Join Our Mailing List

Bookmark and Share

  Home > News > Additional Stories

A Political Philosophy of Self-Defense by Chad Kautzer

A Political Philosophy of Self-Defense

Image: The Library of Congress

Editor’s Note: This essay is an adapted excerpt from Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self-Defense (ed. scott crow).

In his 1964 speech “Communication and Reality,” Malcolm X said: “I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence.” Earlier that year, he made a similar point in his Harlem speech introducing the newly founded Organization of Afro-American Unity: “It’s hard for anyone intelligent to be nonviolent.”

To portray self-defensive violence as natural, in no need of justification, or as so commonsensical that it could barely be called violence has a depoliticizing effect. Since the goal of Malcolm X’s speeches was to undermine critiques of armed black resistance, this effect was intentional. For good reasons, he was attempting to normalize black people defending themselves against the violence of white rule. When Malcolm X did speak of self-defense as a form of violence, he emphasized that it was lawful and an individual right. In his most famous speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet” (1964), he explicitly stated: “We don’t do anything illegal.” This was also, of course, how the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense justified its armed shadowing of police in Oakland in the late 1960s: it was the members’ Second Amendment right to bear arms and their right under California law to openly carry them.

When conditions are so oppressive that one’s self is not recognized at all, self-defense is de facto insurrection, a necessary making oneself known through resistance.

To develop a critical theory of community defense, however, we need to move beyond the rhetoric of rights or the idea that all self-defensive violence is quasi-natural or nonpolitical. The self-defense I discuss in this essay is political because the self being defended is political, and as such it requires both normative and strategic considerations. This project seeks to articulate the dynamics of power at work in self-defense and the constitution of the self through its social relations and conflicts.

Because communities of color defend themselves as much against a culture of white supremacy as they do against bodily harm, their self-defense undermines existing social hierarchies, ideologies, and identities. If we were to limit ourselves to the language of individual rights, these interconnections would remain concealed. Violence against women (but not only women), for example, has a gendering function, enforcing norms of feminine subordination and vulnerability. Resistance to such violence not only defends the body but also undermines gender and sexual norms, subverting hetero-masculine dominance and the notions of femininity or queerness it perpetuates. Since the social structures and identities of race, gender, class, and ability intersect in our lives, practices of self-defense can and often must challenge structures of oppression on multiple fronts simultaneously.

In the following, I do not focus on the question of whether self-defensive violence is justifiable, but rather on why it is political; how it can transform self-understandings and community relations; in what contexts it can be insurrectionary; and why it must be understood against a background of structural violence. It is necessary to clarify these dimensions of self-defense for two reasons in particular. First, arguments advocating armed community defense too often discuss the use of violence and the preparations for it as somehow external to political subjectivity, as if taking up arms, training, or exercising self-defensive violence do not transform subjects and their social relations. The influence of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961) on the early Black Panthers, Steve Biko, and others derives precisely from Fanon’s understanding of the transformative effects of resistance in the decolonizing of consciousness. “At the individual level,” Fanon writes, “violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude.”

The second reason for clarification is to distinguish the strategies, ways of theorizing, and forms of social relations of liberatory movements from those of reactionary movements. There is an increasingly influential understanding of self-defense today that reinforces a particular notion of the self—a “sovereign subject”—that is corrosive to horizontal social relations and can only be sustained vis-à-vis state power. This notion of the self runs counter to the goals of non-statist movements and self-reliant communities. To be aware of these possibilities and pitfalls allows us to avoid them, a goal to which the following sketch of a critical theory of community self-defense seeks to contribute.

section separator

Resistance and Structural Violence

At the National Negro Convention in 1843, Reverend Henry Highland Garnet issued a rare public call for large-scale resistance to slavery: “Let your motto be resistance! resistance! resistance! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance. What kind of resistance you had better make, you must decide by the circumstances that surround you, and according to the suggestion of expediency.” I describe resistance as opposition to the existing social order from within, and, as Garnet suggested, it can take different forms, such as self-defense, insurrection, or revolution. We can think of an insurrection as a limited armed revolt or rebellion against an authority, such as a state government, occupying power, or even slave owner. It is a form of illegal resistance, often with localized objectives, as in Shays’ Rebellion (1786), Nat Turner’s Rebellion (1831), the insurrections on the Amistad (1839) and Creole (1841), the coal miner Battle of Blair Mountain (1921), Watts (1965), Stonewall (1969), and Attica (1971).

Distinguishing between defensive and insurrectionary violence can be complicated. In the Amistad case, for example, white officials initially described it as a rebellion and thus a violation of the law, but later reclassified it as self-defense when the original enslavement was found to be unlawful. In a rare reversal, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the captives on the Amistad as having selves worthy of defense. That was never in question among those rebelling, of course, but it does indicate the political nature of the self and our assessments of resistance. “Since the Other was reluctant to recognize me,” writes Fanon, “there was only one answer: to make myself known.” On the Amistad, rebellion was the only way for the enslaved to make their selves known, meaning that their actions were simultaneously a defense of their lives and a political claim to recognition.

To develop a critical theory of community defense, we need to move beyond the rhetoric of rights.

A sustained insurrection can become revolutionary when it threatens to fundamentally transform or destroy the dominant political, social, or economic institutions, as with the rise of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in Mexico in 1994 and the recent wave of Arab uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, including most significantly Rojava or Syrian Kurdistan. The armed rebellion led by John Brown in 1859, which seized the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, was intended to instigate a revolution against the institution of slavery. Although the insurrection was quickly put down, it inspired abolitionists around the country and contributed to the onset of the U.S. Civil War.

Brown’s rebellion was not a slave revolt (and thus not an act of self-defense), but it did highlight the nature of structural violence. Henry David Thoreau, the inspiration for Gandhi’s nonviolent civil disobedience and, in turn, that of Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote the most insightful analysis of this violence at the time. In his essay “A Plea for Captain John Brown,” Thoreau defends Brown’s armed resistance and identifies the daily state violence of white rule against which the insurrection took place:

We preserve the so-called peace of our community by deeds of petty violence every day. Look at the policeman’s billy and handcuffs! Look at the jail! Look at the gallows! Look at the chaplain of the regiment! We are hoping only to live safely on the outskirts of this provisional army. So we defend ourselves and our hen-roosts, and maintain slavery. . . . I think that for once the Sharps rifles and the revolvers were employed in a righteous cause [i.e., Brown’s insurrection].

