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Apocalypse Now?

By Sasha Lilley
December 21st, 2012

The end of history arrives today. While the Maya never actually predicted that the world would end on 12.21.12, apocalypse tourists have been flocking to Guatemala for the occasion, much to the chagrin of many indigenous people there. Others have been heading to a small village in the French Pyrenees, where they believe a spaceship, hidden in a mountain peak, will whisk those present at the appointed time to a new era. In southern Ohio, New Agers inspired by rightwing conspiracist and erstwhile sports commentator David Icke, have been caught planting quartz crystals and aluminum foil (baked in muffin tins) in the Native American Serpent Mound, the largest effigy earthwork in the world, to open a “stargate” when doomsday arrives this week.

These predictions are easy to laugh off. Certainly, anything that brings together Icke, evangelical Christians, and Brittany Spears is hard to take seriously. Yet the allure of the notion of collapse and rebirth has a strong hold on more than the New Agers. It resonates with what many feel about the times we live in, which are indisputably catastrophic. Global warming is not something looming in the future, but is here already, as the inundation of Manhattan and the destruction of the Jersey shore have shown (and have been even more magnified in the Global South, hit as they have been by the worst effects of climate change). The global financial crisis has upended the lives of those who did not already feel like their jobs were increasingly precarious. Why not hope that out of the ashes of the present, a better—or different—world might take shape?

The left has a long history of catastrophism—expecting collapse to lead to social transformation. So has the far right, with its emblem of the phoenix muscularly rising out of the embers of the old. For the left, such hopes have frequently been based on the idea that capitalism will run up against internal limits and then come crashing down. The beginning of the financial crisis was met with glee from some quarters that finally the behemoth that is capitalism, that we had not been able to vanquish over the last four decades of accumulated defeats for the left, had imploded under its own weight. Unfortunately, such hopes were short lived as the crisis proved—and as crises under capitalism tend to prove—an opportunity for elites to force concessions out of workers that would have been more difficult in less fraught times. In the United States, profits are at an all time high, while wages are at a record low as a percentage of GDP. So much for the self-destruction of capitalism. 

The idea that the current order will be transformed through collapse and rebirth is frequently connected to peak oil—the notion that readily accessible petroleum reserves are becoming scarcer and scarcer, ultimately leading to the unraveling of industrial society and the blossoming of a new way of living. Like apocalypse-predictors of old, peak oil catastrophists have no compunction about putting a date on the collapse, frequently in the immediate future. But as with the financial crisis, they lose sight of the destructive dynamism of capitalism, which sees such barriers as not final roadblocks but hurdles to overcome, opening up new avenues of investment and profitability. Hence, rather than teetering on the edge of a Mad Max-like scenario of oil scarcity and industrial collapse, the International Energy Agency recently announced that the United States will surpass Saudi Arabia in the next decade as the world’s leading oil producer, thanks to a destructive boom in hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Unfortunately, it appears that we have more than enough accessible petroleum to roast the planet, long before reserves run out.

Since these ideas tend to be misguided, why are such scenarios so appealing to those on the left? And why have they become particularly appealing—at least in certain forms—in recent decades? I would suggest that their allure is rooted in a politics of despair, resulting from the defeats the left has suffered over the past forty years and the ebbing of hopes for large-scale anti-capitalist social transformation. Or, to quote a phrase often attributed to Fredric Jameson, it’s become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. That’s unfortunate, because there is nothing eternal about capitalism. It is a fairly new system historically and hopefully we will usher it out one day. But expecting it to collapse under its own weight or because of peak oil is ill advised. Such catastrophism—that harrowing external forces will bring about changes that we have lost faith in our own capacity to achieve—lends itself to bad politics: to the limited, sometimes desperate, actions of the few, and the paralysis of the many.

Fear and fear-based politics, do not tend to serve the left in the way that they serve the right. The idea of a cleansing catastrophe flows naturally from reactionary politics. The right thrives on fear. And it has a simple solution for the alarmist scenarios that it is constantly invoking: scapegoat the “enemy”—whether immigrants or other easily targeted populations—and demand authoritarian fixes. These do not work for the left (nor should they). Fear tilts right. Leftists enter into fear mongering at their peril.

A new beginning emerging from a fiery end has been predicted countless times before. In 1844, the followers of American Baptist preacher William Miller sold their possessions in anticipation of the return of Christ. What did not, in fact, follow is known as The Great Disappointment. It is unlikely that the aftermath of the 2012 apocalypse will leave such a mark. Who remembers now the rapture predicted on May 21st of last year? Or the follow-up, “corrected” date of October 21st? But it should remind us nonetheless of the limits of catastrophist avenues for social change–and the need to go about constructing our own real collective ones, drawing on our collective strengths, not our weaknesses.

Sasha Lilley is a radio broadcaster, writer, and coauthor of Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, published by PM Press. 

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Don't Leave Your Friends Behind: A Q&A with Victoria Law and China Martens

by Kjerstin Johnson
Bitch Magazine
December 2012

A Q&A with Victoria Law and China Martens

Whether you organize at national conferences or around the kitchen table, you should pick up the new anthology Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities (PM Press). Seven years in the making, this book is full of tales, testimonies, and tips that caretakers will relate to and nonparents can learn from. Coeditors China Martens (pioneering mama zinester behind The Future Generation) and Victoria Law (who recently published her second edition of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women) were nice enough to take some time to share some starter’s tips below.

