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Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth (Spectre) Paperback – October 5, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The thread connecting these articles is a desire to strip the rhetoric of catastrophism from all sides so that society can confront and solve real threats, and while the prose veers from jargon to straight talk and back again, each author offers valuable contributions to the discourse." —Publishers Weekly


"Catastrophism is an important contribution to ongoing conversations about strategy and organizing on the left." —Scott Neigh, A Canadian Lefty in Occupied Land


"At its heart, Catastrophism states that fear-based politics are a dead end. Hopefully, this can be the spark for new discussions, more rational debate, and a collective change in direction for government." —www.CityBookReview.com


"According to the authors, catastrophism hinders, rather than hastens, political action on climate change or the development of a new economic system." —Brooklyn Rail


"Catastrophism launches a vital conversation for our crisis-laden era. In a time of real dangers and unreal cures, this is a book to read and savor with family and friends." —www.populist.com


"Posited as an intervention of sorts, Catastrophism is seemingly aimed to create debate on the Left." —www.LeftEyeOnBooks.com


"The author’s call for an environmental and left-wing politics animated by a faith in people’s ability to change the world is all the more timely." —Nicholas Beuret, Red Pepper

About the Author

Sasha Lilley is a writer and radio broadcaster and the author of Capital and Its Discontents. She lives in Oakland, California. David McNally is a professor of political science at York University in Toronto. He is the author of Another World and Global Slump. He lives in Toronto. Eddie Yuen teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute and is the author of Confronting Capitalism. He lives in San Francisco. James Davis is a documentary filmmaker. He lives in San Francisco. Doug Henwood is a publisher and editor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Product Details

  • Series: Spectre
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: PM Press (October 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781604865899
  • ISBN-13: 978-1604865899
  • ASIN: 160486589X
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 4.9 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #255,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ashtar Command on March 1, 2014
Format: Paperback
"Catastrophism" is a somewhat frustrating book, written from a kind of anarcho-Marxist perspective. It contains both hits and misses, although I would consider the misses to be more prominent in the final analysis.

First, some of the hits. The authors, despite their revolutionary inclinations, are critical of leftist "catastrophism", by which they mean a kind of secular apocalypticism. The idea that capitalism will collapse all by itself, in near-deterministic fashion, is one species of catastrophism. Another is the seemingly opposite notion that a small and dedicated group of revolutionary fighters can take down the system by sheer will power (and, presumably, a lot of bombs) at any given time. The authors point out, correctly, that this kind of voluntarism is really the flip side of determinism, since both perspectives are based on the idea that radicals don't have to bother convincing the broad majority of the people. Both perspectives are therefore grounded in anti-political despair. (At least one author reviewed by me elsewhere fits this description almost to a tee: Derrick Jensen. And yes, he's mentioned in the book, although mostly in passing.)

The authors further criticize the idea that crises, poverty or oppression automatically make people more radical and leftist. In reality, the number of strikes in the United States have historically increased during economic booms, and plummeted during economic downturns. The only exception to the rule are the 1930's, and even then, the resistance didn't come until almost five years into the depression, and was fuelled by hope for reform rather than desperation (in other words, FDR's New Deal, although the authors doesn't mention it explicitly). Something similar can be seen in Europe.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kay on January 7, 2013
Format: Paperback
Clearly written and argued, this short book packs an intellectual and political punch. It provides a new lense on how to think about social change. The book critiques catastrophism - the thinking that society is headed for an economic, ecological, social or spiritual collapse and that such a catastrophe will automatically lead to mass political activism, to revolutionary change or to a better society arising out of the ashes of the old. The four authors further debunk the idea that presenting knowledge about real catastrophes, e.g., global warming or the holocaust, will automatically lead people to political action. Rather, the authors argue for the resurrection of utopian thinking and for the prosaic acts of organizing and resistance.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Malvin VINE VOICE on February 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Catastrophism" is a collection of thoughtful essays on the politics of crisis. The contributors are Left-leaning activists, intellectuals and educators. This timely book explains why catastrophism tends to work against progress and suggests how the Left can improve its message.

Doug Henwood reminds us in the Foreword that historically, the working class has made most of its gains during times of economic growth, not contraction; and should therefore talk about utopia, not dystopia. In the Introduction, Sasha Lilley reiterates that catastrophe does not open opportunities for progressive social reengineering but is in fact often used by reactionary forces to roll back social gains and consolidate elite power.

There are four essays featured in the book. "The Politics of Failure Have Failed" by Eddie Yuen criticizes the doom-ridden rhetorical strategies of the environmental movement. Mr. Yuen asserts that the environmental crisis is properly understood as a crisis of capitalism but the unfocused message of impending environmental catastrophe has only bred apathy and inaction. Mr. Yuen believes that environmentalists who focus their struggles on the material abundance for the many will result in a movement that can resist the eco-Fascist politics of the few.

"Catastrophism and the Left" by Sasha Lilley laments how the Left has often misread Marx and missed the crucial point of class struggle and collective action. The idea that revolution could be instigated through mayhem backfired against the rise of Fascism in the 1930s and neoliberalism in the 1970s. Ms. Lilley's analysis suggests that Leftists do best when they inspire the masses through a message of hope, not despair.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gregory A. Butler on March 11, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As an activist, I've always been uncomfortable with the apocalyptic rhetoric used by my brothers and sisters in the anti global warming movement. This book crystalized my concerns, explained why that type of "scared straight" argument is actually counterproductive, and also explained WHY some in the movement argue this way. A very thought provoking book - definitely worth a read for anybody interested in social change
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