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Kuper & Tobocman Celebrate “World War 3 Illustrated”

By Alex Dueben
Comic Book Resource
May 14th, 2014

With extensive careers in art, illustration and comics, childhood friends Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman founded "World War 3 Illustrated" ("WW3") in 1979, an anthology series with a left-wing political focus. Edited by various creators over the years, "World War 3 Illustrated" contributors include artists James Romberger, Sandy Jimenez, Sue Coe and more. Kuper and Tobocman continue to edit and contribute to the anthology, distributed in the modern era by Top Shelf.

To mark the anthology's 35th anniversary, PM Press is publishing a book collecting "World War 3 Illustrated" content from the series' many contributing cartoonists. It's a beautifully designed book, but it's also an incredible look at both the politics of recent decades and life in the United States and abroad.

CBR News spoke with Kuper and Tobocman about the anniversary of "WW3" and its impact on comics and social movements, as well as the publication of PM Press' big 35th Anniversary hardcover and the lasting impact of "World War 3 Illustrated" as an anthology.

CBR: Peter, Seth -- it's been 35 years since the debut of "World War 3 Illustrated." Looking back to the series' beginnings, where did the concept of the book come from? What was the impetus in creating the anthology?

Peter Kuper: Seth and I grew up together in Cleveland, Ohio -- we met in first grade and lived a street apart until the end of high school. We discovered comics around the age of 7 and when we were 11 did our first zine with several to follow through our teens. We attended many comic conventions in New York each summer and got to interview everyone from Jack Kirby to William Gaines. Inspired by these trips, we separately made our way to New York City in the late 1970s. Seth had gone there to be a film-maker studying at NYU and I came a year later based on an animation job offer. Neither ever materialized and we both found ourselves at Pratt Institute in the late 1970s. We were still fans of comics and had become serious about creating them, but there were few venues to get our work published. The undergrounds were mostly gone and the alternative movement didn't exist yet. Since we'd done zines, the idea of self-publishing wasn't remote. Beyond publishing our own work we also wanted to print work that moved us -- much of it was on the street posted on walls and lampposts. It was work that was talking about our reality in 1979 with a hostage crisis in Iran, the Cold War in full swing and a B-actor about to have his itchy trigger-finger on the nuclear launch button.

Seth Tobocman: There was no place for an intelligent comic book artist to get published back in 1979. So it was inevitable that we self publish.

I think what spurred me to make a political comic book was the Iran Hostage crisis. I knew a lot of Iranian students who were at school with me. So I knew about how the Shah of Iran was put in by the US and how my Iranian friends were afraid of the Savak, the Iranian secret police, even while walking around NYC. So when the Shah fell and Iranians took over the US embassy, I understood why they did that. But for many Americans this was an outrage, like 9/11, and there was this wave of patriotic hysteria. So I felt, if all these ignorant people can express themselves, so could I. I decided to throw my hat in the ring.

Publishing a single issue is an accomplishment in and of itself, but what pushed you to turn it into a series? How did it become an ongoing anthology?

Tobocman: Growing up in the 1970s it seemed like any time you found something cool, you immediately discovered that it was over. It was very disheartening. So I didn't want to add to that big pile of negativity by making yet another thing that blew over. What has also made it continue is that wave after wave of younger artists has come to the book. Today there are people working on it who were born the year we started.

Kuper: We were presented with [the subject matter] everyday. We felt desperate to communicate the things we were seeing in the world around us and the things we were experiencing directly and we were not alone. Issue after issue more people joined the magazine. Every time I thought I could find other venues that served a similar purpose I discovered catches. Either they wanted to censor the ideas, or simply couldn't devote the space for a full-length piece. Really for the first decade or so that we were publishing "WW3," interest in comics -- especially with political subject matter -- was near zero.

You're both busy people doing a diverse amount of work, but you both continue to contribute to and edit issues of the anthology. Why?

Tobocman: There is no place where I am so free to express myself. I just did a pretty honest piece describing my mother's death, with all the ugliness of a hospital room included, for the latest issue of "WW3." I don't have anyone telling me I can't do that here. Yes, I could find a publisher for that at some point, but that takes a lot of negotiation, and meanwhile the idea is getting old in my head.

Kuper: "WW3" remains one of the very few venues that provides complete freedom of expression. At critical points like after 9/11 no other publication was willing to touch the subjects we wanted to discuss -- like the stupidity of our rush to war in Iraq. When I lived in Oaxaca, Mexico during a teachers' strike, there was no other publication willing to give me the space to tell the full story. This is true for many of the contributors including artists from places like Egypt. I also feel like we are still relatively unknown and doing this new anthology was a way of codifying "WW3's" history and the history we've spent the last 35 years writing and drawing about.

An inside look at PM Press' "World War 3 Illustrated" collection.

At what point–assuming there was one–did you begin to see "WW3" as something bigger than the two of you?

Kuper: When we heard from people around the world who had somehow found copies, when people joined the magazine who had seen it in a record store in another state and were inspired to move to New York and do comics, and when a teenager came up and said "I grew up reading 'WW3' -- my mom showed it to me!"

Tobocman: I always wanted it to be bigger than me. I wanted it to be a collective, and part of a wider movement that encompassed both art and politics. But in the '80s that often felt like wishful thinking. To me, the moment when my hopes began to be realized was the 1988 Tompkins Square riot and the wave of protest that grew out of it, because that was the first movement in which my generation of activists, and artists was in the lead.

In 1988 the city tried to impose a midnight curfew on Tompkins Park in New York's Lower East Side. Such a curfew targeted several groups of people. Young people who liked to hang out late, long time area residents who sort of viewed the park as their back yard, and homeless people who slept in the park. Resistance to this curfew resulted in several nights of rioting. Large numbers of police came into the neighborhood to try to enforce the curfew. The cops wound up attacking everyone who was on the street. But after several rough nights, the bad publicity from video of cops attacking bystanders embarrassed the city into lifting the curfew. A movement of locally based radicals was born out of these riots. This movement fought the city over issues of housing, homelessness and police brutality. There was a very deep connection between "World War 3 Illustrated" and this scene.

Which comics are you most proud of being involved with during your tenure with "WW3?" You can choose whatever criteria you want, but what are a few stories that stand out?

Tobocman: I'm very proud that so many of the early graphics by "World War 3" artists got picked up by political movements to be used on flyers and posters. With regard to my own work, that would be the "Why are Apartments Expensive?" series that describes the causes of gentrification. There were a couple of years when I saw that reprinted everywhere. More recently, a young cartoonist named Ethan Heitner put us in touch with comic book artists in Egypt and Lebanon who now have work in the magazine. We are one of the few English Language magazines carrying these guys.

Kuper: In the new anthology we published a color piece by James Romberger called "Jesus in Hell" He brought that to us in about 1984 and we ran it in black and white --which was all we could afford. We've always wanted to see it in full color and it finally happened after thirty years! Artists like Mac McGill whose amazing work may have never seen the light of day but for "WW3" and Sabrina Jones who has gone on to have a full-blown career as a graphic novelist, thanks in part to the opportunities the magazine provided for her growth. Really, for all of us, "WW3" has been a place to experiment and interact with other artists, which has made everyone's work that much better.

Kuper's "The System" is also set for a reprint from PM Press.

Talk a little about this anniversary collection. What did you want to do and how did you end up at PM Press?

Kuper: We wanted to put together a collection that showed off great examples of what we've been doing over the years -- work that demonstrated the possibilities of comics as a medium for political and personal expression. Hopefully we've created a book that winds up in schools and libraries so we reach a whole new audience into the future. We first assembled the book back in 2008 -- Abrams had expressed ongoing interest and we hoped to have it out to coincide with a thirtieth anniversary retrospective that we mounted at a gallery in New York called "Exit Art." With the crash the publishing industry was in a shambles and the idea of a 320 page full-color book of political comics was next to impossible. (Actually a French publisher stepped up with interest and will do it next year.) I had begun working with PM in 2009 and they not only said they wanted to do the book, but that it could be hardcover. When they saw the bill for the collection though, they realize it was over their heads, so we agreed to do a Kickstarter campaign to help them with the costs, which happily exceeded expectations.

Tobocman: I'm glad that there is an anniversary anthology, but I'm even more glad that there is an anniversary. For me, the magazine is what matters. I am glad it's still coming out.

An answer to a question you really didn't ask, "What matters to me about this?" -- it isn't the anthology or even the magazine or any of my own artwork. What matters is that I see a lot of young cartoonists now using comics in a way that was very rare thirty years ago. To talk about social change in a very practical and direct way. So this is a new language, now spoken by many people but once spoken only by a few. So I think this magazine has been part of bringing that language into existence. I think we did that. I hope it has a positive effect.

Peter, you have another book coming out from PM Press at the same time. People might remember "The System" which came out from Vertigo in the nineties as part of their short-lived Vertigo Verite sub-imprint.

Kuper: "The System" was a remarkable fluke. Vertigo hired an editor named Lou Stathis and encouraged him to bring in new and different projects. I had worked with him for years at every other magazine he'd been with and he asked if I had any ideas. "The System" had been percolating for about 8 years and it flew. I was really trying to push the boundaries of the form, so I did the whole book in stencils and spray paint (a medium that Seth first introduced me to), chose real-world themes and made it wordless. I wanted people who assumed comics -- especially coming from a mainstream publisher -- had to have word balloons and be in a certain style, would be forced to reconsider their assumptions. Right after it was published, sad to say, Lou died and the door on Vertigo slammed shut again. This is among my favorite projects and I was distressed that it had been out of print for 15 years so many people had never seen it. PM was up for not only getting it back in print, but also doing it as a larger hardcover that I redesigned. By the way, "The System" was the work that "MAD Magazine" saw that led them to ask me to try out for "Spy vs. Spy," which I've now done for 17 years.

Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page




Gabriel San Roman Remembers Víctor Jara, the Man and the Movement

By Gabriel San Román
OC Weekly
May 15th, 2014

gabriel1.jpg
 
Gabriel San Roman with Victor Jara painting
[Editor's Note: This week's edition of Locals Only is the preface of Venceremos: Víctor Jara and the New Chilean Song Movement, a new booklet available from PM Press; pmpress.org. It is republished with the permission of the author and publisher, veteran Weekling Gabriel San Roman]

Víctor Jara's "Manifiesto," the definitive song of La Nueva Canción Chilena, served as background music during the episode of CNN's Cold War series titled "Backyard," in which his widow, Joan Jara, was interviewed about her folk singer husband's murder at the hands of General Augusto Pinochet's forces. As a youthful teenager learning about the world, this segment on Chile and U.S. intervention during the latter half of the 20th century piqued my already-budding interest in politics and history. The basic history of the Sept. 11, 1973, coup that toppled the democratically elected socialist presidency of Salvador Allende in Chile had already been known to me, but it was the series, oddly enough, that first introduced me to the music of Víctor Jara.

The sonorous melodies were as captivating as the lyrics were pensive. Who was this Chilean folk singer? What was it about his idealism, life and music that had him meet the tragic fate of a political martyr? As I sought out those answers as both a lover of good music and radical politics, I also eventually discovered Violeta Parra, Quilapayún, Inti-Illimani and all the superb musicians who formed the foundation of the historic cultural movement known as La Nueva Canción Chilena. Later, academic research and my life in journalism allowed me to delve deeper into this profound musical world.

This brief history of Chile's New Song movement examines its rise as a distinct cultural phenomenon that became a concurrent component of a political revolution, with a particular emphasis on the lyrical content, themes and musical forms of the era's songs as they morphed through their own particular history, as well as the politically tumultuous times in Chile that helped to shape them.

History does not exist solely for the purposes of reflective gazes into the past. The lessons of Chile's New Song movement remain relevant to our world today. Currently, three major record-label corporations--Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group--control an overwhelming majority of music distributed worldwide. As increasing consolidation takes its toll on creativity and political expression, the historical example of DICAP, La Nueva Canción Chilena's alternative record label, is ever more urgent as a cultural, political means of organization no matter what leftist political persuasion or preferred musical genre.

South American countries still have radio stations under similar circumstances that Chilean musicians described decades ago within the framework of colonization. Under the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, the Ley de Responsabilidad Social en Radio y Televisión (RESORTE) opened up the country's frequencies to more Venezuelan music, requiring DJs to dedicate half of their playlists to national contemporary and folkloric artists. Just as in Chile during the 1960s, record company colonization permeated the airwaves with rock bands and other music from the United States.

And then there is, of course, the lasting legacy of New Song singers such as Víctor Jara who continue to inspire successive generations of activists and musicians alike, including this author. "I think he is an example who gives young people a motivation and courage to not be content with the world as it is today, but to think that they can actually produce a difference to make a better world," Joan Jara said to me of her late husband. "Victor somehow goes on living in that sense today."


Buy “Venceremos”: Víctor Jara and the New Chilean Song Movement now | Buy “Venceremos”: Víctor Jara and the New Chilean Song Movement e-Book now | Back to Gabriel San Román's Author Page




The Cost of Lunch, Etc.: A Review in Swans Commentary

By Paul Buhle
Swans Commentary
May 4th, 2014

A Writer On Her Own Path


Many of Marge Piercy's readers have been following her assorted writings across the span of their adult lives. We were young with her in the later 1960s and have snapped up, poked through, or otherwise taken note of her volumes ever since. So the notion that this new volume is a "debut collection" strikes an odd note. Then again, novelist and poet Piercy has not been doing much in the short-story vein all these decades. At points, The Cost of Lunch more than makes up for the lapse.

This is a tough book, not by sentence structure or fancy words, but "tough" in the sense that her protagonists yield no ground, reject men after awhile, and deal sharply with women who are hopelessly male-oriented. Piercy's favorite women are Piercy Women. And they are unforgiving.

Taking the last title as more than metaphor, How to Seduce A Feminist (or Not), we learn that strong-minded women like sex well enough, and intellectual company too, but what sets their nerves on end is the assumptions that men make almost constantly. They assume women are ready for a relationship -- at least a one-nighter -- on a moment's notice and men's terms, they assume women are actually interested in hearing what they have to say, and they assume that politically, mentally, and so on, women are just about the same as each other. Big mistakes.

This story unnerves me slightly because the would-be seducer has an academic job in Madison, Wisconsin. Did I see him on the streets or in a coffee shop? He has the hots for our Chicagoan.

He's cute, he seems to have become a literary success -- as if this were a turn-on -- and he had some kind of relationship with the feminist of the title in the high days of The Movement (suddenly, that sounds like a long time ago). Now she wants him out of the apartment and out of her life. Actually, How to Seduce has several other shorter vignettes and one even turns out as happily as any in this book, "she is happy she met him," because he is the rare considerate type. This would mark the fellow in question a happy exception.

Marge Piercy is so good at exploring details, whether apartments, relatives, or friends and sex partners, that such generalizations are risky. We turn from stories set in Chicago in 1960 or 1970 to the Boston area decades later, marking Piercy's own locations. Some are political only in the once-familiar sense that the Personal Is Political. Others are deeply political in the old way, young men in the later 1960s on the run from Selective Service, needing all the assistance they can get, at risk to whoever helps them. All the protagonists are women, and the careful reader will discover that as much as they differ, nearly all have a bit of Marge in them and many quite a bit more.

I am inclined toward the protagonist fiction-writer or poet because, after all, this is as close to Marge as we are going to get in fiction. Her writers seem to enjoy the work, being alone at the tasks of inventing characters and scenes, giving readings, and life is easier when they acquire the self-confidence to become their successful selves, mining personal experience along with memories and social and environmental observations for material and insights. It never becomes clear that company, the company of a man, the involvements of family or any others, are quite so welcome. Now and then a touch of Jewish continuity sneaks in, providing a different kind of continuity; now and then a political moment reminds us of past engagements, but mostly is a writer on her own path, making new discoveries, inviting us to join her.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Marge Piercy's Author Page



‘The Living Spirit of Revolt: the Infrapolitics of Anarchism’: Book Review

by John L Murphy
Slugger O’toole
May 4th, 2014

How can anarchism get beyond marginalized impacts, finicky theorists, and squabbling activists? A Slovenian political scientist, Žiga Vodovnik, offers suggestions forward. This concise survey occupies a space, if pre-Occupy (despite a 2013 copyright for the English translation this offers no updates but the late Howard Zinn, who died in 2010, provides an encouraging introduction), where an overview of anarchism’s philosophies and history segues into a connection to not only Continental and British thinkers, but its overlooked, attenuated American Transcendental roots.

For, Vodovnik argues that–given this idea itself did not fully emerge until the late 19th century–the counterculture of the 1960s revived it looking back not to Godwin, Bakunin, or Benjamin Tucker so much as Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. They ally in their attitude against ‘foolish consistency’ for an approach allowing contradictions to advance equality (as does socialism) along with freedom (as does liberalism).

Vodovnik supports a flexible nature for anarchism. He grounds it in the ‘absence of a leader or ruler’ as its meaning, and its anti-authoritarian ethos rather than one that avoids any authority. This key distinction aligns with Dave Neal’s ‘small-a’ methodology rather than a ‘capital-A’ ideology insisting on no overarching plan. As many motivators cited here agree, the spark lies in the ‘infrapolitics’ where ‘seemingly non-political’ or hidden forces seek to undermine unjustly imposed and unfairly distributed power structures, where the majority lack viable options to pursue opportunities to enrich self-fulfillment.

Vodovnik sides with an anti-statist and civil disobedience- charged resistance. Hakim Bey’s ‘Temporary Autonomous Zones’ (TAZ) offer one model where a ‘tendency for actualization of theory’ meets the personal space opened, if for a while, for a ‘liberated zone’ and ‘political laboratory’ that allows real progress ‘outside the boundaries of commodification or spectacle’.

This encouragingly commonsensical attitude links anarchists by name with many more who enter part or all of its many fluid channels, while flowing into, as historian Peter Marshall sees it, a common river.

David Graeber’s post-ideology of Direct Action is here linked to Oaxaca in 2005 and Seattle in 1999, but while this book unfortunately was not updated for Occupy Wall Street and the anti-austerity EU or Tahrir Square protests recently, that anthropologist’s aspiration ‘to reinvent daily life as a whole’ remains relevant. Zinn’s pragmatic revolutionary reform that pushes progress within systems as well as undermining unjust control may be more realistic, Vodovnik suggests. Instead of street theatre or fervent factionalism, fitting this stereotyped strategy into its many vibrant and changing forms appears more practical. There’s some slow spots given this is written by a professor, one wonders how pop culture applies to foster anarchism, and more clarification of how the ‘young Marx’ offered a more liberating version of labor as self-identity could have helped a non-specialist. But, despite a few clunky parts perhaps in translation, this is welcome.

In closing, this handy guide stands in the space between brief pamphlets or Colin Ward’s Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction in Oxford UP’s series and Marshall’s magisterial Demanding the Impossible. PM Press published many of the inquiring texts quoted here, and adding Žiga Vodovnik’s compact treatment will guide the reader to many more books, and even better, piers from which to leap into an arguably the last remaining viable revolutionary current, this free river of human longing.

