We are writing in response to social media messages
we’ve received regarding Marquis Bey, the author of our just-released book Anarcho-Blackness. Someone on Twitter and
Instagram has called him out as an abuser, and others have asked us to comment on
We had previously heard an allegation
about abusive behavior on Marquis’s part when he was an undergraduate. Someone contacted
a comrade of ours just before Anarcho-Blackness was published and said
that there had been an accusation against Marquis in, we think, 2013 or 2014. The
comrade passed this information on to us.
To our knowledge the person making
the accusation was neither the survivor nor speaking on behalf of the survivor.
We held off production of the book for several weeks as we tried to get more information,
including the nature of the harm, and any specific requests from a survivor or their
direct supporters. But none of our
queries got any response after the initial accusation.
So, we were in a situation where
we believed that some harm had been done to someone, but weren’t sure how to proceed.
We didn’t have enough information to halt publication, let alone any indication
that a survivor wanted that to happen. After some discussion, we decided to publish
the book with the knowledge that we would take our lead from and fulfill any requests
made by a survivor should anyone come forward at any point.
We also made Marquis aware of the
situation. He told us—though we can’t confirm this—that no one had come to
him with an accusation or a request for accountability, but that he would absolutely
engage in a survivor-led accountability process with anyone he had harmed—including
supporting the book being pulled from circulation, if that was their request.
It’s sometimes hard to determine,
when harm has been done, which situations call for cancelling (i.e. literally, in
this case, cancelling a book) and which are amenable to healing and some form of
transformative justice. Sometimes you don’t have enough information to go on and
have to trust that you can navigate those waters once you do. There are always indications,
though. Denial in the face of a survivor’s ask for accountability is a red flag.
That’s not what is happening here, as Marquis assured us he would believe any survivor
who said he had caused them harm. And we will hold him to that as best we can. Doubling
down that the harmful act was inconsequential and that the accused is being unfairly
treated is a red flag. That’s also not what is happening here.
Sometimes, things are clear. We cancelled a forthcoming book by Michael Schmidt (and stopped selling previous books he wrote), when, in the face of accusations, he denied harm and gaslighted those looking for accountability. We stopped distributing books written by Derrick Jensen when it was clear he wasn’t going to be accountable for the harm he was doing transgender folks. In hindsight, we haven’t always done everything perfectly when made aware of harm, though we’re learning and evolving—and we believe survivors and want whatever healing is possible for them. And we always hold out the hope that those in our communities who have caused harm can work toward real accountability.
Those of us trying to address harm
can never erase it. No accountability process can do that. The best we can do is
try to create the conditions for healing to happen, to let survivors guide that
process and hopefully feel empowered by it. The other part of that equation is to
provide harm-doers with the opportunity to transform, to receive what Shira Hassan
calls “the gift of being accountable.”
None of us on the left know how to
do this perfectly. We’re working it out in mid-air. It’s bound to be messy, but
if we can act with integrity and compassion, the odds are much better. Social media
is a difficult place to air concerns about complex situations that require care
and thoughtfulness, but at the same time, we understand that it can be the only
place where the silenced, oppressed, and harmed can get heard. Rather than
simply a call out, let’s call in and
call for accountability.
And lastly, we invite anyone who
has been directly harmed by Marquis—or their supporters/team, or people who
witnessed the harm or its effects at the time—to contact us directly at
firstname.lastname@example.org. We have been spending time over the last few months
working with trusted and experienced comrades to sort through best practices for
addressing harm. Doing this with the care
it requires takes time, but we are getting there and hope to soon have a
plan regarding how we will respond
to harm done by anyone in our collective or by anyone published by AK Press going
forward. In this case, in lieu of a formal plan, we can say that we would absolutely
support the survivor and their wishes. If they want to seek accountability, we
are ready to donate the resources to help make that happen (pay for a mediator
of their choice, etc).
The AK Press Collective
[Note: we will post updates below and reflect that in the title of this blog post whenever we have information we can share.]
UPDATE August 21, 2020
After posting the statement above, we received an email from someone who said they’d been harmed by Marquis Bey.
We remain committed to helping to set up a survivor-centered process of accountability. As a first step, at the request of the survivor, we have provided some suggestions of skilled mediators who can help oversee that process.
As we offered in our last statement, we will pay for the services of a mediator once one is chosen by the survivor, but we will not be involved in the process itself, which will be completely confidential. We have only requested that we be informed by the mediator about the outcome and if the survivor has any specific requests of us. Any public statements beyond that will be at the discretion of the survivor.
Clearly, these are only the very early stages of the process. We will continue updating this blog post whenever there is further information we can share.
UPDATE November 2, 2020
Since our last update, the survivor who contacted us has chosen a team of two transformative justice practitioners who are now leading a facilitated process with Marquis. We have also been contacted by additional people who have corroborated the fact that Marquis needs to be accountable not only for harming this one individual, but for a pattern of harmful behavior. We are working in collaboration with the facilitators to make sure all of the information we received will be addressed.
We believe that in this case, and in general, no one is disposable and it is important to provide opportunities for harm-doers to be accountable. We are now giving the process time to play out, and giving Marquis a chance to demonstrate accountability. We will wait to hear from the survivor or another representative about the outcome of the process, and will then discuss collectively whether we believe he has truly demonstrated accountability. If we feel that Marquis fails to demonstrate accountability throughout this process (or afterward), we commit to ending our relationship with him. In addition, as part of this process, Marquis has agreed to forego royalties from Anarcho-Blackness and AK Press has decided to donate all profits from the book to an organization focused on transformative justice. We will share more details about this donation as soon as we have them.
Our latest book by Agustín Guillamón is out: Insurrection: The Bloody Events of May 1937 in Barcelona. Like all of Agustín’s books, it is based on a ton of documentary evidence, including interviews and letters with some of the main players. And, again like previous books, it forces us to reconsider and rethink some of our well-worn ideas about the Spanish Revolution. The book is unique in that it takes an incredibly detailed look at a very short period of time—days really—during which certain important decisions and dynamics unfolded, changing the course of the revolution. Here are a few bits from the book’s introduction. Hopefully they will spark more interest in this revolutionary (in every sense) history. You can order the book here.
In and of itself, the investigation, disclosure and deepening of knowledge about the history of revolutions—rebutting the lies, misrepresentations and slanders spewing from Sacred, Subsidized Bourgeois History and lifting the veil from the genuine history of class struggle, written from the viewpoint of the revolutionary proletariat—is a Fight For History.
Workers’ striving to discover their own history is but one of the many battles being fought in the class war. It is not a matter of mere theory, nor is it abstract and banal, because it is part and parcel of class consciousness itself and can be classified as a theorization of the world proletariat’s historical experiences. In Spain it must, necessarily, embrace, digest and take ownership of the anarcho-syndicalist movement’s in the 1930s.
