Libertarian Revolution in Rojava

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In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from an interview that Janet Biehl, longtime companion of Murray Bookchin, conducted in 2011 with Ercan Ayboga, a Kurdish “democratic confederalist.” More recently, I posted an appeal from David Graeber for support for the mainly Kurdish people fighting in Rojava, an area in northern Syria under siege by the Islamic State (ISIS), where people are trying to establish a form of direct democracy based on popular assemblies, which share some similarities with the “libertarian democracy” of the anarchist collectives in the Spanish Revolution and Civil War. This December, Biehl, Graeber and several other people went to Rojava to see for themselves what was going on there. Here I reproduce some of Janet Biehl’s initial observations.

kobane solidarity

Impressions of Rojava

Rojava consists of three geographically non-contiguous cantons; we would see only the easternmost one, Cezire (or Jazira), due to the ongoing war with the Islamic State, which rages to the west, especially in Kobani. But everywhere we were welcomed warmly…

After Tunisian and Egyptian opposition groups mounted insurgencies during the Arab Spring in 2011, rebellious Syrians rose up too, initiating the civil war. In the summer of 2012, the regime’s authority collapsed in Rojava, where the Kurds had little trouble persuading its officials to depart nonviolently.

Rojavans ( …while they are mostly Kurds, they are also Arabs, Assyrians, Chechens, and others) then faced a choice of aligning themselves either with the regime that had persecuted them, or with the mostly Islamic militant opposition groups.

Rojava’s Kurds being relatively secular, they refused both sides and decided instead to embark on a Third Way, based on the ideas of Abdullah Ãcalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader who rethought the Kurdish issue, the nature of revolution, and an alternative modernity to the nation-state and capitalism… Drawing eclectically from sources in history, philosophy, politics, and anthropology, Ãcalan proposed ‘Democratic Confederalism’ as the name for the overarching program of bottom-up democracy, gender equality, ecology, and a cooperative economy. The implementation of those principles, in institutions not only of democratic self-government but also of economics, education, health and gender, is called Democratic Autonomy.

Women defending Kobane

Women in the YPJ

A Women’s Revolution

Under their Third Way, Rojava’s three cantons declared Democratic Autonomy and formally established it in a ‘social contract’ (the non-statist term it uses instead of ‘constitution’). Under that program, they created a system of popular self-government, based in neighborhood commune assemblies (comprising several hundred households each), which anyone may attend, and with power rising from the bottom up through elected deputies to the city and cantonal levels.

When our delegation visited a Qamishlo neighborhood (Qamishlo being the largest city in the Cezire canton), we attended a meeting of a local people’s council, where the electricity and matters relating to women, conflict resolution and families of martyrs were discussed. Men and women sat and participated together. Elsewhere in Qamishlo, we witnessed an assembly of women addressing problems particular to their gender.

Gender is of special importance to this project in human emancipation. We quickly realized that the Rojava Revolution is fundamentally a women’s revolution. This part of the world is traditionally home to extreme patriarchal oppression: to be born female is to be at risk for violent abuse, childhood marriage, honor killings, polygamy, and more.

But today the women of Rojava have shaken off that tradition and participate fully in public life: at every level of politics and society. Institutional leadership consists not of one position but two, one male and one female official for the sake of gender equality and also to keep power from concentrating into one person’s hands.

Representatives of Yekitiya Star, the umbrella organization for women’s groups, explained that women are essential to democracy — they even defined the antagonist of women’s freedom, strikingly, not as patriarchy but as the nation-state and capitalist modernity. The women’s revolution aims to free everyone. Women are to this revolution what the proletariat was to Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the past century. It has profoundly transformed not only women’s status but every aspect of society.

Even the traditionally male-dominated strands of society, like the military, have been profoundly transformed. The people’s protection units (YPG) have been joined by the YPJ, or women’s protection units, whose images by now have become world famous. Together, the YPG and the YPJ are defending society against the jihadist forces of ISIS and Al-Nusra with Kalashnikovs and, perhaps equally formidably, a fierce intellectual and emotional commitment not only to their community’s survival but to its political ideas and aspirations too.

When we visited a meeting of the YPJ, we were told that the fighters’ education consists not only of training in practical matters like weapons but also in Democratic Autonomy. ‘We are fighting for our ideas,’ they emphasized at every turn. Two of the women who met with us had been injured in battle. One sat with an IV bag, another with a metal crutch–both were wincing in pain but had the fortitude and self-discipline to participate in our session.

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Cooperation and Education

Rojavans fight for the survival of their community but above all, as the YPJ told us, for their ideas. They even put the successful implementation of democracy above ethnicity. Their social agreement affirms the inclusion of ethnic minorities (Arabs, Chechens, Assyrians) and religions (Muslims, Christians, Yezidis), and Democratic Autonomy in practice seems to bend over backwards to include minorities, without imposing it on others against their will, leaving the door open to all.

When our delegation asked a group of Assyrians to tell us their challenges with Democratic Autonomy, they said they had none. In nine days we could not possibly have scoured Rojava for all problems, and our interlocutors candidly admitted that Rojava is hardly above criticism, but as far as I could see, Rojava at the very least aspires to model tolerance and pluralism in a part of the world that has seen far too much fanaticism and repression, and to whatever extent it succeeds, it deserves commendation.

Rojava’s economic model is the same as its political model, an economics adviser in Derik told us: to create a ‘community economy,’ building cooperatives in all sectors and educating the people in the idea. The adviser expressed satisfaction that even though 70 percent of Rojava’s resources must go to the war effort, the economy still manages to meet everyone’s basic needs.

They strive for self-sufficiency, because they must: the crucial fact is that Rojava exists under an embargo. It can neither export to nor import from its immediate neighbor to the north, Turkey, which would like to see the whole Kurdish project disappear.

Even the KRG, under control of their ethnic kin but economically beholden to Turkey, observes the embargo, although more cross-border KRG-Rojava trade is occurring now in the wake of political developments. But the country still lacks resources. That does not dampen their spirit: ‘If there is only bread, then we all have a share,’ the adviser told us.

We visited an economics academy and economic cooperatives: a sewing cooperative in Derik, making uniforms for the defense forces; a cooperative greenhouse, growing cucumbers and tomatoes; a dairy cooperative in Rimelan, where a new shed was under construction.

The Kurdish areas are the most fertile parts of Syria, home to its abundant wheat supply, but the Baâath regime had deliberately refrained from industrializing the area, a source of raw materials. Hence wheat was cultivated but could not be milled into flour. We visited a mill, newly constructed since the revolution, improvised from local materials. It now provides flour for the bread consumed in Cezire, whose residents get three loaves a day.

Similarly, Cezire was Syria’s major source of petroleum, with several thousand oil rigs, mostly in the Rimelan area. But the Baâath regime ensured that Rojava had no refineries, forcing the oil to be transported to refineries elsewhere in Syria. But since the revolution, Rojavans have improvised two new oil refineries, which are used mainly to provide diesel for the generators that power the canton. The local oil industry, if such it can be called, produces only enough for local needs, nothing more.

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A DIY Revolution

The level of improvisation was striking throughout the canton. The more we traveled through Rojava, the more I marveled at the do-it-yourself nature of the revolution, its reliance on local ingenuity and the scarce materials at hand. But it was not until we visited the various academies, the women’s academy in Rimelan and the Mesopotamian Academy in Qamishlo, that I realized that it is integral to the system as a whole.

The education system in Rojava is non-traditional, rejecting ideas of hierarchy, power and hegemony. Instead of following a teacher-student hierarchy, students teach each other and learn from each other’s experience. Students learn what is useful, in practical matters; they ‘search for meaning,’ as we were told, in intellectual matters. They do not memorize; they learn to think for themselves and make decisions, to become the subjects of their own lives. They learn to be empowered and to participate in Democratic Autonomy.

Janet Biehl, December 2014

kurdish fighters

Anarchists in Hong Kong Today

Protestors in Hong Kong 2014

Protestors in Hong Kong 2014

In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a 2001 interview with Mok Chiu Yu, an anarchist in Hong Kong, describing the changes in Hong Kong after China’s resumption of control of Hong Kong in 1997. He and other anarchists in Hong Kong were trying to create a libertarian counter-culture from which they hoped “autonomy and real democracy” would spring. There have been anarchists active in Hong Kong since the early 1900s. During the 1930s, the anarchist movement in China and Hong Kong went into eclipse, only to revive in the aftermath of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” of the late 1960s. In the 1970s, former Red Guards and students formed the “70s” group in Hong Kong, where they published ultra-left and anarchist critiques of the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship. As the uncredited story below indicates, in the fall of 2011, a new generation of anarchists became involved in the Occupy movement in Hong Kong and, most recently, in the pro-democracy student protests which shut down parts of Hong Kong over the past several months, until the police started dismantling their encampments.

The Face of Authority in Hong Kong

The Face of Authority in Hong Kong

Anarchists Protest in Hong Kong

In mid-October of 2011, as the Occupy movement was springing up in more than eighty countries around the world, a crowd of protesters gathered in the public atrium of the HSBC headquarters on 1 Queen’s Road, in the Central district of Hong Kong. They put up anti-capitalist banners and began an occupation of the building. A core group of eight to twenty people ended up living there, forming an autonomous collective; the bank building, they quipped, had excellent feng shui.

