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Look for Me in the Whirlwind: A Review

By Keith Riley
Maximum Rock'n'Roll
April 2018

About a year ago, I visited the Oakland Museum’s great Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50 exhibit. I felt the showing was important in terms of re-writing the Panthers’ past and emphasizing the ways that the Party’s politics and community programs transformed peoples’ lives in profound ways. The way I figured it - normal people go to the Oakland Museum. If those people chose to pay attention, the Black Panthers would suddenly become much more than the image of the gun-touting radical so commonplace in historical depictions. This is because the exhibit mostly highlighted the Party’s community-oriented, Survival Programs as the most important aspect of the Party’s legacy. An aspect of the Party more palatable to liberal audiences. The Museum’s interpretation, of course, isn’t totally wrong. Survival Program like the Free Breakfast Program, the Community Ambulance Program, and others were a big deal. Yet, the Panthers were an ideologically diverse group, and that insurrectionary impulse of the gun-touting radical remained a significant tenant of many members’ political thinking as well. One could argue that just focusing on the Party’s Survival Programs really misses a lot.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the case of the New York 21, a group of Panthers brought up on conspiracy charges to blow up an NYPD precinct in 1969. The group was later acquitted on all charges in 1971 and the trial remains an important example of the Federal Government’s efforts to dismantle the Party. But, to me, maybe the most interesting aspect of the case was the time that it occurred. The acquittals emerged during a period of significant Party disunity between the factions of Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. While Cleaver was pushing for guerrilla warfare to be waged against the U.S. government, Newton insisted on focusing on Survival Programs. In 1971, following their acquittal, the New York 21 published numerous communiqués pushing for armed struggle against the U.S. government. And, in response - Huey Newton promptly expelled them from the Party. Following their removal from the Black Panthers, key members of the New York 21 like Sundiata Acoli, Kuwasi Balagoon, and Sekou Odinga would join other New York former-Panthers like Assata Shakur in founding the Black Liberation Army, a group of black militants covertly waging guerrilla war against the U.S. government throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Their story is an important one, yet one that remains seldom told, as it runs in the face with the community programs-centered notion of the Party.

With this historical gap in mind, Look for Me in the Whirlwind, a new collection of writings by New York 21 defendants edited by Matt Meyer and dequi kioni-sadiki, seeks to restore the most militant wing of the Black Panther Party to its proper place amidst the pantheon of other important black leftist writers and thinkers. The book features the writings of Sundiata Acoli, the eighty year old revolutionary still incarcerated due to charges relating to an armed altercation with New Jersey State Troopers in 1973, Afeni Shakur, the New York 21 defendant and mother of Tupac Shakur, Kuwasi Balagoon, Jamal Joseph, and others. Yet, most prominently, the book features a re-pressing of the 1971 collective autobiography of the New York 21 also titled Look for Me in the Whirlwind. Learning this history from the perspective of activists themselves provides readers with a more intimate and personalized look at an important event in the history of the Black Panther Party.

Examining the stories of New York 21 defendants from the historical hindsight of 2017 reveals the diverse political developments of activists whose efforts would greatly impact the struggle for anti-capitalist black liberation throughout the 1970s and 1980s. For me, it’s difficult to read these activists’ stories outside their eventual excommunication from the Party and development of the Black Liberation Army, but I also think that frame makes their stories that much more interesting and important. In developing their inclination towards armed struggle, activists did not solely become politicized through exposure to poverty, street violence, and police brutality, but also through political activism in prisons and international anti-capitalist, guerrilla struggles. These are political factors often obscured in other studies of the Panthers’ political development, yet Look for Me in the Whirlwind in many ways works to place these important influences at the forefront of its analysis.

Defendant Kwando Kinshasa writes of his politicization not taking place on the streets of Harlem, but on the streets of Guatemala City. During the early 1960s, Kinshasa was stationed as a marine in the Central American country. While in Guatemala, Kinshasa befriended the Marxist guerrillas of Movimiento Revolucionario-13, a group fighting the country’s military dictatorship established in the aftermath of the CIA’s overthrow of progressive Guatemalan leader Jacobo Arbenz. “Many of the tactics one would or could use in an urban guerrilla situation were already thoroughly planned in Guatemala, but some priority action was also planned: my Guatemalan friends explained to me that the only way the revolution could succeed would be to educate the masses first, in a period of two, five, ten years or so, to the necessity of armed revolution throughout all of the country,” writes Kinshasa. (p. 388) In this sense, the New York 21 defendants’ exposure to international struggles gave them a differing outlook on the Party’s trajectory. For Kinshasa, the survival programs remained important educational and politicization projects. Yet, the programs were not an end in and of themselves. For him, they had to lead somewhere.

The book also shows the struggle of the New York 21 as not solely limited to the city streets of Harlem and the Bronx, but also extending into the confines of New York City’s jails. As much of the group remained unable to pay their extraordinarily high $100,000 bail, they took to organizing in the Queens Dentention Center, staging a prison rebellion there in 1970. Much like prison abolitionists today, New York 21 defendants viewed the prison system as an extension of the slave plantation, opposing the system on those grounds.  Look for Me in the Whirlwind examines the prison as a space that extracts black labor for capitalist profit while severely limiting the movement and livelihood of those imprisoned, simultaneously communicating the ways that activists have historically undermined the system’s exploits. While the Panthers’ prison abolition work is often overshadowed by the Party’s anti-police organizing and community programs, Kuwasi Balagoon’s telling of the 1970 Queen Detention Center uprising and other featured abolitionist writings show the undermining of the U.S. prison system to be an important aspect of the Black Panthers’ and the emerging Black Liberation Army’s political legacy. The fact that many Panthers still remain imprisoned today on charges relating to their activism only further demonstrates the essential nature of this aspect of Panther politics.

Look for Me in the Whirlwind and its telling of the New York 21’s story presents an aspect of the Black Panthers’ politics often overshadowed in their modern day reclaiming by more liberal-minded activists – their commitment to armed struggle. Writing like “We are madder than hell... We don’t for sympathy. We ask for vengeance” might make liberals who have recently accepted the Panthers’ place as an essential Civil Rights organization somewhat uncomfortable.
(p. 481) Yet, the notion of the Panthers as solely a group that served breakfast to children or set up health clinics is too simple. As Look for Me in the Whirlwind shows, these community-minded activists were armed insurrectionaries, hell-bent on overthrowing the government, as well. This is an essential part of the Panthers’ legacy. The New York 21 represent the Panthers at their most ideologically left position and because of this, their story often remains obscured.

Look for Me in the Whirlwind works to position the New York 21 as a story essential to the black freedom struggle. To place names like Kuwasi Balagoon, Sundiata Acoli, and Afeni Shakur alongside those of Huey Newton and Elaine Brown. While, by the 1970s, the New York 21’s politics greatly differed from that of the Oakland-based Party headquarters, the story of these activists helps to give readers a more complete picture of the Panthers’ political legacy.

Because of this, Look for Me in the Whirlwind remains essential reading for anyone seeking to understand both the Black Panthers in all their complexities, as well as the emerging politics of the Black Liberation Army.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Sekou Odinga's Page | Back to Dhoruba Bin Wahad's Page | Back to Jamal Joseph's Page | Back to Matt Meyer's Page | Back to déqui kioni-sadiki's Page




Why New Social Movements are Different

By Eve Ottenberg
The American Prospect
April 6th, 2018

A new book from social reformer Jai Sen explores the international age of protest

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Protesters march at Oceti Sakowin camp, where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline, in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on December 4, 2016.

In mid-March, a Canadian alliance of First Nation tribes led protests in British Columbia over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. This action followed other indigenous protests in Canada and the United States over the past few years, over Keystone XL, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and the Bayou Bridge. One of the most widely covered of these protests, the anti-DAPL demonstrations at Standing Rock, was led by the Standing Rock Sioux, which unfolded in tandem with their lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers. Under President Obama, the Corps finally denied an easement for the construction of the pipeline. With little apparent care for the Sioux’s concerns, President Trump promptly reversed that move.

But one defeat could not stop indigenous protesters. From Alaska and Canada to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, from the Lacandon jungle in Chiapas, Mexico, to the Ogoni tribes fighting Shell in Nigeria, indigenous people have become a force to be reckoned with worldwide—one, more often than not, allied with environmental advocates and climate change activists. The essays in the recently published The Movements of Movements: Part 1: What Makes Us Move?, edited by Jai Sen, a long-time organizer of the World Social Forum, demonstrate that indigenous peoples in India, Latin America, and Africa are confronting the neoliberal order of austerity, privatization, social-welfare program evisceration, and elite privilege for multinational corporations that sustain global capitalism.

Indigenous movements are tenacious. That resilience probably has something to do with so many of their struggles being environmental ones, over their own lands or lands stolen from them.

Indigenous movements are tenacious. That resilience probably has something to do with so many of their struggles being environmental ones, over their own lands or lands stolen from them. Environmental struggles almost always involve challenging capitalism—not in a theoretical way, but where corporations really hate it: in their profits. To endure for any length of time, such challenges require that the protesters be tough as nails. Occupy Wall Street challenged capitalism, too, in its heart, and the message was a protest against our new gilded-age inequality. But a park in lower Manhattan is not a tribe’s sacred ancestral land, which could be polluted by thousands of gallons of oil if a pipeline ever ruptures.

“There are approximately 350 million Indigenous peoples situated in some 70 countries around the world,” according to Taiaiake Alfred, the head of Indigenous People’s Research at the University of Victoria, and his colleague, Jeff Corntassel, in their essay “Being Indigenous: Resurgences Against Contemporary Colonialism.” Everywhere, their land and cultures are under attack. But the Standing Rock Sioux protesters were unique, since their struggle protecting their land and waterways against the Dakota Access Pipeline, captured international attention. The attack dogs set upon them were viewed by millions, as were the armed soldiers and police in riot gear who cleared their camp. So was police use of water cannons in freezing weather. But this concerted counterattack did not banish this indigenous movement; on the contrary, the water protesters gained the public’s sympathy, as millions of horrified viewers witnessed their abuse.

Other movements espousing radical change explored in this collection include third-wave feminism, neo-Zapatistas of Mexico, and localism, “which rejects the movement of goods and capital as dictated by contemporary globalization.” The survey ends in 2010: This is the first of two volumes and so more recent movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter are not covered here.

What all these movements share is the virulence of the corporate and governmental counterattack, which singles such left-leaning movements out for special repression. Case in point: Recently, the overjoyed fans of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrated their team’s Super Bowl win with what was essentially a large-scale riot—one that police tolerated and with which they largely did not interfere. A double standard is at work here: Leftist social or political protests are crushed by police violence, but other equally explosive mass demonstrations are not. The reason is obvious: A movement that challenges government or corporate control of its citizens is dangerous. A mass of rioting sports fans? So what if they smash a few windshields? They’re just giddy football lovers, celebrating.

Lately, however, with the noticeable increase of armed white supremacists on the political scene, this abiding double standard has taken on a more sinister cast. Months ago, when white supremacists gathered in Boston, police protected them, as they also did in Washington, D.C., escorting them to the Metro, away from large groups of nonviolent counter-protesters. Similarly, in Charlottesville last summer, when Antifa groups confronted white supremacists, one person responded by driving his vehicle into a crowd and killing counter-protester Heather Heyer.

Though that driver was charged with murder, several African American counter-protesters, whose only crime was self-defense, were charged by Charlottesville police with assault—despite the initial attacks on them being videotaped. One of the two accused, DeAndre Harris, who was attacked by white supremacists, was found not guilty on March 16, while the other still awaits trial. The police, unfortunately, took their cue from Trump, who referred to neo-Nazis as “fine people” and who, on camera, demonized anti-fascists. 

One feature distinguishing many of the movements in Jai Sen’s book from those of the past is the use of social media—a feature that is front and center in Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas. This book analyzes more recent movements such as Occupy and BLM. (There is, however, overlap between the two books in Tufekci’s coverage of the Arab Spring. She also focuses on Occupy and Gezi Park in Istanbul, which are not covered in Sen’s book.) Certainly, the movements discussed in both books deploy social media and exhibit similar structures—horizontality and what Tufekci calls “adhocism.”

But why have these protests—the Arab Spring, Occupy—faded away? The answer is, partly, organization. Twitter and Tear Gas contrasts these movements that disintegrated with others that did not, such as the indignados in Spain, who persevered by becoming a political party, Podemos, as well as the Greek protests that morphed into the left political party Syriza. She also examines the civil rights movement in the United States, comparing that struggle to the digital organization of contemporary protests.

“The minor organizing tasks that necessitated months of tedious work for earlier generations of protesters also helped them learn to resolve the thorny issues of decision making, tactical shifts and delegation,” Tufekci writes; “technology can lead to movements that scale up while missing essential pillars of support.”

This situation—an explosion of protest, magnified by Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and ubiquitous cell phones—often leads to a “tactical freeze,” not being able to “advance a next-phase agenda,” once the protests die out or are forcibly expelled. Exceptions are those movements that organize into political parties. Indeed, as she observes, many Occupy activists later found their way to Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.

Tufekci also scrutinizes a reactionary movement—the Tea Party, which focused relentlessly on elections. “Occupy and the Tea Party were both organized without formal structures and neither had official leadership. Occupy, however, was composed of people who were thoroughly disillusioned with the electoral process. … Tea Party patriots wanted policymakers to represent them.” Another difference, of course, is that the Tea Party, being quite right-wing, was well funded.         

Facing such intense repression, not surprisingly, many of these left movements ebb quickly—though part of that impression is the mainstream media’s decision to change the subject.

Facing such intense repression, not surprisingly, many of these left movements ebb quickly—though part of that impression is the mainstream media’s decision to change the subject. The Movements of Movements documents Mexico’s neo-Zapatistas bursting on the scene in 1994, gaining worldwide attention, and starting “a wave of social justice movements.” Later, media interest waned, but the neo-Zapatistas are still there. So are their grievances. “They don’t care that we have nothing,” the Zapatistas said of Mexico’s elite at the very start, “absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health care, no food or education, not the right to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, nor independence from foreigners.”

Repression takes many forms. Governments have adapted. This shape-shifting is on display in Turkey and in many Arab countries. They saw what happened in Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2011 with the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak and are not about to stand idly by and let that happen again. “Attention, not information per se, is the most crucial resource for a social movement,” Tufekci writes. Repressive governments deny that attention to social movements by creating a social media “glut of mashed-up truth and falsehood to foment confusion and distraction.”

As social activists Ashok Choudhary and Roma point out in The Movements of Movements, this reaction does not mean that the powerful have dropped old-fashioned smears and repression, as the reaction to the continuing rebellion of India’s forest indigenous peoples has shown. Interestingly, in India, it is not the Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) but the forest people whose movement challenges neoliberalism’s tenets. According to Choudhary and Roma, the forest people “regard what dominant society calls ‘natural resources’ as their habitat and heritage,” while the building of the modern Indian state has displaced “more than seventy million people from their livelihood resources,” among them the forest people.

In activist Anand Teltumbde’s eye-opening essay, “imperialism and Brahminism are the same” and “caste is the issue.” So why have the Dalits not organized, when they could be such a powerful force and when they have the example of the forest people right in front of them? The reasons are complex, historical, and unique to India, but there is also the undeniable fact that the Indian left has simply been inexplicably slow to organize the millions of people at the bottom of the caste system.

Like the successful 2006 struggle in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to deprivatize the water supply, other movements—the indignados of Spain, the Zapatistas of Chiapas, the forest people of India—saw the mobilization of “thousands upon thousands of oppressed people,” as York University in Toronto political science professor David McNally writes in his essay, “although these movements have been much more effective at resisting than overcoming.”

But that possibility remains. Citizens in the leading countries of the industrialized world have banded together around issues like health care. Two leading figures of the left, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom and Bernie Sanders in the United States, have long embraced this issue, and both have deep organizational roots in electoral politics. The American movement for single-payer health care and the British effort to preserve the benefits of the social welfare state are only going to grow stronger. Can indigenous protest translate into progressive politics, too? The good news is yes. One need only look to Bolivia, where in 2006, the indigenous Movimento al Socialismo (MAS) came into power with its leader, Evo Morales, ascending to the presidency. The possibility of social movements uniting with a political party and not just resisting, but actually overcoming, no longer seems so remote.



Buy The Movements of Movements | Buy The Movements of Movements e-Book now | Back to Jai Sen's Author Page




Interview: scott crow- Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self-Defense

Freedom News
April 5th, 2018

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




Only Connect: A Review of Richard Walker's Pictures of a Gone City

By Max Moorhead
The Brooklyn Rail
April 4th, 2018

By 2100 the San Francisco International Airport will likely see half of its runways submerged in water, reports a New York Times article from March. The study referenced in the article argues that land around the Bay Area that previously had been thought to be sinking at two millimeters per year could in fact be sinking by ten millimeters.1 This problem, now commonplace in our changing climate, is not easily ignored, seeing as the Bay Area has more start-ups, social media companies, venture capital, and tech corporations than anywhere else in the continental United States. The new study was done by Manoochehr Shirzaei, a professor at Arizona State University and Roland Bürgmann, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Another professor at UC Berkeley, Richard Walker, has just written a book on the subject of the Bay Area, Pictures of a Gone City: Tech and the Dark Side of Prosperity in the San Francisco Bay Area, which both traces the history of information technology and considers the implications climate change will have for Silicon Valley. In the words of a recent study of the area, “San Francisco won the information age lottery, becoming the world center of that technological revolution.”2 To a millenial such as myself, this “luck” of the Bay Area is obvious, but, as Walker shows, the economic focalization of the Tech Industry in the Bay Area has far little to do with luck.

