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Tracksuits, Trauma, and Class Traitors | Review

An essay collection united around an examination of class, justice, and social perception, D. Hunter’s Tracksuits, Trauma, and Class Traitorsa powerful set of arguments delivered in a tone that switches from the personal to the academic with ease. Blending scholarship with experience, Hunter adopts the methodological framework of the auto/ethnography, and attempts to situate his often harrowing life experience within a framework that embraces class politics, restorative justice, and social understanding over the course of ten essays of varying length. As the author tells us in the introduction to the collection, ‘’one of the aims of this book was to emphasise not only the humanity, but also the insight, intellect, and determination of those living in poverty.’’

Following the author’s previous book Chav Solidarity, the thematic through-line is obvious, and Tracksuits follows through on many of the themes that were established previously. Despite this, there is no need to have read the prior work to understand the new one; this is perhaps one of the largest strengths of Tracksuits, as Hunter’s writing is clear and accessible even when dealing with some of the more academic subjects. Marrying the unornamented and raw background of their life experiences with the theoretical allows a window of insight that should make even those without much background in theory to dive in without any issue. This conversational and almost casual tone combined with the brevity of many of the essays makes it excellent introductory reading, and would be easy to pick up and dive into for anybody at any level of academic experience.

Hunter’s essay collection begins with a content warning, and although this review will not touch on everything mentioned by the author, it is my responsibility to warn any prospective readers to take the content warning serious; discussions of mental health issues, violence, drug usage, and sexual abuse are frequent throughout the book and there are visceral moments in the reading which may be difficult.

A question that is commonly asked is the role of theory and analysis on the left: for many, it is an interesting curiosity, but there is a lot of discussion of how central it should be. There are some who suggest that it is, in fact, obnoxious to insist on analysis; further, there are those who claim that theory is a barrier to the ‘real working class’, getting in the way of Real Politics. While there is some truth to that – others have written before on the class barriers built into education, as well as the difficulty of certain authors – there are also many (of whom I am a representative, in a small way) who believe that theory is often powerful and liberatory, and that there is an inbuilt classism and derision in insisting that people who are working class or from traumatic backgrounds are unable to grasp ‘advanced’ concepts.

Hunter provides a powerful example of the way theory should be used, or at least one vision for how it could be. Utilising the framework of personal experience, lived encounters with the harsh realities of life under the myriad oppressive structures of modern capitalist society, Hunter leans over the boundary between the ‘real’ class conflict and the analysis. Here, theory is a way to consider experience, to step back and think about it, rather than to dissociate from it, and Hunter’s writing moves from the merely demonstrative to the functional when it funnels trauma into, for example, ideas of restorative justice.

In the first major essay of the collection, ‘Naming Football Teams’, the question ultimately arises of how one is supposed to deal with having been wronged. Without going into the specifics, there is essentially a scenario in which somebody has harmed another in a way that seems to, under the current shape of society, scream out for punishment; for vengeance, even. There is a punitive urge that underlies out current cultural logic, but Hunter calls instead for ‘a form of justice that does not require cages, keys, police, courts, and a violent class system’, but rather a process designed to ‘deconstruct abusive interpersonal relationships, and generate responses to them which do not merely reproduce the same dynamics’. Essentially, it is a call for a justice based on empathy, but Hunter is not simply engaging in wishful thinking here: referencing various cultures which have engaged (and continue to engage) in justice that differs greatly from the carceral, as well as philosophers and activist groups, the outlines that reconciliatory justice may take are eminently practical, and yet are informed by the theory.

Another great strength of Hunter’s writing must be highlighted here; it is all too easy for somebody who is distanced from, say, Indigenous American culture to simply point to the Other from the comfort of whiteness and decide to pick and choose which elements of this culture are fit to adopt. Avoiding this trap, however, Hunter tries to clarify that they are ‘’careful not to stake a claim to ownership of these ideas’’. Vital to avoid a kind of mythologising of the Other, Hunter acknowledges these other justice systems as ideas from which to draw inspiration, to prompt the thought that there are other ways to do things, rather than simply claiming that any one none-white, none-European tradition is the true path to peace.

