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The worlds within worlds of Elizabeth Hand

Versatile author combines hard truth and strange fiction in ‘Fire.’

By Jim Ruland
San Diego City Beat
October 2nd, 2017

Fire., the latest installment in the Outspoken Author series from PM Press, features Elizabeth Hand. It includes a worthy and fascinating selection of previously published fiction and nonfiction, as well as an interview and a new short story. 

I got to know the author’s work through her series of crime novels that feature Cass Neary, a hard-living punk photographer who eschews all things digital and has a knack for stumbling over dead bodies. More hard-bitten than hardboiled, Neary is a fascinating anti-hero as she stomps and steals her way through coastal Maine in “Generation Loss,” Iceland in “Available Dark” and England in “Hard Light.”

When I reached the end of the series (so far), I was thrilled to discover Hand’s work in other genres, from contemporary horror to high fantasy to movie tie-ins for the Star Wars franchise.

With its mix of fiction and nonfiction, Fire. provides powerful insights regarding the autobiographical undercurrents in her work. For instance, Hand reveals that she drew heavily from her darkest experiences when creating Cass Neary.

In another essay, she talks about how her grandfather’s sprawling estate in the Hudson Valley, with its odd accoutrements and numerous staircases, seemed like a storehouse of secrets. So she used it as the setting for Wylding Hall, a thoroughly engrossing novella that won the Shirley Jackson Award in 2015—a fitting tribute as Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is clearly an influence on Hand’s story.

If the purpose of the Outspoken Authors series is to ensure that writers who work in marginalized genres aren’t overlooked, Hand is a fitting choice. Over the course of her career she has penned countless reviews and championed underground writers to make sure they don’t fade from memory.

The essay The Woman Men Didn’t See is a fascinating profile of a woman who wrote science fiction novels with a male pseudonym. But Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr. didn’t stop there; Sheldon adopted Tiptree’s persona, which was decidedly masculine, in her correspondence with editors and other writers in the field. Hand’s portrait of Tom Disch, the prolific writer who popularized the term “speculative fiction,” is a soaring tribute to a life dedicated to the imagination.

Whether readers are new to Hand’s work or looking for a place to start, Fire. is an indispensible roadmap to her many worlds.  

Buy Fire. | Buy Fire. e-Book now | Back to Elizabeth Hand's Author Page

Truth in Beauty and Beauty in Truth: Graphic Memoir 'Diario de Oaxaca'

By Hans Rollman
October 13th, 2017

Peter Kuper’s work reminds us of the vibrant and inspired everyday people who live under the tyranny of petty and corrupt officials in both Mexico and the United States.
cover art

In 2006, cartoonist Peter Kuper and his family relocated from Manhattan to Oaxaca, Mexico, where they remained for roughly two years. Driven out in part by Bush-era politics, and in part by the desire to take a breather and give their young daughter some experience of the world, they descended directly into the horrific 2006 state-wide teachers’ strike. The seven-month strike by teachers and their supporters against state corruption and in support of education funding was violently repressed by the state’s governor with the aid of the federal police. More than 20 people were killed during the repressive state violence, including American journalist Bradley Will.

The tragic resistance by the state’s teachers comprises the first third of this powerful and creative book. Infuriated by the inaccurate and superficial coverage of the conflict by the world press, Kuper began doing sketches illustrating what was actually happening and sharing them with friends and family back home. Even after it was violently put down, the strike undergirds much of the rest of the book. The calm and colourful daily life of the region lies in contrast to the violence whose memory the state attempts to repress; the political silence in the wake of violent state repression is a condemnation of a different sort. But while posters and graffiti can be torn down or painted over, Kuper’s memory and the sketches inspired by it remain a poignant and potent tribute to the striking Oaxacans’ efforts to improve their lives.

Diario de Oaxaca isn’t just about the strike; it’s an eclectic and inspired collection of drawings and reminiscences of the author’s two years in Oaxaca. There’s a lot packed into the period, and yet one gets the sense that even this wide-ranging collection barely pierces the surface. From monarch butterflies and endangered tortoises, to Mesoamerican ruins, to the varieties of stray street dogs and the inspired art of a radish festival, Kuper offers the reader something more than just a sketchbook or graphic travelogue. It’s an impressionistic invitation to Oaxaca: a tantalizing sampling of the rich diversity the place has to offer. While acknowledging the violence that sometimes erupts in the place (as it does everywhere, including Kuper’s home country north of the border), he writes powerfully against the mainstream press’ depictions of an anarchic region paralyzed by daily violence.

“There I go again reiterating Oaxaca’s troubles, making it sound like a dangerous town,” he writes, during one of the diary-like entries which offer short analytical narrations of the experiences depicted in his illustrations. “Moving from light to dark and back again. It’s unavoidable; it’s the nature of the place. Or perhaps it’s in my nature to use a spectrum of hues when I paint my experiences. They say there’s truth in beauty, but there is also beauty in truth. That’s Oaxaca. But don’t take my word for it—go see it for yourself. It’s the only way to paint your own picture.”

The art and imagery of Diario de Oaxaca is impressively eclectic, and perfect for the nature of the work Kuper’s produced. Ranging from crayon-like splashes of symbolic and abstract art to cartoonish line drawings, he even integrates photos along with elements of Mexico’s diverse and ancient imagery. The eclectic style allows him not just to illustrate experiences but to express them, from psychedelic cultural fusions to ancient and mystical iconography. There are Mayan temples, scorpions and butterflies, market stalls and cobbled streets. There are stray dogs, riot police, bar scenes, and beaches.

Everywhere, there is life, and Kuper’s art expresses this in profusion: the teeming omnipresence of insects; the deep and sprawling roots of ancient trees; the stoicism of a woman sitting at a market stall and the laughter of a man downing a beer. Courage on the flaming barricades and the delighted laughter of children; a fight between a couple on the beach and the bright eclecticism of Day of the Dead festivities. Kuper succeeds handily in fulfilling his “desire to telegraph my enthusiasm for the place to anyone who will listen.”

Diario de Oaxaca is also fully bilingual, with short essays and illustrated captions alike all presented in both English and Spanish.

Kuper has been traveling to Mexico for decades, and it’s become a sort of second home for him. It’s been the inspiration for serious and complex work, like his award-winning graphic novel Ruins (also loosely based on his experiences of 2006-08). But Diario de Oaxaca is a much more personal sort of work, allowing him to reflect in first-person and adopt a more introspective tone. Originally published in 2009, the new edition includes several updated diary entries chronicling subsequent trips back to Oaxaca over the past decade, up through May 2017.

Diario de Oaxaca also feels driven by a sense of political urgency in the present and unfolding relationship between Mexico and the United States. Kuper doesn’t hold back any punches; he left America in part because of the mess President Bush was making of things, but he’s equally critical of the corrupt and violent political leadership of Oaxaca. President Trump’s anti-Mexicanism has added an entirely new dimension to the situation. Kuper’s work reminds us of the vibrant and inspired everyday people who live under the tyranny of petty and corrupt officials in both Mexico and the United States, and of the imperative to see the beauty of each place through the murky political fog and inaccurate, homogenizing reporting that so often obscures them.

“Given the xenophobic portrayals of Mexico spouted by U.S. government officials, my urgency to convey a broader vision of our neighbour is even greater today,” Kuper writes in closing. “With mandates to literally wall ourselves off from Mexico, it’s essential to question what would be lost. To narrow our vision of the planet into separate island-states is to isolate ourselves from art, culture, history and our collective means of survival. As if air can be halted by borders. As if weather can be contained by lines on a map. The ruins of fallen empires, evident throughout Mexico, are signposts our leaders would be advised to heed as they build their barricades.”

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

Gabriel Kuhn on modern football and how 'implosion' is the only way the sport can save itself

By Shirsho Dasgupta
Doing the Rondo
October 20th, 2017

Born in Austria, Gabriel Kuhn grew up in Turkey, Italy, England and the United States till he returned to his country of birth to complete his formal education. He enjoyed a four-year semi-professional career in football in Austria, and in 1996 received a PhD in philosophy from the University of Innsbruck. Active in radical politics since the late 1980s, he is also the author of Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical PoliticsPlaying as if the World Mattered: An Illustrated History of Activism in Sport, Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy, and Sober Living For the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics. You can find his work here.

