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Tired Old Anti-Communism

For those of us who call ourselves "communist" the problem of failed communist led revolutions, most notably Russia and China, is always something we have to confront.  Or, more accurately, this false dilemma is always something we are forced to confront––raised by those who feel they have some special insight about ideology and history, and that they've caught us in a problem we've never bothered to think about until they brought it to our attention.  It's like they imagine that we crawled out of the end of the nineteenth century and have never heard that the two great world-shaking revolutions failed to establish world communism: "communism was already tried, haven't you heard, and it clearly doesn't work because: [insert some empty platitude, most probably that idiot Winston Churchill aphorism, here]."

To be fair, some self-proclaimed communists have crawled out of the end of the nineteenth century or, at the very least, the beginning of the …

Meditations on James Yaki Sayles' Meditations

I used to be surprised when people told me that, although they owned a copy of Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, all they had ever bothered to read was the preface by Jean-Paul Sartre.  They would often be quite eloquent about how wonderful this preface was, how impressed they were by Sartre's insights, and yet they would never bother to read the actual book.  This used to be one of my pet peeves: if the preface is so great, was my standard reply, then why don't you read what it's meant to introduce?  The response was usually something like "I intend to" or "I'll get around to it soon."  But the book would be returned to their shelves, Fanon never read because he was already described in their minds by Sartre––why read a text that has been adequately summarized by a European authority?

It is not that I have a problem with Sartre's preface––in fact I think it's a very good preface––but I would prefer if people went straight to Fan…

Our Infantile Activism

My previous entry, the report on the 2nd Canadian Revolutionary Congress, caused me to reflect on my history with activist organizations, affinity groups, and my own union local.  Although I have had many wonderful, politicizing, and fulfilling experiences working with collectives ranging from Al-Awda to the grass-roots working groups of my local, they were still ultimately unsatisfying due to the lack of overall revolutionary vision/strategy and the general behaviour of the activists towards each other.  So many of us have walked away from these movements, jaded and exhausted, because they tend to use people up and promote petty bourgeois arrogance.
I know a lot of activists who used to do very good work––and in many ways still do good work––but who are now obsessed with running their little leftist fiefdoms.  Who have risen to positions of authority within their groups, sometimes at the expense of the invisible labour of others.  Who lack any vision beyond their organization, waste t…

Of Parties and Sectarianism: A Report on the Second Canadian Revolutionary Congress

There was a time, back when I first became involved in activism, where I imagined that organizational spaces would be these beautiful places free from oppression and egotism and that, because we all had similar politics, would signify in practice the politics we wanted to see manifest.  I never discovered that ideal organizational space: instead I witnessed organizations collapse, people burn out and drop away, the rise of activist arrogance, and the failure to produce a political practice or basis of ideological unity that was capable of responding to the overall reality of capitalism and imperialism.

This is not to say that my past experiences in activism were not worthwhile.  Some of my closest friends and comrades, and some of my most politicizing experiences, happened in my long march through these solidarity groups, student groups, and anti-imperialist networks.  And the experiences of my labour union, its radical working groups, and the three month long strike taught me a lot a…

Between the Poly-pushers and the Mono-mongers

One of the more recent and problematic ideologies that has been embraced by left-wing movements, organizations, and working groups is the ideology of polyamory.  A sexual politics that rejects monogamy as retrograde, polyamory is promoted by some as a necessary radicalism––a rejection of the conservatism that is supposedly the essence of monogamy––a qualification for being properly left.  My issue with this ideology is not moralistic but political: I do not see polyamory as essentially more progressive than monogamy, and I am deeply suspicious of how this claim of poly-radicalism can replace material political struggle with an idealist body-politics.

bell hooks once asked and interviewer rhetorically, "Don't you think the biggest lie of our contemporary liberation movements is that who you fuck radicalizes you?"  We can add how to the who as we reconsider the warning behind hooks' question in the context of poly-radicalism.  The point she was making with this questio…

When The Social Becomes Literature

Why is it that the primary qualification required for publishing hip-radical social theory is a degree in literature?  I really have no problem with people of various academic/educational backgrounds writing social theory, I just have a problem with people becoming authorities on politics and history when they spurn as part of their methodology any concrete grounding in political economy or history.  The literary dimension of social theory is obviously important, but when people whose only foundation to social theorizing is literary analysis refuse to engage with political economy and/or concrete history then they really should not be publishing in an area beyond their realm of academic know-how.  An analysis of history and society that relies primarily on a proficiency in literary theory tends to reduce the world to a text, reading it only at a very limited ideological level, and cannot truly be radical.  We should be starting from the concrete, moving to the abstract, and then apply…

The Prophetic (Night)Vision of Butch Lee and Red Rover

In a 1990s interview, the radical and influential social theorist bell hooks spoke glowingly of Butch Lee and Red Rover's Night-Vision: Illuminating War & Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain.  hooks referred to this book as a vital contribution to social theory, lamenting the fact that it was not being widely reviewed or read.  And though hooks is constantly cited by numerous chic academic theorists, Night-Vision remains obscure and relatively unknown.

Take Anne McClintock's influential and best-selling Imperial Leather, for example, a work of theory that purports to establish the "intimate relation" between the categories of race, class and gender but ultimately fails to deliver on its promise due to its tragic inability (despite its impressive rigor and beauty) to grasp the material conditions behind these categories.  Although McClintock often cites bell hooks she is utterly oblivious to a work of theory hooks claimed "brings together class, race and gender…

Civilizational Nightmares: Nicholas Winding Refn's "Valhalla Rising"

"There on the margins between known and unknown, the male conquistadors, explorers and sailors become creatures of transition.  As such, they were dangerous..." (Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather)


1: civilizational delirium
A village burned to the ground.  Corpses stacked in heaps of ash and bone.  Women shuddering, huddled together.  Armed men, crusaders at the edge of Christendom, presiding over the post-slaughter.  This landscape is one of the many nightmare settings of Nicholas Winding Refn's strange and obscurist film Valhalla Rising.  Encountered by the film's mute protagonist One-Eye in the second chapter, the post-massacre village is significant because it is one of the only two settings in the film that references a settled and civilized stability, but a stability marked by absence––an erasure.  It is also the only setting where women are depicted, however briefly, on camera.

trailer for Valhalla Rising (2009)
Having escaped and murdered the men who kept him as…