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World War 3 Illustrated: 1979-2014 -- The Best Collection of Radical Comics You May Ever Read

By Bill Berkowitz
Daily Kos
October 22nd, 2014

World War 3 Illustrated: 1979-2014 -- Thirty-Five Years of Bashing Stereotypes, Tearing Down Walls, Smashing Icons and Visionary Cartooning

In 1979, in the wake of a meltdown at Three Mile Island, the founding of the Moral Majority by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the murder of gay politician Harvey Milk in San Francisco’s City Hall, the Iranian hostage crisis, and the impending election of Ronald Reagan, Seth Tobocman and Peter Kuper, two art students at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, decided the time was ripe for an anti-war comic book.

In 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two guys from Cleveland, had revolutionized comic books with the publication of a story called “Superman: Champion of the Oppressed,” in Action Comics #1. Forty-one years later, Tobocman and Kuper, who grew up in Cleveland and knew each other since the first grade, were ready to create a home for political comics, graphics and stirring personal stories. 

Tobocman and Kuper constructed a relatively simple, yet monumentally difficult game plan: Develop an outlet for their own work that emphasized their politics; and, create a space for like-minded artists and politicos whose voices needed to be heard. And, of course, make enough money to keep the presses rolling.

“The undergrounds were mostly gone and the alternative movement didn't exist yet. Since we'd done zines, the idea of self-publishing wasn't remote. Beyond publishing our own work we also wanted to print work that moved us -- much of it was on the street posted on walls and lampposts,” Kuper said in a recent interview posted at comicbookresources.com. “It was work that was talking about our reality in 1979 with a hostage crisis in Iran, the Cold War in full swing and a B-actor about to have his itchy trigger-finger on the nuclear launch button.”

It is now thirty-five years later and the Oakland, California-based PM Press has just published a elaborately designed full-color anthology titled World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014 (PM Press, July 2014, 328 pages, $29.95). The collection contains creative, hard hitting, and issue-oriented content, covering such subjects as police brutality, feminism, the environment, religion, political prisoners, housing rights, globalization, and depictions of conflicts from the Middle East to the Midwest.

In their Editor’s note, Tobocman and Kuper point out that once they began publishing their magazine, “all sorts of people were drawn to that banner: punks, painters, graffiti writers, anarchists photojournalists, feminists, squatters, political prisoners, and people with AIDS.”

The comic book: From the 1930s through the golden age of the 60s & 70s

Flash back to the mid-1950s: Raye Ellen, one of my downstairs Bronx apartment building neighbors, set-up a comic-book lending library. The process was simple; file out an index card with your name, phone number and apartment number; choose the comic books you wanted to borrow; list them on your index card; and, take them home for up to two days. If you didn't return the comics on time, there’d be no more comics.

It's been a long time since I've been a dedicated a comic-book fan. These days, I read the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday Comics section and its two pages of comics just about every day.

Over the years, I've read and reviewed a handful of graphic novels and graphic journalism. The late Bob Callahan, who edited several cartoon anthologies, most notably The New Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Stories from Crumb to Clowes (2004), taught me a lot about the history and value of comics.

In his Introduction to The New Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Stories, Callahan discussed the rise of America’s comic book industry: “The current era in American comic-book history swung boldly into place one brilliant San Francisco morning the late 1960s when and odd-looking man [Robert Crumb] … began to sell his own self-published comic book, Zap Comix. …The comic book itself was only about thirty years old when Crumb came along and rearranged it.  

“The format first came to life in the 1930s, when the larger newspapers found a cheap way to repackage their most popular daily serials inside these new pulp pages.” The “real breakthrough” took place in 1938, “when a couple of Jewish American high school students from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster,” published Action Comics #1, which contained a story called “Superman: Champion of the Oppressed.” (For more, see “Superman Co-Creators

Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster Discuss The Man Of Steel’s Origins [Video]” @ http://comicsalliance.com/....) Siegel and Shuster began to create a series of adventure stories, which transformed the industry.

Comic books about fighting the Nazis and Japanese during World War II – read by millions heading off to war -- were a new development as “Over the years, the comics more often responded to the spirit of disorder  -- to the divine virtues Sedition, Anarchy and Mischievous – than to the need to put anybody’s house back in order.”

Many modern-day comic-book illustrators and writers stand on shoulders of  Harvey Kurtzman, who is known for his “pioneering antiwar stories,” and brilliant “send-ups and parodies that made MAD Magazine the most celebrated comic of all time. Kurtzman stood up against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch-hunts.

In 1954, The Comics Code Authority, a result from of almost daily newspaper tirades “connecting crime comics to juvenile delinquency,” led to publishers dumbing down the comic book. A seal on a comic book’s cover stating “Approved by the Comics Code Authority,” was aimed at protecting America’s youth from smut, profanity, obscenity, and/or communism. Comics were forced underground, and, according to Callahan, “it was twelve years … before open, smart, and adventurous comics surfaced again.”

By the mid-1960s, alternative newspapers across the country “threw open their doors to certain new and radical perspectives in art and politics.” From New York’s Lower East Side to San Francisco, from Crumb’s Zap Comix to artists such as Bill Griffith, Rick Griffin, Frank Stack, and Joel Beck, young artists and illustrators pursued their passion with a free hand and, well … an unbridled passion. Through the work of Justin Green, Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, Kim Deitch, Carol Tyler and Harvey Pekar, “the undergrounds discovered their own literary destiny.”  
Stan Lee’s brigade of Marvel superheroes, -- the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and so many others – led Marvel to “become the most popular comic book company in the world.” Art Spiegelman’s brilliant Maus, “which dealt with his father’s tortured memories of life in Hitler’s concentration camps,” won Spiegelman a Pulitzer Prize.

World War 3 Illustrated: “Honest and rowdy, boisterous and straight-forward”
Peter Kuper told comicbookresources.com that when he and Seth Tobocman arrived in New York, they “were still fans of comics and had become serious about creating them, but there were few venues to get our work published.”

Seth Tobocman was “spurred” on by the Iran hostage crisis: “I knew a lot of Iranian students who were at school with me. So I knew about how the Shah of Iran was put in by the US and how my Iranian friends were afraid of the Savak, the Iranian secret police, even while walking around NYC. So when the Shah fell and Iranians took over the US embassy, I understood why they did that. But for many Americans this was an outrage, like 9/11, and there was this wave of patriotic hysteria. So I felt, if all these ignorant people can express themselves, so could I. I decided to throw my hat in the ring.”

