Anarchism: Another Way for South Africa (Lucien van der Walt)

South Africa munic

Below I reproduce excerpts from Lucien van der Walt’s discussion at the  1st National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) Political School, September 2013, “Anarcho-Syndicalism for South African unions today?” Lucien van der Walt is co-author with Michael Schmidt of Black Flame: The revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism (2009, AK Press) and co-editor of Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1870-1940 (w. Steve Hirsch and Benedict Anderson, 2010, Brill). The entire transcript can be found hereNUMSA is the largest trade union in South Africa. An affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), NUMSA has been a radical opponent of the policies of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to which both COSATU and the South African Communist Party (SACP) are formally allied. The CNT referred to in the discussion is the anarcho-syndicalist trade union federation that played a prominent role in the Spanish Revolution and Civil War. The FAI was the Iberian Anarchist Federation, also very active during the Spanish Revolution. I included excerpts from Black Flame in Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

The problem with our Alliance politics

lucien van der walt

Lucien van der Walt

At the end of the day, if you are talking about what the political role of the trade union should be, the first thing you have got to start is knowing WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVEAnd to know what you want to achieve you have to know WHAT’S WRONG IN A SOCIETY.

And if we look, and I think comrades have made it quite clear, South Africa is a society with a wide range of problems. And it isn’t what we expected 19 years later after the 1994 elections and breakthrough.

In 1994, when the union-backed reform programme, the RDP, that is, the Reconstruction and Development Programme, came out a lot of people were debating, saying that “This thing is not very radical.” Now, things have shifted so far, with neo-liberalism and privatization and so on, that at this stage, if you brought out the RDP people would think it was the Second Coming. It would be highly radical compared to what we have got now, even though it is not very radical in essence.

The question then, is how do we fix those problems? The problems we face as a country and as a class? You know, the first time you make a mistake, it’s a shame but you can blame someone else. The second time you make a mistake, you’ve got no one else to blame for the mistake but yourself. And we must learn from the mistakes we make.

I think it’s important to re-assess some of the political strategies that have been taken by the big battalions of the working class movement. And to think of what other options are available…

I think we need to have an open discussion about what are the possibilities for trade unions, and to do so with a wide range of experiences in mind. What are the different things that unions can do?

Those things require us to start thinking “out of the box,” to start to question the model that we’ve got today in the big unions, the model that holds the trade union is like a single person that must get married, and married to a political party…

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The need for revolutionary unions

You chose to marry, and marry badly. And in this particular juncture, which the marriage with the ANC perpetuates, it’s not possible to make the deep-seated changes we need. Because the billions of rands needed for rolling out decent basic services everywhere are tied up with somebody rich and powerful, maybe white, maybe black, maybe politician, maybe businessman.

The decisions that are made are not made by working class people; those decisions are made by the rich and powerful. That is why you can see 36 billion rands spent on 2010 World Cup events here, and three years later, millions of people still have a bucket system for toilets. And the ANC and the state is a central pillar of this vicious system.

We need a fundamental change in how society is run. And to get that, I think, we need to re-evaluate what the unions can do to achieve this. And to see what the unions have got right and what the unions have got wrong. Well, you’re married to a big part of the problem. Now you need a permanent break, not marriage counselling…

When we work from the assumption that the union must always be led by a party, like a Marxist vanguard party, I think we work from the wrong assumption.

You can have unions that are more revolutionary than a party, and you can have parties that are not very revolutionary…

And just because you call yourself “revolutionary” does not make you revolutionary…

It is the objective actions that you undertake, including your political programme, that make you revolutionary…

I don’t think that in South African history you will struggle to find unions that were reactionary. But you won’t struggle either to find revolutionary actions and leadership by unions.

Which is why I said this morning that if you are looking for a way forward where are you looking? Look within. STOP LOOKING TO THE POLITICAL PARTIES AND TO THE ELECTIONS…

More revolutionary than the parties

I think you need to get out of the mind-set that unions must be allied to a political party, and that this means the Tripartite Alliance with the ANC and SA Communist Party. An Alliance that is often presented as natural and as the only way to go, but that, as Eddie Maloko was saying… is really very recent…

If we want to go back in union history further, you will struggle to find any such three-part Alliance. You will not struggle, though, to find radical unions that were not allied to the ANC, or even the SA Communist Party , but that were very revolutionary.

We might want to look at the ICU in the 1920s and the 1930s, the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa, this was radical, even influenced by anarcho-syndicalism, and it wasn’t allied to political parties. The ICU unions planned to undertake land occupations. These were unions that mobilized tens of thousands of people in the countryside. These were trade unions that were seen (and you can look at the parliamentary debates from the times for this), they were seen as the threat.

As a revolutionary threat.

No one was worried about the ANC then; the ANC was a few hundred people. Late 1920s, the ICU goes to the ANC and says will you join a general strike? And the ANC says: “No thanks.”

And now we sit here in 2013, 90 years later, and you say to the ANC will you do some serious redistribution of wealth and power? And they still say: “No thanks.”

So there is a consistent record where unions and other mass working class movements have shown that ability to raise, and fight around, radical issues. And a consistency in the inability of the ANC to undertake a range of serious measures essential to the working class.

Now my very last point on this is: when we look at a disease we have to know what is causing a disease, so that we can work at what the cure is. There is something in the political system of elections that means when trade unions back parties, the parties turn against them. ALWAYS…

Workers Self Management no bosses

Working class democracy

And eventually you end up happy just because you have the… ANC and its leader in charge. Never mind the policy. Not because of any achievements. You are just happy when you are consulted about the policy that you don’t like, although the policy will go ahead, and your consultation means nothing really. Your standards keep dropping down on these things.

And that sort of sense of hope, in 1993 and 1994 where the people said the RDP was too lame, well, we now have a situation where the people think the RDP is the salvation. That’s what our COSATU policy proposals amount to anyway: just a revived RDP. That’s how far our standards have dropped. Socialism isn’t even on the agenda. No, we push for an RDP Mark 2, and we call this the Growth Path for Full Employment and think this is radical.

And in terms of method, we talk about land reform, and workers’ control, and decent work and job creation, and we look to the ruling party and the SA Communist Party and to the state, in which both the ANC and the SA Communist Party are so central.

But there’s no reason to think you are going to get any of this through this government, or any other. And not through the policy COSATU proposes.

Why don’t you just take some direct action and mass campaigns for these goals?

You are not going to get this stuff through this government. It’s a capitalist government, it’s a capitalist state. Like any state, every state, it serves a small political and economic elite.

It’s not going to do what you want, it CAN’T do that. You can put the best people in charge, they CAN’T do it. It just can’t be done.

I spoke about a car this morning. A car can’t fly. A car can’t fly, a dog can’t go “meow” and a cat can’t go “woof.”

FLOOR: Laughter…

The need for counterpower

The problem, and I think the burden of the working class, and the tragedy of the working class over the last 160 years, is that so many times IT HAS HAD POWER, OR ALMOST HAD POWER, AND IT HAS HANDED IT OVERSo many times working class people have built the mass structures that could govern society. Sometimes they have even started to govern society with this counterpower.

But the tragedy and the burden of our history as a class is that so many times we have stopped, and handed power over to leaders and to elites. And it seems every time we get there we say “oh no, hang on a minute, we need someone to tell us what to do.” Power is handed over to economic and political elites, that is, to ruling classes, which then make their own deals and line their own pockets. Here’s the cause of the illness.

We can look at our own country, our South Africa, in the 1990s. We moved from a situation in the 1980s and early 1990s where in many townships there was a large degree of community self-government through civics, and a big push for workers having a say in production through our powerful trade unions, and we moved to the CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa, 1991-1993) deal that we now complain about.

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Steps needed for a class-based solution of the National Question

Now I think that the CODESA deal that we got in 1993-1994 was a democratic break through. It was a HUGE ADVANCEa victory, and brought about real changes in the political and social situation, and important steps towards the resolution of the National Question [racial and ethnic divisions and oppression, in the South African case with a long history including apartheid].

But saying it’s a breakthrough: that’s not the same thing as saying it’s a social revolution, even if we use the terms the SA Communist Party likes, like “National Democratic Revolution,” or “NDR.” Rather, 1993/1994 helped create SPACE for a social revolution. It involved, on the one hand, major political and social reforms, but it also, on the other, involved an elite pact between the black political elite and the captains of white monopoly capital. It’s a political revolution, not a SOCIAL revolution.

A social revolution is when ordinary people take direct control in society. And we don’t have that. We have more rights, but in a highly unequal society, where the National Question is not resolved for the black, Coloured and Indian working class – although the BLACK ELITE has, on the other hand, been completely liberated.

The 1993/1994 breakthrough was real, but it was also by its nature confined to the framework of class society, with the elite becoming blacker, but the masses staying exploited and impoverished despite having more rights.

Unless we change this basic system, the National Question will never be resolved for the working class, since the material legacy of apartheid will remain, and so will the basic system of exploitation and competition… both breeding grounds for race and national conflict and populist demagogy.

Now, when we speak about NDR, you get some comrades talking about nationalization as a radical step for a radical NDR. But if we just think in terms of nationalization, we are missing a very basic thing. We talk about nationalization as a simple solution. But it only means the state is going to operate exactly the same way as the private capitalists. We talk too often about “white monopoly capital” as the core controller of the economy and therefore as the main strategic enemy. It is a strategic enemy but NOT the only one.

But ruling class power is not just in the economy, it also vested in the state. And economic power is not just in the private sector; it is also vested in the state. Yes, in the ANC-run state apparatus.

Comrades need to realize that the state is the single biggest employer in South Africa. That’s the state apparatus. The biggest land owner in South Africa is the state apparatus. The state extracts surplus value from its own workers, in its corporations like in ESKOM, in TRANSNET, in SAA, in the SABC; it has over 40% of capital assets and over 25% of land, and operates on the same logic of top-down elite rule as any corporation, as any private “monopoly capital.”

