Monday, February 27, 2006

Octavia Butler, Rest In Peace

Octavia Butler, perhaps the most politically relevant science fiction writer i have ever had the pleasure of reading, died last Friday, after falling and hitting her head on the cobbled walkway outside her home. She was 58.


I only first heard of Butler a few years ago, when i was in the process of publishing my comrade Butch Lee’s book The Military Strategy of Women and Children, a call for women to organize an autonomous movement to wage war on patriarchy and imperialism. In the introduction, Butch mentioned Butler as “an outrider of Women’s intellectual advance,” one who “lit up the terrain in flashes ahead of us.”

I assumed she was a political theorist…

Later that year i was visiting Seth Hayes, a political prisoner who has been in prison since 1973 for activities he is accused of having carried out as a member of the Black Liberation Army. We got to talking about books, and Seth told me he liked reading science fiction – seeing as i also love the genre i asked him if he had any recommendations for me.

He had one: Octavia Butler.


Born to a Black working class family in 1947, Butler’s father (who died when she was a child) was a shoeshine man, and her mother was a maid who brought her along on jobs. She began writing at age 10, turning to SF after watching the movie Devil Girl from Mars and realizing that she could do a much better job. Despite the fact that there were so few models for Black woman authors – her aunt told her that “Negroes can't be writers” – she would eventually win the Hugo, Nebula and James Tiptree awards, and in 1995 became the first and only science fiction novelist to ever be granted the MacArthur “Genius” award.

Butler’s first novel was published in 1979. Defying the expectations of the genre, Kindred took place in the antebellum south, the only SF “gimmick” being that the protagonist was a Black woman from the 1970s who found herself transported through time for reasons initially unclear. The book – which was repeatedly rejected by publishers who balked at a science fiction novel set on a 19th century plantation – would eventually have over a quarter million copies in print.

It was followed by almost a dozen other books, as well as numerous short stories and essays.

Science fiction, at its best, is an intensely political genre. By creating characters we can identify with, and telling stories which seduce us both emotionally and intellectually, good authors actually convey the implications and qualities of different social systems and realities in a way which can seem more real than non-fiction speculation or analysis. Of course this is not a fact limited to either SF or politics – the whole notion of conveying a more vivid and authentic picture of reality by actually departing from a strictly “objective” and “realistic” portrayal is common to many forms of storytelling and art (think impressionism!) – but for me it is the SF genre that succeeds at doing this most beautifully.

Butler herself alluded to the importance of this kind of storytelling, explaining in regards to Kindred that her goal was “to make real the emotional reality of slavery. I was trying make people feel more about the data they had learned. I wanted to make the past real and [show] how it scars the present.” [Interviewing The Oracle: Octavia Butler, by Kazembe Balagun]

While Kindred was a way of countering the way in which slavery is trivialized and “normalized”, Butler’s subsequent works continued to draw on the past, but in much more subtle ways, as she cast her view to the future, using it to illuminate current trends and also to examine deeper philosophical and psychological questions.

Dystopia vs. Utopia: The Earthseed “Trilogy”
I had somebody review that book, Parable [of the Sower], and say “Well interesting book but she should have been more clear about how we could possibly get from where we are to where they are in Parable because I just don't see it.” I thought, “You poor baby.”
- Octavia Butler (interviewed by Jelani Cobb)

Butler’s Earthseed “trilogy” (she only completed the first two books, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents Parable of the Trickster was started but she put it aside to work on other projects) was set in the very near future. Again, there is a dearth of high-tech gadgetry, apart from some new recreational drugs and “slave collars” (both of which are currently within the realm of the easily manufactured, i’m sure) the only truly “new” thing is a form of psychic empathy some individuals develop.

By avoiding a focus on technology, the Earthseed books avoid a pitfall of much science fiction, where the “futuristic advances” become dated, and in fact eventually seem anachronistic as real-life comes to surpass fiction. Instead of technology, the Earthseed books focus on political turmoil, at what might happen if the State collapsed and there was no humane alternative to fill the vacuum. Large numbers of people are debilitated by drug use. Many men take the opportunity to seize power in their “personal lives” and “local communities”… which translates into power to control and own women especially. Racism veers into tribalism.