In this passage Thoreau highlights how the so-called security of one community was achieved by oppressing another and making it insecure. To properly understand the insurrection, he therefore argues, one must view it as a response to illegitimate structural violence. He enumerates the commonplace mechanisms of this rule, which, for whites, fades into the background of their everyday lives: law and order upheld by a neutral police force, enforced by an objective legal system and carceral institutions, and defended by an army supported by the Constitution and blessed by religious authorities. The violence of white supremacy becomes naturalized and its beneficiaries see no need for its justification; it is nearly invisible to them, though not, of course, to those it oppresses. “The existence of violence is at the very heart of a racist system,” writes Robert Williams in Negroes with Guns (1962). “The Afro-American militant is a ‘militant’ because he defends himself, his family, his home and his dignity. He does not introduce violence into a racist social system—the violence is already there and has always been there. It is precisely this unchallenged violence that allows a racist social system to perpetuate itself.”

We all exist within hierarchical social structures and the meaning and function of violence, self-defensive or otherwise, will be determined by our position vis-à-vis others in these structures. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, for example, described the self-defensive practices of the Black Panther Party as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and thus insurrectionary, if not revolutionary. Surely his assessment had more to do with the threat self-reliant black communities posed to white domination in the country than with the security of government institutions. “When people say that they are opposed to Negroes ‘resorting to violence,’” writes Williams, “what they really mean is that they are opposed to Negroes defending themselves and challenging the exclusive monopoly of violence practiced by white racists.” These structures of domination and monopolies of violence are forms of rule that operate in the family, the city, and the colony, and resistance to their violence, both dramatic and mundane, “makes known” the selves of the subjugated.

‘The Afro-American militant . . . does not introduce violence into a racist social system—the violence . . . has always been there. It is precisely this unchallenged violence that allows a racist social system to perpetuate itself.’

A satisfactory notion of self-defense is not obvious when we view self-defensive acts within the context of structural violence and understand the self as both embodied and social. Writing specifically of armed self-defense, Akinyele Omowale Umoja defines it as “the protection of life, persons, and property from aggressive assault through the application of force necessary to thwart or neutralize attack.” While this is appropriate in many contexts, the primary association of self-defense with protection does not capture how it can also reproduce or undermine existing social norms and relations, depending on the social location of the self being defended. Describing the effects of his defense against a slaveholder, Frederick Douglass, for example, wrote that he “was a changed being after that fight,” for “repelling the unjust and cruel aggressions of a tyrant” had an emancipatory effect “on my spirit.” This act of self-defense, he asserts, “was the end of the brutification to which slavery had subjected me.” Our understanding of self-defense must, therefore, account for the transformative power of self-defense for oppressed groups as well as the stabilizing effect of self-defense for oppressor groups.

section separator

Social Hierarchies and Subject Formation

To see how self-defense can have several effects and why a critical theory of self-defense must, therefore, always account for relations of domination, we need to understand in what way the self is both embodied and social. By embodied I mean that it is through the body that we experience and come to know the world and ourselves, rather than through an abstract or disembodied mind. The body orients our perspective, and is socially visible, vulnerable, and limited. Much of our knowledge about the social and physical world is exercised by the body. Our bodies are sexed, raced, and gendered, not only “externally” by how others view us or how institutions order us—as, for example, feminine, masculine, queer, disabled, white, and black—but also “internally” by how we self-identify and perform these social identities in our conscious behavior and bodily habits. By the time we are able to challenge our identities, we have already been habituated within social hierarchies, so resistance involves unlearning our habits in thought and practice as well as transforming social institutions. As David Graeber writes, “forms of social domination come to be experienced in the most intimate possible ways—in physical habits, instincts of desire or revulsion—that often seem essential to our very sense of being in the world.”

Self-defensive violence can transform self-understandings and community relations; it can be insurrectionary; and it must be understood against a background of structural violence.

Since our location within social hierarchies in part determines our social identities, the self that develops is social and political from the start. This does not mean that we are “stuck” or doomed to a certain social identity or location, nor that we can simply decide to identify ourselves elsewhere within social hierarchies or somehow just exit them. To be sure, we have great leeway in terms of self-identification, but self-identification does not itself change institutional relations or degrees of agency, respect, risk, opportunity, or access to resources. These kinds of changes can only be achieved through social and political struggles. Our embodied identities are sites of conflict, formed and reformed through our practical routines and relations as well as through social struggle. Since the actions and perceptions of others are integral to the development of our own, including our self-understanding, we say that the self is mediated, or is formed through our relations with others in systems of production, consumption, education, law, and so forth.

In The Souls of Black Folks (1903), W. E. B. Du Bois theorized black life in a white supremacist society as experiencing one’s self as split in two, a kind of internalization of a social division that produced what he called “double-consciousness,” or “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” Although one may view oneself as capable, beautiful, intelligent, and worthy of respect, the social institutions one inhabits can express the opposite view. Part of the experience of oppression is to live this othering form of categorization in everyday social life. Even when one consciously strives to resist denigration and to hold fast to a positive self-relation, the social hierarchy insinuates itself into one’s self-understanding. In the most intimate moments of introspection, a unified self-consciousness escapes us because our self-understanding can never completely break from the social relations and ideologies that engender it. Social conflict is internalized, and it takes great strength just to hold oneself together; to live as a subject when others view and treat you as little more than an object, and when you are denied the freedoms, security, and resources enjoyed by others. Ultimately, only by undermining the social conditions of oppression through collective resistance can the double-consciousness Du Bois describes become one.

