Perspectives 2009

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"A Criminal with a Noble Face": Oscar Wilde's Encounters with the Victorian Gaol by Kristian Williams

Prologue:  A Visit to An American Jail
During his American tour of 1882, Oscar Wilde visited Lincoln, Nebraska, and lectured there propounding the doctrines of the aestheticist movement with which he was associated.  Afterward, his hosts took him for a tour of their city's most impressive public building -- the local jail.  The warden showed him photographs of habitual offenders and recounted vivid tales of their crimes.  Wilde later wrote a friend about the prisoners:  "Poor sad types of humanity in hideous striped dresses making bricks in the sun, and all mean-looking, which consoled me, for I should hate to see a criminal with a noble face."

Wilde visited the "Little whitewashed cells, so tragically tidy, but with books in them.  In one I found a translation of Dante, and a Shelley.  Strange and beautiful it seemed to me that the sorrow of a single Florentine in exile should, hundreds of years afterwards, lighten the sorrow of some common prisoner in a modern gaol. . . ."[1]

Without realizing it, Wilde had glimpsed his own future.

Prefiguring Real Universal Health Care, by Alex Bradshaw

People who favor a radically different society do not write much about healthcare. I’m not speaking of liberals or social democrats, but individuals who prefigure a society that empowers communities in which decisions are made directly by people in those communities.

It is understandable why they are reluctant to write about healthcare at great length; for a real, democratic, free health care system based on the needs of the community, in which decisions are decided collectively by health care personnel together with members of the respective community, a complete transformation of extant communities is required. Even when it seems that capitalism is imploding with or without revolution, this is still the epoch dominated by this detrimental economic model. The likelihood that radicals will ever see a society that functions according to the needs of communities through mutual aid, voluntarism, and a dismantling of social hierarchies is highly unlikely. This doesn’t discourage me in the least bit, however, from prefiguring this society, and healthcare’s not an exception.

Driven From Below: A Look at Tenant Organizing and the New Gentrification, by Andrea Gibbons

This essay is the beginning of an attempt to combine theory and practice for radical organizers and activists working to combat gentrification and displacement in cities across the United States. Based on the premise that all real change has to be driven by those most affected by injustice, it takes a detailed look at some of the practical challenges involved in tenant organizing, and the building of long-lived and sustainable structures for horizontal organization and direct democracy. This organizing work is understood to be situated within a framework of neoliberalism and globalization that are the ultimate causes of gentrification and displacement in the inner city.

Protest as Embodied State Practices: An Examination of Hegemonic and Counter-Hegemonic Protest Tactics by Sabrina Alimahomed and Jake Alimahomed-Wilson[1]

Mass mobilization demonstrations have attracted numerous participants to protest a wide array of issues, including capitalist globalization, US militarism, political conventions, and transnational business operations. These recent political convergences in the United States have attracted an endless amount of attention from the state and the media. Numbers of participants have ranged from several hundred to tens of thousands.

In an effort to organize these actions, a specific rational ordering and internalization of state practices has occurred on the part of mainstream protesters. It is our intent to demonstrate the ways in which mass convergences embody particular state practices. We will be examining dominant protest discourses that promote a belief in state sanctioned democracy, techniques of surveillance among protesters, legality of protest tactics, internalization of state authority, and inscriptions of legitimate protest space. Additionally, we will focus on the counter resistance that is present at mass mobilizations in order to further shed light on the relationship between the state and legitimate protest. The counter-hegemonic forms of protest that exist within these larger convergences are often made visible by the scrutiny of other protesters. Specifically, we will analyze the counter-hegemonic forms of resistance that are present by examining the decentralized organizing tactics of the black bloc[2] in the following areas: anonymity, extra-legal spatial formation, and cultural space reclamation. In order to frame the context for such an interrogation of this question, it is important to look at the discourses surrounding these mass convergences.

Radical Green Populism: Climate Change, Social Change and the Power of Everyday Practices by E. Colin Ruggero

Over the past decade, climate change has finally established itself as a recognized global problem, drawing attention, discussion and even action from governments, their allies, the media and industry. Further, there is no lack of input from the 'social progressive' perspective, dominated by the Left, Old Left and Corporate-NGO/US Democratic Party. However, there has been comparatively little comment from anti-authoritarian, radical perspectives. This means that even the critical discourse surrounding mainstream climate change solutions has been controlled by a small number of opinions. This is the source of the consumption-heavy, technocratic marketing campaigns that masquerade as solutions; this dominant discourse is little more than a celebration of 'green' consumer goods and, more importantly, large-scale energy systems.

What’s Happening: Recent Books, by John Petrovato

This column was written some time ago, but contains much relevant information. We present it now, and promise a more up-to-date column this fall.

The Institute for Anarchist Studies, in its mission to encourage critical thought and discourse about anarchism, has given out over 50 grants to writers over the last thirteen years. It was our hope that by assisting anarchist writers with encouragement and financial support, that more and better anarchist writings would appear. The fruits of these labors are now apparent, and half a dozen of the books reviewed below are projects by IAS grantees. The first part of this column will review some of the books IAS grant recipients have published recently.

“A Country Considered to Be Free” Towards a Transnational Study of New Zealand Links with the Wobblies by Mark Derby

In the 1890s a New Zealand watersiders’ leader announced to his members, “We have no flag, we have no country.”1 He was declaring the internationalism of labor at a time when patriotism and imperialism then characterized the population. It was some years before his views became widespread, even within the militant end of the New Zealand union movement, and none promulgated them more strongly and sincerely than the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies, whose name is itself a declaration of internationalism. The early Wobblies were internationalists in practice as well as in spirit – they belonged to transitory occupations, they crossed and re-crossed the Tasman, the Pacific and much further afield, were often in danger of deportation or on the run, and in general they regarded their nationality as an accident of birth and a supreme irrelevance.

For those reasons a study of the Wobblies in New Zealand, which has been barely attempted on practical grounds, is also inappropriate to its subject. It is imposing a nationalist frame on an internationalist movement. Instead, I am addressing the wider issue of New Zealand’s many links with the IWW, links which run both into and out of this country and include some of the organization’s most influential figures worldwide. My research suggests that the influence and extent of Wobbly ideas in New Zealand have been seriously understated, and New Zealand’s links with Wobbly movements elsewhere entirely overlooked. The Wobblies themselves left only scanty traces of their actions as they passed in and out of this country, and the partisan rewriting of history by the political parties which regarded themselves as natural successors to the IWW both co-opted and eliminated traces of their Wobbly roots. This essay is, therefore, an initial attempt at tracing the Wobbly strain in New Zealand’s political development.

Call for Climate Change and Economic Crisis Articles for Perspectives on Anarchist Theory

Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, the journal of the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS), is calling for submissions that address climate change and the current economic crisis from radical and revolutionary positions. We see the ecological crisis as an indictment of dominant social structures. With this in mind, we would like to publish essays exploring this moment as an opportunity to radically restructure society for the better.

The world today faces the immediate impact of a global recession, coupled with the quickly unfolding reality of catastrophic climate change. The economy and the environment are inextricably linked, as capitalist economic decisions erode ecological balance and long-term sustainability. Ecology may be the one question which capitalism can not answer. This climate crisis, a threat to the lives of billions of people - primarily the poor of the southern hemisphere - as well as countless plant and animal species, has not as of yet received due consideration by the anti-authoritarian Left. It has received some attention from the Left, and from the anti-civilization, primitivist Green Anarchy camps, but we are seeking further elaborations and more systematic treatments from social revolutionaries and anti-authoritarians.

Anarchism and the Movement for a New Society: Direct Action and Prefigurative Community in the 1970s and 80s By Andrew Cornell

The international anarchist movement was reborn on new footings in the wake of the global insurrections of 1968, nearly all of which were decidedly libertarian in character. In the United States, the decade that followed was a time of experimentation and consolidation, as a surprising variety of groups sought to develop and adapt different aspects of the anarchist tradition to contemporary conditions. Sam Dolgoff and others worked to revitalize the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), alongside new syndicalist formations like the Chicago-based Resurgence group and Boston’s Root & Branch; Bookchin’s Anarchos collective deepened the theoretical links between ecological and anarchist thought; the Fifth Estate drew heavily on French ultra-leftist thinking and began pursuing a critique of technology by decade’s end. Meanwhile, the Social Revolutionary Anarchist Federation connected individuals and circles across the country through a mimeographed monthly discussion bulletin. Just as influential to the anarchist milieu that has taken shape in the decades which have followed, however, were the efforts of the Movement for a New Society, a national network of feminist radical pacifist collectives that existed from 1971 to 1988.

World Class Carelessness, A Review of Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism, edited by Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk by Sarah Lewison


We Buy Ugly Houses Too

Mid-century US urban development was notorious for breaking up communities inhabited by the poor and people of color. Frequently urban realignments were structured to make way for general civic projects like highways, but racism and class discrimination inevitably guided their specific placement. The State’s power of eminent domain made it feasible to condemn entire neighborhoods for the four-lane blacktop, a kind of public work that simplified new housing construction for a specific private sector. To serve consumers who might purchase suburban houses, a new kind of “public” was conjured, one that needed roads. The matter of which public benefits from urban development is a matter of perspective. It is a decision that should emerge from vigorous debates, but increasingly many cities simply rework their plans for the benefit of those with the most dough. The word, “public” then, effectively refers to a shrinking piece of the demographic pie. Since two decades, the use of strict cost-benefit analysis to structure city finance has seemingly excused governments and their private “partners” from any commitment to maintaining a heterogeneous urban fabric.

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