The mission of bourgeois History is to conjure up myths about nationalism, liberal democracy and capitalist economics in order to persuade us they are timeless, immutable and irreplaceable. A perpetual, complacent, uncritiqued present renders the past banal and is harmful to historical awareness. We are moving on from Sacred History to post-history. “Post-truth” is a neologism that describes a cognitive situation—commonplace these days—wherein the information-source creates public opinion by subordinating facts and reality to emotions, prejudices, ideologies, propaganda and beliefs. So post-truth can be a lie served up as a truth, but reaffirmed as a belief, ideology, promotional ad or prejudice widely spread throughout society. If it has the appearance of truth and also flatters our vanity or satisfies our emotions, while reinforcing our prejudices or identity, it deserves to be true. A good advertising campaign can turn lie, deceit and falsehood into a pleasant and handy post-truth. Post-history ceases to be what happens subsequent to the End of History (Fukuyama) and turns into the narrative that hacks of every hue and ideology fabricate for the publishing market, over and above the facts and historical reality that are these days deemed as secondary and dispensable, or exotic symbols for something we cannot quite out our finger on (Gallego).
The proletariat is drawn into the class struggle by its very nature as a waged and exploited class and does not need anybody to teach it anything; it fights because it needs to survive. Once the proletariat assumes the mantle of a conscious revolutionary class at odds with the party of Capital, it needs to digest the experiences of the class struggle, lean on historical gains (theoretical and practical alike), revolve issues not resolved in their time: it needs to learn the lessons offered by history itself. But this learning process can only be conducted through the practice of class struggle by the various affinity groups and sundry organizations of the proletariat.
Smoothing the way for this learning process is the point of each and every one of my books, the purpose throughout being to let the protagonists of history speak for themselves, respecting the reader’s judgment, while at all times highlighting the fact if she is dealing with the author’s opinion (indicated by italics) to which the reader need not subscribe.
The period of time covered by this book ranges from 3 to 7 May 1937. The aim, at all times and in every line, has been to allow the reader to form his own opinion about the events, speeches and proceedings underway, and of the positions of the different protagonists and the street-fighting. Butdocuments never speak by themselves; they require interpreting, contextualization and explanation. If he is honest, the historian’s task is not merely finding and selecting them, depending on how apt they may be, but also to render them understandable, or placing them in their chronological and ideological contexts. To which end we have resorted to footnotes; but also, when the narrator needs to intervene in order to complement the information within the document or offer his own (inevitable and necessary) slant on the facts, we have made use of italics, because this addition to the document or this author’s interpretation, might be quibbled over and the reader need not buy into it.
Thus, italics are always used to show that the author is offering his own interpretation of the facts, in the hope of helping readers understand them, but also in the genuine hope of not confusing readers into believing that his is the only possible interpretation. Successful or not, the aim is absolutely to respect the reader’s judgment; at all times, the reader is at liberty and empowered to hold on to his own opinion of the facts set out here.
Chapter 5 is the product of the need to offer the reader a summary of the May insurrection that enables him schematically but very clearly and precisely to follow the revolutionary thread running through the CNT. In Chapter 6, there is a series of bold or not so bold interpretations that seek to offer an historical perspective on the defense committees and a de-mystifying critique of the Friends of Durruti, the concrete aim being, not to deify or beatify that organization, because so to do would be squandering its legacy and its life and historical experiences that are too important to be thrown away with incense and eulogy.
The bulk of the documentation used here is previously entirely unpublished and it has been taken from archives all around the globe, ranging from Stanford University in California to New York’s Tamiment Library, from the Russian Center for the Preservation of Contemporary History in Moscow, to the BAEL in Buenos Aires, not forgetting the BDIC in Nanterre, although the essential and richest archives have been those of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam, Salamanca’s Center for the Documentation of Historical Memory, the Tarradellas Archive in the Monastery of Poblet, Catalonia’s Arxiu Nacional, the Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo in Madrid and the Arxiu Enciclopèdic Popular in Barcelona.
Plainly this book is no mere anthology of documents bumped into at random, but rather a painstaking selection of telling documentary fragments that sometimes explain and sometimes contradict one another, but that are essential for any understanding of what was going on and what issues were burdening or concerning those men and women, whether they were leaders or at street level, helping the reader understand the times intensely, alerting him to the climate in which people were living, letting him listen in on the proceedings at meetings of the higher committees or at Generalidad cabinet meetings, so that he can garner an impression of the worries and fears of everyday life and be able to arrive in the here and now at a thorough knowledge of those events, now part of history.
Broadly speaking, the trading of information with other researchers dealing with the topics we have studied has been very gratifying and, without a single exception, it has taken place outside of academia, which is dominated by broomstick rigidity, neo-Stalinism, laziness, the whiff of incense, slave-driving, the most inane sectarianism, nationalism and manipulation. The works of Bernecker, Ealham and Godicheau command a mention and I would urge people to read them. And the same goes for the classics, such as Bolloten, Broué, Fraser and Peirats.
My status as a member of the Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular is something I regard as a duty and an honor and, given the increasing disrepute of the profession of manipulator-historian, I would rather be described as a history-worker or collector of old papers, if that could avert unwanted confusion. The process of researching and drafting this book has meant a long road filled with adventures, the constant welling-up of new questions, liaisons and exchanges with third parties, interviews, bibliographical references, compilation of files and the hours upon hours whiled joyously away surrounded by dossiers and archival documents, and pleasant, educational launches of previous books. How can I convey the joys and pleasure to be derived from the solving of a puzzle, the satisfaction achieved once all the pieces of the jigsaw finally fit?
The writing of the history of the events of May 1937 can no longer blithely omit the decisive parts played by Josep Rebull, Pablo Ruiz, Jaime Balius, Manuel Escorza or Julián Merino, nor ignore the establishment of a secret CNT Revolutionary Committee. Although we must never under-estimate academia’s bottomless ignorance and its ferocious short-sightedness.
Naturally, I bear the responsibility for all errata and shortcomings, which should be brought to my attention at Apartado de correos 22010—08080 Barcelona, so that I can amend and learn from them.
This book is about the communism of love. It is, in other words, about the necessarily and irreducibly communist form and content of love. The chapters of this book travel far, but are held together by an overarching argument about love as a communist power. At the same time, this book is an inquiry into the poverty of exchange value. By “poverty of exchange value” I mean that the capitalist mode of assessing value is incapable of appreciating what human beings—everywhere on Earth—value the most. For all of its multifarious meaning, love reveals the limits of capital to appropriately value the experiences and relationships that human beings treasure most in the course of a life. Yet, most human life is subordinated to exchange relations. In recent decades, the logic of capital has been increasingly extended to the administration of love in ways previously unimaginable. But capital only succeeds in commodifying love by destroying it, by converting it into an impoverished “false form” (i.e., a spectacle) of itself. We will have to say what is specifically meant by love, a task that defines the first three chapters.
The Communism of Love moves from a cautious exploration of love as a political concept to the argument that love is a practice of relationality incommensurate with capitalist exchange relations. Human relationality is formed in our worldly intersubjectivity, and what shapes our relationships with others can be (and often is) far more valuable than those relationships established by capitalist exchange relations. The nature of a social relationship is and can be variegated and emotionally and constitutively diverse. However, Harry Cleaver observes:
Capitalists, unfortunately, try to organize this kind of relationship in ways that give them power over us. They seek to impose our relationship to them to such a degree that we come to define ourselves, and are defined by others, primarily in terms of our jobs… In actuality, of course, we may do and be a great many things, but within capitalism the expectation is that we will identify with our work.
