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Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics

By Gabriel Kuhn
July 20th, 2010

You are the editor of Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics. What is it about?
Basically, it's about tracing the history of relations between straight edge and radical politics – by this I mean progressive, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian politics. Straight edge has often been associated with dogmatism, moralism, self-righteousness, and puritanism. Unfortunately, some self-identified straight edge folks have given reason to this, although the extent to which these attitudes have been characteristic for the straight edge scene has been grossly exaggerated. At the same time, it is true that there have been largely "apolitical" sections in the movement that have shown little resistance to these tendencies, which allowed them to flourish and to attract an unfortunate amount of attention. However, there have also always been individuals, bands, and entire scenes – like in Israel, Portugal, or Sweden – for which the union between straight edge and radical politics seemed very natural; and this is the history I've been trying to document in this volume by collecting interviews and essays from different radical straight edge artists and activists.

How did you come to this topic? Are you straight edge yourself?

Yes, I've been straight edge for over twenty years. Straight edge has meant a lot to me. I grew up in a small town in western Austria, in an environment where youths, especially boys, were expected to start drinking when they were like thirteen or fourteen. I was the only one in my town who rejected this, except for kids from really conservative Christian homes who I didn't hang out with either. So there was a sense of isolation and I constantly had to defend my choice of not drinking and, later, of not doing other drugs.
Finding out about straight edge was one of the most exciting discoveries of my life: not only did it mean that there were other kids like me out there – kids into underground music and culture yet with no interest in drugs – but it also meant that there was an entire movement that stood for my choices and ideas; in other words, there was a collective I could identify with!
The problem was that when I finally came in closer contact with straight edge scenes – in 1994, when I moved to the US – I was terribly disappointed, because some of the politics seemed so screwed. You must remember that this was a time when the hardline movement was really strong, and when you still had a very pronounced male dominance in the scene. Out of this came a highly ambiguous relationship with straight edge: it still meant a lot to me and I wanted to be part of it – yet I did not feel connected to many factions of the movement. I think it was this ambiguity that gave me the idea for the book: I wanted to document the parts of straight edge history that I could identify with; the parts that, to me personally, made straight edge the most inspiring and beautiful.

How do you see the evolution of the straight edge movement?

I think that straight edge has developed in many different ways, which is good – although I could do without the conservative elements.
In particular the last ten years have brought real diversity, also on a musical level. Straight edge is no longer tied to the youth crew style of the 1980s or the metalcore of the 1990s – today you have straight edge acoustic acts, straight edge power violence bands and everything in-between. There are also different definitions of straight edge – the most contentious issues are veganism, sexuality, and the exact understanding of drugs/intoxicants – and there are different political adaptations, reaching from anarchist to neo-fascist straight edge groups. As I said, the conservative elements I could do without, but in general diversity is good – it enriches and stimulates.

We think that straight edge is a form of désengagement, of refusal of the hegemonic values. So, it is connected to social commitment, against any oppression, and so to veganism also. How do you see it and how do you think straight edge people see it?

