Join Our Mailing List

Bookmark and Share

  Home > News > Additional Stories

Barred For Life in Black Book

by Victor Ozols
Black Book
March 12th, 2013

Check Out Barred For Life, a Book About People Who Have Tattoos of the Black Flag Logo

An interesting book landed on my desk the other day: Barred for Life: How Black Flag's Iconic Logo Became Punk Rock's Secret Handshake by Stewart Dean Ebersole, with photos by Ebersole and Jared Castaldi. For those of you who aren't members of the club, Black Flag was (and sometimes is) a band that started in southern California in the late 1970s and is credited with pioneering the hardcore punk genre. There's not much else I can say about Black Flag that its fans won't argue over. Suffice it to say, they're an easily-agitated, often-alienated, always-opinionated bunch, but they're also united in their love of the band and its DIY ethos, if not its individual members. You see, throughout its tenure, Black Flag cycled through numerous singers and musicians, the most famous being Henry Rollins, who went on to some degree of fame as a spoken word artist, writer, actor, and crank. Ebersole's tome gets into the history, joys, and sorrows of the band's years, landing on the one point every fan can agree on: their awesome, four-bar logo that so many have had permanently inked onto their bodies.

It's probably the most recognized logo in all of punk rockdom, four simple black bars that represent the waving of a black flag, signifying attack rather than surrender. You could easily call it a marketing success story, though marketing is the antithesis of what the band stood for. Regardless, legions of fans, probably numbering in the thousands, have inked their bodies with it, at once becoming members of a fraternity recognized around the world. I'm no fan of tattoos myself, being of the belief that putting an image on your body doesn't necessarily mean you're more hardcore about what it means than those who didn't (star-bellied sneetches and so forth). After all, some people live and breathe the collective works of Shakespeare, but see no need to tattoo the Bard's name to their biceps.

And yet, the Black Flag bars feel like the exception to the rule. It does have meaning. It's a signifier that unites the band's diverse group of fans, spanning ages, races, genders, and backgrounds.  And so it's with fondness and occasional sympathy that I flipped through the pages of this book and read the stories of the dozens of fans who proudly show their body art for the camera. Each portrait includes the subject's name, age, home, occupation, favorite Black Flag singer, favorite Black Flag song, and favorite Black Flag album, along with a quote about what the band means to them. Many of the stories involve not fitting in as a youth, and finding strength and affirmation in the band's music, which encourages listeners to be themselves and reject the mainstream if it's not working for them.

Among those featured: my friends Seth Fineberg and Marissa Levey (above), true punks if they ever existed. Seth's in one of New York's most enduring punk rock bands, Blackout Shoppers, and the fact that he has a day job doesn't take away his punk cred. Blackout Shoppers are gigging constantly, and if you want to get a great feel for the high energy and fuck-it-all attitude of an old school punk rock show, you should see them.

Among those not pictured: Me. Okay, I don't have any tattoos, but I did go to high school in the '80s, when there really was a difference between the jocks and the skaters and the punks, and the term "alternative music" actually meant something. While the girls who wouldn't date me were woo-hooing to "Living on a Prayer," I was blasting "Rise Above" out of the tinny speakers of my car stereo. The music had power. It spoke to me where hair metal failed to. It felt real.

And so does Barred for Life. It's a book with heart. It also avoids the trap that similar single-subject photo books fall into. There's actually a narrative arc, thanks to a series of interviews with former band members (though not founder Greg Ginn or Henry Rollins) interspersed throughout, telling the story of the band and its fans. The book will be released on April 1, 2013 and you can pre-order it here.

And if it inspires you to experience the punk scene, go check out a Blackout Shoppers gig, or just hang out at New York's punk-friendly bars, like Otto's Shrunken Head, Double Down Saloon, Trash Bar, Manitoba's, and the Second Chance Saloon. See you in the mosh pit. (I won't be in it, but I'll see you there from the bar.)

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Stewart Dean Ebersole's Author Page

Revolution at Point Zero in Mute Magazine

by Joshua Eichen
Mute Magazine
22 November 2012

In 2012, we all pay at least lip service to the entanglements of class, gender, and race when not also struggling to incorporate other threads into our explanatory frameworks and actions. So when you come across clarity of vision that precisely explains those relations, one can only marvel that it was written 37 years ago and try not to be too dismayed that it isn’t more widely known. Hopefully this new collection of work by Silvia Federici will change that.

They say it is love.
We say it is unwaged work.

They call it frigidity.
We call it absenteeism.

Every miscarriage is a work accident.

Heterosexuality and homosexuality are both working conditions... but homosexuality is worker's control of production, not the end of work.1

So opens the first essay in this necessary collection of Federici’s writings. It includes essays from two periods and is organised into three sections: the first as part of her work with the Wages for House Work campaign and in dialogue with the feminist movements of the time; the second covering social reproduction since 2000 and the rise of the Movement of Movements; and the final part on the reproduction of the commons and communing. The constant optic running through her work is the centrality of social reproduction to production, and women’s labour at the heart of that reproduction globally. The first set of essays, written at the height and in the afterglow of the social struggles of the time, posit the demand of wages for housework and explains the logic behind it, drawing attention to the impossibility of production without reproduction, particularly its affective dimensions, or as she writes in the preface, 'nothing so effectively stifles our lives as the transformation into work of the activities and relations that satisfy our desires.'2 In the later sets of essays, her optic is expanded to reflect the changes in the international division of labour and unalienated forms and communities of care.

As part of the Wages for Housework campaign, and as part of the generalised struggle against work, her writings lay bare the connection between waged labour, the unwaged labour necessary to reproduce it, and its international dimension. Taking an Autonomist Marxist line against the dominant liberal and socialist feminisms of the time, these essays argue two points.3 First, that women are already part of the working class and the tasks labeled 'housework' produce and reproduce both the current and the next generation of labor power that is required by the ever expanding circuits of capital, making money from their 'cooking, smiling, fucking'.4 Second, bringing women into the factories was no more of a victory than bringing factories to the 3rd world. And that going to work in a factory was a defeat in itself, or as the Marxist groupuscule propagandises at the beginning of Elio Petri's 1971 La classe operaia va in paradise [The Working Class Goes to Heaven], to the workers as they go into the factory on a bright winter's day, 'today the sun will not shine for you'.

