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Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: May Day Bookstore Review

By Red Frog
May Day Books
Thursday, September 14th, 2017

I'll bet Austromarxism was not on the tip of your lips.  Mine either.  However, this intriguing little book came into May Day and touched on topics few talk about.  Dave Zirin, the sports lefty, should read it, as should some of the pacifist types on the left.  Even our tee-totalers will feel a bit vindicated.

The Working Class Atlas

Events in "Red Vienna" are somewhat unknown on the U.S. left, so this study helps with its extensive bibliography.  Lenin, Trotsky, Serge, Bela Kun & Ilona Duczynska all criticized the ideas and methods of the Austrian Social-Democratic Workers Party (SDAP) - Kautsky, Hilferding, Bauer, Adler and their the '2.5 International" - from a Bolshevik point of view.  Their key criticisms were brought out when the SDAP failed to stop Austrian fascism from triumphing in 1934. They called them 'all bark, no bite."  The SDAP talked left, mentioned the possible need for a dictatorship of the proletariat and tried to effect theoretical unity between Social Democrats and Communists, but none of that occurred. 

At four key moments of crisis in Austria the SDAP failed to live up to its revolutionary talk.  The first was their refusal to actively support the March 1919 council republic in next door Hungary.  Next, in July 1927, a court acquitted some fascists who had shot at an SDAP march and killed some workers.  During the mass workers protest that followed, the SDAP did not come out in a show of force to respond to the fascist threat.  Third, in March 1933 the SDAP failed to properly deploy their "Schutzbund" workers militia in the face of the suspension of the Austrian parliament by the fascists, and disappointed their own base. They followed that up in February 1934 by missing the moment and not moving fast enough to seize power in Vienna as the fascists were taking power.  This last failure, after a 3 day battle, led to the triumph of fascism in Austria.  The basic lesson learned was that 'retreat' emboldens the bourgeoisie and their fascist henchman, and at these key moments, the SDAP leadership backed down for fear of civil war.  Well, civil war came anyway. 

The German and Italian CPs did not even make the late attempt the SDAP did, so there is lots of blame to go around.  Though the CPs, including the tiny one in Austria, were key in the later partisan movements across Europe.

However the SDAP made valuable contributions in building an anti-fascist military militia, which unfortunately only went into action once.  The SDAP dominated the sports scene with working-class sports clubs. Some of their leaders crusaded against alcoholism as something which weakened the working-class, ultimately coming out against any drinking.  Karl Polyani described changes in Vienna after the 1919 election of the SDAP as unique in the socialist movement.   


The Republican Schutzbund was the anti-fascist militia built by the SDAP, which was drawn from party cadres, unions, the proletarian sports clubs, youth and the general working class.  It guarded meetings and demonstrations, paraded in strength, practiced military skills and was to be eventually called out in combat with fascist gangs or in defense of the working class and the destruction of republican institutions.  As was noted by the SDAP leadership, the bourgeois military is THE key prop of the capitalist order, so without an organized opposition, defeat is far more likely.  Yet due to the aforementioned hesitations of the SDAP leadership, the Schutzbund was only used once, which demoralized the Austrian working class and encouraged the fascist paramilitaries. 

There were debates within the Schutzbund as to whether it was to be a strictly military organization or should learn the skills of what has come to be called urban guerilla warfare.  The majority was in favor of traditional militarism.  Duczynska noted that this technique was sometimes more useful in controlling the working class than the enemy.  Nothing in the book indicates that the units allowed democratic votes, so they might have been purely top-down.   


The SDAP tried to create a working-class culture to accompany their political struggle.  After their election in Vienna they constructed large workers apartment buildings like the 'Karl Marx-Hof' to better house the class.  One writer about Red Vienna called it a "foretaste of the socialist utopia."  Public swimming pools, dental clinics in schools, maternity homes, adult education centers, lending libraries, , bookstores, publishing houses, theaters and festivals were all part of life in Red Vienna, part of an expression of Austromarxism and unknown in other cities.  It showed the role of the 'city' in socialist organizing.     


Of particular note, the SDAP created the Austrian 'Workers League for Sport & Body Culture,' which had hundreds of thousands of members and participated in nearly all sports. This kind of organization was not possible until workers got an 8 hour day.   This movement went international, with a series of well-attended proletarian ' Workers Olympics' that made no mention of nations and did not fly national flags, as does our present rabidly bourgeois 'Olympics.'  This was under the umbrella of the 'Socialist Workers Sport International (SWSI).'  At its peak, the SWSI had 2 million members and held 3 international Olympics. 

The sports clubs promoted health, community and strength for the average worker, not individualism, commercialism and 'records' by the pampered elite bourgeois athlete.   Participation was emphasized over passive watching of sports by fans.  One main purpose was to prepare the working class for a physical confrontation with the fascists or even the state, as flabby, weak or lazy workers would not be much good in a clash.  As part of this physical culture, the SDAP also created the 'Whersport' organization, which specialized in more military physical skills - marksmanship, martial arts, running and other disciplines related to military training.  All of this has echoes in the U.S.  - the Teamster Local 544 Union Guard, the BPP, AIM, Robert Williams and the Deacons for Defense, the JB Anti-Klan Committee, Socialist Rifle Association, Redneck Revolt - but in the U.S. they occur on a much smaller level.  So far...


Drinking is a two-edged sword, and many times it (and its modern equivalent, drugs) demobilizes working class people.  Karl Kautsky once remarked that 'liquor, that is the enemy.'  Like the strict rules against drug and alcohol by the Black Muslims, the SDAP promoted temperance as an antidote to the rampant alcoholism found among some working class people, which only profited the bourgeois 'inn' owners in Austria.  If religion is not the opiate of the people, certainly drugs and alcohol can be.  Most socialists at this time were OK with socializing around a glass of beer or wine (Marx was a beer drinker himself) but not the SDAP leadership.  And they might have had a point, as their society was marinating in fascism at the time. 

