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A History of Pan-African Revolt: An Excerpt

New Frame
October 23rd, 2018

In 1938 C.L.R. James, the great Trinidadian Marxist, published two books. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution was an account of Haitian Revolution that is now widely recognised as a classic. A History of Negro Revolt, republished as A History of Pan-African Revolt in 1969, was a much smaller volume looking at Black struggles for freedom in Africa, the Caribbean and the United States from 1739 to early 1938. As Robin D.G. Kelley observed in his introduction to the new edition of the book, first published in 2012, it “has remained one of the best kept secrets among a handful of Marxists and black militants. It never sold many copies, but everyone familiar with James’s ideas or the resurgence of Pan-Africanism in the 1960s knew of its influence. The late Walter Rodney, the great historian and Guyanese revolutionary, once called it ‘a mine of ideas advancing far ahead of its time’.”

James’s survey of Black struggles includes a number of references to struggles in South Africa, including the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU). New Frame is delighted to be able to publish James’ account of the ICU with permission from PM Press.
-New Frame

South African industry has brought the natives together in factories, mines and on the docks, and the circumstances of their employment tended to drive them toward industrial organisation in the modern manner. There is also the influence of the Russian Revolution.

The South African Communist Party was founded only in 1924, but it had its origin in a previous organisation that was already in existence in 1920. It directed its propaganda chiefly to the natives. But whereas in Sierra Leone and Gambia, the black intelligentsia of the left for the moment are more vocal than effective, the South African system allows very few of these to exist, and drives even the few that are there into militant opposition. From these post-war conditions and the economic and political crisis of 1919 sprang the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) of South Africa.

It was formed in 1919 by a Nyasaland (now Malawi) native, Clements Kadalie, and the organisation began with only 24 members. Without any help in finance, experience or encouragement, suffering persecution and arrest, they built a movement that matured in strikes, demonstrations and battles with the police, while white South Africa watched its incredible growth with alarm. Kadalie, as a native of Nyasaland could easily have been deported, but somehow he escaped this fate and drove his movement forward.

Port Elizabeth 1920

The first sign of the ICU’s real strength was the Port Elizabeth strike of 1920. The Port Elizabeth workers, mainly unskilled labourers, had demanded and obtained an increase of sixpence a day. In February 1920, a branch of the ICU was formed in Port Elizabeth. This demanded a further increase of sixpence a day, and as a consequence of fresh agitation, the workers obtained it. But this did not satisfy them and, on the advice of Kadalie, the president of the ICU, they advanced a demand for a minimum daily wage of ten shillings for unskilled male workers and seven shillings and sixpence for adult females.

Meetings were held all over the district by the ICU, at which workers were called upon to insist on this demand even to the point of a strike. This ICU agitation had a tremendous effect. Feeling was running high and the influence of Kadalie was increasing. At one meeting, the feelings of the workers were so aroused that some made a physical attack on Walter Rubusana, president of the South African Native Convention, who was known to be opposed to Kadalie. Rubusana was rescued by Kadalie, who, on seeing his danger, immediately intervened.

The police, meanwhile, were looking for an excuse to arrest Kadalie. This attack on Rubusana was used as a pretext. Rubusana made an affidavit concerning the attack on him, and Kadalie was arrested on 23 October 1920, without a warrant. When news of the arrest became known, the workers congregated in the nearest square. A meeting was held and a deputation was sent to the police to ask for the release of Kadalie on bail. The chief of police refused. When the deputation returned with this news, the meeting resolved to send an ultimatum to the police: unless Kadalie was released by 5pm, they would release him themselves. The South African native was openly challenging not only white employers, but the actual forces of the state.
The whole police force was armed. The railway police were called out. In addition, European volunteers were armed and stationed in front of the police station where Kadalie was detained. By 5pm, the demonstration numbered 3 000 people. The mounted police were ordered to charge, but they were unhorsed. An attempt was made to disperse the crowd by means of a water hose. But the masses replied with stones and other missiles. At this stage, two shots were fired and the crowd began to retreat. While the crowd was running, the police opened fire.
The official commission of inquiry stated: “It is established beyond doubt that immediately after the first shots were fired, the crowd stampeded in all directions, and that a rapid and sustained fusillade was directed on the retreating crowd from the police station for 60 seconds, as alleged by some witnesses, or two minutes as alleged by others. One civilian admitted firing 15 shots; another as many as 13 shots, with the most fatal results: one European and 23 natives or coloured males were killed or died of wounds. Native and coloured males wounded, 45; females, one. European females wounded, four. Total casualties, 76. Only two of these were shot immediately in front of the steps, the others fell in different parts of the street away from the police station, as far as Castle Street, 100 yards distant.”

Obviously the police were seizing the opportunity to smash the workers’ organisation once and for all. The net result, as so often, was to increase its strength. So powerful a force did the ICU become among black and coloured people that Barry Hertzog, a future prime minister of South Africa, thought it profitable to seek the support of the ICU in the Cape province. He sent a very cordial letter to Kadalie, enclosing a donation to the ICU, saying he was sorry he could not do more.

A membership of 100 000

Of course, immediately after Hertzog gained power, he persecuted the ICU even more fiercely. But the movement continued to grow, and in 1926 it reached its peak. In that year, it had a membership of 100 000. Teachers were leaving the profession to become agents of the ICU. In remote villages of South Africa, one could find a representative. Many who had not joined rallied to it in times of difficulty.

It will be difficult to overestimate what Kadalie and his partner, Allison Champion, achieved between 1919 and 1926. Kadalie was an orator, tall, with a splendid voice, and at his meetings he used to arouse workers to great heights of enthusiasm. At the conclusion of his speeches, his hearers were usually silent for some seconds before they were able to begin the applause. Champion was the very opposite of Kadalie in everything. More backward in outlook than Kadalie, who was aware of the working-class movement as an international force, he saw very little beyond Zululand, or Natal, and he was more organiser than orator.

The real parallel to this movement is the mass uprising in San Domingo. There is the same instinctive capacity for organisation, the same throwing-up of gifted leaders from among the masses. But whereas there was a French Revolution in 1794 rooting out the old order in France, needing the black revolution, and sending out encouragement, organisers and arms, there was nothing like that in Britain. Seen in that historical perspective, the Kadalie movement can be understood for the profoundly important thing it was.

After 1926, the movement began to decline. It could not maintain itself for long at that pitch without great and concrete successes. It was bound to stabilise itself at a less intense level. Kadalie lacked the education and the knowledge to organise it on a stable basis – the hardest of all tasks for a man of his origin. There was misappropriation of the funds. He saw the necessity
for international affiliation. But though the constitution of the organisation condemned capitalism, he would not affiliate to the communist Third International. The white South African workers refused his offer of unity, for these, petit-bourgeois in outlook owing to their high wages and the social degradation of black people, are among the bitterest enemies of the native workers.

Kadalie went to Europe, affiliated the ICU to the International Federation of Trade Unions and sought the help of left-wing labour members. He took back a white man, William Ballinger, to assist him. But the decline of the ICU continued. The organisation split. The two sections became but a shadow of the early ICU, and Kadalie kept a cafe in Port Elizabeth, where the workers were shot down while demonstrating for his release.

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Musician Mat Callahan Explores San Francisco Politics in The Explosion of Deferred Dreams

By Jessica Zimmer
The Potrero View
October 2018

Musician Mat Callahan was born in San Francisco in 1951, and lived on Arkansas Street, then Vermont Street, between 1969 and 1974.  Callahan, who sings and plays electric and acoustic guitar, was a member of The Looters from the early-1980s to late-1990s. The rock band played throughout the City, including at The Fillmore and Bottom of the Hill.

Last year, Callahan published The Explosion of Deferred Dreams, a 308-page book about the connection between politics and music in the City that developed between 1965 and 1975. In the volume he explores ties between the United Farm Workers and Santana; and the Black Panthers and Sly and the Family Stone.

“The essential theme is that there was a musical renaissance of great significance that took place in the Bay Area during this decade. Simultaneously, there arose a worldview that revolution was not only desirable but imminent. In this book, I show that the wall between the two was erected after the fact,” said Callahan.

According to Callahan, Explosion is intended for general audiences as well as younger musicians interested in the 1960s and 1970s. He conducted more than 100 hours of interviews with 60 subjects to write the book, including Hill residents Ron Davis, an actor in the political street theater group the San Francisco Mime Troupe; and Joel Selvin, a former senior music reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.

“1965 is the starting point. Following high points of the civil rights movement and the Free Speech movement, something new began in San Francisco. The arrest of Ron Davis at a performance of the San Francisco Mime Troupe in Lafayette Park (in August 1965) was a key moment leading to the fundraising appeals. Simultaneous with The Family Dog (a Pine Street hippie commune that arranged parties and events), people were organizing benefits and dance concerts. Bands like Jefferson Airplane joined Allen Ginsburg to defend radical street theater. The music and guerilla theater were performing in the streets, directly connected to the politics of civil rights and the growing anti-war movement. Later, you saw other key political events occur, the (1968) Third World Liberation Front strike at San Francisco State and the (1969) Occupation of Alcatraz,” said Callahan.

Callahan started the book as an essay in 2007, but kept on writing. “I got the idea around the time of the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love. I felt a great falsehood had been perpetuated over the intervening years about what was going on in San Francisco in the Sixties,” he said.

According to Callahan, many histories of the time ignore the contributions of artists of color. “By 1969, there were more multiethnic bands like Santana and the Tower of Power. They were representative of a much broader constituency than college students listening to folk rock,” he said.

Callahan spent eight years writing the book, doing research online and in the Bay Area. He traveled several times from his now-home in Bern, Switzerland to Bay Area archives, including the San Francisco Public Library’s San Francisco History Center, the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and San Francisco State University’s Labor Archives and Research Center.

“I also worked with Lincoln Cushing, archival consultant of the “All of Us or None” collection of the Oakland Museum of California. Cushing provided a huge selection of posters from Michael Rossman’s social justice poster archive. The collection, which dates between 1964 and 2004, contains every single poster than hung on a wall or telephone pole. Cushing and I worked together to select a representative sample for Explosion,” said Callahan.

On October 27, from 4 to 5 p.m., Callahan will speak about his book at the Potrero Branch library on 1616 20th Street.  His visit to the Hill was facilitated by local historian, Peter Linenthal, a friend and former Lick Wilmerding High School classmate of Callahan.
“I thought Mat’s research for the book was amazing. It brought back many memories I’d forgotten, China Books in North Beach, for example, and how Mao’s little red book was suddenly available there,” said Linenthal.

Oakland-based PM Press, which issued Callahan’s songbooks, published Explosion. According to Stephanie Pasvankias, PM Press publicist, Callahan has previously spoken about the book.  “We worked with local historical groups and local papers to review the title and interview Mat specific to the (50th) anniversary (of the Summer of Love). (Last year), he came to the Bay Area and did a number of talks at local universities, bookstores, and events, like the Howard Zinn Book Fair,” said Pasvankias.

Pasvankias said the response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive.  “Most folks have been surprised that this book exposed and reframed the political and social context for the San Francisco Sound and the vibrant subcultural uprisings with which it is associated. But have been appreciative of it,” said Pasvankias.  Since its release 1,556 copies and 60 e-books of Explosion have sold.

Today, Callahan sings and plays guitar with his partner, singer Yvonne Moore, mostly in Europe. The duo has also toured the U.S.  “We do a wide range of music. We’re presently working on a new project, “Working Class Heroes,” a CD and a songbook. This follows our “Songs of Freedom” project which commemorates James Connolly, the leader of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising. We put his songs to music and sang them,” said Callahan.

Callahan said Explosion exposes manipulation that should be avoided by those who fight “repressive regimes. During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a very powerful social movement that sought to change the world. The difficulties we’re faced with today are a result of the defeat of the revolution. Recent efforts like Occupy, the indigenous struggle against the pipelines, and Black Lives Matter are all indications of the willingness and desire of people to resist. All of these efforts still have not galvanized into something as powerful as the antiwar movement of the 1960s and 1970s,” he said. 

Callahan believes the revolutionaries of those two decades made significant mistakes. “At the same time, some achievements were very important. Young people today can learn from reading a de-romanticized view of the era. They can use it for future generations,” he said.


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Out of the Ruins Reviewed in Pedagogy, Culture & Society

By Michael James Miller
April 3rd, 2018
Pedagogy, Culture & Society



Introducing the book, Robert Haworth writes his thoughts on what ‘radical informal learning’ is and might be, offering various insights that are echoed and elaborated on throughout the book, among them being developing spaces that are ‘critically reflective’ and ‘horizontal’, and within these spaces questioning our desires and the risks involved, hinted at by Haworth with concepts like ‘radical love’ (Freire) and ‘radical openness’ (hooks). Out of the Ruins is a book situated in the rich archives of radical (and particularly anarchist) writings on learning and learning spaces, and for a reader unfamiliar with radical and/or anarchist pedagogies, here might be a comfortable
compilation to get uncomfortable with – Haworth writes of his experiences when introducing notions of ‘free schools’ to pre-service teachers and the discomfort they often expressed when confronted with and challenged on their ‘fixed beliefs of what teaching and learning should be’ (8).

Haworth sets out with a sort-of warning and guide for readers, offering what will be an under-
lying (and often a primary) theme in the chapters that follow: ‘Because informal learning, in many cases, has become co-opted and embedded within the logic of a capitalistic economic system, it should be viewed with a critical lens’ (7). Perhaps this is an obvious statement by Haworth, but writing of past and ongoing successes, failures, and struggles (and the not-so-clear distinction between them) as the book does, elucidates the need for continued criticality while imagining/organizing/navigating more radical spaces and, as I would have liked to read more of, a suspicion of what emerges out of the ruins (even and especially when that includes ourselves). Many of the chapters in Out of the Ruins describe in varying detail personal accounts and collaborative efforts to create and sustain Radical Informal Learning Spaces, and importantly, after their emergences, issues that brought about the end (Chapter 13 emphasizes how crucial having a physical space can be); experiments in structuring organizing (Chapter 10 writes of working with tensions and disorientations); and pedagogical approaches in collectively addressing issues that arose (Chapter 11 outlines horizontal pedagogy) while working to create something outside of (Chapter 5 with techno-education), alternative to (Chapter 7 with the Really Open University), or even within main-stream educational institutions (Chapter 9 teaching the Sociology of Anarchism at university).

As a generalization, I’ve found edited books such as this tend to offer more glimpses and
peeks into the author’s thinking than allowing for more developed and in-depth analyses and
elaborations, leaving the reader to assume a lot, or assuming a lot of the reader. This is not always a detriment to the content, with some terms or concepts opening-up considerations to pursue beyond the book (for example, radical learning spaces facilitating the questioning of desires – particularly in the Introduction and Chapters 3, 6, 7, 10, 13 – brings me back to important work from Fraser and Lamble 2015; and Daring et al. 2012 particularly the Volcano and Heckert chapters, directly connecting and contributing to, though not offered in, these texts). However, I found some content lacking important analyses which had me searching or
returning to readings beyond this book, for example Tuck and Yang’s (2012) Decolonization is not a metaphor with Chapter 5 ‘explor[ing] radical educational alternatives using the metaphor
of decolonization’ (87). Tuck and Yang write that decolonization is ‘a distinct project from other
civil and human rights-based social justice projects’ (2); that the ‘easy absorption, adoption, and transposing of decolonization’, an example being calls to ‘decolonize our schools’ or ‘decolonize student thinking’, are incommensurable and is ‘yet another form of settler appropriation’ (3) which inhibits ‘more meaningful potential alliances’ (3). Other times I found passages to take too much for granted. For example, after reflecting on the experience and standard reactions to the introduction of more radical concepts of learning spaces from students based in (US) mainstream, No Child Left Behind-era education, Haworth states
Radical informal learning takes a significantly different approach to learning than what was stated above.

For one, radical informal learning would be an ongoing process and geared toward freedom, autonomy, critical reflection, and liberation rather than supporting hierarchical, authoritarian, and economically corrupt institutions and relationships. (7)

With what, I wonder, is the reader to do with these terms? While ‘freedom’, ‘autonomy’, ‘critical
reflection’, ‘liberation’ and ‘ongoing process’ are mentioned and alluded to throughout the book,
I do not consider these terms to be as self-evident as I often read them being used. Without
further engagement and analysis with these terms, I hesitate with what is being questioned and
challenged by the authors (e.g. education, learning spaces, desire).

Perhaps what I am looking for is too tedious a task for this format (a single chapter in an
edited book has limited space to say much, especially when there is so much to say and so much being said), perhaps these are even meant to be terms open to interpretation with informal understandings. But I offer this critique because perhaps the authors are taking for granted, even taking liberties with some common conceptualizations (e.g. ‘freedom’) while directly taking on others (‘learning’).

A stand-out example for me comes from the book’s co-editor John M. Elmore in Chapter 1,
which presents the reader with various provocations on authoritarianism, education, and restraint from ‘organic development’. I found some arguments in the chapter to themselves be restrained; while I support taking the strong position that ‘to oppose one system of domination while supporting...another, is to engage in intellectual hypocrisy of the highest level’ (27), there was no further analysis of opposition itself (for which I again go to Daring et al. 2012, specifically chapters by Conrad, and Heckert). Other passages I found to be restraining in themselves with an accepting and upholding of the authoritarianism the chapter and wider collection seeks to address and offer alternatives to. For example, when considering consequences of ‘Preventing learners from thinking and acting freely’ (again, more assumptions on terminology), Elmore brings in an Arnstine quote to support the point being made of the process in which ‘...entire societies can acquire the mentality of slaves.’ What Arnstine means by ‘the mentality of slaves’, and why Elmore offers this quote to try and substantiate the argument for ‘Finding alternatives to traditional schooling’ not only remains unclear in this chapter – as no elaboration or explanation is given – but is (at best) missing the mark. One might ‘get’ the sentiment of what is meant here, but given the complex, nuanced, opaque, beautiful, horrible work around slavery (for one example, the work of Saidiya
Hartman), this assumption is one of the more glaring examples of the over generalizations and
selective criticality scattered throughout this book.

I offer this review not necessarily as a dismissal of what all is contained within Out of the Ruins
to any would-be readers, nor of the authors whose work is used here as examples. Instead, I write this as an attempted contribution of necessary suspicion; I want to stay with and expose more tensions than are confronted in these texts, and if we are committed to emerging out of the ruins without bringing along the same patterns, systems, and naturalized ways of thinking and being, then our efforts must extend to our too-often assumed understandings and imaginings (thinking again with Haworth’s ‘critical lens’).

I found Chapter 6 offered a lot of important insights and questions regarding beginning, beginnings, and the difficulties thereof, particularly with ‘the policing of “possibilities”’ (107). Author

Sarah Amsler’s ‘critical lens’ was intently and intensely focused on the Social Science Centre of
which she is a part of, and their being compelled ‘to articulate new answers to fundamental
questions about the purpose of education, defining or redefining democracy, and what it means
to be-in-common and to learn’ (108). A few questions posed include:So what is it that we need to learn, and how can we approach these ideas if we do not already know about
them? If we could practice any kind of education we want, of what activities would it consist and why? What can these educational spaces do? Who is it for? How was it developed? How is it gendered, classed, raced, colonial, or epistemologically exclusive? Whose expression does it wear, in whose voice does it speak? What is its relationship to traditional, or even neoliberal, education? Are there spaces and cracks to work within and are they enough? How are the roles of student and teacher defined, if at all? What is to be done with intractable reproductions of power? How shall we subsist? Who is affected by our commitments? What are we willing to give, and to lose? (108).

These (potentially) unanswerable questions (not that they would have any one answer any-
ways) are importantly directed to people and groups who might be or work to be ‘at once united, diverse, divided, and aspiring to be in common’ (121). I read the contributors to this book being among those, and something discussed throughout these texts that I am thinking a lot about is ‘community’. I was interested to read different approaches and thinking’s about ‘community’ (and similar sentiments), and if/how this might be re/de/conceptualized in a general sense, and in relation to the idea of a ‘learning community’ more specifically. What might we mean and understand when thinking of ‘community’, what do we take for granted, and what violences does ‘community’ not just potentially counter or diminish, but also strengthen and reinscribe – including (and particularly) radical informal one’s? Included here (briefly) as further provocations and potential contributions when thinking ‘community’, works by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney variously discuss maroon communities (Harney and Moten 2013), sociality (Moten 2018), and of the need to abolish the community so that we might commune (Harney 2017). These notions and my study with them were further pressed with co-writing a conference paper bringing up these points (Miller and Miller 2017) and from the push back, questions, and conversations in response, particularly around what abolishing the community could mean, and how to not only recognize the communing that is already happening, but what to do at that point. This is an ongoing conversation...