So if you want to talk about and secure a situation that puts power into the hands of ordinary working class people, it doesn’t do to move power from private monopoly capital to state monopoly capital, to replace private capitalism with state capitalism, and to do this in the name of revolution, to call something like this a “revolution.” YOU’RE JUST CHANGING THE BOSSES.

And it ALSO doesn’t do to take power from your own mass movements and then hand it over to a political party. To give that party a blank cheque and then see it visit you for votes every five years. When every five years it will come to you and ask for your help, and gives you the reasons you should help it. And then for five years more you complain all over again, until it rebrands itself, it claims it fixes up the problems. That goes nowhere.

So yes, if you want a revolution, you need a revolutionary theory.

But in thinking about this, what comrades need to do is think seriously, not think sentimentally. Don’t think sentimentally, don’t base your judgement on emotions and the past. Nothing we say or do can take away some great things that the SA Communist Party has done in the past. We can think here, for example of its work in the unions in the 1940s and 1950s, and its armed struggle. Also the ANC, before 1994, did many great things.

But that’s NOT the same thing as saying that they are always right, that they have all the answers, and that we are in a perfect situation where you can never criticize any of those structures…

Revolutionary unions anmovements, not party politics

In the 1980s the anti-apartheid struggle wasn’t fought by parties… it was fought by mass movements. There was the United Democratic Front which brought together churches, community organizations, youth organizations, unemployed movements and various political organizations. It wasn’t led by a party, even though it leaned one way. It worked alongside trade unions, like FOSATU and then later COSATU.

This was political action; this was political in profound ways. But the UDF was not the one who negotiated in the 1990s, that was the ANC, and this people’s power and this type of politics was lost.

The ANC leadership came later, from exile in the 1990s when the job of struggle was done, and said “Well, we led the struggle. Well, we have the right to make decisions.” They then closed down the UDF and they made an elite pact, they made a pact with white monopoly capital, at the same time as the important 1994 democratic breakthrough was happening.

We can talk all we like about “primary” and “secondary” enemies. But the current and ANC-headed state apparatus is ALLIED to white monopoly capital. But it’s not just a tool; it’s not just a victim. It’s an active participant. It is an ACTOR in that situation, a strategic enemy in its own right, from the view of the anarcho-syndicalists at least.

The ruling class in South Africa has got two wings: it’s got white monopoly capital based in the private sector, and it’s got the black state elite, that is the state managers who are based in the state: they are wielding the state. The state controls 45 percent of fixed capital assets in South Africa. It is a major economic player: the state is the biggest employer in South Africa, it’s the biggest land owner, and it has an army as well.

Who controls that? It’s NOT white monopoly capital, in some sort of surreptitious way. IT’S THE BLACK POLITICAL ELITEWhite monopoly capital is working in ALLIANCE with this state elite because they have the same interests. But it’s not just giving the orders.

What I am saying is: it’s not like we have the situation where we have some sell-outs in the government who (if we change) will fight white monopoly capital. What we have is a situation where the black political elite allied to the white economic elite around a common programme of neo-liberalism, and they are therefore united against the whole working class, including the black working class majority. And the ANC is embedded in this elite pact.

It’s not a situation of a few bad apples; it’s a situation of a tree that bears bad fruit. And you can give that tree fertilizer, like by voting, it just gets bigger…

And when the apples (the politicians) from that tree (the state) are picked, they can’t understand why people go out and complain about how they taste. They think there must be something wrong with the consumers. And I mean here the working class public. They can’t see what’s rotten. If I give you a rotten apple and the apple complains, who is to blame?

If I give you a rotten apple do we expect the apple to say “Hey ,why does this guy not like me, what’s wrong with him? Is he a counterrevolutionary?” No, no, no.

There is something wrong in that situation…

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Taking the state seriouslyOutside and against it

[Anarcho-syndicalism] takes the state very seriously. It doesn’t see the state as a “thing” out there, where you can just elect a few people and they will just change the system.

Anarcho-syndicalism and anarchism says that it is not the politicians who change the state. RATHER, IT IS THE STATE THAT CHANGES THE POLITICIANSIt is not the politicians who change the state; it is the state that changes the politicians.

Who would have thought in 1990 that Nelson Mandela would be the president when the ANC and the country’s state adopted the neo-liberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy (GEAR) in 1996? Who could have even imagined that?

We have to explain that scientifically. Marxist comrades keep talking about “material conditions.” But the NDR strategy ends up with idealist approaches.

Well look, you put someone in charge of the state, a capitalist state, they have to keep capitalism going. Those are “material conditions.” And they are not doing it for free either. Cyril Ramaphosa was a heroic leader of workers in the 1987 miners’ strike, and now where is he? He is a billionaire who owns mining shares, including at Lonmin, where the Marikana massacre took place a year ago. And evidence shows he called on police to “deal” with those Marikana workers. A changed man!

You don’t change the system by changing a few people; you change the situation by putting in another system.

States cannot be wielded by the working class.

You don’t just keep changing the ingredients in a soup and think it’s not soup. You’ve got to cook to a totally different recipe. As I was saying this morning, comrades, if a car doesn’t fly, a car does not fly. You can paint it purple and it still wouldn’t fly. You can call it the new model, it won’t fly. The state, and this is the thing to think about from the anarcho-syndicalist tradition, is something which cannot be wielded by the working class. It CANNOT be wielded by the working class.

Either you elect a reformist party, and that party ends up, over time, being co-opted into the ruling class, like the ANC, or a revolutionary party, like the Russian Bolsheviks, seizes state power.

But such a revolutionary party doesn’t just seize power from capital; it also seizes power FROM THE WORKING CLASSAnd you can find… that your socialist party can, in fact, be the biggest enemy of the working class that you can get.

When you look at the situation of the Soviet Union, the heartland of Marxism-Leninism, comrades call that “socialism,” people call that “socialism.”

Well, comrades, that was a country with mass murder perpetrated by a Communist Party. That was a country with forced labour camps, with a pass law system and with no free trade unions. Why do you think the working class overthrew that system from 1989-1991? Why do you think a Communist Party can’t get elected these days anywhere in Eastern Europe? Because people have had a Communist Party in power. They’re fine, they’re covered, they’re DONE with such parties…

The Soviet Union against the workers

Now where, where is this “vanguard” there? Where is the proof that you can only take power through a Marxist vanguard party?

No, the proof is something else entirely.

It’s not that if you’ve got a vanguard, the working class is guaranteed power. Very often the vanguard takes the power from the working class. Again, the parties are NOT the solution.

We can talk about the Soviet Union, and we can talk about the working class, as if the Soviet Union represented as state for and by the working class… But what stops the “vanguard” party taking power from the working class? What stops the party taking power from the working class?

In the Soviet Union: this is exactly what happened. A Marxist party took power. It banned all the other parties. It crushed independent trade unions. A party of less than 1 million people in a country of 160 million established itself as the sole dictator. Within that party itself, even factions were banned.

You want to know where this tradition of destructive argument – where everyone is labelled an “agent” or a “counterrevolutionary” or a “traitor” for saying what the leaders don’t like, that we see today in the ANC, COSATU and the SA Communist Party – comes from? It comes straight from those Soviet experiences.

These traditions of political thuggery we see?

It comes from those experiences. This was the first of the Marxist governments, and it treated anyone with a different view as an enemy of the “revolution.” And the “revolution” was defined not by the mass of the people, but by a small cabal of leaders who said “we are the revolution, and if you are against us, you are counterrevolution.” Those are the traditions that we are stuck with, and struggling with…

This is not to say that Communist Parties worldwide didn’t play heroic roles. Communist Parties often did play heroic roles. It’s not to say that people in Communist Parties were doing it with a hidden motive. It’s just to say that certain methods of changing society create new problems. If your method of changing society is to seize state power, you will end up with rule by an elite, maybe a new elite, but an elite.

And if your method of thinking is “we are the vanguard, everybody else is a counterrevolutionary,” you will end up with a dictatorship against everybody else if you ever get state power.

And if your method of politics is like that even in your own organizations, so that factions are illegal or driven out, you will be an organization that doesn’t tolerate any debate. That doesn’t tolerate democracy. An organization that cannot be compatible with working-class democracy, because it does not tolerate ANY democracy. Again, the parties are NOT the solution.

So what I am really getting at with all of this is: we can’t just look at these things outside history and talk as if Marxism and Leninism came up with this perfect model, and a perfect set of solutions, as if there weren’t a third of the world run by Marxist-Leninist parties. Marxist-Leninist parties took power…

It wasn’t the working class that took power. You can go to China now, it’s under Communist Party rule: go ask those workers if they have trade unions. Go ask them. They don’t.

So, now, I agree that you need to deal with the fact of political unevenness in the working class, and need to overcome the fractures in the class. But a vanguard Communist Party; it’s not the only way to solve these issues, or even the best way. Of course Communist Parties can play an important role; radical political organizations can play an important role, and they don’t even have to be political parties: in the CNT, anarchists organized a Bakuninist political organization, the Anarchist Federation of Iberia (FAI), to promote anarchism/syndicalism.

But so can unions. So can unions. I don’t see any reason why a union like NUMSA can’t go out and form alliances with other sections of the working class. Can’t be present in service delivery protests. I don’t see why not. I don’t see why NUMSA can’t run political education for non-NUMSA members. I don’t see why not. I don’t see why a renewed COSATU that takes a new approach can’t provide the foundation, can’t provide a pole of attraction, for a new oppositional anti-capitalist, democratic bottom-up socialist movement.

