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A Blaze in the Desert: A Review

By Rebecca Townesend
Socialist Review
July/August 2017

A Blaze in a Desert is a slim volume of selected poems by Victor Serge. Serge was a revolutionary and writer who witnessed many of the great political highs and terrible lows in the first half of the 20th century.

He was inspired by the revolution and arrived in Russia in January 1919, shortly afterwards joining the Bolshevik Party. He consistently opposed Stalin and was exiled.

I approached this volume not knowing much about his life and works and I am sure that those with a more detailed knowledge would experience these poems differently.

However I would encourage anyone to spend some time with this collection. There are notes and essays that accompany the poems, which include a broad chronology and some interesting details about Serge’s relationship to poetry.

The poems reflect a life filled with challenging political and personal circumstances. They are beautiful and often suffused with strong feelings of great sadness, aching and longing and he moves from anger, sorrow and grief to love, occasionally displaying flashes of wry humour.

The collection is in three parts. Resistance includes poems generally written by Serge “during the period of deportation that he spent in Orenburg (1933-36)”. His original dedication to the poems in Messages is included. He wrote from Mexico City in 1946 that he dedicated them to “my surviving friends and comrades from the black years and to our dead, too numerous to name”. The final part, Mains/Hands is just one poem and it is his final one.

Throughout the poems there are lots of references to his comrades and friends and their often tragic stories, which are referred to in the notes. One such figure is Jacques Mesnil, who died “fleeing the Nazis during the fall of France”. Serge writes of him, “His emaciated face bore the marks of a great, dogged/ courage.”

He specifically takes on the Moscow Trials in his poem “Confessions”. In it he rages at “this confession of an insane degeneration/ this fall into darkness”.

What is most special about his poetry for me is his commitment to continue to struggle, and write. He writes in “People of the Ural” in 1935, “Let’s get to work so that one day a passerby might see/ in the lines taking form at this moment/ patches of a clearing sky I cannot see in them”.

Ultimately, whatever deep sorrow at loss, both personal and political, that is contained within these poems, I am hanging onto lines from “Constellation of Dead Brothers”. This poem was written in 1935 and the book’s title is drawn from it: “The ardent voyage continues/ the course is set on good hope”.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Victor Serge's Author Page | Back to James Brook's Translator Page

A Blaze in the Desert: A Review

By Allan Graybeard
July 2017

 The writings of Victor Serge, well translated into English, comprise a unique library essential to understanding the fate of anti-capitalist revolution in Europe in the 20th century – from its early struggles and rare successes, to its tragic and bloody defeats. Some seven novels, six nonfiction studies, and six books of articles reveal a man, both player and witness, caught up in a history that, in large and small measure, influenced the formation of our world. Ever seeking to preserve for the individual the freedom to create, Serge also turned to poetry, which he wrote with clarity, lyricism, and poignancy. As much true to his time as to his own needs as a man, husband, father, and comrade, his poetry resonates, often piercingly so. And now we have this new translation, which gathers together the poems from the only such book published in his lifetime, Resistance (1938), along with an unpublished 1946 manuscript, Messages, and the last poem he wrote before he died in a Mexico City taxi in 1947, “Hands” –– an elegy of depth and feeling.

The first section of this book records Serge’s experience as a victim of Stalinist repression. Formerly a committed if critical Bolshevik related on his mother’s side to Maxim Gorky, whom he meets and comes to know, Serge sides with the communist international, becoming a journalist for them. Expelled from the party in 1928 for opposing the concentration of power that led to Stalin’s ascendancy, he is condemned some five years later to internal exile in a work camp near the Urals. There he ekes out a life for himself and his son, and sometimes his visiting wife who suffers from insanity. Unwilling to recant his opposition to Stalin, the brutal bureaucracy he directs and its repressive aesthetic of socialist realism – which would have enabled him to seek salaried work even then under duress -- Serge portrays in the poem, “Frontier,” the state of his world: a “terrestrial abyss deeper than the stellar abyss” where “a strange crimson beast” runs “spurred on by all the earth’s suffering.” This violent, near-mythic image, true enough to its historical moment to stand for an analogue, does not prevent Serge from depicting quite human subjects as in the poems “Old Woman” and “Just Four Girls.” A portrait of the Kurdish town of “Tiflis,” with its “women in red dresses, a little donkey ambling/down the back street of the Maidan,” shifts to the distant mountainous horizon, which offers Serge visual and moral access to “fertile continents of consent and refusal!” -- the very place Serge inhabits and which, despite his hope, encircles him.

