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Staughton Lynd Interviewed on Writerscast

By David Wilk
May 20th, 2013

For me and for many others who came of age politically in the mid-to-late sixties, Staughton Lynd was an early and important figure.  He had been a Quaker and war resister, Civil Rights Movement participant, was cogent and critical about social structures and an early leader in the anti-Vietnam War movement.  He taught at Yale, but left academia, earned a law degree, and with his similarly activist partner and wife Alice Lynd, moved to Youngstown, Ohio and became active in the effort to save the steel mills there.  While that effort did not succeed, the Lynds have remained in Ohio for over 30 years working at a grass roots level in the labor movement, as well as with imates of Ohio prisons and with others across the country.

Accompanying is a short book, but extremely focused and coherent.  Lynd contrasts the hierarchical “organizing” efforts of the sixties civil rights and antiwar movements with the concept of “accompaniment” first articulated by Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, wherein organizers listen to their colleagues rather than instructing them.  Lynd then applies this distinction between organizing and accompaniment to the social movements in which he has been a participant for the past fifty years, which include the labor movement, civil rights, antiwar organizing, prisoner insurgencies, and the Occupy movement of the past few years. Alice Lynd, who has been his partner in all these efforts, adds her experience as a draft counselor during the Vietnam War era and now as an advocate for prisoners in maximum-security facilities.

The Lynds together bring an incredible range of experience, dedication and commitment to the human spirit and to the kind of social change that so many have wished for and demanded for so long.  I was struck by how their description of accompaniment resonates so well with the principles of cooperation and listening espoused by so many who have grown up in the Internet era.  It’s crucial to connect these ideas to political and economic analysis and to questioning the organizing principles of our society.  Anyone interested in social change in the modern world should read this book and attend to its simple and powerful precepts.  Here’s a great piece by Lynd speaking at the IWW Centenary in 2005, a website with more information about his work, and the publisher page for Lynd and his books (recommend buying directly from the publisher, PM Press, to support its work). 2006_staughton_lynd  I am honored to have been able to have this conversation with this ever intelligent, dedicated, and coherent activist and writer.

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Puerto Rican Independentista Oscar López Rivera's 32 Years of Resistance to Torture

By Hans Bennett
Upside Down World
May 30th, 2013

“It is much easier not to struggle, to give up and take the path of the living dead. But if we want to live, we must struggle.” –Oscar López Rivera, 1991

Wednesday, May 29 will mark 32 years since Puerto Rican activist Oscar López Rivera was arrested and later convicted of “seditious conspiracy,” a questionable charge that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has interpreted to mean “conspiring to free his people from the shackles of imperial injustice.”

Today, 70-year-old Oscar López Rivera, never accused of hurting anyone, remains in a cell at FCI Terre Haute, in Indiana. Supporters around the world continue to seek his release, most recently by asking US President Barack Obama for a commutation of his sentence. Similar pardons granted by President Truman in 1952, President Carter in 1979, and President Clinton in 1999, were the legal bases for the release of many other Puerto Rican political prisoners.

Since all of Oscar López Rivera’s original co-defendants have since won their release, he is famous in Puerto Rico as the longest held Independentistapolitical prisoner. Supporters are planning a range of events across the island for the upcoming week, as they mark this dubious ‘anniversary.’ Among those calling for his release is Javier Jiménez Pérez, the mayor of his hometown of San Sebastián, Puerto Rico, and a supporter of statehood.

Upside Down World interviewed Dylcia Pagán, one of López Rivera’s co-defendants, by telephone from her home in Loíza, Puerto Rico, where she continues to work in support of other political prisoners. Asked why the US government should release López Rivera now, after 32 years, Pagán told Upside Down World:

“Oscar should be free because he is an incredible human being, an artist, and a man that has a lot to give society in both the US and Puerto Rico. He has never even been accused of committing an act of violence. This conviction for ‘seditious conspiracy’ is what they’ve used against all of the Independentistas. The US claims to believe in democracy and human rights, but Oscar’s continued imprisonment is a clear violation of both.”

Pagán adds: “Oscar has served his time with dignity and has contributed to the lives of other prisoners. He deserves to be home in Puerto Rico, just like all of us.”

Between Torture and Resistance

“I was born Boricua, I will keep being Boricua, and will die a Boricua. I refuse to accept injustice, and will never ignore it when I become aware of it.” –Oscar López Rivera, 2011

With public support continuing to build for Oscar López Rivera’s release, PM Press has just published an important book, entitled Between Torture and Resistance, timed well to amplify López Rivera’s voice at this critical time. The book bases its text upon letters López Rivera has written over the years to lawyer and activist Luis Nieves Falcón, as well as letters to and from many family members during his imprisonment. This new book examines the broader political significance of López Rivera’s case, while providing an unflinching look at how imprisonment and draconian policies like solitary confinement and no-contact visits affect prisoners and their loved ones.

Perhaps nothing illustrates López Rivera’s character better than how he refers to himself with the lowercase use of the letter ‘i,’ in order to deemphasize the individual with respect to the collective. His letters offer a view into the mind of an extraordinary person. Reading first-hand in Between Torture and Resistance about the range of abuses that López Rivera has survived while in US custody may cause readers nightmares, but his accounts are a badly-needed reality check for anyone unfamiliar with the typically brutal treatment of US political prisoners. As Reverend Ángel L. Rivera-Agosto, executive secretary of the Puerto Rico Council of Churches comments, the book “is a powerful testimony, born from the cold bars of imprisonment, as a sign of today’s injustice and lack of freedom and respect for human rights.”

The chapter entitled “Life Experiences: 1943-1976,” offers a glimpse into the early years of Oscar López Rivera, born on January 6, 1943, in Barrio Aibonito of San Sebastián, Puerto Rico. At the age of fourteen, he moved with his family to the US and eventually graduated from high school in Chicago in 1960. In a 1981 interview, López Rivera’s mother, Mita described this initial move, reflecting: “My husband came looking for a better environment and it was not to be found here. We have to work harder, it’s colder, [there is] more humiliation, more racism for us…We live humiliated by the Americans…We suffer in this country.”

After working several different jobs to help support his family, in 1965 the government drafted López Rivera into the Vietnam War, which ultimately “awakened previously unexperienced feelings about Puerto Rico. First, the Puerto Rican flag became a symbol of important unity among the Puerto Rican soldiers…Second, Oscar began to question his role in such a terrible war. Why did they have to kill people who had done nothing to them? Why kill people who appeared to have things in common with Puerto Ricans themselves? He began to question the actions of North American imperialism in that Southeast Asian country, and the role of Puerto Ricans in the imperialist wars of the United States. These two seeds—cultural nationalism and anti-colonial struggle—begin to germinate in Oscar’s mind in Vietnam, and ripened later in his life,” writes Luis Nieves Falcón.

López Rivera’s politicization continued after serving in Vietnam, when he returned to Chicago. After working with the Saul Alinsky-influenced Northwest Community Organization, in 1972, he co-founded the Pedro Albizu Campos High School, an alternative school controlled directly by Puerto Ricans. Nieves Falcón writes that here “Oscar articulated a powerful vision of how alternative schools can challenge the essentially racist system of mainstream US education.”
In 1973, he co-founded Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center and in 1975 helped establish Illinois’ first Latino Cultural Center. López Rivera participated in some of the Young Lords’ activities, but he was not a member of the group. In addition, he worked on other issues, including racial discrimination in hiring and working conditions, confronting landlords about housing conditions, and improving hospital conditions and medical services for the most vulnerable. Luis Nieves Falcón comments that Lopez Rivera’s “civil activism between 1969 and 1976 clearly evidenced his genuine and significant effort to use every possible route of change within Chicago’s existing official structures.”

In 1973, after joining the National Hispanic Commission of the Episcopal Church, López Rivera publicly supported Independentistas imprisoned in the US for attacks on the Blair House (the Presidential guesthouse) in 1950 and on the US Congress in 1954. In the early 1970s, several armed clandestine groups formed in Puerto Rico and carried out actions to protest the US occupation of Puerto Rico. At this time, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) formed inside the US and from 1974-1980 claimed responsibility for multiple bombings, mostly in New York and Chicago, of military, government and economic targets. The FALN said they meant for their actions to publicize US colonization of Puerto Rico and to demand the release of the same imprisoned Independentistas that Oscar López Rivera and other community activists had been publicly supporting.

