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Grassroots Solutions to American Crises: From Collapse to Action

By Benjamin Dangl
Toward Freedom
July 7th, 2011

Reviewed: Crossing the American Crises: From Collapse To Action, A Documentary Film by Sílvia Leindecker and Michael Fox. Published by PM Press/Estreito Meios Productions.

When the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression hit the US on September 15, 2008, filmmakers Sílvia Leindecker and Michael Fox began a journey across the country to see how the economy was impacting people’s lives. Their interviews, which span two years and nearly 40 states, draw from farmers, truck drivers, homeless people, workers, immigrants and more. The result is the documentary Crossing the American Crises: From Collapse To Action, a film full of desperation, hope and grassroots solutions.

Leindecker and Fox are the makers of the earlier documentary Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas, and Fox was an editor of the book Venezuela Speaks!: Voices From The Grassroots. Like these earlier works, Crossing the American Crises highlights the voices of people participating in grassroots activism and everyday struggles for a better world.

The first stop of their trip is Detroit, where the camera cuts to empty store fronts and factories. “Detroit is what it is because of industry and the industrial revolution, and capitalism, and so-called democracy and how all those failed. And this is what we have left with it,” Jon Blount of the activist collective Detroit Summer tells Leindecker and Fox. Such bits of hard-won insight from streets, factory floors and living rooms across America are interspersed throughout the film.

The next visit is to the Rosebud Lakota Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where they speak with Alfred Bone Shirt. “We’re seeing that there’s a segment of our society that feel we’re left out, neglected, abused; rights are violated. We’re in a depression down here so bad that people just wanna give up.” His words are underscored by footage of the reservation itself, a place crushed by economic depression.

After stops in Utah, Oakland and Los Angeles, they head out onto Route 66, where, Fox tells the camera they want to “see the direct effects on the local community.” And indeed, that is what they find at nearly every stop in their tour; very real life stories of how the US economy is making life difficult for people from coast to coast and everywhere in between.

In New Orleans, they speak with people in the Lower 9th Ward, a neighborhood that was destroyed by Katrina in 2005. Robert Green and his family lived in this community for 38 years before Katrina hit, and at the time of the shooting of the film they were still living in a FEMA trailer. Green is interviewed with his daughter and wife next to a string of empty lots—places where his neighbors’ homes used to be located before the storm destroyed them.

Fox asks Green what he thinks about the government bailout, the major issue of the day. Green tells him, “It’s ironic that it only took [the government] two weeks to issue a $700 billion check. It took them three years after Katrina and this is what you see.” He pointed to the empty lots, saying the names of the families that used to live there. “So basically every house, every family that’s gone actually was a family that should be here now. And if they would have been given the money in two weeks like the way they did in Congress, the way they did in Wall Street, then every last one of these families would have rebuilt their houses, and this whole Gulf Coast area would have been rebuilt because everybody in the Gulf Coast is basically like the people down here: family first.”

This story conveys a sentiment shared by many of the interviewees in this film: outrage at the disparity between the government’s concern for Wall Street over the people bearing the everyday grind of the crisis.

Crossing the American Crises then turns to the hope people felt in the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Yet after the election, the camera cuts to a stream of grim economic news, and stories of people struggling to make ends meet. One college graduate appearing in the film went through 109 job interviews before finally finding a very low-paying position at Staples. A homeless man on the Gulf Coast tells Fox and Leindeker he’ll ask them for money after the interview so he can get some lunch.

On a cold, snowy street corner in New York City, they interview John Lambertus, a homeless man who lost his job in May of 2008 and couldn’t find new work. Lambertus points to a plastic bag he’s carrying, saying, “You see this? This is my blanket, another jacket in case this one gets messed up, and another pair of pants—and that’s my situation.” He worked in a printing press for thirty years before losing his job. “I’ll be 51 in April and I’m in the street,” he says, the cold wind thundering against the microphone.

So what is to be done with all of this bleak news from the American crises? That leads to the second part of the film: Action. Crossing the American Crises goes on to include many solutions to these economic and social problems, focusing on inspiring stories of grassroots alternatives and responses.

There is the Vermont Workers’ Center fighting for affordable healthcare for all, the Green Worker Cooperative in the Bronx that sells recycled building materials, the Santa Fe Alliance in New Mexico advocating for local producers and businesses over tax-dodging multinational chains, and the Iraq Veterans Against the War struggling for veterans’ benefits. There are stories of people working for affordable housing, jobs, better working conditions, improved public transportation and prison justice.

These groups are largely led by the people who are impacted the most by these various crises. Organizers are meeting these challenges in states across the country. “Organizing is the key! Organizing is the key!” JoAnn Watson from the Detroit Council tells a boisterous crowd at the US Social Forum in her city.

Alongside these stories of hopeful organizing is a vision for a better world. “The people have to act through their own organizations to implement their vision of what life should be like,” explains Kathleeen Cleaver, a law professor at Yale University.

That’s a central message of this film – that when the politicians, banks, bosses and economy fail to work for the people, it’s the people that have to form the backbone of movements for economic justice, peace and equality and rights. In the midst of these crises, those movements are already thriving across the US today.

As Robert Green from the Lower 9th Ward says, “Basically, we need to start taking back our government, taking back our taxes, start taking back our control from our elected officials because they’re not putting us first.”

Such insight from people across the country makes Crossing the American Crises an impressive film that captures the spirit of America today. Its stories of human hardship, solidarity and hope paint a portrait of America that is both heart-breaking and inspiring. This documentary is a powerful reminder of the countless social movements working each day to transform this country, from the fields of Oklahoma to the streets of New Orleans.

***

Benjamin Dangl is the author of the new book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). He edits TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

 

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Anarchism and Education in Anarchist Studies

By Abraham DeLeon
University of Texas at San Antonio
Anarchist Studies 19, no. 1 (2011), pg. 107-109

Anarchist theory. The words alone are enough to strike fear in most that hear them, making anarchism often maligned and misunderstood. In education, radical theories have been centered in Marxism in the works of scholars like Paulo Freire and Peter McLaren. Interestingly, anarchism has been heavily invested with educational projects globally but has not been sufficiently theorized in the educational context.

Luckily, Judith Suissa explores what she calls a "social anarchist" engagement with anarchist theory and education. Originally published in 2006 (Routledge), this second edition has now been published by PM Press. There has been recent work since its initial publication, which should have been covered in a more thorough introduction that places the book within its historical conjuncture (see, for example, Antliff, 2007; DeLeon, 2008). Despite this, the book produces a critical and informative narrative about what social anarchism can mean for education. Suissa highlights five important claims that can be gleaned from the social anarchist literature: mutualism, federalism, collectivism, communism and syndicalism. It is through these that I will position this book and its implications.

Mutualism is an important feature of social anarchist thought, and supports the  notion that "society should be organized not on the basis of a hierarchical, centralist, top-down structure such as the state, but on the basis of reciprocal voluntary agreements between individuals" (p.11). Cooperation and the ideal of mutual community building lies at the heart of many anarchist projects, especially when we
think about the role(s) that anarchists envision education to assume. According to Suissa, it can be the role of education to "systematically promote and emphasize cooperation, solidarity, and mutual aid," which will "undermine the values underlying the capitalist state’ (p.32). Suissa speaks to several historical examples, specifically an excellent treatment of the Escuela Modernaproject of Francisco Ferrer in Spain (p.80).

She also points to anarchist conceptions of federalism. This is envisioned as a loosely organized series of communities and networked through councils
"established spontaneously to meet specific economic or organizational needs of the communities; they would have no central authority, no permanent bureaucratic structure, and their delegates would have no executive authority" (p.12). Federalism
is an important concept in social anarchist thought because it eschews not only hierarchical State structures, but also positions anarchist communities to experiment with direct forms of self-governance. In the United States for example, an intense process of enculturation and coercion occurs at public schools that celebrate individual gains and standardization over collective forms of social organization.
Because of this, anarchists continually maintain the "need for an ongoing educitional process" (p.38).

Collectivism and communism are integral to this process, and anarchists understand that the way(s) in which subjects are constructed occurs through complex forms of social reproduction. This puts education at the centre of many anarchist political projects because they understand the need to cultivate and encourage cooperation and community (p.66). This also matches with the anarchist conception of syndicalism, or unions, "as the ultimate expression of the working class," and should comprise "the basic unity of social reorganization" (p.14). This is because social anarchists are concerned with "the concrete aspects of social justice, distribution of goods, and the material well being of the community," and are "always at the forefront of educational thought and practice" (p.109).

Ultimately, this last point is what makes Suissa’s project unique and important because she recognizes the anarchist desire to challenge coercive relationships of power through education. "One can begin this process . . . on the smallest possible scale, by challenging dominant values and encouraging the human
propensity for mutual aid, cooperation and self-governance" (p.118). Although some may be sceptical at what anarchist theory can offer those in education, Suissa’s book is a valuable reminder of the importance of this work, and the possibilities that education can offer anarchists and other radicals working towards social change.

REFERENCES

Allan Antliff, "Breaking Free: Anarchist Pedagogy" in Mark Coté, Richard Day & Greig de Peuter (eds.), Utopian Pedagogy: Radical Experiments against Neoliberal Globalization (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), pp.248-65.

