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Hoshino forces readers to reconsider the nature of storytelling

By Gianni Simone
The Japan Times Online
October 21, 2012

In 2004, philosopher and literary critic Kojin Karatani declared, in his essay "The End of Modern Literature," that Japanese literature had lost its privileged position within national consciousness while embracing minor subcultures (e.g., "otaku" fandom), thus becoming a mere commodity. As a consequence, literature had lost its power to affect social or political change. In the same issue of Waseda Bungaku magazine, writer Tomoyuki Hoshino indirectly expressed his disagreement with Karatani's bleak vision. According to him, "we cannot expect literature to directly effect change in a clearly observable form. At best, it is a tiny wedge the writer can drive through the social and cultural status quo. Still, it is exactly literature's ability to allow readers and writers to inhabit minor (...) worlds that allows literature to affect society as a whole, one story, one reader at a time."

Hoshino's works brilliantly exemplify his point of view, and this collection of five short stories and three novellas spanning the years 1998-2006 feature some of his most compelling prose to date.

At the heart of Hoshino's work is the refusal of socially accepted conventions. Every story narrates a transformational movement, with characters caught in a state of constant, dreamlike flux. The titular Paper Woman, for instance, strives to become paper in order to understand her partner completely; the man and woman in "Air" become equipped with an invisible sexual organ that turns them into hybrid human beings.

It is true that most of the protagonists of these stories end up stranded in-between their original state and the new identity they are trying to achieve. This tragedy is best represented by the mermaid — one of Hoshino's favorite figures — who is featured in both "Paper Woman" and "A Milonga for the Melted Moon" and symbolizes this being caught between two states of being, neither human nor fish, always feeling out of place.

Yet Hoshino is not a fantasy story writer. On the contrary, throughout his works there are many references to Japanese history and folklore, real-life incidents (in "Treason Diary," the 1997 Shonen A Incident and Butterfly Knife Incident are linked to the terrorist attack on the Japanese ambassador's residence in Peru of the same year) and even Hoshino's life ("Sand Planet" is based on his own experience working as a newspaper reporter in the late 1980s, and the stories that take place in Latin America reference the author's life in Mexico in the early 1990s). Even reality, though, is reworked and gently distorted in order to show the reader many alternative versions of everyday life and the world at large.

Hoshino's writing constantly throws the reader off-balance, creating a dichotomy between reality and dream that implies that the truth ultimately lies in the space of interaction between the two. In this way he also forces the reader to reconsider the nature of storytelling. This brand of meta-fiction is often achieved by disrupting the literary text itself, as when Hoshino switches between first-person narrators in "Air" and "Milonga" until it becomes almost impossible to distinguish between them.

Hoshino's readers can amuse themselves by trying to recognize his many literary inspirations, from Latin American magical realism to Japan folkloric tradition and Kenzaburo Oe's early political fiction. Yet all of them are ultimately translated into a new language that both sounds original and strangely allusive.

In this warped world, so familiar and different at the same time, It is always difficult to say where reality ends and where dream or fantasy begin, as when the protagonist of "The No Fathers Club" starts imagining that his dead father is still alive, only to be slapped by him during an imaginary argument that leaves the red-hot imprint of his hand on his face. This constant flux, while working against conventional storytelling, is a fundamental part of his project, keeping multiple possibilities open, incompatible as they might be.

In the end, by refusing to passively accept conventional truths regarding sexual, cultural and national identity, and inciting in both his characters and readers this revolutionary desire to change, Hoshino's work becomes more political than any open social criticism or ideologically charged novel.

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Don't Leave Your Friends Behind: A Guide to Including Children, Elders, Everyone in Activism

By Eleanor J Bader
Truthout
November 16th, 2012

In many ways, the two kids I helped raise had great childhoods. There were four adults who loved them - a mom and stepmom, a dad and stepdad - and they were surrounded by role models who were engaged in efforts to improve their communities and world. They learned early that different people have different strengths and grew to appreciate variation in both style and substance. That said, regardless of which house they were living in on a particular day, they always bristled when they were dropped off in activist-sponsored child care or dragged to demonstrations. "It's boring," they'd whine. "There's nothing for us to do."
More often than not, they were right.

Activist mothers Victoria Law and China Martens have compiled an anthology aimed at changing this. Fifty-one essays offer practical ideas - outlining specific ways to integrate kids into conferences, rallies and meetings and ensure that babies and toddlers are well tended. The goal? To enable exhausted parents and caregivers to participate in movements for social justice by offering concrete support to them and their offspring. What's more, several contributors address caring for parents and other elders and highlight how best to bolster comrades and friends when they are grieving. Furthermore, the importance of maintaining one's own mental and physical health is spotlighted as a political imperative.

As the chapters unfold, the devastation wrought by ageism, homophobia, transphobia, racism and classism is unveiled. At the same time, anthology contributors take pains to present a liberatory vision, one in which the collective good trumps individual betterment and where what goes on behind closed doors matters.

Jessica Trimbath's "The Red Crayon" is a case in point. A stark look at the intersection of race, class and gender, she brings readers into the waiting room of Novum Pharmaceutical Research, where a small band of women, some with kids in tow, sit and wait. All are eager to participate in a paid study of Levonorgestrel/ethinyl estradiol and pooh-pooh possible side effects such as breast tenderness and vomiting, anxiety and blood clots. After all, it sounds like easy money.

Trimbath's description of the place is unsettling: "The tension in the waiting room rises as the kids get more bored and mothers get angrier," she writes. "Last time I was here, a mother hit her son in the face and I stood up and started yelling, telling her I was going to call the police. I threw down the words child abuse and she threw down white bitch and we stood there screaming at each other, both of us tired and triggered, two adult children, survivors of abuse and addiction."

This particular story has a relatively happy ending; the two women eventually make nice and a truce is called. Yet the bigger question remains: how can we support one another in meaningful ways while simultaneously meeting the social, emotional and material needs of our children?