The squatters identified as anarchists, but they weren’t expressly trying to attack the institution above their heads. Their aim was to change the power structures that governed it. So they tinkered with the space and set up a miniature tent city, complete with a library and a kitchen. They made music, deliberated on political affairs and ideas, and distributed excess food, blankets, and other supplies to the surrounding community. At one point, they stopped talking to the press entirely. The occupiers remained at HSBC for more than ten months, until September, 2012, when they were evicted.

This September, I met with some members of the original collective. They were lounging around the edge of an occupied road in the Mong Kok district, which was then a stronghold of the pro-democracy movement that had begun blocking off some of Hong Kong’s main arteries in protest. “One of the problems of occupying a highly symbolic financial center is that people thought it was supposed to be a spectacle. We never wanted ours to appeal to the media in that way,” a thirty-year-old named Nin Chan told me, as he spun reggae records on a turntable for the group. “What we wanted to see was an exodus from the centers of power.”

Chan, who sported a goatee and a punk T-shirt that revealed a few tattoos, thinks and speaks like a theorist. Before Occupy, he was a graduate student and an essayist, with a background in literature, sociology, and philosophy. He and his friends had arrived in Mong Kok in the weeks after the start of protests led by the student groups Scholarism and Hong Kong Federation of Students, along with a group calling itself Occupy Central with Love and Peace. They were protesting the decision by the government in Beijing, on August 31st, to essentially give itself the right to vet candidates for Hong Kong’s first popular election, scheduled for 2017, and eventually to appoint its leader.

Demonstrators established encampments outside the local government’s offices in the Admiralty district, just east of Central; at nearby Causeway Bay; and at Mong Kok, three and a half miles away, across the harbor. The anarchists usually hung out at the margins of the Mong Kok occupation, throwing laid-back parties or hosting performers; on one occasion, a band rapped protest songs in Cantonese.

Following months of ups and downs, the police, backed by a court injunction, have announced that they will begin clearing the Admiralty encampment on Thursday morning; they cleared Mong Kok two weeks earlier. But while Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is imperilled, the anarchists have simply carried on with the same approach they’ve had since 2011. After their forced removal from the HSBC building in 2012, they consciously turned away from the routines of the pro-democracy movement, such as the annual July 1st rally. In a neighbourhood near Mong Kok, they opened a book- and mattress-filled space that they called an “infoshop,” as well as a vegetarian-food coöperative that allows customers to set their own prices.

They bonded with migrant domestic workers and dockworkers during a strike in 2013, and, earlier this year, some crossed the strait to join Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement, which was protesting that state’s agreement with China to liberalize trade and industry ownership. More recently, they took part in a series of demonstrations against controversial development and construction projects—luxury properties and retail spaces that were designed to integrate the economies of Hong Kong and southern China, and that threatened to displace villagers and farmers in border areas.

"Hands Up Don't Shoot" in Hong Kong

“Hands Up Don’t Shoot” in Hong Kong

At Mong Kok, the anarchists didn’t set up their own camp; instead, they moved fluidly along the occupied road, heading wherever the music was, away from the crowds and the centers of activity. Their numbers fluctuated between twenty and thirty musicians, writers, artists, workers, and students, who sometimes referred to themselves as kaifong (“folks in the neighbourhood”). They spent time chatting with curious local residents, and threw street parties inspired by notions of leisure and friendship in the context of resistance.

While the pro-democracy movement continued to agitate for specific changes—a repeal of Beijing’s decision (along with an apology), a more open and participatory nomination process for Hong Kong’s chief executive position, and, at one point, the resignation of the current leader, Leung Chun-ying—the anarchists made pamphlets with covers that read, “Who said we needed a chief executive?”

The anarchists shared some of the protesters’ visions, like land justice and welfare overhaul, but not their desire to seek change through established channels. They were unenthusiastic about calls for democracy and electoral reform when Hong Kong’s capitalist system, which they describe as toxic, would remain. These divisions led to tensions, at times, with the more combative and doctrinaire activists in Mong Kok, who tended to regard the anarchists as lacking in zeal. At one point, the anarchists rolled out a ping-pong table and prepared a hot-pot dinner in the streets, inviting other protesters to share the meal.

One of the anarchists, a vocalist named Leung Wing-lai, who goes by Ah Lai, told me that the dinner was intended to challenge the authorities by bringing an element of everyday life into the occupied streets, thereby signalling that “this is how we’re going to carry on.” But some protesters were critical of the idea, and the dinner quickly attracted a hostile crowd, led by a group of self-described “radicals,” many of whom belong to a nativist clique that had been one of the more aggressive forces at Mong Kok. They accused the anarchists of trivializing the struggle and turning it into a carnival, and went so far as to distribute a poster that labelled Ah Lai a Chinese Communist Party informant.

“It feels like the ‘proper’ thing to do is to conduct yourself with a certain amount of gravity: you can’t have fun, because people are getting tear-gassed,” Chan said. “But this is our life…. It’s not peripheral to what we believe in.”

The crusade for democracy in Hong Kong, in its current form, is expected to end on Thursday [December 11, 2014]. The pro-democracy protesters have put up a final show of resistance, turning up in large numbers on Wednesday night, a week after they reclaimed a major road in Admiralty following an aggressive foray by police. Others have taken part in fasting, in twenty-eight-hour rotations, in reference to September 28th, when police used unprecedented amounts of tear gas on protesters.

But last week, too, Alex Chow, the twenty-four-year-old secretary-general of the Federation of Students, labelled some of the new tactics a “failure” for not meeting their stated aim of “paralyzing government.” Meanwhile, the co-founders of Occupy Central with Love and Peace turned themselves over to authorities, in an attempt to “bear the legal consequences” of the months-long unauthorized assembly. They were released without arrest.

The anarchists were already avoiding the Mong Kok encampment after the hot-pot incident, and, with more trouble in the offing, they have returned to the work they were doing before the protests began. Their band (they call the genre “loosely psychedelic folk”) recently took part in a joint concert and farmers’ market, in collaboration with villagers facing displacement from the government’s development plan. The action posed no direct threat to the authorities, but the anarchists have always seen their fight as a long-term one, and a part of their daily lives. “Elections are where all the desires gravitate,” Chan told me, back in the heyday of the Mong Kok occupation. “But everything needs to change.”

china tear gasses Hong Kong protesters

Sam Mbah – In Memoriam

Sam Mbah

Sam Mbah

I found out this week that Sam Mbah, co-author with I.E. Igariwey of African Anarchism: The History of a Movement (Tucson: See Sharp Press, 1997), died of a heart condition on November 6, 2014. This is sad news. Last summer I reposted an appeal for financial support for Sam’s medical treatment. Last year I posted excerpts from an interview with Sam about the “African Spring” protest movement in Nigeria. In African Anarchism, Mbah and Igariwey relate the libertarian traditions of African communalism to anarchist conceptions of community and the critique of the nation-state, drawing on the work of European anarchists such as Bakunin and G.P. Maksimov. Here I reproduce some excerpts on communalism from African Anarchism included in Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, where Mbah and Igariwey draw out some of the affinities between communalism and modern anarchism. In the “Anarchist Current: From Anarchy to Anarchism,” I also discuss some of the anarchistic aspects of pre-statist societies.

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African Anarchism: The Communalist Background

Traditional African societies were, for the most part, founded on communalism. The term is used here in two senses. First, it denotes a definite mode of production or social formation that comes generally, though not inevitably, after hunter-gatherer societies, and in turn precedes feudalism. If one accepts cultural evolution, one sees that most European and Asian societies passed through these stages of development.

Communalism is also used in a second, related sense to denote a way of life that is distinctly African. This way of life can be glimpsed in the collectivist structure of African societies in which: 1) different communities enjoy (near) unfettered independence from one another; 2) communities manage their own affairs and are for all practical purposes self-accounting and self-governing; and 3) every individual without exception takes part, either directly or indirectly, in the running of community affairs at all levels.

In contrast to Europe and Asia, most of Africa never developed past the stage of communalism. Despite the indigenous development of feudalism and the later imposition of capitalism, communal features persist to this day—sometimes pervasively—in the majority of African societies that lie outside the big cities and townships. Essentially, much of Africa is communal in both the cultural (production/social formation) and descriptive (structural) senses.

Among the most important features of African communalism are the absence of classes, that is, social stratification; the absence of exploitative or antagonistic social relations; the existence of equal access to land and other elements of production; equality at the level of distribution of social produce; and the fact that strong family and kinship ties form(ed) the basis of social life in African communal societies. Within this framework, each household was able to meet its own basic needs. Under communalism, by virtue of being a member of a family or community, every African was (is) assured of sufficient land to meet his or her own needs.

Because in traditional African societies the economy was largely horticultural and subsistence based, as [Robert] Horton notes, “often small villages farmed, hunted, fished, etc., and looked after themselves independently with little reference to the rest of the continent.” Various communities produced surpluses of given commodities which they exchanged, through barter, for those items that they lacked. The situation was such that no one starved while others stuffed themselves and threw away the excess.

According to Walter Rodney, “in that way, the salt industry of one locality would be stimulated, while the iron industry would be encouraged in another. In a coastal, lake or riverine area, dried fish could become profitable, while yams and millet would be grown in abundance elsewhere to provide a basis of exchange…” Thus, in many parts of Africa a symbiosis arose between groups earning their living in different manners—they exchanged goods and coexisted to their mutual advantage.

