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Let Freedom Ring in the Political Media Review

By Ernesto Aguilar
The Political Media Review

The Sixties presented social movements with some of recent history’s most spectacular schisms, many of which continue to be debated. Assimilation versus revolutionary nationalism versus cultural nationalism; and Old Left aesthetics versus New Left rejection of convention were among them. But none so clearly defined the troubles of that period like the verbal and other skirmishes over militancy.

Pacifism, the use of political violence and the peculiar merging of the two that came to be called self-defense were prominent fixtures of the Vietnam War era. The integrationist sit-ins contrasted with the incendiary solidarity acts of groups like the Weather Underground, which were at times motivated by those same sit-ins as well as the fiery deeds and iconography of the Black Power movement, which itself clashed at points with the mainstream civil rights movement in how each saw the way forward.

Though it isn’t about those debates, Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners cannot be divorced from such either.

The massive tome, spanning over 800 pages, endeavors to tell the story of political organizing primarily from the aforementioned period, along with the narratives of individuals incarcerated for activities in alliance with same. The definition of ‘political prisoner’ is most assuredly to be contentious, for in this reading, such encompasses individuals who have taken up political violence as a means to an end. Such a designation, to hear groups like Amnesty International tell it, obscures non-Western activists’ tribulations and the spirit of political resistance. Or does it? Meyer makes a persuasive case for consideration.

Let Freedom Ring brings together scores of previously released documents, featuring former combatants from a constellation of North American organizations including the Black Liberation Army, Weather Underground and more. Many of these writings would have otherwise been lost, and the service Meyer does in capturing a critical though largely unknown call to free those imprisoned for actions associated with political demands in the United States is bold.

Few areas in the realm of such trends are left unaddressed. Race, history, public policy and revolutionary arts are among the themes writers cut into. Meyer should also be applauded for avoiding old-school divisions around political orientation; Earth Liberation Front sabotage, for example, is discussed with the same level of seriousness Puerto Rican liberation campaigns are, and each is presented as part of a larger vision for freedom. Gender and sexism are also plumbed, though more might have been offered. Consider books like Personal Politics: The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left by Sara M. Evans to supplement some of Let Freedom Ring’s offerings.

Key business for those interested in the ideas of Let Freedom Ring is how political prisoner movements cross paths with aspirations for criminal justice reform. Jails and poverty impact economically disadvantaged people and communities of color in fathomless ways. Yet, for the commitment former Black Panther Party members and others went to prison in hopes of seeing such disparities end, little progress has been made in linking their hopes and those of people caught up in the prison-industrial complex. Meyer serves to give hope such a connection is possible, and Let Freedom Ring is a great start for organizers seeking not only context but inspiration.

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Why the Red Army Faction Matters

Kersplebedeb
Sketchy Thoughts


"It is of immense importance that the soldier, high or low, whatever rank he has, should not have to encounter in War those things which, when seen for the first time, set him in astonishment and perplexity; if he has only met with them one single time before, even by that he is half acquainted with them. This relates even to bodily fatigues. They should be practiced less to accustom the body to them than the mind. In War the young soldier is very apt to regard unusual fatigues as the consequence of faults, mistakes, and embarrassment in the conduct of the whole, and to become distressed and despondent as a consequence. This would not happen if he had been prepared for this beforehand by exercises in peace."

- Carl von Clausewitz, On War

 A couple of years ago i visited San Francisco to table at the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair, which was a somewhat disappointing experience - however, the bonus of any such trip is the chance to meet with comrades and colleagues who you otherwise only know via email.

So it was in this way that after the bookfair i found myself out with some folks from AK Press drinking beer. Talk turned to work and future publishing plans, and on the walk back to the subway someone asked me why today's radicals would be interested in reading about the Red Army Faction - West Germany's iconic Cold War urban guerillas, and the subjects of a book i had vague plans to publish.

I remember being at somewhat of a loss. In fact, if memory serves, i think i admitted to not knowing why anyone would want to learn about the RAF, or why they should. Not the best pitch, i admit, but at the time the whole "book about the RAF" thing was something i felt ambivalent about - not only did the project seem daunting and the group's writings somewhat unintelligible, but i didn't really like what i thought i knew about them in the first place, the impression i had being of an authoritarian bunch of Germans with pretensions of historical grandeur. Not like we haven't seen enough of that before...

It's now a couple of years later, and I have just received twenty odd cases of Projectiles for the People, the first of what will be a multi-volume series about the RAF. If, in 2007, i had doubts about how this project could be either interesting or relevant, today i am firmly convinced of its importance. Indeed, my own opinion of the RAF was at first challenged and then completely overturned by authors Moncourt and Smith's work, which not only places the guerillas in their proper historical context, but also provides a crash course on postwar Germany and its New Left from a radical anticapitalist perspective.

So what happened? Well, first off - surprise, surprise - it turns out a lot of what i "knew" about the guerillas was just wrong. While the state and media lie about all revolutionaries, they seem to have really gone into overdrive about the Red Army Faction, to the point that it soon stopped being shocking and became funny, and has now stopped being funny and has simply become expected. One only has to look at the blather that's been written about the group over the past year, and it becomes clear that some journalists are still willing and able to just make it up when in need of new material.

This is the legacy of the state's psychological warfare campaign against the RAF, a campaign very similar to the FBI's COINTELPRO. The West German experience involved many "false flag actions" - threatened or actual attacks, generally against civilians, blamed on the guerilla but most likely carried out by the far right or government secret services. It also involved a constant stream of media stories personalizing the guerilla's politics, making it all a matter of unbalanced individuals with crazy ideas and unhealthy interpersonal dynamics. This psychological campaign reached its crescendo around the deaths of RAF members in prison, which the state insisted were suicides, even though compelling evidence existed to suggest that they were in fact murdered.

Even a liberal author like Jeremy Varon, whose book Bringing the War Home attempts to explain where the RAF was coming from, ends up presenting a misleading story marred by his own liberal bias, which requires him to dismiss much of the group's politics without properly grappling with them on their own terms. This shouldn't be surprising, given that when Varon wrote his book hardly any of the RAF's own documents were available to English readers.

What's even more problematic, as Moncourt and Smith explain, is that for years the English translations of RAF documents that were available were of a very uneven quality, and some were downright atrocious. From their "Translators' Note":

"In no few cases, segments of the original text were found to be missing from the available translations. It was also not uncommon to encounter what might best be called transliteration—the translator “adjusted” concepts to suit the milieu for which he or she was translating the document. The end result of this latter phenomenon was often, however unintentional, the ideological distortion of the original document—usually only slight in nature, but occasionally egregious. Perhaps the oddest thing we encountered on more than a few occasions was the existence of accretions in the translated documents we referred to; usually only a phrase or a sentence or two, but occasionally entire paragraphs."

Given this status quo ante, the publication of all of the RAF's communiqués and theoretical documents (up until 1977) in Projectiles for the People is of value simply because it corrects and completes the historical record. Countering some of the bias in extant accounts, Moncourt and Smith also devote significant space to examining the deaths of RAF prisoners, showing that despite claims to the contrary there is no reasonable basis for insisting that these were suicides and not executions.

But for radicals, i would argue, the value of Projectiles for the People goes far beyond this. It's worth quickly looking at some of this story's themes, to tease out some political threads, in order to explain why.

In two introductory chapters Moncourt and Smith take us through the quarter century after the Second World War, showing how a political alliance between U.S. imperialism and the German middle and upper classes guaranteed the continuity of key elements of the Nazi state. Moncourt and Smith quote William D. Graf to the effect that:

"Almost all the representatives of big business labeled as war criminals by the American Kilgore Commission in 1945 were back in their former positions by 1948; and of roughly 53,000 civil servants dismissed on account of their Nazi pasts in 1945, only about 1,000 remained permanently excluded, while the judiciary was almost 100% restored as early as 1946."

Little surprise that before the New Left revolt of the 60s/70s, West Germany was an intensely conservative society, one where parents were still criminally liable if they allowed their children to spend the night together before the age of 21, where students could be expelled from university for interrupting a lecture, and where corporal punishment was routinely resorted to throughout the school system. Radical opposition faced constant repression, the Communist Party of Germany being banned in 1956 and its leadership imprisoned, while throughout the fifties and early sixties, over ten thousand cases of "treason" were brought before the courts.

This was the world that most future RAF guerillas grew up in, the world they were revolting against. When the so-called "Auschwitz trials" in the early sixties shone light on what had actually happened during the Holocaust - a subject that had been taboo, effectively hushed up in polite German society before then - this combined with revulsion at imperialism's ongoing crimes in the Third World to instill the New Left with a real sense of urgency and determination. Just as Jim Crow discredited America even in the eyes of many of its white children, the older German generation’s participation in genocide discredited them in the eyes of many German youth.

Moncourt and Smith document this evolution in terms of the wider West German left and the other radical tendencies that also opted for armed politics. Groups like the anarchist 2nd of June Movement and the autonomist Revolutionary Cells weave themselves in and out of the narrative, showing how the movement could field different organizations with their own tactics and strategies, all within an overarching worldview that took the need for revolution as a given.

