Signs of the Times

Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Using a statistical lens, two just-released books shed light on the
ravages of corporate globalization.

Vital Signs 2006–2007 from the Washington, D.C.-based WorldWatch
Institute contends that "the health of the global economy and the
stability of nations will be shaped by our ability to address the huge
imbalances in natural resource systems."

The Least Developed Countries Report 2006, issued by the United Nations
Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), argues that while there
have been relatively higher rates of economic growth in the Least
Developed Countries (LDCs, a UN-designated group of the world's poorest
50 countries), it is "not translating into poverty reduction and
improved human well-being."

Here are 20 factoids from the reports, the first 10 from Vital Signs,
the second 10 from The Least Developed Countries Report:

Clandestines. The Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile
by Ramor Ryan
AK Press

Reviewed by Juliana Fredman

Summer 2006 Edition Left Turn

Clandestines is a collection of short stories operating as a psychogeography of social and revolutionary movements from the late 1980’s on, mapped by a radicalized Irish anti-authoritarian. Moving from the Old to the New World the stories track the convulsions of the global system and its revolutionary undercurrents through the experience of our erstwhile story-teller. His astute observations embellish reporting, advocacy and tall tales of unpredictable characters and communities to construct an optimistic, if quixotic take on these end times. At its heart it is a testament to hope for the world vibrantly illustrated by handrawn maps and black and white photographs.

Pitying Paul Virillio


It isn’t particularly easy to read Paul Virilio’s books. He writes in French, and it is difficult to translate his idiosyncratic puns, metaphors and neologisms into English. He doesn’t really write books, though he has certainly published a great many texts. Virilio mainly writes articles and essays; he reads aloud papers he’s written at conferences; and he gives in-depth interviews. Various collections of these furtive texts have been assembled and published as “books” that are often very short and, in the English translations, not illustrated. Finally, Virilio tends to develop his themes slowly, across the span of several “books,” which makes it especially difficult for the newcomer to enter into his discourse, which dates back to the late 1970s (he was born in 1932). But Virilio needs to be read. He is the only post-World War II radical French theorist to write extensively on the inter-related subjects of war, the military, speed, and the acceleration of time, and his writings are uniquely useful in describing and theorizing “terrorism,” militarism, and September 11th.

Most recently, there’s this weird “book” called Art and Fear (Continuum, London/New York, 2003). Composed of two short texts, “A Pitiless Art” and “Silence on Trial,” and only 61 pages long, it was originally published in 2000 by Editions Galilee under the title La Procedure Silence (“The Silence Trial”). In 2002, the book was translated into English by Julie Rose, who had previously translated Virilio’s The Art of the Motor (University of Minnesota Press, 1995). Slender as it is – no price listed, but my copy cost an unmerciful $15 – this volume is also absurdly padded out. Not only does it contain a two-page-long translator’s preface, a bibliography of works cited and an index, but also a completely unnecessary thirteen-page-long “introduction” by John Armitage, who is clearly uncomfortable with the book itself or this particular line of thought in Virilio’s books. And so Armitage feels compelled to offer various defensive responses to what “commentators” on the book “might claim” about it. When all is said and done, Art and Fear contains a mere 35 pages of worthwhile material. But this material is so strong and provocative that it is more than worth the difficulty of obtaining it.

The "Knowledge Economy" of the Eighteenth Century:

Newtonian Science and the Growth of British Capitalism
Lesley B. Cormack,


Practical Matter: Newton's Science
in the Service of Industry and Empire, 1687–1851
Margaret C. Jacob and Larry Stewart

Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2004. 201 pp. Illustrations, notes, index. $35.00
(cloth), ISBN 0-674-01497-9.

University presidents are fond of proclaiming the importance of the "knowledge economy" in ensuring economic success in the twenty-first century. That is, they argue that the intellectual work of university scholars is really the basis for future prosperity, rather than natural resources, entrepreneurial spirit, or seat-of-the-pants trial and error.