I like the notion of désengagement, I think it describes one of the political dimensions of straight edge very well. As you say, there is a rejection of hegemonic values and norms. So if you are opposed to the political and economic system that produces these values and norms, being straight edge marks an opposition to it. However, the political direction that this takes is not necessarily clear at first. Fascists reject the current system too, so a mere gesture of opposition is not enough to claim straight edge for left or radical politics. I don't think there is an automatic connection between désengagement and social commitment or the fight against oppression. Something has to be added to allow straight edge to head that way: social and political awareness, a commitment to a just and egalitarian world, empathy and affection. To some, veganism will be an obvious choice to make; others might make other choices with respect to their diets. I don't think that this in itself is decisive. What's decisive is that you fight for a better world for all and that you engage in respectful and comradely dialogue with others who want to do the same. No single individual has the answers as to which exact forms of behavior or conduct will get us there – but a common effort will guide us in the right way. And what applies to veganism applies to straight edge too: to some it will be an important part of this journey, to others it won't. Some people might prioritize other forms of désengagement. After all, complete désengagement is hardly possible in a world dominated by nation states and capital. In the end, it is the solidarity and the mutual support that counts. For us straight edge folks this means to prove our ability to contribute to this struggle in positive and constructive ways. So this is how I see it. How do other straight edge people see it? I'm not sure. I suppose that some see it similarly, but there are many different understandings of straight edge, including those that reject any connection to politics. As I said before, there is a lot of diversity.
In the last years, some far right movements, especially in Russia and Germany, try to integrate the straight edge culture in their ideological models. In France these last months, some people try to follow this pattern. What can you tell us about this tendency making straight edge a social Darwinism?
Straight edge in its very basic definition has no clear political content – it merely indicates a refusal of drugs/intoxicants. The political connotations of straight edge come from the context it appears in and from the ideas and notions it is linked to. It is easy for the right wing to claim straight edge: all you have to do is turn it into an ideology (rather than understanding it as a personal choice). Then you can claim that you are a "better", "more advanced", or "superior" person than others. That's the first step to fascism. Possibly, the second one is to tie these sentiments to a notion of "health". While straight edge can certainly contribute to personal health, a political notion of "health" is very dangerous and has been used by all fascist movements – you just have to study their language, fascists always speak of "disease", "plague", or "decay" when they refer to the people and communities they see as inferior. The third step – and this is where we come to today's explicitly fascist and neo-Nazi straight edge adaptations – is when you tie the notion of health to a "race" or a "nation" that you need to "defend" or "preserve" or whatever. Maybe we can speak of a three-step right-wing danger here: 1. self-righteousness ("I am better than you"); 2. social Darwinism ("I am healthier than you and will outlive you"); 3. outright nationalism/racism ("we are better than you and we must maintain our 'purity'"). I think what we have seen in recent years in Russia and Germany – and now apparently also in France, although I don't know much about this – is the third step being more and more clearly articulated. The first two, to be honest, have been haunting straight edge for a long time.
How can we resist these developments?
I think there is little point in arguing about what straight edge "really" means or in denouncing the right-wing adaptations as "distortions" of straight edge. Right-wing straight edge folks obviously have their own definitions and there is no higher authority to decide who is right and wrong. In the end, we would just exhaust ourselves by throwing definitions back and forth. I think what's more important is to make our ideas as present in the scene as possible and to make them compelling to the people who move in the scene. We will win kids by being welcoming, compassionate, and caring. These are strong values – all the other side got is hate.
Yes, but hate is also something very important. We hate oppression and exploitation. And, concerning the three points you talked about, we disagree with the first point. Because, yes, we do consider the vegan straight edge lifestyle as superior to other lifestyles. Would you agree to say that, in your will not to make accurate definitions and in your promotion of spontaneity, you're in favor of an anarchist vision? And that for you, veganism and straight edge don't go necessarily together?
Of course it is important to have strong feelings about the terrible consequences of oppression and exploitation. If you want to call that "hate", that's fine. But what you hate in this case is a system, and you hate it because you want people – all people, I suppose – to be happy. People on the extreme right, on the other hand, hate people and that is at the center of their ideology. To me that's a crucial difference, and that's what I meant.
As far as the superiority of vegan straight edge is concerned, I guess it depends on what you mean by that. If you think that it is the best way to contribute to as little cruelty as possible in your personal lives, I see no particular reason to argue with that – although I'd like to point out that being vegan straight edge in itself doesn't mean that you can't be an asshole. As I said before, if you want to set a really convincing example for a "cruelty-free" or a "compassionate" lifestyle, your vegan straight edge ethics have to be tied to broad political consciousness.
Related to this, the claim that vegan straight edge constitutes a superior lifestyle can become troubling if you really want to make this a universal norm. I mean, if we go to a fishing village in Senegal and tell people that their lifestyle is inferior to ours, our vegan straight edge ethics can easily become cynical and offensive. That's why I don't like to speak of vegan straight edge as anything "superior." I think that vegan straight edge as a political practice makes a lot of sense in certain contexts and under certain circumstances – but we must never forget that billions of people don't share our contexts and circumstances, and hence other things will make more sense to them. Life is diverse, complex, and complicated, and not only is it important to be aware of that, it also makes life exciting. And it is certainly one of the reasons why I don't like to argue about definitions. Definitions help us to negotiate the complexity of life – they are tools, but they hold no truth. That's why I think it's usually pointless to argue about them. You don't win over people's hearts by defining things – you win them over by setting examples of a more joyful life. Does this belief make me an anarchist? Maybe – if it fits your definition of anarchism...
Regarding the relation of veganism and straight edge, maybe this helps to illustrate my point about definitions being tools: to me, the two are not necessarily connected, because I define straight edge as abstinence from drugs/intoxicants, and people can abstain from drugs/intoxicants without being vegans. Hence, according to the definition of straight edge I use, there is no necessary connection. If you have a different definition, your conclusion might be a different one too. It can be a lot of fun to discuss these things, but we'll never get to the point where one of us is proven right or wrong – and I don't think that matters either.

How do you see the future of the straight edge movement?
To begin with, I am convinced that it will live on. It has survived thirty years, which means that it has stood the test of time. Most straight edge kids today weren't even born when Ian MacKaye wrote the song "Straight Edge" in 1980. Movements that make it this long are usually here to stay.
What will the future bring? Even more diversity, I suppose – and hopefully more radical expressions. I am optimistic. I think that there exists both an increasing interest in sobriety in radical circles and an ongoing interest for radical ideas among many straight edge kids. This is promising.

What is the best way to buy the book? Can you tell us about the publisher?

The best way to buy the book is to get it either directly from the PM Press website or from an independent bookstore or distributor. That way, the money stays within our community and will go into important political projects.
PM Press was founded a couple of years ago and has brought out an impressive list of books, DVDs, and CDs during the short time it has been around. There are a few people involved who have very strong roots in the hardcore punk community, which certainly helped to gather support for this project. If you want to get a better idea of the titles they are putting out, it'd be best to just browse their website.

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Vegetarian Myth on The Fifth Estate Magazine

A Book Review
by Walker Lane
The Fifth Estate Magazine

Once, at a Tai Chi workshop I attended, an elderly Chinese master of the discipline suddenly stopped in the middle of the demonstration and asked, completely out of the blue, “Why do so many of you not eat meat?”

Since there were quite a few vegetarians among the eager students, the only response was an embarrassed silence and the soft shuffling of cotton-soled Tai Chi shoes.

“There’s good ch’i in meat,” he admonished us in his accented English, referring to the energy flow present in all living things that would enhance us by ingesting that of another being.

Someone, anticipating that the answer wasn’t going to be well received, said weakly, “We don’t want to kill to eat.” “Why not?,” asked the master. “Everything eats everything. One day worms eat us,” he said and roared with laughter at his own comment. Weak smiles came from the assembled students who were thankful that the discussion went quickly back to the training at hand.

