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52 Releases in 2010, Join the Friends of PM Press for 2011!

News > Additional Stories

52 Releases in 2010, Join the Friends of PM Press for 2011!

In December, we celebrated our 52nd PM Press release of 2010 (that's one per week!), and we are inviting you to join the Friends of PM to help us usher in the 2011 releases.

We launched PM Press as a means to impact, amplify, and revitalize the discourse and actions of radical writers, filmmakers, and artists. The Friends of PM program provides us with a stable foundation from which we can build upon our early successes and provides a much-needed subsidy for the materials that can't necessarily pay their own way. You can help make that happen — and receive every new title automatically delivered to your door once a month-by joining as a Friend of PM Press.

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Spotlight on PM Press: Interview with Ramsey Kanaan

The Aqueduct Gazette Newsletter
Winter 2011(V8)

Just as Aqueduct hit the 50th- book mark, another small socially-engaged press hit 100. PM Press, out of Oakland, California, has been putting out manuals, children's books, manifestos, and fiction and nonfiction books on radical history, politics, culture, and art. Aqueduct is pleased to spotlight some of the speculative work that PM Press issues and to talk with Ramsey Kanaan, PM founder.

Interview with Ramsey Kanaan

Aqueduct: PM Press is only three years old and already it has passed the hundred book mark. Can you tell me about the goals and achievements of the press, as they stood then, as they are now?

Ramsey: Our overarching goals (lofty I know, but you've got to have something to reach for) are to destroy Capital and the State, and build a better world. On a more mundane, but eminently practical level, we hope that by putting out quality books (and CDs and DVDs and other printed materials) in a variety of formats, styles, and genres, we might actually contribute, in some small way, in amplifying the ideas, and engaging in the practices that might actually help move us all a few steps closer. Making such work/idea accessible, and getting it in front of folks' eyes (and ears) would be nice too!

Aqueduct: I've been seeing your exciting and gracefully designed Outspoken Author series at Last Word Books down in Olympia for a couple of years now without knowing anything about the press. I'm excited to learn that Terry Bisson is the editor of these books, which Eleanor Arnason's Mammoths of the Great Plains is published under. Do you have any word from Terry about what's coming down the pike for this series?

Ramsey: We do indeed have some great authors lined up. The next two will be two of SF's grandparents- Michael Moorcock and Ursula Le Guin. We've also contracted Cory Doctorow, and are working on Marge Piercy ( once we've gotten new anniversary editions of her classic novels Vida and Dance the Eagle to Sleep out next year) and Paco Ignacio Taibo II.

Aquedyct: Your catalog says pretty plainly that feminism is part of hte broader vision of a radical conversation going on at PM. Can you tell me what that vision looks like on your end? How do you go about bringing questions of feminism, gender, and antiracisim to the table; waht do you look for in a book; and what kinds of discussions do these perennial questions provoke on your staff?

Ramesy: Revolutionary change is a process. And all processes have history (and herstory) and context. Excavating, and engaging is not just part of that vision, but a prerequisite. We'd like to think that our output is part of that process, and critical engagement. Questions of patriarchy, sexism, race, gender - and, of course, class, are always on the table, and part of the editorial decisions on what, and why (not to mention, for whom, and to what end) to publish. In general terms we look for two things in a book. That it is really good. And that it contributes something beyond entertainment (not that being entertained is a bad thing per se). Unfortunately, given that we haven't yet destroyed capitalism, economic questions (i.e., can we sell it) also play a part in the equation.

Aqueduct: Finally: how can I subscribe to your newsletter?

Ramsey: Easiest way to subscribe is to just sign up over our website. Though emailing me at ramsey@pmpress.org would also work pretty good! Even better, of course, would be subscribing to the Friends of PM program. For as little as $25 a month, the lucky subscriber gets everything we publish, sent to their door- typically 2-5 books a month!

Aqueduct: Thank you!

Ramsey: Totally a pleasure... rock on ramsey




'Don't Mourn, Balkanize!' A Radical Approach to the Balkans by a Paradoxical Thinker

By Alan Ashton-Smith
popmatters.com
13 December 2010

The Balkan region has been the subject of intense mythologisation for centuries.  Although it is part of the European landmass, it’s regarded as being worlds away from the countries of Western Europe. The Balkans, if we believe Western writers and travellers, are uncivilised and undeveloped, and populated by savage types who like nothing better than going to war with each other, and committing great atrocities in the process.  Although the designation ‘Balkan’ all but disappeared when the region was subsumed into Soviet controlled Eastern Europe, the legacy of communism has done little to improve Western perceptions.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening up of Eastern Europe, we have seen great changes in the Balkans.  Sadly, the process of political reorganisation has been fraught, and now the word ‘Balkan’ is most likely to call to mind the wars of the ‘90s. Although the region has continued to be regarded as irrevocably war-torn, the Balkans’ return to the global spotlight has provoked numerous commentators to debunk the myths that surround this part of Europe.

Andrej Grubačić is probably the most radical writer to approach the Balkans. He does so from an anarchist perspective, and his ideas are informed by both his background and his politics.  Although he is from Belgrade, which is now the capital of Serbia, he continues to think of himself as Yugoslav, despite the fact that Yugoslavia no longer exists as a country. This paradox of identity illustrates the difficulties that the changing political landscape of the Balkans have caused for people from the region. Grubačić is co-founder of the Global Balkans Network, an anti-capitalist, anti-nationalist organisation that aims to provoke political reform in the Balkans.

These ideas recur throughout Don’t Mourn, Balkanize! a collection of essays originally published in Z Magazine and its associated website, ZNet.  As might be expected, the focus is largely on formerly Yugoslav countries, but Romania and Bulgaria are also discussed, as is the positions of minority groups such as the Roma.  Grubačić’s most consistent argument is that the Western occupation of states in the Balkans must end. He certainly pulls no punches when discussing NATO, or the Western politicians involved in this occupation. Paddy Ashdown, the former High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, is described as a ‘postcolonial Harry Potter’, abandoning a ‘region marked by unseen evils’; and Clinton, Blair and Bush are said to be bigger war criminals than Milošević.

This is not to say that there is a strong anti-Western bias in this book. Grubačić also rightly attacks Milošević, and draws attention to the criminal connections of assassinated Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjić and the current prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi. Kosovo is, of course, a particularly important issue, and the essays included here chronicle the period straddling its declaration of independence in 2008; Grubačić is not particularly optimistic about Kosovo’s future, predicting further war but, crucially, he believes that the withdrawal of the West is most important to its survival.

He makes a distinction between what he calls ‘balkanization from above’ and ‘balkanization from below’. The former refers to the involvement the neo-colonial powers of the West in the Balkans, while the latter entails the reform of the Balkans by the people of that region. This would involve a rejection of the privatisation of businesses and factories in post-communist former Yugoslavia; instead they would be controlled by the workers. On a larger scale, Grubačić calls for a Balkan Federation that would unify the region and ultimately provide a model for Europe. He writes that:

This Balkans, neither capitalist nor bureaucratic-socialistic, would be a transethnic society with a balkanopolitan, pluriculturalist outlook, an outlook which previously existed but was lost in its incorporation into nation-state frameworks, and outlook that recognises multiple and overlapping identities and affiliations characterized by proliferation and multiplicity, an outlook that recognizes the unity produced out of difference.