Mariah Boone's "Lactivists Do It Better: What Radical Parents' Allies Can Learn from La Leche League International" presents a standard that should be sacrosanct: "No one takes any activist less seriously because she has a child on her lap at a La Leche League conference and there are always willing arms to pass children among whenever they are needed," she writes. "Marches and events are planned under the assumption that children of various ages will be involved and all activities take into account the needs of mothers and children."

Needs, of course, are always diverse, but planners of the 2009 City From Below conference in Baltimore are celebrated for their attempt to meet them. According to writers Sine Hwang Jensen, Harriet Moon Smith and China Martens, the confab initiated something called Kidz City. Far beyond a narrow conception of child care, Kidz City boasted volunteers who ran fun workshops and activities specifically for youth, teaching them about composting, seed-bombing the neighborhood, and later engaging in banner- and sign-painting. In addition, a workshop called Genderful World encouraged the kids to dress wildly, wearing clothes picked from a costume box.

Some of these activities were conjured up by Britain's four-year-old Child Rearing Against Patriarchy Collective (yes, they go by the unfortunate acronym, CRAP), a group that provides care and offers hands-on advice for those wishing to make activism more family-friendly. Their chapter in the book gives instructions to anyone wishing to participate in a Kids or Family Bloc at a demonstration, march or rally. Start planning early, they begin. "Give yourself plenty of time to get to meeting points and allow for nappy changes, nose bleeds, tantrums, and all the weird and wonderful things that go with bringing children anywhere." Then, once at the event site, find the person who is responsible for providing first aid. Also find the Kids Bloc representative who will serve as the liaison for transmission of any crucial information. If you want to protect yourself or your children from photographers, they continue, use masks or face paint. Lastly, organizers are told to compile a list with the names and phone numbers of each child and his or her caregiver/s, plus info on allergies, medications and other health data that might be relevant. Lastly, they urge organizers to create a mechanism for post-event feedback.

As for meetings and conferences, the CRAP Collective makes clear that: "child and family provision should not be an afterthought but an integral part of every event. Ask non-parents to provide a kids' version of the adult workshops so that the younger generation feels involved and respected for their participation." An example: a climate change workshop geared to elementary school kids that sensitizes them to global warming and leads to collaboration between adults and children.

Similar to CRAP's anarcho-feminist model, Don't Leave Your Friends Behind zeroes in on Mexico's Zapatistas and heralds the way they integrate children into daily activities. At meetings and conferences, Victoria Law writes, "babies sometimes cry, but no one takes much notice and, unlike meetings and events in the north, no one dares suggest that the mothers leave.... The Zapatistas incorporate their children into the struggle, teaching not only with stories and words, but also by example."

Other contributors to the anthology chime in to add a host of divergent perspectives on what is needed to make activism possible. Among them are Clayton Dewey's "Babyproofing for Punks," which addresses the need for safety and hygiene in places the child may visit. Mikaela Shafer suggests ways to support parents who are in mourning for a child who has passed away, and Amariah Love offers tips on organizing a local child care collective to work at events coordinated by progressive groups. Jennifer Silverman's jolting piece describes ways to deal with kids with special needs, and reminds us that "17 percent of children [in the United States] have a developmental or behavioral disability including autism, mental retardation, or ADHD as well as delays in language or other areas."

All told, the collection is stimulating, and whether we are parents, eldercare providers, or simply concerned human beings, inclusivity - not leaving anyone behind - is key to making the changes we wish to see. After all, if another world is possible, doesn't it have to include the young, the old and the in between - whether able-bodied or not?

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Go to China Martens's Author Page




A Stronger Movement Against War

by Michael Fiorentino
WIN REVIEW

Fall 2012



This impressive collection of essays, edited by Elizabeth Betita Martinez, Matt Meyer, and Mandy Carter, and put out by the War Resisters League in conjunction with PM Press, is a timely political contribution. The central theme of the book revolves around the challenge of building a viable antiwar movement that simultaneously challenges U.S. imperialism abroad and institutional racism and other forms of oppression at home. The editors offer up a broad collection of contemporary and historical voices who grapple with this fundamental challenge facing dissidents and dreamers in the United States.



Under the Democratic presidency of Barack Obama, the antiwar movement has entered temporary (one hopes) hibernation. Obama’s rhetorical departure from the war mongering Bush administration led many to believe that we would be entering a new era of U.S. foreign policy.

Instead, we have seen a troop surge in Afghanistan, no end to the occupation of Iraq, lockstep support for Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians, the bombing of Libya, and a proliferation of deadly drone warfare. Furthermore, Bradley Manning, a hero for the antiwar left if there ever was one, is languishing in a military prison for the crime of exposing the inner workings of U.S. imperialism.



However, in spite of the Obama administration’s hawkish policies, the antiwar movement is at a historically weak point. In the first few years of the war in Iraq, the infrastructure of the movement was capable of pulling hundreds of thousands into the streets. Today, national marches range in the thousands; the continuity is important, but the scale has been vastly reduced. Efforts around freeing Bradley Manning, and rallies in solidarity with the Arab Spring, are also important components of a new movement. But militant, large scale street demonstrations explicitly challenging the Empire’s wars abroad are missing from the political terrain. What was once a formidable national social movement is now largely a connection of smaller scale efforts with no viable national center capable of organizing and coordinating a mass movement.



However, the current impasse offers movement activists the opportunity to develop strategy and ponder. It is to the editors’ credit that the collection of essays does not attempt to put forward one political perspective, but rather allows the reader to engage in a series of debates from movement activists then and now. Early on, the tone is set by a fascinating debate between Robert F. Williams, head of the Monroe, NC branch of the NAACP and an advocate of black armed self-defense against white terror, and activists arguing for a policy of nonviolence in the civil rights movement. Williams, a Marine who served abroad during the Korean War, was radicalized by the disconnect between the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling and the harsh realties of continued segregation upon his return. In the face of white terrorism, Williams argued that Blacks should arm themselves and use violence in self defense. “The fact that any racial brutal- ity may cause white blood to flow as well as Negroes is lessen- ing racial tension.” Arguing against Williams, among others, is Martin Luther King Jr.

He answers Williams with the following: “There is more power in socially organized masses than there is in guns in the hands of few desperate men.” One can imagine a new left that would incorporate such a culture of healthy debate, in which various strategies are debated with frank honesty and mutual respect.



As the book argues, a rejuvenated antiwar movement, if it is to survive and thrive, will need to be firmly antiracist. The ongoing (albeit downsized) occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan have required heavy doses of Islamophobia. To challenge the logic of imperialism is to challenge the argument that Arabs and Muslims are incapable of democracy. But the book forces us to ask a deep question: How do we construct a viable antiwar movement in the United States that confronts the institutional racism right here at home? The section “Chicken and Eggs: War, Race, and Class” provides the reader with helpful historical context. In particular, Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s piece stands out as a lucid explanation of the connection between mass incarceration of people of color and militarism.



Several essays in the section “Where Do We Go From Here? Organizing Against War and Racism” deal with the issue of minority participation in the antiwar movement. “Not Showing Up: Blacks, Military Recruitment, and the Anti-War Movement” tackles the issue head on. Many antiwar demonstrations are predominantly white, even though Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately affected by the “poverty draft” and the budget cuts to public services that are a corollary to billions spent at war abroad. As author Kenyon Farrow notes, “...Blacks are about 13 percent of the total U.S. population and make up nearly a quarter of all Army enlistees.” Farrow argues for a more nuanced conception of what qualifies as antiwar “resistance” in regards to the African American community. “Activists define resistance in a very narrow way,” writes Kai Lumumba Barrow, a longtime activist and Northeast coordinator for Critical Resistance. Barrow says that while marches, rallies, and sit-ins are the most coherent forms of resistance for many whites, Blacks have also resisted through armed struggle, cultural production, and more subtle tactics.” Furthermore, “the left needs to develop strategies that are cognizant to the barriers to organizing that Black communities face. These include the militarization of Black communities via policing, public housing, and public schools.

”

The collection ultimately raises more questions than it does provide answers. But in this moment of reflection and regrouping, this is exactly what antiwar activists will find helpful and edifying.




Michael Fiorentino is an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. In high school, he organized with the Campus Anti-War Network against military recruitment. He has also been active in Palestine solidarity organizing through the Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine. He is a contributor to the International Socialist Review and SocialistWorker.org.

Buy this book now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Matt Meyer's Author Page now




Civil Rights Campaigner to Get Honorary Degree

by Gareth McPherson
Cambridge News
October 1, 2012

A civil rights campaigner who spent thirty-one years locked up in a notorious American prison for a crime he did not commit is among those to be given an honorary degree by a Cambridge university.

Former Black Panther Robert King, who was the only freed member of the black rights group, the Angola 3, will be at Anglia Ruskin University on Tuesday, October 9, to pick up his degree and take part in a free discussion.

He will join artist and social critic Grayson Perry, photographer Arthur Edwards, and former NHS supremo Marco Cereste, among others, in receiving the honour next week.

The Angola 3 protested against segregation, corruption and abuse facing the largely black prison population within Angola, a prison in Louisiana.

Human rights groups say two of the Angola 3, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, were targeted because of their campaign and convicted for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller despite there being no physical evidence against them.

They say the main eyewitness was bribed and promised freedom by the warden in exchange for testifying while another witness was legally blind.

Mr King, who was thrown in the jail for the Miller murder and was convicted of another murder, spent twenty-nine years in solitary confinement
—in a 6ft by 9ft cell—before his conviction was overturned and he was released in 2001.

The other members of the Angola 3 are still in solitary confinement forty years after being convicted.

Speaking about his degree, Mr. King said: “As the only freed member of the Angola 3, I am honoured and humbled to be accepting this honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Many people have been involved in my evolution and for this I am grateful. So I will accept this award also in recognition of them, especially to my comrades Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace who are still fighting for freedom after 40 years in solitary confinement, to all political prisoners and to all those who fight for justice.”

The discussion, which includes a screening of a documentary narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, will be held at the ARU campus, in East Road, from 6pm.

gareth.mcpherson@cambridge-news.co.uk

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Gabriel Kuhn's All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution- A Review

by Ralf Hoffrogge
workerscontrol.net
September 20, 2011

Every schoolchild on the globe knows something about the Russian Revolution from 1917. It was the origin of a state called Soviet Union and a political confrontation later known as the cold war which shaped the twentieth century longer than any other political conflict.

Unlike the crucial events of 1917, the German Revolution of 1918 is not part of the global memory. It did not erect a socialist state as hoped by many of its protagonists and instead ended with a fragile republic that lasted only twelve years and was destroyed by the Nazi Party in 1933.

Therefore most readers might connect the German Revolution with the tragical death of Rosa Luxemburg, murdered by counter-revolutionary militias in January 1919. But Luxemburg became a legend not for being a martyr of the German Revolution. She is famous because of her brilliant writings that inspired not only historians and marxist economics but also leftist feminism and anticolonial struggles.

But, and this is demonstrated by Gabriel Kuhn and his outstanding edition—the German Revolution was more than Rosa Luxemburg. She and her writings were part of a social struggle that dated way back into the class conflics of pre-war Europe and found an eruption in the Revolutionary Wave of 1917-1919.

Kuhn features many documents by Luxemburg that show her as a revolutionary activist, trying to push forward the revolution with her Spartacus League, a political formation that broke away from the German socialists when they started supporting the German Government in WWI.

But Kuhn does not reduce the antiwar-opposition and the revolutionary effort to Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and the Spartacists as it was done by marxist and non-marxist scholars alike during the cold war. His documentary history also presents documents from Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam, the famous Munich anarchists that took part in the struggle for a councils´ republic in Bavaria. He also presents documents from Bremen, Brunswick, Wilhelmshaven and Kiel—German cities that were taken over by workers´ uprisings or sailors and soldiers in mutiny. These original sources make clear that the German Revolution was not orchestrated by a political vanguard of some sort but a spontaneous eruption of the whole population. Very different groups from centrist social democrats to radical anarchists participated in the events, many others only got radicalized during the events.

One such group that formed during WWI were the "Revolutionary Stewards", a group of rank and file unionists. They started with strikes for better wages in the war industry and ended up being one of the most radical advocates of a councils´ republic in Germany. When the Revolution unfolded in November 1918 this group was far more influential then Liebknecht and the Spartacists, because unlike them it had a wide network of supporters in the factories and workshops. By organizing three political mass strikes from 1916 to 1918 the group was decisive to bring along the political change that Germany saw in 1918.

Kuhn presents several texts by Richard Müller and Ernst Däumig, who were both spokesmen for the Revolutionary Stewards. None of their writings has ever been translated into English before, which makes Kuhn´s edition an achievement. Readers familiar with the historiography of the German Revolution will notice that some more systematic writings of Müller and Däumig on the council-system are missing because Kuhn focusses on the historical events. But nevertheless—by bringing in this group and others, framing the well-known names of Luxemburg and Liebknecht with the wider array of political groups active in Germany around 1918, Kuhn presents a well-balanced account of the German Revolution.

The edition comes with extensive annotations, an introduction and an index, which makes this book useful for scholars and students of the field, while others might just let themselves taken away by the original texts presented, most of them written during or shortly after the revolutionary events and still transporting the enthusiasm of that time.

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Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here in the Huffington Post

by Deborah Stambler
The Huffington Post
September 24, 2012

As painful as it is to watch the news of the Middle East and the explosive reaction caused by the offensive film, Innocence of Muslims, it is impossible to look away. With this in mind, I've been reading the anthology of prose and poetry, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5, 2007 Bombing of Baghdad's "Street of Booksellers" (edited by Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi).

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here
looks squarely at what was lost five years ago when a bomb destroyed the bookseller's street in Baghdad. Thirty people died and at least 100 were wounded. While acknowledging the deep loss, the anthology seeks to rekindle and celebrate the spirit of writing, art and the creative, enduring human spirit.

Anthony Shadid, journalist and writer who died earlier this year in Syria, wrote the first piece in the book. It's a reprinted essay from the Washington Post profiling Mohammed Hayawi of the Renaissance Bookstore on al-Mutanabbi Street. Hayawi was killed in the bombing. Shadid wrote, "Al-Mutanabbi Street always seemed to tell a story of Iraq . . . . In the months after the invasion, al-Mutanabbi Street revived into an intellectual free-for-all . . . Al-Mutanabbi Street today tells another story."

One wonders what Shadid with his eloquent, informed prose would make of the story coming out of the Middle East today based on the attack to Islam that Innocence of Muslims represents for some and the anti-American feelings it has fueled. Reading this anthology, one is reminded of the beauty, hope and free exchange of ideas and words that sustains our human culture. The events unfolding currently call into question where the line is drawn between free expression that furthers culture and what is simply ignorant, hateful speech.

In his poem, What Prayer, Robert Perry writes, "The dark fire that makes/ the ordinary impossible." The poets and writers respond over and over to the destruction, the fear, the loss and ultimately, the need to continue. They bring al-Mutanabbi Street to life. Poet Fadhil al-Azzawi, in his poem "Verses for Everyday Use," writes "At the end of the day the fisherman always throws his torn net into the river."

The river is a symbol that appears many times in the anthology. Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, references the attack on Baghdad in 1258 by Mongols in her contributed essay. From this attack:

"It was said that the river Tigris became red one day and black the next day, and it was said that it became red with the blood of the victims that the invaders murdered, and it became black with the ink of the countless books from the libraries and universities. This image is symbolic of the connection between art, or imagination, and life. You cannot separate imagination from life. The moment you stop imagining, you will stop living."

Throughout Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, there is a feeling of call and response. Though the poets and writers included in the anthology created their pieces separately, there is a strong feeling of communal response. Many of the pieces answer to each other in reflecting on history and personal memories, speaking out against the violence and keeping alive the symbols and spirit of al-Mutanabbi Street. They call out for the life of a street in Baghdad that can speak to us all.

The symbol of the river, of water, of life and the image of the fisherman throwing in his torn net are tricks of the poet to turn real life into art, and keep art rooted in real life. Balancing prose and poetry, story and symbol, the anthology is a tribute to those who lived and died on al-Mutanabbi Street and the deep tradition of reading and writing that has always marked Iraqi culture. Beau Beausoleil created Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here as part of an ongoing project along with broadsides and artists' books. Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is a fine collection of prose and poetry by international writers that helps us turn our gaze, our hearts and minds to the free expression that connects us all. The anthology and other parts of the project firmly place the imagination and creative expression in its rightful place, with each of us -- in our homes, on our streets and in our consciousness.

To order your copy of Al-Mutanabbi Street Streets Here, go to pmpress.org. You can find out more about the project, exhibits of the broadsides and artists' books and readings at their Facebook page. 

I interviewed project creator Beau Beausoleil in March to mark the fifth anniversary of the al-Mutanabbi Street bombing with a series of exhibits and readings. You can find that interview at www.betweenpages.org.

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They Want the Money, So Do We: Sex, Race and Class, in Mute Magazine

By Madam Tlank
Mute Magazine
September 18, 2012

In memoriam, Shulamith Firestone
 
Selma James is a great speaker. This collection of her writing from 1952-2011 shows that the same clarity and precision are also found in her written works. This has something to do with her thought and writing process. Her first pamphlet, 'about being a housewife and about the women in my working-class neighbourhood', was revised and sharpened in response to comments (most of which 'I disagreed with') from 'my neighbours, who were not "political"'. Committed to this 'collective writing' and to collective organising, James is driven to be precise and clear: 'I hate imprecision. It’s the enemy'. There is not one imprecise line here (unless it is someone else’s she is attacking). The materialistic urgency with which James cuts through the claims of official feminism, academia, unions, NGOs and other branches of 'brain prostitution' is especially welcome right now for those of us recently bereaved of Shulamith Firestone and in as much need as ever of a fierce Marxist feminism grounded in 'collective, social action by people whose eye contact with reality is not on the whole mediated by learned tomes'.1 James herself refused to go to university because 'I was afraid it would ruin my mind'.
 
