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Anarchy, Geography, Modernity Review in Antipode

By Federico Ferretti
Antipode: A Radical Journal of Georgraphy
December 2013

This is a new edition of an important selection of writings by the anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus (1830-1905), translated from French by the editors John Clark and Camille Martin.

The editors note that, with conferences held in 2005 in Lyon, Milan, New Orleans, Montpellier, Mexico and Barcelona to mark the 100th anniversary of Reclus’ death, “in recent years, the rate of publication of works on or by Reclus has grown exponentially” (p. ix); this is certainly true for our own discipline, which has seen increasing interest in ‘anarchist geographies’1.

Clark and Martin translated 11 pamphlets, articles or book chapters by Reclus, four of which come from his last work L’Homme et la Terre [1905], which several authors consider to be the anarchist geographer’s most complete expression of his political and social thought.

The first paper, ‘The feeling for Nature in modern society’ [1866], was published by Reclus in the French journal La Revue des Deux Mondes, and belonged to a series in which he dealt with the relationship between humankind and nature, anticipating several themes of the more recent debates on the environment. I notice that, among these writings for La Revue des Deux Mondes, there was also a review of Man and Nature [1864] by the American geographer George Perkins-Marsh (1801-1882), Reclus’ friend and correspondent, which is not included in this edition (see Reclus 1864). In it Reclus criticized Perkins-Marsh’s idea of Man as a ‘disturber’, because his humanist approach didn’t envisage a pure, untouched nature, or the myth of wilderness. For Reclus, the main aim was to create a harmonic equilibrium between
humankind and the environment, considered not as separable terms of a dialectical
relationship.1

See for instance the Antipode special issue ‘Reanimating Anarchist Geographies’ (volume 44, number 5, 2012) and the ACME special issue ‘Anarchist and Autonomous Marxist Geographies’ (volume 11, number 3, 2012).1

The second and third texts, ‘To my brother the peasant’ [1893] and ‘Anarchy’ [1894] -sharing the same titles as the contemporary pamphlets L’anarchia and Fra contadini by the celebrated Italian Anarchist Errico Malatesta (1853-1932), are classical texts, short and simple, written as anarchist propaganda for popular classes. One characteristic of the anarchist movement was the refusal to recognize the existence of a privileged revolutionary class, as Marxists did with the modern industrial proletariat. Anarchist propaganda spoke equally to rural workers, considering important the spreading of consciousness of different kinds of oppression and the affirmation of universal and international brotherhood among rural and urban workers. Reclus stated that the division of the oppressed favored only oppressors, who hoped that hungry people “just eat one another” (p.119).

‘The extended family’ [1896] is a text where Reclus expressed his sympathy for the
animal world, and for a respectful association of humans and non-human animals, already practiced in several so-called ‘primitive’ communities. I think that it is rather unfair to, as Clark does, try to evaluate how far Reclus was “anthropocentric” (p.21): the concept clearly didn’t exist at the time he was writing. But I also think that it is relevant to notice, as Clark does, that Reclus, vegetarian and supporter of mutual aid among different species, was one of the first European authors to put the question of enlarging the circle of solidarity beyond the
frontiers of humankind, stating “for my part, I also include animals in my feeling of socialist solidarity” (p.32).

‘Evolution, revolution, and the anarchist ideal’ [1898] is a synthesis of perhaps the
most famous of Reclus’ anarchist propaganda -Evolution, revolution, et l’idéal anarchique.

In this text the anarchist geographer exposed one of his pivotal political principles: evolution and revolution are not irreconcilable alternatives, but phases of the same historical process leading humankind progressively to higher levels of equality and freedom. This was criticized, even among some anarchists, for its optimism, yet it nevertheless has the advantage, in comparison with other contemporary conceptions, of avoiding both the messianism of revolution and the2 idea of a linear history; Reclus’ concept of historical development, some aspects of which were inspired by the philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), considered both progressions and regressions in the ongoing struggle between authority and freedom. In this dialectic, revolutions are moments of necessary rupture inserted in the frame of a slower evolutionary process.