Political organization under communalism was horizontal in structure, characterized by a high level of diffusion of functions and power. Political leadership, not authority, prevailed, and leadership was not founded on imposition, coercion, or centralization; it arose out of a common consensus or a mutually felt need.

Leadership developed on the basis of family and kinship ties woven around the elders; it was conferred only by age, a factor that… runs deep in communalism. In Africa, old age was—and still often is—equated with possession of wisdom and rational judgment. Elders presided at meetings and at the settlement of disputes, but hardly in the sense of superiors; their position did not confer the far-reaching socio-political authority associated with the modern state system, or with feudal states.

There was a pronounced sense of equality among all members of the community. Leadership focused on the interests of the group rather than on authority over its members. Invariably, the elders shared work with the rest of the community and received more or less the same share or value of total social produce as everyone else, often through tribute/redistributive mechanisms.

The relationship between the co-ordinating segments of the community was characterized by equivalence and opposition, and this tended to hinder the emergence of role specialization, and thus the division of labour among individuals. Generally, elders presided over the administration of justice, the settlement of disputes, and the organization of communal activities, functions they necessarily shared with selected representatives of their communities, depending on the specific nature of the dispute or issue involved.

Such meetings and gatherings were not guided by any known written laws, for there were none. Instead, they were based on traditional belief systems, mutual respect, and indigenous principles of natural law and justice. Social sanctions existed for various kinds of transgressions—theft, witchcraft, adultery, homicide, rape, etc. When an individual committed an offence, often his entire household, his kinsmen, and his extended family suffered with him, and sometimes for him. This was because such offences were believed to bring shame not only upon the individual, but even more so upon his relatives.

Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey, 1997

African Anarchism

African Anarchism

Means and Ends, War and Peace – November 11th

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This is the next installment from the Anarchist Current, the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I survey the historical origins and development of anarchist ideas. In this installment, I discuss anarchist views during the 1880s-1890s on the relationship between means and ends and the need to remain engaged in popular struggles. I briefly refer to the execution on November 11, 1887, of the Haymarket Martyrs, four Chicago anarchists framed for a bombing at a demonstration against police violence at the beginning of May 1886. I previously posted one of Voltairine de Cleyre‘s speeches commemorating their executions and excerpts from their trial speeches.

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In Britain and several of its former colonies, November 11th is celebrated as a day of remembrance for all the soldiers who have been killed fighting wars on behalf of their political and economic masters. Earlier this year I posted the International Anarchist Manifesto against the First World War. I have also posted Marie Louise Berneri’s critique of the hypocrisy of the politicians and patriots who condemn any acts of violence against the existing order as “terrorism” but venerate the mass slaughters known as “modern warfare” as great patriotic self-sacrifice.

Fight_the_state,_not_wars

Means and Ends

There were ongoing debates among anarchists regarding methods and tactics. Cafiero agreed with the late Carlo Pisacane that “ideals spring from deeds, and not the other way around” (Volume One, Selections 16 & 44). He argued that anarchists should seize every opportunity to incite “the rabble and the poor” to violent revolution, “by word, by writing, by dagger, by gun, by dynamite, sometimes even by the ballot when it is a case of voting for an ineligible candidate” (Volume One, Selection 44).
Kropotkin argued that by exemplary actions “which compel general attention, the new idea seeps into people’s minds and wins converts. One such act may, in a few days, make more propaganda than thousands of pamphlets” (1880).

Jean Grave (1854-1939) explained that through propaganda by the deed, the anarchist “preaches by example.” Consequently, contrary to Cafiero, “the means employed must always be adapted to the end, under pain of producing the exact contrary of one’s expectations”. For Grave, the “surest means of making Anarchy triumph is to act like an Anarchist” (Volume One, Selection 46). Some anarchists agreed with Cafiero that any method that brought anarchy closer was acceptable, including bombings and assassinations. At the 1881 International Anarchist Congress in London, the delegates declared themselves in favour of “illegality” as “the only way leading to revolution” (Cahm: 157-158), echoing Cafiero’s statement from the previous year that “everything is right for us which is not legal” (Volume One, Selection 44).

After years of state persecution, a small minority of self-proclaimed anarchists adopted terrorist tactics in the 1890s. Anarchist groups had been suppressed in Spain, Germany and Italy in the 1870s, particularly after some failed assassination attempts on the Kaiser in Germany, and the Kings of Italy and Spain in the late 1870s, even before Russian revolutionaries assassinated Czar Alexander II in 1881. Although none of the would be assassins were anarchists, the authorities and capitalist press blamed the anarchists and their doctrine of propaganda by the deed for these events, with the Times of London describing anarchism in 1879 as having “revolution for its starting point, murder for its means, and anarchy for its ideals” (Stafford: 131).

The Lyon Anarchist Trial

The Lyon Anarchist Trial

Those anarchists in France who had survived the Paris Commune were imprisoned, transported to penal colonies, or exiled. During the 1870s and 1880s, anarchists were prosecuted for belonging to the First International. In 1883, several anarchists in France, including Kropotkin, were imprisoned on the basis of their alleged membership, despite the fact that the anti-authoritarian International had ceased to exist by 1881. At their trial they declared: “Scoundrels that we are, we claim bread for all, knowledge for all, work for all, independence and justice for all” (Manifesto of the Anarchists, Lyon 1883).

Perhaps the most notorious persecution of the anarchists around this time was the trial and execution of the four “Haymarket Martyrs” in Chicago in 1887 (a fifth, Louis Lingg, cheated the executioner by committing suicide). They were convicted and condemned to death on trumped up charges that they were responsible for throwing a bomb at a demonstration in the Chicago Haymarket area in 1886.

When Emile Henry (1872-1894) threw a bomb into a Parisian café in 1894, describing his act as “propaganda by the deed,” he regarded it as an act of vengeance for the thousands of workers massacred by the bourgeoisie, such as the Communards, and the anarchists who had been executed by the authorities in Germany, France, Spain and the United States. He meant to show to the bourgeoisie “that those who have suffered are tired at last of their suffering” and “will strike all the more brutally if you are brutal with them” (1894). He denounced those anarchists who eschewed individual acts of terrorism as cowards.

Malatesta, who was no pacifist, countered such views by describing as “ultra-authoritarians” those anarchists who try “to justify and exalt every brutal deed” by arguing that the bourgeoisie are just “as bad or worse.” By doing so, these self-described anarchists had entered “on a path which is the most absolute negation of all anarchist ideas and sentiments.” Although they had “entered the movement inspired with those feelings of love and respect for the liberty of others which distinguish the true Anarchist,” as a result of “a sort of moral intoxication produced by the violent struggle” they ended up extolling actions “worthy of the greatest tyrants.” He warned that “the danger of being corrupted by the use of violence, and of despising the people, and becoming cruel as well as fanatical prosecutors, exists for all” (Volume One, Selection 48).

Malatesta at the Magistrate's Court

Malatesta at the Magistrate’s Court

In the 1890s, the French state brought in draconian laws banning anarchist activities and publications. Bernard Lazare (1865-1903), the writer and journalist then active in the French anarchist movement, denounced the hypocrisy of the defenders of the status quo who, as the paid apologists for the police, rationalized the far greater violence of the state. He defiantly proclaimed that no “law can halt free thought, no penalty can stop us from uttering the truth… and the Idea, gagged, bound and beaten, will emerge all the more lively, splendid and mighty” (Volume One, Selection 62).

Malatesta took a more sober approach, recognizing that “past history contains examples of persecutions which stopped and destroyed a movement as well as of others which brought about a revolution.” He criticized those “comrades who expect the triumph of our ideas from the multiplication of acts of individual violence,” arguing that “bourgeois society cannot be overthrown” by bombs and knife blows because it is based “on an enormous mass of private interests and prejudices… sustained… by the inertia of the masses and their habits of submission.” While he argued that anarchists should ignore and defy anti-anarchist laws and measures where able to do so, he felt that anarchists had isolated themselves from the people. He called on anarchists to “live among the people and to win them over… by actively taking part in their struggles and sufferings,” for the anarchist social revolution can only succeed when the people are “ready to fight and… to take the conduct of their affairs into their own hands” (Volume One, Selection 53).

Robert Graham

malatesta anarchist spirit

Additional References

Cahm, Caroline. Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism, 1872-1886. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Henry, Emile. “A Terrorist’s Defence” (1894). The Anarchist Reader. Ed. G. Woodcock. Fontana, 1977.

Kropotkin, Peter. “The Spirit of Revolt” (1880). Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets. Ed. R.N. Baldwin. New York: Dover, 1970.

Stafford, David. From Anarchism to Reformism: A Study of the Political Activities of Paul Brousse, 1870-90. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971.

Assembly Democracy in Kurdistan

Kurdish Woman Defending Kobani

Kurdish Woman Defending Kobani

As the Kurds continue to defend Kobani from the ISIS assault, with very limited support (in fact, Turkey at first used the movement of Kurdish fighters into the area as an excuse for bombing Kurdish targets), I reproduce from Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas Janet Biehl’s 2012 interview with Ercan Ayboga,  in which he describes the development of a confederal democratic assembly movement among the Kurds, inspired in part by Murray Bookchin’s writings. Biehl has since translated into English a book of writings by members of the movement, Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan: The Council Movement, Gender Liberation and Ecology (New Compass Press), available from AK Press.