Both Kuper and Tobocman are accomplished artists. Kuper has produced more than 20 books and his work has been featured in Time, The New York Times, and MAD Magazine, for which he has written and illustrated SPY vs SPY since 1997. Tobocman is the author of five graphic books and he has participated in exhibitions at ABC No Rio, Exit Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014 is a beautifully crafted full-color anthology that is not solely politics: there are personal stories about life, death, love, hate, growth, stagnation, and the horrible loneliness of staking out positions you believe to be right.

Bill Ayers, the 1960s radical, co-founder of the Weather Underground, and a respected educator and author, who is perhaps best known for being the “pal” in Sarah Palin’s oft-repeated 2008 Presidential Election meme about Barack Obama “Palling around with terrorists,” writes in an Introduction titled “In Cahoots!”: “The artists of World War 3 have forged a space by turns harsh and exciting, honest and rowdy, boisterous and straight-forward, always powered by the wild and unruly harmonies of love. It’s a space where hope and history rhyme, where joy and justice meet. Their voices provoke and sooth and energize.”  

As you read through this strikingly designed book, one cannot can’t help but admire those many young, often obscure and struggling courageous comic book artists and cartoonists who, with unbridled passion, took on unpopular issues, bashed stereotypes, tore down walls, and smashed icons.

As Kuper and Tobocmen point out in their Editor’s note: “In many ways WW3 represents a microcosm of the type of society we’d like to see -- a place where people of various backgrounds, sexual orientations, and abilities pull together to create something that benefits the whole.”

With Iraq in chaos and the same tired and discredited voices trucked out by the mainstream media, a surveillance state run amok, income inequality continuing to  peak, prison privatization, climate change, unabated gun violence, and Tea Party madness, it’s important to have sharply honed, no bullshit, critical perspectives to mainstream blather. World War 3 Illustrated contributors, new and old, are now hard at work cooking up their next issue.

Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page




World War 3 Illustrated on Jewish Currents

By Nicholas Jahr
Jewish Currents
November 16th, 2014

I VAGUELY REMEMBER WORLD WAR 3. Growing up, I was dimly aware of it lurking behind sleek curves and rippling muscles, spandex and tights and capes, the glossy sheen coating it all. World War 3 was all hard angles and contorted bodies, fists and teeth and spraypaint and blood. It was a dispatch from another world, seemingly distant and yet too close for comfort, somehow a lot more immediate than the one right in my face, and screaming for my attention. These days the headlines have made it feel imminent. What better time than now to get it all between two covers.

World-War-3-show.inlineWorld War 3 kicked off in 1979, when two young cartoonists launched a sneak attack on Reagan’s America. Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman have been in the vanguard of the vanguard ever since, editing and contributing to the comics anthology they founded after coming to New York from Cleveland. They’re the radical Siegel and Shuster. Now PM Press has published a new collection, World War 3 Illustrated: 1979-2014. Whatever its flaws, it deserves a place on the shelves of anyone who gives a damn about comics or the political art of the last three decades.

“We didn’t begin WW3 with a formal manifesto,” the editors write in their introduction (entitled… “Manifesto”). It shows. There was no house style, no hard line to tow. Instead World War 3 called up a riot of styles, a frenzy of technique and imagery, a lot of brutal black-and-white and the occasional effusion of orgiastic color. The vernacular of mainstream comics was deployed in only the most perfunctory sense; recruits looked elsewhere, borrowing from many of the major trends of 20th century painting: Surrealism, Cubism, expressionism, woodcut, collage, photorealism, airbrush, graffiti… the list probably goes on.

Panel from Tobocman's

Panel from Tobocman’s “The World is Being RIpped”

Maybe it’s this adoption of techniques from more static forms which fosters an emphasis on the discrete image, the single panel (sometimes the whole page). If the simplifications of cartooning tend toward the iconic or an esculent abstraction, taken together these two tendencies can make some of the work feel static, as if the panels don’t relate to each other. But even when the panels are stronger than the pages, there are still images of intense power, not simply iconic in the sense that the many permutations of life are distilled into a single, more universal image, but also in the sense that those images convey values and ideas: they’re rallying points.

Relatedly, for self-professed radical artists, there’s very little experimentation in World War 3 with the basic grid, the flow of how a page of comics is read. Even if most of the contributors eschew strict representation to varying degrees, lining up with the 20th century avant-garde, they accept the same basic grammar used in mainstream comics. If it’s the one concession these revolutionaries paid to their ancien regime, its significance is arguable. Revolutionary content doesn’t always mean revolutionary form, of course, and the latter can winnow the audience for the former. At the same time it’s a reminder of how long its taken comics to mature as an art form, of its long and tortured adolescence (which has now seized the culture as a whole).

The collection is organized by topic (“Herstories”, “Autobiology”, “Biohazard”, “New World Empire”, you get the idea), which gives a sense of how consistent the group’s engagement has been on each front (very), although the scheme sacrifices any clear sense of progression and development (if there is one to be sussed out). If the analysis is occasionally simplistic, the agitprop is fiercely agitational. The collective has spent the last three decades drawing on the frontlines: struggles over equality, the environment, censorship, religion; the gentrification of New York City; the cancerous growth of the prison industrial-complex; the rolling catastrophe of U.S. foreign policy; the man-made disaster of Hurricane Katrina; the sheer insidious fear of the AIDS crisis.

But for fucking revolutionaries, the absence of pleasure, of actual orgies, of revolutionary fucking, is striking. We can muster only the No, not the Yes. You can’t help but think that this is the Left at a nadir: all critique and no program, no vision of a better world to rally around, to fight for. World War 3, of course, shouldn’t be blamed for the strategic confusion of contemporary left politics. Looking to comics to lead the way forward is asking a bit much.

 

WHAT CAN WE LOOK TO COMICS TO DO? Despite its maturation, the medium is still often perceived as innocent, as ‘kids stuff.’ Sure, that quality is in large part nothing more than a matter of perception — this is a medium which spent half a century catering to those kids — but it can still be useful. Readers still underestimate comics. And that means some styles can tunnel under their defenses and assumptions: people a viewer would write off on the nightly news become less foreign, more familiar; perspectives that would immediately be dismissed are given a hearing. Other styles make symbols plausible and systems apparent, even if the appeal is less to reason than to intuition. (Of course it doesn’t help if you’re only preaching to the converted, but transforming the system of distribution is another problem that goes beyond comics, and comics stores are not exactly known as hotbeds of left politics.) The artists of World War 3 get plenty of ammunition from both approaches.

