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Revolutionary Mothering in Novel Niche

by Almah LaVon
Novel Niche
October 8th, 2016

Who will take us in? This is what Glenda Moore was asking when she knocked on strangers’ doors for hours in late October 2012. Caught outside with her young sons in Staten Island, New York during Hurricane Sandy, she asked this when doors were opened, only to be closed in her face. (Later, some of the people who refused to help said they thought she was trying to burglarize their homes.) She asked this until she lost grip of her sons. Until the sea said,  I will take them.  
The bodies of Brandon, 2, and Connor, 4, were discovered nearby a few days later.


This is how marginalized mothers are unsheltered every day; this is why an arbor-anthology had to be built, and its name is Revolutionary Mothering: Love On The Front Lines (PM Press, 2016). The aim of this collection of communiqués, poems, essays, and visual art is to center mothers, who, like Moore, are locked out of “angel in the house” iconographies–i.e., primarily “radical mothers of color with a few marginalized (queer, trans, low income, single, and disabled) white mothers,” in the framing words of editors Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams. And how do the editors define mothering? Panoramically. Enter this anthology knowing that there is a new spelling of the name: “m/other.” Spell it like “investing in each other’s existence,” as Loretta Ross does in the brilliant preface. Spell it like “less as a gendered identity and more a possible action, a technology of transformation,” as Gumbs does in her poetic, incandescent essay, “m/other ourselves: a Black queer feminist genealogy for radical mothering.” Spell it like “a primary front in this struggle {against a colonial, racist, hetero-patriarchal capitalism}, not as a biological function, but as a social practice,” as Cynthia Dewi Oka does in one of the book’s most electrifying entries, “Mothering as Revolutionary Praxis.”

“Revolutionary mothering” may be more redundant than oxymoronic, according to the biome of this book. However, Malkia A. Cyril reminds us in her incisive “Motherhood, Media, and Building a 21st-Century Movement,” the weaponized think-of-the-children has been used to undergird “a conservative vision of family” and the carceral state. Cyril asserts:

…empire is sustained, and mothers become one of the tools of its continuous resurrection.

But just as mothers can become the ideological vehicles for hierarchy and dominance, they are uniquely positioned to lead both visionary and opposition strategies to it. With the right supports, mothers from underrepresented communities can help lead the way to new forms of governance, new approaches to the economy, and enlightenment of civil society grounded in fundamental human rights. In fact, they always have.

With blazing authority in “Forget Hallmark: Why Mother’s Day Is a Queer Black Left Feminist Thing,” Gumbs dismisses “the assumption that mothering is conservative or that conserving and nurturing the lives of Black children has ever had any validated place in the official American political spectrum.” (If it was so conservative, why have so many forces been arrayed against it?) Gumbs argues convincingly that Black motherHOOD is fundamentally insurgent; Black mothers, past and present, harbor futurity.


Witness the diversity of dispatches from the front lines: in Victoria Law’s “Doing It All…and Then Again with Child,” an organizer-mama writes letters to incarcerated women (many of them also mothers) that incorporate her daughter’s drawings–and travels to Chiapas, Mexico to hear Zapatista mothers talk about seamlessly integrating children into revolutionary struggle. Irene Lara invokes “Tlazolteotl, the Nahua sacred energy of birthing and regeneration” in the ceremony-limned “From the Four Directions: The Dreaming, Birthing, Healing Mother on Fire.”

Mothers construct a theatre of testimony to resist genocide and extrajudicial killings in Arielle Julia Brown’s “Love Balm for My SpiritChild,” reminding me of the indefatigable Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo. In Lindsey Campbell’s “You Look Too Young to Be a Mom,” a chorus of young mas flip scripts that insist teen pregnancy is disaster unalloyed. tk karakashian tunchez megaphones “WE ARE WELFARE QUEENS AND WE AREN’T ASHAMED” in the manifesta, “Telling Our Truths to Live.” In “On My Childhood, El Centro del Raza, and Remembering,” Esteli Juarez re-members being raised by a father and other activists who occupied an abandoned school in Seattle, Washington for months, so that Chicanos, Mexicanos, and Latinos could have a public space to “gather, build community, access resources, [and] organize.”

