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Live Review: Mat Callahan sings James Connolly

By Nicolas Grizzle
City Sound
January 18th, 2014

Live Review: Mat Callahan sings James Connolly

Mat Callahan at the Arlene Francis Center

The cyclical nature of revolution songs is undeniable. Take a song from 100 years ago and it will be, at least in part, relevant today. Take, for example, the songs of Irish revolutionary James Connolly.

Mat Callahan, who fronted the San Francisco political punk/worldbeat band the Looters in the 80s, has compiled a book of Connolly’s music from original publications long thought lost to history. The book is put together well, with just enough history to give a sense of Connolly’s importance but relying mostly on the man’s own words from his music, all of which was written over 100 years ago. Connolly, a leading Marxist theorist in his day and was executed by the British in 1916.

Callahan and his wife Yvonne Moore, who now call Switzerland home, performed about a dozen songs on acoustic guitar and vocals at the Arlene Francis Center Friday night. The performance was the most punk rock thing I’ve seen all year, and will hold that title for at least a while. The duo sent a frozen shiver down my spine with lines like, “The people’s flag is deepest red, it shrouded oft our martyred dead; and ere their limbs grew stiff and cold, their hearts’ blood dyed its every fold.”

Santa Rosan Robert Ethington opened the show with original songs on acoustic guitar, accompanied by his wife Amy on vocals. They played a handful of powerful songs, suggesting they’d be a treat to see as a headlining act.


The album, “Songs of Freedom,” includes fully orchestrated versions of the songs Callahan and Moore played Friday night. It’s got Callahan’s worldbeat sensibility and arrangement, with guitar, bass, drums, Irish whistles, pipes, vocal harmony, fiddle, accordion and harp. The production is excellent, and the arrangements are updated to modern sensibility without losing their original feeling. Some tunes to Connolly’s songs were lost, so Callahan wrote original music to his lyrics. It serves to note that Connolly’s main purpose of putting these revolutionary words to music was for people to sing them and remember them, so many of the tunes are actually traditional country songs or somewhat hokey, simple melodies. They sound best when sung with 100 of your closest, most fed-up-with-the-system friends.

Get the book and CD here. It’s perfect for fans of history, revolution and Mat Callahan, each of which is equally important.

Here’s where you can catch this great show:
B350917F-3B9ACA00-1-Songs of Freedom 8x11





None But Ourselves Can Free Our Minds: Chris Crass' "Towards Collective Liberation"

By Dr Zakk Flash
Truthout
January 18th, 2014

More than just an anthology of essays, Chris Crass's Towards Collective Liberation is a coming-of-age tale for the modern activist. Crass chronicles his growth as an organizer, illustrating how the rewards and challenges of being a college-age activist with Food Not Bombs has shaped his current endeavors in feminist work with men and anti-racist work with majority white groups. In tracing his own evolution as an activist, Crass examines his involvement in half a dozen activist groups, showing how current sociopolitical issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and US wars abroad are linked to struggles at home.

Crass's book serves two main purposes: as the memoir of an activist fighting racism, sexism, classism and homophobia, and as a self-help book for the beleaguered social justice organizer. Pairing tales of personal development with movement moments, Crass tells the story of his growth in wisdom, and the integration of that wisdom into an intersectional praxis for effective social change. That word, praxis, is one that appears time and time again. Praxis, practice-driven theory, is the engine that drives successful struggle. As Crass tells it, insight isn't enough; moments of sudden inspiration and new understanding can provide momentum, but sustainable change requires analysis, planning, organization, integration and reflection.

Chris Crass's life story provides a lens through which to view his take on the birth and death of popular struggle. In organizing against imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, Crass is organizing against himself. As a white man, raised in capitalist America, the author is granted multiple measures of privilege. In examining the strengths and contradictions inherent in anarchist activism, Crass is dissecting himself, refusing that privilege and questioning its origin. These motivations are what make the book so useful in discussing contemporary activism.

In his long and fairly venerable career as a rabble rouser, Crass has made a lot of friends. He brings them along in Towards Collective Liberation, drawing judiciously from interviews in constructing his narrative. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz - historian, writer and professor emerita in Native American studies at California State University - lends academic weight in the foreword; her contribution from a dedicated Marxist revolutionary with extensive radical credentials in feminism and anti-racist work serves to bolster the author's message. Chris Dixon, fellow at the Institute for Anarchist Studies, brings along his own experiences in the book's introduction. Well-known in anti-authoritarian and indigenous solidarity organizing circles, Dixon's recommendation of the book adds to its gravitas.

