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Introducing: Lessons In Liberation—An Abolitionist Toolkit For Educators

Posted on July 15th, 2021 in AK Book Excerpts

Featuring: An excerpt by abolitionist educator Sagnicthe Salazar

Just in time for the back-to-school season, Lessons In Liberation: An Abolitionist Toolkit For Educators, a resource that establishes foundational knowledge on incorporating abolition and liberation in, by, and through our education system, will be available this September. You can preorder your copy now!

Lessons In Liberation is a collaborative work, a labor of patience and love, and more than five years in the making with contributors including but not limited to Education For Liberation Network, Critical Resistance, Black Organizing Project, Chicago Women’s Health Center, Mariame Kaba and the MILPA Collective, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, Bettina L. Love, and so many more.

This reader is essential for teachers, organizers, parents, students—and pretty much anyone interested in increasing the reach of abolitionist ideas. It consists of a collection of tools and essays from a variety of abolitionist organizers, healers, and educators who have done and continue to do the work: effectively illustrating and breaking down the endless possibilities of intentional liberation and collective abolitionist movement. Each contributor emphasizes how it is crucial to support our communities, our youth and young people, and our educators with the political vision of a shared goal in mind—to eliminate all forms of policing and creating a sustainable world for us all. It is both deeply understood and conveyed that the role that the education system as we know it feeds and sustains carceral punishment and prison industrial complex in all its forms. Despite this, we know that another world is possible.

Lessons In Liberation is structured in three parts: Openings And Groundings, Everyday in Every Way, and Growing Our Work. In each, the book examines the varying yet interconnected ways of building our analysis, knowledge, and power.

Lessons In Liberation is a love letter to all those who came before, as well as those who will grow, learn, and unlearn as a result of that radical love.

Beyond Resistance by Ashley Lukashevsky

View the full table of contents here.

Reflections from a Dean of Transformative Discipline: What Abolitionist Education Means to Me

by Sagnicthe Salazar
(an excerpt from the book Lessons in Liberation)

A part of our job as abolitionist educators is to break the system that is working perfectly well as a tentacle of imperialism that needs the prison industrial complex for its ongoing success.

As teachers, we must break that system and break the hegemonic notion that Black and Brown bodies are naturally inclined to crime or to violence. We must break the myth that Black and Brown bodies don’t value education. We must end the idea that Black and Brown bodies engage in activities that require cops, prisons, policing, or detention centers.

Once we break with these ideas, we must begin to talk as a school system, as educators, with young people and with our families about safety: Safety from what? For whom? How do we keep our folks safe from poverty? How do we keep our folks safe from houselessness, joblessness, from food deserts, from the perpetual stress that they live with on a day-to-day basis with these helicopters circling overhead, and having to fight for basic necessities that should be human rights?

Talking about these questions together helps to illuminate other crucial threads: there’s a reason why there’s so many Black and Brown folks in homeless encampments and prisons. There’s a reason why the number of Black and Brown bodies being killed by police is so high. There’s a reason why white supremacists march down the street, feeling all fine and dandy while our folks can’t even breathe. Building a thread between those things—why our people are dying in prisons and dying in poverty—helps us to begin to see the crucial need to also heal.

Business as usual won’t help.

This reality has impacted our bodies for hundreds of years, for generations. We need to be able to talk about what’s happening with our children, with our teachers, in our schools. We must take a pause and actually engage around what is happening and have a conversation with each other about our material conditions. And we need to think, talk, feel, and dream: what does it mean to have a world without police, without prisons?

The education system has worked so goddamn well that our babies, our families, our folks tend to be the most punitive people, because we’ve internalized the state’s line and we have internalized the belief that we need to hurt people that hurt us. We need to punish. What to do when someone breaks a class agreement or gets into a fight? Often we are the first to say suspend, expel, punish—all these things. We haven’t given our children, our families, our communities an opportunity to dream of something different. If punishment is all you know, then you can’t begin to do the work to build something different. And so, first and foremost, we need to create the space to say it is possible; let’s dream of what is, and how it is, possible.

This isn’t a new movement. Let’s give credit to the people who are doing this work already. In the Bay Area some schools have been mobilizing to not have cops in schools, not have security guards, not have JROTC. These organizations—particularly the young people in them—are doing the overt work of removing the prison state from our schools. This work is crucial, but often we’re missing the work of challenging and dismantling the many ways—often more covert—in which communities and also schools devalue humans, and particularly Black and Brown bodies. We devalue children, perpetuate isolation and punishment, and make some of our children disposable. How do we recognize and challenge how our families replicate these systems? The deep work within is to shift our thought process so that we actually value life and breathe life into the building through our practices towards every warm body in the school building, from teachers to students to families to administrators.

One of the things that we do at our school, every time that we look at our data, is look at the racial disproportionality: Is the number of students that are having disciplinary issues proportional to our population? And often, we see that that’s not the case. So we got to go back to the drawing board and think about and question: How are we replicating the system? How are we devaluing life, and how can we breathe life through the day-to-day systems?

As a Dean of Discipline, and in my particular role as Dean of Transformative Discipline, I also like to share with folks that being an abolitionist educator is also about having both super high expectations and also zero tolerance for hurting each other. Our children, our communities, have infinite capacity to meet our high expectations. To have zero tolerance for hurting each other means that we need to hold a high line that leads towards love, towards care, towards compassion. When a student or an adult kind of goes past that line, how do we actually walk with them with support? How do we actually bring that loving care that we want them to reverberate in building, and how do we have consistent practices to show that love to each other? How do we want people to relate to each other in their day-to-day, so that when they’re outside the school walls they are relating in a way where love reverberates? A part of our practices needs to be to have zero tolerance for hurting each other, and we can get there through showing consistent intense love and the true valuing of each other’s lives.

