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Next Past & Present Reading Group Text

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/09/2021 - 7:00am in


Blog, Space

This is to announce that the Past & Present Reading Group will be meeting to discuss, on a weekly basis, our next text which is Milton Santos, The Nature of Space, trans. Brenda Baletti (Duke University Press, 2021).

Our discussions will commence with the first meeting to be held on Zoom on Thursday 14 October 5:00pm-6:00pm (AEST). For that meeting, group members should have read the introduction to the volume by Susanna Hecht and Milton Santo’s own Introduction.

To participate, please contact the Past & Present Group sub-convenor: Adam David Morton.

We have just finished our twenty-first book in the group, which was Kohei Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy (Monthly Review Press, 2017) and a commentary on that will be available soon, as with all the other books we have read, by clicking on the book titles, below:

The post Next Past & Present Reading Group Text appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

The Story Of Rocket Man

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/07/2021 - 12:21am in


Space, art, Music

I made a mixed media piece about Jeff Bezos and his little rocket:


My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following me on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into my tip jar on Ko-fi, Patreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy my books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here.

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Scotty From Marketing Rumoured To Have Joined Jeff Bezos In Space

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/07/2021 - 8:26am in


News, Olympics, Space

Prime Minister for NSW Scott Morrison has allegedly joined Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos on his space ship Blue Origin on it’s maiden journey to space.

”Whilst we can’t confirm or deny that our dear Leader has made the monumental journey into Space,” said a Spokesperson for the PM. ”We can say what an achievement it would be to have a PM pictured piloting a ship into space.”

”Could you imagine how many likes a photo like that would get on Facebook, we could break the internet.”

When asked why with over 10 million Australians in lockdown the PM has seemingly disappeared once again allegedly this time into space, the Spokesperson said: ”If the PM were here he’d reject the premise of your question.”

”No one works harder at his image than our dear leader ScoMo. Whether it’s having his picture taken building a chookshed or having his picture taken cooking a curry, when it comes to his image and this country well, he burns for you Australia.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to see about getting the PM onto a podium in Tokyo for an Olympic themed photo shoot.

Mark Williamson


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Cartoon: Incredible billionaire adventures

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/07/2021 - 7:50am in

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Cuba, Space Billionaires, And Other Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/07/2021 - 11:01pm in

Listen to a reading of this article:

Many leftists shy away from speaking out against western imperialism because they see international dynamics as too complex, when really it’s the least complex part of the capitalist empire. The world’s largest power structure murders human beings to exert control. See? Very simple.

If you understand that police brutality is a problem or that oligarchs are robbing the working class, then the idea that they’re also holding together a globe-spanning empire using nonstop mass murder should be super easy. Only propaganda spins it as more complicated than that. Once you see how simple it is, how profoundly evil it is, and how all the other abuses of the empire depend on it, you understand that opposing the war machine of the US-centralized power alliance should be the very foremost priority of any leftist. It is the head of the beast.

US interventionism is literally always disastrous and literally never accomplishes what its proponents claim it will, yet any time there’s any strife anywhere in the world you get Americans saying “We’ve got to DO something!”

Why no. No you do not. Please, please please don’t.

The US government is waging wars around the world, circling the planet with military bases, ramping up nuclear standoffs and working to destroy any nation which disobeys it, so naturally the news media are urgently warning us about the horrible tyrannical government of Cuba.

Yes the US has been deliberately strangling Cuba with the goal of fomenting unrest. Yes it has been attempting regime change ops in Cuba up to and including invasions and hundreds of assassination attempts. No you may not blame the US for unrest in Cuba, you goddamn tankie freak.

If you try to connect unrest in Cuba with the USA’s extensive history of interventionism there, people yell at you for denying the Cuban people’s “agency”. Agency, agency, agency, agency. They’ll factor in all sorts of agency except the Central Intelligence kind.

It’s wild how the US has an intelligence agency whose actual job is causing instability and unrest in nations who disobey the its dictates, and it has a very extensive and well-documented history of doing so, but you get called a crazy idiot if you say “CIA” during periods of unrest and instability in those nations.

Only a deranged lunatic would suggest that the CIA might be doing the thing it literally always does.

I’m teaching my kids about socialism by unilaterally imposing sanctions on their food and toys and then when they complain saying “See this proves socialism doesn’t work.”

When US blockades on Cuba cause suffering, the suffering proves that socialism doesn’t work. When US-backed blockades on Yemen cause suffering, it’s an unfortunate and tragic accident of nature.

Space colonization will never happen. It’s a delusion promoted by billionaires who have a vested interest in marketing the idea that the ecologically unsustainable nature of status quo capitalism can be resolved by turning humanity into a spacefaring species. They are lying.

Capitalism has no answer for the destruction of our ecosystem. Money and profit motive have no wisdom for dealing with this predicament. That’s why capitalism stans either pretend the destruction isn’t happening or pretend the world is about to be saved by greedy tech oligarchs.

The most forceful defenders of Elon Musk are always also rabid capitalism proponents: they know that if billionaires can’t save us from the consequences of ecocidal capitalism using technological innovations, then their entire worldview is invalid. But they can’t, and it is.

Ecological collapse is coming up far faster than getting even a single living thing to Mars, but all the Mars people want to talk about is their dumb rockets. It’s like the house is on fire but your toddler wants you to stop and play Thomas the Tank Engine with him.

I write words for a living yet I cannot find any which adequately express my rage at people who think it’s fine that ecocidal capitalism is killing our home because Daddy Elon is going to fly us all to Mars.

“Hmm it seems we’re turning earth into a barren desert. The only possible solution is for us all to fly up into space to live in a barren desert.”

The solution to humanity’s problems is not to attempt the impossible task of fleeing to space, it’s to transcend our self-destructive patterning and move into a collaboration-based relationship with each other and with our ecosystem. Just like any individual who refuses to accept responsibility for their predicament, we’re collectively flailing all over the place to place the solution anywhere but on us changing. We’ll either become a conscious species or we’ll die. There are no other options on the table.

Anarchism sounds good in theory but in practice it just means regurgitating foreign policy talking points from the US State Department on the internet.

Only those who have not metamorphosed personally rule out the possibility that humanity can metamorphose collectively.


My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following me on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into my tip jar on Ko-fi, Patreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy my books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here.

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Space Colonization Is A Capitalist Perception Management Op

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/05/2021 - 11:39pm in

Listen to this article:

The world’s two wealthiest people are fighting over the moon, which just says so much about where our species is at right now.

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are in a dispute with NASA over whose private space exploration corporation will get the $2.9 billion US government contract to return to the moon. I gleaned this annoying piece of information by way of an obnoxiously sycophantic Atlantic puff piece titled “Elon Musk Is Maybe, Actually, Strangely, Going to Do This Mars Thing”, subtitled “From his private Cape Canaveral, the billionaire is manifesting his own interplanetary reality — whatever the cost.”

The mainstream press cannot get enough of these two unfathomably wealthy plutocrats and their outspoken ambition to colonize space, with Musk advocating Mars colonization and Bezos preferring to ship us all offworld to live in giant Amazon space tubes. They love it for the same reason they love war and status quo politicians: it fits in beautifully with the capitalist world order.

Space colonization is largely a capitalist perception management op promoted by the likes of Musk and Bezos to strengthen the narrative that it’s okay to continue the world-raping global capitalist principle of infinite growth on a finite world because we can escape the catastrophic ecological consequences of that paradigm by fleeing to space.

“Ecocidal capitalism is fine, we’ll just go to space before it kills us!” is the message we’re all meant to absorb. And too many do. A large obstacle to waking people up to the existential crises we are facing as a species is the blind faith that technology will save us from the consequences of our mass-scale behavior, and therefore we don’t need to change. Which suits the world’s richest men perfectly.

But it’s a lie. Humanity will never colonize space. We are not separate or separable from this planet in that way.

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People believe we can just snip humans out of their ecosystemic context to colonize space for the same reason they believe in rugged individualism: they don’t grasp how inseparably interconnected each human is. With our ecosystem, and with our society. Separation is an illusion.

We are not separable from our ecosystem. We are our ecosystem. We’re so inseparably one with our ecosystem that we need to send astronauts into space with a little box full of it or they’ll die. Thinking a human can be snipped out of its ecosystemic context and permanently transported across the desert of space is like thinking you can snip a ripple out of a pond and place that ripple in a teacup on the other side of the world. The ripple is the pond. It’s not separate.

