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Adventure Capitalism with Raymond Craib

Adventure Capitalism with Raymond Craib

book cover of "Adventure Capitalism"
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This week on The Final Straw, Professor Raymond Craib talks about his book, “Adventure Capitalism: A History of Libertarian Exit, from the Era of Decolonization to the Digital Age” out recently from PM Press. We talk about capitalist fundamentalists attempting to create free market utopias, right wing so-called Libertarians, Ayn Rand, neoliberalism and the oxymoronic tendency known as “anarcho-capitalism” at the center of the recent HBO Max series called “The Anarchists”.

A quick note: the book on the Republic of New Afrika that Bursts mentioned was Free The Land by Edward Onaci. There was an interesting interview on Millenials Are Killing Capitalism podcast with the author last year.

Stay tuned next week for our interview with Sam & Alex of the antifascist podcast, 12 Rules for WHAT about their podcast and their two books, “Post Internet Far Right” or PIFR, and “The Rise of Ecofascism”. Patreon supporters can get this episode a few days early alongside other gifts. Check out that and other ways to support us at tfsr.wtf/support

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Transcription

TFSR: Do you please introduce yourself with any name, preferred gender pronouns, and other information that you’d like to introduce yourself to the audience?

Raymond Craib: Sure. My name is Raymond Craib, my pronouns are he/him, and I teach in the Department of History at Cornell University.

TFSR: Cool, I just finished reading your most recent book, Adventure Capitalism, and I really appreciated how much you covered and your treatment of history and the ideas presented in it. I have to admit being slightly entertained reading some of the snipings between Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman and Murray Rothbard, representing ideological strains that have deep impacts to this day in capitalist idealists, and also a lot of differences between the ideas. To set the stage, could you talk about some of these arguments, these thinkers, and what they believed, and if any specific tendencies are around today that you think people might be familiar with that would be representative?

RC: Yeah, sure. And thank you for having me. I appreciate the invitation. Thank you also for reading the book. So there’s a lot of these folks in the mid-20th century who I think, for lack of a better word, I call them US market libertarians because I’m trying to distinguish them from the classical notion of libertarian, which is anarchist, these people are hyper-capitalist. And they’re minimalist in terms of their ideas about government, which, essentially, we shouldn’t mistake as small government, it just means minimalist in the range of its functions. They still want a police force, they still want a military, they still want a judiciary to protect property rights, they want to be protected from fraud, and they want to be protected from physical violence. So that’s not a small state manifesto. It’s just a state that has a limited range of functions. Now, what those functions were is where I think people like Rothbard, Rand, Friedman – you could also probably throw in Robert Nozick here as a philosophical standard bearer for these folks. But Rothbard, if you look at a spectrum, I would put Rothbard in the 1960s and 1970s at the very far end of the libertarian spectrum in terms of– He wanted to do away with national defense, he wanted it to become completely privatized, and driven as a private for-profit entity, he made strange bedfellows at times because he was so adamantly anti-statist. And so at times, you could see him picking up on the rhetoric of certain sectors of the new left who were opposed to the Vietnam War and the like. So, Rothbard, a godfather of US-style libertarianism like this, was at the extreme end of the spectrum. And he changed over time by the 1980’s and the 1990’s. He allied himself with Pat Buchanan, began to advocate for brutal police repression, and became a Paleo-Conservative. But in the 60’s and 70’s, he was probably the most – for lack of a better word – purist in terms of his market libertarian positions.

Rand, I guess you could probably slot in between Rothbard and Friedman, if you were looking at a spectrum. It’s hard to talk about her in some ways, she’s very influential today. I can say more about that in just a second. But, she was, essentially, a Russian emigre, her family had been persecuted under the Bolsheviks – well, they’d been expropriated. And so they came to the United States, and she lived in New York City, but she also lived in Southern California. She was deeply influenced by the culture of Hollywood. It’s a myth about Ayn Rand being a product of what happened to her in Russia. But I think Corey Robin and other writers have made a very compelling case that she was also strongly influenced by the world of Southern California and Hollywood and a developing Orange County and so forth. And so Rand would not call herself a libertarian. She refused it. Her famous phrase, perhaps it might be apocryphal, I’ve constantly looked to see if I could find this quote, and it’s been an I haven’t been in had any success, but she said, “You have to have a state who’s going to jail the communists.” And so she was, again, a minimalist statist, she wanted, essentially, for the state to exist to protect capitalists, protect them from fraud, protect them from direct violence, protect them from the masses. She was worried about the masses and the idea of demagoguery. She had strong disagreements with Murray Rothbard. He saw in Rand and the coterie of people that she had around her what he called “a perfect engine for totalitarianism.” He really saw her as a charismatic, totalitarian, dogmatic figure. So, these are very strong differences of opinion, but Rand is right in the middle of that spectrum.

Someone like Milton Friedman was deeply influenced by a couple of people who also influenced Rand and Rothbard. These are members of what’s known as the Austrian School of libertarian economics, or Austrian School of Economics: Friedrich von Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises, amongst others. Friedman was influenced by them and became part of the University of Chicago economics department. Friedman made a little more space for the role of the state: he and someone like Hayek were willing to accommodate state intervention in things like welfare programs, or certain subsidies to the population at large or business. And so they occupied a space on the libertarian spectrum that would be in some ways – I guess, these terms get problematic – but you might say a little bit closer to how we think about neoliberalism, which is not an anti-state program. It’s a state-generated program. It’s an alliance between capitalists and the state. And so here’s Friedman, this character who’s a little less dogmatic, a little less idealistic in his sensibility and a little more pragmatic. But so you have this spectrum. And these three figures are very, very influential, they remain influential. Rand is extremely influential in the culture of Silicon Valley today, this tech utopian world. And if you look at characters such as Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of PayPal, an early investor in Facebook, a strange supporter of Donald Trump, and also one of the owners of Palantir, which is the largest surveillance private surveillance operation, affiliated with the US government. Thiel is a big Rand fan, Musk, Bezos, all of these guys, the founder of Whole Foods (John Mackey), a lot of them are very Randian in this way. The Libertarian Party certainly was influenced by Ayn Rand and remains influenced by her. Ron Paul, his son, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, I don’t know what it is about Pauls, but they all seem to be connected to Rand. So she’s had this resurgence over the years and of course she was Greenspan’s (the head of the Federal Reserve for many years under Clinton and the early Bush years) mentor. And Greenspan was right inside her inner circle and swallowed Randian objectivist economics and libertarian theories wholeheartedly and essentially had to issue a mia culpa in 2008 when everything collapsed.

Friedman is also still very influential today. He was the architect of the radical privatization of Chile’s economy under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The ideas of Friedman and the faith in free enterprise were embedded in words in the 1980 Chilean constitution that was foisted upon the population by the military dictatorship. So “Free Enterprise” would be the only acceptable model for the economy in Chile, and that’s now finally being overturned. That constitution is being now rewritten with the enormous revolutionary transformations that have taken place in Chile over the past few years. Friedman’s son, David Friedman is a very well-known anarcho-capitalist, his grandson Patri Friedman, is also very much linked up with a lot of the projects that I talked about – seasteading Future Cities Inc. Free Private Cities in Central America, and the like. And a lot of this is connected to cultural emancipation or “lifestyle” emancipation if you wanted to use the critique of Hakeem Bay. Burning Man, polyamory, this idea that Burning Man in some ways might be a model for a future society. These are the three of the central figures, and in the background of all of their minds was not only a notion of private enterprise and market transactions being a pathway to individual freedom, but also a way to avoid the trappings of totalitarianism that they associated with Nazism, communism, socialism, they made no distinction between these things. All of those were considered to be totalitarianism, even though of course, it was communism that ultimately defeated fascism.

TFSR: Just a quick note on the critique of Ayn Rand as a totalitarian or whatever the term was that Rothbard had tossed that way. For any listeners that haven’t seen it. There’s a very entertaining and interesting documentary series called All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace that talks about the cult of personality that Rand developed around herself, which was referenced also in the footnotes of the book, which I appreciated seeing.

RC: That’s right. Adam Curtis, it’s a wonderful three-part documentary. The first part is about Rand and her influence on Silicon Valley.

TFSR: Where you left that description of those thinkers and their trajectories lead perfectly to the question that I was going to ask after that. A central figure in your book is Michael Oliver, I’d like for you to talk about this man. As a Lithuanian Jew who lost most of his family to the Nazis, who barely survived the Shoah, himself, and who claimed that his sister was killed by occupying Soviets… Oliver moves to the USA after World War II and is, in understandable ways, allergic to totalitarian states and the destabilization that he sees coming from masses that have been whipped up to do the bidding of these totalitarian states and demagogues. How did he end up alongside white supremacists or CIA-adjacent weapon smugglers and attempting a staged coup in a decolonizing South Pacific Island?

RC: Yeah, Oliver is a central figure in the book, at least for much of it. And it’s a very compelling story that is both deeply painful and tragic. And at the same time, a story of the 20th century in some ways. He was born Moses Olitzky in 1928. You can imagine, he’s basically about 14 when things get terrible for him in Lithuania. His sister is taken away by Soviet troops and then when the Nazis come, his family is killed and he ends up in different concentration camps in Poland and is rescued by Japanese-American troops in 1945. So, he comes to the United States, to Nevada, and he becomes fairly successful. He’s in the US Air Force for a little bit of time, and he’s working in electronics. But he becomes a successful land developer and coin dealer and he sees in the 1960s a lot of things that raise fears for him about just the way the world can turn on a dime. And what’s difficult to read is that he sees these movements and he identifies his concern with totalitarianism and what he calls “Stormtrooper tactics” and things like this with movements that are essentially movements of people themselves trying to achieve some form of emancipation. So, you think about things like the civil rights movement, second-wave feminism, and gay rights… there are a lot of movements in the 1960s that are developing and the language that Oliver uses is a language that seems to indicate that he’s identifying resistance movements on the part of these social movements as where totalitarianism is threatening to come from and where demagoguery might be appealing. He doesn’t talk about things like the John Birchers, the KKK, the Christian Nationalists, or the movements on the right that were developing quite strongly, they have been strong in the 1950s, and they’d grown with Barry Goldwater’s run for the presidency that ended unsuccessfully in 1964. And so there is something there that is troubling and unsettling to have to come to terms with in how he’s identifying where the problems are going to come from, in his mind.

His first project is in the South Pacific, many libertarians, he is trying to develop a new country. He realizes that you can find territory to buy but you’ll have a hard time purchasing sovereignty. In other words, territorial sovereignty in which you can hive off and make your own country your utterly private estate in some form or another. And so he looks at the open ocean. This was not uncommon at the time, other people did this, Ernest Hemingway’s younger brother, there’s another man by the name of Werner Stiefel whose family had fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, he was a pharmaceutical engineer. There’s an array of people who tried this, and they saw – somewhat incorrectly – the high seas as places where they can establish themselves. And it just wasn’t the case. And there are a lot of legal questions around this, also engineering questions and so forth. But he tried in the South Pacific to build an island with the support of several different wealthy figures.

I want to point out here, it’s very important: Oliver is the front figure and much of this and he put himself out there, he did interviews with Reason magazine, he did interviews with People magazine, he published his book A New Constitution for a New Country in 1968. So he made himself a focal point, but he had substantial backing from very wealthy people, Willard Garvey, who was a wheat magnate based in Wichita Falls, Kansas, who also built low-income housing in places like Peru and elsewhere around the world and had connections with the Foster Dulles brothers, in the CIA and elsewhere. He had a big argument about Make Every Man a Capitalist instead of Make Every Man a Communist, and the way to do that was through home ownership, something that’s now come back to bite us if you look at the housing market these days. John Templeton from the Templeton Foundation, if you listen to NPR, you’ll hear the reference to the Templeton Foundation. That’s the same John Templeton was an investor specialist. Seth Atwood was a horologist watch collector, but also a yachtsman. They were an array of people involved in these projects. But Oliver was the frontman. And so the project in the Southwest Pacific to build an island didn’t go very well. But then subsequently, the next project was this effort to essentially back a group of people on the islands of Abaco, which are part of the Bahamas. And this is in 1973. These are islands Abaco, in particular, these are islands that were settled by loyalists to the British after the American Revolution. They fled, and they went to Abaco and settled there. And this includes not only white loyalists, but also Black, and also formerly enslaved people who the white loyalists brought with them.

And they, at least the secessionist movement on Abaco, did not want to be part of an independent Bahamas. There’s several reasons why this might have been the case. But clearly, race is one of them. Many people involved in this movement were very clear that they did not want to be governed by a predominantly black political party, the party of Walter Pindling, who was going to become the first prime minister of an independent Bahamas. And also concerns about communist influences, left-wing influences, the language around communism and decolonization, and so forth. This is something that comes back in other projects that I look at. So, Oliver attached himself to a group of people who were supporting the secessionists. And this included a Wild West figure Mitchell Livingstone WerBell III. His family was originally from Russia, he claimed that his father had been the head of the horse brigade for the Tsar. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But WerBell was in the OSS, which was the precursor to the CIA. He was in Southeast Asia with the E. Howard Hunt who went on to become a Watergate plumber was also involved in the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. Lucien Conien was a French-American paratrooper and the point man for the Kennedy administration’s assassination of Diem in South Vietnam in 1963. And an array of other people… John Singlaub, who went on to a very prominent career in the US Army but also had pretty sketchy attachments to the World Anti-Communist League and things like this that have some proto-fascist tendencies, to say the least. So these were the characters WerBell was involved with and he became a PR man for a while in Atlanta which is where he was originally from and then in the 1960’s, you could find him in various places. He was in the Dominican Republic in 1964, right before a coup d’etat, he was working with Guatemala at various points in time in the 1960’s. He was creating silencers, sound suppressors for some of the deadliest weapons of the era, the Gordon Ingram MAC-10, in particular, which also had a very prominent role in many films in Hollywood. And WerBell also reportedly had many connections to the CIA and it’s very, very difficult to determine the truth and the fiction behind many of these claims. WerBell was an enormous ego and self-promoter. The CIA has not responded or never complied with my Freedom of Information Act requests, I have six or seven outstanding requests with them going back to 2013, so it’s 10 years now. The FBI did comply, and I have quite a bit of information from the FBI. So, WerBell was one of these individuals who was essentially helping to run this operation, to create essentially a private country in Abaco by supporting the secessionist movement in Abaco. And somehow Oliver was linked up with him. When they originally met, I’m not sure. But in 1974, they were clearly connected, because the two of them ran a meeting of eight people total in Washington DC in which they basically hashed out what was going on in the project.

