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Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables in Culturie

By Russ Bestley
Culturie.Wordpress.com
August 26th, 2014

This is not a book about the Dead Kennedys career. It is more a tale of how they got together, recorded and released one of the iconic punk rock albums. The story of such a now fractured band requires a lot more discussion

Fresh fruit was different to so many other records at the time as there was no major record label providing financial supports. This was a band that were taking the shock aspect of punk and putting a positive message forward. The book charts the formation of the band as their early singles were released. The first two being “California über alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia”, both having raging guitar hooks, intelligent lyrics and breakneck rhythm. The story behind the controversy of the artwork and Biafra’s onstage antics is given great detail. How the album came about and the involvement of cherry red and subsequent setting up of alternative tentacles is included. All necessary components to the make up of the dks

Most of us now that the band did not finish on a good note or certainly the trajectory since their finish has not been a mutually happy event for the members. However it is good to see that not getting too much exposure here as that can be the sequel. For now we can read about one of the greatest albums of all time by one of the most innovative bands ever. We can get an idea of America at the time, the punk scene and the socio economic environment.

It is quite obvious, reading between the lines, that vocalist Jelllo Biafra, has a completely different outlook then guitarist east bay ray on pretty much all matters Dead Kennedys relating. It is hard to see what tale is fiction and what one isn’t but the fact is the record came out with those songs and we have been able to listen to them for years. The dead Kennedys had such a huge influence on music and this is summed up by the many quotes at the end from people like actor Elijah wood or slash from guns and roses or dave grohl from foo fighter/nirvana. The effect this album has had is phenomenal and is most worthy of the written word too

Another thing the book offers is a reminder of how great the artwork of Winston Smith is. It is reproduced here as are many of the fliers and posters of the day. Considering the author was involved in the art of punk book that came out over a year ago it is no surprise now has teamed up with once again with russ bestley to ensure that the words are accompanied with the relevant graphics and it’s all packaged very well

If you have ever listened to a punk roots and enjoyed it ten you should have a read of this

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page




Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables in The Register

By Mark Diston
The Register.UK
August 24th, 2014

Alex Ogg is the editor of the academic journal Punk and Post-Punk and definitely has his work cut out mediating the last of the great punk rock feuds since Malcolm McLaren went to visit the Great Situationist in The Sky.

For over two decades, Jello Biafra – the lead singer of Dead Kennedys – has been at daggers drawn with his former bandmates East Bay Ray and Klaus Fluoride, and their spat shows no sign of abating.

It seems that they are unable to agree on anything. Even their memories diverge on just about every key issue. It is to Ogg’s credit that he has been able to construct such a fascinating and even-handed biography of the early days of the band, though it seems his patience has been sorely tried. The last line in the book reads, alluding to the remainder of the story: “Some other poor bastard can tackle that”.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years performing

The spirit of the age: Dead Kennedys live

The book benefits from the collaboration of Winston Smith, who was responsible for most of the Dead Kennedys' artwork and which is spread liberally throughout the book, along with Ruby Ray’s captivating photos of the early San Francisco punk scene.

Alex Ogg’s book is likely to appeal not just to misty-eyed old punks but also to young musicians who will find many words of inspiration within, such as this description of the nascent SF scene: “The pressure was not on every band to sound the same and please the audience”. A better blueprint for musical creativity is hard to find.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years - Let Them Eat Jellybeans compilation cover

Early underground music compilation album released on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label

There are some unexpected collaborations revealed, such as how old beats Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg financed the SF punk fanzine Search and Destroy, and a great anecdote about the Dead Kennedys supporting Sun Ra, who reputedly enjoyed them. However their respective audiences were less enamoured of each other.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years flyer

1839 Geary Street Flyer – click for a larger image

Alex Ogg has really gone the extra mile in his research and the result is a labour of love. We get insights from teenage punks who hitch-hiked after the band during their first UK tour and reminiscences from support acts.

There’s the occasional celebrity namedrop too, such as Bob Mould of Husker Du introducing Biafra to Lydon (aka. Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols), before making a quick exit “because I’d never get a word in edgeways!”

This book encapsulates perfectly the time when punk was a movement and not an scholastic subject. Moreover, it reminded me of how relatively late on the scene the Dead Kennedys were, especially in the context of other bands emerging the UK at the same time.

Their first UK single, California Über Alles, came out after the debuts of Gang Of Four and The Human League. Biafra claims to have listened to Joy Division’s Closer (released June 1980) while designing the artwork for the band’s debut albumFresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years - California Uber Alles cover

California Über Alles satirised state governor Jerry Brown

The last section of the book consists of quotes from a pantheon of latter-day musicians attesting to the lasting influence of the wit and provocation of the Dead Kennedys. I can certainly concur with the latter, having narrowly escaped a serious battering in the 1980s for wearing a homemade I Kill Children badge, a song title from the first album.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years_fallout

Advertisement from the pages of Winston Smith's Fallout magazine

Dead Kennedys is a riveting read, concise without being academic. It captures the era and the spirit of the times perfectly. Alex Ogg maintains a stoic patience until the appendix, where he shows a slight bias in favour of Ray and Klaus’ claims for writing credits on the album. I’m sure Jello’s lawyers will be in touch shortly after publication.