I had a chat with Gabriel on the origins of the game, its perceptions across continents, the state of the sport today, alternate clubs and possibilities of interventions, and the future of soccer itself.

Soccer, both in England and in the United States, began in the schools and universities of the affluent. How then did it emerge as a sport that we generally identify with the working classes?

Football started out at schools and universities, but factory owners soon realized its potential in pacifying the work-force: the game channeled workers’ energies into sports rather than protest, it empowered them, and factory teams led to a stronger identification with their employers. All of this applied to players and spectators alike. Besides, football is very easy to play: the rules are simple and you need neither expensive equipment nor special grounds. A game of football can be improvised pretty much anywhere. This is one of the main reasons why it became the world’s most popular sport.
Finally, once it was professionalized, it provided one of the few viable career options for working-class folks outside of the factory. Therefore, football did indeed become a working-class sport in the early twentieth century, although it was always controlled by the upper classes.

You write in Soccer vs. the State that in South America, football is generally considered to be “play” while in Europe it is “work”. What would you say is the reason behind this distinction? Is it because in South America the whole idea of “work” itself perhaps has overtones of colonialism, exploitation or oppression?

I think I referred to common perceptions regarding the differences between European and South American football. I myself would not draw such lines, as they are clearly simplistic. But perhaps these perceptions do include an anti-colonial element: colonizers, and European nations in general, are associated with rigid regimes of work, which many see reflected in their approach to football. German teams, for example, have long been very successful, but their success has often been attributed to “discipline”, “organization”, and a “fighting spirit” rather than technical skills and creativity. In this context, playfulness appears rebellious, something that has long been associated with South American teams, particularly the Brazilian one, which indeed played more attractive football than most European teams in the post-World-War-II era. Today, these differences are largely gone, but the common perceptions persist. When Dunga became Brazil’s manager in 2006, his focus on defense and efficiency was considered a betrayal of the Brazilian game, not least in Brazil itself.

Would you agree that perhaps this conceptualization is strange given the fact that South American fans care more about winning than perhaps Europeans in general? After all, South American fans have a reputation of booing or hissing at their own teams when they do not play well – in a sense they are perhaps, more unforgiving than fans of Europe.

Some people would say that this is simply a result of South Americans being more passionate about football than Europeans. Needless to say, we have to be very careful with such assumptions, as they reek of racial stereotypes: the “emotional” South American vs. the “rational” European. Sports commentators still use such clichés routinely: they criticize non-European players – especially African ones – for their apparent lack of discipline and tactical understanding, or dirty play, and for losing their temper.
In general, I don’t think there is that much of a difference in how supporters relate to the game globally. There are differences from country to country depending on numerous factors, and it’s hard to make out any patterns. In Europe, for example, you find some of the worst fan violence in Sweden, a country usually known for its level-headed and reserved population. It’s all rather complicated.

In Soccer vs. the State, you mention that the sport played an important role in the decolonization of Africa, especially in Ghana and Guinea. But how exactly did football help? Is it not, at the end of the day, a “European” sport? Why did the leaders of the anti-colonial movement not seek to use any other game, perhaps even a sport which is native to Africa?

Perhaps ironically, football helped for the very reason that it wasn’t an African sport but a global one. Africans being able to compete with nations from all continents, including colonizing nations, meant a lot for national self-esteem. Even decades after independence, the symbolic value of this remained strong. Senegal’s victory over France at the 2002 World Cup, for example, has played a significant role for modern Senegalese identity, although the country had become independent from France 42 years earlier. Cameroon player Roger Milla summed up the overall sentiment well when he commented on Cameroon’s successful run at the 1998 World Cup: “An African head of state who leaves as the victor, and who greets with a smile the defeated heads of state!…It’s thanks to football that a small country could become great.”

Young Africans, some even children, are lured and often brought to Europe with deceitful promises. They leave everything behind, often pay huge sums of money despite their poverty and then in Europe, they find that they do not have a future in football (which may be for a variety of reasons). Many call it a “slave trade”, yet Daniel Künzler, whom you interviewed yourself refuses to call it so. Do you agree? Or do you think while the situation might not be exactly the same, it certainly is analogous?

I concur with Künzler when he finds the term “slave trade” inappropriate to describe the transfer of African football hopefuls to Europe. It trivializes the horrors of the slave trade. Young African footballers are not forced at gunpoint to leave their countries, they aren’t put in chains and crammed onto boats for journeys many of them won’t survive, their legal status is not simply that of property, etc. So, there are significant differences.

However, there are enormous problems involved in the global trade of African footballing talent, and they are tied to colonial history. Young African players leave their families and chase their dreams because they have few other options to improve their lot. Very often this happens under dubious circumstances. Many young African players arrive abroad in a very vulnerable position, and the many unscrupulous people involved in the football industry take advantage of that. Many a gifted African player end up on the streets of Europe without money or documents; others are entirely dependent on the whims of erratic club owners. None of these dynamics will change before the global political and economic order changes. However, things can be done to mitigate the consequences. Organizations such as Foot Solidaire have done great work.

On that note, today’s footballing academies take in a lot of youngsters, yet of course, only a few are signed by clubs, especially the bigger ones. Why is it so? Has our new obsession with data and football analytics something to do with this trend?

Data and analytics might provide a new framework for selecting some players and weeding out others, but the fact that many talented youngsters never earn a professional contract simply has to do with high competition. The money generated by football has multiplied during the past twenty-five years, which also means that more money is invested in youth football and academies. Today, you have thousands of incredibly well schooled players at the age of 17 or 18, but there are only so many open spots on the rosters of professional teams. Many players simply don’t make the cut. And among those who do, many are out of a contract again within a few years when new and better players have come up through the ranks.

In the 1970s, if you made it to the roster of a professional team, you could count on a professional career of ten to fifteen years as long as you avoided serious injury. Today, the average career span is three to four years; there is an enormous turnover. Only the players at the absolute top can build successful careers into their 30s.

What about the grassroots development programmes? While it is true that they have perhaps “discovered” a lot of talented footballers from remote villages, many of these programmes are funded and run by corporate entities. In India for example, big mining companies encroach upon tribal lands and evict them from their homes and then set up football programmes under a mandate of “Corporate Social Responsibility”. Jacinta Kerketta in a poem highlighted how these programmes are used to lure tribal children away from education because the companies know that an educated child might protest against them.

It is an excellent poem. I find football to be a wonderful game with lots of liberating potential, but we have to be realistic: football also serves, and always has, as an opiate for the masses. There is no doubt about that.

Programs that supposedly help the poor, while in fact only creating new forms of dependence and exploitation, are pervasive, also in football. I am sure that there are people involved in these programs whose heart is in the right place, and some of the programs might indeed do some good, for example if they encourage young girls to play football. But we have to scrutinize them very carefully – and we should be suspicious every time a program is sponsored by FIFA or any of its subsidiaries.

With the increase in televised games, more and more people throughout the world are actively watching the game. Yet while a number of developing countries had always followed the sport, fan support seems to be changing. For example, in India while the older generations generally supported Brazil or Argentina during the World Cup, for a majority of today’s youth (who are growing up watching the European leagues) it is more natural to support Germany or England or Spain. Can this be interpreted as the beginnings of a radical universalism – the previously colonized has “forgiven” white Europe and is willing to stand beside it as comrades? Or is it another symptom of a Eurocentric global order?

I think mainly the latter, perhaps with a tint of the former.

In general, I believe it is a result of the stronger marketing power of European nations. Asia is the market that rich European clubs woo for the most right now. Summer tours of the continent have become a main feature of the clubs’ pre-season routine, although they take an enormous toll on the players who are already facing an ever more expanding schedule during regular season. At the same time, European clubs sign Asian players to secure television time in the players’ home countries. In the near future, we will see more and more Chinese players in Europe, for example. The modern football industry follows the laws of the market.