This vision for the Balkans is certainly compelling; however radical and perhaps unlikely it seems. Although this kind of unity was possible in Tito’s Yugoslavia, whether it would be now is questionable. Nonetheless, Grubačić’s attitude toward the Balkans is more enlightened than most. He points out that the goal of the West seems to be to debalkanise the Balkans and bring the region closer to the rest of Europe. The alternative proposed in this book ensures that the Balkans do not lose their very particular character. However, the enduring misrepresentation of that character must first be overcome if the West is to trust the Balkans with greater autonomy.

It may not yet be possible to set Grubačić’s ideas into motion, but Don’t Mourn, Balkanize! helps to shake off the negative way that the region is perceived, and is thus a step in the right direction.




Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Return to Author's Page




The Staughton Lynd Factor: A Dispatch from the Frontline Trenches of Higher Education in Middle America

American Communist History Journal
By Walt Howard
January 2011

Carl Mirra, The Admirable Radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945-1970 (Kent State: Kent State University Press, 2010).

Andrej Grubačić ed., From Here to There: The Staughton Lynd Reader (Oakland, California: PM Press, 2010).

Introduction


Carl Mirra’s The Admirable Radical and Andrej Grubačić’s From Here to There, two valuable tomes, employ the powerful tools of radical history and radical political theory to deal with crucial political, social and moral issues of post-industrial and post-modern American imperial society and culture. They also confirm the iconoclastic historian-activist Staughton Lynd as a contemporary saint and prophet of the American social democratic Left. I do not believe that it is hyperbole to state that Professor Lynd is the American E.P. Thompson and the American Ignazio Silone. Concerning the latter Marxist thinker, Lynd embodies the conception of “accompaniment”: he dwells with, and focuses on meeting the tangible needs of, the American working class in the “rust belt” near Youngstown, Ohio. In Ebonics, one would say he not just “talks the talk, but walks the walk.”

A Proud Son of Appalachia Meets Staughton Lynd

     A graduate student in American history at Florida State University (FSU) toward the end of the 1970s, I warmly recollect bonding with my advisor, Neil Betten, the specialist in Labor and Urban History, by way of our mutual admiration for the inspirational Staughton Lynd. Neil is the son of union activists, and I am a proud son of Appalachia and the descendent of peace-loving coal miners. At one of our first meetings, I smiled with an earnest heart as Betten and I both realized that we shared Lynd’s social democratic principles and both believed in the sincerity and influence of his life and work. In due course, Professor Betten launched me as a new Ph.D. into the academic realm to spread the Lynd gospel of non-violent radical change based on participatory democracy.

     In the many years since then, as I have explored the life and accomplishments of Staughton Lynd, I have had the good fortune to exchange emails with the likes of Yale’s Edmund Morgan and even take an urgent phone call from the enigmatic Eugene Genovese. This is heady stuff for a “grunt historian” such as myself who labors mightily at a small state teaching university in old Molly Maguire territory in northeastern Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, this is the special attention one garners by researching the life and career of a New Left icon. Both of these eminent scholars, Morgan and Genovese, offered fascinating comments and analyses of Lynd. Morgan suggested that if Staughton had stayed at Yale after his December 1965 trip to Hanoi he would have indeed been recommended for tenure by the Yale history department, and perhaps not put on waivers. In his book, Mirra convincingly reveals this claim to be highly questionable. Furthermore, an excited Genovese told me that he now admires his former rival on the Left, bares him no ill will, and that in the long run, Lynd’s 1969 efforts to politicize the American Historical Association foreshadowed the coming politicization of all the professional associations in the various disciplines of the Liberal Arts. He now seems to recognize Staughton as a prophet.

     Astonished and thrilled by this responsiveness from two such eminent scholars, I freely confess that I represent the historical profession at a level often overlooked or minimized by my more prominent and renowned senior colleagues. A descendent of Eastern Kentucky coal miners and United Mine Workers [UMW] activists, an Appalachian “Norman Pollack populist” by temperament, and a humble graduate of FSU’s Ph.D. program in history, I found myself professionally drawn to Lynd more than Genovese or even Christopher Lasch, both of whom I have great respect for. Moreover, like historian Herbert Gutman, by the late 1970s, I already considered the Consensus School of historiography hopelessly outdated.

     A young aspiring historian of that day, I was excited by the possibilities of history “from the bottom up,” and encouraging the growth of a social conscience among my students. As a Lynd enthusiast, over the decades since those conversations with my FSU advisor in the Seventies, I have taught innumerable U.S. history survey classes and many upper division courses in Labor, Social, and African American history, to hundreds, perhaps several thousand, of ordinary college students from Middle America at five different institutions of higher learning from Florida to Pennsylvania. I have even taught history to federal inmates in the prisons of Lewisburg and Allenwood, Pennsylvania until Bill Clinton and the Democratic Congress ended Pell Grants for federal inmates in 1994. After over thirty years in the trenches of American college classrooms, my countless Lynd-oriented courses are a fait accompli. Things cannot be changed. In this regard, to a considerable extent, Omar Khayyám’s “moving finger” trumps the lunacy and dribble of David Horowitz, Lynne Cheney, and all the representatives of the New Right and conservative talk radio, at least in the case of my academic career at the grassroots level of higher education.

     My coal mining grandfather, and name-sake, who had little formal education, and who was as much my mentor as Lynd and Betten, taught me important lessons as to a thinking man’s moral and social responsibilities in a democratic society. This mentor from my working class family, a UMW and CIO organizer from the 1930s, undoubtedly grins from his grave as I try my best to fulfill this responsibility through human rights scholarship that gives voice to powerless, marginalized groups. I would email country music bard Merle Travis (“Sixteen Tons”) about this state of affairs if he still walked the earth; it would make a great coal miner folk song. Interestingly enough, near the end of his life in the mid-1960s, my miner grandfather told me that he wished someone would go to North Vietnam and talk to its leaders and tell them that some of the working class coal miners in America, who were not Communists, wanted to use common sense and settle the Vietnam conflict without prolonged violent conflict. This conversation took place in the “holler” known as “Bailey Branch” near Wooton, in Appalachian Kentucky, in 1965.

     I was overcome with a feeling of serendipity when Lynd once informed me that during my grandfather’s lifetime, he hitched-hiked through Kentucky coal country and witnessed up close the poverty and deprivation of its hard-working people. In 2010, in my current scholarly endeavors, he and my grandfather cross paths again. There is more: in the Freedom Summer of 1964, when Lynd was at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, at the time of the tragic Klan assassination of civil rights workers Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, I was a hillbilly child and Appalachian-in-exile student in the public school system of Hamilton, Ohio, a landing place of many Appalachian coal mining migrant families, just twenty minutes away from Professor Lynd.

     With this industrial Appalachian background, I have looked forward to reading The Admirable Radical and From Here to There. Having met Lynd several times over the years as a professional historian, I have enormous respect for him. In my long, unlikely and modest intellectual journey from Wooton, Kentucky to Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, Lynd has been a key figure in shaping my professional identity. My trek as a working class teacher-scholar from the “hollers” of Eastern Kentucky to the halls of academia drew direction and inspiration from this particular New Left lion.

     It is also from such an authentic working class American perspective that I examine this important scholar who descends from academic royalty. All told, Lynd's work includes his unique contributions to historical analysis such as the enduring classic, Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, first published in 1968, and his other work as a talented colonialist regarding the American Revolution. The rumor is that Ed Morgan, who helped recruit Lynd for Yale, considered him the most gifted colonialist of his generation. Apologies to Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood.

