ANATOLE DOLGOFF speaks on his new book, Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff.
Sam Dolgoff (1902–1990) was a house painter by trade and an activist in the Industrial Workers of the World since the early 1920s. He was a key figure in American anarchism and radical labor history, and published books on the Spanish and Cuban Revolutions and a major Bakunin anthology. This instant classic of radical history, written with passion and humor by his son, conjures images of a lost New York City, its immigrant and working-class neighborhoods, and the blurred lines dividing proletarian and intellectual culture.
” Sam Dolgoff was a mythic figure in a certain corner of the radical left … and his son, Anatole, has written a wise and beautiful book about him.” Paul Berman, author of A Tale of Two Utopias
“If you want to read the god-honest and god-awful truth about being a radical in twentieth-century America, drop whatever you’re doing, pick up this book, and read it. Pronto! If you’re not crying within five pages, you might want to check whether you’ve got a heart and a pulse.” Peter Cole, author of Wobblies on the Waterfront
Anatole Dolgoff was born and raised among the Wobblies and anarchists of the latter two-thirds of the twentieth century. He was for many years an Associate Professor of Physics at CUNY and is currently Professor of Geology at the Pratt Institute.
This event is sponsored by the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice. For further information please contact John Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504-920-6523.
Call it the return of the repressed. Reviewing footage from the D.C. demonstrations on January 20, I couldn’t help but weep. Between the people locked down with PVC pipes in static blockades, the demonstrations that swelled to proportions so great that even journalists were forced to use adjectives like “historic,” and the magnificent meme-able resurrection of the swarming black bloc, the scene could not help but remind me of the exaltation that overtook an earlier generation of radicals at the dawn of the new millennium. Seattle may have been a riot, but it was also a game changer. It upped the ante, and it set the tone for the cycle of struggle that would follow.
Like radiation emitted along with its glow, though, Seattle also unleashed a series of heated debates that were never fully contained or resolved. Unhelpfully, these debates were often framed as showdowns between propositions that were as abstract as they were antithetical. Did we need mass action or direct action? Should we do summit hopping or local organizing? Did politics demand that we produce a new world or should we struggle for better representation within this one?
It was questions like these that compelled me to write Black Bloc, White Riot, a book released by AK Press a full decade after the dust kicked up by the Seattle cycle had settled. I imagined that, if the polarizing debates were reviewed and reassessed, they might yield new insights that could be of use as we planned our next move. In particular, I wondered whether the question of violence deserved fuller consideration than had been allowed under the terms of that uneasy truce so many of us had signed beneath a banner proclaiming our “respect for a diversity of tactics” (I didn’t have much respect for tactics that wouldn’t work).
Consideration or not, I didn’t have to wait long for the violence to return. Around the time the book was released in the summer of 2010, the debates flared up again—this time in Toronto, where an obscene meeting of the G20 (surrounded by fences and thousands of cops) succumbed to umbrage as smoke billowed up from burning police cars. When Occupy Oakland began rioting against police evictions the following fall, the discursive polarity reached new heights as journalist Chris Hedges—otherwise so austere—embraced his new role as cartoon villain.
Because recursions such as these suggest that the questions under consideration are impossible to repress (because they point toward truths that are impossible to ignore), events like N30, the Toronto G20, Occupy Oakland, and our most recent J20 must be viewed as being both politically and analytically significant. Still, the fact that debates since the inauguration now sound so familiar, the fact that they’ve fallen so readily into the ruts we carved at the turn of the century, suggests that—collectively—we still have some working through to do. To this end, and once again, I propose that we recall our past failures so that we might finally trace a new course.
Learn more about AK Thompson’s book, Black Bloc, White Riot, here.
“Today more than ever anarchists, the romantics forever being vilified by every brand of realist, need to stake their proud claim to political far-sightedness and the cultural dignity of their tradition and to turn them into weapons, instead of tossing them overboard as jetsam.”
AK Press has just released the first of ten volumes (Volume III “A Long and Patient Work”) in the Complete Works of Malatesta. This interview with editor Davide Turcato about the Complete Works is from 2012. It first appeared in A Rivista Anarchica, and has been translated by Paul Sharkey.
During his recent stay in Italy we met up with Davide Turcato, who lives in Canada [now Ireland]; he is the supervising editor of the Complete Works of Errico Malatesta. Out of that meeting came this interview. —The editors of A Rivista Anarchica (Milan).
