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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.

—–

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.

Stop Lecturing Black People

Posted on June 1st, 2020 in AK Authors!, Current Events

A statement from Aishah Shahidah Simmons.

———-

A brief word.

do not want to hear another politician, entertainer, athlete or anyone else of any race/ethnicity, use the media or other platforms to lecture to Black people about how we should respond to the virulent and relentless violence happening.

I ain’t heard nary an auntie, uncle, mother, or father patronizing tone (or word) spoken to white folx when visible ARMED white people marched to state capitols to demand their right to endanger ALL of our lives to work in a global health pandemic.

Do not speak of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or former South African President Nelson Mandela said or did if you will not speak of the TOTALITY of their radical, and militant lives and work.

Do not talk about the non-violent Civil Rights Movement in the absence of the Deacons for Defense. Read or at least peruse through Charles Cobb’s groundbreaking text, “This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible.”

Do not talk about forgiveness in the absence of accountability and justice.

If you are white, please start looking to the examples of radical, anti-racist white people who put their literal lives on the line to challenge systemic and individual white supremacy and racism. Ask yourselves, “What would John Brown do? What would Anne Braden do?” If you do not know who they are, investigate.

I wholeheartedly believe in non-violence and yet, I am enraged, distraught, and bereft. I am TERRIFIED of the ravages of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, the police state, as I am TERRIFIED of other forms of death-dealing oppression destroying #ameriKKKa from within. They include but are not limited to patriarchy, misogynoir, rape culture, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, audism, classism, anti (Brown and Black)-immigrant sentiment and more. Too many of us are not safe anywhere — in white supremacist society or in our homes.

I don’t have answers or solutions. All I know is that we must eradicate all of it. Our lives depend on it. No one is free while others are oppressed.

Invoking some Black women warrior ancestral spirits — Sojurner TruthHarriet TubmanIda Wells-BarnettLorraine HansberryClaudia JonesEslanda RobesonElla BakerFannie Lou HamerRuby Doris RobinsonPrathia HallPat ParkerAudre LordeToni Cade BambaraJune JordanRosa ParksRosemarie Freeney HardingAaronette M. WhiteLinda SpoonerKagendo MurungiGloria I. JosephNa Tanya Daviná Stewart…. Ashé


Aishah Shahidah Simmons is the author of  Love WITH Accountability: Digging up the Roots of Child Sexual Abuse.

This piece originally appeared on Medium.

Modibo Kadalie on Direct Democracy

Posted on May 26th, 2020 in AK Book Excerpts

Here’s a sneak peek from the conversation between Andrew Zonneveld and Modibo Kadalie in Deciding for Ourselves: The Promise of Direct Democracy, edited by Cindy Milstein.

Modibo Kadalie: For me, direct democracy is an evolving social vision. My ideas, just like anyone else’s, are always developing. In the 1960s and early 1970s, I saw myself as someone who understood race and class, and the dynamics of each, and I was toying with the question of labor and its role in society. The most perplexing question for me, however, was the role of the state. My only political vision at that point in my life was that of a socialist nation-state ruled by the working class, which is what most Marxists desired at that time. This state socialism was supposed to represent the next stage of human social and economic development. Of course, this nation-state was supposed to be large and highly centralized, like the kind we saw in the USSR or China then. And part of that vision was a conception of na­tionalism that coincided with the emergence of the postcolonial, third world states.

Obviously I no longer hold many of the views that I held then because eventually I began to see that these big, massive, bulky nation-states were contributing to the problem of social oppression, and the emerging postcolonial nation-states of Africa, the Caribbean, and elsewhere in the third world were not solving any problems for their own people. So I started to look at more localized and directly democratic conceptions of socialism, and more intimate forms of democracy, where people could look at themselves and each other, face-to-face, and solve their problems collectively. That’s direct democracy to me. I began to see how that tradition was long established in many places around the world, but it was not being recorded.

Direct democracy is also meaningless, though, without a clear understanding of social ecology. We must take to heart all the implications of the assertion articulated by [social anarchist and theorist] Murray Bookchin that, to paraphrase, “there is a social crisis at the basis of every ecological crisis” or “every ecological crisis is in reality a social crisis.” Consequently, ecological crises expose social crises. It follows that societies that are organized hierarchically and based on for-profit markets cannot solve or even adequately address any ecological crisis. What is more intimate and integral to our lives and future, after all, than the directly democratic control over our immediate environment and living space? That’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat!

We must learn to democratically control the spaces that we inhabit, to expand and take responsibility for them. We can no longer afford to allow others to do this for us. We must learn to do this for ourselves in concert with our neighbors and other communities, which can happen through directly democratic town hall meetings, assemblies, and other popular forums that are empowered to make decisions.

Andrew Zonneveld: Would you say this was a gradual or dramatic shift in thinking for you?

Modibo: It was dramatic because I also started to see that the people who were articulating the postcolonial vision really did not understand the future of the world. Their ideals were driven more by political expediency than by real critical analysis of the situation. I began to see that the politics they were articulating was also self-perpetuating, since everyone was a part of various Marxist parties and other organizations, none of which seemed to be contributing much insight to the new problems and contradictions that were emerging.

There were two important questions that were not dealt with by these institutions. First was the question of gender and women’s liberation. Second was the ecological question, which was largely ignored by many people in these movements. There were struggles against nuclear proliferation at the time, however; for me, that’s where I saw the modern ecological movement begin. But ecology did not come into play in most people’s analysis of capitalism, racism, or colonialism back then. There were no debates or conversations about it at the time, as far as I could see….

[T]hat’s where I began to see the relationship between direct democracy and social ecology. I saw direct democracy as the way toward a decentralized, localized, federated type of socialism, and came to the conclusion that in order to understand democracy in its fullest dimension, we also have to understand social ecology. When Bookchin advanced the idea that human society was a part of the natural world, since it was created by human beings as they evolved, that was helpful for me. That is to say, the question of how humans relate to the rest of the natural world must be incorporated into how we understand the future of labor, race, sex, and class. So my vision of direct democracy and social ecology evolved in a symbiotic relationship with one another. A directly democratic vision of social prog ress involves a social ecology and direct democracy where people are engaged in a process of healing with the earth, as both have been scarred by capitalism. Of course, there was certainly ecological destruction prior to capitalism, but there’s really nothing like capitalism when it comes to ecological degradation and catastrophe. The scale is so massive that it’s almost hard to comprehend.

[excerpted from Deciding for Ourselves: The Promise of Direct Democracy.
Another version of this interview—and more from Modibo—appears in
Pan-African Social Ecology: Speeches, Conversations, and Essays.]

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The Eclipse of Dreams [excerpt]

Posted on May 25th, 2020 in AK Book Excerpts, Current Events

As its subtitle implies, Eclipse of Dreams: The Undocumented-Led Struggle for Freedom, which we published earlier this month, is about the experiences of undocumented immigrants as well as what those experiences have to teach us about all struggles for liberation and justice. The following excerpt from the book’s “Prelude” section shares a central epiphany that informs the book: the realization that legislative battles—in this case the fight for the DREAM Act—can derail social movements, to the extent that they wind-up advocating for things that undermine families, communities, and the movements themselves.

———-

The morning for the important vote on the DREAM finally came. By 9:00 a.m. the Senate gallery was largely full. The Senate was called to order and then a prayer was offered for wisdom for our legislators, that they would be “turned away from false solutions.”[1] Two hours passed as senators took turns speaking to either the DREAM Act or the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act. We listened to people with fears of illegals crossing our borders, calling this bill “amnesty” and a reward for criminal behavior. Others pleaded on behalf of the DREAMers, explaining that it was through “no fault of their own” that they were in the U.S. without papers. As we heard the voices of supposed support some of us cringed in our seats. If the DREAMers were not at fault, then who is to blame? Our parents? The case for the DREAM Act was made by painting a picture of DREAMers as model citizens deserving of a path toward legalization. Supporters described DREAMers’ potential to add to the U.S. economy through their hard work. They said that DREAMers “played by the rules and only want to achieve the American Dream.” Senator Durbin pointed to the Senate gallery and made a case for the DREAM Act by telling those present, look, “they are valedictorians, captains of teams, leaders of their communities … possessing high GPAs, sciences degrees … why would you deny them a chance to make America a better place?”[2]

Two and a half hours after the Senate was called to order, at 11:31 a.m., the chair reminded the gallery that “expressions of approval or disapproval are not permitted.” Around the gallery we all held each other’s hands. The fate of the DREAM Act, our fate, was clear as we watched each Senator come forward to cast their vote, some very visibly with their thumbs down. “The motion is not agreed to.” The DREAM Act died, just five votes short of the sixty needed to advance the bill.

It was so close. There was a visible numbness among us, a shock that immediately gave way to tears and strong embraces across the gallery. What now—now that we witnessed this eclipse of dreams?

Some of us were physically present at the senate gallery other of us watched from afar. Together we experienced the euphoria of possibilities and the despair of disappointment.

Fighting with Our Own Shadows: Journeys of Faith

In other places and times, an eclipse warned of imminent danger, disaster, even the end of the world. The failure of the DREAM Act felt like this. Yet in the darkness of this moment, it did not take long to see a glimpse of light. Maybe, just maybe, the eclipse was a warning to us. What if our dreams, the very scope of our horizons, what we hoped for ourselves and others, was limited by the framework in which we expressed them, the American Dream itself? What if, out of our real pain and desire for freedom, we had become pawns in a system where freedom is an illusion? Did we lose track of our ends and compromise our means because of this dream framework? What if United We Dream and the political-economic power behind those that claimed to represent us under a united dream were never united and confused dreams with lies? What if, from the outset, our framing of the issue, our struggle for freedom was itself problematic? In the darkness, we began to realize that the search for a solution to the immigration problem, when mired in the rationale of the American Dream, was part of the problem.

As we asked ourselves these questions and contemplated the end of our world, the end of the dream, we began to follow the light that we had found in our own lives and the love within our community and shared struggle for freedom. We began to understand the lives and choices of our parents as filled with dignity and courage. Instead of blaming them, we praised them for their faith to risk everything for their children. And now that darkness eclipsed our personal dreams, we saw the absurdity of what W.E.B. Du Bois described as the “strong man,” the DREAMer, “fighting to be free in order that another people should not be free.”[3] We were beginning to see that the dream for collective freedom and the dignity of all humanity was not only a greater dream but one in conflict with the American Dream.

What passed as an eclipse was possibly a reminder that what was lost, had it been won, might have truly destroyed us. We might have won our access to the American Dream, at the expense of the greater struggle for our freedom. “Uncle” Vincent Harding would later tell us that it was lazy journalists and historians who had framed what was a Black-led struggle for freedom as a “civil rights” movement, attempting to squeeze something vast into a legislative straitjacket.[4] Similarly, Michelle Alexander challenged us to consider what was lost, when we celebrated the granting of certain civil rights by embracing a politics of respectability.[5]

We were reminded of what we were learning in the dark when President Barack Obama spoke to the nation just a month after the DREAM Act’s defeat, saying, “Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents … as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense … let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.”[6]

For the “strong man,” the perfect Dreamer, to gain rights meant that the bad Dreamer was deportable and, further, that the “illegal” dreams of the perfect Dreamer’s parents were worthless. We began to see that the criteria for the DREAM Act re-inscribed and re-enforced race and class barriers to inclusion in this society. The DREAM Act would bar the rest of the undocumented community from becoming free. The American Dream came with great costs.

We continue to search for light and discover hope in the darkness. James Baldwin may best describe what we learned: “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free—he has set himself free—for higher dreams, for greater privileges.”[7] This greater privilege is the struggle for our collective freedom, for our collective humanity, for our collective dignity. Du Bois warned us that the great tragedy of our time for undocumented families, for this nation and the world, is not poverty, wickedness, or ignorance, but that humans know so little of humanity.[8]

In the next pages, we invite you to learn about our journeys through the darkness as we search for light after the eclipse of dreams; to learn, through our stories of struggle and fear, of living “illegal,” a little more about what it means to be human, to discover dignity, and what it might mean to shed light on our global humanity.

—Claudia Muñoz, Fidel Castro Rodriguez, Marco Saavedra,
Mariela Nuñez-Janes, Pedro Santiago Martinez, Stephen Pavey

You can purchase a copy of Eclipse of Dreams: The Undocumented-Led Struggle for Freedom here.

Notes

[1] “Senate Session,” C-SPAN (December 18, 2010), http://www.c-span.org/video/?297168-1/senate-session.

[2] Ibid.

[3] W.E.B. Du Bois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century (New York: International Publishers, 1968), 146.

[4] Stephen Pavey, “The Immigration Industrial Complex: America, You Must be Born Again,” PRISM (March/April 2013): 8–16.

[5] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2012).

[6] Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President in State of Union Address,” transcript, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/25/remarks-president-state-union-address.

[7] James Baldwin, The Price of a Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948–1985 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), 147.

[8] “Men know so little of men” in his phrasing. W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 152.

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