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Armed Affect: Revolutionary Love and the Politics of Care

by Eric Stanley
The Abolitionist, Critical Resistance's paper
ericstanley.net
November 29th, 2012

Born at the end of the long 1970s, I often find myself looking toward that decade with a somewhat politically dangerous sense of attachment. I cannot help but be endlessly inspired by the numerous anti-colonial and Black liberation struggles, the women’s and gay liberation movements, and the massive student and prisoner organizing of that period of history.

Living now, in what feels like an extended lull in radical politics in the US (even with the Decolonize/Occupy movements both flourishing and conceding), its hard not to nostalgically long to know what it might feel like to fight against empire as a part of a international and truly massive movement. This is not to suggest that this work, or our collective dreams for another world have vanished. Many of us do continue to organize and rewrite those traditions within our narratives of today. However, the raw power and urgency often articulated by those that lived these years seems to have been evacuated in the present and replaced by more protracted visions and constricted possibilities.  The revolution that many  believed was “right around the corner” has yet to come, or perhaps it is on the way, just much slower, and in a different form than was once thought.

Longing for another era is of course much easier than living in that time. But luckily we have records of this collective history, which can inform how we struggle differently today. David Gilbert’s new autobiography, Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond (PM Press) offers not only a chronology of those explosive years, but also, and more importantly, he carves a personal, and often times emotional account of the wins and the many losses of those years. Gilbert, possibly more than most others who have written about that era from the inside, offers a necessary and productive foil to my naïve understanding.

From his jail cell at the Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York, Gilbert begins his story with his youth in the suburbs of Boston, MA. Looking back, he gleans his own history for traces of what and when his otherwise white middle-class upbringing was transformed into a commitment to undoing systematic oppression.  He attempts to understand his own political growth—beginning at the ends of the Civil Rights era to his arrival as an undergraduate at Columbia University in New York City as the war against Vietnam began to escalate.  The book follows his life from aboveground community organizer to underground freedom fighter and ends with his eventual imprisonment in 1981.

In the chapter “ The 1960s and the Making of A Revolutionary” Gilbert details his early college years where his activism and analysis intensified. In 1962 he joined CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) and then began working with the Columbia chapter of Students of a Democratic Society (SDS), a group which organized primarily on college campuses against the Vietnam War.  He states, “My turning point from ardent protest to throwing my whole life into stopping the war can be marked with an issue of Ramparts.” (45) unlike other alternative media of the day, Ramparts included full color photographs of Vietnamese children burned by napalm. He cites the “emotional impact” of those photos to be the lever that propelled him into a full-time organizer.

While both his personal history and the political sketch he offers are well articulated and important, I find the tone of his writing to be a vital intervention into the otherwise austere way the history of the US radical Left gets retold. This tone is supported by a deep commitment to self-reflexivity as he continually mines for missteps in his, and our, history. For example, rather then concluding his analysis with some compulsory comments on the category “women”, Gilbert offers a powerful critique of the ways the left helped produce a culture of misogyny that, like the larger world they were resisting, silenced women, reproduced the gender binary, and protected a kind of middle-class whiteness. Importantly, he undoes the often-used alibi that these practices were simply “symptoms of their time” he works to unpack how and why sexism was so ubiquitous, including his own active and passive participation in it.

And while he does offer some thoughts on queer liberation, this thread could be developed further, especially in relation to his co-defendant in the Brink’s case and long time friend Kuwasi Balagoon, who was arguable “queer” and died in prison a few years after their capture from AIDS related causes.

Another crucial moment in the radicalization of Gilbert, or at least an event that would eventually alter his life, was the infamous split that happened at the national SDS convention held in Chicago in June of 1969. While the intricacies of the split are both well documented and contingent upon who is offering that documentation, in short the split indexed a larger tension in the US, white student left between an analysis that suggest class was the major factor in oppression which was supported by Progressive Labor, and on the other side was the Revolutionary Youth Movement who argued that class cannot be understood without an analysis of racism and sexism (this antagonism still figures forcefully today). The convention ended with the walkout of many delegates instigated by, among others, Bernadine Dohrn.

This split lead to the creation of the Weathermen, later renamed the Weather Underground, a clandestine organization dedicated to militant direct action, namely bombing building—with precautions to not harm anyone—as a way to expose the violence of US imperialism both here and around the world. Reluctant at first, Gilbert eventually joined a Weather collective and headed underground.

While many others have written about living underground and of the Weather Underground in particular Gilbert’s account brilliantly oscillates between the intensity of living underground—evading police, obtaining and using fake IDs, building bombs, and then the monotony of everyday life—trying to find under the table work, months of planning for a single action and perhaps most vividly; the isolation from being cut off from your former life. While Gilbert offers insight on how power worked “inside” the underground, he writes with what I see with a deep sense of ambivalence. Not a political ambivalence, but with an honest and retrospective analysis of what it felt like to live underground. The affective dimensions of the book also offer us much for thinking about the necessity of care, which was then, as it often is now, discredited as “counter-revolutionary.”

“It is precisely because of our love of life, because we revel in the human spirit, that we became freedom fighters against this racist and deadly imperialist system” Theses words are from Gilbert’s’ statement in court on September 13,1982 after he had been arrested and charged in connection with the Brink’s truck robbery, an attempted expropriation done in solidarity with the Black Liberation Army, which eventually lead to his imprisonment. They encapsulate the spirit of his moving account of the pleasure and terrors of living a revolutionary life under the powers of a state that is intent on liquidating resistance at all costs. While Gilbert’s details of the Weather Underground and SDS fills in many of the gaps in those histories, his political commitment in offering us a tool for today is what makes Gilbert’s book necessary for all of us invested in structural change. Even after serving over 30 years as a political prisoner, Gilbert writes with humility, clarity, affection, and even humor, as he reminds us that care—care for each other and for our movements— produces as much, if not more, radical potentiality than a bomb. Revolutionary struggle, yes, but love too, love and struggle, indeed.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to David Gilbert's Page



Catastrophism — Left, Right, and Center

by Ernesto Aguilar
MR Zine
December 12th, 2012

One of the Left's great challenges is to understand when the great watershed of change is upon people and seize the time.  Racism, sexism, inequality, and uncertain futures have weighed heavily on the conscience of many a movement.  For every great moment, hundreds of crushing defeats never to be remembered are handed down.  Once in a rare moon, stunning defeats like the 1965 Selma to Montgomery demonstrations or the Long March galvanize participants and become iconic -- something history recalls as a moral victory that alters the fates of those involved.  But how often does that happen?  It's much more seldom than you'd think.

The expectation of sure and monumental societal shifts is not isolated to progressives.  The Right has more than its share of individuals who believe in the surety of change.  In some alternate, albeit anecdotal, universe, Left and Right, extreme flavors in particular, share a view that society, whether through greed, excess, loss of the moral barometer, or any number of factors, has lost its way and its people need to wake up to that reality.  In some cases, these subcultures of doom can shake people from slumber and even influence their outcomes.  No one will probably ever know how much blood committed people have spilled for the sake of change, either to spark it or stop it.

In Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth (PM Press, 2012), James Davis, Sasha Lilley, David McNally, and Eddie Yuen in four essays beautifully plumb the history of these hopes, even mad ones.  Part history lesson, part ideological soul searching, Catastrophism is a dense yet enthralling attempt to not only understand what brings Left and Right to believe in the inevitability of renewal, but also to take apart these visions in hopes of educating readers about what true social change means and why nothing can truly replace mass grassroots organizing.

It is not hard to figure out where even well-adjusted people adopt the idea of the certainty of social collapse.  Generations upon generations of popular culture has normalized the notion that the world is folding and that it is now on the shoulders of a few brave souls to battle for the future.  It's not just the wildly popular Christian Left Behind series to latch onto this storyline.  You'd be hard pressed to not find in the cultural landscape images of a dying world, which is a plot device in so many books, films, and television serials.  McNally reminds readers that horrific imagery has been for years a harbinger of public sentiment, especially a metaphor for what people fear most.  With Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero famously tapped into the zombie for a cultural criticism of capitalism as inherently cannibalistic.  The monsters of modern film seem numbingly banal, with their assorted social awkwardness, relationship problems, and lusts, and yet they still play the same cultural functions as classic monsters like vampires.  The average American is plunged each day into this world where conflict, death, and chaos are at every turn; Hollywood has merely found a way to profit.  The make-believe world, McNally says, masks real worries of neoliberalism, austerity, and similar horrors which now rule our daily lives.

Themes of fictional wars against the undead pock our imaginations and, increasingly, the political intelligence of the public.  The far right, as Davis investigates, has been virtually sculpted by beliefs in social apocalypse for nearly a century or more.  As the first Roman Catholic presidential nominee, Al Smith's losing bid for president in 1928 is widely credited by historians to be in part due to worries of conservative Christians that the White House would be controlled by the Pope.  Later, Minister Arno C. Gaebelein fought the New Deal, believing it was a cover for Russian Communism and, under that, Satan himself aiming to make all people his loyal servants.  Such ideas have endured to this very day, where the Pat Buchanans and Billy Grahams of the scene see the specter of one world government poised to vanquish traditional Christianity at any moment.  The Obama Administration has been a popular target for a spectrum of conservatives, from disgraced pundit Dinesh D'Souza to Texas conspiracy guru Alex Jones, as the iron first ready to seize true Americans' freedoms.  With such storm troopers apt to destroy life as we know it, ideologies like dominionism, which holds that natural resources were offered to humanity by God for its use and their exhaustion will hasten Christ's return, find a large and influential audience.  Farfetched as they sound, such concepts on the Right are plentiful.

Sadly, such fear mongering has created an especially nasty political class with a consistent message: those who are different than you are out to take what is white America's, and it's time to fight.  California Republican Brian Bilbray forecast future terrorists "coming in on a Latin name," while anti-immigrant activists like John Tanton use colorful rhetoric to suggest the Third World is ready to pounce on the West's bounty.  As the recent conviction of 33-year-old white nationalist Anders Breivik suggests, some are willing to viciously "defend themselves" from their imagined multicultural menace.  "This growth in extremism has been aided by mainstream media figures and politicians who have used their platforms to . . . spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive," the Southern Poverty Law Center notes in its survey of far right extremists.

Lilley, co-host of radio program Against the Grain, and Yuen take on the Left's fascination with catastrophe, and do so incisively.  Marxists and anarchists of many stripes have opined that capitalism is bound to fail, though such claims misread capitalism's changeability and underestimate the Left's need to out-organize the powerful.  Yet in the last half century, clandestine U.S. groups like the Weather Underground Organization and the Earth Liberation Front, with hopes of kicking off a revolution with brash expressions of direct action, ended up winning little to nothing.  In numerous cases, these erstwhile movements hoping for mass revolt instead disconnected themselves from that potential in their misunderstanding of contemporary politics.  Anti-civilization anarchism, which speaks of destroying enemies and dismantling the infrastructure, even if it means people die as a result, surely sounds insane to most.  In other circles, the rise of repression, Nativism, financial collapse, and political corruption is hailed as a harbinger of revolutionary change, that greater suffering ripens the potential for an uprising.  Catastrophism contends no result should be considered automatic.

Marx's theory of crisis, Lilley reminds readers, did not depend on capitalism's breakdown.

Theorist Anton Pannekoek expanded on this view by positing that the matter was defeating capitalism in spite of its durability not because of the supposed inevitably of its failure.

Lilley refuses to legitimize the point of view of liberals who regard the Left as well as the Right with condescension, equating all left-wing political theories with catastrophism and tsking them away as outgrowths of extremism.  What about the election cycle-driven liberal catatrophism that demands progressives set aside their principles or else right-wing candidates could spell disaster for millions?  Among the liberal crowd, defeating conservatives is a rallying cry that is more important than food, education, justice, and virtually every other core value.  "Such fear-mongering in the service of the status quo reaches its apex with perennial liberal scares about impending fascism," Lilley writes.  "Such scares reached a fever pitch after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, when various liberals decided that the Constitution had been ripped up, replaced by a dictatorship."

Although consciously not a dictionary of strategies, Catastrophism's authors are clear on what does not work -- "and what works at great cost."  The book is best when exploring political areas without easy answers.  It is certain to spark the debate its authors intended, and perhaps create conversations about the need for the kind of organizing that must happen to initiate the diverse social justice agenda many progressives profess to want.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now
Back to Sasha Lilley's Author Page
Back to David McNally's Author Page
Back to Eddie Yuen's Author Page
Back to James Davis's Author Page




Summer Brenner's Nearly Nowhere on Crime Fiction Lover (UK)

by PulpCurry
Crime Fiction Lover
November 25, 2012

Written by Summer Brenner – It might not be the best known publisher on the block, but California-based PM Press has delivered some solid hits with the Switchblade crime series. Benjamin Whitmer’s Pike was an absorbing, bleak read about a reformed hustler and drug trafficker who heads to Cincinnati to find out how his estranged daughter died. It is not for the faint hearted. The Jook by Gary Phillips, the story of pro footballer who has one last chance at the big time, was widely praised and has been on my to-read list for a while now.

I haven’t read any of Summer Brenner’s many books, but she comes highly recommended. And after reading her novel Nearly Nowhere, the latest Switchblade release, I can see why.

Kate, the main character, lives in a small, secluded hardscrabble town in northern New Mexico with her free spirited and beautiful teenage daughter, Ruby. It’s not exactly the happiest of relationships, due to Ruby’s wild ways and Kate’s habit of bringing drifters home for a bit of sex and companionship.

