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Sober Living For the Revolution: A Review

by Luther Blissett
December 18th, 2016

Note: If you are part of the sXe scene, then you know more than I do, so I can’t say whether or not you should get this book. Check with your scene’s best reviewers. If you do decide to read this review, thanks for your time and attention. If not, no worries.

Published about seven years ago, Kuhn’s edited volume holds significant value. It is a great overview and introduction to the powerful potentials of straight edge (sXe).

Best passage of the book: Page 24 where MacKaye goes off on people leaving the scene:

“There is the classic moment when people say, “Yes, and then punk, or hard core, or straight edge, or whatever, died.” But it always died when they left the picture or when their band split up. It seems that they are talking about an energy that was contained within them — whereas I see an energy that is a constant ever-flowing river.”

Other gems: The Antifa Straight Edge; ManLiftingBanner interview; Interview with Jenni Ramme of Emancypunx.

Kuhn divides the book into five sections: Bands, Scenes, Manifestos, Reflections, and Perspectives. These divisions largely make sense, but the reflections seem to be more discussions of past projects. For anyone who actually works or tries to build, to create, or to get things done in DIY or punk cultures, this section is probably the most valuable. In most cases, except for the Hurley interview which appears to be included because of either his anarcho-primitivist perspective or his band’s status, the material is useful and engaging. Nick Riotfag and Jenni Ramme, in particular, share extensive reflections both on what worked well but also what flailed in their projects. More importantly, they indicate how they go forward. The Hurley interview, in contrast, seemed more like one guy attempting to rehash what he’s read about anarcho-primitivism and then put that in some context with sXe for this book. Frankly, that interview should have gone in a zine, not a book.

Far more interesting were the Perspectives, especially the Gomez brothers’ discussion of hardcore networks and sXe as intuitive resistance. Santiago engages in textual play at a level that’s only bested, in this volume at least, by Point of No Return’s “Bending to Stay Straight.”

While the manifestos will interest some folks, and as many online readers indicate they may be the most important part of Sober Living, the only one that I find inspiring was The Antifa Straight Edge. Then again, I’m an aging fag that isn’t straight edge… Hence some of my bias.

This may be my age showing. While Nick Riotfag’s piece is well-developed, and pretty well defended, there are repeated tones, structures, and references that remind me of academic writing–and I found that a bit troubling. That’s my personal taste, though. Having said that, it’s Riotfag’s type of analyses, internal to a scene that are well articulated and in-depth, that can bring important changes or crises of identities and issues–and then allow folks to move forward.

As Riotfag’s second piece indicates, this occurs.

Kuhn’s interview style, overall, is solid. He clearly knows the content and the context. There were a couple points when his questions seemed a bit leading, but then it also felt, in several places, like interviewees were dodging the question or not understanding the question. If the interviews were by email, Kuhn’s approach makes sense. Wish more interviewers in punk culture asked equally thoughtful questions.

Setting the tone for the whole book is, of course, the requisite opening interview with MacKaye. Next up was ManLiftingBanner. As a reader who started to read the book chronologically, these were two solid and important ways to open and frame the book. Roots and then radicalism.

Great framing.

While I did enjoy the diversity, both in terms of internationality and gender, there was a real gap in the presence of women. No doubt this, in part, reflects both turnover in the sXe scenes as well as the absence of women which so many interviewees discussed. The scene interview with Tanja about Sweden and then Jenni about Poland were exactly what they should have been: informative, detailed, connecting personal with the larger scene. They added useful and interesting perspectives of sXe — at least in portions of Europe. I just wanted to see more. For example, the Laura Synthesis interview had limited depth and breadth compared to the other interviews. However, at least she avoided pontificating like Hurley.

The book is worth buying. Kuhn takes straight edge out of a self-imposed ghetto and shows just how diverse and powerful sXe has been in shaping youth resistance cultures globally. From what we read, sXe caused some of the resistance in some scenes, while in other scenes, sXe was, and still is, a strategy for resistance. Sober Living for the Revolution, most importantly, offers multiple paths and examples for people interested in sober living and political militancy.

This is an opportunity to learn from others.

For those interested in neither sobriety nor social change, the book is still powerful and interesting. Sober Living collects multiple diverse perspectives on a complex scene, a scene that appears to be white middle class male meathead at first; take a moment and look past that and you find something quite diverse: something that bursts the heavy USA-centered myopsy when thinking, writing, and researching punk cultures. Kuhn helps you start to look.