Sprinkled throughout Out of the Ruins I found other seeds of intrigue and interest that I would have liked to read more about. Discussing AnarchistU, for instance, Chapter 12 wrote of distinc-
tions between the classroom and the community, and further had varying statements about
hierarchies that recognized pitfalls (‘hierarchies of expertise’) while also perceiving the created
space as distinct (‘different hierarchies than academic spaces uphold’ 235) and (boldly, intriguingly, somehow) free from others (‘while hierarchies of state and capital were eradicated, hierarchies associated with epistemologies of space were only somewhat mitigated’ 231). Another seed only mentioned briefly but I found of interest was ‘boredom’, particularly the expressed desire of ‘militating against boredom’ (Chapter 11, 219, 220). Here I wonder what might ‘boredom’ have to offer (for example, see Horning 2017), including and further than rumination, particularly if we are challenging that which we take as obvious. Similarly, I want to imagine further about engaging in a ‘tolerance of ambiguity’ with others as proposed in Chapter 4, which gives a few, perhaps inadvertent but nonetheless appreciated examples of ambiguity, by later writing of the ‘problem of abstractness and a lack of engagement with the specificities of teaching and learning’ (80).

Chapter 2 had a lot of imaginings, yet I read David Gabbard’s provocations as both pushing for
more creativity from teachers and students, while also implying/imposing limits on what might
be considered ‘useful’ creativity. Why must we shirk from an ‘impossible agenda’ – especially as
the chapter draws on Zizek’s advice to ‘start thinking’ and not ‘get caught in this pseudo-activist pressure’ to ‘do something’? (50, 51) – what might it mean to imagine the unimaginable rather than ‘stir up public debate’ which seems to me is the ‘doing something’ which is to be avoided?

I want to think more about the ‘useless’ in the ‘useful’ (h/t Tiqqun); the ‘impossible’ while we continue pushing what is ‘possible’.

Out of the Ruins offers an Introduction and 13 chapters with various anecdotes and attempted
antidotes, provocations and practical, experiential writing on experimental efforts to create and
maintain counter-hegemonic learning spaces and communities. Through different approaches,
reflections and emergences this book extends many important considerations. Whether we are
starting on our thinking of radical informal learning spaces, looking for examples from other’s
experiences, or how we might bring in more criticality, radical intentions and informal pedagogies to our own practices and experiences, Out of the Ruins is intended to be that place.

References

Daring, C. B., J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano, eds. 2012. Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire. Oakland: AK Press.
Fraser, J., and S. Lamble. 2015. “Queer Desires and Critical Pedagogies in Higher Education: Reflections on the Transformative Potential of Non-normative Learning Desires in the Classroom.” Journal of Feminist Scholarship7 (8): 61–77.
Harney, S. 2017. “Stefano Harney Interview (part 2) by Michael Schapira & Jesse Montgomery.” Full Stop. http://
www.full-stop.net/2017/08/10/interviews/michael-schapira-and-jesse-montgomery/stefano-harney-part-2/.
Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. 2013. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions.
Horning, R. 2017. Ordinary Boredom. The New Inquiry. https://thenewinquiry.com/blog/ordinary-boredom/.
Miller, Lindsay L., and Michael J. Miller. 2017. “Carceral Educations: Schools, Prisons, Police and the Obligations of an Abolitionist.” Paper presented at the 2nd International Conference for Carceral Geography, December 11–12, in Birmingham, England.
Moten, F. 2018. “Come on, Get it! with Thom Donovan, Malik Gaines, Ethan Philbrick, Wikipedia and the Online Etymology Dictionary.” The New Inquiry. https://thenewinquiry.com/come_on_get_it/.
Tuck, E., and K. W. Yang. 2012. “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society
1 (1): 1–40.

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Insurgent Supremacist: An Interview with Matthew N. Lyons on Antifascism, Anti-Imperialism, and the Future of Organizing

Antifascistnews.net
October 22nd, 2018

Matthew N. Lyons is an anti-fascist author and researcher whose work stretches back twenty-five years.  Always at the front of understanding how the far-right shifts and reconfigures itself, he has developed deep historical and theoretical work that is directly intended to aid in antifascist organizing that sees results.
His book Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, co-authored with Chip Berlet, looked through America’s history and dug into exactly what the elusive term “populism” means, and how it motivates working-class people to take up radical right-wing political movements.  He has been especially pioneering at the blog Three-Way Fight, named for the concept that in any revolutionary struggle you can have an insurgent force that is different that either the left and the ruling class, and it is at that point you can often find fascist ideologues building their own version of a revolutionary movement.

In Lyons’ most recent book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, he looks at the strains of fascism that appropriate anti-imperialist and other struggles often associated with the left, how the far-right is changing and creating new social movements, and how we can understand fascism’s future.
This is an interview with Matthew N. Lyons that asks some of these questions, how to understand populism and fascism, how fascists use anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist politics, and what we can do about it.
 
Your book spends a great deal of time discussing the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war movements that intersect with fascism.  What is the nationalist investment in these issues?  How does their perspective break from the left’s interpretation of these movements?
In the book sections you’re referring to, my focus isn’t so much on the intersection of anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war movements with fascism. Rather, it’s on the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war tendencies within far right movements themselves. These tendencies have taken various forms and have deep historical roots within both classical fascism and sections of American conservatism. In the United States today, far rightists believe that the U.S. government and many transnational institutions such as the United Nations are controlled by malevolent globalist elites, who are working to weaken and destroy traditional societies and homogenize everyone to help build up their own wealth and power. White nationalists define this supposed threat in racial terms, as Jewish elites versus the white race, while other branches of the U.S. far right (such as Christian theocrats and most Patriot groups) tend to define it as an attack on U.S. national sovereignty and western culture.
There are a couple of different things going on here. Fascists and other far rightists have a long history of offering distorted versions of leftist, radical politics, to help them capitalize on people’s rebellious energy and anger at the status quo. When I describe it this way, it sounds like political opportunism, and that’s definitely part of it. But on a deeper level, there’s also a genuine conflict here, between modern global capitalism and the traditional social hierarchies such as race and nation and gender that have served capitalism well in the past but now sometimes restrict it. Modern global capitalism depends on moving goods and services and workers and investments across old boundaries, national and otherwise. This threatens many traditionally privileged social groups, whose privilege is based on those boundaries and divisions. So then you get, for example, multinational corporations pushing to let in more foreign workers, and sparking an anti-immigrant backlash. And you also get multinational corporations pushing to project military power overseas to help protect their investments, and sections of the right, fascist and otherwise, lining up against them and saying our people has nothing to gain from these wars.
On a surface level, far right opposition to military interventionism or capitalist elites or imperialism can sound leftist. But there are basic underlying differences. Leftist politics is predicated – at least in theory – on promoting human equality and dismantling human oppression and exploitation. In contrast, fascists and other far rightists believe that human equality is a sham. They say that inequality is either unavoidable or a positive good to be protected. To them, global capitalist elites are evil because they see them as promoting equality, not opposing it. A related issue is that a genuinely radical critique of power focuses on systems of oppression and exploitation, whereas far rightists generally analyze power in terms of conspiracy theories, which blame social problems on a sinister group of outsiders (such as Jews) who supposedly distort the normal workings of society.
 
How do you define fascism?
In Insurgent Supremacists and other writings I offer a working definition of fascism as “a revolutionary form of right-wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while promoting economic and social hierarchy.” This is based on an effort to combine two different approaches. The historian Roger Griffin sees fascism as a political ideology that emphasizes a myth of national palingenesis, or collective rebirth out of a near-fatal crisis. In contrast to that, a series of independent Marxists (from August Thalheimer in the 1930s to J. Sakai and Don Hamerquist today) have analyzed fascism as having a contradictory relationship with the capitalist ruling class – attacking the left and promoting class hierarchy but also pursuing an agenda that clashes with capitalist interests in important ways. Both of these approaches regard fascism as a right-wing revolutionary force, but Griffin is strong on delineating fascist ideology while the independent Marxists are strong on fascism’s class dynamics. Both are important.
I draw a sharp distinction between fascism and what I would call conservative authoritarianism. Most repression in capitalist societies operates more or less directly in the interests of big business. I see fascism as a drive to wrest political control away from big business and establish a new political elite. Historically, fascists have cut deals with capitalists to help them win power, but capitalists’ assumption that they could then rein in fascists has proved wrong. Instead, fascists have set about trying to reshape all spheres of society according to their own totalitarian agenda and, in the case of German Nazism, undertook a profound and far-reaching transformation of the social order in keeping with their racist ideology. Many capitalist regimes have pursued genocide against subject populations, but Nazism is the only regime that has pursued genocide against a significant section of the industrial working class, an effort that directly clashed with capitalists’ economic interests.
In the United States today, fascist politics is still driven by a totalitarian vision to reshape society, but that can take different forms. White nationalists’ vision centers on race and their dream of creating an all-white nation. But I think it’s appropriate to use the term “fascism” also for totalitarian right-wing visions that don’t center on race. The most important example is the hardline faction within the Christian right – spearheaded by Christian Reconstructionists – that wants to impose a full theocracy. That vision centers on religion, of course, but also on male supremacy and gender conformity – much more than race. Also, some fascist currents, such as the Lyndon LaRouche network, carry forward classical fascism’s vision of a large centralized state, but many fascists now want to impose their totalitarian vision in a decentralized manner – through “tribal” networks or segregated “ethno-states” or local churches and patriarchal families. I’ve used the term “social totalitarianism” to describe this kind of politics that is simultaneously authoritarian and decentralist.
 
