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Asia's Unknown Uprisings Volume 1 in the Journal of Asian Studies

By Sun Chul-Kim
The Journal of Asian Studies
Volume 72 / Issues 03 / August 2013 pp733-734

Designed as the first of a two-volume serial on “Asia’s unknown uprisings,” South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century is an ambitious attempt at chronicling the long history of popular struggle in South Korea, as well as revealing the universal logic behind it. From the Tonghak Farmers’ War of 1894 to the Candlelight Protests in 2008, the book covers a broad range of popular mobilization in Korea across more than a century’s span. The book is organized into thirteen chapters in chronological order, with eight chapters devoted to the popular struggles of the last three decades. In chapters 6–10, the book offers one of the most thorough accounts of the contentious 1980s, which erupted with the 1980 Gwangju Uprising and culminated with the June Uprising and the Great Workers’ Struggle of 1987. Aided by insider accounts, these chap- ters offer a rich narrative of the unfolding events with rare insight into the inner dynamics and the emotional responses that characterize rare moments of insurgency. It is unclear, however, why there is only one short chapter tracing political challenges in the 1960s and ‘70s, whereas three chapters are dedicated to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In the opening chapter, the book lays out its central argument, that “ordinary people, acting together in the best interests of the group, embody a reasonability and intelligence far greater than any of today’s corporate or political elites” (p. 9). To George Katsiaficas, ordinary people assume not only superior morality, but also superiority in self- organization and self-discipline inherent in the everyday relations in civil society. Conse- quently, ordinary people, or civil society, are endowed with the wisdom, intuition, and capacity for effecting change and building a true participatory democracy, the manifes- tations of which are the numerous uprisings and social movements. Having set the premise this way, the book moves on to concomitant argument that concerns the role of spontaneity in collective action. “The outcome of spontaneous and massive occur- rences is often far better than deliberately planned ones” (p. 144), Katsiaficas argues, and throughout the chapters there is no shortage of reference to the “autonomous,” “lea- derless” protesters who have shown their capacity to act and govern “without the ‘help’ of political vanguards and almighty leaders” (p. 4). Exemplified by the voluntary partici- pation of Gwangju citizens and the sense of community they built during the nine-day uprising, it is argued that the power of spontaneity constitutes a critical mechanism behind the large-scale mobilizations of the 1960 April Revolution, the 1987 June Upris- ing, and the 2008 Candlelight Protests.

The book is largely successful in highlighting the role of “ordinary people” as the engine of change, and the picture of spontaneous participation and community building during high tides of protest is convincing. However, the depiction of ordinary people as a self-motivated, self-contained, and self-propelling protagonist raises several questions as to exactly who they are, why they act, and to what extent the various participants in the numerous uprisings can be lumped into a single category. While many scholars have looked to the grassroots or civil society as the main engine of change in South Korea’s transition to electoral democracy, civil society can turn into a cumbersome concept when investigating social movements in the post-authoritarian context. This is partly because democratization brings many changes, including internal differentiation of civil society, such that it becomes impossible to talk about civil society as if it were a monolithic actor. However, the book presses on with its framework, and finds itself in an odd situation where it is argued that “popular movements surged ahead in the years following [democratic transition in] 1987” (p. 313) at the same time the rise of NGOs, and professionalization and specialization of the citizens’ movement, “led to the move- ment’s overall decline” (p. 6). It seems what is needed is a refined framework that can help us recognize the various social groups and identities within civil society, as well as the varying patterns of interaction among them. Despite its theoretical import, the book’s spotlight on spontaneity similarly suffers from a simple framework. On several occasions the book implies that not all uprisings involve the same level of spontaneity (p. 243) or generate the same kind of positive energy (pp. 348–49). However, this comes without proper explanation as to why such variation may occur. At times, leader- ship, or organization, is directly pit against spontaneity, as if the two were mired in a zero-sum relationship. But does leadership necessarily undermine spontaneity? Are there not more reasons to believe that a good leadership is one that is adept at improvisa- tion or facilitating spontaneous participation?

Again, the reader is left with the impression that clarifying the relationship between spontaneity and leadership would have greatly strengthened the theoretical persuasion.

Overall, the book does a better job in narrating the political history of modern South Korea from a bottom-up perspective than it does in analyzing social movements. Plenty of space is assigned to exposing the role of the United States and the U.S.-led global political economy as an important backdrop to South Korean politics. In chapter 7, for example, the book contends that the U.S. involvement in the suppression of Gwangju, as “part of [the] global implementation of U.S. economic policy” (p. 225), “marked the bloody beginning of the imposition of a neoliberal regime onto Korea” (p. 226). This will no doubt be a point of interest to many. There are some questionable moments though, as when the author traces the origins of Hallyu “in the minjung movements of the 1980s” (p. 21) without substantiation.

Nonetheless, many readers will find that the rich details of the 1980s offset the weaknesses.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to George Katsiaficas 's Author Page

Show and tell: Norman Nawrocki on using music and performance to transform the book tour

CBC Books
October 11th, 2013

Taking a page from the rock-and-roll handbook, writer and musician Norman Nawrocki is treating his latest book tour as a concert tour—complete with couch surfing, theatrics, beers, and groupies. If you see him passing the hat at the end of the show, consider dropping a dollar or two. This is a complete do-it-yourself road show.

1. You’ve always thought outside the box. When you decided to write your most recent book, did you have an idea of how you wanted to bring it to an audience?

First, I had no idea when I started to write CAZZAROLA! that this particular book would result. In fact, the book started as a collection of short stories based on my then, just completed book tour of Italy with a previous book. I realized as I wrote the short stories that there was a larger, more important story here that needed to be told. The CAZZAROLA! demons seized my typing fingers and directed that narrative. It came on its own. No force, no pushing, no directing. As CAZZAROLA! unfolded, I had no idea what to do with it. But I sensed early on that this book would take its time to be written, and that part of me desperately wanted to share the story sooner. So, I was inspired to write some dramatic monologues based on the story. I turned these into CAZZAROLA! the theatre piece. I performed a world premiere of the theatre piece at the Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival, as the opening act for the Bread and Puppet Theatre. I realized then that once the novel was completed, I already had a vehicle to help me bring it to a larger audience. Later, I was inspired to create the musical soundtrack, giving me a second tool to help share the story. Then, it was only natural, to embark on a 'rock 'n Cazzarol' national tour, combining the theatre piece with the cd and book launch for a triple bill presentation. This never occurred to me five years earlier.

2. You are also a musician. Your book tour looks much like a concert tour. What gave you the idea to treat it as such?

It's the only way I know how!  Every new creation needs to be celebrated. I always tour my music, my ‘sex’ shows, and my books. And I like to drink in the company of others, old fans, new fans, and the curious of the world. It's also a way to keep in touch with the country. What are people really doing in Saskatoon these days? But also, I usually add live music to my book tours and do readings/performances that are theatrical. I'm also an actor. I don't draw lines. No boxes. No lines. I mix everything up. Again, it's how I live, how I create, how I like to share my work. I also want the tour to be fun for audiences and myself.

3. Do you expect book “groupies”?

Always. They will ask: “Is this a true story? Why didn't you kill off this character?” They will buy two copies of my book. They will bring my other books for me to sign. They will buy me beer. They will offer me places to stay. They will tell their family to check out my event, because, every book launch on this CAZZAROLA! CANADA TOUR is a triple threat: live theatre (with a soundtrack and visuals); live music (me on violin playing excerpts from the novel's soundtrack); and live me to answer all their questions about all of the above (and about how I make perogies).

4. The tour takes you across the country from east to west and visits a variety of places like bookstores, coffee houses, and music venues. How did you decide to choose the places for your launches?

Thankfully, I have a wonderful network of dear friends, and friends of friends, in each city who stepped forward to help me book the tour. They chose the venues based on affordability. This is a DIY tour. I am financing it myself. No Canada Council grant. No publisher support. I am performing free for people in small venues all across the country! So, we aimed for no-charge venues. I am just passing a hat between my performances to help defray my travel expenses. This is the reality of being an artist, a writer, a performer in Canada today.  

5. There is also an original soundtrack to the book that will be out at the same time. Did you see the album as another way of interesting people in the book?

The CAZZAROLA! soundtrack came as an after-thought, but for me it was a natural one. I hatched it this year, and went back to Italy twice to research music and collaborative musicians. The CD is another way to lure people into the depths of my novel. It can also be listened to before, during, or after a reading of the book. It's a sonic complement, an aural context, a musical framework. It's also just some beautiful, moving and reflective music that you can enjoy with your next glass of Lemoncello.

6. There will also be a “live dramatic adaptation” of the book at the launches. What can people expect?

I will portray four characters from the book, from 1926 to today, delivering monologues excerpted from the book. There will be a soundtrack and projections. It's a 30 minute performance. Afterwards, I play live and sampled and looped violin extracts from the new CD.

7. Publishing continues to adapt to the changes happening in the world. How do you see the future of publishing?

As long as people hunger for stories, as long as writers have stories to tell, as long as we remain a literate society, as long as we continue to cultivate an appreciation for books - there is hope. There is an explosion of online publishing. There are readers groups; writers groups, online and off. This is heartening. With this tour, I am doing my little bit to keep books and the pleasure of discovery very much alive.

Buy Cazzarola! now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Norman Nawrocki's page

I have never hit anyone with my violin: An interview with Norman Nawrocki

by Rana Bose
Montreal Serai
October 6th, 2013

Norman Nawrocki … a Montreal legend for his music of protest – and for his daring, insurrectionary performance theatre — was interviewed for this issue by Rana Bose, Serai Editor and Montreal novelist.
Norman’s new book details : Cazzarola!: Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy

A gripping novel that is at once political, historical, and romantic, Cazzarola! spans 130 years in the life of the Discordias, a fictionalized family of Italian anarchists. It details the family’s heroic, multigenerational resistance to fascism in Italy and their ongoing involvement in the anarchist movement. The Discordias navigate decades of political, economic, and social turmoil — from early 20th-century factory strikes and occupations, to armed anarchist militias and attempts on Mussolini’s life, to postwar student and labor protest, and now to confrontations with the newest wave of contemporary neo-fascist violence sweeping Europe.  Against this historical backdrop, Antonio falls in love with Cinka. She is a proud but poverty-stricken Romani refugee from the “unwanted people,” without a country or home, forced to flee, again and again, searching for peace. Theirs becomes a life-changing and forbidden relationship.

MS: Hi Norman-Thanks for once again gracing Montreal Serai–or should I say for making a welcome intervention in these pages.  When we thought of the theme “Music of Protest” your name figured automatically amongst the top in Montreal. I have been going through your website and the enormous links that it leads us on to. It is a wealth of chaotic insurrectionary material. Right off the bat, tell us why you name your website “” and why Les Pages Noires? The readers of Serai need to know where it is all coming from.

NN:”” is the name of my mothership provider which was set up in Baltimore many years ago by “Spud” – an incredibly talented and generous anarchist computer whiz who helps like-minded spirits around the world use the internet. His site is, and its crammed with books, art, a Situationist International archive, and more.

Les Pages Noires (LPN) was originally the name of a little 8.5″ x 14″ folded in half and printed, free, bilingual bi-weekly anarchist news sheet that I published and distributed locally in 1982/83. It was essentially an activist “tip sheet” listing events, demos, important local political culture, news, etc., and pre-dated the free weeklies like The Montreal Mirror and VOIR.

Once I started releasing music albums in 1986 – DIY cassettes actually, first – with my co-founding Rhythm Activism bandmate, Sylvain Côté, we decided to use Les Pages Noires as the name for our record label, distributing network and production and publication house.
The inspiration for LPN was an earlier anarchist “tip sheet” published in Vancouver called “BC Blackout” that I had worked on.

MS: There are a lot of pieces on your website– videos– that are in my opinion impromptu reflective theatre–sometimes they are quite bare-bones and basic. Have you ever considered doing an agit-prop run in Montreal and elsewhere…like 14-21 days of non stop story telling, using your songs and performance pieces and bringing in some mainstream crowds?  Because all this radical energy must get under the skin of the powers that be–should it not?  I mean the fringe and anarchist theatre festivals are fine…. but should you not upset the cart in some traditional stages?

NN: “Mainstream crowds”? Ha ha! Actually, most of the performances I have given in my career have been for “mainstream crowds”, especially my adult, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, sex-positive, “sex” comedy cabarets. I usually perform those on mainstream stages, for huge audiences across North America and thankfully, have received rave reviews in the corporate press, on TV and national radio. I estimate that about one million people have seen those shows since I started performing them in 1993.  I’ve never performed in any fringe theatre festival.

I also perform on stages across Europe and in Hong Kong, everywhere from semi-corporate events to the Rome Book Fair. Whenever I have access to a stage, I do my best to “get under the skin of the powers that be…”

The Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival is an annual event that I co-founded with other local theatre afficionados, and is the only festival of its kind in the world. We get mainstream press coverage here in Montreal.

Having said all of this, if anyone out there wants to organize and fund a 14-21 day non-stop Nawrocki agit-prop run in Montreal on a big stage, I’m open to offers!

MS: In the pic on your site with the group Crocodile!  you hold your violin like an insurgent would hold an automatic–except you have your hand on your head, in thought, and you are leaning on one of your fellow musicians. Perhaps you never intended such a meaning– but tell me what you feel about violence in general and what is the meaning of violence in the society we live in?

“I have never hit anyone with my violin. It’s too precious an instrument. And only once, during a hot and sweaty Berlin night-club gig with one of my bands, my bow flew out of my hands, across the stage, and almost landed in someone’s drink. Spectacular, but unintentional.”

NN: I have never hit anyone with my violin. It’s too precious an instrument. And only once, during a hot and sweaty Berlin night-club gig with one of my bands, my bow flew out of my hands, across the stage, and almost landed in someone’s drink. Spectacular, but unintentional.

And Rhythm Activism used to perform a song inspired by the Zapatistas back in the 1990s (from our Blood & Mud 1995 album), where we wielded our instruments like automatic weapons on stage. Not hard to do for guitarists and bassists, but try convincing a drummer. Normally, I try not to pose in an aggressive manner. It’s not my style.

Most violinists hold their violin like I do. Unlike percussionists, we’re not violent people.

And as for the question of “violence” in general, and in our society, it’s in my face everyday on my Facebook newsfeeds, on the street around me, everywhere. It’s orchestrated and perpetrated by either the State, its foot-soldiers, or by untouchable, irresponsible multinationals devastating the planet, wreaking violence as they make their money. I see the ravages of war and I do my best to denounce war everywhere. I can never forget the role of the police bashing, maiming and injuring thousands of Quebec striking students and supporters last year.  I see the everyday violence inflicted on visible minorities, on the poor, the under and unemployed, the sick and the elderly by the system we live in. I see people denied access to clean water, adequate food, affordable housing and transportation. This is the daily violence of Capitalism and its apologists. This is how they control us, with fear, lies,  promises of a better tomorrow, limitless manipulation of information distribution, and ultimately, with their riot sticks, tear gas, guns and weapons of war. This violence has to stop.

MS: There is a “gypsy” pathos that is always there in much of your recent works. A classical /East European folk music and sadness. I know your ethnic origins. Tell us where you are taking us with this music. Are you a rock and roll cabaret musician still?

NN: Once a “rock ‘n roll cabaret musician”, always a “rock ‘n roll cabaret musician”. I have never stopped. My new forthcoming CD, “CAZZAROLA!” – the musical soundtrack for my new novel of the same name – will attest to that.

I have no Roma blood in me. My father used to play a lot of East European classic music on the piano at home, so I think it crept into my youthful violin fingers. And being a “Puke” of Polish/Ukrainian origin, who naturally grew up appreciating vodka and beer – to help the perogys go down, you know – I love this music anyway.

I do my best to take all of you with me on whatever musical voyage happens to amuse me at the moment.

If it’s imbued with a bit of pathos, well, that’s where my inner soul resides and how it prefers to express itself.

But I also still play lively divorce music for those who want to celebrate. I have a few new musical ensembles, too, that I work with like SANN, The Pedals, and my newest band, Crocodile. The music ranges from a bass and violin duo, to a full band that can rock out, originally.

MS: I have heard Rhythm Activism years ago. You did shows with Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mecca Normal and others. Tell us something about the music of that time and what you were doing then. Incidentally you were referred to as the “Smothers Brothers from Hell.”

NN: Back then we called ourselves a “cabaret rock ‘n roll band”, and did just that. Cutting-edge music, sometimes danceable, sometimes more theatrical, sometimes re-worked East European country western tunes. We performed music with lyrics that addressed questions of social justice, on multiple themes. We toured the world, a few times, released dozens and dozens of albums, ourselves and as part of compilations, charted on radio nationally and internationally, once reaching the top 10 on American college radio across the USA. We received a letter of thank you once from Subcommandante Marcos for our album that supported the Zapatista rebellion and our fundraising tour that sent a lot of money to Chiapas to help with schools, daycares and medical clinics. The American Beat poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti once faxed us to compliment us on one of our spoken word set to music pieces.

We played the first ever solar-powered outdoor concert in Quebec, in the early 1990s. We performed a few “community cabarets” working with FRAPRU – an umbrella organization fighting for social justice – that toured all over Quebec dealing with questions of tenants’ rights, welfare recipients’ rights, ex-psychiatric patients’ rights.

We pulled together a huge “circus cabaret” with some 50 artists that addressed the root causes of poverty, targeting capitalism, the World Bank, the IMF, etc., that was favourably reviewed in The Globe and Mail, and drew police attention. They tried to stop people from attending our show, saying it was criminally oriented.

Our last album, “Jesus Was Gay”, (on G7 Welcoming Committee Records) with a picture of him on the cover, smiling, got a full page rave review in The Montreal Gazette, but caused a ruckus at the border and on CBC radio who refused to play it. We were a band always ahead of the news, and Radio Canada would always call us up during a war or a new stupid government initiative and ask if we had anything new to play on the air.

MS: Tell us something about your new book. What it is all about and what made you write it.
My novel – CAZZAROLA! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy (PM Press, Oakland, California, 2013) – is a historical/romantic/political work spanning 130 years in the life of a family of Italian anarchists. They engage in heroic resistance to Fascism in Italy, including the recent wave of contemporary neo-Fascism sweeping Europe. CAZZAROLA! is also a love story about an Italian boy who falls for a Roma refugee girl. Theirs becomes a forbidden relationship impacted by cultural taboos and the ongoing persecution of Romani refugees. I have a solo theatre piece and a new album of music, same name, that go with the book.

The novel, album and theatre piece were inspired by a previous book and music tour of Italy, where I noticed, something was not quite right. The TV and newspapers were reporting on the eviction of Roma refugees from camps all over the country. I researched the story, returned to Italy, interviewed refugees and their advocates, and came home to write the book over the next 5 years.

The album consists of some 30 musical pieces: songs, soundscapes, musical collages, etc, in English and Italian, both traditional and original compositions, by myself and local and Italian collaborators. It covers  130 years of Italian history, with songs that originated with 19th century shepherds’ songs about the First and Second World wars, and all the turmoil in between. Waltzes, ballads, folk dance music, and more – it is a musical soundtrack for the book.

MS: Thank you on behalf of Montreal Serai. We are happy to associate with cultural activists like you. We have been at it for 27 years and while many such endeavours have fallen by the roadside…the road is still long ahead and we must continue…
Rana Bose is an engineer, playwright and author.

Buy Cazzarola! now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Norman Nawrocki's page

Drawn to New York in Brain Pickings

by Maria Popova
Brain Pickings
October 2013

New York City isn't wont for love letters (and, okay, the occasional hate mail and breakup letter) - from the illustrated to the poetic to the cartographic to the photographic to the literary, and even the canine and the feline. And if this tells us anything, it's that the ultimate portrait of the city is a collage of a myriad subjective impressions and private experiences. In Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City (public library), celebrated illustrator and counterculture cartoonist Peter Kuper contributes his own, which he calls a "portrait of this city I love, both its darkness and light Š a city whose story is ever being written."

In the introduction, painter and graphic novelist Eric Drooker - who contributed to some of Gotham's dystopian dreams - ponders the city's enduring, ineffable mesmerism:

    Like moths to a flame, millions are drawn to New York... but why?

    What's the attraction to the big city - the eternal Babel - with its endless confusion of tongues? What's all the hubbub?

    What is it that draws so many people - particularly artists - to Gotham?

    Is it the buildings? The lights? The sound? The fury?

    The wailing sirens at 3 A.M.? The incessant rumble of nonstop express trains on rusted subway tracks?

    Or is it simply the seduction of anonymity in the big city... a chance to reinvent oneself in the rush hour crowd?

    Many come as a career move, hoping to be discovered by others... or at least to find themselves.

Many self-appointed New Yorkers, of course, can only connect the dots of how and why we ended up in city, as Steve Jobs poignantly noted of life's general dot-connecting in his timeless Stanford commencement address, by looking back and never by looking forward. When Kuper packed his own midwestern bags at the age of eighteen to make Gotham his adopted home, he had just an abstract sense of why the city - vertical, gridded, stark - drew him. Only decades later would he capture this abstraction in the concrete, stark grids of his cartoon strips and graphic novels.

Dazzled by the city's glamor on a childhood visit - with his family, at the age of nine, to see his uncle perform on Broadway - young Kuper also witnessed the inevitable sight of New York's gruffness, involving a gas truck, a drunk man in a Pontiac, a cacophony of blaring horns, and his father leaping into action to save the drunk from an inevitable explosion. That experience shaped his entire understanding of the city. Kuper recalls:

Clearly New York was a dangerous place where terrible things could happen, but also a place that could turn ordinary people into superheroes. On that sweltering August night, amid the roaring swirl of Manhattan's manic energy, I decided I wanted to move to this city as soon as possible.

It took him a decade, but in June of 1977, he set fateful foot on Gotham soil at Grand Central, set on becoming a New York animator. The city he arrived in - bankrupt, with decrepit subways, a ghostly Times Square at night, and streets lined with towers of uncollected trash from a garbage strike - sounds to the onlooker almost nightmarish, a nightmare made all the grimmer by the famous Blackout that hit only a month later, unleashing rampant looting. But Kuper was in heaven, living his dream.

That, perhaps, is the sign of a great New Yorker, and especially a great New York artist: The ability to love the city not despite its grit but because of it, to inhabit its struggles with dignity rather than disgust, with empathic curiosity rather than cruel gawking. And that is precisely what Kuper has been doing for thirty years in his drawings of the city at its most real yet its most affectionate, and above all its comforting mutability. Kuper himself puts it beautifully:

This city is change. That's its glory - it's a perpetually unfinished canvas, offering up possibility to each successive wave of artists.

Though all of Kuper's work is remarkably dimensional, brimming with social, cultural, and political commentary, among his most striking pieces is this irrepressibly unsettling, viscerally disquieting image of the raw, debilitating trauma that 9/11 inflicted on the city...

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

Drawn to New York in Illustration Voice

by Anne Telford
Illustration Voice
October 2013

This beautiful illustration diary is Peter Kuper's love letter to New York City, his home for the last 34 years. He captures the city in various media with his vibrant and colorful art showing every facet of the ever-changing city from the bankrupt days of the late 1970s to its present state, chronicling and celebrating it. "The city is change," Kuper writes in the book's preface. "That's its glory-it's a perpetually unfinished canvas, offering up possibility to each successive wave of artists."

From quick sketches of jazz musicians in the Times Square subway to comic strips of New York as "Jungleland" to pen-and-ink and watercolor renderings of a market in Chinatown, a visual guide to city smells to a moving portrait of the city as a hand composed of landmark buildings with two missing fingers, shown as ghost twin towers, Kuper captures every conceivable angle and nuance of life in this most dynamic city.

Alan Moore, author of Watchmen and V for Vendetta calls Kuper, "One of the strongest and truest radical voices to emerge from contemporary America." Kuper's illustrations and comics have appeared in Time, the New York Times, and MAD where he has written and illustrated "Spy vs. Spy" every issue since 1997. The award-winning illustrator is the co-founder of the political commix magazine World War 3 Illustrated and has been on its editorial board for over 33 years. He is the author of over two-dozen books. He will have an exhibition opening at the Society of Illustrators/MOCCA to coincide with the book's publication, on display through October 5th.

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

Appalachia's Contested History

when miners marchBy Bill Kovarik
Appalachian Voices
October 2013

It has been 50 years since Harry Caudill wrote "Night Comes to the Cumberlands," a landmark history that rejected stereotypes of Appalachian people as backward hillbillies and described the ruthless exploitation they suffered. The book spoke with eloquence to the American conscience and set off a firestorm of controversy. Within a year, Lyndon Johnson would launch his "war on poverty" from the front porch of an Appalachian cabin.

Coming in the middle of the civil rights movement, Caudill's book also launched some serious soul-searching about poverty, national sacrifice zones and the worth of people who were in the way of corporations.

Since then, great books about Appalachian history and culture have filled library shelves with descriptions of the suffering poor, the arrogant rich, and the extraordinary cruelty of mining society in the early 20th century.

Not surprisingly, you also find people fighting back all throughout this history - from the Cabin Creek strike of 1912 to the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 to the wildcat 1969 black lung strike, and in the environmental protests of the past four decades against strip mining and then mountaintop removal coal mining. There is, in this, a complete and unbroken fabric of human spirit, fighting in support of mine safety, public health and environmental protection.

Why, then, do critics like Wess Harris say we have such poor public history in West Virginia's state museum, and why does the state of West Virginia refuse to help protect the Blair Mountain Battlefield?

Perhaps the encouraging part is that history does still matter - for all of us. It matters to educators and to the coal industry and its friends. But it also matters to people in labor and environmental movements. There may be several interpretations of history, but very few people would disagree that basic documents and battlegrounds should be preserved. State institutions nearly always approach this obligation with at least some degree of neutrality - except West Virginia.

What's different today is that the Rust Belt industries are no longer in a position to control their historical messages. The industry that once held the state of West Virginia tightly in its fist is now rapidly losing its grasp.

It's a moment when history is needed.

Appalachia's new historians

Labor historian Wess Harris begins his "truth tours" on the steps of the West Virginia State Museum by telling students: "Welcome to our house." History belongs to the people, he says, not to the corporations. And he tells them to be wary - there are some squatters from the coal companies inside.

With this somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach, Harris has taken about a thousand students and scholars on his personalized truth tours through the museum in downtown Charleston, W.Va. Tours are free, and Harris has encouraged museum officials to join him. So far, none have.

"You know the idea that if you control people's past, you can control their future? That's what this is all about," he says.

A labor historian and editor of two best-selling books about West Virginia - "When Miners March" and "Dead Ringers" - Harris has been particularly concerned about the company store and mine war exhibits.

The re-creation of the old coal company store involves a counter, a cash register and canned goods from the time, framed by a long description of the role of the company store in the center of a mine community's life. The stores used to pay miners in "scrip," which was money that could only be spent at the company store. A song about that by Tennessee Ernie Ford - "I owe my soul to the company store," -is still widely known. Historians are working out just how deeply and dangerously a miner could go into debt, thanks to the recovery of company store records in Whipple, W.Va.

But at the West Virginia museum, the store is easy to explain: "Like credit cards, scrip allowed some families to fall deeply into debt. Others, however, enjoyed the freedom to purchase expensive items, like washing machinesŠ"

When he learned of the museum's altered history, Harris was outraged, and he wrote the head of the state museum, Randall Reid-Smith, in 2010. "The treatment of scrip as some sort of favor to the miners is an insult to the people of our state," Harris wrote.

When the state museum responded by saying his criticism was inaccurate, the head of the United Mine Workers of America, Cecil Roberts, joined Harris in demanding a reconsideration of the exhibit.

"Your presentation makes it seem as if the scrip system was little different from a credit card, where miners and their families could pay off expensive purchases over time," Roberts wrote. "Nowhere [in the exhibit] is it stated that miners had absolutely no choice as to whether they used scrip or not. Nowhere is it mentioned that going somewhere else instead of the company store to purchase goods and equipment was an offense frequently punishable by a beating from the company's Baldwin-Felts thugs followed by dismissal from employment and eviction from the company house."

Roberts was also ignored until he wrote West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who - in the middle of an election campaign in 2011 - ordered the state museum to review the exhibit. They did, and a few words were changed: "Company-issued scrip forced some families deep in debt and gave many companies strict economic control over the lives of their workers. In some communities, however, families were able to purchase expensive items, like washing machinesŠ"

The changes in the exhibits did not pacify the UMWA. "They made some minor modifications to some of the exhibits," said spokesman Phil Smith in September 2013. "But we still have concerns."

Other critics also still have concerns. "I remember specific conversations about the need for [the West Virginia] museum to include more bottom-up history, more labor history, and more about the 1960s and the war on poverty," says Ron Eller of the University of Kentucky. "I remember specifically pointing out that the museum should not just reflect the usual pro-coal, pro-development history of the state but that it should also reflect the history of labor struggles, resistance to environmental destruction, and efforts to address economic challenges, especially poverty, in the state."

History wars and mine wars

It's easy to see why labor historians are unhappy with the West Virginia State Museum, with exhibits like "U.S. Army Stops Armed Insurrection in West Virginia" and "The Failure of Violence."

The first is presented in silent movie newsreel fashion in a small mock-up theater. Most of the visuals include miners with guns on one side and U.S. Army troops on the other.

Titles in the silent movie read:

"Over the last year, a near-constant state of war has existed between miners and coal companies. Armed troops have been dispatched repeatedly to quell the bloodshed. The recent flare-up has been sparked by the cold-blooded murder of Matewan police chief Smiling Sid Hatfield - a popular friend of the miner. They are stopped at Blair Mountain by Logan County sheriff Don Chafin and a small army of deputies. The miners and Chafin's army shoot it out for three days along a 10-mile front. Sixteen men are killed. President Harding dispatches U.S. Army infantry Š. The miners, many of them veterans of the Great War, surrender rather than confront their former comrades in arms. Some union leaders are placed under arrest for treason and murder. Most miners are allowed to board trains and return to their families. Thus ends the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest insurrection since the Civil War."

According to Harris, the entire basis of the exhibit is inaccurate. The union actually tried to call off the march on Blair Mountain in 1921. The Army was called in to separate the miners from the mine guards. Nor does the exhibit present any context for the march, other than the cold-blooded murder by some unnamed individual. No one would know that the murderers were coal mine guards whose co-workers and bosses were on the other side at Blair Mountain. And if the museum is going to say that the union leaders were charged with treason, it ought to add that they were acquitted, Harris says.

There's another panel about the Battle of Blair Mountain called: "The Failure of Violence." The exhibit claimed - falsely - that in 1921, union organizers turned to violence so that they could get more union members.

"Ten thousand citizens take up arms (in 1921) to end the slave labor camps Š and they call it a failure?" Harris says. "It was a serious challenge to the old system. It was no failure."

But at the very least, the exhibit notes that the Battle of Blair Mountain was the "largest insurrection since the U.S. Civil War." Given that, it's hard to understand the role of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History in challenging historical protection for the Blair Mountain battlefield.
The Battle Over the Battle of Blair Mountain

Blair Mountain is the labor movement's equivalent of the Gettysburg battlefield. The idea of preserving Blair Mountain has been around for decades, but an on-the-ground history of the battlefield in the 1990s and 2000s helped make the case.
Battle of Blair sign

Over the last 15 years, Harvard Ayers (one of the founders of Appalachian Voices), along with historian Barbara Rasmussen and Blair, W.Va., resident Kenny King, performed formal archaeological surveys of the battlefield and found tens of thousands of bullets and other artifacts. Through the pattern of discoveries, they were able to trace shifting battle lines and show where both mine guards and miners were located.