In this context of overwhelming distrust and violence – at times barely a page goes by without a rape or murder – Butler follows the struggle of the teenage empath Lauren Olamina, who has a clear vision that society needs to be rebuilt on humane and egalitarian foundations – short-term solutions, escapism and tinkering are not going to be good enough. Indeed, it becomes clear that if a humane alternative is not found, then a fascistic one may rise in its stead.

Butler describes these books (which were published in 1993 and 1998) as “cautionary tales”, meant to show where America was heading if right-wing government policies continued unchecked. While they certainly work as such, for me they also warn of the horrors that will come if society merely “breaks down” and no left-wing movement exists to build anew…

Some anarchists dream of such a breakdown, as they see the State and capitalists as the only problem, and thus a collapse – any collapse will do! – will provide the opportunity for people to just “do their own thing” and set up their happy autonomous lives. We saw this during the flooding of New Orleans, where some “revolutionaries” (white people living in other cities!) hailed the devastation as if it was the proletariat and not government neglect that had brought about the destruction. I can also remember an essay from the early 90s entitled Somalia Shows The Way, in which the breakdown of the Somali State and was hailed as a revolutionary advance, and warlords were described as freedom fights all the more radical as they did not purport to have any “grand schemes”.

One doesn’t have to deny the role of creative imagination to see how Butler’s own experiences growing up as a Black working class woman contributed to her ability to grasp and communicate the way in which “breakdown” and “collapse” can actually be bad and threatening things. The problem – as the best anarchists and feminists have pointed out – is not only institutional power, but all forms of subjugation and exploitation. Non-institutional forms of exploitation and oppression are overwhelmingly directed against women, queers and people of colour, and as such the anarchist/ultraleft faith in “collapse” reveals a privileged perspective of little use to the majority of people who may be struggling against this society, but fear that things could still get worst - and know enough to know that they will likely be the ones to bear the brunt of this!

If the oppressed are kept disarmed and disoriented, with no vision to fight for a better society (a vision provided in the Parable books by the Earthseed religion), when collapse comes they may be all the more vulnerable to the most brutal and naked forms of exploitation and abuse. Although Butler never used the S-word in the Earthseed books, they serve as a reminder that the choice is between Socialism and Barbarism, not of reaching Socialism by way of Barbarism!

In an interview with National Public Radio, Butler explained that she felt the best antidote for hierarchical and racist systems was tolerance, but she recognized that in and of itself this was not enough: “because you can’t depend on other people to be equally tolerant. My example was way back in the schoolyard, school bullies. I mean, no matter how tolerant you may be, they aren’t, and your being tolerant won’t stop them from tackling you if that’s what they want to do.”

Indeed, the perils of hoping that you will just be “left alone” – a common fantasy amongst many countercultural types – are vividly and brutally brought home in the Parable of the Talents, when Christian fundamentalists invade and enslave members of a free community.

In her excellent interview with Kazembe Balagun, Butler explained that “I wrote the Parable books because of the direction of the country. You can call it save the world fiction, but it clearly doesn’t save anything. It just calls people’s attention to the fact that so much needs to be done and obviously they are people who are running this country who don’t care.”

More Than Human
Although Kindred and the Earthseed "trilogy" may be her most obviously political books, all of Butler’s stories resonate with the deeper philosophical questions of what it means to be good person, how societies change, how the dilemmas of “tolerance” can be resolved, and most importantly what it means to do the best you can, when that may not seem like enough. Her characters live in imperfect, difficult, unsatisfactory worlds, and grapple with the necessity and pain of doing their best, while trying to hold onto a vision of a better future with greater possibilities.

