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The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow in Electric Review

By Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Electric Review

As part of their “Outspoken Authors” series, PM Press brings the first SF author to be an Internet Legend. Cory Doctorow disdains conventional publishing and goes the route of Creative Commons.

In Great Big Beautiful, he describes an immortal in a krapnatz post-apocalyptic world who is in an unappealing situation; perpetually on the cusp of puberty, with two pubic hairs to call his own, the protagonist is trapped with the mind and body of a boy who has spent decades beginning to notice girls but doesn't know why he is noticing. In an ironic counterpoint, he has stewardship of an animatronic carousel from the 1965 New York World's Fair and late of Epcot Center that pays endless and unchanging homage to progress.

Along with the novella, the book also has a striking essay, ”Creativity vs. Copyright” about how the Digital Management Rights Act is a threat to consumers but which has the main intent of utterly controlling the artists whose works the Act is supposed to protect. And finally, there is an interview with Terry Bisson.

Doctorow is the most important voice to emerge in this digital age, and this book shows just why he is so important.

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23 Shades of Black: A Review

Thinking about books
By David Marshall
July 1, 2012

One of the perks of reviewing is that I get to read the work of many writers I’ve never heard of. Even at my advanced age, it’s actually fun to add new “persons of interest” to the Ten Most Wanted posters on my walls. So imagine my joy in picking up 23 Shades of Black by Kenneth Wishnia (PM Press, 2012). I read the title verso (doesn’t everyone) and discover this presumptuous author has included the words of the Tenth Psalm “Reprinted by permission of God.” This is auspicious and suggests we share the same world view. The introduction by the redoubtable Barbara D’Amato fills in the gaps in my knowledge (ask me about science fiction, fantasy and horror and I’m reasonably encyclopaedic, but American police procedurals are a relatively new territory for me). It seems our author grew tired of rejections and self-published this book in 1997. It was immediately shortlisted for both the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the Anthony Award. Which just goes to show that, sometimes, authors are an excellent judge of the quality of the work they produce and know more than the agents and publishers. Indeed, within ten pages, I’m hooked and sad that I’ve missed out on the four books in the series that have followed this.
So what’s so wonderful about this book? Welcome to the world of Filomena Buscarsela. Like many heroines in police procedurals, she’s the eternal victim in the unrelenting world of aggressive sexual harassment. Just as one example, they send her out on rape patrol to walk the park in the hope she will lure out a predator male. Two police officers are supposedly seconds away, ready to rush in to arrest the perp the moment they hear the attack over the wire she’s carrying. Except all the male officers in this particular part of New York have been betting on whether she will defend herself or be raped. This leads to delays in her rescuers’ arrival. Ah, such are the pranks officers play on each other. For all involved, it’s just one laugh after another.
Mentioning laughs brings me to the tone of the book. You might think from the rape jape that this is a dark book whereas it’s actually “funny.” Yes, yes, I know I’ve been harping on about the hole in my head after the humour lobotomy, but I really did find passages in this book amusing. There’s a world-weary wit about the way our first-person heroine describes the crass awfulness of the world around her. In part, this comes from her background. She’s arrived in the US from Ecuador having grown up under the military juntas. We now find her in the 1980s when President Reagan is the Man in Charge, struggling to overcome discrimination and make it into the ranks of the detectives. Except, as mentioned, everything that can go wrong with this ambition does go wrong. This leaves her with a dilemma. She can either subside with whatever grace she can muster and live a “quiet life” as the butt of everyone’s jokes. Or she can go out of her way to investigate cases on her own and break through the glass ceiling by main force. Fortunately for us, she adopts the latter strategy and we soon see she would make a phenomenal detective. Except, of course, it all goes pear-shaped as the fix goes in to curtail her private investigation before it gets too dangerous for the “men at the top”. Suddenly, there’s an adverse drug test and questions being asked about the amount of alcohol she drinks. All these problems might go away if she would just accept “guidance.”

We have to remember this is a woman whose family died in Ecuador, who grew up seeing far worse corruption. Yet she wavers because, one-by-one, all the people who were supportive seem to lose their enthusiasm. Perhaps the big corporation she thinks is involved really can buy everyone else off. But not our Filomena. She’s going to get to the bottom of this even if it kills her. Which brings me to the ending which is not the usual feel-good effort that comes in the majority of mainstream books. All things considered, it feels pleasingly realistic. As a real-world comparison, Erin Brockovich might have won a settlement from Pacific Gas and Electric Company but, despite a non-related bankruptcy, it continues to trade. Fighting a large corporation as a white knight only rarely slays the corporate dragon and, more often than not, leaves the person in the can crisped when the flames lick around the armour. So it is we leave Filomena somewhat the worse for wear after her encounter with corporate power.
Kudos to PM Press for bringing this back into print. 23 Shades of Black, a reference to a painting she comes across during the course of her investigation, is a wonderful read and I unhesitatingly recommend it to everyone, regardless of their usual genre preferences.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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The Primal Screamer on the Electric Review

By Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Electric Review

Nick Blinko, one of the more innovative voices of the punk-anarchist movement in the UK during the Thatcher era, picked a singularly well-trodden format for his novel, Primal Screamer.