Introducing: Intersectional Class Struggle by Michael Beyea Reagan

Posted on July 14th, 2021 in AK Book Excerpts

Featuring an excerpt from the first chapter.

Recently released in collaboration with the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS), Intersectional Class Struggle: Theory and Practice by Michael Beyea Reagan is a study on the diverse experiences of working-class people. He answers questions that come into play when we think about class: 

What is class? 

Why is it often connected to conflict and struggle? 

What is the working class? 

Why are class analysis and movements of the working class seeing a resurgence right now?

Reagan articulates that in light of Trump’s election and in the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the core problems of discussing class was the inability to easily define it. But the corrective that is offered and explored in depth is the concept of intersectionality, and the idea that social factors including race, class, gender, immigration, and disability colonialism must all be considered in how we analyze and understand class. This book presents concepts of racial capitalism, the experiences of farmworkers, factory workers, Black feminist thought, and how they apply to popular movements, as well as our ever-evolving understanding of class struggle. 

It is not a coincidence that the freedom struggle for Black Americans has fueled other movements in the nineteenth century, such as labor, women’s liberation, and Indigenous sovereignty. Reagan points out that the concept of self-emancipation is often credited to white thinkers. While this is only one of the ways that white supremacy distorts society’s perspective on radical history, it also conveys that liberation movements seep into one another. 

While Intersectional Class Struggle offers a thoughtful analysis and historical approach on intersectionality, the book serves as a tool for society — to restore a tradition of liberation and self-emancipation. Collectively, the working class consists of teachers, laborers, office workers, homemakers, parents, victims of systemic oppression, refugees, and migrants. 

Together, the working class must create a better world free from exploitation and oppression.

Nobody will free us but ourselves. 



An excerpt from Chapter 1 of Intersectional Class Struggle: “Experience”

“Like slaves.” That’s how Jessie de la Cruz remembers their time as an agricultural worker in California’s San Joaquin Valley in the early part of the twentieth century. “The farmers treated the horses and the cows . . . better than the farmworkers,” de la Cruz said. “At least they had shelter . . . but the farmworkers, we lived under the trees.” 

Then, as now, agricultural workers faced difficult and dehumanizing conditions. Paid by the piece, the volume of crop they harvested, workers like de la Cruz moved at a frenzied pace to collect as much as possible. At a penny a pound, on a very good day, harvesting 200 pounds of cotton, a worker could hope to bring in $2.00. The piece-rate system “acted as a built-in speed-up mechanism” compelling workers to move faster and faster, despite cracked and bleeding hands, stooped backs with deep aches, blisters, sun stroke, dehydration, and other limits from one’s body. It was no accident that Central Valley farms were known as “factories in the field.” Farmworkers and their families, who often worked in the fields together, lived in labor camps that lacked “beds, ovens, toilets, showers and running water.” Belén Flores remembered, “We suffered a lot, working in the camps.”

Luis Lima, another farmworker and labor organizer, framed their conditions as part of the system of capitalism: “All of the companies that were here in the San Joaquin Valley were strong companies that were protected by Wall Street. Only the people in charge here and the landowners—these were the ones who had the power. And so we got nothing . . . You were a voluntary slave. Around here, we meant nothing to the ranchers.” “Voluntary slaves” or “like slaves”; the metaphor these workers used to define their own conditions, slavery, is commonly used by wage workers. Cotton has a long history with slavery, of course. It was the primary crop American slavery produced in the nineteenth century. But this was not nineteenth-century chattel slavery, this was something different, a new kind of labor, with new kinds of workers and new class relations. Capitalism and wages were producing new forms of exploitation, new classes, and new sites of struggle that were in some ways comparable to slavery.

The voices of de la Cruz, Flores, and Lima reflect a collective experience, a class consciousness, that is both specific to their circumstances and transcends their particular moment in the history of working-class struggle. Myriad factors all shaped their understanding of the class-structured society in which they struggled for dignity, recognition, and a better life. These factors included experiences of exploitation, racism, and violence on the job; ethnicity, immigration status, and labor militancy; the impact of transnational companies; and their own personal experiences, ideas, and aspirations. This intersection—of material factors made from social structures and working conditions, and cultural or ideological factors made from experiences and identities—is the foundation of class. With other voices, their class analysis shares a critique of capitalist labor regimes as a form of slavery and in some instances it has been the foundation of an emancipatory movement, part of a larger project of human emancipation from exploitation and oppression. 

This chapter and the next explore the insights and consciousness of workers themselves as they came to understand modern capitalism and class society. The very first industrial workers in Britain and the United States developed a penetrating anti-capitalist movement that placed waged exploitation and property ownership at the heart of their critique. In the American context, industrial work regimes resembled slavery in the loss of control of our labor, so much so that wage labor was debated as a form of slavery in the early abolitionist press. Wages carried a twofold curse similar to the American slave system: a careful accounting to maximize the exploitation of laborers, and racism and racial divisions designed to make class solidarities more difficult. In fact, as the theorist Cedric Robinson points out, tensions between English and Irish workers made race a crucial part of class formation in every context; he argues that race is always co- formed with class. From its very foundation then, capitalism created racial processes of class formation. 

In addition to race, women’s role as workers and members of the working class adds further complexity to the totality of class. Women were the first industrial labor force in the United States. Their double exploitation as women and workers led them to develop a form of class militancy, expressed in the identity of the “factory girl” that simultaneously challenged capitalism and patriarchy and created an early working-class feminism. Women excluded from the workforce were still part of the working class in the form of exploited “reproductive labor” that allowed profitable accumulation to continue; in fact, their unpaid labor greatly contributed to the profit-making process. They came to see capitalism and patriarchy as mutually reinforcing systems of control that needed to be struggled against holistically. Here capitalism and class emerge in the experiences and articulations of working-class women as co-formed with patriarchy and gender constructions. 