This evidence helped make the case for a National Historic Landmark designation that, they hoped, would preserve the mountain from mountaintop removal coal mining. Their evidence was impressive enough that the U.S. National Park Service granted the site historic register status in March 2009, a move supported by the UMWA and a variety of environmental and historical preservation groups.

But the listing immediately led to an unprecedented controversy. According to law, a state has to want the designation, and a few months after it was granted, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History wrote to the Park Service asking that the battlefield be de-listed. The state office said it found minor problems with the listing, such as a handful of landowners who had not voted for or against the listing.

Park Service officials then agreed to de-list the site in January of 2010, taking a step that is usually reserved for situations when historic buildings have burned down. No other de-listing has ever taken place for such political reasons, and no explanation was ever forthcoming from the Park Service, which has maintained a stony silence about the incident.

A lawsuit challenging the de-listing was filed by a coalition of environmental and preservation groups in 2010. A court ruled against the coalition in 2012 on a technicality having to do with questions of standing. In the summer of 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would review mining permit applications.
This could mean that the coal industry will be allowed to destroy Blair Mountain. Or, since the Corps of Engineers is supposed to consider the historic value of land to be mined, it could mean more time for Blair Mountain and preservationists who are seeking a reprieve.

Finding closure at the company store

One of West Virginia's innovative new historians is Joy Lynn, who grew up near the town of Whipple, W.Va. As a child, she was fascinated by an enormous, rambling old wood frame building that seemed to glow with history. "I'm going to own that someday," she told her father back in the 1950s.

The dream came true in 2006, when she and husband Chuck bought the Whipple Company Store and prepared to open an antique shop. As neighbors dropped by and the word got out, people began touring the old company store, and they started telling stories. Lynn was hooked.

One of the most interesting people to show up at the company store was the former bookkeeper who explained, in detail, how the system of company money - called scrip - and indebtedness actually worked.
Over the years, dozens of others showed up with very human and often harrowing stories to tell. It was not possible to leave town, or to retrieve items from the mail, if you owed the coal company any money, Lynn learned from her visitors. On the other hand, if a husband died, it was not possible for the family to stay unless the mother remarried. She had four weeks, and then the mine guards would evict her and the children.

The people who experienced this, or sometimes their children, show up almost every day. "Sometimes they just unglue," Lynn says. One told her: "I realize what you're doing. You're letting people find closure in their life."

Lynn will insist that she's just a tour guide. But her visitors say something else. "When I came up on this porch you were just a tour guide," said one. "Now I just want to know if I can hug you."

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Asia's Unknown Uprisings Volume 1 in Turning the Tide

By Michael Novick
Turning the Tide
September 2013

Katsiaficas’s history of South Korea’s “long Twentieth Century” of rebellions and insurgencies (from the Farmers’ War of 1894 to the 2008 candlelight protests of over a million Koreans, ignited by teenaged girls protesting the neo-liberal import of U.S. beef) is must reading. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is well-sourced, clearly-written, and fascinating in its detail about the role of South Korea’s lumpen, farmers, youth and women, as well as factory and office workers, in wave after wave of massive clashes with the puppet regime aand the U.S. itself.

That these uprisings are relatively unknown in the U.S., which waged a bloody war in Korea and has occupied half the country, preventing its reunification for more than 60 years, is a measure of the Euro-centrism and “white blind spot” that plagues and hinders the development of the U.S. left. There are crucial lessons to be learned here, lessons which many other Asian societies paid close attention to as they were being learned and paid for with blood, and emulated with great success. Perhaps a lack of willingness to make those same type of sacrifices or shed as much blood for freedom explains why people in the U.S. have paid so little attention.

I do not except myself from that indictment. I am old enough to remember the “Korean War” (AKA UN ‘police action’). I did some study of the North Korean concept of juche (self-reliance) when the Black Panther Party popularized awareness of the North Koreans. I was aware of the Gwangju Uprising, and more recently the struggle of Jeju Islanders against turning their home into a U.S. Navy base. I have a grandson who is half-Korean. Yet I found 98% of the information and perspectives Katsiaficas provides about the intensity, duration, extent and militance of the struggles within South Korea to be eye-opening surprises, as well as tremendously rich, valuable source material on autonomous anti-imperialist struggles under conditions of occupation and dictatorship. Alongside han – the Koreans’ deep and abiding sense of collective sadness and unavenged oppression – Katsiaficas explicates hallyu – a Korean wave of robust collective civil society relationships and human-centered values – with great cultural currency not only across Asia but also in Africa, Latin America and even the U.S.

It is hard to do justice to a 400+ page volume (let alone its even-longer sequel, which reviews struggles in another nine Asian countries) in a few paragraphs of review. The details of that succession of insurgencies, one leading to the next, are beyond summary in a few short paragraphs. My main purpose is to send you to the source to read and consider it yourself, and to commend PM Press for its contribution in printing these two books. Volume One comprehensively covers the facts and import of South Korea’s own struggles – vitally important as the “Asian pivot” of US imperialism under Obama has clearly put the Empire’s cross-hairs on Korea and China. Katsiaficas correctly critiques some bourgeois academic histories that focus on ‘great men’ or deny the agency of the Korean masses. He documents the deep and abiding anti-Americanism among many South Koreans that has been the result of atrocities and occupation, imposition of dictatorship, unleashing of brutal military repression (including by so-called “human rights” paragon Jimmy Carter), and betrayal of promises of democratic reform. Long before Guatemala charged Rios Montt with genocide, S. Korea was able to indict and convict two ex-presidents of capital crimes.

But Katsiaficas also uses the Korean example to illuminate the importance of uprisings in general and their transformative impact on people’s collectivity, consciousness and social practice. He calls attention to the endless surprising intelligence and sacrifice of ordinary people. He examines the Korean experience to understand the connection among the economic, political and social struggles of working and oppressed people, looking at the role of autonomous organizing among women and industrial workers, the ability to function from clandestinity under dictatorial rule, as well as the contributions of ethnic and regional minorities and lumpen sectors of Korean society. He is also alert to the bitter consequences of failing to carry such struggles through to victory, as the Empire and their local allies can turn partial popular victories into mechanisms for rationalizing, deepening and intensifying capitalist exploitation. He is able to cast new light on the depth and duration of neo-liberalism not only in Korea but globally, and helps us understand how neo-liberalism + neo-conservatism = neo-colonialism.

The one area where I wish the author had provided more detail, more analysis and greater clarity is on the consequences of a split that emerged among popular and democratic forces. This was between two tendencies that essentially competed for dominance among more or less revolutionary-minded sectors, the NL (national liberation) and PD (people’s democracy) factions. He briefly summarizes the main points of disagreement between them about the nature of South Korean society, the relationship to North Korea (while both favor reunification, NL identified closely with juche and the DPRK [North Korea]). They also disagreed about the main enemy of the Korean people (is it US imperialism or the bourgeoisie, including Korea’s own?). But it is less clear how these divisions weakened the revolutionary forces, allowing the ascendancy of reformist, pro-U.S. and pro-capitalist politicians such as Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam, who took office through electoral majorities once free elections were won. And it is less clear what the errors of either or both positions were, and what synthesis might be developed that will re-ignite struggles in South Korea under new circumstances, including global economic contraction, a new right government, and the renewed threat of war on the Korean peninsula. But if the book serves to whet your appetite for further study of Korean history and movements, and helps arm us to oppose US military occupation and war-mongering, it will have made an enormous contribution. And if it provokes your own deeper thinking about what the elements are within U.S. society that provide a basis for uprisings here, and for militant, sustained, self-sacrificing revolutionary insurgency, it will fulfill Katsiaficas’s purpose in writing it.

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Grassroots Social Change: Lessons from an Anarchist Organizer

By Brian Martin
August 11th, 2013

Many progressives around the world look at the United States and are repelled by its extremes of wealth and poverty, enormous military, massive prison population, excessive gun violence, inhumane welfare policies, reckless environmental destruction, and aggressive and self-interested foreign policy. US trade policies have contributed to impoverishment in many countries; US troops are stationed in dozens of countries around the globe.

The US is the embodiment of a dangerous — even rogue — state, anomalous when compared to European social democracies or even other English-speaking countries. The US is the only wealthy industrialized country never to have had a significant communist, socialist or labor party; there is little articulation of left-wing politics within the political system. Outsiders relying on mainstream news reports have an additional problem: there is hardly any coverage of grassroots activism.

Those who have interacted with US activists know there is another side to the country. Within the dominant capitalist world power, there is a vibrant activist scene with an amazing depth of commitment and experience. Prior to the US-government-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were massive protests around the world. Yet few would be aware that in some parts of the US there were regular anti-Iraq-war protests for many months after the invasion. This sort of activism is hardly ever reported in international news.

Indeed, observers might be excused for thinking that the last major US protest movement was in the 1950s and 1960s, namely the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. are now revered figures, but popular recognition of leading activists seldom extends to contemporary movements, such as climate change, animal rights and global justice, which are more likely to be ignored or reviled.

Not only is activism for progressive causes alive and well in the US — it has produced some of the most astute analyses of what it takes to be effective in organizing for change. The classic work is Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, a book about community organizing that has inspired generations of activists.[1] There are many other valuable US treatments aimed either at the level of day-to-day practice or at a more strategic level.[2] To these must now be added Chris Crass’s book Towards Collective Liberation.

Crass gained much of his experience working with Food Not Bombs, mainly in the large and energetic San Francisco group (SF FNB). He was an active member, later thinking of himself as an activist organizer. He went on to train other organizers. A key part of his book is a close analysis of the activities of SF FNB. He uses the case study approach to extract insights and spell out lessons.

FNB provides free food to homeless people, tying this activity to a radical analysis of homelessness, poverty, inequality, militarism and other issues.  Initiated in 1980, the FNB idea spread rapidly, being taken up in hundreds of cities in the US and other countries. FNB groups are autonomous, with different levels of activity and different mixes of food provision and politics.

Crass provides a detailed and insightful analysis of the experience of SF FNB in the 1990s. The group was large and energetic. In the early 1990s it confronted a city government intent on devaluing and punishing the homeless population, as part of an agenda of supporting gentrification. Providing free food in public was made illegal, and numerous SF FNB volunteers were arrested. The dramatic confrontations helped to publicize the issues. Eventually, after years of struggle, the government allowed SF FNB to undertake its activities unhindered.

This sounds like a classic success story, but is only the prelude to Crass’s analysis. He probes into different goals within the group. Some wanted to focus on the welfare function of providing meals; others wanted to combine this with political education; yet others saw building the movement’s capabilities as a key goal. Crass examines the tensions arising from differing goals, from the ever changing levels and types of participation in the group, from strategic planning monopolized by a small group of men, from attempts to deal with (or skate over) inequalities in skill levels, and much else.

Overall, Crass addresses the challenges activists face when confronting injustice while trying to build a model of an alternative politics, with participants continually struggling with personal issues, ingrained behaviors, dilemmas of collective decision making, and, for some, how to help build a wider movement. This examination of activist campaigning, organization and internal dynamics will resonate with others who have participated in major campaigns. There is one extra dimension that Crass brings to the mix: anarchist politics.

In many of what are called “new social movements” — such as feminist, environmental, and peace movements — anarchist orientations are evident. The politics of the old left was oriented to class struggle and to action by socialist parties and the wider labor movement. These struggles were often structured following lines of authority, sometimes adopting a version of the Leninist model of “democratic centralism,” namely decision-making by a small core of party leaders, usually male. The rise of the new social movements challenged this style through putting other issues on the agenda in addition to class struggle, and through promoting a more participatory style of action and organization.

Other treatments of grassroots organizing deal with tactics and strategies, but less commonly with an explicit political perspective. Crass, however, puts anarchism at the center of his analysis. Prior to his lengthy examination of SF FNB, he provides an excellent overview of anarchism, usefully framed around prefigurative politics, namely acting in ways compatible with the goal, a longstanding feature of anarchist thought and action. He briefly examines the classical anarchist tradition, giving most attention to the US movement, highlighting issues, organizations, campaigns, and setbacks. He attempts to present anarchism as part of — and central to — left organizing, with an emphasis on inclusiveness. Given that grassroots activism has many anarchist characteristics, but seldom is explicitly linked to the anarchist project, this is a welcome contribution.

Though oriented to anarchism, Crass opposes the tendency to maintain a correct political line. He says “we need a revitalized, dynamic, and visionary Left politics that draws from many traditions, not just anarchism, but also Marxism, socialism, feminism, revolutionary nationalism, and others” (p. 22).

Crass’s overview of anarchism is best for readers already familiar with some history. Crass’s treatment of SF FNB in the 1990s, on the other hand, is accessible to anyone with any experience of activism and campaigning, given its explanation of the political circumstances in San Francisco at the time, the sorts of people joining the group, the issues regularly confronted, and the difficulties encountered.

One of the challenges the group faced was overcommitment: members would take on more tasks, campaigns, and solidarity actions than they collectively had the capacity to do well, and there was no obvious way to deal with this tendency. Another was the problem of leadership and initiative. As is common in some anarchist-oriented groups, there was an overt denial of leadership, although some members had more power and influence than others. Crass summarizes the challenges:
In FNB, we saw poor people slowly dying on the streets of San Francisco and felt a tremendous call to respond. We threw ourselves against the policies of the state, in some cases literally. We had little in the way of training, resources, infrastructure, and mentorship from older organizers. We often had a narrow conception of who the movement was, which limited our allies and community. Mental illness and drug addiction affected both FNB and the homeless community, yet few of us had any skills to deal with them. The international Left was in disarray, with most of us completely rejecting and alienated from the Marxist tradition, and we searched for lessons from past movements usually without guidance. The instant-gratification culture of U.S. consumer capitalism made it profoundly difficult for most of us to think about our work even one year in the future, and an attitude of “just do it” prevailed that burned us out. (p. 97)
As well as analyzing FNB in the context of grassroots organizing and anarchist politics, Crass analyzes himself. His reflections on his own development, in terms of his thinking about social problems, his understanding of systems of domination, and especially his awareness of his own privilege as a white middle-class man, are a highlight of his writing.

The rest of the book covers a range of topics relevant to grassroots organizing. Some sections are essays Crass wrote for circulation within the movement. A large section is composed of interviews with anti-racist organizers in different parts of the country, though these are more like edited essays than interactive interviews. Together, this material provides some of the most sophisticated insights available about the challenges of activist organizing in the US.

The theme of leadership recurs throughout Towards Collective Liberation. Anarchists have long had a conflicted attitude towards leadership. Many of the so-called leaders in government and corporate bureaucracies exercise power based on position. Anarchists, as opponents of domination and associated formal hierarchies, are naturally opposed to such systems and often, by association, to the individuals occupying these roles. Within anarchist-oriented groups, the result can be hostility to the idea of any formal roles linked to decision-making power. Crass titles one of his chapters “But we don’t have leaders.”

The trouble is that “leadership” has a dual meaning. As well as signifying a formal role in a hierarchical system, it also means an informal role of providing insight, inspiration, support, and direction, without necessarily being linked to formal power. This sort of leadership is greatly needed within social movements.

Within business studies, this distinction is widely recognized: leadership is distinguished from management, with both being seen as necessary, but leadership more highly prized. However, in workplaces in government and business, the two aspects of leadership are often confused or conflated, with managers assuming that their formal position gives them the authority of leadership.

Therefore, it is no surprise that anarchists, few of whom are familiar with writing on business leadership,[3] should have rejected leadership altogether, throwing out the valuable roles with the oppressive ones. The result, in many cases, has been a system of informal leadership — by those with the most experience, knowledge, confidence and informal connections — that is hard to question because of the rhetoric of “We have no leaders.”

Crass was eventually able to recognize the de-facto system of leadership and the fact that it was often dominated by white middle-class men. He credits many women and people of color with helping him understand his own role. He describes how he broke through the assumptions about absence of leadership and came to a different orientation: his task became developing activist leadership capacities, especially of women, people of color, and those with a working-class background.

Leadership development can take a very simple form: encouraging individuals to take on roles involving coordination, initiative, and responsibility, helping them overcome their own self-doubt and reluctance, providing them support in their new roles, and helping them develop their skills and their capacity to reflect on their performance. For Crass, the initial step in activist leadership development is simply to be aware of the damaging dynamics of unspoken interpersonal inequalities.

A further step in leadership development is to formalize the process, with regular events to share skills, promote self and mutual education, and develop awareness of group dynamics. This can happen spontaneously within a group or at the instigation of independent movement organizers and educators. After many years with SF FNB, Crass left to join a collective dedicated to improving the capacity of the movement.
Anarchist theory and practice

Contemporary anarchism can be characterized as opposition to all forms of domination and, instead, support for self-management, namely people collectively making decisions about the things that affect their lives. Anarchist opposition to domination has gradually become more all-encompassing, as the classical anarchist opposition to the state has been supplemented by opposition to capitalism, militarism, patriarchy, racism, heterosexism, and human chauvinism (domination of nature). Tying together struggles against different forms of domination is a key theme in Towards Collective Liberation, as its title indicates.

Crass gives most attention to feminism and anti-racism. Because these connect with leadership development, one implication is to encourage and support women and people of color to become leaders. Another key theme is to take action within the more privileged group, specifically for men to address sexist behaviors by other men and for white activists to promote anti-racism among other whites. The lengthy interview section of the book begins with an essay titled “What we mean by white anti-racist organizing.”

The accounts of organizing are inspiring. Crass and the organizers he interviews are experienced, highly committed, self-aware and struggling with one of the most difficult tasks: building anti-racism in parts of the country where racism is highly entrenched, such as in rural Oregon and in Louisville, Kentucky. For example, Carla Wallace, a leader of the Fairness Campaign in Louisville, commented:
It is exciting to me that we can take a struggle for a much needed law and wage the battle in ways that provide opportunities for those engaged to learn deeper lessons, become inclusive leaders, recognize that only by building together can we grow power that is freeing rather than oppressive. For those of us in the battles who are white, taking leadership from people of color, and finding our own way to lead while organizing other white people, results in some of the most profound life-changing liberation we can dream of. (p. 222)

Questions and further directions

One area Crass could have developed more is the practical consequences of tensions between struggles against different forms of domination. Electing Barack Obama is a challenge to racism in US politics, but is this an anarchist goal? More generally, should it be a goal for more women and people of color to be elected to office and rise within government and corporate hierarchies, given the long-term anarchist goal of replacing these hierarchies with self-managed systems?

Crass’s primary focus is on the playing out of patterns of domination within social movements, so some of these issues do not arise. Even so, there is potentially a tension between a person’s identity and their political practice. What if an African American woman or transgender person is personally domineering? Membership of an oppressed group does not always translate into greater consciousness of oppression and greater capacity to help others. These complications deserve greater attention.

Compared to most other rich countries, the US mainstream political and economic system is remarkably powerful: activists challenge from the margins, certainly having an effect, but seldom being invited to join the power elite. In many other countries, there are more opportunities for radicals to rise within the system, for example as politicians or union leaders within left-wing parties or as senior government bureaucrats. It is conceivable for a prominent peace activist to join the system and become influential within the government or other elite circles.

From an anarchist perspective, this is a process of co-option: concessions and opportunities are used to tempt talented radicals to join in systems of enlightened social engineering, anything from planning commissions to corporatist agreements between governments, business, unions, NGOs, and international bodies. This is a tantalizing lure for many radicals, who see the possibility of having a tangible influence, especially in times of political turbulence when change seems possible.

In the US, co-option seems a lesser risk because the establishment is more prone to use repression and exclusion against challengers. How would Food Not Bombs have responded if its leaders had been invited to join a task force on poverty and homelessness or if the organization had been given government funding for its work and offered a guaranteed space for its operations?

For anarchists, a recurring occasion for confronting the tension between operating against or within the system comes at election time. Some anarchists oppose voting, whereas others support local election campaigning, or voting in some elections. The basic problem is that voting operates to promote people’s consent in the system of rule.[4] How to undermine the ideology of representative government and promote the alternative of self-management is one of the deepest challenges for anarchists. In the US, though, a more common organizing goal is equal access to the vote, especially given racist and other exclusionary practices in many parts of the country. For an anarchist organizer, is the goal full and fair participation in the electoral process or setting up alternatives to representative government?

Another issue is the vision of an anarchist alternative. Anarchists often say the organization of a future society should be in the hands of those constructing and living in it, but nonetheless there are some models available. The most common is a network of self-managing groups, each of which selects delegates to higher-order coordinating groups.

Given that a key principle of anarchist organizing is embodying the ends in the means, then it makes sense to have some vision, however vague, of the ends. For Crass, the means are better specified: sharing of expertise, rotation of responsibilities, leadership development, consensus decision-making and, for large actions, coordination by groups composed of spokespeople (delegates) from smaller groups. This is certainly compatible with the anarchist project, but it leaves unanswered many questions. How, for example, are global decisions to be made on environmental and other matters? How are fundamental disagreements to be resolved? How can specialist skills, for example in making computer chips, be reconciled with sharing of expertise?

The processes involved in consensus-based activist groups definitely provide a model of cooperative practice. Can these be scaled up to offer a society-wide alternative? If not, what does prefigurative practice look like?

For Crass, grassroots organizing is something occurring in communities in public spaces. There is also another sort of grassroots organizing: inside workplaces and, more generally, inside organizations. Workplace organizing is a longstanding activist project; the syndicalist tradition is built around it. Organizing is also possible inside churches, militaries, police forces, banks, sporting clubs, government departments, international organizations, and high-tech firms. Some of these are workplaces, to be sure, but not commonly seen as places to be doing organizing, which has usually been oriented to working class occupations, especially industry. There are now some new possibilities for organizing. What does it mean to organize among developers of open source software — a dispersed, partially self-managed production process — or among contributors to social media? There are many arenas for grassroots organizing, and it would be fascinating to see what Crass and other organizers have to say about the possibilities and pitfalls.

Crass gives considerable attention to the US civil rights movement as a model struggle, involving grassroots mobilization, transformation of consciousness, skill development, and sophisticated use of nonviolent action. However, from the point of view of anarchist politics, is it the best example? Civil rights campaigners depended, to a considerable extent, on raising awareness of oppression so the federal government would intervene against segregationist laws and practices. Nonviolent action was crucial in the struggle, but so was the role of the US state.

There are other examples of popular nonviolent action internationally in which success came without relying on state intervention. The classic example is the Indian independence movement led by Gandhi. Others are campaigns against repressive governments in the Philippines, Iran, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Egypt, and dozens of other countries. Few of these are perfect models for anarchist campaigning, but they can provide lessons for grassroots campaigners.

Crass writes that “Anarchism as a political theory and organizing strategy has been overwhelmingly white and male, and is therefore influenced and shaped by white privilege and male privilege” (p. 152). Given that some commentators see the Gandhian movement as anarchist,[5] it might be speculated that white male privilege is one factor in many anarchists neglecting the contributions by Gandhians to anarchist theory and practice. Most leading Gandhians have been male but certainly not white.

Crass has provided an exemplary volume for informing anyone interested in strategy and organizing in the US. It should serve as an inspiration for sympathizers in other countries to know what is being done, and what can be done, in the heart of the US empire. It can also serve as a model for organizers in other countries to analyze and document their own experiences. These insights can then be fed back to receptive audiences in the US. Chris Crass will be among them.

I thank Sharon Callaghan and Ian Miles for valuable comments on a draft of this review.
Brian Martin is professor of social sciences at the University of Wollongong, Australia. Web:

[1] Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: a Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals (New York: Random House, 1971). See also Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals (New York: Vintage, 1969).

[2] Virginia Coover, Ellen Deacon, Charles Esser and Christopher Moore, Resource Manual for a Living Revolution (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1981); Robert Fisher, Let the People Decide: Neighborhood Organizing in America (Boston: Twayne 1984); Ed Hedemann (editor), War Resisters League Organizer’s Manual, revised edition (New York: War Resisters League, 1986); Eric Mann, Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011); Bill Moyer, with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements (Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2001); Randy Shaw, The Activist’s Handbook: A Primer (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001).

[3] For one of the rare treatments bridging these two areas, see Pierre Guillet de Monthoux, Action and Existence: Anarchism for Business Administration (Chichester: Wiley, 1983).

[4] Benjamin Ginsberg, The Consequences of Consent: Elections, Citizen Control and Popular Acquiescence (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1982).

[5] Joan V. Bondurant, Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict, new revised edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), pp. 172–187; Geoffrey Ostergaard and Melville Currell, The Gentle Anarchists: A Study of the Leaders of the Sarvodaya Movement for Non-violent Revolution in India (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).

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PM Recommends: Fighting Spirit: A Message from Herman Wallace

herman wallace

PM Recommends: Fighting Spirit: A Message from Herman Wallace

PLEASE TAKE ACTION: Demand Humane Release for Herman! USA, UK, France, Belgium, and elsewhere.

[Editor's note: We at PM Press mourn Herman's loss, as he succumbed to cancer on Oct. 4, shortly after being freed by a federal court order.] 

"On Saturday. August 31st, I was transferred to LSU Hospital for evaluation. I was informed that the chemo treatments had failed and were making matters worse and so all treatment came to an end. The oncologists advised that nothing can be done for me medically within the standard care that they are authorized to provide. They recommended that I be admitted to hospice care to make my remaining days as comfortable as possible. I have been given 2 months to live.
I want the world to know that I am an innocent man and that Albert Woodfox is innocent as well. We are just two of thousands of wrongfully convicted prisoners held captive in the American Gulag. We mourn for the family of Brent Miller and the many other victims of murder who will never be able to find closure for the loss of their loved ones due to the unjust criminal justice system in this country. We mourn for the loss of the families of those unjustly accused who suffer the loss of their loved ones as well.
Only a handful of prisoners globally have withstood the duration of years of harsh and solitary confinement that Albert and myself have.  The State may have stolen my life, but my spirit will continue to struggle along with Albert and the many comrades that have joined us along the way here in the belly of the beast.
In 1970 I took an oath to dedicate my life as a servant of the people, and although I'm down on my back, I remain at your service. I want to thank all of you, my devoted supporters, for being with me to the end."

From the Angola 3 Newsletter: September 10th

New Taboos on the Daily Kos

by Kurt Wilcken
Daily Kos
July 21st, 2013

Back in the 1980s, writer John Shirley was on the cutting edge of the Cyberpunk movement in science fiction. Athough Cyberpunk has faded and its tropes and memes cut up and assimilated into the SF Mainstream, Shirley continues to write raw and imaginative fiction.

Several months ago, I reviewed his most recent novel, Everything Is Broken, a cautionary tale about why having a government small enough to drown in a bathtub is of little help when the water gets really deep. I recently received another book by Shirley titled New Taboos.

New Taboos is part of the "Outspoken Authors" series published by PM Press, presenting material from some notable literary voices. The book is a collection containing a novella, a couple essays and an interview with John Shirley.

"A  State of Imprisonment" is a novella which extrapolates the current trend toward privately-run, for-profit prisons to its logical conclusion. It's set in the near future, where nearly the entire state of Arizona has been converted into a maximum security prison run by a large company. (To be fair, only 80% of the state has been converted into the prison; the Grand Canyon, presumably, has been set aside for the tourists). 

The prison is run on the cheap, to maximize profits, and the company gets paid by the prisoner, so they subcontract out to house delinquent debtors as well as political prisoners from other countries. They also use every means possible to extend each prisoner's sentence. As a private entity, the business has very little government oversight. What happens behind the walls stays behind the walls. And if any prisoner tries to escape, he has to face the Worm: crawling robot drones that locate and terminate fleeing prisoners.

Faye Adullah is a reporter for a major internet news service who wrangles permission to do a story on Arizona Statewide Prison. Statewide does not particularly like transparency and obstructs her in every way possible, but Faye is determined to get her story.

In the middle of the carefully-choreographed tour, something unexpectedly goes wrong. The power goes out, and Faye finds one of the prisoners at her side urging her to come with him. He has arranged the blackout -- the prison was built on the cheap, so it is not that difficult to overload the electrical system if you know how -- so that he can get Faye away from her minders and show her what really goes down at the prison.

Faye gets a bigger story than she imagined, but it's a story that Statewide will never let her publish. She quickly finds herself a prisoner on fabricated charges, with her only avenues for justice in the hands of a corporation with a strong profit motive to keep her locked up forever.

Accompanying the novella are two essays. "New Taboos", from which the collection takes its title, discusses the idea of the taboo, not as an arbitrary prohibition, but as an expression of societal values. We saw something like this just recently with Paula Deen's adventures in ill-advised remarks, but Shirley takes it further.

What if the phrase "Obscene Profits" were not just a figure of speech? What if the practice of amassing huge profits while exploiting one's employees, or while contaminating the environment, or while lying to the public, was actually regarded as  revolting, and the people who engaged in such practices were shunned as pariahs?

On the adult scale, we have laws againt some of these social transgressions, but much of the time they're unenforceable.  Taboos -- if we really integrate them into our society -- enforce themselves, for the majority of people. If the taboos are deeply ingrained enough, we don't need the laws.

In Shirley's view, these taboos would only be a stage; an artificial but necessary framework until we deveolped as a society and as a culture so that such rules would not longer be needed. I'm not sure how these taboos would be instituted, nor how well they would work if they were, but here he is more thinking aloud than formulating a plan. And his modest proposal suggests a different way of looking at some of our society's faults.

"Why We Need Forty Years of Hell" is a TEDx address John Shirley delivered in 2011 offering a grimly optimistic view of the next few decades. Optimistic, because he believes things will get better... eventually; grim because he is convinced that the only way people will make things better is when -- not if -- things get so bad that we are forced to clean up our act.

He touches on several aspects of the future which are already on top of us now: climate change, ecological damage, crises in food production, the social ramifications of the widening gap between rich and poor, and the dark side of technology. It's all interconnected, and that indeed is the lesson we need to learn.

We'll have astounding technological advancements against a backdrop of grievous social inequity and quite possibly increasing barbarity, for a period, until we are forced by waves of crises to come to terms with the consequences of developing a civilization blindly. Wars, plagues, radical separation of privileges, famines due to climate change and other environmental consequences, will force humanity to accept Buckminster Fuller's "Spaceship Earth" concept as very real.

In the end, he feels that humanity will eventually achieve the kind of rational, integrated approach to society, the environment and each other that we need; but only after harsh experience hammers in the understanding that "we can't treat Spaceship Earth as a party cruise ship."

Rounding out the volume is an interview with Shirley, touching on many facets of his varied career. He talks about cyberpunk and writing, doing lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult and the screenplay for The Crow, being attacked by wild monkeys, and about his politics.  He describes how seeing pictures of the My Lai massacre as a boy radicalized him and how, although a lifetime of experience has tempered his views, he still has a socialist streak in him. He strongly dislikes the Tea Party Movement and the Neo-Randites, which comes out strongly in his novel Everything is Broken.

The interview is a bit disjointed and reads like the interviewer submitted a list of questions rather than engaged Shirley in a conversation. I've conducted interviews that way too, so I suppose I shouldn't criticize; and the interview does allow Shirley to comment on a wide variety of subjects. Still, I would have liked to see the interviewer follow up on some of the questions and allow Shirley to expand upon his answers.

New Taboos is a slim volume offering an intriguing sampling of John Shirley's writing and ideas. It's worth a read.

Now I need to tackle his A Song Called Youth Trilogy.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to John Shirley's Author Page


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