But, yes, it might also be the case that “post-colonial” identities are taking shape in formerly colonized countries, especially among the middle classes. Shedding anti-colonial sentiments might be a way of saying that you’ve become equal and that there is no reason to harbor resentment; it is self-affirming rather than self-deprecating. Perhaps this is a form of “radical universalism”, although I would leave it to others to make that argument.

Stadiums previously used to serve as meeting places for the working class. However
today as the prices of tickets continue to rise, football-watching is increasingly becoming an activity for the affluent. As a cheaper substitute, during international tournaments, FIFA generally prepares for a “fan zone” which is basically a viewing area with a big screen. However, entry to these zones, which are always in public spaces, restricted – making these spaces private. So faced with these twin-obstacles, will the working class nature of the game soon be destroyed?

I would argue that at the level you’re describing (big international tournaments and the big national leagues) the working-class character of the game has already been destroyed. In England, most working-class fans can no longer afford tickets; they gather in the pub to watch games instead. Football has become popular enough to attract masses of middle- and upper-class people as customers, and since they have more money to spend, they receive priority over working-class supporters (who, of course, are still expected to buy expensive pay-TV packages and jerseys with sponsors’ logos splashed across the chest). Ironically, the “working-class charm” of football remains a selling point for the middle- and upper-class customers. Maybe we can call this “classploitation”. The good news is that the working-class character of the game will always survive at the grassroots level: in the alleys, backyards, and meadows of the planet.

So now that the majority of soccer fans increasingly depend on televisions or the radio, can we foresee a situation like the one described by Borges in his short-story “Esse Est Percipi”?

I guess we’re entering the philosophical realm, as in: how is the media affecting our perception of the world? Professional sports is a theater, no doubt, and there is plenty of deception, from doping to match fixing to an ever growing disparity in resources and assets. One reason why people love theater is that deception can make life more bearable. In situationist terms, modern football is a near-perfect spectacle. Borges raises the specter in his story.

As a sort of resistance to the “new football economy”, a lot of “alternate” or “fan-owned” clubs have sprung up throughout the world. But should the football fan be content with these alternate spaces? Is it not a tacit acceptance that the mainstream footballing world cannot be recovered from corporate/right-wing interests? Would you say that while alternate clubs are fine, the real fight lies in reclaiming all of football from aforementioned interests?

Of course, and I think most of the people involved in alternative football clubs would agree with that. Ideally, clubs run by supporters, embracing values of solidarity, and not buying into the consumerist doctrine would form the nucleus of an entirely new sports world. Needless to say, it is hard to create such a world unless there is fundamental political, economic, and cultural change, but these clubs make their contribution in the field of sports – which is a field as contested and politically relevant as any other, if not particularly so due to the attention it receives and the passions it arouses.

On the topic of corporate ownership, what do you think will be the impact of the success of RB Leipzig in Germany? Germans after all take a lot of pride in their 51-49 ownership rule. Do you think the Bundesliga will slowly adopt the Premier League model wholesale?

I don’t think the Bundesliga will go the way of the Premier League, because I believe the so-called 50+1 ownership rule – meaning that a club’s members will always have just over 50% of decision-making powers – won’t fall. Germans are too aware of it being an important piece of the puzzle that makes the Bundesliga the most popular league in the world measured by attendance.

However, the rule is increasingly undermined in order to do away with the average member’s influence. RB Leipzig is a prime example. Membership criteria and fees are so prohibitive that the club has less than twenty members with voting rights, all of them close associates of Red Bull tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz.

In other clubs, we face the typical problems of electoral politics: members may be able to cast votes when administrative positions are up for grabs (often with only one serious contender), but they have no influence over the club’s everyday affairs. Furthermore, big sponsors often enough threaten to withdraw their support if their expectations aren’t be met. In other words, the 50+1 rule is far from ideal, but it at least keeps the possibility of a more democratic and participatory football culture alive, even on the professional level, something exemplified by FC St. Pauli more than by any other club.

On that note, what are your opinions on the Bosman Ruling?

When Belgian professional Jean-Marc Bosman went to the European Court of Justice in the early 1990s because a transfer fee demanded by his club RFC Liège stopped him from continuing his career in France even though his contract with RFC Liège had expired, he caused a complete overhaul of the football transfer system. Not only are players now free agents at the end of their contracts, but restrictions on signing players from foreign countries were also scrapped.
The Bosman Ruling strengthened the position of professional footballers vis-à-vis their
employers. That’s positive. At the same time, the ruling had some problematic consequences.

In football, too, the rich benefit more from “free trade” than the poor. Nowadays, it is possible for the big leagues to secure all of the world’s most promising football talent at a very young age, while the foundation of top-quality football in other countries is eroded. The same is true on a domestic level: small clubs lose their best players to the big clubs very early on. As a result, the gap between the strong and the weak in football grows by the year, economic injustice increases further, and competition becomes more boring. None of this is the fault of the Bosman Ruling per se,
which was correct, but it also fit the neoliberal agenda perfectly.

Since today’s footballing calendar is fixed according to television schedules, sometimes a team might end up playing 3-4 matches in a space of 8-10 days. What do you think is the toll that it takes on the players themselves?

No one would deny that the toll is enormous. Germany went with a B-team to this year’s
Confederation Cup in Russia, because the team manager Joachim Löw considered the big stars overplayed (the fact that Germany won the tournament might confirm that the stars on the other teams were overplayed, too). All of the big club teams that play in three competitions each year (the national league, the national cup, and the continental cup) have large rosters that allow for rotation among the starting eleven. It’s the only way to keep up with the schedule.

Needless to say, you need to have plenty of money to afford a star-studded roster of 20+ players. It’s yet another factor that contributes to the increasing gap between the top and the bottom tiers of modern football. But each game means a lot of money for the rich, which is most important. Look at the ridiculous decision to extend the World Cup to 48 participating nations. The only good thing is that the football industry is headed for an overkill: eventually, even the most loyal of fans will become victims of over-saturation. The biggest hope for modern football to end is an implosion.

Perhaps the greatest resistance against corporate football has been offered by ultras groups especially in Europe and Latin America. What are the differences and parallels between the ultras in the two continents?

Very hard for me to say since I have not been able to keep up with the development of Ultra groups in Latin America. My sense is that Ultra culture remains centered in Europe – Latin America has its own supporter cultures. But, obviously, the Ultras’ dedication and ability to turn even the most boring of games into an event due to their choreographs, banners, and chants, have attracted football supporters in Latin America as well. As always, the media likes to focus on the violence displayed by some Ultras, but the overall culture is very positive. Many Ultra groups are also clearly anti-racist and anti-fascist, even if their hierarchical organization, territorial claims, and macho tendencies clash with leftist ideals.

In terms of Ultra culture extending beyond Europe’s borders, it might be most interesting to look to East Asia and North Africa, where the influence seems strongest, albeit in different ways. In East Asia, it is mainly the aesthetics that are introduced to the big leagues, while in North Africa it is the politics – mainly the Ultras’ resistance to surveillance, police violence, and the political exploitation of the game – that define much of the supporter culture in the region. The role that the Egyptian Ultras played in the uprisings of 2011 are only the most famous example.

Can football, often called an “opiate of the masses” ever serve as an agent of the left? Can it possibly build solidarity given that its essence is competition – something that is often referred to as protracted war?

I don’t think the competition is the problem. The war metaphors are silly and overused. Most games we play have a competitive element. It is what makes them fun. We are competitive beings in the sense that we define what we are capable of in comparison to what others are capable of. We would never know if we were fast runners if we didn’t compare our running speed to that of others, something that children do in a playful manner. The problem is when competition loses its playfulness and becomes the engine of all activity. It is not surprising that football has gone that way since pretty much anything does in a capitalist society. In a socialist society, the competitive element would be kept at bay. In fact, football contains many aspects that contradict it: collaboration, respect, fair play. It also serves as a universal language, akin to music or dance.