It must be noted here, in these two chapters, that we analytically make distinctions between gender constructions of class versus ones based on race or property. But these divisions are abstractions meant to elucidate aspects of class and class formation for didactic purposes. Even though we start with English male workers, they are being “racialized” and gendered by the same material and cultural factors as are women, Black workers, and other workers of color. Therefore, racial formation for white male workers is just as much a phenomenon as it is for racialized “others,” as we’ll explore later in this book. Another factor we’ll explore later is the concept of social “totality,” that all these factors come together to make a complementary whole of capitalism, race, gender, and class, even though we separate them here for the purposes of explanation. This totality is reflected in people’s lived experiences, in which they commonly make these connections on their own in their critique of the totality of capitalism. It is difficult, however, to express this totality in writing without abstracting so that we can more easily explore the component parts. 

Given this diversity, all these workers faced very different circumstances and developed their own particular, intersectional varieties of class consciousness. But they also encountered similar systems— capital—that gave elements of their experiences a shared core experience—class—despite their differences. One part of that shared experience was the institution of the wage. Workers came to see wages as fundamentally antithetical to human freedom. Held within the wage was a “permanent antagonism,” a conflict between workers’ wages and employers’ profits. At the root of this conflict was property. For employers who controlled property, its ownership did not come from a just division of work and responsibility but a relationship of power that kept workers from seeing the full return of their labor. Through wages and property, owners were able to extract profits, to the detriment of working people. This was a system somewhat like slavery in its compulsion of laborers who were not fully compensated for the wealth they created. As more people encountered capitalism and wages, the dissatisfaction with wages was developed into a systematic critique. It was not just wages and property that was injurious but the whole system of capitalism and its core supports in racism and patriarchy. 

Why We Fight: An Interview with Shane Burley

Posted on April 21st, 2021 in AK Authors!, Recommended Reading

We’re very excited to have just released Shane Burley’s Why We Fight: Essays on Fascism, Resistance, and Surviving the Apocalypse, an essential book for mapping the past, present, and future of resistance in this country. We asked Shane a few questions about the book (and beyond). See what he has to say, and then get a copy for yourself here.

1) You’re a voracious reader. What are five books we should be reading alongside Why We Fight to help us understand the current moment?

That’s a really good question. I would start with a great recent book from AK Press called There’s Nothing So Whole as a Broken Heart, an anthology of Jewish anarchism edited by Cindy Milstein which I feel like shares a spiritual bond with my book. Then I would add Culture Warlords by Talia Lavin, which was the best book on the subject out last year and one of the best ever written on the far-right. I would also add Vicky Osterweil’s book In Defense of Looting, which is a groundbreaking look at the ecstatic piece of protest movements, which is a critical part not just of them achieving gains but of opening up a space of freedom. William C. Anderson and Zoé Samudzi’s As Black as Resistance is basically always on my mind these past few years, it had a huge influence on the way I think about all forms of resistance. And of a completely different world, I’ve been really enjoying Judaism for the World by Rabbi Arthur Green, who is this sort of seminal figure in neo-hasidism and whose work I just devoured while writing this book. I also have piles of fiction that are, again, a completely different universe, so I’ll save those for another list.

2) You have a fascinating essay in Why We Fight called “How Racists Dream: Metapolitics and Fascist Publishing.” Metapolitics seeks to change the way people think on a cultural level engaging, as you say, “paths of identity, morality, values, nostalgia, [and] relationships” as a means to prime the pump, so to speak, for eventual political change. In recent years people have mainly come in contact with fascist metapolitics through online culture and social media. What are the best ways to counter fascist metapolitics and in what ways can antifascists, those supporting trans rights and free gender expression, antiracists, and feminists make better use of the concept?

Part of this is to first actually engage in metapolitics, to bring our whole selves into artistic, cultural, and spiritual spaces, and to see them as a terrain of struggle. These often get sidelined from what is “properly political” in that they really aren’t forward facing, they aren’t necessarily a piece of a mass movement, and it is difficult to see material “gains” as you would in a traditional organizing campaign. Instead, it helps to address these issues as they intersect holistically, how they define our sense of self and the way we explore meaning. To do this I think we should encourage radical art, music, and spiritual formations for what they are: incredible pathways to human creativity and subjectivity but also aiders and abettors of revolution. Material conditions only go so far, we also have to pair on-the-ground organizing with shifts in ideological frameworks. Those have to work in tandem. And we can’t always just see our lives as part of an instrumentalist struggle, we have to see our future world as pieced together with other types of work—cultural and spiritual work—because those are the things that can give us the wholeness necessary to have a life worth living.

Second, those are contested spaces as well. Inside of subcultures, whether music or religious or otherwise, you will often find people fighting for a type of ideological hegemony. Many ostensibly left or anarchist subcultures found themselves beset by actual Nazis in the 1970s–80s as there was a clash of the far-right and the far-left inside punk rock. The choice was whether or not to leave that space and cede it to the far-right or to fight inside of it, to make it antiracist hegemonic, and to boot out the fascists. This is happening in musical, artistic, spiritual, and other subcultures all around the world right now, such as in black metal, neofolk, or pagan groups. People are fighting to push out the presence of the far-right, which is building a metapolitic of its own, and replace their ideas with a more liberatory vision. This is a critically important piece to antifascism and prefiguration, and it should not be ignored in favor of just one particular style of organizing.

So we need to push them out, and we need to build our own. If we don’t have a world we are building then antifascism is simply an incomplete process, we have to fill the void with ourselves.

3) The internet, airwaves, and TV are bringing white nationalist talking points into people’s homes. There’s a mainstreaming of fascist and fascist-adjacent ideas at a time of increasing adherence to unhinged conspiracy theories. To what degree do you see distinctions or growing similarities between contemporary fascists, conservatives of the MAGA ilk, and those falling into the conspiracy theory trap?

There is crossover for sure, but what is happening is not really in line with what a lot of antifascists have dealt with. Antifascism, like most social movements, is best when it’s focused on what it does well. While those in the group are likely ideologically opposed to everyone on the political Right, they specifically are going after open fascists and those on the far-right who present a unique threat beyond the beltway, more establishment Right. They may go after the GOP in other ways and other issues but antifascists are confronting a particular type of dissident Rightist politic.

Those divisions have broken down as the fringes have entered the center, and white nationalism has seen major buy-in from the GOP. The notion that “antifa attacks conservatives” comes merely from the fact that fascist and allied people are welcome inside of Republican spaces now, so naturally the antifascists are engaging with people who traditionally would not have interfaced with them. White nationalist ideas are now common in sectors of the Right, particularly around immigration, and antisemitic and other conspiracy theories are a defining feature of the GOP.

The GOP is still not synonymous with something like the National Socialist Movement, but there is heavy crossover. There always has been this crossover, more or less, at different points, but we are living at a particularly egregious point in this and GOP gatekeepers are unwilling, or unable, to close the gates. So now the differences are largely in how self-aware and honest these people are: are they going to be clear that they are fighting for a white ethnostate, or are they hiding behind talking points and civic nationalism? We will continue to see this America First contingent in the Republican Party fighting for some type of hegemony. It has yet to take any kind of majority but with the rest of the party totally willing to placate them because they know that these conspiracy radicals are the source of their base’s energy, they have undue influence.

All of this to say that fascist organizations have seen some level of decline because of a mix of antifascist pressure and their own ineptitude (and a steady dose of deplatforming), but they have left a lasting imprint on American politics that will be hard to undo. And it is important to know that even if they are fully pushed back under a rock, they will reappear because fascism is baked into our system of government, economics, and colonialism. Until we take a hard and radical look at the systems our society is built on we will never be able to take on fascism in a serious way.

4) You’ve been researching the far-right for some time and your work has been closely associated with the antifascist movement’s intellectual and strategic development as of late. In hindsight—aside from the many victories—do you see any particular missteps or missed opportunities that have been made in the last five years in building a movement against fascism?

There has been a massive growth in antifascism from all types of people, organizations, and communities, which creates a real ideological and tactical diversity, which is great and necessary. There has been less connection between a lot of these groups and older, more experienced antifascists to provide any kind of direction and mentorship. One thing that marks many older antifascist groups is their commitment to unquestionable accuracy and tactical efficiency. When they publish information, it is ironclad, and that info goes along with a campaign that applies particular types of pressure to see particular types of victories. They do not, for example, just do mass dumps of info on random people out of context because that does not necessarily lead to the results they want. So I think one thing that is missing in some cases is that connection to historical memory, though I am often surprised by how wonderful new people and organizations are and the incredible innovation they bring.

I think all social movements sometimes have missed opportunities. I hope to see even more coalition building and collaboration, and to build alliances between groups doing mutual aid work, fighting police violence, and antifascist organizations. Integration and collaboration is what is most needed because none of the dire features of our current situation are independent from one another, and we need to be aware of these different responses and to collaborate with each other. We cannot reproduce social movements without having our needs met, which is why mutual aid is critical. And we can’t really confront the effects of the far-right without also looking at the epidemic of racist police killings. We also need to stand with unions and workers organizing, against ecological destruction, to block evictions, to work in solidarity with international liberation movements; all of these are pieces of a larger puzzle, and so I think it is important that, while focusing on what we are best at, we find ways of being a part of this larger matrix.

5) Antisemitism is a subject you’ve been researching and writing about quite a bit in recent years and you’ve included an original essay in Why We Fight called “The Continuing Appeal of Antisemitism.” How do we best raise the visibility of antisemitism in left, anarchist, and antiracist circles?

There’s a couple of things here that should change right off the bat. The first is to build a culture of trust so that when someone says they think that they are experiencing antisemitism, we believe them first. This is not the standard response on the left right now, partially because of disingenuous accusations coming from the right and pro-Israel groups, and also because of historic trends of antisemitism that still linger in some left spaces. Another is to recognize the severity of antisemitism, which often gets reduced to singular spectacular incidents of violence (like that at Or L’Simcha) or is downplayed. Antisemitism remains prevalent, including structurally, and so we need to not reduce our understanding of oppression to define it out of its marginalization. We have to see antisemitism. On top of this, we have to have a better understanding of what it actually is, which may be the toughest piece of this since its contours are confusing and complicated, have a lot of historical baggage, and have been intentionally confused by the right.

On the left, we need to have a hard line on conspiracy theories. Even when Jews are not explicitly named, most conspiracy theories have antisemitic foundations and play into antisemitic worldviews that reproduce underlying societal narratives about Jewishness. When confronting class, we need to not reduce important class antagonisms to just caricatured images, which often are constructed on hyperbolic images of “Jewish bankers” or other bigoted portrayals. Instead, we need to focus with more clarity on the systems of capital and the actual class that controls it, which cannot be reduced to Rothschilds or Soros or other types of shadowy cabals. When it comes to confronting Israel, we shouldn’t let anything stop us from the fight to free Palestinians from the violent occupation, yet we should take care to clarify our language, push out any lingering antisemitism, and hold it with complexity so as to not erase historical oppression and genocide against Jews. This is where this process becomes particularly disconcerting since Israeli groups regularly level accusations of antisemitism to deflect from the movement to confront that state’s crimes, so we have to undercut their behavior by taking antisemitism seriously on our own so they have no claim on that argumentation.

