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Send My Love and A Molotov Cocktail! A Review

by Cathy Green
SF Revu

Send My Love And a Molotov Cocktail!, a recently published short fiction anthology from PM Press, will interest readers of both the science fiction and mystery genres. Editors Gary Phillips and Andrea Gibbons have put together an interesting mix of pulp, hard-boiled and noirish mysteries along with several science fiction stories, many with a decidedly political bent. The editors are quite clear about this, right on the cover page -- "Stories of Crime, Love and Rebellion".

The anthology opens with "Bizco's Memories", a grim little tale of prison, politics and soccer, by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, translated by editor Andrea Gibbons.

John A. Imani contributes "Nickles and Dimes", a story set during the student protests of the late 1960s/early 1970s involving naïve middle class students, Black Power radicals, and FBI informants. Just as the protagonist encourages the students to attack the police for the fun of seeing middle class white kids beaten and arrested, so too is his radical group urged into actions they might not otherwise have taken by the undercover FBI agent in their group.

Fans of the hard-boiled private investigator subset of the mystery genre will recognize Sara Paretsky's name. She contributes "Poster Child", a Warshawski-less story featuring Jewish Chicago PD detective Liz Marchek and the murder of an aggressive anti-abortion protester. Lots of politics in that story.

Editor Gary Phillips contributes the fabulous, fun "Masai's Back in Town", a hard-boiled homage to blaxpoitation films featuring Masai Swanmoor a revolutionary still on the run from the law and at war with the Aryan Legion. Of course, the fight with the neo-Nazis is really just a distraction from Masai's real goal: the 2.7 million he stashed from a robbery of COINTELPRO funds back in the day.

On the more science fictional end of the spectrum, names fans will recognize include Kim Stanley Robinson, who contributes "The Lunatics", a mystery set on the moon, and Cory Doctorow, who has co-written "I Love Paree" with Michael Skeet, a story staring an ex-pat American caught up in a not so distant future Paris reactionary revolution to restore the Paris Commune. The middle of the book is anchored by a Michael Moorcock novella, "The Gold Diggers of 1977 (Ten Claims That Won Our Hearts)", featuring Jerry Cornelius and his family.

If you are not a fan of Moorcock or his Cornelius stories, just skip the middle of the book.

Other authors in the anthology include Luis Rodriguez, Larry Fondation, editor Andrea Gibbons, Penny Mickelbury, Kenneth Wishnia, Benjamin Whitmer, Rick Dakan, Summer Brenner, Barry Graham, and Tim Wohlforth. If you do not want to read a book with overtly leftist politics featuring union organizers of the 1930s, oppressed lunar mine workers, and grandmothers plotting revolutionary acts, then Send My Love And a Molotov Cocktail! is not for you. If you do not mind a book that wears its politics on its sleeve, then you should give it a chance as you'll be exposed to the work of some very interesting authors many of whom you are probably not already familiar with.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now

Lessons for Building a Co-Operative Movement

by Michael Johnson
November 24th, 2012

Pm Press has released a second edition of John Curl’s 550 page history of “cooperation, cooperative movements, and communalism in America,” In this interview, Michael Johnson talks with John about what is new in the second edition, the surprisingly long history of co-operatives here in the US, and what his history has to tell us about building a 21st century movement for a co-operative/solidarity economy.

John’s life has been steeped in co-operatives. He has been a member for over 30 years in the Heartwood Co-operative Woodshop in Berkeley, CA, where he lives. He has belonged to numerous other co-operatives and collectives. In addition to being a historian of extensive research, he is a poet, woodworker, social activist, and has even been a city planner. He is also co-writing a book on how worker co-operators in the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives are harnessing the power of the co-operative difference. Janelle Cornwell and Adam Trott, VAWC staff person, are fellow co-writers.

[Editor's Note: Throughout the text we will spell the word for "co-operative enterprises" with a hyphen and the word for "being cooperative" without it.]

On the second edition of For All the People

MJ: John, let's start with how the second edition of For All the People differs from the first one.

The second edition has three additional pieces.

1) A foreword by novelist and essayist Ishmael Reed.

2) A new preface by myself that discusses developments of the last four years. The first edition came out just as the economy was collapsing into the Great Recession. In the second edition I discuss the United Nations study which shows that worker co- operatives and all cooperatives around the world have fared better than standard capitalist corporations during these hard times. I discuss the reasons why the UN declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives.

I discuss the limited equity co-operatives created through squatting in the urban homestead movement in New York City. I discuss the Food Hub movement, a spontaneous rural cooperative movement on a national scale. I discuss the United Steel Workers Union’s partnership with Basque Spain’s Mondragon International to develop manufacturing cooperatives in the US and Canada. Finally I discuss the World Social Forum’s movement to reclaim the world commons, and cooperative management of the commons.

3) The second edition has an additional section of almost 100 pages containing my in-depth investigative report on the rise and demise of the Food System movement of the 1970s, focused on its two most successful centers: the Bay Area and the Minneapolis Twin Cities. The Food System movement was integral to the beginnings of natural and organic food in the US.

This movement was particularly revealing because on the one hand it was a spontaneous grass-roots movement that arose in many locations around the country, and also because in those two urban centers it was entered into by small outside groups with ostensibly radical ideologies, which tried to take it over, and involved government undercover agents. Both of those entryist groups caused intense internal strife that sped the movement’s demise in those locations. In comparison I also discuss the movement’s rise and fall in locations not affected by those small radical groups. I look at the successes and shortcomings of that movement as a whole.

MJ: “Entryist?”

JC: Yes. A political group is accused of “entryism” when it enters into another group and tries to take it over or transform it.

MJ: How well would the metaphor of “the 1%” and “the 99%” fit the story you tell of the ups and downs of co-operative economics in the US?

JC: Leaving the 99% metaphor aside for the moment, I would say that co-operative economics today can become an important option for about half the population, those with more limited wealth or income. Co-operatives mean that people with insufficient resources pool what they have in order to get onto a more level economic playing field.

Historically, the metaphor of “the 1% and the 99%” is redolent of the decades after the American Civil War, an era of great social upheaval and strife. Wealth was being consolidated into increasingly fewer hands, while working people were becoming impoverished. American capitalism was consolidating its domination of the country, and that was emphatically opposed by the vast majority of the working population of industrial workers and farmers. The two latter groups set up organizations based in co-operatives, and at first challenged capitalism on economic terms, trying to build counter institutions that they hoped would supersede capitalism. When the plutocracy destroyed their co-operatives, they made an effort to gain power though electoral politics. This era culminated in the defeat of all the working people’s organizations and the triumph of the “Robber Barons.” Nonetheless, the era is filled with inspiring dramas of ordinary people daring to follow their dreams, endeavors that still resonate with relevance.

Today’s metaphor of “the 1% and the 99%” arises from the reality that wealth in the US is quickly being redistributed again from a larger number of people into the hands of a tiny elite. While large numbers of people are increasingly impoverished and marginalized, a handful is amassing power in the form of money and capital.