Whatever else we are and whatever else we do, besides and beyond our work, is best seen, appreciated, and understood, in relations of love. People usually do not want their entire identity determined by what they do for money. In contrast to the global power of capital, global aspirations for love challenge and displace relations of life governed by the logic of capital.
Because the present book draws on a vast bibliography including not only philosophy and political theory, but also psychoanalysis, social psychology, theology, and sociological theory, readers may expect some kind of a full sweep or promise of exhaustive understanding. Such readers should be disabused of that expectation from the start. I am essentially offering a critical and substantial development of Erich Fromm’s old theory of love in the light of more contemporary social, political, technological, and psychoanalytic research, and perhaps most importantly, in the context of present currents in twenty-first century Marxist philosophy. However, there are also aspects of this work that aim at a longer historical view and broader context, which can be seen for example in Chapter 2 on Plato’s Symposium.
But, in what ways will we think about love beyond what has already been said by philosophers from Plato to Fromm, bell hooks, Alain Badiou, and so many others who have written a vast bibliography of love? There are four basic distinguishing features of the present study, and far more in the particularities. Generally:
First, I bring together interdisciplinary sources on love that have never been synthesized in a single study. Such a synthesis will be contextualized and proven necessary for both appreciating and moving beyond the tendencies and deficits prominent in the literature’s history. Too many theories of love (indeed all of them) ignore the other major studies of love to their own detriment.
Second, I claim that love is a practice that socializes a unique polyamory beyond the structure of romantic relationship. This polyamory is not about having multiple partners, and is not primarily sexual or romantic, but is instead the polyamory of a communist affection for others. I argue that the human aspiration to love expresses a longing for a form of communist relationality. This can be demonstrated whether or not one recognizes the communism of their own relationships. In this way, I shall muster the courage speak of the universality of at least one communist tendency (the communist tendency of love).
Third, I argue for the desirability and practicality of a logic of human relations that is irreducibly antagonistic to capitalist exchange relations. If everyone who aspires to love aims, through that peculiar aspiration, to separate and defend their most cherished relationships from the exigencies of capital, then no capitalist totality can be fully realized. Capitalism, as both an ideological position and as an actual power that organizes life, cannot satisfactorily encompass the psycho-social and emotional needs of everyday people.
Fourth, I argue that revolts and other disruptive social and political movements are always, at least to some extent, concerned with the creation or restoration of relations of love against a monetized life of exchange relations. In revolt and other social, political, and cultural movements—and indeed, in a wide range of global uprisings—love is often wielded as a non-militaristic weapon, or rather, as a threatening sensibility. Love activates a sensibility about being with other people that is antithetical to capitalist reasons for being-with-others.
Of course, all of this and more will need to be substantiated. But the conclusions of The Communism of Love are far from obvious and far from common understanding. Take the example of a major rival in the philosophy of love, Martha Nussbaum, non-controversially one of the most influential philosophers in the world. Nussbaum wrote a philosophy of love in her Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (2013). Nussbaum assumes we can pursue a politics of love that will lead to increasing justice, the latter being fully compatible with the capitalist organization of society. In contrast to Nussbaum, the present study offers a refutation and rejection of both liberal and conservative conceptions of love as a force of justice within existing capitalist societies, and argues instead that love is either a communist power, or it is not love in fact. We shall also explore major disagreements with Erich Fromm, Axel Honneth, bell hooks, Eva Illouz, Alain Badiou, and Hannah Arendt, among others.
There is a way in which this book attempts to address one of the concluding questions posed by Kathi Weeks at the end of her book Constituting Feminist Subjects. There, Weeks asks
what are some of the different ways to conceive a collective subject, ways that move beyond the liberal model, according to which the individual is primary and authentic, the group is a “mere” secondary construction, and a legitimate group is posed as a consensual aggregation of individuals? Given the pervasiveness of liberal individualism and its stubborn grip on our thinking in late capitalist societies, this remains a difficult task indeed. What are some of the possible ways of regarding collectivities not only as determined subject positions but also as active subjects—how can these subject positions be transformed into relatively autonomous agents capable of social change?
What we are trying to do is to understand the possibility of a real collective subject that is not secondary to the individual, because—among other reasons—the individual’s personality is realized only in dialectical relations with others around her. The individual is developed within that sociality, and does not precede it. But, since so much of social relations are determined by the capitalist mode of life and work, we cannot answer the question of the collectivity with a simple sociological truth. We are not looking for a collectivity that is the determined subject position of capitalist society, but rather, we are looking for a collectivity formed in our non-capitalist being-in-the-world, our relations to other human beings that maintain a sociality beyond and against exchange relations. We address Weeks’s open question by looking at the collective subject positions of possible and already-existing love relations in the world…
The Communism of Love is conceived of and written—like all of my other books and articles—as a contribution to new autonomist Marxist theory for the twenty-first century. Thus, I want to make a contribution to our understanding of the present limits and catastrophes of capitalism, the necessary abolition of capitalist society, and why we must find ways to do so without any resuscitation of the statist and otherwise failed so-called “communist experiments” and movements of the twentieth century. This means the exact opposite of ignoring the many triumphs and failures of the radical struggles of the twentieth century, for it means, precisely, a commitment to learning from them…
Because we live in a society ruled by money, governed by the logic of capital, it may appear to make sense to demand wages or salaries for all of the unpaid work that is done every day around the world. But only the most fundamental ignorance of capital would demand that capital pay for anything it isn’t profiting from. Capitalism has never paid people for their work, but only for units of time measurably disconnected from the actual quantity and quality of their labor, and from the real value of their work. We may get paid for commodity-producing work, yes, but a demand for the commodification of everything we do is not even a demand worth making. That is the defining demand of capitalist totalization, and we must beware its deceptive allure.
What if instead we could identify the communism of love in the relationships that matter most to us, in the relationships (or in our longing for the relationships) that make our lives worth living, that help us realize our personalities and gifts? The aspiration and practice of love relations with other people both points to (conceptually) and materializes (in our lived experience) a collective subject position beyond the liberal model, and critically, beyond capitalist logics and monetary valuations. Inasmuch as the communism of love is both necessary and actual, it is also only carried out by and for active subjects in pursuit of a sociality greater than that manifested by exchange relations. It is perhaps the experience and practice of love—more than anything else in a human life—that reveals the inestimable extent to which the best things under capitalism are the least capitalist things. There resides, in the irreducible communism of love, a rival logic of life that defends real people against commodification and that can only be expanded to the displacement of exchange value.
When love is acted out within the boundaries of our precarious little communes—if we’re fortunate enough to have those—it constitutes a little collectivity called “home.” But beyond those lamentably tiny boundaries, love constitutes a collective subject with a more threatening sensibility, a collectivity capable of both a defiance and creativity that capital cannot bear.
 Harry Cleaver, Rupturing the Dialectic: The Struggle against Work, Money, and Financialization (Oakland, Edinburgh, and Baltimore: AK Press, 2017), 110-111.
