An irreverent history of Mexico, but mostly it's capital city, from the Pleistocene to swine flu. Mexico City is an enormous and unwieldy mess. 20 mil...moreAn irreverent history of Mexico, but mostly it's capital city, from the Pleistocene to swine flu. Mexico City is an enormous and unwieldy mess. 20 million people, 15% unemployment, housing the richest man in the world and many of the world's poorest. Some of the worst air quality on the planet, and a constantly depleting water table. But Mexico City is also the national stage for Mexico the country, a city where leftist currents have taken hold from outside and from the inside. In fact, for the last decade, Mexico City has been the largest megalopoplis to be run by the electoral left for the last ten years.
John Ross has a great sense of humor and a great sense of justice. He's not a stenographer: You wouldn't have bought this book if you hadn't known that John Ross wrote several books in awe of the Zapatistas and a book about the American dinosaur Left called Murdered by Capitalism. But it's his embracing the electoral left in Mexico (from Tata Cardenas to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador) that most surprised me. He even goes out of his way to criticize those who excoriate the electoral left (Subcomandante Marcos, the Zapatista Other Campaign, anarchists and ultraleftist students). This is especially strange given his overwhelming support of these movements in other venues.
He also has his particular peeves about city life in the Monster that I didn't necessarily share, as I read the bulk of the book inside the city itself on a trip to visit old friends. I happen to agree with his annoyance with the organ grinders, but my girlfriend who bought me this book thinks that they are lovely! And it was strange to hear the relief in his written voice that the "ambulantes" or street sellers (who are among the poorest of the Mexico City residents, subsisting entirely on an informal economy) had been forcibly removed from the sidewalks in certain areas by the police under an electoral left mayor. We also disagree on Cafe La Blanca, where Sara and I went having both dessert one night with the author, and breakfast the next morning. We'd rather go to any of the Tacos Al Pastor holes in the wall than this massive diner with it's expensive and mediocre food. But if you live here for long enough, I can imagine wanting some kind of consistency, and I guess La Blanca can offer that...
Something else I remember clearly about the book is the near outright dismissal of the Mexican Revolution. Though he finds inspiration in the struggle of the Liberation Army of the South as lead by Emiliano Zapata, the revolution was a pit of misery and death for nearly all those involved. The only people who seem to want to remember it differently are the ones who, in the end, profited most from it: the one-party-mafia-state apparatus known as the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and the wealthy classes. The poor, on whose backs the revolution was fought, despite all their deaths, did not win this revolution.
Despite his annoyance with the ambulantes, his disdain for organ grinders, his bad taste in diners, and his tolerance for the electoral left, this book is worth reading. You will delight at the stories of Superbarrio, gasp at the stories of police corruption, and be touched by the stories of the regular people who live in Mexico City.(less)
This book was beautiful. Originally, I bought it for the first 60 pages documenting the Oaxaca Commune, a seven month struggle that temporarily replac...moreThis book was beautiful. Originally, I bought it for the first 60 pages documenting the Oaxaca Commune, a seven month struggle that temporarily replaced a fascist police state with a socialist, anarchist, and indigenous inspired series of assemblies. But the book is a travel journal of two years, and after some annoyance that this section was over, I adapted to the style and pacing of the rest of the travelogue.
The struggle never went away, it's just sort of bubbling under the surface, and there is so much more to Oaxaca than even the incredible feat of the 2006 uprising. I love the way that Peter Kuper takes the time to point out tiny details of his stay, especially his fascination with insects. These are truly gorgeous splash pages, landscapes, collages, and. Peter Kuper does an amazing job of keeping the book dynamic and fascinating, even as personal a travelogue as it is.
The book design is among the most beautiful I've seen. Full color, full bleed, with plenty of paintings that cross the midline. The embossed cloth cover with picture insert are gorgeous, as is the red binding, and I love the sewn-in ribbon bookmark. This is like an heirloom quality book.(less)
In the summer of 2005, I worked for an anarchist labor organization in the city of Tehuacan, Puebla in Mexico, then the blue jeans manufacturing capit...moreIn the summer of 2005, I worked for an anarchist labor organization in the city of Tehuacan, Puebla in Mexico, then the blue jeans manufacturing capital of the world. This organization (the Tehuacan Valley Human and Labor Rights Commission) took great influence from an indigenous anarchist insurrectionary from Oaxaca named Ricardo Flores Magon. Magon and his Partido Liberal Mexicano were the first to take up arms against the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and was the intellectual predecessor to the later, much more famous Emiliano Zapata, with his party's slogan: Land and Liberty. Though many people, including random folks on the bus and bluejeans factory workers alike, knew who he was, the dozen or so bookstores I went to in Mexico didn't carry books by or about him.