We know how to build rockets, and how to keep a human alive in space for a short time as long as they bring part of their ecosystem with them, but there’s no scientific evidence that we can live separately from our ecosystem, and we’ve barely begun exploring our ignorance here.

Many imagine we’ll have people living independently of Earth’s ecosystem within the next century or two, but there’s literally no basis for this assumption; we essentially know as much about how to keep a human being alive apart from Earth’s ecosystem as we knew ten thousand years ago. Our Biosphere attempts to create a closed-Earth system were as clueless and silly as monkeys poking around at a supercomputer, and that was right here on our home planet.

The myriad ways in which we are connected with the ecosystemic context in which we evolved boggle the mind. Science is barely even beginning to explore those connections. There are tons we know about, but that’s just scratching the surface. We don’t know how much we don’t know. We’re only barely beginning to understand our own gut bacteria, and how those mini-ecosystems relate to our health. Those mini-ecosystems have their own relationships with our greater ecosystem. We know next to nothing about any of this. Most of the picture is missing.

And Elon says he’s going to ship humans to live on Mars?? What, because we have the technology to get there? Our bodies might get there, sure, but the whole staying alive part is a riddle that science is not even the tiniest fraction of a percentile close to solving.

Musk likes to argue that we must become a “multi-planetary species” because if an asteroid strikes Earth or we wipe ourselves out in a nuclear war, that’s it for our species. Our survival as a species, he argues, depends on colonizing other planets.

This is false and toxic thinking, because it will not happen. Our survival does not depend on our becoming a multi-planetary species, our survival depends on collectively waking up and learning to collaborate with each other and with our ecosystem. We’ve got an infinitely better chance of developing the technology to deal with an asteroid than we do of developing technology that will allow us to colonize space, and if we can transcend our self-destructive patterning the threat of nuclear war will be neutralized by our no longer being crazy enough to keep weapons around that make it a possibility.

Some argue for the possibility of terraforming planets like Mars to give them Earth-like ecosystems, but terraforming runs into the same problem: not just humans but all organisms are dependent on Earth’s ecosystem for survival. You couldn’t begin creating an Earth-like ecosystem without snipping out all the organisms which give rise to it. This can’t be done. A tree can’t be snipped out of its unfathomably interconnected ecosystemic context any more than a human can. To terraform you need trees and a near-infinity of other ecosystemic building blocks, none of which are separable from their terrestrial ecosystemic context.

We’re just going to have to make this Earth thing work. People assume space colonization is part of our future primarily because science fiction takes this as a given. But science fiction is just that: fiction, written to entertain and appeal to the same ego which imagines it is separate from the rest of the world. It’s an illusory premise.

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We’re not going to rocket ship our way out of this mess. We’re not going to be able to keep doing things the way we are doing them. The “growth for its own sake” ideology that Musk and Bezos have dedicated their lives to embodying is, as Edward Abbey put it, the ideology of a cancer cell. Such an ideology is unsustainable. We’re going to have to change.

“I must change” is always the first possibility that an ego rules out when evaluating a dilemma, and it’s the same ego which says we are separate individuals, and it’s the same ego which created our dilemma in the first place. But we must change. We must transcend the ego.

That’s always the last thing anyone wants to hear, that we need to change, but it’s true. We’ll either collectively change our minds in a way that enables us to drastically shift the way we operate on this planet, or we’ll go extinct. It is evolve or die time. We’ll either make it or we won’t.

Space will not save us, and we will never colonize it. We can explore space, but it will be done via satellites and other tech, not by living organisms. Our astronauts have up until this point been nothing more than glorified scuba divers, entirely dependent on boxes of Earth’s ecosystem, no more independent from that ecosystem than someone holding their breath. This will remain the case.

Hell, forget colonizing space, try colonizing part of the Sahara Desert. Get everything you need, then seal yourselves in a bubble completely separate from the rest of the ecosystem. Even on Earth, with many of the terrestrial connection factors still intact, you will fail relatively quickly.

Such a project isn’t even on Musk’s radar, which shows his pet space project is really about making money and justifying an economic/political paradigm which will necessarily destroy our ecosystem. It’s justifying his cancer cell ideology, proving Robert Heinlein correct when he said, “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.”

