We are happy to announce that we are resuming with our regular printed issues. Our summer issue invites our readers to return to the tumultuous changes of 2020 that continue to shape our present. Below is the editorial statement and a table of contents of the new issue.
The year 2020 gave us a glimpse of two sets of images striking in their contrast. The first are actions of great compassion, solidarity, and common struggle: mutual aid networks springing up overnight to care for the vulnerable amid the ravages of COVID, workers taking collective action in Amazon facilities and other strategic nodes of class struggle, communities struggling against evictions in the midst of a pandemic, and the fires of Minneapolis and the George Floyd Rebellion, perhaps the largest resistance movement in U.S. history, simultaneously striking for its militancy and multiracial composition. This was Marx’s “old mole” of human emancipation, always burrowing beneath the surface, even when we’ve given up hope. But it was not the only story of 2020.
The second set of images confronting us are acts of great selfishness, arrogance, cruelty and stupidity: widespread arguments to sacrifice the elderly and immune-compromised in the name of a “healthy” economy, the crowd-sourced proliferation of false information minimizing a plague that has killed millions, xenophobic narratives of the virus’s origin and spread that corresponded with a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, armed white vigilantes and homicidal motorists menacing black liberation demonstrations, and Americans of all walks of life belligerently refusing basic measures to mitigate the virus’s spread, including multiple murders of service workers who simply asked customers to please wear a mask.
Americans’ response to COVID was no different from that fictionalized by Albert Camus in his 1947 novel, The Plague. Like the citizens of Oran, COVID caught us unprepared, making visible societal vulnerabilities previously swept under the rug. But (at least in Oran), the spread of the plague eventually pushes its citizens to break from their alienated existence, to think collectively, and ultimately to defeat the virus. We’d like to believe that a pandemic might still shift our collective path away from the impending doom of outright barbarism to the side of liberation. But rather than impose our own stubborn optimism, we decided to give voice to the real emerging contradictions of this moment.
We found during 2020 that our blog was more adequate to the ever-changing social landscape, and we put a great deal of work into regularly updating it with news from the pandemic and the subsequent rebellion. We interviewed frontline workers in healthcare, logistics, transportation, meatpacking and education who expressed their frustrations and fears of working during a global pandemic without even the most minor protections. Short pieces authored by prisoners explored the horrors of living in a Petri dish of pestilence, being at the mercy of a cruel system and how in some instances that sparked collective acts of resistance. Two months into the pandemic George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police, sparking a wave of militant protests across the country. We published reports of the protests as they unfolded in Philadelphia, Portland and Kenosha, including a piece by witnesses to the murder of two rebels by a white vigilante in the latter city.
The George Floyd Rebellion also coincided with massive wildfires in Oregon, California and Washington state, which we did our best to cover, alongside the outrageous unfolding of the Donald Trump Show, which we ignored as best as we could and, failing that, covered dutifully.
“To this day,” wrote C.L.R. James in American Civilization, “nowhere in the world is there such a struggle to grasp at all the elements of life and liberty. Nowhere has happiness been pursued with such uninhibited energy and zest.” James of all people knew that this was a curse as much as a blessing when mediated through capitalist social relations and a cult of callous individualism. The professed veneration of life is a joke when racial chauvinism splits the fabric of humanity, strangers regularly blow each other away for no reason, and armed protest movements respond to a scourge like COVID not to demand assistance for vulnerable people, but to sacrifice them in the name of short-term profits. Meanwhile an obsessive quest for liberty has created a population that has no social power, save for the pitiful liberties white people enjoy lording over black people, the power vigilantes enjoy in policing demonstrations on behalf of the state, or the pathetic tyranny many men wield over women in the privacy of their own homes. The untrammeled pursuit of happiness has created the most miserable society in history.
These two different versions of reality that COVID has exposed are best captured by the image of swinging doors– they can go both ways (see our cover illustration). Our summer issue features eight pieces that touch on the uncertainties of daily life in 2021: incarceration, nostalgia for the sociality of working class neighborhoods that gentrification has all but destroyed, electoral madness in the swing state of Pennsylvania, exploitation of workers from Amazon to the Dining Services at liberal bastions like Amherst College, John Brown’s legacy for a new generation of abolitionists, how radical collective action can transform people into political actors, and sports viewership. We’d like to thank Larry Racioppo, a long-time Brooklyn resident and photographer of the city and its people, for his gracious permission to let us reproduce some of his photographs. Readers interested in seeing more of his work should visit his webpage at https://larryracioppo.com.
According to disease experts, COVID is here to stay, at least for the unforeseen future. The fact that more people are being vaccinated provides a glimmer of hope that we might build herd immunity after all. But as Camus reminds us, even when plagues disappear, they do so only momentarily; there is no solution to our individual and collective vulnerabilities under capitalism short of abolishing the present conditions. The saga of 2020 presents us with two distinct visions of life, liberty, and—yes—the pursuit of happiness. One believes that these are only possible in exclusive terms—race, religion, national belonging—and demarcates between whose lives matter and whose don’t. The other sees humanity itself as deserving of dignity and self-determination, and believes that none will possess both until all do. Can partisans of the former vision be won over to the latter? This is the pivotal issue separating a strategy rooted in proletarian revolution and one aiming for outright civil war. But in either case, whatever temporary stability may result from the return of the neoliberal status quo in Washington D.C., as Marx reminds us, “The crisis is permanent, the government only provisional.”
Contents of Summer Issue #8
From the Editors
Kadeem Johnson, “This injustice shit ain’t nothing new”: Thoughts on 2020 from Inside
James Stephens, Just Another Swing-State Story
Shaun, Where Dreams Go To Die
Marty Brown, Portland, Pottawatomi, and “The Good Lord Bird”
Tim Bruno, To All the Comrades I Could Have Known
John Garvey & Mike Morgan, On Gentrification in Brooklyn
Matt Capri, 2020
Left Hook, The Sports Column: Around the World in Five Days
Issue #8 is now available in the Hard Crackers Store