Review diverse books (because the anti-capitalist literature can be so boringly monochrome)

Something I’m going to start doing on this blog: reviewing diverse books. What does this mean? Well a blog called read diverse books had this challenge to read diverse books in order to fight against the cultural industry’s tendency to tell us stories about how great white people are, particularly males, particularly middle class, straight, heteronormative whites, etc. It looks like a good idea so I’m adapting it here.

I say adapting because the original challenge (and a similar one at wocreads) is mostly oriented to fiction, so it focuses on lead characters. I’m more into non-fiction political books, so I’m adjusting the challenge to focus on authors rather than protagonists (except for biographies, then it is about the authors and the protangonists). I’m also adding some additional dimensions beyond gender/sexuality and race: things like class, experience of state repression, and linguistic communities. And instead of just reading I like to review so as to engage with the ideas and hopefully share the most useful thoughts and tools with those who can make use of them.

The challenge looks like this. I have to review:

  • A book authored/edited by a woman

  • A book authored/edited by a homosexual

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Latin America

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who grew up as an ethnic or racial minority in their country

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Africa

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who identifies as part of an ethno-national community that is without a state

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Asia

  • A book authored/edited by a biracial person

  • A book authored/edited by a transgender person

  • A book authored/edited by a refugee

  • A book authored/edited by somebody with a disability

  • A book originally written in a language other than English

  • A book originally written in one of the over 2000 UNESCO designated endangered languages.

  • A book authored/edited by somebody without university-level education

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who was imprisoned for at least a year

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who lived under state socialism

  • A book authored/edited by a collective

One of the problems with checklist challenges is that the goal often end up being to complete it so you can say “look how fuckin diverse I am”. The main reason I’m doing this is to show how uniform the anti-capitalist literature tends to be. The checklist will be used mostly as a commentary during reviews about how diverse or undiverse the books are. And the emphasis is on commentary – not a rating. I don’t want this to end up like a judge in the oppression olympics.

Looking back at what has been reviewed so far on this blog, two were written or edited by individuals (How to change the world, and New forms of worker organisation), both white males from the US and the UK, employed (currently or at some time in their lives) as university professors, presumably straight, abled bodied, and originally written in English for English-speaking audiences. The two books on Rojava reviewed here are also written for US/English-speaking audiences, but they at least are edited by collectives, and include some essays and interviews translated from Kurdish and Turkish. Both collectives do seem to be north america-based though.

On the other hand, Teaching Rebellion, is also edited by a collective, this time Mexico-based, and although it is unclear whether it was written originally for a Spanish-speaking or English-speaking audience, almost the entire bulk of the book is composed of interview/testimony pieces which are certainly translated. Clearly the most diverse book reviewed so far here, but it just shows how much things need to improve. Looking forward to seeing what books this challenge leads me to.

Posts of December

The worst news by far this month was how the anti-democratic system in the US decided to hand state power to a racist misogynist. There’s been many things written about that since the appointment (it’s not an election), so I’m just sharing three of them here: an article in Al Jazeera written by a Palestinian cultural heritage researcher, showing how a series of american presidents and politicians, including both Clintons, have on numerous occasions fucked over Palestine to boost their own profiles. I’m not sharing it in order to say that Trump isn’t that bad – just that in many places outside of the US he represents the continuation of arrogant figures who get to arbitrarily decide whether to intensify ongoing domination, colonialism, and general fucking-over of distant lands. But Trump is that bad, particularly for any people whose existence exposes the myth of white happy america. And that is exactly what the post sub-titled “Make it impossible for this system to govern on stolen land” does: naming a system that is united by the violence it serves to indigenous americans, people of african descent, people of demonised religions, non-white or english-speaking migrants, LGTQBI people, and the list could go on. And how to make it impossible for him/them/it to govern, that’s the reason why the other piece I’m sharing is a list of practical steps to practice solidarity and organise community self-defense in anticipation of a structural violence that looks set to accelerate, published on Cindy Milstein’s blog.

And much else from November follows a similar theme. It’s all about the rise of the fascist right and colonialism, or less pessimistically, anti-colonial resistance and self-defense. In what by now seems something from a different age, this article in ROAR just before Trump lost the election places the targeting of the HDP by Erdogan and subsequently by ISIS, as part of a longer pattern from the elections of 2015 and intensifying after the coup attempt earlier this year in which the country looks firmly on the road from republican democracy to fascist dictatorship.

In terms of anti-colonial resistance, next door to the US, the resistance at Standing Rock is inspirational and there has again been a lot written about it. My pick is this article about two police who left the force instead of attacking the protectors. I know its a drop in the ocean, but moments when the police or military decide that the side of the 1% is not their side are what make revolutions. And we are never going to beat them with violence, the only hope we have is to make it impossible for them to continue defending themselves and waging war on us. Another piece is one by a student in South Africa writing about the #Fees Must Fall movement for decolonising education, their goals (not just stopping university student fees), their victories so far, and some of the internal tensions that it must overcome. And third, a transcribed lecture on the Haiti Revolution and its influence on African history and literature, nationalism and internationalism, black radicalism and the black revolutionary tradition. Interesting stuff there.

And towards the end of the month we had the death of Fidel Castro. Regardless of where you stand on his politics, most people will agree that his death marks the passing of one of last and the most iconic figures of the cold war. Something from a different era, not just pre this current post-neoliberal fascist dystopia, but also pre-neoliberalism itself. The media was predictably formulaic talking about mourning in communist Havana and celebrations in dissident Florida. So the piece I picked was something on Al Jazeera that doesn’t try to balance the two views – he was a monster AND a socialist superman – but more importantly outside of the two cold war core spheres of influence, Cuba, Fidel and Che were known as anti-imperialist internationalists who helped the Vietnam liberation front, the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, and participated in the Movement of the non-Aligned (although in the end they were shown up to be in the pockets of the Soviets..). (incidentally, for anybody who thinks this is too apologetic, ok, here a second link to a book review outlining the early roots of Che’s Stalinism).

And finally, a few pieces in the spirit of community self-defense, first there is a post shaming the Guardian for its cheerleading and generally unbalanced and uncritical coverage of MI5 (british spying institution) and the imperialist wars of the international community. The Guardian was an important part of my development of political awareness but some of the things I have seen there in recent times are outrageous (e.g. showing ‘balance’ between the Labour party’s membership and the parliamentary party’s attempt to block them from democratically participating in the party) so to honour this betrayal I am pushing to share any post calling them out (I even have a new tag for this – ‘Shame on the Guardian’). Second, an article about Barrett Brown, a journalist arrested and jailed for reporting on companies using and selling electronic surveillance technologies. And third, a resource guide on information security and on how to protect yourself digitally.

Best of August

The civil war in Syria gets worse, with Assad seeing success with his strategy of starving territory back into control, and Turkey crossing the border. Yet again, the establishment media has done little more than regurgitate the official spin: that Turkey is responding to the ISIL terrorist attack on its territory by committing ground troops to the fight against them in Syria. When in fact, the bomb attack was in (Turkey-occupied) Kurdistan, at the wedding of a Kurdish political activist, which was used by Turkey as an excuse to implement a plan it had drawn up not to fight ISIL but to attack the autonomist project of the Syrian Kurds in Rojava, who are the most successful grouping gaining back territory from ISIL. And the US has gone along with it and finally ended the uneasy ‘temporary’ relationship with the Kurds, possibly because they don’t want Turkey getting closer to Russia, possibly because they too see the Rojava autonomist project as a threat, probably both. Either way, it shows that for the US and Turkey alike, fighting terrorism is less of a priority than imperialist hegemony. See this and this articles on the deal.

2016_08 Puerto Rican graffitti
Puerto Rican street art by La Puerta collective calling for a revolution against US colonialism. Image from ROAR.