Kurdish Democratic Society Congress

Kurdish Democratic Society Congress

The Democratic Assembly Movement in Kurdistan

Until the 1980s the Kurdish society was completely patriarchal. There were no women’s rights or feminist groups, not even among the more liberal Alevi Kurds. The most important dynamic in overcoming the patriarchal structures became the Kurdish freedom movement. And without women’s participation, the movement could not possibly have achieved broad popular support. By around 1990 women were participating widely in this movement, and between 1990 and 1992 women were leading demonstrations, which started to change the situation significantly. In the middle of 1990s a broad ideological discussion started in the movement, in which patriarchal structures in the whole society were criticized systematically. Since then, many women’s organizations have been founded in all areas of the struggle…

Today women are present in all the political structures, at all levels, in the Kurdish freedom movement, which is a result of the long gender discussion and of women’s struggle within the movement and in the democratic assemblies. For instance, in the BDP [Peace and Democracy Party], all chairperson positions must be held by a man and a woman, and there is a 40 percent requirement for both sexes in all management boards, public parliaments, and elected councils. As “gender liberation” is one of the three main principles used by the freedom movement besides “democracy” and “ecology,” a social perspective without women’s liberation is unthinkable.
Assembly democracy has limited roots in Kurdistan history and geography. …[T]he society’s village character was and is still fairly strong. Some villages had hierarchy and aghas (feudal big land owners), but in others, where these factors were absent, villages organized common meetings in the kom (village community) in which they made decisions. In many cases, older women participated in these meetings, but not young women.
In past centuries, tribes sometimes held assemblies with representatives from all families (or villages) in order to discuss important issues of the tribe or the larger society. The tribal leader carried out the decisions that the assembly accepted.
During their long history, Kurdish tribes used from time to time and from region to region a confederal organizational structure for facing political and social challenges. It was based on voluntariness, so not all tribes participated in the confederal structure. But in most of Kurdistan, many non-Kurdish tribes or societies were not much involved in the confederal system.
PKK Fighters

PKK Fighters

In the 1990s, as the Kurdish freedom movement grew stronger, an effort was made to build up assemblies in “liberated” villages. PKK [Kurdish Workers Party] guerrillas promoted village assemblies, and in villages where the guerrillas were strong, most of the people accepted them. But just as they were getting under way, the Turkish army destroyed 4,000 villages and their political structures. Thereafter the repression intensified. Since 2005, in some of the villages that were close to the freedom movement, this idea has been developed again. Some villages organize regular democratic assemblies, fully including women and all parts of the society.
The Kurdish freedom movement had its ideological sources in the 1968 student movement and the Turkish left’s Marxist-Leninist, Stalinist, Maoist, Trotskyist, and other communist theories. At the end of the 1980s, the Kurdish freedom movement embarked on a critique of the actually existing (state) socialist model, and in later years it would be deepened. The critique of the 1990s said, among other points, that it’s important to change individuals and society before taking the power of any state, that the relationship between individuals and state must be organized anew and that instead of big bureaucratic-technocratic structures, a full democracy should be developed.
In 1999, when the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was captured and the guerrilla forces were withdrawn to Iraqi Kurdistan, the freedom movement underwent a process of comprehensive strategic change. It did not give up the idea of socialism, but it rejected the existing Marxist-Leninist structure as too hierarchical and not democratic enough. Political and civil struggle replaced armed struggle as the movement’s center. Starting in 2000, it promoted civil disobedience and resistance (the Intifada in Palestine was also an inspiration).
 pkk logo
Further, the movement gave up the aim of establishing a Kurdish-dominant state, because of the existing difficult political conditions in the Middle East and the world; instead, it advanced a long-term solution for the Kurdish question within the four states Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria: democratic confederalism. It now considers it more important to have a democratic, social and tolerant society than to have one’s own state. For Turkey, it has proposed the foundation of a second or democratic republic…
The Kurdish freedom movement developed the idea of “democratic confederalism” not only from the ideas of communalist intellectuals but also from movements like the Zapatistas; from Kurdish society’s own village-influenced history; from the long, thirty-five-year experience of political and armed struggle; from the intense controversies within Turkish democratic-socialist-revolutionary movements; and from the movement’s continuous development of transparent structures for the broad population…
We foresee communalism as developing first in Turkish Kurdistan. Since 2007 the freedom movement has created democratic and decision-making assemblies in neighborhoods of cities where it is strong, particularly in the provinces of Hakkari, Sirnak, Siirt, Mardin, Diyarbakir, Batman, and Van. The assemblies were established to make decisions on all common problems, challenges, and projects of the respective neighborhood according the principles of a base democracy–the whole population has the right to participate. In some of the assemblies, non-Kurdish people are participating, like Azerbaijanis and Aramaic people…
There are assemblies at several levels. At the bottom are the neighborhood assemblies. They choose the delegates that constitute the city assembly. In Diyarbakir, ideas are discussed in the city assembly, of which the city council is part—not officially, not legally, but in our system. If the city assembly makes a certain decision on an issue, then the city council members who are part of the city assembly will promote it. (But the city council also has members from the other parties, like the ruling AKP, which don’t agree with it.) The city council has the legal power to make decisions that become laws. But for the people, the city assembly is the legitimate body.
When decisions on a bigger scale have to be taken, the city and village assemblies of a province come together. In the provinces of Hakkari and Sirnak, the experience has had very positive results. The state authority has no influence on the population–the people don’t accept the state authorities. There are two parallel authorities, of which the democratic confederal structure is more powerful in practice.
 Rojava_cities
At the top of this model is the DTK (Democratic Society Congress), which brings together all Kurds in the Republic of Turkey. It consists of more than five hundred civil society organizations, labor unions, and political parties—they make up 40 percent of its members; 60 percent of its members are delegates from village assemblies.
The DTK provincial assemblies were crucial in electing the candidates for the Turkish parliament of the legal pro-Kurdish party, the BDP. For the last elections, the Diyarbakir provincial assembly decided on six candidates chosen by the DTK—those selected became candidates of the BDP for parliament. (Six of 36 elected candidates are now in prison—the court did not release them. We don’t know when or whether they will be liberated.)
Slowly but surely, democratic confederalism is gaining acceptance by more Turkish Kurds. Recently, the DTK presented a draft paper on democratic autonomy for Turkish Kurdistan. At a big meeting in Diyarbakir in July 14, 2011, the DTK declared itself in support of “democratic autonomy.” It seeks to realize democratic autonomy step by step, by Kurds’ own means, and especially where the Kurdish freedom movement is strong. Much of Kurdish society approved, but the idea was controversial in Turkish society.
One result of the discussions of democratic confederalism has been an objective to found new villages on the communalist idea or transform existing villages whose conditions are suitable for that. Such villages are to be democratic, ecological, gender equal, and/or even peace villages. Here peace not only refers to the armed conflict; it expresses the people’s relationships among themselves and with the natural world. Cooperatives are the economic and material base of these villages.
PKK Rally

BDP Rally

The first peace villages were developed in 2010. In Hakkari province, which borders Iraq and Iran and where the freedom movement is very strong, several villages decided to develop a cooperative economy. The new political and social relationship of the population and the economy are suitable for that, as the freedom movement is very strong there, with direct support from 90 percent of the society. Close to the city of Weranshah (Viranşehir), the construction of a new village with seventy households based on the idea of peace villages just started. In Van province, activists have decided to build a new ecological women’s village, which would be something special. This would enforce the role of women in the society. Women who have been victims of domestic violence will be accepted. These small communities could supply themselves with all or almost all the necessary energy.
In reality, the assembly model has not yet been developed broadly for several reasons. First, in some places the Kurdish freedom movement is not so strong. Almost half of the population in Turkey’s Kurdish areas still do not actively support it. In those places there are no few or no assemblies. Second, the discussions among the Kurds on democratic confederalism have not proceeded everywhere as well as they might.
And third, the repression by the Turkish state makes further development very difficult. About thirty-five hundred activists have been arrested in the past two and a half years, since 2009, which in many regions has significantly weakened the structures of democratic confederalism. There have been trials for two years. The military clashes between Turkish Army and the Kurdish guerrillas are once again on the increase… The state simply says these assemblies are coordinated by the KCK (Union of Communities in Kurdistan), the umbrella structure of the leftist Kurdish freedom movement in Middle East ,of which today PKK is a part, which is an illegal structure, and that becomes the pretext for arresting them…The Turkish Kurds’ legal party, the BDP, proposes “democratic autonomy” for the whole republic… Generally it envisages a fundamental democratization in the Turkey’s political and administrative structure, achieving it through democratic participation by incorporating people into processes of decision-making. The essential vision is not to create smaller structures with characteristics of the nation-state; rather, the democratic decision-making structures in the societies should be developed through a combination of base democracy and council democracy.
And rather than being a purely “ethnic” and “territorial” conception, democratic autonomy proposes a regional and local structure through which cultural differences are able to freely express themselves. Thus it proposes to establish twenty to twenty-five regions in Turkey with major autonomous rights. These autonomous regions and their assemblies would also assume major responsibilities in fields like education, health, culture, agriculture, industry, social services and security, women, youth and sports. The central government would continue to conduct foreign affairs, finance and external defense services.
In addition, the Kurdish freedom movement demands that Turkish Kurdistan have control over its own “security,” or self-defense; and the right to manage the natural environment and natural resources. At the same time it demands that Turkish Kurdistan be able to establish specific social, cultural, economic and political ties with the other three parts of Kurdistan, in Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Democratic Society Congress (DTK)