     One must also recognize that Lynd’s oeuvre also includes books on the politics of the Sixties such as The Other Side in 1967 and The Resistance in 1971. Finally, he has penned several works on the American labor movement such as American Labor Radicalism (1973); Rank and File (1981); The Fight Against Shutdowns—The Youngstown Steel Mill Closings (1982); Empty Promise—Quality of Live Programs and the Labor Movement (1987); and Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below (1994).

     Mirra’s book is, in my estimation, just the first biography of Lynd; there will doubtless be several others in the coming decades as more historians focus on the watershed decade of the 1960s. The Admirable Radical was penned by a first-rate scholar, a Marine Corp. veteran, and antiwar activist in the ranks of “Historians Against the War.” Carl Mirra, associate professor at the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education, Adelphi University, Long Island, New York, is a proven historian, and the author of Soldier and Citizens: An Oral History of Operation Iraqi Freedom from the Battlefield to the Pentagon. He is just the kind of historian-activist one might expect to be a Lynd scholar. His biography is a well-researched and well-written exceptional study that explores Staughton Lynd’s life and career during the Cold War era of American history to 1970. And yes, there is another scholar-activist, Mark Weber, from Kent State University, who is working on Lynd’s life and work since the Seventies.

     In any case, future biographers and discerning, serious readers of Mirra’s and Grubačić’s books might take a cue from UC–Berkley’s Hubert Dreyfus (dean of America’s Martin Heidegger scholars), and acknowledge an existential quality to the life and work of Lynd that transcends the categories of the Left-Right divide and even the Culture Wars. Like a Heideggerian existential “Dasein,” more than a fully self-conscious Sartrean Marxist figure, or Camus’s fatalistic “Sisyphus,” Lynd has absorbed, articulated, and above all, embodied, a distinctive way of “being” a uniquely American radical in the second half of the 20th century (and the early 21st century).

     If truth be told, I say with certainty, Lynd’s life and example as presented by Mirra and Grubačić would resonate with some rebellious, restless and discontented Eastern Kentucky coal miners and their sons and grandsons, as well as a few FSU history Ph.D.s. More than a few coal miners from Appalachia, and their descendants, would appreciate Lynd’s defiance of Cold War authority and his distaste for the limited effectiveness of “corporate liberalism.” Like the Appalachian miners, Lynd is fearless in his moral and political convictions. A careful observer can detect Lynd’s authentic radicalism not only in his actions but also in his demeanor and carriage; indeed, in the very distinct way he walks and talks. There is an existential (Heideggerian) maxim of poet William Butler Yeats that "Man can embody truth, but he cannot know it.” I have myself witnessed this phenomenon in regard to Lynd several times at various conferences and basement meetings. In 2010, as an over-worked history professor, I try to convey a Lynd-like “Weltanschauung” and hopeful social democratic vision of the future to about 150 college students every semester. Indeed, I have done so for over thirty years.  

New Left History: A 21st Century Work-in-Progress


     Some scholars of the American Left classify the extraordinary Staughton Lynd as one of the historians who epitomizes the finest qualities of the New Left in the second half of the twentieth century, and early 21st century. Though, as a biographer, Mirra advances a complex and nuanced handling of Van Gosse’s relevant “declension” theory in analyzing Lynd and the New Left, it is nonetheless true that New Left legend Lynd has remained true to the early Sixties ideas of non-violent radical change built out of meaningful, grassroots participatory democracy.  Lynd himself sometimes contrasts his political orientation and convictions with those of his celebrated father and mother, Robert and Helen Lynd, best known for writing the groundbreaking "Middletown" studies of Muncie, Indiana: Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture (1929) and Middletown in Transition (1937), two enduring classics of American sociology. Robert Lynd was “Old Left” and his son, whom he had such grand ambitions for, Staughton Lynd, was “New Left.”

     Inspired by Lynd’s special libertarian version of New Left activism and thought, Andrej Grubačić’s reader is, in effect, really an inspiring anarchistic primer on how an historian can be an agent of radical change in partnership with grassroots radical democracy that empowers the poor as well as despised and oppressed groups. To fully understand and appreciate Lynd’s anarchism from the bottom up, and his social democratic ideas, we need context.

     As a matter of history, the New Left came out of the termination of Soviet control over the international Marxist-Leninist movement after the astonishing happenings of 1956.  Needless to say, these specific events included Nikita Khrushchev’s well-known speech denouncing Stalin and his many crimes in addition to the East European revolt of Hungary (and before that Poland) as well as the Soviet reaction. What is more, the resolute opposition made by Maoist and Trotskyist parties around the globe to Soviet ideological management must be considered in any analysis. Later, the Cuban Revolution (1959), the fierce anti-colonial struggles in the Third World, and the Che Guevara legend, suggested to those who clamored for radical change that there were diverse approaches to fundamental political and social transformation, and that other social groups, separate from the modern working class, may well be the instrument of revolutionary change. Undeniably, in Staughton Lynd’s non-violent, democratic political universe, it was indeed students, women, racial and ethnic groups, as well as the anti-Vietnam War activists in Europe and the United States, who organized and stood up to challenge the status quo.

     Beginning in the Fifties, reaching a highpoint in the Sixties, and even spreading into the Seventies, an assortment of vital social, cultural and political movements struggled to make radical democracy and measurable equality realities in America. A revolutionary notion of democracy enlivened the movements for civil rights and black power, for peace and unity with the Third World, and for gender and sexual equality. Mirra and Grubačić, I believe, interpret the New Left as the broadest-based movement for fundamental change in American history. Like Lynd, they still see the New Left as a work-in-progress in this century in regard to the peace movement, feminism, green parties, and resurgence in thought and action on the Left.

     It was American sociologist C. Wright Mills who introduced the term "New Left." He did so in a theoretical document in 1960 titled Letter to the New Left. In it he called for a new “leftist” creed to replace the “Old Left” and its emphasis on industrial labor. This new radical paradigm opened up the space for Staughton Lynd and other New Left thinkers and activists. Lynd and other like-minded radicals did not seek to recruit industrial workers, but instead focused on a social activist approach to organization of powerless, marginalized groups.

     Staughton Lynd represents the elements of the New Left that were essentially “anarchist” in their orientation. He and others like him looked to libertarian socialist traditions of American radicalism as well as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and shop-floor union militancy. Lynd’s brand of New Left activism was also inspired by African American activists such as Bob Moses and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. Lynd’s New Left students and organizers, moreover, immersed themselves in poor communities building up grassroots support based on community organizing. Staughton Lynd’s New Left sought to be a broad based, grass roots movement.

     Grubačić’s anthology deals with Lynd’s brand of anarchism. Perhaps many American readers will not be familiar with this radical political theorist. Andrej Grubačić, an anarchist theorist, sociologist and activist, has a Serbian background and also advocates an anarchist approach to writing history from “the bottom up.” He is one of the protagonists of "new anarchism,” and a member of the anti-authoritarian, direct-action wing of the global social justice movement. An associate with Peoples' Global Action and other Zapatista-influenced direct action movements, Grubačić's primary concerns are political struggles in the Balkans. Like Staughton Lynd, his political thought and interests focus in large part on defining his brand of anarchism as participatory democracy and decentralized power based in local communities, not highly centralized political parties and not highly centralized leftist movements. Grubačić's attraction for anarchism arose out of his experiences with the Belgrade Libertarian Group that derives from the Yugoslav Praxis experiment.

