Edited by Iain Boal, Janferi Stone, Michael Watts, & Cal Winslow
PM Press, 2012, 302 pp.
Review by Seth Sandronsky
If you favor the Occupy Wall Street moment, you might also savor the personal and political flavors of communal living during the 1960s and 1970s. In West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California, 13 contributors enlighten us about these alternate living and working arrangements.
Of the editorial quartet who oversaw this book, seven years in the making, two are from the city and two from the country. Iain Boal of Berkeley situates West of
Historian Timothy Miller opens part one, placing the trend for communes in the Golden State a half-century ago as “part of the larger emerging Zeitgeist,” with a nod to the communalism of American Indians. Their relationship to the land stands in stark contrast to the regime of private property that marks a capitalist order based on alienated labor. Michael William Doyle evaluates the San Francisco-based Diggers. In the 1960s, they made food free for all via ingenious means and foreshadowed current groups, such as Food Not Bombs.
Jeff Lustig, dean of
Jesse Drew recalls his time as a teenage runaway in “networked” communes, a modern-day Underground Railroad that sheltered the marginalized—from draft resisters to military deserters. Communards flourished in “a
Felicity D. Scott addresses in part two what violent measures the state took against communes’ “open lands” in places such as
Simon Sadler connects the idealism and pragmatism of communes and the geodesic domes of Buckminster Fuller. Sadler argues that the result was a “design ethos,” which, mostly rejecting Fuller, attempted to recapture what American culture had destroyed, specifically a “respect for nature.”
Janferie Stone, an editor, with help from people in the Native American Program at UC Davis, recalls the occupation of
Robyn C. Spencer contributes an eye-opening chapter on the practice of communalism within the Black Panther Party. Spencer’s scholarship provides detailed analysis of the BPP’s community programs and living arrangements as covert police disruption took a grim toll on members, two-thirds of whom were female.
Stone and co-editors Cal Winslow, in the book’s third part, “the country,” reflect on the ebbs and flows of communal living in Mendocino’s Albion Ridge. According to Winslow, the communards based there “shared no grand vision, no religion, no structures; they were not the followers of a particular leader, there were no gurus.” Reading him, you appreciate the promises and perils of these utopian living arrangements, as his interviews with participants make clear.
Stone gives form and shape to the dynamics of sexual politics in the communal movements of the 1960s. Two examples she examines centered on childbearing and rearing. Ray Raphael, in the final section “legacies” unpacks the contradictions of marijuana production and back-to-the- land communards in
Lee Worden hits the nail on the head in his critical essay about the rise of a commercialized techno-counterculture and communal living that entrepreneurs such as Stewart Brand personified. This is a cautionary tale of individuals commoditizing social movements for the purpose of accumulating wealth.
Berkeley-based editor Michael Watts ties together many threads of “radical individualism” and social activism culminating in the global upsurges of 1968. What propelled such utopian experiments stateside, of course, was rebellion against an “American Dream” of consumerism, militarism, racism, and the right-wing reaction.
You can read in West of Eden about communal living experiments as generational spirits of today’s OWS movement for justice. I did.
Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution
By David Harvey
Verso Press, 2012, 206 pp.
Review by Seth Sandronsky
Stateside, a century later, urban designers propelled by the imperatives of accumulation and urbanization, ringed city cores with freeways. That protected moneyed interests and facilitated so- called urban renewal (black removal) during a post-WW II era of white suburban sprawl. A trickle and then a flood of capital flight ensued, devastating industrial cities.
As urban areas began to lose blue-collar jobs, scores of uprisings unfolded against Jim Crow customs, laws, and policies. Despite urban planners’ goals of containing democracy, rebellion flowered. But mass incarceration fueled by the War on Drugs proved more effective at containing such dissent.
A dramatic point in
Harvey, an academic geographer by profession, in Rebel Cities fleshes out the how and why of urbanization as a central arena for accumulation. Thus his conceptual approach situates cities as sites for periodic economic crises. We’re living through a particularly harsh example of one now.
At the root of this pattern of disruption is what
This crisis tendency,
Women play a big part in this evolving composition of the working class.
Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento,