Join Our Mailing List

Bookmark and Share

  Home > News > Additional Stories

(H)afrocentric Comics in Socialism & Democracy

By Paul Buhl
Socialism & Democracy
June 2018

A new generation of African American-comic art is now in full swing.

For those who have followed the likes of Milton Knight, Lance Tooks and Afua Richardson, among others on hand for the memorable African-American Classics (2011), the new styles may seem rather jarring. (H)afrocentric is rooted at once in alternative comics and in the main- stream superhero mold. It is jarring in the sheer vulnerability of its characters, especially the lead, one Naima Pepper.

The “Ronald Reagan College [RRC] perched atop the hilly red- woods in Oakland” sounds suspiciously like Mills College, an old line liberal school for women that has been transitioning itself for decades into something uncertain (including, with luck, survival). Like real-life Mills, RRC is a top-flight school situated within a poor, black community undergoing gentrification from neighboring Berkeley and the whole Bay Area link to Silicon Valley. How to navigate the connections and disconnections of students from modest backgrounds on the way up, and yet tied to the community with threads of sympathy and empathy – this is a problem with no evident solution.

Campus radicals a half century ago, this reviewer included, passed out leaflets, published “underground” newspapers, and sometimes even supported candidates for office on campus and off. Today’s activists would naturally act differently in several key ways, with social media at hand and a desperate need to get to other students, often enough, through the world of beige-toned corporate liberalism. What makes Naima especially interesting are her own contradictions. She’s a suburban girl by origin, and perhaps for that reason, definitely sees through the self-image offered her as role model, future business success and so on. But where does that leave her?

Often enough, and very realistically, a bit disoriented. Especially in Oakland, once home of the Black Panthers, the legacy of the 1960s hangs heavy, sometimes inspiring and sometimes more burden than help. How to live up to civil rights and Black Power giants? What lessons do their lives, often enough wrought with tragedy, have for today in general, and for Naima in particular? She wants badly to know, because she has emerged as a leader of a proto-political group whose members have their own problems and confusions, political and per- sonal. What to do with fellow students, for instance, looking for the magic of some kind of psychic energy? or with fellow co-eds who get beyond fashions and boyfriends, and then seem to slip back? What about Naima’s own deep desire to be mighty good looking and dressed? And most of all, what to do with the African American males who are definitely awed by Naima but not so eager to be led, actually led, by a woman?

She says, on one page and after the death of an aged community resident, “looks like we won the battle but lost the war against gentrification.” The odds are too great. And then ... she bounces back by recalling the spirit of George Jackson, the “Soledad Brother” shot dead by prison guards in 1971. The ghost tells her to ask herself, and she finds another self, a Fairy Godmother with “a striking resemblance to Fanny Lou Hamer,” who gets her a job as a “racial interpreter” – “translating” words, actions and above all, the meaning of the great silence between potential agents of intersectionality. She’s not happy with what she finds, mainly well meaning but befuddled white liberals.

And here, in the complexity of these pages, the accomplishment of this comic art – drawing and narrative line alike – shows its strongest side. We might recall that a small group of especially notable African American artists found their calling or at least a living in animation, until the animation industry moved off shore or simply eliminated the work with further automation. Milt Knight and Lance Tooks draw comics like animators would, with extraordinary effort given to a
kind of visual depth and density. Another stream, best represented by multiple award-winner Afua Richardson, have made their mark through something close to mainstream or semi-mainstream fantasy and superhero genres, and perhaps Richardson’s larger-than-life heroic women are a bit closer to the work in (H)afrocentric.

But there is something else here, rooted (in my view) in the existing limitations of the indie comic world. Diverse in almost every sense, often politically radical, and very d.i.y. in both production and distribution, it has been blessed with too few artists of color, and too few probings into the world of black youth today. With admirable exceptions, it has not much treated the legacy of the great past movements that reshaped African American life, and the victories denied by repression and the steady advance of neoliberalism. (H)afrocentric would be remarkable if only for its subtle take on these legacies and how they are perceived, ignored or understood, refigured or recycled by the following generations, marked indeed by mixed-race youngsters, the source of the “H” in the comic’s title.

Buy (H)afrocentric | Buy (H)afrocentric e-Book now | Back to Juliana "Jewels" Smith's Author Page

Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution - A Review

By Milenko Srećković
Translated by Kosta Tadić
May 19th, 2018

The recent publishing of Noam Chomsky’s collected texts about Yugoslavia has caused a wave of outrage among the supporters of “humanitarian” military interventions on social networks. The disastrous imperialistic military interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria have showed the real face of the human-right military aggressions, proving that they have caused nothing but the complete collapse and tragedy in the life of normal, ordinary people. These intervention supporters have found their last shelter in the mythological Hollywood interpretation of the breakup of Yugoslavia, where the bad guys (the Serbs) can be stopped only by the NATO bombing. The Middle East military interventions are usually justified by the Bosnian war, and the phrase “Srebrenica: Never Again!” has become a battle cry of the American military-intelligence propaganda machine.

This is why the Chomsky’s analysis of the German and American role in triggering the wars in Croatia and Bosnia is so annoying to the imperialistic agents – the same ones who have “found” weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and lied about chemical attacks in Syria. The hypocrisy of the Western media is shown in their constant horrification by the war crimes in Yugoslavia, their repeating that NATO should have acted more aggressively in their prevention… and their silence when it comes to the imperialistic support to the militant nationalists and separatists on each side: to Alija Izetbegović – the Muslim fundamentalist who spent some time in a Yugoslav prison in the early 1980s because of his religious fanaticism – and to Franjo Tuđman – who gained the political power by using the resurrection of the Croatian WWII fascist Ustasha Movement. On the other hand, the West didn’t mind the Milošević’s Serbian nationalism but his “communism”, and he was labeled “the last communist dictator in Europe”, while the Serbian opposition leaders like Vuk Drašković and Zoran Đinđić enjoyed the constant Western support because of their transparent nationalism and anti-communism.

The Chomsky’s analysis is completely opposite to the propagandic stereotypes of the Bosnian war – stereotypes created by the “intellectuals” defending the militant humanism, e.g Bernard-Henri Levy and Marko Attila Hoare. Chomsky is not uselessly crying over the war crimes – he is speaking about the imperialistic interests which had encouraged the secessions of the former Yugoslav republics and led to the war. The Western journalists often blame the West for not intervening and preventing the Srebrenica murders, not mentioning that the Western interventions had in fact caused the war by sabotaging the peace negotiations between the belligerent nations. In fact, the Bosnian war started after the Americans had instructed the Bosnian Muslims to withdraw their Lisbon Agreement (Carrington–Cutileiro peace plan) signature and unilaterally declare the Bosnian independence. Chomsky is not the only one dealing with this subject – there are numerous other serious accusations against the US administration. I would like to mention the very precise testimonies by the Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia James Byron Bissett and the Canadian Major-General Lewis Wharton MacKenzie – known for establishing and commanding Sector Sarajevo as part of the UN Protection Force – which can be seen here:

The book Yugoslavia – Peace, War, and Dissolution consists of three chapters. The first part is dealing with the Josip Broz’s rule, “self-managed socialism” and Yugoslav dissidents. The second part is about the late 1980s and early 1990s Yugoslav crisis. In this chapter, Chomsky is talking about the wider background of the crisis, about the breakup process and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. The third part is dedicated to Kosovo and Metohija, the events that led to the NATO bombing, as well as the ones after it. An introduction to the book was written by Andrej Grubačić, and every chapter includes the comments by the book editor Davor Džalto. The book was published by PM Press, an independent leftist publishing house, and it can be bought on the publisher’s official website:

The whole process of Yugoslavian breakup could be really understood and seriously analysed only by a person with a serious political experience which Noam Chomsky undoubtedly had and still has. His writings are extremely valuable to everyone who wants to understand the global imperialistic geopolitical interests and the methods used for their achievement. His work is also a testimony about shameful immorality of the numerous war-supporting “intellectuals” and journalists. Hiding behind “humanitarianism”, they – together with the war machine and intelligence agents – are turning the ordinary people’s lives into hell.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Davor Džalto's Author Page | Back to Noam Chomsky's Author Page

Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution - A Review

By Niklas Pivic
Niklas’ Blog
May 2018

Reading Noam Chomsky’s analyses of political power is always recommendable. Regardless of what one may think of him, his oft-piercing words penetrate the cobwebs that demagogues and kleptocracies throw out in order to maintain their own status quo.

