KPFA: Against the Grain [Program Feed]

  • Radical Critique, Utopian Aspirations
    The failed German Revolution, in which he was a participant, marked the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse for life.  But unlike some of his more pessimistic colleagues in the Frankfurt School, particularly after the rise of fascism, Marcuse did not give up on liberatory possibilities.  In the 1960s, Marcuse became one of the key philosophers of the New Left, in which he found a mass audience.  Author and illustrator Nick Thorkelson has written a graphic biography of Marcuse and he discusses his life, ideas, and continuing relevance. Resources: Nick Thorkelson, Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of Utopia: A Graphic Biography [1] City Lights Books, 2019 [1]
  • Does Fiction Promote Empathy?
    Do fictional narratives, like those found in novels, plays, and films, promote empathy? Does emotion-based empathy spur people to alleviate suffering in the real world? Namwali Serpell [1] calls into question much of the conventional thinking about empathy in relation to art. Drawing on thinkers like Arendt and Brecht, Serpell points to fiction’s capacity to enlarge our understanding to encompass the positions of others. Namwali Serpell, “The Banality of Empathy” [2] NYR Daily Namwali Serpell, The Old Drift [3] Hogarth, 2019 [1] [2] [3]
  • Organizing Against the Canadian Petro-State
    If it feels like an uphill battle to organize against climate change in this country, imagine the challenges in Canada where a significant part of the economy is based on fossil fuel extraction and transport. Yet Canada also has multiple inspiring movements, with indigenous people at the forefront, fighting to leave coal, oil and gas in the ground. Scholar and activist Chris Dixon discusses what people in the U.S. can learn from climate struggles there. Resources: Alexis Shotwell and Chris Dixon, For a Grieving Optimism [1] Canadian Dimension [1]
  • Puerto Ricans in New York City
    Puerto Ricans in New York City already numbered in the tens of thousands by 1930. As Lorrin Thomas [1] indicates, the fact that they were U.S. citizens did not shield them from discrimination and harassment. Thomas describes how, over the course of the twentieth century, young Puerto Ricans came to assert a new political consciousness and engage in radical community organizing. Marinari, Hsu, and Garcia, eds., A Nation of Immigrants Reconsidered: U.S. Society in an Age of Restriction, 1924-1965 [2] University of Illinois Press, 2019 Lorrin Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City [3] University of Chicago Press, 2010 [1] [2] [3]
  • Against Nuclear Annihilation
    Since the end of the Soviet Union, most activists have turned their attention from nuclear weapons. But the nuclear threat never went away and now Trump appears to be launching a new arms race. Yet over the last forty years, participants in the Ploughshares movement have put their bodies on the line to oppose nuclear weapons. Clare Grady and Martha Hennessy, two members of the Kings Bay Ploughshares Seven who both face 25 years in federal prison, discuss the danger posed by nuclear weapons, and how their community sustains civil resistance, which demands great personal sacrifice.  Hennessy also talks about her grandmother, Catholic Worker movement founder Dorothy Day. Resources: Kings Bay Ploughshares [1] Sign Global Petition to Dismiss Charges Against Anti-Nuclear Plowshares Activists Facing 25 Years [2] International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons [3] Don’t Bank on the Bomb [4]   [1] [2] [3] [4]
  • Fund Drive Special: Marching in Selma in 1965
    Dale Minor produced a radio documentary about the momentous civil rights struggle in Selma, Alabama in March 1965.
