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The Tentacles of Oppression: Isaac Ontiveros on the Prison Industrial Complex (Part I)

Posted on September 24th, 2008 in AK Allies, Happenings

As enemies of the state, anarchists are no strangers to prisons and jails. They’ve been locked up, tortured, and left to die—or murdered—wherever the state has asserted itself. But anarchists are not against carceral institutions simply as a self-defense mechanism, or a preservation reflex. We are against the economic system that manufactures poverty, the school system that teaches ignorance, the political system that fosters cynicism and apathy, and the individualistic, isolating culture that encourages us to blame ourselves when things go wrong. Our institutions are faulty, and administering the prison-industrial-complex (PIC) to “correct” the externalities of a pathological social and economic system is, well, sick.

If we’re for an economic system that produces social wealth, a school system that engenders wisdom, a political system of self-governance, and a culture of mutual aid and collective concern, then what need would we have for surveillance, policing, or incarceration? (The worry over crimes of passion or of mental illness shouldn’t stop the movement toward an incarceration-free society.) We’re for healthy, safe communities and we know what direction to head to get there. The PIC abolition movement shares these goals with anarchists and I’m happy to present this interview with a friend who has been investigating these intersections with commitment, accountability, and active engagement. No armchair radical, Isaac is engaging with these questions by participating in the intellectual and physical movement against the PIC.

Isaac Ontiveros is a former AK Press collective member. After a few years of slogging it out in the trenches of publishing and distribution he has moved on and now contributes to various Bay Area groups, including Critical Resistance (CR). This week marks the launch of Abolition Now!, co-published by CR and AK Press, at the mighty CR-10 Conference here in Oakland. We’ll be there and hope you will be too.

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Isaac, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for us today. I was hoping we could cover some ground related to your work in the prison abolition movement and its relationship to anarchist politics. You are a contributing editor to Abolition Now!, a just-released book from AK Press and CR, and have contributed to CR’s The Abolitionist newspaper. Can you tell us a little about each project?

Abolition Now! is an anthology of writing that takes the ten-year anniversary of CR—the ten-year anniversary of the CR conference back in 1998—as an opportunity to assess the PIC and the struggle to abolish the PIC—to engage with the development of PIC abolitionist politics, to mark where we’ve been, to conjure with where we are, to figure out how we’re going to struggle forward. So, the book deals with a lot of issues and tries to represent a lot of voices—a lot of points of struggle against the PIC, lots of analysis, and hopefully also useful building blocks for the type of world we’re struggling toward. So, we have an interesting dialogue with folks who’ve been in the movement for a long time along with folks who’ve come to the work more recently; there’s work on the changing forms of the so-called “war on drugs”; political prisoner David Gilbert did a piece on war and imperialism; we have contributions that report on struggles against specific points of oppression set in particular geographies; folks from INCITE Women of Color Against Violence revisit the historic CR/INCITE statement from ten years ago and challenge us to keep struggling with the important ideas that came out of that (this is actually one of the pieces I’m most excited about because not only does it challenge the gendered violence of the PIC, but it also asks the question: how do we deal with harm and oppression coming from within our communities, on the day to day, what are our responsibilities there?). The whole thing I think is important because it doesn’t take for granted that—like in any liberation struggle—the forces of oppression are changing and responding and adapting. Often in response to resistance to that oppression. In turn then, the nature of the liberation struggle calls for constant revitalization.

CR10 Conference

Posted on September 23rd, 2008 in Happenings

AK Press will be tabling all this weekend at Critical Resistance’s 10th anniversary conference, CR10. If you’re in the Bay Area be sure to stop by. Not just to see us, of course, but because the conference is going to be one of the most important political events in our neck of the woods this year! Below is some information about the event, but you can get lots more (including schedules) at the CR10 website:


In September 1998, thousands gathered in Berkeley, California, for conference that founded Critical Resistance’s movement to abolish the prison industrial complex (PIC).­ Each participant, with their own experiences of oppression and resistance, watched as diverse struggles were unified: by humanity, hope, and the shared vision of a different world. We witnessed a vision of a world with truly safe, healthy, and whole communities; a world with unconditional access to self-determination and dignity for all; and, critically, a world without imprisonment, policing, and other forms of punishment and control.

To celebrate 10 years of Critical Resistance, thousands will converge once more, September 26-28, 2008, in Oakland, California, for CR10, a 10th Anniversary Celebration and Strategy Session.

Over the past decade, the movement to eliminate the PIC has faced tremendous challenges. We have witnessed rising levels of imprisonment in the US and around the world. We have endured passage of the USAPATRIOT Act of 2001, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, increasing surveillance and policing in our lives. Meanwhile, US-led wars continue to ravage communities around the globe. We have witnessed the increased repression and criminalization of migrants and immigrants, people of color, young people, and queer communities. We have seen California prepare to embark on the biggest prison building project in history as the Gulf Coast region continues to struggle and to prevail in spite of ongoing neglect and militarization.

During this period Critical Resistance has also developed into a leading force fighting against the use of imprisonment, policing, and surveillance as responses to social, economic, and political problems. During the past 10 years we have:

  • Brought the idea of the prison industrial complex (PIC) into mainstream conversations;
  • Substantially increased collaboration of PIC abolitionists with organizers in environmental justice, anti-violence, and queer movements;
  • Promoted prisoners, former prisoners, and their loved ones as the real experts on the system;
  • Provided a platform and jumping off point for new organizations and organizing efforts; and
  • Contributed to dozens of local and regional victories across the country.

We have seen only the beginning of what we can accomplish together. CR10 promises to propel this momentum forward, with united, strategic force. Through workshops, skill shares, performances, action, reflection and celebration, CR10 aims to reunite our voices, reinvigorate our collective refusal to be silenced and strengthen our collective will to build a world without walls.


While you’re at the conference, don’t forget to pick up a copy of the new book that AK Press just published with Critical Resistance: Abolition Now!: Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle against the Prison Industrial Complex.

Book Review: Rebel Alliances

Posted on September 22nd, 2008 in Reviews of AK Books

We really appreciate it when people review our books. It helps get the word out about AK publications and also prompts discussions about the ideas that they contain. Those are very, very good things! We will publish reviews of AK books on this blog as often as we can.

Below is a review of Benjamin Franks’ Rebel Alliances: The Means and Ends of Contemporary British Anarchisms. It’s by Ruth Kinna, editor of Anarchist Studies Journal, author of Anarchism: A Beginner’s Guide (Oneworld, 2005), Early Writings on Terrorism (Routledge, 2006), and co-editor (with Laurence Davis) of the forthcoming Anarchism and Utopianism (Manchester University Press). The review appeared in Contemporary Political Theory (2008) 7, 341–343, and is reprinted here with Ruth’s kind permission.

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Book Review:
Rebel Alliances: The Means and Ends of Contemporary British Anarchisms
by Benjamin Franks
AK Press and Dark Star, Edinburgh, 2006, 475pp.
ISBN: 1904859402

Franks’ study of the complex and diverse British anarchist movement is inspired by two concerns. In part, he is interested in class struggle anarchism—a category defined by a commitment to egalitarianism and non-hierarchical relations, the rejection of capitalism and market economics, of ‘state power and other quasi-state mediating forces’ and means-ends consequentialism. In the other part, he wants to defend the claim that contemporary anarchism is consistent with a theoretical position usually called ‘postanarchist’—anarchism read through the lens of poststructuralist and/or postmodern theory. These two strands of analysis are fused through a masterful, dizzying account of contemporary anarchist movements and a discussion of prefigurative ethics. From the historical survey, Franks broadens the focus of the study from class struggle anarchism to the rebel alliances of the title—networks of environmental, animal welfare, unemployed and anti-racist groups, who come together to share ideas and collaborate in actions without compromising their independence or autonomy—a move that usefully provides an organizational bridge to postanarchist diversity. In the theoretical argument, unpacked in a comprehensive discussion of revolutionary agency, organization and tactics, Franks arrives at a defining anarchist principle: that ‘means and ends are irreducible parts of the same process’ (p. 99). Not only does this principle serve to distinguish class struggle anarchism from Leninism, it also points to a rejection of the ‘utopian’ totalizing systems that exercise postanarchist critique.

Franks’ attempt to subject British anarchisms to serious analysis is something to celebrate, all the more so given his concern to speak through these movements by drawing on their literatures and practices. And while his sympathies are clear, he successfully steers a course between observation and activism. In many ways, his work has a very contemporary feel: for Franks anarchism is first a ‘mode of revolutionary action’ (p. 23) not mere theory; and readers keen to see anarchism released from a narrow concern with Bakunin and Kropotkin will be excited by his approach. Franks refers to the classics, but only in passing and in order to ‘elucidate the explanations of more recent activists’ (p. 24). Although it’s not clear that ‘the thousands participating in libertarian events’ are any more familiar with the work of Foucault and Deleuze than they are with the established canon, Franks’ suggestion is that modern anarchism owes more to continental theory and situationism than it does to 19th and 20th century anarchist thought. Yet in other ways, the book has a very old-fashioned ring. It’s not surprising to discover that class struggle anarchists are intent on avoiding the pitfalls of Leninism, but the lengthy discussions of vanguardism, universal classes, sub-classes, non-classes and revolutionary consciousness—Engels’ position on strikes, even—are a depressing reminder of the muscular language and understanding of the world bequeathed by 19th and 20th century Marxism; and Franks’ treatment of these issues adds a dryness to the text that belies the surreal, playfully subversive, carnivalesque that he identifies with anarchism.

The central theme of the book, that anarchism is defined by a commitment to a prefigurative ethic, is interesting and attractive but it raises certain problems that Franks does not resolve. One concerns the use of violence and the claim made by pacifists that violent means compromise the hope of achieving a liberated non-violent society. Franks dismisses the claim on the grounds that the anarchist rejection of hierarchy is consistent with ‘violent acts’ (such as sado-masochism) and because conflict is inevitable within the existing structures of domination (pp. 141–145). But what if the pacifist concern is re-written—as it has been—in terms of the achievement of a society without domination? Class struggle anarchists reject ‘instrumentalist strategies that appeal to the ultimate millennial events such as “the revolution”‘ (p. 114). So at what point—if any—will they be satisfied that the existing structures of domination have been overcome? The implication seems to be that physical coercion is okay as long as it comes from below. A second problem arises in his treatment of consequentialism, which he defines with reference to Leninism as a willingness to use any methods to justify a predetermined good rather than, as is usually understood, a concern to assess the rightness and wrongness of actions by their likely costs and benefits (p. 98). Kropotkin rejected both views (the latter, incidentally, underpinned his rejection of propaganda by the deed); but a concern with possible outcomes is surely not inconsistent with prefigurative ethics? Finally, it’s possible to question the association Franks makes between class struggle anarchism and postanarchism, which is importantly mediated by prefigurative ethics. The postanarchist insistence on the newness of their ideas and their departure from the so-called classical tradition is not always borne out by Franks’ analysis. Albeit in passing, he quotes approvingly writers like Jean Grave and James Guillaume who, while easily absorbed into class-struggle traditions, were firmly rooted in the modern. Franks’ identification of the confluence of ideas is important and refreshing and it would be interesting to see the links and implications fleshed out. Nevertheless, the absence of the discussion here does not detract from his achievement in producing a groundbreaking and thought-provoking book that deserves to be read widely.

Ruth Kinna
Loughborough University,
Loughborough, UK

The Real Battle in Seattle

Posted on September 19th, 2008 in AK Allies, AK Authors!

September 19 marks the limited release of the long-awaited independent docu-drama Battle in Seattle, a film written and directed by Stuart Townsend, starring Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, and Ray Liotta, among others, that portrays the epic protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle 1999.

It’s always a strange thing to see an event you know well in filmic form; the adaptation of beloved books to the big screen has always been a problematic encounter between different forms of storytelling, but when the adaptation has a real-life, and not a literary, counterpart, it’s hard to know what to make of it all.

The Real Battle in SeattleFor the past several months, a group of social justice activists, including David Solnit, author of the forthcoming AK Press book The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle and a key organizer of the demonstrations that shut down the city of Seattle and brought the WTO meetings to a halt nearly nine years ago, have been working to ensure that the real story of what went on in the streets in November 1999 isn’t lost in the shuffle, or swept up in bright and myth-making lights of the mainstream movie industry.

Listen to David, along with director Stuart Townsend, discussing the film and the activist response on Democracy Now!:

The Seattle WTO People’s History Collective has put out a call for activists to visit the Seattle People’s History website ( and share your stories from Seattle, your opinions, and commentary on the film, and your thoughts about the legacy of the Seattle WTO protests and where to go from here.

Below is a portion of the call to action issued by David and other members of the Seattle WTO People’s History Collective:

Getting to Know AK: Jose Palafox

Posted on September 17th, 2008 in About AK

[Editor’s Note: AK Press was thrilled to welcome Jose Palafox into the AK collective this June. We post this brief, autobiographical statement from him in order to share some of the reasons for our excitement and to help readers of this blog learn more about those who enable AK to function from day to day. We plan to publish biographies of other collective members in the near future.]