Scott McCloud has reflected on the way comics depend on the participation of the reader:

Scott McCloud on Readers & Icons

Both instilling life in an icon and filling in the blanks between panels involve readers to an extent few other mediums rival. Comics are good terrain for political warfare because they force readers to do some of the fighting themselves.

 

BUT IS IT GOOD FOR THE JEWS? This is Jewish Currents, after all. “Promised Land?”, one of the volume’s penultimate sections, features contributions from all World War 3‘s longest-serving volunteers: Kuper, Tobocman, and Eric Drooker (who’s represented by a first-person essay accompanied by photos, so we’ll set it aside), along with Sabrina Jones. All four examine the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; all of them show off the possibilities of political comics.

Tobocman’s style is stripped down and iconic, and he uses it to conjure up the universal and systemic:

The transition from the round table in the fourth panel to the snake encircling the peace sign in the fifth to the calcified walls of the sixth gives the images a coherence they wouldn’t have separately. Nor would the text in the sixth panel (“AND WHEN ALL THE WALLS HAVE BEEN BUILT…”) hold up without the image that complements it. He gets across in eight panels ideas that others (myself included) have spent thousands of words communicating.

Jones pulls off the feat of conveying the physical and political geography of Jerusalem’s Old City in a single panel:

Art from Jones' comic

Panel from Sabrina Jones’ “Fear & firecrackers”

The history and veneration and segregation and suspicion and tension are all there in that one image.

Of the three, Kuper’s work comes closest to McCloud’s ideas:

It’s hard not to project yourself into the elation of Kuper’s first panel, to feel how crushed and diminished that sensation is by the end of the page. The ‘terrorists’ are just people he knows at work, and as you transition through the page (even if it doesn’t flow strictly panel-to-panel) you imagine knowing them too.

In different ways all three artists lead readers to see the humanity of people whose humanity is often dismissed.

The volume as a whole offers an implicit rebuttal to the persistent canard that ‘the Left’ (whoever that is, anymore) singles out Israel. There are dispatches from North Korea, Mexico, India; Jones is one of several contributors to take on the war in Iraq. Some will complain that the proportions are off; Kuper’s contribution begins with recollections of his first visit to Israel in 1969, at the age of 10. To the extent that Israel is given more attention, it’s due to a complicated sense of attachment, and of its importance to the world.

 

THE COLLECTION INCLUDES A TIMELINE OF THE WAR TO DATE, juxtaposing the major political events of the era with the history of the magazine and its contributors. Even after 300 pages, the omissions are striking: Where’s Steve Brodner at the 1988 Republican National Convention? No Brian Damage? None of the Eastern European contributors? No Stephen Kroninger? Not even David Wojnarowicz?! No Brad Will? Which makes the fact that the collection includes ten pages from Kuper’s (gorgeous) journal on the uprising in Oaxaca — given that his rich, gorgeous account received the deluxe treatment from PM in a separate 200-page hardcover — somewhat inexplicable. There’s still an impressive array of work to be found in these pages. Currents readers should recognize Spain, Tom Tomorrow, and of course Kuper himself (who has contributed small illustrations to The Nation, and is now the mastermind behind Mad‘s “Spy vs. Spy”). Everyone you don’t recognize is worth becoming familiar with.

This new collection is still indispensable until a better one comes along. You wish the early years were better represented, wish the cover gallery was full-scale, wish there was more material setting the work in context, wish there was more, wish we didn’t hear the distant echo of combat even in our own words, wish world war 3 didn’t feel so damn close at hand, but if it has to be, this is one of the books you want to have with you in the trenches.

Panel from Seth Tobocman's

Nicholas Jahr is a freelance writer and member of the editorial board of Jewish Currents.

Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page




New Forms of Worker Organization: A Review

By Stephen Campbell
Anthropology of Work Review
November 3rd, 2014

There has, in recent years, been no shortage of anthropologists framing their research in terms of precarity, which contextualizes precarious work within the social and human fallout of late 20th-century neoliberal restructuring.

Anthropological inquiries into the socially constitutive effects of neoliberalization or what might be seen as the creative outcomes of neoliberalism's creative destruction generally have been less explicit. It is in this vein that Immanuel Ness's recent edited volume, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism, emerges with particular relevance for anthropologists.

The book is a collection of globally dispersed case studies of workers' self-organization and collective action. Only one contributing author (Genese Marie Sodikoff) is an anthropologist; the remainder are mostly sociologists, political scientists, labor activists and organizers, and nongovernmental organization researchers. Nonetheless, the book advances an important thesis, which invites ethnographic inquiry from those whose research lies within the anthropology of work.

The foreword is written by radical labor historian Straughton Lynd, whose own writing on solidarity unionism informs some of following chapters. Ness, in his introduction, then situates the book's case studies within a global political-economic context of neoliberal restructuring, declining trade union density, and increasingly insecure working conditions. He adds a critical analysis of conventional trade unions (business unions) as characterized by hierarchical organizational structures; large, salaried bureaucracies; limited rank-and-file participation; an institutionalized negotiating role backed by state legislation; subordination to political parties; and a willingness to contractually renounce workers' right to strike in exchange for limited monetary concessions.

Against this conceptual backdrop, Ness presents the book's overall thesis. He argues that the neoliberal restructuring of employment relations variously implemented in countries around the world since the 1970s has, by undermining conventional trade unions, opened space for alternative indeed radical forms of workers' self-organization. Unlike conventional trade unions, such new forms of worker organization are characterized by flat organizational structures; direct rank-and-file decision making; autonomy from political parties; and a greater willingness to engage in strikes and other forms of (often extra-legal) direct action. In addition, the precarious working conditions resulting from neoliberalization have, Ness argues, incited workers to take collective action, which is now increasingly pursued outside of conventional trade unions.