The last figure I’ll just mention here is Andrew St. George, who was a journalist who covered that meeting in 1974 in Washington DC. St. George, both in his archival materials, which I’ve gone through quite closely– And also I’ve had conversations with at least one of his sons. St. George is quite an interesting figure as well. He had covered Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the mountains in 1958 before they overthrew Batista and the Cuban Revolution. He actually was close friends with Che and St. George was critical to the recuperation of Che’s body from Bolivia after his assassination later in the 1960s. So, St. George is quite interesting. And St. George had real concerns about Michael Oliver and about Michael Oliver’s political affiliations and connections with people who he was operating with. It’s extremely difficult to discern the depth of connection that Oliver had with people outside of and within WerBell’s orbit. But what we do know is that they worked together over at least a year, if not more, to try to bring the Abaco secession and new country movement to fruition. And it essentially fell apart because many of the individuals who were advocating for Abaco to not be part of the Bahamas were hoping that Abaco would remain part of the Crown, part of the United Kingdom. That’s what they ultimately wanted. And when that didn’t come through, many of them were clear that they did not want armed insurrection, and to be part of this new country project that would look a lot like, frankly, Freeport on Grand Bahama, which was this early, quasi-sovereign, tax-free, free zone, a free port. They call it Freeport, and they didn’t want that. And so, at that point, things fell apart. WerBell was being investigated by Congress and the FBI, and his name popped up repeatedly in the JFK assassination files. It became quite messy, and things fell apart. And the FBI was investigating quite intensively at that point.

TFSR: His story is so complicated that I mixed up a few of the elements there by asking that question about the South Pacific because there was Minerva, there was Vanuatu, and three different attempts at creating a free island or at least occupying and settling and creating “free” commerce or “free” enterprise-ruled space, allegedly. [laughs]

RC: Vanuatu was his last one, after the Abaco experiment fell through, he then turned his attention to the New Hebrides for five years from 1975 to 1980. And that ended with a rebellion that Oliver and his allies in an organization known as the Phoenix Foundation helped foment, essentially. I should mention them briefly. One of the things I did was I went to Vanuatu and I was very fortunate to have some good support from folks there, many of whom remember the Santo rebellion in 1980 and got me access to the files of the person who had been head of British Special Branch there by the name of Gordon Haynes. And so I got access to his archives. He died, I think, in 2015. And these were embargoed until after his death. But clearly, Haynes made the standard British imperial moves: he was in parts of Africa; and then when those decolonized, and the British left, he moved to the Solomon Islands; and they moved from the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu and so forth. He was a civil servant. But Haynes, essentially his job from 1970 to 1980 in Vanuatu was tracking American libertarian speculators, real estate speculators, and libertarians who were trying to do various projects there. So this included Michael Oliver included a real estate speculator from Hawaii by the name of Eugene Peacock, and several other individuals as well. Clearly, his files show me that the core of his job was tracking these folks.

TFSR: God, that must have been boring, the most mayonnaise people.

But by presenting context on the history of colonialism, which is a thing that I really appreciate about the story that you tell, and about extraction and crony capitalism (as if there were any other kind) in these areas of the world that mostly white men have tried to impose their land grabs on. If that’s possible, you kind of undo the erasure of the concept of Terra Nullius, which, as you show, often harkens romantically back to the mystique of settler colonialism, as it beckons adventurous citizen-consumers to forge their new destinies. And for all their talk of voluntary association, there’s no note of the violence inherent to exclusionary property. So would you talk about the settler imaginary in the US and right-wing libertarianism and these neo-primitive accumulation schemes?

RC: Sure. Thank you for that question. Every once in a while, before the book came out, I read some shorter pieces about this, and a number of people who are “fellow travelers” with these projects wrote me and wondered why I was calling them right-wing and, I was trying to explain to them because it was the primitive accumulation property paradigm, that’s the issue here. It’s not about whether or not you support the Republican party or something, this silly, narrow bandwidth that American politics suffers from. So the primitive accumulation and property question is key. Even to step back and look at the project of building an island in the Southwest Pacific, Oliver’s first project, the Ocean Life Research Foundation, which he created to raise money and the idea was to go to these reefs called the Minerva reefs that sit south of Tonga and Fiji, in between Tonga and Fiji, up to the north, and in New Zealand in the South. And the whole premise here was that these were free for the taking, that you could just go and take these things, and that they weren’t under anybody’s jurisdiction. This was an era in which things like the exclusive economic zone and the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea hadn’t been totally hashed out. And so there was a lot of lack of clarity about this. And there’s a lack of clarity simply about also when you say that the high seas of the oceans are a Commons for all of mankind, what does that mean? Is it a free for all? Does it mean you can create an artificial island? Not create an artificial island? Can you have a floating island versus an anchored island? These questions were up in the air. But many people took this to just mean that these were places that they could just go and colonize.

And the problem – and what I try to explore in close detail in all of the chapters – in the case of the Minerva reefs is these were places of seasonal use by fishermen, lobstermen, crab men, and others from places like Tonga and Fiji. These were places where there had been terrible shipwrecks, including in 1962, in which three Tongan passengers on the ship carrying Tongan boxers and others to Sydney crashed and they were there for three months. And three of them died and were buried on the reefs. These are places of mourning. These are places of history. These are places of poetry. These are not just spaces for anybody to just waltz in from afar and lay claim to and colonize. And so I try to take very seriously how archipelagic peoples, Oceanian peoples think about the ocean, not from a continentalist perspective and not from a proprietarian perspective, but certainly from a perspective of the meaning of history, of use value, and the like. And certainly, these are not places where someone else can just come in and print a property paradigm in the way that the Libertarians tried to do. This has come back, of course, in more recent cases like the Seasteaders, And I can talk about the Seasteaders in a few minutes further when I get to some of the more contemporary projects.

And so I tried to do this, and in all three of the examinations of the projects that Oliver was involved in the 1970’s, I wanted to take very seriously the social histories of the places where these projects unfolded. There’s a lot of writing about these projects is nudge, nudge, wink, wink, isn’t this funny, let’s yok it up. Look at this wacky stuff. I find that problematic, I think we need to make an effort to understand Michael Oliver and the people who funded him where they were coming from, but I also think we need to really understand the places, why they selected the places they selected, and how those populations essentially experienced these projects and the terrible consequences in instances. We’re talking in a place like Vanuatu of a rebellion, in which significant numbers of people were displaced, and a couple of people died. Or you talk about the case of Tonga and the Minerva reefs, or the Bahamas, these are the things that put enormous strain on governments, who are trying to deal with the process of overthrowing colonial rule. And so I wanted to take very seriously the histories of these places, how people understood property, land, the ocean, their own histories, colonialism, and the like. And so you take the case of the New Hebrides, for example, the land was a huge issue there. Anti-colonial politics ultimately arose around the question of land in the 1960’s. And it’s a very intricate process that unfolds there. And I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about it. But I do want to say the upshot of the anti-colonial politics of the 1960s, the process of decolonization in the 1970’s is that with the independence of Vanuatu in 1980, all land comes under the control of native indigenous Vanuatu inhabitants and that land cannot be sold. It can be leased, and it has to be leased according to the agreement by the customary owners of that land. But that’s embedded in the Constitution and it comes out of an understanding of the land, but also it comes out of the context of 70 years of colonial rule in which increasing encroachment into the interior, increasing destruction of the forest in order to raise cattle had unfolded. And so I really wanted to pay attention to different ways of thinking about land, property, history, and use that don’t fit this narrowly defined property paradigm that tends to hold sway amongst the libertarian Exeters.

TFSR: It’s not surprising at all, having read some history. But one part of the struggles that you talk about in Vanuatu, with the Ni-Vanuatu, and you do mention there’s a broad brush painting by reactionaries for the most part around the world and often Colons or settler colonizers in various decolonizing areas where there is the conflation of communism with decolonization. Or, in a lot of these instances, like in the Bahamas, the fear of black majority parties taking control. And at least one of the major trajectories in the independence struggle among Ni-Vanuatu was a party of people that had, among other things, been engaging with this decolonial thread throughout the world, interacting with not only black power movements in the United States but also in decolonizing Africa. And I thought that was really fascinating.

And I didn’t really have a question so much in relation to this as much as last night, when I was thinking about this, I was remembering this book on the Republic of New Africa [Free The Land by Edward Onaci] that I had read through not that long ago, and it was talking about the borderlessness– That project when it was territorializing itself for a period in the so-called US South still wanted to have a decolonial relationship with indigenous people who’s stolen land that people had been re-territorialized on to as their ancestors had. But that’s placing decolonization within this web of relationships… And you could see, that they were deeply influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X and many others, and the concepts that land and freedom are the two central things that decolonization struggles need to struggle with. Just thinking about the influence of some of those same teachers and movements and thinkers and individuals in Vanuatu was pretty inspiring for you to mention the book.

RC: Yes, thank you. There’s been some really remarkable work in recent years that I relied upon and drew from. So there were two political movements in Vanuatu that initially were allied, for lack of a better word. One was the Nagriamel movement of Chief Paul Bullock and Chief Jimmy Stevens. Jimmy Stevens and the Nagriamel were allying with Michael Oliver, and they’re the ones who are supported by Oliver in the Phoenix Foundation in their efforts to secede in the Santo rebellion in 1980. The other party was the New Hebrides National Party, which renamed itself the Vanua’aku Pati, the Land Rises Up Party. And there’s been some really wonderful writing in recent years on Black Power in the Pacific and its relationship to decolonization more broadly. Quito Swan has written two really fabulous books on this, Tracey Banivanua Mar, Robbie Shilliam… there’s really this flourishing of literature that’s looking much more closely at these relationships globally and not solely looking at the places that tend to dominate the literature.

You’re right, what’s quite interesting in the case of Vanuatu is that there’s an internal conflict, there’s an internal conflict between the mostly Anglophone Vanua’aku Pati, and the Nagriamel movement which is mostly in the northern islands of the archipelago. And over time, they come into conflict increasingly with each other, and I try to go through why and how that happens. And why somebody like Jimmy Stevens in the Nagriamel anti-colonial movement, who was a very adamant anti-colonialist in the 1960’s, why he would end up allying with Oliver in the Phoenix Foundation, and he would articulate an argument about: instead of an independent nation called Vanuatu, there should be a Confederation. And this was not unusual. All West African anti-colonial intellectuals also suggested similar things, that nation-state status wasn’t the only option for decolonization. And so this was something that Stevens was fairly adamant about, but in the process of doing this, to bring his dreams to fruition (and he also had his own political aspirations) he ended up allying himself with these other characters. And things didn’t go well, the Santo rebellion was put down, Jimmy Stevens was arrested and sentenced to prison for a long time, and some of his closest allies were sentenced to prison and ended up dying. One from tetanus, right after entering the prison. The after-effects were quite intense.

And of course, the Libertarians, just like the British and the French, went home, they went home free people. It’s a troubling history, in that respect. But it also points toward the complications on the ground, there’s an enormous amount of, again, going back to how sometimes these projects are written about, they allied or ignored the agency of local actors, who are complicated and complex and make all strange decisions and predictable and unpredictable decisions. But oftentimes, they’re ignored, and they shouldn’t be ignored. And unfortunately, those things are being repeated in contemporary writing about Libertarian projects in places like Honduras and Tahiti and even in Chile, there’s been a couple of efforts to put together some of these things. Incessantly, they’re invariably named after John Gault and Ayn Rand or Fort Gault this, John Gault that… and it’s depressingly predictable. But again, the local commentators, the critics of these projects make the same mistake that the generators of these projects make, which is that they’re clueless about the local context.

TFSR: Could you talk a bit about if we consider the international movements for creating spaces – physical, terrestrial, oceanic, in Space, digital, whatever – to create autonomy among– Not to make it too big because you cover a lot of stuff in the book, and even just touching on all the different tendencies and ways that people are trying to experiment with this. Can you talk a little bit about where this venture capitalism or Exiter strategy is now and maybe some of the movers and shakers like Peter Thiel… ? And how has the supposed model of individualism that Oliver and a lot of this early adherence to this thing were presenting, how has that shifted into elitist sovereignty ideas?

RC: Sure. I’ll start with the last point you just made, Oliver embraced this Ayn-Rand, hypercapitalist, individualist, what she called “Objectivist”, philosophy. I think, ultimately, due to his experience and because of his fears about totalitarianism, he called it a moral experiment. If he wanted to avoid taxes or make a lot of money, tax havens were a dime a dozen, he had the money to hire attorneys to help them hide his money. It wasn’t about that. He called it a “moral experiment” and he believed very profoundly in it. I think it was a mistaken set of beliefs. But he believed in those quite profoundly, and it was his concern about totalitarianism and demagoguery and states and their repressive nature that drove him. The contemporary projects are different, you see the projects that Oliver was involved in a lot of these, many different versions of these were experimented with in the 60’s and 70’s, and you start to see them fade away in the 80’s. And I think you see them fade away, in part, because a lot of people that previously might have been interested in them become less interested in them. After all, they can really socially secede in the United States under Reagan, and also in England with Thatcher. The real intensification of the neoliberal revolution began in the late 1970’s, it really takes grip in the 1980’s and the 1990’s. And so you see a lot of people who were more base in their motives in terms of taxation and things like this didn’t need to territorially secede. They could increasingly live in gated communities outside of Atlanta, they could go to the exurbs, and so on. Their tax rates were going down. So, you don’t really see projects like this, there are a few, but I mentioned one of them, which is quite amusing. But I won’t go into it for now for the interest of time, but they’re really not many of them.

They come back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. And really, with the growth of digital life and the internet. And so then you really begin to see this reemergence of interest in stuff like this. I don’t talk about some of the more extreme versions or futuristic versions of this transforming your consciousness into digital code and embedding yourself into a computer that out-survives your corpse… Even the outer space stuff takes an enormous number of people on planet Earth to keep one person alive in outer space. I don’t think that stuff is going to happen anytime soon. But in the spirit of Peter Thiel, he essentially says as much in an interview that he did with the Cato Institute, in which he says, “You have cyberspace, you have outer space, and you have the ocean. And really the more practical mediate possibility for exit is the ocean. The outer space and cyberspace are far-off in some respects.”

So I look at a couple of these projects, more contemporary projects that have really come out of the Silicon Valley digital, what a couple of writers in the 1990’s called the “California ideology”, which weds the commune hippie culture with yuppie entrepreneurial culture. And they call it the “California Ideology”. And this shows up also in the documentary you mentioned by Adam Curtis All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. Even the title is taken from a combination of this tech digital yuppie meets commune culture from Richard Brautigan. And so, I look at two projects in particular that I think are illustrative of projects these days. One is Seasteading, which is an effort that started in 2008 with the creation of the Seasteading Institute, and the idea is to build private floating platforms on the high seas where people can basically select if they want to attach their platforms and make communities or they want to separate it. Patri Friedman, Milton Friedman’s grandson was the first director of the Seasteading Institute. He’s quite closely involved in this. The logo for some of the affiliated groups with the Seasteading Institute is Burning Man on the high seas, so it gives you a sense of the influences here, it’s Burning Man meets the open ocean.

And then the other project I look at is what is called Free Private Cities in Honduras, which build off of charter cities. The idea behind charter cities came out of the thinking of Paul Romer, who was an economist at Stanford, then chief economist at the World Bank for a brief time, and is now at NYU. Romer’s idea was essentially that traditional aid as we know it has just never done what it was intended to do, it’s constantly been a failure. He’s not necessarily wrong about that but I don’t think the result, the conclusion that he comes to is problematic. His idea was with charter cities, that places that were struggling could seed a portion of their sovereign territory, and then an international group of governments or investors would come in and assert control over that territory and build essentially a nostalgic version of Hong Kong as it ever was. Hong Kong has this mythical life in people’s minds about what it was like. And so the idea would be to create a charter city, an open city, it wouldn’t be gated, and you could opt in or opt out as you wished. This is very problematic because the whole idea of easy opt-in and opt-out is just also mythological. There’s a whole array of constraints here, and Romer himself admitted that there would have to be some immigration control. And so again, you’re back to the same question, which is these idealized versions of opt-in and opt-out are not realizable at some level. And so then you start talking about “how those controls are going to be put into place, who’s gonna use them and have them.” But the charter city would have its own judiciary, would have its own arbitration boards, it would have its own constitution, its own police force, and its own labor laws. And these were things that would not be able to be overturned by the voters of the country where the charter city was situated.

It started off in Madagascar, it didn’t get very far because of a coup. And then there was a coup in Honduras. And that’s where Romer set up shop after 2009. He was a big fan at first. But he learned very quickly that it’s difficult to do transparent business with an illegal coup regime. And things got messy quickly, he withdrew around 2014-2015 entirely from the projects. They’ve now morphed into something known as Free Private Cities. It hasn’t gone forward on much of the Honduran mainland at this point. But there is one that seems to be going forward on the island of Roatan, one of the bay islands off the coast of Honduras. It’s a similar idea, but it’s less about opt-in opt-out, it’s really about buy-in, these are more gated communities. Again, they do have their own arbitration boards, and, in theory, their own police, their own judiciary. Very few, if any articles of the Honduran Constitution would apply. It’s not clear if that by voter determination nationally, would voter decisions apply inside these free private cities. So there are a lot of questions that are up in the air, even more so now that there’s been a recent election in Honduras, and the candidate who was elected has promised to roll back these projects. The array of people involved in these projects is quite interesting. You have the usual crowd of tech libertarians, Friedman a little bit, Michael Strong, who calls himself a radical social entrepreneur, he’s got a name for himself. He also issues his own laws and corollaries to his own laws.

TFSR: He is a leftist, right? [joke]

RC: I don’t know what he is, he calls himself a leftist and then says that capitalism is going to save the world. He has a very funny shtick. Some of these threads are quite fascinating to pursue and you wonder how they end up where they end up.

But you also have a host of figures who were involved in Ronald Reagan’s Central America office as well, and it gives you again, a sense of the real Noir, ugly underpinnings here. Not just the libertarian ideology, which I find deeply problematic. But also, folks who were deeply involved in policy-making of a government that fomented civil wars and backed coup d’etats and led to the deaths of tens of thousands, if not more of people, and have also forcibly put people on the move from the societies in which they want to live and where they want to vote, and where they want to raise their children – Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador. And of course, these are folks who are going to make their way to the US border and be forcibly separated from their children and detained in cages and called names, and persecuted and killed… The cast of characters is not pretty. And then you’ve also got people involved in Brexit in the UK and long histories of advocating that the state is nothing more than a protection racket. And so, the best thing to do is buy-in, and let’s go back to feudal monarchy. This is the Neo Reactionary movement, NRX, which also has a following.

TFSR: I found it really refreshing. I only saw the little bit of it that you put into the book, but Romer’s disillusionment with the Free City idea and the honesty right there saying, “Well, if this is being set up in such a way that there’s going to be no transfer of power or democratic approach for the majority of people that are affected by the choices that are made here.” I don’t hear this thing from capitalist idealists very frequently saying, “Well, why would I want myself, my children or my grandchildren to be living in this?” It comes out to be neofeudalism, as you point out. That moment of clarity was priceless right there.

RC: I tried to give them credit, but he withdrew. I found that surprising that he was surprised that that happened. I was a little sharp in my tone because I took umbrage at the New York Times glowing interview in which, the Times reporter said something like “Romer saw something that should be obvious to all academics, but isn’t.” And it went into this great praise of Romer. And I was like, “Well, if you’ve paid more attention to academics, you would know maybe that you’re setting yourself up for a real problem if you’re doing business with a coup regime in Honduras,” which would have been obvious, if you’d read some history of Central America and US involvement there. But you’re right. Romer said, “Look, I don’t want to support a place where I wouldn’t want my grandchildren growing up.” I may not agree with the nostalgic vision he has about Hong Kong and the idea of charter cities. I don’t agree at all. But on the other hand, I think it’s important that understanding that as being distinct from going all in with this illegality and a willingness to make excuses and do business all oftentimes hid behind a smarmy, self-righteous we’re-going-to-make-the-world-a-better-place-and-make-a-lot-of-money-at-the-same-time rhetoric, which I find totally disingenuous, delusional, and quite offensive. So, I think Romer was serious. It didn’t end well. But for the people who are ongoing in these projects, it’s a little like the Anarchapulco stuff on HBO Max…

TFSR: Which I was about to ask about.

Before going into that, by talking about these extranational zones of exchange or shifts in sovereignty to private ownership and charters and the citizen-consumer model that, as you say, you can opt in if you can pay for it. But it desubjectivizes all of the other individuals who maybe lived there or might want to participate and maybe don’t have $50,000 to put upfront or whatever. Or a lot of these schemes try to avoid the discomfort of having to be around class conflict by shipping in their labor and then shipping them back out. Because who wants to live next to dirty people who clean your toilets? Their hands are dirty, how’d they get that way?

Speaking of dirty people, though. Our conversation is happening briefly after the release of a couple – now three, I’m one behind – episodes of a series on HBO Plus called The Anarchists featuring interviews with participants in a so-called “anarcho-capitalist” gathering in a place they like to call Anarchapulco. So what have you thought so far of what you’ve seen, and I wonder if you have observations about the appropriation of the term ‘anarchist’ and ‘libertarian’ and whatever the hell these people are?

And if you wouldn’t mind just referencing for the audience the conscious efforts by Rothbard and others to actively appropriate the terms ‘anarchist’ and ‘libertarian’ towards right, pro-capitalist, minarchists or whatever?

RC: Sure. I mentioned that Ayn Rand totally rejected the term ‘libertarian,’ and she also rejected the term ‘anarchist.’ Milton Friedman, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything in writing where he embraced anything akin to the term ‘anarchist’ either. Rothbard is one, there were a number of other people. There was a brief flurry in the late 60’s and early 70’s, in which the word ‘anarchism’ or ‘anarchist’ and ‘anarchy’– Which I always find interesting, I teach a class on the history of anarchism. And despite my insistence that students say ‘anarchism,’ the desire for them to say ‘anarchy’ all the time, I’ve always found quite fascinating. I started to keep a log book about it, just because I thought it’s fascinating that they just insist that that’s the term they need to use. I just can’t imagine there’s a philosophical basis to anything here. But the late 60’s and early 70’s was a moment in which Rothbard, also Gordon Tullock, James Buchanan whose figures are very prominent in Nancy MacLeans book Democracy in Chains, people who’ve gone on to found the Public Choice School, George Mason University, or someone else that I talked about briefly, Tyler Cowen. Recently in a book review he called me “a defective thinker.”

TFSR: Congratulations!

RC: Thank you. We’re hoping it will be on the cover of the second edition of the book. So, they did use the language of anarchism and theories of anarchy, they use the term ‘anarchy’ more frequently than ‘anarchism.’ But there was this brief moment where they appropriated the term and didn’t use ‘Libertarian,’ and instead use this term ‘anarchy.’ And it’s interesting, I didn’t delve into it in much detail, but I suspect it’s something that came out of a desire to connect with the efflorescence of, the dynamicism of youth culture at the time, amongst other things, and then faded over time. I try very hard in my book to distinguish between the people that I look at who I call Market Libertarians. I really don’t like the term anarcho-capitalists, it just puts two things together that don’t belong together, I strongly feel that the tradition of anarchism is an anti-capitalist and anti-state tradition. And in fact, I tend to accentuate the anti-capitalist side of it more so than the anti-statist side of it. So, I tried very hard to just use the term market libertarian, you could say market authoritarian for some of these folks, if you wanted to, I think there’s a case to be made.

TFSR: That’s where the sovereignty lies [for them]. It seems like that’s the authority.

RC: Yeah, exactly. And one that’s radically unequal. The disequilibrium is substantial. I noted a certain point in the book that the language of freedom is everywhere with the market libertarians, but the language of equality is not. And there’s two ways to think about this. One is that for classical liberals, freedom in the market is, in their theory, at least, going to gradually lead to a certain form of equality for everybody, it’s a sequential argument. So you start with freedom in the market, and you get to social equality, which anybody who’s not a liberal doesn’t agree with. But there were others who, like the late Murray Rothbard who said “equality doesn’t matter.” “Equality is a totalitarian ideology.” And so it wasn’t even about equality. And then, for socialists and communists, and others these are things that happen that have to happen simultaneously, you have to have equality and freedom together. They’re mutually reinforcing.

So, that was the language of anarchism. It is interesting to me, watching the documentary, how committed the subjects of the documentary are to calling themselves anarchists. They’re very adamant that they call themselves anarchists. I think I’ve only heard the word ‘libertarian’ come up once or twice, which is quite fascinating. And I’m not exactly sure why that’s the case. This Anarchapulco conference that’s been covered in the documentary started, I think, in 2016-2017. And it really took off in 2018. But in 2017, I went to an event in San Francisco, a conference created by an organization called the Startup Societies Foundation. And this is very much along the same lines. Their slogan is “Don’t Argue – Build.” It’s that Libertarianism that embraces the market and also says that politics is a pain in the ass because everybody’s arguing about things when you should just be out there building. And my response is “Okay, you got a multimillion-dollar home. Let’s not argue, I’m just going to build a giant billboard in front of your windows. How’s that?” They’ll be the first one to say, “You got to talk about zoning, you got to talk about wastewater treatment,” all these things have to be talked about in the community. That means politics, that means arguments. And so it’s just so unbelievably naive and silly and strange slogan.

But anyways, The Startup Society Foundation had this thing in 2017, it was a little mini version of this an Anarchapulco to some degree. A lot of it was people attempting to sell people on their latest thing related to blockchain or a new cryptocurrency, they wanted to do an initial coin offering or something like this. And then you had about 40% of the time were speakers, “thought leaders” pontificating about this or that. Including this fairly prominent guy from Stanford based in Silicon Valley, Balaji Srinivasen who just released a book called The Network State. His premise for Exit is a little bit different, it’s interesting to follow the logic through, he’s very much on the Market Libertarian side of things. I haven’t read the book, but as he presented it in 2017, part of the idea was that you get like-minded people together and you come up with a whole set of criteria about what your ideal place would look like, yearly average temperature, laws around whatever, taxation rates, closeness to an airport. And that you pump all of this algorithmically into this machine and it’ll turn out places that most closely fulfill their requirements. And then you and your friends who’ve got money get together and go to the space and set yourself up, and then negotiate better terms with the state wherever you are at because you’re bringing in your money. I’m not sure if this is what he gets into in The Network State, his most recent thing, but he talked a little bit about this in 2017.

So, there’s this array of these market libertarian gatherings where there’s a range of people, not all of them with a lot of money, but many of them with a good chunk of money, trying to create something that they see that is different. But it is interesting and strange that they use the language of anarchists. And I think it’s quite revealing, actually, and it does go back a little bit to what we saw in the late 60’s and early 70’s. That the language has a certain secondary meaning that they’re drawing from. It’s not pure political confusion. A lot of it is political confusion and a lack of historical understanding of anarchism, but also some of it is a-

TFSR: Marketing, if you will?

RC: Exactly. This is a marketing scheme.

TFSR: There was a point in the book where you talked about the shift in language around Libertarianism and pointing to the social conservatism that started developing at a certain point in the United States, the adoption of the term in relation to some of those rich – and I am sure in a lot of cases whites-only – enclaves outside of Atlanta that Newt Gingrich came out of similar to behind the Orange Curtain in California. I would imagine there’s probably a lot of people, having watched a couple of his episodes, that are positioning themselves as anarchists because it’s edgy and it’s in contradiction to the social mores that are imposed by the Evangelical-inflected Libertarianism and sovereign sheriff movement, constitutional sheriffs, and all this devolution of government – things that are being pushed by some in the US.

RC: I think that’s exactly right.

TFSR: What are you working on now? Where can people find your stuff?

Before that, I want to ask the question about “leftist” approaches towards sovereignty and exit.

RC: I’ll just say the latter part very quickly. I don’t use the language of “Exit” to talk about some of the left approaches. I end up using the word ‘exile’ that I draw from Andrej Grubacic and Dennis O’Hara’s Living at the Edges of Capitalism. They have a section on the Zapatistas, the Cossacks, and solitary confinement prisoners. It’s a book about mutual aid and exile. They use the term ‘exile.’ I found it very useful to make that distinction. Because there is a tendency– I get this question a lot, which is what about the Zapatistas? What about Rojava? It’s important to not equate form and content. It’s easy to say, “Oh, look, these are similar forms, they’re against the nation-state. They’re trying to create something different, autonomous territories. But my response to that is, first of all, we can’t equate a “green eco-village” capitalism with runaway slave communities or something like this. I just think that’s really problematic to equate those things. Perhaps, the more important point here is that the exit communities increasingly to me don’t appear to be a form of exile or exit, they appear to me to be a new instantiation of the state and an effort to increasingly privatize the state, new forms of primitive accumulation, new ways of resource capture. I just don’t see them as comparable at all to something like the Zapatista communities of southern Mexico, which are built on solidarity rather than individuality. They’re built on cooperation and mutual aid rather than competition, they see themselves as having to have in some form or relationship with the Mexican state. They’re not an utter rejection of the Mexican state. But they see themselves as having to have some relationship with that state, they actually invest in the promise of the Mexican Revolution in Article 27 from the Mexican Constitution on the Ejidos and agrarian reform. But at the same time, they’re trying to create something that is autonomous and unique in its own right, but you don’t have to have money to opt in. It’s just an entirely different structure. These things have to be distinguished pretty substantially. I see the exit projects as actually much more mainstream than they would like to see themselves.

And I disagree, actually, there’s been a couple of people who have reviewed the book and suggested that I focus on these outlier projects that are unusual and wacky and exceptions. I guess I didn’t get my point across because what I was trying to demonstrate by the end of the book is that in fact, these things are actually quite mundane, quite mainstream, and this is why if you want to understand them, you don’t need to read Peter Thiel or Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos and I would hasten to say you probably should read but don’t need to read William Gibson and Neal Stephenson and Ursula Le Guin, you can read J.G. Ballard, read his trilogy Cocaine Nights, Supercon, and High Rise to get a sense of what the future looks like in these communities.

