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Interview With Kevin Doyle about The Worms That Saved The World

By AK Press | January 13, 2018

At AK Press, we’re always on the lookout for good kids’ books to distribute. One of the recent stand-outs was The Worms That Saved The World, which is always fun to hand off to a kid when we’re tabling somewhere. Here’s an interview with the author, Kevin Doyle, about how the ideas in the book were spawned by real-life struggles in Cork, Ireland. And if you’d like a copy of the book itself, just click here.

Q: The image on the cover of The Worms That Saved The World shows a big group of earthworms marching along a headland. There’s lots of them and they look happy. Some are holding placards announcing ‘We Live Here Too!’, ‘The Headland for All’ and ‘Free The Old Head’. So what’s this all about? Who are these happy protestors?

A: This is a storybook for kids. We decided that a direct appeal to their natural rebellious instincts was what was required. In our book a community of earthworms must fight for their home and their lives. Struggling to win a better world brings them together so that’s in part why they’re happy. Also, in the end, they win too – so they are happy for that reason as well. Oops, spoiler alert there!

Q: Too late. So a happy ending. But apart from that this is not the usual fare for a children’s book?’

A: No, but then the book market does need shaking up. All those celebrities writing children’s books is making things worse not better.

Q: It’s a crowded market.

A: Not content wise. Our book is about the environment and standing up for your rights. In reality there’s not that much around in the book-market that tackles those sorts of things and ideas for the age group we’re interested in anyway. Loads of books about princes and princesses of course! Maybe we can help reboot an old trend, fun books about rebellion.

Q: The earthworms in The Worms That Saved The World are very cuddly. You could almost take them home with you. How did you come to choose earthworms for this story?

A: The idea for the book came around the time I was reading stories to my own children. My daughter, Saoirse, had a wormery in the garden that had a glass window in it that you could look through and see what the worms got up to. To be honest the worms were always vanishing. They didn’t like being cooped up. So that was there that aspect came from.

Q: Earthworms get a lot of bad press don’t they. You’re rehabilitating them?

A: We’re big fans. Did you know that in one acre of land, there can be more than a million earthworms! I could go on. They are also essential to composting too. Listen, without worms this planet would be kaput.

Q: We hear you.

A: Obviously we have taken liberties. Our worms are able to do lots of things. They can read and write and they know how to draw up a manifesto. In addition they can do complicated maths calculations.

Q: Brainy! There’s a long history of animals and species being used to point up some of the injustices in our world?

A: Yes, by using animals or birds and plants one’s able to create stories that deal with all sorts of complex and interesting ideas. Children of course identify strongly with all sort of unusual birds and animals and their imaginations are open to these creatures doing this, that and the other. It’s lovely to write for children in that sense.

Q: In your story the earthworms come face to face with a ruthless enemy.

A: Yes. A bunch of greedy developers who buy their home and turn it into a luxury golf course. So ours is a bit of a David versus Goliath story in a sense. The golf club owners have no interest in anyone other than themselves and their clients. The worms don’t think that this is right and they ask for a meeting. Things start to downhill for the worms when the developers try to eradicate the worms. The worms realise that they must fight back.

Q: How do they do that?

A: You have to read the book to find out! No, only kidding. As mentioned above there are lots of worms under the ground. They band together. Strength in numbers and all of that. Our worms are smart as well. They know that some of the other animals and birds living on their headland are being affected by the golf course development too, so they ask them for help!

Q: There’s one scene I like a lot. The seagulls are moaning about the helicopters arriving on the headland. One of them is nearly blown out to sea.

A: Yes, in our story the worms get help from the seagulls, the foxes and the badgers. The different animals and birds on the headland are affected in different ways. Even the ramblers are affected. They are prohibited from walking on the headland because if might affect the golfing experience.

Q: The worms lead the fight on behalf of everyone.

A: Sort of. One of the ideas that is explored in the book is the idea of cooperation. These days we often only hear about the survival of the fittest. But the anarchist Kropotkin explored the cooperative nature of life on earth and how interdependence and mutual aid that is also part of survival. So that idea is in our story. By cooperating we can overcome obstacles. It dovetails with the wider idea that it is crucial to respect the environment and not destroy life and diversity.

Q: So is this an anti-capitalist book?