6) Resilience is a theme that crops up in your new book. You say that “tragedy … can be the story of our resistance.” As bad as things are we’re seeing a growing, multilayered movement addressing State violence, misinformation, the prison industrial complex, capitalism, gendered violence, and climate chaos. How hopeful can we be while mired in the shit?

Oh I’m very hopeful. I know people will think it’s funny since I just wrote a book about the apocalypse, but I’m filled with hope. My entire adult political life I have only seen a steady increase in organizing and revolutionary activity. I couldn’t have dreamed ten years ago we would have a mass militant movement against police violence, much less to see “antifa” become a household name. Mutual aid networks are growing all across the world, uprisings are happening on almost every continent, and the labor movement is seeing its biggest spike in fifty years. Yeah, things are really tough, from the collapsing economy to the devastated biosphere, but we have the energy to confront it. And we have all the tools to fix it. I used to be unsure if we actually had the ability to change things, but I now have a lot of faith. We won’t be able to just turn the ship around, it’s too late for that, but we can live in this crisis and build something better on the other side. I think by acknowledging that no one will do it for us, that no deus ex machina is coming, we can live in the present where a new society is the culmination of our acts of survival and resistance. That gives me a tremendous amount of hope. We are living in the middle of an inferno. We are living in the future.

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Armed Agitation! An excerpt from “Salvador Puig Antich: Collected Writings on Repression and Resistance in Franco’s Spain”

Posted on February 24th, 2021 in AK Book Excerpts, Recommended Reading

We recently published Salvador Puig Antich: Collected Writings on Repression and Resistance in Franco’s Spain, a book we’re very proud to have helped bring into the world. It uses the life and writings of Salvador Puig Antich as a doorway into an entire forgotten history of resistance to the authoritarian state. This uncovering in itself—the work of editor Ricard de Vargas Golarons and translator Peter Gelderloosis—is something to be proud of. But the book’s insights are not simply historical, they tackle questions of anarchist theory and strategy relevant to us today. Below is an excerpt from Peter’s Introduction to the book. You can purchase the book here: https://www.akpress.org/salvadorpuigantich.html.

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It was the Juventudes Libertarias (FIJL), the anarchist youth, who reanimated many of the neighborhood struggles starting already in 1939, when Franco came to power in the entirety of the Spanish state. Starting as teenagers, a generation of youth who had not served in the militias and had not emigrated to France launched a campaign of bold actions, including rescuing hundreds of radical prisoners awaiting execution in Franco’s concentration camps. Throughout the ’40s and ’50s, the FIJL would be at the forefront of the resistance, just as they had during the Civil War after the CNT’s conservative turn in ’36.

In the meantime, though, most of the anarchist movement was in exile in France, where World War II had broken out in earnest. Catalan, Spanish, and Basque anarchists were instrumental to the French resistance, helping organize the partisans and liberating cities like Tolosa (Toulouse). In 1945, unaware that the future NATO countries wished an alliance with Franco, they expected the Allies to continue and sweep the fascists out of power in Spain as well. When the democratic West let them down, the maquis, or guerrilla combatants, kept on fighting. The CNT organized itself in exile in Tolosa and hundreds of militants adapted their smuggling routes over the Pyrenees to support a guerrilla struggle in Catalunya. There were also important guerrilla movements in much of the rest of the Spanish state, though they did not attain the intensity and penetration of the movement in Catalunya.

The guerrillas supported strike actions by workers, spread anti-Franco propaganda, sabotaged capitalist infrastructure, and organized assassination attempts against police figures or Franco himself. A key precedent to the MIL and the OLLA, they continued the practice of “armed agitation,” developed by the anarchist affinity groups in the 1920s. “Armed agitation” is wholly different from the strategy of “armed struggle,” in which a specialized armed group acts as the vanguard of the movement by constituting the nucleus of a future army (e.g. Castro and the 26 July Movement), serving as the military wing of a clandestine political party (e.g. ETA [Euskadi Ta Askatasuna]), or by carrying out the most spectacular actions and using its position to attempt to influence and direct a mass movement (e.g. the Red Army Faction or the Weather Underground). On the contrary, the groups that carry out armed agitation understand themselves to be simply a part of a broader movement, increasing that movement’s capacity for communication, self-defense, and self-financing by organizing and funding clandestine printing, attacking the forces of repression, and expropriating money from capitalists to support the families of strikers, prisoners, and the victims of the police. They also seek to generalize their practice rather than centralize it, distributing weapons among the lower classes and encouraging the horizontal proliferation of armed groups.

A key example from this period helps illustrate the difference. On more than one occasion, a group of anarchist maquis would break into a factory to assault an infamously brutal manager. Whereas a vanguardist armed struggle group would assassinate the manager in such a circumstance, the maquis would strip the manager down in front of all the workers, perhaps beat and humiliate him a little, and loudly warn him, for all to hear, that if word got to them that he continued to be abusive, they would come back and kill him.

The former action creates a spectacle, turning the workers into passive spectators and instilling in them the clear message that the armed group were the protagonists, the saviors, the ones who would deliver the solution. And for any workers who disagreed, perhaps the only saviors were the police, since there is little use debating with one who is better armed than you and executes their opponents.

The latter action, however, maintains the workers as the protagonist of the struggle, putting them on a stronger standing but making it clear that it is up to them to get rid of the bosses. In this view, the most important struggle is that of the workers themselves. It places a lower premium on illegal action and a more accessible ladder towards the more powerful tactics: not all workers are armed at a given moment, but with a little creativity they could all find a way to beat up their bosses. In this way, armed agitation creates a stronger complicity between everyone in the struggle, whether they are regular people trying to make a living and sometimes raising their voice in protest, or those who dedicate their entire lives to the most dangerous aspects of a struggle. Armed agitation makes it clear that everyone’s contributions are needed: the workers could be inspired to form their own such groups, or they could continue fighting in the workplace and the realm of daily life, fighting harder, more bravely, knowing they are not alone.