Racism produces race and not the other way around. Racial categories emerge from practical relations of domination, unlike ethnic groups, which are cultural forms of collective life that do not need to define themselves in opposition to others. Racial categories are neither abstract nor biological, but are social constructions initially imposed from without but soon after reconfigured from within through social struggles. As with all relations of domination, the original shared meanings attributed to one group are contrary to the shared meanings attributed to other groups and, thus, often exist as general dichotomies. This oppositional relation in meaning mirrors the hierarchical opposition of the groups in practical life—a fact that is neither natural nor contingent.

Masculinity and femininity, for example, are not natural categories: they are social roles within a social order and thus have a history just as racial groups do. Yet, like those of race, the social and symbolic relations of gender are not contingent. Indeed, masculinity and femininity exhibit a certain kind of logic that we find in every institutionalized form of social domination. Because gender is a way of hierarchically ordering human relations, the characteristics associated with the dominant group function to justify their domination. Group members are said to be, for example, stronger, more intelligent, and more moral and rational. Nearly every aspect of social life will reflect this, from the division of labor to the forms of entertainment.

In reality, the dominant group does not dominate because it is more virtuous or rational—indeed, the depth of its viciousness is limitless—but due to its dominance it can propagate the idea that it is more virtuous, rational, or civilized. “The colonial ‘civilizing mission,’” writes María Lugones, “was the euphemistic mask of brutal access to people’s bodies through unimaginable exploitation, violent sexual violation, control of reproduction, and systematic terror.”

The fundamental dependency of the oppressor on the oppressed is concealed in all ideologies of social domination. Although the very existence of the colonist, capitalist, white supremacist, and patriarch relies on the continuous exploitation of others, they propagate the idea of an inverted world in which they are free from all dependencies. This is the camera obscura of ideology that Karl Marx discusses in The German Ideology (1845–46). The supposedly natural lack of autonomy of the subordinated groups is, we are told, the reason for social hierarchy. Workers depend on capitalists to employ and pay them, women need men to support and protect them, people of color require whites to control and decide for them, and so forth.

Resistance to domination reveals the deception of this inverted world, destabilizing the practical operations of hierarchy and undermining its myths, for example of masculine sovereignty, white superiority, compulsory heterosexuality, and capital’s self-creation of value. Violence and various forms of coercion support these myths, but such violence would be ineffective if some groups were not socially, politically, and legally structured to be vulnerable to it.

While self-defensive practices can’t eliminate vulnerability, they can undermine it as a structuring principle of oppression.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines racism as “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” Indeed, to be vulnerable to violence, exploitation, discrimination, and toxic environments is never the choice of the individual. Any radical liberatory agenda must therefore include among its aims the reduction of such group-differentiated vulnerabilities, which would strike a blow to many forms of social domination, including by not limited to race. This is not to say that vulnerability can be completely overcome. The social nature of our selves guarantees that the conditions that enable or disable us can never be completely under our control, and those very same conditions render us vulnerable to both symbolic and physical harm.

Turning specifically to consider self-defensive practices, while they cannot therefore eliminate vulnerability, they can reduce it for particular groups and undermine it at a structuring principle of oppression. Training in self-defense, writes Martha McCaughey in Real Knockouts (1997), “makes possible the identification of not only some of the mechanisms that create and sustain gender inequality but also a means to subvert them.”

section separator

The Politics of Self-Defense

If we accept a social, historical, and materialist account of group and subject formation, and understand that groups are reproduced with the help of violence, both mundane and spectacular, then we can see why self-defense functions as more than protection from bodily harm. It will also be clear why self-defense is not external to questions of our political subjectivity. If we acknowledge that we are hierarchically organized in groups—by race, gender, and class, for example—which makes some groups the beneficiaries of structural violence and others disabled, harmed, or killed by it, we see how self-defense can either stabilize or undermine domination and exploitation.

Self-defense as resistance from below is a fundamental violation of the most prevalent social and political norms, as well as our bodily habits. As McCaughey writes: “The feminine demeanor that comes so ‘naturally’ to women, a collection of specific habits that otherwise may not seem problematic, is precisely what makes us terrible fighters. Suddenly we see how these habits that make us vulnerable and that aestheticize that vulnerability are encouraged in us by a sexist culture.” Organized examples of resistance to this structured vulnerability include the Gulabi or Pink Sari Gang in Uttar Pradesh, India; Edith Garrud’s Bodyguard suffragettes, who trained in jujitsu; as well as numerous queer and feminist street patrol groups, including the Pink Panthers. McCaughey calls these self-defensive practices “feminism in the flesh,” because they are simultaneously resisting the violence of patriarchy, while reconfiguring and empowering one’s body and self-understanding. We could similarly think of the self-defensive practices of the Black Panthers, Young Lords, Deacons for Defense and Justice, Brown Berets, and the American Indian Movement as anti-racist, as decolonization in the flesh.

Organized examples of self-defensive resistance include the Gulabi or Pink Sari Gang in India, Edith Garrud’s Bodyguard suffragettes, the Pink Panthers, the Black Panthers, Young Lords, Deacons for Defense and Justice, Brown Berets, and the American Indian Movement.

Although self-defense is not sufficient to transform institutionalized relations of domination, unequal distributions of resources and risk, or the experience of double-consciousness, it is a form of decolonization and necessary for other kinds of mobilizations. The praxis of resistance is also an important form of self-education about the nature of power, the operations of oppression, and the practice of autonomy. When conditions are so oppressive that one’s self is not recognized at all, self-defense is de facto insurrection, a necessary making oneself known through resistance. While the most common form of self-defense is individual and uncoordinated, this does not make it any less political or any less important to the struggle, and this is true regardless of the mind-set or intentions of those exercising resistance.

We must, however, also be attentive to how resistance, and even preparations for it, can instrumentalize and reinforce problematic gender and race norms, political strategies, or sovereign politics. A critical theory of community self-defense should reveal these potentially problematic effects and identify how to counter them. There is, for example, an influential pamphlet, The Catechism of the Revolutionist (1869), written by Sergey Nechayev and republished by the Black Panthers, which describes the revolutionist as having “no personal interests, no business affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property, and no name.” This nameless, yet masculine, figure “has broken all the bonds which tie him to the civil order.” But who provides for the revolutionist and who labors to reproduce the material conditions of his revolutionary life? Upon whom, in short, does the supposed independence of the revolutionist depend?