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Jose PalafoxI was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and grew up in San Diego, California. While in San Diego, I was involved in many DIY-political punk bands (Struggle, Swing Kids, and later on, Bread and Circuits). In 1995, I moved to the Bay Area and attended UC Berkeley for undergraduate and then graduate school (Comparative Ethnic Studies and Sociology). Currently, I’m working on a new music project, Baader Brains.

My political work, writing, and documentary film has focused on issues of migration, specifically relating to the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the social movements along the California and Arizona border region. In 2001, I was the associate producer of the 28-minute documentary New World Border. I have published articles in Social Justice, Covert Action Quarterly, ColorLines, Z Magazine, Borderlines, Shades of Power, Left Turn, and Maximum RocknRoll.

For the past eight years, I have taught in Chicano/Latino Studies and Sociology at UC Berkeley, Stanford University, Mills College, UC Santa Cruz, and University of San Francisco. I’ve taught courses on the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands; Social Movement Theory; Gender, Globalization, and World-Systems Analysis; Theories and Methods in Comparative Ethnic Studies; Introduction to Chicana/o Studies.

After teaching full-time for eight years, I decided to take a break from it for a bit. I currently work in publishing at AK Press in Oakland, California.

Beyond Voting: Guerrilla Gardeners, Outlaw Bicyclists & Pirate Programmers

Posted on September 15th, 2008 in Reviews of AK Books

We love it when people review AK Books! Here is a review of Chris Carlsson’s Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-lot Gardeners are Inventing the Future Today (AK Press, 2008). Benjamin Dangl wrote this review, which first appeared in Toward Freedom. We reprint it here with permission. (Dangl is also an AK Author: he wrote The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia).

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NowtopiaThis US election year an unprecedented number of voters will likely head to the polls to cast their ballots in an exercise that should take just a few minutes to complete. But what about the rest of the minutes left in the year? Author and activist Chris Carlsson has some suggestions for social change beyond voting in Nowtopia, a new book about modern day rebels who, in his words, “aren’t waiting for an institutional change from on-high but are getting on with building the new world in the shell of the old.”

Chris Carlsson is a long-time community organizer, writer and radical historian based in San Fransisco. He helped launch the Critical Mass monthly bike-ins, which now take place in five continents and over 300 cities, and was a founder of the dissident magazine, Processed World, a publication reporting on the “underside of the Information Age.” These experiences enrich his enjoyable and fascinating new book, Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today (AK Press, 2008).

A driving argument throughout the book is that nowtopians are more than their jobs or class, and are working outside of the capitalist economy to create “A social revolt against being reduced to ‘mere workers,’ to being trapped in the objectified and commodified status of labor power.” It is this movement that the dynamic book focuses on, telling stories from across the garden plots, bicycle parties and kitchen tables that play essential roles in creating utopia now. Though there are many more examples of community organizing and activist work that could ever fit into the pages of one book, Nowtopia presents compelling stories of activism that anyone can learn from.

Read like an anarchist

Posted on September 12th, 2008 in Happenings

By Adam Reese

What: The third annual Anarchist Bookfair Where:the Victoria Cool Aid Society (755 Pandora St.) When: Sept. 13 – 14

Looking for a little controversial fun? The third annual Anarchist Bookfair opens this Saturday, and promises a jam-packed slate of entertainment.

Workshops begin at 11:30 a.m. and run until 5:30 p.m., with discussion topics ranging from “Founding and Maintaining Co-ops” to “Anarchy is for Lovers: Applying anarchist principles to interpersonal relationships.”

The happenings continue on Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Among topics up for discussion are “Fermenting Revolution With Pickles” and “Indigenous Resistance: The anti-Olympics struggle.”

Two members of the Victoria anarchist collective have strong connections to UVic. Allan Antliff holds a Canada Research Chair in art history at the university, and in 2006 founded an anarchist archive that resides in special collections at the McPherson Library.

“[The bookfair] addresses contemporary concerns, such as ecology, gender, arts and political theory,” said Allan.

UVic student Jessica Ziakin is a member of the anarchist collective and the official spokesperson of the bookfair.

Free Comrades — Book Excerpt

Posted on September 12th, 2008 in AK Book Excerpts

Revolution by the Book will periodically post excerpts from new (and older) AK Press books. This one consists of two, brief selections from Free Comrades: Anarchism and Homosexuality in the United States by Terence Kissack (AK Press, 2008). The first outlines Terence’s reasons for writing the book. The
second gives you a taste of how he went about doing so.


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Selection from pages 7–8:

While there has been some work done on the sexual politics of a number of European anarchists, historians of American anarchism have not fully appreciated the importance of the anarchists’ politics of homosexuality. This is not to say that the phenomenon has gone completely unnoticed. Several studies of anarchism, in particular biographies of Emma Goldman, have noted that the anarchists spoke out against the unjust treatment of gay men and lesbians. For the most part, however, these studies do not examine the homosexual politics of Goldman and her comrades in any depth. More often than not, the anarchist discussion of homosexuality is noted briefly, just another example of anarchists defending individual rights. Of course, any study of anarchist sexual politics must begin with this basic truth, but it cannot end there. This book gives greater texture and richness to the largely anecdotal evidence that currently constitutes our understanding of the relationship between American anarchism and the politics of homosexuality. In the pages that follow, I examine why the anarchists began to address the social, ethical, and cultural place of homosexuality; how they went about doing so; what discourses―including sexology and literature―shaped their thinking on the matter; and to the extent we can know, what effect these efforts had.

Historians and political scientists working in the field of American gay and lesbian studies have also overlooked the work of the anarchist sex radicals. This is largely because the anarchists do not fit into the models of gay and lesbian identity and politics that have come to dominate historical and political discourse in the post-World War II era. Anarchists and the politics of homosexuality they produced are not easily assimilated into current social, cultural, and political categories. They were not “gay activists,” nor did they operate within the bounds of liberal, civil rights discourse.

Those who study the history of the politics of homosexuality have tended to focus on those organizations and individuals who share the largely liberal, reformist outlook and tactics of post-World War II gay and lesbian politics. Hirschfeld, Ulrichs, and other European activists, for example, are easily assimilated into modern narratives of political progress and community-building, and their politics fit within the context of contemporary strategies for social change. Anarchists did not seek to reform legal codes, nor did they lobby politicians in order to get the police to stop raiding the clubs and bars frequented by homosexuals. Their vision for change was something more fundamental―a radical alternative to the principles of the established rules of the American social order. The sexual politics of anarchist sex radicals was embedded in the larger political discourse of anarchism―they wrote as anarchists, not as homosexual rights activists. This is not a study of gay and lesbian anarchists, rather it is an examination of what anarchist sex radicals had to say about the legal, cultural, and social status of same-sex love. (more…)

Scenes from AK

Posted on September 11th, 2008 in About AK

Inside the AK Warehouse (i.e, where the magic happens)

Outside the AK Warehouse (i.e., where a little less magic happens)

[Photos: Chuck Morse]

September 17-25, 2008: A Symposium and Week of Events on the Long ‘68

Posted on September 10th, 2008 in Happenings

If you’re in the area, we encourage you to check out of some of the fabulous events sponsored by the 1968: The Great Rehearsal conference. The schedule is below and you can find more information on the
1968: The Great Rehearsal website.

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Wed 17th:
American Indian Movement to the World Indigenous Movement, 1968-Present

@ Intertribal Friendship House, Oakland
6PM – 10PM

40th Anniversary: San Francisco State Strike 1968-69
@ CounterPULSE, San Francisco

Thurs 18th:
Archives of Dissent
@ Free Speech Café, Berkeley
6PM – 9PM

Robert Hillary King
@ The Green Arcade, San Francisco

Fri 19th:
National Teach-In on the Iraq War
@ University of California, Berkeley
9AM – 6:30PM

1968: A Discussion On The Lessons and Vibrant Legacy Of The Year That Shook The World
@ Julia Morgan Center For The Arts, Berkeley

Sat 20th:
The Great Rehearsal? The World Revolution of ‘68
@ University of San Francisco
8:30AM – 7:30PM

Sun 21st:
“Wobblies and Zapatistas” Book Launch
@ City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco

Cinema and the Long ’68
Retort Salon
@San Francisco, venue TBA

Mon 22nd:
Paths to Liberation: Political Prisoners, Incarceration, and Struggle
@ Modern Times Bookstore, San Francisco

Paco Ignacio Taibo II in Conversation
@ The Audre Lorde Room, Women’s Building, San Francisco

Tues 23rd:
Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement
@ The Green Arcade, San Francisco

Wed 24th:
Global Africa: 1945 to Today
@ CounterPULSE, San Francisco

Real Cost of Prisons Comix Book Launch with editor Lois Ahrens
@ The Green Arcade, San Francisco

Thur 25th:
Incarceration, Resistance, Costs And Consequences: A Discussion with Authors, Activists And Former Political Prisoners
@ First Congregational Church of Oakland