Category Archives: Marxism

Wayne Price on Anarchism and Marxist Economics (rebroadcast)

Wayne Price on Anarchism and Marxist Economics (rebroadcast)

Book cover of “The Value of Radical Theory” by Wayne Price with the notes “TFSR 9-18-2022”
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This week we’re re-airing our 2020 conversation with Wayne Price, longtime anarchist, author and then-member of Bronx Climate Justice North and the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, or MACC, in New York City.

From the original post:

After reading his book, The Value Of Radical Theory: An Anarchist Introduction to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy (AK Press, 2013), I became excited to speak to him about his views on anarchists engaging Marxist economic concepts and some of the historical conflicts and engagements between Marxism and Anarchism. We talk about his political trajectory from a pacifist Anarchist in high school, through Trotskyism and back to anarchy. Wayne talks about common visions of what an anarchist economy might look like, how we might get there, class and intersection of other oppressions, critique of State Capitalism. Wayne sees the oppressed of the world having a chance during this economic freeze to fight against re-imposition of wide-scale capitalist ecocide by building libertarian, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist and heterogenous future societies in the shell of the old.

You can find his books Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution? available from at AKPress.Org and The Abolition Of The State: Anarchist & Marxist Perspectives (AuthorHouse, 2007) or through a fine, independent radical bookstore in your area that could use support. A reminder that AKPress published books, such as “The Value…” can be purchased in e-book format for free from AKPress.org. You can find some of Wayne’s writing at this mirror of AnarchistLibrary, as well as at the site for the Platformist Anarkismo Network, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, and The Utopian Journal (seemingly out of print).

A transcript of this interview will be available soon at our website

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Featured Track:

  • I’m So Bored with the U.S.A. by The Clash from The Clash

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Transcription

TFSR: I am speaking with Wayne Price, a longtime anarchist author and currently a member of the Bronx Climate Justice North, and Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council or MACC in New York City. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat.

Wayne Price: Oh, you’re welcome, I am delighted for a chance to talk to people.

TFSR: Can you share a bit about the political trajectory, your political development?

WP: I’ve had to change my mind more often than I to admit. I began in high school as an anarchist pacifist. I was a great admirer of Paul Goodman and Dwight Macdonald at the time. I was persuaded of Trotskyism of a radical democratic variety, a wing that rejected Trotsky’s notion that the Soviet Union was somehow socialist or a workers’ state because it’s still nationalized property. And over time, I went through various upheavals and eventually became a revolutionary anarchist as I am today. Although I think that I still am much influenced by libertarian and humanistic tendencies and Marxism. That’s where I am today.

TFSR: I think it’s really interesting how the Revolutionary Socialist League actually transitioned from an unorthodox Trotskyist group into basically an anarchist group before self-abolishing. Is that an okay description of what happened?

WP: Yeah, although we were orthodox in an unorthodox way. That is, we never accepted, as I said, the notion that the Soviet Union had become a workers’ state. The various orthodox Trotskyists believed that this workers’ state that didn’t spread to other countries was not even a workers’ revolution. So that says, we were unorthodox and regarded the Soviet Union correctly as a state capitalist, but we also were motivated by a desire for freedom. We always gave Marx and certainly Lenin and Trotsky the benefit of the doubt, anytime there was a question of whether what they said could be interpreted in a more libertarian democratic fashion or in a more authoritarian fashion. Until we stopped doing that. We were very much influenced by the gay liberation movement and women’s liberation movements. Not just for the content of that, but the very spirit of libertarian perspective. At a certain point, we started thinking that we were interpreting Trotskyism and Leninism and Marxism in a libertarian democratic and humanistic working class fashion, and just about everybody else who was a Trotskyist, not to mention the Leninists and Marxists, interpreted them in a more authoritarian fashion, and in a way that they were good. So we thought, “Gee, is everybody wrong? Is everybody marching in the wrong way except us? Or is it maybe that we’re wrong? Or, perhaps, we’re both right. Maybe there are authoritarian sides, aspects, routing in the ideologies and all the Trotskyists and Leninists around us.” This let us reevaluate and certainly in my case, go back to my anarchist roots. As society generally swung to the right after the end of the 60s and 70s, most of our people that were in the Revolutionary Socialist League dropped out of politics, but a few of us turned in an anarchists direction.

TFSR: When interacting with anarchists, did you find that they would bring up, any of Paul Avrich’s writing, or Maximoff, or Voline, or any of these anarchists that either had been present during the repression of anarchists and the libertarian tendencies in Russia during the revolution or other countries where state socialism or state capitalism had been imposed?

WP: Sure, of course, and we also read some of that stuff. Avrich, who, by coincidence, had been a professor of mine in college. We read his stuff about Russia and started learning more about the Russian Revolution. Going back to reading Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman’s accounts, as well as Voline’s account of the Russian Revolution and the Ukrainian Revolution and Makhno and so forth. And we got to see that we haven’t given Lenin the benefit of the doubt, but in fact that Lenin had created – Lenin wasn’t Stalin, he hadn’t intended to create a totalitarian state – what he created was a one-party police state, he and Trotsky. Nor did they say, “Well, this is something we have to do because of objective conditions, objective circumstances, civil war and so forth,” but rather they came to see it as a principle, the one-party dictatorship. We thought, “This is not what we want. This is not our conception.” And so we started reanalyzing what was it about Lenin and Trotsky that had led to this? If you don’t give them the benefit of the doubt on everything, you start to see also the authoritarian aspects.

TFSR: So you’ve gone through this long trajectory in your personal development over the years and you still believe that there’s a lot to be learned from at least their progenitors, at least from Marx and Engels and their teachings on economic concepts. For instance, the book that you wrote, The Value of Radical Theory, I thought was quite enjoyable and really accessible.

WP: How nice! Flattery will get you anywhere.

TFSR: Can you talk a bit about Marxist economic theory in brief, and what you think a better grasp and engagement among anarchists could bring to our movements and our organizing?

WP: From the beginning, anarchists thought there was something valuable in Marx’s economic analysis. More precisely, his critique of political economy. Starting with Bakunin. Somebody has referred to Bakunin as the first anarcho-Marxist, particularly the historical materialism as a broad analysis of how society functions, and specifically the economic analysis of how capitalism functions, and how capitalism works. And it lays the basis for a working-class orientation, for an understanding of the weaknesses of capitalism and the potentialities of the working class for creating a new society and making revolution. And it shows the positives and negatives of capitalism, what causes prosperity and productivity, and on the other hand, the crises that it’s gonna go through, and crises which we are now living through. We analyzed capitalism as having gone through a period of big prosperity following World War II for various reasons, including the destructiveness of the war, the reorganization of world imperialism, the arms economy, the looting of the environment, trading oil, and so forth as the basis for the economy, but treating it as something cheap and not having to pay for the full costs. We could see that this would come to an end, as it did in the late 70s and a general downturn of the world economy began, with ups and downs. And we’re now living through one example of the crash of the economy, although it doesn’t show itself simply as the economic fracture. The economy is interrelated with other factors, particularly ecological and health, as we see. So I think it’s very valuable to understand how the system works. And there really isn’t an alternative to Marxist economics, except bourgeoise economics. So we regard that as very useful as long as we don’t get lost in various aspects of it that turned into an authoritarian direction.

TFSR: I think that the term late-stage capitalism has always rankled me a little bit as a wishful phrase. But I guess if you think about capitalism as cancer, and if we find ourselves in the world that we live in suffering from its latest stage, then that could mean that it’s terminal for all of us, or maybe as real existing Marxists claim we’re ready for the next dialectical shift of the inevitable end of history. But what can you say about what is coming? In your crystal ball, what do you see coming next, or what do you think we should be digging for?

WP: Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, of course. What’s the phrase… “Marxist economic analysis helps predict nine of the last four recessions.” Tools are no better than the workmen using them. I also don’t like the phrase late-stage, in the sense that it’s often used by the Marxists to say that this is the end of capitalism. And we know that it’s the end of capitalism, and we’re right around the– And partly that was because they were so inspired by the spread of Stalinism, of state capitalism throughout the world and felt that’s gonna keep on spreading until this is over, we don’t know. It’s ridiculous, we can no longer say that socialism is inevitable, that the capitalist system will turn to socialism, before there’s a nuclear war or before climate change disaster hits the world, or before the total collapse of the economy. Nobody can really make that claim now, that would sound absurd. I do think capitalism has a tendency towards its destruction, I think it has reached its limits, in a basic sense, but that doesn’t mean that you can predict it. It’s like saying that we can predict there’s going to be a humongous earthquake in California due to plate tectonics. But do we know when? We don’t even know what century it will happen in? Unfortunately, the greatest immediate threat is climate change. And that’s bearing down upon us like a railroad train coming down on us in the tunnel. But we can’t know exactly what’s gonna happen. The system is very flexible, it has been very able to revive itself before every crash. Lenin once said that there’s no crisis that the capitalist can’t find a way out of. In theory, we don’t know. I expect it to get really much worse. I expect that we’re facing crashes and collapses due to the climate, health, as well as economic collapse, which we’re now seeing. If there’s a revolutionary change, I don’t know how drawn out it is going to be. That’s really impossible to say.

TFSR: Many anarchists avoid painting a clear picture of their visions of alternative economic systems. In fact, many of the most inspirational pictures of anti-authoritarian post-capitalist alternatives that I’ve come across come from science-fiction stories like The Fifth Sacred Thing or Woman on the Edge of Time. Drawing back to reality a bit though, can you paint a picture of what you think an alternative post-capitalist economy that you imagine happening and functioning might look like? What some of the moving parts in it might be? Or how it might relate geographically?

WP: We have some ideas. I expect people to in some way form a federation or association of self-managed industries, workplaces, communities, and coordinate with each other and build democratic planning from below, through voluntary associations. Exactly how, I don’t know because the key part of the vision is that it’s going to be experimental, pluralistic, and decentralized. So people will try out different things, different places, and some places might try to go immediately to full communism. Others might try to use market mechanisms, some areas or regions will be more centralized, others more decentralized. It’ll be an experimental kind of society where people are using intelligence and seeing how it works out. The key thing is that it will be self-governing, self-managed, cooperative, organized by the people from the bottom up, flexible, and spread throughout the whole world. At first, of course, the working people will have to take over. I am not against the notion of saying that workers will take power, I am against the notion of the workers taking state power, that is what will replace the existing state will be the self-organization of the people, of the working class, and all oppressed as they move to build a society which has no division between classes, no specialization of who’s a manager and who’s managed, rulers and the ruled. So, we can think in terms of federations, networks of consumer/producer cooperatives and self-governing communes economically and coordination through councils and assemblies from neighborhood assemblies and workplace councils, replacement of the police and military by a popular militia and armed people coordinating through their councils for so long as is necessary. Something like that. That’s very vague. I know what I’m saying is very brief, but that is basically the vision of a stateless, classless, revolutionary, new society.

TFSR: It seems there’s a pragmatism for materialists of various sorts to be pointing to working people as one of the main groups of people that have agency because of their ability to either put down their tools or immediately block production from occurring. But in an economy currently, where so much of the employment that people engage with is not economic. It’s not producing food, a lot of that’s automated on large farms. It’s not manufacturing, where a lot of that is automated or is so globalized that the production doesn’t occur locally. Do you think that there needs to be a shift in people’s understanding; what’s the working definition of the working class or proletariat that you would use?

WP: 80% of the population lives paycheck to paycheck, takes orders from somebody, and doesn’t give orders to anybody else. True, the industrialized sector in terms of employment has decreased, though it’s hardly gone. Nevertheless, they still produce as much as we ever produced in this country, as you say, partly because of automation. The main point here is that people who don’t work in factories work in service industries. The people who work in Amazon, you won’t call it a factory, but their work is concentrated in large industrial sites, where they’re pushing goods around. That’s not counting such things as– A major thing in the news now is the coronavirus spreading to the meatpacking plants, which are big factories and which are central to the diet of the American people. So yeah, a lot of people work or did work in restaurants in small places. But still, most people work for a living, and they work for a paycheck that either is called a salary or wage. And that’s still true for most people. Even for those who don’t work, the blue-collar or white-collar, or pink-collar for women’s categorized work, that’s still true and hasn’t changed. So we don’t have robots running everything just yet. Meanwhile, on a world scale, as you say, one of the reasons for the decrease in certain industrialized jobs is that jobs are going elsewhere. This is not the end of the working classes. The working class has been restructured. Whereas it used to be that most of the world was peasants, today, most of the world is urban, including the vast expansion of the international working class. That doesn’t counter the working class analysis to say that the growth of the working class throughout the world in China, Vietnam, Mexico, Bangladesh, and Africa and so forth. There is now an international proletariat in a way there hasn’t been before.

That’s not to say that this is the only issue – the exploitation and oppression of the workers – because all issues of oppression are relevant. Just as in the past, in Marx’s or Lenin’s day, they not only preached or mobilized the workers but also said “the peasants” or “oppressed nations.” So today, every issue of oppression and suffering is relevant, that has to be brought into a revolutionary movement, oppression of women, gay, lesbians, bisexual and so forth people, youth and, of course, the issues of ecology – all these issues. Everything is relevant. But part of this is, it’s not a moral thing, that workers are more oppressed than, say, deaf people. If there is a strategic point, who has the power to change things, who has their hands on the means of production and transportation? The state has most of the military power, obviously, although the rank-and-files of the military are sons and daughters of the working class, the workers also can shut things down and start things up again in a different way. So this particular strategic aspect that ties in together with and overlap with every other oppression, it’s not like an African-American woman worker, a postal worker is oppressed a certain number of hours as a worker, a certain number of hours as a Black, and a certain number of hours as a woman. It’s altogether to one ball of wax. Even when she’s not working, she’s depending on the income she gets from her job. So these aren’t separate issues. They’re all interconnected and essential. But the central thing that holds it all together is capitalism and its exploitation because, without the surplus that it squeezes out of the working population, there would be no capitalism, there would be no state, there would be no male oppression, there would be no nothing. So this is, for strategic reasons, a central issue, the class issue.

TFSR: You mentioned ecological destruction as a product of capitalist industrial production. And definitely, a critique of so-called socialist economies was that they were similarly widely polluting, damaging, extractive – or continue to be in the case of China, which still causes half that – and poisoning of human and non-human life. Why would anarchist models of the economy be any different being sprouted from the same soil, even in rejection of liberal capitalism, and same concepts of extraction and looking at the world around us as resources? Are there any more modern anarchist thinkers or tendencies or groups that you feel influenced your thoughts on this?

WP: The point is not the industry as such, the point is capitalism. Capitalism has a drive to accumulate, to quantitative growth, accumulation of value, and surplus value, to reduce everything to the same metric, devalued money, and commodities. And a drive to accumulate, Marx says, “Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets of capitalism.” And that, on one hand, gave it progressive sides, especially in its early days, producing machinery and the possibility of a life of plenty for all. But on the other hand, by definition, it does not fit in, it contradicts the need for an ecologically balanced society, with human beings living in harmony with nature. Under a society of socialist democracy, of anarchy, where the working people run society, they may make mistakes, and they may have areas of conflict with the environment. But there’s nothing inherent in the system that drives it to conflict with the environment. There’s no drive to accumulation, greater quantitative growth, and so forth. So it certainly becomes possible to reorganize the technology and the economy in ways that fit in with the environment. There will be things that have to be produced. Certainly, we will want to bring parts of the so-called third world – Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America – out of the dire poverty, at the same time, the overproduction of commodities, the production that exists in the imperialist countries, the military production – all that will be unnecessary and can be reorganized. We’ll have to reorganize the technology. We start with what we have on the day of the revolution, but then the working people will have to decide how they reorganize. One thing, we want to reorganize it so it’s no longer run from the top down by a minority of capitalists or bureaucrats, how to create a democratic self-managed economy. On the other hand, we want to rebuild the poverty-stricken parts of the world, but we also want to create a technology that fits in with the ecology, that makes a cycle where what we use is recreated. The last thing I’d say is that I don’t regard the so-called socialist countries as socialist, I regard them as state capitalist because the basic drive to accumulation of capital existed even though there were no stocks and bonds, but there was a collective bureaucracy that served as a center for capital accumulation, and using the state for capital accumulation, which exploited the workers in essentially the same way as the workers have been exploited in the West.

TFSR: And it’s interesting to see what the dissolution of those nation-states and economies proper under those terms of being socialist into the post-Soviet era, how much it’s a lot of the same people that run the factories.

WP: They just changed one variety of capitalism to another. That’s right. And we can see also it fell apart in the so-called Soviet bloc, and the same thing in China, although there it was done more deliberately under the control of the so-called Communist Party. They have a Communist Party, they have a People’s Liberation Army, and they have a great deal of government ownership that still exists. Nevertheless, it’s so obvious that it’s now run through the market and through a capitalist system. It was all done without an explicit revolution. If this had really been a socialist society, and it was counterrevolution occurred to capitalism, then we’d have had some great upheavals and revolutions and it didn’t happen in either of these countries.

TFSR: Switching gears a little bit, I’d like to talk a bit about platformism and how it developed, and what it looks like today, particularly in the US. I bring this up because you’ve written for a while for a website called Anarkismo which is a part of a network. And I’m not sure if you affiliate with Black Rose Federation or any other platformist or especifist organization. But I’d like to learn a little bit about what ways forward to that alternative economy do you see coming from this tendency?

WP: From the beginning of anarchism, there’s always been an internal conflict between those who just see themselves as loose individuals and those who see the need for organizing anarchists into a specific grouping, an organization that would raise and fight for a particular program. This goes back to at least Bakunin, who formed the Alliance for Socialist Democracy when he was in the First International. And in fact, that was a major complaint of Marx against Bakunin – the formation of an anarchist grouping inside the organization. And ever since then, there have been those who aim to form an anarchist organization. The question is just how to do it and how decentralized it would be and how federalized it would be. I believe in the need for those revolutionary anarchists who have a general agreement should form themselves into some democratic federation in order to develop their ideas better, in order to coordinate their activities, in order to fight for that particular program. As against, after all, the fact that all the bad guys are organized, the various Stalinists, the Marxist-Leninists, the liberals, the fascists, the reformists – everybody is organized and fighting for their program. And I think anarchists should do that too. Sometimes it’s called pro-organization anarchists or dual organization anarchism. Dual because anarchists should organize themselves, as well as participate in broader organizations and groups like unions and community groups, and anti-war movements. So this was the idea raised by Makhno and Arshinov sometime after the Russian Revolution when some of the anarchists got together and said, “Why were the Bolsheviks able to beat us out and create their system? While anarchists were influential in various ways during the revolution. One of the reasons, if not the only one, was because they had organized themselves and it was important we should be organizing ourselves.” This is a key idea, they wrote something that they call a draft platform for anarchists. So those who agreed with that were known as platformists, other groups have done various arguments about this proposal. But the basic idea of anarchists organizing themselves, those who agree with each other, the revolutionary anarchists who fight for a program is, I think, an essential point of view. It’s, in this country, particularly raised by the Black Rose Federation. Right now I’m retired, so to speak. I’m not a member of any organization, but I generally support their activities. And I think they’re going in the right direction as far as that goes.

TFSR: Love and Rage, which you were a part of, another federation, did it consider itself a cadre organization? And how does the idea of the cadre relate to shared points of unity around a platform?

WP: We never use the word cadre. Partly, if what you mean by cadre is militants, people committed to revolutionary anarchism, then yes. On the other hand, if you mean people who are highly disciplined and top-down organized, then certainly not. We were a loose Federation, somebody wanted to make it even looser and wanted to make a network, we said we wanted to make a federation based on a program. We put out a newspaper regularly, continent-wide, that went from Mexico throughout the United States to Canada. But there were various political disagreements, and it was a very loose grouping. And the problem with anarchists, of course, is theoretical unity. There were disagreements on that, and also the movement started going downhill for a while. And it fell apart. Some people in Love and Rage decided to look in direction of a more centralized and authoritarian perspective, abandoning anarchism for Maoism. We had a faction fighting side about that those of us who objected to that. So it fell apart. But that was after nine years. For nine years, it was successful, at least in having an impact on the scene. So I’m rather proud of that. And the movement continued on after that.

TFSR: I’m sorry for the mischaracterization of cadre, that’s how it had been explained to me by someone that I knew who was affiliated with it at one point, that’s the term that they had used, but maybe they went towards the Maoist direction themselves.

WP: I think that’s somebody’s conclusion looking back on it. I don’t think at the time we used the term.

TFSR: So you said that you’re retired. Was I incorrect in saying that you affiliate with MACC?

WP: Yes. Although MACC is so loose an organization that doesn’t have official membership. So I support it and go to participate in it. Study groups and various discussions and activities.

TFSR: Would you call it a synthesist organization?

WP: I don’t know, the term implies integrating different perspectives, or even trying to. There is no clear MACC ideology or program. If you regard yourself as an anarchist, you should join MACC. I think we would draw the line and say no anarcho-capitalist. Otherwise, it is pretty open. It’s not that there’s a deliberate attempt to synthesize different perspectives. It’s just a de facto, who joins. It’s too grand to call it a synthesis.

TFSR: You mentioned reading groups. What other projects does MACC affiliate with?

WP: They’re involved in this support for immigrants, support for prisoners, support and involvement in at least one labor struggle in the city. That’s off the top of my head right now, trying to help the formation of mutual aid groups to help people in this time of crisis, spreading the ideas and concepts of a rent strike, there are individuals involved in podcast production Rebel Steps. And a bunch of other things. People try to put together a collection of writings on anarchism, it is a propaganda grouping. A wide range of activities.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I was gonna bring up your recent piece about the US presidential elections for the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review entitled “An Election in Hell.” It took a pretty traditionally anarchist stance on electoral participation, which is promoting abstention and, alternatively, direct action. So while many anarchists say that the parties are the same and that participation doesn’t matter, it seems clear that elections deeply affect the people who are most marginalized in our society, whether because of the effects of racialization, gendering, ableism, and neurodivergence, the nation of birth, ethnicity, etcetera and the ways that those lines intersect with class. We also see that the more conservative and reactionary wing of politics in the US, namely the Republicans, is constantly pushing to divest the vote from those groups that I named above in favor of white Christian property-owning straight and cis-men. So it’s not really fair to say that elections don’t have an impact, right? So I’m wondering if you could bring out a little more about your perspective around the impacts of elections, what participation means, and if it really is unwise to just vote for the least threatening possible, potential enemies as in if we got Sanders and or if we got Biden in, they might be easier to push against or organize against than, say, a Trump?

WP: First of all, I need to be clear, I do not tell people not to vote. That’s up to them. What isolated individuals do, whether they vote or not, I really don’t give a damn. The likelihood of your individual vote making an impact isn’t all that much. And I certainly don’t argue with my friends and family and co-workers, when I was working, saying “Don’t vote.” I certainly wouldn’t deny that the Democrats are the lesser of two evils. My argument is really about what should mass groups do, large progressive groupings of the population, let alone mass organizations, what should the unions do? What should the black community as a community do? Other communities of color, Latinx, and organized LGBTQ people? What should the organized environmental movement or the organized women’s movement do? These groups put a lot of money and human effort into campaigning and phone-calling and phone-banking and contacting people. Much of the effort, in fact, is pretty much the basis of the Democratic Party. I would say they are the Democratic Party, except for the fact that Democratic Party does have a membership. But in fact, it’s run by politicians and big donors. I advocate for them that what they do as organizations should be to stop supporting the Democratic party or any electoral party and put their efforts into direct action, mass action, union organizing, community organizing, mass strikes, demonstrations, and civil disobedience.

Most of the progress that this country has made has been done through outside of the electoral system, through non-electoral activities. When you think of the 30s’ labor struggles, mass strikes that brought us the progressive aspects of the New Deal and the unionization, or the civil rights movement with mass civil disobedience, which is a nice way of saying law-breaking and the so-called riots, or the anti-war movement, which was mostly mass demonstrations and college strikes and civil disobedience and virtual mutiny inside the army, and so on throughout history. These are the direction that I think was more useful than elections or Democratic Party in particular which is the place where mass movements go to die. That’s what happens to most mass movements when they get sucked into the Democratic Party to be efficient, and then they’re killed off. It’s one reason why it’s been so hard to build anything right now. I certainly don’t deny that the problem with the strategy of voting and supporting the lesser of two evils is that things just keep on getting more evil. The history of politicians in this country, of presidents has been viewed as one reactionary Republican, who then is defeated by a Democrat who is more or less moderate or liberal or whatnot, who is then followed by another even more reactionary Republican, who’s then defeated by another Democrat then followed by another reactionary Republican. And we’ve now gotten ourselves into this whole system, this whole approach is produced now, the very worst of all. This is not a viable long-term strategy. I agree that elections in the short-term could make a difference, but in the long term, this country is not run by elections. It is not elections that make the final difference. It’s whether or not there’s gonna be a mass movement to fight against the reactionary aspects of society. The Republicans are the cutting edge of the knife of the attack on the working class and oppressed people and black people and women and so forth. But the Democrats are up there on the ballot, they’re up there on the knife also, just behind the Republicans. Did I make myself clear?

TFSR: No, I think that’s perfectly clear. If you have anything else that you want to talk about, I’ve kept talking for a while. I really enjoyed the conversation, but I was gonna ask where people can find your work. Is there a platform that you specifically publish on or where people can follow you?

WP: A lot of my articles have been published on www.anarkismo.net. Some articles are published in the Anarchist Library under Wayne Price. I also write for the Utopian journal, and also for the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review. And I have three books that have been published: one book on the political economy and two other books that can be looked up.

TFSR: Thank you very much. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you about that you’d to mention for the audience or discuss?

WP: I can’t think of off-hand. There are so many topics to talk about. Right now we see the system collapsing, for the moment. We’re in very bad days. If I thought that the system was going to restore itself, and get back into balance, I’d say that the chances of making a revolutionary change are pretty small. But I don’t believe that. I think things may improve, but they’ll collapse even further. It’ll go up and down. But the long-running trend is one catastrophe after another. And the politics of this country have been showing, reflecting the basic crisis, the middle is falling away. So on the one hand, you have fascists marching in the streets, and a president who can’t even bring himself to directly criticize them. And on the left, you have the growth of people calling themselves socialists. Polls are showing that up to about 30 to 40% of the population identifies themselves as being socialist, or pro-socialist. And we saw with Sanders is running a large number of people who were either socialist or at least were willing to vote for somebody who calls themselves socialist. They’re pretty vague about what that means. To the extent that there’s an actually developed program, it’s reformist state socialism, which I think is totally inadequate for the crisis, and at its worst, could lead to state capitalism and oppression. But it shows us a change. There’s an opening for a far-left, for revolutionary anarchist socialists, revolutionary libertarian socialists, and libertarian communists to make a point, to argue for their position and organize. If we put ourselves together, if we have an organization, if we build movements to build a really revolutionary perspective that can make a difference. So there’s hope. There’s great danger, and I have no idea whether this will happen in the time before some terrible collapse or calamity, but there’s certainly hope and there are certain things that open things up in the direction of change. So we should look at that positive side as far as that goes.

TFSR: Yeah, the idea of trying to restart the economy, whatever the hell that means. I don’t think it’s ever really been done from a full stop before, but it seems to open up a lot of possibilities.