A: Guilty as charged really. Our planet is now under extreme pressure. The pursuit of profits motivated by untrammelled greed – essentially that’s what capitalism is about – is at the root of this. The very world that we all rely and depend on is being exploited to the point of exhaustion. In our story that way of thinking is represented by the luxury golf course. We’re not suggesting that all golfing is the enemy, of course. But golfing as an industry is super exploitative in regard to land and water. Many golf course over-indulge in the use of chemicals, insecticides and pesticides too. There was a fine film made only recently about the luxury golf industry and the antics it gets up to. It’s called A Dangerous Game and is widely available. Well worth a look at.

Q: I was reading that your book was inspired by a campaign to oppose such a development near where you’re from in Cork, at the Old Head of Kinsale. What happened there?

A: The Old Head is one of Ireland’s natural treasures for sure.  A beautiful place, with walking trails and bird sanctuaries but now – since the 2005 – annexed for the sole and private use of a select group of well-heeled golfers.

Q: I saw a promo for the Old Head of Kinsale on an Irish tourist film about Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, so how can it be annexed as you say.

A: It is! It’s still heavily promoted as a site to visit but you can only look at it from a distance. Or take a cruise boat and tour around the seas off the headland. But no walking!

Q: But it was open to the public once?

A: Completely. Many people talk of it and walked there. Then in the late eighties the headland was purchased by a millionaire developer who had this dream of putting a luxury golf course on the headland. He wanted it to be exclusive and only for those who had a lot of money. He made no bones about this – it was his dream. And that’s how it is now. It’s €30,000 to join for a year. To play there for just the day costs a lot. So it was that and the campaign that emerged to fight the injustice that sparked the idea for the book.

Q: What did the campaign actually fight for?

A: For the right of the public to walk on the headland as they had always done. The public right of way was what was at issue. It was brave campaign, initiated by a coalition of socialists, anarchists and environmentalists. In was always going to be an uphill battle to win though. We were up against people with deep pockets. They went to the courts, took on Cork County Council and Ireland’s Planning Board and eventually they won. Once they did, the cops rowed in to enforced the rule of law. It was touch and go after that. We really needed more public support and it didn’t arrive. Even so I felt myself though that the campaign had a lot of very positive aspects to it.

Q: What struck you as positive about the campaign?

A: The willingness of people to defy the law. Unjust laws must be broken, we all know that but to go ahead and do it is another thing. The centre piece of the protests was a mass trespass. This involved a lot of people scaling a high wall to gain access to the traditional walks. It was quite amazing to witness these protests.

Q: Why a children’s book as opposed to say a pamphlet or book about the campaign? It seems like that might have been an option too?

A: I thinking standing back from the actual events at the Old Head itself, a children’s book about the issues is probably more valuable. It’s an investment for the future too. See, when the campaign was going on at Kinsale, I was a bit immersed in children’s books as I had young daughters. There are lots of great books about but you notice that the selection is narrow too.

Q: What do you mean exactly?

A: So many story books re-enforce and uphold traditional values. Right now those books dominate the book-market. Why? For me it’s plain, simple bias. Partly it is the market re-enforcing itself with the repetitive use of the formula books that work. But clearly there’s lot more to it than that as well. For example some recent studies have looked at gender roles. The video “The Ugly Truth About Children’s Books” is a great example. It’s on YouTube and well worth a look. A mum and her daughter remove books from a bookcase using the following criteria. Is there a female character? Does she speak? Do they have aspirations or are they just waiting for a prince? In the end there’s not a lot of books left for them to read. One bald fact tells you a lot: 25% of 5,000 books studied had no female characters at all.

Q: And we wonder why women are sometimes less visible.

A:  Precisely. Across the broad range of children’s media, less than 20% of products showed women with a job, compared to more than 80% in respect to male characters. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out what the situation in going to be like around topics poverty, exploitation or challenging authorities. It’s a very limited market in many ways.

Q: Let’s turn to the illustrations. People have remarked on them. They are so vibrant and some on their own are almost stories in themselves. How did this come about?

A: So Spark Deeley is the illustrator. She has written and illustrated her own books. She worked on all the illustrations for our Worms book in her spare time. She did an amazing job.

Q: Did you know one another and how did the collaboration begin?

A: I didn’t know Spark at the time that I was thinking about the story idea. I actually looked around for illustrators who might have an interest but not that many did. I got to know Spark from a few protests that were happening around Cork at that time. Spark also attended the Free The Old Head protest picnics but I’m not sure if I met her at any of those. Here own book Into The Serpent’s Jaws came out and I knew from that about the quality of her work. So I asked her and she was enthusiastic from the outset. The key thing, I feel now, is that we had shared sense of what the story was trying to talk about. We are both socialists in that sense, from somewhat different perspectives, but with loads in common. In the time that we worked on the story we both grew to appreciate that books that elaborate on socialist and radical ideas are vital in a world that is increasing under the sway of neo-liberalism.

Q: So you had the story idea and Spark was interested in doing the illustrations, what happened from there?

A: It all took a long time really. Initially we looked into idea of trying to interest some publisher in it. We felt the environmental theme would be attractive to publishers but we had no luck. We must have sent out about twelve packages. That all takes time and money and you have to wait ages to hear back and often you never hear at all. Crazy. It was frustrating and we came away from it thinking it’s down to us. Publish or be damned sort of. We looked  into ideas like of crowd-funding too but in the end we felt we could get the money together and publish it via Chispa Publishing. The big thing was for Spark to find time do the illustrations. The finished book is testimony to her commitment and talent.

Q: What was the publishing experience like?

A: It’s rewarding for sure but there’s a lot of work that you need to do to make it happen. There are lots of things that you need to get right too. We wanted tour book to be a quality book so we tried from the outset to hit a high mark with layout and printing. Lots of people read and looked at mock-ups of the book and made suggestions. We went to a few young readers too and asked them for their views. As the book was for them their views were especially welcome. A friend of mine who works as a copyeditor went thought the manuscript for us for free. Even with all of that the big issue is distribution. We’ve done most of the distribution in Ireland ourselves but we’ve been really lucky that AK Press, in Scotland and in the States, have taken the book under their wings. That’s a breakthrough for a small production like ours.

Q: I saw a promo piece for the book and it went something like ‘Direct Action For Kids’. Did that raise any hackles?

A: Surprisingly few so far. When it does get raised we’ve countered by reminding people about all the prince and princess books. Of course some people don’t see these as ‘political’ at all. The point in a way is that there are lots of values embedded in all children’s books. But I would say that, for us, the book is really a positive exploration of interesting ideas. The book presents a series of situations and scenarios: the luxury golf club owners actually try to eradicate the worms at one stage; the worms asking other animals and birds for help; the idea of having to stand up for your rights. If you are reading this book and you get to talk to the young people in your life about these sorts of things, it can’t be bad.

Q: What has the reception been like so far?

A: Very positive. It’s not easy to publish in today’s inhospitable book market but we think we’ve done quite well. Our launch in Cork was mighty. Lot of people turned up from various campaigns which have happened over the years. Our most recent news is that we are on the shortlist for this year’s Indie book awards in Ireland. So happy days!

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Fascism Today: An Interview with Shane Burley

By AK Press | December 27, 2017

We recently chatted with Shane Burley about his new book Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It. Given the current political situation, both the book and Shane’s strategic suggestions are important for all of us to consider, debate, and expand upon. 

—–

Q: I know that you’ve been at this a while. Could you give us some background, your previous efforts as an antifascist organizer and researcher?

A: This traces back many years for me, though I have to be honest in that my primary organizing work has been in labor and housing justice.  Those who have done the hard work of antifascist organizing over the years often go unheard, so I tried to bring those voices into the book and my journalism.

Back when I lived in Eugene, Oregon, the University of Oregon started a forum that was bringing controversial speakers that were supposed to have “challenging” views.  Most of these at the start were communist party organizers from decades past, deep green ecological types, and alternative science proponents, and many around the area were supportive of this project, and I and others would help to promote their events.  They were especially active in Palestinian solidarity, despite being widely unpopular with certain student and faculty groups.

 Then they brought a Holocaust Denier, then another, and another.  The organization was the Pacifica Forum.The Southern Poverty Law Center, who tracks hate groups, now lists it as a white nationalist organization.  They eventually became more and more public about their anti-Semitism, their allying with Third Positionist fascist projects, and were enthusiastically embraced by neo-Nazis of the area.

 What made this transition so horrifying for so many nearby was that they really could not see it coming until it was fully formed, and even then the rhetoric was baffling.  The pathway the Pacifica Forum took to full fledged fascist politics was not through the traditional path of far-right conservative Americana.  Instead, it really sidestepped through popular areas of the left, including anti-capitalism, international solidarity, anti-war politics, and environmentalism.  Our protest actions, small at first and led by local synagogues, did little to shut down the organization, which continued for years until finally petering out.

