Activists Must Be Amphibians: A Review of Derek Wall’s Babylon and Beyond

It’s cool when you first hear about a book when you get an email from the author who emails you out of nowhere to tell you about the book. It’s much cooler that the book in question kicks ass. The book in question is "Babylon and Beyond: The Economics of Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Globalist and Radical Green Movements". The author is Derek Wall, who emailed me about the book (no kidding!), and if you haven’t seen this book, do yourself a favor and get it. I finally got a chance to pick this book up last weekend at the Allied Media Conference, and I’m very glad I did. I like to think of this book as a nice-and-helpful tour guide through potentially intimidating territory, even for people who are familiar with it and sympathetic with some of its participants — anticapitalist economics. The book traverses a lot of ground, including capitalist reformers like George Soros and Joseph Stiglitz, anticorporate advocates like Naomi Klein and David Korten, the various green and bioregionalist movements, the neopolitan flavors of marxisms, the autonomism espoused (densely so) by Hardt and Negri, and much more. Most importantly, the book is short, useful, and clear. Wall is also unafraid to constructively critique movements and positions even when he might smile at work dedicated to trying to improve some corner of the world. I believe that Wall is also decidedly correct in calling for an anti-market approach in such movements and positions, since markets spawn so many plagues. Parecon also gets a mention, but I wish it would have been elaborated on more, since it can address many of the concerns voiced in the book. I suppose one reason why it didn’t more of a mention is that, while the theory has been tossed around for a number of years now, there hasn’t been as much parecon-related activism, by way of comparison, as that of other radical political movements. So far. Wall also discusses one great idea: Activists as Amphibians. He says: "Strategy, whether in Kentucky or Ulan Bator, must be amphibious, half in the dirty water of the present but seeking to move on to a new, unexplored territory. Anti-capitalist alternatives should be assessed in terms of their ability to address present concerns." This is spot on, and it echoes the work in Robin Hahnel’s also-excellent book Economic Justice and Democracy, in which he advocates a similar "amphibious" approach for social justice activists, even though he doesn’t term it as such. Great minds think alike.

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