The book's subsequent chapters serve as evidence, making this thesis globally relevant. Ness has brought together a group of authors able to illustrate worker responses in Argentina, Australia, China, Colombia, India, Italy, Madagascar, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Global diversity is one of the book's strengths, as it avoids a myopic focus on Euro-American deindustrialization. Instead, readers are able to compare and contrast forms of workers' self-organization in different kinds of societies in widely separated parts of the world. For example, in China's expanding industrial belt, Au Loong-Yu and Bai Ruixue explain how workers have come to see the state-controlled All China Federation of Trade Unions as ineffectual and irrelevant to improving their work situation. Chinese industrial workers have thus repeatedly bypassed their official union in order to engage in protests against privatization, and in wildcat strikes for higher wages and improved working conditions. In the United States' fast food industry, Erik Forman illustrates how low wages and despotic management practices have stimulated the reemergence of the Industrial Workers of the World, a militant, rank-and-file union that initially gained prominence as a radical force among precarious workers a century ago. In South Africa's postapartheid mining industry, Shawn Hattingh describes how workers' anger over precarious working conditions, persistent racism by management, and prison-like labor regimes has fueled wildcat strikes and sit-ins at most mines in the country since 2009.

There is, however, some ambiguity in these case studies when referred back to the introductory framing. Specifically, Ness writes that new forms of worker organization in both the global North and South have adopted an explicitly revolutionary agenda (11) and envision a world without capitalism (2). This ideological orientation is, to be sure, evident for organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World in the United States (chapter 11) and in the United Kingdom (chapter 12), or for Sweden's anarcho-syndicalist Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation (chapter 9). However, in other cases included in the book, such as those from China (chapter 2), Russia (chapter 3), India (chapter 4), and Madagascar (chapter 6), evidence for an explicitly revolutionary anticapitalist agenda among the workers involved is not presented.

In some ways, of course, any workers' strike has revolutionary implications. But if syndicalism necessarily entails a revolutionary agenda, are rank-and-file workers' struggles which fall short of articulating such an agenda perhaps syndicalist-like, but not syndicalist per se? And if so, under what circumstances and through what processes do the workers involved in such struggles shift toward a consciously revolutionary position? The point may be moot where workers are, in any case, engaged in militant, self-organized struggles. But for anthropologists concerned with the relationship between patterns of practice and the meanings generated by and for the agents enacting them, the questions become relevant. New Forms of Worker Organization will be of interest to anthropologists, and particularly anthropologists of work not necessarily by resolving these questions, but by raising them and stimulating further ethnographic inquiry. The book thus merits the attention of anthropologists, both as social analysts and as education workers facing neoliberal restructuring in their own academic institutions.

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

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Towards Collective Liberation reviewed on Fellowship of Reconciliation

By Moira Birss
Fellowship of Reconciliation
November 2014

For those of us participating in the struggle to bring about systemic change, but who come from places of gender, racial, or economic privilege, Chris Crass’ Towards Collective Liberation provides a guide, based on the author’s years of experience as an organizer and activist plus interviews with others.

I first met Crass nine years ago, when I had just moved to San Francisco after college and was looking to plug into the activist world there. Our paths only crossed occasionally, but I remember Chris would always engage me in challenging yet gentle conversations about my activism and how I was learning and growing from it.

So it came as no surprise in the book that Chris’ organizing philosophy is based on praxis – and not just with relation to feminism, as the subtitle might suggest. He writes, “I believe in a praxis-based organizing approach in which we develop our analysis and strategy through a process that combines education, practice, reflection, and synthesis, so that our ideas and practices are evolving.” By learning from others, admitting and analyzing our mistakes, and incorporating those lessons back into our work, we as individuals and as collectives transform ourselves and the world. And Chris regularly reminds us of the importance of this constant transformation, because, “If systems of domination are interconnected, then systems of liberation are also interconnected.”

Part of what makes the book so special and accessible is how honest and vulnerable Chris gets about the development of his praxis-based approach – and all the stumbling and mistakes he has made along the way. This particularly struck me in the chapters on feminism and anti-racism. Chris openly admits his personal struggle in recognizing, admitting, and learning to deal with his own sexism and racism. “It was terrifying,” he describes, “because I could handle denouncing patriarchy and calling out other men from time to time, but to be honest about my own sexism, to connect political analysis/practice to my own emotional/psychological process, and to be vulnerable is scary.”

Similarly, he writes about confronting the ways he has benefited from white privilege. But Chris doesn’t just leave us despairing about these systems of oppression; he gives us ideas and tools for transformation. He offers ways white radicals can talk about and work on racism with each other, and dedicates a chapter to tools for men to confront patriarchy.

Chris also charts his experiences in collectives, like Food Not Bombs in San Francisco in the ‘90s. We see the tensions, contradictions, and learning that happened, which can inform future organizing and activism. His interviews at the book’s end serve a similar purpose, providing concrete examples of how activists and collectives have faced such challenges.

In addition to the personal insights, Chris bases his analysis on the long history of radical thinking, with a particular focus on writings by women and people of color. One thing I wished for is an annotated bibliography or reading list of the cited works. After all, we need all the tools we can get for the massive work of collectively transforming ourselves and the world.

But despite the obstacles, Chris leaves us with hope. As he writes: “I have hope because there is a radical vision of love at the heart of our movement and it is growing.”

Moira Birss serves as the Colombia project representative in North America for Peace Brigades International. She previously served for two years on the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Colombia Peace Presence team (now FOR Peace Presence), and earlier as a FOR Freeman Fellow. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




The Cost of Lunch, Etc on Rain Taxi

By George Longenecker
Rain Taxi
November 2014

In short stories, the reader has only a few pages to identify with the protagonist. This means that effective short stories require strong characters, concise plots, and memorable settings. It also means that it can be difficult for a novelist to make the shift to short fiction.  Happily, Marge Piercy has succeeded admirably with the twenty well-crafted tales in The Cost of Lunch, Etc., her first short story collection.

A prolific novelist, poet, and memoirist, Piercy’s books include Woman on the Edge of Time, Gone to Soldiers, and The Hunger Moon. As in poetry, short fiction involves working within a limited space, and Piercy uses the skills she has earned as a poet to craft rich, succinct stories with quirky characters and layered imagery.