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The Bonnot Gang: The Story of the French Illegalists: A Review

by Luther Blissett

This is part of the two part review:

Anarchism’s Icky Bits

A review of two tasty tomes that address some of anarchism’s more controversial aspects.

Anarchism’s multiplicitous nature defies, annoys, offends, and confuses many–including anarchists. Worse, though, is that pundits and peaceniks unfamiliar with what anarchism actually is have no problem labeling any and every behavior or practice they find troubling as “anarchist.” Naturally, anarchism is conflated with senseless violence and chaos.

It would be nice, comforting, and simplistic to be able to say clearly and finally just what anarchism is. However, there are so many strains with so many self-identified and differentiated practices that there are very few common threads. And we haven’t even talked about whether anarchism as a lifestyle is authentic.

In the midst of this morass, there are many polemics, claims, assertions, and a slew of people claiming moral high ground. Others assert their definitions are the only ones; just like punk rock, individuals or collectives seek to claim and define just what an anarchist is.

While such practices may be entertaining or facilitate identity politics or practices, they’re actually kind of boring. Tedious, really. That’s where these two books from PM Press have some significant contributions for people inside, on the edges of, and outside anarchist practices and communities.

The first book deals with the Bonnot Gang. In short, this is a non-fictional representation of one of anarchism’s most noted armed gangs of robbers. Yes, most of them died from gunfire. Yes, they stole from banks and other people. Yes, they had no problem making a living as thieves and counterfeiters and robbing the middle and upper classes. And they were willing to use force to do so.

This approach is offensive to peace police and other self appointed guardians of social change who believe that meaningful change will only be peaceful and through massive non-violent resistance. Such folks would do well to read this book. Reading this reprint of The Bonnot Gang will not change any minds. Instead, if offers something more useful: an improved understanding of a group dismissed as radical, violent, and thoughtless. Such dismissals are foolish.

Whether or not you agree with class war, stealing from the rich, or shooting it out with police–and few sensible people support such approaches–the book helps readers understand the perpetrators’ social backgrounds, tensions, and mindsets when approaching acts that are perceived as being so socially transgressive. This also helps to understand why, when Wall Street can squeeze $1 Trillion out of US taxpayers, the media is seemingly more interested in focusing on moderate property damage at #Occupy or #BLM protests or a few small smashed businesses that are collateral damage at post-election riots. Yes, these lives matter. However, The Bonnot Gang helps understand why and how some members–usually just a few fringe members–turned to armed struggle and expropriation (i.e. Armed robbery and theft).

Equally disturbing to many idealistic anarchists will be the discussions of whether or not it’s revolutionary to steal to improve your own immediate financial situation. Again, this book posits no answers. Instead, it explores the ongoing tensions that were present then as those same tensions are now.

The Bonnot Gang is well written. It is easy to become involved with the text. Documentation is solid. The narrative flows. And it’s surprising that this is not fiction. The key players are fascinating, friendly, and repulsive. Most intriguing was the seeming blind loyalty to other anarchists, to harbor them no matter what, and to never, ever give any information to the cops. Then, as now, snitches thrived. However, historical portraits and studies like this allow current anarchists to compare and contrast their own culture and values to their own traditions.

Similarly, those outside of anarchist cultures, or with a few friends on the edge, would do well to read this book. The Bonnot Gang was hard core, and this book makes it clear why. Most anarchists you will ever meet have no interest in ever being the Bonnot gang. Similarly, few accountants plan to rip off an entire company, and few stock traders want to crash entire markets. But these things happen. But for some reason, a few radical anarchists are more terrifying than the single largest theft of wealth from the working classes to the ruling elite (the bank bail out).

Buy The Bonnot Gang: The Story of the French Illegalists | Buy The Bonnot Gang: The Story of the French Illegalists e-book | Back to Richard Parry's Author Page

Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs: A Review

by Luther Blissett

This is part of the two part review:

Anarchism’s Icky Bits

When you see “Black Bloc,” it is usually incredibly negative and disparaging. Whether it’s the peace police upset that a group is using the cover of their demonstration to do material damage to corporate enemies (with some innocent collateral usually in the way) or the police using the Black Bloc as an excuse to justify exert force in response to a demonstration, nobody really seems to like the Black Bloc.