They work to make it appear that we’ve got some other option than to end our ecocidal trajectory and all the systems which feed into it, because otherwise it just looks like they’re a bunch of psychopaths burning an entire world and throwing its ashes into a gaping hole their hearts that can never be filled. If space colonization isn’t possible, then the people who are destroying our environment for money are just deranged lunatics who must be stopped at all cost.

But they are. And we must.

This is our home. It is our only home. I really, really wish we could stop treating it like a womb we plan on leaving or our parents’ house we plan on moving out of. There is nowhere else to go. This is it.

The earth is not some temporary transit station. We are the earth. We are inseparable from it. We are all indigenous terrestrials. We need to stop trying to move out, and start moving in.

It’s so, so beautiful here. We should be willing to change to keep it alive, like we would if a loved one’s life depended on our changing our behavior. Because that really is the case. I hope we see this before it’s too late.


My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following me on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into my tip jar on Ko-fi, Patreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy my books. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge. The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here.

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On the survival of non-capitalism: from nowhere to now here

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/05/2016 - 8:45am in


Blog, Mexico, Space

WoodMy latest article in Environment and Planning D examines the issue of non-capitalist space within the global political economy. Why is this important? A common starting point for radical critiques of our present society is to focus on the dynamics of capitalism. The rationale for this is simple: capitalism remains the dominant mode of production of our epoch and in order to move beyond this system you first have to get people to recognise the nature of its exploitation and contradictions. This argument is perhaps most eloquently framed by Ellen Meikins Wood who stressed that, ‘At a time when a critique of capitalism is more urgent than ever, the dominant theoretical trends on the left are busy conceptualising away the very idea of capitalism’.

However, an alternative view, associated largely with J.K Gibson-Graham and others linked to Rethinking Marxism, argues that focusing our attention solely on the dynamics of capitalism – what is termed ‘capitalocentrism’ – can become a highly disempowering political project. It is this type of thinking that I label ‘the assumption of subsumption’ whereby all forms of political economy, all other forms of cultural life, and all sites of socio-political activity are portrayed as being overwhelmed by – subsumed into – the dynamics of capitalism. No space is left (quite literally) for alternatives. Such capitalocentism elides the fact that multiple forms of economy – and therefore alternative development trajectories – JKGGexist contemporaneously with capitalism (and not just in a possible future). Gibson-Graham’s view holds that if theory is to play an emancipatory role in must ‘proliferate possibility, not foreclose it’.

Although recognising the structural power that capital is able to wield, the main focus of my recent article is therefore on the survival and re-creation of non-capitalist spaces within the global political economy.  The example of Oaxaca in southern Mexico is the primary basis for making these claims, linked to fieldwork that was carried out in 2008, 2009 and 2015. Rather than examining how it has been that capitalism has managed to survive, grow and prosper, the article explores how non-capitalist spaces remain and why they should be considered important for transformative activity. This is to ensure that capital does not become the main subject of our inquiry and that subsequently the human beings at the heart of our analysis are not rendered as people without history. Beyond the issue of their mere survival however, I argue that non-capitalist spaces persist and can be learned from. They are thus both figurative and prefigurative spaces offering sites of opening for enacting different kinds of political economy.

A key contention is that the survival and reinvention of non-capitalist social practices and spaces have created a barrier to the further expansion of capital, and are now providing inspiration for alternative developmental trajectories. This has presaged intensified forms of social conflict, notably between the Mexican state and indigenous peoples (as the state claims rights to the subsoil within indigenous territories).

An important intellectual inspiration for this work was Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui. He recognised that the driving force of Peru’s development had clearly come from colonisation and then global capitalism. Nevertheless, distinct spaces of economic activity, characterised by diverse social relations of production remained. Moreover, Mariátegui asserted that the survival of certain elements of the Indian communities could provide the basis for revolutionary transformation owing to the existence of what he called ‘practical socialism’. In similar fashion, it is asserted in my article that although Oaxaca is clearly enmeshed, or at least influenced by, the wider capitalist mode of production, distinct forms of non-capitalist social relations remain prevalent, especially within indigenous communities.

