Radical media, politics and culture.

"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, opensource.mit.edu, 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?

"Why they Hate America So Much"

Anirudh Deshpande, H-Asia

Reviewing Karl E Meyer, The Dust of Empire: The Race for Mastery of the Asian Heartland.
New York: Perseus Books, 2003. xvii + 252 pp. Maps, photographs, notes, select bibliography, index. $26.00 (cloth), ISBN 1-58648-048-0; $15.00 (paper), ISBN 1-58648-241-6.

Why Do They Hate America So Much?

This book must be read in the context of Iraq, which is threatening to become not another Vietnam but the Operation Barbarossa of the United States. It is an objective, unrelenting critique of Western imperialism which will equally surprise the communist and capitalist admirers of modern Western civilization. And by Western imperialism, Karl Meyer does not mean only Anglo-Saxon attitudes of superiority but, as a brilliant chapter on Tsarist and Bolshevik Russia proves, also Russia from the period of Ivan the Terrible until the ill-fated Soviet military adventure in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. This book attributes the widespread opposition to the West in many countries to the exploitative relationship the Western powers have historically imposed on them. It is also a scholarly rejection of the erroneous beliefs entertained and repeated meaninglessly by imperialists like George Bush and Tony Blair in the name of freedom and liberty. The United States, Britain and Russia are under attack today, as Meyer conclusively demonstrates, not because many people dislike liberty, but precisely because these powers have denied freedom to millions across countries in their quest for foreign resources and empire since at least the nineteenth century.

"Creating Anarchy"

O. Katz

Reviewing Ron Sakolsky, Creating Anarchy. Liberty, TN: Fifth Estate Books, (2005)

The descriptor “eclectic” is overused, but I’m afraid there’s no better means for assessing the depth and breadth of Ron Sakolsky’s sustained personal history of involvement with libertarian theory and practice. Free-radio activism, radical musical expression, non-coercive educational strategies, Fourth World indigenous struggles, surrealist cultural experimentation—Sakolsky has submerged himself into all of these subjects (and more) over the years, and he has done so in the most open-minded and nonsectarian of ways. His smash-and-grab freestyle philosophies eschew rigid dogma in favor of what can most deliciously scratch the most insatiable itch. In this light, Sakolsky’s writings recall for me the ingenious and approachable do-it-yourself ethos of garage-band punks, tenement-yard turntablists, basement-workshop mad scientists, and the rest of Babylon’s most resourceful shipwreck survivors.

Creating Anarchy is a compilation of twenty of Sakolsky’s essays crisscrossing the last ten years. Most of the writing here has been reconsidered, rewritten and remixed with an eye peeled and an ear cocked for the latest mutations in the New World Order’s war of terror against terrorism, from post-9/11 compulsory consumerism and the state-sponsored mass media persecution of “un-American” teachers to the silly liberal ballot-box melodramas of the last two US presidential campaigns. But all this is not to say that Sakolsky’s thinking is just an enraged reaction to the toxic neo-puritanism and babbitry of what he calls “Fortress America fundamentalism.” Never self-righteously angry or haughtily prescriptive, Sakolsky’s solutions are simultaneously sensible and seductive, and they are grounded in the best sort of critical thinking and informed reflection that only comes from decades of experience fighting on the side of liberty and mutual aid.

The Depraved Heroes of "24" Are the Himmlers of Hollywood

Slavoj Zizek, Guardian

On Sunday, the fifth season of the phenomenally successful television drama "24" will start in the US. Each season is composed of 24 one-hour episodes and the whole season covers the events of a single day. The story of the latest series is the desperate attempt of the LA-based Counter Terrorist Unit to prevent an act of catastrophic magnitude and the action focuses on the unit's agents, the White House and the terrorist suspects.

Nietzsche's Vicious Circular Corps/e

Douglas Kellner

Reviewing Pierre Klossowski, Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle,
Chicago, University of Chicago Press,1998, xx + 282 pp.

and Geoff Waite, Nietzsche's Corpse/e.

Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996, xii + 564pp.

The translation of Pierre Klossowski's Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle finally provides an English-speaking audience with access to one of the most influential texts in the French Nietzsche tradition.

First published in France in 1969, Klossowski's text consummated over three decades of intense work and discussion on Nietzsche's most enigmatic and original ideas. Working with Bataille and the famous College de Sociologie, Klossowski published a series ofimportant studies of Nietzsche culminating in Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle which Foucault described in a letter to Klossowski as "the greatest book of philosophy I have read" in addition to Nietzsche himself. Deeply influencing Deleuze, Lyotard, and other major Nietzscheans, Klossowski's work remains a seminal text of the contemporary French reading of Nietzsche.

Eugene McCarthy: 1916–2005
Jon Wiener, The Nation

Wiener, a columnist for The Nation, teaches history at the
University of California, Irvine; his latest book is Historians in
Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud and Politics in the Ivory Tower
(The New
Press, 2005). This article, a review of Dominic Sandbrook's biography of Eugene
McCarthy, was first published in 2004.