Although the machismo and narcissism here is extreme to the point of being mythical—George Jackson said it was “too cold, very much like the fascist psychology”—it does speak to a twofold danger in practices of resistance. The first danger is that self-defensive practices are part of a division of labor that falls along the traditional fault lines of social hierarchies within groups. Men have, for instance, too often taken up the task of community defense in all contexts of resistance, which has the effect of reproducing traditional gender hierarchies and myths of masculine sovereignty. Considerations of self-defense must therefore be intersectionalist and aware of the transformative power and embodied nature of resistance, as discussed above. The group INCITE!, for example, seeks to defend women, gender nonconforming, and trans people of color from “violence directed against communities (i.e., police brutality, prisons, racism, economic exploitation, etc.)” as well as from “violence within communities (sexual/domestic violence).”

The second danger is a commitment to the notion of a sovereign subject, which is the centerpiece of authoritarian political ideologies and motivates so many reactionary movements. The growing number of white militias, the sovereign citizen movement, as well as major shifts in interpretations of the Second Amendment and natural rights, are contributing to an increasingly influential politics of self-defense with a sovereign subject at its core. For this sovereign subject—whose freedom can only be actualized through domination—the absolute identification with abstract individual rights always reflects an implicit dependency on state violence, much the way Nechayev’s revolutionist implicitly relies on a community he refuses to acknowledge. The sovereign subject’s disavowal of the social conditions of its own possibility produces an authoritarian concept of the self, whose so-called independence always has the effect of undermining the conditions of freedom for others.

Although one objective of self-defense is protection from bodily harm, the social and political nature of the self being defended makes such resistance political as well. Self-defense can help dismantle oppressive identities, lessen group vulnerability, and destabilize social hierarchies supported by structural violence. The notion of a sovereign subject conceals these empowering dimensions of self-defense and inhibits the creation of self-reliant communities in which the autonomy of each is enabled by nonhierarchical (and non-sovereign) social relations being afforded to all.

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

5 Star Review of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats on Shindig von Hersch
February 2018

5 stars

With the lifting of paper shortages and the breakdown of the pulp magazine distribution system after WWII, the more compact, mass market paperback became the prevailing format for fiction publishers – they were cheaply priced, handy on “spinner” racks everywhere, often poorly written and scandalously plotted. Also, like their pre-war pulp antecedents, they frequently had lurid, eye-catching cover art that broadly hinted at the often hastily composed, wildly exaggerated prose inside – more than 400 lovingly reprinted here in full colour.
This ambitious book, in scholarly and roughly chronological fashion, runs through three decades of public apprehension, alarm and allurement in The United States, Britain and Australia centred around an increasingly delinquent and defiant post- war youth culture along with the voracious genius of pulp publishers in exploiting every sensational trend to sell books. Co-editor Nette, in his introductory essay, quotes Susan Stryker from her prescient work Queer Pulp: “Pulp fiction acts as a vast cultural consciousness. Deposited there were fantasies of fulfilment as well as desperate yearnings, petty betrayals, unrequited passions, and unreasoning violence that troubled the margins of the longed-for world.”

With 70 in-depth author interviews (including Harlan Ellison and Lawrence Block), illustrated biographies and articles by 22 pop culture critics, this book goes full-disclosure with the sub-genre’s writers and their inspirations and, most interestingly, with the inside operations of their canny publishers and, usually lost in all the hustle, the real words they wrote. I found the sections titled Teenage Jungle, Groupies And Immortals and Love Tribes particularly accessible.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Iain McIntyre's Author Page | Back to Andrew Nette's Author Page

Everyday Antifascism & The Limits of Antifa: scott crow On Movement Building Under Trump

by Kit O'Connell
January 31st, 2018

“I’m not into the politics of reaction,” scott crow said.

“You need dual power. You must resist on one hand, but you have to build and create on the other hand.”

In December, I caught up with anarchist organizer and author scott crow when he stopped by my house to drop off some copies of his book “Emergency Hearts, Molotov Dreams,” which I gave away to my Patreon patrons. I took the opportunity to talk with crow about American politics and antifa after a year of the Trump regime. In the previous part of this interview, I got crow’s thoughts on the media, so in this part I’ll focus on our conversation about everyday antifascism and the limitations of antifascist tactics.

The historic rise of American antifascism

Though he describes himself as retired from it now, crow spent years engaged in antifascism and antiracist activism. His work as a founding member of the Common Ground Collective grew out of his armed resistance to racist mobs that were threatening people of color in New Orleans’ poorest neighborhoods in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

However, many of the groups he worked with in the past avoided words like “antifa,” which were already in widespread use in Europe but unfamiliar stateside. The speed with which these concepts and tactics have entered American culture after the last election is quite remarkable.

“The rise of antifascism in the way we have seen is something that is pretty historic in the United States,” crow said. He also cited the “militancy” of modern activists, an increasing number of whom seem willing to shut down white supremacy, extractive capitalism and other harmful forces through the use of confrontational tactics.

“I’m not saying that people haven’t been militant but it’s much broader now.”

Where fascism was once something of a foreign concept to Americans, it’s now a concept that’s helped reframe major aspects of left activism:

Antifascism has really just become the the broader rubric that we’re all engaged in, what we’re all doing. You could call it antimperialism, antiglobalization, antineoliberalism, these are all the different facets of it that have come before. It’s the latest reiteration of the last 20 years or so.