The book ends with re-publication of some of the writings of Julius Deutsch, a former impoverished worker and military man who met Luxembourg, Kautsky, Bebel, Trotsky, Bauer and Adler in Berlin and Vienna.  Deutsch had organized an anti-war group in the Austrian military during WWI and also fought in Spain.  During the first Austrian Republic in 1918, after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, he was appointed minister of defense by the Social Democrats as part of a joint government.   

May Day carries a number of Dave Zirin's books on sports.  Commentaries on anti-fascism, the NFL, the Olympics, drugs and alcohol, below.  Use blog search box, upper left with those terms. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!

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Direct Action in Anarchist Studies

By Benjamin Franks
Anarchist Studies
August 2017

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Walker C. Smith & William E. Trautmann, Direct Action & Sabotage: Three Classic IWW pamphlets from the 1910s, Salvatore Salerno (ed.)
Chicago: C.H. Kerr and Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2014; 116pp; ISBN 9781604864823

The volume is made up of three pivotal texts from the early period of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) written by William E. Trautmann, Walker C. Smith and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. It is supplemented with IWW illustrations from the period, a contemporaneous supportive note from the novelist Jack London and a well-informed introduction by Salvatore Salerno that helpfully contextualises the trio’s pamphlets. The three central texts demonstrate the importance of direct action to revolutionary syndicalist organisation and to sites of struggle beyond industrial production. These overlapping, accessible pamphlets provide important insights into the theoretical underpinnings and practical applications of direct action and sabotage. Support for workers’ direct action and sabotage marked the schism within the wider labour movement. The craft unions and social democratic American Federation of Labour opposed it, for the reasons that the revolutionary syndicalist IWW advo- cated it: direct action places power into the hands of the individual worker, removing reliance on intermediaries like political parties and union negotiators.

Whilst these texts contain occasionally naïve consequentialist justifications for direct action (pp34, 67), all the authors then point to the immanent goods of industrial direct action: the embodiment of moments of solidarity and transcendence. Direct action assists in, and embodies, the development of transformative social organisation. The pamphlets thus highlight how sabotage is not only reactive – a response to the specific, repressive actions of the bosses and their agents – but also prefigurative of future social relations.

The diversity and creativity of direct action is highlighted by the three authors, as such methods include machine-breaking, over- and under-contamination (the former to highlight how capitalists damage goods and customers’ health in the search of profit), strikes, go-slows, work-to-rules, and informing the public about the true contents of the goods they buy. Such diverse methods require complex, often informal, structures of support, which then encourage greater acts of solidarity against capitalist values of profit maximisation and the supremacy of property rights. Thus the three pamphlets – but especially Smith’s – pre-empt the autonomist Marxist concept of autovalorisation, by highlighting how workers through direct action create their own values and social relations separate to – and against – those of capital. By contrast, reformist bodies, like the Knights of Labour, which channel opposition into representational hierarchies, produce inert social actors and regressive institutions.

Flynn applies the notion of sabotage in her discussion of women taking control over their own bodies – challenging their sexual and reproductive role under capitalism – and thus extends the focus of class struggle well beyond the site of industrial production. She identifies how this radical (and, in many states, illegal but pervasive) micro-politics prioritises women’s interests over the commercial pressure to supply workers. This politics of the body anticipates post-structural considerations by over half a century.

Salerno’s introduction does include a small, but significant, theoretical idiosyncrasy. It situates ‘direct action’ as ‘non-violence’, because, he claims, it rejects life-threatening terrorism or personal injury. This is especially odd as none of the authors absolutely rule out physical harm to the oppressors. Indeed Trautmann gives examples of what he considers to be life threatening – and indeed life-ending – justified direct action and extends his definition to include some acts of individual terror (pp35-8). Despite this minor quibble, this is an exhilarating collection
of texts, which will delight anyone who faces the managerialist oppressions and humiliations of daily life – such that even toilet breaks are timed and quantified. As these texts joyfully identify, sabotage is (possible) everywhere and provides the basis for richer, freer humane relations.

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Theorists and Thieves

by Dhruv Jain
Monthly Review
September 2017

Dhruv Jain holds a PhD in Social and Political Thought from York University, and has written widely on politics, philosophy, and social movements.

Gabriel Kuhn, ed., Turning Money into Rebellion: The Unlikely Story of Denmark’s Revolutionary Bank Robbers (Montreal and Oakland: Kersplebedeb and PM, 2014), 240 pages, $19.95, paperback.

In November 1969, Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper, published an exchange between Arghiri Emmanuel and Charles Bettelheim, in which the two Marxian economists debated the possibility of international solidarity between the working classes of the imperialist countries and those of the semi- or neo-colonies. Emmanuel held deep reservations about such alliances, while Bettelheim maintained that they were both feasible and necessary.

In the decades since, Bettelheim’s position has become the majority opinion within many progressive and revolutionary movements. Recent years, however, have seen a renewed interest in Emmanuel’s arguments. The collection Turning Money into Rebellion tells the dramatic and little-known story of a particularly committed contingent of Western European revolutionaries deeply influenced by Emmanuel’s ideas.1

As the debate was playing out in the pages of Le Monde, a small group of Danish Maoists took the unusual step of breaking relations with the Communist Party of China over these very questions. In 1970, they formed an underground organization of highly disciplined cadres who would implement what they saw as the political implications of Emmanuel’s position: to forego the fight for socialism in the immediate future in Denmark, and turn instead toward the third world. From 1972 on, they devoted their efforts to political solidarity work through a legal charity that they founded, Clothes to Africa, and a criminal cell—unknown to most members of either the group or the charity—that carried out bank robberies to help fund progressive forces fighting for revolution in Palestine, South Africa, and elsewhere.

Over the next twenty years, the robbers, calling themselves the Manifest–Communist Working Group (M-KA), channeled millions of dollars to such movements around the world. They never tried to justify any given robbery in political terms, through statements or communiqués, preferring that police believe it was the work of ordinary thieves. This extreme expression of solidarity derived from the group’s analysis of Danish society, and their belief that the Danish working class as a whole was too complacent to take any interest in international solidarity with the revolutionary proletariat in the neo- and semi-colonies, because they had been “bribed” by imperialist super-profits. Following their arrest in 1989, they became known as the Blekinge Street Gang, after the site of their hideout in Copenhagen.