And what I am getting at is, with this we need to rethink how we pose these things. The parties are NOT the solution, but part of the problem the working class faces.

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Confusions on the state

Meanwhile, our SA Communist Party comrades are getting confused. They talk as if the state is a neutral entity which is only SOMETIMES against the working class. And then they also talk about Marxism and Leninism but that says something totally different, that the capitalist state, is anti-working class; that is what Lenin himself said. And then they try to put these two contradictory political things together: being in an alliance with a capitalist ANC which uses the capitalist state, and then also calling themselves Marxist-Leninists.

They want to have the cake and eat the cake at the same time. If you agree with Marxism-Leninism, this is a capitalist state and no amount of changing the people at the top will make any difference. But then you get told: “No, vote for the ANC, that’s the way.” This makes no sense.

But the problem is even bigger; it’s a problem in Marxist theory itself. Marxist materialism says the economic “base” determines the political “superstructure.” Marxist materialism says the “superstructure” includes the state. But then Marxism often says something illogical: use the state to change society. The revolutionary strategy boils down to setting up a so-called “workers’ state,” a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” to change the base, a state to abolish capitalism. This is no different in essence from trying to use a capitalist state to change society; in both cases, the idea is that the state is the motor of change.

Now isn’t it illogical in Marx’s own terms to say we can capture the state and change the “base”? If the “base” determines the “superstructure” and it is a capitalist base, you cannot change that base using the state. That’s a really idealistic approach; the anarchist Bakunin was not an idealist like this. He saw this contradiction. So, you certainly can’t use a capitalist state to bring about socialism if you accept the theoretical basics of Marxism itself. But that’s what Marxist political strategy demands! And that’s what the whole NDR idea involves too.

A more sensible approach may be this: if you study anarcho-syndicalism, it’s argued that the state is allied to capital and it can’t break that alliance. It is an unbreakable marriage. They have a common interest. The state needs the capitalist to pay taxes; the capitalists need the state to shoot people, crudely speaking.

Okay, now, if this is the case how do you move forward? And this is where I am going to start pulling this input together.

A strategy for a bottom-up anarcho-syndicalist socialist transition

The working class needs a theory and it needs to translate that into a strategy for DEEP CHANGE.

You need a strategy and you need tactics… Well, to have a strategy you have got to have a vision where you want to go. To have a vision of where you want to go, you have to know what is wrong in society. And you have to look at specific societies closely.

Fundamentally what anarcho-syndicalism argues is that what is wrong with society is that a small elite runs society. But it’s not just an economic elite, it is also a POLITICAL elite. So as long as an elite runs society it will run society by the elite, for the elite and the state leadership will be of the elite.

And this is part of a whole society, based on exploitation and domination, on top-down power relations, in inequality, inequity, exploitation and suffering, a society where the National Question cannot be fully answered…

The anarchists insisted that all relations of oppression, by gender, by race, by class, by nation, come to an end. That includes the oppression meted out by the capitalists and politicians against the working class. But it also means resolving the National Question in a progressive, working-class way, and it also means fighting for complete gender equality, including in our own movements, and aiming at getting rid of all elites, black or white…

For the anarchists, the only way out of this endless circle of “vote for that party, vote for this party, vote for that party and never get anywhere” is if you actually remove that system.

Where you can create a democracy that is bottom-up, based on workers’ collectives, the socialization of production, that is based on an educated population that understands its rights and understands how to run things, that is based on human need before profit, that gets rid of the commodity form entirely, that gets rid of the market but also does not replace it with a central plan and a central dictatorship, but with bottom-up plans…

Well, there is nothing idealistic here, we are talking about a working class democracy, about a free socialist society, the aim and vision of anarcho-syndicalists. Now, if you want that world you have to build a type of movement that does two things. An anarchist/syndicalist movement, first that builds COUNTER POWER in the working class, that builds institutions in the working class that can govern society.

Not institutions that hand power over to politicians, but working class institutions that will THEMSELVES take power – first and foremost revolutionary trade unions. But also organizations in other sectors, including working-class communities.

Organizations that are the EMBRYO of the new society, organizations that BUILD TOMORROW TODAYwithin the shell of the old society. Organizations that resist ruling class power now, with working class counterpower, that build to eventually themselves directly REPLACE ruling class power with working class power.

So: counter power. A CNT- or NUMSA-type union is key here.

Secondly, you need a REVOLUTIONARY COUNTERCULTURE which is a radical mass consciousness. It’s a mass consciousness that understands what is wrong in society and how to fix it.

A consciousness that tells people we are in a class-divided society. You can vote for Helen Zille of the Democratic Alliance, you can vote for Jacob Zuma of the ANC. But those are just different wings of the same upper class. That the solution isn’t that empty choice, it is to build something else, new.

A position that says society needs to be based on grassroots democracy, on a democratically planned participatory economy, based on distribution according to need, based on common property, and without a state elite and without a business elite.

And to get that society, to reiterate, for anarchists, for anarcho-syndicalists, for Bakuninists, you need to build counter power: the organizational forms that prefigure the new society. Those are the seeds of the new society.

And the ideological forms that need to become hegemonic within the working class: those are the ideological forms of the new world in the making, that is revolutionary counter-culture.

The aim is not the rule of a political party that is supposedly revolutionary, but a revolutionary WORKING CLASSwith revolutionary ideas promoted by FAI-type and CNT-type structures, that the working class can directly implement, through its organizations.

Now the TACTICS to build such a project are a separate matter. I have laid out a strategy, I have laid out an aim and I have laid out an analysis. The tactics, what you would need to do in a given situation – that is not a simple thing of just sucking it out of your thumb. You would need to think very concretely how you would build such a project. You would need to think about how you lay the basis for a CNT and FAI in South Africa…

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Internationalist Anarchist Declaration Against War in Ukraine

Plebiscites Are the Counter-Revolution

Plebiscites Are the Counter-Revolution

Plebiscites to legitimize authoritarian regimes go back at least to Napoleon III in France, who reinstituted universal male suffrage in France in 1852 in order to hold a referendum to approve his seizure of power in December 1851. Anarchists at the time, few though they were, opposed Napoleon III’s coup, and denounced the referendum as a sham, a vivid illustration of the anarchist Proudhon’s dictum that “universal suffrage is the counter-revolution.” Today, the same techniques are still being used. Witness the referendum for Crimean “independence” from Ukraine, which is nothing more than a means to legitimize the Russian annexation of Crimea. Here I reproduce a recent declaration by anarchist internationalists against war in Ukraine, as the USA and its allies impose sanctions against Russia, and Russia continues to threaten to invade eastern Ukraine.

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Declaration of Internationalists Against the War in Ukraine

War on war! Not a single drop of blood for the “nation”!

The power struggle between oligarchic clans in Ukraine threatens to escalate into an international armed conflict. Russian capitalism intends to use redistribution of Ukrainian state power in order to implement their long-standing imperial and expansionist aspirations in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine where it has strong economic, financial and political interests.

On the background of the next round of the impending economic crisis in Russia, the regime is trying to stoke Russian nationalism to divert attention from the growing workers’ socio-economic problems: poverty wages and pensions, dismantling of available health care, education and other social services. In the thunder of the nationalist and militant rhetoric it is easier to complete the formation of a corporate, authoritarian state based on reactionary conservative values and repressive policies.

In Ukraine, the acute economic and political crisis has led to increased confrontation between “old” and “new” oligarchic clans, and the first used ultra-rightist and ultra-nationalist formations for making a state coup in Kiev. The political elite of Crimea and eastern Ukraine does not intend to share their power and property with the next in turn Kiev rulers and is trying to rely on help from the Russian government. Both sides resorted to rampant nationalist hysteria: respectively, Ukrainian and Russian. There are armed clashes, bloodshed. The Western powers have their own interests and aspirations, and their intervention in the conflict could lead to World War III.

Warring cliques of bosses force us, ordinary people, as usual,to fight for their interests: wage workers, unemployed, students, pensioners… Making us drunkards of the nationalist drug, they set us against each other, causing us to forget about our real needs and interests: we don’t and can’t care about their “nations” where we are now concerned with more vital and pressing problems – how to make ends meet in the system which they founded to enslave and oppress us.

We will not succumb to nationalist intoxication. To hell with their state and “nations”, their flags and offices! This is not our war, and we should not go on it, paying with our blood for their palaces, bank accounts and the pleasure to sit in the soft chairs of the authorities. And if the bosses in Moscow, Kiev, Lviv, Kharkiv, Donetsk and Simferopol start this war, our duty is to resist it by all available means!

No war between “nations”- no peace between classes!

KRAS, Russian section of the International Workers Association
Internationalists of Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Israel, Lithuania
Anarchist Federation of Moldova
Fraction of the Revolutionary Socialists (Ukraine)

Declaration supported by:

Workers Solidarity Alliance (North America)
An Internationalist from USA
Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative of Romania
Libertarians of Barcelona
Left Communists and Internacionalists from Ecuador, Peru, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela
Workers-Communist Initiative (France)
Leicester group of Anarchist Federation (Britain)
An Internationalist from Ireland
French-speaking Anarchist Federation (FAF)
International of Anarchist Federations (IFA)
Union workers and precarious of Clermont-Ferrand CNT-AIT (France)
“World Revolution” (Croatia)
A Libertarian Socialist (Egypt)

No War But Class War

No War But Class War

Statement of Ukrainian left and anarchist organizations about “Borotba”

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The situation in Ukraine is perilous for both ordinary Ukrainians and anti-authoritarian and anarchist groups, with much of the protest movement being infiltrated by neo-fascists and neo-nazis, while the pro-Russian groups are in lock-step with Putin’s authoritarian politics, as he anoints himself leader of world “conservatism” while using anti-fascist rhetoric to justify the Russian annexation of Crimea, and threaten the invasion of the rest of Ukraine. One of the “anti-fascist left” groups supporting Putin is the “Borotba” party, from which genuine left revolutionary and anarchist groups have distanced themselves, as demonstrated in the following statement from the Autonomous Workers Union and the Independent Student Union “Direct Action” group.

