How the Nation of Islam fought white supremacy with pie

This first appeared in Roar Magazine on September 22, 2021

Radicals have long used food to challenge the status quo. The Nation of Islam’s
navy bean pie was a weapon in its battle against white supremacy.

_ _ _ _ _

by Chuck Morse

Apples fall from trees and berries grow on bushes, but food is not given by nature. It is a construct and, as such, conveys meaning. Although most foods affirm the status quo, there are also foods that register discontent with the dominant social order and hopes for an alternate future. They are part of the foodscape and remind us that dissidents have always contested the food system at the deepest level.

Consider the Nation of Islam’s navy bean pie. This dense, amber-colored dessert embodied a sweeping anti-racist narrative and was a weapon in the group’s battle against white supremacy, evoking the possibility of a cuisine designed to eradicate white terror.

Though diminished today, the Nation of Islam led one of the many challenges to white supremacy that took place in the United States during what some writers have called “the long sixties.” Whereas Martin Luther King Jr. implored white Americans to heed their consciences and join the “beloved community,” the Nation of Islam denounced white depravity and evoked the specter of Black rage. Malcolm X was its best-known member, and his searing indictment of white racism shook the American establishment and echoed globally, but there were tens of thousands of adherents spread out across American cities. The group’s distinctive culture as well as temples, schools, businesses and other institutions bound its devotees into a recognizable, coherent force.

Food was intensely important to the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad, its primary leader and ideologue, released a two-volume book on the topic, How to Eat to Live, and the organization also ran supermarkets, restaurants, bakeries, farms and other food-related businesses. This reflected its commitment to the body as a site upon which to contest white racism and enact Black liberation. While many civil rights advocates focused on changing legislation, the Nation of Islam was a separatist organization and its goals were more inward and corporal. In addition to food, it instructed its members in clothing and hair styles, exercise regimes and reproductive health practices. Its mandates rested on a foundation of explicitly patriarchal, heterosexist norms.

The Nation of Islam embraces a doctrine that bears little resemblance to the Islam practiced by most Muslims in the United States or elsewhere. The group identifies a millennia-long struggle between whites, who are the devil incarnate, and Blacks, who are the chosen ones. It expects this conflict to culminate in “the fall of America,” to cite a book by Elijah Muhammad, followed by Black freedom from white domination. Members used dietary and other body-centered practices to demonstrate their piety as they waited for the coming rupture and to experience moments of redemption in the here and now. For the Nation of Islam, Black empowerment was divine and it could take place on an individual, micro scale as well as on a collective, macro scale.

Elijah Muhammad outlined the culinary dimension of this process in How to Eat to Live, which contains articles that he first published in the group’s newspaper. He argues that Black people should avoid the conventions and foodstuffs of white cuisine, which reflect white people’s “innate wickedness,” and also those of popular Black foodways, often known as “soul food,” which he considered a relic of the “slave diet.” Doing so would allow them to nourish their bodies and affirm their spiritual nobility. He also offered precise instructions on foods to consume and foods to avoid, which ranged from the sensible to the bizarre: he urged members to prioritize fresh fruits and vegetables, to forego all bird except for baby pigeon, and to eat as much cream cheese as possible. Although he did not mention the pie, he repeatedly encouraged the consumption of navy beans.

The navy bean pie is the Nation of Islam’s sole contribution to American food. It is not clear when it first appeared, but it was central to the group’s transformative project. Members filled organizational coffers by selling it to motorists and passersby on streets in cities with active Nation of Islam chapters and at the sect’s restaurants, supermarkets and food stands. Pie sales also expanded the group’s ranks: there are accounts of people who joined the Nation of Islam after forging relationships with members while purchasing the pie. The pie’s ubiquity indicated that the sect had begun to reshape the fabric of urban life and to impact the more intimate realms of taste and diet.