What is one barrier to making events family-inclusive?

Victoria Law: There’s a Western capitalist concept that parents are solely responsible for their children. Many feel that children don’t “belong” anywhere but in spaces specifically designated for children—amusement parks, toy stores, playgrounds, etc.

This is not how families are seen in other parts of the world. In Hong Kong (where my family is from), parents (and grandparents) take children with them everywhere. At the 2007 Zapatista Women’s Encuentro, children ran in and out of meetings, they were breastfed by their mothers, and some even addressed the hundreds of attendees about their realities. Those children aren’t shunted into corners, but are part of everyday life—including political work—and learn from being part of the world.

What do nonparents overlook when it comes to family-inclusive organizing?

China Martens:
There isn’t any one-size-fits-all answer. That said, here are some points to remember: All issues are also parents’ and children’s issues. If you do not see parents and children around you, ask why. Planning for family inclusion needs to start at the beginning, not at the last minute. Remember to discuss childcare issues and possible solutions collectively.

What are some basic steps to make organizing family-inclusive?

Talk with families—both caregivers and kids. Find out what they need to participate! 
Some need childcare, others need people to help with their children in the same room. Remember that not everyone’s needs are 
the same.

Make sure that the organizing spaces are safe and accessible for everyone. Caregivers should not have to worry about their children’s safety during meetings and events. If meetings are several hours long and no childcare or help with children is provided, it becomes impossible for caregivers to attend.

CM: Having food or help with homework allows parents with children in school to attend. If you have multiple points of entry and tasks with varying time commitment, people can join, lead, and stay involved 
in ways that work for themselves and 
their families.

What are three of your favorite activities to do with children?

CM: Breaking the ice by sharing an object I like, for example, a little plastic animal or art supplies. Meeting children where they are—even while holding an infant, you see the world in a different kind of way, you notice what they notice. Going for a walk: Once, when Victoria’s daughter was very young, she and I went for a walk and there were fireflies and we talked about our favorite movies, and it was in that moment that I realized she was my friend.

What do feminist conversations about parenthood often leave out?

CM: They frequently leave out parenting entirely! Or it has been a white, privileged women’s conversation between those who have economic privilege and multiple resources to support them in their parenting.

What’s the best thing about being a parent and an organizer/activist?

VL: I don’t know if there’s one best thing, so I’ll give an example: Last year, my 11-year-old daughter, whom I’ve dragged to prison-related meetings, conferences, and discussions for years, wrote about Dharun Ravi’s sentence for a class. While many of her classmates advocated that Ravi spend life in prison or be executed, my daughter offered an alternative that looks at trying to repair the harm he’s caused: For the rest of his life, he should have to volunteer with LGBTQ organizations and work with LGBTQ people. When children are included in social justice work, they can understand and explore possibilities of how to create a truly transformational, liberated world.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to China Marten's Page | Back to Vikki Law's Page

You Can Read It in the Funny Papers

by Ron Jacobs
Weekend Edition December 21-23rd, 2012

When I lived in Berkeley, California during the 1970s and 1980s, I probably spent more money at Comics & Comix on Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave. than at any other store except for those that sold beer and food.  At the time, underground comix were still published frequently enough so one could get something new every few weeks. Plus, there were always old publications to buy. Sometime in 1978 the first issue of Anarchy Comics was published. The red cover caught my eye immediately upon entering the store (as it was intended to do, no doubt).  I skimmed the comic, saw artwork I recognized and forked over the coins to the clerk. “You’ll like that,” he said. “Got some Spain in there, some other cool shit.” We talked for a couple minutes and I left. My friends and I got into our van and drove back to our house in East Oakland. We had some weed, beer and a handful of comix. Our eviction was still a week away. We were set for the evening.

A mélange of history, utopian speculation, social commentary and just plain fun, Anarchy Comics were the brainchild of cartoonist Jay Kinney.  Previously known for his work with the comic Young Lust and the Bijou Funnies series, Kinney decided to explore his interest in the history and philosophy of anarchism via comic books.  When the first issue came out, it sold quickly.  In part, this was because of the cartoonists it featured; Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton (of Austin’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers), the Frenchman Paul Mavrides, JR Burnham, Epistoliery and Volny on the Kronstadt uprising, Clifford Harper of Britain’s Class War Comix , Melanie Gebbies, and Kinney himself.  The publisher was none other than Ron Turner, whose dystopian Last Gasp comix foretold a grim future of ecological devastation and human despair.

Over the next ten years, three more issues of Anarchy Comics would be published.  Always entertaining and informational, they continued to include most of the aforementioned artists, while adding others along the way, including underground legend Greg Irons and Marvel artist Steven Stiles.  Spain’s contributions continued to highlight anarchist history: Durruti in the Spanish Civil War and Italy’s Roman Spring of 1977; Harper turned his pen to more contemporary social criticism; Mavrides and Kinney collaborated on both.  The highlight of this collaboration is the story titled “Kultur Dokuments” that appears in issue number two.  This story begins with a tale about a not-too-distant future where the Picto family, depicted with paper-cutouts, lives a two-dimensional life proscribed by the state whose goal is to take over everyone’s brain.  As the family members succumb, only the teenage son avoids that fate.  After being locked into his room by his parents, he finds a comic book that is the best parody of the classic Archie comic series ever published.  Titled “Anarchie,” it is the story of Anarchie and his friend Ludehead engaged in shenanigans typical of the actual characters except with a twist of rebellion.  Suffice it to say, I never looked at Archie comics the same after reading this.

