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Anarchy Comics in Anarchist Studies

by Vittorio Frigerio
Anarchist Studies 24.2
December 2016

There is more than a whiff of melancholy that comes off the pages of PM Press’s reprint of the complete run of the magazine Anarchy Comics (four issues in all, from 1978 to 1987). The age of the 1960s counterculture, that spawned such phenomena as the wave of underground comics that brought a much-needed breath of fresh air to a field stifled by Comics Code Authority-censored superhero fare, seems now as distant as the Middle Ages. And although this magazine came at the end of that period, it is still fully a product of those times. But Paul Buhle is right, in his introduction, to affirm that this work has ‘lost nothing of its power for today’s troubled world’ (p 8). The question to be asked, then, is why.

Jay Kinney, the originator of the project and its main contributor, together with Paul Mavrides – better known for his work on one of the era’s most iconic productions, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers – provides a fairly lengthy introduction in which he retraces the history of the publication, giving much infor- mation about the making of the various issues, and his artistic as well as ideological intentions. Kinney states that his basic idea was ‘to do an underground comic incorporating both lefty-anarcho politics and punk energy’, but one that would not be ‘a strictly doctrinaire exercise in propaganda’ (pp 10-11).

Another important element of the project was to incorporate an array of different voices from various countries, as each issue blared on its front page: ‘International Anarchy!’, listing the origins of the contributors: American, Canadian, French, Dutch, English and German cartoonists. But the finished product looks and reads like pure California. Amongst the contributors, some are particularly worthy of notice, such as well- known German artist Gerhard Seyfried, whose emblematic representation of a black-clad, hatted and grinning anarchist holding an old-fashioned bomb has almost become the equivalent of a logo for the movement.

Anarchy Comics also presented some (at first rather summarily) translated works by French authors Frémion and Volny, who were central in the evolution of the bande dessinée during that time, through the magazines L’Écho des savanes and Fluide glacial. Most of the work, and frankly most of the best work published in Anarchy Comics, was signed by Kinney and Mavrides themselves. While the length of the various comics is very different, ranging from single strips to stories spanning several pages, some tendencies do jump out. One is to present little-known but significant moments in the history of the anarchist movement and its heroic protagonists.

Thus we
get: the history of Nestor Makhno, Durruti and the Commune of Paris by Spain Rodriguez; the revolt of Kronstadt, and that of the Alsatian ‘rustauds’ by Frémion and Volny; the history of the Wobblies by Steve Stiles; a portrait of Benjamin Péret as a militant by Melinda Gebbie and Adam Cornford. These are the more overtly pedagogic of the comics included in the four issues of the magazine.

In their attempt at providing a maximum of information and instruction in
a minimum of space, it is striking to see the extent to which they reproduce the narrative topoi found in similar types of productions in conservative comic publi- cations elsewhere – such as the famous series ‘Histoires de l’oncle Paul’ in the Catholic-oriented magazine Spirou in Belgium, featuring the lives of saints and generals. Another typical narrative ploy is that of taking stock situations, such as the father-daughter generational tensions used by Cornford and Kinney to tell the story of the ‘Autonomia’ group within Italian universities in the 1970s (‘Roman Spring’). Or again, the group of friends facing different destinies through which the reader discovers the story of the Commune. When history is put aside, however, so is recourse to traditional methods of story-telling. If, as Bohne contends, these stories still deserve to be read today, it is because of their healthy disregard for seriousness, their ability to hijack just about anything, including Archie comics (that becomes, of course, ‘Anarchie’), and to make fun, not just of the capitalist oppressors, but also of the self-righteous revolutionaries who think they have all the answers. Reading these stories is like being on a rollercoaster, going from laughter, to indignation, to curiosity, and also to admiration for the sometimes very effec- tive and striking graphic solutions offered by the artists. The first story of issue number one, entitled ‘Too real’, is a five-page collage of advertising clip art from old 1950s magazines by Kinney that is still resolutely modern. The story ‘No exit’, by Mavrides and Kinney, featuring a punk finding himself transported into a far- future society where anarchist revolution has been achieved – and finding himself just as out of place there as anywhere else – is both a combination of astonishing graphic talent and a very funny take on the old Rip Van Winkle plot. Anarchy Comics may not be the first book to give to somebody who wants to learn what the movement is about, but it sure is a good way to find out what anarchism can inspire even in the most unexpected fields.

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Crashing the Party: A Review in Radical Criminology

by Irina Ceric
Radical Criminology
November 2016

Just as activists tend to take the availability of legal support for granted, so have both social movement writers and scholars tended to ignore the work of providing radical legal support, particularly the contributions of non-lawyers. In Crashing the Party, long-time activist and legal worker Kris Hermes takes on two tasks aimed at overcoming these erasures. This unique book provides what is arguably the first in-depth examination of radical legal support in North America, an analysis framed by his meticulous recounting of the mobilization against the Republican National Convention [RNC] held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the summer of 2000. To tell both stories, Hermes recounts the organizing that culminated in days of creative and diverse actions against the RNC as well as the repressive police tactics deployed against the protesters, tactics which continue to serve as a blueprint for protest policing. What makes Crashing the Party distinctive, however, is its focus on the court solidarity organized by the R2K Legal Collective, a group made up of legal workers, lawyers, law students, defendants and activists. As a result, Hermes documents the emergence of jail and court solidarity and radical legal support as forms of collective action, neglected legacies of the global justice movement.

That the 2000 RNC protest was undoubtedly one of the all too brief series of mobilizations that made up what we now refer to as the global justice movement—a moment that continues to exert a hold on the imagination of the North American left, particularly as younger generations of activists (re)discover this history—is one reason to publish (and read) a book about a now 15 year old struggle. But the 2000 RNC protest was also—and remains—a unique example of radical legal organizing, one we can and should learn from in order “to preserve our shared legacy of political and legal resistance”, as Hermes argues. (8) These lessons would be even more accessible if the book’s depiction of the 2000 RNC was not so detailed. Crashing the Party is almost too ambitious, combining an exhaustive, action-by-action retelling of that summer’s resistance while also discussing many aspects related to movement history in the US more generally (e.g. histories of surveillance, infiltration, and judicial intervention in policing practice and policy—sometimes going back decades). Nonetheless, the result is a work that ought to be read by a wide audience, activists themselves as well as academics interested in social movements, policing, state repression, and critical legal studies.

Hermes’ central argument is that “[b]ecause of mistreatment on the streets and in jail, as well as the excessive charges applied to hundreds of protesters, the RNC 2000 arrestees sought vindication in the courtroom, spurring a court solidarity strategy that began with a mass refusal to accept plea bargains and a mass demand for trials.” (7) More contentiously, he contends that the tactics underlying this strategy (“activists staging political trials, overcoming charges, exposing widespread surveillance and infiltration, raising unprecedented funds for legal defense, and using media to shift public opinion”) have never been used together since. (8)

Recent examples in Ontario (the 2010 Toronto G20) and Quebec (student strikes and anti-austerity protests since 2012) suggest otherwise, as most if not all of these court solidarity tactics were used in fighting charges arising from these recent mobilizations. This oversight is at least partly due to the book’s US focus, although Canadian law collectives are included in the list of radical legal collectives compiled by Hermes.

Regardless of the uniqueness of R2K Legal’s strategy, however, Crashing the Party’s comprehensive account of radical legal support from the perspective of legal organizers is not only valuable as movement history but also provides a glimpse into the political tensions underlying activists’ interactions with law and the state. Hermes engages with issues long debated by progressive lawyers and legal scholars on the complex dynamics between legal and political activists, particularly questions of strategy, knowledge, and decision-making power that inevitably arise during interactions between legal professionals and the movements they support. The book contains many instructive, grounded stories of such interactions, not all of them pleasant or productive. The civil suits that resulted from the RNC arrests however, do illustrate a successful attempt at creating “a new way for activists (both plaintiffs and supporters) and lawyers to work together collectively” through the use of consensus decision making and extensive discussions in which everyone affected would be heard. (201)

Crashing the Party also explores key questions that anyone who has participated in direct actions will immediately recognize. For instance, how do we challenge legal support fatigue or a lack of faith in jail solidarity (suspicion that often threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy)? (232) He reminds us that it is “crucial that we assess the state’s resources, strategies, and tactics, as well as its limitations and vulnerabilities” when thinking about legal responses, offensive and defensive. The 2000 RNC protest serves as a potent example of how movements can grow and develop new capacities not despite repression, but in resistance to it, learning “ways in which we might gain collective strength against the state.” (12) As someone who has been involved in providing radical legal support for the better part of two decades, such reminders, especially coupled with Hermes’ critical yet hopeful analysis of the promise—and perils—of radical legal activism, serve as a much-needed validation. Legal support is no one’s favorite organizing role, but the work is both necessary and generative: “Arguably, it is in the realm between the legal world and the world of political organizing where, when boundaries are pushed, unexpected results can occur.” (228)

Buy Crashing the Party now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Kris Herme's page

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The Role of Radical Publishers: An Interview with PM Press founder Ramsey Kanaan

by Odette Sheffield
Demos Project
November 8th, 2016

dsc_0264PM Press’ Stall at the World Social Forum

At the 2016 World Social Forum in Montreal, I sat down to talk to Ramsey Kanaan, founder of PM Press. PM Press is a radical publisher based out of Oakland, California. I first met Ramsey two weeks before the World Social Forum, in Richmond, California at Soil Not Oil. I was blown away by the quality and variety of PM Press’s content, and eager to learn more about the origins and vision of the project.  

ODETTE: Would you describe PM Press as an anarchist publication?

RAMSEY: The folks who started PM were all anarchists, but there’s a range of ideas. Literature that is not explicitly, or perhaps even implicitly anarchist. I still think the ideas matter: I don’t really care about the labels, or the particular sectarian pigeonhole they’re in. It’s the utility of the ideas.

O.S.: How would you describe the works you publish?

R.K.: Well I think they run the gamut, the politics are all certainly radical, definitely left-wing. But, they’re equally likely to be independent Marxists – by independent I mean non-party political Marxists. We’re not interested in electoral politics, and we’re not interested in building “the revolutionary party”, the one big idea which will lead the masses to, you know, we’re not interested in that. We’re interested in things that will help people self-organise, so organise from below if you like. Within that, there’s a wide tradition, and vary varied tradition. That would include anarchist, Marxist, the radical end of religious folks – Catholic workers or Quakers.

O.S.: What’s the selection process like? What do you look for in the books you publish?

R.K.: Firstly, they have to be really good. It’s the quality of the work and the ideas within. So, we’re only interested in publishing radical left-wing stuff, which will hopefully make some small contribution to a better world. For example, we’re not interested in publishing escapist fantasies – we all need to escape, but that’s not the role of PM Press.

We publish all kinds of fiction, but it’s leftwing fiction. It’s a different way of conveying ideas – it’s not pure escapism. Whatever subject-matter it tackles, we want it to be through a left-wing prism. We’ve published books about sports. While it could be argued that sports are reactionary, it can also be argued that the way people organise around sports is very progressive. It’s not an either/or. We also publish music. The music we do is a way of conveying ideas.

O.S.: So for people submitting books to you, would you say you look at quality of publication and whether it’s through a left-wing prism?

R.K.: Yeah, and the other thing is the commercial aspect. It could be the best book in the world on the most important topic, but if we don’t think we can sell it, then we’re not doing anyone a favour. We’re not doing the author, the ideas or ourselves a favour if it’s going to languish. We turn down books sometimes, not because of the quality of the work but because we don’t think we can sell it.

O.S.: What sort of books lack commercial viability?

R.K.: Well you could have a very narrowly defined subject book. You could have a book about say, I don’t know, a worker’s collective in 1936 in a region of Spain. That might be the best historical investigative work ever written, and it may illuminate all kinds of things – but the chances of a wide audience reading about a very narrow piece of history are pretty slim. So that’s not about the value of the book or the importance of that story – but if there are only 200 people around the world who want to read it, it’s not commercially viable for us to print 2000 copies.

O.S.: In terms of the left-wing leanings of PM Press – what does that mean for how you organise internally? What does it mean for what your group looks like? How many people do you have?

R.K.: There are eight of us. Everyone gets paid the same. On paper, me and another chap Craig are the owners – we have 50 per cent shares in the company. We all work fairly independently, we have more or less specific job duties. So someone’s full-time job is events/tabling, another’s is production, another’s is marketing and publicity, another’s is editorial/copy-editing.

O.S.: What advice would you give to anyone setting up their own independent publication?

R.K.: I would urge everyone to think about what you want to do, why, and realistically who’s the audience? If you want to do obscure historical research, that’s actually really important, and modern technology means you can just print 200 copies – but that would be very different to if you want to reach a wide audience?

O.S.: What are your print runs like?

R.K.: We won’t print anything if we don’t think we can sell 1,500 copies. But for us, it’s not commercially viable because we’re paid – if we’re paying someone to copy edit, layout, proof it and try to sell it. That’s a different economy of scale. I’d encourage people to think carefully about what you’re doing and why, because that will tailor what you’re producing and who it will reach.

O.S.: What are your dreams for the future of PM Press?

R.K,: My ultimate dream would be that PM would be redundant, because we’ll have a massive social, political revolution.

O.S.: But won’t we want to write about it?

R.K.: Yeah, that’s true. My dreams are that we can continue to make some sort of, however modest impact. PM is also a political project, we’re trying to contribute to a “better world”, if that doesn’t sound too banal. Some of my dreams are that we continue to be effective, somewhat, in doing that.

O.S.: Do you think you’re effective in doing that?

There have been a few things we’ve done where we have seen clear cause and effect. So we published a book of writings by this Black Panther who’s been in prison for the last 40 years, called Russell Maroon Shoatz. Recently he won a court case that meant he was no longer kept in isolation, and it was cited in the court case that he was a well-known person now that he had a book of his writings published. So, that had a direct, tangible impact.

You can also see the effect of some of the ideas that, when, one of our authors become more well known, and their ideas because of the books we’ve published. I think it’s fair to say that both Silvia Federici and Selma James, went to the next level in terms of their recognition and the circulation of their ideas when we published their books.

Odette’s current favourites from PM Press


“The fight over the tar sands in North America is among the epic environmental and social justice battles of our time, and one of the first that has managed to quite explicitly marry concern for frontline communities and immediate local hazards with fear for the future of the entire planet.

Tar sands “development” comes with an enormous environmental and human cost. But tar sands opponents—fighting a powerful international industry—are likened to terrorists, government environmental scientists are muzzled, and public hearings are concealed and rushed.

Yet, despite the formidable political and economic power behind the tar sands, many opponents are actively building international networks of resistance, challenging pipeline plans while resisting threats to Indigenous sovereignty and democratic participation. Including leading voices involved in the struggle against the tar sands, A Line in the Tar Sands offers a critical analysis of the impact of the tar sands and the challenges opponents face in their efforts to organize effective resistance.’

Contributors include: Angela Carter, Bill McKibben, Brian Tokar, Christine Leclerc, Clayton Thomas-Muller, Crystal Lameman, Dave Vasey, Emily Coats, Eriel Deranger, Greg Albo, Jeremy Brecher, Jess Worth, Jesse Cardinal, Joshua Kahn Russell, Lilian Yap, Linda Capato, Macdonald Stainsby, Martin Lukacs, Matt Leonard, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Naomi Klein, Rae Breaux, Randolph Haluza-DeLay, Rex Weyler, Ryan Katz-Rosene, Sâkihitowin Awâsis, Sonia Grant, Stephen D’Arcy, Toban Black, Tony Weis, Tyler McCreary, Winona LaDuke, and Yves Engler.”


“This book reveals Australia’s radical past through more than 500 tales of Indigenous resistance, convict revolts and escapes, picket line hijinks, student occupations, creative direct action, street art, media pranks, urban interventions, squatting, blockades, banner drops, guerilla theatre, and billboard liberation. Twelve key Australian activists and pranksters are interviewed regarding their opposition to racism, nuclear power, war, economic exploitation, and religious conservatism via humor and creativity. Featuring more than 300 spectacular images How to Make Trouble and Influence People is an inspiring, and at times hilarious, record of resistance that will appeal to readers everywhere.”


Unfree Labour?: A Review in Rank and File


By Daniel Tseghay
Rank and File
September 29th, 2016

In 1947, when Jamaican agricultural workers were already making their way to Canada on short-term contracts, Canadian officials resisting the possibility of permanent residency on explicitly racist, and curiously paternalistic, grounds. “The admission to Canada of natives of the West Indies has always been a problem with this Service and we are continually being asked to make provision for the admission of these people,” reads a federal memo. “They are, of course not assimilable and, generally speaking, the climatic conditions of Canada are not favourable to them.” Meanwhile, between 1946 and 1966, 89,680 primarily Polish war veterans and Dutch farmers became seasonal agricultural workers in Ontario. These migrants were largely granted permanent residency status.

Today, despite the change of rhetoric, and the image of colour-blindness, racialized migrant workers in Canada are still exploited and treated much worse than other workers.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) includes: the Caregiver Program, which was, until November 2014, the Live-in Caregiver Program, consisting of racialized, women care workers from the Philippines and the Caribbean; the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), mainly composed of Mexican and Caribbean workers; the Stream for Lower-Skilled Occupations; and the Agricultural Stream.

They do the critical work of growing food, serving in restaurants, in the homes of the elderly. They do so over long hours, with few days off, and no vacations. And for all that, permanent residency is being offered to few people every year. Their immigration status is tied to a specific employer so if they are unlucky enough to have a bad boss they can’t simply look for another job. SAWP workers, for one, have to work for a specific amount of time and if they don’t they can be both deported and prevented from being employed by the program in the future. And, while they’re in Canada, their families cannot join them. They’re both isolated from the community and their family, and they have no other source of economic security while they’re here. Migrant workers are, according to the editors of Unfree Labour? Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada, Aziz Choudry and Adrian A. Smith, “commodities, labour units to be recruited, utilized, and sent away again as employers require.”

And the TFWP is only growing. Before the Harper government put a moratorium on the restaurant industry employing migrant workers (because of inaccurate and divisive fears that migrants were taking the jobs of “real Canadians”) the Stream for Lower-Skilled Occupations grew from having 1,578 workers to 30,267 between 2003 and 2012, with the majority being women.

But while the books various pieces detail the indignities migrant workers experience in their workplaces, and offers a sober look at just how difficult the challenges are in light of the TFWP’s roots in a deep economic incentive and a global structure with an interest in reaping those benefits, they also linger on the victories. They amplify those moments of resistance, courage, and hope, those instances when migrant workers and their allies, with few resources and institutional support, wrested concrete material gains from the government and their employers. And the pieces discuss practical ideas on what to do next, on how to organize differently and creatively to not only win greater concessions but to gain real power.

In October of 2010, migrant workers with the support of Justicia for Migrant Workers began the Pilgrimage to Freedom trek from Leamington, Ontario, the “Tomato Capital”, to the Tower of Freedom “underground Railroad” Monument in Windsor, Ontario. The journey is recurring this year as I write this. In that same province, farmworkers have been excluded from labour relations legislation allowing freedom of association and collective bargaining but, since the 1990s, the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) has worked to win the legal right to organize and bargain collectively for agricultural workers. The campaign connects legal battles with grassroots organizing so that agricultural workers are already in bargaining units in case a union certification is achieved. In some sites, the UFCW achieved collective agreements obligating employers to help workers apply for permanent residency under the Provincial Nominees Program.

Live-in caregivers have incredible difficulty organizing, since they live in their workplace, but that hasn’t stopped many of them from coordinating with other workers. They “have been overwhelmingly Filipina, giving them a common language and cultural references when they leave their workplaces to seek companionship and services on their days off,” writes Jah-Hon Koo and Jill Hanley in “Migrant Live-in Caregivers: Control, Consensus, and Resistance in the Workplace and the Community.” “Second, in many Canadian cities, the LCP has been the major vehicle for Filipino immigration, removing some of the stigma related to doing domestic work that has been noted in previous studies on domestic work and allowing Filipinas to feel comfortable coming together as domestic workers.” As a result, they’ve been able to engage in direct action casework and have prevented workers from being deported because they were unable to complete the hours required during their work permit period (due to unexpected illnesses or pregnancy). They’ve won mandatory private insurance offered by employers if caregivers are excluded from public health insurance or workers’ compensation; an extension of the time limit for completing the required live-in service; and, now, they are counting hours worked (a required 3,900 hours) rather than simply months, making it easier to meet the requirements during their stay.

Some of the organizing has even gone global. “By organizing protests and worker delegations to address the minister of labour, Barbadian farmworkers demanded an end to double pay, a process whereby workers were paying into both the Barbadian and Canadian unemployment schemes without receiving entitlements in either country,” writes Chris Ramsaroop in “The Case for Unemployment Insurance Benefits for Migrant Agricultural Workers in Canada”.

In 2009, the Toronto Workers’ Action Centre (WAC) worked with the Caregivers’ Action Centre and won new protections for live-in caregivers under the Employment Standards Act. The piece by Deena Ladd and Sonia Singh, “Critical Questions: Building Worker Power and a Vision of Organizing in Ontario” discussed at length the organizing model of WAC. It spoke of their democratic structure, the need to involve workers in campaigns on a deeper level than usual, the lessons of sectoral organizing (although that still poses difficulties for migrant workers who aren’t in the country long enough) and the failure of traditional unions to combat precariousness and the racism of the TFWP.

As informative as the book is, what the reader will likely leave with is the sense that the struggles of migrant workers are fundamental to the labour movement. How employers and friendly governments treat the most vulnerable workers calls on all workers to resist. The book is a vision of what should be – equality for all workers – and gives hints to how we can get there.

“At least in BC,” says Adriana Paz Ramirez, a co-writer of one of the pieces, during the “Organizers in Dialogue” section that closes the book, “we have made a conscious choice to focus on the places where nobody goes – to people’s houses. We start building and opening up spaces where workers can come and relate to each other in a different environment than one of competition. Through that and relationship-building we are working on this transformative aspect of organizing. Although I don’t have a polished definition, I think it has to do with how you regain confidence, regain humanity, regain dignity, regain joy, regain and share this with other people. At least to believe that you are building a sense of community or harmony in the house or farm where you are working and living.”

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

An Interview with Mitchell Abidor in Bookslut

More info about this book at (new window)

By Corinna Cliff
January 2016

In March 1871, after France lost the war against Prussia, the French army was driven out of Paris, leaving the city in the control of the National Guard and its citizens who formed the Commune, a democratically elected council that held the power in the city for two months before it was crushed by the French Army.

As a unique example of people standing up against the establishment and seizing the power, the Paris Commune continues to be a point of reference for leftist movements, especially anarchists and Marxists.

At the same time it is also one of the saddest and most violent stories in French history, with thousands of civilians killed during the "Bloody Week" when the French army entered the city. Louise Michel, one of the "voices of the Commune," described it as "an immense abattoir where after eight days of slaughter, the hordes of flies over the mass graves put an end to the killings for they feared the plague."

In Voices of the Paris Commune, Mitchell Abidor assembled accounts of people who, in one way or another, took part in the Commune. The largest part of the book is composed of responses to a call for papers issued by the journal La Revue Blanche in 1897, asking participants to write about their role in the Commune and to share their views on it. Abidor dedicated the first part of the book to articles by journalist Jules Vallès written during the Commune, followed by scripts from debates in the Commune.

Abidor translates historical texts for the Marxist Internet Archive, and has published the following books among others: A Socialist History of the French Revolution by Jean Jaurès; Anarchists Never Surrender by Victor Serge; Death to Bourgeois Society, a collection of writing by and about the anarchist propagandists of the deed; Communards: The Paris Commune of 1871 as Told by Those Who Fought for It; and Emmanuel Bove's novella A Raskolnikoff.

This is your second book about the Paris Commune. What interests you about the Paris Commune? Why do you want people to listen to the voices from the Commune?

Though I've translated documents from all phases of left-wing activity in France, from Jean Meslier, the first great atheist -- who incidentally was a priest -- to the Maoist movement in the period after May '68, it's the French Revolution, the Commune and the individualist anarchists of the early twentieth century I love the most. With the Commune it's got to do with how remarkable it was that the people of Paris were actually able to establish their own government, one that functioned under constant bombardment and attack, and that they were able to maintain a democracy throughout it all, though it was, to be honest, slightly curtailed in its final days. But to see a marginalized people, the workers, and political opponent of the empire of Napoleon III, people who had been imprisoned and exiled just months before, be able to stand on their own is an impressive sight. But I also think that the Commune can serve as an example for us today. Not that the workers of New York are going to follow the Parisians and rise up and seize power, but as an alternative form of radical left, what the French philosopher Michel Onfray calls la gauche communarde, the Communard left. A left that doesn't follow behind infallible leaders, that has no canonic texts, and that preserves democracy. It's about time the Commune was restored to its true place in history.

La gauche communarde -- Is it just a term from Onfray, or is this a way many French leftists see themselves?

It's a term I've only heard from Onfray, but it certainly explains a current, one that needs to spread all over the world. With the death of the old structures of the left there needs to be some principle all can stand behind, and I really can't think of a better one than the notion of a Communard left, inspired by a whole city that stood up for the rights of the people while ensuring that all voices are freely heard. 

You said that the book received more attention than you expected. Do you have ideas why there is a lot of interest in the Commune at the moment?

I think a lot of it has to do with the Occupy movement, which sparked an interest in movements that sprung up spontaneously to challenge those in power. If you look at it, there are two books other than mine that came out in 2015, Communal Luxury by Kristin Ross and Massacre by John Merriman, and given the timeline in publishing it seems safe to say that Occupy played a role in their gestation. In fact, Ross in her book talks about how the existence of the Occupy encampments led her to go back and examine the questions raised by the Commune. She goes no further than saying they share "resonances," but whenever I speak about the Commune, people try to tie them much more closely together. This, I think, is the falsest of false connections and I oppose it adamantly: the Commune was a real government, voted for by real voters in a real election with real departments that really managed a real city. Occupy brought the issue of income inequality to the forefront, but in the end it was more a moral than a practical movement, and doesn't deserve to share the same page as the Commune.

In your introduction you say that the best accounts of the Commune are fictional. Why is that? What makes writing historical accounts about it difficult? Has it to do with the Commune never having been able to fully develop its potential, which might make it more suitable for fiction?

The main historical account, that of P.O. Lissagaray, who was a participant, is one I never was able to warm up to. By the way, it was translated into English by Eleanor Marx, Karl's daughter. Perhaps the failing is in me. But the fictional accounts I chose, Jules Vallès's L'Insurgé and Jean Vautrin's The Cry of the People [Le Cri du peuple in original, trans. as The Voice of the People -- Ed.], are very particular kinds of fiction. Vallès was a member of the Commune and edited the most important of the Commune's newspapers, Le Cri du peuple: The Cry of the People. His novel, the third volume of a trilogy covering his childhood, his adolescence, and the Commune, is less a novel than a first person account of the events, but a first-person account by one of the great writers. Vautrin is a novelist of the left, and his book takes a cast of mainly working-class characters through the life of the Commune. He's clearly studied the writings of the time at great length, and the combination of this and his political sympathies makes The [Voice] of the People an exciting book.

Some of the problem with historical accounts is that the short life of the Commune, only 72 days, prevented it from doing all it would have, which is expressly why John Merriman's excellent Massacre concentrates mostly on the eradication of the Commune, the defeats that led to 20,000 dead. But what disappoints me in historical accounts is that writers come into them with their preconceived notions and don't let the Commune speak for itself. It's presented as anarchist, as a forerunner of Bolshevism, as a precursor of Occupy, and I find all of that simply wrong. My preference, in this and all my other books, is to simply let the participants explain their actions and then let the reader decide. I have my opinion, but I might very well not be right. So let the reader see what those who were there had to say.

How did you choose the texts you included in the book? Which were your criteria?

In my first book on the Commune, Communards, I chose memoirs by people from all ranges of political opinion within the Commune, which was really varied. There were neo-Jacobins, followers of the great August Blanqui, and members of the First International. Voices of the Paris Commune was meant as a kind of primer using first person accounts, so I chose a representative figure like Vallès, and to show that the Commune was a real government there's the minutes of a stormy discussion there in its final days about the execution of the hostages and the establishing of a Committee of Public Safety. But the heart of the book is a large selection of responses to questions about the Commune posed to Communards by the literary magazine La Revue Blanche in 1897. I wanted to show just how wide the diversity of opinion was among those who fought for it, answers to questions like "Could it have won?" and "What were its failings?" For us, nearly a century and a half later, this is an event that's all of a piece; for those who were there it was anything but that, and I thought it important to show how lively the debates were during its life and after its death.

