Anti-Capitalism Reader Clippings, October 2002-January 2003
Books: Paperbacks - Zapatistas, fundamentalists and Black Sabbath fans Unite!
The Independent on Sunday - 1/12/2003
The Anti-Capitalism Reader
ed Joel Schalit
AKASHIC pounds 12.99
Joel Schalit is one of that interesting new breed of young American leftist thinkers, with a large online presence, and a punk rock band and fanzine to run alongside his political collective and magazine Bad Subjects. He describes the feeling he got when The Communist Manifesto and Rudolf Bahro's 1978 work The Alternative in Eastern Europe first impinged upon his consciousness thus: "They reminded me of my favourite Black Sabbath records." If only the newest generation of heavy metal fans could be persuaded that heavyweight Marxist discourse is as compelling and insurrectionary as Slipknot's last record, how the burgeoning anti-globalism movement would swell.
Schalit's Anti-Capitalism Reader is not going to be the book that does it. It needs a snappier title and funkier cover if it wants to emulate the success of No Logo. And it's an anthology of mostly very serious-minded essays, albeit quite accessible ones. In just over 300 pages, Schalit and his contributors put forward an astounding array of anti-market arguments; survey countless pockets of anti- capitalist resistance (opposition to free-market logic comes from a surprisingly wide spectrum, from the WTO protesters in Seattle and the Zapatista rebellion, to fundamentalist religion and even some centrists and conservatives); and assess the role of culture as a public sphere in which opposition can be rehearsed.
But what's most striking about this book is not so much its multiplicity of viewpoints or intellectual rigour, but the faint hint of optimism it contains.
The assertion that capitalism's hegemony is complete, and that property rights will always prevail over human rights, is still made regularly in this book; largely because the ruling elite has worked hard to convince the majority of people that there is no viable alternative to the logic of the market. In addition, the left is fragmented and seems unable to reach a consensus on anything and the impetus of the active anti- globalism movement was hampered by the US response to the World Trade Centre attack. But despite all that, there appears to be a new faith among the left that growing numbers of people are listening to them again. These essays are addressed to the intelligent but not necessarily academic reader, and there's a touching conviction that the ideas here should and will be discussed by ordinary people like me, and perhaps like you too. As JC Myers writes, with a logic that at first glance seems inverted but is actually flawless: "For all but a handful, capitalism has failed. For the rest of us, anti-capitalism remains our only
The Anti-Capitalism Reader: Imagining A Geography Of Opposition
Edited by Joel Schalit
This new collection of essays was edited, and compiled by Joel Schalit who's first book "Jerusalem Calling" came out earlier this year. Schalit is also an associate editor at Punk Planet, and co-director of Bad Subjects, a political journal that appears both in print, and online. Some of the themes in "Jerusalem Calling" are explored much further here, from a wide variety of authors. The title can be a little misleading. After the first section, "My Definition Is This", which features four essays and a lengthy interview, the subject matter. branches out quite a bit. The first section does a good job of explaining exactly what Anti-Capitalism is, as well as what it means now.
The remaining three sections of the book are a bit more broad than the first. "Done By The Forces Of Nature" has six pieces exploring the effect of the world economy on social movements, and vice versa. Section three, "Open Up The Iron Gate" is the most broad chapter here. It explores all the side issues associated with anti-capitalism, especially religion, and a few other factors. The final section, "Culture And The Angels Of History" explores the role of culture in anti market politics. This is the longest section here, as well as the most broad.
I've a big fan of Schalit's writing, and enjoyed his introduction, as well as his piece in the third section. "Secularization and Its Discontents: Western Marxism and the Critique of Religion" does a good job of exploring the past, and future of religion's effect on global politics, especially when it relates to economics. This is a pretty big topic to tackle, and not one that I've ever studied in any depth before. But as always, Schalit writes about it in a very informative, though also engaging and understandable way. The essay is right between fact-heavy and very academic, and engaging and clearly explained even for those without any background knowledge. It's a tough balance, but one that he's mastered.