But does the Black Bloc actually get anything done? What useful or important work do they engage in?

This is where Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs? has value: it features interviews with multiple participants from multiple demonstrations and actions globally. As the author points out, a Black Bloc is never the same Bloc twice. Different people attend, participate, and leave, at every site–yet the Bloc is referred to in many discourses as if it is a singular or fixed identity.

Perhaps it is like Borg and some join while others leave.

The author helps make clear that many BB participants are not dolts bent on destruction or thieving a pair of Jordans; instead, their actions are strongly motivated by politics.

Equally important, the author addresses Black Blocs’ gendered and racial nature of Black Blocs, from how labor is divided to how members from more oppressed populations can actively engage without risking additional problems. For example, if people of color or undocumented residents join a BB and then are arrested, what level of risk–financial and physical–do they have compared to a college age white male? The author offers no solutions, but at least acknowledges and addresses these concerns.

The book is an enthusiastic engagement with and representation of perhaps one of the most reviled political protest tactics. It is easy to read, well-documented, and has plenty of references to follow up. One of the most important themes that comes to light through the text is the transformative nature of participating in a Black Bloc and how that can impact and empower individual activists as well as their political activities.

At least within the framing of the text, many Black Bloc participants–or at least those willing to be interviewed–seem interested and open to having multiple or diverse types of protest from non-violent to property destructive to potentially violent protests. And those choices should be left up to individuals. In sharp contrast, the police, the media, and many other liberal, but not radical, protestors are disinclined to allow or permit individuals to protest, and accept consequences, as they see fit.

Whether or not you agree with Black Blocs, property destruction, or a diverse array of protest methodologies, this book is excellent for several reasons.

First, rather than relying on hype or interpretation of events by outsiders, or by media seeking flashy conflicts or hits to websites, the author actually interviews multiple participants and he connects and engages with existing research, scholarship, and engagement with the Black Bloc. While it is clear that the author sympathizes with and appears to support, or at least understand, the value of Black Blocs as political tools and methods, he does not offer blind support for them. But he also does not question their importance in some political processes.

Finally, and perhaps most important–at least in terms of traditional representations of the Black Blocs in mass media — the author calls into question and compares the relative damage of a Black Bloc trashing a downtown or financial sector, most of which is covered by insurance, when compared to the environmental devastation or economic thrashing that some of these institutions inflict. For example, is smashing a few windows really comparable or more despicable than supporting the DAPL with its ongoing treaty violations and promised future environmental destruction and reinforcement of racism that directs what routes the pipeline is built on?

If you want to join a Black Bloc, reading this book would certainly expedite the enculturation process. But if you’re going to critique Blocs, at least have an understanding of them. You don’t have to support or endorse Black Blocs in order to understand them.

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

Not THE Real Dad, Not A Real Dad: Amy Abugo Ongiri’s RAD FAMILY in MUTHA Magazine

MUTHA Magazine
by Amy Abugo Ongiri
December 7th, 2016


I unexpectedly became a parent at forty-seven. I say unexpectedly, but we had actually been preparing for weeks and trying for years. After years of failed attempts at fertility treatment, our financial resources were exhausted, so conventional adoption was out of the question. We made the decision to look into foster care as a possible means toward parenting. We must have looked like strong candi­dates or the county was really desperate, because they rushed our application and after a month and a half of intensive training we found ourselves with two little boys in our care. They were just two and seven years old. We had wanted girls, but the need was great­est for African American boys. Being African American myself, I knew that we wanted black kids, but since we were queer wom­en we assumed that they would be girls. In the rural Midwestern county where we lived, there weren’t that many black kids in the system, so we didn’t want to miss our chance. Also, when the social worker described their struggles with racism in school and how they had been in multiple placements in a very short period of time, we knew they needed us as much as we needed them.


I was ready for a lot of the challenges of foster care but like all parenting I wasn’t ready for everything. I wasn’t ready for the shift in perspective that having a two-year-old boy in your life would bring. He literally saw things from a different angle than I did. Once when I was putting him in the car, he pulled away from and wiggled past me and began for a second to run at full speed. In my panic as I snatched him back I screamed emphatically at him at him, “What are you doing?” even though I know full well that this is a question that no two-year-old is prepared to ever answer. He responded equally emphatically, “Birdie!” We both stood there in a parking lot for a full five minutes to watch a bird that I’m sure that I wouldn’t have otherwise even known was there. Whether it was a leaf stuck to your shoe with a particularly interesting pattern or a nearby squirrel, he was so good at drawing your appreciative attention to little bits of nature that you wouldn’t have noticed. The older boy and I had interests that were so similar that spend­ing time together was just fun. We’d shoot hoops together, listen to music, go for a walk in the woods, hang out in what my partner called “big-boy time.”


The only problem with big-boy time and all the other time that I shared with the boys was that I was not a boy, big or other­wise. The hardest part of the experience of foster care was experi­encing my gender difference through the lives of these two little boys, who hadn’t necessarily even asked make family with us. As a masculine-of-center butch dyke, I had long ago learned to not only to accept but to love my gender difference. I loved the look of myself in men’s clothes. I loved embracing the masculine as well as feminine parts of personality. I loved the dynamic between butch­es and femmes. I loved being a gender outlaw. I had also long ago learned to accept the discomfort that my gender could invoke in others. What I was not used to was having that discomfort visited on two little kids in my care.


The kids, like most kids, pretty much accepted me without question. They seemed to really appreciate any attention and care that I gave them from working on phonics to teaching them to skateboard. We rarely have conflict. The truth is that I took to par­enting like a duck to water. I even gladly traded in my prized cus­tomized low-rider for a minivan. My instinct to protect and care for these two little guys who had already been through so much was so great that it surprised me. When I picked up the toddler at daycare and he ran excitedly to me and screamed “Daddy” I in­wardly cringed out of the fear that daycare workers would report me to social workers as an inappropriate role model. When other parents at school gave us the cold shoulder, I feared the negative effect it might have on the kid’s ability to make friends.


Foster parents are literally co-parenting with the state and are justifiably under more scrutiny than other kinds of parents. Many people involved in foster care in my county were conserva­tive Christians, and I worried all the time that my gender and our queerness as a couple would impact our ability to protect and nur­ture these two little guys whom we had grown to love so much.


Foster care is meant to be a temporary arrangement. We know it is our job to love, nurture and protect these kids just as long as we have them. I worried that our time with these little boys would be cut short because of my status as a gender outlaw.

As a foster parent, I am not the real dad. As a woman, I am not a real dad. Nevertheless, fatherhood means everything to me and I know by these kids’ love for me that I am good at it. I’ve waited a long time for this and I have chosen it. I know by my success at it that that it has also chosen me. When these kids leave my care they will know how to ride a bike and skateboard, how to read and set a table, how to dress themselves and meditate. Most importantly, they will know that I love them. I can only hope that one day they will come to think of my gender difference as much of gift as I do.


“Not the Real Dad, Not a Real Dad” is reprinted, with permission, from Rad Families: A Celebration, edited by Tomas Moniz.

“Rad Dads, Rad Families, Rad Children. These stories show us that we are not alone. That we don’t have all the answers. That we are all learning. I’ve never been a parent before. Here are stories to learn from. Here are the stories that I need.” – Nikki McClure, illustrator, author, parent

“I love this book! Wonderfully written, tenderly honest, unabashedly hilarious, deeply important stories from the messy beautiful world of real-life parenting. Thank goodness it exists.” – Michelle Tea, author of Black Wave (and founder of MUTHA!)

It’s RAD FAMILIES WEEK at MUTHA! We’ll be running other excerpts from the collection this week—so stay tuned and you can check out our interview with Tomas Moniz.

Read on, then head to your local indie store or ask your local library to order it….. OR you could also win a copy! How? It’s our first ever MUTHA giveaway contest (woo)!

Get on it: 1) follow MUTHA on twitter/Facebook, and then 2) tell us quick why your family is one of the #radfamilies, too, or why you’re starting parenting with that goal in mind, and be sure to 3) use that hashtag (#radfamilies) to (help promote indie publishing!), and to tag MUTHA. I WILL FIND YOU, then I’ll put you on the list from which a random selection will be be sent a gratis copy. Bonus points if you’re a new follower. Love and STAY RAD – Meg Lemke


Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Tomas Moniz's Author Page

RAD FAMILIES: The Book You Need—an Interview with Tomas Moniz

MUTHA Magazine
December 7th, 2016

It’s Rad Families week at MUTHA!

