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Anthropocene or Capitalocene? in Marx & Philosophy

Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
by Steve Knight
August 30th, 2016

The public’s imagination has been seized in the twenty-first century with the notion that human impacts upon the earth’s geology and ecosystems have been so widespread and profound that they have actually launched a new epoch in the Earth’s history.

Biologist Eugene Stoermer suggested in the 1980’s that this hypothetical new epoch might be called the Anthropocene (literally, “New Era of Man”), a term that was repeated in a seminal paper in 2000, by the atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen.

While the Anthropocene has not yet been recognized officially by any of the major scientific organizations that designate geological epochs, and there is considerable disagreement among scientists as to when it might have begun, the increasing weight of evidence pointing to unprecedented anthropogenic impacts upon earth and climate systems virtually assures that “Anthropocene” will indefinitely be fixed as part of the public discourse.

In recent years, however, a group of thinkers trained in the ecosocialist tradition of Marx and Engels have initiated a critique of the concept of Anthropocene, arguing that it implicitly blames all of humanity for creating the deleterious effects of biodiversity and species loss, carbon emissions, ocean degradation, deforestation, and other strains on our biosphere. Instead of blaming all of humanity – which includes billions of the world’s poorest, who consume and pollute little – they contend that it is more accurate to place blame on a globalized system of capitalist relations, which are premised on the assumption that infinite, compound growth is possible on a planet with finite resources. This has locked us into unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, hence, “Capitalocene”. The recent collection Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History and the Crisis of Capitalism, edited by Jason W. Moore, offers new perspectives on this ecosocialist critique that should be helpful to anyone engaged in extending their understanding of the current ecological crisis.

Part One of the collection, The Anthropocene and Its Discontents: Toward Chthulucene?, offers two attempts to evaluate the term “Anthropocene” as a potential normative category. What does it tell us, and what does it leave out of the conversation? Environmental sociologist Eileen Crist writes in On the Poverty of Our Nomenclature, that the problem with calling this epoch the Anthropocene, is that it traps us within the anthropocentric worldview that caused our climate crisis in the first place. “The Anthropocene discourse clings”, she tells us, “to the almighty power of that jaded abstraction ‘Man’ and to the promised land his God-posturing might yet deliver him, namely, a planet managed for the production of resources and governed for the containment of risks” (23). Crist declines to suggest an alternative name for our epoch, but says that whatever we call it, it must convey a more integral, holistic vision of interrelationships between the human and non-human. “Lifting the banner of human integrity,” she says, “invites the priority of our pulling back and scaling down, of welcoming limitations of our numbers, economies, and habitats for the sake of a higher, more inclusive freedom and quality of life” (29).

In the second essay of Part One, Staying With the Trouble: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene, Donna J. Haraway brings her background in fields as diverse as technology, feminist theory and multispecies studies, to bear on positing a new paradigm that might replace “Anthropocene” in our discourse. She laments at one point that “[t]hese times called the Anthropocene are times of multi-species, including human, urgency: of great mass death and extinction…of refusing to know and to cultivate the capacity of responsability…of unprecedented looking away” (39). As a response, she proposes the alternate term “Chthulucene”, based on the eight-legged tree spider Pimoa Chthulu, a creature that learns by feeling with many tentacles. What Haraway calls “tentacularity” (shared by organisms as varied as creepers, roots, fungal tangles, jellyfish, even humans) is a quality of life “lived along lines—and such a wealth of lines—not at points, not in spheres” (36). It is this sort of “string figured” (or “sympoietic,” as per environmental researcher Beth Dempster) thinking, which is multipolar, organizationally open, distributionally controlled, and dynamic, that Haraway believes will lead to better solutions to our ecological conundrum. While Haraway offers some exciting potential avenues for conceptualizing beyond the limitations of the Anthropocene model, I am unsure how her “string figured” mode of thinking might be applied practically to halting the worsening breakdown in our biosphere. I am personally more comfortable with Eileen Crist’s straightforward approach of emphasizing holistic relations between the human and non-human realms.

Part Two, Histories of the Capitalocene, offers three attempts to give some historical context to capitalism’s increasingly tight grip on Earth’s geology and ecosystems. The Rise of Cheap Nature, by editor Jason W. Moore, reprises many of the key points in Moore’s 2015 magisterial study, Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. Moore believes that while the Anthropocene meme can engage questions of how humans make natures, and vice versa, it cannot provide answers. This is because it is trapped in a Cartesian binary of Humanity vs. Nature, instead of recognizing the “double internality” of humanity-inside-nature, and nature-inside-humanity. Moore maintains that the Capitalocene (an epoch he says was initiated by significant transformations in land and labor relations ca. 1450 to 1640) is premised on a “world-ecology” dialectic in which “capital and power—and countless other strategic relations—do not act upon nature, but develop through the web of life” (97). The secret to capitalism’s creation of value, he says, is that it does not actually value most of its inputs; rather it depends on a steady stream of “Cheap Natures”—labor, food, energy and raw materials—to boost accumulation. Much of capitalism’s crisis since the beginning of its neoliberal phase in the 1970’s, Moore suggests, may be attributed to the increasing difficulty of obtaining Cheap Nature inputs.

Justin McBrien’s Accumulating Extinction: Planetary Catastrophism in the Necrocene posits that outright extinction, of species, cultures, languages and peoples, lies at the heart of capital accumulation. McBrien sees the Necrocene, an epoch of “New Death”, coterminous with the Capitalocene, as causing not just the “metabolic rift” between labor and the Earth, as described by John Bellamy Foster and other ecosocialists, but a process necrotizing the entire planet in a headlong rush to subsume all of the Earth under capital. The final section of McBrien’s essay connects the Necrocene to a post-World War Two “catastrophism” promulgated by the military-industrial complex, and embodied most vividly at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Capitalism found in the atom bomb the dark watery reflection of its own image. It realized that its logic could lead to one thing: total extinction. It realized that it had become the Necrocene” (124).

The third essay in the Histories section, Elmar Atvater’s The Capitalocene, or Geoengineering Against Capitalism’s Planetary Boundaries, takes on the subject of geoengineering, namely proposed large-scale interventions in the Earth’s climate system aimed at limiting or reversing anthropogenic climate change. These strategies are considered risky by most scientists, but have become attractive in a world increasingly reliant on technological solutions; a few prominent scientists, including Google’s Ray Kurzweil and climate scientist Paul Crutzen, have even said that geoengineering is the answer to the climate crisis. Altvater’s critique of geoengineering, however, is rooted in his analysis of capitalism’s inherent irrationality. Classical political economy, he notes, neglects to consider the full web of life’s interdependencies, including most crucially that capitalism relies on a constant “tap” of cheap inputs and a cost-free externalization (“sink”) of waste outputs. Geoengineering promises to address the negative consequences of externalization by pricing in their costs; but Altvater says that this is doomed to fail, because “many interdependencies in society and nature cannot be expressed in terms of prices.” Approaching the problem holistically would be an answer, but this is impossible in capitalism, which Altvater says “is committed to fixing the parts and not the whole” (151).

The collection’s third and final section, Cultures, States and Environment-Making, looks at the crucial aspect of culture in creating the Anthropocene from two entirely different perspectives. In Anthropocene, Capitalocene and the Problem of Culture, Daniel Hartley defines culture as an historically evolving, contingent process, drawing on dialectical relations between land, labor, intellectual activity, the state and other factors. “Cultural history”, he writes, “must incorporate the profound interrelation of historically and geographically specific struggles with their fundamental symbolic components” (163). Hartley’s main problem with the Anthropocene concept is that it does not consider the politics of class struggle as materially determinant, suggesting instead a world where an undifferentiated “humanity” uses technology in a mechanistic “one-on-one billiard ball model of technological invention and historical effect” (156).

In contrast to Hartley, Christian Parenti’s Environment-Making in the Capitalocene: Political Ecology of the State looks at the crucial role played by the state in creating conditions for the Capitalocene. The author asserts that the state does not simply have a relationship with nature; it is a relationship with nature, because its assertion of territorial control—legally, militarily and scientifically—maintains the web of life necessary for societies to function. Parenti reviews some examples of the vital role the state has played in creating conditions for capital accumulation:
Alexander Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures, the Erie Canal, and China’s Grand Canal. He concludes with an impassioned plea to the Left not to forget the role of the state in formulating an anti-capitalist strategy; “[t]o reform capitalism—and to move beyond it—the Left needs to place the state front and center in its strategic considerations” (182).

