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Pictures of a Gone City in The New York Journal of Books

By Paul Street
New York Journal of Books
May 31st, 2018

“brilliant, richly informed, and cleverly written . . .”

The magnificent left geographer and prolific California historian Richard A. Walker has great hometown affection for the San Francisco Bay area. He praises its dynamism, wealth, environmentalism, multi-culturalism, intellectual ferment, rebelliousness, and progressive politics—all parts, Walker shows, of how the region became the tech capital of the world.
At the same time, Walker is an erudite academic Marxist and world system thinker with a keen eye for the dark social, environmental, and political undersides of Bay Area and Silicon Valley prosperity. Pictures of a Gone City is a brilliant, richly informed, and cleverly written (if perhaps too voluminous and exhaustively annotated for his claim to seek a general audience) tour of these hidden undersides, including:
* The “undeserved credit” (and profit) that the heralded Bay Area tech elite (headed by “entrepreneurial giants” like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg) has taken “from things that are social products, not the work of individual genius”: “the economies of urban concentration;” “the progress of technology:” government research and development; the alienated and often tedious labor of the region’s many “skilled techies;” a disproportionately non-white low-wage regional workforce; a “tsunami of surplus value” extracted from super-exploited proletarians working under terrible conditions in China, Asia, and other parts of the global capitalist periphery (Chapter 1).
* How the Bay Area’s tech-driven boom comes at the cost of other, left-behind regions while putting the Bay Area itself at risk of collapse when (as the timeworn waves and cycles of global capitalism guarantee) the boom goes bust (Chapter 2).
* The savage expansion of class and related racial, ethnic, and gender inequalities as the tech boom make the region’s rich richer than ever before while its multiracial working-class struggles with the collapse of unions, the rise of a racist mass-incarceration state, the subtle underlying white-supremacism and misogyny of the hegemonic tech industry, and runaway classist and racist gentrification, replete with notoriously impossible housing prices leading to the “intense recolonization of the core cities of the Bay Area” (Chapters 3 to 6).
* Monstrous urban sprawl that enriches developers while assaulting livable ecology and furthering the region’s pronounced segregation by race and class (Chapter 7).
* A giant toxic environmental footprint that belies the region’s proud Green legacy and reputation (Chapter 8).
* Massive regional investment in and reliance upon an information technology revolution that “endangers people’s jobs and privacy, modern society’s hard-won knowledge and grip on reality, and even the future of popular control and democratic government” (Chapter 9).
* A not-so (pseudo?) Left political culture that that is “compromised by its own [capitalist] success.” Decades after it launched such remarkable portside developments as (to mention just a few) the Oakland General Strike (1946), the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, and the Black Panther Party, the Bay Area is increasingly devoid of any serious, durable, united, and powerful Left. It is dangerously “in the thrall of big money and conventional nostrums for the grave social ills that plague the nation.” The Bay Area “Left” offers no “systematic response to the perils presented by the resurgent Far Right,” whose more Los Angeles-based predecessors (from the John Birch Society and before through Ronald Reagan and beyond) have long used the “radical” San Francisco area as their favorite political whipping boy.
Walker concludes by writing that the region “badly needs a new upsurge of radical organizing if it is to once again act as a beacon of social progress in a darkening time.” That conclusion is certainly true, but it is also rather elementary, applicable to pretty much any region of the world today, and Walker offers few specifics about what precisely organizers should demand from concentrated wealth and power within and the beyond the Bay Area.
Still, Pictures of a Gone City is a remarkably instructive, richly researched, and masterfully crafted reflection on the perils of what passes for progress and prosperity under the modern system of class rule that we call capitalism.

Paul Street's most recent book is They Rule: The 1% vs. Democracy. He is the author of six other titles, and is an independent researcher, journalist, historian, and speaker. His articles, reviews, interviews, and commentaries have appeared in numerous venues.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Richard Walker's Author Page

PM Press Reissues Radical America Komiks, Proving There Is Still Hope For Humanity

By Andrew Stewart
Washington Babylon

February 1st, 2019

Andrew revisits a classic of underground comix that is a vital artifact of the Sixties…

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . . So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back. -Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Radical America Komiks was published half a century ago. The fact that many of the contributors to that periodical are still alive is testament to several undeniable factors, including the power of modern medicine, the perseverance of the human spirit, the ineffectiveness of the COINTEL-PRO’s aim to smother all New Left radicals, and the fact that Nixon will have been proven the loser in the final equation.

RAK was, unbeknownst to its contributors, much like Dr. Gonzo’s wave. Within a few years of publication, Students for a Democratic Society (the organization for whom Radical America was a theoretical-cum-academic journal) was imploded by a variety of pressures, not the least of being a locker room scuffle between Maoists, Trotskyists, and various other misbegotten sectarian knuckleheads, including the Weatherman organization.

Someday, perhaps when everyone involved in the struggle is either dead or lost all their marbles in the nursing home, the FOIA requests and de-classifications of the FBI archives and everything else will put together the whole graphic novel and show how much of this inglorious denouement was caused by the COINTEL-PRO effort against SDS. Were the factional splits that ruptured the movement exacerbated by the subterfuge of the FBI? Was it all pre-ordained by J. Edgar Hoover, who by that point had assembled quite the arsenal of operational procedures that dated back to the Palmer raids in 1919-20? When all is revealed, will anyone believe it belongs anywhere besides the comics page?

This extended digression on the immediate aftermath of when the book in question might seem a bit strange. But in fact I see this contextual understanding as vital to a genuine analysis. This is not just a funny book (in both meanings of that word), a monument of comic art. It also is an ink-and-pen time machine to a moment of calm before the storm of the 1970s. From roughly the death of John Kennedy until 1970, the Baby Boomer generation had the world as their oyster. The welfare state existed, full employment was official US government policy, college tuition was basically pennies per semester, and the streets were full of activists who were certain they could change the world, which they in fact did.

Of course, there was just one thing they left out: what was the ultimate goal?

For some, such as Weatherman, the name of the game was revolution. But not everyone actually was grabbing the pitchforks. There is in fact a Mariana Trench separating “I don’t want to go to Vietnam” and “Expropriate the expropriators.Radical America Komiks was a project developed by the magazine and edited by Gilbert Shelton, who had previously been making his mark in the underground comix circuit in Austin. It straddles this contradiction within the ultimate goal of the movement, and articulates the difference between the two worldviews, reform or revolution, in a hilarious manner.

“We can see better now that RA Komiks connects, not only for me, the EC/MAD COMICS legacy with the future rise of radical graphic novels,” says historian Paul Buhle, who edited Radical America in the late 1960s and has made a second career editing graphic novels. “Gilbert Shelton, the artistic creator of RAK, contributed to MAD founder Harvey Kurtzman’s HELP! magazine in the early 1960s, and the circle around early Underground Comix included some of my future collaborators, especially Spain Rodriguez and Trina Robbins.

Over 42 goofy pages, readers were presented with anarchic, zany strips that pushed all the boundaries of common decency for that period. Included among these was one of the earliest appearances of Shelton’s own Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, the goofball stoners who went on to become a cult classic.

Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers

Also in the mix is Billy Graham being lampooned mercilessly over his well-documented hypocrisy, Jesus Christ being beaten up by cops mistaking our Lord and Savior for a hippie, and Smiling Sgt. Death and His Merciless Mayhem Patrol, a send-up of postwar combat comics like GI Joe that skirts the border between offensive and hilarious in a precarious fashion. This straddling itself is emblematic of the era. The Sixties in America was always jumping between moments of brilliance and incoherence, waging an offensive against The Man and being simply offensive.

Perhaps a bellwether of this dissonance was William Appleman Williams, whose ‘Wisconsin School of Diplomatic History’ provided the pedigree for a multiplicity of thinkers that were published in Radical America. By 1968, after writing his two most popular volumes (and having been red-baited by sycophantic Kennedy court historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. over them), Williams left Wisconsin, infuriated by the New Left’s growing militancy, retreating to the Oregon coast. Almost thirty years after his death, one looks back on his legacy and finds his high estimation for Herbert Hoover, John Quincy Adams, and the Articles of Confederation. He thought that there was something within the United States’ origins that were germinal to a viable decentralized socialism that would shirk the alleged excesses of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions. Those contradictions and paradoxes were emblematic of a movement that undeniably left its mark, a legacy that was most recently on public display with the political contest between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, both legitimate claimants to the heritage of the Sixties.