Emotionally honest, Towards Collective Liberation deals with the stress, disillusionment and everyday difficulties of social change work. The self-replicating social dynamics of hierarchy pop up even in the most dedicated of revolutionary lives; if we're working for radical political, economic and cultural changes, we must remember that this work is called "struggle." And while it seems simple, addressing feelings, communication, conflict and resistance in day-to-day interrelations can make a serious difference. Crass's book illuminates the means by which oppression is reinforced by hierarchies of hegemonic groups. In doing so, he provides opportunities for reflection on how that oppression might be lessened.

Empire is not inevitable. Racism, sexism, nationalism, homophobia are not the natural order of things. In putting this book together, Chris Crass has created a compelling volume with a simple message: Our personal and collective liberation is bound up in the liberation of others.

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




Peter Kuper: Drawn to an International Comic Art Career

By Michael Dooley
Print Magazine
June 3rd, 2013

Peter Kuper’s seen it all. And he wants us to see it, too. So he draws it for us. His visits to Latin America, the Middle East, and beyond have been providing him with perspective and inspiration for World War 3 Illustrated – America’s longest-running radical comic book anthology, since 1980. His various comics autobiographies include ComicsTrips: A Journal of Travels Through Africa and Southeast Asia. And his graphic novel adaptions of classic literature by authors such as Franz Kafka and Upton Sinclair have been translated into French, German, Swedish, Portugese, Greek, and several other languages.

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photo by M. Dooley

photo by M. Dooley

Peter’s accomplishments include creating the New York Times‘s first regular comic strip feature. With his mastery of multiple art media and a flair for rendering powerful, riveting images, he’s produced award-winning covers for Time, Newsweek, and numerous other publications. And he’s most known to the public for “Spy vs. Spy,” which he’s been drawing for Mad since 1997.

This summer, you can find Peter at his regular spot in San Diego Comic-Con’s Artists’ Alley, selling his original “Spy” artwork and rare collector’s items. He’ll also be promoting Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City, which just released this week.

Our conversation begins with his views of Manhattan and Mexico and covers a lot of ground, including his comics class at Harvard, his success at gaining a broad readership and reaching foreign markets, and his thoughts about print vs. digital media.

Unless otherwise noted, all images copyright © Peter Kuper.

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How would you describe Drawn to New York and Diario de Oaxaca?

Both books are odd birds, falling between categories. They’re more like visual diaries of time periods in my life, reflecting the influences of specific locations.

And how are they different from each other?

New York, relatively speaking, seems to be in black and white, with its towering modern steel and glass structures in stark contrast to the humans who inhabit the city. Compared to most other places in the world – especially the laid-back nature of Mexico – the pace in Manhattan is intense – which I love – so the books reflect those vast differences.

Drawn to New York illustrates 30 years, including an era when the city was much more dangerous, down and dirty, then later, as it was gentrified for better and worse, through 9-11 and other stormy experiences – literally with Hurricane Sandy.

Diario de Oaxaca is a sketchbook journal primarily about a town in Mexico where I lived from 2006 to 2008. Oaxaca is an incredibly colorful place, sunny and warm 90% of the time, with 16th century architecture and nearby ruins of ancient civilizations. There was a huge teachers’ strike, people killed and a military presence during the first six months of my stay, which added a dark dimension, but that left the remaining year and a half to draw the glorious details of life in Mexico.

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The pages of both these books appear quite vivid and luminous on electronic devices; do you see this as an advantage?

For the limited way I’ve used eBooks, this is the main benefit. It is really striking to see the pages illuminated this way, but not worth the loss of the tactile experience of a print book. I haven’t taken advantage of all the things that can be done within the form of eBooks, like open sources, linking to videos, or adding animation.

So, print’s your personal preference?

I’m really a print person, and need the feel of a book in my hands. I feel obliged to explore the options of digital since it’s clear that this is a direction books are headed. And of course, there are, and will be, many exciting things to be done in that medium, too.

Like many people, I have a real love/hate relationship with computers and everything that they’ve changed.