Careful consideration of race at the intersection of class returns more prominently in another later essay, ‘You’re Just a White Boy’. While the title of this essay from other authors could be worrying – we’re not going to get another self-serving narrative about the problems of being dismissed as white in progressive spaces, are we? – Hunter quickly does away with that, opening with a quote from Jackie Wang’s incisive book Carceral Capitalism, which describes whiteness as ‘’a category [that] is, in part, maintained by ritualized violence against black people’’, and the discussion does not get any more conciliatory from there. Hunter details his relationship with MD, someone who they have known for a long period of time and who is currently in prison, and whose blackness contrasts heavily with Hunter’s whiteness despite their shared experiences and background, and who is not afraid to confront Hunter with this; ‘’ He tells me he doesn’t know how much of my willingness to make the worst possible decision in every situation was generated by the assumption that being white I would get away with stuff. […] I reply by telling him that as a white person some of those repercussions don’t apply. He nods, but looks far off over my shoulder and says, “I reckon you don’t think they should, either”.’’

Hunter’s willingness to be challenged in these circumstances and to discuss the nature of that challenge is admirable, though it must be noted that admiration is clearly not the intention here. Moving from this personal connection and contemplation in a way that has become trademark of the author by this point in the book, Hunter crashes from anecdote to theory: ‘’ whiteness becomes a stigma that can nevertheless be inhabited as long as it is reflexively acknowledged as stigma.”, as the quote is given. Reminiscent of Slavoj Žižek’s conception of the ‘’liberal communist’’, who simultaneously disavows capitalism and inhabits it fully, allowing the disavowal to absolve him of his behaviour, Hunter outlines a perspective on race wherein as long as whiteness is performatively acknowledged and apologised for, it can be effectively surpassed. This perspective is rejected in part, in favour of a critique of whiteness that becomes more granular and sees the varieties of whiteness spread through the intersection of class and gender and sexuality and which acts in concrete ways to change everyday life. Yet we are reminded as the essay closes that this kind of examination, while important, is also one that is in part facilitated by the privilege whiteness grants: ‘’black people don’t make these cages, we just live in them. We just die in them. White people make them.’’, MD reminds us.

‘You’re Just a White Boy’ may be one of the most contentious pieces in the collection, if only for the difficulty in discussing such a monumental issue from a perspective that is necessarily cut off from that reality. Hunter takes great pains to be careful with the subject of race, acknowledging and expressing understanding of his own racial background and the differences in material conditions and experiences that people from other racial backgrounds have had to live with, but it is a difficult balance to strike. For some, it may not be entirely successful, but it does seem to be honest and frank, which mitigates some of the worst tendencies that this kind of writing can often inhabit: if it is not successful, it is at least not in bad faith, which is far from the worst misstep one could make when writing something of this kind.

While it would be very easy for me to continue in this fashion, recounting and detailing particular essays, that would be missing the point; the examples and discussions above serve to demonstrate some of the particulars to a reader and to examine that style of the analysis Tracksuits contains, but it would be inappropriate for me to continue removing pieces from context and breaking them down; instead, it is important to discuss the conclusions. After detailing and discussing various aspects of their own life and the lives of others, Hunter concludes with the following lines that echo Michel Foucault’s call in his introduction to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, which instructed us to kill the fascist inside our heads;

‘’We need to abolish the White supremacist in us, the ableist, the patriarch, the transphobe, the parts of ourselves that still think, feel, act and organise as if some humans are worth more than others, that some bodies matter more. This is collective work, this is done in vulnerability with one another, and with an openness to making mistakes, speaking the worst of ourselves and trusting in “our” class that we can find new answers to old questions.’’

This is the fundamental takeaway from Tracksuits, Trauma, and Class Traitors; the idea that the it is only through collective and communal work that recognises that the flaws in most people are not the result of their personal unpleasantness (although that can be a factor) but are in fact expressions of their lives, their circumstances, and the culture in which they have lived and survived. We have patriarchy inside us because it is impossible to escape the world, and the world is patriarchal; this is the same for white supremacy or ableism, or homophobia and transphobia, which are so commonplace as to be banal if not for their insidiousness. The way through this is not to personally disavow these things, as if stubborn refusal could change the world, but to work together, to communicate, to provide material aid wherever possible, and to challenge the world on our own terms and with the staunch acknowledgement that everyday life can and must be different.

While it is certainly possible to quibble with elements of Tracksuits – some people will certainly find the more graphic passages uncomfortable or even impossible to read, depending on their own experiences, and it is true that the tonal shifts can be abrupt and somewhat rough here and there – the final result of the collection is one that expresses solidarity and makes a demand for a new world that is made together. Ultimately, while Tracksuits fails to be a silver bullet for the world of social ills, and definitely will not be for everyone’s tastes, it does present a detailed portrait of a life lived in extreme difficulty but with a sense of awareness and sensitivity that is often left out of these kinds of narratives. Weaving back and forth through critical writing and biography, it is an experience that isn’t easily forgotten and which points arrows at many of the right places.