Buy A Living Spirit of Revolt now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Žiga Vodovnik's Author Page




Barred for Life! Interview with Stewart Dean Ebersole on SourPuss

By Ginger
Sourpuss Clothing
March 28th, 2014

I remember meeting Stewart when I worked selling Vespas in Philadelphia. His stories about traveling to Italy, art, and music drew me in and I forced him to become my friend and then co-worker. If you have never met Stewart, the first thing you will notice is how tall he is and what a warm and friendly personality he has. I am glad he could take time out of his schedule to answer some questions so you might get to know him a little better and purchase his outstanding book Barred For Life.


Can you tell me a little about yourself, like where are you from? How old are you? Etc...?

Well, yes. My name is Stewart Dean Ebersole. My dad and I share the same name, but he doesn't like using Stewart, so I don't have to use Jr. or "the second" or anything like that. I just turned 47 last month. As for the background, I've lived a lot of places. Was born in York, PA, moved to Newark, DE, for college, then moved to Philadelphia for grad school, then moved to Cincinnati, OH, to finish grad school. After finishing school I moved to Philadelphia again, and then out to Exton (on the Mainline) for my first teaching job. After leaving teaching I moved back to Philadelphia for about five years, and most recently moved to upstate New York for a new job as a Marine Geologist. I lived a few summers in Italy, but I wouldn't say that I ever actually "lived" there. So that is it. In all, I probably lived in almost 40 different houses and apartments.


What are the top 5 most played songs on your iPod?

I know that this is going to make me out to be a bit of an old-head, but I don't have an iPod. That said, I do have some things on heavy rotation on Spotify, but not all of it is exactly up-to-date, and mostly I listen to entire albums, so that is what I am going to lay out. 1) Misfits; Earth AD/Wolf's Blood is one that I return to a lot. In my opinion, that album captures the pure evil that the Misfits lack in some of their more comedic releases. 2) Stereolab; Space Age Bachelor Pad Music. Love that album. All of it. 3) Cat Power; What Would the Community Think. A keystone album in the "music to slit your wrists to" genera. 4) My Bloody Valentine; Loveless. Not sure I need to qualify as to why I listen to this album over and over for days on end. It is a strange love affair that I have with MBV, and it has something to do with the fact that I have some favorite songs on this album, but in many ways all of the songs sound like one long song on this album. 5) Lungfish; Sounds in Time. I LOVE LUNGFISH. If I were stranded on a desert island and forced to pick one person to stay there with me and talk to me about human origins, outer-space and religious epiphanies, it would have to be Dan Higgs; Lungfish's most fantastical frontman

Is Black Flag your favorite band? If not who is?

Absolutely not. I really liked Black Flag in the early 80's, and knew most of their songs by heart. I could sing just about every song on Jealous Again and Damaged. I could even sing most of My War Side A, and a few from Slip It In... From that point on I didn't like Black Flag at all, and spent a lot of time actively avoiding their music until they broke up. I passed up about 5 opportunities to see them play. They were just that big of a disappointment to me.

Who is my favorite band..? Well, technically, I've always loved DEVO, but slightly more recently I'd say Lungfish. Most recently, I don't really have a favorite. I just listen to a lot of music these days that transcend "now," so saying I have favorites is admitting that most of my favorite bands broke up when I was still in my early 30's.
 

When did you get your first tattoo and what was it?

My first tattoo was my Straight Edge tattoo. I got that in 1987 I believe. I was so scared to go into the tattoo shop to ask the crazy biker guy to give me a Straight Edge tattoo, but he did. Then, I found out that he was sober. He had no idea what Straight Edge was, and I had no idea that you could stop drinking after years of being an alcoholic, so we bonded over that.

Do you have a favorite tattoo artist now that you go to?

I don't have favorite tattoo artists, but I have some friends who I go to for my work. Mike Dorsey in Cincinnati Ohio is my go-to guy for tattoos. Naomi Fuller out in Columbus Ohio is my next in line. I am currently looking for somebody local that I've known for a long time to start on my left arm, but I don't have any leads yet. I am not the kind of person to walk into a shop and just ask for a tattoo. That seems way too impersonal to me. Since this stuff is going to be on my skin for the rest of my life, I want somebody tattooing me that will take some blame if it looks like shit. Seriously, if I just walk into some random shop and get a bad tattoo, that is my own fault. A little planning people...!

Is this the first book you have written?

It is the first documentary that I've written. Before this I wrote a 250 page master's thesis about the Late Permian Mass Extinction. It is a thrilling read.

What inspired you to write it?


As an Aquarius, I am constantly keeping my social calendar filled with art projects. I had just finished a 5 year run doing some fine art stuff, then some graffiti stuff, then some guerilla art stuff and some "outsider" art collective stuff, and needed to focus some attention on things that I felt were more historically important to me. The whole Punk Rock thing was "that" thing. I had gotten a Black Flag tattoo back in 1988, and I was seeing more and more of them surfacing in the mid 2000's, and one day I was sitting at a tattoo shop in Ohio with about five friends, all of whom had the Black Flag bars tattooed on them, and I was confident that doing a documentary about this image was my next big artistic endeavor. At first I thought that I could probably do what I needed to do to document the image in a year or so, but six years later is when the book finally hit the shelves. It became such an all-consuming thing that it was a lot like having a full time, non-paying, sort of job. After a year of going door-to-door and shooting portraits of one or two people at a time, I organized the tour in 09, quit my job, and traveled around the US and Europe in trains, planes, and automobiles for 3 months to get the story. It really was the craziest (in a good way) thing that I'd done in my entire life.

Had you always wanted to write this book?

No. I don't think that I ever thought that I'd write a book (or shoot photos and write a book) until I decided to write it in like 2006. Before that I would have been content painting and showing my paintings every now and again. I would have been happy just to show them and not sell them. Then, like an oops pregnancy, this idea came to me. At that moment I knew that I had to do it. It was such an oddball idea that it had to be sent to me straight from a loving, caring, dead relative.

Had you met Black Flag before you started the book?

Nope. It is very important to remember that this band broke up in 1986. They were very, very, very important to ALL Punk Rockers, but by 2006 there wasn't much chatter about them, except for that time that Nirvana mentioned them in a Rolling Stone interview as being a huge influence on their music. When I first started the doing research for the book in 2006 I had no intention to meet the people in the band and interview them because this was a book about a cultural phenomenon, not really one about Black Flag as a band. Somehow, though, I just kept meeting people that knew Dez Cadena around 2007, and when one of them asked me if I'd like to interview him, um, I said yes. Dez has the bars tattooed on him, so I figured that I could get away with having him tucked away in the book with all of the other people that have the same tattoo, but then, all of a sudden, an altogether new chunk of the book began developing.

Ron Reyes, also called Chavo Pederast on Jealous Again, was my Punk Rock hero in 1983. I made it a sort of goal to get him to agree to an interview, which happened after meeting a woman from Vancouver that knew where he worked. I began sending letters to his work, until eventually I scored his email address. He was rumored to have moved to Puerto Rico a few years after quitting Black Flag, but that turned out to be a bunch of crap. He was living in Vancouver, BC, and I worked my ass off to get him to give his first interview about his years in Black Flag since quitting the band in 1981. While on tour 2009, I think that he declined about four times. Then, one day while sitting at a small cafe in Bozeman, Montana, I got an email agreeing to meet at the Vancouver photo shoot for an interview. That one moment in time was life changing. It totally changed the character of the book I was imagining in my head. Now, instead of just being people with Black Flag tattoos, the book was going to have interviews with as many former Black Flag members as I could round up and talk to. It was a game changer, as they say.

How long did it take you to write?

Too long. From the first photo shoot in 2007 until the finished product arrived on my mom's doorstep was almost 6 and a half years. I made it through college and two years of graduate school in that same amount of time. Nothing should take six years to complete, really.

Do you have a favorite photo or story in it? if so which one?

The whole book is my favorite story. I have some favorite photos and interviews in it, but I find the whole book to be a total hoot. Barred For Life was one of those things that appeared like magic. I took the idea seriously and began doing some poking and prodding of friends to see if it were a good idea. Then I did some research. Then I did some preliminary writing and layout.

At every moment I couldn't believe that this wonderful topic had fallen into my skull. Usually I have bid ideas for things, but on this one I had no idea. It was an idea that fell out of the sky and landed on my lap. If I had decided not to do it, well, so be it. Nobody would have cared one way or another. However, I decided to do it, and as a result I busted myths, learned a lot, met thousands of amazing people all over the world who share a collective passion for Punk Rock and Alternative Culture, and met some of my Punk Rock heroes from 20 years past.

One of my favorite moments was, while on tour, we were invited to Chuck Dukowski's house for an interview. After being fired from Black Flag by Greg Ginn, Chuck stayed on to manage Black Flag. He was part owner of SST, so he had a vested interest. At some point Ginn moved SST to Texas and cut Chuck out of equation and off the payroll. Ginn is a true American dick in my eyes because he doubly fucked his most ardent supporter, Chuck Dukowski. Anyway, Chuck was very cautious about letting us come to his home and interview him. While we were on our way to Venice Beach that evening, Chuck called me to tell me that he changed his mind, and that we should not come over. Then, five minutes later he called me again and asked me who I was working for..? He seriously thought that Greg Ginn had put me up to interviewing him. I told him that this was all on my dime, and so he reluctantly agreed. We arrived at around 9pm. He invited us into his home. His wife brought us drinks and his kids were super excited to see their father talking about being in Black Flag. It turned out to be one of the most amazing moments of the tour, and the photos we shot of him were just so emotional. This very thoughtful and intense man just smiled a lot and did the robot while I was photographing him. So, yes, I'd say that is my favorite story from the tour, at least.