The etymological root of “anthology” is “many flowers,” and Revolutionary Mothering is truly a fistful of spiky, necessary blooms. You need to be present for stories like these: Norma Angelica Marrun reflects on an undocumented childhood in the U.S. without her mother in “Why Don’t You Love Her?” In “Birthing My Goddess,” H. Bindy K. Kang is subjected to reproductive profiling and surveillance targeting South Asians in British Columbia. Terri Nilliasca reveals that the international adoption machine is built for white Westerners, and not balikbayan coming to the Philippines to adopt (“Night Terrors, Love, Brokenness, Race, Home & the Perils of the Adoption Industry: A Journey in Radical Family Creation”).

This book is riven with border lines–indeed, one of its conceits is lines, from “shorelines” to “between the lines”–and those lines matter. Border and bottom lines often mark what kind of mothering one has access to; Gumbs summons “immigrant nannies like my grandmother who mothered wealthy white kids in order to send money to Jamaica for my mother and her brothers who could not afford the privilege of her presence.” Cynthia Dewi Oka adds that “collectivizing caregiving in our communities is linked to dismantling a capitalist empire that abuses Third World women’s bodies as part of its infrastructure.” The children of marginalized mothers in the U.S., Loretta Ross makes clear, are primed to “become disposable cannon fodder for U.S. imperialism.”

There are some lines in the sand, uncrossable uncrossable. Gumbs calls out “neo-eugenicist” rhetoric and its relationship to “globalized ‘family planning’ agendas that have historically forced women in the Caribbean, Latin America, South Asia, and Africa to undergo sterilization in order to work for multinational corporations”; she also quotes officials who suggest that aborting Black fetuses in the U.S. will reduce crime and sterilizing women in “developing nations” will “prevent economically disruptive revolutions.” Oka punctures the population-bomb bogeyman embodied in “Black, indigenous, and Third World children…as perpetrators of environmental degradation.” In fact, mothering and radical homemaking are the imaginarium our moment needs, Oka insists–as she sketches a vision of the homes and habitats to come: “Perhaps the kind of home we need today is mobile, multiple, and underground.” The home as rhizome. A site of flux and disturbance, in the most generative sense. The home of the warning shot, to shoo away the State (see: Korryn Gaines). As an otherworldly realm of revolutionary eclipse and endarkenment: “Perhaps we need to become unavailable for state scrutiny so that we can experiment,” she muses, leaving us with a deepened “encumbrance upon each other while rejecting the extension of our dependence on state and capital.” Isn’t this kind of reliance and resiliency we will need, considering the demands of climate change? Is this what it means to mother in the Anthropocene?


Thankfully, this book doesn’t neglect to hold what is unresolved and difficult about mothering and being mothered. There’s pressure on people of color to craft reactive hagiographies about our mothers; while the impulse is understandable–don’t talk about your mother’s failures since the State is all too prepared to enumerate and criminalize them–stories like Rachel Broadwater’s “Brave Hearts” are refreshing. In it, Broadwater meditates on her disappointment with her own traumatized, imperfect mother. Mai’a Williams eschews the soft-focus sentimentality surrounding “mamahood” when she writes, “It’s a visceral sense that vulnerable, quivering life is breaking you and you have to let it.  It’s not self-sacrifice. It may not even qualify as love. It isn’t sweet. It isn’t romantic.” This is beautifully and painfully illustrated in Vivian Chin’s essay, “Mothering,” which is mysterious, fraught with slippage, and haunted by damage not quite known. This is the anti-lullaby–this is rage-son, ankle bracelet, juvenile court, polliwogs not getting enough nutrients, you don’t help me with shit. Fabielle Georges’ “The Darkness” flickers with the radioactivity of colorism, lookism, and Black self-loathing. Claire Barrera talks about being short-fused due to chronic pain in “Step on a Crack: Parenting with Chronic Pain.”