The essays in Anthropocene or Capitalocene? provide an invaluable contribution to the debate over what we should call this strange new epoch, wrought by centuries of capitalist depredations upon our biosphere. As these ecosocialists so ably tell us, from their individual perspectives, that humanity’s best hope to save the planet (and its species, including our own) relies on finding ways to replace an unsustainable Capitalocene with socialist relations of production and consumption.

Buy Anthropocene or Capitalocene | Buy the e-Book of Anthropocene or Capitalocene | Back to Jason W. Moore's Author Page

Sipping Tea with Silvia Federici

Silvia 9

All photos: Luis Nieto Dickens

by Hanna Hurr
Mask Magazine
August 2016

What is the deal with that book about the witch hunts, though?
¶ Hanna Hurr sits down with Silvia Federici, the mother of materialist feminism and author of Caliban and the Witch, to discuss the lessons we still have to learn from Wages for Housework and other organizing around reproductive labor.

Silvia Federici

Twelve years have passed since Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch was published, and even though feminism is experiencing a prime time renaissance, the distance between rosy endorsements of Hillary’s glass-ceiling breaking and the anti-capitalist, anti-imperial position Federici and others advanced decades ago feels galactic. I spent an evening with Federici to discuss the unrealized vision and legacy of the feminist movement of the 70s, and how her theories of reproductive labor remain relevant to this day.

Every morning, Silvia Federici wakes up to run in the park. Perhaps this explains why she, at the age of 74, is more up to speed than most in her generation. “I just read this article about someone who died while playing Pokemon Go,” she tells me as she welcomes me into her living room. “I hear it’s causing all sorts of problems.” This is the woman who inspired a generation of millennial feminists to think about how women have been treated by the economy since the Middle Ages. It’s not surprising that she’s still watching closely.

I don’t know how many copies Autonomedia has sold of Federici’s treasured book Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, but I doubt that would give even a remote estimate of how many have read it. I’ve seen xeroxed copies stacked in infoshops, PDFs shared online, earmarked copies read out loud during road trips and passed among friends like a secret, sacred text. Many know it simply as ‘the book about the witch hunts,’ and this might make its lasting significance seem perplexing. But it’s not just about the witch hunts. Rather, it’s a historic overview of how capitalism emerged and spread. 

Here is the short version: Federici agrees with Marx that the spread of capitalism could not have happened without hundreds of years of brutal violence and disciplining of rebellious bodies. However, she expands his argument and shows how we are witnessing an ongoing accumulation of labor-power and potential-labor-power, the process that was required to produce the submissive capitalist subject of today. She also argues that capitalism sustains itself and continues to grow though a permanent primitive accumulation (the process that, according to Marx, created the conditions for the development of the capitalist system). Primitive accumulation, involving the dispossession of millions of people from their means of subsistence, is not just something that happened once, a long time ago. It’s something that is still taking place today, constantly. She proposes that this also includes and is made possible through the production of difference – hierarchies built upon gender, “race,” and age, that separate, divide people, domesticating some and marginalizing others in order to produce a continuous supply of new workers, enclose more land, and create ever-evolving forms of exploitation.

“I think I was already a feminist at ten years old,” Silvia Federici tells me with a smirk, adding that, when she was a teenager, her family moved to a town with a communist administration and she grew up in a fairly “anticlerical” environment. There were other factors. Her father was a philosophy teacher who also taught history, and would share with her stories about how the popes used to lead armies, how the spirit of religion lived more in the heresies than in the church, how people rebelled against the oppression by the church. It was from her father that she first learned about the history of the heretic movement, which she later wrote about in Caliban and the Witch. “He was the one who told me that the heretics were the real church.”

Like many others like her, Federici’s mother was a fulltime housewife. As a child, Silvia says she dreaded the traditional fate of women; she resisted doing housework and would struggle with her sister about who would clean up or do the dishes. “It was made clear to me from an early age that there was a difference between being a man and being a woman, and that as a girl I would not be allowed to do all kinds of things. I didn't want to be a housewife because I understood that this was a position with no social power.  I spent years wanting to be a man and had no desire for femininity. The last thing I wanted was to be like my mother.” The irony doesn't escape her: the fear of succumbing to her mother’s lot, in a way, inspired her to become a radical feminist preoccupied with the political nature of housework. 

At first I hesitate to ask Federici about her relationship to her mother because it seems so cliché, but throughout our conversation Federici speaks candidly and fondly about her mother.  When I ask if her introduction to radical feminism furthered this gap between them, she gives me a firm no: “The opposite happened. Feminism introduced me to a whole new reflection on housework and power relations, what the devaluation of women’s work meant on an individual and collective level, and it made me rethink my relation to my mother. I felt very bad having been so unappreciative of her, so I started going home more and wanting to do the housework. This began a transformation in my relationship with my mother; it brought us closer together.”

Federici moved to the United States in 1967 to start a PhD program at the University of Buffalo, and it was only a matter of time before her paths started crossing with early second-wave feminist circles in New York. 

As Jo Freeman explains, young women found each other at socialist, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist gatherings and actions throughout the 60s, and formed groups of their own when their sexist so-called peers refused to take them seriously. The first groups formed spontaneously in Chicago and Seattle in ‘67 and ‘68. Over the next couple of years, word spreads to people across the country, including Federici. “Feminism as a movement really takes off in the summer and fall of ’69, after the famous SDS conference in Chicago, which also birthed the Weathermen. A number of women left the conference and began to caucus on their own. I was in Italy at the time – I used to go back for my summer vacation – and when I returned in September, there was a women’s movement. That fall I heard the first feminist critiques and read the first feminist manifestos, and I didn’t need any convincing.”

This experience of finding something new that resonates so strongly it becomes instantly familiar, it’s something that I and many people who’ve gone through some kind of politicization can relate to. When I ask her what it felt like, her awakening into feminism, she describes it as a series of “emotional turning points,” one of which was being in a room, in New York, full of hundreds of women. “Up until that point I had never been in a room with so many women. For young women today it would not be something so emotional, because you’re used to seeing women together. But we were not. We came from a world in which women coupled with men. You had moments of being together with your girlfriend but that was child’s play. We used to call it l’amica del cuore, the friend of the heart, your girlfriend. The world of women was a devalued world, a world that sooner or later you were expected to leave, when you found the man of your life.” 

The feminist movement would go on to highlight this world, the world of housework, the family and child rearing, as foundational to capitalism, and it’s interesting that Federici describes a parallel personal shift in attention: re-discovering personal relationships with other women as something powerful, valuable, and political. “To be in a room of 400 women for the first time was thrilling. We were all very excited about each other and soon we became uninterested in men. I remember looking around and feeling shaken up inside. It felt like a revolution.”

As she describes this, I see my life flash before me; a series of intimate moments with girlfriends during my childhood, teens, early adulthood, mixed with lonely moments of trying to prove myself to the world, the world of men, and re-discovering in the second half of my twenties how powerful these relationships can be. It has taught me tenderness and care and thoughtfulness and solidarity and kindness. And yet, hearing Silvia Federici talk about all-women spaces, I become nervous. It is almost taboo now to express feeling this kind of excitement, and for valid reasons – some feminist groups excluded trans women, and transmisogyny is still as real as ever. The ease with which cis women could find solace in sharing space continues to afford us a lazy excuse to exclude trans women and others marginalized by patriarchy. All of this is complicated, although I totally understand and in 2016 can still relate to what she is talking about. The first and only time I met with a psychologist, she told me to pay attention to the feelings that made my throat thick and my eyes filled with tears, that ‘behind that resistance lies something complicated and real and meaningful worth sitting with.’ This isn’t a perfect feeling.

Silvia Federici has often cited Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s article “Women and the Subversion of the Community” as the text that instigated the development of her historical and theoretical positions on capitalism, exploitation, and reproduction. “I was already coming from a Left background, but reading Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s article made me understand what feminism meant in terms of class politics. All kinds of things began to fall into place, I began to see new constructions.” It’s easy to see the influence of Dalla Costa in her work: the text describes the centrality of reproductive labor to capitalism – from unwaged housework and the role the education system plays in reproducing society. She emphasized the housewife’s isolation and dependence on men as core mechanisms by which capitalism is maintained, and put forth the still controversial position that the home is a central place of struggle: “The role of housewife, behind whose isolation is hidden social labour, must be destroyed.”

