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“Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab” reviewed in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory

By AK Press | June 24, 2015

Field Notes From an Archipelago: A Review of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press, 2014), edited by Alexander Reid Ross
by Will Munger

A land and water grab is happening in the canyons and plateaus where I live in rural Utah.  Several Canadian corporations backed by transnational investors are moving in to extract tar sands and oil shale on public lands. These outfits are the spear tips of a host of operators who are trying to strip mine the world’s dirtiest oil in the headwaters of the Colorado River, one of North America’s most endangered rivers.

In a region already hit by more than a decade of drought, the mining corporations are drilling deep into underground aquifers to pump water for their processing operations. At the ranch where I work, the springs in the canyon downstream from the initial mine are drying up. The ranching family is one of the first to be impacted by the mine, but there are bigger implications, as waste discharged from the mines will impact more than 30 million people who rely on the Colorado River for drinking water and irrigation.

And then there are the climate change consequences. According to industry backers, there are more potential fossil fuels in the Green River formation that stretches across Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado than the Alberta tar sands. If the infrastructure for these types of megaprojects is completed, there is an almost certainty of being locked in a path toward catastrophic climate change.

With these stunning contradictions in mind, and with all legal options exhausted, local people and climate justice rebels took matters into their own hands in the summer of 2014 by establishing a resistance camp on the mine lease in order to halt mining operations.  Amidst a summer of blockades, police repression, and the stresses of day-to-day rural resistance, it’s been a challenge to maintain a global perspective. It’s clear that our fight is being driven by capital and technical knowledge generated through the exploitation of the Alberta tar sands.  It’s also clear that there are financiers intending to export these mining operations around the world using corporations deeply tied to the military industrial complex.

But what are the strategic and tactical implications as to how we should carry out our struggle? What are our relationships and responsibilities to other communities fighting exploitative land grabs around the world? How can we use our collective power to fundamentally transform the political and economic structures that facilitate this ecocidal rush?

While thinking through these questions, I came across a copy of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab. This compilation is billed as an “illustrative field guide to the way people power responds to the global land grab.” It ranges from pieces written by voices new to me, like Yangtze River Delta Earth First!, to long time writers and movement elders, like Grace Lee Boggs, Max Rameau, Vandana Shiva, Noam Chomsky, and Silvia Federici.

Editor Alexander Reid Ross starts the introduction by describing the global land grab as a contemporary phenomenon where large transnational corporations based in the North Atlantic countries, the Saudi states, and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) are grabbing millions of hectares of land from small farmers and indigenous people in Africa, South America, and Asia.  By his estimate, the land grabs that have taken place around the world since 2009 would encompass the entire Western United States.

Reid Ross describes five main origins for the global land grab as climate change, financial speculation, the Great Recession, resource scarcity and the ideology of ‘extractivism’1 and the history of colonialism.

This collection is based on a “macro- and microanalysis of land-based struggles in constant tension with the principles and values of capital.” It takes the reader on a far-ranging journey of reading global capital politically by examining the drivers of dispossesive and violent conflict around land use. Grabbing Back is edited in a dialectical manner, weaving between describing the causes of contemporary land struggles as well as introducing us to the people fighting to defend their land and construct ways of life that subvert capital’s logic.

The approach of combining writings from frontline conflicts and academic authors gives the reader a bird’s eye view of the issues as well as a fine-grained picture of reality on the ground. The best articles of the collection are reflections by seasoned organizers and street fighters looking back on recent years of struggle while explaining how their thinking is evolving. AK Press has been putting out several of these sorts of collaborative collections recently, such as Undoing Border Imperialism, Life During Wartime, Uses of a Whirlwind and Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution. Hopefully this publishing trend continues to create intersectional cross-movement dialogs that result in strategic and tactical innovation.

The stories and analysis in Grabbing Back helped contextualize our local struggle in the global flows and dynamics of capital. Coming back to Utah, I’m writing on land that was grabbed from the indigenous Ute barely a century ago. So to what extent is the so-called Global Land Grab a historically unique phenomenon?

According to the collection, what is historically unique is that the forces of capital have encompassed the entire world; the narrative of the powerful is that there is no “outside” and there is no alternative.  Yet capital is a dynamic force needing new markets and Grabbing Back describes a current moment defined by new attempts at accumulation. “The global land grab can be circumscribed in three interlocking economic spheres: the foreclosure crisis “freed up” capital to expand agrarian holdings in the Global South, while producing the apparent necessity to buoy up the economy through increased resource extraction in the North and South.”

The analysis in the editor’s introduction describes the links between expanding global agricultural speculation and new pushes to extract unconventional fossil fuels.  When it comes to displacing small farmers and indigenous peoples while securing profits for investors, plantation agribusiness and tar sands are different sides of the same coin. The book backs up this claim with well-researched case studies in Ethiopia, Indonesia, Paraguay, and more.

The narrative of global land grabs also helped draw my attention to resistance against neoliberal approaches to mitigating climate change such as carbon markets. For example, a recent investigative article by Nafeez Ahmed describes how carbon trading projects like the World Bank-sponsored conservation program in western Kenya has conducted a relentless scorched earth campaign to evict the 15,000 strong indigenous Sengwer community from their ancestral homes in the Embobut forest and the Cherangany Hills. The implication is one advanced by indigenous activists at numerous climate summits: our approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change must advance, not destroy, indigenous and poor peoples’ control of their land, water, housing, work, culture, and food systems. As La Via Campesina recently wrote, “a global effort to give small farmers and indigenous communities control over lands is the best hope we have to deal with climate change and feed the world’s growing population.”

So how is it to be done?

Grabbing Back is not a set of policy recommendations aimed at speaking truth to power with the intent of changing the minds of politicians and technocrats. The collection is geared instead toward sharing stories and lessons between grassroots struggles. The book is divided into two sections. “Part One: Struggle in the South” is both an analytic look at the global land grab’s drivers as well as case studies of how this phenomenon is playing out, and being resisted, in Africa, South America, and Asia.  Part Two moves to North America where the chapters explore conflicts around foreclosures, disaster response, gentrification, and unconventional fossil fuel extraction like tar sands, fracking, and mountaintop removal.

One of the major contributions of Grabbing Back is sharing stories of current resistance from around the globe.  From the Mi’kmaq blockades of fracking operations, to the 2009 overthrow of the government in Madagascar, to the incredible “mass disturbances” of contemporary China, there are certainly revolts, insurrections, and revolutions occurring globally around the question of how people will relate to land and to each other.

As a whole, the collection arcs across an enormous amount of territory and some readers might find the book sprawling and circuitous. The resistance side of the narrative reads like an archipelago, each story its own island and, on the surface, it’s sometimes hard to see the details of what connects them because the described resistances are geographically, culturally, and politically disparate. The challenge and potential of this collection is whether it provides readers with the stories and analysis to understand how they are connected by common enemies: sometimes abstract, sometimes concrete.

Reid Ross proposes in the conclusion that these resistances are “united in attempts to gain popular sovereignty over the machinery that displaces people from their homelands and threatens to wipe out humanity through climate change.”

This is a valid description, and I am still hungry for prescriptive advice.  How can we actually stop a tar sands mine from destroying the land we love? How can local communities and movements disrupt the ability of land grabs to take place? How do we learn to practice autogestation, or, as Javier Sethness-Castro, author of Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe (AK Press/IAS, 2012) writes in Grabbing Backs forward, “socio-ecological self-management.” How do we combine autogestation with an insurgent practice of militant, massive, direct action against capitalist depredation? Across the archipelago of resistance, how do we learn to act together?

I found the best guidance came from articles written by movement elders whose years of experience is fertile soil to young upstarts like myself. Place-based articles like “A Detroit Story” and “Taking Back The Land” are compelling because of their keen understanding of where their struggle is happening and its inseparability from the historic moment it inhabits. However, there is no prescriptive silver bullet here, no field manual for easy victory. But there is notable insight on how the perspectives of several long-haul radicals have evolved to see intersections between struggles around class, race, gender, land, indigeneity, education, agriculture, and ecology.

Other articles read like field reports from local fights against fossil fuel infrastructure, bank foreclosures, and responding to a climate disaster. To those unfamiliar with these stories, the collection is a solid introduction. To active participants in these struggles, the articles reflect the reality that there is still a great deal of learning and experimenting to happen.  My hope is that readers will take from these articles the inspiration to keep fighting and to keep asking each other hard questions.

We are not alone and we are indeed everywhere. We are also just beginning. This is why Grabbing Back ends with an honest acknowledgement that this is an unfinished story.

Get a copy of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab.

Get a copy of the most recent Perspectives on Anarchist Theory.

Will Munger lives, loves, and works on the Colorado Plateau.  He is an editor and contributor to Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency (AK Press, 2013).

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DIXIE BE DAMNED! Read an excerpt!

By AK Press | May 15, 2015

Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South is here!. One of the most exciting things about this book is how well it combines solid (and largely unknown) history with both damn good storytelling and a radical analysis that keeps the contemporary relevance of those stories in continual focus.

Here’s a little taste:

The Stockade Stood Burning:
Rebellion and the convict lease in Tennessee’s Coalfields

On the night of July 14, 1891, in eastern Tennessee, a band of about one hundred armed coal miners and local citizens marched on a newly built prison stockade owned by the Tennessee Coal Mining Company. The miners and their allies compelled the guards to release the forty inmates imprisoned there, put them on a train, and sent them to Knoxville. Without firing a shot, the miners disappeared back into the darkness.[1] Over the next thirteen months, the workers would repeat this scene over and over, eventually torching company property, looting company stores, and aiding the prisoners’ escapes. The miners were rebelling against the use of convict labor in Tennessee mines, which was being used to cut company costs and disastrously undermine the employment prospects and solidarity of free laborers. In the words of the president of the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company, “We were right in calculating that the free laborers would be loath to enter upon strikes when they saw that the company was amply provided with convict labor.”[2] But, as David Oshinsky writes in his book about the development of early southern prison systems:

Something happened in Tennessee, something almost unimaginable to the mine owners and politicians of that State. When the companies tried to intimidate their workers by bringing in convict labor to take over their jobs, the workers responded by storming the stockades, freeing the prisoners, and loading them onto freight trains bound for Nashville and Knoxville and places far away.

What began as an isolated protest in the company town of Coal Creek spread quickly across the Cumberlands to engulf most of eastern Tennessee. Thousands of miners took part in these uprisings, and thousands of armed State guardsmen were sent to face them down. The Tennessee convict war was one of the largest insurrections in American working-class history. And yet, unfolding at exactly the same time as the more publicized labor wars in Homestead, Pennsylvania, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, it was largely ignored.[3]

At a time when the post–Civil War South was trying to reinvent its economy, penal institutions, and racial caste system, the actions of the miners and their allies, combined with the resistance of convicts, created a perfect storm. Within a couple of years of the rebellion’s beginning, it was clear that the brutal system of convict leasing, by which state and county prisoners were literally sold off to private railroad and coal companies, had become totally unsustainable. Again and again, all across eastern and mid-Tennessee, miners released prisoners and burned company property to the ground. The costs of militiamen needed to guard the prisoners, along with the sabotage, work slow-downs, and rebellions by the convicts, made the system cost-prohibitive both to the state and coal companies. By December 31, 1895, Tennessee became the first state in the South to abolish the tremendously lucrative convict lease.

The convict wars symbolized the continually violent transition of chattel to wage slavery in the South, in terms of both the southern states’ attempts to industrialize as well as in the violent reactions of a newly industrialized proletariat to such efforts. Miners’ participation in this insurrection also catalyzed a change in the thinking of many poor whites, who went from using forms of rhetoric traditional to a Jeffersonian Republic and commonwealth to those of class war. As shown by both the wildcats of the 1960s and ’70s and the modern resistance to mountaintop removal mining, an uneasy combination of these different modes of thinking still remains in Appalachia to this day, creating the potential for movements that are at once quintessentially American yet simultaneously radical, violent, and autonomous in nature.

The convict lease sought to preserve the benefits of enslaved Black labor in the “New South.” This insurrection can therefore be seen as an indirect assault by white and Black miners upon older notions of white identity and loyalty to the racial caste system. Though this form of race treason never became more than a secondary factor in the miners’ economic self-defense, it would be wrong not to consider the meanings of such a self-interested racial solidarity, particularly at a time when the racist prison-industrial complex has now grown to such gargantuan proportions, and neoliberalism has eliminated so many of the industrial manufacturing jobs once occupied by white workers. For those of us interested in kindling future insurrections, there are many things worth considering in the convict wars.

1 Karin A. Shapiro, A New South Rebellion: The Battle Against Convict Labor in the Tennessee Coalfields, 1871–1896 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 79–81.
2 Ibid., 45.
3 David Oshinsky, Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice (New York: Free Press, 1996), 81–82.

[Get your copy here.]

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A Quick Update on Fire Recovery Fundraising

By AK Press | May 5, 2015

Thank you all so much for your support since our warehouse fire. We’re making some progress but it’s going to be a long road ahead for all of us, and we couldn’t do it without all of you.

We are still fundraising to cover the costs of damaged stock, ongoing disruption to our business, and of course to help out our neighbors in the building who were also affected by the fire. To that end, we wanted to let you know that some very generous friends and comradely projects have organized a few great ways to help you help us in the coming weeks:

Again, we really can’t thank you enough for all of your support thus far—whether you’ve donated to our online fundraiser, signed up as a Friend of AK, organized a benefit event, ordered a book, or just helped us spread the word. With your support, we hope to be back on our feet soon.

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Read the Introduction to Militant Anti-Fascism!

By AK Press | April 21, 2015

Militant Anti-Fascism is back from the printer! This is book is an important one, a veritable weapon against the far-right. It’s 25% off for the time being, so get yours now. In the meantime,  here’s a look at the Introduction…

 

INTRODUCTION

This history of militant anti-fascism has, in part, been excavated from the orthodox histories of fascism in order to produce a coherent anti-fascist narrative. We celebrate the activities and achievements of militants in Europe from the late-nineteenth century to the present day, and we make no apologies for advocating the use of physical force as part of a political strategy. Anti-fascism can be proactive as well as defensive, and we have, with considerable help from militants past and present, identified three of the successful elements in the century of struggle against fascism: physical resistance, political organization and propaganda. The use of physical activity to confront or pre-empt fascist activity, along with organization within the workplace, local communities, and links with other working-class organizations, can present a successful opposition. The maintenance of an anti-fascist media presence, particularly in the digital realm, to put forward the arguments for militancy, to publicise activities and successes, to expose fascists, and to encourage others to join the struggle, be it in print media, music, or social networking sites on the net, all are important. We do not advocate one form of action above another; people must use whatever tactics they see as appropriate. Militant anti-fascism also argues for a non-partisan approach wherever possible whilst recognising that popular fronts have met with mixed success and that liberal anti-fascists cannot be relied on most of the time. Neither can the law.

Anti-Fascism
There are several identifiable kinds of ‘anti-fascism’: militant, state legislative, and liberal. Militants cannot rely on state legislation against fascism, as it will inevitably be used against anti-fascists; urging the state to ban far-right groups and activities merely supplies a pretext for banning radical left ones. The state, in its bid for self-preservation, legislates against extremism of any kind. Anti-fascists need to organise themselves to defend against fascist incursions into their communities, not ring the cops.

