Dana Mills on Burgling Against Capitalism

by Dana Mills, 27 November 2020

Dana Mills is an author, dancer and activist. Her most recent book is Rosa Luxemburg (2020), following the success of Dance and Politics: Moving Beyond Boundaries (2016).

It’s especially depressing to be bombarded with adverts for Black Friday this year (which has deeply racist origins, and a deeply oppressive contemporary presence; no ‘bargain’ you buy online does not come at the price of someone else’s reduced costs for labour). It’s also just plain bizarre. Perhaps especially strange are adverts for perfumes showing good looking and made-up people escaping to exotic places wearing perfume. Considering we are looking at a winter of indoor traipsing in sweatpants at best, lockdowns at worst, it’s strange to think this would appeal to anyone. Yet capitalism is a death cult and built on unattainable fantasies.

Confession: I like giving presents. A lot! I think this is a legacy from my late father. I especially like finding things people will like and surprising them with those gifts. However, I was raised to focus on either home-made or very low-key gifts. My mother still says the best gift I ever gave her is a potato peeler I got her when I was eight. I turn 39 next week and she still uses that peeler.

It’s hard for me, lately, not to give gifts that aren’t books, because books give you fantasy that you can, unlike those perfume ads, live. Books give a narrative outside of your ordinary life, a story of someone else who you’ll never know. I’ve noticed I culled from my networks all those who say ‘I don’t have time to read’ (who, at the same time, will be the people who post three times a day on their Facebook/other social media accounts). So, for the past few years, all of my gifts have been books. While the publishing industry is far from being independent of the ills of capitalism, it does have many small independent publishers who try to resist the monopoly of the large, exploitative ones.

Perhaps this year, more than ever, it is easy not to shop around Black Friday, to realise that we really didn’t need that extra dress or pair of trousers. We don’t need three of everything we own. We don’t need ‘self care’ products that give us an hour of a bath with no expansion of horizons.

What we need is a way to expand our imaginaries when we are locked up. We need a way to sustain communities and consecutiveness. We need to remember and remind that, even if we can’t be physically together, we can be there for each other and provide a narrative and a conversation and a different point of view. No lip gloss or aftershave can do that.

And so, in the spirit of gifting a story and a listening ear, those people who I care about and have been consistently sustaining me this year will receive this festive period Willa Cather’s classic The Burglar’s Christmas, from which proceeds go to the Three Peas, a charity doing work on Lesvos for refugees. Unlike big industrial ‘charities’, this is a collective doing work on the ground, and so I’ll be able to give something to several people. This new press, Renard Press, publishes cutting edge and classic books, and is worthy of your attention generally. This holiday season give community, give expansion of thought – don’t give gifts that wither away and are grounded in fake capitalist fantasy.

(I’ve conceded that I’ll never transcend that potato peeler for my mother).