In addition to being a writer I generally seek out, Schalit's talent for compiling, and editing work from other authors is displayed here. From the
Bad Subjects staff/collective, and numerous other sources, he has compiled a lot of pieces that vary a ton in style, length, and viewpoint. But they work well together for the most part in a pretty loose framework, and on a broad subject. Some of the highlights include "Peace, Love, Linux: When the Open Source Movement Got in Bed with Capitalism", by Analee Newitz. It's a pretty lengthy essay on the history, and implications of the Open Source software movement. It continues to operate, and has been around for some time. Their most visible project was the Linux operating system. Linux is the main subject of the article, though a lot of background information is worked in really well. Most of the other articles here follow a pretty similar structure. The interviews here are some of the longer pieces here in general, and they come off pretty similar to the articles in a lot of ways. The interview with British publisher Colin Robinson was my favorite interview here. It's conducted by Schalit, and Charlie Bertsch, and covers a lot of ground.
The variety of the subject matter, and different voices here is pretty surprising. Though everything maintains a pretty similar path, there is
plenty to choose from. This makes for an interesting read, either from front to back, or just jumping around a bit. The mix of historical information and current events is surprising, from piece to piece and within a lot of the articles. This is a very relevant collection, which obviously took some time to compile. While it's relevant now, I can also see it holding it's relevance for some time. If you have any interest in the themes, and importance of the main idea behind "The Anti Capitalist Reader", you should definitely look into this.
This collection of nicely accessible essays looks at the practice and theory of anti-capitalist politics in the modern world. The book's editor sums up the aim of anti-capitalism--and of this book--as an attempt to discover what went wrong with communism, and how a more humane socialism can be achieved. Communism wasn't big on culture, so the last, and most interesting, section is dedicated to this, with essays on Anti-Capitalist Taste, making information free and--the most original of the lost--the links between capitalism and transgender.
The Portland Mercury 11/22/02
Reading Frenzy, 921 SW Oak St, 274-1449
Fri Nov 22, 7 pm, free
Joel Schalit is a model punk. Outspoken and revolutionary yet levelheaded, he has channeled his wild intellectual energy toward the pursuit of organized rebellion. A graduate of Reed College, he lives in San Francisco and helps edit Punk Planet, a marvelous periodical loaded with articles on underground music and politics. He also published a book in 2002: Jerusalem Calling: a Homeless Conscience in a Post-Everything World, an amazingly readable collection of essays focusing on his politics, ideology, and heritage as a Marxist, a secular Jew, and a Zionist. In his newest project, The Anti-Capitalism Reader: Imagining a Geography of Opposition, he plays editor again. It's an anthology of essays and interviews by anti-capitalist writers from around the world, and is a must-read for any up-and-coming revolutionary who hates market economy, but isn't sure why.
First things first. At the beginning of Jerusalem Calling, you claim that in Portland in the `80s, "WASP provincialism and prejudice of Middle America ruled with an iron hand." Is that still true?
I think it's changed a lot, but it still has a very WASP vibe to it. In 1983, it was not the most multicultural place, and for somebody coming from my kind of Mediterranean family background, having grown up in Europe and New York and Israel, it was a real shock.
How did you wind up here?
I was enrolled in a boarding school in Portland in order to complete my high school education because I was not doing very well at the high school I had started out at in Brooklyn. My father was proposing that the only way out for me was to go straight into the Israeli Army, and my sister put the brakes on that immediately and rerouted me to OES. The educational kick in the ass it gave me was extraordinary.
So, how is it, being a Marxist and all?
I am a Marxist and yet I've never been an affiliated Marxist. I've never belonged to a particular revolutionary organization, and I never plan to be.