‘On vegetarianism’ [1901] is a pamphlet affirming the ethics, and health benefits, of
vegetarianism, starting with a very touching personal experience and expressing full
compassion for all the victims of butchers. However, as Reclus was moved by principles of humanism and tolerance, we don’t find an explicit condemnation of people making different choices.

The following four chapters are taken from the volumes five and six of L’Homme et la Terre. ‘The history of cities’ expresses the urban thinking of Reclus, who shared the criticism of the insalubrity of cities with the hygienists of his time, but considered it in the frame of class contradictions and the general necessity to reform society. At the same time, he refused the ‘urbaphobie’ of several hygienists, stating that sociability and encounter is necessary for human beings. To meet these needs, Reclus was a supporter, together with Pëtr Kropotkin (1842-1921), of a decentralised model aiming to overcome the traditional limits between town
and countryside, which inspired the thinking of Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928) and Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) on the ‘Garden City’ and ‘Regional Planning’ respectively (see Dunbar 1978; Raffestin 2007; Ferretti 2012).

‘The modern state’ is a critique of the state apparatus starting from its historical
development and ending with the statement that globalization will render the peoples progressively closer to each other, so a common future stands in international solidarity, refusal of nationalism and wars, and cosmopolitanism. In this, argued Reclus, geography could play an important role, teaching respect and mutual knowledge between different peoples and representing the world according to the principle of human unity.3

‘Culture and property’ analyses the historical origins of property. Reclus proposed a
classic appreciation of the ancient commons and traditional cooperative work, and was an acute critic of the concentration of modern capital, observing the efficiency, in some cases, of production’s decentralization and small-scale economy. That said, he was aware of the transnational nature of capital fluxes, and, as astutely noted by Clark, “he observes that the ability of capital to transgress all boundaries of state and nationality gives it a great advantage over political power” (p.83).

‘Progress’ is the last chapter of L’Homme et la Terre, resuming Reclus’ thinking on
several topics, like the definition of progress, which according to Reclus is not a linear process. “The missionaries who encounter magnificent savages moving about freely in their nakedness believe that they will bring them ‘progress’ by giving them dresses and shirts, shoes and hats, catechisms and Bibles, and by teaching them to chant psalms in English or Latin” (p.209-210). Inspired by Vico’s discourse on corsi e ricorsi (ebb and flow) of historical evolution, Reclus rejected the presumption that ‘civilization’ had accomplished real progress from supposedly barbarous times. Real progress, according to Reclus, means “the conquest of bread” (p.224); he fumed at “our much-acclaimed half-civilization (it is only half-civilized because it is far from benefiting everyone)” (p.227). He noted that nobody among the so- called savages, would accept to live in some of the industrial slums of the ‘civilized’ world.

According to him, it is not by the pretension of superiority, but by the “complete union of the civilized with the savage and with nature” (p.231) that society could reach equality, that is, true progress. This conclusion is consistent with Reclus’ early radical opposition to racism, colonialism and imperialism2, recognized by Clark, who argues that Reclus “vehemently opposes the spread of imperial state power” (p.80).

In his long introductory essay (p.3-100), Clark explores the wide range of social and scientific topics mobilized by Reclus. In Clark’s thinking on Elisée Reclus, there are some controversial points, particularly his statement that Reclus was a forerunner of Social Ecology, which engendered in 1997 a public debate between Clark and the French geographer Philippe Pelletier3. The latter stated that Reclus is not identifiable as an ‘ecologist’, as he chose deliberately to not use the label ‘ecology’ because this term was utilized by Ernst Heackel (1834-1919) - a social Darwinist opposed to socialism, who was well-known and explicitly criticized by Reclus, who preferred the definition ‘mesology’, proposed by his friend Adolphe Bertillon (1821-1883). According to Pelletier (2013) - and I agree with him - Reclus’
definition of ‘Social Geography’, which at that time was synonymous with ‘Socialist Geography’, clearly represented an alternative to contemporary ecology and ecological thought, sketching out a program which was primarily anarcho-socialist.