Recently, PM Press published the entire collection of Anarchy Comics in one volume.  Besides the content of the individual comic books, Kinney has included his tale of their genesis, a foreword by Paul Buhle, some ephemera and short biographies of each cartoonist.  Besides being an important event in the history of comics and underground culture, PM’s republication of these comix gives an entirely new generation to read, appreciate and be inspired by the art, humor and intelligence that went into them.

Speaking of comic characters, there are very few who are older than the German Kasper.  The classic figure of the trickster, known in every human culture from Coyote to Star Trek’s Q, the Kaspers of human culture are here to point out our shortcomings and our foibles; our injustices and our selfishness.  Their sense of humor is not always that funny and their finger pointing is often taken quite poorly.  This is as it should be.  In Germany, they are known as the Kasperle and appear in Fasching parades, political protests and on television.  They are loved for what they say and hated because they blame us all for being complicit.

The Bread and Puppet Theatre has spent more than four decades doing what tricksters do.  This is why it is only right that the recently published book from Peter Schumann, the troupe’s founder and inspiration, should be about this Kasper.  A collection of cartoons drawn over the past several years, Schumann’s Planet Kasper takes on capitalist globalization, its wars and its proselytizers.  This Kasper is a clever, subversive commentary on the culture and cruelty of modern capitalism. It is drawn with primitive lines evoking not only the puppets of the Bread and Puppet theatre, but also their predecessors from old Europe.  The parables told are simple and pointed.  The solutions to the problems presented are equally so.  It is the illusions that we believe that prevent us from seeing this truth.  Kasper’s task, like all tricksters, is to destroy those illusions.  Utilizing metaphor, sarcasm, and even a little scatological humor, Peter Schumann’s trickster does his best.  The rest is up to us.

Comics and cartoons are often meant to be funny.  They can also be an effective means of relaying history and ideas.  In addition, the best comics are also subversive.  The ultimate combination of art, words and story can turn the reader’s world upside down or at least into a twist, challenging previously held notions.  If we accept these criteria to define quality comic art, then Jay Kinney’s Anarchy Comics and Peter Schumann’s Planet Kasper are both at the top of the form.

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

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Armed Affect: Revolutionary Love and the Politics of Care

by Eric Stanley
The Abolitionist, Critical Resistance's paper
November 29th, 2012

Born at the end of the long 1970s, I often find myself looking toward that decade with a somewhat politically dangerous sense of attachment. I cannot help but be endlessly inspired by the numerous anti-colonial and Black liberation struggles, the women’s and gay liberation movements, and the massive student and prisoner organizing of that period of history.

Living now, in what feels like an extended lull in radical politics in the US (even with the Decolonize/Occupy movements both flourishing and conceding), its hard not to nostalgically long to know what it might feel like to fight against empire as a part of a international and truly massive movement. This is not to suggest that this work, or our collective dreams for another world have vanished. Many of us do continue to organize and rewrite those traditions within our narratives of today. However, the raw power and urgency often articulated by those that lived these years seems to have been evacuated in the present and replaced by more protracted visions and constricted possibilities.  The revolution that many  believed was “right around the corner” has yet to come, or perhaps it is on the way, just much slower, and in a different form than was once thought.

Longing for another era is of course much easier than living in that time. But luckily we have records of this collective history, which can inform how we struggle differently today. David Gilbert’s new autobiography, Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond (PM Press) offers not only a chronology of those explosive years, but also, and more importantly, he carves a personal, and often times emotional account of the wins and the many losses of those years. Gilbert, possibly more than most others who have written about that era from the inside, offers a necessary and productive foil to my naïve understanding.

From his jail cell at the Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York, Gilbert begins his story with his youth in the suburbs of Boston, MA. Looking back, he gleans his own history for traces of what and when his otherwise white middle-class upbringing was transformed into a commitment to undoing systematic oppression.  He attempts to understand his own political growth—beginning at the ends of the Civil Rights era to his arrival as an undergraduate at Columbia University in New York City as the war against Vietnam began to escalate.  The book follows his life from aboveground community organizer to underground freedom fighter and ends with his eventual imprisonment in 1981.

In the chapter “ The 1960s and the Making of A Revolutionary” Gilbert details his early college years where his activism and analysis intensified. In 1962 he joined CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) and then began working with the Columbia chapter of Students of a Democratic Society (SDS), a group which organized primarily on college campuses against the Vietnam War.  He states, “My turning point from ardent protest to throwing my whole life into stopping the war can be marked with an issue of Ramparts.” (45) unlike other alternative media of the day, Ramparts included full color photographs of Vietnamese children burned by napalm. He cites the “emotional impact” of those photos to be the lever that propelled him into a full-time organizer.

While both his personal history and the political sketch he offers are well articulated and important, I find the tone of his writing to be a vital intervention into the otherwise austere way the history of the US radical Left gets retold. This tone is supported by a deep commitment to self-reflexivity as he continually mines for missteps in his, and our, history. For example, rather then concluding his analysis with some compulsory comments on the category “women”, Gilbert offers a powerful critique of the ways the left helped produce a culture of misogyny that, like the larger world they were resisting, silenced women, reproduced the gender binary, and protected a kind of middle-class whiteness. Importantly, he undoes the often-used alibi that these practices were simply “symptoms of their time” he works to unpack how and why sexism was so ubiquitous, including his own active and passive participation in it.

And while he does offer some thoughts on queer liberation, this thread could be developed further, especially in relation to his co-defendant in the Brink’s case and long time friend Kuwasi Balagoon, who was arguable “queer” and died in prison a few years after their capture from AIDS related causes.

Another crucial moment in the radicalization of Gilbert, or at least an event that would eventually alter his life, was the infamous split that happened at the national SDS convention held in Chicago in June of 1969. While the intricacies of the split are both well documented and contingent upon who is offering that documentation, in short the split indexed a larger tension in the US, white student left between an analysis that suggest class was the major factor in oppression which was supported by Progressive Labor, and on the other side was the Revolutionary Youth Movement who argued that class cannot be understood without an analysis of racism and sexism (this antagonism still figures forcefully today). The convention ended with the walkout of many delegates instigated by, among others, Bernadine Dohrn.

This split lead to the creation of the Weathermen, later renamed the Weather Underground, a clandestine organization dedicated to militant direct action, namely bombing building—with precautions to not harm anyone—as a way to expose the violence of US imperialism both here and around the world. Reluctant at first, Gilbert eventually joined a Weather collective and headed underground.

While many others have written about living underground and of the Weather Underground in particular Gilbert’s account brilliantly oscillates between the intensity of living underground—evading police, obtaining and using fake IDs, building bombs, and then the monotony of everyday life—trying to find under the table work, months of planning for a single action and perhaps most vividly; the isolation from being cut off from your former life. While Gilbert offers insight on how power worked “inside” the underground, he writes with what I see with a deep sense of ambivalence. Not a political ambivalence, but with an honest and retrospective analysis of what it felt like to live underground. The affective dimensions of the book also offer us much for thinking about the necessity of care, which was then, as it often is now, discredited as “counter-revolutionary.”

“It is precisely because of our love of life, because we revel in the human spirit, that we became freedom fighters against this racist and deadly imperialist system” Theses words are from Gilbert’s’ statement in court on September 13,1982 after he had been arrested and charged in connection with the Brink’s truck robbery, an attempted expropriation done in solidarity with the Black Liberation Army, which eventually lead to his imprisonment. They encapsulate the spirit of his moving account of the pleasure and terrors of living a revolutionary life under the powers of a state that is intent on liquidating resistance at all costs. While Gilbert’s details of the Weather Underground and SDS fills in many of the gaps in those histories, his political commitment in offering us a tool for today is what makes Gilbert’s book necessary for all of us invested in structural change. Even after serving over 30 years as a political prisoner, Gilbert writes with humility, clarity, affection, and even humor, as he reminds us that care—care for each other and for our movements— produces as much, if not more, radical potentiality than a bomb. Revolutionary struggle, yes, but love too, love and struggle, indeed.

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Catastrophism — Left, Right, and Center

by Ernesto Aguilar
MR Zine
December 12th, 2012

One of the Left's great challenges is to understand when the great watershed of change is upon people and seize the time.  Racism, sexism, inequality, and uncertain futures have weighed heavily on the conscience of many a movement.  For every great moment, hundreds of crushing defeats never to be remembered are handed down.  Once in a rare moon, stunning defeats like the 1965 Selma to Montgomery demonstrations or the Long March galvanize participants and become iconic -- something history recalls as a moral victory that alters the fates of those involved.  But how often does that happen?  It's much more seldom than you'd think.

The expectation of sure and monumental societal shifts is not isolated to progressives.  The Right has more than its share of individuals who believe in the surety of change.  In some alternate, albeit anecdotal, universe, Left and Right, extreme flavors in particular, share a view that society, whether through greed, excess, loss of the moral barometer, or any number of factors, has lost its way and its people need to wake up to that reality.  In some cases, these subcultures of doom can shake people from slumber and even influence their outcomes.  No one will probably ever know how much blood committed people have spilled for the sake of change, either to spark it or stop it.

In Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth (PM Press, 2012), James Davis, Sasha Lilley, David McNally, and Eddie Yuen in four essays beautifully plumb the history of these hopes, even mad ones.  Part history lesson, part ideological soul searching, Catastrophism is a dense yet enthralling attempt to not only understand what brings Left and Right to believe in the inevitability of renewal, but also to take apart these visions in hopes of educating readers about what true social change means and why nothing can truly replace mass grassroots organizing.

It is not hard to figure out where even well-adjusted people adopt the idea of the certainty of social collapse.  Generations upon generations of popular culture has normalized the notion that the world is folding and that it is now on the shoulders of a few brave souls to battle for the future.  It's not just the wildly popular Christian Left Behind series to latch onto this storyline.  You'd be hard pressed to not find in the cultural landscape images of a dying world, which is a plot device in so many books, films, and television serials.  McNally reminds readers that horrific imagery has been for years a harbinger of public sentiment, especially a metaphor for what people fear most.  With Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero famously tapped into the zombie for a cultural criticism of capitalism as inherently cannibalistic.  The monsters of modern film seem numbingly banal, with their assorted social awkwardness, relationship problems, and lusts, and yet they still play the same cultural functions as classic monsters like vampires.  The average American is plunged each day into this world where conflict, death, and chaos are at every turn; Hollywood has merely found a way to profit.  The make-believe world, McNally says, masks real worries of neoliberalism, austerity, and similar horrors which now rule our daily lives.