If this anthology’s foremother is This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color–indeed, its initial title was This Bridge Called My Baby–then its sibling might be the zine movement. China Martens traces a brief history of “subculture media” that includes The Future Generation zine she started in 1990. Several zinesters are featured in Revolutionary Mothering, including Noemi Martinez of the zines, Making of a Chicana and Hermana, Resist.  Martens explores how zines oiled her leap to blogs and “online snippets” especially suited to the time-strapped mom. Some of the anthology’s contributions (like Mamas of Color Rising’s “Collective Poem on Mothering”) read like raw, urgent telegraphs from mothers out of time–“time traveling is a necessity,” Martens says–and these seemingly rush-crafted pieces add to the anthology’s sense of welcome and immediacy.


Revolutionary Mothering
is a dreambook. Place it on your bedstand and when you awaken, scribble your not-quite-daylight visions in the margins so your dreams will be in good company. With its protean take on mothering, expect to pick up a new book each time you open it. And while we’re dreaming, I would have loved more voices from mothers who embody the truth that “mother” is “older and more futuristic than the word ‘woman,’” as Gumbs wrote. Also invoked by Gumbs, I want more stories from the house mothers of ball culture themselves. Next time, then. I have gotten into the habit of collecting radical anthologies, and this one ranks among my favorites: I was rocked and healed and mothered by this open-armed anthology itself, and suspect it will go on to give birth to other anthologies, other worlds. Mothering got next.

If your potential was visible on your body, like a hologram of your future, you’d know what things to just give up on without trying . . . but then you’d never know that you change your hologram potential if you try.
—Rio, Katie Kaput’s nine-year-old son in “Three Thousand Words”

Those caregiving collectives? Those “phamilies, chosen and stronger than blood” tk karakashian tunchez speaks of? Yes, those. We have an amphibious city to build now, and Revolutionary Mothering offers so many blueprints, so much holographic potential. Let’s hold each other close, before the rising seas.

Almah LaVon is a poet errant and incogNegr@ who is often based in western Pennsylvania. More of her writing on books can be found in the forthcoming anthology, Solace: Writing, Refuge, and LGBTQ Women of Color.

Shivanee’s postscript: It’s a tasselated, tapestried honour to have Almah’s critical work on Novel Niche! Many thanks to her, and to the editors and contributors of this formidable anthology, purchasable here.

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

Gypsy reviewed in Peace News

by Gabriel Carlyle
Peace News
August-September 2016

It is 2041 and atmospheric CO2 levels have passed 600 parts per million, leading to the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet and a three-metre rise in sea levels. Florida is underwater and world population has passed 10 billion. A few billion are stateless refugees. ‘A few billion more [are] indentured or imprisoned.’

Every cultivated acre on Earth is planted with sterile genetically-engineered varieties whose terminator genes have been implanted to protect corporate profits. ‘There [isn’t] a live food plant left anywhere on Earth that [can] propagate itself.’

No longer the global hyperpower, the US continues as if it is, ‘starting or provoking conflicts more or less at need, its constant need being, as always, resources.’

In this hyper-dystopian context, a small group of renegade scientists have conspired to launch the Earth’s first starship, Gypsy – a desperate attempt to solve ‘the great problem on Earth, the problem of humanity’, by starting afresh in a new solar system. (One of the astronauts, who ‘grew up in the slums of Athens after the euro collapsed’, suggests that they christen the ship the ‘Fuck You’ instead.)

Headed for the star Alpha Centauri, almost 4.4 light years away, at 5.6 percent of the speed of light (relative to the earth), the journey will take many decades.

This is ‘hard’ science fiction: Scholz has extrapolated all of the technologies that appear from published research papers, and even went as far as running gravity simulators on his home computer to make the final approach to Alpha Centauri as accurate possible.

Indeed, according to Scholz, this may be the first SF story to ‘take full stock of how hard, maybe impossible, interstellar travel is going to be’. Consequently, the crew’s journey is about as far from Star Trek’s warp-drives as you can imagine.

Story and backstory unfold as, one-by-one, five of the crewmembers are briefly awoken to deal with various crises. There is no happy ending and ‘the great problem’ remains unsolved.

Most compelling is the all-too-plausible picture that Scholz paints of a future techno-hell – a picture with plenty of lessons for the present.

There, humanity has used its new-found mastery of nuclear fusion to encircle the globe with hundreds of thousands of super-light bombs (‘Because the minimum individual yields were within the range of conventional explosives, no nuclear treaties were violated’), and ‘every bit of the world’s digital traffic [is] swept up... stored and analyzed’. Even offline surveillance is ubiquitous, featuring ‘hidden or winged [cameras], small and quick as hummingbirds, with software to read your lips from a hundred yards, and up beyond the atmosphere satellites to read the book in your hand if the air was steady’.