Margaret Jacob and Larry Stewart move this argument back two centuries, arguing that it was precisely the existence of a knowledge economy in the century and a half after Isaac Newton that made possible the huge technological and economic explosion that we now call the Industrial Revolution (or the "industrial revolution," for those less comfortable with the heroic label).

kolya abramsky writes:

The Underground Challenge:
Raw Materials, Energy, the World-Economy and Anti-Capitalism

Kolya Abramsky

[This review will appear shortly in Anarchist Perspectives.]

A review of:

Global Energy Shifts: Fostering Sustainability in a Turbulent Age
By Bruce Podobnik
(Temple University Press, Philadelphia. 2006),


Globalization and the Race for Resources
By Stephen Bunker and Paul Ciccantell
(John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. 2005)

Global Energy Shifts: Fostering Sustainability in a Turbulent Age by Bruce Podobnik, and Globalization and the Race for Resources by Stephen Bunker and Paul Ciccantell are two incredibly timely, highly informed and analytically sharp analyses of both raw materials and energy, within a wider, and importantly, long-term analysis of the capitalist world-system as a whole and the conflicts, hierarchies and inequalities that are inherent to its functioning.

From the oil workers of Iraq, to the wood-fuelled kitchens of India, to the stranded in New Orleans, to Black communities of Colombia, to the gas fields of Bolivia, and the electricity consumers in Soweto, to the displaced millions of Narmada and Three Gorges, to the unregulated Chinese coal miners dying in explosions, to the Native Americans whose reproductive health is threatened by uranium extraction in Shoshone, to the iron mines of the Amazon. Increasingly, raw materials and energy are becoming important sites of conflict, and in all likelihood, such trends will continue to intensify in the near future. They are conflicts in which the artificialness and futility of attempting to separate analysis of local, regional, national and global dynamics from one another becomes glaringly obvious. Control of raw materials and energy is a crucial precondition to capitalist production and reproduction.

The Filmmaker and the Protest Singer

Joan Anderman,
Boston Globe

Peter Frumkin's PBS documentary blows the dust off Woody Guthrie's legend to find the man and his legacy

"A lot of people know Woody Guthrie as the guy in dungarees with a guitar on his back who played three-chord songs," says Peter Frumkin. "But there's a lot more to him than that."

That's why Frumkin, a Cambridge-based filmmaker, devoted the last seven years to making the PBS "American Masters" documentary "Woody Guthrie: Ain't Got No Home." The film, which premieres tomorrow on WGBH-TV (Channel 2), is a painstakingly crafted portrait of the folk icon's life, the roots of his music, and Guthrie's political and artistic legacy.

Anonymous Comrade writes Review of Woodsquat

(West Coast Line 37/2-3)

by Tom Sandborn

“The laws, in their infinite majesty, forbid both the rich and the poor to sleep beneath the bridges of Paris,” observed a sardonic French writer during the 19th century. Not too much has changed in the intervening years. Capitalism still creates agonizing poverty at the bottom, excess wealth at the top, and a “justice” system designed to keep the aromatic, unsightly poor from bothering their social betters.

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood has served, almost since the beginning of European settlement here in the rain forest, as a holding pen for surplus labour and the marginalized poor who have fallen into capitalism’s spare parts bin. The neighborhood is, famously, Canada’s poorest and the home of one of the country’s largest concentrations of off-reserve native settlements.

Gramsci is Dead

Roger Farr

Reviewing Richard J.F. Day (2005) Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements. Toronto/London: Between the Lines/Pluto Press.

It appears that Antonio Gramsci’s death certificate has been signed by anarchists.

In Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements, Richard Day reassesses from an anarchist perspective the “logic of hegemony” that unites classical Marxism and liberalism, and declares that this logic has been “exhausted” by recent social movements. To support his argument that certain strains of contemporary struggle have broken with this logic in favour of “direct affinity” and “structural renewal”, terms he recovers from Landauer and Kropotkin, Day examines several examples of autonomous organizing and offers new readings, informed by post-structuralism and autonomist theory, of classical anarchism. Achieving an admirable balance between the demands of high-theory and the need to make his argument comprehensible, Day makes an important contribution to social theory in general, and to “post-anarchist” theory in particular. While this book is certain to be controversial among activists (the critique of “the politics of demand and recognition”), academics (the truncated argument and polemical tone) and anarchists of every stripe (the authority granted to Marxist theory at the expense of the diverse, contemporary anarchist movement), in short, Day’s entire audience, it should nevertheless be read by anyone who is serious about creating radical, anti-authoritarian alternatives to the market and the state.