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What’ve been your most successful works in foreign markets?

My adaptation of The Metamorphosis, thanks to the popularity of Kafka, has been translated in ten countries – including Israel, Turkey, Brazil, and the Czech Republic – so that’s the winner. But since I lived in Mexico I’ve done five books with my Mexican publisher, Sexto Piso, and that’s opened the door to a much wider relationship with Latin America, which is another kind of success. It’s also translated into many invites to book festivals throughout South America.

And what’ve been your experiences with overseas printing and publishing?

At this point most of my books are printed in Asia, and working directly with those printers and seeing what’s possible has given me many ideas for more elaborate printing: debossing, tipped-in plates, paper-wraps, etc.

As far as working with foreign publishers, it’s been generally fantastic, but the pay is much smaller than the bigger US publishers. Still, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to reach new audiences with my work. And my relationships open other doors as well, with illustration work. I’ve been art directing and illustrating a weekly political piece for the French paper Liberation, which came through one of my publishers there.

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Liberation illustration copyright © Peter Kuper

copyright © Steve Brodner

Liberation illustration copyright © Steve Brodner

copyright © Edel Rodriguez

Liberation illustration copyright © Edel Rodriguez

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What did you learn from the reception that Stop Forgetting to Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz received?

Avoid faux autobiographies!

I had the “clever” idea of making it the autobiography of a fictitious cartoonist. This seemed reasonable, since I wanted to make adjustments to my story without cheating the truth. It seemed that the play was the thing and it was less important that it was my story. But some people were flummoxed by this.

It was later published in Spanish and French and I decided to drop the doppelgänger in those editions.

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How will your approach to Ruins be different?

Ruins is a very different book for me. It will be my longest graphic novel, at about 300 full color pages. And it is a work of fiction, though I’m applying my experiences in Mexico and my interest in entomology. Nobody will mistake it for autobiography.

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What first motivated you to express your political beliefs through visual commentary?

Fear was a big motivator. Ronald Reagan was about to become president when I was in art school, with a hostage crisis in Iran and his itchy trigger-finger ready to launch the bomb. I was desperate to have some kind of response, which was a big reason my friend Seth Tobocman and I started publishing World War 3 Illustrated. That title choice says it all!

How has WW3 Illustrated evolved over its 34 years?

Kuper20_WW3 One of the ways our magazine has expanded has been through bringing in younger people, including some of the students Seth and I have had at the School of Visual Arts. They bring a whole new set of ideas and connections. As a result we’ve ended up with more contributions from abroad, like cartoonists from Egypt. Many of these artists have never been seen in the US and they’re bringing stories based on first-hand experience, which is an area of journalism ideally suited to comics.

I’m currently editing a new issue, with dozens of contributors and a rotating group of editors.

What topics will it tackle?

This issue has an unusually light, upbeat subject: death.

We have stories ranging from the history of hell to a personal account of life on Death Row. There are comics about losing family members, and a look at how other cultures view death, like Mexico’s Day of the Dead. And there will be a series of photos of murals in Egypt commemorating people who died during the Arab spring.

Mortality is something we all face and comics are a great medium to express all the angles.

What makes a successful political cartoon?

One that stops you in your tracks, enlightens, and makes you consider a perspective you hadn’t previously entertained – maybe even to the point of taking some positive action steps. If it can also have humor, it’s win-win.


copyright © Jonathan Finn-Gamiño

copyright © Kayla Escobedo

copyright © Kayla Escobedo

copyright © Kayla Escobedo

copyright © Kayla Escobedo

How did you come to teach at Harvard?

There were enough students interested in comics that Harvard was pushed to include a course. How my name got thrown in the hat is still a mystery to me. Once I was asked – even though it’s a daunting commute from New York City to Boston and back every week – I couldn’t say no.

What was the nature of your class?

It’s really the same class I teach at SVA. It gives students all the building blocks necessary to create a solid comic page, from the most basic aspects of page design and lettering to the elements of a solid visual narrative.

All the assignments are strictly in black and white and complete beginning-middle-end in one page. I help them find stories worth telling based on personal experiences, dreams, adaptations, and journalistic approaches. I include a lot of comic art history through presentations and get them to each give a talk on an artist of their choosing.  I also bring in guest lectures; Steve Brodner and Ben Katchor visited Harvard last semester. And at SVA over the years Peter de Sève, Gabrielle Bell, Seymour Chwast, and Matt Mahurin, among others, have given presentations to my students.

How did your Harvard students differ from your SVA students?

copyright © Kayla Escobedo

copyright © Kayla Escobedo

Generally the SVA students are all cartoon or illustration majors. On rare occasion they’re in film, but all related in one form another to art.

Of my Harvard students – 23 applied and I had to select 12, the maximum per class – only half were coming from an arts background.

I had an economics student and an English literature major and one who was doing medieval studies. They brought some interesting ideas to the table even though they were sometimes artistically starting from scratch.

Students like Jonathan Finn-Gamiño and Kayla Escobedo were in Harvard’s art program, so they were already producing developed work. For the ones that were first-timers I help them hone their skills through inspiring assignments and Gulag-esque critiques. They were all pretty responsive to this approach, though several said it was the most demanding class they took at Harvard!

How would you evaluate your course’s success?

Some of my students formed a comics club and began publishing a magazine when class ended, so my enthusiasm for the form must have rubbed off!

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Which art media do you feel most comfortable with?

I like media that allows me direct contact with materials and that has an unpredictable outcome. Stencil and spray paint has that in spades, so I spent several decades working in that approach. Until I lifted the stencil, I wouldn’t know exactly what the result would be. Unfortunately, I do have a pretty good idea about the long-term effects of working with toxic materials, so I stopped using spray paint.

I also love scratchboard since it, too, has surprising results, like a fluid form of woodcut. Quality scratchboard, however, has been difficult to find, so I’m finding myself forced to dig up new mediums that will bring that element of mystery.

One of my recent favorites is a multicolored pencil with seven different colors in the tip; always an unexpected color with each scrawl.

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How do you feel about the “cartoonist” and “graphic novelist” labels?

It used to be I’d rarely mention I was a cartoonist since it brought calls to reproduce some kind of “Superman” style. That used to be the main way people viewed comics. These days I’m able to refer to myself as a cartoonist without people presuming superheroes. And it’s a great conversation-starter at parties!

We still haven’t really found the right title to describe what we do. “Graphic novelist” is just the one we currently agree on. In the future it may be another moniker like “People of cartoonal” or “Comic-con Americans.” I don’t care, as long as I get to ply my trade.

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What’s your advice to cartoonists who want to reach a broader readership beyond the usual fan base?

First advice is: learn about the history of the form. There are so many old masters to be discovered that serve as inspiration beyond the flavor of the moment: Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Lyonel Feininger, Harvey Kurtzman, etc. I’ve found, consistently, all successful cartoonists know their history.

Next – as much as I hate aspects of computers – the Internet provides many opportunities to reach a wider audience. Or so I’ve heard.

Third, it’s unavoidable – unless you win the art lottery – to end up doing a lot of free work. This is hard to face, but to create work that demonstrates your abilities often requires producing without remuneration. Most of my early comics – and plenty of recent ones – were done without pay, at least initially. WW3 Illustrated has never paid anyone, which may be the secret to our success!

I’m not glorifying poverty: it’s just important to not give up if the money isn’t there. If you do work from the heart that you really enjoy, fandom – and hopefully, filthy lucre – will follow.

Speaking of fans, do you have anything to say to yours?

I was as surprised as anyone to be chosen People magazine’s “Sexiest Cartoonist/Illustrator Man of the Year,” so thanks for all your votes.

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Drawn to New York in Boing Boing

by Brian Heater
Boing Boing
June 28th, 2013

This book is, frankly, just too large to attempt to read on a crowded downtown “6” train on a Saturday night -- the guy leaning off the pole next to you will keep bumping into you as he sways slowly, back and forth. And all of a sudden you’re the asshole, because you’re trying to read some beautiful, hardcover graphic novel on a too hot and sticky early night in June. And then maybe a fight will break out in the next car over, between two women. You can’t hear a word of it, but it’s a sort of delicate dance of hand signals and bobbing heads still visible through pollution-frosted windows. And then a man will apologize to the car before telling the sad story of the family he’s trying to support on an income of change and crumpled dollar bills, and some break dancing teens will flip to Michael Jackson songs, their flying sneakers repeatedly coming far too close to your downward-facing head for comfort.