If these aspects are at the center of the football experience, it can without doubt contribute to progressive social developments. The alternative football clubs are a case in point.

Finally, what is the future of the game?

As I said, football will always survive at the grassroots level, as a natural way for people to get together, exercise, develop social skills, have fun, and so on. Many things remain to be done to make this experience all-inclusive, especially with respect to the gender imbalance that still haunts the sport, but I think there’s been improvement in the last decades and I hope we’ll continue on this path.

Things are more difficult at the professional level. There, prospects are dire. The modern football industry is still exploring and conquering new markets, it is ruled by a quasi-feudal organization run by crooks, FIFA, and it will remain exploited both by ruthless corporations and politicians.

However, as I have also hinted at above, I think that modern football culture is nearing a tipping point; it is growing too big for its own good. Eventually, the circus will have replaced the game entirely and the bubble will burst. This, without doubt, will be a reason to celebrate.

Please note:
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Buy Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging a Militant Working-Class Culture now | Download e-book now | Back to Gabriel Kuhn's homepage

Help us challenge racist narratives with this new book by David Pilgrim

Help us challenge racist narratives with this new book by David Pilgrim

We here at PM Press have launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new book by David Pilgrim, Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors: Stories from the Jim Crow Museum, a 272-page, full-color book from the Jim Crow Museum which examines the significance of longstanding antiblack stories and challenges the integrity of racist narratives.

"Undergirding David Pilgrim’s effort is his powerful belief that we, as a society, heal better when we stare down the evils that have walked among us, together.” —Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African American Research

We seek to raise at least $10,000 through pre-orders to cover the expensive printing costs and increase accessibility by charging an affordable list price. Donations will be tax deductible.

Check out the Kickstarter HERE
More on David Pilgrim

Why Nancy Pelosi Is Right About The Left Wining Every Fight

By Ralph Benko
October 8th, 2017

Recently, the New York Times quoted House Minority Leader (and conservative bête noir) Nancy Pelosi saying “We didn’t win the elections, but we’ve won every fight.”

It’s a grotesque marvel. Yet Pelosi is right.

Want to know why this is happening? Follow along.

Two little-known, self-effacing, immensely potent leaders of the progressive movement, Patrick Reinsborough (long a friend and cherished archenemy) and Doyle Canning, are a big part of the reason for the left’s relentless success. They have recently published the second edition of the most important political book of our era: Re:Imagining Change: How to use story-based strategy to win campaigns, build movements, and change the world. They have quietly and effectively been teaching the left for a long time. It is working.

This book lays out, chapter and verse, the culture, strategy and tactics by which the left continues to achieve policy victory after policy victory notwithstanding political defeats. It is the hidden-in-plain-sight secret blueprint to the left’s most powerful “secret weapon.” It is a blueprint the progressive movement has been following, episodically but often with great success, for decades: the innocuous-sounding “story-based strategy.”

The good news? The culture, strategy and tactics they use are neutral. These would be as powerful in the hands of the right as they are in the hands of the left, at least if the right ups its game and powerfully stands for justice for all as well as liberty. (We certainly ought to be doing that.)

How powerful are these tools? They are the very tools which Donald Trump -- who, certainly, independently derived them -- used to propel himself to the presidency. Yet Trump, not exactly a man of the right, stands virtually alone in the GOP in so doing.

The bad news? The right, since Reagan (a maestro) left the scene, rarely deploys these tools. The right seems ill equipped to do so. Getting our hands on this book is kind of like being handed the blueprints to the atomic bomb. And yet, alas, we will now place it in Hangar 51, next to the Ark of the Covenant and the Crystal Skull, ignored.

Let's make an exception in passing for the extraordinary Steve Bannon, a true populist and a modern master of narrative. That mastery greatly contributes to his power.

I am very much a man of the right, once called by a Washington Post Magazine columnist, half in jest and whole in earnest, “the second most conservative man in the world” for my advocacy of the gold standard. That said, I also am a connoisseur of culture, strategy and tactics.

Also, I have an avid appreciation of radicals -- those who get to the root of things, not hooligans. My gusto extends to those who inhabit and project the counter-narrative to my own.

Game On!

Re:Imagining Change is a culture-shifting work. It shows exactly how the left is eating the right’s strategy for breakfast. It shows why the left is very likely to continue to do so.
As that great proto-Supply-Sider Peter Drucker once  said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

This book is mainly about culture.

There have been three primary defining works for political and social activists over the past century.

The first of these is the work, especially the “Prison Notebooks,” of Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci, imprisoned by the Italian fascists, conceived “cultural hegemony” and laid out the principle described by left wing activist and martyr Rudi Dutschke as “the long march through the institutions” to replace the classical liberal republican free market hegemony with their own.

A founder of the Italian Communist Party, Gramsci recognized that the Communists were too weak to take political power but could infiltrate and dominate smaller civic entities such as the local school board and church vestry. Under the aegis of these socially-accepted entities they could gain power and resources, advance their agenda, and grow in power.

This is still productively being used by the left today. The left has weaponized de Tocqueville. Fiendishly brilliant!

The second of these works is Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer For Realistic Radicals. Full disclosure: I, under the chairmanship of Saul’s son, David Alinsky, serve as president of the Alinsky Center. Alinsky is considered a man of the left. This is entirely because he dedicated his life to fighting against injustice, such as corporate and government racial discrimination.

Alinsky was entirely uninfluenced by Gramsci, the speculations of the ignorant notwithstanding. Alinsky was just a tough talking guy from the Chicago streets who liked to teach the little guy how to stand up for himself. As an aside, Alinsky detested Big Government, publicly calling LBJ’s “War on Poverty” political pornography. He provided strategic guidance to then-Cardinal Archbishop Montini (later Pope Paul VI, hardly anyone’s idea of a left winger) to defeat the Italian Communist Party. He was neither a communist nor a socialist nor a Satanist.

Rules for Radicals is a work of populist genius. Its tactics have been widely and successfully adopted by the left. Alinsky’s tactics are an integral part of the canon of progressive political activism. Deservedly so. The right would benefit from taking them up. One hopes the political culture of both the left and right will now begin to assimilate Alinsky’s ethics of human dignity and creativity.

The third? Re:Imagining Change. It is a big claim to say that Re:Imagining Change belongs in the political canon right next to Gramsci and Alinsky. That said, I am well steeped in such matters, a long-time movement conservative, close observer of the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, and, in the day, a Tea Party leader. I speak on this matter with some authority.

Much evidence shows that the left’s proficient use of the culture, strategy and tactics described in Re:Imagining Change is the real reason that Nancy Pelosi is right to say “We didn’t win the elections, but we’ve won every fight.” And will continue to do so.

Re:Imagining Change is the most dangerous contemporary book in my library and, so far as I can tell, the world.

The ongoing victories by the left are not accidental. Reinsborough, Canning, and their colleagues, over decades, quietly have been training and guiding thousands of progressive activists in the cultivation and use of an overlooked political and social superweapon. Behind-the-scenes, although never surreptitiously, they and their immediate colleagues have been equipping the left’s political guerrillas with a superweapon far more powerful, and more valuable, than the ones being purchased with billions of dollars by the right.

What do Reinsborough and Canning now reveal? The introduction to the 2nd edition makes it plain:

Storytelling is a foundation of human culture and has always been central to successful social change campaigns and movements.

    1.    We live in a unique time in the history of our planet, which requires that we fundamentally shift the political, economic, and cultural systems that structure our lives. …
    2.    Social change happens when ordinary people come together to organize with a shared purpose as part of a broad-based social movement. …
    3.    In order to change systems we have to change narratives.

Bingo. The narratives by which we live are the fulcrum on which our political, economic, and cultural levers rest. Shrewdly adjusting the character of the fulcrum provides activists with far more power than does toying with the levers.

Re:Imagining Change
shows how to do that with astonishing lucidity and power.

Recognizing the power of narrative is not exactly a new insight. Yet they have uniquely and importantly recognized its political and social centrality.