Democratic Society Congress (DTK)

In Turkey, the Kurdish freedom movement is in implementation phase, but in the three other parts, the Kurds are in the first stage of discussing democratic confederalism. The existing Kurdish parties and organizations that are not part of the Kurdish freedom movement give no importance to it. They support either full independence for Kurdistan or a classical model of autonomy and federation.
But organizations that are part of or close to the KCK, and intellectuals and small groups, promote democratic confederalism as well as the democratic autonomy project of the DTK. The thirty-five hundred activists arrested since 2009 have all been members of the KCK which is an illegal organization. Every two years they have meetings with delegates from all four countries—they meet secretly—in the mountains…
The Kurdish freedom movement has declared that it is not against existing state boundaries and does not want to change them. But at the same time the movement expects that the states respect all decisions of the population. The movement speaks of two authorities, the state and the population. In democratic confederalism, two different regions of neighboring states can come closer, for instance in terms of culture, education, economy, without challenging the existing states. But in a system of democratic confederalism, the Kurds of different states, or any other suppressed culture in more than two different states, would come closer after decades of separation. This aspect is still not defined well und needs to be discussed deeper.
The Kurdish freedom movement proposes democratic confederalism for all countries and cultures of Middle East, as it is more appropriate than the existing centralized, half-decentralized, or totalitarian political structures there. Before the twentieth-century foundation of nation-states in the Middle East, the structures did not control the societies deeply; the different regions had certain freedoms and self-government, and the tribal structures were dominant. Here many local structures are still strong and resist the state influence.
Further, in the Middle East the cultural diversity is so high that a communalist society could much better consider this richness. It would allow ethnically or religiously nondominant groups to organize themselves and contribute significantly to a dynamic cultural diversity. Direct democratic structures may make sense here too: in the recent uprisings in many countries, new democratic movements were born or have been strengthened. We would like to object to opinions that consider Arabs or other populations incapable of democratic thinking.
Excerpted from Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume Three: The New Anarchism (1974-2012), ed. Robert Graham
democratic_autonomy_in_north_kurdistan_front

David Graeber: Support the Kurds in Syria!

rojava

In the piece below, David Graeber asks why the world is ignoring the revolutionary Kurds in Syria, drawing a connection with the situation in Spain during the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (1936-1939), when the so-called democracies imposed an arms embargo on Spain, while Hitler and Mussolini’s fascist dictatorships not only provided the Spanish military and Falangists with the most up-to-date weapons, but even supplied some of their own armed forces, bombing civilian targets like Guernica, which provoked Pablo Picasso into creating one of his greatest art pieces in protest. The situation in Kobane is also reminiscent of the situation of the Paris Commune in May 1871, when the reactionary armed forces of the Versailles government attacked the revolutionary Communards, massacring 30,000 Parisians while the world looked on and the Prussians ensured that no outside help would arrive, much as Turkey is doing to the Kurds in Kobane.

Mujeres Libres in the Spanish Revolution

Mujeres Libres in the Spanish Revolution

I included some selections by David Graeber on the “new anarchism” and democracy in Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. I also included a statement from Kurdish anarchists, and an interview that Janet Biehl conducted with PKK members regarding their adoption of a libertarian communalist approach inspired by Murray Bookchin. Volume One of the Anarchism anthology included several selections regarding the anarchists in the Spanish Revolution and the Mujeres Libres group Graeber refers to below.

Tev-Dem (Movement for a Democratic Society) Meeting in Qamishli

Tev-Dem (Movement for a Democratic Society) Meeting in Qamishli

Why is the world ignoring the revolutionary Kurds in Syria?

In 1937, my father volunteered to fight in the International Brigades in defence of the Spanish Republic. A would-be fascist coup had been temporarily halted by a worker’s uprising, spearheaded by anarchists and socialists, and in much of Spain a genuine social revolution ensued, leading to whole cities under directly democratic management, industries under worker control, and the radical empowerment of women.

Spanish revolutionaries hoped to create a vision of a free society that the entire world might follow. Instead, world powers declared a policy of “non-intervention” and maintained a rigorous blockade on the republic, even after Hitler and Mussolini, ostensible signatories, began pouring in troops and weapons to reinforce the fascist side. The result was years of civil war that ended with the suppression of the revolution and some of a bloody century’s bloodiest massacres.

I never thought I would, in my own lifetime, see the same thing happen again. Obviously, no historical event ever really happens twice. There are a thousand differences between what happened in Spain in 1936 and what is happening in Rojava, the three largely Kurdish provinces of northern Syria, today. But some of the similarities are so striking, and so distressing, that I feel it’s incumbent on me, as someone who grew up in a family whose politics were in many ways defined by the Spanish revolution, to say: we cannot let it end the same way again.

The autonomous region of Rojava, as it exists today, is one of few bright spots – albeit a very bright one – to emerge from the tragedy of the Syrian revolution. Having driven out agents of the Assad regime in 2011, and despite the hostility of almost all of its neighbours, Rojava has not only maintained its independence, but is a remarkable democratic experiment. Popular assemblies have been created as the ultimate decision-making bodies, councils selected with careful ethnic balance (in each municipality, for instance, the top three officers have to include one Kurd, one Arab and one Assyrian or Armenian Christian, and at least one of the three has to be a woman), there are women’s and youth councils, and, in a remarkable echo of the armed Mujeres Libres (Free Women) of Spain, a feminist army, the “YJA Star” militia (the “Union of Free Women”, the star here referring to the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar), that has carried out a large proportion of the combat operations against the forces of Islamic State.

How can something like this happen and still be almost entirely ignored by the international community, even, largely, by the International left? Mainly, it seems, because the Rojavan revolutionary party, the PYD, works in alliance with Turkey’s Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), a Marxist guerilla movement that has since the 1970s been engaged in a long war against the Turkish state. NATO, the US and EU officially classify them as a “terrorist” organisation. Meanwhile, leftists largely write them off as Stalinists.

But, in fact, the PKK itself is no longer anything remotely like the old, top-down Leninist party it once was. Its own internal evolution, and the intellectual conversion of its own founder, Abdullah Ocalan, held in a Turkish island prison since 1999, have led it to entirely change its aims and tactics.

The PKK has declared that it no longer even seeks to create a Kurdish state. Instead, inspired in part by the vision of social ecologist and anarchist Murray Bookchin, it has adopted the vision of “libertarian municipalism”, calling for Kurds to create free, self-governing communities, based on principles of direct democracy, that would then come together across national borders – that it is hoped would over time become increasingly meaningless. In this way, they proposed, the Kurdish struggle could become a model for a wordwide movement towards genuine democracy, co-operative economy, and the gradual dissolution of the bureaucratic nation-state.

Since 2005 the PKK, inspired by the strategy of the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas, declared a unilateral ceasefire with the Turkish state and began concentrating their efforts in developing democratic structures in the territories they already controlled. Some have questioned how serious all this really is. Clearly, authoritarian elements remain. But what has happened in Rojava, where the Syrian revolution gave Kurdish radicals the chance to carry out such experiments in a large, contiguous territory, suggests this is anything but window dressing. Councils, assemblies and popular militias have been formed, regime property has been turned over to worker-managed co-operatives – and all despite continual attacks by the extreme rightwing forces of Isis. The results meet any definition of a social revolution. In the Middle East, at least, these efforts have been noticed: particularly after PKK and Rojava forces intervened to successfully fight their way through Isis territory in Iraq to rescue thousands of Yezidi refugees trapped on Mount Sinjar after the local peshmerga fled the field. These actions were widely celebrated in the region, but remarkably received almost no notice in the European or North American press.

Now, Isis has returned, with scores of US-made tanks and heavy artillery taken from Iraqi forces, to take revenge against many of those same revolutionary militias in Kobane, declaring their intention to massacre and enslave – yes, literally enslave – the entire civilian population. Meanwhile, the Turkish army stands at the border preventing reinforcements or ammunition from reaching the defenders, and US planes buzz overhead making occasional, symbolic, pinprick strikes – apparently, just to be able to say that it did not do nothing as a group it claims to be at war with crushes defenders of one of the world’s great democratic experiments.

If there is a parallel today to Franco’s superficially devout, murderous Falangists, who would it be but Isis? If there is a parallel to the Mujeres Libres of Spain, who could it be but the courageous women defending the barricades in Kobane? Is the world – and this time most scandalously of all, the international left – really going to be complicit in letting history repeat itself?

David Graeber, October 12, 2014

Picasso's Guernica

Picasso’s Guernica

1848: Anarchism and Revolution in Europe

1848 European Revolutions

This is the next installment from the Anarchist Current, the afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I survey the origins and development of anarchist ideas from ancient China to the present day. In this section, I discuss the role of anarchist ideas in the 1848 revolutions in Europe and their immediate aftermath, with a focus on Proudhon, his anarchist critic, Joseph Déjacque, Anselme Bellegarrigue, Carlo Pisacane, Ernest Coeurderoy and Pi y Margall.