Statement of Ukrainian left and anarchist organizations about “Borotba”

We, the collectives and members of Ukrainian leftist and anarchist organizations, announce that “Borotba” union is not a part of our movement. During the whole time of this political project’s existence, its members tended to be committed to the most discredited, conservative and authoritarian “leftist” regimes and ideologies, which do not represent the interests of working classes in any way. “Borotba” has proved itself an organization with a non-transparent funding mechanism and unscrupulous principles of cooperation. It uses hired workers, who are not even members of the organization. The local cells of “Borotba” took part in the protest actions together with PSPU (Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, which is an anti-Semitic, racist, and clerical party, and has no relation to the world socialist movement), and with Kharkiv pro-government, anti-Semitic and homophobic group “Oplot”; and are known for their linkage with an infamous journalist O.Chalenko, who openly stands for Russian chauvinism.

Recent events demonstrate that the leadership of this union, following the example of the “Communist” Party of Ukraine, have been overtly defending the interests of president Yanukovych, justifying the use of weapons by security forces and denying the acts of unjustified violence and cruelty on their part, the use of tortures and other forms of political terror. The representatives of “Borotba” take an extremely biased stance concerning the composition of protest movement, which is represented both on their own web resources and in the media commentaries. According to them, the Maidan protests are supported exclusively by nationalists and radical right, and were aimed only at a coup d’etat (“fascist putsch”).

We stand on antifascist positions, and our activists have often been victims of radical rightists’ attacks. We do not support some of the Maidan’s ideas, and are against the bourgeois opposition. We also condemn conservative, nationalist, and radical right sentiments, which are tolerated in the protesters’ circles nowadays. However, we emphasize that labeling all active citizens as “fascists” is not only false, but also dangerous. This one-sidedness is fueling chauvinist hysteria and divides society, which is only favourable for the ruling class.

On January 24th, the region council deputy and “Borotba” representative Oleksiy Albu participated in the protection of Odessa region administration building against “Nazis”, accompanied by Russian Cossacks and nationalists (“Slavic Unity”) and the members of ruling Party of Regions and Communist Party. In his later interview, he admitted his cooperation with the Security Service of Ukraine. On March 1st, “Borotba” activists together with pro-Putin organizations took part in the assault on Kharkiv region state administration, which resulted in raising of a Russian flag and severe beating of many Kharkiv Maidan activists, including a leftist poet Serhiy Zhadan. The members of “Borotba” call all of this “an antifascist action” and claim that these violent actions were aimed against radical rightists.

Therefore, we conclude that the leadership of “Borotba” union not only support the authoritarian Soviet past, but also consciously manipulate public opinion, and are acting as “pocket revolutionaries” of the ruling elites. Their activity at the moment does not have anything in common with leftist politics and class struggle, and is aimed at the support of pro-Putinist forces behind the mask of “antifascism” and “communism”. Thus, the actions of this organization are discrediting both its name (derived from “revolutionaries” — “borotbists” — of the beginning of the XXth century) and all the modern Ukrainian left in general. Moreover, “Borotba” does not disdain overt lies and fact manipulations, deceiving foreign leftists and antifascists.

We urge all the conscious revolutionaries, who are still the members of “Borotba”, to leave this treacherous, pro-bourgeois union and to cease all the political relations with its leadership. We also hope that European and Russian left will reconsider their attitude to “Borotba.” An organization of this kind should be isolated.

No gods, no masters, no nations, no borders!
Workers of all countries – unite!

Autonomous Workers Union
Independent Student Union, “Direct Action”

Russian Anarchists

Russian Anarchists

The New Anarchism

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The Centro Studi Libertari – Archivio Giuseppe Pinelli has just published a complimentary review of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume Three, subtitled The New Anarchism (1974-2012), originally entitled The Anarchist Current (which ended up being the subtitle for the Afterward to Volume Three). Click here for the review (in Italian) by Lorenzo Pezzica: Volume 3, The New Anarchism. If anyone has seen any reviews in English, please let me know!

Volume 3

Here’s a summary of the review, courtesy of Davide Turcato, who wrote the Introduction to Volume Two, The Emergence of the New Anarchism (1939-1977):

Three volumes on anarchism not to be missed

The New Anarchism (1974–2012) is the title of a successful anthology of anarchist writings edited by the Canadian historian Robert Graham …  It is a stimulating reading that allows one to penetrate into the most recent debates on anarchist theory and practice … It is not a history of anarchism, but the chronological, geographic, and thematic breadth can also be read as a history of anarchist and libertarian thought. In any case it represents an extraordinary tool of knowledge, not only for militants, but also for scholars and researchers. Both the second and the third volume contain also essays by Italian authors (which is not always to be expected in an English anthology) … But it is above all on the new anarchism and the so-called post-anarchism that the anthology focuses, without neglecting the concrete link with the action with radical movements of protest active in the last two decades from Europe to the Americas, from Asia to Africa … In sum, a brilliant work that speaks well for Robert Graham and Black Rose Books.

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Kurdistan Anarchist Forum

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In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a section on Kurdish anarchism, which included a 1999 piece by Kurdish anarchists arguing for anarchism as an alternative to a Kurdish state, and a 2011 interview with a Kurdish activist regarding the subsequent development of a “democratic confederalist” movement in Kurdish areas which draws on the ideas of Murray Bookchin. Here I reproduce a recent statement regarding the Kurdish Anarchist Forum, which describes the approach taken by Kurdish anarchists who seek to work with local groups and social movements that utilize nonhierarchical structures and direct action in their struggles for social liberation (originally posted at: http://www.anarkismo.net/article/26580).

What is the Kurdistan Anarchist Forum and who is behind it?

The Kurdistan Anarchist Forum is an internet forum for discussions, debate and analysis among libertarians and anarchists on topical subjects, matters and questions against capitalism. It is a place to consider and criticize past experiences and methods of the socialist movement that have failed, in an attempt to find alternatives. It is an open door for any libertarian voice; it is a voice of those who believe in freedom, equality and social justice. In short, the Kurdistan Anarchist Forum (KAF) is a “bridge to reach and to get closer to all libertarian individuals and groups.”

Why the Kurdistan Anarchist Forum? Does this not mean claiming to belong to one nation and patriotism ?

Not at all, in fact anarchists have been the first fighters when it comes to the history of struggle against occupation and invasion. They have been the true revolutionaries who have fought for freedom and equality between nations in the world. At the same time, they are the real enemy of nationalism as a state and authoritarian ideology, while the bourgeoisie of any nation uses and exploits all the classes at the bottom of the society. The bourgeoisie are claiming that all classes, casts and categories of people within a country have got the same interests, the same rights and they are all equal and free; but this is an obvious lie.

For us as writers in KAF we see Kurdistan as geographical territories where there are a range of different ethnicities, cultures, and religions that speak different languages. In this aspect KAF is a forum for all libertarians regardless of the differences mentioned above. In our view, using the term ‘Kurdistan’ does not relate to nationalistic feeling. In fact, it is just for persuading people within territories known as Kurdistan, who live with other ethnicities together in Iran, Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, that there are also Kurdish people there who speak their languages. This can be a connection or link between them and the libertarian groups and their movements. So we use this word, ‘Kurdistan’, as a tool to help encourage these connections.

In addition to what has been said above, we believe in Kurdish freedom, its liberty and independence. We believe the same things for Turkmenian, Arabs, Kldanian and Ashorieen who live under Kurdish self rule in Iraq. This belief is based on the ideas seen in anarchist federalism and of self-management within factories or any work place. We believe in independence (autonomy) of the territories and the right to self determination of all nations. Here we do not mean the self-determination of the nationalists and their movements and parties. What they do is to force through their authority and their states under the name of an entire people who live in the nation and the country. Whereas what they are actually doing is using this authority to control and exploit the working class and people instead of liberating them and ensuring social justice. This is exactly the opposite of what they claim to be aiming to do when they are seeking their dominance.

In the meantime we stress that while we support the liberation of nations, we are against all attempts from the bourgeoisie to establish further nation states. It is very obvious to us that the nation state invades the freedom of individuals and suppresses any free voice in its attempts to secure the interests of the elite, authority and capitalism in general. States, whether they are a nation state or invader can achieve all these through dominating and exploiting the working class and the rest of the people who have been placed in the bottom of society, who are unemployed or live on a slave’s wage, and keeping them under control.

Do the people writing in KAF belong to any political group?

No. They are independent and do not belong to any political organization. These people are not even in a group, but they form as a group of people in order to share similar anarchist ideas, interests, tasks and aims. However, alongside this, each person wherever they live, in their work places or in the communities, whether in Kurdistan or any other country are involved in local groups (community groups or any other nonhierarchical organizations).

We are active in anarchist and libertarian groups. If we are in Kurdistan, we work on the principle of “act locally, think globally” and also as an international duty to help and support the struggles of our classes – for our comrades wherever they are in struggle. For those of us who live in Europe or other countries, we help and support local groups and independent originations and the mass movements in Kurdistan on the same principle. While we can think, communicate and write in Kurdish, this makes it easier to create strong links and to connect with people in Kurdistan more than those who cannot communicate and write in Kurdish. These tasks obviously put an extra burden on the shoulders of those of us who do not live in Kurdistan.