In a pamphlet issued by 3 prominent activist NGOsThen that form the basis of Colectivo Oaxaqueño en Defensa de los Territorios, it is stated that ‘it is precisely in Oaxacan territory where one can observe and study the survival of ancient agrarian structures’. Unlike other regions of Mexico, haciendas never expanded to displace communal property with such force. Unpacking this further, if we examine patterns of land tenure in Oaxaca we can see that over 70% of land to this day remains non-privatised and instead is held as forms of collective property (both ejidos and tierras communales) according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI). This matters considerably for the analysis for two interrelated reasons.  Not only does it provide the empirical backdrop of uneven development which capital seeks to exploit, by expanding into this ‘spatial target’ and thereby transforming space and social relations to further the accumulation process, but it also implies that the region has, and continues to maintain a set of alternative institutional arrangements that exist alongside capitalism and that are in the present conjuncture antithetical to capitalist expansion. These communal arrangements include community assemblies, tequios (collective work) and political obligations in the form of cargos (political posts) that community members are expected to participate it.

In recent years the community assembly has been recovered as a vital tool with which to enact a collective form of power over land and reject the advancement of capital. This has been most visibly manifested through opposition to wind farm projects and mining. To focus just on the latter, under the Presidency of Filipe Calderón, mining concessions increased by 53% in Mexico, and in Oaxaca 20% of the surface area of the state has been given over to mining concessions. These concessions have not simply been meekly accepted however. Rather, in numerous cases, the authority of the community assembly has been invoked to challenge not only the legitimacy of the concession (based on the legal appeal to ILO Convention 169) but furthermore the legitimacy of the Mexican state. Communities such as Capulalpam de Méndez and Magdalena Teitipac represent stories of success in restricting mining activities and demonstrating that other paths to development may be possible.

This obviously raises an important question about scale. Whilst we may applaud and support the resistance of a community against a powerful TNC, this alone does not challenge the structural power of capital. The conjuncture in 2006 in Oaxaca when the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO) was formed in response to the repressive governorship of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, demonstrates the limits of action restricted to one particular locale. What I contend rather more modestly in the article, therefore, is that these sites demonstrate the starting points for action, and questions that we need to pose rather than end points in themselves. It would be easy to dismiss them as marginal, but what happens in the periphery does not have to stay peripheral. Highlighting the continuation of non-capitalism offers an opening to reimagining how alternative socio-economic models could develop.

In contrast to what is sometimes the dominant imagery, resistance and transformative action is thereby moved from nowhere to now here.

The post On the survival of non-capitalism: from nowhere to now here appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Radical History: Thinking, Writing and Engagement (Part 2)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/04/2016 - 7:00am in


Blog, Space

radnewWe have been discussing radical history, prompted by a new book, Radical Newcastle (NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, 2015), discovering that its editors, James Bennett, Nancy Cushing, and Erik Eklund, neglected/ignored the tradition of radical history, including the series of recent books on Australian radical cities. This neglect is symptomatic of a deeper problem. Their approach to writing history is called, in the trade, academic empiricism. A classic case in fact: they begin with a definition of radicalism based on the Oxford English Dictionary and a British handbook on radicalism, then proceed to look for examples of it in the past. But is this how historians should work, using a timeless definition to corral the past into a predefined pen? Relying on ahistorical thinking? Surely what historians should do is historicise, that is, to work with an understanding of society as process, as a series of situations in which people act, institutions react, and structures change. Historians need to be able to think abstractly as well as concretely, otherwise they are trapped by empiricism, and make the mistake of starting with definitions instead of an historical understanding of their subject. Meaning, not definition; that’s what has to be grasped, as has their own position in relation to the subject.

Radicalism has a symbiotic relationship with capitalism, a word that the editors fail to mention in their Introduction, and capitalism also structured Newcastle as a city. In Radical Newcastle, places seem to be incidental. About a dozen appear on the maps at the start of the book, but none of them has a main entry in the index. Of the thirty chapters just a few refer to a place in their titles. This neglect does a great disservice to Newcastle’s dense geography of struggle, which can be detected in Places, Protests and Memorabilia – The Labour Heritage Register of New South Wales (Industrial Relations Research Centre, University of New South Wales, 2002), where Terry Irving and Lucy Taksa have listed about 60 of Newcastle and the Hunter’s sites of radical activity: the speakers’ corners, meeting rooms, union offices, halls, factory gates, parks and so on. And these are just the sites associated with the labour movement. What about the places associated with the new social movements? Although one of the chapters (by Peta Belic and Erik Eklund) identifies Newcastle’s radicalism as a defining city characteristic, this is not enough. We have to ask how Newcastle as a city worked for and against its radicals. Were there labour or bohemian precincts in the city? Are there patterns in the distribution of radical sites? How did agitators move around their radical city? Again: what route or routes were taken by radical processions, and was the route chosen as a symbolic gesture against ruling institutions? Did the routes change over time? Did women and children march? Unless there is a systematic exploration of questions like these that arise out of an awareness of Newcastle’s geography, of the city’s spatial organisation as an aspect of radical struggles, a whole dimension of the radical experience in Newcastle is lost.