That liminality of the legacy of the Sixties is something that historians will grapple with later. For now, perhaps this graphic novel time machine provides the best moral judgment possible until another wave rolls in and helps us all see things from a higher position.

Buy the book | Buy the e-Book | Back to Gilbert Shelton's Author Page | Back to Paul Buhle's Page | Back to Jay Kinney's Page

7 Books About Why We Need to Normalize Abortion

Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) and her lawyer Gloria Allred on the steps of the Supreme Court, 1989. Photo by Lorie Shaull.

By Ameila Bonow
Electric Literature
January 22nd, 2019

Amelia Bonow, author of “Shout Your Abortion,” recommends reading on the importance of reproductive rights

Today, Roe vs. Wade turns 46 years old. The landmark piece of legislation may not see it’s 47th birthday, it spite of the fact that 71% of Americans support abortion rights and one in four people who can get pregnant will have at least one abortion in their lifetime. And whether or not Roe survives, the GOP will continue to decimate access at the state level, doing their best to ensure that reproductive freedom remains an economic privilege, afforded to their wives and mistresses. They’ll leave the rest of us to die.

Beginning about twenty years ago, evangelicals hijacked the discourse about abortion and redefined the terms: abortion is murder, providers are serial killers, Planned Parenthood has cornered the black market on baby brains. The pro-choice movement pivoted to the defense, and in doing so, lost the ability to advocate for abortion in any sort of compelling way. The price to enter the conversation as someone who has actually had an abortion became impossibly high. And until recently, the vast majority of pro-choice voices have declined to root their own convictions in any personal experience.

Purchase the book

In 2015, my own abortion disclosure ignited a viral outpouring of stories via the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion. Shout Your Abortion has subsequently evolved into a movement and a full-fledged organization, working to create places in art, media and real-life events all over the country for people to talk about their abortion experiences. SYA is not just for people who’ve had abortions, and people who have had abortions are not simply deciding to shout about them for their own personal empowerment; we’re doing this for everyone. The prevailing silence is toxic for everyone. And this whole country will go up in flames without abortion access. We’ll never be able to fight for it unless we learn to talk about it.

Legislatively, this hellscape does not match mainstream needs or values. Culturally, even those of us who are strongly pro-choice are often completely uncomfortable talking about abortion. The subject has been conspicuously avoided in art, literature, and in the conversations we have with the people we love. As a result, we’ve failed to develop any understanding of what abortion actually is, and how it works in peoples’ lives. Our collective perception lacks human touchstones, and people do not find empathy in theoretical exercises.

It’s a minefield of a conversation; they built it that way on purpose to keep us out. This reading list compiles work from my friends and colleagues intended to help you find your way in, and start getting comfortable with reality.

Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by Dr. Willie Parker

Dr. Willie Parker made his way out of southern poverty and became an OB-GYN with a faculty appointment at the University of Hawaii. A man of deep faith, Dr. Parker avoided performing abortions until 2002 when he had a revelation that lack of abortion care in the deep south was causing people to suffer. Today, Dr. Parker is one of the most vocal, visible providers in his field, guided by an absolute conviction that he is doing the Lord’s work and serving the most disenfranchised people in the country. Life’s Work is a philosophical memoir containing field notes from an unfathomably demonized profession. If you do Christmas with anti-choice relatives, give them this book.

Handbook for a Post-Roe America by Robin Marty

The GOP has decimated access to abortion in recent years, and now, 46 years after its passage, Roe v. Wade is on the precipice of reversal and the Supreme Court will take a generation to un-fuck. How do we fight when things are this bad? Activist and writer Robin Marty breaks it down by walking readers through worst-case scenarios of a post-Roe America, and offering individualized, pragmatic paths to join the fight no matter what you’re working with. Marty doesn’t shy away from topics like self-managed abortion care, and how to avoid surveillance if you or someone you know is accessing abortion outside of federal regulation. The book includes an extensive resource guide with clinics, action groups, abortion funds, and practical support groups in each state.

Shrill by Lindy West

Weeks before she submitted this manuscript, Lindy West and I inadvertently exploded the internet by talking about our abortions. I’m not sure if Lindy would have included “When Life Gives You Lemons,” otherwise, but I’m sure glad she did. Lindy writes about her relatively unremarkable abortion in a way that is typically disarming, entirely human, and totally normal.

Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes

In Like a Mother, Angela Garbes wonders why doctors don’t trust pregnant women enough to tell them the truth about what is really going on. Garbes is a journalist, a researcher, and a mother, who has terminated one pregnancy and who lost another one she was trying to keep. Her writing is visceral and gorgeous, and this book is absolutely singular, equally scientific and intimate, posing questions many of us have found ourselves wondering while feeling as though we were the only ones to wonder.

The Abortion by Richard Brautigan

In this “historical romance,” Brautigan the librarian meets Vida, the most beautiful woman to ever live. He knocks her up and she has an abortion in Tijuana. When I read this book fifteen years ago, I thought it was the horniest, sweetest book I’d ever read. I’m never reading it again.

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts

One cannot responsibly claim to have formulated an opinion on any reproductive issue — from abortion, to birth control, to IVF — without knowledge of the systematic medical abuse of Black women’s bodies in America. Roberts is a brilliant theorist and historian but draws cultural conclusions which feel as relevant and foundational as they did 25 years ago. White women who believe themselves to be fiercely pro-choice absolutely must develop a capacity for complex racial analysis and this book is critical context.

My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel

Another reason we need volumes like the above is because of treasures like this one. Zindel wrote problem novels — novels for young adults tied to social ills that delivered a pat, if not patronizing solution. Afterschool specials in book form. MDMH was noteworthy because it was the first time I remember reading about abortion, and abortion was the heavy-handed punishment dealt bad girl Liz for having sex with her boyfriend, Sean. Sean was all set to run away with Liz until his alcoholic dad counseled him to ditch her lest teenage fatherhood ruined his future (no mention of Liz’s life, naturally). Sean gives Liz $300, but doesn’t take her to the clinic (foreshadowing of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and so many other books and movies that underscored that boys were not to be trusted), and Liz misses prom, graduation, and nearly bleeds to death. The message was clear: I was on my own.

About the Author

Amelia Bonow is the founding director of Shout Your Abortion, a nationwide movement working to create places for people to discuss their abortions in art, media, and at real life events all over the country. Bonow proudly serves on the Board of Directors of the Abortion Care Network and has been honored by numerous Planned Parenthood affiliates. Bonow is the coeditor of the recently published book, Shout Your Abortion (PM Press | November 2018).

Buy Shout Your Abortion now | Buy Shout Your Abortion eBook now | Back to Amelia Bonow's Editor Page | Back to Emily Noke's Editor Page 

The Violence of Dogmatic Pacifism: A Setting Sights Review

By Gregory Stevens
Hampton Institute
July 30th, 2018

"Violence means working for 40 years, getting miserable wages and wondering if you ever get to retire…

Violence means state bonds, robbed pension funds and the stock market fraud…

Violence means unemployment, temporary employment….

Violence means work "accidents"…

Violence means being driven sick because of hard work…

Violence means consuming psych-drugs and vitamin s in order to cope with exhausting working hours…

Violence means working for money to buy medicines in order to fix your labor power commodity…

Violence means dying on ready-made beds in horrible hospitals, when you can't afford bribing."

- Proletarians from occupied headquarters of the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), Athens, December 2008

I was once a hardcore Christian pacifist who would justify non-violence in the face of rape, robbery, military occupation, police violence, or systemic racist violence. I have read much of the literature, attended and taught pacifist trainings/conferences/events, and have previously been one to publicly shame more militant tactics. As my political work has transitioned from liberal policy activism to revolutionary organizing (lead by and for the oppressed, working toward collective liberation) I have learned more historically-nuanced notions of violence, non-violence, and self-defense. I have come to think dogmatic Christian pacifism can be extremely dangerous and violent to oppressed human and non-human peoples.