For instance, Butler’s Xenogenesis series (Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago – all of which were also pubished in one volume as Lilith’s Brood), which are very different from the Earthseed books, take place after the Earth has been decimated by nuclear war. The last surviving humans are clearly doomed to perish, if not for the lucky intercession of some spacefaring aliens (the “Oankali”), who see in human biology something that they themselves desire. The Oankali save humanity, essentially by breeding with people, but even so “humanity as we know it” seems destined for extinction. Without giving it all away, these books (following the lives of the human woman Lilith and her more than human progeny) explore issues of consent, colonialism, progress and identity in a provocative – and beautiful – way.

Similarly, the book Wildseed – with its rich descriptions of love and loneliness that remind me of Anne Rice’s Taltos –  tells the story of a superhuman woman immortal, a deeply moral and good person, whose humble life in an African village is disturbed when an amoral immortal spirit notices her, and yearns for her company. Again – not wanting to spoil the tale – this is the kind of book that makes me want to cry when i finish it, both because it’s the end, and because the story itself is so moving.

Rest In Peace
Butler described herself as “a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil and water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty and drive.”

She also described herself as “a writer who can remember being a ten year-old writer and who expects someday to be an 80 year-old writer.”

Sadly, that is not to be.

All i can say is, i hope that more people continue to find her books, and that the seeds she has planted help us in our struggle for a better world.


I have only mentioned Octavia Butler’s books which i myself have read – i still look forward to discovering the rest of her works. You can view and order many of Octavia Butler’s books from Powell’s Books online.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Making Me Want To Vomit

Twenty three new prisons... I just had to post this article by Janice Tibbetts, versions of which appeared in newspapers across the country last week (this one from the February 18th Kingston Whig-Standard).


OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's tough-on-crime agenda would cost billions of dollars in additional spending and force the government to build new prisons as Canada moves toward a U.S. style of justice, experts say.

They say skyrocketing costs are a certainty, and even an analysis by the federal government estimates that the Conservative plan to imprison more people and keep them there longer could meaning building up to 23 new prisons because existing penitentiaries are full.

The costs of increased imprisonment are not mentioned in the latest Conservative election platform.

Criminologist Neil Boyd described the Conservative plan as "an extremely expensive agenda of prison building."

It costs an average of $82,000 a year to house each federal prisoner and billions more to build and maintain additional facilities.

Boyd, a professor at Simon Fraser University, called on the government to come clean on details of the plan, projected costs and solid evidence that keeping people in jail for longer deters crime.

"There's no evidence it will make us a safer society and it involved an enormous expenditure of funds," he said.

The government cost analysis, prepared by Correctional Services of Canada during the 2004 election campaign, estimates extra prison spending at somewhere between $5 billion and $11.5 billion over 10 years, depending on the number and types of facilities needed, according to a document obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.

But the costs could be significantly greater because that figure, based on four Conservative election promises, does not take into account several other key prison-related pledges that were added in the recent campaign that vaulted the party to victory.

The new plan calls for more automatic jail terms, severely restricting "house arrest" sentences that allow people to serve their time in the community, ending early release after serving two- thirds of a sentence and imposing consecutive rather than concurrent sentences for certain serious crimes.

The government also proposes to repeal the "faint-hope" clause that gives prisoners serving life sentences a chance at early release, and to jail serious repeat offenders indefinitely.

The government has completed an updated cost analysis based on the Conservatives' more expansive law-and-order agenda, but refuses to release the spending estimates.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, who has seen the new figures, acknowledged the government's plan could strain the $1- billion-a-year prison system, but he said it's a worthwhile price to pay.

"If there's going to be an increase in that, and it is going to make our streets and homes and parks safer, then so be it," Day said in an interview. "I think most citizens are prepared to see the government spend more money if that's what it takes to give the bad guys more time to think about what they've done."

The Conservative plan will send Canada down the same road as the United States, which has the highest incarceration rate in the Western world, Boyd predicted.

A study prepared for the Canadian justice department last year noted the Australia Bureau of Statistics reported in 2003 that the prison population in its northern territory increased 42 per cent since the inception of mandatory sentencing.