TFSR: Yeah. Or in these instances, too, rather than talking to the people that are paid to fly into this hotel to give a presentation on whatever high-minded ideals they might have about changing the world, talking about the opportunities there with projects like Zapatista communities or what was the ZAD and Notre-Dam-des-Landes in France, or Unist’ot’en or the resistance at Standing Rock, either the creation of these autonomous, the opening up of space moments that are ideally more than just a TAZ ala Hakeem Bay, but oftentimes, what is meant to be not only a reimagining of the existent relationships around property, sovereignty, belonging, ecology, but they’re often an act of decolonization and removal of the imposition of the settler state, depending on where these are taking place.

There’s room for those of us on the left to think in terms of taking space, if we approach things honestly, from this perspective of solidarity and engagement, where it’s not me taking it from this blank slate that’s presented in front of me. Or those people that are like “let’s build some more factories here and call it Cancer Alley” or whatever. As long as we actively start engaging as folks from a colonizer country with populations and with landscapes that exist in a place, we can have a responsible way that, in the creation or recreation of these spaces, undoes some of the trauma that’s already happened and builds a path forward. That’s way more utopian and way more realistic than the crap that Thiel’s spouting.

RC: Yeah. You take something like the projects that I look at, but you can also look at the folks in the Anarchapulco, the HBO show, and I try to reference this in the book… When you come down to it, when you get past the glossy handout and the investment prospectus and all the other stuff, when you get past the glitter, it’s not Thomas Moore that you’re getting, it’s JW Marriott. It’s timeshare-sovereignty, that’s essentially what you’re getting in the end. And that’s why I’m saying it’s ultimately mundane and very mainstream in certain ways and reproduces all of these property and settler colonial relationships.

I have a very harsh critique in the book of the Seasteading book, Joe Cork and Patri Friedman did this book on seasteading. It’s just filled with the most fairy-tale version of history. There is hardly any mention of dispossession, violence, or anything like this. It’s like they read Lynn Cheney’s picture book Patriotic Primer for children and turned it into a history lesson. It’s really quite appalling. That’s the distinction I try to make in the book at various points in time.

The question about where people can learn more about what I’m doing. I’ve worked in Chile for many years, and I’ve been trying to get back there, but the pandemic has made research there difficult. In the meantime, I’ve been doing a couple of things. I’m working on an essay called “Selfish Determination,” which tries to go into a little bit more detail about how libertarians in the 50’s and 60s, especially in the 60’s, use the language of self-determination. There’s a UN resolution 1514 that was passed in the early 1960’s about the independence of colonized peoples and self-determination. I’m interested in the way in which they take up the idea of self-determination but appropriated for selfish determination just to give them their Ayn Rand credit. And then, a good friend of mine, Geoffroy de Laforcad, has written a lot on anarchism and has been involved in anarchist movements for many years in Buenos Aires and elsewhere. He’s from Marseille originally and teaches in Norfolk State. Geoffroy and I have been slowly working on a broader global history of things like exit and exile going back to the early 19th century. And this goes to your question about thinking about exile, Left projects of autonomy and things like this. We want to try to actually make those distinctions analytically and historically more evident and rich. So he and I are starting to write something together.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I look forward to checking it out for sure.

Well, thank you so much for having this conversation and for publishing this book. It’s sadly always timely. But not just because of HBO Plus, but yeah, I really appreciate it. I hope the listeners get a chance to read it and check it out. And thanks again for taking the time to have this conversation also.

RC: Yeah, thank you too. I was really grateful for the invitation and I really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks so much.

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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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.

Building Working Class History

Building Working Class History

book cover for 'Working Class History'
Download This Episode

This week, I spoke with John from the Working Class History collective and host of their WCH podcast. We spoke about the new book, “Working Class History: Everyday Acts of Resistance“, that WCH has published through PM Press, their archives, methodology, the project of popularizing working class, movement and human-sized history and a bunch more. [00:05:53]

More info on Working Class History at their website, WorkingClassHistory.Com, in their podcast and on twitter, instagram and facebook in a growing number of languages.

If you thirst for more conversation with John, you’re in luck as Firestorm Books will be hosting a presentation with him about the book on February 25 from 7-8:30pm eastern or UTC – 5. You can find out more at Firestorm.Coop/Calendar.

A transcription, downloadable pdf and imposed zine should be up in about a week here!

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Transcription & Support

As an update on our transcription project, we’ve sent our first batch of zines to patreon subscribers over $10. Much thanks to everyone who is contributing at whatever level. We are still $75 short of covering our minimums for the transcription and podcasting fees, so if you think you can become a sustainer consider visiting patreon.com/TFSR. If you don’t like patreon, we can receive ongoing donations from liberapay or paypal, as well as one-time donations via paypal and have merch for sale in our big cartel store.

If you don’t have cash but want to help out our project, that’s great! Reach out with show ideas, tell some friends in meet space or on social media, rep our content, print out some zines and send them into prisoners, rate us on podcasting sites, translate our work, or if you have a community radio station in your area you want to hear us on, get in touch and we’ll help you. We have some notes on our site under the broadcasting tab as well, for our weekly, 58 minute FCC friendly episodes.

Letters for Sean Swain

Our comrades continues to be denied access to regular communication with the outside by the Department of Corrections in Ohio as well as Virginia where he’s being held. It’s also notable that his website is currently down. Sean has a complaint pending before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission for the torture he suffered at the hands of the state of Ohio. He is also collecting support letters for his bid for clemency. You can find more details on instagram by following Swainiac1969, SwainRocks.Org, our Swain tab or by checking out the script up at https://cutt.ly/Hkph3KY.

Thanks to Linda from Subversion1312 for reading this week’s Sean script. [01:18:02]

BAD News #42

The latest episode of BAD News: Angry Voices from around the world by the A-Radio network has just been released. You can find find past BadNews episodes at the A-Radio site. This month, you’ll hear calls for support for the evicted ROG squat in Ljubljana, Slovenia, prisoner and prisoner solidarity updates from Greece, excerpts from a discussion of Russian anarchists about the current protests across that country and Alexei Nawalny, and a short piece highlighting the 100th anniversary of the death of Piotr Kropotkin.

NoDAPL Grand Jury for Steve Martinez

From fedbook

FREE OUR COMRADE & RELATIVE STEVE MARTINEZ! Thank you for the birthday wishes, let’s use this energy to Free & Support Steve! He resisted a Grand Jury for the second time in regards to alleged events from the NO DAPL struggle in Standing Rock, is currently NOT cooperating with authorities, & is awaiting federal extradition! Steve needs our support! Steve helped save our friend Sophia Wilansky’s arm from gettin blown off by military weapons, & he is a solid & brave Indigenous warrior! We are asking our comrades to call the jail to DEMAND they release Steve who is wrongfully in custody at: 701-255-3113, & PLEASE WRITE STEVE in Burleigh Morton Cty Jail at:
Steve Martinez
Po Box 2499
Bismarck, ND
58502

money orders can also be sent to him in his name at that address, as well as to his government name above on jail.atm.com

Loren Reed

We’re sharing a short rap by imprisoned indigenous, emo man, Loren Reed. Loren is facing years in prison for poorly chosen words in a private message on facebook during last summer’s uprising. We’ve mentioned his situation before. You can learn more by following Tucson Anti-Repression Crew and you can hear a great interview on Loren’s case done by fellow CZN member, the ItsGoingDown podcast. You can donate to his support by cashapp’ing TARC ($TucsonARC) or paypal’ing to paypal.me/prisonsupport, don’t forget a note saying “For Loren”.

Daniel Alan Baker

In the run-up to the January 20th presidential inauguration, the far right around the US was threatening large, armed and violent rallies at US state capitols across the country. Daniel Alan Baker, a US army vet, former YPG volunteer combat medic, yoga instructor and leftist activist called for people to counter what could have been seen as the deadly sequel to January 6th events in DC. He was pre-emptively arrested by the FBI and is currently being held at Tallahassee’s Federal Detention Center. Like Loren Reed, he is facing years in prison for statements made on social media. For more information, check out this article in Jacobin Magazine, or a great chat with supporters of Daniel’s from CZN member-show Coffee With Comrades. Updates can be found at Instagram by following GuerillaGalleryTLH.

A-Radio Network Live Show

Join the A-Radio Network on Saturday, February 13th of 2021 from 14:00 till at least 20:00 o‘clock central European time, that’s 8am to 2pm eastern or New York time for our 6th transnational live broadcast of anti-authoritarian and anarchist radios from deep within where anarchy reigns.

Since 2016 this is an important part of our yearly gathering of the A Radio network. Due to the pandemic and strong restrictions given by Governments all over the world, this year’s gathering was forced online. But don’t worry, against all odds we will nonetheless join together online on February 14th to broadcast an international show full of interesting contributions and discussions with/from comrades based in different parts all over the world. And you, dear listeners are also invited!

So far, our topics will include international experiences of: prison resistance; anarchy in the time of covid; Far Rightwing threats; and experiences organizing mutual aid!

The show will be carried by (a) transnational and militant spirit which hopefully is highly infectious. We promise our bad anarchist jokes aren’t lethal.

You will find a more detailed schedule, a player for the show and a link to the livestream soon on www.a-radio-network.org and if you’d like to participate, you can also reach out to member projects that can be found on that same site!

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Musical tracks in this episode:

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Transcription

 

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with your name pronouns and any projects you affiliate with for the purpose of this conversation?

WCH: Hi, I’m WCH:, he, and I’m the host of the Working Class History podcast.

TFSR: Would you tell us a bit about the Working Class History project, how it got started, who was involved, and why you started it?

WCH: Basically it came out of some discussions that I have with some friends a few years ago. We’d been involved in lots of different activist groups over the years and publishing projects, and involved in different campaigns. Myself, I spent most of my time organizing at work. And social media, it’s obviously a really powerful tool, and we were thinking about how could we try and put out information—radical sort of information—on social media in a way that would go viral. And we’d also got very interested in reading about the history and learning about past struggles, because the more we did organizing ourselves and were involved in social movements and such, the more it gets a bit sort of frustrating on one level seeing in general, mainstream society, that there’s so little connection that most people have—especially people of our generation and younger—have with mass working class oppositional counterculture which used to exist. Especially in the UK, where I’m from. Most of us we don’t have that organic link with the past anymore where there’d be generations of union families in certain communities. We wanted to think how can we try and not bring that back immediately, but draw that link with the past and at the same time on the (you want to call it the Left or whatever or the workers movement or whatever term you call for it) thinking that so many people get involved in stuff each new generation gets involved in stuff, and they repeat the mistakes of the people that came before them. So all sorts of thinking about how can we try and learn from these struggles in the past and try and help get these lessons to new generations of workers and activists that crop up every generation. And then we thought people seem to like anniversaries, so let’s do that. We started doing that on social media. And we were hoping that it would be viral and it was a lot more successful than we thought, in that. Because I guess for people who are, like, a bit lefty or whatever, seeing a post on social media about something happened on this day, it gives them an opportunity to share something with friends, colleagues in a way that doesn’t seem random, because it is about something that happened today. So now I’m not just lecturing all my work colleagues and family about the Paris Commune of 1871 or whatever, it’s like, “Oh, this is a historical thing that happened today, this is interesting and you might find it interesting, too.” And I think it worked in that way. Because it does give an organic and nice way of sharing information without being a bit fun and without being preachy, or lecture-y, or whatever. So that’s where it came out of, and then as the project’s got bigger we just started trying to do other things like a podcast to look into a bit more detail. Because sometimes we get comments on the on post being like, “Oh, this doesn’t have a lot of background in it, or this should really have a bit more detail.” It’s a social media post. It’s not a PhD thesis or something. We recognize that. We wanted to look into stuff into a bit more detail so we can do it in a podcast. And for people who don’t like looking at stuff online and want to have more of a reference work, we’ve done a book now.

TFSR: I’d like to talk about the book. One thing that you described in there is not a thing that I’ve ever experienced growing up in, I guess, middle class community in the United States, is a knowledge or an expectation or an experience of what a multi-generational working class feeling is. I have tons of friends growing up who were working class. But I think that a thing that you’re describing and that your project is building towards is a little bit different and a little bit something that I’d love to hear if you have any more like insights into how it’s been described to you the sort of like edges that you’ve danced around in trying to create it and what a working class culture in the UK where you grew up, for instance, felt like. What delineates that from just the experience of people who are poor and working and trying to get by?

WCH: I grew up in the southeast of England which is one of the places where the erosion of sense of working class identity has really been very successful especially with policies brought in by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and onwards. The major industries where workers were best organized and most militant were systematically divided up and then defeated one after another, first with the mine workers, then with the print workers, also around the same time period steel workers, and shipping workers were defeated as well, and then later dock workers. So that was one side of it. And then another side of it was around housing, where social housing was attacked and instead ‘Right to Buy’ was introduced, which gave working class people the ability to buy their own council house, which was—especially in the southeast of England where I’m from—massively successful at converting what was a relatively large group of working class people who mostly were Labor voters and identified in that line of things. It was very successful at turning that collective sense of identity into a massive atomized individuals who can do better for them. Because buying your own council house was a move which did help those individual people who did it significantly. And that was the area that I sort of grew up in amongst a lot of people where that had happened. So their families had bought their own home and then had a sense of themselves as very middle class, mostly conservative individuals striving to do the best for themselves that they could. I’m one of the people from that generation that had no connection with these working class oppositional cultures that I just learned about later when I got into lefty ideas and radical politics.

TFSR: Would you mind talking a bit about the book that y’all just published through PM Press and sort of the process that you went through of compiling it? And what do you hope, as a project, that this book will spark or will bring out and people

WCH: The idea for the book came out of our discussions with our publishers, PM Press, who are a great independent, radical publisher, and who contacted us to see if we’d be interested in doing a book, because we hadn’t really thought about it. We were doing social media posts, and then a podcast, and we’d been involved in some print publishing in the past, but it was a huge amount of work and that put us off the whole-put us off the whole thing. PM talked us into it. And we were excited to do it because on a personal level, like, I love books. Books are great and doing one is great. Even, say, for people who follow us on social media, because of the large amount of other people are putting up posts and algorithms, people won’t see everything that we put out most the time only a fraction of a percent see anything that we put out. And also, because of algorithms, certain posts get much more prominent than others. So especially things that are more about countries where more of our followers live, like the US, that stuff gets a lot more engagement and then a lot more people see it. So people who even do follow us on social media might get a very narrow view of the historical events that we have in our archive. And also, of course, a whole bunch of stuff there aren’t photos of. And in this book we do have a lot of photos, we’ve got over 100 photos. We’ve also been able to feature a lot of stories from our archive where there are no images that exist, so we can’t put them on social media.