Abraham DeLeon, "Oh no, not the 'A' word! Proposing an 'anarchism' for education." Educational Studies 44, no. 2 (2008), pp.122-41.

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Profits of Doom: Spectres of Capitalist Crisis

By Bryan D Palmer
Labour
Spring 2011, Iss. 67; pg. 189, 14 pgs 

Global Capitalism in Crisis: Karl Marx and the Decay of the Profit System (Halifax and Winnipeg: Femwood 2010)  

Albo, Greg, Sam Gindin, and Leo Panitch, In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives (Oakland, California: PM Press/Halifax and Winnipeg: Femwood 2010)  

Michael A. Lebowitz, The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development (New York: Monthly Review Press 2010)  

"A SPECTRE IS HAUNTING EUROPE," wrote Marx and Engels in 1848, "the spectre of Communism." A century and a half later the spectre, according to much conservative ballyhoo, had been vanquished. In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell and "actually existing socialism" imploded throughout the Soviet Bloc, Francis Fukuyama declared "the end of history."  

This premature triumphalism celebrated what seemed the ultimate victory of the American Empire over its Cold War superpower rival, the Soviet Union. Liberal capitalism had finally, after decades of nuclear arms stockpiling, Sputnik space races, and routinized skirmishing over battlegrounds such as Cuba, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, won its war with what passed in many circles for communism. History, as it had been known for much of the 20th century, had been transcended. The good life was now assured. Or so went the story, and many were sticking to it.  

The good was not to come without the bad. In less than two decades, and with no evil enemy of totalitarian communism to point the finger of blame at menacingly, capitalism ascendant was reduced to capitalism in crisis. From 1990 to 2007, the free market world was rocked by crisis after crisis. In 1994 1995 the Peso Crisis in Mexico necessitated a $50 billion bailout involving the International Monetary Fund, the United States government, and the Bank of Canada. The collapse of the Asian Tigers in 1997-1998 saw Far East currencies plummet in value by 25 per cent on a single day. In the United States, dot.com and 9/11-induced stock market crashes devalued Wall Street portfolios dramatically in 2000-2001. But it was the subprime mortgage meltdown of the summer of 2007 that registered with unambiguous finality that capitalism was indeed in crisis mode. It cut a swath of foreclosures, plummeting stock prices, unemployment, and corporate bankruptcies through capitalism's hedged ideological façade. In its aftermath capitalism had, for a brief moment, an exceedingly bad press: sordid tales of corruption and greed circulated through the media; brazen multi-millionaire ceo's became the bad boys of the hour, their arrogance and assumptions of limitless entitlement offending populist sensibilities.  

This latter crisis, the reverberations of which continue to this day, forced the hand of the United States government. For decades the reigning capitalist ideology had assailed 'big government' intervention in the sacrosanct market, although, of course, the American state had been wielding its influence in decisive ways, not only domestically, but also around the world. The free market, however, had clearly failed. It needed a massive infusion of cash, as both Republicans and Democrats agreed. Failing financial institutions by the dozens and bankrupt private sector giants such as General Motors became suddenly dependent on an unprecedented US taxpayer-funded bailout. Not only was Wall Street given a reprieve and Detroit brought back from the brink, the United States Federal Reserve shored up banking systems around the world. As went the US, so went Canada: Oshawa's automobile industry (and retired workers' pensions) was saved by Ottawa and Queen's Park.  

We live in the shadow of this 2007 meltdown. The spring 2010 collapse of the economy of Greece, and the likelihood of similar European Union catastrophes in Spain, Portugal, and Italy are reminders of this. They may seem far away, but in our current world economic village, the fall of a European economy cannot but be felt immediately on all the planet's continents, however varied their Main Streets. In the global south, where levels of poverty have been so high for so long that the press of these cumulative crises merely seems to lower trend lines, bailouts and the buying up of bad debt are neither perceived to be necessary nor likely to be forthcoming. For these are the social settings that have nurtured rare voices of socialist-like resistance of late, even bringing to power regimes that speak ill of the capitalist devil itself, the United States.  

Ironically enough, it has been China that has perhaps sustained the international capitalist order in this most recent dead-ending. An economy neither socialist nor capitalist, China's emergence out of its Stalinist, peasant-based recent past has charted authoritarian inroads into global markets at the same time as it has exercised a tight state-planning grip on domestic productive relations as well as its institutions of financial management. The result: China has become an island of ordered accumulation in the sea of capitalist crisis and disaccumulation. It now holds massive reserves of US debt/dollars.  

Had Mao's successors actually wanted to bury American (and global) capitalism, as Khruschev reportedly threatened in 1956 (his actual words were less bellicose: "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will dig you in"), China is certainly in a position to do so. In following such a course, however, China would dig its own grave as well. In this sense, something of history has come to an end. The dynamics of class war, globally and domestically, seem rather emasculated in the age of capitalist crisis; the absence of anything approximating a 'socialist' superpower undoubtedly contributes to this quietude.  

The result, however, is hardly enhanced civilization. Nor is it etched timelessly in stone. A new spectre haunts. As three recent books, all written by socialist political economists, proclaim, the spectre haunting the globe in 2010 is capitalist crisis. In its wake flow all manner of barbarisms: ecological disaster, lowered standards of living, and generalized disenchantment and despair. The more you beat old Marx down, it seems, the more resiliently his reminders of the human costs of capitalism as a system of profit-taking pop back up. And so the spectre of socialism reappears.  

Why have Canadians, or displaced Americans who took up residence for much of their lives in Canada, produced books with titles such as In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives, Global Capitalism in Crisis: Karl Marx and the Decay of the Profit System, and The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development. It is not entirely accidental.  

Canada offers a 'softer' more social-democratic-influenced capitalism than has generally been on order south of the border. On the one hand, its universal programs, especially health care but in a muted way a relatively accessible higher education system, and its less bellicose presence on the stage of world politics, free left activists from many of the limitations inherent in United States politics. Framed, on the one hand, by a more embedded McCarthyite far right, now decked out in religious fundamentalism and the populist revival of Paul Revere Rides Again 'tea partyism' and, on the other, by capitalist privatization as the cornerstone of patriotism's always looming edifice, the American body politic is one of muscles everywhere flexed against anything smacking of socialism. In Canada we cannot quite escape the mediations of socialist-like traditions that seem, even to those who worship at the altar of market society, quite sensible. Tea-bagging rants aren't quite in vogue in Canada.  

The fact that Canada's trade union movement seemed in slightly better odour than its counterpart in the United States, and that it contained pockets of vibrant, left-leaning elements throughout the period from the 1970s to the 1990s, in conjunction with the political presence in Canada of the New Democratic Party's reformist pseudo-socialism meant that all of these authors intersected with radical alternatives outside of academic life. They did so in ways that were unlikely to be routinely replicated in the United States. Sam Gindin, for instance, was for many years research director of the powerful Canadian section of the United Automobile Workers Union and, after the establishment of an autonomous caw, Gindin served as the union's chief economist and presidential advisor. Mike Lebowitz and Leo Panitch were part of the brains trust of ndp governments in power, even if, in Panitch's case, the experience was rather brief. This ostensible Canadian openness conditioned certain 'dark,' albeit valuable, insights. The spaces for political activism in the electoral, legislative, and trade union arenas, for instance, offered eye-opening direct contact with the constipated nature of social democracy and trade union officialdom. Lebowitz refers to his days as an author of ndp policies as "an education into the limits of social democracy" in the preface to his book. (9) This meant that Marx, rather than Bob Rae or Bob White, spoke to these left intellectuals in truly lasting ways, doing so through an institutionally embedded and relentlessly materialized Canadian political economy tradition. Canadian leftists, reared on this diet of experience and reflection, are perhaps not quite as likely as their American counterparts to swallow the 'lesser of two evils' arguments that have sucked so many progressives south of the 49th parallel into embracing all manner of Democratic Party hopefuls, Barack Obama being only the last and most hyped of a long list. None of this, finally, translates into a narrow Canadian nationalism, for these authors all write as pronounced internationalists, concerned with humanity's widest vistas.  

What, then, do these books tell us about the current crisis of capitalism? What do they suggest about history's recent one-sided lurching from bad to worse, and how change can be effected in the interests of human development?  

At the most general level the positions staked out by these left critics of capitalism are congruent. All see the capitalist order as a global system of accumulation, in which profits are privileged over human development. They are like-minded in their condemnation of the wasteful and destructive character of capitalism. These books won't bend the knee to arguments about the inevitable good of the invisible hand of the market guiding humanity towards ever better futures. Events like the bp oil 'spill' that has decimated a huge expanse of the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline are not so much accidents as they are inevitable catastrophes. That millions die of starvation in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, when the world's resources are more than able to provide the sustenance required for all of the globe's people is not, for these authors, the result of unfortunate contingencies of nature. Death follows in profit's global footprint. Finally, all of these radical political economists would also agree that only mobilizations of the dispossessed, led by the multifaceted global working class, can effectively put an end to capitalism as the systemic suppression of human need through the elevation of money as the final arbiter of all worth.  

It is at the point that these authors differ that they become, in some ways, more interesting. For it is there that they illuminate, even for those opposed to their analysis, important tensions in the current critique of capitalism, illuminating the profit system's intricacies.  

Murray E. G. Smith is arguably the most orthodox of this anti-capitalist lot. He provides a rigorous accounting of Marx's argument that capitalism is always going to be governed by the economic law of the rate of profit to fall. This is not some philosophical abstraction. Rather it goes to the heart of why socialists believe that capitalism must be struggled against. If the rate of profit was not bound to fall, but could continue in an ever upward rise, it might be argued that capitalism could probably accommodate its wage earners and all other components of oppressed humanity. Even acknowledging that capitalist inequality was bound to create a vast separation of the wealthy few and the poorer many, as long as profit rates climbed and climbed, the large crumbs from capital's table could well provide all of life's necessities and ample amenities for the world's people. It would simply be a matter of distribution.  

Capitalism, however, cannot function in this way because it has historically been wracked by profitability crises. These are not, as Smith argues, episodic blips on the socio-economic radar screen. Rather, they are necessary outcomes of a system that cannot avoid overproduction that satiates markets that are themselves constrained by the consuming capacity of producers who are constantly being displaced by technological innovations and other enterprising capitalist undertakings. Even the truly rich cannot buy everything, try as they might; there are too few of them. In different historical periods and in different kinds of societies, this basic dilemma has manifested itself in countless complex ways. At the root of the problem is profit, which drives all considerations of capital, regardless of the particularities of countries and the individuality of entrepreneurs.  

In capitalism's history, the imperialist conquest of colonies, which brought to capital new markets, new sources of cheap labour, and new riches and resources, was one answer to the falling rate of profit. The resulting colonization balkanized the globe, ravaged indigenous peoples whose cultures and political economies were subordinated to advanced technologies they were unable to resist decisively, and set the stage for world war in the 20th century. War, in turn, also shored up the falling rate of profit, for it came to be waged in ways increasingly dependent on a military-industrial complex. This fusion of capital and the state in a 'productive' commitment to armaments buttressed capitalism at a time when it was pushed to expend vast sums, through the development of the Keynesian welfare state, to improve the standard of living of workers and others. You could not wage constant war against the dreaded communist monolith and not make some kind of effort to materially and ideologically keep capitalism's labouring masses and underemployed reserve army on side. The post-World War II years saw working-class consumption enhanced by the high wages and benefits of unionized industrial jobs. By the mid-1970s, however, this social edifice could not be sustained, as capitalism faced yet another profitability crisis. As profits fell, production slipped into a malaise that slowed the income flow into state coffers, which could no longer foot the bills needed to fund 'great' and 'just' societies.  

With the Cold War winding down, and the defeat in Vietnam something of a jolt of shock therapy for the most hawkish elements in the military-industrial complex, a new war had to be waged on the 'high costs' of labour. Restraint became the new watchword. The United States began to act, in concert with other western capitalist nation states, to extend the disciplining structures of the war on the working class around the globe. Neo-liberalism has come to be the shorthand designation of this project, which grew directly out of the profitability crisis of the 1970s.  

Waged on two levels, this war struck most aggressively on the ideological front, where the claim was made that markets must govern, that states must subordinate themselves to minimalist intrusions, and that all fetters on the production and exchange of commodities must be eradicated, giving capital free reign, and allowing the rate of profit to reach, once again, acceptable levels. Free trade became the mantra of neo-liberal globalization, which was, in an age of antagonism to regulation, increasingly monitored by powerful combinations of nation states, brought together in bodies like the US-led G-8.  

The rise of the G-8, and its expansion to the G-20, indicated how behind the scenes of the crude market ideology of the moment, neo-liberalism's war was also waged on a second, more material, front. Capitalist restructuring on a global scale was facilitated by a host of new and reinvigorated institutions. Against the simplistic utterances of the free marketers, for instance, regulatory organizations like the International Monetary Fund expanded in importance and took on increasing salience. Their policies controlled and altered national agendas, dictated monetary policy, and, increasingly, ordered the political economies of smaller, subservient states dependent on the notso-invisible hand of United States economic power. Precisely because trade, exchange, credit, and institutions that enhanced and managed capital's globalized need for liquidity were central to North American and European capital's new vision that its profitability crisis could be overcome by shifting production to Asia, capitalism underwent a profound "financialization," a process that necessarily entailed integration of capital and the state. Whereas in the early 1980s the financial sector in US capitalism accounted for roughly ten per cent of total profits, by 2007 this figure had soared to 40 per cent.  

Smith tends to follow orthodox Marxist understandings, which emerged in the 19th century, of the leading role of productive capital, and he finds current fixation on financialization unsatisfactory precisely because it deflects attention from the irrationality of capitalism and the inevitability of the rate of profit to fall. It tends to concentrate criticism of the current crisis, not on capitalism's inevitable generation of crises, but on the greed and corruption of individual capitalists instead, or on the banks, a target everyone likes to strike out at. In this reading capitalism is not bad: certain capitalists behave outrageously; some kinds of capital are unwholesome. He is undoubtedly reacting to outcry against financial magnates and what might be called fictive capital, an example of which would be the wildly irresponsible actions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-backed but privately run agencies that managed to either own or guarantee some 56 per cent of single family mortgages in the United States, controlling almost $5.5 trillion of the total $12 trillion American mortgage debt. When the house of cards that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had built by shuffling the deck of financial exposure threatened to tumble down in escalating mortgage defaults, this helped kick-start the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-2009.  

To be sure, the financialization of the economy must be understood not as something uniquely responsible for the 2007 meltdown, but rather as an outcome of general capitalist development. In conjunction with globalization and a disciplining of industrial workers in the advanced capitalist economies of the west, with which the rise of financialization was associated, this new capitalist trajectory succeeded in restoring profitability. But this 'success' had a very limited chronology, and financialization's metaphorical 'seven years of plenty' relied on methods of super- accumulation that could hardly be squared with what some have called 'the Protestant ethic' of capitalism's origins. It is in excavating the particularities of financialization that Albo, Gindin, and Panitch offer illuminating and detailed comment on the current meltdown.  

In and Out of Crisis insists that neither individual nation states nor their role as regulators of markets have disappeared in the age of neo-liberal globalization. It also argues that orthodox Marxist understandings of a binary opposition separating financial/fictive and productive capital are overdrawn, and that the financialization of capitalism in the last third of the 20th century was fundamental to the new terrain of capitalism. They agree with Smith that capitalist crises are inevitable, but they are far more insistent that each crisis must be analyzed rigorously on its own terms. "The interesting political questions," they write, "relate to not only why crises occur under capitalism, but also as to what makes each crisis distinct." (39)

Because Albo, Gindin, and Panitch reject notions that finance capital is subordinate to productive capital, seeing it as far more than parasitic, they are able to show that just because American capital has undergone a financialization, this does not necessarily mean that United States capitalism has suffered a weakening of its position internationally. On the contrary, they suggest the opposite: its advancing financialization situates American capitalism as the world leader, a state preeminent among all others. As much as the US dollar has declined, no rival currency can displace it on the stage of money's truly global power.  

What brought American - and global - capitalism to its current meltdown? Albo, Gindin, and Panitch locate the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007 in the contradictory outcome of the war against labour that originated in the 1970s profitability crisis, although they do not frame their analysis within this kind of referencing. But they are adamant, and rightly so, that capital has won a recent war against the trade unions in particular and workers in general, driving labour into retreat. In winning the battle, capital deepened its inevitable future crisis, for a working class driven down cannot help to float rising profit rates, dependent as profitability is on extending, not curtailing, consumption.  

As early as 1975 the tide had turned against United States and Canadian workers. Canada proved something of a pace-setter. British Columbia's ndp government reined in the powerful provincial International Woodworkers of America, legislating 60,000 iwa members back to work. The claim was that this was necessary because capital was waging a strike against the industry, its workers, and their ostensibly sympathetic social-democratic state. What better way to empathize with workers than to order them to down pickets and get back on the job! At the national level, Trudeau, in a haughty display of bourgeois 'statesmanship/ implemented wage-and-price controls. The controls were stringently applied to workers' paycheques, but were rather loose and ineffective in their constraint of prices. Canadian labour responded with a one-day General Strike, which struck some radicals as a contradiction in terms. Even this symbolic protest was more than would be forthcoming from the US unions. By 1979-80, the concessions squeezed by the Jimmy Carter administration from the powerful United Automobile Workers set a tone of concession bargaining that would continue throughout the next decades. This was heralded as the necessary price exacted in the name of keeping Chrysler afloat as bankruptcy threatened. In 1981, with a New Right changing of the guard in the White House, Ronald Reagan declared official war on organized labour, firing striking air traffic controllers.  

Unions were disciplined out of existence as the state jettisoned mechanisms of institutionalized recognition and protection of the labour movement's essentials of existence, won through class struggle in the 1940s: collective bargaining procedures and the freedom of association that legally guaranteed trade union survival. 'Right to work' states and the exporting of jobs to Brazil, Taiwan, and South Korea were nails in the coffin of North American unionism, which suffered serious declines in membership. Wages - union and non-union - fell, inflation eroded real earnings, and families, pressured to keep up levels of expected consumption, extended the working hours needed to maintain domestic economies.  