 Kathi Weeks, Constituting Feminist Subjects (London and New York: Verso Books, 2018), 159.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: THE LOGIC OF LOVE AS A COMMUNIST POWER
1.1 Basic Theorization: Simone Weil and Emmanuel Levinas
1.2 Gemeinwesen as Communist Logic
CHAPTER 2: PLATO’S SYMPOSIUM AND THE MANY POWERS OF LOVE
2.1 Too Many Aphrodites
2.2 From Socrates to Spartacus: Love in War and Revolt
CHAPTER 3: THE LOVE OF COMMUNISTS
3.1 Capitalist Disfiguration: Grundrisse and the Community of Alienation
3.2 Jenny, Rosa, and the Significance of Revolutionary Affection
3.3 Kollontai’s Communist Theory of Love
CHAPTER 4: LOVE AS PRAXIS: CRITICAL THEORY AND PSYCHOANALYSIS
4.1 Insanity: après moi, le déluge
4.2 Danger and Hope of Despair
CHAPTER 5: LOVE AND WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY
On Friday, May 22, just after dinner, my father lay down for a nap and peacefully died.
He died at a rather inopportune time, in the midst of a pandemic, one that had already taken more than 300,000 lives around the world. These circumstances prevented me from going to see him in his final days, and have delayed his funeral indefinitely. But he was not a victim of the coronavirus. He was, instead, the latest but by no means the last casualty of the Vietnam War—or what the Vietnamese, more precisely, call the American War. He died after years of illness related to his exposure to Agent Orange, a kind of friendly fire that took half a century to have its final effect. His name will not appear, I don’t think, on that smooth black wall that runs like a scar across the National Mall. It will be just one of thousands of names that are missing, along with those veterans who have died from suicide, heroin, or the effects of chronic homelessness.
About a month before my father finally left this world—he was already in the process of dying, though how slowly or suddenly we could not be sure—journalists struggling to convey the scale of the current pandemic noted that more Americans had died from Covid-19 than had died in the Vietnam War: 58,220 in Vietnam; 58,365 from the pandemic (though the number has far exceeded that by now). The comparison was intended, and in fact did, evoke a kind of emotional response and it attached to the epidemic a sense of moral weight. But it was, for all that, peculiarly inapt. It is notable mostly for what it omits. It gives all of its attention to the number of Americans who have succumbed to the disease, when a pandemic is by definition a global phenomenon. It likewise forgets the vastly larger number of Vietnamese who died as a result of our country’s military action: approximately 3.1 million, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica. By comparison, the number of American causalities looks like a rounding error.
Both Vietnam and Covid-19 exposed our leaders as intellectually as well as morally bankrupt, employing one failed strategy after another, while continuously assuring the public that the worst was behind us and victory certain.
A more complicated question is that of whether disease and war are comparable phenomena at all. From one angle, by relating the two we extend the myth of American innocence. War, like disease, is something that simply happens to us. It is not something for which we are responsible. Such a view is of course self-serving and dangerous, though it is also extremely common. It is possible, however, to look at the issue from the other direction, and recognize that the body count—in the U.S. today, as in Vietnam fifty years ago—is what it is because of specific policy choices and, moreover, because of the nature and the structure of our society. The Vietnam War both reflected and revealed deep inequalities—between the imperialist First World and the colonized Third, and within the U.S., between those young men who got drafted and those who got deferments. The coronavirus crisis has hit poor, Black, and Latino communities hardest, and has proven what those at the bottom of the class system have always known, that the most essential jobs often receive the least pay. Both Vietnam and Covid-19 exposed our leaders as intellectually as well as morally bankrupt, employing one failed strategy after another, while continuously assuring the public that the worst was behind us and victory certain.
These crises have also revealed our country’s hubris and the real limits on our power. The war saw the wealthiest and most technologically advanced country on earth defeated by poorly armed peasants. The pandemic saw the United States responding uncertainly while its infection rate skyrocketed. In contrast, Vietnam— to cite just one particularly pointed example—has a population of 95 million people and borders China, where the coronavirus originated, but at the time of my father’s death, Vietnam had logged a total of 268 Covid-19 cases and zero deaths. It accomplished this epidemiological miracle through a combination of focused testing, contact tracing, rigid quarantining, travel restrictions, pubic education, and services to those self-isolating. And so, while local governments in the U.S. were competing in a vicious biding war for scarce medical supplies, Vietnam was exporting 450,000 hazmat suits to the United States, 550,000 surgical masks to Europe, and 730,000 masks to nearby Laos and Cambodia.
I should say that even with the American health care industry under severe strain, with shortages of medical masks and critical equipment, and health care workers suffering much higher rates of infection, my father was well taken care of. He had been disabled, practically and legally, for most of the last ten years, and he required several surgeries, frequent less-invasive interventions, regular monitoring, and a veritable pharmacopeia of pills. All of that—plus the tireless care provided by my mother, and his own formidable reserve of will-power—was enough to keep him going long after any bookmaker would have stopped offering odds. Given the nature of his ailment and its cause, those crucial, life-preserving medical services came courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is a sad irony that, after being wounded in a war against communism, the thing that kept my father alive, for as long as it did, was in effect a minor version of socialism.
My father was proud of his military service, though he almost never spoke of it. I do not know how he felt about the war in political terms, whether he thought it a good policy or a terrible mistake. I only know that he enlisted for idealistic and ultimately admirable reasons, and that decision shaped the rest of his life. The Air Force trained him in computer programming at a time when even the word “computer” was a novelty; with that training he built a good middle-class career. But the experience also took its toll, psychologically as well as physically. I was never able to wake him without having him bolt upright, alarmed but not quite panicked. (My mother told me simply that he had been shelled, though as a child I was not able to attach any meaning to the word.) And of course the U.S. military inadvertently—or carelessly—poisoned him, eventually leading to his death. That death was not merely sad, as the death of a loved one is always sad, but actually tragic in the technical and literary sense. For he enlisted in the Air Force out of a sense of duty, and from that duty he became implicated in a colossal criminal enterprise; it would, finally, be his undoing. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this story, and maybe the best thing I can say about my father, is that he never gave in to self-pity, even at the end, and that his sense of decency and integrity never wavered.
That death was not merely sad, as the death of a loved one is always sad, but actually tragic in the technical and literary sense. For he enlisted in the Air Force out of a sense of duty, and from that duty he became implicated in a colossal criminal enterprise; it would, finally, be his undoing.
In the last few days of his life, my mother told me, my father was thinking often of Vietnam. As part of his duties there, he loaded the bodies of dead servicemen onto airplanes to be shipped back stateside. He told her that during the Tet Offensive, he and one other airman spent all day — twelve hours, maybe more—every day, loading bodies onto planes, filling them up, one plane after another, seemingly without end. At the close of the day, when their shift was over, they had to burn their clothing. He would have been—what? twenty years old? twenty-one? And fifty years later, that is the thing that occupied his thoughts as he lay dying.
I cannot help but wonder how his experience might compare with that of the prisoners, working in New York City in the early weeks of the outbreak there, filling mass graves with unclaimed bodies.