In addition, KAF is the only independent forum which seeks to introduce and exchange ideas and views on Anarchism, rejecting… all the accusations that in the long history of the socialist movement have labeled and accused the anarchist idea. The KAF makes activists in the wide range of mass movements familiar with different currents of anarchist ideas, for example, social anarchism, individual anarchism, anarcha-feminism , anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism, anarcho-primitivism/green Anarchism, anarcho-animal liberation front, religious anarchism and bisexual anarchism [The homosexual, bisexual and transgender anarchists.]

If you are not a group, how are you united and how/why do you not introduce yourselves as a group?

As we said from the beginning KAF is a website or forum operating on the geographical ground or physical space. In fact it is an independent electronic site to introduce anarchism (libertarianism) to readers as an idea, not an ideology. More than that, anarchist groups will be formed on the ground of daily struggles, demands and activities in the process of the local movement; that means anarchist groups can appear in the form of local groups in different places and different levels, for instance among unemployed people, students, children, women, disabled people, teachers, pensioners , workers in their work places, people who work in councils, hospitals, universities or any other service provider, environmental groups, neighbourhood groups, residents groups, people who work in parks and any groups that set up around a single issue while the issue remains as a current matter of concern for members… this list can go on and on.

At the same time we stress that the name of a group is not a problem. We are not looking for a group to be supported that has labeled themselves or uses the title “anarchist”. What is important for us to see is their struggles, how they organize themselves, how they come to make decisions together. It is important that active local groups as they already exist or emerge in the mass movements are nonhierarchical, nonauthoritarian organizations which are very different from official parities, authoritarian organizations and NGOs. No doubt there are differences between each local group and the way they work. How groups see themselves helps to show their independence, e.g. as distinct from and not dependent on political parties, if they don’t believe in elections, parliamentary democracy, official representatives. We can separate these kinds of groups from the others that do believe in this form of political work and who rely on these power structures to achieve their demands. In contrast, local groups we support rely on themselves to carry out these roles themselves, to control their lives through their activities as direct action to bring back all the decisions that are made by politicians, local authorities, companies, management and so-called democratic administration of the government, into their own hands and into the hands of their communities. This will happen step by step through a mass movement until it reaches its final stage in achieving its goals, which is terminating or ending the current system and class society.

In order for local groups and mass movements to avoid bureaucracy, authoritarianism, and doing things that are not in the interests of the groups, we can look to the experiences of class struggle. These have taught us it is important and necessary to fight back against centralization, hierarchy, the role of leaders and ideology. At the same time we need to publicly defend the independence of community groups to make their own decisions on matters that affect them. That means we need to work exactly opposite of the groups and organizations that are depending on the lefties and authority. These kind of organizations are working in the name of the ordinary people and working class, forming different types of organizations to divert them from direct action, to end the real struggles and force them to move towards the form of struggle which they (the organizations) themselves believe in. Activists in local groups do not have to name their organizations and groups outright if they prefer, and we are against cultivating seeds of sectarian wars. Instead, anarchists have one aim and that is to be concerned about their activities in order to help everyone to work collectively, to help and support all the groups that come into existence that are against hierarchy and authoritarianism so that we can support one another and strengthen our movement.

Does (KAF) publish any material, in other words, any political, social subject, articles or any analyses with different ideas, different views and ideology?

Yes and no. No when the materials and articles are propaganda or otherwise support the ideologies of nationalism, religion, justify the existence of the state and its police, support parliamentary democracy, elections, authoritarian socialism, the idea of Marxism, Leninism, Maoism… promoting the idea of racism, nationality, sexism. All these subjects are not allowed to be published on KAF.

Yes, to any of the above subjects. Articles that critically analyse our views or anarchist analysis about anything as long as it rationally deals with his/her view by the use of facts, avoiding humiliation and accusation. In other words, yes they will be allowed to be published and we will give a response.

The Kurdistan Anarchist Forum (KAF)

Related Link: http://www.anarchistan.tk

turkish anarchists

Anarcha-Feminism in Tunisia

feminism attack more graffitti

Below I reproduce an unattributed translation from the French anarchist publication, Le Monde Libertaire, of an interview with the Tunisian anarchist feminist group, Feminism Attack! I follow that with an earlier report about the Tunisian feminist activist, Amina Sboui, leaving the Femen group and declaring herself an anarchist. Femen is a radical feminist group founded in Ukraine which has captured some media attention through its topless protests where Femen activists paint various political slogans across their chests. One area in which Femen has been particularly active is in protesting prostitution and the traffic in women. For an anti-authoritarian critique of prostitution and its connection with male domination see the excerpts from Carole Pateman’s The Sexual Contract in Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

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Interview with Feminism Attack!

Tunisia, with a strong feminist movement for over a hundred years, is often considered the most advanced in terms of women’s rights among countries of the Muslim world. Since 1957, the Personal Status Code recognizes the rights of women, such as abortion, contraception and the right to education. Although the Tunisian feminist movements have allowed for these advances, the status of women, as in many places on the globe, is still far from anarchist ideals. Nothing new under the sun of male domination: women are still seen as mothers and wives before citizens . After a few days in, it is easy to see how the judgment of others and fear of compromising a reputation may hinder the engagement and activism of women. There are currently at least three feminist collectives in Tunisia:

Democratic Women, group consisting of bourgeois who gather themselves without political purpose or claims, Femen, recognized in Tunisia for their struggle (their actions, however, do not induce unanimous approval), and Feminism Attack, a self-managed and self-funded collective movement, whose members have an average age of about 20 years. It is inspired by anarchist ideas to search for radical solutions to social and political problems, and the dangers that threaten the position of women in society.

The movement aims to establish a self-management culture and believes in the obligation of the revolt of women against all kinds of exploitation. It challenges all aspects of the status of women in patriarchal society: abolition of stereotypes based on sex, abolition of dehumanization and objectification of women, complete elimination of violence against women (rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, forced sterilization, indecent assault, sexual harassment ).

We met Aika and members of Feminism Attack, with whom we conducted this interview.

Monde Libertaire: Where does Feminism Attack situate itself and what are your political leanings?

Feminism Attack: We are currently situated in Tunis and our political coloration is quite mixed.

ML: Can you tell us how, when and why did your create your group?

FA: We were a group of women who shared many ideas and we came to take the same actions, but as an individuals: hence the desire to build the movement in late 2011. This decision was taken due to our awareness of the status of women in Tunisia, which is, contrary to appearances, at the limits of acceptability. Especially since the so-called acquis have been threatened by the rise to power of the Islamist party. And the so-called feminist movements that already exist have not really served the cause we advocate, they do not represent the true Tunisian women, but rather a pseudo-bourgeois image serving the system.

ML: Who are the activists of Feminism Attack?

FA: We are still a small group of pupils and students, we belong to the middle class. The age range is between 18 and 24 years. We have not yet recruited male activists, although we do not see any problem in it.

ML: What is your activism and what are your preferred actions?

FA: At the moment, we do not really have any preferred actions, we do a bit of everything… but it’s more a lack of resources and opportunities than anything else. We expect, of course, to expand our field of activity and the way we do it in the near future.

ML: How do you organize yourselves, how often do you meet each other, what equipment and means of communication do you have?

FA: We are organized around general meetings in which all group decisions are made. The frequency depends on the need of the moment. We don’t have fixed premises, we meet in cafes or public spaces… which is not very convenient since we already had the police pressure, and we are even controlled by civilians. For the moment we don’t have any materials and that is why our actions are limited to the extent that we can auto-finance and only by our own money. We communicate with all the means at our disposal (Facebook, phone, etc.).

feminism attack poster

Take your head from the clouds and go into the streets!

ML: What are the different feminist groups in Tunisia ? Your relationship with them? What do you think of Femen ?

FA: The best known is the Tunisian Association of Women Democrats, there are others , but they are not widely known or very active on the political scene. We really have no relationship with them, since we do not end up with the same principles, and our working methods are different. Otherwise, we have already expressed our position vis-à -vis Femen, we even published a detailed section on our Facebook page.

ML: Can the political agenda of Feminism Attack in Tunisia combine with other movements? With which ones and in what form?

F A: We are close enough to the movements: Blech 7es , Disobedience and Alerta (note: Vegan/Green Anarchism ). We organize actions together: cultural events, film screenings , concerts, etc.

ML: Regarding the latest popular uprisings in Tunisia, and even today, where in this dynamic could you inscribe yourself?

FA: We inscribe ourselves in any popular uprising which is the cause of the people, which is against the system, and most importantly, which is not organized by political parties, which do not serve their own agendas and do not intend to achieve power.

ML: How are Feminism Attack’s initiatives perceived by Tunisians and other revolutionaries ?

FA: Our actions do not have a great popular echo in general; Tunisians are limited to information supplied ready by the media, and apart from one or two arrests followed by sloppy and disinformative articles, we do not receive full media coverage. We do not complain really because our goal is not… chasing after glory.

ML: What are the most pressing constraints on the activists of Feminism Attack?

FA: The system and the police generally.

ML: Are cities, in your opinion, more conducive to feminist actions?

FA: In the city, the work is easier, because there is some awareness of the people, the people are more open and women more emancipated, which is contrary to the countryside, where sometimes people are literally cut off from the world. But we plan to work in rural areas as soon as we have the opportunity; we also have several projects in this regard.

ML: What are the repressive actions exerted on feminist anarchists? Are there any precautions to take?

FA: The dangers are almost the same for anyone who goes “against the current”: tear gas , batons, police violence, arrests , imprisonment, threats, etc. We have taken no real care because it would limit us tremendously in terms of actions.

ML: In addition to traditional repressive forces, what are your most formidable opponents or political enemies?

FA: The extreme political parties, which are all in the service of the same system, either directly or indirectly.

ML: Finally, what is your outlook?

FA: We expect to fight for our cause much longer and, more importantly, if our actions are successful and they serve this struggle, we can achieve real change and participate in creating a certain awareness of the people.