So far so good, but you may still be wondering what's so special? After all, within white North America there were also several armed groups, ranging from the Weather Underground to the George Jackson Brigade and the United Freedom Front, and including smaller ad hoc outfits which proved themselves willing to engage in armed struggle. A very widely quoted figure from Scanlan's magazine in 1970 reported hundreds of acts of sabotage and violence in the united states as part of the campaign against the Vietnam War. This figure does not refer to those armed actions that took place in the context of the national liberation struggles which rocked North America at the time, anticolonial insurgencies of Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Indigenous peoples that constituted the main revolutionary fronts on this continent. In Canada, it is worth remembering that an armed organization fighting for an independent and socialist Quebec - the FLQ - was stamped out not only by social democracy and its own contradictions, but also by the imposition of martial law, tanks in the streets, and predawn raids in October 1970, which saw hundreds of Quebec nationalists and progressives incarcerated as political prisoners.

So why is the RAF worth learning about, why are these voices from so far away worth listening to?

First off, it is certainly also worth learning about what happened here, and much work remains to be done documenting these North American movements. This is all the more pressing, as many remain in prison after all these decades for the part they played in the liberation struggles of the day. For instance, even after almost forty years behind bars comrades like Jalil Muntaqim and Herman Bell are not only consistently denied parole, but are now being dragged through the courts to face new charges dating back to the early seventies. Showing how the system’s thirst for blood can never be quenched, only appeased or resisted.

But it is important to recognize that this is not a case of either/or, and that the RAF was not completely separate from what was happening here. Certainly there were major differences - political, historical, cultural - between the situation in West Germany and that in North America, but all these people saw themselves as part of a global struggle against a worldwide capitalist system led by U.S. imperialism. For all these groups, Vietnam was a reference point, and for all these groups, an awareness of each others activities and goals served as inspiration.

Secondly, the RAF differs from most North American armed organizations in the number of documents it produced, not only analyzing imperialism and capitalism and the historical circumstances the organization found itself in, but also examining its own struggle, the specifics of its actions and the broader meaning of these actions in the lives of its members, and for the left. In these documents, the guerillas laid out ideas and strategies regarding not only Germany and Vietnam, but also alienation, subjectivity, and the hard choices revolutionaries must face. These contributions retain their relevance today.

What emerges from the RAF's documents - all translated here for the first time - is a subtle, nuanced, and realistic strategy that embraced the complexity of the German situation, the tragedy of being revolutionaries in a society in which revolution was not likely, at least in the short term. As they put it in their founding manifesto, "The RAF’s urban guerilla concept is not based on an optimistic evaluation of the situation in the Federal Republic and West Berlin."

The guerilla did not envision "victory" in the sense of seizing power or precipitating revolution all by themselves, but rather saw its actions as a requirement of the broader revolutionary struggle. Indeed, the impression one gets is that the RAF’s goal - at least initially - was to complement the aboveground left, to support it and be supported by it in turn. This view is repeated time and again in early statements:

"If the red army is not simultaneously built, then all conflict, all the political work carried out in the factories and in Wedding and in the Märkisch neighborhood and at Plötze [women's prison] and in the courtrooms is reduced to reformism; which is to say, you end up with improved discipline, improved intimidation, and improved exploitation. That destroys the people, rather than destroying what destroys the people!"

 

(Build the Red Army!, 1970)

"Some say that the political possibilities of organization, agitation, and propaganda are far from being exhausted, and only when they have been exhausted should one consider armed struggle. We say that the political possibilities will not be fully utilized until armed struggle is recognized as the political goal, as long as the strategic conclusion that all reactionaries are paper tigers is not grasped despite the tactical conclusion that they are criminals, murderers, and exploiters."
(The Urban Guerilla Concept, 1971)

 

"When we build the revolutionary guerilla, we are creating an instrument that is beyond the reach of the system’s repression, that does not depend on the system’s tolerance for its capacity to act, that does not have its room to maneuver determined by the Verfassungsshutz [secret police]."

 

(Statement to the Red Aid Teach-In, 1972)

 

For the first few years that it existed, the RAF's main priority seems to have been avoiding arrest, surviving underground, and developing their capacity to act. Apart from bank robberies, the group's only "actions" during this period were deadly firefights with police, who had adopted a "shoot first and ask questions later" attitude. (Indeed, unarmed innocent bystanders were killed by police in these years precisely because the cops would sometimes shoot on the mere suspicion that they had spotted members of the guerilla.)

In 1972, the group moved to a new level. At the May Day demonstrations that year, supporters handed out copies of the RAF's second major theoretical manifesto, Serve the People: the Urban Guerilla and Class Struggle, a document that attempted to grapple with the realities of class in West Germany and how this related to the anti-imperialist revolutions in the Third World. Again, the armed struggle was posed as central to the work that must be done:

"We’re not saying it will be easy to build the guerilla, or that the masses are just waiting for the opportunity to join the guerilla. However, we do, above all, believe that the situation will not change by itself [...] We believe that the guerilla will develop, will gain a foothold, that the development of the class struggle will itself establish the idea of armed struggle only if there is already an organization in existence conducting guerilla warfare, an organization that is not easily demoralized, that does not simply lie down and give up."

 

(Serve the People: the Urban Guerilla and Class Struggle, 1972)

 

Shortly after releasing this document, the group went into action. On May 11, a RAF commando bombed the U.S. Army V Corps headquarters and the site of the National Security Agency in Frankfurt - three blasts went off, killing a Lieutenant Colonel and injuring thirteen others. The next day two police buildings were bombed in the cities of Munich and Augsburg, as payback for the deaths of guerillas at the hands of the Bavarian police. Bombs would continue to go off throughout the month, targeting a right-wing newspaper chain, a judge who presided over RAF trials, and another U.S. military base, this time killing three soldiers.

One of the chief merits of Moncourt and Smith's treatment of these bombings is that they place them within the context of the ongoing imperialist massacre in Vietnam, and the debates occurring within the West German New Left at the time. This was clearly what was important to the RAF itself, as shown by a tape recorded statement Ulrike Meinhof sent to a teach-in organized by the political prisoner support group Red Aid, at the end of May.

Dialogue with the left remained a priority for the guerilla. While this conversation may not have always been polite, the relationship between the RAF and other revolutionaries is one of the most interesting themes in Projectiles, one which belies the claim by many authors that the guerilla was uninterested in reaching out to others. Indeed, this is a story punctuated by demonstrations, protests, one-off bombings and riots, all carried out by others in support of the RAF, or at least against the repression the guerilla faced.

For most of those involved, the 1972 "May Offensive," as it came to be known, proved to be both the first and last series of attacks of its kind. Thousands of cops were mobilized and, on the first day of June, several leading members of the RAF - Andreas Baader, Holger Meins, Jan-Carl Raspe - were cornered and apprehended in Munich. As the police pressed on with their hunt, more and more guerillas were captured, and plans for future actions had to be called off, as the organization found itself almost entirely wiped out.

If this were the end of the story, i would still say it was worth checking out. This "first generation" of the Red Army Faction included many seasoned activists who had spent years organizing legally in the student movement, the antiwar movement, and various anarchist, socialist, and communist organizations. Ulrike Meinhof was a leading intellectual of her day, as well as having formerly been a secret member of the banned Communist Party. Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin were well known members of the West Berlin scene, and enjoyed the status of folk heroes for having firebombed two department stores to protest the Vietnam War. In the 1960s, Horst Mahler had been the most high-profile political lawyer in West Berlin. (He would later be kicked out of the RAF, and finally decades later would reinvent himself as a neo-nazi and Holocaust denier.)

With this solid basis in the movement, the early RAF's texts resonate with debates that have not been resolved to this day. While predictably concerned with armed struggle, they also grapple with questions of political agency, of how to relate to Third World movements, and of what kind of organization is best suited to revolution in the First World. They are well-written, articulate explanations of how the guerillas saw their struggle, and if few readers will agree with them completely, i am sure many could benefit from their study.

But this is not the only reason this story is of interest.

Unlike most armed movements in North America, the RAF managed to survive the arrests of all its key members following the May Offensive.

As Moncourt and Smith reveal, the West German state pioneered various forms of "clean torture" in an effort to break the captured guerillas and force them to recant. The goal here was to use the prisoners against the revolutionary movement, by pushing them to publicly admit they were wrong, or else by messing them up so badly that they appeared insane.

This ongoing campaign against the guerillas took the form of isolation imprisonment. Prisoners were separated from the general population, allowed limited or no visits, and had their mail routinely intercepted. In many cases, entire prison wings were emptied so there was no possibility of even calling out to others through the bars.