WP: That’s right. Yes, I think so. People are reconsidering what they mean and what kind of life they want, how society should be organized. And because most people will try to get back to “normal,” except it’s never going to be another normal. That’s what it means, what Biden says like he’s gonna get rid of Trump and we go back to normal. Of course, it was that very normal that caused many people to be dissatisfied and to be channeled into support for Trump in the first place. But it isn’t going to go back to normal, crises will continue. And that people are looking for alternatives, and it’s very important for revolutionary anarchists to be raising their alternatives, to be talking about the possibility of a different way of living, a different way of human beings relating to each other, a different way of organizing society. That is what gives me hope.

TFSR: If there are people that might think about a UBI [Universal Basic Income] -type idea as being an alternative or as a positive step forward, we’ve seen little bits of this with the small portions of the population that have actually gotten a stimulus check. But even in the name, it says stimulus, it’s meant to be spent in order to get small businesses running. But do you think that a UBI is anything that actually could get passed? It doesn’t seem to sit very well with the revolutionary perspective, does it?

WP: Revolutionaries shouldn’t be against all reforms. A reformist is not somebody who’s for reforms, a reformist is somebody who thinks reforms are sufficient, who thinks that if we just keep on doing reforms that either that’s good enough, or that somehow, by gradually doing reforms, they will evolve into a new society without ever having to make a revolutionary transformation. I am for reform, certainly, the idea of a guaranteed income for everybody is a basic communist concept. For that very reason, I don’t think it would pass in this society, such as it is. We can’t even get universal health passed. Even Biden was not for a universal health plan. But I’m all for it. We certainly call for it, they can barely get past this little inadequate lump sum payment to the population, while they’re putting on vast sums of money for the rich and the big corporations.

TFSR: And all the while the numbers of death in the United States are outpacing everywhere else in the world. We really are the greatest.

WP: We have got the most incompetent government that we’ve had in decades. It’s not inherent to capitalism that such an incompetent government but on the other hand, it is consistent with the history of this country, especially recent history. We’ve gone from Reagan to Bush, who was not the sharpest pencil in the block to this idiot. So that’s been really compounding this disaster.

TFSR: On that happy note. Thank you so much for the chat, I really enjoyed it.

WP: Me too. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

TFSR: I hope you stay healthy, you and yours.

WP: Stay healthy and happy.

Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories (rebroadcast)

Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories (rebroadcast)

Book cover of "Compañeras: Zapatista Women's Stories" with text "TFSR 09-11-22"
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This week on the show, we re-air Amar’s 2015 interview with Hilary Klein, author/editor of the book Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories, out from Seven Stories Press.

Over the hour, Hilary talks about her 7 years of living in Chiapas and recording the stories and experiences of women there, collecting stories on their behalf. The book covers the Zapatistas experiences before the EZLN uprising of 1994, during that period and after. Discussion address what gender, indigeneity and class looked like and how that’s changed in the Zapatista communities, the state of Chiapas and in Mexico. William and Hilary also explore the effects that the EZLN & La Otra Compaña have had on radicals and anarchists abroad, the origins of the EZLN, some parallels and distinctions between anarchism and Zapatismo and much more.

You’ll find a transcript of this audio available soon at our website. The book is also available for free reading on archive.org. Next week, stay tuned for another rebroadcast, with some new content coming up real soon.

Annoucement

Post-Release Funds for Maumin Khabir

from GoFundMe.com:

SUPPORT FUND FOR NEW AFRIKAN POLITICAL PRISONER ON HOSPICE, MAUMIN KHABIR! (SN MELVIN MAYES). CURRENT GOAL IS $3K FOR ESSENTIAL MEDICINE! Maumin Khabir served a 27 year sentence behind prison walls in North Carolina for a crime he didn’t commit. Declared a terrorist by the U.S. government, Khabir was targeted by RICO laws (a draconian set of laws that target individuals opposed to U.S. ideology) and captured in 1995. Maumin turned down a plea deal that would require him to confess to crimes he did not commit. As a political prisoner, he has remained an organizer, educator, and devote Muslim while on the inside. Maumin is a citizen of the sovereign Republic of New Afrika and his secession from the United States of America is the motivating factor behind the government’s prosecution and has no criminal basis. Maumin asks the court to recognize him as a political prisoner in accordance with the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol 1.

In February, Maumin was granted compassionate release by the courts due to his severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He is now in the care of people who love him but it is still a very difficult situation. Maumin is on 24hr oxygen and can hardly move and it’s overall difficult to care for him. We are raising funds for to support Maumin’s care, to ensure it is the best it can be right now, and so his family who cares for him can give him a proper burial after he transitions. We ask you to share this link and donate what you can! We need money for medication, medical bills, and hopefully new transportation so Maumin can see loved ones and make appointments. Thank you for your support! Free The Land!

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

  • Politiks Kills (Prince Fatty Instrumental) by Manu Chao from Politiks Kills single
  • Himno Zapatista (track #20) from Antología Musical Zapatista
  • Por El Suelo by Manu Chao from Clandestino

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: Will you first introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?

Hillary Klein: Yes. Thank you so much for inviting me to share this time with you and your listeners. My name is Hillary and I currently work at an organization called the Center for Popular Democracy, which is a national network of community based organizations working for racial justice, economic justice, and immigrant rights. I’ve been doing social justice work for a long time, but that included several years that I spent in Chiapas, Mexico, working with Zapatista communities in indigenous villages, and specifically with women’s projects. So I feel like it’s all connected, because whether it’s here in the US or whether it’s abroad, I feel like it’s all one vision of a world of greater justice and greater dignity. The book that I wrote came out of that experience working with women’s cooperatives and women’s projects in the Zapatista communities.

TFSR: So you went to Chiapas through your work?

HK: Not in the sense of for a job. I went to Chiapas was actually in 1997 thinking that I was just going to stay for a couple of weeks or maybe a couple months. So, I was there originally as a human rights observer and as a volunteer on solidarity projects, but it was such a compelling movement and such a fascinating time. I felt like history was kind of unfolding before my eyes. How could I not say and witnessed it or be part of it in some way? So I ended up staying, and I stayed on, and I ended up staying about six years. Much longer than I had expected. So, I was there from 1997 till about 2003. So I’ve been back in the US for a little more than 10 years doing what I consider to be the same work, but it’s not actually like I was working for the same organization or anything.

TFSR: I do want to talk to you more about your time in Chiapas in a later question. But just to lay some solid groundwork for any listeners who are unfamiliar, would you be willing to talk us through some historical bullet points of the Zapatista movement?

HK: Yeah, of course. So the Zapatista movement is also called the EZLN, which is a Spanish acronym for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. It’s primarily a social movement, a very broad grassroots radical social movement in southern Mexico, fighting for indigenous rights for land, but for also for a whole kind of host of broader demands that I think are very universal in the sense of: for dignity, for justice, for equality, for democracy, and has really resonated with people around the world.

So, in addition to being a social movement, it also has a rebel army. They did choose the path of armed struggle. After many years of fighting for change in their own context, out of a sense of desperation, seeing children die from preventable diseases, for example, they chose the path of armed struggle, feeling like they had no option left but to stand up for themselves and force the government to listen. The communities and Chiapas are historically extremely poor, extremely marginalized. That’s really a legacy from colonialism. The history of racism, the history of economic exploitation, all that goes back, more than 500 years. Those legacies are still things that those communities are facing today.

The Zapatista movement comes out of that history of 500 + years of indigenous resistance, it also comes out of the legacy of the Mexican Revolution. So the name Zapatista comes from Zapata. Emiliano Zapata was a hero of the Mexican Revolution who fought for ‘Tierra y Libertad,’ land and freedom. So they very much carried on that banner. But they also recognize that neoliberalism or global capitalism, whichever you want to call it, is kind of the current political and economic system, which reproduces many of those same legacies of inequality, of injustice, and exploitation that began with colonialism.

So, they actually rose up in arms on January 1 1994. That was the same day that NAFTA, which is the North American Free Trade Agreement, went into effect. They chose that day to highlight that relationship with global capitalism, with neoliberalism. So that’s where many of us around the world first heard of the Zapatistas. For myself, speaking personally, it was really an important moment. It came kind of at the tail end of the Cold War. So there was this question in the air for people of my generation, I was 19 at the time in 1994, of what the next wave of social movements would look like after the end of the Cold War. The capitalists were claiming victory, free trade – the market won. So it was really inspiring to see this model of this example of what a new social movement might look like. It’s really inspired people ever since then. So that was 20 + years ago.

After that very brief armed uprising, the Zapatistas have not used their weapons ever since then. They do still have an insurgent army. That’s, I think, an important thing to know about them in terms of their character as a very militant movement. But it’s also in reality, it’s much more of a broad social movement, in terms of its actions, and has become much more known for peaceful mobilizations, for political marches and other actions, for convening civil society. Mexican as well as international civil society, to come together and talk about the different problems that we face different strategies of how we can find solutions collectively and build a world of of greater dignity and justice.

It’s also become very known for its project of indigenous autonomy. So in its own territory, in eastern Chiapas, they’ve developed autonomous governments, their own health care and education systems. They have a whole system of economic cooperatives, which have developed an economy that’s based on cooperation and solidarity, rather than one that’s based on on profit.

TFSR: I was really struck by… because there’s lots of parts in your book, and a lot of its interview based, but I remember reading that the Zapatistas would come down from the mountains posing as teachers, or whoever, and just start talking to people. And it has so much an emphasis on people talking to each other and being like, “why are you so poor? Why don’t you have as much to eat as you need? Why do you need to do all this work?” Trying to get people’s wheels turning.

HK: Definitely. I think that that same concept that you’re pointing out, of dialogue, I think has been really important within the Zapatista movement. But also, when I mentioned convening civil society at the national or international level, I think that same concept of dialogue that you’re describing has really been important in terms of how the Zapatistas have engaged with people around Mexico and around the world. Using that same process of listening to each other, of asking questions that really makes each other think, “Why is this injustice the case? What can we do about it?” And so I think that that’s been one of the ways it’s been so effective for them to spark people responding by organizing in their own contexts around the world.

TFSR: And it seems like those conversations were extremely non coercive, meaning that people were like, “Oh, there’s this meeting where people are talking about it, come to it if you want.”

HK: I think that’s right. So, when I mentioned that 1994 was the Zapatista uprising, the very brief uprising, they had actually been organized in clandestine way for 10 years before that, from 1983 to 1994. 1983 is when the EZLN was formed in the mountains of the jungles of Chiapas. So for the next 10 years, they were doing exactly what you’re describing, talking to people in the villages, asking them questions, encouraging them to organize. There was very strong movements in Chiapas like I mentioned. People turn to armed struggle, because they had already been, many people who became Zapatistas, had been engaged for years and years in campesino movements, for example, or indigenous rights movements, asking for land reform from the government, for example, and really seeing no response.

The Zapatistas often referred to themselves, and have been called, ‘the voice of the voiceless.’ So it’s really the sense of very, very marginalized, kind of forgotten corner of Mexico and people making this decision to take their own destiny into their own hands. So I think when the original core guerrilla nucleus that formed in 1983, began to really reach out for people in the villages. It just was a very fertile moment for people to say, “Yes, it’s time. We need to take this to a whole other level and demand our rights and do that in a determined and courageous way.”

TFSR: I’d love to talk a little bit about your book, which is called ‘*Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories,*’ and it is heavily interview based, drawn from interviews, many of which you conducted yourself, with people who directly experienced working with the EZLN and you mentioned that you lived in Chiapas itself from 1997 to 2003. Would you talk a little bit about more about your time living in Zapatista communities in Chiapas?

HK: Like I mentioned, when I went down there I wasn’t planning to stay for so long. But one of the reasons that I felt like history was kind of unfolding before my eyes… The Zapatistas movement in itself was incredibly inspiring to me at that time. I was so struck by it. But in particular, the role of women has always been crucial. I think this is true for many social movements. This had been my experience, personally, as well as something I had studied was the experience of women within many social movements, where on the one hand, there’s this opportunity, and you are engaged in this whole new way, and at the same time, even within that social movement, women have had to fight for their own rights within that to defend themselves.

So, I have had this kind of long standing interest in women’s participation in radical and revolutionary social movements. So when I got to Chiapas, it was that particular aspect of history, that was unfolding before my eyes were, on the one hand, women have played a critical role in the Zapatista movement from the very beginning, and at the same time, had to push for a lot of changes internally. There was a lot that was still evolving and unfolding. I was very struck by that combination of these amazing, strong, courageous, inspiring women leaders. And also the participation of women within the Zapatista movement was continuing to evolve. That was what compelled me to stay for so much longer.

I got involved with the women’s cooperatives in particular, because it’s an economic space for women to generate resources collectively and invest those resources back into their communities. But because it’s an all-women’s space. There are all women’s collectives, and all men’s collective, that really stems from, because gendered division of labor still exists to a large degree. So women’s collectives tend to be artisan collectives, or vegetable gardens, or chicken raising collectives.

Because they are all-women’s spaces, they’re also really an area where women oftentimes come to voice and come to their own sense of power for the first time. It’s the first time they might be participating outside of the home or learning to speak up. So it’s kind of like a springboard for women’s involvement in other ways in the Zapatista movement.

So that was the kind of work that I was drawn to. This coworker and I developed a project kind of hand in hand with the Zapatista women leaders, their kind of regional representative. So we had sort of an ongoing conversation with them about what might be useful, and what would be helpful for us to do as outsiders, and develop this project of supporting women’s cooperatives and women’s regional organizing in general. So that was what I did for most of the time that I was there in Chiapas.

TFSR: Apart from artisanal stuff and vegetable gardening, and what were some of the projects that the women’s collective did?

HK: They were each organized around whatever different economic activity they decide. This is just one way that women are organized. But in particular, in economic cooperatives, women often talk about how the first step is to get together as a women’s meeting or women’s assembly and decide to form a cooperative, and then decide what type of cooperatives they want to form. So, they might decide, for example, to start a vegetable garden or to start a chicken raising collective and they’ll each contribute something like one peso each to buy seeds and start the vegetable garden, or they each contribute one hen, and then that’s how they start to chicken raising collective.

Some of the ones that are most common… Those ones that we mentioned, the artisan cooperatives, tend to be for outside consumption, so they sell more to an external market. A lot of the other ones are really more geared towards internal consumption. So even as they’re generating resources, with vegetable gardens for example, they’re addressing nourishment in their communities. That’s a big source of health problems, because people have historically had a pretty limited diet. In addition to generating those resources, they’re also producing for local consumption.

Another example of that is sometimes the women open collective stores. Because some of these villages are very isolated, it also allows people in the villages to buy from a local store, instead of having to travel just for basic goods. So, individuals don’t have to travel two or four or six hours to the closest city. The cooperative store does that buying and selling. So it’s making a little bit of money, but it’s also providing that service to the local community. And then the women collectively decide how they want to spend those resources. So they might be responding to emergencies, like if one woman is very sick, they can help her out, or if there’s a political mobilization, or they might decide to invest in the autonomous school.

So, there’s a lot of different ways, but that decision making process also is very important. It’s another way that is very empowering for the women who are involved to be engaged in, “Okay, we’ve generated these resources. Now, what do we want to do with the resources that we’ve generated?”

TFSR: The issue of food is so important, because it seems that so many of the women that you interviewed are indigenous women, and who were born into what I might call, a kind of indentured servitude. Is that completely inaccurate? Food was a very, very restricted resource for people who were subsistence farming to sustain themselves, but they were given for the most part infertile land or lands that just nothing would grow on.

HK: Yeah, absolutely. Some of what we were talking about earlier in terms of the legacies of colonialism have to do exactly with what you’re talking about, where the land that historically had belonged to indigenous peasants, was basically stolen from them. And ever since colonialism has existed, it has been really concentrated in the hands of a very few wealthy families in Chiapas that are basically European descended. Even though there have been some stages of land reform in Mexican history. Some of the biggest fincas, in a lot of parts of Latin America they’re called haciendas, in Chiapas are called fincas, they’re basically large plantations. When we think about the South in the United States, for example, the plantations, that historic cotton picking plantations.That type of economy. Where in Chiapas, they weren’t literally slaves, but like you said, they were basically indentured servants.

So, even though those exact same structures didn’t exist anymore, it looked very similar in terms of the indigenous peasants having either to live and work full time on the fincas, or they have these very small plots of land up kind of on the rocky mountainside where basically nothing grew. So land and the food that they produced was just a huge source of inequity, or manifestation of that inequity, the injustice that people were living with. People actually talk about the hunger months, ‘el tiempo de hambre’, when their corn had run out from one season and they hadn’t harvested the corn from the next season and there’s this kind of gap in between where they just literally didn’t have enough to eat.

So, that’s kind of historically what people were dealing with. It was just so very core to people’s lives and people’s experiences.

TFSR: You mentioned that you came over to Chiapas. Could you speak about writing on this topic from the perspective of a relative outsider? Could you talk about how that influenced your approach?

HK: So at the tail end of the time that I was there, one of the projects that I worked on before I left was an internal document where the women wanted to record their own stories. I think Zapatista women recognize that they’ve been part of something pretty historic, and they wanted to record that for themselves. But they also really wanted to use it as a tool for education for organizing with other women. So I did that project, which was really amazing. You mentioned earlier, that a lot of the books is heavily based on interviews that I did with different women. And so a lot of the interviews were kind of throughout the time that I was there. But a lot of them were particularly from this time period, when I was doing this project with the women that was initially just for themselves. But once we finished it, and they have this product, which was like a popular education manual. It was really geared towards them not only having their own stories documented, but being able to kind of use it to educate and organize other women. They themselves said, “You know what? We actually really want to share these stories with an outside world as well. And how do you feel about doing something like this book, but for an outside audience?”

I tell that whole story, because I feel like your question is coming from this really important place of what is the role of an outsider in writing a book like this. I had spent several years at that point, working very closely with the Zapatistas very much always as an outsider, right? It’s not my community. It’s not my context. But I was very close with the communities at that point. I would not have felt like it was appropriate for me to go and publish this book or share their stories if it hadn’t been specifically a request or a suggestion that came originally from them.

I felt like it was important personally, because in this country so much has been written about the Zapatistas, but very little about women and even less in their own words. So even though it is my book, I felt like my role was much more as a cultural bridge to create a vehicle for women to share their own stories. So the book contains a lot of my own writing, where I introduce the women or I share historical background or some context, but my intention was always to do that as a foundation for an outside audience to be able to then engage with the women’s stories from having the necessary background, but then to hear really directly from them.

So, like you said, the book is very heavily based on these interviews. And that was really the most important thing to me. And so just going back more concretely, to your question, I think that I, as an outsider, did have the ability to kind of create that bridge, especially in an audience in this country, but like I said, very much coming from a commitment to create the space for the women to kind of tell their own stories and people to hear as directly as possible. Because I had been so incredibly touched, and moved, and inspired by all these women that I had worked with over the years. Their stories of transformation, their stories of struggle, their stories of courage had been so meaningful to me, that when they were the ones that suggested that to me, it was such an honor to think of me creating that vehicle for them to share the stories with a broader audience.

TFSR: Yeah, for sure. And speaking as another outsider, it was really amazing to be able to read their experiences in their own words. So I’ve strongly benefited from that. It’s a pretty incredible experience to be able to do that.

HK: I mean, the fact that you have that experience of it makes me feel like I accomplished what I set out to do.

TFSR: It’s amazing that because Zapatismo has, like you said, so many visible female leaders like Comandanta Ramona comes to mind, but there hasn’t been much written about Zapatista women.

HK: Yeah, there has been some stuff written for sure. There is stuff out there, but relative to how much has been written overall about the Zapatista movement, I feel like there was a real gap. What’s been written about Zapatista women I feel like hasn’t been thorough. So, I really felt like it was important to me.

TFSR: Will you speak to the political roots of Zapatismo. It seems to me that there were some strongly Maoist communist and militaristic currents in there. Since this is an anarchist radio show, I feel like I should ask that question to clarify that for the listening audience?

HK: One thing I think that is very fascinating, I think specifically from an anarchist perspective is that Zapatismo is a blend of many different political traditions. Political and also historical and cultural traditions that didn’t come out specifically of an anarchist trajectory, but ends up having a lot in common with anarchism. I think anarchists around the world have really related to the Zapatistas because of some of these core principles that the Zapatistas have come to represent, including not trying to take State power, that they instead believe in kind of creating power from below, creating alternative institutions to the State and having a lot of very horizontal structures. And then all the stuff that we’re talking about, about indigenous autonomy, and having a critique not only of the State, but of the whole political system, and they’ve been very clear that they’re not going to turn into a political party. Which was a path that many Central American guerrilla movements too and eventually converted into political parties.

But in terms of the roots, which you were asking about. So that’s all to say that the end product of Zapatismo has a lot in common with anarchism, but it came from all these very different places and political historical roots. One of the things that I think is so unique, and to the Zapatistas credit, has been their ability to draw the best of different political traditions. We were talking a little bit earlier about the history of the Zapatista movement, there was this core nucleus of Marxist guerrillas that came out of the student movement in the 60’s in the 70’s throughout Mexico. They went down and formed that initial guerrilla nucleus that we were talking about in 1983. But they really began to interact with the Campesino movements, the Indigenous movements in Chiapas at the time, with the Catholic Church, which was very heavily influenced by Liberation Theology, like you said, there was Maoist groups down there at the time. I think what the Zapatistas were able to do, was to blend all that into something that was kind of new and unique, that I would now call Zapatismo that came from these very different political threads.

I think a lot of the more horizontal aspects came from the history of the indigenous communities themselves. The original core of Zapatistas who were not from Chiapas, which we’re only a handful of people really. I mean, numerically speaking, the Zapatista movement is pretty much all indigenous peasants from Chiapas, but there was this original group that came from elsewhere to kind of start, at that time, their vision was much more like the the vision of the Cuban revolution.

In some of the really poetic writing about the Zapatistas themselves and how they’ve described themselves, Marcos, for example, who is a male non-indigenous leader that was the spokesperson for the Zapatista movement for many years. He talks eloquently about that process of indigenization of the Zapatista Army in some ways. So if people are interested, I definitely encourage them to look up some of those writings or descriptions of that process. They are very fascinating.

TFSR: Apparently, I heard that Subcomandante Marcos, who was like the leader of the Zapatista movement, abolished himself as a Subcomandante. Did you hear about that? And is that true?

HK: It is true. It’s funny because he… I don’t mean this to sound dismissive. I feel like everything he does, he sort of has to do with a flourish. So even the way that you describe it as like, “He abolished himself.” He basically, in practical terms, what he was doing was kind of passing off the reins to other, indigenous leaders. Which I think is great. It was time for that to happen.

The indigenous communities had chosen Marcos as their spokesperson, I think they legitimately recognized that he would be able to play the role of reaching out to the world, and he’s a very poetic, very philosophical, charismatic, kind of articulate leader. And at the same time, it feels right that it was time to kind of pass on those reins to the local, indigenous leadership. So it was about a year ago, he said that Marcus had died and reemerged as Galeano. Galeano was the name of a man who was killed about a year ago in an attack against one of the Zapatista communities. And so, he renamed himself Galeano, in honor of the person who had been killed. And at the same time, said that it was time for him to kind of pass this on to other leadership.

So there’s a new Subcomandante, who now has that role. It’s kind of an interesting dual role of military leader and spokesperson. The Subcomandante is not actually the political leader of the EZLN, there’s a political body of leaders, which is kind of chosen by all the different communities. There’s different layers, each community has an assembly, and then each region has an assembly, and they kind of choose their representatives at each of those levels. So, at the highest level is the political comandantes, which is a collective body of leadership, the political leadership of the EZLN. Actually the subcomandante is called subcomandante, because he is under their direct command. So the military leadership is underneath the command of the political leadership.

But because he’s also the spokesperson, it’s the person that people most often kind of associate with the Zapatista movement. Then what we were speaking about earlier, in terms of not hearing from women, part of that is because there has been this one person who has been kind of the most well known leader of the Zapatista movement who also happens to be a man. It’s just that’s like the one, if people have generally heard of one Zapatista, it’s usually Subcomandante Marcos.

TFSR: You write in chapter one of your book that the injustices that people faced were the roots of the Zapatista revolutionary movement. To that end, would you describe general conditions that the women you spoke to faced before the influence of the Zapatistas?

HK: Yeah, definitely. So Comandanta Esther, who was another one of the powerful women Zapatista leaders, she one time spoke before the Mexican Congress in 2001. It was the first time an indigenous woman had ever spoken to the Mexican Congress, which itself is startling. So, she spoke to the Mexican Congress, and she talked about women Chiapas being exploited or oppressed three times over, she said, “first, because we’re poor, second, because we’re indigenous, and third, because we’re women.” I think that really gets at the heart, we were already talking about some of the legacies of colonialism. Indigenous women deal with all of that. They deal with the racism, they deal with the poverty, they deal with economic exploitation, but then they also deal with gender discrimination.

The way you framed it, before the influence of the Zapatista movement, just as sort of an extraordinary level of lack of rights in the sense that they were pretty much confined to their home, couldn’t leave their home without the permission from their husband or their father. From the very time they were girls they were basically told they didn’t have rights, they didn’t have a voice, their role was just to work in the home and to take care of kids. That’s obviously very important, dignified work, raising children and taking care of the home, but it’s not something that I believe women should be limited to.

Then in terms of the family life, women were married very young, oftentimes, against their will. When they were maybe 13 or 14 years old, their father would arrange a marriage for them, basically. Then women oftentimes had 10, 12, sometimes 15 kids, and so had very little control over their own lives, their own bodies, the decisions that impacted their lives. And the realm of public decision making was really dominated by men.

So, the Zapatista women, the older women, this is what their lives were. They oftentimes talk about, the first chapter of the book is called something like ‘stories of our mothers or grandmothers,’ because they oftentimes refer to these as the stories that our mothers, our grandmothers had told us, including the Zapatista women who were still around today. This is what they grew up with, just this really intense level of discrimination and marginalization.

TFSR: I had a thought, because I remember reading an interview with one person, I don’t remember what her name was, but she basically described the difference between societal men’s work and women’s work. She said that, “the men’s work is hard, yes, but people get to take breaks, and we never really get to take breaks. We have our, like you said, our 13 children, two babies on our hip, grinding flour for tortillas, and getting water and cleaning the house and doing all sorts of odd jobs, and also caring for many, many children, and not ever getting to take a break. People often were just ill a lot be from overwork and malnourishment and all that stuff.” So I found that really striking.

HK: Yeah, it’s kind of extraordinary. And, like you said, in terms of the women’s workday, they talk about the kind of double workday that I think women in this country still experience. The expectation that after a day’s work, you come home and women are still largely expected to be the ones doing primary childcare and taking care of the home. But it was to such an extreme degree, like you said, women were basically working nonstop from the moment that they woke up to the moment that they went to bed. Oftentimes would go out to the field and work side by side with the men. So that was, “men’s work” was working in the fields. But then once men were done with that day of work, they would kind of come home and rest, whereas the women would come home and then continue to do all the other work that they were doing, the domestic work and everything else that you were describing.

TFSR: So we’re talking about a lot of like, positive aspects of the EZLN. And there are many, many, many of them. But since it’s an organization that’s run by people, and people are flawed, and all of this stuff, I wanted to bring up a quote that I was struck by on page 95, which goes, “women’s right to own or inherit land has not been staunchly defended by Zapatista authorities in the ways that their equal right to political participation has.” Will you speak about the cultural and social aspects of this dispute?

HK: Yeah, so, when we were talking earlier about how important land is, it’s important to the indigenous communities of Chiapas economically, because it is the source of food and of income. Also as indigenous people, it’s really important to them, culturally, spiritually, this concept of Mother Earth. They don’t think of land as private property. So, the Zapatistas carried out a bunch of land takeovers in 1994 in the same context of the uprising, one of the other actions that they took was these land occupations, and then they redistributed these fincas that we were talking about before, to indigenous peasants, Zapatistas, throughout the state of Chiapas. That made a huge difference in people’s lives. When we were talking earlier, also about the ‘hunger month,’ when people didn’t have enough crops to literally feed themselves throughout the year, people living on this retaken land, this land was much more fertile, they had more access access to more land. That means just a huge difference in people’s lives in terms of their kind of economic livelihood, in terms of their food security, and again, in terms of their identities as indigenous people, it’s culturally, spiritually, just having a territorial base has been super important and to the Zapatista movement in terms of having an area of land where they are experimenting with all these other aspects of society. The society that they’re building. All of that has been very important.

Like I said that they don’t think of land as private property, but it is still divided. So, individuals will work on a particular parcel of land, so they don’t own that land, but that’s their kind of parcel of land to farm on. And the Zapatistas… I think it’s one of the few areas where, like you said in that quote is compared to women’s political participation, the EZLN as an organization has very staunchly defended women’s right to be involved in the movement at all levels, but with the access to land, it hasn’t been. It’s actually one of the few areas that stood out to me, where the EZLN, I believe, could have been more proactive, and hasn’t been. So, they’ve kind of reproduced some of the gendered assumptions that women don’t need access to land in the same way. When they have divided up, for example, the land that they took over, they divided up those individual parcels primarily to men. Then it was up to, it’s mostly individual families to decide, as they pass land on to the next generation, if they would pass it on kind of equally to the sons and daughters, or just to the son.

When we were talking earlier about women fighting for their rights within different social movements. They’ve continued to push and it is kind of an internal debate. I think there’s been a lot of movement around it. A shift has definitely taken place. But I think we haven’t seen as big as a shift there in terms of access to land for women are equally between women and men as we have seen some really pretty incredible shifts and other types of transformations that women have experienced.

I think it’s just a fascinating example that no movement is perfect, none of us as individuals are perfect, and our social movements aren’t perfect either. For me personally, it’s one of the few areas that I think the EZLN could have taken a more proactive stand in terms of the women’s agrarian rights.

TFSR: Yeah, I mean, these kinds of social societal changes happen so slowly and revolutionizing the way that we overthrow misogyny in ourselves and in our communities, I think will be a thing that will last the entirety of humans lasting. However long that may be.

On the on the note of some of the more positive social changes that the EZLN brought about, one of the more striking changes of the organization was a women’s revolutionary law, which was shared publicly after 1994. Will you speak about this law and about its role in Zapatista history.

HK: The women’s revolutionary law was written and passed by the EZLN in 1993 leading up to the Uprising. Then they shared it publicly, like you said, after the Uprising in 1994. It was a very important document, and I’ll talk in a second about some of what it contains. But I think it was very important, both in terms of all the work that went into it, and then all the work that has happened since then to implement it. So there’s this one point in time when it was passed, but also represents, like you were saying a second ago, that change takes time.

Iin the end of the late 80’s and early 90’s, like when we were talking earlier about the clandestine organizing that the EZLN was doing in the communities. One very important aspect of that was, and in particular, oftentimes, it was women insurgents who were talking to women in the different villages, and really sort of instigating that same sense of asking about injustice that we were talking about earlier, women were doing that specifically around women’s rights and around gender discrimination and asking women, “do you think life really has to be like this? How else could life look like?” And so all these women’s assemblies and talks and conversations went into creating the women’s revolutionary law. So, there were the political leaders as well as the military leaders, early women leaders in that time, really carried out the series of conversations. That was what became the women’s revolutionary law. So they drew up all of those proposals into this document that was passed by the political leadership, the comandantes, in 1993. It became a framing document regarding what women’s rights in Zapatista territory are.

So, in terms of what it actually says, it talks about women’s right to participate in the movement at all levels. That gets at their political participation, their leadership in their communities, their ability to be military leaders in the Zapatista rebel army. But it also talks about a very broad range of areas of life. And so it talks about women’s right to health care and education. It talks about women’s right to live free of violence. It talks about about women’s right to decide who to marry and how many children to have. So, it really addresses across both public and private spheres, family life, community life, political life. And in some ways, those rights are very basic, but putting each of them into practice is hugely transformative.

Then once the law was passed, the work that then came to implement it was work of consciousness raising, work of education, work of changing those family norms. I think if you look at each one of the points in the revolutionary women’s law, there has been huge transformation that’s taken place. I think it’s so important that you asked earlier about what were women’s lives like before the Zapatista movement, because that helps give us an understanding of just how extraordinary those transformations were. From that situation that the women describe themselves, their mothers, their grandmothers living in, to what Zapatista women have achieved in really an incredibly short period of time.

On the one hand, I totally agree with what you said a second ago about patriarchy, that it’s something that it takes a huge amount of time to uproot. I can’t really fault the Zapatistas for not having ended patriarchy in the 20 years that they’ve been at it, because I don’t think anywhere in the world, I don’t think there’s been anywhere that patriarchy has been completely uprooted.

TFSR: That’d be such a tall order.

HK: And if there is somewhere out there, and your listeners know of that place, please let me know,

TFSR: You’ll be the first to know, definitely,

HK: That’d be great. Maybe one of you listeners will call and let us know. “This is where patriarchy has been uprooted.”

But there was a huge amount of transformation that took place in this very short time period, in types of changes that I think in many contexts take sort of generations to unfold. The level of women’s political participation, the level of their leadership in the movement, the changes that have taken place in the home, I think those points of the revolutionary law have really, to a large degree been implemented by women choosing if they want to marry at all, and if they do, who they settle down with, how many children they have.

So, there’s a lot of work to be done. But there’s also just a tremendous amount that’s been accomplished. And that I think, is also really at the heart of why I wanted to publish this book, and why I wanted to create that vehicle for women to tell their own stories, because not only are those transformations so incredible, but I think there’s so many lessons to be learned. It is a very different context. What it can look like, what it can mean to accomplish those types of transformations in our own lives,

TFSR: Obviously, the EZLN has had a lot of international effects on people. Will you speak to some of the impacts that this movement has had on radical and anarchist societies and other countries, especially concerning the involvement of women? And to what extent do you see it still having an effect?

HK: Definitely. I do really believe that ever since 1994, the Zapatista movement has been one of the most impactful social movements around the world that has just had a tremendous ripple effect in terms of influencing and inspiring people around the world. And I think there’s some really concrete examples of that and at the same time, I think it’s really hard to measure, but just kind of undeniably out there.

So, one of those really concrete examples is the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s. So if folks remember or have heard of the protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, or some of the other mobilizations that were taking place around the world. That really was something, the Zapatistas helped plant the seeds of that movement in some of those gatherings that I was talking about earlier that the Zapatistas have acted kind of as conveners of those conversations.

So they invited people to their territory, and people came throughout Mexico, but really from all over the world. And they really put this call out for anyone who’s been negatively impacted by global capitalism. So whether that’s because you are a student, or a worker, or a housewife, or transgender person, or whatever the case may be. When I was talking earlier about their demands being very universal, but I think it’s also been that type of call to anyone who has been exploited, oppressed, who’s faced injustice, and so many different people from so many different walks of life respond that call. So in the late 90’s, the focus of that was really in the context of neoliberalism and thinking about how can we address that. So the anti-globalization movement of the late 90’s. It wasn’t the only thing, but it was one of the things that really helped plant those seeds.

So, that’s, I think, you know, one concrete example. But besides that, there’s so many different collectives, organizations, groups around the world that have been influenced by the Zapatistas. It’s hard to name or measure that impact. But I do feel like it’s intangible, but undeniable. I think young people today continue to be inspired by the Zapatistas. They’re not in the spotlight in the same way they were kind of 10, 15, 20 years ago. But I continue to hear constantly about different examples of people who are really influenced by the Zapatistas, inspired by them, and then concretely influenced by them.

And in terms of women, I think it has been a really key example of not only having a movement that has strong women leadership, but a movement that’s also been able to evolve. When we were talking earlier about the roots of Zapatismo and I was saying that one of the things that makes the Zapatistas somewhat unique, I think, is their ability to draw from different political traditions and kind of be fluid and adapt. Their approach to gender is an example of that. So even though on the one hand, they were always committed to women’s participation, but there has also been a real evolution of their gender analysis. They would not use the word ‘feminist,’ it’s not the term they would use, but I think they have developed a much more nuanced analysis of gender and really taken on this question of, “What does it look like to uproot patriarchy?” So, yes, it will take time. But there’s been kind of a whole new series of strategies to address patriarchy to really uproot it. I think that that is so inspiring and is something that many of us in different social movements around the world can still really look to as a model that there’s a lot that we’ve won, but there’s a lot more to do.

I think the Zapatistas, and for me, personally, the Zapatista women in particular, but one of the aspects of the Zapatista movement that I think that really resonates is this combination of, on the one hand, being kind of humble enough to know that they don’t have all the answers. So, they have this philosophy of ‘making the road by walking’ and constructing the world of justice and dignity that they want to live in building that step by step, stone by stone. So, I think that humility is really important to know that we don’t have all the answers, nobody has all the answers. But at the same time, having kind of the the chutzpah, having the courage to say, “that’s not going to stop us” from dreaming big and from taking on global capitalism, or from declaring war on the Mexican government. And for women, it’s not going to stop them from you know, asking, “How do we address patriarchy? And how do we take all this stuff on?”

So I think that combination, that humility combined with the courage to dream big, and act on those dreams, is the one kind of thing that I would like to leave your listeners with. I think that message is true in general, but for me, as a woman, I would say, in particular, for women, women engaged in other struggles where it’s all connected, right? Women’s rights are connected to economic justice and social justice and racial justice. And as we fight for all those things in this interconnected way, that’s kind of the message that if there was one thing I would choose that I would like to share what I took away from those years that I spent in Chiapas, and what I kind of hoped to convey in the book, that would be it.

TFSR: Hilary Klein, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about your book Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories, which is available from Seven Stories Press and I highly, highly recommend it. It’s a really, really good read and I learned a lot from it. Thank you so much for talking with me today.

HK: Oh yeah, it was such a pleasure chatting with you.

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

Sophie Lewis and text "Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis | TFSR 07-10-22"
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This week, Scott and William talk to Sophie Lewis, author of Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family and the soon-to-be-released Abolish The Family A Manifest for Care and Liberation (out in October, 2022) about the current political moment that is characterized by attacks on trans people and peoples reproductive abilities. They also talk through what creates this moment, where trans people come into the target of State power being weaponized by the far right, as well as the connections among these attacks against LGBT education, access to transition, access to abortion and critical race theory. Also discussed are some limitations of a legalization framework around abortion, as opposed to a decriminalization, the limits of liberalism (particularly liberal feminism), and also the ways that certain strains of feminism contribute to an anti-trans discourse. Finally, there is chat about how to approach people needing support people who need access to healthcare, whether it be transition or abortion, outside of the hands of the state.

You can find Sophie on twitter at @ReproUtopoia and support her on Patreon at Patreon.com/ReproUtopia. You can find a children’s book Sophie co-translated called Communism For Kids or a compilation she contributed to on the ecological crisis called Hope Against Hope.

Opposing Torture

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In Sean’s segment, he mentions his new book, Opposing Torture, available from LittleBlackCart.Com

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Transcription

Amar: Thank you so much, Sophie, for coming onto the show. I’m super excited that you’re here. Would you, just to get us started, introduce yourself with your name, correct gender pronouns, if you wish, and speak a bit about what you do and what your interests are?

Sophie Lewis: Thanks so much for having me on. My name is Sophie Lewis, I’m a they/she pronouns person. I am a writer living in Philadelphia since 2017. I also teach courses on critical theory online at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. And I’m also a recovering or ex-academic. I’ve got British and German dual nationality, but I grew up in France. I’m very placeless in my background, and I’m trying to make Philly home in a meaningful way. I recently heard someone say that “small C communists” are just anarchists that went to Grad School. I felt read to filth by that, I’m not gonna lie. I am interested in anti-work theory, unorthodox Marxisms, and critical utopianism. I’m interested in trans, disability, and health liberation frameworks. I’m interested in reproductive justice. And I’m interested in the destruction of properterian kinship. And I share with my beautiful partner Vicky Osterweil – who I believe is a friend of your show – a strong interest in film and literature. I’ve never seen a dumb heteronormative reality TV show I don’t want to wax theoretical about.

Amar: That’s beautiful.

Scott: Thank you so much for coming on. I’m so excited to talk to you. Your views and analysis on things are always super insightful and helpful to me. So I’m really glad that you’re willing to come to talk to us.

Amar: I know that we are going to ask for another interview with you about your work on abolishing the nuclear family unit, as we know about, but would you speak a little bit about some of your past work, as well as some influences that you have or inspirations you had when writing or conceptualizing those works?

Sophie: Yes, great. My work in the past is varied. It’s funny, the thing that some people nowadays associate with me the most, i.e. more so than my book that you mentioned, is my essay “My Octopus Girlfriend”, which is to say, I got in trouble on social media a couple of years ago for my feelings concerning the queerness of octopuses. And we can talk about that another time if you want. But I do think it’s interesting to bring this up, partly because my more-than-human commitments and my commitments to the erotic do seem to be one of the reasons why there are plenty of people in the so-called normie left, at least online, who consider me in this moment of red-brown triangulation in so many words a degenerate.

But anyhow, in 2019– I guess… Full Surrogacy Now was published by Verso Books in 2019, and that book loosely represented my Ph.D., which was in geography, and what the hell is geography anyway? At the University of Manchester in England, I think geography is a place for all the odds and ends and ragtag misfits of academia and humanities disciplines to end up if they want to be abolitionists or anarchists or Marxists. Anyway, it’s called Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, and to be honest, I don’t think Verso Books or I expected anyone to read it. And things did turn out differently. It’s not a book, as they finally understood around the time that the paperback came out two years later, about the service or arrangement commonly known as surrogacy, so much as it is a family abolitionist manifesto for gestators. But that part about family abolition was a cause of much interest and so in October, I have a clarifying follow-up about that part of the politics, coming out. It’s very short. It’s called Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation, also with Verso or Salvage editions. I clarify this family abolition component. And especially, I extend its anti-racist dimensions a lot more. So I’m excited to talk to you about that in a future episode.

In general, I write a lot about reproduction and critical utopianism, which is why my handle is reproutopia. Although I guess once upon a time, I thought that that would be some professional handle. Whereas my rabble-rousing one would remain @lasofa or whatever, but I just can’t I can’t split myself that way. I just can’t do it, which is probably one of the reasons why I don’t have a job. Sometimes, I think I’m not even sure I believe in reproduction. Because maybe there’s no such thing. Maybe there’s only cogenerative coproduction, but you get the idea. I write against private property, I write against biogenetic property, I write against eugenics, I hope, and against patriarchal motherhood, the private nuclear household, and the privatization of care.

You might be interested to hear that I cut my teeth politically doing climate justice, direct action, and anti-austerity student stuff while I was an undergrad between 2007 and 2011, I was hanging out with anarchists and anarcha-feminists in the UK. And after that point, I was quite traumatized by getting beaten up by riot cops in Copenhagen where we were mobilizing for climate justice at COP 15. And I became really unable to think about climate individually or write about it. Instead, I’m part of a collective called Out of the Woods – which is not very active right now – but which published a book called Hope Against Hope: Writings on Ecological Crisis with Common Notions Press. And basically, it’s only when I’m being with them that I can bear to think about ecocide head-on.

You also asked about my influences. I’d say my big theoretic influences include decolonial and ecological sex radicals like Kim TallBear and Angela Willey. And then obviously family abolitionists, like the inventor of the word feminism Charles Fourier, the 19th century French Socialist Utopian and the left Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai, and then sex worker liberationists femi babylon and Amber Hollibaugh, and anti-work philosophers like Kathi Weeks and Tiffany Lethabo King, problematic faves like Shulamith Firestone, and the early Donna Haraway, I’m just listing all my favorites. So the insurgent social reproduction theorists, basically, I’m thinking Francis Beal of the Third World Women’s Alliance, or the Black women of Wages for Housework, Wages Due Lesbians in the 70’s. I do visit the 70’s quite a lot. And at this point, I’ve written a ton of essays for magazines and journals, since I’m trying to earn my living as a freelancer. Albeit I wouldn’t be making ends meet if I didn’t also teach. And I wouldn’t be making ends meet if 250 people didn’t kindly patronize me. I get $1,000 a month on Patreon. That’s my only dependable source of income. Thank you to people who do that.

Amar: That’s lovely. And will probably ask you how people can support you on Patreon at the end of the show, or if you want to say it now.

Sophie: Oh, bless you. Yeah, it’s patreon.com/reproutopia. I appreciate it.

Amar: Hell yeah! You said you draw a lot from the 70s. And I think the 70s just gave us so much emergent thought crafting. I listened to an interview that you gave on This is Hell, that podcast in which you mentioned a friend of the show, the novel Woman on the Edge of Time, which I was really sparked by and very interested to– Maybe we’ll save that as a teaser for our discussion on Abolishing the Family and such topics.

Scott: I’m really excited about the way that you’re picking up on some of those legacies from the radical movements then, and one of the things that you just said that maybe could roll into the discussion and something that we can talk about is your intervention seems to be within what is called, in feminism, social reproduction theory. But I like how you were backing away from that term and talking about cogenerative. When we talk about social reproduction, we get caught in reproducing the same over and over again. And I really think about how the things that we do right now maybe can stop that endless repetition. But it does seem to be what is on the hook right now – what kind of world is being reproduced? Can we end that? And is it going to be ended in a good way or a really scary way?

Sophie: Yes, absolutely. Pretty much agree.

Scott: Maybe you can transition to the point of our current discussion, though, I’m excited for the future one. It is thinking about what’s happening at this moment socially, and legislatively, with ramping up attacks on trans people and reproductive self-determination. Why do you think this is happening right now? What created the conditions for trans people to be under the target, youth, in particular, is weaponized by the far right, and why is this the moment that finally we’re seeing the culmination of decades of work against abortion?

Sophie: Really great opening question, albeit quite difficult, I’ll do my best. And thinking about the process of hollowing out of the political center that we’ve been seeing, I think, for some time. And the hollowing out of the center creates conditions in which marginalized groups can be flung sacrificially under the bus. This is complicated, but it seems to me that because of the extraordinary success of Black Lives Matter the establishment wants to– it’s not that they ever had to choose one or the other or their white supremacy isn’t still part of the DNA of every political maneuver by the ruling class in this country… But I think there is a pivot towards the sex panic specifically. And again, just to be clear, it’s always racialized at the same time, but I think the marginalized group to be scapegoated and panicked morally about is– You can think about Hillary Clinton’s “Black thugs.”

I think currently, the same people are worried very much about these two figures, the predatory trans woman and the mutilated child. And there are other reasons: the crisis of care throws up these specters. The end-of-empire panic about futurity expresses itself via demographic anxieties, right? On the far-right, it’s replacement theory and white genocide. That same anxiety is across the political spectrum. And that demographic anxiety about the survival of America as a settler colony enacts itself on the bodies of children whose fertility becomes fetishized.

What else? Capitalism needs to discipline the non-reproductive and the inadequately or incorrectly reproductive. I’m not doing a great job and just throwing out phenomena that I think are relevant. We are living inside the legacies of the pedophile industrial complex of the 80’s. The really significant reconstruction of the political landscape in the US around the carceralist figure of the innocent child, the figure to be protected at all costs on the basis of a-sexuality and, weirdly, fertility. This is the part that I think people don’t get enough about the figure of the cisgender or cissexual child that everybody wants to save right now. It’s creepy. It’s an avatar of fertility, that child, it is an avatar of the future.

In your notes to me before we began this talk, you mentioned Lee Edelman’s book, which is justly criticized for its slightly nuanced opposition to the maternal or the reproductive or whatever. But Lee Edelman’s book, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive talks about the “fascism of the baby’s face”, or the way in which all Politics requires this figure of the child to transmit and defer and displace any possible transformation into the future. I’ve been trying to think about whether that’s all that’s going on. Very specifically, in a time of demographic crisis and weird replacement-theory type panic, weirdly, it’s literally the genitals and the reproductive organs of literal cisgender children that become spectral-ly present at the front and center of so much political discourse. How’s that? What do you think?

Amar: It is just deeply creepy. As you said, when it’s broken down that way, when we’re fixating so heavily on the reproductive capability of, in some cases, literal babies, infants, and it just reminds me of the very profound extent to which cisheteronormative society just really thinks about children as property, which is codified into law too. It’s just very disturbing and creepy.

Scott: I was just thinking, it’s interesting, in my studies of gay Liberation stuff from the 70’s, reading Guy Hocquenghem, he’s saying that the price for a certain gay man to get some rights and acceptance in society would basically necessitate the casting out of figures of the trans woman and the pedophile. And he had this prescient view of it in the very beginning of gay liberation, and I feel we’re seeing the combination of it. But the way that as people, the three of us raised in this pedophile industrial complex, it’s always very strange to me… How it creates this weird situation, where children are unnecessarily sexualized, and all these moments where things don’t need to be fraught or weird at all. And people are worried about this stuff. And it’s actually, to me, always ends up pointing to the family as this really creepy scenario where there are parents obsessing over their children?

Sophie: Yes, absolutely. There’s so much to say, I’m just worried that if I jump on your points about parental rights, we’ll rhizomatically follow who knows what kinds of paths. The very fundamentally racial character of the institution of parenthood should probably be noted, at least in passing. This goes back to elemental Black feminist theorizing around how Black gestators under chattel slavery in the United States were cast out from the domain of dyadic cisgender, precisely because they could not be inscribed in the social order as mothers. They were not the mothers in the sense of motherhood, the institution of property, really, of parental ownership over the product of their gestational labor. And that casting out from parentality also meant an ungendering of enslaved racialized Black “flesh.” To quote Hortense Spillers who actually uses that language of “ungendered flesh”. And this is still deeply relevant, the eugenic entanglements of all mainstream discourse about who should and should not reproduce in the United States today. It’s interesting to think about the intersections between that almost racializing definition of proper and improper parents. And there’s a contradiction that we’re seeing right now, the very same politicians who advocate parental rights, when it comes to things white parents on school boards banning “critical race theory” or anti-racist materials, they then willingly embrace separating trans kids from their parents. Anyway, I’ll pause there.

Scott: That’s a great transition. And this is something we wanted to talk about. It was really important that you brought up that racialized history of the property and also of the gendering and ungendering according to your racial positionality of parenthood. This is one of the things – that’s linking the current fascist agenda. You brought up critical race theory, we’re seeing all attacks against any education around queerness in whatever form, the access to transition, or care around transition, for youth in particular, but it’s also extending to adults, and then abortion more recently. And this idea of parental rights seems to be one of the organizing ideas. So if there’s more that you wanted to say around that, I’d be interested just because it feels like such a strange invocation. Also, drag shows as a particular focus. The youth drag shows is something that people are getting really worked up about right now.

Sophie: Yeah, as you say, these links are among the prongs of attack. It is a successful and well-organized banning of anti-racism and queerness appearing in school spaces. Who is the congressman who was brandishing just a couple of days ago Anti-racist Baby, the infants’ book? There’s a real obsession with the idea of the infant, even not the child, but literally the neonate learning about America’s history in school. And there’s a criminalization, as you say, at the same time, of trans-affirming childcare and abortion, of gestational labor stoppages – as I would also encourage us to reframe them, or at least also think of them as. All of these, as you say, can be linked directly to the project of parental rights. And they reflect specifically a vision of patriarchal familist authority that cannot be disentangled from whiteness and from a totally triumphalist flattened ahistoricism – a version of history that is entirely made up.

We need to pay more attention to the way that this Republican-allied Christo-fascist series of maneuvers going on all these fronts that you mentioned are part of a project to reinstall the supremacy of the family. I was reading a dialogue between Andrea Long Chu and Paisley Currah in Jewish Currents today. They were right to highlight together the Christo-fascist series of associations, which in a way– I almost want to say they’re right, it’s annoying to have to constantly almost want to say that our very worst enemies understand the material stakes of the private nuclear households’ links to all of these historical forms of domination: from enslavement and colonialism to patriarchy and so on. They understand that better than the liberal establishment, they understand the stakes. Andrea Long Chu and Paisley Currah we’re talking about the line of connection in their minds, the Christo-fascists’ minds, between abortion which disrupts the family and things like marriage equality or whatever, and the specter of trans freaks molesting YOUR kids in public bathrooms. They are linked in our enemies’ minds. They are all assaults on the– Angela Metropulos is another theorist I’m thinking of, who I am, unfortunately, not as acquainted with as I would like. But I think her theorization of this is probably more and more needed right now, as Christo-fascism spirals into more and more power in a way on this territory. She talks about the oikos and how capital and settler colonialism discipline this sphere by very violent attacks. On improper bodily pleasures that fall with outside of the domain of productivity and reproductivity. That’s why all of these different fronts at the same time, although they are insufficiently linked in the mainstream conversation.

Amar: Absolutely. When you were talking and using the very correct framework of Cristo-fascism to politically frame the dominant shift that’s going on right now, I couldn’t really help but think about how The Handmaid’s Tale is used to describe this and the shortcomings of that analysis. Do you have any ideas about that?

Sophie: It’s actually interesting because you probably know that I had for several years a real bee in my bonnet about The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s fertility apocalypse, or sterility apocalypse rather. But I want to actually say but, I’m beginning to think that I might have almost gone a tiny bit too far, there might have been an element of overreach in my annoyance, because Angela Metropulos pulled me up a little bit on this, because I’m broadly speaking, and I’m also not the first to say it, but beginning in about 2017, I began to lose my temper. The Handmaid mania of liberal feminism. And so I actually wrote several pieces, and there’s a bit in the very beginning of Full Surrogacy Now where I expressed this distemper about the bizarre psychic under tow of handmaid mania. I say provocatively that it’s a utopia, not a dystopia in a sense because what all the people cosplaying as handmaids in Gilead are unconsciously acting out is a desire for this world where women herd has been flattened back into pure gestationality. And wouldn’t that be nice because then you wouldn’t have class-conscious or decolonial or trans or Black feminists critiquing you all the time? Because as the op-eds kept saying, “We are literally living in Gilead.” If that were true, then you would be, as a cis pregnant white woman like Elizabeth Moss in the Hulu adaptation, the very most oppressed subject of America, right?