Themes of fictional wars against the undead pock our imaginations and, increasingly, the political intelligence of the public.  The far right, as Davis investigates, has been virtually sculpted by beliefs in social apocalypse for nearly a century or more.  As the first Roman Catholic presidential nominee, Al Smith's losing bid for president in 1928 is widely credited by historians to be in part due to worries of conservative Christians that the White House would be controlled by the Pope.  Later, Minister Arno C. Gaebelein fought the New Deal, believing it was a cover for Russian Communism and, under that, Satan himself aiming to make all people his loyal servants.  Such ideas have endured to this very day, where the Pat Buchanans and Billy Grahams of the scene see the specter of one world government poised to vanquish traditional Christianity at any moment.  The Obama Administration has been a popular target for a spectrum of conservatives, from disgraced pundit Dinesh D'Souza to Texas conspiracy guru Alex Jones, as the iron first ready to seize true Americans' freedoms.  With such storm troopers apt to destroy life as we know it, ideologies like dominionism, which holds that natural resources were offered to humanity by God for its use and their exhaustion will hasten Christ's return, find a large and influential audience.  Farfetched as they sound, such concepts on the Right are plentiful.

Sadly, such fear mongering has created an especially nasty political class with a consistent message: those who are different than you are out to take what is white America's, and it's time to fight.  California Republican Brian Bilbray forecast future terrorists "coming in on a Latin name," while anti-immigrant activists like John Tanton use colorful rhetoric to suggest the Third World is ready to pounce on the West's bounty.  As the recent conviction of 33-year-old white nationalist Anders Breivik suggests, some are willing to viciously "defend themselves" from their imagined multicultural menace.  "This growth in extremism has been aided by mainstream media figures and politicians who have used their platforms to . . . spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive," the Southern Poverty Law Center notes in its survey of far right extremists.

Lilley, co-host of radio program Against the Grain, and Yuen take on the Left's fascination with catastrophe, and do so incisively.  Marxists and anarchists of many stripes have opined that capitalism is bound to fail, though such claims misread capitalism's changeability and underestimate the Left's need to out-organize the powerful.  Yet in the last half century, clandestine U.S. groups like the Weather Underground Organization and the Earth Liberation Front, with hopes of kicking off a revolution with brash expressions of direct action, ended up winning little to nothing.  In numerous cases, these erstwhile movements hoping for mass revolt instead disconnected themselves from that potential in their misunderstanding of contemporary politics.  Anti-civilization anarchism, which speaks of destroying enemies and dismantling the infrastructure, even if it means people die as a result, surely sounds insane to most.  In other circles, the rise of repression, Nativism, financial collapse, and political corruption is hailed as a harbinger of revolutionary change, that greater suffering ripens the potential for an uprising.  Catastrophism contends no result should be considered automatic.

Marx's theory of crisis, Lilley reminds readers, did not depend on capitalism's breakdown.

Theorist Anton Pannekoek expanded on this view by positing that the matter was defeating capitalism in spite of its durability not because of the supposed inevitably of its failure.

Lilley refuses to legitimize the point of view of liberals who regard the Left as well as the Right with condescension, equating all left-wing political theories with catastrophism and tsking them away as outgrowths of extremism.  What about the election cycle-driven liberal catatrophism that demands progressives set aside their principles or else right-wing candidates could spell disaster for millions?  Among the liberal crowd, defeating conservatives is a rallying cry that is more important than food, education, justice, and virtually every other core value.  "Such fear-mongering in the service of the status quo reaches its apex with perennial liberal scares about impending fascism," Lilley writes.  "Such scares reached a fever pitch after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, when various liberals decided that the Constitution had been ripped up, replaced by a dictatorship."

Although consciously not a dictionary of strategies, Catastrophism's authors are clear on what does not work -- "and what works at great cost."  The book is best when exploring political areas without easy answers.  It is certain to spark the debate its authors intended, and perhaps create conversations about the need for the kind of organizing that must happen to initiate the diverse social justice agenda many progressives profess to want.

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Back to Sasha Lilley's Author Page
Back to David McNally's Author Page
Back to Eddie Yuen's Author Page
Back to James Davis's Author Page

Summer Brenner's Nearly Nowhere on Crime Fiction Lover (UK)

by PulpCurry
Crime Fiction Lover
November 25, 2012

Written by Summer Brenner – It might not be the best known publisher on the block, but California-based PM Press has delivered some solid hits with the Switchblade crime series. Benjamin Whitmer’s Pike was an absorbing, bleak read about a reformed hustler and drug trafficker who heads to Cincinnati to find out how his estranged daughter died. It is not for the faint hearted. The Jook by Gary Phillips, the story of pro footballer who has one last chance at the big time, was widely praised and has been on my to-read list for a while now.

I haven’t read any of Summer Brenner’s many books, but she comes highly recommended. And after reading her novel Nearly Nowhere, the latest Switchblade release, I can see why.

Kate, the main character, lives in a small, secluded hardscrabble town in northern New Mexico with her free spirited and beautiful teenage daughter, Ruby. It’s not exactly the happiest of relationships, due to Ruby’s wild ways and Kate’s habit of bringing drifters home for a bit of sex and companionship.

Her latest pick up is Troy. As is always the case with those she brings home, Kate has grown tired of him and wants to terminate the relationship and get him out of her life. Troy is a good looking, but very mentally unhinged young man. He has a violent streak that does not take kindly to being dumped.

No sooner does Kate think Troy is out of her life than she comes home to find her former lover nursing a gunshot wound, her daughter has disappeared, and a stash of drugs in the house she didn’t know she had. It’s hard to say much more without giving away the plot, but it’s safe to say that all roads lead to the Idaho’s beautiful and dangerous wilderness area, a haven for loners and the odd Neo-Nazi cult.

Brenner knows how to pen a nice turn of phrase. Like this description of an encounter between Kate and her daughter: “Ruby hated when he mother made their encounters seem like normal happy events. Kate’s cheerfulness in the ruins of their existence was an insult to common sense.”

In a strange way, not a lot happens in this book and that’s the central appeal. There’s no massive body count and very little violence. Nearly Nowhere just a wonderfully understated story of generational secrets and misunderstanding set against the backdrop of some parts of the US I am completely unfamiliar with.


CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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Revolution at Point Zero on Z Magazine

by Seth Sandronsky
Z Magazine
December 2012

Revolutionary feminist Silvia Federici’s scope is wide in her book of essays, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, written from
1974 to now.

A major force in the Wages for House work movement of the early 1970s, Federici shed light on the invisible and invaluable labor of women under capitalism—or socially reproductive work—with a preface, introduction, three sections, notes, and a bibliography. She expands our
understand ing of who per forms and benefits from such reproduction and how it connects with the capital-wage nexus. For the purpose of private wealth accumulation, capitalism’s dynamism constantly changes how we live and work. Thus, the trajectory of Federici’s writing reflects the
changing dynamics of, and resistance to, a system that increasingly relies on women to perform the unpaid work of caring for humans.

Their labor does not appear as part of the economy. Such household work, for in stance, goes uncounted in the gross domestic product of the U.S.  In Part One we get a sense of what constitutes the feminist revolt against unwaged women’s work that holds up our current socio-economic system. As she details, women’s labor services nurture the current and future generations of workers who, in turn, sell their labor-power to buyers in the capitalist market place who de pend on this exchange to turn a profit.

As capitalist production ebbs and flows, socially reproductive and productive labor services reflect this trend. Federici tackles such flashpoints—from unwaged bed rooms and kitchens to waged workplaces and social service demands in developed and developing nations.

In the second part of Federici’s book, she disentangles globalization and social reproduction. A main theme here is the evolving international and sexual division of labor, waged and unwaged.

A grow-or-die system weakens the ability of families to care for children with out more members of house holds entering the capitalist mar ket place. Women suffer particularly as primary care givers to children and elders, migrating to provide child-rearing services to families in developed countries, while leaving their own kin for years.

Thus, Federici argues that an anti-capitalist frame work is essential to feminist struggles against patriarchy. She locates within this critique the necessity for resistance to wars with bombs or structural adjustment programs, having first-hand knowledge of the latter duiring her time teaching and writing on the African continent.

The political economy of Karl Marx runs a red line through out Federici’s book, yet she critiques his failure to analyze the vital role of women’s reproductive labor to the over all system’s equilibrium.

The final and third section of Federici’s book takes up women’s role as main stays of the commons, areas of public life and resources out side global capitalism. Federici unpacks the nature and role of female “commoning” as a verb, less so the commons as a condition. She calls for left politicizing of eldercare, under going a crisis as capitalism monetizes such reproductive work while placing a greater burden on women. Thus, car ing for elders is a gender issue.

As Federici shows with examples from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, women are on the front lines of commoning. She unveils how and why they resist the corporate takeover of subsistence farming, explaining the land question as central to women’s lives. Mutual aid and solidarity of oppressed women are more than symbolic. We see here transforming acts of solidarity against the logic of capitalist relations that rely upon sever ing people’s access to land. Reading Federici em powers us to reconnect with what is at the core of human development, women’s labor-intensive caregiving—a radical rethinking of how we live.

In that living, she argues, is our capacity to create a new, egalitarian society as the Arab Spring and Occupy Movement illustrates within the lens of women’s commoning.

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Sketching Anarchy: An Interview with Erik Ruin

by Philip Eil
The Providence Phoenix
November 14, 2012


So reads a chapter from the recently released, Paths Toward Utopia: Graphic Explorations of Everyday Anarchism. The words , which hover between poem and essay, are from Cindy Milstein, an author and activist known for her "Anarchism 101" course at the National Conference for Organized Resistance. The images — soup-kettle steam mingling with bomb smoke, protestors stepping in front of bulldozers — are the work of Providence artist Erik Ruin, whom you might recognize from the AS220 Printshop or his projection-screen accompaniment to the city's Assembly of Light Choir.

Paths is both a nod to the present and past, Milstein explains in her prologue. The book's title is an homage to the socialist philosopher Martin Buber's 1944 tract, Paths In Utopia. But the book's pages, with references to "levees that break in hurricanes & nuclear plants that melt in earthquakes" and "OCCUPY EVERYTHING" banners, are urgently modern. "From Cairo to Madison, from Athens to New York, from Barcelona to Oakland, on the shoulders of Chiapas, Seattle, and Buenos Aires," Milstein writes, "we the billions have joyfully, startlingly, raced to the window on history that's been flung open."

Ruin's visuals provide a view through this window to a world where bank vaults are re-stocked with seeds and border walls crumble, where crowds flood into libraries and public parks. Many of these images were painstakingly scratched out in a south Providence home studio through a process involving acetate, ink, and X-ACTO blades. I caught up with Ruin in his studio to talk about the book and whether anarchism can lead to utopia, as the title suggests. The interview has been edited and condensed.