Each story in The Cost of Lunch, Etc. has a female protagonist. Some are also partly autobiographical, such as “She’s Dying He Said,” in which Jewish heritage is central to Marah, who survives childhood German measles and rheumatic fever thanks to a hamsa, an upraised hand with an eye in the palm that wards off demons.  Marah says she has it to this day:

I said I could not abandon the name my Hannah (grandmother) had given me when everyone said I was dying and had given up on me—except her. I honor her with the Hebrew name of bitterness that she gave me so the angel of death would pass on. . . . I lived and grew up to write about her and many others whose stories would otherwise be lost. (39, 44)

In “Saving Mother from Herself,” Piercy writes of a hoarder, patronized by her children, who think her home is a rat’s warren of trash.  With a television crew they descend on her to clean out her prized possessions: 

They couldn’t understand how much pleasure I took in saving money and protecting good things that might otherwise end up in the dump. (17) How would you like a bunch of strangers to invade your house, take three-quarters of your possessions away, tell you what you’re supposed to think and feel? (19)

“What Remains” shows Piercy’s mastery of imagery. It’s a poignant tale of loss and redemption. The protagonist takes her dying sister’s “…peacock vase . . . a platter in the shape of a fish, her silverware.” Then, only reluctantly, she also accepts her sister’s cats. Despite her hesitance to take them, the surviving sister ultimately realizes that the cats bring her some solace from her grief: “I think she knew what she was doing when she bequeathed me her cats.” (73)

The book’s paragraphs are concise and poetic. Each sentence is purposeful, enhancing the setting and action. If Piercy’s characters make you weep, it’s because they’re so real. Having now written in every genre, she has shown that she is as capable with the short story as she is with novels and poetry.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Marge Piercy's Author Page


Photo Essay: Speaking OUT Brings Queer Youth Experience Into Focus

Ravishly

"Straight? No. Gay? No. Those words don't feel right. They aren't Me. B:? Closer, but still not me. Queer . . . . . . . YES! I'm Queer! That's Me!"

So writes one of the subjects in Speaking Out: Queer Youth In Focus, a photographic collection featuring snapshots of more than 65 young people, ages 14 to 24, identifying as queer (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning). The photos, set against an objective white background, only tell part of the story, though; in the handwritten musings of the subjects, the picture becomes clearer, bringing the experience of these youth—as the title suggests—into sharp and illuminating focus.

The book, released earlier this month, was produced by award-winning photographer Rachelle Lee Smith, with a foreword by Candace Gingrich, an LGBTQ activist and the brother of Newt, and an afterword by Graeme Taylor, who a 14, famously challenged his school board for not defending gay rights.

Its photos have been appeared in Advocate and Out, and been spotlighted by the Human Rights Campaign, NPR and the U.S. Department of Education. Seven of the photos, provided courtesy of PM Press, appear below. Like what you see? Buy the book here.




Fuse Book Review: “Stealing All Transmissions” — How The Clash Conquered America

By Adam Ellsworth
Arts Fuse
November 3rd, 2014

Books about the Clash are typically weighty affairs. Oral history coffee table book The Clash is nearly 400 pages and tips the scales at approximately five pounds. Chris Salewicz’s Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer is more than 600 pages long, while Marcus Gray’s Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling focuses primarily on just one album and still tops out around 500 pages.

And then on the other end of the spectrum there’s the new Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of the Clash by Randal Doane. Discounting its foreword, notes, and index, the tome is only a shade more than 130 pages in length but pound for pound, it’s one of the best things anyone has ever written about the group. It’s at least in the same league as the brilliant Route 19 Revisited.

“This is the story of how The Clash loved America, and how America loved them back,” Doane writes in the book’s opening pages.

Really, Stealing All Transmissions is more centered on New York City than the country as a whole, though that’s no tragedy. NYC was the center of American punk, so it’s only right that a book about the greatest of all the British punk bands (not to mention the greatest of all the punk bands period) should concentrate there. Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon are all given their proper due by Doane for the role they played in their own stateside popularity, but where this telling of the tale is more original is the author’s highlighting of the deejays and music journalists who helped out along the way.

“Serendipity rarely simply happened,” Doane writes of the Clash’s U.S. success. “It needed nurturing from doting figures in retail, print, and on the radio.”

Those doting figures included deejays Meg Griffin and Joe Piasek and freeform New York City FM radio stations WNEW and WPIX. At a time when most stations were playing the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, it was these stations and deejays that went in the other direction and broadcast the sound of punk and new wave across the five boroughs. “Stealing all transmissions” indeed.

Credit is also given to “The Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau, who at the time was writing for the Village Voice. Not only did Christgau champion the Clash’s debut album, he also informed his readers where in the city they could buy it (the legendary Bleecker Bob’s) long before it was officially released in this country, thus helping to make The Clash the best-selling import record in U.S. history.

The efforts of these characters and others were undoubtedly successful and as Doane states, this meant the Clash had a larger American audience straight out of the gate than most British punk and punk-inspired bands of the late ’70s As a result, the band played their first New York City shows—in February, and again in September, 1979—at the prestigious Palladium, while other groups, including the Police, had to start out at smaller nightclub venues. Stealing All Transmissions pays special attention to the group’s second and third New York/Palladium shows, held September 20 and 21, for at least two important reasons: 1) the September 21 show was broadcast live on WNEW, one of the stations instrumental in breaking the band in the city, and 2) it was at one of these shows that arguably the most famous rock and roll photograph of all time was taken—Pennie Smith’s iconic shot of Paul Simonon smashing his bass on the stage, which would be used as the cover of the group’s classic third album, London Calling.

When was this iconic photograph of The Clash’s Paul Simonon taken?

So, at which of these two shows was the photo taken? While history has long recorded the date as September 21, Doane makes a convincing case that perhaps history has been wrong all these years. And though it doesn’t necessarily “matter” when the picture was taken, if Doane’s hypothesis is correct then there’s some new and interesting context to consider when looking at the legendary image.

In addition to the novel angle of the work and its bass-smashing revelations, Stealing All Transmissions is also finely written, although it does at times read more like a long academic journal article than a book (Doane’s day job is assistant dean at Oberlin College, so perhaps this is inevitable). Regardless, this style never takes away from the content itself, so it’s only barely worth mentioning. Stealing’s only true bum note comes when Doane offers a “cinematic” interpretation of London Calling. He rightfully points out that the double record is not a concept album, and then he offers a reading of it that presents the group “as a single, peripatetic protagonist, wandering the avenues and alleys of London and New York, picking up stories and sounds in al fresco cafes, in movies in Times Square, and behind barricades in Brixton.” This reading is forced and incomplete. It’s also unnecessary. London Calling is what it is, and there’s no need for a storyline to be placed on it, even if that storyline is only there to point at larger truths.