Staughton Lynd or Christopher Lasch?

     I want to avoid the alluring temptation of participating in the Staughton Lynd versus Christopher Lasch debate. I leave that task to the exchanges between two able advocates: Carl Mirra and John Summers. Instead, let me acknowledge that in Lynd’s defense he has recently countered the old, tired charge of presentism and stated that “I believe that historians should look to one another's scholarly products and evaluate these by conventional academic methods.” Furthermore, another scholar has asserted that “Partisanship is what historians, and scholars in other liberal disciplines, are bound to display as a simple feature of their individual character. The approach made to documents is bound to be different for the religious or the secular, the radical or the conservative. Some of the most intellectually and morally instructive history has been written by passionately partisan scholars.”

     In light of these insights, it is arguably the case that Staughton Lynd is one of Clio’s best scholar-activists, and in academic circles, even now in the early 21st century, he calls to mind the turbulent 1960s, the contentious New Left, and a divided historical profession. To be sure, for decades, a number of Clio’s devotees have loved and admired him; others, not so much. Professor Lynd spoke in 2007 before a large audience of hundreds of students and faculty at my academic home (Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania) in opposition to the Iraqi War. But the interesting thing is that not only local militaristic “Patriots” (now leaders of the local Tea Party cadre) showed up to attack him, but even a few of my fellow Americanists, for whatever reason, in the history department refused to recommend to their students that they attend this talk. One particular colleague who objected to students attending Lynd’s talk echoed Staughton’s story of how C. Vann Woodward at Yale once told him in the 1960s that there were too many “commies” in SNCC (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). Regardless, we need more historians of New Left figures and the 1960s movements such as Van Gosse of Franklin and Marshall, biographers such as Carl Mirra, and radical theorists such as Andrej Grubačić.

     Present-day historians correctly point to Lynd, as well as the late Howard Zinn along with Jesse Lemisch, as instigating and cultivating an innovative style of American historiography that investigates ordinary people in addition to the privileged, or “history from the bottom up.” History has, of course, traditionally been taught by articulating the important political events of the past and by admiring prominent people. Owing to Lynd and others like him, however, during the last four decades historians have expanded the range of their query into the past. Consequently, we are able to talk about and comprehend the historical process in a much more all-encompassing fashion. Thanks in large measure to Lynd, Zinn, and Lemisch, among others, “history” is now understood to take account of the narratives of everybody: the celebrated and the everyday, the learned and the uneducated, women, men, and children, the wealthy and poverty-stricken, and people of all races and ethnic groups – together all of these people create the full tapestry of American history.

     In any case, nowadays, there may be a Staughton Lynd revival taking place in at least one area of American intellectual life: academic history. Indeed, accolades abound for this renowned historian-activist: “The Admirable Radical” pronounces biographer Carl Mirra; “Legendary Historian, Attorney & Peace Activist,” states another source; “Forever Young: Staughton Lynd at 80,” proclaims Andy Piascik in a Center for Labor Renewal publication;  “The Marching Saint,” decrees historian Paul Buhle; “The Return of Staughton Lynd,” declares David Waldstreicher in his praise of the recent reprint of the Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism.

     According to Mirra, Lynd is an historian with a place in history. After all, in 1964 he did successfully direct the Freedom Schools in Mississippi during Freedom Summer. Without a doubt, however, he will be most remembered for his 1965 trip to Hanoi (North Vietnam) in the company of a young SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) radical Tom Hayden and Communist historian Herbert Aptheker. Now in his eighties and as active as ever, this seemingly ageless Sixties stalwart has moved on from this particular controversy to earn all the tributes noted above. He has merited them through his continuing radical political commitments and boundless energy. In fact, as an independent scholar, Staughton, often in partnership with his accomplished wife Alice (also an attorney and fearless activist), works harder than most full-time academics I know.

     Further, the key to understanding the many sides of the protean Staughton Lynd is to recognize his unswerving Heideggerian existential authenticity. In their respective books, both Carl Mirra and Andrej Grubačić implicitly make the case that Lynd stands out as one of the most important, relevant intellectual-activists in post-World War II America. In the historical profession itself one need only to look at the work of the current generation of colonialists, represented by Duke-trained Woody Holton, William and Mary’s Jennifer Oast, Yale-trained David Waldstreicher and many others.

     In today’s political universe, public intellectuals such as Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Sean Wilentz, Tony Judt, and Victor Davis Hanson, among many others, are not unusual. Nonetheless, room must be made for the original, ageless Staughton Lynd, if for no other reason than the depth of his radical thought and the genuineness of his sterling character. In old age, as two truly long distance runners from the Sixties, Staughton and his wife Alice continue to actualize the Herbert Marcuse idea of living in a state of revolutionary ecstasy.

Conclusion

     The Admirable Radical stands as a significant contribution to the scholarly literature of social history of post-WWII America, and no doubt will be of interest to cultural and intellectual historians. Contrary to some claims, Mirra has not written a hagiography. But of course he is a great admirer of Lynd. All the same, the author seeks to place this public intellectual/historian inside a particular American radical tradition. In the process, Mirra stresses that he does not ask for “a cult of personality” in regard to Lynd. To be sure, he endeavors to plot a successful course between his fondness for his subject and academic impartiality. In this I believe he succeeds. The radicalism of Lynd, according to Mirra, has been, and continues to be, guided by a key Jeffersonian ideal; namely, the right of revolution on behalf of the oppressed. In spite of the historical examples of all the late 1960s militants with their “over the top” revolutionary rhetoric, Lynd still has full confidence in social change achieved by nonviolence and “participatory democracy.”

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Staughton Lynd's Page | Back to
Andrej Grubacic's Page


Gary Phillips Interviews Gary Phillips

Dancing With Myself:
GARY PHILLIPS interviews GARY PHILLIPS
Sea Minor
December 12, 2010

Over at Pulp Metal Magazine they've assembled a host of talent for a hell of a Birthday Party. Go along, blow out a candle and make a wish.

And Gary Phillips has just entered the building to talk to himself:

Q: Let’s start with you telling the good folks about your latest effort, shall we?

A: Most assuredly. On the surface The Underbelly from PM Press is about a sometimes homeless Vietnam vet named Magrady who looks for a disabled friend who has disappeared from downtown L.A.’s Skid Row. Of course like all mysteries matters are not what they seem to be. Magrady has psychological baggage about his past failures. He’s estranged from his grown children due to abusing booze and drugs, which have also resulted in his divorce, losing his house and blowing to hell a couple of businesses he’s had.

But as the story begins, Magrady is eight months sober, downtown is in the midst of gentrification, and Magrady assigns himself this task of looking for his friend as, he tells a friend, he needs a mission. Did I mention that the cop heading the Nickel Squad, the contingent of police offers patrolling the changing downtown was under Sgt. Magrady’s command in ‘Nam and there’s bad blood between them over an incident there?

 The Underbelly fits in with my other work, particularly in terms of my stories set in Los Angeles. I would say I try to give a flavor of a segment of the city not usually seen in other mystery novels. That there’s a certain amount of the socio-political landscape the protagonist operate in but not in a preachy way. Ultimately I want to tell you an entertaining story with characters who may not be the most sterling of individuals, but who when knocked down get back up and go to it.

Anyway, if folks are interested, they can pick up a copy at their indie bookstore or get themselves an e-book version on Kindle.

Q: Why does writing crime and mystery stories interest you?

A: Maybe because in those kind of stories the main characters are often called on to do something. I don’t necessarily mean they have to sock some brigand in the jaw or parry a knife thrust, but the nature of crime and mystery calls for your characters to not be passive, to act. Mysteries call on us to be in the main character’s head and possibly a few others as well. But not only are we privy to their thoughts, we also see what they do or do not do guided by what they’re thinking and feeling.

Too, there’s a structure to the mystery and crime novel. We as humans have a certain desire for order and setting matters to right. Now this is tempered with the knowledge of a world, post Watergate, Vietnam, 9/11, yellow cake, mythical WMDs, and so on. Which is to say you’re writing for a somewhat jaded and cynical audience so there has to be a reality of acknowledging these sensibilities in your plots and characters. The trick, I think, is to balance those notions without going too gray, too ambiguous about what motivates your main character. Nothing is pure black and white, but it does seem we want, demand, even, those who strive to right a wrong or at least settle a personal scores. Now naturally if you’re main character is a crook, a thief say, well, you have more latitude in proscribing how he operates in his or her arena.

Then too there’s the puzzle aspect. Who did it and why did they do it? It doesn’t seem the readers and the writers don’t get tired of that as long as we can keep coming up with fresh ways to pique our interests. I mean, I write the stories I want to read and hope others want to read it too.

Q: Are there other sort of stories you’d like to write?

A: When I was a kid through my teenage years, I read a good deal of science fiction. From Andre Norton and Jack Williamson to Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. H.G. Wells to Heinlein and Asimov. Fredric Brown and Asimov, to name two, wrote both sci-fi and mysteries, sometimes combining those elements. Kristine Kathryn Rusch does the same today with her Recovery Man interplanetary detective series and under a pen name, Kris Nelscott, 60’s era political mysteries with a black protagonist, Smokey Dalton – which deserve more attention than they’ve gotten.

Anyway, I’ve also stated in the past that Rod Serling was an influence on me as a writer. I’ve got a couple of anthologies of prose stories based on his Twilight Zone teleplays. Fact one of the collections are adaptations done by a good storyteller his damn self, Walter Gibson, who penned many a pulp and radio adventure of the Shadow.

In some of my short stories like “’53 Buick” (originally in Murder on Route 66) and in “Incident on Hill 19” (originally in Retro Pulp Tales), his shadow and that of those classic science fiction EC tales is pretty evident on those pages. So, yeah, I’d like to take a swing at a science fiction novel combining mystery and sci-fi elements. I’ve got a couple of ideas floating around in my head and look forward to getting them down on the page one of these days.

Q: Apparently there was a recent Harris online poll conducted among 2,775 adults in the U.S. How this sampling of adults was achieved, is not clear, but some of the results regarding who treads crime, mystery and thrillers is interesting.

A: I saw that. The big kids on the block, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, Patterson and Grisham are favs but still, it’s kind of heartening, isn’t it? 48% of fiction readers say they read mysteries, thrillers and crime novels. This stat goes up to 61% among those 65 and older. 26% read sci-fi and those respondents in the age range of 18-33, 18% read graphic novels. Women not men are, it seems, more likely to read in the mystery field than men, I guess whether the protagonist is a man or woman.

This poll gave me to an idea I’d love to try; lunch trucks. That’s right, lunch trucks. Say a truck like we have roaming the streets here in Los Angeles, the Kogi Korean barbeque taco truck has several that go about the Southland. This truck, rolling kitchen really, is so popular, they post their schedules online and the hungry can follow them on twitter. See, specialty lunch trucks are all the rage these days and I figure if I can hook up with one of these services, giving out some free samples of my books -- and various foods are always mentioned in my tomes -- to go along with the bulgogi burrito with salsa, that’s gotta build my brand.

Q: You do some work in comics, that right?

A: I do indeed. I’ve been a comic book fan from way back. Fact I became a writer since as a kid I discovered my art wasn’t going to be the best so I couldn’t write and draw my own comics, but at least I could put down the words. Currently I’m doing some work for an outfit called Moonstone. Specifically I’m writing the further adventures of a licensed pulp character they’ve acquired, secret agent Jimmy Christopher, Operator 5. The tagline being that before Bauer and Bond, there was Jimmy Christopher. With one eye on nostalgia, and a foot planted in the revisionist history camp, my first Operator 5 story, “The Faithful,” involves a charismatic “America for Americans” preacher intent on assassinating a Marcus Garvey-type figure who leads a back-to-Africa movement for black folks in Harlem. Christopher has infiltrated the preacher’s goon squad. “The Faithful” will debut as the back-up feature in Moonstone’s new Spider comic book, premiering this coming January.

I’m also pleased to be writing another espionage character for Moonstone, the zen freelance spy, Derek Flint, based on the character popularized by the late actor James Coburn in two films from the late sixties. The That Man Flint series will drop in March and be set in the swinging sixties of mods, mini-skirts and Vietnam. Paisley shirts and satellites. Afros and lasers. The Cold War is hot and the Red Chinese aren’t the only ones doing the brainwashing. Love is in the air, but everyone isn’t groovy.

Flint is an inventor, ballet instructor, editor and contributor of the revised Kama Sutra, transcendentalist and translator of an ancient Mayan cookbook, seeker of the third eye and freelance spy, is the one M.A.C.E. (Mandated Actions for Covert Enforcement) calls on to tackle their most perilous assignments.

It’s going to be fun.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

A: I used to clip articles out of the newspaper or magazines. Some news item, and it didn’t have to be about a robbery or a murder, though could have been. It could be about a medical oddity or a technological advancement. Now with the “internets” I still do this, only it’s mostly printing out an article I’ve read online. Take pro quarterback Brett Favre accused of sending lewd pictures and leaving voicemails to at least three female reporters. There’s also a push to have a moratorium on foreclosures. These are unrelated items but then you get to wondering, how could they be related? What could be the connective tissue between these events? When you start asking yourself that, combined with asking yourself, like, what the hell was Favre, married, a public figure, a young grandfather for goodness sakes, thinking? What’s the delusional state that sets in when a guy like that figures there’s not going to be fallout from these idiotic acts of harassment? Now we have something to hook onto for a kind of character, to be in his head.

The foreclosure debacle got me thinking about a news items I read more than a year ago where a desperate single dad chained himself to his outside water heater to prevent the gas company from disconnecting his gas due to his unpaid bill. Here’s another mindset, a man driven to do a desperate act to provide for his kids. Now what if specific events conspire to throw these two together in some sort of confrontation? Maybe too things are not always what they seem on the surface.

We’re off to the races.

Q: So how’s your poker game these days?

A: It’s never been good. It’s not as if I watch shows like the World Series of Poker and can imagine myself sitting at one of the tables stacking the chips. Naturally I’ve read various books on the game as a way to give me some insight…opening the third eye if you will.

Curiously, one of the poker books I have is this very enlightening one called The Education of a Poker Player by Herbert O. Yardley. Interesting cat. He was like something out of the pulps. As a teen, he was captain of the football team, editor of his high school paper and class president. He had a head for math and when his mom died in 1905, he inherited a modest two hundred bucks. He took to the poker tables and did quite well. By 1912 he was a code clerk in the State department. During World War I, he set up the Cipher Bureau, Military Intelligence 8 also known as the Black Chamber. You better believe I’m going to work this guy into the Operator 5 storyline.

Bouchercon, the annual mystery convention being held in San Francisco this year has a regular group of mostly writers who get together in the evening to play. I was there again, sucker that I am.

Q: You’ve edited or co-edited a few anthologies, most recently Orange County Noir from Akashic. Has this given you a different perspective as a writer?

A: It has. What I try to do as an editor is provide helpful notes or feedback to the writer to hopefully have them draw out what they’re looking to say in their story. My goal is not have them write the story like I would write it, but work with them to hone their work to be a tale that grabs the reader. The cool thing about short stories is you gotta draw ‘em in, keep them going along for a few pages, a twist or two, then resolve or at least end the story in a satisfactory fashion. I tell you, having the pleasure or reading others’ stories with both the critical view as the editor and a reader wanting to be challenged and entertained is a treat. There’s no bells and whistles, no way to dodge, to cover up parts that don’t work in a short story – it’s either humming or it’s not

Q: Speaking of ducking, is Floyd Mayweather Jr. going to keep ducking Manny Pacquiao?

A: It certainly seems so. Mayweather keeps coming up with excuses not to fight the Pacman and now he’s got legal woes though those aren’t insurmountable. Mainly he’s obviously scared to fight Pacquiao who would clean his clock. Sad really. It’s like in the comics, the Thing ultimately isn’t as strong as the Hulk, but damn that, he cowboys up and goes toe-to-toe with the jolly green giant when duty calls.

Q: With that as a metaphor, is writing, fighting as Ishmael Reed stated?

A: Heck yes. You have to know when to press your attack, when to be up on your feet bobbing and weaving, when to lay back and use rope-a-dope to let your opponent punch themselves out – but you have to be able to take the blows, the damage. You’ve got to be in shape to go the distance, baby.

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Cobbling Together Spirituality and Anarchism

The Jewish Daily Forward
By Yoel Matveev
December 8, 2010

A longer version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.

The son of a Jewish shoe store owner, Gustav Landauer became famous and was killed as a Jewish-German anarchist, having abandoned religion in his youth. Born in 1870, in Karlsruhe, Germany, Landauer’s interests were political and literary, not religious. By the early 20th century, however, he was reading about pantheistic, neoplatonic and Kabbalah-inspired varieties of Christian mysticism. Shortly after, he became friends with Martin Buber and his interest in mysticism brought him to Hasidic and Kabbalistic ideas.

A new translation of Landauer’s “Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader” by Gabriel Kuhn (interviewed here) brings his highly influential texts to an English-speaking audience and shows how he exerted a profound influence over both Jewish and non-Jewish thinkers alike.

Isaac Steinberg, the anarchist leader of the Jewish Territorialist movement, was one such thinker who came under Landauer’s influence. He had been highly critical of the “mechanical” nature of most Marxist versions of socialism, and believed that it was only possible to build a just socialist society through a creative spiritual process.

Steinberg’s creative approach to socialism comes from Landauer’s philosophy. Steinberg frequently refers to Landauer, directly and indirectly; he had Landauer’s book “Revolution” translated into Yiddish and he dedicated a whole chapter in his collection of political essays “In Struggle for Man and Jew” to Landauer.

Landauer also strongly influenced the great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, who dedicated a whole chapter in his anarchist book “Paths in Utopia” to Landauer’s dynamic view of socialism. The kibbutz movement in Israel was also influenced by Landauer, and an impressive number of Landauer’s works were translated into Hebrew by kibbutz activists.

In order to understand the ideas of many Jewish leftist thinkers of the previous century — especially those who were sympathetic to traditional Judaism — one must have a good grasp of Landauer’s ideas. Unfortunately, most of his works are only available in the German original, as well as in Yiddish and Hebrew translations. Only a few of them have been translated into English, until now.

Kuhn, an anarchist activist, selected and organized material chronologically and thematically to touch on the broad scope of topics Landauer addressed. English readers can now see how Landauer’s political positions developed through the course of his life, appreciate multifaceted aspects of his thought and actions, and catch a glimpse of his personal life.

Kuhn succeeds in translating Landauer’s highly idiosyncratic German, full of his own unique terminology, into a clear and easy English, while preserving the subtle nuances of the original text. His English version of Landauer’s “Revolution” is even clearer to this Yiddish speaker than Steinberg’s Yiddish translation of 1933.

In 1919, when German revolutionaries declared the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, Landauer was appointed Commissioner of Enlightenment and Public Instruction. As an anarchist, however, he didn’t want to command people and his one and only order was to abolish the history lessons in Bavarian schools, because he believed that school children were receiving false and harmful representations of the past.

Landauer’s brief involvement in state politics came to a bitter end when Munich was reconquered by the German army and he was arrested, sadistically tortured and stomped to death, on May 2, 1919. Landauer’s last words were: “Kill me already, if you think that you are human!”


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Anarchic Revolution and Traditional Judaism

A Conversation With Gustav Landauer's Translator
By Yoel Matveev
December 9, 2010

Gustav Landauer was born to a Jewish family in 1870, in Karlsruhe, Germany. As did most radicals, he abandoned religion in his youth, however, at the beginning of the 20th century he got interested in pantheistic, neoplatonic and kabbalah-inspired varieties of Christian mysticism. A few years later, he became friends with Martin Buber, and his interest in mysticism brought him to Hasidic and kabbalistic ideas.

A new translation of Landauer’s “Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader” by Gabriel Kuhn brings his highly influential texts to an English-speaking audience and I discuss those at The Arty Semite.

Landauer is known not only as a revolutionary, but also as a prominent mystical philosopher, a literary critic and a translator. With the help of his wife, Hedwig Lachmann, he translated from English an impressive number of works by William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Walt Whitman and other classic authors.

The Forvert’s Yoel Matveev spoke to Kuhn about Landauer, his legacy and his appeal (a Yiddish version of this interview appeared in the Forverts).

Yoel Matveev: Most contemporary anarchist groups focus on socio-political protests, but don’t seem to pay much attention to practical or even theoretical organization of full-fledged anarchist communities. Such activism attracts young, single college kids, but doesn’t have anything to offer people who live a relatively stable life: professionals or families with children. Landauer’s reappearance on the scene could change that. He viewed anarchism as a practical socialist movement of all people, not just a political platform for a few dedicated revolutionaries. Of course, every consistent anarchist views anarchism more or less the same way, but there is an emotional warmth and universal tone in Landauer’s writings that might appeal even to those who don’t spend much time protesting or theorizing the left. Do you see this universal attractiveness in his writings too?

Gabriel Kuhn: There is no doubt that Landauer appeals to a wider audience than [just] protest-focused activists. There is nothing wrong with protesting of course, it is an important part of resisting oppression and exploitation; however, eventually you face the questions of what you are fighting for and of what kind of a world you envision. As you say, this is particularly relevant for people with social responsibilities and a need for security that they are not willing to risk for an uncertain future, even if they are unhappy with the status quo.

For Landauer, the notion of “realization” — in other words, of concrete expressions of our ideals in the here and now — were central. And not just in the sense of individual righteousness in our daily conduct: The establishment of self-sufficient rural settlements was at the heart of his understanding of socialism. Whether we follow the settlement idea or not, I believe that the emphasis on building concrete alternatives to oppressive and exploitative structures is as important as ever. Of course it is questionable whether a network of independent settlements can ever extend to a point where the state becomes unnecessary; however, if we insist that a different world is possible, we need tangible examples of what it can look like.

I would also agree that Landauer’s wide appeal relates to what you call a “certain emotional warmth and universal tone.” Landauer was deeply concerned with the well-being of all people, and this comes through in his writing. He could be a harsh critic, but his ideas were never determined by hate but always by a love for humankind. Of course he was aware of class structures and of social discrimination, and the support of underprivileged people was always central to his political work — yet, he always saw all human beings united in a universal spirit; this summarizes the concrete political consequences of his mysticism, if you will.

In your book, you mention Landauer’s influence on the commune movements in Germany and on the kibbutzim in Palestine. But Landauer also strongly influenced Isaac Steinberg, a prominent leader of the Jewish Territorialist movement. Steinberg was a prolific Yiddish writer, a Russian revolutionary and a traditional religious Jew, who tried to establish nonnationalist Jewish autonomous settlements outside the Middle East. Many idealists who get disillusioned with capitalism and outdated Enlightenment values are turning to mysticism and faith — often to the most extreme reactionary of religious movements like far-right messianic Zionism and radical Islamism. Do you think that Landauer shows how faith and spirituality can also fuel the fire of creative, progressive, nonauthoritarian revolutionary change?

I think that you are raising a very important point: namely, that Landauer provides an example of taking spiritual needs seriously and of incorporating them into political thought while avoiding both reactionary ideology and superficial esotericism. Landauer’s mysticism clearly opposed all notions of superiority, all moral dogmas and all clerical hierarchies. Like all true mystics — whether they come from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or any other tradition — he finds the unity of all people, the oneness of creation, to be the foundation of spirituality. I do believe that such a notion can be of great help in spreading the ideals of equality and justice. I also believe that it allows engaging in politics with love rather than hate.

Anti-religious leftist rhetoric is indeed helpless in confronting religious fundamentalism. The borders between anti-religious leftism and religious fundamentalism are clearly drawn, and neither side is willing to listen to the other. If you want to convince religious people that a life of justice and equality is the purest worldly representation of God, you have to talk to them about God. Of course some believers will insist that they have an exclusive link to God and that God is only there to protect them. In that case, any attempt at communication might fail.

But I think that these people are a minority. Most believers who support conservative politics do so because they are manipulated by the worldly representatives of their faith, by churches and by religious organizations. If you speak their language, you can make them understand that true spirituality lies outside of such bodies, as practically every mystic in history has stressed.

I know that you wrote a few articles on pantheism. Do you plan someday to translate some of Landauer’s mystical and philosophical writings?

I’m definitely open to the idea. To be honest, a lot will depend on how this volume will be received. If there is a demand for more of Landauer’s philosophical writings in English, I am happy to get to work. For readers who want to get a taste of Landauer’s mysticism, I recommend the essay “Through Separation to Community,” which is included in the volume. It basically constitutes the first part of “Skepticism and Mysticism,” Landauer’s main philosophical text, and it contains all of the key elements of Landauer’s spiritual thought. Many of these elements can also be found in “Revolution,” the main text of “Revolution and Other Writings.”

Some anarchists accuse Landauer of having “fascist” tendencies. The keywords that ring the alarm are “Volk” and “organic.” His admiration of folk culture has also led to unfortunate associations. But doesn’t his healthy dose of romanticism actually bring him closer to contemporary continental philosophers, maybe even to Derrida and Žižek?

Within the left, terms like “bourgeois,” “reactionary” or “fascist” have often been used to discredit opponents. Usually, these accusations lack any substance. To speak of “fascism” in connection with Landauer is ludicrous, and I honestly don’t think it’s worth much discussion.

It is a little more complicated when we talk about “Volk,” but in my opinion, a lot of the criticism is based on misunderstandings. Yes, Landauer has been accused of being “völkisch” — a key element of Nazi ideology and later nationalist movements, as it gives particular value to a community of people supposedly connected by a particular language, a particular culture, and a particular area of land, although there are variations in the exact definition. We have to be clear about a few things, though: The German “Volk” can refer to “people” as an exclusive and nationally defined group (this would be its völkisch dimension), but it can also refer to “people” as “ordinary folks” in opposition to “rulers.”

In the latter sense, “Volk” has always been a key term of the German left — the modern-day term “Volksküche,” a German form of Food Not Bombs, is just one example. Furthermore, especially before World War II, “Volk” has also been used as a mere synonym for “society.” For example, speaking of the “russische Volk” did not necessarily suggest that one was talking about a homogenous and exclusive group of people with a common heritage — one simply spoke about the people living in Russia.

In short, Landauer’s usage of the term does in no way indicate that he was “völkisch.” You will be hard-pressed to find any German authors of the time who did not use it, whether they wrote pulp fiction or Hegelian treatises. If you look at Landauer’s texts, it is obvious that he had nothing to do with the völkisch movement. Not only because there is a complete lack of references to it in his writings, but also because the frequent references to a universal “humankind” as the subject of liberation clearly contradict this.

The fact that Landauer embraced cultural diversity does not necessarily satisfy the critics. They might call him an early proponent of “ethno-pluralism”: the conviction that it is best for people to live in their own ethnic communities, separated from others. This is a somewhat sophisticated form of right-wing nationalism but Landauer never advocated anything like this. He did not just embrace the diversity of cultures but also the blend of cultures; he saw culture as dynamic, in a permanent state of flux and constantly recreated — just as peoples, by the way, which “Revolution” clearly reveals. In this sense, I would wholeheartedly agree with you that Landauer is a thinker who was opposed to all forms of nationalism and whose writings can still be used to oppose all forms of nationalism today.

As far as the romantic element in Landauer’s thought is concerned, we must avoid misunderstandings here, too. Landauer is no “dreamer.” Much rather, his romanticism ties into his utopianism, meaning into his insistence that ideas need to be kept alive even if they seem unattainable. This, to him, is the driving motor of history, the force behind every revolution. If we give up utopia, we reach the end of critical thought and political progress.

How this relates to Derrida and Žižek is difficult to say. I believe that Derrida was often too cautious in his political allusions. As I said, I appreciate Landauer’s careful and balanced tone, yet he did not shy away from making clear political statements when they seemed necessary. Žižek is very hard to pin down politically, which is probably part of his popularity with the academic and cultural elite. Personally, I’d be happy if he replaced the Stalin portrait in his apartment with a picture of Landauer.

Is it possible that Landauer, even in his early years, was influenced by Jewish mysticism? His view of the society as a living organism, his emphasis on love and brotherhood, some of his pantheistic ideas, his belief in the power of language, are in perfect resonance with the teaching of Kabbalah and Hasidism. In fact, some very similar proto-socialist ideas, influenced by the French Revolution, are found in an 18th-century kabbalistic book called “Seyfer ha-Bris” (“The Book of Covenant”). The author, Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, actually used the Germanic word “Bund” for the concept of self-organizing brotherly community in the original Yiddish preprint version of the book, pretty much in the same sense as Landauer.