There are thirty chapters in this book; less than half of them qualify as radical history. The others would have been at home in a book on Liberal Newcastle, their tone bland and even-handed, the product of an academic culture that values description over commitment. Readers, it seems, must not be allowed to assume that the authors are identifying with embarrassing ideas like class and domination or contentious action that ignores the ‘right’ channels for protest. Taking the book as a whole this is hodge-podge history, without any sense of radical Newcastle’s patterns in time or space. The deficiencies of the book – as spatial history and radical history – are down to the editors; luckily, some of the contributors show us what the book could have been.

The radical chapters: thinking, writing and engagement

What makes their chapters examples of radical history is that in them we can detect a radical point of view. It is not just that their chapters are about people in movement, challenging, resisting, and so on. Rather the authors are keen to tell us about it in a way that stirs the heart and the head to consider our own situation. Sometimes our attention is caught by the drama of the struggle, as in Rod Noble’s account of the mass civil disobedience of mining communities in the late nineteenth century, and in Ross Edmonds’ chapter on the Silksworth dispute in which militant unionists showed that ‘the radical spirit of anti-imperialism and internationalism’ could overcome ‘unthinking racism’. In Ann Curthoys’ chapter on Barbara Curthoys’ involvement in the Aboriginal rent strike at Purfleet Reserve, however, it is the attention to organisation that compels. We learn not just about the tasks and the planning, the meetings and publicity, but also about the history of Aboriginal politics and Communist Party strategy. We also learn, of course, about a remarkable woman, an intellectual as well as an activist, who, as Ann writes, had a deep effect on her own involvement in Aboriginal issues. There is another mother-daughter connection in Jude Conway’s chapter on the Right to Choose Abortion Coalition that Josephine Conway helped to form. When Josephine turned 80 a friend said that she was a living reminder that radicalism was a way of life, a description that comes across also in the first-hand accounts of their environmental campaigning by Bernadette Smith, and Paula Morrow. The personal dimension of these chapters helps us understand radicalism as a living force rather than a dead definition.

It has always been a radical approach to history writing to insist on rescuing the common people and subversive ideas that mainstream history neglects. There are several chapters that meet that criterion. Tony Laffan’s chapter on the Hall of Science discovers a local free thought movement nurturing and nurtured by industrial militancy, while the chapter by Peta Belic and Erik Eklund on the One Big Union shows the persistence of syndicalist ideas.  Among the courageous anti-conscriptionists of 1916, there was a range of forces and views, and Tod Moore and Harry Williams argue that the most radical were not reported in the press and have consequently disappeared from history. In his chapter, John Maynard successfully restores the significant activism of two white activists, John Maloney and his daughter Dorothy. They campaigned for Aboriginal rights, making contact with the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association, the first all-Aboriginal political organisation in Australia. And here’s another sign of radicalism as a living tradition: one of the founders of this association was Fred Maynard, the grandfather of the author, John Maynard.

In the best radical history, the actors are never ciphers but real flesh-and-blood people. Two chapters stand out in this regard: Troy Duncan’s on Father Alf Clint, and Shane Hopkinson’s and Tom Griffiths’ on Neville Cunningham. We cherish the image of the reverend inviting the militant Jim Comerford, a teetotaller and temperance advocate, to drink a pint with him in the local miners’ pub. And we are filled with uncomfortable admiration for the idiomatic flair of an ASIO informant who described Neville Cunningham – Communist, activist and working class intellectual – as ‘a fighter … a crude one, rough but direct … Nev has no time for nice trimmings, nor for calling a spade by any other name … He is a likeable chap, all proletarian, dead set against authority.’