The near-mythic and human, reciprocally interactive, sometimes in balance, sometimes not, is a counterpoint that Serge uses throughout this book. With it, he is able to contextualize our presence, our cultures, and the immense deforming, political pressures that we and they endure. In “Tete a Tete,” the cumulative effect of his condemnation and exile, from an ideology turned rabid, become transparent in the most intimate way, with this admission: “Sane as I am, there are moments when I feel I’m going mad…” I cannot believe that Serge wrote this lightly.

By 1936, because of his stature in France as a writer and translator of Russian literature, including leading contemporary poets, a majority of whom the regime will crush, Serge is freed, the result of organized international protests and the intervention of Andre Gide and Roman Rolland––the latter directly with Stalin. Serge returns to France and the language of his birth in Belgium as a known critic of Stalinist abuses. Of course, he is marginalized by the communist party’s control over cultural media. The poem “Sunday,” from 1939, chronicles the end of that period and the ironic and desperate air in Paris just prior to the German invasion. With that invasion and victory, Serge flees on foot to Marseilles. There he meets Varian Fry and works with Fry’s Emergency Rescue Committee to aid antifascist refugees. The poem “Marseilles” captures the scene with the immediacy and expansiveness that Serge expresses so well: “Planet without visas, without money, without compass/great empty sky without comets/The
Son of Man has nowhere left to lay his head….”

When Fry rents a villa near the city for refugees, Serge goes to live there along with a retinue of leading Surrealists, including Andre Breton and Benjamin Peret. Other Surrealists are frequent guests. Although Serge recognizes in Surrealism a vivacious, radical current, he also keeps his distance, identifying it as less of a revolutionary movement than a literary one.

In 1941, Serge and his son Vlady find passage on the last boat to leave Marseilles for the Americas, with several of those same Surrealists he lived with and hundreds of other political refugees on board. The poem “Out at Sea” depicts the voyage from war-torn Europe and what would become a year-long absence from his companion, Laurette Sejourne: “Can it be that I am already fifty—with this all-consuming/black gold in my veins, this gold for you, this gold for/life?” The question pivots abruptly as he faces himself: “My past lives, torn to shreds, snap behind me in the trade/winds/like tattered flags.”

The boat arrives in Martinique where Serge and his son are interned in a former barracks for the quarantined ill. Serge continues to write, with one poem from that moment, “The rats are leaving…”: a fierce attack against the rich whose sole purpose is to secure and enjoy their wealth and hubris, whatever the political cost: “fat gray rats, rich treacherous rats that think/they’re great conquerors.” Serge counterpoints the moral plague they carry with the forbearance and strength that he and his friends possess and without which they might very well have given up or more simply be dead as so many others, known and unknown: “See,” he tells us, “even the plague can’t drive us to despair.”

Sometime thereafter, through the support of writer Dwight MacDonald in New York and other exiled Spanish comrades of note, Serge and his son are given asylum in Mexico by the Cardenas government. He quickly learns to love the country and its people, rejuvenated by the landscape, its vibrant cultures, and the legacy of the Mexican revolution.

His past, however, never leaves him. Stalinist agents slander him in the press while he lives in poverty, ever writing his novels as war rages. I will not go into the poems born in that temporal space here; rather, I leave them to you as poems not to be missed.

Translator James Brook has done valiant service in making this book available with the verve and elegance Serge’s poems deserve. A Blaze in the Desert: Selected Poems by Victor Serge revives a rare presence whose voice, for this reader––despite the travails that marked his life––sings.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Victor Serge's Author Page | Back to James Brook's Translator Page

Against Doom: A Review

By Nick Kuzmack
July 18th 2017

If humanity is to have a future, it needs a strategy to combat the threat of climate change. The threat of climate change is overwhelming and even now we are only beginning to grasp its effects on our fragile world. Before the election of President Trump, it seemed that humanity was willfully strolling its way to a climate catastrophe.

Although agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement offer loose frameworks to transition to a fossil fuel free civilization, this historic agreement falls short of a binding resolution. Admittingly, it’s a vocal show that the world is waking up to its greatest challenge, but the agreement is vague in its promise to stall the rising of world temperatures to and over 2C from pre-industrial revolution levels and certain climate catastrophe. Now, after the election, and the United States recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, it seems our future is on the brink of disaster. In his new book Against Doom, author Jeremy Brecher provides the outline for a strategy to move forward.

Against Doom is sort of a manifesto. It covers a wide arrange of ideas and is broken up into two sections: The first highlights a growing global insurgency against forces that seek to cause climate catastrophe. While the second outlines bold struggles to combat the threat of climate change. Brecher discusses examples of resistance that spans the world, the shortcomings of the Paris Climate Agreement and the importance of grassroots people power against the fossil fuel industry. One example Brecher highlights are the protests led by low-income, predominately African-American residents in Albany, New York, against the highly volatile “bomb trains” (fuel trains) that run through their neighborhoods. In this Brecher provides an analysis on this community’s grassroots, non-violent resistance—specifically community outreach, and mutual support and civil disobedience— toward inconveniencing the fossil fuel industry in their neighborhood.

The second section of Against Doom, Brecher proposes bold strategies to tackle climate change. This includes a fossil fuel freeze which implements a halt on all new fossil fuel infrastructures, plans to turn public opinion against the fossil fuel industry and challenging hopelessness with action. One of Brecher’s proposals is to utilize existing political forces to erode and ultimately challenge the legality of continuously using fossil fuels. He touches on an idea called the “Public Trust’—a proposal where the world, its resources and its wonders belong to humanity as a whole and not just a select few. Brecher backs this argument with examples of disobedience and legal challenges that have been won and subsequently put a check on the fossil fuel industry. Although, Brecher points out some success, he emphasizes that those wishing to conduct direct action should be prepared for the consequences—for better or worse.

In Against Doom, Brecher ties complex strategies for a just transition to a sustainable civilization that seeks broad cooperation from diverse organizations and groups. This book is a great read, alongside other works that dive deeper into the roots behind ecological injustice and climate change. Brecher stresses the importance of the responsibility of change at the feet of the people, not the government’s.

The ideas proposed emphasis a peaceful resistance against the fossil fuel industry. I wonder how long a peaceful resistance can hold out against the imposing super structure of the fossil fuel industry. That being said, Against Doom does not promise or outline an easy fix. Make no mistake, the odds stacked against doom are incredible. They are not, however, impossible to overcome. Brecher provides an analysis of growing awareness toward climate change and, in some cases, a willingness to act for a just future across the board.

Hopefully if these—and other— solutions are carried out, humanity will likely see a globally strong force of climate warriors, who will guide our species away from certain disaster. Though these methods of transition reveal that humanity will witness drastic changes and possible losses, to much of what we take for granted, if these solutions are carefully acted upon, we may still see a brighter tomorrow and a world worthy of being rebuilt and cared for by our fragile species. Consider Against Doom as a supplementary guide, filled with hope, to that future.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Jeremy Brecher Author Page

The Explosion of Deferred Dreams: A Review

By David Rovics
Socialism and Democracy Journal
August 2017

California native, veteran musician, philosopher and revolutionary Mat Callahan covers a lot of ground in his new book about the tumultuous decade of 1965–75 in the San Francisco Bay Area. As an anti-establishment musician who did not live through that period in any meaningful way (I was born in 1967), I was especially enthralled by Callahan’s critique of the corporate music industry, and the years during which it attempted to understand the musical insurgency that was taking place – and to figure out how to control and make immense profits from it.

As Callahan recounts, the music industry was ultimately mostly successful in its efforts. But it took years, and the story of this struggle is a fascinating one. Looking at the era from afar, mostly through the distorted lens of the corporate media’s distillations of the period, it is impossible to understand the renaissance and resistance that was taking place, and how tied-in music was to the social movements of the day. So Callahan’s book is a much needed, as well as clearly exhaustively researched, retelling and repositioning of an important story.

For years, a battle was being waged on the streets of the Bay Area and indeed in many other parts of the US, Canada and elsewhere, over what were seen by many people involved as fundamental questions about music, and about society more broadly. Who really creates it? Who owns it? Who should profit from it? Did Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Sly and the Family Stone really write those songs, or were they more like the conduits, the musical expression of the interracial, cross-class, militant social movements coalescing in that part of the world at that time?

As Callahan explains, there was a pervasive understanding among many people there then that the new, mold-breaking, tribal music scene was itself a revolutionary phenomenon. What was often pejoratively referred to by media and politicians as the infantile behavior of spoiled children – involving sexual openness, mind-expanding drugs, and very loud music – was itself a sort of insurgency. On top of that, quite a bit of the music from the aforementioned bands, among many others, was explicitly political – anti-war, anti-racist, and in favor of good things, things that flew in the face of the bombing raids in Vietnam and police violence at home – dangerous, unsettling ideas like peace and love.

So then, what may appear to future or far-away eyes very odd developments – such as thousands of people regularly laying siege to events featuring their favorite bands on the basis that these events were not free, and should be – start to make perfect sense. This was a people’s movement, this music came out of the movement, and the movement involves holding massive, free events – as it very regularly did, throughout the period, in the parks of San Francisco, Berkeley, and elsewhere. The prevailing attitude was, sure, the musicians need to make a living, too. But not by doing these exclusive events organized by “hip capitalists” like Bill Graham.

