Alexander Riccio, a labor organizer based in Corvallis, Oregon who co-hosts the podcast LabourWave Revolution Radio, talks with Kevin Van Meter, author of Institute for Anarchist Studies/AK Press book Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible, available here!
Alexander Riccio: Some have read your book, Guerillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible, as an attack on organized labor in general, or as one that poses an either/or decision between supporting Left organizations, such as unions, versus championing forms of everyday resistance. What do you say to these criticisms?
Kevin Van Meter: I don’t see my work as an attack on organized labor per se, but as a critique of where organized labor has been and how it is currently functioning. I think one of the major problems with organized labor, at least in regards to business unions, is their inability to innovate, their inability to learn from their own historical lessons, and their inability to listen to the actual needs and desires of the working class outside of the union’s organizational frame.
Unions have a very particular way of going about organizing: a steward system, a contract vote, provide services, conduct a corporate campaign. For thirty years, labor unions have hired people predominately out of college rather than from within their own ranks, and during the same period, there has been a focus on corporate campaigns rather than building substantive relationships on the ground. The fact is that building relationships on the job and in communities is necessary for the Left to bounce back, pass legislation, organize unions, and be successful in the streets against forces like fascism. All of that means it’s necessary to reweave the social fabric, but unions have largely ignored this necessity.
For this interview we (carla and Nick) sent Marina Sitrin a ‘preamble’ outlining some of the ideas behind our book Joyful Militancy (available here!), and then included a couple questions based on Sitrin’s other writings (especially Horizontalidad: Voces de Poder Popular en Argentina). We do not include the preamble here because as time went on in the researching, interviewing and writing of the book our ideas and articulations shifted. For that, we are deeply indebted to all our interviewees who offered new insights and shed light on areas that needed reworking. Instead we have added a short overview about the book, below, so the interview can stand alone. Our website also includes the book’s introduction and other excerpts.
Joyful Militancy Overview
Why do radical movements and spaces sometimes feel laden with fear, anxiety, suspicion, self-righteousness and competition? In Joyful Militancy, we call this phenomenon rigid radicalism: congealed and toxic ways of relating that have seeped into radical movements, posing as the “correct” way of being radical. In conversation with organizers and intellectuals from a wide variety of currents, we explore how rigid radicalism smuggles itself into radical spaces, and how it is being undone. Rather than proposing ready-made solutions, we amplify the questions that are already being asked among movements. Fusing together movement-based perspectives and contemporary affect theory, Joyful Militancy traces emergent forms of trust, care and responsibility in a wide variety of radical currents today, including indigenous resurgence, anarchism, transformative justice, and youth liberation. Joyful Militancy, by carla bergman and Nick Montgomery, foregrounds forms of life in the cracks of Empire, revealing the ways that fierceness, tenderness, curiosity, and commitment can be intertwined.
April 6 – 8, 2018
Oregon State University
The Opening Space for the Radical Imagination conference, co-sponsored by the Institute for Anarchist Studies, will explore formats to address, fabricate and discuss social transformation that challenge the standard model of an academic conference. The conference invites participants to create a common space for radical imagination and social justice that goes beyond a skill-share for radical organizers. Radical Imagination invites us to engage in a profound critique of what seems obvious (radical = that goes to the roots of something) and to explore alternative ways of living together – producing, loving, shaping spaces and time, inhabiting the land, working, using, struggling. It is an appeal to decolonize social relations and the dominant imaginaries that justify oppression and injustice. Radical Imagination is not just about dreaming alternative futures. It lures us into embodying alternatives in practices, actions, and thinking.
Eberhardt Press is community print shop and small press in Portland, Oregon, founded in 2004. Named in honor of anarchist writer and adventurer Isabelle Eberhardt, the shop provides design and printing services to zine publishers, worker co-ops, musicians, artists, small publishers, anarchist organizers, non-profit organizations, activist groups, local independent businesses and lots of other folks. For the last ten years they have printed Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, often donating some of their labor and adding enhancements like color for free. Now they are being evicted, and need our help to successfully relocate and continue producing.