Together with Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, Federici founded the International Feminist Collective, which started the Wages for Housework campaign in 1972. Federici went on to start Wages for Housework groups in Brooklyn and around the US. In 1975, Federici published the texts “Wages against Housework” and “Why Sexuality is Work,” which articulated the group’s central ideas: capitalism depends on the unwaged reproductive labor of the housewife – to give birth to new workers, feed and clothe them, and provide emotional support and stability in times of need and crisis. If housewives were to refuse to do this work, capitalism would be on the brink of collapse.

Forty years later, the idea that capitalism originates and should be fought from the kitchen may seem less pertinent. After all, how many housewives do you know, and doesn’t capitalism seem to be thriving? But the Wages for Housework campaign wasn’t only striving for ‘wages for housework’ as a main goal. Inspired by the Italian operaismo movement, as well as by the anti-colonial struggle, they used the wage as a strategy to shed light on how many functions of society were done in the isolation and invisibility of the home, disregarded as ‘unproductive,’ and how many wageless workers have actually contributed to the accumulation of capitalist wealth. As Dayna Tortorici wrote of Federici in More Smiles? More Money, “by recasting all the social activities women perform as ‘work,’ Federici economizes them to the point of logical extremity. The point isn’t actually to put a price on perfunctory marital sex, or to max out categories of value so that their utility disintegrates; it’s to illuminate how supposedly non-capitalist activities shore up the economic system that structures and controls so much of our lives.” In fact, it’s impossible to quantify the economic impact the household has played historically in absorbing crises of capital and helping the economy bounce back. When someone loses their job, when a worker suddenly falls sick, when the police fuck somebody up, when the economy becomes increasingly precarious leaving people depressed and hopeless, it is usually mommies and households that patch people up, give people a place to rest and recover, provides an outlet for anger and distress – whether it’s through food, space, love and emotional support, healthcare, or sex.

While a lot has changed in terms of what opportunities exist for women, this is only true in some parts of the world and some sectors of society. Regardless, it is still true that capitalism relies on countless forms of un(der)paid reproductive labor, and many would be surprised to learn that the ways we talk about our conditions today were already described by the Wages for Housework campaign. From describing affective labor as labor, while criticizing the labor movement for reinforcing our dependence on wage labor, to calling for reparations for slavery and supporting welfare women’s struggles, many of the things we talk about on Twitter today as if they were new revelations, Federici and her peers analyzed and organized around already in the 70s. 

Federici saw the feminist movement take off in New York firsthand. By 1975, it had grown into a mass movement. When I ask her what it was like to be part of this, she lights up. “You could really see it in the streets. On March 8, there would be thousands of women out protesting. It was very powerful, and it wasn’t just white. I remember in particular: International Women’s Day in 1971. After the big march we went to Union Square. There was this huge podium, and on the podium there were three women. One from the Young Lords, one from the Black Panthers, and one from the Witches. The energy was amazing.”

As the movement grew larger and louder, its energies began to be seized from all directions. During the second half of the 70s, there was a strong pull to form a women’s labor movement, something Federici criticized — not because there was anything wrong organizing around women working outside the home, but because it concentrated all feminist energies around waged labor, operating on the assumption that working outside the home was the road to ‘women’s emancipation.’ “To me it was a limitation, not because it was wrong to go towards the labor movement, but because increasingly all kinds of struggles over reproduction were abandoned. In fact, two years later, in 1976, when the issue of maternity leave went to the Supreme Court, the feminist movement did not fully support it. It was feared that if we started calling for such ‘privileges’ we would not be entitled to fight for political equality and for equal pay for comparable work. The same happened around welfare – when welfare women started being attacked, there was no feminist mobilization to counter it, which was a terrible mistake.”

The second major takeover came from institutions like the United Nations and the US government. “By the 70s, the feminist movement was very much taken over. That was an  important turn that has not been understood enough in terms of its historical implications. The UN presented itself as the sponsor of the emancipation of women, calling, in 1975, the first World Conference on Women in Mexico City.”

When I ask her to explain what happened and why, she looks at me for a second, as if not sure how to convey the full extent of this massively important moment: “The UN intervened in the women’s movement in many ways and it would take the whole evening to talk about it in detail.” To summarize, she says, there were two main reasons for this increasing institutional attention being paid to the women’s movement. “First, there was the realization that a certain type of deal was over. Women would no longer accept being subservient to men and to relate to the state and to capital though the mediation of men.  The UN intervention in feminist politics expressed the realization that from now on capital would have to deal directly with women, and also that women’s demand for autonomy, if properly domesticated, cleaned up and channeled, could be used to re-launch an economy that was in crisis. More specifically, women’s demand for autonomy, for a wage of their own could be used to address the labor crisis that capital was facing in the 70s. Profit rates were collapsing, anti-colonial struggles were taking place in many parts of the world, here and in Europe they had blue-collar workers’ revolts. Now, suddenly they had all these women demanding the right to work, demanding to enter the waged labor force… All of these forces worked together so that the doors of many workplaces could be opened to women. I have no qualms to say that the entrance of women on a mass level into the waged workforce was one of the factors that helped overcome the labor crisis. I say ‘on a mass level’ because black women always had to work outside the home, as they could nor rely on a steady male wage.”

Perhaps Federici stresses this period because it captures why making demands primarily around waged labor and reforms is a strategy that will only produce short-term gains and most likely longer-term setbacks. Since the 70s, the so-called “feminization of labor” has allowed mostly middle-class white cis women to climb the ranks in business and politics, become managers and CEOs and soon, perhaps even the president. Of course, wages are still unequal, the labor market is still sexist. But mostly, the increased “equality” between certain classes of men and women in the Western world has coincided with new groups of people being locked into positions of underpaid reproductive labor, producing a new international division of reproductive labor with children and elders being cared for, houses cleaned, clothes made, food prepared by people of color, recent immigrants, and non-college-educated millennials. 

“They did exactly the same thing with the anticolonial movement a decade earlier: when they realized the anticolonial struggle could not be defeated the United Nations went in and took it over, posing as the leader of the decolonization process. Some people got killed, like Lumumba, others were selectively chosen and installed. You can say that the UN made sure that decolonization would take place in a way that didn't shake the boat, that firmly reasserted the interests of international capital. This is why we used to speak of Neo-colonialism, because the colonial bond was never broken up. Except now it was reasserted with a more indigenous ruling class.

The UN’s intervention into the anticolonial movement happened first, and by the time the UN did the same thing with the women's movement they had a tested practice. They created a new class of ‘global’ feminists, going here and there to international institutional gatherings, where they spent nights debating over the wordings of documents. They created new agendas that appropriated the feminist language but discarded its subversive content. For example, UN literature speaks of violence against women but does not tell us how that violence is created, what are the social forces responsible for it.”

The UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, she said, was a final blow. “All of a sudden every feminist was going to Beijing and it seemed that this was the place where you had to be to function in the feminist movement. It was said that there you would meet women from Africa and all over the world.  Very good! But, I was thinking that the Zapatistas had an amazing encounter up in the mountains of Chiapas that also brought together people from all over the world, and these were poor indigenous peasants, they were not the UN. Yet, they were able to pull it off, so why not us? My contention has always been that the women's movement could’ve done that, and didn’t need the UN to build international solidarity.”

In the 80s, Federici worked as a teacher in Nigeria just as the Structural Adjustment Programs were being introduced across Africa, and it was this experience that inspired her to write Caliban and the Witch. She had co-authored a book on the impact of the transition to capitalism on the process of reproduction together with Leopoldina Fortunati in 1984, but while living in Nigeria she observed firsthand the same process that happened in Europe in the early days of capitalism take place all over again – land privatization, the disruption of local economies an communitarian regimes, the destruction of resources sustaining communal life. But she also realized that many people still see their lives as, she writes, “radically antagonistic to the requirements of capitalist production.” Being reminded of how crucial women have been to the resistance against wage labor and enclosures, she decided to revisit the research they had started 20 years earlier, and study the transition from feudalism to capitalism and the process that Marx calls ‘originary accumulation.’ 

It’s easy to see that then, as well as now, Federici’s focus was never on the woman primarily; her focus was on understanding the economic forces and institutional mechanisms that together produced the woman as housewife working to reproduce labor power for capital: to guarantee the quantity and quality of labor. When she describes the decades-long cooptation of the feminist movement as “a big heartbreak,” I can only imagine the loss she is describing. If you ask her, the feminist movement – the one that was interested in fighting capitalism – was reduced to silence. 

A further concern for her is today’s frequent claim that the feminist movement she was part of, the so-called “second wave,” has lost its relevance. 

“Today, intersectionality is treated as a new discovery. For me it's not, it was already present in our analysis. Selma James’ Sex, Race and Class analyzed the relationship between racial exploitation and sexual exploitation, the kinds of hierarchies and ideologies capitalism had to construct to hide and naturalize particular forms of labor exploitation. The continuity between the enslavement of African people and the devaluation of women’s labor and social position has always been there. We analyzed the material basis for them.

I find it difficult to accept that the so-called second wave of feminism of the 70s was completely oblivious to this. The women’s movement grew in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and ‘Black Power’ and was affected by it, as the first feminists in the 19th century were affected by the abolitionist struggle.  What is true is that the feminism of the 70s as a whole did not have enough of a class politics, and did not have anti-racist politics. But there were groups, like ours, whose work recognized the continuity between racism and sexism. There were many strains within the women’s movement.”

So, when Federici expresses impatience with a politics focused on identities, her frustration is directed at the failure to locate the source of the multiple forms of oppression we are dealing with. To her, capitalism is still growing stronger by the same mechanisms as it did when she entered the scene, which is why waging struggle from her position as a woman is still important for her.

“Since the beginning of capitalism, women have fought to change what it means to be a woman. To me ‘woman’ always meant particular forms of exploitation, particular places in the division of labor, and particular histories of struggle. Clearly there are crucial diversities among women. There are hierarchies, inequalities especially along the line of race and age. But there are also common grounds, though I draw a line, as I don’t see women in the capitalist class as my ‘sisters.’ That’s why I don't want to give up the category ‘woman.’ It is not a biological category, it's a socio-political and historical category. If you cannot name your condition, then you can’t make certain kinds of struggle. When I think of ‘woman’, I place myself in a history and in particular forms of struggle that women across the world are continuing to this day.”

One thing is for sure: Federici’s argument that capitalism works by harnessing reproductive labor, and producing difference and above all hierarchies to fix certain identities to this specific kind of labor is no less relevant today than it was in the 70s and 80s. We now face the reality that robots are replacing large groups of workers – from service workers and manual laborers to care workers and teachers – while the creative labor that humans do is unaccounted for. At the same time, services like childcare and healthcare are increasingly privatized, leaving a growing poor population with no access to those kinds of services and having to make up for it by working double or not at all. Services like Facebook appear to meet the need for more connection and emotional attachment, but the emotional labor is still done largely by the same groups of people as before, while making the labor aspect of it even more obscure. 

Federici is no longer teaching, but this does not seem to have slowed her down. She is still writing and speaking, and when we met she has just returned from a trip to Sweden, where she participated in the conference Expansions on Homecraft. The walls of her living room are filled with books, and on one side of the room stands a large fold-out table, on top of which sits her 11-inch MacBook Air. It looks like she was in the middle of something when I showed up. As we wait for our photographer Luis Nieto Dickens to arrive to take photos of her, I ask her what her days are like.

“Every morning I get up and go running in the park. Then I work. I'm currently working on two manuscripts. One is an anthology of the materials that we produced in the New York Wages for Housework committee.” She pulls up the cover on her computer and it’s a red illustration from one of the Wages for Housework campaigns. “The other is a book on the commons. I also have this long term project that I don't know if I’ll ever finish that is about children under capitalism, which was a kind of upshot from Caliban and the Witch. The last few years I've done a lot of traveling, which I normally don't do. I also get a lot of emails, which is good but also very disrupting. I'm struggling with that now, trying to figure out how to deal with it. I don't like not reading it, I don't like to not respond. Otherwise, I do housework and go to meetings. I sometimes go to Mayday [Space], Woodbine, Bluestockings, and similar places. We have a big social life, George [Caffentzis] and I. Very often we're like ten people here having dinner together in this living room. The rest of the time I write and read.”

Luis texts me that he’s outside, so I run down the three flights of stairs to let him in. We apologize to the doorman who seems completely unsurprised that these queer-looking young people are running up and down the stairs to visit Silvia. Back inside, Luis pulls out his camera and begins snapping photos, and Silvia graciously plays along, poses for the camera and follows our cues.

Between meeting Silvia Federici and writing this, I’ve reread all of Federici’s books, and felt the presence of her work everywhere – from news articles about police shootings to Twitter rambles about emotional labor. On August first, I heard that Korryn Gaines had been killed by Baltimore police, and I stayed up late watching YouTube videos of her previous interactions with the police. I have no doubt Korryn Gaines was shot specifically because she refused to participate in a system that depended on her cooperation. Her body was crossed twice by difference: a black person’s refusal to be expelled or colonized is a crime against the accumulation of bodies as labor-power; a woman’s refusal to domesticate her children is a crime against the accumulation of the capacity to produce life. Hers were crimes against the whole regime. It reminded me once again of why Federici’s work is still so valuable today. Her writing offers historic continuity to our shared discontent; it flips the “normalcy” of this world on its head, saying: resisting capitalism and patriarchy and racism and colonialism make complete sense, together and all at once.


Hanna Hurr is the Managing Editor of Mask Magazine.

Buy Revolution at Point Zero now | Buy Revolution at Point Zero e-Book now | Back to Silvia Federici's Author Page | Back to George Caffentzis's Author Page

Publisher Spotlight: PM Press

IPG Blog
September 13th, 2016

PMPolaroidsPM Press is an independent publisher that specializes in radical, Marxist and anarchist literature, as well as crime fiction, graphic novels, music CDs, and political documentaries. In other words, PM Press is the coolest.

Here, co-Founder Craig O’Hara walks us through how a history of anarchism and activism has led PM Press to the success they see today, and how they march ever toward a “most just, humane, and fun world.”

IPG: How did PM Press get its start? How did you specifically find your way into publishing?

Craig O’Hara: Nearly everyone at PM Press was already involved in some aspect of independent or grassroots publishing and distribution before PM got its start in 2007. In our organization we have folks with decades of experience in book publishing and distribution operations (pre-dating the internet, ouch), running independent bookstores, slinging merch with rock bands, designing print-ready materials for hip magazines and corporate clients, and plenty of experience warehousing and shipping books. No one at PM was really a “rookie” before we started, and we’ve been lucky to assemble something of a dream team of experienced folks without ever advertising for outside help.

What brings us together at PM is the desire to both publish and actively promote materials that we feel can make a difference in our present/everyday society. Influenced greatly by actions and ideas from the history of anarchism and social justice activism, we want to publish and promote books and materials with ideas geared towards creating a most just, humane, and fun world.

IPG: What differentiates PM Press from other publishers?

Craig O’Hara: To the public, it’s probably the wide range of events that we do to reach new readers. In 2015 we organized and promoted nearly 400 author events and 120 tabling/exhibiting events across North America, with a growing number in the UK as well. We take our boxes of books, folding tables, and bookshelves where no publisher has gone before. We table political and academic conferences, labor events, book fairs, craft fairs, really anywhere that books can be sold to a receptive audience. Who else has books available in every expected channel but are also top sellers in both Matewan, WV and Oaxaca, Mexico?

PMTableIn addition to nearly four hundred books we’ve published over nine years, we have also released dozens of CDs (both music and spoken word) and documentary DVDs covering everything from animal rights to Zapatistas.

We have no formal offices, yet are international. PM Press staff are located on both coasts of the US as well as Canada and the UK, working mostly out of their homes. We do have a variety of storage facilities, from working warehouses with forklifts to basements where the books fight for space with vintage motorcycle parts.

Within the industry, we differ from many other publishers in that we treat our authors with great respect. We pay regular royalties, actively sell foreign rights in multiple languages/territories, and generally give our authors more say in their project. We operate largely without subsidy (from wealthy individuals or corporations) and without debt, paying the printer on time and the full balance of any credit card use each month. In a certain ironic sense, our sustainable anti-capitalist operation is a roaring financial success.

IPG: How does youpmpull2r mission of “creating radical and stimulating fiction and nonfiction books…” change how you navigate the publishing industry?

Craig O’Hara: It means we have to navigate and operate both inside and outside of the established industry. Since our beginnings, a full 50% of our income has been from direct/nonbooktrade selling. We are never chasing publishing trends, but seeking to publish underrepresented viewpoints that have the potential to affect and influence readers. Luckily we have assistance from the fine folks at IPG to help bridge the gap between what we do on a daily basis and the workings of the mainstream publishing industry.

IPG: What do our readers need to know about your books?

friendsofPMCraig O’Hara: One neat fact is that they are nearly all printed in the US by the employee-owners at Thomson Shore in Dexter, MI. Beyond that, we want readers (and writers) to know that “you can do this too.” There are far too many fantastic books we receive as submissions that we simply don’t have the resources to publish. There is no shortage of great material to publish, wonderful stories to tell, and readers open to intelligent discussions outside of the mainstream media.

IPG: Who do you feel is your primary audience?

Craig O’Hara: We publish a broad enough range of books that it’s difficult to pinpoint or attempt to stereotype our primary audience. People interested in a better world? Well, who isn’t? Everyone from the multiracial working class whose lives are reflected and respected in our work to grad students and professors swimming in theory, to ethical vegetarians, cutting-edge artists, and punk rockers!

IPG: In your opinion, how has the publishing industry changed over the years?

pmpull3Craig O’Hara: Over the last few decades, much of the industry has been squeezed, shrunk, or discarded. There are fewer independent publishers and distributors (and all operating with a lower profit margin due in part to Amazon’s unfortunate presence), and the impressive flux of new bookstores (particularly those in high-rent, gentrified areas) can rarely afford to stock releases outside of the mainstream/sure-thing bestsellers. A television/internet-based, celebrity-driven culture has created a sad trend in the book business to chase after “the next big thing” as it runs by rather than operate as a forum for diverse and important ideas that impact our lives.

IPG: What do you think are the benefits of independent publishing? The drawbacks?

Craig O’Hara: The benefits are being part of the process of connecting the stories, ideas, and artwork of authors to a global community of readers. Drawbacks, well, very long hours and there’s not much money in it. We have very few authors who can make a living writing professionally, and virtually none that could do so solely from their PM releases. There just isn’t much money in book sales after each part of the food chain takes a bite.


IPG: Where do you see PM Press in five years?

Craig O’Hara: I expect it will be very similar to what we see now, some of us will be grayer and heavier, others will be younger and smarter. We just signed a five-year distribution deal with IPG, so I expect both organizations will continue to get better at what we do each year.

George Hurchalla's Going Underground in Scanner Zine

Scanner Zine
June 27th, 2016

If the title of this book sounds a bit familiar (with the exception of it being a song by THE JAM), it’s because this is actually the second edition of the book first published back in 2005 (my review HERE). In this edition, David Ensminger took on the role of editor, producing a narrative that is still gripping and first hand, but is now slightly more pointed and concise with some notable changes between the two editions.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, this is part-autobiography of Hurchalla, part historical documentation of American Punk and part reference guide to American Punk scenes of the 80s. It kicks off in 1980 with Hurchalla in his home state of Florida suddenly being exposed to Punk Rock via his brother with his introduction to the SEX PISTOLS. From there, it looks at the early scene in San Francisco and then progresses, just as Punk morphed into American Hardcore, through all the important US scenes of DC, Texas, LA, NYC, Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago and Philadelphia - a city in which Hurchalla lived for a number of years.

Rather than rely on the oral history style of writing that many books of this type do, Hurchalla writes with a full narrative infusing the writing with his own personal experience and opinion. Much of the quoted material is taken from fanzines of the day, giving those quotes a sense of historical placement and first hand documentation rather than any form of eulogizing the past with the added effects of hindsight.

For those who already own the original book, you will notice a few differences. First, the original tome went through to 1992. That doesn’t change a great deal of the actual content, just abbreviates some of the final part of the book without having a negative effect. What is most noticeable to me is the culling of the chapters about Hurchalla’s time in Australia. I appreciate why they were culled, but those chapters in the original were greatly enjoyable and gave an ingenious perspective on what was happening in American Punk when compared with the less-aggressive but equally volatile music going on Down Under at the time. Another chapter that has been cut is the Punks On Film chapter. Again, this hasn’t had any lasting negative effect to the book, but I think the hysteria around the episode of Quincy made valid reading given the era and subject matter.

It’s not all about cuts though; there are several new, riveting chapters, some updates to the original text, additional references and some new pictures that combine to make this not just a reprint of a great book, but a viable and estimable tome in its own right. The photo reproduction in the new volume also seems to be slightly better in terms of tone.

This book is filled out with a fresh preface and, like all good historical and referential books, a full index - something the original book lacked.

As I have said before, anyone who was involved in the 80s Punk scene (in any country) will relate to many of the stories here. The narrative defines the pre-internet era and the hostility and danger of attending shows at the time. Hurchalla also constantly refers to the term Hardcore being too restrictive, too macho. He can clearly see that both X and SSD are Punk bands and the Hardcore tag is alienating and detrimental.

Ultimately, this is a most welcome reprint that is different (not better, nor worse) from the original. It also stands as one of the best books written about its subject. It’s sincere, intelligent and insightful and is not written by some hackneyed music journalist looking back; Hurchalla was there, on the ground living and breathing American Punk Rock and all that came with it. It’s that genuine sensibility that puts Going Underground head and shoulders above most others.

Buy Going Underground | Buy the e-Book of Going Underground | Back to George Hurchalla's Author Page

Jewish Noir in New Pages

New Pages
July 7th, 2016

A short story is the perfect medium for busy people, and Jewish Noir, heralded as the first book of its kind, presents a month’s worth of short stories to delight any reader of the genre. Editor Kenneth Wishnia sums up the lure: “[ . . . ] a majority of the world’s Christians are taught that if you follow the right path, everything will turn out well for you in the end. In Judaism, you can follow the right path and still get screwed (just ask Job). That’s noir.”

One dazzler in the book is “Living Underwater,” by B.K. Stevens. Anyone who’s ever worked for a control freak will recognize this characterization of Helen. She’s the new associate dean who’s changing the rules for college professors, Sam among them. It isn’t enough that she wants all syllabi redone:

“If you can’t document something,” Helen cut in, “how do you know it’s real? You can tell yourself that you’re doing a good job, but why should anyone believe you? Luckily, I’m here now, and I’ll show you how to document what you do.”

Doesn’t sound noir-ish? Just wait ‘til you see what happens to Sam.

Elsewhere, Michele Lang pulled me into “Sucker’s Game” with these opening lines:

“You’re the people killed Christ. Right?” I was already having a rotten time in third grade, and this gigantic, sweaty clown on my bus home from school wasn’t helping. He smelled like onions and coffee, a weird combo for a sixth-grader.

Said bully isn’t the only male posing danger as Lang moves her story along. “I knew he knew I was under the bed. [ . . . ] I was his target.” Talk about scary!

Travis Richardson presents the oddly titled “Quack & Dwight” focusing on a psychologist named Ben and his precocious eight-year-old patient Dwight Adolf Lange. “Nobody names a kid Adolf by accident,” says Ben. I liked this story of obsession, but I’m not sure a seasoned psychologist would be as “breathless” or “speechless” as Ben is when speaking with Dwight or his mom.

Included with new works by Jewish and non-Jewish writers is a story by the late Yente Serdatsky. Her tale, “A Simkhe” or “A Celebration,” originally appeared in 1912, but I had no trouble visualizing the group of friends listening to Semyonov talk about the beautiful Miss B, with this delicious line: “The women who once hated her got married to the men who were once in love with her.” The story gets serious, but ends up having a magical effect on Semyonov’s listeners.

Noir can be approached in so many ways. Pick any story. A lost Romanov treasure figures into Wendy Hornsby’s “The Legacy.” A biologist named Karen who studies eye color inhabits “Blood Diamonds,” by Melissa Yi. Check out this sentence: “Nestled on a bed of ice, four freshly harvested eyeballs stared up at her: two hazel, one green, and one blue. A great mini-mystery is “One of Them” by Alan Orloff whose characters battle against odds while trying to make things right.

All is not dark and edgy in these stories. Rabbi Adam D. Fisher inserts some humor with “Her Daughter’s Bat Mitzvah: A Mother Talks to the Rabbi.” He cleverly voices the mother in a monologue: “Rabbi, you don’t know me. I don’t go to services and I’m not religious but I’m proud to be Jewish. One day at work, this guy started talking about someone who tried to ‘Jew him down.’ Boy, did I give him an earful.”

A couple of the works were a little strong for my taste, but one was so suspenseful I had to turn to the end to see what happens. A man bursts into a synagogue escaping from someone trying to kill him in Charles Ardai’s “Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die.” No one can call the police because phones aren’t to be used on Yom Kippur. The killer breaks into the synagogue and demands to know which of a dozen old men, now all looking quite alike, is his prey.

These stories are just a preview of what’s in store for readers of Jewish Noir. The book’s back cover suggests it as a conversation starter about prejudice and ethnicity, but I read it as a series of masterful crime stories. Either way you choose, this is definitely an anthology to wrap your senses around.