In response, the US government held Grand Jury investigations, ‘fishing’ for intelligence on the FALN, in 1974 and from 1976-1977. The government jailed several members of the National Hispanic Commission of the Episcopal Church for refusing to cooperate with the Grand Jury, including López Rivera’s brother, Jose. With Oscar López Rivera expecting to be the Grand Jury’s next target, he and three other close associates went underground, where López Rivera remained from 1976 until his subsequent arrest in 1981.

Convicted of ‘Seditious Conspiracy’
“This is not a trial. It is not even a kangaroo court.” – Oscar López Rivera, speaking at the 1981 court proceedings.

Oscar López Rivera’s legal team at the People’s Law Office, explains on their website:
“In 1980, eleven men and women were arrested and later charged with the overtly political charge of seditious conspiracy — conspiring to oppose U.S. authority over Puerto Rico by force, by membership in the FALN, and of related charges of weapons possession and transporting stolen cars across state lines. Oscar was not arrested at the time, but he was named as a codefendant in the indictment…In 1981, Oscar was arrested after a traffic stop, tried for the identical seditious conspiracy charge, convicted, and sentenced by the same judge to a prison term of 55 years. In 1987 he received a consecutive 15 year term for conspiracy to escape–a plot conceived and carried out by government agents and informants/provocateurs, resulting in a total sentence of 70 years.”

At Oscar López Rivera’s 1981 trial, he took a position similar to that of his co-defendants at their earlier trial: he declared the trial illegitimate and refused to present a defense or pursue an appeal. However, López Rivera did make an eloquent statement, reprinted in Between Torture and Resistance:

“Given my revolutionary principles, the legacy of our heroic freedom fighters, and my respect for international law—the only law which has a right to judge my actions—it is my obligation and my duty to declare myself a prisoner of war. I therefore do not recognize the jurisdiction of the United States government over Puerto Rico or of this court to try me or judge me.”
Later, at his 1987 trial where the court convicted him of “conspiracy to escape,” López Rivera took a similar stance, and in his statement, also reprinted in the new book, he elaborated further on the precedent set by anti-colonialist international law:

“Colonialism, dear members of the jury, is a monumental injustice according to the norms of civilized humanity and a crime under international law. According to United Nations Resolution 2621, the continuation of colonialism in all its forms and manifestations is a crime that constitutes a violation of the charter of the United Nations, Resolution 1514 (XV), the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples….No nation, ladies and gentleman, has the right to take over another nation. The military invasion and occupation of Puerto Rico clearly depicts the rapacious and voracious nature of the United States government, with the armed forces, rifles, and cannons it used to subjugate a people into submission and reduce a nation of one million inhabitants to a commodity for the bartering of human beings. For 89 years, this nation, conquered by force—the Puerto Rican people—have been denied their basic rights to self-determination and independence.”

‘Spiritcide’ and the Torture of Imprisonment

“The memory of our pain deserves to be appreciated, remembered, and never denied.” --Oscar López Rivera, 1997

Following his 1981 conviction, the government first held López Rivera at FCI Leavenworth in Kansas, until 1986. Upon arrival, Luis Nieves Falcón writes that “the majority of the prison guards were waiting for him. They surrounded him and verbally assaulted him. They repeatedly stressed that they didn’t want him there; that he was a dangerous terrorist and the place for him was Marion: an even higher-security prison, regarded among prison guards as the right place to eliminate terrorists.” Despite a clean record at Leavenworth and a 1985 report by his jailers that “he demonstrated favorable adjustment and maintained positive relations with the staff,” López Rivera became the target of an FBI entrapment scheme, involving a fabricated escape plan. On June 24, 1986, just days after the government formally accused him of planning to escape, he received a disciplinary transfer to the notorious federal prison in Marion, Illinois.

During the court proceedings for the ‘escape’ charges, held from September 1986 to February 1988, prison authorities held López Rivera in solitary confinement at MCC Chicago. Following his conviction and sentence of 15 years, authorities transferred him back to Marion, where he stayed until 1994. The new book features his reflections upon his living conditions during this period. López Rivera writes:

“i use the word ‘spiritcide’ to describe the dehumanizing and pernicious existence that i have suffered…i face, on the one hand, an environment that is a sensory deprivation laboratory, and on the other hand, a regimen replete with obstacles to deny, destroy or paralyze my creativity…i am locked up in a cell that is 6’ wide and 9’long, for an average of 22 ½ hours a day…Living in these conditions day after day and year after year has to have an adverse effect on my senses. i don’t have access to fresh air or to natural light because when i turn off the light in the cell to sleep, the guards keep the outside lights on and light enters the cell…Day and night i hear the roaring of the electric fans, whose noise is so strident that when I don’t hear them, i feel disoriented.”

Later in the same letter, López Rivera explains how he has survived:

“i know that the human spirit has the capacity to resurrect after suffering spiritcide. And like the rose or the wilted leaf falls and dies and in its place a newer and stronger one is reborn or resurrects, my spirit will also resurrect if the jailers achieve their goals…My certainty lies in my confidence that i have chosen to serve a just and noble cause. A free, just, and democratic homeland represents a sublime ideal worth fighting for…i am in this dungeon and the possibility that i will be freed is remote, not to say impossible, under conditions equal to or worse than caged animals, under spiritual and physical attack, but with full dignity and with a clean and clear conscience.”

In 1994, authorities transferred López Rivera to a new federal prison in Florence, Colorado that soon became as notorious as Marion was, for its own human rights abuses. After over a year of good behavior at Florence, authorities transferred him back to Marion after denying his request to be transferred elsewhere. Even though Marion had officially become lower security than before, following his transfer back, López Rivera reported that conditions had become worse.

Perhaps most chilling is his account of getting an operation for a hemorrhoid condition three days after his mother had passed away. Authorities had denied his request to attend the funeral. Within hours of the procedure, the area operated upon became infected, with his fever finally reaching 102.7 degrees. At this point, instead of giving him antibiotics as he immediately requested from the medical staff, authorities accused him of stealing the needle used for a blood test. The authorities cruelly withheld the antibiotics. Two days later, as the still untreated infection got even worse,

“They released me from the hospital and returned me to the hole. The jailers that took me were racing wheel chairs. Every turn made me feel as if someone was cutting me with a razor. i got to the cell and was preparing to clean up the blood. A lieutenant came in and said they were going to cuff me…According to him i had stolen the needle and immediately passed it to an accomplice who took it away…They searched me from head to toe. Blood was running down my legs, and here he was passing a metal detector on my rear. To punish me, they did not allow me to use the sitz bath or give me medications.”

It was not until 10:00 pm, the following day, López Rivera writes “that they gave me the sitz bath and the antibiotics…An hour later, my body responded and I was able to use the toilet—an incredibly painful ordeal”

In 1998, after 12 years in total isolation, authorities transferred López Rivera to FCI Terre Haute, in Indiana, where he remains today. Once there, he was finally able to have contact visits and other new ‘privileges,’ which increased his quality of life. Despite these improvements, the People’s Law Office reports that prison authorities imposed a special condition requiring him to report his whereabouts every two hours to prison guards. Even though this condition was initially scheduled to end after 18 months, it still continues today, over 14 years later.

Since 1999, authorities have barred the media from interviewing López Rivera, “in spite of policy allowing for media interviews of prisoners, in spite of allowing media interviews of other prisoners, and in spite of having allowed Oscar to be interviewed many times previously, without incident. Each rejection has used the identical, unsubstantiated excuse that ‘the interview could jeopardize security and disturb the orderly running of the institution,’” writes the People’s Law Office, noting further that “since 2011, the government has extended this ban beyond media, rejecting requests by New York elected officials to meet with Oscar.”

The Struggle Continues

“They will never be able to break my spirit or my will. Every day I wake up alive is a blessing.” – Oscar López Rivera, 2006

In 2011, the denial of parole to Oscar López Rivera outraged the leaders of Puerto Rico’s political and civil society, who publicly denounced the ruling. One critic, Puerto Rico’s non-voting U.S. congressional representative,  Pedro Pierluisi, said, “I don’t see how they can justify another 12 years of prison after he has spent practically 30 years in prison, and the others who were charged with the same conduct are already in the free community. It seems to me to be excessive punishment.”

In response to the parole denial, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined Nobel Laureates Máiread Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina, to send a letter to US President Barack Obama expressing their concern about his parole hearing. The letter cited how “testimony was permitted at that hearing regarding crimes López Rivera was never accused of committing in the first place, and a decision was handed down which—in denying parole—pronounced a veritable death sentence by suggesting that no appeal for release be heard again until 2023.”