I don’t enter into the details of this discussion, which is available online, but as a
historian of geography I’d note the clear influence on Reclus of German Naturphilosophie (‘Philosophy of Nature’), through authors like Lorenz Oken (1779-1851) and Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854), whose writings played an important part in his early intellectual development (see Reclus 1911). The same philosophers inspired widely the geographers who shaped Reclus’ scientific conceptions, like Carl Ritter (1779-1859) and Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) (see le Scanff 2001; Tang 2008). In a nutshell, I can affirm that Reclus, like the Naturphilosophers, considered humankind and nature as consubstantial and in constant relation. This perspective is neither ‘monism’ nor ‘dualism’, and it renders impossible both the Biblical idea of man’s domination of nature and Perkins-Marsh’s nostalgic dream of a wild nature (which today could be compared, with some prudence, to some expressions of the so-called ‘deep ecology’).3

See Clark (1997) and Pelletier (1997).

On the one side, it is clear that there is a high risk of anachronism in associating, like Clark and Martin do, an author who lived between 1830 and 1905 to very present concepts and problems like ‘ecofeminism’ (p.vii), ‘resilience’ (p.viii) or ‘climate change’ (p.viii): problems, categories and concepts simply did not existed, or conceived in a radically different way, in Reclus’ time. Nevertheless, considering the wide circulation of Reclus’ ideas, during his lifetime as well as more recently, beyond both the disciplinary borders of geography and the political borders of anarchism, I agree with the picture Clark paints of him as “a significant figure in modern European social and political theory in general” (p.73), whose ideas are still useful (and, indeed, used) in several urgent debates on present problems. Clark and Martin’s collection deserves praise, to my mind, for making available in the Anglophone world important texts by Elisée Reclus.

References Clark J (1997) Du bon usage d’Elisée Reclus.
Le Monde Libertaire
http://raforum.info/reclus/spip.php?article23&lang=fr (last accessed 11 December
2013)

Dunbar G (1978) Élisée Reclus: Historian of Nature. Hamden: Archon
Ferretti F (2012) Aux origines de l’aménagement régional: le schéma de la Valley Section de Patrick Geddes (1925)
M@ppemonde http://mappemonde.mgm.fr/num36/articles/art12405.html (last accessed 11 December 2013)

Ferretti F (2013) “They have the right to throw us out”: Élisée Reclus’
New Universal Geography.
Antipode 45(5):1337-1355
Pelletier P (1997) John Clark analysant Elisée Reclus, ou comment prendre ses désirs pour

des réalités.
Le Monde Libertaire
http://raforum.info/reclus/spip.php?
article105&lang=fr (last accessed 11 December 2013)
Pelletier P (2013)

Géographie et anarchie: Reclus, Kropotkine, Metchnikoff. Paris: Éditions du Monde Libertaire
Raffestin C (2007) Storia di un ruscello. In M Schmidt di Friedberg (ed)

Elisée Reclus: natura ed educazione. Milan: Bruno Mondadori
Reclus E (1864) L’Homme et la nature: de l’action humaine sur la géographie physique.

La Revue des Deux Mondes 54:762-771 Reclus E (1911)
Correspondance, Vol. I.
Paris, Schleicher
le Scanff Y (2001) L’origine littéraire d’un concept géographique: l’image de la France duelle.

Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines 5(2):61-93
Tang C (2008)
The Geographic Imagination of Modernity: Geography, Literature, and
Philosophy in German Romanticism. Stanford: Stanford University Press
December 2013

Federico Ferretti
Department of Geography and Environment
University of Geneva
federico.ferretti@unige.ch

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I Will Rise

By Z.G. Muhammad
Greater Kashmir
August 29th, 2013

A treat for all those who look for sublimity in poetry.

