Following an introduction page which was largely a repetition of the contents page in sentences, it started very strongly for me. There was a good and thorough enough news round up of the things that would concern activist types- undercover police, new police powers and weapons, the ‘War on Terror’ and state surveillance. There is also a slightly longer piece about the problem of neo-Nazis in Germany apparently being allowed to get away with rather a lot; possibly a large number of racist murders, as part of the tendency of the German Government to downplay any problems with right-wing extremism. There was a page of UK anti-fascist news round-up which seemed quite comfortable with making probably reasonable criticisms of what is happening in UK anti-fascist circles- the main difficulty expressed here that one group is allowing the leaders of one particular mosque in London to set the agenda, which seems to mean shutting out anyone they don’t like, such as feminists, secular Muslims, LGBT people etc. There are also a couple of pages on the scandal of the way rape claims have been dealt with within the SWP and how well- or rather badly- it and its off-shoots are doing in general these days. I thought it was informative and pretty good analysis.
My favourite was the 12 page article by a man who got caught up in a politically motivated tangle over a play he put on in Uganda as part of his work there that was dealing with gay issues. The introduction detailed how he, an English, privately educated man, came to live in Uganda, something of the political history of Uganda, and how it was he decided to produce this play- not necessarily as stupid as you might think, given the usual publicity around the treatment of gay rights in Uganda. As a general rule, people on the ground don’t really care too much, and the authorities only get involved if they notice- in this case they were told about it by people annoyed with the producer for not giving them parts in the play. The play wasn’t exactly about gay issues, it just happened that one of the protagonists being gay was used as a plot device to betray him and bring about his downfall in the end. It was as much about the political history of Uganda and the way politics and people are used by people who want power and prestige. The twists and turns of the story which resulted in the producer being imprisoned in inevitably poor conditions and deported to England, separating him from his wife and children are too much to go into here. However, it really was a very interesting insight into the way that justice works and gay rights are seen in Uganda, and how it is used by the Ugandan Government. While there are some mad people- including the First Lady and a very strange pastor who claims that gay men like to eat faeces- who want to wipe all gay men from the face of the Earth, the Ugandan Government only really threaten to make being gay punishable by death when they want something from the international community, say ignoring Uganda invading the Congo to steal another diamond mine, or less noise made about corruption. When they get what they want, it gets pushed back to the bottom of the agenda again. Gay men are largely treated like an eccentric uncle, and while this is not ideal, the situation for gay men in particular in Uganda is not as bad as one might think in normal daily life. The writer argues that it would be foolish to push too much for gay rights as it puts the people on the defensive, and distracts from much bigger, more real problems for Ugandans in general, such as, in 2013, the removal of the right to assembly, and the fact that this issue dominates international politics where Uganda is concerned is very bad for the average Ugandan.
There were then two articles about the free party scene of the nineties in Britain, one an interview with a man behind Spiral Tribe, and one about the Criminal Justice Act passed in the mid-nineties in response to the free party scene. This was interesting to me because I know almost nothing about it, and it was certainly interesting to be reminded that even having fun separately from the capitalist system and Government can be seen as such a threat that it can be turned into a perfect storm of media hate resulting in laws passed to limit free parties.
Next was an article starting with lots of the brave new world of technology that is obviously very scary to pretty much all activists- cloning, GM, nano-tech etc. There was then a run through of the possible versions of the future that are normally proposed; give up and just carry on with your life as best you can, embrace the technology, hope that we can achieve a sustainable way of living for all, primitivism and finally, what is called here, hypercapital, basically an extension into the future of the capitalist system we have now. It concludes that basically, we can’t know or decide the future because there are far too many variables and far too many groups, all with massively varying amounts of power. It is also far too late to stop the worst happening. All we can really do is keep with our principles and practise, take them into the future and hope to pass them on to the people who have to live it. This didn’t seem too bad, but it was rather overwritten, making it a little difficult to get at what it was trying to say. It was also a bit too emotive I thought, for example, “We must speak to the storm from our place of power.” I’m not sure why, but this kind of language when discussing how we need to deal with things like this does bother me. I’m a very emotional person but I’m not sure this really helps.
It really went downhill for me with the next piece, entitled , Wikipedia: A Vernacular Encylopedia (Datacide Version). You would be forgiven for thinking this was about Wikipedia, and the introduction certainly looked like it. It talked about how this was a by the people for the people project. It then spent most of the rest of the article talking about how historically rebel groups often informed themselves using study groups and taught themselves to read so they could pass on information and skills. I was confused for a while and wondered what this had to do with Wikipedia. In the end, the conclusion admitted, not much. The only connection is that it is by the people for the people, it’s not even about being subversive, and really the writer seemed more interested in showing off his knowledge of rebel history and saying, “yeah, we may have Wikipedia now, but Anarchists did it first and better.” I wouldn’t mind so much if he was just saying in the first place he was writing about the history of rebels passing info on underground networks, and didn’t bother mentioning Wikipedia at all. It just seemed like a cheap shot at something not Anarchist that certain Anarchists like to make because they think they are superior. I find this kind of attitude unhelpful to the Anarchist movement as a whole because it makes it more difficult to connect with people in general, and if we are to make things better, we need to be prepared to connect with people who aren’t us, and stop assuming that anyone who doesn’t fit our ideal is inferior and not worth bothering with.
There was then a page of poetry and prose about sex. All seemed rather pretentious to me. Anyone who can use more than twenty words I’ve never heard of on one side of A4 is spending far too much time alone with a twelve volume dictionary. Then a bizarre and depressing futuristic short story about renegade sexbots trying to be free. Written by the same person. I’m sensing a theme. Next a series of pieces called Cut up Marx. This was columns of words from pages of Marxist writing. I really did not see the point of this. I was never a fan of Marx anyway; this wasn’t giving me any insight or help at all. Then, by the same writer, there was Impressionistic notes on Pierre Goyutat’s Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers. I looked this up because I had no idea what it was, and it turned out to be a book about intense sex and violence. Theme ongoing. I made a genuine attempt to read this, but once I was through 3/4 of a page and saw I had over a page left to read, I gave up. Impressionistic notes are possibly not my thing. One pulled out at random, “The second coming? Meaningful only to necrophiliacs.” Perhaps I need to read the book. I’m guessing this is some comment on the nature of the followers of Jesus, but I’m not sure how this adds to any debate about religion. I really think there are better ways, if you want to be taken seriously. It’s certainly not accessible to many people.
I looked at the next piece and really started to think I couldn’t manage any more. I more or less left it for a month, and once I finally filed my tax return I had no more excuses left, so I did, as I promised myself, read the first page, just to see if I really wanted to read an 18 page piece comparing two books about two political theorists I had never heard of. I didn’t. I did gather that the intent was to show that the arguments presented to support the premise of one of the books actually showed the opposite, and that the other book supported this. It was again, overwritten, and as far as I could see, mostly interested in showing off the cleverness of the writer and his knowledge of historical political theory. The books are; Max Horkenheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School by John Abromeit and The Sociology of Theodor Adorno by Matthias Benzer, in case you’re interested. I am sorry my dedication to reviewing failed at this point and I am therefore not in a position to tell you how well this was argued, but I have things to do in my life and really felt this was time I was not going to get back.
Happily, it turned out this was a rock bottom moment and it got much better thereafter. There followed three page long reviews of books of interest to political activists of the Anarchist persuasion. The first is Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency, a collection of articles saying that tactics used by the US Government in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are also being used by the authorities in the US mainland against political dissidents and activists. I’ll be honest, I’m kind of thinking, “duh” on that one. The second is One Night in Stammheim, a book claiming that the final deaths in prison of Baader Mienhof group members were murders, not suicide as officially claimed. The third was White Power Music- Scenes of Extreme Right Cultural Resistance, about the music that the extreme right listen to. All the reviews were quite interesting, and seemed pretty well thought through and reasonably critical, if again having a tendency to being overwritten. I was particularly interested by the one about the Baader Meinhof group because I don’t know much about them, and the reviewer, while quite comfortable with the likelihood of the murder hypothesis, felt the evidence was over played and was keen to point out that there were other problems that were important to consider in this sorry episode. I found this analysis interesting and informative.
Next up was another interview with someone from the free party scene of the nineties. I only read one page of this four page piece, feeling I had got all I wanted on this subject, but great if that’s what you’re into. Then record reviews, all of the free party nature; great if you’re a DJ or just into that music. Then some press reviews of alternative political magazines, mostly German, one British and one French which were quite interesting and which left me informed about them.
The last article, Vinyl Meltdown, was interesting because it talked about the Muzak label, which I hadn’t realised was a genuine label that was all about selling music to hotels, restaurants, factories and so on. It was all about the right music to increase profit, the use of music in factories, in particular to increase productivity. It did then go a bit into how this kind of music was subverted by DJs in the free party scene, which was slightly less interesting. Unfortunately this had one of the problems of the Wikipedia piece; the introduction and conclusion didn’t seem to connect very well with the main article. It was introduced with a bit about the fact that vinyl sales have gone down a lot and it’s all on computer these days, and concluded by saying that we shouldn’t get too worked up about it because we can just find other ways of subverting the virtual world of music. I’m sure this is true, but it wasn’t what most of the article was about, and the link was rather tenuous.
There was then a page detailing Datacide activities. I was quite amused to see that aside from doing the London Anarchist Bookfair and an event of political discussion and parties to launch Datacide Twelve, the activities were pretty much all putting on parties. It finished with a list of charts of the type of music you want to know about if you do free parties a lot, and a cartoon which I thought was not very nice and kind of rubbish, although it did remind me a bit of a few Anarchists I’ve encountered. It featured a woman who asked a man for the time, he didn’t have a watch, she went off on some random rant about the evils of capitalism, he felt ashamed, then she robbed him at knife point, the end. Not that I’ve been robbed at knife point by any Anarchists you understand, but I’ve known a few who will go off on some random righteous rant, then having blindsided you will do something quite horrid themselves. Perhaps the cartoonist is feeling bitter, or it could be some clever satire on Anarchists or people who abuse the name of Anarchist. I’ll be honest, I have no idea, but it seemed an odd cartoon to put in an Anarchist publication, and more the kind of view that the Daily Mail would have on the subject.
On the whole I would say for a publication that is yearly, it is a pretty good round up of anything of interest to the many shades of Anarchist that I personally know. I felt it gave me information I would not otherwise have known and often added to what I already knew. Most people will find several things in it that are not of interest to them, with the proviso that it really is heavy on the party scene and historical Anarchist history and theory. Also, a significant number of the writers need guidance on writing simple sentences using words well known by the general populace. There’s no point writing something if few people can understand it. Most people who haven’t anything to do with activism, as well as plenty who have, would struggle with a lot of the content. This may seem strange, but I think it’s worth making information about Anarchist interests accessible to people who aren’t Anarchists too; although if you are, it’s well worth a look.
PS. I apologise to any writer in this who feels a bit targeted, but I am certain I have never met you, never heard of you and therefore do not know you. Please don’t take it personally, I’d only judge you personally from your writing if you were a Daily Mail columnist, and even then I tend to want a bit more than just what they write.