There's no party I'd like to join right now. [The U.S. has] never had any political parties in my lifetime which I thought were capable of properly representing the interests of the Left. I once registered as a democrat when I was 21 or 22, but I've never done so since! What do all nice Jewish leftist kids do? They register with the democratic party as soon as they're eligible to vote. Democrats have proven themselves to be completely incapable of articulating the interests of any kind of working people at all.
Um... so what exactly does it mean to be a Marxist?
My biggest concern as a Marxist is democracy; the fact that in market economies it's very difficult to reconcile democratic political processes with market processes. It means having a critique of market economies, it means having an understanding of how market economies create cultures of alienation, which prohibits people from perceiving what their own self-interests are, and how those self-interests match the greater self-interests of society as a whole.
Hence the Anti-Capitalism Reader...
What distinguishes this volume [from other anti-market books] is a more philosophical yet accessible account of what anti-capitalism has been historically and how it's being expressed now. I have, for example, an essay by one of America's leading Palestinian activists, Ali Abunima, providing a political economy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I also introduce in the book a number of key intellectuals who've played a very important and yet unrecognized role in debates on globalization and the state of contemporary capitalism.
What is the ultimate goal with all this writing you do?
I've always believed that speaking of politics from the perspective of your own personal experiences is a way of teaching whoever chooses to identify with you. While I don't think there's anything particularly unique about my life, I do believe that there's stuff within what I write about that has political implications far greater than me. JUSTIN SANDERS
The Anti-Capitalism Reader ::
by (published 2002)
read: 30 October 2002
I have mixed feelings about things you can buy to support anti-capitalism. Now that corporate globalization is a daily reality that most of us can write and converse intelligently about, it seems only natural that someone would compile these discussions and sell them back to us. That said, this book offers a good overview to the many “talking points” surrounding the current cynicism about the brave new capitalist world being force-fed to us by the likes of Big Business and their henchmen the WTO and the IMF.
The essays range from a very down to earth and humorous look at the consumer-orientation of transexuality to post-modern yammering that I stopped reading at the phrase “the terms of anti-capitalism’s symbolic/conceputal production.” You’ll find more Marx here than Kropotkin, but the Reader is largely doctrine-free, though more closely aligned with the philosophical concerns of the anti-capitalist movement than the very real “well what do you do without capitalism, smart guy?!” issues that affect the day to day lives of many modern anti-capitalist thinkers.
Interviews with Thomas Frank from The Baffler, and Ramsey Kanaan from AK Press are two of the book’s stronger pieces, as is Naomi Klein’s homage to Subcommandante Marcos. The Reader covers a wide range of topics from open source software and intellectual property rights to bioengineering to Leninism. There’s a little something for everyone -- a perfect primer for Anti-Capitalism 101 at your local Megaversity -- and Punk Planet co-editor Schalit has the necessary cred to not only bring it all together but get it noticed as well.
SF Bay Guardian
The Anti-Capitalism Reader: Imagining a Geography of Opposition
Edited by Joel Schalit. Akashic Books, 336 pages, $16.95.
Joel Schalit, a Bay Guardian contributor and editor of The Anti-Capitalism Reader: Imagining a Geography of Opposition, writes that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels's Communist Manifesto and Rudolf Bahro's Alternative in Eastern Europe "metaphorically book-end the parameters of my own political thinking" and that he learned the essentials and the struggles of communism and capitalism from his politically charged older sister. In The Anti-Capitalism Reader, Schalit keeps these two texts firmly in place as the status quo for contemporary political thought. Now, he and his contributors have become the older siblings who recognize the importance of teaching the next generation of thinkers and activists and possess the patience and the diligence to do so.
This book is a highly accessible collection of the basics, immediately answering questions such as what anticapitalism is and is not, why we need to call for structural reform, and why this is a critical change for day-to-day culture and economy. Provocative modern writers speak simply enough to educate the thinking masses. Newbie politicos are welcomed with open arms, seated, and taught a lesson that will not only garner them intrigued conversationalists at the next cocktail party but likely will also help them recognize the flaws and inconsistencies of the capitalist system.