When I was in high school, the war in Yugoslavia broke out.
My dad’s from Yugoslavia and our family sported a Yugoslavian surname, which lead to a bunch of kids coming up to me, asking which part of Yugoslavia I came from. Who do you side with? Even though I knew very little of the past conflicts that had affected Yugoslavia not only recently at the time, but since the start of the 20th century, it was clear to me that this was a war that was reported in disingenuous ways via mainstream media. I read some things, and then heard from my cousins via ICQ and the likes; while the media gaslighted people into thinking that Serbs were basically atrocious murderers, my cousin told me of NATO missiles that precision-bombed apartments belonging to resistance leaders.

I wish I’d had this book as the war went on.

This is not a hagiography, or any kind of finger-pointer, but rather a two-pronged book:

The first part is not written by Chomsky, but mainly by Davor Džalto (Editor) and Andrej Grubacic (Preface), who have constructed a clear-cut view of Yugoslavia from before, during, and after World War II; it helps a lot to understand the complex dealings within Yugoslavia, not to mention how they differed from their (at-times) allies, e.g. the Soviet Union.

The second part consists of a few articles written by and interviews with Noam Chomsky, most of which have appeard in the illustrious Z Magazine. Chomsky lays into NATO as he should, and he basically uses NATO statements to show how they went against the UN in every way, went against NATO member states (e.g. Greece and Italy) in attacking parts of Yugoslavia, and also what most probably lays behind the decisions of NATO; Chomsky radiates at his very best when he investigates the moral claims by the likes of Bill Clinton and NATO commanders, where they used “we couldn’t very well just have stood by and watched this happen” to explain something as horrific as their 78-day-long bombing of Yugoslavia, while doing nothing in countries where NATO could have stopped sheer atrocities.

It would be hard to criticise the makers of this book for anything, really; I found this book both enlightening and uplifting, as one has to understand our history in order to do better. Still, this will probably have no impact whatsoever on US foreign policy which has only escalated and progressed since.

To those who have followed mainstream media for news on the war in Yugoslavia this book will most likely be eye-opening; to me it was, especially where finding out how both the American and British government escalated the killings and why, and also of how mainstream media chose to not be more than stenographers to government.

Examples from the book:

This is by no means the only impressive feat of doctrinal management. Another is the debate over NATO’s alleged “double standards,” revealed by its “looking away” from other humanitarian crises, or “doing too little” to prevent them. Participants in the debate must agree that NATO was guided by humanitarian principles in Kosovo—precisely the question at issue. That aside, the Clinton administration did not “look away” or “do too little” in the face of atrocities in East Timor, or Colombia, or many other places. Rather, along with its allies, it chose to escalate the atrocities, often vigorously and decisively. Perhaps the case of Turkey—within NATO and under European jurisdiction—is the most relevant in the present connection.

Its ethnic cleansing operations and other crimes, enormous in scale, were carried out with a huge flow of military aid from the Clinton administration, increasing as atrocities mounted. They have also virtually disappeared from history. There was no mention of them at the fiftieth anniversary meeting of NATO in April 1999, held under the shadow of ethnic cleansing—a crime that cannot be tolerated near the borders of NATO, participants and commentators declaimed; only within its borders, where the crimes are to be expedited. With rare exceptions, the press has kept to occasional apologetics, though the participation of Turkish forces in the Kosovo campaign was highly praised. More recent debate over the problems of “humanitarian intervention” evades the crucial U.S. role in the Turkish atrocities or ignores the topic altogether.

NATO chose to reject diplomatic options that were not exhausted and to launch a military campaign that had terrible consequences for Kosovar Albanians, as anticipated. Other consequences are of little concern in the West, including the devastation of the civilian economy of Serbia by military operations that severely violate the laws of war. Though the matter was brought to the War Crimes Tribunal long ago, it is hard to imagine that it will be seriously addressed. For similar reasons, there is little likelihood that the Tribunal will pay attention to its 150-page “Indictment Operation Storm: A Prima Facie Case,” reviewing the war crimes committed by Croatian forces that drove some two hundred thousand Serbs from Krajina in August 1995, with crucial U.S. involvement that elicited “almost total lack of interest in the US press and in the US Congress,” New York Times Balkans correspondent David Binder observes.
The suffering of Kosovars did not end with the arrival of the NATO (KFOR) occupying army and the UN mission. Though billions of dollars were readily available for bombing, as of October the U.S. “has yet to pay any of the $37.9 million assessed for the start-up costs of the United Nations civilian operation in Kosovo.” By November, “the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has yet to distribute any heavy-duty kits and is only now bringing lumber” for the winter shelter program in Kosovo; the UNHCR and EU humanitarian agency ECHO have also “been dogged with criticism for delays and lack of foresight.” The current shortfall for the UN mission is “the price of half a day’s bombing,” an embittered senior UN official said, and without it “this place will fail,” to the great pleasure of Miloševi?. A November donors’ conference of Western governments pledged only $88 million to cover the budget of the UN mission in Kosovo but pledged $1 billion in aid for reconstruction for the next year—public funds that will be transferred to the pockets of private contractors, if there is some resolution of the controversies within NATO about how the contracts are to be distributed. In mid-December the UN mission again pleaded for funds for teachers, police officers, and other civil servants, to little effect.

KFOR officers report that their orders are to disregard crimes: “Of course it’s mad,” a French commander said, “but those are the orders, from NATO, from above.” NATO forces also “seem completely indifferent” to attacks by “armed ethnic Albanian raiders” across the Serb-Kosovo border “to terrorize border settlements, steal wood or livestock, and, in some cases, to kill,” leaving towns abandoned. Current indications are that Kosovo under NATO occupation has reverted to what was developing in the early 1980s, after the death of Tito, when nationalist forces undertook to create an “ethnically clean Albanian republic,” taking over Serb lands, attacking churches, and engaging in “protracted violence” to attain the goal of an “ethnically pure” Albanian region, with “almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovo’s remaining indigenous Slavs … out of the province.” This “seemingly intractable” problem, another phase in an ugly history of intercommunal violence, led to Miloševi?’s characteristically brutal response, withdrawing Kosovo’s autonomy and the heavy federal subsidies on which it depended and imposing an “Apartheid” regime. Kosovo may also come to resemble Bosnia, “a den of thieves and tax cheats” with no functioning economy, dominated by “a wealthy criminal class that wields enormous political influence and annually diverts hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax revenue to itself.” Much worse may be in store as independence for Kosovo becomes entangled in pressures for a “greater Albania,” with dim portents.

There are other winners. At the war’s end, the business press described “the real winners” as Western military industry, meaning high-tech industry generally. Moscow is looking forward to a “banner year for Russian weapons exports” as “the world is rearming apprehensively largely thanks to NATO’s Balkans adventure,” seeking a deterrent, as widely predicted during the war. More important, the U.S. was able to enforce its domination over the strategic Balkans region, displacing EU initiatives at least temporarily, a primary reason for the insistence that the operation be in the hands of NATO, a U.S. subsidiary. A destitute Serbia remains the last holdout, probably not for long.

Something else interesting happened after that. Yugoslavia brought the case to the World Court. The court accepted it and deliberated for a couple of years, but what is interesting is that the U.S. excused itself from the case, and the court accepted the excuse. Why? Because Yugoslavia had mentioned the Genocide Convention, and the U.S. did sign the Genocide Convention (after forty years). It ratified it, but with a reservation, saying it was “inapplicable to the United States.” In other words, the U.S. is entitled to commit genocide. That was the case that the U.S. Justice Department of President Clinton brought to the World Court, and the court had to agree. If a country does not accept World Court jurisdiction, it has to be excluded, so the U.S. was excluded from the trial on the grounds that it grants itself the right to commit genocide. Do you think this was reported here? Does any of this get reported?
All in all, a very needed book.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Davor Džalto's Author Page | Back to Noam Chomsky's Author Page

The Global Imagination of 1968 in Foreword Reviews

By Kristine Morris
June 2018

A world without hunger, without war or an international arms race, without militarized nation-states and arbitrary authorities: even now, in the twenty-first century, these goals seem out of reach, but that we can envision them at all is a legacy of the global imagination that emerged to rock the world half a century ago.

In 1968, world-historical social movements erupted in nearly every country; people were seeking freedom, not only from grinding poverty and social injustice, but to create themselves anew. The New Left, with its call for “individual autonomy amidst community” and an end to racial, political, economic, and patriarchal domination, had global appeal.

More than that, global insurgencies benefited from what George Katsiaficas calls the “eros effect,” in which “people’s ties to each other become more significant than patriotic allegiances or class and racial identities.” This term makes the concept of the “global imagination” of 1968 clear, encapsulating how, despite enormous cultural and political differences between nations, revolutionaries everywhere stood together in their dreams of freedom, taking action according to similar revolutionary norms and values and sharing a sense of solidarity.