And it’s like “Okay, that actually happened. It happened to enslaved Black women, forced surrogacy is not made up.” And to some extent, Margaret Atwood was constantly saying that everything in her dystopias has happened before, but that’s very much not how it’s taken up. It’s not taken up as an anti-racist consciousness. It’s not taken up in a way that connects to reproductive justice struggles or centers the reproductive justice concerns of organizers from the South. But the thing that really is still number one, as enemy in women’s lives, is capitalism. It’s not theocratic fascists with guns. I feel now that Angela might have been right that there’s no need to downplay the danger of the Christo-fascists in order to criticize the de-racialized slave narrative that is The Handmaid’s Tale.

Scott: I love the way that you analyze that, but I see what you’re saying. Going back to the family, we’re in the last however many decades in a place where people are living perhaps less and less – and what I mean by people is people typically within the dominant form, in the more represented white suburban situations are living less than less – in that typical nuclear family. And yet, the idea of the family hasn’t really been knocked down as a controlling image, especially within TV, sitcoms, even if it’s a work show, it’s a family structure, right? It’s everywhere, but we’re not living in those things. And likewise, with the issues around abortion, there’s this idea that we’re progressing away from these really oppressive things. And I feel even for leftists and anarchists, there’s a blind spot or an unwillingness to let go of the roots of our society that we live in, that is structuring all this oppression that we’re living in now, because of this faith in a progress, that we’ve made some strides away from the thing.

The Christian fascist thing really points out to me, that what we’re seeing right now is a minority group taking power. The system that is in place that ostensibly holds checks against them, the people who are inhabiting those positions are completely unwilling to check them. They’re letting it happen. All the people, the president, they’re not doing anything. So on one level, Christian fascism seems ridiculous, but we’re literally seeing these peoples seize power, and no one is really doing anything about it. I can see also why that’s utopian to be “Oh, we finally understand what woman is, it’s reproduction” or whatever. Maybe you have some thoughts about the progress narrative and the way that facts are negating that.

Sophie: I think you’re absolutely right. The liberal mainstream is almost capable of noticing or saying that there’s a civil war right around the corner, but they literally do not intend to fight in it. It is so cognitively maddening. It’s almost as though that liberal establishment doesn’t intend to do a single thing, just as it didn’t in order to defend abortion because it imagined that its Republican dancing partners would play fair against all evidence to the contrary. Progressive narratives are an epistemic canker, it’s so difficult to completely get rid of, even when one knows better. We’re just swimming in this idea of “history as progress,” and you can never overstate the importance of unthinking it, unpicking it.

It almost gives me hope that there is so much rage right now against the Democrats and their non-response to the striking down of Roe. What could be done is to frame the fight back in terms of very much politics, not ethics – mass gestational labor power, prole power, not individual personal freedom, in a sense, and not individual tragedies, and also, not these terrible spectacular rising tactics that some pro-choicers are using right now, where they’re brandishing blood-stained white pants and coat hangers, and talking about “we won’t go back” and insisting that “thousands will die and backstreet abortions”. Why is that the imaginary, it’s not actually helpful? We are actually in a historically different era. They can surveil and police and incarcerate, and we need to get really good at organizing against that and de-arresting people and blocking their ability to charge people. We need to get really good at evading and operating undercover.

But it’s also really important to think about the time we are in and the future we could build, rather than– I feel we won’t go back imagining that the reproductive status quo ante was okay. Abortions are overwhelmingly safe today. Regardless of whether or not they’re legal. I feel that there’s this bizarre attachment to a Margaret Atwood-flavored catastrophe. We’re literally going to all die because of the abortions themselves. But no, actually, that’s not what’s primarily going to happen. It’s much worse in a sense. I’m not saying incarceration is worse than death. But the real story that this is is a prison abolition story. Yet again, this is an abolitionist lesson. The problem of abortion being criminalized, is an over-criminalization problem, it’s a prison industrial complex problem. It’s a police abolition problem. I’m not sure that really links to your progress narrative point, but it links it to one of the big movements that have swept the “national conversation” in recent years, which is “one thing has to change, which is everything”. It’s not a question of making little meliorative steps towards a better world.

Scott: That’s really important what you said, I just wanted to pick up on it. The way that these laws are being crafted, that is increasing surveillance, increasing criminalization, increasing the possibilities of incarceration, so there’s increased state power there, which is maybe also why the liberals and Democrats in power are not so against it because it’s a boon for the State. But then the other thing that I’m thinking about is how all these laws are deputizing citizens to be informants. That also, to me, speaks to the nascent fascism, which leads to vigilante groups or paramilitary formations of people seeking out who’s doing this, or crossing state lines to track people down? So, I just thought that was really important that you brought up the way that the criminalization aspect of it works. And it shifts the focus around the liberal reaction of performing grief around something that’s not actually live for them at the moment, too. I just wanted to pull that out.

On the other side of the progress narrative, there’s the long-running anarchist or anarchistic critiques of legalizing abortion because of the way that incorporated the grassroots formations of caring for gestators and childbirth and ending childbirth outside of professionalization, or outside of institutionalization dominated by men, in particular, patriarchal power structures. So I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about any of that. Or what we can learn from that perspective now in response to this, which feels so upsetting, but maybe there’s other avenues of response?

Sophie: You’re absolutely right. The fact is so much of Turtle Island has been operating in a post-Roe reality for so long. I don’t know how much that is really real to people. We’ve been post-Roe in a combined and uneven way for some time. This is the zombie lag of it becoming law. People understand, in the places where it’s been de facto post-Roe for years and years, that abortion care happens outside of professional structures and independently of experts. And there is also quite a wide understanding that Roe absolutely sucked in the first place, even before the Hyde Amendment gutted it, and even before the Casey ruling gutted it still further, Roe vs Wade absolutely sucked. And to the extent that it even legalized abortion, which we have to say isn’t even really clear that it did that, it legalized a woman’s or a family’s right to have a private conversation with a health care provider or whatever.

But we have to ask ourselves, “What good is legalization and why do we want that?” You call it an anarchist critique of the legalizing of abortion. It absolutely is that. It is also actually a critique that used to be quite common across the board in the 70’s and the 60’s. They achieved this pyrrhic victory of Roe in 1973. What if we want laws off our bodies, and indeed an end to all laws, rather than laws that legalized anything we might do without laboring uteri, and what if we want the repeal of all abortion laws, not just the bad ones? In terms of the mainstream conversation, for sure, this perspective has been pretty widely lost over the last four decades. But it’s not really just a post-Roe critique, it was actually primarily a pre-Roe critique. I like to call it “gestational decrim”? They used to say, “Off our backs.” The idea is that we get the state completely off and out of our flesh, not just its punitive functions, but also its supposedly benign regulatory functions. And the term gestational decrim is basically something I floated. I don’t know if it’s gonna take off. But it’s an analogy to the sex work liberation movements call for decrim, as you well know. Comrades have tirelessly made the distinction between partial legalization and regulation, the so-called Nordic model, which is terrible for workers, and full decriminalization.

Amar: On the topic of operating sublegally, there, as many listeners probably know, is a group called Jane’s Revenge that is seemingly attempting to destabilize pro-life or forced birth infrastructures. Could you talk about that a little bit? Just talk about what’s been in the news, and also some of your thoughts on how it’s been received and how we might think about it in a more productive way.

Sophie: I wish I had every single fact about Jane’s Revenge at my fingertips. I’m just gonna talk in generalities in the aftermath of the Supreme Court leak striking down Roe, a shadowy anarchist network calling itself Jane’s Revenge was reported on a lot, striking via graffiti actions, and allegedly, also a Molotov cocktail, some windows smashing. The graffiti tag that was used in various locales, and as you mentioned, the targets, Jane’s Revenge was targeting Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are fake abortion clinics that are funded by the far-right to psychologically guilt and dissuade people from getting abortion care. There was reporting on Jane’s Revenge that their tag was “If Abortions Aren’t Safe, Then Neither Are You.” I have to say I love it. It makes a huge difference if you have a cervix. The terrain of symbolic solidarity is actually quite significant.

There is this extreme minority capture of this issue that makes out, this thing that really everyone supports, actually, the majority of people in America totally like abortion. If you’re into electoral politics, which I’m not, but when you campaign about abortion, it’s quite cheering, it’s actually one of the few things that are fun and uplifting to go knocking on people’s doors about because everyone likes abortion. And that is not present in the symbolic sphere. So when someone breaks a CPC window, or– I live in Philadelphia, I was driving around and saw a big billboard in the aftermath of the leak that just said “Abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania”, which might seem a small thing, but when you have a cervix and you’re walking around in the aftermath of a ruling like that, something has shifted. Even if you know that concretely, not that much has shifted for many people, it’s symbolic violence that renders you less than a person. And it is a great act of love to let people know that the violence they are meting out against gestators is hated and will not be tolerated.

My opinion is not really the point so much, I would just say that anyone calling themselves a feminist or leftist could maybe, at the very minimum, not do the right-wing’s job for them and go out of their way to write op-eds condemning Jane’s Revenge, as Judith Levine did in The Intercept. And I was extremely, extremely angry about that. I couldn’t understand why it was necessary of all things at this moment. I don’t know if she’s noticed. I don’t mean to single out Judith Levine. Of course, she’s not the only one. She’s a leftist feminist. A lot of feminists have been condemning Jane’s Revenge for some reason. And it makes me despair a little bit.

Yeah. Facebook, or Meta ruled that Jane’s Revenge was a tier-one terrorist organization. And so any posts expressing neutral or positive sentiments about the actions of Jane’s Revenge will be deleted from Facebook? Apparently, there’s no one on that list of tier-one terrorist organizations other than al Qaeda. It’s actually absurd. And earlier this month, Axios reported that assaults directed at abortion clinic staff and patients increased 128% compared with 2020. There are 4,000 names on the dangerous individuals and organizations list and only 2 are associated with anti-abortion terrorism. But as we know, it’s the supposed pro-life camp that has bombed and murdered people for 40 years. It just seems extremely strange to back up the casting of Jane’s Revenge as terrorists when they are some of the few brave, symbolic actors in solidarity with all the people who have had their bodily autonomy stripped from them by the Supreme Court.

Scott: Yeah, it’s so interesting, because the liberal or even leftists, like the Judith Levine piece are like, “Militancy is great. Violence isn’t good.” But you read the pieces that the people who are calling themselves Jane’s Revenge put out, they are very explicit and clear in their definitions of violence, and what they’re responding to, which you mentioned, is this campaign of literal physical violence against people? Not! They’re targeting empty buildings. It’s property again, right? It’s how it comes back into it. They’re not doing the same thing. Other than the people who are continuing to do abortion care, as they had been doing in, as you also rightly mentioned, that places where Roe didn’t really matter, those people who can’t be very public about the work that they’re doing, Jane’s Revenge is maybe the only visible effective, perhaps, action that’s being taken. Besides the futile protests against buildings or whatever that people do. Also, it’s really exciting because it’s reproducible and anonymous, right? It’s a meme or whatever.

Amar: I love it. To approach all of this with an eye to hypocrisy is to maybe participate in an exercise of driving yourself up the wall. But the hypocrisy of somebody approaching these actions with hand-wringing about violence is pretty backward and very establishment and harmful and also boring.

There’s so much to say about abortion and there’s so much to talk about with how people’s rights are being war-of-attritioned away and how much of those rights actually truly didn’t exist. It was no walk in the park to get an abortion before, a month ago, it was actually quite difficult and more so for folk who live in trigger states and folk who live in chronically unresourced or deresourced places. I would actually really love to hear about your take on the whole groomer discourse that is being levied at trans people specifically, but gay people more generally. Do you have any thoughts about that? And how does that tie into these moments that we’re collectively experiencing?

Sophie: I suppose I already covered some of my thoughts about the weaponized innocence of the figure of the Child. And I suppose this links to the way that– None of this can actually adequately be tackled, including in progressive or socialist, or whatever liberal frames of trans solidarity or allyship, without actually going as far, getting as deep as the principle of youth or child liberation, or youth or child sovereignty. Which is totally lost, it was totally successfully destroyed by the 80’s and by the pedophile industrial complex being built. It’s just off the map more or less, apart from on the fringes of radical movements and, of course, there are wonderful things that are going on. There’s the Purple Thistle, a youth-led community center in Vancouver, carla bergman is an anarchist, reproductive justice militant, and zine archivist who has a book coming out with AK Press called Listen To Kids. There exists consciousness about the importance of actually countering the property logic around kids and including or better than including children in the political process, but it’s just completely fringe. I don’t think that we can actually successfully counter the entire narrative about groomers without actually advocating for something like children and youth liberation. Because groomers are just an outgrowth of the properterian fantasy that, as you mentioned, really weirdly sexualizes the children within the tiny little bubble of the private nuclear household based on eodipal kinship, which is a very strange sexual structure between parents and children, which pretends that it is asexual and projects all of its strange hyper fixated sexuality onto this predatory other.

And it requires children to be literally art canvases, pieces of inheritance, who do not have desires, who do not have sexualities above all, who cannot make friends across generations, and who cannot dictate or negotiate their own boundaries visa vie each other or elders or whatever, and who will be irrevocably harmed by the company of a drag queen. It’s just so boring and so endless, there’s an endless well of this in our culture right now. And I’ve obviously been called a groomer because anyone who talks about queer theory in the public sphere will be called a groomer and a pedophile by TERFs and Gender-Criticals and fascists, etc. And it’s terrifying, right? It’s really terrifying. The left has not got a great strategy worked out about how to be effective in defense against that and how to actually do solidarity with people being targeted by the pedophile industrial complex. I’d love to see more conversations about that.

Scott: Going back to the 70’s, which keeps coming up for us, we’re rehashing on the left the same splintering moments of those radical movements of the women’s movement and gay liberation. They came together in certain areas around abortion and around cisgayness and then splintered around transness. And then the way that it’s reformulating now where supposed radical feminists are taking sides with fascists and right-wingers is a really weird echo or return to that moment. But I wonder what you think about– With groomer, going back to the reproduction of the same and trying to reproduce something else, the threat of the trans child seems to me to be this idea that a kid has some autonomy to refuse the discipline and wages of gender that are forced upon them. And so in a way the groomers are pointing back at– Noah Zazanis wrote about this, too, that cis people are the most effectively groomed people. They’re the ones who do the thing that they’re made to do, and trans people are actually refusing grooming. But I wonder what you think about this, the threat that gay and trans people play is that wherever reproduction we have to do of our community is not sexual reproduction. It’s a different way of forming ourselves and our community. What do you think about the threat of transition and also the strange posthistory of anti-trans feminism?

Sophie: There are different things there. But perhaps, I don’t know what the listenership tends to know and not know. So if you don’t mind, I’ll just state the obvious – or not for some people – about the strange interrelation. I do think it’s important to disambiguate TERFs and Gender-Criticals and simple garden transphobes because sometimes when people hear these conversations from a position of relative unfamiliarity, there can be a real reaction against the seeming conflation of these things. It’s important to state that the State is waging war on trans people, both adult and children, and it’s polarized around the racialized, sex working figure of the trans woman of color, and then the figure of the potentially transed, seduced, groomed, potentially infertile trans child. And this war is being waged primarily in the United Kingdom, but increasingly in the United States and elsewhere. And many actors in this mobilization, which brings together secular right-wingers, Christo-fascists, and sadly, some people who are nominally on the left claim no connection with feminism. That’s maybe obvious, right? However, there is also this presence in their ranks, and even sometimes at their home, especially in the UK. There’s a significant number of self-identified radical feminists. That’s what TERF means – trans-exclusionary radical feminist. This was a terminology brought about by someone who was cis rather than trans. The TERFs don’t like being called TERFs, although it’s very obviously a neutral descriptor. They pitch trans people’s existence itself against the interests of womanhood, and they sometimes link this to a global patriarchal pharma capitalist conspiracy, which supposedly drives the phenomenon of transness. And this links up very beautifully with anti-semitic understandings of the world.

I sometimes think the only real difference between a gender-critical, which is another word for the general anti-trans component within feminism – not all of whom would call themselves radical feminists, so TERF is a specific subset of Gender-Critical – but sometimes the difference between a feminist transphobe, and a Christo-fascist woman, a Trad Wife who hates trans people, is the particular flavor vibe or orientation of their wounded attachment to a suffering-based definition of femaleness. So it’s like do they relate psychically to their own femaleness in a tragic way, which is the feminist transphobes way – we will be females, bleeding and dying in childbirth forever, it’s what makes us sisters – or in a triumphal way, which is the Trad Wife belief, which is really, really inherent, you can hear it, sometimes they say out loud, but the most beautiful thing a woman can do for America is die in childbirth.

And in practice, the links between the feminist transphobes and the anti-feminist transphobes are very well-documented, I can definitely recommend the podcast Blood and TERF, which monitors these relationships. That’s a podcast from the UK, the Heritage Foundation and funding bodies that are even to the right of them have sponsored British radical feminists traveling, advocating, and lecturing for over a decade at this point. I wrote in, of all places, the New York Times who asked me to write about this and explain TERFism’s ideological roots. Why is TERFism so big in the UK? Alas, it was in 2019. Now, it seems it’s a globally known phenomenon because of JK Rowling’s uptake of it. In my opinion, its ideological roots are in eugenic feminism, including specifically colonial English women’s feminist efforts to impose a certain hygiene in India and Africa about a century ago.

But you asked me also about the good news of this confrontation today. There is a real need on the part of capitalist order today to de-fang that disruptive potential that you named in trans kids and to contain the possibilities of trans insurrection within what Nat Raha callsTtrans Liberalism. And it’s really working. There is a spilling over, there is a recognition that there’s refusals of reproductive and productivity type training of that cis heteronormative grooming that Noah Zazanis talks about. The links between that active refusal and all the other issues that we’ve been talking about in terms of work carcerality, the private character of care, the foreclosure of the future in white national reproduction, and so on. When I’m feeling optimistic, there is an insurgency of feminism against cisness taking place. Emma Heaney talks about feminism against cisness. And she turns the history of feminism on its head and historicizes the moment when it became cis, which it was not, to begin with. And the long-standing and currently very potentially powerful insurgency of feminists of all genders against cisness threatens the social order by potentially decommodifying, deprivatizing, and reorienting away from production and reproduction all of the means of collective life-making.

And the question we can ask ourselves, this is from Kay Gabriel, what would it mean for gender to function as a source of disalienated pleasure rather than as an accumulation strategy? And the proliferation of the means of transition doesn’t necessarily but potentially contains a whispered invitation towards exploring that question.

Scott: I love what you just said. That, in my mind, could be a really good last thing to say.

Sophie: We’ve been talking for ages. I’ve taken up so much of your evening. Actually, sometimes it’s good to just quit while you’re ahead. I feel you’re right. Maybe that’s a nice note to end on. We can always think about everything we wish we said and note it down so that our next podcast can potentially– It’s lovely!

Amar: I love it.

Sophie: It’s a real pleasure speaking to you two. It really is.

Amar: The feeling is super, super mutual. I might just ask in closing, is there anything, a notion that you would leave listeners with or parting words that you would say to them?

Sophie: That’s a lovely question. I feel everyone has seen this quote, but it makes me happy when it circulates in times of despair. And it’s that quote from Ursula Le Guin about how the power of capitalism seems immutable, but so did the power of kings under feudalism. When I’m feeling up optimistic right now, I’m realizing that the center cannot hold, there is no center anymore. There is a very real sense in which – and this is very scary – masses of our siblings and neighbors are coming to grips for the first time with the fact that we take care of ourselves, the state does not take care of us, and maybe that provides an opening.

Amar: Indeed, I love that so much. Thank you so much for those words and that provocation that’s really important to keep in mind always, but perhaps especially now.

Exile, World Systems Analysis and Anarchism with Andrej Grubačić

Exile, World Systems Analysis and Anarchism with Andrej Grubačić

Professor Andrej Grubačić
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Andrej Grubačić is a former teacher at the University of Rojava, founding Chair of Anthropology and Social Change at the California Institute of Integral Studies, author of books such as Don’t Mourn, Balkanize!, co-authored Wobblies and Zapatistas with Staughton Lynd and most recently the co-author of Living At The Edges of Capitalism: Adventures In Exile and Mutual Aid with Dennis O’Hearn. Andrej is also the editor of the Journal of World-Systems Research as well as the Kairos imprint at PM Press. For the hour we speak about anarchism, the Yugoslav experiment, exile, World-Systems Analysis, Rojava, his friend David Graeber and other topics.

A couple of Grubačić pieces referenced, found online:

Some further reading suggestions include (more references in upcoming transcript):

Announcement

Anti-Repression in Asheville

As a follow up to the episode we did about protests against the homeless sweeps by the city of Asheville, the Asheville Police appears to be serving arrest warrants to people for charges like felony dumping and aiding & abetting felony dumping in relation to the Aston Park protests on Christmas, when the Asheville police arrested multiple journalists from the Asheville Blade as well as others present in the park prior to cufew. If you think this is bullshit and want to help, consider a donation to the Blue Ridge ABC bail & legal defense fund via their venmo, @BlueRidgeABC. You can also send funds to any of The Final Straw’s accounts, found at TFSR.WTF/Support, and mention ABC Bail in the comments.

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Featured Track:

  • Clock Strikes (Instrumental Remix) by Timbaland and Magoo

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Transcription

TFSR: I’m very pleased to welcome Andrej Grubačić onto the show. Andrej is a former teacher at the University of Rojava, a Founding Chair of anthropology and social change at the California Institute of integral studies. Author of books such as don’t mourn balkanize, and most recently co author of living at the edges of capitalism adventures in exile in mutual aid with Dennis O’Hearn. Andrej is also the editor of the Journal of world systems research. Thank you so much for coming on to The Final Straw.

Andrej Grubačić: Ah, my pleasure, good to be here.

TFSR: Do you want to introduce yourself any further? I don’t know. Say a few words about yourself your preferred gender pronouns any anything else?

AG: Oh, nothing really? No, I usually just say that I’m from Yugoslavia. That’s fine.

TFSR: Well, first up, I wondered if you could say some words about your identity as a Yugoslav a nation that one cannot any longer find on a modern map? And if you could you talk a little bit about the Yugoslav experiment and how you became an anarchist.

AG: This is why I don’t like modern maps. And you are quite right. Unfortunately, the countries no longer in terms of the states, but Yugoslavia, I was always a little bit more than just a country a little bit more than just a state. And I think you’re quite right to say that it is an identity and identity that is in a certain sense, also, a way of rejection, or opposition to identities that were imposed onto us after the breakup of Yugoslavia. And the breakup of Yugoslavia, as many of your listeners probably know, was extremely violent and it happened in the 90s. All of us who were who grew up in Yugoslavia, and who were actually Yugoslavs, who were identified as Yugoslavs and who identify as Yugoslavia, we have found ourselves in what I call my first exile, which was the loss of a country that I loved. I still remember the moment, when I was in Belgrade at the time, my entire family’s from Serajevo from what today is Bosnia and Herzegovina and Belgrade is now capital of Serbia. It was the capital back then of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia established in the end of the forest… But the problem, of course, was I remember watching that, that footage of shadow ever being besieged and the civil war breaking in Serajevo, and it was absolutely heartbreaking. And that’s the moment when I realized in tears through tears, that I have lost something that was precious to me, and something that was extremely important.

It was something that informed again… I said, I am thinking about this as my first exile, second example would be coming to United States also not my choice, not my first choice, certainly, and not something that I did quite willingly. But let me answer your question, I think in a way that is probably more informative for the listeners who are not familiar with Yugoslavia, or maybe even not familiar with anarchism. So, I blame anarchism on my grandmothers, two grandmothers and both of them were communists.

When I say communists, that for us meant people who believed either in Tito, who was the leader of Yugoslavia, and who was the founder of what we might call Tito-ism or Titoist communism, which was a dominant form of communism in Yugoslavia. It was considered to be socialist self-management plus, Non-Aligned movement as a political orientation, external political orientation. And there was of course Stalinism, which was the opposition to Titoism in my family was split sharp half of my family were teachers communists, the other half were closer to standing back in the days before 1948 which was a very important moment in Yugoslavia history because that’s the moment when the Yugoslav Communist Party split. The majority of Yugoslav communist and basically saying no to Stalin, the famous historical “No”. Yugoslavia was choosing its own way, its own path to socialism, which involved again, socialist self-management. It was proclaimed in 1950 by a man named Edvard Kardelj, who wrote the first draft of what was to become “Socialist Self Management”, in which included many anarchist, guild socialist and even Trotskyist components.

And then, of course, Non-Aligned movement, which part of my family was very involved with, and they were building together which anti-colonial movements and states like Nasser’s Egypt, a new internationalist perspective and new anti-colonial perspective that Yugoslavia was actually the founding state of the Non-Aligned movement. And the first conference was in Belgrade, 1961. So all of this is to say, it was a fascinating country in which, to which one family had two different shades of communism. And the grandmother who was, shall we say, closer to the Stalinists side, but of course, lost the faith in that form of bureaucratic socialism, suffered a lot because of her choices. I asked her at some point, what does she think and how did she feel about communism right now? And that was a long time ago, I think I was 13 years old. And she told me “Listen, I believe in communism, I will always believe in communism, I think the problem is that my generation has chosen the wrong path to communism. And the responsibility of your generation is to find the new one not to give up on communism, but to find a new path to communism.” And that, you know, left me scratching my head and thinking what this different path can be.

Again, I was 13. So I was still pretty innocent in the ways of the world and political ideology. So this is where my other grandmother came to help. And she gave me her favorite book, which was soon to become my favorite book, which was Alexander Ivanovich Herzen’s My Past And Thoughts, it’s called in English. And My Past And Thoughts is Herzen’s memoir, in which he delineate and describes the fascinating history of the romantic exiles of 19th century, which included Bakunin. There was my favorite anecdote of Bakunin in being chained to a wall somewhere in the Russia, having to repent in front of the Tzar, but somehow escaping. He swam across the frozen Volga, jumped on a ship, ended up in United States and Caribbean and finally in London, where Hertzen was waiting for him. And Herzen said, “Well, welcome, what are we going to do first?” and Bakunin responded “Do they have oysters in this place, or do I need to go back to Siberia?”

I loved that response. There was, you know, everything I was looking for was there. You know, you’re 13 years old and you read something like this, and it’s absolutely amazing. And I said, “Well, okay, this man was an anarchist. So let me explore anarchism and let me see if this could be that other path to communism that my grandmother was actually referring to.” And ever since then, I started reading things about anarchism and reading Noam Chomsky was very important. Noam Chomsky was extremely popular in Yugoslavia for different reasons, he was somebody who gave a qualified support to Yugoslav self-management as somebody who was translated. I also started translating Noam Chomsky’s books into Serbo-Croatian, because then the name of the language. And through Chomsky, through Daniel Guérin, and through my first anarchist mentor, who’s name was Trivo Inđić (who recently passed at the beginning of COVID) I learned most important things about anarchism. Trivo used to say that anarchism is this noble attempt of trying to approximate or achieve freedom using the means of freedom itself. That was one of the ways that he was describing anarchism. And perhaps the most important thing that I learned from all three of them, my early introduction into anarchism, my early mentors Chomsky, Trivo and Danielle Guérin, was an actual distaste for any kind of political sectarianism. I have no patience for anarchist sectarians and I have no patience for sectarianism to begin with of any kind.

And I have even less patience for nationalism. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, we were sort of forced to choose and people have their own identities, nation state identities that they have chosen. Identified with Serbs, Croatians, Montenegrans, Bosnians, Slovenes, Macedonians… believe it or not, these are all now independent states out of one. Seven, we now have Kosovo as well. Basically, I refuse to identify with any of those and I became an anarchist (so, a man without a state) but also Yugoslav (which means man without a nation). And Yugoslavia for me became a sort of identity that I claimed with great pride for two reasons. One, because I was raised a Yugoslav. So the fact that Yugoslavia as a state doesn’t exist anymore, it doesn’t really concern me. But also Yugoslav in a sense of a political project.

Yugoslavia was always a sort of a truncated version of something that in the region was known as Balkan Federalism, and Balkan Federalism, which was inspired by the ideas of Serbian socialist, Svetozar Marković, a number of Greek and Romanian and Bulgarian friends of his in 1871 and after that, was this idea of not a federation of states, but a regional federation that was horizontal, that was state-less and it was built on agricultural and working units of working people, most notably on something that was called Zadruga, which was the village commune and of Obscina, which will be short of village administrative unit. Similar to Chernyshevsky in Russia, similar to Russian populists, and also later anarchists, we were there, we were talking about things and we were thinking about things that were not related to capitalist forms of organization of life. But we were actually referring to something that predates, negates and to certain extent, escapes relationships of capital and the state. Which led me to my preoccupation with what, in time, I started up to call it “exilic spaces” spaces of escape from capitalist modernity, spaces that escape a concentrated spatial forms of mutual aid. That was a nod to Pietr Kropotkin, famous anarcho communist. Spaces that escape at least to an extent, relationship of capital, capitalist law of value, and also of regulations and regulatory pressures of the state, especially of the modern capitalist nation states.

This led me eventually to embrace World-Systems Analysis, and different other ways of looking to avoid methodological nationalism, and state-fixation in social sciences and conventional social science. So at the point when I actually had to leave, what at that time was, I believe, Serbian-Montenegro (the name of the country kept trained during is the counter revolution was progressing after the war, neoliberal right wing counter revolution), I think was the country that I had to leave and I was forced to leave because I couldn’t find any employment. I was a young historian who was perhaps a little bit too outspoken, politically. So, Chomsky brought me to United States, he became my PhD supervisor, and he introduced me to a man whose name is Immanuel Wallerstein. And I’m forever grateful to two of them because they brought me to a place called the Fernand Braudel Center, which was in upstate New York and was a place where I was allowed to participate in research working groups. And in something that was an extraordinary experience of collective work, and thinking politically about limits and limitations of social science, and the ideas of social science that would be completely different than whatever it is that we have right now. I don’t know how much you want me to go into that or if you would like me to talk about something else.

But that is, again back to 13 years ago, when I was 13 years old, that was the beginning of my love affair with anarchism, which is still ongoing. And with my absolute dedication to the anarchist cause, which identified with democracy, very early on and this idea of prefigurative attempts and notion of prefiguration or anticipation, anticipatory politics, which for me was very important and to try was able to find already in Chernyshevsky, in which you have to enact in the present the kind of the future you would like to see. And you have to I think this is a quote from Rudolph rocker and other important and anarcho-syndicalist “You have to build the facts of the future in the present.” That is what I think the most important thing about anarchism is your theory and practice of self-management, which was another way that I would refer or maybe even define anarchism. As a theory of organization, more than just an attitude, an anti -authoritarian perspective on things.

TFSR: Thank you. That was a great answer.

I do want to talk more about what values you found and give an explanation to the audience, and me, of what world systems analysis is as a framework, but I had a couple of questions about your experience at the time in the Balkans, in Yugoslavia and former Yugoslavia. I’d love to hear if you had difficulty as you were coming up finding material about anarchism, there was a place in the sort of genealogy of the development of the socialism that the government imposed, or that was provided around you to say “Oh, yeah, people like Kropotkin were deeply influential, but they were idealists, but you know, here, we follow the materialist trend…”

And also a guest that we had on the show a few weeks back, who lives in Belgrade, spoke very briefly about sort of difficulties of organizing now, in the Balkans, in former Yugoslavia, because of the rise of ethnic nationalisms, that the imposition of those sorts of thing. But also, that any sort of like leftist philosophy can be looked at by many people as polluted. And today, currently, being a leftist and trying to organize around labor or around Mutual Aid, or these sorts of things, has sort of sharpness to it, that a lot of people, you know, refuse upon sight. I wonder if the NATO contribution to the war that was in the Balkans at the time, the neoliberal approach has been to claim that forces like the United States government are bringing democracy when they’re dropping bombs. And what they bring is is a neoliberal model of capitalist management as opposed to democracy. So I wonder also, if the term democracy you found is a bit like tainted or polluted, or they have to fight for a meaning of it?

AG: Oh, it’s an interesting question. A man asked who was the guest from Belgrade

TFSR: The name that he used on the show was Marco. And he’s currently involved in the anarcho syndicalist initiative of the IWA-AIT in Belgrade. But he didn’t give a last name.

AG: Yes, sure. I think your questions are really interesting. And they do make me think.

Back in Yugoslavia, this is a very important thing to mention, it was a very different world than the one of the Soviet communism. Soviet communism was in say, Romania, Bulgaria… It was different in Romania, and it was different in Bulgaria and different than in Russia and other parts of the Soviet communist universe. But basically, these countries were called the Second World countries. I don’t know if you remember that. First World countries were countries your freedom and as you say, democracy of a particular kind. The Second World was the name given to those countries that were part of the immediate Soviet sphere of influence. And then the Third World (which funnily that for European country, or at least geographically European country, like Yugoslavia was a part of), the Third World was the world of Non-Aligned countries, countries that were neither West in terms of liberal democracy, nor East in terms, or the Second World I guess, in terms of what was known to be communism, mistakenly, of course, but countries of “real socialism.” Now, Yugoslavia was different, and Yugoslavia had much more space for liberal, for dissidence, for all sorts of activities that were not completely or not at all in accord with the State, were dictats of the states, but more tolerated for many different reasons.

In Yugoslavia, there was always a coexistence of bureaucracy, we used to call it Red Bureaucracy, and the New Bureaucratic class a term popularized by Milovan Djilas, one of the Yugoslav early dissidents, not my favorite figure by any means. But it’s a useful way of thinking about a new, Red Bureaucracy and an emerging clash that assumed power in Yugoslavia, including, of course, members in higher ups of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia or the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. That was the name that was used after the reconstruction of the party after 1948. But there was a significant space outside and counterbalance of dissidents.

One of the most important parts, and I don’t know if Marko spoke about this, of that dissidency was a group called Praxis Network. And Praxis was a Humanist-Marxist, or one might say Marxist-Humanist, or I would say Libertarian Marxist group, that organized cultural a school Korčula, after the island in Croatia, and Praxis journal published all the important names of what is what became known as the Western Marxism. The term Western Marxism was popularized in Germany in the 70’s, it builds upon the idea of the school known as the New Reading of Marx. These are Adorno students, but also Eastern Europeans like one, especially one who was very important for me, Karel Kosík. Some people who are in the United States like Karl Korsch that you probably know is Libertarian Marxist, or Council Communists. And many of the people who became known important names of the New Left, like Herbert Marcuse, who was coming fairly often and many others.

So, all of them participate in Praxis, and Praxis was a fantastic critique of Yugoslav bureaucracy, providing space for all sorts of possible reinventions and reinterpretation of Marxism of that we that was practiced and that was cherished and imposed, implemented in many ways in socialist Yugoslavia. They were all insisting on the partial success and partial failure of the Yugoslav self-management system. They were all in favor of self-management, but they provided very important and very nuanced, intelligent critique. People like who are today famous like Slavoj Žižek, for example, who was never a part of Praxis, but he gravitated around it. He was in Slovenia, and he was latching on to the Lacanian interpretation of socialism, show he was looking more into French. Many people in Croatia were looking to Germany and German interpretations for the Marxism and other things are plenty of space for ideological and very creative ideological engagement. It ended in 1968, when eight of these professors including my friend, Trivo Inđić, my first mentor, were fired from the University of Belgrade and punished, rather severely for disagreeing with the Titoist, the official bureaucratic party line. And that in many ways, was the beginning of the decline of Yugoslavia.

Now, many of the people who participated in Praxis were also favorable to anarchism because they were looking for different ways to reinvent, reinvigorate Yugoslav self-management, which was an alliance of selfmanagee economy and state. It was something that anarchists, who were the pioneers of thinking about self-management… Proudhon was probably the first person who wrote cogently and coherently about self-management known also as “the father of selfmanagement”… He never imagined it it coexisting with the political states, let alone been run by people who were Bolshevik, or Titoists. So, this was an uncomfortable marriage, shall we say, or alliance. And in that particular political space interventions were made to introduce anarchism, left libertarian thought, libertarian socialist thought. As you probably know, in most of the world, we use the term “libertarian” to talk about anarchism. There is no idea of right wing libertarianism, it doesn’t exist. So when we say libertarian, we actually mean anarchists. And one of the groups that I was a member of was called Belgrade Libertarian Group. And these were mostly people who are the left wing of Praxis. And these were the people who were interested in this libertarian reinterpretation, not only of Marxism, but promoting anarchism as a possible way of solving some of those deficiencies. So, out of this group, out of this milieu, out to this political space came many translations of Pietr Kropotkin such as Mutual Aid, Memoirs Of A Revolutionary and other books were translated. And this now sounds a little bit ridiculous, but by a man who is the former neoliberal minister or prime minister of Yugoslavia, Zoran Đinđić. There was a time in the life of Zoran Đinđić, himself assassinated by mafia by different other elements of the, we used to call them dual power… The dual power in Serbia after 2002, 2001 was really mafia and organized crime. They assassinated a prime minister who was in his youthful days and anarchists who translated parts of Kropotkin, and even entire books by Kropotkin. So, we have a number of younger people who identified with the libertarian tendency within socialism. And some of them, again, will later come to power and both become very important much of the establishment. Even my mentor, Trivo Inđić, became the ambassador. He was an anarchist Ambassador, an anarchist who was an ambassador in Spain.

TFSR: That must have been a very difficult thing to deal with the Francoist regime, or was this post-Franco?

AG: Oh, this was post Franco. The reason he was given Spain was not only because he spoke Spanish but because he was somebody who was developing within Praxis network and within this libertarian space political space relationships with Spanish anarchists and relationship also with Latin American libertarian movements. So, Trivo was the first one who actually told me about Edvard Kardelj, while composing this new program that became known as “Yugoslav Self Management”, was consulting anarcho-syndicalist texts and reading Diego Abad de Santillán and many other people who were anarcho-syndicalists. And who were thinking about shelf management, including Proudhon. So, it was an uncomfortable task for the father of Yugoslav Self Management to have to relate to the father of anarchist self management and tried to call him a Leninist, or a Marxist, or just trying to somehow reinterpret this in a Leninist key.

In any case, these were the strange spaces and strange times of Yugoslavia, which was very different had very different political culture and much less suffocating, more open then the culture of other socialist states. We were watching American movies and Soviet movies. We were delighting in Czechoslovakian cinematography and beautiful movies that they had. And film culture, there was a whole thing called Prague school and many Yugoslav directors in those days went there and learn their craft in Prague. This includes Emir Kusturica, Goran Marković and many others. And Living Theater, I remember, used to come quite often to Yugoslavia. An anarchist theater from New York who had actually much more popularity in Yugoslavia than United States. Yugoslavia was a very interesting, open political space, of course contradictory because of the presence of the Communist Party, because of the elements of state violence, which we cannot ignore.

But they were many interesting elements there that allowed for the development of that political space that Marko was referring to these we bought your original question was about anarchist literature, which we could find without problems. I remember absolutely being delighted reading can be Albert Camus and his book, The Rebel, which was also very important in those formative days. And of course, other anarchist literature, which existed. Some of this most Marxist takes like biographies of Bakunin, but you know, you could read against the grain and you could read in a certain sense and discover many different things about the anarchist tradition by reading the Marxist critique. And again, there were books by actual anarchists published and translated. So, Yugoslavia in that sense was unusual difference and for me the space where you could actually learn a lot about Marxism. Marxism was something that I had in my elementary school matches and was a class that I had to take in elementary school and I had Marxism in high school. And then I had Marxism at the university. And now of course, that particular kind of Marxism that we had to learn was what I came to call in time “right wing Marxism,” that was the Marxism that begins with the Second International in Germany, developed further by the another right wing deviation in the history of Marxism, which is Lenin and Bolshevism. And then goes to Tito, Mao and other people who in the third world, mostly, who developed it further, and that was an interesting experience.

Of course, it made me this stage, you know, it made me dislike Marxism a great deal. But I was able to find books and especially because I was, you know, trained as a historian I was able to discover the wonderful world of British Marxism a British Marxist historians. So I was able to read EP Thompson, who was translated of course and Eric Hobbeswan, and but more than Eric Hobbeswan, whom I will not call the historian from below, he was a British Marxist historian but not exactly a historian from below. EP Thompson and Christopher Hill were really important. And when I was reading the two of them I, this is all that I wanted to do back in those days, I was thinking about writing a history from below.

My first published academic work was actually related to the history from below of the Anabaptists, the first communist right people who said “Omnia Sunt Comunia” or “Everything Belongs to Everyone” and created this beautiful communist experiment in Münster for which they were punished severly, tortued and caged. The city of Münster still has cages of macabre monuments to the killed, assassinated, tortured Anabaptist. So I was trying to trace the movement of Anabaptists from Germany, to the Balkans, and to see whether they left because they were fleeing the oppression. And it was a fascinating thing. And in those days, I was very skeptical of the Fernand Braudel, who was the historian famous for historical structuralist approach or maybe…

TFSR: The Annales School?

AG: The actual Yes, he was the third grade and Annaliste. The first was Lucien Favre and Marc Bloch and then the third one that the editor of the Annales was Fernand Braudel. They created something called “Total History”, which was a perspective that was relatively popular in Yugoslavia in those days, but I just wanted to study pirates, Anabaptists and runaway slaves. And, you know, I was interested in innate agency and resistance and all of that. And only later, I discovered Fernand Braudel, after moving to the Fernand Braudel Center in upstate New York in Binghamton University. State University of New York at Binghamton, I think is the full name and this is where Immanuel Wallerstein was a director. And through Immanuel Wallerstein, but especially through the very first recruit of the Fernand Braudel Center. Immanuel used to recruit people, both historians, sociologists, social scientists, and students. So, both professors and students were recruited by him in a certain sense. I was probably his last recruit. I don’t think that anybody came after me. I think the Center is now closed. But I met Dale Tomich, who was the first person that Immanuel recruited. And through my relationship with Dale even more than with Immanuel, I learned how to appreciate Braudel, and I moved away from EP Thompson and Christopher Hill and Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, and all of those historians of resistance, historians from below. I started to develop my own Braudalian history and my own broad area and approach to history.

Now, your question had another part, which was about the difficulties of organizing the former Yugoslavia, or what now I still insist on calling the Yugoslav political space, because of the NATO bombing. NATO bombing concerns two countries, one was Bosnia, where Bosnian Serbs were bombed, the other place was Serbia where I myself was bombed by the American NATO forces in 1999. It wasn’t pleasant. And it definitely left an extremely difficult wound, not only in terms of psychology and trauma and all of that, that definitely was the case for those of us who had to suffer through that. But in terms of how do you organize in the midst of all of this. The nationalism in Serbia is not something, ethnic nationalism, is not something that begins with NATO bombing. I think the “great counter revolution”, as I call it started really in the 80’s, and especially the end of the 80’s. And then with the Yugoslav civil war in the 90’s. Serbian nationalism, which was important because in those days, I was in Serbia and I assume so was Marco, created important limitations in being able to actually speak about any kind of leftist politics. So speaking about leftist politics, in face of either neoliberal capitalism or neoliberal modernization, or Serbian ethnic nationalism which was it’s alternative, oppositional and I would say symbiotic political option. They will complementary in many ways, although challenge counterintuitive, these were the, you know, huge conceptual blocks blocking the horizon of possibility of creating a new politics of emancipation.

And anarchism, which again, it has each moment and there was a possibility for actually articulating the new perspective that would be libertarian, and that would be anarchist. It was really hard. And I think that many of us made the mistake of not doing more to push for the anti-authoritarian socialist option in those days. However, it was really hard. I mean, you have to think about should be a nationalist paramilitaries, the war is over. There are people coming back from the war is a lot of street fighting, there’s our of violence everywhere. Mafia / organized crime is basically running the country. In relationship, a very intimate relationship, not only with political structures, but also with the ever powerful secret police in Serbia. And the countries, other countries or former Yugoslavia suffered a very similar fate. So it was really hard to fight for anarchism or any other kind of genuine leftist idea back in those days, and then referring to the end of the 90’s, beginning of 2000’s.

TFSR: So switching gears a little bit, you’re currently the editor of the Journal of World-Systems Research. We haven’t talked about World Systems Analysis on the show before so I wonder if you could give us an introduction to the framework of what it is how its approached relates to internationalists or inter-communalist, anti-capitalist struggle in and beyond academia?

AG: Well, that’s an interesting question in terms of relationship, and I think under explored why the relationship between anarchism and World-Systems Analysis. You know, there is the new issue of the journal for systems research will feature a special issue dedicated to non-state, anti-statist and anarchist movements in the capitalist world economy in the modern world system, but let me, let me try to explain what was so useful, for me at least in terms of thinking about political ideology and ideas within that framework. Immanuel was, and you can see this in the four volumes of his book Modern World-Systems, but also in many other books where he was popularizing or making more accessible all the historical arguments, that are very dense that he made in those main books, four volumes… Now, the important thing for me was that Immanuel was talking about 500 years of capitalism, 500 years of what he called “Capitalist World Economy”, “Capitalist World System, a historical social system that had its own, and this is an important term,Geoculture”. And that the geoculture, meaning a dominant, hegemonic idea of constellation of ideas. He called it “Centrist Liberalism”.

And it basically all of it begins with the end of the French Revolution, which introduced something completely new in the world and that novelty was called “social change”. Namely, before the French Revolution, the idea that change is possible, change is normal, change is even something that is good, has been universally rejected by traditional monarchistic ways of thinking about the way that the world works and the way that history moves. So, with the “dangerous classes” as Immanuel called them, or the French Revolution, this is the first moment when really the ruling classes people in power had to deal with the dangerous classes. And they had to somehow respond to this great pressure coming from below that was felt all the way to Haiti. And the Haitian Revolution was very much part of the French Revolutionary experience. Usually you don’t learn about the Haitian Revolution in American universities or high schools which I had to learn when I moved here. But the thing about this is that geoculture means that people in power had to figure out a way of how to respond to this pressure, also intellectually and this is where intellectuals come in handy and this is the birth of modern intellectuals, but also of modern ideologists. And of course of social sciences.

So the greatest novelty according to manual of French Revolution was that it created the idea that social change is normal, social change is desirable, but social change needs to be somehow managed and controlled. And the forum through which social change can be enacted and experimented with is the State. So, what capitalist modernity means, basically, is the organization of the world in which centrist liberalism occupies a central and most dominant place. However, the part of the whole world of capitalist modernity is not only occupied by the dominant real culture of centrist liberalism, but also by other modernist ideologies that are also part of capitalism. And these are, of course, modern conservativism, but also the dominant, mainstream forms of Marxism. They all deployed and accepted the liberal notion of Time, which was the linear notion of time, a progressivist notion of time. Unquestion belief in the idea of progress, linear temporality and organization of space through Nation States and through a political system of representative democracy, identified again with the space geographic space of the states, with a dominant nationality and ethnic group and dominant language. Now, many of us began to call this a Jacobin solution and Daniel Guérin has this famous and beautiful essay, De-Jacobinized Revolution, perhaps would be translation from French. I’m not entirely sure if this has been published in English (It is, it’s linked in the show-notes, -TFSR).

And the idea, basically, is that the Jacobin Revolution and temporality and Jacobin idea of the state and Jacobin idea of modernity has only one enemy: and that enemy was anarchism. And it gives the most anti-foundation of which, in a sense that it refused to accept all the foundational elements of capitalist modernity: Authority of the state; authority of the modern nation; authority of liberalism; and authority of the intellectual. So, what people in power did in order to manage social change, they invented the university. The university was a moribund institution, medieval University, of course, before the 18th century, when it was reinvented very carefully. And eventually in the 19th century, the disciplines were created. And all of this was a political enterprise. This was an attempt to again manage and explain social change. So your head all of a sudden social sciences, created with a particular political task. The first one that was transformed into science was actually history. And the reason why history was created was basically respond to the challenges of the Paris Commune of 1871. And then history, especially with Leopold von Ranke who said famously that “we have to study the history, the past, as it really happened,” became really a form of change that legitimizes the state and legitimizes the nation. And when I say legitimizes it also mean to a certain extent, creates the state and creates the nation. Historians, the new historians, professional historians, Ranke and others, were actually given a task to create states and nationas. States were already brought into life, now we had to invent… As the famous saying goes, “we have France, now we have to invent French people.” And for this, we needed history. So history was given that particular task.

Liberal ideology is organized around a trinity of concepts. It’s organized around very violent abstractions: one is called the state; another is called economy or the markets; and the last one is society. Society was left to the sociologists. Sociologists were there to study the society. Economists were invented in order to study the market. And finally political science and political scientists were created in order to study the state. Those people who were left behind the liberal political universe were known as Primitives, you know people who don’t really have the state. So, the stateless population of savages, barbarians, primitives were a domain of a new social science discipline known as anthropology. And finally, we have people who, once upon a time, used to have great empires, great cultures and great civilizations. And like people in Persia, like people in China, and they became the domain the field of study of Orientalists. People who were mostly philologists, but who were using all ways of studying different cultures that are supposedly frozen in time, meaning that they do not belong to the goals of Eurocentric liberal modernity.

And again, most of the ideas, most of the ideologies against centrist liberalism, what Immanuel Wallerstein calls “antisystemic movements”, movements against the system,, were very much embedded in that system because they accepted the same premise of progress of certain unqualified celebration of the enlightenment, or certain ideas of the Enlightenment, codefied by the State. And there was only one that was misfitting and that was anarchism. So what World-Systems does for me in terms of understanding anarchism, it opens up a space to speak about two periods in the history of anarchism. The first one is what I call the “First Anarchist Century”. And that is, I would say, roughly between the 1870’s and either 1917 or 1936, the Spanish revolution. Depending on when you want to think about the ends of the first anarchist century, which was the period and this is the reason why I’m calling it the anarchist century, is the period when anarchism was the dominant perspective in the Global South, and in basically all the countries except Western Europe.

In Western Europe, you had the absolute triumph, absolute predominance of hegemonic Marxism, which was the Marxism of the Second International, the Marxism of the steam engine and Marxism of the guillotine. Which was developed by people in German Social Democracy and later on improved upon, in a certain sense, by Lenin and his comrades. You had a few dissonant voices like Rosa Luxemburg, and like people who became known as Council Communists, Libertarian Marxist, but they were a minority. In most of the world, the dominant anti-capitalist tradition, was the tradition of anarchism. And you can read Benedict Anderson’s wonderful book called Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination (later republished as The Age of Globalization, now out of print, but a pdf linked in the episode notes -TFSR), Sho Konishi’s masterful work, Anarchist Modernity, and of course Ilham Khuri-Makdisi, who is from Lebanon, and her work The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860-1914. And in all of these books, and many others, which are treating anarchism from this perspective, you could see that this period (1870’s to Russian Revolution, or perhaps the Spanish revolution), was a period where anarchism was really the only game in town in terms of an anti-capitalist politics. It served as a sort of gravitational force between revolutionary and anti-colonial struggles on different sides of the Atlantic. So, you had thes incredible situations in which Filipino nationalist (meaning anti-colonial fighters) would meet anarchists. and exchange ideas, would borrow from anarchist repertoire of anarchist ideas, which was very flexible because anarchism always gave more primacy to life than to the text. So this anti-authoritarian eclecticism of anarchists was something that the anticolonial revolutionaries in India, the Philippines, in Japan in China were all using for different purposes.

There were a series of communication network, which involved in many, many different journals from Belgrade to New Jersey, the most important one was you Paris, Les Temps Nouveaux. And all of these journals were sort of communications network of that anarchist century, but there were also other spaces. Anarchists were absolutely brilliant in using the new public spaces like taverns, cafes, but also theatres, to propagate anarchism. And of course schools. This is the beginning of Modern School Movement with Francisco Ferrer. But anarchism, actually, in terms of education begins with Paul Robin, who was an anarchist who created the first educational program for the Paris Commune, the only one, known as Integral Education. So, integral education and you will notice that the police were it to school California Institute of Integral Studies, integral education for a long time was the anarchist perspective on education. Tolstoy was very close to anarchism was very close to all of these, they were known as Model Schools. They were created all over not only Europe, but the entire world because anarchist organized through networks.

And networks were a preferred model of anarchist organizing, you know, in those days. So, Pietro Gori, Errico Malatesta, the fabled names of European anarchism, were all of a sudden in Paraguay and Argentina. And there’s a reason why… There was a very intimate connection between Caribbean, Pacific, Mediterranean networks, where anarchists were circulating their ideas. We know of translations of Malatesta in Cuba. We know of Malatesta, for example, trying to come to my part of the world, the Balkans to fight against the Ottomans. In in the late 19th century. We know that he was with Sergius Stepniak, who was a famous Russian populist. After that they went and they plundered the countryside of Italy, repurposing, or I guess the term would be expropriating many of the village properties there. Stepniak, then goes to Russia, assassinates the minister of the police, comes back to England. He is killed ,unfortunately, in Chiswick of all places in train accident. So, this is a time where anarchism is traveling everywhere. Francisco Ferrer was a famous anarchist educator was murdered by the states in 1908. His project which was known as Modern Schools, and the modern school movement becomes extremely popular. In the United States, you had modern school movement and many modern schools. But the Fransisco Ferrer Affair, as it was known, became a play, they used to be known as Martyr Plays. And this theater play, I think, premiered in Alexandria, or in Beirut, I can’t remember, and then later in Buenos Aires.

And then of course, you had the Mayday. Immigrants, anarchists who created the May Day and who, I guess to those two events are really kind of the connective tissue or the most celebrated events of the anarchist century. Marx was important. And I will say that anarchists in many ways were more faithful to Marx then majority of the so called hegemonic Marxism or the mainstream or right wing Marxism as they call it. Bakunin famously translated, in prison Marx’s capital. But anarchists were always skeptical of Marxism, because Marxism was a modernist ideology. The majority of Marx’s in those days were people who were tinkering with engineering, and the idea of creating the great locomotives of the future, fascinated with tractors and modernist progress. Anarchists were always skeptical, anarchists thinking about Russia Mir and the different, other forms of organization, self-organization of people in Russia. Not as pre-capitalist, in terms of a relic of the past, but as non-capitalist, in terms of traditional forms that, again to some extent, deform and avoid capitalist relations. And I believe very firmly that Marx at the end of his life, the most libertarian Marx, was the Marx who wrote to Vera Zasulich actually, the famous Russian populist, and who basically agreed that there is nothing inevitable about capitalism. However, Marx was not always read by the Marxists. And again, I think that anarchists and, later, feminists develop some of the most important and libertarian insights of Marx, and understood that Marx is far more complicated than it is presented by the Orthodox Marxist doctrine.

So, all of this is possible to understand if you think about World-Systems. You think about the first anarchist century which ends with a triumph of state socialism. And it basically ends with, and this is how Immanuel Wallerstein explains it he says… Well, during the anarchist century, he doesn’t use those terms, I do, but during the time of anarchist dominance in the capitalist world-system as an anti-systemic configuration of ideas there was a two step strategy that people accepted. Which is, first you change the society, you create new possibilities, you create new social relations, you create a new civilization basically, outside and against capitalist modernity. And then you destroy, or you replace, or you dissolve the states in those relationships. The two step strategy became reversed with the Russian Revolution, and it was: first, take the power of the state; then, create a new socialist humanity. And that two step strategy was felt all over the world. Dominance and overwhelming acceptance by the radicals of the two step strategy is part of what we can call the “Marxist century”, which in my analysis leads to 1968, the time that world-systems theorists called the “world revolution of 1968” that simultaneous exploded in many different places. And it basically questions, that fundamental premise of anti-systemic movements, which was that you have to first conquer the state, take the power, and then create a new society. And what was created instead was basically a validation of the anarchist insight, that you have to do it exactly the other way around. This was formulated in sort of clumsy way with a New Left movements and New Left political culture following the 1968 Revolutions during the 70’s. But finally, after the 1989, 1990’s, the end of Soviet Union, I think, the you can recognize the first symptoms of the triumph of all of those ideas that anarchists traditionally champion. And David Graeber and myself wrote an essay, I believe, sometime in the 90’s, Anarchism, Or The Revolutionary Movement of the Twenty-First Century, I think it was the name of that essay. That had an interesting career, and it’s still being read and widely disputed, and you know. But the basic idea that we had is that after this period after the Marxist century, the new anarchist century, the second anarchy century, is coming. In a sense of the anarchism, which was insurgent common sense, as we defined it in in the article, insisting on the ideas of self-organization, self-management, direct democracy, libertarian socialism, all of these ideas were becoming dominant. And again, a sense of a sort of a common sense in politics that we could see Mexico in other parts of Latin America, Europe, in the United States. The antiglobalization movement was profound, the I think, influenced by this libertarian impulse, as well as the Occupy movements.

So, right now I think we have this uncomfortable situation in which I can see the pernicious and short of frightening resurgence of statist, bureaucratic socialist ideas, and people who should be truly a shame for peddling this nonsense. Who are again, once again, trying to bring the state in and are trying to reinvent this cadaver of bureaucratic socialism, in this necrophiliac maneuver, to make us again, read all the people who we should really not read anymore. Is it Bernstein, or is it Kautsky? Is it Lenin or is it Trotsky? Or is it, God forbid, Stalin? All of these ghosts, demons from the past, are being summoned in order to make an argument that we need to be realistic, and we need to demand the possible. And the possible seems to be, again and this is such a colossal failure of imagination, but also any kind of historical nerve, is a resurrection of state bureaucratic socialism because we supposedly have no choice but to again commit a suicide in terms of radical politics. So, I think the great challenge for the new generation of radicals is to refuse any, and I mean any idea, political idea associated with the State. And to say farewell to the ideas and traditions of capitalist modernity, and to look at places like Rojava, and places like Chiapas, but also so many other places where libertarian ideas have been practiced and have been improved upon improvised and so forth. And there is a reason why ideas of World-Systems theorists like Immanuel Wallerstein, Giovanni Arrighi, and many others actually read in Rojava. If you read Rajala, the Kurdish part of Syria, which is the part of experiencing libertarian social revolution, well, the most important people are Murray Bookchin, an anarchist from United States. And the other most important reference is Immanuel Wallerstein and Fernand Braudel. Same with Chiapas. When you go to Chiapas, you will be escorted to the Immanuel Wallerstein library. So there is a reason why these theories actually being recognized as people who have something interesting to say, to the movements that are, perhaps, the most significant movements of our time.

So, all of this is a very long answer to your question that world-systems analysis, in my view, offers to people who identify with anarchism and libertarian Marxism, what we can call libertarian socialism or libertarian communism, a lot of space to rework politics in a way of understanding the world that is not the world of nation states. And the main premise of world-systems is that we live in a singular historical system, organized by an actual division of labor, there is a periphery there is a core there is perhaps something called semi-periphery. The way that this the world is organized through the division of labor, through the world markets, and through the interstate system. And in a certain sense, it is a direct assault against the usual nationalism, of conventional social science, that fetishizing the nation state is the main unit of analysis. In Worldsystems, it’s exactly the opposite. The main unit of analysis is capitalist modernity, capitalist worldeconomy, modern worldsystem, or now there is a new interpretation, Capitalist World-Ecology, associated with the work of Jason Moore and his school. Meaning, there is a historical system in which states are nothing but instances of political organization and we should study the way that different instances are being produced within historical space that we call capitalist world-system or capitalist world-ecology. And we should not fetishize the state as a unit of analysis, we should try to study them and understand them, but they should not be our unit of analysis.

TFSR: I think it’s really interesting that the two examples that you brought up of some of the revolutions that are currently going on, both sprung out of, to some degree, an initial Marxist impulse. Whether it be the, I think Stalinist at the time, PKK that went through the changes after the fall of the Soviet Union. And, and as he said, like, you know, brought in ideas from Brunel, and from book gin from Wallerstein for many other people, as well as studying what was happening in Chiapas. And then what was happening in Chiapas: Marxist guerrillas going into the jungle and intermeshing and building something new with Mayan people. And the synthesis that comes out, the unorthodox, largely indigenous answer to neoliberal capitalism that has been created in both those instances while distinctive of each other, there’s a lot of resonance between them. And I think that the fact that the impulse was directed by indigenous folks (not to say that indigenous folks aren’t a lot of different things, not to say it’s a monolithic thing)… But the fact that it’s such a break with this, modernist progressive worldview, that these other systems that, you know, academia has been pushing in that the states have been pushing. It provides an example that says, “it’s not like it moves from this state, and stage of development into this stage, and those people are back here. It’s, you know, it, it is what people make it.” Does that make sense? Sorry, that was going rambly…

AG: No, not at all, I think absolutely makes a lot of sense. And, you know, I’m right now writing an introduction to Öcalan’s book called Beyond Power, State and Violence, which is going to be published very soon. And it’s a huge book, which has 700 pages, I think, and the book was fascinating because he has all of these… It follows him changing from a person who might be called an old leftist, a Maoist, probably closest to Maoism. And you know, a person who believes in Statism and national liberation. And he does this thing that Maoists often call Critique/Self-Critique. And he does this in such a way that you see that he responding to the analysis made by Wallerstein and others, Bookchin, of course. But also responding to his own experience. He now imprisoned in the prison on the island of İmralı in Turkey, he is able to completely reinvent and creating a completely different system that is profoundly libertarian. You know, and I’m reading this book, and it’s an fascinating book. He speaks about his “curious marriages”, as she calls them, about his relationship with his brother, his love of the mountains. And at the same time he speaks, he criticizes analytical intelligence, and lack of dialectical method employed by many Marxists and gives this masterful overview of Kurdish and Ottoman and Turkish history. It’s just an incredible book. But you can see how incredibly difficult it must be for somebody to change. And then to enact a change, or to participate in the enactment of change in the entire movement, which is huge. I mean, the Kurdish Freedom Movement is probably the most numerous leftist in terms of numbers, at least leftist force that I can think of right now. And all of these people are now identified with a form of libertarian thinking, inspire may be formulated by Öcalan, in prison. So, it’s a mind boggling experience just observing this.

And David Graeber and myself had become acquainted with this experience in 2012, not without some initial skepticism. We were at the beginning, as two anarchists, very confused by the strange and somewhat skeptical. And it took us several trips to Rojava to actually be able to see that this is real, that this is not for show that this. And then of course, delving into all of this literature and reading, Öcalan‘s books, and even more importantly, meeting Kurdish activists, internationally, but also in Rojava and other places, in the Middle East was actually a profoundly enlightening experience. This was the first time, and I think I told you again, my grandparents have witnessed a revolution, they believed in revolution, that revolution was possible, that social change is possible. And I came of age at the time when people, mostly young intellectuals, were saying that no such thing is possible anymore. We have to have to stop having these great dreams, Imperial Napoleonic dreams of great change. And we need to think about whatever, lifestyles and different other kinds of impossibility of thinking and about revolution. It became codified in certain forms of post-structuralism and other intellectual interventions that were, you know, very popular that all discounted generosity, altruism, mutual aid, and revolution. And then coming to Rojava and seeing what’s happening there, I actually experienced firsthand what it means to be a part of a Social Revolution, of a revolutionary transformation of the entire society on the basis of a non-state democracy Democracy, that is, as any democracy, democracy cannot be compatible with the state, you either have the state representative government, or you have a democracy. You can’t have both at the same time. So we are seeing a non-state space and emerging there in the middle of a very complicated, confusing, contradictory social revolution, in which revolution once again becomes possible.

And I think this is very important. And I think that we should think about this and think about this incredible strength and courage that it took the Kurdish revolutionary movement to transform from a sclerotic, statist organization, to respond tp challenges and promises and perspectives of the new moment, of the new anarchist century and to reinvented themselves. And give us what is now probably the most impressive example of revolutionary uprising or revolutionary restructuring of a society that refuses to become a state anywhere.

So, I think that also confirms certain insights of worldsystems tradition, and I don’t know how interested you are in in my own way of dealing with it. You know, I told you that when I went to the Fernand Braudel Center, I was not exactly friendly disposed to Fernand Braudel, which was somewhat uncomfortable, as you can imagine. I was looking into histories from below and then, you know, through my exchanges with specially with the Dale Tomich, I understood that world-systems is by no means a coherent set of things. World-systems can be understood as a theory, which some people unfortunately do, which I think is a big mistake, or as a method, which is far more interesting way to think about world-systems. And it also led me to understand Marx in a different way. And it took me back to Marx, but not the Marx from my high school or my college, my university, different kinds of Max. A Marx, who actually, let’s say, a kind of unusual… And I mentioned at the beginning Karel Kosík and his book The Dialectics of the Concrete which influenced me deeply. A Marx, who actually opens up space for thinking, together with Braudel, about history in a much more layered and complex ways, opening up space for new temporalities that difference, antagonistic temporalities, to the dominant temporality, sense of time, of liberal modernity and capitalist modernity. It allowed me to grasp the Zapatistas and the courage, not as some kind of a precapitalist relic, again, not as people who belong in some kind of non-modern past, who need to be modernized, but to a group of people to two examples of this distinct, antagonistic temporality that Kurds had a term for. This inhabits democratic modernity, a different kind of modernity, a different kind of temporality that can only be understood if we employ a very non-conventional social science. And that led me to this interesting, I think, or weird perhaps, way of combining Hegelian Marxism, anarchist anthropology, and Braudelian history as a way of understanding what world-systems is and world-systems analysis could be.

And, to conclude with this, in response to this question of yours: I think this is also something that has very significant political consequences, including for the country or to the region that I come from, I introduced myself as somebody who is not only a Yugoslav but a Balkan Federalist. And when you think about the notions of federalism and regional organization, the principles of non-statist federalism… Well, that’s exactly what is coming out of Kurdistan right now is the idea of Democratic Confederalism. And I think that people in the Balkans should be in dialogue with these ideas. And I think this is definitely where my politics and political energy goes these days. To create these possibilities of political translation, in which the ideas of federalism that of course, will be different in Kurdistan and in the Balkans, and the possibilities of these Federalist ideas in other parts of the world, can be somehow placed in a dialogue. And we can actually learn from all of these experiences and struggle for what was, for a long time, a signature accomplishment of anarchism, which is the anti-authoritarian, federalist political idea, and self-management as a way of organizing society.

TFSR: I’ve had you on for a long time, and I would love to continue talking. I think I just have time for one more question if that if you don’t mind, but I’d love to talk again sometime in the future.

So, you’ve brought up David Graeber a couple times and anarchist anthropology. 2020 saw the passage of your friend and colleague anarchist anthropologist activist, author and professor David Graeber. I feel like a lot of the impacts that he had on liberatory movements haven’t yet been measured. And I wonder if you’d say some words about your relationship, and what of his works left their mark on you most. And if you have any suggested starting places for people that aren’t familiar with his writings and contributions…

AG: Yes, David was my best friend since the end of the 90’s until his passion in September last year and something ago, show it was probably the greatest loss of my life, and somebody who I profoundly mourn and miss every day. And David was not just a best friends… just… Not only a best friend, but also a political companion. And I don’t think I’ve ever had an idea that I did not run by him first. We used to talk on the phone every day, we used to meet to discuss these things, and it’s hard for me to talk about David. But it’s also important, I think, to talk about David, because David should be celebrated as, to my mind, the most original anarchist thinker of the contemporary period. And also a brilliant anthropologist.

What has he distinguished? Well, he’s distinguished by his… First of all, his contribution to anthropology has been immense. And I think people are going to spend a lot of time assessing he his contribution to anthropology and other historical social sciences. He was not troubled by trends in anthropology, he was actually quite traditional in his taste, in terms of anthropology. And he wanted anthropology to go back, not to its colonial roots of course, but what made anthropology so rich.

And that is the idea that anthropology could be understood as a catalog of political possibilities. Possibility was a key word for David and perhaps the first book that I would recommend to people to read collection called Possibilities published by aka presh, sometime around 2008. That book contains all the germs of the ideas that David would continue to explore. And that coalesced around the idea of a dialogue. David believed in dialogue, something that he called dialogical relativism or dialogical anthropology and also dialogical politics. He believed, for example, that anarchism is, more than anything else, premised are made possible by the idea of dialogue. Anarchism is profoundly dialogical. We come together, because we want to solve a particular problem and then we talk about it. We don’t first define social reality and then we have all to agree about what social reality and political reality and so forth is, devise a correct line, and then proceed from there. That is the political horizon of Orthodox Marxism. His idea was anarchism was a situation in which we have a particular problem that we have to solve and people who might have completely different views of what the world is like, come together to figure out how to solve that problem. Out of which he developed something that he calls “low theory”, which is different than “high theory.” Low theory is the way of grappling with all of these consequences of practical, political projects.

Anarchism, in that sense, is profoundly dialogical, and anarchist anthropology, which is the term that David has been associated with, which is elucidated in his pamphlet, Fragments of An Anarchist Anthroopology, published in 2001. A brilliant piece of work, that pamphlet. Something that I have tried, and I think this is my way of honoring David, was to build it intp my department. I was invited to California Institute of Integral Studies in 2012, to build the department, and they asked me what kind of department you would like to build. I said, “Well, I would like to create a department of Anarchist Anthropology,” and I really thought that I was going to throw me out of the room or maybe through the window. But they actually said “Yes, ok”. And one of the reasons was that David made anarchist anthropology something that people were able to refer to and understand that something that is actually valuable.

One of the ways that he spoke about anarchist anthropology was suspended dialogue or an active dialogue between ethnographic research and possible utopias or utopian possibilities. So, ethnographic research into utopian possibilities, places, experiences, cracks that are created in the here and now and that already exist. And then using all the gifts and possibilities of offered by the technique of ethnography to actually study those people those practices and those spaces, is what makes anthropology anarchists. This is what we do at the department of Anthropology and Social Change at the California Institute of Integral Studies, we try to use ethnography and by ethnography, I mean militant ethnography, militant research activist ethnography in order to study these utopian possibilities. And again, for David’s anthropology was study of human possibilities, showing people, showing the audience, showing his readers that humanity and the possibilities are always much larger than we are led to believe. And discovering them, and bringing them to light, emphasizing them, preventing them from rescuing them, as EP Thompson said, from the condescension of posterity. It’s something that anthropologists should be doing and anthropology should be doing. At its best, it’s all about enlarging the sense of political possibility.

David, as a political theorist, I hesitate to call him that… as a political… David as an anarchist intellectual, is somebody who has inspired anarchism by pushing us to think about anarchism as a not as a dead set of ideas, as something that sclerotic and belongs to the 19th or early 20th century, but something that continues to develop. And he recognized social sciences, anthropology in particular, but social sciences more generally, as an important vehicle in expressing anarchist ideas, and developing anarchist insights. David as an anthropologist and David as a political anarchist, usually people talk about them in separation. I think that’s a mistake. I think that David was one of the most serious and dedicated anarchists I have ever met. And he is definitely the most brilliant social scientists that I was likely to meet, a privilege to meet and call the a friend. And he is someone who was able to show us a way that social science need not to be neutral, or anarchist have nothing to be ashamed of. There is no intellectual deficient, inherent in the tradition of anarchism. Quite on the contrary, anarchism can be used in a way that is profoundly intellectual. And he defied those foundational principles of capitalst modernity, talked about in such a vigorous intelligence, and creative way that is hard for me to find words. The loss is immeasurable but the books that he left us, including The Dawn of Everything, which we co-authored with his friend, David Wengrow, are absolutely breathtaking in the ambition, scope, and consequences for thinking about world history. And David used to say that he thinks about the past and writes about the past because people who write history, write about the past in a way that hides, obscures the possibilities. In a way that it prevents it to be written in a way that prevents us to think about the future. So he was very interested in finding a way of writing about the past, so that a new kind of future and possibilities would be revealed. And I think that in doing this, he was remarkably successful.

So you’re quite right, his political legacy and intellectual legacy, the two of which cannot be separated, is something that’s going to be rediscovered and celebrated, I’m sure many, many decades from now. And perhaps to end with this, he was just one of the most joyful, one of the most generous and one of most dedicated people I’ve ever met in my wife.

TFSR: Thank you very much for sharing that, Andrej. Well, thank you so much for this conversation. I’ve learned a lot. I’m very excited to share this with the audience.

In closing, I guess we mentioned And the Journal of world systems research where people can find your editorial work. Where else can listeners find some of your books, or if you have a blog or anything like that, aside from the Journal?

AG: Well, one thing that I do is I am one of the people involved with PM Press publishing. And it’s a project that I care a lot about. And it is thanks to another brilliant and exceptional person whose name is Ramsey Kanaan and the group of people that he brought together, we have a publisher that exemplifies I think, all that it’s best in thinking about anarchism and radical politics today. And with PM Press, I am an editor of an imprint, or series editor I guess, called Kairos. The term mistaken from Immanuel Wallerstein and the way that he uses the term Kairos, which means the right moment, the idea that this being: now is the right moment to think about social change. Right? So Kairos is an imprint of PM Press. And people can go to PM Press website, and see Kairos. And see the books that we publish with Kairos. And of course there is a blog or there is a page that they have there. That is part of the PM Press website. And of course, California Institute of Integral Studies, Department of Anthropology and Social Change. We also publish things there

TFSR: Is Kairos where people can hope to see the translation of Öcalan’s work that you’re doing the introduction for?

AG: Yes, so kind of is where we have published so far, I think, four books by Öcalan. And at least two or three books about the Kurdish freedom movement and the Rojava revolution. I edited all of them and I think these are really important documents for understanding what is happening with the Kurdish freedom movements and struggles in Rojava in particularly,

TFSR: Again, thank you so much for taking the time and for all the work that you that you do. I really appreciate it.

AG: Thank you for having me.

Joshua Clover on Riots and Strikes

Joshua Clover on Riots and Strikes

Joshua Clover with a beard and shirt reading "Riot" next to a statue of Karl Marx
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Joshua Clover is the author of seven books including Riot.Strike.Riot (Verso, 2016), which has been translated into six languages. Scott and Joshua talk about proletarian resistance to the capitalist economy through struggles against circulation of commodities and to fix their prices (riots) and struggles against exploitation and to set the price of wages in the workplace (strikes), how these methods are not as indistinguishable as we are told and the future of struggle against capitalism and extraction, for a new communist world.

Joshua also has the forthcoming book  Roadrunner coming from Duke University Press. It’s about exactly what you think it’s about (but, if you’re not familiar with or from Boston, or haven’t ever seen a Stop&Shop at midnight from the beltway, it’s about placing one particular song from one particular band within a wide and fascinating context. This’ll be out in September!)

Here are some relevant links from Clover:

“I think the best writing on the George Floyd Uprising has been by Idris Robinson, How It Might Should Be Done, and Shemon and Arturo, Theses on the George Floyd Rebellion.

I am always trying to get people to read the poetry of Wendy Trevino and Juliana Spahr, both of whom take riots and insurrections as a main topic. Both of the books linked too are free.

Speaking of riots, people should always read Gwendolyn Brooks, RIOT.

I am always trying to get people to read Red Skin, White Masks by Glen Coulthard, which is a theoretical consideration on Indigenous struggle that eventually arrives at the fact and the logic of land blockades; it was written before Standing Rock.

I mentioned the work of Charmaine Chua on logistics, circulation, and decolonial struggle; here’s one useful essay.

Here is a link to the book I have coming out soon. Here is a link to the Introduction if anyone wants a sample.”

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Transcription

TFSR: So you published Riot Strike Riot in 2016. And if anything, it seems like the last five years have really born out your analysis in many ways and that made me really excited to get to talk to you to hear about your perspective over the last five years of global uprisings. And so jumping into that, I wanted to set up the terms of analysis that you put forth in the book so we can get an understanding of the historical trajectory you trace, and then the theory of riot that you propose, which I think is super important for us right now.

So the historical context you focus on is broadly the time of industrial capitalism to now — the onset of industrial capitalism — with a dialectic you propose of transformation and popular resistance from riot to strike to a new or change form of riot, which you call “riot prime. You define strike and riot as different forms that I’m gonna quote you strike and riot are practical struggles of a reproduction within production, and circulation, respectively. So I was wondering if you could go a bit into the distinction and the texture of the two forms of riot and strike, the different terrain they use the different relation to time and space, or what it means the struggle for reproduction the terrain of circulation as opposed to production?

Joshua Clover: So this is the big ticket theoretical question, and I’ll try to answer it without dodging theory, but in a way that tries to make it sort of useful and accessible in relation to particular, which is one of the goals of the book, to have a sort of theoretical apparatus that can be meaningfully descriptive of concrete events that we’ve lived through and our friends have lived through, and people we know have lived through. Speaking of that, the publication history that you mentioned, even more strikingly, the original talk that this came out of where I started working through these concepts, which from 2012, so before, for example, the Ferguson uprising. And that was something that happened while I was puzzling through the book and I could see immediately that it was super important and I got myself to Ferguson as quickly as I could, and tried to be involved in what happened there and talk to people and so on. And that was sort of the first, I don’t know if confirmation is the right word it’s hard to think of that dramatic a political episode is like, Oh, well, good, it confirmed my theories” — but it was certainly a moment where I felt like the things I was trying to think about, and what was happening in the world and the United States were converging pretty dramatically.

So to get back to this theoretical sort of frameworkso the circuit of Capital in its entirety has these two interlocking spheres. And one of them is the sphere of production: that’s the place where capitalists bring together means of production, right? So if you make clothes, you’re bringing together textiles and sewing machines and needles in a factory and electricity, and bring that together with workers with labor power, and you make a commodity. And that’s the sphere of production. And then the commodity is launched out onto the market, it sort of makes its way to the marketplace, is exchanged, it’s exchanged some more, it’s consumed. That’s all the sphere of circulation.

So those two spheres are, as I said, interlinked, and neither can exist without the other. But interestingly, almost everyone in the world is in the sphere of circulation, that is to say, we’re what we call market dependent”: we have to go to the store to get food, or clothes, or whatever, that we need to survive. Whereas only some fraction of the world is dependent directly, at least on wages in production for survival. So those are the two different sort of moments in which we reproduce ourselves, our families, our communities — and here, I don’t mean biological reproduction, right? I mean whatever you do to be alive the next day as a person, as a community.

And so, if you have a wage, if you have a formal employment, as we say, often you struggle in production, so you struggle over the value of your labor, that is what a strike is, right? That’s not the only production struggle, that’s not the only way people struggle there, they do all kinds of stuff. They do sabotage and factory takeovers, and who knows, but those are production struggles.

But let’s imagine you don’t have formal employment, you don’t have access to the wage. But still, you’re pretty miserable, your life is pretty immiserated enough that you decide you want to fight back against that misery. Well, you’re not going to struggle in production, because you can’t, but you are out there in the space of circulation. You are still market dependent. And so that’s the other sort of large category of struggle that I look at in the book and that I focused on, which is circulation struggles more broadly.

So often, historically, these are over the price of market goods, right? So if you go back to even before industrial capitalism, the 16th, 17th, 18th century, you get these what get called riots that are persistently over the price and availability of market goods. So famously the bread riot — which a lot of people think of is like going down to the baker and liberating the bread — but even more commonly took the form of blocking the road and stopping grain merchants from shipping grain out of your county to somewhere else where they could make a higher profit because people in your county are hungry, and they’re like, “fuck that, the grain stays here, we need food. So that’s sort of the origin of the circulation struggle of which the riot is the most famous comic. But again, not the only kind, we can think about the blockade and the occupation, various other kinds of things. And that is the form that comes before the strike, which rises to prominence as the main form of production struggle, as you say, with industrial capitalism in the early middle of 19th century.

By the late 20th century — and here, I’m really talking about the early industrializing nations, sometimes called the capitalist core” — by the late 20th century, the strike, and the historical labor movement has started to recede pretty dramatically, in fact. While the riot begins to return to prominence, so much so that we talk about major political struggles in the West over the last several decades. Most regularly, we’re talking about versions of riots from the small local event to the George Floyd uprising.

So those are the two categories of struggle, production struggle and circulation struggle, and their relationship to those two sort of spheres of capital. I hope that wasn’t too extended a framework. But once we have that, we can maybe get more down into practical events that we’ve all lived through.

TFSR: That’s really helpful and breaks it down in a way that makes sense. One of the things that you do in the book that I find really interesting is you sort of look at the way that riot and strike have been put into opposition as opposed political actions. And this happens on all kinds of spectrums of political ideology, like left and right, or even just in popular representation, where riot is seen as a non-political act, it’s delegitimized. And strike is seen as maybe more worthyat least certain versions of the strike — and gets put in the toolkit of peaceful protest, etc, as a legitimate way to get what you want politically, but there’s also distinctions that we can see in how they bring down repression from the state. But what you do in the book is to show how these two forms of struggle have continuities, and therefore are more tied to historical moments, rather than an essential difference. So I was wondering if you could talk about that seeming opposition of riot and strike and where you think that they connect and differ from your perspective?

JC: Yeah that’s a really helpful question and I think it has, for me, two important pivots in it. And one is to think about the continuity between riot and a strike that’s often obscured. And the other is to think about their historicity or historicality, I’m never quite sure if the technical term.

So the first thing I’ll say is that the strike originally arises very much out of circulation, a circulation of goods, the earliest use of the term strike has to do with sailors on boats that are delivering goods, refusing to deliver and striking their sails, as it’s called, right, taking down the sails and waiting and refusing to deliver goods. So that’s clearly in the space of transport of goods to market, which sort of arising from the category of circulation struggles and that sort of era of merchants, but it’s the beginning of the strike.