As the book’s introduction notes, her life's work had its genesis in the matrix of 1960s Italy, in the social struggles of the time and the insights and problematics of operaists and autonomists, particularly Mario Tronti's seminal Operai e capitale. Wages for Housework engaged with Tronti’s notion of the social factory, that at a 'certain stage of capitalist development capitalist relations become so hegemonic that every social relation is subsumed under capital and the distinction between society and factory collapses', that an increasing reorganisation of social space is and has taken place for the needs of capitalist production.5 For Federici and the other members of the Wages for Housework campaign, the heart of this reorganisation is in 'the kitchen, the bedroom, the home', where the labour of social reproduction is performed and given a much more concrete reading, and more importantly, a much more concrete demand.6

Federici's success as a writer and theorist is in the grounded nature of her proposals and her irrefutable axiom that if we weren't fed, able to sleep and make ourselves presentable, we wouldn't be able to sell our labour power. The demands of Wages for Housework are an argument against housework, its invisibility, its gendering and its devaluation and ultimately, for wages. Wages that could be used to refuse other work, that receiving a wage for the work would no more guarantee its performance than the union contracts of the 1970s prevented widespread absenteeism, and that is the first step against struggling against it. It is a revolutionary demand, 'not because by itself it destroys capital, but because it forces capital to restructure social relations in a way more favorable to us and consequently more favorable to the class.'7

The rest of the book collects a subsection of her interventions in the debates on globalisation and the commons, or commoning from the point of view articulated during her time with the Wages for Housework campaign but expanded to reflect the changed dynamic of the international division of labour.8 The articles are strong but lack the urgency that informs the first section of the book. Overall the shortcomings of the book are minor but threefold. There is a dark age, a lack of biographical information and a lack of in-depth theorisation about the relation between housework and the possibility of unalienated communities of care work, which she deals with in her essay 'On Eldercare and the Limits of Marxism', but not to the extent one would like. The dark age consists of a fifteen-year gap from which no writings are included. Given the strength of the rest of the material, the fact she was publishing during this time as part of the Midnight Notes Collective, and the marked difference in tone between the two periods, albeit not the analytic lens, at least a small sample of the period would have been appreciated. Finally, a lacuna of biographic information hurts the collection. She draws attention to the fact that second wave European feminists grew up in the rubble of the Second World War and the effects it would have on the idea of choosing or not to raise children after having spent a childhood in such marked scarcity and destruction. Beyond that, there is still a great history to be written on the social nexus of a small but vital section of the Marxist U.S. Left starting in the 1970s and continuing to the present. The lines running through the Wages for Housework campaign, the short lived journal Zerowork, the Midnight Notes Collective9, the publishing house Autonomedia, Federici, Peter Linebaugh, Harry Cleaver, and George Caffentzis, among others, deserves to be examined. Autonomists posited the theory of the circulation of struggle, that forms and discourses of struggle travel. The inverse, the circulation of strugglers, needs to be investigated as well. (The circulation of defeats is also worth investigating, and perhaps more critical in understanding working class defeats globally in the era of neoliberalism, but a much less happy point to reflect upon).
Finally, since at least 1968, social movements have been struggling with their relation to the state. Federici offers a useful insight into the nexus between social movements, the state, and how values are encapsulated in every demand and in the organisation to achieve it:
It is one thing to set up a day care center the way we want it, and then demand the state pay for it. It is quite another thing to deliver our children to the State and then ask the State to control them not for five but fifteen hours a day. It is one thing to organize communally the way we want to eat (by ourselves, in groups) and then ask the state to pay for it. It is the opposite thing to ask the State to organize our meals. In one case we regain some control over our lives, in the other we extend the State's control over us.10
“The Commoner.” Web. 17 Oct 2012. .
Federici, Silvia. Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. PM Press, 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2012.
“Midnight Notes Collective.” Web. 17 Oct. 2012. .
Petri, Elio. La Classe Operaia Va in Paradiso. 1971. Film.
Wright, Steve. Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism,
Pluto Press, 2002. Web. 16 Oct. 2012.
“Zerowork.” Web. 17 Oct. 2012. .
1Federici 17.
2 Federici 3.
3 Steve Wright's Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism remains invaluable for understanding the history and theoretical debates of the period.
4 Federici 19.
5 Federici 7.
6 Federici 8.
7 Federici 19.
8 The Commoner web journal is a good place to familiarize oneself with the commons and communing.
9 Most content of both journals are available online.
10 Federici 21.

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

Epiphanies for characters, readers

By Paul McCarthy
The Japan Times
January 19th, 2013

WE, THE CHILDREN OF CATS, by Tomoyuki Hoshino, edited and translated by Brian Bergstrom with an additional translation by Lucy Fraser. PM Press, 2012, 266 pages, $20 (paperback)

In a moving preface to the English translation, author Tomoyuki Hoshino speaks of his love for the stories (five in all) and novellas (three) included in this volume.

He gives the reader a valuable clue to understanding his fictional world by declaring that they are about characters who are marginal (“share a certain measure of minority”). They may not be obviously in the minority, but they see things in a different manner from the approved, “normal,” common-sensical way; and their principal weapon against a world that has excluded them is imagination, through which they create spaces for themselves.

Hoshino worked as a journalist in the Kanto region for some time (Brian Bergstrom’s detailed and analytic afterward specifies the Urawa area of Saitama Prefecture, which is the partial site of the novella “Sand Planet,” together with Tokorozawa and Sayama, also in Saitama) and lived for some years in Mexico, studying Latin American literature.

The story “Treason Diary” is set in Peru, and is clearly inspired by the takeover of the Japanese Embassy in Lima by a leftist guerrilla group some years ago, in the Alberto Fujimori era.

Similarly, the long novella “A Milonga for the Melted Moon” is set in a Latin American country, and centers on a professional knife-fighter/killer and a bar hostess, who wander about a fantastical city engaging in a passionate if often cryptic dialogue, undergoing multiple transformations, psychological and, it would seem, physical as well.

One of the challenges for the reader is to determine who is speaking, the knife-fighter or the bar hostess, or perhaps a new character who is a melding of both.

The point is not that Hoshino is writing autobiographical or “engaged”political fiction, but rather that he writes of what he knows, whether the setting is Japan or Latin America, Urawa or Lima. He takes what he knows and frees his imagination to create mostly “outsider” figures confronting extreme circumstances and reacting to them in startling ways. His favorite devices include hyperbole, radical ambiguity, paradox, and the coincidence of opposites. He may remind some readers now of Jorge Luis Borges, now of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, those two great Latin American writers; but Kenzaburo Oe, Japan’s Nobel Prize-winning author, has given him high praise, and Hoshino makes the point in his preface that his stories, whatever the setting or the ethnicity of the characters, are “minor Japanese realities.”

The novellas are long, exceedingly complex tours de force, and I will touch only on a few of the short stories here, for reasons of space. Even with the stories it is difficult to summarize, and probably pointless as well. Better to present some of the images, quasi-miraculous happenings and epiphanies that they present to the reader. I use religious language here not because I think Hoshino is a conventionally religious writer but to signal the intensity of his vision and his fundamental seriousness, no matter how strange and outrageous the worlds he is creating. He seems a kind of modern Dante who travels through Hell and Purgatory, never reaching Paradise.

In the course of his wanderings he, and we (Hoshino sees reading as potentially as transformative a process as writing), encounter the “Paper Woman,” who writes a novel about a woman who eats only paper, and turns herself into it. The woman-writer meets and marries a male writer named “Hoshino,” who writes on her skin in brush and ink, and finally inscribes a tattoo of portions of Don Quixote on her. She ends by setting herself on fire in the presence of her husband and child, ecstatically crying that at last she herself has become paper.

In “Air,” whose title alludes to a posthumous work for flute by Toru Takemitsu, we see a man and woman who experience shifts in gender identity, each developing fantasy organs of the opposite sex. A man who has lost his lover begins by mutilating his genitals (a variation on the wrist-cutting not uncommon among troubled young Japanese women) and attempting to create female genitalia in his own body. Meanwhile, a young woman finds herself developing what she calls “an air penis” on crowded trains, thereby gaining an insight into the feelings of the male molesters who appear on the nightly news from time to time.

These two troubled young persons meet at a social event and dance the night away together. They end by making love with their fantasy organs, and the story climaxes with their own, described in terms of breath moving through a flute: “As the two winds sounded their unbearably high-pitched notes in unison, their melting, liquid bodies vaporized completely, billowing out the window into the boundless sky outside to evaporate into thin air. … Even now, the intermingled sounds of the dual wind continue to play their hoarse-throated ‘Air’. ”

Fantasy organs are replaced by fantasy persons that gradually become “real” in “The No Fathers Club.” Starting from the idea of a soccer game played with an imaginary ball (“No Ball Soccer”), a group of fatherless high school students join together to create fantasy fathers. After a year, the less committed fall away since the rules are so strict: unwavering maintenance of the fiction of fantasy-fathers. When one of the founding members decides to leave, he gives as his excuse that his father (a purely fantasy figure) has died: “I don’t want to live with a fake father forever. So, I quit. Say hi to your dad for me.” (Hoshino’s tales are full of paradoxical, black humor, which is one of their charms.) Only one boy and his girlfriend are left, and then the boy begins to hear his fantasy-father speak, and they hold conversations. Soon, they’re all getting together as a foursome — the boy, his girlfriend, and their two fantasy-fathers: “Just as Kurumi had predicted, our fathers got along swimmingly,” the narrator-protagonist tells us.

The idyll is short-lived: The boy’s father turns out to be abusive, slapping him so hard that he draws blood from his son’s mouth. As the boy and Kurumi reveal more about their relationships with their respective fathers, their friendship ends in mutual recrimination: “As a parting shot, I said the line I’d forbidden myself from uttering: ‘Say hi to your dad for me.’ Kurumi’s final words to me were, ‘I’ll pray for your father’s health and happiness.’ It was like attending my own funeral.”

Every story and novella in this collection startles, confuses, yet finally energizes the attentive reader. The style of the translation is, as I hope the above quotes reveal, lively and realistic in dialogue and beautifully lyric in description when that tone is called for. The editor and translators are to be congratulated on presenting us with such an impressive sample of this brilliant contemporary writer.

Paul McCarthy, Ph.D. from Harvard, has taught language and literature at universities in the U.S. and Japan. He is a literary translator and writer.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Tomuyuki Hoshino 's Author Page

Rad Dad on Red Dirt Report

By Andrew W. Griffin
Red Dirt Report
January 2013

As a new father of two adopted boys, both under the age of 5, I knew that I was going to have my hands full, in addition to running this news-n-views website. Yes, I'm a pretty political guy, for anyone who is familiar with Red Dirt Report. I don't hesitate to share my views and sometimes I piss people off. But as a reporter and analyst, I feel that is my duty.

And now with the duty of raising two boys, I wanted to find that balance. That's where the book Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood comes in. Until just recently I was unfamiliar with the award-winning 'zine Rad Dad or the rad blog Daddy Dialectic. However, I was familiar with Washington D.C. activists Mark Andersen (of Positive Force and author of Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital) and of course punk-rock icon Ian MacKaye of the bands Fugazi and Minor Threat. These were guys - now fathers - I respected and admired and when I came across info on this book Rad Dad I knew I had to get it.

And while it was a little meandering in parts, the overall book is a gem and well-worth picking up. Split up into sections - "Birth, Babies and Toddlers," "Childhood," "Tweens and Teens," "Politics of Parenting: Gender, Race, Allies, Visions," and "Interviews with Rad Dads" - the editors - blogger Jeremy Adam Smith and Rad Dad 'zine creator Tomas Moniz - take us on a journey through the various stages of a child's development and the different way radical fathers raise their children.

For instance, the aforementioned Mark Andersen, an adoptive father, talks about his son Soren and says, "I accept the overriding imperative to provide Soren with love, respect and security he needs and deserves every day, as a new person, learning as he goes along, dealing daily with the newest challenge. . . . For example, I regularly expose my son to anthems of my would-be-revolution, including the Clash, Fugazi, Chumbawamba, Bikini Kill, and more. But if the first song Soren ever heard was 'Destroy Babylon' by Bad Brains, other tunes now rule our house and my own subconscious." Andersen explains that while children's songs like "Pop Goes the Weasel" can run on an "endless loop," if allowed, but what makes it fun for father and son is changing lyrics - making them meaningful, even if it's personalizing classics like "Old McDonald."

Another contributor, Jason Sperber, talks about "Seeing Pink" and how he wanted to raise his daughter - his "babygrrl" - to be a "fierce, strong woman of color." But then he laments how gender norms - girls like pink and boys like blue - bombard children at an early age and how its silly and pointless. "I'm tired of seeing pink," writes Sperber. "I'm tired of seeing blue. And I'm both pissed off and saddened deeply that at age three, my daughter and her friends, both girls and boys, have already learned to see those colors, and what they are supposed to mean, so well."

Chip Gagnon, another "rad dad," addresses "boys and militarism" and how he had to explain to his son that playing war and real war are not the same thing, writing, "he understands that the reality of war is not a game."

And this is just some of what we hear from these politically-charged, progressive fathers who want to make a difference for their children. And these fathers are straight, gay, transgendered, divorced and more.

For instance, editor Moniz, a self-described "feminist father, a rad dad, a militant antiracist," says that while you may "lose the battle" in raising your children to be loving and accepting of all people, you end up "winning the war" by living out your values in their presence and not changing who you are. After all, Moniz notes that kids spend only a fraction of time under the influence of their parents, compared to the influence they experience from media and society.

Writes Moniz: "I realize that all I can do is be the example of leading a life the way I think I should." All the while giving your kids the "tools" to fight on for themselves in an ever-changing world.

Later in the book, Moniz interviews Ian MacKaye and one of his questions to MacKaye is "any advice to new parents?" (I read his answer with great interest - having never forgotten seeing Fugazi live in Lawrence, Kansas in 1991 - a show that blew my mind)

Responds MacKaye: "Trust yourself. It's natural. You just figure things out as you and the child develop; if the kid's crying, you hold him, if he's hungry, you feed him. And take the kid for a walk!"

Ian MacKaye never bullshits and is always about getting straight to the point. And he's absolutely right. It's pretty simple and even in this society - with the crass advertising aimed at kids and the lousy movies and TV shows and corporate junk, it's good to know that there are ways to raise your kids while staying true to your values and beliefs. Rad Dad is a great guide and one I hope all new fathers will take the time to read.

To check out the Rad Dad blog, go to

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Tomas Moniz's Author Page
Back to Jeremy Adam Smith's Author Page

Suspended Somewhere Between in The American Bazaar

By David Keplinger
The American Bazaar
December 20, 2012

At their best Ahmed's poems realign the reader towards love, even forgiveness, through their language and attention.

WASHINGTON, DC: There's style in the writerly sense and then there's style, the style one achieves as a member of the human family, say, a style Akbar Ahmed has mastered. For there is surely a tone, a voice, a mastery of the grammar of life which lives not only in the pages of his non-fiction, drama and now poetry, but in the way Ahmed has conducted himself throughout his personal history, from being a young delegate of the Civil Service in Pakistan to his arrival here at American University as the Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, and onward to appearances on Oprah and The Daily Show, to being called "the world's leading authority on contemporary Islam" by the BBC and "a national treasure" by Dan Futterman, academy award nominee for screenwriting.

Ahmed has written a dozen books, including Discovering Islam, which was the basis for a six-part BBC documentary entitled Living Islam, and he is winner of the American Book Award, as well as many other honors. Since the mid-1960s, his career in the Civil Service led him to Bangladesh and later, the UK, where he served as Ambassador to Pakistan. I was present, a few years ago, when Ahmed and his family were honored at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. So I would add to Futterman's comment that not only is Ahmed a national treasure but an international one, a man whose life work has been to reach across borders, promoting amity between the most ancient rivalries.

With that it seems fitting that Ahmed's first book of poetry, Suspended Somewhere Between (PM Press), should seek in its very title to reach not only across borders but to seek the meaning, as Mallarme taught, in the interstice. It was in relationship, the father of the modern prose poem taught, that meaning is achieved: between the words, between the images, and, I would add, between peoples.  One's meaning as an individual does not reside in one's life or one's gifts, necessarily, but in the ways one shares those resources.

My life's meaning comes via my relationship to that to which I cast my glance. Who am I? What is my name? Where am I from? Often we answer these questions in the context of other people. I am of the Keplinger family. My first name has a Biblical origin. I am a citizen of the United States.

But a more mysterious, even mystical sense of meaning and purpose is revealed as the questions assume more metaphysical undertones: why am I here? For what do I do my work? For whom? What shall be my work? Ahmed, as poet, asks questions that increasingly have no answers; or perhaps have only one. Love. Why am I here? Love. For what and for whom do I do my work? For love. What shall be my work? Love.

To place ourselves in relationship to Love, to pay attention to the power of love in all its forms, is to achieve, I might say, this Most Admirable Style, which he embodies in these poems about the ravaged regions between India and Pakistan. He focuses not on macrocosmic abstractions but on individuals, often children, or his own childhood memories as "a small boy/in a crowded train compartment/bathed in dim yellow light/motionless at night/stranded/ in the killing fields of the Punjab."

Here is compassion for the innocents who are born into a violent world by no choice of their own. They have been born into a litany of terror that stretches across borders and they would be hated, even killed, for the names and meanings others would ascribe to them. The poems are often chillingly violent, but in the power of the utterance a kind of beauty, a kind of song is achieved at their best. In perhaps the strongest poem of the collection, "They Are Taking Them Away," he writes of the slaughters he witnessed as a young civil servant in "the green lands of Bengal," 1971:

women, like broken toys,
on the rail tracks to Santahar Junction
bright flags fluttering from their thighs
does it matter now
which side did this
or why

they were playing these games
with death over there in the green lands of Bengal
in the year of our lord 1971

oh the storm that raged
under the blue Bengal sky
within man,
and without him,
when rape was relief
death a desire
and killing a kindness.
Mama, hide me in your arms, for

they are taking them away
to the slaughterhouses . . .

Ahmed's poems reveal no solutions to global issues. At their best they realign the reader towards love, even forgiveness ("does it matter now/which side did this/or why"), through their language and attention. Our affiliations and borders are erased momentarily; thus he is a poet writing in the lineage of Rumi, Kabir, Ghalib. He knows, as they did, our common name is silence.

Recently, I was browsing the shelves at Bridge Street Books in Georgetown and I came across a copy of Ahmed's play, Noor, which was performed here in Washington and later published, translated, and is being produced shortly, I've learned, by a group of students at The American University of Iraq-Sulaimani. Such connections are the miracle work of art, not politics. Ahmed teaches that there is much to learn in lingering a while with the questions, in these in-betweens where we often find ourselves suspended-that is to say, in our relationship with others. It is there that poetry connects beyond diplomacy, even, and it is there that poets, as Shelley wrote, become the legislators of the world.