The dish itself embodies the group’s anti-racist outlook in general and Elijah Muhammad’s culinary ideas in particular. The use of a bean filling distinguishes it from white America’s fruit pies, notably the apple pie, the culinary icon of American settler colonialism, and also from the sweet potato pie, a soul food classic. This demarcation unburdens the dessert of culinary legacies that undermine Black greatness. And those who eat it will encounter a tempered sweetness, thanks to use of beans and also the occasional use of brown sugar and whole wheat crusts, which affirms Black temperance and thus piety. Finally, beans evoke the role that grains (and grain storage) played in the rise of cities and thus civilization, tying the pie’s pleasures to narratives of world-building.

Although How to Eat To Live is eclectic and contradictory, persuasive assertions are implicit in the pie. As a dessert, it is principally an affirmation of pleasure. You consume it not to satisfy the demands of hunger, nutrition, or some other necessity, but because it is enjoyable to do so, as an end in its own right. Culinary pleasure, like all pleasure, must be free and uncoerced — it cannot be compelled. Insofar as the Nation of Islam believed that white coercion defines the present epoch, this moment of delight is necessarily an instance of respite from white tyranny. The critique of white food and popular Black foodways written into the pie sets the stage for this embodied experience of liberation, which is literally divine.

And this points toward compelling culinary prospects. If the pie allows for an escape from white oppression, no matter how fleeting, other foods presumably do so as well, and this suggests the possibility of an entire cuisine organized against white supremacy, with its own foods, flavors, textures, cooking practices and eating conventions. How to Eat To Live was too immersed in Nation of Islam maxims to do more than gesture in this direction, but the discourse about pleasure inscribed in the pie provides a more sustainable foundation. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, white radicals produced what Warren Belasco called a “counter-cuisine” in his book on the topic, Appetite for Change. They arrayed their foods against “the system” broadly, whereas the pie signals a cuisine built around opposition to white supremacy specifically.

Communist opponents of white supremacy have been unable to explore this possibility. They have typically regarded culinary matters with indifference and, instead, focused on workplace conflicts and charting a path to power. They have also generally not acknowledged the potential for pre-revolutionary moments of emancipation. For them, cuisine would be important after the revolution; until then, the task is to make it. Even the Black Panther Party’s “Free Breakfast Program,” one of the best-known attempts to link food, Black liberation and communism, treated food as a means to an end. That is, when the Panthers fed poor, Black children, their goal was to demonstrate government neglect and build party support, not to comment on food as such.

Nowadays, it is difficult to find the pie. The Nation of Islam appears to be shrinking and the group’s investment in reactionary, particularly anti-Semitic ideas has justly made it an object of scorn for many. And we have learned things about white supremacy that weaken some of the pie’s premises. When Elijah Muhammad explicated his culinary views, it seemed necessary to re-invent Black food from scratch. As he saw it, slavery had ruptured any connection that African Americans had to their African past and, with it, the threads of a possible counter-tradition in food. History was a void, as signified by the X in Malcolm X’s name, and thus hopes for an alternate future had to be grounded in otherworldly terms. But, in the intervening decades, historians and other scholars have revealed that enslaved Africans often sustained aspects of their own culture, including their culinary culture, despite their captivity. Their legacy can and should be part of any contemporary attempt to create foods that defy white supremacy.

In 1862, Ludwig Feuerbach affirmed a materialist theory of history when he wrote that “man is what he eats.” Of course, Feuerbach was correct, but we also construct what we eat and sometimes our constructs express oppositional convictions. That is true of the Nation of Islam’s navy bean pie. Though embedded in the group’s theology and tied to some of its retrograde impulses, the dish was a tool of mobilization, embodied anti-racist narratives, and conjured expansive culinary possibilities. Its time has passed, but it is a record of contest that demonstrates that the foodscape is richer and more conflicted than we often suppose.

RIP, David Graeber.

David Graeber died on September 2, 2020. I posted the following
comment on social media shortly after I learned of his death.

= = =

I wanted to share a reflection on Graeber.

I first met David in 2003, as the “anti-globalization movement” was winding down, and kept up with him over the years. He and I were never super close, but we were friends and he was very close to some people with whom I am very close. He was kind and charming to me every time that we interacted without exception.

Keeping up with David meant not just tracking the vicissitudes of his personal life—where he was living and working and with whom he was hanging out—but also following how he managed his immense intellectual gifts and commitment to engagement. Most of us tend to build lives around the prompts given to us, but that was not really an option for David: his tremendous talents and capacities ensured that his life would be a project or an adventure.

I recall that that there was a time when he wrote angry, polemical replies to critical reviews of a book of his on Amazon. All of this played out on Amazon’s reviews page! And I remember thinking that it was completely nuts. Ignore the reviews or at least be magnanimous, but don’t make potential readers think that you are angry or feel pressured to respond to your work in a certain way! I had never seen an author do something like that.

I believe that he learned to restrain himself, but witnessing it had an impact on me and took me some time to figure out. I never thought that David was worried about book sales or his fame per se. You don’t become David Graeber if you’re trying to make money and I don’t think he was invested in his fame as such—he was never pretentious and always super approachable.

I think that he felt wounded by critical reviews because he poured his heart and soul into his books. He was a scholar, but I think he made himself vulnerable in his work in ways that few other scholars do. As I see it, his fears and hopes and attachments were embedded in his writing. Naturally it hurt when people found fault with it.

Reflecting on this made me feel so grateful to him. He outlined an immensely interesting, dramatic way of navigating the world as an intellectual, fascinating and inspiring in its own right, but, more than anything, I am grateful for his vulnerability. How fortunate we are that he was willing to take the risk and give so much of himself to us—to me and his intimates and all of those he impacted. The world is truly a better place for it.

He is gone far too soon. I mourn his loss and celebrate his memory. I send love to all those who are struggling with this right now.

~ Chuck Morse

[The photo of David was taken at my wedding on October 22, 2006]

A More Complicated Bookchin

Buried in my filing cabinet, I occasionally find documents that date back to the two or three years during which my political history intersected with that of Murray Bookchin, the most creative anarchist thinker to emerge out of the post-WWII era. That is the case with the article copied below, which I happened upon a few days ago and promptly scanned.

I post it because it suggests a more complicated view of Bookchin than that presented in Janet Biehl’s Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin (2015). Biehl was Bookchin’s romantic companion for many years and her book is a tribute to his memory, not an attempt to make sense of his life or his work. She makes no effort to assess his contributions or explain why his life unfolded in the way that it did: she simply recounts the facts of his biography in laudatory, unreflective terms. Her intellectual passivity compromises her work in a crucial way because it compels her to avoid mention of his shortcomings or failings. To discuss such topics, she would have to interpret and analyze him, and that is something that she is either unwilling or unable to do. This results in a Bookchin without depth, a man lacking in the tensions and conflicts that burden the rest of us mortals.

Published in 1991, the breezy, one-off article that follows offers a glimpse into a crucial chapter in Bookchin’s long activist life: his first (and only) attempt to implement his libertarian municipalist ideas. “Libertarian municipalism” was the term that he used to describe his program for social change and his assertions about the revolutionary potential of the city. Bookchin did not believe that radicals should build countercultural enclaves or try to organize the working class: they should focus their efforts on the city, which they should attempt to turn into a directly democratic, revolutionary commune. He also argued that they should do this specifically by running candidates for local office. This would enable them to put a revolutionary program before the public at large and compel them to engage bread-and-butter issues of social policy.

Bookchin was in the early stages of deploying this strategy in Burlington, Vermont when I met him in 1989. His organizational vehicle was the Burlington Greens, a group that he founded and led, and he had also helped seed the city with a network of study groups, publications, and projects. I knew that I wanted to be part of the venture as soon as I learned about it and moved to Burlington at once. When I arrived, I joined a larger group of young people who had come for similar reasons and threw myself into the work. I explore aspects of this experience in “Being a Bookchinite.” Biehl also touches upon these years in her book.

Continue reading

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 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.

Continue reading

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


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).



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.