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Singing songs for the people: James Connolly comes to life in a new book of revolutionary songs

By Aaron Leonard
rabble.ca
October 30th, 2013

PM Press has just released Songs of Freedom: The James Connolly Song Book, edited by Mat Callahan, with an introduction by Theo Dorgan and foreward by James Connolly Heron.

Connolly, was an Irish revolutionary leader executed for his role in the Easter Uprising of 1916. He was also a passionate lyricist, penning numerous revolutionary songs as well as popularizing others. While his memory and work are retained in the collective consciousness in certain quarters -- not the least being Ireland -- much of this body of work has been diffused if not up to now, lost outright.

The singer-songwriter Mat Callahan has recently completed a project bringing this work together into a single volume with an accompanying music CD. Aaron Leonard recently corresponded with him via e-mail to ask about the project.
 
In his introduction, the poet and writer Theo Dorgan writes, "The trouble with Connolly in our time is he has become a hollow icon, a kind of ancestor figure to the Left, of no real substance to many who invoke his name save as a touchstone of legitimacy in a certain kind of politics." Who was James Connolly?

[Dorgan] is writing from an Irish perspective in which Connolly’s role is harder to ignore than it might be elsewhere. And [Dorgan] is undoubtedly right since Connolly’s character, his incorruptibility and exemplary courage make him somewhat of an "impossible ideal" in today’s toxic political landscape. Venality and betrayal so dominate the scene that Connolly has either to be written out of history altogether or he must be made a saint to whom one can confess one’s sins while continuing to commit them.

Fortunately, we have Connolly’s own writings to judge his merits by [and] it is the accuracy of Connolly’s analysis and the clarity of his argument that make him important historically [and as a figure] of current and future struggles for human liberation.

Connolly was a revolutionary because reform meant surrender to perpetual servitude. He was a socialist because the private appropriation of wealth meant the immiseration of the people who in fact produce that wealth. And he was an internationalist because nationalism pitted worker against worker, a situation he saw first hand in Ireland and with even greater force on his visit to America.

Connolly was brilliant, without a doubt. Born into dire poverty in Edinburgh, self-educated, but becoming an important scholar and political theorist. Connolly was also steeped in the lessons of concrete struggles to organize the workers of Scotland, England and later on, Ireland and the U.S.

A student of Karl Marx, Connolly went on to creatively analyze the situation Ireland found itself in and to articulate positions regarding national liberation that were prescient, foretelling to a large extent, the great wave of independence movements that swept the world following WWII.
 
As the introduction notes some of the lyrics contain a "fluffy sentimentality" stamped by the period, yet the sentiment is sound and there remains a core vitality. For example, the "Rebel Song" is pretty direct, when he talks about "A song of love and hate," but the line that grabbed my attention was where he writes that the hands of greed are, "Stretched to rob the living and the dead." It sounds like he understood something about how capitalism operates.

What informed his writing and how did he see the role of song, compared to how we see it today?

Connolly was inspired by his involvement with the IWW [Industrial Workers of the World]. The use of songs had become a mainstay of labor organizing in the multinational-multilingual U.S. working class. Linguistic divisions could be overcome by music; solidarity and a fighting spirit could be encouraged by people singing together.

Connolly produced the original Songs of Freedom while in New York, in 1907 [and] it is from this song book that Connolly’s most famous pronouncement regarding music was drawn, the essence of which was, no revolutionary movement worthy of the name can be without its poetic expression. Without joyous, defiant singing it is the dogma of the few and not the faith of the many.
 
How did you get involved in this project and how did you end up uncovering and compiling all this material?

The short version is I wanted to celebrate my 60th birthday by singing revolutionary songs. I also had a bunch of Irish friends and fond memories of James Connolly from my youth. My stepfather held Connolly in high regard, impressing upon me the importance of Connolly’s ideas.

So, I set out to find Songs of Freedom only to be told by a bookseller in County Mayo that I wasn’t going to find it. He was the first to explain that the only existing copy was in Ireland’s National Library. So, I purchased the next best thing, which was the James Connolly Songbook published by the Cork Workers’ Club in 1972 and reprinted in 1980. The texts in this collection were what we based the bulk of the program on.

There are literally thousands of Irish revolutionary songs, but [we] felt it crucial to focus on Connolly. This was partly because we didn’t want to pander to nostalgic longings for an Ireland that never was and partly because under current circumstances Connolly’s diagnosis and cure for what ails Ireland are all too timely.
 
What kind of reaction are you getting to the book, both in Ireland and other places?


So far, overwhelmingly positive. Whatever one may think of Connolly’s ideas, the fact that the contents of this book are of great archival value and have been virtually unavailable for a century is significant. Even if one’s interest is confined to Irish or Labor history, or perhaps, popular song in political movements, there is crucial material here that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.

The real test, though, will be how young people receive this. Though the song book is historically significant in its own right, the urgent need for new generations to unearth Connolly’s ideas and grapple with them is even greater. It’s too soon to say but I’m optimistic that such interest will be ignited.
 
Why did you chose to include "A Rebel Song" and "Shake Your Banners" on the CD and what were the challenges in translating them?