French original: Le Monde Libertaire, September 2013

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Amina Sboui

Amina Sboui, whose actions as part of the Femen activist organization caused significant controversy in Tunisia, resulting in her being jailed for over two months, has left the group.

She confirmed to Tunisia Live that she cut ties with the Ukraine-based organization known for using nudity in their protests, saying their actions have been counterproductive.

Sboui initially gained attention in March when she posted topless photos on Facebook with “my body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honor” painted on her chest. The photos were part of a Femen campaign.

She was arrested on May 19 in the city of Kariouan after painting the world “Femen” on wall outside a cemetery. She was released August 1 after several appearances in court, but still faces a charge of desecrating the cemetery.

Amina Sboui told Tunisia Live that her trial may convene again next month, but she is not sure of the exact date. She says she will appear before the court again whenever she is called, and said she is guilty of nothing.

Sboui also commented on her most recent topless picture, released last week. In the photo, she lights a cigaratte with a Molotov cocktail with two anarchy symbols on her shoulder and “we don’t need your dimocracy [sic]” painted on her chest.

“Anarchy is the only solution” given the current state of affairs in Tunisia, she said, explaining the image.

Word of her departure from Femen came after she was temporarily detained after a protest this weekend.

Sboui and three members of the Feminist Attack organization, a radical anarchist, feminist activist group, were held by police for three hours on Sunday after throwing paint and eggs at the Ministry of Culture headquarters.

Sana Chamekh of Feminism Attack said the action was intended to show solidarity with Nasreddine Shili, an actor who reportedly threw an egg at Minister of Culture Mehdi Mabrouk last week.

The four were released after refusing to sign a police report of the incident, according to Chamekh.

Chamekh said that while her organization had known Sboui before her activities with Femen, with whom they are not aligned, she was working with them independently.

Sboui says she is discussing potential membership in Feminism Attack with them, but is currently not associated with any group.

August 19, 2013

Against the State and Capital

Against the State and Capital

Cazzarola! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy

Norman Nawrocki is on tour performing scenes from his new book, Cazzarola! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy. Above, there is a video link to his earlier version of the story, his play, Cazzarola! Anarchy & Mussolini, the Roma & Italy, Today. He has also created a soundtrack to go with the book, and plays some of the songs during his performance. Cazzarola! is a historical novel about generations of Italian anarchists, from the 19th century to the present day, when one of the anarchists falls in love with a Romani woman. The situation for the Romani in Europe continues to deteriorate, harassed by the authorities, denied refugee status, subject to racist attacks, and often deported. Here is a list of Norman’s next tour dates: November 15th – Montreal; November 17th – Quebec City; November 19th – Kingston; November 20th – Peterborough; November 21st – Orillia; November 22nd – Kitchener; November 23rd – Guelph; November 24th – Hamilton; November 25th – Toronto; December 3rd – Ottawa. Watch out for some U.S. tour dates in the New Year.

Norman Nawrocki

Norman Nawrocki

CAZZAROLA! is a gripping, epic, political, historical novel spanning 130 years in the life of the Discordias, a family of Italian anarchists. It details the family’s heroic, multigenerational resistance to fascism in Italy and their ongoing involvement in the anarchist movement. From early 20th-century factory strikes and occupations, armed anarchist militias, and attempts on Mussolini’s life, to postwar student and labor protest, and confronting the newest wave of contemporary neofascist violence sweeping Europe, the Discordias navigate the decades of political, economic, and social turmoil. Against this historical backdrop, Antonio falls in love with Cinka, a proud but poverty-stricken Romani refugee from the “unwanted people,” without a country or home, forced to flee again and again searching for peace. Theirs becomes a life-changing and forbidden relationship. Both are forced to reevaluate their lives and contend with cultural taboos, xenophobia, and the violent persecution of Romani refugees in Italy today.

cazzarola tour

Russell Brand: Don’t Vote – It Only Encourages Them

Writer and comedian Russell Brand is generating some controversy by stating the obvious: the electoral system is incapable of redressing the inequality and injustices facing people today. What we need is a revolution. As anarchists like to say, “if voting could change anything, it would be illegal.” In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a piece by Eduardo Colombo on “why anarchists don’t vote.”

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Anarchy in Egypt? The Question of the Black Bloc

Egyptian Black Bloc

Egyptian Black Bloc

During the Egyptian revolution and the struggles against the Mubarak regime, the Egyptian military and then the Morsi regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, several groups emerged modeled on the anarchist Black Blocs in Europe and North America, and possibly even Latin America. As the anonymous interviewee in the article below indicates, the original Egyptian Black Bloc was a social revolutionary, libertarian group that used the Black Bloc name and tactics to defend themselves and the Egyptian revolution from the various authoritarian groups vying for power in Egypt. However, it would appear that more recently a number of groups identifying themselves as “Black Bloc” have emerged which have allied themselves with the Egyptian military in its fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, an error equally fatal to freedom, equality, justice and the social revolution as collaboration between so-called “anarchists” and the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. The interview was conducted by Goos Hofstee, from Your Middle East, an online “independent” news magazine.

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Egypt: Will the Real Black Bloc Please Stand Up

The young man at the other side of the phone sounds hesitant. “How do I know I can trust you?” he says, his voice full of suspicion. —- “You don’t”, I reply, “but I have no interest in ratting you out to the intelligence services”. —- This man, we’ll call him Mohamed, has good reason to be anxious. The small group of friends he belongs to form the core of the original Black Bloc, the mysterious group that first emerged on the streets of Cairo this January, when protesters commemorated the two-year anniversary of the Revolution. —- Protesting against the Morsi regime, the Bloc openly declared they would not eschew violence to realize their goals.

Indeed, the group has since been involved in several violent incidents, such as burning the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in the Sixth October area, storming the media offices of “Brothers Online,” and torching the Freedom and Justice Party newspaper headquarters.

Using slogans such as, “Our mess prevents chaos” and, “We are confusion that prevents confusion”, their protests quickly prompted a violent crackdown on Black Bloc members. The prosecutor-general’s office asked citizens to arrest any person suspected of being a Bloc member, even if they did as little as merely wearing all black clothing.

A resulting manhunt saw citizens hand over activists to the security forces. Young Egyptian men, including some of Mohamed’s friends, were betrayed, or randomly arrested and detained on charges of “terrorist activities”. Since the removal of President Morsi, the newly installed military regime continues to target opposition protesters and conduct covert investigations into suspected Black Bloc members. To remain anonymous is therefore not only essential for the continuation of the group’s work, it is also crucial for its members’ personal safety.

Egypt’s Black Bloc grew out of their struggle for liberation from an authoritarian system, only after non-violent civil efforts had failed. While the group’s tactics originated out of a plan to protect women revolutionaries by forming a protective human shield around them at protests, the violence of the police and armed forces against peaceful protesters meant that the Bloc soon began to fight against the Morsi regime.

An Anarchist Black Bloc?

An Anarchist Black Bloc?

The first statement of the Black Bloc that outlined this mission was a video posted on Youtube. The clip, set to a loud and aggressive audio track, showed hooded and masked young men walking into Alexandria city-centre at night, waving an Egyptian flag and several black banners emblazoned with the international anarchy sign: the letter A in a circle. Their mission they declare in the video, is to “fight against the fascist regime of the Muslim Brotherhood and its armed militia”

Since Morsi was ousted, the Bloc has been fighting the military regime. The bloc’s goal has evolved to the “defence of the Revolution” against any dictatorial regime, be it military or religious. The Bloc’s members claim to have no affiliation with existing political parties and maintain that they have nothing against state institutions per se, “but against control by a particular system, the supremacy of a certain group.” They further contend that “the best thing is to hit the existing system and its economy by sabotaging the system’s institutions and not ones belonging to the public.

With a physical presence in more than eight cities across Egypt, and an increasingly stronger online profile, the Black Bloc is still growing in popularity. However, this growing presence poses a problem that is directly linked to the structural set-up of the group. While the Egyptian authorities are treating “the Black Bloc” as a singular, defined group, the reality is much more obscure.

As one member stated, the Black Bloc is “not a political group, but rather an idea that is not monopolized by anyone.” This secrecy and self-professed dispersed structure, in combination with the growing popularity of the Bloc’s goals and actions, has resulted in multiple Black Blocs mushrooming all over Egypt. There are several dozen Facebook pages claiming to represent the Black Bloc in Egypt, including ones for specific governorates and areas, like Black Bloc Upper Egypt, Black Bloc Cairo and Black Bloc Port Said. Moreover, a quick Google results in a multitude of video messages by activists, twitter feeds, and pages using the Black Bloc description and logos.

Egytp Al-MasriUltrasGraffito1_0

It seems that many of the activists are affiliated with the so-called Ultras, the hard-core fans of Cairo’s al-Ahly and Zamalek football clubs who are known for their radical politics and experience in fighting the police. However, while the Black Bloc activity is concentrated around these Ultras, it’s not limited to them, and certainly not all activists who’ve worn the balaclava or black hoodie are members of one of these football clubs…

How closed or open the groups identifying as “Black Bloc” are in Egypt right now is thus unclear, making it difficult to determine the actual scope of the movement. Black Bloc members communicate mainly by online social media, and as their members’ identities are unknown and faces remain unseen, it is almost impossible to confirm the authenticity of those who claim to speak in its name. Moreover, due to the ever present threat of arrest, and their deep rooted suspicion of the media, the core Black Bloc members are hardly ever willing to give interviews, which only contributes to the mystery and confusion that surrounds the group.

When, after some asking around the proverbial grapevine I managed to track down Mohamed, who was one of the founders of the original Black Bloc core group, it quickly transpired that he and his fellow Bloc founders have actually distanced themselves from both the multiple Black Bloc groups and even the Black Bloc label itself. During our short interview, he explained who the real Black Bloc was, how it got infiltrated and turned sour, and what the future holds for those who made up the original group of protesters at the core of the former Bloc.