Walker, Professor Emeritus of Geography, has a wealth of experience writing about the area; he has published three books on California since 1990 on topics ranging from agribusiness to conservation of ecology.3 In Pictures of a Gone City Walker appears comfortable applying his geographer’s lens while conducting a tour de force of class analysis, geographic history, and prediction of the future of the Bay Area’s tech sector. The book gets around to the subject of climate change in the chapter titled “Saving Greenland: Environmentalism in the Age of Global Warming.” He praises the past environmental accomplishments of the Bay Area, “but praising past achievements is no longer enough.” This sentiment could be applied to the entirety of Pictures of a Gone City. Ultimately I was left questioning the point of starting on a positive note—praising the Bay Area’s past environmental, economic, and technological achievements—when these efforts have always been entangled with the exploitative imperatives that Walker criticizes.

The dream of the internet was disintermediation—the removal of the cultural and physical mediators that influence our lives—and yet the internet is mediated by wires and physical infrastructure that is vulnerable to climate change. The type of disintermediation that we now call “connecting” on the internet, both to other users and to the information that is being organized, is ultimately only the illusion of disintermediation. Our lives on the internet are mediated by algorithms and software, and even by the font on your favorite social media platform. Mediators exist on the internet, and their design is inherently political. Walker looks at how we came to trust the infrastructures and creators of the internet. He thinks that “there is more at work here than the love of machines and technologies.” Considering the capitalist idea of progress and the wish to dominate the natural environment, he concludes that the separation of humanity from nature has underpinned the dream of capitalism (he invokes the famous Marx quotation, “all that’s solid melts into air.”) This feeling of immateriality in many ways perfectly describes the internet.

Walker takes time to describe a world which is now quite familiar. As he spends the opening chapters describing the terrifying—albeit fascinating—ahistory of Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, he is not only nostalgic, but even expresses wonder at the world these technology giants have created. He forgets that many of his readers, and most students, grew up in a world where many of these economic and technological changes were already under way; many of the innovations he marvels at are only astonishing to those who can remember a world without them.

Pictures of a Gone City is divided into three parts, the first of which takes a look behind the facade of wealth and celebrity that tends to obscure some of the technical aspects of how Silicon Valley operates. Walker traces the history of growth that has occured in San Francisco since the 1980s. While the rest of the country faltered during the recession, the Bay Area continued full throttle into prosperity with growth in personal income exceeding that in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Boston.

Much of the first part of the book, “The Golden Economy,” looks at the development of enterprise forms that are now commonplace: the startup, social networking sites, and web portals. He acknowledges the effect of the Silicon Valley entrepreneur on the larger economy: “The mythology of the plucky tech entrepreneur has diffused around the world, becoming a key element in the capitalist dream world of today.” The unfurling of Silicon Valley capitalism has not only changed the way we interact with the economy, but also formed a whole generation. If people are socialized to be productive human capital within the economy in which they are raised, then millennials were shaped to be productive within the confines of Neoliberalism. It is from this tech-dominated social imaginary that we seek to escape.4 The internet provides this escape, if only for a few minutes on the subway, or at the office. The escapism the internet offers may feel like connection, but in a time of environmental catastrophe our lives in the virtual world appear more like a disconnection.

In the second half of part one, Walker flips the spectacle of continual upward financial growth on its head, showing how the vast majority of the wealth generated from Silicon Valley is funneled to a handful of billionaires. He illustrates how the housing market has struggled to respond to the quick changes in market caused by the tech industry, and he shows that San Francisco has a higher poverty measure than any other Bay Area county. The reader is not only meant to question why this disparity exists, but to ask who is responsible. In a list of the “Bay Area’s Fifty Billionaires, 2016”5 tech tops the list with a total of 24 billionaires compared to 11 in finance.

Walker understands the problems climate change poses to the physical infrastructure of the internet. The Bay Area sits precariously along the largest estuary on the West Coast. The rising sea levels are only made worse by high tides and coastal storms. King tides, which mostly occur in the winter, can add a foot or two to already enormous storm tides, creating storm surges over 50% larger than regular tides. Walker points out that real-estate developers have been eager in the last decade to buy up low ground, which is needed for most industry, housing, and transportation. While Save The Bay, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and restoring the San Francisco Bay Area, has done much to stop this development, they may be too late. Although Houston and Miami have “set the bar so low that the Bay Area cannot help but look good by comparison,” Walker makes a contrast with the Netherlands. On an ancient estuary, the Dutch have transformed the Rhine and Scheldt into dry land and have engineered the way the river flows. But Walker does not see this as a likely solution for San Francisco. The studies that have been done, such as the “California Sea-Level Rise Guidance Document” from 2010, have been “strong on warnings but short on specific responses to sea-level rise.” He points out that, although Save The Bay helped vote in Proposition A in 2016—a $25 million per year tax on all property in the nine county Bay Area which goes to the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority—there is only so much that can be done to transform marshlands, and more drastic measures must be taken.

The Rockefeller Foundation is named as giving $5 million in “resiliency design projects” for the region. What is it that they are looking to protect? It is clear that although the dream of the age of Information Technology was to have complete disintermediation and a shift from the physical to the virtual, the physical world is crashing in on all sides, and ecological systems will not bend to the utopian ideals of Silicon Valley. Fires have been tearing through Northern California and in the Bay Area; “farther out, idyllic housing developments for second homes and miniranches are even more exposed. The people who move into such neighborhoods love the sense of open space and contact with nature, and just to put an exclamation point on it they plant up their yards with more trees and shrubbery and fail to adequately prepare safety cordons around their houses. Such places are urban wildfires waiting to happen.” It is ironic that those attempting to leave the city in an effort to reconnect with nature are subject to this violent awakening. Is this the reconnection suburban Californians in the Bay Area are seeking? The planting of shrubbery and trees only illuminates the degree to which the connection is an imaginary one. However, with global climate change nature is no longer something that is acted upon, but something that acts on us. With the realization that nature can no longer be compartmentalized into a cute, controllable state, an escape into the virtual world that Silicon Valley idealizes may seem all the more appealing.

The third part of Pictures of a Gone City traces the “Dreams, Nightmares, and Political Realities” of the Bay Area. Here the analysis turns to global warming, the future of the left, and utopias and dystopias of the IT revolution. In the ninth chapter Walker inquires into the creation of the virtual utopia of cyberculture and disintermediation. He concludes that many of the leaders of Silicon Valley are disconnected from the world they have created. “To their way of thinking” he says “the new digital technologies have opened up vast horizons of possibility for humankind, and with evangelical fervor they have spread the gospel of cyberculture.” While the Bay Area tech giants he investigates indeed spread this gospel of cyberculture, the seeds of their creed had been planted long before many had heard of the internet.

The theory of cybernetics, created by Norbert Wiener when he was a professor of mathematics at MIT, devised a new way of understanding regulatory systems. Wiener set out to explain how we can understand all systems on the basis of treating information as a measurable quantity, allowing it to be studied statisticallly. In his 1950 article, “Cybernetics,” Wiener writes, “any system for the transmission of messages must be continually ready for the transmission of one or the other of a set of alternatives. In order that these alternatives may be read clearly, it is essential that the line be cleared from the confusion of past alternatives. This is done with the aid of filters and similar selective apparatus.” This understanding of information has since been applied to Earth’s systems, humans, and computers.

As the internet broke out of the confines of the military, cybernetic theory was picked up by early tech pioneers, many under the influence of the Bay Area’s psychedelic counterculture. Early internet influencers such as Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue, and literary agent John Brockman, were ready for the idea , to use Wiener’s words, of a “selective apparatus filtering the alternatives of transmission”—much of the literature surrounding psychedelic drug use coming out of the Bay Area at the time told a similar story of the human mind. Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture, notes the connection between USCO, a media art collective Stewart Brand was involved with, and cybernetics: “Light, electricity, and mystical ‘energy’ generally played a role in USCO’s work very much like the one ‘information’ plays in Wiener’s cybernetics: they became universal forces that, functioning as the sources and content of all ‘systems.’”6 The coming together of the Bay Area’s art scene and counterculture with the philosophy of cybernetics shaped the way the web we now know was devised and constructed. To understand the ways in which the web fails to connect us, it is necessary to understand how the creators of the web failed to see us as people.

I often wonder if it is ultimately helpful to see humans as another information system like a computer, taking information as “a quantity which measures order, instead of disorder.”7 I was recently advised by a friend to turn my iPhone colors off, rendering everything black or white. His point was that the color on our phones stimulate us, and much of the time we spend staring at our screens is for the pleasure of this stimulation. The change—texts, photos, email, were all deprived of color—was not hugely noticeable at first, but when I eventually switched the color back on I was shocked. Every app became immensely more appealing. When turned back to black and white, I began to realize the ways in which some differences fade. The blue and green text boxes that distinguish iPhone users had vanished. How was I to discriminate the iPhone users from others—the green clearly being a classed identifier? With no color I began using my phone less on the subway, opting for the less accessible gadget—a novel. When we read a book we live in a world that is black and white, all attention working to piece together words and meaning.