Katsiaficas provides today’s activists with the wider historical context for action. The Global Imagination of 1968 is a guide to mobilizing the creativity to resist, disrupt, and change the lingering racism and patriarchal structures, attitudes, and economic systems that still restrict our freedom—a challenging task now that the organs of social control are militarized and often act with impunity.

Despite what appears to have been the failure of the New Left, Katsiaficas declares that its passionate challenge to the establishment left an amazing legacy of global progress and the advancement of values and ideals that can fire the imagination and nurture the dreams of a new generation of activists.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to George Katsiaficas 's Author Page

Turning Pages: The literary joys of juvenile delinquents

By Jane Sullivan
The Age

April 27th, 2018

Rita is 15. She knows how to fight with her knees, her elbows, her teeth, how to hold a blackjack, how to spot a cop, how to roll marijuana, how to lure a man into a dark hallway.That's the way they sold Gang Girl, a 1954 piece of pulp fiction from Wenzell Brown, author of Jailbait Jungle, Teenage Terror, Cry Kill and Teen-Age Mafia. The covers of these cheap paperbacks are graced with lurid portraits of young punks brandishing knives and sneering at the reader, and vicious young women displaying large breasts in an aggressive manner.

And nobody worries about blaming the victim: Jay de Bekker's Gutter Gang proclaims "They came from filthy slums – where even their dreams were dirty!"Juvenile delinquents, they called them. In the conservative 1950s, the tabloids fulminated, shocked adults tut-tutted, and couldn't get enough of their stories. The arty end of this prurient fascination produced James Dean, West Side Story, Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, William Burrough's Junkie; the commercial end produced… well, pulp.

I've been having huge fun reading about JD fiction and looking at the outrageously titillating covers in Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats, an anthology edited by two Australians, Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette. What was once reviled as rubbishy reading is now collected, curated and revered as retro chic.

Youthsploitation sold, and went on selling for decades, until film and TV took over as the primary entertainments, and until the rise of young-adult literature, when teenage rebels were written about in an altogether more sympathetic way.


But before that there was a pulp procession of shocking kids: beatniks, hippies (best of all, murderous hippies), bikie gangs, rock stars, punks, skinheads and James Bond-style surfer spies.

Many of these books would make even Quentin Tarantino cringe, I suspect: they sound truly awful. But here and there I came across someone churning out quick books for cash who went on to make a more respectable name for himself. One was the science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison, who went undercover and joined a street gang as research for more than 100 stories and his 1958 debut novel.

He describes how he was later working as a reviewer and picked up a book from a box a publisher sent him. "It's got this horrible, garish juvenile delinquent coming at you with a switchblade knife and it says Rumble. I thought 'What is this piece of shit?' and then I looked at the author and it was me."


Not many pulp authors were women, but they often have the most interesting stories. The lesbian pulp novel, though a rarity, was particularly successful in the 1950s because it was such a taboo subject. Ann Bannon discovered her first lesbian novel in a pharmacy and decided to write one herself. She produced a series with suitably shocking but oddly euphemistic covers: the one for her novel Beebo Brinker describes the heroine as "Lost, lonely, boyishly appealing – this is Beebo Brinker – who never really knew what she wanted – until she came to Greenwich Village and found the love that smoulders in the shadows of the twilight world". Bannon was married with two children. Her husband never welcomed her interest in such subjects, but he welcomed the royalty cheques. Her books have been republished and have been studied by a new generation of young scholars. She recalls a woman who told her that when she was young, she discovered a copy of Bannon's novel Odd Girl Out and then went home to have dinner instead of jumping off a bridge. "Something like that really turns your heart over."

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Iain McIntyre's Author Page | Back to Andrew Nette's Author Page

Dr. Michael Fine: Crony Capitalism Is Bad For Your Health

By Ariel Lewiton
October 5th, 2017

Photo: Sokontha Thuong, Snicca Photography.

For months, the fate of the United States’s healthcare system—one-sixth of the largest economy in the world—has seemed to be up for grabs. In May of this year, the Republican-controlled House passed a “repeal-and-replace” bill that died in the eleventh hour in the Republican-controlled Senate. Mitch McConnell announced that it was “time to move on,” and President Trump, known for graciousness neither in victory nor defeat, tweeted, “Let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!” As of this writing, the Graham-Cassidy Act, which would dismantle Obamacare in favor of block grants for individual states, seems to have met an abortive end. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has announced a single-payer plan he calls Medicare for All; though it has no hope of passing the Republican-controlled Congress, its sixteen cosponsors include 2020 presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand, signaling universal healthcare’s shift toward the center, at least among Democrats.

The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that the American healthcare system is in dire need of an overhaul. The Unites States spends over $3.2 trillion on healthcare annually, or $10,000 per person—more than twice the per-capita healthcare expenditure of other industrialized nations. Yet we lag behind those nations in important health indicators like life expectancy and infant mortality rates. That’s to say: we pay an exorbitant amount for healthcare that doesn’t even keep us healthy.

Dr. Michael Fine, a family physician, former director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, and current chief medical strategist for Central Falls, Rhode Island, believes that we’re missing a crucial point in our debates about healthcare. As he put it to me recently, “The problem with Obamacare, and even with the attempts to destroy it, is that they are all attempts to do a little social engineering by using the health insurance process. Obamacare was health insurance reform; it was not health care reform.

“We’ve done it backwards,” Fine says. “We’ve tried to figure out how we’d pay for it, but we haven’t figured out or articulated what it is.”

Instead of figuring out how to finance our ballooning, unsupportable healthcare industry, we should be questioning why American healthcare costs so much in the first place. In order to solve our healthcare crisis, Fine argues, we need to begin by developing a comprehensive understanding of what a rational, effective, and just healthcare system ought to look like.

Dr. Fine’s vision of health and healthcare is localized, community-based, and integrative: not just avoiding or managing illness, but supporting education, affordable housing, public transportation, and sustainable resources—elements that link to health in surprising ways. The cornerstone of Fine’s own healthcare strategy is the neighborhood health station, a facility that aims to provide almost all the care that patients need, in one place. Last fall, he and his team broke ground on the Central Falls Neighborhood Health Station, the first of its kind in the nation.

In a series of conversations in person and over the phone, I spoke with Dr. Fine about the current crisis of American healthcare, the inspiration behind his work, and what healthcare workers and ordinary citizens can do to create the healthcare system we need.

—Ariel Lewiton for Guernica

Guernica: Let’s get started by talking about what’s wrong with healthcare in the United States.

Dr. Fine: We’re spending an ungodly amount of money—international comparisons suggest that we’re wasting between a trillion and 1.5 trillion dollars a year on healthcare. Our per-person, per-year cost is a little over $10,000 now.

The overall infant mortality rate in the United States is three times higher than the best achievable infant mortality rate internationally. And infant mortality among black Americans is more than twice that of white Americans. Yet we spend around three times more than we need to spend, compared to the countries that have the best outcomes. The countries with the best health outcomes, the lowest infant mortality, and the best life expectancy usually spend about $4,000 or less per person per year. They do it by having a healthcare system. In the United States, we have a healthcare market, not a healthcare system.

Guernica: Where does our spending go?

Dr. Fine: It goes into profit for corporate entities, into salaries for healthcare executives, and income for high-earning specialist physicians. In 2003, the average American family was spending about 17 percent of its annual income on healthcare. In 2017, that’s risen to over 30 percent. The Congressional Budget Office projection is that by 2025, healthcare costs will be 50 percent of a family’s income, and somewhere between 2031 and 2038, it becomes 100 percent. I don’t get how that works.

Guernica: Obviously it can’t work. What does family healthcare spending mean in this context?

Dr. Fine: For most of us, healthcare spending is health insurance spending by either you or your employer. It means co-pays and deductibles. It’s coinsurance [a percentage of treatment costs not covered by insurance companies that individuals must pay on their own], because most people who are employed get 25 percent of the cost of their health insurance taken out of their paycheck, and a lot of treatments aren’t covered even after buying this expensive insurance.

In Rhode Island, we spend a little over $12 billion a year on healthcare. Just little Rhode Island. The average healthcare inflation in the United States, including Rhode Island, has been a little over 6 percent a year for as long as everybody can remember, about three times the cost of general inflation. That means the increase in cost in Rhode Island—and remember, we’re not buying anything new, this is just the cost of healthcare inflation—is $720 million a year. That’s equivalent to the salary of about thirteen thousand teachers. It’s enough to build twenty-four units of affordable housing.

If we’re going to improve infant mortality rates and health in general, we need to spend money on education. We need to spend money on safe and healthy housing so that people have safe and secure places to live. We need to spend money on public transportation, community development, public safety, and the environment. These turn out to be the things that matter most for health. The paradox is that the more we spend on medical service expenditures that we don’t need, the less we spend on those things. In a certain way, healthcare is at war with health.