Her latest pick up is Troy. As is always the case with those she brings home, Kate has grown tired of him and wants to terminate the relationship and get him out of her life. Troy is a good looking, but very mentally unhinged young man. He has a violent streak that does not take kindly to being dumped.

No sooner does Kate think Troy is out of her life than she comes home to find her former lover nursing a gunshot wound, her daughter has disappeared, and a stash of drugs in the house she didn’t know she had. It’s hard to say much more without giving away the plot, but it’s safe to say that all roads lead to the Idaho’s beautiful and dangerous wilderness area, a haven for loners and the odd Neo-Nazi cult.

Brenner knows how to pen a nice turn of phrase. Like this description of an encounter between Kate and her daughter: “Ruby hated when he mother made their encounters seem like normal happy events. Kate’s cheerfulness in the ruins of their existence was an insult to common sense.”

In a strange way, not a lot happens in this book and that’s the central appeal. There’s no massive body count and very little violence. Nearly Nowhere just a wonderfully understated story of generational secrets and misunderstanding set against the backdrop of some parts of the US I am completely unfamiliar with.

Switchblade
Print/Kindle
£6.17

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Summer Brenner's Author Page




Revolution at Point Zero on Z Magazine

by Seth Sandronsky
Z Magazine
December 2012

Revolutionary feminist Silvia Federici’s scope is wide in her book of essays, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, written from
1974 to now.

A major force in the Wages for House work movement of the early 1970s, Federici shed light on the invisible and invaluable labor of women under capitalism—or socially reproductive work—with a preface, introduction, three sections, notes, and a bibliography. She expands our
understand ing of who per forms and benefits from such reproduction and how it connects with the capital-wage nexus. For the purpose of private wealth accumulation, capitalism’s dynamism constantly changes how we live and work. Thus, the trajectory of Federici’s writing reflects the
changing dynamics of, and resistance to, a system that increasingly relies on women to perform the unpaid work of caring for humans.

Their labor does not appear as part of the economy. Such household work, for in stance, goes uncounted in the gross domestic product of the U.S.  In Part One we get a sense of what constitutes the feminist revolt against unwaged women’s work that holds up our current socio-economic system. As she details, women’s labor services nurture the current and future generations of workers who, in turn, sell their labor-power to buyers in the capitalist market place who de pend on this exchange to turn a profit.

As capitalist production ebbs and flows, socially reproductive and productive labor services reflect this trend. Federici tackles such flashpoints—from unwaged bed rooms and kitchens to waged workplaces and social service demands in developed and developing nations.

In the second part of Federici’s book, she disentangles globalization and social reproduction. A main theme here is the evolving international and sexual division of labor, waged and unwaged.

A grow-or-die system weakens the ability of families to care for children with out more members of house holds entering the capitalist mar ket place. Women suffer particularly as primary care givers to children and elders, migrating to provide child-rearing services to families in developed countries, while leaving their own kin for years.

Thus, Federici argues that an anti-capitalist frame work is essential to feminist struggles against patriarchy. She locates within this critique the necessity for resistance to wars with bombs or structural adjustment programs, having first-hand knowledge of the latter duiring her time teaching and writing on the African continent.

The political economy of Karl Marx runs a red line through out Federici’s book, yet she critiques his failure to analyze the vital role of women’s reproductive labor to the over all system’s equilibrium.

The final and third section of Federici’s book takes up women’s role as main stays of the commons, areas of public life and resources out side global capitalism. Federici unpacks the nature and role of female “commoning” as a verb, less so the commons as a condition. She calls for left politicizing of eldercare, under going a crisis as capitalism monetizes such reproductive work while placing a greater burden on women. Thus, car ing for elders is a gender issue.

As Federici shows with examples from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, women are on the front lines of commoning. She unveils how and why they resist the corporate takeover of subsistence farming, explaining the land question as central to women’s lives. Mutual aid and solidarity of oppressed women are more than symbolic. We see here transforming acts of solidarity against the logic of capitalist relations that rely upon sever ing people’s access to land. Reading Federici em powers us to reconnect with what is at the core of human development, women’s labor-intensive caregiving—a radical rethinking of how we live.

In that living, she argues, is our capacity to create a new, egalitarian society as the Arab Spring and Occupy Movement illustrates within the lens of women’s commoning.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Silvia Federici's Author Page




Sketching Anarchy: An Interview with Erik Ruin

by Philip Eil
The Providence Phoenix
November 14, 2012

"THEY SURVEIL. WE HACK." "THEY BOMB. WE FEED." "THEY EVICT. WE SHELTER." "THEY FUCK SHIT UP. WE FIX SHIT UP."

So reads a chapter from the recently released, Paths Toward Utopia: Graphic Explorations of Everyday Anarchism. The words , which hover between poem and essay, are from Cindy Milstein, an author and activist known for her "Anarchism 101" course at the National Conference for Organized Resistance. The images — soup-kettle steam mingling with bomb smoke, protestors stepping in front of bulldozers — are the work of Providence artist Erik Ruin, whom you might recognize from the AS220 Printshop or his projection-screen accompaniment to the city's Assembly of Light Choir.

Paths is both a nod to the present and past, Milstein explains in her prologue. The book's title is an homage to the socialist philosopher Martin Buber's 1944 tract, Paths In Utopia. But the book's pages, with references to "levees that break in hurricanes & nuclear plants that melt in earthquakes" and "OCCUPY EVERYTHING" banners, are urgently modern. "From Cairo to Madison, from Athens to New York, from Barcelona to Oakland, on the shoulders of Chiapas, Seattle, and Buenos Aires," Milstein writes, "we the billions have joyfully, startlingly, raced to the window on history that's been flung open."

Ruin's visuals provide a view through this window to a world where bank vaults are re-stocked with seeds and border walls crumble, where crowds flood into libraries and public parks. Many of these images were painstakingly scratched out in a south Providence home studio through a process involving acetate, ink, and X-ACTO blades. I caught up with Ruin in his studio to talk about the book and whether anarchism can lead to utopia, as the title suggests. The interview has been edited and condensed.

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN "ANARCHISM" AND "ANARCHY"? The standard line you'll hear from a lot of people who consider themselves anarchists — [and] I do consider myself an anarchist — is that anarchy tends to imply, in most people's minds, chaos or disorder or a lack of order as its primary condition, whereas anarchism tends to be a more systematic approach to the world that resists hierarchy in all of its forms . . . So it's resistant to government, but not necessarily resistant to order.

CAN YOU TAKE ME THROUGH YOUR VISION OF UTOPIA? No. [Laughs] I mean, I think that's the definition of "utopia." It's "no place." It's the thing you're always moving towards, but never getting. I think that the things that I see as moving there are things that allow people to meet face to face and to have honest discussions about how to move forward as a society, the things that dismantle hierarchical structures of power, particularly structures of abusive power, whether it be racism or gender oppression or capitalism, which is a really big one in our society.