Is there any photo or story you left out and regret not putting it in?

Yes and no. On the one hand, I have zero regrets about the final product. In my estimation, it is one of the most thorough books on the topic of fandom in Punk Rock, and I did my job well. On the other hand, there is a kid that I let remain in the book despite him super fucking me while we were in California. I won't mention him by name, but we shot him in a squat in Brooklyn very early on in the evolution of the book. He moved back to his home of San Francisco, and while shooting photos there in 2009 he showed up at the shoot. He mentioned to me that he was in school for videography, and I asked him if he wanted to video the interviews that we were doing in California with Chuck Dukowski, Kira Roessler, and Keith Morris. He was super into it, and he asked if I would pay his way to LA. I agreed. A few days later I pick him and his equipment up at the LA train station, and we set about doing our interviews.

I was sooooo stoked to have this all on video, just in case I wanted to put the interviews on line or whatever. We complete all of the interviews and he tells me that he doesn't want to give me the master copies (which I paid for), but would process the video and send me DVD copies. I send him back to San Fran a few days later with a handshake promise of getting the interviews inside a few weeks.

I get home from tour in January of 2010 and no DVD copies are to be found. This individual now stops answering my emails and phone calls, and I don't hear from him for months. Chuck Dukowski is worried because I agreed that his interview would never be posted anywhere without his permission, and I am not sure what the video-kid is going to do with the interviews.

Anyway, about a year later I get this emotional email from video-kid about how he has been going crazy and doing drugs, and he is not sure what he is doing with his life, and that he will send me the original copies of the interviews immediately. I tell him that it is cool and that I will pay for the shipping if he wants. He says no, and then goes on to tell me that I should hate him, but I don't feel that way. A week goes by. Then a month goes by. Then another month goes by. I get nothing from him. I decide that I no longer give a fuck about the video nor video kid, and resort to the recording s that I took on a tiny hand-held audio recorder of each interview, and I use this little device to do my transcriptions. I cannot see the mouths of the interviewees move, so I don't know if I got some words right, but I did the best that I could. And, that is my story. I don't hate video kid, but if I ever see him again I may nut-punch him for being such a sketchy dick-for-brains. I still have no idea what became of those recordings.

Who funded your trips to get interviews and photographs?

Hmmm, that is a tough question to answer. Overall, I used my savings to do everything. When my savings wasn't being consumed by rental cars and gasoline, a number of fund raisers were held to benefit the tour back in the summer of 2009. In that way, a lot of people contributed, but I estimate that I used almost 8,000 dollars of my own money to finish Barred For Life.

That, one might say, is a lot of money. But the one thing that gives me a little bit of comfort is that I spread that debt over 6 years (at least I like to tell myself that), so it amounts to a bit over a thousand dollars a year. I spend a thousand dollars a year on my iced tea obsession, and I spend way more than that on gasoline each year, so that isn't so bad, right..?

What have you been doing since it was printed?

When the book arrived at my apartment, I was working as a Marine Geologist for a little bit over one year. I studied to be a Geologist in college, so it isn't so strange that I was working as a Geologist, though people always think that it is strange that a geeky scientist wrote a book about Punk Rock and Black Flag tattoos.

Do you have any other books in your future?

I sure hope so. I have a very amazing publisher in PM Press, and they have encouraged me to do another book at some point. I still haven't exhausted my promotion of Barred For Life, so I will think about another book when I feel like I've come to the end of pushing BFL. The one thing that I do know is that I will not do another book on Punk Rock or Black Flag. I don't like re-covering ground I've already covered, so it will likely be a book about something else that really and profoundly influenced my life.

Anything else you would like to add?


Well, first off, if you haven't bought/read Barred For Life then I encourage you to do so immediately. Buy the book from anybody but Amazon, who really undercuts your local online and retail stores. Secondly, if you are reading this and ever thought of doing something that every person (besides your inner voice) tells you is only going to lead you down a long and winding road to getting angry; Fuck'em. If I would have based my decision to do Barred For Life on my friends reactions I would have quit before the first photo shoot. When I was pulling hundreds of dollars from the ATM to feed my crew and put gas in my car driving all over the place to shoot photos of kids with Black Flag tattoos, and my girlfriend was telling me that I was throwing my money away, I could have thrown in the towel. Well, she's no longer in my life, but I released a rather amazing book for my efforts. I don't have to tell people that doing what seems to be against the grain will generally bring you the most satisfaction. Abraham Lincoln did not have a lot of supporters when he issued his Emancipation Proclamation, but that is Abraham Lincoln's most important contribution to our civilization. Shit just works out like that. If your idea helps people, then even better. Just stay focused and fuck every voice that tried to break your focus. That said, just make sure that you finish it if you start it, okay..?

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Stewart Dean Ebersole's Author Page




Towards Collective Liberation reviewed in Interface Journal

by Lesley Wood
Interface: a journal for and about social movements
Volume 5
November 2013

In her piece, “Love as the Practice of Freedom", U.S.-based writer bell hooks (1994, 244) argues, “until we are all able to accept the interlocking, interdependent nature of systems of domination and recognize specific ways each system is maintained, we will continue to act in ways that undermine our individual quest for freedom and collective liberation struggle.” In Chris Crass’s new book, he works to show how our movements can understand and counter such internalized and systemic oppressive systems and can move toward these goals of freedom and collective liberation.

The book isn’t a roadmap. Indeed, it is a set of stories and essays of attempts, disasters, and victories of twenty years of organizing in the U.S. within projects including Food not Bombs, the global justice movement, feminist collectives, anti-racist, and queer campaigns. It argues that to organize more effective, revolutionary movements, those of us who are most privileged by the system in terms of our race, class, gender, sexuality or ability need to listen better, to be more humble, and will need to prove ourselves worthy of the trust of organizers from more marginalized communities. But unlike some discussions of the ways that privilege and power operate in movements, Crass’ book doesn’t keep the argument at the level of ethics, but instead grounds it in a reading of history that says that the most transformative, sustainable movements are those that are grounded in the experience of marginalized communities. Crass argues that without keeping this analysis of power and praxis central to our work, organizers that are white, male, cis, straight and able-bodied will be likely to re-enact hierarchical and oppressive relationships, taking us further from the goal of building the relationships necessary for a more democratic, socialist society.

This book is divided into distinct sections, each with a number of pieces ordered roughly chronologically. It begins with a broad agenda--building an anarchist left. The theme of the second section is anti-racist feminist practice, which includes widely read pieces like “Against Patriarchy: Tools for Men to Help Further Feminist Revolution.” This is followed up with a section called; “Because good ideas are not enough: Lessons for vision-based, strategic, liberation organizing praxis,’ with pieces on leadership and the U.S. civil rights movement. The fourth section is described as “collective wisdom” and it brings together lessons from five different and diverse anti-racist organizing projects through interviews and essays.

While a few of the pieces in the collection were previously distributed on the Colors of Resistance listserv and website, and through a collection of essays put out by Kersplebedeb distribution, bringing them together and framing them so cogently gives them additional power. It is Crass’ book, but he is at pains to emphasize that both the book and the organizing behind it are part of an ongoing collective effort to make more strategic, transformative movements.

The first pages of the book are jam packed with a who’s who of endorsements by some of today’s most skilled organizers in the U.S., and the book itself contains many voices, including a forward by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Red Dirt Woman and The Great Sioux Nation: Oral History of the Sioux-United States Treaty of l868; an introduction by Chris Dixon, author of a forthcoming book on anarchist organizers, and the interviews with five different anti-racist organizing projects.

Personally, this is a book I’ve waited a long time for. Crass is a white U.S. anarchist who became politically active in the 1990s via suburban punk rock.The book articulates the evolution of an anarchist politics that some of us came to in the 1990s and 2000s, out of a recognition that hierarchy couldn’t be reduced to race, class, gender and sexuality. It is a politics that took into account the idea that the personal was political, and the feeling that large, ritualized protests were not creating a more just and fulfilling world. While such anarchist work is widespread in a wide range of contemporary organizing, including immigrant rights, Occupy, police brutality, and student movements--it is more visible in workshops than in publications. Crass puts this ‘small a’ anarchist approach into historical context.

This is not just a book for anarchists, and indeed many anarchists won’t see themselves within it. But it is a book for those interested in the challenges and gifts of grassroots organizing, whether they see themselves as communists, anarchists, revolutionary sovereigntists, feminists, queer activists--or some combination of the above. Indeed, he’s been certified by some of the most powerful grassroots organizers in the U.S. today.

This book is meant for those engaged in, wanting to be engaged in, or burned out from being engaged in, deep, transformative social justice work. It should be read and discussed by organizers interested in building multi-racial, anti-capitalist, feminist movements. It is written from the perspective of white organizers in a U.S. context, and will be particularly relatable for audiences sharing that space and identity. However, it offers accessible, strategic thinking about the intersection of different forms of inequality and the dynamics of alliance building that should offer insight to those in other contexts and positions.

Rich with stories that will make you laugh and groan, it is full of solid, earnest, loving advice that will push you to think more strategically and patiently about the work that social justice requires. Unlike some discussions of organizing, Crass doesn’t suggest that this work will be easy. He recounts the stories of awkward meetings, angry confrontations and bad strategy. He clearly shows us why challenging power inequalities within our organizing can be far more emotionally draining than occupying a government office or marching on Washington. Nonetheless, Crass concludes with a hopeful essay entitled, “We can do this.” He doesn’t want our movements to get stuck, to get depressed and for our activists to eat each other, and the next generation of organizers, alive.