"Open Source Projects as Voluntary Hierarchies"

Felix Stalder

Reviewing Stephen Weber, The Success of Open Source.
(2004) Cambridge, MA,
Harvard UP

ISBN: 0-674-01292-5, pp. 311

Over the last half-decade, free and open source software (FOSS) has
moved from
the hacker margins to the mainstream. Corporations, large and
small, have
invested in it, some governments are actively supporting it and it is
becoming an increasingly important tool for the building of an
civil society. In the social sciences, the field is receiving a
growing share
of attention, evidenced by a widening stream of research output.
The central
repository for relevant papers,, lists some 250
researchers with a self-declared interest in all things FOSS and
almost as
many scholarly papers, contributed in just five years.
Additionally, there
are several volumes written by activists, book-length treatments by
journalists, plus biographies of the two most prominent figures,
Stallman and Linus Torvalds.

PLP Takes the Agit-Prop Challenge:

Three Music Albums from the Progressive Labor Party

Spencer Sunshine


"Power to the Working Class" — "A World to Win" — "Songs of the International Working Class"

I've always been a connoisseur of Leftist agit-prop bands. The thumpier, the better, as long as the political program is in their lyrics, and not just in the music (John Cage) or politics of the individual members (U2's Bono).

Mostly, I have been drawn to punk bands, including the Dead Kennedys, Crass, Chumbawamba, Bikini Kill (and later Le Tigre), D.O.A., the Ex, Gang of Four, D.I.R.T., the Subhumans (both the Canadian and UK bands, and Citizen Fish as well), Zounds, Reagan Youth, Tribe 8, Nausea, and the Dils (and the list could go on and on.). And while there's occasionally good political rock (Steve Earle, MC5, John Lennon, Stereolab), it's much easier to find a worthy reggae group (Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mad Professor, Sister Carol and the 'conscious reggae' genre — and, of course, Bob himself).

I also like the occasional industrial or hip-hop act, in particular Tchkung!, Consolidated, Public Enemy and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (pre-Spearhead), as well as Afrobeat bands like Fela Kuti and Antibalas. I'm aware of the "Red Folk" tradition, as well as the feminist (Roches, Ani Difranco) and environmental (David Rovics, Casey Neill) folkies, but neither ever particularly moved me. Nor did the "alternative rock" of Rage Against the Machine (an ex once quipped: "I lean towards their politics and away from their music") or their progeny, System of A Down.

Since seeing the Infernal Noise Brigade (INB) in Seattle in 1999, I have been an active groupie of the "anarchist" marching bands, especially NYC's own Hungry March Band (HMB) and Rude Mechanical Orchestra (RMO). You can dance your booty off and, more importantly, refer to them by their acronyms! But their non-linguistic ontology makes them non-agit-prop almost by definition.

Politically, the punk bands almost all leaned towards, or were activists in, the anarchist tradition. Crass are the best example; they even forged their own unique ideological brand of ethical pacifist (but militantly atheist), individualist, feminist, pro-animal rights anarchism. Gerry Hannah, the original bassist of the Canadian Subhumans, was jailed in the early '80s for his participation in Direct Action, the group that bombed a Canadian company that made weapons components for cruise missiles. The hip-hop and reggae bands tend towards a Lefty Black nationalism or pan-Africanism. The marching bands are "anarchist" in an aesthetic more than a political sense; nonetheless many are active anarchists or sympathisers, and they frequently participate in the contemporary mass protest scene (both the RMO and INB were arrested en masse at Union Square during the protests against the Republican National Convention).

But the question that presents itself is this: can the Communists hold their own in the field of agit-prop music?