How was it to translate political texts from two-and-a-half centuries ago? The English versions are all very accessible. Did you have to make difficult choices?

This is what I do, how I've chosen to spend my time, translating revolutionary texts from the mid-seventeenth century to the period after May '68 in France, as well as from particular movements in Argentina, Italy, Portugal, and the world of Esperanto. A friend in London made me my business card with my name and profession: "Militant Translator."

The only difficulty with the texts in Voices of the Paris Commune was limiting them. The selections from the discussion in La Revue Blanche, with the Communards looking back a quarter of a century later on the events, is just a fraction of the full discussion, and I wish I could have done the whole thing. In fact, it's inspired me to do a similar investigation of May '68 in France, which will be published in 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of the events.

Do you have a favorite character from the Commune?

Jules Vallès stands out for me as someone who was both revolutionary and a firm defender of democracy, insisting on the freedom of the press until the final day. But there are individual stories that particularly touch me. The saddest is probably that of the death of the elder of the Commune, Charles Delescluze. The Commune was the culmination of a lifetime of his political activity, and in its final days he walked to the Commune's outer barricades so he could examine the situation. While he was there, he was mocked by the National Guard, as if he was seeking to flee and leave the workers to die. He was devastated, and went back to his office. He sat there for a while, signed some orders, then stood up and left and, not saying a word to anyone, walked directly into enemy fire to be killed. If there was a more noble death in the history of the revolutionary movement I don't know what it was.

The political backgrounds of the Communards were quite diverse -- there were anarchists, Marxists, republicans. Was there a social vision for a state that was shared by all?

Anarchists were few, the movement not yet having really gained hold in France, aside from Proudhonians. Marxists, too, were pretty rare. Such as they were they were members of the First International and their faction within the Commune was called the Minority. They, in fact, fought against the majority, who were followers of Blanqui and various forms of neo-Jacobins, when the majority wanted to become more dictatorial and set up a Committee of Public Safety. They even threatened to stop attending sessions of the Commune, but in the end they did.

But let me get back to the social vision of all the groups: every one of them wanted a republic, but a social republic, one that ensured a decent life and living for all, that wanted everyone -- well, every male, but who knows, with time they might have added women -- to have equal political rights and the ability to express their opinions, and wanted to remove any official involvement in religion. The Commune burned the guillotine, banned night work for bakers, suspended rent payments, freed goods held in the national pawn shop, did away with the standing army... It didn't have the time to implement specifically socialist measures, but they would have, since every current within it believed in equality and social justice. When elections were held for the Commune they happened throughout Paris even in the bourgeois quarters, and those elected from those areas chose not to sit, leaving the Commune unified at least on a general vision of society, though not on some of the specifics.

What is your stance on the fight between the minority and the majority in the Commune?

Though I understand the impulse behind the majority's drive to ensure the Commune's survival through the same measures the French Revolution had implemented, my sympathies are all with the minority. The majority was a prisoner of the schemas of 1792, the minority were admirers of the great Revolution, but feared falling into the mistakes that tarnished its image and caused it great harm.

Do you think the Commune had a chance at survival at all?

No, and as some of the veterans of the Commune who are in my book say, few of them did. This was a war between Paris and rural France -- indeed, the rest of France -- and even had the forces in Versailles led by Thiers not crushed the Commune, the Prussians would have stepped in and finished the job. This makes the Commune even more impressive: that they stood by their ideas and attempted all they did as the bombs were falling on their heads, while they were dead men on reprieve.

Women had no voting rights and very little opportunity to contribute to its politics. They were able to join the National Guard though, and many of the texts in the book mention women fighting on the barricades. I find it strange that women were accepted as soldiers in the army when they weren't even allowed to vote. I was wondering why there were many women who were so passionate about the Commune that they were ready to die for it even though they were excluded from all decision making.

Let's be clear: women fought but not as formal members of the National Guard, which was all male. They went to the barricades just as did so many workers out of uniform: to defend a government that was theirs, that granted even unmarried women the rights to benefits owed to their fallen male companions. Women established their own organizations, which were encouraged and supported by the Commune, and several of them, most importantly Louise Michel and Elisabeth Dmitrieff became emblematic figures. But women were also used as a negative symbol of the Commune, as the pétroleuses, the women who supposedly spread gas around the city and set it alight. The city burned, both as a result of being bombarded and also because it was consciously set on fire, though not by brigades of gas-wielding women. Putting the blame for this entirely on women was another way to demonize the Commune for unleashing a horde of savage Amazons, for upsetting the gender cart.

About women in the National Guard: That must be false information that got copy-pasted over the Internet, then, because I found it in more than one article.

They fought, but weren't formally in the National Guard. They served more as support staff and nurses, courageously so, doing it at the front lines, and dying courageously as well. I don't want to downplay the role of women, and the brave way they took up their roles can't be stressed strongly enough, but I think we have to stick with the historical truth and not make the Commune what it wasn't. But don't kick yourself over false information: it's all over the place, on the right and the left. This is why I think it's so important to read the original sources, and for me to make them available in English.

When I give talks about the Commune I usually start by saying that the Commune is a blank screen that every element of the left projects its refereed image onto. Let me give you a perfect example of how much wishful thinking goes into examining the Commune. Recently I was interviewed by an anarchist, who insisted that the Commune was more anarchist than not, and he gave as proof the fact that National Guard officers were elected, like in the anarchist armies of Spain during the Civil War. I read him an account of the election to a National Guard unit, of how workers were elected to leading positions (though quickly replaced by experienced soldiers), but then told him when the election took place: September 1870, five months before the Commune was even established! Elected officers were a National Guard thing, not a Commune thing, but if you look at what happened between March and May without looking at the context you can easily change the meaning of an act.

I was going to ask you about the pétroleuses. How did this rumor come to pass? Was it widely believed?

Not only was it widely believed, it's a notion that still has to be debunked today, though scholars have pretty much proved it false. After all, of the thousands of women put on trial after the crushing of the Commune, not a one was found guilty of setting any buildings on fire. That said, an official organization of Communard women did call for its members to stock up on rifles and petrol, but again, there's no indication that groups of women then set out to burn buildings like the Hôtel de Ville down.

The legend of the pétroleuses is part of the generally dark legend that grew up around the Commune, as an event of unimaginable savagery unleashed by barely human workers. With the pétroleuses was added the element of misogyny, Communard women being depicted as unnatural, bestial women burning down the very city they lived in. Their burning down the city joined the killing of the hostages -- around sixty victims -- as the image of the Commune in the public's eye, or at least the image the bourgeois press and writers projected. 20,000 workers killed by the forces of order? Never heard of it. Or they deserved it.

In which ways can the Commune serve as an example today?

In a direct sense, it's hard to say. It certainly isn't in the cards that the workers of any of the great cities of the world will be taking over their cities and running them as independent governments. It's really far more as an example of that alternative left I mentioned, one that doesn't fall into silly sectarianism that discounts people with differing views or who fail to follow a line laid out by Lenin in 1905 or Trotsky in 1936. And it's also one that responds to a country's own reality, not falling back on the dicta of long-dead authorities.

Are there social movements at the moment that carry the spirit of the Commune, or that you find otherwise inspiring?

I would say that Podemos in Spain, with its vision of a pluralist left and a more democratic country contains much of the spirit of the Commune. They reject social democracy, but also reject turning their backs on the daily reality, the quotidian sufferings of the people of Spain in the name of some kind of intellectual or doctrinal purity. The free debate within Podemos, its ability to take in all progressive points of view, is in the direct line of the Commune.

Why did you choose to end the book with a letter by General de Gallifet who says nothing but that he is unable to answer the questions about his role in the Commune and his opinions on it?

Gallifet was the man who completed the crushing of the Commune. I thought it was a dramatic way to close the discussion. Maybe I should have made that clearer. Maybe in a second edition...

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Patty Hearst, Double Agents and the Symbioses Liberation Army in Truth Dig

SLA members Donald DeFreeze, Patricia Soltysik (in foreground) and Patricia Hearst during the robbery of Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. (Wikimedia Commons)

By Paul Krassner
October 21st, 2016

Jeffrey Toobin’s new book, “American Heiress,” presents a mean-spirited approach to the kidnapping of Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, but he’s clueless about the significance of the SLA, for which she was forced to rob a bank. I covered her trial for the weekly underground paper, the Berkley Barb.

At the end of a tape by Hearst, Donald “Cinque” DeFreeze, the SLA’s black leader of a white group, came on with a triple death threat, especially to Colston Westbrook, whom he accused of being “a government agent now working for military intelligence while giving assistance to the FBI.” This communiqué was sent to San Francisco radio station KSAN. News director David McQueen checked with a Justice Department source, who confirmed Westbrook’s employment by the CIA.

Conspiracy researcher Mae Brussell traced Westbrook’s activities from 1962, when he was a CIA advisor to the South Korean CIA, through 1969, when he provided logistical support in Vietnam for the CIA’s Phoenix program. His job was the indoctrination of assassination and terrorist cadres. After seven years in Asia, he was brought home in 1970 and assigned to run the Black Cultural Association at Vacaville Prison, where he became the control officer for DeFreeze, who had worked as a police informer from 1967 to 1969 for the LAPD’s Public Disorder Intelligence Unit.


If DeFreeze was a double agent, then the SLA was a Frankenstein monster, turning against its creator by becoming in reality what had been orchestrated only as a media image. When he snitched on his keepers, he signed the death warrant of the SLA. They were burned alive in a Los Angeles safe house during a shootout with police. When Cinque’s charred remains were sent to his family in Cleveland, they couldn’t help but notice that he had been decapitated. It was as if the CIA had said, literally, “Bring me the head of Donald DeFreeze!”

Consider the revelations of Wayne Lewis in August 1975. He claimed to have been an undercover agent for the FBI, a fact verified by FBI director Clarence Kelley. Surfacing at a press conference in Los Angeles, Lewis spewed forth a veritable conveyor belt of conspiracy charges: that DeFreeze was an FBI informer; that he was killed not by the SWAT team but by an FBI agent because he had become “uncontrollable”; that the FBI then wanted Lewis to infiltrate the SLA; that the FBI had undercover agents in other underground guerrilla groups; that the FBI knew where Patty Hearst was but let her remain free so it could build up its files of potential subversives.

In February 1976, while Hearst’s trial was still in process, a similar charge was made when a Berkeley underground group, Tribal Thumb, prepared this statement:

Donald DeFreeze escaped from the California prison system with help from the FBI and California prison officials. His mission was to establish an armed revolutionary organization, controlled by the FBI, specifically to either make contact with or undermine the surfacing and development of the August Seventh Guerrilla Movement…DeFreeze was let loose and given a safe plan to surface as an armed guerrilla unit. That plan was to kidnap Patty Hearst.

One warm afternoon I was surprised to receive a letter by registered mail on Department of Justice stationery.

Dear Mr. Krassner:

Subsequent to the search of a residence in connection with the arrest of six members of the Emiliano Zapata Unit, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, San Francisco, has been attempting to contact you to advise you of the following information:

During the above indicated arrest of six individuals of the Emiliano Zapata Unit, an untitled list of names and addresses of individuals was seized. A corroborative source described the above list as an Emiliano Zapata Unit “hit list,” but stated that no action will be taken, since all of those who could carry it out are in custody.

Further, if any of the apprehended individuals should make bail, they would only act upon the “hit list” at the instructions of their leader, who is not and will not be in a position to give such instructions.

The above information is furnished for your personal use and it is requested it be kept confidential. At your discretion, you may desire to contact the local police department responsible for the area of your residence.

Very truly yours,
Charles W. Bates
Special Agent in Charge

However, a source informed me that the Zapata Unit was a front for the FBI. Was the right wing of the FBI warning me about the left wing of the FBI? Questions about the authenticity of the Zapata Unit had been raised by its first public statement in August 1975, which included the unprecedented threat of violence against the left. After publishing in the Barb the FBI’s letter to me, I received a letter from a member of the Zapata Unit in prison:

I was involved in the aboveground support group of the Zapata Unit. Greg Adornetto led myself and several others to believe we were joining a cell of the Weather Underground, which had a new surge of life when it published Prairie Fire. I knew nothing about a hit list or your being on one, and can’t imagine why you would have been. When we were arrested, FBI agent-provocateur Adornetto immediately turned against the rest of us and provided evidence to the government.

In 1969, Charles Bates was a Special Agent at the Chicago office of the FBI when police killed Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark while they were sleeping. Ex-FBI informer Maria Fischer told the Chicago Daily News that the then-chief of the FBI’s Chicago office, Marlon Johnson, personally asked her to slip a drug to Hampton; she had infiltrated the Black Panther Party at the FBI’s request a month before. The drug was a tasteless, colorless liquid that would put him to sleep. She refused. Hampton was killed a week later. An autopsy showed “a near fatal dose” of secobarbital in his system.

In 1971, Bates was transferred to Washington, D.C. According to Watergate burglar James McCord’s book, “A Piece of Tape,” on June 21, 1972 (four days after the break-in), White House attorney John Dean checked with acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray as to who was in charge of handling the Watergate investigation. The answer: Charles Bates—the same FBI official who in 1974 would be in charge of handling the SLA investigation and the search for Patty Hearst. When she was arrested, Bates became instantly ubiquitous on radio and TV, boasting of her capture.

And, in the middle of her trial—on a Saturday afternoon, when reporters and technicians were hoping to be off duty—the FBI called a press conference. At five o’clock that morning, they had raided the New Dawn collective—supposedly the above-ground support group of the Berkeley underground Emiliano Zapata Unit—and accompanying a press release about the evidence seized were photographs still wet with developing fluid. Charles Bates held the photos up in the air.

“Mr. Bates,” a photographer requested, “real close to your head, please.”

Bates proceeded to pose with the photos. But was there a search warrant? No, though they had a “consent to search” signed by the owner of the house, Judy Sevenson, who admitted to being a paid FBI informant.

Jacques Rogiers—the above-ground courier for the underground New World Liberation Front (NWLF) who delivered their communiqués—told me that the reason I was on the hit list was because I had written about Donald DeFreeze being a police informant.

“But that was true,” I said. “It’s a matter of record. Doesn’t that make any difference?”

Apparently, documentation didn’t make any difference.

“If the NWLF asked me to kill you,” Rogiers admitted, “I would.”

“Jacques,” I replied, “I think this puts a slight damper on our relationship.”

My 11-year-old daughter and I moved to another house.

Graffiti on our house included “SLA LIVES,” which was then obscured in the enigmatic made-over “COLE SLAW LIVES,” a slogan that baffled tourists and convinced one that a political activist named Cole Slaw was dead because it said that he was alive.

Paul Krassner’s latest book, “Patty Hearst and the Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials,” is published by PM Press.

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Understanding Jim Crow in Socialism and Democracy

by Barbara H. Chasin
Socialism and Democracy
October 21st, 2016

David Pilgrim’s Understanding Jim Crow is a look back at the images that helped justify the racist system that existed in the south from the end of Reconstruction in about 1877 until 1965 when the successes of the Civil Rights Movement ended the legalized separation of African Americans and whites.

The US version of an apartheid system was enforced by horrific violence. As with other instances of inequality, however, an ideology was created that legitimized it for the perpetra- tors and for all those who acquiesced in it. That ideology and the ways it was disseminated are the subject of this book.

Pilgrim, himself African American, was at once fascinated and disgusted, as an adolescent, by racist memorabilia. Over the years, he collected more than a thousand racist images and objects. He refers to these as “garbage” but nonetheless finds them useful for teaching tolerance and promoting social justice. He became a sociol- ogist, joining the faculty at Michigan’s Ferris State University in 1990. Six years later he established “the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia” there.1 At first the objects were from his own collection, but he continued to enlarge the holdings and has added objects pro- duced after legalized segregation ended in the 1960s. Visitors to the museum can view everyday pieces conveying the message that those of African descent were stupid, ugly, hyper-sexed, and not fully human.

Pilgrim gives a detailed description of the exhibits, discussing the meaning of a number of them. One of the book’s useful themes is that stereotypes change as social context changes. During slavery those of African descent were usually described as docile and unproductive. Male slaves were portrayed as Uncle Toms, loyal and dependable, while Mammy was a loving, faithful female. Children were happy- go-lucky picaninnies who weren’t even likely to be properly dressed by their ignorant black parents. Whether male or female, those of African descent needed whites to manage their lives and make them productive. No whites needed to feel guilty because the slaves were happy, or so the story went.

But when slavery ended in 1865 and 11 years later federal troops were withdrawn from the south, southern elites found ways of creating a labor force comprised of super-exploited and subservient former slaves. There was no powerful group that opposed this and racist forces were free to create a system of terror against blacks and anyone else posing a threat to white supremacy, including labor organizers.

The Jim Crow system bolstering white supremacy served to break up the fragile but important alliance that had been developing between working-class whites and blacks in the period of Radical Reconstruc- tion. During this time more African Americans were elected to public office than at any time in US history, desegregated public edu- cation began in the South, and there was a social mingling that later became impossible.

Racism was used to undo all these advances. Keeping blacks from exercising the democratic rights supposedly guaranteed by the 14th Amendment meant white elite interests would be served. More details on this historical context could add to the book’s impact. The lynch mob, shootings, beatings, evictions, etc. drastically reduced the numbers of black voters. For example, in Louisiana as late as 1898, 130,000 blacks were still on the voting rolls; by 1906 the number was 1,342.2 In the 1970s North Carolina still required literacy tests for
voters.3 Then as, now, powerful institutions, including the Supreme Court, made racism an integral part of American life. Very few opposed the home-grown terrorism destroying black lives.

The list of racist objects described in this book is long, covering vir- tually any household object or item of popular culture, including salt and pepper shakers, ashtrays, postcards, note-pads, cartoons, and books, including those for children such as Little Black Sambo. Carnival “games” used African men as targets, normalizing violence against them. Popular songs and minstrel shows made racism fun, at least for some. The stereotypes were aimed not only at whites but at black self-conception. Norms and laws governed everyday white and black interactions so that these could not be egalitarian. Pilgrim has a long and useful list of these rules.

Summarizing the messages in the museum’s displays Pilgrim writes, “Blacks have been portrayed in popular culture as pitiable exotics, cannibalistic savages, hypersexual deviants, childlike buffoons, obedient servants, self-loathing victims, and menaces to society” (5).

New forms for conveying these racist messages appeared with the advent of radio, films, and television. Older readers might remember the Amos & Andy programs, or the servant who went only by the name Rochester on the Jack Benny show. Pseudo-scientific writings supported notions of white superiority, something which has not dis- appeared today. Racist objects are still being produced. Pilgrim men- tions, as examples, targets with Trayvon’s Martin’s face on the center and the game Ghettopoly, created in 2003, with projects and crack houses replacing Monopoly’s buildings.

One example that Pilgrim doesn’t mention is the popular Currier & Ives prints and calendars which included a print series called Darktown Comics, which like so many other depictions showed African Americans as incredibly stupid – like firemen who couldn’t see the fire in front of them.4

While describing the objects and their messages, Pilgrim also describes aspects of the Jim Crow south that very few who had not experienced it would be aware of. For instance, black men who owned new cars would wear chauffeur caps when driving so as not to arouse envy and possible violence from whites. When buying clothes, African Americans would need to know their clothing sizes since they were not allowed to try on clothes that might also be donned by prospective white customers at department stores.

This book is evidence of the validity of the William Faulkner saying “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” While the legal underpinnings of racism have been mostly abolished, there is still a high degree of racial inequality in the US. In spite of the election of Barack Obama we do not exist in a post-racial society. There have been gains. African Americans are more visible on television, in advertisements, in some occupations, etc. Nonetheless, housing seg- regation persists as described in the sociological study with the telling title American Apartheid. Along with segregated housing come segregated inferior schools, neighborhoods with high levels of unemployment, and a prison-industrial complex based on a system that in numerous ways treats whites and blacks differently from the moment of arrest through incarceration. Court rulings, once again, limit electoral access by reinterpreting the 1965 Voting Rights Act; laws against prisoners and ex-felons and new voter ID laws add to the difficulties African Americans have in being active citizens. Racist messages are employed, especially by Republicans, to win white voters.

This is a horrifying but important book that should be widely read to gain an accurate view of the long history of racism in the US. The Museum challenges its visitors to ask what they can do to fight racism. There is a “Death of de jure Jim Crow” area paying tribute to the “wonderful accomplishments” and heroism of many African Americans. These must be a welcome relief from the “mammies,” “coons,” and “Sambos” the exhibit-goer will have been bombarded with.

Another counter to the demeaning images, not mentioned by Pilgrim, was created by African American photographers. A number are depicted in the documentary “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photo- graphers and the Emergence of a People.” The photos serve as a remin- der that in spite of the massive propaganda and violence perpetuated by overt and covert racists, resistance was present then as now.