Liberal anti-fascism is useful at times, for political connections, denigration of fascist activity in the mainstream press and mobilising numbers. Liberal anti-fascism is ‘respectable’ and has the backing of MPs, and political, religious, and community groups, as well as the ear of the mainstream media. The liberal hope of trying to ‘understand fascists’ or ‘convince them that they are wrong’ is appeasement that has had a less than successful history—as Neville Chamberlain found out. Fraser quotes the ironic slogan of German liberals before the Nazis took over: ‘We are so liberal that we even grant the freedom to destroy liberty’, and Goebbels made his intentions perfectly clear: ‘We have come to the Reichstag in order to destroy it. If democracy is stupid enough to reward us for doing this, this is the problem of democracy.’[1] Unfortunately, many anti-fascists can testify to occasions when liberals have identified militants to the police, which have resulted in time-consuming court cases. In times of difficulty, liberal anti-fascists tend to gravitate towards police protection, which militants cannot do.

It is possible for different kinds of anti-fascists to work together successfully, be they community groups, liberals, or militants, and anyway, the far right views opposition as all the same and does not differentiate between the array of political opponents. The massed and mainly peaceful blocking of fascist march routes by anti-fascists proved to be a very successful tactic against the English Defence League in Brighton, Bristol, and Walthamstow in 2012. This frustrates the fascists, hinders the progress of their marches, and sends a clear signal that they are not welcome in our communities—which seriously demoralises them. Birchall writes, in Beating The Fascists, that ‘I had no problem with the use of political violence, it was the fighting I didn’t like’. [2]

Fascism is imbued with violence and secures itself politically through the use or threat of it, so it is inevitable that anti-fascists have to countenance some involvement in violence themselves during the struggle. This is not to say that anti-fascists should like violence or seek it out in the manner of political hooligans. Far from it, but it is true to say that for many militant anti-fascists violence is an unpleasant method to achieve a greater political goal. It is not fetishized the way that fascism fetishizes violence, and it would be much more preferable to rely on passive resistance, but we cannot guarantee that what Trotsky referred to as ‘flabby pacifism’ will effectively inhibit fascist encroachment. Fascism views passivity as weakness, not as a political strategy; it will crush peaceful protests and the will to resist, and their violence must be met head on. In Italy, socialists, communists, and anarchists organized against the increasing violence of Mussolini’s squadristi and met force with force in order to protect their institutions. In Germany, fascism was met with equal violence by communist militants who at first responded defensively to intimidation but eventually used violence as a preventative strategy in a bid for self-preservation. In Spain, the militias of anarchists and socialists who fought back against Franco’s coup attempt would view non-violence with immense skepticism. What else could they do? Resort to sarcasm?

This is not to say that violence is the only option for anti-fascists. Physical resistance is not simply hitting someone with a plank. Physical resistance means blocking routes, picketing meetings, and turning up to oppose fascism on the streets. It means being there. This is only one element of anti-fascist strategy. Anti-fascists need to respond politically to the socio-economic conditions that birth fascism, and maintain a strong presence on the streets in demonstrations, in counter-demonstrations, and wherever else fascist groups attempt to organise.

The physical force tactics that Anti-Fascist Action used so well in the 1980s and ’90s are difficult to employ against the Euro-fascist entryism of the BNP and other ‘respectable’ fascist outfits. However, with the recent rise and fall of the English Defence Leagues and their splinter groupuscules, a physical counter-presence has played an effective part in demoralising them. The large amount of police from many different forces, the CCTV, the DNA samples, the FIT squads, and the harsh legislation mean that violent opposition remains mostly opportunistic, but a mass physical presence preventing fascist marches can be just as effective.

Fascism [3]
This book is for and about militant anti-fascists, so we are not overtly concerned with an analysis of the various ideological and practical differences between the European fascist, national socialist, and ultra-nationalist organizations. There have been a wide variety of ‘fascisms’ over the years that have embraced all, or most of, the following ideas.

The Fuhrer Principle is an absolute subservience to, and belief in, a leader, like Hitler and Mussolini, whose mediocrity was shrouded in mystique as the figurehead of a nation. Fascism excludes minority groups, whether Jews, Muslims, or Roma, whilst claiming that these ‘others’ receive preferential treatment regarding access to money, housing, or work.

Members of political, ethnic, or religious groups are blamed for the greater problems of capitalism and are removed from positions of power or influence—for example, doctors or teachers. Other points of view apart from the leader’s are excised.

This kind of exclusionism is used to further belief in the purity of race and genetic superiority whilst traditional gender roles are enforced: women are seen as mothers of workers rather than workers themselves (although this is not exclusive); non-reproductive sex is seen as decadent; and the family unit is sacred. Fear of the sexual prowess of the other is propagated along with unsubstantiated myths like ‘they’re taking our women’ and the indigenous culture being ‘outbred.’ Heterosexuality is normalised and the preservation of the gene pool is a priority.

This kind of nationalism desires a new ‘Golden Era’ and the destruction of diversity, degeneracy, and decadence. Cultural work is state-sanctioned, and although there were often fascist intellectuals (Gentile, Marinetti, Speer), anti-intellectualism is stressed: the material over the abstract, action over ideas, and belief over knowledge. Mass media are controlled and the state determines cultural discourse: cabarets are closed, newspapers are silenced, music is state sanctioned, jokes and certain writers are banned. Fascism emphasizes the glorification of violence as a method of achievement and empowerment, and this idea is represented in both militarism and para-militarism. National security is prioritised with a build-up of armed forces to protect territories, take over new ones (the Nazi Lebensraum), or encroach on ‘lost’ ones (Mussolini’s Abyssinia). The military is used to secure power whilst the paramilitaries maintain their threatening presence on the streets through ‘extra-legal’ endeavours, or gangsterism. A hard line on crime and punishment is pursued but only for select criminals. Industry is focussed on building military strength, the corporate state benefits big business, and the state adopts capitalism when it is suitable. Working-class organizations are suppressed, unions are banned or controlled by the state, and workers are forced to collaborate. Whether they call themselves fascists, national socialists, nationalists, or patriots, fascist organizations embrace some or all of these principles, and anti-fascists must recognise and respond to them.

This book is divided into two parts and examines how anti-fascists have organised against fascist aggression in the hope of drawing lessons for the future.

Pre-Fascist Parties and Fascism in Europe
The first section of this book looks at the growth of ultra-nationalism and fascism across Europe from the late-nineteenth century to the 1940s. Italy, Austria, Germany, and Spain became fascist states whilst Hungary, Romania, Poland and France experienced an upsurge of fascist violence, and militants were forced to organise and counter this, with varying success. In all these countries, anti-fascists fought and died to protect their communities and institutions. The situation for anti-fascists in 1930s England was less drastic, and certainly less murderous, but still saw anti-fascists meeting violence with violence. It is surprising how few fatalities there have been in the battles pre-1939 and post-1945 in the UK.

Post-War British Anti-Fascism
The second part of the book specifically looks at anti-fascism in Britain and Ireland following 1945 when, despite the defeat of the fascist bloc (excluding Spain, of course), fascists still maintained a presence on the streets. Several waves of post-war fascism in Britain have been successfully countered by one of the strongest and most successful anti-fascist movements in Europe. The confrontations with Mosley, the NF, the BNP’s street campaign and the EDL are all testimony to a tradition of anti-fascism that is too little acknowledged, let alone documented, by political historians. But, as ever, even though the fascists may be defeated, they never really go away, and as we have seen so many times they merely reinvent themselves whilst their poisonous ideology remains relatively unchanged.

 

1 Nicholas Fraser, The Voice Of Modern Hatred: Encounters with Europe’s New Right (London: Picador, 2000), 75.
2 Birchall, Beating the Fascists, 314.
3 Many thanks to Rachael Horwitz who wrote most of the section on fascism.

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An update from AK Press after our warehouse fire.