MJ: I like the phrase you just used: “the working population of industrial workers and farmers.” For two reasons. First, we tend to forget that both groups have very strong connections, which I am going to ask about later. Second, it’s refreshing to hear them referred to beyond being an economic class without that fact being brushed aside.]

Independent self-employed small farmers and wage earners had a close relationship throughout the later 19th century. That was before the age of corporate farming, and the overwhelming majority of farmers were very small. Today it’s still hard to make a living as a small farmer, and many of them have another job on the side these days, so most still know what it’s like to be a wage worker.

But, as you state, “the 1% and the 99%” is a metaphor. Those are not really statistics. The numbers are there to make certain points, and bear no relationship with any statistical class analysis. The concept of class in the US is subjective, tricky, and constantly changing. To imply that there are two economic classes in the US, the 1% and the 99%, is to muddy up the waters very badly, rather than shedding light where it is sorely needed. Does the 98th percentile have more in common with the upper 1% or the lowest 20%? Compare the metaphor of “the 1% and the 99%” with Romney’s metaphor of “the 47%.” If 99% were really opposed to the 1% seizing the wealth, then this could not possibly continue; but in fact a much larger percentile than 1% actually support it and just want to get in on the action. There are a lot more shameless predators out there than just 1%. To grossly underestimate the strength of the opposition seriously weakens you.

The long history of co-operatives in the US

MJ: One of the most interesting discoveries for me in reading For All the People was how early on co-operatives and worker co-operatives emerged in the US, even before 1800. Does this reflect something special about our history or just how integral cooperation is in human life?

Both. Cooperation is the basis of human society. However, most societies today have been deformed and oppressed by small authoritarian groups for a very long time. But the dynamics of cooperation do not die, because they are so essential to a decent life. I would say cooperation is the norm because it can be suppressed but it cannot be destroyed. The essential concepts of cooperation are instinctive to most people, particularly when they are young. Look at the way kids get together in the park and organize a game. Or groups of musicians get together regularly as improvised cooperatives. Or young parents form play groups for their kids. In all of these situations people spontaneously self-organize activities based on freedom, direct democracy, and a general equality. Many people only experience cooperation outside of their work lives, in their private lives, with family, friends, and associates. But cooperative instincts always remain there inside the human condition like seeds waiting for the right conditions. When an oppressive society reaches a dead end, a new generation rejects the dying husk and reinvents its world, and that creative act is always based on mutual aid and cooperation.

Before you go on to your answer to the second part of the question—that is, how cooperation has been an important part of American history—I want to challenge you a bit on your saying “most societies today have been deformed and oppressed by small authoritarian groups for a very long time.” It touches an issue that is very central to how we strategize as a movement.

Basically, I find that thinking about oppression is a very tricky thing. Frequently we assume that it is the “oppressors” that cause oppression. Some very acute thinkers like Paulo Freire in his classic “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” argue very strongly that oppression is a joint project of the ‘oppressor’ and the ‘oppressed’. And it would seem that every liberation movement—civil rights, gays and lesbians, women, etc.—is essentially the story of people empowering themselves by not accepting the role of the ‘oppressed.’

JC: Human nature is very complex, and we all have seeds of the oppressor in us. Power really does corrupt. Historically many leaders of rebellions have wound up as oppressors. But that is no reason to eschew rebellion or power. Chickens really do have a pecking order. It is instinctive. Dogs really do run in packs, and become instinctively submissive to the pack leader. People, on the other hand, have many conflicting instincts. I agree that oppressed majorities are enablers of ruling elites. That is the role they have been educated to play. When large numbers of ordinary people refuse to accept the submissive role, societies change. But people need to believe that social change is possible. If they think their only option is to exchange one oppressor for another, they will usually choose to accept their victimization and try to make the best of it. That is why counter institutions are so important, because they are living demonstrations that better social relationships are possible and within our grasp. They are possible because, besides the seeds of the oppressor within us, we also have the seeds of mutual liberation within us, the instincts of cooperation, of sharing, democracy, equality, extended family.

Now, to your question about “how cooperation has been an important part of American history.” America’s unique history did encourage mutual aid and cooperation. Indigenous America was largely based on cooperation and tribal collectivity. Every wave of immigrants to America, arriving from different parts of the globe, had to start from scratch. They pooled their resources and through mutual aid lifted themselves from poverty and oppressive situations.

Most of the wagon trains headed west were cooperatives. When settlers built new towns it was primarily through mutual aid and cooperation. No one came to America with the goal of becoming a wage slave. Industrial workers were trapped into oppressive situations by circumstance. They turned to mutual aid in order to form unions which were usually also cooperatives. Many workers saw a path to liberation through worker cooperatives in their industries. This culminated in the Knights of Labor’s plan to build a cooperative commonwealth that would supersede the capitalist system.

However, while the government eventually recognized the importance of co-operatives and promoted them in rural areas, particularly during the New Deal, government policy at the same time did not facilitate worker co-operatives in industrial areas, since worker co-ops challenge the wage system and thereby threaten the power of the establishment.

Farmer and labor movements and Co-operatives

MJ: Another very interesting finding for me was a) the extensive connections between farmers and urban workers in the late 19th century when industrialization, the “Robber Barons,” and the dominance of bankers hit America full force, and b) the major role that both worker and consumer co-operatives played in connecting farmers and workers at that time. Can you expand on that a bit? Also, what can we take from this history that would help us move out of our marginality? For example, is there a way suggested by that history to connect the new, local, ecologically-minded farmers with today’s worker co-operatives and labor movements?

JC: Key to understanding the extensive connections between farmers and industrial workers in the late 19th century is the Homestead Act of 1862, when Abraham Lincoln, in the middle of the Civil War, opened hundreds of millions of acres of western land to people who were willing to settle and farm it. That was a payoff waiting for eastern workers fighting the war. After the war large numbers of returning Northern soldiers flooded west and became farmers. So these were people who knew both worlds. If not themselves, then others in their families had been industrial workers. Workers and farmers knew they were up against the same enemies. In the post-war world that emerged, Robber Baron industrialists were driving eastern workers into the pits of wage-slavery, while railroad barons held farmers hostage to exorbitant freight rates and banks manipulated them to steal their land. Meanwhile, new waves of immigrants filled the eastern factories. But these too did not come to America to be wage slaves, and the dream of large numbers was to become farmers. So they were natural allies.

Both groups turned to co-operatives in their struggle. The farmers formed cooperatives in every aspect of supply, production, and distribution that otherwise had been dominated by banks, corporations, and railroads. Industrial workers turned to worker cooperatives in their industries, and consumer co-ops for home consumer goods, in order to break out of the corner that employers and the business community had trapped them in. When the co-operatives of both groups came under fierce attack, they allied with each other, turned to electoral politics and came together in the Populist Party, the most successful “third” party in American history.