2. Richard T. Schaefer, Racial and Ethnic Groups, 7th edition, New York, Longman, 1998, 

3.    Richard Fausset, “Battle Over Voting Laws Peaks in North Carolina,” New York Times, March 11, 2016, p. A1. 

4. ives-print-unintentionally-funny; special-collections/exhibits/currier-and-ives-darktown-comics/darktown-comics- historial-context/ 

# 2016 Barbara H. Chasin Professor Emerita, Sociology Montclair State University Montclair, New Jersey

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The Struggle of organising Migrant Workers


By Andreas Bieler
Trade unions and global restructuring
October 20th, 2016

With precarious forms of work increasingly also emerging within the core of industrialised countries in the global economy, the issue of how to organise migrant workers has become an ever more pressing concern. In his talk at Nottingham University on Tuesday, 17 October, Aziz Choudry reported on related challenges, drawing on two of his recently co-edited books, Unfree Labour? Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2016), together with Adrian Smith, and Just Work? Migrant Workers’ Struggles Today (London: Pluto Press, 2015), together with Mondli Hlatshwayo. In this blog post, I will draw out a couple of key insights resulting from Choudry’s analysis of a large range of different forms of migrant labour organising.

If we want to understand global restructuring of capitalism today, we need to focus on analysing the role of migrant workers, argues Choudry. They experience the most dramatic forms of super-exploitation within the global economy, characterised by ever more insecure working conditions and poverty pay. With their work permits often tied to a specific employer, they are directly subject to extra-economic compulsion, being unable to look for work elsewhere, if their employer treats them badly. In Canada, seasonal agricultural workers pay into the social insurance system without, however, being granted access to its benefits. Analysing the conditions of migrant labour allows us to understand better the ‘geographies of exploitation’, we are confronted with at this point in time. There is a danger that the working conditions of migrant workers demonstrate development in employment relations, which may become the future for the wider workforce. Hence the importance of organising migrant workers against exploitation in the first place.

And yet, traditional Northern trade unions often prove unable to organise precarious workers such a migrants, partly due to the temporary working status of these workers, but partly also because of these unions’ traditional bureaucratic focus on the permanent workforce in large companies. This is paired with an enormous self-confidence about how to organise workers. Trade unionists, if they are attempting to organise migrant workers, often tend ‘to teach’ migrant workers about what they should do. And yet, as Choudry makes clear, this completely overlooks that these migrant workers come with their own experiences and strategies of how to resist exploitation. Rather than us being the 'teachers', it may be us who have to learn from them about how to organise in precarious working environments. Unsurprisingly, it is often new, independent trade unions or more informal labour NGOs, which are more suited to this challenge and provide more space for migrants’ own experiences.

Nevertheless, while securing the rights of these super-exploited migrant workers is of utmost importance and makes a huge difference to their individual lives, the question remains of how securing the rights of some seasonal workers in agriculture, for example, can be translated in transforming the agricultural sector as a whole so that there are no precarious forms of work in the first place. In other words, the challenge is to upscale individual victories in a change of employment relations across industrial sectors and the economy as a whole. Migrant workers' organising strategies may provide us with a glimpse in this respect, but they can only be the beginning of a more fundamental process of transformation.  

Andreas Bieler

Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website:

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From Punk to Professor: Livermore Teacher Details Journey in New Memoir

By Angela Ruggiero
East Bay Times
October 8th, 2016

LIVERMORE — Clues in Michelle Gonzales’ college English class hint there’s a deeper story: the dark hair with red highlights, black-rimmed glasses and tattoos peeking out from behind the professor’s sleeves.

Most of the Las Positas Community College students are too young to know that the woman at the head of the class was a hardcore punk rock star in a groundbreaking all-female punk band in the 1990s.

The band, Spitboy, set a standard for other female punk rockers at the time, performing in front of thousands at Bay Area venues such as 924 Gilman in Berkeley and on tours in Europe and Asia.

Gonzales was a drummer with a fierceness who, along with her three fellow bandmates, pushed boundaries when writing about feminist issues, such as domestic violence and sexism.
The band, she says, faced misogyny and sexism in a mostly male-dominated punk music subculture. And for Gonzales, who is of Mexican heritage and was the only person of color in the group, colorblindness and racism also were factors.

What Gonzales sang about when she was in Spitboy “translates to the types of projects that she’s taking on on campus,” said Los Positas College Dean of Arts and Humanities Don Miller.

Gonzales is the faculty adviser for the college’s Puente Project, which connects disadvantaged students to mentors and counseling programs. Gonzales also is co-chair of the Basic Skills Committee on campus, which focuses on helping students with achieving college-level English and math skills.

Miller said he didn’t know about Gonzales’ history as a punk star until he read her book,  “The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band,” released in April.

But now with her background and push for social justice through her involvement at the college, it makes sense, Miller said.

Gonzales, known as “Todd” during her band days and now by friends who knew her then, teaches English and creative writing courses at the Livermore college. At least once a year, Gonzales joins in the English department’s own band, the “Rawk Hawks,” changing the lyrics to popular songs to sing about community college budget cuts or grading papers.

Gonzales, who was born in east Los Angeles but grew up in rural Tuolumne County, lives with her husband, 14-year-old son and their two dogs in Oakland. She says the transition from hardcore punk band to college professor wasn’t all that far-fetched.

“I knew I needed another art form, another outlet. If I could teach, my art would continue,” she said.

While in Spitboy, or other bands such as Kamala and the Karnivores, Gonzales interacted with young people, exchanging ideas. Being a teacher is similar, she said.

Gonzales said she always considered herself a writer, helping pen songs for Spitboy with fellow bandmates. After the band split in 1996, and after a year stint with the group Instant Girl through 1997, Gonzales got married and went back to school.

She started teaching at Diablo Valley College in 2003 and took the full-time position at Los Positas in 2005. Her students usually are not aware of her punk past, except for the occasional one who recognizes the band’s name if she mentions it.

English teacher Michelle Gonzales speaks to her students enrolled in her English 1A class at Las Positas College in Livermore, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)English teacher Michelle Gonzales speaks to her students  at Las Positas College. 

“I’m aware it gives me a certain kind of ‘cool’ factor,” she said. ” I’m turning 50 in three years — I’ll take anything I can get at this point.”

In her book, which she will be reading from at a Lit Crawl event on Saturday in San Francisco, she talks about her coming-of-age during her punk days.

“We hated sexism, we didn’t hate men,” Gonzales writes in the book. Spitboy, she writes, was “a band that played as hard as men did but sounded like women.”

Spitboy’s sound was aggressive, perhaps more so than other female bands at the time, said Chris Appelgren, former owner of Lookout Records, which put out Spitboy’s first record.

While other bands, mostly “riot grrrl” feminist bands, went out of their way to exclude the opposite sex (have male fans stand in the back of venues and women in the front), Spitboy was inclusive, Appelgran said.

They specifically did not want to be labeled “riot grrrl,” but still their lyrics had a feminist edge. Although part of the punk continuum at the time was to get a rise out of people, “Spitboy had a sense of being provocative but not in that kind of way,” Appelgran said.

“They were influential specifically by example; they inspired women to play an aggressive, hardcore sound of music,” he said. “I don’t recall other female bands at the time necessarily playing that style of punk.”

Jim Ott, a fellow English teacher at Las Positas, teaches Gonzales’ book in his English classes. He says the book is relatable to his students, who are generally the same age Gonzales was during her Spitboy days.

The book represents a journey of Gonzales’ self-discovery as she faced obstacles to being comfortable with who she was and finding her own voice, Ott said.

On the face of it, Gonzales’ life today is a far cry from her days rocking out in cut-up jeans, short dyed hair and faded tank tops behind a drum set on world tours.

But all that has really changed is the stage.

“Being in the band is performative, and teaching is performative,” Gonzales said.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michelle Cruz Gonzales’s Author Page 


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