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN "ANARCHISM" AND "ANARCHY"? The standard line you'll hear from a lot of people who consider themselves anarchists — [and] I do consider myself an anarchist — is that anarchy tends to imply, in most people's minds, chaos or disorder or a lack of order as its primary condition, whereas anarchism tends to be a more systematic approach to the world that resists hierarchy in all of its forms . . . So it's resistant to government, but not necessarily resistant to order.

CAN YOU TAKE ME THROUGH YOUR VISION OF UTOPIA? No. [Laughs] I mean, I think that's the definition of "utopia." It's "no place." It's the thing you're always moving towards, but never getting. I think that the things that I see as moving there are things that allow people to meet face to face and to have honest discussions about how to move forward as a society, the things that dismantle hierarchical structures of power, particularly structures of abusive power, whether it be racism or gender oppression or capitalism, which is a really big one in our society.

HOW DOES PROVIDENCE STACK UP AS A UTOPIA? IS IT A PLACE WHERE EVERYDAY ANARCHISM IS BEING EXPLORED? I think there is a younger generation of folks, like the Libertalia [the "radical social space" on Broadway] folks, who are trying to make things happen in a pretty great way. I support it. I try to come out to things when I can. I do little things for folks here and there, but I don't feel super plugged in to that. What I feel more plugged into is this sort of DIY arts scene that happens here that I think is a really special place where all these really talented people from really different disciplines and backgrounds and interests, they're all coming together. I really appreciate how, in form, it's very experimental. It feels very open in ways that other places don't.

IS THIS BOOK AN INSTRUCTION MANUAL? What I try to do with images is to form empathic linkages. I'm making this image of this huge crowd of people in Tahrir Square and I'm staring at all these faces for hours and hours as my wrist gradually cramps up and I'm falling in love with these people and I'm deeply engrossed in their lives and feel this deep care for the people I'm depicting in this moment of rebellion.

I'm hoping that that transfers to the viewer and they feel a similar empathy and solidarity with the figures that I depict. I think we live in a very atomized and splintered and alienated and depressing world. And so I'm trying to create these moments, even if it's a very bleak image, where people are feeling deeply for one another.

I really like [that image] because it gets at, I think, what the core of Tahrir Square was about. It was all of these things happening at the same time. You've got your kindergarten. You've got your self-organized trash-collection service. And then you have these martyrs' walls, you have people sleeping on the tanks. And it's all happening in the same space. There's all these forms of resistance that are all happening in organic concert with each other. I really like to challenge myself to make things as complex as possible because I think it's a very complex world and it helps me to understand it — feel at peace with the complexity — when I have this massive, busy image that I'm whittling away at every day.

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The Happy Hero: An Interview With Paul Buhle About Robin Hood

By Leslie Thatcher
October 28th, 2012

Retired Madison University Professor, Truthout contributing author and producer of nonfiction comics Paul Buhle talked to Truthout by email recently concerning his 2011 book, "Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Hero," illustrated by Chris Hitchinson, Gary Dumm and Sharon Rudahl, published by PM Press, Oakland, CA. 107 pages

Leslie Thatcher for Truthout: Paul, can you tell our readers why Robin Hood, why now?

Paul Buhle: As I try to argue in the book, but too briefly, the "enclosure" of the world, mirroring the enclosures six or seven hundred years ago in the English countryside (Karl Marx, among others, wrote brilliantly on this subject), spread human misery and vast environmental change, as they spread the market society outward. It is not an untouched "nature" that is overwhelmed in the process, but open spaces together with spaces cultivated by small-scale rural economies for centuries, at risk of eradication.

Robin Hood, the mythic figure, appears in the generational aftermath of a Europe's first (if failed) mass uprising, the Wat Tyler Rebellion of 1381. Mythic Robin protects an old village society and its rules against the new oppression of the Normans, who did indeed make familiar practices (such as the killing of deer for food) into capital crimes, and pressing villages for higher taxes—en route to the enclosures to come.

Today there are all sorts of nonprofits, international human rights groups, etc., but the enclosures and exclusions (terrorizing and driving rural folk away from vast corporate mining projects in Colombia, for instance) are barely slowed, let alone halted.

We need Robin Hood because he protects the "outside" and the "outsiders." A precursive champion of Occupy, he occupies the Greenwood, has comrades in the centers of oppression (Maid Marian is the most effective) and the support of the common village folk. He is larger than life but also part of life. Within English language lore, there has been no one in almost a thousand years who is so popular, not even King Arthur or Sir Galahad. Robin defeats the criminalization of poverty by resisting the criminality of the upper classes.

We need Robin also because from an early time, perhaps the 15th century, the Robin Hood saga was re-enacted annually in English villages as a Mayday drama, recalling the pre-Christian celebration of Spring and of fertility for humans, animals and plants alike. Robin Hood and Maid Marian are spiritual beings, Liberation Theology prototypes but not celibate! Marian, the proto feminist, is his equal and his lover.

We both share a passion for the Robin Hoods series starring Richard Greene, produced in the 1950s, for which your book provides some of the backstory. Please tell our readers how that series embodied some of the themes of the legend in its very production.

Paul Buhle This is an especially fascinating story (I was able to describe a little of it in the New York WNYC/NPR show Fishko Files, excerpts run in the NPR national  "On the Media," a few years ago) to me personally, because my parents bought a television almost as Robin Hood came on the air. The series shaped my ideas as a teenager, preparing me for discovering the local Civil Rights movement a few years later and the antiwar movement some years after that. My collaborator, veteran investigative reporter Dave Wagner, and I wrote at length about the Robin Hood series in our book, Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002.