Neither was he easy to track down in the US. Books on the Mexican Revolution barely mentioned him, and I could only find one book about him in English. The internet at that time yielded only a handful of translations of his works, mostly on obscure anarchist websites that frequently went offline. As soon as I heard that AK Press was going to put out a larger body of translated RFM works, I ordered it immediately.
Having recently returned from another trip to Mexico, the situation has definitely changed. With the Oaxacan uprising in 2006 and the newsworthiness of such organizations as the Zapatista-Magonista Alliance and CIPO-Ricardo Flores Magon, the people who had been carrying the torch of Ricardo Flores Magon's legacy have created an enthusiastic renewed interest in the folk hero's influence on Mexican history. At the 25th anniversary celebration of the EZLN, dozens of pamphlets, pins, CDs of radio programs, patches, and banners with his likeness were on display.
The first third of the book gives the historical context for Ricardo Flores Magon's writings with a biographical sketch, not just of Magon, but of the history of Revolutionary Mexico. These were some of the most informative pages in the book. starts in the early 1800s with Miguel Hidalgo, progresses through the time of Benito Juarez, and lands us in the era of Porfirio Diaz. Finally, we are given a 70 page, fairly thorough biography of his political organizing that can, at times be a little too "...and then this happened. And then this happened."
Ricardo Flores Magon's essays are pure, distilled anarchist agitational propaganda. The metaphors are so rich that it is difficult to sit down and read more than one essay at a time, but set it down for any extended period of time and you start fiending for it.
Genuinely arousing lines abound:
"Let us rise, and with the shovel that now serves to pile up gold for our masters, let us split their skulls in two, and with the sickle that weakly cuts off ears of corn, let us cut off the heads of the bourgeoisie and the tyrants. And above the smoldering embers of this damned system, let us plant our banner, the banner of the poor, to the cry of Land and Liberty! Let us no longer elevate anyone; let us all rise! Let us no longer hang medals or crosses on the chests of our leaders; if they want to be decorated, let us decorate them with our fists. [...:]The hour of justice has arrived, and in place of the ancient cry, the terror of the rich, "Your money or your life!" let us substitute this cry: "Your money and your life!" (217 "The Intervention and the Prisoners of Texas")
"The law is a brake, and with the brakes on we'll never arrive at liberty. [...:] The tyrant dies from stab wounds, not from articles of the legal code." (241 "Outlaws")
"Between bandit and bandit, I prefer the one who, dagger in hand and with a resolute spirit, jumps out from some thicket by the road shouting "Your money or your life!" I prefer this one, I insist, to the bandit who, sitting down at his desk, coldly, quietly, calmly drinks the blood of his workers." (243 "Bandits!")
But some of Magon's rhetoric would make the most battle-hardened insurrectionary anarchist blush and close the binding in public places:
"How far is the ideal, how far! A mirage in the desert, a phantasm of the steppes, the twinkling image of a star reflected in a lake. First was the bottomless abyss separating humanity from the promised land. How to fill this abyss? How to plug it? How to reach the inviting beach that we divine is on the far shore? Defending the abyss are prejudices, traditions, religious fanaticism, the law. In order to be able to cross this abyss, one must vanquish its defenders until the abyss is filled with blood and then sail over this new red sea." (190 "Liberty Equality Fraternity")
"Let's suppose that the number lost in this evil war is a million; this would signify that a million families that they find themselves without protection because their men were so stupid that they preferred to march to the slaughterhouse to defend the interests of their exploiters rather than to go to war in defense of the interests of their class. That such lambs die is a good thing. There's no lack of men who are obstacles to the desire for liberty of the other individuals of their class[...:] that means we'll encounter fewer obstacles in our struggle for the destruction of the present system." (295 "The World War")
I am really glad that the editors of this volume decided to end the book with some of Ricardo Flores Magon's stories, didactic as they were, because I think this is where Magon's philosophies and rhetoric come across with the least pretension. The final essay, New Life is a great look into the future of the triumph of the Social Revolution and the ease with which an ungovernable working class will bring to birth the new world from the ashes of the old.
One of the most useful parts of this book for readers who want to read more about the Mexican Revolution will be the bibliography, where there are long lists of resources about different aspects of the themes introduced in the book.
The book's design is impeccable. Everything seems to work very well, both with the very modern sans serif typeface and its contrast with the serifed paragraph font and the italics and script, the bold lines at the bottom of the page, the black stars and the grey bars, the incredible woodcuts from Mexican revolutionary artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. I might have wanted more left and right margin to fit my thumbs in, but this is nitpicking when the rest of the book is so beautiful and functional. (less)
It has been a long time since I finished "reading" (actually, listening) to this book. 6 months ago, I decided that I wouldn't let myself be intimidat...moreIt has been a long time since I finished "reading" (actually, listening) to this book. 6 months ago, I decided that I wouldn't let myself be intimidated out of reading a book whose other reviews on Goodreads were effusive to the point of James Lipton from Will Farrell's parody of Inside the Actor's Studio. Review after review of, "Robert Bolano makes Gandhi look like a child pornographer," and all that. "Best thing man has created since cave paintings." To be honest, I don't see what all the hype is.
I don't read novels often, it is true, and perhaps it is this lack of practice that makes me not recognize the level of brilliance in this book. Or perhaps people are fluffing over the brilliance of the author in the same way that the protagonists in the first part of the book brood over the work of Otto von Archimbaldi.
I was excited to read a haut culture leftist novel. The author mentioned the Zapatistas, Valerie Solanas, the Situationists, and even waxed on about a fictionalized version of Bobby Seale, ex-chairman of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. I didn't particularly enjoy the latter. I knew who Bolano was talking about and I wondered whether part of the reason he wrote this as a fictionalization was because he could say anything he wanted about the fictionalized character. But there was an uncomfortable closeness with his actual biography, and it seemed like cheating. The aforementioned references are shibboleths that clearly put the author on the left, feminist, and anarchist map, but with a lack of specific affinity for any of them, the relationship seemed too complicated.
Be prepared for a long and confusing first book (first several books, even.) The narrative is interwoven bridging Europe with the Americas and landing us firmly in Mexico, where the feminicidios of the border loom large, but before it gets there, we are stuck with the academic superfans of Otto von Archimbaldi, a mysterious writer whose mysterious biography is courted by the suede elbows of the academy. They have petty jealosies, love affairs, and expose their fragility to us, almost inexplicably, especially early on. But then, just as you are about to stop listening to the book because you *thought* it was supposed to be about Mexico and the feminicidios, you get there.
This part of the review will be triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault or violence, as were large sections (hundreds of pages) of the book. (view spoiler)[The descriptions of the brutal rapes and murders are stomach churning, to be sure. And worse because these fictional victims contain real-life counterparts on the border between Mexico and the United States, where NAFTA has made life (especially female, indigenous, working class life) cheap. There was a moment of author brilliance when the police are sitting around the police station, killing time by telling horrifying mysogonystic jokes. We can see the culture of hatred of women that leads to such murders.
There is an intersection between how capital has pushed people out of their homes, into dire situations of poverty and rootlessness, degraded them in their treatment, their living, and their labor, and the brutal patriarchy enforced by the state. When so much has been brushed under the carpet, the seriousness of the murders is overlooked until the numbers of victims is mindblowing.
And another moment of brilliance when I picked up the book to see what the pages looked like. The description of the rapes and murders and the bodies of the women, were a barrage; an assault of one after another after another. The totality of them made a huge bog that when you finally emerged out the other end of it onto the next book, you felt covered in it. Those who had read the book (instead of listening to it as I did...) enjoyed no respite either. There aren't even paragraph breaks. Several pages go by without a breath longer than a period. (hide spoiler)]
The book isn't worth the hype. And those who are reading it may give up before they get to the interesting parts of the book. Others will give up in the brutal onslaught of descriptions of the aforementioned feminicidios. But for those of you who make it to the end, it is rewarding. I will give Bolano another shot.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I read this book while attending the First World Festival of La Digna Rabia, the Zapatista Festival commemorating 25 years of the EZLN, and the 15th a...moreI read this book while attending the First World Festival of La Digna Rabia, the Zapatista Festival commemorating 25 years of the EZLN, and the 15th anniversary of their war against the Mexican Army. In fact, I devoured the book on the two 13 hour bus rides from Mexico DF (site of the first stage of the Festival) to San Cristobal de las Casas (largest city taken by the EZLN in 1994, and close enough to Oventik that we could stand in the bed of a pickup truck that ferried people to and from the Zapatista rebel territory).
Because of when and where I read the book, I have a hard time remembering where the pages of the book ended and seeing the direct results of the Zapatista struggle for liberation began. I saw both an invigorated New Left movement for democracy, freedom, and justice in Mexico and an organized movement of indigenous peasants who are at the same time both filled with truly awesome and deserved pride and humble beyond any I've ever met. Here in Zapatistaland, transgendered sex workers and share-croppers share their struggle with day laborers, university students, urban squatter punks and elderly indigenous women. The Zapatistas have brought together an impossibly diverse movement under two concise slogans, one that comes from the mouth of Subcomandante Marcos, "Everything for everyone and nothing for ourselves," and the other from the mouth of the fierce indigenous Comandante Ramona, "Never again a Mexico without us."
I'm amazed by the organizational evolution of the Zapatistas. New Left movements in the 1960s and 1970s often started out with motives for mass-based democratic social movement, and then through cult-of-personality political perversion and exoticizing violence moved towards less and less democratic forms until they became a tiny clandestine "military" organization (see the RAF, Weathermen, other Guevarist organizations). The Zapatistas started off as a strict Marxist-Leninist military organization (literally an army), and have evolved into a mass-based social movement, with support from all of Mexico.
Too often people only know the Zapatistas through their brilliant spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos. This book gives voice to the many others, including other EZLN officers, but also participants in their Good Government Boards, and members of their base communities. The book has three parts: first, the author interviews the aforementioned parties with regard to the Zapatistas' organizing in the ten years leading up to the 1994 declaration of war on the Mexican government, a fascinating window into a guerilla movement. Second, the author gives a thorough blow-by-blow account of the public history of the EZLN. This part is thorough to the point of occaisionally paragraph-long lists, but it never felt like a "this happened, then this happened" poorly executed historical summary. And then in a third section, Subcomandante Marcos reflects on the struggle at 20 years, and answers questions collected from readers of the leftist daily newspaper La Jornada and the Zapatista-supporting magazine Rebeldía. Newer versions will have a 20 page introduction and looking forward epilogue about the Sixth Declaration and the Other Campaign (where the Zapatistas encourage the formation of a new politics for all of Mexico below and to the Left).
The book design is gorgeous. The most iconic photographs of the Zapatista movement are scattered throughout the book, and drawings, paintings and watercolor both fade behind the text (though always maintaining legibility) and pepper the margins. The book has easy, thumb-wide margins, and a very readable font with relaxed leading. I am going to keep this book on my desk while I design my current project for inspiration.
If I had to give someone one book to read about the Zapatistas, it would be this one, without question. If someone was already interested in the Zapatistas and had already read several other books about them, I would still reccommend it, wholeheartedly.(less)
I wanted to like this book so much, but things were damned from the very first page: there is a paragraph-long blurb by one of the most pretentious br...moreI wanted to like this book so much, but things were damned from the very first page: there is a paragraph-long blurb by one of the most pretentious brats I have ever had the displeasure of sharing organizing space with. I seethed when I saw it and I wrinkled my nose when I read it. Anyone who has this book and knows me in an organizing context will know which asshole I am talking about...
There were several things that I appreciated about the book. For one, opening my eyes to Liberation Theology and Oscar Romero. His theory of accompaniment is one that I had, without knowing, started down the road of adopting in my current studies to be a nurse. I could have come across this by merely reading Oscar Romero's letters themselves, and I plan on it. But before reading this book, I never knew to. Which brings me to another plus:
Staughton Lynd rattles off books that I am interested in reading. It's great! The book is almost an annotated reading list, many of which sound utterly fascinating, including Staughton Lynd's books. But can I really justify recommending this book? Or should I just be recommending the books that this book recommends?
In addition, Lynd's dismisses some ideas without engaging them in a serious way. His understanding of the abolition of whiteness is based on a vulgar definition, one that isn't actually linked to moving white people away from the benefits given to them by white supremacy, and instead is based on crass dismissal of white people. He then burns up the straw man by pointing to scant historical anecdotes (which are quite inspirational) of the white working class working with the black working class together, when it suited their mutual interest. Unfortunately, he doesn't engage how often white working class movements refuse to engage with the black working class because their interests are meted out differently by a capitalist system that wishes to divide and conquer them. White abolition exists to undermine the difference between the working class' divergent interests based on race, not to dismiss white people offhand.
Staughton Lynd also extols too hard the virtues of himself working a professional class job as a lawyer that helps the working class navigate through the capitalist system as a basis for accompaniment. Lawyers and laws may be needed as a temporary fix to stave off the worst excesses of capitalism, but as a hero of mine once said, "The Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's house." Or, as another hero more forebodingly said, "Tyrants die from stab wounds, not articles of the legal code." Sure, you can buy your time with these temporary fixes, but the law exists to serve capital, and these temporary fixes will be rolled back at the whim of the class of people who control the means of production. Staughton dismisses Critical Legal Theory for being too cynical, but he doesn't address the criticism of the theory: that people use law and higher concepts only as positioning for their client to win their case.
The stories of the two movements mentioned in the title (the Industrial Workers of the World and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation) are stories I've already heard before, and more thoroughly elsewhere. Though I came away with some excitement about books I've never heard of before, I cannot think of a reason to go back to the book, now that I've finished it. I won't be quoting it, I won't be searching through the pages to reread favorite passages. I can't even say that I'd recommend it to many people, except as a sort of broad stroke survey of independent left movements in the US: all the right groups and people are mentioned, but none of this is gone into with any sort of satisfactory depth.
with barely any mention of Ricardo Flores Magon or his PLM (save for one or two paragraphs), I found this history to be sorely lacking. But it was fas...morewith barely any mention of Ricardo Flores Magon or his PLM (save for one or two paragraphs), I found this history to be sorely lacking. But it was fascinating to learn about these two figureheads of the Mexican Revolution of 1910.(less)