But we can’t re-create that history today. History is an always unique set of circumstances. Today ecologically-minded farmers, worker cooperatives and the labor movement meet in the larger movement for sustainable social and economic justice. For example, many ecologically-minded farmers are involved with the “food justice” movement to bring good food to today’s “food deserts” in poorer communities. Much of that is done through farmers markets and co-op stores. Farmers’ markets themselves are largely cooperative, usually in conjunction with local communities and community non-profits. It is unrealistic to expect a direct organizational connection between (for example) a small organic farm and a co-operative print shop. But both might have a natural tendency toward using each other’s products and services, and that is mutual aid. Organizational networks like the Bay Area Network of Worker Cooperatives (NoBAWC) organize email listservs where large amounts of information connecting groups closer together are distributed. Groups devoted to assisting connections between disparate cooperatives perform a very valuable role, but the connective tissues and channels are by nature in continuous flux.

The mammals and the dinosaurs: getting down to the right size

MJ: Okay, drawing this cooperative connection between the working population of today and 125-50 years ago brings up another set of key questions. The co-operative movement and radical unionizing seemed to have peaked in the US in this same earlier 19th century period. For sure their vitality and size stands in stark contrast to what is happening now. Today worker co-ops play a minimal role socially and economically, and unions are in their 4th decade of steep decline.

• Is this an accurate reading?

• If so, are accurate future prospects bleak? Upbeat? Unknown?

• Or do we need to think about these kinds of questions in larger frames, like a multi-generational time frame?

• Also, is the recent collaboration between Mondragon and the United Steel Workers an indication of a new emerging vitality or just another positive effort?

JC: Government promotion of rural and farm cooperatives became national policy as part of the recovery efforts of the New Deal. Rural America was transformed by co-operatives in the 1930s. Besides farmer supply and distribution, co-ops brought electricity and water for drinking and irrigation to most of the rural US. Co-operatives are still strong in many rural areas and a part of everyday life today, and are still promoted by the government there.

Yes, unions continue to be in steep decline, due in large part to anti-labor legislation. Severe legal restrictions keep unions weak. And the current electoral system, based on the domination of money, is geared to produce legislators dedicated to keeping it that way. Only a complete breakdown of the current system will open the window wide enough for large-scale change today.

Yet large-scale change is inevitable in the 21st century. The current economic system cannot deal with the population continuing to explode, with climate change severely altering the situation, with the accelerating disparity between rich and poor. An enormous gulf is opening between a tiny elite and a mass of marginalized people. It is among the marginalized that the new shape of the co-operative movement will emerge. They will form economic and political organizations based on mutual aid and cooperation, because they will have to, in order to survive.

Meanwhile, social activists and visionaries are creating the backup. Unified through auspices of the United Nations, a world co-operative movement is emerging, based on an alliance of co-op activists, the labor movement, civil society nonprofits, and governments promoting co-operatives as an economic development strategy. It is only through this type of mutual aid that the new century can shape a successful and sustainable world.

And yes, the recent collaboration between Mondragon and the United Steel Workers is an indication of a new emerging vitality. Many unions are rethinking their structure, goals and missions. The straight jackets that have suffocated unions can be broken by new creative strategies. After all, unions are, at their core, organizations of mutual aid among workers. Their larger goal is not to make the deck chairs on the Titanic a little more comfortable, but to create the bases for a good life for their members and for the entire working population.

MJ: John, you’re sketching some awesome pictures here: “Large-scale change is  inevitable in the 21st century,” and it will require “a complete breakdown of the current system.” It seems terrible and wonderful at the same time. Please, say more.

JC: The only way this economic system can be maintained in the long run, is through widespread repression. Repression can take place almost invisibly, behind closed doors, one person at a time. That’s the way it’s taking place today. Like all those people evicted one by one from their homes. There doesn’t have to be tanks in the streets. The current world economic system is dysfunctional. The future it offers is increasing enrichment for the tiny elite at the top and increasing impoverishment for large numbers who were once “middle class.”
Many social rebellions have started under similar circumstances, when large numbers who once knew a fairly good life find it suddenly pulled out from beneath them. On the other hand, people will almost always accept bleak circumstances when they see no alternative. Once in a while they may riot, but that is usually just a tantrum, and usually accomplishes almost nothing constructive. Only when radical visionaries convince large numbers that another economic system is possible, can a constructive rebellion be set in motion.

Ours is essentially a non-violent rebellion, because our means need to always reflect our ends. We need to build the new world and to the degree we are successful, the old system will collapse by its own weight. That is not to say that we will automatically win. In times of great social change there are no sure bets. The world could sink into an era of barbarism. But I don’t think that will happen. I think a generation will rise to the challenge and create a better world for our great grandchildren.

MJ: John, one last follow-up on this. You say that we need to be nonviolent and that “We need to build the new world and to the degree we are successful, the old system will collapse by its own weight.” Are you pointing to a strategy of building a “co-operative system”—if you will—parallel to the oppressive system we are struggling within right now. If so, does the way co-operatives transformed rural America in the 1930s suggest how to approach this?

The worker cooperative movement in the US should follow the United Nations directive to forge a partnership with allies in government and civil society, because only with deep backing from those sectors can cooperatives grow extensive enough to transform our world.

Yes, the New Deal alliance that institutionalized cooperatives in rural America is a role model.

Even the banking sector participated constructively in it, with the rural Banks For Co-operatives program. We need to build counter institutions not as an isolated sector, but integrated into the existing economy as we build them one by one. They are basically institutions for the increasingly large numbers of our people who are being marginalized and excluded from the mainstream capitalist system, as well as people alienated and disgusted by the oppressive working conditions. When people learn to work together, pool resources and help each other through mutual aid institutions, we will all be stronger and more prosperous. A strong co-operative movement among marginalized people can be a transformative social force. I don’t expect the mainstream capitalist system to disappear soon. We have to plan to live with it as much as possible. But it inevitably goes through cycles of boom and bust. The co-operative sector is affected by those booms and busts, but not as much as capitalist enterprises. Bust times, like now, are a stimulus to the co-operative sector. The Great Recession may be a new normal, a situation that will persist through this generation at least.
I’ll try to clarify what I meant when I talked about the old system collapsing of its own weight.

I think the world is changing so that the current mainstream economic system is becoming like those gigantic dinosaurs that became increasingly unable to cope. Scientists tell us that during the age of dinosaurs mammals began as small furry creatures, and birds began as little feathered dinosaurs. The gigantic dinosaurs collapsed of their own weight when they became irrelevant to the new emerging world. This can be a model for the co-operative movement in this century.

MJ: Your reference to the dinosaurs and mammals reminds me of something I have just been reading. It was a talk by John G. Bennett, who died in the 1970s. He was a guy who seems to have done a lot of deep thinking about almost everything. He refers to one of the overarching values in our culture being the conviction that “more is better.” He uses the example of the dinosaur not only to refute this idea, but, just as you have, to point to the inevitable collapse of our dinosaur institutions. He then goes on to identify the mammals as the alternative, again as you have. He emphasizes two things about the mammals. One is that it is driven to become the “right size,” not bigger and bigger. Evolution favors the “fittest” not the “biggest.” His second point is about community, that mammals are internally small communities of cells and organs that are the ‘right size’ and that the most evolved thrive in small communities that are of the right size.

JC: Maintaining growth at a sustainable size is a key to success for individual co-operatives and the movement. Capitalist enterprises are typically swept up into the unending spiral of “grow or die.” Historically many co-operatives have gotten caught in that destructive cycle, including the old Berkeley Co-op, which collapsed after 50 years in 1988. [MJ: John tells this story in rich detail in the book.] To be sustainably successful, the co-operative movement needs to reject that model. Centralized, top-down, vertical growth of any co-op system invariably leads to collapse, whether by bankruptcy or being swallowed by capitalism. The structure of an extensive and sustainable movement involves horizontal growth of interconnected autonomous co-ops. Each individual co-op needs to find its “right size,” and be satisfied with that important accomplishment. Co-operatives are a movement with not one but thousands of centers and an unlimited periphery. Numerous people throughout America and around the world are now coming to realize the transformational possibilities of co-operatives, particularly worker co-operatives. It is a family of ideas whose time has come. With thousands of creative minds approaching the work from different perspectives, a dynamic moment is upon us; where it will lead is limited by only our practical imagination.

21st Century: bringing on a Co-operative America

In a short section titled “Does It Have To Be This Way?” you raise the issue of worker co-operatives having in fact been not only marginalized but actually “planned out of the economy” in our country. Planned out of the economy! That’s a big claim. However, you didn’t expand on that. Can you do that here? I am asking for that because it cuts to the heart of a major issue for co-operative economy and all of the movements for a new kind of economy. Namely: Is it possible for our small, marginalized worker co-op movement here in the US to become more than a passionate outcry against economic injustice and become a real hope for creating an economy “for all the people”?

JC: While urban and industrial worker co-operatives were planned out of the US economy, rural and farmer co-operatives were planned into the economy by the New Deal. The contrast is stark. In the rural case, there was a general national consensus that rural America could prosper only if the government promoted co-operatives. And so it happened. The opposite took place in urban and industrial areas, the stronghold of the wage system. The New Deal stopped their promotion of co-operatives at city limits. They were trying to save and revitalize industrial capitalism, not replace it, and that required not doing anything to threaten the labor pool.

Now we are in a very different situation. For many decades Americans have known a thriving flexible “middle” class and a general prosperity. That prosperity came about at the end of World War II, because all the other nations were flat on their backs and the US was the only one left standing. There was so much US wealth at the end of the war that for a while all ships rose. However, Americans were told the lie that prosperity was brought about by the capitalist system. Now that lie has finally played itself out. We are in the end game. Capitalism in America has always been geared to bringing prosperity to a tiny elite and oppression and poverty to everyone else. Now almost all ships are sinking and will continue to sink under this system. The system has to change, and the path of greatest benefits with least dangers is to promote mutual aid and worker co-operatives as national policy. That means opening the economic system to large numbers of worker co-operatives and other social enterprises, so that many more millions of people can have good jobs providing goods and services for each other. The worker co-operative movement of recent years may have started as a passionate marginalized voice crying in the wilderness, but we are now entering a world where large numbers of people realize that all the old answers have failed and if we want a decent world for our children and grandchildren, we must all become visionaries and reinvent the economic system of the future.

If you examine areas in the world where cooperatives are a significant, permanent sector of the economy, such as the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, you will see that the government there has organized the economic playing field to make that possible, with advantages granted to co-operatives in recognition of their promotion of social justice and prosperity. There is no such thing as a “free market.”  Markets and economic systems are always organized and regulated by governments. In a just society, the government’s role is to level the playing field as much as possible. In this situation, where wealth is vastly unequal, the government can help to balance that inequality through advantages to co-operatives. It will be a struggle to get there from where we are today in the US, but at some point soon the social fabric will become explosive, and perhaps that will prompt the government to act.

MJ: John, I just want to go a little further into this because the possibilities you are discussing here are big. From the little that I know, it seems that the New Deal’s rural co-operative achievements got substantially reversed. For sure it has worked well in helping create credit unions and utility cooperatives in rural areas—electric, telephone, etc., and maybe some farmer co-ops. However, haven’t many, if not most, of the agricultural co-operatives the New Deal helped create been flipped into giant industrial agricultural businesses? Businesses that are undemocratic, wage-based “co-operatives?” This certainly seems to be the case just looking at the list on the Wikipedia page.

JC: Michael, even very large agricultural co-operatives are not corporate agribusiness farming as practiced by giant vertically integrated firms such as Monsanto, Dow, and DuPont, which dominate much of American agriculture today. Agricultural co-ops, small and large, are owned by their members for services, while agribusiness corporate farms are owned by investors and stockholders for profit, like all capitalist corporations. Typical members of farm co-ops are still family farms. Large agricultural co-ops can have organizational problems similar to those of all large democratic organizations. For efficiency sake they can concentrate power in a small board, which can sometimes act like a corporate board alienated from members. But a co-op doesn't have to be enormous to have those kinds of problems. One of the knottiest issues is labor: a farmer co-op can wind up acting in its narrow self-interest just as an employer. Even Mondragon in many of its international enterprises, where it has not been organizing workers to become member-owners, has slipped into that contradictory role as an employer, although it seems to be generally a benevolent boss.

That said, let's take a look at a few typical agricultural co-ops on the Wikipedia list:

"Southern States Cooperative is an agricultural supply cooperative owned by more than 300,000 farmers..." "Ocean Spray... currently has over 600 member growers." "Dairy Farmers of America, Inc... is owned by and serves nearly 16,000 dairy farmer members representing more than 9,000 dairy farms in 48 states." "Riceland Foods, Inc [has] 9,000 members who are farmers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas." "The Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA)... includes 110 dairy farms, mostly within Tillamook County."
Sunkist Growers, Incorporated is... composed of 6,000 members from California and Arizona." "Land O'Lakes is a member-owned agricultural cooperative [with] about 3200 producer-members, 1000 member-cooperatives..."

None of these, as far as I know, has abandoned its co-operative structure and been changed into a corporate farming operation. All are still serving real farmers. Co-operatives are still a core support of the continued viability of family farming.

Behind the familiar labels of those produce brands on the Wikipedia list, there really are numerous independent farms which use the co-operative structure to market their crops, and prevent corporate agribusiness from totally taking over.

MJ: Okay, let’s move on. John, this may be a bit of a stretch for you in your role as a historian: if it is possible for worker co-ops and the co-operative/solidarity movement to become a significant force in American politics—if, for example, worker co-ops and other forms of urban co-operatives were a publicly supported economic institution as you were just suggesting—can you imagine what that would look like? You are a woodworking artist. Can you look at the raw wood of these co-operative institutions and the current American landscape and visualize what could be?

JC: Actually it’s not that much of a stretch for me. In my opinion the world economic system is collapsing and will continue to collapse in the near future. The existing system cannot deal with the magnitude of problems that confront us. Historically a state of collapse can often result in a stark authoritarian regime. But it can also result in an energized population re-envisioning and redesigning the system. In the US, where we have a highly developed civil society, the latter is very possible. I think the landscape would look complex and multi-sourced. I see nonprofits and foundations becoming a major supplier of back-up and organizational tools to help worker cooperatives get off the ground and be successful. I see communities getting involved, with social enterprises, mixed organizations where the worker co-operative is one stakeholder and the community is another. I see communities turning to these types of co-operatives as an economic development strategy, to reduce or eliminate poverty. I see major nonprofit institutions such as schools or hospitals in the interest of community giving preference to local worker co-ops for goods or services. I see cutting-edge environmental organizations helping worker co-ops to find and invent new niches to fill. I think it can be a broad project under a big umbrella that will inspire the youth, offer them new creative possibilities.

Accepting the difficulties of cooperating

MJ: Finally, I have a question that looks at how the movement—co-operators, co-ops, and our networking institutions—have failed. How we contributed toward our own marginality.

My question has nothing to do with finding blame. It comes from wondering what might happen if we were learning more and more how to cooperate more deeply than we do. To manage our own rivalries and conflicts with each other better than we do. To empower ourselves personally and collectively in greater ways. I think our potential for cooperation and self-empowerment is far greater than we think, and we desperately need it to move forward.
For example, many co-operatives struggle with doing worker self-evaluations horizontally. That kind of honesty is a real challenge, but failing at it can be very costly. Or: the tension between some managers in food co-ops and workers who want to form worker co-ops. This kind of situation can get real heavy.

So I am asking if you have thoughts on how this played out over the past 200 years here in the US, and how important it may be now. Also, please speak from your own long experience as a worker co-operator.

JC: I think activists need to accept the reality that not everybody is very political, and never will be. You have to start with people as they are, and not demand more than they can freely contribute. This is, after all, mutual aid. In the variety of human consciousness, some people cannot see beyond their own skin. Those people are not good material for co-operatives. Some others just relate to their immediate family, or extended family, and everyone beyond those is an outsider to them. Some people identify strongly with groups such as ethnicity, nationality, religion, or even dog lovers or fans of a certain musician or a type of music or a certain sports team.

On the other extreme are people who are multi-cultural and international, who see themselves as part of a global human family. Or even larger, a great family of all life on earth. Or beyond earth: feeling at one with the universe. Most of us are somewhere in between. We each need to make the contributions that feel right to us and not be harsh on each other for shortcomings. Unrealistic expectations can result in bitter disappointment. And for no good reason since unrealistic expectations doom the situation from the beginning.

You have to accept that in a group or one-on-one not everybody is compatible. In my co-operative woodshop, which we started in 1974, I have seen quite a variety of personality types. Some fit in better than others. For example, one issue that was hard for a handful of people was territoriality. These people simply appeared to have a ‘territorial gene,’ and there was nothing they or anybody else could do about it. I’m talking about bench space. In my shop we share bench space. But that was extremely painful for these people. They appeared to need their own space clearly defined and had great difficulty sharing that space with anybody else. For the most part, these people just stayed in the shop briefly, and found another location where they did not have to share bench space. To generalize from that, members of a successful co-operative each need a space where they feel comfortable. Not every combination of people works. It’s not very different from a sports team or a band. If two people can’t work together, the group has to find another arrangement, or one of them should probably leave.

That’s not a big deal. It’s just the way of human society. Co-operatives are not for everybody.

Diversity is good, and there should be places in society for lone wolves, but they should not be permitted to take control of society.

Looking at the big picture, the option of working in a co-operative could improve the lives of the vast majority. Life passes too quickly to squander it in an oppressive work situation. In contrast, a life spent in cooperation and mutual aid in daily activities is a life well spent. Besides, it makes you feel good.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

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Organize! A Review

Organize! by Jeremy Agar

Peace Researcher readers will pay attention to the name of one of this compendium’s editors. Aziz Choudry was a target of one of the more Keystone Kops moments in the continuingly inauspicious history of the New Zealand secret police (the most succinct summary of the saga that arose from the unmasking of the 1996 attempt by NZ Security Intelligence Service [SIS] agents to covertly break into the Christchurch home of Aziz Choudry can be found in Peace Researcher 19/20, November/December 1999, “Aziz Choudry Wins Case Against SIS: Out Of Court Settlement; Damages; Government Apology”, by Murray Horton, MH).

Authorities claim to be saving us from terrorists, but they prefer going after intellectuals. For the policy makers (themselves intellectuals, but serving a different master) people who think for themselves are always the greater danger, while the functionaries who do the snooping might well be resentful of eggheads.  Choudry must have fitted the stereotype of the trouble maker. Here was not just a social scientist but an organiser - and of course one with a suspicious ethnicity.

Formidable Line-up Of Activist Writers

Choudry is now in Montreal, an academic in International Education at McGill University, where Jill Hanley is an Associate Professor of Social Work. Eric Shragge is at the School of Community and Public Affairs at Concordia, another Montreal university. The biographical sketches indicate that all three are active in social justice activities, as are all their other 27 fellows. It’s a formidable line-up. Many of the 30 contributors are academics, though all 30 have varied resumes, escaping the simpler classifications of earlier times. To give an idea: two are trade unionists, five are students, two are researchers, five are community organisers, three are film makers or writers, one is a lawyer and one is a politician. But not one of the 30 identifies him or herself with just one designation, and most could as easily be provided with a different description from the one I’ve chosen.

This is significant, an indication of the approach the editors set out in their introduction. The put down that traditionally accompanies “absent-minded professors”; that they’re inhabitants of ivory towers, is not one that can be pinned on Choudry et al. They want to organise. Their collective are not primarily students or teachers or workers. They’re activists, seeking to combine theory and practice. To get an idea of the elasticity consider the sketch of one of the authors, of a chapter called “Prefigurative Self-Governance and Self-Organization: The Influence of Antiauthoritarian (Pro) Feminist, Radical Queer, and Antiracist Networks in Quebec”. It takes all of eight lines to list the identities of Sandra Jeppesen, from the “Random Anarchist Group, TAO Communications, Active Resistance, Uprising Bookstore, Block the Empire/Bloquez l’Empire... She has produced a punk-anarchist novel..., guerrilla texts and other trouble”. You get the idea.

Such postmodern travels infuriate the official mind, but they can also annoy that other traditionalist stereotype, the short-back-and-sides brigade, a species as common in Canada as it has been in New Zealand - and an objective ally. It would be a pity if potential readers allowed themselves to be hampered by any lingering culture shocks, which need to be left back in the 20th Century. The central theme of “Organize” is that all oppressions need to be resisted. Success demands unity, not judgemental preferences based on style.

“Dialogue” To Divide And Conquer

Some might be surprised that linguistic conflict is not addressed. From outside, the political news from Quebec is generally to do with Anglo-Franco tension. It’s not here. One obvious reason is that the writers are Anglophones, many, like Choudry himself, from international backgrounds. English is, for better or worse, the global language. But there is a further, more substantial factor. Quebec’s language wars are effectively over, and to wage a rearguard campaign would only be divisive, splitting natural allies. To look away from the old quarrels - more stuff from the short-back-and-sides era - was a smart choice.

A sidebar insert from Choudry looks at the 1999 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in NZ, from which, by way of the Official Information Act, he obtained a Cabinet paper on how to deal with dissent. It’s an instructive look at how State apparatuses typically behave, and a more useful learning tool for radicals than comic diversions like the earlier raid on a suburban Christchurch house. For APEC the strategy in Christchurch was to try to co-opt protestors and non-government organisations (NGOs) by spreading an impression that the Government valued differing opinions, that it was open to “dialogue”. If public opinion forms a view that the State is “listening”, the Government can potentially build at least tacit support from “middle NZ” and split its opposition into “responsible” and “disruptive” elements. There’s one chapter from NZ itself in which Maria Bargh from Victoria University outlines the foreshore and seabed issue. It’s a succinct summary, though she might not now write that “activists from the last 20 years” tend to be in the Maori Party. Sometimes tides ebb and flow quite quickly.

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Catastrophism: A Review

by Seth Sandronsky
The Progressive Populist
January 2012

The politics and rhetoric of doomsday shadow the left, right and environmental movement in the Global North. What this trend assumes and explains is the focus of a new book titled Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth [PM Press].

Catastrophism is the view that society is on the path to collapse, ecologically, economically and morally. For some but not all catastrophists, a collapse will spur a rebirth and cleansing.

The book’s authors agree that capitalism does generate catastrophes. The most visible one is climate change; others are less easy to see, with species die-off a dire case in point.

Meanwhile, the political and rhetorical use of fear unites leftists, rightists and environmentalist. This may seem strange.

Yet strangeness apart, the rub is that for the right-wing, secular and sacred, fear works splendidly to galvanize support for ruling-class power that maintains its hegemony in large measure by splitting the working class by ethnicity, gender and race. By contrast, fearful politics and rhetoric tend to paralyze the left and environmental movement, a critique at the heart of Catastrophism.

Doug Henwood, author and financial journalist, in a foreword sets the anti-catastrophe table for the four chapters to follow. To this end, he maintains that dystopian narratives weaken progressives and are rooted in mistaken views of reforming and overturning the system.
Eddie Yuen explores the uses of catastrophe in the environmental movement. He surveys how in part catastrophes are normalized, contextualized, attributed and prophesized, from former Vice President Al Gore to the Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus.

Yuen suggests that presenting the public with fearful facts about the climate crisis, for instance, is insufficient to encourage them to engage in social solidarity. For him, self-organized movements are the key node of resistance to environmental devastation, everyday people coming together to combat their isolation in the face of corporate capitalism’s relentless attacks against them and the planet.

Sasha Lilley critically unpacks left-wing views of collapse as a means to awaken and cleanse society. Why? Catastrophists on the left are, she argues convincingly, are mired in “a deep-seated pessimism about mass collective action and radical social transformation.”
Against the backdrop of such defeatism over recent decades, Lilley defines one flavor of left catastrophism as that of determinism: the capitalist system’s limits alone will herald progressive social change. She evaluates the evidence of this from currents in anarchism and Marxism, past and present.

For Lilley, some Marxists misunderstand Marx’s view of history, seeing it as a mechanical unfolding of social change. Yet he placed at the center of this process the actions of living human beings collectively cooperating to end their oppression, with the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa a modern example.

For Lilley, there is also a voluntarism viewpoint of left catastrophists: grim material conditions alone (“the worse the better”) will spur radical possibilities. She takes up one variant of this outlook in part with an analysis of far-left groupings such as the Weather Underground during the 1960s.

James Davis explains how the US right views part or most all of the 20th century as a series of catastrophic defeats for apple pie and motherhood. We see such wound-licking in the apparent GOP re-set after decisive defeats in the 2012 general election, propelled in part by an emerging minority-majority electorate opposed to the agenda of the Republican Party.

David McNally wraps up the book with a brilliant chapter on the history and imagery of monsters under capitalism, especially zombies. His is a cultural and historical critique, and quite readable.

We journey from the England of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein to France’s colony of slave-laborers in Haiti and Pennsylvania during de-industrialization. McNally pulls the curtain back on what does (not) happen to working people on and off the job every day, the routine “dead-time” of labor services for pay, a catastrophe that finds cultural expression in monster tropes.

Underpinning the book is the authors’ sense of urgency. Theirs is the view that an informed understanding of the actual character of the capitalist system can empower dissidents mobilizing together to build an anti-system movement.

Catastrophism launches a vital conversation for our crisis-laden era. In a time of real dangers and unreal cures, this is a book to read and savor with family and friends.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento. Email

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Rediscovering the Power and Utility of Selma James

by Victoria Law
New Clear Vision
December 14th, 2012

In 2002, when my daughter was a toddler, I joined a fledgling group called M*A*M*A (Mothers’ Association for Militant Action). We were mothers who felt pushed out of political organizing because we came with children and the additional needs that children bring. We attempted to challenge the idea that once a woman becomes a mother, she can no longer be politically involved. We quickly realized that, in order for us to organize, we needed childcare for our very young (and, in one case, developmentally delayed) children.

Our requests for childcare were usually dismissed. When we brought our children to meetings and events, we were given the evil eye, if not verbally chastised, when our children made noise. Now, ten years later, childcare is still not the norm although it is offered at certain conferences and events.

None of us militant mamas had ever heard of Selma James, although she has been writing about the gendered nature of parenting and other care work since the 1950s. That, in itself, says something about the invisibility not only of women’s work, but also of those who write about women’s work.

In 1972, when Selma James, an anti-racist advocate for women’s rights since the 1940s, published “Women, the Unions and Work, Or What is Not to Be Done,” she wrote, “The very structure of the union puts women off. All those rules and regulations and having to talk at meetings and having meetings at night when we are putting our children to bed and washing up, often confirm to us that we are ‘backward.’”

I’ve never been part of a union, but I can say, from experience, that forty years later, we can substitute “activist group” or “social justice organization” or “pressing political cause” and the same often holds true.

*           *           *

In 1972, James launched the Wages for Housework campaign, calling on governments to recognize the importance of women’s work in the home to both families and to the economy, saying, “We demand a guaranteed income for women and for men, working or not working, married or not. If we raise kids, we have a right to a living wage.” This demand has yet to be met except, perhaps in the UK where, under the 1948 Family Allowance Act, the government PAYS women for the work of caring for their own children.

Now why is it that, in 2012, so many of us — particularly those of us who struggle to balance paid work, social justice work and childraising (or what James would term “care work”) remain so unfamiliar with Selma James, her writings and her work? What lessons could we have drawn from the campaigns with which she was involved and her documentation of other campaigns?

Recognizing that James’s writings have addressed many of these questions, PM Press (which also published my book about resistance and organizing in women’s prisons) has reprinted a collection of James’s writings, aptly titled Sex, Race, and Class. These writings range from her 1952 “A Woman’s Place,” based on conversations with her working-class housewife neighbors, to her more recent articles about campaigns and movements in the UK, Venezuela, Haiti and Tanzania. In many of her writings, she contests the typical (male) Left dismissal of women’s issues as divisive. Instead, she challenges men to join women’s struggles: “The question is: Are they going to join us?” she asked in 1971. She continues to ask that question today; I heard it this past April when she gave a talk at the local bookstore in NYC.