Guernica: You’ve argued that we are not using the right metrics for measuring health, or that we misunderstand what it means to be healthy in this country. How do you define health?

Dr. Fine: You have to think about what the human project is. Health doesn’t exist as a construct on its own. Health is about relationships. And democracy is a critical piece because it creates peace and stability, which allows relationships to be nurtured and mature.

You have to draw an intellectual distinction between personal and public health. It’s an important distinction because personal health is self-defined: most of us don’t want to be in pain, and we want live until seventy or eighty. None of us really thinks that you’re not healthy if you don’t live until 110. Everyone wants an equal shot of getting to eighty, I think, or at least almost everybody does.

Public health is totally different. Public health is a set of measures like life expectancy and infant mortality, concepts like years of potential life lost and reasons for that loss. From a public health perspective, you put these indicators together to give you a measure of how a population in a place is doing. That allows us to compare the ecology and the social organization of different places. In places where they’ve got it figured out, people live a long time, and their kids grow, and you’d think we’d want to emulate the social organization in those places.

Guernica: What’s an example of a place that’s doing it right?

Dr. Fine: Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates and long life expectancies, and the Finns pay about $4,000 a year for healthcare. When you look around the world, many countries that do this well have done what the Finns have done. The Finns build one community health center for every ten to twenty thousand people, and that community health center is responsible for taking care of everybody in that place.

In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, Finland had the highest rate of heart disease mortality in the world. They flipped it around by doing a bunch of guerrilla public healthcare; they had people who would go into barrooms and convince men in their forties and fifties to go out cross-country skiing and bicycle riding. They got farmers to change what they put in sausages. So instead of using beef fat or pork fat, they started using mushrooms that they were growing. That made the whole country healthier. You can do this. The Finns proved it.

Guernica: You drew inspiration from the Finnish model when you began addressing the healthcare crisis in your own city of Central Falls, Rhode Island. Talk about the work you’re doing there.

Dr. Fine: Central Falls is a city of twenty thousand. It’s a small place, only 1.2 square miles. It’s the poorest city in Rhode Island: about 50 percent of people live below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Fifty percent of people don’t have cars and most people are immigrants from Colombia, Cape Verde, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Liberia, and Nigeria. It’s got an old Polish and Syrian-Christian population. So it’s a really diverse and interesting place.

We’re doing something that I don’t think has ever been done in the United States: we’re actually building a healthcare system. We’re building a single clinical enterprise that is ready to take care of the entire population of the city. It’s classic primary care plus mental and behavioral health, substance use disorder treatment, physical therapy, dentistry, home health, emergency medial services, lab, and X-ray.

Guernica: I’ve heard of community health centers, but you refer to this entity as a neighborhood health station. What is the difference?

Dr. Fine: A community health center is charged with caring for the underserved. The community health center movement in the United States was started in the 1960s by Dr. Jack Geiger. Dr. Geiger was deeply involved in the civil rights movement, so for him this was a way to use healthcare as a social justice intervention, to give people whose lives had been disrupted by racism a shot at equal treatment. There are now 1,375 community health centers in nine thousand locations that care for 25 million Americans—almost 10 percent of the population, focusing on the underserved, those people who live at 200 percent of poverty or less.

With a neighborhood health station, it’s 90 percent of the healthcare services people need, in a single building, using a single medical record, so that 90 percent of the population uses that one clinical entity. We’re bringing primary care to all people, combining primary care and public health for the first time. The neighborhood health station provides services for pregnant women, but also works on improving infant mortality, reducing adolescent pregnancy, extending life expectancy, reducing the number of people who are smoking, reducing the number of deaths from opiate overdoses. The neighborhood health station becomes the agent of public health in every local community. And the vision is, if you can build one of these for every ten thousand people, then you have a real healthcare system.

Guernica: Do you accept health insurance? Do some people pay out of pocket? Is there a sliding scale for people who can’t afford the treatment they need?

Dr. Fine: The money comes from both federal grants (about 10 percent) and from health insurance. Community health centers are paid fairly for this work, which makes it all possible. By law, CHCs care for everyone regardless of ability to pay or immigration status. They all use a sliding scale. Some people pay nothing—they’re charged a minimal amount, but aren’t turned away if they can’t pay it.

Guernica: What is the advantage of bringing all of these services together under one roof?

Dr. Fine: By bringing everyone together in one place and using the single electronic medical record, we can find out lots of things about this population, and begin to improve the health of the population.

Every Friday at 1:15 p.m., twenty-five people get together: People from the state’s largest homelessness organization come. The city housing authority comes. Folks from two different mental health agencies come, as well as someone from the substance abuse recovery agency. The home nursing agency comes. People who do community-based social work and counseling come. We have a couple of clinicians, physicians, nurses, nurse case managers, people who know how to prevent utility cutoffs for people who are sick and can’t pay their bills. People from emergency medical services come. This is all totally voluntary.

Guernica: What do you do once you’ve assembled the twenty-five people?

Dr. Fine: We sit around a table, put our heads together, and think about how we’re going to take care of the people in the city who are most at risk. At each meeting, we discuss twenty-five to forty people. Sometimes we hear about somebody from a doctor, but often we’re hearing about people from the housing authority, or recovery coaches, or the police.

Guernica: Are you able to preserve patient confidentiality? Do your patients sign HIPPA agreements or something similar?

Dr. Fine: Everyone who participates [in these meetings] signs a business associate agreement, which prevents them from sharing any information they may receive. In addition, whenever there’s a non-clinician in the room, we refer to people only by their initials and dates of birth. The data isn’t merged—only the clinical side shares a data system. And HIPPA was never meant to keep clinicians from talking to one another. It was meant to protect people’s privacy in the era of electronic data.

I talk about the neighborhood health station as a single clinical entity that involves multiple disciplines. But that’s different from the multidisciplinary team, which is wider in the community. That includes housing, police, EMS, more extended mental and behavioral health. When people are at greater risk, those people are often already known to most of the caretakers in the community. We can protect people’s privacy while taking advantage of folks who are already involved with them, and their collective knowledge and experience.

In addition, everyone who takes an ambulance ride signs a consent form that includes consent to have their case discussed with the multidisciplinary team. Obviously they can refrain if they don’t want to. And we don’t take that to be that significant, because it’s not full consent when you have an emergency. But on the flip side, when we looked closely at the data about EMS transports, we discovered that most of the time, 70 to 80 percent of the time, people use the ambulance not because they have an emergency but because they don’t have other access to healthcare. By working on this issue, we’ve been able to reduce the number of EMS transports by 15 percent, which saves the city somewhere between $2 to $4 million in a year.

Guernica: What would be an example of a non-emergency reason to call an ambulance?

Dr. Fine: Somebody with back pain, a headache, emotional distress or anxiety. Twelve or thirteen percent are alcohol intoxication. In May, we saw a jump in the number of EMS transports for alcohol intoxication. Now, the literature on alcohol intoxication and alcoholism from Europe suggests that if you shrink the open hours of stores and bars that sell alcohol, you reduce the number of people who get intoxicated. The state legislature decides open hours; local communities can’t. We learned that the people who wanted to sell alcohol had gone to the state legislature and lobbied their way into influence. On May 1, “summer hours” begin, which lets liquor stores stay open later. So we had caused this outbreak of alcohol intoxication with a public policy that was influenced by people with something to sell.

Now we’re in the process of working with the city government and the city’s general assembly delegation to shrink those hours again, at least for Central Falls. But that kind of feedback loop—where you see something happening, you get to its social cause, and you begin to address that social cause politically—is a huge opportunity to think about health and democracy together, and begin to understand the extent to which they’re more intertwined than most of us realize.

Guernica: You’re a family physician, and you’ve called primary care “the only medical service that is affordable and effective.” Can you explain what you mean?

Dr. Fine: Our data shows a clear association between lower-cost and improved health outcomes in places where there are more primary care clinicians per ten thousand people. That data is replicable all across the country and validated by international comparisons. Why should that be? To a certain extent, it’s because of prevention. If you have a primary care clinician, that person will harass you if you’re smoking until you stop, remind you to exercise, tell you to eat right, check your cholesterol, and remind you again to exercise and diet, and then if you can’t do that, may put you on some medicine, but only once nothing else works. If you get pregnant, your primary care doctor gets your prenatal care started when you’re six or seven weeks pregnant, because that’s when we get the best health outcomes. If you’re a sexually active teenager, your primary care person makes sure you’re practicing safe sex and have birth control so you don’t get pregnant in high school, because that has all sorts of its own bad health impacts and costs associated with it. With all of these factors, you’re likely to live longer.

Guernica: So that’s prevention. What’s the other part?