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years book coverAuthor Alex Ogg
Title Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables,
The Early Years
Publisher PM Press
Price £12.99 (Paperback)
More info Publication web site

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page




Making a graphic statement

Making a graphic statement
By Jayanthi Madhukar
Bangalore Mirror
August 25th, 2014

As a multimedia comic book artist, Seth Tobocman speaks out against injustice through his works

The bespectacled Seth Tobocman, with his hair tied back into a neat ponytail, can hold his audience spellbound with a dramatic narration of a story. This kind of narration is usually accompanied by live music. On a screen behind him, appear mostly black and white cartoon panels that he has drawn. It is those visuals and the stories accompanying them that make people sit up and listen. Tobocman calls this kind of audience interaction Cartoon Concert, a form he attributes to Vaughn Bode, an American cartoonist in the 1970s. "Bode would project his panels and perform the text," says Tobocman. "I chose those pieces that work well with a dramatic reading and sometimes also employ musicians to give atmosphere."

Speaking Through Comics

Tobocman's love for comics started young. As he says, he could draw before he could read. From a school-going boy who loved Marvel superheroes to a young adult's angst against injustice in society, today, Tobocman considers himself to be a neo-expressionist comic book artist. He has gone through the proverbial struggle, often feeling that "at any minute the ground would open up and swallow me" and has worked as an usher, a messenger and construction worker before finding work as an illustrator for New York Times and other newspapers.

In 1980, along with friend Peter Kuper, Tobocman started World War 3 Illustrated as a response to the Iran hostage crisis. "We were angry about Reagan and the rise of the right (wing). About gentrification. We felt someone had to say no!" he says of the times when no one was publishing serious comic art in the US. Theirs was the only comic book in those days to be sold in record stores as no book stores were interested in alternative comics.

The Inside Story

The stories Tobocman tells are often contained within one panel. Sometimes, within a book. But these stories are real, issues that people face, and very often from his own understanding of ground reality. As an artist and editor of the comic book World War 3 Illustrated, he says that what he really wants to do is to shake people out of their complacency. People, according to him, are way too passive. "They let too much stuff go. They know what is going on is wrong but they don't do anything about it. I also want to give some support and solidarity to those who are engaged in actions."

And that is why during the mid-80s and late '90s, he was part of the squatter movement of New York. Much before he moved with them on the suggestion of the squatters themselves, activists from New York to the African National Congress in South Africa had started using his pieces for leaflets and posters. Tobocman, along with the other squatters, seized about 30 buildings in Lower Manhattan. Thirteen of them were legalised in 2000, and the people squatting there became the owners. Along the way, people had to fix those buildings and defend them from police. He slept under leaky roofs, cleared rubble, lived without heat or hot water. One of the squats, Umbrella House, which he helped save from demolition crew and renovate, where he ran a printing press from its first floor, still remains, inhabited by many people.

Two things stand out. One, Tobocman was personally not in need of a home, since he had already rented an apartment. "I chose to work with the squatter movement because I felt they were addressing the most pressing problem of my community: lack of affordable housing." He was arrested about 20 times and convicted twice. Only an internal disagreement led him to give up the membership and leave the squat.

And that brings the second point to fore. Unlike most squatters, he compiled his experiences in the book War In the Neighbourhood (2000).

A Fighting Oeuvre

Tobocman has several books to his credit, each and every subject picked, being relevant to the people. Understanding The Crash illustrates how Wall Street created an economic whirlpool, while Disaster and Resistance described the first decade of the 21st century including 9/11, George Bush, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and hurricane Katrina. Three Cities Against the Wall unites artists in Tel Aviv, Ramallah and New York in protest against the Israeli government's building of the wall through the occupied territories. Portraits of Israelis and Palestinians came out of a sketchbook Tobocman carried with him on his travels through the occupied territories in 2002 which saw him teaching art and English to kids in a Palestinian village.

At the time of this interview, he is outraged over the killing of Michael Brown by a policeman on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. "This happens all the f**king time!" he fumes. "American cops just can't seem to stop killing black people. It makes me very angry that there is so little progress on this issue. At least there is more awareness. When I was a kid, I think there were a lot of white middle class Americans who did not believe this was going on. Now, with all the videos and media, there is no excuse for being ignorant." And for that matter, no excuse, he says, for a citizen anywhere in the world to be passive. The best government, the best politicians and laws and Constitution, isn't worth anything if people don't speak up. Taking action on anything, be it art, politics or just paying attention to loved ones, he points out, is a great alternative to depression and despair. "Every day I gotta shake myself, break free of my demons and go for it."

