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“Stop, Thief!” – Peter Linebaugh's New Collection of Essays

by David Bollier
David Bollier: news and perspectives on the commons
April 2nd, 2014

It is always refreshing to read Peter Linebaugh’s writings on the commons because he brings such rich historical perspectives to bear, revealing the commons as both strangely alien and utterly familiar. With the added kick that the commoning he describes actually happened, Linebaugh’s journeys into the commons leave readers outraged at enclosures of long ago and inspired to protect today's endangered commons.

This was my response, in any case, after reading Linebaugh’s latest book, Stop, Thief!  The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance (Spectre/PM Press), which is a collection of fifteen chapters on many different aspects of the commons, mostly from history.  The book starts out on a contemporary note by introducing “some principles of the commons” followed by “a primer on the commons and commoning” and a chapter on urban commoning.  For readers new to Linebaugh, he is an historian at the University of Toledo, in Ohio, and the author of such memorable books as The Magna Carta Manifesto and The London Hanged.

Stop, Thief! is organized around a series of thematic sections that collect previously published essays and writings by Linebaugh.  One section focuses on Karl Marx (“Charles Marks,” as he was recorded in British census records) and another on British enclosures and commoners (Luddites; William Morris; the Magna Carta; “enclosures from the bottom up”).  A third section focuses on American commons (Thomas Paine; communism and commons) before concluding with three chapters on First Nations and commons.

This sampler reflects Linebaugh’s eclectic passions as a historian.  They are united by the overarching themes of commoning, enclosure and resistance, as the subtitle puts it. This framework makes for some unanticipated historical excursions, such as the chapter on the theft of forest products and abolition of forest rights in 19th century Germany, which made quite an impression on Karl Marx.  Another chapter – Linebaugh’s foreword to E.P. Thompson’s book on William Morris – situates Morris as a communist, artist, prophet and revolutionary.

Some of the historical explorations journey into areas that are frankly obscure to me, so I don't always appreciate the fuller context and circumstances.  But this is part of the pleasure and fun -- to be introduced to new areas of commons history.  Linebaugh describes a host of historical commons that have receded into the mists of history:

“the Irish knowledge commons, the agrarian commons of the Nile, the open fields of England enclosed by Acts of Parliament, the Mississippi Delta commons, the Creek-Chickasaw-Cherokee commons, the llaneros and pardos of Venezeula, the Mexican communidades de los naturales, the eloquently expressed nut-and-berry commons of the Great Lakes, the customs of the sikep villagers of Java, the subsistence commons of Welsh gardeners, the commons of the street along the urban waterfront, the lascars crammed in dark spaces far from home, and the Guyanese slaves building commons and community….”

I only wish that some of these passing references had been elaborated upon; they conjure up exotic lost worlds unto themselves.

It is fitting that the concluding chapter explores the “invisibility of the commons” – our problem now, as then.  Linebaugh notes how such astute minds as George Orwell, William Wordsworth and C.L.R. James failed to see the commons as commons in their times.  Since then, scholarship has helped to illuminate the importance of customary rights, of grazing commons, and of indigenous commons, notes Linebaugh.  “What is gained from seeing them as commoning?” he asks.  “An answer arises in the universality of expropriation, and a remedy to these crimes must be found therefore in reparation for what has been lost and taken.”

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




World War 3 Illustrated, An ‘Open Platform For Protest’ Celebrates 35 Years At MoCCA Fest

by Hannah Means Shannon
Bleeding Cool
April 8th, 2014


I’ve been told that a project based on volunteers, and particularly a project that creates comics, rarely has longevity. Attending the “History of World War 3 Illustrated” panel at MoCCA Fest in New York this past weekend taught me otherwise, and to some extent, my mind is still processing that a work of such integrity has been produced over a period of more than 30 years with such continuous momentum and relevance.

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Moderator Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly introduced a small battalion of WW3 editors and contributors, and we later learned that a number of contributors were waiting quietly in the audience also, listening to what their colleagues had to say. One of the landmarks that dignified the panel event was the recent release of the Kickstarter-funded large hard back anthology collecting selected comics in a topic-based and chronological system of arrangement, essentially telling the history and the concerns of WW3 Illustrated over the years.

Reid described WW3 Illustrated as an “open platform for protest”, a venue for “setting the story straight” regarding political and social issues, featuring “small, powerfully local interests regularly fucked over and ignored by government interest”. He also noted the propensity of WW3 to document the “slow transformations of neighborhoods from real communities to wastelands”.

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Panelists included Sandy Jimenez, Seth Tobocman, Peter Kuper, Sabrina Jones, and Kevin Pyle, many of whom had worked as both editors and contributors in the anthology’s 30 year history.

For Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman, the history of WW3 goes back, way back to meeting in the 1st grade. At age 7, the two started reading comics and fell in deep, producing their first fanzine at age 11, attending comic cons in 1970, and even meeting Harvey Pekar when he working as a hospital worker in their native Cleveland.

Kuper discussed the history of cartoons and comics that deliver social critiques, and felt that comics possess this impulse in their very “DNA” since storytelling leads to talking about what’s “going on in the world at that time”.  He mentioned the magazines which were “shut down” during WWI in Germany, and the fact that many artists were “threatened with death for doing the kind of images they were doing” to critique society at the time. In the USA, during the Depression era, of course, the WPA, gave artists jobs doing art rather than expecting them to seek other types of employment, and on the heels of that serious treatment of comics, war comics in 50’s gave increasing momentum to socially relevant and hard-hitting themes in horror, sci-fi, and war comics genres.  The brick wall comics hit in the form of Frederic Wertham “sent comics back into its infancy”, Kuper said.

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Tobocman picked up the narrative thread with Zap! and other underground comix, which, contrary to false generalizations, contained “a lot of politics” rather than just sex and drugs. Things were “not just smiling” in 70’s, he clarified. The title “WW3” came from a book by British military leader in 1979 called WWIII, about how a third World War could be waged and how to “win it”, which closely reflected the thinking of the Pentagon and NATO at the time, though the average Joe found the book to be quite shocking in its attitudes. In particular the thing that prompted Tobocman to found the magazine with Kuper was the realization during the Iran hostage crisis that people were suddenly coming forward with strong opinions against Iran despite ignorance of the country and a tendency toward more staid attitudes.  “I have a right to opinion if they do”, he realized, and set to work using his skills from creating fanzines to start a magazine of “political opinion”.

Reid brought up the subject of the “volunteer” status of editors and contributors and asked how the financial dynamic of the magazine worked. Tobocman explained that the policy on the magazine is that if  people do work, they keep the rights to the work, meanwhile receiving distribution of 2-6 thousand copies. There is, however, an increase in influence over the magazine if people “do work beyond their own material”, such as becoming  members of the editorial board to determine what goes into magazine and what doesn’t. The motivation to participate in the magazine is simple, Tobocman said.  “People need a place” to express their views, even though the magazine itself has no “specific political line”.  It’s open to different points of view as long as “you express it with some integrity”, he explained.

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Kuper filled the audience in on the social context of WW3’s launch in the 70’s. There had been a distinct decline in the appreciation of the comics medium, with “head shops” that usually stocked Underground comix being shut down and the scaling back of venues where comics might be taught as an art form. There were plenty of people who “deeply believed in” comics being told they weren’t valuable and therefore they weren’t finding any venues for publishing their work. So, for Kuper and Tobocman, and for WW3, it was “either do it that way” as a volunteer magazine, or find no other venue for publication. Either way, they weren’t going to get paid, so they might as well do it and accomplish something, they felt.

Kevin Pyle confirmed that the idea of getting paid wasn’t something he thought about. Participating in WW3 was “more about having venues for expressing self”. Sabrina Jones agreed, “You do your art, then figure out how to get paid” rather than the other way around.

Kuper put a finer point on it by suggesting that the reason the magazine has been  around for 35 years is specifically because they didn’t  make money, therefore they weren’t constantly arguing about money. The ethos of WW3 has always been to start with “doing the thing” and creating the art out of personal desire to do so.

Sandy Jimenez discovered WW3 when he was just out of college and “discovered some issues at Forbidden Planet”. He was attracted to the subject matter of protest movements and class war. Going along to a meeting, he found that contributors “looked like a bunch of kids” rather than “withered old hippies” and he was sold.

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The fact that the magazine was not driven by profit also appealed to him. He thought of the volunteer aspect as a way of “buying their own freedom to do their comics the way they wanted to” and therefore being free of outside control, interests, or responsibilities.

Some aspects of WW3 that appealed to many of the panelists were its ability to provide a distinctive aesthetic as well as politics, the in-person discussions and meetings, and the development of a network that could reach all over the country and around the world to places “where people don’t know there’s anyone else who thinks like they do”.

Reid asked how the editors decide on acceptance and rejection of submissions to the magazine, commenting humorously that he once submitted a cartoon himself and that is was rejected. Kuper said that occasionally people want to contribute but the comic is not clearly understandable in the way it needs to be, or it takes “cheap shots at people”, which is never their agenda, such as one comic they received that made fun of a councilman for being gay rather than for his economic policies.

Kuper acknowledged that their decision-making isn’t perfect, but since asking people to make “changes” on comics they are doing for free is difficult, they haven’t always been exacting when it comes to art style, instead focusing on “reading for content”. The art might not be “spot on”, but the artist might need encouragement to go forward and improve.  Tobocman added that “if people have a place where they can interact with people their work gets better” and he’s often seen great improvements among contributors over time.

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Since the magazine has spanned many years, one question during Q &A broached the subject of how WW3 has met technological change. Using Facebook to arrange meetings or discussions hasn’t necessarily worked as well as they might have hoped since the kinds of discussions editors and contributors need to have on the magazine tend to work better face to face. For that reason, they’ve continued to prefer meet ups. Skype is a slightly better alternative, giving more human interaction. Kuper reflected on the changes in printing methods that have altered the way they produce the magazine, from its early days of print when they could oversee the actual printing-press production and make sure the details and ink were right to the current use of thumb-drives and sending the magazines away for publication, which can result in quality-control issues.

For the hardcover collection, however, they’ve used a trusted publisher who Kuper has worked with multiple times before. Talking to other publishers beforehand, they found skepticism and demands that they publish the collection “small, and black and white” as companies nervously attempted to assure themselves that they wouldn’t lose money producing the book.

PM Press “stepped up” to publish a full color book with a hard cover, and “no page ceiling”. The book “shows off” the work of WW3 “properly” versus being apologetic about it, Kuper said. For him, the book marks a step to “codify something”,  since WW3 has worn a “cloak of invisibility for many years now” in terms of permanency. Now, with a hard cover, it’s more likely to be seen in libraries and schools, contributing to posterity. The new collection covers the years from 1979-2014 and contains explanatory chronologies of social events and concerns to coincide with the selection of comics.

The most recent magazine, however, is also currently available:

ww3-45-allHannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter



Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page




Off the Cuff: Chris Crass, author, activist and anti-racist organizer

The Oberlin Review
March 14th, 2014

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’
 
What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.
 
How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.
 
I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?


We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

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Liberty, Equality, Geography: An Interview with John P. Clark on the Revolutionary Eco-Anarchism of Elisée Reclus

by Alyce Santoro
Truthout
March 4th, 2014

Social geography is the study of how landscape, climate, and other features of a place shape the livelihoods, values, and cultural traditions of its inhabitants (and vice versa). Frenchman Elisée Reclus (1830 – 1905), a progenitor of the discipline, believed strongly in the rights and abilities of people to manage themselves in relation to their local bioregion, free from rule by a remote, centralized government. His approach to anarchy was unique in its emphasis on the environment – Reclus understood that a mindset that encourages one person or people’s domination over another must, in the race to profit from natural “resources”, also foster domination over nature. Like the social ecologists who have succeeded him, Reclus believed that solutions to ecological crises must involve restoring balance, equality, and a sense of interrelationship between humans and other humans, and between humans and the biosphere.
 
