We asked Spring members and writers about their favourite book, music or art of 2022. Last year, we focused on books, but this year we also asked about any other artistic project that really moved them and offered a sharp expression of the political moment. Here are some of the offerings we loved this year.
Angela Davis: An Autobiography, (3rd edition) by Angela Davis
Angela Davis remains one of the well-known Black communist women around the world. This 1974 autobiography is a great contribution to our understanding of the Black Power of that era. As she was just 30 years old when the book was published, one might reasonably wonder why such a young person would have the audacity to write about themselves. Davis, however, uses her own experience in defeating US government efforts to imprison her for murder, kidnapping and conspiracy, to help other activists learn the lessons of struggles and movement-building. As she writes in the preface to the 1974 edition, “Writing an autobiography at my age seemed presumptuous…(but) There was the possibility that, having read it, more people would understand why so many of us have no alternative but to offer our lives – our bodies, our knowledge, our will – to the cause of our oppressed people.”
The book captures the many tactics used to build awareness and mobilize communities, all of which pre-date social media. They continue to be needed today, for example street petitioning, public education meetings, building effective coalitions, and understanding how to use the legal system while recognizing, and demanding an end to, the state violence that dominates our lives.
Why this third edition? Davis has consistently been part of movements demanding carceral abolition and in her preface to this most recent edition Davis writes: “The anti-capitalist dimension had been there all along, but radical feminist formations that were opposed to racism, homophobia, capitalism, and other modes of oppression helped to revolutionize abolitionist movements in crucial ways that would eventually become evident in the Black Lives Matter movement.” The recent visibility of both Black Lives Matter and the rising abolition movement have brought a renewed interest in the movements of the 1970s, and Davis has much to teach us.
The Overload by Yard Act
By far our favourite album this year was ‘The Overload’ by the British rock bank Yard Act. As recent residents of England, the growing right-wing movement and systemic racism were palpable and insidious enough to drive us to move to Canada. However, The Overload provided some relief and humour during our time in England this year, while using genuinely insightful witticisms and a broad Leeds accent to encapsulate the frustration of post-Brexit Britain. The album, which sits firmly in the Brit Pop and post-punk genres, uses character driven storytelling to introduce us to unethical white collar crooks, conservative pub landlords, Brexit believers, middle-England villagers, and anti capitalists who forget their own ethics as soon as they come into money. The stories do not sneer or punch down though; they are equal parts frustration and empathy. Yard Act does well to strike a balance between asking questions aimed at understanding the anxiety being felt in society, whilst also being angry at the injustices that people play a part in perpetuating.
The album culminates in the wonderfully narrative song ‘100% Endurance’, which was re-released recently in a surprise collaboration with Elton John. The song strikes an optimistic tone, telling us that the world isn’t really so pointless and that there is something to fight for here: “It’s really real and when you feel it you can really feel it.” The band implores us to grab somebody that we love, to shake them by the shoulders and tell them that although death is coming for us all, it isn’t coming today. Despite everything, you can still “give it everything you’ve got” because “all you ever needed to exist has always been within you.” It’s a call to not just give up and it was certainly something I found useful to hear after a difficult couple of years in Britain and globally. Not only is the album humorous in its critique, but in its best moments it is reflexive in its inward gaze. I think if we’re all going to have the ‘100% endurance’ required to carry on during the difficult times ahead, we must be critical of the systems that seek to oppress us but also be willing to engage with those around us. We must also, ultimately, question our own roles in the perpetuation of those systems if we end up joining, or are already members of, the ranks of the privileged.