Seth Tobocman was in the city recently for a Comic Conce

Buy World War 3 Illustrated now | Buy World War 3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Seth Toboman's Author Page



Jeremy Brecher's Strike! in Booklist

By Diego Báez
Booklist
August 14th, 2014

Brecher’s riveting primer on modern American labor history catalogs U.S. workers’ movements from the railroad strikes and Great Upheaval of July 1877 to the mass demonstrations and Haymarket affair of 1886 to Great Depression protests and Vietnam-era revolt to Time’s declaration of “The Protester” as person of the year in 2011. Brecher dives inside the everyday struggles of rank-and-file workers and provides a thoroughly researched, alternative history rarely mentioned in textbooks or popular media. Each chapter contextualizes the wide array of tactics workers have employed to negotiate fair wages and humane working conditions since the nineteenth century, such as collective bargaining, organized protest, nonviolent resistance, and armed conflict. This edition (the first was published in 1972) includes additional chapters on the Battle of Seattle, which disrupted the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization, and Occupy Wall Street, which inspired demonstrations across the country. Not surprisingly, Brecher’s text has been updated and reissued numerous times because of its compelling narrative style and exhaustive documentation. An important compendium, to be read alongside the books of Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, and Noam Chomsky.

Buy Strike! now | Buy Strike! e-Book now | Back to Jeremy Brecher's Author Page




John Barker's Futures in Booklist

By David Pitt
Booklist
August 20th, 2014

In the 1970s, Barker was a member of the British anarchist group the Angry Brigade; he served time in prison for conspiring to carry out bombings in London. Later, in the mid-1980s, he was convicted of being involved in a scheme to import cannabis into England. The novel, which tells the story of a group of people who create a new kind of cocaine market in late-1980s London, was written over a period of a couple of decades and is being published now after a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s a fascinating backstory, but what’s most interesting is how very good the book is. The characters are fully realized, the dialogue is snappy and appropriately vulgar, and the story is a riveting mixture of ’80s greed and violence (think Bret Easton Ellis). Obviously, Barker brings a certain firsthand experience to some of the story’s criminal elements, but it would be a mistake to write the book off as just another crime novel by a guy who did time. This is a serious literary achievement, a remarkably well told story that has real emotional depth.

Buy Futures now | Buy Futures e-Book now | Back to John Barkers's Author Page




Peter Kuper's The System in Now Read This!

By Win Wiacek
Now Read This!
August 25th, 2014

Artist, storyteller and activist Peter Kuper was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1958, before the family moved to Cleveland when he was six. The youngster met fellow comics fan Seth Tobocman and they progressed through the school system, catching the bug for self-publishing early. They then attended Kent State University together. Graduating, they moved to New York in 1979 and, whilst both studying at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, created the political art/comics magazine World War 3 Illustrated.

Both separately and in conjunction, in comics, illustration and through art events, Kuper and Tobocman have championed social causes, highlighted judicial and cultural inequities and spearheaded the use of narrative art as an effective means of political activism.

Many of Kuper’s most impressive works have stemmed from his far-flung travels but at heart he is truly a son of New York, with a huge amount of his work using the city as bit player or star attraction.

He created The New York Times’ first continuing strip – Eye of the Beholder – in 1993, adapted such modern literary classics as Franz Kafka’s Give it Up! (1995) and The Metamorphosis (2003) to strip form, whilst always creating his own canon of intriguing graphic novels and visual memoirs.

Amongst the many strings to his bow – and perhaps the most high-profile – has been his brilliant stewardship of Mad Magazine’s beloved Spy Vs. Spy strip which he inherited from creator Antonio Prohias in 1997.

In 1995 he undertook a bold creative challenge for DC’s Mature Reader imprint by crafting a mute yet fantastically expressive 3-part thriller and swingeing social commentary for Vertigo Verité. The System was released as a softcover graphic album in 1997 and has now been magnificently repackaged in a lavish hardback edition from PM Press.

Following a moving Preface from the author describing the genesis of the project, Senior News Editor at Publisher’s Weekly Carl Reid offers an effusive appreciation in ‘Bright Lights, Scary City’ before the drama begins…

As if telling a beguiling, interlinked portmanteau tale of many lives interweaving and intersecting – and often nastily ending – in the Big City without benefit of word-balloons, captions or sound effects was not challenge enough, Kuper pushed his own storytelling abilities to the limit by constructing his pages and panels from cut stencils, creating the narrative in a form akin to urban street art.

It is astoundingly immediate, evocative and effective…

A stripper is murdered by a maniac. An old, weary detective ruminates on his failures. A boy and girl from different neighbourhoods find love. A derelict and his dog eke out a precarious daily existence and a beat cop does his rounds, collecting payoffs from the crooked dealers and helpless shopkeepers he’s supposed to protect. Religious zealots harass gay men and an Asian cabbie gets grief from the white fares who despise him whilst depending on his services.

The streets rattle with subway trains below and elevated trains above.

Strippers keep dying, children go missing, love keeps going and the airport brings a cruel-faced man with radioactive death in his carry-on luggage…

There are so many million stories in The City and they are all connected through the unceasing urban pulse and incessant, unending forward motion of The System

Clever, compulsive and breathtakingly engrossing, this delicious exercise in dramatic interconnectivity and carefully constructed symbolism is a brilliant example of how smart and powerful comics can be.

Buy The System now | Buy The System e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page




The Cost of Lunch, Etc reviewed in We Love This Book

By Sally Hughes
We Love This Book
August 21st, 2014

Marge Piercy is a great poet and this is clearly evident in the way she handles words. This is her first collection of short stories (although drawn from the work of a number of years) but the same economy of phrase, depth of emotion and touch of astringency you find in her poetry is here.
 
The stories all focus on women and in particular their emotions and experiences at key times in their lives. There are stories of women coming of age, women facing death and of women coming and going in a range of different relationships. One of the most moving, a story about a woman whose partner is succumbing to Alzheimer's and the emotional journey through irritation, guilt and isolation to acceptance and tenderness is incredible. "Saving Mother From Herself" the tale of a compulsive hoarder is both tremendously funny and touching at the same time. 
 
These stories bear the hallmark of the 70s feminist movement - not in terms of setting, there are stories set up to today - but in terms of the emotional tenet and confessional nature of the collection. Men do not on the whole come out of the stories very well but you do get to meet an amazing caste of vulnerable, gritty and generally fabulous women of all ages.
 
Many of the stories are funny, a few shocking, all are interesting and incredibly well-told. For a journey into the feminine psyche it is unparalleled.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Marge Piercy's Author Page


Glasper’s “Burning Britain” for the fans only

Rock Star Journalist
August 2014

Ian Glasper‘s tenth anniversary edition of Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980-1984 (out now from PM Press) is an invaluable resource for anyone looking for first-person narratives of the second wave of UK punk. For those looking for an interesting read, that’s another story.

Burning Britain is like a very large ‘zine. It’s very rambling, with lots of interjections and asides, and quite a bit of editorializing on the part of the author. Glasper is prone to describe singles or songs as “crackling with an almost tangible passion and urgency,” as he does in the case of the Underdogs’ “East of Dachau” single.

Connected to Glasper’s tendency to be either hyperbolic or minimalist — describing bands in basic one or two sentence summaries of the bands’ sounds — the fatal flaw in Burning Britain is an absolute need for the reader to be familiar with the acts in question. If you don’t know much past their singles, you’ll be lost, hoplessly adrift in a sea of anecdotes.

There are so many stories without context. There are scads of “so there we was…” tales which I am absolutely sure were hilarious when being told, but seem hopelessly overlong in print. If nothing, it does humanize these musicians, and presents them as average punters, rather than rock stars with delusions of grandeur.

I’m also trying to figure out why certain acts were left out. I understand the anarcho punks being saved for another book, but where the hell is Cock Sparrer? I get that they formed early, but their reformation and heyday was easily in the timeframe of this book. Angelic Upstarts were present during the first wave, and the Adicts formed pre-’77, so I don’t see as to why they were excluded. Shame, that.

Burning Britain is available now from PM Press, and can be purchased from their store.


A long overdue book focusing on the early years of one of punk rock’s most notorious and greatest loved bands, The Dead Kennedys.

In his prequel, author Alex Ogg reminds us that The Dead Kennedys have never been written about at length (see John Robb’s tribute here). The Ramones, Clash and Pistols have over 100 titles between them, and yet DK are arguably one of the bands that typifies punk at its best. They stuck two fingers up to the music industry and then lunged in to attack it. And who doesn’t recognise that logo?

If you don’t know the Dead Kennedys then:

  • a) seriously?
  • b) you need to book yourself into the punk reprogramming camp (does the opposite of the one in Aceh they sent Indonesian punks to) and immerse yourself particularly in their early works.

For those already inducted, read on…

“Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years” does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.

Chapter titles are taken from DK songs, which is always a winner in my view, causing a wry grin. The pages are littered with band collages, Winston Smith’s art, gig flyers and Ruby Ray’s photos capturing the band in their infancy – which keeps the reader’s attention and makes this all the more difficult to put down. Photos of different covers and record middles from across the globe demonstrate how far their message spread across a world eager for acerbic high octane punk rock.  There are also excerpts from the “Hard Rock” comic about DK punctuating the story of pivotal events in the band’s early stages – in itself a humorous contradiction. I’ll be returning to this volume for a cursory browse at the pictures every now and then.

Alex Ogg manages to overcome the difficult job of providing a narrative that includes conflicting versions of events from former band mates who are at loggerheads, allowing the details and trivia to froth around so the reader can decide their own version of “the truth” from whatever bubbles to the surface.  He brings the story alive using interviews not only with band members, but with other contemporary witnesses including gig-goers. The writing manages to go some way to capturing the excitement, buzz, artistic freedom, true rebellion of punk rock in the early days when it really was a shock to the establishment rather than a music genre co-opted into corporate rock.  I came away from reading this book marveling once again at the musicianship, lyrical satire and sarcasm, theatrics, imaginative pranks and art that made Dead Kennedys stand out all those years ago – and still stand out now. Which led to me having a DK-athon over the last week!