Today it might seem that only specialist scholars and activists would take any interest in an organization like the M-KA, never mind read an anthology of essays, interviews, and documents detailing their ideology and activities. After all, such ultraleft groupuscules abounded in Europe and North America in the 1970s, and despite the sensational headlines they generated, their real influence was, in the main, negligible. The M-KA never had more than fifteen members; its predecessor, the Communist Working Circle (KAK), had twenty-five. What makes them historically noteworthy, and Turning Money into Rebellion a riveting read, is their unusual fusion of academic theories of unequal exchange with a revolutionary praxis of armed expropriations, used to fund revolutionary movements across the neo- and semi-colonies, especially the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Delusions of Internationalism

Emmanuel argued that the objective situation in the imperialist countries precluded the kind of internationalism that should undergird communist practice. In the nations of Western Europe and North America, socialism seemed so far in the future that the working class could hardly see it.2 What caused this apparently unbridgeable gap? The history of trade union struggles had “led not only to an increase in the extent to which external profits were shared between the classes, but to the redistribution, as between different strata of the working class, of the share obtained by that class as a whole,” Emmanuel wrote, which resulted in the internationalization of the differentiation between classes that had previously existed only at the national level.3

Emmanuel explained that from “the moment when the sharing out of the product of international exploitation assumes an important, if not preponderant, place in what is at stake in the class struggle within the nation, this struggle ceases to be a genuine class struggle in the Marxist sense of the term, and becomes a settlement of accounts between partners around a jointly-owned cake.”4

Bettelheim vigorously disagreed. He argued that both theory “and concrete analysis show” that differences in living standards and class consciousness between the first and third world working classes were “rooted in the unequal development of capitalist production in different countries, and the effects of this inequality of development on the intensity and productivity of labor.”5 It was differences in the organic composition of capital that allowed workers in imperialist countries to produce more value in a given period of labor-time, which in turn accounted for international wage differentials. The rate of exploitation within imperialist countries, according to Bettelheim, was actually greater than in the colonized countries. This was not to suggest that their level of consumption was lower than the that of the third world; rather “that wages there are relatively lower, in comparison with productivity expressed in money terms.”6 At the heart of Emmanuel’s thesis of “unequal exchange,” Bettelheim argued, was “the unequal development of the productive forces under conditions of world domination by capitalist production relations that is the basic fact explaining the international economic inequality of wages.”7 This held important implications for international solidarity: it was “not possible” to speak of workers in the imperialist countries being part of the exploitation of workers in the colonized countries, which would have rendered solidarity impossible. Instead, there existed “objective bonds of solidarity between them, since they are all subjected, directly or indirectly, to capitalist exploitation, or are threatened by it.”8

From Appel to Arghiri

Meanwhile, in Denmark, a Marxist economist named Gottfred Appel had, quite independently of Emmanuel, developed in a series of articles in 1966–67 a similar “parasite state theory,” in response to the KAK’s failure to mobilize factory workers. Appel agreed that capitalism in the imperialist countries had been built on the exploitation of the domestic working class, but argued that “in the imperialist countries the whole of this development has mainly taken place on the basis of a vigorous exploitation, not of the workers of the imperialist countries themselves, but of the working people of the colonial and dependent countries” (185). Appel did not dispute that exploitation remained an aspect of the relationship between the bourgeoisie and first world workers, but argued that it was not the defining feature: “Today the factor of exploitation is present in Danish capitalist society, but it does not take up the dominant position. Today the factor of bribery is dominating the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This factor of bribery has had its imprint on the attitude of the working class as a whole” (185). In other words, the working class in the imperialist countries, despite their exploitation, had been bribed into complacency, in effect recognizing that gains could be won precisely through the further exploitation of the colonized countries, inasmuch as those gains were paid for by super-profits earned through imperialist exploitation.

While they embraced key tenets of his theory, Appel and the KAK nevertheless differed from Emmanuel in their use of moralistic terms like “parasite” and “bribe,” and in their belief that revolution remained possible in a country like Denmark, albeit under very different conditions. If third world nations could successfully delink economically and politically from imperialism and the capitalist world system, they would “inevitably” upend conditions in the imperialist countries themselves, which in turn would allow the working classes in those countries to regain their revolutionary potential (5). Appel’s analysis was not a form of political defeatism or quietism; rather, it was concerned with carrying out the political tasks necessary to create the conditions for revolutionary struggle in the imperialist countries.

By 1978, the KAK split into three factions, divided by Appel’s domineering leadership and a poorly handled “anti-gender discrimination campaign” inside the organization. The M-KA faction would continue the efforts initiated by the KAK, including intellectual work, attempts at mass mobilization, and illicit activities. The M-KA felt the need to revise and amend the classical Marxist analysis of imperialism, as put forward by Lenin and uncritically adopted by Appel and the KAK:

For years we studied capital export to the Third World and profit rates. We studied the development of transnational corporations and the extraction of raw materials. Eventually, we had to conclude that Lenin’s analysis of imperialism was no longer appropriate. Foreign direct investments and profits could no longer explain the rising gap between the rich countries and the poor. However, KAK was not able to draw the necessary conclusions and revise its theory. (59)

Having broken with Appel and the KAK, the M-KA turned to Samir Amin’s theories of the relation between the global center and periphery, and to Immanuel Wallerstein’s studies of the historical development of capitalism. But it was Emmanuel’s theory of unequal exchange that became central to their analysis. Rather “than capital export and superprofits,” the hallmarks of Appel’s parasitic-class theory, “unequal exchange was the reason for the world being divided into rich and poor countries. Unequal exchange happens when goods are produced in Third World countries where wages are low and sold in rich countries where wages are high” (59).

For the M-KA, the strategic import of this analysis was to continue to take part in the class struggle, but at an international level.

While the M-KA remained close to Appel’s “parasite state theory”—their differences were primarily organizational, not ideological—their encounter with Emmanuel’s work had a distinct and lasting influence. The KAK had first contacted Emmanuel in 1974, but after the formation of the M-KA, the connection became stronger, and over the years, members of the group would meet with him in Paris to discuss theoretical concerns. In 1983, Emmanuel even wrote the foreword to the M-KA’s most significant publication, Imperialism Today: Unequal Exchange and the Prospects of Socialism. He maintained contact after the members’ imprisonment, up until his death in 2001. Emmanuel admired the clarity of the M-KA’s vision, writing that the group’s call to “put oneself at the service of the classes which have had an interest in overthrowing imperialism, ‘… no matter where they are geographically,'” was “clearer and more distinct than anything I have been able to mumble in here and there to my various questioners” (60–61).

Throughout the 1970s, the KAK kept a low profile in Denmark, launching its Clothes for Africa project in 1972. Chapters sprang up throughout Denmark, and sent clothes, tents, medicine, and other supplies to camps administered by revolutionary movements. They also launched their “illegal practice,” using “robbery and fraud…to supplement the material support for Third World liberation movements provided by…legal fundraising efforts” (9). Over the years, the group sent more than a hundred tons of clothes to flea markets to raise money for groups including the MPLA in Angola, ZANU in Rhodesia, and FRELIMO in Mozambique. The KAK’s illegal activities included a 1972 burglary of a Danish Army weapons depot; the seizure of 500,000 Danish crowns in 1975 from a cash-in-transit truck; and the theft of 1.5 million crowns in 1976 through a sophisticated postal scam. The group stole millions more in the 1980s from banks, trucks, post offices, and shopping centers. In 1985, they hatched and ultimately abandoned plans to kidnap an heir to one of Sweden’s richest families. A 1987 bank robbery that resulted in the death of a police officer marked the beginning of the end, as the Copenhagen police and Danish security services began an unprecedented collaboration to apprehend the culprits. By 1989, all the group’s members had been arrested, and in 1991 they were convicted in a widely publicized trial.

While the KAK and M-KA had few contacts with the broader Danish left, they did not work in political isolation. Given the centrality of the success of third world revolutionary movements to their ultimate goal of revolution in Denmark, in 1970 Appel and the KAK traveled to Jordan to meet with representatives of the PFLP. In years that followed, the KAK and M-KA would work especially closely with the PFLP, as well as with FRELIMO, ZANU, MPLA, the IRA, and the Liberation Support Movement in Canada. The M-KA remained independent, however: the group had no connections to other ultraleft sects in Europe, such as the Red Brigades in Italy or the Red Army Faction in Germany. Nor was it a mere PFLP cell, as it was often portrayed in the Danish media. Any relationship the KAK and M-KA established with outside groups was formed on the basis of their socialist perspective, broad popular support, and strategic significance.

Whatever the errors and excesses of their tactical approach, from 1972 to 1989, the KAK and its successor, the M-KA, developed a unique synthesis of orthodox Marxism-Leninism, contemporary theories of imperialism and unequal exchange, and legal and illegal practice that distinguishes it from any other group then active in Europe and North America. It is this intersection of theory and action that transforms Turning Money into Rebellion from a historical study of an obscure Danish cadre organization into a book that anyone interested in issues of international solidarity ought to read. Indeed, the questions that Emmanuel and Bettelheim debated, and which the KAK and M-KA sought to answer—of unequal relations between nations, of the revolutionary potential of working classes in imperialist countries, of the means by which international solidarity can be achieved—remain deeply unresolved.


 1.    ↩In particular, this debate has surrounded the publication of Zak Cope’s Divided World, Divided Class (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2012). See Timothy Kerswell, “Labor Divided,” Monthly Review 65, no. 7 (December 2013); Matthijs Krul, “Book Review: Zak Cope, ‘Divided World, Divided Class,'” Notes & Commentaries blog, January 3, 2013,; Charlie Post, “Workers in the Global North: A Labour Aristocracy?” New Socialist, December 23, 2012,; and Bromma, The Worker Elite (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2014).
 2.    ↩Arghiri Emmanuel, “The Delusions of Internationalism,” Monthly Review 22, no. 2 (June 1970): 14–15.
 3.    ↩Emmanuel, “Delusions of Internationalism,” 16.
 4.    ↩Emmanuel, “Delusions of Internationalism,” 18.
 5.    ↩Charles Bettelheim, “Economic Inequalities between Nations and International Solidarity,” Monthly Review 22, no. 2 (June 1970): 20–21.
 6.    ↩Bettelheim, “Economic Inequalities between Nations,” 21–22.
 7.    ↩Bettelheim, “Economic Inequalities between Nations,” 22.
 8.    ↩Bettelheim, “Economic Inequalities between Nations,” 23.

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Written in Blood: A Review

when miners marchby George Brosi
Appalachian Mountain Books
August 2017

The heart of this book is two articles that were published first in the Summer 2011 issue of Appalachian Heritage when I was serving as its editor.

“Esau in the Coal Fields” by Michael Kline exposes a horrendous practice at the Whipple Company Store near Oak Hill, West Virginia. When a coal miner living in their company town would be killed in the mines, his family would be evicted from their home unless the widow agreed to work as a prostitute upstairs in the Company Store. “Victory on Blair Mountain” by Wess Harris argues that the militant miners who fought the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 in West Virginia against the coal operators and the local, state, and federal governments did gain significant victories then and there. Before I published each of these articles I carefully edited them, with the consent of the authors, to be sure that the content was unassailable, and I checked with my supervisors at Berea College who publish Appalachian Heritage to make sure that publishing these articles would not result in any liabilities on their part.

Written in Blood begins with all of the articles in Truth Be Told edited and published by Wess Harris in 2015 plus one poem. These essays include the two articles mentioned above and three articles presenting collaborating evidence that the practices at the Whipple Company Store were widespread as well as were other ways of sexually exploiting the women of the coal fields. The new book also includes 13 of the 14 articles in Dead Ringers: Why Miners March edited and published by Harris in 2012. In addition, the new book includes interviews by Michael and Carrie Kline with two courageous defenders of coalfield workers, Tony Oppegard and Jack Spadero. It ends with three articles, not found elsewhere, by Nathan J. Fetty, Carrie Kline, and Wess Harris that bring coal field struggles up to date and provide both inspiration and concrete suggestions for constructive participation in rectifying past abuses and building a more just future. The result is that you need Written in Blood even if you have the two earlier books, but if you have Written in Blood, there is little need for either of the two previous books.