I have read Ambassador Akbar S Ahmed, 'world's foremost anthropologist and reviewed some of his books including his latest one Journey into America.  Reading his latest collection of poems, "SUSPENDED somewhere between - a book of verse' published in 2011 by Busboys and Poets, Washington, it was an amazing experience to discover the scholar known for "changing the face of anthropology' as a poet- with same piquancy as that of Allama:

"Then, one day my head high again, I will rise
pure Muslim, Marxist-Malinonwski-Mawdoodi wise,
one day I will no longer sweat-fear to dream,
then, I will posses the key to alif-lam mim"

Akbar   is a profound and prolific writer as very rightly put by Dan Futterman in his foreword to the verse collection, "his writings to this day have been like a sea-rich and full of life and well exploringŠ now with this collection we get the ocean".  The book of verse contains seventy smaller poems mostly in blank verses. The collection as very well said by the poet 'is 'call from inside'. The poems   written over a period of fifty years continue to cascade with their freshness. Every verse is an echo from the depths of heart. Nostalgia permeates in many poems and 'Diaspora' is one such example.

"Lal Killa and
Hyderabad, Deccan
Crumble into
those mosaic
tiles of my floral
incubus. The
awakening in the
actuality of parched Sindh.
Karachi the harlot
Of ethnic hungers
sucks me in."

In his poem 'will ever be' with his bruised psyche he talks about some ancient Sanskrit curse hanging over him but he believes that he can brave it and come out of its spell.

"There must seems be
An ancient Sanskrit curse
Over me
But
Yet awhile
That great heart of Umar
Beats in me
And Ali's hand holds my sword.
Perhaps that day will never be."

The poet has divided his anthology into five broad chapters, Pakistan, Love, Islam, Echoes of history and pense'es.  The influences of Rumi, Iqbal, Ghalibs and English romantic poets on Akbar are quite discernable. Living in America the poet is pained about the situation in his own country. In 'Pukhtun landscape a mood,' that I see as one of major poems in the collection the poet laments about the land where he had served as a young officer. He believes that foreign ferringhee is not the enemy but enemy is within:

"I don't hear singing in the fields any more,
I don't hear the reed by riverside
The sounds of laughter seem to have gone evermore
Even the tears have almost driedŠ
Nothing grows from barrel of gun
Save fever and fire and fear
What for one man is game and fun
For another is injustice without peer."

In poem titled I, Saracen, like Iqbal he takes pride in his past, rising a 'colossus' from shimmering sands' and not only conquering the world but immensely contributing to it but also craves for return of that glorious past:

"Thundering 'ism crash about me,
I gasp, I wake, I see
around me fragments of Suez fall
Muhammad Mustapha (SAW) I hear you call"

Notwithstanding disappointments Akbar exudes with optimism and a firm resolve:

"I hear you in muezzin's calling
I vow again to revive within me your song
to sing it forever, sweet and long"

The scholar in Akbar like Iqbal very subtly creeps in his poetry. The poem titled 'The Passing of an Empire' to me is his voluminous book 'Journey into America' encapsulated. He sees American politicians speaking about bringing democracy and civilization to the world as a sick joke to the occupied people.

"And how will conquered
Recall their masters?
In Asia they remember
The pyramids of skulls
Left by the Mongols
In Europe,
The gas chambers
Of the Nazis.
Will Afghans
Remember anything else
Besides the Abu Gharib?
ŠŠŠŠ..
The anger and ignorance
Around Islam remained dangerously high.
An outstanding presidential candidate,
Bursting with charisma,
Loudly and repeatedly
Was attacked simply
Because his middle name was Hussein"

Akbar's voice is not in wilderness. It is not a cry in desperation. Like Iqbal he challenges those harboring the idea of neo-colonization in twenty first century.

"History will record
The empire was halted
By the impoverished
But proud
Peoples of two
Muslim nations.
ŠŠŠ.
Future military adventures
And the American's sheer exhaustion
Combined with failure to see
Its predicament
All the while,
he Russian bear
and Chinese dragon
Watched in glee
Š.and waited."

The collection is a treat  for all those who look for sublimity in poetry.
(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)

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Singing songs for the people: James Connolly comes to life in a new book of revolutionary songs

By Aaron Leonard
rabble.ca
October 30th, 2013

PM Press has just released Songs of Freedom: The James Connolly Song Book, edited by Mat Callahan, with an introduction by Theo Dorgan and foreward by James Connolly Heron.

