Tuesday, May 17, 2016

4 Books that will Inspire You to Fight Fascists in the Streets

We all feel it right now: the news carousel revolves between articles about Trump's ascendancy and the developing organizations of the alt right/white nationalist movement. It's a deep freeze kind of moment in the realm of political action. But somewhere in the back of your mind, Howard Zinn's accounts of the workers soviet of St. Louis in The People's History of the United States, or of Assata Shakur's life in the underground in Assata: An Autobiography hold a spark.

And who knows: maybe you'll be needing to kindle that spark in the near future. There are a lot of theories about how to best combat fascism, but the only one that's truly time tested is a good old fashioned street fight. From the British Battle of Cable Street to present day Olympia, Washington, nothing stops the goons like letting them know they aren't welcome.

The books in this list aren't guides or even all triumphant. Sometimes you just need some images to bounce around in your head. So join us in closing that carousel for a little while, and gathering some kindling for that spark.

1. Botchan by Natsume Sōseki

Sōseki's turn of the century novel about a schoolmaster might seem like a strange pick, as it basically reads like a YA Catcher in the Rye with a schoolteacher for a narrator. As long as you don't identify with the narrator, though, it's a brilliant look at the kind of rebellions that will be necessary, if not sufficient, in the coming years. And, as a bonus, it doesn't shy away from how these moments will be explosive, impulsive, and co-opted.

The climactic scene of Botchan sees the students brawling in the street, and the titular asshole Math teacher gets involved. It only takes a few thrown rocks to rout him. If you take it as a lesson, it's about street fights being effective but also easily co-opted; if you take it for literature, it's a fun scene about an asshole getting his due. Either way, it's good preparation.

2. 2 Henry VI by Shakespeare

The fourth act of Henry VI, Part 2 is all kinds of messy. Suffolk, who just had Gloster murdered in the previous scene, gets beheaded right off. Then enters Jack Cade, who makes up the story that he is the son of a lost twin of the Earl of March and makes proclamations like "And henceforward all things shall be in common" and that "there shall not a maid be married but she shall pay to me her maidenhead ere they have it." He's, well, a character.

A rapidfire series of scenes later, Cade and his army are in London, murdering anyone who can read or write or who call him the wrong name and burning all legal records. Just as he seems to be winning the city, two envoys of the king offer pardons to all who abandon Cade. Everyone takes them.

Shakespeare's political plays offer themselves up for complex readings of politics; they were largely produced for royalty, but it's not hard to see that they embed strong criticisms of the ruling class in their characters. Cade's rebellion might not be something to be directly emulated, or about opposing modern fascists, but it's a good reminder of the varieties of power that come to play in the streets, and just how fickle the lynchpin moments can seem.

3. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

The novel that (lamentably) brought us the Steampunk genre gets credit for that, a very weird ending, and little else. What people seem to forget is that it has a second act villain of a 19th century analogue for Guy Debord in Captain Swing. With London in the grips of the Stink, our villain does what he must: propagandizes and foments revolution. And then, of course, he dies.

If Steampunk's the rosy revisionist counterpart to cyberpunk, then at least it has old Captain Swing in its DNA. Plenty of aesthetic cogs mask little more than a desire for an uncomplicated politics that couples well with the Good Old Days of the proper fash. Don't let them have that, though: know that for every picture they paint with sepia, there's an antifa ready to smash a camera.

4. Toppamono by Manabu Miyazaki

With a full title of Toppamono: Outlaw. Radical. Suspect. My Life in Japan's Underworld, this autobiography by Manabu Miyazaki has plenty of fighting to offer. From his childhood on the periphery of the Yakuza because of family ties to his construction company to his being charged in a massive corporate kidnapping case, Miyazaki paints himself as a scrappy dude. It's his time spent in the Japanese New Left that gets his book on this list, though.

In a chapter straight up called "Street Fights and Das Kapital," Miyazaki delves into the development of his own political education. It's the most basic lesson, in some ways: theory and praxis go hand in hand, and sometimes that praxis is as simple as fighting tooth and nail in the streets.

There's even something aspirational about Toppamono: strong factionalism lead a number of New Left organizations to end up fighting not just fascists, but other kinds of socialists on the street. Maybe once the coming fights are won, that luxury of the fabled Leftist Infighting can get a little space to stretch its legs.