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#LatinoLit Review – The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band by Michelle Cruz González

By Charlie Vázquez
Latino Rebels
April 1, 2016

This slim and mean volume of punk memoir brought me back to my years on the West Coast, when I befriended filmmakers and musicians from the Bay Area punk scene who’d moved to Portland in 1989, where I was living at the time. They introduced me to the smoldering punk underground that was thriving in San Francisco when they moved back not too long afterward, as Operation Desert Storm terrorized the networks and protests of No Blood for Oil! filled Portland’s streets and avenues.

Xicana-identified musician Michelle Cruz González joined Spitboy at around that time, an all-female punk group committed to confronting the rampant misogyny plaguing the underground and society in general. González takes us back to that exciting development through compelling storytelling, making it clear that her bandmates originated from more privileged backgrounds, what would be a constant source of tension within the group—an invisible and turbulent fault line that fueled their music.

González revisits the various factions of the punk rock scene of those years, sects divided by aesthetic, faction and sound, when punks would connect to others based on patches they’d pin or sew onto their clothes or where they bought their records; who they listened to and where they hung out when real-time triumphed, before Wi-fi and smartphones. Her story’s central tension is driven by her being Latina in a mostly white male underground, where equality was often trespassed.


I identified with this tale for two reasons: as the grandson and son of struggling Puerto Ricans and Cubans, and for not fitting in anywhere as a bicultural artist who championed experience over the mundane. I also dove headfirst into the underground of those years—as a musician and then as a writer—to seek liberation from the patriarchal strictures that denied me equality and respect as a queer, working-class artist from the Bronx, floating through the music underground as she did.

Spitboy would tour the world and meet many of their heroes; falling in and out of love while losing and gaining new members as they did. González’s raw and unfiltered writing reads with the adrenaline of those times—in your face whether you like it or not. Included in these pages are the moments when Kurt Cobain’s suicide broke the airwaves, when punks realized they were growing up and away from an underground slipping quickly toward the Lollapalooza mainstream.

González’s story is about challenging your obstacles however possible, in tough times before political correctness and policing of speech; when four angry young women came together to play as loud and as nasty as the boys did—who refused Riot Grrrl status and segregation of the genders at their shows. The Spitboy Rule follows the difficult and courageous journey of a young woman who wasn’t afraid to venture into a mostly white underground scene, to hold mirrors up to the faces of her worst critics.


Author Charlie Vázquez is a founding member of Latino Rebels and the director of the Bronx Writers Center. You can follow him @charlievazquez.

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To Defend the Revolution Is to Defend Culture: A Review

to defend the revolutionby Marc James Léger
Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
March 17th 2016

The main hypothesis of Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt’s important new book on the cultural policies pursued in Revolutionary Cuba is that there exist possibilities for relations to be created between art and society that are not premised on the profit motive. In the preamble to the book, titled “Cuba as an Antidote to Neoliberalism,” Gordon-Nesbitt makes clear that what motivated her project in militant research is the current market fundamentalism that consigns all cultural production to the needs of economic growth, shaping cultural production into an ideological weapon of capitalist globalization. As a Marxist art theorist with a keen interest in policy I often find myself reading essays on contemporary art waiting for a kernel of wisdom from its author, something that can put contemporary theory into some kind of relation with the history of radical cultural theory. In this instance, readers are richly rewarded as they are immersed in a case study where some of the perennial debates among artists and writers of conscience are worked out in concrete historical circumstances in which a socialist society attempts to bring into existence the best of what humanist Marxism has promised, along with the necessity of struggle against the results of centuries of colonialism, the pressures of capitalist imperialism and the failures of Soviet Stalinism. However, as Gordon-Nesbitt makes clear, the political event of the Cuban Revolution is not only a matter of history, but has implications for the future (xxiii).

Aside from the introductory texts, which includes a foreword by Jorge Fornet (the son of Ambrosio Fornet, one of the key cultural figures in this account), and a brief conclusion, the book is essentially divided into two parts, with the first three chapters approaching the subject of cultural policy in Revolutionary Cuba through a historically-specific perspective on theoretical issues, and a second part with four chapters that follows a more chronological trajectory from the earliest days after the victory of the 26 July Movement in 1959 to roughly the late 1970s.

In this period, debates between “liberal” and “orthodox” tendencies vied for primacy, interacted with international comrades and led eventually to the ratification of the Revolutionary humanist vision of leaders like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, which sought to allow “everything within the Revolution and nothing against the Revolution” (69, 163). The role of militant leadership and of state functions are therefore affirmed not only as a matter of record, but as a point of solidarity by Gordon-Nesbitt, who notes with keen lucidity a meeting of cultural producers at which Fidel intervened by placing his pistol on the table, reminding all those present that the Revolution had been achieved at a great cost and that whatever freedoms had been won by the people of Cuba, artists and intellectuals were mandated with the task to pursue their work in the interest of social, political and cultural transformation and the needs of a socialist society.

In this first part, the author takes the broadest view possible on what a radical cultural policy, in any context, would need to consider. Beyond the mechanisms of socio-economic support for artists and writers, the relation between culture and the state is shown to be essentially different in a capitalist and a socialist context. Since the enlightenment, the aesthetic has been associated with human emancipation, a notion that has been tailored by different political perspectives and government agencies. Insofar as the United States and the United Kingdom have associated culture with commerce and economic growth, they ignore United Nations stipulations that art should be supported but not reduced to the status of a consumer good or a site for speculation. Since the solution to neoliberalization cannot be a return to romantic and modernist notions of autonomy, the policies experimented with in Cuba provide some ideas on how culture can offer a means beyond socio-economic contradictions. It is significant that the Revolution did not originate in strictly communist circles and that Cuban communists of the Popular Socialist Party (PSP) only belatedly joined the insurrection, leading to longstanding skepticism towards communism. Rather, the Cuban Revolution was led by new left intellectuals who considered themselves post-Stalinist. Yet, insofar as U.S. aggression was an ever-present danger, ties were maintained with the Soviet Union and Marxism-Leninism was applied to matters of political economy. The flipside to this, however, was a vision of socialism and of a humanist Marxism that sought to protect freedoms and human happiness as well as national cultural characteristics. This took the form of a Marxism influenced by the ideas of the Cuban intellectual José Marti, which were introduced by Che Guevara as a means to devise a continent-wide resistance to imperialism. The goals of freeing people from economic pressure, to overcome alienation and restore individuals’ capacity to relate themselves to humanity and nature are keystones of proletarian humanism that were given expression in the creation of a better life in both a material and spiritual sense. While literacy was a first objective of the 26 July Movement (with Cuba having today the second highest literacy rate and the U.S. and the U.K. coming in 44th and 45th place), the creation of cultural institutions was undertaken as early as 1961 with the building of national art schools, professional training for art instructors and an outreach programme to rural areas so as to abolish the distinctions between town and country and between manual and intellectual labour. In a short period, the amateur aficionados art education campaign would produce more than a million amateur artists within a population of seven million.