In some cases this isolation was taken even further, amounting to sensory deprivation. RAF members Astrid Proll and Ulrike Meinhof were both subjected to this then-experimental form of torture in Cologne prison. As Moncourt and Smith tell us:

"The cell was lit twenty-four hours a day with a single bald neon light. It was forbidden for the prisoner to hang photographs, posters, or anything else on the walls. All other cells in the wing were kept vacant, and when other prisoners were moved through the prison—for instance, to the exercise yard—they were obliged to take a circuitous route so that even their voices could not be heard. The only minimal contact with another human being was when food was delivered; other than that, the prisoner spent twenty-four hours a day in a world with no variation."

Some of you who were active at the time may recall similar conditions at the united states' hideous Lexington Control Unit, where female political prisoners were held in the mid-eighties. Lexington was closed down after a campaign showed how this kind of sensory deprivation, coupled with 24-hour-a-day surveillance, was intended as a form of psychological torture. In fact, these techniques had been pioneered in Germany in its attempt to smash the RAF.

The women endured these conditions for months on end. As Astrid Proll would later recall:

"During the 2½ years of remand I was 4½ months completely isolated in the Dead Wing of Cologne-Ossendorf. Not even today, six years later, have I completely recovered from that. I can’t stand rooms which are painted white because they remind me of my cell. Silence in a wood can terrify me, it reminds me of the silence in the isolated cell. Darkness makes me so depressive as if my life were taken away. Solitude causes me as much fear as crowds. Even today I have the feeling occasionally as if I can’t move."

It is difficult to say what would have happened if the authorities had adopted a less vicious attitude towards the captured guerillas, but as it is his persecution forced them to react.

In a series of hunger strikes throughout the 1970s the RAF prisoners not only brought attention to their plight, they essentially opened up a new front in their war against the West German state. These hunger strikes, in 1972, 1973, and 1974-5, and then in 1977, became the key organizing tool for the captured combatants. As the prisoners explained in their statement announcing their third such strike:

"In isolation, the hunger strike is our only possible form of collective resistance to imperialism’s counterstrategy. Revolutionary prisoners and prisoners who have begun to organize themselves to fight are to be psychologically and physically, that is to say politically, destroyed. Disarmed, imprisoned, isolated, this is our only option for asserting our psychological and spiritual strength, our identity as people, so that the stones the ruling class has thrown at us may land on their own feet."

Not only did these hunger strikes force the radical left to take the RAF into account, they also served to inspire a new generation of radicals to take up the gun and renew the organization. Against all odds, from inside the prisons, the RAF would, time and time again, successfully draw in new recruits through the use of hunger strikes and the campaign against "isolation-extermination."


The story of how the RAF, a revolutionary guerilla organization originally oriented around the realities of 70s New Left, survived wave upon wave of arrests by renewing and reorienting itself in response to the plight of the prisoners, is an undercurrent running through Projectiles for the People. While they are gentle in their judgments, Moncourt and Smith clearly view this as an error, one that led to isolation from much of the left and several serious miscalculations.

This focus on the prisoners finally reached its logical conclusion in 1977, when a number of former legal supporters went underground and joined with the RAF to try to force the state to alleviate isolation conditions, and ultimately to release the prisoners.

This campaign started with the assassination of the Attorney General during the RAF's fourth hunger strike. While this initially seemed to work to push the state to make concessions, the hard line was soon reasserted, and a new plan had to be put in motion. An attempt was made to kidnap a leading banker - it failed, and he was killed. Next, Germany's leading industrialist was successfully kidnapped and held for weeks as the guerillas attempted to negotiate with the prisoners' release. The country was plunged into de facto martial law, and matters were further complicated when a Palestinian commando skyjacked a plane in support of the RAF's demands. After several days, the Palestinian commando was wiped out in a lightning attack by Germany's special forces, and that same night several leading RAF prisoners were found "suicided" in their cells. For the guerilla, failure could not have been more complete. (For more details on the 1977 events, see the series of articles from the Sketchy Thoughts blog in 2007, reposted on the German Guerilla website.)

As Moncourt and Smith argue in their conclusion:

"it is striking how much the RAF’s legacy and credibility were damaged by 1977; it took years to recover, even while most of the guerillas remained uncaptured. Most popular and even scholarly works about the group act as if it disbanded afterwards, while in fact it remained active until the 1990s.

Compare this to 1972, when practically the entire guerilla had been wiped out by arrests, and yet the actions of the May Offensive inspired renewed resistance throughout the spectrum of the revolutionary left.

One part of the equation was the distance that had grown between the RAF and the rest of the left, both as a result of its own paradoxes and of the vicious state repression and psychological operations. The other factor, in its own way an expression of the first, was the level of confrontation in which the 1977 commandos had chosen to engage, well beyond the capacity of any other segment of the left to imitate or even support."

 

Despite these observations, in retrospect it is difficult to know what else could have been done. The "error" of focusing on the prisoners to the exclusion of other contradictions may have been unavoidable, one which the organization had to go through in order to get past it. And as the 1980s would show, the RAF would in fact manage to get past it - though that is a story that will not be told until the next volume in this series.

Projectiles for the People will likely be of interest to researchers and academics of various persuasions, in part because this is the first time most of the RAF's documents have ever been translated into English.

But for radicals, for those of us who are anticapitalist and anti-imperialist in 2009, looking back at the strategies and thoughts of past revolutionaries is particularly rewarding. While it would be foolish to set out to compile a "list of lessons" from such and intense story, learning about the RAF may help prepare us for the struggles that lie in our own future.

Urban guerilla warfare will likely never be waged again in exactly the same way it was in the 1970s, but it is equally unlikely to ever be completely removed from the menu. By theorizing about what they were doing while they were doing it, the RAF combatants have left us a rich legacy from which to draw not only inspiration, but also knowledge and understanding of the dynamics and pitfalls associated with armed clandestine movements.

As noted by Carl von Clausewitz in the quote that introduces this text, it is indeed of immense importance that the soldier, high or low, should not have to encounter those things which, when seen for the first time, can appear daunting and perplexing.

For that reason, i think Projectiles for the People is a book worth reading.

Buy this book now


RAF Reviewed in Counterpunch

By Ron Jacobs
Counterpunch

Much has been written about the German leftist guerrilla group the Red Army Fraction (RAF).  Naturally, most of what has been written is in German. Most of what has been written (or translated into) English has generally been of a sensationalist nature and composed mostly of information taken from the files of the German mainstream media and law enforcement bureaucracy. The reasons for this approach include, among others, the nature of the RAF's politics. Leftist in the extreme, they lay beyond the realm of what can be expressed in media that exists to support the capitalist state. Add to this the criminal nature of their actions and the way lay clear for media coverage that ignored the intrinsically political reasons for the group and its acts. We see a similar type of anti-political coverage today when the capitalist media covers the actions undertaken by anarchists and others at international meetings of the capitalist governments and imperial defense pacts like NATO. By deemphasizing the politics of the protesters, the actions of the State seem to be a rational response to the average reader.

Although it is difficult to separate the RAF's theory from their actions--actions which included murder--if one does so they find an application of left theory that perceived the anti-imperialist resistance in the advanced industrial nations (First World, if you will) as just another part of the worldwide anti-imperialist movement. It was this conclusion that the RAF used to rationalize their attacks on US military installations in 1972 during their anti-imperialist offensive. They did not believe the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) to be in a revolutionary situation, but justified their attacks via the argument that the US and other imperial forces (German and British) should be attacked wherever they were, not just in Vietnam or another country where they were engaged in overt warfare. This approach echoed the slogan popularized by the Weatherman organization in the US-Bring the War Home.

I lived in Frankfurt am Main, Germany during this period. I attended protests against the Vietnam War, in support of the burgeoning squatters movement (and against property speculation) in Frankfurt, against the Shah of Iran, in support of gastarbeiters rights and against the repressive regimes in Turkey and Greece. I also attended concerts and street festivals where the German counterculture mingled flamboyantly with the US servicemen and adolescents that abounded in the country then. When the IG Farben building and Officer's Club in Frankfurt am Main were attacked by the RAF, a serious security effort became part of our daily lives. School buses taking us to the American High School  in Frankfurt were boarded by military police who checked out bags while other GIs used long-handled mirrors to check underneath the buses for explosive devices. 

German police and military set up shop at airports and train stations, holding automatic weapons.  Autobahn exits were the site of roadblocks. Wanted posters featuring the faces of the RAF members appeared everywhere.  The Goethe University in Frankfurt came under increased police surveillance, especially after the playing of a tape-recorded message from RAF member Ulrike Meinhof at a national conference there.  A protest held against the US mining of northern Vietnamese harbors and intensified bombing of the Vietnamese people was patrolled by police armed with automatic weapons. Nonetheless, many of the protesters chanted "Fur den Sieg des VietCong, Bomben auf das Pentagon!" (For the victory of the NLF, bomb the Pentagon). The following day, the Pentagon was bombed by the Weather Underground.