Now, my father is dead, and life goes on without him. Ordinarily one of the cruelties of grief is that it is so isolating. It is a profound dislocation, as a friend wrote to me in a letter. It seems to disrupt the very flow of time. A precious, irreplaceable individual is suddenly absent from the world, and the world keeps turning without notice of the fact. Friends and family suddenly feel alone, alien, disconnected. For them, everything feels wrong, distorted. Reality feels unreal. How can everyone else go on as though nothing had changed?
In a pandemic, however, all of that is different. The entire world is grieving —if not precisely this person, then someone; if not someone in particular, than the anonymous mass of tens of thousands of lives too abruptly ended; if not the loss of life, then the way of life which has been suspended, and whose return seems uncertain and indefinitely deferred. Everything is altered. And even when society returns to normal—when the quarantine is lifted and businesses open, children return to school, and oil prices start to rise—we may find that somehow none of it is the same. The institutions of society may manage to reestablish themselves, to good and to bad effect. But having passed through this period of uncertainty and grief, we may come to discover that it is not the world that has changed, but us—all of us.
We’ve just released Kristian Williams’s newest book, Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It’s an incredibly fulfilling read about a fascinating writer, in which Wilde’s wit, aesthetics, and politics come to life in ways we’ve never seen in a work of literary criticism. Below is a short glimpse that should give you an idea of how Kristian approaches his subject.
If you’re tempted, you can get the book here at 25% off for it’s first few weeks of existence. Enjoy!
In his most famous political tract, “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” Oscar Wilde advocates for an anti-authoritarian socialism, which would serve the cause of individualism and bring about a cultural rebirth.
The society Wilde imagines is one in which the arts, the sciences, and the whole of intellectual life prospers; a society without property, prisons, or crime—in which no one is hungry and machines do all the dirty, distasteful, tedious work. It is a society in which everyone is free to choose his own path and flourish in her own way, to prosper not in petty financial terms but in terms of character and personality. “The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is,” Wilde wrote. This socialism, which will produce “true, beautiful, healthy Individualism,” will free us, not only from the dangers of poverty but from the demands of wealth as well: “Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live.” In this essay Oscar Wilde makes many striking pronouncements, among them: “the form of government that is most suitable to the artist is no government at all”; “there is no necessity to separate the monarch from the mob; all authority is equally bad”; and “all modes of government are failures.”
Wilde’s is a socialism in the service of individualism. It is a socialism based more in aesthetic ideals than in economic theories. It takes as its model the artist rather than the proletarian and is as much concerned to free the repressed bourgeois as the oppressed worker. Its tastes are aristocratic; its ethics, bohemian. It is at once deeply spiritual and thoroughly heretical, ethical and antinomian, rebellious and harmonious, egoistic and universally compassionate, urgent and utopian. It is, in a word, anarchism. Yet the word does not appear anywhere in Wilde’s essay. Instead Wilde expressed indifference, almost disdain, for ideological labels. (“Socialism, communism, or whatever one chooses to call it,” he begins one paragraph.) Does Wilde deliberately avoid the word anarchism because of its sectarian connotations? Or is he issuing a subtle snub, siding with William Morris against David Nicoll in the dispute that had recently divided the Socialist League? Or is it perhaps something greater—that no label is needed or that none will suffice?
“The Soul of Man under Socialism” has long been accepted into the anarchist canon. In the first decades of the twentieth century, millions of copies sold in Europe, and revolutionary groups distributed it in the United States. Emma Goldman advertised it in the back pages of her magazine Mother Earth, along with works by Peter Kropotkin, Edward Carpenter, William Morris, Thomas Paine, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Leo Tolstoy. George Woodcock considered Wilde’s essay the “most ambitious contribution to literary anarchism during the 1890s,” and his Porcupine Press released a pamphlet version in 1948. Robert Graham includes it in his expansive collection Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.
But “The Soul” has largely been set apart from Wilde’s other work, treated as a single, inexplicable foray into the serious, unironic, political world, having no bearing on and no relationship to his poetry, plays, and fiction. It has thus occupied a somewhat marginal position in the overall body of Wilde studies. And the rest of Wilde’s writing has for the most part escaped the attention of anarchist readers. It is thought to be a trivial curiosity that the author of “The Soul of Man under Socialism” and the author of The Picture of Dorian Gray happen to be the same person. In fact, for all the attention given this connection, they might as well have not been the same man but instead two men with the same name. This division, I believe, is a mistake, whichever way one looks at it. If we take Wilde’s politics seriously, if we put “The Soul of Man” first, so to speak, and refuse to sever it from the rest of Wilde’s work, then certain important connections inevitably become apparent. The political implications of his drama, verse, fiction, and especially his essays, criticism, and lectures suddenly stand out sharply. And the aesthetic, Hellenic, spiritual, and queer elements of “The Soul of Man” simultaneously take on a new import.
In this volume, I seek to identify the values Wilde advanced in his works, the ideals often implicit in his literary writing and sometimes explicit in his essays. By putting the politics first, it is possible to find a kind of unifying outline for Wilde’s thought as a whole. His politics connect to his aestheticism, to his sexuality and nationality, to his humor and irony, and to his deeply tragic view of life. Wilde’s political commitments were subtly but centrally present in even his purely aesthetic works; and conversely, his aesthetics, his critical perspective, and even his keen wit and sense of irony had their role in shaping his politics. At the root of Wilde’s thought was a deep belief that individual freedom is desirable both for its results and for its own sake, that such freedom requires creativity and pleasure, and that it can only be achieved when our basic needs are met, ideally through an economic socialism that unites a diverse community on terms of fraternal equality.
The following chapters are arranged, broadly speaking, chrono-thematically, grouping Wilde’s ideas by subject but ordering them to trace the development of his thought. Put in very simple terms, they cover violence, aesthetics and labor, women, homosexuality, prison, and Wilde’s legacy. These subjects are related, in turn, to Wilde’s first play, Vera, or the Nihilists, and his collection of stories, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime; his American lectures and his fairy tales; the society plays; The Portrait of Mr. W. H. and the trials; his prison letters and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”; and, finally, Salomé and Wilde’s grave.
Wilde’s work, it turns out, is dense with politics. If we fail to perceive its political aspects, we misunderstand much of the rest of it. But if we try to isolate the “political”—his views about government policy or economic arrangements—we fail, rather sadly, to comprehend his vision at all. For philosophy, politics, and art—these were not, to Wilde, separate concerns or distinct pursuits. They could not be divided without harm. The principle of their unity is what he would call beauty; the expression of this unity is what might be called art—or life.
 Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” in Collins Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2003), 1178.
 Ibid, 1175. Walter Crane, who illustrated Wilde’s book The Happy Prince, later recalled: “The essential difference between anarchist and socialist ideas and aims was not then very well understood or generally recognized, especially as both schools could join in their protests and denunciations of the existing economic order.” Walter Crane, An Artist’s Reminiscences (New York: Macmillan, 1907), 259. I have written elsewhere about Crane’s likely influence on Wilde’s essay. See Kristian Williams, “The Roots of Wilde’s Socialist Soul: Ibsen and Shaw, or Morris and Crane,” Oscholars, Spring 2010, oscholars.com.
 See E. P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (Oakland: PM Press, 2011), 564–72.