David Keplinger teaches in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, DC. He is the author of three collections of poetry, including The Prayers of Others. He is also a winner of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the T.S. Eliot Prize, and the Colorado Book Award, among other honors.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Akbar Ahmed's Author Page

Sober Living on Upping the Anti

by Joshua Stephens
Upping the Anti
January 12th, 2013

In his 1977-78 lectures at the Collège de France, Michel Foucault began charting the rise of what he referred to as governmentality – an exercise of power that differed from the sovereign and disciplinary forms he’d previously explored in two key ways. First, it concerned itself with populations rather than individuals; second, it derived from the practice of economy in the classical sense, conducting available materials, conditions, bodies, and forces the way one might captain a large ship. In these lectures, Foucault charted its development from the management of households to what we now recognize as the neoliberal state, hitting its stride in the unprecedented intervention of pastoral power in the lives of individuals during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, in what the church called the conducting of “the economy of souls.” Tellingly, this was where the practice of governmentality, for Foucault, encountered its fiercest resistance, in the form of what he called counter-conduct: “[T]hese anti-pastoral struggles, these pastoral counter-conducts [brought] … a whole new attitude, religious comportment, way of doing things and being, and a whole new way of relating to God, obligations, morality, as well as to civil life.”

The term was deliberately chosen, and was intended to function as something of a double-entendre: conduct counter to this particular formulation of power and a refusal to be conducted. In his lectures, Foucault zeroed in on five key instances of such refusal in the Middle Ages, the first of which was asceticism, “a form of internal challenge, if one can put it like that, which is also a challenge to the other.” In Foucault’s view, self-mastery was not a pursuit of personal salvation, but an embodied, ongoing practice within a broader and (more importantly) collective refusal of the ‘conducting of conduct’ in one’s connection to the divine, or freedom. “Whenever and wherever pastoral counter-conducts develop[ed] in the Middle Ages, asceticism was one of their points of support and instruments against the pastorate.”
Coincidentally, at the very moment in which Foucault gave these lectures, a version of this challenge to the self and other was being taken up in punk scenes across the United States. In a rather strident disavowal of punk’s creeping nihilism and its celebration of self-destruction, a number of the music scene’s adherents began turning its rejection of post-Fordist values inward, casting self-discipline as an unequivocally punk rejection of mainstream values. Straight edge, a term coined in the title and lyrics of a song by Washington, DC hardcore outfit Minor Threat, became something of a code name for this lifestyle, a practice of strict abstinence from intoxicating substances and a sometimes refusal of a sexuality driven by self-serving conquest. In the last three decades, the tendency has achieved global reach and its banner has been taken up with an often religious zeal, provoking everything from inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary, to occasional media obsession, to mockery.

A key, but often less-discussed feature of this conduct (alongside a more nebulous set of sentiments around goal-oriented living, a positive attitude toward life, and a fierce loyalty in one’s personal relationships) was its individualization and general depoliticization. In its earlier years, with notably few exceptions, straight edge bands and zines eschewed much of any relationship with political themes, favouring a more personal lens or ethics. By and large, this remains the case in the US, where one finds little analysis or even awareness of how such moralizing, depoliticized and individualized, inheres a rather dangerous vulnerability to fascist politics.

Late 1980s New York band Youth of Today, for instance, lifted part of its signature anthem’s lyrical content directly from the Boy Scouts Oath, championing a life lived “physically strong, morally straight.” The band’s chief songwriters went on to join the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), better known as the Hare Krishnas, subtly popularizing often profoundly regressive takes on authority, gender, and sexuality, and inspiring a spinoff tendency that survives (with considerable marginality) to this day, known as Krishna-core. One band went so far as to adopt the name Vegan Reich, founding and advocating a “natural law” position, opposed to both homosexuality and reproductive choice. A 1995 punk music festival in Cleveland, OH ended rather abruptly in a riot provoked by the appearance of One Life Crew, a straight edge band whose lyrics referred to immigrants as “dirty leeches.” Perhaps most famously, Syracuse straight edge outfit Earth Crisis acquired the status of legend almost overnight with an anthem rather shockingly evocative of fascist themes, entitled “Firestorm,” proclaiming “violence against violence; let the roundups begin.” None of these instances reflected the infiltration of self-identified fascist tendencies, as has been the case in other corners of the punk world; its expression was entirely homegrown, and thus remains largely uncontroversial, with the exception of One Life Crew. Many of these bands are widely celebrated, occasionally accompanied by a dubious irony.

With, perhaps, the exception of animal liberation struggles, the space in which radical social transformation and punk have been conventionally understood to overlap is a terrain virtually bereft of any reference to straight edge. In Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics, Gabriel Kuhn has attempted to stake out a sort of counter-narrative, charting encounters between punk sobriety and a radical politics drawn largely from left antiauthoritarianism. Curiously, Kuhn has settled on an edited anthology to accomplish this task; a sort of vignette built around five would-be chapters focused on bands that carried the banner of straight edge, particular geographies in which the practice took up with radical politics, manifestos from various zines, reflections from individuals who have played some role in radicalizing straight edge, largely in the form of interviews, and perspectives from people similarly involved, largely in the form of reprinted essays. Given that much of the subculture’s encounter with left politics occurred in the course of its migration to Europe from North America, Kuhn’s final product can be credited as the first deeply international account of straight edge, comprised overwhelmingly by contributions from Europe, Israel, and South America, and perhaps the first to draw from the voices of women and queer folks as central (rather than ornamental) to the subject’s history.

It’s a curious choice of format for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it replicates the documentary template one finds in the vast majority of intellectual explorations of straight edge. These accounts – including Beth Lahickey’s All Ages, Marc Pierschel and Michael Kirchner’s film Edge: Perspectives on Drug Free Culture, as well as myriad documentaries now available on YouTube, including a particularly abysmal National Geographic feature – tend to privilege providing an account of straight edge over any analysis of it, comparative or otherwise. Whereas documents comprised of first-person narratives, particularly from personalities central to the formation of one or another piece of straight edge’s history, might have carried some informative novelty before web-publishing and video technology became widely accessible, they’re now the sort of thing virtually anyone can produce. To the extent something interesting can be said about straight edge at this point, it’s not merely a matter hitting the record button.