Recently, PM Press in California published the book The Red Army Faction, A Documentary History: Volume 1: Projectiles For The People. This voluminous work includes virtually all of the communiques and theoretical pamphlets published by the RAF from 1970 to 1977. This period is considered the first period of the RAF--an organization that saw its original leadership imprisoned after the aforementioned bombing offensive against US military installations in Germany. These members were followed by another set of individuals drawn to the RAF mostly through support organizations that developed to protest the conditions of the RAF's imprisonment and their eventual deaths that many still believe were state-sanctioned murders. Over the next two decades , hundreds of others would join the organization to replace those imprisoned and killed. Besides the text written by the RAF, the editors have written an accompanying text that  provides a take on the history of post World War Two West Germany that has been mostly unavailable to English readers.

The RAF was an intensely sectarian organization. They saw most of the rest of the German Left as revisionist or opportunist, unwilling to make the commitment armed struggle required. Besides invalidating the gains won by the autonomist squatters' movement and other independent groupings, this analysis ignored the fact that other approaches might have been more effective in the long term. By positioning itself to the left of all other leftist groups in Germany, the RAF insured its limited effectiveness. Once the State was able to capture its primary membership and literally isolate them in prisons, the RAF's purpose moved away from challenging the imperialists to one of staying alive inside a draconian and psychologically debilitating prison environment.

Indeed, as this book clearly demarcates, the bulk of the work of the RAF in the 1970s centered around the nature of their existence in prison. In what would become a harbinger of the future we live in, the German prison authority and its departmental ally the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) developed an architecture and series of mechanisms designed to destroy the minds of the RAF prisoners. Isolation cells painted completely in white where the neon light never went off.  No contact with any human for months at a time. The use of informers and ultimately a trial held in a specially designed prison courthouse that took place without the defendants or their attorneys. In addition, laws were passed that criminalized not only the act taken by the attorneys to defend their clients but also the acts of any individuals who opposed the actions taken by the State against the RAF prisoners. Of course, this enabled the RAF to point out the unity of purpose between the right wing CDU-CSU West German government and the SPD (with obvious comparisons to the role played by the German Social Democrats after World War I when they used the rightwing militia known as the Freikorps to kill members of the revolutionary Spartacists).  Indeed, the special laws enacted against the RAF and its supporters contained many elements of laws now in existence in the US, realized most fully in the Patriot Act.

While the RAF was certainly successful in exposing the fundamental authoritarianism of the modern capitalist state through their hunger strikes and other actions, they did nothing towards rebuilding the anti-imperialist movement that the 1972 actions were conceived in. This created a situation where their developing analysis of imperialism and the struggle against it became essentially moribund. In other words, the repression by the German government and its allies was successful.

The editors of this work, J. Smith and André Moncourt, have created an intelligently political work that honestly discusses the politics of the Red Army Fraktion during its early years. Their commentary explains the theoretical writings of the RAF from a left perspective and puts their politics and actions in the context of the situation present in Germany and the world at the time. It is an extended work that is worth the commitment required to read and digest it. Not only a historical document, the fact that it is history provides us with the ability to comprehend the phenomenon that was the RAF in ways not possible thirty years ago.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

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"Det finns mycket att lära från RAFs historia"

Intervju med förlaget PM Press
Motkraft

I februari publicerade de nordamerikanska förlagen PM Press (Oakland, USA) och Kersplebedeb (Montréal, Kanada) den första delen av en tvåbandig "Documentary History" om Röda-armé fraktionen (RAF) i Tyskland. Banden innehåller både översättningar av RAF:s originaltexter och omfattande texter om deras historiska kontext. Projektet är det hittills mest ambitiösa försök att dokumentera RAF:s historia på engelska. Den följande intervjun med bokens kanadensiska redaktörer, André Moncourt och J. Smith, gjordes av Gabriel Kuhn. Den tyska versionen ska publiceras i nummer 41 av tidskriften Arranca! i december. En längre engelsk version ligger på germanguerrila.com. Boken The Red Army Faction, A Documentary History – Volume 1: Projectiles for the People finns att köpa i Stockholm vid Bokhandeln Info, Tjärhovsgatan 44, eller kan beställas via nätet, bäst hos PM Press eller Kersplebedeb.

Ni måste ha jobbat otroligt hårt för det här projektet. Var kom motivationen ifrån?

André: Det fanns flera aspekter. Viktigt för mig personligen var att jag bodde i Tyskland under flera perioder på 1980-talet. Dessutom har den nordamerikanska vänstern alltid varit väldigt intresserad av Tysklands radikala vänsterrörelse.

Varför det?

André: Mest därför att vita radikala vänsteraktivister i Nordamerika hade samma bakgrund som kamrater i Tyskland. I bägge länder politiserades de flesta under 1960-talets ungdoms- och studentrevolter. Det betydde att både aktionerna och retoriken av den västtyska stadsgerillan verkade mera relevanta för vita aktivister i Nordamerika än till exempel den proletära kampen av Röda brigaderna i Italien. Angående nationella befrielserörelser som IRA eller ETA så fanns det inte mycket intresse heller, utom i Quebec vars självständighetsrörelse på 60-talet hade en militant flygel, Front de liberation du Québec. Men det var inte RAF som folk var mest nyfikna på. Mest uppmärksamhet och sympati fick de Revolutionära cellerna och Rote Zora. Deras icke-centraliserade struktur, formen av aktionerna och anknytningen till breda sociala rörelser verkade speciellt attraktiva.

Fanns det också paralleller mellan de beväpnade grupperna i Nordamerika och Tyskland?

André: Om vi pratar om de vitt dominerade grupperna i Nordamerika, så absolut. I båda fallen var dödliga attacker från statens sida avgörande för gruppernas radikalisering: i Västtyskland skjutningen av Benno Ohnesorg 1967, i USA skjutningar vid universiteten Kent State och Jackson State 1970. I båda fallen var Vietnamkriget en stor faktor. Och i båda fallen fanns det under 1980-talet gemensamma antiimperialistiska fokuseringar på Mellanöstern, Central- och Sydamerika samt Sydafrika.

J.: Det är dock viktigt att påpeka att kampen i Nordamerika också präglades av uppdelningar i nationer inom de nordamerikanska länderna. Det skapar en viktig skillnad. First Nations, afroamerikaner och Latinos/Latinas bildar förtryckta nationer inom Kanada och USA – något som inte fanns i Tyskland. Den enda riktiga relationen som RAF hade till förtryckta nationer var i de palestinska utbildningslägren där deras medlemmar tränades under 1970-talet. RAF kämpade mot imperialismen som ett system; basen fanns i deras eget samhälle. Frågor om hur man kan och måste förhålla sig till förtryckta nationer var mycket mera konkreta i Nordamerika. Det finns också skillnader mellan RAF och de vitt dominerade nordamerikanska grupperna. Om man jämför RAF med Weather Underground till exempel, så kan – beroende på ens politiska åsikter – RAF-medlemmar verka som fanatiska mördare och Weather-medlemmar som amatörmässiga hippies. De unga männen och kvinnorna som grundade RAF var uppväxta i ett postfascistiskt samhälle, deras lärare, poliser, domare och till och med deras föräldrar hade varit inblandade i förintelsen. Det betyder att den politiska kampen betydde något annat för dem än för aktivister från den nordamerikanska vita medelklassen. Våld hade andra dimensioner. Resultatet är märkligt: medan RAF, precis som Weather, hade sin bakgrund i en vit förtryckarnation, så var deras attityd och deras metoder mer lika grupper som Black Liberation Army, dvs. grupper med en bakgrund i förtryckta nationer.

Varför bestämde ni er att göra böcker om RAF fast andra västtyska gerillagrupper verkade ha varit mer populära inom Nordamerikas radikala vänster?

André: Vi ska också göra böcker om 2 juni-rörelsen, Revolutionära celler och Rote Zora. Men vi har bestämt oss för att arbeta kronologiskt. Angående RAF så finns det mycket som är unikt. Det är ingen överraskning att gruppen fortfarande räknas som den arketypiska gerillagruppen i Första Världen. Det finns mycket att lära sig från den här historien – speciellt eftersom det inte finns någon likartad grupp som har skrivit lika många texter.

Vad är det viktigaste som vi kan lära oss från RAF:s historia?

André: Det finns positiva och negativa sidor, som alltid. För att börja med den positiva sidan: RAF lyckades under sina första två år att skapa en infrastruktur och en ideologisk bas som hjälpte gruppen att överleva även efter sina grundare och centrala medlemmars gripande eller död. Organisationen återskapades minst fyra gånger under sin 30-åriga historia, vilket är väldigt speciellt. Dessutom visade RAF-medlemmar hur man kunde använda rättegångar och hungerstrejker som överlevnadsstrategier och som organisatoriska verktyg. Slutligen bevisade RAF att en liten grupp av väl organiserade och dedikerade individer kan slå jättehårt mot staten och sina representanter.

På den negativa sidan så ledde RAF:s beslut att komplett gå under jorden till isolation – inte bara från majoritetssamhället men också från en stor del av den radikala vänsterrörelsen. Gruppens beslut att i mitten av 1970-talet fokusera teoretiskt på en traditionell antiimperialistisk linje och praktiskt på att befria fångarna kan man förstå – men från dagens perspektiv var det fel.

Hoppas ni att era böcker kan bidra till en diskussion om beväpnad kamp idag?

André: Om det ska finnas en sådan diskussion så är det väldigt viktigt att studera RAF:s historia. Angående perspektivet av beväpnad kamp generellt så tycker jag att det måste finnas två förutsättningar: en koppling till en massrörelse och ett tydligt mål som aktionerna syftar till.

J.: Beväpnat motstånd kommer att uppstå vare sig vi vill det eller inte. När det uppstår så är det inte avgörande om folk vet mycket om RAF. Men jag tycker att vi till stor utsträckning kan lära oss av de experiment med beväpnad kamp som har funnits – åtminstone för att undvika att göra samma fel. Här i Nordamerika finns det en olycklig tendens, nämligen att man inte diskuterar felen som har gjorts. Men om vi alltid skyller på staten och COINTELPRO för allt som har gått fel så ska vi varken hjälpa framtidens kamrater eller visa respekt för de kamrater som tidigare har riskerat sina liv och sin frihet i kampen. En fördel med att studera en beväpnad grupp från ett annat land är att det underlättar en analys av vissa av den beväpnade kampens dynamiker. Det finns mer distans och mindre ego.

Varför är du så säker på att det kommer att finnas beväpnat motstånd i framtiden? Gäller det för Nordamerika också? Finns det stora skillnader mellan USA och Kanada?

J.: Kapitalismen producerar fortfarande enorma motsättningar som inte kommer att försvinna utan att kapitalismen försvinner. Så någon gång – förhoppningsvis tidigare än senare – ska det finnas revolutionära rörelser. Några människor kommer att bli frustrerade om dessa rörelser sätter gränser för sig själva och de kommer att organisera hemliga, illegala och våldsamma aktioner. Det har ingenting med teleologi att göra om jag säger så, det handlar bara om sociala realiteter. Och det gäller generellt, inte bara i vissa länder.

Men för att svara på frågan om situationen i Nordamerika: I USA och Kanada finns det bara sporadiska, enskilda attacker mot statsmyndigheter och koncerner. Det är individer eller små grupper som gör dem – ingen organisation. I bästa fall finns det någon vag idé som förenar några aktivister. Aktionerna som gjordes i namnet av Earth Liberation Front i 90-talet är kanske det bästa exemplet för detta. Men utan starka strukturer kan sådana aktioner inte ta oss särskilt långt.

Speciellt i Kanada gör First Nations ett undantag. Där lever traditionen av beväpnat motstånd och det visar sig med några års mellanrum i konfrontationer med staten. Men den här kampen gäller mest självförsvar, samt kontroll över vissa områden osv. Man försöker att minska statens våld. Stadsgerilla är något annat.

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Book review: Phillips’ ‘The Jook’ a down-and-dirty crime fiction marvel

By Benjamin Whitmer
InDenver Times

Jim Thompson, a writer who Gary Phillips greatly admires, once summed up crime fiction’s worldview with the line, “life is a bucket of shit with a barbed wire handle.” Nobody knows that like Zelmont Raines, the protagonist of The Jook. He’s got more problems than a dog has fleas, and most of them stem from his own heavily compromised character. Once an All-Pro NFL receiver, his career has gone directly south thanks to a bum hip and a statutory rape beef, of which he complains “all I got was a couple of blowjobs for all the goddamn trouble that handicapped chick cost me.” And then there’s the crack-cocaine, high-priced liquor, and predilection for the kind of women who inspire less than stellar life-choices. You get the picture.

If Zelmont Raines doesn’t sound entirely likeable, well, he’s not. As the novel opens with Raines trying out for a new Los Angeles football franchise, the Barons, it becomes immediately apparent that the only thing he’s interested in rehabilitating is his career. And when the Barons’ attorney, Wilma Wells, seduces him with a plan to heist a few million dollars from the Mafia-connected owner of the team, it hardly seems out of character for Raines to accept. He needs money, and if he can’t make it playing football, he’s not above exploring other options.

Raines’ first-person voice is one of the most compelling things about The Jook. It reads like something the aforementioned Jim Thompson and Donald Goines might have cooked up at the kitchen table after a night of cheap bourbon and black tar heroin. There’s no junk about redemption, just the refreshing amorality of Raines’ relentless hustle, with plenty of high violence and low sex as he barrels towards a conclusion that seems all but inevitable.

Gary Phillips is known by crime fiction aficionados as a master the form, and reading The Jook it’s easy to see why. The dialogue crackles, the tone’s pitch-perfect, and the prose rolls along with the kind of effortless cool that only comes with monstrous effort, not to mention an equal portion of talent. Phillips also has a delightful sense of play, an all-too-rare commodity in the genre. When introduced to the shady proprietor of a specialized rehab services agency named Burroughs, any fan of William S. Burroughs – junky, pederast and beat writer – are going to have trouble not swallowing their own tongue in delight. Especially when Phillips describes “his boat end of a face yellow colored from whatever narcotics he was currently popping.”

Phillips also captures the spirit of Los Angeles in a way that very few but Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy have even attempted. Which is no surprise. At a time when the majority of crime fiction authors seem to be former television writers, Phillips has learned the city from the ground up, working with gangs and pounding the streets as a community activist and union organizer. It’s a career path that has served him well as a crime writer. Even set in the glossy world of high-priced athletes, the Los Angeles that comes through is as destroyed and degenerate as Raines’ football career, making The Jook a down-and-dirty crime fiction marvel.

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Dr. Michael Eades Reviews Vegetarian Myth

By Michael R. Eades, M.D.
www.proteinpower.com

Before I get into a discussion of the absolutely phenomenal book you see pictured at the right, I’ve got a few disclosures to make.  First, I’m not much of a believer in the notion of man-made global warming or climate change (as they now call it since temperatures have been constantly falling instead of rising).

Second, I’m not particularly pro-feminist.  And I certainly don’t hang around with any self-proclaimed radical feminists.  I have a wife who is smarter than I am, who is more talented than I am, and who, pound for pound, is probably a better athlete than I am, and I’m not bad. (In my defense, I can read much, much faster than she, but, she has better comprehension.) I long ago gave up the idea (if I ever really considered it seriously) that men are superior to women in any ways other than brute strength.  Having said that, however, I do believe that men are better suited to certain endeavors than woman and vice verse, but that doesn’t mean either men or women should be denied the opportunity to give whatever it is they want to do a whirl just because of their sex.  I guess I consider myself an egalitarian.  But from what I’ve seen of radical feminists, I’m not sure that I would count myself a big fan.

Given the above, you wouldn’t think I would enjoy and recommend a book written by a self-proclaimed radical feminist who is obviously a believer in global warming and the impending end of the earth as we know it.  I wouldn’t think so, either. Not my cup of tea even when it is sort of preaching to the choir.

But I can tell you that Lierre Keith’s book is beyond fantastic.  It is easily the best book I’ve read since Mistakes Were Made, maybe even better.  Everyone should read this book, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike.  If you’re a radical feminist, you should read this book; if you’re a male chauvinist, you should read this book; if you have children, especially female children, you should read this book; if you are a young woman (or man) you should read this book; if you love animals, you should read this book; if you hate vegetarians, you should read this book; if you are contemplating the vegetarian way of life, you should definitely read this book; if you have a vegetarian friend or family member, you should this book and so should your friend.  As MD said after she read it, “everyone who eats should read this book.”

Anyone who has ever read a book on writing has come across the hackneyed piece of advice to cut open a vein and bleed on the page.  Lierre Keith, the author of this book, has come closer to literally doing that than almost any writer I’ve ever read.  Not only does her passion for her subject bleed through in almost every sentence, she is a superb lyrical prose stylist.  My book is dog eared, underlined and annotated from front to back – I can’t remember anything I’ve read that has contained so many terrific lines.

In fact The Vegetarian Myth is filled with so many good quotes (most by the author but some from other authors) that I was reminded of the old joke about the redneck who went to see a performance of Hamlet.  When the show let out, someone asked him what he thought of it.  Replied he:  It wasn’t nothin’ but a whole bunch of quotes all strung together.  As you’ll see when I ‘quote’ them below, The Vegetarian Myth contains quotable lines and paragraphs at about the same rate Hamlet does.

Ms. Keith was a practicing vegetarian (vegan) for twenty years, driven by her passion for kindness and justice for all creatures.  She couldn’t bear the thought of even killing a garden slug, or, for that matter, even removing a garden slug from her garden to a place where something or someone else might kill it.  Her years of compassionate avoidance of any foods of animal origin cost her her health.  Her story of coming to grips with the realization that whatever she ate came as a consequence of some living being’s having to die form the matrix onto which her narrative hangs.

You can read the first 14 manuscript pages of the book on the author’s website.  I have quoted from these 14 pages liberally below.

The introduction to The Vegetarian Myth explores Ms. Keith’s rationale for writing such a book, a book that, given her years of walking the vegetarian walk, must have been incredibly difficult to write.  She says as much with her first sentence.