Jay Fraser

Jay is an anarchist, poet, amateur philosopher, and basketball fan. He can be found on Twitter, or anywhere that has good coffee.

Tracksuits, Trauma, and Class Traitors by D. Hunter
is available for pre-order from The Class Work Project and will be be released on the August 4th. You can follow D. Hunter on Twitter at @dhuntertheclaretchav

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Review : Whither Anarchism?

Kristian Williams is not mincing words or beating around the proverbial bush in his pamphlet “Whither Anarchism?” Frankly, good for him and it is good for all of us who call or think of themselves as anarchists. It is not mystery to anyone who has spent any time in anarchist circles, physical or digital, that there are issues that hold up progress. Issues that drive infighting and disorganization. By shining a light on what he thinks these problems are and what may be done about it, Kristian does Anarchists a much needed service.

Whither Anarchism begins with an introduction stating Kristian’s reasons for the inclusion of the three essays that make up the pamphlet and he does not take much time to let us know that the anarchist movement in his opinion is not in a great place. Hell, he goes so far as to ponder if the word “movement” is even the correct word for what anarchism currently is. He follows this introduction with what his own, personal believes are and defines what anarchism means to him. There is a lot in this first essay that most anarchists would agree with but it is nice to give readers a foundation for the essay that follows and to understand where the author is coming from.

The second essay which takes up the bulk of this pamphlet is where Kristian lays out what anarchism currently is and the evolution of how it became so. He raises some points and gives the historical reasons for aspects of anarchism that weren’t always considered “Anarchist” and discusses just how the have become so ingrained. Things that some Anarchist tendencies take for granted as always being a part of the philosophy, such as pacifism, are shown here to be outgrowths of world events and the evolution of an idea in an active and changing world. Kristian argues that we should pay more attention to the fact that ideas have changed and not retroactively assign ideas as golden rules that have always been, riding the line between stagnation and evolution. We need to understand foundational ideas in anarchism but we cannot hold on tightly to ideas and practices written in a time and place alien to our own. Towards the end of the this essay, Kristian writes “Our prefigurative practices should be guided by a strategic need to avoid establishing new tyrannies, not by a moral demand that we fully realize some pristine utopia. In fact, among the tyrannies we should avoid creating are those based in perfectionism and moral purity.” which is a statement so powerful and simple we should hope it becomes a rallying point to begin the work suggested in this pamphlet.

In his conclusion, Kristian addresses the fact that his two main themes in the essay Whither Anarchism? are in conflict. He states “ …while I find the ideas of anarchism compelling, I recognize that my argument for them is lacking in some fundamental respects.” This idea was floating in the back of my mind the further into his essay I read and I’m glad he acknowledges it. If left to understand out where he stands after reading the essay, one might feel that Kristian is arguing against trying to save Anarchism from itself. In reality what Kristian is trying to get across is that yes, anarchism has some serious and deep issues but that in the end, it is worth taking a look at these issues and moving anarchism forward. For the philosophy of anarchism to remain in its current state is to watch it wither and to die and without a philosophy, there is no anarchist movement. Kristian believes, as I think most anarchist would, that anarchism as both a philosophy and a movement, is worth saving. ■

Whither Anarchism? By Kristian Williams, Published by To the Point/AK Press 2018

Kevin A. lives in New York and enjoys coffee. Sometimes too much.

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On Anarchism: Dispatches from the People’s Republic of Vermont

Reading this collection of essays, it’s clear David Van Deusen has lived an interesting life. To start, Van Deusen takes us on an exciting history of his involvement in The Green Mountain Anarchist Collective. He writes about efforts against racist group The Minutemen, daily struggles of organization and introduces the question of violence and non-violence used as a tactic and strategy, a topic he goes in to in more detail later in the book. Reading the first chapter on the history of Van Deusen and the collective he was part of does intrigue the reader to get stuck in to the book. It intrigues as you build a mental image of the man in your head and after the opening stories, you want to know what else he has been part of. Although the title may suggest more enjoyment for people familiar with the northeast of the USA, the book still has lots to offer those who are not. The second set of essays focuses on Theory, including two great reads The Rise of Capitalism and Authoritarian Communism as An Incomplete Resistance. These two essays are written with pace and vigor sometimes lacking in other parts of the book. Some of the essays are so crammed with theories and ideas, I needed a rest between them to let it sink in. A nice touch here: Van Deusen intersperses the theories with song lyrics from the Who, the Clash, Public Enemy and many others; this helps the reader to digest the previous essay and get ready for the next.