This is essentially Lierre Keith’s argument in The Vegetarian Myth— everything eats everything. She views existence as a tightly interconnected circle of life and death encompassing all living beings and the earth itself, and attempts to avoid or circumvent the process only brings the environmental, political, and health disasters she chronicles in her highly charged style.

The myth, referred to in the book’s title, is one held by so many of us, that a non-meat diet can save the animals and the planet, and that a vegetable-based diet is essential for good health. Keith, a vegan for twenty years, denies each of these contentions with a fervor consistent with the manner of all apostates. Her book marshals an enormous amount of supportive evidence from social and medical sciences, and adds her own meatless history which she says almost destroyed her body. Keith, now a vigorous flesh-eater, advocates a return to meat-eating as a way to heal ourselves and the planet, although she’s sketchy on the details of what this would mean. She certainly doesn’t advocate eating at McDonald’s.
You might think that an author who identifies herself as a radical feminist activist and who exhibits a driving concern for the damage being done to the environment would get a respectful hearing since her charges are so provocative and challenging not only to vegans and vegetarians, but to mainstream nutrition theories as well.

Instead, she and her book have touched off a firestorm of condemnation, denunciation, calumny, insults, and charges of bad faith against her. Her critics exhibit a fury in many on-line discussions of the book, calling her every name imaginable: a liar, a shill for the meat industry, an “animal holocaust denier,” and a publicity hound, all of which culminated in a physical attack on her while she spoke at the March 2010 San Francisco Anarchist Book Fair.

Three men in masks and black hoodies ran up to her as she spoke and slammed a cayenne-laced pie into Keith’s face, yelling, “Go Vegan.” Several days later, she reported, “My eyes are still puffy and blurry, but the pain is definitely better. I think the worst part was hearing people cheer my assailants while I was being assaulted. I don’t want to live in a world where people cheer while someone has cayenne rubbed into their eyes.”

That act, the equivalent of macing someone, at an anarchist event should be condemned as cowardly and completely unacceptable, but instead has been defended by some. Like anti-abortion terrorists, self-righteousness excuses violence. Most vegans, I’m sure, find this act as reprehensible as any meat eater would.

By the way, there are numerous books in print that make the same nutritional assertions and criticism of vegans as hers, but perhaps the fact that it was an anarchist event spurred the assault.

The North American Animal Liberation Press Office released a statement praising the assailants who “made their statement very eloquently and succinctly on behalf of the billions of animals she advocates killing.” Keith makes it clear that she opposes all factory farming and advocates restoration of forests and prairies.

However, she must be aware, as our imprisoned vegan friend and comrade, Marie Mason—a harsh critic of Keith—is, that cattle grazing has destroyed many of the prairies the author wants to re-establish.

I haven’t eaten land animals in decades and most of my diet consists of grains, legumes, and vegetables, with some additional seafood and dairy products. My health is excellent. So is that of my veggie and vegan friends as well as that of the many famous people such as k.d. Lang, Moby, Morrissey, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the late Coretta Scott King and Cesar Chavez, numerous professional sports stars including triathletes, body builders, and professional basketball players and baseball players, who adhere to a vegan diet. Yet, Keith says her vegan diet badly injured her body including causing a spinal deformation from which she’ll never recover. She cites anecdotal evidence and studies demonstrating how the body cannot be sustained without ingesting animal fats and protein.

Many critics of her book (and, there are many!) take on her advocacy of meat consumption although much of the on-line rage stems from charges that her book incites “the murder of innocent non-human beings.” To support her nutritional claims, Keith cites endless and seemingly legitimate medical studies affirming her carnivore point of view, many which confound current dietary recommendations including those published by the U.S. government, all which advise limiting meat consumption.

Contrary to what highly respected, independent groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest advocate, Keith says that a heavy grain-based diet is the cause of what she identifies as the “diseases of civilization”—cancer, heart ailments, and other plagues of our era. Causal factors for disease and the impact of diet on health aren’t as easy to discern as one would think. Am I healthy because of my diet and active lifestyle, or, because I’m a North American, white, middle-class man?

How we live and what we eat greatly effect our health, but so does where we are situated in the class pyramid which often has determinative consequences. Keith says she greatly respects the desire of non-meat eaters to live without killing, but asks them to look at the damage done by agriculture which she refers to (irrefutably, I’d say) as “bio-cide.” The planet-wide swath of agricultural land with its mono-crop planting is really what has killed “billion of animals” that the pie-throwers say they care about.

Keith asks us to look at a piece of land with its thousands of inhabitants, not just its mega-fauna, and see the destruction and death necessary to raise corn for tortillas, wheat for pasta, or rice for biryani. Farming, especially the modern variety with its dependence on fossil fuel eliminates all vegetable and animal life other than the desired crop. When you eat vegetables, it too is on a mountain of corpses, big and small, when one counts the species that have been driven from the land for cultivation including the tiniest of living beings that are eradicated.

So, to eat grains, no less than meat, is to kill. Meat is murder? So is wheat. But, if you substitute the natural process of death for the loaded word, murder, a much different set of ethical standards arise. Keith, like this publication whose critique of agriculture began many years ago, realizes that systems of production have social consequences as well as environmental ones. The historical record is there. The accumulation of the surplus large scale agriculture could produce was the first capital although shortsighted Marxists claim the system of capitalism itself didn’t arise until thousands of years later.

With wealth that could be hoarded, a system of rulers established itself (the State), protected by armed men, created a division of labor, destroyed the matriarchy and implanted angry sky gods who ruled as men did on earth, grouped people into the squalor of cities, and began a relentless drive to conquer with its planetary system. Annual grain production also allowed a population expansion as more people could be fed, and as the number of people grew, so did the need for more land to be brought under cultivation, which produced more grain, which allowed for more people to be fed, which…

What emerges ultimately from her text is catastrophism, the long neglected Deep Ecology concept of Overshoot -- the view that we’ve gone so far beyond the planet’s resources, used up so much of what it could provide to a species in balance with nature, that we are headed for a planetary collapse. Keith, as well as this publication, Deep Ecologists, and even many mainstream observers, state frighteningly that the march of agriculture has brought us to an untenable point as a species. We’ve overshot our carrying capacity with the destruction of forests, watersheds, seas, and the rapid disappearance of top soil and now exist by drawing down on what’s left.

This seems a much more potent question for the pie-throwers to confront rather than whether a human can exist on vegetables alone. If we’re on a bullet train speeding along at 250 miles an hour with a washed-out trestle ahead, does it really matter what’s on our plate in the dining car?

Nutritionists can argue forever about the claims and counter-claims about diet. That discussion is crucial to our individual health, but what do Keith’s critics say to her central theses? Do those who want to live without killing deny that agriculture, which provides 80 percent of the world’s diet, is murderous (in their terms) little different than the death created by meat eating? Keith states, the “foods the vegetarians say will save us are foods that destroy the world.” Doesn’t this necessitate conversation and debate rather than denunciation and violence?

Do Keith’s critics deny that agriculture allowed the first rulers to arise and with them the State, patriarchy, and repressive religions? Or, that with the advent of agriculture, human and animal life became disvalued, and abstraction replaced real experience?

But, even if we agree with her, where does that leave the vegan, vegetarians, and others like myself who eat a reduced animal diet? Maddeningly, Keith gives barely a hint. She certainly doesn’t provide recipes; doesn’t even suggest what proportion of meat properly belongs in a diet (although she offers the Inuits, whose 80 percent meat and fat diet doesn’t result in heart disease or cancer).

She says diet ought to be appropriate to where you live. Keith says the damage the planetary population will experience is unavoidable given the number of people on earth. She says the question is, are people going to attempt to manage what is unavoidable or will the blindly wielded scythe of Nature, neither cruel nor compassionate, do it for us?

Postscript: I almost forgot the other title under consideration, Vegan Freak. Its vapid, chatty text advocating a diet without animal products is seemingly aimed at making late teens gag at the thought of eating even dairy products (Did you know that all cheese “contains at least some pus?” Ew, gross!) The book almost made me go out and eat a burger. 

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Revolution and Other Writings in The Fifth Estate

A Book Review
By David Tighe
The Fifth Estate Magazine

Gustav Landauer is perhaps the most important German speaking anarchist of the late 19th and early 20th century, but he is not well known in the English speaking world. Despite four book length studies of Landauer and a few translations, there has never been a major collection of his work in English. Gabriel Kuhn and PM Press have changed that. Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader is a very good introduction to Landauer’s work for the English speaking world. It contains one of Landauer’s most important pieces, Revolution, twenty-nine other shorter essays, and a selection of correspondence. There is also a solid introduction and bibliography.

The focus here is on Landauer’s political writings, although he wrote voluminously on many topics, especially philosophy and literature. This focus is well-considered because reading the entire book gives you a sense of Landauer’s ideas about anarchy, socialism, and revolution that are not always straightforward and obvious. Landauer was deeply influenced by Christian mysticism, especially the work of 12th century German, Meister Eckhart; he even translated some of Eckhart’s writings into modern German. For some, the mystical elements of Landauer’s writings may make them difficult or unappealing, but I find that this search for an anarchist and non-religious mysticism is one of the most interesting and unique aspects of his work.

The essays are arranged roughly chronologically, which is a good way to follow Landauer’s political progression. From his early essays published in Die Socialist, which he edited from 1893-99, you get a picture of the fiery young radical who was described in a German police file (in 1893) as “the most important agitator of the radical revolutionary movement.” By the time we read his critique of propaganda of the deed and political assassination (Anarchic Thoughts on Anarchism, published in 1901), we see a much more philosophical and mystical writer, as seen in the essay Through Separation to Community. At times in the essay he struggles with perception and time.

He speaks of stopping the process of time to see past, present and future simultaneously. Later, he proposes a mystical unity of individualism and community: “the true individuality that we find in the deepest depths of ourselves is community,  humanity, divinity.”

The period of 1900–08 saw Landauer mostly withdrawn from radical politics. He wrote extensively, translated a number of books, including works by Kropotkin, Meister Eckhart, George Bernard Shaw, and with Hedwig Lachmann—three works by Oscar Wilde. He also wrote two of his three most important works: Skepticism and Mysticism in 1903 and Revolution in 1907. Definitely a productive period!

Revolution is easily the book’s most difficult work. Gabriel Kuhn acknowledges this in the introduction: “Landauer’s inconsistent use of the term ‘revolution,’ for example, has confused many readers. In general, Landauer presents ‘revolution’ as a permanent historical struggle for socialism, tied into the renewal of spirit, individuality, and community (in Landauer’s mysticism, all one).