Anarchy in Egypt

Anarchy in Egypt

What was the reason you set up the Black Bloc?

“Our friend Gaber Saleh, also known as Jika, got killed during clashes with the police in Mohammed Mahmoud Street in November 2012. After he got killed our group of friends, who had all been in the front lines of the clashes got together, and we decided we wanted to fight back. We were also all active on Facebook, and we decided to set up our own group and fight against the regime. We participated in the clashes against the police, attacking them with Molotov cocktails, and we filmed it and put the videos online. This way, people got to know our group, even though we remained anonymous. The public started to support us and everybody was talking about us, but no one knew who we were. I remember even my own brother and mother talking about the Black Bloc, they had no idea I was involved.”

Who is the real Black Bloc?

“We are. But we don’t use that name anymore, we now remain nameless or at times go under the banner of Arab Anarchists. The name Black Bloc has now become associated with fake groups. After we had started the Black Bloc, our mission became very popular and a lot of other Black Bloc pages started to appear online and we didn’t know who was behind them. People started to appear in the streets and on the (Tahrir) square during the clashes, and we didn’t know who they were. Then the media started talking about the Black Bloc, but in reality they referred to these other people, and they were never part of the real Black Bloc. We have always managed to stay anonymous. These people were forming a fake Black Bloc, and during the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, they started working together with some army people. These army agents convinced these protesters that the army was on their side and would support them in their fight against the Muslim Brotherhood. They gave them weapons to attack the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, these fake Black Bloc members were involved in the Rabbaa clashes (the notorious July clashes near the Rabaa Al-Adaweya Mosque, between pro-Morsi supporters and government security forces). They worked together with the security forces in the clashes against the Morsi supporters. After a while, these fake Black Bloc members even started negotiating with the head of police and the Minister of Interior, and they agreed to work together against the Muslim Brotherhood. Even friends of mine were involved in this, they said that now the army and police were on their side and that they would give us justice. They were traitors to the revolution and traitors to our friends who died. They forgot about everything we fought for. So we, the core of the real Black Bloc felt betrayed, and we warned people against this deal with the police. This made the rival ‘Black Blocs’ very angry and they now consider us to be the enemy. This is why we decided to drop the name ‘Black Bloc’ because we needed to distance ourselves from these fake people.”

Egypt black and red

What was the background of these first Black Bloc founders?

“The people who created the original Black Bloc come from different walks of life, different cultures and faiths, but we share the same ideas about the revolution.”

What does that idea entail?

“We have to fight to the death. We are no better than our friends who got killed, and we are prepared to face the angel of death. We are ready to die for the revolution and for the blood of the martyrs, our friends. They were killed in the fight for our freedom. It is a good cause to die for. When we started the revolution our goal was to get freedom, justice, bread for the people, fundamental rights for everyone and equality for each. After we failed to get justice and the revolution was stolen from us and after lots of our friends died, now our primary goal is justice for the blood of the martyrs. We have to revenge our friends. That comes before the freedom, the equality and the bread.”

What would you like to see happen in Egypt, what is your vision?

“It doesn’t matter if the state is religious or not, basic human rights like food, freedom, healthcare and education is what matters. Everybody should be free to believe what they want, not be forced into a specific religion. Religion is not important to us. Even if Egypt would become a Zionist state, it would not matter to us if it means that people are safe and have freedom and food and equality. If Egypt would be a secular state, and this state would give my kids food and education, equality and healthcare and peace, we would be ok with that as well. We want a state that is a product of the revolution, where everybody can be free, not a secret, repressive state, but a state that provides a better future.”

Clashes in Alexandria

Clashes in Alexandria

Who are your enemies now?

“Our enemies are not just the Muslim Brotherhood. Before the Muslim Brothers, it was the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, who took over after Mubarak was toppled. Then Morsi became President, and the Muslim Brothers became our enemy because there was still no justice. After the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted, it was unbelievable but SCAF came back, and now they are our enemy again.”

What are your plans as a group now, what does the future hold for you?

“We, the real core of the former Black Bloc are now laying low because the current battle is between the army and police on the one hand and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other. They are now fighting amongst themselves who will rule the country. Only the fake Black Bloc, those who are collaborating with the army and police and intelligence agencies are still fighting. The Black Bloc you see on television and in the media now is the fake Black Bloc. We are now resting and preparing for our comeback, which will take place during the upcoming anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes on 19 November. Then we will start to show both the Muslim Brotherhood and the army that we are still alive and that we are back. We will stay nameless and anonymous.”

Down with the Military

Down with the Military

CrimethInc: What to do while the dust is settling

CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective

CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective

CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective (CWC) has been running a series reflecting on the experiences of anarchists involved in recent popular protests and uprisings, with the emphasis on what to do after the crest of the wave of popular protest. Below, I reproduce excerpts from Part One. For the rest of the series, click here. In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Ideas, I included excerpts from CrimethInc.’s analysis of the 2011-2012 Egyptian revolution.

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After the Crest, Part One: What to do while the dust is settling

Over the past six years, cities around the world have seen peaks of anti-capitalist struggle: Athens, London, Barcelona, Cairo, Oakland, Montréal, Istanbul. A decade ago, anarchists would converge from around the world to participate in a single summit protest. Now many have participated in months-long upheavals in their own cities, and more surely loom ahead.

But what do we do after the crest? If a single upheaval won’t bring down capitalism, we have to ask what’s important about these high points: what we hope to get out of them, how they figure in our long-term vision, and how to make the most of the period that follows them. This is especially pressing today, when we can be sure that there are more upheavals on the way.

“At the high point, it seems like it will go on forever. You feel invincible, unstoppable. Then the crash comes: court cases, disintegration, depression.

Once you go through this several times, the rhythm becomes familiar. It becomes possible to recognize these upheavals as the heartbeat of something greater than any single movement.”

…Many anarchists depend on a triumphalist narrative, in which we have to go from victory to victory to have anything to talk about. But movements, too, have natural life cycles. They inevitably peak and die down. If our strategies are premised on endless growth, we are setting ourselves up for inevitable failure. That goes double for the narratives that determine our morale.

After the Crest

After the Crest

Movement – A mysterious social phenomenon that aspires to growth yet, when observed, always appears to be in decline.

When social change is gathering momentum, it is protean and thus invisible; only when it stabilizes as a fixed quantity is it possible to affix a label to it, and from that moment on it can only decompose. This explains why movements burst like comets into the public consciousness at the high point of their innovation, followed by a long tail of diminishing returns. A sharper eye can see the social ferment behind these explosions, perennial and boundless, alternately drawing in new participants and emitting new waves of activity, as if in successive breaths.

In Occupy Oakland, a three-week occupation gave way to a six-month decline. This bears repeating: movements spend most of their time in decline. That makes it all the more important to consider how to make the most of the waning phase.

As all movements inevitably reach limits, it is pointless to bewail their passing—as if they would go on growing indefinitely if only the participants were strategic enough. If we presume the goal of any tactic is always to maintain the momentum of a particular movement, we will never be able to do more than react quixotically against the inexorable passing of time. Rather than struggling to stave off dissolution, we should act with an eye to the future.

This could mean consolidating the connections that have developed during the movement, or being sure to go out with a bang to inspire future movements, or revealing the internal contradictions that the movement never solved. Perhaps, once a movement has reached its limits, the most important thing to do in the waning phase is to point to what a future movement would have to do to transcend those limits.

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“We had occupied the building for almost 24 hours, and we were starting to imagine that we could somehow hold onto it. I was about to go out for supplies to fortify the place when something caught my eye. There in the dust of the abandoned garage was a hood ornament from a car that hadn’t been manufactured in 40 years. I reached down to pick it up, then hesitated: I could always look at it later. On impulse, I took it anyway. A half hour later, a SWAT squad surrounded the building for blocks in every direction. We never recovered any of the things we built or brought there. Over a hundred of us met, danced, and slept in that building, outside the bounds of anything we’d previously been able to imagine in our little town, and that little hood ornament is all I have to show it happened.

When I visited my friends in the Bay Area the following week, they were in the same state of elation I had been when I left the building: ‘We walk around and people see us and call out OCC-U-PY! Things are just going to grow and keep on growing!’ “

crimethInc perspective

Keep perspective.

During a crescendo of social struggle, it can be difficult to maintain perspective; some things seem central yet prove transitory, while other things fall by the wayside that afterwards turn out to have been pivotal. Often, we miss opportunities to foster long-term connections, taking each other for granted in the urgency of responding to immediate events. Afterwards, when the moment has passed, we don’t know how to find each other—or we have no reason to, having burned our bridges in high-stress situations. What is really important, the tactical success of a particular action, or the strength of the relationships that come out of it?

Likewise, it is rarely easy to tell where you are in the trajectory of events. At the beginning, when the window of possibility is wide open, it is unclear how far things can go; often, anarchists wait to get involved until others have already determined the character of the movement. Later, at the high point, it can seem that the participants are at the threshold of tremendous new potential—when in fact that window of possibility has already begun to close. This confusion makes it difficult to know when it is the right time to shift gears to a new strategy.

“We were outside at a café in downtown Oakland a couple months later. I was asking what my friends thought the prospects were for the future. “Things will pick up again when spring arrives,” they assured me.

At first I believed them. Wasn’t everyone saying the same thing all around the country? Then it hit me: we were sitting there in the sunshine, wearing t-shirts, in the city that had seen the most intense action of the whole Occupy movement. If there wasn’t another occupation there already, it wasn’t coming back.”

Toronto G20

Toronto G20

Keep the window of possibility open while you can; if you have to split, split on your own terms.