The first half of the recently-published Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: Selected Writings of Elisée Reclus, edited and translated by John Clark and Camille Martin, forms a comprehensive critical survey of Reclus’ philosophy and political theory,including biographical information and historical context. The “modern” manifestations of oppression (including the concentration of wealth and power, surveillance, racism, sexism, and ecological degradation) that concerned Reclus in late-1800s Europe, the United States, and Central and South America are indeed still strikingly – infuriatingly – present. The second half of the book consists of translations of several pieces from Reclus’ extensive oeuvre, some of which have never before appeared in English translation.
 
AS: Can you describe how anarchy – specifically the kind based in mutual aid and environmental responsibility in service to a greater good illuminated here by Reclus, and by you in your book The Impossible Community, differs from other conceptions (or misconceptions) of anarchy, and how it might (as contrasted with other ideologies) be useful to us now?
 
John P. Clark: The world is rife with misconceptions about anarchism.
 
The most historically and theoretically grounded definition – the one that goes back to classical figures like Elisée Reclus – is quite simple: anarchy consists of the critique of all systems of domination and the struggle to abolish those systems, in concert with the practice of free, non-dominating community, which is the real alternative to these systems. Anarchy is the entire sphere of human life that takes place outside the boundaries of arche, or domination, in all its forms – statism, nationalism, capitalism, patriarchy, racial oppression, heterosexism, technological domination, the domination of nature, etc. It rejects the hegemony of the centralized state, the capitalist market, and any hybrid of the two, and seeks to create a society free of all systematic forms of domination of humanity and nature. It envisions a society in which power remains decentralized at the base, decision-making is carried out through voluntary association and participatory democracy, and larger social purposes are pursued through the free federation of communities, affinity groups, and associations.
 
Anarchism is not merely about a transformation of social institutional structures, however. As further discussed in my book The Impossible Community, it also encompasses a fundamental transformation of the social imaginary, the social ideology, and the social ethos. Communitarian anarchism assumes that social transformation, to be successful, must encompass all major spheres of social determination. It recognizes that there are ontological, ethical, aesthetic, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of anarchy or non-domination. According to Reclus and other communitarian anarchists, these are not just vague ideals to be achieved in some future utopia; rather, such a transformation is immediately realized here and nowwherever love and solidarity are embodied in existing human relationships and social practice. Anarchism is strongly committed to “prefigurative” forms of association, and to the idea of “creating the new society within the shell of the old.” In fact, the communities of liberation that we create here and now do more than “prefigure” the ultimate goal; they are actual “figurations” of our ideals, actually giving a form, or a face, to them in the present.
 
By demonstrating that the most deeply rooted social order arises not out of coercion, oppression, and domination, but out of mutual aid and cooperation, communitarian anarchism is a truly revolutionary project. In working to regenerate community at the most fundamental level, it seeks to reverse the course of thousands of years of history in which relations of solidarity have been progressively replaced by market relations, commodity relations, bureaucratic relations, technical relations, instrumental relations, and relations of coercion and domination. The ecocidal and genocidal effects of such relations compel us to consider whether we will remain on history’s present catastrophic course, or seize the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the flourishing of both humanity and the whole of life in the biospheric community. In the work of Reclus we find universally accessible, immediately implementable alternatives.
 
Reclus cites some of the anarchic forms of human community that have made up much of world history, and remarks that “the names of the Spanish comuñeros, of the French communes, of the English yeomen, of the free cities in Germany, of the Republic of Novgorod and of the marvelous communities of Italy must be, with us Anarchists, household words: never was civilized humanity nearer to real Anarchy than it was in certain phases of the communal history of Florence and Nürnberg.” Today we can add the names of many movements that span the century since Reclus: the collectives in the Spanish Revolution; the Gandhian Sarvodaya Movement; the global cooperative movement; the rich history of libertarian intentional communities; the Zapatista Movement; radical indigenous movements throughout the world; the global justice movement; and recently, the “horizontalist” practice of the Occupy Movement.
 
AS: In his 1898 essay “Evolution, Revolution, and the Anarchist Ideal” Reclus reflects on “the spirit of the strike” and various kinds of cooperative associations (such as bartering of goods and services, collaborative communities, and consumers’ associations) as effective ways to build solidarity. He claims that it is “in struggling for a common cause” together that we form the bonds necessary for the ongoing project of social revolution. In an 1895 letter to Clara Koettlitz he advises the aspiring anarchist to “work to free himself personally from all preconceived or imposed ideas, and gradually gather around himself friends who live and act in the same way. It is step by step, through small, loving, and intelligent associations that the great fraternal society will be formed.” Can you speak on the transformative power of the process itself? Can you recommend some constructive immediate steps for today’s revolutionaries?
 
JPC: The spirit of the strike, which means essentially the spirit of active and creative resistance, has enormous significance in the everyday life of any person who is committed to liberatory social transformation. In our present epoch of looming ecocidal and genocidal catastrophe, each person must make a basic decision. It is a “living, forced, momentous option,” to use William James's famous terms. Each must answer the question, “Am I a resister or am I collaborator?” This is as true for us today as it was for anyone living in Vichy France in the early 40s. We must decide either for solidarity with humanity and nature or for betrayal of both in the struggle against domination. For this reason we might say that authentic anarchists are not merely an-archists but anti-archists. To be an “an-archist,” one who is “not an archist,” might imply something like “domination just isn’t my thing,” or “I’m not comfortable with domination.”  But the true spirit of anarchism, that is, anti-archism, implies that “domination is an intolerable thing,” that “when I see domination in any form I become indignant.”
 
I agree with Reclus’ contention that “small, loving and intelligent associations” are thekey to breaking out of the cycle of social determination and regenerating free community on the larger social level. Such micro-communities are “small” in the sense that they are the locus of primary, intimate, face-to-face relationships, they are “loving” in that they are founded on the practice of solidarity, mutual aid, compassion, and cooperation, and they are “intelligent” in that they are self-consciously transformative, awakened to their own meaning and purpose, the primary social space in which theory and practice converge. As primary communities of solidarity they are the only basis on which a solidarity economy and a larger solidarity society can be created. Reclus believed that these “small, loving and intelligent associations” should not isolate themselves, but on the contrary should develop their lives together in close relationship to their larger communities, always considering their role in the evolution of the whole society toward “the great fraternal society” of the future.
 
While ambivalent towards, and even skeptical of, the role of small cooperatives and intentional "communes" or "colonies" separate from the local community, Reclus believed that an indispensable part of the process of social transformation is the creation of institutions that embody a growing spirit and practice of solidarity at the most basic levels of society.He stressed the importance of the development of a “spirit of full association” in which local communities collectively take on many cooperative projects. He looked to already-existing practices of mutual aid and cooperation as a kind of material basis on which further developments could be grounded.The Reclus family’s life, which was pervaded by love and cooperation, was described by Elisée’s nephew and biographer Paul Reclus as “putting communism into practice.” Thus, Reclus’ own family was in effect a libertarian communist or communitarian anarchist affinity group, his most immediate evidence of what is possible in a future society.
 
In The Impossible Community, I refer to “communities of liberation and solidarity,” but these have gone under many names, notably, the “affinity group” in the anarchist movement, the “base community” in Latin American social justice movements, and the “ashram” in the Gandhian Sarvodaya Movement. In all of these cases, the fact that they have been integral parts of transformative social movements has helped protect them from the pitfalls of self-obsession and self-marginalization that Reclus saw in some intentional communities. Rather than one-sidedly turning inward, they turn both inward and outward simultaneously, and act as the foundation for larger federative activity. We might call them the material and spiritual base for social evolution and social revolution.
 
Reclus’ insights into the “spirit of full association” are desperately needed by today’s anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and all those who are concerned with liberatory social transformation.  On the one hand, many of those who have the most far-reaching visions of social change remain trapped in marginal projects and relatively isolated subcultures. On the other hand, almost all those who are most actively engaged with local communities are in the end co-opted into single-issue politics and innocuous reformism. Reclus urges activists, (who must be, he says, at once “evolutionists” and “revolutionists”) to become deeply engaged in the struggles of actually-existing communities, focusing on the needs and aspirations of ordinary people, while at the same time helping to create new expressions of communal solidarity that are a revolutionary challenge to the existing system of domination.
 
AS: The caption to an illustration of the globe being held up by two hands that appears in the preface to Reclus’ 3,500-page masterwork L’Homme et la Terre (reproduced in this edition of Anarchy, Geography, Modernity) contains one of his best-known maxims: “L’homme est la nature prenant conscience d’elle-même” – translated here as “humanity is nature becoming self-conscious.” Do you think (or might Reclus have thought) that humans are the only biological creature that is an artifact of nature becoming conscious of itself?
 
JPC: Human beings are certainly not the only form of nature’s consciousness. Of course, all consciousness is nature’s consciousness, and since the objects of this consciousness are also nature, there is a sense in which all consciousness is nature’s self-consciousness, as I’m sure Reclus would agree. But the idea that humans are self-conscious nature in a strong sense means that not only do we possess consciousness,we are capable of knowing that we have this quality and guiding our actions accordingly. There is a degree of self-consciousness that makes possible a sense of wonder at the natural world and a sense of responsibility concerning it. It is this self-consciousness that makes possible a narrative understanding of our place in the natural world.
 
We are only now beginning to see the way in which Reclus’ thought made a major contribution to the dawning awareness of humanity’s place within a larger story of the earth. His conviction that “humanity is nature becoming self-conscious” belongs to certain wide-ranging tendencies in Nineteenth Century thought. On the one hand, German idealist philosophy (Hegel, Schelling) and Romantic literature (Wordsworth, the transcendentalists) reinterpreted all of reality as aspects of a Universal Spirit that encompasses humanity and nature, and was becoming conscious of itself in history. But these insights stayed largely on an idealist and aesthetic level, and Spirit remained largely divorced from scientific and material realities. Marx’s historical materialism contributed much of what was lacking in such idealist accounts, in that it interpreted history as the story of the alienation of humanity from its own life activity and productive processes, and of the overcoming of this split and the ideologies that mystify it. This account was in many ways a great advance, in that it was grounded in material reality and took seriously the insights of modern science. Yet it tended toward a reductionism that ignored many of the dimensions of nature and spirit that idealism and Romanticism uncovered. Reclus’ thought was the first attempt at a real synthesis and transcendence of these two perspectives. In his work, Hegel’s story of “Spirit” and Marx’s story of “Man” are raised up (aufgehoben) to the level of the “Earth Story”, a narrative in which humanity is seen as developing in dialectical relation to nature, and in which the opposition between spirit and matter is overcome...or, minimally, that the project of overcoming it is posed seriously.
 
Prior to the late twentieth century,broad, encompassing, synthesizing conceptions of the global and of “globalization” had not pervaded the general consciousness. Yet, well before the end of the Nineteenth Century, Reclus had already begun developing a theoretically sophisticated historical and geographical conception of globalization, one that encompasses the geological, geographical, ecological, political, economic, and cultural spheres. Reclus is thus a crucial figure in the emergence of a conception of globalization that remains more advanced than the ones that predominate even today. He urged us, long before this language even existed, to overcome the “centrisms” that have doomed us. He attacked the egocentrism that raises one individual above others and the anthropocentrism that subordinates the natural world to humanity. But not least of all he challenged his age to overcome Eurocentrism and adopt a truly global perspective. He asks, “Hasn’t it become obvious to members of the great human family that the center of civilization is already everywhere?” [AGM, p.  222]. In the end, Reclus is a visionary and prophet of earth-consciousness and world-consciousness in their deepest senses, senses that are still only beginning to dawn on humanity.
 