Finally, we want to cheer for two chapters of forensic social analysis. Bernadette Smith situates the 1979 Star Hotel riot in the context of Newcastle’s history of class struggle, before placing the state in the frame and looking at local policing and power politics. She also explains the culture of the pub in a sociological way, challenging/undermining a whole lot of safe/traditional academic wisdom.  Griff Foley, internationally respected in adult education and social learning circles, has brought together five cases of ‘community conservation’ – a neglected aspect of environmental history – in order to address the most important question in social movement as well as revolutionary politics: how do activists learn? The answer: informally and incidentally, and making this explicit helps their practice. It’s a lesson that radical historians should take on board: we should be thinking about our intellectual practice as we engage with our next project.

Overall, Radical Newcastle is a mixed bag of hits, almosts, and misses. Considered in the context of Australian radical historical writing, it provides opportunity to reflect upon the nature of radical history, how it is written, and how the historian can render struggles of the past in ways that instruct and inspire the present.

A version of this post was originally published on the ‘Labour History Melbourne’ site 14 March 2016.

Radical History: Thinking, Writing and Engagement (Part 1)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/04/2016 - 8:00am in


Blog, Space

Kicking away the props

In recent years, in various places and on our blog ‘Radical Sydney/Radical History’ I have written, in collaboration with Terry Irving, about radical history. As radical historians we seek out, explore, and celebrate the diversities of alternatives and oppositions, arguing there is a basic tension between radical history and  ‘mainstream history’, a history that is constituted to prop up both capitalism and the state. We see our history as part of the struggle against capitalism and the state. In researching the past, we do not do it nostalgically, but with utilitarian, political intent, recognising that the past has the capacity to variously inspire and inform the present and the future. In a nutshell, while mainstream history would like people to read it, radical history wants its readers to act as history makers; while mainstream history props, radical history unprops.

So, in more abstract terms we believe radical history has three distinguishing features:  its subject matter, its political stance, and its relationship to its audience. Radical historians write about the struggles of disempowered people to stand up to their oppressors and exploiters, and to take control of their lives by attacking coercive authority and by socialising power. They tell stories of resistance and agency, not of ruling and maintaining order, which are the signs of ruling class history. Radical historians, secondly, are partisan. They write with a social purpose, and in doing so they draw on radical philosophies and methods. They write history as a political act. Thirdly, although writing about the past, they want to encourage people in the present to resist and rebel. Because the radical past was always being made anew their work is pregnant with possibilities, alerting their readers to the possibilities for action in their own situations. This has consequences for how they write. Readers must be given space to reflect on the present as well as the past. It is not enough to tell stories; the stories have to be shaped by theory, sharpened by the historian’s passion, and riddled with unresolved political questions. Moreover, whether writing for other radical intellectuals, engaging with scholarship and theory, or seeking a wider audience, radical historians place a high value on clarity of expression, avoiding like the plague the over-theoreticised language of academic in-groups, and their self-aggrandising citation of trendy thinkers.

We write radical history from an urban perspective. The capitalist city is as distinctive a historical space as, say, the nation-state, the free-trade empire or the eighteenth/nineteenth century slave ship. Like them it is organised by the processes of capital accumulation and class relations into zones of activity and meaning that change over time. Because radicalism in capitalist cities expresses resistance to the exploitation and oppression inherent in those processes, it is never free of spatial dynamics. It always exhibits a desire to appropriate space, to make places into resources for radical struggle and symbols of popular rights to the capitalist city. The task of the historian of the radical city is to find the patterns in these dynamics and to relate these to the changing nature of radical struggle.

Radical history as a tradition, as an approach to viewing and writing history, has depth in terms of time and variety. It includes magisterial works like those of A. L. Morton (A People’s History of England, 1938), G.D.H. Cole and Raymond Postgate (The Common People, 1938), Howard Zinn (A People’s History of the United States, 1980), and Edward Vallance (A Radical History of Britain, 2009). It is the tradition in which practitioners like maritime historian Marcus Rediker and commons historian Peter Linebaugh work. When Australian historians conceived  ‘labour history’ in the early 1960s, they did so in the radical history tradition, determining to make working people part of Australian historical discourse and challenge the prevailing hegemony of imperial/colonial/ruling class histories, and seeking to use the study of labouring people and their institutions as a political tool to assist the shaping of the present and future. In 1983 Eric Fry, one of these pioneers, published Rebels & Radicals, asserting the role of conflict, struggle and rebellion as important parts of the Australian story, a notion that had become muted in the academic study of labourism.

