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Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection

by David Mandl
Comics Journal
January 10th, 2013

In the late 1970s and early 1980s a miraculous thing happened in left-wing circles: Anarchism, which was considered a quaint historical relic at best, rose from the grave to become the West’s most vibrant political movement. This was in part a response to the slow death of the ‘60s New Left, the corporatization of rock and roll, and the gradual slide toward a Reaganite/Thatcherite culture of greed in the US and UK: The most prominent left activists were now violent, authoritarian groups like the Weathermen and the Red Army Faction; arch-Yippie Jerry Rubin was about to throw in the towel and become the world’s best-known huckster for Yuppie careerism; and bland dreck like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac dominated the radio airwaves. At the same time, the nominally anarchist punk movement was helping to spread dissatisfaction with the way things were, encouraging the young and the restless to indulge their creativity by (among other things) making their own music and art rather than consuming whatever a handful of entertainment companies decided to sell them.

San Francisco, which had become a hotbed of punk activity, also happened to be home to a handful of anarchist study groups, and some members of the latter were underground-comic artists who saw their work garnering less rack space with the demise of (or legal crackdown on) head-shop culture. The convergence of all these phenomena inspired Bay Area cartoonist Jay Kinney—who had become increasingly interested in anarchist ideas while doing work for the lefty paper In These Times, and had collaborated with a pre-Zippy Bill Griffith on the underground comic Young Lust—to pitch the idea of an anarchist comic to Last Gasp, the most political of the local alternative publishers. Last Gasp said yes, Kinney’s sometime collaborator and fellow anarchist Paul Mavrides signed on as co-editor, and Anarchy Comics was the result.

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.04.15 AMIn its nine years of existence (1978–1987) only four issues of Anarchy appeared, but it would be hard to overestimate the comic’s political and cultural importance even thirty years later. Kinney and Mavrides’s creation brought together an irreverent-bordering-on-nihilistic punk sensibility, serious (but never dry or pedantic) lessons in anarchist history, freshly illustrated texts by such infamous revolutionaries as Emma Goldman and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and that favorite anarchist sport, satirical potshots at mainstream leftists.

Anarchists have always prided themselves on their internationalism—not surprising, since being anti-government is about the only thing all anarchists agree on—and Kinney took that attitude to heart, assembling a far-flung coterie of artists for his comic and emblazoning the catchphrase “International Anarchy!” (or “International Comix!”) on the front cover of every issue for good measure. In its lifetime Anarchy Comics featured contributors from the Netherlands, Germany, England, France, and the US, including Clifford Harper, Spain Rodriguez, the team of Yves Frémion and François Dupuy (aka “Épistolier and Volny”), Gary Panter, Ruby Ray, Gilbert Shelton, Donald Rooum, Melinda Gebbie, and more than twenty others. The majority of the work appearing in the comic was original, but Kinney also commissioned translations of several pieces not previously published in English—most notably the series “Liberty Through the Ages” by Épistolier and Volny.

Anarchy Comics was a nearly perfect blend of “capital-a” anarchism—that is, overtly political critiques of capitalism, patriarchy, and consumerism—and “small-a” anarchism—a generally anti-authority or anti-“normality” stance, not explicitly political. Its aesthetic was informed in about equal measures by punk, the Situationists (the influential ultra-left group at the center of the May ’68 rebellion in France), the underground-comic classics, and longstanding anarchist tradition. The Situationists’ mark could be seen in Kinney and Navrides’s use of détournement, the practice of re-purposing images from straight comics and advertisements by replacing the original captions with new, subversive ones. Punk showed up in the comic’s swipes at hippies and the middle-American nuclear family, and in its (at the time) novel and often bizarre graphic look.

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.03.21 AMAll of the above came together in the Kinney and Mavrides’s opus “Kultur Dokuments,” in Anarchy Comics #2. The strip, drawn mostly in a cold, geometric, pictogram style, follows the Picto family as they morph from unremarkable residents of Dullsville, to members of a leftist cult handing out leaflets at the local asbestos factory, to a post-political group singing “Little Red Caboose” while toasting marshmallows on a burning Dullsville police car. Along the way they’ve altered their own graphic style (after being encouraged to “Drop your picto character-armor and go for the gusto!”) and, together with an assortment of cartoon pranksters, they’ve “hung the last bureaucrat with the guts of the last priest”—quoting a May ’68 slogan. Nested inside “Kultur Dokuments” is another entire comic, the brilliant and graphically meticulous Archie parody “Anarchie,” which the Pictos’ son reads to pass the time while locked in his room. Anarchie, resplendent in a punk hairdo and circle-A t-shirt, is thrown out of his house when he tells his hippie father, “You don’t even know you’re dead—you just keep walking around!” In response, Mr. Andrews shouts, “Meaningful dialogue in this relationship is impossible,” and, while booting Anarchie to the sidewalk, “Don’t come back till you mellow out!” Anarchie and his friends Moronica, Blondie, and Ludehead, en route to Mr. Lodge’s mansion (“Daddykins is throwing a posh ball tonight to celebrate his corporation foreclosing on some little country!”) get hassled by a bunch of passing hippies—drawn as the Furry Freak Brothers!—listening to “Uncle John’s Band” on the car stereo. The Deadheads hurl a can of beer at Anarchie’s head while chuckling “Hey punk! You look thirsty! Peace! Love! Ha Ha!” So much for “Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.03.36 AMAmong the more explicitly anarchist pieces appearing in Anarchy Comics were illustrated historical strips about Durruti and the anarchist presence in the Spanish Civil War (written and drawn by Spain), the Yippies’ disruption of business at the New York Stock Exchange in 1968 (Épistolier and Volny), and the Paris Commune of 1871 (Spain again). Épistolier and Volny also presented the story of the Kronstadt massacre, wherein the Bolsheviks, consolidating their power in the just-established Soviet Union (meet the new boss—same as the old boss), slaughtered a group of anarchists who stubbornly clung to the original libertarian ideals of the Russian Revolution. (Anarchists’ longstanding animosity toward party-line Marxist-Leninists can in large part be traced to this disaster.)

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.03.55 AMOther features that were meant to either educate anarchists on their proud history or counter common myths about what anarchism really is included Mavrides’s “Some Straight Talk About Anarchy,” Gebbie’s “Quotes from Red Emma [Goldman],” and Harper’s presentation of Proudhon’s “What Is Government?” Goldman’s illustrated quotes reveal a figure whose views on feminism and women’s rights were just as radical seventy years later: Woman’s “freedom, her independence, must come from and through herself…by asserting herself as a personality and not a sex commodity…by refusing the right to anyone over body…by refusing to bear children unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to GOD, the STATE, SOCIETY, the husband, the family, etc.” In “What Is Government,” an early document laying out the anarchist argument against centralized authority, Proudhon writes “Government is slavery. Its laws are cobwebs for the rich and chains of steel for the poor. To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, ruled…”

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.04.05 AMIn “Some Straight Talk About Anarchy,” Mavrides blasts the 1984/Brave New World hybrid that the US had become by pointing out that life in the late twentieth century meant a choice between “Apocalyptic Babylon or Planetary Disneyland.” He mocks the non-progress made by labor in the previous forty years (“these days the right to peaceably assemble means quiet factories”) and espouses the self-evident but controversial view that people have the intelligence to organize themselves (“Your mind doesn’t need a government, does it?”). In a cartoon that appears on the inside cover of issue #1, widely reproduced ever since, Gerhard Seyfried juxtaposes the “popular misconception of a typical anarchist”—a sneering, black-robed terrorist holding a lit match to a bowling-ball-sized bomb—with “actual anarchists in real life”—a wholesome, garden-variety family of four. His point is a crucial one: Anarchists view anarchy as the natural, primordial state of things, and stress that most of our regular dealings with other people are anarchistic, in that we negotiate, cooperate, and help one another out of basic human kindness, free of outside coercion.

Less explicitly political, but more anarchic in the “chaos” sense is Gary Panter’s tongue-in-cheek and very punk “Awake, Purox, Awake,” a crudely drawn and pasted-up strip depicting two low-lifes who want to blow things up more or less for kicks. One of them asks, “What should we demolish today?” and then, after breakfast the next morning, declares, “Sunny day, full belly, makes me want to blow something up.” Exhibiting anarchists’ willingness to mock everything, even their own politics, is Mavrides and Kinney’s “No Exit,” in which they tweak both anarchists and ostensibly anarchist punk-rockers. The strip has a socially concerned but nihilistic singer (“Kill the Queen and kill the Pope / Kill the hippies who smoke dope”) traveling into the future to a time when the Revolution has finally won, and finding himself unable to deal with it. “Perhaps you’ll like the free autonomous bakers’ collective?” his hosts ask. “Here! Enjoy some 9-grain bread baked by unexploited labor!!” The punk takes one bite and spits it out: “Gak! Bleah!” He responds with equal horror to a blissed-out citizen who says, “I’m getting a telepathic message from the dolphins up on their L5 space colony,” drop-kicking her into a pool of sludge.

Other digs at the left’s party faithful include the illustration adorning the back cover of issue #1, “Exclusive on-the-spot sketch of mass anarchist demonstration in Tienanmen Square in Peking,” featuring hundreds of Chinese citizens in Mao suits brandishing little round bombs beneath a big “ANARCHY” sign. (Note: This was a decade before the famous Tienanmen Square protest of 1989.) The back cover of the following issue topped that, with a blasphemous Mavrides image (a poster actually available for purchase at the time) of Chairman Mao with huge Walter Keane eyes, and a wise-ass description sure to give any devoted Maoist a coronary: “Painted in oil and black velvet, this splendid example of true Proletarian Art combines stirring aesthetic skill with a sympathetic rendering of the late Chairman Mao’s wise, yet poignant face. Surely all revolutionaries who are concerned that Art should ‘serve the people’ will draw inspiration from this wonderful masterpiece and work hard to emulate its militance in every cultural area.”

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.04.26 AMThose two images, along with the rest of Anarchy’s front and back covers, are reproduced in their original form in a full-color section at the back of the assembled Anarchy Comics. It’s also interesting to note that the inside cover of each issue contains contact information (now obsolete, obviously) for a variety of anarchist groups and publications around the world. This marked what was probably the beginning of a movement that reached full flower a few years later, with anarchist groups sprouting up everywhere, anarchist zines being exchanged via international mail, and bigger and bigger contact lists of anarchist groups being circulated throughout the scene. (Some of the Bay Area people involved in Anarchy Comics also produced the massive International Blacklist of anti-authoritarian groups that appeared in the early ‘80s.)

Anarchy Comics represents the beginning of an important historical moment, when the philosophy and culture of anarchism were resuscitated after decades of widespread uninterest. It’s of its time, arguably, but with few exceptions it doesn’t seem at all dated today. It’s still as funny, irreverent, and illuminating as its editors intended. And it contains work from some of the best underground-comic artists of the late twentieth century, given free rein to snipe at authority to their heart’s content.

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Anarchy Comics, Illustrated

by Michael Dooley
Imprint.com
January 11th, 2013

As the Tea Party and Occupy movements fade from the political scene, anarchy is still visible . . . well, its graphics are, anyway. In England, Autonomy: The Cover Designs of Anarchy, 1961–1970 just hit the streets. And PM Press is singlehandedly keeping anarchy alive with an impressive catalog of revolutionary fare that covers everyone from Chomsky to Banksy to the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.

Established just five years ago, PM has already produced hundreds of radical-themed publications and other merchandise. They've done several graphic novel-ish books, the most stunning of which is Peter Kuper's deluxe Diario de Oaxaca. And for richly illustrated perspectives of the '60s countercultural press scene as seen by Paul Krassner, Trina Robbins, Emory Douglas, and other insiders, you can't beat On the Ground. There's also plenty to view and read in the first two issues of Signal: A Journal of International Political Graphics & Culture.

Clifford Harper

One new release that should be of particular interest to designers is the visually venturesome Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, edited by Jay Kinney and with a foreword by Paul Buhle. It's an anthology of all four issues of the now-legendary underground comic book Kinney started in 1978, at the height of the punk revolution. Its dozens of contributors hailed from Great Britain and Europe as well as the U.S. and Canada, with artists as diverse as Gilbert Shelton and Gary Panter. Regulars included Lost Girls' Melinda Gebbie, the recently deceased Spain Rodriguez, and Kinney himself. And as you'd expect, each had his or her own take on the topic, whether educational, agitational, satirical, or all three.

Kinney was part of the original underground comix movement in the late '60s, and he cofounded, with Zippy's Bill Griffith, the romance-comic parody series Young Lust. Our discussion below touches on Kinney's friendship with Rodriguez, how anyone can now access loads of free comics online, and why political labels have become meaningless.

Anarchy's first issue started out with a bang, from Kinney's burning Boris Badenov-ian globe bomb on the cover to his anarchically assembled opening strip, "Too Real," which is where our conversation begins.

Jay Kinney

How did you put together "Too Real"?

Writing and designing “Too Real” was largely an exercise in amassing a pile of clip art and old ads from ‘40s and ‘50s magazines and letting a story line emerge as I moved the images around like chess pieces or Tarot cards.

Initially—and you can see this in the splash panel—I had the notion of tracing and re-drawing clip art, but it rapidly became clear that that added a layer of unnecessary work to the whole process. So I just went with the clippings themselves for the rest of the story.

This was at a time when I’d scored old Life and Colliers magazines for 50 cents apiece at flea markets and from the back rooms of dusty used book stores. Someone had given me a stack of old clip art and that became the unifying glue, because so many of the advertising images of happy families or dads and moms looked like they were nearly the same identical, squeaky-clean people. So it was surprisingly easy to find different clips that moved the story along with very similar-looking people.

Have you ever heard from David Rees?

I do know that it influenced Tom Tomorrow at the beginning of his career, but I have no idea whether it influenced Rees. I’ve never heard a peep from him, though obviously he’s been barking up a similar—if not the same—tree.

I can’t claim that I originated this collage mash-up technique, as the Situationists had already pioneered it. Collage was also a stock punk style, thanks in part to Jamie Reid, whose name I was unaware of. If I invented anything new, it was in combining the two veins of collage, along with a lot of smart-ass humor.




Tell me about your design training and early career.

I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn at a volatile time—’69 to ’72—with mixed results. Through happenstance and good fortune, I’d become involved with underground comix in ’68, when I was right out of high school, but my drawing teachers at Pratt definitely forced me to learn to draw. I also took illustration, design, and lettering classes, which I really benefited from. Unfortunately, the school was kind of a mess at the time—teachers wouldn’t show up on the first day of class and we’d be stuck with a substitute for the rest of the quarter. I dropped out in the middle of my junior year, as I was already making a meager living through freelance illustration and cartooning.

My real design training was from just being in New York and absorbing everything in the environment. My fellow students and I would ride the subway and for our own amusement identify the fonts used in the ads in the subway cars. Pushpin Studios was a big influence on me, but so were several professional cartoonists whom I met in New York and who shared tips about the craft of cartooning, such as Ralph Reese and Frank Mell.

Throughout the ‘70s I juggled comix work with illustration and paste-up jobs. But in the ‘80s I largely shifted into writing and editing for magazines. I was a graphics person at CoEvolution Quarterly—later Whole Earth Review—and then editor there before I founded my own magazine, Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions, which I published for 15 years. As the art directors of those magazines will testify, I always had strong opinions about the publications’ look and design.

What standards did you use when editing Anarchy, and how important was the visual factor?

Comics are a melding of the literary and the visual, so the visual element is always a big factor. One distinction of underground comix was that the editor—who was invariably a cartoonist—was in charge of delivering a fully-designed comic book to the publisher, with almost no inhibiting restrictions. This allowed great freedom in creating a comic’s design and style.

My own standards were pretty clear-cut: I only solicited artists whose work I enjoyed, who could come up with material that fit into the overall theme, and who I could count on to meet deadlines. Beyond that, I largely left them alone. There was a tradition of artistic autonomy in underground comix, so editors tended to only choose artists who they knew would turn in quality work. I was a traditionalist in that sense.

Probably the biggest chance I took on an artist was with Matt Feazell, who was relatively young and unproven. I allotted him four pages in Anarchy #3 and he came through with a wry, pointed, and well-crafted story that exceeded my expectations. Most everyone else, I had a good idea of what they’d probably do.

My concern has always been that the comic art that I create or edit communicates clearly. In my view, if you confuse the readers, you lose them and they’ll toss the book aside and move on to something else. So I tend to favor straightforward stories that read well, even if the reader is being challenged with sudden switches in art style or twists in the plotting.

Who do you consider Anarchy's most exceptional artists, graphically?

Since I consider most of Anarchy's artists to be friends, I’m reluctant to single one of them out as the most exceptional. I will note that I think the strips by Cliff Harper and by Melinda Gebbie were perhaps the most graphically striking, but every contribution had its own merits. Gary Panter probably pushed the envelope the most—no surprise there—but so did Peter Pontiac.

 

 

 

 

 

What was your relationship with Spain Rodriguez?

Considering that Spain was ten years my senior, he was simultaneously an older brother, a mentor, and, over time, my best friend. Still, there were periods over the last 43 years where we might only see each other twice a year, so our relationship was fluid, like many friendships.

Spain was a former biker, a visceral working-class Marxist, and an immensely talented artist. His drawing style could be called a mixture of Wally Wood and Chester Gould, but he made it utterly his own. He somehow managed to combine a penchant for drawing “hot babes” with a no-nonsense feminism that gave women their full due as autonomous, powerful beings. His instincts were always on the side of the underdog or the outcast, which I think sums up his underlying politics.

He supported the idea of Anarchy Comics from the very first time I brought it up. While he was a Marxist, he was not dogmatic about it, and we had many lively conversations about politics over the years. I think he especially appreciated the series because it allowed him to combine a certain EC war comics style with radical politics. While he would stick up for Stalin’s virtues well past the point that most of us would, it always seemed like his real heart was with the Anarchists during the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. We got along fine.

Which of the strips in your book feel most relevant today?

Paul Mavrides's and my story “Armageddon Outtahere!” could just as well have been written in 2013 as in 1987. The same could be said for Sharon Rudahl’s “The Treasure of Cabo Santiago,” which contrasts the rich and poor in a Latin American country. Matt Feazell’s “Pest Control” is pretty timeless, as is Paul’s and my “No Exit.” And I’d say the historical strips by Spain and by Épistolier and his collaborators remain solid for offering glimpses of liberatory moments in world history.





Who among the new crop of comics artists do you admire?

To be perfectly honest, I’ve not kept up with most contemporary comics. When I’ve gone to the Alternative Press Expo in the recent past, the sheer amount of hopeful indie publishers and artists was overwhelming. I’d say the newest artist to catch my eye is Laura Park, but even she’s been around for a while. I do think she is fabulous. I admire Chris Ware and Dan Clowes; I think they are dazzling stylists, though their stories tend to trigger my own depressive tendencies, so I’ve not read all their work religiously. Los Bros. Hernandez are always good, but they’ve been at it 30 years already.

If you are talking newspaper funnies, my favorites are Dan Piraro’s “Bizarro,” Stephan Pastis’s “Pearls Before Swine,” Mark Tertulli’s “Lio,” and Patrick McDonnell’s “Mutts,” when it isn’t falling into sentimentality.

But my favorite “new” artists in recent years have been all the golden-age comic book artists whom I’ve been discovering, due to the scanning of public-domain comics at fan-run sites like Digital Comic Museum and Comic Book Plus. I’ve even helped out with some scans from my own collection of old comics. There were some terrific artists working for smaller publishers whose work has been previously obscure but who are beginning to find a new audience, such as Dick Briefer, Lily Renee, Mo Gollub, John Celardo, Harold Delay, Maurice Whitman, Rudy Palais, Fran Hopper, and the list just goes on and on. Great stuff.

 

When you started publishing Anarchy in 1978 you had left libertarian leanings. What are your politics these days?

I’ve spent much of the last 25 years questioning whether the old designations of “left” and “right” are even useful anymore. Certainly at a time when we have pundits and Tea Party types calling Obama a “socialist,” it seems like such labels have become meaningless. Surely the label “conservative” that so many people apply to themselves has become a misnomer. They aren’t conservatives, they’re radical reactionaries.

I suppose I’d still call myself a left libertarian or libertarian leftist, in the sense that I prefer democracy over autocracy, cooperation over competition, people over corporations, and so on. But I long ago gave up on the notion that a revolution—of whatever variety—was the answer. Attempts to make over a society from top to bottom usually end up backfiring, at least when they’re done in the service of an ideology, whether its Marxist, Islamist, Zionist, or whatever. Even back when we were originally doing Anarchy Comics, much of my satire was aimed at the competing claims of different leftist sects and belief systems.

Of course, these days it’s hard to even point to a coherent left or right in American politics. We’re just living in a sci-fi future where everyone generates their own reality bubble to the point where we might as well be living in parallel universes. One could say that both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement represent two very different kinds of popularized anarchism, so it’s perhaps rather timely to have all the issues of Anarchy back in print again in the anthology.


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The Anarchist in the Comic Book Shop

by Jesse Walker
Reason.com
January 29th, 2012

A comic caught between the final gasps of the hippies and the opening blasts of punk.

Anarchy Comics had an anarchic publishing schedule, the magazine's four issues appearing at irregular intervals from 1978 to 1987. The first three editions were compiled by the cartoonist and journalist Jay Kinney, the fourth by his frequent collaborator Paul Mavrides. Several celebrated artists contributed to the comic book over the years, including Clifford Harper, Melinda Gebbie, and Spain Rodriguez, among others. Their efforts hit a wide range of tones, by turns realistic and fantastic, solemn and irreverent.

Now those four issues have been assembled in PM Press' Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, along with various out-takes and ephemera. The strips anthologized here include straightforward stories about anarchist history, cartoons mocking Marxist sectarians, illustrated anti-authoritarian essays, and odd little vignettes that are hard to classify. (The latter include a page by Gilbert Shelton, creator of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, proposing an alternate set of highways he calls "free zones," where all traffic laws—indeed, all laws of any kind—are suspended.) The left gets spoofed a lot, but it isn't being spoofed from afar: Just about all the artists and writers come from, or at least have a foot in, the left side of the anarchist spectrum.

Some of the material is basically filler, but there is compelling work here too. Harper, for example, contributes a stark adaptation of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's famous definition of government—the one that features the words "To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, ruled, censored by persons who have neither wisdom nor virtue."

If that were all that Anarchy Comics had to offer, I might recommend the anthology to friends with an interest in alternative comics or the radical press, but I probably wouldn't take the time to write a review. But there's something else here, too: a series of stories by Kinney and Mavrides that are among the funniest satires of the '70s and '80s, elevating the anthology from interesting to essential. These strips mock everybody, anarchists emphatically included, in a manner that resembles the comedy of the Firesign Theater, the Illuminatus! trilogy, and the Church of the SubGenius. (With the SubGenii, the similarities are more than just a resemblance. Both Kinney and Mavrides were heavily involved with the mock-church.) As an underground comic that debuted at the late date of 1978, Anarchy Comics was caught between the final gasps of the hippie era and the opening blasts of punk. The Kinney/Mavrides stories captured the moment by firing satiric vollies in both directions.

Kinney and Mavrides didn't do a strip together in the first issue, but there was a taste of things to come in Kinney's five-page feature "Too Real," a collage-comic constructed from clip art and mid-century magazine ads.

It's a strange, funny, and somewhat free-associative rant that straddles the boundary between earnestness and irony, presented sincerely held ideas in absurd and self-mocking ways. (In one panel, a cat announces: "I am Eleanor Roosevelt with a message from the Vatican! Introduce maximum autonomy into daily life. Stop. Question authority. Stop. Buy food in bulk. Stop. This has been a recording.") The story had the additional effect of allowing a comic produced by Last Gasp Press, a publisher associated with hippie humor, to lead off with almost half a dozen pages that adopt the aesthetic of a punk-rock flier.

That was a nice setup for the magazine's first Kinney/Mavrides collaboration. "Kultur Dokuments," published in the second issue, is really two tales in one. The framing story involves a generic town whose people are rendered as almost-identical pictograms—except for the local LaRouchies and Leninists, who are rendered in the style of the Bizarro World characters in an old Superman comic. The picto people ignore the Bizarros picketing their workplace and instead start their own revolt by "seiz[ing] control of our graphic style," morphing themselves into individualized drawings that range from Tintin to a talking dog. The metaphor here isn't hard to decipher.

The Pictos and Bizarros are funny, but they aren't what makes "Kultur Dokuments" so memorable. In the middle of the strip, drawn in an entirely different style, there's a sizable story within the story: an Archie Comics parody in which Archie and Jughead are transformed into Anarchie and Ludehead, a couple of obnoxious punks rebelling against the even-more-obnoxious mellow California counterculture.

At one point, the cartoonists reenact the '60s cliché of a car full of rednecks hurling beer cans at some longhairs. Only this time the beer gets thrown at the punk rock kids, and the people throwing the brew are, well...

For those of you who haven't been exposed to many underground comics, those three hairy dudes in the car are the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, some of the best-known characters to come out of the hippie comic-book world. When I originally read this story in the '80s, I took their appearance here as a jab at the older feature, but in fact it's practically a licensed cross-over: Mavrides had just joined the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers production team.

The hippie/punk split moves to center stage in the third issue, with a Kinney/Mavrides story called "No Exit." The protagonist of this piece, published in 1981, is a punk singer and self-proclaimed anarchist called J-P who gets murdered by his own fans when they take his lyrics too literally ("Kill the land and kill the sea!/Kill yourselves or kill me!"). He is cryonically preserved, and when he is reanimated 3,000 years later he learns that the anarchist revolution has finally won. But while J-P's anarchism is nothing more than punk nihilism, the anarchotopia of the future is about as far from punk as you can get, combining New Age fantasies ("I'm getting a telepathic message from the dolphins up on their L5 space colony!"), political correctness ("There's no more ageism! There's no more shapeism! There's no more sizeism!"), and the dreariest direct democracy imaginable:

Not surprisingly, J-P doesn't fit in well:

The story is merciless towards both J-P, who can barely put a thought together that doesn't involve smashing things, and the people of the utopian future, a society so cloying it would drive Gandhi to start hurling bricks. By this point, unsurprisingly, Kinney was getting disillusioned with conventional radical politics, moving toward more spiritual concerns (he would soon launch the mystical magazine Gnosis) and absorbing new political influences, not all of them on the left. As he puts it in the introduction to this collection, he grew interested in finding a "new political space beyond the old 'left vs. right' dichotomy." He still thought an anarchist society sounded appealing, but it also seemed like a lost cause—"in part," he writes, because of all the "revolutionary posturing by its proponents."

He handed the editor's reins over to Mavrides, and for the final issue they wrote and drew one more long story together. "Armageddon Outtahere" starred Bud Tuttle, a John Birch–esque character who had earlier appeared in a couple of '70s comics, Kinney's Occult Laff Parade and the Kinney/Mavrides collaboration Cover-Up Lowdown. His new adventure featured a gang of anti-food terrorists who launch refrigerators at freeways, a gang of pro-food terrorists who launch cows at freeways, and a gun-toting Jesus who teams up with the Antichrist and Mary Magdalene; it concludes with all the armageddons of the world's faiths happening at once. It may not be as inspired as the duo's earlier strips, but it's still pretty entertaining.

There's a lot of engaging material in this book's pages, from a cartoon biography of Victoria Woodhull to a page where Lenin does a Borscht Belt standup routine at an AFL-CIO convention in Disneyworld. But the Kinney/Mavrides stories—especially "Kulture Dokuments" and "No Exit"—are the high points. It's good finally to have them all between a book's covers.

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Remembering Spain Rodriquez (1940-2012)

by Paul Buhle
Dissent: A Quarterly of Politics and Culture
December 3, 2012

We are now so far from the 1960s and ’70s that the crucial locations, personalities, and moments of one very popular art form’s transformation have been largely forgotten. Spain Rodriguez, with a handful of others (the best remembered are happily still with us: Gilbert Shelton, Robert Crumb, Bill Griffith, Kim Deitch, Art Spiegelman, Trina Robbins, and Sharon Rudahl, to name a few), pushed the comics agenda so far forward that no return to the limitations of superheroes and banal daily newspaper strips would ever be possible. Comic art, belatedly recognized in the New York Times (and assorted museums) as a real art and not a corrupting children’s literature, owes much to them.

Spain (his birth name was Manuel, his father a Spanish immigrant, his mother an Italian-American artist) grew up in Buffalo, New York, a rebellious working-class kid who wore long sideburns and was impressed by the civil rights movement. He dropped out of art school in Connecticut and, after returning to Buffalo and working a factory job with a motorcycle gang engagement, landed in New York in time for the efflorescence of Underground Comix (styled with an “x” to distinguish itself) in a comic tabloid offshoot of the East Village Other. His colleagues were a strangely mixed crew, all of them old enough to have been influenced by EC Comics, the most politically liberal and artistically accomplished of the old comics industry, and the one hardest hit by the congressional hearings of the McCarthy era. (As with attacks on the Left, every charge of subversion and perversion hid Middle-American outrage: these were Jews corrupting innocent American youth.) In a sense, every “underground” artist of these early days sought revenge in the name of comic art, and realized it through the depiction of sex, violence, and anti-war and anti-racist sentiment unthinkable in what remained of the mainstream. Sex and violence, lamentably, became chief attractions to many readers, recalling the “headlights” (aka “sweater girl”) crime and horror comics of the late 1940s, albeit with a left-wing or libertarian ambience.

The whole comix artistic crowd moved to San Francisco around 1970, joining Robert Crumb and a few others already there, part of the acid-rock, post–Summer of Love setting. Underground comix, replicating the old kids-comics format but now in black and white, grew up alongside the underground press, whose reprinting of comix created the market for the books. Crumb was the artist whose work sold the best, in the hundreds of thousands, but Spain was widely regarded as the most political. He was heavily influenced by the most bohemian of the EC comics world, wild man Wallace Wood, whose sci-fi adventures depicted civilizations recovering from atomic war and whose Mad Comics stories assaulted the 1950s commercialization of popular culture. Wood’s dames were also extremely sexy, too overtly sexy for the diluted satire of the later Mad Magazine.

Trashman: Agent of the Sixth International
was Rodriguez’s signature saga in these early years, serialized in underground papers, comix anthologies, and eventually collected in comic book form as Subvert Comics. These revolutionaries took revenge on a truly evil American ruling class in assorted ways, many of them violent, but they also had fun and sex, and were subject to many self-satirizing gags, in the process. By the middle 1970s, his work had broadened into more social and historical themes, often with class, sex, and violence highlighting his points. Histories of revolutions and anti-fascist actions (and all their complexities) inspired some of his closest reading of real events, but he had no fixed point on the left-wing scale. He admired and drew about anti-Bolshevist anarchist leader Nestor Makhno also anti-Stalinist Spanish anarchist Durruti, but he also drew about Red Army members facing death fighting the Germans, and so on. (Several of these pieces are now reprinted in Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, an anthology from that 1980s series, just published by PM Press.)

In recollections of the internal conflicts among comix artists, sometimes pitting feminists against male-dominated circles, Rodriguez is remembered as having been unusually helpful and egalitarian, a memory that contrasts curiously with his sometimes sado-masochistic plot lines but not so curiously with the gender-equality of the sybarites (“Big Bitch” was Trashman’s female counterpart, the tough working-class broad with sex cravings for weaker men). He poked and prodded San Francisco’s self-image as a haven of liberated sex, sometimes making his younger self a player on the scene. He also helped set in motion the vital murals movement in San Francisco’s Mission District, but was likely best known on the West Coast for his many posters of San Francisco Mime Troupe openings.

The validation of comic art from near the end of the century onward—Spiegelman’s Maus and left-wing lesbian Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home high among the evidence of artistic achievement—found Rodriguez with a Salon series, “The Dark Hotel,” and several books of his own. Devil Dog, a biography of disillusioned Marine Corps general Smedley Butler, and Nightmare Alley, an adaptation of the classic noir novel, are easily among the best. Che, his graphic biography of Che Guevara, reached the furthest, with editions published everywhere from Latin America to Europe, Japan, and Malaysia. At the time of his death, Rodriguez was amid “Yiddish Bohemians,” a strip about Jewish-American puppeteers during the 1920s and ’30s, in what would be the last in a stunning series of collaborations with playwright-professor Joel Schechter. Rodriguez had started a Woody Guthrie poster for an upcoming Bay Area concert and, had he lived, would have drawn a history of the 2003 San Francisco hotel strike.

After more than forty years (and the disappearance of well over 90 percent of many little-remembered artists’ work in yellowing pulp), the impact of the Underground Comix world remains more a matter of style than substance, daring more than narrative and artistic content. This is unfortunate, because so many artists had particular contributions worthy of note, worthy of reprinting for the sake of comic art alone. Spain Rodriquez lasted long enough to see his work in square covers (if not often hard covers), his unique and quasi-realistic modernism preserved for generations ahead. That he never lost his political vision or his sense of humor should go without saying, but those of us lucky enough to see him teach or to be taught by him felt the deep impact of his humanism as well.

Rodriguez died at home in San Francisco, with his wife, Susan Stern, a documentary filmmaker, and his daughter, Nora Rodriguez, by his side. A retrospect of his work, including a short documentary film made by his wife, is now in place at the Burchfield Penny Art Center in Buffalo, the second exhibit in Buffalo to honor this improbable local hero.
(Paul Buhle was the editor of Che and is co-editor of the anthology Bohemians, to appear in 2013, with two strips by Rodriguez.)

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Resisting Racism and Militarism in 2013

by David Swanson
Michaelmoore.com
January 2nd, 2013

January 21st will be an odd day in the United States.  We'll honor Martin Luther King Jr. and bestow another 4-year regime on the man who, in his Nobel peace prize acceptance speech said that Martin Luther King Jr. had been wrong -- that those who follow his example "stand idle in the face of threats."

I plan to begin the day by refusing to stand idle in the face of the threat that is President Barack Obama's military.  An event honoring Dr. King and protesting drone wars will include a rally at Malcolm X Park and a parade named for a bit of Kingian rhetoric.

That evening I plan to attend the launch of a new book called We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America.

The Martin King I choose to celebrate is not the mythical man, beloved and accepted by all during his life, interested exclusively in ending racial segregation, and not attracted to activism -- since only through electoral work, as we've all been told, can one be a serious activist.
The Martin King I choose to celebrate is the man who resorted to the most powerful activist tools available, the tools of creative nonviolent resistance and noncooperation, in order to resist what he called the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.
Taking that seriously means ending right now the past five-year-long ban on protesting the president.  At Obama's first inauguration we held Good Riddance to Bush rallies because pressuring Obama to mend his militaristic ways was not deemed "strategic."

It turns out that refusing to push people toward peace does something worse than offending them.  It ignores them and abandons them to their fate.

But pushing is not exactly the verb we should be looking for as we strive to build an inclusive peace movement.  Nor is peace exactly the adjective.  What we need is a movement against racism, materialism, and militarism.

To build that, those working to reduce spending on the Pentagon's pet corporations need to also work against the prison industrial complex.  And those working against police violence need to work for higher taxes on billionaires.  And those working to protect Social Security and Medicare need to oppose the murdering of human beings with missiles and drones.
We need to do these things not just because they will unite a larger number of people.  We would need to do them all even if nobody were already working in any of these areas.  We need to do them because we are taking on a culture, not just a policy.  We are taking on the mental habits that allow racism, materialism, and militarism.  We cannot do so with a movement that is segregated by policy area any more than we can with a movement that is segregated by race.

The torture techniques are shared between our foreign and domestic prisons.  Local police are being militarized.  The latest insanity would have us arm our teachers so that when our children are shot up by failed applicants to the U.S. Marine Corps there will be, as at Fort Hood, more guns nearby.  Violence at home and abroad exists through our acceptance of violence.  Plutocratic greed drives both war and racism.  Racism facilitates and is facilitated by war.

We Have Not Been Moved is a book with many lessons to teach.  King spoke against the war on Vietnam despite being strongly advised to stick to the area of civil rights.  Julian Bond did the same, losing his seat in the Georgia state legislature.  African Americans marched against that war by the thousands in Harlem and elsewhere, including with posters carrying the words attributed to Mohammad Ali: "No Vietcong ever called me nigger!"  So did Asian Americans and Chicanos.  SNCC risked considerable support and funding by supporting the rights of Palestinians as well as Vietnamese, urging draft resistance, and stating its disbelief that the U.S. government's goals included free elections either at home or abroad.

Immigrants rights groups (to a great extent more accurately: refugee rights groups) are sometimes reluctant to challenge the war machine, despite deeper understanding than the rest of us of how U.S. war making creates the need for immigration in the first place.  But, then, how many peace activists are working for immigrants' rights?  Civil rights groups strive to resist rendition and torture and indefinite detention, warrentless spying and murder by drone.  Unless they are brought more fully into a larger coalition that challenges military spending (at well over $1 trillion per year both before and after the "fiscal cliff") the struggle against the symptoms will continue indefinitely.  Environmental groups are often reluctant to oppose the military industrial complex, its wars for oil, or its oil for wars.  But this past year the threat that South Korean base construction and the U.S. Navy pose to Jeju Island brought these movements together -- a process our survival depends on our continuing.

Our movement must be inclusive and international.  The movement to close the School of the Americas has not closed it, but has persuaded several nations to stop sending any would-be torturers or assassins to train there.  The movement to shut down U.S. military bases abroad has not shut them down en masse through Congress, but has shut them down in particular places through the work of the people protesting in their countries.  Where do we find media coverage that sympathizes with domestic struggles for justice within the United States?  In foreign media, of course, in the media of Iran and Russia and Qatar.  Those governments have their own motives, but support for justice corresponds with the sentiments of their people and all people.

Our movement should not oppose attacking Iran purely as outsiders, but working with Iranians.  We should not oppose attacking Iran because all of our own problems have been solved, or because the dollars that will be spent attacking Iran could fund U.S. schools and green energy, or because attacking Iran could lead to attacks on the United States.  We should oppose attacking Iran because we oppose militarism and materialism and racism everywhere.
We sometimes worry about having too many issues on our plate.  How, we wonder, can new people be attracted to our rally against another war if we unreasonably also oppose murderous sanctions?  How can we welcome new activists who doubt the wisdom of the next war if we unrealistically oppose all militarism?  How can we not turn people off if our speeches demand rights for women and immigrants and workers?  Do people who've never heard of Mumia need to hear about his imprisonment?  Don't we want homophobes to feel they can join our campaign without loving those people?

I think this is the wrong worry.  I think we need more issues, not fewer.  I think that's the genius of Occupy.  The issues are all connected.  They are issues of greed, racism, and war.  We can work with Libertarians on things we agree on.  We need be hostile to no one.  But we need to prioritize building a holistic movement for fundamental change.  Taxing the rich to pay for more wars is not the answer.  Opposing all cuts to public spending, even though more than half of it goes to the war machine is not the answer.  Insisting that banks stop discriminating, while drone pilots do is not the answer.

This is going to take work, huge amounts of work, great reservoirs of patience and humility, tremendous efforts at inclusion, understanding, and willingness to see changed what it is people become included in.  But we can afford to turn off racists.  We can afford to not appear welcoming to bigots.  We are many.  They are few.

The war machine has set its sights on Africa.  Its new name is AFRICOM, and it means business, the business of exploitation and cruelty.  We can better understand 9-11 and everything that has followed from it if we understand the long history of terrorism on U.S. soil.  We need the wisdom of Native Americans, Japanese Americans, Muslim Americans, and everybody else here and abroad who has been paying attention.  We need to move from making war to making reparations, at home and abroad.  We will have less reparations to make the sooner we stop making war.

We Have Not Been Moved
includes a never before published speech by Bayard Rustin in which Rustin quotes Ossie Davis saying to the President: "If you want us to be nonviolent in Selma, why can't you be nonviolent in Saigon?"

"All the weapons of military power," says Rustin, "chemical and biological warfare, cannot prevail against the desire of the people.  We know the Wagner Act, which gave labor the right to organize and bargain collectively was empty until workers went into the streets.  The unions got off the ground because of sit-down strikes and social dislocation.  When women wanted to vote, Congress ignored them until they went into the streets and into the White House, and created disorder of a nonviolent nature.  I assure you that those women did things that, if the Negro movement had done them, they would have been sent back to Africa!  The civil rights movement begged and begged for change, but finally learned this lesson -- going into the streets.  The time is so late, the danger so great, that I call upon all the forces which believe in peace to take a lesson from the labor movement, the women's movement, and the civil rights movement and stop staying indoors.  Go into these streets until we get peace!"


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Fire and Flames - A History of the German Autonomist Movement: A Review

by Adam Ford
Infantile Disorder
November 16th, 2012

This English language translation of a book long-considered a classic of autonomism provides a good introductory history of the German scene from the tumultuous year of 1968 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. But despite its strictly chronological style, it manages to feel weirdly disjointed and dispassionate, and so fails to provide much of a guide for those of us seeking to organise non-hierarchically in the twenty-first century.

As ever for books on the left, there is a blizzard of acronyms, and if you are a non-German reader then almost all will be entirely new. A glossary is provided however, and if you keep referring back to it, this isn't too much of a barrier.

Another common left problem encountered here is the slipperiness of label definitions. This even applies to the term 'autonomism' itself, with wildly different ideologies and forms of activity all coming under the same umbrella term. For some this is a strength of 'autonomism', for others a weakness, but when trying to read a book on the subject, it sometimes feels like particular activities have been shoehorned into the 'autonomist' definition simply because they are in some way anti-mainstream politics, and not 'K-groups' (of which more later).

Geronimo adopts the eight part definition adopted in Italy during 1981: "we fight for ourselves", "we do not engage in dialogue with those in power", "we have not found each other at the workplace", "we all embrace a vague anarchism", "no power to no one", difference from the "alternative movement", "we are uncertain whether we want a revolt or a revolution", "we have no organisation per se".

So vagueness and lifestylist individualism appears to be all, and yet the 'autonomists' as identified by Geronimo did organise huge events, and they did experiment with workplace organising. Focuses changed as history marched on and changes in economics drove changes in society. This mechanism lies almost entirely unexamined, accounting for much of the 'this happened, then this happened' style.

This difficulty is evident from the very beginning when Geronimo deals the year when workers and students rose in Paris, there was upheaval in Czechoslovakia, the Black Panthers battled cops in America, and 'The Troubles' began in the north of Ireland. All this took place as the post-war settlements around the world were breaking down at their first major recessionary test. Instead of looking at this, Geronimo tries to explain nearly everything in terms of US imperialism's carnage in Vietnam. Beyond the immediate trigger for action, the deeper motivations are not considered, and so any thorough analysis of autonomism - or any movement - is impossible. Still, Geronimo notes that a sizeable layer of students broke from the liberalism of the social democratic centre-left.

The next section - and in my opinion by far the most impressive part of the whole book - is actually dedicated to a very decent study of Italian autonomism. It looks at the organic composition of Italian industry, before tracing the shift from Stalinism to operaismo  ('workerism') which - in contrast to a left which now sought to integrate "the working class into capitalist development" - again sought "the complete negation of the existing system". As employers fought back by shipping out of operaist strongholds, the focus shifted to the "social field" - i.e. riots, "proletarian shopping" (organised mass looting), and the creation of a 'scene'.

And - aside from a few abortive attempts to organise factory workers - the "social field" is the only one on which Geronimo describes the various and diverse German autonome as playing on, following their formation in reaction to their own Stalinist 'Communist parties' (those K-groups again).

We are therefore given brief sketches of the rise and fall of the 'spontis' (anti-organisational individuals emphasising the 'spontaneous'), the insurrectionist Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction) and Revolutionäre Zellen (Revolutionary Cells) in the 1970s. And then through to anti-Reagan, anti-nuclear and mass squatting actions in the decade which was to catch the autonomen by surprise at its dramatic conclusion - the fall of the Berlin Wall.

When I put down the book for the final time, I was left with a sense that the sometimes massive numbers the autonomen pulled to their events, and the often ferocious intensity of their battles with state forces, very little had been achieved in the way of concrete gains. And this is the case whether you prefer - as I do - to talk in terms of gains or losses for contending social classes, or about individuals extending the reach of their own freedom (as do the autonomists in the 1981 Italian theses).

One prominent exception is the mass squatting of Hamburg's Hafenstrasse, which eventually led to the regional senate granting the squatters the right to stay in the buildings they had brought into use. These then became a prominent base for both a thriving counter-culture - including support of the world-famous FC St. Pauli with its unique supporter comradeship - and the autonomen's political struggles.

But apart from that - and the odd delay to this or that project of the capitalist class - it's difficult to point to much in the way of success. Of course, participants may well argue that I am being far too materialist, and the success was the emotional 'freedom' gained from taking part. Of course, that would be entirely their call. But perhaps that's almost the exact problem with the type of autonomism espoused within these one hundred and eighty five pages - it can be reduced to 'Did the individual have a good time while the world continued to burn?'

So if Geronimo wanted to show the German brand of autonomism as being a way forward for oppressed groups in the wider world - and I think he did - then Fire and Flames utterly fails to convincingly make that case. That's certainly not to say it's without merit - and as a bit of a politics geek I loved the many demonstration photos and posters included - but perhaps there is an even better book on the history of German autonomen just waiting to be written.

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Ned Ludd & Queen Mab: A Review

by Alan Brooke
The Luddite Bicentenary
November 14th, 2012

The bicentenary of the Luddite risings has produced disappointingly little new academic research on Luddism. However, this booklet of only 40 pages goes some way towards filling that vacuum. Based on a lecture he delivered to a conference to mark the bicentenary held at Birkbeck College in 2011, Peter Linebaugh sets out not only to rescue the Luddites from the ‘condescension of posterity’ but also place them firmly in an international context.

As Ned Ludd is the mythic symbol of Luddite resistance to unwelcome industrialisation in England, so Queen Mab, through her personification in Shelley’s poem of that name composed in 1812, becomes the symbol of a radical critique of western civilisation as a whole. Although Shelley later dismissed the poem as naive juvenilia, his passionate denunciation of monarchy, militarism, the church and capitalism remained an inspiration for working class radicals into the Chartist period and beyond.

From the vantage point of 1811-12, Linebaugh launches a sweeping survey of the processes underway which were dispossessing not only the Luddites and the English common people of the means of production, including the land, but were also impacting on traditional communities across the world. And, as with the Luddites, such communities responded with acts of resistance, which, while often ending in defeat, nevertheless helped shape the modern world.

From Ireland to Egypt, through Creek and slave risings in the US, the insurrections of Hidalgo and Miranda in Latin America and the reactionary backlash following the Ratcliff Highway murders in England,  Linebaugh links the increasing exploitation of producers and the expropriation of the means of production to the development of global capitalism. Inevitably, in such a broad brush approach, the details of such interconnectedness is sometimes assumed rather than demonstrated and there are some omissions. Particularly, since he takes the Luddite response to mechanisation in the woollen industry as one of his main points of reference, there is no mention of the clearances in the Scottish highlands and islands, where whole communities were swept away to make room for sheep.

Also, in following E.P. Thompson’s effort to assign the Luddites their proper role in history, Linebaugh has also reproduced one of Thompson’s historiographic errors in placing too much reliance on the late 19th century writer Frank Peel. Consequently Linebaugh suggests that the Luddite, George Mellor, could have been influenced by the utopian socialism of Robert Owen, even though Owen was not a socialist in 1812. Another reference to Mellor also claims that he was a veteran of the Egyptian campaign, for which there is no contemporary evidence, apart from the fact he would only have been about ten years old at the time!

However, such factual errors, and the inevitable omissions inescapable in such an ambitious synthesising work, should not put the reader off. The booklet is extremely thought-provoking and provides a backdrop to the Luddite risings which has not really been explored previously, since Luddite studies have tended to focus-in on the local rather than stand back and observe the global. It also adds a new dimension to English working class history as a whole and helps counteract some of the parochialism which still affects this field both academically and in orthodox ‘labourist’ approaches which concentrate on the supposed deference of the English working class, dominated by a trade union consciousness steeped in constitutionalism. Linebaugh brings to life the other tradition expressed by the Luddites and by Shelley’s damning philosophical condemnation of the British state in all its manifestations.

The final paragraph of the work contains one of Linebaugh’s most valuable insights encapsulated in a single word. Here he refers to the ‘poesis of the Luddites’. This concept is one which requires elaboration for all those who consider themselves the heirs of Luddism.  Instead of the ‘praxis’ of political struggle, an often mechanistic action born of a preconceived theory, the concept of ‘poesis’ implies, as its shared root with poetry suggest, an act of creativity, imagination, intuition and spontaneity. The Luddites have often been dismissed by orthodox Marxists and labourites because their actions did not fit in with the ideal course of class struggle. Linebaugh’s global panorama shows that they had a better grasp of what was at stake than those who claim to be guided by scientific theory. This work is a fitting bicentennial tribute to the Luddites and, notwithstanding its brevity, an important contribution to Luddite research.

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Send My Love and A Molotov Cocktail! A Review

by Cathy Green
SF Revu

Send My Love And a Molotov Cocktail!, a recently published short fiction anthology from PM Press, will interest readers of both the science fiction and mystery genres. Editors Gary Phillips and Andrea Gibbons have put together an interesting mix of pulp, hard-boiled and noirish mysteries along with several science fiction stories, many with a decidedly political bent. The editors are quite clear about this, right on the cover page -- "Stories of Crime, Love and Rebellion".

The anthology opens with "Bizco's Memories", a grim little tale of prison, politics and soccer, by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, translated by editor Andrea Gibbons.

John A. Imani contributes "Nickles and Dimes", a story set during the student protests of the late 1960s/early 1970s involving naïve middle class students, Black Power radicals, and FBI informants. Just as the protagonist encourages the students to attack the police for the fun of seeing middle class white kids beaten and arrested, so too is his radical group urged into actions they might not otherwise have taken by the undercover FBI agent in their group.

Fans of the hard-boiled private investigator subset of the mystery genre will recognize Sara Paretsky's name. She contributes "Poster Child", a Warshawski-less story featuring Jewish Chicago PD detective Liz Marchek and the murder of an aggressive anti-abortion protester. Lots of politics in that story.

Editor Gary Phillips contributes the fabulous, fun "Masai's Back in Town", a hard-boiled homage to blaxpoitation films featuring Masai Swanmoor a revolutionary still on the run from the law and at war with the Aryan Legion. Of course, the fight with the neo-Nazis is really just a distraction from Masai's real goal: the 2.7 million he stashed from a robbery of COINTELPRO funds back in the day.

On the more science fictional end of the spectrum, names fans will recognize include Kim Stanley Robinson, who contributes "The Lunatics", a mystery set on the moon, and Cory Doctorow, who has co-written "I Love Paree" with Michael Skeet, a story staring an ex-pat American caught up in a not so distant future Paris reactionary revolution to restore the Paris Commune. The middle of the book is anchored by a Michael Moorcock novella, "The Gold Diggers of 1977 (Ten Claims That Won Our Hearts)", featuring Jerry Cornelius and his family.

If you are not a fan of Moorcock or his Cornelius stories, just skip the middle of the book.

Other authors in the anthology include Luis Rodriguez, Larry Fondation, editor Andrea Gibbons, Penny Mickelbury, Kenneth Wishnia, Benjamin Whitmer, Rick Dakan, Summer Brenner, Barry Graham, and Tim Wohlforth. If you do not want to read a book with overtly leftist politics featuring union organizers of the 1930s, oppressed lunar mine workers, and grandmothers plotting revolutionary acts, then Send My Love And a Molotov Cocktail! is not for you. If you do not mind a book that wears its politics on its sleeve, then you should give it a chance as you'll be exposed to the work of some very interesting authors many of whom you are probably not already familiar with.

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Lessons for Building a Co-Operative Movement

by Michael Johnson
Truthout.org
November 24th, 2012

Pm Press has released a second edition of John Curl’s 550 page history of “cooperation, cooperative movements, and communalism in America,” In this interview, Michael Johnson talks with John about what is new in the second edition, the surprisingly long history of co-operatives here in the US, and what his history has to tell us about building a 21st century movement for a co-operative/solidarity economy.

John’s life has been steeped in co-operatives. He has been a member for over 30 years in the Heartwood Co-operative Woodshop in Berkeley, CA, where he lives. He has belonged to numerous other co-operatives and collectives. In addition to being a historian of extensive research, he is a poet, woodworker, social activist, and has even been a city planner. He is also co-writing a book on how worker co-operators in the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives are harnessing the power of the co-operative difference. Janelle Cornwell and Adam Trott, VAWC staff person, are fellow co-writers.

[Editor's Note: Throughout the text we will spell the word for "co-operative enterprises" with a hyphen and the word for "being cooperative" without it.]

On the second edition of For All the People

MJ: John, let's start with how the second edition of For All the People differs from the first one.

JC:
The second edition has three additional pieces.

1) A foreword by novelist and essayist Ishmael Reed.

2) A new preface by myself that discusses developments of the last four years. The first edition came out just as the economy was collapsing into the Great Recession. In the second edition I discuss the United Nations study which shows that worker co- operatives and all cooperatives around the world have fared better than standard capitalist corporations during these hard times. I discuss the reasons why the UN declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives.

I discuss the limited equity co-operatives created through squatting in the urban homestead movement in New York City. I discuss the Food Hub movement, a spontaneous rural cooperative movement on a national scale. I discuss the United Steel Workers Union’s partnership with Basque Spain’s Mondragon International to develop manufacturing cooperatives in the US and Canada. Finally I discuss the World Social Forum’s movement to reclaim the world commons, and cooperative management of the commons.

3) The second edition has an additional section of almost 100 pages containing my in-depth investigative report on the rise and demise of the Food System movement of the 1970s, focused on its two most successful centers: the Bay Area and the Minneapolis Twin Cities. The Food System movement was integral to the beginnings of natural and organic food in the US.

This movement was particularly revealing because on the one hand it was a spontaneous grass-roots movement that arose in many locations around the country, and also because in those two urban centers it was entered into by small outside groups with ostensibly radical ideologies, which tried to take it over, and involved government undercover agents. Both of those entryist groups caused intense internal strife that sped the movement’s demise in those locations. In comparison I also discuss the movement’s rise and fall in locations not affected by those small radical groups. I look at the successes and shortcomings of that movement as a whole.

MJ: “Entryist?”

JC: Yes. A political group is accused of “entryism” when it enters into another group and tries to take it over or transform it.

MJ: How well would the metaphor of “the 1%” and “the 99%” fit the story you tell of the ups and downs of co-operative economics in the US?

JC: Leaving the 99% metaphor aside for the moment, I would say that co-operative economics today can become an important option for about half the population, those with more limited wealth or income. Co-operatives mean that people with insufficient resources pool what they have in order to get onto a more level economic playing field.

Historically, the metaphor of “the 1% and the 99%” is redolent of the decades after the American Civil War, an era of great social upheaval and strife. Wealth was being consolidated into increasingly fewer hands, while working people were becoming impoverished. American capitalism was consolidating its domination of the country, and that was emphatically opposed by the vast majority of the working population of industrial workers and farmers. The two latter groups set up organizations based in co-operatives, and at first challenged capitalism on economic terms, trying to build counter institutions that they hoped would supersede capitalism. When the plutocracy destroyed their co-operatives, they made an effort to gain power though electoral politics. This era culminated in the defeat of all the working people’s organizations and the triumph of the “Robber Barons.” Nonetheless, the era is filled with inspiring dramas of ordinary people daring to follow their dreams, endeavors that still resonate with relevance.

Today’s metaphor of “the 1% and the 99%” arises from the reality that wealth in the US is quickly being redistributed again from a larger number of people into the hands of a tiny elite. While large numbers of people are increasingly impoverished and marginalized, a handful is amassing power in the form of money and capital.

MJ: I like the phrase you just used: “the working population of industrial workers and farmers.” For two reasons. First, we tend to forget that both groups have very strong connections, which I am going to ask about later. Second, it’s refreshing to hear them referred to beyond being an economic class without that fact being brushed aside.]

JC:
Independent self-employed small farmers and wage earners had a close relationship throughout the later 19th century. That was before the age of corporate farming, and the overwhelming majority of farmers were very small. Today it’s still hard to make a living as a small farmer, and many of them have another job on the side these days, so most still know what it’s like to be a wage worker.

But, as you state, “the 1% and the 99%” is a metaphor. Those are not really statistics. The numbers are there to make certain points, and bear no relationship with any statistical class analysis. The concept of class in the US is subjective, tricky, and constantly changing. To imply that there are two economic classes in the US, the 1% and the 99%, is to muddy up the waters very badly, rather than shedding light where it is sorely needed. Does the 98th percentile have more in common with the upper 1% or the lowest 20%? Compare the metaphor of “the 1% and the 99%” with Romney’s metaphor of “the 47%.” If 99% were really opposed to the 1% seizing the wealth, then this could not possibly continue; but in fact a much larger percentile than 1% actually support it and just want to get in on the action. There are a lot more shameless predators out there than just 1%. To grossly underestimate the strength of the opposition seriously weakens you.

The long history of co-operatives in the US

MJ: One of the most interesting discoveries for me in reading For All the People was how early on co-operatives and worker co-operatives emerged in the US, even before 1800. Does this reflect something special about our history or just how integral cooperation is in human life?

JC:
Both. Cooperation is the basis of human society. However, most societies today have been deformed and oppressed by small authoritarian groups for a very long time. But the dynamics of cooperation do not die, because they are so essential to a decent life. I would say cooperation is the norm because it can be suppressed but it cannot be destroyed. The essential concepts of cooperation are instinctive to most people, particularly when they are young. Look at the way kids get together in the park and organize a game. Or groups of musicians get together regularly as improvised cooperatives. Or young parents form play groups for their kids. In all of these situations people spontaneously self-organize activities based on freedom, direct democracy, and a general equality. Many people only experience cooperation outside of their work lives, in their private lives, with family, friends, and associates. But cooperative instincts always remain there inside the human condition like seeds waiting for the right conditions. When an oppressive society reaches a dead end, a new generation rejects the dying husk and reinvents its world, and that creative act is always based on mutual aid and cooperation.

MJ:
Before you go on to your answer to the second part of the question—that is, how cooperation has been an important part of American history—I want to challenge you a bit on your saying “most societies today have been deformed and oppressed by small authoritarian groups for a very long time.” It touches an issue that is very central to how we strategize as a movement.

Basically, I find that thinking about oppression is a very tricky thing. Frequently we assume that it is the “oppressors” that cause oppression. Some very acute thinkers like Paulo Freire in his classic “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” argue very strongly that oppression is a joint project of the ‘oppressor’ and the ‘oppressed’. And it would seem that every liberation movement—civil rights, gays and lesbians, women, etc.—is essentially the story of people empowering themselves by not accepting the role of the ‘oppressed.’

JC: Human nature is very complex, and we all have seeds of the oppressor in us. Power really does corrupt. Historically many leaders of rebellions have wound up as oppressors. But that is no reason to eschew rebellion or power. Chickens really do have a pecking order. It is instinctive. Dogs really do run in packs, and become instinctively submissive to the pack leader. People, on the other hand, have many conflicting instincts. I agree that oppressed majorities are enablers of ruling elites. That is the role they have been educated to play. When large numbers of ordinary people refuse to accept the submissive role, societies change. But people need to believe that social change is possible. If they think their only option is to exchange one oppressor for another, they will usually choose to accept their victimization and try to make the best of it. That is why counter institutions are so important, because they are living demonstrations that better social relationships are possible and within our grasp. They are possible because, besides the seeds of the oppressor within us, we also have the seeds of mutual liberation within us, the instincts of cooperation, of sharing, democracy, equality, extended family.

Now, to your question about “how cooperation has been an important part of American history.” America’s unique history did encourage mutual aid and cooperation. Indigenous America was largely based on cooperation and tribal collectivity. Every wave of immigrants to America, arriving from different parts of the globe, had to start from scratch. They pooled their resources and through mutual aid lifted themselves from poverty and oppressive situations.

Most of the wagon trains headed west were cooperatives. When settlers built new towns it was primarily through mutual aid and cooperation. No one came to America with the goal of becoming a wage slave. Industrial workers were trapped into oppressive situations by circumstance. They turned to mutual aid in order to form unions which were usually also cooperatives. Many workers saw a path to liberation through worker cooperatives in their industries. This culminated in the Knights of Labor’s plan to build a cooperative commonwealth that would supersede the capitalist system.

However, while the government eventually recognized the importance of co-operatives and promoted them in rural areas, particularly during the New Deal, government policy at the same time did not facilitate worker co-operatives in industrial areas, since worker co-ops challenge the wage system and thereby threaten the power of the establishment.

Farmer and labor movements and Co-operatives

MJ: Another very interesting finding for me was a) the extensive connections between farmers and urban workers in the late 19th century when industrialization, the “Robber Barons,” and the dominance of bankers hit America full force, and b) the major role that both worker and consumer co-operatives played in connecting farmers and workers at that time. Can you expand on that a bit? Also, what can we take from this history that would help us move out of our marginality? For example, is there a way suggested by that history to connect the new, local, ecologically-minded farmers with today’s worker co-operatives and labor movements?

JC: Key to understanding the extensive connections between farmers and industrial workers in the late 19th century is the Homestead Act of 1862, when Abraham Lincoln, in the middle of the Civil War, opened hundreds of millions of acres of western land to people who were willing to settle and farm it. That was a payoff waiting for eastern workers fighting the war. After the war large numbers of returning Northern soldiers flooded west and became farmers. So these were people who knew both worlds. If not themselves, then others in their families had been industrial workers. Workers and farmers knew they were up against the same enemies. In the post-war world that emerged, Robber Baron industrialists were driving eastern workers into the pits of wage-slavery, while railroad barons held farmers hostage to exorbitant freight rates and banks manipulated them to steal their land. Meanwhile, new waves of immigrants filled the eastern factories. But these too did not come to America to be wage slaves, and the dream of large numbers was to become farmers. So they were natural allies.

Both groups turned to co-operatives in their struggle. The farmers formed cooperatives in every aspect of supply, production, and distribution that otherwise had been dominated by banks, corporations, and railroads. Industrial workers turned to worker cooperatives in their industries, and consumer co-ops for home consumer goods, in order to break out of the corner that employers and the business community had trapped them in. When the co-operatives of both groups came under fierce attack, they allied with each other, turned to electoral politics and came together in the Populist Party, the most successful “third” party in American history.

But we can’t re-create that history today. History is an always unique set of circumstances. Today ecologically-minded farmers, worker cooperatives and the labor movement meet in the larger movement for sustainable social and economic justice. For example, many ecologically-minded farmers are involved with the “food justice” movement to bring good food to today’s “food deserts” in poorer communities. Much of that is done through farmers markets and co-op stores. Farmers’ markets themselves are largely cooperative, usually in conjunction with local communities and community non-profits. It is unrealistic to expect a direct organizational connection between (for example) a small organic farm and a co-operative print shop. But both might have a natural tendency toward using each other’s products and services, and that is mutual aid. Organizational networks like the Bay Area Network of Worker Cooperatives (NoBAWC) organize email listservs where large amounts of information connecting groups closer together are distributed. Groups devoted to assisting connections between disparate cooperatives perform a very valuable role, but the connective tissues and channels are by nature in continuous flux.

The mammals and the dinosaurs: getting down to the right size

MJ: Okay, drawing this cooperative connection between the working population of today and 125-50 years ago brings up another set of key questions. The co-operative movement and radical unionizing seemed to have peaked in the US in this same earlier 19th century period. For sure their vitality and size stands in stark contrast to what is happening now. Today worker co-ops play a minimal role socially and economically, and unions are in their 4th decade of steep decline.

• Is this an accurate reading?

• If so, are accurate future prospects bleak? Upbeat? Unknown?

• Or do we need to think about these kinds of questions in larger frames, like a multi-generational time frame?

• Also, is the recent collaboration between Mondragon and the United Steel Workers an indication of a new emerging vitality or just another positive effort?

JC: Government promotion of rural and farm cooperatives became national policy as part of the recovery efforts of the New Deal. Rural America was transformed by co-operatives in the 1930s. Besides farmer supply and distribution, co-ops brought electricity and water for drinking and irrigation to most of the rural US. Co-operatives are still strong in many rural areas and a part of everyday life today, and are still promoted by the government there.

Yes, unions continue to be in steep decline, due in large part to anti-labor legislation. Severe legal restrictions keep unions weak. And the current electoral system, based on the domination of money, is geared to produce legislators dedicated to keeping it that way. Only a complete breakdown of the current system will open the window wide enough for large-scale change today.

Yet large-scale change is inevitable in the 21st century. The current economic system cannot deal with the population continuing to explode, with climate change severely altering the situation, with the accelerating disparity between rich and poor. An enormous gulf is opening between a tiny elite and a mass of marginalized people. It is among the marginalized that the new shape of the co-operative movement will emerge. They will form economic and political organizations based on mutual aid and cooperation, because they will have to, in order to survive.

Meanwhile, social activists and visionaries are creating the backup. Unified through auspices of the United Nations, a world co-operative movement is emerging, based on an alliance of co-op activists, the labor movement, civil society nonprofits, and governments promoting co-operatives as an economic development strategy. It is only through this type of mutual aid that the new century can shape a successful and sustainable world.

And yes, the recent collaboration between Mondragon and the United Steel Workers is an indication of a new emerging vitality. Many unions are rethinking their structure, goals and missions. The straight jackets that have suffocated unions can be broken by new creative strategies. After all, unions are, at their core, organizations of mutual aid among workers. Their larger goal is not to make the deck chairs on the Titanic a little more comfortable, but to create the bases for a good life for their members and for the entire working population.

MJ: John, you’re sketching some awesome pictures here: “Large-scale change is  inevitable in the 21st century,” and it will require “a complete breakdown of the current system.” It seems terrible and wonderful at the same time. Please, say more.

JC: The only way this economic system can be maintained in the long run, is through widespread repression. Repression can take place almost invisibly, behind closed doors, one person at a time. That’s the way it’s taking place today. Like all those people evicted one by one from their homes. There doesn’t have to be tanks in the streets. The current world economic system is dysfunctional. The future it offers is increasing enrichment for the tiny elite at the top and increasing impoverishment for large numbers who were once “middle class.”
Many social rebellions have started under similar circumstances, when large numbers who once knew a fairly good life find it suddenly pulled out from beneath them. On the other hand, people will almost always accept bleak circumstances when they see no alternative. Once in a while they may riot, but that is usually just a tantrum, and usually accomplishes almost nothing constructive. Only when radical visionaries convince large numbers that another economic system is possible, can a constructive rebellion be set in motion.

Ours is essentially a non-violent rebellion, because our means need to always reflect our ends. We need to build the new world and to the degree we are successful, the old system will collapse by its own weight. That is not to say that we will automatically win. In times of great social change there are no sure bets. The world could sink into an era of barbarism. But I don’t think that will happen. I think a generation will rise to the challenge and create a better world for our great grandchildren.

MJ: John, one last follow-up on this. You say that we need to be nonviolent and that “We need to build the new world and to the degree we are successful, the old system will collapse by its own weight.” Are you pointing to a strategy of building a “co-operative system”—if you will—parallel to the oppressive system we are struggling within right now. If so, does the way co-operatives transformed rural America in the 1930s suggest how to approach this?

JC:
The worker cooperative movement in the US should follow the United Nations directive to forge a partnership with allies in government and civil society, because only with deep backing from those sectors can cooperatives grow extensive enough to transform our world.

Yes, the New Deal alliance that institutionalized cooperatives in rural America is a role model.

Even the banking sector participated constructively in it, with the rural Banks For Co-operatives program. We need to build counter institutions not as an isolated sector, but integrated into the existing economy as we build them one by one. They are basically institutions for the increasingly large numbers of our people who are being marginalized and excluded from the mainstream capitalist system, as well as people alienated and disgusted by the oppressive working conditions. When people learn to work together, pool resources and help each other through mutual aid institutions, we will all be stronger and more prosperous. A strong co-operative movement among marginalized people can be a transformative social force. I don’t expect the mainstream capitalist system to disappear soon. We have to plan to live with it as much as possible. But it inevitably goes through cycles of boom and bust. The co-operative sector is affected by those booms and busts, but not as much as capitalist enterprises. Bust times, like now, are a stimulus to the co-operative sector. The Great Recession may be a new normal, a situation that will persist through this generation at least.
I’ll try to clarify what I meant when I talked about the old system collapsing of its own weight.

I think the world is changing so that the current mainstream economic system is becoming like those gigantic dinosaurs that became increasingly unable to cope. Scientists tell us that during the age of dinosaurs mammals began as small furry creatures, and birds began as little feathered dinosaurs. The gigantic dinosaurs collapsed of their own weight when they became irrelevant to the new emerging world. This can be a model for the co-operative movement in this century.

MJ: Your reference to the dinosaurs and mammals reminds me of something I have just been reading. It was a talk by John G. Bennett, who died in the 1970s. He was a guy who seems to have done a lot of deep thinking about almost everything. He refers to one of the overarching values in our culture being the conviction that “more is better.” He uses the example of the dinosaur not only to refute this idea, but, just as you have, to point to the inevitable collapse of our dinosaur institutions. He then goes on to identify the mammals as the alternative, again as you have. He emphasizes two things about the mammals. One is that it is driven to become the “right size,” not bigger and bigger. Evolution favors the “fittest” not the “biggest.” His second point is about community, that mammals are internally small communities of cells and organs that are the ‘right size’ and that the most evolved thrive in small communities that are of the right size.

JC: Maintaining growth at a sustainable size is a key to success for individual co-operatives and the movement. Capitalist enterprises are typically swept up into the unending spiral of “grow or die.” Historically many co-operatives have gotten caught in that destructive cycle, including the old Berkeley Co-op, which collapsed after 50 years in 1988. [MJ: John tells this story in rich detail in the book.] To be sustainably successful, the co-operative movement needs to reject that model. Centralized, top-down, vertical growth of any co-op system invariably leads to collapse, whether by bankruptcy or being swallowed by capitalism. The structure of an extensive and sustainable movement involves horizontal growth of interconnected autonomous co-ops. Each individual co-op needs to find its “right size,” and be satisfied with that important accomplishment. Co-operatives are a movement with not one but thousands of centers and an unlimited periphery. Numerous people throughout America and around the world are now coming to realize the transformational possibilities of co-operatives, particularly worker co-operatives. It is a family of ideas whose time has come. With thousands of creative minds approaching the work from different perspectives, a dynamic moment is upon us; where it will lead is limited by only our practical imagination.

21st Century: bringing on a Co-operative America

MJ:
In a short section titled “Does It Have To Be This Way?” you raise the issue of worker co-operatives having in fact been not only marginalized but actually “planned out of the economy” in our country. Planned out of the economy! That’s a big claim. However, you didn’t expand on that. Can you do that here? I am asking for that because it cuts to the heart of a major issue for co-operative economy and all of the movements for a new kind of economy. Namely: Is it possible for our small, marginalized worker co-op movement here in the US to become more than a passionate outcry against economic injustice and become a real hope for creating an economy “for all the people”?

JC: While urban and industrial worker co-operatives were planned out of the US economy, rural and farmer co-operatives were planned into the economy by the New Deal. The contrast is stark. In the rural case, there was a general national consensus that rural America could prosper only if the government promoted co-operatives. And so it happened. The opposite took place in urban and industrial areas, the stronghold of the wage system. The New Deal stopped their promotion of co-operatives at city limits. They were trying to save and revitalize industrial capitalism, not replace it, and that required not doing anything to threaten the labor pool.

Now we are in a very different situation. For many decades Americans have known a thriving flexible “middle” class and a general prosperity. That prosperity came about at the end of World War II, because all the other nations were flat on their backs and the US was the only one left standing. There was so much US wealth at the end of the war that for a while all ships rose. However, Americans were told the lie that prosperity was brought about by the capitalist system. Now that lie has finally played itself out. We are in the end game. Capitalism in America has always been geared to bringing prosperity to a tiny elite and oppression and poverty to everyone else. Now almost all ships are sinking and will continue to sink under this system. The system has to change, and the path of greatest benefits with least dangers is to promote mutual aid and worker co-operatives as national policy. That means opening the economic system to large numbers of worker co-operatives and other social enterprises, so that many more millions of people can have good jobs providing goods and services for each other. The worker co-operative movement of recent years may have started as a passionate marginalized voice crying in the wilderness, but we are now entering a world where large numbers of people realize that all the old answers have failed and if we want a decent world for our children and grandchildren, we must all become visionaries and reinvent the economic system of the future.

If you examine areas in the world where cooperatives are a significant, permanent sector of the economy, such as the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, you will see that the government there has organized the economic playing field to make that possible, with advantages granted to co-operatives in recognition of their promotion of social justice and prosperity. There is no such thing as a “free market.”  Markets and economic systems are always organized and regulated by governments. In a just society, the government’s role is to level the playing field as much as possible. In this situation, where wealth is vastly unequal, the government can help to balance that inequality through advantages to co-operatives. It will be a struggle to get there from where we are today in the US, but at some point soon the social fabric will become explosive, and perhaps that will prompt the government to act.

MJ: John, I just want to go a little further into this because the possibilities you are discussing here are big. From the little that I know, it seems that the New Deal’s rural co-operative achievements got substantially reversed. For sure it has worked well in helping create credit unions and utility cooperatives in rural areas—electric, telephone, etc., and maybe some farmer co-ops. However, haven’t many, if not most, of the agricultural co-operatives the New Deal helped create been flipped into giant industrial agricultural businesses? Businesses that are undemocratic, wage-based “co-operatives?” This certainly seems to be the case just looking at the list on the Wikipedia page.