Following the parole denial, López Rivera declared in a public statement to supporters:
“We have not achieved the desired goal. But we achieved something more beautiful, more precious and more important. And that is the fact that the campaign included people who represent a rainbow of political ideologies, religious beliefs, and social classes that exist in Puerto Rico. This to me represents the magnanimity of the Boricua heart—one filled with love, compassion, courage and hope.”

Today, López Rivera and his support campaign are focusing their efforts on a a letter-writing campaign asking US President Barack Obama to pardon him (view/download a suggested letter). There is a strong precedent for this strategy. In 1952, President Harry Truman commuted the death sentence of Oscar Collazo. In 1977 and 1979, President Jimmy Carter pardoned Andrés Figueroa Cordero, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Lolita Lebrón, Irving Flores and Oscar Collazo.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned Oscar López Rivera’s co-defendants Edwin Cortés, Elizam Escobar, Ricardo Jiménez, Adolfo Matos, Dylcia Pagán, Luis Rosa, Alberto Rodríguez, Alicia Rodríguez, Ida Luz Rodríguez, Alejandrina Torres, Carmen Valentín, and Juan Segarra Palmer. President Clinton offered to release López Rivera on the condition that he serve ten more years in prison. However, because Clinton did not extend that offer to two other Independentista prisoners, López Rivera did not accept the offer. In 2009 and 2010, those two other prisoners won their release on parole, making López Rivera the last co-defendant still imprisoned today, even though Clinton’s offer would have ostensibly released him in 2009.
Dylcia Pagán, pardoned in 1999, says that after 32 years of imprisonment, the time is now for President Barack Obama to pardon Oscar López Rivera. Asked to compare today’s political climate to that in 1999, Pagán is optimistic and says the movement is “alive and well,” with popular pressure continuing to build in support of López Rivera. “Hopefully, Oscar will be home by Christmas.

The new book, Between Torture and Resistance, concludes with a final thought from Luis Nieves Falcón:

"The best tribute we can extend to Oscar is to continue to fight every day, with yet greater determination, for his release. Every day that Oscar remains in prison is another reminder of the hypocrisy and absurdity of the US government's talk of human rights in light of its colonial rule. In the strongest possible terms, let us raise our voices to denounce this abuse and demand freedom for Oscar López Rivera."

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New York According to the Artist behind 'Spy vs. Spy'

by Paul Buhle
Jewish Daily Forward
June 3rd, 2013

This oversized, four-color 30-year compendium of comics, magazine illustrations, painting and sketchbook work by the artist best known for his "Spy vs Spy" pages in Mad Magazine, is stunning in its variety and vividness. "Chronicle" is evidently a play on words, because Kuper is looking at his Manhattan experience - ever since he moved from Cleveland in 1977 - from all sorts of angles, including geographical, aerial, animal, and, of course, human. It's not always a pretty sight, that's the price of admission to the real-life Greatest Show on Earth. The Mexican and French publishers of the volume, which preceded this version, must think so, too.

We don't see the evidence here, but Kuper started in comics by inking "Richie Rich," and many of the pages of "Drawn to New York" might be understood as a depiction of the world that real-life Manhattan rich people would prefer not to see. Not that Kuper, a founder of the iconoclastic "World War 3 Illustrated," is didactic. He takes in street violence, poverty, prostitutes, ecological and architectural crimes almost casually: How would you recognize modern New York without them? He also likes to be self-indulgent: the endangered species in the city is himself, threatened by some random or still unspecified source that makes 9/11 almost a relief in its specificity.

Kuper is historical minded, a self-taught scholar of past images. From Thomas Nast to the Ashcan school to Winsor McCay, from the early comic strip artists (before ethnicity was airbrushed out) and George Bellows to The New Yorker's Saul Steinberg, the visualized, vernacular New York has been experienced as self-absorption and enjoyed vicariously across the planet for more than a century and a half. This saga, re-enacted in Kuper's own work, is more like a stream of constant interruption, abandoned genres and new beginnings than anything approaching a narrative of continuity. It all leads up to Š. Kuper! Not that he would make such a claim for himself.

But why not? Along with the pure artistry of the work and the focus on specifics (music is a favorite; Kuper did a brilliant children's book, "Theo and the Blue Note," with colors substituted for sounds), there's ample self-commentary as well. He's a plain guy on the street, sometimes a victim, sometimes a mere observer, occasionally the object of a quizzical, saddened self-portrait. Mostly, though, his gaze goes onward, and when it goes west of the Hudson, it has gone too far for comfort. He left behind the Cleveland of the late Harvey Pekar (who encouraged him), the teenage creators of Superman, and so much else deeply Midwestern, to work, to live and to struggle in New York. If Thomas Nast, with his art, exposed political crooks and helped Abraham Lincoln change American history, Kuper is just as angry and just as intent on delivering an eclectic protest message. But not with sledge-hammer politics.

Readers will find the deepest truth in these pages by following their own interests. Eric Drooker's scant introduction is not as much help as I would like, and Kuper's own preface goes by too quickly, but it offers an essential clue to the volume. This is "an epic love poem" (in Drooker's words) where "Gotham's screaming whirlpools of cement, aging tenements and deafening rhythms have made it onto the page intact." All that and the stylings of a marvelously talented comic artist.

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The Left’s Catastrophic Logic

By Michael Schauerte
Socialist Standard
June 2013

‘Radical leftists’ cling to the belief that capitalism will collapse, thereby ushering in a new society—an illusion that suits their hazy understanding of socialism.

Back in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, the Socialist Party of Great Britain went out on a limb, or so it may have seemed to many leftists of the time, by insisting that capitalism would certainly not self-destruct. In a pamphlet titled ‘Why Capitalism Will Not Collapse,’ it rejected the ‘wrong and lazy idea’ that capitalism would ‘collapse under the weight of its own problems’ and criticised the ‘fatalistic attitude of waiting for the system to end itself.’

‘The lesson to be learned,’ the pamphlet concluded, ‘is that there is no simple way out of capitalism by leaving the system to collapse of its own accord. Until a sufficient number of workers are prepared to organise politically for the conscious purpose of ending capitalism, that system will stagger on indefinitely.’

It would have been nice if the prediction had been wrong: if capitalism had done us the great service of ending its own life or if the calamity of economic crisis (or war) could have automatically converted the bulk of the working class to socialism. But in fact, over the eight decades since then, capitalism has managed to stagger or even strut along, defying the hope (or fear) that it would self-destruct or bump up against some absolute limit to growth.

Despite all the examples history has provided us of how capitalism can weather a crisis and how a social cataclysm is no guarantee that workers will be ‘radicalised,’ many leftists still cling to the hope that economic crisis, war, or environmental catastrophe could topple capitalism or suddenly transform the consciousness of workers.

This unfounded belief came to the fore again in late 2008 amidst an intense financial crisis, as even mainstream economists were toying with words like ‘collapse’ and ‘meltdown’ to describe the condition of capitalism. The crisis still continues today, of course, but then again so does capitalism.

Yet one can hope that some of these misconceptions will be reconsidered in light of how these five crisis-filled years have not shaken capitalism at its roots, and that ‘radical leftists’ will rethink the process of fundamental social change. One sign that this reflection on a failed outlook and strategy may already be underway is the recent publication of Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth (PM Press).

The book is a collection of four articles by ‘partisans of the radical left,’ critiquing those on both the left and the right who believe society is headed for some sort of total collapse that will either usher in a new age or ‘awaken the masses from their long slumber.’ The authors label this apocalyptic outlook ‘catastrophism’.

The article of most interest to socialists in the book is, ‘Great Chaos Under Heaven: Catastrophism and the Left,’ written by Sasha Lilley, the co-host of the radio programme, Against the Grain, on KPFA (Berkeley, California).

Lilley identifies the two sides of the left catastrophism that has ‘shaped the radical tradition for well over a century’—namely, the expectation that capitalism will collapse and ‘predestined forces [will] transform society for the better,’ on the one hand, and the ‘idea that the worse things get, the more auspicious they become for radical prospects.’ She also quite astutely points out how these mistaken assumptions are connected to ‘the twin dangers of adventurism (the ill-conceived actions of the few) and political quietism (the inaction that flows from awaiting the inexorable laws of history to put an end to capitalism).