We wanted to put something out for people who enjoy consuming content in a different medium. And also to have more as a reference that you can flip through without having to look at a screen or whatever. And it was exciting to be able to think of putting together in terms of a whole, creating as a whole thing. So taking a random selection of everything that we post over a whole year, instead of what we normally do, which is every day we post a couple of things. It was good to think “we’ve got 366 days out of the year and these are the countries that we’ve got events about and we want to feature them the biggest amount of countries and have the most diverse range of stories possible with respect to gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, race, ethnicity,” and that sort of thing. And with the idea of the book being as diverse as our classes—we acknowledge in the introduction to the book that we have made a lot of efforts in this regard but we still have a long way to go due to the nature of the bias of the sources available to us, which are disproportionately about white guys in more developed Western countries. Most of our research over the past few years has been trying to find out and uncover stories about different parts of the world. But even that is tricky because of language stuff and even knowing what you can Google and such. So, while we’ve still got a way to go, we are still pleased at the range of different types of stories that we feature.

TFSR: It’s quite the tome. And it’s been remarked upon before, like, how much of it—so like, two events out of every date out of the year, including the February 29—which, “thank you” from leap your babies. And I appreciate the fact that there’s an index in the back because there’s a thing to be said about the way that we think about information and that we categorize it if your main impetus is, like, “what is the day today?” “What else has happened on this registered day in history?” That can be, in some happy ways, a bit lackadaisical. You’re not going to be flipping from one page to the next and saying, “Well, then what happened after the workers rose up or after the Soviet tanks came in or after, like, the British military massacred people in Kenya?” It’s interesting to just sort of get these little bite-sized morsels of history. And it seems to invite the reader to embark on a journey of research on their own afterwards, and sort of build the context for themselves as to why this is like important—build an understanding and maybe build wider networks with folks that were more directly affected by those historical events.

WCH: Yeah, that’s what we hope it will do. Like, we list all the sources that we use for each of the posts in the back. So that we do hope that if people see something that is interesting to them, they will go and look into it further. Because in our stories, we don’t try and tell people what they should take from them or what they should think because of them. We don’t want to tell people what to think or anything like that. Obviously we have a perspective, there’s a reason that we’ve put these stories in here. We want people to be able to read these stories and then look into them further if they want and figure out for themselves what the relevance is for them, their lives, and any struggles that they’re involved in.

TFSR: Class has a lot of meanings when it comes from different voices. And we’ve talked a little bit about your experience and basically with how class had been experienced by some people in the part of the world that you had grown up in. Can you talk a bit, for the purpose of this project, which I think was started by people in various parts of the world and not just in, like, the UK, for instance. Can you talk about the standards you used to determine something in the book or in the social media posts or in the podcast, or someone that falls within the parameters of what working class is? And why is it important to view it as a position of agency?

WCH: I think there’s so many different ways that you can talk about class. And they all have some validity. But for us, what’s important is we don’t use it as a system for classifying individuals. Our interest in it is as a political tool which is, how can we best understand society? And how can we then use that understanding in order to change it? And we think that class is a really essential tool in understanding that, especially living as we do in capitalist society. So capitalist society is based on the dispossession of the majority of the world’s population. We are dispossessed of means of production. So land, factories, workplaces, etc., we’re dispossessed of that. So that either by enclosures in European countries, and by colonialism pretty much everywhere else, were dispossessed of that, and therefore, we have to work for a wage for people who do own the means of production, who do own land, factories, blah, blah, blah. And that’s the defining feature of capitalist society. And that’s our broad understanding of class and how we use it. The defining feature of working class for us is this dispossession and then the requirement to either work for another or if you can scrape by on state benefits, if your government provides benefits, or petty crime, or whatever else you have to do. Some people use it—and I think in everyday parlance in the UK, it’s much more of a cultural thing. So what class someone says they have is often more to do with someone’s accent than anything else. The kind of British version of Donald Trump, the guy who hosts the Apprentice TV show, he’s, uh— I don’t know, if he’s a—he’s probably not a billionaire. He’s a very rich business owner called Alan Sugar. He sees himself as working class because his background is—that’s his background and that’s like his accent. And he can think that and that’s, that’s fine. That’s one sort of interpretation of it, but for our perspective, he’s an employer. And his wealth is from exploiting the people that have to work for him because we don’t own businesses.

So obviously in the US there’s even different —there’s all kinds of different ways we’ll have a talk about class. Like, in the US, unions mostly talk about the middle class, talk about being middle class. Because of struggles over the past 100 plus years, a good number of people in blue collar jobs have been able to improve their conditions to the point where they can have a decent standard of living because of the struggles they’ve had. So that there’s a lot of union talk in the US of unions defending the middle class, blah, blah, blah, which is funny, really, especially from a UK perspective where middle class normally means kind of like posh people that like films with subtitles and stuff. So we use it as, not about classifying individuals, but about understanding and changing society. So for example, in our archive we have stories about Oscar Wilde, the author and poet and libertarian socialist. And sometimes people will say things like, “He wasn’t working class.” And it’s like, yeah, fair enough. But his political ideas and the kind of world that he wanted to create was one in which working class people were in control of society and were really able to make the most of our lives and live vibrant, free, beautiful lives. That’s the thing that interests us the most, that for us is the key thing.

TFSR: There are examples in the book that do not take place directly within the framework of the means of production and employment—you point to the intersections between the dispossession and the wielding of state, religious, or social power against populations that are marginalized, whether by ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, place of birth. Can you can you talk a little bit about that widening too of the framework of working class? Because I’m sure there’s some people that are some pretty strict Marxists or workerists out there who are of the perspective that, “Well, that’s all fine and good, but that is not working class.”

WCH: And that was one of the reasons that we specifically chose the name that we did, as opposed to something more populist like “People’s History” ala Howard Zinn, a historian who is a big influence on us. Because those vulgar— want to call themselves Marxists or workerists or whatever, are a problem. People who, while they talk progressive talk about overhauling society and building a new type of world, what they often mean in a lot of ways is that they mean that for white male factory worker-type people, and everyone else like women, or Black people, or Indigenous peoples should pretty much be quiet and stop being “divisive” until the revolution, and then all the other problems can be sorted out and hunky dory. And we think that is pretty terrible, in short, not only from a moral perspective, but also it’s completely counterproductive. And it’s a misunderstanding of what class is. While these people may often criticize what they see as identity politics, which is, in most cases, just people in oppressed groups fighting for their own self-interests. They, in fact, are adopting a crude identity politics of their own on the identity of being working class, which they normally also see as excluding other types of identities. And class doesn’t exclude other identities, it overlaps and intersects with all other identities. Obviously, most trans people are working class, most other LGBT people are working class, and the vast majority of the world’s working class are people of color. And they’re located primarily in the global south. And every other type of oppression and exploitation overlaps and intersects with class. For example, things like abortion: wherever you are in the world, whatever the laws are, generally, if you’re rich, you can get an abortion if you need one. Whereas if you are poor, you may not be able to get one, even if it’s nominally legal where you are.

So things like abortion rights are inherently part of a class conflict, class struggle. Abortion rights is just one example—all other types of oppression, racism, homophobia, transphobia, all that sort of thing is very much linked to class, and any single part of our class, fighting for our own interests, benefits all of us because these workerist-type people who would say that struggles of women workers against the pay gap is a section— is a sectional thing, not in the interest of a class of a whole, say, they don’t have that same perspective when workers in one industry go on strike, or one employer go on strike for a pay increase, because they rightly recognized in that case that a victory for one group is a victory for all. And it’s exactly the same with different sections of the working class divided up by any other arbitrary characteristic.

Things like the super-exploitation of migrant workers, or particularly oppressed racial groups, the low pay for black workers in many countries, fighting against that specific racism, exploitation, raises the bar for everyone. So there’s not the constant race to the bottom, in terms of paying conditions where employers can use us to undercut one another. So we thought that was really important to get across. And also point to, historically, that often it has been the most oppressed and the most underpaid workers who have been at the forefront of organizing for better pay and conditions. Not like some populist lefty is trying to say about migrant workers being used to undercut good union jobs or what have you. But more often than not, migrant workers are really at the forefront of workers struggle fighting for better paying conditions and have been. And through history, whether it’s people like agricultural laborers in the United States, or whether it’s people like cleaners in London, England right now, leading so many struggles. Obviously, historically, in the US, women textile workers were often forgotten about. But women textile workers were the first group of workers who properly organized in factories and took strike action. And in the (US) South, black agricultural workers and workers in industries like logging and mining were central and leading in organizing and fighting for better paying conditions, which benefited everyone, including white male workers who often tried to exclude women or black people from their unions.

TFSR: So I’ll totally admit that I haven’t read the book cover to cover and the intro says that I don’t have to so I can just pick it up whenever and say, like, I wonder what happened on June 15. But I am looking forward to continually reading portions as the days passed. I’m noticing a libertarian bent to the stories that are told, for example, I haven’t seen any acts of state by so-called worker states represented as working class events in the book. Could you talk about that a little bit?

WCH: Yeah, well, our approach is summed up in our slogan which is on the back of the book and on our social media accounts, and that’s, “history is not made by kings, politicians, or a few rich individuals, it’s made by all of us.” So that’s the perspective we’re coming from. So the act of politicians and governments isn’t particularly interesting to us because we’re believers in the principle that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself. And that was one of the rules of the First International —the first big international socialist organization. And that’s our view of things, that the thing that drives history is not the actions of governments, politicians, or the powerful, it’s the everyday actions, often really small and unnoticeable, by millions, hundreds of millions, billions of us. So that’s what we focus on.

Although we do feature some events which have been done in our name. That have been done by governments which call themselves representatives of the working class. Because we think that as well as learning from successful struggles in the past, we should also learn from our mistakes where terrible crimes have been committed in the name of the working class. So some of the things we include are things like the Soviet Union re-criminalizing homosexuality, which was decriminalized during the 1917 revolution and then in the 1930s was re-criminalized. And that led to the huge numbers of gay and bisexual men being sent to the gulags, to labor camps, to suffer horribly. And that was done in the name of the working class and fighting fascism. We think it’s important to remind ourselves of these things that while those of us who say we want a new world, our ideas are beautiful ideas in a lot of ways. And that we want to create a great world where there’s a lot more happiness and joy than we have now, and a lot less suffering. It’s important to bear in mind that having these lofty ideas in our heads doesn’t always mean that that’s how they work out in practice. And we should be constantly vigilant not to think that the ends justify the means when it comes to certain things.

TFSR: You talked about the limitations of the project in the introduction, such as the limit to two events represented for each day. You also mentioned where you’re starting from, the types of events that you’re aware of, linguistic factors that determine the scope of what you could include. But can you talk about this work in your project in the social media, or in the archives, the work of translating your social media posts on the days of history? Or if you’ve had success through translation to bringing histories that were formerly out of your reach into that wider fold of your project?

WCH: Can I check? Do you mean translating stuff from other languages into English? Or do you mean vice versa?

TFSR: Into English is what I meant, to bring it to your existing audiences. But also, I would imagine that there’s a give and take when it comes to the fact that you’re now doing translations into Arabic and other languages and it seems like you’re trying to expand that framework. Is that right?

WCH: We are very fortunate in that a number of people have got in touch and have launched sister pages, essentially, of Working Class History in other languages. So at the moment there’s WCH sister pages in Arabic, Farsi, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Norwegian, Swedish, and the latest one is Romanian, which is really cool and really exciting to see. Some of those groups also are researching their own events and writing up their own history more about their part of the world. So the Farsi page has a lot of stuff about Iranian radical history, which is really fascinating. And the Arabic page as well about the Middle East. And that’s great, because that’s teaching us a bunch of stuff that we didn’t know. And the Portuguese lot as well are writing a load of great stuff, not just about Portugal but about—especially about struggles in former colonies like Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, and Bissau. So that’s really great for us. And in terms of us finding out things because, as I said, when we first started the social media page, we got a few radical history calendar-type-things and went through and wrote some stuff up, but the ones that we found were massively US and Western Europe and male-centric.

So like I said, the majority of the time we spent looking up new things have been to try and diversify that and correct the bias and imbalance that was in it right from the beginning. And for doing that—not that I want to give any big corporations any praise—but I love Google Translate so much. It’s such an amazing tool that it can do pretty decent, pass-able translations from so many languages into English. So we do use that a fair bit to find out about things. The problem with it being that if writing about something is only available in a language that you don’t speak, you wouldn’t even necessarily know to look something up there unless you had knowledge of it in the first place, which you might not have if it wasn’t in English, if you see what I mean. So it’s a bit—it’s a bit chicken and egg. Basically, when we find out about something in a country or a place that we haven’t heard of, we can use that as an entry point and then read things about it and use Google Translate. And then that references other things which we can then look up. We go down rabbit holes. It’s quite a fun way to—like, nerdy, but a fun way to spend an afternoon like going down a rabbit hole. I did that recently just reading up various things about struggles by Japanese students and things in the 1960s and 70s. I’m sure that there’s lots of stuff that has been written about kinds of stuff by people in academia at some point or by students at different universities or whatever. That’s not the background that we at WCH come from. We wouldn’t even know if any of that stuff exists because most stuff that’s written for academia is then just never heard from again by anyone outside of it, which is a shame I think.

TFSR: Or it’s just behind a paywall so you have to have the JSTOR—shout out to Aaron Schwartz, but most people don’t have that sort of access.

WCH: Exactly. So problems remain where, in the availability of information around the world, but at least on a positive, things do seem to be getting better in that regard. And I think a lot of the time just driven by ordinary people researching stuff and writing it up and then sharing on social media, and then you can find out about it, look into more and what have you, and find more kinds of things that have been digitized around the place. And the more of everything that’s made available online and translated, eventually, the more that we get to find out about all of it. But so it is exciting seeing new things get to get digitized and put online. Yeah, it’s a slow process.

TFSR: Like off topic a little bit, but to the Google Translate thing? Yeah, Google is a terrible company in its application. But also, like, six years ago I was in Istanbul and I remember—like, I don’t speak any Turkish—but I remember sitting in a cafe and one of the workers came up to talk to me because I was sitting in reading, and they asked me what I was reading in Turkish. And I was like, showed them my phone and, like, typed in to Google Translate to translate into Turkish, like, “I don’t speak Turkish, sorry.” And they just put up their phone and they were like, “Okay, well, I was wondering what you were reading—” We just had this conversation showing screens to each other and eventually got to see this, like, barista’s artwork that they wanted to show me that they had drawn and it was just neat to be able to have this conversation that would have been excluded if not for the fact that we had this intermediary technology standing between us. It’s Utopic if not for the fact that it’s owned by a terrible Skynet corporation that is trying to control all the library books.

WCH: I guess you could say at least their business model is more to let people use stuff for free and then just make money off our data in private information, rather than—don’t know if it’s better or worse. Certainly we can make use of it more than, like, the other companies that buy up historical images and then their model is to try and own all the images and then make people pay to use them. Those terrible, terrible things. Capitalism is like, it’s bad?

TFSR: It’s like it’s enclosing everything. So have you considered making a Working Class History page in Esperanto?

WCH: If someone would like to take that on and do that they are very welcome to.

TFSR: Very diplomatic.

WCH: We’ve got a bunch of stuff about that. Esperanto has a really exciting and interesting radical history. And, sadly, a guy that we are planning on doing an interview about him—a guy called Eduardo Vivancos, just died a few days ago, aged 100. He was a guy who, he fought in the Spanish Civil War in the Durutti Column Militia and survived the war, obviously, but he was also a very prominent Esperantist who wrote and did a lot of stuff spreading anarchist and working class ideas in Esperanto, and was able to communicate with lots of people in China and Japan, in particular, at that time. So I think certainly that Esperanto was a really exciting Utopian project at the time. It has a really interesting history.

TFSR: It’s really easy to point to the limitations of it being such a Euro-centric language and what have you. Like, it’s definitely an imperfect thing, but the approach and the desire to have some sort of universal tongue among peoples, it’s a really beautiful idea. A universal tongue that’s not distinctly just English or German or French or Spanish or whatever else. I know that Radio Libertaire in Paris has a weekly Esperanto show that tries to teach listeners how to speak it, which I think is pretty cool to see that still alive. I don’t know.

WCH: Just you saying that and I think that is—the idea is really cool and really Utopian. But what popped into my mind as well is also—also recently what is also about things like Indigenous languages. And so many languages are dying out. I say “dying.” Have been eradicated essentially by colonialism and neocolonialism, particularly with the spread of English. So it is heartening to see, it seems like there’s been a real like growth in interest in trying to—particularly by indigenous peoples—to re-popularize things like indigenous languages and other languages are dying out, which I think is also really important because on the flip side of universal communication there’s also that, like, because of how our brains work, so much of the language we speak shapes how we can imagine things and how our minds work and having languages die is—those whole ways of thinking die out along with them and which is really sad.

TFSR: So in the US, the last national regime was pushing a program of patriotic education, attempting to reform and shape the inculcation of public school students away from influences of critical race theory and projects like the New York Times 1619 projects, as well as “People’s History” ala Howard Zinn, who you mentioned before. States in the US have, with various levels of success, attempted to bar ethnic studies programs and to ban books like Zinn’s. Can you talk about the approach of “People’s History,” which you mentioned as being—or at least in name, at least a bit populist—and it’s maybe like, Zinn’s work or Studs Terkel or other documentarians of working class experiences, how it’s, like, influenced y’all in working class history and why you think the reactionaries find it so threatening, like that sort of approach to popular history?

WCH: Some of the stuff especially being pushed by the last government was extremely worrying with their very blatant attempts to rewrite history, especially for, like, right wing people who like to complain about Black Lives Matter activists trying to rewrite history by removing some statues, and they actually try to rewrite history by making a lot of shit up and lying about it. It’s ironic at the least, especially as it’s also so completely nonsensical that—yeah it is good that there has been a real growth recently in more people-based history, more grassroots history, more Black history, more Indigenous history more history told from the perspective of Black people, Indigenous peoples, and so on. And that is great, and that so many people are out there doing that. But at the same time, that idea in the right wing that these ideas are, like, Marxist indoctrination of schoolchildren is predominant in any public education system is to such a complete joke that. I mean, it’s obviously not funny because it’s extremely disturbed. The fact that a lot of educational institutions pay at least a bit of lip service to teaching about slavery or the civil rights movement, I think a lot of teachers and educators are doing really great work. In a lot of ways, the way that history is still taught for the most part is still very much top down, Euro-centric, colonial, blah, blah, blah.

So anyway, that’s a bit of an aside. People like Howard Zinn was really a big influence. Reading his book for the first time was very exciting. And I think on a personal level, I don’t think I really realized it at the time— I read “War and Peace” as a teenager by like Leo Tolstoy who was an anarchist, but I also didn’t realize that at the time. And intersperse—because the books about the sort of war and all these countesses and counts and whatever. And it’s really fucking long. For anyone who has or hasn’t read or whatever, interspersed through this really long story is a kind an essay about the nature of history. And the thrust of it being that, like, history is not—obviously Napoleon or whatever is a great man of history, but Napoleon is not what has made this history happen. What’s far more important is the infinitesimally small actions of tens of millions of people every single day that goes to create what history is. And I think when I read that, at the time, I thought that was a bit random that this essay was in here amongst all this sort of stories of aristocratic love and intrigue and everything. That actually stuck with me way more than the rest of the book. I think that probably had a real impact on how I think about things later. So obviously it did have an influence on me personally and on WCH in general.

And for reactionaries, yeah, it is threatening because the idea that we as ordinary people have the power to make history and change society is the most threatening thing for the people who are in power now. Because what is in their interests is the fatalistic idea which I think—I don’t know about most people, but probably most people have at least at some time—is that things are the way they are because that’s the way they have to be, and there’s nothing we can do about it. And things will never change, blah, blah, blah. Which is obviously what people thought under Feudalism that the divine right of kings was something which could never be—which was, it was in the natural order of things and it could never be question never be changed. But then when people realize that, actually—Ursula LeGuin was a legendary anarchist, feminist scifi author, who sadly died a couple of years ago, said, I can’t be the exact words, I am paraphrasing. It’s not the right quote, so don’t quote me on it. “Any society that’s made by humans, however, can be changed by humans” which is, of course, true.

TFSR: I think there is some truth to the argument that they’re rewriting history. Like when we push different narratives, it doesn’t mean that people are making up facts. But history is a narrative that—or a series of narratives that we choose to accept or that are accepted by institutions and that shape the way that we view ourselves and we view the society in which we live. And a fundamental shift in that way of adopting, funnily this view that two pacifist at least anarchist-adjacent individuals like Tolstoy and Zinn had of the world… I wouldn’t call it Cultural Marxism like a lot of people on the right do. I think that it does pose a threat to the way that the world is constructed. And we can think outside of the Feudal bounds that we’re stuck in now even.

WCH: Yes. Yes, I concur.

TFSR: Along those lines there is the rewriting of history. But this isn’t even necessarily part of it, this is a byproduct of the fact that people are rethinking their relationship to historical figures who are in primacy in the historical framework—the historiographies that most of us have grown up in the US under in mainstream society. It’s been the history of great men, to paraphrase Gang of Four.

And the breaking down of that, the rethinking of these public figures who do have statues around, whether it be Christopher Columbus, or Thomas Jefferson, or General Robert E. Lee, or Conquistadors or missionaries on the west coast—they’re not even just in the West Coast of the United States. Cecil Rhodes, or whoever—like, statues have been toppled. Statues were at the center of Unite the Tight number one in Charlottesville in 2017, August 12. It was a fight over statues and public representation. And similarly, throughout the United States south there have been the toppling of other statues and monuments, either to individuals or to symbolic ideas of the southern soldier, like, facing north ready to, like, fight back the siege and re-impose—continually impose white supremacy. Symbols like this mean a lot to people. Enough for people to fight over or to like struggle to destroy to build something else. Like, I’d be interested in hearing how Working Class History members felt during this last couple of years, but in particular, this summer during the uprising that took place in so many places around the world.

WCH: It was an exciting time. Not to play down obviously, it came out of horrific events the brutal on-camera murders of unarmed Black men around the US—not to downplay the horror of it. The upsurge in Black-led, self-organized protest and militancy, not just around the US, but that also had an impact, partly because of US cultural dominance of the planet in large part, that also saw similar protests breakout all over the world, and as well as parallel movements in Nigeria—again about police brutality by the colonial era police force. So on the one hand, there was the Black Lives Matter movement. And then at the same time, from our perspective, it looked like a real surge of interest from people in radical history, people’s history, the history of past movements and colonialism and social movements. We had a massive growth in new followers and interactions with our content that was unprecedented, which was exciting for us as a history project, but then also seeing how many of the kinds of discussions happening were about history and the nature of history and the telling of it was interesting and inspiring as well.

Talking about the negative impacts of colonialism that’s not something which I can recall being on the public agenda in my lifetime which is tremendously significant. And then seeing the physical manifestations of that top down—bourgeois if you want to call it right wing, colonialist, capitalist history in the statues of right wing, rich, enslaving, genocidal monuments have been built to these—I think (that) these statues that—they say what our civilization is supposed to be about. That’s what we acknowledge and revere is wealth, genocide, racism, colonialism, and all that. And seeing those symbols being toppled, or damaged, or just graffitied and denigrated. And my favorite one was the Colston statue in Bristol, of an enslaver in Bristol, just being thrown in the river. Chefs kiss! That was really sort of inspiring to see.

Then for some people on the right to complain about, oh, this is rewriting history. These things are happening because people have studied history and a lot of cases, their bodies and their selves, they’ve experienced and lived this history through their ancestors, the trauma and they’ve possessed that and they know their history and the history has been studied and it’s being talked about and this is happening because of the actual history of things. The statute is not the history, the statue is a piece of metal put up by some rich person. This is being done by people who actually know the history, not just whoever Tucker Carlson or some other right wing [beep] spews out about whatever—and especially because so many of these statues as well were erected in in the US south were erected by pro-Confederate, pro-slavery groups like the Daughters of the Confederacy, literally in an effort to rewrite history and change the narrative about what the Civil War was about. About state’s rights as opposed to the enslavement of human beings. So, it’s an interesting time to be a People’s Historian.

TFSR: Some of the stuff that happened over the summer really, like, reminiscent of that, like—and this is like an old, I don’t know how old it is, like the two examples I can think of are—as flawed as the invasion of Iraq was, it’s very flawed—as much as I wish that it had not happened—like, the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein was a pretty powerful public image. At least, I’m not sure how much it was organic and how much it was put together by the invading forces—or the like decapitation of the statue of Stalin in Budapest in 1956. That’s a, there’s some really cool photos of that. But people like their symbols and also people like destroying their symbols.

WCH: And also all the right wing hysteria about them is like absolute nonsense. Like I don’t know if it was seen over here in the US, but in the UK there was this right wing counter protest to Black Lives Matter that happened by these mostly fascists, and mostly fascist Nazi racist types. And from having been crying about, “Oh, they defaced he statue of Churchill,” or whatever. Obviously you can say a lot of bad things about Churchill or whatever. But also, Churchill did—was involved in a big war against Nazis. So I’m not really sure that he is your boy as much as you think. I mean, yeah, he was a racist, genocidal anti-Semite pro-fascist, whatever. So they had this big protest but they got caught on camera like pissing on statues because they’re just drunk Muppets pissing on the statues that a couple of weeks before they were like, “Oh, look at these thugs,” crying like Churchill was a racist on [inaudible] or whatever. Being like, “Oh, that’s outrageous,” and then they just go piss on them. So, how real is the outrage, huh?

TFSR: Yeah. Yeah, here, I don’t know. There was—I remember seeing footage of like a certain neighborhood in Philadelphia where just a bunch of Italian American people were out in this park defending a statue of Columbus because they were afraid that someone that Antifa was gonna come and topple it or something.

WCH: (There) could be a few less statues of Christopher Columbus and some more statues of like Sacco and Vanzetti and Carlo Tresca and if you want to tie in American statues.

TFSR: Yeah totally. A statue the Galleani. I would appreciate that more than, like, a statute of Frank Rizzo. I think they took that one down at least but it was like a racist reactionary. Police Chief in—

WCH: Yeah, in Philly. I think that got blown up at least once or twice didn’t it?

TFSR:

I don’t know about that. The—maybe? The ones that I remember being—or the one that I remember being blown up that was to the police was the—

WCH: Haymarket one.

TFSR: Yeah, the Haymarket one. I think that’s great. That’s maybe the best thing the Weather Underground ever did.

WCH: Yeah, it was similar to a statue of Margaret Thatcher was decapitated by a man with a cricket bat when it was unveiled in England a few years ago that was a fun day.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Back to the interview…

WCH: Yep. Yep. Yeah.

TFSR: So I’ve been a fan of the Working Class History podcast for a while now. Would you talk about the work there and what you choose to cover in it? And do you have any favorite episodes that stand out?

WCH: Well, as I said, we started doing the podcast to try and look some more into some of these stories, and in particular, capture the voices of participants who took part in some of these movements and struggles, to learn from their experiences. We’ve been doing that for a while now. And in terms of what we choose to cover, we’ve got a massive list of episodes that we want to work on. It’s like 160 episodes or something and constantly growing. What we’re trying to do right now is prioritize producing episodes about social movements where the participants are at risk of, because of age, not being able to— And sadly a couple of people that we had lined up to interview about things have died recently before we were able to speak with them. So we’re trying to do a fair bit of stuff about struggles in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s right now, for the most part. Again, as with the rest of project, we tried to have a diverse selection of different types of stories and movements.

We’ve got a couple of series that we’re working through. They’re kind of intermittent series on themed things. We’ve pretty much wrapped up now our series about the Vietnam War where we had a lot of episodes about that, including possibly—I don’t know if it’s my favorite one, but certainly one of—it’s a miniseries about the Columbia Eagle Mutiny where we speak with a guy called Alvin Glatkowski. He was a merchant sailor during the Vietnam War. He was working on a ship with a friend of his, called Clyde McKay, that was carrying 10,000 tons of napalm to be used by US forces in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. He and Clyde hijacked a ship at gunpoint and sailed it to Cambodia, which was neutral, and his story is incredible. He hadn’t been recorded telling that story before. Hearing him tell it and then being able to put it out was something that personally I’m really proud of. And it’s a great story and a crazy story as well. So that’s a favorite, for sure.

Also, on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York, where LGBT people rose up against police harassment, was able to get in touch with few people who participated in the rebellion and were involved in the organizing afterwards, where people set up the Gay Liberation Front, which revolutionized the LGBT rights movement. That was really inspiring to talk to these people as well.

Another occasional series we’ve got is about the British Empire. And we did an episode on the—it was quite timely actually because it was while a recent wave of riots were happening in Hong Kong. I met with a bunch of people who were involved in the Hong Kong riots in 1967 against British occupation, British colonialism. And that was super interesting because I knew almost nothing about that before starting doing the research for that episode. So it was super interesting just to learn about their experiences growing up in British colonial Hong Kong. Especially because it’s always spoken about quite widely is an example of British colonialism done well, and getting to the meat of that. Because up until these riots took place, Hong Kong was a trading post, obviously, but also had a large number of super-exploited factory workers working in like really appalling conditions, making things like—the factory where it was started was a plastic flower factory, and things like that. And it was these riots in 1967 that were successful in substantially changing the nature of British colonialism in the country from a more openly violent and repressive, racist colonialism to, I guess you call it, I don’t know, a more kind of—more friendly Hillary Clinton-style of colonialism, if you want to call it that. So even these examples, people choose of colonialist capitalism being not so bad or what have you, it’s not due to any—it’s not due to the benevolence or the generosity of the oppressors or exploiters or the business owners or whatever. It was due to the self-organized struggle of the workers and the people in the area. So that was really interesting chatting to them as well. And also, in that one of the people I was talking … During the riots there was like a really high profile murder of a right wing talk show personality and that murder was a notorious unsolved murder in Hong Kong history. One of the participants in the interview basically told me who did it. Enough time had passed. And not the name of the person, because obviously they have descendants who could essentially the reasons behind it. I’m kind of a true crime buff, like in my personal life—it doesn’t accord with my political views at all. Other than that I do—

TFSR: Everybody gets their your guilty pleasures, that’s fine.

WCH: No, exactly. And a lot of stuff I listen to is about miscarriages of justice and stuff like that. There’s too many. A really great chat I had as well was a guy called Tariq Mehmood who is a member of the Asian Youth movements in Britain, who fought against racism in the 70s and 80s. Those are the first ones that jump into my mind right now. I’m sure I’m forgetting… I could keep going but I won’t.

TFSR: I know y’all had taken a break at some point. And so I dropped off and restarted it. But the ones for me that really stuck out—and I had to like do a little searching because it’s been a while—are the anti-Zionism movement in Israel I thought was a really fascinating multi-part episode. There was the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit, and sort of contextualizing that. And just the Angry Brigade episode I thought was really fascinating to hear voices affiliated with that. And the Grunwick Strike in 1976 I had no context for, that just sort of, like, opened up a lot of conversation for me of experience of, like, workers struggle in the UK among immigrant populations. And there’s just a lot in each of those discussions. And it’s really easy to talk about the context that you can grab out of that that explains where we’re at right now. It explains little snippets of these struggles that people have had that resonate with experiences that others have had. I really enjoyed those ones.

WCH: Cool, thanks. Some of those early ones, apologies for anyone who listen. The quality of them isn’t so great, but we have got better since then from a quality point of view as we’ve learned. And there was a reason that we did the Grumwick Strike episode first. Because we thought that was important just from the things that we’ve spoken about today, because that was an example where this was a group of—they were East African Asian women workers who self-organized a massive and militant struggle that lasted two years. And were unfortunately defeated in the end because the forces against them were just too powerful. Up until that point, the British trade union movement was chauvinist, essentially. The overarching thrust of the movement was towards excluding Black and Asian—Asian, meaning South Asian, primarily anyway—workers and trying to protect privileged conditions for their white members, as opposed to organizing all workers and fighting collectively for better conditions. And the women in the Grumwick Strike pretty successfully exploded that (myth). Obviously there’s still that chauvinist, nationalist current within the work, but it’s much more minor now. Worrying it seems to be getting a bit bigger with—it’s unclear how really it is, and maybe more Twitter-type personalities, villains like Paul Embry who are trying to resurrect this pro-nationalist idea of a traditional working class of white blokes—as opposed to workers uniting together in our class interests. That strike really successfully changed the general atmosphere of the workers movement in a way that made working people stronger, because of course we’re stronger when we’re united fighting against employers, when we’re not fighting amongst ourselves over scraps.

TFSR: So are you all seeking more help with the project? You’ve talked about sister pages coming up and translation work. If you are looking for more help in providing historical insights or translation work, I guess, like video editing, what sort of ways can people participate?

WCH:

There’s all kinds of ways people can help out. The primary things that we need help with at the moment are things around fact checking research and translation. So if anyone is up for helping with that, that would be amazing. Just get in touch. Email us on info@workingclasshistory.com.

TFSR: And where can listeners find out more about your work and grab the book?

WCH: Well, you can follow us on social media, just search whatever platform you’re on for Working Class History. You can listen to our podcast on every major podcast app like Apple, Spotify, whatever, just search Working Class History. There’s links to all of our information on our website, workingclasshistory.com. And you can get the book on our online store, which is at shop.workingclasshistory.com. And all of our work is funded through our readers and listeners on Patreon where you can also get the book for free depending on your patron level and access exclusive content at patreon.com/workingclasshistory.

TFSR: John, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you Thanks a lot for taking the time.

WCH: It was really fun, thanks for having me. And I hope that for the theme music for this you can get the rights to a Gang of Four “Not Great Men,” because I think that would be very appropriate.

Class Power on Zero Hours: A chat with Angry Workers

Class Power on Zero-Hours: A chat with Angry Workers

"Class Power On Zero Hours" book and a molotov, classy
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This week, you’ll hear Kiran and Marco of the Angry Workers, a collective of anti-authoritarian communists struggling to think through and build workers autonomy from the UK. For the hour, they talk about their organizing and the book they just published, “Class Power On Zero-Hours” (available from PM press and currently 50% off if you purchase from the publisher using the discount code ‘GIFT’).

Over 6 years, the Angry Workers got jobs in West London in factories, warehouses and logistics, building relationships with coworkers and neighbors from origins worldwide, and getting their hands dirty building working class power alongside other precarious and gig workers. The book documents attempts at building a solidarity network, their newspaper to open dialogue (called Workers Wild West) and engagements in workplace action and organizing. They worked inside and outside of trade unions and the IWW, assessing victories, defeats and lessons to move forward with and sharing glimpses into the struggles and ideas of the people they worked and lived with. This book is an amazingly detailed exploration of building solidarity, learning from mistakes and working towards a collective vision for liberation amongst the labouring classes at the points of production and reproduction.

Announcement

Jason Renard Walker Parole

Incarcerated journalist and author Jason Renard Walker, minister of Labor for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) will have a parole hearing coming up soon in Texas. Jason has faced serious backlash from white supremacist gangs and guards due to his activism and reporting while held by the TCDJ, so much so that he was recently transferred to a new prison, apparently because of the threats he was facing at Clements Unit. Jason’s book,about which we got to interview him earlier this year, “Reports from Within The Belly Of The Beast: Torture and Injustice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice”, is now available in paperback as well as digital via Amazon, and his writings have regularly been published by the SF Bay View National Black Newspaper. Letters of support for his parole will go a long way toward getting the parole board to release Jason so that he can finish his Federal stint and get back to the outside. Check our show notes for details on where to write and suggestions on content.

Here’s some information about supporting Jason in this effort:

Dear Supporters of Jason Renard Walker,

Jason’s parole hearing is coming up and we urgently need your help with writing letters. Here is a guide on how to write a persuasive parole letter if you need it:  https://pigeonly.com/pigeonly-blog/how-to-write-a-parole-support-letter/

Letters should be sent right away to:

Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Austin, TX 78757

Things to mention (per Jason):

* Your relationship to Jason,
* Any credentials you have,
* Positive things you know about Jason,

When Jason is paroled from Texas he will immediately begin a minimum six-year federal prison sentence.

Jason said that the most common reason for denial of parole is that the prisoner is a threat to the community, and that his continued incarceration will prevent him from any contact with the general community. He is also worried because TDCJ has poor covid prevention measures.

As many of you know, Jason was facing problems with a white supremacist gang recently and in response, he has been moved to another prison. Jason’s current address is:

Jason Renard Walker #1532092

Michael Unit

2664 FM 2054

Tennessee Colony, TX 75886

. … . ..

Featured music:

  • Anotha One by Apollo Brown from Trophies (instrumentals)
  • Class War by The Dils

Gord Hill on Art and Resistance

Gord Hill on Art and Resistance

"Learn from the past, prepare in the present, to defend the future" in red text split by bars of Gord Hill's Kwakwaka’wakw nation-inspired inkings
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Gord Hill is an indigenous author, anarchist, antifascist and militant, a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation living in so-called British Columbia, Canada. Gord is also graphic artist and comic book author who most recently published The Antifa Comic Book, out from Arsenal Pulp Press, and runs the website Warrior Publications and sometimes publishes under the nom-de-plume of ZigZag.

For the hour we speak about his writings documenting indigenous resistance history in the so-called Americas (mostly with a focus on Turtle Island), antifascist organizing, intersections of indigenous struggle and anarchism and critiques of Pacifism (see Gord’s “Smash Pacifism” zine). Some of the points of resistance that we cover include Elsipogtog (Elsipogtog in 5 Minutes video at sub.media), Idle No More, The Oka Crisis (“The Oka Crisis in 5 Minutes” video at sub.media), Stoney Point/Aazhoodena (another 5 minutes video by Gord), Gustafsen Lake (we didn’t talk about but another 5 minute video), the Zapatista Rebellion and the Unist’ot’en Camp resistance to pipelines in so-called B.C.

Sean Swain: [ 00:033:55 ], Gord Hill [ 00:11:27 ], announces at [ 00:57:29 ]

Rayquan Borum Trial Update

In a brief and sad update to last week’s interview on the case of Rayquan Borum, we’d like to read a statement from the fedbook page for Charlotte Uprising:

We are deeply saddened to report that Rayquan Borum has been found guilty of possession of a firearm and second degree murder with him being sentenced to 25/26 years in a cage.

We knew it would be difficult to receive a fair trial in the same court that allowed Officer Randall Kerrick to walk free for the murder of unarmed Jonathan Ferrell. We know the police will continue to kill Black and brown folks and escape accountability.

We suffered extreme suppression from the judge from the start of the trial. Even though the medical examiner testified there was a 51% chance that ANYTHING else killed Justin Carr, Judge Hayes would not allow any testimony naming the police. Of course, it is far easier to scapegoat a random Black man than to launch an investigation into the same police force that killed ONLY Black people in 2015.

We also know that Justin Carr would be alive were it not for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department murder of Keith Lamont Scott (no trial for that officer, of course). We know that the Mecklenburg County Courts disproportionately sentence Black and brown bodies to time in cages. We know that CMPD disproportionately arrests Black and brown folks. Black people are 30% of Charlotte’s population and make up about 70% of the jail population.
Heinous.

We know that this is the American Way. In response, we will continue to rise up and resist this colonized nation and work toward building a more decolonized world, for all of us.

Forward, together

#CMPDKilledJustinCarr #CagesFixNothing #FreeThemAll #CMPD #RayquanBorum #MecklenburgCounty #NoMoreKIllerCopsOrJails

A few house keeping notes about the show. We’re happy to announce that The Final Straw is now available on the Pacifica Radio platform for affiliate stations to pick up more easily. If you, dear listener, live in an area where we aren’t on the radio but there’s a community station that airs programming from the Pacifica Network, you now have a WAY easier IN to bug the station’s programming director with. If you want us on your airwaves, check out our “broadcasting” tab on our website and reach out to a local radio station. If you have questions or want help, reach out to us and we’re happy to chat. We hope to have a some more terrestrial broadcast stations to announce soon.

Actually, yah, that was the only note. Tee hee. Otherwise, if you want to hear me, Barchive is linked up in our show notesursts, Dj’ing a 2 hour set of punk, goth and electronica on AshevilleFM, an archive is linked up in our show notes that’s available until March 12th.

Announcements

Asheville Events

If you’re in the Asheville area, there’re a few events coming up on March 16th of note. At 11am at Firestorm books, a participant in the Internationalist Commune, a self-organized collective in Northern Syria, will join us for a video chat about the revolutionary movement to transform Kurdish territory into a stateless society.

Later, across town, there’re a couple of Blue Ridge ABC events at Static Age on Saturday, March 16th. From 3-5pm there’ll be an N64 Super Smash Brothers tournament with vegan philly cheese steaks and fries available, and then from 9pm onward an antifascist black metal show featuring Arid from Chicago, plus local bands Rat Broth and Feminazgul.

Then, a reminder, that on March 22nd at the Block Off Biltmore is a benefit for info-sharing between Southern Appalachia and Rojava. The event will include a discussion, a short documentary showing, vegan desserts and nice merchandise. For more info, check out the flyer in our shownotes from March 3rd, 2019.

And now a couple of prisoner announcements

Chelsea Manning Imprisoned

U.S. Army whistleblower and former Political Prisoner, Chelsae Manning, has been jailed for criminal contempt for refusing a subpoena to participate in a Federal Grand Jury in Virginia concerning her 2010 disclosures to Wikileaks of U.S. drone killings of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. A support committee called “Chelsea Resists!” has been set up and updates will be coming from the website xychelsea.is and there’s a fundraiser up at actionnetwork.com for her as well. We hope to feature members of her support as well as former Grand Jury resisters who’ve been on this show before in an episode soon. You can write to Chelsea at the following address:

Chelsea Elizabeth Manning

AO181426

William G. Trusdale Adult Detention Center

2001 Mill Road

Alexandria, VA 22314

Some quick guidelines to keep her safer while writing are in the show notes

  • Address your letter exactly as shown above
  • send letters on white paper
  • use the mail service to send letters
  • include color drawings if you’d like
  • sparingly send 4×6 photos, as she may only keep 10 at a time
  • Do not send cards, packages, postcards, photocopies or cash
  • Do not decorate the outside of the envelope
  • do not send books or magazines

Exonerated Vaughn 17 prisoners transferred out of state

As the cases proceed against the Vaughn17, 17 prisoners on trial in Delaware for a prison uprising following the election of Trump as president, an uprising sometimes compared to the Lucasville Uprising, repression continues.

The uprising was as follows: prisoners took over Building C at the Vaughn prison in Smyrna, Delaware, and took three prison guards and one prison counselor hostage. Demands issued during the hostage standoff included that Delaware Governor John Carney investigate poor living conditions at the facility. One correctional officer who was taken hostage, Steven Floyd, would later be found dead after police re-entered the facility. The case can be followed at vaughn17support.org as it enters it’s third trial group. A few words from the support site note the continued repression of some of the court-exonerated prisoners:

The State of Delaware retaliated against defendants in the Vaughn uprising trial last week, by moving them out of state to Pennsylvania.

Kevin Berry, Abednego Baynes, Obadiah Miller, Johnny Bramble, Dwayne Staats, and Jarreau Ayers were all transferred to solitary confinement at SCI Camp Hill, a maximum security facility. They joined Deric Forney, who was transferred weeks earlier in January. Berry, Baynes, and Forney have all been fully acquitted on all charges.

“It’s unusual to move prisoners with short terms left in their sentence out of state,” said Fariha Huriya, an organizer working closely with Vaughn 17 prisoners. “They’re being held in solitary confinement, with no showers, no access to commissary, and limited phone calls. It’s the same inhumane conditions that they faced at James T. Vaughn.”

“The State’s vindictiveness will cost them,” said Betty Rothstein, who also organizes with the prisoners. “The Vaughn 17 have resisted these charges, and will continue to resist and expose the corruption of the DOC and abuse on prisoners.”

There are nine defendants who are still awaiting trial. New trial dates for groups 3 and 4 are scheduled for May 6th, 2019, and October 21st, 2019.

. … . ..

Playlist

Donald Rooum, pt1: Author, Cartoonist + Anarchist

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This week’s episode is part one of two (keep an eye out for part two in the future). Most of this show post is notes about repression updates, calls to take part in demonstrations and to support repressed prisoners. YAY!

Donald Rooum

This week, we invite you to listen in on the first part of a conversation we had with 90 year old anarchist, cartoonist and author, Donald Rooum. Donald was born 1928 in Bradford, UK. Donald is most known for his longtime illustration of the wiley, bomb-throwing, firebrand anarchist cartoon character, Wildcat. In this episode, Donald talks about his early political trajectory and development from childhood involvement during World War II in a Communist Party front group into anarchism via the speakers corner in Hyde Park. Donald talks about the Malatesta Anarchist Club, his artistic development and love of cartooning and engagement with activism to stop corporal punishment in schools in the U.K. and ideas about social change and anarchist intervention.

Donald’s work was recently the focus of an animated film  by film-maker Adam Luis-Jacob. Here’s a brief biography with some of Donald’s art (including some Wildcat comics).

Some notes from the conversation (followed by announcements):

Donald was published in:

Peace News website and wikipedia page
Freedom (newspaper) website + wikipedia + Donald’s
history of Freedom
Freedom Press website and wikipedia page
Donald’s Intro to Anarchism on anarchistlibrary
Donald’s “The Ethics of Egoism” on anarchistlibrary
Some low-quality images of Donald’s at Spunk.Org

People Donald mentions:

Philip Sansome (UK anarchist) wikipedia
Vernon Richards (UK anarchist) wikipedia
Article from 1945 reprinted on shutting of the War
Commentary / Freedom Paper
Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu (Zanzibari Revolutionary
Nationalist) wikipedia
Colin Ward (UK anarchist) wikipedia
works by Colin Ward at anarchistlibrary
David Hockney (artist) wikipedia
Nicholas Walter (anarchist + atheist) wikipedia
Benjamin Tucker (American anarchist) wikipedia
Works by Benjamin Tucker at anarchistlibrary
Ken Reid (British cartoonist) wikipedia

STOPP in wikipedia

Announcements:

Sean Swain

Sean Swain, a long-term anarchist prisoner in Ohio, has come under fire by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The ODRC has increased Sean’s security level from 3 to 5b, an increase that has sent him to solitary confinement, led to him being handcuffed during visits, and further removed him from any possibility for parole. Additionally, the ODRC is threatening to put Sean on interstate compact, a system that ships subversive prisoners around the country, places heavy restrictions on communication, and interns them in the black hole of the interstate compact system. We’re calling for any who feel compelled by Sean’s plight to call ODRC director Gary Mohr and demand that Sean’s appeal to the current disciplinary hearing be granted and that Sean’s security level be lowered. (A script for the call can be found below.)

Thank you all. Your solidarity means so much.

some friends of Sean Swain”

Call: Director Gary Mohr 614-387-0588 drc.publicinfo@odrc.state.oh.us melissa.adkins@odrc.state.oh.us (Administrative Assistant for Mohr)

CALL-IN SCRIPT:

“I am calling on behalf of Sean Swain, inmate #243-205. I am a friend of Sean. I am calling to request the ODRC grant Mr. Swain’s appeal regarding his most recent disciplinary record, drop the charges, and lower his security level from 5b to 2. Mr. Swain is not a physical security risk, and there is no reason to keep him at such a high security rating where he will be unable to get the programming he needs to be eligible for rehabilitation and parole. Thank you for your consideration.”

In prisoner news, we’d like to start off with a little bit of positivity:

Nicole Kissane, indicted in 2015 for conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act via releasing thousands of animals from fur farms and destroying breeding records in Idaho, Montana, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, was released after 21 months in federal prison. She still has 3 years of supervised release, but she’s out from behind the actual bars. Welcome home, Nicole!

In local concerns:

If you’re in the Asheville area next weekend, August 3-5, consider Pansy Fest II, a DIY queer/trans music and art festival. The fun starts at 2pm on Friday the 3rd at the Mothlight with a full-ticket of bands and ending out with a dance party til 2am. The weekend includes workshops at Firestorm Books & Coffee with more shows & after parties. Proceeds will go to support the Trans Kindred Fund & Tranzmission Prison Project. More info on their fedbook, or by emailing pansyfestavl@gmail.com

And now a few updates from the world of anti-fascist street presence:

First, coming up fast in early August, fascist and proto-fascist groups are trying to build up some steam for the one year anniversary of the Unite The Right rally on August 12th. The Islamophobic and Western Chauvinist groups Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys are calling for a demonstration and plan to amass a large and likely violent mob in Portland, OR, on August 4th. Antiracists are organizing under #AllOutPDX & #StopTheHate. So a coalition called PopMob, or popular mobilization, is organizing a broad event on August 4th at 10:30 at PDX city hall and then moving at 11:30 to join the larger event at Chapman Square. You can find more information by checking itsgoingdown.org, or finding the events on fedbook called “Stop The Hate” and “Resist Patriot Prayer”. The latter is being called by Eugene Antifa & other groups and will meet up at 11:30 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Then a week later on the east coast of the so-called U.S. on August 12th there is a call for an Antifascist/Abolitionist Bloc to join the resistance to the far right’s call for the Unite The Right 2 at a time and place to be announced on the site ShutItDownDC.org and news can be found under the tag #DefendDC & #AllOutDC.

Mumia

On August 30th in Philadelphia, PA at 13th and Filbert there will be a rally during the hearing of imprisoned journalist, intellectual and former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal. From 8am til 11am people are asked to show up in support of this man who has spent nearly 40 years in prison, 30 of it in solitary on death row, for a political show trial for the killing of a cop many believe he didn’t commit. Whether he did or didn’t, Mumia was obviously railroaded for his political beliefs and his reporting critical of the Philly PD & the administration of Frank Rizzo. More on the event, including the nature of the current legal motion, can be found on fedbook.

#August21 Repression Starts

People are pushing back. For starters:

Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan

There is a phone zap in support of Lucasville Uprising prisoner and death row inmate, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, a voice you’ve heard on this show before. Hasan, a member of the Free Ohio Movement and outspoken activist behind bars for peoples dignity, is believed to be suffering similar repression as he did in the run up to the 2016 National Prison Strike. He has been transfered into the hole, likely as a way to shut him up. There is a phone zap called by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee on Monday, July 30th between 9am and 5pm central time. Details forthcoming on the fedbook event.

Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, a leader of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (NABPP) and member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), whose organizing was discussed in DHS/FBI fusion center “terrorism threat assessment” publications as far back as 2009 (page 50) is being kept in solitary confinement after being given an “inciting a riot” charge for writing an article about the Operation PUSH strikes in Florida, and has faced punitive transfer after transfer.;

Keith “Comrade Malik” Washington

Keith “Malik” Washington, a Texas inmate who is also involved with the NABPP and IWOC, has spent the past two years in ad-seg (solitary confinement) on a bogus riot charge connected to his involvement in the 2016 prison strike. He was due to be released from ad-seg, but then had his clearance abruptly revoked and was sent back to solitary on the grounds that the classifications committee had “received additional information” from the Fusion Center in Texas. He has also had issues with medical information about his health issues mysteriously disappearing, leading to the administration putting him in dangerous situations, and is currently being held in an extremely hot and humid punishment cell that he describes as being like “a living hell” and causing headaches, nosebleeds and dizziness.;

Jason Renard Walker

Meanwhile, Jason Renard Walker, another Texas inmate involved with the NABPP and the 2016 strikes, and a contributor to the Fire Inside zine, has managed to get released from solitary, but faces constant threats and harassment from staff, including threats to send him back to solitary on bogus charges for things as simple as asking for water and medical attention, and trying to get back into his own cell so he can use a fan to cool down.

Both Malik and Jason have reported having their mail tampered with, and the explicitly political nature of this censorship was made clear in a conversation with a prison official who told Jason that any writing containing the words “black panther” would be treated as gang material.

Supporting the prison strike means monitoring and opposing the repressive methods that the prison system uses to try and break it, and paying attention to the treatment of 2016 strike organizers like Rashid, Malik, Jason and others can indicate the tactics that are likely to be used more widely in the weeks to come.

Numbers and scripts to call in with for Malik’s situation:

Malik has specifically requested a call-in campaign urging Texas legislators to investigate the conditions at the McConnell Unit. Below are some details of Texas legislators and TDCJ officials, along with a suggested script you can use:

John Whitmire, chair of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee –

(512) 463-0115 or (713) 864-8701

john.whitmire@senate.texas.gov (713) 864-5287 (fax)

Sylvia Garcia, member of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee –

(512) 463-0106 or (713) 453-5100

sylvia.garcia@senate.texas.gov (512) 463-0346 (fax)

José Menéndez, member of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee –

(512) 463-0126 or (210) 733-6604

jose.menendez@senate.texas.gov or (512) 463-2424 (fax)

James White, chair of the House Committee on Corrections – (512) 463-0490 or (409) 283-3700 James.White@house.texas.gov or (512) 463-9059 (fax)

Alma Allen, vice-chair of the House Committee on Corrections – (512) 463-0744 or (713) 776-0505

Alma.Allen@house.state.tx.us or (512) 463-0761 (fax)

Abe Martinez, US Attorney – (713) 567-9349 or abe.martinez@usdoj.gov

Ryan K Patrick, US Attorney – (713)-567-9000

Bryan Collier, TDCJ Excecutive Director – (936) 437-2101 / (936) 437-2123 or exec.director@tdcj.texas.gov

Billy Hirsch, TDCJ Deputy Director – Billy.Hirsch@tdcj.texas.gov

Philip Sifuentes, McConnell Unit Warden – (361) 362-2300 or philip.sifuentes@tdcj.texas.gov

Miguel Martinez, Regional Director with responsibility for the McConnell

Unit – (361) 362-6328 or miguel.martinez@tdcj.texas.gov

Patricia Chapa, Assistant Regional Director – Patricia.Chapa@tdcj.texas.gov

Emil Garza, Assistant Regional Director – Emil.Garza@tdcj.texas.gov

Garth Parker, Telford Unit Warden – (903) 628-3171

garth.parker@tdcj.texas.gov

Billy Howard, Assistant Regional Director with responsibility for the Telford Unit – billy.howard@tdcj.texas.gov

Carl McKellar, Assistant Regional Director with responsibility for the Telford Unit – carl.mckellar@tdcj.texas.gov

“Hello, my name is —-, and I am contacting you about conditions in the prisons run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

I demand that the dangerous conditions of extreme heat and humidity that are widespread in units such as the McConnell and Telford Units are fully investigated and rectified immediately. I further request that immediate heat relief measures are put in place, as this is especially urgent for prisoners with health issues.

The prison administration needs to stop the retaliation and harassment of whistleblowers such as Keith Washington (TDCJ 1487958) and Jason Walker (TDCJ 1532092). This retaliation includes, but is not limited to, unjustified use of solitary confinement as a punishment for constitutionally protected speech, denial of parole applications, and direct threats of harm. Please be aware that the State of Texas and the TDCJ may be held legally responsible for any harm suffered by these or any other inmates as a result of the administration’s negligence or punitive actions.

The practice of giving guards quotas of disciplinary reports to meet must also be stopped at once, as this leads to the generation of false or trivial reports as a way of meeting quotas.

In closing, I also wish to state my support for the demands of the ongoing prison strike movement.

Yours sincerely,”

Other ways to help Malik:

1. *Finding legal representation*

Malik has stated that he urgently needs professional legal help in challenging the various forms of harassment he has been subjected to, particularly the interference with his mail. If you know of any sympathetic lawyers or other legal-minded folk who might be able to help, please contact them and ask if they could take the case on.

2. *Write to the comrades!*

Every letter they receive lifts their spirit and protects them, because it lets prison officials know they have people around them, watching for what happens to them. It should also be possible to contact them via jpay.com if you prefer.

Keith H. Washington, #1487958
McConnell Unit
3100 South Emily Drive
Beeville, TX 78103

Jason Renard Walker, #1532092
Telford Unit
3899 Hwy 98
New Boston, TX 75570

Kevin Johnson, #1007485
Sussex 1 State Prison
24414 Musselwhite Dr.
Waverly, VA 23891

Shameless Plug

If you’ve made it this far into the announcements, you are obviously a glutton for punishment. Congrats! Now, we’d like to invite you to help us out a bit. The Final Straw Radio has been bringing you interviews with anarchists, anti-capitalists, feminists, eco-defenders, anti-racists and anti-fascists, prison rebels and prison abolitionists, authors and iconoclasts every week since 2009. And we’ve only been getting better. If you appreciate the work that we do, here’re a few things you can do to show your appreciation:

If you live in an area with a community radio station, one of those that isn’t run by something like ClearChannel and just bumping the top 40’s hits nor one that’s preaching a gospel of pie in the sky when you die, consider helping us get onto your local airwaves. Community radio is often a shoestring venture with little locally produced content and is often happy for suggestions of what may bring listeners to their airwaves and get involved in local media and activism. If you are one of the lucky ones who lives near one of these stations, you can email the station or programming director and say that you are an avid listener and that you want to hear The Final Straw Radio on your local airwaves. Tell them that our show is free to air, that we produce an FCC-acceptable show that won’t get them tattled on and that we produce it consistently, each Sunday night at 59 minutes in length. You can find out more about our radio option at our website by clicking the “Radio Broadcasting” tab.

Another way you can help us out might be to share our podcast with people you care about in your community. You could rate us on iTunes so more people will see us, or share us on the obnoxious social medias that we are present on which you can find links to on the kontact page of our website. While you’re sharing us, why not share the monthly anarchist news show we participate in known as B(A)D News: Angry Voices From Around The World produced by the A-Radio Network or check out the shows that share the Channel Zero Network?

Or, you could drop us a line, tell us how we’re doing, comment on our shows or give us suggestions for future episodes. We are always welcome to dialogue and suggestions, though we don’t take ‘em all.

Finally, you could give us a donation, one time over paypal or recurring via Liberapay, an open source donation platform from France, or Patreon. Check out our Patreon for the thank you gifts that we offer to recurring donators. We have shirts, buttons, stickers and other swag up on there. See something you like but can’t afford a monthly donation? Send us an email and we’ll see what we can work out. The money goes to cover our production costs and save up for travels to conferences and events where we can get you more of that anarchist audio that you crave. Thanks so much!

. … . ..

Playlist

Radical Parenting and Sustaining a Multi-Generational Movement

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China Martens has published Future Generation, a zine about radical parenting since 1990 (published as a book by Atomic Books in 2007). Vikki Law has worked to get the voices of women in and out of prison around by producing Tenacious: Art and Writing by Women in Prison and the recently republished Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. China and Vikki are authors, editors, anarchists, activists and also, mothers.

This week we speak to Vikki Law and China Martens about the newly published book, Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities (PM Press, 2012), which they edited and contributed to. We talk about multigenerationality in struggle as well as intersections of age, class, gender and race.

Vikki Law: http://resistancebehindbars.org/
China Martens: http://kidzcitybaltimore.blogspot.com/

*Correction, Vikki Law is involved with a group called WORTH, not GROW. http://womenontherise-worth.org/