Van Deusen describes some comprehensive tactics he has used in demonstrations; this chapter is extreme and makes you wish there were more Anarchists organizing themselves as he suggests. Although this section was first published in 2000, it’s still relevant and hopefully some folk will take note. He even compares the tactics of the US Army to what can be used on the streets. For your information, if there are over 1000 of you hitting the streets, keep a reserve of about 300. This chapter has over 20 essays and ends with an account of a huge organized demonstration being postponed when the World Trade Center was attacked in September 2001.

The forth chapter has essays under the heading Organization. There are more stories from Van Deusen’s experiences; by this point you realize the guy has done a fair bit. He explores workers’ councils and unions and looks at the difference between talking about them being valuable and the reality of starting one. Reading about bosses intimidating workers and capitalism generally making lives unhappy rings all too true of struggles around the world today.

These ideas roll over to the following chapter, ‘Workers’. Van Deusen writes about starting a union and strategies to help workers. This is met with backlash from bosses who try to intimidate their workers who join. They use different tactics to respond, claiming some victories. It takes place in a small New England City, but the stories feel like a microcosm of larger systems. Tactics like filling diners with people only drinking coffee during peak dinner time do get a message across. It doesn’t feel like this is being mirrored around the world and, on the grander scale, if only a few people boycott companies like Nestle, Amazon etc., the bosses will continue to exploit. But without a few people like Van Deusen getting things going, of course it would be even worse.

The final chapters of this book talk about the 2007 secession from Vermont and a story about a road trip to New Orleans. Van Deusen visits to assist/witness the aftermath of Katrina’s destruction in 2005. A nice end to the book, a good one to read if you need to refresh the idea that ACAB.

Anarchists need to communicate and organize themselves, this book is a healthy read to assist in communication across countries. What has happened and been tried in Vermont can help someone in China. Anarchists will certainly find interest in some of these essays and groups can learn from what has worked and what hasn’t for Van Deusen. There are many points which can lead to interesting discussion in established groups, organizers of radical events and new budding Anarchists. If completely new to Anarchism, this book may not be an ideal starting point; in parts it is quite heavy. To someone well read on the topic, there are certainly many essays that can coax progressive ways of thinking about Anarchy.

Although Van Deusen is yet to have influenced as many as Bernie Sanders in Vermont; let’s hope this book encourages a few more in to direct action. Now the planet is on the verge of collapse, politicians have lost their people’s faith more than ever before and the Alt-right are gaining a voice, maybe it’s time to learn from Van Deusen more than ever.

Hopefully this quote from Jeff Jones, writer of the foreword, will give you an idea about the author and how the book is written:

David [Van Deusen] identifies as a revolutionary: that is, he believes in and works for a complete transformation of our society as presently constituted. What’s more, he believes this transformation is possible.”

Let’s do it!■

Nik Ray occasionally reviews books for magazines. He lives in South East Asia with his partner and kids, working when he has to. He reads too.

On Anarchism: Dispatches from the People’s Republic of Vermont by David Van Deusen / Algora Publishing, 2017

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Pereira Maintains

Pereira maintains he is non-political. He edits the culture page of the Lisboa – an evening paper, and therefore not in the same league as other newspapers of Lisbon, but he was sure it would sooner or later make its mark, even if the culture staff consisted solely of himself, one man sweating with heat and discomfort in a squalid cubby-hole under the eye of a caretaker who was probably a police informant. It was the twenty-fifth of July Nineteen Hundred and Thirty-Eight and Lisbon was glittering, literally glittering in the purity of an Atlantic breeze, and the city seemed entirely in the hands of the police that evening. The day before, in Alentejo, they had killed a carter who supplied the markets, because he was a Socialist. This explained why the Guarda Nacional were stationed outside the market gates. But the Lisboa hadn’t had the courage to print the news, and who could be expected to have the courage to print news of that sort, that a Socialist carter had been shot down on his wagon in Alentejo, and had drenched all his melons with blood? ‘World’s Most Luxurious Yacht Sailed Today from New York’ the Lisboa’s headline read that day.

There are countless novels written about fascist Italy, Germany and Spain. Patrick Creagh’s translation of Pereira Maintains is the only one I know of in English about the Portuguese ‘Estado Novo’, arguably the world’s longest ruling fascist regime. I say arguably because it is difficult to say when fascism started in Portugal. There was no violent coup like in Germany, no march on the capital like in Italy, no civil war like in Spain – just the gradual consolidation of power by Salazar and his circle, and the slow creep of authoritarianism working its way into every corner of Portuguese life. Like being lay in a bath with the water temperature slowly rising, it’s difficult to say at what point you’re being boiled alive. Such was life in Portugal. By the time of the Carnation Revolution in 1974, after forty plus years of dictatorship under the banner ‘Faith, Fatherland and Family’, Portugal had the highest rate of infant mortality in Europe.

Tabucchi’s novel is set as the heat rises on its hero, Pereira. The heat rises, the walls close in, the grip on his collar tightens, and the question is: how heroic is he? How heroic can anyone be expected to be under the tyranny of a police state? I’m only the obscure editor of a second rate evening paper, said Pereira, and every day the proofs are examined by the state censors. It isn’t easy in a country like this for a person like me. But a wild idea had struck him, he maintains. There is no time to lose.

Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi, Feltrinelli, 1994. ISBN-13: 88-07-01461-0

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Orwell

Orwell is a PC game that sees you take on the role of an investigator tasked with implementing the nation’s ‘safety bill’, by tracking down dangerous extremists. The first part ‘keeping an eye on you’ was released in 2016, with the second ‘Ignorance is Strength’ being released this year.

The game is designed to feel as little like a game as possible, allowing you feel fully immersed as you dig through evidence looking for those responsible for a terrorist bombing. You’ll receive instructions from your handler, scroll through social media, look up newspaper stories, and listen to tapped phone conversations. All allowing you to begin to piece together what happened in a detective like fashion. You’ll soon be starting to to highlight people of interest for surveillance or even arrest, and begin uncovering information about not just your suspects but The Nation itself.

Orwell’s interface cleverly allows you to highlight information taken out of context. You can deliberately use this as a short cut to highlight a suspect, or accidentally end up chasing the wrong person. Either way it shows you the limits of the phrase ‘if you aren’t guilty you have nothing to fear’. As you delve further into the game you’re realise that there is never a single ‘smoking gun’ left by a suspect. That doesn’t mean however, that you can’t piece together a lot about them. By cross referencing hacked emails with public forum posts and media quotes, you can soon build up an eerily complete picture of someone’s life, and reveal the complex plot threads woven by the writers. It might make you think more about the way you use internet more so than any real world article about online privacy.

The name itself, and the other scattered references to 1984, make the views of the game developers, Osmotic Studios, pretty clear. During development they read both fiction and real world accounts of surveillance, trying not just to alert people to it’s existence – but actually make them care about it. However, whilst you are playing, the game doesn’t preach at you like you might expect. Instead, as you play your role, you will uncover uncomfortable truths about the way surveillance works in a way that feels natural. Plenty of decisions will occupy a morally grey zone, forcing you make difficult decisions that will have far reaching consequences. It may even be possible to play through and think total surveillance in ‘the right hands’ is completely fine, though I suspect this would be rather difficult. Like Papers Please before it, this game excels in utilising gamings unique ability to make you feel responsible for fictional actions in a way that films and books struggle to manage.

A sequel was released in 2018, it introduced some interesting new features. Such as the ability to push stories favourable to the nation, or unfavourable to its detractors, via mainstream news sources and linked social media accounts. Unfortunately the game ends quite abruptly not long after this feature is introduced, and a whole feels a bit more straight forward than its predecessor. ■

Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You
5/5 everyone should play this game

Orwell: Ignorance is Strength

3/5 if you really want more!

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A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things

Welcome to the Capitalocene. Humans, at least some of them, are killing everything, from megafauna to microbiota, at speeds one hundred times faster than the background rate. The scale of destruction can’t be simply extrapolated from the excesses of our knuckle-dragging forebears. What has really changed since the 1400s is capitalism – and this is what the book is about: showing how the modern world has been made through seven cheap things – nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives.

Take the humble chicken, Gallus gallus domesticus, product of post WW2 freely-sourced genetic manipulation to produce the most profitable fowl. It reaches maturity in six weeks, can barely walk, has an oversized breast, and is slaughtered en masse, at the rate of sixty billion a year. Cheap Nature. In the United States two cents for every dollar spent on fast-food chicken goes to the poultry workers. Cheap Work. Eighty-six percent of workers are in pain because of repetitive hacking and twisting on the production line. Denial of injury claims is common. The result is a fifteen percent decline in income for ten years after injury, so recovering workers depend on family for support – outside the production circuit but central to maintaining the workforce. Cheap Care. So chickens don’t fart methane like cows, but they are bred in huge barns that need fuel to keep them warm. Low-cost chickens require loads of propane. Cheap Energy. Franchising and public subsidies for private profit mitigate the financial risks of commercial sales, right through to the land on which soy is grown to feed the chickens, in China, Brazil and the United States. Cheap Money. Last, persistent acts of chauvinism against animal and human lives – women, the colonized, the poor, people of colour and immigrants, make these six cheap things possible.