Excluding this one weak spot, Stealing All Transmissions is a wonder of a book. Slim, yes, but nearly every page is filled with insight and originality. It sets a high bar for the many more volumes that will undoubtedly be written about the Clash in the years ahead.

Adam Ellsworth is a writer, journalist, and amateur professional rock and roll historian. His writing on rock music has appeared on the websites YNE Magazine, KevChino.com, Online Music Reviews, and Metronome Review. His non-rock writing has appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, on Wakefield Patch, and elsewhere. Adam has a MS in Journalism from Boston University and a BA in Literature from American University. He grew up in Western Massachusetts, and currently lives with his wife in a suburb of Boston. You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamlz24.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Randal Doane's Author Page




Anarchy, Geography, and Modernity: A Glimpse into the Depth of Anarchism

By Sasha
Earth First! Newswire
October 18th, 2014


A new edition of Elisée Reclus’s works, Anarchy, Geography, Modernity, edited by the illustrious duo of John Clark and Camille Martin, provides a captivating introduction to the great anarchist’s life and works. This book will drive its readers into the most solitary spaces of reflection—whether the ocean’s rocky shoreline, the forest’s wild expanse, or the deepest reaches of the imagination. It provides a vital touchstone of time and place, a refraction that sheds light on our own ways of seeing the world.

Reclus has long been an understudied figure in the history of anarchism, so the first part of the book, taken up by Clark’s biography of Reclus, seems a welcome first step. A close friend of Bakunin and Kropotkin, it was Reclus who helped rescue, edit, and publish Bakunin’s final and greatest text, God and State. Reclus was among the insurrectionary anarchists exiled from France after participating in the Paris Commune of 1871. Reclus is also one of the greatest, most admired geographers in the world. Ever. With aspirational and voluminous texts on the world and its peoples, Reclus achieved a great milestone in the struggle to liberate scholarship from eurocentric confines.

Clark’s distillation of the major thinker’s oeuvre elicits a generous respect. A world traveler and generous intellect, Reclus carefully observed the ideas and behaviors of what he called “eco-regions” and their specific environs, contributing key insights for the growing understanding not only of environmental sciences and geography, but their effect on human societies—all during an era obsessed with progress and industry.

“Nature is for [Reclus] always an active presence, both encompassing humanity and remaining in intimate dialectical interaction with humanity throughout history,” Clark notes. In his careful reflections on Reclus’s life work, including the 19-volume The Earth and Its Inhabitants, Clark presents to the reader a deep engagement with the “convergence of reason, passion, and imagination—logos, eros, and poesis.” For its soft-spoken nature, which resonates from deep contemplation to romantic gestures of grandeur, this sort of radical thought affords the deepest contemplation on the problems with which Reclus engaged, as they ring true to this day.

This particular edition’s selection of Reclus’s work centers around Reclus’s critique of modern states and the dialectics of civilization and savagery. “A century ago,” Clark comments, “Reclus had already presciently announced an intensifying crisis of the city and diagnosed the crisis as only a symptom of the larger crisis of society.” With regards to the polis, Reclus writes, “the political unity [ensemble politique] of the social body was as simple, as undivided and as well-defined as was the unity of the individual himself.” The city becomes a performance of practical reason (Aristotle’s phronesis), as it actuates the gathering of individuals for the betterment of society. “[It] is in this sense that one must, like Aristotle, consider the human being to be par excellence the zoon politikon: the ‘urban animal,’ the participant [le part-prenant] in the organic city [la cité organique] (and not merely the ‘political animal’ as it is usually translated).” With this deeply philosophical reflection on organic politics in mind, Reclus developed the notion of eco-regions, providing significant insight into wilderness and distinct environments of other continents, finding models of organic political societies outside of and degraded by European thought.

With this introduction into European thought of ecoregions or bioregions, Reclus seeks an “evolution” of the modern nation-states beyond an unhealthy, pathological obsession with “progress.” The city, as an organic production or performance of reason, brings human society together in a political life of equality, liberty, mutual aid, and free association, but the corruption of political cunning inverts socio-organic independence, and transforms the city against nature into a divided state manifested through overconsumption and war. “It is only the free man—who of his own accord joins his strength with that of other men acting out of their own will—who has the right to disavow the mistakes or misdeeds of his so-called companions.

He takes responsibility only for himself.” As those “united with a single will” rise up against the master “so that they may be assured from that moment on of their bread and liberty,” revolution of the “free man” will liberate humanity through its growing sense of solidarity into an organic system of self-management.

As Clark notes, by today’s standards Reclus’s gendered language overshadows his activism for women’s rights and against patriarchy, but the editors’ decision to retain the atavistic lingo preserves a sense of confusing and contradictory time and place in fidelity, perhaps, to the text. For Reclus, “every new city immediately constitutes, by its configuration of dwellings, a collective organism,” and it is difficult to see how gender, race, and other identity-forming factors figure in that organism. On the one hand, it could be similar to a “historical bloc,” which is not only a collection of ideologies, but an “organic body,” according to influential leftist thinker Antonio Gramsci. On the other hand, the more mainstream socialist view promoted by Arthur Tansley of the collective unconscious as eminently connected to the ecological surrounds (i.e., the development of the concept of the “ecosystem”) might help construct a view of the possible “collective organism.” To bring things more up to date, one wants through Reclus to return to Bookchin’s ideas of social ecology and his later municipalism, and redefine radical approaches to politics by escaping the sectarianism and condemnations of the ultra-left and returning to the common ground of solidarity. But it’s not that easy; none of these trends and tendencies encompass the enormity of Reclus’s comprehensive thought.

In a way, Anarchy, Geography, Modernity goes “back to basics,” although Reclus is certainly not in favor of a homogenous approach to society. One tribute that Reclus pays to civilization is that the “civilized” maintains a “greater complexity of the elements that enter into its formation.” At the same time, the industrial cities “draped with a funeral veil” of smog appear to us far from “a future state of well-being and beauty” (both requisites for Aristotle’s organic polity), because the modern state “has to adapt to its bad environment, and in order to function, it must do so in a pathological way.” In this sense, “progress” takes on the form of degenerate habits, while the “thousands of tribes and other ethnic groupings, lumped together under the name ‘savages’ by haughty ‘civilized’ people… at least [have] the advantage of being coherent and consistent with [their] ideals.”