HOW DOES PROVIDENCE STACK UP AS A UTOPIA? IS IT A PLACE WHERE EVERYDAY ANARCHISM IS BEING EXPLORED? I think there is a younger generation of folks, like the Libertalia [the "radical social space" on Broadway] folks, who are trying to make things happen in a pretty great way. I support it. I try to come out to things when I can. I do little things for folks here and there, but I don't feel super plugged in to that. What I feel more plugged into is this sort of DIY arts scene that happens here that I think is a really special place where all these really talented people from really different disciplines and backgrounds and interests, they're all coming together. I really appreciate how, in form, it's very experimental. It feels very open in ways that other places don't.

IS THIS BOOK AN INSTRUCTION MANUAL? What I try to do with images is to form empathic linkages. I'm making this image of this huge crowd of people in Tahrir Square and I'm staring at all these faces for hours and hours as my wrist gradually cramps up and I'm falling in love with these people and I'm deeply engrossed in their lives and feel this deep care for the people I'm depicting in this moment of rebellion.

I'm hoping that that transfers to the viewer and they feel a similar empathy and solidarity with the figures that I depict. I think we live in a very atomized and splintered and alienated and depressing world. And so I'm trying to create these moments, even if it's a very bleak image, where people are feeling deeply for one another.

I really like [that image] because it gets at, I think, what the core of Tahrir Square was about. It was all of these things happening at the same time. You've got your kindergarten. You've got your self-organized trash-collection service. And then you have these martyrs' walls, you have people sleeping on the tanks. And it's all happening in the same space. There's all these forms of resistance that are all happening in organic concert with each other. I really like to challenge myself to make things as complex as possible because I think it's a very complex world and it helps me to understand it — feel at peace with the complexity — when I have this massive, busy image that I'm whittling away at every day.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Erik Ruin's Artist Page




The Happy Hero: An Interview With Paul Buhle About Robin Hood

By Leslie Thatcher
Truthout
October 28th, 2012

Retired Madison University Professor, Truthout contributing author and producer of nonfiction comics Paul Buhle talked to Truthout by email recently concerning his 2011 book, "Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Hero," illustrated by Chris Hitchinson, Gary Dumm and Sharon Rudahl, published by PM Press, Oakland, CA. 107 pages

Leslie Thatcher for Truthout: Paul, can you tell our readers why Robin Hood, why now?


Paul Buhle: As I try to argue in the book, but too briefly, the "enclosure" of the world, mirroring the enclosures six or seven hundred years ago in the English countryside (Karl Marx, among others, wrote brilliantly on this subject), spread human misery and vast environmental change, as they spread the market society outward. It is not an untouched "nature" that is overwhelmed in the process, but open spaces together with spaces cultivated by small-scale rural economies for centuries, at risk of eradication.

Robin Hood, the mythic figure, appears in the generational aftermath of a Europe's first (if failed) mass uprising, the Wat Tyler Rebellion of 1381. Mythic Robin protects an old village society and its rules against the new oppression of the Normans, who did indeed make familiar practices (such as the killing of deer for food) into capital crimes, and pressing villages for higher taxes—en route to the enclosures to come.

Today there are all sorts of nonprofits, international human rights groups, etc., but the enclosures and exclusions (terrorizing and driving rural folk away from vast corporate mining projects in Colombia, for instance) are barely slowed, let alone halted.

We need Robin Hood because he protects the "outside" and the "outsiders." A precursive champion of Occupy, he occupies the Greenwood, has comrades in the centers of oppression (Maid Marian is the most effective) and the support of the common village folk. He is larger than life but also part of life. Within English language lore, there has been no one in almost a thousand years who is so popular, not even King Arthur or Sir Galahad. Robin defeats the criminalization of poverty by resisting the criminality of the upper classes.

We need Robin also because from an early time, perhaps the 15th century, the Robin Hood saga was re-enacted annually in English villages as a Mayday drama, recalling the pre-Christian celebration of Spring and of fertility for humans, animals and plants alike. Robin Hood and Maid Marian are spiritual beings, Liberation Theology prototypes but not celibate! Marian, the proto feminist, is his equal and his lover.

We both share a passion for the Robin Hoods series starring Richard Greene, produced in the 1950s, for which your book provides some of the backstory. Please tell our readers how that series embodied some of the themes of the legend in its very production.


Paul Buhle This is an especially fascinating story (I was able to describe a little of it in the New York WNYC/NPR show Fishko Files, excerpts run in the NPR national  "On the Media," a few years ago) to me personally, because my parents bought a television almost as Robin Hood came on the air. The series shaped my ideas as a teenager, preparing me for discovering the local Civil Rights movement a few years later and the antiwar movement some years after that. My collaborator, veteran investigative reporter Dave Wagner, and I wrote at length about the Robin Hood series in our book, Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002.

One of the two principal scriptwriters for the series, Oscar-winning (but blacklisted) Ring Lardner, Jr., had become a good friend, as had its first script editor, Al Ruben, and especially an occasional writer of the series, Robert Lees, a veteran of slapstick Abbott and Costello comedies. So you could say that I had come full circle, discovering the secret behind the greatness of the series. Other adaptations of the Robin Hood saga are fine, as I discuss in Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Defender, especially Robin and Marian, the story of two former lovers reunited in old age. But none is so funny as the 1950s series, and none has a stronger female lead, or co-star.

Your book is cover-described as a "Graphic Guide." What motivated you to choose this format and how did your graphic collaborators fix on their own contributions?

Paul Buhle I realized recently that a decade has gone by since I began preparing for WOBBLIES! A graphic history of the Industrial Workers of the World (published 2005). I'd been studying and writing radical history since the 1960s, founding a New Left journal, Radical America, creating an oral history archive of leftwing oldtimers, and among other work, coediting the Encyclopedia of the American Left.  But I came back to comics because the art form had meant so much to me as a child, and so as to reach today's young people. Robin Hood has its own history in comics, including a Classics Illustrated version that I must have read as a child. But comic art has grown up since then. Chris Hutchinson is properly a collage artist, and he uses his skills for a satirical saga, mostly about the oppressors; Sharon Rudahl has been an important feminist comic artist since the 1970s, so she captured the Maid Marian story; and Gary Dumm has been working with me on the Middle Ages, uprisings, religious revolts, and so on, and he did a fantastic job of tying Wat Tyler's Revolt to the first important, radical English poem, "Piers Plowman."

If you failed to mention imperialism, ethnic hatred, feminism, environmentalism, the criminalization of poverty, liberation theology or cheerful resistance to an immoral order in your answers above, please briefly describe how the Robin Hood legends relate to these specific modern concerns.

Paul Buhle I rewrite your question as: Why is Robin so HAPPY?

Robin is the happy revolutionary, happy to BE a revolutionary, and his Merry Men share his joy of life, love of quaffing ale, inviting villagers to woodland parties, and keeping everybody in the proper mood to resist oppression by resisting depression.

OK, you got me! You close the book and I'll close the interview with the pertinent quote from Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer: The boys dressed themselves, hid their accoutrements, and went off grieving that there were no outlaws any more, and wondering what modern civilization could claim to have done to compensate for their loss. They said they would rather be outlaws a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever.

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Robert Haworth on Huge Power Podcast

Huge Power Podacst
Episode #2
A Conversation with Professor Robert Haworth

Listen to the interview HERE


Intro Transcript

         From Ann Arbor, Michigan, this is episode 2 of the Huge Power Podcast.  My name is Reagan M. Sova.  My guest for this episode is Dr. Robert Haworth (pictured above), who is an assistant professor in the Depart of Professional and Secondary Education at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.  He has published and presented internationally on anarchism, youth culture, informal learning spaces, and critical social studies education, and he is the editor of Anarchist Pedagogies: Collective Actions, Theories, and CriticalReflections on Education, a book published this summer by PM Press.  I will link to that book and Dr. Haworth’s PM Press author page in the notes for this show.  Without further ado though, you’ll hear Robert Haworth and me discuss his youth in the California punk rock scene, democratic structures and breaking with the logic of capitalism, Anarchist Pedagogies, Pierre Kropotkin, and cultural representations of anarchism.

Outro Transcript 

         You just heard Dr. Robert Haworth and me discuss, among other things, Anarchist Pedagogies: Collective Actions, Theories, and Critical Reflections on Education.  He is the editor of that book, and it is available now on PM Press.  My sincere thanks once again to Dr. Haworth for coming on the podcast.  The music you heard in this episode was the song “Timer” by Lilys which featured Noam Chomsky talking about why someone would bother living.  The latter overdubbed in by me.  You also heard the songs “Miserlou” by Dick Dale and His Del Tones, “Repetition” by Quasi, “Chill” by EPMD, “I found the F” by Broadcast, and this episode of Huge Power will conclude with the song “Mistake” by D+.  The song playing right now is “Landfill” by the band Hospital Garden.  In just a moment, I’ll conclude this 2nd episode of Huge Power with the Huge Power petition of week.

          The Huge Power petition of the week reflects my own viewpoints and not necessarily those of my guests.  It is one that I created on change.org entitled “The New York Times: Investigate the Health Crisis in Fallujah.”  Ross Caputi, writing for The Guardian newspaper, says, "Ever since two major US-led assaults destroyed the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, Fallujans have witnessed dramatic increases in rates of cancers, birth defects and infant mortality in their city. Dr Chris Busby, the author and co-author of two studies on the Fallujah heath crisis, has called this 'the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied.'

... Yet, one of the most severe public health crises in history, for which the US military may be to blame, receives no attention in the United States."  A study written about by the late Patrick Cockburn in The Independent found rates of cancer in Fallujah after US bombing to be higher than those recorded in Hiroshima post-atom bomb.  Please take a moment to sign the petition. 

You can find a link to the petition, as well as links to the articles in the Guardian and the Independent in the notes for this show. My name is Reagan M. Sova.  Thank you for listening to the Huge Power Podcast.

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The Poet Bears Witness: A Creative Session with Derrick Weston Brown

by Courtney McSwain
emPower
November 14th, 2012

If you’ve spent any time in Washington, D.C.’s Busboys and Poets, the popular restaurant and community gathering space located on the city’s busy U-Street corridor, then you’ve probably come across Derrick Weston Brown. A poet, book buyer, teacher and author, Brown was responsible for developing the restaurant’s poetry programming under his early title as poet-in-residence. No longer under that title, Brown continues to take his role as poetry convener to heart.

His poem, “The Mic is Now Open,” serves as his monthly clarion call for poets of all designs to step to the mic during the “Nine on the Ninth” open mic poetry series that Brown hosts at Busboys and Poets. Perhaps more important than his time on stage is his role at the independent bookstore located inside the restaurant. Operated by the nonprofit organization Teaching for Change, the bookstore offers an in-depth collection of progressive poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and children’s literature, which Brown curates as the store’s publication advocate.

Recently, Brown added author to his resume, with the release of his first published poetry collection Wisdom Teeth, on Busboys and Poets Press, an imprint of PM Press, last year. His collection, which Brown describes as an exploration of change and growth, covers issues of race, masculinity and relationships in unexpected, sometimes harrowing ways. At its most intense, Wisdom Teeth displays Brown’s ability to place himself within the most difficult of emotional circumstances in order to reflect the voice of those characters whom he tries to understand. Those who know Brown best describes him as an observer and witness bearer.
“He and I like to go people watching and look at how people are interacting,” said Alan King, poet and close friend to Brown. “One of the things I admire about Derrick is his ability to make the audience feel whatever moment he is writing about.” .

While capable of taking on sobering topics in his work, Brown is more of an upbeat poet than a suffering one. “He’s very affable, down to earth, humorous,” said Dr. Tony Medina, a Howard University creative writing professor and one of Brown’s mentors.
Perhaps it was his affability that allowed him to indulge nearly two hours of my questions on a recent Saturday morning when I spoke with Brown about his curiosity, influences, humor and hopes of becoming the next public television icon.

CM: How did you come to poetry?

DWB: I have an aunt who was a librarian, so there were times when my mom would have to work during weekends and I would go to work with my aunt. I would be there for up to eight hours, and there was a little back room [with] a portable record player and read along vinyl records. I would sit down and read along with all sorts of stories from around the world. That shifted into my love of theater. Poetry just kind of found me as a part of the things that I enjoyed. It involved a lot of imagination, and wherever theater was there was music. Wherever music was there was poetry.

The key thing is, [for] my first poetry book, my dad gave me this book called “My Daddy is a Cool Dude.” It was written in maybe the mid-70s during the Black Arts Movement. The poems are very centered around black families and black people. The two poets and illustrators are from Chicago, a hot bed for the Black Arts Movement. Those poems were really short and neat, and I [have] always kept the book with me.

CM: Do you remember your first moment of writing?

DWB: I was probably in the fifth or sixth grade and I would write little poems. Some of them rhymed, some of them were stories. My mom took the poems one day and she made this little book called “Derrick’s First Works.” She printed and laminated them and gave it out to family members during one of the holidays. She’ll tell you, ‘I was Derrick’s first publisher.’

CM: When did you start taking it seriously?

DWB: College. I went to Hampton [University] in 94-98. There was this organization called the Men’s Association, and we used to have this set called “Culture Create.” MCs would get together and rhyme freestyle and people would do poems. You got to see the mixture of styles and songs and an interesting intersection of people. Everyone was coming for something, and it was just so exciting to hear people share different things. I graduated in ’98, and I ended up doing freelance writing for the Charlotte Post, a black newspaper, and I got to cover stories about the rising performance poetry scene there.