This philosophical interpretation of revolution is the crux of the book. At the same time, Landauer also employs the term in a much more common manner and refers to individual events of—actual or attempted—radical social transformation as ‘revolutions.’ Kuhn also underlines the importance of this essay, calling it “one of the most important anarchist analyses of history and revolution.”

I concur with both assessments. This is a strange and wonderful essay. It is beyond the scope of this review to discuss Revolution in detail, but it needs discussion. Despite any flaws, this is an important essay and unlike anything I’ve read. Landauer’s interesting and influential ideas about utopia are expanded herein. He also expounds at length his ideas about the Christian Middle Ages. He praises alchemists, pantheists, and heretics. Landauer ends the essay by stating that we hardly know anything about the future and that the path we take “will lead via the unknown, with sudden turns, and towards buried treasure.” This essay had been a buried treasure, but now it is revealed by a skillful translator.

Shortly after writing Revolution, Landauer seemingly reengaged with radical politics. What follows in the book is a large number of shorter essays on a wide number of topics: how to create socialism, the Social Democratic Party, anti-militarism and struggle against WWI, the Haymarket martyrs, Benjamin Tucker, May Day, the Mexican Revolution, Esperanto (entitled: Do Not Learn Esperanto!), autonomous rural communities, and  so on.

The few letters included are also of great interest—they definitely paint a picture of Landauer as a complex man. Erich Mühsam, Landauer’s life-long friend, is quoted: “Shall I speak of Landauer, the man? Of the way he moved, of his personal relationships with others? Read his letters! Read them!” The one letter included to Mühsam is harshly critical of his writing. The letters also reveal a personal side not seen in his writings, including a series of short telegrams to his daughters in the waning days of the Bavarian Council Republic,  shortly before he was murdered on 

May 2, 1919.
Gabriel Kuhn has done us a favor by translating this book. The translations are excellent and the book is laid out well and easy to use. The introduction gives a lot of useful biographical information as well as an interesting discussion of Landauer’s legacy, including his influence on the kibbutz movement in the 1920s and ’30s. Here’s hoping this book leads to a revival of interest in Gustav Landauer and to more translations.

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Soccer and Radical Politics: Redcarding Capitalist Soccer

by Ron Jacobs
April 2011

Historically, sports have always been a grassroots endeavor. Whether one is part of a local team playing an arch rival or a fan in the stands at a contest broadcast across the world, the game derives its meaning from those who play and their supporters. As anyone involved with sports knows, this meaning raises spirits and inflames passions. Most likely begun as a means for humans to get together and burn off some energy, their modern realization in all its forms continues to be an arena where passions run high and games take on a meaning well beyond their objective importance. Because of this meeting of people and passions, sports have often been manipulated for political and pecuniary ends. In today's world, both these phenomena are present internationally in the most popular sport of them all--football, often known as soccer.

This is the subject of Gabriel Kuhn's newest book, Soccer vs. the State:Tackling Football and Radical Politics. A former semi-professional soccer player, Kuhn explores sports ground currently tilled by writers like Dave Zirin. However, while Zirin critiques the entire world of professional sports, Kuhn focuses entirely on soccer. Interspersing leaflets, interviews and articles with his own contextual narrative, Kuhn presents the reader with an alternative vision of soccer from the World Cup to grassroots football clubs organized by squatters and political activists. Underlying it all is a critique of modern capitalism and its effect on the sport.

It is difficult for fans of professional sports in the United States to conceive of their favorite teams not being owned by a a group of multimillionaires or a corporation. From MLB's Yankees to the WNBA's Mystics, the reason these teams exist is to turn a profit or, alternatively, to operate as a tax write-off for the owners.  Sport itself is secondary to almost every owner. With the exception of the NFL's Green Bay Packers, who are owned by several thousand of their fans, the fan of professional sports in the United States and Canada is nothing more than a consumer whose credit cards exist for the pleasure of those who own their favorite team.

The phenomenon of multimillionaire ownership of soccer clubs is relatively new. According to Kuhn's history, many teams were founded by workers and existed within a framework that prevented corporate ownership. As the purchase of several English Premier League teams over the past few years by foreign and British corporations proves, this is no longer the case. With these changes in ownership has come a change in the way the fan is treated. To the dismay of the most devoted working class fans. fewer standing room tickets (known as the terrace) are sold. Instead, ownership is insisting on reserved seating at higher prices. This practice not only limits the fervor of the fans who previously stood on the terrace, it limits the number of those fans admitted into the stadium. To their credit, fan clubs of teams that have instituted these changes have protested the reduction in terrace tickets and have met with some success in getting more such tickets.

Like most sports, soccer is riddled with sexism, homophobia and racism. Kuhn describes several efforts by fans and players challenging these negative phenomena. From Germany's Bundnis aktiver Fussballfans (BAFF) to various players who have openly challenged the racism of other fans and players, Kuhn describes and active anti-racist culture within international soccer. He further describes various fan cultures known for their leftist and autonomist politics. Most famous of these are the fans of Hamburg's St. Pauli fussball club. The team itself is not noticeably anti-establishment. Indeed, its stadium was named after a Nazi who used slave labor to make his millions. However, during the peak of the German squatter's movement in the 1980s, the team was adopted by residents of Hamburg's Hafenstrasse squats. These fans began showing up at games with antifascist flags and banners. Eventually, the team came to be a favorite of left and autonomist soccer fans around Europe, with their away games packing stadiums with left and anarchist punks and politicos. The BAFF's fanzine exists today, although with a less political edge to it than in days past.