–Josh Frame and Deena Newaz
RRR directed by S. S. Rajamouli
As a Bangladeshi woman who grew up in Doha’s South Asian diaspora, I am no stranger to the grandiose and larger than life quality of Indian films and TV shows. While my love for Bollywood in specific has waned over the past decade due to its frequent pro-government and anti-muslin lens, I am so glad I committed to watching RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt) earlier this year. RRR is one of the most entertaining films I have watched this year that brings together many plots in a three hour action packed sequence, and in which two superheroic comrades unite against the British Raj. Set in the 1920s, the anti-colonial lens of the film brings out the brutality of the British empire and is best encapsulated in a cruel scene in the first half of the film where a Brtish soldier murders an indigenous woman with the blunt force of a rock for protecting her child in order to avoid wasting expensive bullets on her. The film bears witness to the memory and trauma of a subcontinent that was ravaged and its people dehumanized by the British government to extract profits, claiming millions of lives. The intentional exaggeration of the British characters in the film as sadistic and genocidal, and the two main characters as mythical and god-like in their refusal to die in the face of oppression, felt in brief moments like justice, especially given that I often find myself in rooms full of white men who idolize Winston Churchill.
While the film is political it is also filled with exciting dance numbers, unbelievable action sequences and an unlikely but moving friendship between its main characters Bheem and Ram. The film tries to do a lot of things and manages to do them really well. The film is not entirely free of problematic portrayal of its female characters or that of indigenous people but that does not take away from the real masterpiece that RRR is in delivering an entertaining and anti-colonial work of fiction.
Horizons: The Origins of Modern Science by James Poskett
Horizons is a tour de force that recasts the story about the development of modern science.
The mainstream narrative about the scientific revolution and the development of modern science is that it was an exclusively western European development bequeathed to the rest of the world. Poskett’s book is a powerful retelling of the development of modern science that aims to expand our horizons and correct the historical record. Poskett, marshalling a great deal of evidence, weaves together an expansive narrative showing that at every turn the development of modern scientific thought was a global phenomenon. The book starts off by examining how the Aztecs and enslaved Africans played an important role in the development of modern biology and classification systems. How Muslim scholars from the steppe to west Africa were key to laying the foundation for Newtonian physics. How Polynesian peoples helped in the development modern physics and navigation. How Japanese, Russian and Chinese scholars helped shape and develop modern notions of evolution. And how Indian and Japanese scholars played an important role in the development of quantum mechanics.
This extensive and highly readable book is long overdue. Poskett notes that it was the interaction between cultures and peoples which was the genesis of much of modern science while also emphasizing this interaction was uneven. Colonialism, imperialism and capitalism has shaped modern science and how we talk about it. I loved this book, however, the brief bits about Israel in the latter part of the book fell short in making clear that Israel was a colonial project that today is engaged the domination and subordination the Palestinian people.
As another reviewer noted, this book would not be possible without the mass movements challenging racial injustice.
Diaspora Problems by SOUL GLO
This is the most necessary album of the year. The riffs hit hard, but the lyrics hit even harder. The album begins with singer Pierce Jordan screaming “Can I live?” repeatedly. In a country where young black men like Pierce are routinely murdered by police for just existing, this is not a hypothetical question. Over the rest of the album, SOUL GLO continue to face down the ugliness of racial capitalism with honesty, urgency, and humour.
I could have picked a hundred great lines from this album, but for the sake of brevity, here are my personal top five:
Stuck in a world constantly assessing the worth of a life.
In the backward system of capitalism, I fetch a low ass price.
My parents were contorted to build a future where their children get extorted.
I was in 3rd grade and very fucking afraid on the day i was “radicalized.”
It was 9/11, I was 9, and it was the first time my dad’s mortality was in front of my eyes.
I’m so bored by the left, protests, and the reluctance to militarize.
Most of y’all Bruce Wayne’s look way klu klux.
I’m used to losing control and feeling detained,
but the glow of my soul’s worth more to me than my name.
This is an album that demands to be listened to with liner notes in hand, but it also demands that you raise your hand and form a fist. The synthesis of this logic is epitomized by two objects on the album’s cover: a copy of Audre Lorde’s ‘I Am Your Sister’ and a switchblade. The lesson is obvious; the pen is not mightier than the sword, it is a whetstone that can be used to sharpen the blade. On Diaspora Problems, SOUL GLO use their pen to not only get the pit moving, but also the streets. They distill the energy of a sweaty basement show into a molotov cocktail, and aim it directly at the people who get in their way when they ask a simple question: “Can I live?”
This year I read Class Action and I couldn’t have read it at a better time. With the attack on public education by the Ford government and the incredible illegal strike by 55,000 education workers, Hanson’s history of elementary teachers unions in Ontario was so valuable. Hanson walks us through the history of “professionalization” of elementary education in the province and the ways in which teachers gained class consciousness as their working and living standards were attacked by subsequent governments. The fact that their right to strike was not granted by government, or negotiated with the employer at the bargaining table, it was won though a united strike is an important lesson for the labour movement today.
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney
Walter Rodney’s classic is a must-read. Originally published in 1972, after most African nations had “gained independence” from European colonialism, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa gives a comprehensive analysis of African history before the slave trade, during the slave trade, under colonialism, and in a so-called “post-colonial” context.
Rodney defines development and underdevelopment as a dialectical relationship, and thoroughly debunks false claims about European colonies “helping,” “modernizing,” or otherwise developing African political economy and life. Rodney pulls from African oral histories, recorded statistics, and other African and European sources to prove his claims about what he dubs “the paradox of underdevelopment,” through which colonized nations and peoples are deprived of their natural resources and their ability to develop politically, socially, economically, and technologically by parasitic colonial and imperialist powers. He tackles different African nation-states and European exploitation relative to their progression from communalism, to feudalism, to capitalism. Rodney analyzes nationhood, education, European Christianity, malnutrition, agriculture, wage labour, compradors, and much more, from a decolonial Marxist perspective.
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is an extraordinary materialist analysis of centuries of still-ongoing European parasitism. Walter Rodney is an incredible teacher. If you’ve already read How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, pick up Decolonial Marxism next!
If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga
This short novel, shortlisted for this year’s Giller Prize tells the twisted love story of two young Egyptians, a teenage second-generation Egyptian from New York, and a young boy from the poverty-stricken village of Shobrakheit, who meet in post-2011 revolution Cairo. In telling the challenging love story of the two protagonists, the novel touches on issues of class, power, gender, language, diaspora identity, colonialism and more, all against the backdrop of a society still navigating the aftermath of a revolution.
The boy from Shobrakheit, a photographer during the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt, recalls moments from the revolutionary wave, and reflects on what the years after the downfall of Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent El-Sisi coup brought about. Through the boy’s recounting of his memories and conversations with the “American Girl”, we get glimpses into the harsh realities of post-revolution Egypt and how the hopes and visions of the revolution became compromised in the years that followed. Granted, Naga’s novel does not foray into any deep political analyses or details of “what went wrong”; but it does offer the reader an image of what everyday life in the post-2011 Egypt looks and feels like and casts a light on the thoughts and experiences of many who participated in the revolution:
In 2011, we really believed we were birthing a new order, that everything would change and the corruption that had seeped through the veins of the nation, poisoning every organ,would be flushed out at last…Six years later, it’s embarrassing to remember just how innocent we were – not naive so much as innocent
Naga’s prose is poetic and fluid and she does a beautiful job of depicting the inner struggles of her characters. The novel experiments with form using long paragraphs with no breaks, alternating narrators and perspectives and moving back and forth in time. The last part of the three-part book takes the form of a meta-narrative where the author of the novel, Noor, is getting feedback on her work (the novel we just read) from her fellow classmates in a writing workshop. We read the conversation among the group as they criticize the novel for its use of several narrative devices, decisions of the main characters, lack of detail, etc. The comments mostly come across as ignorant, surface-level and from a privileged “first-world” perspective. It feels like Naga’s way of getting ahead of some of the potential critique of her book and touching on why she made certain decisions in writing the novel. My opinion? The whole section is unnecessary and slightly gimmicky, and it takes away from what is otherwise a pretty solid and thought-provoking work.
I’d definitely recommend picking it up as a holiday read!