We have in Reclus not only a model academic and scholar compelled by field work to both the darkest and most luminous of critiques, but an anarchist and insurrectionary whose connections to other noteworthy anarchists opens up a broader understanding of anarchist perspectives on ecology. The effect is to produce a networked realization of the meaning of anarchist thought over time—not just its outcome, but its contemplative processes (what one may associate with phronesis), its relationship to the classical Aristotelian understandings of the polis and the political that throws into question the weight of philosophy that prefigured but fell short of the great anarchist ideal.

Sasha has been with the EF! Journal Collective since 2009ish, and helped found the Newswire. He has a new book out through AK Press called Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to John Clark's Editor Page | Back to Camille Martin's Editor Page




Talking Anarchy Review

By Kathy Labriola
https://sites.google.com/site/kathylabriolacom/talking-anarchy
November 2014

I rarely write book reviews, but this book got me so excited I just had to share my enthusiasm! This compact little PM Press book is essentially an extended conversation between two amazing British anarchist writers, editors, and activists. Weighing in at just 165 pages, it is jam-packed with anarchist history, events, and  ideas, and is the one book I would give to anyone who wants to understand what anarchism is all about.

Colin Ward was a working-class kid who dropped out of school at age 15 in 1939, and was quickly drafted by the British Army during World War II. During the war, he happened upon an anarchist bookshop and became a lifelong anarchist, editing the anarchist journal “Freedom” and eventually founding the journal “Anarchy” which he edited for decades. He was a tireless anarchist speaker and writer, eventually writing 30 books on the subject. David Goodway is a British social and cultural historian whose best-known book is “Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow.”  He had the opportunity to interview Colin Ward at length, over a period of months, just before Ward's death in 2010 at the age of 86. Talking Anarchy is the result of those interviews, published in the US earlier this year. Goodway also mentions in the book his conversion to anarchism due to being exposed to “anarchist propaganda” in a left-wing bookstore. This should be a strong reminder to us all of the importance of anarchist infoshops and bookstores and of anarchist publications such as Slingshot that spread these ideas far and wide.

Despite being a card-carrying anarchist since 1968, I have successfully avoided reading Kropotkin, Bakunin, Read, Bookchin, and all the other anarchist heavyweights. I  am embarrassed to confess that I always found them tedious and maddeningly abstract and irrelevant to present-day reality. Ward's take on anarchism is refreshingly practical and tied to our current challenges of creating meaningful work, affordable housing, useful and child-centric education and child-care, building meaningful community, and doing effective political organizing.

Ward emphasizes the importance of tenants taking control of their buildings, of students and parents organizing for more humane and relevant education, and for alternative forms of work such as worker co-ops and individuals working independently rather than for an employer. He sees all these as ways of living our anarchist beliefs by demonstrating that people can create the forms of organization that they need and can empower themselves to be in charge of their lives on as many fronts as possible without coercion or guidance from an authoritarian state. For instance, he talks about the importance of individuals and groups of people in cities growing as much of our own food as possible, providing for ourselves and being more food self-sufficient. All such self-help and mutual aid projects prove that anarchism works, that people at a individual and/or local level are competent to decide what our communities need, and then create our own ways to meet those needs. His approach seems very focused on putting anarchist practices into action to solve the lief-threatening problems created by capitalism and imperialism. In another example, he says that squatting vacant buildings shows the irrational and barbaric nature of capitalism, a system that allows housing to sit vacant while people are homeless and freezing in the streets, and that people can take action to house themselves.

Of particular interest to me, as a deranged  militant feminist, are Ward and Goodway's discussion of the historical importance of anarchists, from Emma Goldman to Alex Comfort and many others, in challenging and successfully overturning the sexist and sex-negative attitudes and laws in Britain, in advocating for the right to birth control, abortion, sexual freedom, and equality for women. Ward reminds us that people today cannot even imagine the rigid and suffocating sexual repression,  ignorance, and rigid sex roles of compulsory heterosexual marriage that were the rule as recently as the early 1960's.  They emphasize the dramatic changes that have occurred  in a very short time, and the role that anarchists have played in fighting for equal rights for women and for sexual freedom for all. They both see the rights of each person to control their bodies, their sex lives, and their relationship choices as core anarchist values, because people are competent to create their own relationships, families, and communities without direction or restriction from the state.

And Ward talks extensively about the central role women have played in founding and sustaining anarchist organizations in the UK. He notes that women often do the constant, unglamorous, and usually unpaid work of producing publications, distributing literature, staffing bookstores, handling mailings, organizing meetings and events, and raising funds. Interestingly, he stresses the importance of  community-building and friendship networks in building and maintaining any political movement, and that this relational work of keeping people connected and creating strong relationships is usually done by women, while too often the men pontificate and fight amongst themselves.  

Ward quotes frequently throughout the book from many anarchist writers, some totally fascinating and exciting stuff! Some of the books he quotes are from the usual suspects, but many were from books and anarchists I had never even heard of. Ironically, despite my afore-mentioned aversion to anarchist theory, by the time I finished the book, I had jotted down a long list of anarchist books that I intend to read!


Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to the David Goodway's Author Page | Back to Colin Ward's Author Page




An Alternative History of Rock’s Most Iconic Photograph

By Kathy Shaidle
PJ Lifestyle
November 17th, 2014

See Part 1 in Kathy Shaidle’s series exploring punk rock here: How the Sex Pistols Made History by Lying About It

Let’s get this out of the way:

Randal Doane is an assistant dean at Oberlin.

Politics aside (and he doesn’t shove it up your nose), this means you’ll trip over academic, culture-critic jargon — “codes” and “gestures” abound; “Eros” crashes the party — while otherwise enjoying his new book, Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash.

And there’s a lot to enjoy.

Stealing distills one fan’s decades of wide reading, deep listening, and just plain thinking into a multi-faceted gem.

In the hands of a less skillful writer, this book would feel like an out-of-your-league sexual pass, an awkward attempt to squeeze too many topics — the evolution of punk music (along with the etymology of the word); the rise and fall of AM and FM radio; the underground scenes in New York and California, to name but three — between only two (virtual) covers.

Somehow, though, Stealing works, distinguishing itself from similar titles by piling on plenty of original insights; for one thing (a bit like the recent How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll), this book explores how the medium changes the message — that is, how the technology we employ to consume music alters music itself, along with the culture at large.

(To cite a particularly cliched example: The LP made it easier to have sex to music, as one didn’t have to leap up to change the record, or worry that a radio DJ might ruin the mood with the wrong selection. How many children were conceived as Frank Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers spun away on the other side of the room– besides me, that is — I couldn’t begin to guess.)

Doane also demonstrates, in pointillistic detail, how a tiny band of now-forgotten local DJs championed (today we’d say “curated”) punk, and “broke” The Clash and other English bands in America.

In doing so, he reveals what we lost when that free-form radio format was killed off.

(P.S. — A note about audio that follows throughout: These interviews with Joe Strummer were recently uploaded to YouTube by HazyRock.com. While the date is unknown, they seem to correspond roughly to the “early days” period Doane focuses on in his book.)

Barry Auguste and the band’s Renault, 1978

But first, Doane hands over the reigns to The Clash’s long time (that is, seven-year) self-described “backline roadie, loyal foot soldier and eminence grise,” Barry Auguste.

“The Baker,” as he’s better known, is also a natural writer (who doesn’t update his blog often enough).

In that spirit, his foreword to Stealing All Transmissions is too short, but most of the band’s fans would say that even if it clocked in at 50,000 words.

(Perhaps he’ll follow in road manager Johnny Green’s footsteps and put out a memoir some day…)

Here, August writes:

This story, the one in your hands, comes as a delightful surprise (…) After reading this tale, I stand corrected: I thought only I knew where the bodies were buried.

Stealing All Transmissions is the first history of The Clash by an American, and it lovingly documents — as Doane notes — how “The Clash fell in love with America, and how American loved them back.” It’s unlike anything else you’ve ever read about The Clash (…) it situates [the story] amid larger cultural and economic forces in the U.S. (…)

It was only upon reading Stealing that I realized that nothing happens in a vacuum: many people were tilling the soil to make America a fertile environment for the arrival of “the only English band that mattered.”

Silk-screened, parodied and even, in 2009, stuck on an official UK postage stamp (above), Pennie Smith’s photo of Paul Simonon smashing his bass at New York’s Palladium on September 21, 1978, is one of those few pop culture artifacts entitled to wear that over-used adjective “iconic.”

In Stealing All Transmissions, however, Doane questions the standard-issue story behind the image.

Before it graced the cover of The Clash’s late-1979 double album London Calling, the photograph had been one of many Smith compiled in her instant-classic book, The Clash: Before and After.

All four band members contributed (often hilarious) captions, and were asked to situate the images in time and space as best they could, since Smith categorized her contact sheets “by tour and year only.”

Joe Strummer confidently dated the Simonon photo September 21, the band’s second of two nights at the Palladium.

Now, few of us are wholly reliable narrators of our own lives, but Strummer in particular couldn’t always be taken at face value.

Like all created entities, The Clash were prone to deliberate or accidental confusion when it came to manufacturing their mythology.

The trouble, Doane writes, is that the September 21 concert was broadcast live by one of those supportive local radio stations mentioned above, WNEW.

And surviving recordings of the DJs’ before-and-after concert banter don’t indicate that anything particularly unusual took place.

Furthermore, Simonon had little to be annoyed about that second night.

The first show, however, was another matter.

On this night, The Clash were aware that they stood at the crossroads of rock history. The band had just laid down the final tracks for London Calling, a double album they had put together largely on their own. Brimming with confidence, The Clash drew on their advance to finance this tour, despite the fact that Give ‘Em Enough Rope, their second album, had failed to crack the U.S. Billboard Top 100.

The Clash were nearly $100,000 in arrears and in a week would run out of money.

Also that night, they were frustrated — not for the first or last time — by a venue’s rigid staging seating: always top-of-mind concerns for the fan-centric band.

In subsequent interviews, Simonon highlighted the problem of separating the real fans from the stage by an orchestra pit full of press, and affirmed the band’s commitment to having fans up against the stage. During a two-night residency, such problems could be fixed.

Indeed, on night two at the Palladium, thanks to some strong-arming and work-arounds by The
Baker and Green, fans were back in their rightful place, front and center.

Other issues had been resolved, too, including the matter of overzealous bouncers.

It seems, though, that one bouncer’s behavior on Night #1 was the imputus for Simonon to go, as Doane puts it, “momentarily mental.”

…as you can see from the cover of this book, a squat bouncer crosses downstage right to upstage right, in pursuit of an unruly female fan. [Guitarist Mick] Jones, alertly, stepped in and whisked her off to safety.

That instance of managerial man-handling was what finally shoved an already frustrated Simonon over the edge.

Somebody owes this unknown bouncer a belated thank-you note.

When The Clash chose Smith’s photo for their next album cover, she objected at first.

For one thing, it’s out of focus.

(Fearing Simonon’s wrath that night, she’d held out her camera toward him and blindly snapped while she was backing out of his way.)
Other objections could have been raised at the time:

For one thing, if you’re going to put your group’s best looking member on an album cover, why choose a photograph in which he is not only unrecognizable, but has seemingly devolved into some kind of lumpy, deformed potato-primate hybrid?

With that broken instrument and all, is The Clash telling us to stop making music, after telling us to start, two records ago?

Are they telling us they’re quitting?

Luckily, no such second-guessing took place, or if it did, it obviously didn’t matter in the end.
Anyway, there’s much more to Stealing All Transmissions than this geek-level detective work.
Doane is particularly good at comparing yesterday’s media landscape (and fan-scape) to today’s — and the future’s, in which books like his probably won’t exist:

[F]ew bands coming of age in the past ten years have been subject to the lengthy profiles and features that characterized the rock press in the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s. (…) (In our youth, we poured over the album reviews, looking for just the right combination of adjectives and analogies — “low fi,” “the Velvets” — as we prepared for our next trip to Tower Records.) (…)

In turn, it is difficult to imagine, in the near future, a writer devoting the time to compile a five-hundred-and-twenty-four-page biography on a contemporary band or artist (see Marcus Gray’s The Clash: Return of the Last Gang in Town), for neither the raw materials nor the audience for such a project will exist. With digital screens and digital audio players, we read differently — and we listen differently.)

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Randal Doane's Author Page



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