I later learned that the black and white theory was from a lifehacker.com article, and there have been many articles since claiming to disprove the trick. However, I am still enthralled by the need felt by so many people to break the addiction to our phones. If the current structuring of information technology is centered around a philosophical system that views the brain as a giant processing machine meant to measure order instead of disorder, where does this leave us?

Facebook, and all of social media, is one place where disintermediation and cybernetic theory combine, with the result that humans are expected to “connect” more on the internet by breaking down the barriers between people and information. Walker looks at Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, who reiterates that “Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission—to make the world more open and connected.” In a New York Review of Books essay on Facebook, Zadie Smith comments on Zuckerberg’s commitment to connection: “He uses the word ‘connect’ as believers use the word ‘Jesus,’ as if it were sacred in and of itself.”8 The connection that the internet makes us feel by removing mediators—or as Facebook put it with its new motto in 2014, to “move fast and break things”—does not produce greater knowledge, lasting friendships, or opportunity simply by nature of creating connection in and of itself.

Walker understands the falseness of “connection,” even though he praises the good that seems to come out of the interconnected world of the internet. However, he does point to some structural changes that could be made, such as algorithm accountability legislation. In Walker’s eyes, the solution is not to turn away from your phone, but rather to democratize the technology—taking control of the internet out of the hands of technology corporations. Much of the book looks historically at how the internet became commodified, and the jobs this created in the Bay Area. However, as highlighted in the third chapter, this wealth has not been shared, as the Bay Area has one of the most concentrated populations of billionaires, and problems of growing inequality between different strata of the labor force.

The billionaires are continuing to insulate themselves from this inequality. Walker highlights the partnership between Paypal founder Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman, grandson of economist Milton Friedman, as emblematic of neoliberalism, an economic model much indebted to Milton Friedman, and its entanglement with tech entrepreneurialism. Thiel and Friedman’s organization The Seasteading Institute is working to build completely wired floating islands on the ocean. The institute claims to be “working to provide a machinery of freedom to choose new societies on the blue frontier.” To do this, the institute is building a prototype on a Polynesian lagoon. While the wealthy will float on the rising seas, the locals will be left to fend for themselves.

Elon Musk, who co founded Paypal with Thiel, is also devising plans for escape. “Technotopian escapism,” Walker says, “is fully manifest in Elon Musk’s obsession with rockets and establishing a colony on Mars. Tesla’s Musk has created a space exploration company, SpaceX, to carry out his scheme.” The dream of space travel is much like the idea of the internet in offering the promise of escape from physical and ecological realities. However, as the tides rise in the Bay Area, Musk and Thiel might have to find a bigger spacecraft. Thiel imagines that his lifeboat of floating islands will succeed in avoiding the implications of global climate change—but he is wrong. Every device that provides us with the feeling of interconnectedness uses materials that were drilled from the earth, and these devices now clutter landfills and amass mountains of waste. Below the Bay Area run millions of wires, wrapping themselves around the estuary that now is sinking into the sea. Information technology and cyberculture intend us to leave the physical ecological setting to which we are bound. However, as tech billionaires plan their next attempt at escape, the natural world is closing in on all sides.

Pictures of a Gone City surveys almost every aspect of internet technology in the Bay Area. The book is published by Spectre, and it is easy to see it being courselisted. Many of the chapters—all exceptionally well researched—could stand on their own. The book’s strength is its scope; its main weakness is that there are issues that Walker touches on and quickly abandons, shifting his lens elsewhere. While this gives an all-encompassing view of the Bay Area’s relationship to IT, the focalization of the book is unclear, and Walker does not present one clear thesis or solution to the problems he identifies. At its strongest, Pictures of a Gone City demonstrates Walker’s skill as a geographer. The reader truly gets a feeling for the landscape where the action is taking place. If there is one thread tying the whole book together, it is San Francisco itself, and Walker’s deep feeling for the fate of his city.

  1.  
    1. Griggs, Troy. “More of the Bay Area Could Be Underwater in 2100 Than Previously Expected.” The New York Times, March 7. 2018
    2. Storper, Michael, Thomas Kemeny, Naji Philip Makarem, and Taner Osman. The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies: Lessons from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Stanford University Press, 2015.
    3. And see his article “It’s (Still) Chinatown, Jake”, in Field Notes, November 2015.
    4. Harris, Malcolm. Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials. Little, Brown, 2018.
    5. Source: Guzman 2016 based on Forbes 400 annual list.
    6. Turner, Fred. “Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture.” From Counterculture to Cyberculture. The University of Chicago Press, 2006.
    7. Wiener, Norbert. “Cybernetics”. Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 3, No. 7 (April 1950)
    8. Smith, Zadie. “Generation Why?” The New York Review of Books. November 25, 2010.
  2. Notes

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Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats in Crases Like Knives

By Andrew Stevens
Creases Like Knives
March 19th, 2018

Soho is a “suburb of London” and if you’re there you may want to steer clear of the National Front on account of their “reputation for racism and violence”. Unfortunate daftness out of the way first, this joyous account released on the spirited indie PM Press is a visual romp from the pulpy covers alone. With that in mind, Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats acts largely as a pictorial examination of post-war youth culture and book collections but is certainly no worse for it.

As can be expected, the book’s admiring editors (fans, rather than academics, though they include several) present pulp as firmly belonging to the 50s post-Reefer Madness counterculture of dope fiends and beatniks in squats, ‘Get Off the Road’ biker girls gone bad and hot rod blowouts. If you’re wondering why you’re even reading about this on here, there’s also plenty of room given to later pulp in the form of the youthsploitation New English Library (NEL) and its iconic school playground currency ‘paperback nasties’ in Richard Allen’s Skinhead novels.

Before we get there though, the book deftly includes the likes of Laura Del-Rivo’s account of seedy pre-Swinging Sixties West London The Furnished Room (1963) and Terry Taylor’s essential pre-mod Barons Court, All Change (1961). In among the so-called db’s (dirty books) of Maurice Girodias’ Left Bank Olympia Press there’s an account of low budget director Samuel Fuller’s 144 Piccadilly (1971), which references the real-life brief ‘Hippydilly’ squat of the same address in Mayfair, once laid siege to by airgun-wielding skinheads.

And so on to the NEL, which is covered by a handful of essays, including one by academic Bill Osgerby, which largely synopsise James Moffat as Richard Allen’s prodigious output of that decade. It may all go without saying and we’ve heard it all before, but there’d be no book without it, though McIntyre and Nette are certainly not the first to devote spadework to researching pulp. Stewart Home’s old interview with NEL editor (and later author of its Hells Angels novels) Laurence James in the book can already be found in full online. Then again, when it comes to pulp, all considerations are purely commercial and there are no rules (or as James put it, “we were either creative or we went under”). Well, apart from one, as in the steer given by the pulp house editor in response to self-confessed “fuckbook writer” Jane Gallion’s suggestion of injecting some humour into her stories: “No satire. Ya can’t laugh and keep a hard-on.”
Andrew Stevens

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Subcultre Running Wild

By Alf Mayer
CultureMag
March 18th, 2018

Alf Mayer on a hot book by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre.

The thing with the youth, that was quite different. Teen Ager, then still hyphenated, were the barely domesticated inhabitants of a wild alien planet. Juvenile delinquents. A danger to the general public. Horst Buchholz became a star in 1956 " Die Halbstarken ". Marlon Brandos / Lazlo Bendek's " The Wild One " was called in German " The Wild " (1953). "Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?" Brando is asked. He replies, "What've you got?"

Unlike the cherished successors to the throne and the sticky understanding of today's guardians, the post-war world of the 1960s to 1970s was full of young people who fled their parents' lives and worlds and tried to beat them in every way. Outsiders, Teenage Jungle, Teen Age Mafia, Violent Streets, Teenage Tramps, Roaring Boys, Teenage Terror, Odd Girl Out, Marijuana Girl, Bikie Birds, Terror Go-Round, Black Leather Barbarians, Satan Was a Lesbian, I nvasion of the Nymphomaniacs, The Young and Violent, We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against. And above all: Play it Cool. That's the name of just a few of the titles.