In addition to championing the right of women to be paid for their housework and carework, James has also documented struggles that might otherwise be forgotten: In “Hookers in the House of the Lord,” James describes, in great detail, the twelve-day occupation of a church by the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) in 1983. She details the strategies and tactics of the women involved as well as outside supporters. For instance, gay male friends ran a crèche for the Occupiers. Others cooked and brought them hot dinners — one pot for vegetarians and one for meat eaters. Prostitutes who were not involved in the occupation showed their support by wearing ECP badges while working the streets. Given last year’s Occupy explosion and current sex worker organizing, why do so many of us know nothing about this historic takeover three decades earlier?

Not all of her writings are explicit blueprints for campaigns and actions however. James’s 2007 “Rediscovering Nyerere’s Tanzania” allows readers a look into how societies could be structured to account for women’s work. She gives an overview of the concept of ujamaa (which she defines as “a form of traditional African communalism, variously translated as ‘familyhood’ or ‘African socialism,’ updated and developed to meet the needs of the new Tanzania.” For me, this was the first I’d heard of such a concept — let alone a concept that a government had attempted to put into practice. Being wholly unfamiliar with Tanzania, I wished there had been more context — why had the RDA (built to create ujamaa society) been destroyed by Nyerere’s own party? Even after it was destroyed, what impact did it have? What did its participants come away with even after it had been destroyed? And what can we, as people struggling for liberation in our own communities, learn from this experiment while also understanding the geographic, racial, national, class and access divisions between 1960s Tanzania and 2012 United States?

She ends this particular essay with these words: “As we renew the movement to transform the nature of politics and the economy so that purpose is once again watu — people — we must educate ourselves and each other about our hidden history, which includes an Africa that gives leadership to our struggle, as women, as men, as workers urban and rural, waged and unwaged everywhere.”

We should take this as a challenge to delve deeper into such campaigns and movements and bring these histories into our present-day organizing for a truly liberated society.

Victoria Law is a writer, photographer, mother, and Contributing Author for New Clear Vision. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles Of Incarcerated Women (PM Press, 2009), the editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison, and a co-founder of Books Through Bars — NYC. Her most recent book, Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind, focuses on how radical movements can support the families in their midst.

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We Call This Progress: An Excerpt from Earth at Risk in Guernica

By Arundhati Roy
Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
December 17th, 2012

From a speech at the Earth at Risk conference, Roy on the misuses of democracy and the revolutionary power of exclusion.

I don’t know how far back in history to begin, so I’ll lay the milestone down in the recent past. I’ll start in the early 1990s, not long after capitalism won its war against Soviet Communism in the bleak mountains of Afghanistan. The Indian government, which was for many years one of the leaders of the nonaligned movement, suddenly became a completely aligned country and began to call itself the natural ally of the U.S. and Israel. It opened up its protected markets to global capital. Most people have been speaking about environmental battles, but in the real world it’s quite hard to separate environmental battles from everything else: the war on terror, for example; the depleted uranium; the missiles; the fact that it was the military-industrial complex that actually pulled the U.S. out of the Great Depression, and since then the economies of places like America, many countries in Europe, and certainly Israel, have had stakes in the manufacture of weapons. What good are weapons if they aren’t going to be used in wars? Weapons are absolutely essential; it’s not just for oil or natural resources, but for the military-industrial complex itself to keep going that we need weapons.

Today, as we speak, the U.S., and perhaps China and India, are involved in a battle for control of the resources of Africa. Thousands of U.S. troops, as well as death squads, are being sent into Africa. The “Yes We Can” president has expanded the war from Afghanistan into Pakistan. There are drone attacks killing children on a regular basis there.

In the 1990s, when the markets of India opened, when all of the laws that protected labor were dismantled, when natural resources were privatized, when that whole process was set into motion, the Indian government opened two locks: one was the lock of the markets; the other was the lock of an old fourteenth-century mosque, which was a disputed site between Hindus and Muslims. The Hindus believed that it was the birthplace of Ram, and the Muslims, of course, use it as a mosque. By opening that lock, India set into motion a kind of conflict between the majority community and the minority community, a way of constantly dividing people. Finding ways to divide people is the main practice of anybody that is in power.
America has taken democracy into the workshop and hollowed it out.

The opening of these two locks unleashed two kinds of totalitarianism in India: one was economic totalitarianism, and the other was Hindu fundamentalism. These processes manufactured what the government calls “terrorism.” You had Islamist terrorists and you had what today the government calls “Maoists,” which means anybody who is resisting the project of civilization, of progress, of development; anybody who is resisting the takeover of their lands or the destruction of rivers and forests, is today a Maoist. Maoists are the most militant end of a bandwidth of resistance movements, with Gandhists at the other end of the spectrum. The kind of strategy people adopt to resist the onslaught of global capital is quite often not an ideological choice, but a tactical choice dependent on the landscape in which those battles are being fought.

Since 1947, ever since India became a sovereign republic, it has deployed its army against what it calls its own people. Now, gradually, those states where the troops were deployed are states of people who are fighting for self-determination. They are states that the decolonized Indian state immediately colonized. Now, those troops are actually defending the government’s rights to build big dams, to build power projects, to carry out the processes of privatization. In the last fifty years, more than thirty million people have been displaced by big dams alone in India. Of course, most of those are Indigenous people or people who live off the land.

The result of twenty years of this kind of free market, and this bogey of terrorism, is in the hollowing out of democracy. I notice a lot of people using the word democracy as a good word, but actually, if you think of it, democracy today is not what democracy used to be. There was a time when the American government was toppling democracies in Latin America and all over the place. Today, it’s waging wars to install democracy. It has taken democracy into the workshop and hollowed it out.

In India, every institution, whether it’s the courts, or the parliament, or the press—has been hollowed out and harnessed to the free market. There are empty rituals to mask what actually happens, which is that India continues to militarize, it continues to become a police state. In the last twenty years, after we embraced the free market, two hundred and fifty thousand farmers have committed suicide, because they have been driven into debt. This has never happened in human history before. Yet, obviously when the establishment has a choice between suicide farmers and suicide bombers, you know which ones they are going to encourage. They don’t mind that statistic, because it helps them; they feel sorry, they make a few noises, but they keep doing what they are doing.

Today, India has more people than all the poorest countries of Africa put together. It has 80 percent of its population living on less than twenty rupees a day, which is less than fifty cents a day. That is the atmosphere in which the resistance movements are operating.

Of course, it has a media—I don’t know any other country with so many news channels, all of them sponsored or directly owned by corporations, including mining corporations and infrastructure corporations. The vast majority of all news is funded by corporate advertising, so you can imagine what’s going on with that. The prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, Manmohan Singh, who was more or less installed by the IMF, has never won an election in his life. He stood for one election and lost, but after that he was just placed there. He’s the person who, when he was finance minister, actually dismantled all the laws and allowed global capital into India.

We should not be saying tax the rich, we should be saying take their money and redistribute it, take their property and redistribute it.

One time I was at a meeting of iron ore workers, and Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of that time, had been the leader of the opposition in Parliament. A Hindi poet read out a poem called “What is Manmohan Singh doing these days?” The first lines were: “What is Manmohan Singh doing these days? What does poison do after it enters the bloodstream?” They knew that whatever he had to do was done, and now it’s just a question of it taking its course.