How do you see the Trump administration in relationship to insurgent white nationalism?  Has your opinion of it changed in the time that Trump has been in office?
White nationalists – not just people with racist politics but people who specifically want to create an all-white nation – played a bigger role in electing Donald Trump in 2016 than they had in electing any of his predecessors. More specifically, alt-rightists’ skillful use of internet activism was a significant factor in defeating Trump’s Republican rivals and to a lesser extent in defeating Hillary Clinton. After the election, Richard Spencer proclaimed that alt-rightists were the vanguard of the Trump coalition. At the same time, alt-rightists were clear that Trump was himself not a white nationalist – he was useful to them, but he was not one of them. He would do some of what they wanted, and he would buy them time and space to spread their message, but he did not share their long-term goals.
Since Trump’s inauguration, alt-rightists have had very mixed feelings about his administration. They have liked his demagoguery and scapegoating and his moves against immigrants of color and Muslims, but wish he would go a lot further. They like some of his foreign policy actions, like challenging free trade orthodoxy and criticizing NATO and reaching out to Kim Jong-un. But to varying degrees they also think he has capitulated to (or maybe is being blackmailed by) the conservative establishment. They don’t much care for the staunchly conservative positions he’s taken on tax policy and destroying Obamacare. They hate his support for Israel and his missile strikes against Assad’s government in Syria. Some of them still look on Trump positively, while others think he is beyond redemption.
In Insurgent Supremacists, I argued that Trump’s administration represented a coalition between conventional conservatives of various kinds and “America First” nationalists, some of whom had ties with the alt-right. I still think that’s accurate. Several of the America Firsters have left the administration, such as Steve Bannon and Mike Flynn, but there are several still there, such as Stephen Miller, Peter Navarro, and especially Jeff Sessions. They benefit from what seems to be Trump’s sincere contempt for most establishment politicians, but they’re limited by the lack of a coherent organizational base and the lack of a coherent base of support within the ruling class. The Mercers and Peter Thiel are scary, but it’s unclear to me whether they represent a larger organic tendency within the business community or just hardline right-wingers who suddenly happened to become billionaires. It’s clear there are business sectors that are happy Trump is dismantling industrial regulations, but that part of his agenda is just an extension of previous neoliberal policies. Which business sectors support America First nationalism? I’m very interested to learn more about that.
The periodic warnings that Trump is either a fascist or is moving in a fascist direction seem to be picking up momentum again. I don’t agree, although I agree with some elements of the argument. A lot of people use the term “fascism” much too loosely, to cover any and all forms of right-wing authoritarianism or repression. To me, fascism has to involve a drive to systematically transform all areas of society according to a totalitarian ideological vision. I don’t see any evidence that Trump has such a vision or has the drive to implement any such systematic change, and he certainly doesn’t have the kind of independent organizational base you would need to carry it out.
What I do think is true and is quite serious is that Trump is making the U.S. political system more authoritarian. Part of that is continuing the process of incrementally expanding the government’s repressive powers and machinery, a process that has been going on for decades under both Republican and Democratic presidents. But Trump and his supporters are also dramatically changing the political climate, ratcheting up the scapegoating and demonization of political opponents, even mainstream ones, to levels we haven’t seen since the early 1950s. Trump and his supporters have vilified news reporting to the point that the New York Times can publish a major expose of his family’s tax crimes and he doesn’t even bother to deny it. These moves don’t add up to anything close to fascism, but they do significantly weaken the liberal-pluralist framework (it’s not democracy but it’s not a dictatorship either) and make it significantly easier for some kind of systematic, organized, ideologically driven authoritarianism to emerge and impose itself. I don’t think Trump is part of that but it could come quickly.
 
How do you define populism? Why do you think that there has been an upsurge of populism around the world right now?
I see populism as a type of politics that aims to rally “the people” around some form of anti-elitism. That’s how Chip Berlet and I defined it in Right-Wing Populism in America, and it’s based on political scientist Margaret Canovan’s work. Populism can be broadly divided between left-wing and right-wing varieties. John Judis in The Populist Explosion gives a good succinct explanation of the difference. He says that left-wing populists define the struggle in dualistic terms – the people versus the elite – while right-wing populists claim the elite is manipulating one or more out-groups – such as immigrants or Muslims or welfare mothers – so that “the people” are being squeezed from above and below.
There are serious problems with both left-wing and right-wing populism, but the problems are different. Left-wing populism can be a framework for attacking real inequity and disempowerment, and to that extent it can play a positive role, but it oversimplifies social conflict by reducing everything to the people versus the elite. So it tends to gloss over – and thereby reinforce – other forms of oppression that don’t coincide with that simple dividing line.
 
Right-wing populism glosses over lots of stuff as well, but the bigger problem is that it directly targets oppressed and marginalized groups for scapegoating and demonization, because its concept of “the people” is as much about defending privilege as it is about anti-elitism. In addition, the way right-wing populism defines the elite is itself based on a kind of scapegoating, which focuses either on a specific subset within the elite or on people who aren’t elite at all. So even though right-wing populism feeds partly on people’s anger at being beaten down, it channels that back into attacks that strengthen and intensify hierarchy and oppression and institutionalized violence.
As you say, there’s been an upsurge of populism lately in many parts of the world, and that includes both left and right versions. In very broad terms I see two big contributing factors. One is a crisis in the global capitalist system – highlighted by the 2008 financial crisis but going far beyond it – and a widespread recognition that the conventional policies that have dominated most governments for decades really only serve a tiny minority. The other big factor is the weakness of the radical left – brought about by a combination of external repression and its own internal failings – and the radical left’s inability to rally major segments of the population in most countries. So, many people are hungry for alternatives, hungry for a way out, and a lot of times populism seems like the best option.
 
Are there any examples of organized resistance happening currently that you think are a good model for combating the far-right?
I don’t know that there’s any one example where I’d say, “here’s the model of resistance for us to follow,” but I think there have been a number of very positive developments. I think the principle of “diversity of tactics” is very important – meaning actions organized so that there is room for people to take a variety of militant and non-militant approaches, and where those are understood as complementing and supporting each other, rather than competing or in conflict. I know that folks in the Bay Area and in Portland, for example, have worked hard over the past year or more to build coalitions based on this approach, and have had some important successes as a result.
I also really like the principle of “community self-defense,” as advocated by the Twin Cities General Defense Committee of the IWW and others, meaning that antifascists should not look to the state to protect us, because the state is really not on our side, but rather should look to build connections with, and base themselves in, working class communities. Another positive example I would cite is the network Solidarity & Defense Michigan, which is one of a number of groups that helped to halt the alt-right’s mobilizing drive in 2017-2018, and which has emphasized the linkages between resisting far rightists and combating institutionalized oppression in the form of housing evictions, police violence, deportations of immigrants and refugees, and so on.
I also particularly appreciate when people approach antifascist activism in a spirit of humility and willingness to learn from mistakes. I think an example of that was the article “Tigertown Beats Nazis Down,” which is a self-critical reflection on the April 2017 mass protest against Richard Spencer in Auburn, Alabama. I can’t speak to the specific events that happened there, but I thought the spirit of the article was really constructive and positive.
 
How can the anti-imperialist movement insulate against the far-right?
First, leftist and liberal anti-imperialists should have a strict policy of non-collaboration with far rightists. That means not attending their political events and not allowing them to attend ours. It means not giving them a platform on our media to air their views, and not legitimizing their media by accepting invitations to publish our articles or be interviewed.
Second, let’s recognize and combat oppressive dynamics within the left that resonate with far right politics – dynamics such as authoritarianism and transphobia and sexual violence. And more specifically let’s combat the elements of far right ideology that have influenced sections of the left itself. In the 1980s, the Christic Institute borrowed “anti-establishment” conspiracy theories from the Lyndon LaRouche network and other far right sources and repackaged them for progressive audiences. Today, groups like the Center for Research on Globalisation play a similar role. Let’s develop strong radical analyses of institutionalized power systems and reject fake-radical conspiracy theories, many of which are rooted in antisemitism.
And we need consistent radicalism specifically with regard to Israel. I’m an anti-Zionist Jew: I reject Israeli apartheid rule over Palestinians and Zionist appropriation of Jewish identity for racist and imperialist ends, and I reject smear campaigns that equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. But it’s disturbing and dangerous when we see self-described leftists portraying Zionists as some kind of super-powerful force controlling U.S. foreign policy or global capitalism, or dismiss any concerns about antisemitism on the left as Zionist propaganda.
Third, I think we need to reject simplistic left analyses that celebrate any perceived opposition to U.S. international power as “anti-imperialist” – and that automatically equate anti-imperialist with “progressive.” The Assad government has implemented neoliberal economic policies, collaborated with the CIA’s rendition program, and murdered thousands of Palestinians, but somehow it’s supposed to be anti-imperialist now. And if all anti-imperialism is automatically progressive, are we supposed to celebrate the 9-11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Those attacks hit the centers of imperialist power more forcefully than anything Assad and his allies have ever done, but they also killed 3,000 people and were carried out in the name of a deeply reactionary ideology. And if all anti-imperialism is automatically progressive, are we supposed to join forces with the neonazis who did in fact celebrate the 9-11 attacks as heroic blows against globalist Jewish elites? What’s needed here, again, is a recognition that there are more than two political poles in the world, and – as radical antifascists have been saying for years – my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.



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Resistance to Military and Prison Violence on H-Socialisms

By Titus Firmin
H-Socialisms
September 2018

Resistance to Military and Prison Violence


Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance: Breaking the Cycle of Violence in the Military and Behind Bars is the work of Alice and Staughton Lynd, lifelong activists of social justice and the civil rights, antiwar, labor, and prison reform movements in the United States. In 1966, Alice Lynd published her experiences as a military noncombatant draft counselor in We Won’t Go. Staughton is best known for his 1968 historiographical work, Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism. Staughton taught at Yale but was forced to leave after he was denied tenure because he visited Hanoi during the Vietnam War. He later graduated from the University of Chicago law school and practiced as a lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio. After relocating to Youngstown, the Lynds became involved politically with the prison reform movement. Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance is a product of Alice and Staughton Lynd’s cumulative life’s work as activists for social justice.

The organization of Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance is straightforward, divided into two parts: “In the Military” and “Behind Bars.” The book examines the intersections between the military and prisons, and describes their connection to moral injury and nonviolent resistance. In part 1, “In the Military” the Lynds survey servicemembers and conscientious objectors in the United States and Israel who suffered moral injury in the line of duty. Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance defines moral injury as when a person believes they committed, witnessed, or failed to prevent something that “you know in your heart is wrong.” The book also suggests that moral injury contributes to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Interestingly, while the Lynds resisted the military draft during the Vietnam War, they point out that the lack of a draft during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has created new forms of moral inequality within the all-volunteer military. The burden of military service is carried by less than 1 percent of the US population, personnel who are deployed repeatedly and experience moral injury because of these repeated tours.

The Lynds discuss the connection between volunteerism and moral injury with examples from a select group of Vietnam veterans who, in contrast to most soldiers of this war, volunteered for service. The  National Council of Disability estimates that between 320,000 and 640,000 veterans of the all-volunteer force (AVF) in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from invisible wounds.[1] Seventeen years of war have created invisible injuries within the US military that only received high-profile attention after an unprecedented spike in suicides. From 2005 to 2015, veterans were twice as likely to commit suicide than nonveterans.[2] The book draws attention to the many mental health issues that servicemembers face, such as moral injury, PTSD, postdeployment readjustment, self-harm, and suicide.

Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance is also in conversation with scholars who explore the invisible wounds and experiences of war, such as Michael Bess, Jennifer Keene, David Kieran, and Lisa M. Mundey. The book points out that military training, especially initial or basic combat training, is intended to desensitize individuals in preparation for war and transform the citizen into a member of the armed forces. Many of the examples of moral injury come from veterans of the Vietnam War, whereas the conscientious objectors mentioned in the book are all from the nation’s most recent, longest war. “In the Military” explores in depth the legal aspects of war crimes in international law and US policy toward conscientious objectors in the military. The section also broaches the legitimacy of detention and enhanced interrogation of unlawful combatants.

Since the introduction of the all-volunteer force, those who join do so without compulsion, although there is an argument to be made that the current volunteer system is a form of economic conscription. Nonetheless, volunteers are assumed to know what they are getting into when they sign their service contracts. It is difficult, if not impossible, for US servicemembers to later change their classification to noncombatant pacifist or conscientious objector. If a servicemember desires to amend their status as a noncombatant, they must prove that by “religious training and belief” they should be classified as a conscientious objector. In addition, conscientious objector status does not exclude a servicemember from service in the military. Ultimately there is slim recourse for servicemembers who experience a moral crisis after they join the AVF.

The Lynds interviewed several former US servicemembers who claimed conscientious objector status during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several servicemembers requested objector status on the premise that the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan was unjust and illegal. Most of the ex-servicemembers interviewed wanted no role, combatant or noncombatant, in the US military and desired to quit the military altogether. After the US invasion in 2003, some servicemembers never applied for conscientious objector status, went absent without leave (AWOL), and fled to Canada. Servicemembers who failed to request objector status and went AWOL breached their legally binding service contract with the government. Still, not a single servicemember who applied for objector status received it. Most of them were placed into noncombatant roles for the remainder of their enlistment period.  

Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance underscores the general lack of knowledge regarding the laws of war. Typically, most volunteers are not aware of the nuances of international law unless they are a member of the Judge Adjutant General (JAG). Even if servicemembers believe the US military has broken international law, legal technicalities exist that establish the supremacy of US over international law.[3] The book also makes clear that volunteers have few, if any, legal alternatives if they believe their military service constitutes a moral or legal violation. Further thickening the fog of war, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars grapple with the battlefield reality of an enemy that operates without regard to international law. In Israel servicemembers have greater means of resistance, since all citizens are conscripted for military service. Israeli “Refuseniks” have enjoyed some success voicing their opposition.

Conscripts have petitioned their commanders over operations against Palestinians they deemed immoral and illegal. The success of the “Refuseniks” highlights a key difference between the moral intervention of conscripts in the Israeli military and volunteers of the US volunteer military.

Part 2, “Behind Bars” examines moral injury and nonviolent resistance of US prisoners in Ohio, Illinois, and California, as well as Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Prisons are sites for dehumanization and punishment rather than rehabilitation of inmates. Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance contends that servicemembers and inmates are linked by their dual roles as both victims and perpetrators of violence. As of 2018, there are 1,266,000 inmates in US prisons, with around 90,000 in solitary confinement.[4] Prolonged solitary confinement has effects analogous to torture that are deleterious to a person’s mental health. The Lynds suggest that the military and prisons similarly dehumanize individuals and perpetuate cycles of violence that result in moral injuries and a host of other invisible wounds. Where prisoners find success that servicemembers do not is through nonviolent resistance. Inmates have conducted hunger strikes to advocate better treatment and conditions in jails and prisons. The book also describes the ideological processes that some inmates undergo that lead them to protest through hunger strikes instead of prison riots.

In the concluding chapter the Lynds widen their historical perspective to compare the successes and failures of prison hunger strikes with the civil rights and the labor movements. The labor movement is examined from 1930 to WWII and then leaps forward to the $15 minimum wage movement to highlight examples of nonviolent direct action. Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance argues that individuals who peacefully resist illegal and immoral authority communicate more effectively than their opposition because of their seriousness, boldness, and the risk involved in their resistance. The Lynds recommend to activists a combined strategy of nonviolent protest and legal recourse.

Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance is a fine work that illuminates the issue of morality within two of society’s most violent institutions: prison and the military. When prisoners and servicemembers are forced to participate in circumstances that affront their notions of right and wrong, they experience moral injury. Individuals are further confused by vague interpretations of international law. The Lynds identify direct action and nonviolent resistance as crucial to both preventing moral injury and insisting on humane treatment. Significant change is possible through peaceful, nonthreatening resistance.

The sources used by the authors are oral histories, personal statements, interviews, newspapers articles, and their own personal experiences as activists working with prisoners and servicemembers. The few weaknesses of Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance are predominantly minor. The book misses several opportunities to intersect with other, related societal issues—for example, the economic side of the military and prison-industrial complexes that perpetuates the cycles of violence within prisons and the military, the history of law enforcement and the courts, and the constitutionality of executive war powers. Regrettably, the book suffers from minor typographical errors, though the most obvious is the misspelling of “resistance” on the front cover. Another cause for concern is the work’s citation, albeit sparing, of Wikipedia articles. The Lynds could have addressed the case of Private Chelsea Manning and whether her actions may be viewed as an act of nonviolent resistance. However, the book that the Lynds have presented is a unique work appropriate for both scholars and activists.

Overall, Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance is an inspiring study that advocates social justice. The Lynds utilize case studies from their own personal experiences in some of the major social justice movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The book skillfully examines the shared cyclic cultures of shame and violence that affect individuals in the military and in prison. This work goes beyond a simple indictment of societal issues and presents a pathway to enact meaningful change.  

Notes

[1]. National Council on Disability, Invisible Wounds: Serving Service Members and Veterans with PTSD and TBI, accessed August 14, 2018,   https://www.ncd.gov/publications/2009/March042009/.

[2]. Kent Allen, “Veteran Suicide Rates Rose in Recent Decade,” Veterans, Military, and their Families, AARP website, June 19, 2018, accessed August 14, 2018, https://www.aarp.org/home-family/voices/veterans/info-2018/veteran-suicide-rate-rise.html.

[3]. Department of Defense, Office of General Counsel, Law of War Manual, June 2015, accessed August 14, 2018, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/Law-of-War-Manual-june-2015.pdf.

[4]. John Gramlich, “The Gap Between the Number of Blacks and Whites in Prison is Shrinking,” Pew Research Center, January 12, 2018, accessed August 14, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/12/shrinking-gap-between-number-of-blacks-and-whites-in-prison/.

Citation: Titus Firmin. Review of Lynd, Alice; Lynd, Staughton, Moral Injury and Nonviolent Resistance: Breaking the Cycle of Violence in the Military and Behind Bars. H-Socialisms, H-Net Reviews. September, 2018. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=51172
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


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Practical Utopia: A Review

By Emily Carrigan
Peace News
October, November 2018

In his preface to this book Noam Chomsky claims that the book ‘merits great respect and close attention’ and I cannot disagree. In fact, I strongly recommend it to anyone presently involved in activism or movement building aimed at meaningful social change.

In part two, Albert puts forward a persuasive argument for ‘participatory economics’ (an economic system  based on participatory decision making) as an alternative to markets and central planning.

Thankfully however, he does not think that wider change will be achieved solely through economic change and in building a picture of the society that he desires he also (to a lesser extent) addresses gender, class and the environment (among other issues).

Indeed, throughout the book he consistently joins up the dots enabling him to give a fuller and more intersectional depiction of how we might get to ‘utopia’. Frequently activists are not sensitive enough to the different pressures at play in people’s everyday lives but we must be constantly aware of these forces if we are to construct a new and fairer society for everyone. Those dealing with everyday instances of sexism, racism and poverty need to made to feel part of the movement rather than judged by it. 

It was also refreshing to read something so positive and potentially galvanising, in the current climate of pessimism about the possibility of true and full societal transformation.

Most interestingly the third part of the book ‘Our Methods’ contains an excellent analysis of strategy, highlighting many of the critical failings of left-wing activism. This part of the book is especially astute and could certainly function as the promised ‘conceptual toolbox’ or handbook for current and future movements.

The common problems and disagreements within activist movements that so often derail us (dogmatism, sectarianism, reform versus revolution, retaining membership etc) are comprehensively yet concisely scrutinised and viable suggestions for moving forward offered.

One example is his idea that we should be fighting for immediate reforms in a radical fashion. That is, fighting for specific hear-and-now reforms while simultaneously raising consciousness about the wider systemic issues involved and keeping that at the heart of an overarching strategy aiming to bring about a whole new social structure.

On the face of it some of these solutions may seem a little obvious (as Albert himself admits). However, the fact that we are repeatedly falling into the same traps suggests that, on the contrary, they may be the timely reminder that we need to reinvigorate our movements.

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The Global Imagination of 1968 in The San Francisco Bay View

By Shaka Zulu
San Francisco Bay View
September 24th, 2018

We are struggling with how best to marshal our revolutionary forces – how best to raise the political temperature of cadre and oppressed people alike – in a society as fascist as Mussolini’s Italy was. Organizations, groups and collectives are rightfully confused because they have an incorrect political understanding of the nature of the class forces arrayed against the people, and this incorrect political knowledge leads to incorrect political analysis.

So, seeing the top layer of Black Lives Matter founders and leaders associating with rabid class enemies and gladly attending their galas, all of this derives from not knowing who the real class enemy is, and what must be done to transform the oppressed community into revolutionary bastions of political power.

Political organizing must be directly in the interest of the people, and the issues involved must be organically linked to the oppressed community. And Comrade George Katsiaficas, in his latest book, called “The Global Imagination of 1968: Revolution and Counterrevolution,” provides an answer to the many questions our revolutionary movement is struggling with every day.

Movement people must start reading the great works from the past that give us the first steps of understanding how we can set this oppressive and neo-liberal world on fire. One of the good things about the book “1968” is how it delineates for 21st century revolutionaries the international composition of revolutionary activity in every country on the planet.

It shows why this struggle, to be successful, must be international in scope and range.

Capitalism-imperialism is a worldwide system. Our political and economic system called the World Proletarian Socialist Revolution must be international in scope and range.

“1968” shows us clearly that focusing exclusively on sectarian issues and being dogmatic is the poison that will slowly kill our ability to be effective. So, when we build base areas of political power in our oppressed community, we must build and develop coalitions and alliances similar to what the original Black Panther Party did 50 years ago.

The original Black Panther Party is loved and held up today because their politics of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism worked. Groups today, in the 21st century, plaster Comrades George Jackson, Huey P. Newton, Fred Hampton, Angela Davis and Assata Shakur on their phones, Facebook pages and Instagram accounts, but they do not practice anything these comrades died or went into prison and exile for. And they wonder why they are the only ones at these events every time one is called. It’s incorrect politics, folks.

So, have the courage to read Comrade Katsiaficas’s “1968” book. You will discover how to develop the living soul of activism. “1968” is a seminal study in revolutionary activity. Period.
It will not make you get off the couch. It will not force you to be other than who you are, but what it will do is give you a start on how to internationalize our movement and politics.

All Power! Panther Love!

Chairman Shaka Zulu, New Afrikan Black Panther Party

Contact Chairman Shaka Zulu via the Bay View, 4917 Third St., San Francisco CA 94124, or editor@sfbayview.com.

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Marronage Meets Bolivarian Socialism: Maroon Comix, A Review

By Jeanette Charles
Venezuelanalysis.com
September 5th, 2018

VA's Jeanette Charles reviews Maroon Comix, a book that tells the tales of maroons' fight for freedom and self-determination and their legacy for today's struggles.

“Today in Venezuela, the history and heritage of maroons are celebrated and continued as part of an ongoing revolutionary process.” Maroon Comix, pg. 25.

African and Indigenous peoples across the Americas have honored and embraced their maroon roots throughout time. In the case of Venezuela, the Bolivarian Process and Afro-Venezuelan movements have revitalized these histories on a national scale through a variety of political spaces and campaigns. Today, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela confronts hegemonic powers principally in the shape of sustained and overt US aggression, ranging from corporate media defamation campaigns, economic sanctions, political intervention to military threats. Moreover, grassroots movements and the Bolivarian state continue to grapple with necessary and urgent debates about how to strategically manifest 21st Century Socialism under these conditions. Maroon Comix: Origins and Destinies (PM Press 2018) offers a critical window into these conversations from the perspectives of maroon histories of self-determination.

The examples of self-liberated peoples in their exercise of self-governance, and the quest for national sovereignty against colonial empires, surface as relevant paradigms to study, understand and apply in contemporary struggles. The book’s editor and illustrators highlight key connections with the African and Indigenous peoples who “escaping slavery in the Americas, maroons made miracles in the mountains, summoned new societies in the swamps, and forged new freedoms in the forests.” This innovative comic-book inspired collection serves as a political testament to the will of all African peoples and Indigenous nations, and their descendants’ unwavering fight for freedom.

What is Maroon Comix?

Maroon Comix, edited by Quincy Saul, skillfully weaves together anti-colonial struggles from Latin America and the Caribbean, the African continent as well as the United States. “And so to tell maroon history is a paradox: How to reveal the majesty with reverence for the mystery? How to tell their story in a form which fits their freedom?” poses Saul. In the book’s chapters, the Maroon Comix team attempts to answer these question as they share the stories of the Palmares Maroon Republic from 17th century Brazil; the Haitian Revolution waged and won by enslaved Africans; the multiracial alliances between African, Indigenous and white communities within the US American Seminoles; Queen Nanny and maroon settlements of Jamaica, as well as the resistance histories of pre-independence Venezuelan leaders and spiritual icons, including María Lionza, King Miguel, José Leonardo Chirino and Guaicaipuro, among others.

Maroon Comix features artwork by Songe Riddle, Mac McGill, Seth Tobocman, Hannah Allen, Emmy Kepler and Mikaela González. The comics’ diverse genres are captivating and evoke political reflection as well as emotional responses. Maroons, largely characterized by their anonymity in history, have few official portraits (1). They live on almost entirely through oral histories transferred from generation to generation with few archival sources. The historical importance of the illustrative work palpitates from each page as these struggles transcend time. Maroons are honored as heroes and heroines in ways unmatched in other literature. Selections from US political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz and citations from Trinidadian Marxist historian C.L.R James, anti-colonial leader and Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, US anthropologist Richard Price and others, are incorporated into the book’s narration, reminding us of the historical weight and reverence of these societies throughout time. Maroon Comix is an unparalleled opportunity to engage in what Saul refers to as “A mosaic and a manifesto, a genre and a genealogy, a maroon methodology!”

While some struggles mentioned in the book occurred simultaneously, others create a non-linear chronology. Spanning such broad histories takes tact and Maroon Comix does not disappoint. The work steers away from romantic tendencies, often attributed to the re-telling of maroon societies, and chronicles these struggles with a level of political sophistication and radical eloquence. While each contribution is a strong stand-alone piece, also printed in black and white, offering readers to apply their own imaginations in color if they wish; together, the comics build a collective approach to storytelling. In addition, Maroon Comix reminds us that this is only the beginning and admits to historical shortcomings. This work, spanning abolition to African socialism, invites other collectives and communities to envision new chapters and incorporate other stories to reverse the historical silencing of maroons.

Anyone who dedicates time to reading, or simply admiring Maroon Comix’s illustrations, will learn lessons from these self-determinant societies and engage in profound political questions. What defines reformist, radical, or revolutionary strategy? How did maroons build decentralized and democratic societies? What does it mean to build, share and live communally? What were the connections between guerrilla warfare, communal governance and ancestral spiritualities? How did maroon movements teach political integrity and ensure comradery? How did maroon communities challenge colonial powers and win? These questions remain consistent with ongoing concerns that international movements face today.

Maroon Comix Captures the Roots and Reality of the Bolivarian Process

Along Venezuela’s coastal towns and its mountainous countryside, entire Afro-Venezuelan and Indigenous communities have deepened their political commitment to studying anti-colonial struggles and incorporating these orientations, tactics and struggles into their current struggles. Since 1999, the Bolivarian Process has radically transformed the political landscape of the nation by: unearthing maroon historical figures and inscribing them into Venezuela’s national identity, even elevating figures such as Guaicaipuro, Juana La Avanzadora and Negro Primero to the National Pantheon, implementing educational initiatives; developing political, economic and cultural ties with other nations heavily inspired by maroons such as the Caribbean; as well as empowering political campaigns responding to the interests of the African and Indigenous working class and poor majority.

One of the cornerstone debates in Venezuela centers on the communal state (2). Comandante Hugo Chávez’s last political call to action definitively declared that the Venezuelan path to 21st Century Socialism would be defined by: ¡Comuna o Nada! The commune or nothing. Afro-Venezuelans, through a maroon inspired lens, have adjusted this revolutionary cry proclaiming: ¡Toda Venezuela Una Cumbe! All Venezuela [is] a Cumbe! urging the country’s socialist model to draw from marronage (3). Since 2008, Afro-Venezuelans have organized rutas del cimarrón (maroon routes), identifying, documenting and retelling the stories of their maroon communities. As a result, Afro-Venezuelans have invited other grassroots movements to partake in these efforts and have presented their maroon references to the Bolivarian state and the Ministry of Communes as a way to look toward other influential self-governance models pre-dating the Paris Commune and even the 18th century Venezuelan commune in the Andean state of Mérida. (4)

Afro-Venezuelan woman in a march to support President Maduro, June 2016 (Venezuelan Ministry for Women)

One of the regions where the rutas del cimarrón have taken flight is in the state of Yaracuy. In this agricultural and densely populated Afro-Venezuelan region, communities proudly resonate with their maroon past. Spiritual traditions and militant organizing in this community remain constant. Maroon Comix refers to this lineage highlighting the story of Indigenous Queen María Lionza, whose history and likeness has been adapted in Venezuelan films, music and literature. Today, she lives on in everyday Venezuelan life as an essential figure within Afro-Indigenous religious practices. Saul writes, “Maria Lionza is revered in Venezuela, and her spirit is said to inhabit the mountains outside Yaracuy. Born to an indigenous chief, she has become immortalized in a pantheon of maroon spirits: also in her holy trinity are the indigenous chief Guaicaipuro and the African warrior Negro Felipe, both of whom lived and died fighting against the Spanish colonists. A goddess of nature, she represents a synthesis of African, indigenous and European maroon cultures.” María Lionza, Negro Miguel and Guaicaipuro are honored in prayers, local celebrations and depicted on candles, cards and posters found in many Venezuelan homes and communally managed spaces. They are powerful historical leaders revered as both revolutionaries and deities.

Veroes, one of the Yaracuy’s fourteen municipalities, poignantly ties the past to the present. Andrés López del Rosario, known as Andresote, was a maroon from this region who launched African and Indigenous rebellions against Spanish crown and early monopolies in Venezuela. He similarly founded one of the largest maroon networks in Venezuelan history in the early 18th century, as documented by Afro-Venezuelan historian Jesús Chucho García. García attests that archival literature suggests that Andresote’s cumbe network reached the island of Trinidad. In Veroes, he established the Cumbe Río Chiquito which also existed as a cumbe móvil, a mobile cumbe, which fought off against colonial forces across the countryside. Fundamental in the pursuit for freedom during colonial times, Andresote had an incredible impact on Venezuela’s maroons and on African as well as Indigenous descendents. The citizens of Veroes continue to influence national politics in the same regard. Veroes was the community where Chávez first publicly self-identified with his African and Indigenous ancestry on his television program Aló Presidente and where dozens of international as well as Venezuelan organizations gathered to celebrate the First EcoSocialist International in November 2017.