One of the first things done in religious debates about pacifism is proof-texting verses from the Bible, picking verses (usually out of context) to prove one/your vision over the other. If we hold a more complex and nuanced version of our faith stories we recognize the goodness and the vast diversity, often contradictory, in biblical narratives and Church traditions. Much like the diversity of gospel accounts shows us the diversity of the early Church, the diversity of revolutionary tactics within our biblical stories and faithful traditions can help us shape our contemporary movements through a diversity of tactics. Rather than assume one way of thinking is right for all times and all places, no matter the context or people involved, we are better off using a diversity of tactics in our goal of our collective salvation from sin (aka our collective liberation from oppression). We need every tool in the box, we need all sorts of tactics available, and we need a great multiplicity of strategies if we want to win in taking down the capitalist, imperialist, hetero-patriarchal system destroying planetary life.

I do not think the world will ever be, or has ever been, a world without violence. Violence is a broad word with many different meanings. I am using the term violence in a very general sense when I suggest that the world will never be a place without some forms of violence. An indigenous Elder of mine teaches this in relation to rain: just the right amount of rain creates new and thriving life, too much rain and life is violently swept away. When the hungry tiger pounces on an antelope, digging their sharp teeth into the flesh to kill for nourishment, violence erupts for life to maintain living. When a glacier cracks and crumbles down into the fishing villages of the far northern regions, entire communities can be lost to the tidal waves and impact of the moving mountains of ice. When a fire takes over a forest, burning down trees and decaying plant matter to ashes, nutrients flood the soil and stronger rays of sun can then reach the forest floor providing more ingredients for new life to flourish.

Mother Earth is not a dogmatic pacifist, she uses violence to transform the world. It's not always Her favorite tool, but it sometimes is; it doesn't seem to be Her ultimate philosophy but a tactic within Her larger strategy for survival.

To claim a completely pure dogmatic pacifism goes against the patterns we see in the world around us. Pacifism becomes a fundamentalist religion or ideology rather than one of many tools within our revolutionary strategies. It is important that we begin to see non-violence or non-resistance as a tactic within a diversity of strategies; it is not the only answer but one very useful answer to very specific historical moments. Non-violence is not dogmatic pacifism, non-violence does not need to be universalized as an ideology for all times, places, and circumstances as in pacifism. The militant non-violent tactics used by some of the civil rights movement (boycotts and sit-ins) have shown that some non-violent tactics can be successful. The militant self-defense tactics used by others within the larger liberation movements (Black Panthers, Young Lords, UHURU etc.) were also proven successful. Neither would have been as successful without the other.

Capitalist Violence

To claim some sort of purist pacifism as the only way forward is also illogical for those who live, move, and have their being within the capitalist world economy. Central to Marx's critique of the capitalist system was the inherent violence of private property, centralization of wealth, worker alienation, and vast hierarchies of domination. Through the ownership of other humans, water, air, and land; the pillaging of global lands for resource extraction; the centralization of property ownership within the hands of the few; and the endless pursuit of 'infinite growth' on a finite planet, life itself is being violently destroyed. With billionaires and millionaires centralizing their wealth and power, strengthening and broadening the gap between the rich and the poor, extreme acts of violence run amuck in society: rampant impoverishment, and no or terrible access to healthcare, food, education, shelter etc. While capitalist pacifists sit rich and pretty, a majority of the world suffers immeasurably.

The capitalist system thrives on the racialization of peoples and their subjugation to colonial power through extreme violence. The capitalist economy thrives on war for oil, land, monopoly-imperialist power, and for the many markets opened up through the production and sales of millions of high-tech weapons. To claim a pacifist existence of non-violence is to assume your life is not actively executing violence on the world through the very social systems those who claim such lofty ideals benefit from.

It is white middle-class pacifists who do not experience capitalist violence in the disproportionate way black, brown, differently able, queer, trans, mothering/care-giving, migrant, female, and religiously diverse people experience daily. It is these same middle-class pacifists who greatly benefit from the violence enacted by the state and corporate business forces on Earth and peoples around the world. They experience health, wealth, and property; they experience the abundance of food, shelter, and access to the excesses of capitalism but they do so on the backs of the global south and the middle east. It is these white middle-class dogmatic "peace police" who scream and yell at people defending themselves from state violence, telling them they are immoral and violent. In this way, they stand directly in the way of someone seeking their own liberation.

Writing in his personal journal about the rise of fascism in Germany, George Orwell mused, "Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one.… others imagine that one can somehow "overcome" the German army by lying on one's back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen.… Despotic governments can stand "moral force" till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force" (emphasis added).

Pacifist capitalists are extremely violent and can even be regarded as home-grown terrorists, as they are committing senseless acts of violence by perpetuating a state of extreme inequality through violent relations of domination, hierarchy, alienation, and exploitation. They project this violent privilege onto the impoverished, the working class, and other radical organizers who seek to defend themselves from the extreme violence of a capitalist society. Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks to this problem among political leaders, "When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con." ( "Nonviolence as Compliance" in the Atlantic )

A key to understanding this problem lies within the social location of many pacifists. The free-market, private ownership of property, elected governmental officials, and the legal system itself have all been managed by and for white people (often white Christian men). When all of these systems do not work in your favor and when they do not protect you but are in fact a great source of the violence you face, then your political actions focus on ending these systems of death, if not just defending yourself from their violence. This is exactly why disenfranchised people do not always choose "civility" as their response to liberal violence. The state defines "civility" and their "civilization" - they chose to define their civil state through genocide, colonization, imperialism, slavery, inequality, etc. Civility is the problem.

Revolutionary Resistance, Diversity of Tactics, and Liberation

People of color, trans people, and folx with differing abilities know this, and have been leading struggles with diverse tactics for a very long time. In an article posted on April 26, 2015 on the Radical Faggot blog , Benji Hart writes, "Calling them uncivilized and encouraging them to mind the Constitution is racist, [sexists, ableist] and as an argument fails to ground itself not only in the violent political reality in which black, [trans, and differently abled] people find themselves but also in our centuries-long tradition of resistance - one that has taught effective strategies for militancy and direct action to virtually every other current movement for justice."

In reaping the benefits of violence and then subjecting oppressed peoples to violence so they cannot escape their oppression, you not only thrive off their perpetual suffering, but you take away the ability to claim dignity and self-determination. It is extremely violent to push pacifism on those who exist under the heaviest of boots of capitalist and colonial exploitation when you greatly benefit from the exploits of capitalist and colonial violence.

The colonizer tells the colonized not to defend themselves.

The rapist tells the raped not to defend themselves.

The attacker tells the attacked not to defend themselves.

The murderer tells the victim not to defend themselves.

The slave owner tells the slave not to defend themselves.

The civilized tells the savage not to defend themselves.

The pacifist tells the oppressed not to defend themselves.

The revolutionary joins the colonized, raped, attacked, victim, slave, savage, and oppressed in solidarity; together they seek collective liberation. It is "precisely marginalized groups utilizing these tactics - poor women of color defending their right to land and housing, trans* street workers and indigenous peoples fighting back against murder and violence; black and brown struggles against white supremacist violence - that have waged the most powerful and successful uprisings in US history." (from an April 2012 pamphlet written for Occupy Oakland, Who is Oakland? ).

It is often argued that by offering your own life in martyrdom, the violence of the state will be exposed when the state or armed forces act in violence against you for all to see, and then put an end to once and for all. This is terrible logic, especially if applied to every context in all of history. We should not expect someone to die or not defend themselves in abusive and violent situations so that the violence of their actions can be exposed, somehow convincing others not to be violent in the same way.

Jesus was nailed to a cross and Caesar didn't have a change of heart in the face of such oppressive brutality. He celebrated.

Black and Brown people were lynched, and white supremacists didn't have a change of heart in the face of such oppressive brutality. The community celebrated.

Violence is exposed all the time, and nothing is done about it. How many videos of police murdering unarmed teenagers do state officials need (or do liberals need) to watch before they realize their violence and magically chose to stop it via a change of heart? How would that even make sense coming from an institution founded just after slavery to harass, watch, and catch non-white former slaves? The very same legal system that didn't have a change of heart in the face of violent white supremacy but rather created an entire white supremacist billion-dollar business: the prison industrial complex.

White feminist theologians in the 1960's critiqued the idea of "sacrificial living" as the mission of their faith-filled lives. It was being forced upon them by liberal theologians of the day: the highest calling is kenotic, sacrifice, emptying oneself for thy neighbor. The white cis male liberal theologians making these claims on the bodies of women did not consider the thousands of ways women are already subjected to capitalist hetero patriarchy, especially the unpaid reproductive labor it takes to produce such a society. This critique was later enhanced in the 1970s by revolutionary black feminists in the Combahee River Collective who first wrote about intersectionality: "The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face."

This narrative of sacrificing one's life to the powers and principalities also assumes that the upper class, the capitalist class, and the exploiting classes will suddenly choose to sacrifice their wealth, power, and privilege in order to liberate the masses who have (at their own expense and for their own survival) produced all of their wealth, power, and privilege. Not only does this idea take autonomy away from the oppressed, continuing the elitist narrative that the oppressed are uneducated filthy savages, but it also supports oppressive violence through demanding non-resistance in hopes of revealing the brutality of oppression to the oppressor.

Here's another example: A man breaks into a woman's house with a knife and has intention to rape, rob, and kill her. As a pacifist she chooses not to use a gun to defend herself. Rather, she creatively tells him that his ways are unjust, that there is another way of living, and that compassion is the way of truth; she hopes that her rape and murder will be a shining example of compassion and courage - she offers her own life as a sacrifice to show him that his ways are unjust, that he should change his ways, that he should rape, rob, and murder people no more. She hopes to convert his heart along the way, through her sacrifice she hopes he will repent.

It's also absolutely absurd to think a woman who fights or kills a rapist, becomes like the rapist. Colonized Indigenous and African peoples forced into slavery did not become like their slave owning colonizers when they violently rebelled, resisted, revolted, and rioted. The Jewish people who killed or fought the Nazis trying to exterminate their people, did not become like the Nazis. Using violence against those who exploit, oppress, and abuse you does not make you like them. Reality is more complex than dogmatic pacifism allows.

Don't Speak Truth to Power; Destroy Power

If someone is suffering and experiencing oppression, we should act to stop the violence and not hope that timely bureaucratic answers of policy reform will actually do anything to alleviate suffering and fight injustice. Wasn't it the elite classes and their bureaucrats who created the very legal system that attempts to make extremely complex realities into black-and-white situations for "educated" judges to dictate someone's future?

Most people in the world are already experiencing violence and are not defending themselves; most people are not acting violently in direct confrontation with their abusers, and these hoped-for non-responses have not motivated liberals or conservatives into action. Slavery did not end because all the salves were full of hope or because they were pacifists. Slavery was abolished because of slave revolts, organized rebellions, and armed underground rail roads like the one Harriet Tubman led thousands to freedom through. Slave abolitionist, Frederick Douglas , speaks so eloquently to these ideas in his 1857 speech delivered on the 23rd anniversary of the West India Emancipation:

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.

Liberal dogmatic pacifism is one of the most effective tools of violence used by the State to keep marginal and oppressed communities from rising up, restoring their dignity, and protecting themselves from further abuse through liberatory communal armed self-defense.

What then does it mean to love your enemy? Does it mean you continue to allow you enemy to attack you? Is it loving to allow someone to attack you, to bomb you, to exploit you, to oppress you - is that really what Jesus and the early church were getting at?

"Love your enemy" does not mean: stay in an abusive relationship, take the abuse because it's good and holy. If such an abusive relationship is complexified and organized on a mass scale why would the logic of resistance be any different? Why is the abuse of the state or of right wing fascists any different than the abuse of a spouse? It absolutely seems more intense, it seems more organized, it seems more brutal - and if anything, it doesn't seem to be worthy of our acceptance. We should always defend ourselves and others from oppression. Why would we accept the abuse as if pacifism is more righteous? Ending the abuse and setting each other free is far more righteous.

When experiencing oppressive violence, it is important to remember that our struggle is a struggle for life itself. We are not struggling for voter recognition or policy reforms, we are not assuming life is good and just needs a few adjustments; we are struggling because our very existence depends upon it. The 13th trans woman to be murdered in 2018 was killed on July 10th; the police have killed 446 people so far this year (1,147 people in 2017); the military has dropped thousands of more bombs than ever before, murdering record breaking numbers of people and places; over 1,200 children have literally been lost by the federal government; white supremacists were directly responsible for 18 out of 24 US extremist-related deaths in 2017; and over 200 species go extinct every single day amidst apocalyptic ecological conditions that are ultimately leading to our very own species' extinction.

There is no time to wait for oppressors to stop oppressing us, as if one day they will wake up to their extremely violent ways. This is exactly what the plantation owner would hope their slaves believed. We must choose life, and we must choose to defend ourselves, our communities, and our ecosystems from colonization, industrialization, state formations, and coercive social control. To live for life is to live in opposition to capitalism and the violence it perpetuates on the world around. We do not advocate revolution because we hope to see our tendencies win the day, but because we seek the flourishing of planetary life.

Liberatory self-defense is a far greater framing than dogmatic pacifism as it encourages dignity, self-determination, and participation in the shaping of a new world beyond appealing to "representative" authorities to pass less abusive policies. When these politicians do make decisions for the masses they create more bureaucracy and make it possible to define and categorize more bodies, and thus further discriminate, oppress, and define our bodies through legal definitions. Under the rules of pacifism, the oppressors win, they always hold the bargaining power, and they always decide who gets the goods and who gets nailed to a cross.

Liberatory, Community, Armed Self-Defense

Scott Crow's recent anthology, Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self-Defense , explores liberatory, armed, community self-defense as a tactic within a larger revolutionary strategy through theoretical reflections and historical studies. He and the various other author-activists make it very clear that the armed component of any self-defense strategy should never become the center (or we risk becoming standing militaries). Rather power is sought to be shared and equalized as best as possible, thus distinguishing armed self-defense from armed terrorist, armed insurrection, armed military organizations, armed guerilla armies, or armed law enforcement. Crow writes, "The liberatory framework is built on anarchist principles of mutual aid (cooperation), direct action (taking action without waiting on the approval of the authorities), solidarity (recognizing that the well-being of disparate groups is tied together) and collective autonomy (community self-determination)."

Crow goes on to say that this form of liberatory self-defense is not to be used to seize permanent power, or that arms are to be used as the first resource for self-defense but should be taken up only "after other forms of conflict resolution have been exhausted." This isn't about revolutionary vanguardism or storming the white house with guns. This is about self-defense from literal Nazis who have been murdering, mass shooting, and assaulting people at record-breaking numbers in the past few years (Rest in Power Heather Heyer ).

It should be noted that Crow's brand of liberatory, community, armed self-defense differs from other forms of armed action in two main ways: the first is that it is organized but temporary, "people can train in firearms tactics and safety individually or together but would be called on more like a volunteer fire department - only when need and in response to specific circumstances" (9). The second, and probably most distinct and important element of liberatory, community, armed self-defense (as used historically by groups like the Zapatistas, those fighting in the Rojava revolution, and the Black Panther Party from the 1960's), is power-sharing and egalitarian principles incorporated into the ethics of the group and its culture well before conflict is engaged (9). Unlike, for instance, right-wing militias (anti-immigration patrols of the Minutemen Militia, or the racist Algiers Point Militia that patrolled New Orleans after Katrina), who have nothing to do with collective liberation. "These militias are built on racist beliefs, conspiracy theories, and a macho culture where the strongest or loudest is the leader. They are typically organized in military type hierarchies with no real accountability to the people in civil society and the communities they operate within" (9).

Another key component to the tactics of self-defense is dual power which is about both resisting and creating. The resistance is toward exploitation and oppression, the creation is toward "developing other initiatives toward autonomy and liberation as part of other efforts in self-sufficiency and self-determination." This model is about creating a better world, much like the Black Panther breakfast program did when they stopped waiting around for white governing officials and started to feed their own communities' kids, so they might succeed in school and life generally. Self-defense isn't merely about being armed, but about building networks and infrastructure of people powered mutual aid. The Church institution has muddled this but in many ways has a strong people powered infrastructure: when you get sick, the care team will drop off some dinner; when you have a baby, just about everyone in the church is willing to hold, play with, or baby sit your child as needed; and if you total your car in an accident, someone in the church offers to drive you places or gives you their grandma's old car. How might we use this infrastructure in more radical ways with more revolutionary purposes? How might we use this infrastructure to establish the Queerdom of God in the US Empire?