Kuhn’s premise strikes a stark contrast with prior treatments of this subject matter. Where previous film and written works have alluded to straight edge and political themes tangentially, they’ve generally done so with little interest or considerable confusion. Worse still, the documentary and sociological angles from which straight edge has consistently been tackled tend toward compartmentalization and self-reference and take economic and political forces for granted. According to these accounts, we’re to believe the phenomena itself is the context. Its relationship to anything beyond or prior to it has (with somewhat stunning consistency) been deferred or dismissed. The result has mostly been a glimpse into a vaguely exotic strategy to meet the logic and demands of neoliberalism. We see (mostly) suburban, (mostly) male voices making appeals to sobriety as a means to competitive advantage in navigating the demands of capitalist production (high school, athletics, university education, professional life, etc.), and the discipline necessary to secure/maintain particular advantages therein. Straight edge, in these accounts, intentionally or not, provides something of a “model minority” within punk subculture, contrasted with that subculture’s otherwise anti-establishment orientation. To the extent that straight edge is portrayed as a critique of a dominant culture, it’s generally in a sort of dialectic relationship with a “grown up” hypocrisy concerning substance abuse. This antagonism is almost invariably resolved in some vindicating, assimilationist compromise with neoliberal modes of living. Straight edge achieves intelligibility as a (perhaps unlikely) force for greater efficiency within the established order. (To read the full article, see Issue #14 of Upping the Anti)

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Gabriel Kuhn's homepage

Catastrophism in Socialist Resistance

by Jane Shallice
Socialist Resistance
January 21st, 2013

Over the last twenty or thirty years there have been a constant litany of the latest life threatening scares. For an older generation growing up in the postwar period, the threat was nuclear war, with its “four minute warning”.  In the USA there appeared a more hysterical response to their Cold War with photographs of school children practicing hiding under desks or seated covering their eyes with their hands as some type of protection from a nuclear blast.

Although no longer discussed as a present and immanent threat to our lives, the huge quantities of nuclear weapons presently stored and maintained, (and with more planned), the nuclear threat is still a distinct possibility, whether from war or accident. But over time this has given way to other catastrophes’, with the emergence of a world exposed to an ever-growing sequence of possible disasters: Aids, Avian Flu, SARS or another mutant strain of some disease, peak oil, GM and Frankenstein foods, the millennium bug, cloning, terrorism, global warming and climate change.  At present responses to the American, now global, financial crisis whilst not being seen as a preoccupation with the end times, does dominate immediate political questions.

Catastrophism is a collection of essays analysing the obsession with a doom laden future and arguing that whether the left, the right or environmentalists, many have succumbed to an unremitting pessimism and helplessness. For the contributors, the world appears “saturated with instrumental, spurious and sometimes maniacal versions of catastrophism – including right wing racial paranoia, religious millenarianism, liberal panics over fascism, leftist fetishization of the capitalist collapse”.  They have as their essential locus that such a confirmation and acceptance of an apocalyptic future, paralyses and prevents any way of challenging what is popularly assumed to be the inevitable. The response in the book reassert the essential requirements of thinking and undertaking actions which return us to the everyday; “to the idea that revolution grows out of the ordinary prosaic acts of organizing and resistance whose coalescence produces a mass upheaval” and the necessity of those “decidedly mundane activities – strikes and demonstrations meetings speeches leaflets and occupations”.   Understanding that “capitalism itself is catastrophic”, it being both crisis ridden and crisis dependent, implies that we should not take for granted “the grinding quotidian catastrophe of capitalism during times when we are faced with exceptional calamities”.

The arena in which we have to act

As for many on the left, having lived with Rosa Luxembourg’s warning of “Socialism or Barbarism”, foolishly I have always thought of this as a warning about the future. I was shocked therefore on reading in an obituary for Daniel Bensaid, that by the mid 90s with the success of neoliberalism, he thought that we were indeed experiencing barbarism.  But throughout history, for vast numbers of people barbarism could be the only designation of all they experienced – slavery, fascism, terrifying and unremitting poverty and genocide. However barbarism is not the apocalypse, it is not the end times; it is the arena in which we have to act, working for another possible future.

The authors of Catastrophism argue that many of the false ecological prophesies around overpopulation and resource depletion flow directly from Malthusian theory, that “ crudest most barbarous theory that ever existed, a system of despair.” (Engels)  But the current ecological crisis dominating today’s thinking means we cannot ignore the supreme logic of the scientific data and the clear trajectory that it indicates. A consensus of scientists indicates the serious questions that have to be addressed and unless there is a substantial change in human behaviour, there will be a progressive collapse of known ecological systems. We are not helped by many proposed solutions being offered, they being patently completely inadequate.  (After the debacle in Copenhagen 2009 public concern over climate plummeted to 22 out of possible 22 global issues). Whilst knowing solutions can only be found when the world system of accumulation and growth is changed, and the terrifying but understandable refusal of governments to confront the real issues reveals the major contradiction: how to get this political system to even modestly constrain capital. It would appear that we have to organize to curb the worst excesses, through regulation and limitations on the actions of capital, whilst knowing this is not the answer.

In his essay The Politics of Failure has Failed, Eddie Yuen considers some of the environmentalist arguments, at the extreme end of which are the anti-civilization movements, who in the name of liberation assert that alienation is endemic to civilization itself. For them our only political choice would be to reject all that we know, abandoning urban structures, work and all which is the stuff of people’s lives.

Walls and fences

With the dangers of global warming, changing climatic patterns and a consequent rise in sea level, large numbers of major cities will be in danger of flooding.  Many will become uninsurable – New York, London, Shanghai, which will radically impact on the financial world.  But as all studies of climate change are stating, from such well known green institutions such as the World Bank, the International Energy Agency and Price Waterhouse Coopers, major changes in both temperature and precipitation, especially in areas girdling the tropics, will experience increased desertification, consequent soil impoverishment and catastrophic migrations will be the increasing pattern. With no basic food security and increasing immiseration, the northern states will respond with walls and fences and authoritarian solutions of surveillance and control. In Planet of Slums, Mike Davis tells of the projects of the US military planning to control urban areas with drones and surveillance, and evidence from the USA/Mexico demonstrates the sealing of that border using the latest military technology, has already been accomplished.

Whilst all points to cascading environmental disaster, Yuen argues that any movement to counter it has to be rooted in networks of communities and activists and requires a positive appeal to community actions and a compassionate egalitarian radical movement – like the networks of the global justice movement.  But he does not consider that it is also necessary to raise demands upon the state, which is the only way in which adequate policies can be implemented. Without such a strategy the dilemma of what David Harvey calls “termite politics” is raised, whereby political activity makes small gains and yet refuses to engage with the question of the state itself.

