Review of ‘Mr Jones’ Film

Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement

In 1917 the working class in parts of Ukraine took control over their own lives and resources. Peasants and workers organised themselves collectively and made democratic decisions. They formed an army under the anarchist Nestor Makhno and defended their revolution against the Red Army of Trotsky on the one hand and the Right-Wing Whites on the other. By 1921 Makhno was beaten and Red authoritarianism held sway over the area. With the groundwork laid by Trotsky and Lenin, this lead over time to the dictatorship of Stalin in the 1920s’-1950s’. The latter refined the dictatorship in his own paranoid image, establishing a cult of personality, a penchant for vainglorious and wasteful industrial projects built by slave labour and a series of purges that killed all who stood in his way.

It’s a sad catalogue of events. What is even sadder is how a lot of this was denied, ignored or buried by sycophantic media hacks among the foreign press in Moscow and accepted by gullible Lefties in the West. Mr. JONES (2019) is a small budget English/Russian/Welsh language movie that attempts to address the mechanics of how one particular journalist-manque tried to counter the Kremlin propaganda machine.

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Anarchist Cuba: Countercultural Politics in the Early Twentieth Century

Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement

Anarchist Cuba: Countercultural Politics in the Early Twentieth Century
SKU: 9781629636375
Author: Kirwin Shaffer
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 9781629636375
Published: 05/2019
Format: Paperback
Size: 6 x 9
Page count: 320
Subjects: Politics-Anarchism/History-Cuba

 


This is the first critical, in-depth study of the anarchist movement in Cuba in the three decades after the republic’s independence from Spain in 1898. Kirwin Shaffer shows that anarchists played a significant—until now little-known—role among Cuban leftists in shaping issues of health, education, immigration, the environment, and working-class internationalism. They also criticized the state of racial politics, cultural practices, and the conditions of children and women on the island.

In the chaotic new country, members of the anarchist movement reinterpreted the War for Independence and the revolutionary ideas of patriot José Martí, embarking on a nationwide debate with the larger Cuban establishment about what it meant to be “Cuban.” To counter the dominant culture, the anarchists created their own initiatives—schools, health institutes, vegetarian restaurants, theater and fiction writing groups, and occasional calls for nudism—and as a result they challenged both the existing elite and the occupying U.S. military forces.

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Movie Review: 1917

Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement

Drama comes from giving somebody a task then putting obstacles in his/her way. This fundamental aspect of storytelling is understood in ‘1917’ a new movie about the experiences of a soldier in World War 1.

Its April of that year and in a reversal of Saving Private Ryan, a single soldier is sent to rescue a group. A disastrous attack is being planned and the chosen Tommy must cross no-mans-land to deliver a message calling it off. The added incentive, in this case, being that his own brother is among the battalion in danger. He takes another soldier with him and they set out on the mission together. That’s the story.

There is no character development as you might get in other Ur-quest narratives. Here the growth is not internal, it’s simply a matter of geography. In case that is seen as shallow, Director Sam Mendes employs a few techniques to help us empathise. The most obvious one is a pseudo-single take that repeatedly places the camera behind the protagonists at either waist level or shoulder height to give us the feeling of being along with them for the ride. This also works by using the standard horror movie approach of not showing us what the imminent danger is immediately but visually drip-feeding us until we get the big reveal. Likewise, the overbearing soundtrack that shouts out how we are meant to feel, instead of letting us work that out. Another is tracking shots to give an additional sense of propulsion. It is manipulative but only in the sense that any constructed artwork is a manipulation. Since it is well executed, it works to overcome the inherent weaknesses of the scenario.

Mendes has a strong visual sense both in terms of compositions and pallete. He is capable of finding a strange lyricism in the every day (remember the plastic bag in American Beauty?). Here he takes the two leads and pushes them through an abandoned dugout. They overcome literal obstacles following an explosion and come out from the actual underworld and cross over into a figurative styx -like underworld. The obvious and traditional way (the classic example being All Quiet on the Western Front) to go at this point would be to throw a one-sided array of World War1 signifiers at us (rats, mud, rotting corpses, barbed wire, rain) to let us know war is hell. All of those feature but Mendes reaches deeper to a less obvious set of imagery. Without wishing to spoil anything, this includes languid views of cherry blossoms in a desserted farmhouse and later a river, an airplane crash, the blood draining from a soldiers face, a severly bombed-out village at night, a fire, and a soldier singing a gospel song. All of these are exquisitely framed and look beautiful yet the collective result is one that adds a kind of morbid creepiness to the feel of proceedings. The metaphysical implications of the protagonists crossing the suggestively named no-mans-land and then being placed in an often dream-like environment is admittedly hard to quantify but it is there, and is far more effective than the simplistic techniques already mentioned.

The story rolls along to its conclusion with the audience still largely onboard. That being the intention, the mission of the film-makers is successful. It is technically well made and acted and to the extent this can be said to honour the memories of those who died, it is also successful. However, you may not necessarily learn much about World War 1 from this movie or why so many workers in uniform went out to kill other workers on behalf of King and Country. Perhaps by keeping the subject of this war in the limelight by existing at all, ‘1917’ might cause a few viewers to take sufficient interest in the topic to use it as a springboard to do just that. Hope so.

Review: Whither Anarchism? by Kristian Williams

Anarchist Writers
In 1998 Murray Bookchin wrote a response to the critics of his Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm entitled Wither Anarchism?. Twenty years later appears a pamphlet bearing the same name and in a way covering the same issue – the state of the movement. Only the most blinkered anarchist would disagree that this is a valid question – and one we need to address even if the rest of the revolutionary left is hardly much better and without the benefit of having a viable theory.

By Kristian Williams, who has been active in the American anarchist movement since the early 1990s and the author of Between the Bullet and the Lie: Essays on Orwell, this pamphlet is divided into three sections. The first, on Anarchism, is excellent. It presents a good, short, introduction on why Anarchism is an appealing theory and one which has, and will continue to, attract rebels. The second attempts to understand something many an anarchist has wondered at some stage in their political life – why, if anarchism is so good a theory, is the movement in such a state? The third is an attempt at beginning the discussion on how to bridge that gap.

I will concentrate on the second and the third parts as these are the important aspects of the pamphlet.

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Introducing Working Class Literature

Working Class History

Following on from the success of the Working Class History podcast and social media pages, we recently decided to start a new sister project: Working Class Literature.

Like our history, working class literature is often neglected (or completely forgotten) within literary institutions – like publishing or the academy – that actively discourage or exclude working class people from participation. Beyond this exclusion, there also exist the various obstacles of poverty, work, time (or lack thereof) and formal education (likewise) which might stop working class writers from ever writing in the first place.

Yet, nonetheless, the working class has a rich literary history and it is the aim of Working Class Literature to help promote it.

The project will consist of a Twitter account and occasional podcast to discuss working class writers or various texts and authors in their relationship to working class politics. The first podcast episode will be about the life and work of T-Bone Slim, a poet, songwriter and columnist for the Industrial Workers of the World union who was at various points a hobo, dock worker and lumberjack. For this episode, we’ve interviewed Owen Clayton from the University of Lincoln as well as Slim’s Great Grandnephew, John Westmoreland.

More generally, we hope to expand what is generally considered ‘working class literature’ to include not only the likes of Robert Tressell, John Steinbeck and Alan Sillitoe (great as they all are) but also writers like BS Johnson, Toni Morrison, George Lamming and Djuna Barnes who, for various reasons, are usually not included under the label of ‘working class literature’.

So if you’re on Twitter, do please follow @workingclasslit, share our content and invite your friends to do the same. And feel free to give us suggestions for authors who we should be reading to help us promote the rich literary and cultural life of our class!

If you value our work please take a second to support Working Class History on Patreon!

Gabriel Kuhn (ed.): All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution

WORKERSCONTROL.NET

Review by Ralf Hoffrogge
Every schoolchild on the globe knows something about the Russian Revolution from 1917. It was the origin of a state called Soviet Union and a political confrontation later known as the cold war which shaped the 20th century longer than any other political conflict.

Unlike the crucial events of 1917, the German Revolution of 1918 is not part of the global memory. It did not erect a socialist state as hoped by many of its protagonists and instead ended with a fragile republic that lasted only twelve years and was destroyed by the Nazi Party in 1933.

Therefore most readers might connect the German Revolution with the tragical death of Rosa Luxemburg, murdered by counter-revolutionary militias in January 1919. But Luxemburg became a legend not for being a martyr of the German Revolution. She is famous because of her brilliant writings that inspired not only historians and marxist economics but also leftist feminism and anticolonial struggles.

But, and this is demonstrated by Gabriel Kuhn and his outstanding edition – the German Revolution was more than Rosa Luxemburg. She and her writings were part of a social struggle that dated way back into the class conflics of pre-war Europe and found an eruption in the Revolutionary Wave of 1917-1919.

Kuhn features many documents by Luxemburg that show her as a revolutionary activist, trying to push forward the revolution with her Spartacus League, a political formation that broke away from the German socialists when they started supporting the German Government in WWI.

But Kuhn does not reduce the antiwar-opposition and the revolutionary effort to Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and the Spartacists as it was done by marxist and non-marxist scholars alike during the cold war. His documentary history also presents documents from Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam, the famous Munich anarchists that took part in the struggle for a councils´ republic in Bavaria. He also presents documents from Bremen, Brunswick, Wilhelmshaven and Kiel – German cities that were taken over by workers´ uprisings or sailors and soldiers in mutiny. These original sources make clear that the German Revolution was not orchestrated by a political vanguard of some sort but a spontaneous eruption of the whole population. Very different groups from centrist social democrats to radical anarchists participated in the events, many others only got radicalized during the events.

One such group that formed during WWI were the “Revolutionary Stewards”, a group of rank and file unionists. They started with strikes for better wages in the war industry and ended up being one of the most radical advocates of a councils´ republic in Germany. When the Revolution unfolded in November 1918 this group was far more influential then Liebknecht and the Spartacists, because unlike them it had a wide network of supporters in the factories and workshops. By organizing three political mass strikes from 1916 to 1918 the group was decisive to bring along the political change that Germany saw in 1918.

Kuhn presents several texts by Richard Müller and Ernst Däumig, who were both spokesmen for the Revolutionary Stewards. None of their writings has ever been translated into English before, which makes Kuhn´s edition an achievement. Readers familiar with the historiography of the German Revolution will notice that some more systematic writings of Müller and Däumig on the council-system are missing because Kuhn focusses on the historical events. But nevertheless – by bringing in this group and others, framing the well-known names of Luxemburg and Liebknecht with the wider array of political groups active in Germany around 1918, Kuhn presents a well-balanced account of the German Revolution.

The edition comes with extensive annotations, an introduction and an index, which makes this book useful for scholars and students of the field, while others might just let themselves taken away by the original texts presented, most of them written during or shortly after the revolutionary events and still transporting the enthusiasm of that time.

Title Information:

Gabriel Kuhn (Editor): All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, PM-Press, Oakland/CA 2012, paperback, 320 pages, 26,95 $.

Book Review: Anarchist Perspectives in Peace & War 1900-1918

Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement

[Book Review] “Anarchist Perspectives in Peace and War 1900-1918” by A.W. Zurbrugg (London: Anarres Editions – Merlin Press, 2018)

This is, above all, a history of the anarchist movement from the perspective of those who were at the centre of its development, their voices recovered through a careful and extensive research of conference proceedings, journal articles, memoirs, etc. Altogether, this is a prime example of historical work which is not backward-looking, but forward-looking, bringing history back to life in order to feed contemporary agitated conversations, encounters and debates.

by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.

A.W. Zurbrugg has edited and worked on some very interesting contributions on historical anarchism: his selection of Bakunin’s texts and his book on anarchists’ impressions on the Russian Revolution, had both been reviewed in anarkismo.net before and I absolutely recommend them to anyone interested in anarchism. Now Zurbrugg comes back with a more ambitious project: an international historical recount of anarchism in the 20th century in four volumes, of which the first one was published under the title “Anarchist Perspectives in Peace and War 1900-1918”.

So what’s different in this attempt at an international history of anarchism from others?

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On the Barricades of Berlin

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AWSM

The 1848 wave of worker rebellions that swept across Europe struck the German states with the March Revolution. While Richard Wagner and Mikhail Bakunin fought side by side in Dresden, the writer August Brass led the successful defense of the barricades in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz public square. Published in English for the first time, On the Barricades of Berlin provides a riveting firsthand account of this uprising. Brass’ testimony begins with the tumultuous events leading up to the revolution: the peaceful democratic agitation; the demands that were brought to the king; and the key actors involved on all sides of the still peaceful, yet tense, struggle. It then follows the events that led to the outbreak of resistance to the forces of order and sheds light on the aftermath of the fighting once the exhausted Prussian army withdrew from the city.

August Brass (1818–76) was a German journalist, editor, and novelist and a member of the Doctor’s Club of Hegelian enthusiasts along with Karl Marx. Andreas Weiland is a renowned German translator and art and film critic. … more

 

Book Review – Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin

Book Reviews by A. Siegel

Lavinia

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The past few years as a full-time classicist have seen a boom for me in the reading of modern retellings of classical myths and tales. Of all the ones I have read so far, Lavinia has been the best. Perhaps this is because this novel is based on the last six books of my favorite ancient work and author, the Aeneid by Vergil.

I was first told about this novel by my graduate advisor, with whom I am working on research about Vergil’s pastoral poetry. While Lavinia references the Aeneid and not Vergil’s other works, there are elements of contact with nature, which I will elaborate on below.

For those who don’t know, or have only a vague idea, Lavinia is the daughter of King Latinus, whom Aeneas married when he settled down in Latium, the area of…

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Red State Revolt: An Essential But Flawed Story of the Teacher Rebellion

Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation

Review of Red State Revolt, The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics by Eric Blanc on Verso Books, 2019. By Michael Mochaidean

Last year’s wave of public teacher strikes and walkouts was the highest number of workers walking off the job in three decades. Whether it will be the start of a larger trend across other sectors is yet to be seen. But understanding how these strikes came to fruition is an important lesson of modern labor history.

So how did a group of young, radical, education unionists manage to stage statewide walkouts across the nation in 2018?

This is the question that Eric Blanc seeks to answer in the much anticipated release of his first book, Red State Revolt. Blanc is a doctoral student at NYU and for the past year has acted as correspondent on the Left for the larger education struggles. Given that Blanc has spent the better part of a year covering these struggles, interviewing by his estimates over 100 participants, and being a former educator himself, Blanc is uniquely qualified to write about these matters in ways few others can.

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