In this climate, profits necessarily rose, and this leads Albo, Gindin, and Panitch to conclude that the meltdown of 2007-2009 was not the product of "any sharp profit decline or collapse in investment." It was, rather, "rooted in the dynamics of finance." (42) True enough, on one level. What this approach may be missing, however, is the forest of capitalist trajectory amidst the trees of financialization. To say that the bonanza profit-taking leading up to 2006-2007 was inherently unstable has, retrospectively, been established as understatement. The rate of profit, soaring in 2006, was overdue for a fall, pregnant as it was with malignancies. For all that the financialization particularities of the 2007 collapse are intriguing, as Albo, Gindin, and Panitch suggest, the true significance of the crash should not be obscured: record profits in the increasingly important financial sector were on the cusp of a necessary and dramatic decline. The meltdown that commenced in the summer of 2007 fits neatly into an analytic paradigm that stresses the inevitability of the rate of profit to fall.  

The housing bubble proved more than one shaky cornerstone of the financedriven restoration of profit in the early 21st century. The subprime mortgage meltdown revealed dramatically that how capitalism resolves its inherent crises leads only to further crises. Profit rates revived in the post-1980 years only by decimating the well-paid industrial jobs that had fuelled the consumption-paced largesse of the post-World War II years. Asian production, its wheels greased by western capitalist financial institutions, boomed, while in Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario plants closed. Once-unionized factories shut down in Etobicoke, reopening in non-union Napanee, Mexico, or the Philippines. Public sector workers, whose jobs could not be exported, found themselves confronted by states whose new purpose was to gut their collective agreements, cap their wages, and trim their sails in what came to be known as 'downsizing.'  

What allowed working-class families to keep a toehold on the American (and Canadian) dream in this war fought relentlessly against them was that as much as they lived within the daily erosion of their wages, hours, and working conditions, the single largest equity held by such families continued to rise in value. Housing prices in the United States rose faster than at any previous time in history. Median real home prices grew from roughly $170,000 to almost $280,000 between 2000 and 2006. The bubble-inflating housing market allowed workers an ideologically convenient illusion that they were doing well as their real take-home pay stagnated and then fell from 1999 to 2005. When pressing material need demanded an infusion of hard cash, these 'home owners' altered domestic strategies, their children living with parents longer and contributing to the household finances. If this was not enough, or was not an option, some, especially in the United States, turned to second and third mortgages, easily on offer from a variety of financial institutions buoyed by the 'certainty' that housing was as good, or better, than gold. From the large, internationally connected New York investment banks on down to basement-dealing, derivative-packaging hucksters, mortgages were sold, resold, and stepped-on like a cocaine package making its way from Mexico to the crack houses of Brooklyn. And precisely because of financialization's global reach, the mortgage maze soon extended into the books of European, Asian, and other international capitalist institutions. As Albo, Gindin, and Panitch argue, "The worlds of high and low finance had never been so closely interconnected than in this volatile mix of global capital movements, insecurity and poverty." (58)  

This was what pushed the global rate of profit upwards in the years leading to 2006-2007. But in this final point of reckoning, capitalism's resourcefulness began to exhibit signs of strain. As more and more working-class families availed themselves of the cash of second and other mortgages, interest rates began to climb. Particularly at the most insecure margins of the subprime mortgage rate industry, the increase might double or triple the percentage exacted over the course of a single year. Delinquency rates in this sector began to increase, 4.4 per cent in 2006, and a whopping 16.7 per cent in 2007. The smart money began to flee the mortgage market, aware that the bubble was bursting. Defaults increased, and panic spread as the poorest victims of this bursting bubble became destitute and homeless and the banks turned the credit taps off completely. The mammoth financial conglomerate, Citigroup, saw its Wall Street share price plummet 60 per cent. Capitalism, riding high in 2006, was in crisis, again, in 2007. The superprofits of one year evaporated as deficit dominated the financial ledgers twelve months later.  

Even if the undeniable and historically entrenched conservatism of the Canadian banking/mortgage systems insulated workers and others north of the 49th parallel from the worst of this bursting housing bubble, the situation differs only in degree. Canadians, too, face an ongoing, and worsening, crisis in the housing market. Falling mortgage rates have enticed many into purchasing homes that are beyond their precarious means, with relatively high-wage employment more and more an elusive likelihood in an economy hard-hit by capitalist globalization's deindustrialization. Yet with mortgage rates so enticingly modest, and the ideology of rising house prices so robust, the inflated prices fueling speculative profits and developers' windfalls seem affordable. The Canadian Association of Mortgage Professionals reported in 2010 that about 375,000 homeowners were cutting back on their spending in a variety of other areas in order to sustain their overvalued domiciles, private ownership being possible only because of low-rate mortgages. If mortgage rates were to ease up to slightly over 5 per cent, which is inevitable, a further 475,000 homeowners would be forced into similar cutbacks on everyday expenditures. Historically unprecedented levels of personal debt thus combine with this overreliance on home ownership sustained by low, but inevitably rising, interest rates to produce a situation in which the working poor and even those still hanging onto the declining numbers of high wage jobs in the Fordist sector, are exposed to the vagaries of the financial marketplace, exceedingly vulnerable to any future shocks to the system. The demise of high-paying, unionized, industrial jobs in the sphere of productive capital means that when the financial sector experiences turmoil, as it must, the human fallout will be devastating. Even conservative estimates suggest that 7.5 per cent of Canadian households will be financially compromised by mid-2012 if the level of individual borrowing continues at its present pace and interest rates rise.1  

The crises will continue as long as capitalism does. For all the misery inflicted by them, however, a sober assessment of the current situation suggests that the prospects of burying capitalism and ending its cycle of crises are a long way off. AU of these books have been written to bring a socialist day of reckoning closer. The spectre of socialism, they agree, follows logically from the spectre of capitalist crisis. If socialism is to be more than a haunting threat, however, it must be built, if not reinvented.  

In this light Smith provides exemplary reminders that there is indeed much in the traditional arsenal of Marxist revolutionary practice, developed in the 20th century by Lenin and Trotsky, that can be utilized. He rightly chastizes leftists who would dismiss, crudely and curtly, the ostensible sectarianism of the revolutionary left in what amounts to yet more sectarianism. Albo, Gindin, and Panitch, less orthodox than Smith, nonetheless accent the ways in which all alternatives must begin with people's material needs and can be developed only in so far as popular capacities to "act independently of the logic of capitalism" are encouraged and extended. (127) Whatever their separations, and they are significant and many, Smith, Albo, Gindin, and Panitch would agree that the severity of capitalism's current crises expose the extent to which, in the latter's words, "states are enveloped in capitalism's irrationalities," highlighting the need "for building new movements and parties to transcend capitalist markets and states." (129)  

This is the ground on which Michael A. Lebowitz offers his thoughts on how to get to socialism in the 21st century. His short exploration of the necessity to see socialist alternative as a process in creating a society committed not to profit but to human development in the fullest sense, builds on decades of research and writing on Marx's political economy, as well as long years of experience in the global struggle to transcend capitalist confinements. Currently the Director of the Program in Transformative Practice and Human Development in Caracas, Venezuela, and something of an advisor to Hugo Chavez (whose thought echoes in these pages), Lebowitz's book begins where those of Smith, Albo, Gindin, and Panitch leave off. The Socialist Alternative assumes that capitalism and its ongoing, inevitable crises are destructive of human potential, that capitalism is a debilitatingly irrational system, and that a new socio-economic order needs to be created. "The system is so profoundly perverse," writes Lebowitz in his book's introduction, "that it is necessary to ask, What keeps capitalism going?" (17)  

Lebowitz's answer is that socialists have failed to ask adequately where they are going and what kind of route they want to follow if socialism is indeed to be created. He insists that socialism can neither transcend immediately the capitalist context from which it will emerge, nor can it replicate the bureaucratism and deformations of past so-called socialist efforts like the failed Soviet Union. Anti-capitalist alternatives will be built on what Lebowitz designates, following Chavez, the socialist triangle. One side of this triangle addresses real wealth as human enrichment: men, women, and children must emerge who are able to measure their capacities and capabilities not in terms of money and the things it can buy, but in the development of their full humanity. A second side of this triangle confronts a crucial mechanism in the making of such rich human beings: work and productive life. Rather than the alienated labour of capitalism, in which profits are accrued by extracting monied value from workers whose ownership and control of all that is associated with production has been severed and concentrated in the hands of the owning class, work must be undertaken in ways where collective ownership can be assumed and decision-making can proceed democratically and cooperatively. This accomplished, the third side of the socialist triangle can be wedged slowly into place, the solidarían society, in which acquisitive individualism is replaced by a sense of collectivity and dedication, not to the self, but to the communal.  

In building this solidarían society, Lebowitz stresses that there is much to overcome. New understandings of what is rational and good, what is possible and what is needed, will develop. A new social organism must be consciously guided into being, its values and its apparatus of regulation provisioning production and leisure in ways antithetical to capitalist conventions. The project is large and beset with the dilemmas of concrete disjunctures. Lebowitz's book is short, and given to abstraction. It is nonetheless a necessary beginning in charting paths out of capitalist crisis toward societies freed from the twisted entanglements of profit's contradictory march through what is left of history.  

If this history is indeed not to end in the quickening pace of capitalist crisis following on capitalist crisis, the spectre of barbarism now haunting the globe needs to be challenged by socialism. There are, to be sure, only the faintest signs of this happening, but capitalism, as profound as is its irrationality and generation of crises, will not bury itself. Socialism needs to become more than a spectre following on the devastations of capitalist crisis. It must be built, and Lebowitz makes the case that this undertaking must begin now.  

There are many reasons, of course, for the ironic lack of socialist success in the face of capitalist crisis. Past socialist endeavours, as Lebowitz makes abundantly clear, squandered much in their degeneration into bureaucratic state planning that simply reproduced too much of the productive ethos of capitalism in a society where private ownership did not exist. Moreover, if crisis is endemic to capitalism, this is not to say that capitalism does not have immense hegemonic powers at its disposal, always ready to be deployed in ways that divert the costs of crisis onto the shoulders and into the pockets of the poor, in the process obfuscating the origins of each particular collapse. The subprime mortgage crisis revealed this time and time again, nowhere more cruelly than in the ideological capacity of capital and its servile state to blame the victims, it being argued that the greed of poor homeowners, especially African Americans, drove the crisis to its break-point. Now, in central Europe, there are those scapegoating the 'lazy Greeks,' who retire at 55, and the languid Spaniards, who won't work in the afternoon. All manner of parochialisms and chauvinisms continue to thrive in capitalism's global marketplace of retrogressive thought.  

Such shibboleths, however useful to stay an accounting of capitalist responsibility for the spectre of crisis now haunting the globe, are thin gruel indeed when placed alongside the argument and analysis of these three books. These texts should be required reading for all who want to understand why capitalism generates, not a crisis here and a crisis there, but a repetitive serialization of crises. Read quickly, however, for the pace at which capitalist crises unfold seems to be accelerating, and the shelf-life of solutions to profit's falling fortunes appears to be of shorter and shorter duration. If the obscenities of the modern world - in which the cataclysmic and catastrophic degradations of poverty, war, and environmental destruction, alongside the ideological cynicism of a politics of denial - cannot move you, as they should, then at least try thinking inside the box of informed self-interest. The next crisis could well be just around the corner. One of its victims might just be you.  

 *[Footnote]* 1. "'Future shocks' forecast for housing market," Globe and Mail, 13 September 2010.   *[Author Affiliation]* Bryan D. Palmer, "Profits of Doom: Spectres of Capitalist Crisis," Labour/Le Travail, 67 (Spring 2011), 189-201.   *[Author Affiliation]* Bryan D. Palmer, Canada Research Chair at Trent University, is the author of a number of books, the most recent of which are James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928 (2007) and Canada's 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era (2009).
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Patrick Marks Sees a Bright Future in His Bookstore

LR_Patrick_Marks_Kate_Conger.JPG
Kate Conger
Patrick Marks
100 Profiles
SF Weekly interviews 100 people in San Francisco arts and culture.

No. 84: Patrick Marks

Three decades ago, Patrick Marks set off from St. Louis on his bicycle, bound for Los Angeles. He took a haphazard route, riding through Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and Oregon, before traveling along the Pacific coastline and arriving in San Francisco after four months of pedaling. Seduced by the city, he never made it to Southern California. He set up camp in Golden Gate Park and earned a living as a bike messenger. Eventually, he crossed the bay to attend UC Berkeley and work as a buyer for Cody's Books.

Now, Marks leads a more sedentary lifestyle: He owns and operates the Green Arcade bookstore, sings in the lounge act Lars Mars and His Men, publishes noir literature, and lives in the same San Francisco apartment he's had for the past 27 years.

That's not to say he's lost his piquancy. He's maintained the same daredevil attitude that brought him halfway across the country on a bike. Despite Cody's closing, Borders' bankruptcy filing, and Barnes & Noble offering itself up for sale, he decided to open his own bookstore.

"I didn't want my skills to go to waste," he explains. "I figured I might as well give it one last stand."

And so he did, opening the Green Arcade in 2008. The bookstore, which features titles catered to Marks' eclectic and rebellious interests, opened its doors on the corner of Market and Gough, in the heart of what was once bike messenger mecca. Now, Marks looks out from behind his register at the same landscape he biked in those days.

"This area is a springboard to so many areas of the city," he says.

San Francisco is a pivotal force in Marks' life. As the name of the bookstore suggests, environmentalism is important to Marks, but he's particularly interested in the urban environment. The "Arcade" half of the name is inspired by Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project, a lengthy philosophical study on the nature of city life.

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Marks views his store as a representation of the city itself: simultaneously a refuge and a crass commercial space. His taste in books reflects it, with selections ranging from noir literature and art to urban planning and politics. Bay Area author Rebecca Solnit is allotted her own section, including her most recent work, a collaboration with SFMOMA and various authors and artists called Infinite City. It's a multifaceted atlas of San Francisco—and Marks' favorite book in the store.

When he's not presiding over his books, Marks assumes the alter ego Lars Mars and performs new arrangements of old lounge tunes. His Men are Durand Begault, Mic Gendreau, and Nate Furgason, who he terms "sound scientists."

His other passion is noir. He founded a publishing imprint, also named the Green Arcade, in partnership with Oakland's anarchist publishing house, PM Press. He tracks down out-of-print novels, such as Sin Soracco's Low Bite, and reprints them. He publishes new works as well (Soracco's Edge City is forthcoming).

"Noir is the shadow cast by the urban studies section," he rhapsodizes, circling back to his fascination with the gritty side of city life. The Green Arcade's newest publication is an English translation of Against Architecture by Franco La Cecla, which explores issues of "brandscaping" in modern cities.
For Marks, publishing and selling books is an exciting frontier, not a fading art. He intends to digitize his business, selling books online and making books available for download on the Green Arcade's website.

"Reading was always my way of dealing with reality," Marks says. "They say the truth will set you free— well, reading is a big aspect of that. It's an important part of citizenship."

As he makes reading more accessible online, he'll also maintain his store in the hub of the city, serving up conscientious rebellion to the residents of San Francisco.

Visit Patrick Marks and the Green Arcade on Sunday, June 26, at 5 p.m. for the release party of Summer Brenner's new book, Ivy: Homeless in San Francisco. Like Marks, the heroine Ivy begins her adventure in Golden Gate Park. Following a reading by Brenner will be a talk by the Community Housing Partnership of San Francisco about ways to reduce homelessness and support those who are currently homeless.

 Green Arcade Imprint Page




Spectre


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Spectre is a series of indispensable works of, and about, radical political economy.  Spectre lays bare the dark underbelly of politics and economics, publishing outstanding and contrarian perspectives on the maelstrom of capital—and emancipatory alternatives—in crisis.

The companion Spectre Classics imprint unearths essential works of radical history, political economy, theory and practice, to illuminate the present with brilliant, yet unjustly neglected, ideas from the past.

Series Editor: Sasha Lilley


1. In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives
          — Greg Albo, Sam Gindin, and Leo Panitch
2. Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance
          — David McNally
3. Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult
          — Sasha Lilley
4. William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary
          — E.P. Thompson
5. Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth
          — Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen, and James Davis
6. Stop, Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance
          — Peter Linebaugh
7. Men in Prison
         — Victor Serge

 




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  discontents

 


Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult
Editor: Sasha Lilley
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-334-5
Published: March 2011
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 320
Subjects: Politics, Economics
$20.00

Through a series of incisive conversations with some of the most eminent thinkers and political economists on the Left—including David Harvey, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Mike Davis, Leo Panitch, Tariq Ali, and Noam Chomsky—Capital and Its Discontents illuminates the dynamic contradictions undergirding capitalism and the potential for its dethroning. The book challenges conventional wisdom on the Left about the nature of globalization, neoliberalism and imperialism, as well as the agrarian question in the Global South. It probes deeply into the roots of the global economic meltdown, the role of debt and privatization in dampening social revolt, and considers capitalism’s dynamic ability to find ever new sources of accumulation—whether through imperial or ecological plunder or the commodification of previously unpaid female labor.
 
The Left luminaries in Capital and Its Discontents look at potential avenues out of the mess—as well as wrong turns and needless detours—drawing lessons from the history of post-colonial states in the Global South, struggles against imperialism past and present, the eternal pendulum swing of radicalism, the corrosive legacy of postmodernism, and the potentialities of the radical humanist tradition. At a moment when capitalism as a system is more reviled than ever, here is an indispensable toolbox of ideas for action by some of the most brilliant thinkers of our times.

Full list of contributor:

Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Mike Davis, Ellen Meiksins Wood, David Harvey, Leo Panitch, Doug Henwood, Gillian Hart, John Bellamy Foster, Ursula Huws, David McNally, Jason W Moore, Vivek Chibber, John Sanbonmatsu, and Andrej Grubacic.

Praise:

“In this fine set of interviews, an A-list of radical political economists demonstrate why their skills are indispensable to understanding today’s multiple economic and ecological crises.” —Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Sasha Lilley's Page

Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance
Author: David McNally
Publisher: PM Press/Spectre
Published: December 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60486-332-1
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 248 Pages
Dimensions: 8 by 5
Subjects: Politics-Marxism, Economics
$17.00

The book locates the recent meltdown in the intense economic restructuring that marked the recessions of the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Through this lens, it highlights the emergence of new patterns of world inequality and new centers of accumulation, particularly in East Asia, and the profound economic instabilities these produced. Global Slump offers an original account of the “financialization” of the world economy during this period, and explores the intricate connections between international financial markets and new forms of debt and dispossession, particularly in the Global South.

Analyzing the massive intervention of the world’s central banks to stave off another Great Depression, Global Slump shows that, while averting a complete meltdown, this intervention also laid the basis for recurring crises for poor and working class people: job loss, increased poverty and inequality, and deep cuts to social programs. The book takes a global view of these processes, exposing the damage inflicted on countries in the Global South, as well as the intensification of racism and attacks on migrant workers. At the same time, Global Slump also traces new patterns of social and political resistance – from housing activism and education struggles, to mass strikes and protests in Martinique, Guadeloupe, France and Puerto Rico – as indicators of the potential for building anti-capitalist opposition to the damage that neoliberal capitalism is inflicting on the lives of millions.

Praise:

“McNally has developed a powerful interpretation that sheds a mass of new light… This is a superb book.”
— Robert Brenner, author of The Economics of Global Turbulence on Political Economy and the Rise of Capitalism

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | David McNally's Page

 
In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives
Authors: Leo Panitch, Sam Gindin, and Greg Albo
Publisher: PM Press/Spectre
ISBN: 978-1-60486-212-6
Release Date: May 2010
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 144
Dimensions: 5.5 by 8.5
Subjects: Politics, Activism, Economics
$13.95

With an unparalleled understanding of the inner workings of capitalism, the authors of In and Out of Crisis provocatively challenge the call by much of the Left for a return to a largely mythical Golden Age of economic regulation as a check on finance capital unbound. They deftly illuminate how the era of neoliberal free markets has been, in practice, undergirded by state intervention on a massive scale. With clarity and erudition, they argue persuasively that given the current balance of social forces – as bank bailouts around the globe make evident – regulation is not a means of fundamentally reordering power in society, but rather a way of preserving markets.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Leo Panitch, Sam Gindin, and Greg Albo's Page

 

William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary
Author: E.P. Thompson
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-243-0
Published: February 2011
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 880
Size: 8.5 by 5.5
Subjects: Biography, Politics
$32.95

William Morris—the great 19th century craftsman, architect, designer, poet and writer—remains a monumental figure whose influence resonates powerfully today. As an intellectual (and author of the seminal utopian News From Nowhere), his concern with artistic and human values led him to cross what he called the ‘river of fire’ and become a committed socialist—committed not to some theoretical formula but to the day by day struggle of working women and men in Britain and to the evolution of his ideas about art, about work and about how life should be lived.

Many of his ideas accorded none too well with the reforming tendencies dominant in the Labour movement, nor with those of ‘orthodox’ Marxism, which has looked elsewhere for inspiration. Both sides have been inclined to venerate Morris rather than to pay attention to what he said.

Originally written less than a decade before his groundbreaking The Making of the English Working Class, E.P. Thompson brought to this biography his now trademark historical mastery, passion, wit, and essential sympathy. It remains unsurpassed as the definitive work on this remarkable figure, by the major British historian of the 20th century.

Praise:

“Two impressive figures, William Morris as subject and E. P. Thompson as author, are conjoined in this immense biographical-historical-critical study, and both of them have gained in stature since the first edition of the book was published... The book that was ignored in 1955 has meanwhile become something of an underground classic—almost impossible to locate in second-hand bookstores, pored over in libraries, required reading for anyone interested in Morris and, increasingly, for anyone interested in one of the most important of contemporary British historians... Thompson has the distinguishing characteristic of a great historian: he has transformed the nature of the past, it will never look the same again; and whoever works in the area of his concerns in the future must come to terms with what Thompson has written. So too with his study of William Morris.”
—Peter Stansky, The New York Times Book Review

Buy book now | E.P. Thompson's Page

Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth
Authors: Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen, and James Davis
Foreword by Doug Henwood
Publisher: PM Press/Spectre
ISBN: 978-1-60486-589-9
Published November 2012
Format: Paperback
Size: 8 by 5
Page count: 192 Pages
Subjects: Politics/Current Events
$16.00

We live in catastrophic times. The world is reeling from the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, with the threat of further meltdowns ever-looming. Global warming and myriad dire ecological disasters worsen—with little if any action to halt them—their effects rippling across the planet in the shape of almost Biblical floods, fires, droughts, and hurricanes. Governments warn that there is no alternative to the bitter medicine they prescribe—or risk devastating financial or social collapse. The right, whether religious or secular, views the present as catastrophic and wants to turn the clock back. The left fears for the worst, but hopes some good will emerge from the rubble. Visions of the apocalypse and predictions of impending doom abound. Across the political spectrum, a culture of fear reigns.


Catastrophism explores the politics of apocalypse—on the left and right, in the environmental movement—and examines why the lens of catastrophe can distort our understanding of the dynamics at the heart of these numerous disasters—and fatally impede our ability to transform the world. Lilley, McNally, Yuen, and Davis probe the reasons why catastrophic thinking is so prevalent, and challenge the belief that it is only out of the ashes that a better society may be born. The authors argue that those who care about social justice and the environment should jettison doomsaying—even as it relates to indisputably apocalyptic climate change. Far from calling people to arms, they suggest, catastrophic fear often results in passivity and paralysis—and, at worst, reactionary politics.


Praise:

Catastrophism comes at the right moment: 2012, the year of The End proclaimed across the political spectrum from deep ecologists to the Mayan Calendarists. Instead of concentrating on the merits of the claims of the various apocalypticians, Jim Davis, Sasha Lilley, David McNally, and Eddie Yuen examine the political function of these claims and find them to be deeply reactionary. This is a controversial book that challenges many of the unexamined assumptions on the left (as well as on the right). It is a warning not to abandon everyday anti-capitalist politics for a politics of absolute fear that inevitably leads to inaction.”
—Silvia Federici, author of Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle

"Bravo! This is the book that has been sorely needed for so long to reveal the dead-end that a politics founded on catastrophic predictions must lead to in terms of either preventing them or actually changing the world.  Essential reading for all those on the left who are concerned with the question of strategy today."
--Leo Panitch, coauthor of The Making of Global Capitalism

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Stop, Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance
Author: Peter Linebaugh
Publisher: PM Press/Spectre
ISBN: 978-1-60486-747-3
Published: 02/2014
Format: Paperback
Size: 9x6
Page count: 304 Pages
Subjects: History/Politics/Economics
$21.95

In this majestic tour de force, celebrated historian Peter Linebaugh takes aim at the thieves of land, the polluters of the seas, the ravagers of the forests, the despoilers of rivers, and the removers of mountaintops. Scarcely a society has existed on the face of the earth that has not had commoning at its heart. "Neither the state nor the market," say the planetary commoners. These essays kindle the embers of memory to ignite our future commons.

From Thomas Paine to the Luddites, from Karl Marx—who concluded his great study of capitalism with the enclosure of commons—to the practical dreamer William Morris—who made communism into a verb and advocated communizing industry and agriculture—to the 20th-century communist historian E.P. Thompson, Linebaugh brings to life the vital commonist tradition. He traces the red thread from the great revolt of commoners in 1381 to the enclosures of Ireland, and the American commons, where European immigrants who had been expelled from their commons met the immense commons of the native peoples and the underground African-American urban commons. Illuminating these struggles in this indispensable collection, Linebaugh reignites the ancient cry, "STOP, THIEF!"

Praise:

"There is not a more important historian living today. Period."
—Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

"E.P. Thompson, you may rest now. Linebaugh restores the dignity of the despised luddites with a poetic grace worthy of the master… [A] commonist manifesto for the 21st century."
—Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums

"Peter Linebaugh's great act of historical imagination… takes the cliché of 'globalization' and makes it live. The local and the global are once again shown to be inseparable—as they are, at present, for the machine-breakers of the new world crisis."
—T.J. Clark, author of Farewell to an Idea

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Men in Prison
Author: Victor Serge
Introduction and Translation by Richard Greeman
Publisher: PM Press/Spectre
ISBN: 978-1-60486-736-7
Published: 03/01/2014
Format: Paperback
Size: 8.5x5.5
Page count: 232 Pages
Subjects: Fiction/Prison Issues
$18.95

“Everything in this book is fictional and everything is true,” wrote Victor Serge in the epigraph to Men in Prison. “I have attempted, through literary creation, to bring out the general meaning and human content of a personal experience.”

The author of Men in Prison served five years in French penitentiaries (1912–1917) for the crime of “criminal association”—in fact for his courageous refusal to testify against his old comrades, the infamous “Tragic Bandits” of French anarchism. “While I was still in prison,” Serge later recalled, “fighting off tuberculosis, insanity, depression, the spiritual poverty of the men, the brutality of the regulations, I already saw one kind of justification of that infernal voyage in the possibility of describing it. Among the thousands who suffer and are crushed in prison—and how few men really know that prison!—I was perhaps the only one who could try one day to tell all... There is no novelist’s hero in this novel, unless that terrible machine, prison, is its real hero. It is not about ‘me,’ about a few men, but about men, all men crushed in that dark corner of society.”

Ironically, Serge returned to writing upon his release from a GPU prison in Soviet Russia, where he was arrested as an anti-Stalinist subversive in 1928. He completed Men in Prison (and two other novels) in "semi-captivity" before he was rearrested and deported to the Gulag in 1933. Serge’s classic prison novel has been compared to Dostoyevsky’s House of the Dead, Koestler’s Spanish Testament, Genet’s Miracle of the Rose, and Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch both for its authenticity and its artistic achievement.