Drawing inspiration from prior communist internationals, the First EcoSocialist International responded to “the cry of Mother Earth” seeking “to reverse the destructive process of capitalism, we will return to our origins, recuperate the ancestral spirituality of humanity, live in peace, and end war.” This unprecedented summit gathered approximately “100 people from 19 countries and five continents, 12 original peoples from Our America, and ecosocialist activists from 14 states of Venezuela.” And, as Kanya D’Almeida explains in her reflection of the gathering, “[The First Ecosocialist International] could only happen here, in Venezuela, where many millions are infused with a revolutionary spirit which they are determined to share with the world.” Undoubtedly, this spirit permeates Venezuelan political traditions, not only of contemporary efforts to build 21st Century Socialism, but is also rooted in the maroon martyrs of the nation’s anti-colonial past.

Similarly, in in the comic chapter “Modern Maroons”, editor Saul writes, “All over Venezuela maroon heritage is recognized and celebrated -- not only remembered but resurrected. The work of the original maroons is carried on in the context of an internationalist ecosocialist movement dedicated to overcoming colonialism and capitalism by returning to ancestral production and trading practices.” As Venezuela faces some of its most challenging political and economic times to date, the emphasis on maroon-like tactics, strategies and visions plays an instrumental role in facilitating transformations within Bolivarian Socialism.

In this same vein, Yaracuy is not isolated in its historical significance. The legacies of maroon resistance have arisen in the growing pan-Caribbean campaign for reparations. Unbeknownst to most outside of Venezuela, the Venezuelan 2010 national census confirmed that at least 60% of the population is of African descent or Black-identified. This critical detail underpinned the grassroots pressure on the Bolivarian government to ratify the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development (2015 -2024) in Caracas this March 2018. As a result, subsequent events responding directly to histories of enslavement and emancipation took place in Venezuela. In May 2018, amidst the political whirlwind of the country’s last presidential election, Venezuela hosted its first International Summit on Reparations. The more than 43 distinguished international experts, political leaders, heads of states and grassroots organizers expressed the pan-African and pan-Diasporic demands for legal recognition, economic restitution and reparative justice for the colonial harms of slavery. The Caribbean, African continent, Latin American and the Black nation within the United States participated with varying degrees of representation. Afro-Venezuelan movement leaders and community members, especially young people, attended the event and left with a commitment to build deeper understandings of reparations within Venezuela and their relationship to the Bolivarian Process.

The congress took place on May 8, 9 and 10th in honor of Afro-Venezuelan Identity and History month. These three full days of debates, discussions and presentations were held observing the commemorative dates of José Leonardo Chirino’s African- and Indigenous-led rebellion in Coro, state of Falcón, in 1795, embodying this maroon spirit. Although Venezuela is only an observing member of CARICOM, the largest economic and political block calling for reparations currently, the Bolivarian government facilitated a necessary space for these nations and others to deepen their actions in support of this joint state and grassroots-led initiative demanding financial restitution, cultural restoration and repair, land redistribution, as well as international legal campaigns seeking justice from colonial powers for their historical crimes against humanity. In addition to CARICOM, other precedent setting cases for reparations include the Haitian 2004 bicentennial demand for reparations from France for the more than $USD 24 billion (which resulted in significant backlash and the coup d’état against Lavalas President Jean Bertrand Aristide) and more recently, the Garífuna communities of Punta Piedra and Triunfo de la Cruz that successfully won two decades’ long cases against the Honduran state at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Long Live the Maroons!

The revival of African and Indigenous inspired political strategies have emerged and continue to emerge in a multitude of ways in Venezuela, from ecosocialism to reparations. The Maroon Comix team is key to this international effort to document, inspire and challenge. Their work offers today’s organizers, farmers, workers, political visionaries, dreamers, and militant generation at large, an invitation to reorient their political and theoretical frameworks from Euro-centric revolutionary models to African and Indigenous historical points of reference. Herein lie the ancestral forms of communalism, socialism and communism -- maroons, their societies, their strategies, their republics and their present-day permanence. Herein lie the answers to some of our deepest and most puzzling political questions and historical contradictions.

Notes

(1) Sara Johnson, "Statues of Solitude" (Emancipatory Legacies of Marronage:Politics and (Re)presentation, Caribbean Studies Association, La Habana Cuba, June 5, 2018). Johnson highlights the case of Solitude, a maroon woman from Grenada, whose history and image while popular are not entirely certain due to a lack of visual and other primary source documentation not unlike most maroons. http://www.caribbeanstudiesassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2018_CSA_Conference_Program_web.pdf

(2) At Venezuelanalysis, we have extensively covered the Commune movement in Venezuela and the political debates this movement has engaged in with the Bolivarian State. For more resources, review our analysis and multimedia sections highlighting these critical conversations. Some examples can be found here and here.

(3) Cumbe as collectively defined by the founding organizations of the First Ecosocialist International is “a territory of resistance dedicated to an intercultural way of life; a form of organization, production and insurgency pioneered by maroons; based on ancestral principles of solidarity and reciprocity and not in competition.” For more information see here.
Afro-Venezuelan movements convened thousands across the country to mobilize in 2016 around this call to action with the campaign of the same name, “Toda Venezuela un Cumbe.” For more information, listen here.

(4) For more information, Afro-Venezuelan historian Jesús Chucho García details the experiences here.

(5) For more information about Andresote’s legacy, read more of Jesús Chucho García’s work here and here.

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Pictures of a Gone City Reviewed in Insurgent Notes

By Loren Goldner
Insurgent Notes
August 2018

…Silicon Valley fever is a disease of a social body infected with the overheated pursuit of riches and expansion.
—Richard Walker

Richard Walker says in his exceptional book Pictures of a Gone City that someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the decades following World War II would not recognize the place today. As one such person, who fled the gentrification of the area decades ago, I can only agree. Walker is an emeritus professor of geography at uc Berkeley and seems to have made the social, political demographic and environmental history of the Bay Area his life’s work. He also uses a Marxist framework of analysis, though is a bit weak on real class struggles and strategies looking forward. He also seems to treat some official state and local institutions with more respect than I would, presenting them as partial ramparts capable of slowing or correcting the negative trends at work, at least under pressure “from below.” He is no fan of the Democratic Party, but also no mass strike theorist, and this blind spot is one main flaw of the book. But I’ll take Walker and this flaw, along with all his rich layers of analysis, rather than neither. (He takes his title from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “Pictures of the Gone World” which opens the book.)

The Bay Area after 1945 was a unique “scene” in the United States, something of which I only became fully aware when I left it. What happened (or at least accelerated) there after the mid-1970s was the superimposition of a fictitious, artificial, culturally and historically ignorant, self-satisfied and narcissistic tissue over most aspects of the previously lived reality, as if those driving the process were using Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle as a counter-insurgency manual. Not to jump ahead, but the fact that almost no ordinary black people any longer live in San Francisco, says just about everything.

Based on Walker’s title, I for one opened the book expecting more of a portrait of postwar Bay Area Bohemia and its general demise. The San Francisco/Berkeley core of the region was something of a refuge for 1930s and 1940s leftists keeping their heads down during the worst (late 1940s/early 1950s) years of McCarthyism, for which payback came in the 1960 riots against the notorious huac (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings in San Francisco, which effectively killed it off. The working-class Italian restaurants in San Francisco’s North Beach, frequented by radical longshoremen and poets alike, the cafés, the jazz clubs, the (black) Fillmore district, night clubs such as the Hungry I or the 1960s satirical review The Committee, art cinema houses, Pacifica Radio, bookstores such as City Lights (founded by Ferlinghetti in 1951) or Cody’s in Berkeley, the affordable rental housing in the pre-hippie Haight-Ashbury and elsewhere in pre-yuppie Victorians, were all part of a “scene” that tilted left, building on Kenneth Rexroth’s post-1945 circle of poets and anarchists. Beat poets and writers such as Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac later animated this scene, in which writers and artists and musicians and political activists could live cheaply and pursue their work. It was a scene of a time and a place, about whose broader social and economic limits those who breathed its heady atmosphere did not think too much, until gentrification wiped it out or neutered it, leaving behind little except icons (as with City Lights bookstore or the Cafe Trieste at Vallejo and Grant Streets) of a bygone era. It was the exact opposite of rank apologist Richard Florida’s “creative classes” of web site designers and the startup capitalists who displaced it.

Walker is aware of this demise, and critiques it, but not quite as forcefully as the money-driven forces that buried Bay Area Bohemia and working-class radicalism deserve.

Meanwhile, at the south end of the bay, those money-driven forces, associated with Silicon Valley high tech (or simply “tech”) were preparing to turn parts of the region into one of the wealthiest areas in the world, one which had little or no place for the left Bohemian and labor scene sketched above. Much has been written about the role of the hippie counter-culture in the rise of Silicon Valley, embodied in its best-known icon Steve Jobs of Apple, who traveled barefoot in a saffron robe in India before becoming an entrepreneur. So be it. Walker argues that this counter-cultural background of Silicon Valley tech partially explains its triumph over Boston’s more staid Route 128, being more inclined to “think outside the box.”

This “high tech” scene had origins in the South Bay region (Palo Alto and environs) as early as the 1940s, but truly took center stage in the 1970s, ultimately giving rise to most of “tech’s” contemporary “fangs” (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Snapchat). To the high tech “campuses” of the South Bay, however, outfitted with everything from exercise rooms to free gourmet food to childcare available 24/7, Walker counterposes the three or more million proletarians, increasingly Latino and Asian, who do the unglamorous scut work that keeps the region moving, and who are immune to the hype surrounding Silicon Valley since, as he puts it, “so little of the manna from tech heaven fell their way.” Nor does he neglect to mention the extra-long hours that tech workers themselves put in, in between their extra-long commutes. (Some of them merely sleep under their desks.)

Walker gives a “thick description” of the dot.com scene of the 1990s, notorious for such short-lived meteors as pets.com, or others, described by older, less sanguine figures such as banker and onetime Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker, marveling at multi-million dollar ipos (Initial Public Offerings) of startups that had never turned a profit, all of it culminating in the dot.com meltdown of 2000. The 1990s were the era of the “New Economy,” presumably one which had transcended the grey-on-grey laws of capitalist accumulation, until it hadn’t. This was similarly the era of the Bill Clinton mini-boom of the late 1990s, the only uptick to date for workers’ wages in a (briefly) tight labor market since the long stagnation began in the early 1970s. It also saw the ephemeral beginnings of a pay down of the Federal deficit, with “surpluses as far as the eye could see.” It seemed too good to be true, and it was. In a new expansion after 2000, hundreds of millions were again “pouring in to back up start-up Wag Labs, whose app connects dogs owners and dog walkers.” “In the end,” Walker writes, “the ideology of plucky start-ups ran into the hard realities of commerce and capital…”

Given the intrusion of the big tech firms into every aspect of life, as has, for example, been coming to light in Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, it is hardly surprising that disillusionment “with the lords of the Tech World…has been exploding in the last few years, taking the shine off the image of once shining knights of liberty, equality and information for all.” Walker demystifies the “much ballyhooed entrepreneurs and start-ups of today” who in reality draw on a century of earlier electronics technology development. They cannot be reduced to the “discoveries of modern science and men in white coats.” He does not forget the “cold bath of governmental assistance”: World War II purchases of radar and sonar tubes “made” by Hewlett Packard and Varian; the Department of Defense dominated digital computing right through the 1960s. Not to be forgotten was the National Science Foundation, funding research at Stanford and Berkeley: “The original internet was a DoD project…”
The theory of the creative class, writes Walker, “leaves out the majority of workers in the industry.”

The tech industry may be the pinnacle of modern industrial sophistication, innovation, and profitability, but it still rests on a mountain of ordinary labor…the tech industry could not function without a host of people doing manual, routine and unglamorous jobs. Counting such workers is made more difficult still by widespread subcontracting, primarily of people of color, Filipino, Vietnamese and Latino. This goes together with the failure to mention all the labor done in and for the tech industry overseas. The global reach of the Bay Area’s tech giants is motivated by one thing above all: access to cheap labor.

These include Foxconn’s workers making iPhones in Shenzhen, where a wave of high-rise suicide leaps in 2010 led the company to “install nets outside dormitory windows.” Contrary to the dominant ideology touting “risk takers,” writes Walker, “the success of the region rests on broader foundations, which are too often missing from the story of Silicon Valley fever: industrial clustering and urban agglomeration, the base technology of electronics nurtured in the region, and the labor of thousands of skilled workers and millions of others.” The fangs and the tech elite also engage in massive tax avoidance though the usual venues of “the Bahamas, Luxembourg and the Channel Islands.”

For all this wealth, Bay Area tech has been slammed by two major stock market routs, in 2000 and then in 2008. The region lost “half a million jobs, and only crept back to the employment level of 1999 by the end of 2015.” These meltdowns “bankrupted thousands of homeowners”; two million state employees lost their jobs and unemployment hit 12 percent. Commenting on the post-2009 expansion still underway when his book went to press, Walker writes:
The mainstream press rarely delves into the cumulative consequences of recessions, other than quoting unemployment figures. Reports on growing homelessness, poor health, and rising divorce rates are rarely connected to the hidden costs of economic recession crashing down on the heads of ordinary folks. But when the current economic wave breaks on the reef of capitalist excess, a huge amount of wreckage will be revealed on the shores of the Pacific Coast’s star performer.

In the Bay Area work force, the area “may be a high average wage region, but millions of people still go home with middling to lousy paychecks… People in humble jobs, such as custodians, security guards, and nursing aides, are not feeling the buzz.” As for comparative national income differentials, “the four counties of the West Bay come out much worse, ranking somewhere on a par with Guatemala, putting the heartland of High Tech neck and neck with a nation of latifundia…Low-wage work employs well over a third of the labor force, or around 1.3 million people, which translates into 3–4 million in those working families. This is only slightly better than the proportion of low-wage work in California and the nation…the well-off elite and salaried workers depend every day on the labor of millions of ordinary workers who are overwhelmingly not white and not male.” Inequality, Walker points out, “literally makes people sick and unhappy… Not surprisingly, among rich nations, the United States and Britain—where inequality is greatest—come off as the worst in measure after measure, from longevity to obesity, mental health to physical ailments.” The two countries also have “the weakest social safety nets and the harshest attitudes toward personal failure… The glow of the Bay Area’s success is deeply tarnished by the tragic residue of thousands of homeless people on street corners, living out of cars, and camping under freeways.” One troglodyte member of the tech elite did not mince words:

Every day, on my way to and from work, I see people sprawled across the sidewalk, tent cities, human feces and the faces of addiction. The city is becoming a shantytown… The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it… I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle and despair of homeless people on my way to work every day.

Cities such as San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland have ramped up the war on the homeless, ejecting (among other things) tent encampments. A “society that allows so many people to fall into public destitution in the face of abundance is a moral failure of the first order.”

“A truly shocking aspect of work in the bay metropolis is how many lousy jobs there are in such a high-flying, sophisticated economy.” Walker identifies these in retail, hotels, cleaning services, food preparation and domestic services. When high costs price such workers out of housing, “a chorus of howls about their absence goes up from employers, politicians, and upper-class households.”

“The postwar regime of stable, full-time and lifelong employment is a thing of the past.” The new normal is flexible or contingent employment, subcontracting, temp work and self-employed “consultants.” These latter make up between one-quarter and one-third of all jobs, culminating in the “Gig Economy.” The latter is “the antithesis of collective responsibility and class solidarity.”

Walker is presenting an ongoing process of class formation: “A new American working class is coming into being and it is heavily weighted with people of color…something unprecedented is happening here in the Bay Area and across the state… The working population has been transformed from majority White to majority Brown, with a touch of other colors.” Day laborers are undocumented immigrants “from native Indio groups in Southern Mexico and Guatemala who do not always speak Spanish, let alone English.” They stand on street corners and work in “heavy landscaping, debris clearing, crawling under houses, and other nasty jobs.” One quarter of all Californians are foreign born, coming from all over the world. This “overlap between immigrant rights and labor organizing” has made California a national vanguard while “the rest of the United States is still trying to get its collective head around mass immigration.”

Nevertheless, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump have deported millions, and the current amplified hysteria around “illegal and criminal” immigrants is feeding the raids of ice (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and Homeland Security around the country.

There is much more to Walker’s book, far more than can be included in a (relatively) short review. I urge Bay Area (and other) militant comrades to bracket Walker’s shortcomings as a Marxist and to use this book for more incisive interventions of their own. The hard left would do well to produce its own, improved version of such an exposé.

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The dark side of the San Francisco Bay Area's prosperity



By Richard Walker
San Francisco Chronicle
August 31st, 2018

The Rev. BK Woodson talks to people gathered at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to protest the minimum wage and demand that the charges against the Black Friday 14 be dropped on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015 in Oakland, Calif.
Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes / The Chronicle

The Bay Area has gone through an astonishing growth spurt in the 2010s, with the region’s gross domestic product rising by nearly 50 percent from $323 billion in 2009 to $470 billion in 2016. The Bay Area is the unrivaled world leader in information technology, with the biggest concentration of firms, startups and risk capital. Silicon Valley now stretches around the bay and is home to the first trillion-dollar corporation, Apple, and corporate behemoths such as Google (Alphabet), Facebook and Salesforce.

The Bay Area economy is only 10 percent tech, however. Other thriving sectors are finance and management, hospitality and tourism, health, education, food and wine, transportation, wholesale, retail and government. There is an extraordinarily talented labor force, loads of high-skill jobs and large salaries for many. Income per person is nearly $100,000 — far ahead of any other metropolitan region in the world.

So what could be wrong? Quite a lot, it turns out.

Obscene enrichment: The Bay Area is in the vanguard of inequality, with more billionaires and more 1 percenters per square foot than any other U.S. region. The superrich are overwhelmingly white men, while the majority of workers are women and people of color.

The short straw: Wages for the bottom third of the workforce have been stagnant, despite low unemployment, and the (working) middle class is shrinking here, as elsewhere. Low wages are good business, including for tech firms — which hide it by subcontracting. Wages rise only when there is pushback by unions, living wage ordinances and immigrant rights advocates.

Sky-high housing: The Bay Area is one of the most expensive and unaffordable regions in the world. Housing is beyond the reach of all but the top 20 percent. Only the upper classes can pay to play in the bright, shiny new city by the bay. High rents are due chiefly to the bloated demand of a supercharged economy, fast-rising incomes and severe inequality.

Wholesale displacement: Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their former homes. They move to the Bayview, to Oakland, and to the far extremities of the regional metropolis, from Dixon to Hollister. Tenant evictions are one nasty facet of the problem, tent cities of the homeless another. Yet even young people with prospects are finding it impossible to live here.

Uncontrolled sprawl: This is not your grandparents’ Bay Area of five counties or your parents’ version with nine; it is now officially 12 (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties). The region has its own Inland Empire, like Los Angeles, in the Central Valley and more long-distance commuting than anywhere. Traffic is a nightmare, and mass transit systems are overwhelmed.

Devouring resources: Despite the Bay Area’s record of conservation and progressive thinking about climate change, few are aware of the Bay Area’s enormous footprint and appetite for resources. Too little has been done to reduce water withdrawals from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and stop the governor’s twin-tunnels project, to curb urban expansion into wildfire zones and to take sea level rise seriously as cities keep building up and out.

Delusions of Tech World: First there was Silicon Valley Fever and then Dot-Com Madness, but there’s a new outbreak of hubris in Tech World. The lords of tech created new ways of working, socializing and knowing by means of iPhones, Google searches and Facebook friends, and made utopian promises of equality, information access and friendship. But they forgot to think through the dark side of their inventions, and their dreams are becoming our nightmares.

Political paralysis: The Bay Area tradition of progressive politics has frayed badly. Too many of the elite are self-satisfied, too many techies are naive libertarians, and too many activists end up in Portland, Ore. A shabby record of kowtowing to the tech industry puts local politicians in a poor position to lead the country forward. The Bay Area’s blue tilt is now mostly attributable to the new working class of color, which wants basic needs met, such as good education, health care and transit.

Remember, too, these are the good times. Every boom ends with a thud. The next crisis will hit the Bay Area hard, just as in 2000 and 2008. We may fail to learn from economic history, but we will not escape its harsh judgment.

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