Transcript: Episode 2: The Black Panther Party & Revolution in Oakland – An Interview with Donna Murch

Below is a transcript of my interview with Donna Murch for the second episode of the Making the Left Coast Podcast. We spoke in early June 2019 via Skype. Although the text below has some errors, it is mostly faithful to the audio.


Chuck Morse: You’re listening to the Making the Left Coast Podcast, episode number two.

Hey there. My name is Chuck Morse, the host of The Making the Left Coast Podcast. The purpose of this podcast is to explore the history and challenges of the Bay Area left, which I do by interviewing authors and activists who can help us make sense of its lessons.

When I began as podcast, I knew that I would devote at least one episode to the Black Panther Party, which was founded in Oakland in 1966 and had a huge impact globally as well as locally. Globally they became a or perhaps THE symbol of black radicalism in the 1960s. With their confrontational approach and revolutionary ideology, they gave voice to the rage at the damage done by white supremacy and affirmed the need to build a world in which African Americans occupy the dignified position to which they are due. They inspired people across the planet while striking fear in the heart of the American establishment. This is why J Edgar Hoover, who led the FBI at the time, described them as the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States and tried to destroy the party with a massive, mostly illegal campaign of government repression.

And they had a tremendous local impact. Prior to their rise, Oakland was sort of a sleepy, racist backwater. A place that Gertrude Stein famously said had “no there there.” It was dominated by a cabal of white Republicans who did their best to defend the prevailing white supremacist system that exploited and brutalized the city’s large Black population. The Panthers challenged this with a multifaceted, intensely creative array of programs and activism. They not only helped to dislodge the old Republican power structure but also changed the way that we experience the city. Instead of being a place that is outside of history, without any “there there,” they globalized it and made it into a site in which we experience and work out issues of global importance.

Not surprisingly, their vast impact has generated an equally vast body of literature about them. You could probably fill several bookcases with the memoirs, historical studies, and other works that explore their legacy. This is despite the fact that their really intense period of activity only lasted about seven or eight years and they probably never had more than 5,000 members at a single time. Although scholars of the Panthers often disagree about how to interpret them, everyone agrees that their story is fascinating and merits exploration.

And there are still important questions to unpack, particularly with respect to the Panthers’ relationship to Oakland. This is where I’m hoping that this episode of the podcast can be of some help. For one, a lot of the work on the Panthers tends to focus on their dramatic militancy while overlooking their sophisticated political ideas. This is understandable, because their story is very dramatic, but we also need to figure out their core politics—what they really believed—so that we can understand why they did what they did and also to situate them in the broad arc of political history. And this is not easy because their political commitments were complicated and perhaps even contradictory in some respects.

And how we interpret them impacts how we understand Oakland. For example, if we say that they were a bunch of hotheaded-but-misguided young radicals who inadvertently pushed the city toward the liberal democratic order that we have today, then this might sanction a view of Oakland’s history as a slow but inexorable march toward the present, toward what we have now. Or, alternately, if we say that the Panthers were visionaries who tried to turn Oakland into a communist utopia, then we end up telling a different and much more complicated story about the city’s past. The Panthers past and Oakland’s past are inextricably connected.

So, I think that these questions merit exploration. Although smart people can draw different inclusions about them, there can be no doubt that Donna Murch, who is my guest on this episode of the podcast, is one of the best people on the planet to help us explore them. She is a professor of history at Rutgers University, a deeply sophisticated and radical scholar, and happens to have written the book on the Panthers in Oakland. Her award-winning work, Living for the City: Migration, Education and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California, tells the amazing story of the Panthers’ experience in the city while placing them in the larger context of post-war, African-American history. It’s a fabulous book.

In the discussion that follows, Donna and I jump right into some of the big questions that come up when you think about the Panthers and their politics. We talk about their relationship to the state and other scales of political authority, their efforts to take over the Oakland city government in 1973, the role of democracy within the party, among other interesting issues. It was a great pleasure for me to discuss these things with her and I hope you enjoy listening to the interview as much as I enjoy conducting it.

And if you do enjoy this please don’t forget to add your email to the email list at makingtheleftcoast.com and to like the podcast’s Facebook page.

Thanks and enjoy!

Chuck Morse: Hi Donna. Thank you so much for being a guest on the podcast. I really appreciate it. It’s great to talk with you and have you on the show.

Donna Murch: Oh, it’s absolutely my pleasure. Thank you, Chuck.

Chuck Morse: I’m hoping that we can spend some time discussing what prompted you to work on the Panthers and what it was like to do the research that led to your book. But, before we do that, I’d like to begin by talking about the Panthers and what they did in Oakland. This is a fascinating, inspiring story, which your book covers, and this is one of the reasons why your book is so great. Does that sound like a good plan to you?

Donna Murch: Sure, it sounds great. Continue reading

Revolutionary sleeping

In the current issue of the Journal of Sleep Research, scholars summarize the results of a study of racial differences in how anxieties about violence impact adolescents’ sleep. They report that:

. . . race‐related stressors exacerbate risk for poor sleep among African American adolescents who experience more community violence concerns. . . .

That is, Black youth are afraid and thus sleep poorly, whereas adolescents of other races, they also state, do not experience these fears and thus sleep better.

It is easy to understand why this would be the case, in our racist society, but harrowing to think of the millions of Black youth who suffer from the predictable and traumatic consequences of long-term sleep deprivation. For them, this means bodies unhealed, memories unprocessed, and emotions unsorted. And their privations point to a gigantic loss for our culture as a whole. Who knows what manuscripts might have been written, what problems solved, or what feats accomplished had they simply been able to sleep through the night?

There is no way to measure the human potential lost as a result of their hardships, but this is a political issue and, as such, it can be corrected through action. While reflecting upon this, I realized that taking sleep seriously might mark a big shift for the left and how it understands the revolutionary lifestyle.

Prior to World War II, leftists held contradictory views of sleep. The first line of The International—”arise ye workers from your slumbers”— affirms the familiar association of sleep with ignorance and victimization. But there were also radicals who celebrated sleep, mainly because it is the setting in which dreams occur. The Surrealists felt that dreams scrambled the dominant society’s falsehoods in an emancipatory way. Radicals influenced by psychoanalysis saw dreams as the “royal road to the unconscious,” to use Freud’s words, and all the critical insights that it can provide.

But leftist attitudes to sleep shifted in the 1960s, during the era of the “heroic guerrilla.” George Jackson’s collection of letters, Soledad Brother, offers a window into this. Jackson was a legendary figure in the Black Power movement, which was tied to and partially responsible for mobilizations among inmates in American prisons, where he spent most of his life. In addition to describing Jackson’s unique political world, his letters offer a meditation on tactics of self-fashioning that were urgently important to many at the time. How can a man who lives in a cage transform himself into a theorist and a writer and come to see himself as the author of his own destiny? Soledad Brother seemed to provide insight into this question, which is compelling for radicals and anyone concerned with the relationship between freedom and constraint. The book, which became a bestseller, came out shortly before Jackson was shot to death by a guard in the San Quentin State Prison.

How did Jackson remake himself? Engaging with others was a huge priority. The letters themselves demonstrate his investment in communicating with people on the outside and they contain many accounts of his ties with prisoners on the inside. And he followed a program of activities focused on self-transformation. He exercised for hours every day—he boasted that he could do 1000 pushups on his fingertips—and he enriched his mind with wide reading and disciplined study (he devoted an hour of each day to the study of speed-reading techniques and another to the dictionary). He also apparently smoked like a chimney—in one missive, he mentions that he had just finished his seventy-fifth cigarette of the day and it was still before breakfast.

But he was especially interested in sleep. He often commented on what he imagined his correspondents’ sleep practices to be; he challenged his father to produce evidence substantiating his views of sleep; and he frequently discussed his own sleep habits. We learn that he only slept for two or three hours nightly and felt guilty if he slept more. Though incarcerated, he saw himself as a man of action and appeared to shun sleep—hours devoted to it were hours not spent realizing revolutionary dreams. These dreams were well articulated and tangible for him. Though they may be deferred, as Langston Hughes’s famous poem noted, Jackson felt certain that they had occurred.

Jackson’s attitude toward sleep reflected the common wisdom of his time, but today we know that it is just as vital to our well-being as food and water. Forgoing it for sustained periods generates devastating physical, emotional, and psychological results, which is why sleep deprivation is a common torture at places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. And, as the report cited above indicates, we also know that compromised, inadequate sleep is another one of the injustices that white supremacy inflicts upon Black people.

For all the left’s focus on our working, waking hours, it is clear that contemporary radical movements must champion sleep, particularly Black sleep. And repairing the injuries caused by disrupted, insufficient rest suggests a different model of revolutionary action than that revealed in Soledad Brother. It will require not just guerilla wars and guerilla warriors, but also zones of disengagement, places that are quiet and dark, and militants who know how to create and enjoy settings that are unmistakably safe. These conditions must exist if sleep is to work its wonders for the long-burdened, long-terrorized Black youth as well as others.

~ Chuck Morse

Luna Sol Café: El pasado—y tal vez el futuro—de los restaurantes radicales de Los Ángeles

(Este artículo fue publicado originalmente
en L.A. Taco el 28 de Junio de 2017)

Los orígenes de la comida radical en Los Ángeles

Cuando Jonathan Gold calificó a LocoL como el “restaurante del año” en el periódico Los Angeles Times, lo hizo subrayando su compromiso de servir a los vecinos del barrio de Watts, donde se encuentra ubicado. LocoL no sólo ofrece platos baratos y saludables, sino que además brinda oportunidades de trabajo en un medio tan moderno y multicultural como lo es la Ciudad de Los Ángeles. En su reseña, Gold elogió a Daniel Patterson y al héroe local Roy Choi, dos superestrellas culinarios y fundadores del restaurante, por sus fines sociales y su dedicación por marcar una diferencia.

Lo que no mencionó Gold fue que Los Ángeles cuenta con una larga y fascinante historia de restaurantes con un compromiso social, y que algunos son más radicales que otros. Pensemos, por ejemplo, en el Luna Sol Café, que funcionó cerca de MacArthur Park desde 1996 hasta 2003. El Luna Sol Café ofrecía platos económicos y saludables y tenía raíces muy arraigadas en las redes multiculturales y contraculturales de su tiempo. Fue, básicamente, una cooperativa en la cual los trabajadores eran los dueños del negocio y las responsabilidades y los privilegios eran compartidos de manera horizontal e igualitaria. Este fue el único restaurante de este tipo en L.A. y uno de los pocos en la historia del Estado de California.

