Fri Nov 22, 7 pm, free
Joel Schalit is a model punk. Outspoken and revolutionary yet levelheaded, he has channeled his wild intellectual energy toward the pursuit of organized rebellion. A graduate of Reed College, he lives in San Francisco and helps edit Punk Planet, a marvelous periodical loaded with articles on underground music and politics. He also published a book in 2002: Jerusalem Calling: a Homeless Conscience in a Post-Everything World, an amazingly readable collection of essays focusing on his politics, ideology, and heritage as a Marxist, a secular Jew, and a Zionist. In his newest project, The Anti-Capitalism Reader: Imagining a Geography of Opposition, he plays editor again. It's an anthology of essays and interviews by anti-capitalist writers from around the world, and is a must-read for any up-and-coming revolutionary who hates market economy, but isn't sure why.
First things first. At the beginning of Jerusalem Calling, you claim that in Portland in the `80s, "WASP provincialism and prejudice of Middle America ruled with an iron hand." Is that still true?
I think it's changed a lot, but it still has a very WASP vibe to it. In 1983, it was not the most multicultural place, and for somebody coming from my kind of Mediterranean family background, having grown up in Europe and New York and Israel, it was a real shock.
How did you wind up here?
I was enrolled in a boarding school in Portland in order to complete my high school education because I was not doing very well at the high school I had started out at in Brooklyn. My father was proposing that the only way out for me was to go straight into the Israeli Army, and my sister put the brakes on that immediately and rerouted me to OES. The educational kick in the ass it gave me was extraordinary.
So, how is it, being a Marxist and all?
I am a Marxist and yet I've never been an affiliated Marxist. I've never belonged to a particular revolutionary organization, and I never plan to be.
There's no party I'd like to join right now. [The U.S. has] never had any political parties in my lifetime which I thought were capable of properly representing the interests of the Left. I once registered as a democrat when I was 21 or 22, but I've never done so since! What do all nice Jewish leftist kids do? They register with the democratic party as soon as they're eligible to vote. Democrats have proven themselves to be completely incapable of articulating the interests of any kind of working people at all.
Um... so what exactly does it mean to be a Marxist?
My biggest concern as a Marxist is democracy; the fact that in market economies it's very difficult to reconcile democratic political processes with market processes. It means having a critique of market economies, it means having an understanding of how market economies create cultures of alienation, which prohibits people from perceiving what their own self-interests are, and how those self-interests match the greater self-interests of society as a whole.
Hence the Anti-Capitalism Reader...
What distinguishes this volume [from other anti-market books] is a more philosophical yet accessible account of what anti-capitalism has been historically and how it's being expressed now. I have, for example, an essay by one of America's leading Palestinian activists, Ali Abunima, providing a political economy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I also introduce in the book a number of key intellectuals who've played a very important and yet unrecognized role in debates on globalization and the state of contemporary capitalism.
What is the ultimate goal with all this writing you do?
I've always believed that speaking of politics from the perspective of your own personal experiences is a way of teaching whoever chooses to identify with you. While I don't think there's anything particularly unique about my life, I do believe that there's stuff within what I write about that has political implications far greater than me. JUSTIN SANDERS