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“Our Piece in the Jigsaw Puzzle”

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Issue: 42 Section: Ideas Topics: social movements

January 30, 2007

“Our Piece in the Jigsaw Puzzle”

A Review of Upping the Anti no. 3

by Anna Feigenbaum

Those interested in Upping the Anti are encouraged to subscribe and offer financial support. Contact: uppingtheanti@gmail.com

Upping the Anti…a journal of theory and action… was started as a project of the Canadian-based Autonomy and Solidarity Network. The publication positions itself within contemporary social justice struggles, serving as a catalyst and forum for debate. The journal draws upon Marxist and (if quite contentiously) anarchist frameworks, highlighting the importance of collective action, individual reflection and analysis in activist projects.

Canada, as a nation, is positioned throughout the journal as an agent of oppression in both domestic and international struggles, giving rise to questions of global solidarity, the localization of activist struggles in the Global North and the ways in which movements can inform each other. The journal’s commitment to “theory and action” is demonstrated through its focus on building conceptual tools, its poaching of analytic devices from a multiplicity of academic disciplines and its attention to questions of accessibility, language and ‘insider speech.’

Issue three’s editorial, entitled ‘Growing Pains,’ argues that anti-capitalists need to work within the anti-war movement to insist on broader analyses of imperialism. The authors contrast “united front” politics with the “pedagogy of confrontation.” Where united front politics enable a broadly endorsed action around generalized demands, the pedagogy of confrontation reacts directly, aggressively targeting agents of power. While anti-capitalist struggles of the late 1990s (Seattle) and early 2000s (Quebec City) were marked by a combination of these forms of protest, the anti-war movement has been dominated by the united front approach. In an insightful and provocative attempt to bridge these two modes of political resistance, the authors argue that both approaches share a concern with the question: “What is my responsibility to the Other?”

This question shifts the focus away from debates about the effects of tactics, towards a concern over motivations for acting. Regardless of where on the spectrum of tactical diversity one falls--be it aggressive confrontation (destroying military records), or generalized demands (marching for a ceasefire)--what happens if we start by addressing questions of why we care and what it is we want to transform or eradicate? This call for more thorough and complex analyses of the imperialist motivations for war in the current anti-war movement echoes concerns and dissent that has been lodged since mass demonstrations in 2003, as well as debates that occurred throughout the Cold War period. (See for example “An Open Letter To Activists Concerning Racism In The Anti-War Movement”)

Moving to issues of micro-resistance, AK Thompson offers a critical response to Richard Day’s book Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements. Thompson addresses the current state of anti-globalization movements, capturing the melancholic hope of “activists’ come-down” after large mobilizations in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Here, the writing stands out. Thompson’s lucid essay offers a poetic and highly critical engagement with Day’s genealogy of anarchist affinity. Day promotes a “politics of the here and now” in the Global North that is inspired by movements in the Global South. Entirely unconvinced, Thompson argues that this obscures political organizing in the Global South, such as that of the Piqueteros in Argentina. While Piqueteros began locally, the movement became broad-based, blockading streets, occupying ticket stations and government buildings to win back jobs, make demands regarding working conditions and shut down the flow of capital. Thompson says that Day’s proposal serves as a “salve for the wounded,” making false promises about the potential for anarchist resistance that mask the kinds of confrontation with failure that activists and organizations in the Global North need to address in ongoing projects.

More implicitly critical of anarchist affinities, Aijaz Ahmad offers an historical analysis of revolutions of the right and the left in his interview in Upping the Anti. Ahmad situates party politics in relations to both reformed and transformed class relations, taking us through struggles in Afghanistan, Iran, Venezuela and Bolivia. Interviewer Keerey’s questions at times seek reaction from Ahmad (“Is there a clash of civilizations?”) and prompt informative distinctions (between European social democracy and Indian parliamentary communism) that give room to the breadth and depth of Ahmad’s position that a revolution that shifts class power requires a party to meet the infrastructural, daily needs of the mobilized masses.

RJ Maccani’s article on the Zapatistas aims to be “more informational and inspirational than prescriptive.” Maccani also situates struggle in relation to the Global North, taking care to credit the thoughts of activists and theorists in Mexico by speaking openly and self-reflectively in what comes together as a dialogical (if overly zealous) exploration rather than a polemic. With this tone, it stands out from pieces in the issue. Maccani describes the Zapatista movement as blurring Western distinctions, re-imagining a homogenized class struggle as a movement of diverse marginalized populations whose Other Campaign reaches out to “workers, indigenous farmers, women, youth and queer folks.” Maccani details the Zapatista role over the past 12 years in facilitating and shaping global resistance to neoliberalism from the First Encuentro to the first World Social Forum in Brazil in 2001, addressing the Zapatista approach to elections as well as the role they have played and might further play in Latin American and the United States. Maccani discusses how the Zapatistas at times allied with larger NGOs and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), but ultimately, as outlined in the Sixth Encuentro released in 2005, they look toward “the humble and simple people who struggle” as the agents of social change, while continuing “to extend their ear and their solidarity” to the people of Latin America.

Moving to domestic contestations, this issue’s roundtable is on the Six Nations Land Reclamation struggle. Tom Keefer’s introduction to the conflict traces the Six Nations occupation of the Douglas Creek Estates from February 28, 2006 until fall 2006. Keefer explains how the dispute is over both the land itself and the sovereignty of the people of Six Nations (who function as an independent state through their constitution and international law). Here, he maps the struggle through encounters with the police, reactions from Caledonian residents who want Six Nations off the land and the various forms of solidarity and support networks that have emerged.

Issue three also features articles on activist burnout, Canadian abuses in Haiti, an interview with William Robinson and a book review section. Notable too is the striking cover-art by Vrinda Conroy, illustrating Marx’s statement that, ‘Capital is dead labour.’ This, along with the sleek, silver exterior set against more classical typesetting, makes the journal an aesthetically seductive read in public spaces.

Overall, Upping the Anti provides a critical, engaged and provocative read. Perhaps more importantly, it offers those of us actively engaged in struggles a tool for reflection and a feeling that we’re not alone in moments of impassioned “over-processing.” I think the publication might further its potential by risking more experimental forms of writing and loosening some of its Canadian reserve to embrace personal, specific accounts of struggles with solidarity work, academia, and how to remain hopeful.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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