In this Gothic horror, Blinko employs the device of having an independent observer keep a diary of a troubled patient who seems to be descending irrevocably into madness. This is a trope that dates back to the days of Poe and Lovecraft, and was seen more recently in Stephen King's N. The story follows a familiar pattern, with the patient descending deeper into insanity and strangeness, and it being more apparent as time went on that this is more than just a routine case of schizophrenia.

Inevitably, the observer is changed by the action of observing, the old reverse Heisenberg, and he is drawn into the madness.

The narrator, a psychiatrist named Rodney H. Dweller, recounts the story of Nathaniel Snoxell (“That's perfect iambic pentameter!” exclaims Dweller). Blinko infuses what would otherwise be a rather shopworn manuscript with flashes of brilliant black humor, and has a deft touch at pacing and tone, creating an agreeable sensation of dread. He does a good job of making his narrator a perfect reflective instrument, and the reader doesn't even learn the narrator's name until after his denouement. The environment of the story, a decaying and despondent society in Thatcherite Britain, similarly reflects and enhances the story neatly.

The story is illustrated with Blinko's own art, specializing in the grotesque and macabre.

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Paul Buhle reviews CLR James's A New Notion

By Paul Buhle
Swans Commentary
July 2, 2012

In the twenty-three years since the death of C.L.R. James (1901-1989), the drumbeat of new books describing and anthologizing his writings has been steady and at times almost deafening to those who listen with rapt attention. Not that the books are in any way unwelcome, or in danger of exhausting the canon (next fall actually sees the appearance of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the 1936 play performed in England but never before published, by Duke University Press). Nor that the waning of deconstruction, once the major source of new books and essays on James, is anything but welcome. But keeping up is at best a chore. As the authorized biographer of James, it is a chore that I cannot quite abandon for very long without guilt.

The volume in question has been on my desk for a while. The two essays that make up its contents, "Every Cook Can Govern" and "The Invading Socialist Society," were originally pamphlets of a tiny Trotskyist or post-Trotskyist tendency, loyally reprinted by Martin Glaberman in Detroit but otherwise mostly unavailable. They are not, in other words, among the big favorites of James's many and varied work.

Why? The first puts forward the notion, grown unpopular in an age of studies of slave societies, that Greek Antiquity offers a model in democratic practice; and the latter a notion even more seemingly improbable for a post-industrial age, that blue-collar life, especially factory life, is moving inexorably toward socialist society.

The latter is easier to grapple with, and Noel Ignatiev (editor, in times long past, for Urgent Tasks, a journal that published the original C.L.R. James: His Life and Work, edited by myself, and constituting the first collective biography of the aging giant) makes the case for James's logic. It's actually a good argument, in the sense of being deeply provocative. To quote Ignatiev: "For James, the starting point was that the working class is revolutionary. He did not mean that it is potentially revolutionary or that it is revolutionary when imbued with correct ideas, or when led by the proper vanguard party. He said the working class is revolutionary and that its daily activities constitute the revolutionary process in modern society."

Here is a logic, deep in Marx's own writings and for many on the left, credible before the First World War but hardly afterward. And ever less credible with the post Second World War recovery of capitalism, the spread of the consumer society to the working class, and finally the deindustrialization process along with the retreat of unions to the margins, except perhaps in government.

To make these objections, as reasonable as they sound, is not to diminish the interest and value of James's two essays. The return of Marxism, especially Marx's own works to public attention, in light of the global financial crisis and widespread impoverishment, has not raised enough interest yet in C.L.R. James's main theoretical innovation. He insisted against the claims of Communists in the East and Social Democratic in the West, that the basic issue was not State ownership of the means of production, but rather the social relations of the producers. That is to say, until the economic side of society can be truly democratized, crisis in one form or another (ecological devastation, for instance: another side of alienated labor) will always be on the horizon. This is the heart of at least a good chunk of Marx's own logic and James drives the message home, even amid much outdated language and polemic against various and now forgotten left thinkers of the 1940s-50s.

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Book Review: From the Bottom of the Heap: Youth Justice

By Janet Jamieson
Youth Justice 2012

Given the wide array of subject matter, this is a rich text that offers the reader a comprehensive insight into past and present developments in the field appealing to both academic and professional spheres. Practitioners should consider carefully how to incorporate elements of the material in their own work and be encouraged to discuss with their respective service the most appropriate and effective way to use a number of the assessment tools to promote consistent collaborative practice.

On Wednesday October 12 2011, Robert Hillary King came to speak at Liverpool John Moores University to launch the 2011–2012 seminar series organized by the Centre for the Study of Crime, Criminalisation and Social Exclusion (see The event involved showing the film In the Land of the Free which documents the story of the "Angola 3
"—and a question and answer session with Robert King, the only released member of the "Angola 3" to date. It attracted an audience from academic, activist and community groups across Merseyside, and beyond, and proved an exciting, inclusive and inspiring event. Robert’s presentation was characterized by humour, humility, charisma and, of course, politics. After the formal presentation he signed books, talked and had his photograph taken with many members of the audience and over dinner he generously spent much of the evening chatting to undergraduate students about his life, his travels, and the case of the "Angola 3." His warmth to all he encountered and the enthusiasm which he brought to the evening attest to his prowess as a political activist, and as a committed educator and campaigner on miscarriages of justice. Reading his autobiography in the immediate aftermath of the LJMU event did not in any way dis- appoint. Over twenty-three chapters, a postscript and five appendices the reader gains significant and powerful insights into the legacy of slavery in the United States and its justice system and the importance of the Black Panther Party to Robert Hillary King’s survival of thirty-one years of incarceration.

Robert’s early life is outlined in Chapters 1–14 and his formative experiences will chime with those with interests in youth justice. Abandoned by his mother, he was lovingly brought up by his maternal grandmother in conditions of hardship and poverty. At the age of thirteen, he was reunited with his birth father and taken to live in a new town. The complexities and tensions which unfold in the relationships with his father’s new family result in Robert developing a stammer, withdrawing from family life and, ultimately, to the breakdown of his relationship with his father. He runs away and goes back to his grandmother. On his return he challenges his grandmother’s authority, leaves school for the seductions of street life and
following a brief excursion into a "hobo" lifestyleis held in a juvenile detention facility for the first time. By the age of fifteen, he has suffered an array of bereavements, including his grandmother, and has been sentenced to indefinite detention in a state reformatory (for the "offence" of robbery of a gas station that he did not commit). Robert’s reporting of his early years is accessible and characterized by wry humour. However, the seriousness of his task and the purpose of this auto- biography are also to the fore in his ruminations on black masculinity, discrimination and the gross injustices which have been perpetrated against those who, like him, are "born black, born poor" (25) and spend most of their lives in prison.

While Robert freely admits that an inability to find secure employment with a living wage launched him into a "direction contrary to the acceptable modes of society" (132), he was to spend many years incarcerated for crimes he did not commit. Chapters 15–22 address his experiences in adult prisons, and most significantly the years he spent incarcerated in Angola State Penitentiary (formerly a slave plantation). These chapters provide an excoriating critique of the inhumanities and racism endemic to his experiences within the U.S. prison system and offer a searing indictment of a "justice" system which he characterizes as "caring little about the guilt or innocence, especially of Black subjects" and as deliberately and wantonly "deficient" and "gullible" (158).

It is while incarcerated in Angola that Robert, alongside Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, became active members of the only prison-recognized chapter of the Black Panther Party. He notes that the significance of his membership of the Black Panthers was that it provided him with a means "to put the happenings of my individual life into a broader perspective" (165). However, it was also to have a devastating impact on the remainder of his experience of incarceration. The peaceful non-violent protests instigated by the Black Panthers
in the form of hunger and work strikesbrought him and other party members to the attention of prison, state and federal officials. This activism, and prison officials’ desire to punish it, led to King, Wallace and Woodfox being accused of the killing of a young prison guard, Brent Miller, and their long-term solitary confinement for this "crime." As Chapter 23 details, Robert’s release from Angola was not easily secured. It relied on the commitment and persistence of his lawyer, his family and his supporters and was subject to the legal compromise that he plead guilty to "conspiracy to commit murder" in relation to a crime he did not commit, and could not have committed, not being incarcerated in Angola at the time of the murder. Robert served twenty-nine of the thirty-one years he was incarcerated in solitary confinement. Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox are still incarcerated in Angola and both have served almost thirty-nine years in solitary confinement.

This autobiography is a powerful and engaging read. Academically it compliments and supports Loïc Wacquant’s (2009) Punishing the Poor thesis which argues that neo-liberal priorities have culminated in the retrenchment of state welfare provision in favour of workfare and prison fare (the mass imprisonment of identifiable groups of the population) as a means for the state to assert its authority. It also resonates with a UK context where recent statistics reveal that 26 percent of the prison population are from BME groups, with BME persons being disproportionately more likely to be stopped and searched, arrested, sentenced to immediate custody and subject to longer sentences than white people (Ministry of Justice, 2010). As such, for those interested in
and committed to combatinginstitutional injustices it is an essential read.

Since leaving prison in 2001, Robert Hillary King has tirelessly campaigned for the release of the remaining members of the "Angola 3" in a bid to fulfil his promise that "even though I was free from Angola, Angola would never be free of me" (201). Hearings for Herman Wallace’s and Albert Woodfox’s legal cases are scheduled for Spring 2012. Robert and his supporters are asking people in the UK to join them and do what they can to help. For readers who may be interested in learning more follow

Ministry of Justice, "Race and the Criminal Justice System: Statistics on the Criminal Justice System 2010," data/criminal-justice/race.htm.

Wacquant. L. Punishing the Poor: The Neo-liberal Governance of Social Insecurity. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2009.

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Labor's Civil War: Talking Union

by Carl Finamore
Talking Union
July 2, 2012

PM press just reissued Cal Winslow’s 2010 popular, sold-out edition of Labor’s Civil War in California with a new Preface, Introduction and Afterword. The heart of the book remains the same, telling a compelling story of a local membership insurgency with virtually no resources pitted against an international union’s extremely powerful apparatus with virtually no principles.

We are referring to 150,000 healthcare workers in California who Winslow states had their union wrecked by the bureaucratic, heavy-handed intervention of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in early 2009. The author further describes how the local union’s 100-member executive board of SEIU-UHW was dissolved, officers fired and stewards replaced if they failed to sign loyalty oaths to interlopers sent in by the Washington DC office of SEIU.

Essentially, Winslow reports, the local leadership was kicked out for resisting the international taking over their local bargaining, for opposing unilateral removal of 65,000 of their homecare workers from the local without a vote and for objecting to the international’s unprincipled concessionary agreements with homecare and hospital management in exchange for illusory organizing leverage.