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Another Inconvenient Truth: Normal Channels Are Not Enough

by Steve Chase
Minds of the Movement
August 22nd, 2017

A few weeks back, I sat in a movie theater watching Al Gore’s new movie about his efforts to avert climate chaos through citizen education, lobbying, and high level negotiations. The film is funny, heartbreaking, insightful, scary, and, even hopeful at times. Yet, I’m not sure that Gore fully understands what is involved when he compares the global climate protection movement to historic US social movements for labor rights, women’s suffrage, ending legal Jim Crow segregation in the South, and promoting gay and lesbian rights.

These social movements were successful because they combined “normal institutional channels” of activism—which Gore advocates—with a strategy of nonviolent civil resistance and mass mobilization through strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations, and other tactics—which Gore ignores here. He does not even mention his marching in the giant climate march in New York to impact the policies of the UN, let alone discuss more daring efforts like the native Water Protectors struggle to stop the Dakota Pipeline, or’s coordinated “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” civil disobedience mobilization in May 2016. Those creative actions involved hundreds of thousands of concerned people on six continents nonviolently disrupting the global fossil fuel industry.

Fortunately, there is a good resource available that applies a civil resistance framework to addressing climate change. It is the new book Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual, written by documentary filmmaker, labor historian, and organizer Jeremy Brecher.  The author has walked his talk, organizing with the Labor Network for Sustainability and being arrested in the early White House sit-ins against the Keystone XL pipeline.  In 2015, he wrote an online book entitled Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival in which he tried to sketch out an effective, long-term strategy for the global climate protection movement. His new book updates and develops these ideas further and it is a worthy and timely read.

What is his big idea? For Brecher, “climate insurgency” means moving beyond “climate protection strategies that operate exclusively within the framework of conventional electoral politics and lobbying.” It means adapting Gandhi’s civil resistance strategies used to end British imperial rule to now address unaccountable government and corporate criminals pushing climate chaos. Brecher calls on all of us to transform ourselves from “climate worriers into climate warriors,” people who are ready, willing, and able to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and escalating civil resistance tactics, “ranging from sit-ins to general strikes and from boycotts to dual sovereignty and parallel governments.”

This may sound extreme, but scientists’ predictions for climate change are incredibly dire, and the lives and livelihoods of present and future generations hang in the balance. As Brecher also notes, “The political systems of the most powerful countries are dominated by fossil fuel interests” and “are supported by institutions, corporations, and constituencies that fear the consequences of a transition to a fossil-free world.” Our choices in this situation are do nothing, only use our very constrained normal channels of institutional change, build strong nonviolent civil resistance movements, or engage in sporadic political violence in the hopes of achieving climate justice. The option that has had the most success under the circumstances of a “democracy deficit” is civil resistance (though normal channels can aid in this work).

Brecher’s book picks up on this important fact and even points to specific examples of the kind of civil resistance actions that can show us the way forward. In his opening chapter “This Is What Insurgency Looks Like,” he presents a global snapshot.

In the Philippines, ten thousand people marched and rallied demanding the cancellation of a six-hundred-megawatt coal power plant project. In New Zealand, protesters blockaded and shut down Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington branches of the ANZ bank, which had $13.5 billion invested in fossil fuels. In Indonesia, banner drops brought a coal terminal to a standstill, and three thousand people held a “climate carnival” at the presidential palace demanding a move from coal to renewable energy. In Germany, four thousand people shut down a large lignite coal mine for more than two days. In Vancouver, Canada, more than eight hundred people held a sit-in and a kayak swarm at the tanker terminal for the Kinder Morgan gas pipeline. In Turkey, community leaders led a mass action at a coal waste site calling for a halt to four fossil fuel plant projects planned for the area.

In the rest of the book, Brecher explains in clear ways just how civil resistance could be developed further and made a core strategy of an effective climate justice movement. In future posts, I hope to explore some of his most important strategic insights in greater detail. Right now, I just want to urge people to read this book!

Steve Chase is a long-time activist, educator, and writer. He was an editor at South End Press for many years, the founding director of Antioch University’s master’s level activist training program in Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability, and is currently ICNC’s Manager of Academic Initiatives.

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Eye of the Storm: scott crow on Revolutionary Infrastructure

Audio Player

Hurricane Harvey has hit Texas and thousands of people are not displaced from their homes and are having trouble meeting their basic needs. As in past disasters, everyday human beings and autonomous formations are providing more on the ground aid and support than government agencies or major NGOs. In the meantime, journalists have attacked and police have arrested those who have been caught looting just to feed themselves as the city has also implemented a curfew. Many have also noted how Trump has given more compassion to the wealthy as he pushes forward his plans for tax cuts than to those who have died or lost their homes in Texas.

Looking back at past autonomous and anarchist responses to disasters, which includes efforts like Occupy Sandy in New York, we immediately come across the Common Ground Collective that sprung up in New Orleans in the Lower 9th Ward which was founded by Malik Rahim. At the center of the action was long time anarchist organizer Scott Crow and in this interview we discuss how the Common Ground Collective and Clinic grew to include 7 clinics throughout the neighborhood and over 200 community gardens.

Scott argues that anarchists and autonomous anti-capitalists need to concentrate their efforts on building up revolutionary infrastructure and dual power. Towards this end we spend a lot of time talking about what this could look like and how a project similar to Common Ground could possibly be built today.

After this podcast was recorded autonomous and anarchist groups began to respond to the Harvey disaster and currently are organizing supply lines, working on the ground, and are raising money. Check out the above tweets for how to plug in.

More Info: Black Flags and Windmills and Scott Crow on Twitter.

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(H)afrocentric Starred Review in Kirkus

Starred Review
September 2017

Originally published in four  separate volumes, this graphic novel introduces the outspoken college-student revolutionary Naima Pepper and her friends.