My guess would be that the similarities stem from the similarities in mystic thought in general. According to my knowledge, the young Landauer was not well versed in the kabbalah and Hasidism. Judaism only started to play a role in his writing later in life. If he consciously avoided the topic at a young age, perhaps struggling with his Jewish identity, is hard to say. He met Martin Buber when he was 30 years old, and remained close to him throughout his life. He must have learned about Jewish mysticism in this relationship, even if it did not show in his publications or in his correspondence. The one mystical thinker he continuously referred to was Meister Eckhart, a Christian mystic from the late Middle Ages.

And finally, how did you become interested in Landauer?

I became interested in Landauer in high school, studying the history of German socialism. Together with Erich Mühsam, another important Jewish thinker and revolutionary, Landauer was the main representative of libertarian socialism in Germany. At the time, I only read the standard texts. During my university studies, Landauer played no central role; I focused on other periods and theorists. There is a Landauer quote in my thesis, though, which I guess indicates that he was always present in some way. I returned to more thorough Landauer studies a few years ago, when a friend of mine decided to publish a booklet with a few Landauer essays in San Francisco, asking me for help with the translations. It appeared to me that a fair amount of people bemoaned the lack of English Landauer translations, and I began to entertain the idea of putting together a more comprehensive collection. When the folks at PM Press signaled their support, the idea turned into reality. In the process, I was forced to read and study Landauer intensively, which I am glad for and I hope other people will be, too.

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Book Review: Don't Mourn, Balkanize!

By Jasmin Mujanovic
www.politicsrespun.org
December 7, 2010

Some thoughts on an important text.

The term “post-colonialism” is a misnomer. It implies that the age of colonialism has ended. Whether speaking of “humanitarian intervention”, “structural readjustment programs” or ethnic strife engineered by colonialist policies of “divide and conquer”, for the majority the world’s people the empire is as omnipresent a leviathan as it has ever been.

Grounds of occupation, however, are also the fertile soil of resistance. It is of this fact that we are repeatedly reminded in the recent anthology of commentaries by the historian, theorist and activist Andrej Grubačić: “Don’t Mourn, Balkanize! Essays after Yugoslavia.” Ostensibly a series of essays concerning the fate of the post-Yugoslav space, beginning in 2002 after the arrest and extradition of Slobodan Milošević and running into today, Grubačić’s text is as much the political memoir of a people betrayed (by leaders both foreign and domestic) as it is the potential anchor for a new anti-colonialist politics in the Balkans—of which Grubačić is both a chronicler of and participant in."Budi mi divan, i dobro mi stoj..."

Out of the sordid headlines of war, genocide, poverty and crime, there emerges here a different account of the Balkans. To Grubačić, the Balkans are “a space of bogumils—those medieval heretics who fought against Crusades and churches—and a place of anti-Ottoman resistance; a home to hajduks and klepths, pirates and rebels; a refuge of feminists and socialists, of antifascists and partisans; a place of dreamers of all sorts struggling both against provincial ‘peninsularity’ as well as against occupations, foreign interventions and that process which is now, in a strange inversion of history, often described with that fashionable phrase, ‘balkanization.’” It this account that is at the heart of Grubačić’s text and at the heart of his political project.

He rejects the racist, colonialist conception of “balkanization” as a process by which “ancient, ethnic hatreds” lead to a process of chauvinistic fragmentation—usually juxtaposed to enlightened, Anglo-European federalization and unification. Grubačić terms this account as “balkanization from above”—Orientalist, colonialist, racist literature acting as the bulwark for the like policies advanced by the European Union and United States, particularly in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo.

He contrasts it, on the other hand, with what he terms “balkanization from below”:  “I…[describe] balkanization from below as a narrative that insists on social and cultural affinities, as well as on customs in common resulting from interethnic mutual aid and solidarity, and resulting in what can be termed an interethnic self-activity, one that was severed through the Euro-colonial intervention.” The historical legacy on which Grubačić draws is that of the Balkan Federation, in his version, an essentially anarchist project: a Balkan Federation of peoples, with no nations or states, organized regionally and organically for mutual aid and empowerment, “a world where many worlds fit.”

The 90s were catastrophe for the Yugoslav space, in every conceivable sense of the term. What has followed since—colonial occupation and dispossession buttressed by ethno-nationalist quislings—has only exacerbated those wounds. There are few regions of the world so wholly subsumed by racist, colonialist narratives as the Balkans and, in particular, the Yugoslav region. We are the perennial barbarians. And whether Slovenes, Croats, Bosniaks, Serbs, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Kosovars, Jews, Roma or any other of the multitude of peoples that have called the region home, we remain savages. Peoples to be occupied, to be liberated from our own selves and our own histories, and to be taught the ways of civilization. It is in the Roman campaigns in Dalmatia that the phrase “divide and conquer” was born—this fundamentally colonialist project has remained a defining feature of this space, whether the occupiers have been Roman, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, fascist, or, as they are today, Anglo-European. The history of the Balkans has been the history of successive occupations but also successive liberations.

It is to this perennial desire for emancipation that Grubačić most astutely alerts us to. It is a lesson for all peoples, not merely those struggling under the yoke of occupation. Without minimizing the particular brutality of personal experience, it is through understanding ourselves as part of a process, a history, a tradition, as part of movements past, present and movements yet to emerge that our sense of self can be a project for liberation. As Grubačić notes, if the reality of today is not the one which desire “it follows that our duty, our only duty, is to fight to make it our reality tomorrow.”

Grubačić’s work is both an important chronicle of contemporary anti-colonial struggles in the Balkans and a critical text in shaping an emergent “balkanized” vision for the region and its peoples; an indigenous call to arms from which all stand to learn.





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Subversive Coloring Book a Holiday Treat

By Billie Wharton
www.socialistwebzine.com

Searching for a Christmas present that will help your children challenge the heterosexual norms of the nuclear family? This may not seem like a typical holiday season consideration, but for left-wing parents buying a gift for their children can mean a treacherous navigation through a world of militarism, frozen gender roles and idiocy (see the popular szu-szu pet). Luckily, our friends at PM Press have just the trick. A subversive coloring book that re-engineers popular fairy tales.

Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away With Another Spoon was written by Jacinta Bunnell and illustrated by Nathaniel Kusinitz. Bunnell states in a short intro that what draws her to creating things for children “is the all out cross-dressing, binary-smashing disregard for gender norms” that children embrace.

And there is plenty of traffic across traditional gender roles here. A mighty monster who prefers petite dresses and a fancy dog to scaring people. A wedding cake with the inscription “Marriage is so gay” below it. And a smiling boy dressed as Wonder Woman above the line “Not every little boy wants to be Superman when he grows up.”

Each page contains these smartly drawn punk rock cartoons that challenge traditional gender politics in an obvious, but not overbearing manner. You get the feeling that this book is more about the fun of childhood than any grownup agenda. Yet, it will produce many teachable moments.

My 5 year-old daughter was particular drawn to a page that features a cute princess puckering up for a kiss with a frog. The air bubble above the princess expresses her true desires for a non-traditional outcome to her magical smooch. “I hope it’s another princess, I hope it’s another princess…” My daughter laughed out loud, before asking a series of questions. What a wonderfully disarming way to begin such a conversation.

So, if you are looking for a Holiday present that offers a bit more than empty kicks Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away With Another Spoon might be an excellent fit. Good for a conversation piece with friends or as an educational resource for subversive youth. And anyway as my daughter observed, “It’s cute!”

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