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Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1771130301
ISBN-10: 177113030X
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Editorial Reviews

Review


PRAISE FOR Catastrophism

'This book is a superb antidote to the unproductive politics of fear.'
Christian Parenti, author of Tropic of Chaos

'[The book is a warning not to abandon everyday anti-capitalist politics for a politics of absolute fear that inevitably leads to inaction.'
Silvia Federici, author of Revolution at Point Zero

'If we and our fellow species are to leave the dark shadow of John the Divine and Parson Malthus, this superb, clear-eyed collaboration opens the way.'
Iain Boal, co-editor of West of Eden and Afflicted Powers

"This is the book that reveal[s the dead-end that a politics founded on catastrophic predictions must lead to in terms of either preventing them or actually changing the world."
Leo Panitch, co-author of The Making of Global Capitalism

'I cannot overstate how critically important this volume is. Anyone who wishes, as I do, for a new kind of (occupied) politics will have to face this formidable array of theoretically-inspired reflections on the politics of apocalypse.'
Andrej Grubacic, co-author of Wobblies and Zapatistas

"A must read for anyone engaged in political organizing for truly long-term sustainable goals and futures."
scott crow, co-founder of Common Ground Collective

"Definitive and momentous, this book should be mandatory reading for everyone who wishes to comprehend the world we live in and change it for the better."
George Katsiaficas, author of Asia's Unknown Uprisings

'This groundbreaking book examines a deep current...the authors explore the origins, uses, and consequences of the idea that collapse might usher in a better world."
Barbara Epstein, author of In Political Protest and Culture

About the Author

Sasha Lilley hosts Against the Grain and is the author of Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult.

David McNally is a professor of political science at York University and author of Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance.

Eddie Yuen teaches urban studies at the San Francisco Art Institute and is co-editor of Confronting Capitalism: Dispatches from a Global Movement.

James Davis is an Irish documentary filmmaker in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: n/a (October 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 177113030X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1771130301
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,699,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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