Review - Communicating Vessels: An Anthology of Essays

In 1848, Marx wrote in The Manifesto of the Communist Party that under capitalism, workers were reduced to simple commodities, appendages of the machine. Now, over 150 years later, not only humans’ labour power, but almost every aspect of existence, has been enslaved by the law of value. Internationalist Perspective has written about this transformation in our analysis of the transition from the formal to the real domination of capital. This transition has seen an increased commodification of society, a greater separation, a deepening alienation.

Even those who have sought to apply Marx’s critique have sometimes fallen victim to this tendency by dividing his ideas into categories: the economic, the political, the philosophical, the artistic, etc. Any authentic revolutionary current today must advance a critique which strives to overcome this separation, and a welcome addition to this struggle is the recent (2006) anthology of essays from the journal, Communicating Vessels. In the introduction, the author, Anthony Leskov, writes that some may view the book as “incoherent theoretical and literary cross-dressing…” However, he insists that instead, “it is the result of seeing links between various vision of the world and literary and poetic visions that present a fundamentally new way of approaching said world.”

While the anthology contains nothing which has not appeared in the magazine, it is an excellent introduction to the politics and style of the Communicating Vessels, as well as valuable collection from some of the hard- to-find issues of the journal (especially since Communicating Vessels does not have a presence on the web, nor does it intend to do so). Included in the 200 page book are original and reprinted essays, poems, drawings, reviews and personal reminiscences from the publication’s history. Communication Vessels first appeared in 2001, taking its name from a 1932 book by surrealist author Andre Breton, which in turn borrowed its title from a scientific experiment. Prior to Communicating Vessels, Leskov was involved with the Black Star North zine, an anarchist publication published in Portland, Maine in the late 1990s. Since then, the author’s perspective has shifted. In issue nine of Communicating Vessels while reviewing Murray Bookchin’s Anarchism, Marxism and the Future of the Left, Leskov noted he was not an anarchist because anarchism provided “too nebulous of an understanding of social reality…Communism understands this society – its rule, its exploitation, its extraction of surplus value from proletarians etc – as being dominated by capitalist social relations which seek to subordinate all human activity into its exchange nexus.” This perspective is further detailed in the introduction to the anthology where points out, “I have a strong attachment to a non-sociological and non-deterministic interpretation of Marxist methodology.”

To apply a Marxist methodology which avoids treating Marx’s writing as Holy Writ (many latter-day “Marxists”) or as a quaint theory (the academy) is a goal with which we can certainly identify. And this perspective is certainly present in Leskov’s choice of material. Communicating Vessels: An Anthology of Essays contains the lengthy essays, including “Caught between Two Worlds: Russia, Spain, Modernization and Today’s World”, “New Orleans the City that Disaster Built”, “Capitalist Development and the rise of Modern city Planning”, “The Perplexities of Middle Eastern Development” In each case, the essays are clearly and intelligently written with a strong pro-revolutionary perspective. The anthology also contains several pieces by names familiar to IP readers: An abridged version of Gilles Dauve’s essay “Alice in Monsterland,”; Juan McIver’s study of the Spanish Civil War and the work of Federico García Lorca, the Spanish poet and playwright murdered by Franco’s soldiers in 1936; Paul Goodman on “the spirit of war.”

Of interest also to IP’s readers is the section dealing with Jean Malaquais, author of the left-communist novel World Without Visa. The anthology contains an overview of Malaquais’ life and career, as well as a reprint of an interview from the French magazine Informations Ouvrieres, a poem, an excerpt from Malaquais’ war diaries, and his essay on hipsterism.

Yet, all of the above should not give the impression that Communicating Vessels is “merely” a political review. The anthology contains not only original poems and drawings, but also discussions on French song by Ken Knabb of the Bureau of Public Secrets, original works on literature such as “Aeschylus and the Oresteia Trilogy” and Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.” One of the stated concerns that Leskov expresses in his introduction is “the disregard people have for history.” In this collection, he also seems to argue why shouldn’t people have the “classical education” (the term is used guardedly), a sense of poetry, of art, as well as the critique of political economy?

Of course, Leskov already knows why this is not happening. The disappearance from memory of these things is not an accident brought on by TV and mass culture. It is central to the development of the disposable commodity economy. Leskov quotes the Chinese Tang dynasty poet Tu Fu to good effect: “The busy world, fickle as a lamp flame/Hates what has had its day or is decayed.”

Communicating Vessels: An Anthology of Essays is a valuable addition to the pro-revolutionary milieu. It raises important issues and its playful eclecticism makes for an entertaining and stimulating read. It should be widely read.


Communicating Vessels: An Anthology of Essays is available for $12 (including postage) from 35 NE 15th Avenue #127, Portland, OR 97212, USA.

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