In 2005, which was the first term of the present government, the Indian government signed hundreds of Memorandums of Understanding, or MOUs, with mining companies, infrastructure companies, and so on, to develop a huge swath of forestland in Central India. India has up to an estimated one hundred million Indigenous people, and if you look at a map of India, the minerals, the forests, and the Indigenous people are all stacked up, one on top of the other.

Many of these Memorandums of Understanding were signed with these mining companies in 2005. At the time, in the state of Chhattisgarh, which is where this great civil war is unfolding now, the government raised a tribal militia, which was funded by these corporations, to basically go through the forest to try and clear it of people so that the MOUs could be actualized. The media started to call this whole swath of forest the “Maoist Corridor.” Some of us used to call it the “MOUist Corridor.” Around that time, they announced a war called “Operation Green Hunt.” Two hundred thousand paramilitary began to move into the forests, along with the tribal militia, to clear it of what the government called Maoists.

The Maoist movement, in various avatars, has existed in India since 1967, which was the first time there was an uprising. It took place in a village in West Bengal called Naxalbari, so the Maoists are sometimes called Naxalites. Of course it’s an underground, banned party. It now has a People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army. Thousands of people have been killed in this conflict. Today, there are thousands of people in prison, and all of them are called Maoists, though not all of them are really Maoists, because as I said, anybody who resists today is called a terrorist. Poverty and terrorism have been conflated. In the Northeastern states we have laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which allows soldiers to kill on suspicion. In all of India we have the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which basically makes even thinking an anti government thought a criminal offense, for which you can be jailed for up to than seven years.

The Indian government—the largest democracy in the world—is planning to call out the army in Central India, to fight the poorest people in the world.

To read more, check out the full excerpt on:
Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics

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Dylan, Modest Mouse and the End of the World

By Dan Sharber
Red Wedge Magazine
December 10th, 2012

Dan Sharber takes a look at how and why some musicians are obsessed with the apocalypse.

So I read this book recently called Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth put out last month by PM Press. It’s about political tendencies that have an aspect of end-of-the-world gloom and doom. It covers a various range of topics over its short length -- from the environmental movement’s attempts to mobilize people through fear of the impending global collapse to right-wing catastrophists like Anders Breivik, who fear the end of the world is coming fast and multi-culturalism is the cause. it’s a good and very interesting book that I highly recommend.

But what made me think about writing something about it here is twofold. One, I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan a ton recently and his song “Let Me Die In My Footsteps” had been on my mind.

This song is about impending nuclear war and Bob’s desire to not go into the bomb shelters but to die in his footsteps above ground.

"I will not go down under the ground
’Cause somebody tells me that death’s comin’ ’round
An’ I will not carry myself down to die
When I go to my grave my head will be high
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground"

Isaac Brock
The second reason was that I recently pulled out Modest Mouse’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News.

I had not listened to this record in awhile and I remember when it came out just being ‘meh’ about it. But when I listened to it yesterday I realized how kick ass a record it is. It is not my favorite Modest Mouse record but even the fourth best MM record is still better than tons of other records out there.

But what got me this time was the song “Bury Me With It.” Especially this part:

"Well as sure as planets come I know that they end
And if I’m here when that happens just promise me this my friend
Please bury me with it
I just don’t need none of that Mad Max bullshit"

So now what does all this have in common you ask? Good question.

Well, the book posits in one of the essays that increased fear and a thorough appreciation of the level of destruction we’re seeing in the world right now doesn’t actually lead to people getting more involved in fighting against climate change. In fact in a lot of cases the opposite is true. People retreat and feel hopeless to make any change.

And while many “don’t need none of that Mad Max bullshit,” instead of trying to fight for a better world, many are more likely to simply want to “die in their footsteps.”

These songs do differ a little in fundamental ways though. Dylan’s song encourages the listener to get out into the country and see nature while you can so that you may die on your own terms. And while he does say that he would “throw all the guns and the tanks in the sea” this is predicated on him having “rubies and riches and crowns,” or put another way, power.

Dylan’s song is fatalist because he believes that we have no power to change these things and we should simply try to enjoy what little time we have left and not get buried by the fear. The sentiment at the end is good but the demoralization inherent in having no power to change things is demobilizing.

If you’re not rich enough to throw the tanks in the sea then just check out and get ready to die on your own terms.

To me this really relates to the theme of Catastrophism. For Dylan, the immense fear and almost incomprehensible destruction associated with nuclear war did not inspire action but caused crippling apathy and a move away from collective solutions into personal attempts to live right. While this of course is not true of all people historically, it is part of the point of the song.

Even when anti-nuclear activists hoped that the fear would spark action, the opposite was equally likely (and attractive to many).

Modest Mouse’s song is also about enjoying what little time we have on this planet but Isaac Brock takes this even further.

It is very pointed that the first verse has the line “I probably really should’ve been at work.” This song is not simply about the destruction of the planet (as the verse at the top of this deals with) but also about the stultifying nature of work in our modern capitalist system. Or as Karl Marx put it:

"[T]he fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague."

Anyone that has ever worked any shitty job knows these words to be true. Marx’s philosophy though is based on action. He wrote about this bitter alienation to point people to how things could be better. To how things don’t have to be this way. And how we could and should work together to change them.

Those familiar with Modest Mouse know that Brock peppers many of his songs with references to jobs, getting jobs, getting fired from jobs, bosses, etc (for some examples see: “Custom Concern“, “Float On“, “Third Planet“, “Wild Pack Of Family Dogs” etc). Also there is a strand of anti-suburban sprawl environmentalism in some songs (again “Custom Concern” and also “Novocain Stain“).

But instead of Brock looking to inspire some sort of action, again there is the desire to check out. And shoot guns at a mound of dirt. And when you can no longer do that or any of the other simple (though wholly unsatisfying) escapist activity, it’s time to die.

"Please, bury me with it."

Despite the best intentions of those who fight for a better world for all of us, the politics of fear and imminent destruction are not helpful. I am, of course, not chiding Brock or Dylan on this but merely using their songs for examples. There are larger issues here about the context within which these songs were written but, while interesting, I don’t have time to get into those here.

The book does a great job of pointing this out and where Brock says he’s not interested in that “Mad Max bullshit,” the intro essay in Catastrophism puts it a different way:

“Dystopia is for losers.”

And while I think we can all agree on that, fear is not a good motivator. We desperately need a politics of hope; imbued with revolutionary enthusiasm. Now more than ever.

Anyway, jam out to the songs and read that book. Then instead of getting overwhelmed and checking out, get involved in making the world a better place.

We don’t need rubies or crowns because we have numbers. Remember the words of Percy Shelley:

"Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number --
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you --
Ye are many -- they are few."

Dan Sharber is an activist and socialist in Texas. He guest-writes at the music blog 70 Day Weekend (where this article first appeared), and recently spoke on environmental disaster in capitalism.

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Apocalypse Now?

By Sasha Lilley
December 21st, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Kjerstin Johnson
Bitch Magazine
December 2012

A Q&A with Victoria Law and China Martens

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

What is one barrier to making events family-inclusive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do feminist conversations about parenthood often leave out?

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

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

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

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You Can Read It in the Funny Papers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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