Plato, in The Republic, millennia ago, wrote about the power, and danger, of narratives (and narrators), recommending that poets be banished:

It seems, then, that if a man, who through clever training can become anything and imitate anything, should arrive in our city, wanting to give a performance of his poems, we should bow down before him as someone holy, wonderful, and pleasing, but we should tell him that there is no one like him in our city and that it isn't lawful for there to be. We should pour myrrh on his head, crown him with wreaths, and send him away to another city. (398a)

In 1703, Scottish nationalist philosopher Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun wrote in a letter to the Marquis of Montrose:

I said I knew a very wise man so much of Sir Christopher's sentiment, that he believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation…. (Emphasis supplied.)

In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote a brief pamphlet by the title of Common Sense. It ignited the American revolution. It, along with Paine’s ongoing The American Crisis pamphlets written at the behest of General Washington, gave the Americans the ideals, and idealistic principles, that inspired the War for Independence, their codification in the Declaration of Independence, and victory. As summarized at

‘I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs for the last thirty years than Tom Paine.’ So wrote John Adams in 1805. In an age of political pamphleteering, Paine had become the most influential pamphleteer of all. His writings remain classic statements of the egalitarian, democratic faith of the Age of Revolution.

Napoleon Bonaparte, on June 17, 1800, casually but pointedly observed while reviewing some of prisoners of war whom his troops had captured, prisoners who cheered him:

What a thing is imagination! Here are men who don't know me, who have never seen me, but who only knew of me, and they are moved by my presence, they would do anything for me! And this same incident arises in all centuries and in all countries! Such is fanaticism! Yes, imagination rules the world. The defect of our modern institutions is that they do not speak to the imagination. By that alone can man be governed; without it he is but a brute.

Yes, imagination rules the world.

Reinsborough and Canning activate this key point. Although it is one which has lurked at the periphery of politics forever they have seized upon it and made it central within the progressive movement. This is the secret behind their policy victories.

Will the right get woke and take this lesson in culture, strategy and tactics to heart?

Likely not. If not, I predict the left will prevail. Likely sooner than later.

Reinsborough and Canning’s manifesto is indispensable because it takes the principle of narrative and then, meticulously and nearly flawlessly, instructs the reader how to put it to work. It lays out, vividly and specifically, how to change narratives. It teaches how to get right inside people’s heads and change the way people think.

Virtually every page conveys powerful strategic and tactical secrets. These are not mere theoretical insights. These insights have been implemented, repeatedly, with many successes and refined over decades to be made even more potent. Want to know how Save The Whales came about? Climate Change? GMOs? Black Lives Matter? Read it.

Its chapter titles give some flavor: Why Story; Narrative Power; Winning the Battle of the Story; Points of Intervention; Changing the Story; and Navigating Crisis and Transition: A Call to Innovation.

In discussing narrative power, chapter II, the authors declare:

Lesson one in narrative power: myth is meaning. Don’t be limited by the common pejorative use of ‘myth’ to mean ‘lie’ and miss the deeper relevance of mythology as a framework for shared meaning. Myths are often mistakenly dismissed as folktales from long ago describing fantastical realities, but even today a sea of stories tell us who we are, what to believe, and toward what we should aspire. These stories play the same role that myths always have: answering the fundamental questions of identity, origin, and worldview.

Make no mistake about the scope of the authors’, and the left’s, ambitions. The concluding chapter declares:

Growing instability means more psychic breaks. As they chip away at old worldviews, many fights are increasingly about who provides the narration for the culture--will it be the elite media, political figures, right-wing Twitter trolls, or progressive movements? Actively narrating the change means building the power and reach to define public interpretation of the shifts happening all around us.

If grassroots movements successfully narrate the changes that ordinary people are experiencing in their lives, there is an incredible opportunity to engage public participation in the fight for systemic solutions. But to win these types of macro-framing contests we must collectively promote narrative as a key arena of struggle.

The culture, strategy and tactics of the left really are brilliant.

The left does have an Achilles heel. Several of them.

Its “America The Evil” core narrative, if recognized as such, is politically toxic and will alienate the labor, and much of the ethnic, left as well as the broad electorate. The left’s skepticism of, and even hostility to, technology is widely unpopular and not just in America but very much around the world. And the dogmas of the left (just like the dogmas of the right) are beset with internal contradictions.

As just one example of such contradictions the left is rhetorically committed to democracy. There is a certain irony implied in advancing policies advocated by candidates overwhelmingly and consistently rejected by the voters. What kind of “democracy” is that? Their "democracy" is reminiscent of "People's Democratic Republics" around the world.

The left rationalizes this incongruity by claiming that the political system is rigged. It then proposes to rig it in its own favor. Virtually every single electoral “reform” propounded by the left would work distinctly to the advantage of left-leaning candidates. This reveals faux populism. The left isn’t really “reform” minded. It is intent on taking power.

Bravo to them! It is exhilarating to have adversaries of this genius and ruthlessness.

That said, I begin to despair. Unless the right recognizes the left’s key vulnerabilities and starts using comparable culture, strategy and tactics, the left’s story-based strategy ultimately will prevail. And the right shows little sign of interest in, or propensity to use, narrative.

And there you have it.

Now you know why Nancy Pelosi was, for the first time in her long career, right: “We didn’t win the elections, but we’ve won every fight.” The left wins every fight because it is astutely using the culture, strategy and tactics of Re:Imagining Change.

If the left stays on course and the right continues to ignore these extraordinarily potent insights the left will continue to win every fight. The GOP will go the way of the Whigs.
Don’t fancy Re:Imagining Change? Of course you don’t!

If you’re reading this you are likely a (center) right winger. Right wingers heavily favor argument, which is a weak form of rhetoric, over narrative, which is strong. Still, desperate times call for desperate measures. And listen up: It is too late to pour myrrh on Reinsborough's and Canning’s heads, crown them with wreaths, and send them away to another city. 

The left has already let the djinn of the imagination out of its imaginary bottle. That djinn is granting the left’s wishes for the power to change, dramatically, how we live.

We of the right must either soon release our own djinn or else lose, and lose, and lose again. America, then, will plunge over the Reichenbach Falls of the mesmerizing yet utterly chimerical narrative of a Socialist Workers Paradise.

Game Over.

Welcome to the ultimate political battlefield.

It is the battlefield for your mind.

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Out of the Ruins: A review

By James Cox
Midwest Book Review
September 2017

Synopsis: Contemporary educational practices and policies across the world are heeding the calls of Wall Street for more corporate control, privatization, and standardized accountability. There are definite shifts and movements towards more capitalist interventions of efficiency and an adherence to market fundamentalist values within the sphere of public education. The important news is that emancipatory educational practices are emerging. In many cases, these alternatives have been undervalued or even excluded within the educational research. Collaboratively compiled and co-edited by the team of Robert Haworth (Assistant Professor in the Department of Professional and Secondary Education at West Chester University, Pennsylvania) and John M. Elmore (Professor and Chairperson in the Department of Professional and Secondary Education at West Chester University, Pennsylvania), "Out of the Ruins: The Emergence of Radical Informal Learning Spaces" is comprised of thirteen erudite and scholarly articles that collectively explore and discuss the emergence of alternative learning spaces that directly challenge the pairing of public education with particular dominant capitalist and statist structures.

Critique: Out of the Ruins sharply criticizes the entire social structure of the current educational system, especially its capitalistic, market-driven approach, and offers viable alternatives in its assembly of essays by public education experts. While unreservedly recommended as a core addition to both community and academic library Contemporary Education Issues collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of students and non-specialist general readers that "Out of the Ruins" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

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Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: May Day Bookstore Review

By Red Frog
May Day Books
Thursday, September 14th, 2017

I'll bet Austromarxism was not on the tip of your lips.  Mine either.  However, this intriguing little book came into May Day and touched on topics few talk about.  Dave Zirin, the sports lefty, should read it, as should some of the pacifist types on the left.  Even our tee-totalers will feel a bit vindicated.