Of course there’s resistance, from indigenous peoples whose flocks provide the genetic material for breeding to care workers demanding recognition. ‘The social struggles over nature, money, work, care, food, energy and lives that attend the Capitalocene’s poultry bones amount to a case for why the most iconic symbol of the modern era isn’t the automobile or the smartphone but the Chicken McNugget.’

The Medieval Warm Period ran from around 950 to 1250 across the North Atlantic. Populations swelled, towns multiplied. Europeans nearly tripled in number to 70 million. Agricultural surpluses soared. Relative prosperity fuelled expansionism. Beginning in 1095, the Crusades were commercialised military operations targeting the wealth of the eastern Mediterranean. Conquest was made to pay by imposing tribute; the forerunner of colonial capitalism. The greatest conqueror of all, however, was cultivation; by the fourteenth century, agriculture took up a third of all European land use, a sixfold increase in 500 years, much of it at the expense of forests.

Then famine returned with colder, wetter weather. Massive rains struck Europe in May 1315 and did not ease up until August, ending with a cold snap. Europe’s population shrank by twenty percent in five years and the so-called Great Famine continued until 1322. This was the Little Ice Age that lasted until the 19th century. Feudalism crashed, not least because feudal lords wanted cash or grain, and they consumed any surpluses rather than reinvesting in agriculture. Left to their own devices, peasants would probably have shifted to crop mixes, including garden produce. Peasant autonomy would have allowed medieval Europe to feed up to three times as many people. But the transition never happened. In 1347 the Black Death struck an already weakened population. Almost overnight, peasant revolts became large-scale threats to the feudal order.

Repressive legislation to keep labour cheap, through wage controls or outright re-enserfment, was the response, for example England’s Ordinance and Statute of Labourers. ‘The equivalent today would be to respond to an Ebola epidemic by making unionisation harder’, the authors write.

Capitalism was born out of this mayhem. Ruling classes didn’t just seek to restore the surplus but to expand it, and it was the Iberian aristocracy that stumbled on a solution, especially in Portugal and Castile. To make war with the Moslem powers on the peninsula – the Reconquista – they depended on financiers. War and debt remade society and spurred the earliest invasions of the Canary Islands and Madeira. ‘The solution to war debt was more war, with the payoff being colonial profit on new, great frontiers.’

Madeira was a case in point. In the 1460s a new way for producing food took shape. One traveller reported in 1455 there was not a foot of ground on the island not covered in great trees. By the 1550s it was hard to find any wood at all. The reason: sugar production. It had arrived in Ibera by the 14th century and by 1420 it was being grown commercially, funded by German banks and cultivated near Valencia by a mix of slaves and free workers. In the 1460s and 1470s farmers on Madeira gave up wheat and grew sugar exclusively. The sugar frontier spread to other islands in the Atlantic, then on a massive scale to the New World. And like palm and soy monocultures today, it rapidly exhausted soils, cleared forests and encouraged pests. As for the workers, they were indigenous people from the Canary Islands in the case of Madeira, North African salves and in some cases paid plantation labourers from Europe.

When Madeira’s trees were all consumed, sugar production crashed. Capitalism reinvented itself. After sugar came wine, the casks being imported from the ‘cheap’ forests of the New World. Commodities flowed the other way: Madeira was a conduit for the African slave trade, and in a more recent reinvention, today that grim history is exploited and marketed in the form of tourism.

Here then, is the central theme of this highly readable, heavily-sourced book: ‘Capitalism not only has frontiers; it exists only through frontiers, expanding from one place to the next, transforming socioecological relations, producing more and more kinds of goods and services…For capitalism, what matters is that the figures entered into ledgers – to pay workers, to supply adequate food for workers, to purchase energy and raw materials – are as low as possible. Capitalism only values what it can count and it can count only dollars…this means that the whole system thrivers when powerful states and capitalists can reorganise global nature, invest as little as they can, and receive as much food, work, energy and raw materials with as little disruption as possible.’ ■

A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore, Verso, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-78873-213-0