Dr. Fine: The other part is protection. If you’re part of a good primary care practice or community health center and you get sick, you can call up and get someone who knows you to take a look at you right away. They’re going to take care of you, unless they find something [beyond what they can treat onsite], and then they know how to steer you to specialists who are reputable, honest, and aren’t going to subject you to tests or treatments you don’t need.

If you don’t have that person and you get sick, you’re probably going to go to the emergency room. And there, if you have a headache, they’re going to do a CAT scan, an MRI, get you a neurology consult, maybe do a lumbar puncture. They might find a thing that looks a little funny, and that encourages them to do more testing. You’re in the hospital while they’re doing that testing, and hospitals are this soup of bad bacteria, so that increases the chance that you’re going to get an infection that you didn’t come in with, which is a common occurrence. You’re going to be exposed to the things that the healthcare market throws at you in the interest of profit, many of which are quite dangerous.

When you begin to know and understand the epidemiology, a primary care clinician has a huge impact on protecting you from the malfeasance of the medical market, which exists only to sell stuff and which is actually reasonably dangerous. The per-person per-year cost of primary healthcare in the US is $500. We can provide primary care to all Americans and still save $250 billion a year, because of the savings that providing primary care to all will generate.

Guernica: Yet I’ve heard that fewer and fewer medical students are going into primary care. Is that true?

Dr. Fine: Fewer medical students are interested by far. Primary care physicians don’t earn as much as specialists—though compared to average Americans, we should all be ashamed. Some of it is because of the student loan problem. When you come out of medical school with $250,000 worth of debt, it’s a little harder to convince yourself to make a little less money.

Another big reason is because of the industrialization of primary care that’s happened as a result of the dynamics of the health insurance market. Insurance companies now force us to see four patients an hour. Connecting to human beings and trying to build four relationships an hour, and take care of the thing that bothers them, and get their medicines refilled, is really tough. Primary care physicians don’t even get to look at the patient in front of them anymore; they look at the electronic medical records on the computer. It has become a dehumanizing industrialized experience, and that probably dissuades a lot of people from going into primary care as well.

But it’s more than just primary care people who are industrialized and feeling alienated; that sense has now spread across the whole health worker community. Nurses feel this way. Specialists feel this way. PTs feel this way. Everybody’s had their professional integrity undermined by the market. And now the hope is that this group of people will revolt. In fact I don’t think there’s another way out. When healthcare workers revolt, they can actually lead to change. But they’ve got to stand up and do it.

Guernica: Do you see that happening?

Dr. Fine: Well, not as quickly as I’d like it to. But I think those of us who’ve been around a long time need to start standing up and giving people the courage to do it. If people who’ve been doing this for twenty, thirty, forty years don’t stand up, how are people who just got out of residency and have $250,000 worth of debt going to have the courage to do it? This is the responsibility of my generation and hopefully some of us are doing it now and will keep doing it.

We’ve got a little organizing experiment happening in Rhode Island called Healthcare Revolt that’s trying to bring healthcare professionals together to stand up and fight for the stuff that matters. There’s the Lown Institute in Boston that’s trying to do this across the country, called the Right Care Alliance. Not only do we have people’s professional integrity and meaning at stake, not only do we have the health of Americans at stake, but democracy itself is at stake. If people revolt and start building little healthcare systems, neighborhood health stations, one in every community, that’s the recharge that we’re looking for.

Guernica: What can ordinary citizens, non-healthcare workers, do to improve healthcare in their community? What kind of useful pressure can we put on our elected officials or candidates for office? Are there other concrete actions we can take to help improve the health of our communities as well as our own access to good healthcare?

Dr. Fine: What I say to everyone who has been denied healthcare, or lost their financial security, or can’t afford health insurance, is this: Listen up. Someone is stealing a trillion dollars a year from the American people, and all of us are letting them get away with it. You want affordable healthcare? Use the Community Health Center in your own community. Get on its board. Tell your friends, so we engage them as well. You want someone who will stand up to the hospital executives and the pharma people and the insurance industry? Then you better run for office if you can, because the people there are already bought and paid for by the healthcare profiteers. If you can’t run, you better use your vote and vote for people who can stand up. Start writing letters.

It took fifty years to make this mess. It isn’t going to get fixed overnight. Too many people will go broke, and too many will die because of it, but many more will be hurt if we don’t start demanding a CHC or NHS in every community, publicly supplied generic medication, a cap on what we pay executives and doctors at hospitals and through Medicare and Medicaid, to close hospitals we don’t need. Communities can start closing the many unnecessary and incredibly expensive hospitals that are sucking down money we need for primary care, and that contribute nothing to the public health.

Guernica: Part of this revolt seems to require that healthcare workers make a conscious choice to leave for-profit hospitals and private practices. Does staffing a NHS require persuasion, education, grassroots organizing?

Dr. Fine: Our guys mostly work for community health centers. Many healthcare workers did healthcare because they love communities and the people who live in them. People want to work like this. We still have challenges: EMRs [electronic medical records], productivity measures and standards, and way too much bureaucracy in healthcare, driven by way too many healthcare profiteers. But this work is what many healthcare workers long to do. As we build it, they are coming. If there were more neighborhood health stations, there would be more people flocking to do this work. It takes relatively little or no persuasion: pay people a living wage, treat them like human beings, respect their knowledge and skill, and they keep coming. If you talk to people who are in healthcare, they’ll tell you over and over all the dumb things they get asked to do that have much more to do with keeping the billing system going than taking care of people. There are a hundred different ways we can revolt, and hopefully we’ll keep discovering new ones until we humanize this process. Until we have the ability to sit down and listen to patients. Because that’s what this is about.

Guernica: When talking about the factors that go into evaluating health in general, you’ve mentioned access to education, safe and affordable housing, public transportation, and sustainable resources. You’ve described current healthcare in the United States as less a system than a market that is enabled by lobbyists and politician, and plundered by profiteers including hospital executives and Big Pharma. To put this bluntly: Is market-driven capitalism antithetical to health as you’ve defined it?

Dr. Fine: Unregulated crony capitalism that creates substantial and growing income inequality, that exists to extract wealth? That has nothing to do with the maintenance or improvement of the public’s health. That capitalism is not consistent with health; it’s in conflict.

But I can imagine a capitalism that’s more regulated and restrained. Where healthcare is regarded as essential, along with safe and healthy housing, transportation, decent free education through college and graduate school. Where we fund community development as part of the infrastructure of democracy. That’s a capitalism that we have never seen before in the United States, but it’s one I can imagine, and that does not seem to be inconsistent with health. It’s the environment in which I think our democracy and politics make health happen.

Guernica: Some people might hear the examples you’ve just given and call that “socialism.”

Dr. Fine: I don’t think markets are intrinsically evil, but the challenge is when someone takes the market posture as a fundamental belief about society as a whole. That posture has brought us to where we are, and is unsustainable over time.

We must treat healthcare as an essential service, much like police and fire departments, like water treatment and sanitation. We know pretty well what everybody needs and it’s a whole lot cheaper and more effective if everybody has it.

Ariel Lewiton

Ariel Lewiton is the Director of Marketing and Publicity for Sarabande Books. Her essays and stories have appeared in Vice, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. She lives in New York.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Michael Fine's Author Page

Bringing Pan-Africanist C.L.R. James To a New Generation

By Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron
May 10th, 2018

When I got the new graphic novelette, The Young C.L. R. James,  I realized that while I had heard of James I knew very little about him. I suspect I am not alone in this lack of knowledge, which made the 42-page graphic novelette a good entry point for exploring more about the brilliant James.

Illustrated by Milton Knight and edited by political graphic novelist extraordinaire Paul Buhle and Lawrence Ware, the book traces the early years of a man born in 1901 whose most famous book was the 1938, The Black Jacobins, the first history of the Haitian revolt.

James grew up in the West Indies under British colonial control. At age 7 he took up cricket, the only game played at the time. He would go on to become one of the great cricket writers of his era. James saw cricket as one of England’s few positive contributions to Trinidad, including as it did a “stringent sense of ethics.”

After graduating high school in 1918 James falls in with some “Black Bohemians” who published their own political writings and fiction. He becomes politicized listening to American jazz records and calypso in his Trinidad homeland.

James then made the decision that changed his life. As others told him that “Black writers stand no chance in Trinidad,” he moved to London. He soon wrote a radical play about the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture. The great Paul Robeson agreed to play the leading role on the London stage. James saw Robeson as a rebuttal to the claims of White Superiority upon which British colonialism was based.

James would eventually move to Harlem in the 1940’s, connecting to its burgeoning jazz scene. His motto was “Dance every day if you can,” and Knight’s illustrations depict the Harlem scene of the time.

