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.

Era of 21st century fascism is already here: Trump is a disaster but it didn’t start with him

What happened on the 8th of November was truly disastrous. I remember in 2000 when Bush won with this program to re-launch Star Wars (the satellite nuclear missile defense system from the Cold War – didn’t happen in the end) and to go back to Iraq (did happen), that this was terrible for the world. But now this is far worse.

Since the results announced that Clinton had won the vote but the fucked-up anti-democratic system was handing the most powerful state machinery in the world to a Fascist, hate crimes have predictably rocketed as bigots feel empowered by the moral authority that he has unleashed. And this is still 2 months before he actually takes power – lets see the kind of pain he is prepared to inflict on people then, both in the US and in the rest of the world.

This is all tragic, but it is important to remember that it did not start with him. He is part of a wider pattern where the extreme-right have taken whole or partial electoral power. Even when they only have partial power this has seen a buoyancy of hate crimes – e.g. Greece when Golden Dawn won 21 seats in the (first) 2012 election, or Netherlands when the liberal People’s Party and the Christian Democrats accepted the support of the PVV for their minority government in 2010. But when the power of the state has been handed to them they have used all its machinery of violence on whatever scapegoats within its territory (e.g. Hungary and the UK targeting of ‘immigrants’; Poland’s trend of increasingly controlling legislation of womens’ bodies and movements) or outside its territory (e.g. Turkey extension into Syria of its ongoing genocide against the Kurds; Iran’s and Russia’s support for Assad’s mass murder of a people risen to ensure their own people know what is coming to them if they assert any basic democratic rights).While all certainly unique to their own circumstances, they do share a pattern that was already there before Trump’s arrival. But it has now announced itself with a bang with this pig (because the power of the US state machinery makes it so much more dangerous and because of US-centric world media that means it unfortunately is the centre of the world and as they say, if its not happening in america then it isn’t happening) although with tight elections around the corner in Austria and France and who knows where else as the trend plays out, it is clearly not limited to one man’s victory.

Nor is it likely to be limited to a handful of sets of states. As mentioned, many have regional police-man ambitions, while the weird and erratic economic shifts they instigate are going to have repercussions in trading partner states. Which is important because while for better r worse neoliberalism has been seen since the 1970s as the only political-economic order possible, its hegemony has been in crisis since 2008 and despite all our efforts it now looks like it is the right who are set to claim this ground. As Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen wrote a few years ago

“whether neoliberalism is ending is perhaps not the main question we should now be asking. Such hegemonic projects have relatively short shelf-lives, induced by their declining ability to meet the interests of the key members of the alliances which underpin them. The real question is more one of how much damage neoliberalism will do in its prolonged death agonies; and, even more importantly, what (or more sociologically, who) will replace it and how”

There are a number of essential actions that need to be taken immediately: neighbourhood organising to protect victims (this does not have to mean vigilante-ism; sometimes it is as simple as racially privileged people accompanying racially targeted people just to lessen the sense of immunity that police or bigots might have), actions targeting specific policies or wars, pressures on elites in states that have yet to fall to the right to withdraw moral support from and condemn the actions of these bigots so that they are not permitted to pretend to be legitimate participants in democracies (aside: a few months ago I had a conversation with an elderly life-long lefty from France, who told me that worse that the socialist party’s move to the centre-right was that socialist or other left politicians now agree to sit on discussion panels with the Front Nationale, whereas 20 years ago all lefties would leave their seats and refuse to facilitate the masquerading of hate speech as democratic debate – this is the long process of how we have let the likes of Trump come to pass). But beyond this, there is a need for movement-building that seriously comes to terms with a possible post-neoliberal world order, although far from the one we have been trying to bring into being.

That is a huge task, and even starting to think in this way is huge (not to mention depressing) and clearly cannot be dealt with here. So I’m going to finish this post by casting blame. For better or for worse, neoliberalism is dying. Due to its own inherent contradictions but also because of capitalist elites who transformed their own growth and profitability set-backs into an unprecedented economic crisis, neoliberalism has had an image-problem as a legitimate order since 2008. But because of their allies managing policy making institutions who refused to let bad investment and greed get what they deserve – nothing – and instead sucking wealth from the rest of society, because they relentlessly imposed such policies against all resistance, and did everything to stop a left-wing democratic and humane discourse from building itself as an alternative to neoliberalism, because of this, the have let the monsters take over. Obama created Trump, Hollande fostered La Pen, and Gordon Brown made Theresa May. The blood of fascism’s coming victims will be on their hands.