This edition features a substantial new introduction by translator Richard Greeman, situating the work in Serge’s life and times.

Praise:

“No purer book about the hell of prison has ever been written.”
—Martin Seymour-Smith, Scotsman

“There is nothing in any line or word of this fine novel which doesn’t ring true.”
Publishers Weekly

“This is a remarkable book… Capable of Dostoyevskian intensity and power...”
—Francis King, Sunday Telegraph

“This novel, properly so called by its author, being truth worked up as art, is strongly recommended both as a document and as a powerful work of literature.”
—Robert Garioch, Listener

"Serge is a writer young rebels desperately need whether they know it or not. He does not tell us what we should feel, he makes us feel it.”
—Stanley Reynolds, New Statesman

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Activist/protester Brian Willson stops in WC to discuss new memoir

By Paul Thissen with contributions from Lou Fancher
Contra Costa Times

July 9th, 2011

WALNUT CREEK —In 1987, peace activist Brian Willson came to the Concord Naval Weapons Station to try to stop a munitions train—by lying on the tracks.

He thought the train would stop. It didn't, and Willson lost his legs.
But he got people's attention. For the next 28 months, no trains got through. There were so many people on the tracks that trains were blocked the entire time, Willson said.

He will return Wednesday to speak about his new book, Blood on the Tracks, at the Peace and Justice Center in Walnut Creek.

The stop is part of his West Coast book tour, which he is making on a hand-powered tricycle at a pace of 40 miles per day, ending at the Veterans For Peace convention in Portland in August.

His activism is inspired by his time as an Air Force officer in the Vietnam War, where he witnessed the aftermath of bombing runs.

"I discovered we were bombing small villages," Willson said. "I couldn't believe what I saw. I couldn't walk any further; there were too many bodies immediately at my feet.—
He hopes to inspire more people to protest and disrupt business as usual."

"I believe in disobedience and uprisings," he said. "When will 500,000 people in this country feel it's necessary to go out in the streets to protest?"

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Generation V: A Reno Gazette Review

By Mark Robison
Reno Gazette Journal
June 29th, 2011

excerpt from blog series Vegan Wednesday

Book for teens wanting to go vegan

Speaking of books about going vegan, a new one came out this month called Generation V: The Complete Guide to Going, Being and Staying Vegan as a Teenager by 21-year-old Claire Askew. (It’s by PM Press, my favorite publisher, of whom I’m a “friend”, meaning I give them a set amount of money every month to support its efforts and in exchange, they send me a copy of everything they publish.)

Generation V is short and superb. It’s exactly the book I wish I’d had in my teens—and it’s the kind of book I’d write now. It’s conversational yet packs a ton of information with everything you’d want to know: how to deal with parents and friends (with responses to most questions you’ll get hit with), what you need to know healthwise, books to check out, companies that make vegan beauty products, vegan musicians and songs (including the music video below), resource websites, websites to meet other vegan teens, recipes (including the one below), how to leaflet and do other outreach activities, quotes (including the one from Matt Ball above), and much more.

Here’s an excerpt responding to the common statement “I could never give up cheese!”:

Cheese is tough for a lot of people to give up. Even when you've phased all other animal products out of your diet, cheese can be the one thing holding you back. But there’s actual reason for this—cheese is a drug! Mmhmm. Cheese’s main protein, casein (found irritatingly often in some nondairy cheeses), breaks down during digestion to form compounds similar to morphine called casomorphins. The reason for this, class, is that milk is supposed to be given to calves from their moms. The casomorphins are intended to draw that calf back to the mother’s udders so the calf will keep drinking the milk and grow up. Instead, casomorphins give your stomach and brain a relaxed, slightly drowsy feeling (it’s called “comfort food” for a reason) and draw you back to the fridge.

So what can you do to break the addiction? What I think is most effective is thinking of how that cheese got to you. Don’t think that you’re a horrible person for eating cheese, just think about how that cheese came to your plate. Think about a cow on her way to be artificially impregnated against her will. Think about that same cow moaning and wailing months later when her child is taken away from her. Think about that calf chained in a crate in the dark [male calves become veal], and ask yourself, is it really worth it? . . .

Look for brands [of cheese] that specifically say vegan on the package, such as Daiya (my favorite), Cheezly, or Follow Your Heart. The world of vegan cheese is a fast-paced one. When I first started writing this book in 2007, vegan cheese was either readily available but kind of odd-tasting, or delicious and hard to find (like, only-in-Europe hard). Now, though, that isn’t the case. Daiya, for example, really tastes like dairy cheese (even my omnivorous family likes it), melts and gets stringy like dairy cheese, and is sold in every Whole Foods store (and other places as well) throughout the nation. There are all different kinds of vegan cheese from shreds to slices to spreads in every flavor from bacon (really) to Monterey Jack, and trying different brands to find out which you like best is no longer treacherous, plastic-tasting labyrinth. It only takes about three weeks for you to grow new tastebuds (and thus for new tastes to become normal to you), too.

One correction to the book. It says the great Peaceful Prairie is the only abolitionist farm animal sanctuary in the world, meaning it doesn’t promote bigger cages and longer chains but seeks only the end of animal exploitation. There is one other, although it doesn’t advertise itself as such: CockadoodleMoo Farm Animal Sanctuary right here in Reno.

 

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Sensation: A Review

By John H. Stevens 
SF Signal
June 14th, 2011

REVIEW SUMMARY: Perspective-altering, surreal hybrid offspring of a political thriller, an SF epic, and weird dystopia.

MY RATING: 4/5 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A woman is stung by an anarchist wasp and is pulled into a side-reality created by an intelligent spider collective who have been influencing humanity's progress. Socio-political insanity, hilarity, and complications ensue.

MY REVIEW:


PROS: Funny, perceptive, disorienting writing; entertaining and thought-provoking; well-rendered characters are strongly realized within an unreliable narrative.

CONS: A few confusing moments towards the end, and an occasional conundrum arises about how the narrators know what they know.


BOTTOM LINE:
Read this book; it will make you laugh, worry, and wonder about human nature and our often insane society.

There comes a point in Nick Mamatas' Sensation where you find yourself a bit lost. Not adrift, not confused, but led off of the path. It's a seductive moment, when you realize that the weirdness of the narrative, the ideas that Mamatas threads through the story, have made you start asking questions, not just about the novel but also about the world around you. This happens a few times while reading the novel, and becomes one of the strengths of the book, because in those moments you feel a bit of what the characters do as they are manipulated and dislocated by forces that, even when they discover and try to understand them, continue to exert influence on them. The world that Mamatas creates in this novel is not just strange, but so true to life in the actions of its characters in response to that strangeness that you are compelled to keep reading and thinking, even when those actions seem ridiculous or the story seems headed in a random direction.

It is that constant unbalancing, the slipperiness of the story, the unreliability of every element, that creates the novel's texture. It reads smoothly on the page, even when the text is altered, but what you take in as you read is often perplexing, almost counter-intuitive, yet necessary and familiar. Insight and idiocy careen off of one another through the actions of the characters, making the story feel genuine even in its most outrageous moments.

The story (and I will say that there are mild spoilers ahead, although I don't think this novel can be "spoiled") is simple: Julia Ott Hernandez leaves her husband, the hapless Raymond, after being stung by a mutated wasp and becomes a random force in the world that is so potentially destabilizing that she must be opposed by those who truly run the world, an intelligent collective of spiders fighting a eternal war with these wasps, who thrive by using those spiders as hosts for their offspring. Her actions, and the reactions of the spiders in their efforts to control her, create political and social ripples that profoundly, if perhaps temporarily, upset the way the world works. Despite their efforts to trap her in a parallel reality called the Simulacrum, Julia becomes a nexus of uncertainty and change in the web of society that the spiders try to keep strong and even. We learn about this conflict through their eyes, and the story progresses as an extended narrative of an alien (not from outer space, but from outside human experience) intelligence trying to understand why, for all of its capabilities and vision, it cannot keep a species of generally dull, obedient apes in line.

Those apes are, to mess with Clifford Geertz, suspended in webs of signification they themselves have not spun. although they act as if they have made the world they live in. And in some ways they have; while the spiders tell us this story, their control over the events in it is not just imperfect, but sometimes profoundly ambiguous, contingent on coincidence and circumstance, and often productive not of domination but of opportunities for humans to resist them. If that sounds like a political allegory, well, it is, but one that does not browbeat the reader. The assured, yet sometimes confused, tone of the spiders' narration sounds as much like propaganda as it does a retelling of facts, and that is part of the point.

The workings of power and the meaning of agency are primary themes in this novel. What is control, really? How do you know what the effects of your actions will be, whether you are trying to manipulate someone, or resist manipulation? The novel posits many troubling but necessary questions as it unravels, as careful plans constantly go awry, and the allure of restraint and the comfort of both habit and delusion do more to constrain action and frame perception than the machinations of unseen arachnid overlords. Even these machinations are fraught with ossification and ambiguity; those who seek to control us, it seems, have as much trouble dealing with the vicissitudes of life as humans do.

The tension between intentionality and entropy provides much of the novel's propulsive energy.

Humorous moments collide with profound ones, and a growing sense of inevitability is frequently derailed by chance and unintended consequences. What pulls you into the story is not merely a desire to see what crazy thing happens next, but to see how the craziness is created by the ideas and responses of the characters to a growing series of personal and social crises. Mamatas builds anticipation even as he continues to unsettle the reader, subverting the desire for closure even as he builds the story to, not a climax, so much as a weary epiphany. It is a wild ride, but also a thoughtful one.

There are a few points where the novel loses some momentum. A few epistolary chapters that seem to be there to give the reader a different view of the proceedings did not, for me, add to the novel. They could be moments where the reader catches their breath and can process what is going on, but they dulled the sharpness of the narrative and took away from power of the spiders' voice to ensnare you. In the last few chapters I felt a few instances of confusion from what appear to be a few typos (characters' names switched, it seems) that make you stop to wonder who's really talking and disrupt the narrative. I briefly considered that it might be a metatextual trick, but that is not in line with the combination of fine writing and carefully-constructed narrative that characterizes this book. Mamatas is an excellent writer who takes chances with his work, but takes them thoughtfully and delivers them for maximum effect, to deliver his ideas with precision and strength, so that his novel leaves a lasting impression not just of pleasure, but of a reflective questioning about what we think we are capable of, and what really constrains and directs us though our daily lives.

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Nick Mamatas’s sensational Sensation

By Lily Hoang 
HTML Giant
July 2011

A webbed suspension. A stinging. A stunning. It’s stunning. I’m stunned and stung. It’s possible I’ve been infected.

Nick Mamatas’s Sensation is stunning. It’s sensational.

Ok, imagine a world with men of indeterminate ethnicity. Easy enough, right? Now, imagine these men are not made of flesh–like you and I are–but are mere veneers, flexible shells. Inside, thousands of spiders. Inside, these intelligent, mutant spiders control men. They are out to control the world. Or, to help the world. Or, at least, to prevent the wasps from taking over. No, not WASPs, but literally, wasps. From South America.

Ok, now imagine one of these South American wasps who intend to take over the world stings a woman. She’s a nobody, really, just a woman. But the wasps sting her, attack her brain, and all of a sudden, she’s performing acts of vigilante justice, shooting building developers in the head and giving money to terrorists and New Yorkers alike.

Welcome to the world of Nick Mamatas’s Sensation.

The title is not misleading. Everything in this book is sensational, in the best way. Reading Mamatas’s book, I was reminded of Cesar Aira, but unlike Aira, who often employs unlikely deus ex machina, Mamatas sustains his god-machines through the entire course of the novel. Every page brings about a scenario that is even more unlikely and unpredictable than the page before, and yet, I was sold. He transported me into his simulacra, and I was fine with it. I welcomed it.

Because Sensation is funny. No, it’s hilarious. It’s politically savvy and offers a smart critique of activists and the state alike. There is no generosity here. Sensation, in many ways, does what all good science fiction aims to do: it offers a critique of the status quo. It depicts an alternative in order to highlight the problems in our reality.

Yesterday, Sensation received a good beating over at Publisher’s Weekly. They said:
"The endless catalogue of modern annoyances, from attention-hogging real estate developers to Indian call-center workers, makes this novel not so much timely as instantly obsolete."

I could agree with PW that Sensation calls attention to many “modern annoyances,” if real estate developers can really be called an “annoyance.” [Note: for the sake of brevity, I’ve just deleted a long rant about real estate developers and the obvious flaw in simplifying them as “annoyances.”] But rather than tear apart PW’s review, I’ll simply say: they’re wrong. Whereas Mamatas’s novel does employ a lot of contemporary colloquialisms, which time-stamp it in a way that could–many years from now–deem it “obsolete,” the fantastical world of Sensation critiques and mocks us, today, right now. It crushes our ennui and our malaise. In that way, sure, maybe in fifty years, any text or film that utilizes text messaging as a primary mode of communication or a language that is steeped in the contemporaneous (like, I dunno, The Wire?) may be rendered obsolete, right now, I would argue these films and texts are vital.

This is not to say that Sensation is without flaw. The book has some font changes, which, as a general rule, I dislike. If a student had turned in a manuscript with certain sentences or words highlighted in a different font, I’d tell her it was “cheating” and a bit “cheap.” For instance, the protagonist in Sensation (the wife who was stung by the wasp) spray paints a They Might be Giants lyric (no comment on this choice) on a future development site. Mamatas uses a font that imitates spray painting. This almost immediately turned me off. But this is an issue of formatting and editorial decisions. It takes away from the text, puts some readers off, but when stacked against the sharp writing and hilarious scenes, it’s fine.
In the end, Sensation is sharp, funny, edgy, and philosophical. It is what speculative fiction strives toward. And if I haven’t sold you, maybe I’ll end PW’s review, which maybe ought to turn their readers away, but our readers, well, some of us have a different sensibility:

"Mamatas . . . appears to be more interested in reasserting the primacy of Joyce, Pynchon, and Coover than establishing the voice of Mamatas in his self-consciously po-mo third novel. This accumulation of pop-culture babble, layered with thin insight and metatextual archness, is amusing enough in an epigrammatic way, but there’s little attempt to communicate beyond the level of the individual sentences."

One last thing: Sensation is published by PM Press, which is one of the most exciting political presses I’ve found in a while, especially their Outspoken Authors series. If you’ve got dollars, you should support them.

One more last thing: if you want more of Nick’s words, check out his very popular blog.

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Sensation in Locus (May)

By Tim Pratt 
Locus
May 2011

Sensation by Nick Mamatas is a political satire and a meditation on the nature of reality reminiscent of Philip K. Dick, exploring the secret history of an age-old war between a hive-mind of hyperintelligent spiders and their implacable mindless enemies, a species of parasitic wasp. (The entirety of human history is either driven by that war or incidental to it.)

The main character–only occasionally ‘‘heroine’’ –is Julia Ott Hernandez, a typical middleclass New Yorker, reflexively liberal and shallowly intellectual, the kind of person who would ‘‘weave these fantasies of taking on whaling ships with Greenpeace but satisfied herself with $100 checks here and there.’’ The engine of Julia’s transformation into a sort of anarchist prankster/murderess is not a sudden realization about social injustice or a trauma that causes a psychotic break; she just gets stung by a wasp.

Specifically a mutant Hymenoepimecis sp., a parasitic wasp that normally preys on spiders, injecting them with mind-controlling eggs that force the spiders to spin a cozy cocoon for newborn wasplings, before becoming food for those same baby insects. This time, the mind-altering eggs get oviposited into Julia, and her behavior changes in anarchic ways–she becomes a habitual jaywalker, embezzles money from her job, and eventually walks out on her anthropology professor husband to live with a succession of one-night stands.

A chance encounter with a couple of anti-gentrification Brooklyn hipsters (who wouldn’t be there if Brooklyn hadn’t already been intensely gentrified) prompts Julia to first vandalize a new sports stadium and later to shoot the stadium’s developer in the head. Her actions prompt a sort of apolitical political movement–called the ‘‘movement without a name’’ or ‘‘Sans Nom’’–characterized by outrageous acts of public protest, whimsy, and the incitement of chaos. That movement swells sufficiently to threaten the status quo, forcing the secret masters of humanity to step in.

Those masters are none other than the Plesiometa argyra spiders, who, in a clever authorial choice, narrate the novel in the plural first person. The spiders just want to help: but they want to help humankind be stable, unchanging, and non-threatening. After all, humans accidentally eradicate entire species all the time–what’s to stop us from doing that to the spiders themselves? Obviously, constant monitoring and occasional intervention are necessary for the survival of their species.

The spiders are almost everywhere, masquerading as people ‘‘of indeterminate ethnicity’’–fake humans mostly woven from cobwebs, memorably described as ‘‘spiders in a man-suit.’’ They take Julia into the Simulacrum, a sort of shadow reality that lives alongside ours, in the most boring suburbs and socially stagnant small towns and culturally insular city neighborhoods, where the spiders are in complete control. They give her a new life and identity, but Julia’s blood is fizzing with wasp eggs and wild ideas about freedom, and she doesn’t stay hidden for long. She goes on the run, sowing chaos wherever she goes, crossing paths with her husband, his new girlfriend (a behavioral psychologist), those gentrification kids from the beginning of the book, and various members of Sans Nom. Crimes are committed, great revelations are revealed, and love and politics are twisted in the process. The world changes; Julia changes; and the idea of whether anyone can really change the world at all is called into question.

My one quibble is that Sensation seems to take place in an implausibly small world, with the same people crossing paths way too often in New York and Ohio and elsewhere. The book’s satirical quality mitigates that somewhat, and the author does make narrative excuses–the spiders complain often about how coincidence seems to conspire against them–but it still seems too neat and convenient at times.
Mamatas is profoundly interested in the political power of fiction, but he’s not so much grinding a particular ideological axe here as he is taking an axe to every ideology in sight. The author has a lot of personal experience with political movements and their efficacy or lack thereof, and he isn’t shy about calling them to account for ineptitude, hypocrisy, and failure of ambition and imagination. Sensation is deeply political without being preachy, and it’s a bracing, original read, quite unlike any other book you’re likely to encounter. Which is just the way the spiders want it.

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