Rad Families: A Celebration, edited by Tomas Moniz, is a new (obviously radical!) and necessary storytelling collection that’s OUT NOW, about all the different ways families come together, parents push through, and what we intentionally choose to pass onto our kids. You really want to read it. Contributors include Ariel Gore, Ian Mackaye, Madison Young, Zach Ellis, Airial Clark, Simon Knaphus, Artnoose, Bronwyn Davies Glover, Shawn Taylor, Amy Abugo Ongiri and many more.

“Rad Dads, Rad Families, Rad Children. These stories show us that we are not alone. That we don’t have all the answers. That we are all learning. I’ve never been a parent before. Here are stories to learn from. Here are the stories that I need.” – Nikki McClure, illustrator, author, parent

“I love this book! Wonderfully written, tenderly honest, unabashedly hilarious, deeply important stories from the messy beautiful world of real-life parenting. Thank goodness it exists.” – Michelle Tea, author of Black Wave (and founder of MUTHA!)

We’ll be running several excerpts from the collection this week—so stay tuned. And to start, we asked Tomas to share some of the reasons he made Rad Families a reality. Read on, then head to your local indie store or ask your local library to order it….. OR you could also win a copy! How? It’s our first ever MUTHA giveaway contest (woo)!

Get on it: 1) follow MUTHA on twitter/Facebook, and then 2) tell us quick why your family is one of the #radfamilies, too, or why you’re starting parenting with that goal in mind, and be sure to 3) use that hashtag (#radfamilies) (help promote indie publishing!), and to tag MUTHA. I WILL FIND YOU, then I’ll put you on the list from which a random selection will be be sent a gratis copy. Bonus points if you’re a new follower. Love and STAY RAD – Meg Lemke


MUTHA: Why now a book called RAD FAMILIES?

Tomas Moniz:  The simple answer is we need each other. I am a better parent and a better person when I am reminded and inspired by the multitude of ways we create radical loving families despite so many obstacles. To me, in these seemingly hopeless, powerless times, the stories found in RAD FAMILIES are both reason to resist and respite from hateful and fearful narrative surrounding families in the mainstream media.

MUTHA: What is your hope for who this book will reach?

Tomas Moniz: My hope is that  RAD FAMILIES reaches those who already know that all of our families are a source of power and inspiration. But I also hope the book reaches people who are struggling to find their family or believe that families look only one particular way. I want this book to blow their mind, to help people change through the stories so many people, young and old, parents and chosen family, share.

MUTHA: How it will be shared?

Tomas Moniz: The best thing is for those who read the book to share it with others. Pass it along. Donate it to birth centers, libraries, Planned Parenthood offices. I wish I could send a copy to every politician and judge and cop as a reminder as well as perhaps a threat.

MUTHA: What are you up to next?

Tomas Moniz: I have been working on parenting projects for well over a decade. I hope to celebrate this book and then put my energies into supporting new projects by other parents and parent allies because there are some many Rad Families out there!


Tomas Moniz and his RAD FAMILY!

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Going Underground: A review in Razorcake

by Jimmy Alvarado

August 25th, 2016

Despite the glut of punk history books in recent years, still precious few attempt an overview of the “hardcore” years referenced in the book’s title. The best known, Steven Blush’s American Hardcore, is a highly flawed and wildly inflammatory cesspool of factual inaccuracies, lurid sniping, backbiting, and axe-grinding posturing as “documenting” one of the most important subcultures of twentieth century music history. Though covering the same ground, Hurchalla’s tome is easily superior on a number of levels, not the least that he not only understands the subculture of which he was a part, but he makes a concerted effort to explain it—its motivations, codes of conduct, strengths, weaknesses, and very raison d’etre.

Rather than focusing solely on the country’s larger, and more famous regions, Hurchalla weaves his tale of the American hardcore scene’s patchwork of sub-scenes almost like a tourist’s guide, adroitly focusing each chapter on a given city, state, or region of the country, its musicians of note, and how they fit into the larger picture. He culls the bulk of his tale from both contemporary interviews and the assorted fanzines long before the worldwide web became the all-encompassing resource/boondoggle it is now. Respectful of his subject matter, Hurchalla is also not afraid to address the scene’s shortcomings—the sexism, racism, and other –isms it still struggles with. He also addresses its cliquishness and often narrow-mindedness, the violence and mayhem that both charged and plagued its formative years. On the flip, he also celebrates the things that continue to make it an inspirational, crucial outlet for so many generations of pissed-off kids of all classes and ethnicities.

In this third edition, Hurchalla tightens up the time period and trims his personal recollections while expanding his scope to include input from women and punks of color. The result is a more focused and fluid narrative that provides a more holistic view of a very diverse subculture. It remains the go-to tome and an essential read for punks and historians alike.

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

The Spitboy Rule: A Review

by Jimmy Alvarado
August 25th, 2016

Spitboy was a Bay Area hardcore band active in the ‘90s. They sported an all-female lineup, a rarity in a scene long known just as much for being a hotbed of testosterone as for being the hotbed of creativity that produced, among other things, what became known as “alternative” rock.

Though they intentionally didn’t affiliate themselves with the then-nascent riot grrrl collective of bands, they did cover much of the same lyrical territory and beyond—misogyny, racism, sexism, rape culture. They simultaneously tried to navigate their existence in a scene that—despite its best intentions—continues to struggle with the fact it’s often little more than a microcosm of the greater society to which it strives to provide an alternative.

Gonzales, then known as “Todd Spitboy,” was the band’s drummer and one of its lyricists. The book is more memoir than a linear autobiography. Gonzales writes of her formative years in a small Northern California town, her discovery of punk, her move to the San Francisco area, her early musical endeavors, and the life of Spitboy, from formation to dissolution. Each episode is delivered in chapters that sometimes mirror the assorted photographs peppered throughout the book. They are short impressions that both document a given moment in time and contribute to a greater thematic thread.

While her story is of note in and of itself, Spitboy Rule is particularly affecting when she speaks of being a person of color within the punk scene, and the only person of color in her band. Recounting numerous awkward moments within the context of both, she talks of first trying to bury and supplant her ethnicity with that of a punk. She then rediscovers and embraces that ethnicity and its accompanying social class when it pops up and causes some uncomfortable situations between her, her peers, and her bandmates. Gonzales addresses the subject with candor and understanding. She raises some interesting questions in the process with a voice that is clear, singular, and introspective while never losing sight of the bigger picture and her place within it.

Included are pieces by Professor Mimi Thi Nguyen and Los Crudos vocalist Martin Sorrondeguy, who deftly provide context about Gonzales, Spitboy, and the time and world they inhabited. All told, The Spitboy Rule is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in gender/ethnic studies, Spitboy, the punk scene in which it existed, the often contradictory and landmine-ridden political climate of that scene, or simply a memoir about living an extraordinary life during an extraordinary moment in America’s musical timeline.

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

Gabriel Kuhn: Anarchism Today


Gabriel Kuhn

by Robert Graham
Robert Graham's Anarchism Weblog
November 23rd, 2016

Gabriel Kuhn is the author and editor of numerous works relating to anarchism, rebellion and revolution, including Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics, Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy, a collection from Gustav Landauer, Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader, Erich Mühsam‘s Liberating Society from the State and Other Writings: A Political Reader, and All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918–1919. He has a blog at PM Press, his main publisher. The following excerpts are from his post, “Revolution Is More Than a Word: 23 Theses on Anarchism.” I thought it was a useful contribution to the current situation facing anarchists, particularly in the U.S. I included some of Gustav Landauer’s writings in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian IdeasI discuss the origins of the anarchist movement from out of the struggles and debates within the International Workingmen’s Association (the so-called “First International”) in ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement.


Anarchism: A Political Movement

The origin of anarchism as a self-defined political movement dates back to the social question in mid-nineteenth-century Europe. Anarchists were part of the International Workingmen’s Association, better known as the First International, together with the political forces that would later turn into social democrats on the one hand and Leninists on the other. (1) We consider this origin important and see anarchism as part of the left-wing tradition. We are opposed to declaring anarchism a “philosophy”, an “ethic”, a “principle”, or a “way of life” rather than a political movement. An existential attitude is one thing; organizing for political change is another. Without proper organizing, anarchism is easily reduced to a noble idea, reflecting religion or hipsterism more than political ambition. At the same time, anarchism is not just antiauthoritarian class struggle. It is broader and includes activities that range from setting up social centers to deconstructing gender norms to conceiving alternative forms of transportation. Anarchism’s prefigurative dimension has always included questions that didn’t fit narrow definitions of the Left: dietary, sexual, and spiritual concerns as well as matters of personal ethics…