sydneyBefore the 1960s, and particularly within the orbit of the Communist Party of Australia, labour intellectuals (such as Bob Walshe, James Rawling, Bill Wood, and Rupert Lockwood) researched, wrote, and published in labour movement outlets, radical histories of Australian struggles for popular democracy and of the agency of working people. The work and output of these historians is, still, virtually unfurrowed by researchers, and undeservedly so. Their approach to popularising radical history can be traced back to socialist pioneer, agitator, artist and poet, William Morris, whose writings Nicholas Salmon has collected in William Morris on History (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996). Dorothy Thompson, radical historian of Chartism, recalled that in 1991 she asked husband E P Thompson whether he was still the Marxist historian he once was, and he replied “that he preferred to call himself ‘a Morrisist’”.  This reply is both poetic and political, capturing the step ‘beyond’ to which radical historians aspire.

It is the aspiration that publisher Ian Syson (Vulgar Press) and authors Jeff and Jill Sparrow brought to the radical history of the geographical-political space that is Melbourne in Radical Melbourne: A Secret History (Vulgar Press: Melbourne, 2001). Since then other ‘radical city’ books have followed: Radical Melbourne II (by the same authors and publisher, 2004), Radical Brisbane (edited by Raymond Evans and Carole Ferrier, Vulgar Press, 2004), and Radical Sydney (UNSW Press, 2010), featured in a review on the spatial resources of radical Sydney. Earlier at the University of Ballarat in 2009, Robert Hodder successfully produced a two-part doctoral thesis (exegesis and documents) titled ‘Radical Tasmania: Rebellion, reaction and resistance: A thesis in creative nonfiction.’ Later, a Wollongong team, working from a script written by John Rainford, released their 60 minute-long film Radical Wollongong: A People’s History of Wollongong in 2014, which went on to tour Australia and parts of Asia and to win two Awards at the Canadian Labour International Film Festival (2014), including ‘Best in Festival’. As the co-authors of Radical Sydney, we are keen to see this form of radical history continued.

Radical Newcastle: inventing the wheel?

The reader picking up Radical Newcastle (NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, 2015), edited by James Bennett, Nancy Cushing, and Erik Eklund, could be forgiven for thinking that the editors, all University of Newcastle historians, have invented the wheel, for there is no recognition in the book that Radical Newcastle is part of this vibrant and visible, if somewhat marginalised in Australian academic circles, area of historical work. The editors seem completely indifferent to the long tradition of writing about history from a radical perspective, the tradition of radical history of which the ‘radical city’ books are a part. Nor are they aware of the recent radical scholarship by Mike Davis, David Harvey, Justin McGuirk, and others, that has transformed the study of cities.

The editors of Radical Newcastle describe their book as ‘the outcome of community-engaged research’ that aimed to connect ‘with the interests and concerns of our local community’. In other words its genre is public history with community involvement. Fair enough; that’s a recognised kind of history, although one frequently derailed by deceptive ideas of social unity. The problem is that the subject of their history book is radicalism, and radical history is a tradition the editors don’t engage with. Should they have? Well, imagine writing a book called ‘Indigenous Newcastle’ but neglecting to take into account the literature of Aboriginal history.

A version of this post was originally published on the ‘Labour History Melbourne’ site 14 March 2016.

For a Political Economy of Space and Place

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/02/2016 - 7:32am in


Blog, Space

Under capitalism, how does the state organise space in our everyday lives through the streets we walk, the monuments we visit, and the places where we meet?

This lecture will address such issues as part of the Insights 2016: Lecture Series, organised by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Sydney Ideas at the University of Sydney.

The Insights Series is the University of Sydney’s approach to highlighting the work of newly-promoted or appointed Professors. Often simply called an “Inaugural Lecture”, it is an opportunity to inform colleagues in the University and the general public about one’s research career so far and update colleagues on current and future research directions.

The details for my inaugural lecture, or Insights Lecture, are listed below.

For further information please contact – Kate Macfarlane:

Online bookings can also be made HERE