Workers at two app-facilitated, conditions-destroying delivery companies in London have opened an important front in precarity-capitalism by organising wildcat strikes – not because they are radical anarchists who say fuck unions and class collaborationist process, but because they aren’t actually allowed to have a union, and as ‘contractors’ they don’t officially work there, so wildcat is the only way they can get together and strike. An important fightback against capital and the propaganda of the ‘sharing economy’. As Carlos Delclos from ROAR puts it, “Companies like Uber and Amazon Mechanical Turk privatized the [mutual aid]-style networking that allows these workers to earn a living, and then challenged governments to adapt their legal structures to their “no-benefits” employment scheme”. See these pieces on the Uber eats strike here and here, and this earlier one on the Deliveroo strike.

Also in England, following the disgraceful behaviour of Byron, a hamburger chain that exploited undocumented workers for years and then rounded them up and turned them over to the immigration police, a group in the National Health Service calling themselves ‘Docs not Cops’ is organising to make hospitals and health facilities no-immigration-police-zones and to refuse them access to medical data. A good article was posted on Novara about them. And Red Pepper ran this article damning the Chilcot enquiry for purposefully avoiding questions on the real motives for the war in Iraq, and the role of private corporations and lobyists in pushing the invasion agenda. Nice to see this, because I was getting fairly sick of hearing the media call the Chilcot report ‘damning’ and peddling its face-saving language (e.g. saying Blair ‘exaggerated’ the threat from Iraq, when in truth he made it up, etc).

2016_08 Pretoria protest
Protest by students at a formerly white-only school in Pretoria, South Africa, where a ban on afros is the trigger leading to outburst, but only the latest of a series of policies that has led students to connect the dots of institutional racism. “That is what forces us to realise that no matter how hard we work or how well we speak, we remain black. That is what forces us to realise that we are still niggers. That is what forces ‘coconuts’ to become conscious”. Photo from Daily Maverick.

Elsewhere,

2016_08 Chinese anti-racist protest in France
French-Chinese community in Paris organise and take to the streets to protest against violent, anti-Chinese  racist violence following recent murder. Image from Liberation.fr

And finally an excellent intersectionalist analysis queering marxism – looking at the many ways heteronormative society pushes LGBT*Q people into precarity. I usually don’t like overly materialist left-wing analysis because they tend to reduce form of oppression to just the economic impact, but this one does a great job.

Best of June 2016

June was the month where Muhammad Ali passed away. There was a lot of stuff in the media but this piece here is a nice and unique perspective. It was also the month of the Orlando massacre, the forty year anniversary of the Soweto uprisings, and things started to kick off in Oaxaca again. Try these pieces on: erasure of gay and trans people of colour, particularly radical activists, in how the Stonewall riots are remembered; how only 20 years after overthrowing a totalitarian police state South Africa under the ANC is in many ways reverting to the old logic of control; and this shocking piece about the new teachers’ strikes in Oaxaca, ten years after the rebellion, and the appalling response from the state. (incidentally, yesterdays Guardian shamefully chose to run this Reuters article which portrays the Mexican army very favourably, focussing on their plans to deliver food aid to remote regions who are running out of food supplies because of the teachers’ blockades. It euphemistically refers to the attack on the protests and murder as “eight people died last month in clashes between police and the protesting teachers”).

The refugee crisis continues as does Europe’s shameful response. Here is an interview with an asylum seeker which touches on the conditions in which asylum seekers are forced to live in Ireland and a revolution of sorts against the management in one of the residential centres and efforts to build a wider asylum seeker movement.

A data-supported critique of continued austerity policies in Greece, by Varoufakis, plus proposals for restructuring of debt. Preaching to the converted here – we all know austerity doesn’t work – but still a good resource when arguing with the unconverted or wilfully ignorant. And something you probably didn’t already know so much about, how investor-state dispute arbitration systems screw over countries to be benefit of profits of powerful private corporations and their corporate lawyers in this enraging article in the New Internationalist.