 A couple of years later, in 2011, a community organization I had worked with in Rochester, New York began an organizing plan to confront an incoming appearance of David Irving.  Irving is the most famous Holocaust Denier in the world, starting out as a mainstream, yet far-right wing, historian who slowly shifted his public opinion to one that sees the major claims of Holocaust historians as a hoax.  Irving, who has served time in places like Austria for hate speech, now has to have private events when promoting his books, which he was having in the neighboring Syracuse, New York.  While we were only able to get the final hotel location hours before the event started, our actions to have the hotel intervene were met with little concern.  Even though the meeting hall was packed full of open neo-Nazis and KKK members, no one seemed concerned.  This was exactly the response organizers often got from much of the left when forming antifascist committees to confront public neo-Nazi shows or organizations on the fringes of the GOP, which were then trying to move into mainstream discourse through the Tea Party phenomenon.  The idea was repeated to us over and over, that fascism was no longer the real issue, global capitalism, neoliberalism, American imperialism, environmental destruction, and all the normal oppressions of the status quo were important.  Fascism was unstable reactionary mass politics, something a capitalist class would never allow again.

 In preparing for those actions, I was focusing in on researching the growth of white nationalist projects like the American Third Position Party (now the American Freedom Party).  I stumbled on a podcast named Vanguard Radio with a young and articulate host, Richard Spencer.  His website AlternativeRight.com was unfamiliar to many of us, and from first glance it might even look like some type of leftist publication.  Criticisms of capitalism.  Heavy focus on paganism.  Environmental treatises.  We have had the “suit and tie Nazi” types for years, but this was a step further away from the American white nationalist political program.  They were taking inspiration from the academic fascists in the European New Right and the “identitarian” street movement pushing against Muslims and immigrants in France.  They were taking the language of post-colonialism, anti-capitalism, environmentalism and the like for making a philosophically fascist argument, stating that humans were unequal, that democracy was the rule of the weak over the strong, and that we needed to rediscover identity.  While it seemed as if this Alternative Right could never have currency in the U.S., I got a feeling that, given the right circumstances, this new brand of fascist politics, which really attempted to create a philosophical foundation and a whole “meta-politics,” could have legs.  It was in 2015 when we saw the return of “white identity politics” and Trumpism that the foundation was laid, and we finally saw what a mass fascist movement could look like in the U.S.  One that did not try to hide from its politics, but embraced the most horrifying positions openly.

 Q: Related to that, what do you see as the relationship between research and organizing, and more specifically, the relationship you intend/hope for between Fascism Today and the struggle against fascism. Read the rest of this entry »

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Introduction to “Bloodstained: One Hundred Years of Leninist Counterrevolution”

By AK Press | October 23, 2017

HISTORY may not have ended, but it certainly has gotten strange. The social contract neoliberalism once imposed—a patchwork of economic shell games and the political rituals needed to foist them on people—has shredded with surprising speed in recent years. The result has been a rapid universalization of precarity. Unpredictability and groundlessness are ubiquitous parts of our lives, which unfold in a supposedly “post-truth” world where the basic prerequisites for understanding almost anything seem lacking—or at least seem to change with each news cycle.

This new reality was both cause and effect of Donald Trump’s election as forty-fifth president of the United States. His campaign successfully harnessed the fear and desperation of our social unraveling, and he rose to power with promises to end it. He would, he said, stop the erosion of our dwindling sense of security and restore the certainty of clear borders (national and racial) and steady jobs. The trains would run on time.

Trump’s success-from-the-fringe took US liberals by surprise. Anything other than the staid electoral ping-pong between managerial representatives of this or that political party had been unthinkable to them. Further along the left spectrum, there was surprise among many radicals, but perhaps less shock: they at least had the theoretical arsenal with which to explain the situation— after the fact.

The left is no less subject to historical uncertainty, nor really any more prepared to meet it or predict what’s next. Lately, many radicals have been engaged in the same grasping at straws that motivated Trump voters. When the way forward is unclear, they seem to think, it’s safest to go backward, into the past. They search for answers in the tried and true—even when that truth is one of massive historical failure. Thus we’ve seen a return to social democratic strategies, first with the tepid “socialism” of Bernie Sanders, more recently with the resuscitation of the Democratic Socialists of America. Voters in Europe figured out long ago the pointlessness of electing so-called socialists to over­ see a capitalist economy. The US, as usual, has failed to learn from others’ mistakes.

The hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the occasion for this book, has put an even more bizarre spin on these developments. Many see the centennial as an opportunity to rehabilitate, even celebrate, outdated forms of authoritarian state socialism. It’s a tricky celebration, though, one that must either carefully ignore the human devastation that the Bolsheviks set in motion in 1917 or push it past an imaginary border beyond which, the story goes, communist possibility was hijacked by evil men, and marched off to a land of gulags and forced collectivization. Judging from their lists of recent and forthcoming titles, leftist publishers around the world will repeat these elisions and fairy tales in scores of books that praise Lenin, reframe the Bolsheviks, and attempt to rescue the Marxist jewel buried beneath a mountain of corpses.

If it was just the old guard and zealous party officials spinning these fictions, this book would be unnecessary. Their influence has steadily declined and they will eventually all die off. In these strange, unsettled times, though, a number of young people have become enamored with the ghosts of dictatorships past, sharing “Hot Young Joseph Stalin” memes on social media and sporting hammer-and-sickle baseball caps and jeweled necklaces. There’s often an ironic edge to the new Bolshevik bling, like the punks of a previous generation wearing Nazi symbols. But the punks at least had a raw nihilistic honesty: they were referencing the horror behind their regalia to make a point. Today’s new, young communists are either much more oblivious to the history behind their gestures or are slyly hedging their bets by pretending there’s no substance to their style, and thus no accountability. All this suggests a more pressing need for this book.

***

“Of all the revolts of the working class,” writes Cornelius Castoriadas, “the Russian Revolution was the only victorious one. And of all the working class’s failures it was the most thoroughgoing and the most revealing.”[1] We might quibble about the word “only,” but Castoriadas’s point remains: there is something important to learn from the possibilities that the Russian Revolution both opened and demolished. The catastrophe in Russia obliges us, he says, to reflect “not only on the conditions for a proletarian victory, but also on the content and possible fate of such a victory, on its consolidation and development” and, most importantly, on the “seeds of failure” inherent in certain approaches to revolutionary strategy. According to Marxist-Leninists, when it comes to the Russian Revolution, those seeds were entirely external and “objective”: the defeat of subsequent revolutions in Europe, foreign intervention, and a bloody civil war. The historical importance of these factors is incontestable, and largely besides the point. The real question, as Castoriadas notes, is “why the Revolution overcame its external enemies only to collapse from within.”

To answer that, we need what Maurice Brinton calls, in his preface to Ida Mett’s history of the Kronstadt commune, a new, genuinely socialist history. “What passes as socialist history,” according to Brinton, “is often only a mirror image of bourgeois historiography, a percolation into the ranks of the working class movement of typically bourgeois methods of thinking.” State-socialist hagiography, in all its Leninist, Trotskyist, Maoist, and Stalinist varieties, is simply a thinly veiled “great man” vision of the past, with kings and queens and presidents replaced by revolutionary “leaders of genius,” brilliant strategists who supposedly led the masses to victory—or who would have if “objective factors” hadn’t intervened, which, strangely, they always seem to do.

This anthology is an attempt to contribute to that new history. It is, again following Brinton, a history of the masses themselves, written, as far as possible, from their perspective, not from that of their self-declared representatives. We’ve collected works spanning the last century, from 1922 to 2017, that serve two purposes.

The first is to uncover the living revolution beneath the myths that the Bolsheviks and their state-socialist heirs have piled up to legitimize their otherwise indefensible actions. The living revolution is the potential inherent in any mobilized populace. It is made, not decreed, bestowed, or legislated into existence. And it is a powerful force. The initial stage of the Russian Revolution, stretching from February through October, was famous for its lack of blood­ shed. When the masses rise up as one, there is no power that can oppose them. They create new revolutionary forms, agreed-upon practices that may or may not take institutional form. These practices, which cohered in Russia into the soviets, factory committees, and cooperatives, are the embryonic structures through which a new society might be organized.

A socialist or anarchist history must also seek to locate the seeds of failure in any revolution. These also belong to the masses. The blame for the “degeneration” of the Russian Revolution can be, and has been, spread liberally. However, making simple boogeymen of the Revolution’s betrayers—Stalin being the most familiar, especially for Leninists and Trotskyists seeking their own absolution—avoids the fact that the masses could be betrayed in the first place. They fell for pretty lies and stirring speeches. They failed to resist at crucial moments or, when they did resist, they didn’t go far enough. They surrendered, inch by inch, the power that they had taken, and they let their enemies build a very different sort of power over them. There is a reason why Lenin could say that the October coup was “easier than lifting a feather”: the way had already been cleared and the state already smashed. There was nothing to lift. The masses had made the revolution and the Bolsheviks had only to step over the rubble and into the oppressors’ abandoned palaces. The fact that they could do so is a warning and a lesson that the authors in this collection drive home in countless ways.

The forms of genuine revolution and the ways they were violently dismantled by Lenin and his comrades are the main themes of this book. If there is a slight emphasis on the latter it is because the anarchists, council communists, and anti-state Marxists in the pages ahead a) have an implicit faith in what Emma Goldman calls “the creative genius of the people” and b) hesitate to prescribe the details of a future society that remains to be born, under conditions and meeting challenges we cannot foresee. Real revolutions are never staged, they don’t happen according to any theorist’s timetable, and they rarely need help getting underway. While that fact is made clear throughout this book, there is also a crucial focus on what happens next, on the traps and pitfalls, on everything that can go wrong.

Rudolf Rocker traces the genealogy of the factors that led to the Russian Revolution’s failure through the often-prophetic debates in the First International and back to the late eighteenth century. Marx and Engels, whose ideas Lenin adapted, borrowed their theory of revolution from the Jacobins and authoritarian secret societies of the French Revolution. Specifically, says Rocker, they relied upon distorted bourgeois histories of those figures. The resultant Marxist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the “dictatorship of a given party which arrogates to itself the right to speak for that class.” It is “no child of the labour movement, but a regrettable inheritance from the bourgeoisie … linked with a lust for political power.” Rocker contrasts this concept with the “organic being” and “natural form of organisation … from the bottom upwards” that the labor movement itself forges though struggle: councils and committees networked inflexible, nonhierarchical federations.

Luigi Fabbri also sees bourgeois roots in Leninist ideology, “a frame of mind typical of bosses.” Writing just after the October revolution, Fabbri cuts through the numerous misrepresentations of anarchism that even the earliest Bolshevik propaganda promulgated—and that state socialists still push—to reveal the main ideas “separating authoritarian from libertarian communists.” The “fatal mistake” of Lenin and company was their belief that building a powerful state would somehow eventually lead to that same state withering away, the precondition for communism according to both Marxists and anarchists. For Fabbri, as for most contributors to this book, “The state is more than an outcome of class divisions; it is, at one and the same time, the creator of privilege, thereby bringing about new class divisions.” Moreover, it “will not die away unless it is deliberately destroyed, just as capitalism will not cease to exist unless it is put to death through expropriation.” Or as Iain McKay puts it in his analysis of one of Lenin’s most famous books: “The Russian Revolution shows that it was not a case of the State and Revolution but rather the State or Revolution.”

Leninist distortions of other revolutionary traditions hasn’t changed much in the last century. Fabbri and others writing at the time of the Russian Revolution, both eye witnesses and close observers, focus our understanding of what non-Bolshevik militants were fighting for. They also give us a more clear picture of the possible forms of human liberation that the Bolsheviks methodically foreclosed. Several essays in the pages ahead give detailed accounts of the methods that the newly established state used to achieve this. Maurice Brinton and Ida Mett each focus on the massacre at Kronstadt, one of the clearest examples of how ordinary people, workers and sailors in this case, sought to push the revolution beyond the outmoded bourgeois political and economic forms Lenin imposed, only to face the guns and bayonets of Trotsky’s Red Army. Barry Pateman describes the many dedicated revolutionaries who wound up in “communist” prisons, as well as the networks of solidarity that tried to get them out. Iain McKay maps the growing (rather than withering) Soviet state as it absorbed one by one the democratic, federalist institutions the masses had created in Russia, which posed a threat to the growing dictatorship. Otto Rühle describes the disastrous effects of Leninism when it was exported to Europe. Lenin’s influence, says Rühle, was not merely an impediment to the revolutionary struggles of European workers, it also provided the model for fascism in Italy and Germany. “All fundamental characteristics of fascism were in his doctrine, his strategy, his social ‘planning,’ and his art with dealing with men … Authority, leadership, force, exerted on one side, and organization, cadres, subordination on the other side—such was his line of reasoning.”

Ultimately, though, the differences between the Bolshevik dictatorship and its many leftwing critics boils down to different ideas about how and why revolutions are made. To the Russian anarchists, certainly, Lenin’s absolute divorce of theoretical, communist ends from immediate, repressive means was in itself a guarantee of revolutionary failure. The very word communism—with cognates like communal, commons, community—implies an obvious and practical set of political guidelines, a militant ethics. Yet as Nestor Makhno, who organized forces to fight both Red and White armies in the Ukraine, notes, officials at the Fourteenth Congress of the Communist Party, which was held only eight years after the Bolsheviks came to power, agreed that the word “equality” should be avoided in anything but abstract discussions of distant social relations; it had no place in the Communist present.

Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman emigrated to Russia in 1919. While the immediate reason for their voyage had been deportation, they returned to their homeland with high hopes and a commitment to help build a new society. Within two years, those hopes had been dashed. They left in December 1921, both writing damning books about their experiences soon after (Berkman’s The Russian Tragedy and Goldman’s My Disillusionment in Russia). Those experiences, which ranged from the inspiration of seeing revolutionary energies unleashed on a mass scale to the horror of watching them destroyed, lend a sharp-edged clarity to the pieces we’ve included here, a stark contrast between competing visions of social transformation. “The Bolshevik idea,” writes Berkman, was “that the Social Revolution must be directed by a special staff, vested with dictatorial powers.” This not only implied a deep distrust of the masses but a willingness to use force against them, an unsurprising observation to those of us on this side of the Russian Revolution, but a shocking idea to many at the time. Berkman goes on to quote Bolshevik theorist Nikolai Bukharin: “Proletarian compulsion in all its forms … beginning with summary execution and ending with compulsory labor, is a method of reworking the human material of the capitalist epoch into Communist humanity.”

Compulsion was necessary because the Bolsheviks claimed to already know the path the revolution needed to take, even if workers and peasants seemed to be moving in a different direction. Lenin used a Marxist playbook. His apparent flexibility, his often contradictory positions, had less to do with open-mindedness than with a single-minded focus that allowed him to say whatever was necessary to achieve his goal. He was, as Emma Gold­ man put it, “a nimble acrobat … skilled in performing within the narrowest margin.” After meeting him, she was convinced that “Lenin had very little concern in the Revolution and … Communism to him was a very remote thing.” Instead, the “centralized political State was Lenin’s deity, to which everything else was to be sacrificed.” For Goldman, the revolution depended more on the “social consciousness” and “mass psychology” of Russian workers and peasants than on any allegedly objective conditions, at least those that were written in the Marxist playbook. At first, Lenin had no choice but to endure the popular forces that were “carrying the Revolution into ever-widening channels” that weren’t under Bolshevik control. “But as soon as the Communist Party felt itself sufficiently strong in the government saddle, it began to limit the scope of popular activity.” It was this desire to keep all power in the hands of the Party, the supposed advance guard of the proletariat, that explains, says Goldman, “all their following policies, changes of policies, their compromises and retreats, their methods of suppression and persecution, their terrorism and extermination of all other political views.”

***

As we’ve mentioned, a stock excuse for the degeneration of the Russian Revolution into one of modern history’s most oppressive regimes is that the Civil War demanded strict political discipline and severe economic measures. “War communism” was supposedly the revolution’s only hope. Readers will be forgiven if this reminds them of the US military’s claim that it was necessary to destroy a Vietnamese village in order to save it. As Iain McKay points, out most features of war communism—one-man management of factories, centralized economic structures borrowed from capitalism, the destruction of the soviets—“all these occurred before the Civil War broke out in late May 1918.”

The same is true of the Red Terror, the period of political repression and mass killings the Bolsheviks launched, ostensibly to eradicate enemies of the revolution. “Terror,” here, is not a word applied by appalled historians after the fact; Lenin and Trotsky embraced the term to describe their ruthless policies at the time. Lenin died early enough to avoid having to answer for them. Trotsky, on the other hand, had to spend much of his time wriggling out of his responsibility for what the revolution became. He almost single­handedly invented an entire genre of political apologetics, firmly establishing the practice of blaming Stalin for pretty much everything. Whatever he couldn’t lay at Stalin’s feet, according to Paul Mattick, he blamed on historical necessity, presenting early Bolshevism as a sort of “reluctant monster, killing and torturing in mere self-defence.”

The problem, says Mattick, is that there is almost nothing in Stalinism that didn’t also exist in Leninism or Trotskyism. While there may be differences in the total number of victims each could claim, this had less to do with any “democratic inclinations” on Lenin’s part than on his relative weakness, his “inability to destroy all non-Bolshevik organisations at once.” And it was all non­ Bolsheviks who were in the crosshairs, not just explicitly White reactionaries, and not excluding those who had recently fought alongside the Bolsheviks, regardless of their political orientation. “Like Stalin, Lenin catalogued all his victims under the heading ‘counter­revolutionary.’” The main organ charged with carrying out Lenin’s repressive orders, the Cheka (The All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage), was created only weeks after the Bolsheviks came to power. “The totalitarian features of Lenin’s Bolshevism were accumulating at the same rate at which its control and police power grew.” In practical terms, most of the Russian population—from anarchists and Social Revolutionaries to striking workers to sailors demanding democratic election of their officers to the entire peasant class—could qualify as counterrevolutionaries. Nonetheless, as Mattick observes:

If one wants to use the term at all, the “counter­revolution” possible in the Russia of 1917 was that inherent in the Revolution itself, that is, in the opportunity it offered the Bolsheviks to restore a centrally-directed social order for the perpetuation of the capitalistic divorce of the workers from the means of production and the consequent restoration of Russia as a competing imperialist power.

On the centennial of the Russian Revolution, if there is one thing we hope you take from this book, it is the fact that all the published panegyrics to Lenin and Trotsky, all the political parties that model themselves on tyrants, all the eulogies to the “leaders of genius” at the vanguard of the Russian masses—these tributes are honoring the actual counterrevolutionaries of history, the destroyers of revolutions, people with the hearts of prison wardens and hangmen.

“The history of how the Russian working class was dispossessed is not, however, a matter for an esoteric discussion among political cliques,” writes Brinton. “An understanding of what took place is essential for every serious socialist. It is not mere archivism.” If it was, to paraphrase Marx, these dead authoritarians wouldn’t still weigh like nightmares on the brains of the living. Inexplicably, Marxist-Leninist and Trotsyist parties still exist. And even when not members of such parties, many radicals have matured into political adulthood in a Marxist milieu that suffers from a split personality that no amount of dialectical reasoning can cure. Ever since the formation of the Comintern, thousands have left their countries’ Communist Parties in waves, unable to tolerate this or that new betrayal. Those who remained formed extremely hard shells, but even the ones who fled had to somehow justify their relationship to a bloodstained legacy.

Unfortunately, all the soft, insulating layers of “Western Marxism” in the world cannot disguise the Leninist pea beneath the mattress. No number of “returns” to Marx—or, even better, to early Marx—can escape the inherent aw at the core of every single instance of actually existing socialisms. Every time Marxism has been filtered through state-centered models of social change, the results have ranged from bad to horrific. This is the defect hidden within all parties, vanguards, cadre, cabals, and bureaucrats: they lead not to communism but to a new class of oppressors.

A century has been long enough. It is time for a clean break. We must remove Leninism from our revolutionary formulas and critique whatever aspects of Marxism lent themselves to the Bolshevik disaster. We must learn from the history contained in the following pages, and then make our own.

 

 —The Friends of Aron Baron—

 

1. All quotations in this introduction are taken from the authors’ essays in this anthology.

YOU CAN GET A COPY OF THIS BOOK HERE: https://www.akpress.org/bloodstained.html 

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Review of Hegemony How-To by Gabriel Kuhn

By AK Press | June 5, 2017

Gabriel Kuhn wrote a very thoughtful review of Jonathan Smucker’s Hegemony How-To.

“Smucker opens his book with a reference to his friend Carmen Trotta who once asked him: ‘Do you ever think we came to the game too late?’ In Smucker’s words, Trotta meant to raise the question of whether ‘we had literally been born too late to do anything to stop humanity from destroying itself completely’. (p. 9) It seems that just about any radical of my generation must have asked themselves that question. Apart from the brief period between the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in November 1999 and the brutally suppressed anti-G8 protests in Genoa in July 2001, there has hardly been a time of optimism among the radical left in the industrialized nations for about forty years. This, however, must not lead to despair. Otherwise, we are really out of the game. To remind us of this is one of Smucker’s most important achievements, along with his many astute observations and splendid suggestions. Work like Hegemony How-To is needed to bring us forward, and I hope that as many radicals as possible will read, discuss, and build on it”

Go to Alpine Anarchist to read more…

 

 

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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.

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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.

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