‘That’s everyday antifascism’

Wearing matching khakis and blue polo shirts, with many in masks, nazis from the group Patriot Front briefly rallied outside Monkeywrench Books on November 4, 2017. In an act of everyday antifascism, neighbors and passers by chased them off after a brief photo op. (Facebook / Monkeywrench Books)

In addition to abruptly becoming culturally relevant, antifascists won measurable victories in 2017, driving nazis off the streets and making large scale, Charlottesville-style fascist rallies largely untenable. “Antifascist ideas took root really fast. People put the tactics into play, put the actions into play very quickly over the last year and a half and I think that’s really important.”

crow continued:

And it also created a space where those who would not engage in those ideas were able to see some validity in it, which we’ve never gotten before. So even people who were straight-ticket Democrats in electoral politics, even if they disagree with fighting in the streets they were able to go, “you’ve given us space to go oh my gosh we need to fight fascists on these other fronts,” whether that’s the choice of access to abortion, immigration, the nationalism that’s happening right now. They are able to fight it in their own way, again, given this sort of permission because kids are willing to fight in the streets.

As one example we discussed, when nazis from the group “Patriot Front” mobilized in front of the local anarchist bookstore, Monkeywrench Books, the shopkeepers of other local stores and people shopping in the area confronted the white supremacists, a sign that normal people feel empowered and recognize the importance of acting.

“That’s everyday antifascism, when all the other people come out to say ‘fuck you, get the fuck out of here.'”

However, the White Supremacist In Chief and all those he’s put in power remain in power.

A masked figure holds a tiny doll dressed in black bloc, which in turn holds a tiny red and black flag. (Flickr / Sonia Golemme, CC NC ND license)

You can’t build movements on antifascism

“A reporter asked me the other day — they’re like can you build movements on antifascism? I said no, because it’s a reactive set of ideas, and strategies and tactics that are really good for this very limited thing, which is confrontation and bringing witness, if you want to use that term, to egregious exclusion — neo-nazis and fascists of all forms.”

Rather than a movement in its own right, antifascism is a tactic, a reaction to the presence of a specific danger to our communities and their most vulnerable members. “There are limits to it because it is a politics of reacting to something that is rising or fear of something that may become bigger.”

crow feels that the left in the U.S. doesn’t spend enough energy trying to build something radically new. “Largely, we’re stuck in the politics of resistance, of trying to stop the bleeding, trying to stop the onslaughts that are happening to immigrants, to women, to undocumented people, to prisoners, to queer people, you can just go down the list right?”

He added:

We do that fairly well. We’re great fire brigades. But I think if we really want to stop this stuff, we need to begin to think about what is it, how is it we want to build our power.

How do we want to build autonomy? How do we want to build resilience, not just for myself or my group or my campaign, but larger than that? In my neighborhood, in my community, in my overlapping communities that I’m in, and then in the cities where we live, because we still live in cities right now.

In the final part of this interview, we talked about what it could we might be able to build under the disaster that is President Trump as well as crow’s newest book, “Setting Sights: Histories & Reflections on Armed Self-Defense.”

While supplies last, new Gonzo Insiders get a copy of scott crow’s “Emergency Hearts, Molotov Dreams” and some other fun goodies. Just donate $10 or more to be eligible.

Everyday Antifascism & The Limits Of Antifa: scott crow On Movement Building Under Trump by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

This post was made possible by Kit’s patrons, including a generous anonymous sponsor who asks that you support Austin Pets Alive! with your time and money.

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

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats on Bear Alley

By Steve Holland
Bear Alley
January 22nd, 2018

Subtitled "Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980", Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats edited by Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette covers that period of paperback fiction that I've always found fascinating. Paperback sales in Britain blossomed in 1950 when paper became more readily available to publishers and the decade following saw the growth of Penguin, Pan, Corgi, Panther and others.

By the end of the decade the UK paperback market faced the twin attacks of the rising popularity of TV and the market being swamped by cheap American paperbacks, with unsold copies brought over from the States for distribution to newsagents' spinner racks and dump bins in Woolworths.

While larger companies can weather such changes, smaller companies had to find ways to survive, and that usually involves one of two ways: to go sleazier or to go more niche... even better if you can do both at the same time. This is why a company like Edwin Self's Pedigree Books managed to survive against the odds, with reprints of Hal Ellson's youthspoitation classics Duke and Reefer Boy, books about the occult and startling original works like R. A. Norton's Through Beatnik Eyeballs.

The growth of youth culture in the 1950s was exploited mercilessly by publishers in the US, who played on fears of juvenile delinquents, hot-rodders and biker gangs to sell books; here in the UK we had a similar explosion of books following the success of Skinhead by Richard Allen, New English Library and other paperback publishers discovering that every tabloid headline was a potential novel, from stoned hippies to soccer hooligans and from cult murderers to hell's angels.

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats isn't a straight telling of history, but a jigsaw that builds up into a widescreen picture of its subjects, using essays about juvenile delinquency, youthsploitation, beats, bikers and bohemians as a starting point; the reader is then treated to reviews of some of the key novels in each of seven sections and interviews with some of those involved, including Ann Bannon, Floyd Salas, Sharon Rudahl, Brad Lang, Marijane Meaker and George Snyder. With my main interest being British paperbacks, it was a real pleasure to see Laurence James interviewed (he authored the Mick Norman Hells Angels books, amongst many, many others) by Stewart Home, one of 23 contributors.

Sections on teens on the rampage and super spies are probably my favourites; a huge plus for me is that these titles  usually had fantastic painted covers, quite a few of which (especially the Australian pulp titles) I've never seen before. The whole book is incredibly well illustrated and is a great book to dip into thanks to the dozens of reviews. How many of these old books do you remember?

At the back of the book there's an advert for an upcoming title from the same editors: Sticking It To The Man. Put me down for a copy, because on the basis of Girl Gangs it's going to be well worth getting your hands on a copy.

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats edited by Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette. PM Press ISBN 978-162963438-8, 2017, 334pp, $29.95. Available in the UK via Amazon.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Iain McIntyre's Author Page | Back to Andrew Nette's Author Page

Unfree Labour? in Adult Education Quarterly


By Genevieve Ritchie
Adult Education Quarterly (AEQ)
January 2018

Almost 20 years ago Griff Foley (1999) theorized consciousness-raising as a form of informal learning. Responding to the invisibility of gender and race in Foley’s account, feminists pointed out that informal learning occurs within the social relations of exploitation, patriarchy, and racialization. Indeed, the notion of an industrial (read White male) working class has painted an incomplete picture of how and where resis- tance transpires. Although Unfree Labour does not theorize learning per se, the chap- ters illustrate the ways in which workers confront the social conditions constituting racialization, gendered labor, and super-exploitation. As Choudry and Smith note, the book engages with immigrant and migrant worker organizing for the purpose of social transformation. The penultimate chapter, for example, investigates social transforma- tion through a dialogue with activist organizations and fleshes out the tensions that arise across various struggles. Thus, Unfree Labour is firmly situated within the radi- cal tradition of adult education, which understands social struggle and dialogical learning as sites of knowledge.