In most cases, these odds overwhelm any hopes of a democratic opposition. In this case, however, virtually all the officers and executive board, along with hundreds of stewards and member activists, decided to fight.

Winslow explains how the large size of the local and its shift in the 1990s to more membership inclusion in the executive board, more education of issues confronting healthcare workers and more elected steward council control at the worksite accounts for the swell of discontent surging into a tidal wave of opposition.

This time, anger and frustration did not evaporate, it condensed into actual organization.

In fact, over seven hundred members assembled only a few short months after the January 2009 takeover of SEIU-UHW to actually form a new union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Readers will discover the scope of the rebellion is really quite unprecedented. That, in itself, should be of great interest to those who have found themselves at one time or another shoved into a corner where there was no alternative but to surrender or fight.

But there is really much more in the new edition that makes it worth keeping handy when friends get a little discouraged about “fighting the power.”

You see, the new edition tells the amazing story of how the insurgency has actually gained new support in the two years since the author’s first edition. Most uphill battles end in defeat and discouragement. That is the harsh reality, nature and consequences of struggle against powerful, entrenched opponents.

But NUHW is growing. It is up to around 10,000 members. This has been largely accomplished, Winslow believes, by NUHW involving rank and file members in running the union, by conducting successful strikes and by winning contracts that topped SEIU’s bend-over concessionary agreements. It can also be added that NUHW will certainly expand its capacities through its recent partnership with the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers of America (IAM), AFL-CIO.

Thus, Labor’s Civil War in California is not just about healthcare workers, not just about California, and not just about the tragic decline of the SEIU international leadership. Its underlying appeal is the story of rank and file protests that beat all the odds and successfully evolved into a full-fledged organization that is continuing the proud, militant legacy of SEIU-UHW before it was tamed by SEIU handlers.

Through it all, NUHW reenergized organizing, recommitted to no-concession bargaining and rebuilt community coalitions to champion common interests of healthcare reform.

Winslow reminds us that “the strength of workers is in their hearts and hands and heads, in their numbers, in their organization at the workplace, in the democracy and power of the real unions that they build and in the solidarity of all workers.”

The writer purposely ends the new edition with these words that readers will surely grasp as an appeal for more rank and file activism in these times of unbridled corporate power and economic hardship. Thus, the second edition tells a story that needs to be told and that even more urgently needs to be duplicated.

Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 former president (ret) and current delegate, San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He was also a proud NUHW organizer during the 2010 Kaiser campaign. He can be reached at and his writings viewed on

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Revolution and Other Writings in Marx & Philosophy

by Adam Dunn
Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
June 18, 2012

Gustav Landauer (1870-1919) was an anarchist socialist who opposed the use of violence and thought anarchism and socialism to be essentially linked (more on this below). His involvement in the Bavarian Council Republic led to his murder at the hands of SDP and Free Corps soldiers. This edited collection remedies the lack of English-language translations of Landauer and is an interesting example of a strain of socialist thought that wants to do without the state. The editor provides both a general introduction (thirty pages) and short introductions to the individual pieces to help the reader unfamiliar with Landauer. The introduction moves swiftly enough, and ends with a short section on Landauer's posthumous influence; this is useful, providing enough context for even the non-academic audience the publisher seeks. Kuhn also gives both a generous supply of explanatory footnotes and an explanation up-front of words difficult to render in translation. The volume closes with a comprehensive (German and English) bibliography of works by and about Landauer. These supporting materials are very helpful, especially given Landauer's relatively low profile.

The selection is from Landauer's "political," rather than "literary/cultural" or "philosophical" (10) writings. This selection principle is quite inclusive, with political philosophy presented alongside Landauer's more practically-oriented pieces, which include letters, articles, statements of political goals, and commentary on particular events. The writings are organized into groups; the earlier groupings are basically chronological, the latter ones thematic. (The first piece in the volume is a reflection by Landauer on his youthful development.) The chronological groupings, organised as they are around phases of Landauer's life, also have high degrees of internal thematic coherence.

The same is true of Landauer's works as a whole, which exhibit a high degree of consistency of interests and positions across the course of his life. His fundamental commitments are to both anarchism and socialism together, treating them as co-dependent. This combination is fundamental to Landauer's thought. His clearest (and earliest) statement of this comes in "Anarchism-Socialism," a piece written to explain adding the word "anarchism" to a journal's subtitle. That relationship is expressed thus: anarchism is the end for which socialism is the means. For Landauer, freedom is primary and "solidarity, sharing and cooperative labour" will secure it (70). This link is intrinsic, he says: genuine cooperation is possible only amongst the free and freedom is only possible when "needs are met by brotherly solidarity" (70). This alternative to centralised planning (as well as to 'every man for himself') is to take the form of associations related to particular interests that involve all those affected, leading to a "free order of multiple, intertwined, colourful associations and companies" (71). There is something attractive about this network of specialised organisations, particularly because through it Landauer recognises the possibility of overlapping memberships and struggles. The difficulty comes in the attempt to address larger-scale interests: co-ordination between different groups will be possible, Landauer thinks, "because necessity demands it" (72). His example of this is train scheduling, which invites, I think, a certain pessimism.

His other group of examples includes both "measurements" and "statistics," which he thinks are not important enough to serve as a base for "global domination" and likely to fall under management by some group without political influence (72). Landauer is here being a bit naive. Any statistical measure accepted as authoritative will shape related behaviours in some way and with this give some power to those in charge of determining the measures. This is related to the main problem with this piece: Landauer's positive account of anarchist organisation without any form of coercion—even the use of social pressure—is more hope than detail and, at the limit, looks suspiciously similar to faith in the "free market."

The single largest work in the book is Revolution (110-85, including endnotes). It is also the hardest part of the book to get a good hold of. Kuhn quotes and agrees with Ruth Link-Salinger's claim it is a "poorly constructed" work, and adds to it a charge of terminological inconsistency (30). The first of these two problems is more severe: Landauer covers a lot of ground, without offering much sense of how it all fits together. Landauer does not think explanatory laws of history will help at all (114-7). Instead, he claims, there has only been one true revolution, "the so-called Reformation," of which we are still a part, which makes scientific investigation impossible (120). Instead, Landauer presents something like an historical survey, including an attempted rehabilitation of the Middle Ages as an era of "ordered multiplicity" (130), "the only heyday of our own culture" (126). His Middle Ages are the birthing-time of individual freedom against 'social and spiritual bondage' and thus the true start of revolution (126). Landauer's Middle Ages are idealised: a complaint that Kuhn repeats and provides example sources of (30). But his version of the Middle Ages is explicable in light of his idea of the past as something subject to change, malleable by our own current interests and also alive through them (120-1). The past he describes (and effects) is the living past he wishes to bring about. His idealised description is meant, I think, to help bring about revolution after his own idea of it as a time in which all are full of spirit (146). I am far from confident in this reading, however; this is a difficult text that needs a much clearer sense of purpose.

The earlier piece 'Through Separation to Community' provides a clearer vision of what Landauer means by "spirit." He sets out his opposition to seeing the individual as starting point of reflection, as it inevitably closes us off from the world (97). He replaces it with a mysticism of the infinite world which we ourselves are (98-9). Each person, if living fully, somehow incarnates their community; the wrong of the authoritarian state is that it separates us from this (106-7). There is at least an intuitive plausibility to the idea that our existence as legal and economic subjects is a reductive picture of human beings, missing out on vital elements. Here, Landauer combines it briefly with a Nietzsche-influenced distinction between the new (socialist) human being, who is up to the task of living fully, and the masses trapped "deformed" by the state they want to keep (107). The latter are, he thinks, beyond help; they 'cannot shed their masks' and must be left behind (107). The only test of which class a person belongs to is their willingness to live without a state.

Other than the theoretical works, this collection includes Landauer's reflections on world events. This includes a touching tribute to the Haymarket Martyrs. It also includes a piece, 'McNamara', in which Landauer sets out his opposition to the use of political violence, treating it as a method of party leaders, rather than true socialists (255-60). There is also his strident opposition to Esperanto because it is a purely artificial language (276).

Also included in the collection are some of Landauer's letters. Some relate to his involvement in the Council Republic; others include, rather morbidly, the last letters written before his murder. These are only really of interest to the Landauer-completist.

A letter to Buber in November, 1918 (318) contains two points of interest. First, that Landauer 'would not condemn any act of violence that helps destroy' the old press to make way for a new one, evidence that his opposition to violence is not absolute. But this also leads into his suggestion of an advertising monopoly by the state. At that point, that would mean giving 'the workers' and soldiers' councils' this power, which harkens back uncomfortably to the sort of behaviour Landauer earlier associated with party politics and the state. This would, perhaps, be excusable but for Landauer's earlier insistence that the anarchist approach is distinctive from the state's coercive methods. The second point of interest is one of consistency rather than change: he writes against establishing 'intellectual councils' separate from other workers' councils, calling it 'pompousness' and proposing that workers, both manual and intellectual, should be united in the same council bodies. This resonates with his claim that spirit is the most important element for social transformation, with Landauer's preference for a dispersed spirit, rather than isolated 'genius' figures.

Landauer's written voice makes for easy reading. And, outside of Revolution, clarity and straightforwardness is the rule. This alone would not be enough to recommend the book, but Landauer's combination of socialism and anarchism makes for interesting reading. The pieces where he applies himself to practical matters, or to the analysis of events, are also worth reading; his place in the history of the inter-war workers' councils secures this much. Landauer's work is not a systematic account of non-state socialism, but it is an interesting step in the historical evolution of such accounts, married to a sound awareness of the importance of instilling what might elsewhere be called an "ethos."


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We, The Children of Cats in Nihon Distractions