He tackles the tendency for organizers, activists and radical academics to spend much of our time critiquing our movements and our politics. Crass rightly points out that while critique is a crucial part of rethinking and rebuilding existing practices, the trap of right/wrong, solid/fucked up can trap us, steal our energy, and stop us from thinking creatively and strategically for the long haul. Instead he suggests that in order to be strategic, and to keep our momentum up, we need to combine critical reflexivity with a focus on the opportunities and assets we have, and work to build a just world.

Towards Collective Liberation
is the sort of book you want to hand to your comrades and friends, read passages from, and head into the streets. With a book like this, it feels like yes indeed, we can do this.

References
Hooks, bell. 1994. Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations.
New York City: Routledge.

About the review author Lesley Wood is an organizer and scholar in Toronto, Canada.

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

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




Spray Paint the Walls: A Political Media Review

By Simon Czerwinskyj
Political Media Review
April 2nd, 2013

The attempt to placate unruly youth inevitably molders into attempts to oppress unruly youth. Southern California in the late ’70s was all soft rock, cowboy fashion, and an extreme distaste for any blemishes in the sprawling whitewashed suburbs beyond Los Angeles. Hardcore punk was a perfectly placed kick to the teeth of all the authoritarian squares on the lookout for cultural aberrations to white out or erase. And Black Flag was the quintessential exemplar of everything the straight world feared; these disheveled, uncouth punkers lived by their own rules.

Stevie Chick has created a whirling dervish of a book (PM Press, 2011) in chronicling Black Flag’s rise and eventual flame out. Giving a rich background to the cultural and hereditary traits that informed the Flag members as individuals (vocalist Dez Cadena’s father was an accomplished jazz promoter, guitarist Greg Ginn came from eccentric, bohemian, and extremely frugal stock), Chick constructs a story that illustrates how these misfits really had no choice but to fall together into the vibrant mess that was Black Flag.

The linchpin of this tightly wound mess was Greg Ginn. An insular kid living in Hermosa Beach who had his own electronics company (Solid State Transmitters) and a real appetite for music. Upon entering UCLA, Ginn had access to the university’s record library, and he absorbed all the jazz, country, classical, and blues records available, eventually using this varied musical base to unleash unmitigated sonic hell by way of his guitar.

Chick’s detailed rendering of all the individuals who eventually joined the first incarnation of Black Flag smartly illustrates how these self-made men (and woman) would eventually create the archetype for hardcore. These individuals were out of their time, culturally, but always thoroughly American. Self-starters who refused to bend to the authorities and communities attempting to suppress and wipe out their single-minded free expression, Black Flag’s anarchy was fueled by — though the squares that despised them would deny it — an extremely American confidence and work ethic.

Keith Morris – Black Flag’s first vocalist — was an artistically inclined kid that saw the path laid out for him (taking over his father’s bait & tackle shop) as wholly unsatisfying. Gary McDaniel (aka Chuck Dukowski), the Flag’s quintessential bassist, was the resident philosopher and intellectual, never letting the media tag the nihilistic punk rock stereotype on him or the group. And Robo, the mysterious illegal immigrant, trying to make good with his newfound home. And of course Henry Rollins, Flag’s longest running and trademark vocalist, an independent freethinker if there ever was one. Raised with a military mind-set, Rollins work ethic was rivaled only by Ginn’s, who couldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to practice 8 hours a day.

Greg Ginn’s singular, one could even say obsessive or megalomaniacal, vision led to a real pioneer spirit. The regular joes that surrounded Black Flag in Hermosa Beach wanted them gone, erased, to the point that police surveillance and constant harassment eventually drove the band out of town. Now, what true, red-blooded American movement hasn’t been harassed by the powers that be? In a vague echo of COINTELPRO, the police would bust into concerts and try to shut them down, and then blame the resulting clashes on “punk rock violence”.

While the initial stages of the Black Flag story are brilliant flashes of light, it seems as though the final stages were a dull, flickering, single bulb. After carving out touring routes that hadn’t previously exist and amping up punk rock to create a template for hardcore, the group “matured.” Ginn’s laser focus on musical intricacy and perfection resulted in a disdain for personal relationships. As Rollins entered the band as their fourth vocalist, Ginn sent other Flag soldiers packing. Founding bassist Dukowski was vibed out of the band for supposedly not living up to Ginn’s perfectionism. Robo was stranded in Europe with immigration problems.

The line-up of Bill Stevenson on drums, Kira Roessler on bass, and remaining veterans Rollins and Ginn slogged it out for a few more years, till the rhythm section was also pushed out by Ginn’s finicky obsession. The band puttered to a stop with a replacement rhythm section, Rollins eventually being informed by phone that Black Flag was done.

Chick does a great job of conveying the wild energy and desperation that formed the cultural whirlwind of the mighty Black Flag. Their legacy is undeniable and the early recordings will always be incendiary, immediate, and revolutionary. Spray Paint The Walls is passionate and invested, a true fan’s testament to a ragtag band that refused to die in the face of the protestations and physical threats of straight society’s henchmen.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to author homepage




Catastrophism in Science & Society

by David Laibman
Science & Society
Volume 78, No. 2
April 2014

Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, by Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen, and James Davis. Foreword by Doug Hen- wood. Oakland, California: pM press, 2012. paper, $16.00. pp. xv, 163.

This short volume is an exemplary contribution to the growth of a mature, self-reflective left. It consists of four chapters, one by each of the co-authors of the volume; an introduction by Sasha Lilley; and Doug Henwood’s fore- word. in the introduction we are told that the book “evolved out of many conversations within the retort Collective . . .”, described as “providing radi- cal antinomian comradeship, but eschewing any party lines or set positions” (13). its central message is for the left: catastrophism — the assumption that society is headed for total collapse — is bad analysis and leads to ineffective politics.

Eddie Yuen’s essay, “The politics of Failure Have Failed: The Environ- mental Movement and Catastrophism” (chapter 1) examines the catastrophic side of ecological thinking, citing the avalanche of recent writing on carbon emissions, global warming, tipping points, deforestation, resource wars, tens of millions of climate refugees, etc., all pointing to some sort of collapse of civilization itself, and calling into question the possibility of any political solution, i.e., of a social organization beyond capitalism that might achieve sustainable human development. He argues, persuasively i believe, that “an undifferentiated narrative of environmental doom is disempowering and encourages feelings of helplessness. . . . The fear elicited by catastrophism disables the left but benefits the right and capital” (21, 41–2). a reoriented radical environmental movement, rooted in networks of communities, can- not wait for capitalism to implode, and for this activism to emerge “it is vital that a movement offer something positive to go with the cold porridge of climate catastrophe” (43).

Chapter 2, “Great Chaos Under Heaven: Catastrophism and the Left,” is by Sasha Lilley, and presents the book’s core argument. it surveys the “two major traditions of the radical left in the Global North, Marxism and anarchism” (45), reviewing formulations from Marx and Engels, Kautsky, Luxemburg, Lenin, Gramsci, r. palme Dutt, C. L. r. James, Henryk Grossman, anton pannekoek, immanuel Wallerstein, and many others. The idea “the worse, the better” is subjected to a thorough critique. Lilley shows that Marx and Engels had com- plex views on this; while some passages suggest that crisis produces revolt, and general crisis produces revolution, others see political opposition movements as emerging from organizational victories and maturation of consciousness. Historical evidence suggests that, with the possible exception of war, moments of crisis in societies have not been associated with progressive outcomes. The idea of fomenting radical change by deliberately instigating chaos is traced in the writings of various anarchists and anti-state communists, and found wanting. Lilley concludes that the “determinist–voluntarist dyad” driving left catastrophism must be transcended. She writes:

No amount of fire and brimstone can substitute for the often-protracted, difficult, and frequently unrewarding work of building radical mass movements, even under situations of the utmost urgency. When they deploy catastrophic rhetoric, radicals overlook the diminishing returns and distorting effects it has on the forms of organiz- ing it does manage to inspire. . . . if we are committed to the demise of capitalism, we should steer well clear of catastrophism. (76.)

The third chapter, “at War with the Future: Catastrophism and the right,” by James Davis, shifts the focus to the political right. Here we en- counter “catastrophe as cure,” in the form of religious millennialism and the rapture, along with the related view that associates catastrophe with progress, tracing all manner of evils back to the French revolution, for example. “Dis- ease catastrophism” takes many forms, all of which however involve the virus of equality and democracy and modernity infecting a once-proud European and Christian civilization and dragging it down to disaster. “Much as the communist threat provided a useful ideological rudder to the militarized economy during the Cold War, so the fantasy of the islamization of Europe, guided by a liberal elite of politicians, intellectuals, and bureaucrats in con- spiratorial league with their islamic comrades ticks a number of important boxes for the contemporary right” (93). Davis is clear: “Catastrophism is a less ambivalent strategy for the right than for its adversaries on the left” (106). The description here is useful, but this chapter has a less pointed message for the book’s audience than do the preceding two chapters.

The final chapter, by David McNally, “Land of the Living Dead: Capital- ism and the Catastrophes of Everyday Life,” is a wonderful foray into the literary and cinematic world of monsters, focusing on Dr. Frankenstein’s creation and on zombies. These latter, originating in West africa, entered into american consciousness through the influential 1929 book by William Seabrook, The Magic Island, about modern Haiti. There “zombies . . . acquired their unique meaning as the animated dead, mere flesh and bones toiling on behalf of others” (115). The legends took on force during the U. S. occupa- tion of Haiti, when marines terrorized the local population into the status of forced laborers engaged in road-building and other construction.

