Join Our Mailing List
Email:

Bookmark and Share


  Home > News > Additional Stories

From Here to There: A Review

The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture Vol. 3, Iss.2, (December 2010): 255-262.
By
Luke Stewart

The admirable radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War dissent, 1945–1970, by Carl Mirra, Kent, Kent State University Press, 2010, 224 pp., US$34.95 (hardback), ISBN 9781606350515

From here to there: the Staughton Lynd reader, edited by Andrej Grubacic, Oakland, PM Press, 2010, 305 pp., US$22.00 (paperback), ISBN 9781604862157

Stepping stones: a memoir of a life together, by Alice Lynd and Staughton Lynd, Lanham, Lexington Books, 2009, 191 pp., US$26.95 (paperback), ISBN 9780739127506

The release of Carl Mirra’s biography of Staughton Lynd, The Admirable Radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945–1970, Andrej Grubacic’s edited collection of Lynd’s writings, From Here to There: The Staughton Lynd Reader, and Lynd’s dual memoir with his wife, Alice, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of a Life Together will help to deepen our understanding of the long Sixties and the important debates about postwar American radicalism. Furthermore, these three books contribute to our understanding about Staughton Lynd as an historical protagonist and as a historian.

This past summer Carl Mirra’s biography – and to a lesser extent Grubacic’s edited collection and the Lynds’ dual memoir – sparked a lively exchange between John Summers, Staughton Lynd and Carl Mirra in The New Republic about Staughton Lynd’s scholarship. For instance, Summers, a visiting scholar at Boston University, argued “Lynd was never a historian who selects significant problems for study, but one who knows most of the answers in advance.” Moreover, Summers claimed Lynd, and new left historiography more broadly, helped to “turn history from a means of understanding to a record of heroes and villains.”1 Such broad strokes and swipes, painted by Summers, skirted a real analysis of Mirra’s biography and represents the continuing struggle for the kind of radical, bottom-up history that Lynd advocated in the Sixties and throughout his career.2

In Staughton Lynd’s response in The New Republic, he took issue with Summers’ inference that he refused to acknowledge “the many-sidedness of history.” Instead, Lynd listed the many historical debates that he has engaged with throughout his career and argued: “I have been concerned not so much with rescuing the voices of the people ‘below’ as with exploring whatever light their views may seem to throw on a variety of problems of interpretation.”3 This is particularly evident in the publication, with Alice Lynd, of Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers4 and Lynd’s belief in guerrilla history.5 Lynd’s response to Summers touched on his academic work with steelworkers and his attempt to understand why the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) did not produce a radical trade union movement in the United States. Through employing guerrilla history, Lynd argued that the steelworkers:

reported that in the late 1930s the CIO had not been recognized as an exclusive bargaining representative in Little Steel but bargained with management as a members-only or
minority trade union that retained the right to strike. They were adamant that workers
then enjoyed wages and benefits better than after the adoption of a comprehensive
collective bargaining agreement complete with no-strike and ‘management prerogative’
language.6

Indeed, Lynd’s work with steelworkers in the late 1960s and early 1970s helped produce an alternative interpretation of the CIO’s importance in the 1930s and beyond. With regard to Lynd’s work as a radical labor historian and labor lawyer, Mirra writes in The Admirable Radical that Lynd “offends the advantage class but is often embraced by the working class” (p. 6).

While Staughton Lynd has always played a background role in the literature on the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War and in critiques of New Left historiography,7 these three books, and Lynd’s current renaissance, demonstrate the significance of Staughton Lynd in the history of American radicalism, historiography and radical intellectualism. Or, as Carl Mirra has written elsewhere, that Lynd is a “[h]istorian with a place in history.”8

Carl Mirra, associate professor in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education at Adelphia University, has written an excellently researched, and long overdue, biography of Staughton Lynd. Mirra places Lynd in the broader context of postwar radicalism in America and covers the formative years of Lynd’s life to the beginning of Lynd’s transition to becoming a labor lawyer in the early 1970s. If there is one criticism of this political and intellectual biography, it is that Mirra does not go far enough as he only covers the turbulent years from 1945 to 1970. While Mirra addresses Lynd’s early life and exposure to the “Old Left,” his dishonorable discharge from the army, the Lynds’ experience at the Macedonia commune, his historical scholarship, and his participation in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, he stops short of the Lynds moving to Ohio and their readjustment in the 1970s, and beyond, as labor lawyers. While this is, according to Mirra, a “preliminary biography,” Mirra does indeed provide a refreshing look at postwar radicalism from the vantage point of one of its most controversial protagonists. Students of the Sixties, or the “long Sixties,” will no doubt find this book a welcome addition to the literature.

Mirra sketched an outline of Lynd’s political philosophy that acted as a blueprint for Lynd’s participation in the movements for social, economic, and political justice in the United States. Mirra clarifies that his biography is an unconventional one as it should be read as a “movement biography” and not simply a biography of ideas. He states that “[t]he analytical framework that shapes Lynd’s thought is inseparable from the social movements that both stimulated and modified these political predilections.”

Mirra points to three basic principles that guided Lynd. First, “Lynd argued for the right of revolution among the oppressed.” Second, that social transformation will only advance through “solidarity and commitment to the despised, downtrodden, and degraded.” This is better known as accompaniment,9 the phrase taken by Lynd from the late Archbishop Oscar Romero. Finally, that people make decisions for themselves, or, political decentralization (p. 8). Through analyzing Lynd’s contribution to social, economic, and political justice, Mirra has found that Lynd espouses these principals in both theory and practice.

While each chapter covers the important events and engages specific debates in Lynd’s life and the historical literature, the heart of the biography is Mirra’s analysis of Lynd’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement, the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War. The clash between radicalism and Cold War liberalism informs Mirra’s analysis of Lynd’s participation in these struggles and is an important current running through his analysis of Lynd’s scholarship. In the core chapters on the Civil Rights Movement, the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the antiwar movement, Mirra links Lynd’s belief in participatory democracy and horizontal decision-making to his experience in the Civil Rights Movement and the antiwar movement. Mirra found that Lynd’s participation in the Mississippi Freedom Summer, more than any other experience, “signifies the most potent political expression of Lynd’s liberation spirituality” (p. 50). By contrast to Lynd’s experience in the Freedom Summer, Mirra argues that the 1964 Democratic National Convention compromise in Atlantic City between the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and the national Democratic party “signified the absolute failure of coalition-style politics and reinforced his allegiance to alternative institutions and to local organizing over national coalitions” (p. 65).

The struggle between radical alternatives and Cold War liberalism also informed Mirra’s analysis of Lynd’s opposition to the Vietnam War. In two chapters on the antiwar movement, Mirra provides an invaluable analysis, from Lynd’s perspective, of the important events such as the first antiwar march in Washington on 17 April 1965 and the Assembly of Unrepresented Peoples in August 1965. Mirra’s analysis of Lynd’s sojourn to Hanoi during the Johnson administration’s second bombing pause and first major “Peace Offensive” is second to none. While the trip is criticized elsewhere as “political tourism,”10 Mirra argues that Lynd’s controversial trip to Hanoi helped to humanize “the other side” when the mainstream press, politicians, and pundits were blinded by the fog of war. He points to Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, reaching many of the same conclusions in 1995 that Lynd had reached in 1966 (pp. 100–101). Furthermore, Mirra argued that the trip opened the door for journalists (such as Harrison Salisbury) and activists (such as Howard Zinn and Jane Fonda) to travel to North Vietnam (p. 117).

For those looking for an analysis of Lynd’s scholarship, his blacklisting from the academy, and the reaction to New Left historiography more broadly, Mirra has provided an excellent investigation. Despite critiques over the years by Eugene Genovese, Christopher Lasch, and John Summers, Mirra demonstrates that Lynd’s scholarship was well received and has lasted through the rigors of historical analysis as Lynd’s academic books during his time at Yale have been re-released with much praise.11 In this investigation, Mirra dedicated three chapters to Lynd’s scholarship and the reaction it provoked. Mirra argues that “[t]his chapter of Lynd’s life amounts to a study in political repression, inasmuch as it illustrates a tendency among US historians to dismiss scholars falling outside the mainstream” (p. 122).

Mirra moved beyond his previous analysis in “Radical Historians and the Liberal Establishment: Staughton Lynd’s Life with History” in Left History and concluded that “Yale’s president described Lynd’s politics as traitorous, its History Department chair called him strident, and Yale alumni clamored for his removal. Is it not reasonable to assume that these political denunciations influenced Yale’s decision to deny Lynd’s tenure?” (p. 145). Mirra does not reach this conclusion lightly. He discusses the friction between the “Big Three” in Yale’s History Department – C. Vann Woodward, Edmund Morgan, and John Morton Blum – and Staughton Lynd; the History Department’s lack-lustre review of Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism; Kingman Brewster seeking legal advice in September 1967 for the possible legal ramifications of the Lynd tenure case; and John Morton Blum’s admission in his memoir, A Life with History, that Lynd was not denied tenure at Yale because of financial constraints despite his pronouncements in the late 1960s to the contrary. Mirra concludes that “[i]t would be a mistake to reduce Lynd’s scholarship to mere activism; it was an attempt to provide a historical foundation for the participatory politics of the New Left. Lynd’s work was critical research on praxis, which was no less rigorous than traditional historiography” (p. 130).

While John Summers took aim at Mirra’s admiration for Staughton Lynd and questioned his objectivity, I found that Mirra’s analysis was fair as he allowed for Lynd’s critics to be heard (including Eugene Genovese and William Buckley). While Mirra did not shy away from his admiration for Lynd in his introduction, I found this was a reasoned historical analysis that shed light on many crucial events during the Sixties as well as analyzing Lynd’s scholarship after more than 40 years of rigorous analysis by other historians. While Mirra favors Lynd’s historical approach, the Summers-Lynd-Mirra exchange demonstrates that there is indeed more than one way of doing history. As Mirra demonstrates, Lynd’s particular brand of radical history has drawn accusations of anti-intellectualism from his critics and led to his blacklisting from the academy. Therefore, it is no surprise Lynd’s work continues to draw both praise and disdain.

Andrej Grubacic, a radical historian and anarchist from the Balkans, has compiled a set of valuable, and sometimes obscure, selections of Lynd’s writings over the past four decades. From Here to There offers the reader a glimpse into the possibilities and alternatives to capitalism, war, racism and top-down institutions. The Reader demonstrates Lynd’s commitment to justice for African Americans, workers, prisoners and the victims of American imperialism during his involvement in the civil rights, anti-war, labor, and prisoner rights movements. Grubacic’s edited collection, despite Summers’ claim that Lynd “vanished from intellectual society,”12 demonstrates Lynd’s contribution to the intellectual climate long past “the sixties.” Grubacic’s introduction is autobiographical as he states: “My intention is to describe the process that led myself, an anarchist revolutionary from the Balkans, to discover, and eventually embrace, many of the ideas espoused by an American historian, Quaker, lawyer and pacifist, influenced
by Marxism.” Grubacic’s intention is to present to the reader “the relevance of Staughton
Lynd’s life and ideas for a new generation of radicals” (p. 4).