We had to consider different problems when choosing the songs. One was time constraint [and the other] of musical and thematic variety. A third was how to make the songs "singable" by people today --especially those who had never heard of Connolly.

There are 19 songs by Connolly in the James Connolly Songbook. We narrowed it down to 13 songs, eight by Connolly, three about Connolly and one, "The Red Flag," that was by Jim Connell and was in the original Songs of Freedom.

We had the problem of choosing from among lyrics that had similar themes. Looking for the broadest possible subject matter meant choosing not to do certain songs because they [were repetitious]. But "A Rebel Song" I knew to be one of Connolly’s first and best known lyrics. "Shake Out Your Banners," was just a catchy, rousing title that got me started on some music.
 
We are a long way from 1902; there is no revolutionary worker’s movement, the notion of a socialist society let alone communism is scorned if not ignored entirely, and even the most radical forces today argue for an "anti-capitalism" that too often means radical reformism rather than an elimination of the whole mess of systematic surplus value accumulation.

In other words there seems to be no alternative that breaks with the dominant one. So what does James Connolly have to teach us in 2013?


Actually, Connolly faced no less daunting obstacles than those we face today. He was on the fringes of the socialist movement worldwide due to his advocacy of a revolutionary alternative to imperialist war.

Furthermore, the analysis that led him to launch the Easter Rising -- which was doomed from the start -- was visionary and little understood at the time or since. Connolly was among the few who realized that the British Empire could only be effectively challenged when it was preoccupied with inter-imperialist war. [He] was convinced it was in the interests of the great cause of human emancipation that an attempt be made even if it were to fail.

I am convinced he was right. Furthermore, I am convinced that anyone who reads the programme of the Irish Socialist Republican Party of 1896 [which is excerpted in the introduction] will see the practical solutions to Ireland's current problems. From the abolition of private banks to free universal education through the college level, there are concrete policies that would go a long way to improving the lives of the common Irish person today.

Even more important is that Connolly combined a scholars’ dedication to history’s dynamics with the ability to communicate clearly to working people. His quest for truth did not make him an isolated, ivory-tower academic. He wrote powerfully, but he also brought these writings directly to the workers -- a lesson that we certainly can learn from today.

Connolly’s vision of the future, while certainly incomplete, was nonetheless inspiring. In the nobility of its aims it captured the potential residing in human beings and in our struggle.

Connolly grasped a truth amidst the ruins of centuries of resistance, rebellion and revolution.

Human emancipation is possible but it is made so, in part, by our ability to envision a better world. Therefore, it is necessary to continuously raise fundamental issues of equality, justice and human solidarity as a measure of our own actions and those of people claiming to represent us.

Holding everyone to these standards it not only a moral question but one of great practical import in evaluating what course to take at any given time. This is what Connolly has to teach us today.

Mat Callahan
 is a musician and author originally from San Francisco, where he founded Komotion International. He is the author of three books, Sex, Death & the Angry Young Man, Testimony, and The Trouble With Music. He currently resides in Bern, Switzerland.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Buy CD now | Back to Mat Callahan's Author Page




Ken Macleod, The Human front plus...in Peace News

By Gabriel Carlyle
PeaceNews
May 2013

'What if something that didn't happen had happened differently?' is the tricksy question at the heart of Scottish Trotskyist Ken Macleod's 2001 sci-fi novella The Human Front, re-printed here alongside two short essays and an interview with the author.

Like the shark in Jaws, the non-event in question is not revealed immediately, but its consequences are on display from page one.

It is 1963, and our narrator John Matheson - then a young boy living on the Isle of Lewis - hears Stalin's death announced on the radio. The former dictator has just been killed, shot in the back whilst fleeing from US soldiers.

Moscow, we learn, was destroyed by atomic bombing in 1949 ('Operation Dropshot') following the arrival of on the scene of a new Advanced High Altitude Bomber - a circular machine powered by a mysterious 'anti-gravity engine'. When one of the bombers crash-lands at the local NATO base, our protagonist is shocked to discover that the craft was flown by tiny child-like figures....

Stalin survived the destruction of Moscow to become a guerilla leader, and the Chinese revolution still took place, but, without a Chinese or Soviet nuclear deterrent to constrain them, the West has been free to use its nuclear weapons to defend its imperial possessions (during an argument between the narrator and his father we learn that Magnitogorsk, Dien Bien Phu, Belgrade and Kinshasa have all met similar fates to Moscow).

Consequently, de-colonisation - and all its knock-on consequences - never happened.

On the other hand, without the divisions caused by the Sino-Soviet split, the Communist movement has emerged to lead a unified, militant global uprising ('the human front') against Western imperialism. Or, as Macleod himself puts it in one of the accompanying essays: 'There's no Vietnam War in this world - instead, the world becomes Vietnam.'

Following an encounter with a charismatic Argentinian orator named Ernesto Lynch (google him!) our protagonist is converted to the cause, starting him down a path that leads from graffiti ('Free Dubchek') to blowing up a railway bridge with a band of partisans and wreaking havoc with a captured tank. However it's only when he downs one of the saucer-shaped aircraft that things really start to get weird....

As should already be apparent, much of the fun stems from Macleod's savvy left-wing stance on 20th century politics and the ways in which his alternate history intersects with our own. For example, at one point Matheson informs us 'News items that raised questions about the war's conduct and its domestic repercussions were few: the Pauling trial... the occasional allusion to a speech by Foot in the Commons or Wedgwood Benn in the Lords.'

Likewise, Operation Dropshot was the codename of a real US contingency plan for nuclear war against the Soviet Union (prepared in 1949), and Western powers really did consider using nuclear weapons against the Third World (at Dien Bien Phu and elsewhere).

Given his politics, I suspect that Macleod has little time for nonviolent revolution (guerilla warfare is the natural strategy for his global insurrectionaries). Nonetheless, PN readers should still find this a politically thought-provoking - as well as entertaining - read.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Ken MacLeod's Author Page




Queen of the Neighbourhood Collective, 'Revolutionary Women'

By Gabriel Carlyle
PeaceNews
February 2013

Black women's movement and civil rights activist Olive Morris - who became a symbol of the squatting movement in '70s Brixton - is one of 30 women profiled and 'icon-brush[ed] ... with Che Guevara glam' in the Queen of the Neighbourhood Collective's book of stencil designs, Revolutionary Women, inspired by the question 'Who and where are our revolutionary women icons?' Others featured include Egyptian feminist Doria Shafik, who led the 1951 storming of the Egyptian parliament by 1,500 women, and Dutch resistance fighter Hanni Schaft, the only woman out of 422 resistance fighters whose bodies were recovered from dunes near Overveen after the war. (Her last words to her executioners, as the first bullet only grazed her, were 'I shoot better than you!')

Moving stories abound. Nonetheless, as the authors make clear, there is an important distinction between icon and heroine, and not all of those featured are held up for our admiration - a crucial fact that is probably lost if the images are used as intended. Though a small number of those featured were committed to exclusively nonviolent means, many more were engaged in armed resistance, leading this reader to ponder 'Who and where are our female icons of revolutionary nonviolence?' Another book beckons perhaps....

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to the Author's Page




We Have Not Been Moved in Peace News

By Ian Sinclair
PeaceNews
February 2013



Taking its cue from Martin Luther King's famous 1967 speech denouncing the war in Vietnam, We Have Not Been Moved focuses on the resistance to both racism and militarism in the United States.

The three editors - all experienced activists - have collated 90 contributions looking at the connections and cleavages between the two issues, including the over-representation of ethnic minorities fighting in the armed forces, government money funding aggressive wars overseas rather than domestic social programmes and the overwhelmingly white make-up of the peace movement.

At 582 pages it's a daunting book. However, there is much of interest in the long-form essays, articles, interviews, photos, poems, manifestos and dialogues from both well-known and less well known activists. Barbara Deming's moving first-hand account of a mixed race peace walk in the Deep South in the early 1960s is a real pleasure to read, as is Dave Dellinger's thoughtful reflection on the class dynamics of anti-war groups. Another highlight is anarchist Chris Crass's very practical guide 'Tools For White Guys Who Are Working For Social Change'. As these contributions suggest the title doesn't fully do justice to the book's varied concerns - a significant number of contributors have a deep interest in revolutionary nonviolence.

There is a helpful biography of each contributor at the back of the book but frustratingly there is a real lack of contextual information to assist understanding. For example, many of the contributions are not dated or introduced by the editors, and the extensive number of archaic acronyms used is likely to confuse and impede readers' comprehension. Bizarrely an interview about the All-African People's Revolutionary Party includes a (surely-unneeded) footnote spread over two pages listing over 100 sympathetic groups around the world. In addition the US-centric nature of the book means an existing knowledge of activism across the pond is essential to fully get to grips with the subject matter.

Perhaps best used as a resource to dip in and out of for ideas and arguments, We Have Not Been Moved may be unwieldy but it has lots to offer activists across the globe interested in the important and evolving relationship between racism and militarism.

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




Oscar Lopez Rivera, Between Torture and Resistance Reviewed in Peace News

By Ian Sinclair
PeaceNews
September 2013

Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera has the dubious distinction of being one of the longest-serving political prisoners in the world.

Having served in the US army in Vietnam, Rivera returned to Chicago and started working to improve living conditions for Puerto Ricans in the city.

Radicalised during this period, he became a forceful advocate for Puerto Rican independence from the United States. Facing police repression, Rivera went underground for several years. In 1981, he was captured and imprisoned for conspiring 'to overthrow by force the authority of the United States over Puerto Rico'. In prison, he has faced inhuman and degrading treatment and a considerable amount of solitary confinement. His release date is currently set for 2023, by which time he will be 80 years old.

Compiled by lawyer Luis Nieves Falcon from letters, commentary and speeches, Between Torture and Resistance is 'part postcard from prison, part lyrical prose'. It's an odd mix and a somewhat disjointed read.

I found the contextual sections written by Falcon to be frustratingly romantic and incomplete. The saint-like descriptions of Rivera sit uneasily with testimony from Rivera himself that suggests weapons were found when he was arrested. 'No more than a weapons collector would have at home', he notes.

Certainly, the independence group he is reported (by the New York Times) to have been part of undertook many bombings, although Rivera denies any connection. At his trial Rivera made an impressive statement referring to his 'revolutionary principles' and declared himself a prisoner of war. What these principles might be are never explored. And despite numerous references to Puerto Rico being a colony, its history is never summarised for those, such as this reviewer, who are largely ignorant of it.

The book is strongest when Rivera is reflecting on his physical and psychological imprisonment. 'They will never be able to break my spirit or my will. Every day I wake up alive is a blessing', he affirms. Activists involved with political prisoners will be interested to see that activism does make a difference - his conditions improved in 1997 because of pressure being applied to the US government, he says. And all activists will surely be heartened by Rivera's seemingly never-ending resolve: 'It is much easier not to struggle, to give up and take the path of the living dead. But if we want to live, we must struggle.'

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Oscar López Rivera's Author Page |
Back to Luis Nieves Falcón's Author Page
Back to Matt Meyer's Author Page




Uniting to Win: A Review of Chris Crass' "Toward Collective Liberation"

By Jason Hurd
TruthOut
September 22nd, 2013

As a white Southern man, military veteran and organizer, I remain deeply aware of the race and gender inequalities that structure American society, my own local community and our actions worldwide. This awareness comes from my own active participation in and subsequent reflection on such systems.

My East Tennessee upbringing rooted me in these concepts of oppression and hate; my parents and friends taught me white supremacy, homophobia and gender inequality from an early age.

My military experience exposed me to new people and ideas. Nonetheless, racism fundamentally structured my 2004 military deployment to Iraq, where American soldiers regularly used terms like "Haji" when referring to Iraqi citizens. I joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) in 2007, seeking a movement that challenges oppression and militaristic American values. Our work often presents a daunting task, and I, like many organizers, struggle to find the mentorship, skills and vision needed for success.

I struggle with questions of leadership, organizational development, strategy and privilege. What is my role in creating change? How can I support the leadership of historically marginalized people? How can we create powerful, dynamic movements to achieve our goals? How do we counter the divide-and-conquer strategy of the power elite? Where can a new organizer find the right guidance? Where can experienced organizers look for encouragement, inspiration and growth?

Author Chris Crass recently has written an honest, humble and inspiring book on social movement building titled Toward Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy available for $20 from PM Press. I recommend this book to change-makers and organizations at any stage of development, especially to those working in majority-white or male-dominated communities.

This collection of Crass' essays and interviews with other highly skilled organizers provides deep insights, showing how anti-racist, feminist practice helps our movements win by transforming the systems that divide us and undermine our collective success. Crass' writings push me to examine my own life - my upbringing, military experience and subsequent activism - seeking lessons that illuminate a vision for the world we need as well as the pathway to realize that vision.

Crass' title recalls feminist author bell hooks' concept of collective liberation - the idea that systems of oppression cut across lines of difference like race, class, gender and sexuality - thus my own freedom from oppression remains deeply connected with yours despite any difference. For Crass, "[i]f systems of liberation are connected, then we must help white people, men, and middle- and upper-class people create and win these systems and go through a transformative process of change while working for systemic change."

Toward Collective Liberation calls on white people to "develop anti-racist consciousness that unites them with communities of color working for justice." Crass states his broader purpose early on: "The primary goal of Toward Collective Liberation is to help our movements further develop the visions, strategies, cultures, organizations, practices, and relationships we need to build and win a democratic and socialist society."

Crass addresses the question of how we build a liberated society by acknowledging that we constantly reproduce systems of oppression in our own movement work. Crass' worldview prioritizes openness, honesty, vulnerability, action and reflection. He focuses on how we learn both individually and collectively, stating:

One of the key lessons throughout this book is that we do not simply come up with answers to the questions before us and apply them. Our answers are continually evolving through a process of studying, developing ideas, putting them into practice, reflecting on our practice, getting feedback on our practice, drawing lessons, and further developing our beliefs and strategies accordingly. [...] But to build broad support for anti-racism in white communities and feminism among men, it is also necessary to move large numbers of white people and men into active participation in a multiracial, feminist movement for democracy and socialism; intervening on oppression, then, is necessary, but not enough.

Crass' essays and interviews build momentum by mirroring a developmental path similar to what any activist or organization might experience. The reader not only gets a sense of what it's like to move from being a new activist to an experienced organizer but also what it's like to move from being a young, chaotic organization to a more mature, highly functional and visionary one.

Crass spends substantial time discussing his own personal development throughout the 1990s as well as the organizational development of San Francisco Food Not Bombs (SF FNB). Within that narrative, he discusses FNB's larger role helping build the anarchist Left, showing how FNB functions as an important gateway for activists. He highlights years of important organizing work, drawing out many lessons concerning organizational structure and leadership development.

Crass also demonstrates the overt and subtle ways that white heterosexual male privilege negatively impacts social justice work and provides detailed descriptions of how SF FNB took measures to check privilege, create accountability, and build a more inclusive, democratic organizational structure.

Toward Collective Liberation
shifts gears in later chapters by highlighting advanced, visionary organizing work - organizations and individuals working across the country to build collective liberation values, vision and strategy among progressive left circles and white communities.
Cutting-edge groups like the Catalyst Project and the Heads Up Collective illustrate how collective liberation values can strengthen the anti-war movement and help end American militarism.

Oregon's Rural Organizing Project uncovers how white, working-class, rural communities can build solidarity with queer communities, people of color and immigrant farm-workers. An interview with Carla Wallace of the Fairness Campaign in Louisville, Kentucky, reveals how multiracial alliances with the LGBTQ community can shift power in the Southeastern United States.

Organizers from the Groundwork Collective underscore lessons learned during the Wisconsin Uprisings and the Occupy movement, showing how change-makers can seize opportunities "in a way that builds for a broader vision of racial, economic, and social justice."

Why should you read a book on this topic by a middle-class white guy? You could instead read any number of books on this topic written by people from marginalized communities. What does Crass uniquely provide that hasn't been said before, and why is this perspective valuable? (I credit my partner Rushelle Frazier and fellow IVAW leader Joyce Wagner for pushing me on this question. Our discussions on Toward Collective Liberation highlighted this particular question's importance while also providing insights and answers.)

First, readers should absolutely study the works of marginalized communities; their perspectives remain indispensable guideposts along the path that ends patriarchal white supremacy. But Crass' writing targets specific audiences: white males, those working in majority-white or male-dominated communities and folks looking to understand how privilege specifically impacts movement building.

White people in our movements too often dismiss issues of race and privilege, particularly when confronted by people of color. Heterosexual men regularly dismiss issues of gender and sexuality, particularly when confronted by women or the LGBTQ community. Many of us tend to ignore the existence and complexities of our own privilege, and we easily ignore the problems and experiences of people who do not resemble us.

But Crass argues that white men can play an important role by speaking to other white men, helping them understand their own privilege and learn what it looks like to take action that challenges systemic oppression. Crass repeats this important lesson throughout the book: People of color cannot end white supremacy; only white people can choose to do that. Likewise, women cannot end patriarchy; only men can choose to do that.

Crass demonstrates how white people and men can successfully fulfill this important role, and the book's usefulness comes from its ability to guide and catalyze movement building toward a liberated society. Toward Collective Liberation gives me fresh ideas for engaging my own local community and the larger military community where I organize. The book leaves me with a strong sense of hope, pondering questions and possibilities for the future.

How can East Tennessee become a diverse, multiracial, empowering community based on compassion and love? How can I support women, people of color and gender-queer folks already taking the lead locally in East Tennessee? How can IVAW (or any organization) model the society we want, creating space for diverse leadership? What if military communities model this same diversity instead of reproducing white hetero-normativity? More largely, what would it look like when our country eradicates structural racism within our prison systems, our military ranks and foreign policy abroad? Wouldn't our world change substantially for the better? Could mass incarceration and modern American warfare even exist?

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




"...might just be one of my favorite books of all time"

by Qristina
Golden Zephyr
October 3rd, 2013

"Cazzarola!: Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy" by Norman Nawrocki, might just be one of my favorite books of all time. When I first sat down to read, I wasn't really hoping for much - another story with Gypsy characters as stereotypical tropes filling a need for mystery, intrigue, and danger.

But cazzo!!!! I was so spectacularly and pleasantly surprised!

Spanning 130 years in the life of the Discordias, a family of Italian anarchists, Cazzarola! Is at once a leap into Italian history and politics, as well as a romantic journey with a couple who simply should not be together.

Many historical novels are dry, as bitter as the politics they write about and as shriveled as the bodies that once inhabited it. But Cazzarola! is different; it's juicy, full of life and surprisingly sweet moments that catch you unaware.

I love history, it's true. But, I love accurate and thoughtful portrayals of my people better. I'm often asked for book recommendations that include Romani characters, particularly women. Well, dear readers HERE IS THAT BOOK. From the moment I read about Cinka, I was hooked.

She was shy. I was patient. I bought her coffee and sandwiches and hung around. We talked music, philosophy, history. She's smart, a real thinker with opinions about everything.

Cinka is a Gypsy and proud of it. Not your stereotypical fortune-telling Gypsy. Not at all. She's a "Romani" - the correct term for her and her people.

It's not often that we're portrayed as smart, education, and independent. In between passages on 20th century factory strikes and occupations, armed anarchist militias, and contemporary neofascist violence, Antonio Discordia and Cinka Dinicu attempt to make a forbidden life together work.

He is a gadjo and she is a Romani in Italy - a country not known for it's kindness towards immigrants, especially Roman. Antonio must come to understand the hatred and discrimination Cinka faces, and likewise, she must learn to trust him. I have never read a more delicate portrayal of a Romani woman in my life. Her strength, resilience and brilliance shine. She mades me proud of who I am, which is hard to do, never mind through the pages of a book.

I highly recommend to Roma and non-Roma alike. With the rise of neo-Nazi and neofascist groups (such as the Golden Dawn and the Jobbik Party) throughout Europe, this book is definitely timely and a must read. It's a history lesson and a lesson about racism, love and fighting for what you believe in at all cost.

Cazzarola! presents Roamni culture and history as if you didn't know anything, but not in a way that spells out each individual moment since our leaving India. It is a book that, as a Romani, let me enjoy the accurate and beautiful portrayal of another Romani woman.

We have a saying in my family, " "Chines church, e duke pes pretzel. Chines laveha, e duke achel" - a wound from a knife fades away; a wound from a word remains. So many books leave such painful scars, but Cazzarola! had me laughing, crying and cursing out loud.

Don't take my word for it, please READ IT FOR YOURSELF!

[There is also a soundtrack for the book coming out later this month! EXCITED!!!]

Buy Cazzarola! now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Norman Nawrocki's page




Red Army Faction V1 & V2 Reviewed in Turning the Tide

by Michael Novick
Turning the Tide
October-December 2013
Volume 26, Number 4

Far from being a relic of the '60s and '70s, the German Red Army Faction (RAF), an urban guerrilla formation in the "metropole" of imperialism, has continued to be a target of state repression well into the 21st Century. In a 2010 statement issued by "some who have been RAF members at various points in time," they addressed the prosecution of a former RAF member, who had secretly become a cooperating "crown witness" years before, for the assassination of German Attorney General Siegfried Buback more than 30 years ago. They wrote: "The apparent purpose is to obtain individual 'recriminations,' i.e. to pressurize individuals to say who exactly did what…Not enough that we have stated our collective responsibility for the attaches of the RAF. We should 'finally' squeal in order to 'give up the logic of conspiracy,'" They describe the effort by the state and the corporate media to reduce their struggle to personal aberrations, an effort that goes back to the bourgeois designation of the RAF as the "Baader-Meinhof Gang," after the names of two of their founding members.

They continued, "What it is really all about is to pull…the debate on the history of armed struggle [down] to the mere level of murder and violence… The RAF was dissolved in 1998, based on its assessment of the changed political situation globally. The fact that it was its own decision and that it has not been defeated by the state, obviously remains a throne in the flesh [of the state]. Hence the eternal lament of the "myth" yet to be destroyed. Hence the political and moral capitulation demanded from us. Hence the attempts to finalize the criminalization of our history…Whereas the search for those who are still underground, the smear campaigns in the media and the legal procedures against former prisoners continue, we are expected to kowtow publicly. As in all those years, it didn't work by 'renunciation,' we are now to denounce each other."

They explained why they continue to refuse to testify. "Not to testify is not a RAF invention. It has been an experience of the liberation movements and guierilla groups that it is vital to provide no information whatsoever when in custody, in order to protect those who continue the struggle. We have the historical examples of the resistance against fascism… Bust also like this. We don't testify because we are no state witnesses, not then, not now."

"Through all these years, despite 'screen search' technologies, the highly armed state security apparatus hasn't been able to obtain a reasonably comprehensive picture of our movements…The bits and pieces put together by state security agencies haven't been very useful for general counterinsurgency purposes. They have no clue of the approach, the organization, the traces, the dialectics of an urban guerrilla in the metropolis. And there is no reason to help them out on this…The RAF's collective structure has been attacked right from the start. It was not supposed to exist, it had to be old school, authoritarian relationships, 'officers and soldiers,' ringleaders and followers. Those were the compulsory terms for the police, for the propaganda, and those are their terms today. The judiciary, however…was lacking evidence in court due to our lack of collaboration. Its solution was the 'conspiracy' paragraph 129/129a, with which everyone could be made responsible for everything. That's what the verdicts have been based on…In contrast, testimonies which we sometimes provided in the trials against us, during the years of prison, have been determined collectively, as a possibility to say something against the worst shithouse propaganda."

They concluded: "We were in prison because we started armed struggle over here, and our interest during the trials in court was, at best, to convey the contents and aims of our policy. A policy of attach in the metropolis which understood and determined its praxis in the context of struggles worldwide for liberation from capitalism."

This represents the strength of political commitment demonstrated by the RAF through torturous, sensory-deprivation isolation incarceration, being "suicided" in prison, and continuing almost 35 years after the creation of the organization in the face of continuing persecution. It demonstrated why they merit serious study of the content and history of their political thinking, practice and development.

That study has been well served by the "Documentary History" of the Red Army Faction being meticulously produced by J. Smith and Andrew Moncourt, with two volumes completed and a third in preparation (probably some additional years until publication). Profusely illustrated, and carefully researched, the books present the RAF in their own words and in well-explicated context. Smith and Moncourt's narrative amounts to a history of mid- to late-20th Century imperialism from the perspective of the so-called "Federal Republic" of West Germany (plus West Berlin, a separate entity until the reunification of Germany after rthe communist East German Democratic Republic was absorbed).

Its relevance today is magnified by the central role the series of hunger strikes by the imprisoned members of the RAF played in exposing the militarist nature of the German state, and in helping to attract new combatants to the ranks of the "guerrilla" in Germany and throughout Western Europe. We have recently seen in California the power of that bodies-on-the-line commitment by prisoners to impact consciousness, not only in the prisons, but also on the streets. The RAF's prescience about the offense-oriented nature of the NATO alliance also makes its analyses important reading today.

It's impossible to summarize such  voluminous work. The division into 3 volumes roughly parallels the history of the RAF in three periods, or generations. The first is from their founding until the 1977 kidnapping and killing of German industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer and the deaths in prison of many of the allegedly leading RAF members. The second is from that point through the 1984 arrests of(unbeknownst to the state a the time) virtually the entire ranks of combatants then in the field. They were attempting to put into practice a plan to develop a "front" between the German guerrilla and both similar formations in other mostly European countries and semi-legal anti-imperialist and radical groups. The third volume will address the period from the second reconstitution of the RAF from a major counter-offensive in 1984 through the group's self-dissolution in 1998.

The question of whether and how armed struggle relates to the much different political circumstances of the 21st Century is a critical one. Even more important is the question of what politics can quire the development of a successful strategy for revolution change and develop appropriate tactics, as well as undertake the necessary transformation and development of committed, consistent and capable revolutionaries.

Smith and Moncourt's detailed, methodical presentation of this history provides valuable insights, including into the differing politics that guided various German clandestine and semi-clandestine armed struggle groups and actions over almost two decades. In addition to the RAF, the June 2nd Movement (2JM), the Revolutionary Cells (RZ) and their women's off-shoot Rote Zora built fairly consolidated underground formation from different political and organizational perspectives. Thousands of other armed and otherwise illegal actions were carried out by elements of the German anti-imperialist and autonomist movements between the late '60s and the '90s.

Analyzing the strengths and weaknesses, the differences - particularly between "social revolutionary" and "anti-imperialist" orientations - and their impact, can make a vital contribution to understanding the true nature of our enemy, and the most effective strategy for defeating it once and for all. The contradiction between the "autonomist" and "anti-imp" tendencies in the German movement, paralleled similar differences between guerrilla groupings.

A similar division, minus the armed underground organizations, existed in the South Korean movements against militarism and dictatorship, between "national liberation" and "peoples democracy" formations (see my review of Asia's Unknown Uprisings in the last issue of TTT). The comparison of the South Korean and German movements over roughly the same time period also highlights the necessity of correctly linking clandestine guerrilla capacity and mass insurrectionary activity. Deeper study and struggle aimed at developing a revolutionary synthesis of all necessary aspects of understanding both the Empire and how to defeat it is an essential part of a current revolutionary process.

Smith and Moncourt have made and are making a tremendous contribution to that process, and to recuperating the lessons that the RAF and others learned at a tremendous cost. Learning about and from the contributions and errors, the successes and failures, of past revolutionary efforts, can contribute mightily to ending all forms of oppression and exploitation, and to the ultimate triumph of the forces of decolonization, liberation, and a better sustainable world.

Buy RAF Volume 1 book now| Buy RAF Volume 1 e-Book now | Buy RAF Volume 2 now | Buy RAF Volume 2 e-Book now




This Weekend I’ll Also be Listening to…Songs of Freedom from the James Connolly Songs of Freedom Band

The Cedar Lounge Revolution
September 28th, 2013

Given that we’re listening to Patti Smith today it seems only appropriate to consider some more politically inflected music. Here is a very positive endeavour, a CD and reprint of the James Connolly Songbook. They’re going on sale at €10 for the book and €12 for the CD and I’ve been given a copy of both and I have to admit they’re great. The book is produced by PM Books in Oakland, a publisher that seeks to ‘create radical fiction and non-fiction books’ to ‘deliver political and challenging ideas to all walks of life’.

They’ve succeeded brilliantly in the book which is a facsimile reproduction, right down to advertising, of the original 1907 New York printing, and in addition to that a 1919 Connolly Souvenir program, for a concert that commemorated the birth of Connolly. There’s also a preface by Theo Dorgan, a Foreword by James Connolly Heron and an Introduction by editor Mat Callahan (for an overview of his interesting career see here).

In a way this sort of approach, one which engages with the material conditions of life that would have been experienced by workers at that time is one which aligns with the intention of the Left Archive, the idea that it’s not just the text that is important, but also the physicality of a document, the way it is produced, the images used, the advertising – if any, that builds up into a coherent picture of what it was like to read it for the first time.

Even better again the accompanying CD has a wide range of songs, as the sleeve notes say, nine with lyrics written by Connolly, three written about him and “The Red Flag”.

As Connolly himself wrote in 1907:

“Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant, singling of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement; it is the dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude”.

There is a launch in Cork on 2 October in the City Library at 6.30PM, but more on that on Monday, and here’s a sample from the album (and many thanks to them for providing this).

Here too is a review from the September issue of SIPTU’s Liberty (and by the way, great credit is due to Jim Lane and others for working tirelessly to support this project).

Buy the Songs of Freedom: The James Connolly Songbook now| Buy the Songs of Freedom: The James Connolly Songbook e-Book now | Buy the Songs of Freedom CD now | Back to Mat Callahan's Editor Page




Scribes Sounding Off: PM Press Takeover

By Chris Estey
KEXP
October 2, 2013

It's great to see that excellent, keenly questioning, perennially rebellious, truly inspiring, and high quality reading/viewing/listening materials keep being published and produced in this extremely DIY economy. Forged in the fires of pre-economic collapse in 2007, Oakland, CA-based PM Press is a focused cell of thought-provokers in various mediums with combined aeons of protesting, punk rocking, printing, and subversive media marketing. Two of the primaries involved, Ramsey Kanaan (founder of AK Press, punk kid and folk performer, vegan gourmand) and Craig O'Hara (co-founder, and the guy who sells you the good stuff to read out of the back of his car everywhere punk rock flea markets to snooty book events, bike lover) are perfect examples of the firebrand literacy and activism in the belly of this anti-authoritarian culture-creation collective. They hit rallies to support many causes for the poor and working class and marginalized, help organize tenant rights' unions, and put out some of the very best comics, philosophy, fiction, and performances of all kinds in all formats out there.

My first PM Press purchases were made at the Vera Project-based Short Run small press festival, and were the Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Living trade paperback manifesto (with lived-through lessons based on tons of personal anecdotes and underground music culture history), and the amazing, generous Leon Rosselson folk-rocking four CD set, The World Turned Upside Down, which collected all the brittle, brilliantly funny and passionate sides recorded by the spiritual father of Billy Bragg and UK musical cousin of Phil Ochs. Both were very necessary to my library.

Barred For Life is one of the most recent of PM Press's works, and it's a gorgeous yet stark, huge B&W coffee table photo documentary featuring lengthy chats with several players in the band (Dez, Ron Reyes, Kira, Keith Morris, and Chuck Dukowski), photographer Glen E. Friedman, and the black bar tattoo god himself, Rick Spellman. The photos are big here, but that doesn't rule out the substance from co-pix-taker AND author Stewart Ebersole regarding a rock band that were all about putting politics into action (as well as inspiring art upon their fans' bodies). Jared Castaldi helped with the photos as well. That must have been a fascinating road trip, collecting these yarns, sharing some tea and whiskey, playing some SST sides as the chatter hit the matter.

The black bars of Black Flag always meant someone was probably into heavy dark underground sounds from Southern California -- but also wasn't into BS, government subterfuge, making secrets, excuses, or lies to keep the privileged in power. The great diversity of personalities photographed and interviewed here, well-titled in chapters such as "Awkward Moments And Amazing Recoveries In The History of Punk Rock Music," and "My Bars, Your Bars, And The Bars," speak of unity and struggle, good humor through dark days. But "Like the handshake of some secret society, the Bars can be jokingly placed in the most conservative of places": For example, an architect once "designed an entire manufacturing complex in the likeness of the Bars." (The company was unaware of the ideology behind the design.) That is some ambitious subversion, but right away we are reminded that the whole meaning of Black Flag's music was to rise above the boring, painful, oppressive nature of society -- and those who evaded suicide, slow or fast, by taking to art and music and getting in the van to help inspire others defined the best aspects of the anarchist underground in recent decades.

Black Flag's own hectic and heart-pounding story, excellently delineated by Ron and Kira and the others, offers many more revelations about what it took to develop the networks and niches in 80s America where a band with an unrelenting message of social change might be able to play. Though pretty much sticking to the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe, the diehard fans shown and allowed to express their fandom in free thought here come from various genders, class and racial backgrounds, ages, and are a surprisingly diverse lot, making us remember just how far reaching those Reagan-era tours BF took were. (At a Flag show I bounced in Spokane in 1985, it seemed like there were punks from at least five or six different states all coming together to see the band.) This sleek heavy tome is a perfect combination of art and politics, beauty and truth, gift and emblem of history.

PM Press has also put together the entire run of Anarchy Comics, edited by Jay Kinney, and underground title that was very instructive and mind-blowing when the individual pamphlets were sold in hip and political bookstores, head shops, and music stores back in the 70s-80s. Anarchy was filled with short form histories of radical movements, peculiar revolutionaries, despairing police-led events that needed uncovering and denouncement, and it served as a great bridge between the street fighting politics of the Yippies and the next generation that squatted and stuck up middle fingers to the Yuppies.

Anarchy Comics features a lot of my personal favorite underground and independent-thinking cartoonists, including the late and beloved Latin proto-punk Spain Rodriguez, Paul Mavrides (who also worked on the Freak Brothers, knowing how to spin a freak yarn in sublime detailed weirdness), Greg Irons (whose twisted Americana is perfect here, showing the violent surrealism of our bloody inclinations as a nation), the punk Expressionism of pre-RAW Gary Panter, and the delightfully witty and thoughtful activist biographies of Melinda Gebbie (who would go on to co-create Lost Girls with Alan Moore). Through it all was maverick editor Kinney, keeping the party going and infusing it with a metaphysical energy that kept Anarchy from being just another collection of polemical rants or libertarian complaints. All four issues, from 1978 to 1986, are presented together for the first time, and also features unpublished work as well. The various parodies, jams, and educational comics are a wonderful assortment of styles and truly show how diverse an ideology anarchy can be among artists.

Buy Barred for Life now | Buy Barred for Life e-Book now | Buy Anarchy Comics now | Buy Anarchy Comics e-Book now



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