Naima is a mixed-race, half-black, half-white, student struggling to reconcile the inequalities that she sees on the campus of the fictional Ronald Reagan University and in the surrounding neighborhoods of Oakland, California. She decides to start an online anti-gentrification movement,, envisioning it as a social networking space for black people to congregate when they tire of “white folks.” To raise funds, Naima and her friends decide to throw a concert. Naima and her best friend, Renee, go on a quest to organize support for the concert, including a humorous meeting in which they try to entice a white, dreadlock-wearing hipster couple to contribute solar panels. Following this, Naima is in need of a senior internship to graduate. When she can’t find an internship that suits a revolutionary, her fairy godmother (who looks like Fannie Lou Hamer) creates one as a “racial interpreter” that finds Naima answering stereotypical questions asked by white people about black people. The novel hosts a multicultural cast of college students who engage politically, blending satire and history for a recipe of topics millennials don’t shy from. Sporting a tank top with the word “Ally” written above a photo of John Brown, perched on top of the literal soap box she preaches from, Naima Pepper is a force to be reckoned with.

Readers will be smitten with Naima, and they will hope for more of her. (Graphic novel. 14-adult)

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(H)afrocentric in The San Francisco Chronicle

By Brandon Yu
San Francisco Chronicle
August 25th, 2017

Juliana “Jewels” Smith’s “(H)afrocentric” began in community college classrooms, when she attempted to use the comic book form to challenge and engage her students — a fitting origin story for a work itself focusing on a group of young university students organizing a movement as budding activists.

Composed of four volumes from an ongoing comic series, “(H)afrocentric” follows four students at the fictional Ronald Reagan University in Oakland, where gentrification has taken hold of the city surrounding the predominantly white campus. The reluctantly political crew is led by Naima Smith, a half black, half white student plotting her way into the ranks of her revolutionary idols like George Jackson and Angela Davis.

Smith has described her comics as a feminist version of “The Boondocks,” but if “(H)afrocentric” is a sister companion, it might be alongside Netflix’s TV show “Dear White People.” Both portray Millennial black students taking on racial injustice, from large-scale, systemic forms to quotidian ignorance, on a largely white campus.

But the strong suits of “Dear White People” — the more nuanced interrogation of black identity and the inner conflicts of how black activism ought to take form — lack the same dimension in “(H)afrocentric.”

The first three volumes focus on Naima’s attempt to fund her idea for, an “anti-gentrification social networking site, for black folks.” Like many other lines, it can be hard to tell if Smith is being self-indulgent in her social justice leanings, or slyly self-deprecating. The fourth volume, however, takes a fuller shape and sharper satire. Naima struggles to deal with her new job as a “racial translator” and fights with her Fannie Lou Hamer-looking fairy godmother over what it takes to become a revolutionary.

Alongside nicely detailed illustrations by Ronald Nelson, Smith sets up promise for a deeper picture of an ultimately new type of comic.

Even if the execution is not as satisfying, the very existence of something like “(H)afrocentric” — a comic with a black heroine at its center whose fight against injustice reflects pressing realities — is enough to be a welcome presence, and one a long time coming at that.

Brandon Yu is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:

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"I Never Claimed I Was F***ing Sitting Bull"

Ward Churchill, fiery ex-professor and Native American rights activist, is ready for his comeback

By Wes Enzinna
Mother Jones
September 5th, 2017

Ward Churchill in 2006, before he was fired from the University of Colorado. Thomas Boyd/Zuma

One Saturday afternoon, Ward Churchill returned to the University of Colorado-Boulder, where 10 years earlier he’d been fired and stripped of tenure as chair of the college’s ethnic studies department. “I thought Bill O’Reilly would’ve stirred up a few protesters,” he said before taking the floor in a carpeted conference room half filled with about 50 professors, students, and activists.

The O’Reilly Factor aired 41 segments on Churchill. The Weekly Standard tagged him “the worst professor in America.”

Standing before the crowd, the 69-year-old Churchill cut the image of the bomb-throwing radical—“a traitor,” as O’Reilly put it—that he’d been cultivating his entire life: 6-foot-5 in cowboy boots, with a long gray-black ponytail cinched with a black band and his waist lassoed with a beaded belt. He grit his teeth while talking, like he was chewing tobacco, and spat out his words with disgust. “American jockstrap sniffers,” he called his critics, in particular the academics who’d picked apart his scholarship and helped get him fired. He compared them to SS officers, to apparatchiks helping the trains of a supposedly corrupt University of Colorado system run on time. “That’s what Eichmann did,” he said. The crowd gasped with delight.

Churchill’s penchant for this comparison, ad-Nazium, runs deep. Each of his 18 books is a brick in a monumental project dedicated to proving that Native Americans were subjected to a genocide comparable to the Holocaust. The day after September 11, he published an essay describing the stockbrokers and technocrats who died in the Twin Towers as “little Eichmanns.” Right-wing media was incensed: The O’Reilly Factor aired 41 segments on him. The Weekly Standard tagged him “the worst professor in America.”

His scholarly work was investigated by a University of Colorado special committee—overseen by CU President Hank Brown, a former Republican senator who co-founded the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a conservative campus watchdog, with Lynne Cheney in 1995. Churchill was accused of plagiarism and falsifying his research, and he was fired in July 2007.

Most of the claims leveled against Churchill were later deemed “almost entirely false or misleading.” But it was too late.

After reviewing 17,000 pages of evidence, the American Association of University Professors would later find most of the claims leveled against Churchill “almost entirely false or misleading.” When Churchill sued CU, a jury reached the same conclusion. But it was too late. Churchill’s career and reputation were eviscerated.

In the decade since Churchill’s dismissal, his case has not only become just one in a long line of right-wing attacks on academic freedom, it has also served as a precursor to today’s “free speech” battles. While ACTA once published a list of instructors opposed to President George W. Bush’s anti-terrorism policies, groups such as the Bradley Foundation and the Koch Foundation spend hundreds of thousands of dollars funding centers on college campuses dedicated to promoting so-called free-market ideas—a professor at a Koch-backed center once described the students as foot-soldiers—as well as backing groups that target “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” as antithetical to free expression.

