Monday, January 21, 2013


This beautiful and remarkable music documentary about the singer/songwriter Rodriguez is genuinely uplifting. HIs two albums recorded in the 1970s did nothing in the Western marketplace but in South Africa under the apartheid regime, the album ‘Sugar Man’ was considered a stone cold classic and sold some half a million copies. Nothing was known of Rodriguez himself and the film documents the search that began to find out the truth about this extraordinary songwriter. Its fantastical.

This wonderful little book of memorable quotes from the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei – culled from his numerous videos and posts on His blog and Twitter – encourages us to accept the challenges of life and to use our time on this earth to stand up for human rights and a better life for all. Weiwei is the most important artist of our time who has developed the art of the brief phrase as cultural statement. This little book consciously sits in a continuum from Confucius to Mao to now. Here are a few Weiwei-isms to give a taste and flavour of the whole.

Ai Weiwei

My favourite Word ? It’s “act”.
It became like a symbolic thing, to be “an artist.” After Duchamp, I realised that being an artist is more about a lifestyle and attitude than producing some product.'
Life is never guaranteed to be safe, so we better use it while we are still in good condition.
My current situation is, I always want to find a new possibility. China is in a changing stage, and that puts me in a very difficult situation, because anytime a new condition is announced there is a lot of struggle between the new and the old. So the Establishment really became extremely nervous because they are refusing to meet very basic human rights or values. I don’t know how long I can still struggle in China, but I will try my best. because this is a land I am very familiar with, and we have been in the same kind of struggle for generations. I think its a time for change.'

‘Weiwei-Isms’ is edited by Larry Warsh and published in 2013 by Princeton University Press to coincide with the exhibition of Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads. See:
For more on Weiwei see Previous Post: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

The great American poet Jack Gilbert died recently.
Here he is in action. His work is powerful and moving.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


img005 James C. Scott is a political science and anthropology professor at Yale University According to a recent New York Times profile: ‘He is the official founder of Yale’s agrarian studies program, as well as an unofficial founder of the field of “resistance studies,” in which his book “Weapons of the Weak” (1985), a study of peasant resistance based on fieldwork in a Malaysian village, is a kind of Bible.’ Now 76, he continues to teach and write while in his spare time he runs a 46-acre farm in Durham, Connecticut and keeps bees.

‘Two Cheers for Anarchism’ says Scott was ‘born of disillusionment and dashed hope in revolutionary change.’ In the 60s, he writes, there was ‘a romance with the peasant wars of national liberation’ which many believed offered ‘utopian possibilities’. Bear in mind, he says, that the peasantry are the largest class in world history.

In fact what happened Scott says is that ’virtually every major successful revolution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one it overthrew’. He quotes the example of Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), which led to the death of what Scoot says is ‘unlikely to be less than 35 million people’.

A ‘crude’ Marxist, Scott found himself initially drawn to anarchist thinking as perhaps a fresh way of examining old problems. In order to understand it, he taught a course at Yale which allowed him to read all the anarchist classics and the histories of the anarchist movements.

Twenty years later this slim book is Scott’s attempt to make the case for what he calls ‘a sort of anarchist squint’ at the world.

His book is not  offering an ‘elaborately worked out argument for anarchism that would amount to a consistent political philosophy’ nor an examination of Anarchist movements.

It is rather a collection of essays he calls ‘fragments’ – a ‘series of apercus that seem to add up to an endorsement of much that anarchist thinkers have had to say’ about the State, Revolution and Equality.

The ‘fragments’ often or mainly begin with a personal experience or anecdote providing a telling example of a larger theme.