One argument running throughout the book is about the reproduction of capitalist hierarchy within the working class, manifest in divisions such as waged/unwaged, women/men, black/white, '3rd'/'1st' world, child/adult.2 Unions (e.g. in representing only waged/'legal'/specific-sector workers) and parts of the left ignore and exacerbate these divisions; the Wages for Housework campaign set out to make them visible and quantifiable. Consistent through 60 years of James' political strategy is this principle: 'the weakest parts of the working class (the unwaged) have to figure out how they can fight and on that basis show the dominant parts of the working class how it is to be done'. If one sector loses, all sectors lose, but even if one sector wins without the others it usually translates into a defeat, 'for in the disparity of power within the class is precisely the strength of capital'. Or as she puts it elsewhere: 'With victories like that, we don't need defeats'. The practical lesson: 'Those with more power must unite with us with less because we know better what their interests are than they know themselves'.
 
But in order to struggle against intra-class hierarchy, its existence must be acknowledged. Therefore James has little patience with the 'horizontalism' through which elements of the academic and activist left (not to speak of management theorists) would simply wish division away. 'Horizontalism assumes that there are no differences among us. Well, there are […] And one of the things which I expect my leadership to do is to expose the hierarchy so that we can undermine it, not hide it, not make believe it isn’t there, not "Raise our consciousness" so we don't notice it'. And: 'when divisions are called "diversity", the problems become cultural and no one need address how and why we are divided […] how can you avoid naming the divisions among us as part of addressing what to do about them'.
 
A second continuous thread, entangled at every point with the first, is the fight against work. Not for 'decent', 'meaningful' or 'well paid' work, but against the indignity of labour as such. 'Work is not just another issue', it is 'the essence of capitalism, which must be destroyed, root and branch'. In James' reading of Marx and of life, the wage relation structures all social relations. To break the neck of the system, we must fight against work. To fight against work, we must understand precisely what constitutes work in capitalism. Thus, all unwaged work that feeds into the capitalist social relation must be accounted for. Hence, wages for housework.3 James speaks in defence of mothers and ready to fight as one of them when she states that women's work 'is not outside the wage relation. […] The wage and the wage relation, often in form of a man’s wage, commands the work we do; the wage and the wage relation dominates the society we do this work for, and thus most directly dominates us'. Housework, care work is labour taking place within the capitalist relation. It must be refused even though it involves the well-being of other human beings (which is always the unfair pressure put upon nurses or teachers who go out on strike).
 
Then there is James' beef with what generally passes for feminism, and consequently with academic 'movement managers' (along with those in local government, unions, NGOs etc.). As I followed James' arguments and criticism over these 60 years I was struck by how clear sighted she has been all along about what academic thought and professional advocacy might do to the movement. The threat of incorporation was obvious to her all along: 'The challenge to the women’s movement is to find modes of struggle which, while they liberate women from the home, at the same time avoid a double slavery and prevent another degree of capitalist control and regimentation'. Demands for 'equal pay, free twenty-four-hour childcare, equal educational opportunity and free birth control and abortion on demand' – could be 'vital' if 'incorporated into a wider struggle', but as they stand 'they accept that we not have the children we can't afford; that the State facilities keep the children we can afford for as long as twenty-four hours a day; and that these children have equal chance to be conditioned and trained to sell themselves competitively with each other on the labor market for equal pay. By themselves these are not just co-optable demands. They are capitalist planning'. This was written in 1972; perhaps it will be heeded some time after 2012. In the meantime, sponsored feminists debate whether women 'can have it all' (i.e. children AND a high-end professional career), while 'strategy' means getting more women onto FTSE 100 boards.
 
One of James' great strengths is how materialist she is. She ALWAYS asks where the money comes from? Who gets what? What for? Etc. One of the best pieces in this book, 'Reflections on a Conference', does this so acutely it’s hilarious. 'And so the […] consideration that I felt was missing in the discussion yesterday […] was money. It’s not a dirty word, especially for those of us who don’t have much.'
 
This materialism always insists on the totality of social relations, but there's nothing abstract about it: it's decisive again and again on concrete particulars.
 
For example, on government:

There is no cake [of which some can have a slice and others can’t], there is no budget, there is only the wealth which we have made and which they have stolen.
 
On unions and the 'right to work':
You would think it is immoral to be disengaged from exploitation. The only thing “wrong” with unemployment is that you don’t get a pay packet.
 
On feminism:
The theory of patriarchy cut off from and prioritized over class, race, etc. , is a scabs’ charter.
 
On disciplines and discipline:

Psychology itself by its nature is a prime weapon of manipulation. It does not acquire another nature when wielded by women in a movement for liberation. Quite the reverse [...]

Women's liberation needs:
– to destroy sociology as the ideology of the social services which bases itself on the proposition that society is 'the norm' [...]
– to destroy psychology and psychiatry which spend their time convincing us that our 'problems' are personal hang-ups and that we must adjust to a lunatic world [...] If we don't deal with them, they will deal with us.
– to discredit once and for all social workers, progressive educators, marriage guidance counsellors, and the whole army of experts whose function is to keep men, women and children functioning within the social framework, each by their own special blend of social frontal lobotomy.
 
And ultimately on all of the above:
Everything I have been saying assumes that the wage (what capital pays us) is the crucial point of conflict between us and capital. They want the money; so do we. They want the money because they want to force us to work. We want the money because we don't want to be forced to work. We understand each other perfectly; we just disagree.
 
