Anti-Capitalism for Beginners
An interview between Ezequiel Adamovsky and Michael Albert
MA: So your Anti-Capitalism for Beginners is now out in English. How do you feel about that?
EA: Well, as with all books, I can't wait to see how it is received in the US and, if I'm lucky, in other English-speaking countries. Although I originally wrote it having Latin American readers in mind, a good deal of the content relates not only to our own Left tradition, but also to political ideas from the US and Europe. I tried to make it as "universal" as possible, but there was an obvious limitation in that my knowledge of Asian and African political traditions was very limited. It was a surprise to me that Japan and Korea were the first two countries to show interest in translating it. I have no way to learn what happened with my book in those countries, or in Germany. But I expect to have the chance to met the readers' opinions in the US or in the UK, where I have friends and, more importantly, I can understand what they say! I am really looking forward to have some feedback there.
MA: Tell me about the book. How did you embark in writing a "for Beginners", illustrated book.
EA: It was a great challenge, I learned a lot by doing it. Initially, the idea came to my mind in 2002. At that time, after the rebellion of December 2001 in Argentina, I was very much involved in the neighbors' Assemblies movement. We had all sorts of amazing political debates there. Most people had the feeling that the old Left had little to offer. And yet, they were craving for radical ideas and actions. There was the sense that we were building a new kind of movement, but there were no ideas, concepts or doctrines to name it. Before the rebellion, I had had the chance to learn about the zapatista uprising of 1994, and the global resistance movement that made itself visible after the Battle of Seattle. I was lucky enough to be in Europe when the Genoa anti-summit demonstration happened, and I was there. And shortly before the rebellion I also participated in the World Social Forum process. Even if activists in Europe and the US immediately felt that the Argentinean rebellion was part of a global phenomenon, people in Argentina, initially, had almost no idea that similar movements were taking place elsewhere, and that other people were already discussing the same problems and having to face similar political challenges. I felt that I had the responsibility to communicate all those ideas to the people who were struggling with me in the streets. As horizontal organizing was one of the main principles of the rebellion, I felt I had to make all those ideas accessible for people with little education and sometimes no previous political experience. The "for Beginners" series was perfect for this purpose. Basically, the book includes a non-economist analysis of capitalism, an alternative account of the history of struggles for emancipation, a list of differences and similarities between new anti-capitalism and the traditional left, and a series of new proposals to change the world in concrete ways. It also analyses the emergence of new political forms and ideas, as seen in concrete cases of indigenous, peasant, worker, women, immigrant, and environmentalist movements from all over the world, from India to Latin America, and from Europe to South Africa. Complex ideas such as “bio-power”, “autonomy”, “counter-power”, “Empire” or “multitude” are explained in simple words.
MA: And how did you work with the visual part of the book?
EA: I only wrote the texts and designed most of the illustrations. But --luckily for readers-- I did not actually do the drawings! My editor in Buenos Aires had very good artists to take care of that part. But, after trying to work with two of them, I felt I wanted the illustrations to be done by someone who, like me, was also part of the movement. At that time, one of the neighbors' Assemblies had set up a Popular Serigraphy Workshop. Basically, it was a bunch of people with artistic training --including very well-known painters-- who would design stencils, banners, T shirts and street art for different political movements and demonstrations. I met them in the streets, and I loved what they did. Fortunately, Juan Carlos Kreimer, my editor, was very receptive with the idea of working with them, so we did. The result was amazing. The illustrations are very powerful.
MA: After some years of publication in Argentina, you must have a good sense of the reception of your book. Do you know how was it used and read?
EA: Yes, I have a pretty good idea for Argentina, but less so for other countries. The traditional Left --mostly the Trotskysts-- obviously did not like it, and it was seriously attacked for a while. The intellectual world mostly ignored it -- I imagine nobody there wanted to be seen reading a "for Beginners"! But the book found its way to the general readers anyway, which is what I wanted. It was used (and still is) in some of the piquetero movements for popular education. It was also used in High schools in different parts of the country (especially the section that explains how capitalism works). It contributed to spread new ideas and sparked debates, which is what I wanted. It was never intended as a "recipe" for political action, but rather as a toolbox. Some of the tools can be useful in some contexts, other less so, but the important thing is that they are available for all.
MA: Well, I am very much looking forward to seeing your book. I think we all need to begin again...with clarity and ease of expression, which I know well you are attuned to. So when the book reaches me here in the U.S., imminently I think, I am sure I will enjoy reading and learning from it. And I hope and expect others will too.
Read more about Anti-Capitalism at the Seven Stories Press website. Check out an excerpt from the book, complete with illustrations, on Scribd.