Q. Where did the plan to publish Malatesta’s Complete Works come from?
A. My long-term turning to Malatesta’s writings, initially in my youth, and then, more recently, my study of the three volumes of collected writings that Luigi Fabbri and Luigi Bertoni were going publish as Malatesta’s complete output, although their plans were interrupted. But this current plan proper goes back to a quiet evening in September 1999. I was just finishing my reading of Luigi Fabbri: Storia d’un uomo libero by Fabbri’s daughter Luce, when I stumbled upon a description of the outline of the project that Fabbri had had in mind. “Now is the time to see that plan through,” I said to myself. And so our plan was born. I am not the sort who makes decisions easily. And it still stuns me that it happened …
Q. For whom is the project intended? What sort of reader do you have in mind?
A. We have two types of reader in mind. First and foremost, we are aiming not merely at anarchists eager to deepen their knowledge of the thinking of one of their “greats,” but also at the young and at every educated person with an interest in political thought and keen to know what anarchism is from the mouth of one of its chief exponents. From that point of view, we need to produce books for reading rather than monuments. We are at pains to produce volumes that will not intimidate the reader and so we have, insofar as we can, eased up on the “encyclopedic” aspect of the series by publishing volumes that are self-contained and that can stand alone. We have kept notes to a minimum, confining ourselves to giving briefings on events and people that might not be familiar to contemporary readers or to cross-referencing articles that lend themselves to that. We have, however,tried to avoid notes that “explain” Malatesta to the reader. Malatesta’s writing is plain and meant for everybody and certainly requires no explanation. At the same time, we are also catering to the researcher and academic because we reckon that this somewhat stooped little man with perpetually dirty hands (in the literal sense rather than what Sartre’s Mains Sales had in mind) may be one of the towering figures of political thought worldwide, and his writings deserve a place in the university libraries around the globe. And so we have also sought to produce something that measures up to the current high standards of critical rigor and editorial accuracy.
Q. Allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Don’t you think that the literature already available about Malatesta is enough with which to arrive at a proper understanding of his thought?
A. Malatesta’s thought is like a mine, much of which has yet to be explored. Existing anthologies tend to favor some of his newspapers—L’Agitazione, Umanità Nova, Pensiero e Volontà—to the detriment of other short-lived but very important ones such as L’Associazione and La Rivoluzione Sociale. Not to mention fundamental articles written in other languages and virtually unknown these days. Then again, it is in the nature of an anthology to adopt a thematic approach and thereby present a flattened and rather touched-up picture of Malatesta’s thought. But the time aspect is crucial when dealing with somebody active in the movement for sixty years. There is an exemplary consistency in Malatesta from start to finish. But he was also a cook who tried out his recipes and adjusted them in the light of experience. Capturing the evolution in his thinking opens the way to a much deeper understanding. Finally, the tendency to date has been to focus upon the “peaks” in Malatesta’s struggle, which is to say, during the times he was back in Italy. But in order to appreciate that evolution, it is important to study the transitional times, the intervals, the shadowy areas, and the isolated articles that mark turning-points.
Q. Still playing the devil’s advocate I ask: how much store do you place today by the tradition of so-called “classical” anarchism?
A. “Tradition” is one of those terms that have earned a bad name because of the bad company it has kept. “Tradition” is associated with “traditionalism,” the dogma that “we have to do this because it has always been done that way.” Interpreted that way, obviously the idea of tradition should be rejected. But in politics as well as in science and the arts nobody conjures anything up out of nothing. Anybody who tries to do so winds up reinventing the wheel. The important point is to understand the tradition one belongs to, in order to stand above it and take it further. In this regard, no one has done a better job than Malatesta of defining anarchism, that is, the mainstays of our tradition. Then again, being anti-authoritarians, anarchists often have to point out that they have no masters and traditions to be respected. Which is, to some extent, a sort of self-inflicted wound. If the passage of time has shown anything it is that the anarchists have always been in the right. Gramsci himself implicitly admitted as much back in 1920, yet urged anarchists to acknowledge dialectically “that they were in the wrong … in being in the right” And in a recent book on Malatesta, Vittorio Giacopini has rightly written that it is typical of anarchism to “lose whilst being in the right.” Today more than ever anarchists, the romantics forever being vilified by every brand of realist, need to stake their proud claim to political far-sightedness and the cultural dignity of their tradition and to turn them into weapons, instead of tossing them overboard as jetsam.