The idea among leftists that capitalism would collapse is typically based on a one-dimensional reading of Marx, Lilley observes. She notes that, even though Marx had ‘argued that crises are essential to capitalism, he did not equate such crises with the collapse of the system;’ and that ‘those who believe the system will crumble from crises and disasters lose sight of the ways that capitalism uses crises for its own regeneration and expansion.’ Unfortunately, the misinterpretation of Marx’s theory of crisis took root within the German Social Democratic Party and other supposedly Marxist organisations, exercising a powerful influence throughout the twentieth century. 

Intertwined with the belief that capitalism will collapse is the idea that the worse things get, the better the prospects for revolution. Even though Lilley accepts that ‘social context’ obviously ‘shapes how people see their own situation and the forces at play around them,’ she emphasises that ‘there is no alignment of the stars that leads to collective, rather than atomised, resistance.’

The German Communist Party in the early 1930s provides the best example of where the ‘worse-is-better’ logic of the left can lead, encapsulated in their cheerful slogan, ‘After Hitler, our turn!’ Their turn to be rounded up and sent to the concentration camps, the Communists soon discovered.

The attitude of waiting for things to get worse (so that they can get better) is bad enough, but some leftists take it a further step, Lilley explains, by following the logic that ‘if worsening conditions are more propitious for radical change, then radicals should do what they can to make things worse.’ This is the asinine logic of the radical terrorists of the late 1960s and early 1970s who tried to ‘heighten the contradictions’ through violent or spectacular actions and bring down the state repression that could ‘mobilise the unmobilised.’

This strategy is riddled with problems, Lilley explains, ‘not the least of which is bringing repression down on others for their own good.’ Above all, it is a strategy that simply doesn’t work, she concludes: ‘radical mass movements typically grow because they offer hope for positive change,’ whereas ‘fear is corrosive’ and ‘demobilises.’

The lack of hope is at the heart of the politics of ‘left-wing catastrophism,’ Lilley argues, reflecting ‘a deep-seated pessimism about mass collective action and radical social transformation.’ This is certainly true, but socialists would add that this sense of despair is connected to the basic inability of leftists to envisage a true alternative to capitalism. In short, they are (at best) anti-capitalist but not pro-anything, really—at least nothing that isn’t upon closer inspection a variation of capitalism.

Lilley sidesteps this issue of what she and other radical partisans are for by inserting a sort of disclaimer in the introduction to the book and at the beginning of her article, stating that the aim will not be to ‘furnish prescriptions for mass action and revolt’ but to point out ‘what does not, and will not, work.’ She adds that a ‘militant radicalism with any prospects of success embraces catastrophism at its peril.’

Pointing out what does not work is certainly welcome, but one has the impression that Lilley limits the scope of her argument in part because, like the leftists she criticises, she has no clear idea of what a post-capitalist society would be like.

This muddled outlook is apparent from her attachment to words and expressions that sound revolutionary but are exceedingly vague, such as ‘militant radicalism,’ ‘radical collective politics,’ ‘mass action and revolt,’ ‘radical mass movements,’ ‘a broad anti-capitalist project,’ ‘mass collective action,’ and ‘radical social transformation.’

What does any of this mean, really? How can you advocate a ‘mass’ or ‘radical ’or ‘militant ’movement without saying even a word about what the aim of that movement is? Isn’t this lack of clarity among anti-capitalists precisely why they are so strongly attracted to the outlook of ‘catastrophism’ in the first place? Without a clear notion of a new society to replace capitalism, or of how workers could democratically bring it about, (anti-capitalist) leftists can only hope that a collapse will usher in a new age.

Instead of offering any source of real hope regarding the sort of society that could take the place of capitalism, Lilley concludes her essay with a sort of pep talk, reminding the reader that ‘navigating away from the stormy shoals of catastrophism ... requires a commitment to mass radical collective politics, in inauspicious times as well as auspicious ones.’ But some readers might wish to understand what ‘mass radical collective politics’ means, exactly, before deciding on their commitment.

Still, even recognising the limited scope of the book (whether intentional or inevitable), it is a valuable and timely contribution to those who are frustrated by the limitations of the left. And, in addition to Lilley’s critique of the left, the book contains interesting essays dealing with the right-wing version of catastrophism and the Malthusian outlook prevalent among environmentalists.

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A Truly Revolutionary Chronicle of Women’s Resistance Behind Bars

by Sasha
Earth First! Newswire
May 22nd, 2013

In her latest edition of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggle of Incarcerated Women (PM Press 2012), Victoria Law offers us a whole-hearted chronicle of despair and resistance in the modern prison industry. It is worth a good read by anyone interested in the sociology of American life, as well as any radical with friends or comrades behind bars. Law’s accounts of women prisoners taking action are so inspirational that you will never be the same after reading them.

With an approach resembling the old underground chronicles of the Soviet samizdat press, Resistance Behind Bars carries no piece of frivolity in its tight, hard-hitting prose. Law moves from facts to facts, drawing out broad truths about the prison industry’s systematic oppression of women throughout the United States of America. What we find is rampant sexual abuse, neglect, and manipulation—the holding of women in shameful conditions where prison becomes an almost airtight container for misogyny and patriarchy. But there is hope in resistance.

Law’s work is crucial, because the greatest recent works on the prison industry (for instance, Ruth Gilmore Wilson’s Golden Gulag, Micelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and the Let Freedom Ring anthology) are more focused on male prisoners. “Many activist-oriented publications mirror the mainstream media’s masculinization of prisons and prisoners, contributing to the invisibility of women behind bars,” states Law. “Because they receive much less attention than their male counterparts, women in prison receive much less support from both individual activists and prisoner rights groups.”

By revealing the obscured facts of prisoners’ oppression, Resistance Behind Bars exposes immediately the need for such a work. During an investigation of two women’s prisons in Michigan in 1994, the Justice Department found that “nearly every woman… interviewed reported various sexually aggressive acts of guards,” while a 1996 Human Rights Watch report exposes commonplace reprisals of guards against women who complain. In one mind-blowing statistic, Law explains, “[i]n both men’s and women’s prisons, prisoners are more likely to experience sexual violence at the hands of prison staff than from their fellow prisoners.

In his vital text The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn writes, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Victoria Law’s impressive chronicle opens the heart of humanity with stories of resistance—stories of love and patience more than rage and riot, which are most commonly associated with prison resistance.

Law’s intensive investigations obviate exhaustive knowledge of the day-to-day situations of resistance, such as the spreading of information, the slow motion of court cases, and the relationships of people involved. She discusses the surges of women’s movements behind bars, the media, communications, and alliances formed between heroic women willing to risk their bodies and their access to others for mutual aid and basic rights. Law notes the critical and lasting impact of magazines like Sojourner: A Women’s Forum, which helps women resist “feeling as if their words, thoughts and actions are meaningless. For these women, having their words and thoughts taken seriously is, in and of itself, a major achievement.” Media also presents “an act of subversion against both their own lack of agency and the isolating effects of prison.”

So much of the struggle against oppressive conditions takes place in the battle for information. Information being shared between people, on personal levels as well as through magazines, leads to liberation. One crucial chapter in Resistance Behind Bars illustrates this point through a discussion about detention facilities and women subject to incarceration awaiting deportation. Many of these women do not speak English, yet prison officials often place them among English speaking populations without any translators. The ability of prisoners to then work together to create unity beyond the language gap indicates the compassion and tender, careful relationship-building that accompanies being together in prison.

In a welcome addition to the second edition of Resistance Behind Bars, Law presents a stirring analysis of incarcerated trans people. Authorities place trans people in prisons according to their sexual organs at birth, a practice which leads directly to increased abuse and alienation. In one tragic example, Dee Farmer, a trans woman, was placed in Terre Haute (an institution that will ring a bell for ecodefense activist), where she was repeatedly beaten, raped, and infected with HIV. Trans men in women’s prisons have traditionally been confronted with abuse from guards, including even forced segregation. Cis-privilege, in general, is reified within the patriarchal container by the guards. Law declares, “[n]arratives of transgender, gender variant and intersex people’s resistance in prisons are rare. This should not be interpreted to mean that they do not resist prison abuses. Instead, researchers, activists, and abolitionists should see the conspicuous absence of transgender, gender variant and intersex stories of resistance behind bars as a challenge to dig further, figure out why such tales are absent and do what isneeded to both end the silence and support their struggles.”

Resistance Behind Bars is replete with such harrowing stories of women acting out of their own agency, against assault and neglect, with little tools to win the fight. One example is that of Stacy Barker, whose successful lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections led to an onslaught of cell searches yielding “contraband violations” for iron pills and Ibuprofen. When the corrections officials used the violations to keep Barker from visiting her daughter, she joined a large suit against the regulations keeping mothers from their children—and won.

Much of women’s resistance in prison stems from letter writing campaigns, newsletters, and law suits. These efforts are forwarded by education efforts behind bars. Law discusses the awesome work of Marcia Bunney, who used her job in the prison library to teach herself law, eventually becoming one of five prisoner representatives of the National Steering Committee of the National Lawyers’ Guild’s Prison Law Project. The classes taught behind bars, Law shows, are frequently degrading, humiliating, and repressive, but offer rewards for those who can work through the system.

Even working through the system can bring new roadblocks, however. A request for medical treatment can bring unwanted reactions from authorities, for instance. “Women in prison face not only medical neglect and malpractice,” writes Law, “but also retaliation from the prison administration should they advocate for themselves and demand adequate treatment.”

Underlying the lack of care is a basic lack of counseling and information available to prisoners with AIDS and hepatitis C, but Law notes that prisoners team together to pass on their knowledge, speak out, file lawsuits, and make their daily lives livable. One example is that of Charisse Shumate, whose work with other inmates with sickle-cell anemia led to a class-action lawsuit, Schumate v. Wilson, that resulted in preventative care (although Shumate would succumb to her illness before the case was settled).

In the seminal In Russian and French Prisons, Peter Kropotkin declares, “No autocracy can be imagined without its Tower or Bastille.” The symbol of the central prison, and the possibility of its rupture, makes history. The U.S., with its tentacle-like prison industry complex provides multiple histories of oppression and autocracy. Law shows that much of the most important work to benefit prisoners comes from the prisoners themselves, in a heroic movement with support groups around the world working to fight the system. The hard task abolishing the prison industry is upon us, and it builds from the kind basic communication of facts and truths presented in Resistance Behind Bars—this is a method steeped in the feminist tradition, and it is one worth taking up at once.


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Asia's Unknown Uprisings V1: A Review in Socialism & Democracy

By Michael Munk
Socialism & Democracy, 2013
Vol. 27, No. 1
pg. 203-207

George Katsiaficas, the prolific student of mass movements, offers an ambitious and well documented study of modern South Korean social movements. The central question he poses is to what extent they arise spontaneously from masses of “ordinary” people. His key concept is the “eros effect,” which he developed during the worldwide uprisings in 1968 as described in his first book, The Imagination of the New Left (1987). This effect is achieved when “ordinary people take history in their own hands,” and unite in an insurgency so powerful that it causes “the basic assumptions of society to vanish overnight.”

During periods of the eros effect, masses of people come together in “beloved communities of struggle” and “live according to transformed norms, values and beliefs” (xxi). For Katsiaficas, “The outcome of spontaneous and massive occurrences is often far better than [that of] deliberately planned ones” (144), because uprisings are “a form of ordinary people’s wisdom that exceeds the shortsighted decision-making powers of world corporate and political elites” (3).

Applying this perspective to the history of Korean social movements, Katsiaficas was “amazed” to find the eros effect embodied in “what has been called the ’absolute community’ of the Gwangju Uprising” – a massive popular takeover of a South Korean provincial capital against the military dictatorship for several weeks in May, 1980.

Throughout the arc of Korean history, he finds early evidence of “self-directed” struggles in the 1894 Tonghak Uprising (his term is the “Farmers’ War”) against Yangban landlords and the Japanese troops they invited to crush the uprising. More recently between 2002 and 2008, he cites the “candlelight” demonstrations against US beef imports and the reactionary Lee Myung-bak regime.

Katsiaficas sees Korean popular struggles as directed primarily toward national independence against foreign domination – a nationalist objective not so clearly encompassed by the kind of anarchist theory which his approach suggests. In any case, this broad understanding has a sound basis: for most of the twentieth century through today, much of Korea has been occupied by foreign military forces – first the entire peninsula by Japan as its (Western-approved) colony from 1905 – 1945 and then by the US, whose occupation troops arrived after the Japanese surrender in September, 1945 and still number over 28,500 in the Republic of Korea (ROK) today. By contrast, Soviet troops actually liberated the country from Japan north of the 38th parallel in several weeks of bitter fighting in August 1945. They left when the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) was established in 1948 (although some of their air force returned during the Korean war). Similarly, China withdrew most of the “People’s Volunteers” – who expelled the US from the DPRK – soon after the Korean war ended in 1953, although the last contingents, which assisted in reconstruction, went home in 1958.

Koreans responded to these occupations in a series of political and armed struggles for national independence, first against the Japanese occupation and then against the American one in South Korea (primarily from 1946 – 1953). Although his book is concerned with South Korea, Katsiaficas suggests that the DPRK, which pursues a resolutely independent (critics say “isolated”) path in international affairs, aspires to represent a defiant Korean nationalism in opposition to US/Japanese cultural penetration of the ROK nourished by their military and economic alliances.

Katsiaficas begins his analysis with the critical 1945 – 1950 period in the South, during which the US occupation, operating through former Japanese collaborators in the military and police, brutally suppressed

Socialism and Democracy the popular local People’s Committees (PCs) and their national expression in Seoul as the Korean People’s Republic (KPR). He contrasts that imperial policy with the Soviet Union’s occupation in the North, which recognized (and influenced) the PCs in its zone. He believes that if the US had not intervened against the October Uprising in 1946 – “the most significant armed popular movement since Tonghak” – it would have “toppled the Seoul administration and installed the KPR as the sole government” (72).

The October Uprising (also called the “Autumn Harvest Uprising”) consisted of massive public protests against suppression of the KPR and against the imported regime of Syngman Rhee. It included rural seizures of power and workers’ strikes and finally formations of “armed revolutionary power in entire regions.” Katsiaficas attributes the defeat of the October Uprising to “massive firepower directed by the US” and finds that the absence of American casualties, in contrast to thousands of Korean ones, was due to the PCs’ wrong expectation that the US would negotiate with them.

At this point, Katsiaficas shifts into high gear his running argument with Bruce Cumings, the leading US scholar of post-World War II Korea. Although Cumings views the Autumn Harvest Uprising as “a last, massive attempt by the PCs to seize power in the provinces,”

Katsiaficas finds that Cumings overemphasizes the role of Rhee’s “national police network” in their suppression (79), while giving insufficient weight to the role of US troops. Katsiaficas also criticizes Cumings’ treatment of the 1948 Jeju Island and Yeosun (Yosu) insurrections.

Although he sees in the Island’s stiff resistance to the occupation “a kind of living anarchism,” he recognizes that the 1948 uprisings were largely organized by the communist South Korean Labor party (SKLP). He cites the flying of DPRK flags over liberated towns and villages as evidence that the 1948 uprisings were linked with the North through the SKLP. Their exceptionally hideous suppression under the notorious US Captain James Hausman, the author says, brought “tears to the eyes of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung,” who had urged South Koreans to rebuild their PCs. He even suggests that Kim’s June 1950 attack across the 38th parallel was an effort to rescue the remaining organized radicals (now guerrilla detachments forced up into the mountains).

Was the war a response to their pleas for fraternal help and an effort to answer broad demands for intervention from the South Koreans? Katsiaficas views the period between the 1948 uprisings and the “outbreak” of the Korean war as a time when “guerrilla warfare became of necessity the anti-imperialist movement’s tactical approach”(106). His beef with Cumings continues as he insists that the 1948 uprisings were “revolutionary” because their participants “wanted to change the world” whereas Cumings views them as mere “rebellions” in which Koreans rose up against the existing order but without a clear vision of what to replace it with (105).

The highlight of the book is its intimate and detailed analysis of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising. Katsiaficas spent several years in the city since 1999, and regards it as his “Korean hometown” where, in his words, “I was a public figure whose views were well known because my books were translated and I therefore had the privilege to be granted insider status in movement circles.” He regards the significance of Gwangju to be “comparable to the Paris Commune of 1871” (xxii) and a paradigmatic example of the eros effect. “Historically speaking,” he writes, “the Gwangju People’s Uprising of 1980 is the pivotal moment around which dictatorship was transformed into democracy.” Students joined with workers, even the white-collar “necktie brigade,” to take over the city from the brutal military junta. That junta had come to power through a US-backed coup against the short-lived popular government that followed the student-inspired overthrow of Rhee in 1961. For several weeks in May, according to Katsiaficas, the Minjung4 community demonstrated “the spontaneous chain reaction of people coming to each other’s assistance, the erotic occupation of public space, and the loving embrace in which the city united nearly everyone in it,” all of which constituted “one of the twentieth century’s clearest expressions of the capacity of millions of ordinary people to govern themselves beautifully and with grace” (164). His analysis of the Gwangju uprising comprises about 100 of the book’s 420 pages, but its impact informs the entire work.

Although the insurgency was bloodily suppressed by the military and the US, Katsiaficas notes that many Koreans regard its legacy as “the birthplace of Korean democracy.” With the end of the military dictatorship in 1987, they celebrate the end of 25 years of suffering and pay homage to the heroic people and the martyrs of Gwangju city and province.

The author’s deep investment in the wisdom and instincts of “ordinary” people contrasts with his contempt for elites and suspicion of “movement theorists” (including revolutionary ones), “academic experts,” and “professional revolutionary groups.” Foremost among those “experts” are Cumings and Martin Hart-Landsberg. Katsiaficas calls out Cumings (whose “trailblazing work was initially welcomed by Koreans when it appeared”) for erroneous dates, for failing to address charges that the US engaged in biological warfare, and for other issues already mentioned. But his most fundamental difference with Cumings is over how to describe the Korean War. Cumings views it as a “civil war”; Katsiaficas, as a war of national liberation.

One element of the underlying dispute is over whether Cumings ignores or minimizes the dominant role of the US in suppressing the Korean people’s uprisings, starting with the KPR and PCs in 1945, the Autumn Harvest Uprising of 1946, and the Jeju and Yeosun insurrections, and extending through the Korean war and the military regimes of 1961 – 1987 whose doom was sealed at Gwangju. The other element of dispute is over the strength and scope of the Korean uprisings, which Cumings finds weaker, less coherent and more subject to suppression by reactionary ROK elements (albeit with US support) than does Katsiaficas. This difference in assessing the social movements of Korea reflects the anarchistic faith and hope that the author invests in the capacity of “ordinary” people to organize society independently of party-leaders or governments. And when in the day of Occupy he reminds us of Rosa Luxemburg’s preference for the “superiority of the worst mistakes of a truly democratic workers’ movement to the best dictates of a party’s central committee” (106), we should pay attention.

3. Katsiaficas rejects its common title, the Tonghak Uprising, because that “synthetic religion” did not account for the masses of farmers fighting for their economic rights against the Yangbans of the feudal class of elite landowners. Tonghak traditions carry on to this day through Chondogyo institutions and believers in both North and South Korea.204

4.Minjung literally means “the mass of the people,”. In Korea, it carries a radical connotation denoting those who are oppressed politically, exploited economically, marginalized sociologically, despised culturally, and condemned religiously.

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Good ideas are not enough: Towards Collective Liberation, A Review

by Yutaka Dirks
Briarpatch Magazine
May 1, 2013

Chris Crass is a longtime activist originally from California where he was active in San Francisco Food Not Bombs (FNB) and the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation. As an educator and organizer with the Catalyst Project for over 10 years, Crass supported anti-racist politics and leadership development in the U.S. left, working to foster and support multiracial alliances. Towards Collective Liberation collects several of his essays from the last decade about anti-racist feminist practice and anarchist leadership and intersperses them with material written from his new home in Tennessee.

After a short essay on what anarchism might offer those attempting to enact a visionary left politics, Crass provides a fulsome, critical history of FNB, a group that has introduced thousands of young, mainly white, people into radical politics. He offers an engaging insider’s account of the class struggle in San Francisco in the early ’90s, as well as a frank discussion of the struggles within FNB around organization and strategy and internal sexism and racism.

Crass sees “collective liberation” – a term borrowed from an essay by bell hooks – as a “vision of what we want and a strategic framework to help us get there.” Acknowledging his debt to feminists of colour, he shares honest, personal reflections on challenging male and white supremacy. While he does not offer a developed analysis of the difference between “anti-oppression” and “collective liberation,” he seems to prefer the latter term and critiques the tendency to focus on “what not to do, rather than what to do.”

Towards Collective Liberation
includes interviews with a variety of activists from organizations that are leading anti-racist efforts in white communities and in majority-white campaigns. Amy Dudley from Oregon’s Rural Organizing Project explains the group’s success in strengthening anti-racism and queer-liberation politics in primarily white, rural communities, contesting the idea that these places are a ready-made base for the right. Carla Wallace describes how Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign intervened in electoral and policy issues in a relatively conservative, mid-sized city to develop long-term multiracial alliances that were able to mobilize a grassroots base to defend queer rights and fight racist police abuse.

The experiences of these two organizations offer Canadian radicals valuable lessons as they grapple with the reality that, while Canada is becoming increasingly urban, half of the people in Canada still live outside major urban centres where the right tends to dominate, and, apart from a few large cities, the country is predominantly white.

Also of interest is the work of the Groundwork Collective, which played a leadership role in amplifying a racial justice analysis during the recent uprising in Madison, Wis., something only possible after building bridges with people of colour who were leading ongoing, local racial justice organizing. Groundwork provides a reminder that newly politicized people who are directly experiencing economic oppression want to shrug off their alienation and connect with their humanity. The white anti-racists Crass interviews understand that “struggle is the greatest teacher” and encourage anti-racist activists to show leadership and help develop a movement committed to collective liberation during moments such as the Madison mobilization or the anti-immigrant battles in Arizona.

Crass leaves the reader with eight practical lessons. Among them, he reminds us of the importance of setting concrete and measurable goals and cultivating a “developmental organizing approach that is reflective and supportive of all its members’ political and skills development.”

Crass understands that “good ideas are not enough,” but the short essays he includes addressing “strategic, liberation organizing praxis” are somewhat disappointing. Written in the early 2000s during the height of the anti-globalization movement, they highlight the importance of critical leadership and an organizing culture that works to build and nurture new leaders and strategic thinking, as exemplified by Ella Baker’s work in the civil rights struggle. However, given the importance of building our movements’ capacity and power, a more in-depth and substantive discussion would be welcome.

It takes hard work to create and refine “liberatory processes and practices in the here and now while we fight for the future.” Crass has given white activists and others an excellent resource to continue this work. Towards Collective Liberation is a powerful and honest work that underscores the importance of confronting racism and sexism and nurturing the leadership skills of new organizers to reach their full potential as a force that can radically transform society.

Yutaka Dirks is a tenant organizer and writer living in Toronto. His fiction and essays have appeared in literary journals and activist publications including the White Wall Review, Rhubarb Magazine and Beautiful Trouble: A toolbox for revolution. He has a serious love for stories of all stripes.

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Spreading the Good Word: "Towards Collective Liberation" by Chris Crass

By Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz
The Feminist Wire
May 4th, 2013

Have you read Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis and Movement Building Strategy by Chris Crass yet?  Well, if you haven’t gotten around to it, put it on your reading list STAT!

I don’t often agree to do book reviews. Because I have dyslexia, it takes me a long time to make my way through a book. Then when I get around to writing a review, the book is no longer hot off the press. But this time around I really wanted to participate in spreading the good word about Towards Collective Liberation because I believe it is critical to further building our movement’s racial, gender, and economic justice thinking and practice.

Chris Crass takes us on a deeply honest and strategic learning journey about the history of anarchist struggle and tactics, movement building, racial justice organizing, and the work that gender privileged people must do to collectively challenge sexism.  If you are looking to understand much of the history, tactics, and thinking about anarchism, you will find it in Towards Collective Liberation.  If you are looking for deeply direct and honest analysis about the work that white people must do together to challenge white supremacy, you will find it in Towards Collective Liberation. If you are looking for a treasure trove of movement building tools, strategies, mistakes made and learned, and ideas for your daily justice praxis, you will find it in Towards Collective Liberation. The best part of Towards Collective Liberation is that Chris doesn’t make this learning journey easy, simple, or theoretical.  This brilliant collection of essays is the real organizing deal because with each essay the message is clear: working for justice is deeply intersectional, vulnerable, and messy work. Now that’s my kind of book!

I learned so much from reading this book, but there are a couple of things that moved me and expanded my thinking.

As a long time movement builder and racial justice organizer, I have not been called to anarchist community even though much of the thinking turns me on!  Although I have deep appreciation for the economic justice/anti-capitalist analysis that I have often encountered in anarchist communities, my experience has been that anarchist efforts are predominantly white and cis-gendered male dominated.  I have often felt unwelcome in anarchist circles and that there has been very little space for feminist intersectional thinking and practice.  Towards Collective Liberation breaks it all down!  I now have a greater understanding of anarchist thinking and history. More importantly, I have as a new frame Chris’s story of awakening and struggle around gender and racial justice in an anarchist context. In a searingly direct way, Chris shares the pain and joy of struggling around racial and gender justice across some critically important anarchist efforts including his many years as an organizer with San Francisco Food Not Bombs.

On a related note, my thinking was challenged and expanded greatly by a deeper explanation of prefigurative politics.  Chris defines prefigurative politics as “the strategy of incorporating the vision of the future society into the struggle to get there. If the fight is for a democratic society, then revolutionaries must incorporate as many democratic practices as possible into the struggle to get there. Through the experience of utilizing democratic methods in the course of struggle, people build their individual and collective skills and experience to live democratically and in the process create democratic cultural values, and generate democratic practices to be utilized and improved upon.”

Throughout Towards Collective Liberation Chris emphasizes the importance of the interconnectedness between prefigurative politics, democratic processes and collective struggle. In essence, what Chris is inviting us to do is to deepen our commitment to a radical praxis that is intentional, consistent, and yet imperfect because collective struggle always is. 

His message is that perfection is not the goal but rather the goal is collective learning, organizing, accountability, and liberation.  As a result, it challenged me to think about the kinds of strategies and democratic processes I need to continue building in my own life and organizing work.  Chris’s emphasis on prefigurative politics was such a powerful affirmation for me that I have begun copying whole chapters of Towards Collective Liberation and passing them out like candy to every revolutionary organizer I know.

Finally, I was deeply moved by Chris’s essay entitled “Going To Places That Scare Me: Personal Reflections on Challenging Male Supremacy.” I loved this chapter becauseit’s so rare to read somethingwritten by a“mostly heterosexual” (Chris’s language), cis-gendered, able bodied, middle class white man that is deeply vulnerable and direct about sexism. Chris’s understanding of sexism is personal and political and, as a result, he does not shy away from letting all of his shit hang out there.  This chapter embodies some important modeling for anyone, including myself, who is on a life long journey of intentionally examining, struggling with, and owning their privilege accountable ways.

As I said earlier, I’m not a fan of writing book reviews.  On the other hand, I am a fan of putting organizing resources, tools, and analysis in the hands of revolutionary organizers.  So here is my pitch: get your hands on a copy of Towards Collective Liberation. Buy it at your radical/feminist bookstore, get a copy from a friend, share your own copy with organizers you love, make bootleg copies, get it from your local library, donate a copy to your local library, sit on the floor at your beloved radical/feminist bookstore and read it when and if you can or read it to/with an organizer for whom reading is inaccessible.  Just do it my beloved organizers…and keep spreading the word!
Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz is the founder ofintersections/intersecciones consulting. Weiner-Mahfuz has worked in several movements for social justice with a particular emphasis on building grassroots political power across movements, issues, identities and communities. As a capacity builder, movement builder, cultural worker and writer she has dedicated much of her organizing life to challenging oppression at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

Her writings can be found in Colonize This! Young Women of Color and Feminism (Seal Press, 2002), Fireweed Magazine’s “Mixed Race Issue” (Issue 75), through the Bilerico Project Blog, and a web-based project entitled BustingBinaries, which she co-authors with Ana Maurine Lara. You can also frequently catch her tweeting about a wide range of justice issues at @MovetheMovement!

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We All Come Up Together: “Towards Collective Liberation” reviewed on

By Laura Campagna
May 30th, 2013

In his new book, Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy, Chris Crass rightly points out that there are more men influenced by feminism today than at any other time in history. While this may be so, and I believe it is, a book written by a man about his deep commitment to feminism is still radical, and far too rare. Especially because these books are able to speak to readers with gender privilege in a unique and effective way. The good news is with his first book, Crass is able to do just that, and more.

His feminist credentials are immediately established in the foreword by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, who Crass lists as a mentor, but who argues that she has learned as much from him as he has from her. In the introduction, Chris Dixon calls Crass a voice of his generation who has given expression to such fundamental feminist questions: “How can we overcome the interconnected systems of oppression and exploitation that structure our society? How can we struggle towards collective liberation?”

Crass tackles these daunting challenges and offers concrete strategies in “Towards Collective Liberation,” which blends personal stories and lessons learned through decades of activism, with critical race, feminist, and anarchist theory to create a compelling and accessible read for anyone interested in social justice. His work gives an overview of the revolutionary movements and moments he has been apart of over the past twenty years: fighting for Ethnic Studies while attending community college in Orange County, organizing with Food Not Bombs in San Francisco, shutting down the WTO in Seattle, and founding the Bay Area based Catalyst Project to train the next generation of anti-racist white organizers. What makes “Collective Liberation” so important, is that Crass not only describes what he did and why, but how his thinking changed through the process.

When I first encountered Crass in the Bay Area nearly ten years ago, he was a leader in a community of activists that I was just becoming acquainted with. From my vantage point on the outside, he appeared to have it all figured out: highly intelligent, well read, thoughtful, eloquent, and passionately committed. As many young activists have done to those they admire, I looked at Crass and assumed that he had just been born with more information than I had, that comprehension of complicated theories of social justice had come naturally to him. Here was a white man who had unlearned his internalized superiority, and now worked effortlessly in multi-racial alliances. My belief in his inherent superiority, and others like him, was one of the reasons I felt intimidated to get involved in the movement.

One of the lies that capitalism tells us is that everything should be easy, and that if life is difficult then it’s your fault and you’re doing something wrong. “Collective Liberation” directly contradicts that pervasive ideology by outlining the challenges Crass faced in becoming the formidable activist he is today. As he insightfully writes in the chapter, “What I Believe.”

Capitalism and other systems of oppression are designed to make almost everyone feel inadequate, isolated, and powerless. The power of these feelings is that even though many of us experience them, and they are ingrained in the culture, most of us think we are the only ones who feel this way. Such feelings remain with us, even as we question these systems of oppression and work to end them.
This is why, Crass says, he has found reading the stories of other activists going through similar challenges so helpful, and why he chooses to share his own story. He believes that facing awkwardness, contradictions, and vulnerability is a necessary part of the work. This type of work takes courage, and his bravery shines through in his writing.

When reflecting on the San Francisco chapter of Food Not Bombs, Crass gives a thorough overview of the group’s development, their political strategies and campaigns, and their struggles to deal effectively with racism and sexism when it manifested in their ranks. In “Going to Places that Scare Me,” Crass describes how his self of self was shaken when his friend and partner confronted him about contributing to the creation of a sexist culture in their group, the United Anarchist Front. Coming to terms with privilege is often a painful experience because it means removing our blinders to suffering. However, we can’t get stuck in the hurt and hard places. Crass quotes Martin Luther King Jr.: “If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.”

Crass seeks to bring his white audiences to consciousness about racism through articulating how white supremacy instills an internalized sense of superiority over people of color. This work is not easy as it requires confronting feelings of fear, guilt and shame. However, Crass believes that everyone is needed to build a powerful and successful movement. He states that his overall goal in writing is “to help turn race, class and gender into catalysts to help us build our progressive Left movement rather then have them continue to divide us.”

There will inevitably be victories and set backs in the struggle to bring about a new society in which everyone has access to “quality housing, healthy food, dynamic education, meaningful work, accessible healthcare, and vibrant communities with infrastructure that serves people of all ages and abilities.” The most important thing, is that we keep moving. Crass does a wonderful job of articulating a new feminist vision of collective liberation, of an irresistible movement for social justice, in which we all come up together.

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A Review of Towards Collective Liberation, on Earth First!

by Sasha
Earth First! Newswire
May 9th, 2013

Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy
, by Chris Crass (PM Press 2013), is a challenging collection of essays and interviews. The concept of collective liberation, gleaned initially from radical scholar bell hooks, connotes a struggle lodged deep in the tradition of liberation movements—black liberation, GLBQTTI liberation, women’s liberation, and so on. CC insists, “we need liberation movements of millions of people, from all backgrounds, from all walks of life, with a wide range of experience, playing many different roles… everyone reading this book is needed in the process of building the powerful and successful movements we need to make the changes crucial for our future.” For liberation movements to connect at crucial strategic and ideological intersections, activists must overcome the problem by which “processes of inclusions and exclusions are reproduced in our organizing.” For collective movement organization to succeed, we need “a commitment to use different strategies and approaches.” The message of Towards Collective Liberation is that love, openness, and patient determination will prevail. It is an imperative lesson for everyone.