Data also shows that the stiffened penalties have not lowered crime rates.

Cutting through the fog about “how much will this cost taxpayers”, let’s get to the heart of the issue: how much will this cost the people destined to serve time in these prisons?

Overwhelmingly working class people, disproportionately First Nations people – warehoused people, kept in storage, kept on ice, kept isolated from a society which only accepts them when it can exploit them.

…i do so love science fiction, but i’m feeling like i’m lost in this grey dystopia…

We’re talking as many as 23 new prisons, so think how many people that is, who will lose years of their lives, sometimes even decades, because that’s just what middle class Canada thinks is right…

Makes me want to vomit.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Just received this in my Inbox… it’s a great magazine, and it fulfills an important function… please check it out!

(please forward)

Warm and revolutionary greetings to all of our friends!

We are proud to announce the completion of Issue 6 of 4strugglemag, our zine of writings by and for political prisoners and their supporters. We are now entering our third year of publishing and we continue to raise the voices of imprisoned activists. Check it out at

This issue features a special tribute to Ohio 7 anti-imperialist PP Richard Williams, who died in prison in December 2005. His closest comrades, including our editor Jaan Laaman, freed PP Ray Levasseur, his son Nedahe, Kazi Toure and PP Russell Maroon Shoats, remember his life and his inspirational work.

We also take a look at anti-war organizing, the International Day of Solidarity with PP/POWs, black history, and the recent wave of repression against activists in the United States and Puerto Rico.

We continue to send free copies to prisoners, and our readership is growing quickly, so if you can support the project by making a donation or getting a subscription ($12/year), please contact us at

Yours in solidarity,
Sara Falconer
Montreal ABCF

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Last night we went to see Freedomland, the cinematic adaptation of Richard Price’s novel by the same name.

Different things could be said about this movie – but seeing as it’s still in the theaters and i don’t want to ruin anyone’s movie, i’m actually not going to say any of them. I mean, The Battle of Algiers this ain’t, so it’s not as if i would normally even feel any particular need to mention it here…


Which is why i am mentioning it. You see, without being Politically Important or groundbreaking, Freedomland was – from within the Hollywood gamut – one of the better dramas to hit the big screens over the past months. We went because we both like Samuel Jackson, and he played his part very well, but i have to say that it was Julianne Moore and Edie Falco who stole the show.

In other words, it was a “good”, perhaps even a “very good” movie…

Which is why i am writing about it.

You see, Freedomland has been getting lousy reviews. On Cinema Clock it has been reviewed by 40 people so far, and the average person is giving it 5.5 out of 10; the Detroit News called it “a car wreck, though nowhere near interesting enough for rubbernecking”; USA Today says “stay clear from Freedomland” and the Canadian JAM says “Freedomland misses the mark” while the Denton Record Chronicle simply states that it is “An unpleasant, strident film marred further by unpleasant, strident performances.”

My guess is part of what some people find difficult to swallow is that this movie takes for granted certain truths – America being racist, cops being pricks, working class people being human beings (& other things too) – and just moves on. As such, it refuses to cater to any putative need to “prove” or “justify” or “provide balance” for these facts. While racism and the humanity of the oppressed (& other things too) – the unexceptional content of life-as-it-exists – do get presented in mainstream movies (think Crash), movie-makers often act like they’re touching on Truths weighty and controversial enough to have to become the focus of the entire work. Whereas in Freedomland they’re just there – as obvious and trivial as ever – and the plot, the story, and the characters develop without being reduced to this or that Issue.

So… without even mentioning the plot, i’m just quietly recommending this movie. If you’re going to see a mainstream Hollywood production anyway, give this one a chance. My guess is that those of us who are nonplussed by the “shock! horror!” revelation that poor people – and poor Black people especially – suffer under capitalism (& other things too) will actually find this to be a good movie.

But i could be wrong – it could be me, just another white guy who likes movies, whose take on his is somehow out of phase.

So if you see it and you hate it, don’t be shy – share in the comments.