By AK Press | April 3, 2015

It’s been almost two weeks since the fire at our warehouse and we know some of you have been waiting for an update and wondering how you can plug into the relief efforts. Very briefly, here is where things stand: our building is still red-tagged by the City of Oakland. We are hopeful that, after more inspections and some repairs are completed, we’ll be able to stay. In the meantime we have been able to get some access to our stock and so we have been able to send out orders for titles that weren’t damaged. We are still waiting for insurance inspectors to come and review the damage in our unit, and until that happens, we can’t make any more progress with clearing out destroyed stock. So at this point there is just a lot of waiting, which we can’t do much about, and it means it’s going to be a while still before our work can return to any semblance of “normal.”

We can’t thank you enough for all of the support we’ve gotten in the last two weeks. Your generous donations to our crowdfunding campaign add up to almost $45,000 so far, and that money will be shared with 1984 Printing and our neighbors in the building who have been displaced by the fire. We plan to give out the first round of checks this week. We’re not quite to one-third of our goal, so if you can still donate, please do! Recovering from the fire is going to be a long and difficult process, and your support will help us all get back on our feet sooner.

Besides donating, here are a few things folks can do to help (since some of you have been asking!):

Thanks again, so much, for your support.
-The AK Press Collective 

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Octavia’s Brood: The Tour Begins!

By AK Press | March 20, 2015

We’re excited to announce the first leg of the tour celebrating the release of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, edited by Walidah Imarisha & adrienne maree brown. The editors and contributors have lots of tour stops lined up already and will be adding to the schedule as more events are confirmed. So, stay tuned here for forthcoming details and new additions. And of course it should go without saying that if one of these events is happening near you, you should really go—and bring your friends!

March 28: INCITE! Color of Violence Conference, Chicago
10am: Workshop with co-editors Walidah Imarisha & adrienne maree brown
11:30am: Book signing at the AK Press tables in the vendor area

March 30: 57th Street Books, Chicago
6pm: Co-editor Walidah Imarisha speaks about Octavia’s Brood

April 7: Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse, Baltimore
7:30pm: Co-editor adrienne maree brown speaks about Octavia’s Brood

April 8: Wooden Shoe Books, Philadelphia
7pm: Co-editor adrienne maree brown speaks about Octavia’s Brood.

April 13: Albright College, Reading, PA
7pm: Co-editor adrienne maree brown speaks about Octavia’s Brood.

April 18: Detroit book release @ Garden Theater
4:30pm: Reading with Co-editors Walidah Imarisha & adrienne maree brown along with Octavia’s Brood contributors
8pm: Party like it’s the future!!

April 22: Bay Area book release @ African American Museum & Library, Oakland
6pm: Co-editor adrienne maree brown speaks about Octavia’s Brood.
With an after-party at Solespace, Oakland!

April 25: Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair, Oakland
Time TBA: Co-editor adrienne maree brown speaks about Octavia’s Brood.

April 26: Moishe House, Oakland
5pm: Co-editor adrienne maree brown hosts a Collective Science Fiction Writing Workshop.

May 6-7: DePaul University, Chicago
May 6 @ 6pm: Reception / 6:30pm: Co-editor Walidah Imarisha speaks on sci-fi and social change, part of Women’s Center Conversation Series
May 7 @ 1pm: Co-editor Walidah Imarisha speaks on Octavia’s Brood, part of the Emergent Speakers Series

May 14: Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Details TBA: Co-editor Walidah Imarisha hosts panel discussion and direct action training.

May 20: Portland, OR (location TBA)
5pm: Co-editor Walidah Imarisha facilitates a workshop around collective visioning/writing on social justice issues, part of the Radical Imagination Gymnasium workshop series.

May 28: Clatsop Community College, Astoria, OR
7pm: Co-editor Walidah Imarisha speaks on visionary sci-fi and Octavia’s Brood

May 29-30: New Orleans
Details TBA. Co-editors Walidah Imarisha & adrienne maree brown will join the Wildseeds: New Orleans Octavia Butler Emergent Strategy Collective for two days of events.

June 6: EMP, Seattle
Details TBA. Seattle book release featuring co-editor Walidah Imarisha & contributors

June 18-21: Allied Media Conference, Detroit
Details TBA. Workshops, book signing, and more featuring Co-editors Walidah Imarisha & adrienne maree brown as well as Octavia’s Brood contributors!

Don’t see your city on the list? Want to help bring the editors of Octavia’s Brood for an event near you? You can get in touch with them at info@octaviasbrood.com to invite them!

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Keywords for Radicals…a work in progress

By AK Press | February 26, 2015

We’re working on something. It won’t be out until spring of 2016, but we’ll be giving you updates between now and then. Because, y’know, we’re excited.

The book is Keywords for Radicals: A Late Capitalist Vocabulary of Culture and Society. For those of you who know Raymond Williams’ classic Keywords, the title may be self-explanatory. It’s basically a series of historical and analytic entries about words (each authored by a different contributor) whose meanings and usage are contested within radical circles. But whether or not you get the reference—and this project is, of course, very different than Williams’—we interviewed one of the book’s editors, Kelly Fritsch, to get an overview of the project. Read on, and when you’re done, checkout the book’s website, which has more info, and a list of the book’s amazing contibutors (who include, to name just a few, Silvia Federici, Ilan Pappé, Joy James, Franco “Bifo” Berardi, and John Bellamy Foster).

——————————

AK Press: Let’s start with the title. “Keywords” obviously references Raymond Williams’ seminal book, which was published almost forty years ago. Could you talk a bit about that book for people who may not have read it, and also about what you found inspiring (or inadequate, I suppose) about it?

Kelly Fritsch: Raymond Williams was one of the founding figures of what we now refer to as cultural materialism. He wrote Keywords in the period following the Second World War in response to the transformations he observed taking place within English-language word usage and meaning. In his estimation, these changes in word usage and meaning could be viewed as an index of the broader transformations that were happening within capitalist social relations. When considered together as a “vocabulary” of culture and society, Williams imagined that the keywords he had assembled—words like “individual” and “violence” but especially “culture”— could be read like a map of the social contradictions marking this period of change.

With Keywords for Radicals, we sought to draw upon this legacy while extending it in a few important ways. The first of these was that, while Williams was interested in capitalist dynamics during the postwar period, we felt it was important to try to come to terms with the significant transformations that have marked the era of late capitalism. The second major difference between the two projects is that, whereas Williams conceived of his vocabulary in fairly broad terms, we felt that it was important to delimit the scope of our investigation to focus on the contests over word usage and meaning that regularly erupt within the radical left. While these contests often emerge around particular issues, they also symptomatically reveal some of the more general attributes of today’s radical left, as well as of society more generally. Finally, whereas Williams authored every entry in Keywords, we felt that assembling a multi-author collection would be both a great challenge and a great opportunity.

How did the three of you come together on this project?

Clare O’Connor and AK Thompson approached me to work on Keywords for Radicals shortly after the three of us resigned from the Editorial Committee of Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action at the beginning of 2012. We had worked generatively together on that project for several years and were all very committed to its political and intellectual mandate, which was to create a non-sectarian space outside of—but in dialogue with—the movements in which we participated. This work was important to us because we found that immersion in struggle could sometimes constrain our capacity to critically assess our ideas and actions. With our writers and in our pages, we sought to constitute a political “we”—not by asserting a party line but, instead, through a careful analysis of our collective shortcomings. We left Upping the Anti for different reasons, but we all felt the need to continue its vision in some form.

Around that time, AK Thompson had been politically engaging the importance of concepts and the work they do—a preoccupation that dated back to the publication of Black Bloc, White Riot, where he dissected the contradictions at work in radical claims about “community.” These discussions subsequently informed Clare O’Connor’s critique of how radicals mobilized the concept during the Toronto G20 Summit in 2010. Meanwhile, as Editors of Upping the Anti, we regularly found ourselves reading drafts in which word usage and meaning seemed very slippery; as a result, we frequently found ourselves in lengthy discussions about this problem in editorial meetings, noting the contradictory and conflicting transformations that were taking place right before us. When Clare and AK first approached me about making struggles around word usage and meaning the subject of a political intervention, I said yes without hesitation.

These keywords are “for radicals.” Why do we need them, and furthermore, need to understand the historical evolution of their usage?

When we began working on this project, we quickly became aware of how many other radicals were working on word-based projects. Of these, perhaps the most significant were the short-lived Lexicon pamphlet series put out by the Institute for Anarchist Studies and CrimethInc’s Contra-dictionary. Although very different in their purpose and orientation, both of these projects helped to make clear how important language had become as a field of struggle for contemporary radicals. In the case of the IAS project, the objective aimed at reasserting what they called “definitional understandings” of words like power, gender, and colonialism. In contrast, CrimethInc conceived their project primarily in deconstructive terms, with each entry essentially cannibalizing common-sense associations and static definitions. For example, the Contra-dictionary entry on “Gender” in Days of War, Nights of Love ends with the following declaration: “There is no male. There is no female. Get free. Get off the map.”

In contrast to both of these approaches, we sought neither to reveal what words “actually” mean nor to highlight the limits of commonsense as though such limits were a problem of individual conceptualization. Instead, we wanted to encourage an engagement with words that used the conflicts within them to point toward broader social and historical tensions and implications. To put it another way, the book engages with contested words in order to illuminate a much broader field of contradictions that extends beyond the words themselves. Developing such an awareness can help to make us more compassionate toward one another as we struggle against all odds to communicate meaning clearly; however, it can also help us to clarify what our political options are, since—as Raymond Williams noted—sometimes the tensions within a word mark actual alternatives through which “problems of belief and affiliation are contested.” When illuminated, the historical developments within a word’s usage and meaning point to this broader field of political options and alternatives. Choosing a meaning always implicitly means siding with one developmental trajectory over another. In our view, it is always better that this process be conscious and deliberate, and that the choice be explicit. Read the rest of this entry »

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Storm in My Heart: Memories from the Widow of Johann Most (excerpt)

By AK Press | January 14, 2015

 

Helene Minkin’s memoir, translated by Alisa Braun and edited/introduced by Tom Goyens, is at the printer. We’re excited about this one. This is the first time Minkin’s words, which provide a unique perspective on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century anarchism in the US, have been available in English. She forces us to reassess many of our ideas about some of the movement’s major figures. You’ll have to get the book to see how (go here to pre-order), but in the meantime here’s a snippet from Tom Goyens’s Introduction. Enjoy!

*****

 By the time Minkin arrived in New York in June 1888, this Yiddish- speaking movement had grown and there was talk of launching a publishing venture of their own. The Pioneers of Liberty made such an announcement in January 1889, and a month later the first issue of Varhayt (Truth) appeared—the first Yiddish anarchist periodical in the United States.[13] Jewish comrades could read articles by Kropotkin and of course Most, and educate themselves about the Paris Commune and American labor news. The venture ended after five months due to lack of funds, but was soon followed by another paper, the Fraye Arbeter Shtime, one of the longest-lasting anarchist papers in history as it turned out. An entire subculture emerged modeled on what the Germans had built. Jewish anarchists set up cooperatives, mutual aid organizations, and clubs, and they staged concerts and theater performances. They were especially conspicuous as a voice for atheism and anticlerical agitation, something that made Most feel right at home. In fact, it was one of Most’s most widely read pamphlets, The God Pestilence, translated into Yiddish in 1888, that inspired and energized much of this activism. Most shocking to traditional Jews was the annual Yom Kippur ball organized by anarchists, which made a mockery out of Judaism’s holiest day of the year.

Minkin, then, witnessed upon her arrival a mature, diverse, and vibrant—if dejected after Haymarket—anarchist movement, predominantly German with a growing Jewish contingent. A movement alive with weekly meetings, large commemorative gatherings, festive fundraisers, outings, and reading clubs. Pamphlets, books, and anarchist newspapers were readily available by subscription or at various beerhalls and restaurants. This movement was also male-dominated despite the fact that some German activists championed women’s rights. Women were by no means absent; every press account of large anarchist gatherings noted the impressive attendance by women. But most club members were men, and while reliable sources are rare, it seems that most German anarchist families retained traditional gender roles within the household. Occasionally, anarchist papers in their event announcements encouraged women to participate more fully.[14] But elsewhere in a paper like Freiheit, gendered language was not uncommon, and on one occasion, in March 1887, a woman complained about the insulting tone and promptly received an apology.[15]

When Most and Minkin began a relationship and started a family, the anarchists loyal to Most expressed their disapproval, as Minkin relates in her memoir. Implicit in this backlash was an assumption that family life for movement members impeded the cause of revolution, softened the (male) activist, and would likely result in trouble. It may also drain resources away from the movement’s activities, they feared. One dramatic incident—if perhaps not wholly representative—illustrates this dynamic. On January 28, 1902, comrade Hugo Mohr was found dead in his Paterson, NJ apartment; he had gassed himself out of fear of a second arrest after he had been released on bail that day. According to a court reporter for the New York Sun, no friend of anarchists, Mohr had been charged with “cruelty to his family.” He had been out of work for a year, “took the money that his wife and oldest daughter earned and bought Anarchist literature with it.” He also donated money to Most’s defense fund by sending it to Helene Most who was managing the paper. The reporter added that “he beat his wife and children until they were afraid of their lives. Last Tuesday night he caught his oldest daughter by the ear and nearly tore it off.”[16] Remarkably, Freiheit, in a brief notice chose to blame Mohr’s death on his wife: “Comrade Mohr has committed suicide by gas in Paterson. An evil woman drove him to his death. That’s how they are.”[17]

Emma Goldman, who arrived in New York in August 1889, was especially attuned to the politics of gender and sexuality. She had recently ended a brief and unhappy marriage, and was bent on maintaining her independence and rebelliousness. If the German movement, and Most especially, provided her a foot in the door, she nonetheless became disillusioned with their outdated ideas around gender. “I expressed contempt,” she wrote, “for the reactionary attitude of our German comrades on these matters.”[18] And again, in 1929, in a letter to Berkman, she charged that “[the Germans] remain stationary on all points except economics. Especially as regards women, they are really antediluvian.”[19]

Johann Most’s views on women and gender fit Goldman’s description perfectly. And she would know. It was in fact Goldman’s brief but intimate relationship with her mentor Most that confirmed for her the underlying conservatism of many male activists. What Most sought in the relationship was domestic comfort and security with an assumption that she would provide it. Goldman would not, and she told him as much. Moreover, she would from now on judge herself superior as a woman activist to her roommate Helene Minkin who accepted, to some extent, a domestic role with Most. As Goldman wrote in her memoir with a hint of disdain: “A home, children, the care and attention ordinary women can give, who have no other interest in life but the man they love and the children they bear him—that was what he needed and felt he had found in Helen.”[20] But in a 1904 letter to Berkman, her tone is much harsher. “Helena M. is a common ordinary Woman, has not developed in the least,” she wrote. “I am sorry to say, that all those of my sex we have known together [the Minkin sisters] have become ordinary Haustiere [pets] und Flatpflanzen [potted plants].”[21]

[...]

Contrary to Goldman’s comment, however, Helene Minkin did have other interests in life, and there were times she too resented housework. She was certainly more than a domestic sidekick of the famed Johann Most. She was a committed anarchist in her own right and believed deeply in the cause for freedom and workers’ rights. She did not share the uncompromising vision of a Berkman who modeled himself after the unswerving Russian revolutionaries. She did not have the talent for forceful public speaking like Most or Goldman. She did have a talent for writing, management, and editing. After she and Most moved in together, Minkin became active in the running of Freiheit, Most’s paper that made its way to readers since 1879. And so perhaps their relationship offered, for both, a workable balance between family and work. Especially during the late 1890s when the paper nearly died, Minkin was crucial in keeping it afloat while many of the (mostly male) comrades failed to step up. At one point, Most was ready to quit and burn all the books.[30] “Of the few who stood faithfully beside him [Most] during these tough months,” wrote biographer Rudolf Rocker, “his brave life partner Helene Most deserves special mention because time and again she helped him to keep up his work, and she took care of almost the entire expedition of the paper.”[31]

 

NOTES

12 Quoted in Paul Avrich, “Jewish Anarchism in the United States,” Anarchist Portraits (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 178.
13 Ibid., 179.
14 Freiheit, October 25, 1884 and June 25, 1892.
15 Freiheit, March 2, 1889. The editors had used the slur “old hags” (alte Weiber).
16 “Anarchist End His Life. Mohr Taught His Children to Anathematize the Dead President,” New York Sun, January 29, 1902. See also “Killed Himself, Cheated Police,” New York Evening World, January 28, 1902.
17 Freiheit, February 1, 1902. Originally: “Genosse Mohr hat zu Paterson per Gas Selbstmord verübt. Ein böses Weib hat ihn in den Tod gejagt. So sinn’ se.”
18 Goldman, Living My Life, vol. 1, 151.
19 Goldman to Berkman, St. Tropez (France), February 20, 1929, in Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, Nowhere at Home: Letters from Exile of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, eds. Richard Drinnon and Anna Maria Drinnon (New York: Schocken Books, 1975), 145.
20 Goldman, Living My Life, vol. 1, 77. Italics added.
[...]
30 Minkin, “An die Leser der ‘volume,” Freiheit, April 21, 1906.
31 Rudolf Rocker, Johann Most: Das Leben eines Rebellen (Berlin: “Der Syndikalist”, 1924; Glashütten im Taunus: Detlov Auvermann, 1973), 387.

 

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The Lyon Anarchist Trial of 1883

By AK Press | January 8, 2015

On this day in 1883, the trial of over sixty anarchists began in Lyon, France. The state rounded them up and charged them with reconstructing the French branch of the International Working Men’s Association, which had been outlawed the year before (in the aftermath of the Paris Commune). For their part, the accused used the opportunity to further spread their ideas. The trial, as Kropotkin later put it in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist, “during which all the accused took a very firm attitude, preaching our doctrines for a fortnight — had a powerful influence in clearing away false ideas about anarchism in France, and surely contributed to some extent to the revival of socialism in other countries… The contest between the accusers and ourselves was won by us, in the public opinion.”

Below is the declaration the anarchists made in their defense. You can find it, excerpts from Kropotkin’s own defense speech, and about 650 additional pages of Kropotkin’s words in our book Direct Struggle Against Capital: A Peter Kropotkin Anthology, edited by Iain McKay

DEFENCE DECLARATION

What anarchism is, and what anarchists are, we shall try to explain: Anarchists, gentlemen, are citizens who, in an age when freedom of opinion is preached everywhere, have believed it to be their duty to call for unlimited freedom.

Yes, gentlemen, we are some thousand, some millions of workers, all over the world, who demand absolute freedom, nothing but freedom, the whole of freedom!

We want freedom—that is to say, we claim for every human being the right and the means to do whatever he pleases and only what he pleases, and to satisfy all his needs without any limit other than natural impossibilities and the needs of his neighbours, to be respected equally.

We want freedom, and we believe its existence to be incompatible with the existence of any kind of authority, whatever its origin and form may be, whether it is elected or imposed, monarchist or republican, whether it is inspired by divine right or by popular right, by holy oil [1] or by universal suffrage.

History is there to teach us that all governments are alike and equal. The best are the worst. There is more cynicism in some, more hypocrisy in others. In the end there is always the same behaviour, always the same intolerance. Even the most apparently liberal have in reserve, beneath the dust of legislative files, some nice little law on the International for use against troublesome opponents.

The evil, in other words, in the eyes of anarchists does not lie in one form of government rather than another. It lies in the governmental idea itself, it lies in the principle of authority.

In short, the substitution in human relationships of a free contract which can be revised or cancelled in perpetuity, for administrative and legal tutelage, for imposed discipline—that is our ideal.

Anarchists therefore intend to teach the people to do without government, just as they are beginning to learn to do without God.

The people will similarly learn to do without property owners. The worst of tyrants, after all, is not the one who imprisons you but the one who starves you, not the one who holds on to your collar but the one who tightens up your belt.

There can be no liberty without equality. There is no liberty in a society where capital is monopolised in the hands of a minority which is growing smaller every day, and where nothing is shared equally—not even public education, although it is paid for by the contributions of all.

We believe that capital—the common inheritance of mankind, since it is the fruit of the co-operation of past and present generations—must be at the disposal of all in such a way that none may be excluded, and that in turn no one may get possession of a part to the detriment of the rest.

In a word, we want equality—real equality, as a corollary or rather as a prior condition of liberty. From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs—that is what we sincerely and strenuously desire. That is what will come about, for no regulation can prevail against claims which are at the same time legitimate and necessary. That is why you want to condemn us to all kinds of hardship.

Scoundrels that we are, we demand bread for everyone, work for everyone, and for everyone independence and justice too!

———
1 Literally, the Holy Ampule (Sainte-Ampoule). This was a glass vial which held the anointing oil for the coronation of the kings of France. Its first recorded use was by Pope Innocent II for the anointing of Louis VII in 1131. (Editor)

 

 

 

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Read an excerpt from Underground Passages: Anarchist Resistance Culture, 1848–2011

By AK Press | January 5, 2015

Underground Passages: Anarchist Resistance Culture, 1848–2011 is on its way back from the printer. We’re waiting expectantly, as are many of you, we know. Not sure whether it will take some of the edge off the anticipation or fill you with even more longing, but here’s a hefty excerpt from the Introduction (oh, and if you pre-order the book here http://www.akpress.org/underground-passages.html, we’ll ship it out to you are soon as it arrives in the warehouse).


 

FROM THE INTRODUCTION…

Since “an anarchist could not live a consistent life in America” or anywhere else where conditions of statism and capitalism prevailed, and insofar as the hallmark of anarchist ethics is the refusal to distinguish between ends and means or principles and practices, to be an anarchist is almost always to live in an intolerable moral bind.[30] As the anarcho-communist Luigi Galleani (1861– 1931) put it: “By accepting a wage, by paying rent for a house, we, with all our proclaimed revolutionary and anarchist aspirations, recognize and legitimate capital … in the most tangible and painful way.”[31] The individualist anarchist Albert Libertad (1875–1908) perhaps stated the problem most forcefully in his declaration that “Every day we commit suicide partially”:

I commit suicide when I devote, to hours of absorbing work, an amount of energy which I am not able to recapture, or when I engage in work which I know to be useless….
   I commit suicide whenever I consent to obey oppressive men or measures.
   I commit suicide whenever I convey to another individual, by the act of voting, the right to govern me for four years….
   Complete suicide is nothing but the final act of total inability to react against the environment.
   These acts, of which I have spoken of as partial suicides, are not therefore less truly suicidal. It is because I lack the power to react against society, that I inhabit a place without light and air, that I do not eat in accordance with my hunger or my taste, that I am a soldier or a voter, that I subject my love to laws or to compulsion.[32]

At every turn, the anarchist is compelled to endorse a universe of values that is the antithesis of her own, to cancel herself out—a kind of ongoing moral suicide.

Anarchists…are of course not the only people to suffer such alienation, which is to some extent the common fate of all who are marked as marginal or radical. What is unique about our case is not only the extent of our disagreement with the world as it is given to us (defining our being by way of a longer list of things-to-be-against) but its unmediated intensity. For a Marxist, for instance, the desire for another world, however palpable, is supposed to be subject to the dialectic of history: capitalism will die of its own contradictions. No such consolation is available for anarchists—not even, as is often asserted, the consolation of a pure “human nature” that is bound to shine forth again once the dross of history is washed away.[33] On the contrary, this romantic myth is vigorously denied by every major statement of anarchist theory, beginning with the excoriation of Rousseau by Proudhon and Bakunin alike.[34] It is no more a question of substituting biology for history than it is of substituting history for morality. The moral question—how to live?—is left quite bare, and confronts us in all its force.

The main body of the cultural production to emerge from the anarchist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, I contend, can best be understood as a response to this question—not quite a “solution” or an “answer” so much as a way of living with the problem for as long as it lasts, a means of inhabiting history until it stops hurting. Anarchists practice culture as a means of mental and moral survival in a world from which they are fundamentally alienated. Stated positively—well, it is hard to do better than the anarchist poet Kaneko Mitsuharu (1895–1975): “To oppose is to live. / To oppose is to get a grip on the very self.”[35]

This immediately risks being mistaken for some other kind of theory about the relation between anarchist politics and anarchist culture. One of these is the notion of cultural rebellion as a substitute for the political kind. David Weir, for instance, argues that we can read the history of anarchism as follows: whereas anarchists were on the losing side of every revolution from 1871 to 1939, their politics translated nicely into the aesthetic realm, where it came to mean a kind of individualist stance, a willful refusal to make sense to a mass audience—in other words, what came to be known simply as “modernism.” In short, Weir suggests, “anarchism succeeded culturally where it failed politically.”[36] Of course, the same half-full glass might look completely empty if viewed from a slightly more politically engaged perspective than Weir’s. Even if anarchist impulses might be said to have migrated successfully into the domain of art, and even if they produced there practices that resisted the capitalist imperative to produce mass-market cultural commodities, this still amounted to a kind of capitalism-by-other-means, a contest for the “accumulation of symbolic capital,” which could later be traded in for the economic variety, making modern art into a kind of luxury good that would testify to the owner’s social status.[37] Whether or not these modernist works eschewed symbolism entirely—even an ultra-abstractionist work such as Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square became a kind of symbol of the artist’s supreme will not to symbolize—they also ran the risk of becoming privatized surrogates for political refusal, something one turned to in place of collective action, a “compensation and palliative,” as John Zerzan (b. 1943) bluntly puts it, for what cannot be realized in “life.”[38]

This is all as may be. However, the kind of anarchist-inspired cultural production that formed the kernel of modernism—the Cubist abstractions of a Pablo Picasso or the conceptual music of a John Cage, for instance—was never very deeply embedded in any real community of anarchists. It was never firmly connected to an anarcho-syndicalist organization such as the Confederación Nacional de Trabajo (CNT) or the revolutionary syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW),[39] for instance, which sponsored and produced very different forms of art, e.g., the strikingly symbolic mass poster art of Manuel Monleón Burgos (1904–1976) or the satirical folk songs of Joe Hill (1879–1915). The modernist aesthetic studied by Weir and others, in its rejection of representation and narrative, actually has little in common with the aesthetics favored by most anarchists. The demands made on art by the residents of a bohemia, however politicized they may have been at times, were not quite the same as those made by the broader constituencies of what was, at its height, an international working-class movement.[40]

What anarchists did demand from art, by and large, was what they demanded from all the forms and moments of their political lives: i.e., that it should, as much as possible, embody the idea in the act, the principle in the practice, the end in the means. If anarchism is “prefigurative politics,” striving to make the desired future visible in and through one’s actions in the present, then anarchist resistance culture had to somehow prefigure a world of freedom and equality.

The sociologist Howard J. Ehrlich offers us what could be a helpful handle on this notion of anarchist culture as prefigurative when he speaks of a “revolutionary transfer culture,” i.e., “that agglomeration of ideas and practices that guide people in making the trip from the society here to the good society there in the future.”[41] The metaphor of “transfer” is misleading, however, if it makes us imagine this process as something too easy; in the age of globalization, after all, a “trip” is inevitably only a matter of hours at most. Particularly during periods of intense repression, committed anarchists were not always convinced that rapid change was imminent: “Not for a hundred, not for five hundred years, perhaps, will the principles of anarchy triumph,” Emma Goldman (1869–1940) surmised.[42] Nor was the revolution she wanted only a matter of overthrowing the State or abolishing Capital; a “transvaluation not only of social, but also of human values,” encompassing “every phase of life,—individual, as well as the collective; the internal, as well as the external phases,” was not necessarily to be imagined on the Jacobin model of a single, swift transformation.[43] Traveling, movement, mobility are all appropriate images, except insofar as they foreground the endpoint, the destino. While anarchists generally think of their aspirations in terms of “revolution,” the journey—“walk[ing] toward anarchy,” as Errico Malatesta (1853–1932) put it—is at least as important as the goal.[44]

How could anarchists maintain such a pitch of activity, such an optimism of the will, in the face of such pessimism of the intellect? As prefigurative politics, anarchism can entail a paradoxically pessimistic attitude toward the possibility of arriving at a revolutionary moment: a certain historical amor fati or “anarcho-fatalism.” Francis Dupuis-Déri notes precisely such an indifference toward “the revolution” as event among contemporary anarchist activists. Instead of deferring desires into a utopian future seen as imminent, anarchist activists seek to make their desires as immanent as possible—to demand more from their relationships, from the process of political activity, from their everyday lives.[45] While Dupuis-Déri attributes contemporary anarcho-fatalism in part to a realistic reckoning of the poor prospects for a classical “revolution” in the relatively affluent and stable global North, such an orientation is hardly a recent phenomenon; we find it clearly and forcefully theorized in the writings of Gustav Landauer (1870–1919), anarchist martyr of the abortive German revolution of 1919.

In Die Revolution, written in 1911 and reissued on the eve of the actual event itself, Landauer took up Proudhon’s suggestion that “there is a permanent revolution in history,” reinterpreting history in terms of a continuity of revolutionary energies—sometimes forced “underground,” at other times erupting into the open air.[46] In this interpretation, revolution becomes not a historically and geographically isolated event but a more nebulous process that only occasionally condenses into decisive moments—“evolution preceding revolution,” as Elisée Reclus put it, “and revolution preceding a new evolution, which is in turn the mother of future revolutions.”[47] This takes the logic of revolution far from the scientific pretensions of historical materialism. Indeed, where Marx rebuked Bakunin for looking to “willpower” and not “economic conditions” as the source of revolution, for Landauer, it is precisely will and desire, social emotions, that are the primary revolutionary forces: revolution is “possible at all times, if enough people want it”:[48]

Little is to be expected from external conditions, and people think too much about the environment, the future, the others, separating means and ends too much, as if an end could be attained in this way. Too often you think that if the end is glorious, dubious means must also be justified. But only the moment exists for us; do not sacrifice the reality to the chimera! If you seek the right life, live it now; you make it difficult by seeking it outside yourselves, in the future, and for the sake of this beautiful future you fill your present with ugliness…. If the glory and the kingdom of God on earth should ever come for the world, for the masses, for people and nations, can it come in any way other than by the fact that one immediately begins to do what is right?[49]

If we can await nothing from “external conditions,” we must demand everything from ourselves, from within. This inward turn, however, is not to be understood as a subjective substitute for social action (like one of the “revolutions from within” peddled by pop psychologists); it is a fully social and material attempt to come to grips with the world. Like Gatti’s tunnel, it is a “line of flight”—“not a leap into another realm,” Todd May explains, but “a production within the realm of that from which it takes flight.”[50] In short, this is a matter of resistance, of finding ways, “at every instant,” to “withdraw from injustice.”[51] In the words of Landauer’s essay, “Durch Absonderung zur Gemeinschaft [Through Separation to Community],” it is out of a profound sense of responsibility to others that anarchists seek “to leave these people,” to keep “our own company and our own lives”; “Away from the state, as far as we can get! Away from goods and commerce! Away from the philistines! Let us … form a small community in joy and activity.”[52] Landauer’s conception of anarchism as exodus, striving toward “community” precisely “through separation,” illuminates the purpose of anarchist resistance culture: to enable us, while remaining within the world of domination and hierarchy, to escape from it.

Something like Ehrlich‘s “transfer culture” or Landauer’s “community through separation” is carried by the Italian Autonomists’ concept of “exodus.” Exodus, a process of “engaged withdrawal” from authoritarian institutions, which is at the same time the “founding” of a new community, was partly inspired by observations of U.S. black nationalism, which used the image of the passage out of Egypt “to change circumstances without [anyone] shifting one millimetre in space.”[53] Indeed, from the perspective of exodus, the question of whether the emancipated future is imminent or remote is beside the point:

The motivating force of the sticking together and the unity— the “being together”—of that group that was on its way (“in movement”) toward the Promised Land, toward the collective dimension of its own emancipation, was probably more the unidimensionality of the desert, its immobility and immutability, than any hopes for the approach of some eventual future goal.[54]

Anarchist resistance culture is a way of living in transit through this desert. The resistance culture of the anti-apartheid movement had not only a specific target but a destino, a Promised Land, an end. Anarchist resistance is not mainly defined by its end; it is a middle, a means.

It is a tunnel.

 

NOTES

30 Blaine McKinley, “‘The Quagmires of Necessity’: American Anarchists and Dilemmas of Vocation,” American Quarterly 34.5 (Winter 1982): 507.
31 Luigi Galleani, The Principle of Organization, trans. Wolfi Landstreicher (Cascadia: Pirate Press Portland, 2006), 4. In a contemporary echo, Laura Portwood-Stacer observes that among anarchists today, “everyone can be called out at some point for not living up to anarchist principles,” since— no less than 1925—“to live in contemporary society is to be complicit with capitalism and other forms of exploitation” (130).
32 Albert Libertad, “The Joy of Life,” in Man! An Anthology of Anarchist Ideas, Essays, Poetry and Commentaries, ed. Marcus Graham (London: Cienfuegos Press, 1974), 355–356. Cf. Alexandra Myrial (a.k.a. Alexandra David-Néel, 1868–1969), in Pour la Vie (1901): “Obedience is death. Each instant man submits to an alien will is an instant cut off from his life” (13).
33 The notion that anarchists were anarchists because they believed in the existence of a good human nature, repressed by social institutions such as the State, that merely awaited expression, is really a durable misreading that survives in spite of many concerted attempts to puncture it, perpetuated by political scientists, philosophers, and historians alike. See, for instance, Dave Morland’s “Anarchism, Human Nature and History: Lessons for the Future” (in Twenty-First Century Anarchism, eds. Jon Purkis and James Bowen [UK: Cassell, 1997], 8–23), David Hartley’s “Communitarian Anarchism and Human Nature” (in Anarchist Studies 3.2 [1995]: 145–164), and my own Anarchism and the Crisis of Representation: Hermeneutics, Aesthetics, Politics (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 2006), 56–60.
34 See, for instance, the ridicule heaped by Proudhon on Rousseau’s notion that “Man is born good … but society … depraves him” (System of Economic Contradictions: or, the Philosophy of Misery, trans. Benjamin R. Tucker [Boston: Benjamin R. Tucker, 1888], 404), or Bakunin’s contempt for Rousseau’s conception of “primitive men enjoying absolute liberty only in isolation” (Bakunin on Anarchism, 128).
35 Kaneko Mitsuharu, “Opposition,” trans. Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite, in 99 Poems in Translation: An Anthology, ed. Harold Pinter et al. (New York: Grove Press, 1994), 54–55.
36 David Weir, Anarchy and Culture: The Aesthetic Politics of Modernism (Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts, 1997), 5.
37 Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, trans. Randal Johnson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 75.
38 John Zerzan, Elements of Refusal (Seattle: Left Bank Books, 1988), 56.
39 The term “revolutionary syndicalism” refers to the radical movement emerging in the 1890s, eclectic as to ideology but firmly internationalist and anti-statist (and harboring a substantial faction of self-defined anarchists), that saw direct action and self-organization through unions (in French, syndicats) as the means proper to workers’ emancipation. The origins of the term “anarcho-syndicalism” (and its cognates) are somewhat cloudy, but it appears to have come into use in the early 1920s, first as an epithet hurled by Communist Party members at syndicalists who resisted the assimilation of their movement, then as a self-description adopted by some of those same syndicalists (David Berry, A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917–1945 (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2009), 152; Mintz,“Guión provisional sobre el anarcosindicalismo,” El Solidario 14 [Fall 2008]: xii–xiii). Anarcho-syndicalists specifically defined the emancipatory goal of revolutionary syndicalism as anarchy (or, in the formulation of the CNT, “libertarian communism”).
40 For a somewhat contrary view, see Allan Antliff ’s Anarchist Modernism: Art, Politics, and the First American Avant-Garde (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).
41 Howard J. Ehrlich, “How to Get from Here to There: Building Revolutionary Transfer Culture,” in Reinventing Anarchy, Again, ed. Howard J. Ehrlich (Edinburgh: AK Press, 1996), 329.
42 Qtd. in Michelson “A Character Study of Emma Goldman,” Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years, Vol. 1, ed. Candace Falk (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 441.
43 Emma Goldman, My Disillusionment in Russia (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003), 259; and Anarchism and Other Essays (New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1910), 56. Similarly, Ruth Kinna has argued that recent poststructuralist interpreters of the anarchist tradition misread Kropotkin’s conception of revolution: “It was not a matter of going to sleep in a statist system one night and waking up in utopia the next morning. Kropotkin believed that revolution was necessary, but it was work in progress as much as a cataclysmic event” (82).
44 Errico Malatesta, “Towards Anarchism,” in Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Vol. 1, ed. Robert Graham (Montréal: Black Rose Books, 2005), 506.
45 Francis Dupuis-Déri, “En deuil de révolution? Pensées et pratiques anarcho-fatalistes.” Réfractions 13 (Automne 2004): 139–150.
46 Proudhon, Oeuvres complètes 17 (Paris: Librairie Internationale, 1868), 142; Landauer, Revolution, 116, 154.
47 Elisée Reclus, “Evolution, Revolution, and the Anarchist Ideal,” in Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: The Radical Social Thought of Elisée Reclus, eds. and trans. John Clark and Camille Martin (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004), 153.
48 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works Vol. 24: Marx and Engels, 1874–83 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1989), 518; Gustav Landauer, For Socialism, trans. David J. Parent (St. Louis, MO: Telos Press, 1978), 74.
49 Gustav Landauer, Der Werdende Mensch: Aufsätze über Leben und Schrifttum, ed. Martin Buber (Potsdam: G. Kiepenheuer, 1921), 228.
50 Todd May, Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 128.
51 Landauer, Der Werdende Mensch, 228, trans. and emphasis mine.
52 Landauer, Revolution, 94–108.
53 Paolo Virno, “Virtuosity and Revolution: The Political Theory of Exodus,” trans. Ed Emory, in Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, eds. Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 196; Andrea Colombo qtd. in Steve Wright, “Confronting the Crisis of ‘Fordism’: Italian Debates Around Social Transition,” http:// www.arpnet.it/chaos/steve.htm.
54 Marco Revelli, “Worker Identity in the Factory Desert,” trans. Ed Emory, in Radical Thought in Italy, 118–119. This also recalls Walter Benjamin’s concluding remarks in “Theses on the Philosophy of History”: “We know that the Jews were prohibited from investigating the future…. This does not imply, however, that for the Jews the future turned into homogeneous, empty time. For every second of time was the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter” (Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn and ed. Hannah Arendt [New York: Schocken Books, 1969], 264).

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