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.

Orlando means fightback – There is absolutely no room in our gay agenda for Islamophobia

Statement of solidarity with LGBTQ+ community after Orlando homophobic attack, but equally strongly anti the racist Islamaphobic agenda. Shared from anarkismo.net

There is absolutely no room in our gay agenda for Islamophobia

featured image

Our hearts ache for the victims of the homophobic hate crime that took place over the weekend in Orlando, Florida where a gunman attacked an LGBT+ club killing 50 and wounding over 50 more. Much has been asked by us and by other left queers about the LGBT+ community, whether it exists and if it exists why don’t we feel a part of it. Sadly it is at times like these that we become aware of its existence. When people are considered deviants and deserving of a murderous assault for their sexuality, a trait all of us in the community share, we cannot but come together in sadness and in mourning.


Orlando means fightback
There is absolutely no room in our gay agenda for Islamophobia

Our hearts ache for the victims of the homophobic hate crime that took place over the weekend in Orlando, Florida where a gunman attacked an LGBT+ club killing 50 and wounding over 50 more. Much has been asked by us and by other left queers about the LGBT+ community, whether it exists and if it exists why don’t we feel a part of it. Sadly it is at times like these that we become aware of its existence. When people are considered deviants and deserving of a murderous assault for their sexuality, a trait all of us in the community share, we cannot but come together in sadness and in mourning.

We wish to draw special attention to the fact that the Pulse nightclub was hosting a Latino night with a trans performer headlining. We must be aware of the disproportionately high number of attacks that are carried out on a regular basis against queer and trans people of colour and we must fight to end this violence. Racism and queerphobia came together over the weekend to form a devastating result and these are two traits of the attack that we cannot allow to be erased from this.

We further warn against the Islamophobic backlash that has already begun in the wake of these attacks. We reject the use of the hurt that our community is experiencing at present in order to justify Islamophobia. There is absolutely no room in our gay agenda for Islamophobia; our liberation is inextricably tied to the liberation of all oppressed groups and that includes our muslim siblings, in particular our queer muslim siblings.

While the media and US authorities have branded this an act of terrorism we feel it is of high importance to state that this act of terrorism was also a hate crime. Already attempts have been made to erase the identities of the victims of this attack, the usual ‪#‎AllLivesMatter‬ crusade has begun. The right wing media wishes to ignore the homophobic nature of this attack in order to continue their scaremongering of muslims. This is incredibly insulting and does a disgusting disservice to those who have been murdered primarily for their sexuality.

Just like Stonewall, Orlando means fight back. While many advances have been made and homophobia isn’t as common or as acceptable as what it has been in recent years we still have a long way to go; the road we take cannot be one of assimilation, whereby we have queer acceptance in a straight society – we must dismantle the straight society.

We must dismantle the society that made it possible for someone to harbour such views about us and to carry those views into such a tragic action. Greater hate crime legislation will not do this, all it will do is cover up the cracks of a society that is already deeply broken by the violence of neo-liberalism.

While we have made many advances, for too long has our focus been on marriage; something that will not prevent trans youth from being murdered, queer homelessness, and closer to home the DUP putting in place a conscience clause to effectively exclude us from civic society. When our right to live is cruelly taken away at the whim of a homophobic gunman we are starkly reminded of how much of a fight we have left. This serves as a rallying call against the violence of a society that is killing us, we must make it known that these queers bash back. No matter how bigoted a person is we will continue to survive, we will continue to resist, we will continue to live.

We call for an end to violence – state-sponsored, homophobic, racist, sexist, capitalist, imperalist violence. This can only occur through revolutionary methods; through overthrowing the society we currently live in.

For now, we must take care of each other because that’s what a community does. We must mourn and organise.

WSM, 13 June 2016