Monday, February 20, 2006

La Rivolta! Anarchist-Feminist Festival in Boston: March 4th

I just received this in my Inbox, and it makes me wish i could get to Boston…

A Radical Celebration of International Women's Day
Saturday March 4.  Boston.

The Schedule:
Friday, March 3.  Black Flag Tavern, anarchist brew and chatter, location and time, TBA.

March 4
11am - 6pm
Community Church of Boston.  565 Boylston st, Copley Square
(orange line to Back Bay, Green Line to Copley, 39 bus to BP Library)
Workshops are free, childcare will be provided (please let us know if you will be bringing kids, contact
Anarchist pot luck donated by local anarchist collectives will be served during the workshops

Scheduled workshops:
  • Woman and Art

  • International Sex Trafficking

  • Sex Work in the usa

  • Patriarchy Smashing & Gender Fucking

  • Indigenous Women's Resistance

  • Childeren Zine Making (part of childcare)

  • More TBA

8 pm
Mass College of Art, 621 Huntington ave
(green 'E' line to longwood, 39 bus to mass art)
No chilid care at concert, All Ages, dont bring alcohal.

Performances Include:
  • Cojoba (from Puerto Rico)

  • Resistant Culture (indigenous female band from Los Angelos)

  • Ballast (from Montreal)

  • Sonya Renee (Washington D.C.)

  • Lemuria (buffalo, NY)

  • Reflect and Strengthen (from right here in Boston)

  • Several more pending TBA

For up to the minute updates, go to
Collective Contact
you play on my space?

Want to table at the concert?  contact  Space is limited, so please email us now!  $20 plus one entry for a table.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Giving Up On Revolution

Last night i went to hear Richard Day – author of Gramsci Is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements – speak about his book, along with a panel of local activists commenting on their own experiences/observations about “hegemony”, “affinity”, solidarity and radical social change.


I had some misgivings about going: my mother had bought me a copy of Gramsci Is Dead for Christmas, and i had given up about half of the way through. It wasn’t only the constant references to post-modernist and post-structuralist authors who i have never read (and have no desire to read), it was more the fact that i couldn’t see how the book related in any way to my own experiences and observations about what activism is all about.

After hearing Day speak, i now suspect that i was deeply mistaken in my initial appraisal of his book. Which isn’t to say that i agree with his conclusions, but i do think the questions he is tackling are very relevant to radical social change, and he represents ideas that must be confronted and wrestled with by serious revolutionaries - even if only for us to reject (some of) them.

I write this without having read the entire book (add it to the reading list!) but only on the basis of last night’s talk, so perhaps it is best to actually deal with what was said last night…

Day argues that radical movements have to “overcome a logic of hegemony” in favour of a “logic of affinity.” He identified this position as being “post-anarchist”.

The term “hegemony” seemed to be understood in quite different ways by almost everyone who spoke last night, so i will try to explain how i understood Day to be using the term here:

Hegemony: As Day explained it, the “logic of hegemony” seeks to impose change across an entire social space all at once. Think the overthrow of the State, the destruction of capitalism… the event or series of events which will separate “then” from “now”, “today” from “tomorrow”, “the bad old days” from the utopian future… really, what Day is talking about is Revolution (or the possibilities it represents).

Day claims that hegemonic (or revolutionary) strategies rely on offensive force (i.e. violence, and not just in self-defense) and involve “organizing others”. By this last criterion, i am not sure if Day meant that hegemonic strategies involve activists substituting themselves for “the masses”, or if he meant that they act as a vanguard (i.e. trying to lead the way), or if it is a matter of hegemonic strategies designating one specific “revolutionary agent” (such as the proletariat, oppressed nations, indigenous people, etc.)… but from what i could gather he kind of meant all three of these… making his position quite the anti-revolutionary critique!

Looking around at the “newest social movements” Day is encouraged by what he sees as a lack of hegemonic thinking, and in his talk he did a good job of distilling what this “non-hegemonic” approach entails. This he called “the logic of affinity”, and as it too was misunderstood by most of us, it too is worth defining.

Affinity: The logic of affinity, which Day proposes we embrace, involves abandoning “grand schemes” and instead setting up alternative structures, combating oppression within these structures and then reaching out to others in solidarity.

This is not an affinity group, nor does it mean organizing with those whom we have an affinity for (i.e. with our friends). Rather, it means organizing with those who recognize that they have common interests with us, and with whom we have a shared approach.

When i asked Day how affinity differed from class consciousness, he said that affinity is not restricted to questions of class (i.e. one can also unite on the basis of “race”, gender, nation, or really anything else that works for you) and that as he understands it class consciousness is something people have to be taught as opposed to an awareness people can come to on their own. (That this last generalization is either confused or grossly simplistic is not really important to his argument.)

For what it’s worth, i think a better term than “affinity” would be “antagonism”, as this word does a much better job at describing a consciousness of being opposed to and in struggle against the system…

Day anticipated many criticisms of the “logic of affinity” in his talk, and by doing so he showed (to me) that his position is not simply some shallow deviation. He acknowledged that by abandoning revolution people may assume he embraces reformism, but he denied that this was the case. The goal of (post-)anarchist groups should not be to reform capitalism or the State, but to set up spaces outside of the system – “the way to make a different world is to construct small-scale experiments” as he put it – which would federate, encourage others, snowball, and eventually… well, eventually was left somewhat up in the air…

Day also acknowledges that even when successful spaces or alternative structures have been established, they are all too often co-opted and re-integrated into the system, or else (if they resist this) the system just flows around them, untroubled by their “non-hegemonic” alternative.

So Day is not pretending to have all the answers. He seemed to suggest that we should just continue working on and struggling with these questions, while resisting any temptation to adopt hegemonic strategies.

Day fielded several questions after his talk – almost all of which quite hostile to his downgrading of class struggle and his retreat from revolution. Although i think most if not all of the audience was unfamiliar with “post-structuralism”, and somewhat confused by the terms hegemony and affinity in how they were used, there was a sense that Day was rejecting essential elements of the anarchist tradition. I point this out because i am aware that some M-L comrades reading this might see it as proof of their worst impressions of anarchism, so (just to keep the record as accurate as possible) it bears telling that most anarchists have certainly not staked out a “non-hegemonic” or “post-anarchist” position.


Not having read it, i cannot comment on Day’s book itself. I have put it on my list, and hopefully at some point over the next month i’ll get through it, and then i’ll let you know. However, as i have spent a lot of time thinking about the questions he raised last night, i do have a thing or two to say about them. Here it goes…

There has never been an anarchist revolution anywhere, nor has there been a revolution led by Marxists that has managed to establish a classless society. But by abandoning Revolution and embracing a far less ambitious “affinity” (or “antagonism”), Day is merely making a virtue of our failures.

Indeed, the defensive posture of Day’s “logic of affinity” – not attacking the State or capitalists, rather trying to out-maneuver them or limiting one’s response to self-defense – is suicidal. As political prisoner David Gilbert (formerly of the Weather Underground and the Revolutionary Armed Task Force) has put it: “[Self-defense] can be important, especially when it is done to help sustain mass struggle. But people also have to be aware of the strategic danger of being trapped in a static, defensive position where the government can bring in their overwhelming superiority of force.”

In other words, by rejecting any offensive strategy against capitalism or the State, comrades merely abandon any possibility of choosing the terrain upon which they will eventually be forced to struggle. We are not going to be “left alone” – telling ourselves that this is a viable strategy is not a solution – and if we do not even try to determine the terms on which we will struggle, the State will determine them for us. While Gilbert was discussing armed struggle, this fact applies to all levels of confrontation.

Furthermore, missing in Day’s talk last night was an explanation of why revolutionary goals should not co-exist with antagonistic organizations. In other words, why can’t different groups operate with what Day would call “affinity”, working on practical solutions to people’s everyday problems, while at the same time thinking in terms of strategies which will eventually (and sooner is better than later!) abolish rather than merely circumvent capitalism and the State?

