white people, men, and middle- and upper-class people create and win these systems and go through a transformative process of change while working for systemic change."

Toward Collective Liberation calls on white people to "develop anti-racist consciousness that unites them with communities of color working for justice." Crass states his broader purpose early on: "The primary goal of Toward Collective Liberation is to help our movements further develop the visions, strategies, cultures, organizations, practices, and relationships we need to build and win a democratic and socialist society."

Crass addresses the question of how we build a liberated society by acknowledging that we constantly reproduce systems of oppression in our own movement work. Crass' worldview prioritizes openness, honesty, vulnerability, action and reflection. He focuses on how we learn both individually and collectively, stating:

One of the key lessons throughout this book is that we do not simply come up with answers to the questions before us and apply them. Our answers are continually evolving through a process of studying, developing ideas, putting them into practice, reflecting on our practice, getting feedback on our practice, drawing lessons, and further developing our beliefs and strategies accordingly. [...] But to build broad support for anti-racism in white communities and feminism among men, it is also necessary to move large numbers of white people and men into active participation in a multiracial, feminist movement for democracy and socialism; intervening on oppression, then, is necessary, but not enough.

Crass' essays and interviews build momentum by mirroring a developmental path similar to what any activist or organization might experience. The reader not only gets a sense of what it's like to move from being a new activist to an experienced organizer but also what it's like to move from being a young, chaotic organization to a more mature, highly functional and visionary one.

Crass spends substantial time discussing his own personal development throughout the 1990s as well as the organizational development of San Francisco Food Not Bombs (SF FNB). Within that narrative, he discusses FNB's larger role helping build the anarchist Left, showing how FNB functions as an important gateway for activists. He highlights years of important organizing work, drawing out many lessons concerning organizational structure and leadership development.

Crass also demonstrates the overt and subtle ways that white heterosexual male privilege negatively impacts social justice work and provides detailed descriptions of how SF FNB took measures to check privilege, create accountability, and build a more inclusive, democratic organizational structure.

Toward Collective Liberation
shifts gears in later chapters by highlighting advanced, visionary organizing work - organizations and individuals working across the country to build collective liberation values, vision and strategy among progressive left circles and white communities.
Cutting-edge groups like the Catalyst Project and the Heads Up Collective illustrate how collective liberation values can strengthen the anti-war movement and help end American militarism.

Oregon's Rural Organizing Project uncovers how white, working-class, rural communities can build solidarity with queer communities, people of color and immigrant farm-workers. An interview with Carla Wallace of the Fairness Campaign in Louisville, Kentucky, reveals how multiracial alliances with the LGBTQ community can shift power in the Southeastern United States.

Organizers from the Groundwork Collective underscore lessons learned during the Wisconsin Uprisings and the Occupy movement, showing how change-makers can seize opportunities "in a way that builds for a broader vision of racial, economic, and social justice."

Why should you read a book on this topic by a middle-class white guy? You could instead read any number of books on this topic written by people from marginalized communities. What does Crass uniquely provide that hasn't been said before, and why is this perspective valuable? (I credit my partner Rushelle Frazier and fellow IVAW leader Joyce Wagner for pushing me on this question. Our discussions on Toward Collective Liberation highlighted this particular question's importance while also providing insights and answers.)

First, readers should absolutely study the works of marginalized communities; their perspectives remain indispensable guideposts along the path that ends patriarchal white supremacy. But Crass' writing targets specific audiences: white males, those working in majority-white or male-dominated communities and folks looking to understand how privilege specifically impacts movement building.

White people in our movements too often dismiss issues of race and privilege, particularly when confronted by people of color. Heterosexual men regularly dismiss issues of gender and sexuality, particularly when confronted by women or the LGBTQ community. Many of us tend to ignore the existence and complexities of our own privilege, and we easily ignore the problems and experiences of people who do not resemble us.

But Crass argues that white men can play an important role by speaking to other white men, helping them understand their own privilege and learn what it looks like to take action that challenges systemic oppression. Crass repeats this important lesson throughout the book: People of color cannot end white supremacy; only white people can choose to do that. Likewise, women cannot end patriarchy; only men can choose to do that.

Crass demonstrates how white people and men can successfully fulfill this important role, and the book's usefulness comes from its ability to guide and catalyze movement building toward a liberated society. Toward Collective Liberation gives me fresh ideas for engaging my own local community and the larger military community where I organize. The book leaves me with a strong sense of hope, pondering questions and possibilities for the future.

How can East Tennessee become a diverse, multiracial, empowering community based on compassion and love? How can I support women, people of color and gender-queer folks already taking the lead locally in East Tennessee? How can IVAW (or any organization) model the society we want, creating space for diverse leadership? What if military communities model this same diversity instead of reproducing white hetero-normativity? More largely, what would it look like when our country eradicates structural racism within our prison systems, our military ranks and foreign policy abroad? Wouldn't our world change substantially for the better? Could mass incarceration and modern American warfare even exist?

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




"...might just be one of my favorite books of all time"

by Qristina
Golden Zephyr
October 3rd, 2013

"Cazzarola!: Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy" by Norman Nawrocki, might just be one of my favorite books of all time. When I first sat down to read, I wasn't really hoping for much - another story with Gypsy characters as stereotypical tropes filling a need for mystery, intrigue, and danger.

But cazzo!!!! I was so spectacularly and pleasantly surprised!

Spanning 130 years in the life of the Discordias, a family of Italian anarchists, Cazzarola! Is at once a leap into Italian history and politics, as well as a romantic journey with a couple who simply should not be together.

Many historical novels are dry, as bitter as the politics they write about and as shriveled as the bodies that once inhabited it. But Cazzarola! is different; it's juicy, full of life and surprisingly sweet moments that catch you unaware.

I love history, it's true. But, I love accurate and thoughtful portrayals of my people better. I'm often asked for book recommendations that include Romani characters, particularly women. Well, dear readers HERE IS THAT BOOK. From the moment I read about Cinka, I was hooked.

She was shy. I was patient. I bought her coffee and sandwiches and hung around. We talked music, philosophy, history. She's smart, a real thinker with opinions about everything.

Cinka is a Gypsy and proud of it. Not your stereotypical fortune-telling Gypsy. Not at all. She's a "Romani" - the correct term for her and her people.

It's not often that we're portrayed as smart, education, and independent. In between passages on 20th century factory strikes and occupations, armed anarchist militias, and contemporary neofascist violence, Antonio Discordia and Cinka Dinicu attempt to make a forbidden life together work.

He is a gadjo and she is a Romani in Italy - a country not known for it's kindness towards immigrants, especially Roman. Antonio must come to understand the hatred and discrimination Cinka faces, and likewise, she must learn to trust him. I have never read a more delicate portrayal of a Romani woman in my life. Her strength, resilience and brilliance shine. She mades me proud of who I am, which is hard to do, never mind through the pages of a book.

I highly recommend to Roma and non-Roma alike. With the rise of neo-Nazi and neofascist groups (such as the Golden Dawn and the Jobbik Party) throughout Europe, this book is definitely timely and a must read. It's a history lesson and a lesson about racism, love and fighting for what you believe in at all cost.

Cazzarola! presents Roamni culture and history as if you didn't know anything, but not in a way that spells out each individual moment since our leaving India. It is a book that, as a Romani, let me enjoy the accurate and beautiful portrayal of another Romani woman.

We have a saying in my family, " "Chines church, e duke pes pretzel. Chines laveha, e duke achel" - a wound from a knife fades away; a wound from a word remains. So many books leave such painful scars, but Cazzarola! had me laughing, crying and cursing out loud.

Don't take my word for it, please READ IT FOR YOURSELF!

[There is also a soundtrack for the book coming out later this month! EXCITED!!!]

Buy Cazzarola! now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Norman Nawrocki's page




Red Army Faction V1 & V2 Reviewed in Turning the Tide

by Michael Novick
Turning the Tide
October-December 2013
Volume 26, Number 4

Far from being a relic of the '60s and '70s, the German Red Army Faction (RAF), an urban guerrilla formation in the "metropole" of imperialism, has continued to be a target of state repression well into the 21st Century. In a 2010 statement issued by "some who have been RAF members at various points in time," they addressed the prosecution of a former RAF member, who had secretly become a cooperating "crown witness" years before, for the assassination of German Attorney General Siegfried Buback more than 30 years ago. They wrote: "The apparent purpose is to obtain individual 'recriminations,' i.e. to pressurize individuals to say who exactly did what…Not enough that we have stated our collective responsibility for the attaches of the RAF. We should 'finally' squeal in order to 'give up the logic of conspiracy,'" They describe the effort by the state and the corporate media to reduce their struggle to personal aberrations, an effort that goes back to the bourgeois designation of the RAF as the "Baader-Meinhof Gang," after the names of two of their founding members.

They continued, "What it is really all about is to pull…the debate on the history of armed struggle [down] to the mere level of murder and violence… The RAF was dissolved in 1998, based on its assessment of the changed political situation globally. The fact that it was its own decision and that it has not been defeated by the state, obviously remains a throne in the flesh [of the state]. Hence the eternal lament of the "myth" yet to be destroyed. Hence the political and moral capitulation demanded from us. Hence the attempts to finalize the criminalization of our history…Whereas the search for those who are still underground, the smear campaigns in the media and the legal procedures against former prisoners continue, we are expected to kowtow publicly. As in all those years, it didn't work by 'renunciation,' we are now to denounce each other."

They explained why they continue to refuse to testify. "Not to testify is not a RAF invention. It has been an experience of the liberation movements and guierilla groups that it is vital to provide no information whatsoever when in custody, in order to protect those who continue the struggle. We have the historical examples of the resistance against fascism… Bust also like this. We don't testify because we are no state witnesses, not then, not now."

"Through all these years, despite 'screen search' technologies, the highly armed state security apparatus hasn't been able to obtain a reasonably comprehensive picture of our movements…The bits and pieces put together by state security agencies haven't been very useful for general counterinsurgency purposes. They have no clue of the approach, the organization, the traces, the dialectics of an urban guerrilla in the metropolis. And there is no reason to help them out on this…The RAF's collective structure has been attacked right from the start. It was not supposed to exist, it had to be old school, authoritarian relationships, 'officers and soldiers,' ringleaders and followers. Those were the compulsory terms for the police, for the propaganda, and those are their terms today. The judiciary, however…was lacking evidence in court due to our lack of collaboration. Its solution was the 'conspiracy' paragraph 129/129a, with which everyone could be made responsible for everything. That's what the verdicts have been based on…In contrast, testimonies which we sometimes provided in the trials against us, during the years of prison, have been determined collectively, as a possibility to say something against the worst shithouse propaganda."

They concluded: "We were in prison because we started armed struggle over here, and our interest during the trials in court was, at best, to convey the contents and aims of our policy. A policy of attach in the metropolis which understood and determined its praxis in the context of struggles worldwide for liberation from capitalism."

This represents the strength of political commitment demonstrated by the RAF through torturous, sensory-deprivation isolation incarceration, being "suicided" in prison, and continuing almost 35 years after the creation of the organization in the face of continuing persecution. It demonstrated why they merit serious study of the content and history of their political thinking, practice and development.

That study has been well served by the "Documentary History" of the Red Army Faction being meticulously produced by J. Smith and Andrew Moncourt, with two volumes completed and a third in preparation (probably some additional years until publication). Profusely illustrated, and carefully researched, the books present the RAF in their own words and in well-explicated context. Smith and Moncourt's narrative amounts to a history of mid- to late-20th Century imperialism from the perspective of the so-called "Federal Republic" of West Germany (plus West Berlin, a separate entity until the reunification of Germany after rthe communist East German Democratic Republic was absorbed).

Its relevance today is magnified by the central role the series of hunger strikes by the imprisoned members of the RAF played in exposing the militarist nature of the German state, and in helping to attract new combatants to the ranks of the "guerrilla" in Germany and throughout Western Europe. We have recently seen in California the power of that bodies-on-the-line commitment by prisoners to impact consciousness, not only in the prisons, but also on the streets. The RAF's prescience about the offense-oriented nature of the NATO alliance also makes its analyses important reading today.

It's impossible to summarize such  voluminous work. The division into 3 volumes roughly parallels the history of the RAF in three periods, or generations. The first is from their founding until the 1977 kidnapping and killing of German industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer and the deaths in prison of many of the allegedly leading RAF members. The second is from that point through the 1984 arrests of(unbeknownst to the state a the time) virtually the entire ranks of combatants then in the field. They were attempting to put into practice a plan to develop a "front" between the German guerrilla and both similar formations in other mostly European countries and semi-legal anti-imperialist and radical groups. The third volume will address the period from the second reconstitution of the RAF from a major counter-offensive in 1984 through the group's self-dissolution in 1998.

The question of whether and how armed struggle relates to the much different political circumstances of the 21st Century is a critical one. Even more important is the question of what politics can quire the development of a successful strategy for revolution change and develop appropriate tactics, as well as undertake the necessary transformation and development of committed, consistent and capable revolutionaries.

Smith and Moncourt's detailed, methodical presentation of this history provides valuable insights, including into the differing politics that guided various German clandestine and semi-clandestine armed struggle groups and actions over almost two decades. In addition to the RAF, the June 2nd Movement (2JM), the Revolutionary Cells (RZ) and their women's off-shoot Rote Zora built fairly consolidated underground formation from different political and organizational perspectives. Thousands of other armed and otherwise illegal actions were carried out by elements of the German anti-imperialist and autonomist movements between the late '60s and the '90s.

Analyzing the strengths and weaknesses, the differences - particularly between "social revolutionary" and "anti-imperialist" orientations - and their impact, can make a vital contribution to understanding the true nature of our enemy, and the most effective strategy for defeating it once and for all. The contradiction between the "autonomist" and "anti-imp" tendencies in the German movement, paralleled similar differences between guerrilla groupings.

A similar division, minus the armed underground organizations, existed in the South Korean movements against militarism and dictatorship, between "national liberation" and "peoples democracy" formations (see my review of Asia's Unknown Uprisings in the last issue of TTT). The comparison of the South Korean and German movements over roughly the same time period also highlights the necessity of correctly linking clandestine guerrilla capacity and mass insurrectionary activity. Deeper study and struggle aimed at developing a revolutionary synthesis of all necessary aspects of understanding both the Empire and how to defeat it is an essential part of a current revolutionary process.

Smith and Moncourt have made and are making a tremendous contribution to that process, and to recuperating the lessons that the RAF and others learned at a tremendous cost. Learning about and from the contributions and errors, the successes and failures, of past revolutionary efforts, can contribute mightily to ending all forms of oppression and exploitation, and to the ultimate triumph of the forces of decolonization, liberation, and a better sustainable world.

Buy RAF Volume 1 book now| Buy RAF Volume 1 e-Book now | Buy RAF Volume 2 now | Buy RAF Volume 2 e-Book now




This Weekend I’ll Also be Listening to…Songs of Freedom from the James Connolly Songs of Freedom Band

The Cedar Lounge Revolution
September 28th, 2013

Given that we’re listening to Patti Smith today it seems only appropriate to consider some more politically inflected music. Here is a very positive endeavour, a CD and reprint of the James Connolly Songbook. They’re going on sale at €10 for the book and €12 for the CD and I’ve been given a copy of both and I have to admit they’re great. The book is produced by PM Books in Oakland, a publisher that seeks to ‘create radical fiction and non-fiction books’ to ‘deliver political and challenging ideas to all walks of life’.

They’ve succeeded brilliantly in the book which is a facsimile reproduction, right down to advertising, of the original 1907 New York printing, and in addition to that a 1919 Connolly Souvenir program, for a concert that commemorated the birth of Connolly. There’s also a preface by Theo Dorgan, a Foreword by James Connolly Heron and an Introduction by editor Mat Callahan (for an overview of his interesting career see here).

In a way this sort of approach, one which engages with the material conditions of life that would have been experienced by workers at that time is one which aligns with the intention of the Left Archive, the idea that it’s not just the text that is important, but also the physicality of a document, the way it is produced, the images used, the advertising – if any, that builds up into a coherent picture of what it was like to read it for the first time.

Even better again the accompanying CD has a wide range of songs, as the sleeve notes say, nine with lyrics written by Connolly, three written about him and “The Red Flag”.

As Connolly himself wrote in 1907:

“Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant, singling of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement; it is the dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude”.

There is a launch in Cork on 2 October in the City Library at 6.30PM, but more on that on Monday, and here’s a sample from the album (and many thanks to them for providing this).

Here too is a review from the September issue of SIPTU’s Liberty (and by the way, great credit is due to Jim Lane and others for working tirelessly to support this project).

Buy the Songs of Freedom: The James Connolly Songbook now| Buy the Songs of Freedom: The James Connolly Songbook e-Book now | Buy the Songs of Freedom CD now | Back to Mat Callahan's Editor Page




Scribes Sounding Off: PM Press Takeover

By Chris Estey
KEXP
October 2, 2013

It's great to see that excellent, keenly questioning, perennially rebellious, truly inspiring, and high quality reading/viewing/listening materials keep being published and produced in this extremely DIY economy. Forged in the fires of pre-economic collapse in 2007, Oakland, CA-based PM Press is a focused cell of thought-provokers in various mediums with combined aeons of protesting, punk rocking, printing, and subversive media marketing. Two of the primaries involved, Ramsey Kanaan (founder of AK Press, punk kid and folk performer, vegan gourmand) and Craig O'Hara (co-founder, and the guy who sells you the good stuff to read out of the back of his car everywhere punk rock flea markets to snooty book events, bike lover) are perfect examples of the firebrand literacy and activism in the belly of this anti-authoritarian culture-creation collective. They hit rallies to support many causes for the poor and working class and marginalized, help organize tenant rights' unions, and put out some of the very best comics, philosophy, fiction, and performances of all kinds in all formats out there.

My first PM Press purchases were made at the Vera Project-based Short Run small press festival, and were the Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Living trade paperback manifesto (with lived-through lessons based on tons of personal anecdotes and underground music culture history), and the amazing, generous Leon Rosselson folk-rocking four CD set, The World Turned Upside Down, which collected all the brittle, brilliantly funny and passionate sides recorded by the spiritual father of Billy Bragg and UK musical cousin of Phil Ochs. Both were very necessary to my library.

Barred For Life is one of the most recent of PM Press's works, and it's a gorgeous yet stark, huge B&W coffee table photo documentary featuring lengthy chats with several players in the band (Dez, Ron Reyes, Kira, Keith Morris, and Chuck Dukowski), photographer Glen E. Friedman, and the black bar tattoo god himself, Rick Spellman. The photos are big here, but that doesn't rule out the substance from co-pix-taker AND author Stewart Ebersole regarding a rock band that were all about putting politics into action (as well as inspiring art upon their fans' bodies). Jared Castaldi helped with the photos as well. That must have been a fascinating road trip, collecting these yarns, sharing some tea and whiskey, playing some SST sides as the chatter hit the matter.

The black bars of Black Flag always meant someone was probably into heavy dark underground sounds from Southern California -- but also wasn't into BS, government subterfuge, making secrets, excuses, or lies to keep the privileged in power. The great diversity of personalities photographed and interviewed here, well-titled in chapters such as "Awkward Moments And Amazing Recoveries In The History of Punk Rock Music," and "My Bars, Your Bars, And The Bars," speak of unity and struggle, good humor through dark days. But "Like the handshake of some secret society, the Bars can be jokingly placed in the most conservative of places": For example, an architect once "designed an entire manufacturing complex in the likeness of the Bars." (The company was unaware of the ideology behind the design.) That is some ambitious subversion, but right away we are reminded that the whole meaning of Black Flag's music was to rise above the boring, painful, oppressive nature of society -- and those who evaded suicide, slow or fast, by taking to art and music and getting in the van to help inspire others defined the best aspects of the anarchist underground in recent decades.

Black Flag's own hectic and heart-pounding story, excellently delineated by Ron and Kira and the others, offers many more revelations about what it took to develop the networks and niches in 80s America where a band with an unrelenting message of social change might be able to play. Though pretty much sticking to the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe, the diehard fans shown and allowed to express their fandom in free thought here come from various genders, class and racial backgrounds, ages, and are a surprisingly diverse lot, making us remember just how far reaching those Reagan-era tours BF took were. (At a Flag show I bounced in Spokane in 1985, it seemed like there were punks from at least five or six different states all coming together to see the band.) This sleek heavy tome is a perfect combination of art and politics, beauty and truth, gift and emblem of history.

PM Press has also put together the entire run of Anarchy Comics, edited by Jay Kinney, and underground title that was very instructive and mind-blowing when the individual pamphlets were sold in hip and political bookstores, head shops, and music stores back in the 70s-80s. Anarchy was filled with short form histories of radical movements, peculiar revolutionaries, despairing police-led events that needed uncovering and denouncement, and it served as a great bridge between the street fighting politics of the Yippies and the next generation that squatted and stuck up middle fingers to the Yuppies.

Anarchy Comics features a lot of my personal favorite underground and independent-thinking cartoonists, including the late and beloved Latin proto-punk Spain Rodriguez, Paul Mavrides (who also worked on the Freak Brothers, knowing how to spin a freak yarn in sublime detailed weirdness), Greg Irons (whose twisted Americana is perfect here, showing the violent surrealism of our bloody inclinations as a nation), the punk Expressionism of pre-RAW Gary Panter, and the delightfully witty and thoughtful activist biographies of Melinda Gebbie (who would go on to co-create Lost Girls with Alan Moore). Through it all was maverick editor Kinney, keeping the party going and infusing it with a metaphysical energy that kept Anarchy from being just another collection of polemical rants or libertarian complaints. All four issues, from 1978 to 1986, are presented together for the first time, and also features unpublished work as well. The various parodies, jams, and educational comics are a wonderful assortment of styles and truly show how diverse an ideology anarchy can be among artists.

Buy Barred for Life now | Buy Barred for Life e-Book now | Buy Anarchy Comics now | Buy Anarchy Comics e-Book now




Asia's Unknown Uprisings Volume 1 in the Journal of Asian Studies

By Sun Chul-Kim
The Journal of Asian Studies
Volume 72 / Issues 03 / August 2013 pp733-734

Designed as the first of a two-volume serial on “Asia’s unknown uprisings,” South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century is an ambitious attempt at chronicling the long history of popular struggle in South Korea, as well as revealing the universal logic behind it. From the Tonghak Farmers’ War of 1894 to the Candlelight Protests in 2008, the book covers a broad range of popular mobilization in Korea across more than a century’s span. The book is organized into thirteen chapters in chronological order, with eight chapters devoted to the popular struggles of the last three decades. In chapters 6–10, the book offers one of the most thorough accounts of the contentious 1980s, which erupted with the 1980 Gwangju Uprising and culminated with the June Uprising and the Great Workers’ Struggle of 1987. Aided by insider accounts, these chap- ters offer a rich narrative of the unfolding events with rare insight into the inner dynamics and the emotional responses that characterize rare moments of insurgency. It is unclear, however, why there is only one short chapter tracing political challenges in the 1960s and ‘70s, whereas three chapters are dedicated to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In the opening chapter, the book lays out its central argument, that “ordinary people, acting together in the best interests of the group, embody a reasonability and intelligence far greater than any of today’s corporate or political elites” (p. 9). To George Katsiaficas, ordinary people assume not only superior morality, but also superiority in self- organization and self-discipline inherent in the everyday relations in civil society. Conse- quently, ordinary people, or civil society, are endowed with the wisdom, intuition, and capacity for effecting change and building a true participatory democracy, the manifes- tations of which are the numerous uprisings and social movements. Having set the premise this way, the book moves on to concomitant argument that concerns the role of spontaneity in collective action. “The outcome of spontaneous and massive occur- rences is often far better than deliberately planned ones” (p. 144), Katsiaficas argues, and throughout the chapters there is no shortage of reference to the “autonomous,” “lea- derless” protesters who have shown their capacity to act and govern “without the ‘help’ of political vanguards and almighty leaders” (p. 4). Exemplified by the voluntary partici- pation of Gwangju citizens and the sense of community they built during the nine-day uprising, it is argued that the power of spontaneity constitutes a critical mechanism behind the large-scale mobilizations of the 1960 April Revolution, the 1987 June Upris- ing, and the 2008 Candlelight Protests.

The book is largely successful in highlighting the role of “ordinary people” as the engine of change, and the picture of spontaneous participation and community building during high tides of protest is convincing. However, the depiction of ordinary people as a self-motivated, self-contained, and self-propelling protagonist raises several questions as to exactly who they are, why they act, and to what extent the various participants in the numerous uprisings can be lumped into a single category. While many scholars have looked to the grassroots or civil society as the main engine of change in South Korea’s transition to electoral democracy, civil society can turn into a cumbersome concept when investigating social movements in the post-authoritarian context. This is partly because democratization brings many changes, including internal differentiation of civil society, such that it becomes impossible to talk about civil society as if it were a monolithic actor. However, the book presses on with its framework, and finds itself in an odd situation where it is argued that “popular movements surged ahead in the years following [democratic transition in] 1987” (p. 313) at the same time the rise of NGOs, and professionalization and specialization of the citizens’ movement, “led to the move- ment’s overall decline” (p. 6). It seems what is needed is a refined framework that can help us recognize the various social groups and identities within civil society, as well as the varying patterns of interaction among them. Despite its theoretical import, the book’s spotlight on spontaneity similarly suffers from a simple framework. On several occasions the book implies that not all uprisings involve the same level of spontaneity (p. 243) or generate the same kind of positive energy (pp. 348–49). However, this comes without proper explanation as to why such variation may occur. At times, leader- ship, or organization, is directly pit against spontaneity, as if the two were mired in a zero-sum relationship. But does leadership necessarily undermine spontaneity? Are there not more reasons to believe that a good leadership is one that is adept at improvisa- tion or facilitating spontaneous participation?

Again, the reader is left with the impression that clarifying the relationship between spontaneity and leadership would have greatly strengthened the theoretical persuasion.

Overall, the book does a better job in narrating the political history of modern South Korea from a bottom-up perspective than it does in analyzing social movements. Plenty of space is assigned to exposing the role of the United States and the U.S.-led global political economy as an important backdrop to South Korean politics. In chapter 7, for example, the book contends that the U.S. involvement in the suppression of Gwangju, as “part of [the] global implementation of U.S. economic policy” (p. 225), “marked the bloody beginning of the imposition of a neoliberal regime onto Korea” (p. 226). This will no doubt be a point of interest to many. There are some questionable moments though, as when the author traces the origins of Hallyu “in the minjung movements of the 1980s” (p. 21) without substantiation.

Nonetheless, many readers will find that the rich details of the 1980s offset the weaknesses.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to George Katsiaficas 's Author Page




Show and tell: Norman Nawrocki on using music and performance to transform the book tour

CBC Books
October 11th, 2013

Taking a page from the rock-and-roll handbook, writer and musician Norman Nawrocki is treating his latest book tour as a concert tour—complete with couch surfing, theatrics, beers, and groupies. If you see him passing the hat at the end of the show, consider dropping a dollar or two. This is a complete do-it-yourself road show.

1. You’ve always thought outside the box. When you decided to write your most recent book, did you have an idea of how you wanted to bring it to an audience?

First, I had no idea when I started to write CAZZAROLA! that this particular book would result. In fact, the book started as a collection of short stories based on my then, just completed book tour of Italy with a previous book. I realized as I wrote the short stories that there was a larger, more important story here that needed to be told. The CAZZAROLA! demons seized my typing fingers and directed that narrative. It came on its own. No force, no pushing, no directing. As CAZZAROLA! unfolded, I had no idea what to do with it. But I sensed early on that this book would take its time to be written, and that part of me desperately wanted to share the story sooner. So, I was inspired to write some dramatic monologues based on the story. I turned these into CAZZAROLA! the theatre piece. I performed a world premiere of the theatre piece at the Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival, as the opening act for the Bread and Puppet Theatre. I realized then that once the novel was completed, I already had a vehicle to help me bring it to a larger audience. Later, I was inspired to create the musical soundtrack, giving me a second tool to help share the story. Then, it was only natural, to embark on a 'rock 'n Cazzarol' national tour, combining the theatre piece with the cd and book launch for a triple bill presentation. This never occurred to me five years earlier.

2. You are also a musician. Your book tour looks much like a concert tour. What gave you the idea to treat it as such?

It's the only way I know how!  Every new creation needs to be celebrated. I always tour my music, my ‘sex’ shows, and my books. And I like to drink in the company of others, old fans, new fans, and the curious of the world. It's also a way to keep in touch with the country. What are people really doing in Saskatoon these days? But also, I usually add live music to my book tours and do readings/performances that are theatrical. I'm also an actor. I don't draw lines. No boxes. No lines. I mix everything up. Again, it's how I live, how I create, how I like to share my work. I also want the tour to be fun for audiences and myself.

3. Do you expect book “groupies”?

Always. They will ask: “Is this a true story? Why didn't you kill off this character?” They will buy two copies of my book. They will bring my other books for me to sign. They will buy me beer. They will offer me places to stay. They will tell their family to check out my event, because, every book launch on this CAZZAROLA! CANADA TOUR is a triple threat: live theatre (with a soundtrack and visuals); live music (me on violin playing excerpts from the novel's soundtrack); and live me to answer all their questions about all of the above (and about how I make perogies).

4. The tour takes you across the country from east to west and visits a variety of places like bookstores, coffee houses, and music venues. How did you decide to choose the places for your launches?

Thankfully, I have a wonderful network of dear friends, and friends of friends, in each city who stepped forward to help me book the tour. They chose the venues based on affordability. This is a DIY tour. I am financing it myself. No Canada Council grant. No publisher support. I am performing free for people in small venues all across the country! So, we aimed for no-charge venues. I am just passing a hat between my performances to help defray my travel expenses. This is the reality of being an artist, a writer, a performer in Canada today.  

5. There is also an original soundtrack to the book that will be out at the same time. Did you see the album as another way of interesting people in the book?


The CAZZAROLA! soundtrack came as an after-thought, but for me it was a natural one. I hatched it this year, and went back to Italy twice to research music and collaborative musicians. The CD is another way to lure people into the depths of my novel. It can also be listened to before, during, or after a reading of the book. It's a sonic complement, an aural context, a musical framework. It's also just some beautiful, moving and reflective music that you can enjoy with your next glass of Lemoncello.

6. There will also be a “live dramatic adaptation” of the book at the launches. What can people expect?

I will portray four characters from the book, from 1926 to today, delivering monologues excerpted from the book. There will be a soundtrack and projections. It's a 30 minute performance. Afterwards, I play live and sampled and looped violin extracts from the new CD.

7. Publishing continues to adapt to the changes happening in the world. How do you see the future of publishing?

As long as people hunger for stories, as long as writers have stories to tell, as long as we remain a literate society, as long as we continue to cultivate an appreciation for books - there is hope. There is an explosion of online publishing. There are readers groups; writers groups, online and off. This is heartening. With this tour, I am doing my little bit to keep books and the pleasure of discovery very much alive.

Buy Cazzarola! now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Norman Nawrocki's page




I have never hit anyone with my violin: An interview with Norman Nawrocki

by Rana Bose
Montreal Serai
October 6th, 2013

Norman Nawrocki … a Montreal legend for his music of protest – and for his daring, insurrectionary performance theatre — was interviewed for this issue by Rana Bose, Serai Editor and Montreal novelist.
Norman’s new book details : Cazzarola!: Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy

A gripping novel that is at once political, historical, and romantic, Cazzarola! spans 130 years in the life of the Discordias, a fictionalized family of Italian anarchists. It details the family’s heroic, multigenerational resistance to fascism in Italy and their ongoing involvement in the anarchist movement. The Discordias navigate decades of political, economic, and social turmoil — from early 20th-century factory strikes and occupations, to armed anarchist militias and attempts on Mussolini’s life, to postwar student and labor protest, and now to confrontations with the newest wave of contemporary neo-fascist violence sweeping Europe.  Against this historical backdrop, Antonio falls in love with Cinka. She is a proud but poverty-stricken Romani refugee from the “unwanted people,” without a country or home, forced to flee, again and again, searching for peace. Theirs becomes a life-changing and forbidden relationship.

MS: Hi Norman-Thanks for once again gracing Montreal Serai–or should I say for making a welcome intervention in these pages.  When we thought of the theme “Music of Protest” your name figured automatically amongst the top in Montreal. I have been going through your website and the enormous links that it leads us on to. It is a wealth of chaotic insurrectionary material. Right off the bat, tell us why you name your website “nothingness.org” and why Les Pages Noires? The readers of Serai need to know where it is all coming from.

NN:”Nothingness.org” is the name of my mothership provider which was set up in Baltimore many years ago by “Spud” – an incredibly talented and generous anarchist computer whiz who helps like-minded spirits around the world use the internet. His site is www.nothingness.org/, and its crammed with books, art, a Situationist International archive, and more.

Les Pages Noires (LPN) was originally the name of a little 8.5″ x 14″ folded in half and printed, free, bilingual bi-weekly anarchist news sheet that I published and distributed locally in 1982/83. It was essentially an activist “tip sheet” listing events, demos, important local political culture, news, etc., and pre-dated the free weeklies like The Montreal Mirror and VOIR.

Once I started releasing music albums in 1986 – DIY cassettes actually, first – with my co-founding Rhythm Activism bandmate, Sylvain Côté, we decided to use Les Pages Noires as the name for our record label, distributing network and production and publication house.
The inspiration for LPN was an earlier anarchist “tip sheet” published in Vancouver called “BC Blackout” that I had worked on.

MS: There are a lot of pieces on your website– videos– that are in my opinion impromptu reflective theatre–sometimes they are quite bare-bones and basic. Have you ever considered doing an agit-prop run in Montreal and elsewhere…like 14-21 days of non stop story telling, using your songs and performance pieces and bringing in some mainstream crowds?  Because all this radical energy must get under the skin of the powers that be–should it not?  I mean the fringe and anarchist theatre festivals are fine…. but should you not upset the cart in some traditional stages?

NN: “Mainstream crowds”? Ha ha! Actually, most of the performances I have given in my career have been for “mainstream crowds”, especially my adult, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, sex-positive, “sex” comedy cabarets. I usually perform those on mainstream stages, for huge audiences across North America and thankfully, have received rave reviews in the corporate press, on TV and national radio. I estimate that about one million people have seen those shows since I started performing them in 1993.  I’ve never performed in any fringe theatre festival.

I also perform on stages across Europe and in Hong Kong, everywhere from semi-corporate events to the Rome Book Fair. Whenever I have access to a stage, I do my best to “get under the skin of the powers that be…”

The Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival is an annual event that I co-founded with other local theatre afficionados, and is the only festival of its kind in the world. We get mainstream press coverage here in Montreal.

Having said all of this, if anyone out there wants to organize and fund a 14-21 day non-stop Nawrocki agit-prop run in Montreal on a big stage, I’m open to offers!

MS: In the pic on your site with the group Crocodile!  you hold your violin like an insurgent would hold an automatic–except you have your hand on your head, in thought, and you are leaning on one of your fellow musicians. Perhaps you never intended such a meaning– but tell me what you feel about violence in general and what is the meaning of violence in the society we live in?

“I have never hit anyone with my violin. It’s too precious an instrument. And only once, during a hot and sweaty Berlin night-club gig with one of my bands, my bow flew out of my hands, across the stage, and almost landed in someone’s drink. Spectacular, but unintentional.”

NN: I have never hit anyone with my violin. It’s too precious an instrument. And only once, during a hot and sweaty Berlin night-club gig with one of my bands, my bow flew out of my hands, across the stage, and almost landed in someone’s drink. Spectacular, but unintentional.

And Rhythm Activism used to perform a song inspired by the Zapatistas back in the 1990s (from our Blood & Mud 1995 album), where we wielded our instruments like automatic weapons on stage. Not hard to do for guitarists and bassists, but try convincing a drummer. Normally, I try not to pose in an aggressive manner. It’s not my style.

Most violinists hold their violin like I do. Unlike percussionists, we’re not violent people.

And as for the question of “violence” in general, and in our society, it’s in my face everyday on my Facebook newsfeeds, on the street around me, everywhere. It’s orchestrated and perpetrated by either the State, its foot-soldiers, or by untouchable, irresponsible multinationals devastating the planet, wreaking violence as they make their money. I see the ravages of war and I do my best to denounce war everywhere. I can never forget the role of the police bashing, maiming and injuring thousands of Quebec striking students and supporters last year.  I see the everyday violence inflicted on visible minorities, on the poor, the under and unemployed, the sick and the elderly by the system we live in. I see people denied access to clean water, adequate food, affordable housing and transportation. This is the daily violence of Capitalism and its apologists. This is how they control us, with fear, lies,  promises of a better tomorrow, limitless manipulation of information distribution, and ultimately, with their riot sticks, tear gas, guns and weapons of war. This violence has to stop.

MS: There is a “gypsy” pathos that is always there in much of your recent works. A classical /East European folk music and sadness. I know your ethnic origins. Tell us where you are taking us with this music. Are you a rock and roll cabaret musician still?

NN: Once a “rock ‘n roll cabaret musician”, always a “rock ‘n roll cabaret musician”. I have never stopped. My new forthcoming CD, “CAZZAROLA!” – the musical soundtrack for my new novel of the same name – will attest to that.

I have no Roma blood in me. My father used to play a lot of East European classic music on the piano at home, so I think it crept into my youthful violin fingers. And being a “Puke” of Polish/Ukrainian origin, who naturally grew up appreciating vodka and beer – to help the perogys go down, you know – I love this music anyway.

I do my best to take all of you with me on whatever musical voyage happens to amuse me at the moment.

If it’s imbued with a bit of pathos, well, that’s where my inner soul resides and how it prefers to express itself.

But I also still play lively divorce music for those who want to celebrate. I have a few new musical ensembles, too, that I work with like SANN, The Pedals, and my newest band, Crocodile. The music ranges from a bass and violin duo, to a full band that can rock out, originally.

MS: I have heard Rhythm Activism years ago. You did shows with Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mecca Normal and others. Tell us something about the music of that time and what you were doing then. Incidentally you were referred to as the “Smothers Brothers from Hell.”

NN: Back then we called ourselves a “cabaret rock ‘n roll band”, and did just that. Cutting-edge music, sometimes danceable, sometimes more theatrical, sometimes re-worked East European country western tunes. We performed music with lyrics that addressed questions of social justice, on multiple themes. We toured the world, a few times, released dozens and dozens of albums, ourselves and as part of compilations, charted on radio nationally and internationally, once reaching the top 10 on American college radio across the USA. We received a letter of thank you once from Subcommandante Marcos for our album that supported the Zapatista rebellion and our fundraising tour that sent a lot of money to Chiapas to help with schools, daycares and medical clinics. The American Beat poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti once faxed us to compliment us on one of our spoken word set to music pieces.

We played the first ever solar-powered outdoor concert in Quebec, in the early 1990s. We performed a few “community cabarets” working with FRAPRU – an umbrella organization fighting for social justice – that toured all over Quebec dealing with questions of tenants’ rights, welfare recipients’ rights, ex-psychiatric patients’ rights.

We pulled together a huge “circus cabaret” with some 50 artists that addressed the root causes of poverty, targeting capitalism, the World Bank, the IMF, etc., that was favourably reviewed in The Globe and Mail, and drew police attention. They tried to stop people from attending our show, saying it was criminally oriented.

Our last album, “Jesus Was Gay”, (on G7 Welcoming Committee Records) with a picture of him on the cover, smiling, got a full page rave review in The Montreal Gazette, but caused a ruckus at the border and on CBC radio who refused to play it. We were a band always ahead of the news, and Radio Canada would always call us up during a war or a new stupid government initiative and ask if we had anything new to play on the air.

MS: Tell us something about your new book. What it is all about and what made you write it.
My novel – CAZZAROLA! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy (PM Press, Oakland, California, 2013) – is a historical/romantic/political work spanning 130 years in the life of a family of Italian anarchists. They engage in heroic resistance to Fascism in Italy, including the recent wave of contemporary neo-Fascism sweeping Europe. CAZZAROLA! is also a love story about an Italian boy who falls for a Roma refugee girl. Theirs becomes a forbidden relationship impacted by cultural taboos and the ongoing persecution of Romani refugees. I have a solo theatre piece and a new album of music, same name, that go with the book.

The novel, album and theatre piece were inspired by a previous book and music tour of Italy, where I noticed, something was not quite right. The TV and newspapers were reporting on the eviction of Roma refugees from camps all over the country. I researched the story, returned to Italy, interviewed refugees and their advocates, and came home to write the book over the next 5 years.

The album consists of some 30 musical pieces: songs, soundscapes, musical collages, etc, in English and Italian, both traditional and original compositions, by myself and local and Italian collaborators. It covers  130 years of Italian history, with songs that originated with 19th century shepherds’ songs about the First and Second World wars, and all the turmoil in between. Waltzes, ballads, folk dance music, and more – it is a musical soundtrack for the book.

MS: Thank you on behalf of Montreal Serai. We are happy to associate with cultural activists like you. We have been at it for 27 years and while many such endeavours have fallen by the roadside…the road is still long ahead and we must continue…
Rana Bose is an engineer, playwright and author.


Buy Cazzarola! now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Norman Nawrocki's page




Drawn to New York in Brain Pickings

by Maria Popova
Brain Pickings
October 2013

New York City isn't wont for love letters (and, okay, the occasional hate mail and breakup letter) - from the illustrated to the poetic to the cartographic to the photographic to the literary, and even the canine and the feline. And if this tells us anything, it's that the ultimate portrait of the city is a collage of a myriad subjective impressions and private experiences. In Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City (public library), celebrated illustrator and counterculture cartoonist Peter Kuper contributes his own, which he calls a "portrait of this city I love, both its darkness and light Š a city whose story is ever being written."



In the introduction, painter and graphic novelist Eric Drooker - who contributed to some of Gotham's dystopian dreams - ponders the city's enduring, ineffable mesmerism:

    Like moths to a flame, millions are drawn to New York... but why?

    What's the attraction to the big city - the eternal Babel - with its endless confusion of tongues? What's all the hubbub?

    What is it that draws so many people - particularly artists - to Gotham?

    Is it the buildings? The lights? The sound? The fury?

    The wailing sirens at 3 A.M.? The incessant rumble of nonstop express trains on rusted subway tracks?

    Or is it simply the seduction of anonymity in the big city... a chance to reinvent oneself in the rush hour crowd?

    Many come as a career move, hoping to be discovered by others... or at least to find themselves.

Many self-appointed New Yorkers, of course, can only connect the dots of how and why we ended up in city, as Steve Jobs poignantly noted of life's general dot-connecting in his timeless Stanford commencement address, by looking back and never by looking forward. When Kuper packed his own midwestern bags at the age of eighteen to make Gotham his adopted home, he had just an abstract sense of why the city - vertical, gridded, stark - drew him. Only decades later would he capture this abstraction in the concrete, stark grids of his cartoon strips and graphic novels.

Dazzled by the city's glamor on a childhood visit - with his family, at the age of nine, to see his uncle perform on Broadway - young Kuper also witnessed the inevitable sight of New York's gruffness, involving a gas truck, a drunk man in a Pontiac, a cacophony of blaring horns, and his father leaping into action to save the drunk from an inevitable explosion. That experience shaped his entire understanding of the city. Kuper recalls:

Clearly New York was a dangerous place where terrible things could happen, but also a place that could turn ordinary people into superheroes. On that sweltering August night, amid the roaring swirl of Manhattan's manic energy, I decided I wanted to move to this city as soon as possible.

It took him a decade, but in June of 1977, he set fateful foot on Gotham soil at Grand Central, set on becoming a New York animator. The city he arrived in - bankrupt, with decrepit subways, a ghostly Times Square at night, and streets lined with towers of uncollected trash from a garbage strike - sounds to the onlooker almost nightmarish, a nightmare made all the grimmer by the famous Blackout that hit only a month later, unleashing rampant looting. But Kuper was in heaven, living his dream.

That, perhaps, is the sign of a great New Yorker, and especially a great New York artist: The ability to love the city not despite its grit but because of it, to inhabit its struggles with dignity rather than disgust, with empathic curiosity rather than cruel gawking. And that is precisely what Kuper has been doing for thirty years in his drawings of the city at its most real yet its most affectionate, and above all its comforting mutability. Kuper himself puts it beautifully:

This city is change. That's its glory - it's a perpetually unfinished canvas, offering up possibility to each successive wave of artists.



Though all of Kuper's work is remarkably dimensional, brimming with social, cultural, and political commentary, among his most striking pieces is this irrepressibly unsettling, viscerally disquieting image of the raw, debilitating trauma that 9/11 inflicted on the city...

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page




Drawn to New York in Illustration Voice

by Anne Telford
Illustration Voice
October 2013

This beautiful illustration diary is Peter Kuper's love letter to New York City, his home for the last 34 years. He captures the city in various media with his vibrant and colorful art showing every facet of the ever-changing city from the bankrupt days of the late 1970s to its present state, chronicling and celebrating it. "The city is change," Kuper writes in the book's preface. "That's its glory-it's a perpetually unfinished canvas, offering up possibility to each successive wave of artists."

From quick sketches of jazz musicians in the Times Square subway to comic strips of New York as "Jungleland" to pen-and-ink and watercolor renderings of a market in Chinatown, a visual guide to city smells to a moving portrait of the city as a hand composed of landmark buildings with two missing fingers, shown as ghost twin towers, Kuper captures every conceivable angle and nuance of life in this most dynamic city.

Alan Moore, author of Watchmen and V for Vendetta calls Kuper, "One of the strongest and truest radical voices to emerge from contemporary America." Kuper's illustrations and comics have appeared in Time, the New York Times, and MAD where he has written and illustrated "Spy vs. Spy" every issue since 1997. The award-winning illustrator is the co-founder of the political commix magazine World War 3 Illustrated and has been on its editorial board for over 33 years. He is the author of over two-dozen books. He will have an exhibition opening at the Society of Illustrators/MOCCA to coincide with the book's publication, on display through October 5th.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page



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