In the introduction Grubacic advocates, as in Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History, a fusion of Marxism and anarchism. Grubacic calls this the “Haymarket Synthesis” or “libertarian socialism” and finds in Lynd’s writings three basic ideas to get us from here to there. First, Grubacic finds in Lynd’s essays “Toward Another World” and “From Globalization to Resistance” the belief in “self-activity” or horizontal organizing which was also the basis for the Industrial Workers of the World’s concept of “solidarity unionism” and the Zapatistas’ “vision of a government ‘from below’ that ‘leads by obeying’” (pp. 11– 12). Second, Grubacic addresses the belief Staughton has in creating local institutions, or what E. P. Thompson called “warrens.” Through Staughton’s work with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the Civil Rights Movement and in his work as a labor lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio, during the steel mill closures in the Mahoning Valley, Lynd had discovered the possibilities of organizing horizontal institutions. Therefore, in two of Lynd’s essays, “Edward Thompson’s Warrens” and “Remembering SNCC,” Grubacic finds that the best way to transition from capitalism to libertarian socialism is to “buil[d] on the positives of a socialist commonwealth emerging from existing creations improvised from below.” In other words, Grubacic defines a “warren” as a “local institution in which people conduct their own affairs – an immigrant center or local union, for example – that expands in time of crisis to take on new powers and responsibilities, and then, after the revolutionary tide ebbs, continues to represent, in institutionalized form, an expanded version of what existed to begin with” (pp. 12–16). Finally, Grubacic argues, “[i]f capitalism developed as a practice of the idea of contract, libertarian socialism should be developed as a practice of solidarity” (p. 16). Moving from the dual concepts of self-activity and the creation of warrens, Grubacic finds in Lynd’s essays “From Globalization to Resistance,” “Toward Another World,” “The Two Yales,” and “Intellectuals, the University, and the Movement,” and their book Wobblies and Zapatistas that in order to build “communities of struggle,” it should be done through the process of “accompaniment.” Grubacic states: “Revolutionaries should accompany workers and others in the creation and maintenance of popular self-governing institutions. In this process, we should not pretend to be something we are not. Rather, we can walk beside poor people in struggle just as we are, hopefully providing support and useful skills” (p. 17).

Whether you agree with Grubacic’s interpretation of Lynd’s writings and life, whether you are a radical or a historian, or both, there is something for everyone in this collection. There are important primary sources – such as Lynd’s critique of the academy in “Intellectuals, the University, and the Movement” – and analytical secondary accounts such as “Remembering SNCC.”

Finally, the Lynds’ dual memoir touches on the issues, debates, and events that are raised in Grubacic’s collection and Mirra’s biography. Perhaps most importantly we see the significance of Alice Lynd in these events. Staughton has received most of the attention, and for good reason. However, in this dual memoir we see that Alice and Staughton’s relationship, and their work together, was central to anything they would accomplish individually or together in the antiwar, labor, and prisoner rights movements. Mirra acknowledges the centrality of Alice in Staughton’s life. However, Mirra’s political and intellectual biography “minimized” Lynd’s family life because it was “unlikely to yield high dividends in understanding him or the period” (p. 4). As we see in the dual memoir, there was also a much more practical reason for this. While Lynd was facing increasing trouble at Yale for his politics, and Alice was working as a draft counselor, Staughton writes:

To Alice it seemed that the Movement came first, the children second, and she came
third. Up to this point Alice and I had carried into life outside community the assump-
tion that the Movement, the cause, was one’s highest commitment, and everything else
must find its place afterwards. In the spring of 1966 we decided that in an effort to
build a communal society one must begin with the community of family. If commu-
nity could not be brought off with spouse and children, parents and grandchildren,
how could one presume to try to create it in the larger society? Many Movement
marriages failed to survive the sixties. Ours, in the end, put down new roots and flour-
ished. (pp. 89–90)

From Alice we find that while the Assembly of Unrepresented Peoples helped found the first national antiwar organization, the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam, she attended a workshop hosted by the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) and so began her role as a draft counselor in New Haven for draft-aged men. Out of this experience came the book, written by Alice, We Won’t Go: Personal Accounts of War Objectors and her theory of the “two experts.” Alice wrote: “When I was counselling, I believed, there were two experts in the room: I was an expert on the Selective Service regulations and what was required to support a particular kind of claim; the counselee was an expert on what he had experienced, what he thought, and what he was willing to do. We put our expertise together” (pp. 85–7). According to Alice, both Staughton and she carried the “two experts” theory into their work as labor lawyers.

The remaining memoir covers the Lynds’ memories and experiences from the 1970s onward. While historians are rightfully cautious of memoirs, we gain from Stepping Stones an invaluable insight to how participatory democracy did not pass away in Chicago in 1969. From Stepping Stones we see the Lynds move to Youngstown, Ohio, and the battle for community ownership of the three US steel mills in the Mahoning Valley from 1979 to 1981, the Lynds’ five trips to Nicaragua in the 1980s, their trip to Palestine in the early 1990s and their work with prisoners in the 1990s and 2000s. The only thing missing is Staughton’s defence of Iraq veterans who refused to be deployed to Iraq. However, this was included in From Here to There in the essay “Someday They’ll Have a War and Nobody Will Come.” These three books address key debates and important events in Lynd’s long career as well as in “the Movement.” Together these three books demonstrate that the struggle for justice did not decline perilously after American troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1975. In fact, very few scholars have recognized the importance of the Lynds in continuing the struggle long after “the sixties.” In trying to help understand this dramatic period, the Lynds have left a cache of materials in the special collections of Kent State University, the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, and the Wisconsin State Historical Society. We can learn a lot from Staughton and Alice Lynd about the struggle for justice during the Sixties as well as how to get from here to there today.

Notes

1. John Summers, “What Politics Does to History,” The New Republic, July 19, 2010. http://
www.tnr.com/book/review/what-politics-does-history

2. See Staughton’s critique of the academy in “Intellectuals, the University, and the Movement,” in Grubacic, From Here to There. Lynd’s paper was given at the March 1968 New University Conference and was originally entitled “The Responsibility of Radical Intellectuals.” According to Lynd, this paper was intended to go further than Noam Chomsky’s February 1967 “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” in the New York Review of Books. In Lynd’s paper, he argued: “A radical intellectual considers himself part of the
movement to create that new society which Jim Cockroft calls ‘participatory socialism.’

Whatever other intellectual tasks he undertakes, the radical intellectual feels a responsibility to help clarify the Movement’s emergent experience. He may or may not teach in a university; if he does, his most important teaching may occur outside his regularly scheduled classes and off the campus […] To do this we ourselves must have at least one foot solidly off the campus.”

3. Staughton Lynd, “The Battle Over Radical History,” The New Republic, August 4, 2010. http://www.tnr.com/book/review/the-battle-over-radical-history-part-2

4. Lynd and Lynd, Rank and File.

5. For a definition and discussion on Lynd’s conception of guerrilla history, see Staughton’s essay “Guerrilla History in Gary,” in Grubacic, From Here to There.

6. Staughton Lynd, “The Battle Over Radical History,” The New Republic, August 4, 2010.
http://www.tnr.com/book/review/the-battle-over-radical-history-part-2. See also Lynd’s introduction to his edited collection, “We Are All Leaders”.

7. See Unger, “The ‘New Left’” Lemisch, On Active Service; the fall 1989 Journal of American
History on United States historiography; the winter 2001 special edition of Radical History Review on radical history; O’Brien, “‘Be Realistic’,” Mirra, “Radical Historians” and other books on the subject such as Tomes, Apocalypse Then; Van der Linden, A Revolt Against Liberalism; Novick, That Nobel Dream; and Vogelgesang, The Long Dark Night.

8. Carl Mirra, “Staughton Lynd: A Historian with a Place in History,” History News Network, April 12, 2010. http://www.hnn.us/articles/125432.html

9. For a discussion on accompaniment, see Grubacic and Lynd, Wobblies and Zapatistas, 51–3, 137–46. Lynd also discusses accompaniment in his essays “Oral History From Below,” “The Once and Future Movement,” and “Liberation Theology for Quakers” (written with Alice Lynd) in Lynd, Living Inside Our Hope. Finally, the Lynds discuss their experience in accompaniment in Stepping Stones, 93–139.

10. See Hollander, Anti-Americanism; Hollander, Political Pilgrims.

11. In 2009 Cambridge University Press published new editions of Lynd’s Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism and Class, Conflict, Slavery and the United States Constitution.

12. John Summers, “What Politics Does to History,” The New Republic, July 19, 2010. http:// www.tnr.com/book/review/what-politics-does-history

Bibliography

Grubacic, Andrej. From Here to There: The Staughton Lynd Reader. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2010.
Grubacic, Andrej, and Staughton Lynd. Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2008.
Hollander, Paul. Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home and Abroad, 1965–1990. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
———. Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and
Cuba, 1928–1978. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
Lemisch, Jesse. On Active Service in War and Peace: Politics and Ideology in the American Historical Profession. Toronto: New Hogtown Press, 1975.
Lynd, Alice, and Staughton Lynd. Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1973.
Lynd, Staughton. Class, Conflict, Slavery and the United States Constitution. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
———. Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
———. Living Inside Our Hope: A Steadfast Radical’s Thoughts on Rebuilding the Movement. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press, 1997.
Lynd, Staughton, ed. “We Are All Leaders”: The Alternative Unionism of the Early 1930s. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
Mirra, Carl. “Radical Historians and the Liberal Establishment: Staughton Lynd’s Life with History.” Left History 11, no. 1 (2006): 69–101.
Novick, Peter. That Nobel Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
O’Brien, Jim. “‘Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible’: Staughton Lynd, Jesse Lemisch, and a Committed History.” Radical History Review 82 (2002): 65–90.
Tomes, Robert R. Apocalypse Then: American Intellectuals and the Vietnam War, 1954–1975. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
Unger, Irwin. “The ‘New Left’ and American History: Some Recent Trends in United States Historiography.” The American Historical Review 72, no. 4 (1967): 1237–63.
Van der Linden, A.A.M. A Revolt against Liberalism: American Radical Historians, 1959– 1976. Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1996.
Vogelgesang, Sandy. The Long Dark Night of the Soul: The American Intellectual Left and the Vietnam War. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Staughton Lynd's Page | Back to
Andrej Grubacic's Page


In and Out of Crisis: A Review

by Kanchan Sarker
Socialist Studies
The University of British Columbia, Okanagan
 
Among the many books on the contemporary economic crisis, In and Out of Crisis is in a class of its own. Three prominent scholar-activists have teamed up to provide an insightful and provocative analysis of the crisis and its implications for the future of neoliberalism, the American empire and the North American Left. In doing so, this new book picks up themes common to Panitch and Gindin’s on-going work on the American empire and Albo’s research on neoliberalism. 

This is a concise, relatively accessible book, which presents a robust political intervention into current political economy and strategic debates on the Left. It begins with a concise history of the history of financial crises, state management of crises, the rise of neoliberalism and financialization. It then moves on to provide a detailed history and analysis of the current financial crisis and the American state’s role in managing and containing the crisis. Along the way, the authors also provide a chapter focused on the sweeping restructuring in the North American auto industry. Overall, Albo et al. argue that some key points which the Left has historically tended to poorly theorize (such as the relation between state and market, deregulation and neoliberalism, and American imperialism) have weakened the Left’s analysis and response to the current crisis. 

To appreciate the specificity of their approach to theorizing the crisis, it is useful to carefully identify what is distinct, if not necessarily 186 unique, and notable in their analysis. First, the authors argue that the crisis was primarily a crisis within the American financial system. The dramatic growth of securitized sub-prime mortgages, which comprised 60 percent of the American market for asset backed securities, meant that the whole financial system became extremely vulnerable to the volatility in this segment of the market. This financial crisis, unlike some stock market crashes, became a general economic crisis because of its specific locus in the housing sector and the centrality of that to consumer spending. The global reach of the crisis was due to both the global circulation of complex financial assets based on consumer mortgages but also due the global importance of the American consumer market. The authors insist that this was not a crisis rooted in a profitability decline in the sphere of production.

However, as they outline in chapter five, the North American auto sector (the big three, if not the foreign transplants) was the one sector of the economy that was in crisis before the recession.  Second, in a related point and contrary to some other Left theorists, Albo et al. argue that neoliberalism had succeeded, at least on its own terms (generating modest economic growth while maintaining low inflation thus reviving corporate profitability) after the crisis of the 70s. They refer to the dynamic nature of capitalism under neoliberalism (unlike those, such as Robert Brenner, who refer to a long downturn or depict the period since the 70s as one largely of stagnation and financial speculation).

In part, this dynamism was due to the very success of financial capitalism, unstable as it is. Again contrary to many on the left, these authors argue that financial innovation was a key part of capitalist dynamism over the past thirty years or so, rather than being mere speculation, or working at cross purposes to the “real” economy. This new age of finance played a central role in disciplining and integrating labour into markets as workers, consumers, investors (particularly of pension funds), borrowers, and
home-owners. 

Third, they argue that the massive budget stimuli, state bailouts of financial and manufacturing, and talk of re-regulation do not represent a shift away from neoliberalism. Albo et al. forcefully insist that many on the left have misunderstood neoliberalism as the withdrawal of the state. This is a misunderstanding of the relationship between states and markets.
 
Instead, they explain that “capitalist markets and capitalist states are deeply intertwined in the class and power structures of global capitalism” (10). The fundamental relationship between capitalist states and financial markets cannot be understood in terms of how much or little regulation the former puts upon the latter. It needs to be understood in terms of the 187 guarantee the state provides to property. “Neoliberalism should be understood as a particular form of class rule and state power that intensifies competitive imperatives for both firms and workers, increases dependence on market in daily life and reinforces the dominant hierarchies of the world market, with the U.S. at its apex” (28). The authors point out that “Neoliberalism brought a change in the mode of regulation, but there wasn’t less regulation. Moreover, freer markets often require more rules” (35).

Fourth, just as reports of the death of neoliberalism have been greatly exaggerated, the crisis does not represent the end, or significant weakening, of the American empire. Albo et al. go so far as to suggest that the crisis “confirms U.S. imperial leadership” (86). The imperial relationships that built today’s global capitalism have persisted through the crisis.

Finally, Albo et al. paint a particularly bleak picture of the contemporary North American left as weak, defensive, defeated, marginalized, and lacking organizational coherence. As they note, “Competition…fragmented the working class. It eroded their one ultimate strength — solidarity” (79). The various challenges currently facing the Left are analyzed critically and comprehensively. The decline in trade union membership due to the neoliberal offensive as well as sectoral change of economy has put the trade union movement on the defensive. They place the labour movement at the centre of left politics analysis but in doing so they stress the need for the renewal of the labour movement. Unions need to reinvent themselves by adopting various tactics like “living wage” struggles in alliance with community organizations (96). Arguing that the labour movement can not lead the struggle for social transformation, the authors remain supporters of the need for a socialist political party. On the policy front, among other bold declarations, they call for the nationalization of the banking sector and its transformation into a public  utility. 

Perhaps not all readers will be convinced by their arguments about the continuing strength of neoliberalism and American economic leadership but their evidence is compelling and provides a useful reminder not to, once again, prematurely pronounce the end of American hegemony.

The authors’ arguments and analysis are nicely summarized in the “Ten Theses on the Crisis” in the concluding chapter. With all its propositions the book could be considered a manual for the contemporary Left. An economic crisis combined with wishful thinking is insufficient to defeat neoliberalism. The missing variable is an organized, visionary and militant working-class movement. 

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


Lickin' the Beaters 2: A Review

By Mark Robison
Reno Gazette Journal

We loved the first Lickin' the Beaters cookbook at our house. Although it focuses mostly on low-fat desserts, it contains one of our go-to recipes for knocking the socks off people that is most decidedly NOT low-fat: a chocolate turtle torte with not one but three sticks of vegan margarine in it.

This new cookbook from Siue Moffat through PM Press and Tofu Hound Press focuses on chocolate and candy. Moffat includes lots of tips for making your desserts turn out better and the whole process easier.

For instance:
Heavy-bottom pots are required [to make candy]. If you use cheap aluminum pans I can almost guarantee your candy will burn.

It's a good idea to soak your pots in hot soapy water immediately after making candy. It saves a cleanup headache afterwards.

Her recipes are generally simple, as you'll see, and yummy. This is the kind of cookbook you'll pull out regularly when the holidays come around and you want something to share with friends and family.

Easy Chocolate Truffles

This first recipe comes from the candy section, which has more involved recipes requiring thermometers and such, but I like easy ones and this certainly lives up to its name.
Ingredients
2 cups chocolate chips
2 tablespoons margarine
2 tablespoons soymilk
1/4 cup ground nuts, fine coconut, cocoa, etc.

Instructions
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (a pot on top of a large pot of simmering water) and add the margarine and soymilk. When cool enough to handle, scoop out by the heaping teaspoons-full and roll into nuts, coconut or cocoa.
Note: One of her candy tips is that if you screw up a recipe, think of what you can do to save the end result, such as crushing up candy and using the crumbs to roll truffles into.

Triple Chocolate Pudding

This is a fairly standard pudding recipe, except that Moffat boosts the chocolate levels. I generally use cornstarch instead of arrowroot because it's cheaper and easier to find. I haven't noticed that it makes a difference.

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa, sifted
1/4 cup arrowroot
pinch of salt
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 cups chocolate soymilk
3 tablespoons margarine
2 teaspoons vanilla

Instructions
1. In a medium pot mix sugar, cocoa, arrowroot and salt.
2. Chop the chocolate finely.
3. Slowly whisk the soymilk into the pot, making sure there are no lumps
4. Heat on medium, add chocolate. Stir constantly until chocolate melts and pudding thickens. Let it boil for about one minute and then take off heat.
5. Add the margarine and vanilla mixing well.
6. Eat warm or cold. To prevent "pudding skin," put a piece of plastic wrap on top of the pudding and poke a few holes with a toothpick.
Use 1/3 cup arrowroot for a very thick dessert.

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




Union Victory at Starbucks

By Daniel Gross
Counterpunch
January 14, 2011
 
Three years ago, union baristas at Starbucks made a simple demand of the world's largest coffee chain: respect the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. by paying baristas the same time-and-one-half holiday premium that you pay on six other federal holidays. It was an emotional and symbolic demand to make for two reasons. Many baristas are deeply inspired by Dr. King's legacy on racial equality, and King was murdered while supporting sanitation workers who were on strike for the very right to form a union. This is the same struggle facing millions of Americans today who desire union membership but are denied by the prospect of relentless union-busting and terribly flawed labor laws. Calling for holiday pay on MLK Day also made sense for workers' pocket books- with the low wages and inadequate work hours that Starbucks offers, holiday compensation is certainly welcomed to help make ends meet.

Starbucks' treatment of MLK Day as a second-class holiday was particularly hypocritical. The company and its billionaire CEO Howard Schultz pay an incredible amount of lip-service to the idea of "embracing diversity." Yet, their lack of respect for Dr. King's holiday was typical of the company's real orientation towards racial equality. For example, Starbucks employees of color are disproportionately represented in the lowest-paid entry-level jobs at the company, and while the company brands its coffee as ethically-sourced, farmworkers in the Global South growing coffee for Starbucks find themselves living in grinding poverty on the low prices that the coffee giant insists on paying.

Given the empty nature of Starbucks' commitment to "embracing diversity", the company was put into a difficult position when the IWW Starbucks Workers Union (SWU) called on it to honor Dr. King's holiday starting in 2008. The company had never spoken publicly about its substandard treatment of MLK Day. When the Union made Starbucks' MLK Day policy public, the company was faced with two options, neither of which it liked: a) refuse to pay the premium and allow a glaring hypocrisy to fester in the public arena, or b) pay the premium and concede an important victory to the SWU which it is fighting tooth and nail to delegitimize and to destroy.

For three full years, the company chose the former approach and resisted. The SWU's campaign forced the company for the first time to discuss publicly its denial of holiday pay on MLK Day and offer a defense for the indefensible. Starbucks argued that the policy was justifiable in light of the (abysmally low) prevailing standards of the food service sector. It's interesting that when Starbucks markets itself to prospective workers and prices products for its customers, it's fanatical about distinguishing itself from its fast food competitors. But the Burger Kings and the Taco Bells of the world are where Starbucks runs for safety to cover up the huge gap between the company's public relations hype and the reality on the ground for baristas.

In response to the company's refusal to meet its demand, the SWU along with Industrial Workers of the World members around the country embarked on a determined effort to win time-and-one-half holiday pay for every worker that does a shift on MLK Day. Shop floor actions, pickets, rallies, massive e-mail actions, as well as creative media advocacy started takings its toll on the company. But instead of doing the right thing and ending the second-class status of MLK Day, the company chose more rhetoric- statements about its respect for MLK and promoting volunteer service unrelated to social or economic justice on his holiday. That's the strategy of big business, the corporate non-profits, and the mainstream media: divorce Dr. King from his powerful actions for economic justice, racial equality, and peace in favor of a generic, non-confrontational charity model of "change" or "service."

The elites don't want us to know that the workers King was supporting during those fateful days in Memphis weren't hosting a charity car wash, they were withholding their labor and demonstrating against a violent, racist government that was denying them the very right to freely associate in the form of a labor union. They don't want us to know that King spoke out passionately for a living wage and against so-called right-to-work laws. They don't want us to recall Dr. King's words on the relationship between racism and union-busting: "...the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth."

As Starbucks and its public relations firm Edelman ruthlessly carry out a large-scale anti-union operation, they certainly don't want baristas to associate MLK Day with Dr. King's positive view on labor unions:
"The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress....The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome."

Baristas persevered and continued carrying out creative and energetic actions year-after-year. After three years of struggle, Starbucks finally conceded to the Union's demand and informed workers in November that the company will pay the holiday premium to employees who work this Monday and every Martin Luther King Day. It's a moving and emotional victory for the Union to be able to honor Dr. King's legacy in our own modest way.

While there is still a long way to go to win good jobs at Starbucks, the victory is significant for the tens of thousands of Starbucks employees who will end up with some well-deserved additional money on their paychecks. And it's a great win for the solidarity unionism organizing model where rank & file workers organize their own unions and lead their own campaigns around workplace justice issues. Other fast food workers are following suit. IWW workers at the Jimmy John's sandwich chain in Minnesota initiated a demand this holiday season for a time-and-one-half premium on Christmas Eve and New Year's Day.
By one estimate, the holiday wage premium on MLK Day means Starbucks will pay something in the neighborhood of an additional one million dollars to employees each year. While a million dollars a year might not sound like a lot for a large corporation like Starbucks, it's a tremendous figure to win for a grassroots labor organization forging an innovative path to justice in the massive and unorganized fast food sector.

In these times of economic hardship and escalating attacks on workers' rights, I hope we can all pause on Dr. King's holiday to assess how we can honor his true legacy of movement action for social justice and the ultimate sacrifice he made to rise up in solidarity with the striking sanitation workers of Memphis. No one will do it for us, least of all the corporate executives and their social responsibility rhetoric. Another world is inevitable; if we do the hard work together to achieve it.

Daniel Gross is a former Starbucks barista and a member of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union, online at www.StarbucksUnion.org. He is the co-author with Staughton Lynd of "Labor Law for the Rank and Filer: Building Solidarity While Steering Clear of the Law" and "Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks," (artwork by Tom Keough), both available at www.pmpress.org.


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


Drawing the Line reviewed in Theory in Action

By Veronica Manfredi
Theory in Action
Vol. 4, No. 1
January 2011
 
Globalization and militarization have accelerated the concentration of corporate and executive power in the United States, and this centralization of authority has proceeded virtually unchecked despite the emergence of populist protest movements in the past decade. Drawing the Line Once Again: Paul Goodman's Anarchist Writings is a collection of nine texts edited by Taylor Stoehr. Paul Goodman was an influential American activist of the 1960's, and this book provides a fresh perspective on how to combat this disastrous trend. The essays were originally published between 1962 and 1972, but incorporate over 25 years of Goodman's anarchist writings. Drawing the Line Once Again is a thoughtful, modern guide for individuals interested in combating institutional violence and securing individual autonomy. 

In his preface, Taylor Stoehr introduces the reader to the life and work of his friend and mentor, Paul Goodman. Stoehr's perspective contextualizes the appeal of Goodman's ideas to the 1960's youth movement in America. The preface includes excerpts from Goodman's writing not found in the body of the book which underline Goodman's ever-present concern with the penal system, which Stoehr believes is the “apotheosis” of the modern state. Unfortunately, the preface does not provide background information on the specific essays present in the collection, nor does it give the reader a clear idea of why Stoehr selected these specific texts and ordered them in this way. The essays appear out of chronological order, which obscures the trends in Goodman's writing that became more pronounced and refined over the course of his experience with the American student uprising. Nevertheless, the texts presented in the book provide a solid overview of Goodman's anarchist thought on a variety of issues of continuing relevance.
                                                
The first text introduces Goodman's notion of revolution as a “piecemeal” process that develops out of everyday “millenarian,” or prefigurative, practices. Penned in 1945, “The May Pamphlet” was subsequently revised in Goodman's 1962 book Drawing the Line, which is the version that appears here. In this essay, Goodman holds individuals responsible for the coercive system in which they find themselves. For Goodman, institutional crimes are the sum of acts committed by individuals when they conform in ways that limit their ability to realize their human powers according to their instincts. Thus, modern man's characteristic act is “drawing the line:” determining the point at which he will no longer acquiesce to this unnatural coercion. This act of refusal serves as the starting point for Goodman's vision of a free society by forcing the consideration of alternatives which were previously submerged and opening up a space for free positive action. A revolutionary free society is built as these spaces are expanded. Goodman sketches concrete and thought provoking ways that this expansion may be achieved by individuals and small groups and maintains that individuals may assess the revolutionary potential of their actions to the extent that these acts are punished as crimes, since the system will respond to acts that threaten its existence. While a few of his specific exhortations may seem idiosyncratic or outdated, such as the importance he places on childhood sexuality and group psychotherapy, the essay provides a modern revolutionary vision and program that empowers the individual to pursue autonomy without having to wait for a large-scale social restructuring. 

The second essay, “Reflections on the Anarchist Principle,” originally appeared in 1966 in the journal Anarchy. Here Goodman argues that anarchism is based on the “social-psychological hypothesis” that “more harm than good” results from the restriction of individual autonomy by external authority. Goodman's anarchist society is not a fixed ideal, but the result of a “continual coping” with, and “vigilance” against, the threat of unnatural coercion by institutionalized forms of power. Though anarchists' targets evolve according to historical conditions, this principle allows one to recognize the anarchist spirit in all movements that seek to “increase intrinsic functioning and diminish extrinsic power.” Thus, he sees anarchism at work historically in developments as disparate as the Jeffersonian Bill of Rights, the emergence of free enterprise by joint stock companies, and the introduction of congregational churches. The essay provides an inclusive model by which one can trace a history of anarchism in action, distinct from later co-optations, and judge current practices. 

The most recent essay, “Freedom and Autonomy,” was originally published in 1972, the year Goodman died. Here he contrasts the call for freedom, which emerges from a state of desperation, with the call for autonomy, which emerges from a desire to be left alone to continue to do as one wishes. For Goodman, while freedom may provide a stronger motive for revolutionary change, anarchy “requires competence and self confidence...it does not thrive among the exploited, oppressed, and colonized.” Whereas “The May Pamphlet” emphasized the universal experience of drawing the line and proceeding on one's own terms, this late essay focuses on the greater suitability of skilled workers and independent peasants to the prefigurative practices of anarchist revolution: “The pathos of oppressed people lusting for freedom is that, if they break free, they don't know what to do.” The essay crystallizes Goodman's disillusionment with the student movement, whose alienated character he became increasingly vocal about and critical of over the course of writing the essays which appear in this book.

In “Anarchism and Revolution,” Goodman defines anarchist revolution as “the process by which the grip of authority is loosed,” in contrast to the revolution-as-regime that appears in traditional Marxist and liberal thought, and assesses the causes and anarchist tendencies of the social upheaval of his day. The essay originally appeared in the 1970 Encyclopedia Britannica's Great Ideas of Today. Addressing a middle class audience, Goodman laments that the anarchist politics of the youth movement tend to be “Bakuninist,” or agitational, because students are “exploited and lumpen in principle,” but holds out hope that a more “Kropotkinian,” autonomy-focused community anarchism will be revived with the participation of “authentic young professionals.” He states that student alienation supports the Leninist tendencies of the youth movement (“fighting the Cold War in reverse”), contradicting their anarchist gut instincts. He traces the character of the revolutionary situation to a “crisis of authority,” in which citizens aren't able effectively to manipulate structures which traditionally allowed them to correct the course of their government, and a “crisis of belief,” caused by a widespread distrust of authority that emerged when the universal belief in science was shaken due to its inhuman applications (e.g. the atom bomb). While recent decades have seen the emergence of new professionals in technological fields, who have arguably succeeded in addressing the religious crisis by “altering the...relationship of science, technology, and human needs” in the collective consciousness through the advent of high-tech personal consumption, the crisis of authority has only escalated. The cur-rent situation speaks to the resiliency of institutional, managerial modes of power.

In “Some Prima Facie Objections to Decentralization,” Goodman makes a case for decentralization while addressing its risks and limitations in a 1964 issue of the journal Liberation. Addressing student objections, he shows that decentralization is not disorderly, but rather relies on a different kind of order; that the existence of some necessarily centralized functions does not preclude its application in other spheres of human action; that we should question the usefulness of automation and not value it as an end in and of itself; that decentralist traditions can be traced to both peasants and urban professionals He claims that “States Rights” is not a valid form of decentralization and a limited amount of deurbanization would make decentralization feasible. Decentralization requires less faith in human nature than centralization, for both individuals in voluntary associations as well as centralized organizations can and continue to buck the trend towards concentration of power when it is expedient and efficient to do so.

Combining peasant and professional critiques of decentralization, he makes the case that centralization is “economically inefficient, technologically unnecessary and humanly damaging.” He urges the reader to adopt the pursuit of decentralization wherever possible as a “political maxim.” Goodman values decentralization as such, regardless of whether it is achieved through the formation of voluntary associations of individuals seeking solutions to shared problems, or through the actions of a central authority which recognizes that it would be more efficient to delegate power away from the center. While contemporary readers may be skeptical of this second form due to its association with the practices of certain large technology firms, by easing the the institutional regimentation of individual action this corporate concession fits Goodman's criteria for anarchist revolution. Modern anarchists and reform-minded individuals will benefit from the wisdom of Goodman's careful attention to decentralization, for example when analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of an anti-Iraq War movement. Here, many people protested the imposition of centralized authority abroad on the basis that it limited the ability to expand universal health care and access to institutional forms of education, which centralizes power domestically. This inconsistency could have been corrected with a dose of Goodman’s ideas.

 “The Black Flag of Anarchism” identifies and assesses the anarchist tendencies in the student movement for a mainstream audience. Originally published in New York Times Magazine in 1968, it contains an earlier version of many of the passages found in “Anarchism and Revolution” (1970) with only minor changes. In this earlier essay Goodman does not dwell on the disadvantage posed by the alienated character of student anarchists, nor does he see the movement as primarily “Bakuninist.”

While the youth movement's limited exposure to anarchist ideas leads to confusion, Goodman here is hopeful that the uprising itself will provide clarity and enable students to “become aware of and solve their own problems” and act in the anarchist tradition. Additionally, in this earlier essay he considers the conflict between the New Left activists and the hippies to be a contributing factor in the “confused anarchism” of the time. He criticizes the activists for failing to recognize the hippies' call to drop out as a political position, which “seduc[es] by offering happy alternatives” and refuses to engage on the enemy's terms, while cautioning that the hippies are insufficiently critical of themselves. Yet for Goodman, hippies and dropouts do not present a persuasive model for revolution: “play and personal relations...are not what men live for.” 

“The Limits of Local Liberty” is re-published from the journal New Generation in 1969. It identifies two urban problems that are of consequence to “this nation of cities”: the lack of citizens who feel a sense of ownership and responsibility towards their city, and the excessive density in urban areas. Goodman believes that the lack of citizenship can be addressed by delegating power to the people who live in the neighborhood in a way that increases self-determination in both family and professional life. On the topic of self-determination, he echoes other late essays in the collection, arguing that the participation of the oppressed is necessary but not sufficient to support radical decentralization, and insists a place for “professional thought and political action different from activism” is necessary in order to come to functional solutions for decentralized life.

The danger of alienated leadership in the fight for local self-determination is that it neglects professional liberty and becomes more interested in seizing power than “program, function, and final satisfaction,” as is the case when students focus on seizing control of academic institutions instead of targeting the “system of credentials...and draft that oppresses them.” On the issue of urban density, Goodman believes that current levels overwhelm an individual's capacity for meaningful social exchange and entail a “sudden disproportionate rise in costs” to maintain.
 
Hence, he argues that rural revitalization and some dispersal of urban populations, specifically of city children, the elderly, and mentally ill, is necessary. His concern with the cost of urban density and his proposed plan of redress highlights a potential danger of professionalism in planning for local self-determination, for such professional expertise is informed by judgments about what constitutes a “better life” that might not be universal. Goodman fails to account for the possibility that people with disabilities and the young might be as attached to their city of origin as members of non-marginalized groups who are simply better equipped to reject exile.

In 1968, with several comrades under indictment, Goodman “rehearse[s the] case” for lawlessness in “Civil Disobedience,” published first in Liberation. Writing in part to advise activists on how to present their actions in a court of law, some of the passages found here can also be found in the two other essays addressed to middle class audiences.

Here Goodman argues that “the authority of law is limited” by its underlying purpose of securing life and liberty, which is what “men mean to promise” when they enter into the social contract; that a reliance on Law and Order does not ensure harmony but rather allows individuals to avoid anxiety; that “civil disobedience” is a misleading term which fails to capture the essence of challenges to the legitimacy of the regime itself; and that “lawless” and “civilly disobedient” actions emerge when the political means for reform are lost to the encroachment of centralizing managerial and technological styles. As Stoehr suggests in his preface, the need to question the legitimacy of law is particularly relevant today as unprecedented numbers of individuals are ensnared in the prison industrial complex, and those who profit from incarceration advise lawmakers on ways to expand and police the definition of “lawlessness.”
 
“'Getting Into Power': The Ambiguities of Pacifist Politics” first appeared in a 1962 edition of Liberation and is the final essay in this collection. Goodman sees pacifism as necessarily anarchist and revolutionary, as the existence of sovereign national power thrives on violence, “is the ideal executive of murderous will,” robs individuals of their initiative, and sucks the vitality out of communal life. Both pacifism and anarchism require that we cease to practice a politics centered on “getting into power”, which reinforces patterns of dominance and submission, and instead return to the “normal politics” which tends to the mediation of “relations of specific functions in a community.” By doing so, we “positively...replace an area of power with peaceful functioning.” For contemporary readers, this last essay clarifies why peace cannot be achieved through electoral regime change, which has merely resulted in a rhetorical shift from “preemptive war” to “preemptive drone attacks.” 

Drawing the Line Once Again does an excellent job of gathering and introducing Paul Goodman's anarchist thought to a new generation. Given the recent emergence of large, populist movements which confronted military aggression with permitted protests, channeled the desire for a system responsive to the needs of individuals into a mobilization on behalf of a presidential candidate, and branded the call for limited government as the domain of reactionary elements interested in increasing in corporate power, it is useful to revisit Goodman's ideas. His millenarian and decentralized approach to revolution celebrates persistence and offers hope when meaningful structural change seems out of reach.
 
                                                
 Veronica Manfredi is a student at Corvid College in the Boston, MA area. 

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Paul Goodman's Author Page | Back to Taylor Stoehr's Editor Page


Don't Mourn, Balkanize! on Znet

By Deric Shannon
Znet
February 07, 2011

The term “balkanization” is typically used to refer to fragmentation, disunity—a breaking down into bickering sects. One might speak of the balkanization of a given group of voters, for example, as politicos analyze the behavior of voting blocs that fragment into separate interest groups. What often gets lost in these references are the racist and colonialist connotations of the word—centered on the historical experience of people in the Balkans.

The common narrative of the Balkans is one of typical colonial civilizing rhetoric. We’re told that “ancient ethnic hatreds” abound in the region that prevent these “brutal savages” from forming the alliances that paternalist colonial powers in the EU and USA would like to see emerge—exhibiting “(t)he essence of good society” such as “free market and pluralistic democracy” (127). In his essays in this collection, Grubacic mines through speeches and writings by politicians and media darlings as they use this essentializing and colonial rhetoric to justify interventionism and their attempts to force a “balkanization from above”, as Grubacic terms it.

And he offers an alternative narrative, as well as an alternative to the balkanization from above forced onto the region. Rather than situating the Balkans as a place marked by ethnic strife in need of colonizing and civilizing, Grubacic traces a different history of the Balkans. Rather, he notes a “decentralized and fragmented world of anti-colonial struggles; heretics (bogumili); maritime and land pirates (hajduci and uskoci); rebels and revolutionaries; anti-authoritarians; Romanis; self-governed communities; socialist federations; partisans; and antifascists” (126). Indeed, for Grubacic, “Balkanization is…about fragmentation, but it is not (only) ethnic fragmentation: Balkanization implies resistance and a decentralized and federated alternative to the violent centralization of states and empires” (126). In this, he avoids the nationalist trap while extending his vision for this “balkanization from below” to the rest of Europe: “Together with the Yugoslav avant-garde artist Ljubomir Micic, I believe in the need of the ‘Balkanization of Europe’” (130).

This book is basically a collection of essays and interviews from a participant of this process of “Balkanization from below” and Grubacic, a historian, sociologist, and organizer advocates throughout for this fundamentally anarchist position. Spelled out directly, he argues for “a politics of a Balkan Federation: a participatory society built from the bottom up through struggles for the creation of an inclusive democratic awareness, participatory social experiments, and an emancipatory practice that would win the political imagination of all people in the region. It is a politics that says unequivocally to the European Union and its state-architects in Bosnia and Kosovo: get the hell out of here!” (131).

This is perhaps one of the most interesting narratives running throughout the book—the one that takes place between the civilized world and its unruly and unrule-able uncivilized resisters. Not only are the terms laced with racist essentialism and colonial paternalism, but it provides an uncivilized subject position from which to resist this forced process from above. Like Gabriel Kuhn writes about in his history of piracy[1], this uncivilized subject position and the embracing of values contrary to those bound up with colonialist and hierarchical ways of life have tremendous radical potential. Grubacic incorporates this as he eviscerates the politicians and policy-makers that would force their version of “The Good Society” on his home, even while playfully juxtaposing “Balkan primitivism” with the suggested “European future” peddled by the EU’s political class (111).

I don’t want to overstate the book’s focus on this particular problematic, however, as it has a wide variety of analyses and stories to tell. Some of the best essays are when Grubacic provides his alternative to dominant narratives in US and European media. These include questions like “Should Milosevic be tried at the Hague?” (47); writings about what’s come to be called “New Europe” (e.g. 85); and sobering discussions about “(t)the torture of prisoners arrested in the ‘black sites’ of Eastern Europe. Torture in the name of democracy” (139); as well as a section that details pieces of his vision for a “Balkanization from below”.

Despite my enthusiasm for the book, I do have two minor quibbles with the contents.

First, in the section where Grubacic is making suggestions for possible visions of this balkanization from below, Michael Albert, one of the developers of participatory economics (parecon), interviews him. Grubacic states, “I do not see myself as a pareconist” and that “we need as many utopian proposals as we can come up with. Fragmentation of knowledge, or—why not—balkanization of knowledge, can help us discover many parts and building blocks for new revolutionary synthesis” (161). To be honest, I absolutely love this approach and it can serve as an important corrective to Correct Line-ism and sectarian politics. And Grubacic does an excellent job mining through interesting contributions from parecon such as its three-class analysis; its distrust of society’s coordinators and bureaucracy (put forward also in many ways by Bakunin); its criticisms of market socialism, etc.

But when Albert asks if there is opposition to parecon’s suggestion that we have norms of remuneration based on effort and sacrifice, Grubacic suggests that the only people who have problems with this are “’anticapitalist’ intellectuals” (complete with scare quotes) and his “colleagues who teach” (176). I would have liked to see a developed discussion on this particular proposal from parecon. I don’t put forward this criticism because I have a detailed position on norms of remuneration (I suppose I’m an agnostic on the question), but because there is a history of hostility among some anarchists—particularly anarcho-communists—to remuneration in a post-capitalist society. From Malatesta, to Kropotkin, to Cafiero, some anarchist revolutionaries have historically taken issue with this idea (which was likewise put forward in Bakunin’s collectivism). It is a personal obsession of mine—a desire to see this discussion through (mostly due to the unproductive nature of the “debates” I’ve seen on it—typically centered on questions of whether or not remunerative norms are “properly communist” and such), however, and I doubt it would detract from the quality of the book from most people’s perspective.

Finally, this narrative that runs throughout about “Balkanization from below” and the practical and theoretical contributions of this narrative would be an appropriate topic for an entire book. What we have here are often disconnected essays and interviews—all valuable contributions and recommended. But I would like to see “Balkanization from below” and what we might learn from this developed into a book of its own. Grubacic touches on subjects throughout—the struggle between the “civilized” and “uncivilized”; racist and colonial paternalism; the realities (and dangers) of organizing in an area that has been the focus of Euro-American interventionism—that deserve a booklength analysis in their own right. And what better person to pen this than Grubacic?

When reviewing books, it’s common practice to either recommend that one’s readers examine a given tome or reject it and not waste their time. I wholeheartedly recommend this book. As an American with only a passing knowledge of the history of the Balkans, the essays and interviews provided analyses that taught me important history lessons and tied them to a radical analysis of the political situation there on the ground. This is an important contribution both for the lessons we can take from it historically and because Grubacic's political insights are invaluable.




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




Political designs for our times

signal:01

An interview with Josh MacPhee and Alec Icky Dunn of Signal, a new journal of international political graphics and culture.

What are your backgrounds in political artwork?

Josh MacPhee: I grew up in the punk rock scene, and began making zines and t-shirts in high school in the late '80s  and early '90s. Through the do-it-yourself ethos of the punk scene, and also by becoming politicised with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the early nineties, I turned towards making more political art. I became involved in the anarchist movement, particularly the creation of "infoshops," which consisted of bookstores, libraries, meeting spaces, Food Not Bombs, and lo-fi community organizing. I made posters and graphics for the anarchist community, as well as broader left activism around diverse issues such as prisoner’s rights, healthcare, anti-war, and global justice. In recent years, I’ve become increasingly interested in the history of what I was doing and have worked on a number of projects unearthing and analysing politicised art production.

Alec Icky Dunn: I have a similar background but also, when I was a teenager, I worked putting up posters for rock clubs, so I started making my own (political) posters to put up on my rounds of the city. It has been a sporadic but continuous pursuit since then. Art and politics started to get a little more focused when I lived in New Orleans in the late '90s. I was involved in some of the solidarity work around the "Angola 3" political prisoners in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, and I also saw the first few "Celebrate People’s History" posters, which Josh was curating and printing. I made one and sent it to him unsolicited, which he then printed, which was pretty exciting at the time! A few years later we ended up living together in Chicago and have collaborated on many projects since then.

I think one of the main things we have in common is we both come to political art not only as producers but also as fans. We are both very interested in the history of cultural work as it relates to political struggles and we’re both excited about its potential (both historically and currently) to add to social movements and movement-building.

Why did you feel there was a need for an international journal of political graphics and culture?

Josh: Over here in the States, when you see any political graphics or artwork used at all, a lot of it is the same set of images, which have been used over and over again. But there is an incredibly rich amount of artwork and aesthetics that have been used in left/anti-authoritarian/liberation struggles all over the world, and I think we are in some ways hoping to expand the base of what people here think is possible.

It’s easy for a lot of political graphics to blend into our sensory landscape. For example, you see a poorly copied poster with a fist or a peace sign or an anarchy symbol and it’s an easy thing to ignore, because it’s boring! And often those uncreative, ineffective, posters are tied to uncreative and ineffective protests. Obviously, it’s not quite as simple as that, but I think we’re looking for ways that cultural work can help clarify political movements and work with them to feel more urgent or effective.

The U.S. Left has a fairly distinct tradition of graphics, but when we started discovering stuff from around the world, we saw many commonalities and a lot of cross-pollination. In 1968 you had the agitprop artists in Paris and the poster brigades of Mexico City both making really expressive, simple images to be put up on the street. We can see the influence of this work subsequently in the student movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s around the globe, later within the anarcho-punk scene in Europe, then also taken a step further with the silk-screening movement that worked in South African townships during the anti-apartheid struggle, and more recently during the financial meltdown and bottom up re-organisation in Argentina in the last decade.

This influence was not only aesthetic – strong, minimal, and often biting images – but also organizational. Artists were setting up ad hoc workshops so that people could make posters for things in a really immediate way. These are interesting models and examples of what can be done.

Alec: We are also interested by things that haven’t had that type of cross-pollination, because there are really different graphic traditions all over the world. For example, I just saw a Japanese poster for a protest against the U.S. military base in Okinawa – it was really vibrant and celebratory looking. It had very bright colours and a cartoony goose honking in one corner. This type of poster is almost unimaginable in the U.S. and I’m not sure why. A friend of mine just came back from Tanzania and she brought some fabrics, once again very bright colours, and what you would think of as African style, but with political themes. The point is that we think there’s a lot to be gained from a more international perspective.

And finally, we think there is value is history and memory. For instance, we’ve been slowly accumulating images – posters, book and magazine covers, stamps, et cetera – from the CNT/FAI in Spain. They often have really amazing illustrations or type treatment. What’s interesting to me is that it’s a good example of what a broad-based working class movement looks like. These images were made by people in the movement, people who had a craft; they were working illustrators, typographers, and printers.

Josh: As largely self-taught artists from the United States, it has been a life-long struggle to try to find and understand people making artwork akin to ours in other parts of the world and in other time periods. The U.S. tends to be so myopic.

Signal is an opportunity to both reveal a rich and diverse historical (and contemporary) field of cultural action that is outside of our view and to share it with others. I feel strongly that this culture is something that should be held in common by all those struggling for equality and justice in the world, but is too often locked in the vaults of cultural institutions or the heads of individuals.

What is the range of culture you intend to cover?

Josh: We’re very ecumenical. As a visual artist, and in particular, a maker of political graphics, that is what I’m most knowledgeable about, but I’m interested in a much wider range of cultural production. Social movements have successfully used everything from printmaking to song, theatre to mural painting, graffiti to sculpture. We’re open and curious about this entire range of expression and its implications for both art and politics. For future issues we are already collecting material related to comics, newspaper promotion, guerrilla print studios, photocopy art, pirate radio, architecture, billboard correction and postage stamps.

Most of the articles are illustrated interviews with artists and designers, rather than essays. Why did you take this approach?

Josh: There is very little politically engaged art writing today that doesn’t exist in rarefied academic or art-world discourses. Unfortunately, most critical exchange excludes the vast majority of those who might be interested in the intersections of art and politics.

Alec: We wanted to show as much of the work as possible! That’s really one of the big focuses of what we’re doing. And also it was partly about expediency. This was a first issue, and it was hard to solicit longer writing when people didn’t really know what we were about. We are hoping to have more writing – not just interviews, but ideas, criticism, and even (gasp!) theory.

Josh: Our goal is to incorporate critical writing, but it is a challenge to find essays that are accessible, well-written, and insightful. So as we develop that writing, we have been excited to publish interviews with engaged cultural workers whose voices are rarely, if ever, heard.

The first issue seems quite strongly grounded in broadly anarchist politics. Is that a fair assessment of your intentions for the journal? 

Josh: This is the background we come from, but we are not interested in narrowly focusing on cultural expressions that come from groups or moments that self-define as "anarchist." I’m much more interested in exploring the breadth of left cultural expression, and trying to understand how social movements and cultural producers within them articulate their politics and goals, both to themselves and others. The field of politicised visual communication has largely been ceded to advertisers, but it is essential that engaged artists attempt to understand how their work operates in the world, and looking at a wide range of examples seems like a good place to start that process.

Alec: I think it’s not quite a fair assessment. One of the five features was strictly anarchist (Rufus Segar), two had strong associations (about Red Rat and adventure playgrounds), and the other two didn’t identify as anarchist at all. I think you could say we’re pro-anarchist, but I don’t think it defines this project by any means.


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




Global Slump on the New Socialist

Global Slump A Crucial Book
By Charlie Post
newsocialist.org
Sunday, 20 January 2011

In late 2007, over twenty years of global economic growth came to a screeching halt. A financial panic began in the sub-prime mortgage market, leading to the bankruptcy (Goldman Sachs) and near bankruptcy (AIG, GM) of major financial and industrial cor-porations.
While capitalist state bailouts for corporations deemed "too large to fail" stemmed the tide of economic collapse, millions of workers in both the global North and South faced attacks on their jobs, wages, working conditions and, for many, their housing. Unemployment, which had fallen to a "mere" five or six percent in the advanced capitalist countries in the 1990s and early 2000s, quickly spiked.

Underemployment also rose rapidly.



Despite the hopes of many liberals and social democrats, the state bail-outs of failing capitalists did not produce a "return of the state." Capitalist states reverted to neo-liberalism, attacking social services and public sector workers in the name of "balanced budgets" and "deficit reduction." While corporate profits have begun to rise, there has been no new wave of investment and hiring. Unemployment remains at its highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and real wages continue to decline. 



David McNally's Global Slump offers a Marxian analysis of the current crisis that is neither an academic tract or, as he puts it "The Crisis for Dummies" (11). This book is both useful for people familiar with Marxian economics and accessible for those new to theoretical discussions. McNally locates the deep roots of the crisis in the most basic dynamics of capitalism -- what he describes as its "manic depressive" tendencies -- to better arm the labour and social movements' resistance to the capitalist onslaught in the workplace and our communities.



After a lucid summary of the course of the global slump of 2007-2008, McNally presents an explanation of the "neo-liberal boom" of the past twenty-five years. Unlike most radical economists (including Robert Brenner, Alex Callinicos, Chris Harman and David Harvey), who equate prolonged capitalist prosperity with the exceptional "golden years" of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, McNally argues that the global slump of the late 1960s and early 1970s ended with the global recession of 1980-1982. Three processes laid the foundation for the restoration of profitability and accumulation. First was a sharp increase in the rate of exploitation -- the relationship of profits and wages. While neo-liberal attacks on social services deprived workers of most alternatives to working under whatever conditions capital dictated, the reorganization of work along the lines of lean production -- fragmentation of tasks, speed-up, outsourcing, the use of part-time and temporary workers, etc. -- increased output while real wages deteriorated. Second was the destruction of inefficient capitals through massive waves of bankruptcies and mergers and acquisitions. Finally, the 1980s and 1990s saw a massive spatial expansion of the world economy -- so-called globalization -- as transnational corporations moved their most labour-intensive operations to low-wage regions in the global South.



McNally locates the origins of all global slumps, including the current one, in falling profits and the over-accumulation of capital. Following Marx, he analyzes how the same mechanisms that propel long waves of expansion -- capitalist competition and investment -- necessarily lead to long waves of stagnation. As capitalists attempt to improve their position in the unplanned, anarchic process of competition, they introduce new labour-saving machinery and technology to cuts costs and prices. While allowing individual capitalists to increase their market share, mechanization displaces living, human labour -- the source of profits. The result is a falling rate of profit -- less profit compared with growing capital investment. As production becomes increasingly capital-intensive, the economy reaches a point of over-accumulation, where masses of capital no longer yield adequate profits to continue the process of investment and growth. While over-accumulation initiates long periods of stagnation, capitalism has "built-in" mechanisms of recovery. The "creative destruction" of crises -- massive bankruptcies that reduce over-accumulation, the reorganization of work and production that increases exploitation, and the spatial expansion of the world-economy -- restore profitability and lay the basis for a new wave of capitalist expansion, at the cost of working-class communities and living standards. Put simply, capitalist solutions to economic crises must come at the expense of working people globally. 



McNally's analysis of the "neo-liberal boom" allows him to offer more grounded explanations of two phenomena that have captured the attention of radical economists in the past thirty years: the growth of the financial sector and the spread of capitalist production in the global South through "accumulation by dispossession." David Harvey is perhaps the best known left-wing analyst of financialization and the spatial expansion of capitalism. He has argued that the uninterrupted stagnation of capitalist production in the global North since the late 1960s compelled capitalists to seek alternative sources of profits. On the one hand, capital was unable to find profitable outlets in the production of goods and services, and has flowed into speculative investment in financial instruments and real estate. On the other, "accumulation by dispossession" in the global South -- the expulsion of millions of peasants from the land to become low wage workers, privatization of state owned industries and services, etc. -- has been, according to Harvey, the only source of steady growth as most productive investment shifted from the global North to the South. 



According to Global Slump, the roots of financialization are found not in speculation, but in the reorganization of production. The end of the "Bretton Woods" regime of monetary regulation (in which other currencies were pegged to the value of the US dollar, which was convertible to gold) opened a period of exchange rate instability that created problems for transnational corporations' increasing their investments in the global South in the 1980s and 1990s. Transnationals, headquartered in the global North, feared that exchange rate fluctuations could reduce their profits earned abroad. The development of exchange-rate derivatives was an attempt to stabilize exchange-rates and guarantee the repatriation of all the transnationals' profits. While the 1990s and 2000s saw a massive expansion of financial instruments, as the extension of consumer credit and "sub-prime" mortgages maintained working-class consumption in a period of falling real wages, the roots of "financialization" are found in the restructuring of production.



McNally also recasts Harvey's discussion of "accumulation by dispossession" in a more classical Marxist framework of the geographic expansion of capitalist production and primitive accumulation. The extension of global boundaries of capitalist trade and production, in particular increased labour-intensive investments in regions with large surplus populations and low wages, has been a counter-tendency to falling profit rates since the late nineteenth century. Claims of a wholesale relocation of manufacturing to the global South are without empirical basis: the vast majority of capitalist accumulation remains in the global North. However, the growth of labour-intensive industries (such as textiles, clothing, footwear and electronics) and operations (such as auto parts) in Africa, Asia and Latin America fueled the "neo-liberal boom." Neo-liberal state policies in the global South have deepened primitive accumulation -- the separation of peasants from the land and the transformation of land and tools into capital -- creating new arenas for investment and masses of cheap labour for transnational corporations. As agriculture in the South has become subject to market-discipline, millions of peas-ants lost their land, and those that survive are forced to cultivate non-food crops to survive. The result has been a massive migration of workers to the global North and rising food prices globally. 



As the capitalist world economy temporarily stabilized in the past two years, capitalist classes and governments around the world have launched vicious austerity drives. While corporations received huge bailouts, working people -- especially in the public sector -- have experienced new attacks on wages and working conditions along with big cuts to social services in a period of rising unemployment and poverty. McNally's analysis of the austerity drive as a means of disciplining workers is perhaps one of the most insightful in the book. While many on the left see the dismantling of social services as primarily a means of transferring income from labour to capital, McNally highlights austerity's role in forcing workers to accept, without question, the terms of work dictated by capital. His insights into the racial and gender dynamics of austerity are a powerful reminder of the need to explicitly address sexism and racism in building working-class resistance to the crisis. 



McNally ends with a sweeping survey of the popular and working-class resistance the capitalist austerity drive has engendered. He moves effortlessly between discussions of the fight-back in Oaxaca, Mexico, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the global South to the factory occupations and "boss-nappings" in the US, Britain and France; from the public sector strikes in France and Greece to the massive immigrant rights mobilizations in the US in 2006. McNally highlights the capacity of working people, including those in the global North, to organize and struggle, usually independently of and often in opposition to the official leaders of their unions, parties and communities. However, he is not a simple cheerleader. He recognizes that few of the current struggles have had the breadth, power and radicalism to reverse the capitalist offensive, no less pose the possibility of an alternative to global capitalism. 



McNally is especially conscious of the generally low level of resistance in the US and the Canadian state, the result of the weakening of "infrastructures of resistance" -- working-class institutions in workplaces (unions and activist networks) and communities (including tenant organizations, political parties and working-class public spaces) that had provided working-class activists with the means of organizing day-to-day resistance to the rule of capital. The capitalist restructuring of production -- in particular the geographic movement of manufacturing within the global North and the spread of lean production -- have made the rebuilding of these "infrastructures" independently of the bureaucratized official leaders of the workers' movement and social movements a central task of a new anti-capitalist left. 



Global Slump is a crucial book for any activist or organizer attempting to build resistance to the current capitalist crisis. It arms us with a theoretical analysis that understands why capitalist crisis is inevitable and why any pro-working class solution must challenge the power of capital. However, there are several points that need greater discussion, debate and clarification. McNally fails to identify the mechanisms that turn increasing capitalization of production and falling profits -- features of a period of capitalist expansion -- into a situation of over-accumulation. Such clarity is important in countering the claims of some on the left about permanent capitalist stagnation. There is also inadequate discussion in Global Slump of the role of the wave of mergers and acquisitions during the 1980s in creating a controlled destruction of inefficient capitals. The creation of high-risk "junk" bonds and other instruments to finance this restructuring of production was another source of the growth of the financial sector over the past three decades. 



Politically, McNally's explanation of the weakening of the "infrastructures of resistance" relies too much on the restructuring of capitalist industry since 1980. The geographic relocation and reorganization of industry is a permanent feature of capitalism. Despite this, activist "militant minorities" were able to persist, passing on traditions of radical politics and organizing to new generations of workers until the mid-20th century. The role of bureaucratic business unionism and the adaptation of much of the independent left to "progressive" trade union and political leaders in the destruction of that "militant minority" need more emphasis. Finally, McNally does not sufficiently analyze the rise of right-wing political movements in response to the capitalist crisis. While he mentions the growth of anti-immigrant politics in Northern Europe, McNally does not discuss the sharp turn to the right in mainstream politics in the US. In a period when much of the left is calling for "unity" with liberals and the official leaders of the labour and social movements to "fight the right," it is crucial that activists are armed with an understanding that such "unity" will only weaken working-class resistance to the crisis and fuel the growth of the right. 




Charlie Post teaches sociology in New York, is active in the faculty union at the City University of New York and is a member of the US socialist organization Solidarity.


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




South of the Ballot Box

beyond electionsBy Todd Miller
nacla.org

After the midterm elections in November, headlines throughout the United States trumpeted the news of the great Republican comeback. The voters had spoken, and once again it was time to go home and wait until the next opportunity to vote. But what if elections weren’t the exclusive focus of democratic practice? Anyone interested in the question of radical democracy, more in practice than in theory, would do well to watch Beyond Elections. The documentary turns to the urban neighborhoods, rural communities, immigrant organizations, and worker collectives that span the Americas, from Argentina to the Bronx—all of them experimenting with collective decision making in the spaces where they live and work.

The filmmakers travel to many of the same places that Oliver Stone covered in his documentary South of the Border (2009), and their film serves as a good supplement to Stone’s depiction of the Latin American left. Call it South of the Ballot Box: Unlike Stone’s documentary, which is dominated by exclusive interviews with presidents from the region, Beyond Elections focuses on ordinary people, particularly those involved in social movements and organized communities and neighborhoods—the very force of people who brought left-leaning leaders to power to begin with. Democratic practice in this documentary is an everyday affair, involving countless meetings, assemblies, conversations, and arguments.

The film begins in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where community-based assemblies decide on public budgets. Started in 1989, participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre—also the home of the World Social Forum—is a process by which ordinary citizens identify and prioritize community needs such as housing, economic development, infrastructure, health, recreation, and culture, and help allocate public funds to address those needs. Budgets are hammered out not in board rooms, but assembly halls. It isn’t always pretty. These assemblies often bring together more than 1,000 people into crowded assembly halls and gyms and things often get raucous and emotional as communities debate the most pressing and sometimes divisive issues.

The next stop is Venezuela, where the film looks at the communal councils established by federal law in 2006. Since then, tens of thousands of such councils have been established in the country, and critical decisions about projects and development plans are made at a neighborhood level in citizen assemblies, optimally by consensus, however voting is often used. Community spokespeople to carry out the projects are also elected in these meetings, which can involve the participation of as many as 150 people drawing from 400 families in any given area.

Like Brazil’s participatory-budget assemblies, Venezuela’s communal councils are elected within neighborhoods and directly oversee policies, projects, cooperatives, and work committees, while coordinating with and receiving funding directly from different levels of government. “We are the ones who know the problems in our community,” says Cecilia Rodríguez, a communal council member from Caracas, “so who better than us to organize the community and to improve our community and do our own projects?” The film’s coverage of this localized version of participatory democracy, promoted by the Venezuelan federal government, offers a good dose of nuance to the North American view of Venezuela as autocratic.

Beyond Elections also examines labor democracy. Borrowing footage from The Take (2004), Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis’s film about an Argentine work cooperative, it documents factories taken over by workers, who not only share the work of managing the factory but also the profits. “We’ve formed a democratic business,” says José Abellí, a leader in the recuperated factory movement in Argentina, “a business of people, not capital.” In New York, the filmmakers talk to the Green Worker Cooperatives in the South Bronx, which are geared toward creating worker-owned and environmentally friendly cooperatives as a response to the area’s chronically high unemployment and history of environmental racism. The filmmakers also interview members of immigrant organizations such as the Movement for Justice in El Barrio, which started by fighting gentrification in the East Harlem neighborhood in New York, but now are confronting some of their most difficult problems in the United States—particularly draconian immigration laws, low wages, and wage theft.

While most Latin American countries have had electoral democracies at least since the 1990s, “people really didn’t have real decision-making power—not for the future, not in the planning, nor in the development of the country,” according to Venezuelan Adalnel Pantoja, community social worker for the Caracas mayor’s office. But now many communities, towns, cities, and even countries have sought not to reject electoral democracy, but to move beyond it and build people power—what they insist is true democracy. This is inevitably a small-scale effort, at least for now. As Brazilian political science professor Leonardo Avritzer says in the film: “The question today in the southern countries is how to think about the democratization of things like the budget, health policies, education policies, urban policies, and the democratization of life where you live.”

Beyond Elections plunges into the rowdy realm of popular democracy, where opinions clash and people take the idea of consensus so seriously that they are willing to engage in long, painstaking meetings. The filmmakers omit no opinions from the debates they cover, taking the time to show participants explaining the projects under discussion, providing very little narration. The film reflects the ambitious vision of the democracy it depicts, making the film rather lengthy, almost two hours. Although the film sprawls a bit, this is also the film’s beauty—the close attention it pays to the wide-spanning locales where new concepts of democracy are arising and being worked out.

In doing so, comparisons with U.S. notions of democracy are inevitable. Without describing the U.S. political system in much detail as a point of comparison, the film will nonetheless come across as a critique of it. Electoral democracy, so triumphantly glorified and even promoted abroad, is not only insufficient but also a betrayal of democracy “in the name of democracy,” as Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano says in the film. Indeed, the United States has created a monopoly on the definition of democracy, says Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos. “But in reality,” he says, “democracy is a work in progress.”

Buy the DVD now




A Pint and a Molotov Cocktail: An Interview With George Berger

Crass 3:am Magazine
by Andrew Gallix
September 2007

3:AM: How did you get into punk? 

GB: Seeing the bizarrely-dressed head-turners strolling around Bromley and surrounding areas really turned my head. Clothes and hair and a way of walking that just said “fuck off” to everyone, and straight society in particular. I don’t remember the individuals individually, just the feeling of seeing unrepentant weirdos expressing themselves via their appearance. I’d imagine this was before the word ‘punk’ came into popular use, but it doesn’t really matter either way. Seeing similar—or perhaps the same—people then interviewed on the London Weekend Show by Janet Street Porter, and then on "Young Nation" on Nationwide turned my head yet further: they were sullen and obnoxious and that confused my hormones. I can’t say I liked the look of them, but it opened a door in my mind that had previously been locked and marked "no entry." Finally, the famed Bill Grundy interview drew a line in the sand as I watched it with my outraged parents, trying to conceal my glee. This was clearly a step beyond their affectionate mock-outrage at glam rock.

"No more apologies," as Morrissey later described it so beautifully. My zits cleared up almost immediately, perhaps because I wasn’t scared of them anymore. Freedom of feeling, the feeling’s appealing. In other words, punk pushed the right buttons by opening the right (mental) doors at the right time. The music was often great, but was never the point.

136838559_c1ae270d79.jpg

3:AM: Your band, Flowers in the Dustbin, were part of the anarcho-punk scene, so you wrote this Crass book as an insider…

GB: Is there any self-respecting anarchist who would admit to being such? I wouldn’t know…

Being part of the London anarcho-punk-goth-crazy-coloured-fools-with-no-rules scene certainly informed the perspective that the book is written with of course, because it meant my early experience with anarchist thought and practice wasn’t limited to Crass. A sense of perspective, as Tap philosophised. But I’m not so sure FITD as a band were as much a part of all that in the way it’s now remembered. There’s a book about anarcho-punk coming out called The Hippies Now Wear Black — we were innocent on both those charges!

gerardbill2tiercopy.jpg

3:AM: To what extent did the members of Crass help you with your research and how have they reacted to the book?

GB: The members of Crass—Andy Palmer excepted—were as helpful as anyone could reasonably be expected to be, and in the cases of most, well beyond that.

The Crass members were also strikingly, unusually, generous and kind in a way that prods your conscience into examining its own parameters. Whatever happened to the members of Crass in their respective life-journeys at the time, it seems to have left an indelible urge to be kind and generous. Perhaps that was the energy that originally attracted so many towards them. In fact, I’m certain it was.

1383137754_2386f76248_m.jpg

3:AM: In another interview you said: “I always felt a bit sorry for the people who bought into Crass at the expense of everything else”. However, when you read the book, it is obvious that the Ants/Crass dichotomy still seems to rankle after all these years. Crass offered a whole lifestyle that was difficult to reconcile with non-anarcho punk bands like the Ants or UK Subs. It was a bit like joining a fundamentalist sect, wasn’t it? Do you think you might have been attracted to this aspect of the band because of your Catholic upbringing?

GB: Meaning Crass were a part of the whole and people who bought into the sideshow "anarcho-punk" often missed out on the other colours of the rainbow—Killing Joke, Bauhaus, Swell Maps, Au Pairs, Slits, etc etc… I don’t think it was a dichotomy at all in the early days, but sadly neither side could resist the bitching that subsequently became one of anarcho-punk’s main characteristics.

I should point out that I wasn’t attracted to Crass so much as fascinated by them, i.e. I was massively drawn to the idea of somewhere like Dial House working for decades as an open house, but could never quite reconcile the difference between the harsh Crass rhetoric and the gentle people in Crass. Frankly, you’d expect Crass to be aggressive and confrontational as people, but they were—and are—lovely. Delibrate dada contradictions? Maybe.

The Crass image encouraged the fundamentalist thing, which I would suggest was due to some kind of archetype hangover from the hippie times (where sects flourished of course). The Ants, Subs etc were far more healthy in this respect, I’d say, as they weren’t playing the parent. Saying ‘be yourself’ is great (Ants / Subs / punk), but the minute you start defining what that self should be, albeit unintentionally, you’re risking straying into a difficult place. The Crass output became self-conscious and "preachy" once they got an audience—I felt sorry for the people who were perhaps young and encountering Crass/punk for the first time at this juncture and so bought into an opinion as though it was a reality. The map is not the territory.

I was repelled by the perceived fundamentalist aspect of Crass, not attracted to it. Whether or not this was connected to being brought up a Catholic, I’ve really no idea.

1382241767_08de0167db.jpg

3:AM: Crass’s obsession with political freedom was so extreme that it enslaved some members. Steve Ignorant actually describes leaving the band as a liberation from the band’s politically-correct shackles: “I couldn’t look at the barmaid’s arse without being branded sexist. I couldn’t have milk in my tea without being called a bastard cos I wasn’t a vegan”. He also told you that if he’d been a 16-year-old punk at the time Crass’s rhetoric would have put him off and he would probably have been an Exploited fan. Even Penny Rimbaud, the band’s éminence grise, admits that they were “too serious”. It’s a double-edged thing, though, isn’t it? Crass meant so much because they were for real, but that purity also implied a po-faced, puritan zealotry…

GB: I don’t think Crass came across like that initially (before Penis Envy, if I’m forced to draw a line in the sand). I’m also not sure Steve is right—I don’t think that whatever took him to Dial House would have otherwise taken him to the Exploited; just a glib quote possibly out of context here. (In book interviews, Steve just spoke his mind whereas some other members of Crass pondered for literally minutes before replying to questions—which is quite unnerving but simultaneously inspiring).

1383137884_f9d63e04be_m.jpg

3:AM: Your book often reads like a demystification of Crass’s political correctness. Whereas at the time, they appeared so self-assured—with their black uniforms, military backdrops and corporate logo—here, they come across as far more human and vulnerable. Steve and Pete admit that they knew little about anarchist history; Eve Libertine explains that she had qualms about “Reality Asylum” because of her Christian upbringing; Steve wrote “So What” as a kind of childish dare “to see if there’d be a bolt of lightning” when he sang the blasphemous lyrics… Did all this change the way you perceived the members of the band and the Crass phenomenon or were you conscious of this vulnerability at the time?

GB: I didn’t know the band well enough as people at the time to be sure of the vulnerability. I’d wager few, if any did.

With the book, I wanted to try and find the people behind the image / wall of anynomity. Demystification hits the nail on the head. Whilst Crass were always approachable back then as "Crass," the individuals behind the job were often impossible to discover. Even to themselves, it would appear. At the time, I thought this was counter-productive to ideas that "anyone can do it," so with the book I tried to show that the people that made up Crass and did/didn’t change the world (delete as your reality tunnel dictates) did so without being special and without access to any privilege that you or I haven’t got. And surprised myself with my findings…

1382241897_802399f167.jpg

3:AM: The more I read your book, the more contradictions appeared. Crass avoided the star system through anonymity but this very anonymity inevitably created a mystique of its own. But the paradox doesn’t stop here as the band were also one of the most accessible ever…

GB: Were they? On one level yes: you could go meet them, chat to them, even visit their house. But as I’ve said, getting to know the real people was out of the question for fans. Still, they did draw the line in a very different place to the stars of the day, even the punk rock stars.

Did they avoid the star system? I’m not so sure—accessibility is surely only one aspect of stardom. People looked up to Crass and looked to them for guidance. By the time they were getting big, they appeared to want to give it, albeit way more responsibly than most of their peers.

1382242249_8b6385e858_m.jpg

3:AM: A couple of other contradictions highlight the band’s unique nature. Politically, they were caught between the old school anarchists and the pacifists; financially, the more records they sold, the more money they lost.

Crass created a massive grassroots anarchist movement, for the first time in British history. They invented their own brand of anarcho-pacifism. They were also the only political band to practise what they preached which is why they sold records by the truckload without any advertising. I remember an interview with Joe Strummer, in the early 80s, in which he said that wherever you went, even in a remote Greek village, you’d see graffiti of the Crass symbol. He was gobsmacked and clearly envious. The band’s achievements were huge, but until your book came out their story went largely unrecorded—weird, isn’t it?

GB: Weird yes, but what Crass were offering was so beautiful—yet so fragile—that it was only ever going to appeal to the demographic who considered it a possible reality.

You’re wrong about their losing money on records—that only happened with “Reality Asylum”—otherwise they made a lot of money. Then showed an inspiring amount of integrity by returning it to what they considered ‘the movement’ and simultaneously arguable tactics and taste in the way they did this by releasing records by a plethora of copyists (not all of course, but many).

libertine1.jpg

3:AM: Crass are obviously still influential and will continue to be so, but they were also very much of their time, weren’t they? I don’t know if you remember, but a few years ago, David Beckham was photographed sporting a T-shirt bearing the Crass logo: I’m sure he had no idea what it was; it didn’t mean anything anymore. I don’t think Crass would have been as influential in a prosperous, post-Thatcherite Britain, do you?

GB: I believe that T-shirt was a Jean-Paul Gaultier creation, but don’t quote me on it. The Crass symbol never meant anything beyond ‘Crass’ and it wasn’t even designed to mean that in the first place.

Crass were of their time, obviously. Our job is to be of ours… I think Crass would have got nowhere without punk, but then neither would so many bands, or any of the rest of us for that matter — it’s all so many ifs and buts.

I’d also mention that I don’t think we do live in a post-Thatcherite age yet.

crass3.jpg

3:AM: I’ve always thought that anarcho-punk was killed by the fans. All the bands were banging on about peace while the fans were beating the shit out of each other — there was such a contrast between rhetoric and reality…

GB: The anarcho-punks were generally peaceful. Trouble at anarcho gigs was invariably from skinheads, usually right-wing and preying on pitifully-easy pickings. The inherent aesthetic contradiction between the ranting aggressive anarcho noise and the ‘peace’ lyrics was bound to attract a percentage of people who liked the former to the point where they didn’t care about the latter. I’d say the lack of trouble at Poison Girls gigs illustrates that.

Of course, to treat anarcho-punk as a music scene is to ignore the much more pervasive and lasting political movement that included the popularisation of animal rights, the peace camps, the birth of the anti-capitalist demonstrations etc.—you can beat the shit out of a few people at a gig, but you can’t kill the spirit.

3:AM: You write that “If the Buzzcocks wanted a generation of kids to turn up the volume to annoy their parents, Crass made you turn it down so they couldn’t hear the blasphemy.” Maybe that was also part of the problem: over the years, Crass’s righteous anger seemed to turn into a permanent tantrum…

GB: Yes, I’d say so. They weren’t like this at all as people, so one can only conclude that they’d got too stuck into ‘punk’ as cliché and failed to follow their own advice. What seemed so vital and loyal to ‘the cause’ at first ended up feeling reactionary to me, particularly as newcomers appeared to buy into the scene as some kind of rule-book.

3:AM: Another big problem was the old class thing. In spite of the anarchist rhetoric, a class divide remained within the band—in particular between Steve Ignorant, the geezer who wanted to wink at the girls in the front row, and Penny Rimbaud, the public-school educated hippie intellectual…

GB: Actually, I don’t think there was any personal divide between Penny and Steve, but I do think that going on about classlessness against a backdrop of the biggest war of the 20th century in the UK against the working class caught them a bit short.

3:AM: It’s interesting that both Steve Ignorant and John Lydon were influenced by Brighton Rock, which they both read at school…

GB: I bet they’d love a drink together—Steve, Johnny and Pinky, getting leathered in Horatio’s at the end of the pier! I’ll get the first round in: mine’s a pint and a molotov cocktail!

3:AM: When Penny Rimbaud claims, for instance, to have seen flying tribesmen in Africa, do you ever think: this guy is a nutcase not a visionary genius?

GB: I’m amazed people haven’t picked up on this more. If Penny was deliberately winding me up saying this, then he was doing so with an intensity that would put him up there with Brando and De Niro as one of the greatest actors of all time.

Nutcase/visionary genius—as Penny himself has asked on many occasions regarding Wally Hope, where do you draw the line? I think Penny Rimbaud’s whole life appears to be lived as polemic, which may give a clue here, as may his interest in existentialism.

crasslyrics.jpg

3:AM: On the hippie vs punk debate, you claim that “Crass was right and Malcolm McLaren was wrong”. Obviously, there was continuity as well as rupture, but wouldn’t you agree that punk was the first movement to create a generation gap among youth itself? The hippies were the first generation to refuse to grow up, then punk came along with Sid Vicious stating that he couldn’t remember the Summer of Love because he was too busy playing with his Action Men…

GB: I’d say that there was a generation gap between teds and hippies, mods and teds (rockers) etc

Sid was a great comedian for the zeitgeist one-liners and I’m sure a generation knew instinctively where he was coming from with lines like that. But I think to pick up on generational trivia is to miss the point, particularly in hindsight.

3:AM: You seem to agree with Stewart Home that Crass took the fun out of punk…

GB: Yes, I do. But maybe half the fun was the incredibly broad church punk produced—seeing as that would have disappeared with or without Crass, it’s possible it would have gone anyway. Look at some of the others around then: Six Minute War, Crisis, Pop Group, Discharge, Au Pairs etc: hardly a laugh a minute. Maybe it was something in the air.

3:AM: You have described the composition of this book as an “intense experience”: did you need to write it in order to put this whole period behind you?

GB: Not the period itself—that’s already and unavoidably behind me. This was the period I became a vegetarian and turned the teenage angst into something more structured in my head. But, yes, there is a definite sense of catharsis in writing this book—I still find myself referring to ‘punk’ attitude all the time with a nagging sense that I must sound like an old ted. So I hope that all this "30 years of punk" lark will help me draw a line somewhere if I’m honest. Not with the attitudes it imbibed me with, but maybe with the word itself.

punkrockstarstheyresogroovy.jpg

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
George Berger’s latest book is The Story Of Crass. His previous one was a biography of the Levellers. His next one is under contemplation. He also fronts Flowers In The Dustbin and writes a blog from there.

1383137754_2386f76248_m.jpg


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



Search

Quick Access to:

Authors

Artists

New Releases

Featured Releases


The Unknown Revolution: 1917-1921

The Road Through San Judas