So far as i am concerned, it is precisely through building such antagonistic movements with revolutionary goals that we will best effect radical social change. But it is not just a seamless quantitative progression of this struggle combining with that struggle, this infoshop federating with that commune, etc. – at some point the quantitative does become qualitative, and it will either be a matter of Revolution or else Reaction winning out.

Choosing to not fight that battle – or closing your eyes to its inevitability – will not prevent you from being defeated.


p.s. Though it did not come up last night, I should also mention that by turning it into a contradiction like all others, we risk forgetting that “class” (no matter how problematic as a be-all-and-end-all category) is nevertheless fundamentally different from “race” or “gender” or “nation”. By making class no more central than anything else that gives rise to subjective feelings of antagonism/affinity, i wonder if we do not (unknowingly) abandon the very concept that binds the revolutionary left to the struggle for human liberation.

To put it simplistically: “class warfare” has a liberatory and humanist connotation because by abolishing class differences, the human misery that comes from poverty and exploitation will also be abolished. “Racial warfare” and “national warfare” contain within themselves none of this inherent humanism, except inasmuch as particular circumstances may invest entire nations (or “races” or genders) with specific class attributes, in which case – temporarily - these other struggles can embody this liberatory dimension of class warfare. (Fanon’s Wretched Of The Earth is an excellent book that deals with this...)


p.p.s. as luck would have it,  just a few days ago i was reading one of my favourite blogs – Red Flags – where there has been a long string of comments by (mainly) Leninists about precisely this kind of “non-revolutionary” trend in anarchism. While i think they grossly exaggerate the degree to which the anarchist movement had given up on revolution, some of those M-Ls do make some good points – so i recommend you check it out.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

British Soldiers Abusing Iraqi Children – The Movie

WARNING: The below footage – obviously filmed by some sorry excuse for a human being involved in occupying Iraq - is both graphic and upsetting. It may make you want to throw up, or do something equally violent (and, i must add, illegal) to a member of the armed forces.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Missing, Raped, Murdered

Last week i wrote about Benoit Guay, the Montreal cop who was charged with being the “North Shore Rapist” who has attacked and raped several women over the past two years.
I repeated what i had written last October, before anyone knew the rapist was a cop, namely that more police is not an effective answer to violence against women. I suggested at the time that – no matter how daunting a task it may be – women organizing to “take matters into their own hands” was the only solution that made sense to me


The fact that the Montreal serial rapist is a cop is relevant because it gives lie to the State’s trump card, its insistence that the police protect us. It makes it deceptively easy to make the argument that the police are not the ones who will put an end to violence against women. At best, the police are just like “regular” people who are put in positions of power, at worst they are like cynical bullies with violent training who are put in positions of power.

Regardless of the “assurance” (!) given by the chief of police, that Guay “was not on duty” when he raped, other police officers have admitted that his training in the Montreal police surveillance unit would make picking out victims and avoiding capture a piece of cake. Furthermore, we have not been told if the gun he threatened women with was “police issue” or not…

…but when you think of it, does it really matter?

I still can’t help but feel that a far greater outrage is the fact that the police kept quiet about the fact that there was a serial rapist until last October. It apparently took their computers until spring 2005 to notice a pattern - this despite two attacks occurring within ten days of each other in St-Jerome in summer 2004, and three different attacks occurring in Laval – and after that they waited until the Fall because they hoped undercover police would be able to catch the perpetrator. (Did his elite “surveillance and counter-surveillance skills” help Guay spot these decoys? And did i mention that last summer, while police were sitting on this information, another woman was attacked?)

The problem is far greater than the fact that police rape (although that is a serious problem). More serious still is the fact that by their very nature the police make it much more difficult – both psychologically and materially – for women to protect themselves. Most efforts at organized self-defense are in fact illegal unless they are organized under the State’s control. Efforts to organize an armed capacity outside of the State invariably meet with repression.

Even more importantly, though, by monopolizing the function of “community defense” the existence of the police serves as a powerful disincentive for anyone to organize themselves. “How can we ever be as effective as the cops are anyway?” we wonder. They have these high-tech computers and training and infrastructure, while we have nothing.

Or so they would like us to think.

The hole in their logic lies in the fact that the majority of victims of violence are already members of oppressed groups… women, people of colour, queers, otherly abled… all of the same people who are more likely to be poor, more likely to be disregarded, more likely in fact to be abused by the police: these are the people who are most likely to suffer from violence.

When the police intervene, it is often to protect the violent perpetrators and to aggravate the damage they have done.

This cannot be repeated too often: the police tend to make matters worst.

The oppressed are the most likely to be victims of violence, and the oppressed have little to gain from trusting in the police, and the oppressed know this all too well.

Take for example the case of Robert Pickton, the British Columbia man accused of killing dozens of women on a misogynist murder-spree that stretched over decades. Dozens of women “went missing” from Vancouver’s East end during his period, but because most of them were poor, were from the First Nations, and so many of them were sex trade workers, the police turned a blind eye as they disappeared one by one.

According to the CBC:

Families of the missing women have accused Vancouver police of mishandling the investigation from the beginning by ignoring evidence that a serial killer was at work. The RCMP became involved in 2001.

The families also say police neglected the cases because many of the women were prostitutes and drug addicts.

It wasn't until August of 2001 that Vancouver police began hinting that a serial killer could be responsible for the disappearance of the missing women.

Pickton’s kill-spree may have started as early as 1978. The police would not admit that there was a serial killer at work for over twenty years. Pickton was not arrested until 2002 – despite the fact that the police knew about him since 1997… when he had been charged with attempted murder… of a prostitute… the charges were dropped – are we catching on yet?

If women and their loved ones had not organized to call attention to the slaughter, it is possible Pickton would still be victimizing women today.

Or in another Canadian city… look at how since 1983 the bodies of over 20 women have been found in or around the city of Edmonton – “all are described by police as being prostitutes or having high-risk lifestyles and only five of the cases have been solved.” In Edmonton, too, the majority of missing people are First Nations women. Indeed: according to the Aboriginal Youth Network, since 1988 over 500 First Nations women have “gone missing” across Canada.

So to recap: the fact that a Montreal police officer called Benoit Guay is accused of raping eight women is something that should make you angry. As should the fact that a pig farmer called Robert Pickton stands accused of several dozen misogynist murders. As should the fact that over 500 First Nations women have been “disappeared.”

The fact that this “extra-State violence” follows the contours of “legitimate” capitalist exclusion and violence suggests that the solution will entail overthrowing class society itself. As a step in that direction, supporting women’s efforts to organize against the ongoing war against women – up to and including developing an armed capacity – is necessary and just and obvious.

Some related links worth checking out:

And finally, for those who can make it (or organize something similar in your own community):

Rally against Racist Police Inaction and Impunity
Hundreds of Native women have gone missing or been murdered from B.C. to Nova Scotia in the past 20 years. Many of their cases remain unsolved and too often no police investigation has ever been conducted. Family members seeking help are met with disinterest and racism.

Join us for a rally and ceremony at 12:00 Noon on Feb 14th at Toronto Police Headquarters – 40 College Street at Bay – BRING DRUMS!

Now is the time to take concrete steps to ensure that the lives of Native women in Canada are no longer treated as disposable.

NO MORE SILENCE is a network of native and non-native individuals and organizations in Canada.

NO MORE SILENCE is a campaign to break through societal indifference towards the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women in Turtle Island.

NO MORE SILENCE believes that all native and non-native Canadians have a responsibility to act to restore justice to Indigenous communities, that all non-native Canadians need to learn to de-colonize their thinking and practices about Native peoples, to speak out against the violence of Native women, to insist that the Canadian state ensures that all crimes receive adequate responses from the police, the RCMP, the coroners’ offices, and the courts.

- No More Silence Network

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