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Photos: Queer and Trans Youth Speak Out in the Advocate

by Mitch Kellaway
The Advocate
February 19th, 2015

Even while attention to queer and trans youth has grown recently through campaigns like It Gets Better, documentaries such as Laverne Cox's The T Word, and a national petition for "Leelah's Law," which seeks to ban anti-LGBT "conversion" therapy, there remain few cultural spaces created both by and for LGBT youth.

That's where LGBT activist and award-winning photographer Rachelle Lee Smith's Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus — an internationally shown exhibit recently turned into a book by PM Press — steps in.

Smith's project began one night in 2001, she tells The Advocate, with a call from a teen named Matty. Smith picked up her phone to hear Matty, "hysterical because she had been chased down the street by a large group of frat guys that were calling her names and throwing beer bottles at her," Smith says.

Smith recalls, "I had been working on LGBTQ rights projects, but it was during the phone conversation with her that I knew I needed to incorporate her story, the many stories like hers, my story, and the range of experiences in between."

What followed was a decade of Smith photographing Matty and 64 other diverse queer and trans youth (including herself), ages 14 to 24, and having them hand-write their own perceptions of self, which serve as the eye-catching backdrops to their vibrant photos. Smith followed up with many of her subjects, showing their growth over time in a way rarely seen in similar photo projects. 

"I believe there is strength in numbers, power in words, and freedom in art and I strive to raise awareness with this work," Smith explains. If the images below are any indication, Smith's Speaking Out is a great success.

All images courtesy of Rachelle Lee Smith.

Tara

David

Allstair

Graeme

Sabrina



Mandy

Megan

Angelique

Sam

Beth

Max
Anonymous
Rachelle

Michael

Jo Ellen


Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Rachelle Lee Smith Author's Page




Positive Force: More Than a Witness A Review in Free City Radio

By Stefan Christoff
Free City Radio
February 19th, 2015

Positive Force, a community activist project rooted in punk rock culture, with a powerful grassroots legacy of working to directly confront and address social injustices, has long been a grassroots reference. Inherently linked to the spirit of do-it-yourself art and activist practices, Positive Force stands as a meaningful challenge to subcultural social modes of cynicism and inaction, refusing to accept the fatality of our times.

Positive Force : More Than A Witness, 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action, is an excellent documentary film by Robin Bell, a Washington DC-based, videographer and artist, that really tells the story of this important project without filters.

Revolving around many, many interviews, with both the artists and activists that have worked around Positive Force during the past couple decades, the film speaks with passion to the idealistic, anarchist-inspired politics that have driven the project. Importantly, this film also addresses many of the real challenges of sustaining such a shoestring, anti-capitalist project within a society structured on systems that fundamentally stand at war with a project like Positive Force.

Through a multiplicity of voices, this film critically recounts many cultural and activist projects that revolved around Positive Force. Iconic artist and activist Kathleen Hanna, speaks about organizing feminist gatherings at the space and the importance of time spent by Bikini Kill in DC around the Positive Force space and within the larger punk community.

Also featured in the film is the key role that the legendary punk band 7 Seconds played in the space, participating in many of the first benefit gigs for the project. Ian Mackaye and Fugazi are also important to the narrative built in the film, illustrating a close synergy between Fugazi’s fierce independence and the political framework of Positive Force.

Key to the film are the many in-depth interviews with activists who were essential to creating, sustaining and defending the Positive Force project, including the voice of the projects co-founder Mark Andersen. Throughout the film Andersen’s voice offers important context and background, working to ground many of parallel projects around Positive Force highlighted in the documentary.  

Some concrete actions and community projects around Positive Force that the film highlights include, the grassroots punk protests / noise jams against apartheid that took place in the 1980s and early 90s outside of US government buildings and the South African embassy in DC. 

Complicated alliances between Positive Force and more conventional anti-poverty organizations like the National Coalition for the Homeless are also explored in the film. Also the film touches on the influential State of The Union album project, released by Dischord records, organized by Positive Force, that benefited the Community For Creative Nonviolence and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Beyond the organizational origins of Positive Force, along with the inspiring sparks of the 1980s, early 90s independent punk scene in DC, the film also looks at links between the people around the space over the last decade, along with their connections to the anti-corporate globalization movement. Protests in DC against the World Bank and IMF, back in 2000, were an essential point of mobilization for the anti-corporate globalization movement, pushed forward and organized in part by a younger generation of anarchist-inspired activists, who were also working with Positive Force.

In many ways Positive Force : More Than A Witness is important because it illustrates concrete example of punk politics in action, a documentary project that really works to explore the multilayered history of this tiny, but storied community project in DC.

"The shared experience witnessing art together, creates an opening for people to exchange ideas on social justice," reflects musician, activist and writer Katy Otto in the film. Both this film and the Positive Force project, point to inspiring ideas, suggesting that community art in essence, is about expressing dreams for liberation and building positive energy toward common struggles against the regressive political, economic and social forces working to repress our collective dreams and possibilities.



Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page




Signal: 03 A Review on Dubdog

Dubdog
February 22nd, 2015

Cover

It seems somewhat ironic that a journal called Signal should pass me by, again. I wrote about the first two issues here in 2012. I can’t remember what, but something pricked my memory of the journal a couple of weeks ago and I went searching for the publication again only to find that issue three was released nearly a year ago with the forth due out this coming May. I quickly ordered Signal:03 and it doesn’t disappoint.

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Once again, what I’m genuinely impressed about with this publication is its breadth. The level of research done by the contributors is impressive and there is a sense of importance given to documenting/archiving social design stories that otherwise would be lost in the midst of time. For example, the image above is from a comical anarchist publication from Brussels in the 1930s. Titled: Game of Massacre: 12 Figures Looking for a Ball, the article explains this Aunt Sally type parlour game, created by Fred Deltor, (aka Frederico Antonio Carasso, 1899–1969), that enables you to cut-out various puppet figures, such as The Military, Property, Fascism, Religion etc, in order that you can throw balls at them. Included in the game was a mock cut-out theatre to set the figures in, and a ball, along with descriptions of the puppets. The above were described thus: (3) “Philanthropy has a chest in the form of a bank vault full of cash and tosses a single coin toward a cadaverous figure (lacking an arm and a leg) in from of a hospital”; and (4) “Social democracy is a two-faced figure who wields the attributes of both royalty and communism”. In uncovering the original publication, Stephen Goddard says: “Stylistically Carasso’s figures betray a knowledge of many of the important international impulses associated with progressive art organisations, periodicals, and movements of the 1920s, such as DeStijl, Het Oversight, Constructivism, and…Agit-prop.”

Signal reprints the preface to the game with a translation which states: “This is the game of massacre. Come! … Here it is, the opulent collection of royal, imperial, and devine puppets, that control you as they wish, you poor crowd, and who, by tragic reversal of roles, pull, from one to the other, the strings of your poor destiny.” Who says that anarchists don’t have a sense of humour?

Like the previous two editions of Signal, issue three mixes historical and contemporary struggles and their associated graphics. So alongside an article on student led strikes in Québec in September 2012, you find the story of the incredible Barbara Dane, co-founder of Paredon Records. Between 1969 and 1985 Dane tried to document revolutionary music being made around the world and in an interview with Alec Dunn and Eric Yanke, she describes how she’d go from country to country recording different musicians and singers and return to the States to release them. In the space of 16 years, Paredon Records, with very little budget, released recordings from Vietnam, Salvador, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Northern Ireland, Ecuador, Italy, Britain, Angola, Chile, Greece, Thailand and a host of other countries. Of the sleeves, she says: “If you look at the records, they’re 12″ x 12″ on the front and then fold around about 5 inches on the back. It was done this way so they could print four at once, four-up on a single sheet of paper…At this printer, what dictated what you could do was economics… And so you figure out things like one color has read, the other blue, so then third cover can have purple. You figure out how to work with two colors, matte paper, that size.”

Record2

1978, design Ronald Clyne

Record1

1975, design by Ronald Clyne

Asking Dane about working with the designer Ronald Clyne, she says: ” If you caught him at the right time of day, before he drank too much wine, he was very very clever about what he did. You can see that he could take any kind of photo, work with it, and make it meaningful and not destroy the meaning of it. And always, his forte was selection of type and layout and all that. I’d bring him basic tools, the basic elements, photos and also drawings from artists I’d met.”

Record3

1975, design by Ronald Clyne

Record4

1974, cover art by Jane Norling

If Barbara Dane wasn’t inspirational enough, Signal:03 publishes an article by Ropbert Burghardt and Gal Kirn on the former Yugoslavia monuments to anti-fascism and revolution. These impressive and often modernist brutal memorials, built between 1945 and 1990, litter what is now split into seven different nations. The authors state: “These monuments are not only modernist, but contain as unique typology: monumental, symbolic (fists, stars, hands, wings, flowers, rocks), bold (and often structurally daring), otherworldly and fantastic. … Instead of formally addressing suffering, these memorial sites incite universal gestures of reconciliation, resistance, and progress…for those that encounter them, they remain highly imaginative objects: they could be ambassadors from far-away stars, witnesses of an unrealised future, historical spectres that haunt the present.”

Y_Mon4

Y_Mon3

Some have been landscaped and provide opportunities for family days out with cafes and play areas. Some are more formal monuments that you can enter, such as the one above in Kozara, while others you happen upon in the middle of nowhere. Started as a way of remembering the second world war, they were initially built spontaneously by local artisans. And if the guidebook to them printed in Signal is anything to go by, there is a vast amount of these monuments dotted around the region, with a map stating over 200 locations, (although many have been destroyed or decayed).

Y_Mon2

Y_Mon1

Once again I am truly impressed by Signal. Its historical importance stretches across many areas including art, design, architecture, music, politics, protest and social history. And although this could be seen as a research journal, it is easily accessible for those who are just generally interested in the topics it covers, students, scholars and armchair revolutionaries alike. I’m already looking forward to the forth edition due in May.

Signal:03 is available to buy from PM Press for $14.95

SA




New D.C. punk documentary has Reno link

By Mark Robison
Reno Gazette-Journal
February 16th, 2015

An example to file under "butterfly flapping wings turns into tsunami half-way around the world": Reno kids started something called Positive Force wherein punk music would be turned into political action.

The Reno effort, started by the band 7 Seconds in the early 1980s, inspired Positive Force to spring up in other cities. The one in Washington, D.C. is still going to this day — and it is the subject of a new documentary on PM Press called "Positive Force: More Than a Witness: 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action."

It tells the story of Positive Force DC, a communal house and activist group that uses punk concerts to raise money to help the poor and elderly in the nation's capitol. Seeing tattooed punk rockers carry in meals to feeble old people and watching the joy on all of their faces shows the potential of music to create positive change.

Kevin Seconds is, of course, interviewed along with a slew of other punk legends who played at Positive Force DC benefit shows or otherwise were part of punk's activist side. These include Penny Rimbaud (Crass), Dave Grohl (Scream, Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys, Guantanamo School of Medicine), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi, The Evens) and Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile). Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Julie Ruin) explains how the Positive Force DC house was where the Riot Grrrl movement got its start.

The documentary is interspersed with great live performances — some professionally filmed, some bootleg quality — from Positive Force concerts including Bikini Kill, Anti-Flag and many Dischord label bands such as Scream, Rites of Spring, Nation of Ulysses, Soulside (the precursor to Girls Against Boys) and Beefeater. Also excellent are the DVD bonus performances including different full-length live songs not seen in the documentary from Chumbawamba, 7 Seconds, Anti-Flag and a rarely seen "Suggestion" by Fugazi.

The DVD also contains a 1991 documentary on Positive Force, a 2008 documentary on the group's alliance with inner-city seniors and a bunch of outtake sequences from the new documentary.


Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page




Paul Krassner honored by Veterans for Peace group

By Denise Goolsby
The Desert Sun
February 17th, 2015


Paul Krassner, co-founder of the political activist group the Yippies and founder of America's first adult satirical publication, The Realist, was awarded a lifetime achievement award by Veterans for Peace Jon Castro Chapter 19 at the group's President's Day awards luncheon Monday at Cimarron Golf Resort in Cathedral City.

Veterans for Peace of the Inland Empire — which celebrated its 10th anniversary Monday — is part of a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to abolishing war.

Krassner, 82, of Desert Hot Springs — who began publishing The Realist in 1958 — founded the Yippies (Youth International Party) with fellow political and social activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. He became a key figure in the counterculture of the 1960s was an outspoken antiwar advocate who was on the FBI list of radicals during the Vietnam War.

Krassner is the author of numerous works, including the books,"Pot Stories for the Soul: An Updated Edition for Stoned Adventures" and "Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counter-Culture."

Lanny Swerdlow, a local medical marijuana advocate, introduced Krassner by way of a witty three-minute riff lamenting the decline of pot use since the '60s — blaming today's troubles on yesterday's activists — seeking respectable careers — who decided to forgo weed.

Larry Swerdlow introduces counter-culture icon Paul Krassner at Veterans for Peace event, Feb. 16, 2015 Denise Goolsby/The Desert Sun

"We wouldn't be in the mess we are today if we kept on smoking marijuana as much as we did in the '60s — and Paul Krassner and I were two of the people who never stopped smoking pot," Swerdlow said as the crowd laughed.

"Paul Krassner was a hero of mine," he continued. "When I was 17 and started college, one of the first magazines I ever subscribed to was The Realist magazine, and that magazine changed my perspective on everything. It made me learn that what was out there was not what it always seemed to be. ... He would take us through these situations and we don't know where reality ended and nonsense began."

Krassner talked about the history of the Yippies and his experiences in the counterculture of '60s and '70s America.

He was reluctant to receive the award because he didn't feel he was deserving.

"At first when (organizer) Tom Swann called me — I had a resistance because I was not a veteran — they really sacrificed," Krassner told the crowd. "I was just having fun."

"I thank you for honoring me like this, I appreciate it and I'm inspired by the feelings here, of optimism, that hope did not dissolve with the Salton Sea," he said, referring to the shrinking sea.

Keynote speaker at the event was Vickie Castro, a Gold Star Mother who lost her son, U.S. Army Cpl. Jonathan Castro — for whom the Veterans for Peace chapter was named — when a suicide bomber, wearing an Iraqi National uniform, walked into a mess hall in Mosul, Iraq and blew himself up, along with 22 U.S. soldiers, on Dec. 21, 2004.

Also honored were Donni Prince, who received a Friend of the Veteran Award for her decades of work as Veterans Specialist at College of the Desert, and Chuck Parker, of Comite Latino, who received the group's Member of the Year Award.

Denise Goolsby is The Desert Sun's columnist for profiles and history. She can be reached at Denise.Goolsby@DesertSun.com and on Twitter @DeniseGoolsby.

Buy Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders | Buy the e-Book of Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders | Back to Paul Krassner's Author Page




Positive Force: More Than a Witness on Metallian

By Anna Tergel
Metallian
February 10th, 2015

Rating 70/100

Positive Force, born out of a crowd funding campaign, is the story of a youth volunteer activist group of the same name that sprang up in the mid-‘80s Reagan years in Washington DC. Punk rock and benefit shows were a central part of the activism and the basic goal was to live with better values at the footsteps of a corrupt government. The DVD as a documentary takes the bold step of using a Karl Marx image and a quote it attributes to him within its first four minutes.

Mark Andersen, the Positive Force co-founder uses "Revolution has to begin in the ruthless criticism of everything existing", as an explanation for the "politics of punk". Interviews with influencers and figures of the time like Penny Rimbaud, co-founder of the English band Crass, are interspersed with images, comics, flyers, editorial cartoons and footage of the times. It is said that Crass' form of anti-establishment punk formed the basis and made its way across the Atlantic. Interviews and thoughts by the likes of Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, Skeeter Thompson of Scream who each recall the meetings, the protests, the causes and the disagreements on how to act. Bands like Beefeater, Fugazi, Bikini Girl are seen playing and spreading the word. There is also an interview with Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame where he shares his thoughts on the music scene of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and what it could have possibly achieved and still achieve. The documentary goes on to reveal the differences that developed within the scene as MTV took notice. The question was asked if it was ok to work with and be seen on the mainstream and if the causes were compromised with the smallest hints of popularity. Positive Force exists to this day and it is arguably mainly a local Washington DC organization working on issues like housing. The extras include more live footage from Fugazi, Seven Seconds, Anti-Flag, Soulside, The Evens, Beefeater and Chumbawamba and further in-depth profiles and interviews discussing issues such voting and if it still matters at all.

Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page




Waging Peace, A Review in Catholic Worker NYC

By Patrick Jordan

Catholic Worker, NYC

March 2015

If Ammon Hennacy were around to update his 1970 posthumously published The One-Man Revolution in America, he would likely add a chapter on David Hartsough (b. 1941). For nearly sixty years, this Quaker-inspired activist has resisted war, racism, and injustice at home and literally around the world. Hennacy’s book was a veritable Profiles in Courage for America’s unsung peacemakers and radicals. In Waging Peace, David Hartsough brings that tradition up-to-date by forty years, every year of which includes his actions of protest and courage.

This autobiographical record begins with David’s Ohio roots. His mother was a first-grade teacher and an activist, his father was a Congergational minister. At age seven, young Hartsough faced down a group of town bullies who had bloodied him. Later, he sought out—and became friends with—their jefe.

From there the story moves quickly to Pennsylvania, where the teenage David organizes his first peace protest (at a Nike missile site); then to Virginia, where the angered patron of a segregated lunch counter David and others were attempting to integrate threatens his life; and then on to the White House, Berlin, Red Square, and even the Holy Land, all places where he demonstrates nonviolently for reconciliation. The book concludes half a century later, with his arrest outside a U.S. drone base.

I got to know David (a fitting name for one taking on Goliaths), his wife Jan, and their two small children in 1970 at Pendle Hill, the Quaker Study Center outside Philadelphia. He had just completed an arduous, five-year stint as a national organizer for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Little did I know, until reading Waging Peace, that in that capacity he had organized many of the huge antiwar demonstrations Catholic Workers and others had taken part in during the 1960s; or that before that, his father had worked with Martin Luther King Jr.; that Bayard Rustin had encouraged David to enroll at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and that in 1960, with fellow student Stokely Carmichael, he had led protests for integration in Virginia; or that as part of a 1962 Quaker delegation, he had met with President John F. Kennedy to call for a national policy of “waging peace”: the inspiration for this book’s title.

David first came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI at age fifteen. In fact, Waging Peace reads like a chronology lifted from his FBI file—a lifetime of protests, arrests, and agency misperceptions concerning David’s actions and motivations. It’s not hard to see why. There are his Quaker summer work camp in Cuba (1959), only months after Castro overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Batista; David’s experience in Communist Yugoslavia the following summer (he would return again in 1997, attempting to reconcile warring Serbs and Kosovars); his junior year in Germany (1961), auditing classes at East Berlin’s Communist Humboldt University; and summer forays for students he organized to Eastern Bloc countries and the Soviet Union in 1961 and ’62. There, David was nearly arrested in Red Square and threatened with twenty years in prison for demonstrating against nuclear testing. Back in the U.S., he was arrested outside the White House during a similar demonstration. In one instance, he was released from jail in the nick of time to accept his college diploma. Then came alternative service as a conscientious objector, a master’s degree in international studies at Columbia, five rewarding but hectic years in Washington, D.C., with Quaker lobbying groups, and marriage and a family.


Here is where the story gets particularly interesting and challenging for someone like me, close to David’s age and with a similar family constellation. For during David’s time at Pendle Hill, he and Jan decided to continue following a path of protest and simple living that would allow them to take risks in the service of peace and to resist paying the federal taxes that go for military expenditures (over 50 percent of the annual discretionary budget). A simple lifestyle, often shared with other like-minded families in community, allowed the Hartsoughs to live below a taxable income for many years. When they did exceed that minimum, they made it difficult for the IRS to extract its blood money. The IRS threatened to confiscate their home, but eventually settled for garnishing a savings account. For over forty years, the Hartsoughs have been able to resist paying war taxes outright; during the same period they have welcomed countless guests, all the while remaining exemplars of sane and caring resistance.

Ammon Hennacy would be particularly impressed with the long, consistent list of David Hartsough’s protests, fasts, and jailings. They include organizing several peace flotillas to block free passage of munitions ships during the Viet Nam War; helping form the Abalone Alliance (1977-84) to impede completion of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant; protests and arrests at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (1981-83). These were followed by years of actions against U.S. counterinsurgency policies in Central America, based on David’s own fact-finding trips to the region. He personally accompanied threatened villagers in Chiapas, Mexico, as well as Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. In 1987, he and others pledged to disrupt weapons shipments to Central America from the Concord Naval Weapons Station in California.

In one of those protests, his good friend Brian Willson was run down and nearly killed by a munitions train. The callousness of the event, and David’s assistance to Willson, then and for many years after the train had severed Willson’s legs, make for heart-pounding reading. “The war came home in a powerful way that day,” David recounts. “What our government had long been willing to do to poor people and people of color in other parts of the world, it was also willing to do to peaceful protesters in the United States who tried to impede the war effort.”

Here, as elsewhere, David reflects on the necessary courage of those who would wage peace. The Concord protest lasted 875 days. David was arrested repeatedly, but, he writes, “an amazing, inspiring community grew up around the Concord tracks,” one that included ex-CIA agents, many war veterans, and even his own aged and infirm parents.

David later traveled to the Philippines, the Soviet Union, Iran, and the former Yugoslavia; and served as executive director of the activist group Peaceworkers. In 2001, he co-founded the Nonviolent Peaceforce with Mel Duncan. Its aim is to send teams of nonviolent “soldiers” into war-threatened areas to short-circuit violence and offer peaceful models of resolution. David’s arrest in Kosovo in 1997, under orders from Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, is another heart-palpitating episode in this inspiring chronicle. For David, nonviolent protest for change is never on the cheap. The Nonviolent Peaceforce has now fielded support groups in over forty countries, and has received growing recognition and support from the UN and the European Union.

In his final chapters and appendices, David provides further stories of successful nonviolent campaigns and offers resources for those wishing to challenge the status quo. He finds hope in living near his own grandchildren; contact with them, he writes, “renews our commitment to helping build a world in which all children can look forward to a future of peace and justice.”

If anything might have further enriched this book, it would have been to include more about the author’s own inner geography: the effect of the storms he experienced on his inner thought and person. Further, the macro geopolitical landscape alluded to here relies almost entirely on a “Democracy Now” point of view. For many readers that will be a high compliment, even an endorsement; for others, it will seem an unnecessary but limiting liability. For those who don’t know David Hartsough in person and have not experienced his hearty, self-deprecating laughter, his purity of spirit, and his hospitality, that might diminish this exemplary autobiography. That would be a loss for our times, so in need of exemplars and “one-man revolutionaries.”

Waging Peace is a book that challenges, inspires, and offers hope: all gifts that will endure and even transcend the heroic witness of its remarkable author.


Buy Waging Peace | Buy Waging Peace e-Book | Back to David Hartsough's Author Page




The Struggle Within: A Review in The Journal for Radical Criminology

By Jordan House
Journal of Radical Criminology
April 2014


“More militancy!” is an oft-heard demand of the left. It is the subject of position papers and propaganda, of academic study and debate. We lament militancy of days past: the wildcat strikes, the mass demonstrations, the fighting movements. But we must not forget that the militancy of yesteryear was not without casualties. In particular, we have inherited the legacy of militants of the recent past. We have our martyrs: some, like Black Panthers George Jackson and Fred Hampton, were killed. Many others, from a diverse range of movements, completed and continue to serve long prison sentences. Dan Berger’s The Struggle Within is an overview of these militants and the movements from which they came.

The Struggle Within serves as an excellent primer on United States political prisoners and the relationship of various left movements to the carceral system. Despite his own claim that the book represents only an “introductory and incomplete sketch,” Berger demonstrates an expansive and comprehensive knowledge of US revolutionary movements, covering the New Left, Anti-War, Anti-Imperialist, Black Power, Indigenous liberation, Chicano, Puerto Rican Independence, and Environmentalist movements. While mostly focusing on prisoners of struggles past, in particular those from the 1960s and 1970s, Berger links these to contemporary struggles in a critical chapter on the Patriot Act and repression in the post 9/11 era. This is key, since objectively weaker contemporary movements face increasingly sophisticated state repression, fortified by innovations in surveillance techniques and technologies and backed by new repressive laws.

The slim volume is made up of four chapters: North American Freedom Struggles; Anti-imperialism, Anti-authoritarianism, and Revolutionary non-violence; Earth and Animal Liberation; and Déjà Vu and the Patriot Act, covering the post 9/11 period. Berger moves through each section by chronicling the organizations and movements that produced prominent political prisoners, with special focus on those still locked up. In doing so, he attempts to illustrate the interconnections between the various individuals, organizations and movements he discusses. Some of these connections are easy to demonstrate, such as the (admittedly oftentimes troubled) affinity between white New Leftists and the Black Power movement. Other cases are less clear, although connections can still be identified. For example, Berger links militant environmentalism to the broader left through the figure of Judi Bari, a labor organizer and member of Earth First!, who was car bombed and subject to an attempted frame-up by the FBI. Overall Berger emphasizes that the common thread throughout the diverse movements covered is the experience of state violence, arguing that the “ubiquity of state repression affords an opportunity to forge solidarity between multiple revolutionary movements,” while going on to note that this should not simply trump “contradictions” between and within movements (81). However, without a more robust framework expounding the character of state power, and some exploration of what it is that counts as ‘our’ movements (for example, the Tea Party has also faced state repression), it is unclear at times what exactly the miscellaneous movements of the book share in common.

Perhaps the most significant theoretical claim Berger argues is that mass incarceration in the US is not merely the result of the War on Drugs or premised upon a system of socio-economic repression and cleansing. He argues it is also significantly in response to political and social movements that have, at times, challenged state power. This is an interesting thesis that should be expanded upon, and raises several immediate questions. What does this mean given the current weak position of oppositional movements in relation to the state and capital? Are the institutions of state power expanding to successfully repress increasingly marginal oppositional movements? And if these movements are indeed increasingly marginal, what explains the expansion of state repression (since it cannot be said to be exerted in response to powerful social movements)? This, however, is the book at its most abstract. It also contains helpful and concrete resources. In addition to a relatively robust and thematically organized bibliography, Berger provides a glossary of on-the-ground organizational resources—a refreshing attempt to root the ideas put forward in the book in practice by providing a number of ways for readers to plug in as activists.

Like many thin volumes, the book suffers at times from its brevity. Most critically, readers would benefit from a more in-depth discussion of the categorization of ‘political prisoner’.

Berger rightly rejects liberal definitions of ‘prisoners of conscience’—those imprisoned for their beliefs and not necessarily their actions—and asserts that the “state uses the imprisonment of political leaders and rank-and-file activists as a bludgeon against movement victories” (2). We are told that no one in a democracy is tried for his or her political beliefs, only for specific crimes. The fact that those who struggle against power structures are criminalized is erased from the discourse completely. As Berger explains, “Thus the central issue for thinking about political prisoners is not whether they ‘did it’ but what movements did they come from and what are the broader circumstances surrounding their arrests” (2). This however, is not fully fleshed out. While Berger asserts that “political prisoners serve collective prison time for all those who participated in the movement from which they emerged” (2), it is also true that the militant organizations from which many political prisoners came did not necessarily arise organically from mass movements, but emerged from them as splits. Berger explains that, “time after time, frustration at the limited possibilities of available (i.e., legal) remedies to such entrenched injustice led many activists to seek—and many more support—alternatives options to resistance” (3). These alternatives were some variation of armed struggle or ‘armed propaganda.’ Berger does acknowledge this tension to some degree: “upping the ante through militant, often clandestine, tactics was not intended to stand in for organizing a mass movement (although sectarianism and different strategic priorities have often yielded this in effect if not in intent)” (3). Just as movements can and must reject those who turn on them (such as those who turn state witness), it is also true that successful movements must be able to have principled critique of strategy and tactics of those individuals and groups that comprise them. This is an issue that those working to free political prisoners and those fighting broadly for social change will have to continue to develop.

Despite the book’s title, Berger does not say much about the struggles within prisons, mentioning only briefly that political and politicized prisoners continue to contribute to political movements especially notably “through writing, mentoring younger activists, conducting peer education with other prisoners, and fighting AIDS, misogyny and homophobia” (81). This is especially unfortunate given that Berger has specifically written on the topic elsewhere. In an article entitled “Social Movements and Mass Incarceration,” Berger discusses various parenting programs developed by prisoners in Virginia and New York State. He also emphasizes the critical role of political and politicized prisoners in pioneering peer-based HIV/AIDS programming early in the AIDS crisis.

Rejecting the prevailing homophobia that led to terrible criminal neglect throughout the United States, these political prisoners saw the leading campaigns in the gay community. The political prisoners’ orientation towards grassroots organizing and bottom-up mobilization fit perfectly with the peer education and support method, later proven to be the only effective approach among prisoners. (2013, 11)

Likewise one could add the struggles of prisoners to better living and working conditions, from the National Prisoners Reform Association in Massachusetts, to the California Prisoners’ Union or the North Carolina Labor Unions and more. This may be corrected with the publication of Berger’s forthcoming book, Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era (2014).

Overall, The Struggle Within is a contribution to a movement for social change that is aware of its own past and history of repression. Prisons have always been a fact of working class life, and will continue to be institutions that those who fight for a better world cannot ignore. Victims of the class struggle will continue to be locked up just as individuals, organizations, and movements will continue to fight. As Berger thoroughly proves, you can’t jail an idea.
References

Berger, Dan. Forthcoming 2014. Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era. Chapel Hill: UNC Press.

Berger, Dan. 2013. “Social Movements and Mass Incarceration,” in Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, 15:1-2, 3-18.

Berger, Dan. 2014. The Struggle Within: Prisons, Political Prisoners, and Mass Movements in the United States. Montreal and Oakland: Kersplebedeb and PM Press.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Dan Berger's Author Page




A Line in the Tar Sands Review on Peace News

By Jim Wright
Peace News
February 2015-March 2015

The Alberta tar sands in Canada may be the largest hydrocarbon resource in the world, as well as the largest single potential source of climate-warming carbon dioxide. If the tar sands are completely exploited for fuel, 240 billion tons of carbon will be added to the atmosphere and global temperatures will rise 0.4°C from this source alone. At the same time, mining, pipelines, and ocean shipping threaten devastation in places stretching from one end of North America to the other.

A Line in the Tar Sands is a comprehensive survey of the herculean grassroots struggle to stop the development of the tar sands, written by the people who are waging this struggle: from indigenous people to landowners in Texas; from activists to academics.

This struggle was started by the indigenous communities of Northeastern Alberta, seeking to protect their environment, health, and sovereignty. It then spread across North America (Turtle Island), and even to Europe, as the magnitude of the plans of the ‘extreme energy’ industry became clear.

With 38 authors, this book is jammed with insight and is generally well-written. The editors have done a good job of keeping the book focused, though inevitably there is some repetition. British readers may be perplexed by the large numbers of unfamiliar place names, acronyms, and technical terms. Maps, tables, and a glossary of terms and acronyms would have been useful.

Two good chapters are contributed by activists from the UK Tar Sands Network and connections made with the anti-fracking movement.

Very much a record of the resistance thus far and a handbook for anti-colonialist, anti-globalist action, this book will be of interest to every activist concerned with climate action or indigenous justice and to anyone wanting to understand the energy battles being waged across North America.

It could also be considered a companion to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything (see PN 2576–2577). Both works lay the groundwork for the next steps we must take.

Buy A Line in the Tar Sands now | Buy A Line in the Tar Sands e-Book now | Back to Joshua Kahn Russell's Editor Page | Back to Stephen D’Arcy's Editor Page| Back to Tony Weis's Editor Page | Back to Toban Black's Editor Page




Catastrophism: A Review in Socialist Studies

By Thomas Cheney
Socialist Studies
Summer 2014

The essays in this timely volume are built around the theme that the politics of fear, or catastrophism, are ultimately unproductive and even reactionary. In her introductory essay to Catastrophism, Sasha Lilley cautions that a left alternative to capitalism — one that can respond adequately to a series of contemporary crises, including environmental and economic ones — cannot give in to fear and the 'logic of catastrophe.' She warns, "the politics of fear ... play to the strengths of the right, not the left" (p. 3). Each chapter confronts catastrophism in different and complementary ways. Eddie Yuen describes the failure of catastrophism for the environmental movement. Lilley offers a history of the dangers of catastrophism in leftist politics, while James Davis chronicles the history of right wing fear-mongering and apocalypticism. The concluding essay by David McNally connects the cultural phenomenon of zombies with the catastrophes of everyday life in capitalism.

Yuen's essay challenges the environmental movement to adopt different and more productive narratives about climate change and possibilities for its reversal. While not denying that a catastrophe is indeed impending, Yuen points to the paradox that increased individual knowledge about climate change does not result in increased political engagement. The problem, he holds, is that mainstream accounts of global warming "follow compelling evidence for ecological collapse with woefully inadequate injunctions to green consumption or lobbying of political representatives" (p.19). Yuen's alternative begins with jettisoning the Malthusian logic that penetrates so much of contemporary ecological thinking. He rejects the idea that ecological and social crises are the result of scarcity as an ideological construction that ultimately reinforces the status quo. By transcending the idea that it is a unified 'us' that is responsible for climate change, Yuen suggests that the class and geographical dynamics of ecological devastation and its burdens may come to light. Yuen's contribution provides a pragmatic assessment of the failures of contemporary ecological movements, while also maintaining optimism that an eco-socialist politics can provide an alternative to capitalist alienation and environmental destruction. Refreshingly, Yuen does not rely on productivist mystifications, arguing instead that a better life can be had with less consumption.

Shifting focus, Lilley's chapter offers a critique of what she terms the "left catastrophist dyad" (p. 44). While each side of this dyad represents deep political despair and an insistence that a better future can be born only out of complete collapse, they differ insofar as one is deterministic, the other voluntaristic. The former, writes Lilley, is premised on the notion that capitalism will "inevitably collapse under its own weight..." (p. 46). Not only is this conception untrue to Marx's analysis of capitalism it also results in both adventurism and quietism at the expense of an emphasis on class struggle. The voluntaristic pole of the dyad, Lilley argues, is characterized by the idea that "the worse things get, the better they will be for revolutionary prospects" (p. 54). This counterfactual notion has been mobilized by leftists throughout the 20th century — from the Weathermen, to primitivists such as Derrick Jensen, to the eccentric Trotskyist Juan Posadas — without political success. As an alternative, Lilley suggests taking seriously Theodor Adorno, who warned against "seeing the world in such grim terms that only an exterior force could change it" (p. 75-6).

In his contribution, James Davis argues that the notion society is headed for some sort of collapse — be it environmental, economic, social or spiritual — characterizes right wing catastrophism. This essay centres on a distinction between those catastrophists who see collapse as the disease of progressive and democratic advancements such as feminism and multiculturalism (Leo Strauss, for example) and those who take the argument a step further and see total collapse as the necessary cure (the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik). Taking up Lilley’s warning about the politics of fear, Davis examines the ways that the state manipulates fear to increase its power. He concludes with the warning that in a conjuncture saturated by catastrophic discourses, the right can use this hysteria to its benefit while for the left catastrophism is far less productive.

McNally’s essay takes the analysis in a more creative direction, exploring the cultural obsession with zombies. According to McNally, this fixation is the reflection of a class politics that debases workers’ bodies. In the 21st century, two representations of the zombie come together in a dialectical encounter: “In... the maniacally insatiable flesh-eater, we find the capitalist zombie, driven to relentlessly consume human beings. [I]n the image of the zombie labourer we encounter the reality of the global collective worker reduced to a beast of burden who keeps the machinery of accumulation ticking” (p. 123). This chapter is much less explicitly about catastrophism, and appears to wander much further from the main theme of the book than do the others. However, McNally is not so much concerned with doomsday scenarios as he is with the “catastrophic texture of everyday life” in capitalist society (p. 126). The cultural preoccupation with zombies reveals this ‘catastrophic texture.’ In this way, McNally’s optimistic conclusion provides a fitting culmination of the book: “We need... to uncover the social basis of all that is truly horrifying and catastrophic about our world, as part of a critical theory and practice designed to change it” (p. 127).

The essays in this book each present a sophisticated and nuanced analysis of the politics and discourses of catastrophe. While the message is that the left must not succumb to catastrophic panic and the politics of fear, the authors do not deny that we do indeed live in a catastrophic age. It is not the time, however, for the left to indulge in apocalypticism, to resign itself to the notion that a better society will arise only from the ashes of the current barbarism. This insistence reflects the sober optimism offered by this collection of essays. Accessibly written and rich in analysis, this volume has much to offer any student of contemporary politics.

Book Review: Catastrophism – The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis (PM Press 2012)

cataCatastrophism is a collection of essays addressing the use of dooms day predictions in the environmental movement, the left, the right as well as in popular culture. The four chapters are authored by Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis following conversations within the Berkeley-based Retort collective guided by Iain Boal (who led an excellent biking oral history tour in Dublin as part of the Prosperity Project in May).  This book is meant as ‘a political intervention, designed to spur debate among radicals.’ (4) I have taken this as an invitation for discussion.

Firstly, what is catastrophism? Sasha Lilley offers the following definition in the introduction:

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

Seeking a clearer understanding of what the writers meant by catastrophism, I listened to a podcast where Lilley explains that they are discussing an ideology around collapse and rebirth which assumes a new society will be born out of the ashes of the old. This kind of thinking, they argue, results in people waiting for the collapse rather than organising. They further claim that catastrophism is based on fear which works very differently for the right where it is mobilising, than it does for the left where it is paralysing.

Eddy Yuen begins by voicing a critique of the environmental movement. The central argument he puts forward is that the environmental movement is failing to mobilise because of its catastrophic discourse and an ‘apocalyptic narrative’ that presumes this will lead to political action. He is concerned that ‘dooms day scenarios’ don’t have a politicization effect and suggests environmentalists should find better ‘narrative strategies’.

Catastrophism, here, refers to the warning of environmental crisis. Dissemination of information, according to Yuen, does not lead to action. He claims the environmental movement has caused fear induced-apathy in the population. Yuen pins this to a deeply held conviction about politicization apparently held by environmentalists – if people have the facts they will act. While this may be the case for some, Yuen does not address the importance of understanding the dynamics of climate change and their consequences as a vital precursor to action. In the same way that knowledge of starving children in your city does not lead most people to take action, so knowledge about climate change does not necessarily lead to action. This phenomenon is not unique to the environmental movement.

Yuen makes the assumption that the environmental movement cannot mobilise because it uses catastrophic language. This line of argument ignores the complexity of psychological and sociological factors contributing to inaction. Kari Marie Norgaard has done some excellent work on social movement non-participation and speaks about strategies people develop to avoid having to deal with difficult emotions. This indicates that, like with other bad news we get, there is a need to support people while dealing with these difficult emotions. 

Yuen rightly criticises false solutions like green consumption proposed by Al Gore. It seems like Yuen sees Al Gore as a spokesperson for environmentalists. This is not the case and should have been clarified. Al Gore is probably the most visible advocate of ecological modernisation in the US. Ecological modernisation theory (EMT) argues that the institutions of modernity, including multinational corporations and governments, will increasingly give more importance to ecological concerns. It is the neo-liberal belief that the crisis can be solved through far-reaching reforms, without the need for radical social change. Leftists concerned with climate change however, argue that social change and an alternative to capitalism are needed.

He further argues that the catastrophism of ‘many left-leaning greens’ is ‘Malthusian at its core’, points out a ‘shocking deficiency in the movements understanding of history, capitalism and global inequality’ and a simplistic analysis which places the blame on ‘the human race’. Surprisingly, he does not mentioned groups and networks on the left dedicated to building a climate justice movement which addresses the above concerns. This movement, like Yuen, rejects false solutions. It argues that climate change is not a problem of overpopulation but overconsumption/overproduction by and for the global north and elites in the global south. Climate justice activists speak about capitalism and point out the ‘contradictions between infinite accumulation of capital, and life on a finite planet’. It would have been more stimulating if he had discussed shortcomings of the environmental left, rather than criticising neo-liberal environmentalism.

Communicating climate change is difficult. Most people (including many on the left) do not want to hear about the topic because it makes them feel uncomfortable and there are no easy solutions. Climate denial, sponsored largely by the fossil fuel industry, is distorting reality. They want us to believe that climate change is not man made or that it is nothing to worry about. My concern with this chapter is that it could be used by some to further silence environmental activists.

In the second chapter, author and Against the Grain (which is well worth checking out) radio host Sasha Lilley distinguishes between two types of catastrophism on the left: determinist and voluntarist catastrophism. The former is a belief that capitalism will collapse under its own weight while the latter refers to the idea that worsening conditions will lead to a revolution. Catastrophism leads to the paralysis of the many and the vanguardism of the few and results from a politics of despair.

Lilley writes that the belief that capitalism “will come crashing down without protracted mass struggle is wishful thinking.’ (44) Are there really people on the left who think the sudden and uncontrolled collapse of capitalism would be a positive event? Surely the suffering would be enormous in such an event. She then looks at thinkers including Rosa Luxemburg and Immanuel Wallerstein whose analyses predicted that capitalism will collapse. Lilley disagrees. In her view capitalism will not come to an end due to internal contradictions. (136) The consequences of assuming collapse, it is further argued, leads to “adventurism (the ill-conceived actions of the few) or political quietism (the inaction that flows from awaiting the inexorable laws of history to put an end to capitalism)”. (52) Lilley asserts that we cannot rely on external forces to do the work of ending capitalism for us and that political organising is crucial. Unfortunately she has not presented convincing evidence that deterministic catastrophism is a phenomenon that requires discussion.  The sources she quotes do not take the position that we can sit back and wait. To the contrary they argue for the importance of organising a new society before capitalism collapses.

The second type of catastrophism on the left, voluntarism, is more common, according to Lilley. What ties determinism and voluntarism together is “a deep-seated pessimism about mass collective action and radical social transformation.” (45) Immiseration and state repression then are tools for politicisation leading to an assumption that “radicals should do what they can to make things worse.” (54) It is the idea that state repression can lead to the growth of movements. That the KPD (German Communist Party), one of her examples, made very serious mistakes has been discussed since 1945. Attempting to demonstrate that the KPD believed state repression would bring them to power in three paragraphs, while taking quotes out of their historical context, does not do the situation any justice.

Speaking about state repression and revolution, the next section examines war, which ‘has long been seen on the left as the midwife of revolt, often patterned in the trinity of crisis-war-revolution’. That revolts can follow war is a historical fact. To argue, however, that the left sees war as ‘midwife’ is a serious misrepresentation, at least of the European left which associates nothing positive with war.

The sub-chapter ‘Heightening Contradictions’ discusses militant groups like the Weathermen and the Red Army Faction arguing that insurrectionism is a misguided tactic, while the last part discusses anti-civilization.

James Davis, Irish writer and film maker, looks at catastrophism on the right and introduces the disease-cure binary of catastrophe. The catastrophe for the right is the threat to privilege and political power. The left is the catastrophe for the right, the left is the disease. Civil rights, feminism and social democracy are trends the right wishes to reverse. One approach to this is cure catastrophism, a subset to disease catastrophism. Acts which could contribute to a reversal in power won by social movements might be sparked by right wing terror and could then take the form of a ‘race war, insurrection, Armageddon, civil war, or in its purest form biblical apocalypse, and rapture.’ (78)  Actors explored in this chapter include the media used as a tool for propaganda, individual acts of terror on the right, small groups on the radical right, conspiracy theorists and the religious right. Catastrophism, Davis argues, “has a long history on the right and both the state and the organised far right understand it and wield it skilfully to achieve political and propaganda goals.” (106) It was unclear how this chapter relates to the previous two.

The final chapter takes a look at catastrophism in pop culture. David McNally, Professor of Political Science at York University, firstly discusses the relationship between capitalism and body panics by linking the rise of early capitalism to body snatching. The commodification of the body and the emergence of a corpse economy created fear among poor and working people, during the 18th century, that their bodies would be lost to medical experiments after their death. This also led to an increase in murders and grave robbing. McNally then discusses the historical origins of monsters, such as Frankenstein, who was constructed from dead body parts of humans and animals, and zombies, the cannibalistic consumer on one hand and the living-dead labourer on the other. McNally argues that the truths about social dynamics embedded in these tales about monsters need to be redeemed and translated into “languages and practices of social and political action.” (126)

The book’s key dilemma is that there is no clear definition of catastrophism as a concept. In a way this problem is reflected by a paragraph in the introduction where Lilley explains that “an overarching logic might be harder to place, since these movements and ideas are driven by different impulses, from above and from below (and in the case of the greens, both). In that sense, it is hard to talk about a catch-all catastrophism, without specifying whether it is of the left, right, green – or liberal – variety.” The definition offered by Lilley in the introduction as well as the scene set by the title – The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth is misleading. It suggest the authors are speaking about an ideology that assumes a collapse, be it economic, ecological or social, and is followed by a new and better society, which will be born out of the ashes of the old. Apart from the the religious right, which is mentioned in the third chapter, there is no evidence of collapse being viewed as a positive event.

- See more at: http://www.irishleftreview.org/2014/01/28/catastrophism-apocalyptic-politics-collapse-rebirth/#sthash.AOOGp2NJ.dpuf

Book Review: Catastrophism – The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis (PM Press 2012)

cataCatastrophism is a collection of essays addressing the use of dooms day predictions in the environmental movement, the left, the right as well as in popular culture. The four chapters are authored by Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis following conversations within the Berkeley-based Retort collective guided by Iain Boal (who led an excellent biking oral history tour in Dublin as part of the Prosperity Project in May).  This book is meant as ‘a political intervention, designed to spur debate among radicals.’ (4) I have taken this as an invitation for discussion.

Firstly, what is catastrophism? Sasha Lilley offers the following definition in the introduction:

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

Seeking a clearer understanding of what the writers meant by catastrophism, I listened to a podcast where Lilley explains that they are discussing an ideology around collapse and rebirth which assumes a new society will be born out of the ashes of the old. This kind of thinking, they argue, results in people waiting for the collapse rather than organising. They further claim that catastrophism is based on fear which works very differently for the right where it is mobilising, than it does for the left where it is paralysing.

Eddy Yuen begins by voicing a critique of the environmental movement. The central argument he puts forward is that the environmental movement is failing to mobilise because of its catastrophic discourse and an ‘apocalyptic narrative’ that presumes this will lead to political action. He is concerned that ‘dooms day scenarios’ don’t have a politicization effect and suggests environmentalists should find better ‘narrative strategies’.

Catastrophism, here, refers to the warning of environmental crisis. Dissemination of information, according to Yuen, does not lead to action. He claims the environmental movement has caused fear induced-apathy in the population. Yuen pins this to a deeply held conviction about politicization apparently held by environmentalists – if people have the facts they will act. While this may be the case for some, Yuen does not address the importance of understanding the dynamics of climate change and their consequences as a vital precursor to action. In the same way that knowledge of starving children in your city does not lead most people to take action, so knowledge about climate change does not necessarily lead to action. This phenomenon is not unique to the environmental movement.

Yuen makes the assumption that the environmental movement cannot mobilise because it uses catastrophic language. This line of argument ignores the complexity of psychological and sociological factors contributing to inaction. Kari Marie Norgaard has done some excellent work on social movement non-participation and speaks about strategies people develop to avoid having to deal with difficult emotions. This indicates that, like with other bad news we get, there is a need to support people while dealing with these difficult emotions. 

Yuen rightly criticises false solutions like green consumption proposed by Al Gore. It seems like Yuen sees Al Gore as a spokesperson for environmentalists. This is not the case and should have been clarified. Al Gore is probably the most visible advocate of ecological modernisation in the US. Ecological modernisation theory (EMT) argues that the institutions of modernity, including multinational corporations and governments, will increasingly give more importance to ecological concerns. It is the neo-liberal belief that the crisis can be solved through far-reaching reforms, without the need for radical social change. Leftists concerned with climate change however, argue that social change and an alternative to capitalism are needed.

He further argues that the catastrophism of ‘many left-leaning greens’ is ‘Malthusian at its core’, points out a ‘shocking deficiency in the movements understanding of history, capitalism and global inequality’ and a simplistic analysis which places the blame on ‘the human race’. Surprisingly, he does not mentioned groups and networks on the left dedicated to building a climate justice movement which addresses the above concerns. This movement, like Yuen, rejects false solutions. It argues that climate change is not a problem of overpopulation but overconsumption/overproduction by and for the global north and elites in the global south. Climate justice activists speak about capitalism and point out the ‘contradictions between infinite accumulation of capital, and life on a finite planet’. It would have been more stimulating if he had discussed shortcomings of the environmental left, rather than criticising neo-liberal environmentalism.

Communicating climate change is difficult. Most people (including many on the left) do not want to hear about the topic because it makes them feel uncomfortable and there are no easy solutions. Climate denial, sponsored largely by the fossil fuel industry, is distorting reality. They want us to believe that climate change is not man made or that it is nothing to worry about. My concern with this chapter is that it could be used by some to further silence environmental activists.

In the second chapter, author and Against the Grain (which is well worth checking out) radio host Sasha Lilley distinguishes between two types of catastrophism on the left: determinist and voluntarist catastrophism. The former is a belief that capitalism will collapse under its own weight while the latter refers to the idea that worsening conditions will lead to a revolution. Catastrophism leads to the paralysis of the many and the vanguardism of the few and results from a politics of despair.

Lilley writes that the belief that capitalism “will come crashing down without protracted mass struggle is wishful thinking.’ (44) Are there really people on the left who think the sudden and uncontrolled collapse of capitalism would be a positive event? Surely the suffering would be enormous in such an event. She then looks at thinkers including Rosa Luxemburg and Immanuel Wallerstein whose analyses predicted that capitalism will collapse. Lilley disagrees. In her view capitalism will not come to an end due to internal contradictions. (136) The consequences of assuming collapse, it is further argued, leads to “adventurism (the ill-conceived actions of the few) or political quietism (the inaction that flows from awaiting the inexorable laws of history to put an end to capitalism)”. (52) Lilley asserts that we cannot rely on external forces to do the work of ending capitalism for us and that political organising is crucial. Unfortunately she has not presented convincing evidence that deterministic catastrophism is a phenomenon that requires discussion.  The sources she quotes do not take the position that we can sit back and wait. To the contrary they argue for the importance of organising a new society before capitalism collapses.

The second type of catastrophism on the left, voluntarism, is more common, according to Lilley. What ties determinism and voluntarism together is “a deep-seated pessimism about mass collective action and radical social transformation.” (45) Immiseration and state repression then are tools for politicisation leading to an assumption that “radicals should do what they can to make things worse.” (54) It is the idea that state repression can lead to the growth of movements. That the KPD (German Communist Party), one of her examples, made very serious mistakes has been discussed since 1945. Attempting to demonstrate that the KPD believed state repression would bring them to power in three paragraphs, while taking quotes out of their historical context, does not do the situation any justice.

Speaking about state repression and revolution, the next section examines war, which ‘has long been seen on the left as the midwife of revolt, often patterned in the trinity of crisis-war-revolution’. That revolts can follow war is a historical fact. To argue, however, that the left sees war as ‘midwife’ is a serious misrepresentation, at least of the European left which associates nothing positive with war.

The sub-chapter ‘Heightening Contradictions’ discusses militant groups like the Weathermen and the Red Army Faction arguing that insurrectionism is a misguided tactic, while the last part discusses anti-civilization.

James Davis, Irish writer and film maker, looks at catastrophism on the right and introduces the disease-cure binary of catastrophe. The catastrophe for the right is the threat to privilege and political power. The left is the catastrophe for the right, the left is the disease. Civil rights, feminism and social democracy are trends the right wishes to reverse. One approach to this is cure catastrophism, a subset to disease catastrophism. Acts which could contribute to a reversal in power won by social movements might be sparked by right wing terror and could then take the form of a ‘race war, insurrection, Armageddon, civil war, or in its purest form biblical apocalypse, and rapture.’ (78)  Actors explored in this chapter include the media used as a tool for propaganda, individual acts of terror on the right, small groups on the radical right, conspiracy theorists and the religious right. Catastrophism, Davis argues, “has a long history on the right and both the state and the organised far right understand it and wield it skilfully to achieve political and propaganda goals.” (106) It was unclear how this chapter relates to the previous two.

The final chapter takes a look at catastrophism in pop culture. David McNally, Professor of Political Science at York University, firstly discusses the relationship between capitalism and body panics by linking the rise of early capitalism to body snatching. The commodification of the body and the emergence of a corpse economy created fear among poor and working people, during the 18th century, that their bodies would be lost to medical experiments after their death. This also led to an increase in murders and grave robbing. McNally then discusses the historical origins of monsters, such as Frankenstein, who was constructed from dead body parts of humans and animals, and zombies, the cannibalistic consumer on one hand and the living-dead labourer on the other. McNally argues that the truths about social dynamics embedded in these tales about monsters need to be redeemed and translated into “languages and practices of social and political action.” (126)

The book’s key dilemma is that there is no clear definition of catastrophism as a concept. In a way this problem is reflected by a paragraph in the introduction where Lilley explains that “an overarching logic might be harder to place, since these movements and ideas are driven by different impulses, from above and from below (and in the case of the greens, both). In that sense, it is hard to talk about a catch-all catastrophism, without specifying whether it is of the left, right, green – or liberal – variety.” The definition offered by Lilley in the introduction as well as the scene set by the title – The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth is misleading. It suggest the authors are speaking about an ideology that assumes a collapse, be it economic, ecological or social, and is followed by a new and better society, which will be born out of the ashes of the old. Apart from the the religious right, which is mentioned in the third chapter, there is no evidence of collapse being viewed as a positive event.

- See more at: http://www.irishleftreview.org/2014/01/28/catastrophism-apocalyptic-politics-collapse-rebirth/#sthash.AOOGp2NJ.dpuf

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