Nihon Distractions: Readings in Translated Japanese Literature
July 14, 2012

We, the Children of Cats collects together five short stories and three novellas from Tomoyuki Hoshino, 星野 智幸, translated by Brian Bergstrom with one of the stories being translated by Lucy Fraser and is published by PM Press. Hoshino was awarded the Oe Kenzaburo Prize in 2011 for Ore Ore/It's Me It's Me, it would be great to a see a translation of this novel into English in the near future, it looks like a translation of Hoshino's first novel by Brent Lue could be in the pipeline. Oe has said of Hoshino, "I see [in Hoshino] an ability to truly think through fiction that recalls Kobo Abe. This superlative ability makes even the most fantastical details and developments read as perfectly natural," PM Press also published another novel from Hoshino, The Lonely Hearts Killer/Ronrii haatsu kiraa, translated by Adrienne Hurley. Hoshino has also won the Noma Prize and has been nominated for the Akutagwa Prize twice, once for the novella Sand Planet—which is included here, a story Hoshino was inspired to write after watching the documentary Homesick in my Dreams by filmmaker Jun Okamura, the collection is also accompanied by a preface by Hoshino and an expansive and thorough afterword from Brian Bergstrom. Hoshino's shorter fictions are at times composed of highly compressed inverse narratives, metaphors often turn inside out, reading them the reader has to usually keep an alert eye out on what is taking place in the allegorical. The pieces here give a wide and varied impression of Hoshino's concerns, appearance and identity become porous, equational thinking is rethought and reproduces answers that challenge straight forward and preconceived notional thinking. In the opening story "Paper Woman," reality and an imagined world converge, the inital narrator, (also named Hoshino), meets an author of a story about a woman who could only eat paper, eventually she herself turns to paper, the projected narrative supercedes over the opening one, the relationship progresses eventually spawning a son—Kazuyoshi. The story is a complex and highly allegorical one about the relationship between literature and the author.

In "The No Fathers Club," which originally appeared in the recent anthology Digital Geishas and Talking Frogs, an imaginary world is initiated after the narrator watches a game of no ball soccer, a game played with an imagined ball, the description of this game seems to briefly capture in microcosm the spontaneously absurd animation of the modern world, this soccer game leads however to the The No Fathers Club, a club whose members fathers have died prematurely, the club is formed by the narrator and friend Yosuke and then later Kurumi, with whom the narrator seems to form an attachment too, Yosuke eventually leaves the club by stating that his (imagined) father committed suicide. Kurumi and the narrator organise a meeting with their respective fathers. Chino, translated by Lucy Fraser is narrated by a young man who gives up his part time jobs and travels to "a small country below Mexico" intending to join a group of guerrillas, examples of Hoshino's fascination of South America appear throughout many of these stories. The narrator seems to disassociate himself from his fellow Japanese, rich kids travelling on the cheap, pretending at roughing it out. When reaching the village where he's expecting to make contact with the guerrillas he meets a young Japanese woman who has beaten him to it and appears to have assimilated herself into the country, she only acknowledges him in Spanish, the narrator learns of her history and of how it has come about that she has remained in the village, in repeated episodes throughout the story the narrator is mistakenly identified as being a Chino, (Chinese), which provokes explorative questions on the nature of national identities, the story at times and places brought to mind the fiction of Ikezawa Natsuki. "We, the Children of Cats," follows Masako and Naru a young couple as they come under pressure from their family to have a baby, the history and nature of their relationship is partially explained through a series of passages relating a phone conversation they have, their history entwines with recent episodes from Japanese history, the Sarin Gas attack, the Kobe earthquake. The couple's decision not to try for a child is explored and juxtaposed against Masako's gay friend who is desperate to become a father, through a series of comparative reflections resolutions are readdressed, and in the background of this a visitation by a mysterious cat called Soccer. One of the most challenging stories is "Air," opening with an excruciating graphic scene of a broken hearted man gripped in an act of self harm, inflicting pain in order to find some evidence of his existence, through the use of motifs consisting of a musical score by Toru Takemitsu and the narrator playing the flute given to him before the man at the centre of his affections,Tsubame, had left for Mexico, the story vividly explores the narrator's sexual identity. Attending a gay rights parade, the narrator meets another uncertain participant, the dual nature of his sexuality and identity is represented with descriptions of an invisible physical self, which through his self harm has been tampered with.

The first of the three novellas is Sand Planet, whose main character, Yoshinobu, is a reporter who writes up cases for Saitama Prefecture Police Press, initially following Yoshinobu as he investigates a poisoning of lunch boxes at an elementary school the novella takes in three, or perhaps four other narratives as it progresses and then finishes by linking them together. The main theme of the story is one of redemption and of the re-establishing of life's validity. Whilst investigating the poisoning Yoshinobu receives a call to investigate homeless people in the Urawa Forest, through meeting a local councilors friend, Yayoi Sakai, Yoshinobu learns of the story of her brother, Misao, who had emigrated from Japan after the war. Whilst this narrative is unfolding there runs another developing narrative line of Yoshinobu's own, the story opens with the death of his father and the family's decision of burying him in the garden, once this fact is discovered by their neighbours, the family are punished, Yoshinobu is in the process of redefining his life and it's meaning and through out their are episodes in which he finds solace and a sense of regenerative power through laying with the earth. The narrative moves on, later after Yoshinobu's mother passes away Yoshinobu drives to the forest and witnesses an elderly man talking to himself in a broken verse, of Urashima Taro, the Republica Dominicana, the man seems to be enacting out a performance for an audience of only one. Another of the narratives begins with the story of a group of missing elementary children who are found in the Sayamma Hills who are from the same school that witnessed the poisoning, Yoshinobu tracks down a homeless woman who had looked after the children for one of the nights that they had been missing. She describes that the children refused to speak and showed her a booklet that they self produced telling that they had taken a vow of silence, "words have reached their end," one of the pages reads. As the narratives begin to appear to relate to each other Yoshinobu writes up his piece and notes to himself in an Abe-esque observation: "This is the truth. We mustn't let facts deceive us." The two following novellas collected here are Treason Diary and A Milonga for the Melted Moon. Finishing these stories and novellas is like stepping back from a vista where the world has briefly appeared in it's truer or more original and realigned form, shot through with dynamic paradoxes and an unerring ambition to challenge, taking uncharted routes and reconfiguring truths that do indeed lodge themselves in the reader, unreservedly recommended, my thanks go to PM Press.

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Asia's Unknown Uprisings Volume 1: A Review

July 1, 2012

Katsiaficas starts off this work with a preface that both explains his political background and personal experiences and interest in Korea.  It annoyed me a bit, especially when he wrote “My overwhelming sense is that Korea is simultaneously the most civil society I have ever experienced and the most Americanized Asian country I have ever visited” (xxiv). But I appreciated his being upfront, and felt that it helped put his perspective into place, and as I got into the main part of the work, his personal narrative dropped off for the most part.

Also, as the developer “of the concept of the eros effect to explain the rapid spread of revolutionary aspirations and actions during the strikes of May 1968 in France and May 1970 in the United States as well as the proliferation of the global movement in this same period of time”, (xxvii) he also puts his theoretical perspectives out front, then repeatedly returns to this concept through out the book, as people’s actions back his theories.

Katsiaficas interviewed over fifty members of the Gwangju Citizen’s Army, one of the personal steps that make this such a critical historical work. As with many such works, he had to go back before the twentiety century to help create the proper historical framework for understanding the events of the century, and meticulously chronicles both the foreign intervention in Korea in general, and Western intervention in particular.  He also writes about how colonialism, then neo-liberalism was effecting other Asian nations at any given time of the book, showing an Internationalist perspective that helped make the context of the various eras clear.

Katsiaficas also makes a point of chronicling cultural changes, and tries to show their political connotations, but the core of the work, true to its subtitle “South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century” is a record of revolutionary struggle against Japanese then United States Imperialism and local collaborators, class struggle against both foreign and domestic exploitation and domination, and struggles within the working class against sexism and other forms of discrimination and oppression.

To me, stories of  the Internationalism of Koreans who fought against the Japanese in China was some of the most exciting material in the book, possibly upwards of 160,000 in the border area alone! (49)

With the end of World War II, the replacement of Japan as the colonial power dominating Korea with the United States is clearly outlined, as the northern half of Korea started to be run by People’s Committees which had sprung up all over the country, (68) and possibly 100,000 south Koreans were killed while resisting the occupation and division of the country before the start of the Korean War (60).

The overthrow of various U.S. backed military governments in 1960 and 1987, and the mass student and labor organizing while under threat of heavy prison sentences and police, military and/or vigilante violence, and the journalism during heavy censorship that was behind these struggles and the conflicts to come against neo-liberalism are all throughly documented, with plenty of sources cited for further study.

In my opinion, the only weak part is the thirteenth and final chapter of the book, "The Democratic Dilemma." As I read its accounting of democratically elected, right-wing governments’ regressive policies and sell out liberals doing much of the same, it left me wondering how exactly it was a dilemma until just shy of the end. Katsiaficas, correctly in my opinion, points out, “The hundreds of middle and high school girls who led the first protests in Seoul [in 2008] revealed this dilemma of democracy. They embodied a ‘collective intelligence’ superior to their country’s elite” (415) though after plenty of theorizing and editorializing throughout the book, writing like a lion for the first twelve chapters closes out the book as a lamb leaving me wondering, and what? Since the future is still to be written, and he is from the States it makes sense that he would do so, and I applaud his stepping back and not asserting himself as some sort of great visionary who can direct a radical Korean future, as far too many white North Americans have been doing for far too long. It just seemed to trail off, but has been a wealth of information very worth reading and following up on.

This is an excellent radio interview with the author that inspired me to read the book HERE.

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Robin Hood in Socialist Action

By Michael Schreiber
Socialist Action
July 12, 2012

As I write, in late May 2012, a playhouse here in Philadelphia is advertising its production of “Robin Hood” as an action play “aimed at kids five years and up.” At the same time, in Chicago, anti-NATO demonstrators are calling for a “Robin Hood tax” on financial transactions, as part of their demand to “tax the rich.”

Who is the real Robin?

Is he the swashbuckling hero portrayed in cartoons, TV, and Hollywood musicals? The class-conscious guerrilla leader, fighting to avenge the peasantry against their oppressors? Or perhaps the “Green Robin,” who with his Merry Men inhabits the woodlands in respectful harmony with Nature?

Robin is not the same champion to all people. Throughout the centuries, he seems to have been redefined, if not re-invented, with each telling of the tale. Nonetheless, scores of works have probed into the question of Robin’s identity—an extraordinary quest, considering that most investigators agree that the Robin Hood stories are mainly fiction.
With his new book, Robin Hood: People’s Outlaw and Forest Hero, Paul Buhle, editor of the left journal Radical America, enters the ranks of historians seeking to uncover the multiple themes and meanings of the Sherwood Forest legend. In his conclusions, however, Buhl readily sides with those who perceive that Robin over the centuries has appeared primarily as a standard-bearer in battles against injustice.
He states, “No other medieval European saga has had the staying power of Robin Hood; no other is wrapped up simultaneously in class conflict (or something very much like class conflict), the rights of citizenship in their early definitions, defense of the ecological systems, and the imagined utopia of freedom disappearing into a mythical past.”

Buhle acknowledges, of course, that scriptwriters often eviscerate the political content of the Robin Hood legend. A number of recent movie renditions reduce the hero to little more than a romantic or heroic action figure. Or worse, they present him as the willing agent of jingoistic big-power politics. For example, says Buhle, while Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood mega-feature of a couple of years ago might give a slight nod to Robin’s role as the defender of downtrodden villagers, the subject “in practice only manages to protect one empire against another.”

The earliest known references to Robin Hood in popular culture appeared in the early 13th century, including in the rolls of several English justices. This suggests that the outlines of the fictional character might be based, however loosely, on the historical memory of the exploits of a real person or persons.
Buhle skips over this tantalizing question, however, and begins his chronology many centuries later with The Dream of John Ball, a novella by William Morris, artist and “father of British socialism.” In this work, which was serialized for newspaper readers in 1886-87, Morris plots the adventures of a man who leaps from the modern era into a fourteenth-century English village. There he finds a group of yeomen (independent small landowners) who have risen up against the corrupt local sheriff and other Crown officers who seek to oppress them.
The villagers are led by the lay preacher John Ball, a real though obscure figure in English history. According to Morris, Ball led his followers along the trail of rebellion blazed by Robin and his men. Thus, a ballad singer in Morris’ narrative states to the time-traveler, “Was it not sooth that I said, brother, that Robin Hood should bring us John Ball?”

John Ball was a participant in the uprising of 1381, whose major leader was Wat Tyler. The yeomen under Tyler’s command armed themselves with staves and pitchforks and marched on London to protest high taxes and growing poverty. After meeting with the King, Tyler was betrayed; he and Ball were assassinated, and the movement was dispersed.
Buhle argues that Wat Tyler’s uprising of 1381, “the first major outbreak of a class and social conflict across England . . . prepared the ground for the popularity of the Robin Hood saga.” Robin Hood was called into existence by popular desires for a hero figure to represent their struggles for social justice.
Perhaps the first allusion to Robin in literature, William Langland’s “Piers Plowman,” appeared in manuscript in the years immediately proceeding Wat Tyler’s rebellion. In the story, Sloth, a priest, confesses, “I kan [know] not parfitly my Paternoster as the preest it singeth, / But I kan rymes of Robyn Hood and Randolf Erl of Chestre.” In other words, he cannot always remember his prayers, but he can readily recite the ballads of popular heroes. (Five centuries later, Mark Twain put a similar statement into the mouth of the whimsical young rebel, Tom Sawyer.)

While Buhle convincingly argues that the period of Wat Tyler’s rebellion was a “Robin Hood era,” the reader might wonder why Buhle concentrates the better part of two chapters on those years alone. It was a full century after Wat Tyler that the efforts by landlords to enclose the pastures began to get fully underway in England, expelling thousands of small farmers from the countryside. Didn’t the impoverished population need Robin Hood at that moment to help chart a path of resistance?

Indeed, Buhle briefly notes, Robin as protector of the poor appeared again in the late fifteenth century in a collection of verse tales under the title, "A Lyttell Geste of Robyn Hode." But from the late sixteenth century onward, a more conservative Robin began to enter English literature, often as an official project to erase the militantly radical one. Following the defeat of the Spanish armada, audiences saw Robin Hood as a patriotic national hero on the London stage.
And Shakespeare’s Robin Hood-type characters, such as Orlando and the Duke in As You Like It, were noblemen who had temporarily fled palace life for a sylvan arcadia.
From there, Buhle follows the contrasting renditions of Robin Hood and his band through the centuries. Important examples include Joseph Ritson’s popular volume of 1795, poet John Keat’s antiwar Robin and Marian of 1817, Walter Scott’s patriotic “Ivanhoe” of 1819, storyteller and illustrator Howard Pyle’s “Merry Adventures” of 1883, and Errol Flynn’s version filmed on the eve of World War II (1938), in which he vanquishes (Hitlerite?) evil while vying for the heart of Olivia de Havilland’s Maid Marian.
Buhle presents his chapters as a series of almost autonomous essays. Each chapter is packed with facts and critical insight, but often on themes that to a certain extent had been dealt with earlier. The discontinuity and repetition in the narrative left me a bit confused, at least on my first time thorough the book, over where the author was leading his readers.
Luckily, the book’s illustrations provide a framework to help us make sense of Buhle’s choppy structure. The illustrations appear in four separate sections that underscore major themes of the adjacent chapters. Gary Dumm gives us a comic-strip portrayal of the peasant and religious struggles in England of the fourteenth century. Christopher Hutchinson, a supporter and contributor to Socialist Action newspaper, uses collage to provide Robin Hood heroes for the modern age (Che, Malcolm, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Luxemburg, etc.). And Sharon Rudahl’s cartoons tell the tales of Maid Marian—warrior, revolutionary activist, and proto-feminist.
Why read this book? Because the world still has a need for Robin. Today, Buhle points out, “the rich and powerful now command almost every corner of the planet and, in order to maintain their control, threaten to despoil every natural resource to the point of exhaustion. Meanwhile, billions of people are impoverished below levels of decency during centuries of subsistence living.”

Yet resistance to authority continues, and so, Robin lives on “in the streets of Cairo, Egypt, and Madison, Wisconsin, USA, among the many other places where people dream of a better life and struggle for it openly, cheerful to be rebellious.”

The article above was written by Michael Schreiber, and is reprinted from the July 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.

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