In response to this new, genre-smashing music scene, the music industry that dominated things like national distribution of records had to make significant adjustments in order to eventually ride this bull. For a time, for these bands, the industry developed a much more tolerant orientation towards things like bands writing their own songs, producing their own records, recording them in San Francisco rather than in LA or New York, under their own musical terms, with 11-minute-long songs if they wanted, saying what they wanted, radically political or not. For a time, it was OK to be a black musician playing psychedelic music, or for a band to be neither “rhythm and blues” nor “rock and roll” – code words created by the music industry to racially segregate the music. Now it became possible for a popular band to be – gasp – interracial.

Ultimately, the music business largely returned to its pre-insurgency model of doing business, with more or less rigid musical genres, with pop stars cultivated by record labels and told what to record, with any- thing overtly political once again being treated as a novelty, rarely to be promoted by the record labels. But the cultural renaissance of this period had a far-reaching impact that is still felt today – though often not consciously, for people under the age of 50. If enough people read this book, that impact will become stronger, and better understood.

Buy Explosion of Deferred Dreams now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Mat Callahan's page

Totalitopia in Locus Magazine

Locus Magazine
July 2017

John Crowley’s Totalitopia is the latest in PM Press’s ongoing series of wine-flight samplers of some of the most interesting political and speculative writers, and in Crowley’s case any new material is attention-getting: his ‘‘collected stories’’ in Novelties and Souvenirs back in 2004 amounted to only 15 stories, and there have prob- ably been fewer than a half-dozen stories since. Fortunately, Totalitopia does offer one previously unpublished story, ‘‘This Is Our Town’’, and, as we might expect, it’s a gorgeously written piece that negotiates with genre only obliquely. Its narrator is a woman recalling several months of her Catholic childhood in 1953 in Timber Town, which, we are told in the very first line, ‘‘can be found in a book called This is Our Town, which is part of the ‘Faith and Freedom’ series of readers’’ published by Ginn and Company in 1953. That book is real enough – I looked it up – but whether Crowley’s version of Timber Town has anything at all in common with it is suspect. The point is that Crowley’s story appears to be narrated by a character from a children’s religious book, who as a child talked with her guardian angel, but who as an adult ‘‘lived in many places, and things happened to me that I could not even have known were possible in the world.’’ The blurred lines between the world of the children’s book and the world of the narrator’s life reflect the blurred lines of innocence and experience that any coming-of-age story concerns, and Crowley plays the devotional tone of the narrator’s youthful optimism like a master violinist.

The most straightforward SF story here is ‘‘Gone’’, a rather waggish alien invasion tale in which the aliens, called ‘‘elmers,’’ simply show up offering to do household tasks like washing dishes or mowing the lawn, but ominously expecting the recipient of these services to sign a cryptic message, ‘‘ALL ALL RIGHT WITH LOVE AFTERWARDS.’’ For veteran SF readers, this inevitably evokes Damon Knight’s ‘‘To Serve Man’’, but Crowley has something quite a bit more subtle and character-oriented in mind. ‘‘And Go Like This’’ is a brief fantasia on Buckminster Fuller’s old claim that the entire population of the world in 1963 could t indoors in New York City, and ‘‘In the Tom Mix Museum’’ is an even briefer bit of tall-tale nostalgia. Of the three essays, the title piece ‘‘Totalitopia’’ is an interesting speculation which begin with the provocative suggestion that the best way to imagine the future is by simply reversing ‘‘the reigning assumptions about what the future was likely to hold,’’ with some insightful comments on Huxley, Orwell, and Zamyatin, while ‘‘Everything that Rises’’ considers the future from another perspective, that of the Russian ‘‘cosmists’’ and in particular the philosopher Nikolai Federov.

‘‘Paul Park’s Hidden Worlds’’ is an appreciative overview of that author’s work from the early fantasy-tinged SF of the Starbridge Chronicles, through the Princess of Roumania series, to the family fantasia of All Those Vanished Engines. As is usual in the PM series, the book is rounded out by a bibliography and an irreverent interview by Terry Bisson.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to John Crowley's Page

Climate Activists Must Devise Global Strategy to Challenge Power of Fossil Fuel Industry

Between the Lines
July 5th, 2017

Interview with Jeremy Brecher, writer, documentary film maker, longtime labor and climate activist and author, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen HERE

Media coverage of climate change and related policy issues spiked after Donald Trump announced on June 1 that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, to which every nation on earth had signed onto, with the exception of Syria and Nicaragua.

One effort to bring various theories into alignment and unite disparate aspects of the climate movement is a new book by veteran writer and labor activist Jeremy Brecher. Titled, "Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual," Brecher's book is accompanied by webinars and a free Read/Discuss/Act Guide, a collaboration with the climate group and the Labor Network for Sustainability, of which he is a co-founder.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Brecher about the climate emergency we find ourselves in, and the creative explosion of activism being organized to address it. Here, he discusses the importance of weaving together many strands of the climate movement – mass nonviolent direct action, freezing fossil fuel infrastructure, public trust, and just transition – into a global strategic framework.

For more information, visit Jeremy Brecher's website at

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Jeremy Brecher Author Page

The Uncivil Servant: An International Poetry Tour

By Mitchell Abidor
Jewish Currents

"...THANKS TO THE LABORS of occasional Blog-Shmog contributor Richard Greeman, the great Belgian-born revolutionary and writer Victor Serge has become an important figure, not just in politics, but in literature. Reprints of his novels appear with regularity, and his classic Memoirs of a Revolutionary remains an essential text for understanding the struggles of the first half of the 20th century.

Now, thanks to Bay Area poet and translator James Brook’s brilliant and fluid translation of Serge’s two collections of poetry in the volume A Blaze in a Desert (PM Press, 2017, 192 pages), this least-known and vastly underappreciated element of the Serge oeuvre will hopefully reach a wide audience.

Much of the poetry was written when Serge was detained in the Urals for his anti-Stalin activity, conditions hardly propitious for poetry. But along with the beauty of the poetry written under such horrific conditions — with his descriptions of his surroundings, of “Kurdish women in red dresses, a little donkey ambling/down the back street of the Maidan,/ chance colors, their capricious fits of sleep, their waking/ amid the bazaar’s shifting arabesques…” — what strikes the reader is the warmth and sympathy Serge feels, not just for his fellow prisoners, but for those living in this forbidding area. There are, for example, the four girls who “wade gaily into the water to ford the Ural,/ the sparkling, shimmering, life-giving water./ The water grasps the firm calves of these walkers from the /edge of the steppes,/ and invisible caressing hand discreetly/ takes their knees, then a brisk coolness/ wed their legs and rises to brush their secret flesh…”.

Even in Orenburg, cut off from family, friends, politics, and literature, Serge is an intellectual, referring to Holderlin and Freud, quoting Baudelaire, citing the Paris Commune and the bloodiest events of the French Revolution. But what haunts him above all, as it would in the articles he wrote, is the fate of his comrades, the men and women who made the Bolshevik Revolution, then were imprisoned and murdered by Stalin and his henchmen. The first of his volumes of poetry was dedicated to twelve of them by name, and the second was dedicated “in loyalty to my surviving friends and comrades from the black years and to our dead, too numerous to name.”

His collective name for these opponents of Stalinism was the lovely “constellation of dead brothers,” and as early as 1928 he recognized, in a poem written before his imprisonment, “Farewell, everything is ending, world, brothers, plains,/ eyes,/ snow, cities, stars,/ International…”

The poems collected here were written in Russia, in Marseille, on the high seas, and in the Dominican Republic, where he made a brief halt until his final exile in Mexico, where he produced beautiful appreciations of what he didn’t know would be his final home and where he would be buried.

Serge was a man of broad human sympathies, a man who sincerely appreciated the beauty of the people he met and the places he inhabited. He was defeated but never crushed. Poetry occupies a small place in his oeuvre, but in James Brook’s translations, it is an important one."

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Victor Serge's Author Page | Back to James Brook's Translator Page

If You're Going To San Francisco Be Sure to Disregard All That Happened There

Originally posted on The California Historical Society
By Mat Callahan
June 21st, 2017

Familiarity with a trivial pop tune should not be mistaken for historical knowledge. If we want to understand why any song becomes popular or what it signified when it first was heard, we need to know both the social and political events surrounding its publication as well as what music, in general, was undergoing at the time. In the case of, “If You’re Going To San Francisco”, the song is musically and lyrically unlike what was emerging from San Francisco in 1967. Treacly and maudlin, melodically; stilted and doctrinaire, lyrically, the song was penned by Jon Phillips, produced by Lou Adler and it reeked of its Los Angeles origins from that day to this.

In this context, LA is not a city with its own vibrant culture, but the citadel of power for the entertainment business in the Western World, more particularly, the music industry component of that imperial beast. In fact-as opposed to “myth” or contrived “legend”-young people in SF at the time of the song’s release (May, 1967), especially among musicians such as this author, held the song in utter contempt and viewed its rise up the charts as one more example of the media manipulation of which the “straights” running big record companies were masters. The song bore no resemblance whatsoever to the music made by the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Country Joe and the Fish or myriad other local bands that were part of the first wave of Sixties SF music. Indeed, the song didn’t even resemble, musically or lyrically, the music of LA’s Byrds or New York’s Lovin’ Spoonful-two groups who had had a real influence on SF’s burgeoning music scene.

Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965–1970 is the fourth Nuggets box set released by Rhino Records.

Fortunately, for both history and music, we have Alec Palao’s wonderful “Love is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970”, book and accompanying cds, to provide evidence of what actually occurred. This fine compilation opens and closes with what could legitimately claim to be a theme song of the era, “Get Together” by Dino Valenti. (the definitive version, by the Youngbloods, closes the collection and was in very wide circulation in the Bay Area in 1967). More significantly, it documents the broad range of musical styles characteristic of the time and place-none sounding anything like “If You’re Going to San Francisco.”  Just to mention a few: The Sons of Champlin’s “1982-A” is an r&b manifesto as funky and groovy as anything made in Motown or Memphis. Sly and the Family Stone’s first recorded foray, “Underdog”, foretells the brilliant melding of diverse elements by a group that would ultimately epitomize the highest hopes and steepest decline of a generation determined to change the world. And who could mistake the striking contrast between Mother Earth’s  soulful evocation of “Revolution” and the syrupy banality of “San Francisco?”

No, the record is clear for those who seek it but this nonetheless has not prevented the music industry, in combination with rock journalism and the Tourist Bureau, from making the song “San Francisco” a “classic” and “iconic” of the Sixties. Along with “Summer of Love” it has been repeated so often that the undiscerning mistake it for historical fact. Misled by these imposters and hucksters, one enters a theme park whose astro-turf Eden overlays a cemetery wherein are buried the bones of dead warriors, the dreams of a better world and the dedicated effort of millions of people to achieve undeniably noble aims. It is not for nothing that these lies and distortions of historical fact are created and perpetuated. It is to ensure that there is never again a movement of such size and strength that it could threaten to topple the tyrants who rule America and much of the world. It is to ensure that the actual people and the work they did are erased from history.

If we seek to explain the larger phenomenon of the Sixties and its ramifications in San Francisco, then we have to understand not only the sequence of events that impelled Phillips and Adler to compose an advertising jingle for their festival-the Monterey Pop Festival-but what made music the motive and the means for so many young people and how, as a result, this made music itself subversive. The phenomenon can be briefly summarized as a synthesis of diversity, unity and liberation; qualities of thought and experience being expressed in the music people listened to several nights a week, for years on end, in venues such as the Fillmore, the Avalon, the Panhandle and the Polo Fields (in Golden Gate Park). On a regular basis, artists such as Rahsaan Roland Kirk shared the stage with the likes of the Grateful Dead. Routinely, musicians like Bola Sete performed alongside Country Joe and the Fish, Herbie Hancock was featured with Taj Mahal and Malo and bills including Dr. John, The Charlatans and Thelonius Monk became the norm, thereby breaking down all the barriers which had been systematically erected by the music industry.

This accounts for a generation learning to love and exalt music, above and beyond all formal categories, as an oracle of truth. This audience in turn inspired a renaissance which was itself a threat to established norms in the United States-business norms, ethical and cultural norms, even legal norms (especially noise ordinances, liquor laws and age-restrictions) which had greatly hampered music’s delivery to people below the legal drinking age and those interested in dancing. What is thereby forgotten is that music was not viewed as entertainment but as an enlightening substance and unifying activity undefiled by commercial exploitation or the ravages of consumerism. Of course, such views were anathema to the system which would ultimately “restore order” including the reversal of every gain, artistic or political, made during the Sixties. This was achieved not only through bribery and cajolery-otherwise known as co-optation-but through brute repression. Artists as diverse as Phil Ochs, Buffy St. Marie, the Last Poets and the Fugs, all suffered government repression, as documented in books such as Eric Nuzum’s “Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America” and Richie Unterberger’s “Turn!Turn! Turn!”

Anti-Vietnam war demonstrators fill Fulton Street in San Francisco on April 15, 1967. The five-mile march through the city will end with a peace rally at Kezar Stadium. In the background is San Francisco City Hall. (AP Photo)

Similarly, and perhaps of even greater historical significance, were the social movements and organizations that flourished at precisely the same time, in the same place. Musical breakthroughs in the Bay Area were to a large extent made possible by the enthusiastic appreciation of audiences among whom were many people engaged directly or indirectly in opposition to the Vietnam War, support of Black Liberation and advancing the struggle of the United Farmworkers. Not only were thousands of young people mobilized along these battlelines, locally, but organizations such as the Black Panther Party, were gaining international notoriety at the very moment the hype and hoopla surrounding Monterey Pop reached its peak. Indeed, if one considers the widespread attention San Francisco was no doubt receiving from the world’s media (not to mention the rapidly proliferating  underground press) there was as much, if not more, attention paid to these political movements and organizations than to their ostensibly hedonistic counterparts in pop culture. The portrayal, therefore, of hippy-dippy, flower children escaping in a drug-induced haze of narcissistic reality-denial, is no more than wishful thinking on the part of the Powers That Be, represented at the time by governor, The image persists, in part, because it’s the image the system wished its opposition consisted of. Of course it did not, and that’s what needs to be examined.