C.L.R. James: The Artist As Revolutionary

If hearing about the remarkable C.L.R. James encourages further reading, I suggest Paul Buhle’s C.L.R. James: The Artist As Revolutionary. There is a reason James was among the leading Marxist and Pan-African writers of his time, and Buhle brings his legacy to life.

And I am told that if you are in to cricket, C.L.R. James is a must read

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His new book, Generation Priced Out, will be out in October from UC Press.

To leave feedback, go to

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Paul Buhle's Author Page | Back to Milton Knight's Author Page | Back to Lawrence Ware's Author Page

Detailing radical attempts imagining impossible agendas

By Michael James Miller
Pedagogy, Culture & Society
April 03, 2018

Introducing the book, Robert Haworth writes his thoughts on what ‘radical informal learning’ is and might be, offering various insights that are echoed and elaborated on throughout the book, among them being developing spaces that are ‘critically reflective’ and ‘horizontal’, and within these spaces questioning our desires and the risks involved, hinted at by Haworth with concepts like ‘radical love’ (Freire) and ‘radical openness’ (hooks). Out of the Ruins is a book situated in the rich archives of radical (and particularly anarchist) writings on learning and learning spaces, and for a reader unfamiliar with radical and/or anarchist pedagogies, here might be a comfortable compilation to get uncomfortable with – Haworth writes of his experiences when introducing notions of ‘free schools’ to pre-service teachers and the discomfort they often expressed when confronted with and challenged on their ‘fixed beliefs of what teaching and learning should be’ (8).

Haworth sets out with a sort-of warning and guide for readers, offering what will be an under- lying (and often a primary) theme in the chapters that follow: ‘Because informal learning, in many cases, has become co-opted and embedded within the logic of a capitalistic economic system, it should be viewed with a critical lens’ (7). Perhaps this is an obvious statement by Haworth, but writing of past and ongoing successes, failures, and struggles (and the not-so-clear distinction between them) as the book does, elucidates the need for continued criticality while imagining/ organizing/navigating more radical spaces and, as I would have liked to read more of, a suspicion of what emerges out of the ruins (even and especially when that includes ourselves). Many of the chapters in Out of the Ruins describe in varying detail personal accounts and collaborative efforts to create and sustain Radical Informal Learning Spaces, and importantly, after their emergences, issues that brought about the end (Chapter 13 emphasizes how crucial having a physical space can be); experiments in structuring organizing (Chapter 10 writes of working with tensions and disorientations); and pedagogical approaches in collectively addressing issues that arose (Chapter 11 outlines horizontal pedagogy) while working to create something outside of (Chapter 5 with techno-education), alternative to (Chapter 7 with the Really Open University), or even within main- stream educational institutions (Chapter 9 teaching the Sociology of Anarchism at university).

As a generalization, I’ve found edited books such as this tend to o er more glimpses and peeks into the author’s thinking than allowing for more developed and in-depth analyses and elaborations, leaving the reader to assume a lot, or assuming a lot of the reader. This is not always a detriment to the content, with some terms or concepts opening-up considerations to pursue beyond the book (for example, radical learning spaces facilitating the questioning of desires – particularly in the Introduction and Chapters 3, 6, 7, 10, 13 – brings me back to important work from Fraser and Lamble 2015; and Daring et al. 2012 particularly the Volcano and Heckert chapters, directly connecting and contributing to, though not offered in, these texts).

However, I found some content lacking important analyses which had me searching or returning to readings beyond this book, for example Tuck and Yang’s (2012) Decolonization is
not a metaphor with Chapter 5 ‘explor[ing] radical educational alternatives using the metaphor of decolonization’ (87). Tuck and Yang write that decolonization is ‘a distinct project from other civil and human rights-based social justice projects’ (2); that the ‘easy absorption, adoption, and transposing of decolonization’, an example being calls to ‘decolonize our schools’ or ‘decolonize student thinking’, are incommensurable and is ‘yet another form of settler appropriation’ (3) which inhibits ‘more meaningful potential alliances’ (3). Other times I found passages to take too much for granted. For example, after re ecting on the experience and standard reactions to the intro- duction of more radical concepts of learning spaces from students based in (US) mainstream, No Child Left Behind-era education, Haworth states
Radical informal learning takes a significantly different approach to learning than what was stated above. For one, radical informal learning would be an ongoing process and geared toward freedom, autonomy, critical reflection, and liberation rather than supporting hierarchical, authoritarian, and economically corrupt institutions and relationships. (7)

With what, I wonder, is the reader to do with these terms? While ‘freedom’, ‘autonomy’, ‘critical reflection’, ‘liberation’ and ‘ongoing process’ are mentioned and alluded to throughout the book, I do not consider these terms to be as self-evident as I often read them being used. Without further engagement and analysis with these terms, I hesitate with what is being questioned and challenged by the authors (e.g. education, learning spaces, desire).

Perhaps what I am looking for is too tedious a task for this format (a single chapter in an edited book has limited space to say much, especially when there is so much to say and so much being said), perhaps these are even meant to be terms open to interpretation with informal understandings. But I offer this critique because perhaps the authors are taking for granted, even taking liberties with some common conceptualizations (e.g. ‘freedom’) while directly taking on others (‘learning’).

A stand-out example for me comes from the book’s co-editor John M. Elmore in Chapter 1, which presents the reader with various provocations on authoritarianism, education, and restraint from ‘organic development’. I found some arguments in the chapter to themselves be restrained; while I support taking the strong position that ‘to oppose one system of domination while sup- porting...another, is to engage in intellectual hypocrisy of the highest level’ (27), there was no further analysis of opposition itself (for which I again go to Daring et al. 2012, specifically chapters by Conrad, and Heckert). Other passages I found to be restraining in themselves with an accepting and upholding of the authoritarianism the chapter and wider collection seeks to address and o er alternatives to. For example, when considering consequences of ‘Preventing learners from think- ing and acting freely’ (again, more assumptions on terminology), Elmore brings in an Arnstine quote to support the point being made of the process in which ‘...entire societies can acquire the mentality of slaves.’ What Arnstine means by ‘the mentality of slaves’, and why Elmore offers this quote to try and substantiate the argument for ‘Finding alternatives to traditional schooling’ not only remains unclear in this chapter – as no elaboration or explanation is given – but is (at best) missing the mark. One might ‘get’ the sentiment of what is meant here, but given the complex, nuanced, opaque, beautiful, horrible work around slavery (for one example, the work of Saidiya Hartman), this assumption is one of the more glaring examples of the over generalizations and selective criticality scattered throughout this book.

I o er this review not necessarily as a dismissal of what all is contained within Out of the Ruins to any would-be readers, nor of the authors whose work is used here as examples. Instead, I write this as an attempted contribution of necessary suspicion; I want to stay with and expose more tensions than are confronted in these texts, and if we are committed to emerging out of the ruins without bringing along the same patterns, systems, and naturalized ways of thinking and being, then our efforts must extend to our too-often assumed understandings and imaginings (thinking again with Haworth’s ‘critical lens’).

I found Chapter 6 offered a lot of important insights and questions regarding beginning, beginnings, and the dificulties thereof, particularly with ‘the policing of “possibilities”’ (107).

Author Sarah Amsler’s ‘critical lens’ was intently and intensely focused on the Social Science Centre of which she is a part of, and their being compelled ‘to articulate new answers to fundamental questions about the purpose of education, defining or redefining democracy, and what it means to be-in-common and to learn’ (108). A few questions posed include:

So what is it that we need to learn, and how can we approach these ideas if we do not already know about them? If we could practice any kind of education we want, of what activities would it consist and why? What can these educational spaces do? Who is it for? How was it developed? How is it gendered, classed, raced, colonial, or epistemologically exclusive? Whose expression does it wear, in whose voice does it speak? What is its relationship to traditional, or even neoliberal, education? Are there spaces and cracks to work within and are they enough? How are the roles of student and teacher de ned, if at all? What is to be done with intractable reproductions of power? How shall we subsist? Who is affected by our commitments? What are we willing to give, and to lose? (108).

These (potentially) unanswerable questions (not that they would have any one answer any- ways) are importantly directed to people and groups who might be or work to be ‘at once united, diverse, divided, and aspiring to be in common’ (121). I read the contributors to this book being among those, and something discussed throughout these texts that I am thinking a lot about is ‘community’. I was interested to read different approaches and thinking’s about ‘community’ (and similar sentiments), and if/how this might be re/de/conceptualized in a general sense, and in relation to the idea of a ‘learning community’ more specifically. What might we mean and understand when thinking of‘community’, what do we take for granted, and what violences does ‘community’ not just potentially counter or diminish, but also strengthen and reinscribe – including (and particularly) radical informal one’s? Included here (brie y) as further provocations and potential contributions when thinking ‘community’, works by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney variously discuss maroon communities (Harney and Moten 2013), sociality (Moten 2018), and of the need to abolish the community so that we might commune (Harney 2017). These notions and my study with them were further pressed with co-writing a conference paper bringing up these points (Miller and Miller 2017) and from the push back, questions, and conversations in response, particularly around what abolishing the community could mean, and how to not only recognize the communing that is already happening, but what to do at that point. This is an ongoing conversation...

Sprinkled throughout Out of the Ruins I found other seeds of intrigue and interest that I would have liked to read more about. Discussing AnarchistU, for instance, Chapter 12 wrote of distinctions between the classroom and the community, and further had varying statements about hierarchies that recognized pitfalls (‘hierarchies of expertise’) while also perceiving the created space as distinct (‘different hierarchies than academic spaces uphold’ 235) and (boldly, intriguingly, somehow) free from others (‘while hierarchies of state and capital were eradicated, hierarchies associated with epistemologies of space were only somewhat mitigated’ 231).

Another seed only mentioned brie y but I found of interest was ‘boredom’, particularly the expressed desire of ‘militating against boredom’ (Chapter 11, 219, 220). Here I wonder what might ‘boredom’ have to o er (for example, see Horning 2017), including and further than rumination, particularly if we are challenging that which we take as obvious. Similarly, I want to imagine further about engaging in a ‘tolerance of ambiguity’ with others as proposed in Chapter 4, which gives a few, perhaps inadvertent but nonetheless appreciated examples of ambiguity, by later writing of the ‘problem of abstractness and a lack of engagement with the specificities of teaching and learning’ (80). Chapter 2 had a lot of imaginings, yet I read David Gabbard’s provocations as both pushing for more creativity from teachers and students, while also implying/imposing limits on what might be considered ‘useful’ creativity. Why must we shirk from an ‘impossible agenda’ – especially as the chapter draws on Zizek’s advice to ‘start thinking’ and not ‘get caught in this pseudo-activist pressure’ to ‘do something’? (50, 51) – what might it mean to imagine the unimaginable rather than ‘stir up public debate’ which seems to me is the ‘doing something’ which is to be avoided? I want to think more about the ‘useless’ in the ‘useful’ (h/t Tiqqun); the ‘impossible’ while we continue pushing what is ‘possible’.

Out of the Ruins offers an Introduction and 13 chapters with various anecdotes and attempted antidotes, provocations and practical, experiential writing on experimental efforts to create and maintain counter-hegemonic learning spaces and communities. Through different approaches, reflections and emergences this book extends many important considerations. Whether we are starting on our thinking of radical informal learning spaces, looking for examples from other’s experiences, or how we might bring in more criticality, radical intentions and informal pedagogies to our own practices and experiences, Out of the Ruins is intended to be that place.


Daring, C. B., J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano, eds. 2012. Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire. Oakland: AK Press.

Fraser, J., and S. Lamble. 2015. “Queer Desires and Critical Pedagogies in Higher Education: Reflections on the Transformative Potential of Non-normative Learning Desires in the Classroom.” Journal of Feminist Scholarship 7 (8): 61–77.

Harney, S. 2017. “Stefano Harney Interview (part 2) by Michael Schapira & Jesse Montgomery.” Full Stop. http://

Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. 2013. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions.

Horning, R. 2017. Ordinary Boredom. The New Inquiry. Miller, Lindsay L., and Michael J. Miller. 2017. “Carceral Educations: Schools, Prisons, Police and the Obligations of an Abolitionist.” Paper presented at the 2nd International Conference for Carceral Geography, December 11–12,
in Birmingham, England.
Moten, F. 2018. “Come on, Get it! with Thom Donovan, Malik Gaines, Ethan Philbrick, Wikipedia and the Online

Etymology Dictionary.” The New Inquiry.
Tuck, E., and K. W. Yang. 2012. “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity,
Education & Society

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Robert Haworth's homepage

Setting Sights: A review in The Philadelphia Partisan

By Ben Curttright
The Philadelphia Partisan
May 15th, 2018

If Setting Sights has a single thesis, it’s that support for gun control is not an inherently left-wing position.

This is a particularly hard sell in the United States, as author and historian Neal Shirley admits. Those opposed to gun control “tend to be right-wing, pro-government folks in their practical attitudes toward domestic and international military and police repression, yet somehow they see themselves as fighting against government control.” The National Rifle Association (NRA) has spent over $200 million since 1998 lobbying, campaigning for, and contributing to the campaigns of (predominantly) Republican candidates. A large majority of domestic terrorist attacks are committed by right-wing extremists. On February 14, a 19-year-old gunman, Nikolas Cruz, killed 17 people at his Florida high school with an AR-15. As if drawn to match Shirley’s description, Cruz was a former ROTC member who allegedly trained with white supremacist groups (though these claims have been disputed) and posted Islamophobic rants on Instagram; in his profile picture, he’s wearing a MAGA hat.

It makes sense to think of the right-wing gun nut as performing at the logical endpoint of the nationalist/imperialist ideology that’s dominated the U.S. since World War II and especially since 9/11. America is the global cop; the most venerated of its servants are the troops; the truest way to embody these ideals in this atomized, individualistic world is to buy a gun and declare oneself a cop, swearing to protect and serve the “Real America.”

In a 2017 survey, the Pew Research Center found that Americans across the mainstream political divide generally support the most frequently suggested gun control proposals, including universal background checks, barring gun purchases by people on terror watch lists, and preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns. These proposed laws range from cosmetic to discriminatory, given their reliance on repressive, undemocratic organs of the American state like police databases and the FBI no-fly list. Meaningful gun control measures, like bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, poll significantly lower. What’s most interesting, though, is how the policy proposals that Pew asked about would largely leave the status quo intact: most gun owners are white men; most gun deaths are by handgun, not assault rifle; and mental illness generally does not cause gun violence (though mental health background checks might still matter; two-thirds of gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides). Pew didn’t ask about buybacks or handgun bans, policies that have reduced gun violence in countries around the world. And, crucially, they didn’t ask about the police, who shot and killed 987 people last year.

Setting Sights aims to provide an alternative framework for thinking about guns. The authors, writing primarily from an anarchist tradition, reject the liberal consensus on gun control: “that violence is bad, and guns are often used in violence, therefore guns are bad, therefore it would be better if the government was the only entity able to use them (presumably against everyone else?).” Instead, they see guns as a “fact of life” for any social movement, a necessary tool for those who resist power. “Guns are like forks,” quotes the Western Unit Tactical Defense Caucus. “You may not believe in forks, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist and aren’t a useful tool for the revolutionary. Guns, like forks, have a use and a purpose within the revolution. Quite simply put, guns are tools.”

Tools, yes; “like forks,” not so much. Whether arguing, as scott crow does, that “if we want to transcend violence in the long term, we may need to use it in the short term” or asserting “the right of oppressed peoples to protect their interests by any means necessary,” firearms must, by any self-interested social movement, be treated more seriously than forks.

Who is made safer by gun control? Who, if anyone, is made less safe? If guns are tools, then when and how should they be used, and what ends are worth their use? And, ultimately, are guns necessary for the Left to win the future?

Maybe. Setting Sights largely elides the question of full-scale revolution in favor of a discussion of community armed self-defense as a means of protection against both reactionaries and the state. As gun control, for once, lingers in the national discourse, making these assessments of tactics and consequences is perhaps more important than ever.

In 1967, French philosopher Régis Debray published Revolution in the Revolution?, a slim book on the successes of the Cuban revolution that quickly became required reading for would-be guerrillas in the Americas, alongside Che Guevara’s own manual on guerrilla warfare. Debray’s essay advanced foquismo, a combat strategy based on small, hypermobile guerrilla units that attack from secret strongholds without aiming to take or control territory. The guerrilleros would instead remain a clandestine, specialized force, detached from peasant society but, through acts of armed propaganda, demonstrate the ability of the people to resist state power. The text is particularly critical of Trotskyism (“Trotskyism flies in the face of common sense”) and the Trotskyist insistence on organizing the revolution within the peasantry and trade unions. The foco, not the union, is, according to Debray, the vanguard of the working class.

Debray’s theory of the foco was implemented in several countries and contexts; the results were, on balance, not good. Che Guevara was captured and killed in Bolivia in 1967 while recruiting for a guerrilla group. According to George Ciccariello-Maher’s essay in Setting Sights essay, foquismo “proved disastrous” in the Venezuelan guerrilla struggle of the 1960s, as guerrilla groups were unable to establish the political base among the peasant masses that makes warfare sustainable. The split between Students for a Democratic Society and the more radical Weatherman faction was directly inspired by Debray’s book, which became the blueprint for the ill-fated Weather Underground Organization in the U.S. (whose hard-line politics made them one of the most intellectually interesting, but least politically effective, groups to emerge from the American New Left).