Q. Getting down to the specifics of the project, how are the volumes laid out and in what order are they being published?
A. Ten volumes are projected. Of these, eight stick to chronological order, from the First International through to Pensiero e Volontà and his last writings. Besides articles, each volume will contain interviews, reports on talks and cross-examinations, most of it hitherto unpublished material. The remaining two volumes, by contrast, take a thematic approach: one containing correspondence and the other his pamphlets, manifestos, programs, and other miscellaneous writings, such as, say, a play written by Malatesta. As to order of publication, this will be done by fits and starts, but there will be a certain rationale to it. We did not want to begin at the beginning because the first volume is one of the most demanding, in terms both of the traceability and of the attribution of texts. Nor did we want to start at the end because that is what Fabbri and Bertoni did, whereas we wanted to break new ground with something new rather than merely reprinting materials already available. So we start from the middle, from the volume that covers the years 1897–1898, which is to say the L’Agitazione years. Another reason for kicking off with that volume is that by our reckoning it is the one most likely to attract non-anarchists as well, in that it is the one in which Malatesta places the greatest emphasis on partial gains rather than upon a new departure ushered in by insurrection. From there, we shall proceed in chronological sequence right to the end after which we will jump back to the very first volumes in the sequence. The volume containing his correspondence will almost certainly be the final one because it too involves a lot of hard work, whereas the volume containing the pamphlets, manifestos, and the like represents a sort of a “jolly” and we have yet to decide where in the sequence it should be inserted.
Q. From what you say, as the volumes see publication, your research is still ongoing?
A. Yes, that’s it. Let me state first and foremost that the title Complete Works is a lie. The real title should be Works As Complete As Possible. Especially as regards his correspondence, the completeness of which is an unattainable ideal. Let me seize the occasion here to put out an appeal to your readers. If anyone knows of or possesses notes or letters by Malatesta, we would be profoundly grateful if you would let us know about them. That said, we should say that I have already gathered about 95% of our materials. But if there is one thing that I have learned from the experience of the first volumes, it is that that final 5% demands nearly as much time as it took to gather all the rest together.
Q. And to finish, what can you tell me about the latest volume to be published?
A. The title is (in English) Towards Anarchy: Malatesta in America, 1899–1900. It deals mainly with Malatesta’s time in the United States at the turn of the century, during which time he took over from the anti-organisationist Ciancabilla as editor in chief of La Questione Sociale in Paterson [New Jersey]. Since it deals with America, we asked the top US expert in Italian anarchism, Nunzio Pernicone, to write the introductory essay. The volume covers one of the periods of which an understanding might bring the greatest benefit to an anthology of all his writings. If we look at his writings one by one, separately, that period is a sort of a puzzle. Within the space of just a few months, we find Malatesta writing, on the one hand, a pamphlet like Against Monarchy in which he calls, as a top priority, for an alliance between revolutionary factions with an eye to an insurrection to overthrow the Savoyard monarchy, and also touches upon the subject of military tactics. Which has prompted some critics to talk about a sort of 1848-style regurgitation on Malatesta’s part. On the other hand, he was writing an article such as “Towards Anarchy,” in which he asserts that “any victory, no matter how slight […] will be a step forwards, a step along the road to anarchy.” And thereby seems to be hinting at the theme of gradualism that he was to develop completely a quarter of a century later. Yet, reading these writings together, one can detect a coherence in them. Now, do not ask me what the solution to the puzzle is because, as I said earlier we are not out to explain Malatesta to the reader, and I do not want to contradict myself even before this interview finishes. Essentially, the beauty of Complete Works is that one should no longer borrow the interpretations of “experts,” i.e. the few people who have hitherto been privileged to have access to all of Malatesta’s writings. Now everyone can come up with his own interpretation, now that we have all the resources at our disposal.
A Rivista Anarchica (Milan) Year 42, No 375, November 2012
The English-language volumes will be:
The Complete Works of Errico Malatesta
“Whoever is Poor is a Slave”: The Internationalist Period and the South America Exile, 1871–89
“Let’s Go to the People”: L’Associazione and the London Years of 1889–97
“A Long and Patient Work”: The Anarchist Socialism of L’Agitazione, 1897–98
“Towards Anarchy”: Malatesta in America, 1899–1900
“The Armed Strike”: The Long London Exile of 1900–13
“Is Revolution Possible?”: Volontà, the Red Week and the War, 1913–18
“United Proletarian Front”: The Red Biennium, Umanità Nova and Fascism, 1919–23
“Achievable and Achieving Anarchism”: Pensiero e Volontà and Last Writings, 1924–32
“What Anarchists Want”: Pamphlets, Programmes, Manifestos and Other Miscellaneous Publications
“Yours and for Anarchy…”: Malatesta’s Correspondence
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NO PEACEFUL TRANSITION
#DisruptJ20: Call for a bold mobilization against the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017
On Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States. We call on all people of good conscience to join in disrupting the ceremonies. If Trump is to be inaugurated at all, let it happen behind closed doors, showing the true face of the security state Trump will preside over. It must be made clear to the whole world that the vast majority of people in the United States do not support his presidency or consent to his rule.
Trump stands for tyranny, greed, and misogyny. He is the champion of neo-nazis and white Nationalists, of the police who kill the Black, Brown and poor on a daily basis, of racist border agents and sadistic prison guards, of the FBI and NSA who tap your phone and read your email. He is the harbinger of even more climate catastrophe, deportation, discrimination, and endless war. He continues to deny the existence of climate change, in spite of all the evidence, putting the future of the whole human race at stake. The KKK, Vladimir Putin, Golden Dawn, and the Islamic State all cheered his victory. If we let his inauguration go unchallenged, we are opening the door to the future they envision.
Trump’s success confirms the bankruptcy of representative democracy. Rather than using the democratic process as an alibi for inaction, we must show that no election could legitimize his agenda. Neither the Democrats nor any other political party or politician will save us—they just offer a weaker version of the same thing. If there is going to be positive change in this society, we have to make it ourselves, together, through direct action.
From day one, the Trump presidency will be a disaster. #DisruptJ20 will be the start of the resistance. We must take to the streets and protest, blockade, disrupt, intervene, sit in, walk out, rise up, and make more noise and good trouble than the establishment can bear. The parade must be stopped. We must delegitimize Trump and all he represents. It’s time to defend ourselves, our loved ones, and the world that sustains us as if our lives depend on it—because they do.
In Washington, DC
DC will not be hospitable to the Trump administration. Every corporation must openly declare whether they side with him or with the people who will suffer at his hands. Thousands will converge and demonstrate resistance to the Trump regime. Save the date. A website will appear shortly with more details. #DisruptJ20
Around the US
If you can’t make it to Washington, DC on January 20, take to the streets wherever you are. We call on our comrades to organize demonstrations and other actions for the night of January 20. There is also a call for a general strike to take place. Organize a walkout at your school now. Workers: call out sick and take the day off. No work, no school, no shopping, no housework. #DisruptJ20
Around the World
If you are living outside the US, you can take action at US embassies, borders, or other symbols of neocolonial power. Our allegiance is not to “making America great again,” but to all of humanity and the planet. #DisruptJ20
Spread the word. Join the fight. #DisruptJ20
CrimethInc. Workers’ Collective
It’s Going Down
New York Anarchist Action
NYC Anarchist Black Cross
Pittsburgh Autonomous Student Network
Pittsburgh Student Solidarity Coalition
Pitt Against Debt
Pitt Students for a Democratic Society
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Antifa Seven Hills
Black Rose Book Distro St. Louis
Resonance: An anarchist audio distro
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We know many of you have been waiting for Shon Meckfessel’s new book Nonviolence Ain’t What It Used to Be: Unarmed Insurrection and the Rhetoric of Resistance. Well, it’s back from the printer and ready to confront the world—and upset some of our preconceived notions about “violence” and “nonviolence.”