Republican legislators, meanwhile, attempt to silence other types of speech on campus, such as when, in 2015, GOP lawmakers in North Carolina shut down the Center for Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at the UNC-Chapel Hill’s law school for allegedly being too left-leaning. Or earlier this year, when Republican state legislators threatened to withhold funds from the University of Wisconsin-Madison until it agreed to fire the instructor of a course on “The Problems of Whiteness.” Churchill’s firing, and ACTA and right-wing media’s cheering of it, belies, in some ways, campus conservatives’ concern for protecting academic freedom, and Churchill is a reminder that today’s right-wing-led free speech fights are mostly about politics and power, not the First Amendment.

“Academic freedom in America is dead,” Churchill told the crowd.

Now, in Boulder, he had returned to say I told you so. “Academic freedom in America is dead,” Churchill told the crowd. “I had my identity before I was a professor, I had it while I was a professor, and I have it now.”

After his decadelong absence from public life, he had just published a volume of his collected work, Wielding Words Like Weapons. There’s also a forthcoming volume and “a half-dozen books in varying states of completion.” His return was an attempt at a comeback, and a vindication. He’d been invited to give the keynote address at a conference organized by the lead author of the American Association of University Professors report that concluded that Churchill had been the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt that violated “the most basic principles of academic freedom.”

After his hourlong speech, Churchill shook hands and signed some books before walking to the parking lot carrying a check for his $550 speaking fee—before he was fired, he charged $5,000. He climbed into a red Dodge Durango, lit a filterless Pall Mall, and drove toward downtown Boulder, past the building where he got his start as a writer for Soldier of Fortune magazine, past the corner where he’d been arrested for protesting Columbus Day in 1991. A spring storm had painted the streets with a fresh coat of snow. “I don’t even recognize this fuckin’ place,” he said as he passed a new Barnes & Noble and condo towers. “It’d be nice to blow it up.”

The truck’s seatbelt warning dinged. Churchill “doesn’t do seatbelts.”

The truck’s seatbelt warning dinged. Churchill “doesn’t do seatbelts.” He doesn’t do airplanes either. He’d driven from Atlanta, where he now lives—it took a whole week—just to get here. Driving, he said, clears his head.

When he arrived at a brown ranch house on Wicklow Street, he slowed to a crawl. He’d lived in the house for 30 years, until he sold it in 2012 after his appeal to be reinstated at CU-Boulder was rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court. He recalled shooting jackrabbits in the pasture across the street. It was now the yard of a McMansion. “That house would look really good,” Churchill said, “if it was on fire.”

On the night of May 31, 2000, Churchill’s 25-year-old wife, Leah Renae Kelly, died about a hundred yards from here. She and Churchill had been sitting on their porch when they got into an argument. Churchill went inside. When he returned, Kelly, who had been drinking heavily, was gone. Soon Churchill saw flashing blue lights down the road and went running toward them. He found Kelly splayed across the road’s center line. She’d been run over. Churchill picked up her body, like a “broken bird,” and she died soon afterward.

“Leah Renae Kelly was not simply an ‘inebriated pedestrian killed by [a] car,’ as the local newspaper so casually remarked on the date she died,” Churchill writes in his 2013 essay, “Kizhiibaabinesik,” collected in Wielding Words Like Weapons. (Kizhiibaabinesik means “great bird circling the earth” in Ojibwa.) “There were reasons why that young, beautiful, incredibly promising, and catastrophically drunk Ojibwe woman was running barefooted down the middle of the road that night.”

Those reasons, Churchill argues, are the same ones that have animated all his work. From his controversial cri de coeur against nonviolent protest, Pacifism as Pathology, to Fantasies of the Master Race, a book on representations of Natives in film and literature, he’s always examined how the violence of America’s past has disfigured the identity of modern Native Americans by prompting them to internalize narratives of inferiority and inculcated in them tremendous self-hatred.

He’s looked at how this has disfigured the white oppressors, in turn, by demanding self-denial of their crimes in order to maintain a positive self-identity, what Churchill calls the “Master narrative.” Kelly’s minor role in the Master narrative—years of self-abuse and neglect, the crushing poverty and despair of reservation life, and the alcoholism she relied on to salve those psychological wounds—was a personal tragedy, but the power of the essay is to also insist that it was a collective one. “Her life,” Churchill writes, “illustrate[s] and reveal[s] the grinding horror that destroyed her…Give the crime its name. Call it, as I have, colonialism.”

“Fucking white people,” Churchill muttered as his old house faded in the rearview mirror. “They’re the problem.”

“Fucking white people,” Churchill muttered as the house on Wicklow Street faded in the rearview mirror and he headed toward the highway. “They’re the problem.”

Yet by Churchill’s own admission, he, too, is part of the problem. During the inquiry into his scholarship, numerous newspaper investigations concluded that he’s at most only a sliver Native American. A 2005 investigation for the Rocky Mountain News by an Irish American reporter, Kevin Flynn, “turned up no evidence of a single Indian ancestor” among 142 of Churchill’s ancestors. Two of his great-grandparents identified themselves as Native American on census records—a fact that seems to support his claim to be 1/16 Cherokee—and the genealogical records Flynn consulted list the race and ethnicity of Churchill’s family members as “unknown,” not Caucasian. But none of that satisfied the critics who derided Churchill as a “pretendian.” “His words got him in trouble,” author Sherman Alexie told Mother Jones in 2009, “but he had lost plenty of Indian credibility before he lost white people’s credibility.”

“Even if that fucking Irish reporter is 100 percent right,” Churchill said, “how is the exact measure of how Native I am relevant to me being railroaded and stripped of tenure? I never claimed I was fucking Sitting Bull.”

He described growing up in a working-class part of Evanston, Illinois, how he never knew his biological father, and how at the age of 10 his mother and grandmother told him he was the descendant of Cherokees (an account corroborated by Churchill’s brother). His maternal family had identified that way for years. In the 1890s, one ancestor argued before the Supreme Court that he was Native American and demanded to be given a land allotment by the federal government. He was denied.