What I hope to have accomplished with this article is to expose some of the more basic and less nuanced notions that are often used by dogmatic pacifists who refuse to engage radical critiques of their ideas. These dogmatic pacifists keep themselves in their privileged existence, waving the finger of judgment at both lumpen and proletariat communities that choose dignity through emancipatory self-defense. In relation to violence within our movements, our tactics, and our overall philosophies, it is important we continue to ask tough questions. Here are some really great questions to ask in thinking about violence in our direct actions:

o Are we harming state and private property, or are we harming people, communities, and natural resources? Is the result of our action disrupting state and corporate violence, or creating collateral damage that more oppressed people will have to deal with (i.e., Black families and business owners, cleaning staff, etc.)? Are we mimicking state violence by harming people and the environment, or are we harming state property in ways that can stop or slow violence? Are we demonizing systems or people?


o Who is in the vicinity? Are we doing harm to people around us as we act? Is there a possibility of violence for those who are not the intended targets of our action? Are we forcing people to be involved in an action who many not want to be, or who are not ready?


o Who is involved in the action? Are people involved in our action consensually, or simply because they are in the vicinity? Have we created ways for people of all abilities who may not want to be present to leave? Are we being strategic about location and placement of bodies? If there are violent repercussions for our actions, who will be facing them? [1]

In conclusion, some more thoughts from Scott Crow on forming organized, liberatory, community, armed self-defense:

o Many questions remain, including those concerning organization, tactical considerations, the coercive power inherent in firearms, accountability to the community being defended and to the broader social movement, and ultimately, one hopes, the process of demilitarization. For example: Do defensive engagements have to remain geographically isolated? Are small affinity groups the best formations for power-sharing and broad mobilization? How do we create cultures of support for those who engage in defensive armed conflict, especially with respect to historically oppressed people's right to defend themselves? What do those engagements of support look like? Additionally, there are many tactical considerations and questions to be discussed and debated to avoid replicating the dominant gun culture. How do we keep arms training from becoming the central focus, whether from habit, culture, or romanticization?

Further Reading and Research

Akinyele Omowale Umoja - We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement

Charles E. Cobb - This Nonviolent Stuff′ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible

Cindy Milstein (editor) - Taking Sides: Revolutionary Solidarity and the Poverty of Liberalism

CrimthInc - The illegitimacy of Violence, The Violence of Legitimacy

Derick Jensen - Endgame (Volume 1 and 2)

Francis Dupuis-Deri - Who's Afraid of the Black Bloc?: Anarchy in Action Around the World

Franz Fanon - The Wretched of the Earth

Kristian Williams - Fire the Cops!

Scott Crow - Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self-Defense

William Meyer - Nonviolence and Its Violent Consequences



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What Works Against the Far Right: A Setting Sights Review

By Joseph Orozco
The Anarres Project
December 21st, 2018

Jason Wilson has written a good piece in The Guardian outlining how nonviolent action against far right and neo Nazi groups has been effective so far in dismembering those movements.

This has been on my mind this week since news broke that notorious Springfield neo-Nazi Jimmy Marr was hospitalized after an altercation with Corvallis activists. Marr has been in town over the past year several times to lend support to Andrew Oswalt, the OSU grad student who was recently convicted of felony hate crimes. The immediate buzz on local social media followed the usual paths: “Antifa” is a violent organization, “Antifa” is just as bad as Nazis in that they are willing to use violence against people they disagree with, Nazis will go away if you just ignore them, etc.

Wilson points out that doxxing of Nazis—identifying participants of far right protests, rallies, demonstrations, and street fights and sharing this information publicly, especially with employers—has been one successful way to disempower them. (This can go both ways though.  Apparently, neo Nazi groups have been trying to doxx the Corvalis antifa group that was arrested in the fight with Marr.  I’ve noticed this since one of the people arrested was Bart Bolger who I interviewed for Anarres Project a few years ago.  His interview has gotten significant hits in the last few days.)

Denying Nazis platforms has also worked in a variety of cases, the most notable one being Milo Yiannopolous, who has gone bankrupt. This is one of those tactics that seems to rile supporters of “free speech” who argue that Nazis have the same right to air their views in public as anyone else. I see a lot of citing of the famous Skokie case in which the Americans Civil Liberties Union defended the right of the National Socialist Party USA to march through a largely Jewish neighborhood of Skokie, Illinois. But times change. After the Charlottesville protest in 2017, the national ACLU seemed to suggest that it saw contemporary neo-Nazi and white supremacists groups in a different way and is not prepared to defend their right to the public square as quickly. The significant difference seems to be that the newest far right groups are explicitly coming to street brawl, armed with clubs, shields, armor, and guns.

At the same time, I started looking at scott crow’s newest collection Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self Defense. Crow is hoping to set up a theoretical framework for understanding and justifying the use of weapons for “liberatory community armed self-defense”. This is different than “armed struggle” which is the use of military style violence by guerilla armies or militia to accomplish political goals. Instead community armed self defense takes into “account unrecognized types of violence and the limits marginalized groups face in their ability to determine their own futures or collectively protect themselves” (p. 9) crow wants to bring out the stories of groups ranging from Spanish and Russian anarchists to AIM, the Deacons for Defense, the Black Panthers, the Zapatistas, and the modern group Redneck Revolt. In the process, he’s showing how many supposed nonviolent revolutions (such as the Civil Rights Movement) were undergird by organizations willing to use guns for self defense from white supremacist and other far right groups.  The book has a great promo video you can watch:

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On the Fly "A remarkable anthology."

By Michael Jongen
Newtown Review of Books
January 24th, 2019

In his introduction to this fascinating collection of writing from the American hobo era Iain McIntyre tells us how that way of life, which began due to economic necessity, became so much more.

The material gathered in On the Fly! reflects the politics of the early 20th century and the decision by many people to opt out of mainstream life and seek an alternative to work in the factories. In hopping the trains, McIntyre notes that many middle-class and upper-class men and women also rebelled against bourgeois ideals – or at the very least sought adventure. The hobo life also gave gay and bisexual men a subculture where their sexuality was often accepted.

Hobo literature first began to be noticed, and published, at the turn of the 20th century. Many of the early hobo writers wanted to reshape their image as bums and vagrants. The movement began to become political as agitators sought to reframe hobos’ experience as victims of the economic order. Other writers, however, sought to celebrate and romanticise them. Many works were often parodies that mocked the hobos’ enemies.

Jack London is the most famous name from this period. London was a socialist who credited his years of living as a hobo for converting him to the cause. He used his articles to condemn capitalism, but his writing also encapsulated the spirit of hopping the trains. The hobo writing that followed emulated London’s approach, seeking to collect in print the tall stories that were often heard on the road. At this time, adding to the increasing number of works of memoir and fiction being published, sociologists, reformers and criminologists began writing about hobo life.
McIntyre’s Introduction is a fascinating and informative history of the movement, and as editor he has curated a marvellous collection of writing including memoir, fiction, poetry, lyrics and polemic. The book is also illustrated with evocative photographs and memorabilia.

The extracts from novels and memoirs define the era with a variety of experiences, from the politics of the International Workers of the World (the IWW) to the personal stories of young people setting out on the trail.

‘In Partnership with a Burglar’ by Leon Livingstone (‘the Rambler’) is an extract from one of the ten books he published between 1910 and 1921 based on his own experiences as a hobo. A young man has just set off on his journey when he meets up with ‘Frenchy’. The two join a group of men:

‘Chase yourself, you gaycat! Go and work for your matches,’ was the reply he received, and a look showing how disgusted Frenchy was even to talk to the man.

Frenchy took me to the other side of the tank and said: ‘Kid, I don’t want you to mix with these “gaycats”.’

I inquired what he meant by ‘gaycats’, and he commenced to laugh. ‘You have been traveling the “pike” for a solid year, and you don’t know what a “gaycat” is? Get out, Kid, you are joshing.’

I told him I did not know, and then he explained to me: ‘A gaycat,’ said he, ‘is a loafing laborer, who works maybe a week, gets his wages and vagabonds about, hunting for another “pick and shovel” job. Do you want to know where they get their monica [nickname] “gaycat”? See, Kid, cats sneak about and scratch immediately after drumming with you and then get gay [fresh]. That’s why we call them “gaycats”.’

Hobo literature wasn’t just about the men. Sister of the Road: The autobiography of Boxcar Bertha was a fiction written by Ben Reitman in 1937 based on the experiences of three women he knew. After meetings on the streets or at Bughouse Square in front of Newberry Library, crowds of speakers would gather at sympathetic cafes or in homes of friends:

Many of the lesbians hunted in packs and travelled in automobiles. There was a group of these who had a magnificent apartment on north Dearborn Street near the Park. I met a dozen of them there at a soiree called ‘Mickey Mouse’s party’. Half a dozen of them were wealthy women. Four of these were legally married and two of the four had children. They were there ostensibly as sightseers, but actually they had more than a superficial interest in these lesbian girls. But they were constantly being exploited. The lesbians would get their names and addresses and borrow money by saying, ‘I met you at Mickey Mouse’s party.’

Jim Tully ended up working as Charlie Chaplin’s publicist in the 1920s, and there is photo of them together opposite the following extract from his ‘Thieves and Vagabonds’ published in 1928 in American Mercury.

A group of bored and hungry men listen as One Leg describes his new invention:
‘A dog-fooler,’ answered One Leg, pulling up the trouser of his remaining leg and showing the calf of it wrapped about with heavy brown paper. ‘There ain’t a dog in this country can bite through that,’ he said proudly.

Husky felt the paper and exclaimed, ‘Gosh, it’s only paper!’

‘Sure! What did you think it was – cement?’ One Leg snarled.

‘Well, a fellow needs somethin’ like that – there’s a lot of dogs in Michigan,’ commented a vagabond.

‘Well I ain’t fast on this one leg,’ resumed the inventor, ‘so I had to rig up somethin’ to protect it.’

‘I’ll bet a Newfoundlan’ kin bite through that,’ said a vagabond who had not spoken before. ‘I’ve seen ’em up in Maine bigger ’n cows.’

‘How about a bulldog?’ asked another.

‘Oh they can’t bite real very hard,’ answered One Leg. ‘Their jaws don’t open very far – it takes a big mouth for a hard bite.’

‘A collie’s mean, though,’ ventured Husky. ‘They’d bite their uncle if he wasn’t lookin’.’

‘Them little terriers are pine to me,’ said a nondescript. ‘They don’t bite so hard, but they raise old Ned till they git all the darn dogs in the neighborhood after a guy.’

Husky looked bored. ‘Let’s forgit about dogs,’ he said. ‘Doc don’t care about dogs, do you, Doc?’
The writing is always gritty and authentic, the stories fascinating. Poetry and music were also favoured tools of the propagandists and writers of the era – for example, the poem ‘The Gila Monster Route’ describes a hobo waiting to jump a train on a terrible and dangerous railroad.

There is a great deal going on here, from poverty and desperation to the seedy glamour to the politics to the mystique of the lifestyle, and there is much to be gained from this collection. It is clear that this movement is an important part of America’s history and has informed popular culture in particular. Iain McIntyre has introduced us to the ‘lost voices of Hobohemia’. As we read this remarkable history, it is difficult not to reflect on American artists such as John Steinbeck, Kerouac, Joan Baez and Bruce Springsteen who have carried on these traditions.

The illustrations and photographs and printed paraphernalia that accompany the pieces are well-chosen, and this is a well-produced book that invites dipping and browsing.

A remarkable anthology.

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The Young C.L.R. James in Race & Class

young clr

By Christian Hogsbjerg
Race & Class
March 2019

The republication, thirty years after it was first written in 1988, of Paul Buhle’s pioneering biography of the Trinidadian writer and revolutionary C. L. R. James, ‘the artist as revolutionary’, might at first sight be viewed slightly cynically as an attempt by Verso to join – or perhaps rather rejoin – what Robin D. G. Kelley in his new foreword to the work somewhat provocatively calls ‘a literary gold rush’ around James. Yet this would be a mistaken judgement, for as the ‘authorised biography’ of James, Buhle’s work remains, and will always remain, both distinc- tive by its very nature, despite the accumulation of new knowledge about James and his life and work that has since come to light, and educational and revelatory in its own right, thanks to Buhle’s closeness to, and deep understanding of, his subject.

Though the original work was written at some speed, Buhle’s The Artist as Revolutionary successfully provided an account of James’s individual political and intellectual evolution situated within a narrative about the intertwined col- lective fate of the broader wider Left over the course of the twentieth century, replete with thought-provoking contrasts with other critical contemporary activ- ists and intellectuals. With an eye for the telling quote, and making excellent use of interviews he had conducted with James about his life, Buhle brought to this work his own lived experience of socialist activism in the American New Left, his understanding of Marxist theory as an early youthful admirer of Daniel de Leon’s Socialist Labour Party, and his skills as a social historian. To adequately contex- tualise James’s long life, from his growing up in Port-of-Spain in colonial Trinidad in the early twentieth century, to his turn to militant Pan-Africanism and revolu- tionary socialism in 1930s Britain, to subsequent sojourns in the United States, Caribbean and Africa amid decolonisation, is no small task for any scholar writ- ing even now. But to do so when ‘James scholarship’ was in its infancy was a remarkable achievement. Buhle’s work also successfully succinctly and cogently summarised the wide variety of James’s writings, from novels like Minty Alley to classic socialist histories like World Revolution and The Black Jacobins to treatises on Marxist philosophy such as Notes on Dialectics and works of literary criticism such as Mariners, Renegades and Castaways (on Melville’s Moby Dick).

Indeed, there are still hidden depths to Buhle’s work – the original text of which he resisted the temptation to change or update for this new edition – and even the most seasoned scholar of black radicalism will benefit from reading, or perhaps more likely, rereading, Buhle’s biography.

This is partly because the period in which it was written ensured that it was written as a ‘political biogra- phy’ first and foremost. As Kelley rightly points out in the foreword, the 1980s was a world ‘marked by crisis and its antithesis: opportunity’, and ‘Buhle was part of a New Left generation of writers, organisers, and scholars seeking a new direction for revolutionary movements’ as official ‘Communism’ stagnated, declined and then finally collapsed. Though Buhle’s biography made it clear enough that his sympathies for a return to ‘Leninism’ in whatever form were distinctly limited, and indeed he was open to the possibilities and potentialities of postmodernist theory for new scholarship on James, he closed his biography in 1988 still calling for ‘a Jamesian politics’. Buhle quoted ‘the young old revolution- ary’ James himself, grappling with the challenges of the 1980s but still stressing that the ‘workers and peasants must realize that their emancipation lies in their own hands and in the hands of nobody else’.

The new edition includes a substantial, valuable and illuminating afterword, co-written by Buhle and his collaborator Lawrence Ware, a lecturer in philoso- phy at Oklahoma State University, entitled, ‘Reviewing – and Renewing – the C.L.R. Legacy for the Twenty-First Century’. This among other things reflects in a generous fashion on the new scholarship on James which has appeared over the last thirty years, and provides a more detailed commentary on aspects of James’s life and work which received less attention and were less well known when the original biography was written. The afterword to the new edition also includes a brief piece on ‘C.L.R. James Today’ by Ware, which attempts to situ- ate James in the context of contemporary black struggles in the United States. This short piece might be usefully read alongside a new ‘Palgrave Pivot’ publi- cation by Ornette D. Clennon, a sociologist at Manchester Metropolitan University, which tries to do the same for contemporary black struggles in the United Kingdom: The Polemics of C.L.R. James and Contemporary Black Activism. It is obviously encouraging that a new generation of black ‘critical race theorists’ in both the US and UK are turning to James and engaging with his life, work and legacy for thinking about questions of race and resistance amid the current BlackLivesMatter Movement.

Clennon, in particular, is to be congratulated for making the critical intellec- tual effort to try and wrestle theoretically with how James might have made sense of the contemporary critical moment in Britain, amid ‘Brexit’ and the rise of Corbynism. He writes about how he metaphorically ‘became friends’ with James and came to appreciate his ‘intense intellectual creativity and playfulness’ as a theorist after getting involved with a short-lived and sadly defeated com- munity campaign in 2015 to try to revive the derelict ‘Nello James Centre’ in Whalley Range, South Manchester, as a resource centre for the local black com- munity, as, for decades, it had once been after its founding in 1967. As might be expected from someone who freely admits that he has only begun really reading and thinking about James over the last couple of years, Clennon’s work – despite its somewhat grandiose title – is less about ‘the polemics of C.L.R. James’ than it is about using a rather random and limited selection of James’s essays (mainly about black struggles in Jim Crow America from the 1940s and 1950s) as an entry point for Clennon to give us his own take on ‘contemporary black activism’ in Britain from the perspective of what he calls ‘a synthesis of Post-Colonial and Post-Marxist theories’.

As a result, perhaps we ultimately learn more about Clennon and his politics than we do about James and his. Clennon’s take on ‘Brexit’ is that a new English ‘colonial administration’ has emerged which, under a bureaucratic deception of ‘social unity’, ‘encouraged synthetic anti-immigrant sentiment of the masses during the Referendum’; there is also a sense of the contemporary and historic tensions between black community organisations and trade unions in Britain around various black struggles. Though Clennon praises James’s polemics for representing ‘an unguarded and visceral James that enables him to display his outstanding abilities in the areas of cultural commentary, historical and critical thinking’, James’s Marxism is deemed flawed both for its advocacy of multira- cial working-class unity and the fact it is apparently unable to come to terms with the challenges posed by the rise of neoliberalism. For Clennon, ‘not only has capitalism transcended the notion of the nation state, it has permeated the culture of our institutions, our ways of thinking, and in so doing, it has drasti- cally re-orientated our psychic spaces’. Indeed, ‘neoliberalism has become too entrenched a Zeitgeist for us to un-imagine’, though how Clennon manages to utilise his imagination effectively in order to analyse it, when apparently the masses are unable to make this leap, remains unclear.
Indeed, such an argument about neoliberalism, in the British context at least, appears to be belied by the rise of Corbynism, and Clennon accepts that ‘with Momentum leading a grass- roots surge in support of Corbyn ... there does appear to be an appetite from certain quarters to put an end to our system of “colonial administration”’.

However, ‘the utter end of capitalism and the introduction of a post-racial social- ism’ apparently remains ‘a utopian ideal’, and so the best we can learn from James is how ‘to be creative in our resistance’ to neoliberalism, working ‘from within the system’. Whatever the strengths of Clennon’s work, it hardly makes for a particularly insightful read if the reader was hoping for a book that would seri- ously try to apply a radical ‘Jamesian’ perspective to contemporary black strug- gles in the UK. Such a book would surely have as its bedrock the considerable rich body of writing and speeches by James on black struggles in Britain from the 1930s up to the 1980s – though admittedly much of these remain scattered and hidden away in often hard to find publications.

With respect to future directions in James scholarship, Buhle and Ware rightly note that in particular ‘more research needs to be done in Trinidad’ with respect to understanding his early life. The two have worked with black American car- toonist Milton Knight to produce The Young C.L.R. James: a graphic novelette, which brings some of the autobiographical elements of James’s Beyond a Boundary to life in Knight’s distinctive style, and in a format – a ‘graphic novelette’ – that has the potential to enable the story of James’s early life to reach new, younger audiences. This was originally envisioned as a project which would ambitiously try to cover the whole of James’s life, and sadly we just have here ‘chapter one’ on ‘the little black puritan’ in colonial Trinidad, together with some sketches about the 1936 London production of James’s play Toussaint Louverture. Though Knight’s idiosyncratic ‘Americanised’ style is something of an acquired taste, and one can imagine many cricket purists in particular raising the odd eyebrow over depictions of cricket matches which resemble baseball games, nonetheless one is left wanting more. Given the success of Kate Evans’s superb Red Rosa, about the life of Rosa Luxemburg, it is to be hoped that Knight might one day be inspired enough to return to his portrayal of James’s revolutionary life, and give us ‘Red C.L.R.’.

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"Extraordinary..." Damnificados in Le Monde


by Gladys Marivat
Le Monde
January 2019

The legend of the skyscraping shanty town

Furious debut novel by J. J. Amaworo Wilson, inspired by the history of a squat in Caracas

It’s a skyscraper sixty storeies high, built on an old rubbish dump and the site of ancient wars. It’s called the Tower of Torres, named after an evil tycoon who built it on land he acquired by staining it with  blood. The Torres army, like a flood, is soon threatening the 600 homeless people who have found refuge here – the “damnificados”, led by the extraordinary, disabled Nacho, a self-taught translator and brilliant chess player. Among this colorful crowd, who speak all the languages and have no common tongue, are a pair of German twins, a Chinese giant, and an old woman nursing a sick dog. All of them have entered this abandoned place, guarded by a pack of hideous wolves whose leader has two heads. The tower is the third highest building in Favelada, a city that exists only in J. J. Amaworo Wilson’s first novel, but is reminiscent of many others.

   From the very beginning Damnificados disorients the reader by invoking biblical, mythological, epic and real-life tales in a style that is immediately gripping despite the polyglotism – made accessible by translations in the footnotes. The building, occupied by families of squatters, has been connected up to water and electricity supplies, and has a school and even a hairdresser’s. It evokes the famous Tower of David in Caracas (Venezuela), which was the tallest shanty town in the world until it was evacuated in 2014. The city itself, poisoned by corruption and organized crime, could be anywhere on the American continent. The place names (Minhas, Hajja Xejn, Hildako Lapur, Bieb to ‘Niket) and the tales of battles, catastrophes, vengeance and redemption that carry the story along in one short chapter after another, seem to set the book on the borderlines between fantasy and social fiction, westerns and the post-apocalyptic novel. There are so many genres to which J.J. Amaworo Wilson  gives new life in what reads like an homage to the outsiders of all places and periods, while at the same time it is a reflection on history, on forgetting, and on the role of fiction in our lives.

   One character and one theme are a splendid embodiment of this wonderful mixture. The character is Nacho. Abandoned as a child, saved from drowning by a kind-hearted man, this hero is depicted as a sort of Moses. The most striking scene in the novel finds him wandering through Solitario - the land of  recluses from which no one ever returns – in search of one of Torres’ heirs who he believes may be able to prevent yet another war against the outcasts. The theme is that of the crumbling earth on which the tower stands and sways. Just like memory it retains the masses of detritus and the bodies of the victims who have fallen in one battle after another on this soil. It becomes a kind of palimpsest, on which are superimposed all the memories of the five “Trash Wars”, the “Great Fall”, of all the miracles that have saved the tower, of the “little cripple” – a David who conquered Goliath – and of his brother Emil, the wandering seafarer who brought them all food in his old tub.

   “However much blood was spilt, commingling with the endless rain, and however long a shadow was cast by the Trash Wars, [they remember that] those were indeed magical times.” These are the last words of the novel. And they will remember J. J. Amaworo Wilson for evoking the generations of damnificados who will follow and will recount these legends as if they had the power to nourish them better than bread itself, and to give them the unfailing ability to reinvent themselves over and over again.

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Anthropology, Ecology, and Anarchism: A Review

By Alan Barnard
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Volume 23, Issue 3
August 4th, 2017

‘Before there was “anarchist anthropology”, there was Brian Morris’. So says the blurb by the political writer Gabriel Kuhn at the front of this book. Now in his early eighties, Brian Morris remains one of the most exciting writers in our discipline, through decades of writings on a variety of topics. The title is well chosen, for it puts together his early interests in natural history and ecology with later ideas in anthropology and anarchism. I say ‘late’, although these interests date at least from the 1960s and especially the 1970s, when he studied anthropology at the London School of Economics, doing field research with the Malaipantaram of South India.

Boris spent his youth as a tea planter in Malawi and ended up as an authority on hunter-gatherers of South India. There are certainly hints of these interests here, though the emphasis is on anarchist thought. Morris’s form of anarchism is decidedly of a libertarian socialist sort. His various interests in religions and philosophy come through as well, though perhaps less so his other interests in insects, fungi, and the like. Whatever he is, Morris is a polymath. Yet here his ideas on the form of anarchism he espouses, and indeed on other forms of anarchism, are given enough prominence to merit the description of this as mainly a book about the political philosophy.

In essence, this volume is a series of fifteen essays written between 1985 and 2013, and mainly since the year 2000. They are placed in chronological order and reflect less a change in viewpoint and more, in spite of Morris’s eclectic interests, a coherent framework of first-rate anthropological thinking. Apart from the first essay, which to me seems weaker than the others, and perhaps the second, dated 1997, which begins with the now passe statement that ‘[p]ostmodernism is now all the rage in anthropology’, they get better and better. Let me concentrate on just two of the essays in this volume.

One I particularly like is on the forgotten anarchs-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker (1873-1958). I had not known much about him before, but Rocker was extraordinary in the anarchist tradition. He was branded an ‘old’ anarchist of the libertarian socialist tradition by some of the ‘new’ anarchists of the anti-globalization movement. Yet Rocker was in fact rather more than his trendy critics give him credit for. He did not believe that anarchism is a final goal, because he rejected the idea of any final goal. Like Peter Kropotkin, he found anarchist thought in existence throughout history, and he believed in a socialism based on voluntary principles. Thus he rejected the Marxists tradition. Rocker also held that there was na inverse relations between culture and power and that the ‘nation’ was less an imagined community and more of an artifact related to the existence of the modern state. Morris does a wonderful job both of giving us a good snippet of Rocker’s biography and of offering a sympathetic critique of Rocker’s political philosophy.

Another essay I like is ‘Kropotkin and the poststructuralist critique of anarchism’, one of two about Peter Kropotkin. This is less biographical than the Rocker essay, and concentrates instead on bringing out Morris’s own anarchist critique of the poststructuralist critique. Kropotkin, born a Russia prince and eventually becoming a geographer, is well known to anthropologists, thanks to his 1902 book Mutual aid. Morris emphasizes Kropotkin’s evolutionism, his ecological worldview, and his place among followers of Enlightenment thinking. Being a child of the Enlightenment is, of course, anathema to poststructuralists. Morris’s treatment is full of bibliographical material as well as insightful analysis.

The introduction by philosopher and historian Peter Marshall describes Morris’s background and comments on his essays. While not really essential for those who already know Morris’s extensive work, Marshall’s introduction will no doubt be useful to those who do not. In this review I have only had space to scratch the surface, but Anthropology, ecology, and anarchism is a splendid volume that easily can be recommended to anthropologists and to students. Morris is always provocative, giving us plenty to think about and to debate. I am not an anarchist myself, but if I were going to be one, then I would like to be one like Brian Morris. His writing style is full of insight and it makes for pleasant and easy reading.

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To Defend the Revolution is to Defend Culture: An Extract

to defend the revolutionby Alborada Staff
November 26th, 2016

Extract: Culture and Revolutionary Struggle
This is an exclusive extract from Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt’s book To Defend the Revolution is to Defend Culture, on the role of popular culture within the Cuban Revolution.

In November 1966, Che Guevara had surreptitiously left Cuba for Bolivia, to open up a new front in the Bolivarian e ort to establish a federation of independent Latin American republics. Less than a year later, on 9 October 1967, having been betrayed by a deserter and captured after a prolonged battle, Che was assassinated by young officers of the Bolivian Army, acting under instructions from the national government and Washington. Nine days later, in the midst of uncertain about the circumstances surrounding the execution, Fidel hosted a rally to honour Che’s memory in Havana’s Revolutionary Square, describing him an ‘artist of revolutionary war’. In considering the poignancy of Che’s death, Fidel surmised that ‘the artist may die – especially when he is an artist in a field as dangerous as revolutionary struggle – but what will surely never die is the art to which he dedicated his life, the art to which he dedicated his intelligence’. In the process, the leader of the Cuban Revolution made a commitment to ensuring that Che’s message would continue to be heard and acted upon across the continent.

The week after Fidel delivered his memorial speech, the Minister of Education, José Llanusa, was called upon to give the opening address at a seminar which had been organised to discuss a putative international cultural congress. In welcoming around a thousand Cuban intellectuals to a seaside resort in the west of Havana, the affable Llanusa expressed his great regret that the seminar precluded the mass participation of the Cuban people, in part because of the great sadness that abounded in the wake of Che’s death.

In the immediate aftermath of revolutionary victory, a new beginning for world culture had been anticipated, with Cuba as its vanguard:

‘We want to hear […] a Chinese Communist Party member discussing with a North American Republican Party member the meanings of freedom! Let a Polish economist discuss with a Cuban economist the problems of the collectivization of land. Let a Mexican oil expert discuss the issues of nationalization of oil resources with a Venezuelan expert, employed by Standard Oil of New Jersey. Let a British Labour Party man discuss with a Yugoslav politician – whatever they want to discuss. And put it all on tape. Print it in the newspapers of Cuba. Make books out of it. Make Cuban intellectual life a truly international, truly free forum, for the entire range of world opinion, study, art, judgment, feeling.’

More specifically, the idea of an international cultural congress can be traced to the Tricontinental Conference, which had been hosted in Havana from 3 to 14 January 1966 with the aim of building links between Africa, Asia and Latin America. At this landmark conference – to which Che sent a letter of support, calling for ‘two, three, many Vietnams’ – intellectuals conducted a survey which highlighted the urgent task of defining their role within revolutionary society.

One consequence of the Tricontinental Conference was the formation of the Latin American Solidarity Organization (OLAS), which hosted a conference in Havana, chaired by Haydée Santamaría, from 31 July to 10 August 1967. The phrase ‘What is the history of Cuba if not the history of Latin America?’ was emblazoned in luminous letters behind the OLAS stage, alongside portraits of Bolívar, Martí and Che, the latter of whom was depicted fighting in the front line of a new Bolivarian army. Two central contentions dominated proceedings – that armed struggle was the only way to revolution, and that Cuba should be considered the vanguard of the Latin American revolution – both of which countered the orthodoxy of Moscow.

The death of Che and his comrades in Bolivia caused the armed element of the continental struggle to be postponed. It was assumed, by many Latin American communist par members, that this would lead to a return to orthodoxy on the island, but Cuban-Soviet relations had deteriorated to the extent that speculation about an open rupture was rife. At the same time, US-led counterrevolutionary activities combined with mass emigration and ignorance to e ender widespread indifference (verging on hostility) towards the Revolution across the continent. In Cuba, this led to the conclusion that anti-imperialist action was needed on the ideological front, in the underdeveloped world in general and Latin America in particular.

Between the two landmark conferences described above – on 18 January 1967, the birth centennial of Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío – a group of Latin American intellectuals met in Havana to reiterate the necessity of defining their revolutionary role. The following month, the Cuban artists and writers involved took the idea of an international cultural congress to Fidel, who responded enthusiastically while also criticising attitudes assumed in the cultural field by Soviet authorities. The aforementioned preparatory seminar – which ran after 8:30pm every evening between 25 October and 2 November 1967 – refined the topics that would eventually be discussed. This process gave rise to five main themes, which, it was understood, in no way precluded the addition of other topics. The prevailing subjects were:

    1.    Culture and national independence
    2.    The integral formation of man
    3.    The responsibility of the intellectual with respect to the problems of the underdeveloped world
    4.    Culture and the mass media
    5.    Problems of artistic creation and of scientific and technical work
Presidency of the preparatory seminar was split between four people, including Haydée, and a president, vice president and secretary were elected to oversee the individual commissions. Each commission was given the autonomy to organise work according to its preferred methodology, which it was understood might involve the formation of sub-committees.

Notable in relation to this study is the participation of Ambrosio Fornet and Roberto Fernández Retamar in discussions around intellectual responsibility under conditions of underdevelopment and that of Alfredo Guevara in the commission pertaining to artistic creation, scientific and technical work.

Their involvement, alongside many other creative practitioners, grounded the preparatory seminar, and the eventual congress, in the individuals and institutions at the heart of the Revolution. Yet Lisandro Otero (who served as President of the group on culture and the mass media at the preparatory seminar) alludes to persistent tensions between diverse cultural sectors, which resulted in organisations competing for majority participation of their members. For him, this fierce battle for cultural hegemony exposed the fact that old confrontations had not ceased. With this in mind, the ensuing congress would be noteworthy for its unity – of surrealists, Trotskyists, communists, Catholics, guerrillas and pacifists – which Otero partly attributes to the diversity of its national organising committee. In his closing speech to the congress, Fidel would commend the fact that the intellectuals in attendance had not come as activists from political organisations but as a vanguard nucleus, capable of grasping the nature and severity of the problems facing humanity, thereby aiming a sideswipe at orthodox forces.
 To Defend the Revolution Is to Defend Culture: The Cultural Policy of the Cuban Revolution
(Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt, PM Press, 2015)
This extract was originally published in Alborada magazine issue three (Winter 2016/2017)

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