Tthe strike really arises out of these moments of circulation, and then becomes a production struggle. And then as noted, the tide shifts the other way back toward the riot. And I think it’s hard to pin down dates, and I may have been overly specific in the book, but I don’t know, the 60’s, 70’s somewhere in there. So two things, right? One is that continuity: it’s not like anyone invented the strike, because they’re like, Nah, man, the riots no good. Don’t do a riot, do a [strike]. It didn’t work that way, historically, that opposition that arrives fairly late in the game. One emerges from the other in this real historical continuity, and/but as you suggested, really helpfully, they rise and fall and ebb and flow in relation to historical conditions. Again, some sort of, as we say, transhistorical idea that “X form of struggle is good, Y form a struggle is bad. Anytime you hear someone saying that, you should just say, well, that’s not that’s nonsense”.

The kind of struggle that’s going to emerge, whatever our sort of theoretical or moral judgments of it, the kind of struggle that’s going to emerged is going to emerge from concrete situations. So when you have a massive increase of industrialization, the rise of the factory, the expansion of the formal wage, of course you’re going to get increases in people struggling that way. And when that mode of organizing society starts to recede with deindustrialization, sort of disemployment, production of surplus populations at a global leveland I’m sure we’ll get to that technical term surplus populations” — then, of course, struggles in the sphere of circulation, where people who’ve been sort of kicked out of employment by automation, or offshoring, or whatever, but still are stuck in the spirit of speculation, well, they’re gonna keep struggling.

And my one great lesson that I’ve learned in thinking about these things is, it’s simple. I apologize for my simplicity, right. But it’s just: people struggle where they are. Period. People run up against misery, and they decide they don’t want to take it, they don’t want to take being bullied by their boss, they don’t want to being unable to afford to survive, they don’t want to take being killed by the cops, and they struggle where they are. And if you get a lot of people in production, you’re going to see production struggles. And if you get a lot of people in circulation, you’re going to see circulation struggles, it’s pretty straightforward, actually.

TFSR: Drawing off the way that themaybe the history is told to us in the way that it plays out in our imaginations — and perhaps this has to do with the fact that the strike came about also the times that these different kinds of liberationist ideologies of anarchism and communism are coming out — but the strike plays a out-scaled role in our imaginations of what revolutionary struggle means. And the the sense I got reading your book is like this, because you go “riot strike riot prime, the strike almost seems like an aberration in terms of its concentration of movement power. And that, at least today, I see that the romanticization of the strike seems to out exceed its effectiveness, like people still think that’s where we need to be doing our work, but it doesn’t really quite make sense.

So I was wondering if you have thoughts about why the strike, commands so much power over revolutionary imaginations? And then there’s also kind of poetry to the riot, of course. So, yeah, I just wonder if you want to talk about that, and the imaginative power of these forms of struggle?

JC: Yeah. Well, that’s, again, this is a great and complex, rich question. I think, I hope you’re right that the strike was an aberration. By which I mean, not that I bear the strike any ill will, but I hope that human history endures long enough, that we look back on the 150 year period where the strike oriented a lot of struggles in a lot of the world, as an aberration. I’m worried that human history is not going to last that long, and that we won’t have a chance to look back on that as an aberration.

But I think you raised an important point, right, which is that it is a fairly clearly bracketed period and so why did it take on the intense charisma that it did? And I think there’s good reasons for it, to be honest. Certainly, when the strike was on the rise, there was a belief — and a not unreasonable one — that was sort of moved toward an industrial society, a manufacturing society was just going to continue, that it was going to cover more and more of the globe, that it was going to organize more and more people’s lives, organize more and more of social production. And so the belief was that the labor movement, when it came into being, which we have our first strikes in the late 18th century, we have the first Workers Party officially in the 1870s in Germany. And at that point, it’s on, right? The labor movement is sort of where the action is, in the West at least. And the sense was to just continue to expand. And people thought that for that reason. It didn’t really turn out to be the case, it lasted for a while and not forever.

But during the period of the labor movement’s expansion and consolidation it won a lot of really tremendous victories. The strike, especially when there is high labor demand, is an incredibly powerful weapon. And you know sometimes people read the book as an advocacy book, saying Oh, you should riot not strike, which it absolutely is not, it never once suggests that. And the strike, in certain but not at all uncommon situations, is incredibly powerful. It won a lot of victories. It seemed like it was a route not just to better compensation and conditions for workers, but maybe to overcome capitalism. And for those reasons, it acquired a lot of charisma, so much so that I’m sure as you’ve noticed, people love to call things strikes now but just aren’t strike. They don’t involve withdrawing labor, don’t involve interfering with capitals production, but people will call them strikes because that term has a lot of charisma. Two things: one, it deserves that charisma for the victories that it won.

TFSR: Mhm.

JC: Two: I think people who are going to struggle get to call what they’re doing whatever they want. If someone wakes up in the morning, and is ready to go out and really try and fight against power as it exists, I salute them and they should get to call with their doing whatever the fuck they want.

TFSR: *laughs* Right?

JC: That said, I do think or hope that we’ll live long enough to see the charisma of the strike wane a little. It hasn’t been nearly so powerful, it hasn’t won nearly the gains it used to win since the 70s, or 80s. And meanwhile, other forms of struggle are coming to the fore. I think there was probably even a time a few years ago, just six years ago, eight years ago, when people were still sort of saying, well, the riots illegitimate, it’s not a real form of struggle, the strike is the only real form of struggle. At this point I think it’s only hard-line workerists, as we say, who hold to that position after the George Floyd uprising last summer. I think people are more ready to recognize that these other forms of social contest can really become a challenge to the present social order.

S: Right. Yeah, that’s an interesting point, just to see how that tide has shifted from just last year, where I think you hear less people talking about how what we need to do is organize workplaces.

JC: Yeah, I think if I can just intercede for a second, I think you use the word organize. And that’s really a crucial pivot here. So one of the reasons that the strike feels so politically powerful to people, is because of a fairly narrow definition of what counts as organization. Right? And so yeah, well, you have to be organized. And often that just means organized like a union, organized like a political party. And so the strike satisfies that, and a riot or uprising, insurrection does not. It will never work, it’s not organized. Now, that’s rubbish. There’s lots of other kinds of organization that go into an uprising, a riot, you know. Robin D. G. Kelley the great historian has written eloquently about the kinds of organizing that small social groups in Los Angeles did in advance of the Watts riots in 1965 that made it possible. Now, these small social groups often get called street gangs, but they’re community groups, right? That get together and figure out how to proceed from day to day. And they did a lot of organizing, but it’s not the kind that gets recognized by like, we need to organize. So that’s exactly the hinge I think, is understanding what counts as organization, as we think about political possibilities.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s a really good point. And we could probably draw a comparison to the George Floyd uprisings, the massiveness of them came, in the heat of the pandemic, when there have been mutual aid groups working in all these cities to try and take care of people while they’re losing work and losing access to the things they need to live. So in some way, that kind of organization which doesn’t get recognized in the same way a party or union does, was there at the same time that people started reacting to the continuous murder of Black people by the police. And that may have helped provide a leverage for the size of the movement. So that’s an interesting parallel that you draw from Kelley.

In terms of this, the way that you describe the predicament of the strike today, is really helpful for me to think about, like why it seems less successful. You call it the affirmation trap. And this seems to me actually to be super helpful, just in thinking about capitalism and what it produces in terms of how we can even imagine our lives and struggle. You say that all that workers can really struggle for is to reaffirm their position within the capitalist within capitalist exploitation, and that’s a game of diminishing returns. I wonder if you could talk about this affirmation trap and explain that larger arc of capitalist accumulation or financialization that leads to this narrowing of the purview of the strike.

JC: Yeah, absolutely. As a preface, I should note that the concept of the affirmation trap that I developed, one of the sources in thinking through which logic was the phrase and the idea of cruel optimism, which is drawn from Lauren Berlant. Lauren is a friend of mine, and she passed a couple of days ago, so I just wanted to mention that and remember her briefly while we’re together and I’m thinking through this problem, because a lot of my thinking is possible because of the brilliant people that I’ve known in my life and Lauren is absolutely one of them.

TFSR: Yeah that is a great loss.

JC: Lauren describes cruel optimism as this way of being stuck in having to feel optimistic about the very thing that keeps on reproducing your conditions that don’t change, right? In the optimism of believing you can get change from edifice, in fact, prevents change. I think in reading her book that maybe one of the main references would be something like voting, right? We’re told over and over again that voting is the only way you can change the world, and yet over and over again it turns out to be the case that we vote for people who keep the world the same. But for me the referent was really usefully labor, right? Which is to say, we’re compelled to be optimistic about labor, or at least to go to work every day, because otherwise we would starve. And yet it’s work that preserves us in a situation of subordination, of being at risk of starving, and so on. So when I started thinking about the affirmation trap, it’s as much as you described, right, it’s that thing of having to affirm — by showing up in the morning the very thing that keeps you subordinated, and doesn’t affirm but negates you as a human.

And that’s true for each individual, I think with work, but it’s also true for the workers movement in general. And that happened in very concrete historical ways. So as I said, the workers movement had a lot of substantial gains, often through the strike over the century, let’s say between 1875 and 1975. But in the late 60s, early 70s, industrial capitalism, global capitalism really enters into crisis. Profit margins essentially vanish. They’re still huge profits, but they’re matched by losses in other places, there’s no systemic growth. And so overall, capitalist profitability really plummets around 1972-1973. And many of the major industrial firms in the US it’s car companies most famously but there’s other examples as well face a sort of existential threat. They’re barely making any profit, or they’re generating a loss, and the government is propping them up because they can’t afford to have these major industries vanish.

And consequently, the unions find themselves in a very tenuous position, because if they bargain really aggressively and strongly, General Motors is just going to go out of business. And indeed, if the union wants its jobs to keep existing that it provides for union members it has to make sure General Motors continues to exist. So it has to bargain for contracts, not that, sort of, push General Motors around and win concessions, but that keep General Motors functional and profitable. And this is a huge transformation in the structure of organized laborespecially the United States, Western Europe, but other places in the world as well in which unions, in effect, cease being the antagonists, of industrial firms, and start being in effect collaborators, and both of them enter into the task of keeping each other operative and functional. And that sense that there’s a sort of historical struggle to overcome capitalism, that horizon starts to close, long before the collapse of the Soviet Union. We often date the end of the Communist dream to 89 or something. But that horizon where the labor movement was pointed toward overcoming capitalism, rather than preserving it, really, I think, starts to fade in the 70s.

TFSR: Yeah, It made me think about the problems that you come into when you’re organizing workers from the perspective of like, keeping them in work. So if you have a miners strike or something, or miners are trying to unionize to get better benefits, but the mining itself is under question now because of climate catastrophe, impending climate catastrophe. People aren’t going to necessarily get behind a miner wanting to keep mining, right? Because it’s doing damage to the earth. And so that’s one of those contradictions. And one of the things that keeps coming to my head it came into my head when I was reading the book, and I didn’t really have the language for it but I keep thinking about it while we’re talking — we were talking about the the realm of reproduction in a way it’s like, it’s just life, right? The ability to live and to exist. And this is what we’re struggling over and both riot and strike bring us there, they’re sort of an expression of the way that we are made dependent upon the market and state to survive, right? One is through work, and one is through having to rely on the goods that are produced through work to live consuming them.

And so we have all this language to talk about the things that we have to do to live but it’s just about…it’s this question of living right? That we don’t ever get to one thing is , I think about whatever work struggle we have to have within the horizon of getting rid of work, abolishing work as a relationship. But I don’t know if you have thoughts about that, like howmaybe this is like a later question, what’s this realm of living in relationship to struggle?

JC: Well, yeah, I think as it was formulated probably a number of times, but best known to me is in a bunch of writing from the 60s in France by the Situationist International, right with the goal to get beyond survival, right? So we needed to overcome survival as what our political horizon was. And in some sense, right, both the struggle that depends on negotiating for your wage, and the struggle that depends on the value of market goods the price at market goods — are both about survival, but neither of them is about overcoming the horizon of survival itself toward what you’re calling a living. Just reproducing ourselves without reference to some capitals choosing to pay us a pittance every hour, or some store that’s going to sell us low quality pasta. And the goal is to get to a place where we can reproduce ourselves.

Sorry, I keep falling into this technical language, I’m trained *laughs*. It’s unfortunate, though, to get to this sort of place where we can reproduce ourselves without reference to the wage or the market and that’s the goal. I think you raised an important moment, which is the sort of conflict now between ecological struggles and labor as a contradiction, we saw that really dramatically at Standing Rock, for example, right? Where the pipeline company never says, “Oh, you have to take down this blockade because we need profits”, they say “jobs”, right? They say, “if you shut down this pipeline with your blockade water protectors, you’re going to be putting a lot of good Americans out of work”. And it becomes a conflict between, on the one hand, people who want access to the wage, and on the one hand, people who want to avoid total despoliation of the climate and the lands on which they dwell and so on. And I don’t think there’s a way to overcome that contradiction. People try to sort of imagine, “well, we’ll have green jobs”. That’s the magic squaring of the circle, somehow, “we’ll have an increase in jobs, but it will be good for the climate not bad for the climate”. And I think that’s a bit of magical thinking, to be honest.

And so I think that really asks us to get back to your question about getting past survival to living. I think that asks us to really think seriously about the zero jobs demand. A lot of, for example, socialists, full employment as a demand. Obviously, full employment, I think, obviously, is A.) not possible and B.) a guaranteed route to faster and faster climate collapse.

TFSR: Right.

JC:
And moreover, work fucking sucks. I mean, I have a good job, I’m lucky, I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life, some better some worse, right now I have a good job. I’m very lucky. And I don’t like that job. I don’t like any jobs, work sucks. Having a boss sucks, having to show up sucks. And showing up doesn’t suck, having to show up sucks. And I don’t think there’s a route to planetary survival, that doesn’t pass through the No Employment position, rather than the Full Employment position.

TFSR: Right. And I mean, building off that, it makes me wonder, so all of these questions and struggles often don’t get at the meat of the things: we need to have the basic things to survive, which is: food and shelter and care of different kinds. And the struggles don’t tend to be actually over those things. And it’s hard to get out of the mindset that thinks about some entity, like the state, providing us that right? Which they certainly aren’t going to do and they never have.

So I was just wondering if you if you had thoughts on that, because part of the dream of like the labor movement in the 19th century, that we still have inherited today is that like full automation, the centralized state that controls everything and we can sort of live our lives freely within that, but that obviously never happened. It doesn’t look like it’s likely, and all that the state does is reproduce these forms of exclusion and surplus. So, I wonder, do you think that even shifting our gaze to those basic necessities as as the ground from which we can think of life could be approached as a aspect of the movement without replicating those structures?

JC: I think it could be. But I think that there are some real challenges and real warnings we need to heed. Certainly we’ve seen recognitions of this need, but they’ve often happened in fairly small scale ways. The United States, I’m old enough to live through hardly the first but a sort of substantial back to the land movement, and sort of the forming of what get called communes which is usually, 12 people, one of whom has a trust fund, moving to upstate New York and living together in a farmhouse. And, I say that slightly mockingly, I don’t think that’s a bad idea, but there’s a couple issues with it. One: it often doesn’t legitimately detach from the market and the wage, right? There’s someone who’s still got a job, or still has inherited a lot of capital, is sitting in a bank somewhere and is living off of that, or whatever. And so that’s not a true form of detachment. The other is, of course, it’s quite small scale.

But the real blockage to that is: imagine that started to happen with thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of groups started to try and detach from the wage, detach from the market, and get into subsistence gardening and reproduction of their own communities. Without anyone working for a capitalist without anyone shopping in the marketplace. What would happen then? The state would come for you, the state would come for you immediately. The state would come for you first by probably jacking up taxes really intensely on that activity so you simply couldn’t afford it. And historically, as taxes were invented to drive people into the money economy, and force people to live that way. And so that would probably be the state’s first strategy to force people back into the money economy, to force people back into the labor market, insofar as they’re needed in the labor market. Which is to say, long story short: if people want to pursue this question of communal reproductionI’m just going to call it a commune, but I don’t mean again, the household, I mean, large scale things if people want to pursue the commune, they’re not going to do it just by withdrawing and it’s going to be cool. It’s going to be part of a sustained struggle with the state on behalf of capital. There’s no route there that’s peaceful, that’s groovy, that is just like, we’re just withdrawing, we’re gone. That’s not gonna happen.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s, that’s important. Yeah, thanks. That helps think about where, why that still…yeah we still have to struggle against the state that’s gonna interject itself in any relationship we try to establish outside of its purview. So I can’t now I guess we’ve sort of moved to the current situation, but one thought, and one question I had, sort of thinking about the current moment, and the phase of capitalism, that makes strike difficult, is how capital flight has worked, right? So we have technological advances that made internationalizing supply chains easier, but then increased the on demand nature of modern production, and that creates more opportunities for choke points in the circulation. Two recent examples of this have been the colonial pipeline that shut off its distribution because it couldn’t invoice the customers and bill them for the gas, but that ended up leading to gas shortages around the southeast. And then the Ever Given cargo ship blocking the Suez Canal created a sort of crisis, and that was like, also, that was accidental, apparently. It’s not, sure, yeah, these might not have been politically motivated in terms of limiting circulation, but they do point to issues of places like where we might think about struggle. So I was wondering if you had ideas about these kinds of circulation struggles from another perspective?

JC: Yeahhhh, you know what? I just want to hover over those two moments, that colonial pipeline and the Ever Given blocking Suez Canal, just because they were such extraordinary moments and glad you pointed them out. And it’s true: both events are political, but that’s different from saying both events were conceived of and executed with specific political goals. And, but there are extraordinary moments of sort of showing us vulnerabilities choke points is a very popular term, which I’ve sort of come to feel ambivalent about, but that’s fine. But so I think they do point to, sort of, possibilities for struggle, but I think what they point to is not just the fact like oh circulation, capitals more and more dependent on it which is true, right? Capital as industrial capitalism has become less profitable. Large firms have tried to really make their distribution of goods, their circulation of goods far more cost efficient. We’ve seen this massive build out of global shipping, especially since about 1985. Really dramatically trying to improve turnover time and cost per unit of shipping and cut down on those costs as a form of venture capital struggle, and those produce vulnerabilities. There’s no doubt about it.

I don’t want to exaggerate those because capital is pretty resilient, to use the technical term, right, which is pretty effective at having multiple routes to move things around, to be able to reroute, to evade a blockade or something like that. So I don’t want to exaggerate how vulnerable capital is. But it’s definitely a site of struggle, a site of contest. It’s important to note that when there was the struggle to try and bring down that Egyptian government in 2010-2011 — it actually starts with strikes in Mahalla in the textile region, then there’s massive riots and occupations around the capitol in Tahrir Square most famously — but the hinge event is the Suez workers threatened to go on strike. So that’s at once a strike and a circulation struggle, where they’re going to block circulation through the canal, and that’s the event that actually brings down the government, that proceeds by two days, the collapse of the government.

So this is sort of an interesting combination of phenomena. What’s most important to me here is who this indicates as the subject who’s involved in struggle. So if we say working class, I actually think that term misses some things: it assumes people who are working for a wage, who go to work in the morning, obviously, that’s inaccurate, because all of us do all kinds of work. And there’s reproductive labor in the home, we’re doing eldercare, we’re doing childcare, all kinds of things, right? But usually, working class sort of refers to wage wage workers. And the thing about a circulation struggle, the thing about blocking a pipeline is: you don’t have to be a worker, right? To shut down a factory with a strike, you have to be a worker and refute and withdraw your work. So it really limits who can take part of that option to workers in that site to the working class.

Whereas shutting down a pipeline, anyone in the entire proletariat which is not just the working class, but everyone who doesn’t own the means of production, isn’t a capitalist — can take part in that, anyone can show up in the pipeline. As we saw Standing Rock where any number of my studentsright, I’m a teacher any number of my students were like, I’m failing for a couple weeks, I’m going out to Standing Rock” and I was like, “Godspeed. And you can just show up and be part of it and take part and that’s I think what distinguishes circulations struggles, is they’re open as tactics of struggle to anyone, you don’t have to be a worker to take apart.

TFSR: That’s interesting, too, because of one of the brushes they use to tar the riot is the discourse around the outside agitator, right? So the strike has a kind of belonging to it the workers belong there, and because of thatbelonging, they have some sort of voice that demands to be heard. Whereas the riot can always be seen as be painted that way, like that its outside, that is not coming from here, that it’s someone’s neighborhood, but not theirs, whatever, that is being demolished, or even if it is, there’s the people who are doing it wrong. But what you’re saying, with circulations it’s actually this, more open form precisely because you don’t have to belong to be to participate in it. Yeah, I don’t know, that creates a different kind of space, I guess, for struggle.

JC: That’s really well said. I mean, I think you just did a better version of it than I did, right? But you’re right, right? The, for a variety of reasons, the strike can make these sort of moral claims, you know: I go to my workplace, I use the tools every day to make whatever I make at my workplace, and I have some sort of moral right of disposition over those tools, I can decide they’re not going to be used today, that the strike is on. Whereas that moral right doesn’t seem to transfer to the scene of the riot, the scene of the blockade, the scene of the occupation. At the same time, that space of let’s say, the blockade, truly belongs to everyone, right? To go back to Standing Rock as an example, which I find very useful — it was led by Indigenous people, water protectors, and rightly so, given their historical habitation on the land — but it was also open to anyone. That land, if we want to believe any of the promises that were made, even by governments, that land belongs to everyone. And it’s everyone’s right to protect it, possibly everyone’s obligation. So, in that sense, circulation struggle, I think, has a broader sort of ethical compass to invite people in, in that regard.

TFSR: Yeah. That is, yeah, that sort of, I think, puts it in a really interesting and important way. Because it maybe creates more possibilities of solidarity, too, to think that yeah, that your voice belongs there. But since you’ve brought up Standing Rock, I want to think a little bit about how you describe, the modern, or current form of riot, “riot prime in the book. Because you trace this back to a slightly different history than the earlier riots, to anticolonial uprisings and slave rebellions, or that’s like an additional part of it, a thread that comes into play in today’s riot. And you say that today’s riot is always racialized, a question of surplus, surplus population. So I wanted to hear you talk a little bit more about the effect of racialization in understanding the riot, the way it’s talked about, and then maybe if you want to bring that into play with the uprising after George Floyd’s murder, or the experience of Ferguson that you had, because that seems like a good examples for the racialization of riot.

JC: Yeah. So this gives me a chance to track back to our very opening discussion about sort of the technical and theoretical categories. And I’m going to try and lean on them again, but toward this very concrete experience of racial violence, community defense, and things like that. So there’s, I think, various ways of being excluded from the “formal economy as we say, the wage economy. One of the ways is sort of classic land dispossession, so we can think about Indigenous people in North America being dispossessed of their land. And not always just to be bargained for labor force as workers, but sometimes it’s just like, Get the fuck off the land, we’ll kill you if we have to, to get you to leave, you’re not wanted, we’re not even going to include you in the labor force. So that’s one way of being made rendered surplus to the economy.

Another way of being rendered surplus to the economy is you work in a car factory that goes fully robotic to compete with lower overhead firms in Japan or South Korea, and you’re kicked out of your job as you’re replaced by automation, by improved processes. And so that’s another way you can be sort of excluded from the wage and rendered surplus.

So these are different kinds of surplus, but they’re both super racialized, right? So for example, I talked about Indigenous populations, that’s racialized obviously enough. In the United States, to choose a single example, if you’re going to get excluded from a workplace by industrialization, Black workers get fired first. This is a long standing tradition, even has to do with union policies of last hired, first fired”. Unions were very slow to allow Black people into unions, and into productive labor, they tend to get hired later and then I’m fired earlier. So people who’ve been rendered surplus in that way are also racialized.

But this is not just true of the United States, if you go to look to both France and the United Kingdom, which is, you know this book also came in the wake of really massive rioting in France in 2005-2006, and then, quite famously, the the Tottenham riots in England in 2010, and these are profoundly racialized as well. You get large immigrant populations, often from the Mashreq, the Maghreb in England, often from the West Indies, as well. And these are again, far, like the unemployment rates in those populations are inevitably twice as high as they are among white Europeans. And so those are people who, by virtue of being unemployed, are not in production, but they are in circulation and that’s where the riot is.

So these riots of surplus populations are inevitably racialized in the West because of the ways that dispossession and exclusion are racialized, and dispossession and exclusion produced the population of riot. So they’re always going to function that way. And then, here’s the kicker: once you exclude people from labor, you exclude them from labor discipline. As you probably have experienced in your life, if you have a job that’s a discipline, you have to be a certain citizen, you have to show up in a timely fashion, you have to comport yourself in certain ways. The job forces you to be a certain kind of citizen. But if you don’t have that wage discipline, what happens? Well, what happens is you get policed much more dramatically to make sure that discipline is imposed, because there’s no wage discipline, there’s police discipline, the state discipline. So these populations are far more subject to state discipline and to state violence. And that’s what we see over and over again, that kicks off the riot. Almost inevitably. We look at the George Floyd uprising, and it’s a struggle with the state right? With the cops, against the police, because the police are the instrument of this discipline, the state of the instrument of the discipline and has to be, because there’s no wage discipline when you have very high unemployment, exclusion, dispossession…you know, where jobs were, the police are. And this is always the case.

TFSR: And also just listening to you describe that history, it makes me think about why the riot currently takes on such a bigger role than even seems more hopeful in a way, as a point of struggle. Is that the previous iterations didn’t, sort of, attack the whole, all the interconnecting parts of capitalism in the state, which relied on dispossession of Indigenous populations and enforced labor by enslaved populations that became racialized. And if that part of it isn’t addressed, we’re just doing a labor struggle, it’s never gonna fully lead to a liberation, because we’re still living off of that, those profits, right? We’re, whatever the fumes that still exist from those profits. And so, once the racialization of the struggle becomes apparent, it seems like then it’s actually being truthful, in a way, about where the enemy lies, or I guess, to put it in a simplified language.

JC: I think that’s right. I mean, I do want to avoid a anti-solidaristic account where strikes are for white people, and riots are for, are for BIPOC or however you want to phrase it. I don’t think that’s quite right. And moreover, I think that opens up the riot the uprising insurrection — to all those outside agitator claims. Well, here’s the right, the correct person to be part of this struggle, and here’s the incorrect person who shouldn’t be party to it and who’s just clearly an agitator. And I’m more interested in a possible sort of solidaristic politics. My experience of the George Floyd uprising was that it was led by Black proletarians but it wasn’t racially exclusive in any sense and I think that efforts to paint it as such are counter revolutionary

TFSR: Right.

JC:
-and that it was an important moment of a partial always partial — solidarity, which I think opens possibilities for the future.

TFSR: The narrative that I think was pretty generalized in my area,– when there was Black youthled uprisings in the street, in the wake of George Floyd the discourse of outside agitators white anarchists — came in and then the Black elder leadership also took on that role. But the fact of the matter in the streets was that it was a multiracial coalition led by Black youth who are innovating the point of struggle and talking about it differently than the people that have been shepherded through the movements over the last few decades.

But coming off that idea of solidarity — and this is perhaps what you saw, maybe in Ferguson, too you talk about it in a really important way. Because there’s the racialized surplus population that you just described previously, but I think the population that’s rendered surplus today, as production gets further and further withdrawn so, you’re a teacher, I’m a teacher too, teaching the students in university who were expecting jobs after a BA, leave with no jobs and horrible amounts of debt. And so in a way there’s no pathway for integration, even for white people who were promised a place in this system, that just doesn’t really exist anymore. So I was just wondering about how you might think about that, how that plays out on the ground, or how we can articulate that more explicitly to form bonds of solidarity.

JC: It’s certainly an interesting moment. We finally — after almost 50 years now of national decline have reached a moment where the possibility of national decline can be admitted. And the reason it can be admitted is because the consequences of it have finally arrived on the doorsteps of the white middle class, if we have to use the term middle class”, I think we all know that’s a deeply ineffective term. But we’re getting to the moment where we’re seeing declining life chances for white populations who never in the history of the nation have had anything but Improving life chances, increasing life expectancy, increasing income expectations. And now we’re seeing that moment where all life chances are starting to decline and diminish for that population of reasonably well off, not utterly impoverished white people. And so we can now talk about decline.

So the question is: is that population newly confronting political economic exigency able to enter into solidarity with the truly immiserated proletariat, especially the Black proletariat, Brown proletariat, and so on? Is that possible? There’s moments in which I do not have much optimism. You look at the data from the January 6th insurrectionists, right, and it’s all not impoverished, but middle class white people with a particular feature being they live in counties that either are or are adjacent to sites in which there’s diminishing white populations.

TFSR: Right?

JC:
That’s a really interesting study by Robert Pape at University of Chicago, who does really useful demographic studies of things like this. So in that sense, if we want to talk about a downwardly mobile, white middle class as a sort of significant demographic slice, the moment of January 6th is a moment of extreme reaction against extreme hostility toward — proletarians of color. At other times, we’ve seen lately more optimistic moments. I describe the Occupy movement and again, maybe optimistically, I don’t know, I think I should be allowed the occasional moment of optimism I described the Occupy movement as an effort, a failed effort, but an effort to find a solidarity or a collaboration between the downwardly mobile, white middle class, who just encountered the collapse of 2008, suddenly experienced vast amounts of indebtedness, as you say, really limited potential for future employment or advanced or anything like that. Trying to find a way forward with already immiserated populations, especially Black populations, others as well, it didn’t quite come off, but it was try. One hope for the future is if that can come off better next time. And if that short of alliance, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but if that sort of solidarity, starts to manifest, I don’t know, I think it’s on.

TFSR: Yeah, you put it really clearly. What we’re up against really is like the recruitment of those newly surplus white populations from fascists and the like and clearly that’s happening across the globe — but the anti fascist movements seem to be pulling out more people, at least right now. Like the George Floyd uprising was way bigger than the Open Up movements during COVID, and then the January 6th, whatever that was.

JC: Yeah, that’s important to remember, it’s important to remember the scale of the George Floyd uprising, which you put together all of these, alt-right, far right nativistwherever you want to call them — movements, and the George Floyd uprising dwarfs them. And that’s really important to remember.

TFSR: Well, thinking again, about the global context, when you talk about the racialization of the riot — and in the book, you are focusing, as you said, on Europe and the US — but in the current state of the riot, you describe how what was like a peripheral colonial conflict comes to the colonial center, to the metropole, but I’m wondering how you see the decolonial struggles continuing right now. And then how that might be tied in with climate stuff and Indigenous uprisings around the world?

JC: Well, I do want to be slow to comment on this, only because I’m not sure I’m an expert on anything, but I did a lot of studying and trying to learn things for the purposes of the book, and limited my field so that I could get some sort of handle on what was happening in the capitalist core. And I don’t consider myself much of an expert on the rest of the world, so I don’t want to sort of wax knowledgeable about things in which I’m still learning. There are people who are doing really interesting thinking about this, my friend Charmaine Chua works on logistics, but she’s doing really interesting work in relation to logistics, decolonial struggle, surplus populations, and try and learn from her and other people who are doing similar work.

I do think, when I talk about colonial strategies coming back to the core, I’m not the first to mention that, Aimé Césaire — who wrote Discourse on Colonialismtalks about that exact phenomenon, of fascism as techniques of colonial management being sort of adapted for Europe. And various other people have tried to sort of study this since then. And I think that’s right. And I think it goes back to Frantz Fanon is a really important moment in thinking about this. And I think it goes back to what I was saying before about the difference between wage discipline and police discipline or state discipline, right? So colonial management has — not in every case, but consistently — been a form of police management. Fanon described the colonized world as the world of the police station and the barracks — so the population gets managed that way, exactly because you colonize people as an imperial power, you don’t magically give them all nice paying jobs, and they want to be good citizens, it doesn’t happen that way. In fact, you’re just kicking them off their land and managing them via sheer violence. And those methods in which you have to manage a population with the police and the army, rather than with the paycheck, are increasingly the case in the core.

So that’s sort of what I mean about colonial methods coming to the core is that increasingly it’s good state violence as a mode of management and I think that remains true all over the globe. It’s just that we notice it in these so-called high wage countries more dramatically as a change over the last few decades. Whereas in lots of places in the world, it’s not a change at all. I was just reading George Manuel, who’s an important Indigenous theorist and historian who wrote a great book called The Fourth World. So he’s, he’s from Turtle Island what gets called Canada — but he makes a trip in 1971 to investigate Indigenous life in New Zealand among the Māori, and then Indigenous people in Australia. And he takes a very clear note of, particularly the brutality and state violence meted out to Indigenous people in Australia endlessly. So this is a global phenomenon, but I don’t want to say much more than that, because I don’t want to claim any expertise where I don’t have any.

TFSR: Yeah, no, and I appreciate that. But the way that you put it in the book that really stood out to me was helpful, was that you talked about the difference in the early time of the riot, was the state was far and the economy was near. And that now we’re in a situation where the state is near and the economy far, even though we’re like, the riot is still in circulation and the market and consumption of goods. But what we are facing, we can’t attack the producers of those things, we’re faced up against the police, which brings us basically back to that description that Fanon has of what what the colonial experience is, and that, in a way seems to me to be a just a kind of, I don’t know, in all my reading, it’s like, this is where the state goes, right? It goes to, instead of further subtilization of discipline of the population, it goes to literal brute force to keep people in order. And that has to do also with the diminishing returns of capitalism as a global structure of the economy. But yeah, that, again, I guess it’s good to not draw too many neat comparisons or analogies among things, because it is different in different places, and the climate catastrophes that we’re facing will make that difference much clearer.

JC: Yeah, that was well put that was. That was, I think, a clear description. And it’s a real challenge, right? I don’t want to be fatalistic, but this switch where once the state was far police are a relatively recent invention, right — once the state was far up, the economy was near, you could go right after the merchant. You could go down to the baker, you could go to the grain merchant and just fuck with them. And now much harder to do. And if you do do that, great, so you go down to the local department store if you live in a place where there’s a department store, a big grocery store and you loot it — and that’s great, I salute that — but even that, that’s only temporary. You get some supplies that’ll last you for a couple of weeks, that’s not a revolution.

And this is an actual problem, right, which is to say: I think you have to fight the state, I think you have to fight the cops, I think there’s no way out that doesn’t pass through that. And I don’t want to delude myself that we can somehow route around that moment. But you can’t get locked into a ritualistic struggle with the state. I think we saw that, like in Greece, for example, which, after the 2008 collapse, Greece popped off first. And for the classic reason: the cops shot a kid who was on his vespa and riots popped off, and they just kept going. And it turned into… I appreciate, again, I appreciate people who leave the house ready to struggle. There was a certain calcification where it just became sort of a march on the parliament and attempt to storm the parliament. Massive defence forces around the parliament building in Syntagma Square squaring off, this happened sort of repeatedly. And, it’s important not to get trapped in that moment, you have to figure out a way to get past the militaristic confrontation with the state, but you can’t route around it. So you have to figure out a way to get through it.

TFSR: It seems, in a way, that they were, in Greece, were able to, or in Athens, able to create at least a temporary zone of somewhat autonomy in Exarcheia, or something like that. And this is actually, leaving that specific example behind, going to my next question, just about where you’re headed in your analysis, because the dead end of facing of with the state is that we aren’t demanding concessions, right? Because they’re not going to redistribute — you say in the book redistribution is off the table” — and in fact, we’re the crisis for state and capital, but the population is actually their problem, and we’re not asking for anything.

So what you say in the book is, the next step is riot needs to absolutetize itself toward the commune. And you talked a little bit about the commune, but I was wondering if you had some more thoughts about are your current thoughts given the changes in what’s happened — on how the riot can produce the commune. Which you say, I think this is really important, is a tactic and a form of life’s, not the end goal of what we’re trying to achieve.

JC: Yeah, so that I mean, that gives me a chance to try and set forth a little bit of what I’m trying to figure out for book I’m working on right now, which I hope to finish over the next nine months or so, which is sort of specifically about this problem, or several of the problems you’ve mentioned about the limit which is the end of capitalist growth, it’s diminishing returns, but also the limit of climate collapse and sort of those as two limits that we confront as we try and figure out what revolutionary struggle might look like. And I am trying to think more carefully about the commune. Not so much as what the riot becomes I think I put it that way in the book and I’m not sure I love that formulation — but I think about what arises, in some sense, alongside the riot.

So I’m going to go back one more time to Standing Rock as a really useful example. So Standing Rock is not a riot, really, although there might have been a couple little riots in there. But it is what I call a circulation struggle, right? That larger category in which the riot is the exemplary form. So it’s a circulation struggle, it’s trying to stop capital from circulating, it’s trying to stop that oil from moving through the pipeline. But there’s also the camp right, actually, there’s a series of camps at Standing Rock I think in the end, probably around 10 distinct camps, each has its own name, they’re almost all founded by Indigenous women, they have various sort of makeup — but those camps are what I would call communes, right? Not in the sense that they’re sort of an achieved form, here’s our own self government now, now this is how we live, but in the sense that they took up the question of reproducing the community, “social reproduction to use the technical category.

Because if you’re going to have that blockade for months and months and months, you have to have food, you have to have shelter, you have to have care, you have to have medicine. And the camp arises alongside of that as a commune, and what’s vital here is that they’re the same thing, right? There’s no blockade without the commune. And there’s no commune without the blockade. It’s not like they’re two different solutions that you throw at a problem. It’s that they’re indistinguishable: the care work of the commune, and the antagonism, the direct antagonism of the blockade, are not two separate phenomena, and you sort of choose your adventure. It’s the same people doing both things. It’s a single activity that has as one side of it the commune and the other side of it blockade.

And I think that is my real source of optimism, right? Is that we see those circulation struggles, which are inevitable again, I’m not saying they’re good, I’m not saying they’re bad, I’m saying they’re inevitable the structure that capital takes is going to be in circulation now, and it has to be blocaded. And seeing that that inevitable blockade there’s going to be more and more of those — arises in the form that’s also the commune, this, I think, points toward a way forward. Because we have to eventually get to that moment that the commune promises without necessarily delivering, of breaking free from the things on offer from capital, the wage and the market. And that breaking free has to happen and the commune is the promise of that happening, and the effort to figure out how it can happen.

TFSR: Yeah, I love how you say that. And that makes me think, again, what I mentioned in the very beginning about maybe some of the strength of the George Floyd uprisings came from the fact that people were doing the care work of mutual aid at the same time that they were getting in the streets, fighting the police. And thinking back to the way that people talked about the Paris Commune or even May 68 in Paris, those are moments of lived experience that can then be drawn upon, right, of something, of another form of life even if it didn’t last — and replace whatever. But if you experienced being in the streets with people that forms a kind of community. But I really like that you put the care work and the struggle together. That’s something that I’ve been, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around too because it dissolves those divisions of labor that were sort of imposed upon us by the state, the market and the divisions of the spheres of life too, to say that there’s work and home or something.

JC: Yeah. So the thing I would add, right, is that that mutual aid that was practiced during George Floyd uprising, for example — so there’s a bit of a challenge here and the term mutual aid is a very common one. Anarchists I don’t identify as an anarchist but most of my friends are anarchists, and they probably all think I’m an anarchist too, so, and I would take it as a term of honor. And certainly in anarchist communities, the idea of mutual aid is an essential one and it has been for a very long time. But it’s super important to me to think about all the activities that already happened in communities that don’t identify as anarchists, that don’t identify as activist, but that are mutual aid, right? There was all kinds of mutual aid in Minneapolis. St. Paul already, in advance of people who understood that as a practice and had a theorization of it and had a commitment to it, roll up, and I’m glad they rolled up because I want as many people rolling up as possible there. But it’s important to recognize that mutual aid as a practical matter already exists in those communities and has to, it has to for amiserated communities, communities of color, to survive. In the current situation, there has to be a lot of mutual aid being practiced all the time.

TFSR: Yeah, I appreciate that. That’s so important. It goes back to what you’re saying, you could call it a strike if you want, whatever the terminology. And I think the same thing about anarchists, I identify as anarchist strategically, but it doesn’t matter to me. But the thing that even Kropotkin, talking about mutual aid is that it’s a spontaneous organization that happens, it doesn’t need to be imposed by outside or whatever. It’s what people do all the time. And that I guess, like care might even be a better word for the, going back to what you were talking about in the commune at Standing Rock.

JC: I think that one of the things that’s hopeful for me, I don’t know how it is where you live, but in the Bay Area, which is my home, there have been moments when there’s been a really aggressively contentious discourse that sets sort of care and militancy in opposition, often in gendered ways, but not always. In which like, we have a joke like look at that manarchist” that joke about manarchism, militancy. But if you think about that example I tried to suggest of the blockade and the commune being a unity not just two things next to each other, but a unity — you can see it sort of dissolves that opposition, the idea that like, Well, some people are committed to care as a practice and has these virtues, and some people are committed to militancy and has these virtues”. Eh. I think that like you look at scenes like Standing Rock — and it’s not the only example, it‘s just an easily available one from the last decade you see that that opposition is overcoming practice all the time.

TFSR: Right. I guess what I think that your book really helps do is to break through the sort of the false inheritances that we have from a romanticize narratives of struggle and revolution that create those kinds of divisions that that don’t exist or didn’t exist. And in that light, I guess, just to ask you a final sort of broad question: do you have any other insights that you might offer to the current modes of struggle or anything that you’ve seen lately as a kind of innovation that excites you?

JC: Well, I think there’s a highly specific and a highly general answer. The highly specific one is the great US innovation of the last year was burning police stations. It’s widely known as a global phenomenon, as I never hesitate to point out, on the first night of the Egyptian uprising that I referred to earlier — a decade ago, 99, police stations got burned. So that phenomenon is known globally. But it’s essentially unknown in the United States where the sanctity of the police and the sense of the risks of militancy, outweighing the virtues of militancy, are so powerful that that sort of breaking of that barrier, so that that was suddenly on the table. I think that’s probably good news. And two, three, a thousand Minneapolis’, that’s a specific one.

The general one is a way of dodging your question, right? Which is to say: I think what’s most important, to sort of wrap around to the beginning, is to understand why certain modes of struggle emerge. Not to say we should do this, or that’s good, and that’s bad. But to understand why people…like, prescriptive accounts, like this is the right thing to do I actually don’t think are very helpful. In part because I deeply believe in the proletarian struggle. I deeply believe in people fighting for their lives and fighting for freedom and fighting for emancipation, not as an enactment of theory, but as where theory comes from. You don’t say like, oh, here’s the right way to do it, I have a theory and then you deliver that to people. Anyone who does that can fuck off. The point is you’re attentive to what actually happens and actual concrete circumstances, and you try to understand why it’s happening. And that’s where I would want to end up, is on the team of trying to understand sort of the shape of history as it emerges, to understand what might be possible rather than sort of delivering some prescription about the best thing to do.

TFSR: Yeah, well, I’m really grateful for the work you’ve done to, sort of, to illuminate those things and I’m excited, I don’t know if you want share a little bit about what you’re working on now, because I’m excited to hear where you’re moving next.

JC: Oh, I probably gave as good as summary as I can give. So it starts with the fact that we still have the same two problems that Aimé Césaire says in the Discourse on Colonialism I mentioned earlier. He says that question civilization, by which I mean, European civilization has bequeathed us two problems that we have not been able to overcome, which is the problem of colonization and the problem of the proletariat. That is still true. We still have the same two problems, the struggle with those two problems now happens within two incredibly powerful limits: one is the end of capitalist growth, there’s no more growing your way out of problems. There’s no more increasing employment, there’s no more capital accumulation to redistribute, to sort of buy the social peace. So that’s one real limit. And then climate collapse is the other limit.

So two problems, two limits. And those are the conditions in which we are compelled to sort of struggle for freedom, struggle to leave the realm of necessity and enter into the realm of freedom. And I think that looking at the kinds of struggles we see emerging, the things that I’m calling pipeline blockades the things that I’m calling communes, and things like the George Floyd uprising, trying to think about these as ways that people are trying to figure out a path forward, against those two problems and within those two limits.

TFSR: I’m really excited to read that when it is published. And I’m, yeah, thank you for engaging these questions and bringing it to bear on, like, what’s happening now.

JC: I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and your giving me a chance to ramble on a little bit.

TFSR: *laughs* It’s wonderful. Thank you.

How Do We Stop A Coup? (with Unity and Struggle)

How Do We Stop A Coup?

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This week on The Final Straw Radio, we spoke with Dylan and Enzo of Unity & Struggle. Unity & Struggle, or U&S, is an anti-state communist collective spread across the so-called US. Their members publish essays and engage in local organizing activities. Enzo recently authored a short essay entitled “How Do We Stop A Coup” which had editorial contribution by the wider U&S collective. For the hour, we talk about the threat of a “Constitutional Coup”, the importance of street action and organizing among the working classes to resist authoritarianism and ideas about fighting recuperation by Liberal power structures like the Democrat party.

More by U&S, including this essay, can be found at UnityAndStruggle.Org. You can find a mini series of podcasts with Unity & Struggle talking about their study group on Race over 5 parts starting in November of 2019 on RevLeft Radio. You can also find a recent interview with members of U&S entitled “Organizing In The Face of Crisis and Far-Right Terror” on the same topic as our discussion on ItsGoingDown’s IGDcast.

Announcement

March for Ed Poindexter

This Monday, October 26th there will be a march in Lincoln, Nebraska at the State Capitol at 14th & K from 11:30 am– 3:30 pm in support of the review of the wrongful conviction, and eventual release of, Ed Poindexter. Mr. Poindexter is the surviving member of the Omaha 2 who, along with Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa (whose state name was David Rice), were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1971 murder of Omaha Police Officer Larry Minard on August 17th, 1971. The two were suspects before there was any evidence in the case because they were leaders of the National Committee to Combat Fascism, a splinter from the Black Panther Party. Despite shoddy investigation and signs of evidence tampering by authorities, an appeal to the conviction based on new evidence that surfaced in the case of the Omaha 2 was denied in 2010 by the Nebraska Supreme Court due to limitations imposed by Clinton’s 1996 Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism Act, a law mentioned by Cinque Magee in our last episode. The Nebraska Board of Pardons will be meeting Monday afternoon and supporters are invited to participate in a public comment period at the end from 4-5pm (depending on the length of the hearings).

Mondo died in prison of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease on March 11, 2016, after being incarcerated from age 23 to 69. Ed has diabetes and had triple bipass heart surgery in 2016. He is confined to a wheelchair and cataracts that limit his ability to read. He did not deserve this treatment and needs to be released after 49 years on a wrongful conviction.

If Ed Poindexter is not pardoned, we hope to speak soon with supporters of him about his case. Meanwhile you can get involved and support him by visiting the fedbook page entitled Freedom4Ed (with the number 4). You can also contact them at freedom4ed@gmail.com

You can write to Ed, whose 76th birthday is coming up on November 1st, at:

Edward Poindexter #27767
Nebraska State Penitentiary
P.O. Box 22500
Lincoln, NE 68542

Please be aware that because of his cataracts, text on letters should be no smaller than 18 point. More information can also be found at PrisonerSolidarity.Com

. … . ..

featured tracks:

  • “Don’t Make Us Ask” by Lee Reed from Murder Hornet Landlord
  • “Fiyah to the Fascists” by Multiply (Tef Poe x Rebel Diaz) from Vol. 2

Lawrence Jarach on Anarchy (A Journal of Desire Armed) & critiques of tactics of debate

Lawrence Jarach

http://anarchymag.org
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This week, Bursts speaks with Lawrence Jarach. Lawrence is a co-editor of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed. You’ll hear about that project, some of it’s history, Post-Left anarchy, individualism, mass society and more.

We also speak about conflict and resolution processes featured in the main article of this latest issue of AJODA (#76). The title of the article is “Against Identity Politics” and attempts to discuss methods of engagement or disengagement around issues of Identity and argues that some of the methods employed (call-outs, denunciation, crit-self-crit, accountability processes) developed out of Maoist practice with the desire to actually eschew and silence rather than open up room for debate and discourse. More on the project and article can be found at http://anarchymag.org

Former Political Prisoner Panel in Denver, 2015 (pt 1)

Former Political Prisoner Panel

denverabc.wordpress.com
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This week The Final Straw is airing some audio from the recent Anarchist Black Cross Conference which took place outside of Denver. This is a panel discussion which was hosted by the Denver ABC and includes a number of folks who had been formerly incarcerated and were speaking on the importance of supporting prisoners, among other topics. The panelists we’ll be hearing this week include: Lynne Stewart, Jihad Abdulmumit, Kazi Toure, Eric McDavid & Mark Cook.

  • Lynne Stewart was a movement lawyer involved in anti-capitalist and liberation prisoners since the 1960’s who was incarcerated this in 2010 to a decade in prison for passing a public statement on from her client, Abdel-Rahman, convicted in the first World Trade Center bombing. She was got out of prison in 2013 on Compassionate Release as she was dealing with Terminal Breast Cancer.
  • Jihad Abdulmumit is the national chairperson for the Jericho Movement and spent 23 years in prison for his involvement with the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army and and is on the Majlis Ash-Shura of Muslim Alliance in North America, or MANA. He is also a community activist, motivational speaker, author and playwright.
  • Kazi Toure is a former Black Panther and was a member of the United Freedom Front, an American Marxist guerrilla group active through the 1970’s and 80’s and carried out at least 20 bombings of government and corporate targets and 9 bank robberies. The UFF is also known as the Sam Melville / Jonathan Jackson Unit, as well as the Ohio 7.
  • Mark Cook became active in a growing leftist paramilitary underground in Seattle in 1967, which perpetrated a series of high profile bombings and robberies. He was co-founder of the Black Panther Party chapter in the Walla Walla State Penitentiary and served as its Lieutenant of Information for many years. In 2000, he was released after serving 24 years in prison for his participation in a bank robbery and jail break associated with the George Jackson Brigade in Seattle. The GJB was a leftist urban guerrilla group in the Pacific Northwest that carried out bombings, bank robberies and other actions to overthrow the U.S. government.
  • Eric McDavid, a green Anarchist who served a 9 years of a 20 year sentence and was released this January after a Habeaus Plea led the Government to release him. Eric was railroaded, along with two other young eco-anarchists, by the FBI and convicted of conspiracy to damage property, including planning to blow up dams in the U.S. Eric McDavid’s case is exemplary among Green Scare cases in it’s employment of an infiltrator and informant for the FBI who went by the name Anna.

In the next installment in coming weeks we’ll hear statements from Jerry Koch who was incarcerated for 9 months in a New York maximum security prison for refusing to give informaton to a grand jury, and was released on a Grumbles motion in January of last year. This’ll be followed by audience questions. For the full video stream of the event, check out http://DenverABC.wordpress.com. Thanks to Unicorn Riot for the recording.

Next week, tune in to hear Bursts conversation with Lawrence Jarach, a main editor of Anarchy: Journal of Desire Armed.

We’ve been listening to the first half of the former prisoner panel prior to the North American Anarchist Black Cross event held in Denver, Colorado this year. In an upcoming episode, we’ll hear the voices of Jerry Koch and Eric McDavid from the panel. The full video of this event can be found at http://DenverABC.wordpress.com or on http://unicornriot.ninja

Announcements

FAM Hunger strike

A founder of the Free Alabama movement is currently on hunger strike and in his 620th day of Solitary Confinement at Holman in Alabama. Robert Earl Council is on day 5 of hungerstrike for being denied adequate medical care. There is a request that folks call in to Holman and the DOC of Alabama to inform them that folks on the outside care about Robert Earl Council. You can call Walter Myers, Warden at Holman Correctional at 251-368-8173 or Commissioner Dunn at 334-353-3883

Bomani Shakur Events

On October 8th, several U.S. cities will be hosting events around the case of Bomani Shakur, also known as Keith Lamar. Bomani is facing threat of execution this year by the state of Ohio for alleged participation in deaths that took place during the Lucasville Prison Uprising of 1993, a charge which Bomani has always denied, claiming that he stayed in his prison wing to defend his cell. To find out more about his case, check out http://keithlamar.com

Dixie Be Damned: a regional history of the South East through an Insurrectional Anarchist lense

http://www.akpress.org/dixie-be-damned.html
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This week, we’re excited to present a conversation with Saralee Stafford and Neal Shirley, editors and authors of a new book out from AK Press entitled “Dixie Be Damned: 300 years of Insurrection in the American South”. The book is a study of Maroon, Indigenous, White, Black, worker, farmer, slave, indentured, women and men wrestling against institutions of power for autonomy and self-determination. All of this in a region stereotyped to be backwards, slow, lazy, victimized and brutal. The editors do a smash-bang job of re-framing narratives of revolt by drawing on complex and erased examples of cross-subjectivity struggles and what they can teach us today about current uprisings in which we participate.

Throughout the hour we explore some of the examples that became chapters in the book, critiques of narrative histories and academia and what new ways forward might be towards an anarchist historiography. Keep an ear out for Saralee and Neal’s book tour, coming to a bookspace near you.

Playlist

Black Bloc: The legacy of the Kreuzberg Riots of 1987

May Day in Kreutzburg, 1987
May Day in Kreutzburg, 1987
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This week’s episode of the Final Straw features a conversation on a divisive and spectacular tactic that for many outside of the movement defines what an anarchist is: the black bloc. We speak to a comrade who was present in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin on May Day of 1987 when thousands of autonomous activists (of the Autonomen movement of which our guest was and is a member) and erected burning barricades while physically resisting the state. This date is pointed to by many as the beginning of the tactic as it’s practiced in it’s modern form. We also talk about beginnings of the Autonomen, how it differed from other movements before and after, gender and class in the inflammatory May Day riots in Berlin and more.

This episode was made possible by the comrades at A-Radio Berlin who translated our questions, conducted the interview and sent us transcripts and even overdubbed the audio. Much thanks. Check out their project, as they do at times produce content in English, Spanish and French in addition to their work in German.

The playlist for this episode can be found here