Connolly, was an Irish revolutionary leader executed for his role in the Easter Uprising of 1916. He was also a passionate lyricist, penning numerous revolutionary songs as well as popularizing others. While his memory and work are retained in the collective consciousness in certain quarters -- not the least being Ireland -- much of this body of work has been diffused if not up to now, lost outright.

The singer-songwriter Mat Callahan has recently completed a project bringing this work together into a single volume with an accompanying music CD. Aaron Leonard recently corresponded with him via e-mail to ask about the project.
 
In his introduction, the poet and writer Theo Dorgan writes, "The trouble with Connolly in our time is he has become a hollow icon, a kind of ancestor figure to the Left, of no real substance to many who invoke his name save as a touchstone of legitimacy in a certain kind of politics." Who was James Connolly?

[Dorgan] is writing from an Irish perspective in which Connolly’s role is harder to ignore than it might be elsewhere. And [Dorgan] is undoubtedly right since Connolly’s character, his incorruptibility and exemplary courage make him somewhat of an "impossible ideal" in today’s toxic political landscape. Venality and betrayal so dominate the scene that Connolly has either to be written out of history altogether or he must be made a saint to whom one can confess one’s sins while continuing to commit them.

Fortunately, we have Connolly’s own writings to judge his merits by [and] it is the accuracy of Connolly’s analysis and the clarity of his argument that make him important historically [and as a figure] of current and future struggles for human liberation.

Connolly was a revolutionary because reform meant surrender to perpetual servitude. He was a socialist because the private appropriation of wealth meant the immiseration of the people who in fact produce that wealth. And he was an internationalist because nationalism pitted worker against worker, a situation he saw first hand in Ireland and with even greater force on his visit to America.

Connolly was brilliant, without a doubt. Born into dire poverty in Edinburgh, self-educated, but becoming an important scholar and political theorist. Connolly was also steeped in the lessons of concrete struggles to organize the workers of Scotland, England and later on, Ireland and the U.S.

A student of Karl Marx, Connolly went on to creatively analyze the situation Ireland found itself in and to articulate positions regarding national liberation that were prescient, foretelling to a large extent, the great wave of independence movements that swept the world following WWII.
 
As the introduction notes some of the lyrics contain a "fluffy sentimentality" stamped by the period, yet the sentiment is sound and there remains a core vitality. For example, the "Rebel Song" is pretty direct, when he talks about "A song of love and hate," but the line that grabbed my attention was where he writes that the hands of greed are, "Stretched to rob the living and the dead." It sounds like he understood something about how capitalism operates.

What informed his writing and how did he see the role of song, compared to how we see it today?

Connolly was inspired by his involvement with the IWW [Industrial Workers of the World]. The use of songs had become a mainstay of labor organizing in the multinational-multilingual U.S. working class. Linguistic divisions could be overcome by music; solidarity and a fighting spirit could be encouraged by people singing together.

Connolly produced the original Songs of Freedom while in New York, in 1907 [and] it is from this song book that Connolly’s most famous pronouncement regarding music was drawn, the essence of which was, no revolutionary movement worthy of the name can be without its poetic expression. Without joyous, defiant singing it is the dogma of the few and not the faith of the many.
 
How did you get involved in this project and how did you end up uncovering and compiling all this material?

The short version is I wanted to celebrate my 60th birthday by singing revolutionary songs. I also had a bunch of Irish friends and fond memories of James Connolly from my youth. My stepfather held Connolly in high regard, impressing upon me the importance of Connolly’s ideas.

So, I set out to find Songs of Freedom only to be told by a bookseller in County Mayo that I wasn’t going to find it. He was the first to explain that the only existing copy was in Ireland’s National Library. So, I purchased the next best thing, which was the James Connolly Songbook published by the Cork Workers’ Club in 1972 and reprinted in 1980. The texts in this collection were what we based the bulk of the program on.

There are literally thousands of Irish revolutionary songs, but [we] felt it crucial to focus on Connolly. This was partly because we didn’t want to pander to nostalgic longings for an Ireland that never was and partly because under current circumstances Connolly’s diagnosis and cure for what ails Ireland are all too timely.
 
What kind of reaction are you getting to the book, both in Ireland and other places?


So far, overwhelmingly positive. Whatever one may think of Connolly’s ideas, the fact that the contents of this book are of great archival value and have been virtually unavailable for a century is significant. Even if one’s interest is confined to Irish or Labor history, or perhaps, popular song in political movements, there is crucial material here that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.

The real test, though, will be how young people receive this. Though the song book is historically significant in its own right, the urgent need for new generations to unearth Connolly’s ideas and grapple with them is even greater. It’s too soon to say but I’m optimistic that such interest will be ignited.
 
Why did you chose to include "A Rebel Song" and "Shake Your Banners" on the CD and what were the challenges in translating them?

We had to consider different problems when choosing the songs. One was time constraint [and the other] of musical and thematic variety. A third was how to make the songs "singable" by people today --especially those who had never heard of Connolly.

There are 19 songs by Connolly in the James Connolly Songbook. We narrowed it down to 13 songs, eight by Connolly, three about Connolly and one, "The Red Flag," that was by Jim Connell and was in the original Songs of Freedom.

We had the problem of choosing from among lyrics that had similar themes. Looking for the broadest possible subject matter meant choosing not to do certain songs because they [were repetitious]. But "A Rebel Song" I knew to be one of Connolly’s first and best known lyrics. "Shake Out Your Banners," was just a catchy, rousing title that got me started on some music.
 
We are a long way from 1902; there is no revolutionary worker’s movement, the notion of a socialist society let alone communism is scorned if not ignored entirely, and even the most radical forces today argue for an "anti-capitalism" that too often means radical reformism rather than an elimination of the whole mess of systematic surplus value accumulation.

In other words there seems to be no alternative that breaks with the dominant one. So what does James Connolly have to teach us in 2013?


Actually, Connolly faced no less daunting obstacles than those we face today. He was on the fringes of the socialist movement worldwide due to his advocacy of a revolutionary alternative to imperialist war.

Furthermore, the analysis that led him to launch the Easter Rising -- which was doomed from the start -- was visionary and little understood at the time or since. Connolly was among the few who realized that the British Empire could only be effectively challenged when it was preoccupied with inter-imperialist war. [He] was convinced it was in the interests of the great cause of human emancipation that an attempt be made even if it were to fail.

I am convinced he was right. Furthermore, I am convinced that anyone who reads the programme of the Irish Socialist Republican Party of 1896 [which is excerpted in the introduction] will see the practical solutions to Ireland's current problems. From the abolition of private banks to free universal education through the college level, there are concrete policies that would go a long way to improving the lives of the common Irish person today.

Even more important is that Connolly combined a scholars’ dedication to history’s dynamics with the ability to communicate clearly to working people. His quest for truth did not make him an isolated, ivory-tower academic. He wrote powerfully, but he also brought these writings directly to the workers -- a lesson that we certainly can learn from today.

Connolly’s vision of the future, while certainly incomplete, was nonetheless inspiring. In the nobility of its aims it captured the potential residing in human beings and in our struggle.

Connolly grasped a truth amidst the ruins of centuries of resistance, rebellion and revolution.

Human emancipation is possible but it is made so, in part, by our ability to envision a better world. Therefore, it is necessary to continuously raise fundamental issues of equality, justice and human solidarity as a measure of our own actions and those of people claiming to represent us.

Holding everyone to these standards it not only a moral question but one of great practical import in evaluating what course to take at any given time. This is what Connolly has to teach us today.

Mat Callahan
 is a musician and author originally from San Francisco, where he founded Komotion International. He is the author of three books, Sex, Death & the Angry Young Man, Testimony, and The Trouble With Music. He currently resides in Bern, Switzerland.

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Ken Macleod, The Human front plus...in Peace News

By Gabriel Carlyle
PeaceNews
May 2013

'What if something that didn't happen had happened differently?' is the tricksy question at the heart of Scottish Trotskyist Ken Macleod's 2001 sci-fi novella The Human Front, re-printed here alongside two short essays and an interview with the author.

Like the shark in Jaws, the non-event in question is not revealed immediately, but its consequences are on display from page one.

It is 1963, and our narrator John Matheson - then a young boy living on the Isle of Lewis - hears Stalin's death announced on the radio. The former dictator has just been killed, shot in the back whilst fleeing from US soldiers.

Moscow, we learn, was destroyed by atomic bombing in 1949 ('Operation Dropshot') following the arrival of on the scene of a new Advanced High Altitude Bomber - a circular machine powered by a mysterious 'anti-gravity engine'. When one of the bombers crash-lands at the local NATO base, our protagonist is shocked to discover that the craft was flown by tiny child-like figures....

Stalin survived the destruction of Moscow to become a guerilla leader, and the Chinese revolution still took place, but, without a Chinese or Soviet nuclear deterrent to constrain them, the West has been free to use its nuclear weapons to defend its imperial possessions (during an argument between the narrator and his father we learn that Magnitogorsk, Dien Bien Phu, Belgrade and Kinshasa have all met similar fates to Moscow).

Consequently, de-colonisation - and all its knock-on consequences - never happened.

On the other hand, without the divisions caused by the Sino-Soviet split, the Communist movement has emerged to lead a unified, militant global uprising ('the human front') against Western imperialism. Or, as Macleod himself puts it in one of the accompanying essays: 'There's no Vietnam War in this world - instead, the world becomes Vietnam.'

Following an encounter with a charismatic Argentinian orator named Ernesto Lynch (google him!) our protagonist is converted to the cause, starting him down a path that leads from graffiti ('Free Dubchek') to blowing up a railway bridge with a band of partisans and wreaking havoc with a captured tank. However it's only when he downs one of the saucer-shaped aircraft that things really start to get weird....

As should already be apparent, much of the fun stems from Macleod's savvy left-wing stance on 20th century politics and the ways in which his alternate history intersects with our own. For example, at one point Matheson informs us 'News items that raised questions about the war's conduct and its domestic repercussions were few: the Pauling trial... the occasional allusion to a speech by Foot in the Commons or Wedgwood Benn in the Lords.'

Likewise, Operation Dropshot was the codename of a real US contingency plan for nuclear war against the Soviet Union (prepared in 1949), and Western powers really did consider using nuclear weapons against the Third World (at Dien Bien Phu and elsewhere).

Given his politics, I suspect that Macleod has little time for nonviolent revolution (guerilla warfare is the natural strategy for his global insurrectionaries). Nonetheless, PN readers should still find this a politically thought-provoking - as well as entertaining - read.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Ken MacLeod's Author Page




Queen of the Neighbourhood Collective, 'Revolutionary Women'

By Gabriel Carlyle
PeaceNews
February 2013

Black women's movement and civil rights activist Olive Morris - who became a symbol of the squatting movement in '70s Brixton - is one of 30 women profiled and 'icon-brush[ed] ... with Che Guevara glam' in the Queen of the Neighbourhood Collective's book of stencil designs, Revolutionary Women, inspired by the question 'Who and where are our revolutionary women icons?' Others featured include Egyptian feminist Doria Shafik, who led the 1951 storming of the Egyptian parliament by 1,500 women, and Dutch resistance fighter Hanni Schaft, the only woman out of 422 resistance fighters whose bodies were recovered from dunes near Overveen after the war. (Her last words to her executioners, as the first bullet only grazed her, were 'I shoot better than you!')

Moving stories abound. Nonetheless, as the authors make clear, there is an important distinction between icon and heroine, and not all of those featured are held up for our admiration - a crucial fact that is probably lost if the images are used as intended. Though a small number of those featured were committed to exclusively nonviolent means, many more were engaged in armed resistance, leading this reader to ponder 'Who and where are our female icons of revolutionary nonviolence?' Another book beckons perhaps....

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




We Have Not Been Moved in Peace News

By Ian Sinclair
PeaceNews
February 2013



Taking its cue from Martin Luther King's famous 1967 speech denouncing the war in Vietnam, We Have Not Been Moved focuses on the resistance to both racism and militarism in the United States.