 George Woodcock, The Paradox of Oscar Wilde (New York: Macmillan, 1950), 160.
 “Books to Be Had through Mother Earth,” advertisement, Mother Earth, June 1906, 62–64, reprinted in Mother Earth Bulletin, series 1, vol. 1, 1906–7 (New York: Greenwich Reprint Corporation, 1968).
 George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1962),448; Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism (London: Porcupine Press, 1948).
 Robert Graham, ed., Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, vol. 1, From Anarchy to Anarchism (300 CE to 1939) (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2017), 212–15.
I do not want to hear another politician, entertainer, athlete or anyone else of any race/ethnicity, use the media or other platforms to lecture to Black people about how we should respond to the virulent and relentless violence happening.
I ain’t heard nary an auntie, uncle, mother, or father patronizing tone (or word) spoken to white folx when visible ARMED white people marched to state capitols to demand their right to endanger ALL of our lives to work in a global health pandemic.
Do not talk about forgiveness in the absence of accountability and justice.
If you are white, please start looking to the examples of radical, anti-racist white people who put their literal lives on the line to challenge systemic and individual white supremacy and racism. Ask yourselves, “What would John Brown do? What would Anne Braden do?” If you do not know who they are, investigate.
I wholeheartedly believe in non-violence and yet, I am enraged, distraught, and bereft. I am TERRIFIED of the ravages of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, the police state, as I am TERRIFIED of other forms of death-dealing oppression destroying #ameriKKKa from within. They include but are not limited to patriarchy, misogynoir, rape culture, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, audism, classism, anti (Brown and Black)-immigrant sentiment and more. Too many of us are not safe anywhere — in white supremacist society or in our homes.
I don’t have answers or solutions. All I know is that we must eradicate all of it. Our lives depend on it. No one is free while others are oppressed.
Modibo Kadalie: For me, direct democracy is an evolving social vision. My ideas, just like anyone else’s, are always developing. In the 1960s and early 1970s, I saw myself as someone who understood race and class, and the dynamics of each, and I was toying with the question of labor and its role in society. The most perplexing question for me, however, was the role of the state. My only political vision at that point in my life was that of a socialist nation-state ruled by the working class, which is what most Marxists desired at that time. This state socialism was supposed to represent the next stage of human social and economic development. Of course, this nation-state was supposed to be large and highly centralized, like the kind we saw in the USSR or China then. And part of that vision was a conception of nationalism that coincided with the emergence of the postcolonial, third world states.
Obviously I no longer hold many of the views that I held then because eventually I began to see that these big, massive, bulky nation-states were contributing to the problem of social oppression, and the emerging postcolonial nation-states of Africa, the Caribbean, and elsewhere in the third world were not solving any problems for their own people. So I started to look at more localized and directly democratic conceptions of socialism, and more intimate forms of democracy, where people could look at themselves and each other, face-to-face, and solve their problems collectively. That’s direct democracy to me. I began to see how that tradition was long established in many places around the world, but it was not being recorded.
Direct democracy is also meaningless, though, without a clear understanding of social ecology. We must take to heart all the implications of the assertion articulated by [social anarchist and theorist] Murray Bookchin that, to paraphrase, “there is a social crisis at the basis of every ecological crisis” or “every ecological crisis is in reality a social crisis.” Consequently, ecological crises expose social crises. It follows that societies that are organized hierarchically and based on for-profit markets cannot solve or even adequately address any ecological crisis. What is more intimate and integral to our lives and future, after all, than the directly democratic control over our immediate environment and living space? That’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat!
We must learn to democratically control the spaces that we inhabit, to expand and take responsibility for them. We can no longer afford to allow others to do this for us. We must learn to do this for ourselves in concert with our neighbors and other communities, which can happen through directly democratic town hall meetings, assemblies, and other popular forums that are empowered to make decisions.
Andrew Zonneveld: Would you say this was a gradual or dramatic shift in thinking for you?
Modibo: It was dramatic because I also started to see that the people who were articulating the postcolonial vision really did not understand the future of the world. Their ideals were driven more by political expediency than by real critical analysis of the situation. I began to see that the politics they were articulating was also self-perpetuating, since everyone was a part of various Marxist parties and other organizations, none of which seemed to be contributing much insight to the new problems and contradictions that were emerging.
There were two important questions that were not dealt with by these institutions. First was the question of gender and women’s liberation. Second was the ecological question, which was largely ignored by many people in these movements. There were struggles against nuclear proliferation at the time, however; for me, that’s where I saw the modern ecological movement begin. But ecology did not come into play in most people’s analysis of capitalism, racism, or colonialism back then. There were no debates or conversations about it at the time, as far as I could see….
[T]hat’s where I began to see the relationship between direct democracy and social ecology. I saw direct democracy as the way toward a decentralized, localized, federated type of socialism, and came to the conclusion that in order to understand democracy in its fullest dimension, we also have to understand social ecology. When Bookchin advanced the idea that human society was a part of the natural world, since it was created by human beings as they evolved, that was helpful for me. That is to say, the question of how humans relate to the rest of the natural world must be incorporated into how we understand the future of labor, race, sex, and class. So my vision of direct democracy and social ecology evolved in a symbiotic relationship with one another. A directly democratic vision of social prog ress involves a social ecology and direct democracy where people are engaged in a process of healing with the earth, as both have been scarred by capitalism. Of course, there was certainly ecological destruction prior to capitalism, but there’s really nothing like capitalism when it comes to ecological degradation and catastrophe. The scale is so massive that it’s almost hard to comprehend.
As its subtitle implies, Eclipse of Dreams: The Undocumented-Led Struggle for Freedom, which we published earlier this month, is about the experiences of undocumented immigrants as well as what those experiences have to teach us about all struggles for liberation and justice. The following excerpt from the book’s “Prelude” section shares a central epiphany that informs the book: the realization that legislative battles—in this case the fight for the DREAM Act—can derail social movements, to the extent that they wind-up advocating for things that undermine families, communities, and the movements themselves.
The morning for the important vote on the DREAM finally came. By 9:00 a.m. the Senate gallery was largely full. The Senate was called to order and then a prayer was offered for wisdom for our legislators, that they would be “turned away from false solutions.” Two hours passed as senators took turns speaking to either the DREAM Act or the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act. We listened to people with fears of illegals crossing our borders, calling this bill “amnesty” and a reward for criminal behavior. Others pleaded on behalf of the DREAMers, explaining that it was through “no fault of their own” that they were in the U.S. without papers. As we heard the voices of supposed support some of us cringed in our seats. If the DREAMers were not at fault, then who is to blame? Our parents? The case for the DREAM Act was made by painting a picture of DREAMers as model citizens deserving of a path toward legalization. Supporters described DREAMers’ potential to add to the U.S. economy through their hard work. They said that DREAMers “played by the rules and only want to achieve the American Dream.” Senator Durbin pointed to the Senate gallery and made a case for the DREAM Act by telling those present, look, “they are valedictorians, captains of teams, leaders of their communities … possessing high GPAs, sciences degrees … why would you deny them a chance to make America a better place?”