Anticapitalism is not simply a synonym for leftist thinking but an invitation for the entire political spectrum – left, right, and center – to voice its opinion on how our current system is failing every socioeconomic stratum. It's impressive how, in a mere 300 pages, Schalit and company manage to incorporate such a wide view and treat each new perspective as something worth serious consideration. In addition, anticapitalism isn't simply defined as a governmental or monetary revolution but includes a broader scope of culture, such as gender, sex, and taste. Living outside the current norm is allowed to take on a flavor of its own. In the schema of anticapitalism, everyone will be invited to the revolution. (Karen Solomon)
A Homeless Conscience
For Joel Schalit’s eighth birthday, Yitzak Rabin gave him a model of an F-4 Phantom jet. This was in a Moroccan restaurant in the Old City of Jerusalem, in 1976. "I sat quietly," Schalit writes, "staring at my couscous, thinking, Rabin gave me a Phantom jet, Rabin gave me a Phantom jet..."
As the American-born son of an Israeli patriot, Schalit had been fully inculcated in Israel’s warrior culture.
As a kid he was fascinated with, and deeply knowledgeable of, military hardware and affairs. His father and his father’s friends, high-ranking political and military men, proudly looked forward to the day when young Joel, like his older brother, would do his part in what they envisioned would be Israel’s unending wars with its Arab neighbors. As a boy Schalit bought into that vision, not least as a way to please his dad.
Now in his mid-30s, a secular Marxist and punk rock intellectual who’s lived in Israel, the U.S. and Europe, Schalit tells me he has come to see that warrior mindset as "a neurotic need for a permanent state of war, because that’s all the country has ever known." He never did service in the Israeli military, and can be viewed as something of a draft dodger when he visits there. He describes his views of and experiences in Israel in his new book, Jerusalem Calling (Akashic, 216 pages, $14.95).
I met Schalit and we did a reading together when I was in San Francisco last summer. He’s a slight, shaved-headed, soft-spoken guy with a merry laugh that belies a deeply contemplative nature. He’s an editor at both the lefty-intellectual journal Bad Subjects (he coedited NYU Press’ 1997 Bad Subjects anthology) and Punk Planet. (NB: He was instrumental in having my last book reviewed in both.) He was also a founding member of the Christal Methodists, who phone-pranked Christian radio talk shows and recorded the results, and a new group, the Elders of Zion, whose first CD, Dawn Refuses to Rise (Incidental Music), disturbingly layers radio fragments and other field recordings over electronics and heavy beats.
The topics in Jerusalem Calling range from Schalit’s days as one of the few Jews in an Oregon prep school to his involvement in–and eventual disenchantment with–the Northwest punk scene to his political education as a dedicated Frankfurt School Marxist.
It’s his complex personal relationship with Israel I found most interesting. His father was born in Jerusalem, his mother (now deceased) was American. A great-grandfather, Eleazar Elhanan Schalit, was a pioneering Zionist whose home in Rishon Le Zion, Bet Schalit ("Schalit’s House"), is now a museum. A grandfather, Israel Brody, "was an active philanthropist, and involved in setting up a potash concern by the Dead Sea," Schalit tells me. His father was raised in Palestine until his teens, when he went to Texas A&M for a couple of years of education and military training. He joined the Canadian Air Force during World War II. Back in the U.S. after the war, he procured and transported weapons for the Haganah during Israel’s war of independence–activities that got him into some trouble here.
Schalit was born in Norwalk, CT. His mother "had insisted that all the kids be born in the States, so that we had the option of not serving in the army in Israel," he says. "She was very wise about that, I think. Though it didn’t alleviate any of our problems with the army as we got older." During much of Schalit’s childhood, his father lived and worked in Genoa, where the family would visit him for a few months each year, with frequent side-trips to Israel. In ’75, when Schalit’s mother died, Schalit went to live with his father in Italy, and later in London, and for a few years in Israel.
Asked what it was like to be an eight-year-old American kid living in Israel, he tells me, "I think I viewed the experience largely from the perspective of someone who just suffered an enormous loss. And so, even though I’d traveled to Israel prior to my mother’s death and spent time there as a child, her passing made it an incredibly new and unique experience for me. Particularly because Israel’s a victims culture. And regardless of how most progressives characterize Israel as being fairly merciless today, both in terms of inter-Jewish relations and in terms of Jewish-Arab relations, this was still a period in which there was a very strong civic ethos of welcoming everybody, because everybody was a victim of the Diaspora… It was very warm and welcoming to me, and it really blew me away. I think it was part of what allowed me to have a classic postwar Jewish immigrant experience to Israel. And allowed me to identify very quickly as an Israeli–to go from being Jewish to an Israeli."
Although he remained fascinated with Israel’s affairs, Schalit’s lived solely in the U.S. since 1980 and didn’t return to Israel until 1994. He’s been back to visit his father there several times since, most recently just after the outbreak of the second Intifada in the fall of 2000. He describes an Israel that has come to look more like a West Coast shopping-malls-and-fast-food culture than the heroic, hard-scrabbling communard land he remembers as a kid. (The kibbutz nearest his dad’s home is now best known for its collectively owned McDonald’s franchise.)
I ask him about the vast differences he sees between the Israel of his childhood and the country he visits today.
"Obviously I think the understanding I had of Israel as a child was one built around Zionist mythology," he replies. "It was very uncritical. The view of Israel that I had as a child was one that was very multiculturalist and bought into all the colonial narratives, uncritically. The one I have now is of a far more sober adult understanding of the country, which I’d like to think–unlike a lot of traditional Western leftist views of Israel–understands Israel for all of its complexities both politically and culturally–as both a colonialist entity and a post-Socialist market-driven immigrant society in the middle of the Middle East. It’s hard not to look at Israel today as being an incredibly complex tragedy. I think Westerners who condemn Zionism so quickly should understand that it was inevitable that a Zionist state came into being. People forget that America refused enormous amounts of Jewish immigrants to this country, both prior to and during the war. Israel happened because the West willed it to happen, since it was unwilling to do anything on behalf of the Jewish people in Europe under Hitler."
And yet, I say, you do have real problems with it.
"Oh, I have terrible problems with it," he agrees. "I’m appalled by the degree to which the Arab-Israeli conflict has been exacerbated by nationalist and territorial expansionism. I honestly think that the Intifada could have been avoided. I honestly believe that there have been many opportunities to conclude a final settlement, which the Israelis have gone out of their way to avoid. I see it as being partly pathological. I think there’s a neurotic need for a permanent state of war, because that’s all the country has ever known. I don’t think it’s a question of being a debate over real estate. I think it’s a deep psychological problem on the part of the Israeli mindset."
What about the argument that were Israel not to defend itself as well as it does, its neighbors would swallow it up in no time at all? Syria wouldn’t invade in 10 seconds if Israel let down its guard?
"Oh, I think the Syrians would, but I think that it’s important to understand that the number of enemies that Israel has has radically diminished during the 1990s. The military problems that remained during the Oslo period were with Syria and Iran. The Iraqis were destroyed by the Americans–their military capability will never recover. By the mid-1990s Israel already had peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. So the notion that Israel is living in a sea of Arab hatred is a convenient myth that would have to be radically adjusted in order to understand the true realities on the ground. Unfortunately, I think that Israeli conduct in Lebanon during the occupation, and the way that the Palestinians were treated starting with the post-’93 Oslo period, contributed to a reconstruction of old forms of Arab hostility toward Israel. Particularly the introduction of closures as punishment for suicide practices. The exercise of collective punishment, though not without precedent in the 70s and 80s, was very much a unique 90s thing, and helped contribute to the remarkable hostility and total lack of faith on the part of the Palestinians in the Israelis being able to conclude a just peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority."