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Black Bloc, White Riot author AK Thompson on uprisings, “violence,” and other age-old questions

By AK Press | January 30, 2017

Call it the return of the repressed. Reviewing footage from the D.C. demonstrations on January 20, I couldn’t help but weep. Between the people locked down with PVC pipes in static blockades, the demonstrations that swelled to proportions so great that even journalists were forced to use adjectives like “historic,” and the magnificent meme-able resurrection of the swarming black bloc, the scene could not help but remind me of the exaltation that overtook an earlier generation of radicals at the dawn of the new millennium. Seattle may have been a riot, but it was also a game changer. It upped the ante, and it set the tone for the cycle of struggle that would follow.

Like radiation emitted along with its glow, though, Seattle also unleashed a series of heated debates that were never fully contained or resolved. Unhelpfully, these debates were often framed as showdowns between propositions that were as abstract as they were antithetical. Did we need mass action or direct action? Should we do summit hopping or local organizing? Did politics demand that we produce a new world or should we struggle for better representation within this one?

It was questions like these that compelled me to write Black Bloc, White Riot, a book released by AK Press a full decade after the dust kicked up by the Seattle cycle had settled. I imagined that, if the polarizing debates were reviewed and reassessed, they might yield new insights that could be of use as we planned our next move. In particular, I wondered whether the question of violence deserved fuller consideration than had been allowed under the terms of that uneasy truce so many of us had signed beneath a banner proclaiming our “respect for a diversity of tactics” (I didn’t have much respect for tactics that wouldn’t work).

Consideration or not, I didn’t have to wait long for the violence to return. Around the time the book was released in the summer of 2010, the debates flared up again—this time in Toronto, where an obscene meeting of the G20 (surrounded by fences and thousands of cops) succumbed to umbrage as smoke billowed up from burning police cars. When Occupy Oakland began rioting against police evictions the following fall, the discursive polarity reached new heights as journalist Chris Hedges—otherwise so austere—embraced his new role as cartoon villain.

Because recursions such as these suggest that the questions under consideration are impossible to repress (because they point toward truths that are impossible to ignore), events like N30, the Toronto G20, Occupy Oakland, and our most recent J20 must be viewed as being both politically and analytically significant. Still, the fact that debates since the inauguration now sound so familiar, the fact that they’ve fallen so readily into the ruts we carved at the turn of the century, suggests that—collectively—we still have some working through to do. To this end, and once again, I propose that we recall our past failures so that we might finally trace a new course.

Learn more about AK Thompson’s book, Black Bloc, White Riothere.

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Sound Teachers: Reprinting Errico Malatesta

By AK Press | December 7, 2016

“Today more than ever anarchists, the romantics forever being vilified by every brand of realist, need to stake their proud claim to political far-sightedness and the cultural dignity of their tradition and to turn them into weapons, instead of tossing them overboard as jetsam.”

AK Press has just released the first of ten volumes (Volume III “A Long and Patient Work”) in the Complete Works of Malatesta. This interview with editor Davide Turcato about the Complete Works is from 2012. It first appeared in A Rivista Anarchica, and has been translated by Paul Sharkey.

During his recent stay in Italy we met up with Davide Turcato, who lives in Canada [now Ireland]; he is the supervising editor of the Complete Works of Errico Malatesta. Out of that meeting came this interview. —The editors of A Rivista Anarchica (Milan).

Q. Where did the plan to publish Malatesta’s Complete Works come from?

A. My long-term turning to Malatesta’s writings, initially in my youth, and then, more recently, my study of the three volumes of collected writings that Luigi Fabbri and Luigi Bertoni were going publish as Malatesta’s complete output, although their plans were interrupted. But this current plan proper goes back to a quiet evening in September 1999. I was just finishing my reading of Luigi Fabbri: Storia d’un uomo libero by Fabbri’s daughter Luce, when I stumbled upon a description of the outline of the project that Fabbri had had in mind. “Now is the time to see that plan through,” I said to myself. And so our plan was born. I am not the sort who makes decisions easily. And it still stuns me that it happened …

Q. For whom is the project intended? What sort of reader do you have in mind?

A. We have two types of reader in mind. First and foremost, we are aiming not merely at anarchists eager to deepen their knowledge of the thinking of one of their “greats,” but also at the young and at every educated person with an interest in political thought and keen to know what anarchism is from the mouth of one of its chief exponents. From that point of view, we need to produce books for reading rather than monuments. We are at pains to produce volumes that will not intimidate the reader and so we have, insofar as we can, eased up on the “encyclopedic” aspect of the series by publishing volumes that are self-contained and that can stand alone. We have kept notes to a minimum, confining ourselves to giving briefings on events and people that might not be familiar to contemporary readers or to cross-referencing articles that lend themselves to that. We have, however,tried to avoid notes that “explain” Malatesta to the reader. Malatesta’s writing is plain and meant for everybody and certainly requires no explanation. At the same time, we are also catering to the researcher and academic because we reckon that this somewhat stooped little man with perpetually dirty hands (in the literal sense rather than what Sartre’s Mains Sales had in mind) may be one of the towering figures of political thought worldwide, and his writings deserve a place in the university libraries around the globe. And so we have also sought to produce something that measures up to the current high standards of critical rigor and editorial accuracy.

Q. Allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Don’t you think that the literature already available about Malatesta is enough with which to arrive at a proper understanding of his thought?

A. Malatesta’s thought is like a mine, much of which has yet to be explored. Existing anthologies tend to favor some of his newspapers—L’Agitazione, Umanità Nova, Pensiero e Volontà—to the detriment of other short-lived but very important ones such as L’Associazione and La Rivoluzione Sociale. Not to mention fundamental articles written in other languages and virtually unknown these days. Then again, it is in the nature of an anthology to adopt a thematic approach and thereby present a flattened and rather touched-up picture of Malatesta’s thought. But the time aspect is crucial when dealing with somebody active in the movement for sixty years. There is an exemplary consistency in Malatesta from start to finish. But he was also a cook who tried out his recipes and adjusted them in the light of experience. Capturing the evolution in his thinking opens the way to a much deeper understanding. Finally, the tendency to date has been to focus upon the “peaks” in Malatesta’s struggle, which is to say, during the times he was back in Italy. But in order to appreciate that evolution, it is important to study the transitional times, the intervals, the shadowy areas, and the isolated articles that mark turning-points.

Q. Still playing the devil’s advocate I ask: how much store do you place today by the tradition of so-called “classical” anarchism?

A. “Tradition” is one of those terms that have earned a bad name because of the bad company it has kept. “Tradition” is associated with “traditionalism,” the dogma that “we have to do this because it has always been done that way.” Interpreted that way, obviously the idea of tradition should be rejected. But in politics as well as in science and the arts nobody conjures anything up out of nothing. Anybody who tries to do so winds up reinventing the wheel. The important point is to understand the tradition one belongs to, in order to stand above it and take it further. In this regard, no one has done a better job than Malatesta of defining anarchism, that is, the mainstays of our tradition. Then again, being anti-authoritarians, anarchists often have to point out that they have no masters and traditions to be respected. Which is, to some extent, a sort of self-inflicted wound. If the passage of time has shown anything it is that the anarchists have always been in the right. Gramsci himself implicitly admitted as much back in 1920, yet urged anarchists to acknowledge dialectically “that they were in the wrong … in being in the right” And in a recent book on Malatesta, Vittorio Giacopini has rightly written that it is typical of anarchism to “lose whilst being in the right.” Today more than ever anarchists, the romantics forever being vilified by every brand of realist, need to stake their proud claim to political far-sightedness and the cultural dignity of their tradition and to turn them into weapons, instead of tossing them overboard as jetsam.

Q. Getting down to the specifics of the project, how are the volumes laid out and in what order are they being published?

A. Ten volumes are projected. Of these, eight stick to chronological order, from the First International through to Pensiero e Volontà and his last writings. Besides articles, each volume will contain interviews, reports on talks and cross-examinations, most of it hitherto unpublished material. The remaining two volumes, by contrast, take a thematic approach: one containing correspondence and the other his pamphlets, manifestos, programs, and other miscellaneous writings, such as, say, a play written by Malatesta. As to order of publication, this will be done by fits and starts, but there will be a certain rationale to it. We did not want to begin at the beginning because the first volume is one of the most demanding, in terms both of the traceability and of the attribution of texts. Nor did we want to start at the end because that is what Fabbri and Bertoni did, whereas we wanted to break new ground with something new rather than merely reprinting materials already available. So we start from the middle, from the volume that covers the years 1897–1898, which is to say the L’Agitazione years. Another reason for kicking off with that volume is that by our reckoning it is the one most likely to attract non-anarchists as well, in that it is the one in which Malatesta places the greatest emphasis on partial gains rather than upon a new departure ushered in by insurrection. From there, we shall proceed in chronological sequence right to the end after which we will jump back to the very first volumes in the sequence. The volume containing his correspondence will almost certainly be the final one because it too involves a lot of hard work, whereas the volume containing the pamphlets, manifestos, and the like represents a sort of a “jolly” and we have yet to decide where in the sequence it should be inserted.

Q. From what you say, as the volumes see publication, your research is still ongoing?

A. Yes, that’s it. Let me state first and foremost that the title Complete Works is a lie. The real title should be Works As Complete As Possible. Especially as regards his correspondence, the completeness of which is an unattainable ideal. Let me seize the occasion here to put out an appeal to your readers. If anyone knows of or possesses notes or letters by Malatesta, we would be profoundly grateful if you would let us know about them. That said, we should say that I have already gathered about 95% of our materials. But if there is one thing that I have learned from the experience of the first volumes, it is that that final 5% demands nearly as much time as it took to gather all the rest together.

Q. And to finish, what can you tell me about the latest volume to be published?

A. The title is (in English) Towards Anarchy: Malatesta in America, 1899–1900. It deals mainly with Malatesta’s time in the United States at the turn of the century, during which time he took over from the anti-organisationist Ciancabilla as editor in chief of La Questione Sociale in Paterson [New Jersey]. Since it deals with America, we asked the top US expert in Italian anarchism, Nunzio Pernicone, to write the introductory essay. The volume covers one of the periods of which an understanding might bring the greatest benefit to an anthology of all his writings. If we look at his writings one by one, separately, that period is a sort of a puzzle. Within the space of just a few months, we find Malatesta writing, on the one hand, a pamphlet like Against Monarchy in which he calls, as a top priority, for an alliance between revolutionary factions with an eye to an insurrection to overthrow the Savoyard monarchy, and also touches upon the subject of military tactics. Which has prompted some critics to talk about a sort of 1848-style regurgitation on Malatesta’s part. On the other hand, he was writing an article such as “Towards Anarchy,” in which he asserts that “any victory, no matter how slight […] will be a step forwards, a step along the road to anarchy.” And thereby seems to be hinting at the theme of gradualism that he was to develop completely a quarter of a century later. Yet, reading these writings together, one can detect a coherence in them. Now, do not ask me what the solution to the puzzle is because, as I said earlier we are not out to explain Malatesta to the reader, and I do not want to contradict myself even before this interview finishes. Essentially, the beauty of Complete Works is that one should no longer borrow the interpretations of “experts,” i.e. the few people who have hitherto been privileged to have access to all of Malatesta’s writings. Now everyone can come up with his own interpretation, now that we have all the resources at our disposal.

A Rivista Anarchica (Milan) Year 42, No 375, November 2012

The English-language volumes will be:

The Complete Works of Errico Malatesta

Volume I
“Whoever is Poor is a Slave”: The Internationalist Period and the South America Exile, 1871–89
Volume II
“Let’s Go to the People”: L’Associazione and the London Years of 1889–97
Volume III
“A Long and Patient Work”: The Anarchist Socialism of L’Agitazione, 1897–98
Volume VI
“Towards Anarchy”: Malatesta in America, 1899–1900
Volume V
“The Armed Strike”: The Long London Exile of 1900–13
Volume VI
“Is Revolution Possible?”: Volontà, the Red Week and the War, 1913–18
Volume VII
“United Proletarian Front”: The Red Biennium, Umanità Nova and Fascism, 1919–23
Volume VIII
“Achievable and Achieving Anarchism”: Pensiero e Volontà and Last Writings, 1924–32
Volume IX
“What Anarchists Want”: Pamphlets, Programmes, Manifestos and Other Miscellaneous Publications
Volume X
“Yours and for Anarchy…”: Malatesta’s Correspondence

 

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#DisruptJ20: Mobilize Against the Inauguration of Donald Trump

By AK Press | November 11, 2016

The AK Press collective just signed onto this. Care to join us?

.

——-

NO PEACEFUL TRANSITION

#DisruptJ20: Call for a bold mobilization against the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017

On Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States. We call on all people of good conscience to join in disrupting the ceremonies. If Trump is to be inaugurated at all, let it happen behind closed doors, showing the true face of the security state Trump will preside over. It must be made clear to the whole world that the vast majority of people in the United States do not support his presidency or consent to his rule.

Trump stands for tyranny, greed, and misogyny. He is the champion of neo-nazis and white Nationalists, of the police who kill the Black, Brown and poor on a daily basis, of racist border agents and sadistic prison guards, of the FBI and NSA who tap your phone and read your email. He is the harbinger of even more climate catastrophe, deportation, discrimination, and endless war. He continues to deny the existence of climate change, in spite of all the evidence, putting the future of the whole human race at stake. The KKK, Vladimir Putin, Golden Dawn, and the Islamic State all cheered his victory. If we let his inauguration go unchallenged, we are opening the door to the future they envision.

Trump’s success confirms the bankruptcy of representative democracy. Rather than using the democratic process as an alibi for inaction, we must show that no election could legitimize his agenda. Neither the Democrats nor any other political party or politician will save us—they just offer a weaker version of the same thing. If there is going to be positive change in this society, we have to make it ourselves, together, through direct action.

From day one, the Trump presidency will be a disaster. #DisruptJ20 will be the start of the resistance. We must take to the streets and protest, blockade, disrupt, intervene, sit in, walk out, rise up, and make more noise and good trouble than the establishment can bear. The parade must be stopped. We must delegitimize Trump and all he represents. It’s time to defend ourselves, our loved ones, and the world that sustains us as if our lives depend on it—because they do.

In Washington, DC

DC will not be hospitable to the Trump administration. Every corporation must openly declare whether they side with him or with the people who will suffer at his hands. Thousands will converge and demonstrate resistance to the Trump regime. Save the date. A website will appear shortly with more details. #DisruptJ20

Around the US

If you can’t make it to Washington, DC on January 20, take to the streets wherever you are. We call on our comrades to organize demonstrations and other actions for the night of January 20. There is also a call for a general strike to take place. Organize a walkout at your school now. Workers: call out sick and take the day off. No work, no school, no shopping, no housework. #DisruptJ20

Around the World

If you are living outside the US, you can take action at US embassies, borders, or other symbols of neocolonial power. Our allegiance is not to “making America great again,” but to all of humanity and the planet. #DisruptJ20

Spread the word. Join the fight. #DisruptJ20

Signed,

Agency
CrimethInc. Workers’ Collective
It’s Going Down
subMedia
New York Anarchist Action
The Base
NYC Anarchist Black Cross
Pittsburgh Autonomous Student Network
Pittsburgh Student Solidarity Coalition
NightShade Pittsburgh
Pitt Against Debt
Pitt Students for a Democratic Society
Steel City (A) Team
UNControllables
Antifa Seven Hills
WNC Antifa
Asheville Anti-Racism
Black Rose Book Distro St. Louis
Resonance: An anarchist audio distro
AK Press

If you endorse this call, sign your name at the bottom of this list and circulate it. Email disruptj20@riseup.net to be included in the above list.

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Excerpt from “Nonviolence Ain’t What It Used to Be”

By AK Press | October 25, 2016

We know many of you have been waiting for Shon Meckfessel’s new book Nonviolence Ain’t What It Used to Be: Unarmed Insurrection and the Rhetoric of Resistance. Well, it’s back from the printer and ready to confront the world—and upset some of our preconceived notions about “violence” and “nonviolence.”

Here’s a little taste from the Introduction:

—–

In its 2016 report, Global Riot Control System Market, 2016–2020, the market research firm Infiniti Research Ltd. has some great news for investors who are thinking about putting their money in riot-control technologies: by 2020, the overall riot control market in the United States “is expected to exceed USD 2 billion,” with the markets in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa growing at an even higher rate. [1] “Protests, riots, and demonstrations are major issues faced by the law enforcement agencies across the world,” and current conditions are unambiguously predicted to further “generate demand for riot control systems.” “Growing economic transformations” in the Asia–Pacific region are predicted to produce changes that will “boost demand for riot control systems” there as well. Another recent report by the esteemed Lloyd’s of London similarly predicts that “instances of political violence contagion are becoming more frequent and the contagion effect ever more rapid and powerful.” The Lloyd’s report presents three “pandemic” categories, what they term “super-strain pandemic types: “a) anti-imperialist, independence movements, removing occupying force; b) mass pro-reform protests against national government, and c) armed insurrection, insurgency, secessionist, may involve ideology (e.g. Marxism, Islamism).” The report presents the distinctions among these categories as hazy, as unrest of one sort is liable to bleed into that of another. Clearly, the differences matter less than the similar threat various forms of unrest pose and responses they demand.

Ours is a time of riots, without a doubt. Still, not so long ago, protests in much of the world, and particularly in the US and Europe, were generally thought of as “nonviolent” affairs. After the intensity of 1968 and the subsequent repression of armed revolutionary groups in the US, Europe, and Latin America, nonviolence seemed to have become a cornerstone of social movement common sense. Curious exceptions—the Zapatistas with their generally silent guns, Black Blocs of the antiglobalization movement, and the occasional urban riots in Miami, LA, and Cincinnati—seemed to be exceptions that confirmed the rule. Yet, the time when nonviolence could be taken for granted has clearly come to an end. What happened? What is it that people say through rioting that went unsaid for so long?

One of the first things that struck me as I set out to answer these questions was that advocates both of nonviolence and of riot often speak of their preferred approach as if it works by magic. Insurrectionist and nonviolence advocates alike speak in mystical terms about the ineffable power of their activities, often without giving a hint about what actual effects, in what specific conditions, these approaches might have. Rather than being able to lay out the effective mechanisms of these approaches—what purposes such actions serve, what audiences they appeal to, and how exactly they go about making their claims and appeals—most bristle at having their faith so questioned. Indeed, in looking at how people discuss these issues, I often wondered if I was speaking to religious adherents rather than people seeking to bring about social change through worldly action. It is no secret that the Left (including the “post-Left”) has suffered dearly from a traumatic break in generational knowledge, for which we should likely thank the FBI as much as any of our own dysfunctions. In tracing the influence of these generational breaks to discussions of non/violence, I became increasingly interested in this traumatic history, which I see as the root of the dehistoricized, magical thinking evident in these discourses. This book seeks to redress that amnesia and to explore how it is we’ve gotten to a point where various core approaches in the repertoire of social movements have come to seem opposed, even complete opposites—while in a longer historical perspective, they seem more like points on a spectrum, or tools in a box. If neither “nonviolence” nor “violent” riots work by magic, how, then, do they work?

In answering these questions, I have drawn heavily on post-structuralist theories of discourse, rhetoric, and affect. Far from head-in-the-clouds academic jargon, I see these fields as concrete tools for understanding how meanings are negotiated and contested, and how such struggles are always at the same time a matter of contesting power. Indeed, for those who think of Foucault and his ilk as steering radical critique too heavily toward a fussy preoccupation with language, I hope this work can provide an example of how that doesn’t have to be the case. Many assume that “nonviolence” has a monopoly on the reasoned appeal to its audiences, and that political violence—not only the violence of riots, but even less sympathetic forms of political violence of massacre or torture, for example—relies only on coercion and force, rather than possessing a persuasive eloquence in its own right. I think this distinction is fundamentally wrong and not at all helpful. Consequently, throughout this work, I keep coming back to the tension between, on the one hand, the “rhetorical” or “discursive”—that place where meanings happen, within culture and, generally but not always, language—and, on the other, “materiality,” that world of necessity, coercion, objects, and force. Like many rhetoricians, I am interested in the way that material reality can work to create meaning, and how certain meanings can only be made through material realities—that is, not only in words. However, “action not words” doesn’t really describe the process, because meanings that happen materially don’t “stick” unless we remember and represent those meanings—unless these material changes get us to talk to each other and ourselves in a different way. Reality is not merely “material” (as some vulgar Marxists would have it) or entirely “discursive” (as some vulgar post-structuralists might say), but happens in the friction between the two. More than a minor aside, the study of how social movements change meaning—which is to say, change the world, since meanings are the way we decide how to act—is a way to better understand this friction. Scrappy protests, especially in their most intense forms as riots, are a perfect site to study this, precisely because they have been so long assumed to be “the voice of the voiceless,” a mute symptom of lack of political power, rather than an articulate way of constituting it.

When I look at political violence in this book, I primarily focus on violence in public protest, those public acts that seek to contest and cast doubts on the way that power works under current arrangements, and especially on those aspects of it directed at calling capitalist property relations into question. I do not look at the striking increase in right-wing violence, or at the proud tradition of “armed self-defense,” or specifically at anticolonial violence, except to briefly discuss its differences from the subject at hand. Although capitalism and modern settler colonialism have been historically co-constituted and interdependent, they present somewhat different challenges to those trying to contest them. I hope understanding these relatively discrete systems of rule can help us better respond in those complex realities (like the contemporary US) where, in practice, aspects of both nearly always appear tangled together. I do look briefly at those times in the history of social movements when guns have come out into the open, in order to try to figure out why they aren’t doing so now.

Much of this book began as my PhD dissertation, researched and written in 2012–2013. During this time, I interviewed approximately thirty participants from Occupy Oakland and Occupy Seattle in order to help me work through these ideas. I was very active in these movements as well, as what academics euphemistically term a “participant observer.” While I was conducting my research, the FBI was also conducting its own investigation into these same movements and into some of the same episodes I was interested in—such as the 2012 May Day riot in Seattle, which did some $200,000 of damage to the downtown business core. Because of this, I was obliged to carefully avoid asking any specific questions about people’s involvement and also to make all my interviewees completely anonymous. Although some narrative coherence might be lost as a result, I hope the wider personal dramas, struggles, and victories come through the words of the people I spoke with. These things are never experienced individually anyway; therefore, somehow this jumbling strikes me as more faithful to the experience. Given the limited pool of participants in these movements, I was also reluctant to give away much demographic data, regardless of how obviously important intersectionalities of race, gender, sexuality, region, etc. are. I have refrained from mentioning very many identity markers, and only when it seems absolutely necessary to the meaning of the comments. In general, I can attest that those I interviewed were diverse in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, although perhaps less so in terms of class (I am thinking in particular of the large contingent of street kids who were difficult to track down once the Occupy camps were dispersed).

While turning my original research into a book, I was also a very active participant in a number of other movements, such as the Block the Boat actions against Israeli shipping companies and the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle. Even though I was not conducting “research” as a participant in these movements, I could see that the tendencies I was writing about had only become more pronounced. Examples and extrapolations from these more contemporary struggles found their way into my manuscript in what I think are productive ways, despite the less formal nature of the research.

My goal in this book is not to advocate violence or to prescribe nonviolence; it is, in fact, to move beyond the politically obstructive dichotomy of such prescriptions. If I am successful, we will learn to hesitate when we use these words, to pause until we actually have some idea what we’re talking about—or perhaps until we’ve managed to come up with more helpful terminology. If, as Randall Amster says, “the sum total of people killed or physically injured by anarchists throughout all of recorded history amounts to little more than a good weekend for the empire,” then why are arguments about violence and nonviolence within our movements so acute? [2] Why do the stakes seem so high? More often than not, we are not even sure what we’re talking about when we debate nonviolence and rioting. This book, in its small way, hopes to add a bit more clarity to the discussion by helping us understand, when our rioting bodies enter the streets, what they are saying and how successful they are at articulating it.

 

NOTES
1 Global Riot Control System Market, 2016–2020, quoted in Nafeez Ahmed, “Defence industry poised for billion dollar profits from global riot ‘contagion’,” Medium.com, May 6, 2016. Accessed June 20, 2016, https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/defence-industry-poised-for-billion-dollar-profits-from-global-riot-contagion-8fa38829348c#.c3qc3z5ol. All remaining quotes in this paragraph are also from Ahmed’s overview.
2 Randall Amster, Anarchism Today (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2012), 44.

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The Revolution Starts at Home: Preface by Andrea Smith

By Suzanne | August 22, 2016

AK Press is proud to bring The Revolution Starts at Home back into print. Here is a short excerpt to give you a feel for why we think it’s so important. This preface to the book by Andrea Smith describes some of the challenges of ending gender-based and intimate violence without relying on policing and prisons, and lays out some of what the book sets out to do: helping us all think through truly transformative solutions.


PREFACE by Andrea Smith

The Revolution Starts at Home is an amazing book that signals how much analysis and praxis have changed within the anti-violence movement. Twenty years ago when I first became involved in the movement, even prior to the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), it was almost impossible to question the movement’s reliance on the criminal legal system. In fact, it was difficult to even see the anti-violence movement as a movement. Most programs were almost entirely funded by the state. We had become a network of social service providers and legal system advocates. We had become so single-issue oriented that it did not even occur to most anti-violence coalitions to organize against police brutality, anti-immigration legislation, or military violence. Instead, many anti-violence programs support the police state and militarism as solutions to gender violence. The assumption that the criminal legal system was friend to the anti-violence movement went unquestioned. When the few critics there were would ask why we were supporting a system that was increasingly incarcerating poor communities and communities of color, we were silenced before we could even finish our sentences.

Of course there were many organized women of color anti-violence organizations and caucuses. Yet we did not question the larger logics of the antiviolence movement. We strove to provide more inclusive services, but we did not question the actual services themselves. We created bilingual hotlines, “culturally sensitive” training programs, and ethnicity-specific shelter services. But we never asked ourselves if this approach was the best way to end violence against women of color. We organized for inclusion in the anti-violence movement but did not question what we were trying to be included in.

In 1999, Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex organized its first conference. Critical Resistance helped popularize the principles of prison abolition. It provided a framework for many of us who had been involved in the anti-violence movement and were skeptical of its reliance on the criminal legal system. We could do more than simply share concerns about criminalization: we now had an analysis of why the prison industrial complex was not the solution to anything, including gender violence. This framework then provided a foundation for the development, in 2000, of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. INCITE! aspired to do more than call attention to racism in the anti-violence movement. Instead, it wanted the movement to become a movement. Rather than focus on social services delivery or court advocacy, it posited that gender violence must be understood within larger systems of capitalism, settler colonialism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy. Social services are important, but if that is all we work for we are simply enabling people to survive an unjust system. Instead, we actually wanted to change these systems. But to do so, we had to build mass movements of peoples who were no longer willing to live under structures of violence. Our focus would have to be on political mobilization and base-building.

Of course, as this book points out, one of the major contradictions in political mobilization is that we often replicate the same hierarchical systems we claim to be dismantling. Gender violence is as prevalent within progressive movements as it is in society at large. As the editors of this volume remind us, the revolution does indeed start at home. This phrase should not be interpreted as a depoliticized call to focus on personal self-development instead of building movements to dismantle white supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism. Rather, this phrase reminds us that for our movements to be successful they must prefigure the societies we seek to build. In addition, as I have argued elsewhere, movements must dispense with the idea that we can worry about gender violence “after the revolution,” because gender violence is a primary strategy for white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism. Heteropatriarchy is the logic by which all other forms of social hierarchy become naturalized. The same logic underlying the belief that men should dominate women on the basis of biology (a logic that also presupposes a gender binary system) underlies the belief that the elites of a society naturally dominate everyone else. Those who have an interest in dismantling settler colonialism, white supremacy, and capitalism must by necessity have a stake in dismantling heteropatriarchy.

Thus, INCITE! and other organizations with similar philosophies realized that we must develop strategies that address state violence and interpersonal violence simultaneously. In doing so, we realized that we had to question our reliance on the criminal legal system as the solution to ending gender violence, and instead recognize the state as both perpetrator and beneficiary of gender violence. The question then arises: If the criminal legal system is not the solution, what is? Unfortunately, many of the alternatives to incarceration that are promoted under the “restorative justice model” have not developed sufficient safety mechanisms for survivors of domestic/sexual violence. “Restorative justice” is an umbrella term that describes a wide range of programs that attempt to address crime from a restorative and reconciliatory rather than punitive framework, such as that of the US criminal legal system, which focuses solely on punishing the perpetrator and removing that person from society through incarceration. Restorative justice attempts to involve all parties (perpetrators, victims, and community members) in determining the appropriate response to a crime in an effort to restore the community to wholeness. These models are often much more successful than punitive justice models. However, the problem with these models in addressing sexual/domestic violence is that they work only when the community unites in holding perpetrators accountable. In cases of sexual and domestic violence, the community often sides with the perpetrator rather than the victim. Thus, developing community-based responses to violence cannot rely on a romanticized notion of “community” that is not sexist, homophobic, or otherwise problematic. We cannot assume that there is even an intact community to begin with. Our political task then becomes to create communities of accountability.

What we see in this book is the work of many groups doing precisely that. They do not seek a band-aid, quick fix approach to ending gender violence. Instead they seek to end structures of violence. Their models are experimentations in trying to do more than just crisis intervention, and are actually structured around creating the society we would like to live in. Such work is necessarily provisional; the strategies we come up with will have their limitations and will have to change as our social conditions change. Yet they are important because they force us out of a crisis-based reaction mode into a creative space of envisioning new possibilities.

At the same time, these writers remind us that we cannot ignore present-day emergencies as we build new futures. We cannot expect to engage in “pure” strategies untainted by the current system. Thus, it is important to remember that prison abolition as well as community accountability are positive rather than negative projects. The goal is not to tell survivors that they can never call the police or engage the criminal legal system. The question is not whether a survivor should call the police, but rather why we have given survivors no other option but to call the police.

As Native feminists in particular have noted, in creating alternatives to the criminal legal system we necessarily confront the need to create alternatives to the settler-state. If we focus only on community accountability without a larger critique of the state, we risk framing community accountability as simply an add-on to the criminal legal system. Because anti-violence work has focused on advocacy, we have not developed strategies for “due process,” leaving that to the state. When our political imaginaries are captured by the state, we can then presume that the state should be left to administer “justice” while communities serve as supplement to this regime, supporting it and the fundamental injustice of a settler state founded on slavery, genocide, and the exploitation of immigrant labor. Further, in so doing we do not allow ourselves to imagine new visions for liberatory nationhood that are not structured on logics of hierarchy, violence, and domination. Fortunately, indigenous peoples are rearticulating conceptions of nationhood and self-determination that are liberatory not only for indigenous peoples but all others as well.

In the end, the “revolution at home” that is needed is indeed a real revolution. It requires a dismantling of capitalism, white supremacy, and the settler state. Community accountability is not a “model program” that can easily be funded through the nonprofit industrial complex because it is a strategy for radical social transformation. It’s a long road, but The Revolution Starts at Home provides an excellent starting point for developing a movement to end violence in all its forms.

Topics: AK Book Excerpts | No Comments »

8th Annual North American Anarchist Studies Network Conference — Call for Papers

By AK Press | August 17, 2016

Call for Papers – North American Anarchist Studies Network (NAASN)

[Desplácese hacia abajo para la versión en Español]

The North American Anarchist Studies Network is currently seeking presentations for our eighth  annual conference to be held April 280, 29, and 30 (2017) at the Biblioteca Social Reconstruir (BSR), in Mexico City, México.

We would appreciate submissions from independent researchers, community activists, street philosophers, students, radical academics, and artists. We invite those engaged in research work within existing institutions, such as colleges and universities, but also those engaged in the production of knowledge beyond establishment walls to share their ongoing work. From the streets to the library, we encourage all those interested in the study or practice of anarchism to submit a proposal.

In keeping with the open and fluid spirit of anarchism, we will not be calling for any specific topics of discussion, but rather are encouraging participants to present on a broad and diverse number of themes:

We seek to include voices of activists, militants, artists and academics. We also encourage scholars in the hard sciences and other fields who may see anarchism as influencing or relevant to their work to please become involved. We also seek the participation of organizations or collectives more comfortable the community than in the lecture hall.

We are particularly interested in including marginalized voices and perspectives and encourage the breaking down of barriers between disciplines as well as between the academic and non-academic or even anti-academic.

Please spread this call far and wide: it is up to each of us to make this as diverse and complex a discussion as possible.

For further information, examples, and event updates, we invite you to visit our website at www.naasn.org. There, you can find past presentations, visual materials, and ephemera from our previous annual events. We also suggest that you join our email listserv in order to remain updated and involved in on group discussion. Conference proposal submissions (of no more than 300 words) and further questions should be addressed to 8vaconferencianaasn@gmail.com. Include in your proposal a short (150 words) biography. Please respond by December 7, 2017.

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Convocatoria – Red de Estudios Anarquistas de América del Norte (NAASN)

 

La Red de Estudios Anarquistas de América del Norte (NAASN, por sus siglas en inglés) convoca a su octava  conferencia anual, a realizarse del 28 al 30 de abril del 2017 en la Biblioteca Social Reconstruir (BSR), en la Ciudad de México, México.

Convocamos a investigadorxs independientes, activistas comunitarixs, filósofxs callejerxs, estudiantes, académicxs radicales y artistas a enviar sus propuestas para esta reunión. Invitamos a todxs quienes participan en la investigación, dentro y fuera de las instituciones existentes, como colegios y universidades, asimismo lxs que generan conocimiento más allá de los muros establecidos, para que compartan sus trabajos. Desde la calle hasta la biblioteca, instamos a toda persona interesada en el estudio o la práctica del anarquismo.

En conformidad con el espíritu abierto y fluido del anarquismo, no estaremos pidiendo temas específicos para discutir, sino que pediremos a lxs partícipes que presenten trabajos sobre diversos temas:

Pretendemos incluir las voces de activistas, militantes, artistas y académicxs. A su vez, instamos a estudiosxs de las ciencias exactas y otras disciplinas quienes pudieran ver en el anarquismo como influencia o relevante a sus labores. También pretendemos que participen organizaciones o colectivos que se sienten más cómodos en la comunidad que en el aula.

En particular nos interesa que se incluyan voces y perspectivas marginalizadas en aras de romper las barreras entre las disciplinas, al igual que las barreras entre la academia y lo no-académico, e inclusive, lo anti-académico.

Favor de difundir esta convocatoria a propixs y extrañxs: nos toca a cada quien que hagamos que estas pláticas sean de la mayor diversidad y complejidad posible.

Para mayor información, ejemplos y actualizaciones del evento, les invitamos a entrar en nuestro sitio de internet en el www.naasn.org. Allí podrán encontrar presentaciones de conferencias previas, materiales visuales, y recuerdos previos eventos. También sugerimos que se unan a nuestra lista de correo electrónico para estar al día e involucrarse en nuestra plática en grupo. El envío de propuestas para la conferencia (que no excedan las 300 palabras) y cualquier duda debe de dirigirse a 8vaconferencianaasn@gmail.com. Favor de incluir en su propuesta una pequeña semblanza (150 palabras). La fecha límite para enviar sus propuestas es el 7 de diciembre de 2016.

Topics: AK Allies, Happenings, Spanish | No Comments »

From Oblivion to Political Responsibility: An Anarchist Sister Reviews DEAR SISTER: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence

By AK Press | May 18, 2016

Sara Rahnoma-Galindo from the Institute for Anarchist Studies has written an amazing review of  Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence by Lisa Factora-Borchers. It appears in the new issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, an issue devoted to the topic of Anarcha-Feminisms and that is jammed with essays, manifestoes, reviews, personal reflections, and more.
You can get Perspectives here.
You can get Dear Sister here.
And you can get Sara’s powerful review below!

——

From Oblivion to Political Responsibility: An Anarchist Sister Reviews
Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence (AK Press, 2014),
by Sara Rahnoma-Galindo

Radicals, including many anarchists, are involved in actively organizing against gender and sexual violence around the world. For example, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault in Egypt; Las Kallejeras in the shantytowns of Santiago, Chile; the Colectiva de Gafas Violetas in Mexico; and countless other local initiatives all confront perpetrators in workplaces and organizing work. Yet, the task of addressing sexual violence, even in anarchist circles, continues to be singled out as primarily the job of survivors and their most immediate circles, instead of as a collective political responsibility. As an issue that we are socialized to meet with silence and stigmatization, sexual violence is commonly underemphasized or obscured amongst both radicals and society at large. Take for instance, ignorance of the fact that one out of three women in the world will be raped at some point in their lives. Or that, in the US, ninety-one percent of reported rape survivors are women, the most vulnerable being queer and gender nonconforming youth and people with physical disabilities, and fifteen percent of children are survivors of rape and incest. It is critical that our politics be aware of and address this. We need to be more diligent and active in both understanding sexual violence and linking it to radical organizing.

Consider reading Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence (AK Press, 2014), an anthology containing fifty insightful pieces, written by survivors from all walks of life, as part of this process. The book features an introduction by African-American incest and rape survivor and filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons, and is edited by Philipina-American feminist author and survivor advocate Lisa Factora-Borchers. Known for having extensive involvement with survivors via coalition work, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education before piecing together Dear Sister, Lisa Factora-Borchers was first approached by Black feminist author Alexis Pauline Gumbs who asked her to write a letter of support to a friend who had just been raped. Not knowing the survivor’s situation, her name, or much else about her, Lisa Factora-Borchers nevertheless acknowledge the situation and communicated support. Hence the idea for the book was born.

Lisa Factora-Borchers repeats this act of letter writing in Dear Sister, but this time with the assistance of a wealth of direct experiences from dozens of survivors, sharing experiences that have pushed their survival forward. Taken together, these brave narratives, and in particular those from women of color, queer, physically disabled, and working class perspectives, are valuable in and of themselves because they are not readily available elsewhere. I encourage readers to review the biographies at the back of the book to learn more about these amazing survivors.

The book is thematically organized and presented as a collection of traditionally-styled letters, poetry, essays and interviews with the editor. The first section is entitled “What Every Survivor Needs to Know,” in which the authors remind readers of the importance of self-value while trying to understand the larger scheme of power disparities. Contributor ‘An Ally’ opens up with an affirmation, “yes…maybe the whole world is broken…but there is something that is not broken. You can find it” (29). Shanna Katz speaks about survivor resilience and how “the power to re-enter the world as a strong(er), powerful woman” is the survivor herself (34). Renee Martin assures us that things will change for the best, because change is inevitable and survivors will “put this beside you and not behind you” (41). Lisa Factora-Borchers interviews Zoe Flowers, the author of Dirty Laundry: Women of Color Speak Up About Dating and Domestic Violence, who recalls the legacies of patriarchy and colonialism on survivors of color, reiterating that “we have been ‘free’ for a shorter period of time than we were oppressed” (48). Zoe Flowers’s analysis highlights the ongoing impacts of colonialism and patriarchy, which perpetuate both objectification and violence against poor women of color.

“A Child Re-Members,” is the name of the second section of the anthology. It takes on child rape and incest, gendered double-standards imposed on minors, and domestic violence against the entire household. Though sporadic and maybe too brief, authors give insight into the complexities of the nuclear family, gender norms instilled at birth, and the need to break out of them for everyone’s survival. Juliet November shares that she always understood being a woman meant being prey to someone or something (73), and how heteronormativity designated the female body to a predisposition of abuse and violence (78). Contributor Sarah Cash explains being physically punished and labeled a bad girl, a flawed child, by a relative who “caught her being raped.” Working through this experience, many years down the road, Cash learned to love herself as an outcast and in turn learned to love and struggle among society’s flawed (61). Mary Zelinka consoles readers about not having a defined path forward, but shares her story encouraging all to always remember that, in one’s journey of understanding, the violence incurred during our childhood is the fault of someone who chose to hurt us, and that it’s not the survivor’s fault (63). This section also includes a short essay by Kathleen Ahern that laments the death of her sister to commercial sexual exploitation as a child (70). [Their/her/his] mention of the early formation of coping mechanisms and the continuation of their repercussions into adulthood is a topic I wish had been formally introduced in the book, since it is randomly mentioned but not bundled for focused thinking.

The third section, “Family Ties,” expands the described and reflected upon experiences to include the complexities of the nuclear family in relation to capital, immigration, and incarceration. The stories shared spill outside personal experience to include survivors’ larger communities. Authors speak about class; about how poverty is the main reason battered moms and abused children had to stay at home with their perpetrator fathers despite abuse (81); and how survivors had to lie and intervene against social workers and police to avoid being put in foster care, or their family members being put in prison. Activist Mattilda Berstein Sycamore’s essay reflects on the need to deconstruct masculinity so that the “brothers” don’t fall into patriarchal cycles of violence. She recalls seeing “the way that masculinity created the walls I was trying to escape,” and demands our accountability towards unlearning it (84). In a very thorough and beautifully written piece, organizer Amita Y. Swadhin bridges the connection between her survival of incest and that of other people the system had failed, in her case youth of color (101). She highlights how her organizing efforts helped channel rage into youth power and work that could fight “back against all the forms of injustice that had derailed my own youth” (105).  If you take anything away from this anthology it should be this: many survivors have been effective in connecting their own stories of violence and survival to those of other disadvantaged sectors of society.

“From Trauma to Strength,” the fourth section, gathers essays in support of self-definition and suggests paths for moving forward. While there is no uniform method, some pieces throughout the anthology mention the need for accountability and a few bring up transformative justice. As I understand it, transformative justice (TJ) propose respecting the survivor’s agency. TJ also seeks accountability from those who harm, as well as community accountability and transformation of social conditions that perpetuate violence. Mia Mingus, a queer, physically disabled Korean organizer writes a superb essay to explain how the transformative justice framework “could hold the complexities of intimate and state violence, accountability, and healing and systemic and personal transformation” (140). Mingus explains that TJ is about addressing violence in ways that “don’t cause more harm…don’t collude with state (prison, police, the criminal legal system, etc.) or systemic (racism, sexism, etc.) violence…[and seek] individual and collective justice” for all those impacted. It would be naïve to think that survivors seek only individual justice, and Mingus speaks of healing as a far-reaching endeavor (145), similarly to what keysha willias and Leah Kashmi Piepza-Samarasinha say when speaking of this healing being counter-intuitive to the capitalist logic of destruction. They proclaim a halt to the self-destructive tendencies of our communities, as we are all interdependent (150). In their eyes, the opposite of destructiveness would be constructing something else, perhaps not Transformative Justice necessarily, but what that is is yet to be defined.

The fifth section is titled “Radical Companionship,” in which author Alexis Pauline Gumbs contributes an entertaining free verse piece titled “&,” expressing supportive words amidst daily activities, intended not only during high points but also during low ones. Rebecca Wyllie de Echeverria shares the effects of incest and its physical aftershocks that inevitably manifest in survivors’ long-term health. She encourages self-care and the shared [nature/condition] of struggle, emphasizing that “surviving is the process of finding new connections each day” (168).

The final section of Dear Sister is titled  “Choose Your Own Adventure.” It highlights many different activities and various directions survivors have gone in order to process and deal with the violence that did not kill them. The editor of the impactful book, The Revolution Starts at Home, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, gracefully shares her “Healing Mix Tape” music recommendations (188), while sci-fi author and co-editor of Octavia’s Brood (IAS/AK Press, 2015), adrienne maree brown, encourages the overriding of shame or guilt to remember that “everything we do to survive is smart.” (198) She cheerfully points out that counseling and sci-fi writing helped her a great deal. The final essay in this section is an interview the editor held with the Los Angeles poet Sofia Rose Smith. Together they point to the concepts of trauma with respect to the decision of whether or not to forgive perpetrators, referring back to Transformative Justice principle of humanizing those who have harmed us. In conjunction, they discuss the binaries of survivor and perpetrator, along with the cultural norms of imposing the pace and modes of survivor healing. Whereas the beginning of the book apologizes to survivors and readers for showing no defined path to follow, the contributors focus not on one single way towards healing, restoration or reconciliation, but rather take for granted that they have gathered only a handful among myriad potential paths.

To understand sexual violence, it does not suffice to read about patriarchy, capitalism, or colonialism from a solely theoretical standpoint, even if you think you understand the complicated intersections that have rendered Black, brown, female, gender non-conforming, and queer bodies as disposable and subject to inevitable violence. Just as you would appreciate hearing workers’ stories, testimonies about fighting police violence as a young brown person, or about neighbors resisting evictions, you should also be willing to hear survivor narratives like these. Some will say this is way too heavy of a topic for a such a little book, and that it can only be read in little bits at a time. I say the opposite: absorb it all, all at once. Read every single line to become well acquainted with the characteristics of this dominating apparatus. Dear Sister will place your survivor or supporter feet on firmer ground, as we work to build the necessary culture and counter-institutions to walk alongside all survivors.

Sara Rahnoma-Galindo is a survivor of sexual violence, anarchist person of color, office worker, student and board member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies, currently living in Los Angeles.

You can get Perspectives here.
You can get Dear Sister here.

Topics: Reviews of AK Books | No Comments »

Excerpt from LEFT OF THE LEFT: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff

By AK Press | May 17, 2016

We’ve sent one of our favorite recent manuscripts off to the printer! Anatole Dolgoff’s memoir of growing up at the center of the twentieth-century anarchist movement. The book centers of Anatole’s dad, Sam Dolgoff, and includes a cast of dozens well known, forgotten and never known. It was a real joy working with Anatole. His humor and critical insight shine through on every page of the book.
You can order a copy here (at 25% off for the next few weeks). In the meantime, here is a sample:

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An Interlude: I Take Sam to See Reds

Road to Freedom had a nominal co-editor who seldom showed up, and never worked. His name was Hippolyte Havel. Sam did not know him “at the height of his career as a militant anarchist writer, editor, close friend of Emma Goldman, and well-known member of the Greenwich Village Bohemian community.” When Sam knew him he was pretty much incapable of doing anything, was entirely supported by comrades and what he could cadge from gullible strangers passing through. Sam remembered him as “an ill tempered, abusive alcoholic, a paranoiac who regarded even the slightest difference of opinion as a personal affront. Nor could he carry on a discussion on any subject for more than a few minutes without constant interruptions, abruptly launching into a tirade on totally unrelated matters. It was most painful to witness the deterioration of a once vibrant personality.”

Many years later, in the 1940s, Sam attended The Iceman Cometh, Eugene O’Neil’s bitter commentary on lost illusions, cowardice, and betrayal. One of the characters spends the entire play sprawled across a table in Harry Hope’s funereal bar, drunk; every now and then he rises to spout something vehemently incomprehensible before collapsing again. “That’s Hippolyte Havel!” Sam exclaimed. There was no doubt!

Hippolyte Havel, flesh and blood human being, morphed into a character in an O’Neil play! That provides me the solution to a problem I have had. How to make accessible to people who were born after Sam died the breadth of his experience and the myriad people he knew so many years ago? Simple chronology—you know, first Sam did this, and then he said that—cannot convey to you the richness of Sam’s lifetime journey in the anarchist movement, which he embarked upon when he joined Road to Freedom. But we do have the movies, and a special one at that.

Reds was the film I dragged Sam to so many years later, in 1982, for he disliked going to the movies. The film was finishing a fairly long run and the only theater showing it was at a Mall in Northern New Jersey. I had to drive him there. He insisted on paying for his own small paper cup of coca-cola in the lobby. “A buck fifty? Why you can’t be serious man! Maybe you should wear a mask and gun?” Sam growled. The young fellow behind the counter, probably a suburban high school kid born into an entirely different world, caught the glint of humor in Sam’s eyes and smiled indulgently. That was the last bit of indulgence he received as he proceeded to wreck the film for the sparse audience scattered throughout the dark cavernous space that mid-week afternoon.

Reds is a three-hour long, romanticized but fundamentally accurate depiction of the life and times of the brilliant American journalist John Reed (Warren Beatty). The man cut quite a figure. He rode with the Mexican bandit/revolutionary Pancho Villa. He was closely associated with the Wobblies and good friends with Big Bill Haywood. He was active in the rich New York radical/ bohemian scene, knew everybody, was in on everything. He witnessed the Russian Revolution first hand; his Ten Days That Shook the World remains a classic account of that momentous event. He became a committed Bolshevik and was instrumental in founding the American Communist Party. He died young of a terrible ill- ness, typhus, in Moscow where his remains were interred in the Kremlin Wall. Numerous old-time radicals and writers—them- selves, not actors—appear throughout Reds and comment on the characters depicted in the film. I thought Sam would enjoy Reds and on the whole he did. (“Who ever thought Hollywood would make such a film?”)

The problem was in the details. Sam was nearly deaf at this stage so I had to trundle him up front, where, with his swollen belly, he sat on the edge of his too small seat, leaning forward on his wooden cane, breathing noisily, trying to catch the dialog. He knew personally or was familiar with nearly every character in Reds. This included many of the aged witnesses, who were, after all, his contemporaries. As the film got going, Sam became involved and growled comments on the proceedings, his gravel baritone blasting into the darkness. There followed from the audience, like a Greek Chorus, a call and response session.

Sam, viewing one of the old-timers on screen, blares: “Henry Miller! The man was a bohemian in Paris. He knows nothing about these things.”

Response: “Shhh!

An aged lady I do not remember appears on screen.
Sam: “Her!”

Response: “Quiet!

The scene shifts to Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union:
Sam: “Him I can respect. That’s more like it.”

Response: An intolerant “HISSS!

Big Bill Haywood shows up in little more than a bit part for a line or two.

Sam waves his hand in disgust at the actor. “Nothing like him! The man has no stature. Haywood had stature! Haywood had one eye, but he never wore a patch like this fella!”

Response: Shut the fuck up! Call the manager!…

Then, toward the end, there is the touching if slightly absurd montage of the devoted Diane Keaton, in the attempt to reach the dying Beatty, hiking through the Soviet snow in a blizzard. Apparently, she is not allowed to enter Moscow directly.

Sam: “Now that is ridiculous. Those days anyone could get in! The regime was looking for support. Did you know that Bryant married the American Ambassador after Reed died?”

The audience response ends here; instead a flashlight skips through the darkness and two young ushers find us up front. “Sir, we must ask you to leave!”

“Why? What did we do?”

“Come on, it is almost over anyway,” I say.

Outside, in the bright sunlight of the parking lot, some of the film’s patrons can barely contain spitting at us; seeing an old man in suspenders with white socks showing beneath the cuffs of his pants made them angrier. Their fury was directed at a character that could have walked directly out of the film.

On the way home, in the car, I search for something about which Sam and I can agree: “How did you like the guy who plays Eugene O’Neill?” It was Jack Nicholson, who has an affair with Bryant in the film. I enjoyed his performance.

“No good!”

“No good? I thought he was very good. Why?”

“Too gloomy.”

“Well, O’Neill must have been a gloomy guy, right? Look at his plays!”

“But he was not gloomy in that way.” Sam insisted, “He was a good fella to have a drink with. He had that Irish wit. He didn’t wear his troubles in public like a hair shirt, going around depressing everybody!”

Their paths had intersected in the radical, artistic, bohemian circles of the time. Early on O’Neill had shipped-out—that is, worked as a merchant seaman—and had been a Wobbly, and hung out with anarchists. He was not yet Eugene O’Neill.

Sam’s off-hand comment surprised me. “You know that? You knew Eugene O’Neill? You drank with him? Why didn’t you tell me?” I felt, while not hurt, put-out.

“Why should I tell you? What earthly difference does it make if I knew Eugene O’Neill?”

I suppose he was right in the scheme of things.

Sam was always pulling surprises like that. He did not think that knowing famous people was important. Sometime later, I mentioned a PBS documentary on Diego Rivera. Sam smiled and said simply, “Diego was a good guy. You couldn’t help but like him.” They had met several times in the early thirties at radical meeting halls on lower Broadway and at a Union Square diner so infested with Communists it was called The Kremlin.

As I’ve mentioned, the purpose of my autobiographical, cinematic diversion is to make accessible the richness of Sam’s life nearly a century ago. He came to know personally virtually everyone who mattered in the radical movement of his day or he came to know of them intimately through their friends and enemies. Not that he thought his life was rich; it was simply his life.

Order LEFT OF THE LEFT: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff: https://www.akpress.org/left-of-the-left.html

Topics: AK Book Excerpts | No Comments »

“Here in Kronstadt has been laid the first stone of the third revolution.”

By AK Press | March 7, 2016

“Here in Kronstadt has been laid the first stone of the third revolution, striking the last fetters from the laboring masses and opening a broad new road for socialist creativity.”

On this day in 1921, the Bolshevik government launched its attack to suppress the uprising in Kronstadt. Soldiers, sailors, and workers had come together in the garrison town to declare their independence from the state dictatorship, and to launch what they called “the inevitable third revolution” against the cops and bureaucrats who had derailed the revolutionary process and installed themselves as the new “Communist” rulers of Russia. Lenin and Trotsky didn’t tolerate such working-class disobedience for long. Tens of thousands died or were wounded, thousands more were imprisoned, but while the revolutionary commune lasted it produced some of the most inspiring declarations of working-class (as opposed to bourgeois) democracy and self management.

The following statement is from the March 8th, 1921, edition of the Izvestiia of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee of sailors, soldiers and workers of the town of Kronstadt. Libcom.org has a collection of every edition here.

——

What Are We Fighting For?

After carrying out the October Revolution, the working class had hoped to achieve its emancipation. But the result was an even greater enslavement of the human personality. The power of the police and gendarme monarchy passed into the hands of the Communist usurpers, who, instead of giving the people freedom, instilled in them the constant fear of falling into the torture chambers of the Cheka, which in their horrors far exceed the gendarme administration of the tsarist regime. The bayonets, bullets, and gruff commands of the Cheka oprichniki–these are what the workingman of Soviet Russia has won after so much struggle and suffering. The glorious emblem of the workers’ state–the sickle and hammer–has in fact been replaced by the Communist authorities with the bayonet and barred window, for the sake of maintaining the calm and carefree life of the new bureaucracy of Communist commissars and functionaries.

But most infamous and criminal of all is the moral servitude which the Communists have inaugurated: they have laid their hands also on the inner world of the toilers, forcing them to think in the Communist way. With the help of the bureaucratized trade unions, they have fastened the workers to their benches, so that labor has become not a joy but a new form of slavery. To the protests of the peasants, expressed in spontaneous uprisings, and those of the workers, whose living conditions have driven them out on strike, they answer with mass executions and bloodletting, in which they have not been surpassed even by the tsarist generals. Russia of the toilers, the first to raise the red banner of labor’s emancipation, is drenched in the blood of those martyred for the glory of Communist domination. In this sea of blood, the Communists are drowning all the great and glowing pledges and watchwords of the workers’ revolution. The picture has been drawn more and more sharply, and now it is clear that the Russian Communist party is not the defender of the toilers that it pretends to be. The interests of the working people are alien to it. Having gained power, it is afraid only of losing it, and therefore deems every means permissible: slander, violence, deceit, murder, vengeance upon the families of the rebels.

The long-suffering patience of the toilers is at an end. Here and there the land is lit up by the fires of insurrection in a struggle against oppression and violence. Strikes by the workers have flared up, but the Bolshevik Okhrana agents have not been asleep and have taken every measure to forestall and suppress the inevitable third revolution. But it has come nevertheless, and it is being made by the hands of the toilers themselves. The generals of Communism see clearly that it is the people who have risen, convinced that the ideas of socialism have been betrayed. Yet, trembling for their skins and aware that there is no escape from the wrath of the workers, they still try, with the help of their oprichniki, to terrorize the rebels with prison, firing-squads, and other atrocities. But life under the yoke of the Communist dictatorship has become more terrible than death.

The rebellious working people understand that there is no middle ground in the struggle against the Communists and the new serfdom that they have erected. One must go on to the end. They give the appearance of making concessions: in Petrograd province roadblock detachments have been removed and 10 million gold rubles have been allotted for the, purchase of foodstuffs from abroad. But one must not be deceived, for behind this bait is concealed the iron hand of the master, the dictator, who aims to be repaid a hundredfold for his concessions once calm is restored.

No, there can be no middle ground. Victory or death! The example is being set by Red Kronstadt, menace of counterrevolutionaries of the right and of the left. Here the new revolutionary step forward has been taken. Here is raised the banner of rebellion against the three-year-old violence and oppression of Communist rule, which has put in the shade the three-hundred-year yoke of monarchism. Here in Kronstadt has been laid the first stone of the third revolution, striking the last fetters from the laboring masses and opening a broad new road for socialist creativity.

This new revolution will also rouse the laboring masses of the East and of the West, by serving as an example of the new socialist construction as opposed to the bureaucratic Communist “creativity.” The laboring masses abroad will see with their own eyes that everything created here until now by the will of the workers and peasants was not socialism. Without a single shot, without a drop of blood, the first step has been taken. The toilers do not need blood. They will shed it only at a moment of self-defense. In spite of all the outrageous acts of the Communists, we have enough restraint to confine ourselves only to isolating them from public life so that their malicious and false agitation will not hinder our revolutionary work.

The workers and peasants steadfastly march forward, leaving behind them the Constituent Assembly, with its bourgeois regime, and the dictatorship of the Communist party, with its Cheka and its state capitalism, whose hangman’s noose encircles the necks of the laboring masses and threatens to strangle them to death. The present overturn at last gives the toilers the opportunity to have their freely elected soviets, operating without the slightest force of party pressure, and to remake the bureaucratized trade unions into free associations of workers, peasants, and the laboring intelligentsia. At last the policeman’s club of the Communist autocracy has been broken.

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Excerpt from GOALS AND MEANS: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, by Jason Garner

By AK Press | March 4, 2016

Goals and Means: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica is back from the printer. This book is a detailed and fascinating history of the formation of the CNT and the relationships among the various players, especially syndicalists and the anarchists in the FAI.

You can get yourself a copy (at 25% off for another few weeks) here. Below is a brief excerpt about the debates around the the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks, and the invitation they gave the CNT to join the Cominterm…

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Belief in the victory of the Russian Revolution meant belief in the victory of a Spanish revolution. However, from late 1918 onwards the supporters of the October Revolution began to differentiate between support for the social revolution in Russia and support for Bolshevism as a political ideology. This was most evident in the pages of Solidaridad Obrera where, as Antonio Bar has pointed out, a series of editorials had been equally qualified in their treatment of the revolution, praising its achievements whilst using language that made the ‘statist’ orientation of the Bolsheviks clear by constant reference to the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, seizure of power, ‘government of the people,’ et cetera.[11]

This change in attitude was also evident in anarchist circles. In November 1919, the Catalan Anarchist Federation reappraised its previous ideological stance vis-à-vis Bolshevism in a manifesto which differentiated between economic and political organisations: “Syndicalism – a means of struggle based on direct action – ends in the implantation of libertarian communism … whilst State socialism – a means of labour struggle based on multiple action – ends in the implantation of authoritarian communism.”[12] The essential point in all the ideological debates was the growing realisation that Bolshevism did not encompass the libertarian principles of Spanish revolutionary syndicalism. However, this did not lessen support for a revolutionary overthrow of an imperialist state. Whatever the arguments surrounding the merits of the Bolsheviks, the CNT’s connections with Russia remained at the level of press commentary and factory debate. Beyond the solidarity of one revolutionary workers’ force with another there was no contact. This changed as news of the decision to establish a new International in Russia arrived in Spain.

The CNT’s membership of the new International was discussed at its national congress held in Madrid in December 1919, the first since 1911. The dramatic rise in social agitation had led to a sharp increase in membership of the CNT. The congress provided a necessary forum for taking stock of the changes that had occurred both in Spain and within the CNT’s own ranks since 1911. As if to emphasise the confederation’s priorities, the main debate of the congress revolved not around Bolshevism but the proposed unification of the CNT and the socialist Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT). After the debates over the situation in Spain and internal CNT matters, the congress turned its attention to the Russian Revolution.

A resolution on Russia was split into two parts. The first referred to the means of combating the blockade of Russia by international capitalism whilst the second dealt with international relations, specifically whether or not the CNT should join the Third International. Buenacasa opened the debates with a strong defence of the revolution as a fact in itself but did not broach the question of the International, which was surprising, given the attention he had given to the issue in the pages of Solidaridad Obrera since 1917. The debates also demonstrated that information about the exact nature of Bolshevism was still scarce. Hilario Arlandis from the Levante urged that the CNT unconditionally join the Comintern. Basing his arguments almost entirely on a report on the first Comintern congress (held in March 1919), he accepted that differences existed between the Bolsheviks and the CNT but felt that this was because it was “very difficult to find a concrete formula to unite all the proletariat of the world and satisfy all the tendencies.” However, he concluded, the Third International “exemplifies all our aspirations,”[13] Significantly, Andreu Nin, at this point a member of both the Socialist Party and the CNT, concurred: “I am a supporter of the Third International because it is a reality, because above the ideologies it represents a principle of action, a principle of coexistence between all the clearly revolutionary forces who aspire to implant communism immediately.”[14] Both Arlandis and Nin would soon become staunch supporters of Moscow.

Doubts about the dictatorial tendency inherent in Bolshevism were raised by the Asturian Eleuterio Quintanilla. Quintanilla agreed that the CNT should welcome the Russian Revolution but also argued that the revolution did not “embody, in principle, the ideals of revolutionary syndicalism.” The CNT needed to be wary of the Bolshevik Party’s principles because “the way in which the Russian dictatorship has acted represents a serious danger to us.” His main point was the evident conflict between the tactics and aims of revolutionary syndicalism and Bolshevism. The followers of the latter believed that the unions should be “subject to the demands of the state and offered themselves to it unconditionally,” he said. The Comintern, Quintanilla continued, was simply Bolshevism on an international level, and, as such, was a “specifically political organisation … where we have no reason to be represented.” Instead the CNT should help to build a “pure” International that was “specifically syndicalist [and] would conserve CNT principals and follow the tradition of the First International.”[15]

Salvador Seguí, the most respected and influential militant of the Catalan section of the CNT, accepted Quintanilla’s criticism, but argued that the CNT must be represented in the Third International. “Not due to its theories which we oppose, but for the need to be realistic, we support entering the Third International because this is going to endorse … the call that the CNT is going to make to the syndicalist organisations of the world to form the true, the unique, the genuine workers’ International.”[16] Furthermore, he argued, as the CNT was the largest labour movement in Spain, its position needed to be recognised internationally, and being associated with the International in Moscow would reinforce its revolutionary credentials. In the end, the congress compromised, provisionally adhering to the Comintern whilst at the same time stressing that support for the Comintern was due to its revolutionary and not ideological character and stressing that the CNT’s ideological base rested on the anti-authoritarian wing of the First International:

The National Committee…with reference to the theme of the Russian revolution, proposes the following:

First. That the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo declares itself a firm defender of the principles that guided the First International, as conceived by Bakunin.

Second. Declares that it affiliates, provisionally, with the Third International, due to its revolutionary character, whilst the International Congress is organised and held in Spain, to define the basic principles that will govern the true International of workers.[17]

The affiliation of the CNT with the new International did not represent an acceptance of the principles of Bolshevism as was clear from the adoption of a motion put forward by various delegates (and supported by the national committee) which was attached to the resolution on the Comintern:

Bearing in mind that the tendency that has the greatest force at the heart of the workers’ organisations of all countries is that which leads to the complete, total, and absolute liberation of humanity morally, economically and politically, and considering that this objective cannot be achieved until the land and the instruments of production and exchange are socialised, and the tyrannical power of the state disappears, propose to the congress, that in agreement with the essence of the proposals of the workers’ International, [it] declares that the ultimate goal of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo in Spain is libertarian communism.[18]

So at the very moment that the confederation agreed to join the Comintern, it made a clear commitment to an ideology that was fundamentally at odds with the centralised and politicised doctrine of the Third International’s founders. This contradiction can only be explained by the continuing confusion over Bolshevism, the belief that revolution in Spain was imminent, and more specifically the belief that the Comintern would be an autonomous revolutionary International and not be dominated by the Bolsheviks. Having decided to join the International, the CNT then had to select delegates to go to Moscow to present its membership as well as to find out more about the Bolshevik regime. At first, Quintanilla and Pedro Vallina (who had attended the International Revolutionary Syndicalist Congress in London in 1913) were chosen but both declined, so instead the committee chose Eusebio Carbó (a prominent member of the Valencian region of the CNT who spoke both French and Italian) and Salvador Quemades (a member of the committee of the Catalan CRT).

NOTES
 11 Bar, La CNT en los Años Rojo, 436–51, 525–37, provides the best overall analysis of anarchist and syndicalist reaction to the revolution. Of the books published in English, only Meaker, The Revolutionary Left in Spain, 103–8, 222–24, 243– 48, treats the subject in any depth. See also the articles by Iwan Kurok on Russia in the anarchist publication Acracia, November 15 and 22, 1918, and in an article entitled “Qué hacemos pro-Rusia?” in Guerra Social (Valencia), December 20, 1919. Opinions in the only periodical publishing in late 1918–19 of which sufficient numbers remain (except for Solidaridad Obrera, which was proscribed in January 1919 and did not reappear again until 1923) – Acción Social Obrera – remained confused, and even as late as July 12, 1919, an article by Pedro Gaspert, “Bolcheviquismo,” appears to confuse the aims of Bolshevism with those of anarchism.
12 El Comité de la Federación de Grupos Anarquistas de la Región Catalana, “Los anarquistas en nuestro puesto,” Espartaco (suplemento), November 8, 1919.
13 For Arlandis’s intervention, see Memoria del Congreso celebrado en el Teatro de la Comedia de Madrid, los días 10 al 18 de diciembre de 1919 (Barcelona: Cosmos, 1932), 347–52. Thereafter Memoria (1919). Despite admitting that he had seen few documents on the subject, Eusebio Carbó speaking at the Congress, , 352, gave unqualified support for the Bolsheviks, mainly due to the fact that the reformist socialists were criticising them. Carbó, along with Arlandis, was one of the major defenders of Bolshevism at the Madrid congress. Their views may have been influenced by their meeting with two Finnish Bolsheviks who were sent to Valencia to gain support for the CNT’s affiliation to the Comintern. Archives Nationales de France, Paris, F/7/13440, police report, September 23, 1919.
14 For the information on Nin’s affiliation with the CNT, see Pelai Pagès, Andreu Nin: Su evolución política 1911–37 (Bilbao: Zero, 1975), 73–74. For more general texts on Nin, see Victor Alba, Dos Revolucionarios: Joaquín Maurín, Andreu Nin (Madrid: Seminarios y Ediciones, 1975); F. Bonamusa, Andreu Nin y el movimiento comunista en España (1930–37) (Barcelona: Anagrama, 1977).
15 Memoria (1919), 355–67. Quintanilla’s position was echoed by the delegate from the Madrid Toymakers Trade Union (either José Cernada or Tomas de la Llave): “At the moment, the Russian revolution has many defects; it embodies, more than anything, the Marxist principal, and we, revolutionary syndicalists, have as our base Bakuninist principals. Up to now, the Russian revolution has not managed to implant more than a type of communism, a type of socialism that kills individual energies.” Translated from ibid., 346.
16 Ibid., 367. Seguí’s position throughout this period was remarkably consistent, as evidenced by his intervention in the Madrid debates and at the Zaragoza conference in June 1922 as well as his articles on the subject. For example, see Salvador Seguí, “A Organizacao sindical,” A Batalha, October 29, 1920; Salvador Seguí, “La posicion doctrinal de los sindicalistas libertarios frente a las internacionales socialistas,” Cultura y Acción, October 21, 1922.
17 Translated from Memoria (1919), 372–73. The resolution was drawn up by the national committee.
18 Ibid., 373. The resolution was drawn up by twenty-four militants, including six of the eight members of the national committee, and was not intended as an attack on Bolshevism. Rather it related to the concerns of a number of militants about what they perceived as a growing reformism within the CNT.

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