Gary Snyder is not a philosopher, nor does he “consider himself particularly a ‘Beat.’” Snyder is a poet, an essayist, an outdoorsman and a practitioner of Buddhism. But despite his reluctance to identify with the Beat title, he has been an undeniable influence on the Beat generation and its writers. He was fictionalized as the character Japhy Ryder in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, and helped initiate the San Francisco Renaissance by organizing poetry readings with his close friend Allen Ginsberg, among others, thus ushering in the Beats as a recognized social force. Although not technically a philosopher in the traditional or academic sense, his writings contain a very complex treatment of modern society’s relationship to the natural world. Snyder’s chief concerns are protecting nature from the ravages of civilization, putting humans back in touch with our “wild” selves and returning us to a sense of self-contemplation, community and embeddedness in nature.
Snyder puts his philosophical views into practice in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where he has made his home since 1970. Eschewing publicity, he sits za zen every day, and is a life-long proponent of ecological thinking. Snyder also draws from Mahayana Buddhism, bioregionalism and social anarchism in developing his perspective and philosophical orientation. Snyder most clearly spells out the beliefs he conveys through his poetry and practices in his essay work and interviews.
Thank you to those who have responded to the Beyond Anti-fascism, But Not Without It statement/call put out by the Perspectives on Anarchist Theory journal collective. Clearly there are many people pursuing this conversation in a variety of networks. Stay tuned for pieces coming from Perspectives on the Institute for Anarchist Studies website and in our 2018 Beyond the Crisis print issue.
“The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”
― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
(Anti-fascist demonstration, London, 1935)
Since Trump’s election, fascism has barged onto center stage, moving more brazenly into public space, mainstream media and public discourse than it has in decades. This renewed and emboldened presence of overt fascism has been met by an explosion of analysis and discussion about its history and politics, and the conditions necessary for its emergence. A proportionally growing attention is also being paid to the history and politics of anti-fascism.
This is welcome, and it is crucially needed. However, it’s also true that the bulk of the writing and speaking on fascism and anti-fascism—the better-selling books, the high-profile interviews–are being done by white men.
“To become what we need to each other, and to find power in friendship, is to become dangerous.”
“I have a circle of friends and family with whom I am radically vulnerable and trust deeply – we call it coevolution through friendship.”
—adrienne maree brown 
“These are not just words; they are clues and prods to earthquakes in kin making that are not limited to Western family apparatuses, heteronormative or not.”
—Donna Haraway 
(art by Pete Railand)
With the growth of the Alt-Right and the Trumpist movement in the US, the Left has grappled with how to understand and define fascism in the 21st century context. The conditions, players, and tactics are fundamentally different than its first manifestations, and so many antiquated studies have left inarticulate descriptions or inadequate culprits as roadmaps for understanding fascism today. Instead, these twenty-five statements are a proposal for how to understand the essential core of fascism–what binds it together as a modern impulse despite its different manifestations across cultures and time.
Fascism in the 21st century has direct continuity to the insurgent movements that tore apart Europe, culminating in the Second World War. The methods, tactics, and strategies have changed, but the potential of the genocidal-racialist machine remains, and the ideologies are linked through history.
Fascism does not necessitate a specific type of statecraft (or a state at all), nor does it require a particular party apparatus, a fixed demographic of finance capital, or economic depression. What it does require is mass politics, popular support, and the ongoing destructive upheaval of class society.
Back when I first began selling my labor for a wage in the wasteland of suburbia’s strip malls, I can recall the tedium of stocking shelves, summoning up insincere courtesy in the face of entitled customers and obnoxious bosses, comparing the stacks of money counted at the end of the day with the totals on our paychecks, and feigning adherence to whatever motivational façade management cooked up to mask the reality of our exploitation.
Yet I also remember, much more vividly and fondly, the latent and occasionally eruptive defiance among my co-workers. This included the constant collective complaining about the job, taking more and longer-than-approved breaks, working as little as possible, fudging time sheets, stealing, and the intermittent screaming matches with the boss in the middle of the store. Underpinning all these actions was an unspoken but broadly understood code of silence when it came to such transgressions and, when appropriate, expressions of support for them.
At the time, I didn’t think much about this, it was just how things happened and I’ve encountered similar experiences to varying degrees in every workplace since. Our actions weren’t guided by a political framework nor was there any attempt to organize them in a directed manner. It was more a spontaneous, innate reaction to experiencing the coercion of capitalism. I had cause to reflect upon this anew while reading Kevin Van Meter’s new book, Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible, published by AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies.