A Space for Reflection: Review of Upping the Anti

Review by Chris Dixon, May 2007

As we struggle to build broad-based movements, articulate relevant radical politics, and develop alternative visions, spaces for sustained collective reflection are precious and rare. When it comes to radical publications, this is even more the case, especially with the recent demise of LiP and Clamor. In these circumstances, activist journal Upping the Anti (UTA) is unique and vital, a welcome complement to Left Turn.

Launched in 2005, UTA is edited by a collective of Toronto-based activists with help from an advisory board and a growing network of contributors and supporters. Many came out of the upsurge of global justice activity in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and are associated with the Canadian Autonomy & Solidarity network.

Politically, UTA is committed to developing and deepening what the editors call the “three anti’s” – anti-capitalism, anti-oppression, and anti-imperialism – which they see as key political tendencies. As they explain in their first editorial, “movements based on these ‘anti’ politics have grown out of a real process and practice of social contestation and mobilization, and they point towards ideas and activist practices which will have a significant role in shaping the form and content of new revolutionary movements born out of future cycles of struggle against exploitation and oppression.” UTA thus aims to provide a venue for serious discussion of “unresolved questions and dynamics within these struggles in order to better learn from our collective successes and failures.”

Each issue begins with an editorial addressing key questions facing activists. Always provocative, these are generative starting points for discussion. The editorial in issue 3, which is already inspiring debate, raises difficult questions for radicals in relation to the anti-war movement. The editors suggest that activists coming out of the global justice movement have been oriented to confrontational direct action politics while the leading anti-war organizations, many of them socialist, have been oriented toward building broad “united front” coalitions. In describing this disconnect, the editorial argues that radical activists should engage, rather than avoid, the big anti-war coalitions, pushing for direct action, direct democracy, and explicit anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist politics. While I understand the thrust of this argument, I don’t see that it directly addresses the central question: how to end war and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq. Still, I appreciate that this editorial, like previous ones, raises pressing issues.

Part of what is refreshing about UTA is its nonsectarian approach, embracing and even encouraging principled debate. Every issue includes contributions with areas of obvious disagreement. Issue 3 features a fascinating interview with left scholar William Robinson about rising social movements in Latin America in which he sharply criticizes the Zapatista-initiated “Other Campaign” for refusing to engage the Mexican electoral arena. In the same issue, activist journalist RJ Maccani articulately describes and defends the autonomous politics of the “Other Campaign,” drawing out some very useful lessons for US-based activists. As well, regular interviews with older radicals like Aijaz Ahmad, Grace Lee Boggs, and others offer rich opportunities for intergenerational dialogue grounded in a variety of left political experiences. This sort of space for open debate is essential as we try to develop politics, analysis, and organizing adequate to our times, and meaningful exchange in and among movements.

UTA is also refreshing because, while rooted in movements in Canada, its contents consistently speak to issues and questions facing radicals across North America. The best example of this is the roundtables in every issue which bring together organizers working around similar issues in different places to reflect on their work. Topics have included migrant justice organizing, anti-war activism, anti-oppression politics in anti-capitalist movements, and Palestine solidarity activism. Issue 3 devotes an impressive roundtable section to the recent land reclamation struggle of the Six Nations people of the Grand River Territory and accompanying non-native solidarity work. This is just one among several militant First Nations struggles in Canada, all of which have a great deal to teach US-based activists. Additionally, this issue features an important article by Jen Plyler, in conversation with longtime organizers, discussing strategies for sustainable political work.

UTA has its tensions too. One is the inevitable tightrope the journal walks between, on one hand, engagement with day-to-day struggles and, on the other, more abstract analysis which has the danger of veering into unnecessarily obscure academicism. Another is that UTA, in emerging from and speaking to the anti-capitalist wing of the North American global justice movement, runs the risk of addressing too narrow an audience – younger, predominantly white, socially middle-class – when it could and should appeal more broadly.

I have high hopes that UTA can successfully navigate these tensions and develop even more fully as a much-needed space for activist reflection. It has already made important contributions.

For more about Upping the Anti, see the journal’s website. All issues are available through AK Press.

This review was published in the July/August 2007 issue of Left Turn Magazine.