Throughout the 1960s, steps were taken in the development of an infrastructure for the administration of Cuban culture: in 1959 the government established the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industries (ICAIC) as well as the Casa de las Américas; in 1961 intellectuals formed the National Union of Cuban Artists and Writers (UNEAC); the pre-Revolutionary Nuestro Tiempo cultural society represented the ideas of the PSP; and the National Council of Culture (CNC) was created in 1961 – a group that Gordon-Nesbitt reproaches for its orthodox misreading of Marxian dialectics and separating art from the historical processes of the Revolution. (In fact, the entire fourth chapter is dedicated to a brilliant theoretical and historical elucidation of the pitfalls of ideological orthodoxy). In addition, in 1961 the National Art Schools (ENA) were established for training across the disciplines and in 1963 a National Museums Commission was formed, exhibiting art recovered from the elite, building a dozen new museums and touring exhibitions around the island and abroad. All of these institutions were committed to contributing to collective consciousness while sustaining creativity, supporting artists, developing pedagogical programmes and engaging with the world though cultural exchanges. In an early statement by Roberto Fernández Retamar, editor of the journal of the Casa de las Américas, the Revolution is described as a process whose course is not exact, but that the Cuban people are immersed in (65). One can see how different a statement this is from artists in the capitalist world who see themselves as an enclave, detached from the rest of society and at the same time immersed in the economic logic of the culture industries.

It was only in 1976 that the CNC was dissolved and replaced by the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT), headed by Armando Hart, a lawyer and former urban guerrilla. The bulk of the entire book, one could say, is dedicated to describing the process that resulted in the creation of MINCULT. Whereas the first three chapters give an overview of this period, elaborating what was at stake in terms of the ideals of the Revolution and the emancipatory role of culture under socialism, the last four take the reader into more detailed analysis of the particulars, demonstrating how at every stage, the valences of the dialectic, as Fredric Jameson calls it, can lead to very different understandings of what is happening. Gordon-Nesbitt consistently shows how the leadership sought to encourage the freedom of creative expression while at the same time securing the Revolution for the existing generation and for those to come. In this process, culture was given an important role in galvanizing revolutionary ideas, artists were freed from the laws of supply and demand, subsidies replaced royalties and sales, and property rights for creative works were replaced by state-sponsored dissemination.

Although it is not possible to do justice here to all of the particular events that are related in the last four chapters – from Fidel’s “Words to the Intellectuals” after the 1961 Pasado Meridiano controversy, the First National Congress of Writers and Artists (August 1961), the CNC policies of the early 60s, Che’s 1965 text “Socialism and Man in Cuba,” the [International] Cultural Congress of Havana of 1968 and its many participants, the Padilla Case of 1968-71, the First National Congress of Education and Culture of 1970, the Five Grey Years of military control of culture from 1971-76, and the First Congress of the Cuban Communist Party of 1975 – I would mention that throughout, Gordon-Nesbitt provides a rich and compelling analysis of the relationship between the political vanguard and artistic praxis that could easily be read alongside today’s discussions on socially engaged art, art activism, participatory art, transversal practice, relational and dialogical aesthetics, participatory art and other variants. Her book brings to the fore the problems that we in the capitalist universe would face if some of our political and cultural ambitions were to be realized. We would be able to go beyond confronting major institutions about the abuses of corporate management and sponsorship since they would be ours, people’s museums, universities and ministries, and we artists and intellectuals would have to decide amongst ourselves whether and how we support the Revolution, including its state mechanisms and infrastructures. We wouldn’t need to network or work without pay in order to accrue social capital like so many entrepreneurs of solidarity, but could dedicate ourselves to free exchange and authentic culture. Of course, even in the case of Cuba, there was never a moment when struggle was not required and protest against an imperialist foe was not a reality. The lessons of the Cuban experiment are not that liberal traditions are of no use to the Revolution, but that national culture should not be chauvinistic or elitist, that art and politics cannot be collapsed, nor can they be separated, and so, that aesthetic vanguards must work alongside political vanguards and vice versa. To Defend the Revolution Is to Defend Culture thus provides Marxist aesthetics with a view of radical ideology and universality that goes beyond sociological reduction and challenges the immanentism of today’s global, neoliberal bureaucracies.

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Life Under Jolly Roger: A Review

Web_Soccer_GabrielKuhnBy JM Hielkema
The Tiger Manifesto

Recommended to me by a friend, Life Under the Jolly Roger proved to be a diverting and informative read that had much more heft than I initially assumed. Though the subject has been both vulgarized and sanitized by innumerable Hollywood adaptations, Golden Age piracy remains a fascinating period in history. Life Under the Jolly Roger is a relatively short but sophisticated and nuanced take on pirate history and myth.

Gabriel Kuhn, an anarchist from Sweden, draws on a range of theorists and historical accounts of piracy, notably Deleuze, Hobsbawm, and, surprisingly (at least to me) practitioners of guerrilla warfare from Che to Mao. The central political question of the book is how present-day radicals should relate to the pirates and their example. That’s particularly important because there is a lot of romanticization of pirates on and off the silver screen, particularly by radicals who see them as consummate egalitarians, precursors of modern anarchists and guerillas.

Kuhn, to his credit, dispels much of the glossy shine of the pirate legend. While it’s undeniable that pirates shared certain traits in common with nomadic societies and spontaneously developed certain democratic institutions––elective captains, more equitable sharing of plunder, etc.––they also frequently employed black and indigenous slaves and practiced cruel violence. Violently hyper-masculine and often brutally violent towards women, the pirates were never feminist paladins either. Kuhn weaves these details into an argument against radical fetishization of the pirates, bereft of criticism or proper historical analysis. Despite not being a Marxist, his approach fits quite comfortably in the historical materialist category, analyzing the pirates in the context of burgeoning European capitalism and imperialism, how they fit within that larger totality.

One of the author’s best insights is that the pirates, though lacking any conscious political motives, functioned objectively as an anti-state war machine, carving out their own lines of flight over a then-unbounded ocean. With numerous networked ports of call and even small pirate settlements like those in Madagascar or Tortuga, the pirates could ply the seas with relative impunity until the first half of the 18th century.

This fact is at the core of Kuhn’s argument for a critical appropriation of the pirate legacy, one that sees them as “social bandits” (after Hobsbawm) who functioned in opposition to and rebellion against capitalism even though unguided by revolutionary aims. In fact, Kuhn argues that the dismemberment of Spanish oceanic hegemony in the Atlantic––a revolutionary result, in his argument––was in large part thanks to pirate and privateer activities. Moreover, he makes an effective comparison between the Golden Age pirates and their military tactics and those of guerrilla armies, without claiming that pirates were some kind of liberation army.
I would disagree slightly with Kuhn’s claims that pirates constituted some kind of objectively revolutionary force, particularly because their armed actions lacked explicit political content.

However, I take his point that their rebellion and their egalitarian authority structures, not to mention their lackadaisical attitudes toward work, merit serious consideration. They’re certainly an inspirational bunch despite and partly because of their violent and unsavoury aspects. After all, a revolutionary has no business being respectable when it comes down to it. Not to say that I want to outfit myself in a pirate hat and shirt (not for political reasons, anyway), but with Kuhn’s help I have a much better idea of who the pirates really were, and hope to read more about them someday. If you’re someone whose knowledge of pirates stops with Errol Flynn and Jack Sparrow but you wanted to learn more, Life Under the Jolly Roger will be just the grog you’re thirsting for.

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Militancy and the Beautiful Game: An interview with Gabriel Kuhn

Illustration by Monica Kostas
March 3rd, 2016

Gabriel Kuhn is an anarchist activist living in Sweden and author of an impressive array of histories, translations, and collections published on anarchism, history of the left, and sports. His energy for writing is matched by a passion for soccer as a longtime fan and once professional athlete. We interviewed him about his experiences playing for a living, radical history, and controversies today. 

You played soccer competitively at one point in your life. How did being in the world of sports as a profession impact your relationship and view of the game?

It had a strong impact on me. I was very disappointed with the social dynamics of it. There was a lot of dishonesty and deceit. I don’t want to paint too negative a picture, but professional sports is full of people with their own interests – club owners, sponsors, managers – who care very little about the athletes themselves. This is particularly problematic in relation to young athletes who are unexperienced, naive, and easily exploitable, but it can also concern older players who, after years of dedication, are nonchalantly dropped if they no longer yield the results required. It is certainly a world where performance weighs much more than friendship or mutual respect. “Camaraderie” is upheld as a value, but it is often reduced to a mere public relations ploy or even a means to force players into submission. There is also competition among athletes, of course, but I felt this was offset by a sense of solidarity that also exists, at least among some.

Again, I don’t want too paint too negative a picture, and there were many moments when I really enjoyed playing and spending time with my teammates, but the overall structure was disheartening; and I would not say this if my experiences hadn’t been confirmed by many other athletes I’ve talked to over the past 25 years. Needless to say, differences between countries and individual sports exist, and if you’re fortunate enough to get to work with people treating you decently your experiences will be different; not all owners and managers are bad. But there exists a pattern. Basically, we are dealing with a microcosm of capitalism at its worst: at the end of the day, competition rules and success is all that matters. To survive in an environment like this, certain qualities are needed: strong egos, self-confidence, high competitiveness, and a personality able to handle critique and even abuse. Professional athletes might range from devout Christians to hard-partying “bad boys”, but they all share certain characteristics; and if you don’t share these characteristics, you will have a hard time finding a place in their world. None of this, of course, says anything about the games they are playing. The games are great. They just need to be liberated from an unhealthy environment.

What made you start thinking about sports as a topic for political study?

To be honest, it’s mainly the attempt to combine two passions, in that case publishing and sports. I love putting books together, everything from conceptualizing them to working with the texts to being involved in the layout. I did plenty of zines over the years, and, in a way, the books are just an extension. When you work with established publishers you have access to more resources. For example, doing a book with over a hundred full-color illustrations, such as Playing as if the World Mattered, would have been impossible to do on my own. So that’s one part. The other part is sports, which I like to play, watch, and discuss. In that sense, it was a natural combination. But there’s more to it. I also think sport is an underrated subject within the radical left. Think about all the books that we have not only on political organizing and economic theory but also on music, visual arts, or even food. Where are the books on sport? And sport is a subject that millions of people, not least working-class people, are very excited about. Dave Zirin has almost a monopoly on radical sports writing, and he does an excellent job, but his work focuses mainly on the US and the big professional leagues. There is still a lack of coverage when it comes to international angles and grassroots initiatives. In other words, I felt that they were voids to be filled. Judging from the mostly positive feedback I’ve received, others felt the same. And there is an increasing number of radical authors coming out with writings on sports. Matt Hern did a book for AK Press, One Game at a Time, and Freedom Through Football is a great history about the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls of Bristol, a pioneering community sports club with a radical edge. It’s all very promising.

The IWW had some intersections with sports through members who were professional athletes for instance Nicolaas Steelink who you write about in Soccer vs. the State, but I’ve also read that the union participated in soccer leagues with socialists and communists in the 30s. Do you know anything more about the history and context of these radical sports leagues in the US?

Workers’ sport wasn’t as big in the US as in Europe, where the headquarters of both the international socialist and communist sports organizations were based, namely the Socialist Workers’ Sport International and the Red Sport International. Nonetheless, there was a workers’ sport movement in the US, too, and wobblies were involved in it, for example in the foundation of the Labor Sports Union of America in 1927, where they worked alongside socialists of other stripes. However, the Labor Sports Union of America was soon in control of communist agitators and became the US chapter of the Red Sport International. As such, it was behind the probably best-known workers’ sport event organized in the US, the so-called Chicago Counter-Olympics of 1932, an alternative to the “bourgeois” Olympics held in Los Angeles that same year.

Unfortunately, the history of socialist sports in the US hasn’t been studied much and plenty remains to be uncovered. In radical circles, we probably wouldn’t know about Nicolaas Steelink today hadn’t Dutch journalists traced his journey from football pitches in Holland to soap boxes in California. I’m sure many other inspiring stories remain to be told; let’s hope we’ll get to hear them soon.

In your books and interviews you’ve referenced briefly debates among anarchists that happened in places like Germany and Argentina in the early days of soccer. What were the positions amongst anarchists towards the game at that time? Clearly the situation has been radically transformed with the consolidation of professional sports as multibillion dollar industry, but are the corollaries of the same debates today?

I think that the critique of sport’s commercialization is particularly pronounced today, since its wheels have been turning frantically over the past thirty years. It was already an issue in the early twentieth century, however, especially with regard to the first corporate sponsorship deals and the betting industry. Yet, the bigger issue for left-wing critics was sport’s alleged role in distracting the masses from political organizing. The Romans would have called it “bread and circuses”, and the Marxists called it “the opium of the people”. Many anarchists shared those sentiments, and even those who didn’t often ignored sports as a supposedly apolitical and unimportant means of leisure. One of the most revealing aspects of the relationship between anarchism and sport is the latter’s almost complete absence from anarchist publications. But there have always been anarchists who criticized the rejection of sports as elitist and who stressed sport’s political potential in terms of uniting people, strengthening communal values, challenging class structures, and so on. Essentially, both leftist anti-sport and pro-sport arguments have remained the same during the past hundred years.

Each era seems to have its political challenges that emerge within the world of athletics that reflects the broader social conflicts of its day: perhaps it was collectivity and the anarchist clubs in South America at the turn of the century, black liberation and anti-colonial struggles in athletes in the 1960s. Where should we be situating things events today like the FIFA corruption scandals, Brazil and South Africa’s anti-world cup protests, and the Missouri college football anti-racism strike (to give a few non exhaustive samples)?

I think what we see today expresses both a growing mistrust of authority and a stronger sense of entitlement among the masses. People are fed up with corrupt and unaccountable rulers and they are not afraid to show it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t automatically translate into sweeping political change, as we are facing very complex power structures, but we live in times of strong social movements and protests, which includes widespread grassroots organizing. Even if common visions and strategies have yet to be developed to be effective on a broad scale, these are very encouraging signs. Luckily, challenging the forms in which sports are administered and played is a part of this process.

Are there any more texts on sports you’re working on now? Things in the sports world we should be paying attention to?

I have completed a small book about how, in the early twentieth century, the workers’ sport movement was tied into the European working class movement’s overall ideas of social transformation. The book focuses on the writings of Julius Deutsch, who was the president of the Socialist Workers’ Sport International. It will be out with PM Press this year under the title Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging a Militant Working-Class Culture. I have also outlined a book about Europe’s grassroots soccer culture, but realizing it would require a lot of traveling, which, in turn, needs both time and money, so I’m not sure when that will happen.

In terms of what we should pay attention to, it certainly entails the above-mentioned protest movements in sports, but also the increasing awareness among athletes regarding the corruption and misconduct of sports authorities. Sport’s international governing bodies are under increasing pressure, whether it’s FIFA, the IOC, or the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). This opens up exciting prospects. Imagine high-profile athletes coming out in support of Soccer World Cup or Olympic Games boycotts. It would raise sports protests to a whole new level with far-reaching consequences for society as a whole. Let’s hope we’ll get there soon.

Gabriel was born in Austria but soon began moving around with his artist parents. He grew up in various countries, including Turkey, Italy, England and the US, but returned to Austria for most of his formal education and a four-year semi-professional soccer career. In 1996 he received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Innsbruck. The following ten years he spent hitchhiking and couchsurfing around five continents. He moved to Sweden in 2006.

Active in radical politics since the late 1980s, publishing projects have always been a focus. In the early 1990s, Gabriel worked with the Austrian autonomist journal TATblatt and anarchist publisher Monte Verita, before turning his attention to DIY zine publishing. Alpine Anarchist Productions was founded in 2000, and distributes pamphlets to this day. Since 2005 Gabriel has been working closely with radical German publisher Unrast. His book “‘Neuer Anarchismus’ in den USA. Seattle und die Folgen” was named “Book of the Year 2008” by Berlin’s Library of the Free. Gabriel also contributes regularly to the Swedish anarchist journal Brand. He has three books on sports and politics published by PM Press including “Soccer vs. the State: tackling football and radical politics”, “Playing as if the World Mattered: An illustrated history of activism in sports” and soon-to-be-released translation of Julius Deutsch’s “Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging a militant working-class culture”.

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Reclaiming the American Commons

by John Curl
Roar Magazine
March 2016

A quiet upsurge of cooperative activity has been taking place across the US, where people are turning to the commons to rebuild a sense of community.

A quiet, sweeping upsurge of cooperative activity has been taking place throughout the United States in recent decades. All over the American map, millions of people now realize that the existing economic system has failed in the core purpose of any economic system: to offer a decent life and future to all.

Since everybody needs to survive, people everywhere are turning to mutual aid, collectivity, cooperatives, communalist ventures and commons of every sort. The story is not in the statistics. The vast majority of this activity is under the radar, in the informal, underground economy, in unincorporated associations. That is both a weakness and a strength.


America has historically always been a center of collective activity. That observation may seem to fly in the face of the stereotype of Americans being all about individualism and competition, but the truth is that from its earliest days the North American continent has been fertile soil to cooperative and communalist movements, based on people working together to provide for their mutual needs. Native American culture was built on those principles, and cooperative communities were integral to the entire project of working people immigrating here to escape poverty and oppression. Every wave of immigrants spontaneously created cooperative economic and social structures.

When settlers expanded westward in search of a better life, they often did so through cooperative means and formed cooperative settlements. The internal dynamics of American settler culture were intrinsically communalist in nature. But the entire colonial project also had a dark underside that can never be fully expunged: native people were already occupying the land, and the settlers were not only refugees, but also invaders--the vanguard of a tragic clash of civilizations.

The industrialization of the early 19th century brought a new form of oppression to America, and working people responded with the first modern social movements. Communalism was one of the earliest of these movements. It began in America in 1825, with the group of intentional communities inspired by New Harmony, and then renewed again in the 1840s. Like the movement of a century later, they too aimed at constructing a new society through communities based on collectivity and cooperation, but they eventually hit the limits of access to land and resources.

In the same era, worker cooperatives became an integral part of the early union movement. America was becoming increasingly dominated by capital, while working people were increasingly disenfranchised. The wage system, tied to the industrial revolution, was on the rise, and workers fought and resisted being made permanent wage slaves. They saw the wage system, in which people rent themselves to other people, as a form of bondage, and they formed worker-owned cooperatives to prevent themselves from being dragged down into it.

The early union and co-op movements culminated in the precipitous rise of the Knights of Labor and their counter-institutional challenge to capitalism through erecting an alternative economic system of cooperatives. They planned to replace capitalism with what they called the Cooperative Commonwealth. Their defeat in 1886 and the destruction of their worker co-ops by the forces of capital was a historic turning point in American social history. A few years later, their rural allies in the Farmers' Alliance suffered a parallel defeat with the destruction of their agricultural co-ops. These defeats resulted in the triumph of the "gilded age" reign of the robber barons.

In the early 1900s and during the Great Depression of the 1930s, radical collectivist, syndicalist and cooperative movements surged again. But very little of them remained after World War II, leaving the US deeply regimented and militarized. Progressive ideas were expunged from schools and politics, and to express even mildly left opinions in the McCarthy era, you risked being branded a traitor. Parents feared losing their jobs and told their kids to keep their mouths shut in school. LIVING THE REVOLUTION

As the generation that grew up in this airless atmosphere came of age, we were suddenly told that we were being shipped off to Asia to defend "freedom" from Communism. Tens of thousands of young people were being ripped out of their lives and tossed as cannon fodder into a war they opposed. Their overwhelming response was to resist and to turn to each other to invent a new set of liberating social relations, to reject what the country had become and create an oppositional collective, communal and cooperative "counterculture".

We created communal living spaces in both rural and urban settings. Many never even had a name. Just to know about them, you needed to have connections through friends or friends of friends. They had no long-term sustainability, but formed and reformed. Since the world was so unstable and torn by social upheaval, the focus was on liberation, not sustainability. By today's standards, most were not stable intentional communities. Shared living spaces are of course still ubiquitous among young people today, and the main difference was the prevailing atmosphere in society.

The idea at the time was to _live_ the revolution. Unlike many radical organizations of previous generations, our internal organizations needed to reflect our goals. The purpose was liberation, and we could only accomplish that directly, by liberating ourselves. What was holding us all back from living in liberated ways? In some ways the structure of society was doing just that, while in other ways we were oppressing ourselves and each other. We need liberated spaces to experiment in, where each could help liberate the others.

Collectivity led to many cultural victories in that era. But these turned into political defeats as a frightened country retreated to law and order under Reaganism.


The current Communities Directory lists 2,364 intentional communities in America, including income-sharing communes, eco-villages, co-housing, residential land trusts, student co-ops and spiritual communities. These are all projects where people choose to live together sustainably, on the basis of common values, with goals of personal, cultural and social transformation. Intentional communities are just one aspect of collectivity, of the commons.

Much of the communalist and cooperative movement in the US is still underground, in the informal economy. But the above-ground movement is expanding rapidly today, in response to the economic crises of this century, which globalized capitalism is not geared to handle or solve.

Do an internet search for worker co-ops, collectives, farmer co-ops, housing co-ops, food co-ops, intentional communities, land trusts, any kind of co-op you can imagine, and you will discover vast numbers. You will also find an extensive network of organizations around the country doing cooperative education, innovation, funding and developing.

Large numbers of non-profits and social justice organizations have expanded their horizons to include co-ops, particularly worker co-ops and related social enterprises, community enterprises and solidarity enterprises. Go to the websites of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, the Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives and other regional networks. Cities are supporting worker co-ops as an economic development strategy. The New York City recently granted $1.2 million to fund worker co-operative development.

An Underground Railroad of Communes

For me, participation in the communalist and cooperative movement started back in the mid-1960s, when I lived at Drop City, the fabled commune in southern Colorado. At the height of the movement of that era, we were part of a loose network of intentional communities, and we entertained the notion that American society was collapsing and we were constructing the basis of a new social order.

No directory of communes existed, but if you knew where to go, you could cross the country and never have to stay at a motel. The Vietnam War was raging, and the draft was the spark that ignited the movement. Communal spaces formed a kind of underground railroad, where resistors could travel commune to commune until they reached refuge in Canada.

Each of the 1960s communes was organized around a space that belonged to no one person. Since the planet, the original commons, was almost entirely privatized, with everyone dispossessed except the elite, groups of dispossessed decided to start creating small commons of their own.

That was at the core of the movement. But we soon hit a wall: only those with significant financial resources could have access to land, and you cannot conjure up alternative real estate. It was that contradiction that stopped the movement in its tracks. With the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, many communes disbanded and few new ones formed.

Eventually intentional communities began to proliferate again, as experiments in new ways of living, and continued to draw many people, as they still do today. To some extent, the drive of this new communalism remains the same: to restore a sense of community in an economic system where families, neighborhoods and entire populations are at the mercy of developers and planners, where people are moved around like cattle, with profit maximization being the primary consideration.


But people need not necessarily form communes to restore a sense of community. Many movements today aim to defend communities by protecting the commons. In this sense, it is worth pointing out that historical experiences like the Paris Commune were by their very nature centered around reclaiming the commons and defending "social property" in the fight against privatization.

An inspiring example of a contemporary movement aiming to protect the commons from economic attacks and displacement can be found in West Berkeley, California. Outsiders who visit this area often wonder why in 2016 it has not been totally swept up in the relentless gentrification that has decimated and transformed so many other Bay Area neighborhoods.

Why it is still full of funky little homes, local businesses, artists, artisans and industries? The secret answer is the West Berkeley Plan, through which a long-established, mixed-use urban neighborhood successfully created, recognized and defended a threatened commons.

The West Berkeley Plan was a radical transformative structure right in the heart of mainstream society, which all the developers strenuously opposed, since it limited their capacity to exploit and extract profit. Yet the movement eventually rose above the opposition and implemented the Plan by a unanimous vote of the city council. We had allies in city hall. That turned out to be key.

It began in the 1980s, when, during an era of expansive Reaganism, I brought several council members down to West Berkeley and showed them around the thriving and economically diverse community that at was at risk of displacement. Meanwhile a community group formed called West Berkeley MAARS, which stood for Merchants, Artists, Artisans, and Residents. The city council passed an "urgency ordinance" to stop wild gentrification and stabilize the situation, because there was no area plan in place to govern development in the neighborhood.

The first thing we tried was a commercial rent stabilization ordinance for industrial spaces. Berkeley already had commercial rent regulations protecting small merchants in two gentrifying commercial districts across town, as well as residential rent control. These ordinances treated affordable rental space as a commons. The community needed to protect that commons to remain a diverse community. But within weeks after the city council passed the West Berkeley ordinance, the state legislature intervened with a law outlawing all commercial rent control in California. It was then that the city council initiated the West Berkeley Plan process.

The Plan was based on the radical concept of a neighborhood planning and administering itself by consensus. All the stakeholders attended big public meetings, refereed by the city. Over a period of several years large numbers of people participated, argued, fought and ultimately came to acceptable compromises in which every sector had enough of their needs met. All the groups in West Berkeley could stay. No one would be pushed out by unchecked gentrification. This was true community-based planning in the best sense of the term.

We managed to stabilize the situation through zoning. We created a series of industrial zones, in which industrial and arts-and-crafts spaces were protected. Industrial and art space was recognized as a commons. Once landlords realized they could only rent out an industrial space to an industry or artisan, and not convert it to a higher-paying use, they had to accept the situation and rents no longer escalated. Since an industrial or arts-and-crafts space use can only generate a modest income level, and since a landlord can only replace an industrial tenant with another industrial tenant, landlords had to accept community stability.

Although developers continued to attack the West Berkeley Plan before the ink was even dry, over the decades the plan has held. This continued success has been largely due to the ongoing efforts of another community organization called West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies (WEBAIC), which took over the struggle from MAARS.

The West Berkeley Plan showed a way forward. The Plan struck a great blow to gentrification, achieved a triumph for diversity and community, and successfully created and protected a commons. It is a living demonstration of how, when grassroots activist community groups and progressive elements in municipal government work together, the impossible can become possible.


Today's cooperative, communalist and collectivist movements emerged in the early years of the 21st century. While many intentional communities continue to thrive, living communally is not an option for the vast majority of the US population, who are struggling just to stay where they are and working to transform their existing communities.

Nevertheless, people everywhere are turning to mutual aid, collectivity, cooperatives, communalist ventures and the commons for an alternative.

Today the US is no longer a powerhouse of heavy industry (apart from munitions), and the civil economy is largely based on services and small production. Our movement is not capable of challenging the commanding heights of the economy, like the Knights of Labor once tried to do, but it _is_ taking over the margins. The objective now is to multiply and thrive, horizontally not hierarchically, in the age-old task of trying, under adversity, to create a sustainable humane society to live in, in balance with the natural world--a great commons.

Collectivity can involve many kinds of sharing, and they all enrich life. When we create collectivity among ourselves, we are creating commons. Collectivity and commons are of enormous value: by creating commons, by taking back and defending them, by filling our lives as much as we can with collectivity, with community, we bring about progressive and sustainable social change.

In a real sense, then, widespread collectivity and cooperation in our lives is already changing the world.

_[John Curl is the author of _For All The People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperatives, Cooperative Movements and Communalism in America_ (2009). He is a longtime member of Heartwood Cooperative Woodshop.]_
"Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money." --Nineteenth century Nēhilawē (Cree) proverb


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Peter Kuper's 1990 Donald Trump Cartoon titled "The Wall" from Drawn to New York

For your enjoyment we've excerpted a 12 page 1990 cartoon by Peter Kuper (of MAD Magazine, SPY vs SPY fame) from his book Drawn to New York titled "The Wall" which sadly seems rather prescient at this point...

Enjoy. Or not so much enjoy, but... The Wall page 1

The Wall page 2The Wall page 3The Wall page 4The Wall page 5The Wall page 6The Wall pg 7The Wall page 8Wall page 9Wall page 10The Wall page 11The Wall page 12Buy Drawn to New York now | Buy Drawn to New York e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Artist Page

Damnificados: a magical realist manifesto for the poor

Damnificadosby Dave Sewell
Socialist Worker

Debut novelist JJ Amaworo Wilson’s magical realist fable celebrates the ingenuity, tenacity and resistance of slum-dwellers.

It is the tale of an abandoned skyscaper that’s occupied, revived and defended by a ragtag army of the “damnificados”—the casualties.

To make the trash of the city a home, they take on everything from gangster politicians to a biblical flood and a two-headed wolf.

Some are the poorest of the poor. But many are regular workers and the few characters we get to know include a diplomatic translator and a small business owner.

Pushed to the city’s margins, they are outcasts who refuse to be excluded.

Amaworo Wilson creates a world where people and things that are thrown away come alive and where neglect breeds creativity and tyranny breeds defiance.

The novels that defined magical realism looked into the repressed histories of real societies. Damnificados does the opposite.

Its urgent present tense and its eclectic borrowing of languages and settings cut it off from any one place or time.

While “loosely based on” events in Caracas, Venezuela, the unnamed city could be almost anywhere in the developing world.

At its weakest points this reduces the residents to a vague mishmash of lovable eccentrics—and makes you wish you’d read about the real ones in Caracas.

But at its best it feels like a manifesto. A recurring phrase is “they are us”.

Amaworo Wilson invokes the urban pooor as a global force and invites us to identify with it.


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The hero uses crutches: JJ Amaworo Wilson’s Damnificados

DamnificadosBy Kate MacDonald
March 24th, 2106

The carefully managed outbreaks of magical realism are what I like best about J J Amaworo Wilson’s Damnificados. Wilson’s skills as a novelist are impressive, and his scope in Damnificados is global: his vision of a Latin American city that casually and fleetingly connects to Africa and Japan makes this novel a world myth with a mildly fantastical dystopian setting. It’s set in a vast tower block in an unnamed Spanish-speaking city of favelas and spiralling shanty-towns. The tower is inconveniently inhabited by wolves when a travelling group of hundreds of the homeless underclasses need it as a refuge and a home. They’re led by Nacho, a small man with a dragging leg and arm who moves about expertly on his muletas. He’s a teacher, but becomes a legendary leader of the people against the forces of nature, and against the heavily armed Torres family, who want their tower back. The damnificados, the despised, spurned, rejected and repressed, become a community in their new home. They set up shops, a bakery, a hair salon, start schools, keep watch on the surrounding country and city fringes, and become settled enough to go back into the city to pick up their old jobs again, now they have a home and a clean shirt to wear in the morning. All this is reassuringly human, something to hang onto as the strangeness of this world reveals itself.

The two-headed wolf leading the pack who originally inhabited the tower: radiation mutation? Or simple mythic throwback? Either way, we’re now in magical realism territory. How the damnificados dispose of the wolves was a fine piece of character development that sets the tone for the novel: no unnecessary violence, no cruelty, no rampant body counts unless absolutely necessary. The wolves come back when they’re needed, so there is also tidy storytelling, nothing left dangling or undealt with. The giant snakes are important, as are the crocodiles who come with the floods, and the five immense carved heads that appear at the city gates when the floods recede. Wilson’s characters are effortlessly individual: the giant man they call the Chinaman who never speaks, Nacho’s big brother Emil the picaresque traveller (who will surely be played by Chris Pratt in the Hollywoodisation of this novel), the engulfing passion of Maria the ex-beauty queen and salon owner, Shivarov the creator of bespoke limbless beggars, and Nacho himself, a character who unpeels a new layer with each chapter.

artwork by Peter Garcia to illustrate the novel

He’s a teacher, a leader, a community organiser, he knows his poisonous mushrooms and can recite the history of the world. He loves secretly, does nothing about it because he fears her rejection, and worries constantly about the safety of his people. He’s an angel with crutches for wings and abstruse survivalist knowledge, and speaks heaven knows how many languages. However, his impairment is taken away from him through an unspecified transcendental miracle, as if to reward him for his goodness. I find this reward out of nowhere rather odd, and troublesome in how we are expected to feel about Nacho. The removal of his bodily impairment tells us that such a physical difference isn’t suitable, is in the way of true love (not that the miracle gets him anywhere), and will have to be changed before Nacho can achieve whatever he wants to achieve. It’s certainly a fantasy. People in the real world live with difference without the hope of a miracle and an overnight restoration of muscle tone, nerve endings and bones to what society thinks is normal. Giving Nacho a transformative reward is perfectly suitable within mythic storytelling patterns, but this particular reward feels superficial. It produces a similar effect to narrating the novel from a (mostly) male perspective. Only two women are named, or have anything to say; the world of the damnificados is a man’s world where women are faceless and voiceless, ignored and of no account. Nacho too becomes anonymous when the essential part of his body that has shaped his personality is taken away, he runs like anyone else, and fades from view. His difference has been taken away, which seems a pity, since, within the novel, his difference made him individual.

Damnificados is based on the real events in Caracas, Venezuela, when an abandoned tower block was temporarily inhabited by hundreds of outcasts for seven years. Wilson added the multilingual ghosts and the avenging two-headed wolves, obviously.

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A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands reviewed on FATEA

By David Kidman
March 2016

It's just half a dozen years since Uncle Robb celebrated his standing as one of the UK's leading writers of protest song with a copious four-disc box-set Margaret Thatcher - My Part In Her Downfall, which provided nothing less than a whistle-stop (or should I say whistle-blower's) tour through two decades of saying Stop The War - and so much more. It exhumed a generous assortment of obscure, limited-edition and/or wilfully unavailable releases, and enshrined them for posterity on CD format. But the "Thatch" set was but the tip of the iceberg of Robb's œuvre, not least in its concentration on just that one strand of his creativity. Now, as if to redress the balance and show that he's capable of writing so much more than a decent protest-song (or fifty!), Robb's lit the torch under the iceberg and put together this massive, magnificent five-disc "retrospective", after hearing which nobody with an ounce of sanity or right-thinking moral fibre can refuse to acknowledge the breadth of - and high degree of literacy in - his songwriting - not just in the realm of outright protest (while still recognising the place that agit-prop commands at the hard core of his output). It's become all too easy to forget just how many great (yes, I mean that!) songs Robb's written - and even this exhaustive new retrospective can barely scratch the surface of the work of this enviably prolific songwriter; but it's a salutary reminder for sure.

While broadening the temporal scope of this new collection to span the full 27 years of his recorded career to date, Robb has also helpfully - if "irregularly" chronologically - grouped the contents of each abundantly well-filled disc according to a theme of sorts. Recordings are sourced from releases both official and unofficial, all manner of formats, originals and re-recordings, and it's good that Robb has something of an anorak's attention to detail when it comes to furnishing discographical and recording information within his frank and accessibly opinionated booklet notes. In terms of bold statistics, around a dozen tracks are culled straight from the above-mentioned Thatch set, while (that set apart), only a handful come from releases that are still available. Many songs are represented in versions taken from limited-edition or obscure issues. There's 10 previously unreleased tracks - some being alternate versions or suchlike - and half-a-dozen more that are previously not officially released (OK, now that might be splitting hairs!). Since a significant majority of Robb's releases are now deleted, this set will be deemed a treasure trove even for those RJ fans who "have everything", and worth purchasing for the satisfyingly high proportion of unavailable-elsewhere recordings.
The first disc introduces us to Robb via the "early years" of 1987 to 1994, the first "key stage" of his career if you like (cue laboured teaching reference!) - well, nothing happens overnight does it?… Around two-thirds of Disc 1's recordings are sourced from CDs Robb made with Pip Collings, during the "folk-friendly duo" phase. And both within and outwith that category, a large number of these early songs have attained a kind of unofficial "greatest hit" status for Robb. The most-oft-quoted example is Rosa's Lovely Daughters, of course (here presented in Robb's chunky banjo-driven rendition from the 1987 Skewed, Slewed, Stewed & Awkward LP), but I'd also cite More Than Enough, I Close My Eyes, Fairy Tales In Feltham, Winter Turns To Spring, and of course there's the towering achievement that is Overnight. This first disc also contains what might be regarded as the first of his classic "English chansons" Sunday Morning St. Denis and the reflective The Last Time I Saw Paris, as well as 6B Go Swimming (one of Robb's acutely-observed "skool songs"), the "idealised England" of Evergreen, the observation of real natural beauty (Blame The Snow For Falling) and the terrifically poignant You Don't Have To Say Goodbye. Now (as has been remarked), these are songs to play to those who "don't like Robb on principle"!…

The second disc is the most inevitable entry in the song catalogue: subtitled Protest And Survive, it delivers a quarter-century's worth of Robb's contributions to the genre, but not necessarily all of the most obvious candidates. The disc opener, for instance - the obscure A Bird Is Singing (which I took into my own repertoire over a decade ago) - may well be the roughest track in terms of both recording and singing, but its simple lyric still packs a forceful punch. As indeed does each and every one of the specimens of protest song here enshrined, for all that in some cases (as Robb admits) some degree of punk-rock edge may be sacrificed for listenability by dint of including later re-recordings rather than original takes. Naturally, some of these songs have polarised even Robb's admirers - but however blunt the weapon, the point is always well made and the menu still contains some plenty of prime cuts for certain, from the National Union Of Seafarers strike-fundraiser The Herald Of Free Enterprise; the gleefully grisly "alternative" kiddies' singalong Animals Song; two unexpectedly controversial songs Vic Williams (song of a contemporary deserter) and Three Minute Silence; and the anthemic Red And Green and Undefeated; to the outright upfront sentiments of We All Said Stop The War and the previously unreleased Ding Dong Thatch and This Is What Democracy Looks Like. The disc also accords due prominence to the highly-rated Inexcusable and the true story of Alice Annie Wheeldon, and the glorious celebratory noise of Punk Rock Jubilee (play this one LOUD and set on repeat!!), and unearths gems like a YouTube take on When Saturday Came and a storming electric-band version of North West Frontier.

Disc 3 presents English Chansons 1995-2003, an integral strand of Robb's writing that's enjoyed an increasingly high profile over the years. In his notes, Robb admits that a number of these songs are trying to come to terms with the fact that he doesn't actually live in Paris. He has a long-term love affair with the city, sure, but each of these little masterpieces also displays his maximum respect for, and empathy with, the great writers of chanson, their tradition and their methods. These songs deal with relationships, of person and place, in language that's realistic, often conversational, invariably poetic, always literate. . So many of these songs still possess the capacity to make me weep; while it's tribute enough to the sheer quality of these chansons when you learn of the critical acclaim they've received, not to mention the eagerness of singers of stature like Barb Jungr to cover them. The disc contains just two songs from the classic "cjohnsong" collection The Night Café, as well as the lovely dobro-accompanied Love Takes No Prisoners, three contrasted examples from 21st century Blues, and - glory be! - five from 1999's The Big Wheel, including Au Depart, one of my own personal favourites from Robb's extensive recorded catalogue. There's also a rare RJ3 version of Invisible People, and two songs from the honest-to-goodness, modestly titled A Beginner's Guide album (including Breakfast In Chemnitz - which incidentally is the only song to be missing a paragraph in the booklet notes…), and the disc closes on a poignant note with an unreleased song, Magic. Quite.
Disc 4 presents a diverse collection of songs instancing "the enduring if irregular racket", kicking off with two choice cuts that were most widely available on the This Is The UK Talking compilation including Not In My Name, a particularly enduring example originally written in 1991 to protest against Gulf War 1. There's a number of other songs whose relevance has endured into different decades, while they've also survived with or benefitted from different treatments or arrangements. Robb's always careful to select a version which he feels to have more edge or power, or where the recording circumstances were special or specially memorable. The enduring influence of Paris pervades You And This City, Hands Off My Friends comes from the Article 14 benefit CD. Other important songs here include I Am Not At War, UK Talking, Ugly Town and Karl Marx City Blues. Many are given in more fully-scored contexts, but perhaps the only song which falls victim to over-arrangement is Lottery Land.

Disc 5 enjoys a meaningfully double-edged sub-title, Same Sh**, Different Day. For these songs contain situations, circumstances and experiences good and bad, sometimes both at once. In a way, it's the most difficult disc to come to terms with, for we all feel similarly ambivalent about life in the 21st century after all. In fact, the songs collected together for this final disc are less depressing than the obvious "plus ça change" interpretation might imply - many are decidedly positive statements and indeed are often quietly celebratory. Robb's genius for observation of things that matter runs through these songs like a stick of Brighton rock. True stories form the basis for The Rottweiler Man, Real Cool Purple Shirt and (arguably finest of all) Stand Clear!, while Pennypot Lane and the tender Here Comes That Miracle Again both find their inspiration in thoughtful reflection on simple pleasures. The barbed A Place In The Country resulted from a family outing, while the prescient The Wrong Train is one of a pair of songs stemming from actual dreams. The wonderful Metro album, on which Robb was accompanied by pianist Russel Churney, is allocated four contrasted tracks, including standout chanson Don't Close The Bar and the jaunty authentically-cockney music-hall-style number The London Eye. Tucked in there towards the end of the disc, we find the sparsely voiced No Time To Say Goodbye, a commentary on the personal "sharp end" of the "collateral damage" of warfare: evidently a painfully difficult song to both write and sing, and recorded and released here for the first time. The theme of solidarity is of course the central concept for much of Robb's writing, and Be Reasonable - from which the set's title concept is derived - is an obvious choice for inclusion on this final disc - here in the "massed folksingers" version from the 2012 Anti-Capitalist Roadshow double album. For this is what we get in this mammoth 6½-hour collection of Robb's work - justice and poetry, and jam on it too!

Now subtitled The Damage To Date, the set was originally going to be called Leaving The 20th Century - but that would have made it sound unduly valedictory I guess, for the overall impact is more in tune with the uplift and the sense of shared humanity that the songs bring. All human life is here - well, almost (there could've been songs about football, another of Robb's passions, while Robb's Great-War-themed songs, largely based on his granddad's experiences, are also unrepresented on this set). Robb says things that need saying, however unpalatable, and he does this so eloquently. This is after all a very reasonable history - and a very reasonably priced collection that will make no impossible demands on your pocket.


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Continental Crucible reviewed in The Progressive Populist

By Seth Sandronsky
The Progressive Populist
March 2016


Tri-National Integration

The bid of billionaire GOP presidential aspirant Donald Trump to make Mexico pay for an anti-migrant wall on its US border is theatre. For credible social analysis, read Continental Crucible: Big Business, Workers and Unions in the Transformation of North America by Richard Roman and Edur Velasco Arregui (PM Press, Second Edition, 2015).

Their book, in three parts, provides clarity about social forces across Canada, Mexico and the US during an extreme era. Part one unpacks the corporate offensive against the working class in North America.

The end of the postwar economic model was the spark that lit this fire. The authors summarize without belaboring the point.

Roman and Arregui provide two pages of acronyms and abbreviations, to clarify what at first glance reads a little like alphabet soup in their radical narrative. This is a useful roster of corporate players that consciously downplay their activities, e.g., political lobbying, quite an effective strategy.

In Mexico, the corporate offensive against the general population unfolds under a post-WW2 regime of governance, a legacy of a national revolutionary history. The results, which Arregui and Roman unravel, is very bad news for the poor and workers, and quite nice for the state and capital.

Beginning with President Reagan and wrapping up with President Clinton, Uncle Sam played a big role pushing the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Uncle Sam’s hand belies the pro-business rhetoric about a free market in which government steps aside for buyers and sellers to meet on level playing fields.

The Business Roundtable (BRT), a US-based group, plays an outsize role in the restructuring of the North American working class. Falling profits and rising competitive pressures propelled the BRT and its allies to wage such class war.

The Canadian state in part drives capital’s mission to weaken militant labor unions. This change effectively shifts national economic policy to the priorities of big business, seeking better return on investment capital via the growth imperative to increase market share.

In each of the three nations, corporations aim to harmonize working conditions to the lowest common denominator. Neutering labor rights and standards is the corporate agenda, demanding and receiving the freedom to increase the mobility and velocity of capital.

Part two of this book covers immigrants, unions and workers. An intriguing departure on this subject is the authors’ viewpoint of bi-nationalism, covered powerfully in Chapters 6 and 9.

For instance, Mexican migrants flee northward to escape crisis and poverty resulting from corporate economic integration. They establish roots in the US.

Add links between unions in Canada and the US. The underpinning for “continental” unions emerges, the authors suggest.

With much empathy, they describe the causes and consequences of Mexico’s human rights nightmare, e.g., the drug war and its horrific violence. There, political instability is the rule.

A US “safety valve” for Mexican capitalism affects US society. Trump’s racist rhetoric aside, Mexicans with (out) documents work throughout the US economy.

Strategically, their positions at the point of production, from agribusiness to building trades, is potentially empowering. The power is to join forces with US allies to improve labor rights and standards in both countries.

What Mexico’s working class has a rich and recent revolutionary past, but one with weak resources and organizations now. Canadian and US working classes have different experiences, according to the authors.

This conjuncture of similarities and differences drives a future of peril and promise for working populations across North America. The time is now, Roman and Arregui write, for labor unions in all three countries to transform themselves to fight tri-national economic integration, the focus of their book’s third and final part.

“The challenges for the North American Lefts and the labour movement are enormous,” he authors. ‘Old-school’ principles of solidarity and unity from below that crosses national borders are necessary to improve the lives of people in Canada, Mexico and the US.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email


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