1848-granger

Anarchism and the European Revolutions of 1848

In early 1848, revolution broke out in Sicily, quickly spreading throughout the Italian peninsula. The February 1848 Revolution soon followed in France, with the king being overthrown and a provisional republican government proclaimed. There were revolutions in various parts of Germany and Eastern Europe (with Bakunin somehow managing to take a part in most of them until his arrest in Dresden in May 1849). Anarchist ideas began to gain some currency, particularly in France, in no small part due to Proudhon’s own efforts.

The provisional government in France instituted universal male suffrage, which Proudhon referred to as “the counter-revolution” because the election of representatives, no matter how broad the electoral base, gives power to those representatives, not of the people, but of particular interests, legitimizing rule by those interests by making it appear that a government elected by universal suffrage represents the interests of the people. In fact, the Constituent Assembly elected in April 1848 was dominated by right-wing and bourgeois representatives. Rejection of and opposition to representative government and participation in parliamentary politics distinguished the anarchists from other socialist currents and helped lead to the split in the First International between Marx and his followers, who advocated the creation of national political parties to represent the interests of the working class, and the proto-anarchist anti-authoritarian federalists associated with Bakunin (Volume One, Chapters 5 & 6).

In Confessions of a Revolutionary (1849), Proudhon denounced the alliance between capital, religion and the state:

“Capital, which in the political field is analogous to government, in religion has Catholicism as its synonym. The economic idea of capitalism, the politics of government or of authority, and the theological idea of the Church are three identical ideas, linked in various ways. To attack one of them is equivalent to attacking all of them… What capital does to labour, and the State to liberty, the Church does to the spirit. This trinity of absolutism is as baneful in practice as it is in philosophy. The most effective means for oppressing the people would be simultaneously to enslave its body, its will and its reason.” (Nettlau: 43-44)

In The General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century, written from prison while Proudhon was incarcerated for having denounced Napoleon III as the personification of reaction, Proudhon wrote that the “fundamental, decisive idea” of the Revolution is this: “NO MORE AUTHORITY, neither in the Church, nor in the State, nor in land, nor in money” (Volume One, Selection 12). He described the law as “spider webs for the rich and powerful, steel chains for the weak and poor, fishing nets in the hands of the government,” advocating in their place a “system of contracts” based on the notion of equivalent exchange (Volume One, Selection 12). While subsequent anarchists were, for the most part, to reject Proudhon’s notion of equivalent exchange, they concurred with Proudhon that social relationships should be based on free agreements between individuals directly and between the various voluntary associations to which they may belong (Graham, 1989).

In Spain, anarchists referred to these agreements as “pacts” (pactos). In 1854, Francisco Pi y Margall (1824-1901), who introduced Proudhon’s ideas to a Spanish audience, argued that between “two sovereign entities there is room only for pacts. Authority and sovereignty are contradictions. Society based on authority ought, therefore, to give way to society based upon contract” (Volume One, Selection 15).

Not only in Spain, but throughout the nascent international anarchist movements, anarchists advocated contract, conceived as free agreement, as the means by which people would voluntarily federate into broader trade union, communal, regional and international organizations with no central authority above them, with each person and federated group being free to disassociate or secede from any federalist organization (Graham, 1989). They agreed with the argument put forward by Proudhon in his influential book, On the Political Capacity of the Working Classes (1865), that without the right of secession, federalism would be “merely an illusion, empty boasting, a lie” (Volume One, Selection 18).

In the aftermath of the 1848 French Revolution, Proudhon was not alone in advocating anarchy as a positive ideal. In 1850, the young journalist, Anselme Bellegarrigue, briefly published a newspaper, L’Anarchie, in which he argued that “anarchy is order, whereas government is civil war” (Volume One, Selection 13), echoing Proudhon’s comment in What Is Property that society “finds its highest perfection in the union of order with anarchy” (Volume One, Selection 8).

The Italian revolutionary, Carlo Pisacane (1818-1857), demanded the abolition of all hierarchy and authority, to be replaced by a form of socialism similar to Proudhon’s mutualism, based on voluntary contract and “free association”. Anticipating the doctrine of “propaganda by the deed,” Pisacane argued that the most effective propaganda is revolutionary action, for ideas “spring from deeds and not the other way around” (Volume One, Selection 16).

Joseph Déjacque (1821-1864), the first person to use the word “libertarian” as a synonym for “anarchist,” conceived of anarchy as the “complete, boundless, utter freedom to do anything and everything that is in human nature” (Volume One, Selection 14). Exiled from France after the 1848 Revolution, he called for the abolition of religion, private property, the patriarchal nuclear family, all authority and privilege, and for the “liberation of woman, the emancipation of the child.”

Déjacque's Le Libertaire

Déjacque’s Le Libertaire

Déjacque’s Critique of Proudhon

Déjacque’s anarchist critique was much broader than Proudhon’s. Proudhon saw the patriarchal nuclear family as the basis of society, and argued that woman’s place was in the home. He did not advocate the complete abolition of property, arguing instead for a fairer distribution of wealth based on individual contribution and equivalent exchange.

Déjacque took Proudhon to task on both points, arguing for the complete abolition of “property and authority in every guise” (Volume One, Selection 17). He rejected Proudhon’s mutualism as a “system of contracts” for determining each person’s “allotted measure” of things instead of everyone having access to whatever their “nature or temperament requires.” Déjacque believed that everyone should be “free to consume and to produce as they see fit,” advocating a form of anarchist communism twenty years before similar views were to be adopted by anarchists associated with the anti-authoritarian wing of the First International (Volume One, Chapter 8).

Rejecting Proudhon’s views on women, Déjacque argued that “the issue of woman’s emancipation” must be placed “on the same footing as the issue of emancipation of the proletarian” (Volume One, Selection 17). He looked forward to “man and woman striding with the same step and heart… towards their natural destiny, the anarchic community; with all despotism annihilated, all social inequalities banished.”

Ernest Coeurderoy

Ernest Coeurderoy

Ernest Coeurderoy: Citizen of the World

Another French exile with anarchist sensibilities was Ernest Coeurderoy (1825-1862). In a passage from his Days of Exile, remarkably similar to comments made by Subcomandante Marcos in the 1990s, Coeurderoy identified himself with all of the oppressed, writing that:

“In every land there are folk who are kicked out and driven away, killed and burnt out without a single voice of compassion to speak up for them. They are the Jews.—I am a Jew.

Skinny, untamed, restless men, sprightlier than horses and as dusky as the bastards of Shem, roam through the Andalusian countryside… The doors of every home are barred to them, in hamlet and town alike. A widespread disapproval weighs upon their breed… Such men are known as Gitanos.—I am a Gitano…

In Paris one can see wayward boys, naked, who hide under the bridges along the canal in the mid-winter and dive into the murky waters in search of a sou tossed to them by a passing onlooker… Their trade consists in purloining scarves and pretending to ask for a light but swapping cigarettes. These are the Bohemians.—I am a Bohemian…

Everywhere, there are people banned from promenades, museums, cafes and theatres because a heartless wretchedness mocks their day wear. If they dare to show themselves in public, every eye turns to stare at them; and the police forbid them to go near fashionable locations. But, mightier than any police, their righteous pride in themselves takes exception to being singled out for widespread stigma.—I am one of that breed” (1854).

Robert Graham

1848 Horace_Vernet-Barricade_rue_Soufflot

Additional References

Graham, Robert. “The Role of Contract in Anarchist Ideology.” In For Anarchism: History, Theory and Practice. Ed. D. Goodway. London: Routledge, 1989.

Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism. London: Freedom Press, 1996.

Sam Mbah Needs Help

Sam Mbah

Sam Mbah

In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from Sam Mbah and I.E. Irgariwey’s book, African Anarchism. More recently, I posted an interview with Sam Mbah regarding the situation in Nigeria. Now Sam Mbah is in need of medical help, and Jura Books in Australia is conducting a fundraising campaign. Their appeal for donations is set forth below.

Jura Books Fundraising Appeal on Behalf of Sam Mbah

Sam Mbah is an anarchist author and activist from Nigeria. Jura has been in contact with Sam for some years; one collective member spent time with him in 2012, interviewing him and setting up his blog. Sam’s classic book African Anarchism explores the anarchistic aspects of a number of traditional African societies, as well as the potential for anarchism in Africa today. Sam was active in the struggle against the Nigerian dictatorship, and helped to found the Awareness League – a large anarchist organisation at that time. Sam is now one of a small number of prominent anarchists in Nigeria – the third most populous English-speaking country in the world. He is of great significance to our global community.

Now Sam needs our help. His health has been deteriorating due to a heart condition. He needs an operation on his heart and is seeking to raise $12,000. Jura is helping to fundraise. Please make a donation now – any amount would be appreciated. You can donate in cash at Jura, or by paypal [ http://jura.org.au/donate ], or by direct transfer into our bank account below. Please include the reference ‘Sam Mbah‘ and let us know you’ve made the donation. We will send the money to Sam in one transfer.