  • How Corporations and the State Dispossess the Rural Poor
    We think of public utilities operating for the public good — it’s right there in the name. But most public utilities are investor-owned and, like corporations as a whole in this country, have enormous power to dispossess poor people through government-backed mechanisms like eminent domain. Sociologist Loka Ashwood discusses how such dispossession, along with state-sanctioned corporate tax breaks and limits on corporate liability, lead poor rural people to distrust the government. Resources: Loka Ashwood, For-Profit Democracy: Why the Government Is Losing the Trust of Rural America [1] Yale University Press, 2018 [1]
  • Revenge Under Capitalism
    What would it mean to take revenge against the capitalist system? And what kinds of vengeance has capitalism itself taken, against workers and other exploited people? Max Haiven [1] examines Marxist, feminist, anti-colonial, and other perspectives on revenge, and he considers what forms of avenging might point the way toward radical social and political transformation. Max Haiven, “Towards a materialist theory of revenge: The lives of witches” [2] Vagabonds Max Haiven, Art after Money, Money after Art: Creative Strategies Against Financialization [3] Pluto Press, 2018 [1] [2] [3]
  • Anti-Capitalism and Indigenous Resistance
    The resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline galvanized a generation of activists. It involved hundreds of tribes and thousands of people, standing up against not just the companies that would pollute the region’s water, but to the militarized forces of the state. As Native historian Nick Estes argues, the No DAPL efforts brought into sharp focus both two centuries of native struggles and the complexity of anticapitalist and decolonial resistance today. Resources: Nick Estes, Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance [1] Verso, 2019 [1]
  • Socialist Technology
    Every society has a technological dimension. So what does, or should, a socialist technology look like? What ends would such a technology serve, and who would decide which products or devices get deployed, and for what purposes? Victor Wallis [1] sketches the contours of what he calls an authentically socialist technology. (Encore presentation.) Victor Wallis, Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism [2] Political Animal Press, 2018 [1] [2]
  • The End of Endless Expansion
    America has long been the country of endless promise, of open vistas, and a sense of providence about its place in the wider world. That optimism has always cloaked the brutality of imperial expansion and limitless growth. And now that centrist ideal of boundless expansion, according to historian Greg Grandin, may be coming to an end, even though the U.S. dominates foreign markets and continues multiple wars abroad. He argues that Trump is a symptom of the closing of that buoyant imperial orientation toward the rest of the world. Resources: Greg Grandin, The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America [1] Metropolitan Books, 2019   [1]
  • The Invisible Aristocracy
    Class divides and racial dynamics are explored in Nina Revoyr [1]’s new novel “A Student of History.” In it, a biracial graduate student with a blue-collar background gains access to a very different world, that of the superrich descendants of the founders of Los Angeles. Many of them, he discovers, exert tremendous power and influence behind the scenes. Nina Revoyr, A Student of History [2] Akashic, 2019   [1] [2]
  • Having Children? On Strike
    The birthrate in the U.S. has hit a historical low, with fewer babies being born than that necessary to replace the existing population.  Organizer Jenny Brown argues that that’s because the social support for women and families is so meager, that women have stopped having children or have reduced the number of kids they’re having.  And this informal birth strike, she argues, has the business class worried — and points to a hidden source of power. Resources: Jenny Brown, Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work [1] PM Press, 2019 [1]
  • Gender, Sexuality, and the Pink Tide
    During the Pink Tide, left-leaning governments proliferated across much of Latin America. What was actually accomplished in the Pink Tide era? Elisabeth Jay Friedman [1]’s new book supplies part of the answer, by examining the extent to which Pink Tide governments advanced a gender and sexual justice agenda. Elisabeth Jay Friedman, ed., Seeking Rights from the Left: Gender, Sexuality, and the Latin American Pink Tide [2] Duke University Press, 2019   [1] [2]
  • Reconsidering Yugoslav Socialism
    Socialist Yugoslavia was born out of resistance to fascist occupation during WW2 and ended in dismemberment and civil war.  Today, Yugoslavia’s demise is much better remembered than what came before it.  Yet socialist Yugoslavia forged a different path from that of the Soviet Union, which broke with it, and experimented with a form of workers’ self-management, which was hailed at the time across the international left, from anarchists to progressives.  Radical educator Andrej Grubacic, who grew up in socialist Yugoslavia, reflects on its history, achievements, and contradictions. Resources: Andrej Grubacic, Don’t Mourn, Balkanize!: Essays After Yugoslavia [1] PM Press, 2010 [1]

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