In Great Chaos under Heaven, Sasha Lilley considers the catastrophism of the left that she argues lies in political despair. “Irresistible economic forces lead with the certainty of doom to the shipwreck of capitalist production. The substitution of a new social order for the existing one is no longer simply desirable it has become inevitable”. Marx never argued that the collapse of capitalism was inevitable. “History does nothing, it possesses no immense wealth, it wages no battles…It is man, real, living man who does all that , who possesses and fights; history is not , as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieving its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims”.

An alternative pole found in the political left is the mentality of “the worse it gets, the better for revolutionaries”. Characterised by the Weathermen and the urban guerilla movements, like the RAF, in the 60s and 70s. “The liberatory hopes of the past and their confidence in the collective power of others have given way to the uncertain hope and fear of collapse, befitting our anti-utopian and crisis fraught times.”

All the bugbears of the right are on display in James Davis’s essay on Catastrophism and the Right. For them society, as we know it, is under attack from immigration, Islam, women’s liberation of peoples, multi-culturalism.  In the USA there is a spectacular display of the populist right, who have taken a central role in the organizing of the more extreme rightist positions in the political spectrum and which have a large influence in sections of popular consciousness. Following the millenarians of the 19th century, communism and secularism and later multiculturalism were seen as catastrophic dangers to the American way of life, which is identified as freedom and liberty.  In the fifties, figures like Billy Graham, who trailed through Britain expounding the dangers of sex and drugs and rock and roll and anything liberatory, was given a huge audience within the context of the Cold War.  Jerry Falwall and Pat Robertson opposing women’s liberation and gay rights used private television channels to drive the message home: the security of the state would be ensured by the family, patriarchy, morality, monogamy, authority and the free market. The enemy for them is democracy and equality and their response has been to elevate the individual swimming against tides of mediocrity.

Davis identifies their eugenicist underpinnings, with their assertion that multi ethnic populations will create a dilution of a nation’s intellectual qualities. We have seen this in sections of the Tea Party, as well as in rightist and neo fascist developments throughout Europe.  A supreme example is that of Anders Breivik, influenced it was revealed by writings of even such as Melanie Phillips amongst others. “Post cold war i.e. after communism the rudders are the fantasy of Islam or Latin American degeneration. … The existential threat of Islam is of course immediate and will be seen to have won “in our lifetime”. 

The state has always used repression to fight social movements that promote an expanding democratic agenda, and while the right attacks the state as liberal, the state responds with harsh measures previously off limits e.g. over immigrants. But Davis extends this to encompassing the way in which exceptional events permit the introduction of vicious and antidemocratic measures. The whole war on terror was such an example, and one which was adopted not only within the USA but which became a template for all the “developed” world. Within that context there was “an exchange of social and political freedoms for freedom from fear” whereas there was no such limitation on the impact of neoliberal policies, which had been globally adopted wholesale through the last twenty years, with all the concomitant fears and insecurity for people who rely on their labour power.

For the essay by David McNally, Land of the Living Dead, the status quo is indeed itself the catastrophe.  Looking at film and fantasy fiction with their plethora of zombies and vampires, he develops the argument that such imagery stems from the origins of capitalism and the exploitation of labourers, forced to sell their labour power,  “sapping away all their lives and becoming almost zombies”.  He focuses on the way the zombie is viewed in Haiti, a figure without memory, without self consciousness or agency. The denial therefore of all that is human.  Considering the impact of neoliberal policies throughout Latin America and Africa, it is only too apparent that structural adjustment programes have exacerbated all that was dehumanizing.  But he then offers liberation – through the living dead re-emerging as the rebellious.  Emphasising that there is no catastrophic collapse, which would herald the new dawn, he returns, like the other contributors to the answer being “decidedly mundane activities – strikes and demonstrations meetings speeches leaflets and occupations”.

This is an important book, which emphasizes and confirms the old methods, ones which may not have proved successful in the past but which none the less are the methods of analyzing, agitating and organizing. Whilst recognizing that these are hard times and there are few developments which signal a glorious future, we have seen the impact of Occupy, of landless movements, and of an economic and political crisis that places capitalism as a system which has failed and has to be replaced.  The question as ever is how this will be achieved.

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

Catastrophism in EcoEquity

by Tom Athanasiou
January 31st, 2013

There are four essays in this slim volume, one on left catastrophism, one on green catastrophism, one on right catastrophism, and one on zombies. I’m most interested in the left and the greens, though we do need to keep an eye on the right. As for the zombie craze, doesn’t it just come down to the fact that modern life feels like people keep trying to eat your face off?

Doug Henwood’s preface sets the stage nicely. He immediately makes a point that all green pessimists should keep always in mind: “Catastrophe can be paralyzing, not mobilizing.” In fact, it usually is. The challenge is to remember this even as you face the real and present catastrophe that’s now visible on the horizon. It’s a dilemma, no doubt about it, but the way forward, whatever it is, is going to have to take both its horns into proper account. The question is how.

Catastrophism comes at a good time for the green movement, which is in a period of rapid change. The key point here is that, even as we struggle to come to terms with the latest climate science, we need to remember (see particularly James Davis’ essay) that catastrophism is the “native terrain” of the right. The baseline point here is that right-wing politics is all about natural limits (scarcity, austerity, etc) rather than social ones (even in a world of limits, we’d be fine if we shared the commonwealth).  This is not to say that environmentalism itself is biased toward the right – just the contrary – but it has flirted with catastrophism for a long, long time, and along the way it has had a number of unfortunate dalliances, particularly with right-wing populationism and xenophobia.

The challenge now is to invent a just and inclusive politics of planetary limits, while at the same tale navigating a landscape in which “natural limits” and “scarcity” have long served to justify class stratification and economic exclusion. And this, if I may make a wild, undefended claim, is just not going to happen until we project a vision of the future that is fair, sustainable, and — here’s the problem — believable. Which is a bit of a problem, particularly because many enviros actually believe that our civilization is altogether beyond redemption.

Here’s Sasha Lilly, from her introduction:

“Catastrophism presumes that society is headed for a collapse, whether economic, ecological, social, or spiritual. This collapse is frequently, but not always, regarded as great cleansing, out of which a new society will be born. Catastrophists tend to believe that an ever-intensified rhetoric of disaster will awaken the masses from their long slumber – if the mechanical failure of the system does not make such struggles superfluous.”