Here’s a little taste from the Introduction:
In its 2016 report, Global Riot Control System Market, 2016–2020, the market research firm Infiniti Research Ltd. has some great news for investors who are thinking about putting their money in riot-control technologies: by 2020, the overall riot control market in the United States “is expected to exceed USD 2 billion,” with the markets in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa growing at an even higher rate.  “Protests, riots, and demonstrations are major issues faced by the law enforcement agencies across the world,” and current conditions are unambiguously predicted to further “generate demand for riot control systems.” “Growing economic transformations” in the Asia–Pacific region are predicted to produce changes that will “boost demand for riot control systems” there as well. Another recent report by the esteemed Lloyd’s of London similarly predicts that “instances of political violence contagion are becoming more frequent and the contagion effect ever more rapid and powerful.” The Lloyd’s report presents three “pandemic” categories, what they term “super-strain pandemic types: “a) anti-imperialist, independence movements, removing occupying force; b) mass pro-reform protests against national government, and c) armed insurrection, insurgency, secessionist, may involve ideology (e.g. Marxism, Islamism).” The report presents the distinctions among these categories as hazy, as unrest of one sort is liable to bleed into that of another. Clearly, the differences matter less than the similar threat various forms of unrest pose and responses they demand.
Ours is a time of riots, without a doubt. Still, not so long ago, protests in much of the world, and particularly in the US and Europe, were generally thought of as “nonviolent” affairs. After the intensity of 1968 and the subsequent repression of armed revolutionary groups in the US, Europe, and Latin America, nonviolence seemed to have become a cornerstone of social movement common sense. Curious exceptions—the Zapatistas with their generally silent guns, Black Blocs of the antiglobalization movement, and the occasional urban riots in Miami, LA, and Cincinnati—seemed to be exceptions that confirmed the rule. Yet, the time when nonviolence could be taken for granted has clearly come to an end. What happened? What is it that people say through rioting that went unsaid for so long?
One of the first things that struck me as I set out to answer these questions was that advocates both of nonviolence and of riot often speak of their preferred approach as if it works by magic. Insurrectionist and nonviolence advocates alike speak in mystical terms about the ineffable power of their activities, often without giving a hint about what actual effects, in what specific conditions, these approaches might have. Rather than being able to lay out the effective mechanisms of these approaches—what purposes such actions serve, what audiences they appeal to, and how exactly they go about making their claims and appeals—most bristle at having their faith so questioned. Indeed, in looking at how people discuss these issues, I often wondered if I was speaking to religious adherents rather than people seeking to bring about social change through worldly action. It is no secret that the Left (including the “post-Left”) has suffered dearly from a traumatic break in generational knowledge, for which we should likely thank the FBI as much as any of our own dysfunctions. In tracing the influence of these generational breaks to discussions of non/violence, I became increasingly interested in this traumatic history, which I see as the root of the dehistoricized, magical thinking evident in these discourses. This book seeks to redress that amnesia and to explore how it is we’ve gotten to a point where various core approaches in the repertoire of social movements have come to seem opposed, even complete opposites—while in a longer historical perspective, they seem more like points on a spectrum, or tools in a box. If neither “nonviolence” nor “violent” riots work by magic, how, then, do they work?
In answering these questions, I have drawn heavily on post-structuralist theories of discourse, rhetoric, and affect. Far from head-in-the-clouds academic jargon, I see these fields as concrete tools for understanding how meanings are negotiated and contested, and how such struggles are always at the same time a matter of contesting power. Indeed, for those who think of Foucault and his ilk as steering radical critique too heavily toward a fussy preoccupation with language, I hope this work can provide an example of how that doesn’t have to be the case. Many assume that “nonviolence” has a monopoly on the reasoned appeal to its audiences, and that political violence—not only the violence of riots, but even less sympathetic forms of political violence of massacre or torture, for example—relies only on coercion and force, rather than possessing a persuasive eloquence in its own right. I think this distinction is fundamentally wrong and not at all helpful. Consequently, throughout this work, I keep coming back to the tension between, on the one hand, the “rhetorical” or “discursive”—that place where meanings happen, within culture and, generally but not always, language—and, on the other, “materiality,” that world of necessity, coercion, objects, and force. Like many rhetoricians, I am interested in the way that material reality can work to create meaning, and how certain meanings can only be made through material realities—that is, not only in words. However, “action not words” doesn’t really describe the process, because meanings that happen materially don’t “stick” unless we remember and represent those meanings—unless these material changes get us to talk to each other and ourselves in a different way. Reality is not merely “material” (as some vulgar Marxists would have it) or entirely “discursive” (as some vulgar post-structuralists might say), but happens in the friction between the two. More than a minor aside, the study of how social movements change meaning—which is to say, change the world, since meanings are the way we decide how to act—is a way to better understand this friction. Scrappy protests, especially in their most intense forms as riots, are a perfect site to study this, precisely because they have been so long assumed to be “the voice of the voiceless,” a mute symptom of lack of political power, rather than an articulate way of constituting it.
