Category: Culture & History

Gangster Politics

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In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels referred to the state as “the executive committee of the ruling class.” Reflecting the collective capitalist interest in maintaining its accumulation process, capable of forging compromises among competing sectors of its own and other classes, this committee was also meant to enforce legal norms, contracts, and other rules of the game.

The Unbearable Centrism of Mainstream Documentaries

ImageThe Obamas’ deal with Netflix is the culmination of a worrisome turn in contemporary documentary.

Since the announcement in May of Former President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama’s multi-year production deal to produce narrative and documentary films and series with Netflix, there has been remarkably little conversation about it. Admittedly, there isn’t any work to evaluate just yet, but the news does raise enormously important questions in and of itself.

Marx and Marxism in Berkeley in 1968

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Berkeley (California) was probably a unique political-cultural milieu in the U.S. in the 1960s, both before and after 1968. It was part of the larger political-cultural scene of the San Francisco Bay Area from 1945 onward. The Bay Area at the time was a relative backwater in the U.S., compared to the East coast. The area had, however, seen one of the biggest general strikes of the 1930s, when the Communist Party-influenced ILWU (International Longshore Workers Union) helped bring San Francisco to a halt in 1934, including mass street battles with the police.

A Marxist theory of music: it’s all in the groove

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Much analysis of modern music focuses on lyrical content, but how can we understand modern musical forms? What relation do they have to the capitalist world in which they’ve developed? To answer these questions Kate Bradley interviewed Mark Abel, author of Groove: An Aesthetic of Measured Time.

Youth and Our Future: An Era of Superficial Outrage Politics?

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Many would like to believe that this American period of rampant national-conservatism is nothing more than a short stay in Republican purgatory. It is a reassuring idea that in a few years, as today’s progressive youth becomes a large part of the electorate, the United States will become a shining example of tolerant and progressive prosperity. Just as neo-conservatives envision a global American hegemony built on capitalism and military strength, some progressives have adopted a belief that the United States is destined to reach national political moksha with strong welfare, a prosperous middle class, and minority rights; the nasty racists and homophobes, the “deplorables”, will soon be outnumbered so vastly in the face of common-sense political ideology that the right will simply cease to exist. Unfortunately, this prophecy has proven a myth for millennials—and the nascent Generation Z doesn’t appear to have better prospects.

The Third Camp in Theory and Practice: An Interview with Joanne Landy and Thomas Harrison

Joanne Landy (1941-2017) and Thomas Harrison (1948-) became socialists as teenagers and have remained involved in the democratic left ever since. They were active in the student protest movement at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s, where they met and became close friends and collaborators. During the 1970s, they became increasingly interested in the issue of labor rights in Central and Eastern Europe, and they worked to link democratic and social justice struggles in the Eastern Bloc with social movements in the United States, the West, and the Third World. Until Joanne Landy’s death in October 2017, they were co-directors of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy (CPD), which was founded in 1982. Initially, the organization was called the Campaign for Peace and Democracy/East and West, but with the end of the Cold War the title was shortened.

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Radical America

Why the United States has not developed a permanent socialist movement has perplexed activists and theorists for more than a century. Paul Le Blanc takes up that query as an activist who wants to see an anti-capitalism mass movement take shape in twenty-first century America. To that end, he investigates some of the moments when the possibility of a significant left presence in the United States seemed at hand. He focuses on what made those movements viable and what thwarted their long-term success. The volume’s fourteen essays were written over a period of thirty years, from 1986 to 2015.

review

Political Visual Narrative

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This season’s roundup of nonfiction comics includes self-published and small-press titles as well as noteworthy releases from major trade publishers. Topics covered range from consumer capitalism and imprisoned anarchists to Trinidadian social history and the war in Syria. Each of these titles deploys a distinctive approach to the challenge of folding political themes into visual narrative. In different ways, these books suggest that the forward march of political cartooning continues unabated.

Our Passive Society

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Sitting alone in my room watching videos on YouTube, hearing sounds from across the hall of my roommate watching Netflix, the obvious point occurs to me that a key element of the demonic genius of late capitalism is enforcing a crushing passiveness on the populace.

Special Section: Remembering 1968

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A Call Center Coup: Ex-Teamster Boots Riley Tackles Telemarketing And its Discontents

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When I was a union rep, one of my most challenging assignments was assisting a Communications Workers of America (CWA) bargaining unit at a Boston-area telemarketing firm. Most CWA members in New England had call center jobs at the phone company, with good pensions, health insurance, and full-time salaries. As service reps, they fielded in-coming calls from customers with problems, questions, or new orders to place. In contrast, the telemarketing staff only interacted with the public, on behalf of various clients, via out-bound calling. Like the workers depicted in Boots Riley’s hilarious new film, Sorry to Bother You, they made cold calls to people who did not want to bothered, at dinner time or anytime, with a pitch for a new product, service, or donation to a political cause.

The Merry Month of May

Mitch Abidor’s New Oral History Explores the Lasting Legacy of the Revolt that Shook France in 1968

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Where Are the Riots of Yesteryear?

The “Inescapable Need and Possibility” of Third Cinema

Can a radical filmmaking tradition born of Perón’s Argentina reinvigorate activist cinema in Trump’s America?

While accepting an Honorary Oscar this past November, the great film director Charles Burnett spent some time reflecting on his formative years as a film student at UCLA. It was there that he and his colleagues not only learned . . .

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review

Comic Art in the Academy

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The closing of the era when comic art specialists, not people with PhDs, wrote the outstanding and recognized works on individual artists and genres may have arrived as recently as only a few years ago. Careful biographies of artistic giants, household names (in their own eras, at least) or famed only within the field, Al Capp or Will Elder, have continued to be written by people who could rightly be called “fans”—if the title did not seem insulting. Rather than university presses, Fantagraphics or the comics series at Abrams would be a typical outlet. With each year that passes and with each swelling enrollment in a college course, the scene shifts.

Cuban Civil Society

Its Present Panorama

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A civil society emerges, mainly, due to citizens’ need to actively involve themselves in the public sphere in order to address processes that impact their daily lives and affect their interests. At the heart of civil society, various social actors, with sometimes remarkable differences, group themselves around common issues that affect or interest all of them. Therefore, civil society is plural, characterized by the spontaneous organization of citizens and based on logics of autonomy, solidarity, and representation of specific identities; it is aimed at addressing collective demands, exploring solutions to issues that affect a given community, and having an impact in the public sphere.

Walter Benjamin and the Political Practices of the Alt-right

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The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Walter Benjamin was one of the great analysts of liberal capitalism during a time when its days seemed numbered and fascism was ascendant across Europe. Much of his work is taken up with looking at how the cultural products and processes characteristic of a civilization are reflective of the inner psychic and spiritual tensions roiling beneath the surface of hegemonic ideologies.

After 121 Years, the First Indigenous Singer Performs at Brazil’s Teatro Amazonas

[1]Djuena Tikuna during her performance at the Teatro Amazonas. Image: screenshot, Jornalistas Livres (Youtube)

On 23 August, Djuena Tikuna [2] became the first indigenous singer to perform on the stage of the Teatro Amazonas [3] (“Amazonas Theatre”) — a bastion of European culture in the middle of the world’s largest tropical forest.

Game Tape Analysis: Why Catalonia Represents All of Us

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At the southern tip of Europe, stretching out its two hands of Ceuta and Melilla to reach Africa, Spain usually goes unnoticed. Our news hardly ever makes world headlines; it’s simply not impactful enough. Over the past month, however, my adopted homeland has been enveloped in one of the most controversial events of the decade, and finally our dirty laundry is being hung out to dry on the international clothesline. The threat of Catalonia breaking away from Spain is juicy. It’s the political equivalent of a marriage gone wrong, complete with steepled-finger scheming, mutual resentment, and fittingly, bouts of domestic violence. But it also serves to show how the choices and actions of politicians turn a prominent issue in need of discussion into a roiling turmoil. The question of Catalonian secession is the result of the thoughtless, petty political practice that is ubiquitous in governments around the world, but that should have no place in the future of governance.

Racist Societal Views of The Black Male Body

And Appreciating My Black Body for What It Is

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This work is a creative nonfiction work which highlights the imperialist white supremacist capitalist colonial gaze of the Black male body, conventional beauty standards, systemic weightism, and instances of subversion against these oppressive norms in appreciating my body for the way it is.

On the Conditions of Ignorance

ImageIn a recent article from Politico, a new poll was discussed that suggests that nearly half, 49 percent, of Trump supporters believe that he won the popular vote in the 2016 election. (He didn’t; he lost by nearly three million votes.) Spurred on by Trump’s claims that millions (!) of people voted illegally in the election, this portion of Trump’s base have been lied to and misled by a politician they think they can trust. What are we to make of this?

Book Review

The End of Islamic Liberalism?

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Cihan Tuğal, The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism (Verso, 2016).

In the short time since the 2016 publication of Cihan Tuğal’s The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism, Turkey has endured an attempted coup, nearly a year of rule under a state of emergency, the widespread repression of dissent through imprisonment and mass firings of teachers and civil servants, and a (likely fraudulent) referendum that has institutionalized the autocratic rule of President Tayyip Recep Erdoǧan. Yet, unbelievable as it may seem, these developments are part of a continuum rather than a rupture, and Tuğal’s book is essential—if not unproblematic—reading for understanding contemporary politics in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa.

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