JC: Michael, even very large agricultural co-operatives are not corporate agribusiness farming as practiced by giant vertically integrated firms such as Monsanto, Dow, and DuPont, which dominate much of American agriculture today. Agricultural co-ops, small and large, are owned by their members for services, while agribusiness corporate farms are owned by investors and stockholders for profit, like all capitalist corporations. Typical members of farm co-ops are still family farms. Large agricultural co-ops can have organizational problems similar to those of all large democratic organizations. For efficiency sake they can concentrate power in a small board, which can sometimes act like a corporate board alienated from members. But a co-op doesn't have to be enormous to have those kinds of problems. One of the knottiest issues is labor: a farmer co-op can wind up acting in its narrow self-interest just as an employer. Even Mondragon in many of its international enterprises, where it has not been organizing workers to become member-owners, has slipped into that contradictory role as an employer, although it seems to be generally a benevolent boss.

That said, let's take a look at a few typical agricultural co-ops on the Wikipedia list:

"Southern States Cooperative is an agricultural supply cooperative owned by more than 300,000 farmers..." "Ocean Spray... currently has over 600 member growers." "Dairy Farmers of America, Inc... is owned by and serves nearly 16,000 dairy farmer members representing more than 9,000 dairy farms in 48 states." "Riceland Foods, Inc [has] 9,000 members who are farmers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas." "The Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA)... includes 110 dairy farms, mostly within Tillamook County."
Sunkist Growers, Incorporated is... composed of 6,000 members from California and Arizona." "Land O'Lakes is a member-owned agricultural cooperative [with] about 3200 producer-members, 1000 member-cooperatives..."


None of these, as far as I know, has abandoned its co-operative structure and been changed into a corporate farming operation. All are still serving real farmers. Co-operatives are still a core support of the continued viability of family farming.

Behind the familiar labels of those produce brands on the Wikipedia list, there really are numerous independent farms which use the co-operative structure to market their crops, and prevent corporate agribusiness from totally taking over.

MJ: Okay, let’s move on. John, this may be a bit of a stretch for you in your role as a historian: if it is possible for worker co-ops and the co-operative/solidarity movement to become a significant force in American politics—if, for example, worker co-ops and other forms of urban co-operatives were a publicly supported economic institution as you were just suggesting—can you imagine what that would look like? You are a woodworking artist. Can you look at the raw wood of these co-operative institutions and the current American landscape and visualize what could be?

JC: Actually it’s not that much of a stretch for me. In my opinion the world economic system is collapsing and will continue to collapse in the near future. The existing system cannot deal with the magnitude of problems that confront us. Historically a state of collapse can often result in a stark authoritarian regime. But it can also result in an energized population re-envisioning and redesigning the system. In the US, where we have a highly developed civil society, the latter is very possible. I think the landscape would look complex and multi-sourced. I see nonprofits and foundations becoming a major supplier of back-up and organizational tools to help worker cooperatives get off the ground and be successful. I see communities getting involved, with social enterprises, mixed organizations where the worker co-operative is one stakeholder and the community is another. I see communities turning to these types of co-operatives as an economic development strategy, to reduce or eliminate poverty. I see major nonprofit institutions such as schools or hospitals in the interest of community giving preference to local worker co-ops for goods or services. I see cutting-edge environmental organizations helping worker co-ops to find and invent new niches to fill. I think it can be a broad project under a big umbrella that will inspire the youth, offer them new creative possibilities.

Accepting the difficulties of cooperating

MJ: Finally, I have a question that looks at how the movement—co-operators, co-ops, and our networking institutions—have failed. How we contributed toward our own marginality.

My question has nothing to do with finding blame. It comes from wondering what might happen if we were learning more and more how to cooperate more deeply than we do. To manage our own rivalries and conflicts with each other better than we do. To empower ourselves personally and collectively in greater ways. I think our potential for cooperation and self-empowerment is far greater than we think, and we desperately need it to move forward.
For example, many co-operatives struggle with doing worker self-evaluations horizontally. That kind of honesty is a real challenge, but failing at it can be very costly. Or: the tension between some managers in food co-ops and workers who want to form worker co-ops. This kind of situation can get real heavy.

So I am asking if you have thoughts on how this played out over the past 200 years here in the US, and how important it may be now. Also, please speak from your own long experience as a worker co-operator.

JC: I think activists need to accept the reality that not everybody is very political, and never will be. You have to start with people as they are, and not demand more than they can freely contribute. This is, after all, mutual aid. In the variety of human consciousness, some people cannot see beyond their own skin. Those people are not good material for co-operatives. Some others just relate to their immediate family, or extended family, and everyone beyond those is an outsider to them. Some people identify strongly with groups such as ethnicity, nationality, religion, or even dog lovers or fans of a certain musician or a type of music or a certain sports team.

On the other extreme are people who are multi-cultural and international, who see themselves as part of a global human family. Or even larger, a great family of all life on earth. Or beyond earth: feeling at one with the universe. Most of us are somewhere in between. We each need to make the contributions that feel right to us and not be harsh on each other for shortcomings. Unrealistic expectations can result in bitter disappointment. And for no good reason since unrealistic expectations doom the situation from the beginning.

You have to accept that in a group or one-on-one not everybody is compatible. In my co-operative woodshop, which we started in 1974, I have seen quite a variety of personality types. Some fit in better than others. For example, one issue that was hard for a handful of people was territoriality. These people simply appeared to have a ‘territorial gene,’ and there was nothing they or anybody else could do about it. I’m talking about bench space. In my shop we share bench space. But that was extremely painful for these people. They appeared to need their own space clearly defined and had great difficulty sharing that space with anybody else. For the most part, these people just stayed in the shop briefly, and found another location where they did not have to share bench space. To generalize from that, members of a successful co-operative each need a space where they feel comfortable. Not every combination of people works. It’s not very different from a sports team or a band. If two people can’t work together, the group has to find another arrangement, or one of them should probably leave.

That’s not a big deal. It’s just the way of human society. Co-operatives are not for everybody.

Diversity is good, and there should be places in society for lone wolves, but they should not be permitted to take control of society.

Looking at the big picture, the option of working in a co-operative could improve the lives of the vast majority. Life passes too quickly to squander it in an oppressive work situation. In contrast, a life spent in cooperation and mutual aid in daily activities is a life well spent. Besides, it makes you feel good.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.


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Organize! A Review

Organize! by Jeremy Agar
Converge.org

Peace Researcher readers will pay attention to the name of one of this compendium’s editors. Aziz Choudry was a target of one of the more Keystone Kops moments in the continuingly inauspicious history of the New Zealand secret police (the most succinct summary of the saga that arose from the unmasking of the 1996 attempt by NZ Security Intelligence Service [SIS] agents to covertly break into the Christchurch home of Aziz Choudry can be found in Peace Researcher 19/20, November/December 1999, “Aziz Choudry Wins Case Against SIS: Out Of Court Settlement; Damages; Government Apology”, by Murray Horton, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/choudry.htm. MH).


Authorities claim to be saving us from terrorists, but they prefer going after intellectuals. For the policy makers (themselves intellectuals, but serving a different master) people who think for themselves are always the greater danger, while the functionaries who do the snooping might well be resentful of eggheads.  Choudry must have fitted the stereotype of the trouble maker. Here was not just a social scientist but an organiser - and of course one with a suspicious ethnicity.


Formidable Line-up Of Activist Writers

Choudry is now in Montreal, an academic in International Education at McGill University, where Jill Hanley is an Associate Professor of Social Work. Eric Shragge is at the School of Community and Public Affairs at Concordia, another Montreal university. The biographical sketches indicate that all three are active in social justice activities, as are all their other 27 fellows. It’s a formidable line-up. Many of the 30 contributors are academics, though all 30 have varied resumes, escaping the simpler classifications of earlier times. To give an idea: two are trade unionists, five are students, two are researchers, five are community organisers, three are film makers or writers, one is a lawyer and one is a politician. But not one of the 30 identifies him or herself with just one designation, and most could as easily be provided with a different description from the one I’ve chosen.


This is significant, an indication of the approach the editors set out in their introduction. The put down that traditionally accompanies “absent-minded professors”; that they’re inhabitants of ivory towers, is not one that can be pinned on Choudry et al. They want to organise. Their collective are not primarily students or teachers or workers. They’re activists, seeking to combine theory and practice. To get an idea of the elasticity consider the sketch of one of the authors, of a chapter called “Prefigurative Self-Governance and Self-Organization: The Influence of Antiauthoritarian (Pro) Feminist, Radical Queer, and Antiracist Networks in Quebec”. It takes all of eight lines to list the identities of Sandra Jeppesen, from the “Random Anarchist Group, TAO Communications, Active Resistance, Uprising Bookstore, Block the Empire/Bloquez l’Empire... She has produced a punk-anarchist novel..., guerrilla texts and other trouble”. You get the idea.


Such postmodern travels infuriate the official mind, but they can also annoy that other traditionalist stereotype, the short-back-and-sides brigade, a species as common in Canada as it has been in New Zealand - and an objective ally. It would be a pity if potential readers allowed themselves to be hampered by any lingering culture shocks, which need to be left back in the 20th Century. The central theme of “Organize” is that all oppressions need to be resisted. Success demands unity, not judgemental preferences based on style.


“Dialogue” To Divide And Conquer


Some might be surprised that linguistic conflict is not addressed. From outside, the political news from Quebec is generally to do with Anglo-Franco tension. It’s not here. One obvious reason is that the writers are Anglophones, many, like Choudry himself, from international backgrounds. English is, for better or worse, the global language. But there is a further, more substantial factor. Quebec’s language wars are effectively over, and to wage a rearguard campaign would only be divisive, splitting natural allies. To look away from the old quarrels - more stuff from the short-back-and-sides era - was a smart choice.


A sidebar insert from Choudry looks at the 1999 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in NZ, from which, by way of the Official Information Act, he obtained a Cabinet paper on how to deal with dissent. It’s an instructive look at how State apparatuses typically behave, and a more useful learning tool for radicals than comic diversions like the earlier raid on a suburban Christchurch house. For APEC the strategy in Christchurch was to try to co-opt protestors and non-government organisations (NGOs) by spreading an impression that the Government valued differing opinions, that it was open to “dialogue”. If public opinion forms a view that the State is “listening”, the Government can potentially build at least tacit support from “middle NZ” and split its opposition into “responsible” and “disruptive” elements. There’s one chapter from NZ itself in which Maria Bargh from Victoria University outlines the foreshore and seabed issue. It’s a succinct summary, though she might not now write that “activists from the last 20 years” tend to be in the Maori Party. Sometimes tides ebb and flow quite quickly.


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