The three editors - all experienced activists - have collated 90 contributions looking at the connections and cleavages between the two issues, including the over-representation of ethnic minorities fighting in the armed forces, government money funding aggressive wars overseas rather than domestic social programmes and the overwhelmingly white make-up of the peace movement.

At 582 pages it's a daunting book. However, there is much of interest in the long-form essays, articles, interviews, photos, poems, manifestos and dialogues from both well-known and less well known activists. Barbara Deming's moving first-hand account of a mixed race peace walk in the Deep South in the early 1960s is a real pleasure to read, as is Dave Dellinger's thoughtful reflection on the class dynamics of anti-war groups. Another highlight is anarchist Chris Crass's very practical guide 'Tools For White Guys Who Are Working For Social Change'. As these contributions suggest the title doesn't fully do justice to the book's varied concerns - a significant number of contributors have a deep interest in revolutionary nonviolence.

There is a helpful biography of each contributor at the back of the book but frustratingly there is a real lack of contextual information to assist understanding. For example, many of the contributions are not dated or introduced by the editors, and the extensive number of archaic acronyms used is likely to confuse and impede readers' comprehension. Bizarrely an interview about the All-African People's Revolutionary Party includes a (surely-unneeded) footnote spread over two pages listing over 100 sympathetic groups around the world. In addition the US-centric nature of the book means an existing knowledge of activism across the pond is essential to fully get to grips with the subject matter.

Perhaps best used as a resource to dip in and out of for ideas and arguments, We Have Not Been Moved may be unwieldy but it has lots to offer activists across the globe interested in the important and evolving relationship between racism and militarism.

Buy this book now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Matt Meyer's Author Page now




Oscar Lopez Rivera, Between Torture and Resistance Reviewed in Peace News

By Ian Sinclair
PeaceNews
September 2013

Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera has the dubious distinction of being one of the longest-serving political prisoners in the world.

Having served in the US army in Vietnam, Rivera returned to Chicago and started working to improve living conditions for Puerto Ricans in the city.

Radicalised during this period, he became a forceful advocate for Puerto Rican independence from the United States. Facing police repression, Rivera went underground for several years. In 1981, he was captured and imprisoned for conspiring 'to overthrow by force the authority of the United States over Puerto Rico'. In prison, he has faced inhuman and degrading treatment and a considerable amount of solitary confinement. His release date is currently set for 2023, by which time he will be 80 years old.

Compiled by lawyer Luis Nieves Falcon from letters, commentary and speeches, Between Torture and Resistance is 'part postcard from prison, part lyrical prose'. It's an odd mix and a somewhat disjointed read.

I found the contextual sections written by Falcon to be frustratingly romantic and incomplete. The saint-like descriptions of Rivera sit uneasily with testimony from Rivera himself that suggests weapons were found when he was arrested. 'No more than a weapons collector would have at home', he notes.

Certainly, the independence group he is reported (by the New York Times) to have been part of undertook many bombings, although Rivera denies any connection. At his trial Rivera made an impressive statement referring to his 'revolutionary principles' and declared himself a prisoner of war. What these principles might be are never explored. And despite numerous references to Puerto Rico being a colony, its history is never summarised for those, such as this reviewer, who are largely ignorant of it.

The book is strongest when Rivera is reflecting on his physical and psychological imprisonment. 'They will never be able to break my spirit or my will. Every day I wake up alive is a blessing', he affirms. Activists involved with political prisoners will be interested to see that activism does make a difference - his conditions improved in 1997 because of pressure being applied to the US government, he says. And all activists will surely be heartened by Rivera's seemingly never-ending resolve: 'It is much easier not to struggle, to give up and take the path of the living dead. But if we want to live, we must struggle.'

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Oscar López Rivera's Author Page |
Back to Luis Nieves Falcón's Author Page
Back to Matt Meyer's Author Page




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

By Jason Hurd
TruthOut
September 22nd, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

by Qristina
Golden Zephyr
October 3rd, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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