Buy Jewish Noir | Buy the e-Book of Jewish Noir | Back to Ken Wishnia's Author Page

Playing as if the World Mattered in the Journal of Sports History

by Russell Field
Journal of Sports History
Volume 43, Number 2

It is diffcult to imagine that the link between activism and sport needs to be (re)asserted on a day in November 2015 when varsity football players and other student groups drew attention to institutionalized racism at the University of Missouri and forced the resignation of a senior administrator, and junior hockey players in Flight, Michigan, walked out on their team’s owner to force him to rehire a coaching staff they felt was unjustly red.

Yet this is the position that Gabriel Kuhn takes in a new collection of visual culture that is intended to illustrate activism in sport. He perceives dual pressures: a reluctance among some on the Left (he notes Jean-Marie Brohm and Marc Perlman) to accept sport as a social practice capable of rising above its lot as capitalist escapism—masculinist, nationalist, and racist; and the ways in which moments and movements of protest and resistance in and through sport have been neglected and marginalized in the mainstream media. Kuhn’s aim is to highlight the visual texts of progressive “sports culture for a better understanding of the struggle for both better sports and a better world” (11).

Kuhn divides the book into three sections, which are both thematic and chronological. The rest, emphasizing European workers’ sport (1893–1945), is the most coherent, focusing as it does on a well-defined collection of organizations. Kuhn highlights the growth, achievements, and tensions within socialist and communist sport in years leading up to World War II. He characterizes the second section as “sport and civil rights” (1946–1989) and includes diverse proles of individuals, including Jackie Robinson and Marvin Miller (this section is where most of the content specifc to the U.S. appears), journalistic endeavors (Miroir Sprint in France and Lester Rodney, sports columnist for the Daily Worker), and general movements (anticolonialism and the antiapartheid movement). The book concludes with examples of grassroots sport organizing (1990–present). This discussion of fan supporter groups and community sport organizations (drawn primarily from European football) is Kuhn’s comfort zone and features prominently in his previous foray into sport, Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics (2011).

Playing as if the World Mattered
offers instances of activism, each well illustrated. There is value in having such moments collected together, but it is worth asking whose resistance counts. The account of “state socialism” does not include, for example, the 1963 Games of the New Emerging Forces in Jakarta. Indeed, virtually all of the examples in the book took place in the First World, and events in the Global South are often framed through northern activism, such as the antiapartheid movement. Nor does Kuhn offer accounts of resistance to ostensibly left-wing initiatives such as state socialism. A prominent exclusion is Czechoslovakian gymnast Vera Caslavska, whose Prague Spring–inspired resistance at the 1968 Olympics is not included in the extended discussion of the events surrounding the Mexico City Games.

The example of Caslavska is also illustrative of the absence of women generally from Kuhn’s discussion. Focusing the rst chapter on workers’ sport, which included women
(more as participants than organizers), precludes any discussion of Alice Milliat, the Fédéra- tion Sportive Féminine Internationale, or the Women’s Olympics/Women’s Games that took place during the interwar years. Instead, the legacy of individuals such as Billie Jean King are connected with the contemporary (re)emergence of sports such as roller derby and the ght for LGBTQ rights in sport.

Given that the book reads as a catalog of moments of activism, it is easy to quibble over exclusions. But rather than adding content, greater coherence over the interconnections between the examples included would be preferable. What constitutes activism? Is there a distinction to be made between activism in sport and through sport, and is such a distinction material? Are the themes that Kuhn identites meant to capture myriad examples or present a coherent whole?

There is an unquestioned beauty in having neglected moments of sport’s history so well illustrated. The volume suffers from its slim dimensions, which Kuhn attributes to the economic pressures of publishing—“producing a full-color book that is reasonably priced demands a limit in size” (11). Despite such realities, our historical understanding of sport would bene t from a greater interrogation of visual culture. Here, the images act to illustrate Kuhn’s text, and he frames his use of the visual around “the simple truth that an image can say more than a thousand words” (11). Aphorisms aside, no, it doesn’t—not if we cannot decode the image. The symbols incorporated by artists in the images marshalled by Kuhn, the fonts used, and the messages included all operated to communicate important elements of resistance to a community galvanized to play sport and resist oppression. We would be well served to consider them as more than colorful accompaniments to the texts we create.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Gabriel Kuhn's homepage

Xicana Women Claim Their Rightful Place In Punk

by Nina Melissa Bautista
The Establishment
June 30th, 2016

Spitboy, an all-female punk/hardcore band active in the first half of the 1990s, were far more groundbreaking than their short run as a band would seem to indicate. Emerging before the advent of the broader Riot Grrrl movement that swept through the underground punk scene (and broke into the wider culture) in the ’90s, Spitboy were political by their very existence, and their lyrics of female empowerment (and their insistence on distributing those lyrics on print sheets at concerts) further cemented them as feminist punk icons in the underground music scene of their time.

Michelle Cruz Gonzalez, drummer for Spitboy (and a couple other bands–Bitch Fight and Instant Girl), has penned an insightful and entertaining new memoir about her time in Spitboy. The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band (PM Press, 2016) tells of her upbringing in a small town in California, the formation of her first band as a teenager, and of course her time in Spitboy.

As a Mexican American in a predominantly white town, Gonzalez knew from a very early age what it meant to not fit in, to look different from the people around her, to be political by her very presence. This didn’t change as much as one would hope when she entered the punk scene. Even though punk was a movement of outsiders, it was still almost exclusively white and male when Gonzalez and her Spitboy sisters entered the fray around 1990. They had enough to push against as a band of women in a very male scene, but for Gonzalez, the only band member of color, this was doubly felt. While not the sole focus for Gonzalez in this book (or at the time of the events), the subtle racism she experienced, mostly of the sort that sought to erase her racial identity rather than mock or vilify it, is addressed throughout with honesty and insight, as is sexism the band dealt with.

“If not for being raised by a strong woman whose influences on me, negative and positive, were profound, I could have rebelled against subculture movements. But as a Mexican American, a Xicana in a hick town, I was never allowed to forget that I didn’t fit in, that I muddied their waters.

I would show them.”
– page 3

Spitboy is sometimes lumped in with the Riot Grrrl movement, but they preceded and really sat outside that trend at the time. This was partially due to a perceived rift with that scene, though Gonzalez clarifies in The Spitboy Rule this was never about any actual animosity between Spitboy and the bands associated with Riot Grrrl. Gonzalez explains how this started. At a show in Washington, D.C., just as Spitboy’s set was beginning, Gonzalez took the mic and made the announcement that the band didn’t expect men to stand in the back of the room (a common request from Riot Grrrl bands at the time, to allow their female fans the best and safest experience they could have at their shows), and concluded by saying, “We’re not a Riot Grrrl band.” The room went silent, and though Gonzalez and her bandmates had no enmity with the movement led by bands like Bikini Kill, the myth began to spread from that show that they did.

“‘ah, quit your bitching and play some music.’ It was a male voice, of course, and it came from the cowardly back corner of the long, dark, narrow room.
I waited, sticks poised in the air, ready to count the song off because sometimes the song alone was enough of an answer. But Karin had thought fast.

‘Hey, you know what you need to do?’ she said into the microphone. ‘You need to go to the library and read a fucking book.'”
– page 43

The Spitboy Rule is a quick read, and carries something of the do-it-yourself feel of the zines that mushroomed in popularity during the female punk heyday of the ’90s and helped to spread news and affection for that scene through an underground network of zinesters. Plenty of pictures are included, and the book’s conversational, hang-out tone makes these stories feel like they’re being told between songs at a show, or in the tour van right after. If you love punk music, or just want to read more about the experiences of a Xicana woman in a historically white male scene, check this book out.

The Spitboy Rule is available now at GPL.

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

Revolutionary Mothering in Black Girl Dangerous

by Cantrice Janelle Penn
Black Girl Dangerous
July 15th, 2016

I lick my lips, encrusted with bits of sea salt, as I text Alexis Pauline Gumbs—co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines—from the sandy coast of the Carolinas about my forthcoming review of her book. After heading to the water’s edge without sunscreen, I now find myself nursing my first-ever sunburn on both brown shoulders, anointing them with my own kisses and a few drops of aloe vera. When I was little, other kids used to say that asunburn retained heat because the sun itself would literally get into your skin and stay there long after a day at the beach.

Revolutionary Mothering does just that—pulsing with electrifying storytelling, this anthology gets into your skin.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens and Mai’a Williams have carved out a collaborative space in the shape of love, by offering us this broader definition of “motherhood.” They have effortlessly weaved together storythreads from all corners of the globe to produce this urgent, necessary project—one with the potential to serve as a working blueprint for our communities.

Inspired by its radical, feminist-of-color predecessor, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, this latest incarnation—originally entitled, This Bridge Called My Baby—is a loving meditation on multiply marginalized mama figures trying to make it work with what they got within the confines of the anti-Black, white supremacist, capitalist, ableist, cisheteropatriarchal systems that pin the proverbial boot against our chests, attempting to slowly suffocate us all as we struggle to draw a collective breath in the name of liberation.

This anthology centers the voices of Black mothers and mothers of color, queer mothers, poor and working-class mothers, disabled mothers, and immigrant mothers who offer their lived experiences in the form of poetry, essays, manifestos, photo montages and play scripts. But as a “non-parent” with my own complicated relationship with mothering, I didn’t think I’d be able to relate.

Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I cracked open Revolutionary Mothering, finding story after story detailing real shit—the raw, the unpopular, the vulnerable. Stuff we’re not supposed to admit to in “woke” communities. Like the mother with dark skin who secretly hopes that her unborn child won’t inherit her own melanin and seems quite aware of how deep the well of internal oppression can run. Or the mother in the US who attempts to adopt a child from her home country, only to find herself navigating the very western, white systems that she otherwise actively resists. Or the mother who reflects on a heteronormative relationship maintained with her then-husband whom she carried financially through school while suppressing her budding identities.

What Revolutionary Mothering is not is another collection of writings by revolutionary-minded folks using all the right social-justice language and providing all the right answers as to how to mother children the “radical” way. It is also not an attempt to stuff marginalized parents or parenting into some other hegemonic box patterned after the oppressive systems that shape most of our world.

Instead, this anthology explodes with textured, necessary truth-telling, penned by the voices of those pushed to the margins and crushed by the state. Revolutionary Mothering offers tools of hope to help us redefine what “mothering” can mean for each of us. The emotionally charged accounts of motherhood lighting up these pages indeed challenge that tired, “having-it-all” narrative force-fed to all of us by mainstream media outlets, and instead, presents us with mother figures who operate in spiritual abundance through the communities that sustain them, whether a job, partner(s), or children are in the picture or not.

Brimming with rare treats and gems of wisdom—like June Jordan’s powerful essay, “The Creative Spirit: Children’s Literature,” in which she proclaims at the start, “Love is lifeforce” (a mantra that Gumbs affirms repeatedly), and Lisa Factora-Borchers’ line, “Transformation does not have a name or a label, it has a sound,” in the essay, “Birthing a New Feminism”—Revolutionary Mothering provides a loving home for stories on mothering our children, our communities and ourselves. I must also note the anthology’s beautifully illustrated cover—courtesy of Favianna Rodriguez’s artistic brilliance—with colors that pop and crackle against equally searing testimony.

As I return from my sojourn at the ocean, I now look to my blistered shoulders, which have lost a bit of their sun-scorched, violet hue. While the pain has subsided under my skin, its delicate layers are beginning to shed. After turning the last page of Revolutionary Mothering, I notice that my soul feels anew. My own spiritual layers peeled back. My heart open and ready to receive.

In times like these, Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines teaches me that hope, love and change are always possible.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Mai’a Williams Author Page | Back to Alexis Pauline Gumbs's Author Page | Back to China Marten's Author Page

Unmasking the Black Bloc: Who they are, What they do, How they work

By Devon Douglas-Bowers
December 18th, 2014

“The Black Bloc always defend the demonstrations when the police come here.” - Ariane Santos, 26-year-old Brazilian student

“The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement.” - Chris Hedges

The Black Bloc: some love it, others hate it. Many condemn Black Blockers for engaging in property destruction and lack of central organization, yet others appreciate them and see their divisive actions as a positive, arguing for a diversity of tactics. However, what many are lacking is an understanding of the Black Bloc, it's history, the types of people who are in it, and the problems within.

While this is a brief exploration of the Black Bloc, those who are interested further should read "Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs? Anarchy In Action Around the World," by Francis Dupuis-Déri (translated by Lazer Lederhendler), which not only provided the research for this article, but also explores on a deeper level what the black block is, the tactics and beliefs of black blockers, and criticism of the Black Bloc.

To begin to discuss black blocs, there must first be an understanding of what a black bloc is. Black blocs are “ad hoc assemblages of individuals or affinity groups that last for the duration of a march or rally” in which members retain their anonymity via head-to-toe black clothing. While there may be uses of force, “more often than not they are content to protest peacefully” with the main objective being to “embody within a demonstration a radical critique of the economic and political system.” A black bloc can be one person or thousands. It should be noted the black bloc isn't a group, but rather a tactic to allow for radicals to engage in direct action without fear of arrest; while many black blockers are anarchist, not all of them are.


Black blocs came out of the autonomous movement in Germany in the 1980s, specifically West Germany where “radical feminists had a profound effect on the Automen, injecting the movement with a more anarchist spirit than was the case elsewhere in Western Europe.” The Automen expressed their politics via “rent strikes and re-appropriating hundreds of buildings which were turned into squats” that doubled as spaces for political activity.

There is no definitive moment when the term black bloc came into usage, although there are different stories. The first major arrival of a black bloc was in 1986 when a massive black bloc was formed to defend the Hafenstrasse squat where 1,500 black blockers and 10,000 other demonstrators confronted the police and saved the squat.

Black bloc ideas and tactics soon spread to North America via fanzines, personal contacts and punk music groups, but there is also a more interesting reason as to how black bloc tactics spread. Sociologists Charles Tilly, Doug McAdam and Dieter Rucht, all of whom specialize in social movements, have shown that “for different periods and places there exist repertoires of collective action deemed effective and legitimate for the defense and promotion of a cause. These repertories are transformed and disseminated over time and across borders from one social movement to another, in accordance with the experiences of militants and the changes in the political sphere.”

Essentially, tactics and ideas spread over time from one social movement to another depending on their effectiveness and how the tactics will work within the context of each movement. Two modern day examples of this could be the physical encampment of spaces from the Occupy movement and the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture from the anti-police brutality movement that has recently sprung up surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

The first time the black bloc made a major move in North America was during a January 1991 rally against the Persian Gulf war where the World Bank building was targeted. Black bloc tactics were also used by the militant anti-racist group Anti-Racist Action, which focuses on directly confronting neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Who They Are, How They are Organized

While the black bloc may be made up of militants, they are consistently categorized as hooligans, thugs and youths who take joy in private property destruction. Thus, there needs to be further exploration of the types of people under the masks.

It should be noted the black blocs, at least in the U.S. and Europe, are generally overwhelmingly white and male. However, there is some diversity. In a communiqué published days after the demonstrations against the 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa, Mary Black (a pseudonym for a protester who took part in the protests) noted that most of the people she knew who used black bloc tactics “have days jobs working for nonprofits. Some are schoolteachers, labor organizers, or students. Some don't have full-time jobs, but instead spend most of their time working for change in their communities.[...] These are thinking and caring folks who, if they did not have radical political and social agendas, would be compared with nuns, monks, and others who live their lives in service.”

Dupuis-Déri himself stated that in interviews he has had with black blockers, many had been involved in the social sciences and that “in a number of cases, their research projects dealt with the political significance and consequences of demonstrations and direct actions,” suggesting “that their political involvement was grounded in serious political thinking.”

Thus, those who involve themselves in black bloc tactics are not necessarily people who are at protests solely to break things, although such types of people do come in and cause problems.

Before discussing the issue of property destruction, it would be pertinent to know how black blocs are organized. Black bloc groups attempt to function in a horizontal manner, with each person having equal say in deliberating issues and where the goal is consensus rather than voting. In order to do this, black blockers form affinity groups, which are groups “generally composed of between a half-dozen and several dozen individuals whose affinity results from ties that bind them, such as belonging to the same school, workplace, or political organization.” By having previous ties to one another, members in affinity groups are able to coordinate much easier.

The Issue of Property Destruction

Not all black blockers engage in property destruction. While one may use black bloc tactics, there are different roles one can play. Groups take into account things such as a person's immigration status, health problems, previous arrest record and the like, and at-risk individuals can engage in low-risk tasks such as being “in charge of legal support in the event of arrests, or responsible for transportation, lodging, water and food supplies, media contacts, psychological support” and whatnot.

Black blocs meet to plan and organize before hand, but also during protests as well. One black blocker who took part in the protests against the G8 Summit in 2003 noted in her reflection of the events:

"I found it extraordinary that we could hold delegates' meetings right in the middle of the blocking action. There were barricades, fires had been lit, the police were slinging a lot of tear gas. And still, a meeting was called with someone yelling, 'meeting in ten minutes near the road sign.' The meeting took place barely a few hundred meters from where the police stood, and it allowed us to decide on our course of action. [...] The police officers see you as a crowd and assume you're going to act like a crowd, The affinity group model disrupts that dynamic: you don't act like a crowd anymore but like a rational being."

With regards to property damage, for black blockers, the target is the message. Targets are often chosen for their symbolic value. “On principle, Black Blocs do not strike community centers, public libraries, the offices of women's committees or even small independent businesses.” While this may be true generally, the use of property destruction by some black blockers can cause problems, such as can be seen in the recent Berkeley protests, where people were protesting the death of Eric Garner and individuals came and broke the windows of a number of banks. This is deeply problematic as it took the attention off the death of Eric Garner and the larger issues surrounding police brutality against the black community, and put the attention on banks. Actions such as these can potentially create a space for the police to justify a crackdown on all protesters.

The fetishization of property destruction is a problem with the black bloc, as in some cases “violent direct action becomes a means for a would-be militant to affirm [their] political identity in the eyes of other militants. This makes it very tempting for that person to look down on and exclude those who do not equate radicalism with violence.” Yet, not all black blockers engage in this fetishization and are aware of the dangers, such as with a participant of the Quebec city black blocs who stated: “I have no patience for dogmatic pacifism, but there is also dogmatic violence, which sees violence as the only and only means to wage the struggle.” The protester Sofiane noted that “We don't advocate violence; it's not a program... Because you can easily acquire a taste for violence, you get used to it... But when it comes to doing militant work, not many people show up.”

Diversity of Tactics

However, there are solutions to the problem of those wanting to engage in direct action and others who want to peacefully protest that should be quoted at some length. Around 2000, there were a few mobilizations in which it was proposed that certain areas of a city be identified by colors in order to allow different types of protests simultaneously:

"This was done at the Reclaim the Street rally in London on June 18, 1999; at the first Global Day of Action called by the People's Global Action, an anti-capitalist network founded in Geneva in 1998 and close to the Zapatista rebels.[...] Color coding made it possible to distinguish among three separate marches: blue for the Black Bloc, accompanied by the Infernal Noise Brigade band; yellow for the Tute Bianche [a militant Italian social movement]; pink for the Pink and Silver Bloc."

The organization Convergence of Anti-Capitalist Struggles used a similar tactic at demonstrations in which there were three zones: green, yellow, and red. "The green zone was a sanctuary where demonstrators were, theoretically, in no danger of being arrested. The yellow zone was for those undertaking nonviolent civil disobedience and involved a minor risk of being arrested. The red zone was for protesters who were ready for more aggressive tactics, including skirmishes with the police."

This allowed for the concept of a diversity of tactics to be respected, as well as for protesters to have spaces where more or less militant tactics were accepted, all while maintaining the safety of peaceful protesters.

Though the debate surrounding property violence is the largest and loudest of all, there are other problems within black blocs such as sexism and accusations of alienating the working class.

With regards to sexism, many critics of black blocs argue that militant direct action “partakes of a macho mystique and does not encourage women to join in” and that expressing one's anger through destruction “simply [confirms] and [amplifies] aggressive masculinity.” Furthermore, the sexual division of labor is often reproduced, with a woman who took part in a number of black blocs in the 2012 Quebec student strike saying that it was women who often did the shopping “when fabric was needed to make flags and banners.”

Dupuis-Déri noted that the situation hadn't changed, writing that “more than a decade earlier, during a meeting to prepare a black bloc in Montreal, the men ended up in the backyard of an apartment honing their slingshot skills while the women were in the kitchen making Molotov cocktails.” Thus, masculinity is not only reproduced in many black bloc circles, but also creates a space that rejects the participation of women and devalues their labor and thus their importance to the movement.

Some argue that black blocs alienate the working-class “with their clothing and lifestyle choices, which are associated with the anarchist counterculture.” While some may argue that there are those in the working-class who support and take part in black blocs, it should be noted that these are not fully representative of the working-class; there is a lack of people of color and women and so the black blocs are more representative of the young, white working-class.

Black blocs tactics are divisive and create a large amount of tension, even within far-left circles. Many condemn black blockers as being nothing but hooligans who want to break things. But by unmasking who they are, one can better understand them and their tactics and ideas, even if one disagrees.

NOTE: does not in any shape or form support or encourage property destruction or other violent activities associated with the Black Bloc.

Black Bloc, Automen, Hands Up Don't Shoot, Michael Brown, Ferguson protests, Anti-Racist Action, Francis Dupuis-Déri, affinity groups, property destruction, diversity of tactics, Eric Garner, anti-police brutality protests

Buy Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs? | Buy Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs e-book | Back to Francis Dupuis-Déri's Author Page

Crashing the Party: A Review in Friends Journal

by J.E. McNeil
Friends Journal
June 1st, 2016

The author, a legal worker (non-lawyer) member of the National Lawyers Guild, stated early on that he proposed “to write about the legal and political events as both a firsthand participant and an objective observer.” From what I knew from various accounts—the press, the National Lawyers Guild’s, and my nephew’s (he had been arrested during the events in the book)—few, if any, of the participants in the horrific events surrounding the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., were “objective” about what happened.

But I was wrong. The book is a detailed, exacting retelling of the events before, during, and after—long after—the convention had left Philadelphia. It is a chilling story, well told. In it are many accounts of solidarity, betrayal, bravery, and brutality.

The basic story is about the groups who sought to protest many issues during and around the Republican gathering in Philadelphia in August 2000. Hermes notes that some of the actions had foreshadowing in the Seattle World Trade Organization protests. In those protests, the activists ably used various educational, street theater, and arrest-and-trial strategies as well as legal observers. And the government effectively used disinformation tactics, initially convincing the general public that the protests were largely led by violent, black-clad anarchists.

The alliances who sought to protest the convention spent more than a year planning and preparing—as did the police. The activists were spied upon, infiltrated, harassed, and eventually—in many cases before the events—arrested. In particular, the proposed peaceful street theater’s puppets, float, and banners were destroyed prior to the event, with everyone in the staging area arrested whether they were connected to it or not. The treatment of the activists by the police during the arrests and while in custody without bail hearings in jail was vicious. The criminal charges were outrageous violations of constitutional rights. People in authority lied and colluded. Eventually, 95 percent of those arrested were not convicted.

Many of the methods and strategies used by the activists will not be new to Friends, such as consensus decision making. Others will be things with which we are not in accord, such as “a pushback against the rigidity of ‘nonviolence.’” Hermes explains coherently the strategies of arrest solidarity, jail solidarity, and court solidarity as well. But he also includes mistakes and failures of the activists. He relates, for example, a story of activists robbed when they handed bail money to a young African American man whom they failed to vet as they normally would have. This event led to a discussion among the activists of the inherent racism in trusting people more because they are members of an oppressed class.

Hermes relates all of this in great detail, using transcripts, interviews, and media reports.
The book ends with his own analysis of the events and strategy and that of many of the other participants, by itself well worth reading. And clearly the events had several important results.

One result, and foremost for me, was the understanding at a new depth by the predominantly young, white, affluent protesters of just how horrible and racist the prison and justice system is in our country. Reading and hearing about something is very different from experiencing and witnessing it. Another result was the strengthening of direct action trends among young activists of color. As Kazembe Balagun, a SLAM (Student Liberation Action Movement) member noted: “direct action, done correctly, can foster solidarity across racial and gender lines, and that’s something we definitely learned.”

But even as some were radicalized, others such as Ryan Harvey, political activist and organizer, realized:

We have a lot of work to do, and most of it is not going to get done in the streets. It’s going to get done on the doorsteps, the libraries, the churches, the labor halls, the schools, the military bases, the parks, the prisons, the abortion clinics, the neighborhood associations, the PTAs.

Even if you do not share all of the beliefs of the activists, Crashing the Party is an important read for those who would like to understand the various anti-globalization actions before and since. Even if some of the political analysis leaves you cringing, Crashing the Party provides useful insights for peace work in our meetings. Even if you do not choose to engage in direct action or even protest, Crashing the Party is a revealing take about the dysfunction of our legal system, prison systems, and society.

We have a lot of work to do.

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


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