She ponders the idea of factory farming, which she loathes, and the misbegotten idea that most people hold (not most readers of this blog, but most of the people in the world) that grains are good, not only for people, but for many animals as well.  And the common misconception that agriculture, the growing of annual grains and plants, is a wonderful, kind, sustainable activity.

This misunderstanding is born of ignorance, an ignorance that runs the length and breadth of the vegetarian myth, through the nature of agriculture and ending in the nature of life. We are urban industrialists, and we don’t know the origins of our food. This includes vegetarians, despite their claims to the truth. It included me, too, for twenty years. Anyone who ate meat was in denial; only I had faced the facts. Certainly, most people who consume factory-farmed meat have never asked what died and how it died. But frankly, neither have most vegetarians.

The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us. The truth is that agriculture requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems. The truth is also that life isn’t possible without death, that no matter what you eat, someone has to die to feed you.

I want a full accounting, an accounting that goes way beyond what’s dead on your plate. I’m asking about everything that died in the process, everything that was killed to get that food onto your plate. That’s the more radical question, and it’s the only question that will produce the truth. How many rivers were dammed and drained, how many prairies plowed and forests pulled down, how much topsoil turned to dust and blown into ghosts? I want to know about all the species—not just the individuals, but the entire species—the chinook, the bison, the grasshopper sparrows, the grey wolves. And I want more than just the number of dead and gone. I want them back.

After she had seen the error of her ways as a vegan and had been eating meat for two years, for reasons unknown to her, the author continued to surf the same vegan websites and message boards she had for years.  Until she read one post that was so bizarre that she finally realized the large intellectual gap that had widened between her rationale thinking and the cult like thinking of, well, a cult.  It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

But one post marked a turning point. A vegan flushed out his idea to keep animals from being killed—not by humans, but by other animals. Someone should build a fence down the middle of the Serengeti, and divide the predators from the prey. Killing is wrong and no animals should ever have to die, so the big cats and wild canines would go on one side, while the wildebeests and zebras would live on the other. He knew the carnivores would be okay because they didn’t need to be carnivores. That was a lie the meat industry told. He’d seen his dog eat grass: therefore, dogs could live on grass.

No one objected. In fact, others chimed in. My cat eats grass, too, one woman added, all enthusiasm. So does mine! someone else posted. Everyone agreed that fencing was the solution to animal death.

Note well that the site for this liberatory project was Africa. No one mentioned the North American prairie, where carnivores and ruminants alike have been extirpated for the  annual grains that vegetarians embrace. But I’ll return to that in Chapter 3.

I knew enough to know that this was insane. But no one else on the message board could see anything wrong with the scheme. So, on the theory that many readers lack the knowledge to judge this plan, I’m going to walk you through this.

Carnivores cannot survive on cellulose. They may on occasion eat grass, but they use it medicinally, usually as a purgative to clear their digestive tracts of parasites. Ruminants, on the other hand, have evolved to eat grass. They have a rumen (hence, ruminant), the first in a series of multiple stomachs that acts as a fermentative vat. What’s actually happening inside a cow or a zebra is that bacteria eat the grass, and the animals eat the bacteria.

Lions and hyenas and humans don’t have a ruminant’s digestive system. Literally from our teeth to our rectums we are designed for meat. We have no mechanism to digest cellulose.

So on the carnivore side of the fence, starvation will take every animal. Some will last longer than others, and those some will end their days as cannibals. The scavengers will have a Fat Tuesday party, but when the bones are picked clean, they’ll starve as well. The graveyard won’t end there. Without grazers to eat the grass, the land will eventually turn to desert.

Why? Because without grazers to literally level the playing field, the perennial plants mature, and shade out the basal growth point at the plant’s base. In a brittle environment like the Serengeti, decay is mostly physical (weathering) and chemical (oxidative), not bacterial and biological as in a moist environment. In fact, the ruminants take over most of the biological functions of soil by digesting the cellulose and returning the nutrients, once again available, in the form of urine and feces.

But without ruminants, the plant matter will pile up, reducing growth, and begin killing the plants. The bare earth is now exposed to wind, sun, and rain, the minerals leech away, and the soil structure is destroyed. In our attempt to save animals, we’ve killed everything.

On the ruminant side of the fence, the wildebeests and friends will reproduce as effectively as ever. But without the check of predators, there will quickly be more grazers than grass. The animals will outstrip their food source, eat the plants down to the ground, and then starve to death, leaving behind a seriously degraded landscape.

The lesson here is obvious, though it is profound enough to inspire a religion: we need to be eaten as much as we need to eat. The grazers need their daily cellulose, but the grass also needs the animals. It needs the manure, with its nitrogen, minerals, and bacteria; it needs the mechanical check of grazing activity; and it needs the resources stored in animal bodies and freed up by degraders when animals die.

The grass and the grazers need each other as much as predators and prey. These are not one-way relationships, not arrangements of dominance and subordination. We aren’t exploiting each other by eating. We are only taking turns.

That was my last visit to the vegan message boards. I realized then that people so deeply ignorant of the nature of life, with its mineral cycle and carbon trade, its balance points around an ancient circle of producers, consumers, and degraders, weren’t going to be able to guide me or, indeed, make any useful decisions about sustainable human culture. By turning from adult knowledge, the knowledge that death is embedded in every creature’s sustenance, from bacteria to grizzly bears, they would never be able to feed the emotional and spiritual hunger that ached in me from accepting that knowledge. Maybe in the end this book is an attempt to soothe that ache myself.

How anyone who can read these 14 pages and not purchase and read this book is beyond me.

After the introduction which deals with why the author wrote the book, The Vegetarian Myth is divided into four sections: Moral Vegetarians, Political Vegetarians, Nutritional Vegetarians, and To Save the World.

The first three of these sections are the author’s in-depth refutations of the moral, political and nutritional arguments that vegetarians are constantly putting forth.  She does a masterful job.

In the Moral Vegetarians chapter, the author addresses the moral issue of killing animals for our own food.  She beautifully makes her case by cutting to the heart of the matter:

What separates me from vegetarians isn’t ethics or commitment.  It’s information.

And while she was in her 20-year trek in the vegetarian wilderness, she shielded herself from information as most cultists do:

I was on the side of righteousness, and like any fundamentalist, I could only stay there by avoiding information.

She finally realized the truth about agriculture; she figured out that the amber waves of grain are as death dealing as any slaughterhouse.

And agriculture isn’t quite a war because the forests and wetlands and prairies, the rain, the soil, the air, can’t fight back.  Agriculture is really more like ethnic cleansing, wiping out the indigenous dwellers so the invaders can take the land.  It’s biotic cleansing, biocide. … It is not non-violent.  It is not sustainable.  And every bite of food is laden with death.

There is no place left for the buffalo to roam.  There’s only corn, wheat, and soy.  About the only animals that escaped the biotic cleansing of the agriculturalists are small animals like mice and rabbits, and billions of them are killed by the harvesting equipment every year.  Unless you’re out there with a scythe, don’t forget to add them to the death toll of your vegetarian meal.  They count, and they died for your dinner…

Soil, species, rivers.  That’s the death in your food.  Agriculture is carnivorous: what it eats is ecosystems, and it swallows them whole.

In Political Vegetarians she refutes the politics (predominantly liberal) of the vegetarian movement and describes the dark side of political meddling in our ecosystem approved of in the main by PETA and other vegetarian groups.  She follows the money.

Rice, wheat, corn – the annual grains that vegetarians want the world to eat – are thirsty enough to drink whole rivers.

The result has been an unending river of corn, drowning our arteries and our insulin receptors, our rural communities, and poor subsistence economies the world over.  The corn comes at a huge environmental toll: there’s a half gallon of oil in every bushel.  And it’s essentially a massive transfer of money from the US taxpayer to the giant grain cartels, who are able to command the price of grain to be lower than the cost of production, with all of us making up the difference – five billion dollars in subsidies for corn alone, straight into the pockets of Cargill and Monsanto.

Nutritional Vegetarians is about the nutritional inadequacies of a vegetarian and especially a vegan diet.  And she does an absolute bang up job of laying out the rationale for following a no-grain, low-carb diet.

I have a disclosure to make here.  Much of the information in this chapter is based on Protein Power and The Protein Power LifePlan.  MD and I are listed in the acknowledgments, but I swear I didn’t know this until I bought the book.  We aren’t the only ones, but there are plenty of quotes from us in this chapter.  Gary Taubes, Malcolm Kendrick and (dare I say it) Anthony Colpo are quoted liberally as well.  I would have loved this book just as much if we had never been quoted.

Ms Keith has made a few minor innocuous errors in this chapter, but, all in all, she has done a tremendous job of synthesizing the scientific information into an easy to read, informative format.

The Nutritional Vegetarians section isn’t just about the science of why vegetarianism is bad and meat eating is good, it gets into the nutritional politics (as opposed to the vegetarian politics in the previous section) as well.  Ms Keith shows how we got to where we are by the nutritional strong arming by the McGovern committee back in the late 1970s.  George McGovern (a senator from a grain-producing state) and his cronies basically set the nutritional standards under which we are still oppressed.  They have been a disaster, as some scientists at the time predicted they would be.

And some scientists knew ahead of time that they would be.  Phil Handler, the president of hte National Academy of Scientists asked Congress, “What right has the federal government to propose that the American people conduct a vast nutritional experiment, with themselves as subjects, on the strength of so very little evidence that it will do them any good?”  Dr. Pete Ahrens, an expert on cholesterol metabolism, told the McGovern committee that the effects of a low-fat diet weren’t a scientific matter but “a betting matter.”

It’s twenty-five years later and we aren’t winning this bet.  Each US American now eats sixty pounds more grain per annum and thirty pounds more cheap sugars, mostly from corn.  [Is it any wonder we're all fat?]

The result, Dietary Goals for Americans, set in motion a cast sea change in the public’s beliefs and behaviors. … Dietary Goals was a predictable victory in a war that started ten thousand years ago.  What really won were those annual grasses that had long since turned humans into mercenaries against the rest of the planet.  We would now enshrine them like demi-gods, those whole grains and their sweet, opiate seductions, believing in their power to bestow health and long life, even while they slowly ate us alive.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book review that was positive from beginning to end, and this one is no exception.  Based on the many comments I’ve gotten on this blog and my response to them, I’m sure many of you will find my main objection surprising.  There is too much politics in the book.  Not nutritional politics, but feminist politics.

I know, I know, I let my libertarian leanings come through in all kinds of blog posts and comment answers, but there is a difference.  My blog is just that – a weblog of things I find interesting or informative.  And it’s free.  I don’t particularly like to pay for a book (and I paid full price for this one plus shipping) on a given subject then be beaten over the head with a political viewpoint.  I guarantee you that our new book has zero politics in it.  And if people bought our book expecting to learn about getting rid of their middle-aged middles and were fed a generous dose of my politics mixed in with the information, I would expect them to be flamed.

To give the author her due in this matter, the vegetarian ideology that had her in its grasp for 20 years was intertwined with her feminist politics, so a bit of said politics are necessary to describe how she was so taken in for so long.  But I think she went a little overboard with it.

And, I think the last section of the book – To Save the World – is the weakest part of the book.  The author makes several recommendations, all of which (save one) are, in my opinion totally unrealistic.  But I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions after you’ve read the book.

I’ve read that when people are asked to recall what they remember of something they read, they tend to remember the first thing in the piece and the last thing.  Most of the middle melds into a vague memory of what the article was about.  I certainly don’t want people to remember this last negative part I wrote and let it dissuade them from reading this book.  The good parts of the book so far outweigh the not-so-good parts that there is really no contest.

At a time when PETA and other vegetarian groups are mobilizing and ramping up their activity levels, a book such as this one bringing sanity to the debate is more important than ever.  And don’t think these groups aren’t becoming more active.  In the past, PETA and PETAphiles pretty much devoted their educational efforts toward the idea that eating animals was cruel.  Now they are starting to make the case that a vegetarian diet will solve the obesity epidemic.  Take a look at this billboard in Jacksonville, Florida.

If you find this sign annoying, buy The Vegetarian Myth and do your part to fight back. And if you have or know anyone with a daughter who is contemplating going vegetarian (young females are the most common victims), please make this book available.  It could be the most important thing you ever do for the long-term mental and physical health of a young woman.

If you’ve made it this far in this long review, take a couple of minutes and watch this YouTube of Lierre Keith at a book event; she’s as fascinating to listen to as she is to read.

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Vegetarian Myth in Feminist Review

By Olupero R. Aiyenimelo
Feminist Review

When I initially saw the title of this book, my inner scale wanted to weigh its contents against my fifteen year decision to exclude eating anything that had parents. I also presumed the author was one of those pork slinging individuals who just couldn’t cut it as a vegetarian. The good thing about getting older, though, is the wisdom I have acquired in remaining open. Lierre Keith discusses three reasons—moral, political, and nutritional—why most vegetarians choose to adopt a meatless diet, and the misconceived notions that often accompany those reasons.

What stood out to me is Keith’s discussion of agriculture and its effects on land, society, animals, and the relationship between all three. The land that is used to cultivate all those vegetables that vegetarians feel so ethically euphoric about consuming must be cleaned and cleared of every single piece of lint in order to be successful in producing a single plant. Consequently, the animals and microfauna (bacteria, fungi, and yeasts) that symbiotically thrived off that land are forced into their demise, with the bison serving as an example. Keith states that the sixty to 100 million bison that existed in the U.S. in 1491 have been reduced to 350,000 in number today. Also, only 10,000 wolves now remain where there were once between 425,000 and a million. Once this relationship is forced to call it quits, the land that would normally nourish and replenish itself is now barren until another piece of land is taken over, or until fertilizer is used.

With political vegetarianism, Keith uses the symbiotic relationship of the many companies that are seen as profit-fueled while also holding a financial interest in those meat-free, so-called environmentally-friendly products we so proudly consume. Basically, that soymilk we may drink out of protest against Coca-Cola is owned by the same company that holds shares in that red can.

In the section on nutritional vegetarianism, of which I took particular interest, Keith explains the physiology involved in consuming a low-saturated fat, high carbohydrate, and high grain diet. She also gives a personal account of how this diet affected her own body resulting in fourteen years of sickness, nausea, and bloating. Not only in vegetarianism, but also in the diet many Americans have been scared into adopting, the above-mentioned way of eating is being attributed to cardiovascular disease. Some of the diseases Keith states are attributed to the “diseases of civilization” are arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.

What I thought would be a book filled with disgruntled accounts of a has-been vegetarian justifying the excuse to pig out on double cheeseburgers again, was actually a well-researched, statistically sound book that deals with truths from both a personal aspect and a social one. Keith, although opinionated in some places, still allows the reader to consider both sides of the vegetarian argument from three perspectives. For those who insist on one way versus another, The Vegetarian Myth presents us with enough information to wisely weigh whatever we choose to put on our plates.

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Back to the Kitchen:

The founder of Bitch magazine brings her feminist sensibility to a new cookbook
By Rachel Swan
East Bay Express

In 1996 Lisa Jervis became an It Girl in the publishing world, after she and Andi Zeisler co-founded the hip quarterly magazine Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture. Jervis, who graduated from Oberlin College in 1994 with degrees in English and creative writing, had a fresh, imaginative style that outstripped her more doctrinaire peers. She and Zeisler were omnivorous consumers of media: They could provide knowledgeable critiques of reality TV, pop music, and fashion trends because they loved most of the stuff they talked about. Moreover, they were feminine feminists who liked to knit, bake, and read Jane Austen novels in their spare time. They made it seem okay to champion women's empowerment without going to Andrea Dworkin-ish extremes. (No surprise that Bitch received a steady stream of fan mail from straight guys who'd picked up their girlfriends' magazines — I know because I interned at the magazine in 2003.) Even after resigning from her post in 2006, Jervis remained somewhat iconic, known for writing incisively (and wittily) about sex, politics, single girlhood and media representations of women. (She used to publish a blog called "Delightfully Cranky.") But for her first single-author book — recently released on PM Press — Jervis took a surprising turn: She published a cooking manual.

Or, to put it more accurately, Jervis published a "manualfesto." Her new book, Cook Food: A Manualfesto for Easy, Healthy, Local Eating, helps direct the journeyman cook toward what she calls "light footprint eating" (i.e., food that wastes as few resources as possible). Inspired, in part, by journalists of the Michael Pollan and Raj Patel strain, Jervis opens with a chatty essay about the industrialized food system and what it means to eat "healthy" (in a nutshell: eliminate processed food from your grocery list). All of her recipes are vegan (but for a couple of cheese suggestions). Jervis includes two meticulous chapters on proper kitchen assembly, with lists of appliances to purchase and spices to stock. A self-confessed kitchenware fetishist, she divides her equipment up by importance: Knives are worth making the trip to a specialty store, she says; a rice cooker is expensive "but seriously worth it"; microwave ovens are cumbersome and ultimately pretty useless.

Cook Food is a lean book, containing twenty recipes and a lot of asides. Jervis writes about cooking the same way she writes about sex: Her tone is conversational and disarming; she pals around with her reader and uses an evocative, second-person form of address. ("If any of these items are unfamiliar or confusing to you, a Google image search should clarify things better than any description I could give," she wrote in a chapter called "What You Need in Your Cabinets and on Your Pot Rack.") Petite, freckled, and tattooed, she's a born advice columnist, capable of licking any hack chef into shape. She dispenses instructions on organizing your cabinets and spice rack, sautéing onions, stemming greens, and the importance of salting early. She's the officious friend who walks into your kitchen, takes stock of your seasonings, and shakes her head when she peeps in your refrigerator, then takes it upon herself to overhaul your whole setup. Occasionally, she'll apologize for micromanaging and tell you to go ahead and do it your way — that is, if you want to.