Movements usually begin with an explosion of uncertainty and potential. So long as the limits are unclear, a wide range of participants have cause to get involved, while the authorities must hold back, unsure of the consequences of repression. How do we keep this window of possibility open as long as possible without sidestepping real disagreements? (Think of Occupy Wall Street when it first got off the ground and all manner of radical and reactionary tendencies mingled within it.) Is it better to postpone clashes over ideological issues—such as nonviolence versus diversity of tactics—or to precipitate them? (Think of the controversial black bloc in Occupy Oakland on November 2, 2011.)

One way to approach this challenge is to try to clarify the issues at stake without drawing fixed lines of political identity in the process. As soon as a tactical or ideological disagreement is understood a conflict between distinct social bodies, the horizon begins to close. The moment of potential depends on the fluidity of the movement, the circulation of ideas outside their usual domains, the emergence of new social configurations, and the openness of individual participants to personal transformation. The entrenchment of fixed camps undermines all of these.

This problem is further complicated by the fact that the top priority of the authorities is always to divide movements—often along the same lines that the participants themselves wish to divide. It may be best to try not to precipitate any permanent breaks until the horizon of possibility has closed, then make sure that the lines are drawn on your own terms, not the terms of the authorities or their unwitting liberal stooges.

crimethInc Hedges

Push the envelope.

What is still possible once the horizon has been circumscribed? In a dying movement, one can still push the envelope, setting new precedents for the future so subsequent struggles will be able to imagine going further. This is a good reason not to avoid ideological clashes indefinitely; in order to legitimize the tactics that will be needed in the future, one often has to begin by acting outside the prevailing consensus.

For example, at the conclusion of November 2, 2011, Occupy Oakland participants controversially attempted to take over a building. This provoked a great deal of backlash, but it set a precedent for a series of building occupations that enabled Occupy to begin to challenge the sanctity of private property during its long waning phase—giving Occupy a much more radical legacy than it would otherwise have had.

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One year’s breakthroughs are the next year’s limitations.

During the burgeoning stage of a movement, participants often become fixated on certain tactics. There is a tendency to try to repeat one’s most recent successes; in the long run, this can only produce conservatism and diminishing returns. Diminishing returns are still returns, of course, and a tactic that is no longer effective in its original context may offer a great deal of potential in another setting—witness the occupation of Taksim Square in June 2013, when no one in the US could imagine occupying anything ever again. But tactics and rhetoric eventually become used up. Once no one expects anything new from them, the same slogans and strategies that generated so much momentum become obstacles.

As soon as Occupy is in the news, anyone who had an occupation in mind had better hurry to carry it out before the window of opportunity has closed and nobody wants to occupy anything at all. In a comic example of this tendency to fixate on certain tactics, after Occupy Oakland was evicted, Occupy Wall Street mailed a large number of tents across the country as a gesture of support. These tents merely took up storage space over the following months as the struggle in Oakland reached its conclusion on other terrain.

crimethInc atc-dust-3b

Don’t regress to outmoded strategies.

Sometimes, after a new strategy that is attuned to the present context has created new momentum, there is a tendency to revert to previous approaches that have long ceased working. When people with little prior experience converge in a movement, they sometimes demand guidance from those who have a longer history of involvement; more often, it is the veterans themselves who demand to provide this guidance. Unfortunately, longtime activists frequently bring in old tactics and strategies, using the new opportunity to resume the defeated projects of the past.

For example, fourteen years ago, worldwide summit-hopping offered a way to exert transnational leverage against capitalist globalization, offering a model to replace the local and national labor organizing that had been outflanked by the international mobility of corporations. Yet when labor activists got involved, they criticized summit-hoppers for running around the world rather than organizing locally the old-fashioned way. Likewise, Occupy got off the ground because it offered a new model for an increasingly precarious population to stand up for itself without stable economic positions from which to mobilize. But again, old-fashioned labor activists saw this new movement only as a potential pool of bodies to support union struggles, and channeled its momentum into easily coopted dead ends.

In the wake of every movement, we should study what its successes and failures show about our current context, while recognizing that by the time we can make use of those lessons the situation will have changed once more.

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Beware of rising expectations.

When a movement is at its high point, it becomes possible to act on a scale previously unimaginable. This can be debilitating afterwards, when the range of possibility contracts again and the participants are no longer inspired by the tactics they engaged in before the crest. One way to preserve momentum past the end of a movement is to go on setting attainable intermediate goals and affirming even the humblest efforts toward them.

The trajectory of green anarchist struggles in Oregon at the turn of the last century offers a dramatic example of this kind of inflation. At the beginning, the goals were small and concrete: protect a specific tree or a specific stretch of forest. After the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, the goals of green anarchists in the region hypertrophied until they reached a tactical impasse. When your immediate objective is to “take down industrial civilization,” just about anything you can do is going to feel pointless.

Indeed, during a declining phase, it may be important to resist the tendency to escalate. When the SHAC campaign ran aground, Root Force set out to apply the same strategy against a much bigger target—scaling up from a single animal testing corporation to the major infrastructural projects underlying transnational capitalism. A SHAC-style campaign targeting a smaller corporation might have succeeded, empowering a new generation to go on applying the strategy, but Root Force never even got off the ground.

crimethInc entrapment

Quit while you’re ahead.

The declining phase of a movement can be a dangerous time. Often, popular support has died down and the forces of repression have regained their footing, but the participants still have high hopes and feel a sense of urgency. Sometimes it’s best to shift focus before something really debilitating occurs.

Yet quitting while you’re ahead is complicated. If the connections that have been made are premised on collective action, it can be difficult to retain these without staying in the streets together.

Months after Occupy Oakland was definitively over, police brutally attacked an anarchist march against Columbus Day, making several arrests and pressing felony charges. It is an open question whether this showed that anarchists had overextended themselves, but after a payback action the following night in Oakland, street activity in the Bay Area died down for almost a year. On the other hand, after the UK student movement died down, an explosion of riots in August 2011 suggested that many of the underclass participants felt abandoned by the withdrawal of their former activist allies from street action. It is possible that, had the movement continued in some form, the riots might have turned out differently—as a point of departure for another wave of collective struggle, rather than the desperate act of a marginalized population rising ruinously against society itself.

crimethInc passions

Be prepared for burnout and depression.

After the crest, when the euphoria is over, many participants will experience depression. Since the events that regularly brought them together have ceased, they are isolated and more vulnerable. Others may veer into addiction: substance use can be a way to maintain intimacy with each other and with danger itself when there is no more fire in the streets. The simple pleasures with which people celebrated their victories can expand to fill the space left by the receding tide of events, becoming self-destructive. This is another reason to establish new venues to maintain camaraderie and connection when the window of possibility is closing.

Save energy for the fallout.

All of these problems are often intensified by the explosion of discord that usually follows a movement’s demise. Once it is clear that a movement is definitively over, all the conflicts that the participants have been putting off come to the fore, for there is no longer any incentive to keep them under the rug. Suppressed resentments and ideological differences surface, along with serious allegations about abuse of power and violations of consent. Learning from these conflicts is an essential part of the process that prepares the way for future movements: for example, contemporary anarchism is descended in part from the feminist backlash that followed the New Left movements of the 1960s. But participants rarely think to save energy for this phase, and it can feel like thankless work, since the “action” is ostensibly over.

“It was a few nights before the eviction of the Occupy Philly encampment, and we were holding a General Assembly to decide what to do. Tensions were running high between the residents of the camp, who were primarily homeless, and those who participated chiefly in meetings and working groups. That night, a homeless man interrupted the GA to accuse several of those in leadership positions of being in league with the police, being racist, and planning to sell out the homeless. The facilitator tried to ignore the disruption, but the angry man drowned him out and eventually riled up a few more people who began shouting too. In this moment of chaos and heightened emotion, we had a unique opportunity. We could have shifted our focus from the threat that the government wanted us to react to, instead using that GA to finally address the tensions in our own group in hopes of building a force that could survive into the next phase of struggle. Instead, the facilitator tried to restore order by directing us to “break into small groups and discuss what ‘respect’ means.” My heart sank. Our shared energy was explosive; we needed to channel it, not suppress it.

That was the last time I saw many of the comrades I’d befriended over the preceding months. The eviction wasn’t the greatest threat we faced after all.”

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Repression hits hardest at the end.

Government repression usually does not hit in full force until after a movement has died down. It is most convenient for the state to attack people when their support networks have collapsed and their attention is elsewhere. Operation Backfire struck years after the high point of Earth Liberation Front momentum, when many of the participants had moved on and the communities that had supported them had disintegrated. Similarly, the authorities waited until May 2012 to strike back at Occupy with a series of entrapment cases.

The chief goal of repression is to open the fault lines within the targeted social body, isolating it and forcing it into a reactive position. Ideally, we should respond to repression in ways that establish new connections and position us for new offensives.

Hold your ground.

How do we transition into other forms of connection when the exceptional circumstances that drew us together are over? The networks that coalesce effortlessly during the high point of momentum rarely survive. While new events were unfolding, there was an obvious reward for setting differences aside and interrupting routines to converge. Afterwards, the large groups that formed slowly break down into smaller ones, while smaller groups often vanish altogether. The reshuffling of allegiances that takes place during this period is vital, but it’s equally vital not to lose each other in the shuffle.

During the crest of a movement, participants often take for granted that it will leave them at a higher plateau when it is over. But this is hardly guaranteed. This may be the most important question facing us as we approach the next wave of struggles: how do we gain and hold ground? Political parties can measure their effectiveness according to how many new recruits they retain, but anarchists must conceive of success differently.

In the end, it isn’t just organizations with contact lists that will remain after the crest, but above all new questions, new practices, new points of reference for how people can stand up for themselves. Passing these memories along to the next generation is one of the most important things we can do.

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