Monday, December 27, 2010

'A little packet containing the ashes of Joe Hill...'

Over the last year or two I've been researching what happened to the ashes of Joe Hill — IWW organiser, poet and songwriter — in New Zealand. According to most sources:

“Joe Hill’s ashes were placed in many small envelopes. These were sent to IWW members and sympathizers in all forty-eight states of the United States except one, the State of Utah… and to every country in South America, to Europe, to Asia, to Australia, to New Zealand and to South Africa. With fitting ceremonies and the singing on his songs, on May 1st, 1916, the ashes of Joe Hill were scattered over the earth in these many countries.”

Yet nothing is known about what happened to the ashes of Joe Hill in New Zealand. Were Hill’s ashes really sent here? Or was New Zealand simply listed to give such a symbolic act more scope? If they did make it, what happened to them? I've been pondering this question for a while now, and it's satisfying to feel my research has gone some way in answering this. It also questions the May Day 1916 date accepted for so long as the date his ashes were released. But you'll have to wait for my finished essay to find out more! It's in draft format and undergoing peer review as we speak... so hopefully soon.

In the meantime, here's images of the actual packet that contained the ashes of Joe Hill and the letter that went with it, courtesy of the Labadie Collection. Julie Herrada at Labadie has been a fantastic help, scanning the images, trawling newspapers, and fielding a number of my requests. The collection is fascinating in itself, recognised as one of the world's most complete collections of materials documenting anarchism in both the USA and around the world.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Poster: General Strike in Greece

"They hold the scissors, we hold the rock", poster from the recent General Strike in Greece.

Friday, November 5, 2010

CELEBRATE PEOPLE'S HISTORY: The Poster Book of Resistance and Revolution

From Josh at Justseeds: "The culmination of 12 years of work, this is a massive collection of all of the Celebrate People's History posters, the 65 that have been printed, and another 45 brand new designs that have yet to be printed yet except for in this book! I've also written a history of the project, and there is a great introduction by Rebecca Solnit."

This book is simply amazing. The visuals alone are worth the look, yet each poster contains a part of our past not often celebrated. Anyone who has seen a CPH poster or one of their shows will definitely like this book.

I was lucky enough to have my poster on the New Zealand Federation of Labor (the 'Red Feds') featured in the book, which makes it even more special (to me at least).

You can order it online at

Friday, September 3, 2010

time for change: help build a collective action network in Christchurch

We live in troubled times

We are overworked and under-payed — we have the second highest rate of average hours worked in the developed world, while two-thirds of kiwis earn less than two-thirds of the average wage. Work dominates our lives and clouds our free time. Many of us, both in and out of work, are isolated and without support. Our isolation makes it easy for the boss, the landlord or the red tape of institutions (such as WINZ) to push us around, short change us and offer nothing more than the bottom line.

Unemployment is on the rise while our benefits are slashed, our working conditions are under attack, our neighborhoods knocked down and replaced in the name of ‘development’.

Yet it doesn’t have to be like this

Together we have the power to make change, to support each other, and to wind back the ongoing attacks we face. To do this we need to stand shoulder to shoulder whenever and wherever someone is in need. Through the power of numbers, collective action and solidarity, we can start to enjoy what is rightfully ours and fight for a better world.

A network of people that supports each other, a network where help is just a text or email away, a network that gets things done — at work or in our wider communities — is the kind of network we’d like to see in Christchurch.

This network could span across different communities and different workplaces (regardless of whether we are in unions or not). Such a network could support each other to fight for better wages and working conditions, to win workplace struggles by generating community, solidarity and publicity, and support those of us out who are out of work and in the firing line.

Likewise, when our neighborhoods are scarred by greedy developers, our rents raised and living conditions worsened, we will have the means to fight back together rather than on our own.

Such a network makes it harder for us to be attacked, to be walked over, to be treated like nothing but numbers.

A day-long get together is taking place on September 25th to form a network in Christchurch, and we invite you to take part.

WHERE: WEA (Workers Educational Association). 59 Gloucester St, Christchurch
WHEN: September 25th, 9.30AM — 4.30PM
WHAT: Discussions // workshops // video // lunch

A draft agenda will be announced soon. This event is child friendly and lunch will be provided. If you have any questions at all, please contact: otautahianarchists (at)

Your input is most welcome, and we hope to see you there for what should be an inspiring and important day.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Protest this Sunday! Stop the Ant-worker Laws!

A protest against National's Anti-Worker Laws will be taking place this Sunday 8th August at 12 noon, on the corner of Colombo St and Hereford St.

Home to fast food outlets, retail stores and hotels (industries which house staff that are most at risk from the proposed legislation) we plan to bring a lot of noise and enthusiasm to the event, with stories from the workers themselves and reactions from various officials and commentators.

Bring a friend, a banner and some noise!

There will also be a Public Meeting on Thursday 12th August at the WEA (7PM). There are four speakers who will be sharing knowledge about the law changes, how they've already effected workers (22% percent of all workers fired since it was introduced were fired in the first 90 days), and possible ways to resist them. Jointly organised by the Workers Party and Beyond Resistance: it should be quite good.

WHAT ARE THE CHANGES? Info about the law changes are here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

xmas woodcut

My first two-colour woodcut attempt. Need to suss a few things still, and the type is pretty boring, but it was fun.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Beyond Representation: tactics for building a culture of resistance in Aotearoa

“Power keeps hacking away at the weeds, but it can’t pull out the roots without threatening itself.”
— Eduardo Galeano

We live in troubled times. The National Government has set in motion a number of attacks on the working class: prisons open while schools close, there’s been cuts to education and ACC support for victims of sexual abuse, a draconian search and surveillance bill proposed, plans to mine conservation land, GST hikes, and changes to the benefit that would extend the patriarchal hand of the state even more. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking a Labour Government (or a Green one) would be any better — government, under whatever facade, is still the rule of the few over the many.

Capitalism, hand-in-hand with the state once again finds itself in an economic situation that hits those already feeling the effects of a bankrupt system. In Aotearoa (and across the globe) we are witnessing wage freezes coupled with rising prices. Companies close or move offshore, resulting in workers losing their jobs — our livelihoods are destroyed in their never-ending scramble for profit. We unwillingly pay for a crisis not of our doing.

The responses to these attacks have not challenged the state in any meaningful way. Protest activity, while at times large in number has been small in results. Trade unions have failed dismally in resisting the wind back of workers’ gains, completely lacking in both radical ideology and effective activity. Politicians — well they’re part of the problem and will never offer any kind of solution that would threaten their positions of privilege.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming answer for many is to give up their power to that of a representative (politician, community bureaucrat or union official) who will supposedly act on our behalf. We are encouraged to believe that we are powerless to effect any real change in our lives, and political structures are designed to reinforce this. Yet as long as a minority make decisions on our behalf we cannot be free. The sense of community, solidarity, and collective action needed for meaningful change is diffused through structures that privilege a debasing of power (giving our power to somebody else).

Challenging this trend towards the delegation of activity to others is no easy feat, yet it’s one way to move from current defensive action and onto the offensive. Structures and tactics that empower, employ direct action and offer revolutionary alternatives to capitalism and the state are needed more than ever. The time has come for real resistance, for the building of a movement that will effect actual change. This is nothing new. Nor are we the first to point this out. Establishing solidarity and gaining real power through struggle will enable us to break with a culture of dependency and the existing order: this is the pressing task ahead.

“You can’t destroy a society by using the organs which are there to preserve it… any class who wants to liberate itself must create its own organs.”
— H. Lagardell

Recent protest action has been merely symbolic and sporadic. We turn up, feel disillusioned, and go home. Politicians then get kudos and claim ‘grassroots’ bragging rights. Nothing changes. There are next to no organisational links being made, analysis of the root causes of the issues we protest against are not being heard, and there’s not much relevant follow-up action. These protests, if they do draw people along, are limited to the usual lobbying of government and illustrate quite plainly the passivity that is symptomatic of a culture of representation.

This same ineffectuality carries through to trade union structures. While there are many sincere and militant members in these unions, a union’s hierarchical and bureaucratic nature limits their scope. It should be clear to all by now that any chance of using the existing unions as tools of social change is, well, kaput — due to their mediating position within capitalism, their conciliatory rather than confrontational stance, and their limitation to trade or workplace.

The last century has been full of failed attempts to reform trade unions. Any reform attempt that seriously threatens the union’s role as ‘social partners’ to management would require a significant upsurge in militancy from the membership. This upsurge would naturally have to come about through actual class struggle, so it seems odd to focus on making an existing union ‘more radical’ when the struggle needed to make it more radical would be enough on its own. This approach equates working class action with trade union action. Yes, lets work with those in unions who share a critique of them and win members to our ideas, but our orientation should be towards actual working class conflict, not one particular form that conflict can take (ie the traditional trade union form). To become absorbed in current unions and their hierarchy destroys militancy and meaningful action.

Furthermore, current unions cause divisions between different groups of workers (non-members/ members of other unions) in the same workplace, trade or industry who share the same interests, acting as a barrier to common class action. A focus on current unions in Aotearoa also neglects their low membership — it also ignores sites of struggle outside of the traditional union’s scope such as unpaid work in the home and community, fights by the unemployed, possible rent strikes etc.

We must take note and move on from the failed forms of the past and look to foster effective struggle — to build dual power and a culture of resistance.

“We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.”
— Buenaventura Durruti

What do we mean by dual power, and how can we build it? Dual power can be understood as a way of practicing anarchist methods of organisation in order to grow a culture of resistance. It means encouraging direct control of struggle by those in struggle, the practice of non-hierarchical workplace and community assemblies, and collective decision-making based on direct democracy. It’s a way of challenging the power of boss, landlord and government until such time we can abolish them. Building dual power challenges authoritarian structures of power and at the same time, points towards the libertarian future we envision. It not only opposes the state, it also prepares for the difficult confrontations and questions that will arise in a revolutionary situation.

Dual power has to come about through struggle, through ongoing organising around real (not perceived) needs, and through direct action. Running a collective for food distribution or a radical bookshop, while having its own value, does not really confront wider social relations — this is collectively managing a resource, not the building of dual power. Dual power is not prefigurative in the sense that it is building counter institutions that will magically grow within capitalism and replace it once it’s gone. Dual power is prefigurative in terms of the means we use now, the way we organise our struggles, and the way we relate to others during that struggle. Building dual power points to a possible, but not predetermined future.

Dual power can’t be built in isolation or by traditional structures such as trade unions or political parties, as such structures are not set up to encourage such a sharing of power (as we pointed out above). This is where some kind of network that would span across union lines and workplace isolation — and link to the wider community — could play a significant role.

“History always repeats itself: first time as tragedy, second time as farce.”
— Karl Marx

Revisiting successful aspects of the anarcho-syndicalist tradition and its tactics of revolutionary struggle (within and outside of the workplace) is something that could potentially move beyond representation and build the culture of resistance described above. By coming together in one network based on direct action, solidarity and the ideas of anarchism, we could offer a very real alternative to both reformist action and the capitalist system itself. It could do what the current unions can’t or won’t do.

We don’t buy the argument that what’s needed is a similar network but without the explicitly anarchist position. Membership is not the goal of a successful network, meaningful struggle with a radical vision is. The focus would be to build class conflict, not the building of a union. To fetishise union membership over radical content has failed time and time again — an effective network should focus on class struggle rather than recruiting as many people as possible. A network of 20 people who manage to foster the growth of radical assemblies wherever they are (workplace or community) would have a larger effect than a network of 200 without any confrontational vision or strategy.

Likewise, a network that waters down its politics to a perceived level of resistance acceptable to people ends up reducing the level of both. This is the problem with ‘pure syndicalism’ that would concentrate on economic demands (wages etc) without an anarchist analysis of political structures that enforce wage slavery. It is absurd to say that someone who could be concerned with the money they receive would not also be concerned with why that money exists and how it is shared around. It’s also absurd to assume people don’t question the fact they have to work for a wage all their life. We need to move beyond pure economics and question the political nature of work itself.

“An organization must always remember that its objective is not getting people to listen to speeches by experts, but getting them to speak for themselves.”
— Guy Debord

Instead, the role of those of us in a network would be to put forward explicitly anarchist ideas and call for open assemblies in our workplace or community struggles. We would argue for direct control of these struggles by the mass assembly itself (not by any union or representative, including our own network). This means wherever we are based we should try to get together with our workmates and neighbours to collectively discuss our problems, regardless of whether they are in the network or not. Anyone who is affected by a particular issue should be included and involved, regardless of their union membership, place of employment, gender, race or age. The key is the self-activity of all of those concerned, to widen the fight and encourage a state of permanent dialogue.

By promoting direct action and solidarity, putting across anarchist ideas and offering practical examples of those ideas in practice, we would hopefully start to build a culture of resistance. This is vastly different to the current representative unions or community boards, whose unaccountable officials take it on themselves to control the fight and steer it along an acceptable path. By practicing and promoting mass meetings in times of struggle, we plant the seeds of ongoing, relevant forms of resistance which empower all of those effected — not just network members, but those who aren’t members of the network and who may never want to be.

A network could also offer important solidarity to those who are isolated (such as sub-contractors, temps, causal workers, the unemployed and those at home) and help build a sense of community. It could act as an important source of skill sharing and education — doing all the useful things the current unions do (acting as source of advice, sharing knowledge on labour law, foster solidarity etc) while critiquing their legalist and bureaucratic frameworks. Advice on employment law, community law, bullying at work, health and safety, WINZ and benefit changes — these are all important needs that a network could meet.

However it’s not our job as anarchists to resolve the problems of capitalism, but to keep alive the differences between the exploited and the exploiter, to build a culture of resistance. Our skill sharing and advice must be geared towards this vision. While we should offer practical support we can’t lose sight of our anarchist critique of the current system and our ultimate aim of social revolution: the network is not a help line that simply privileges outsider expertise, but is a fighting organization aimed at empowering those in need and encouraging radical self-activity.

If the activity of such a network related to real needs, was structured so that it involved the wider community in meeting those needs, and illustrated anarchist ideas in practice, it would show that anarchism is relevant to everyday life more effectively than a flyer, discussion group or theoretical journal ever could.

“The self-emancipation of the working class is the breakdown of capitalism”
— Anton Pannekoek

Historically we are currently in a low period of radical struggle, partly because of the culture of representation described above. But radical struggle doesn't pick up by magic, by the right mix of historical context. Struggle picks up through struggle, through the self-activity of the working class. The economic breakdown of capitalism doesn’t equate to radical change: just because we’re experiencing an economic downturn doesn’t mean the social revolution is on our doorstep. Nor does capitalism follow a pre-determined tune that allows us to sit back and wait for it to play out. Capitalism has the ability to adapt and even profit from such downturns. As the quote above illustrates (and history proves), the self-activity of those in struggle is paramount to moving beyond a capitalist ‘crisis’ to social revolution. A network and its activity could aid in this upswing of struggle.

A revolutionary network premised on the ideas and tactics described above is what Beyond Resistance aims to help create in the near future. We call for and encourage discussion about these ideas and tactics — if you agree or disagree then let’s get talking. An email list has been set up for this very purpose: discussionbeyondresistance-subscribe (at) We hope to start regionally, but we invite all those in Aotearoa interested in such a network and its formation to participate in a hui tentatively organised for September 2010. Any input and knowledge is welcomed. Let us move forward together in the fight against this inhumane, patriarchal and exploitative system and start to build a culture of resistance in Aotearoa. — JUNE 2010.

Examples and further reading:

Solidarity Federation
Anarchist Workers Network
Seattle Solidarity Network
Strategy and Struggle: anarcho-syndicalism in the 21st century
Anarcho-syndicalism in Puerto Real
To Work or Not to Work: Is that the Question?
Winning the Class War: an anarcho-syndicalist strategy

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

'Art as a Weapon: Frans Seiwert and the Cologne Progressives' by Martyn Everett

Art has a long history of use as a propaganda weapon by the powerful, who have patronised particular forms of art and particular artists as a means of enhancing or glorifying their own position. The icon-like portraits of Queen Elizabeth I provide an obvious example, as artists were forbidden to paint other than an officially approved likeness. More recently, the harnessing of art to commodity production - to sell products and create a particular, favourable image of the multi-national corporation is a phenomenon we are all familiar with. Occasionally, however, attempts have been made to transform art into a political weapon; to use it as a means of overthrowing a cruel and unjust social system.

In order to achieve this, artists have had to periodically rethink the whole nature and language of art so that they could challenge the state and the dominant cultural values that underpin both state and economy. This is why new cultural avant-gardes have frequently been linked to anarchism or socialism, their radical politics informing their radical artistic stance. The post-Impressionists and the Surrealists provide ready examples. Attempts to construct a politically engaged art have usually been most successful during times of political ferment, when the culture of the ruling class is already under siege, as during the post First World War Weimar Republic (1918-1933) when Germany was deeply divided and torn by armed conflict.

Art historians have tended to focus mainly on the Expressionist movement and Dada during this period, overlooking the work of the political constructivists, the `Cologne Progressives', a movement which grew out of Expressionism and Dada, and was a contemporary of both. As with Expressionism and Dada the Cologne Progressives were heavily influenced by anarchism, and many of the political constructivists contributed to a range of anarchist and socialist publications.

The Cologne Progressives were a loose grouping of artists initially centred on Cologne and Dusseldorf, which for the last years of its existence produced the radical art magazine A bis Z (1929-1933). Its aims and ideals were, however, shared by artists from elsewhere, and the group eventually included members in Prague, Moscow, Vienna, Amsterdam and Paris. The members of the Progressives all saw their primary purpose as developing visual weapons for the political and social struggle of an oppressed working class against the rich and powerful. They sought to express complex political ideas in simple visual terms, exposing not the nature of the capitalist system, but its causes, and suggesting revolutionary solutions.

Frans Seiwert, Heinrich Hoerle and Gerd Arntz, the principle members of this group were barely in their twenties when the war came to an end, and although they had already taken part in the anti-war movement, their period of major creativity only began with the Weimar years. They were among the most radical of the politically active artists of the time, identifying principally with the council communist organisation the Allgemeine Arbeiter Union, although they also had connections with the anarcho-syndicalist FAUD. They were also active contributors to the journal Die Aktion, edited by the anarchist Franz Pfemfert, for which they provided title-page ~illustratiions, and articles. Their artistic influence lay in Expressionism and in the early religious art of their area. As Gerd Arntz subsequently wrote about Seiwert:

He was very strong in his primitivism as the early Christians (ie Rhenish Primitives). We all came from the old paintings and the early woodcuts. In fact Seiwert was originally a Catholic, who broke with the Church for its failure to condemn the horrors of World War I.

Although they displayed artistic links with the Dutch De Stijl, and with Russian Constructivism and Suprematism, the work of the Progressives differed from these movements in two ways; it was overtly political in its content, and it was almost exclusively representational and so retained an easy intelligibility - important because their art was not produced for the gallery, the art critic or other artists, but for ordinary people. The subject matter of their art, and the form in which it was executed was largely determined by their political beliefs. They also sought to break down the cultural exclusivity of art, by using an artistic language that could be easily understood, and which was widely disseminated in a form suited to the mass society created by capitalism. So they frequently utilised the woodcut or the linocut, which could be readily reproduced in the papers like Die Aktion and Der Ziegelbrenner.

The political constructivists were anxious to de-individualise art, and tended to concentrate in their work on groups and classes, and not on individual characters. Individuals are represented only to emphasise their powerlessness, or their subject position, concepts such as solidarity by grouping people together. Figures were schematised to the point where they became completely anonymous - as anonymous and de-individualised as capitalism made them. This transformation of form was just as important as the transformation of content. Seiwert, who was the main theoretician of the Progressives, wanted to create a new art of the working class which would not just come from putting a proletarian prefix to bourgeois styles. Consequently the Progressives were determined to develop a new style which involved a rejection of gallery art:

If one correctly conceives labour as the maintenance of life of the individual and of the whole, then art is nothing other than the visualisation of the organisation of labour and of life. Panel painting, which was created not accidentally, but from an inner necessity coinciding with the rise of modern Capitalism, becomes inconceivable. Anyway, an individual work of art as confirmation of an egocentric type of person on the one hand, and, on the other, in the hands of its owner, as confirmation of his title as possessor, will no longer be possible. (Seiwert A bis Z 1932)

Rejection of panel, or easel painting, was also clearly seen in Seiwert's response to Kokoschka. During street-fighting in Dresden during the right-wing Kapp Putsch, a shot fired by defending workers damaged Rubens' painting Bathsheba. Ignoring the casualties (35 were killed and 151 wounded in the fighting) Kokoschka distributed a leaflet to defend the Rubens, beseeching the workers to fight elsewhere, because `the saving of such elevating works of art was in the end much greater than any political action'. Seiwert's response was immediate. Rubens' art had long been dead, he wrote, `For a few hundred years we have had enormous holes in gigantic frames'. Such art paralysed the will of the present generation: `it weighs heavily on us and prevents us from acting'.

Seiwert's involvement with a number of anti-war groups during World War 1 was crucial in determining the later development of the Progressives. Franz Pfemfert, the editor of Die Aktion had achieved a remarkable fusion of art and politics in his determination to create a mass-circulation anti-war paper, and this combination was carried across into the work of the Progressives, who saw little difference between their art and their political activity. Indeed, the political trajectory of the Progressives paralleled that of Pfemfert and Die Aktion, as he moved from anarchism to council communism. Hoerle and Seiwert continued to contribute to Die Aktion up until their deaths.

Seiwert and Hoerle were close friends of Ret Marut, the editor of Der Ziegelbrenner, the fiery, clandestine anarchist magazine and some of Seiwert's first published graphics appeared in Der Ziegelbrenner.

Marut had been an active participant in the Munich `soviet' of 1919, and had narrowly escaped the firing squad after the soviet's collapse. While he was in hiding from the counter-revolutionary death squads, Seiwert and several of the other `Progressives' notably Hoerle, Freundlich and Hans Schmitz, helped with the production and distribution of the paper. Marut fled Germany for Mexico, where he became famous as the writer B. Traven. In order to protect his real identity he severed nearly all his contacts, the sole exception being Seiwert. Apart from the illustrations for Der Ziegelbrenner, Seiwert also drew a sketch of Marut, and painted his portrait.

Seiwert's contribution to the socialist and anarchist press also included many articles about the social role of art, commentary on the events of the time, and on anarchist themes, notably on the differences between authoritarian and anti-authoritarian communism, identifying himself with the latter. He also wrote an article on the anarchist writer Erich Muhsam, and with the French author Tristan Remy co-authored Erich Muhsam: Choix de Poesie (Lyon, 1924) which included an essay by him entitled Erich Muhsam: the militant.

Seiwert's most significant achievement was to co-edit, with fellow-artist Hoerle and Walter Stern thirty issues of the paper A bis Z, between October 1929 and January 1933. The first issue featured the work of fellow Progressives on the cover: a painting by Hoerle, another / by the Polish artist Jankel Adler, who later fled to Britain, and became involved with the group around War Commentary / Freedom, a connection for which the British government refused his application for citizenship. A sculpture by Otto Freundlich was also illustrated.

Freundlich had been connected with Seiwert since 1918 when they were both involved in working with the circle around Die Aktion: They had subsequently participated in the Congress of the Union of. Progressive International Artists held in Dusseldorf in May 1922. Members of the Berlin `Kommune' group, which included Freundlich, Raoul Hausmann, Adler, Stanislav Kubicki and Malgorzata Kubicka, launched a fierce attack in the plenary session against art dealers, and against some artists who had supported the War. Seiwert and Gert Wollheim (another artist with anarchist sympathies) supported the attack by the `Kommune' group. Freundlich's sculpture was singled out for criticism by the Nazis after they gained power and the catalogue for the Nazi exhibition of so-called `degenerate art' Entarte Kunst, featured one of Freundlich's sculptures on the catalogue cover. Freundlich himself died in a Nazi concentration camp during the war.

Each issue of A bis Z reproduced the artistic work of the Progressives, or introduced readers to the various traditions that had influenced them: religious art, cave paintings and so on. The example of Pfemfert's Die Aktion was not lost, and writings on the social role of art appeared alongside extracts from Bakunin's writings, short reviews of books written by Mfhsam and Alexander Berkman and articles on the theory of council communism. Raoul Hausmann, a pioneer of Berlin Dada in the magazine Die Freie Strasse, and an early exponent of photomontage, contributed articles on film and photomontage (Hausmann had previously contributed articles to the anarchist Die Erde and the Stirnerite Der Einzige) and the Hungarian Moholy-Nagy wrote about art and photography.

Artists who became identified with the `Progressives' through A bis Z included Auguste Herbin (Paris), Wladimir Krinski (Moscow), Peter Alma (Amsterdam), August Tschinkel (Prague) and the photographer August Sander (Cologne) whose work was regularly featured in the magazine, as well as Schmitz, Hoerle, Arntz and Freundlich. During its first year of existence A bis Z was distributed to contacts in Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Holland, Belgium, France, USA, Mexico, India and Palestine.

The common factor uniting these artists was the way in which their art became an extension of their political activities. They were populist in their aims seeking to break down art's exclusiveness and develop new forms for art in order to facilitate communication of their ideas. They tried to develop a simple pictorial language which, they hoped, would be understood by the workers to whom their art was directed. This led some of the Progressives, like Gerd Arntz, an art teacher who became head of the Graphics Department of the Vienna Wirtschafts and Gesellschaftsmuseum to develop the Vienna method of pictorial statistics (isotypes) originally formulated by Otto Neurath. Arntz's art became almost diagrammatic and his work on isotypes involved him in the production of a pictorial atlas in collaboration with Tschinkel and Alma.

Rather than caricature the class enemy, Arntz and the Progessives attempted to visualize the social relationships which gave the ruling class their power. Arntz explained his work like this:

Grosz . . . draws the capitalist as an ugly and fat criminal. I did things differently. He can be good-looking, a decent family man with beautiful daughters ... I sought to show the position of the capitalist in the system of production - for that they need not be as ugly as Grosz made them.

and while Grosz showed the worker as a creature of misery, Arntz rejects this view:

We too show hits as miserable because he was a product of miserable circumstances. But with us he was also a revolutionary who tackled things. Our art was to make a contribution to tearing the old society apart. It was propaganda, it attempted to reveal social contrasts and show social opportunities, not just moralising criticism.

Arntz frequently split his pictures into various levels in order to contrast the superficial appearance of the social order with the way things really worked. So above ground the boss canoodles with a whore in a car while below the miners work and die. In Barracks (1927) while the soldiers parade in dress uniform, in the basement beneath them, a man is shot by a firing squad, his head depicted as a rifle-range target. Although Arntz divides some pictures in an obvious way, utilising a natural division between different floors in a building, the picture is sometimes broken in a more sophisticated way, by the beam of a searchlight, or the contrast between light and shadow.

The use of contrasting areas of solid blacks and whites was a feature of the work of many of the artists grouped around A bis Z, partly because the technique lent itself easily to printed reproduction, and the widespread dissemination of images, partly because the use of solid geometrical areas of black emphasised the feeling of oppression by the industrial system. They saw society as deeply divided, polarised into right and left wing camps, and the use of black and white gave visual expression to that social polarisation.

Hans Schmitz also utilised this contrast between black and white: the prison-like qualities of the factory are clearly expressed in Workers' Walk (1922). Its echoes of Van Gogh's La Ronde des Prisonniers reinforced by the heavy, oppressive dominance of the black walls.

Schmitz's studies were interrupted by his conscription into the army. With the revolution at the end of the War, he became a member of the Soldiers' Council in Cologne, and joined the Spartacus League, the left-wing break-away from the Social Democrats, led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht which subsequently formed the nucleus of the Communist Party. After resuming his studies in Dusseldorf, he met Seiwert, and helped with the distribution of Der Ziegelbrenner, beginning a period of close co-operation with the Progessives which continued until 1933. In 1922 he was a delegate at an anarchist Congress in Berlin. The Nazi rise to power resulted in a break in his work, and much of his output was destroyed during the air-raids of the Second World War.

His surviving linocuts depict the dehumanised nature of the industrial system, with a physical environment that dominates the individual, rendering the worker an extension of the machine.

Like the other Progessives Schmitz undertook solidarity work with the Communist International Workers Aid Committee, but as a rule the Progressives kept apart from the Communist Party, and the ASSO, the communist dominated Association of Revolutionary Artists. Seiwert explained the differences between them:

Just because its contents have a tendency to be 'proletarian', making statements about the struggle, solidarity, and class consciousness of the proletariat, bourgeois art has not by any means as yet become proletarian art. Form must be made subservient to content: content must recast form to become content. The work where this happens is created out of the collective consciousness where the self which creates a work is no longer bourgeois individualistic isolation, but a tool of the collective consciousness ... To maintain that when the content of a bourgeois art form makes a statement about proletarian problems this was proletarian art, seems to me a wholly Social-Democratic attitude, and in this context 'Social Democrats' includes those who are members of the Communist Party.

Seiwert then extends this critique into a more general attack on Communist methods:

It is exactly the same attitude which believes that the means of production, in the Capitalist sense, can be redirected from the control of those above to those below in a more far-reaching way than by the regulation of the means of production in a Communist society; the same attitude which believes in taking bourgeois technology from bourgeois industry and using it, in the hope that science developed in the service of the bourgeoisie can contain pure, independent, objective truth and, taken out of the hands of the bourgeoisie, can become science for the proletariat. Yes - science for the proletariat, so that it can remain the proletariat, but no means by which the proletariat can rise up and free itself.

A Communist society, and with it Communist culture, cannot be created by taking over the positions of Capitalist society and of bourgeois culture. Proletarian art exists when its form is the expression of the organisation of the feeling of solidarity, and of the class consciousness of the masses . . .

This statement, in spite of the terminology, encapsulates the anarchist rejection of authoritarian communist attempts to seize and use the state to direct a revolution, and reformulates it in terms of science, technology and culture.

In order to attack capitalist industrialism more effectively Seiwert resorted to a highly stylised representation, and the development of a simple pictorial language, which dialectically conceived, symbolised the opposing forces of capitalism and communism. A chimney, transmission belts, furnace, factory chimney and so on, stood for the inhuman aspects of industrialisation, whilst the sun, stars and trees have a positive value, pointing towards a better, socialist future. They can also have a negative significance, a crossed-out sun would strengthen the evil impression of the industrial scene. People are frequently depicted as being shaped or controlled by the system, and in many of Seiwert's linocuts a person's head is linked to the factory transmission belts to indicate that under capitalism the worker is only a part of the production process.

Sometimes Seiwert's work was directly in a more political tradition, such as his icon-like portraits of Karl Leibknecht, and the anarchist-socialist Gustav Landauer. Like Leibknecht, Landauer was murdered by reactionaries during the Revolution of 1918/19. Their portraits were among several of socialist martyrs produced in a small pamphlet Lebendige, by Peter Abelen, Anton R├Ąderschneidt, Seiwert, and Angelika Hoerle, who died of tuberculosis when still only 24.

Seiwert also produced a remarkable linocut poster, commemorating the full horror of the execution of the Chicago anarchists in minimalist terms.

The rise of fascism, and the subsequent war destroyed the group, although Seiwert died early in 1933, of an X-ray burn sustained at the age of 7, and which he suffered from all his life. His death came just before the Nazis could destroy his work, and in all probability, the artist himself.

Seiwert and the Progressives tried to wrench art from its uneasy position as a commodity, and transform it into a weapon for communicating revolutionary ideas and ideals. In their attempt they have left us with an inspiring legacy of political images, a coherent, libertarian socialist theory of art, and a practical example of immense personal courage in the face of reaction.

Article from here.

The radical design of Gerd Arntz

Gerd Arntz (1900 – 1988) was a German Modernist artist and activist inspired by social and political issues. In his twenties, Arntz left his bourgeois roots to commit himself fully to the proletariat struggle, influenced by anarchism and council communism. His earlier works portrayed social inequities, exploitation and war in black & white woodcuts used on prints that was published in radical anarchist magazines in Germany and abroad. It was in these magazines that Otto Neurath, the spearhead of modern pictograms first discovered Arntz and recruited him to Vienna’s Museum of Society and Economy to further develop ISOTYPE. ISOTYPE, or the International System of Typographic Picture Education is a method of communicating complex information in a pictorial form. For Arntz, this form was well suited to conveying the causes of capitalism to an audience often alienated by most art.

Gerd Arntz Web Archive
Gerd Arntz on Wikipedia
Blog Posts

Monday, April 5, 2010

Celebrate People's History!

Justseeds and Beyond Resistance is proud to present 'Celebrate People's History', an exhibition of over 50 international posters documenting radical moments in history.

Since 1998 the Celebrate People's History Project has produced an amazing array of political posters by different artists from around the world, each highlighting a historical example of social struggle. Here in New Zealand for the first time is the complete series, celebrating important acts of resistance by both individuals and collective movements who have fought tirelessly for social justice. From the Spanish Revolution to feminist labour organisers, indigenous movements to environmental sustainability, protests against racism to the Korean Peasant's League — Celebrate People's History canvases global movements in collaboration with a global network of artists.

Visually the posters are as diverse as the topics themselves. Screenprint, woodcut, linocut, illustration, line art and traditional graphic design all feature in full colour — employed to engage in much needed critical reflection about aspects of our history often overlooked by mainstream narratives. A seamless welding of art and politics, Celebrate People's History is sure to excite the history junkie, poster enthusiast, art student and social activist alike.

Celebrate People's History
May 17 - 29, 2010

Opening Night
Monday May 17th at 5.30pm

Eastside Gallery at the Linwood Community Arts Centre
Corner Worcester Street and Stanmore Road


Images can be made available for media/press by request, or preview some of the works here:

Beyond Resistance

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Anarchist films: Howard Zinn doco screening March 11!

In memory of anarchist historian and activist Howard Zinn who passed away earlier this year, Beyond Resistance presents: You Cant Be Neutral on a Moving Train.

This rousing documentary uses Howard Zinn's life to tell the story of political activism in the 20th Century and beyond, from the anti-Fascist protests of the late '30s and early '40s, through WWII and post-war unionism, to the civil rights movement in the South, the Vietnam War, and now, Iraq. Zinn has been an active participant in all of these movements, giving a white, academic, radical voice to people fighting for respect and justice around the world, often risking his own life and livelihood.

A shipyard worker when WWII broke out, Zinn saw first hand the damage of war when he signed up for the U.S. Air Force. Amazing color footage of the first rough, hand-made WWII napalm bombs lend a startling vividness to Zinn's description of his understanding, post-war, of the deadly reality of a soldier's job.

With narration taken entirely from Zinn's own writing, read by actor Matt Damon, filmmakers Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller skillfully capture the spirit of Zinn's life work.

Watch the trailer here:

Lite refreshments and childcare will be provided, so come on down and join your local anarchists as part of our monthly film nights at the WEA! Zines, books and more will also be available on the night.

Thursday 11th March. Doors open: 6.30pm. Film starts: 7pm.

WEA (59 Gloucester Street), Otautahi/Christchurch.

Koha entry.

For more information contact:
otautahianarchists (at)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn dies at 87

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and a leading faculty critic of BU president John Silber, died of a heart attack today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling, his family said. He was 87.

"His writings have changed the consciousness of a generation, and helped open new paths to understanding and its crucial meaning for our lives," Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, once wrote of Dr. Zinn. "When action has been called for, one could always be confident that he would be on the front lines, an example and trustworthy guide."
For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. Dr. Zinn's best-known book, "A People's History of the United States" (1980), had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers -- many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out -- but rather the farmers of Shays' Rebellion and the union organizers of the 1930s.

As he wrote in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" (1994), "From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."

Certainly, it was a recipe for rancor between Dr. Zinn and Silber. Dr. Zinn twice helped lead faculty votes to oust the BU president, who in turn once accused Dr. Zinn of arson (a charge he quickly retracted) and cited him as a prime example of teachers "who poison the well of academe."

Dr. Zinn was a cochairman of the strike committee when BU professors walked out in 1979. After the strike was settled, he and four colleagues were charged with violating their contract when they refused to cross a picket line of striking secretaries. The charges against "the BU Five" were soon dropped, however.

Dr. Zinn was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1922, the son of Jewish immigrants, Edward Zinn, a waiter, and Jennie (Rabinowitz) Zinn, a housewife. He attended New York public schools and worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard before joining the Army Air Force during World War II. Serving as a bombardier in the Eighth Air Force, he won the Air Medal and attained the rank of second lieutenant.

After the war, Dr. Zinn worked at a series of menial jobs until entering New York University as a 27-year-old freshman on the GI Bill. Professor Zinn, who had married Roslyn Shechter in 1944, worked nights in a warehouse loading trucks to support his studies. He received his bachelor's degree from NYU, followed by master's and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University.

Dr. Zinn was an instructor at Upsala College and lecturer at Brooklyn College before joining the faculty of Spelman College in Atlanta, in 1956. He served at the historically black women's institution as chairman of the history department. Among his students were the novelist Alice Walker, who called him "the best teacher I ever had," and Marian Wright Edelman, future head of the Children's Defense Fund.

During this time, Dr. Zinn became active in the civil rights movement. He served on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the most aggressive civil rights organization of the time, and participated in numerous demonstrations.

Dr. Zinn became an associate professor of political science at BU in 1964 and was named full professor in 1966.

The focus of his activism now became the Vietnam War. Dr. Zinn spoke at countless rallies and teach-ins and drew national attention when he and another leading antiwar activist, Rev. Daniel Berrigan, went to Hanoi in 1968 to receive three prisoners released by the North Vietnamese.

Dr. Zinn's involvement in the antiwar movement led to his publishing two books: "Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal" (1967) and "Disobedience and Democracy" (1968). He had previously published "LaGuardia in Congress" (1959), which had won the American Historical Association's Albert J. Beveridge Prize; "SNCC: The New Abolitionists" (1964); "The Southern Mystique" (1964); and "New Deal Thought" (1966). Dr. Zinn was also the author of "The Politics of History" (1970); "Postwar America" (1973); "Justice in Everyday Life" (1974); and "Declarations of Independence" (1990).

In 1988, Dr. Zinn took early retirement so as to concentrate on speaking and writing. The latter activity included writing for the stage. Dr. Zinn had two plays produced: "Emma," about the anarchist leader Emma Goldman, and "Daughter of Venus."

Dr. Zinn, or his writing, made a cameo appearance in the 1997 film "Good Will Hunting." The title characters, played by Matt Damon, lauds "A People's History" and urges Robin Williams's character to read it. Damon, who co-wrote the script, was a neighbor of the Zinns growing up.

Damon was later involved in a television version of the book, "The People Speak," which ran on the History Channel in 2009. Damon was the narrator of a 2004 biographical documentary, "Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train."

On his last day at BU, Dr. Zinn ended class 30 minutes early so he could join a picket line and urged the 500 students attending his lecture to come along. A hundred did so.

Dr. Zinn's wife died in 2008. He leaves a daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of Lexington; a son, Jeff of Wellfleet; three granddaugthers; and two grandsons.
Funeral plans were not available.

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Happy New Year from Beyond Resistance!

Kia ora koutou katoa,

With the onset of 2010 come new issues, new sites of struggle, and new opportunities for challenging the current system which unfortunately still exploits and consumes our lives. But it's not all doom and gloom — we in Beyond Resistance can look back over 2009 with some satisfaction. In the space of our short existence we've managed to come together as a functioning collective, put forward some pretty decent ideas, and have hosted a number of events which have helped cement our formation. In the relative situation of low struggle in Aotearoa and demoralisation since the 2007 raids on our communities, we feel that what we have achieved together in Otautahi this year has been no easy feat.

Participation and support in our monthly film nights has been awesome. Making childcare a possibility by involving tamariki in all our events, again, is something we can all feel proud of. A public forum on the ACC cuts, participation in community struggles around the recent Post Office closures, strike and picket support, and protest action, has been a visible part of what we've been up to over the last 6 months. Behind the scenes we've also had an amazing collective hui, drafted what we consider is a great strategy for moving forward, and formed strong, educational relationships with each other. As Lucy Parsons — American anarchist involved in radical labour struggles — once said: "Anarchists know that a long period of education must precede any great fundamental change in society, hence they do not believe in vote begging, nor political campaigns, but rather in the development of self-thinking individuals." We feel we've come some way in doing this, therefore a number of the goals we set ourselves on formation are being achieved — others we look forward to tackling in the new year. One of these goals is the formation of an anarcho-syndicalist network, to link those of us struggling in the workplace and the wider community.

We've felt very supported by local friends and also from international solidarity — especially our comrades in Australia — so we'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you!

Until that time when we are all free from capitalist social relations, when we can develop all that is currently being suppressed, when we can take direct control of our own lives in our workplaces and our communities — until that time, we extend our solidarity and support to those struggling for a better world, and continue the struggle in our own corner of the globe.

"We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that."
Buenaventura Durruti — Spanish anarchist and labour militant in the Spanish Revolution

Love and Rage,
Beyond Resistance

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Papers Past: traces of Anarchist Communism

Killing time on the internet is something I do a lot... and what better way than to trawl through Papers Past, an online archive of historical New Zealand newspapers. Unfortunately the Maoriland Worker, Industrial Unionist and other radical papers aren't there, but a search with the terms 'anarchist communism' returned some interesting results (amongst other returns, which all included almost demonic attacks on anarchism and anything slightly radical). The letter below is from the September 8th, 1917 edition of 'Truth'. Also found an advert for a talk presented by the Freedom Group — possibly Aotearoa's first anarchist group — and the Grey River Argus piece on 'Socialism and Anarchism'. Geek.

Here's part of the letter (click on it to enlarge). What is interesting in it is the critique of state socialism (read state capitalism) and a scathing critique of the state in all its forms.