Reclus summarizes his project in his two great works, The New Universal Geography and Humanity and the Earth (which together run to nearly 20,000 pages) as “the attempt to follow the evolution of humanity in relation to forms of life on earth, and the evolution of forms of life on earth in relation to humanity.” [Élisée Reclus, Leçon d’ouverture du cours de Géographie comparée dans l’espace et dans le temps. Extrait de la REVUE UNIVERSITAIRE, Bruxelles, 1894, p. 5, my translation]. It is for this reason that he deserves recognition as a founder not only of social geography but also of social ecology. In fact, his rich, detailed development of social ecological analysis makes most of what has gone under that rubric since his time seem amateurish in comparison. We need to reinvigorate social ecology today with the kind of scientific and historical grounding found in Reclus but with a theoretical rigor that goes far beyond his efforts.
 
Reclus’ announcement that “humanity is nature becoming self-conscious” is a quite momentous one, and is certain to become even more fateful as global climate catastrophe accelerates and as we move more deeply into the Sixth Mass Extinction of life on Earth.We need to ponder what is at stake today in the question of whether humanity can actively assume its role as self-conscious nature. Reclus was confident that it would succeed in doing so, and in the process demonstrate that another world is possible beyond the limits of domination. Today, in our much less optimistic age, it is much more difficult for many to believe that such an “other world” is at all possible, despite the fact there are ever stronger indications that the present one is becoming less possible day by day. This world’s ultimate impossibility, even if it is inevitable, remains implausible. For its productive powers, imaginary powers and ideological powers are all seeming testimony to its insuperable reality, and these powerscontinue to expand.  In reality, we have good reason to ask whether, if another world does not rapidly become possible, any world at all will remain actual. The impossible community, the Reclusian community of love and solidarity, is a practical and dialectical answer to this more than theoretical, more than rhetorical question. In the midst of a world-destroying epoch, the impossible community presents itself as a world-making and world-preserving community. In the midst of egocentric cynicism and moral paralysis, it is a charismatic community of gifts and of the gift. It is an ethos that inspires and reawakens the person, sweeping him or her into a new realm of deeper reality and more compelling truth. It is our ultimate hope for the world.
 
 
Alyce Santoro’s interview with John P. Clark on his book The Impossible Community: Realizing Communitarian Anarchism published in Truthout on June 9, 2013 can be found here.

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Notes from the Underground

text by Jesse Drew
reprinted by Tank Magazine
March 2014

As a teenage runaway in the 1970s, media artist and writer Jesse Drew hid out in communes across the US. He describes what they were like

Text by Jesse Drew

In March 1971, I boarded a Greyhound bus headed for a city in northern New England with three other boys and one girl. All five of us were 15 years old and all of us had just run away from home. We had a pocketful of change between us and a phone number to call when we arrived at our destination. The number was given to us by one of our entourage’s siblings, who had connections to an underground political organisation that was then on the FBI’s top ten most wanted list. The bus pulled into town just after midnight and we were dropped off into a howling blizzard. Stamping the snow from our shoes and blinking in the flickering fluorescent light of the dingy bus station, we made our phone call. Miraculously, someone answered, and within minutes we were greeted by a bearded young man, who whisked us off to our first commune, into a network that would be my home, school and refuge for many years to come.



The next day, the five of us were moved from an attic hideaway to a commune in the countryside inhabited primarily by children, with adult collective members as teachers and guardians. We enjoyed roughhousing and playing games like the kids, but as teenagers we were also interested in pot, wine and sex:

we called ourselves the “Middle Earth” people. We were in the “kid’s collective” for about a month before it became obvious that the police and FBI were edging closer to us. We became aware of a strange clicking on the telephone, neighbours being questioned by strangers, the feeling of being observed – the warning signs that would eventually become routine for us. One morning, we were all packed up in a vehicle and moved to a remote communal farm in the mountains. Here, we dug out firewood from snowdrifts, milked goats and tried to find dried herbs to take the place of our cigarettes, which we had run out of. The long dark nights led me to their communal library of Beat and American bohemian literature and poetry, which I read ravenously, starting with Trout Fishing in America.

We could not stay too long in any one place and for the greater part of the year, we were moved from commune to commune, one step ahead of law enforcement, which persisted in taking a great interest in our whereabouts. The collective wisdom was that a blundering group of teenage runaways would surely lead the law to the wanted band of political outlaws that had been able to avoid entrapment thus far. We remained always packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice, sometimes getting a phone call from a neighbouring commune who had just been visited by police, or spotting an unmarked car coming up the driveway. On our travels we experienced first-hand many of the communes and collectives throughout northern New England. To avoid being too much of a liability and a burden, we milked cows, made candles, ploughed the fields, rolled logs in saw mills, raised bees, planted crops, cooked, cleaned, took care of babies and children, and helped out in any way we could. We also discussed racism, imperialism and guerrilla warfare with revolutionaries, sexism and lesbianism with radical feminists, working-class organising with inner-city activists, prison conditions with radical lawyers, essential medical practice with “barefoot doctors”, existentialism and Marxism with avant-garde film-makers. It was quite an experience for a teenage runaway with a ninth-grade education. The communal movement enabled us to move from coast to coast as part of an underground railroad, offering a truly utopian alternative to the usual fate of teenage runaways: drugs, theft and exploitation. In all those years, no one ever turned us away or denied us food and shelter, despite the burden we placed on food-strapped communes and the danger from law enforcement.



The popular perception of a “commune” is as the habitat of the rural “hippie”, a peaceful, longhaired vegetarian who longed to go back to the land and be removed from modern social ills. According to this myth, in the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of such hippie communes dotted the US, eking out an existence of subsistence agriculture, with no television, little outside contact and infrequent bathing. While such stereotypes are fun, they obscure the real legacy and character of these communal and collective projects. In all my travels through the communal network, I couldn’t say I ever actually came across a “hippie” commune. The people I met were not escaping from the world or cutting themselves off from society: they were attempting to build a working model of a different life; they wanted to influence radical change in mainstream culture. Many communards were engaged in resistance to the social order, fighting logging companies, defending family farms, building food co-ops, organising demonstrations, assisting military resisters or simply offering refuge to other activists. We were not a meditation retreat: our communes at various times gave respite to Black Panthers, Young Lords, the radical theatre group the Living Theatre and Lincoln Detox Centre medical personnel from the Bronx.



What exactly constitutes a commune is somewhat subjective. I would differentiate between four types of group living. A commune is a group of people who live with shared property, goals and lives in common. It is a conscious, intentional community whose daily lives are coordinated in general consensus. A collective is a group of people working on a single project, who may or not live together. Then there is co-op living, really just based on shared costs and household chores, with no other goal than convenience and saving money. And a group of friends may live together, but that does not make a commune.



Communes had many different philosophies, structures and sizes. My experience consisted primarily of communes geared toward political activism, but I did encounter others that were more spiritual in nature, progenitors of what would eventually be known as “new age”. These tended to revolve more around “leaders” than our more consensual process. Communards all took a great interest in how things worked in other communes, and there was a great deal of visiting and exchanging notes and resources – about how chores were divided up, how much or how little privacy could be expected, whether monogamous relationships were encouraged or discouraged. Some of these questions led to particularly infamous experiments, such as collectivising all the clothes, or having a roulette wheel to determine who slept with whom that night. Everything was up for grabs, and there were heated disagreements over a whole range of issues – spirituality, vegetarianism versus hunting, violent versus nonviolent resistance.



Communal life had all sorts of benefits for non-members too. Small farmers left to the ravages of bad weather or other misfortune could appeal to the commune for help, picking up hay before a rainstorm, perhaps, or pulling a tractor out of a ditch. Far from promoting an alien idea, we saw ourselves as reviving a very American tradition of collective work, the barnraising. Bringing communards to help a local farmer pull the roof joists up for a new barn renewed a custom that had been dying, as family farm culture had been slowly strangled by corporate agriculture and suburban encroachment.
 


Eventually, life in New England became too intense, with frequent visits from police and undercover spies. It was decided that our group of runaways should be split up and moved out of the area. I would be sent to a remote northern California commune called Black Bear Ranch. After two days by myself in a small cabin on a dirt road, a car pulled up and we drove non-stop to California. I was greeted at the door by two members of The Cockettes, a female-impersonator theatre group. Clearly, I had arrived in San Francisco.



The next day, a local group of Hell’s Angels prepared to drive me out into the wilderness, to Black Bear Ranch. We left late because the bikers, with tears in their eyes, were glued to the TV, watching the funeral of the revolutionary prison activist George Jackson. Seven of us went along for the ride, in an old Ford Econoline van with no passenger seats, hunkered down in the empty back end drinking Red Mountain wine, stopping along the way to take fruit from orchards – grapes, peaches, apricots, plums. In the mountains, we came across a crew of orange jumpsuited men clearing the desolate highway. Our barrel-chested, ponytailed driver took out a few joints from the glove compartment and surreptitiously handed one to each of the guys in the prison work gang. The hand-rolled gifts elicited restrained glee and a secret nod of thanks from each.



At last our van began climbing the long, winding, dusty route up treacherously steep, single-lane dirt roads that led into the remote virgin timberlands. After many hours, we edged past the cabins, teepees, goats, gardens and domes of Black Bear and stopped in front of the main house, a ramshackle bleached white structure with porches. Several people were milling about and came up to welcome us. I was immediately invited down to the creek by a young woman, so that we could cool off in the freezing mountain water and she could show me the new tattoo on her upper thigh.



Black Bear Ranch incorporated many of the most intriguing aspects of the communal movement, and it’s worth describing in detail. Unfortunately, in those days I travelled extremely light, living out of a backpack, with only a packet of phony IDs, a knife and my toothbrush. I had no camera, no journal, no pens to capture my surroundings. Fortunately, though, there are some very good notes and photos on Black Bear Ranch, taken over a period of years by outside observers – and paid for by US taxpayers. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, I can rely on the FBI’s record of observations collected by external spies and infiltrators, and by aerial photography.



One of the striking things about the Ranch was the sheer remoteness of it, located in an old mining town deep in the Trinity Alps, surrounded by forest. This observation recurs many times in the FBI report:



Captioned commune is located in an extremely mountainous area in southwestern Siskiyou County, California, which is immediately adjacent to the State of Oregon... The property is surrounded on all sides by US Forest Service land in the Kiamath National Forest. Commune located approximately 50 miles from Oregon border and is accessible only after considerable travel on a logging road.



This made it an ideal hideaway for dissidents and political activists on the run. It had no electricity, no phone, no running water. Once the snows came, the land was locked in until spring. There was a public telephone booth in the closest town that the commune used in emergencies – it took an hour to get to it. The booth was bugged by the FBI, who meticulously logged the numbers of outgoing and incoming calls. The primary tone of the FBI file is frustration at the agency’s inability to discern who is actually spending time at the commune. Their traditional spy techniques – telescopes and nightvision from neighbouring buildings, wiretapping phone lines, tampering with the mail – were mostly worthless in the wilderness. Unfortunately for the FBI, to get to know the residents and visitors in Black Bear, you had to physically be there, a daunting task for outsiders. The file notes that it was a hospitable place: “(DELETE) indicated that the individuals located at the Black Bear Ranch were not particularly New Left oriented, but had never been known to refuse food and shelter to individuals in a fugitive status.” However, this generosity evidently did not extend to government agents: “NOTE: ALL OFFICES SHOULD BE AWARE NO INTERVIEWS CAN BE CONDUCTED INSIDE BLACK BEAR DUE TO HOSTILITY OF RESIDENTS.”



Of course, the FBI considered all communes a menace to society. An anonymous FBI supervisor offers this advice: “Experience has shown communes are a haven for revolutionary violence-prone individuals. Any indication that individuals are living in a communal existence should be given immediate investigative attention to establish their identities and determine their propensity to violence.”



For the rest of us, the commune’s remoteness encouraged a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. It was the evidence that the hope many of us had for a new way of living could actually work. The inaccessible place was a perfect laboratory environment to explore and develop alternatives to the status quo, from social governance to technology to food production. In the main house, there was an excellent research lab and library for medical remedies derived from herbs, roots and plants. Many babies were born on the commune, creating a training ground for midwives, doulas and women’s health practitioners and advocates. Food was gathered, fished, hunted and cultivated. Despite harbouring over a hundred people, the group worked together without coercion and outside any capitalist logic: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. Even the FBI was impressed with our productivity. In the report, some handwritten notes accompany aerial photographs of the land:



Cultivation in fields growing well (more cult. under trees) 25 people in fields (count aprx) * Note: Considering the number of tents and the extent of cultivation, the total population is estimated at approximately 125. More could possibly be supported by present facilities.



Notes from the FBI’s aerial investigation also count two teepees, six “circular tents” (otherwise known as domes), a main building, a barn and several shacks, checkpoints and observation posts. The FBI also took a great interest in the commune’s technological accoutrements, as evidenced by the Cuban Missile Crisis-style photos it took of the land from low-flying planes. An early report convinced the agency that a radio transmitter and antenna had been installed at the perimeter of the main house. It later turned out to be the washing machine and a clothesline: “The writer, with the assistance of (DELETE) flew over the captioned commune at an air speed of approximately 85 miles per hour and approximately 50 feet off the ground on two occasions. Particular attention was given to the area in question, no such towers were observed, and the area in question was identified as a laundry area.

”

I left Black Bear Ranch that winter and headed to an urban collective in San Francisco for six months, where I sold underground newspapers on the street, developed a radical film screening series, became involved in the Food Conspiracy and got to know other urban communes. I then returned to a New England collective farm for several more years. In the mid-1970s, I left the commune I was living in, as interest waned and people drifted away, and moved to a small city where I earned the first pay cheque that was mine alone. I worked as a palletiser in a syrup factory, stacking boxes for forklifts to take away. I confess, I felt a guilty pleasure at having my first wad of bills in my pocket that I could spend any way I wanted, regardless of the needs of the collective. The first thing I bought was a six-pack of beer, which I drank on my friend’s front stoop, hard hat in my lap. I felt no remorse about the commune’s dissolution, no sense of loss.



The communes had played a catalytic role in developing an abundance of ideas that are now seen as givens: alternative fuels and energy, sustainable agricultural processes, sexual freedoms, new forms of participatory culture and grassroots democracy. All sorts of institutions built by communes still remain vital: food co-ops, free health clinics, alternative schools and political organisations. They were also a proving ground for new forms of technology, and the fusion of the new with traditional craft methods had an important, often unrecognised impact on rural America. The communal experience proved to many that you could maintain an alternative life without coercion or threats. There are still thousands of them functioning today, but also thousands of people who have been schooled in such collectivity. I see many of them in leading roles as trade unionists, environmentalists, political activists, media producers and musicians. The communes were a badlands, a refuge, but also an autonomous zone, a place to test out a new way of doing things. That idea has lasted me a lifetime.



A version of this piece first appeared in West of Eden, edited by Iain Boal, Janferie Stone, Michael Watts and Cal Winslow, from PM Press.

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Professor Falcón’s Lessons

Solidarity and Camaraderie in a Puerto Rican Context

by Matt Meyer

On Monday, March 10, Puerto Rico’s leading intellectual — sociologist, educator, lawyer, author, organizer, and Independentista — passed away at age 84. A world renowned authority on colonialism, repression, and Puerto Rican history, Dr. Nieves Falcón was founder/director of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, founder of the Committee on Human Rights, president of the International PEN Club, and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. He was also this author’s mentor, godfather to my son, and a great friend; it was an honor to be the only non-Puerto Rican to deliver a eulogy at his March 12th funeral. This essay is based on my remarks that afternoon.

We were driving, late at night, in the middle of Manhattan — Alejandro Molina of Chicago-based National Boricua Human Rights Network and me in the back seat. In the front seat was Puerto Rico’s legendary Luis Nieves Falcón, our boss. In the driver’s seat was Dr. Manny Rosenberg, beloved upper west side activist and dentist who daughter Susan was doing hard time for her involvement with the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements of the 1970s and early ’80s. We were brought together by the plans for the 1990 International Tribunal on Political Prisoners/POWs in the USA, but we were held together and pushed forward by the dynamic vision and steel hand of Nieves Falcón. It was the first major public symposium of the current generation which made the issue of political imprisonment in the USA a widespread, central focus throughout left and progressive circles, beyond the movements whose leaders were the ones behind bars. Close to one thousand people attended that momentous event, but the ragtag coalition of individuals and groups who were responsible for it would never have survived without the leadership of Nieves Falcón.

The joke of that story is this: Alejandro and I almost got kicked out of the car and left by the side of the road, for giggling out of control at the conversation between Nieves and Manny. Theirs was a friendship and collaborative connection which expressed and defined the very essence of solidarity: two peoples working together out of mutual respect, love, friendship, and unity for the freedom of all oppressed people and the liberation of all humankind. But to Alejandro and me at the moment, all we could hear was the word “comrade” and the way it was being pronounced — not with a Puerto Rican accent or a New York one, but in the clipped British intonation of a graduate of the London School of Economics (where Nieves Falcon got his PhD)! Here this descendant of African warriors and indigenous Taino peacemakers was saying “comrade” this and “comrade” that like a member of some bizarre communist royal family — and Alejandro and I were rolling on the floor with laughter! Nieves Falcón might have fumed a little at our gentle teasing, but the truth is that I learned a lot that evening about the true meaning of the word.

When one reflects on the legacy of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón from the context of solidarity and camaraderie, there are five phrases which are important to keep in mind. These attributes should be taken as sign-posts of how to develop effective leaders of the future.

Coalition-builder: Nieves understood like few others in modern times that all great united fronts must be broad enough to reach large and diverse sectors, masses and masses of people, while still being controlled and coordinated by a clear and principled center. This concept is different than old-fashioned democratic centralism and more complicated than social democracy; grassroots initiatives must be allowed to spring up, take a shape of their own, and develop organically in ways appropriate to different communities. In this way, Nieves Falcon took a page from the book of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who noted that “true leadership is not the search for consensus, but the molding of consensus.” Nieves Falcon taught us how to provide strong leadership while allowing large coalitions to flourish.

Internationalist: Without for one moment giving up an inch of his proud Puerto Rican identity — his passion for his homeland and the beauty of its people — Nieves Falcón was a true man of the world. He could and did converse with leaders from every continent, earning respect for the cause of Puerto Rican freedom and for the full recognition of the great Puerto Rican socio-cultural contributions to world history. He did this with great knowledge and appreciation of global dynamics past and present, centering Puerto Rico in an internationalist perspective which holds no place anywhere for empire, militarism, capitalism, or greed.

Master strategist: Few could argue that, as the architect of so many successful campaigns — bringing home the prisoners, working against the Navy in Vieques, working for expanded higher education and legal rights — Nieves Falcón was one of our greatest experts at sizing up situations and figuring out how best to achieve victories. That success might take more years or more money than we could ever imagine was no excuse or deterrent; that we would have to work harder than we ever imagined was a given — but together and focused we would find a way to win. Reforms were understood in calculated fashion as part of the larger efforts for more radical and revolutionary social change. And Nieves Falcón’s eyes, and all of the campaigns he led, were always set on the goal of full freedom and liberation for the Puerto Rican people, and for all people.

Master teacher: The way in which Luis told stories, with his whole body and with every nuance of every language he so expertly crafted, one was bound to listen and learn. Whether talking to a group of young women and men with little consciousness, or to experienced professionals, Nieves made you want not just to comprehend, but to act. His teaching was always in the service of social justice and action, with an aim to move forward in new ways which would enable each of us to fulfill the best of our potential. Education, for Professor Falcón, was based on the need for collective understanding to lead to lasting change.

Defender of the people: In San Juan, it is the stuff of legend that noted scholar Luis Nieves Falcón — at a time when all of his colleagues were preparing to retire – decided to leave his comfortable position at the University of Puerto Rico and work to obtain a law degree. He did this for the sole purpose of defending the imprisoned Puerto Rican independence activists who were languishing in US jails with lengthy sentences served under torturous conditions typical of the treatment of political prisoners; over a dozen had been found guilty of the “thought crime” of seditious conspiracy: planning a world where basic Puerto Rican rights, culture, and policy wouldn’t be under foreign control. As legal counsel, Nieves Falcón knew he had a new key to get into the jails and converse with his fellow patriots. More importantly, however, he also understood that he had only earned a one-way key: he could get in, but his legal skills alone could not get his compatriots out. Nieves Falcón was the type of lawyer who always comprehended that, in working for freedom, legal struggle must be coordinated with political struggle; no courtroom or negotiated maneuver could substitute for the door-to-door, grassroots campaigns which would mobilize a nation to call for the freedom of its prisoners, to call now for the immediate release of Oscar López Rivera. Nieves Falcón was much more than just a lawyer; he was a true defender of the people.

We love Luis Nieves Falcón, and the true, loving comrade that he was to so many of us. We understand that, like all people, he had faults and shortcomings, and could be a master pain in our sides! But as we mourn the loss of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón, we understand that today’s message — Nieves Falcón’s message — is, more than ever: Don’t mourn, organize!

Matt Meyer is a New York City-based educator, author, and activist who serves as War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator and as a UN/ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. His recent books include Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan-African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation (Africa World Press, 2000), the two-volume collection Seeds of New Hope: Pan African Peace Studies for the 21st Century (Africa World Press, 2008, 2010), and Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U. S. Political Prisoners (PM Press, 2008). Meyer is a contributing member of the Editorial Advisory Board for New Clear Vision.

- See more at: http://www.newclearvision.com/2014/03/14/professor-falcons-lessons/#sthash.ybkPsbky.dpuf

Solidarity and Camaraderie in a Puerto Rican Context

by Matt Meyer

On Monday, March 10, Puerto Rico’s leading intellectual — sociologist, educator, lawyer, author, organizer, and Independentista — passed away at age 84. A world renowned authority on colonialism, repression, and Puerto Rican history, Dr. Nieves Falcón was founder/director of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, founder of the Committee on Human Rights, president of the International PEN Club, and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. He was also this author’s mentor, godfather to my son, and a great friend; it was an honor to be the only non-Puerto Rican to deliver a eulogy at his March 12th funeral. This essay is based on my remarks that afternoon.

We were driving, late at night, in the middle of Manhattan — Alejandro Molina of Chicago-based National Boricua Human Rights Network and me in the back seat. In the front seat was Puerto Rico’s legendary Luis Nieves Falcón, our boss. In the driver’s seat was Dr. Manny Rosenberg, beloved upper west side activist and dentist who daughter Susan was doing hard time for her involvement with the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements of the 1970s and early ’80s. We were brought together by the plans for the 1990 International Tribunal on Political Prisoners/POWs in the USA, but we were held together and pushed forward by the dynamic vision and steel hand of Nieves Falcón. It was the first major public symposium of the current generation which made the issue of political imprisonment in the USA a widespread, central focus throughout left and progressive circles, beyond the movements whose leaders were the ones behind bars. Close to one thousand people attended that momentous event, but the ragtag coalition of individuals and groups who were responsible for it would never have survived without the leadership of Nieves Falcón.

The joke of that story is this: Alejandro and I almost got kicked out of the car and left by the side of the road, for giggling out of control at the conversation between Nieves and Manny. Theirs was a friendship and collaborative connection which expressed and defined the very essence of solidarity: two peoples working together out of mutual respect, love, friendship, and unity for the freedom of all oppressed people and the liberation of all humankind. But to Alejandro and me at the moment, all we could hear was the word “comrade” and the way it was being pronounced — not with a Puerto Rican accent or a New York one, but in the clipped British intonation of a graduate of the London School of Economics (where Nieves Falcon got his PhD)! Here this descendant of African warriors and indigenous Taino peacemakers was saying “comrade” this and “comrade” that like a member of some bizarre communist royal family — and Alejandro and I were rolling on the floor with laughter! Nieves Falcón might have fumed a little at our gentle teasing, but the truth is that I learned a lot that evening about the true meaning of the word.

When one reflects on the legacy of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón from the context of solidarity and camaraderie, there are five phrases which are important to keep in mind. These attributes should be taken as sign-posts of how to develop effective leaders of the future.

Coalition-builder: Nieves understood like few others in modern times that all great united fronts must be broad enough to reach large and diverse sectors, masses and masses of people, while still being controlled and coordinated by a clear and principled center. This concept is different than old-fashioned democratic centralism and more complicated than social democracy; grassroots initiatives must be allowed to spring up, take a shape of their own, and develop organically in ways appropriate to different communities. In this way, Nieves Falcon took a page from the book of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who noted that “true leadership is not the search for consensus, but the molding of consensus.” Nieves Falcon taught us how to provide strong leadership while allowing large coalitions to flourish.

Internationalist: Without for one moment giving up an inch of his proud Puerto Rican identity — his passion for his homeland and the beauty of its people — Nieves Falcón was a true man of the world. He could and did converse with leaders from every continent, earning respect for the cause of Puerto Rican freedom and for the full recognition of the great Puerto Rican socio-cultural contributions to world history. He did this with great knowledge and appreciation of global dynamics past and present, centering Puerto Rico in an internationalist perspective which holds no place anywhere for empire, militarism, capitalism, or greed.

Master strategist: Few could argue that, as the architect of so many successful campaigns — bringing home the prisoners, working against the Navy in Vieques, working for expanded higher education and legal rights — Nieves Falcón was one of our greatest experts at sizing up situations and figuring out how best to achieve victories. That success might take more years or more money than we could ever imagine was no excuse or deterrent; that we would have to work harder than we ever imagined was a given — but together and focused we would find a way to win. Reforms were understood in calculated fashion as part of the larger efforts for more radical and revolutionary social change. And Nieves Falcón’s eyes, and all of the campaigns he led, were always set on the goal of full freedom and liberation for the Puerto Rican people, and for all people.

Master teacher: The way in which Luis told stories, with his whole body and with every nuance of every language he so expertly crafted, one was bound to listen and learn. Whether talking to a group of young women and men with little consciousness, or to experienced professionals, Nieves made you want not just to comprehend, but to act. His teaching was always in the service of social justice and action, with an aim to move forward in new ways which would enable each of us to fulfill the best of our potential. Education, for Professor Falcón, was based on the need for collective understanding to lead to lasting change.

Defender of the people: In San Juan, it is the stuff of legend that noted scholar Luis Nieves Falcón — at a time when all of his colleagues were preparing to retire – decided to leave his comfortable position at the University of Puerto Rico and work to obtain a law degree. He did this for the sole purpose of defending the imprisoned Puerto Rican independence activists who were languishing in US jails with lengthy sentences served under torturous conditions typical of the treatment of political prisoners; over a dozen had been found guilty of the “thought crime” of seditious conspiracy: planning a world where basic Puerto Rican rights, culture, and policy wouldn’t be under foreign control. As legal counsel, Nieves Falcón knew he had a new key to get into the jails and converse with his fellow patriots. More importantly, however, he also understood that he had only earned a one-way key: he could get in, but his legal skills alone could not get his compatriots out. Nieves Falcón was the type of lawyer who always comprehended that, in working for freedom, legal struggle must be coordinated with political struggle; no courtroom or negotiated maneuver could substitute for the door-to-door, grassroots campaigns which would mobilize a nation to call for the freedom of its prisoners, to call now for the immediate release of Oscar López Rivera. Nieves Falcón was much more than just a lawyer; he was a true defender of the people.

We love Luis Nieves Falcón, and the true, loving comrade that he was to so many of us. We understand that, like all people, he had faults and shortcomings, and could be a master pain in our sides! But as we mourn the loss of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón, we understand that today’s message — Nieves Falcón’s message — is, more than ever: Don’t mourn, organize!

Matt Meyer is a New York City-based educator, author, and activist who serves as War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator and as a UN/ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. His recent books include Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan-African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation (Africa World Press, 2000), the two-volume collection Seeds of New Hope: Pan African Peace Studies for the 21st Century (Africa World Press, 2008, 2010), and Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U. S. Political Prisoners (PM Press, 2008). Meyer is a contributing member of the Editorial Advisory Board for New Clear Vision.

- See more at: http://www.newclearvision.com/2014/03/14/professor-falcons-lessons/#sthash.ybkPsbky.dpuf

Solidarity and Camaraderie in a Puerto Rican Context

by Matt Meyer
New Clear Vision

On Monday, March 10, Puerto Rico’s leading intellectual — sociologist, educator, lawyer, author, organizer, and Independentista — passed away at age 84. A world renowned authority on colonialism, repression, and Puerto Rican history, Dr. Nieves Falcón was founder/director of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, founder of the Committee on Human Rights, president of the International PEN Club, and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. He was also this author’s mentor, godfather to my son, and a great friend; it was an honor to be the only non-Puerto Rican to deliver a eulogy at his March 12th funeral. This essay is based on my remarks that afternoon.

We were driving, late at night, in the middle of Manhattan — Alejandro Molina of Chicago-based National Boricua Human Rights Network and me in the back seat. In the front seat was Puerto Rico’s legendary Luis Nieves Falcón, our boss. In the driver’s seat was Dr. Manny Rosenberg, beloved upper west side activist and dentist who daughter Susan was doing hard time for her involvement with the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements of the 1970s and early ’80s. We were brought together by the plans for the 1990 International Tribunal on Political Prisoners/POWs in the USA, but we were held together and pushed forward by the dynamic vision and steel hand of Nieves Falcón. It was the first major public symposium of the current generation which made the issue of political imprisonment in the USA a widespread, central focus throughout left and progressive circles, beyond the movements whose leaders were the ones behind bars. Close to one thousand people attended that momentous event, but the ragtag coalition of individuals and groups who were responsible for it would never have survived without the leadership of Nieves Falcón.

The joke of that story is this: Alejandro and I almost got kicked out of the car and left by the side of the road, for giggling out of control at the conversation between Nieves and Manny. Theirs was a friendship and collaborative connection which expressed and defined the very essence of solidarity: two peoples working together out of mutual respect, love, friendship, and unity for the freedom of all oppressed people and the liberation of all humankind. But to Alejandro and me at the moment, all we could hear was the word “comrade” and the way it was being pronounced — not with a Puerto Rican accent or a New York one, but in the clipped British intonation of a graduate of the London School of Economics (where Nieves Falcon got his PhD)! Here this descendant of African warriors and indigenous Taino peacemakers was saying “comrade” this and “comrade” that like a member of some bizarre communist royal family — and Alejandro and I were rolling on the floor with laughter! Nieves Falcón might have fumed a little at our gentle teasing, but the truth is that I learned a lot that evening about the true meaning of the word.

When one reflects on the legacy of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón from the context of solidarity and camaraderie, there are five phrases which are important to keep in mind. These attributes should be taken as sign-posts of how to develop effective leaders of the future.

Coalition-builder: Nieves understood like few others in modern times that all great united fronts must be broad enough to reach large and diverse sectors, masses and masses of people, while still being controlled and coordinated by a clear and principled center. This concept is different than old-fashioned democratic centralism and more complicated than social democracy; grassroots initiatives must be allowed to spring up, take a shape of their own, and develop organically in ways appropriate to different communities. In this way, Nieves Falcon took a page from the book of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who noted that “true leadership is not the search for consensus, but the molding of consensus.” Nieves Falcon taught us how to provide strong leadership while allowing large coalitions to flourish.

Internationalist: Without for one moment giving up an inch of his proud Puerto Rican identity — his passion for his homeland and the beauty of its people — Nieves Falcón was a true man of the world. He could and did converse with leaders from every continent, earning respect for the cause of Puerto Rican freedom and for the full recognition of the great Puerto Rican socio-cultural contributions to world history. He did this with great knowledge and appreciation of global dynamics past and present, centering Puerto Rico in an internationalist perspective which holds no place anywhere for empire, militarism, capitalism, or greed.

Master strategist: Few could argue that, as the architect of so many successful campaigns — bringing home the prisoners, working against the Navy in Vieques, working for expanded higher education and legal rights — Nieves Falcón was one of our greatest experts at sizing up situations and figuring out how best to achieve victories. That success might take more years or more money than we could ever imagine was no excuse or deterrent; that we would have to work harder than we ever imagined was a given — but together and focused we would find a way to win. Reforms were understood in calculated fashion as part of the larger efforts for more radical and revolutionary social change. And Nieves Falcón’s eyes, and all of the campaigns he led, were always set on the goal of full freedom and liberation for the Puerto Rican people, and for all people.

Master teacher: The way in which Luis told stories, with his whole body and with every nuance of every language he so expertly crafted, one was bound to listen and learn. Whether talking to a group of young women and men with little consciousness, or to experienced professionals, Nieves made you want not just to comprehend, but to act. His teaching was always in the service of social justice and action, with an aim to move forward in new ways which would enable each of us to fulfill the best of our potential. Education, for Professor Falcón, was based on the need for collective understanding to lead to lasting change.

Defender of the people: In San Juan, it is the stuff of legend that noted scholar Luis Nieves Falcón — at a time when all of his colleagues were preparing to retire – decided to leave his comfortable position at the University of Puerto Rico and work to obtain a law degree. He did this for the sole purpose of defending the imprisoned Puerto Rican independence activists who were languishing in US jails with lengthy sentences served under torturous conditions typical of the treatment of political prisoners; over a dozen had been found guilty of the “thought crime” of seditious conspiracy: planning a world where basic Puerto Rican rights, culture, and policy wouldn’t be under foreign control. As legal counsel, Nieves Falcón knew he had a new key to get into the jails and converse with his fellow patriots. More importantly, however, he also understood that he had only earned a one-way key: he could get in, but his legal skills alone could not get his compatriots out. Nieves Falcón was the type of lawyer who always comprehended that, in working for freedom, legal struggle must be coordinated with political struggle; no courtroom or negotiated maneuver could substitute for the door-to-door, grassroots campaigns which would mobilize a nation to call for the freedom of its prisoners, to call now for the immediate release of Oscar López Rivera. Nieves Falcón was much more than just a lawyer; he was a true defender of the people.

We love Luis Nieves Falcón, and the true, loving comrade that he was to so many of us. We understand that, like all people, he had faults and shortcomings, and could be a master pain in our sides! But as we mourn the loss of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón, we understand that today’s message — Nieves Falcón’s message — is, more than ever: Don’t mourn, organize!

Matt Meyer is a New York City-based educator, author, and activist who serves as War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator and as a UN/ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. His recent books include Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan-African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation (Africa World Press, 2000), the two-volume collection Seeds of New Hope: Pan African Peace Studies for the 21st Century (Africa World Press, 2008, 2010), and Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U. S. Political Prisoners (PM Press, 2008). Meyer is a contributing member of the Editorial Advisory Board for New Clear Vision.

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West Virginia miners’ struggles still relevant today

by Phreddy Wischusen
Michigan Citizen
February 27th, 2014

"Gun Thugs, Rednecks and Radicals" compiles first-hand accounts of 1912-1921 mine wars

GeorgeSantayana famously said, “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Although the privatization of Detroit’s school system and public assets, growing wealthy inequality and the rapacious extraction of resources wreaking havoc on the environment and public health may seem like new problems for our times, David Alan Corbin’s 2011 book, “Gun Thugs, Rednecks and Radicals,” proves our current crisis is a historical re-run.

The book is a collection of first-hand documents captured during the West Virginia Mine Wars of 1912-1921.

At the time, privately-held coal companies owned not only vast tracts of land but the houses, stores and churches on that land. The coal companies paid the police and the ministers. If the networks of spies and informers discovered a miner had joined a labor union, that miner and his family would be immediately evicted and left homeless.

Meanwhile private guards “secured” the companies’ interests. “…(P)inkertons … were used for such work by the coal companies. Since the Homestead strike in the steel mill, years ago when the Pinkertons fired into the strik­ers and killed a number of them, this class of business has gradually drifted away from the Pinkertons and much of it has been acquired by the Baldwin-Felts Agency,” wrote Harold West in the Baltimore Sun on April 5, 1913.

The Pinkerton company is still in business today and is owned by Securitas, the agency contracted by former EM Robert Bobb to provide security for Detroit Public Schools.
West continues: “In explanation of the employment of these guards, the operators say that their property must be guarded, that the state does not give them sufficient protection. Men who do service as mine guards cannot be expected to be ‘lady-like.’

They deal with desperate characters and are constantly in peril. The guards act on the principle that they must strike first if they are to strike at all, and evidence shows that they have not the slightest hesitancy about striking first.”

The commitment to “strike first” was evident in a recently released video of a security guard repeatedly slamming 12-year-old Stephon Clark at Marquette Middle School, and in the death of McKenzie Cochran at Northland Mall.

One does not have to draw parallels to 2014 Detroit to enjoy “Gun Thugs…” The tome brings together a diverse array of source material — interviews with famous activist Mother Jones, various testimony before Congress and newspaper articles that give the reader more than the facts of history, but rare glimpses into the real lives of the miners themselves.

Corbin has marshaled these important documents into a truly humanizing examination of the times, from the Cabin Creek Strike of 1912 to the 1920 Matewan Massacre and subsequent 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, and all points in between.

The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest civil uprising in America after the Civil war, pitting 10,000 coal miners attempting to unionize against 3,000 lawmen and strikebreakers. The companies dropped bombs and gas on the workers. After five days of fighting and approximately one million rounds or ammunition discharged, President Harding sent in the U.S. Army to end the fighting.

Samuel Gompers wrote in 1913 (his article “Russianized West Virginia,” appears in “Gun Thugs…): “For the public — or more correctly, the other workers and employ­ers — there are more serious and more complex problems of justice. All the constituted forces of government were exerted in behalf of property, material things…

“Mine operators were permitted to station armed guards upon their property. Wherever disturbances or bloodshed occurred, it was always the miners who were arrested and not the mine owners, their brutal minions, and guards. Yet miners were killed, too—are not their lives as valuable as those of the guards? Are not men struggling for personal rights, economic independence, ideals for a better life, en­titled to protection, safety, and liberty under our social arrangements?

Wealth, indeed, is necessary and valuable; but wealth should serve the needs of men, not enslave them. Freedom cannot ex­ist where human beings are subordinated to things.”

George Echols, an African American miner, told Congress in 1921 of his condition as a worker living in a house and even a town owned by the company, “I was raised a slave. My master and my mistress called me and I answered, and I know the time when I was a slave, and I felt just like we feel now.”

In a city under an un-elected emergency manager, represented by the same law firm that represents the city’s adversaries — the banks — one particular sentence from “Gun Thugs…” sticks out. “It is this exercise of public power under private pay, which is one of the fundamental causes and is the most lively occasion of the bad blood between owners and workers.”

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




Guest: What's behind the hunger strike at Northwest Detention Center

By Dan Berger and Angélica Cházaro
The Seattle Times
March 20th, 2014


MORE than 700 people detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma began a hunger strike on March 7 in protest of their conditions. Those still reported to be on hunger strike are on medical watch and have been threatened with force-feeding if they continue to refuse food. According to their attorneys, participants have experienced other reprisals for the strike, including solitary confinement and threats to their asylum efforts.

In a public statement, the hunger strikers demanded an end to deportations and the separation of families. They also demanded better food, medical care and wages for work inside the facility (they currently receive just $1 a day for their labor), and an end to exorbitant commissary prices. Detainees pay $8.95 for a bottle of shampoo and $1 for a single plastic plate.

These problems are not limited to federal detention centers. Along with people being held in local jails and state and federal prisons, the detainees have launched what may be the most urgent human-rights movement in our country today. Just this week, a New York inmate died on Rikers Island when his jail cell overheated.

The U.S. prison system is the largest in the world. With 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Sentences are longer and conditions harsher than at many prisons throughout the world.

The use of long-term solitary confinement — where some 80,000 Americans now spend 23 or 24 hours a day without human contact and are often denied adequate nutrition, reading material or visits with loved ones — has sparked a growing series of lawsuits, legislative hearings and demonstrations.

In California, prisoners have staged a series of hunger strikes since 2011. At its height in the summer of 2013, 30,000 people in prisons around the state refused food.

Similar to the Tacoma detainees’ demands, the California prisoners call for an end to group punishment and for prison officials to follow United Nations protocols on the use of solitary confinement as well as adequate food. Similar smaller hunger strikes have occurred in prisons in Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Virginia since 2011.

Deportations have expanded dramatically in recent years. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of deportations has increased from approximately 165,000 people a year in 2002 to almost 400,000 people annually for the last five years.

Soon, the Obama administration will have deported 2 million people, who are processed through a network of detention centers. By congressional order, these detention centers must hold 34,000 people on any given day. Many of those facilities are privately run. The Northwest Detention Center, one of the biggest in the country, is managed by The Geo Group, a company that describes itself as the “world’s leading provider” of private prisons and detention centers.
Such investment in detention and deportation has sparked a series of efforts among undocumented workers and youth around the country. The hunger strike in Tacoma follows a two-week hunger strike that activists, many of them undocumented, staged outside a Phoenix detention center starting Feb. 24. This week, citing Tacoma as inspiration, migrants in the Conroe, Texas, detention center launched a hunger strike.

Nonviolent civil-disobedience actions have prevented deportations in 16 cities around the country, including at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma days before the hunger strike began.

Such activism has prompted a series of legislative hearings, judicial rulings and conversations about long-term isolation, mass incarceration and the force-feeding of detainees. Still, there is much work to be done. While the United States may like to be a world leader in human rights, its routine practices of confinement violate both international standards and human decency.
We do not often look to prisons and detention centers to understand the social and political needs of our generation. But we should. Some of the most passionate advocates for fairness, justice and human rights are incarcerated.

Dan Berger, a historian of activism, teaches ethnic studies at the University of Washington Bothell. Angélica Cházaro, an immigrant-rights attorney, teaches at the University of Washington School of Law.

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Iron and Chromium: Five Novels by Norman Spinrad in the Los Angeles Review of Books


Iron and Chromium: Five Novels by Norman Spinrad
by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Los Angeles Review of Books
March 10th, 2014

NORMAN SPINRAD'S WORK has, over the last fifty years, elicited responses that range from “depraved, cynical, utterly repulsive” (Donald Wollheim) to “delightfully bonkers” (Thomas M. Disch) and “extraordinary” (Ursula Le Guin). Perhaps my favorite characterization of Spinrad is by Isaac Asimov, who, in somewhat of an understatement, observed that he “constantly displays the courage to be different.” I’d like to illustrate this career-defining search for innovation by examining five of Spinrad’s key novels, ranging from the 1960s to the 1990s, all newly available courtesy of ReAnimus Press.


Revisiting Spinrad’s work, I was struck by his chameleonic shifts of voice, style, and pacing. Consider, for example, the following two passages:

Oh, you so right, baby! So here I am, dragging my dick along First Avenue, right back in the whole dumb scene I kissed good-bye six years ago. Sara, you stoned when I get there, I’m gonna beat the piss out of you, so help me.

 - Bug Jack Barron

Against the will of self-esteem’s desire, I could not fail to acknowledge that the true chasm between us lay both below and beyond the moral realm of ethical esthetics. Indeed, her ruthless dedication to her one true grail, proceeding as it did from a single absolute axiom to an entirely unwavering pursuit of this axiomatic higher good, might be said to be at least formally superior to my chaotic involutions.

 - The Void Captain’s Tale

I was also surprised to learn that Spinrad, who is often reductively labeled a “New Wave” writer because of his association with Michael Moorcock, New Worlds magazine, and other writers like Thomas M. Disch, Samuel R. Delany and Pamela Zoline, got his start by publishing three stories in John Campbell’s Astounding (renamed Analog by the time Spinrad appeared in its pages). Those three pieces, gathered with other early notable work in the collection The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde (1970), reveal a solid grasp of relativistic space travel and other rigors of “hard SF” that one doesn’t normally see associated with Spinrad. They also highlight thematic preoccupations that reappear often throughout his fiction: displacement and alienation, which for example lead Ben Ezra to muse that life aboard a starship is “fit only for Gypsies and Jews” (“Outward Bound”), and questions of ethical responsibility, ontology and solipsism (“Sometimes I forget that I’m crazy, and then I become crazier. A neat paradox, no?” asks Miklos in “The Last of the Romany”) .

Given Spinrad’s wide spectrum of literary approaches and broad philosophical concerns, the question becomes: how do we evaluate the work in any meaningfully unified way, rather than as isolated or discontinuous experiments in form? I would suggest that perhaps the most apt criteria we can use are Spinrad’s own ideas about what science fiction (SF) is and does. But even here, we must tread carefully. Spinrad has granted many interviews throughout his fifty years in SF, and he’s also written extensively as a critic and reviewer. His theoretical ideas about SF, therefore, are often as complex — and embattled — as his fiction. Rather than an exhaustive analysis of all these positions, I’d like instead to focus on a fundamental notion to which he has returned several times. When asked about his writing process in a 1978 interview for CONTACT: SF A Critical Journal of Speculative Fiction, Spinrad began his response by saying: “The idea, I guess, to me, the essence of science fiction is the psychological interaction between consciousness and the environment.” In one of his “On Book” columns for Asimov’s Science Fiction, Spinrad returned to this formulation in 2005, albeit in far less tentative terms: “... all true science fiction is centered on the interaction of the external surround — physical, political, cultural, linguistic, anything and everything — with the lives and consciousness of the characters. If it does this, and there is any speculative element in the externals of the fictional universe at all, it is true science fiction, and if it does not, it is not true science fiction. Period.” Do Spinrad’s novels, then, succeed according to this view of SF?

The Men in the Jungle (1967), Spinrad’s third novel, offers us a tale of egomania masquerading as blood-drenched revolution gone horribly awry. Bart Fraden, Sophia O’Hara, and General Willem Vanderling flee the crumbling Belt Free State and program their ship’s computer with certain measures of “revolutionary potential — dictatorial government, economic setup, rigid class lines with high social tension, and about a hundred others” to locate a planet that will be ripe for takeover. The power hierarchy on their eventual destination of choice, Sangre, turns out to be nightmarish beyond their wildest imaginings: the ruling Brotherhood of Pain breeds various classes of humans for the purposes of law enforcement and torture (Killers), food (Meatanimals) and reproduction (women). The Animal slaves in turn oppress the native insectoid culture by keeping the “bug Brains” that control the worker insects docile through permanent inebriation. The three Earth protagonists attempt to instigate a revolution by shocking the lowest Animals out of their genetically and environmentally-enforced stupor through a combination of ultra-potent, highly addictive drugs, demonstrations of guerrilla warfare tactics, and vague anti-totalitarian ideals.

The chronicle that follows is unrelentingly gory, with countless severed limbs and decapitations, infants being roasted and eaten for pleasure, scorched-earth massacres, and all-around Killer/Animal/Bortherhood carnage. Add to this the frenzied yelling of “KILL KILL KILL!”, a mantra repeated with bludgeoning regularity. If this sounds upsetting, it is. The novel’s physical violence reaches orgiastic, histrionic proportions, mirrored by the psychological disintegration of the three main characters who, needless to say, succumb to their own conflicts. And yet, despite the slaughter, the novel confronts us with a fascinating planetary ecosystem and embeds its horrors in a binary-based philosophical system that not only perversely justifies pain but makes it necessary for someone else’s pleasure. Then, too, the book’s Vietnam-inspired political musings are rendered with gusto and depth, as when, about two-thirds of the way through, Braden lays out in detail the four stages of a classic revolution.

Anchoring the plot is Braden’s ongoing appeasement of his own conscience through increasingly tortured justifications for his heinous, ultimately opportunistic deeds. Despite some of the novel’s creaky, hyperbolic prose, and its dated reliance on coining new words, like “lasecannon,” “computopilot,” “synthmarble,” or “snipguns,” by bashing old ones together, its savage deconstruction of political hypocrisies, and its almost gleefully obsessive commitment to working out every last consequence of its SFnal premises, still pack a contemporary punch. The characters’ consciousness is in dialogue with the fictional environment, and technology acts as a devastating projecting conduit for their morally-compromised psyches. The bloodshed due to Braden and his two cronies, seen this way, is not a heavy-handed warning against the perils of technology as much as the crystallization that said technology manifests our own inner demons, and that, simply said, bad can always get worse.

More widely controversial because of its raw sexuality and numerous expletives, Spinrad’s next novel, Bug Jack Barron (1969), placed him center-stage for some readers while relegating him to the sidelines for others. I will not attempt here to summarize the novel’s labyrinthine plot involving cryogenics, television, and politics, but will simply note with amusement that it is perhaps the only SF novel whose Wikipedia summary concludes with “The two [Jack Barron and Sara Westerfeld] celebrate by having oral sex.” David Pringle selected Bug Jack Barron as one of his Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, and commented that though its plot is “very conventional” (an assessment shared by SF historian and editor Mike Ashley), its “surface,” meaning its “media landscape” setting and “breathless slangy” style, are really what matter, and are mostly very effective. Academic Roger Luckhurst describes the novel’s style as a “stream of consciousness ... designed to capture the shock and disjunction of televisual images.” In a way, Spinrad’s technique here anticipates later mainstream attempts to capture our modern experience of fragmentation via media, as for example in novels by Don DeLillo or in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Nevertheless, the novel’s central activities remain political: scheming, counter-scheming, corruption, the manipulation of public perception. Purportedly because of its obscene content, the large British retailer W. H. Smith pulled it from its stock by the time the third issue of its serialization in New Worlds, March 1968, appeared. Mike Ashley has speculated that such a decision may have had more to do with other content in that same issue, such as Langdon Jones’ “The Eye of the Lens” stories. One of several faults that Joanna Russ found with the book was that it was “romantic” and “youthfully bouncy”; Pringle, too, warns us that it is “occasionally sentimental.” Of the five novels in question, I think that time has perhaps been least kind to this one: reality has in many ways mirrored or even superseded Spinrad’s socio-cultural extrapolations (for example, the legalization of cannabis, at least in some States), weakening its SF vein. Nevertheless, one can see how it broke new ground at the time.

Spinrad’s next, highly polemical novel, The Iron Dream (1972), exists in more of an extrapolative bubble, and is therefore largely immune to subsequent developments in both the SF field and reality at large. In SF criticism pertaining to time travel stories the phrase “jonbar point” is sometimes used to refer a “crucial forking-place in Time ... most works of Alternate History develop their changed future from a single explicit or implied jonbar point” (The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction online). The Iron Dream relies on such a jonbar point, namely Hitler’s emigration to the United States in 1919, followed by his career as a pulp SF illustrator and writer. Spinrad’s interest, however, doesn’t lie in the particularities of this alternate time-stream, but rather with the nature of commercial SF itself, and how easily it can subvert and subsume resonant symbols into a kind of fascistic sword-and-sorcery hero-quest mythos. To explore these ideas Spinrad presents us with his faux-Hitler’s novel Lords of the Swastika, which comprises The Iron Dream’s main text.

Purportedly written by a hack writer, Lords of the Swastika stays true to its propagandistic vision and showers us with page after page of jingoistic, eugenics-obsessed purple prose and phallus-centric power fantasies. The story is episodic and of escalating grandiosity. We are told of the rise to power of “genetic true man” Feric Jaggar, who becomes head of the Human Renaissance Party, triumphs in a series of character-testing perils at the hands of the leather-clad, motorcycle vagrants Black Avengers (a transposition of Hell’s Angels) and thereby discovers he is the rightful heir to the glorious weapon Great Truncheon of Held. Wielding its mighty steel and cutting down all who oppose him while “riding the juggernaut of destiny,” Jaggar becomes the Supreme Commander of Held, a role that allows him to establish Classification Camps to strictly test for hereditary purity and enact the ultimate eradication of the genetically impure Zind. Like The Men in the Jungle, this novel contains its share of gore and carnage, but here it is described unabashedly, even lovingly, as would befit Hitler’s fictional alter ego. The novel is followed by an “Afterword to the Second Edition” by the fictional Homer Whipple that peals back the narrative’s trashy curtains to reveal its core of highly sexualized racism.

What to make of all this? Certainly the audacity of the novel’s premise, and the care with which Spinrad executes it, are to be applauded. But for me the reading experience was a tense and tiring affair. On the one hand, Spinrad is tempting us to enjoy the story on a gut level by pushing precisely those mythological buttons that so often evoke a sense of wonder and suspend our disbelief. On the other hand, I kept reminding myself that any seduction by or even transitory alliance to Jaggar’s ideals and mode of conduct would be morally repugnant. I therefore found myself remaining at arm’s length throughout, approaching Jaggar’s progressively self-aggrandizing hero rites by way of Hitler’s overblown, redundant prose with chilly, intellectual detachment. Ursula Le Guin, in a 1973 Science Fiction Studies review that praised the novel’s high stakes while questioning whether more wouldn’t have been gained by a shorter text, zoomed in on this “staggeringly bold act of forced, extreme distancing” that Spinrad has achieved. Thomas M. Disch, in a memorable turn of phrase, recommended The Iron Dream as a consideration of the “fascist lurking beneath the smooth chromium surface of a good deal of sf.”

R. D. Mullen, on the other hand, wrote in a 1978 capsule review that The Iron Dream “ceases to be funny after the first few pages, and therefore becomes identical with what it is parodying.” I think he’s missing the point, in that Spinrad’s main purpose doesn’t appear to be humorous per se. Sean Kitching, in a recent retrospective on Spinrad published at The Quietus, analyzes The Iron Dream on three levels: satire, the author’s self-explication of Nazism, and in terms of Anti-Oedipus symbolism. I see the novel’s satirical edge, conveyed through what Adam Roberts has described as its “fortissimo pastiche,” as a tool, not an ends: Spinrad wants us to introspect, not just point and laugh. For me part of Spinrad’s purpose here must be hermeneutical: The Iron Dream is an attempt to understand and interpret storytelling mythologies — in particular, SF tropes — by turning them back on themselves. The reason these proto-fascist elements exist in our fiction, Spinrad seems to be reminding us, is that, like it or not, we put them there, and confronting that tell us something important about who we are.

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, in his book The World Hitler Never Made, provides a close reading of The Iron Dream over the course of six pages, and reminds us that the novel was, de facto, banned in West Germany from 1982 to 1990. Critic Edward James updates the terms of our interpretation by describing the novel as a dissection of “the inherently anti-democratic tendencies of the super-hero,” thereby tracing a continuity between Spinrad’s text and graphic novels such as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. Michael Dirda, in a 2008 review of Roberto Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas, picks up on a reference to Spinrad in Bolano’s book, and mentions Robert E. Howard and Robert A. Heinlein as two of Spinrad’s targets. The novel’s enduring impact and importance are without question, as is perhaps the inherent difficulty of enjoying it emotionally.

We now jump forward about a decade, to The Void Captain’s Tale (1983), a first-person account of the forbidden, alternately destructive and redemptive relationship between a male Captain and the female Pilot whose “psychesomic” orgasms quite literally power the ship’s “Star Drive,” as is customary during the story’s Second Starfaring Age. I note that this is a first-person novel because Spinrad uses our immersion in the Captain’s consciousness to great world-building effect; since the Captain thinks and writes in a “sprach” that combines English with Spanish, French, German and Japanese, our experience of his world is filtered by the same language as his is. By using an invented argot, then, Spinrad requires of us that we step beyond our everyday linguistic landscape so we can get closer to the novel’s native world. Our lack of familiarity with their expressions and phrases mimics the sort of cognitive estrangement we would experience if we were suddenly dropped into the middle of the Captain’s culture. In this way, by making his fictional Universe less instantly graspable, Spinrad makes it more credible.

The device is a risky one — applied clumsily, we might end up myopically focused on the cuteness of certain turns of phrase at the expense of other narrative elements —, but I think Spinrad handles it with skill. Gerald Jonas wrote in The New York Times that, “as with all artifice, The Void Captain’s Tale depends on the cooperation of the audience for its effects.” Quite so. I find something freeing and exuberant about The Void Captain’s Tale opening pages, in which our introduction to an interstellar culture is directly contained in that culture’s use of words. A clear example of this is Captain Genro Kane Gupta’s indulgence in the custom of “pedigree and freenom” tale-telling, which not only furnishes us with necessary biographical information about our protagonist, but also clues us in to the idea of “freenoms” and instantly tells us something about the values of the Captain’s culture (the crew of his ship, the Dragon Zephyr, prize telling stories).  Soon after this bit of background material, the Captain has his first encounter with Pilot Dominique Alia Wu and, for the next five pages, we switch to her first-person narration, before returning to his for the rest of the novel. Again, this is a bold technical move; by heightening our empathy for Dominique, we are beginning to follow the same illicit path that Genro is following when he gives human dimension and character specificity to his Pilot, who, social protocols dictate, should remain anonymous to him.

If Spinrad is wise to the effects he’s using, so is Genro wise to the tradition of doomed relationship he’s engaging in. At one point, he even asks Dominique if she is the equivalent of a femme fatale. He anticipates the tragic dimension of his chronicle by advancing the novel’s entire plot, with its unresolved ending, in four short paragraphs on page two. It’s not about what happens, we realize at that moment, but how it happens. Genro wants us to understand the innermost workings of his psyche, and in so doing “touch the spirit.” The more we delve into his perceptions and subjective experiences, the better we can appreciate the depth and uncommon self-awareness with which Spinrad has molded him. By the novel’s end, it is impossible to pass judgment on his actions, though they undeniably cause him and his crew great distress. And yet I wouldn’t want the reader to think the entire novel is nothing but a plodding apologia written in a made-up language by a navel-gazing Captain. On the contrary, because Genro’s world is one almost exclusively dedicated to art, eroticism and philosophy, the novel becomes a fascinating excursion into otherworldly customs, theories of perception and belief, and rituals of kinship. Thomas M. Disch saw this work as a high point in Spinrad’s post-Iron Dream career: “The Void Captain’s Tale represents a new synthesis of Spinrad’s main strengths. The earnestness of the metasexual theorizer is qualified by the irony and livened by the playfulness that characterizes The Iron Dream and his best short fiction.”

We should perhaps spend a few more moments on the novel’s engagement with sex. As mentioned earlier, the Pilot’s orgasm, one of such intensity it physically consumes the Pilot and reduces her life expectancy to an average of ten years, is an integral component of the Ship’s technology; without it there would be no Jump and hence no FTL travel. In addition to this, we’re presented with a rich panoply of recreational sex, which functions both as social lubricant and status indicator. Gerald Jonas wrote that Spinrad was “one of a handful of science fiction writers who regularly consider the impact of new technology on the arts,” and in this novel sex is that art. It acts as a distraction from the Void (the theme of travelers between the stars having to cope with boredom is one of Spinrad’s oldest, appearing as far back as his second published story, “Subjectivity,” in 1964). But if sex is an evasion here, it is also a rich form of communication, a reaching inward towards communion. Gone are all the four-letter words and staccato thought-bursts of Bug Jack Barron; here the descriptions are comprised of long, winding sentences replete with “tantric dyadic asanas,” “kundalinic energies,” “erect lingams,” and so on. In this novel Spinrad’s previous deliberate vulgarity has been replaced with sophistication, crassness giving way to a refinement of social intercourse that necessitates pages of the Captain’s description to do it justice. Problematic, though, as some reviewers have noted, is the exclusive focus on heterosexuality; not because we demand political diversity from fiction, but because the kind of classicism that Spinrad otherwise evokes suggests a less restrictive, more open-minded approach to his subject matter, easily attuned, say, to ancient Greek sexual practices. The sustained effect of Spinrad’s invented argot and the baroqueness of his culture border on the delirious, at times tipping over into philosophical-sounding smut and smutty-sounding philosophy. Indeed, the words “esthetics,” “phenomenological,” and “transcend” occur with dizzying regularity. Baird Searles, reviewing the novel in Asimov’s, complained about the repetitiveness of certain words: “I personally came close to feeling that I would throw the book across the room the next time I hit the word ‘thespic’ no matter how appropriate it was to most of the circumstances it described.” In spite of this, he concluded, by gently mocking Spinrad’s style, that the novel is “a frissonic, libidinal tour de force.”

So why, I think it’s legitimate to ask, does Spinrad place such emphasis on sex? One might infer that Spinrad is simply reminding us of the notion of spaceship as phallic symbol. Michael Levy, in The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, implies as much when he says that the novel “uses Freudian psychology, explicit sexual content, and witty prose to reexamine many of the basic tropes of sf.” But I’d like to focus on the orgasm-as-star-drive conceit. In the novel’s specific setup, it is the Captain, always male, who invariably enters the command to “Jump!”, and thus imposes his masculine will on the Pilot, who is always female. In a very real sense, then, he controls the femininity at the ship’s core. Is this a stand-in for rape? That reading seems at odds with the novel’s elegant tone and discursive asides. As if that weren’t enough, the Captain himself wonders about the rape analogy (!), and discusses it with Dominique, who assures him (and us) that neither of them are truly in control.

I’d like to posit an explanation different from the rape scenario. As Elisabeth Lloyd argues in The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution (2006), none of the twenty or so long-standing theories that attempt to explain the female orgasm as an adaptive, survival-enhancing trait stand up to thorough scrutiny. Instead, Lloyd proposes an accidental “byproduct” account of the female orgasm in terms of a response to the evolutionarily-driven evolution of the male orgasm. In a way this explanation mirrors that for the existence of male nipples — which confer no obvious survival advantage to males — as a byproduct of female nipples. With this in mind, I’d suggest that Spinrad’s female orgasm is both a statement of what was, before Lloyd’s extensive research, a bit of a conundrum, and the author’s uniquely SF-nal response to it. The Pilot’s orgasm fulfills the function of unknowability, and serves as a kind of transcendence by proxy. It is the Captain’s obsessive wish to understand and experience it for himself that lead him to ruin.

One of the two protagonists of the last novel we’re going to discuss, the near-future Deus X (1992), begins at precisely the opposite side of Captain Genro Kane Gupta: Father Pierre de Leone, nearing the end of his life, only desires to be left alone. The Void Captain is willing to sacrifice himself and everyone else in order to resolve a metaphysical unknown: what will happen with the Ship “blind Jumps”? Will it escape ordinary reality? The great unknown in Father Pierre de Leone’s fictional universe is this: what happens to a human soul when the person’s consciousness is replicated in the vast, non-corporeal cyber-land known as the Big Board? Is the “meatware successor entity” soul-less, or has the soul perhaps been cast into an electronic version of hell? Father Pierre’s faith leads him to believe it’s the former, and he therefore has no wish to investigate the matter. But he becomes a peon in the Church’s ploy to regain its popularity, in a time of crisis and ubiquitous consciousness replication, by providing definitive, empirically-based answers to questions over which it claims authority. Father Pierre therefore ends up in much the same place as the Void Captain. The novel’s other protagonist is Marley Philippe, a black boat captain with a penchant for spliffs and hacking, who’s hired to locate Father Pierre in the Big Board after the theologian has been downloaded into it and kidnapped by mysterious virtual entities claiming to belong to “the Vortex.”

The short novel is told in alternating first-person chapters (in a neat typographical layout, roman numerals are used for Father Pierre’s sections and ordinary numbers for Marley’s). As with The Void Captain’s Tale, the first-person allows for quick immersion. The pacing is brisk, and accelerates frantically during the final pages. Despite the occasional point-of-view observation that strains credulity (as when Marley recalls a “pop cult” from the late twentieth century called “Cyberpunk”), each of the character’s voices is distinct and enjoyable, if at times close to stereotype. Whereas in his earlier works Spinrad conveyed internal anguish in characters whose external settings were often decadently abundant, the present novel’s setting during the Earth’s lean “last days” lends an atmosphere of quiet beauty and reflection, and gives Marley a modicum of peace, or perhaps resignation. Once again, the plot, as writer Gordon Sellar points out in a blog post http://www.gordsellar.com/2011/09/23/deus-x-by-norman-spinrad/, “isn’t really where the book’s charm lies,” but rather “in the way the story is told.” For me part of the book’s unique spell is also derived from the metaphysical questions it poses: its playfulness regarding reverse Turing tests, ontological regressions, and so on. More importantly, I appreciate its overt inclusion of a Catholic viewpoint, rare in mainstream SF. Father Pierre de Leone’s outspokenness and strong views remind me a little of Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez in James Blish’s A Case of Conscience (1958).

Deus X, which sees the future Catholic Church led by a woman Pope, adroitly balances opposing forces: faith and atheism, principles and pragmatism, self-repression and self-expression. But in the end, as Gabriel McKee concludes in The Gospel According to Science Fiction, the book is “optimistic about the possibilities of AI and consciousness-modeling, proposing that a machine-copied mind can be as fully real as an organic, human one,” a similar position to the one backed by Robert J. Sawyer’s Mindscan.

Despite what I feel is a pat ending, I find the economy of prose and the richness of ideas amply rewarding, and this is without a doubt one of my favorite Spinrad stories. Gerald Jonas’ comment that “the author has got hold of a powerful metaphor for transcendence that he intends to push to the limit — with thought-provoking results” seems a fair assessment. Other critics, particularly within the field, have expressed less enthusiasm. Gary K. Wolfe, for example, notes that while “Spinrad has set up a genuinely provocative situation, I’m not sure he’s done himself a favor by trying to resolve it in such a conveniently SF-nal manner.” I would argue the exact opposite, that anything but a SF-nal resolution (albeit one less “easy” than the one Spinrad presents) would be cheating. John Clute’s main concern is with the way Spinrad depicts the Church: “It is very difficult to swallow a Christian Church relevantly concerned with the kind of issue at stake here; and it is impossible to imagine one so internally transfigured by humility and good sense that its representatives could begin to admit to Spinrad’s whole litany of sins.” I don’t think the latter directly hinges on the former, and Spinrad’s case for declining membership as a motivating political force suffices within the spare world he’s created. Returning to Spinrad’s ideas about what constitutes SF, here is a clear instance indeed of minds being entirely contingent upon the technological medium with which they’re interacting or, in this case, in which they’re residing. Deus X, viewed this way, is arguably the most purely SF-nal of Spinrad’s novels.

A brief concluding thought on accolades. As the The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction summarizes, Spinrad “won the Prix Utopia in 2003, a life achievement award given by the Utopiales International Festival in Nantes, France; he won no significant awards in America or the UK.” While it’s true that his work has never reached the critical thresholds of popularity or fellow peer support needed to earn these awards, we should remember that he has been nominated for six Hugo awards and six Nebula awards across categories that include dramatic presentation, novel, novella, novelette and nonfiction book. Perhaps my favorite of Spinrad’s short stories is “Carcinoma Angels,” which first appeared in Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions, and which tells the story of Harrison Wintergreen, a prodigy who can seemingly accomplish anything he sets out to, except taking pleasure in his own accomplishments — with tragic results. That story is a compelling reminder to enjoy what we do have while it lasts. Spinrad’s body of fiction, which I’ve only sampled, contains much work whose raison d’etre at first blush appears to be purely confrontational. His non-fiction, which could be the subject of its own essay, can be just as incendiary and intellectually unruly. And he has a tendency to repeat certain phrases — “molecule and charge,” for example, in The Void Captain’s Tale, or “bits and bytes” in Deus X — to a desensitizing degree. Despite this, and the fact that his experiments have not always succeeded as art, commerce, or either, he has nonetheless continued to experiment time and again. That should be regarded as its own accomplishment.

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Punk Rock: An Oral History on ScannerZine

ScannerZine
February 27th, 2014

It takes a brave man. In fact, it takes a very fucking brave man to attempt what John Robb has done here and, furthermore, it takes a very sussed man to have done it as well as this. You see, this is an oral history about the original wave of Punk Rock in the UK. A million books have already eulogised, dramatised, dogmatised and decried the era with varying degrees of quality. Obviously Jon Savage's England's Dreaming has been the go-to book, along with Paul Marko's book about The Roxy and Alex Ogg's encyclopedic No More Heroes filling in vital gaps. So, does Robb's book cut the flares outta the pseudo 'rock journalism' and give us the real deal?

I have to say I think it does. Robb has interviewed over 110 personalities who were there at the time in a myriad of capacities. We have 'the performers' including Penny Rimbaud, John Lydon, Siouxsie, Knox, TV Smith and more. Then there are those who made their impact in different ways be it journalists, photographers, film makers and promoters right through to fans who were there at the time and tell it from an audience perspective. Each offers facts, gossip and, most importantly, a genuine sense of energy; no matter how the individual was involved or what they have gone onto become (Mick Hucknall included), each talks with an undiluted fervour that matched the music of the day. Yes there are contradictions and less than charitable comments but these observations are taken 30 years on from what was the last and most exciting music revolution the UK witnessed - it was also a time of bad drugs, cheap booze and rampant egos so if there were no disputes or hypocrisy something would be wrong. Thankfully, Robb has left the contradictions in place but edited the answers into a readable and energised manner.

As is the norm, the first chapters of the book document what came before, and directly influenced Punk and those involved. Here, we go back to 1959 with likes of Rimbaud and Hugh Cornwall. It's interesting to read a lot of the original wave's influences - Charlie Harper's first album was by Cliff Richard and a passion for Status Quo featured in many people's collections! Glam Rock follows and then it's onto the familiar 1975 tales of King's Road, PISTOLS, LONDON SS etc - but even these well worn stories are presented with an energy that few have matched.

As said, this is very much a document of 70s UK Punk. The 1980 - 84, the dawning of the Anarcho scene, is summarised in one chapter which includes the early Goth movement, Oi! and more. As a summary of what Punk became in the 80s, it's adequate but in many ways deserves an equally energetic and in-depth book. A foreword by Henry Rollins and a few pics fill the book out.

As oral histories go, this is one of the most readable; given its era, even more so. And yes, it does hold its own against the standards set by Please Kill Me and Gimme Something Better. That alone should be a glowing reference, but after reading many of the 'million' books mentioned in the first paragraph, this stands alone as the pick the bunch. If you only ever read two books about the original UK Punk movement, make it this FIRST, England's Dreaming second.

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