Eugene McCarthy has always been a mysterious and frustrating figure.
Nothing he did before 1968 hinted that he would become the liberals'
antiwar leader and challenge an incumbent Democratic President;
nothing he did after 1968 accomplished much of anything. Dominic
Sandbrook skillfully conveys the events and the experience as well as
the arguments of that year. Although he is a Shropshire lad born in
1974, Sandbrook argues like my father, born in Duluth in 1921 and a
good Minnesota Democrat: He insists we focus on how the story of 1968
ended. The split among Democrats led by McCarthy ended up with Nixon
in the White House. Nixon kept the war going for another five years,
during which 15,000 more Americans were killed, and — we might add
— during which Americans killed something like a million more
Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians.

Anonymous Comrade writes:

Favela Rising

If you don't know, I wanted to let you know that Favela Rising has been shortlisted for an Academy Award. To fully disclose, I am working with the directors to let people know about this film.

If you are not aware of the story, Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary put together a documentary on the AfroReggae movement spreading throughout the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. The film focuses on Anderson SA, who had an social and political awakening when his brother is killed by a hand grenade tossed into a bar by a corrupt cop. SA then started the AfroReggae music movement as an alternative to joining the favela druglord gangs for the youth of his community.

"Back to Utopia"

Joshua Glenn

Reviewing Fredric Jameson's Archeologies of the Future.

In 1888, when Massachusetts newspaperman Edward Bellamy published his science fiction novel Looking Backward, set in a Boston of the year 2000, it sold half a million copies. Never mind the futuristic inventions (electric lighting, credit cards) and visionary city planning; what readers responded to was the transformation of a Gilded Age city of labor strikes and social unrest into a socialist utopia (Bellamy called it ''nationalist") of full employment and material abundance.

By 1890 there were 162 reformist Bellamy Clubs around the country, with a membership that included public figures like the influential novelist, editor, and critic William Dean Howells; and from 1891-96, the Bellamy-inspired Nationalist Party helped propel the Populist Movement. The Bellamyites fervently believed, to paraphrase the slogan of today's anti-globalization movement, that another world was possible.

But during the Cold War — thanks to Stalinism and the success of such dystopian fables as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four — all radical programs promising social transformation became suspect. Speaking for his fellow chastened liberals at a Partisan Review symposium in 1952, for example, the theologian and public intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr dismissed what he called the utopianism of the 1930s as ''an adolescent embarrassment."

Anonymous Comrade writes:

"Cultural Criticism at the Crossroads"

Not Bored!

Reviewing Greil Marcus' Like a Rolling Stone

"The development of capitalist concentration, and the diversification of its function at the global level, have produced the forced consumption of the abundance of commodities, as well as the control of the economy and all of life by bureaucrats, through their possession of the State; or direct or indirect colonialism. Quite far from being the definitive response to the incessant revolutionary crises of the historical era begun two centuries ago, this system has now entered into a new crisis: from Berkeley to Varsovie, from the Asturians to Kivu, it is refuted and combatted." — Guy Debord, "Summary of 1965"[1]

"In the dime stores and bus stations

People talk of situations

Read books, repeat quotations

Write conclusions on the wall" — Bob Dylan, "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," Bringing it all back home [2]

Greil Marcus must know that he leaves himself open to a predictable objection when he refers to Guy Debord in most recent book of music criticism, Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan At the Crossroads. An explosion of vision and humor that forever changed pop music (Public Affairs Books, 2005). In the middle of a quotation from a detective novel that uses comfortable, pre-riot Watts as its psychogeographical backdrop, Greil tells us,

as the critic Guy Debord wrote of Watts from Paris, "comfort will never be comfortable enough for those who seek what is not on the market."

The quote is from Debord's strategic analysis of the Watts riots, "The Decline and Fall of the Spectacular-Commodity Society," which — as Greil notes in his list of works cited — was first published clandestinely in America, in an English translation, in December 1965 by the Situationist International and later published in French in Internationale Situationniste #10 (March 1966).

In Like A Rolling Stone, Greil is only interested in the Watts riots to the extent that they chronologically preceded the release of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" as a single on 20 July 1965. Unlike, say, Frank Zappa's 1966 song "Trouble Everyday," Dylan doesn't refer to or try to comment upon those riots. In the same way that Greil doesn't really need the riots to tell the story of "Like a Rolling Stone," he doesn't really need Guy Debord ("from Paris") to tell the story of the riots. Thus, Greil can afford to call Debord "a critic" and leave it at that; to neglect to tell his readers that, in Lipstick Traces on a Cigarette: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (Harvard University Press, 1989), he'd written extensively (and very productively) about Debord's writings, theories and relevance to rock 'n' roll music.[3] But some readers might have benefited from this knowledge: just like Like a Rolling Stone, Lipstick Traces is a risky, rarely undertaken adventure: an entire book — footnotes, an index, a discography with its own internal digressions and asides — about a single great rock 'n' roll song (the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" in the case of Lipstick Traces).[4]