And we’re not even going to talk about when [the movie] Love Jones came out—it was a wrap for a lot of people. All the people that didn’t like poetry but loved that movie were like, ‘You mean you could pull women or you could connect and be all fly and it’s okay to be smart? I think I might have a future in this.’

That wasn’t me, I was just saying.

CM: I’m glad you brought this up. What do you make of the whole Love Jones, Darius Lovehall poetry emcee thing?

DWB: I think people saw Love Jones—it’s such an endearing movie—and were like, ‘I want a part of that.’ So, it was a good thing because it brought more people to open mics. But at the same time, you had people that came in looking for that feeling but weren’t necessarily trying to do the work. Some people came out for the aesthetic, of course. Some people left it after they got what they wanted, and others stayed and continued on with the craft.

CM: What inspires you to write?

DWB: I like to watch people. Sometimes it’s writing just to report what I’ve observed. To document things, like change. As I get older, I realize that writing is something personal for me too—it is therapy. If I haven’t written regularly in a while, I get apprehensive. It’s very—it’s almost like I’m afraid to start writing because I’ll have all these expectations. I just have to bring myself back to—just write something down, feel better.

CM: When you said you like to watch people, I was reminded of what Ruth Forman said in the trailer for your book about you being a great witness. Is that where some of that comes from?

DWB: Yeah, it’s interesting. You know how babies stare and their parents tell them don’t stare? But with babies, it’s almost like [they are saying], ‘I want to see. I’ve never seen this before. What is that?’ As you get older, we’re socialized not to stare, not to look too deep into things. Sometimes you see some stuff that is just so interesting, or you overhear. I call it eaves dropping but my students call it ear hustling.

CM: Who are your poetic influences?

DWB: Paul Beatty probably at the beginning. Saul Williams. Sonia Sanchez, because she talks about how she found herself in haikus, and I like haikus. Also I had the biggest crush on her. I don’t think I get too star struck, but I remember I was at the Furious Flower Poetry Conference in 2004, and I saw her and wanted to go over and talk to her but I was so freaking shy—I couldn’t do it. The poet Kelly Norman Ellis went over there [and said], “Hey Professor Sanchez, this is Derrick Brown.” I told her, “Professor Sanchez, I really love your work. I feel like I was born too late. If I had been born at the same time [as you] we could’ve been together.” She was probably thinking, ‘Little boy I’d tear you up.’

So Sonia Sanchez. When I got in grad school that’s when I really, really started reading other writers. I had a professor, Myra Sklarew. She was really helpful about pushing me to work. We would have our workshops and she would say you can go further with that. Lucille Clifton. Dr. Tony Medina used to always talk about the economy of words, and she [Clifton] can give you a whole world in 10 lines. Sekou Sundiata, who was more performance, he wrote plays.
Not just poets, Shel Silverstein. I’m a big fan of comic books. My favorite graphic novel, I’m not ashamed to say it, is about a samurai rabbit.

CM: A samurai rabbit?

DWB: His name is Usagi Yojimbo. Usagi means rabbit in Japanese and Yojimbo means bodyguard. I am not ashamed.

CM: Where does your humor come from?

DWB: Storytelling. I like humor. I like laughing. I still think one day maybe I would try stand-up. I love improv. The humor comes from the comedians that I like also. Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and, you know he’s not really a comedian but, I’m going to list Wayne Brady. Wayne Brady is a brilliant dude. He showed his range on that episode of Chapelle Show. Whoopi Goldberg is awesome at improv. Carol Burnett. Funny people.

CM: Did you get all of that as a kid watching TV or listening to records?

DWB: I watched a lot of TV, but my mom monitored it. I watched a lot of public television. I watched Reading Rainbow. When Reading Rainbow was canceled three years ago I was hurt because, really, I wanted Lavar Burton’s job. My goal was—he was going to retire, and they would look for a new host, and I was going to be like, ‘holla’ at your boy.’

CM: What does it feel like when you’re writing?

DWB: Sometimes it’s an exciting feeling. A word may come, or a phrase or a voice, and I’ll write it down and see how far it goes. If it starts to fade, I try to push it to where it comes back. Or sometimes it’s a thought and I go and do some research.

Then, sometimes—like at my best friend’s wedding—I wrote a poem for the wedding and I’d been thinking about it and thinking about it. On the wedding day, we’re about to go down probably in about 40 minutes. So I’m sitting in the room with Alan [the groom], his dad, his brother, best friends, the bride’s brothers, everyone. This little line came up, “It’s not math.

It’s not statistics. It’s not…” I sat there with my notebook and I wrote it out. They were like,

‘Derrick what are you doing?’

‘Writing the poem.’

‘Oh, okay.’

Alan laughed because he knows there are times I can do that. But I hate it—why put yourself through that? Sometimes that’s what gets it out of me. I put my feet to the fire and there it is.

CM: What’s the longest a poem sat with you, from the idea to what you may consider completion?

DWB: One of the “Sweet Home Men” series poems, “Halle Tells How They Broke Him.”
[Brown writes a series of persona poems in the voice of the “Sweet Home Men” characters from Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, which was set on a slave plantation. In “Halle Tells How They Broke Him” Brown takes on the voice of the male character Halle, who witnesses his love Sethe being beaten and raped by white men before their planned escape.]

That one stuck with me for a while. I always go back to that series because it’s not done. I have to go to a place that’s kind of dark, and I have to be in a certain mood to go there. If I’m in a bad mood, I ain’t going there. I kind of have to be pretty good, feeling good, before I go there.

I have to think about…to live in a time when you’re enslaved and you know that you’re with someone that you love. It wasn’t someone that was chosen for you to breed or make children that are going to be sold. In that story, Sethe picks Halle. At that time you didn’t have control over who you wanted to love. I thought about the images and I saw the woman that I love, mother of my children, getting whipped and beaten and molested. What does that do to a person?

In the book it drove him [Halle] mad. I had to go to that place, and I didn’t like going there. But I had to write it in the sense of, ‘what if you lost it all?’

CM: Why did you decide to put yourself in that personal place?

DWB: I really love Beloved. But I left the book feeling like I really wanted to know more. So the only way I figured I could do a persona poem and really push the story even further, beyond what Toni Morrison was talking about, was to kind of put myself in it.

CM: In the forward to your book, Simone Jacobson writes, ‘Wisdom Teeth offers a collective biography of the complexity of black male existence in America…Wisdom Teeth indicates the stubborn release of the past, the things we choose to let go and the things that make our men ache with pain.’

What do you see, or what are you feeling that black men are aching from right now?

DWB: How much time you got? I think there are things that black men ache from that are specific, but I also think there are so many other people connected to that because I think that a lot of pain is shared. Still, men aren’t supposed to acknowledge pain or show vulnerability. If there is an expression of it, it comes out in presumed ways, or sometimes I say pr-eapproved, ways—blow something up or beat somebody up. I’ve never liked that outlook. I think you have to have another outlet. There are some things that hurt that you can’t express through your screaming and breaking stuff. Sometimes people really need to talk to somebody—just need to let somebody know, ‘I’m actually scared’ or ‘I’m actually dealing with this.’

CM: That reminds me of the line in “Halle Tells How They Broke Him” where you write, “But where did they learn how to break us in places they can’t see.”

DWB: Because you’ve got the physical violence of slavery, but then there’s the psychological, emotional stuff. When you don’t regard somebody as human, you can do whatever you want because they’re not human beings.

CM: Did you set out to have a particular statement with Wisdom Teeth?

DWB: One thing they talk about in workshops is when you’re putting together a manuscript you try to see how the poems can speak to each other. As I was putting the manuscript together, I thought about what speaks to what. That was the hardest part. It’s funny because my graduate school MFA thesis was called Wisdom Teeth, but then that manuscript changed [and] I gave it another name—Woodshed. That didn’t work, so I gave it another name—Watershed. It had different names, but then it came back at the very end, full circle, to Wisdom Teeth.

It’s a metaphor for growth and pain and removal—or inevitable removal, inevitable growth—in life. That’s kind of how Wisdom Teeth are.

CM: What advice would you give someone who wants to make poetry his or her life?

DWB: Read. Read. Read. Read everything. Don’t just read poetry. Also, read other poets outside of your ethnicity, outside of your culture. If you hear other poets telling you about someone, go find out. I do think there is something to be said for listening. Also, involve yourself in other art. There are times when I don’t feel like writing poetry all the time, that’s when I do prose and I’ve done some collaging. If you can work within your art and make a living, that’s great. I’ve been a librarian, I’ve worked at a newspaper and I’ve worked in several bookstores and music stores—things I love to do but are still within my art.
CM: Who’s the coolest person you know?

DWB: Alan King. Not just because he’s my best friend. But I love the fact that that cat has a photographic memory. I can remember certain things, but he can remember conversations and stories to the tee. He’s the closest thing I have to a brother. We’re on similar paths and still two different people, so watching his growth as a poet and as my friend is always interesting. He’s just a cool dude. The main thing is, because he can change the breaks on his car. I am not anywhere close to being mechanically inclined. His father is a master electrician, so he knows how to do that too, and I just think that’s fascinating.
My girlfriend is cool because she can take stuff that people throw away and make amazing things. She made some shorts out of old jeans that I had. She cut them up, got a little cargo belt, and they looked great. No sewing or anything.

CM: That is pretty cool. I wish I could do that. What’s the dream for Derrick Weston Brown?

DWB: The dream for Derrick Weston Brown is that maybe at the end of my life I’m just as enthralled with the world and enthusiastic about life and people and the human experience as I was when I was four or five years old. I don’t want to leave this world bitter. I want to leave it with some hope. Not just for me, but maybe the work that I do gives the world hope.

 

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Blackflags and Windmills on Earth First! Newswire

by Sasha
Earth First! Newswire
November 1st, 2012

Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective: An Epic Tale Past the Point of No-Return


When I began reading Black Flags and Windmills (PM Press 2011), by scott crow, my imagination was sparked by the power of scott crow’s commitment to radical organizing. There is a sense of no return that pervades this deep and intense work. In passionate and effusive prose, crow describes the nature of Hurricane Katrina’s impact as well as organizing efforts to support communities of color and poor people in the Algiers neighborhood. But crow lends an equal amount of time to exploring the logistical aspects of organizing, and how they relate to an unshakable faith in anarchism. For the fascinating and courageous insight into strong, though radical in its self-critique, anarchist praxis, Black Flags and Windmills has become a classic in the genre of non-fiction, and an important tool for folks today working in the context of rising cats-tastrophy (hint, hint, Hurricane Sandy…).

Catastrophe organizing is a growing scene these days. When it started, it seemed like it was only quiet-type crusty punks with nuck-tats in carhartt overalls whose wobbly walk evinced that straight-off-a-freight-train disorientation. Today, however, the acknowledgment of catastrophe, and the need to create infrastructure to produce popular networks of resistance to authority, are coming together in a big way. Much of this has been prefigured by crow’s work, along with the radicals who started up the Common Ground Collective as a response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Crow lays out in Black Masks and Windmills the blueprints for the structuring of Common Ground, how it emerged by spontaneous organizing, through painstaking efforts, extensive meetings, and open conflicts with law enforcement and white militias.

But in this sense, prefigurative politics takes on two meanings. crow makes it clear that the Common Ground idea was not new: it derived from the praxis of Black Liberation (the Black Panthers in particular), the Spanish Anarchists of 1936, and the Zapatista uprising of 1994. crow even makes a few references to his experiences organizing the late-1990s project, Dirty South Earth First!, which landed him on the eco-terrorist watch list, and might have helped inform his ideas on free states and land occupations. The facts remain: not only was crow helping to build a popular anarchist infrastructure that would present a model for future catastrophe organizers, but the folks at Common Ground were also using Common Ground as a prefiguration of revolutionary, land-based organizing. By covering a territory and ensuring the needs of the peoples who lived there, Common Ground was able to provide the instrumental care for those whom the state had abandoned. In this sense, Common Ground’s reason for existence was powerfully just, and the excellence with which the collective carried out its mission indicates that its influence will continue on to the next generation, who will need it most of all.

crow quotes Che Guevara in saying that “Hope is the conviction that struggling makes sense.” Throughout the book, crow draws on his comrades Malik Rahim and Robert Hillary King as well as myriad post-colonial, leftist, activist, and anarchist sources, pulling his own life’s narrative over the loom of radical scholarship to weave a subjective analysis that is always reaching out, asking for advise, drawing the reader in. This engagement with the reader is a reflection of crow’s civic engagement as well as his analysis of power. The difference, for crow, between Power and power is the manner with which it is instated. There is Power of domination and exploitation, and there is power in popular organization, consent, community, and free expression. This is the power of the people, the justice of the right to survive.

Today, crow is touring the country, discussing state repression and anarchist organizing. He talks often about what he calls “the emergency heart” of radical organizing. Under the constant pressures of the state, political, and economic oppression, organizers can feel completely hemmed in by the jobs, the financial constraints placed on their families, and the policial-social realities of racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on. We constantly feel like we’re in an emergency situation placed on us by such terrible pressures. The emergency heart pounds through these dead-end feelings of hysteria, and leaps into action. This profound gesture of awareness and love breeds hope and optimism in the community. It opens the time and space to act, beyond the stifling anxieties that lead people toward blame, resentment, and hate. Thus, it forms community. And community is what we need to get along.