The difference in the lethality of the two actions is also significant. Though the practitioners of armed agitation—the affinity groups in the ’20s and ’30s, the maquis in the ’40s and ’50s, and the autonomous combat groups like the MIL and the OLLA—sometimes did take lives, they never did so lightly or gratuitously. This reticence towards executing those who could easily be identified as enemies is no small matter: anarchism has always distinguished itself as an ethical revolutionary current that does not make excuses for separating ends and means, and it is no coincidence that it has not resulted in the totalitarian States or systems of gulags and mass executions created by other revolutionary currents.

The anarchist guerrilla movement had far-reaching consequences that have been left out of a hostile historiography. In fact, anarchists who participated in the revolutionary experience in Spain, and then the resistance in France, and then the maquis, wrote one of the first chapters in the book on guerrilla struggles in the twentieth century.[1] Exiles who fled to Cuba, Mexico, and Uruguay shared their experiences with the movements that would blossom there over the next two decades; one exiled anarchist, Abraham Guillén, wrote one of the two principal manuals on urban guerrilla warfare. ETA got their first weapons from old anarchist resistance fighters who had fought Franco in Spain and Hitler in France. The Tupamaros and the Red Brigades got their forged documents from CNT counterfeiters. Many of those first armed groups on two continents after World War II followed an anarchist model, but some of them made key changes to prop up their vanguardist politics. Subsequently, these were the only groups to be remembered in the histories written both by establishment academics and by professed anticapitalists.

 

“Salvador Puig Antich, anarchist, revolutionary militant, has been condemned to death by the Spanish fascists! Unity, autonomy, and internationalist solidarity must snatch him from the hands of the fascist executioners!” Italian poster protesting his death sentence. (FELLA)

[1] Arguably, this experience constituted one of the two main roots. The other, arising in parallel and having more of an impact in the rural sphere, were the anticolonial struggles waged by Indigenous peoples as well as peasant/ bandit resistance throughout the world, which merged with anarchist movements in places like Mexico, India, Ukraine, and Korea.

 

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Building Strength through Movement and Afrofuturism

Posted on February 8th, 2021 in AK Book Excerpts, Current Events

Over on her Instagram page, Ruby Smith Díaz suggested that her dialogue with Nora Samaran in Turn This World Inside Out would be a good read for Black History Month. She’s right! So we’ve excerpted it below. As Ruby puts it: the exchange is about “Blackness, Afro-futurism and reclaiming autonomy over our bodies through movement and rest.”

—–

Ruby Smith Díaz was born to Chilean and Jamaican parents in Edmonton-amiskwacîwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑲᒖᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ). She is an arts-based anti-oppression facilitator, a multidisciplinary artist, and a personal trainer supporting marginalized communities in feeling powerful and grounded in their bodies.

NS: What does nurturance culture mean to you?

RSD: Imagining a world that is much more oriented toward life, thriving, and a future.

Violence against Black people often reaches the extent of death. Not to lessen the impacts of other harms, but for us it often results in death. So, for me, self-care to build resilience and joy are essential. Self-care is so often denied to us, and we often deny it to ourselves. It can mean care of the body to build physical strength, as well as connection to culture and art to build inner strength.

Art is an incredible way to challenge and heal from white supremacy because you can create art that has nothing to do with the current reality that we’re facing, and instead, create a reality that isn’t solely created in resistance to an oppositional force, but is created in a noncoercive way, on our own terms.

For me, nurturance culture has meant looking into my own history, it has meant wearing clothing full of patterns that are reflective of my own identities and trying to learn about them, participating in DIY culture and creating food, literature, art, and clothing that are reflective of my identities, and also participating in projects that defend and enhance the lives of those communities whose very existence is threatened by the state. A lot of it is also rooted in joy.

The Afrofuturism Trading Cards that I’m creating with young people, for example, are based in joy. We do character sketches, and the youth imagine that they are living in a time that is free of racism, homophobia, classism, and all of the other oppressions that exist today. We ask what it would look like if we were truly free and unafraid to be who we are. What would you look like? What would you wear? What would your superpower abilities be, and how would you use them to bring healing into the world?

For me it is important to create a project that is based on imagining a different context, which is important especially for youth today who see the amount of violence that is directed at young Black people like themselves— and the vicarious trauma that they experience and that I experience watching those things—to create representations that aren’t just about Black death. That connects to joy and identity. Afrofuturism gives us a lot of possibility.

NS: Robyn Maynard, in a class visit last term, said that it shouldn’t have to be some science fiction future to imagine Black people’s lives being valued.[1]

RSD: Yes.

NS: So, making art, painting, artistic expression, the jewelry you choose to wear, the pleasure in it, and movement, being alive in your body—those things feel connected, right? For you, how is creating art and feeling joy a form of resistance?

RSD: Well, yes, because as an Afro-Latina person I feel like there’s so much to get defeated over in our communities. When I met Fred Hampton Jr. in Chicago a few years back, he would often speak of people being demoralized; so, for example, people who use drugs as a means of escape from the trauma that they are facing, or drop out of movements because they feel ineffective or get depressed by what we’re facing, and I’ve often thought about demoralization as the way the systems around us work together to make us feel like giving up on life by excluding us from basic things like access to health care for our bodies, or imprisoning us, or isolating us from our true histories and cultures.