When I look at political violence in this book, I primarily focus on violence in public protest, those public acts that seek to contest and cast doubts on the way that power works under current arrangements, and especially on those aspects of it directed at calling capitalist property relations into question. I do not look at the striking increase in right-wing violence, or at the proud tradition of “armed self-defense,” or specifically at anticolonial violence, except to briefly discuss its differences from the subject at hand. Although capitalism and modern settler colonialism have been historically co-constituted and interdependent, they present somewhat different challenges to those trying to contest them. I hope understanding these relatively discrete systems of rule can help us better respond in those complex realities (like the contemporary US) where, in practice, aspects of both nearly always appear tangled together. I do look briefly at those times in the history of social movements when guns have come out into the open, in order to try to figure out why they aren’t doing so now.
Much of this book began as my PhD dissertation, researched and written in 2012–2013. During this time, I interviewed approximately thirty participants from Occupy Oakland and Occupy Seattle in order to help me work through these ideas. I was very active in these movements as well, as what academics euphemistically term a “participant observer.” While I was conducting my research, the FBI was also conducting its own investigation into these same movements and into some of the same episodes I was interested in—such as the 2012 May Day riot in Seattle, which did some $200,000 of damage to the downtown business core. Because of this, I was obliged to carefully avoid asking any specific questions about people’s involvement and also to make all my interviewees completely anonymous. Although some narrative coherence might be lost as a result, I hope the wider personal dramas, struggles, and victories come through the words of the people I spoke with. These things are never experienced individually anyway; therefore, somehow this jumbling strikes me as more faithful to the experience. Given the limited pool of participants in these movements, I was also reluctant to give away much demographic data, regardless of how obviously important intersectionalities of race, gender, sexuality, region, etc. are. I have refrained from mentioning very many identity markers, and only when it seems absolutely necessary to the meaning of the comments. In general, I can attest that those I interviewed were diverse in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, although perhaps less so in terms of class (I am thinking in particular of the large contingent of street kids who were difficult to track down once the Occupy camps were dispersed).
While turning my original research into a book, I was also a very active participant in a number of other movements, such as the Block the Boat actions against Israeli shipping companies and the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle. Even though I was not conducting “research” as a participant in these movements, I could see that the tendencies I was writing about had only become more pronounced. Examples and extrapolations from these more contemporary struggles found their way into my manuscript in what I think are productive ways, despite the less formal nature of the research.
My goal in this book is not to advocate violence or to prescribe nonviolence; it is, in fact, to move beyond the politically obstructive dichotomy of such prescriptions. If I am successful, we will learn to hesitate when we use these words, to pause until we actually have some idea what we’re talking about—or perhaps until we’ve managed to come up with more helpful terminology. If, as Randall Amster says, “the sum total of people killed or physically injured by anarchists throughout all of recorded history amounts to little more than a good weekend for the empire,” then why are arguments about violence and nonviolence within our movements so acute?  Why do the stakes seem so high? More often than not, we are not even sure what we’re talking about when we debate nonviolence and rioting. This book, in its small way, hopes to add a bit more clarity to the discussion by helping us understand, when our rioting bodies enter the streets, what they are saying and how successful they are at articulating it.
1 Global Riot Control System Market, 2016–2020, quoted in Nafeez Ahmed, “Defence industry poised for billion dollar profits from global riot ‘contagion’,” Medium.com, May 6, 2016. Accessed June 20, 2016, https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/defence-industry-poised-for-billion-dollar-profits-from-global-riot-contagion-8fa38829348c#.c3qc3z5ol. All remaining quotes in this paragraph are also from Ahmed’s overview.
2 Randall Amster, Anarchism Today (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2012), 44.
AK Press is proud to bring The Revolution Starts at Home back into print. Here is a short excerpt to give you a feel for why we think it’s so important. This preface to the book by Andrea Smith describes some of the challenges of ending gender-based and intimate violence without relying on policing and prisons, and lays out some of what the book sets out to do: helping us all think through truly transformative solutions.
PREFACE by Andrea Smith
The Revolution Starts at Home is an amazing book that signals how much analysis and praxis have changed within the anti-violence movement. Twenty years ago when I first became involved in the movement, even prior to the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), it was almost impossible to question the movement’s reliance on the criminal legal system. In fact, it was difficult to even see the anti-violence movement as a movement. Most programs were almost entirely funded by the state. We had become a network of social service providers and legal system advocates. We had become so single-issue oriented that it did not even occur to most anti-violence coalitions to organize against police brutality, anti-immigration legislation, or military violence. Instead, many anti-violence programs support the police state and militarism as solutions to gender violence. The assumption that the criminal legal system was friend to the anti-violence movement went unquestioned. When the few critics there were would ask why we were supporting a system that was increasingly incarcerating poor communities and communities of color, we were silenced before we could even finish our sentences.
Of course there were many organized women of color anti-violence organizations and caucuses. Yet we did not question the larger logics of the antiviolence movement. We strove to provide more inclusive services, but we did not question the actual services themselves. We created bilingual hotlines, “culturally sensitive” training programs, and ethnicity-specific shelter services. But we never asked ourselves if this approach was the best way to end violence against women of color. We organized for inclusion in the anti-violence movement but did not question what we were trying to be included in.
In 1999, Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex organized its first conference. Critical Resistance helped popularize the principles of prison abolition. It provided a framework for many of us who had been involved in the anti-violence movement and were skeptical of its reliance on the criminal legal system. We could do more than simply share concerns about criminalization: we now had an analysis of why the prison industrial complex was not the solution to anything, including gender violence. This framework then provided a foundation for the development, in 2000, of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. INCITE! aspired to do more than call attention to racism in the anti-violence movement. Instead, it wanted the movement to become a movement. Rather than focus on social services delivery or court advocacy, it posited that gender violence must be understood within larger systems of capitalism, settler colonialism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy. Social services are important, but if that is all we work for we are simply enabling people to survive an unjust system. Instead, we actually wanted to change these systems. But to do so, we had to build mass movements of peoples who were no longer willing to live under structures of violence. Our focus would have to be on political mobilization and base-building.
Of course, as this book points out, one of the major contradictions in political mobilization is that we often replicate the same hierarchical systems we claim to be dismantling. Gender violence is as prevalent within progressive movements as it is in society at large. As the editors of this volume remind us, the revolution does indeed start at home. This phrase should not be interpreted as a depoliticized call to focus on personal self-development instead of building movements to dismantle white supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism. Rather, this phrase reminds us that for our movements to be successful they must prefigure the societies we seek to build. In addition, as I have argued elsewhere, movements must dispense with the idea that we can worry about gender violence “after the revolution,” because gender violence is a primary strategy for white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism. Heteropatriarchy is the logic by which all other forms of social hierarchy become naturalized. The same logic underlying the belief that men should dominate women on the basis of biology (a logic that also presupposes a gender binary system) underlies the belief that the elites of a society naturally dominate everyone else. Those who have an interest in dismantling settler colonialism, white supremacy, and capitalism must by necessity have a stake in dismantling heteropatriarchy.
Thus, INCITE! and other organizations with similar philosophies realized that we must develop strategies that address state violence and interpersonal violence simultaneously. In doing so, we realized that we had to question our reliance on the criminal legal system as the solution to ending gender violence, and instead recognize the state as both perpetrator and beneficiary of gender violence. The question then arises: If the criminal legal system is not the solution, what is? Unfortunately, many of the alternatives to incarceration that are promoted under the “restorative justice model” have not developed sufficient safety mechanisms for survivors of domestic/sexual violence. “Restorative justice” is an umbrella term that describes a wide range of programs that attempt to address crime from a restorative and reconciliatory rather than punitive framework, such as that of the US criminal legal system, which focuses solely on punishing the perpetrator and removing that person from society through incarceration. Restorative justice attempts to involve all parties (perpetrators, victims, and community members) in determining the appropriate response to a crime in an effort to restore the community to wholeness. These models are often much more successful than punitive justice models. However, the problem with these models in addressing sexual/domestic violence is that they work only when the community unites in holding perpetrators accountable. In cases of sexual and domestic violence, the community often sides with the perpetrator rather than the victim. Thus, developing community-based responses to violence cannot rely on a romanticized notion of “community” that is not sexist, homophobic, or otherwise problematic. We cannot assume that there is even an intact community to begin with. Our political task then becomes to create communities of accountability.
What we see in this book is the work of many groups doing precisely that. They do not seek a band-aid, quick fix approach to ending gender violence. Instead they seek to end structures of violence. Their models are experimentations in trying to do more than just crisis intervention, and are actually structured around creating the society we would like to live in. Such work is necessarily provisional; the strategies we come up with will have their limitations and will have to change as our social conditions change. Yet they are important because they force us out of a crisis-based reaction mode into a creative space of envisioning new possibilities.
At the same time, these writers remind us that we cannot ignore present-day emergencies as we build new futures. We cannot expect to engage in “pure” strategies untainted by the current system. Thus, it is important to remember that prison abolition as well as community accountability are positive rather than negative projects. The goal is not to tell survivors that they can never call the police or engage the criminal legal system. The question is not whether a survivor should call the police, but rather why we have given survivors no other option but to call the police.
As Native feminists in particular have noted, in creating alternatives to the criminal legal system we necessarily confront the need to create alternatives to the settler-state. If we focus only on community accountability without a larger critique of the state, we risk framing community accountability as simply an add-on to the criminal legal system. Because anti-violence work has focused on advocacy, we have not developed strategies for “due process,” leaving that to the state. When our political imaginaries are captured by the state, we can then presume that the state should be left to administer “justice” while communities serve as supplement to this regime, supporting it and the fundamental injustice of a settler state founded on slavery, genocide, and the exploitation of immigrant labor. Further, in so doing we do not allow ourselves to imagine new visions for liberatory nationhood that are not structured on logics of hierarchy, violence, and domination. Fortunately, indigenous peoples are rearticulating conceptions of nationhood and self-determination that are liberatory not only for indigenous peoples but all others as well.
In the end, the “revolution at home” that is needed is indeed a real revolution. It requires a dismantling of capitalism, white supremacy, and the settler state. Community accountability is not a “model program” that can easily be funded through the nonprofit industrial complex because it is a strategy for radical social transformation. It’s a long road, but The Revolution Starts at Home provides an excellent starting point for developing a movement to end violence in all its forms.
Author Anatole Dolgoff will speak about Left of the Left: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff at the Tamiment Library.
About the book:
Sam Dolgoff (1902–1990) was a house painter by trade and member of the IWW from the early 1920s until his death. Sam, along with his wife Esther, was at the center of American anarchism for seventy years, bridging the movement’s generations, providing continuity between past and present, and creating some of the most vital books and journals from the Great Depression through WWII, the Civil Rights era, and into the last decade of the century. This instant classic of radical history, written with passion and humor by his son, conjures images of a lost New York City, the faded power of immigrant and working-class neighborhoods, and the blurred lines dividing proletarian and intellectual culture.
Anatole Dolgoff is the son of prominent anarchists Sam and Esther Dolgoff, and was quite literally born and raised among the Wobblies and anarchists of the latter two-thirds of the twentieth century. Anatole was for many years an Associate Professor of Physics at CUNY and is currently Professor of Geology at the Pratt Institute.
Visit the AK Press tables (graciously staffed by members of the Camas Collective) at the Victoria Anarchist Bookfair! You can find more information about the bookfair on their website: http://victoriaanarchistbookfair.ca/
Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1611723889141685/
Come visit the AK Press booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival!
You can find more information (including hopefully our exact booth location, once they figure that out) at the festival website: http://www.brooklynbookfestival.org/
Join us for a run/walk/bike ride in solidarity with U.S. held political prisoners and prisoners of war. The Chico run will take place at Bidwell Park, One Mile. There will be prizes! There will be beverages! Sponsored by AK Press, Critical Resistance, Freedom Archives, and Sacramento Prisoner Support. To register as a participant or to donate, please email: RDTW.Chico@gmail.com
This local event will be in conjunction with other runs taking place in Los Angeles, NYC, Denver, the Twin Cities, and Seattle (maybe more!).
Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/598770490303195/
Find out about runs in other cities: https://www.facebook.com/events/495728730631973/