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is packed full of interesting facts and gossip:  I found out what that line about Serpents Eggs in California Uber Alles was really about rather than having a general gist it was “something bad”; the pizza delivery job Jello had back in Boulder being the inspiration for songs like Terminal Preppie and Holiday in Cambodia, and the true identity of Norm, the producer credited for Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  Want to know about production processes and techniques they employed to capture and embellish upon their live sound to create  great records (and the obligatory conflict in the studio within the band and between the band and engineer)?  That’s in here as well.  Want to know who really wrote a particular song?  You’ll have to make your own mind up as each stakes their claim.

A chapter based largely on a stowaway-cum-roadie’s reminiscences provides an insight into the first UK tour Dead Kennedys undertook, bringing such cultural imports as stage diving and an amusing anecdote where the band misread the crowd’s sense of humour, thinking they had themselves misread the irony in the band’s lyrics.

The end notes detailing sources and full quotes provide a deeper level of trivia that some nerds…errmm, I mean “fact fans”, will absolutely love.  In the days before the internet this volume would have been a punk pub quiz host’s bible!   I have to admit I skipped much of the “Yakety Yak” chapter, comprised as it is of quotes about DK from some predictable punk/HC luminaries, a few journalists and the less predictable Pete Townshend (Who?), Elijah Wood and Massive Attack. Probably even something in there to impress Bruce “Punks can’t play their instruments” Dickinson.

Russ “Dr. Punk” Bestley, responsible for the image laden design of this book, submits a 3-page profile/homage to Winston Smith, whose artwork helped amplify the sound and lyrics of DK to create notoriety on a scale the Pistols could only have dreamt of.  Dada, situationism, Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher all get a mention, of course.

The tale closes,as the title would suggest, after Fresh Fruit was released and drummer Ted left in December 1980.  Alex Ogg has left unpicking the rest of the DK story for “some other poor bastard” but I think he has proven he is the man for the job (go on, you know you want to, Alex!).  Whereas some band/artist biographies get bogged down in so much technical detail that you forget the generality of what you have read and lose track of what went on (I am thinking in particular of People Funny Boy by David Katz) our author has mastered the art of distillation which is just what you need to plot a path through a contentious story such as that of the Dead Kennedys.  Finishing the book, I was left reflecting that the Moral Majority and PMRC couldn’t destroy the band but they have done a pretty good job on each other since via the court system.  That’s another story in itself.

~ Get your copy from turnaround-uk.com, activedistribution.org and pmpress.org - See more at: http://louderthanwar.com/fresh-fruit-for-rotting-vegetables-the-early-years-by-alex-ogg-book-review/#sthash.25ip858k.dpuf

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Ian Glasper's Author Page




"Government's Arsenal to Destroy Revolutionaries": Political Imprisonment Persists

By Maya Schenwar
Truthout
August 21st, 2014

This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and fund more stories like it!

Through recounting the incarceration of activists fighting for black liberation, Native American sovereignty, Puerto Rican independence, economic justice, the abolition of nuclear weapons and more, author Dan Berger illustrates how imprisonment serves as a political tool deployed by the state to maintain the status quo.

Defining "political prisoner" is a risky endeavor, historian Dan Berger notes in the introduction to his recently released book on the topic, The Struggle Within: Prisons, Political Prisoners, and Mass Movements in the United States. Too often, it's assumed that political prisoners are people who "haven't done anything" - who are imprisoned simply because of their beliefs. However, as Berger articulates throughout this engrossing, fact-packed primer, most political prisoners did do something: They participated actively in movements to resist state power, often acting outside the bounds of the law. And so, rather than limiting conversations about political prisoners to determinations of "innocence" and "guilt," it's much more useful to discuss how and why the state attempted to suppress those movements. Through recounting the incarceration of activists fighting for black liberation, Native American sovereignty, Puerto Rican independence, economic justice, the abolition of nuclear weapons and more, Berger illustrates how imprisonment serves as a political tool deployed to maintain the status quo.

The activists Berger introduces us to aren't usually protesting legislation or railing against particular politicians housed within current power structures. They're working to disrupt the deep groundings of those structures - including the legitimacy of the law itself. In other words, they're shaking the foundation of the very laws that are later used to confine them.

In the foreword to The Struggle Within, activist and scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore points to the recent enthusiasm for prison "reform," noting that reform-oriented advocacy often ignores the existence of political prisoners, because their struggles contradict the notion that prisons can be fixed. These prisoners - working to wholly upend existing systems of oppression - belie what Gilmore calls "the sentimental maxim that whatever's wrong with the United States will be fixed by what's right with it."