Zombies, as “crazed consumers and lifeless laborers,” became a cultural artefact that mirrors the conditions of exploited and dominated people, in all periods of 20th-century U. S. capital accumulation. This radical reading of the monster genre can help us “to uncover the social basis of all that is truly horrifying and catastrophic about our world, as part of a critical theory and practice designed to change it” (127). McNally’s use of “catastrophic” in an everyday or micro sense appears as a rather forced effort to integrate this chapter into the overall project of the book; the chapter is highly entertaining and informative, even if this integrative effort is judged to fall a bit short.

Returning to the book’s main theme: one can only second the authors’ call for the left to move well beyond all versions of catastrophic thinking, fatalist or voluntarist, and to build broad movements that generate optimism derived from possibilities that only arise when small steps are connected with larger ones, and unity is cultivated among activists with different under- standings of society and social change. That is, as indicated, the book’s core message, and it is long overdue.

One quibble. i have a gnawing feeling of uncertainty regarding Eddie Yuen’s essay on environmental catastrophism. When we think about, e.g., Bill McKibben’s “terrifying new math” concerning CO2 emissions and global warming, i want, with Yuen, to say that this message of doom will lead to apathy and inactivity, so we need a better message! Here, however, we must confront the hard facts emerging from scientific evidence. While the evidence is not all in, and Yuen and his co-authors are right to say that it is not only about what scientists find but also about what we are able to do now, in move- ment building, it is at least possible that the best message we can hear, and/ or achieve, is a rather catastrophic one. in that case, we need the humanly best conceivable response to the impending catastrophe; that would be the most we can do. The scientific moment in the Marxist heritage enjoins us from slaying the messenger, just because we don’t like the message.

Book Review: Catastrophism – The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis (PM Press 2012)

cataCatastrophism is a collection of essays addressing the use of dooms day predictions in the environmental movement, the left, the right as well as in popular culture. The four chapters are authored by Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis following conversations within the Berkeley-based Retort collective guided by Iain Boal (who led an excellent biking oral history tour in Dublin as part of the Prosperity Project in May).  This book is meant as ‘a political intervention, designed to spur debate among radicals.’ (4) I have taken this as an invitation for discussion.

Firstly, what is catastrophism? Sasha Lilley offers the following definition in the introduction:

‘Catastrophism presumes that society is headed for a collapse, whether economic, ecological, social, or spiritual. This collapse is frequently, but not always, regarded as a great cleansing, out of which a new society will be born. Catastrophists tend to believe that an ever-intensified rhetoric of disaster will awaken the masses from their long slumber—if the mechanical failure of the system does not make such struggles superfluous.’

Seeking a clearer understanding of what the writers meant by catastrophism, I listened to a podcast where Lilley explains that they are discussing an ideology around collapse and rebirth which assumes a new society will be born out of the ashes of the old. This kind of thinking, they argue, results in people waiting for the collapse rather than organising. They further claim that catastrophism is based on fear which works very differently for the right where it is mobilising, than it does for the left where it is paralysing.

Eddy Yuen begins by voicing a critique of the environmental movement. The central argument he puts forward is that the environmental movement is failing to mobilise because of its catastrophic discourse and an ‘apocalyptic narrative’ that presumes this will lead to political action. He is concerned that ‘dooms day scenarios’ don’t have a politicization effect and suggests environmentalists should find better ‘narrative strategies’.

Catastrophism, here, refers to the warning of environmental crisis. Dissemination of information, according to Yuen, does not lead to action. He claims the environmental movement has caused fear induced-apathy in the population. Yuen pins this to a deeply held conviction about politicization apparently held by environmentalists – if people have the facts they will act. While this may be the case for some, Yuen does not address the importance of understanding the dynamics of climate change and their consequences as a vital precursor to action. In the same way that knowledge of starving children in your city does not lead most people to take action, so knowledge about climate change does not necessarily lead to action. This phenomenon is not unique to the environmental movement.

Yuen makes the assumption that the environmental movement cannot mobilise because it uses catastrophic language. This line of argument ignores the complexity of psychological and sociological factors contributing to inaction. Kari Marie Norgaard has done some excellent work on social movement non-participation and speaks about strategies people develop to avoid having to deal with difficult emotions. This indicates that, like with other bad news we get, there is a need to support people while dealing with these difficult emotions. 

Yuen rightly criticises false solutions like green consumption proposed by Al Gore. It seems like Yuen sees Al Gore as a spokesperson for environmentalists. This is not the case and should have been clarified. Al Gore is probably the most visible advocate of ecological modernisation in the US. Ecological modernisation theory (EMT) argues that the institutions of modernity, including multinational corporations and governments, will increasingly give more importance to ecological concerns. It is the neo-liberal belief that the crisis can be solved through far-reaching reforms, without the need for radical social change. Leftists concerned with climate change however, argue that social change and an alternative to capitalism are needed.

He further argues that the catastrophism of ‘many left-leaning greens’ is ‘Malthusian at its core’, points out a ‘shocking deficiency in the movements understanding of history, capitalism and global inequality’ and a simplistic analysis which places the blame on ‘the human race’. Surprisingly, he does not mentioned groups and networks on the left dedicated to building a climate justice movement which addresses the above concerns. This movement, like Yuen, rejects false solutions. It argues that climate change is not a problem of overpopulation but overconsumption/overproduction by and for the global north and elites in the global south. Climate justice activists speak about capitalism and point out the ‘contradictions between infinite accumulation of capital, and life on a finite planet’. It would have been more stimulating if he had discussed shortcomings of the environmental left, rather than criticising neo-liberal environmentalism.

Communicating climate change is difficult. Most people (including many on the left) do not want to hear about the topic because it makes them feel uncomfortable and there are no easy solutions. Climate denial, sponsored largely by the fossil fuel industry, is distorting reality. They want us to believe that climate change is not man made or that it is nothing to worry about. My concern with this chapter is that it could be used by some to further silence environmental activists.

In the second chapter, author and Against the Grain (which is well worth checking out) radio host Sasha Lilley distinguishes between two types of catastrophism on the left: determinist and voluntarist catastrophism. The former is a belief that capitalism will collapse under its own weight while the latter refers to the idea that worsening conditions will lead to a revolution. Catastrophism leads to the paralysis of the many and the vanguardism of the few and results from a politics of despair.

Lilley writes that the belief that capitalism “will come crashing down without protracted mass struggle is wishful thinking.’ (44) Are there really people on the left who think the sudden and uncontrolled collapse of capitalism would be a positive event? Surely the suffering would be enormous in such an event. She then looks at thinkers including Rosa Luxemburg and Immanuel Wallerstein whose analyses predicted that capitalism will collapse. Lilley disagrees. In her view capitalism will not come to an end due to internal contradictions. (136) The consequences of assuming collapse, it is further argued, leads to “adventurism (the ill-conceived actions of the few) or political quietism (the inaction that flows from awaiting the inexorable laws of history to put an end to capitalism)”. (52) Lilley asserts that we cannot rely on external forces to do the work of ending capitalism for us and that political organising is crucial. Unfortunately she has not presented convincing evidence that deterministic catastrophism is a phenomenon that requires discussion.  The sources she quotes do not take the position that we can sit back and wait. To the contrary they argue for the importance of organising a new society before capitalism collapses.

The second type of catastrophism on the left, voluntarism, is more common, according to Lilley. What ties determinism and voluntarism together is “a deep-seated pessimism about mass collective action and radical social transformation.” (45) Immiseration and state repression then are tools for politicisation leading to an assumption that “radicals should do what they can to make things worse.” (54) It is the idea that state repression can lead to the growth of movements. That the KPD (German Communist Party), one of her examples, made very serious mistakes has been discussed since 1945. Attempting to demonstrate that the KPD believed state repression would bring them to power in three paragraphs, while taking quotes out of their historical context, does not do the situation any justice.

Speaking about state repression and revolution, the next section examines war, which ‘has long been seen on the left as the midwife of revolt, often patterned in the trinity of crisis-war-revolution’. That revolts can follow war is a historical fact. To argue, however, that the left sees war as ‘midwife’ is a serious misrepresentation, at least of the European left which associates nothing positive with war.

The sub-chapter ‘Heightening Contradictions’ discusses militant groups like the Weathermen and the Red Army Faction arguing that insurrectionism is a misguided tactic, while the last part discusses anti-civilization.

James Davis, Irish writer and film maker, looks at catastrophism on the right and introduces the disease-cure binary of catastrophe. The catastrophe for the right is the threat to privilege and political power. The left is the catastrophe for the right, the left is the disease. Civil rights, feminism and social democracy are trends the right wishes to reverse. One approach to this is cure catastrophism, a subset to disease catastrophism. Acts which could contribute to a reversal in power won by social movements might be sparked by right wing terror and could then take the form of a ‘race war, insurrection, Armageddon, civil war, or in its purest form biblical apocalypse, and rapture.’ (78)  Actors explored in this chapter include the media used as a tool for propaganda, individual acts of terror on the right, small groups on the radical right, conspiracy theorists and the religious right. Catastrophism, Davis argues, “has a long history on the right and both the state and the organised far right understand it and wield it skilfully to achieve political and propaganda goals.” (106) It was unclear how this chapter relates to the previous two.

The final chapter takes a look at catastrophism in pop culture. David McNally, Professor of Political Science at York University, firstly discusses the relationship between capitalism and body panics by linking the rise of early capitalism to body snatching. The commodification of the body and the emergence of a corpse economy created fear among poor and working people, during the 18th century, that their bodies would be lost to medical experiments after their death. This also led to an increase in murders and grave robbing. McNally then discusses the historical origins of monsters, such as Frankenstein, who was constructed from dead body parts of humans and animals, and zombies, the cannibalistic consumer on one hand and the living-dead labourer on the other. McNally argues that the truths about social dynamics embedded in these tales about monsters need to be redeemed and translated into “languages and practices of social and political action.” (126)

The book’s key dilemma is that there is no clear definition of catastrophism as a concept. In a way this problem is reflected by a paragraph in the introduction where Lilley explains that “an overarching logic might be harder to place, since these movements and ideas are driven by different impulses, from above and from below (and in the case of the greens, both). In that sense, it is hard to talk about a catch-all catastrophism, without specifying whether it is of the left, right, green – or liberal – variety.” The definition offered by Lilley in the introduction as well as the scene set by the title – The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth is misleading. It suggest the authors are speaking about an ideology that assumes a collapse, be it economic, ecological or social, and is followed by a new and better society, which will be born out of the ashes of the old. Apart from the the religious right, which is mentioned in the third chapter, there is no evidence of collapse being viewed as a positive event.

- See more at: http://www.irishleftreview.org/2014/01/28/catastrophism-apocalyptic-politics-collapse-rebirth/#sthash.AOOGp2NJ.dpuf

Book Review: Catastrophism – The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis (PM Press 2012)

cataCatastrophism is a collection of essays addressing the use of dooms day predictions in the environmental movement, the left, the right as well as in popular culture. The four chapters are authored by Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis following conversations within the Berkeley-based Retort collective guided by Iain Boal (who led an excellent biking oral history tour in Dublin as part of the Prosperity Project in May).  This book is meant as ‘a political intervention, designed to spur debate among radicals.’ (4) I have taken this as an invitation for discussion.

Firstly, what is catastrophism? Sasha Lilley offers the following definition in the introduction:

‘Catastrophism presumes that society is headed for a collapse, whether economic, ecological, social, or spiritual. This collapse is frequently, but not always, regarded as a great cleansing, out of which a new society will be born. Catastrophists tend to believe that an ever-intensified rhetoric of disaster will awaken the masses from their long slumber—if the mechanical failure of the system does not make such struggles superfluous.’

Seeking a clearer understanding of what the writers meant by catastrophism, I listened to a podcast where Lilley explains that they are discussing an ideology around collapse and rebirth which assumes a new society will be born out of the ashes of the old. This kind of thinking, they argue, results in people waiting for the collapse rather than organising. They further claim that catastrophism is based on fear which works very differently for the right where it is mobilising, than it does for the left where it is paralysing.

Eddy Yuen begins by voicing a critique of the environmental movement. The central argument he puts forward is that the environmental movement is failing to mobilise because of its catastrophic discourse and an ‘apocalyptic narrative’ that presumes this will lead to political action. He is concerned that ‘dooms day scenarios’ don’t have a politicization effect and suggests environmentalists should find better ‘narrative strategies’.

Catastrophism, here, refers to the warning of environmental crisis. Dissemination of information, according to Yuen, does not lead to action. He claims the environmental movement has caused fear induced-apathy in the population. Yuen pins this to a deeply held conviction about politicization apparently held by environmentalists – if people have the facts they will act. While this may be the case for some, Yuen does not address the importance of understanding the dynamics of climate change and their consequences as a vital precursor to action. In the same way that knowledge of starving children in your city does not lead most people to take action, so knowledge about climate change does not necessarily lead to action. This phenomenon is not unique to the environmental movement.

Yuen makes the assumption that the environmental movement cannot mobilise because it uses catastrophic language. This line of argument ignores the complexity of psychological and sociological factors contributing to inaction. Kari Marie Norgaard has done some excellent work on social movement non-participation and speaks about strategies people develop to avoid having to deal with difficult emotions. This indicates that, like with other bad news we get, there is a need to support people while dealing with these difficult emotions. 

Yuen rightly criticises false solutions like green consumption proposed by Al Gore. It seems like Yuen sees Al Gore as a spokesperson for environmentalists. This is not the case and should have been clarified. Al Gore is probably the most visible advocate of ecological modernisation in the US. Ecological modernisation theory (EMT) argues that the institutions of modernity, including multinational corporations and governments, will increasingly give more importance to ecological concerns. It is the neo-liberal belief that the crisis can be solved through far-reaching reforms, without the need for radical social change. Leftists concerned with climate change however, argue that social change and an alternative to capitalism are needed.

He further argues that the catastrophism of ‘many left-leaning greens’ is ‘Malthusian at its core’, points out a ‘shocking deficiency in the movements understanding of history, capitalism and global inequality’ and a simplistic analysis which places the blame on ‘the human race’. Surprisingly, he does not mentioned groups and networks on the left dedicated to building a climate justice movement which addresses the above concerns. This movement, like Yuen, rejects false solutions. It argues that climate change is not a problem of overpopulation but overconsumption/overproduction by and for the global north and elites in the global south. Climate justice activists speak about capitalism and point out the ‘contradictions between infinite accumulation of capital, and life on a finite planet’. It would have been more stimulating if he had discussed shortcomings of the environmental left, rather than criticising neo-liberal environmentalism.

Communicating climate change is difficult. Most people (including many on the left) do not want to hear about the topic because it makes them feel uncomfortable and there are no easy solutions. Climate denial, sponsored largely by the fossil fuel industry, is distorting reality. They want us to believe that climate change is not man made or that it is nothing to worry about. My concern with this chapter is that it could be used by some to further silence environmental activists.

In the second chapter, author and Against the Grain (which is well worth checking out) radio host Sasha Lilley distinguishes between two types of catastrophism on the left: determinist and voluntarist catastrophism. The former is a belief that capitalism will collapse under its own weight while the latter refers to the idea that worsening conditions will lead to a revolution. Catastrophism leads to the paralysis of the many and the vanguardism of the few and results from a politics of despair.

Lilley writes that the belief that capitalism “will come crashing down without protracted mass struggle is wishful thinking.’ (44) Are there really people on the left who think the sudden and uncontrolled collapse of capitalism would be a positive event? Surely the suffering would be enormous in such an event. She then looks at thinkers including Rosa Luxemburg and Immanuel Wallerstein whose analyses predicted that capitalism will collapse. Lilley disagrees. In her view capitalism will not come to an end due to internal contradictions. (136) The consequences of assuming collapse, it is further argued, leads to “adventurism (the ill-conceived actions of the few) or political quietism (the inaction that flows from awaiting the inexorable laws of history to put an end to capitalism)”. (52) Lilley asserts that we cannot rely on external forces to do the work of ending capitalism for us and that political organising is crucial. Unfortunately she has not presented convincing evidence that deterministic catastrophism is a phenomenon that requires discussion.  The sources she quotes do not take the position that we can sit back and wait. To the contrary they argue for the importance of organising a new society before capitalism collapses.

The second type of catastrophism on the left, voluntarism, is more common, according to Lilley. What ties determinism and voluntarism together is “a deep-seated pessimism about mass collective action and radical social transformation.” (45) Immiseration and state repression then are tools for politicisation leading to an assumption that “radicals should do what they can to make things worse.” (54) It is the idea that state repression can lead to the growth of movements. That the KPD (German Communist Party), one of her examples, made very serious mistakes has been discussed since 1945. Attempting to demonstrate that the KPD believed state repression would bring them to power in three paragraphs, while taking quotes out of their historical context, does not do the situation any justice.

Speaking about state repression and revolution, the next section examines war, which ‘has long been seen on the left as the midwife of revolt, often patterned in the trinity of crisis-war-revolution’. That revolts can follow war is a historical fact. To argue, however, that the left sees war as ‘midwife’ is a serious misrepresentation, at least of the European left which associates nothing positive with war.

The sub-chapter ‘Heightening Contradictions’ discusses militant groups like the Weathermen and the Red Army Faction arguing that insurrectionism is a misguided tactic, while the last part discusses anti-civilization.

James Davis, Irish writer and film maker, looks at catastrophism on the right and introduces the disease-cure binary of catastrophe. The catastrophe for the right is the threat to privilege and political power. The left is the catastrophe for the right, the left is the disease. Civil rights, feminism and social democracy are trends the right wishes to reverse. One approach to this is cure catastrophism, a subset to disease catastrophism. Acts which could contribute to a reversal in power won by social movements might be sparked by right wing terror and could then take the form of a ‘race war, insurrection, Armageddon, civil war, or in its purest form biblical apocalypse, and rapture.’ (78)  Actors explored in this chapter include the media used as a tool for propaganda, individual acts of terror on the right, small groups on the radical right, conspiracy theorists and the religious right. Catastrophism, Davis argues, “has a long history on the right and both the state and the organised far right understand it and wield it skilfully to achieve political and propaganda goals.” (106) It was unclear how this chapter relates to the previous two.