Anarchism’s problems today

The problem of revolution has haunted anarchism since its inception. Other problems have come and gone, depending on historical circumstances and the state of the movement. Here are the main ones we’re able to identify today:

* There is an unfortunate sense of moral superiority, which often overshadows political work. The underlying problem seems to be that two motivations overlap when people become active in anarchist circles: one is that you want to change the world; the other is that you want to be better than the average person. The latter easily leads to self-marginalization since any sense of moral superiority relies on belonging to a selected few rather than the masses. When this becomes dominant, your identity takes precedent over your actions and pointing out the personal shortcomings of others over political change. Ironically, the main targets are often people from within our own ranks rather than the enemy, following the sorry logic of, “If you can’t hit the ones you need to hit, you hit those within arm’s reach.” The combination of judging outsiders while competing with insiders for the moral top-dog position is incompatible with any movement claiming revolutionary integrity.

* The anarchist movement is, by and large, a subculture. Subcultures are great. They provide a home to people (sometimes a life-saving one), they help preserve activist knowledge, they allow for experimentation, and so on. But dissent is not revolution. So if the politics are reduced to the subculture, the revolutionary rhetoric becomes empty and alienating. People hate this and fuck that, but to what end?

* The default mode (mood) of many anarchist circles ranges from grumpy to outright rude. At times, our supposed microcosms of a liberated world are among the most uninviting places imaginable: dark, dirty, and populated by folks who confuse unfriendliness with rebellion. Acting like a jerk does not make you more radical, it just makes you a jerk. Sadly, belligerence also characterizes internal debates. The threads on some anarchist online forums are among the safest means to turn people off anarchism for good. A radical approach to conflict is characterized by openness and self-criticism, not anonymous growling.

* Despite the theoretical embrace of individuality and diversity, many anarchist scenes are incredibly uniform. Any average coffee shop on main street brings together a wider variety of people than most anarchist venues. There are historical reasons for this, but essentially, anarchist culture – the language, the appearance, the social codes – is simply very homogenous. How anarchist are environments in which people feel uncomfortable because of what they wear, eat, or listen to?

* There is a crucial divide in anarchist circles between activists who are opposed to injustice and activists who experience injustice. All activists need to work together to effectively change anything, but the different motivations need to be considered. While people who follow a missionary call tend to be rather ideological, people affected by injustice are often more pragmatic. If such a difference is not recognized, people will drift apart. In the worst case, only the ideologues remain, with abstract debates about personal identity or acceptable language assuming the supposed forefront of radical politics while losing any connection with political work on the ground. Radical politics, then, becomes primarily an intellectual exercise that says next to nothing about the quality of its protagonists as dedicated and reliable comrades.

* The concepts of a free space and a safe space, respectively, are often confounded. Safe spaces, that is, spaces where people can count on finding care and support, are needed in the world we live in. But they are spaces that fulfill a certain purpose. They are not the free spaces we seek to establish, that is, spaces in which people speak their mind, engage in debate, and commonly solve the problems that arise in the process. What makes people safe in the long run is the collective ability to negotiate boundaries. Absolute safety is impossible. Vulnerabilities, misunderstandings, and irritations are part of social life and will not disappear even in the most anarchist of societies.

* The idea that everyone should be allowed to do everything is confused with the idea that everyone is able do everything. The introduction of skills or the passing on of knowledge by experienced activists and organizers is scoffed at. This leads to encountering the same pitfalls and reinventing the wheel over and over again.

* There exists an almost complete lack of vision and strategic orientation in the anarchist movement. In addition, organizational structures are in crisis. Spontaneity, the affinity group model, and a romanticized understanding of multiplicity have become hegemonic. All of these notions are riddled with flaws. The only longterm communities they allow consist of a handful of friends, which is an insufficient basis for the organizing required for broad social change. The main answer to this from within the anarchist movement, namely platformism, underestimates the importance of individual responsibility, which leads to a confusion of formality with efficiency…

Gabriel Kuhn


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Anarchy Comics in Anarchist Studies

by Vittorio Frigerio
Anarchist Studies 24.2
December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crashing the Party: A Review in Radical Criminology

by Irina Ceric
Radical Criminology
November 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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