In punk, there’s nothing worse than being called a “Sellout.” What that means is pretty nebulous, but rest assured that every 16 year old kid with a spike-encrusted jacket will let you know. It’s something that fans callout of their bands, bands against other bands, and an action that doesn’t seem to have a specific definition. As featured in this book, what happens when a band simply associated with a certain aesthetic or style are called sellouts, particularly when their values were almost always focused on simply reaching a broader audience?
Not only do I see myself as a massive fan of music and music history, but of all the genres and time periods, the 10 year period from the mid-90s to mid-2000s pop-punk is largely what I cut my teeth on. Many of the artists covered in this book are the ones I listened to during my formative years, and Ozzi does so with energy, thoughtfulness, and humour. His dive into this very specific topic isn’t done to call into question the ethics of every band who signed on to a major label, or to blatantly showcase the pitfalls of capitalism and the arts. Rather, each chapter looks at a different band’s label debut and offers up some tidbits and lets the readers draw their own conclusions.
I loved devouring each chapter in this book, allowing me to then do a deep-dive on the given artists’ discographies. But something else that really stuck out to me, and perhaps others reading through a socialist lens, would be the ways in which the ‘major label’ as an actor consistently was focused on finding a sound that is popular among an untapped demographic and exploiting them. For some bands, this meant their sound was already overplayed by the time their album would see release. For others, this meant saying goodbye to the crowds and venues that would support them in favour of arenas that would soon leave for another style. Regardless of the band (Ok… Greenday might be the exception), the one truth that stands from each experience is how the true nature of capitalism isn’t solely an issue of over-consumption, but purposeful over-production.
There are plenty of examples in the book of executives treating a song or album more as a science project or a math equation rather than a form of personal expression. While I don’t feel the book’s focus is to offer an impassioned anti-capitalist approach, it certainly can be read this way while offering incredible insight and depth to an important part of music history that we are now seeing making a come back.
쏘이조이 by SoyJoy
This melodic memory music is a comforting spell for all fighters for a better world. A Gemini from heart to pen (for all astrology enthusiasts out there) their way with words paints the pictures of our revolutionary presents and futures for all who dare to imagine and build them. Always collaborating with fellow QTBIPOC musicians and supporting Indigenous resistance both inside and outside the studio, their stories come directly from the frontlines. With lyrics such as constantly constructing an army of oral histories with the weapons of our enemies to reincarnate them into our comrades from “temperance” on their 2022 EP Reaching, and I knew it was you when the flag was burning upside down, I recognize those fumes from continents away from “more about fermenting” on their 2021 album Places i swore i’d never return to, SoyJoy gives a soundtrack to the soul of our collective struggle. And new music is coming soon! They can’t take away our laughter, they can’t take away our shore…
Time Off Task by Tabitha Arnold
I draw a lot of inspiration from physical forms of art and their materiality – how they seem to carry more permanence than your average piece of media. When I stumbled across the textile art of Tabitha Arnold this year, I was impressed both by the relevance of the subject matter of her work and the endurance of the medium she uses. Specifically, her rug “Time Off Task” tells the story of Amazon workers organizing in a way that is timely while also invoking a long history of weaving, rug making and textile artistry in portraying social and political movements. It provides a physical, historical record of the incredible organizing going on in Amazon warehouses leading to the success of Amazon Labor Union in winning Amazon’s first union vote in April of this year.
Years of struggle are represented in the different rows of the rug, telling the story wholly from the workers’ perspective. At the bottom, workers labour under watchful eyes, representative of Amazon’s notorious surveillance practices used to track every second of each employee’s time on the clock. Workers are also depicted exhausted on the toilet, whispering in each other’s ears, and striking together – all in a way that invokes the process of labour organizing: from worker discontent to agitation and, eventually, organization.
About the rug, Tabitha wrote on her Substack that she wants “working-class people, now and forever, to recognize themselves in the archetypal figures of laborers.” My favourite part of this piece is the timelessness yet specificity in the way the workers are represented, proving that workers across time and space may struggle with unique challenges in their workplaces, yet are engaged in the same class struggle: the image of a piss-filled bottle may be a symbol unique to Amazon, but it’s one that many workers can relate to nonetheless.
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