I don’t know that it was the best way to enjoy such a thing. Peter Kuper packs a million shapes and colors and emotions into a page, and if you look up for a moment at the two young women have a loud conversation about their sex lives, you’ll probably miss a solid 100 thousand. But it’s a book that can be taken in pieces, a wide-ranging collection of comics, sketches and commissioned illustrations lacking in an over-arching narrative arc (if that’s what you’re in the market for, I’d nudge you toward the largely autobiographical Stop Forgetting to Remember). It’s fractured and chaotic, and for those looking in from the outside, the grime may well have all the tourist appeal of Penn Station.

Unlike the stylistically similar Diario De Oaxaca, Kuper doesn’t offer the added context of a visitor to the strange land -- and, really, the New York City tourist board isn’t likely to adopt this text any time soon. But who knows, maybe by the time you reach the first stop in Brooklyn, you’ll find a thing or two that will put you back on the right side of your perpetual love/hate relationship with this city.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page




Anarchy, Geography, Modernity Review in Antipode

By Federico Ferretti
Antipode: A Radical Journal of Georgraphy
December 2013

This is a new edition of an important selection of writings by the anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus (1830-1905), translated from French by the editors John Clark and Camille Martin.

The editors note that, with conferences held in 2005 in Lyon, Milan, New Orleans, Montpellier, Mexico and Barcelona to mark the 100th anniversary of Reclus’ death, “in recent years, the rate of publication of works on or by Reclus has grown exponentially” (p. ix); this is certainly true for our own discipline, which has seen increasing interest in ‘anarchist geographies’1.

Clark and Martin translated 11 pamphlets, articles or book chapters by Reclus, four of which come from his last work L’Homme et la Terre [1905], which several authors consider to be the anarchist geographer’s most complete expression of his political and social thought.

The first paper, ‘The feeling for Nature in modern society’ [1866], was published by Reclus in the French journal La Revue des Deux Mondes, and belonged to a series in which he dealt with the relationship between humankind and nature, anticipating several themes of the more recent debates on the environment. I notice that, among these writings for La Revue des Deux Mondes, there was also a review of Man and Nature [1864] by the American geographer George Perkins-Marsh (1801-1882), Reclus’ friend and correspondent, which is not included in this edition (see Reclus 1864). In it Reclus criticized Perkins-Marsh’s idea of Man as a ‘disturber’, because his humanist approach didn’t envisage a pure, untouched nature, or the myth of wilderness. For Reclus, the main aim was to create a harmonic equilibrium between
humankind and the environment, considered not as separable terms of a dialectical
relationship.1

See for instance the Antipode special issue ‘Reanimating Anarchist Geographies’ (volume 44, number 5, 2012) and the ACME special issue ‘Anarchist and Autonomous Marxist Geographies’ (volume 11, number 3, 2012).1

The second and third texts, ‘To my brother the peasant’ [1893] and ‘Anarchy’ [1894] -sharing the same titles as the contemporary pamphlets L’anarchia and Fra contadini by the celebrated Italian Anarchist Errico Malatesta (1853-1932), are classical texts, short and simple, written as anarchist propaganda for popular classes. One characteristic of the anarchist movement was the refusal to recognize the existence of a privileged revolutionary class, as Marxists did with the modern industrial proletariat. Anarchist propaganda spoke equally to rural workers, considering important the spreading of consciousness of different kinds of oppression and the affirmation of universal and international brotherhood among rural and urban workers. Reclus stated that the division of the oppressed favored only oppressors, who hoped that hungry people “just eat one another” (p.119).

‘The extended family’ [1896] is a text where Reclus expressed his sympathy for the
animal world, and for a respectful association of humans and non-human animals, already practiced in several so-called ‘primitive’ communities. I think that it is rather unfair to, as Clark does, try to evaluate how far Reclus was “anthropocentric” (p.21): the concept clearly didn’t exist at the time he was writing. But I also think that it is relevant to notice, as Clark does, that Reclus, vegetarian and supporter of mutual aid among different species, was one of the first European authors to put the question of enlarging the circle of solidarity beyond the
frontiers of humankind, stating “for my part, I also include animals in my feeling of socialist solidarity” (p.32).

‘Evolution, revolution, and the anarchist ideal’ [1898] is a synthesis of perhaps the
most famous of Reclus’ anarchist propaganda -Evolution, revolution, et l’idéal anarchique.