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Russian Anarchism Today

Autonomous Action

Autonomous Action

Recently, I posted an analysis of the situation in Ukraine by the Russian anarchist group, Autonomous Action. Here I present a statement of principles by Autonomous Action, to give a flavour of contemporary anarchist movements in Russia. I included material from Russian anarchists in all three volumes of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

autonomous action banner2

AUTONOMOUS ACTION: WHO ARE WE

Autonomous Action – it is a community of people, for whom “freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality” [Bakunin]. We consider that the most important things in life are not the consumption of goods, making a career, reaching positions of power and making money, but creativity, real human relations and personal liberty. All of us, be it workers and the unemployed people, students and pupils, employees and marginal elements, have one common unifying element – to protest against any power of a man over another man, state, capitalism and officially spread bourgeois “culture”. A desire not to be a willful nut in the mechanism of the System – to collectively resist it, to demand free self-realization.

OUR IDEALS AND OUR AIM

Autonomous Action against any form of domination and discrimination, both within the society and in our own organization. The current system of domination is tightly interlaced with a repressive state apparatus, industrial capitalist economical structure and authoritarian and hierarchic relations between people. We see that every state is an instrument of oppression and exploitation of the working majority for the benefit of the privileged minority. Power of state and capital is suppression of personality and creativity of each and everyone. This is why for us libertarian (free, stateless, self-governed) communism, a society without domination, is the necessary structure of society. The closest aim of Autonomous Action is to create a tradition and basis for a new humanist culture, social self-organization and radical resistance against militarism, capitalism, sexism and fascism.

HOW WE ARE ORGANIZED

Our goals may be reached only when aims and means meet. This is why our organization has a federative structure, which excludes leadership and hierarchy, denies inequality of the participators, centralism, strict division of functions, which ruin initiative, destroy autonomy and suppress personality. Our ideals and organizational principles are wide enough not to make us a sect, and concrete enough to allow co-ordination of actions, common tactics and aims and successful decision about tasks we engage in. Our structure,conditions of membership and mechanism of decision-making are defined in detail in the organizational principles of Autonomous Action.

HOW WE TAKE ACTION

Members of Autonomous Action support direct action. In order to reach our goals, we do not participate in the fight for power, for a seat in parliament or for arm-chairs of state officials. We realise our goals in direct order, by a wide spectrum of non- parliamentary and cultural action, if necessary revolutionary by form and content. Autonomous Action is a common front, subdivisions of which, each in their own directions, realise an attack against repressive relations in different social movements, in all spheres of social and individual life – at the same time building new relations, without domination and submission. Autonomous Action recognises the right of society and individuals to defend themselves and to resist against exploitation.

WAY TO OUR GOAL

We recognise a multitude of ways to reach our goals. The way might be one of revolutionary insurrection self-organised by the working masses, a general strike or a more or less gradual disappearance of the institutions of power and capital in favour of self-governing structures of alternative civil society, and so on. Life itself will define, which of the methods will be most effective and timely. But a society without domination may never be reached through reforms and legislative acts of parliaments and governments, initiatives of inter-state and corporate structures, representatives of the privileged and the ruling class. Our strategy is REVOLUTIONARY in the sense that it comes from below, from the very bottom structures of the society, and does not operate with the mechanisms and resources of the system; in the sense, that it does not demand partial changes in the system, but its destruction and change as a whole.

OUR ALTERNATIVE

Centralised bureaucratic machine, national and global capital and the consumerist mass culture which they have given rise to, that is the system suPpressing us, and it’s not only immoral and unjust, but it also leads the present human society to an ecological and cultural catastrophe and to war. Sharp change of direction has become an urgent necessity today. This is why we propose a radical alternative to existing order of things, based on humanism, liberty and equality. Our goal is not to “set up a divine kingdom on Earth”, but only to open a road to real social development. In such a society some of the present problems may remain, and some new may appear, but it will in any case be more equal, human and free than the present one, and in certain circumstances, becomes almost the only alternative to approaching catastrophe. Simultaneously, our alternative is not only a goal of the distant future, for which we are fighting for, but a society which we are creating here and now through everyday resistance. This alternative is fixed by the following ideals and directions of our activity, which every participator of Autonomous Action expresses according to his will, whereas her or his actions comply with goals of Autonomous Action and do not contradict the ideas of this manifesto.

autonomous action march

IDEALS AND DIRECTIONS

ANTI-AUTHORITARIANISM

Against every form of dictatorship, leadership, authoritarism, centralised bureaucratical apparatus, police excesses. For right to participate in making decision on any question influencing our destiny. For minimisation of vertical and maximisation of horizontal relations inside the society. For decentralisation of the governance, local autonomy, direct grassroots democracy and federalism. For free federation of self-governed, but interconnected individuals, groups, communes, regions where organs of the co-ordination, when they are necessary, are independent councils or other institutions of social self-governance, formed by assemblies not according to principle of presentation, but according to principle of delegation and imperative mandate – with the right to immediate recall delegates. FOR COMPLETE LIBERATION OF EACH AND EVERYONE! YOUR FREEDOM IS SENSELESS WITHOUT FREEDOM OF THE OTHERS!

ANTICAPITALISM

Human race, undivided in its natural state, has become divided between masters and powerless exploited majority. We stand for liquidation of the class society, wage work, humiliation and exploitation of human by another and imperialism, and for elimination of power of money and products. Against the dependence of human from the nature of “market relations”. Products should not govern people, in contrary people should use products sensibly and cautiously. Society should get over the catastrophical logic of the bourgeois production. Against growing power of transnational corporations and international structures of the capital. For workers’ governance and control in production. The wealth and resources of society should be accessible to everyone, not only to the governing elite. For people’s self-governance without capitalists and bureaucrats. Organisation and integration of the production should be made according to the principle: from everyone according to their capacities, to everyone according to their needs – taking into account transformation in the structure of needs themselves, and keeping in mind the production limits given by the society and saving the equilibrium and diversity of nature. Capitalism, as a system of all out war, profiting and humiliation has only one historical perspective – death of humanity and planetwide ecological catastrophe. And in the best case, immersion to gulf of “civilised” barbarism. Capitalism may not be reformed.

ANTI-FASCISM, ANTI-NATIONALISM

Fascism, racism and nationalism are means of bourgeoisie and bureaucracy to provoke people against each other, and to divide them to different races and nations, to hide mastership. To create profits and maintain power of bourgeoisie and bureaucracy over the society. We are internationalists. Only organising workers in international scale may not only challenge power and capital and reactionary political tendencies, but also to give them a decisive death blow. World should be multi-coloured, not brown! For a world without borders and national states, one in it’s multitude of cultures and traditions. For a world with multitude of personalities, collectives, communities and regions, no to a downcast world of national and religious hatred, racial prejudices, chauvinism, xenophobia, unified and closed “national culture”. For protection of national and cultural minorities against discrimination and fascist terror. For radical counter-attack against neo-nazis and national-patriotist ideologists and organisations. For foundation of anti-fascist shock troops to physically confront fascists.

ANTI-BOLSHEVISM

Negative experience of “real socialism” in countries like USSR, China, Cuba etc. does not in any case discredit ideas of libertarian communism. It is not possible to create free society and solidarity through authoritarian party structure seizing the state power, with dictatorship of any party apparatus or self-appointed “avant-garde”. Against Bolshevik principles of the organisation. For organisational structure, based on libertarian principles of mutual respect, equality and solidarity. Organisational structure should be image of things to come in the society, foundation of which we are trying to reach. We see, that regimes in so called “socialist states” were nothing but rude form of global tendency towards state-capitalism, a system in which bourgeois economical relations, wage labour as well as psychology remain. The only difference was that capitalist was one and collective – the governing party elite. Only difference between “socialist” and “western” capitalism was the form of capitalist accumulation. Libertarian experience of the Makhnovist movement, Spanish revolution, Tolstoyanism, independent labour movement etc. showed with which zeal Bolsheviks try to root out any anti-authoritarian, really communist movement. We are against any ideal and organisational unity with Leninists (Stalinists, Maoists, trotskists etc.). For close co-operation with non-authoritarian socialists, anti-party left communists and libertarian Marxists.

autonomous action banner

SELF-GOVERNANCE

Forms of self-governance may be a) means of production seized by the workers to become common property, functioning with libertarian model of organisation; b) libertarian communes; c) other institutions, founded on regional, functional and other principles.

Such forms of self-governance could be effective method to found the basis of social alternative to the present society.

ANTI-MILITARISM

Against state army as a system of violence, instrument of governance of ruling class and instrument of integration of young men to patriarchal, authoritarian and hierarchical systems of domination. Against forced conscription. We should not defend state and government, which only exist in order to humiliate us. Boycott military call-ups! Trash all draft cards! For an alternative of general armament of workers and people’s militias, without hazing, humiliation of human dignity and prison regime. For full control of the society over military specialists. PEACE TO THE WHOLE WORLD! FREE PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE TO DIVIDE IT!

ECOLOGY

Against non-sustainable exploitation of the nature for profit of the few. Against industrial system of organisation and power of the technocrats. For development from all directions and inculcation of the alternative technologies. For foundation of ecological settlements and harmonisation of the relation between human and the nature. For decentralised, humanist, balanced production for interests of the people, with protection of the environment for the future generations, with gradual abolition of the industrial technologies. Active support to social ecologists in their struggle, participation to ecological actions and campaigns. NOT MORE, BUT BETTER! NOT EXTERNAL, BUT INTERNAL! NOT TO OWN, BUT TO BE!

FEMINISM

Against sexism – humiliation, violence and discrimination against women and men based on their sex. Against patriarchy – authoritarian structure of any class society, where mostly proprietor-men have power in all key spheres of the society, “female” is always subordinated to “male”, and family has a function of of reproduction and socialisation of the labour power. Against sexist stereotypes, family despotism, homophobia, porno industry and ageism (discrimination on the basis of the age). For active participation of the women to the life of the society, and possibility of individuals themselves to control their own bodies (and reproduction in special). Every human is equal and unique socially, sexually (in her/his gender) and age.

NEW HUMANIST CULTURE

Against hypocrisy and repression of the official mass culture, commercialisation of the creativity, power of the show-business and “amusement industry”. Against manipulation of the conscience and behaviour of any kind and form. Against elitism of the culture and hierarchy of its institutions. Global support to any kind of uncommercial creativity, experimental art and pedagogic. For support of the initiative of people, who already now want to live according to unauthoritarian principles. This kind of initiatives are important not only for escape from the reality, but also to gather experience of free and sensible relations. For foundation of squats, housing collectives, artist communes, autonomous cultural and information spaces, organisation of mass festivals of alternative culture. CULTURE SHOULD NOT IMPOVERISH OUR LIFE. LIFE SHOULD BECOME BIGGER THAN IT IS!

ANTI-CLERICALISM

We, without conditions, support full “freedom of spirit”, for every man’s free search of world outlook and faith. But we should do our best to resist, without using mechanism of rule, those ideological systems which bring hatred, xenophobia, nationalism in society and transfer individual to an authoritarian and dogmatic person. Many religious ideas are connected to such kind of systems. Even more resolutely we are against hierarchical church organisations, pyramidal and authoritarian structure of which may not serve interests of liberation of human individual. Such churches serve only one goal – fortifying human both physically and in spirit. One of the most serious and powerful churches of such kind in Russia is the Russian Orthodox Church, which already long time ago transformed into a powerful capitalist and bureaucratic corporation, receiving from the state both financial and ideological advantages. Against using needs of man for explanations about universe in the interests of business and power.

HOW TO START RESISTANCE?

Do not wait, take action yourselves. Concentrate your efforts to any direction you desire and feel close to yourselves. Find adherents among your friends, work- or schoolmates. Start from little, main thing is that you have some real issues to organise, such as publication and distribution of papers, formation of worker’s unions, organisation of squats, communes, alternative information centres or participation to a strike, anti-fascist struggle, protest camp, meetings, pickets or rock-concerts. The main thing is to take action, not to be based on the state or bourgeoisie, to take action against them and independent from them. It is necessary to connect other groups and initiatives, maintain informational and organisational connections to adherents in the whole country and abroad. That brings you confidence and power. Send materials about your life and struggle to our paper “Avtonom”, which covers struggle in the whole libertarian sphere. BE COURAGEOUS! LIVE FULLY, FREELY AND STRONGLY! RESIST! REMEMBER, THAT A SMALL GROUP OF FIGHTERS MAY START AN AVALANCHE!

AUTONOMOUS ACTION

"Anarchy is Good"

“Anarchy is Good”

The Ukrainian Conflict: Against Kyiv and the Eastern Junta

AWU Protest in Ukraine

AWU Protest in Ukraine

As the situation in Ukraine goes from bad to worse, anarchists continue their struggle against the Kyiv regime and the pro-Russian separatists. Below I reproduce a recent statement by the Ukrainian anarchist Autonomous Workers Union.

As Ukraine slides towards civil war,the anarchist group Autonomous Workers Union appeals to the working class to reject both sides and instead to fight for their common class interests. —- There is a continuing confrontation on Ukraine’s territory between the groups of local and Russian ruling classes which play off the working people one against another and stir up enmity, bringing the country closer to a state of civil war. The events in Mariupol are the embodiment of this confrontation. Many people, the combatants and civilians, contract military staff and conscripts, as well as volunteers, have suffered on both sides of the conflict as a result of the “anti-terrorist operation” —- This is a critical situation for working people. The government treats all protesting Anti-Maidan people alike: soldiers don’t understand who they shoot at, and the ones who are being shot at don’t understand what they die for.

Both sides of the conflict manipulate their “foot soldiers” with a particular cynicism, and because of this working people fight for ideas that do not have anything in common with their material, class interests. Ukrainian military units and other armed groups fight for the senseless ideals of national-patriotism and “national unity”, while separatists fight for the creation of a new state and/or for joining Russia. In all cases the aim is the bourgeois national state with its bureaucrats, police, judges, prisons, capitalists and paupers.

Even now there are already dozens of victims and deaths as the consequence of the struggle between these two reactionary movements. Army incompetence, on the one side, and the combatants’ depravity, on another side, increase the losses significantly.

The highest ranks of Anti-Maidan movement are generally made up of military retirees, as well as senior police officials, wh0 are loyal to the previous regime. Therefore, the leadership of the “people’s republics” in the Eastern regions of Ukraine may indeed be styled as the junta – the dictatorship of the law enforcement and armed forces.

Fascist groups and criminals present in this movement make the overall character of junta deeply reactionary and radically contrary to the class interests of the working people in the Eastern regions.

Pro-Russian propaganda portrays separatist combatants as fighters of anti-fascist resistance. According to this propaganda, the “anti-terrorist operation” started by the Ukrainian government is nothing else but the attack of Ukrainian fascists from the “Right Sector”, whose role in these and many other events is disturbingly blown way out of proportion.

The “Right Sector” is a poorly coordinated coalition of several far-right organizations. Its social structure consists of far-right youth and criminal groups. The social structure of the “people’s republic’s” combatants is mainly similar: teenagers, gangsters and declassed elements. The popular appeal of the “Right Sector” in the present moment is very low (even lower than that of the totally discredited Communist Party of Ukraine); moreover, the “Right Sector” is in a state of an undercover war with Ukrainian government.

Owing to the constant PR from the pseudo-antifascist international community, the “Right Sector” acquires the dreadful image of a powerful organization which almost rules the Ukrainian state, which is obviously not true. But we are not trying to minimize the problem of fascist movements in Ukraine. AWU repeatedly emphasized the escalation of far-right violence, aimed particularly at leftists, as early as 2012, during Yanukovych’s regime. AWU activists were also attacked. One of our comrades was almost killed by the neo-nazis who had attacked him with knives. Also, the location of this year’s May Day march had to be moved due to the threat of clashes with the  far-right.

Solidarity

Solidarity

Resisting  fascist movements has been one of the primary tasks of the anarchist movement in Ukraine for a long time. Unlike many post-Stalinist “antifascists” in Western countries we know this problem firsthand and not from the Internet. And yet, we and our comrades managed to organize May Day anarchist marches with a social, anticapitalist and antinational agenda in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Zhytomyr.

Anarchists do not intend to give ground to the nazis and to the right-liberal government. It was the AWU that organized the radical left protest campaign against the “Bat’kivshyna” ruling party.

We are ready to continue the fight against the state, capital and the far-right who protect them. But this fight is a hundred times more difficult when the state, the church, police structures and fascist movements are united into one force. Such is the situation in Donbass, where the “army of Donetsk people’s republic” is headed by Igor Strelkov, the Russian undercover man and a great fan of the historical Tsarist White Guard movement; where the organizer of the referendum, the founder of the “Orthodox Donbass” movement, consults with the leader of the oldest post-Soviet neo-Nazi movement, legendary Aleksandr Barkashov; where activists of Anti-Maidan manifest their solidarity and respect for another icon of European fascists – Aleksandr Dugin; where co-chairman of the “Donetsk people’s republic government” Denis Pushilin openly regrets the revolution of 1917 that put end to tsarism and calls it a “bloody disaster”.

Social slogans did not fit into the manifestos and official documents of the separatists, while there are many phrases about class peace and the interests of “small business”. The criminal and fascist junta of the East at present organizes the tortures and abductions of trade union activists.

Nationalism is the deadly enemy of the working people. This is proved by the current events in Ukraine, when fascists on both sides help the ruling class to physically fight down the working people. The question is – how many victims and how much destruction are needed before the Ukrainian proletariat realizes it.

We demand from the Kyiv government to remove the troops from the cities immediately, and from the Eastern junta to stop terrorizing peaceful working people. Our own goal is to keep up the resistance at all fronts and to build revolutionary labour movement against all the odds.

We call on our fellow Ukrainian workers to line up behind our common class interests, among which are peace and solidarity, but not the senseless fight for keeping the territories or their separation. Class struggle does not have anything to do with the fight for redistribution of power. Whoever wins in the confrontation between the government and separatists – we will lose, that is why its boycott is our priority. Ignoring the government’s decisions, renouncing militarism, striking and building the revolutionary labour movement – such are our weapons against the war imposed upon us. We can count only on ourselves and the international solidarity from other left-radical organizations. If we don’t start to rise now we will face the most difficult times.

No gods, no masters, no nations, no borders!
Workers of the world, unite!

Autonomous Workers Union (Ukraine)

Autonomous Workers Union (Ukraine)

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