To begin with, the youthful forces of opposition were far more diverse than the image conveys, including black, Chicano, Asian and Native American youth, all of whom were familiar with basic concepts such as the system, the movement, consciousness and liberation. What the Panthers, Farmworkers, Diggers, and other groups could count on was that these terms were the basis for serious discussion and, sometimes, unified action. Certainly, by the time “If You’re Going to San Francisco” was released, these were the concerns of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young people and were given powerful expression in marches, demonstrations and occupations, as well as genuinely popular festivals such as the Summer Solstice celebration in Golden Gate Park that followed four days after Monterey Pop. Nor can it be forgotten that only a year before, the Artists Liberation Front had launched a series of Free Fairs, in various San Francisco neighborhoods that were catalysts for community initiative and people’s participation in the arts. The fact that these Free Fairs were punctuated by the police killing of a young black resident of San Francisco’s Hunters Point, Matthew Johnson, sparking a four day riot in the city, followed shortly thereafter by the founding of the Black Panther Party across the Bay in Oakland, gives some idea of the intensity of activity and the social interconnections that were its very fabric. These, in broad strokes, are a small sampling of the quality and quantity of a popular upheaval that was what one song attempted to usurp.

Hunter’s Point residents during confrontation with police violence, September 1966. Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library. Via ShapingSF.

It is above all necessary, therefore, to reject the nostrums of nostalgia, such as “If You’re Going to San Francisco”, in order to more fully appreciate, indeed to enjoy, the many illuminating and inspiring works of the real San Francisco in the Sixties. These works include diverse expressions from murals, posters and comic book art, from street theater to modern dance, from experimental electronic music to latin rock. Much is still available on recordings, in books and on the internet. In order to separate the phony the factual, however, it’s a good idea to maintain a finely-tuned bullshit detector.


About the author

Mat Callahan is a musician and author originally from San Francisco, where he founded Komotion International. He is the author of three books, Sex, Death & the Angry Young Man, Testimony, and The Trouble with Music as well as the editor of Songs of Freedom: The James Connolly Songbook. His most recent book is The Explosion of Deferred Dreams: Musical Renaissance and Social Revolution in San Francisco, 1965–1975He currently resides in Bern, Switzerland.

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This Father's Day, Recognizing the Dads Who are Left Out, Locked Up and Fighting For Their Families

By Brooke Anderson
In These Times
June 16th, 2017

For dads in the crosshairs of systemic oppression, the work of parenting often goes underappreciated.

Every Father’s Day, we’re barraged by commercials encouraging us to show our love for Dad by buying him that shiny new barbecue grill the one with “infrared burners” and “flame-stabilizing grids.”

However, beyond the television advertisements and hallmark cards are real dads just trying to do right by their kids, for whom bathtime and bedtime matter more than beer or barbecues. For many, their parenting often goes unseen, underappreciated or is made more difficult by the system. Among them are teen dads, single papas and houseless fathers. They are fathers grieving children lost to police violence, fathers separated from their kids by border walls or prison cells, and queer, transgender and gender non-conforming parents.

This Father’s Day, meet four all-star dads who’ve gone to exceptional lengths for their kids, parenting from prison cells and homeless shelters, while doing groundbreaking and visionary work in their communities to empower fathers and strengthen families.


Andrew Lucero sits at his desk, decorated by his kids’ art, at Fathers and Families of San Joaquin in Stockton, California.

Andrew Lucero, a father of two (Haley, 13, and Little Andrew, 10), spent five years of his children’s lives incarcerated. “Inside the system, you parent from a one-hour, once-a-month visit with armed guards who won’t let you hug your kids. Putting the burden on your family to make $20 calls is no joke, so you have to use those wisely,” Lucero recalls. “My son wrote me a letter saying, ‘Dad, I miss you. I went to school today. I played. I made me a sandwich. Dad, I’m sorry. I’ll be a good boy if you come home, Dad.’ It’s hard to read that locked in a cell knowing your son thinks it’s his fault that you’re gone. You want to cook dinner for them, tuck them into bed, take them to school, but you can’t.”

After release, having a felony creates additional barriers to getting a job and accessing food stamps and housing assistance. Lucero says his felony even barred him from going on his kids’ field trips. “We’re not just felons. We’re fathers,” he said. “We’re family members. We’re friends. There’s more to us than this little box.”

Lucero now works at Fathers and Families of San Joaquin (FFSJ) in Stockton, California. FFSJ supports formerly incarcerated adults to rejoin their families and communities. In fact, Lucero was the first person in the county to serve as an AB 109 reentry case manager while still on parole. FFSJ’s Trauma Recovery Program provides clinical services to victims of violence and sexual abuse. Additionally, they run several youth programs and serve two hot meals four days a week to dozens of elders. “We focus on culturally rooted healing,” says Lucero. “We call it cultural cura (culture cures), so we look to our indigenous ways honoring the four directions, sitting in a circle, blowing the horn.”

“Sometimes you don’t feel like Father’s Day is meant for someone who comes from the hood, who’s been in prison. You google “happy families” and it’s folks with picket fences,” says Lucero. “I may not live in a mansion or have a 401(k). I don’t drive a Lexus. My kids ain’t in private school. But I’m prideful that I’m a good father and helping my community.”


Phillip Standing Bear looks on as his daughter, Cheyanne, shows off her incoming teeth at a park in Sacramento, California.

Phillip Standing Bear, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, is raising six-year-old Cheyanne alone. He says, “She’s the sunshine of my life. She has her struggles, but I love the hell out of her. She doesn’t see evil in the world. She’s different from me; all I’ve seen is evil.”

Being a single father and finding housing on disability hasn't always been easy. “For a while we went hotel to hotel. Then a church gave us a trailer,” he said. “Now we’re staying with friends, but we’re five people in a one-bedroom house. It’s okay, but she needs her own space.”

Standing Bear is an activist with Poor Magazine, a poor and indigenous peoples-led grassroots media, arts, education and advocacy organization in the Bay Area. “I wrote stories on landlessness and homelessness, because I’ve been through it most of my life. All these parks, golf courses and private properties could be used for housing. During the Super Bowl, if you even looked homeless, the cops arrested you, took your tent. It was tragic. The city could’ve spent the money to build something for the homeless, but they spent it on [wealthier neighborhoods] Yerba Buena, Embarcadero and the Mission.”

“Fathers are important. I never had mine in my life,” he says. “I try my best to make sure she’s happy, well fed, and has somewhere to sleep until I get it all sorted out.”


Willie Beal Jr. enjoys time with his sons, Noah and Isiah, after bath time at his home in Oakland, California.

Willie Beal Jr. is a father of four whose story of eviction and homelessness is all-too-familiar in the Bay Area: “You be doing all the right things and they still make it hard on you. You’re working, barely getting by, barely able to feed your kids, pay your bills,” he said. “We had a slumlord. There were gas leaks. We complained to codes and compliance but the landlord wouldn't fix nothing even though we were paying. When we got a little behind on rent, he evicted us.”

Beal’s family was left homeless for two years. He, his mom, his girlfriend and their four kids all lived out of their car while Beal went to work every day. Other times, they stayed in shelters or with friends. The son of legendary Bay Area housing activist Ms. Paula Beal, Willie Beal is no stranger to speaking at city hall or rallies to advocate for his family and others. While homeless, he and his family even occupied the Oakland Mayor’s office to try to get help.

In March, they finally moved into an apartment of their own. Asked what is best about having their own place, Beal says, “This. Just bathtime and these kids bothering me.” Once they get on their feet, Beal says he wants to open a center for families to get help with housing and jobs.


Tomas Moniz displays his books in a coffee shop in San Francisco, California.

Tomas Moniz is a father of three grown children and author of Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Fatherhood and Rad Families: A Celebration. Moniz had his first child at the age of 20. “It was the greatest dumbest mistake I ever made,” he jokes. “I started Rad Dad when I was looking for community as a father of a teenager who was beginning to push the boundaries on drugs, an instance of porn. I was looking for a different way to parent than the way I was parented by my father, which was very traditional, silent, shaming.”

In Rad Dad, Moniz lifts up the stories of fathers often either demonized or invisibilized by dominant narratives of fatherhood. “The book was originally geared toward male-identified people because it’s important for men to unpack toxic masculinity in the tradition of fathering,” he says. “But two years into the project I realized that the dichotomy of gender was limiting. Queer and trans parents sharing their stories challenged my own relationship to gender, my partner and my children and really broadened the conversation in Rad Dad .”

Rad Families is more of a celebration,” says Moniz. “I don’t have to prove that there are rad families out there. There are. There have always been amazing people raising and creating families.”

Brooke Anderson is an Oakland, California-based organizer and photojournalist. She has spent 20 years building movements for social, economic, racial and ecological justice. She is a proud union member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, CWA 39521, AFL-CIO.

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Unfree Labour?: A Review

by Genevieve Ritchie
Adult Education Quarterly

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

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

A second concept gestured to in the Introduction and developed by Paz Ramirez and Chun’s chapter is the notion of global labor apartheid. The central claim is that immigration and labor policies create two parallel yet unequal categories of workers.

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

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

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


Foley, G. (1999). Learning in social action: A contribution to understanding informal educa- tion. New York, NY: Zed.
Mirchandani, K., & Poster, W. (2016). Borders in service: Enactments of nationhood in trans- national call centres. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

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