From down under you can see subcultures better

The Australians Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre dedicated themselves to this wild time - subcultures are better seen from down under, and there are (also a pleasure in my travels) the "garage sales" and Salvos stores of the Salvation Army still in the smallest nests often decorated with small jewels. You can still find good finds there, beyond the internet and ReBuy. Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950-1980 with over 400 covers and more than 70 individual contributions from 20 experts of popular culture gathers such treasures, is also interdisciplinary and international research. It is the first study to give an overview of how post-war youth culture found its expression in the mass medium of cheap paperbacks - the pulps - and was exploited at the same time (with a perspective on the US, UK, and Australia). Let's not talk about it: The sensationalism of the media and the business of the media houses were fueled by the hype of all sorts of youthful aberrations. Common principle to this day: You stir up the fears and worries that you deserve. (BILD boss Julian Reichelt calls something like that "headlined".) Peter Doyle characterizes such Youthsploitation in his preface as a " panic refrain ":

In the late 1940s, early 1950s it was juvenile delinquents, of course. Then came beatniks. And bikers. Gays and lesbians. Hard-dope fiends. Later on, hippies and counter cultural types, mods, rockers, surfers, skinheads, youthful revolutionaries. Trippers, pot heads and ravers. Rock musicians and groupies. Nearly always the subculture what characterizes as a kind of cultivating freemason-like quasi-conspiracy or secret society. "

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The lyrics themselves have pulp quality

Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre are on it. The change is generous, her over-sized trade paperback is extremely readable. Some of the lyrics have no information content, even pulp quality, they scurry away. And there are creams such as portraits of early Harlan Ellison and Evan Hunter (Ed McBain), by Lawrence Block, Colin Wilson, Sol Yurick ( The Warriors ), Malcolm Brawly, or the interview with Marijane Meaker, aka Vin Packer, whose a specialty the so-called "confessions" were. A quote:

"So I wrote some 'confessions'. I was very good at them, because all of them had an interesting title that would pull the reader in, and then make sure the story did not live up to the title. For example, I sold what I called 'I Lost My Baby at a Pot Party'. Teflon pot people come to the house for a demonstration, and while they are on the door ... "

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The Dolly, Dolly Spy and other surfers of the time

There is Ernest Tidyman (of Shaft -fame), who also wrote Flower Power (1969), there is Samuel Fuller with 144 Piccadilly , there are Charles Manson-inspired "Satanic Slaves", there is John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee in dress In Indigo among the hippies, Brad Lang writes detective novels with a hardboiled hippie, there's the Surfer Spy Pulps by Patrick Morgan, there's Warren Murphy's Destroyer # 13 on Acid Rock . Stewart Home spent years researching the footsteps of Richard Allen, Mike Stax is particularly familiar with the British beat and rock fiction of the 1960s, representatives here about All Night Stand by Thom Keyes and groupie by Jenny Fabian and Johnny Byrne. Adam Diment is treated in two contributions, his British dandy spy is also too interesting ( The Dolly, Dolly Spy , 1967, etc.). Only Lovers Left Alive by David Wallis is considered a rock 'n' roll version of The Lord of the Flies . And then there's Jane Gallion, who calls herself a 'fuckbook writer', wrote novels like Stoned and Biker , worked for Los Angeles Pulp publishers Essex House and Brandon House, and was responsible for countless sex books, such as Coito Ergo Sum . Humor, of course, was a difficult thing, according to the letter she wrote, as her boss repeatedly emphasized: "Jane, he said, you can not laugh as a man and at the same time have a stiffener."

And then Andrew Nette digs out a very interesting pulp author, Gunther Bahnemann, a native of Germany, a forefather of the Queensland that Candice Fox travels to Crimson Lake nowadays. Bahnemann, who became a deserter in Rommel's army, was imprisoned in Australia for seven years, writing about the underworld he knew. His Pulp novel Hoodlum appeared in 1963.

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A great social unconscious

Rock 'n roll, hot boxes, car racing, leather jackets, potheads, hippies, lesbians, surfing spies, girls gang, anything queer as you want to be , the book bursts with surplus energy and the desire to find expression through style, fashion, Music and language, revolt and protest. The many covers are just one aspect. Pulp fiction, as Susan Stryker noted in her Queer Pulp, Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback (2001), "functions as a great social unconscious. Fantasies of wish fulfillment are abolished here as well as desperate desire, despised desires, small disappointments and treacheries, irresponsible violence, doubts or marginalization. "

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats charts how beatniks and hippies, skinheads and punks, street gangs, junkies, rockers have become sensational themes, showing the fear and the lust for subculture. The chapters speak for themselves:

Teenage Jungle: Pulp Fiction's Juvenile Delinquents
Beat Girls and Real Cool Cats: 1960's Beats and Bohemians
Party Girls and Passion Pits: The Pulp Fiction of Sydney's Kings Cross
Love Tribes: Hippies and the Pulp Fiction often called Late-60s and Early-70s Counterculture
Groupies and Immortals: Pulp Fiction Music Novels
Wheels of Death: Pulp Biker and Motorcycle Gangs
Cults of Violence: 1960s British Youthsploitation Novels
Outsiders: Late-60s and Early-870s American Pulp and the Rise of the Teen Novel.

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Pulp literature as a mirror of society

Above all, Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre appreciate the immediacy and the intimate proximity to the respective subject in the Pulp novels. Pulp literature as a mirror of the voyeuristic society - as well as all the subcultures in which it plays. The skirts short, the hair longer.

nice sticking it 9780987412201 Girl Gang, Biker Boy, and Real Cool Cats will receive a sequel at the end of this year, a political one. Andrew Nette and Ian McIntyre have looked at the post-war political movements, from Black Power and the Ant-Viet Nam Movement, gay activism and feminism, left porn to science fiction, with JG Ballard, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Octavia Butler, Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, Chester Himes and Brian Garfield as well as a billion unfamiliar names. The title: Sticking it to the man. Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980 .

The authors: Iain McIntyre, like Andrew Nette, lives in Melbourne, is a writer, musician and radio maker, specializing in activism, popular culture and music. His publications include How to Make Trouble and Influence People: Pranks, Protest, Graffiti and Political Mischief-Making from across Australia (2013), Wild About You: The Sixties Beat Blast in Australia and New Zealand (2010), Tomorrow Is Today: Australia in the Psychedelic Era, 1966-1970 (2006). And he was one of the compilers of Down Under Nuggets: Original Australian Artyfacts 1965-1967 (CD, 2012).

nice gunshine neucover-smaller Andrew Nette, whom you could already meet in our CulturMag annual review 2017 , is internationally one of the best connoisseurs of pulp literature. Pulpcurry is the name of his visitable website. Even young, he was fascinated by the paperbacks that his father read and collected; He was particularly impressed by Carter Brown , the Sydney-born author Alan Yates, to whom we owe pulps with divine titles such as agriculture and fornication . Andrew Nice's first novel Ghost Money (2012)   plays in Cambodia, his Gunshine State is a hardboiled heist novel that can compete with Richard Stark's Parker, Garry Dishers Wyatt and Wallace Strobys Crissa Stone, plays in Queensland, Melbourne and Thailand and is urgently needed. Andrew Nette was one of the founders of Crime Factory Publications in Melbourne, whose forge, for example, came from Hard Labor (2012), an anthology of Australian short crime fiction. One of my treasures is LEE (2014), a collection of stories inspired by cinema icon Lee Marvin. Andrew Nette is very active in journalism. He is currently writing his PhD on the history of Australian pulp fiction and is working on the sequel to Gunshine State . At CrimeMag he will appear more often in the future.

Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette: Girl Gang, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950-1980. Contributors include Nicolas Tredell, Alwyn W. Turner, Mike Stax, Clinton Walker, Bill Osgerby, David Rife, JF Norris, Stewart Home, James Cockington, Joe Blevins, Brian Coffey, James Doig, David James Foster, Matthew Asprey Gear, Molly Grattan , Brian Greene, John Harrison, David Kiersh, Austin Matthews, and Robert Baker. PM Press, Oakland 2017. 334pp, $ 29.95.

nice vg images PS. Of course, there was always the possibility that the whole world would be blown up by the H-bomb, but this idea was too powerful to be even more frightening. At least there was no depression now, no air strikes, no food rationing. It was no longer the main thing to stay afloat - no, the teenagers could finally file their claims ... Now that life was easier, they started rioting. - This is how Frank Göhre and I described in the chapter "Seeds of violence. The movie "The Time of Evan Hunter's novel Seed of Violence and the film of the same name. The novel made Salvatore Albert Lombino, who grew up in Harlem and the Bronx, a bestselling author. The Blackboard Jungle (1954) was his first success and processed autobiographical experiences with wild students. MGM quickly made a film of it, with Glenn Ford besieging teacher Dadier. 'Rock Around the Clock' by Bill Haley & His Comets became a world hit through the film. (See Frank Göhre & Alf Mayer: Cops in the City, Ed McBain, and the 87th Police Station : A Report , Culturbooks, Hamburg 2016.)

hunter cover g-man Westlake Getaway car Cover.big Reading ahead with CrimeMag :
(13) The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives
(12) Peter Blauner: Proving Ground
(11) Mike Ripley: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
(10) Stephen Hunter: G-Man
(9) James Ellroy's Photo Book: LAPD '53
(8) Richard Price: The Whites
(7) Dominique Manotti: Noir
(6) Chuck Logan: Falling Angel
(5) Death Goldberg: Gangsterland
(4) Gerald Seymour - a portrait
(3) Donald E. Westlake: The Getaway Car
(2) Garry Disher: Bitter Wash Road
(1) Lee Child: Personnel



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Men in Prison: A Review

By Vittorio Frigerio
Anarchist Studies
Volume 26, Spring 2018

In 1912, young Victor Serge (he was then 22 years of age) is sentenced to five years in prison in France. It is the price to pay for having been too close to the group of colourful characters that met in the offices of the anarchist newspaper L’Anarchie. And in particular, for his friendship with members of the so-called ‘Bonnot gang’, the ‘tragic bandits’ whose feats as motorised bank robbers stun the French public and make ‘illegalism’ fashionable within anarchist circles.

In 1930, living in the Soviet Union, disillusioned with the obvious failure of
the Russian Revolution and expelled from the Communist Party, to which he had adhered out of enthusiasm for what seemed at the time like the true way to social progress, Serge takes to writing. Amongst the few volumes he will produce in those years, that will be sent to French publishers as Stalin’s cone of silence has descended upon him, is Men in Prison, a clear-eyed, profoundly humane account of life in the French penal system and of the people Serge met during those five long years – both the prisoners and the various representatives of the state’s repressive apparatus. Thirty-six chapters of varying length give either portraits of fellow inmates, information about the details of everyday life behind bars, or reflections on the effects of forced promiscuity, forced isolation, forced labour and an infinite number of petty regulations that seem designed to make life as unbearable as possible for those caught in the machinery of justice. It is hard to indicate some chapters as being more interesting than others, as they are all marked by the same sober and dispassionate sense of observation, the same strangely distant lucidity, as if what he is talking about happened to somebody else. But it did not, and Serge – in between comments on the prisoners’ obses- sions, dreams and stratagems for survival – also reveals what the experience did for him as a writer, teaching him to see beyond appearances and to guess people’s fate: ‘I, too, learned how to probe the faces and hearts of newcomers. I know if they are going to live [...] I read death in them with an awful clarity [...] I can’t explain this intuition [...] These were not the tricks of a disordered imagination, but the results of keen observations, too complex to be analyzed, as well as of an inner experience confirmed many times over’ (pp114-5).

These are pages that are often very hard to read, and all the more so because the author manages to make his point without ever having recourse to sentimen- tality or trying to tug on the reader’s heartstrings. His descriptions are almost pathologically detached and he lets the facts speak for themselves. One has to wait for the very last pages, when the time comes to tell about his discharge, to find out about his true feelings: ‘The bolts are still locked, but I already feel free, sure of myself; somewhere, within me, there is a calm hatred, like a still ocean. I will turn it into strength’ (p202). Never does this perfectly justified hatred cloud Serge’s portrayal of the banal horrors of prison life. And occasional deadpan remarks highlight the absurdity of the penal system and some truths that the state would rather not advertise: ‘Guards and inmates live the same life on both sides of the same bolted door. Policemen and crooks keep the same company, sit on the same barstools, sleep with the same whores in the same furnished rooms.

They mould each other like two armies fighting with complementary methods of attack and defence on a common terrain I have learned from long experience that, if there are any differences of mentality and morality between criminals and guards or policemen, they are generally, and for profound reasons, all to the advantage of the criminals. Even when it comes to everyday honesty, the compar- ison leads to that conclusion. Most of the guards and policemen I have run into were themselves thieves or crooks, sometimes pimps’ (p37).

Richard Greeman’s translation is flowing and natural, and his introduction will be most useful for those readers who meet Serge for the first time. A foreword by David Gilbert, described as ‘an anti-imperialist political prisoner’ in the US system, shows that things may not have changed as much as one could have hoped since a century ago. Like much of Serge’s other writing, this should be compulsory reading for anybody interested in matters of social justice or in the history of anarchism.


It is also quite simply a great experience for its sheer, great human honesty, that comes across in observations such as this: ‘And isn’t it a kind of fascination mixed with pain that makes me write this book? Old chains which have tortured us dig so deeply into our flesh that their marks become a part of our being, and we love them because they are in us’ (p117).

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The Movements of Movements - A Review

By Rabin Chakraborty
Frontier
March 16th, 2018


The book titled - “The Movements of Movements -Part-1: What makes us move?” is about worldwide people’s movement as well as of the people who are involved in those movements. It is a compilation of essays, edited by Sri Jai Sen, and written by people who are either actively involved in the movements or are close associates of the movements.

In his excellent introductory note, the editor gives a broad outline of the book by stating that - “This book is about people in movement; it is about women and men who feel moved to do something about the world around them and about the social and political movements for justice and liberation that they form.

 …In a way, it is more than this. It is an attempt to present (and to see and to hear and to feel) the extraordinary drama of the flow of social movement taking place across the world in our times, that we are so privileged to be a part of or to be witness to, perhaps more than ever before in history”.

The editor invites readers “to consider this book as a space where movements themselves are speaking to each other, and where they can perhaps grow through their interactions, learning from their exchanges. Through this we all—including those of us in movement—can perhaps move towards a fuller understanding of the deeper meanings of movement and of their potentials and limitations, individually and collectively, and of the worlds of movement around us”.

Movements are taking place everywhere -in Asia, in Africa, in North America, in South America, in Europe, in Australia. There is surge of movements at the moment. In this connection the editor quotes the famous historian Eric Hobsbawm as - “our world today could well be said to be going through an Age of Movement, including birthing new movement that is increasingly independent of traditional social and political institutions (such as unions and political parties) and/or that is forging new institutions, and that is daily taking new shapes and struggling to rebuild the world in new ways”.

People revolt and they revolt for varied reasons. Revolts and movements are happening across the globe of refugees and migrants, impelled by war, economic devastation, and now also the impacts of climate change; movements among indigenous peoples; movements among peoples of varied sexualities towards gaining and defending their freedoms; movements challenging the arrogance and criminality of ‘development’ and of neoliberalism; movements challenging authoritarian­ism and the increasingly authoritarian and profoundly anti-democratic tendencies in supposedly democratic societies under neoliberalism; movements against war; movements among structurally oppressed peoples such as the Dalits of South; movements of faith, especially among peoples who believe that values integral to their beliefs are being corrupted and/or overwhelmed; and continuing movements among women fighting for equality, justice, and respect. The list is long.

A whole set of new movements world saw during the last decade. They include the movements that toppled dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and then Egypt (2011); the Occupy movement in North America and then across Europe (2011); the indignados movement in Spain (2011); the massive rebellion against EU-imposed austerity programmes in Greece and the anti-corruption movement in India (both also in 2011); the massive students’ protest against fee hikes in Quebec, Canada (2012); the growing assertion by indigenous peoples across Turtle Island (‘North America’) (2012), including the Defenders of the Land and the Idle No More movements; democratisation movements across Africa; movements that have rocked Turkey, Brazil, and Romania (2013) and Hong Kong (2014). All this, aside from the countless continuing, sustained, even if less publicised move­ments all over the world by social movements, student organisations, trade unions, and political formations, and locally among ordinary peoples everywhere.

We may not be fully aware of the details of these movements. The book like this opens up the window to hitherto unknown movements with its intricacies and about the people connected to them. There are altogether 26 pieces of essays including the ‘Introduction’ and the ‘Afterword’. The essays are divided in three Sections. The first section titled as ‘Invocations’ contains a poem by Shailja Patel and the introduction – ‘The Movements of movements: An Introduction and an Exploration’ by the editor.  

The second section titled as ‘Movementscapes’ contains 7 essays giving the sketches of certain key features of the landscape of contemporary movement in the world from 1968 till about 2010 written by people belonging to different movements from various parts of the world. Some of them are from indigenous people and some from the settlers. The intention is to get fundamentally —and structurally—different views of the landscape they inhabit and see. It is the same world but seen through different eyes and different experiences.

In the third section titled as ‘The Movements of movements: The Struggles for other World’, there are a wide range of sensitive and reflective portraits of movement, several of which are critical discussions of how different movements move (and/or have moved) in different contexts.

Finally, the book ends with the ‘Afterword’ titled as ‘Learning to Be Loyal to Each Other: Conversations, Alliances, and Arguments in the Movements of Movements’ by Laurence Cox that reads across all the essays in this book and critically engages with several.

It will be wrong to believe that the nature and spirit of all these movements are same. This cannot be so, since these movements are of the people scattered over different geographical parts of the globe. They have different social and economic background and also, they have their own history and cultural background. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that the meaning and understanding of common idioms of movements of the people at different places would differ in character and in content. Here comes the necessity of dialogue between movements to know each other and to mitigate differences. The book is intended to create a space for such dialogue.

So, the book is not just to tell story of the movements in the style - ‘my movement is best, my line of action is best, or my theory is best’. It is more on expressing one’s movement in a way so that others may understand it, may relate to it and even may learn something to emulate it.
Let us look into some of the essays as example. David McNally in his essay – “From the Mountains of Chiapas to the Streets of Seattle: This Is What Democracy Looks Like” traces the events followed by the guerrilla movement called the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in January 1994 which occupied the town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the old colonial capital of the Mexican state of Chiapas, declaring that NAFTA was a ‘death sentence’ for indigenous peoples and peasants throughout Mexico. It was a direct revolt against globalization. In subsequent period there was a series of uprising in France in 1995, in East Asian countries due to calamitous economic collapse sweeping through one East Asian economy after another in the course of 1997-98, and finally the blocked of Seattle streets in Washington by the activists of ‘Direct Action Network’ in November 30, 1999 to protest against holding of WTO convention.  

According to the author the strength of all such movements lies in their reliance on the self-
activity and self-mobilisation of “thousands upon thousands of oppressed people. New notions of politics, new senses of the possible, are created in the heat of such struggles. The emphases on direct action, on participatory democracy (often organised through mass assemblies), and on the festive and celebratory side of political protest, distinguish these as truly popular movements, upheavals that are reclaiming and improvising upon great traditions of mass insurgence. In the streets of Cochabamba, Oaxaca, Paris, Seoul, and elsewhere, one hears the irregular rhythms of popular revolt. Freed from the constraints of bureaucratically-dominated electoral politics, these movements are reinventing a language and poetry of resistance. Utilising mass strikes and uprisings, land occupations, popular assemblies, and direct democracy, they are carving open the spaces of opposition to globalising capitalism”.

In his essay titled - "Storming Heaven: Where Has the Rage Gone?” Tariq Ali discusses about the period starting in 60’s. According to him the resistance of the people of Vietnam against US forces ignited the imagination of the more radicalised segments of the Sixties generation around the world. They started believing that – “If the Vietnamese were defeating the world’s most powerful state, surely we, too, could defeat our own rulers”. So, a storm swept the world in 1968. The author believes that the spirit of 1968 didn’t die. He goes on narrating the incidents followed by the Paris uprising throughout the world from his own experience as an associate of the magazine -The Black Dwarf. 

He brings in the debate on the future of socialist movement after the debacle of Soviet Union. He lamented that – “The epochal shift that took place in 1989 relegated most things radical to the museum of horrors. All revolutions and all revolutionaries became monsters, mass murderers, and, of course, terrorists. How can the lyrical sharpness of politics in 1968 be anything but alien to the spirit of this age that has followed?" He closes his essay with the words – “Were the dreams and hopes of 1968 all idle fantasies? Or did cruel history abort something new that was about to be born? Revolutionaries—utopian anarchists, Fidelistas, Trotskyist all sorts, Maoists of every stripe, etc—wanted the whole forest. Liberals and social democrats were fixated on individual trees. The forest, they warned us, was a distraction, far too vast and impossible to define, whereas a tree was a piece of wood that could be identified, nurtured, improved, and crafted into a chair or a table or a bed. Now the tree, too, has gone”.

A large section of people on earth numbering about 350 million distributed over 70 countries who are stamped as ‘Indigenous people’ or ‘Aboriginals’ or ‘Native Americans’ by their colonizers and settlers are struggling to resist further dispossession and disconnection. The basic spirit of the indigenous people, all that is held sacred, their sources of connection to their distinct existences and the sources of their spiritual power are threatened. To them relationships to each other, communities, homelands, ceremonial life, languages, histories etc are the sources of their spiritual power. These connections are crucial for them to lead a meaningful life. But, the contemporary form of colonialism is obliterating their very way of life through various means.

The essay titled – “Being Indigenous: Resurgences Against Contemporary Colonialism” by Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel discusses strategies for resisting further encroachment on Indigenous existence by Settler societies and states—as well as by multinational corporations and other elite organisations controlled by state powers and elements of the imperial institutional network. They also focus on how Indigenous communities can regenerate themselves to resist the effects of the contemporary colonial assault and renew politically and culturally.

Anand Teltumbde in his essay -"Dalits, Anti-Imperialist Consciousness, and the Annihilation of Caste" asserts that in the era of globalization, the Dalits in India which constitutes one sixth its population could be a natural ally of anti-imperialist movements. But, the left in India could not use this force in their fight against imperialism. “Dalits are the worst victims of imperialism—internal as well as external— and they are therefore inherently against any kind of imperialism”.  It is significant to note at this point that according to the author the imperialism is not only external, it is internal too.  “In class terms, they should be considered as the organic proletariat of this country. Although afflicted by caste divisions, the history of suffering has forged a workable identity for them. Nowhere in the world would such a large mass of have-nots be so readily available for radical change!” Again, at the same time, he appreciates the fact that it is not the case that Dalits would automatically rally against imperialists. Conscious effort is needed for this.

He recognizes also the fact that the “The Dalit movement today is hopelessly fragmented among self-seeking leaders. These leaders are a kind of comprador to the community, brokering the interests of Dalit masses to the enemy camp. This realisation is slowly dawning on Dalits but in the absence of any alternative, they still passively throng to these leaders and lend them legitimacy. These leaders are wise enough to keep parroting the issues that still appeal to Dalits”.

The essay titled – “The Tapestry of Neo-Zapatismo: Origins and Development” written by Xochitl Leyva Solano and Christopher Gunderson is an excellent piece of writing from which we get to know the course of development of Zapatista movement in its entirerity. It gives a detailed account of how EZLN, or Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberation National) came into being in 1983. It is a good lesson to know that movements do not fall from sky. Actually, the course of events leads inevitably to some action in the form of a movement. Zapatista movement is an ideal example for case study about movement, as a huge quantity of literature and documents in the form of articles, interviews, video, etc. on its course of development are available.

The essay – “Ecological Justice and Forest Rights Movements in India: State and Militancy—New Challenges” - by Roma and Ashok Choudhary is on the struggle of forest people in India. Forest and forest-lands are the places of natural habitat of adibasi, moolnibasi and various other indigenous groups of people, which are, again, the places of natural resources in the eyes of Indian state and national and international corporate houses. The forest people are in constant struggle to save their habitat from the hands of those organised looters. A detailed account of this struggle from the days of colonial rule till the rule of independent India can be found here. Both the authors are close associate of the struggles of the forest people for several decades. So, it is good to read the experience of the people belonging to the movement.

There are two essays on ‘feminism’/’women’s movement’. One is – “Open Space in Movement: Reading Three Waves of Feminism” by Emilie Hayes and the other is - “International Feminisms: New Syntheses, New Directions” – by Virginia Vargas. Emilie Hayes gives an excellent account of the history of the development of the women’s movement since early twentieth century. The entire period of the history of women’s movement can be seen as divided into three distinct phases, and these phases in course of time came to be known as first, second and third wave. This distinction is made based on the basis of the nature of understanding of the problem as well as the nature of demands arising at different times. Then she elaborates how the localised movements got internationalized and how the opportunity to exchange ideas in the platform like World Social Forum (WSF) helped to conceptualise the movement better. The ‘Open Space’, according to author, means an atmosphere which is “socially horizontal” with “no leaders” and relatively undirected “without an owner”. “There is no official spokesperson, no central hierarchy, and the only shared commitment is an opposition to neoliberal globalisation”. She tells us that - “While open space within the feminist movement has allowed for the expression of dissent, which has in turn helped to build a more inclusive feminism, it has also created fractures within the movement”. She adds – “However, the strength of second- and third-wave feminism has been their self-awareness and self-criticism, which has allowed for the identification of shortfalls and the continued revitalisation of feminism and feminist theory. It is when all feminist voices are part of the dialogue that feminism will truly be able to move forward”.

The essay authored by Virginia Vargas on the other hand traces the course of development of this movement in the light of her experience in Latin American countries. In this part of the globe the concept of the feminist movement grew according to its social, political and cultural experiences. It underwent changes with the change in development paradigm in the different parts of that continent. She elaborates how this movement was integrated with the International Movements and also discusses about how movement was benefited through dialogues with other movements at the international forums.  

The special feature of this book is that it allows space to the movements of the people of different religious faiths as well. It appreciates the fact that the people of different religious faiths are confronting the onslaught of modernity. There is clear division within the people of each group, - Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and other smaller groups, on the question of adjusting with the modern ideas of democracy, justice, etc. One section of the people is trying to adhere to the old tenets of the religion, whereas the other section is trying to make an adjustment with the modern ideas keeping essential message of the religion intact.
Lee Cormie in his essay “Re-Creating the World: Communities of Faith in the Struggles for Other Possible Worlds” gives an account of how different alliance and council of Churches came into being during last forty to fifty years and how they took side with the movements on various issues like hunger, inequality, neo-liberal globalisation, etc.

There are two essays on Political Islam. Interestingly, instead of narrating the movement as such it narrates the life and acts of two Muslim rebels to give the idea about the movements in the name of Political Islam. Houtart, in his essay “Mahmoud Mohamed Taha: Islamic Witness in the Contemporary World”, narrates how the turn of events changed the course of life of a university educated young engineer to take stand in favour of the founding values of these religious movements. His aim was to - “rediscover the prophetic character of Islam, to underline what it could provide in a world of deepening inequalities, suffering under the blows of global capitalism, and to contribute to peace and reconciliation in torn and ravaged countries”.

The vision of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha about society, according to Samir Amin, is that “the ideal society that must be the objective of social struggle, the society that creates the most favourable conditions allowing for the individual human being to undertake his own fight to move closer to God, the society without which faith will remain a victim of the limits society imposes upon the blossoming of responsible individual freedom, can only be a socialist and democratic society”.

Roel Meijer, on the other hand, in his essay – “Fighting for Another World: Yusuf al-'Uyairi and His Conceptualisation of Praxis and the Permanent Salafi Revolution” gives an account of the Islamic Movement in different parts of the world. According to him, of the different trends of Islamic Movements, al-Qaeda is the group which follows the most modern political ideology and movement. So, he chooses to track the course of development of this movement “by examining the vivid and powerful writings, life, and life practice of Yusuf al-‘Uyairi, a key activist, strategist, and theorist in the radical Islamic movement”.

My task was to introduce the book and for this I picked up a few articles for discussion quite arbitrarily. There are other pieces which are equally important and interesting. But, to limit the size of the article, I refrain from mentioning all of them.

The editor reminds us at the beginning of the book that it is not a “comprehensive encyclopedia of movement today, or even an up-to-date reportage of all movement that has recently taken place or that is taking place today. ... Rather, this book is merely one attempt to bring together some outstanding essays that help us all to perceive the larger world of movement, and to begin to understand it; and to make this book a space where conversations between movements begin to open up, at different levels”.

Before I close, I must draw attention to the essay – “Learning to Be Loyal to Each Other: Conversations, Alliances, and Arguments in the Movements of Movements” under the section ‘Afterword’ by Laurence Cox. It reflects “on the meanings of this collection as a whole, offering independent, detailed, and critical perspectives on points of divergence and convergence among these movements and what they reveal about the dimensions, scales, and magnitude of changes that are today sweeping the world”. 

An important aspect of the book which needs special mention is that each and every author gives a long list of articles and books as reference at the end of the essays. It is indicative of the extent of labour put by the authors in writing the essays and also indicative of the extent of the debate and discussion in this regard that is going on throughout the world. This collection of the references at the end of the essays taken together is really a treasure of this book. 

I’m sure that this book will be useful to those who want to know about the trends of ongoing movements worldwide. It would also be a good lesson for them to know how the ‘culture of dialogue’ between different movements may help to re-discover the meaning and scope of their own movement. The benefit of such a practice is appreciated by almost all the authors of this book. Many of them acknowledged in unambiguous term that they have benefited by debating on the differences in their views in the platform of WSF. It helps them in improving their understanding about various aspects of their own movement.

Another lesson one may get on reading this book is that a practice of dialogue with other movements is a way to some extent to do away with the ‘we are right’, ‘we are the only’, or ‘we have all the truths’ kind of syndrome.
 

Buy The Movements of Movements | Buy The Movements of Movements e-Book now | Back to Jai Sen's Author Page




(H)afrocentric Comics in Anthrodendum.com

by Matt Thompson
Anthrodendum.com
February 16th, 2018

Re-spawn. Its been on since dawn.
Illustrated Man check your king with a pawn.
Don’t know where but I send ’em
Make my posts now on Anthrodendum

Hey, ya’ll its been a minute but now I’m back with another installment of Illustrated Man, my semi-irregular series where I discuss comic books and illustration from an anthropologist’s point of view. I had ten posts at our old place Savage Minds, now here’s my first in our new home.

We’re starting things off with a piece I received through my work with the Virginia Library Association, (H)afrocentric, written by Juliana “Jewels” Smith and illustrated by Ronald Nelson. A trade paperback collecting the first four issues was published by the reliably righteous PM Press in 2017. Ask for it at your favorite independent comic or book store, or order a signed copy straight from the publisher.

Following the trials and trevails of a multi-complected crew of outspoken west coast undergrads, (H)afrocentric does an excellent job of tackling serious issues without taking itself too seriously. The star of the show is habitual line crosser Naima Pepper, her habit of getting up on a soapbox (will it be one high heeled boot… or two?) becomes a reoccurring sight gag. Rounding out the loyal crew is her grumpy brother the musically inclined Miles and gender bending best friend Renee. Comic relief comes from Miles’ boy, El Ramirez, whose Latinidad offers a consistent counterpoint to black perspectives and priorities, and entrepreneurial duo Kwame and Rahsaan, who just want to sell you some herbal tea and preach on ancient Egypt.

Set in Oakland, California, in and around the fictional Ronald Reagan University, our story opens with the (H)afrocentric crew facing the reality of rising rents and gentrification. Not unlike Selma Jezkova, Bjork’s character in Dancer in the Dark, Naima is prone to flights of fancy where the otherwise straightforward, realistic fiction of the narrative breaks down into alternate realities and imagined futures. In one of these moments of inspiration Naima rallies her friends into taking action, here to organize a block party to fund the creation of an anti-gentrification website, mydiaspora.com.

Throughout the reader is treated to comic commentary, witty one-lines, word play, silly gags, and Naima’s romantic day dreams, all of which genuinely calls to mind the deep hanging out and playful bullshitting of college students. At the end of their escapade, as the cops close in turning their block party into a “blockade party”, it becomes clear that Naima and her friends haven’t really been able to achieve their lofty goals. They have not single handedly stopped gentrification in Oakland. Reality crashes the party and the crew has to find solace in the partial, the incomplete.

In the fourth issue, for which Julianna Smith won a 2016 Glyph Award for best writer, things take a turn towards magical realism, the madcap, and the zaney, with the addition of a fairy godmother character. In this story each member of the crew has easily set up sweet summer internships, with Naima struggling to reconcile her political passions with her professional and academic needs. POOF! The fairy godmother appears to grant her wish and Naima finds herself interning at an organization specializing in “racial translation.” Her job: to explain blacks to white people. Several soapbox moments later and its clear that things aren’t going quite as smoothly as Naima hoped.

The story ends with the introduction of a time machine and all crew piling on board to cries of “Get on the bus!” before zapping off the page.

Like many, many other comics, the first book of (H)afrocentric starts off a little rocky as it lays out the origin stories of the team members. The art is also a little inconsistent as the creators experiment with how best to express the characters’ diversities in a black and white printing. But by the fourth issue much of this has been ironed out leaving me very optimistic for the future of (H)afrocentric, especially given the change in tone to include more cartoony elements like time machines and magic.

Blurbs and blogs have frequently drawn connections to the Boondocks but I’m not really sold on that comparison. Here I’m not talking about the TV show, but the strip as captured in “Because I know you don’t read the newspapers” and “Fresh for ’01… you suckas”. Those were fish-out-of-water stories with two kids from inner city Chicago transplanted to the suburbs. They were more topical and focused on satirizing current events. While there is a weekly (H)afrocentric strip, this graphic novel length work is brainy and subtle, more radical in its politics than the Boondocks, and, at times, a little more uneven in its quality than Aaron McGruder’s early books. However, I am very, very interested to see where this story is going next and/or what other works these creators will share.

(H)afrocentric should be of interest to anthropologists seeking to learn from marginalized peoples about how they are taking control of their own representations. With the first story about gentrification and the second about the impossible task of the translator I could see this being used in the classroom in some contexts. A little further afield into cultural studies, this would be a good way to teach students to read creative works as embedded in social material processes.

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




(H)afrocentric Comics in Hypelit.com

By Christina Vortia
Hypelit.com
February 3rd, 2018

I really loved this.
 
"(H)afrocentric is the best of Boondocks, without crusty misogynoir. It's the best of Chappelle, without uncritical transphobia. It's the best of A Different World and Atlanta without commercial breaks every eight minutes selling you colorful sugar and fried meats" - Kiese Laymon
 
No better words could ever describe this comic that is funny as hell, sharp, and unapologetic af.
 
Naima is the activist. The woman wears a tank top sporting a picture of John Brown under "Ally" in big bold letters and totes a portable soap box, she is the biracial "woke" sistah who is tirelessly fighting for the cause on the campus of Ronald Reagan University. Her girlfriend, Renee, is a fashionista who uses her wardrobe to challenge gender biases. Miles is Naima's musically inclined brother, always ready to burst her lofty revolutionary ideals. El is the overworked Mexican American student, trying to both help his family and do well in school. As Naima attempts to plan a Block party, she runs into a cast of characters and scenarios that is satirical of millennial college culture. There's a website developer who's also addicted to social media...there are the crunchy granola white students who know how to install solar panels and appropriate black culture, and then there's the hip hop head obsessed with kemetic energy and Wu Tang. By volume 4, Naima is grappling with her desire to be a revolutionary but also still land internships and gainful employment. She's then visited by Miss Fairy who holds a startling resemblance to Fannie Lou Hamer...in tights. Miss Fairy hooks her up with a job pulled straight out of Baratunde Thurston's How to Be Black by interpreting the behavior of black people to white people... The challenge: Can Naima answer the questions without getting on her soap box and ruining the gig?
 
These characters were so fresh, unlike any I've seen in a comic before. Completely relatable, downright hilarious, and so damn smart. I'm not sure when the next volume is due out, but I'll be waiting on it. I totally could see this as a show, filling a void left gaping and wide when Aaron McGruder was ousted from Boondocks.

hafrocentric: GETTING TO KNOW (H)AFROCENTRIC: AUTHOR, JULIANA "JEWELS" SMITH

Recommendation: Read it! You'll thank me later.

Audience: Millennials and Up

*I borrowed the eBook version of this comic from my library Hoopla account.

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



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