If you are a soccer fan, this book is a must, especially if your politics lean left. The same applies if you are just a sports fan in general. Imagine a Major League Baseball game where the bleachers are filled with fans making their opposition to anti-immigrant legislation known. Imagine a whole section of fans not standing when those warplanes fly over while the Star Spangled Banner is sung. Gabriel Kuhn, like those writers alluded to at the beginning of this review, gives the sports fan who finds the displays of nationalism and unabashed commerialism so prevalent on the playing field an alternative vision of what sports fandom could be.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His new novel is The Co-Conspirator's Tale. He can be reached at:

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OreOre awarded Oe Kenzaburτ Literary Award

Translation and commentary
by Brian Bergstrom

It was announced on April 6th that Tomoyuki Hoshino’s 2010 novel OreOre (lit.: Me! Me!) was chosen to receive the 5th annual Oe Kenzaburô Literary Award!  This award is conferred to a book the Nobel Laureate deems important enough to be introduced to a larger audience not only within Japan but outside it as well, and includes guaranteed publication in English through a publisher of Oe’s choosing. 

This is a fantastic boon to Hoshino’s prominence not only within Japan but the rest of the world, and there would seem to be no one better suited to navigating the responsibilities and challenges inherent in this increased prominence.  PM Press is proud to be publishing the first translations of Hoshino’s work into English, including the novel Lonely Hearts Killer (translated by Adrienne Carey Hurley) and the upcoming collection of short stories and novellas, We, the Children of Cats (translated by Brian Bergstrom, with an additional translation by Lucy Fraser).

Indeed, on March 1, 2011, just over a month before the announcement, Hoshino addressed these issues head-on in the blog post translated below.  It’s a piece that shows how seriously Hoshino takes his position as novelist and intellectual, a testament to his integrity as a public figure dedicated to bringing to light the voices, concerns and perspectives routinely relegated to the realm of the minor in Japan and elsewhere.

This dedication can also be seen in the things he has been writing in his Twitter stream and revamped blog, selections from which have been translated into English and published on the Project East360 blog (

Undoubtedly, this finely tuned sense of ethics, along with an unparalleled literary imagination, that led Oe to make his choice.  Congratulations, Hoshino!

On the Trap of the Major
Tomoyuki Hoshino
original post

There’s a trap that public intellectuals – authors, scholars, pundits, journalists, and the like – often fall into once they become major figures.

Becoming a major public intellectual means that one’s words receive attention from a large amount of people and thus have a certain power of influence; in essence, such a person becomes a kind of media outlet.  And these days, if one takes advantage of digital technologies and the internet, one can quite literally become an individual and media outlet simultaneously, and when someone in that position becomes “major,” he or she likewise becomes a mass media outlet.

We live in an age when any individual, as an individual, can become a media outlet, but the situation of a major public intellectual is different than that of an average, nameless citizen.  The major public intellectual has been given a power of self-expression approximating that of a minor mass media outlet, a magnified right to free speech.  And this magnified power of self-expression can be a trap.

For many public intellectuals, the things they said at the start of their careers, when they were still nameless, carried a strong sense of coming from the minority position.  There was a sense that they bringing to their audience’s attention information, realities and forms of thought that were otherwise hidden.  It was important for them to put these things into words precisely because they were otherwise powerless.

When these people become major figures, though, they frequently speak as if still powerless, despite the sudden increase in the number of people paying attention; therein lies the trap.  The minor mentality invariably includes within it an aggressiveness borne from awareness of oneself as victimized.  Without borrowing a certain kind of violence to assert their very existence, unrecognized people speaking from minor positions will not be heard at all.  In this sense, I feel that minor discourse cannot do without this kind of aggressiveness, and that, as long as it does not become excessive, it’s indispensable.

However, what happens when public intellectuals in major positions continue speaking as if still minor, spewing words filled with the aggressiveness borne from an exaggerated sense of their own minority status?  These people already have the powers of self-expression and free speech conferred to individuals cum media outlets.  So this aggressiveness not only bears the dubious power to incite its audience, but also to suppress weaker voices as well.  But, since these people still think of themselves as minor, they assume their words cannot have the power to suppress others’ voices.  People in this position think of themselves as continuing in the same way they had when they were minor, but from the outside, it produces the impression that, “Oh, he’s changed.  He’s gotten so oppressive now that he’s ‘important.’”

There are also those who end up cut off from the minority communities from whose position they used to speak, a result of becoming incorporated into the professional world of opinion.  These people’s priorities shift to protecting their own newfound major status and expanding its reach rather than conveying to a larger audience realities and words that have gone unrecognized.  As a result, these people end up using their powers of self-expression to demonstrate their own status and shore up their “major” position. “I use words to effect change” becomes “my gaining power is the same thing as effecting change,” and all of these people’s energy goes into defending that power.  So the resulting discourse serves only these ends: advertising the speaker’s status as a major figure and propping up his or her power to speak.  In other words, it serves to betray the very things he or she once represented.

Once it has reached this point, it no longer matters how magnified a discourse’s influence becomes, it can never do anything but support the status quo.  Even if the words themselves seem minoritarian, their context is majoritarian.  This is why even in those instances when the things a person in such a position says seem unobjectionable, it seems nevertheless impossible to trust her or him.  The power of words to break apart the violence of the majority, to vivify the position of the minority, lies not only in the words themselves but also in their context and their emotional core.

Once people enter the world of professionalized opinion, they end up appearing everywhere.  And this is a sad thing.  To take the recent Tokyo marathon as an example, it is reminiscent of the feeling one gets seeing corporate-sponsored athletes who have plenty of talent and ability of their own “bellying up to the bar,” as it were.  Public intellectuals would be better served following the example of Yûki Kawauchi* [who became famous by finishing third in the marathon as the highest-ranking Japanese marathoner, despite “dropping out” of the corporate-sponsored “elite” training program and training while working a fulltime job in the public sector –translator’s note]
—March 1, 2011

*explanatory link:

Back to Tomuyuki Hoshino's Author Page

First Earth – A Cob Building Film for Inspiration

by Øyvind Holmstad
Permaculture Research Institute of Australia

March 17th, 2011

First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture by David Sheen is meant as an inspirational film about earthen buildings, or more specifically, what they call "cob." Cob is the oldest and easiest way of building from earth. You can find information and relevant literature here, and inspiring pictures here.

The architect Rolf Jacobsen at Gaia Tjøme, Norway, has, together with his son, built an experimental cob building on their property. Because of the cold climate they chose a two layer wall with perlite in between for insulation. You can read a discussion about cob in humid climates in this article, looking especially at the comments thread.

No matter whatever you live—in a hot, cold, dry or humid climate—lean back and watch the video below. If you enjoy it the DVD can be ordered here. (The DVD version of the film has high-quality video and audio and includes extras.)

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Join PM Press at the SF Anarchist Bookfair April 9th-10th

SF Anarchist BookFair

News > Additional Stories

Join PM Press at the SF Anarchist Bookfair April 9th-10th

Poster by Hugh D’Andrade

Come join PM Press and hundreds of other radical folks for the 16th Annual San Francisco Anarchist Bookfair! Authors appearing include Andrej Grubacic,Summer Brenner, Michael Harris, Sin Soracco, Terry Bisson, Nick Mamatas, David McNally, Sasha Lilley, Cal Winslow and more. Click on the authors to get to their publications, and check the link below for full details. While at the fair be sure to visit the PM Press table for all our latest releases.
Saturday, April 09 2011 @ 010:00 AM - - 06:00PM
Sunday, April 10 2011 @ 011:00 AM - - 05:00PM

SF County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park at Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Way
San Francisco, CA
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Living Poetry: An Interview with Akbar Ahmed

By Human Yusuf

April 10, 2011

Akbar Ahmed talks about his latest publication, a collection of poetry that he penned over the decades, across Pakistan and the West, which seamlessly weaves together the personal and the political.

Futterman describes you as a man suspended between homelands, friendships, and faiths. Does this theme of exile inform your poetry?

The fact that my parents and I arrived in Pakistan in August 1947 by definition placed me between several cultures, countries, and religious identities. Since then, I’ve had to repeatedly renegotiate new identities. I grew up in the Frontier province, which is a different world within Pakistan. As a civil servant, I have lived in Balochistan and other parts of the country, but also travelled abroad as a student. Each time it was the discovery and negotiation of a new culture. Throughout, poetry was a personal response to events and people and developments around me—as such I have been living my poetry.

You have written non-fiction books, plays, academic essays, film scripts, and diplomatic cables. What does poetry offer that other genres do not?

My poetry is intensely personal. It’s an immediate response to personal emotions, that part of me that has not gone public until now. For example, one of my longer poems, “I Sarrison,” was written when I was twenty-one years old. I was having a hot bath at university, and I suddenly felt the need to find some paper, and the poem poured out of me. Some of the ideas expressed are so personal that they may not make sense to anyone except the poet. That explains why I have not edited or altered the older poems in the collection—the Akbar Ahmed of today and from the 1960s are different entities, with different ideas.

Which poem in the collection was the hardest to write?

“You, my father,” the poem I dedicated to my father. I loved him intensely, and was always acutely aware of the pressures in his life. He worked for the British Raj but was always passionately invested in his Islamic identity. He was a committed Muslim who wore a suit but said his prayers. When I wrote my poem, I was using him as a symbol of a past generation that had lived under the British and had faced different dilemmas than my own generation. Theirs was a different world; they knew where the lines between the two cultures were drawn.

But my generation did not have the same security and confidence—for us, identity was a charged issue.

The poem was a complex, subtle tribute to my father, but I think he would have preferred something direct and simple. My mother later told me he didn’t like it too much. It’s disappointing to me that I couldn’t convey how much I loved him through that poem.

Why have you chosen to publish this collection now?

I have been writing an autobiographical play recently, and so have been confronting my past. Also, through conversations with old friends, and in response to horrible news from Pakistan every day about attacks and violence, I’ve been thinking a lot about a different Pakistan. The Pakistan I knew before it all fell apart, the one that inspired confidence and optimism in me and made me feel sorry for the Indians who were so far behind us at the time.

But now I see people attacking mosques and women and children, and I wonder what happened. And I see that young Pakistanis have no sense of the country that I used to know, nor do they know why it came into being or what their history or identity is. Those who do not understand their identity face grave challenges. For that reason, I felt that I had to leave something behind of that Pakistan, the one I grew up with. I felt a duty to put it on the record: this is how one Pakistani felt at different points in the nation’s history.

The poems span a lifetime of writing and responding—how did you decide which ones to include in the collection?

It was a difficult choice. Some poems are political, some are about Islamic identity. My rule of thumb was to choose the ones that would make sense to the reader, and weed out the ones that were too obscure.

Who are your poetic influences?

My mother was passionately in love with Iqbal and Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir, and I too was intoxicated by their work. But coming from a boarding school culture, I was also taught the poems of Keats and Shelley. I think I have all these great poets within me. Dr Moazzam Siddiqui is currently translating my collection into Urdu, and he has said that there’s a Sufi stance in the verse as well.

What role do you think poetry can play in stemming Islamophobia in the US?

The challenge these days is to convey the sophistication and traditions and the history of Muslim culture. The goal is to show that Muslims have produced some of the most amazing poetry and philosophy through the ages, and to equate this civilization with mindless terrorism is ridiculous. Through poetry, you cut out the controversies and stereotypes and get straight to the heart of the issue.

Whenever I am asked an antagonistic question about Islam, I respond by reciting my poem about my mother. That way, I transfer the image of a violent Muslim into one of an ordinary human being who has the same problems, the same pain, the same love as any other person. That’s the appeal of poetry—it helps us understand our own life, and that of others, better. The reaction to my poetry in America has been very positive.

Will anyone be angered by this collection?

Some people may feel I’m too secular, others will say I’m too Islamic, a fundamentalist. Poetry is an insight into a person’s life, not an analytic thesis. So I expect the poems will create reactions and people won’t agree with all the opinions I express.

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Calling All Heroes: A Manual for Taking Power: a review

By Travis Fristoe
Maximumrocknroll #330
November 2010

Calling All Heroes: A Manual for Taking Power sounds like nonfiction, a primer. Don’t be put off by the title. What we have here instead is an adventure story about getting back at the cops, the government & the military: “I’m going to get everyone together and we’re going to kick their ass.”

The backstory is important. The author, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, is a prolific Mexico City novelist, most famous for his mystery stories. Taibo was part of the 1968 student uprising that was violently quelled. The protestors had 123 days of “hope for future fulfillment” before the defeat, forcing them to “take refuge inside ourselves and in a bleak militancy.” Further, Taibo explains: “Under these deplorable conditions, this shortest of novels was created. Brewed in the midst of a premature divorce following a premature marriage, of a political crisis, of an era of hunger and unemployment, the novel became a pretext, a vendetta, dealing with Power by other means.”

Taibo then shrewdly waited and re-wrote the novel three times over the intervening twelve years. The ghost of what could have been haunts us still. But a compelling backstory is not always enough to make a worthwhile book. Taibo’s patience here is the reader’s gain, and the symbols he uses resonate even in translation. A young journalist is stabbed while on the trail of a prostitute killer in Mexico City. His memory is hazy about the incident and he writes his friends to ask what happened.

The crime and brutality might sound slightly like the murders of women evoked in Roberto Bolano’s 2666 but the tone is very different. This book’s structure is a chorus of voices, the construct being letters and memories back to the author about just what happened between January 14 and 26, 1970. Our narrator then gets the idea to appeal in letters to all the valorous heroes of his youth. His list is global, all male and a mix of different time periods—the Mau Maus, Sherlock Holmes, Doc Holliday, the Tigers of Malaysia, the Four Musketeers, Yanez de Gomera and the Light Brigade. Plus a few others that you may find exhilarating or absurd.

Were these heroes willing to come to Mexico’s aid? “‘They were ready and waiting.’ There couldn’t be so much disillusionment, so much defeat. If it could be understood, it could be explained . . .” They do come. You can imagine the incandescent fantasy of what happens next: A dead pig thrown at the foot of the United States Embassy and an insurrection relived, successfully this time. A young man’s fever dream while prostate in a hospital bed. Given the list of heroes, you might ask if it’s like the Rancid song “Sidekick,” where Lint runs through the streets with Wolverine from the X-Men. Yes, it’s like that. In the good ways.

What I found more haunting though were the responses from the friends, particularly those lacerating Paco Ignacio: “I don’t know about you but I was a sad guy of twenty who wrote fotonovelas for a living (which sometimes paid nothing), roamed a city that had been ours and we had lost, rented a room in the Condesa district, had a record player, read Faulkner, Rodolfo Walsh, Italo Calvino, and Dos Passos, and watched it rain.”

This book isn’t an alternate history the way that Philip Dick’s Man in the High Castle retold World War II. This is a retelling by a crushed participant who spent the subsequent years wrestling with the rubble: “Everyone is gone but no one has finished going. Everyone has guilt but no way of explaining it. Something will have to happen.” As you may have already surmised, there’s an acute lack of female voices, and the characters are full of “ragged sarcasm.” I trust you as a reader to know if that’s something that the rousing plot overcomes. Who wouldn’t like to revisit the past armed with a cinematic army and tempered by the critiques of our friends?

The novel is part of PM Press’s Found in Translation series. And John Yates is to be again commended for the design of the book cover.

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ISN Interview with Gabriel Kuhn

By International Soccer Network
April 5th, 2011

ISN had the privilege of interviewing Gabriel Kuhn, author of Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics. Kuhn is one of soccer’s most compelling and challenging figures.  

Soccer vs. the State has garnered rave reviews from critics worldwide and rightfully so.  It is a must-read for those who love football and see the game as an instrument of social justice.  It offers content and commentary that you will not find anywhere else. 

Kuhn took on questions from a variety of topics, including his own personal experiences with the beautiful game, corruption, and the power of international football.

Check out the podcast here

Buy Book Now
| Download e-Book now | Back to Gabriel Kuhn's Author Page


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