Footnotes
 
1 Citing Virginia Woolf's The Three Guineas, New York: Penguin, 1972, James writes: 'When a woman entered the professions, they were involved in "brain prostitution" [...] But when a brain seller has sold her brain, its anemic, vicious and diseased progeny are let loose upon the world to infect and corrupt and sow the seeds of disease in others.'
2 Some of Firestone's best arguments reappear here, see: Shulamith Firestone, 'Down with Childhood', in The Dialectic of Sex, London: Paladin Press, 1972.
3 Note the contrast with Stella Sandford's concept of 'caring work/ maternal labour', which Sandford posits as somehow not quite subsumable under capital. See: Mme Tlank and Mira Mattar, 'Past Caring', Mute vol.3, No.2, http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/past-caring

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Lessons From Korea: Asia's Unknown Uprisings in Counterpunch

by Rob Jacobs
Counterpunch.org
Weekend Edition, October 12-14, 2012

The history of the Korean people is one that includes decades of colonial oppression and subterfuge, war, and untold savageries in the execution of both. Some of the most brutal of said savagery was employed against the Korean people in the name of the United States and its fight against the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, Korea’s history is also filled with a legacy of resistance that makes most other such histories pale in comparison. Unfortunately, very little is known of this history in the west. Blame it on western arrogance or chalk it up as another symptom of the Orientalist discourse that determines too much intellectual and political opinion in the western hemisphere, the ignorance of this history is to the west’s detriment.

A recent book hopes to render some of that ignorance moot. Part of a two volume set, the first volume of George Katisaficas’ Asia’s Unknown Uprisings covers the social movements of southern Korea in the twentieth century. Katsiaficas, who has spent a good deal of time in Korea, is also the author and editor of several books on social movements, including The Imagination of the New Left: A Global Analysis of 1968 and The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and the Decolonization of Everyday Life. Utilizing Marxist analysis, anarcho-syndicalist sympathies, and an on-the-ground understanding of how revolutionary social movements develop and flourish, Katsiaficas seems to have made his life’s work one of explaining these phenomenon so that others can apply the lessons he patiently explains. His latest work only adds to this endeavor.

For those unfamiliar with Korean history, Katsiaficas provides a quick overview. After discussing his historiographical approach that emphasizes the role social movements play in making history (as opposed to so-called great men), he guides the reader through the various Japanese occupations and colonization of the Korean peninsula. He provides a look at the opposition to that presence and how that opposition was either repressed or co-opted. The latter is a theme Katsiaficas returns to later in the text; especially when discussing the ability of modern capitalism to adapt to the demands of liberation movements without acceding control. This latter scenario should be all too familiar to U.S. readers, given the historical role played by U.S. mainstream political parties in doing exactly that.

After setting the context, Katsiaficas begins detailing the history of the Koreas after World War Two. Like the history of many colonized nations after that war, Korea’s is a history replete with betrayal and the domination of the nation by the very same forces the citizens thought they had thrown out when the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Just like in the case of the Vietnamese, the defeat of Japan did not bring the end of outside rule or colonial oppression. Instead, the United States moved its forces into Korea and made the same right-wing Koreans that had collaborated with the Japanese oppressors the overseers of the U.S. occupation. Despite this, the existence of citizen’s committees that had formed during the war to fight against Japanese colonialism were able to maintain a fair amount of control in the early years after the war. As time went on, however, these forces were arrested, attacked, co-opted or exiled to northern Korea where the Soviet Union let them exist–even encouraged them. Then the Korean War erupted, which turned out to be one of humanity’s bloodiest conflicts, especially for the Korean people. It is estimated five million Koreans died, many of them in U.S. air raids and massacres by U.S. and southern Korean forces fighting with the US. The nation of Korea would never be the same. After three years of conflict, the hostilities ended with nothing truly settled. The southern half of the nation was ruled by a government that was essentially fascist. Koreans on either side of the 35th parallel (the line of separation determined by the UN Security Council at the request of Washington) could no longer visit relatives or friends on the other side. In short, the Korean people were in worse straits than before the bloodshed.

This is when Katsiaficas story truly begins. The story is a history full of people’s uprisings and protests; repression and successes. Told in a manner quite readable, Katisaficas spreads the history of Korea’s social movements across the pages of his text. The story told is not just a fascinating history. It is also full of lessons for those who fight for social change in their own countries. Foremost among these lessons is that change does not come overnight. Indeed, it might not come in the course of a generation. Yet, if a people continue to struggle for social and economic justice, the fruits of their efforts will eventually become real. This is crucial, especially in today’s world where people from all walks of life expect resolutions to happen as quickly as they do on television.

The first volume of Asia’s Unknown Uprisings is an important book. For too long, western historians, activists and students of history have focused mostly on their own histories. This has created a myopic vision and understanding that has limited historians’ ability to analyze their world and social justice activists’ ability to change it. This study has been a long time coming. The scholarship and pen of George Katsiaficas has made it worth the wait.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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About Face Reviewed in Z Mag

by Gerry Condon and Helen Jaccard
Z Mag
September 2012

They are known as “war resisters,” “GI resisters,” and “conscientious objectors.” That is what their friends and supporters call them. They are called many other names too, like “cowards and traitors.” But who are they really? Why did they join the military in the first place? What changed their minds about going to war?
 
About Face is a collection of moving personal stories told by the resisters. They were compiled by members of Courage To Resist, the Oakland, California-based collective that has taken the lead in publicizing and supporting the legal and political struggles of today’s military resisters. Sarah Lazare’s introduction and her interview with Noam Chomsky addresses some misconceptions about resistance within the military. “The truth is that GI resistance is happening not despite a so-called all-volunteer force, but because of it. In order to understand this, two false assumptions must be dispelled: the assumption that recruits are not coerced into today’s military and that those who sign up voluntarily cannot change their minds and decide to take a stand against the war.” While each story is unique, there are common threads:

    •    economic pressures that led them to enlist
    •    lies of military recruiters
    •    the brutality of military training
    •    discovering the truth about war and occupation
    •    making the decision to resist
    •    the difficult struggle to survive the consequences of that decision 

Samantha Schutz had been “In an inpatient program in my local hospital for deep depression…my recruiter had told me not to put that stuff on the application…. Just the first week, I was experiencing a lot of the same depression I dealt with for about five years solid before I got into the military.” Samantha tried repeatedly to be discharged but ended up in Iraq and subsequently going AWOL, multiple times. She is now discharged but denied all veterans benefits.
 
Kimberly Rivera experienced extremely aggressive recruiting at her high school. “When they get your rosters from school, they start calling your home; they start setting up their tables again in the lunchroom, continuing to do their spiel on you over and over and over.” After testing, “They gave me three choices of what I could do. So I chose a job, but not knowing that when I chose my job I was actually signing a military contract.” Soon Rivera found herself in Iraq, apart from her husband and two children, and wondering what she was doing there.
 
Ryan Johnson “wanted to serve my country, but I didn’t want to be taking people’s lives in the process…. I requested a job that would be mostly clerical…. They told me I’d be in a warehouse in the United States ordering parts.” Although they said he would be a supply clerk, he found out he was to be sent to Iraq to man a machine gun on a Humvee. So Johnson went AWOL.
 
Tim Richard signed up with the National Guard, thinking he would be doing disaster relief. “They had actually promised a lot more money to me when I joined.”
 
Johnson would not go to Iraq. Kimberly Rivera would not return to Iraq after returning home on leave. Both eventually fled to Canada, where they have applied for political refugee status, a long uphill struggle with no encouragement from Canada’s Conservative government.
 
Tim Richard’s father was Canadian, so he had an easy time claiming Canadian citizenship for himself. All three soldiers have received support from the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada, and are working to help some of the estimated 300 U.S. war resisters in Canada.
 
Robin Long also went AWOL to Canada but he was less fortunate. The Canadian government deported him back to the U.S., where he was court-martialed and sentenced to 15 months in prison.
 
Starting to See Things Differently
 
André Shepherd graduated from Kent State University with a degree in computer science. “The problem was, I graduated when the dot-com bubble burst...so I couldn’t get a job.... Mentally, I felt like I not only had let myself down, but I’d let my family down, too, because I had a set goal in life—to complete college, have a house, have a family, and to actually do something that would make the world at least a little bit better place and show my parents that I can live life on my own. And since it didn’t work out that way, it was pretty distressing.”
 
Shepherd ended up living in his car before running into an Army recruiter. “All I had to do was sign up for a few years and I would have all of these benefits.” Shepherd joined the Army and was trained to maintain Apache helicopters before being sent to Iraq in September 2004.
 
 “When I was in Iraq, the first thing that I noticed was when the local population would come into our post. When you liberate a people, they are usually overjoyed to see you. They’re happy that you want to help them and they welcome you with open arms. When I would see the Iraqi population in the morning on my way to work, they didn’t look like they were in any way happy to see us. They looked like they were either afraid of me—like I was going to hurt them—or if I turned my back without my weapon they would probably want to kill me. So that started me thinking, ‘Okay, what’s going on here because I thought that we were supposed to be the good guys and everybody’s looking at me like I’m crazy.
 
“So I started to do research...and I started to see little inconsistencies in what I was reading, you know, between what the Bush administration was telling everybody and what was actually happening.... Once I pretty much figured out the truth, that this was basically nothing but a fraud, not only on the American people, but on the entire world, I resolved that I would not go on another deployment to Iraq.”
 
André Shepherd went AWOL in Germany where he has become a cause celebré as the first U.S. soldier of this era to seek political asylum in Europe. He is now married to a German woman and is back in school studying to be a computer network administrator.
 
David Cortelyou, from Washington state, was getting nowhere in his search for jobs, so he joined the Army when he was 18 and soon found himself in Iraq. His unit was supposed to protect the Cavalry, but his battalion commander decided that his platoon was too valuable to lose on such a mission. “The cav scouts got mutilated…. I can’t remember how many memorial services I went to where I talked to the guys afterward and they told me about what was going on. Their commander was sending them down ‘black routes,’ which are roads where there is 100 percent chance that you’re going to get hit. Halfway to the objective, they’d have to turn around and come back because they were loaded down with casualties, dead or otherwise.”
 
Courtelyou continued: “About two months after returning from Iraq I started having nightmares and getting real tense and nervous and anxious about everything.... My platoon was, you know, the John Wayne handbook—tough skinned, gutsy, big burly guys, don’t cry, don’t talk about problems, and all that macho bullshit. So instead of talking to anybody about it, I started burning myself to feel human, because a lot of that shit that happened downrange wasn’t human.” A sergeant who saw the burns on his hands and wrists told Cortelyou, “Hey, man, did you know you can get in trouble for damaging government property?”
 
“I was pissed. I was furious. For one, I’m already having problems because I got this feeling like I’ve turned into a machine—a machine that can kill without second thoughts, a machine that can look at a dead person and laugh about it. So I’m already having a little bit of identity issues and now I’m told that I’m government property and I’m damaging it? If this is how you’re going to react to a soldier having a problem, I’m done. So I went AWOL . . . .for 29 days and turned myself in.”
 
Both the mental health specialist and the chaplain were very poor at listening and wanted him to go to the psychiatrist to get pills. “Pills for your insomnia, pills for your anger, your aggressiveness, your anxiousness, whatever . . . .I didn’t feel comfortable with pills because after I came back from Iraq . . . .I had attempted suicide hundreds of times by taking countless amounts of pills . . . and drowning them with bottles of vodka. If I wanted to get addicted to something to drown my sorrows, I could do it without the Army’s consent . . . But I can’t be in the military. It’s not that I don’t want to be, I can’t. I can’t stand being around people in uniform, I can’t stand being in uniform because every day it is a constant, 25-hour, 7-days-a-week reminder of not only what I did, but what I witnessed and kept my mouth shut too.”
 
He went AWOL again, this time for longer, turned himself in, and was finally discharged in April 2008. David Cortelyou plans to go to college without using the GI bill. He wants nothing to do with the military.
 
Desertion, Conscience Objection, Resistance
 
Skyler James joined the Army in 2006 at the strong urging of her family, despite being opposed to the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and despite being an out lesbian. “In basic training, I was being ridiculed for being an out lesbian. I was vaguely familiar with the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. When I joined I thought that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal and that I wouldn’t get found out. There was one incident that still stings in my mind. I was in AIT (Advanced Infantry Training) and I was coming back from the bowling alley and somebody ran up behind me and screamed out ‘dyke.’ The next thing I know I got punched in the back of the head.... Later, I was receiving hate letters on my door, threatening to injure me and to come into my room at night and kill me. So I had a talk with another soldier who was in the same battalion and we both decided it would be best for us to leave.”
 
Skyler James contacted the War Resisters Support Campaign. “They were very helpful. If we had not contacted them, we probably would not be where we are right now. I’m allowed to work in this country. I have a job. I have a nice little apartment and so does my friend, and we’re both happy. . . . My sexuality has not been an issue at all in Canada. They have welcomed me with open arms.”
 
The issue of persecution due to her sexual orientation is being considered by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board to which Skyler James has applied for refugee status. “In my opinion, my case could go either way. It’s like a pendulum. Like on one side of it, I’m relaxed and I’m enjoying a very comfortable lifestyle. And then on the other side, I could be deported at anytime, and I’m freaked out.”
 
Bradley Manning and Whistle-blowing
 
The final few sections of About Face offer some bonus gems, including one about Operation Recovery, a campaign launched by Iraq Veterans Against the War to save soldiers who are already physically or psychologically injured by war from being re-deployed. Another gem is editor Buff Whitman-Bradley’s compelling interview with Vietnam-era whistle-blower Daniel Ellsburg of Pentagon Papers fame, about the alleged Wikileaks whistle-blower, Army PFC Bradley Manning.
 
Josh Steiber and Ethan McCord, two soldiers who were part of the Collateral Murder operation, published an “Open Letter of Reconciliation and Responsibility to the Iraqi People.” The soldiers’ moving letters, re-published at the end of About Face, conclude: “Please accept our apology, our sorrow, our care, and our dedication to change from the inside out. We are doing what we can to speak out against wars and military policies responsible for what happened to you and your loved ones.”
 
We highly recommend this book. It is must reading for young people who are being targeted by military recruiters and for all who wish to better understand what led these young men and women to enlist and then to resist.


Gerry Condon & Helen Jaccard, members of Veterans For Peace, support U.S. war resisters who are seeking sanctuary.

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Geronimo's Fire and Flames reviewed by the Vancouver Media Co-op

Vancouver Media Co-op
September 24, 2012

Back when I was first becoming involved in the North American anarchist movement, in the late 1980s, the W. German Autonomists were to us what the Greek anarchists are to today's generation of militants: a source of new ideas, tactics, slogans, and above all inspiration.

I worked with comrades that translated texts from German, including communiques and discussion papers, with the hope of spreading Autonomist ideas and methods throughout N. America. This included Resistance (published in Vancouver) and Arm the Spirit (published in Toronto). By 1992, in fact, there was already a copy of Fire and Flames translated which we distributed and planned on one day publishing.

What was perhaps most inspiring about the W. German Autonomists was their power as a radical force in that country. Black blocs were a regular practise, frequently clashing with riot cops in the streets, from occupied buildings (such as the Hafenstraase), or in the forests surrounding the construction sites of industrial projects (especially nuclear plants). Clandestine groups proliferated, carrying out hundreds of low-level sabotage attacks each year (i.e., Autonomous Cells, Militant Cells, etc.), alongside “higher level” actions carried out by urban guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Cells, Rote Zora, and Red Army Faction.

Originally published in Germany in 1990, Fire and Flames is now considered a classic history of the Autonomist movement up to that time. Until now, one of the primary English language accounts of this radical resistance movement has been the writings of George Katsiaficas, a university professor (see The Subversion of Politics). Now an account written by an actual participant is available in English, thanks to Oakland's PM Press.

Writing under the pseudonym 'Geronimo', the author traces the movement's origins from Italy, during massive revolts in the 1960s and '70s involving primarily students and workers (where it was referred to as Autonomia), and the New Left that emerged in W. Germany at this time. He also provides historical context of the situation in West Germany during this same period, and how elements of the anarchist, squatting, feminist, and anti-nuclear movements adopted the theories and practise of autonomy from Italian comrades.

Unlike Katsiaficas' more academic writing, Geronimo's account of the movement's history and development is not that of a professional writer but of an active participant. He presents this history in a highly readable and accessible manner, with short sections devoted to particular campaigns that had considerable impacts on both the movement and W. German society (i.e., the anti-nuclear, squatting, and urban guerrilla struggles).

Included in this history is the development of street fighting techniques from the 1970s to the black bloc tactic of the 1980s (a tactic that first emerged in W. Germany), a fact that led to W. German cops becoming some of the most experienced in riot control in all of Western Europe. There are also accounts of the inherent conflicts with social democrats, liberal pacifists, etc. during campaigns and mobilizations. Along with the text are numerous graphics, photos, and posters from the movement.

According to Edition ID Archiv, a German radical publisher, “The target audience is not the academic middle-class with passive sympathies for rioting, nor the all-knowing critical critics, but the activists of a young generation.”

One of the reasons myself and other comrades placed so much focus on W. German radical resistance in the 1980s was the basic similarities to the US and Canada. The Autonomists provided an example of organizing resistance in an advanced industrialized nation-state, and they did so with an impact. The black bloc may be one of the more obvious examples, but there are many other lessons to be drawn from the W. German Autonomist movement. For these reasons I highly recommend that all radicals acquire this book and study it.

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