The plotters obtain their spaceship by deceiving a man ‘who owns a third of the world’s fresh water’, and the psychology and behaviour of the 1% is the focus of what is perhaps the story’s most telling passage.

Speaking of ‘the leaders, the nations, the corporations, the elites’, Gypsy’s founder member observes that: ‘if you judge them by their actions instead of their rhetoric, you can see that they understood [the world’s predicament] perfectly and accepted the gravity of it very early. They simply gave it up as unfixable. Concluded that law and democracy were hindrances to their continued power. Moved quite purposely and at speed toward this dire world they foresaw, a world in which, to have the amenities even of middle-class life – things like clean water, food, shelter, energy, transportation, medical care – you would need the wealth of a prince. You would need legal and military force to keep desperate others from seizing it. Seeing that, they moved to amass such wealth for themselves as quickly and ruthlessly as possible, with the full understanding that it hastened the day they feared.’

Though one should never underestimate human beings’ seemingly-limitless powers of self-deception, such a diagnosis may turn out to be not be that wide of the mark.

In the accompanying essay, ‘The United States of Impunity’, Scholz launches an excoriating non-fiction attack on these same elites. ‘A lone wolf like Bernie Madoff, who stole from elites, went to jail’, he notes, while ‘those with systemic ties, who stole from the public [in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis], didn’t’. Likewise, only a few low-level actors were held accountable for torture and killings in Iraq, ‘while the architects of the policies that created the criminogenic situations went untouched’.

‘Those responsible for instigating, justifying, and maintaining the torture regime, as well as the illegal war, were let walk’, normalising ‘the most extreme abuses of the Bush years’ – a pattern not restricted to the western side of the Atlantic.

The remaining material consists of a fantastical correspondence with the editor of a non-existent magazine, NOVUS Science Fiction; a seven-page satirical joke in the form of a fictional testimony before the US senate committee on homeland security and governmental affairs; and a short interview with the author.

Moving, memorable, and stylistically-sophisticated (one simultaneously disturbing and hilarious section consists of fragments of future internet traffic; elsewhere Scholz refers to the spaceship’s own datastream as ‘pushing its mite of meaning back into the plaintext chaos of the universe’), Gypsy is another stellar addition to PM Press’s stand-out Outspoken Authors series.

Buy Gypsy | Buy the e-Book of Gypsy | Back to Carter Scholtz's Author Page

The Spitboy Rule reviewed on Scanner Zine

By Steve Scanner
Scanner Zine
September 23rd, 2016

THE SPITBOY RULE: Tales Of A Xicana In A Female Punk Band - Michelle Cruz Gonzales {162 pages, PM Press}

If ya didn’t know, SPITBOY was an all-female Punk band active in the early 90s and based in San Francisco. Gonzales was the drummer of that band, known at that time simply as Todd. This is an engaging read that documents her memories, ideals and personal identity with intelligence, wit and wry hindsight.

The narrative goes back to when Gonzales was in her school band, playing flute and discovering the GO-GO’S. It’s a familiar story, that of where a single band not only sends one off in a new direction but completely changes life’s path and future decisions, but it’s always an interesting story to see what band was the catalyst for the author to become who she is today. From there, we get to read about Gonzales first Punk band, BITCH FIGHT, moving from small-town Tuolumne to the San Franciscan metropolis, SPITBOY forming, recording and touring and the band’s ultimate demise. It could be viewed as standard band biography stuff, but Gonzales makes the narrative much more personal and intimate than many other such books.

For starters, SPITBOY was not a band of hard-out party animals, so there’s no tales of drunken debauchery (seems the band preferred the challenge of Travel Scrabble). Instead, we get an on-going, first-person account of Gonzales understanding her own Chicana heritage within the confines of an all-white, all-female band. Her observations about her background when compared with the rest of the band are insightful, thoughtful and to-the-point without being remotely jealous or chastising. The issue of sexism also rears its ugly head with several small-minded creeps who seem to think it’s OK to not just be suggestive but totally abusive. Fortunately, SPITBOY was a band that could confront such bigotry and come out victorious.