This book is about people who are locked up for revealing what's wrong with the United States, and Berger's meticulous documentation of activist struggles shows how incarceration serves as an attempt to erase their dissent. Like the "reformers," the government can't acknowledge political prisoners; if it did, it would have to acknowledge the existence of the problems they're fighting. "The prison can be seen as an extension of the repression that drove many of these people to undertake militant action in the first place," Berger notes. "It is part of the government's arsenal to destroy revolutionaries."

The image of the arsenal is at home in this book about systemic struggle. Occasionally, The Struggle Within paints the landscape of the push toward revolution as a battlefield; incarcerations, like casualties, may come with the territory. Of the Black Liberation Army's arrests for "expropriations" (the bank robberies the group's members used to sustain their survival), Berger writes, "As members of a clandestine army fighting to free a colonized people, most captured BLA combatants have defined themselves as 'prisoners of war.'" Many Puerto Rican independence activists in the '70s also assumed this position; Berger talks about how some began to "refuse to participate in their own trials, asserting the position of prisoner of war, thus not subject to the colonial courts of the United States."

The activists that Berger profiles break laws to break down chains, walls, systems, norms and entrenched assumptions. While the law is deployed to repress them, they resist by continually revealing its flimsiness and mutability; they demonstrate that it can not only be "broken," but that it can, potentially, be broken down.

Though armed struggle plays a large role in The Struggle Within, breaking down systems isn't simply about literally fighting back. One of the book's most interesting and nuanced sections delves into movements of revolutionary nonviolence. Berger notes that radical pacifists, though they usually aren't given long sentences, are known for the way in which they continually go back to prison: "For more than forty years, [nonviolent resistance] has been the political tendency most oriented toward civil disobedience."

To read more go to Truthout HERE.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Dan Berger's Author Page




Turning Money Into Rebellion, A Review, Part 1

LLCO.org
August 23rd, 2014


Turning Money Into Rebellion: The Unlikely Story of Denmark’s Revolutionary Bank Robbers (Kersplebedeb, 2014) is a wake-up call for the legions of wannabe anti-imperialists and Marxists who populate the First World so-called “left” today. It is a collection of documents that chart the development of those revolutionaries who would later be known in the mainstream press as the “Blekingegade Group.” These Robin Hoods from the First World turned to illegal activities, especially bank robbing, in order to fund liberation struggles in the Third World to the tune of millions of dollars. Their presence was mostly unknown until their arrest in 1989 revealed the extent of their activities, which had been very successful and gone largely unnoticed. Law enforcement and the bourgeois media sensationalized and embellished the story for their own purposes. Wild tales of a dark, seedy world of international terrorism keep European audiences reading after their arrest. One of the goals of the book is to dispel many misconceptions about the group in the popular imagination. The interviewees tell their story in a matter-of-fact, non-sensationalized way. The articles and interviews come off as honest, even self-critical at times. There seems to be little myth making here. When we were asked to review this work, we agreed mostly to be nice. After all, a million tasks cry out to be done, and a million more. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the book. We thank the individual who gave us this additional burden. We had known about this group before, our German website contains several articles that mention them.  What we did not know was just how sophisticated this group was. There are obvious parallels between our work and theirs. When compared to the rest of the so-called “left” in the First World, our work may seem very similar to theirs. However, big differences exist also, and we should not lose sight of these. Importantly, unlike the trends that would lead to the Blekingegade Group, the Leading Light was formed through the convergence of several trends in many countries. Thus Leading Light’s history and approach are a little more complex. The Blekingegade Group was a First World group committed to aiding the Third World. The Leading Light, by contrast, is an international group that operates primarily in the Third World, but also in the First World. Even so, reading the words of the interviewees generated a sense of deja vu for some of our First World cadre. It was not only Blekingegade Group’s broad analysis and practical orientation that seem too familiar, but even very specific and technical points raised in the interviews. The Leading Light is in full agreement that talk is cheap, to quote the Blekingegade Group, real “solidarity is something you can hold in your hands.” Like echoes like. Like finds like, even if it is decades later. You are shining stars in the midnight of the First World so-called “left.” Respect, brothers and sisters.

Quick history and timeline

The “Blekingegade Group” is a media name for an organization that traces its origins back decades to the Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds (KAK). The KAK’s history goes back to 1963 when Gotfed Appel, a charismatic literary historian, was banned from the Communist Party of Denmark, a Moscow-loyal, revisionist party, for his sympathy with China. Gotfed Appel and others went on to form the KAK, which soon became recognized as fraternal by the Chinese Communist Party. The KAK worked closely with the Chinese embassy in Copenhagen. The KAK participated in traditional activism, including some of the first anti-Vietnam war protests. They founded a publishing house and newspaper. The KAK published and distributed copies Mao’s “little red book.” One thing that set them apart from the rest of the left was Gotfed Appel’s “parasite state theory,” the belief that the Western working class was not a revolutionary agent. As a result, the group focused on solidarity efforts, both legal and illegal activism, to aid Third World liberation movements. The KAK was serious enough about its analysis that it broke off relations with Beijing in 1968 when the Chinese communists continued to misjudge the situation in the First World. A decade later, in 1978, the KAK split when an anti-sexism campaign ran amok through the organization. According to the interviewees, the campaign was used opportunistically by Gotfed Appel’s leadership to silence others. (133) A new group critical of the old leadership was born: the Manifest-Kommunistisk Arbejdsgruppe (M-KA). After the split, the KAK continued to recognize the lack of revolutionary potential in the First World. The KAK moved away from active solidarity. They adopted the line that they would prepare the way for a future when conditions for proletarian revolution in Denmark would change in their favor. Whatever their Third Worldist pretense, the KAK returned to more traditional First Worldist activism, abandoning clandestine work for the most part. Also, the KAK patched things up with Beijing, even following the twists and turns of Chinese foreign policy even as China aligned with the Western imperialists. Predictably, the KAK’s influence waned. The M-KA moved in a more scientific, creative and less dogmatic direction. Although the M-KA continued some legal fundraising efforts, their illegal activities, especially bank robbing, became their focus. They mostly stayed off the radar of authorities and the First World “left.” The M-KA became a very capable, clandestine organization that raised lots of money for Third World liberation, especially the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). They were finally arrested in 1998 when they were discovered by accident. It is this latter group, the M-KA, that was mostly sensationalized as “Blekingegade Group.”

Parasite state theory and imperialism

Lenin taught that without theory, practice is blind. The practice of this trend was very much connected to their Third Worldism, which was very advanced at the time. Their theory was originally developed in the 1960s by Gotfed Appel. According to their “parasite state theory,” the First World working class was not an ally of the Third World proletariat and the fight for socialism at the present time. (4) This concept was very familiar, although usually poorly articulated, during the de-colonial struggles before and after World War 2. As early as 1933, Even Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, wrote:

“It is said that capitalism managed to prolong its life to our day because of a factor which perhaps Marx did not fully consider. This was the exploitation of colonial empires by the industrial countries of the West. This gave fresh life and prosperity to it, at the expense, of course, of the poor countries so exploited.” (30)

Julius K. Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, similarly stated:

“The only difference between the two situations is that the beneficiaries in the international situation now are the national economies of the rich nations — which includes the working class of those nations. And disagreements of the spoils, which used to exist between members of the capitalist class in the nineteenth century, are now represented by disagreement about the division of the spoils between workers and capitalists in the rich economies.” (31)

Others voiced similar sentiments. Although somewhat ambiguous, there was Che Guevara’s famous call for “many Vietnams.” There was also Lin Biao’s 1960s conception of the global countryside encircling the global city. Even Engels discussed that the whole of England, including its working class, was becoming bourgeois on the backs of its colonies. These kinds of ideas were somewhat popular in the 1960s and 1970s as anti-colonial struggles raged and as China sought to revitalize socialism through its Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Even though many expressed similar views, especially outside the West, few advanced the idea as forcefully as the KAK. Later, even fewer would add the scientific depth of the M-KA as they incorporated Arghiri Emmanuel’s theories of unequal exchange to Gotfed Appel’s. Today, Leading Light has advanced political economy even further.

The KAK did see the First World working class as exploited, but the class was bribed at the same time. This bribe made it so the First World workers had more in common with the imperialists than they did with Third World workers. In 1975, the KAK explained:

“[T]he working class in the developed countries of Western Europe and North America occupies a two-fold position. It is at one and the same time exploited (in so far as it produces surplus value) and bribed (in so far as its standard of living and hence its economic — and cultural — needs and its ‘trade union’ demands are based on decades of sharing in the imperialist world’s former colonial, now ‘neo-colonial’ plunder). Furthermore, the bribery factor is today the dominant factor of the two.

This bribery should not be understood in such a way that one can actually calculate how large a part of of the wage-packet’s contents is payment for the value of labour, and how large a part is bribery. It should be understood as meaning that the whole of the imperialist world’s economic, industrial, technical, cultural and social development in the last analysis is based upon robbery and plunder in the former colonies and dependent countries, now the ‘Third World’.” (191)


Thus the KAK’s view was a bit different than our own. The KAK’s description of First World laborers as exploited, but bribed and non-revolutionary is needlessly confusing. Our view is that, generally speaking, First World populations should not be considered exploited. Contrary to the KAK, we believe there are approaches to the question that can quantify the degree of parasitism, the size of the bribe, so to speak. Although their terminology is different, the KAK’s view, as articulated here, is not unlike the concept of net-exploitation found in our own tradition. The KAK’s main points of reference were the classic works of Marx, Lenin, and Mao, especially Lenin’s Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Although the KAK was describing an important phenomenon, their approach seems limited and dogmatic. After their split, the M-KA would deepen the analysis by breaking from the KAK’s orthodoxy:

“Jan: KAK’s reference points were always the classical texts of Marxism-Leninism. As far as imperialism was concerned, everything circled around Lenin’s text. This didn’t even change when our empirical studies in the 1970s showed that this analysis was no longer applicable: Lenin’s theories on monopolization, finance capital, foreign direct investments, etc., could no longer explain the enormous gaps in wealth. But it needed KAK’s demise and the founding of M-KA for us to be able to improve our analysis.

Torkil: It’s actually amazing that such a short and somewhat muddled text, written hastily in a Swiss library with limited access to source material, could be regarded as the ne plus ultra in the Marxist analysis of imperialism for over half a century. It really shows the position that Lenin had within the left and the power of Soviet propaganda.” (102)


One-time M-KA members explain just how different production is now than in the past:

“Torkil: If we take the purchasing power of Copenhagen with its one million inhabitants, then it equals the purchasing power of Tanzania with forty-six million people. Neoliberalism allows you to move production to where wages are low and then ship the products to where purchasing power is high. That way you profit on both ends. You can send a design for a Nike sneaker as a PDF to Vietnam, where you get the sneakers produced for next to nothing before moving them in modern containers to the U.S., where you can sell them for a multiple of the production costs. Making profit has never been easier. Once you have functioning logistics, modern technology, and safe transport, you are set. In the metropole, production is no longer key — what counts is design and marketing. The technologies are very different to the 1970s, but they perpetuate and even strengthen, the same patterns of exploitation. At the time, we spoke of ‘parasite states.’ Today, we might want to speak of ‘producer states’ and ‘consumer states.’” (167-168)

This foreshadows our own analysis. Despite pretenses of being led by scientific ideology, the so-called “left” is mired in dogma. This is true of almost every movement claiming to be revolutionary in both the First and Third World. What exists are not movements genuinely led by revolutionary science, but movements led by vulgarized, dogmatized ideologies of past revolutions. These movements fail to understand that the world has changed greatly since 1949, even more so since 1917. Revisionism, the abandonment of real revolutionary science, has led the so-called “left” into insignificance and irrelevance. The M-KA embraced a more advanced political economy in its effort to understand global class. They embraced more advanced understanding of imperialism. And they embraced a more advanced practice than other First World movements at the time. Like ourselves, the M-KA rejected dogmatic orthodoxy of First Worldism without falling into liberalism and wishy-washy movementarianism.

In their context, they avoided both the dogmatism and liberalism that are so prevalent in the First World so-called “left.” The M-KA continued to maintain their correct orientation toward the Third World even to this day. One interviewee states:

“Despite the anti-imperialist liberation struggles disappearing in the 1980s, the main contradiction in the world remains the one between the rich capitalist countries in the North and the exploited countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Future anti-imperialist struggle is inevitable.” (181)

Leading Light has pointed out that at least until the end of World War 2, Lenin’s understanding of imperialism was more correct than others. At the time, it was more correct than Kautsky’s theory of ultra-imperialism. The world did enter a cycle of world wars as imperialists vied with each other for the colonial world. However, world wars threatened the capitalist system as a whole. The first world war weakened capitalism so much that proletarian revolution rose to power in the old Russian empire. The second world war saw the rise of Maoist China. So weakened were the old empires that a massive de-colonial movement swept the world as European empires were no longer able to hold onto their colonies. The system as a whole was so threatened that measures were taken to avoid future world wars. Globalization moved forward. International institutions were created to resolve or minimize conflicts.  Imperial cultures mixed with each other. Transnational Non-Governmental Organizations emerged. Economies were integrated. Capital became more and more transnational. Corporations and other capitalist entities were no longer loyal to this or that single country. Rather, a transnational First World empire begins to emerge that exploits the masses across the Third World. To understand this ongoing process, it is necessary to go beyond the dogma of the past.

The science of oppression is constantly advancing. The oppressors recruit some of the best and the brightest to populate a network of intelligence  and military agencies, think tanks, academic departments, and legislatures. In order to beat the oppressor, to make revolution, it is necessary to advance revolutionary science to ever new heights. Old dogma won’t cut it. Although the M-KA’s political economy, in some respects,  anticipates the rise of Leading Light Communism, it is important to understand that the problem facing the revolutionary movement is not so simple. It is not as though Maoism or national liberation plus Third Worldist political economy is the solution. The current impasse of the revolutionary movement stems from a much deeper epistemological problem, from lack of advanced scientific leadership, from dogmatism. The problem, and solution, is much bigger than political economy. The question of “what is to be done?” must not simply be asked by First World comrades, but also Third World comrades. Although delivering real support to this or that people’s struggles is truly honorable, more money alone is not going to tip the fundamental balance. The key to victory is revolutionary genius, all-round, all-encompassing, all-powerful scientific advance: Leading Light Communism. One people. One Earth. One Global People’s War. One organization. One leadership. Leading Light.

Kuhn, Gabriel. Turning Money Into Rebellion (Kersplebedeb, 2014)

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