In this text the anarchist geographer exposed one of his pivotal political principles: evolution and revolution are not irreconcilable alternatives, but phases of the same historical process leading humankind progressively to higher levels of equality and freedom. This was criticized, even among some anarchists, for its optimism, yet it nevertheless has the advantage, in comparison with other contemporary conceptions, of avoiding both the messianism of revolution and the2 idea of a linear history; Reclus’ concept of historical development, some aspects of which were inspired by the philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), considered both progressions and regressions in the ongoing struggle between authority and freedom. In this dialectic, revolutions are moments of necessary rupture inserted in the frame of a slower evolutionary process.

‘On vegetarianism’ [1901] is a pamphlet affirming the ethics, and health benefits, of
vegetarianism, starting with a very touching personal experience and expressing full
compassion for all the victims of butchers. However, as Reclus was moved by principles of humanism and tolerance, we don’t find an explicit condemnation of people making different choices.

The following four chapters are taken from the volumes five and six of L’Homme et la Terre. ‘The history of cities’ expresses the urban thinking of Reclus, who shared the criticism of the insalubrity of cities with the hygienists of his time, but considered it in the frame of class contradictions and the general necessity to reform society. At the same time, he refused the ‘urbaphobie’ of several hygienists, stating that sociability and encounter is necessary for human beings. To meet these needs, Reclus was a supporter, together with Pëtr Kropotkin (1842-1921), of a decentralised model aiming to overcome the traditional limits between town
and countryside, which inspired the thinking of Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928) and Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) on the ‘Garden City’ and ‘Regional Planning’ respectively (see Dunbar 1978; Raffestin 2007; Ferretti 2012).

‘The modern state’ is a critique of the state apparatus starting from its historical
development and ending with the statement that globalization will render the peoples progressively closer to each other, so a common future stands in international solidarity, refusal of nationalism and wars, and cosmopolitanism. In this, argued Reclus, geography could play an important role, teaching respect and mutual knowledge between different peoples and representing the world according to the principle of human unity.3

‘Culture and property’ analyses the historical origins of property. Reclus proposed a
classic appreciation of the ancient commons and traditional cooperative work, and was an acute critic of the concentration of modern capital, observing the efficiency, in some cases, of production’s decentralization and small-scale economy. That said, he was aware of the transnational nature of capital fluxes, and, as astutely noted by Clark, “he observes that the ability of capital to transgress all boundaries of state and nationality gives it a great advantage over political power” (p.83).

‘Progress’ is the last chapter of L’Homme et la Terre, resuming Reclus’ thinking on
several topics, like the definition of progress, which according to Reclus is not a linear process. “The missionaries who encounter magnificent savages moving about freely in their nakedness believe that they will bring them ‘progress’ by giving them dresses and shirts, shoes and hats, catechisms and Bibles, and by teaching them to chant psalms in English or Latin” (p.209-210). Inspired by Vico’s discourse on corsi e ricorsi (ebb and flow) of historical evolution, Reclus rejected the presumption that ‘civilization’ had accomplished real progress from supposedly barbarous times. Real progress, according to Reclus, means “the conquest of bread” (p.224); he fumed at “our much-acclaimed half-civilization (it is only half-civilized because it is far from benefiting everyone)” (p.227). He noted that nobody among the so- called savages, would accept to live in some of the industrial slums of the ‘civilized’ world.

According to him, it is not by the pretension of superiority, but by the “complete union of the civilized with the savage and with nature” (p.231) that society could reach equality, that is, true progress. This conclusion is consistent with Reclus’ early radical opposition to racism, colonialism and imperialism2, recognized by Clark, who argues that Reclus “vehemently opposes the spread of imperial state power” (p.80).

In his long introductory essay (p.3-100), Clark explores the wide range of social and scientific topics mobilized by Reclus. In Clark’s thinking on Elisée Reclus, there are some controversial points, particularly his statement that Reclus was a forerunner of Social Ecology, which engendered in 1997 a public debate between Clark and the French geographer Philippe Pelletier3. The latter stated that Reclus is not identifiable as an ‘ecologist’, as he chose deliberately to not use the label ‘ecology’ because this term was utilized by Ernst Heackel (1834-1919) - a social Darwinist opposed to socialism, who was well-known and explicitly criticized by Reclus, who preferred the definition ‘mesology’, proposed by his friend Adolphe Bertillon (1821-1883). According to Pelletier (2013) - and I agree with him - Reclus’
definition of ‘Social Geography’, which at that time was synonymous with ‘Socialist Geography’, clearly represented an alternative to contemporary ecology and ecological thought, sketching out a program which was primarily anarcho-socialist.

I don’t enter into the details of this discussion, which is available online, but as a
historian of geography I’d note the clear influence on Reclus of German Naturphilosophie (‘Philosophy of Nature’), through authors like Lorenz Oken (1779-1851) and Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854), whose writings played an important part in his early intellectual development (see Reclus 1911). The same philosophers inspired widely the geographers who shaped Reclus’ scientific conceptions, like Carl Ritter (1779-1859) and Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) (see le Scanff 2001; Tang 2008). In a nutshell, I can affirm that Reclus, like the Naturphilosophers, considered humankind and nature as consubstantial and in constant relation. This perspective is neither ‘monism’ nor ‘dualism’, and it renders impossible both the Biblical idea of man’s domination of nature and Perkins-Marsh’s nostalgic dream of a wild nature (which today could be compared, with some prudence, to some expressions of the so-called ‘deep ecology’).3

See Clark (1997) and Pelletier (1997).

On the one side, it is clear that there is a high risk of anachronism in associating, like Clark and Martin do, an author who lived between 1830 and 1905 to very present concepts and problems like ‘ecofeminism’ (p.vii), ‘resilience’ (p.viii) or ‘climate change’ (p.viii): problems, categories and concepts simply did not existed, or conceived in a radically different way, in Reclus’ time. Nevertheless, considering the wide circulation of Reclus’ ideas, during his lifetime as well as more recently, beyond both the disciplinary borders of geography and the political borders of anarchism, I agree with the picture Clark paints of him as “a significant figure in modern European social and political theory in general” (p.73), whose ideas are still useful (and, indeed, used) in several urgent debates on present problems. Clark and Martin’s collection deserves praise, to my mind, for making available in the Anglophone world important texts by Elisée Reclus.

References Clark J (1997) Du bon usage d’Elisée Reclus.
Le Monde Libertaire
http://raforum.info/reclus/spip.php?article23&lang=fr (last accessed 11 December
2013)

Dunbar G (1978) Élisée Reclus: Historian of Nature. Hamden: Archon
Ferretti F (2012) Aux origines de l’aménagement régional: le schéma de la Valley Section de Patrick Geddes (1925)
M@ppemonde http://mappemonde.mgm.fr/num36/articles/art12405.html (last accessed 11 December 2013)

Ferretti F (2013) “They have the right to throw us out”: Élisée Reclus’
New Universal Geography.
Antipode 45(5):1337-1355
Pelletier P (1997) John Clark analysant Elisée Reclus, ou comment prendre ses désirs pour

des réalités.
Le Monde Libertaire
http://raforum.info/reclus/spip.php?
article105&lang=fr (last accessed 11 December 2013)
Pelletier P (2013)

Géographie et anarchie: Reclus, Kropotkine, Metchnikoff. Paris: Éditions du Monde Libertaire
Raffestin C (2007) Storia di un ruscello. In M Schmidt di Friedberg (ed)

Elisée Reclus: natura ed educazione. Milan: Bruno Mondadori
Reclus E (1864) L’Homme et la nature: de l’action humaine sur la géographie physique.

La Revue des Deux Mondes 54:762-771 Reclus E (1911)
Correspondance, Vol. I.
Paris, Schleicher
le Scanff Y (2001) L’origine littéraire d’un concept géographique: l’image de la France duelle.

Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines 5(2):61-93
Tang C (2008)
The Geographic Imagination of Modernity: Geography, Literature, and
Philosophy in German Romanticism. Stanford: Stanford University Press
December 2013

Federico Ferretti
Department of Geography and Environment
University of Geneva
federico.ferretti@unige.ch

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I Will Rise

By Z.G. Muhammad
Greater Kashmir
August 29th, 2013

A treat for all those who look for sublimity in poetry.