One of the two principal scriptwriters for the series, Oscar-winning (but blacklisted) Ring Lardner, Jr., had become a good friend, as had its first script editor, Al Ruben, and especially an occasional writer of the series, Robert Lees, a veteran of slapstick Abbott and Costello comedies. So you could say that I had come full circle, discovering the secret behind the greatness of the series. Other adaptations of the Robin Hood saga are fine, as I discuss in Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Defender, especially Robin and Marian, the story of two former lovers reunited in old age. But none is so funny as the 1950s series, and none has a stronger female lead, or co-star.

Your book is cover-described as a "Graphic Guide." What motivated you to choose this format and how did your graphic collaborators fix on their own contributions?

Paul Buhle I realized recently that a decade has gone by since I began preparing for WOBBLIES! A graphic history of the Industrial Workers of the World (published 2005). I'd been studying and writing radical history since the 1960s, founding a New Left journal, Radical America, creating an oral history archive of leftwing oldtimers, and among other work, coediting the Encyclopedia of the American Left.  But I came back to comics because the art form had meant so much to me as a child, and so as to reach today's young people. Robin Hood has its own history in comics, including a Classics Illustrated version that I must have read as a child. But comic art has grown up since then. Chris Hutchinson is properly a collage artist, and he uses his skills for a satirical saga, mostly about the oppressors; Sharon Rudahl has been an important feminist comic artist since the 1970s, so she captured the Maid Marian story; and Gary Dumm has been working with me on the Middle Ages, uprisings, religious revolts, and so on, and he did a fantastic job of tying Wat Tyler's Revolt to the first important, radical English poem, "Piers Plowman."

If you failed to mention imperialism, ethnic hatred, feminism, environmentalism, the criminalization of poverty, liberation theology or cheerful resistance to an immoral order in your answers above, please briefly describe how the Robin Hood legends relate to these specific modern concerns.

Paul Buhle I rewrite your question as: Why is Robin so HAPPY?

Robin is the happy revolutionary, happy to BE a revolutionary, and his Merry Men share his joy of life, love of quaffing ale, inviting villagers to woodland parties, and keeping everybody in the proper mood to resist oppression by resisting depression.

OK, you got me! You close the book and I'll close the interview with the pertinent quote from Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer: The boys dressed themselves, hid their accoutrements, and went off grieving that there were no outlaws any more, and wondering what modern civilization could claim to have done to compensate for their loss. They said they would rather be outlaws a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever.

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Robert Haworth on Huge Power Podcast

Huge Power Podacst
Episode #2
A Conversation with Professor Robert Haworth

Listen to the interview HERE

Intro Transcript

         From Ann Arbor, Michigan, this is episode 2 of the Huge Power Podcast.  My name is Reagan M. Sova.  My guest for this episode is Dr. Robert Haworth (pictured above), who is an assistant professor in the Depart of Professional and Secondary Education at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.  He has published and presented internationally on anarchism, youth culture, informal learning spaces, and critical social studies education, and he is the editor of Anarchist Pedagogies: Collective Actions, Theories, and CriticalReflections on Education, a book published this summer by PM Press.  I will link to that book and Dr. Haworth’s PM Press author page in the notes for this show.  Without further ado though, you’ll hear Robert Haworth and me discuss his youth in the California punk rock scene, democratic structures and breaking with the logic of capitalism, Anarchist Pedagogies, Pierre Kropotkin, and cultural representations of anarchism.

Outro Transcript 

         You just heard Dr. Robert Haworth and me discuss, among other things, Anarchist Pedagogies: Collective Actions, Theories, and Critical Reflections on Education.  He is the editor of that book, and it is available now on PM Press.  My sincere thanks once again to Dr. Haworth for coming on the podcast.  The music you heard in this episode was the song “Timer” by Lilys which featured Noam Chomsky talking about why someone would bother living.  The latter overdubbed in by me.  You also heard the songs “Miserlou” by Dick Dale and His Del Tones, “Repetition” by Quasi, “Chill” by EPMD, “I found the F” by Broadcast, and this episode of Huge Power will conclude with the song “Mistake” by D+.  The song playing right now is “Landfill” by the band Hospital Garden.  In just a moment, I’ll conclude this 2nd episode of Huge Power with the Huge Power petition of week.

          The Huge Power petition of the week reflects my own viewpoints and not necessarily those of my guests.  It is one that I created on entitled “The New York Times: Investigate the Health Crisis in Fallujah.”  Ross Caputi, writing for The Guardian newspaper, says, "Ever since two major US-led assaults destroyed the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, Fallujans have witnessed dramatic increases in rates of cancers, birth defects and infant mortality in their city. Dr Chris Busby, the author and co-author of two studies on the Fallujah heath crisis, has called this 'the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied.'

... Yet, one of the most severe public health crises in history, for which the US military may be to blame, receives no attention in the United States."  A study written about by the late Patrick Cockburn in The Independent found rates of cancer in Fallujah after US bombing to be higher than those recorded in Hiroshima post-atom bomb.  Please take a moment to sign the petition. 

You can find a link to the petition, as well as links to the articles in the Guardian and the Independent in the notes for this show. My name is Reagan M. Sova.  Thank you for listening to the Huge Power Podcast.

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