So, I try to find those little things that bring me joy because I try to remain afloat. I like being able to create spaces where the people around me can feel joy. Sometimes it is in the act of taking back time for myself, because I often overextend myself in paid and unpaid work. So instead of rushing to the next appointment or fitting one more thing for someone or something else, I’ll take back my time to do two minutes of flossing, or of putting on coconut oil on my skin. Even when I don’t have access to financial resources that will pamper me I have to find ways of doing that within my financial resources. The notion of self-care is often marketed as needing to purchase something, and for me it’s about finding ways outside of capitalism to care for yourself with what you have, building resilience for yourself. These are acts of radical self-love.[2]

NS: How does that connect to movement and to bodies, to your work as a personal trainer?

RSD: There are many Eurocentric ways that bodies are idealized in the North American fitness world. And for me, as an Afro-Latina person whose body looks very different than what’s represented in the media, strength training has helped me appreciate my body more for its larger frame and build, its natural muscular strength, and has also helped me to feel proud of that and take up more space. It allows me to shift that narrative in my mind, which brings me more joy and makes me hold myself differently because I know the things that my body is capable of doing, whether it’s dealing with a lot of chronic pain or feeling especially energetic. And because I know all of the amazing things it has done for me and continues to do, challenging it and bringing movement into it through exercise can bring me ease and joy.

When I was younger, I always wanted to shrink, because as a person socialized as a woman in this society I was taught that it’s desirable to take up less space. I also wanted to shrink because I didn’t have a body that matched the Eurocentric body standards that were being glorified in the media. So, when I started working out, it was mostly sparked by me disliking the way that my body looked and wanting to achieve a certain kind of body.

When I started my own practice, it mattered to me that it should be a body-positive one that is affirming of people’s racialized identities, of queerness, of gender identities, and that honors their stories. Gyms don’t offer that, and obviously they can be very intimidating and hypermasculine spaces.

The mainstream fitness industry, as we know it, tends to work on the basis that our bodies are flawed and exercise is punishment. Whether it be that your body won’t look good on the beach, or that your body is not cishetnormative, I believe a lot people develop estranged relationships to movement because of how fitness is marketed. In my practice, I encourage people to do things that feel good, and to find out what the movements are that they really enjoy or do not enjoy doing, and what would feel good for them. It’s important to recreate those relationships of joy to our own bodies, and acknowledge how they shift and change. Not everybody is training for a marathon. I want to include people who want to participate in things that feel good and that create a little bit more health in their life in whatever way that means for them.

I think there is also a connection in thinking about resistance to capitalism and oppression, when we think about the lifespan impacts of not being able to move in ways that you want to, and who tends to be most impacted by this. It is often people who are from poor or working-class backgrounds, or who live in areas that don’t have proximate access to recreation facilities, who are often working multiple jobs and don’t have time to incorporate specific movement that isn’t associated with paid work. And if we look at who is doing a lot of strenuous physical labor, it is predominantly Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color. In addition, trans folks and people with disabilities often can’t even access spaces where they can move their bodies in healthy ways. On a larger scale, this is connected to mental health, and ultimately the resilience of our communities.

NS: So, you create ways for people to exercise when they might not feel comfortable at a regular gym, and make it as accessible as much as you can.

RSD: My work is a body-positive personal training service dedicated to empowering people to feel their best in their body, according to their own terms. The gym where my practice is based, and the training I do, offers support in gaining strength, power, endurance, and confidence, while leaving diet talk, fatphobia, transphobia, and Eurocentric body standards at the door. We welcome and center the participation of Indigenous people, Black people, people of color, queer fam, gender-binary breakers, radicals, and beyond, in any shape and at every size.

In contrast, trainers at most gyms are required to sell packages that require you to shrink, and that is something that has never aligned with me, that will never align with me. Specifically, being a person who’s Black—our bodies have been sold and auctioned and stolen. Our bodies have been genetically modified specifically to make slave owners more profit, in order for people to be genetically stronger, to genetically resist disease, to genetically be bigger or stronger so they can pull more cotton off shit. Our bodies have been essentially created in the imaginings of a capitalist system.

NS: Slave owners bred people.

RSD: Yes. When Africans were brought off ships, they were auctioned firstly for their condition that they were in. And then they would also often force people to have sex with each other so that their offspring could be lighter skinned or could be stronger or more resilient. And then we think about a lot of how Black folks now, especially people who identify as Black women or who are assigned as female at birth, are often shamed because of the stature of our bodies. And it’s like, you are shaming us for that even though it’s something that served you for capitalist purposes. So that piece in particular is partially why I named my business “Autonomy,” but also why I consider it very important to listen to people in terms of the goals they want to achieve for their own bodies. It’s important that we define health for ourselves and for our own bodies first. That we are the ones who know our bodies best.

NS: How would you connect this with cultural understandings about nurturance, of how we take care of one another?

RSD: On one hand, self-care for people who have been asked to give of themselves in particular ways is a form of resistance in a different way than it is for people who have not had as much of a load to carry.

At the same time, I think what makes this complicated is the way of thinking about it, the way that we think about it in this Westernized society. This society is very about binaries, and about objectivity, and can’t hold multiple realities simultaneously existing, which makes it complicated to talk about. I think about how many Indigenous societies have a version of the medicine wheel, I think about the Yoruba people in Nigeria, how they have a version of the medicine wheel, and the Mapuche people have their version of the medicine wheel, and they all represent different cosmologies, but what all of those cosmologies have in common is that they represent multiple layers upon multiple layers, they represent multiple things all at once. So, the basic understanding is that it is a collective of multiple experiences, that the individual is really important but is also part of the whole, even as the whole is really important, which gives back to the individual.

Therefore, taking care of yourself is also taking care of the collective, but you can’t just do that, because if you just take that one piece and you remove it then you don’t have a whole part of the circle anymore.