Each of the chapters, authored by scholar-activists, builds from the premise that immigrant/migrant workers face conditions of “unfreedom.” The concept of unfree labor draws from the dialectical relation of freedom and necessity articulated by Marx. As Choudry and Smith explicate, the concept of unfree labor captures the way in which legal instruments compel workers to sell their labor-power. Hence, immigration status undergirds the super-exploitation of noncitizen workers. Free and unfree labor, however, should not be conceptualized as binary opposites. Rather, as Thomas’ chap- ter argues, forced, unfree, and free labor coexist. The relations constituting unfreedom, moreover, are not localized, and as such they reflect historical processes of uneven capitalist development. Chapters by Ramsaroop, and Calugay, Malhaire, and Shragge echo this point by illustrating racism within unions, and by revealing the transnational conditions that underpin labor migration.

A second concept gestured to in the Introduction and developed by Paz Ramirez and Chun’s chapter is the notion of global labor apartheid. The central claim is that immigration and labor policies create two parallel yet unequal categories of workers. Drawing on historical and contemporary accounts of worker organizing in British Columbia, they suggest that ostensibly race-neutral policies actually reproduce forms of racialized exclusion, or labor apartheid. Read against the chapter by Ladd and Singh, and Mirchandani and Poster’s (2016) analysis of transnational labor, the extent to which the notion of labor apartheid can form the basis of social transformation needs careful consideration. Ladd and Singh argue that cuts to welfare, minimum wage freezes, and restricted access to citizenship created precarious conditions for workers in general. In contradistinction to Ladd and Singh’s analysis, investigations of transnational call centers demonstrate that workers deported from the United States are recruited in their home countries because of their cultural knowledge and Westernized English (Mirchandani & Poster, 2016). The larger point to be emphasized is that the global restructuring of labor markets does not neatly map onto a racialized division labor, but rather also reflects the dynamism of transnational capital. Thus, the question that arises is whether labor apartheid is a sufficiently agile concept; can it expound the relations constituting the increasing internationalization of capital, declin- ing worker protections, and the particularities of migrant labor?

Chapters by Koo and Hanley, Polanco, and Bakan flesh out the interrelations that mutually form racialization and labor. Analyses by Koo and Hanley, and Polanco detail the ways in which particular racialized groups are cast as docile or loyal work- ers, while age or accent define undesirable workers. Interestingly, Koo and Hanley demonstrate that workers in the Live-in Caregivers Program (LCP) are less incline to organize for working conditions, and instead seek to exercise control over scheduling and personal time, thereby challenging the extra-economic coercion of the workplace. Bakan theorizes the systematic discrimination embedded in the LCP and argues that group-based inequality normalizes unfree labor markets.

The concluding chapter by Arat-Koç theorizes from the empirical examples brought forth by each of the chapters. As she argues, an analysis of unfree labor cannot remain at the margins but rather must be central to our understanding of modern-day capital- ism. Arat-Koç continues, “A focus on unfree labor promises not only a better analysis of contemporary capitalism, but also contributes critically and radically to labor, anti- racist and feminist debates and activism” (p. 180). As the chapters of Unfree Labour attest to, excavating the relations constituting unfreedom is a complex yet essential task for building solidarity and liberation.


Foley, G. (1999). Learning in social action: A contribution to understanding informal educa- tion. New York, NY: Zed.

Mirchandani, K., & Poster, W. (2016). Borders in service: Enactments of nationhood in trans- national call centres. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Aziz Choudry's Editor Page | Return to Adrian A. Smith's Editor Page

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats in #VansBookClub

By Wenceslao Bruclaga

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Iain McIntyre's Author Page | Back to Andrew Nette's Author Page

scott crow On The Media In An Age Of Antifascist Conflict

by Kit O'Connell
December 31st, 2017

My followers on Patreon got a sneak preview of this interview in audio form. While supplies last, new Gonzo Insiders get a copy of scott crow’s “Emergency Hearts, Molotov Dreams” and some other fun goodies. Just donate $10 or more to be eligible.

“Alex fucking Jones. He’s a piece of shit. Quote me on that,” scott crow told me.

scott crow photographed at dusk as Austin’s famous bats fill the sky. (Flickr / Ann Harkness, CC license)

I sat down with the anarchist organizer and author last month at my house in Austin when he delivered some copies of his book, “Emergency Hearts, Molotov Dreams: a scott crow reader” to use in my Gonzo Giveaway.

While our paths cross frequently in the Austin activist community, I don’t get a chance to formally interview him often. “Emergency Hearts” features another, a three-part interview I originally published when I edited for Firedoglake (now known as Shadowproof).

2017 was a historic year in so many ways, many of them disturbing ones, and I wanted his perspective on what often seems like the collapse of democracy as we’ve known it. As crow put it,

What a weird time in America, where we’re much more liberal on one side, but we’re also much more conservative on the other. I think that having the tiny-headed orange one in the White House has been more disruptive than any other president I’ve seen in my life.

One of the most alarming features of the current moment is the role of media: the collapse of traditional investigative journalism, attempts by tech giants to silence the left-leaning independent media, and the rise of far-right propaganda that successfully masquerades as news.

This part of the interview focuses on scott crow‘s thoughts on the media and fascist propaganda, but I’ll share more in future installments early next year, including a look at the present and future of antifascism.

“Critical thinking is already difficult in America because it’s not taught to anyone, and then over the last 20 or 30 years we’ve been inundated with the 24-hour news cycle,” crow told me.

That cycle sped up over the past few years under the influence of social media, then accelerated still further in the Trump era, as any exhausted journalist can tell you. To make it all worse, the left struggles to combat the growing influence of fascist trash like Infowars (whose founder, Jones, crow referenced in this article’s opener), and Infowars’ even weirder cousins where the worst of the worst memes like Pizzagate and QAnon fester and spread.

crow collaborates with Agency, an anarchist public relations collective, where one of his duties is to track the rise of fascist media online.

“I really started to pay attention to this in the fall, just before Charlottesville,” he recalled. “Actually it was super terrifying to watch.”

In particular, we were both horrified by the rapid spread of conspiracy theories around November 4, a day of action called by the Revolutionary Communist Party (a small but often disruptive communist splinter group), which the far right transformed into an incipient civil war. YouTube flooded with dozens of near identical videos, each one stoking fear and panic about what the fascist right wing imagined might happen on that day.

YouTube flooded with videos earlier this year designed to stoke fear, panic, and violence from the far right on November 4, 2017. (YouTube screenshot)

The claims about November 4 quickly spread from YouTube, reddit, and other more obscure places:

Alex fucking piece of shit Jones just began to say really ludicrous and outlandish things. He was saying that antifa, antifascist people were going to kill people on November 4, they were going to behead people, they were going to have super soldiers with super serum. This sounds like comic book stuff but then it gets picked up by more quote unquote “mainstream” right wing news and then it makes its way to Fox News.

“I was very worried,” crow recalled.

Luckily it didn’t materialize into massive numbers of fascists showing up in the streets, “but the fact that they got that kind of traction in all of these alternative media places is something that we need to pay attention to.”

The darkest places on the internet have become a breeding ground for these kinds of virulent misinformation. “The fact that this news can spread — it’s not even news — this fake information, these conspiracies can really spread in these places that we’re not even looking at is something that progressive people or people with radical ideas need to look at and address.”

Making the media landscape all the more challenging, the far right’s propaganda outlets are funded by shadowy think tanks and rich benefactors like the Mercers, while the independent media on the left fights over crowdfunding scraps.

“How do you combat that if you have anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist people who are trying to repel money to a degree?” crow asked.

He didn’t have clear answers, but suggested it’s up to anarchists and other radicals to develop a more nuanced take to the issue than the corporate media and tech giants, which are coming down indiscriminately against independent media in their quest to stamp out “fake news.”

“We have to recognize that this is potentially very dangerous,” crow said.

Just as antifascists believe fascists must to be stopped in the streets by any means necessary, he suggested direct action will be required to shut down fascist propaganda outlets like Infowars as well.

“We need to pay attention to these people; there needs to be a high cost for the hate speech they’re engaging in.”

Check out scott crow’s latest book, “Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self Defense,” now available from PM Press.  


scott crow On The Media In An Age Of Antifascist Conflict by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

This post was made possible by Kit’s patrons, including a generous anonymous sponsor who asks that you support Austin Pets Alive! with your time and money.

If you enjoyed this post, please support Kit on Patreon!

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

Beautiful Trash

By Jedidiah Ayres
Hardboiled Wonderland
Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Just picked up my own copy of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats, the latest lingering, loving look at 'the pulps,' edited by Ian McIntyre and Andrew Nette. I love this kind of thing - in depth looks at the lurid, mass-market yet still underground, arts of yesteryear, presented as scholarly social study, but in place of a dry monotone it's clearly a labor of love and an endeavor of enthusiasm.

Because... all the thoughtfulness is appreciated and engaging, but the real value of these type of books is in collecting all the great artwork (poster art - cover art) in one place. If you don't have your own library of pulp novels or VHS/16mm grindhouse movies, you can still lose yourself in the garish garbage of the artwork and re-live your first awakening and attraction to working out anxieties via engaging narrative.

For me these books recall my favorite part of weekly trips to the grocery store with my mom - I'd get a nickel and walk by the newsstand taking in the western, fantasy, romance, crime and science fiction paperbacks with my tiny peepers on the way to the gumball machine, or visits to out of town cousins discovering the closet full of Robert E. Howard books, or countless hours spent wandering the aisles of video stores imagining the stories the pictures represented (because I was not going to be allowed to watch them).

And that's... an important thing to note.

Often the jacket art is more important in the long run than the books/films themselves. It's the cover design that sells us, grabs our attention and infects us with an itch, or rather enflames the itch we didn't know was already within... Regardless of how satisfying said book or film actually turned out to be, the awakening, the realization that we have an appetite is what inspires us to become active agents in our own evolution.

If we have a hunger... there must be a satisfaction out there somewhere.

If you visit my home you'll be able to browse my physical media - books, films, albums - but these types of books - these collections of artworks are among the most valuable objects I own.

A few favorites from my shelves...

The Art of Noir by Eddie Muller

Cult Magazines A to Z by Earl Kemp, Luis Ortiz

Dames, Dolls and Delinquents by Gary Lovisi

Dope Menace by Stephen J. Gertz

Film Posters: Exploitation by Tony Nourmand, Graham Marsh

Men's Adventure Magazines by Max Allan Collins, George Hagenauer

Pulp Art by Robert Lesser

Science Fiction of the 20th Century by Frank M. Robinson, Ann G. Bennett

Teenage Confidential by Michael Barson, Steven Heller

Trash by Jacques Boyreau

Furthering the argument that the advertising's importance often trumps the actual product's check out Stephen Romano's Shock Festival - a collection of poster art, lobby cards and memorabilia for non-existent horror films. Beautiful.

Scott Adlerberg has a nice piece on Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats at Lithub and if you're inclined to digitally ingest pulp art you'd do well to follow Christa Faust's or Will Viharo's social media platforms.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Iain McIntyre's Author Page | Back to Andrew Nette's Author Page

The Power of Pulp Fiction: Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and More On the Counterculture Politics of Trashy 1950s Novels

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Iain McIntyre's Author Page | Back to Andrew Nette's Author Page

Barred for Life on #VansBookClub


Wenceslas Bruciaga
Originally posted in Spanish
September 11th, 2017

Q: Henry, your tattoos are famous around here.
I've seen a number of people with Black Flag tattoos ... What if like a fifteen-year-old girl got (The Bars) tattooed on forehead? How would you feel about that?