The Working Class Atlas

Events in "Red Vienna" are somewhat unknown on the U.S. left, so this study helps with its extensive bibliography.  Lenin, Trotsky, Serge, Bela Kun & Ilona Duczynska all criticized the ideas and methods of the Austrian Social-Democratic Workers Party (SDAP) - Kautsky, Hilferding, Bauer, Adler and their the '2.5 International" - from a Bolshevik point of view.  Their key criticisms were brought out when the SDAP failed to stop Austrian fascism from triumphing in 1934. They called them 'all bark, no bite."  The SDAP talked left, mentioned the possible need for a dictatorship of the proletariat and tried to effect theoretical unity between Social Democrats and Communists, but none of that occurred. 

At four key moments of crisis in Austria the SDAP failed to live up to its revolutionary talk.  The first was their refusal to actively support the March 1919 council republic in next door Hungary.  Next, in July 1927, a court acquitted some fascists who had shot at an SDAP march and killed some workers.  During the mass workers protest that followed, the SDAP did not come out in a show of force to respond to the fascist threat.  Third, in March 1933 the SDAP failed to properly deploy their "Schutzbund" workers militia in the face of the suspension of the Austrian parliament by the fascists, and disappointed their own base. They followed that up in February 1934 by missing the moment and not moving fast enough to seize power in Vienna as the fascists were taking power.  This last failure, after a 3 day battle, led to the triumph of fascism in Austria.  The basic lesson learned was that 'retreat' emboldens the bourgeoisie and their fascist henchman, and at these key moments, the SDAP leadership backed down for fear of civil war.  Well, civil war came anyway. 

The German and Italian CPs did not even make the late attempt the SDAP did, so there is lots of blame to go around.  Though the CPs, including the tiny one in Austria, were key in the later partisan movements across Europe.

However the SDAP made valuable contributions in building an anti-fascist military militia, which unfortunately only went into action once.  The SDAP dominated the sports scene with working-class sports clubs. Some of their leaders crusaded against alcoholism as something which weakened the working-class, ultimately coming out against any drinking.  Karl Polyani described changes in Vienna after the 1919 election of the SDAP as unique in the socialist movement.   


The Republican Schutzbund was the anti-fascist militia built by the SDAP, which was drawn from party cadres, unions, the proletarian sports clubs, youth and the general working class.  It guarded meetings and demonstrations, paraded in strength, practiced military skills and was to be eventually called out in combat with fascist gangs or in defense of the working class and the destruction of republican institutions.  As was noted by the SDAP leadership, the bourgeois military is THE key prop of the capitalist order, so without an organized opposition, defeat is far more likely.  Yet due to the aforementioned hesitations of the SDAP leadership, the Schutzbund was only used once, which demoralized the Austrian working class and encouraged the fascist paramilitaries. 

There were debates within the Schutzbund as to whether it was to be a strictly military organization or should learn the skills of what has come to be called urban guerilla warfare.  The majority was in favor of traditional militarism.  Duczynska noted that this technique was sometimes more useful in controlling the working class than the enemy.  Nothing in the book indicates that the units allowed democratic votes, so they might have been purely top-down.   


The SDAP tried to create a working-class culture to accompany their political struggle.  After their election in Vienna they constructed large workers apartment buildings like the 'Karl Marx-Hof' to better house the class.  One writer about Red Vienna called it a "foretaste of the socialist utopia."  Public swimming pools, dental clinics in schools, maternity homes, adult education centers, lending libraries, , bookstores, publishing houses, theaters and festivals were all part of life in Red Vienna, part of an expression of Austromarxism and unknown in other cities.  It showed the role of the 'city' in socialist organizing.     


Of particular note, the SDAP created the Austrian 'Workers League for Sport & Body Culture,' which had hundreds of thousands of members and participated in nearly all sports. This kind of organization was not possible until workers got an 8 hour day.   This movement went international, with a series of well-attended proletarian ' Workers Olympics' that made no mention of nations and did not fly national flags, as does our present rabidly bourgeois 'Olympics.'  This was under the umbrella of the 'Socialist Workers Sport International (SWSI).'  At its peak, the SWSI had 2 million members and held 3 international Olympics. 

The sports clubs promoted health, community and strength for the average worker, not individualism, commercialism and 'records' by the pampered elite bourgeois athlete.   Participation was emphasized over passive watching of sports by fans.  One main purpose was to prepare the working class for a physical confrontation with the fascists or even the state, as flabby, weak or lazy workers would not be much good in a clash.  As part of this physical culture, the SDAP also created the 'Whersport' organization, which specialized in more military physical skills - marksmanship, martial arts, running and other disciplines related to military training.  All of this has echoes in the U.S.  - the Teamster Local 544 Union Guard, the BPP, AIM, Robert Williams and the Deacons for Defense, the JB Anti-Klan Committee, Socialist Rifle Association, Redneck Revolt - but in the U.S. they occur on a much smaller level.  So far...


Drinking is a two-edged sword, and many times it (and its modern equivalent, drugs) demobilizes working class people.  Karl Kautsky once remarked that 'liquor, that is the enemy.'  Like the strict rules against drug and alcohol by the Black Muslims, the SDAP promoted temperance as an antidote to the rampant alcoholism found among some working class people, which only profited the bourgeois 'inn' owners in Austria.  If religion is not the opiate of the people, certainly drugs and alcohol can be.  Most socialists at this time were OK with socializing around a glass of beer or wine (Marx was a beer drinker himself) but not the SDAP leadership.  And they might have had a point, as their society was marinating in fascism at the time. 

The book ends with re-publication of some of the writings of Julius Deutsch, a former impoverished worker and military man who met Luxembourg, Kautsky, Bebel, Trotsky, Bauer and Adler in Berlin and Vienna.  Deutsch had organized an anti-war group in the Austrian military during WWI and also fought in Spain.  During the first Austrian Republic in 1918, after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, he was appointed minister of defense by the Social Democrats as part of a joint government.   

May Day carries a number of Dave Zirin's books on sports.  Commentaries on anti-fascism, the NFL, the Olympics, drugs and alcohol, below.  Use blog search box, upper left with those terms. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!

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Direct Action in Anarchist Studies

By Benjamin Franks
Anarchist Studies
August 2017

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Walker C. Smith & William E. Trautmann, Direct Action & Sabotage: Three Classic IWW pamphlets from the 1910s, Salvatore Salerno (ed.)
Chicago: C.H. Kerr and Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2014; 116pp; ISBN 9781604864823

The volume is made up of three pivotal texts from the early period of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) written by William E. Trautmann, Walker C. Smith and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. It is supplemented with IWW illustrations from the period, a contemporaneous supportive note from the novelist Jack London and a well-informed introduction by Salvatore Salerno that helpfully contextualises the trio’s pamphlets. The three central texts demonstrate the importance of direct action to revolutionary syndicalist organisation and to sites of struggle beyond industrial production. These overlapping, accessible pamphlets provide important insights into the theoretical underpinnings and practical applications of direct action and sabotage. Support for workers’ direct action and sabotage marked the schism within the wider labour movement. The craft unions and social democratic American Federation of Labour opposed it, for the reasons that the revolutionary syndicalist IWW advo- cated it: direct action places power into the hands of the individual worker, removing reliance on intermediaries like political parties and union negotiators.

Whilst these texts contain occasionally naïve consequentialist justifications for direct action (pp34, 67), all the authors then point to the immanent goods of industrial direct action: the embodiment of moments of solidarity and transcendence. Direct action assists in, and embodies, the development of transformative social organisation. The pamphlets thus highlight how sabotage is not only reactive – a response to the specific, repressive actions of the bosses and their agents – but also prefigurative of future social relations.

The diversity and creativity of direct action is highlighted by the three authors, as such methods include machine-breaking, over- and under-contamination (the former to highlight how capitalists damage goods and customers’ health in the search of profit), strikes, go-slows, work-to-rules, and informing the public about the true contents of the goods they buy. Such diverse methods require complex, often informal, structures of support, which then encourage greater acts of solidarity against capitalist values of profit maximisation and the supremacy of property rights. Thus the three pamphlets – but especially Smith’s – pre-empt the autonomist Marxist concept of autovalorisation, by highlighting how workers through direct action create their own values and social relations separate to – and against – those of capital. By contrast, reformist bodies, like the Knights of Labour, which channel opposition into representational hierarchies, produce inert social actors and regressive institutions.