De una ocupación a un restaurante propiamente dicho

Luna Sol apareció en un momento en que la credibilidad del orden establecido había caído a un nuevo récord y muchos consideraban que era necesario reconstruir la sociedad desde abajo. Las masas negras y latinas pusieron al mundo patas para arriba durante la rebelión de 1992, imponiéndose por la fuerza en el debate, y muchos se miraron con frustración cuando los políticos respondieron con promesas, planes, y programas vacíos. Existía una batalla continua entre la vieja guardia y las fuerzas de cambio revitalizadas. Por ejemplo, el L.A. Conservation Corps tenía un programa de trabajo orientado a los jóvenes, pero los trataba como ganado. En respuesta, los jóvenes ocuparon el edificio del programa y lo transformaron en un centro activista bajo el nombre de Peace and Justice Center.

Algunos de los fundadores del Luna Sol Café participaron en la ocupación. Cuando esta finalizó en 1996, los participantes se reorganizaron de inmediato: crearon una casa colectiva en el barrio de West Adams en la “Casa Marvin Gaye”—donde Gaye había sido asesinado por su padre en 1984—y alquilaron una tienda con una estufa deteriorada y un refrigerador viejo en 2501 West 6th St., que pronto se convertiría en el Luna Sol Café. El equipo original sabía que quería construir un espacio comunitario y hacer algo relacionado con la comida, pero jamás imaginaron la envergadura del experimento que estaban a punto de emprender. “Nunca pensamos que administraríamos un restaurante propiamente dicho”, me confesó recientemente Tito López, uno de los integrantes originales del grupo.

Un colectivo de trabajadores desde el inicio, el Luna Sol Café no tenía jefes ni gerentes pero sí una estructura flexible que respondía a niveles de participación. Había integrantes principales, que tomaban las decisiones importantes, y a menudo trabajaban entre cincuenta y sesenta horas semanales. Recibían un salario mensual de $800, que era básicamente nada. “Sin embargo, supimos arreglarnos”, dijo López. También había empleados que recibían un salario por hora y que, si lo deseaban, podían convertirse en integrantes principales del colectivo. Por último, había una red de voluntarios muy dinámica y respetada. En su mejor momento, el colectivo tuvo seis integrantes principales, ocho empleados, y dos o tres voluntarios, y estaba conformado por negros, latinos, asiáticos y blancos. La mayoría eran adolescentes o de veinte y pico de años. En 1997, el café adoptó el nuevo nombre de Luna Tierra Sol.

Comida, comunidad y gentrificación

El menú ofrecía una selección completa de opciones de desayuno, almuerzo y cena, y también tenía una “declaración de misión” en la cual se detallaba que sus platos formaban parte de un esfuerzo por fomentar un sentido de comunidad. El estilo de la comida era principalmente mexicana, a pesar de que el Luna Sol nunca fue un restaurante específicamente mexicano, y no servía carne—era uno de los pocos restaurantes vegetarianos en L.A. por ese entonces. Los nombres de los platos resaltaban el espíritu radical del proyecto. Por ejemplo, estaba la Xipotle Bowl, que era muy preferida—la sustitución de la x por la ch en “chipotle” fue una práctica surgida del movimiento Chicano, a través de la cual se exaltaban las raíces aztecas de los mexicoamericanos y la pérdida de identidad como consecuencia de la colonización (à la Malcolm X). También había una referencia al punk con las muy queridas papas fritas Rude Girl, variante de las Chili Fries que venían acompañadas de salsa de tomate casera y queso, y un guiño a la contracultura con el plato Chimi Hendrix—tofu a la parrilla con chipotle dentro de una tortilla gigante rellena de lechuga y queso. El hip hop, por su parte, estaba presente en el Freestyle Wrap. El Luna Sol abría desde las 7 de la mañana hasta las 10 de la noche todos los días, y durante un tiempo logró obtener importantes ingresos cuando comenzó a ofrecer un servicio de banquetes a organizaciones sin fines de lucro dos o tres veces al mes.

Repleto de una mezcolanza de muebles y con las paredes pintadas de colores brillantes, el Luna Sol era un punto de confluencia en la gran comunidad amorfa activista de la ciudad. Issys Amaya, quien apenas tenía quince años cuando se involucró en el proyecto, me comentó que el Luna Sol era “un espacio seguro y confortable para organizarse, crear y establecer contactos”. Era muy común que la gente se reuniera allí para relajarse después de una protesta o para planear nuevas manifestaciones, y se convirtió en un destino clave para los activistas que venían de otras ciudades y países. El restaurante tenía noches de micrófono abierto, exposiciones de arte, presentaciones de música y baile, y hasta clases de yoga. La mayoría de los artistas eran aficionados y entusiastas, pero también se presentaron artistas de renombre como Manu Chao, Dilated Peoples, Saul Williams, y Fredo Ortiz, el antiguo baterista de los Beastie Boys.

Las cosas alcanzaron su punto álgido en 2000, cuando el Partido Demócrata celebró su convención nacional en Los Ángeles. Las protestas constantes y el dinamismo de la contracultura artística y musical pusieron en evidencia la fragilidad del control de las autoridades de la ciudad. Obi Iwuoma, otro de los fundadores, me dijo que “fue una época muy tensa” y que muchas personas que se consideraban apolíticas “fueron arrastradas hacia la corriente”. El Luna Sol prosperó a pesar de la tensión—a tal punto que se debatió la posibilidad de abrir otro local. Pero la represión que siguió a los ataques del 11 de septiembre de 2001 lo cambió todo. Los activistas se dispersaron y los ingresos provenientes del servicio de banquetes desaparecieron. Además, debido al rápido crecimiento de Internet, se le restó importancia a los espacios comunitarios. La gentrificación también jugó un papel importante—el edificio que Luna Sol Café ocupaba fue vendido y los nuevos propietarios no ofrecieron un contrato de alquiler asequible, algo muy común para las personas de color aquí en Los Ángeles.

La última cena. . . ¿y la próxima?

Luna Sol Café sirvió su último plato en 2003, cerrando así un capítulo importante en la historia local de proyectos de comida con compromiso social. Como cooperativa, el Luna Sol eliminó la relación de explotación entre jefes y trabajadores—un pilar del capitalismo—y, en ese sentido, declaró que la buena comida y el capitalismo no se mezclan. LocoL, en cambio, prioriza restablecer la conexión entre las personas oprimidas y el sistema capitalista al vender productos de alta calidad y ofrecer una experiencia laboral. Ambos restaurantes tienen (o tuvieron) un compromiso social, pero uno fue anti-capitalista y el otro trabaja dentro del sistema.

¿Cuál es la relación entre los dos proyectos? Se podría decir que el radicalismo del Luna Sol reflejó el entusiasmo juvenil de sus participantes, algo que LocoL corrige con su aceptación más “realista” del capitalismo. El fracaso del Luna Sol parece sustentar la idea de que el restaurante era demasiado idealista y político para poder sobrevivir en una ciudad que típicamente se opone al cambio radical. Por otro lado, LocoL está perdiendo dinero en Watts, y su sucursal en Oakland acaba de cerrar, lo que significa que los fundadores de LocoL se enfrentan a realidades similares, a pesar de haber respetado las reglas del juego. Tal vez sea ingenuo pensar que uno puede utilizar las herramientas capitalistas para ofrecer comida de calidad a los desfavorecidos y excluidos; quizás el Luna Sol pueda enseñarles mucho más a las próximas generaciones de restaurateurs radicales.

Como mínimo, estas cuestiones demuestran que la historia de los restaurantes en L.A. es más complicada de lo que reconocemos normalmente—un hecho que debemos tener presente cuando pensamos en las posibilidades del futuro. Luna Tierra Sol y LocoL dejan de manifiesto que hay hambre por modelos nuevos, modos nuevos, y algo diferente. ¿Cuál será la próxima versión radical del restaurant de Los Ángeles?

~ Chuck Morse

(Traducción al Español: Chuck Morse)

Resistencia Libertaria: Anarchist Opposition to the Last Argentine Dictatorship

This first appeared in the February 2003 issue of The New Formulation:
An Anti-Authoritarian Review of Books
 (Vol. 2, No. 1) .

 * * *

A broad and popular resistance confronted the military dictatorships that strangled Latin America in the 1970s. Activists from diverse political tendencies fought back, in both organized and spontaneous ways, and their efforts doubtlessly saved many lives and hastened the collapse of these brutal regimes.

Although some of their contributions have been celebrated in books, articles, and
films, important aspects of the resistance have never been studied. In particular, anarchist opposition to the dictatorships—which existed in Argentina, Brazil,
Chile, and Uruguay—has been almost entirely omitted from the historical record.

The following interview offers a corrective to that omission. It tells the story of Resistencia Libertaria, a clandestine anarchist organization founded shortly before the Argentine military seized power in 1976.

Resistencia Libertaria (RL) was active in the student, labor, and neighborhood movements and also had a military wing with which it defended and financed its activities. At its peak, it had between 100 and 130 members and a much broader network of sympathizers. The organization was crushed in 1978 and 80 percent of its members perished in the dictatorship’s concentration camps and torture chambers.

The RL sustained the long tradition of Argentine anarchism and also transformed it in the face of the new conditions confronting activists in the 1970s. The experiences of the RL—which have been essentially undocumented in Spanish or English until now—mark an important chapter in the history of resistance to the last Argentine dictatorship and post-World War II anarchism generally.

Although the New Formulation is normally restricted to book reviews, it is hoped that readers will welcome this small departure from our normal editorial policy.

This interview was conducted in Spanish by phone on October 13, 2002 with Fernando Lopez, one of RL’s few surviving members. Please see the “About Contributors” section for more information on Lopez.

~ Chuck Morse

Please tell me about the origins of the RL. How was it formed?
The RL was founded by comrades from the city of La Plata at the end of the 1960s. The founding nuclei constituted a community around a cooperative carpentry shop (which still exists to this day) and developed militant projects among university students and later in the workers’ movement (specifically in the shipyard workers’ and judicial workers’ unions).

A key event occurred when members of this group starting collaborating with the newspaper, La Protesta, and a very heavy, acute discussion took place between them and the old people that were there.(1) The discussion had to do with the appearance of the first, groups of armed action, such as the Tupamaros and the Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo (Revolutionary Army of the People). The young people tended to support the actions carried out by these groups and thus conflicted with the older people, who opposed these actions, because they rejected some of the Marxist positions of these groups. The younger group was expelled from La Protesta due to these differences around 1971. This cut their relationship with the older anarchist movement and rendered them independent from it.

Later, in 1973, an anarchist conference was held in the city of Cordoba, in which militants of groups from Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, and Montevideo [Uruguay] participated. Myself and another comrade attended this conference as delegates from a group called Action Directa. It was here that comrades from La Plata, Cordoba, and Action Directa from Buenos Aires constituted Resistencia Anticapitalista Libertaria (Libertarian Anti-Capitalist Resistance) as a national organization.

A year or year and a half later, the name Resistencia Anticapitalista Libertaria was dropped simply for Resistencia Libertaria (this just happened naturally, there was not a discussion about changing the name). I joined the organization in 1974.

How was the RL structured?
The RL was an absolutely clandestine organization and it was organized in a cellular form by fronts of work.(2) The fronts of work were the workers’ front, the student front, and the neighborhood front. The RL also had a military apparatus that was, in reality, a mechanism for financing the organization—working in a moment of almost absolute clandestinity is very onerous and costly—and for protecting militant workers, etc., because things such as kidnappings and rightist actions against left-wing workers’ groups were common during this era. It was necessary to organize self-defense in some cases.

Continue reading

Latin American Anarchism

This first appeared in the February 2003 issue of The New Formulation: An Anti-Authoritarian Review of Books (Vol. 2, No. 1) .

Cronica Anarquista de la Subversion Olvidada by Oscar Ortiz
and Contribucion a una Historia del Anarquismo en America Latina by Luis Vitale
Santiago, Chile: Ediciones Espiritu Libertario, 2002

Anarquismo y Anarcosindicalismo en America Latina
By Alfredo Gomez
Paris: Ruedo iberico, 1980

Anarquistas en America Latina
By David Vinas
Mexico City: Editorial Katun, 1983

* * *

Review by Chuck Morse

There are important reasons for anarchists in English-speaking parts of North America to study the history of Latin American anarchism.

One reason is political. We need to form principled, collaborative relationships with our Latin American comrades to fight global capitalism globally and, to do so, we obviously need be able to identify our real comrades among the countless groups in the region that make claims upon our solidarity. Should we “defend the Cuban Revolution” or toast Lula’s social democratic victory in Brazil? Should we adopt the Zapatista ski-mask as our emblem or devoutly align ourselves with small anarchist groups? A genuine confrontation with these questions requires a deep appreciation of the history of Latin American opposition and certainly the anarchist movement has played a significant role in this history.

Another reason is more theoretical: it is necessary to develop a vision of a worldwide anarchist movement that takes into account the very different conditions that exist in “underdeveloped” parts of the world (such as Latin America) as opposed to Europe or the United States. It is necessary to understand how these conditions affect the form and content of anarchist activity. For example, clearly Belgian and Bolivian anarchist movements will have different characteristics, but exactly what type of differences and why? Certainly a good way to begin exploring these questions is by looking at the actual experience of anarchist movements in Asia, Africa, or, in the case of this review, Latin America.

Finally, the Latino identity is central to economic and cultural contradictions in the United States. Of course it is a positive source of community, tradition, and sense of self for millions of Latinos within U.S. borders and it is also used as a negative signifier to justify exploitation and racism. The constantly changing meaning of the Latino identity is highly dependent upon ideas about the history of Latin America and radicals can encourage the most expansive, Utopian elements of this identity by making sure that liberatory historical experiences in the Americas are not forgotten.

Unfortunately those who try to research the Latin American anarchist tradition will immediately discover that the historical literature on the movement is remarkably poor. There are no books on the topic in English or Portuguese and only five in Spanish, of which one is an anthology and another is a very brief overview.(1) The paucity of studies does not reflect the significance or dynamism of the movement but rather that social democrats and Marxists, who have produced the richest literature on social movements in the Americas, are hostile to the anarchist tradition and have attempted to erase or diminish its presence in this historical record.(2) Both groups need to construct the revolutionary Left as fundamentally statist to justify their social projects: the Marxists to defend their authoritarian regimes and the social democrats to present their free-market policies as the only socially conscious alternative to Marxist authoritarianism. Of course the existence of the anarchist tradition—a revolutionary, anti-authoritarian alternative—complicates their assertions.

Thus contemporary anarchists are obliged to undertake a major reconstructive effort to restore anarchism to its proper place in the history of the Americas and the three books reviewed here are among the best on the subject. Their authors defiantly and unanimously assert that the anarchist movement was a vital actor in early twentieth century social history. Louis Vitale, in a sentiment echoed by the other authors, observes that “anarcho- syndicalism was the dominant current in the Latin American workers’ movement during the first two decades of the twentieth century.”(3) They also all assert that anarchists were leaders in the creation of early labor unions, cultivated a strong working class militancy, and achieved many concrete gains for the working class. Indeed, between the revolutionary unions, schools, daily newspapers, and other projects, these authors paint a picture of a profoundly dynamic anarchist movement, especially in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay.

Anarchism and the Labor Movement
Alfredo Gomez’s Anarquismo y Anarcosindicalismo en America Latina {Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism in Latin America) treats anarchism in Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Gomez focuses on anarchists’ role within the revolutionary labor movement and attempts to draw conclusions about the classical anarchist project based on the comparative study of the anarchist movement in these countries. G6mez, who is an anarchist, wants to both document the history of the movement and defend it in theoretical terms.

For Gomez, anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism (he does not distinguish between the two) is linked fundamentally to the labor movement. He regards anarchism as a theoretical expression of workers’ capacity to organize themselves and potentially run society without the interference of capitalists or statists. In other words, anarchism allows workers to become conscious of their power as workers, defend their immediate interests, and fight to revolutionize society as a whole.

In each country he treats, Gomez charts the emergence of a combative working class and the influence of anarchist groups on this class. His study of Colombian anarchism, which makes up nearly half of the book, is a welcome contribution given that Colombia has received scant attention in existing studies of Latin American anarchism. Here he documents major strikes, such as the anarchist led banana workers’ strike of 1928, and also the activities of anarchist groups such as Bogota’s Grupo Sindicalista “Antorcha Libertaria,” the Via Libre group, and others.(4) However, his emphasis lays upon the working class and its capacity to fight directly for its own interests rather than specifically anarchist activities per se. This is partially because the anarchist movement was less developed in Colombia than in other countries, but also because Gomez regards a direct action based workers’ movement and anarchism as essentially two sides of the same phenomenon (practice and theory, respectively). In Brazil, Gomez shows us how anarchists led a massive and nearly revolutionary wave of strikes from 1917 to 1920. In Argentina, which had one of the most mature anarchist movements in the Americas (and the world), Gomez focuses on the relationship between the anarchist Federation Obrera Regional de Argentina and working class struggles. In Mexico, Gomez examines the anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon’s intervention in the 1910 Mexican Revolution and also treats the Mexico City based Casa del Obrero Mundial (House of the World Worker), which was a center of anarchist organizing and labor radicalism.

The Democratic Dimension of Anarchism
The double book released by Chile’s Ediciones Espiritu Libertario contains Cronica Anarquista de la Subversion Olvidada {Anarchist Chronicle of Forgotten Subversion) by Oscar Ortiz and Luis Vitale’s Contribucion a una Historia del Anarquismo en America Latina {Contribution to a History of Anarchism in Latin America). These books document the history of anarchism in Latin America but have a special focus on the movement in Chile.

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Theory of the Anti-Globalization Movement

This first appeared in the November 2001 issue of The New Formulation: An Anti-Authoritarian Review of Books (Vol. 1, No. 1) .

* * * 

Theory of the Anti-Globalization Movement
Naming the Enemy: Anti-Corporate Movements Confront Globalization
by Amory Starr Zed Books, 2001

Globalization from Below: The Power of Solidarity
by Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, and Brendan Smith South End Press, 2000

~ Review by Chuck Morse

Finally, after years of disintegration and defeat on the Left, a new movement has erupted upon the political landscape. It is not organized around a single issue, identity based, or somehow “implicitly” radical. On the contrary, this movement directly attacks global capital’s economic and political infrastructure with a radically democratic politics and a strategy of confrontation. It is bold, anti-authoritarian, and truly global.

And also quite effective. This movement has already introduced a radical critique into the debate on the global economy and demonstrated the capacity to physically shut down meetings of trade ministers. It seems possible that this movement will continue to grow, deepen its radicalism, and revolutionize the world according to the radically democratic principles it embraces.

The emergence of the anti-globalization movement has produced a feeling of near euphoria among anarchists. Not only are our commitments to direct action and decentralization shared broadly in the movement as a whole, but we are also enjoying a political legitimacy that has eluded us for decades. We can now articulate our anti-statist, Utopian message to activists around the world and we are no longer dismissed as terrorists or cranks. In many respects it seems like we should just mobilize, mobilize, and mobilize.

Unfortunately this would be a grave mistake. The movement’s anti-authoritarian, revolutionary character is currently under attack by a informal network of reformists, who want nothing more than to see this movement accommodate itself to the basic structures of the present world. They are not waging a direct assault upon revolutionaries in the movement: they recognize that this would alienate them from the movement’s base. Instead, they are fighting us indirectly, in the realm of ideas. In particular, they hope to define the movement in a way that renders its most expansive, Utopian potentials literally unthinkable.

As important as it is to mobilize, anarchists will have to respond to this challenge on the theoretical terrain: we cannot afford to lose the battle of ideas. Above all, we must link the anti-globalization movement to a broader revolutionary project in a way that is coherent, concrete, and irrefutable. However, as a defensive measure, we should expose the reformist’s attempt to sever this link and reveal their designs to the movement as a whole. The reformers will respond by declaring their good faith or complaining about our divisiveness, but we should not be swayed by such pre-political subterfuge: on the contrary, we should be merciless with those who would hinder the realization of the anti-globalization movement’s most radical possibilities. Popular revolutionary movements have been betrayed countless times before: we should not let this happen again.

Naming the Enemy and Globalization from Below are exemplary documents of the reformist wing of the anti-globalization movement. They are more reflective and sophisticated than the majority of books on the movement and focus on the deeper questions upon which its identity hangs. These two works celebrate the movement’s radicalism emphatically, but in terms that make the revolutionary transformation of the social order inconceivable. Continue reading

Program

Below is the Program of The New Formulation: an Anti- Authoritarian Review of Books. Founded and edited by Chuck Morse, a total of four issues appeared between 2001 and 2004 (when it merged with Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, the publication of the Institute for Anarchist Studies).

~~~

Program:

Welcome to the first issue of The New Formulation: an Anti- Authoritarian Review of Books. This biannual journal contains comparative book reviews examining the value of recent publications to the development of a contemporary anarchist theory and politics.

The purpose of this journal is to help clarify the distinctness of an anarchist approach to social affairs, to provide a forum for the integration of new works and insights into the anarchist project, and to give authors struggling to redefine the tradition a setting in which to share their research and reflections.

Although the anarchist movement is currently enjoying a renewed influence on social movements and political life generally, there is a compelling need to clarify the principles, goals, and strategies that constitute the anarchist perspective. This is a precondition of the movement’s ability to become genuinely revolutionary and we hope this journal, and other sympathetic projects, can help facilitate this clarification.

Contributions are welcome. All book reviews must examine the failings and virtues of books for a contemporary anarchist theory and politics. Anarchism is understood here as a doctrine seeking the abolition of capitalism, the nation-state, and hierarchy generally, and the creation of a cooperative economy, a decentralized confederation of communes or municipalities, and a culture of liberation. The deadline for the next issue is April 1,2002.

Each review must treat at least two books and one must have been published in the previous two years. In some cases, reviews of works in other media (such as film) will be accepted.

Subscriptions are $5 in the United States and $10 elsewhere. Please make checks payable to The New Formulation.

An Anti-Authoritarian Response to the War Efforts

This first appeared in the November 2001 issue of The New Formulation: An Anti-Authoritarian Review of Books (Vol. 1, No. 1) . It was co-authored by Marina Sitrin and Chuck Morse.

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Editorial note: the exceptional nature of the September 11th terror attacks and the consequent war seemed to merit a momentary departure from The New Formulation’s book-review-only policy.

September 21,2001

Dear Comrades,

We are living through scary times. Clearly the U.S. Government and its allies believe they have a grand opportunity to realign domestic and international relationships in their interest. This is frightening: major shifts in the political landscape threaten to tear the ground from beneath our feet.

However, these glacial shifts in the political scene also offer anti- authoritarians a unique opportunity to obtain a new, more secure footing in our struggle against economic exploitation, political hierarchy, and cultural domination. Political conditions are changing radically and, if we respond correctly, we have the chance to advance our movement to a much higher level.

First of all, we must not be cowed by present circumstances, as disturbing as they are. On the contrary: recent events call upon us to exercise political leadership in the best, most principled and visionary sense of the term. This is our challenge, and one that we can meet with an anti-authoritarian vision and politics.

We believe it is imperative that anti-authoritarians formulate a coherent response to the war build-up and their role within the growing peace movement. We must not allow our perspective to be subsumed under more prominent but less radical tendencies in the Left. Also, the peace movement is presently defining its politics and structures and we have a great opportunity—at this moment—to engage the movement and push it in the most radical direction.

The purpose of this letter is to explore the contours of an anti- authoritarian position on recent events. We encourage you to discuss this letter with your friends and comrades and to prepare for broader discussions that we intend to initiate in the near future.

We want to address three important issues in this letter: structure, politics, and the future.

Structure
We anticipate that the anti-war movement will experience divisions similar to those that beset the peace movement during the Gulf War. In other words, national organizing efforts will be split into two organizations: one will be pacifist and more libertarian in character, and the other will be more militant and Stalinist. Both will be top-down mobilizations, built around well-known “leaders”, and awash with a moralism that would turn off even the most- open-minded citizens and activists. Continue reading

Theory of the Anti-Globalization Movement, Part II

This review first appeared in the June 2002 issue of The New Formulation:
An Anti-Authoritarian Review of Books
(Vol. 1, Issue 2)

Theory of the Anti-Globalization Movement, Part II

~ by Chuck Morse

On Fire: The Battle of Genoa and the Anti-capitalist Movement
By various authors
London: One-Off Press, 2001

The Battle of Seattle: The New Challenge to Capitalist Globalization
Edited by Eddie Yuen, George Katsiaficas, and Daniel Burton Rose
New York: Soft Skull Press, 2002

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What was remarkable about the movement that erupted in Seattle 1999 was not so much that previously adversarial sides of the progressive opposition—the “teamsters and turtles”—had started working together or that old revolutionary flags were flying once again. These things had happened at various times in recent history to no great effect. What was extraordinary was the dialogue that emerged between members of the revolutionary, ideological Left (anarchists and communists) and activists whose primary interest lay in pragmatic, bread-and-butter reforms. These two tendencies have long been divided and often regarded one another suspiciously, but somehow the anti-globalization movement created a political space in which they could come together and jointly imagine a movement that is Utopian and yet faithful to the demands of day-to-day activism.

The challenge was to figure out how to hold these dimensions together in one more or less unified movement—how to be realistic and demand the impossible—and activists across the world confronted this challenge with a vigorous campaign of education from below. They held teach-ins, Internet discussions, and sponsored countless other activities designed to flesh out the contours of this compelling new movement. Although their work helped raise the level of discourse among activists immeasurably, the movement’s common principles remained embodied in a sensibility and shared activist experience rather than in clear political statements.

Thus the significance of On Fire: The Battle of Genoa and the Anti-capitalist Movement and The Battle of Seattle: The New Challenge to Capitalist Globalization. These anthologies attempt to constitute the anti-globalization movement as a coherent project. They draw upon its history and culture to elaborate its internal cohesiveness, identify its continuities and discontinuities with other political tendencies, and clarify its problems. They reveal a movement that is exciting and dynamic but also struggling with difficult theoretical and political questions. In fact, the future of the anti-globalization movement will be determined to a great extent by our response to many of the issues raised by these books. Continue reading

Red, Bike, & Green: The Interview!

(first published on Project Oakland on )

The link between transportation and racial justice has been an explicit part of American culture since Rosa Parks ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycot in 1955, if not earlier. Most of us understand, if only intuitively, that who moves around, where they move to and from, and what they move upon interacts with complicated histories of oppression, rebellion, and innovation.

This is one of the reasons why Oakland’s Red, Bike, and Green collective  is so exciting. They have not only created an an affirmative, welcome spacing for Black urban cyclists but also established a platform for a new discussion of the politics of mobility in the city.

I recently had a chance to ask Red, Bike, and Green about their work and views. The following is a transcript of our exchange.

~ Chuck Morse

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Q. Can you tell me how Red, Bike, and Green (RBG) got started and what exactly you do?

Design by Nick James

A. Five years ago, becoming more and more disenchanted with driving, the cost of regular car maintenance, insurance rates, gas prices, and the overall expense of having a car, Jenna Burton decided to ride her bike more regularly. She began to think about creating a space and culture for Black folks that would promote biking as a safe and viable mode of transportation. Burton organized a small group of Black bikers to go on random weekend rides. Further conversations with colleagues and friends led to naming the group Red, Bike, and Green. For those unfamiliar, Red, Bike and Green is an ode to Marcus Garvey’s idea that Black people in the United States need their own nation and flag, which would be symbolized in the colors of Red, Black, and Green.

With a little help from some friends, Burton officially launched the first season in April of 2010. Red, Bike, and Green now rides every third Saturday and First Friday of the month from April until November of each year.

Q. One way that White supremacy operates is by limiting the mobility of Black people and people of color generally—from the laws that prevented people from moving into a specific neighborhood to the ongoing police harassment of motorists (i.e., “driving while Black”). Do you believe that encouraging Black people to get around by bike is a way to challenge White supremacy? If so, how?

A. Yes. And no. First and foremost, we see RBG as a psychological and spiritual departure from White-supremacist values. While we are not gathering with the intention of directly challenging White supremacy, we are not trying to feed that machine either. If the indirect outcome of being pro Black (not anti-White) and asserting autonomy is a challenge to White supremacy, then so be it. We are functioning out of a love for Black people and the need to create a space where we feel safe and part of a community that cares about our well-being.

When you see fifty plus Black people on bikes in ANY neighborhood it is a symbol of Black power. The rides are a way to make a space where Black love and healthy Black living is visible. As a result of RBG’s success in outreaching to a community of Black folks who have largely been ignored by mainstream bike culture, it has given us a platform with which to fight different sorts of oppression and we are grateful for that.

Q. Black people have long been marginalized in the cycling sports—from the prohibition on African-American membership in the League of American Bicyclists, which was not rescinded until 1999, to more subtle signals that push Black people out of bike networks. What do you think about the racial dynamics of the bike scene in the East Bay today? In what ways is it an affirmative, inviting place for Black people and how is it not?

What is affirming is that there are groups that have advocated for bike lanes in some neighborhoods, which make it safer and easier to ride for all bikers. Who are the bike lanes for is the question.

It is easy to assume that biking is a really accessible and easy way to travel. But a simple understanding like that discounts not only the cost of the bike but also other factors that weigh in when thinking about riding. Can you afford to fix your bike if it is broken? Is it practical for your lifestyle (i.e., do you have children)? If your bike is stolen, can you replace it? What’s the morale before even deciding to get on a bike?

If we were to use a metaphor to illustrate the racial dynamics of the bike scene in the East Bay, it might read something like this: Red, Bike, and Green is like English Breakfast Tea being dropped in an ocean—it’s not going to turn anything Black. The bike scene in the East Bay is largely a White space and since Black people are traditionally overlooked in bike culture as well as multi-racial sites of organizing, an organization like RBG fills a void.

Q. There is a tendency in Hip Hop culture to celebrate cars, particularly luxury cars, as symbols of power and even defiance. Do you believe that encouraging bike riding among Black people is an important counter-tendency to this trend? If so, why?

A. RBG is cultivating a culture of healthy living that incorporates more alternative and economic modes of transportation, such as bike riding. It’s important to encourage bike riding as a counter tendency to materialism, but we want to be careful not to give Hip Hop (or any one culture) the monopoly on defining blackness. The side that’s been dominated by mainstream media has fixated on a particular kind of Hip Hop, where luxury cars are flaunted as being Hip Hop.

As an anecdote, when Burton started riding her bike in 2008, the Black folks that she would see riding were largely folks that couldn’t afford cars. By and large, they rode a bike out of necessity. And over the years she has seen a change. While it is still not commonplace, there are a lot more Black folks on bikes.

Part of the reason why RBG exists is to try and bridge the gap between the folks that are already riding (the avid cyclist; the sports enthusiast; the college educated, single, twenty/thirty something, without kids, health conscious rider) and those that haven’t given riding a second thought. And one thing RBG does pretty well is create a visual aesthetic around Black folks riding bikes, care of our designer, Nick James. The material that is produced for RBG intentionally uses the rich history of biking in the Black community. I guess you could say we are redefining Blackness too.

Q. Do you have sister groups in other cities?

Yes. In Chicago and Atlanta.

Q. In an ideal world, where will Black biking in the Bay Area be in, say, five or ten years?

A. Hopefully there will still be Black people left in Oakland and the Bay Area.

Q. How can people get involved with and/or support RBG?

A.Follow us on Twitter or Facebook.  Or you can donate through Paypal on our website at www.redbikegreen.com

Photo by Jewels Smith