Chris Crass begins the book with essays steeped in the anarchist tradition: “there has never been a monolithic anarchist theory, tendency, or movement throughout history;” he explains, “there is not one anarchism, but many.” Towards Collective Liberation tells a history of non-hierarchical organizing throughout the world, leading to the modern notions of dual power and prefigurative politics exhibited by CC’s autobiographical discussion of the emergence of the San Francisco Food Not Bombs. The analysis of Food Not Bombs in San Francisco feels forthright and sensitive, mixing anti-oppression theory with a systematic conceptualization of major problems into an easy-to-digest text with stimulating tastes that travel to the untrammeled recesses of the heart. Perhaps the decisive declaration of CC’s proposal is to “imagine and create prefigurative organizing practices that work for people of different ages, cultures, capabilities, economic classes, responsibilities, and capacities.” While he does not delve into the more overarching, systemic critiques of Food Not Bombs, CC’s detailing of his personal experiences with the difficulties of patriarchy and white supremacy opens space for “new theorizing and practice.”

Reading Towards Collective Liberation is a lesson in patience, accountability, and praxis more than a lesson in Food Not Bombs. “A group can choose to also have anti-racism shape its politics and practice,” says CC, “but that must be a conscious decision with a plan for moving it forward… The point is not to become ‘perfect’ but to become praxis-oriented and understand change as a long-term process.” Chris Crass’s ideation of praxis adapts decision-making to objectives and experiences within a non-hierarchical framework, and superbly deployed in several examples and models. Practical gems, such as the twenty careful steps towards anti-sexist action, make Towards Collective Liberation a book to pass around amongst friends as well as a greater organizing and educational tool. Its simplicity of style, which indicates the diligence of CC’s writing as well as organizing with the Catalyst Project, will benefit radical collectives as much as any work place.

The last section of Towards Collective Liberation is comprised of several interviews with anti-oppression activists operating in extraordinarily difficult environments. Several members of the Heads Up Collective discuss the founding labors of collective organizing. The Rural Organizing Project in Oregon answers questions on broaching political issues with tact and confidence, while maintaining the radical patience that it takes to communicate with people on their level. The thrust of these interviews leads to a kind of acknowledgment of generalized oppression, and a willingness to transform the social relations by any (non-violent) means necessary. Kentucky-based organization, Fairness, puts forward an incredibly interesting example of equalizing antiracism and anti-homophobia over and against of the problems that activists face of “divide and conquer,” where a person of color’s voice is marginalized in the GLBT movement or visa versa. These interviews provide extraordinarily interesting insights into radical organizing on a personal level, and Chris Crass is to be commended for stepping back and allowing other voices to emerge, making the book a real experience in collective liberation.

Though Earth First! is acknowledged several times throughout Towards Collective Liberation, the arc of the book avoids the politics of animal and earth liberation. Because the book focuses directly on liberation movements, themselves, we do not have stories of the radical ecology movement working towards earth liberation with an antiracist analysis. If Towards Collective Liberation keeps biocentric analysis at the periphery, the question remains: are animal and earth liberation movements peripheral, or should the very problem of their marginalization within collective liberation struggles motivate us towards strengthening our absolute commitment towards the collective liberation of all species. The marginalization of animal and earth liberation movements is not simply a symptom of a Popular Front style of organizing; it is a serious problem within the movements themselves (ie, self-marginalization) that must be openly discussed in order to ensure that our movements stand unequivocally with other movements for collective liberation.

I caught up with Chris Crass by email, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about non-anthropocentric liberation.

Towards Collective Liberation
(of all species): An interview with Chris Crass
“There is no doubt that environmentalists need more training on antioppression, but do you think that earth and animal liberation thought have a place in collective liberation as well?”

Absolutely. Earth and animal liberation both bring critically important insights, visions, strategies and ethics for the world we want to live in, the way we live in harmony with all life, and how we can take steps here and now to get there. Animal liberation was actually really important to my early activism. Going vegetarian was a concrete way I could practice my politics and animal liberation was an important gateway for tens of thousands of young people to come into radical politics.

I moved away from animal liberation as a central part of my politics as I focused more on systemic inequality in capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and imperialism. I did that because I found that many with a central focus on animal liberation regularly ignored or trivialized struggles in working class communities and communities of color. Nevertheless, I do think that animal liberation is important in an overall collective liberation vision, and when we talk about a socialist and cooperative economy and society, ethics of animal liberation should be part of that vision.

“What can animal and earth liberation groups do in their own hermetic (protesting HLS, for instance) to gain recognition within the broader CL analysis as more than a marginal opinion-oriented ideology—as part of the general movement for collective liberation?”

I worked closely in the 1990s with many who had a strong animal liberation and earth liberation politics. A significant split happened at the time of the global justice movement following Seattle in 1999. There were those who held an animal and earth liberation politics that largely dismissed and trivialized systemic inequality and struggles in working class communities and communities of color. Then there were many who united animal and earth liberation with a larger vision, analysis and strategy of working for justice for all people, and the need to build broad-based mass movements of everyday people.

Many animal and earth liberation activists who went towards a broader movement orientation to work for collective liberation joined with the environmental justice movement rooted in working class communities and communities of color. There are so many incredible examples of animal and earth liberation activists bringing their experience with direct action organizing into their community organizing efforts. The Ruckus Society that trains hundreds of people in direct action is a great example of this. They went from an almost exclusive focus on direct action-based environmental struggles and expanded into a direct action justice struggles-based group that supports communities of color, Indigenous communities, and working class communities to use creative and courageous direct action tactics. I believe this is what is needed.

We need the militant direct action orientation of the animal and earth liberation movement, but grounded in a larger strategy and practice of community organizing that is working to build up popular people’s power to win and create systemic change. Another good example of the kind of union of earth liberation and liberation for all people politics is Movement Generation. They are a political education and movement building group that is putting forward cutting edge analysis and strategies on how to work for the world we want in the face of ecological and economic crisis. A good resource on this analysis and approach is the booklet “Organizing Cools the Planet: tools and resources to navigate the climate crisis” by Hilary Moore and Joshua Kahn Russell.  

“What is the difference between revolution and collective liberation, and is a popular front-style mass movement the apparatus of collective liberation (as the cover art seems to suggest)?”

I believe in the need for revolutionary change. I believe that revolution will include periods of mass popular uprising and change, but it also needs to be rooted in everyday struggles to transform conditions and consciousness in all our communities.

I do not believe that there will be a mass insurrection that will change everything. We cannot focus only on demolishing existing institutions of exploitation and oppression and expect that new liberating institutions capable of long lasting self-governance will simply emerge. Many anarchists and socialists have believed and some continue to believe this will happen. But history has shown, over and over again, that this is not the case.

I believe in the power of everyday people’s movements as the primary force for moving our societies towards collective liberation, and revolutionary politics, vision, and strategy are an important part of that. I don’t think that revolution is something that will just happen, and revolution will take care of all our problems. With that thinking we get into ends justifying the means, because if revolution will take care of all our problems, then whatever we do to speed up the process of revolution us justified. A good essay that explores this in more depth, that is really worth studying is “You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship: The Anarchist Case Against Terrorism”. If we see revolutionary change as an on-going process, one marked by periods of mass uprising and popular resistance, then the means of working towards liberation are actually helping us create the ends we want. Therefore the values of a liberated society are values we work to live in the here and now.

Yes we need popular mass movements. Yes we need revolutionary politics and strategy to help us win and create collective liberation. Yes, out of everyday people’s struggles, new forms of social organization will emerge. And yes, we need to actively incorporate anti-racist, feminist, queer liberationist, socialist values and politics into our education, organization and institution building, and our work in our families, communities, and lives as part of an on-going process of social and personal revolution.

Reviewer Conclusion:
If Towards Collective Liberation challenges people in the movement to face the problems of patriarchy and white supremacy, EF!ers will accept and welcome this challenge, while upping the ante not only by insisting on a safe(r) space to talk about animal liberation and earth, but by actively working on campaigns for economic, food, and environmental justice with our allies.

The Earth First! Journal has an antioppression policy, and Earth First! is serious about accountability and antioppression organizing. Towards Collective Liberation will help EF!ers take the next step in working in rural and urban environments, and it is time to move forward with the analysis to help realize collective liberation against anthropocentrism with a biocentric analysis.

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