Throughout Catastrophism, examples of such “ever-intensified” environmental rhetoric abound. Paul Ehrlich’s prediction of global famine by the end of the 20th Century is of course a classic (one that he’s never quite been able to live down) but there’s lots more to regret as well. Helen Caldecott and Chris Hedges are both called onto the carpet, as is Derrick Jensen, who seems intent on becoming a living caricature of self-aggrandizing green despair. Nor do the authors mount a merely cultural critique. As Lilly notes, “Catastrophic politics have a lengthy track record of failure,” and we really shouldn’t be spending our time trying to make that record even longer. We should be planning for success, and that means putting global economic justice square at the center of the green political agenda. Which, by the way, is just the sort of development that the right (see Davis’ essay) would regard as an unmitigated catastrophe.

On the related point – catastrophism as the native terrain of the right – Malthus is of course Exhibit A, though Hobbes stands close behind him. As, by the way, does James Howard Kunstler, the peak-oil snark-meister who has long rampaged against immigration. Eddie Yuen, in his essay on environmental catastrophism, expands this point nicely. He surveys “the main reasons that [it] has not led to more dynamic social movements; these include catastrophe fatigue, the paralyzing effects of fear; the pairing of overwhelmingly bleak analysis with inadequate solutions, and a misunderstanding of the process of politicization.” It’s a fine summary, and it introduces a fine essay, though I do have some quibbles, which essentially come down to my sense that the green movement is much farther along in its re-definition and renewal than Yuen gives it credit for. That said, he raises a host of good points, and when it comes to the weakness of environmentalism-as-usual, I am quite unable to improve upon his key formulation: “the pairing of overwhelmingly bleak analysis with inadequate solutions.”

The inadequacy of our solutions is indeed the problem. And it’s becoming a critical one as climate denialism collapses. Which is to say that, as the denialists lose any residual aura of scientific legitimacy, we’re being left alone with the truth – we are in very serious trouble indeed. And though we have almost all the technology we need to save ourselves, and the science to develop the rest, and plenty of money besides, few people really believe that we’re going to rise to the occasion. They go straight “from aware to despair,” and the awful truth is that the greens are not altogether innocent bystanders. Lacking as they do a vision of a just and sustainable global society, they have all too little to contribute to a believable strategy of global emergency mobilization.

The good news is that the need for such a strategy is now well understood. There’s lots of motion now, and lots of thinking, all around the world. And there’s the fact that catastrophe is not our immutable fate, not yet in any case. So the next time you feel the temptation to foretell doom, just say no. As Henwood asks, “Wouldn’t it be better to spin narratives of how humans are marvelously resourceful creatures who could a lot better with the intellectual, social, and material resource we have?”

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

Catastrophism in the San Francisco Book Review

by Glenn Dallas
San Francisco Book Review
February 7th, 2013

The Mayan apocalypse may have been a bust, but with environmental fears, peak oil concerns, staggering population predictions, the threat of terrorism, the specter of nuclear annihilation, and increasingly sensationalist rhetoric, catastrophe has become a buzzword, an all-too-common part of our vocabulary.

Catastrophism collects four articles investigating the politics of despair, crisis, and catastrophe, as employed by both the left and the right in America. The contributors argue that the overuse of doomsday references has led to a national sense of crisis fatigue and environmental apathy, and that such gloom-and-doom narratives are often employed to push religious, racist, and nationalist agendas.

Admittedly, I was most engaged by the closing article, which explored the modern popularity of zombie outbreaks and similar stories, and how they reflect contemporary views and values on catastrophic thinking. It’s a wonderfully down-to-earth examination that backs up many of the arguments made earlier in the book that might have been lost in highfalutin’ narrative.

At its heart, Catastrophism states that fear-based politics are a dead end. Hopefully, this can be the spark for new discussions, more rational debate, and a collective change in direction for government. With well-directed skepticism and fresh eyes, this book is a decent start.

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

Catastrophism in the Socialist Review

by Mark Bergfeld
Socialist Review
January 2013

Frederic Jameson once stated, "It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism." With climate change negotiations deadlocked, the biggest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s and right wing media pundits declaring the end of Western civilisation in the face of the supposed Islamic threat, this book is the perfect antidote to the catastrophism that has become common currency from left to right.

Catastrophism is the belief that "natural disasters", nuclear wipe-outs, and apocalypse promise political change and even revolutionary transformation. So environmental activists argue that floods and forest fires will wake the masses from their apathy and hail a new world. The Copenhagen Climate Summit 2009 was seen to be "the last chance to save the planet from burning". While things are getting worse, the movement hasn't been able to mobilise people on that basis. Similarly, the current economic crisis hasn't meant that people automatically draw revolutionary and socialist conclusions.

In four essays Eddie Yuen, Sasha Lilley, James Davis and David McNally argue that such catastrophism serves a deeply reactionary function. Basing one's political strategy on such scenarios of disaster only demobilises and fosters fear, inaction and cynicism. Sasha Lilley's essay here is an important contribution drawing on history, and a Marxist strategy and tactics that readers of this magazine will enjoy and learn from.

Capitalism's history has shown that the system is dynamic, flexible and can overcome crises. Yet the Second International's elaboration that capitalism would collapse under its own weight like a Jenga Tower is prominent as ever. Disastrous theories have disastrous consequences in reality as well as for the revolutionary and Marxist left.

Deep-seated pessimism about the ability for workers to change the world produces voluntarism on the one hand and determinism on the other. While many believe that these are diametrically opposed, Lilley argues that they are the product of the same world-view and thus overlap.

Rosa Luxemburg's famous formulation "Socialism or Barbarism" inverts catastrophism according to Lilley. "Instead of capitalist collapse heralding a new society, it will produce a barbarism unless revolutionaries achieve socialism first."

Catastrophism is a refreshing book that draws out important lessons from history, Marxism and current environmental movements. Its belief in the actuality of changing the world for the better is sorely needed at times when much of the left has given up hopes of the revolutionary and socialist transformation of the system. It reminds us of Gramsci's famous words, "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will".

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


Quick Access to:



New Releases

Featured Releases

The Traffic Power Structure

The First Socialist Schism: Bakunin vs. Marx in the International Working Men's Association