Flynn applies the notion of sabotage in her discussion of women taking control over their own bodies – challenging their sexual and reproductive role under capitalism – and thus extends the focus of class struggle well beyond the site of industrial production. She identifies how this radical (and, in many states, illegal but pervasive) micro-politics prioritises women’s interests over the commercial pressure to supply workers. This politics of the body anticipates post-structural considerations by over half a century.

Salerno’s introduction does include a small, but significant, theoretical idiosyncrasy. It situates ‘direct action’ as ‘non-violence’, because, he claims, it rejects life-threatening terrorism or personal injury. This is especially odd as none of the authors absolutely rule out physical harm to the oppressors. Indeed Trautmann gives examples of what he considers to be life threatening – and indeed life-ending – justified direct action and extends his definition to include some acts of individual terror (pp35-8). Despite this minor quibble, this is an exhilarating collection
of texts, which will delight anyone who faces the managerialist oppressions and humiliations of daily life – such that even toilet breaks are timed and quantified. As these texts joyfully identify, sabotage is (possible) everywhere and provides the basis for richer, freer humane relations.

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Theorists and Thieves

by Dhruv Jain
Monthly Review
September 2017

Dhruv Jain holds a PhD in Social and Political Thought from York University, and has written widely on politics, philosophy, and social movements.

Gabriel Kuhn, ed., Turning Money into Rebellion: The Unlikely Story of Denmark’s Revolutionary Bank Robbers (Montreal and Oakland: Kersplebedeb and PM, 2014), 240 pages, $19.95, paperback.

In November 1969, Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper, published an exchange between Arghiri Emmanuel and Charles Bettelheim, in which the two Marxian economists debated the possibility of international solidarity between the working classes of the imperialist countries and those of the semi- or neo-colonies. Emmanuel held deep reservations about such alliances, while Bettelheim maintained that they were both feasible and necessary.

In the decades since, Bettelheim’s position has become the majority opinion within many progressive and revolutionary movements. Recent years, however, have seen a renewed interest in Emmanuel’s arguments. The collection Turning Money into Rebellion tells the dramatic and little-known story of a particularly committed contingent of Western European revolutionaries deeply influenced by Emmanuel’s ideas.1

As the debate was playing out in the pages of Le Monde, a small group of Danish Maoists took the unusual step of breaking relations with the Communist Party of China over these very questions. In 1970, they formed an underground organization of highly disciplined cadres who would implement what they saw as the political implications of Emmanuel’s position: to forego the fight for socialism in the immediate future in Denmark, and turn instead toward the third world. From 1972 on, they devoted their efforts to political solidarity work through a legal charity that they founded, Clothes to Africa, and a criminal cell—unknown to most members of either the group or the charity—that carried out bank robberies to help fund progressive forces fighting for revolution in Palestine, South Africa, and elsewhere.

Over the next twenty years, the robbers, calling themselves the Manifest–Communist Working Group (M-KA), channeled millions of dollars to such movements around the world. They never tried to justify any given robbery in political terms, through statements or communiqués, preferring that police believe it was the work of ordinary thieves. This extreme expression of solidarity derived from the group’s analysis of Danish society, and their belief that the Danish working class as a whole was too complacent to take any interest in international solidarity with the revolutionary proletariat in the neo- and semi-colonies, because they had been “bribed” by imperialist super-profits. Following their arrest in 1989, they became known as the Blekinge Street Gang, after the site of their hideout in Copenhagen.

Today it might seem that only specialist scholars and activists would take any interest in an organization like the M-KA, never mind read an anthology of essays, interviews, and documents detailing their ideology and activities. After all, such ultraleft groupuscules abounded in Europe and North America in the 1970s, and despite the sensational headlines they generated, their real influence was, in the main, negligible. The M-KA never had more than fifteen members; its predecessor, the Communist Working Circle (KAK), had twenty-five. What makes them historically noteworthy, and Turning Money into Rebellion a riveting read, is their unusual fusion of academic theories of unequal exchange with a revolutionary praxis of armed expropriations, used to fund revolutionary movements across the neo- and semi-colonies, especially the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Delusions of Internationalism

Emmanuel argued that the objective situation in the imperialist countries precluded the kind of internationalism that should undergird communist practice. In the nations of Western Europe and North America, socialism seemed so far in the future that the working class could hardly see it.2 What caused this apparently unbridgeable gap? The history of trade union struggles had “led not only to an increase in the extent to which external profits were shared between the classes, but to the redistribution, as between different strata of the working class, of the share obtained by that class as a whole,” Emmanuel wrote, which resulted in the internationalization of the differentiation between classes that had previously existed only at the national level.3

Emmanuel explained that from “the moment when the sharing out of the product of international exploitation assumes an important, if not preponderant, place in what is at stake in the class struggle within the nation, this struggle ceases to be a genuine class struggle in the Marxist sense of the term, and becomes a settlement of accounts between partners around a jointly-owned cake.”4

Bettelheim vigorously disagreed. He argued that both theory “and concrete analysis show” that differences in living standards and class consciousness between the first and third world working classes were “rooted in the unequal development of capitalist production in different countries, and the effects of this inequality of development on the intensity and productivity of labor.”5 It was differences in the organic composition of capital that allowed workers in imperialist countries to produce more value in a given period of labor-time, which in turn accounted for international wage differentials. The rate of exploitation within imperialist countries, according to Bettelheim, was actually greater than in the colonized countries. This was not to suggest that their level of consumption was lower than the that of the third world; rather “that wages there are relatively lower, in comparison with productivity expressed in money terms.”6 At the heart of Emmanuel’s thesis of “unequal exchange,” Bettelheim argued, was “the unequal development of the productive forces under conditions of world domination by capitalist production relations that is the basic fact explaining the international economic inequality of wages.”7 This held important implications for international solidarity: it was “not possible” to speak of workers in the imperialist countries being part of the exploitation of workers in the colonized countries, which would have rendered solidarity impossible. Instead, there existed “objective bonds of solidarity between them, since they are all subjected, directly or indirectly, to capitalist exploitation, or are threatened by it.”8

From Appel to Arghiri

Meanwhile, in Denmark, a Marxist economist named Gottfred Appel had, quite independently of Emmanuel, developed in a series of articles in 1966–67 a similar “parasite state theory,” in response to the KAK’s failure to mobilize factory workers. Appel agreed that capitalism in the imperialist countries had been built on the exploitation of the domestic working class, but argued that “in the imperialist countries the whole of this development has mainly taken place on the basis of a vigorous exploitation, not of the workers of the imperialist countries themselves, but of the working people of the colonial and dependent countries” (185). Appel did not dispute that exploitation remained an aspect of the relationship between the bourgeoisie and first world workers, but argued that it was not the defining feature: “Today the factor of exploitation is present in Danish capitalist society, but it does not take up the dominant position. Today the factor of bribery is dominating the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This factor of bribery has had its imprint on the attitude of the working class as a whole” (185). In other words, the working class in the imperialist countries, despite their exploitation, had been bribed into complacency, in effect recognizing that gains could be won precisely through the further exploitation of the colonized countries, inasmuch as those gains were paid for by super-profits earned through imperialist exploitation.

While they embraced key tenets of his theory, Appel and the KAK nevertheless differed from Emmanuel in their use of moralistic terms like “parasite” and “bribe,” and in their belief that revolution remained possible in a country like Denmark, albeit under very different conditions. If third world nations could successfully delink economically and politically from imperialism and the capitalist world system, they would “inevitably” upend conditions in the imperialist countries themselves, which in turn would allow the working classes in those countries to regain their revolutionary potential (5). Appel’s analysis was not a form of political defeatism or quietism; rather, it was concerned with carrying out the political tasks necessary to create the conditions for revolutionary struggle in the imperialist countries.