But finishing on an also angry but more hopeful note, a very interesting piece about student rent strikes in the UK and how they get at a financial system that distributes wealth from students in general to super-elite private schools which serve to reproduce britain’s almost feudal class structure. It also connects well with another piece – written in May, but anyhow – also at Novara about staff strikes at the same university and possibilities for some sort of class alliance between student rent strikers and precarious staff strikes to challenge the neoliberal university.

About POSTS OF THE MONTH: Consider this a Twitter feed on a timescale suitable for those of us who still have a life outside of the internet. Brief synopsis of blog posts and articles I found particularly good during the month but which I didnt have time to engage properly with.

International call for struggle and solidarity with Puerto Rico

A call for solidarity with Puerto Rico against the US-imposed debt regime from Junta Contra la Junta. No to colonialism, no to imperliasm, and especially no to the Oversight Board – the US committee that manages the colony. Translated by and shared from the Entitle blog.

“We are asking the international community and the Puerto Ricans of the diaspora to show solidarity with the situation that our country is now experiencing” 

Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States since 1898, currently faces an economic-financial and socio-political crisis with an economy that has contracted for 10 years, record-level outmigration and unemployment, and a massive debt of more than $70 billion, representing almost 70% of the county’s gross domestic product (GDP). Some have called it the “Greece of the Caribbean” and others have spoken of a potential humanitarian crisis.

The crisis is in important ways self-inflicted, thanks to decades of ill-conceived economic policies, as well as high levels of corruption. Yet it is undeniable that the colonial situation –expressed in US policies such as the mandatory use of the US naval fleet (the most expensive in the world) for imports to Puerto Rico, costing hundreds of millions annually; the triple-exempt tax status of Puerto Rico government bonds; the prohibition of any type of protection of local small businesses against large US corporations; and the inability to design foreign policies (including trade policy)– has also played an important role. The same can be said of the parasitic behaviour of the corporate financial sector which benefited from these policies. Any solution that does not address these issues, is therefore bound to fail.

PR1

In addition, there are strong arguments for not paying this debt in full. First and foremost, we need to recognize the social and ecological debt the United States has with Puerto Rico: from the US military bases that stole Puerto Rican land and water and, in cases like Vieques, created huge socio-economic and ecological devastation, to the economic returns and ecological damages generated by US corporations which have historically exploited Puerto Rican workers and land. Indeed, for decades, US corporations have operated from Puerto Rico without paying any taxes, repatriating more than $30 US billion annually.

Moreover, if, as the US Supreme Court recently confirmed, Puerto Rico’s legislative powers  emanate from the authority of the US Congress, then, the logical conclusion is that the debt incurred by the Puerto Rican government is actually owed by the US government which is the true authority. Another argument is that the vulture funds which have capitalised on the debt, bought it for a fraction of the amount they now seek to reap, with full knowledge of the dire economic situation and the risks faced in these investments. Finally, nearly half of the debt could be illegal, strengthening long-standing calls for a full audit of the debt before continued payment.

As a supposed ‘solution’ to this debt crisis, the US House of Representatives has passed a proposed law, cynically called PROMESA (promise, in spanish), designed by the Wall Street vultures precisely to guarantee that Puerto Rico pay this debt. The bill, which is supported by President Obama and by Hillary Clinton and is expected to be approved in the Senate, would lower the minimum wage in Puerto Rico for workers under 25 years of age, and would create a seven-member unelected board (to be appointed by the US Congress and the President).

This board will have powers to make all decisions about the Puerto Rican budget, make changes to the Puerto Rican public retirement system, sell Puerto Rican public properties, and approve in fast-track processes -over existing laws and the Puerto Rico constitution- any projects they deem priority for generating revenue. Amongst the projects that could be approved in such a fashion are a waste incinerator plant, which has faced strong opposition from local communities and environmental organisations, and a ‘super tube’ to transport natural gas across the island. The proposal contains no guarantee for a debt restructuring or bankruptcy process.

Besides laying bare the colonial status of Puerto Rico, PROMESA is a clear attempt to intensify the processes of dispossession of Puerto Rico’s resources and turn the island into an exclusive paradise for the super-rich. It also represents an imminent threat to the well-being and the lives of all Puerto Ricans. Various civil society organisations have begun organizing to mobilise against this project, while at the same time denouncing this colonial condition and demanding an end to it.

Cartoon of famed revolutionary nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos with the infamous Uncle Sam. Source: Acción Nacional Boricua Facebook page

One of these organisations, Junte contra la Junta has put out the following international call that seeks support in this struggle, which we reproduce below in English. The call is also available in Spanish,  Français,  Euskera,  Türkçe,  Português,  ქართული,  Кöрди.


International Call to Struggle and Solidarity against the Imposition of the Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A) in Puerto Rico

We invite the international community and the Puerto Rican diaspora to join us in solidarity in our country’s present situation. Let’s remember that Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since 1898. Ever since the invasion up to our present time, the United States and the colonial government of Puerto Rico have imposed a series of laws for economic and political gain (Foraker Act in 1900, Jones Act in 1917, Gag Law in 1947, Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act in 1953, Public Law 7 in 2009) which have disrupted the social, economic, and political reality of the oldest colony in the American continent.

They have submerged us in a desperate economic crisis, with the intent of continuing to steal our resources while the living conditions of our people continue to rapidly deteriorate, thus exacerbating the precariousness of healthcare and education, rising costs of living, rampant unemployment, and rising criminality rates. A massive emigration has reached unimaginable levels, while there is no stopping the delivery of our country to big interests for their businesses and vacations. Currently, Puerto Rico has become the Greece of the Caribbean, with a debt higher than 73 billion dollars owed to Wall Street’s financial capital. The Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A), born out of H.R. 5278, pretends to bleed out the country for the benefit of the creditors (vultures). With the imposition of said board, true to the style of soft coups perpetrated by U.S. imperialism, the following would be established.

Protest banner against the Fiscal Oversight (Control) Board at the recent Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, June 12/2016. Source: juntecontralajunta Facebook page

The Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A) in 12 points:

  1. The seven members who would compose the board would be chosen directly and solely by the Federal Government. Only one of the members would have to reside or own a business in Puerto Rico. Not even Puerto Rico’s Governor or the local Legislature would have any power within the board or over the decisions that the board could make.
  2. The board would last a minimum of 4 years. There is no yearly limit established.
  3. The board would control the entire budget and laws of the country.
  4. It could render ineffective, at any moment, any laws already approved.
  5. It could sell assets (goods, properties, buildings, and public corporations, among others).
  6. It would decide which laws would pass and which wouldn’t, using criteria based on financial impact, even if it means a deterioration of the lives, health, and social resources of the people.
  7. It would have the power to freeze job vacancies as well as toreduce and fire personnel.
  8. The board rejects laws and measures related to overtime pay.
  9. It would submit the population aged 20-25 to economic exploitation through the imposition of a minimum wage of $4.25 per hour.
  10. It would eliminate the right to strike.
  11. It would not include economic incentives. It would not bring equality in Medicare and other federal funds. It would NOT protect retirement.
  12. It would protect exclusively the economic interests of the creditors (vultures).

We call on the Puerto Rican diaspora in every corner of the world, social movements, and internationalist political organizations to show solidarity and organize against the Oversight Board. How? Visit https://juntecontralajunta.wordpress.com and stay up to date. Find information and agitation tools. Organize your neighborhood and your community, doing teach-ins and information sessions, distributing newsletters, protesting and marching against the Oversight Board. ¡Let’s build a Resistance!

No to the Oversight Board! No to colonialism! No to imperialism!

Contacts:

 Junte contra la Junta (Puerto Rico)

https://juntecontralajunta.wordpress.com

lageteantesqueladeuda@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/juntecontralajunta/

twitter: JunteContraLaJunta @NoALaJunta

Comité Boricua en la Diaspora – ComBo– (New York, USA)

facebook.com/comiteboricua

comiteboricua@gmail.com

decolonizepr@gmail.com (Chicago, USA)