“This is precisely how structural racism works,” Churchill said as he drove. “The state and its institutions exert their ability to define another’s identity at will and give or withdraw benefits and protections accordingly.” He refers to the “blood quantum”—the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ common requirement that tribe members demonstrate one-quarter native ancestry—as an “extension of the project of genocide.”

As more Natives intermarry with non-Natives, Churchill fears that eventually no one will satisfy the blood quantum. “Tribes are kicking fucking guys who look like Geronimo off the rolls because they can’t prove they are 25 percent Native,” he said. “Why the fuck does the federal government get to decide how much blood is required to make someone native? Follow this to its logical conclusion and soon there will be no ‘Natives’ left.”

When asked him whether he’d ever write about his ancestry, Churchill bristled: “I don’t like being vulnerable.”

When I asked him whether he’d ever write about his own ancestry and the controversy surrounding it, he bristled. “I don’t like being vulnerable,” he said. But what might Churchill write about his own life if he applied to it the same unsparing analysis that he applied to Leah Renae Kelly’s? What might he say about the lacunas and inconsistencies of his biography—his childhood, his Vietnam service, his years in the American Indian Movement, the formation of his consciousness as a self-identifying Native?

Answering these questions with his acid pen might illuminate how, perhaps, embodied in his own life story, in his own identity, is yet another version of the violent clash between colonizer and colonized.

Back on the highway, Churchill stomped on the pedal and gunned it to 80 mph. He lit his last Pall Mall. “I’m only human,” he said, as the city he no longer recognized gave way to farmland and snowy peaks. He went even faster—85, 90.

It was as though he were trying to outrun Boulder, but without a clear destination in mind. The seatbelt warning screamed. “It hurts,” he said. “I’ve been hurt. No one said the fucking process of decolonization was going to be painless.”

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Exploring Elizabeth Hand's Many Voices

By Matthew Keeley
August 23rd, 2017

Some authors have a very distinct brand; their individual works, whether major or minor, are all of a type. If they publish enough, readers tend to make an adjective of their name—so “Ballardian” evokes crashed cars, empty swimming pools, and accelerating entropy, all clinically described, while “Vancean” writers evince a fondness for abstruse vocabulary, ponderous elegance, and gloriously improbable societies. An “Asimovian” story might sacrifice prose and characterization to the rational working out of a Big Idea, while a “Phildickian” tale proceeds by way of shattered realities and paranoid revelations.

Other writers, though, seem almost to begin anew with each new book; so restless are their subjects, styles, and preoccupations that readers never feel entirely settled or comfortable with them. Elizabeth Hand is one such author. She is far too mutable a writer for “Handian” to ever become science fiction shorthand.

The list of awards on Hand’s CV testifies to her range: it includes the Shirley Jackson Award, given for “psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic;” the Nebula, awarded for science fiction; and the World Fantasy Award, presented, of course, for fantasy. She’s published a YA novel about magic, the theater, and incest; a ghost story about folk singers in an Old Dark House; three mysteries about Cass Neary, aging punk photographer and occasional detective; a fantasy trilogy; dozens of short stories; a handful of tie-ins; and several standalone titles. Not only can Hand write with equal authority on the punks and the Pre-Raphaelites, she convinces her skeptical readers that these two wildly divergent movements share some affinities.

Despite the radical differences in form, setting, genre, and intended audience, a devoted Hand reader will gradually begin to uncover unifying themes. Fire., the new Hand collection from PM Press, provides an opportunity to develop a better understanding of her career.

As Hand discloses in “How I Became a Writer,” much of her work is implicitly biographical. The eccentrically grand old houses that we see in Illyria or Wyldling Hall, with their knickknacks and ephemera and their tinctures of dread, mystery, and coziness, derive from her grandfather’s rambling Hudson Valley estate. Some of Cass Neary’s early life—skipping class to enjoy culture and neglecting studies to experience bohemia—parallel the author’s own life. In the essay’s most disturbing passage, Hand also describes a direct experience of true evil; her characters struggle with the desolation occasioned by similar ruptures. Although most of her first Cass Neary novel, Generation Loss, takes place on an island off Maine, one of its most memorable scenes takes place in New York, where Cass, ensconced in a downtown apartment, watches an era end on the morning of September 11, 2001. Both of the short stories in Fire. feature lives devastated in a second; in Hand’s fiction, no world and no individual life is proof against wanton and unwarranted destruction. Few things are more permanent than fragility.

Fire. concludes with two biographical essays on two of science fiction’s tragic heroes. Hand is a past winner of the Tiptree Award, named in honor of Alice Sheldon’s pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. Sheldon, Hand argues, might have been happy had she been born several decades later in a world more considerate of childhood trauma and more accepting of unconventional gender identities. Instead, Sheldon led a life that mixed adventure—childhood expeditions in Africa, postwar intelligence work—with trauma in almost equal measure. In Hand’s telling, the sad end of the story, a murder-suicide, seems almost inevitable: that Alice Sheldon ended her own life doesn’t shock so much as the fact that she endured it so long and so well. Hand’s subsequent essay, on Tom Disch, once again reminds us of just how funny, provocative, and challenging a writer the SF community lost nearly ten years ago. In both of these essays, Hand evinces an honesty and bluntness akin to her subjects’. Neither author “passed suddenly” or “died unexpectedly”; neither author, I suspect, would want such anodyne obituaries.

The shortest piece in Fire. may well be my favorite. “Kronia” is a slipstream, forking-paths story about all the times a woman and her lover did (not) meet, the children they (did not) have, the mutual friends they did not (or did) share, of places they might have traveled and lives they might have led. It’s dreamlike and hard-edged; like Hand’s fiction in general, “Kronia” is tender without being saccharine and attuned to the past without becoming nostalgic. The narrator of the story lives dozens of possible lives in six pages, and perhaps this multiplicity is what’s truly most characteristic of Elizabeth Hand’s writing. No two fans would ever agree on a Liz Hand reading order, and every reader will have a different favorite of her books. They will, however, agree that Elizabeth Hand is worthy of attention, admiration, and devoted reading.

Matt Keeley reads too much and watches too many movies; he is helped in the former by his day job in the publishing industry. You can find him on Twitter at @mattkeeley.

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