I have read Ambassador Akbar S Ahmed, 'world's foremost anthropologist and reviewed some of his books including his latest one Journey into America.  Reading his latest collection of poems, "SUSPENDED somewhere between - a book of verse' published in 2011 by Busboys and Poets, Washington, it was an amazing experience to discover the scholar known for "changing the face of anthropology' as a poet- with same piquancy as that of Allama:

"Then, one day my head high again, I will rise
pure Muslim, Marxist-Malinonwski-Mawdoodi wise,
one day I will no longer sweat-fear to dream,
then, I will posses the key to alif-lam mim"

Akbar   is a profound and prolific writer as very rightly put by Dan Futterman in his foreword to the verse collection, "his writings to this day have been like a sea-rich and full of life and well exploringŠ now with this collection we get the ocean".  The book of verse contains seventy smaller poems mostly in blank verses. The collection as very well said by the poet 'is 'call from inside'. The poems   written over a period of fifty years continue to cascade with their freshness. Every verse is an echo from the depths of heart. Nostalgia permeates in many poems and 'Diaspora' is one such example.

"Lal Killa and
Hyderabad, Deccan
Crumble into
those mosaic
tiles of my floral
incubus. The
awakening in the
actuality of parched Sindh.
Karachi the harlot
Of ethnic hungers
sucks me in."

In his poem 'will ever be' with his bruised psyche he talks about some ancient Sanskrit curse hanging over him but he believes that he can brave it and come out of its spell.

"There must seems be
An ancient Sanskrit curse
Over me
But
Yet awhile
That great heart of Umar
Beats in me
And Ali's hand holds my sword.
Perhaps that day will never be."

The poet has divided his anthology into five broad chapters, Pakistan, Love, Islam, Echoes of history and pense'es.  The influences of Rumi, Iqbal, Ghalibs and English romantic poets on Akbar are quite discernable. Living in America the poet is pained about the situation in his own country. In 'Pukhtun landscape a mood,' that I see as one of major poems in the collection the poet laments about the land where he had served as a young officer. He believes that foreign ferringhee is not the enemy but enemy is within:

"I don't hear singing in the fields any more,
I don't hear the reed by riverside
The sounds of laughter seem to have gone evermore
Even the tears have almost driedŠ
Nothing grows from barrel of gun
Save fever and fire and fear
What for one man is game and fun
For another is injustice without peer."

In poem titled I, Saracen, like Iqbal he takes pride in his past, rising a 'colossus' from shimmering sands' and not only conquering the world but immensely contributing to it but also craves for return of that glorious past:

"Thundering 'ism crash about me,
I gasp, I wake, I see
around me fragments of Suez fall
Muhammad Mustapha (SAW) I hear you call"

Notwithstanding disappointments Akbar exudes with optimism and a firm resolve:

"I hear you in muezzin's calling
I vow again to revive within me your song
to sing it forever, sweet and long"

The scholar in Akbar like Iqbal very subtly creeps in his poetry. The poem titled 'The Passing of an Empire' to me is his voluminous book 'Journey into America' encapsulated. He sees American politicians speaking about bringing democracy and civilization to the world as a sick joke to the occupied people.

"And how will conquered
Recall their masters?
In Asia they remember
The pyramids of skulls
Left by the Mongols
In Europe,
The gas chambers
Of the Nazis.
Will Afghans
Remember anything else
Besides the Abu Gharib?
ŠŠŠŠ..
The anger and ignorance
Around Islam remained dangerously high.
An outstanding presidential candidate,
Bursting with charisma,
Loudly and repeatedly
Was attacked simply
Because his middle name was Hussein"

Akbar's voice is not in wilderness. It is not a cry in desperation. Like Iqbal he challenges those harboring the idea of neo-colonization in twenty first century.

"History will record
The empire was halted
By the impoverished
But proud
Peoples of two
Muslim nations.
ŠŠŠ.
Future military adventures
And the American's sheer exhaustion
Combined with failure to see
Its predicament
All the while,
he Russian bear
and Chinese dragon
Watched in glee
Š.and waited."

The collection is a treat  for all those who look for sublimity in poetry.
(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)

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

By Aaron Leonard
rabble.ca
October 30th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Gabriel Carlyle
PeaceNews
May 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Queen of the Neighbourhood Collective, 'Revolutionary Women'

By Gabriel Carlyle
PeaceNews
February 2013

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

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

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