Political texts, Debray writes in his 2017 preface to the Verso edition of Revolution in the Revolution?, are “wagers on the future, laid instinctively, in the excitement of a unique, unrepeatable moment, when form is not available to sublimate content, for they are generally bereft of style or captive to a logomachy peculiar to their time.” Upon reflection, according to Debray, the collective wager of foquismo was not won; meaningful political and social changes were “not achieved by armed vanguards, but by the reconstruction of trades unions, implantation in the shanty towns, and the revival of united opposition fronts and specifically political organizations.”

Debray’s honest self-criticism is born from an understanding that armed struggle, in its various forms, is a tool. If a tool is useful, it should be used; if not, it should be dispassionately discarded. This seems to be the logic behind the second section of Setting Sights, titled “Histories of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries”: by analyzing cases of community armed self-defense, we can assess the validity of the authors’ original claim (that guns are a necessary factor for any social movement) and better implement community self-defense practices in the future.

However, the essays, in general, proceed differently; in Setting Sights, the gun, more often than not, ends up justified whether its use was successful or not.

One of the earlier essays, a historical piece by educator Shawn Stevenson, analyzes an armed encounter between the Centralia, Washington branch of the Industrial Workers of the World and a group of Legionnaire vigilantes in 1919. Stevenson is pointedly writing against popular history, in which the 1919 skirmish was a “massacre” or a “tragedy.” He instead sees the incident as a partial victory for the Wobblies, who “took up arms to defend their right to organize, striking a blow against the bosses despite great personal sacrifice.” According to Stevenson, “A message had been sent that the Wobblies would not always submit to beatings and the destruction of their property peacefully, and few would-be vigilantes appear to have been willing to put their lives at risk in face of the example set in Centralia.”

This optimistic reading of the events sits at odds with Stevenson’s own summary of the incident and its aftermath, in which eight Wobblies were convicted of second-degree murder and IWW member Wesley Everest was taken out of jail and lynched by vigilantes. The “message” sent did not halt the “White Terror” that followed the Centralia incident, a citywide scare in which “any working person with an association to the IWW was rounded up by vigilantes, their homes searched without warrant and vandalized.” In fact, internal disputes about militancy in the IWW, according to labor organizer Fred Thompson, proved harmful to the IWW, whose membership fell after a series of dissensions in the early 1920s. These more negative consequences do not change Stevenson’s mind about the efficacy of the IWW’s tactics; taking a “principled stand in the fight for the rights of working people” is suddenly more important to Stevenson than better understanding how to advance those rights.

crow defines community armed self-defense as “the collective group practice of temporarily taking up arms for defensive purposes, as part of larger engagements of self-determination in keeping with a liberatory ethics.” Firearms, in this reading, are not instruments of revolution but instead a tool for carving out, in accordance with anarchist principles, spaces outside the state.

The key historical example of this theory put in practice (at least when working within the American context) is the Black Panther Party, whose Ten-Point Program explicitly called for all African Americans to arm themselves in accordance with their Second Amendment rights.

In “Gun Control Means Being Able to Hit Your Target,” American Indian Movement leadership council member and ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill cites the Panthers as the only community self-defense model that was “effective, replicable, and potentially sustainable.” The Panthers’ community-building efforts in the 1960s were facilitated by the Party’s demonstrated willingness to “physically defend what had been built against those bent on destroying it,” Churchill argues.

The right of oppressed groups to defend themselves, whether against the state (see Michele Rene Weston’s essay, “Ampo Camp and the American Indian Movement: Native Resistance in the U.S. Pacific Northwest”) or against white supremacist vigilantes (see the Mabel Williams interview “Negroes with Guns” and a panel discussion between Williams, Kathleen Cleaver, and Angela Y. Davis, “Self-Respect, Self-Defense, and Self-Determination”) has been reasserted since the Parkland shooting by R.L. Stephens of Democratic Socialists of America (“In my socialism, I believe in the democratic right to bear arms among the people, not to defend against the government but because the government does not in fact protect everyone equally”) and Setting Sights contributor Ciccariello-Maher (“And so, we know that the government has no interest in prosecuting and undermining white supremacist organizations, and that organizations on the ground are going to need to do that themselves”).

This particular argument is sort of outside this reviewer’s purview. If nondiscriminatory gun control, in concert with demilitarization or, ideally, abolition of the police, is possible, the Left should advocate for gun control. At the same time, if oppressed groups organize community self-defense groups to protect themselves, white leftists can have few reasonable complaints. Long-term, the idea that armed groups of anarchists are the best defense against armed white supremacists, as described in J. Clark’s “Three-Way Fight” on post-Katrina confrontations in Algiers Point, New Orleans, feels all too similar to the reactionary (and flawed) idea that only a “good guy with a gun” can stop a bad guy with a gun.

However, the idea that guns are inherently liberatory (in former Black Liberation Army member Ashanti Alston’s words, the “liberation gun” gave the BLA “the power of the people to inject fear into the oppressor and make them do as we command”) appears throughout Setting Sights, often in the form of a warning: “Some radicals might fetishize armed struggle,” warns Wingnut Anarchist Collective member Mo Karnage, especially armed struggle by people of color. “For me, collective liberation is not about fetishizing arms as the only true means toward freedom,” writes crow. In perhaps the deepest essay in the collection, “Notes for a Critical Theory of Community Self-Defense,” philosophy professor Chad Kautzer details the dangers of “machismo and narcissism” in social movements based around the “sovereign subject” as defined by armed self-defense. The sovereign subject, Kautzer writes, actualizes freedom through asserting the individual’s right to self-determination; in doing so, the revolutionist undermines the “conditions of freedom for others.”

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote in the wake of Parkland, any social movement that aims to deal with gun violence “will inevitably force a deeper engagement with the causes of proliferating guns, violence and the toxic masculinity that often expresses itself in gun violence.” Per Taylor’s analysis, America is a systemically flawed, violent society, bound together by “guns, violence, racism and war.”

If these factors are, as Taylor presents them, bound together like blood and sinew, then gun control should be a left-wing position. The history is certainly more complicated than that. And, if you’re on the fence about the potential for armed self-defense, Setting Sights will certainly give you a lot to think about.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to scott crow's Author Page

Out of the Ruins: A Review

By Gregory Zobe
Journal of the Study for Technical Communication
May 2018

Out of the Ruins: The Emergency of Radical Informal Learning Spaces is an edited collection with its guiding concept of Radical Informal Learning offering thirteen chapters, thirteen dofferent approaches, for actively teaching and educating against authoritarian institutions, policies, and practices. Some
chapters are idealistic while others are confrontational; several chapters o er subtle but potentially effective strategies to work against the corporatized and surveilled learning environments where so many of us work and teach.

Four sections nicely divide the book and scaffold effectively. First: critiques of education. Elmore’s “Miseducation and the Authoritarian Mind” is one
of the strongest pieces in the text; it sets the book’s tone. is work will probably be reprinted in multiple future collections—thus, this is the key piece to
take from this collection. Next section: “ theoretical Frameworks for Educational Praxis.” Blending an array of critical pedagogues, anarchists, anti-colonialists, and related revolutionaries, these chapters’ authors o er multiple structures and frameworks to move against abusive power.

e third section is likely most relevant to technical communication readings: using official institutional space for radical learning while not being of the space. Resistance from within the system. Sadly, no chapter was entirely persuasive. In their favor, each chapter represents a practical, hands-on approach to making their theory live and real. As such, their suggestions and insights need not be either effective or persuasive; what matters is that they shared tactics and experiences and allow us to learn from their work. at sharing in community is what is most notable. From that view, this section succeeds.

e last section, “Of the Streets and the Coming Educational Communities,” offers four chapters about ways to engage, teach, and learn outside of the university. is section is most interesting because it blends direct experience, such as working in Anarchist Free schools or developing horizontal pedagogy, with visions of the future. In a sense, they are forecasting or planning a bit, but this planning is not based just on theories—it’s based on work that they are already engaged in.

Anarchism has long attended to education’s importance in social relations and liberation. Sadly, scholarship around these ideas has been limited, often despite the explicit parallels between anarchism and liberatory educators like Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire or John Dewey’s experiential education and learning. Out of the Ruins is a welcome addition. It contributes both in terms of scholarly work as well as helping share practical and theoretical pieces for those interested in challenging extremist authoritarianism.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Robert Haworth's homepage


Quick Access to:



New Releases

Featured Releases

Collectives in the Spanish Revolution

Lago de Sangre: Un libro de misterio sobre Filomena Buscarsela