When we read Black Flags and Windmills, we get a sense of heroic narrative—the tradition of black liberation, third world revolution, anarchist organizing—but we can understand this only in the context of a politics of friendship, a constant feeling of giving and understanding. For the heroism of this text does not belong to crow, it belongs to the reader, to the people of the lower 9th Ward, to the volunteers who showed up to lend a hand or a few dollars to the effort. The heroism of this text belongs to the suffering peoples of the East Coast who have suffered the deluge of climate change, and are organizing rhizomes of direct action, some of them under the auspices of the Occupy movement.

Hence, the Occupy movement’s natural gesture toward catastrophe organizing has only come out through necessity and hope, as described by crow in Black Flags and Windmills. This book is definitely recommended to anyone thinking about organizing and having an effect on the geography of development today. It is a fast read, but one can spend hours working through the subtle intricacies of collective organizing, applying the ideas, thoughts, and facts to their own life. It can be consumed face-down lying on the bed, or sternly at a library next to a computer, looking up every important reference to radical history and tradition (or, and why not, 40 feet up in a tree, surveying the grand and beautiful forests of crow’s native state of Texas).

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Lessons for Building a Co-operative Movement: An Interview with John Curl

by Michael Johnson
Grassroots Economic Organizing
Fall 2012

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

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

“John Curl’s book For All the People is a one-of-a-kind gem. He has done what no one else has by exploring the various permutations of ‘coop-eration’ as a value system and as a movement throughout American history. He also makes clear that the cooperative alternative to wage labor and exploitation still offers hope to those of us who want to see democracy permeate the world of work.”

—Steve Leikin, author of The Practical Utopians: American Workers and the Cooperative Movement in the Gilded Age

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

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

JC: The second edition has three additional pieces.

1) A foreword by novelist and essayist Ishmael Reed.

2) A new preface by myself that discusses developments of the last four years. The first edition came out just as the economy was collapsing into the Great Recession. In the second edition I discuss the United Nations study which shows that worker co- operatives and all cooperatives around the world have fared better than standard capitalist corporations during these hard times. I discuss the reasons why the UN declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives. I discuss the limited equity co-operatives created through squatting in the urban homestead movement in New York City. I discuss the Food Hub movement, a spontaneous rural cooperative movement on a national scale. I discuss the United Steel Workers Union’s partnership with Basque Spain’s Mondragon International to develop manufacturing cooperatives in the US and Canada. Finally I discuss the World Social Forum’s movement to reclaim the world commons, and cooperative management of the commons.

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

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

MJ: “Entryist?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The long history of co-operatives in the US

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

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

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

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

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

Now, to your question about “how cooperation has been an important part of American history.” America’s unique history did encourage mutual aid and cooperation. Indigenous America was largely based on cooperation and tribal collectivity. Every wave of immigrants to America, arriving from different parts of the globe, had to start from scratch. They pooled their resources and through mutual aid lifted themselves from poverty and oppressive situations. Most of the wagon trains headed west were cooperatives. When settlers built new towns it was primarily through mutual aid and cooperation. No one came to America with the goal of becoming a wage slave. Industrial workers were trapped into oppressive situations by circumstance. They turned to mutual aid in order to form unions which were usually also cooperatives. Many workers saw a path to liberation through worker cooperatives in their industries. This culminated in the Knights of Labor’s plan to build a cooperative commonwealth that would supersede the capitalist system.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Is this an accurate reading?
• If so, are accurate future prospects bleak? Upbeat? Unknown?
• Or do we need to think about these kinds of questions in larger frames, like a multi-generational time frame?
• Also, is the recent collaboration between Mondragon and the United Steel Workers an indication of a new emerging vitality or just another positive effort?

JC: Government promotion of rural and farm cooperatives became national policy as part of the recovery efforts of the New Deal. Rural America was transformed by co-operatives in the 1930s. Besides farmer supply and distribution, co-ops brought electricity and water for drinking and irrigation to most of the rural US. Co-operatives are still strong in many rural areas and a part of everyday life today, and are still promoted by the government there.
Yes, unions continue to be in steep decline, due in large part to anti-labor legislation. Severe legal restrictions keep unions weak. And the current electoral system, based on the domination of money, is geared to produce legislators dedicated to keeping it that way. Only a complete breakdown of the current system will open the window wide enough for large-scale change today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JC:
The worker cooperative movement in the US should follow the United Nations directive to forge a partnership with allies in government and civil society, because only with deep backing from those sectors can cooperatives grow extensive enough to transform our world.
Yes, the New Deal alliance that institutionalized cooperatives in rural America is a role model. Even the banking sector participated constructively in it, with the rural Banks For Co-operatives program. We need to build counter institutions not as an isolated sector, but integrated into the existing economy as we build them one by one. They are basically institutions for the increasingly large numbers of our people who are being marginalized and excluded from the mainstream capitalist system, as well as people alienated and disgusted by the oppressive working conditions. When people learn to work together, pool resources and help each other through mutual aid institutions, we will all be stronger and more prosperous. A strong co-operative movement among marginalized people can be a transformative social force. I don’t expect the mainstream capitalist system to disappear soon. We have to plan to live with it as much as possible. But it inevitably goes through cycles of boom and bust. The co-operative sector is affected by those booms and busts, but not as much as capitalist enterprises. Bust times, like now, are a stimulus to the co-operative sector. The Great Recession may be a new normal, a situation that will persist through this generation at least.
I’ll try to clarify what I meant when I talked about the old system collapsing of its own weight. I think the world is changing so that the current mainstream economic system is becoming like those gigantic dinosaurs that became increasingly unable to cope. Scientists tell us that during the age of dinosaurs mammals began as small furry creatures, and birds began as little feathered dinosaurs. The gigantic dinosaurs collapsed of their own weight when they became irrelevant to the new emerging world. This can be a model for the co-operative movement in this century.

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

JC:
Maintaining growth at a sustainable size is a key to success for individual co-operatives and the movement. Capitalist enterprises are typically swept up into the unending spiral of “grow or die.” Historically many co-operatives have gotten caught in that destructive cycle, including the old Berkeley Co-op, which collapsed after 50 years in 1988. [MJ: John tells this story in rich detail in the book.] To be sustainably successful, the co-operative movement needs to reject that model. Centralized, top-down, vertical growth of any co-op system invariably leads to collapse, whether by bankruptcy or being swallowed by capitalism. The structure of an extensive and sustainable movement involves horizontal growth of interconnected autonomous co-ops. Each individual co-op needs to find its “right size,” and be satisfied with that important accomplishment. Co-operatives are a movement with not one but thousands of centers and an unlimited periphery. Numerous people throughout America and around the world are now coming to realize the transformational possibilities of co-operatives, particularly worker co-operatives. It is a family of ideas whose time has come. With thousands of creative minds approaching the work from different perspectives, a dynamic moment is upon us; where it will lead is limited by only our practical imagination.
21st Century: bringing on a Co-operative America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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