Elsewhere in the book we read of the friction caused by the band not aligning itself with the then-popular Riot Grrrl movement, the culture shock of touring Japan, getting pulled over in New Orleans by cops with guns at the ready and the drug squad ready arrest, the band’s alliance with LOS CRUDOS and of the actual SPITBOY rule.

Gonzales’ narrative is direct, pointed and without too much halcyon reflection. By the end of the book, the reader certainly feels that they understand and relate to the traits of Gonzales as well as the rest of the band, and that is in no small part due to the conversational tone with which Gonzales writes.

This is a brief read though; of the 162 pages, 20 are filled with some excellent photos while each chapter also starts with a photo. There is a preface by former Maximum Rocknroll and Punk Planet columnist Mimi Thi Nguyen and a foreword by Martin Sorrondeguy of LOS CRUDOS/ LIMP WRIST fame.

Without a doubt, this is much more than just a band biography. It is as much a book about self-discovery, female camaraderie and personal politics as it is about a female Hardcore Punk band doing things their own way and succeeding at it. I am sure plenty of people could find both inspiration and confidence after reading this book - and that extends beyond people of colour and females to encompass any and all who feel marginalised by society or intimidated by their local Punk scene. If that’s not the mark of success for a book, I’m not sure what is.

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

The Spitboy Rule reviewed on Milo and the Calf

Milo and the Calf
September 20th, 2016

Ok, so I know Michelle, the author of this book, and some of the other members of Spitboy, the band at the center of this story. There was a time, a long long while ago, when we were all close. It would be really easy for me to make this review a walk down my own memory lane, but I’m going to resist that.

This is Michele story, told in a series of interlocking vignettes centered around her time in Spitboy, one of the pivotal bands of the early 1990s Bay Area punk rock scene. But the book is about much more than Spitboy. It’s the story of a Xicana from a small town in California, the daughter of a single mom, who discovers punk rock, moves the Bay Area, and forms one of the most groundbreaking punk rock bands of the 1990s.

Spitboy was a band of fierce women who played hardcore infused with passion, politics, and love. I, like many, were incredibly inspired by the band. Its fascinating to read these stories from their days touring the world, struggling against the sexism prevalent in the punk rock scene, while also forming profound relationships with each other and those they came into contact with. Today Spitboy is remembered mainly as a pioneering all women punk band, and they were that, for sure. But they were more. They were generous and kind. They were inspiring in their aspirations for, and dedication to, DIY punk culture, and they were a hell of a lot of fun to see live.

While there are plenty of band war stories here, it wasn’t always fighting the man and loading the van. As with any band on the road, there were conflicts. Michelle, Xicana and raised working class, came to the Bay Area punk rock scene with a very different life story from many in the then mostly white, mostly middle class, scene. This led to scores of painful moments, many of which rang all too familiar to me. Michelle faced everything from the casual erasure of her identity to blatant racism and classism. It is at times hard to reconcile the political aspirations of the punk rock scene with the treatment Michelle endured.

But those are the facts, and we need to face them.

Michelle treats all of this, the good and the bad, with real grace. She calls out the many instances in which the class differences in the punk scene were glossed over, and the scores of times her identity was erased. She does so with a compassion, honesty, thoughtfulness, I find inspiring.

This is a powerful story, which captures a time and place in the punk rock world which few others have documented. I’m so glad I was privileged enough to know Michelle, and the other Spitboy women, and I’m so glad she wrote this book.


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

Anthropocene or Capitalocene? in Marx & Philosophy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sipping Tea with Silvia Federici

Silvia 9

All photos: Luis Nieto Dickens

by Hanna Hurr
Mask Magazine
August 2016

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

Silvia Federici

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hanna Hurr is the Managing Editor of Mask Magazine.

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

Publisher Spotlight: PM Press

IPG Blog
September 13th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

IPG: What differentiates PM Press from other publishers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IPG: Who do you feel is your primary audience?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

George Hurchalla's Going Underground in Scanner Zine

Scanner Zine
June 27th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jewish Noir in New Pages

New Pages
July 7th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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