Definitely a foodie, if not a chef de haute cuisine, Jervis represents the next wave of self-made chef personalities. (Michael Pollan called them "the children of Julia" in a recent Fresh Air interview). She's coming out at an interesting juncture for cooking in pop culture. Currently, the Food Network is dominated by fast-paced, bossy, good-looking women who teach you how to cut corners and entertain on-the-cheap — people like Rachel Ray, Giada de Laurentiis, and Sandra Lee. Then there are the throwbacks — drawly Southerners such as Paula Deen and the Neelys — who try to resurrect the spirit of "down-home cooking" in their slick TV kitchens. (The network-TV polish in these shows makes all that soulfulness seem a little, well, contrived.) There's also a whole genre of testosterone-driven cooking shows, starting with Iron Chef and continuing with a whole line of spin-offs that treat cooking as a test of will, contact sport, or adventure-survival story (e.g., Dinner: Impossible; Glutton for Punishment; Ace of Cakes; Have Fork, Will Travel; Extreme Cuisine). The aggression of these programs caused a seismic change in the culture of cooking and made some chefs nostalgic for the old days when Julia Child would putter around her set, concocting recipes and sometimes making a mess. (Hence the popularity of Julie Powell's blog, "Julie and Julia," which Jervis loves.)

Finally — especially in the Bay Area — there's a whole movement to politicize cooking, either by de-industrializing the ingredients or by turning it into a form of identity politics. Slow-food cookbooks, raw-food cookbooks, and vegan cookbooks are all the rage. Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen — which reimagines African-American cuisine using all vegan ingredients — was an extremely well-timed success. Into this realm steps Jervis, whose book is both a feminist tract and a return to femininity in the kitchen — that old-school image of the commanding nurturer who knew how to combine flavors but could also tell you how to organize things. The "manualfesto" subtitle seems apropos.

Jervis grew up in New York City with a mother who cooked and a father who cleaned the kitchen. She started cooking by her mother's side and kept it up as a hobby for 25 years, she says, despite having a high-pressure job in the magazine business. Jervis got on the health-food kick after meeting Debbie Rasmussen, who succeeded her as publisher of Bitch. Rasmussen is a strict vegan who preaches about the importance of whole foods. "I never really thought that much about how much my food was processed," said Jervis. "I mean, I'd already started to cut out hydrogenated oils — that was obviously really artificial and bad. But I had never really thought about white flour being less nutritionally robust than wheat flour." Jervis latched onto the idea of sourcing animal products and avoiding packaged foods. She now buys most raw ingredients at farmers' markets or Berkeley Bowl. She's a self-professed food-science geek.

Like many of her mainstream counterparts, Jervis is a cook for the high-powered working adult with a tight budget and short time window. "I don't want to spend all day in the kitchen very often," said the author, explaining why she purposely avoided dumplings, empanadas, and other rococo dishes that take more than 45 minutes to prepare (in Cook Food she sticks to salads, sauces, tofu dishes, a few baked goods, and recipes with beans). In some ways, she's not actually that far from the Rachel Ray type — someone who favors pragmatism over a refined palate. What distinguishes Jervis from the pack is the female-empowerment slant to her book, if you define "empowerment" as taking charge of your food choices and thinking about "how your body functions, rather than how it looks."

She said that one interviewer asked how she could reconcile being a feminist and having a book that encourages women to get back in the kitchen. To Jervis, the question seemed facile. "I think that gender role has been pretty roundly destroyed, thank God," she said. Not to mention that if some guy picked up her book and tried out the recipes, "that's a totally feminist thing."

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PM Press at the Baltimore Book Festival

For the second year in a row, the 2009 Radical Bookfair Pavilion will be taking place at the Baltimore Book Festival, which runs from Friday September 25th through Sunday the 27th in Mt. Vernon Place. The Radical Bookfair Pavilion is a project of Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, and they have an amazing lineup of great authors, so don't miss it! We'll be updating the speaking times as soon as we have them, so check back.

Friday, September 25th


Robert King
Book: From the Bottom of the Heap:The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King
DVD: The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation
6:00 PM

In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six by nine foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. This is his story.


Saturday, September 26th


Victoria Law
Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women
Time TBA

Victoria Law is a writer, photographer and mother. After a brief stint as a teenage armed robber, she became involved in prisoner support. In 1996, she helped start Books Through Bars-New York City, a group that sends free books to prisoners nationwide. In 2000, she began concentrating on the needs and actions of women in prison, drawing attention to their issues by writing articles and giving public presentations. Since 2002, she has worked with women incarcerated nationwide to produce the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison and has facilitated having incarcerated women’s writings published in Clamor magazine, the website “Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance” and the upcoming anthology Interrupted Lives.

 

Andrej Grubacic
Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History
Time TBA

Andrej Grubacic is a dissident from the Balkans. A radical historian and sociologist, he is the author of Globalization and Refusal and the forthcoming titles: Hidden History of American Democracy and The Staughton Lynd Reader. A fellow traveler of Zapatista-inspired direct action movements, in particular Peoples' Global Action, and a co-founder of Global Balkans Network and Balkan Z Magazine, he is a visiting professor of sociology at the University of San Francisco.

Sunday, September 27th


Peter Kuper
Diario de Oaxaca: A sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico
Time TBA

Peter Kuper is a co-founder and editorial board member of political graphics magazine World War 3 Illustrated and a teacher who has taught at New York's School of Visual Arts and Parsons The New School for Design. Best known for drawing Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy comic since 1997, he has also illustrated covers for Newsweek and Time magazine. He is the author of the graphic novel Sticks and Stones, which won the New York Society of Illustrators gold medal, and his autobiography, Stop Forgetting to Remember. He lives in New York City. 

 




PM Press Falls for the Fall for the Book Festival

September 21-26, 2009
George Mason University
Fairfax, Virgina
www.fallforthebook.org
(photo credit: Shaun Roberts)

"What began as a two-day literary event in 1999, organized by George Mason University and the City of Fairfax, has expanded into a week-long, multiple-venue, regional festival that brings together people of all ages and interests, thanks to growing community interest and generous supporting partners."

That's the general info, but a great deal of the creative and political spice will be brought to you by some of PM's finest authors...just scroll down for the exciting list, and order your books now!

Monday, September 21st


E. Ethelbert Miller
The 5th Inning
2:00 PM

E. Ethelbert Miller is a literary activist. He is board chair of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). He is also a board member of The Writer's Center and editor of Poet Lore magazine. The author of several collections of poems, his last book How We Sleep On The Nights We Don't Make Love (Curbstone Press, 2004) was an Independent Publisher Award Finalist. Miller received the 1995 O.B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize. He was awarded in 1996 an honorary doctorate of literature from Emory & Henry College. In 2003 his memoir Fathering Words: The Making of An African American Writer (St. Martin's Press, 2000) was selected by the DC WE READ for its one book, one city program sponsored by the D.C. Public Libraries. In 2004 Miller was awarded a Fulbright to visit Israel. Poets & Writers presented him with the 2007 Barnes & Noble/Writers for Writers Award. Mr. Miller is often heard on National Public Radio (NPR).

Wednesday, September 23rd


Peter Kuper
Diario de Oaxaca: A sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico
4:30 PM

Peter Kuper is a co-founder and editorial board member of political graphics magazine World War 3 Illustrated and a teacher who has taught at New York's School of Visual Arts and Parsons The New School for Design. Best known for drawing Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy comic since 1997, he has also illustrated covers for Newsweek and Time magazine. He is the author of the graphic novel Sticks and Stones, which won the New York Society of Illustrators gold medal, and his autobiography, Stop Forgetting to Remember. He lives in New York City. 

 

Robert King
Book: From the Bottom of the Heap:The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King
DVD: The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation
4:30 PM

In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six by nine foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. This is his story.


Thursday, September 24th


Robert King
Book: From the Bottom of the Heap:The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King
DVD: The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation
6:30 PM

In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six by nine foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. This is his story.


Friday, September 25th


Victoria Law
Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women
4:30 PM

Victoria Law is a writer, photographer and mother. After a brief stint as a teenage armed robber, she became involved in prisoner support. In 1996, she helped start Books Through Bars-New York City, a group that sends free books to prisoners nationwide. In 2000, she began concentrating on the needs and actions of women in prison, drawing attention to their issues by writing articles and giving public presentations. Since 2002, she has worked with women incarcerated nationwide to produce the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison and has facilitated having incarcerated women’s writings published in Clamor magazine, the website “Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance” and the upcoming anthology Interrupted Lives.

 

Andrej Grubacic
Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History
6:30 PM

Andrej Grubacic is a dissident from the Balkans. A radical historian and sociologist, he is the author of Globalization and Refusal and the forthcoming titles: Hidden History of American Democracy and The Staughton Lynd Reader. A fellow traveler of Zapatista-inspired direct action movements, in particular Peoples' Global Action, and a co-founder of Global Balkans Network and Balkan Z Magazine, he is a visiting professor of sociology at the University of San Francisco.



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