This is an archive of topics and texts discussed at Cowley Library reading groups in the past. We hope you may find it interesting reading.
May - Fredy Perlman's "The Reproduction of Daily Life"
April - Alf Hornborg - Animism, fetishism, and objectivism as strategies for knowing or not knowing) the world
March - "To have is to owe" by David Graeber
'The Subsistence Perspective' by Maria Mies
A book of history, theory and polemic, the authors show how, if we are to survive, economies must become needs-based, environmentally sustainable, co-operative and local.
'To The Planetarium' by Walter Benjamin
'Resignation' by Theodor Adorno
Straw Dogs by John Gray
‘Caliban and the Witch’ by Silvia Federici
A brilliant feminist history of the witch hunts and the place of women in the transition to capitalism.
The whole book is available on Google books.
Part 1 (PDF)
Part 3 (PDF)
Part 5 (PDF)
Say You Want An Insurrection: Putting the ‘Social’ in Social War
'Say You Want An Insurrection: Putting the ‘Social’ in Social War' from Rolling Thunder
What to make of “insurrectionary anarchism”? Is it at all relevant to us here and now in our non-insurrectionary times? Should we be constantly on the attack, upping the ante, regardless of whether ‘the time is ripe’? Is it a puerile celebration of militancy or a serious proposition?
“...Where militant political conflict is rare, it’s tempting to assume that clashes with authority are inherently antiauthoritarian. Insurrectionist websites and magazines appropriate images from a wide variety of contexts; some hail all sorts of antisocial crime as manifestations of social war, without knowing the motivations of the protagonists... But rebellion and street violence are not necessarily anarchist. Resistance to oppressors is praiseworthy in itself, but much resistance takes place in support of other authoritarian powers.“
Of Martial Traditions & The Art of Rebellion
What can revolutionaries learn from the writings of military strategists, from theories of sieges and mutinies, campaigns of attrition or surprise, “force multipliers” and “friction in war”?
“We are all occupied peoples. The occupation is partly maintained militarily and our response should therefore be, in part at least, a military one ... Part of preparing ourselves for secession and revolt includes the study of military history, the principles and ways of warfare, mostly because our adversaries are well schooled in it, but also because these offer insights and principles valuable to anti-authoritarian rebels as well.”
'Fascism/Anti-Fascism' by Gilles Dauvé
What are the politics of anti-fascism? From asking people to vote for anyone as long as it’s not the BNP, to the anarchists in the Spanish civil war joining the government in order to “fight fascism”, why is it that anti-fascism always seems to end up supporting the state and capitalism?
“The antifascist struggle, which claims to search for a lesser evil (better to have capitalist democracy than capitalist fascism), is like abandoning the frying pan for the fire ... Revolutionaries reject antifascism because one cannot fight exclusively against ONE political form without supporting the others... The error of antifascism is not in struggling against fascism but in giving precedence to this struggle ... and for reinforcing, voluntarily or not, Capital and the State.
Anarchy & Alcohol
Do we use alcohol too much as an escape from the world around us? Is it pacifying us? Dulling our anger? How is alcohol tied to the history of oppression, pacifying and destroying rebellious communities throughout history and around the world?
“We are not against drunkenness, but rather against drink! For those who embrace drink as a route to drunkenness thus cheat themselves of a total life of enchantment... Alcohol, like Prozac and all the other mind-control medications that are making big bucks for Big Brother these days, substitutes symptomatic treatment for cure. It takes away the pain of a dull, drab existence for a few hours at best, then returns it twofold.”
Are our attitides to political violence shaped too much by Leftist and Liberal ideas inherited from the political mainstream? Is there some inherent racist and sexism in our discomfort with the violence involved in much political struggle?
“Let's face it, anarchist history was often very violent. Bombs were thrown, clergy were killed, fascists were shot, industrialists were stabbed, politicians were assassinated and police were attacked, often with massive support and even participation from non-anarchist poor people. Violent acts, by themselves, do not necessarily alienate people.”
Class, Race, Multiculturalism and Identity Politics
'Multiculturalism – The Newspeak of the Left Cop' from Class War 92
'In Defence of Multiculturalism' by Jenny Bourne
Review of 'The Redneck Manifesto' by Richard Tate
Are multiculturalism and cultural relativism progressive forces or reactionary ones? Does political organising around ‘identities’ of race or gender etc. help or hinder radical struggles? Does the white working class get unfairly blamed for racism by the liberal middle class?
“Campaigners for racial and sexual equality do not challenge capitalism at all. On the contrary. If companies hired people solely on the basis of ability, they would do better. There would be just as much inequality, but it would be an inequality of ability, an inequality which benefits the economy. Anti-racism is simply racism in reverse. Its purpose is to distract us from the real issues.”
Race, Class and Gender
'Age, Race, Class And Sex: Women Redefining Difference' by Audre Lorde [word file download]
'White Supremacy On My Mind: Learning To Undermine Racism' by Chris Crass
'Unconscious Racism Happens When...' from Race Revolt magazine [word file download]
This is the first reading group in a series on race. The reading material includes black feminist Audre Lorde making the connection between race, class and gender and anarchist Chris Crass commenting on racism in the activist community.
“The idea that we just need to get more people of colour to join our groups is an example of how white activists have internalised white supremacy. It carries the idea that we have all the answers and now they just need to be delivered to people of colour...” – Chris Crass
The Financial Crisis
'Global Capitalism: Futures and Options' from Turbulence 4
"Must the Molecules Fear as the Engine Dies?" – Notes on the Wall Street 'Meltdown' by Silvia Federici & George Caffentzis
What is this financial crisis? Why is the state ‘nationalising’ banks? Who’s going to be paying for this? Should we be celebrating this sudden conversion to ‘socialism’? Is it the end of capitalism or just another opportunity to rob from the poor and give to the rich? Does this moment provide a new opportunity for struggle?
“On two things we can get people to agree with us: First, we better find alternatives, because, as things stand presently, we are so incestually connected with capitalism that its demise threats our own existence. Second, unless we organize to resist government planning, what lies ahead for us, after a cut of more than a trillion dollars of our "entitlements," looks much more like some variant of fascism than socialism.”
Is Climate Change The New Anti-Globalisation?
Is the anti-globalisation movement that emerged in the late ‘90s and coalesced at large summit protests now over? Does climate change present a new focal point for this movement? Is it possible to create an anti-capitalist movement around climate change and the attempts to use it to justify continued capitalist expansion?
“...as it stands right now, there is little hope that climate change will be dealt with in ways that don’t simply further the interests of states and whatever happens to be the dominant fraction of capital... this would seem to constitute the perfect opening for a re-energised anti-capitalist politics that can manage to connect to people’s widespread worries about climate change, and the impression that what is being done (Kyoto, Bali, emissions trading, etc.) is far too little, far too late.”
Climate Change and The Climate Camp
What are the politics of this summer’s climate camp? Is it in danger of being watered down so that radical activists end up being co-opted and lending their support to authoritarian or un-ecological ‘solutions’ to climate change? Is climate change even a good focus for radical activism?
“The way climate change is sold to us is a myth, like so much of the modern world. At the very least, it is a concept that has been developed so entirely within the paradigm of capitalist science that outside of this it makes no sense...
...It’s a totally serious proposition: leave climate change to the people who invented it - scientists and businessmen, politicians and NGOs. It’s not for us.”
'Autonomy in the City' by Stuart Hodkinson and Paul Chatterton
'Space Invaders' from Do or Die number 10
How does running a cheap cafe and bar help bring down capitalism? What is the point of the Cowley Club? Or of radical social centres in general?
Two texts discussing the some of the issues and problems around the idea of radical social centres.
“If we think we need 'access points' for new people to be inspired by our political perspective, then surely this is best achieved through practising direct action - not through acquiring crippling mortgages, obeying a myriad of regulations set by the state and spending years doing DIY of the conventional sort. The energy that has gone into legal social centres ... might well have found other avenues for action had a lot of very energetic people not been engaged in property development.”
'Pornography: Men Possessing Women (Introduction)' by Andrea Dworkin
'The Harm of Porn: Just Another Excuse to Censor' by Avedon Carol
Is Pornography part and parcel of male domination over women? Should consistent radicals oppose pornography along with all other forms of oppression?
Or are campaigns against pornography counter-productive, part of an agenda of censorship and repression?
Two texts from either side of a key debate in the modern feminist movement.
“Pornography is the orchestrated destruction of women's bodies and souls; rape, battery, incest, and prostitution animate it; dehumanization and sadism characterize it; it is war on women, serial assaults on dignity, identity, and human worth; it is tyranny.”
Class Struggle Politics and Radical Ecology
'Scarcity and the Emergence of Fundamentalist Ecology' by Jeffery Shantz
'Class struggle, Commodification and Modernized Society' by Kevin Tucker
Are class struggle politics and radical ecology compatible or are they total opposites?
Do radical ecologists ignore the power relations behind current social and environmental problems, resulting in an anti-worker sentiment? Does class struggle politics aim to maintain elements of an inherently environmentally and socially destructive industrial civilisation?
“Industrial living without any kind of massively implemented program of limitation will always be bound to the situation of constant growth ... there simply can not be a sustainable or suitable industrial society which is the only ideal society for the outcomes of class struggle”
'Anti-Semitism and National Socialism' by Moishe Postone
'Anti-Semitism on the Left' by Thomas Haury
A very influential essay by Moishe Postone which has been important in the controversial German ‘Anti-Deutsch’ movement. Both texts discuss the insidious nature of anti-Semitism, which constantly re-appears in new forms. Is the anti-capitalist movement guilty of anti-Semitism? Is the pro-Palestine movement?
“There is therefore clearly anti-semitism on the Left which manifests itself as anti-Zionism ... If the Palestine conflict is approached from the standpoint of this anti-imperialist world view, and if an attempt is made to explain the conflict within this scheme of things, then the inevitable result is a position which is anti-semitic in content”
'The Tyranny of Structurelessness' by Jo Freeman
'The Tyranny of Tyranny' by Cathy Levine
Two classic texts from the feminist movement debating how political groups should organise. Does an ‘non-hierarchical’ way of organising just create informal hidden hierarchies? Would we be better off having a clear ‘democratic’ hierarchy?
“... a ‘structureless’ group is ... a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others. This hegemony can easily be established because the idea of ‘structurelessness’ does not prevent the formation of informal structures, but only formal ones ... Thus ‘structurelessness’ becomes a way of masking power, and ... it is usually most strongly advocated by those who are those most powerful.”
The G8 and Anti-Summit Mobilisations
'Move into the Light? Postscript to a Turbulent 2007' by Turbulence
'Summits and Counter-Summits' by some Roveretan anarchists