By 1978, the KAK split into three factions, divided by Appel’s domineering leadership and a poorly handled “anti-gender discrimination campaign” inside the organization. The M-KA faction would continue the efforts initiated by the KAK, including intellectual work, attempts at mass mobilization, and illicit activities. The M-KA felt the need to revise and amend the classical Marxist analysis of imperialism, as put forward by Lenin and uncritically adopted by Appel and the KAK:

For years we studied capital export to the Third World and profit rates. We studied the development of transnational corporations and the extraction of raw materials. Eventually, we had to conclude that Lenin’s analysis of imperialism was no longer appropriate. Foreign direct investments and profits could no longer explain the rising gap between the rich countries and the poor. However, KAK was not able to draw the necessary conclusions and revise its theory. (59)

Having broken with Appel and the KAK, the M-KA turned to Samir Amin’s theories of the relation between the global center and periphery, and to Immanuel Wallerstein’s studies of the historical development of capitalism. But it was Emmanuel’s theory of unequal exchange that became central to their analysis. Rather “than capital export and superprofits,” the hallmarks of Appel’s parasitic-class theory, “unequal exchange was the reason for the world being divided into rich and poor countries. Unequal exchange happens when goods are produced in Third World countries where wages are low and sold in rich countries where wages are high” (59).

For the M-KA, the strategic import of this analysis was to continue to take part in the class struggle, but at an international level.

While the M-KA remained close to Appel’s “parasite state theory”—their differences were primarily organizational, not ideological—their encounter with Emmanuel’s work had a distinct and lasting influence. The KAK had first contacted Emmanuel in 1974, but after the formation of the M-KA, the connection became stronger, and over the years, members of the group would meet with him in Paris to discuss theoretical concerns. In 1983, Emmanuel even wrote the foreword to the M-KA’s most significant publication, Imperialism Today: Unequal Exchange and the Prospects of Socialism. He maintained contact after the members’ imprisonment, up until his death in 2001. Emmanuel admired the clarity of the M-KA’s vision, writing that the group’s call to “put oneself at the service of the classes which have had an interest in overthrowing imperialism, ‘… no matter where they are geographically,'” was “clearer and more distinct than anything I have been able to mumble in here and there to my various questioners” (60–61).

Throughout the 1970s, the KAK kept a low profile in Denmark, launching its Clothes for Africa project in 1972. Chapters sprang up throughout Denmark, and sent clothes, tents, medicine, and other supplies to camps administered by revolutionary movements. They also launched their “illegal practice,” using “robbery and fraud…to supplement the material support for Third World liberation movements provided by…legal fundraising efforts” (9). Over the years, the group sent more than a hundred tons of clothes to flea markets to raise money for groups including the MPLA in Angola, ZANU in Rhodesia, and FRELIMO in Mozambique. The KAK’s illegal activities included a 1972 burglary of a Danish Army weapons depot; the seizure of 500,000 Danish crowns in 1975 from a cash-in-transit truck; and the theft of 1.5 million crowns in 1976 through a sophisticated postal scam. The group stole millions more in the 1980s from banks, trucks, post offices, and shopping centers. In 1985, they hatched and ultimately abandoned plans to kidnap an heir to one of Sweden’s richest families. A 1987 bank robbery that resulted in the death of a police officer marked the beginning of the end, as the Copenhagen police and Danish security services began an unprecedented collaboration to apprehend the culprits. By 1989, all the group’s members had been arrested, and in 1991 they were convicted in a widely publicized trial.

While the KAK and M-KA had few contacts with the broader Danish left, they did not work in political isolation. Given the centrality of the success of third world revolutionary movements to their ultimate goal of revolution in Denmark, in 1970 Appel and the KAK traveled to Jordan to meet with representatives of the PFLP. In years that followed, the KAK and M-KA would work especially closely with the PFLP, as well as with FRELIMO, ZANU, MPLA, the IRA, and the Liberation Support Movement in Canada. The M-KA remained independent, however: the group had no connections to other ultraleft sects in Europe, such as the Red Brigades in Italy or the Red Army Faction in Germany. Nor was it a mere PFLP cell, as it was often portrayed in the Danish media. Any relationship the KAK and M-KA established with outside groups was formed on the basis of their socialist perspective, broad popular support, and strategic significance.

Whatever the errors and excesses of their tactical approach, from 1972 to 1989, the KAK and its successor, the M-KA, developed a unique synthesis of orthodox Marxism-Leninism, contemporary theories of imperialism and unequal exchange, and legal and illegal practice that distinguishes it from any other group then active in Europe and North America. It is this intersection of theory and action that transforms Turning Money into Rebellion from a historical study of an obscure Danish cadre organization into a book that anyone interested in issues of international solidarity ought to read. Indeed, the questions that Emmanuel and Bettelheim debated, and which the KAK and M-KA sought to answer—of unequal relations between nations, of the revolutionary potential of working classes in imperialist countries, of the means by which international solidarity can be achieved—remain deeply unresolved.


 1.    ↩In particular, this debate has surrounded the publication of Zak Cope’s Divided World, Divided Class (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2012). See Timothy Kerswell, “Labor Divided,” Monthly Review 65, no. 7 (December 2013); Matthijs Krul, “Book Review: Zak Cope, ‘Divided World, Divided Class,'” Notes & Commentaries blog, January 3, 2013,; Charlie Post, “Workers in the Global North: A Labour Aristocracy?” New Socialist, December 23, 2012,; and Bromma, The Worker Elite (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2014).
 2.    ↩Arghiri Emmanuel, “The Delusions of Internationalism,” Monthly Review 22, no. 2 (June 1970): 14–15.
 3.    ↩Emmanuel, “Delusions of Internationalism,” 16.
 4.    ↩Emmanuel, “Delusions of Internationalism,” 18.
 5.    ↩Charles Bettelheim, “Economic Inequalities between Nations and International Solidarity,” Monthly Review 22, no. 2 (June 1970): 20–21.
 6.    ↩Bettelheim, “Economic Inequalities between Nations,” 21–22.
 7.    ↩Bettelheim, “Economic Inequalities between Nations,” 22.
 8.    ↩Bettelheim, “Economic Inequalities between Nations,” 23.

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Written in Blood: A Review

when miners marchby George Brosi
Appalachian Mountain Books
August 2017

The heart of this book is two articles that were published first in the Summer 2011 issue of Appalachian Heritage when I was serving as its editor.

“Esau in the Coal Fields” by Michael Kline exposes a horrendous practice at the Whipple Company Store near Oak Hill, West Virginia. When a coal miner living in their company town would be killed in the mines, his family would be evicted from their home unless the widow agreed to work as a prostitute upstairs in the Company Store. “Victory on Blair Mountain” by Wess Harris argues that the militant miners who fought the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 in West Virginia against the coal operators and the local, state, and federal governments did gain significant victories then and there. Before I published each of these articles I carefully edited them, with the consent of the authors, to be sure that the content was unassailable, and I checked with my supervisors at Berea College who publish Appalachian Heritage to make sure that publishing these articles would not result in any liabilities on their part.

Written in Blood begins with all of the articles in Truth Be Told edited and published by Wess Harris in 2015 plus one poem. These essays include the two articles mentioned above and three articles presenting collaborating evidence that the practices at the Whipple Company Store were widespread as well as were other ways of sexually exploiting the women of the coal fields. The new book also includes 13 of the 14 articles in Dead Ringers: Why Miners March edited and published by Harris in 2012. In addition, the new book includes interviews by Michael and Carrie Kline with two courageous defenders of coalfield workers, Tony Oppegard and Jack Spadero. It ends with three articles, not found elsewhere, by Nathan J. Fetty, Carrie Kline, and Wess Harris that bring coal field struggles up to date and provide both inspiration and concrete suggestions for constructive participation in rectifying past abuses and building a more just future. The result is that you need Written in Blood even if you have the two earlier books, but if you have Written in Blood, there is little need for either of the two previous books.

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