The final chapter takes a look at catastrophism in pop culture. David McNally, Professor of Political Science at York University, firstly discusses the relationship between capitalism and body panics by linking the rise of early capitalism to body snatching. The commodification of the body and the emergence of a corpse economy created fear among poor and working people, during the 18th century, that their bodies would be lost to medical experiments after their death. This also led to an increase in murders and grave robbing. McNally then discusses the historical origins of monsters, such as Frankenstein, who was constructed from dead body parts of humans and animals, and zombies, the cannibalistic consumer on one hand and the living-dead labourer on the other. McNally argues that the truths about social dynamics embedded in these tales about monsters need to be redeemed and translated into “languages and practices of social and political action.” (126)

The book’s key dilemma is that there is no clear definition of catastrophism as a concept. In a way this problem is reflected by a paragraph in the introduction where Lilley explains that “an overarching logic might be harder to place, since these movements and ideas are driven by different impulses, from above and from below (and in the case of the greens, both). In that sense, it is hard to talk about a catch-all catastrophism, without specifying whether it is of the left, right, green – or liberal – variety.” The definition offered by Lilley in the introduction as well as the scene set by the title – The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth is misleading. It suggest the authors are speaking about an ideology that assumes a collapse, be it economic, ecological or social, and is followed by a new and better society, which will be born out of the ashes of the old. Apart from the the religious right, which is mentioned in the third chapter, there is no evidence of collapse being viewed as a positive event.

- See more at: http://www.irishleftreview.org/2014/01/28/catastrophism-apocalyptic-politics-collapse-rebirth/#sthash.AOOGp2NJ.dpuf

 

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Fred Ho, Composer and Musician in ‘Popular Avant-Gard,’ Dies at 56

By Ben Ratliff
New York Times
April 12th, 2014

Fred Ho, a composer, saxophonist, writer and radical activist who composed politically charged operas, suites, oratorios and ballets that mixed jazz with popular and traditional elements of what he called Afro-Asian culture, died on Saturday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 56.

The cause was complications of colorectal cancer, said his student and friend Benjamin Barson. Mr. Ho had been in a war with the disease — his preferred metaphor, which he expanded on in many books, essays, speeches and interviews — since 2006.

Mr. Ho, who was of Chinese descent, considered himself a “popular avant-gardist.” He was inspired by the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and by the ambitious, powerful music of African-American bandleaders including Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sun Ra and especially Charles Mingus. But he rejected the word jazz, which he considered a pejorative term imposed by Europeans.

Self-reliance was a priority for Mr. Ho. He rarely played in anyone else’s band (among the exceptions were stints with the arranger Gil Evans and the saxophonists Archie Shepp and Julius Hemphill). Describing himself as a “revolutionary matriarchal socialist and aspiring Luddite,” he never owned a car and made many of his own clothes from kimono fabric.

Fred Ho in 2013. Credit Joshua Bright for The New York Times

Despite his determination to stand outside the mainstream, he found support from grant-giving organizations, academic music departments who hired him as artist in residence, and nonprofit arts institutions — including, in New York City, the Public Theater, the Kitchen and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Born Fred Wei-han Houn on Aug. 10, 1957, in Palo Alto, Calif. — he changed his surname in 1988 — he moved with his family when he was 6 to Amherst, Mass., where his father taught political science at the University of Massachusetts. He felt a powerful attraction to the art and rhetoric of black culture; as a teenager, he audited college classes taught by Mr. Shepp, the drummer Max Roach and the poet Sonia Sanchez, who were all putting progressive politics in their art. (He never formally studied music, but began teaching himself baritone saxophone when he was 14.)

In interviews, Mr. Ho recalled that his father physically abused his mother. “One of my first insurrections,” he told Harvard Magazine, “was to defend my mother against his physical beatings and give him two black eyes.”

He served in the Marines, where he learned hand-to-hand combat, and was discharged in 1975 because, he said, he had fought with an officer who had used a racial slur. In his 20s, Mr. Ho briefly joined the Nation of Islam and then the I Wor Kuen, a radical Asian-American group inspired by the Black Panthers. Like his two younger sisters, Florence Houn and Flora Houn Hoffman, he attended Harvard University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1979.

His sisters and his mother, Frances Lu Houn, survive him.

Mr. Ho moved to New York in the early ’80s to pursue a career as a musician. He formed the Afro Asian Music Ensemble and became associated with other Asian-American musicians working on a newly emergent hybrid conception of jazz, including the pianist Jon Jang and the saxophonist Francis Wong. His first records, “Tomorrow Is Now!” and “We Refuse to Be Used and Abused,” were released by the Italian jazz label Soul Note.

In 1989, Mr. Ho had his first work performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the bilingual opera “A Chinaman’s Chance.” He then created two ballet operas based on the Chinese novel “Monkey,” by Wu Ch’eng-en, “Journey to the West” (1990) and “Journey Beyond the West: The New Adventures of Monkey” (1997). Both used Mandarin in their librettos, and both reimagined Monkey, a trickster figure, as a political agitator, upsetting the power structures of the gods. Mr. Ho called them “living comic books.”

Other ambitious works, many of which were recorded, were on the subjects of Chinese folklore, physical combat, domestic abuse, the black power movement and revolutionary feminism — and sometimes all of those subjects together, as in the opera “Warrior Sisters: The New Adventures of African and Asian Womyn Warriors” (1991), written with the librettist Ann T. Greene.

That work imagined a meeting of Fa Mu Lan, the Chinese fighter who was the subject of a sixth-century folk ballad; Yaa Asantewaa, who in 1900, in what is now Ghana, led the Ashanti rebellion against British colonialism; Sieh King King, a young Chinese-American woman who agitated for women’s rights in early-20th-century San Francisco; and Assata Shakur, the Black Liberation Army activist.

After learning in 2006 that he had colorectal cancer, Mr. Ho documented his fight against the illness in a book, “Diary of a Radical Cancer Warrior: Fighting Cancer and Capitalism at the Cellular Level,” followed by another, more prescriptive one, “Raw Extreme Manifesto: Change Your Body, Change Your Mind and Change the World by Spending Almost Nothing!” He wrote about his treatment in a blog, naming the doctors he mistrusted, thanking his friends and theorizing about his illness.

In “Future’s End,” a lecture from 2010 that he published at the website of the artists’ collective called Commoning, he wrote that the cause of cancer is “capitalist industrialism” and “social toxicity,” and praised Luddism, his philosophical passion, as the only alternative: “the opposition to technology (any of it) that is harmful to people or to the planet.”

Even in his final years, as Mr. Ho underwent multiple operations, he was still working: on “Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon!,” a choreographed martial-arts opera based on the 1970s manga comics of Kazuo Koike, performed for two weeks at La MaMa in May and June 2013; on “The Sweet Science Suite,” for 20-piece band and dancers, dedicated to Muhammad Ali, which had its stage premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in October 2013; and on several unfinished opuses.

To watch the video Fred Ho: The Music Lives On, click HERE




A Living Spirit of Revolt: A Review in Maximum RocknRoll

Chris Estey
Maximum Rocknroll

April 2014

Never has there been a better time for a lucid, lean, inclusive primer-history about anarchism. We're blessed that it's from Faculty of Social Sciences professor Ziga Vodovnik, someone deeply knowledgeable and personally passionate about those who are linked officially and ontologically by a "suspicion of authority." A previous work of his, Ya Basta! Ten Years of the Zapatista Uprising (AK Press, 2004) cohesively detailed how regional revolutionary acts in 1994 would eventually lead to the rising of the anti-globalist movement internationally at the turn of the century. In a similar, more sweeping way, Vodovnik here superbly elucidates how many levels and layers of anarchism have fed into each other or synchronistically arrived at the same roots of rebellion.

An anarchist can be defined as someone "suspicious of authority." It is someone who doesn't necessarily think that authority can solve disorder and injustice; in fact, its arguable that the government and marketplace might be their primal cause. This book happily comes out at a time when popular mainstream writers often fear and mock sloppily suggest that anyone wanting to use force to overthrow authority or endorsing a lack of civil commitment to others is an 'anarchist' (misunderstanding the majority of beliefs and behaviors). Vodovnik shows that anarchists were often the only ones left in society concerned with all-encompassing oppression, exclusion, and economic exploitation, and not willing to "trade revolution for a dictator." Vodovnik weaves theories from anarchist argued "classics" into concise reporting on anarchy's greatest peaks and certain valleys, succeeding in constructing a nimble narrative of ideas, actions, personalities, struggles, and even successes (Orwell's Catalonia; May 1968 in Paris and what that spawned, for example).

It's refreshing to have this book's clear-headed analysis on a way of life that somehow bizarrely connects Cartesian philosophers; Taoists and Buddhists; the arrival of Proudhon's political definition of the term; pacifistic New England Transcendentalists; the arrival of German immigrants who wanted to extrapolate the freedom of the human spirit at the end of the 19th century; the evolution of ideological traditionalists; the Dadaist usurpers of the spectacle; the pop-up inspiration of Temporary Autonomous Zones; and the phenomenon of transglobal citizens. Listed are individualized and collectivized protests against the horrors that have been done in the name of obedience throughout recent regime and market-driven civilization.

A Living Spirit of Revolt is not a bloated text of controversies, contradictions, and mystifications; it doesn't strive to take down every internal conflict and dogmatic detail of clans and cliques throughout anarchism's official existence since Proudhon. As Vodovnik has quoted Zinn in the press, the work of anarchy is often done by people not professing the ideology by name. Sometimes anarchy is that one person standing against something that seems reasonable, such as democratic rule. Sometimes it is a group with altruistic motives which came together for the sake of social justice (but its organizational aspects and altruism may not seem 'anarchist' on the surface). What are their basic histories and how may they all fit in with each other? Most importantly, what do they all really have in common, if much at all? Vodovnik finds what worked best for each, but doesn't leave out the mistakes or possible problem areas. He does openly favor the non-violent and stresses unity, but A Living Spirit of Revolt makes a solid argument that only true freedom could be the living mother of real (human, non-oppressive) order.

Buy A Living Spirit of Revolt now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Žiga Vodovnik's Author Page



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