NS: What are the models that work for you? What kinds of care have you seen that resonate for you as making sense, maybe when harm happens, or even just in daily life, since harm is continuous and ongoing? Have you had experiences where it’s been done well, where you’ve felt it mean something as more than just a theory?

RSD: It can show up in seemingly simple things. I can think of one experience when I went to Colombia. I was maybe twenty-two or twenty-three years old. I was working with a nonprofit, and we were doing an exchange of approaches to working with youth. And we were all going out one night and people said, “Oh I really want some snacks.” So, we stopped by the corner store and a few people went and got snacks and then the group comes back and people open up the chips and start passing them around without even asking for them back. And I wanted to say, “Wait, those are your chips, you bought that, it’s going to get all eaten.”

NS: Western individualist mind.

RSD: Right, just a basic level of care there, that this is just everybody’s now, that was a shock for me at first. It’s just embedded culturally.

NS: So, what would you want readers of a book about nurturance culture to know, from your perspective

RSD: Nurturance is one of the ways that we reclaim our own agency. There are different sites of resistance—a lot of the resistance that we see is performative and comes from looking at systemic things that are happening in our society, which are important, but we also need to understand our own identities and experiences, which shape how we interact with others because of the ways that we were raised, and also how others interact with us. Nurturance allows space to heal among us as well as social resistance. For somebody who has experienced a lot of trauma from white supremacy—growing up in an environment where they were told that the color of their skin was ugly or unattractive and that they would never be loved because of the color of their skin—healing might mean having time with a counselor and nurturing those wounds. Or perhaps creating spaces for people who have gone through similar things to create networks for people to share and feel connected. I think it’s important to value our own processes and allow them the time they need to happen, as much as the things we do outside of ourselves. If we want a world that is different and that leaves behind all of the oppressive systems and values that we have, we need to be able to heal ourselves, because we embody so many of those oppressive values and systems and perpetuate them in our lives.

I often say this in my workshops—I believe it’s Angela Davis who named this concept—how we absorb and replicate consciously and subconsciously the toxicity of the environments in which we are living.[3] I often use the analogy of elk in northern Alberta. They are hunted by folks who are living off the land—now when the hunters are opening them to skin them and process them, they are finding that their insides are rotten, or smell like petroleum. And obviously the elk are not participating in the oil industry, but because they’re living in this very toxic environment it is reflected in their very core of being and in health—just like us humans, who are living in a toxic society that exhibits and contributes to harming us in many different ways. We often inhabit and replicate the toxic behaviors of the society and the state we live in. We need to be able to understand what is happening to us and heal ourselves so we don’t perpetuate those toxic behaviors and ways of being.

Notes:

[1] Robyn Maynard, guest lecture, English 1102, Douglas College, Vancouver, November 8, 2017.

[2] Sonya Renee Taylor, The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love (Oakland: Berrett-Koehler, 2018).

[3] Angela Y. Davis, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016).

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INSURRECTION: The Bloody Events of May 1937 in Barcelona (Excerpts)

Posted on November 18th, 2020 in AK Book Excerpts

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.

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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. But documents 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.

Agustín Guillamón

Barcelona, 19 February 2017

Insurrection: The Bloody Events of May 1937 in Barcelona

Excerpt and Table of Contents from A COMMUNISM OF LOVE, by Richard Gilman-Opalsky

Posted on November 10th, 2020 in AK Book Excerpts

Richard Gilman-Opalsky’s new book, The Communism of Love: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Exchange Value, is nearing it’s release date. Below is an excerpt, followed by the table of contents. You can also order a copy (at 25% off) here

INTRODUCTION

cover image and link to wbpageThis 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.[1]

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?[2]

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.

[1] Harry Cleaver, Rupturing the Dialectic: The Struggle against Work, Money, and Financialization (Oakland, Edinburgh, and Baltimore: AK Press, 2017), 110-111.

[2] Kathi Weeks, Constituting Feminist Subjects (London and New York: Verso Books, 2018), 159.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

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

5.1 Unlike Loves: Racialization and Consumption

5.2 Marginalities of Unwantedness and Madness

CHAPTER 6: LIQUID AND CHAOS

6.1 Chaotic Liquidity of Love

6.2 Precarious Communes

CHAPTER 7: UNALIENATION

7.1 Movements of Love

7.2 Insurgent Love

CHAPTER 8: CONCLUSION: FOR AND AGAINST

8.1 Love Against / Against Love

8.2 Love For / For Love

INDEX

To Our Community: Accountability and Marquis Bey (updated 2020-11-02)

Posted on July 27th, 2020 in Uncategorized

To Our Community,

 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 the accusation.

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 accountability@akpress.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).

Yours,

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.

Memorial Day, 2020: Grief, War, and the Pandemic

Posted on June 8th, 2020 in AK Authors!, Current Events

by Kristian Williams
.

in memory of Robert F. Williams

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.

 

Kristian Williams is the author or Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, Whither Anarchism?, and Between the Bullet and the Lie: Essays on Orwell, among other works. His most recent book, Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde, was just published by AK Press. 

Resist Everything Except Temptation. An excerpt from Kristian Williams’s new book!

Posted on June 3rd, 2020 in AK Book Excerpts

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.”[1] 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.”[2]

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.)[3] 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?[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] Robert Graham includes it in his expansive collection Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.[8]

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.

NOTES

[1] Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” in Collins Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2003), 1178.

[2] Ibid, 1192, 1193, 1181.

[3] 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.

[4] See E. P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (Oakland: PM Press, 2011), 564–72.

[5] George Woodcock, The Paradox of Oscar Wilde (New York: Macmillan, 1950), 160.

[6] “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).

[7] 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).

[8] 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.