A: Cool. Give her a knife, giver her some acid, point her westawrd and say "Kill, kill !!!"

In the firmament of the punk, very probably only a design has managed to surpass the delivery and devotion of the famous A of anarchy inside a circle with satanic stroke, to such a degree to become one of the most popular tattoos: the four vertical bars and black, dazed and untidy, logo logo of the parents of hardcore punk in its most salty and painful version, Black Flag.


Yes, again, Black Flag. Because it is the band that most embodies what punk should always be. Because his ideology is more than music and moshpit.

And because yes and simply: we love it.

A logo that was born almost at the same time that the band changed its name from Panic to Black Flag:

"... (Greg) Ginn asked his little brother, a certain Raymond Pettibon, to make the cover, a disturbing ink illustration of a teacher driving away a student with a chair, as if he were a lion tamer. A few months before, they had discovered that another group was also called Panic. Pettibon suggested Black Flag and designed a logo for the band, a stylized waving flag composed of four vertical black rectangles. If a white flag means surrender, it was evident that it meant a black flag; the black flag is also the recognized symbol of anarchy, not to mention the traditional emblem of pirates; He also reminisced a little about his heroes, Black Sabbath. Logically, the fact that Black Flag was also a popular insecticide did not hurt either, " says Michael Azerrad in his book Our band could be your life .

As Black Flag became a living legend, and unlike many of the bands that shaped the punk, they led the radicality of their ideology to the limits of self-terrorism and incomprehension almost inadmissible, absurd, as when they let their hair grow to the hippie or metalhead just to annoy the skinheads and racist faces that began to attend their plays, the famous bars of Black Flag were transformed from a simple graphic record to an effigy that represents a turning point in the private ideologies of many people who see in Black Flag a hotbed of honesty and their own thoughts, an angry clap on the back that encourages them not to be afraid of dissidence, defects, contradictions, whatever the cost.

"When you see that someone has the same Black Flag bars as you, you know you're not alone in this world, despite the differences" Brian Sokel, pornographer.

The mentioned originality is an overvalued longing. A few are tattooed the singo of infinity, a diamond, a Virgin of Guadalupe or a SpongeBob. Then, hundreds follow that route: the camouflage becomes condemnation. They have taught us that when certain tastes, things or fetishes become popular, their aesthetic and ideological surplus value simply points to a devaluation, to a mortal devaluation, it becomes rabble and the rabble takes away any spark of feeling exclusive. Exclusivity is the thirst for insecurity more clumsy according to any sucker.

"Having the Black Flag bars puts me in a tribe of people with a passion for music and a passion for non-conformity " Dan K, installer of solar panels.

How would you take a book with pictures of people with a Demon of Tazmania tattooed in some corner of their extremities? Would it generate empathy or feel like a fraud, like when you see someone put on the same thing as you at a concert or a party?

"If I see someone in the street, a complete stranger, but with the four bars of Black Flag, the same ones that I have, the most likely is that I approach to talk to you" Danielle Lafore, social worker and waitress.

The more black bars are tattooed Black Flag, its meaning is strengthened and its ideological value and why not sentimental, it shoots to religious levels.

Why do people with the Black Flag tattoo increase without fear of getting lost in the rabble?

"Apart from being a Black Flag badge, I think these bars are a symbol of the idea that I try to live, go my own way and do what I want" Kevin Stewart, bicycle messenger.


A possible answer is found in the pages of Barred for life , a book of photographs of light heavyweight category that only captures tattoos of Black Flag bars as a starting point for hundreds of variables. It emerged as a joke, when its author, Stewart Dean Ebersole, a geologist, builder, designer and photographer, tattooed Black Flag bars in the vicinity of his ankle in a suburban studio in Columbus, Ohio. One of his friends said something like: "One more bastard who is tattooed Black Flag bars." It was true, as it was true that he never stopped to think that he would not be the first or the last to tattoo the Black Flag bars and that it did not matter to join the crowd that marks those four bars painfully and forever.

Barred for life is not only the photographic record of hundreds of people proudly showing off their Black Flag tattoo: "All the ideas and texts, except the long interviews and the photographic captures, are my interpretation of the myth about that band called Black Flag and that thing called punk rock, which conspired completely to change the way I understood the world, Black Flag changed the world enormously of many people, but at that point, I can not write a whole essay without starting from my own story and personal experiences "says Ebersole in the prologue.

Experience that becomes a lengthy essay on the impact of Black Flag through its discography, its iconic advertising, tours, attitude and accompanying the photographic catalog of people who proudly show off their bar tattoo.

The photographs, taken by Ebersole and the crowd that gave him a cheek in that Ohio studio (Jared Castaldi, Matt Smith and Todd Barmann) are cataloged by Name, Home of residence (which in turn trace a route that starts in NY passing through Canada and the center of the United States in the direction of the West Coast and ends in California with special stops in England, France and Italy), Occupation, favorite Singer and Favorite Song of Black Flag and a phrase that explains the reason why Those four bars were tattooed:

"The bars may look like a simple logo, but they also represent the idea that all you need to record a record and go on tour is the desire to do it" Steve Curtis, Musician.


In addition to the photographs, the book starts each chapter with extensive interviews with Dez Cadena, Glen E. Friedman, Ron Reyes, Keith Morris, Rick Spellman, Chuck Dukowski, Kira Roessler and Edward Colver. Henry Rollins is conspicuous by his absence.


This visual jewel combines the editorial design of the art books with the spirit of the fanzine in proud black and white and can be obtained for US $ 25 directly in the publishing house that was published by PM Press.


PS: Many of the participants, as well as proud Black Flag tattoo bearers, are proud carriers of Vans.


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


Quick Access to:



New Releases

Featured Releases

Autonomy Is in Our Hearts: Zapatista Autonomous Government through the Lens of the Tsotsil Language

Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics, Second Edition