‘Mutualism, as a variety of anarchism, goes back to P.J. Proudhon in France and Josiah Warren in the U.S.  It favors, to the extent possible, an evolutionary approach to creating a new society.  It emphasizes the importance of peaceful activity in building alternative social institutions within the existing society, and strengthening those institutions until they finally replace the existing statist system.  As Paul Goodman put it, "A free society cannot be the substitution of a 'new order' for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of the social life.". Source:


Scott is interested in Proudhon’s idea of ‘mutuality’ – cooperation without hierarchy or state rule – and in the ‘anarchist tolerance for confusion and improvisation’ and in its ‘confidence in spontaneous cooperation’

He follows the lead of British anarchist Colin Ward [See Previous post] in showing that this mutuality is ubiquitous in our societies.

He extols a populist anarchism that believes in the possibilities of autonomy and self-organisation and the encouragement of diversity and complexity.

He is at pains to distance himself from many other varieties of anarchism – the utopian scientism of the early 20th Century and the modern sort of libertarianism ‘that tolerates (or even encourages) great differences in wealth, property and status.’ This, Scott says, ‘make a mockery of freedom….Democracy is a   cruel hoax without equality.’

More controversial is Scott’s views that ‘episodes of structural change occur only when mass disruption and open defiance threatens established institutions.’ This is certainly true in the case of the civil rights movement for example.

Less easy to defend are the actions of what is known as the ‘black bloc’ who came to initial prominence in 1999 at the ‘Battle of Seattle’ outside the WTO meeting. They smashed shop windows and skirmished with the police. Scott says that one may ‘deplore’ this strategy but, without the media attention generated by this violence, the ‘anti-globalisation movement would have gone largely unnoticed.’

He quotes Martin Luther King: ‘A riot is the language of the unheard.’ Such riots, he says do get ‘the attention of the elites’ but they risk triggering of an authoritarianism or fascist response rather than leading to reform or revolution.

His book’s first chapter concentrates on acts of disobedience and insubordination. These ‘weapons of the weak’ are lower risk alternatives to open defiance.

In  later ones he contrasts Vernacular Order with Official Order making a strong case for diversity against homogenisation at all levels.  He emphasises the value of play as a basic activity and we need to undertake the urgent tasks of fostering institutions ‘that expand the independence. autonomy and capacities of the citizenry.

The book as a whole is not completely successful. One misses a concluding chapter of sorts at the book’s end. Several of the essays ramble somewhat and appear to make slight points at great length.

Yet one feels that there is a lot of passion behind this writing and a genuine attempt to offer his America audience at least,a different view of anarchism than the media stereotypes.

‘Two Cheers for Anarchism’ by James C. Scott is published by Princeton University Press (2013)



For those like myself who didn’t know, the book’s title draws from E.M. Forster’s ‘Two Cheers for Democracy’ published in 1962. He wrote: "We may still contrive to raise three cheers for democracy, although at present she only deserves two."


There is an interesting piece on Anarchist symbolism in Wikipedia.

‘The first recorded use of the A in a circle by anarchists was by the Federal Council of Spain of the International Workers Association. This was set up by Giuseppe Fanelli in 1868. It predates its adoption by anarchists as it was used as a symbol by others. According to George Woodcock, this symbol was not used by classical anarchists.

‘ In a series of photos of the Spanish Civil War taken by Gerda Taro a small A in a circle is visibly chalked on the helmet of a militiaman.

‘The first documented use was by a small French group, Jeunesse Libertaire ("Libertarian Youth") in 1964. Circolo Sacco e Vanzetti, youth group from Milan, adopted it and in 1968 it became popular throughout Italy. From there it spread rapidly around the world.’





Time Magazine's Person of the Year, re-imagined as a celebration of the Black Bloc. Image: Occupy Duniya. Source: The Occupied Wall Street Journal.


There’s a very punchy piece about Scott’s book by Malcolm Harris in the Los Angeles Review of Books.  Let’s just say he’s not totally approving and calls Scott an ‘Anarchish’

The article also refers to ‘best-selling liberal author Chris Hedges’ and ‘his opportunistic attack on anarchists within Occupy Wall Street. In a piece posted widely around the progressive internet press, Hedges called Black Bloc protesters — a reference to people associated with small-scale property destruction who show up to marches all in black — "the cancer of the Occupy movement," asserting that the movement would be better off turning window breakers over to the police.’



By coincidence or not, found this book by Henry Hemming - ‘Together: How Small Groups Achieve Big Things.’ [John Murray. 2011] The book claims that, during the first decade of this new century, there has been a surge of people in Britain joining or forming associations. Hemming sets out to find out why this might be and examine what it is that we get from being a part of an association. These incidentally come in all shapes and sizes from rat breeders and book clubs, to creches and model makers. He quotes Lester Salamon of John Hopkins University who said, in 1999, that  a ‘global associational revolution appears to be underway.’ By the way, the book never mentions the world ‘anarchism’. Mutualism rules!



harper1007 harper1008


Top: ‘Autonomous Terrace’ (1974); Centre: Cover of Issue 1 of ‘Class War Comix’ (1974); Cover of ‘The Education of Desire: The Anarchist Graphic of Cliff Harper’. published by the Annares Co- operative in 1984; Frame from ‘Class War Comix’. [The Generalist Archive']

This second post is a tribute to the talent and commitment of the artist Cliff Harper, the first proper anarchist I ever met. He lived in the Eel Pie Island commune for two years. and produced in the early ‘70s a remarkable six-part ‘Class War Comix’ which are set in a post-revolutionary Britain.

I have the original outline for the series which begins in one of the large communes where 2000 people live in a village of some 300 buildings surrounded by 1500 acres of arable grass and woodland.

Whether it was all published I can’t remember. All I have in the Archive are two copies of Issue One, one of which contains a hand-written letter in red ink that reads:

Dear tired old IT [International Times]: Please review this hopelessly utopian comik. Try and suppress your cynicism for a little while and give it a plug.

I was quite scared of Cliff at that time. He was very very particular and passionate about his work as I recall. He wore big overcoats, big boots, had a beard and pigtail and little round wire glasses. I think he thought us lot at the underground press were a bit nancy.

Strangely and wonderfully Cliff became an incredibly popular illustrator for the mainstream press, particularly The Guardian, and you can find out all about him, his work and current state of affairs on his excellent website.



One of Cliff’s great heroes and a big influence on his work was the woodcut artist Frans Masereel (1889-1972) who produced more than 20 ‘wordless novels’, the most famous being ‘Passionate Journey’ – a novel told in 165 woodcuts. You can get a cheap edition from Dover Books but the nicest edition I have was published in Ladbroke Grove by The Redstone Press in 1987. This wonderful book is one of my all-time favourites.


In recent years I’ve picked up the following:

harper1012 harper1013

‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Masreel and published by the Journeyman Press [London/Nyack, NY. 1979/1980]

harper1010 harper1011

‘The Glorious Adventures of Tyl Ulenspiegl’ by Charles de Coster [Pantheon Books. 1965]. This is a hardback first edition. Its the story of the 16th-century fight by seven Lowland provinces against the might of Spain, the roots of a struggle that would eventually lead  to the establishment of Belgium as an independent country. This book, first published in 1869, is considered the first great work of Belgian literature and bears comparison to Don Quixote and Panatgruel.

Like de Coster [1827-1879) Masreel was Flemish and his outstanding 100 woodcuts for this work are a wonderful enhancement to the text. Romain Rolland said of them that  Masereel: ‘had allied within him the two opposing elements which are so characteristic of Tyl Ulenspiegl: the enormous buffoonery and the dark demons of the soul: violence and melancholy.’

Wednesday, January 09, 2013



125,667 PAGE LOADS


Latest figures show a dramatic rise in visitor numbers – up 33,000 from 2011 – and page loads – up almost 50,000 from 2011.


Thanks to all my readers worldwide. Please spread the word. Hoping to hit 100,000+ in the year ahead.