Two and a half hours after the Senate was called to order, at 11:31 a.m., the chair reminded the gallery that “expressions of approval or disapproval are not permitted.” Around the gallery we all held each other’s hands. The fate of the DREAM Act, our fate, was clear as we watched each Senator come forward to cast their vote, some very visibly with their thumbs down. “The motion is not agreed to.” The DREAM Act died, just five votes short of the sixty needed to advance the bill.
It was so close. There was a visible numbness among us, a shock that immediately gave way to tears and strong embraces across the gallery. What now—now that we witnessed this eclipse of dreams?
Some of us were physically present at the senate gallery other of us watched from afar. Together we experienced the euphoria of possibilities and the despair of disappointment.
Fighting with Our Own Shadows: Journeys of Faith
In other places and times, an eclipse warned of imminent danger, disaster, even the end of the world. The failure of the DREAM Act felt like this. Yet in the darkness of this moment, it did not take long to see a glimpse of light. Maybe, just maybe, the eclipse was a warning to us. What if our dreams, the very scope of our horizons, what we hoped for ourselves and others, was limited by the framework in which we expressed them, the American Dream itself? What if, out of our real pain and desire for freedom, we had become pawns in a system where freedom is an illusion? Did we lose track of our ends and compromise our means because of this dream framework? What if United We Dream and the political-economic power behind those that claimed to represent us under a united dream were never united and confused dreams with lies? What if, from the outset, our framing of the issue, our struggle for freedom was itself problematic? In the darkness, we began to realize that the search for a solution to the immigration problem, when mired in the rationale of the American Dream, was part of the problem.
As we asked ourselves these questions and contemplated the end of our world, the end of the dream, we began to follow the light that we had found in our own lives and the love within our community and shared struggle for freedom. We began to understand the lives and choices of our parents as filled with dignity and courage. Instead of blaming them, we praised them for their faith to risk everything for their children. And now that darkness eclipsed our personal dreams, we saw the absurdity of what W.E.B. Du Bois described as the “strong man,” the DREAMer, “fighting to be free in order that another people should not be free.” We were beginning to see that the dream for collective freedom and the dignity of all humanity was not only a greater dream but one in conflict with the American Dream.
What passed as an eclipse was possibly a reminder that what was lost, had it been won, might have truly destroyed us. We might have won our access to the American Dream, at the expense of the greater struggle for our freedom. “Uncle” Vincent Harding would later tell us that it was lazy journalists and historians who had framed what was a Black-led struggle for freedom as a “civil rights” movement, attempting to squeeze something vast into a legislative straitjacket. Similarly, Michelle Alexander challenged us to consider what was lost, when we celebrated the granting of certain civil rights by embracing a politics of respectability.
We were reminded of what we were learning in the dark when President Barack Obama spoke to the nation just a month after the DREAM Act’s defeat, saying, “Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents … as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense … let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.”
For the “strong man,” the perfect Dreamer, to gain rights meant that the bad Dreamer was deportable and, further, that the “illegal” dreams of the perfect Dreamer’s parents were worthless. We began to see that the criteria for the DREAM Act re-inscribed and re-enforced race and class barriers to inclusion in this society. The DREAM Act would bar the rest of the undocumented community from becoming free. The American Dream came with great costs.
We continue to search for light and discover hope in the darkness. James Baldwin may best describe what we learned: “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free—he has set himself free—for higher dreams, for greater privileges.” This greater privilege is the struggle for our collective freedom, for our collective humanity, for our collective dignity. Du Bois warned us that the great tragedy of our time for undocumented families, for this nation and the world, is not poverty, wickedness, or ignorance, but that humans know so little of humanity.
In the next pages, we invite you to learn about our journeys through the darkness as we search for light after the eclipse of dreams; to learn, through our stories of struggle and fear, of living “illegal,” a little more about what it means to be human, to discover dignity, and what it might mean to shed light on our global humanity.
—Claudia Muñoz, Fidel Castro Rodriguez, Marco Saavedra, Mariela Nuñez-Janes, Pedro Santiago Martinez, Stephen Pavey
You can purchase a copy of Eclipse of Dreams: The Undocumented-Led Struggle for Freedomhere.
In this time of pandemic and quarantine, there is power in exploring the ways that past generations have confronted rising tides of fascism and crisis. For 100 years, communists, socialists, anarchists, anti-colonialists, and other revolutionaries have made films that attempt to intervene in their moment, to not just tell stories, but lift up silenced voices and imagine better futures. Together, they form an underground history of the 20th and 21st centuries. The films in this list were made by radical and visionary artists; many of them wanted to both overthrow capitalism and transform cinema.
Many on this list ride the border between documentary and fiction, lifting up real people and stories. Often these films cast activists instead of professional actors, with people engaged in social movements playing some version of themselves — even in the science fiction films. These filmmakers also avoid traditional storytelling cliches. Instead of a single protagonists’ “hero’s journey”, they focus on mass movements, showing history shaped by collective effort. In this way, their structure challenges the so-called “Great Man Theory of History”, showing that change is made by community, and all of our stories and fates are interconnected. Seeking a revolutionary process, some of the films are made collectively as well, avoiding a single auteur.
If you see any of these and want more, I’ve also included “further viewing,” additional films by the same filmmaker, or along similar themes.
Together this list spans nearly a hundred years of filmmaking, from 1925 to 2019, on six continents. Even so, this is far from an exhaustive list of every radical film ever made. But it does include films that changed my life. Please add your favorites that I missed in the comments.
Many of these films are accessible for free online, through the Kanopy streaming platform (which offers an incredible line-up of free movies for many library card holders), as well as on youtube, archive.org, vimeo, and other free or mostly free sites. You can also find many of these films, and other brilliant work, on the Criterion streaming site.
1. Battle of Algiers — A favorite film of revolutionaries from Black Panthers to Irish Republican Army members to Palestinian freedom fighters, The Battle of Algiers is a classic of anti-colonialist cinema. Filmed in a style that deliberately blurs the boundaries of fiction and documentary, the film was written by Saadi Yacef, a leader of Algeria’s National Liberation Front (FLN), and shows that a colonial occupation cannot last, and repression breeds resistance. Yacef and at least one other former FLN member also act in the film. In addition, Jean Martin, who plays a French counterinsurgency officer, was a military veteran who had been outspoken in support of the Algierian freedom struggle. A member of the antifascist resistance in Italy during World War 2, Marxist director Gillo Pontecorvo made several other anti-colonialist films.
Further Viewing: Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf was a revolutionary teenager, imprisoned under the Shah for stabbing a police officer. The Islamic revolution released him from prison and made him a filmmaker. He later became critical of the Iranian clerics leading the country, defining himself as an existentialist and a feminist, and his 1996 film A Moment of Innocence is a critical reconstruction of his own youth, looking back at his own actions with the perspective of twenty years later, and in cooperation with the policeman he stabbed.
2. Born in Flames — Lizzie Borden’s first film, released in 1983, takes place in a near future under a democratic socialist government in the United States. The film follows militant cells of women, mostly lesbians and women of color, who find that the new socialist government has not addressed the problems of patriarchy and racism, and decide to form a women’s army to struggle for an intersectional revolution within the socialist revolution. Nearly forty years later, Born in Flames still feels bold and visionary. The characters in the film embrace a class and race-conscious revolutionary feminism inspired by the Combahee River Collective.
Further Viewing: Borden’s second film, 1986’s Working Girls, is a vérité–style fictional look inside the life of women working in a Manhattan brothel. It still stands today as one of the most non-sensational filmed depictions of sex work.
3. Land and Freedom — The Spanish Civil War is a key moment in revolutionary history. Idealistic revolutionaries from around the world risked their lives to travel to Spain to join with anarchist, socialist and communist militias to fight fascism. British socialist director Ken Loach’s 1995 film, loosely inspired by George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, is the best film about this period, a moving portrayal of liberatory spirit, based in the form and ideas of social realist cinema. A central scene in the film features villagers and militia members discussing whether or not collectivise their land. Land and Freedom immerses the viewer in a discussion that most films would avoid, showing how political differences can have deep implications. As an example of the films’ realist style, the scene features local residents of the village playing themselves, speaking their own beliefs.
Further Viewing: Loach has directed 24 features about the lives and struggles of the working class, including last year’s powerful Sorry We Missed You, about the lives of gig economy workers.
4. Punishment Park — Peter Watkins’ dystopian science fiction film was made in 1971, but still feels fresh and relevant today. In a near future, dissidents and activists are rounded up, imprisoned and sentenced to a mysterious “punishment park.” The prisoners trying to survive divide into groups along the political spectrum from militant to pacifist, and their differing politics lead them to different strategies for survival. The cast is made up of actual anti-war protestors, activists, and former prisoners, who draw upon their own views, experiences and ideas to create the mostly-improvised dialogue.
Further Viewing: Filmmaker Peter Watkins continued to experiment and explore revolution throughout his career. His 2000 film La Commune (Paris 1871) is anarchist, experimental and totally unique.
Political prisoners have a lot of experience with forms of social isolation much worse than most people will experience—it’s how the state tries to break them. Here’s a piece by anarchist prisoner Sean Swain talking about how he stays whole. It originally appeared on Sean’s website and you can hear him deliver it aloud on his regular segment on The Final Straw Radio.
The latest concern that folks are expressing during this zombie apocalypse is their inability to cope with isolation and quarantine. We’re just a few weeks into this thing and already folks are going a little bonkers. This is strange to me, given that I’ve spent years at a time in total and complete isolation. It’s almost hard for me to fathom that someone wouldn’t know how to cope in such an environment. So, this week is going to be something of an instructional video – only, without the video, and maybe not very instructive.
OK, first things first. You gotta stay mentally organized, and staying mentally organized means living in a way that’s organized. You need a routine. Routine is key to long-term segregation. You want to get up in the morning at the same time. Set an alarm. Get up, get out of bed, make the bed. It doesn’t matter that you have nowhere to go. It doesn’t matter that you’re not leaving that living space. You get up at the same time and you make the bed, because the sleeping period is over. Create for yourself set times for eating your meals, or a small range of times for those meals to happen in. Set a time for showering or bathing and personal grooming. It doesn’t matter that you’re not going anywhere.
Laying in bed all day in the same sweater and underwear from last Tuesday is not mental organization. It’s surrender. Yes, I’m talking to you. No, you, there. Yes, the one in the sweater and the underwear. Right.
Break up your day into chunks. Fill those chunks with activity. Maybe you like to read. Designate a period of your day for reading. Designate another part of your day for writing, another part for skyping and twitter and social interaction. Doing this gives you routine, but it also gives you benchmarks as you travel through your day. You can say to yourself “I’ve gotten this done, at such-and-such a time, it’s time to do X.” You are now doing your time, your time is not doing you.
Your time will move faster, you’ll get more accomplished. Which brings me to my next point: accomplishing. Each day will bring you multiple opportunities to fulfill goals. Get something written. Get something read. Go a certain time on your stationary bike. Dispose of the body of that annoying next-door neighbor… former neighbor. Just kidding. Don’t kill your neighbor. There are security cameras everywhere. I digress.
The thing is: each day you meet some small goal, then another, then another. You take in calories, you move from activity to activity. Most importantly: you survive. Each day you end still breathing is a mission accomplished. You’re not just writing emails or riding your stationary bike, you’re fighting for your very survival, albeit in a mundane kind of way.
Physical exercise. The human body is a machine made for motion. So move. My captivity workout, I do sets of push-ups, crunches and squats, one set after another. It works major muscle groups, gets my heart pumping, gets me sucking oxygen, and helps me to think more clearly. It allows me to release tension. Now more than ever, that’s important, not just for your survival, but for the survival of your annoying neighbor. So get exercise and whenever possible, in a way that’s safe, try to get an hour of direct sunlight outdoors. Go outside and breathe deeply and feel sunlight on your face. It matters.
Now, if you’re all alone, you can organize your day any way that you want. You can modify your routine at will until it works for you. But if you’re not alone, you have to synthesize your routine with the lives of those around you. Urge them to adopt a routine. Socially, it helps keep the peace. You know what other people are doing at given chunks of the day, and they know what you’re doing. You want periods of solitude and periods of social interaction, time set aside for your own projects and time for collective and communal activities.
Through the course of this, you’re going to experience heightened anxiety. It’s easy to dwell on your own situation and let the worry spiral out of control. It’s easy. We all do it. So what you do, to get out of that spiral, you focus on the struggle of someone else. Get out of your own head. Contribute to someone else’s plight. This isn’t just some Mother Theresa kumbaya crap. It’s not just some virtuous selflessness. It’s a selfish act. It’s motivated by your desire to further your own survival. If you get out of your own head and help someone, you’re exiting that spiral of anxiety.
Some other tips: While it’s good to do some planning for the future, force yourself to stay grounded in the now. Daydreaming about when this is over just makes the now suck worse. A little of that can go a long way. Also, be realistic about how long this is. Don’t wake up every day thinking that we’re all going to pour out into the streets like some flashmob dance routine. It ain’t happening, probably for months. So get yourself into a comfortable routine, for months. This is your reality. It is what it is. Also, when that reality feels overwhelming, remind yourself that this is just temporary. It will pass. Even if it takes months, it doesn’t take forever. Nothing is forever.
Don’t forget, however bad you’ve got it, others less capable than you have gotten through longer chunks of time in far worse conditions. I did a year with virtually nothing, on starvation rations, with very little soap, locked in a space the size of a bathroom with another poor bastard. We were both idiots, and yet we both survived. You will too.
Resolve to survive this. Walk around your living space. Tell the walls: “You won’t defeat me.” Tell your couch: “You won’t defeat me.” Tell all your furnishings: “You won’t defeat me.” Then look in the mirror and tell yourself: “This won’t defeat me.” And mean it.
You have two choices, flat-out. You can survive this, or you can sit down on the curb, and sooner or later the dogs and the birds will eat you. It’s your choice. I’ve made my choice. Hope I see you on the other side of this shit.
This is anarchist prisoner Sean Swain in exile from Ohio at Buckingham Correctional in Dillwyn, Virginia. If you’re surviving, you are the resistance.