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

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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…

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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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Anarchism in the 21st Century

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I recently published an article, “Marxism and Anarchism on Communism: The Debate between the Two Bastions of the Left,” in Volume 2 of Communism in the 21st Century, ed. Shannon Brincat (Praeger: Santa Barbara, 2013). The “Communism” in the main title of the book is, of course, Marxism. One of the main points I wanted to make was that Marxism, and only certain schools of Marxism at that, is only one conception of communism. Communist doctrines first arose in Europe among heretical religious groups and dissenters, such as the Diggers during the English Revolution. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from a pamphlet by the Digger, Gerrard Winstanley, “The New Law of Righteousness” (Selection 3, 1649), in which he argued for a kind of anarchist communism, where all wealth would be held in common, with each person being free to take what he or she needs “from the next store-house he meets with,” and “there shall be none Lord over others.” The were communist tendencies during the French Revolution (1789-1795), which later inspired the creation of radical communist groups during the 1830s, well before Marx and Engels published their Manifesto of the Communist Party in 1848. 

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In my article, I argue that anarchists came to adopt a communist position largely independently of Marxism, and that even Marx himself believed that before communism could be achieved there would have to be a socialist transition period which would retain some form of wage labour. His social democratic followers soon came to focus almost exclusively on achieving some form of state socialism, with communism being relegated to a distant goal. Even Lenin, who renamed the Bolshevik Party the Communist Party, was clear that there would have to be a lengthy transition period before communism could be achieved. Thus, both before the Russian Revolution, when the social democrats were the dominant Marxist faction, and after the Revolution, when Marxist Leninist Communist parties became dominant, communism not only remained a distant, if not mythical, goal among most Marxists, the anarchists were almost alone in advocating communism as an immediate goal. There were some Marxists who called themselves “council communists,” who also advocated the creation of a kind of libertarian communism, but they were a small minority among the Marxists, the majority of whom supported the Soviet Union and its satellite Communist parties.

Anarchism, Marxism and Communism

Communism 21st CenturyHere are some extracts from the introduction and conclusion to my article:

In this paper, I will review the historical disagreements between the anarchists and Marxists, focusing on Marx himself, but wish to show that the adoption of a communist position by the majority of anarchists by the 1880s was largely the result of an “internal” anarchist critique of earlier forms of anarchist socialism, and not in response to Marx’s criticisms of them. Indeed, anarchist communism retained several elements of its anarchist precursors to which Marx had expressed profound disagreement. However, despite continued theoretical disagreements, particularly over Marx’s theory of history (or “historical materialism”), after the Russian Revolution and the advent of “council communism,” some anarchist and Marxist currents began to converge into a hybrid doctrine referred to by some as “libertarian communism” (Guérin)…

During the Russian Revolution some anarcho-syndicalists began advocating factory committees or councils as revolutionary organs, concerned that the soviets were being coopted by the Bolsheviks [Anarchism, Volume One: 299-300]. Similar approaches were embraced by anarchists in Italy and Germany in 1919-1920, working with more radical Marxists, who came to describe themselves as “council communists”…

Despite the adoption of libertarian communism by the majority of anarchists after Bakunin, and the anti-authoritarian approach of some Marxists, such as the council communists, important differences remain not only between anarchists and “libertarian” Marxists, but between the anarchists themselves. In many ways, there are now more similarities between so-called “class struggle” anarchists, who trace their lineage back to Bakunin (Schmidt and van der Walt, 2009), and council communists, than there are between the former and contemporary anarchist currents which emphasize process, assembly forms of organization, particularly in the 2011 Occupy movements, and the creation of a decentralized ecological society without hierarchy, representation, mediation or domination, merging with post-structuralist currents in anarchist thought [Anarchism, Volume Three].

Robert Graham, 2014

anarchist_third_way_for_the_21st_century_by_black_cat_rebel-d59m2g2

Gustav Landauer: For Anarchist Socialism

Gustav Landauer

Gustav Landauer

One of the great influences on the German anarchist revolutionary, Erich Mühsam, was his friend and fellow anarchist, Gustav Landauer (1870-1919), murdered by government troops putting down the 1919 Bavarian Revolution, in which Landauer and Mühsam were both active participants. Mühsam shared Landauer’s rejection of the Marxist theory of historical materialism which saw socialism as the result of capitalist (over) development, instead insisting on the need for revolutionaries to make the revolution, for socialism is a process of creation, not the automatic result of technological development. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several excerpts from Landauer’s writings rejecting the Marxist view of history, as well as his famous critique of the state as “a relationship between human beings” which we destroy “by entering into other relationships, by behaving differently to one another” (Selection 49). Here I reproduce some further extracts from his 1911 book, Call to Socialism, in which Landauer expands on his critique of Marxism, arguing that an anarchist form of socialism may be possible in a variety of social circumstances, and that one does not have to wait “for the tidy progress of big capitalism” for anarchy and freedom to be achieved.

landauer and muhsam anarchisten

Against Marxism: For Anarchist Socialism

What Karl Marx called cooperation that is supposed to be an element of socialism is — the form of work which he saw in the capitalist enterprises of his time, the factory system, where thousands work in one room, the adaptation of the worker to the machines and the resulting pervasive division of labour in the production of commodities for the capitalist world market. For he says unquestioningly that capitalism is “already actually based on the social production enterprise”!

Yes indeed, such unparalleled nonsense goes against the grain, but it is certainly Karl Marx’s true opinion that capitalism develops socialism completely out of itself and that the socialist mode of production “flourishes” under capitalism. We already have cooperation, we already are at least well on the road to common ownership of the earth and the means of production. In the end nothing will be left to do but to chase away the few remaining owners. Everything else has blossomed from capitalism. For capitalism is equated with progress, society and even socialism. The true enemy is “the middle classes, the small industrialist, the small merchant, the craftsman, the farmer.” For they work, themselves, and have at most a few helpers and apprentices. That is the bungler, the dwarf enterprise, while capitalism is uniformity, the work of thousands in one place, work for the world market; that is social production and socialism.

That is Karl Marx’s true doctrine: when capitalism has gained complete victory over the remnants of the Middle Ages, progress is sealed and socialism is practically here.

It is not symbolically significant that the foundation of Marxism, the Bible of this sort of socialism is called Capital? We oppose this capitalist socialism with our own socialism, saying: socialism, culture and solidarity, just exchange and joyous work, the society of societies can come only when a spirit awakens such as the Christian and pre-Christian era of the Teutonic nations knew it, and when this spirit does away with the unculture, dissolution and decline, which in economic terms is called: capitalism.

Thus two opposite things stand in sharp contrast.

Here Marxism—there socialism!

Marxism—unspirit, the paper blossom on the beloved thornbush of capitalism.

Socialism — the new force against rottenness; the culture that rises against the combination of un-spirit, hardship, and violence, against the modern state and modern capitalism.

And now one can understand what I want to say to its face against this no less modern thing, Marxism: it is the plague of our time and the curse of the socialist movement. Now it will be said even more clearly that it is so, why it is so, and why socialism can come about only in mortal enmity toward Marxism.

Call to Socialism

Call to Socialism

For Marxism is, above all, the philistine who looks down upon and despises everything past, who calls whatever suits him the present or the beginning of the future, who believes in progress, who likes 1908 better than 1907, who expects something quite special from 1909, and almost a final eschatological miracle from something so far off as 1920.

Marxism is the philistine and therefore the friend of everything mass-like and comprehensive. Something like a medieval republic of cities or a village mark or a Russian mir or a Swiss Allmend or a communist colony cannot for him have the least similarity with socialism, but a broad, centralized state already resembles his state of the future quite closely. Show him a country at a period when the small peasants prosper, when highly skilled trades flourish, when there is little misery, he will contemptuously turn up his nose.

Karl Marx and his successors thought they could make no worse accusation against the greatest of all socialists, Proudhon, than to call him a petit-bourgeois and petit-peasant socialist, which was neither incorrect nor insulting, since Proudhon showed splendidly to the people of his nation and his time, predominantly small farmers and craftsmen, how they could have achieved socialism immediately without waiting for the tidy progress of big capitalism. However, believers in progress do not at all want to hear us speak of a possibility that was once there and yet did not become reality, and the Marxists and those infected by them cannot stand to hear anyone speak of a socialism that could have been possible before the downward movement which they call the upward movement of sacred capitalism.

We, on the other hand, do not separate a fabulous development and social processes from what men want, do, could have wanted, and could have done. We know, however, that the determination and necessity of all that happens, including, of course, will and action, is valid and without exception, but only after the fact, i.e., after a reality is already there, does it thus become a necessity. When something did not happen, it was thus not possible, because, for example, men to whom urgent appeals were addressed and to whom reason was preached with fervour did not want to and could not be reasonable. Aha! the Marxists will interject triumphantly, Karl Marx however predicted that there was no possibility for that. Yes sir, we answer, and thereby he assumed a certain part of the guilt that it did not come about. He was for then, and for a long time afterwards, one of the guilty hinderers. In our opinion, human history does not consist of anonymous processes and a mere accumulation of many small mass events and omissions. For us bearers of history are persons, and for us there are also guilty persons.

Proudhon by Courbet

Proudhon by Courbet

Does anyone believe that Proudhon did not, like every prophet, every herald, more strongly than any cold scientific observer, often in great hours sense the impossibility of leading these his people to what he considered the most beautiful and most natural possibility? Anyone who thinks that faith in fulfillment is part of the great deeds, visionary behaviour and urgent creativity of the apostles and leaders of mankind, knows them badly. Faith in their sacred truth is certainly a part of it, but also despair in men and the feeling of impossibility! Where overwhelming change and renewal have occurred, it is the impossible and incredible that is precisely the usual factor that brought about change.

But Marxism is uncultured, and it therefore always points, full of mockery and triumph, at failures and futile attempts and has such a childish fear of defeat. It shows greater contempt for nothing else than what it calls experiments or failures. It is a shameful sign of disgraceful decline, especially for the German people, whom such fear of idealism, enthusiasm and heroism so poorly fits, that such pitiful characters are the leaders of its enslaved masses. But the Marxists are for the impoverished masses exactly what nationalists have been since 1870 for the satiated classes of people: worshippers of success.

Thus we grasp another, more accurate meaning of the term “materialist conception of history.” Yes indeed, the Marxists are materialists in the ordinary, crude, popular sense of the word, and just like the nationalistic blockheads, they strive to reduce and exterminate idealism. What the nationalistic bourgeois has made of the German students, the Marxists have made of broad segments of the proletariat, cowardly little men without youth, wildness, courage, without joy in attempting anything, without sectarianism, without heresy, without originality and individuality. But we need all that. We need attempts. We need the expedition of a thousand men to Sicily. We need these precious Garibaldi-natures, and we need failures upon failures and the tough nature that is frightened by nothing, that holds firm and endures and starts over and over again until it succeeds, until we are through, until we are unconquerable. Whoever does not take upon himself the danger of defeat, of loneliness, of set-backs, will never attain victory.

One of Landauer's Papers

One of Landauer’s Papers

O you Marxists, I know how bad that sounds in your ears, you who fear nothing except what you call stabs in the back. That word belongs to your special vocabulary and perhaps with some right, since you show the enemy your back more than your face. I know how deeply you hate and how repulsive and unpleasant your dry temperaments find such fiery natures as the constructive Proudhon and the destructive Bakunin or Garibaldi. Everything Latin or Celtic, everything that smacks of the open air and wildness and initiative is almost embarrassing to you. You have plagued yourselves enough to exclude everything free, personal or youthful, which you call stupidities, from the party, the movement and the masses.

Truly, things would be better for socialism and our people if instead of the systematic stupidity, which you call your science, we had the fiery-headed stupidities of hot-tempered men brimming over with enthusiasm, which you cannot stand. Yes indeed, we want to do what you call experiments. We want to make attempts. We want to create from the heart, and then we want, if it must be, to suffer shipwreck and bear defeat, until we have the victory and land is sighted. Ashen-faced, drowsy men, cynical and uncultured, are leading our people; where are the Columbus natures, who prefer to sail the high seas in a fragile ship into the unknown rather than wait for developments? Where are the young, joyous victorious Reds who will laugh at these gray faces? The Marxists don’t like to hear such words, such attacks, which they call relapses, such enthusiastic unscientific challenges. I know, and that is exactly why I feel so good at having told them this. The arguments I use against them are sound and they hold water, but if instead of refuting them with arguments I annoyed them to death with mockery and laughter, that would also suit me fine.

Landauer quote

Thus the uncultured Marxist is much too clever, level-headed and cautious ever to think that capitalism in a state of total collapse, as was the case during the February [1848] revolution in France, might be confronted with socialist organization, just as he prefers to kill the forms of living community from the Middle Ages that were saved particularly in Germany, France, Switzerland, Russia, during centuries of decline and to drown them in capitalism rather than to recognize that they contain the seeds and living crystals of the coming socialist culture.

However if one shows him the economic conditions, say, of England from the middle of the nineteenth century, with its desolate factory system, with the depopulation of the countryside, the homogenization of the masses an of misery, with economies geared to the world market instead of to real needs, he finds social production, cooperation, the beginnings of common ownership. He feels at home…

Add to this, capitalist concentration which looked as if the number of capitalists and of fortunes would become ever fewer, and further the model of the omnipotent government in the centralized state of our times, and add finally the ever greater perfection of the industrial machines, the ever increased division of labour, the replacement of the trained craftsman by the unskilled machine operator — all this however seen in an exaggerated and caricatured light, for it all has another side and is never a schematically unilinear development. It is a struggle and equilibrium of various tendencies, but everything Marxism sees is always grotesquely simplified and caricatured. Add finally the hope that working hours will become shorter and shorter and human work more and more productive: then the state of the future is finished. The future state of the Marxists: the blossom on the tree of governmental, capitalist and technological centralization.

It must yet be added that the Marxist, when he dreams his pipe dreams especially boldly — for never was a dream emptier and drier, and if there ever have been unimaginative fantasists, the Marxists are the worst — the Marxist extends his centralism and economic bureaucracy beyond present-day states and advocates a world organization to regulate and direct the production and distribution of goods. That is Marxism’s internationalism. As formerly in the [First] International everything was supposed to be regulated and decided by the London-based General Council and today in Social Democracy [the "Second" International] all decisions are made in Berlin, this world production authority will someday look into every pot and will have the amount of grease for every machine listed in its ledger.

KArl_Marx_statue_

One more layer and our description of Marxism will be finished.

The forms of organization of what these people call socialism blossom forth completely in capitalism, except that these organizations, these ever expanding — through steam — factories are still in the hands of private entrepreneurs, exploiters. We have already seen, however, that they are supposed to be reduced to a smaller and smaller number by competition. One must visualize clearly what this means: first a hundred thousand — then a few thousand — then a few hundred — then some seventy or fifty — then a few absolutely monstrous giant entrepreneurs.

Opposed to them stand the workers, the proletarians. They become more and more numerous, the middle classes disappear, and with the number of workers the number, intensity and power of the machines also grows, so that not only the number of workers, but also the number of unemployed, the so-called industrial reserve-armies, increases. According to this description, capitalism reaches an impasse and the struggle against it, i.e., against the few remaining capitalists, becomes easier and easier for the countless masses of disinherited who have an interest in change. Thus it must be remembered that in Marxist doctrine everything is immanent, though the term is taken from another area and misapplied. Here it means that nothing requires special efforts or mental insights, everything follows smoothly from the social process. The so-called socialist forms of organization are already immanent in capitalism…

As the program of German Social Democracy says in such beautiful and so genuinely Marxist terms (otherwise various ungenuine elements have crept in, which the makers of this program now are calling revisionist in their opponents): the powers of production are growing beyond the capacity of contemporary society. This contains the genuinely Marxist teaching that in contemporary society the forms of production have become more and more socialist and that these forms lack only the right form of ownership. They call it social ownership, but when they call the capitalist factory system a [system of] social production (not only Marx does this in Capital, but the present-day Social Democrats in their currently effective program call work in the forms of present-day capitalism, social work), we know the real implications of their socialist forms of labour.

MarxPyramid

Just as they consider the production forms of steam technology in capitalism to be a socialist form of labour, so they consider the centralized state to be the social organization of society and bureaucratically administered state-property to be common property! These people really have no instinct for the meaning of society. They haven’t the least idea that society can only be a society of societies, only a federation, only freedom. They therefore do not know that socialism is anarchy and federation. They believe socialism is government, while others who thirst for culture want to create socialism because they want to escape from the disintegration and misery of capitalism and its concomitant poverty, spiritlessness and coercion, which is only the other side of economic individualism. In short, they want to escape from the state into a society of societies and voluntary association.

Because, as these Marxists say, socialism is still so to speak, the private property of the entrepreneurs, who produce wildly and senselessly, and since they are in possession of the socialist production powers (read: of steam power, perfected production machinery and the superfluously available proletarian masses), that is, because this situation is like a magic broomstick in the hands of the sorcerer’s apprentice, a deluge of goods, overproduction and confusion must be the result, i.e., crises must ensue, which, no matter what the details may be, always come about, at least in the opinion of the Marxists, because the regulative function of a statistically controlling and directing world state authority is necessary to go with the socialist mode of production, which, in their wickedly stupid view, already exists.

As long as this controlling authority is missing, “socialism” is still imperfect, and disorder must result. The forms of organization of capitalism are good, but they lack order, discipline, and strict centralization. Capitalism and government must come together, and where we would speak of state capitalism, those Marxists say that socialism is here. But just as their socialism contains all forms of capitalism and regimentation, and just as they allow the tendency to uniformity and leveling that exists today to progress to its ultimate perfection, the proletarian too is carried over into their socialism. The proletarian of the capitalist enterprise has become the state proletarian, and proletarianization has, when this type of socialism begins, really and predictably reached gigantic proportions. Everyone without exception is an employee of the state.

communist_party_mask

Capitalism and the state must come together—that is in truth Marxism’s ideal. Although they do not want to hear of their ideal, we see they seek to promote this trend of development. They do not see that the tremendous power and bureaucratic desolation of the state is necessary only because our communal life has lost the spirit, because justice and love, the economic associations and the blossoming multiplicity of small social organisms have vanished. They see nothing of all this deep decay of our times; they hallucinate progress.

Technology progresses, of course. It actually does so in many times of culture, although not always—there are also cultures without technical progress. It progresses especially in times of decay, of the individualization of spirit and the atomization of the masses. That is precisely our point. The real progress of technology together with the real baseness of the time is—to speak, for once, Marxistically for the Marxists — the real, material basis for the ideological superstructure, namely for the Marxists’ Utopia of progressive socialism…

No doubt, the Marxists believe that if the front and back sides of our degradation, the capitalist conditions of production and the state, were brought together, then their progress and development would have reached its goal and so justice and equality would be established. Their comprehensive economic state, whether it be the heir to previous states or their world state, is a republican and democratic structure, and they really believe that the laws of such a state would provide for the welfare of all the common people, since they comprise the state. Here we must be allowed to burst out in irrepressible laughter at this most pitiful of all stodgy fantasies. Such a complete mirror image of the Utopia of the sated bourgeois can in fact only be the product of the undisturbed laboratory development of capitalism. We will waste no more time on this accomplished ideal of the era of decline and of depersonalized unculture, this government of dwarves.

We will see that true culture is not empty but fulfilled and that the true society is a multiplicity of real, small affinities that grow out of the binding qualities of individuals, out of the spirit, a structure of communities, and a union. This “socialism” of the Marxists is a gigantic goiter that supposedly will develop. Never fear, we will soon see that it will not develop. Our socialism, however, should grow in the hearts of men. It wishes to cause the hearts of those who belong together to grow in unity and spirit. The alternative is not pigmy-socialism or socialism of the spirit, for we will soon see that if the masses follow the Marxists or even the revisionists, then capitalism will remain. It absolutely does not tend to change suddenly into the “socialism” of the Marxists nor to develop into the socialism of the revisionists, which can be thus called only with a shy voice. Decline—in our case, capitalism— has in our time just as much vitality as culture and expansion had in other times. Decline does not at all mean decrepitude, a tendency toward collapse or drastic reversal. Decline, the Epoch of sunkenness, folklessness, spiritlessness, is capable of lasting for centuries or millennia. Decline, in our case, capitalism, possesses in our time precisely that measure of vitality which is not found in contemporary culture and expansion. It has as much strength and energy as we fail to muster for socialism. The choice we face is not: one form of socialism, or the other, but simply: capitalism or socialism; the state or society; unspirit or spirit. The doctrine of Marxism does not lead out of capitalism. Nor is there any truth to Marxism’s doctrine that capitalism can at times out-trump Baron Münchhausen’s fantastic accomplishment of pulling himself out of a strange swamp by his pig-tail, i.e., the prophecy that capitalism will emerge out of its own swamp by virtue of its own development.

Gustav Landauer, 1911

Published by PM Press

Published by PM Press

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.

feminism attack better poster

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

amina_tunisia

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

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.”

ifvoting700iv5

National Strike in Colombia

National Strike in Colombia

National Strike in Colombia

Below I set forth a report by the Colombian anarchist Grupo Libertario Vía Libre about the national strike movement in Colombia, similar to recent popular protest movements in places like Brazil and Turkey. Since this report was written in August 2013, activists, trade unionists and members of the political opposition have been subject to death threats, showing how difficult it is to mount social protests in Colombia where there is a constant threat of state sponsored violence and terror. In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a piece by the Colombian anarchist group, the Colectivo Alas de Xue, which emphasizes the affinities between anarchist ideas regarding federalism and self-management and the striving for self-determination by indigenous peoples in Colombia.

Colombia3

On the National Strike and Wave of Popular Disobedience in Colombia

The administration of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, now into its third year, is on its heels due to a growing crisis of legitimacy. Shaken by a storm of social unrest, the result of several crises that have impacted among others the agricultural, transportation, health and education sectors, GDP is slowing down and the first symptoms of a national economic crisis are visible. Large parts of the campesino, mining, artisanal and transportation worker sectors, impacted by a prolonged agricultural and industrial depression that originated through the liberalization of the Colombian economy over the last twenty years, organized a Paro Nacional, a National Strike. These workers also felt the impact of the unequal and exclusive recovery in the prices of raw materials that has taken place in a few marginal countries during the current capitalist crisis, as well as the shock effect brought on by the first year of implementation of the U.S. Free Trade Agreement, to which the Santos administration has added 20 other new free trade agreements. The National Strike was observed in rural areas and with fragmented expressions sent Colombia from mid- to late August into a vortex of social disobedience, which is continuing and strengthening the increasing class resistance that we have witnessed since 2008, as well as the escalating cycle of protests that took place through 2011-2012.

The Santos administration has led a political project of one sector of the national bourgeoisie that wants to convert the nation into a regional power, committed to U.S. imperialism but with the autonomy to open itself to Asia. This project seeks to modernize a backwards State and to deepen capitalist penetration in Colombia. Santos’ administration has initiated a Peace Process with the left-wing FARC-EP guerilla organization and a limited policy to liberalize some outdated oligarchic structures, especially in the rural areas, that opened up a wave of expectation and hope among the population. Yet due to the administration’s own characteristics this hope cannot be fulfilled, a fact that has awakened the ire of millions.

All this is happening as elections in which the administration seeks to secure its reelection are on the horizon; the political left pushed into political moderation, fragmented in the electoral arena, is in urgent need of increasing its social presence now that it faces the threat of losing its institutional participation.

Santos is also developing a complex peace process that has put into action the only formula his administration considers efficient, which is closed negotiations, outside the country while the armed conflict continues. This process has led to an increase in the conflict, not in its military stalemate [State forces cannot defeat the leftist insurgents] but in the social dimension that gives us a crucial understanding of the pressure and participation of those on the lower rungs of society, so that an authoritarian and militarist State will concede and guarantee peace.

The sectors involved in this struggle have become central figures in the nation’s politics and a center of attention for almost three weeks. Calling into question all of the current administration’s policies and the neoliberal model with a few obscure but important anti-capitalist elements, these sectors are demanding immediate subsidies and investment plans linked to strategic demands like the defense of territory, and the campesino and artisanal economies.

Anarchism and Social Organization

Anarchism and Social Organization

The Strike has not only overwhelmed the government and security forces but also the [political] left and social organizations. This Strike has been extensive and wide open, with varied and unequal participation. It has been intermittent but forceful and has united four large waves of protest:

  1. The artisanal and traditional miners of the provinces of Choco, Antioquia and the central Andean region of Cundinamarca and Boyaca, all of whom are poor and underemployed, struggling to maintain their jobs, threatened by a government that persecutes and criminalizes them in order to open the mining industry to multinational mining and energy companies. These miners started their own strike over a month ago;
  2. Truck drivers and small owners of vehicles located above all in the western part of the country, who are resisting government plans to modernize their industry that would convert them into salaried workers and monopolize the companies. They also oppose policies to increase the price of gasoline, fuel oil and toll fees that have been on the rise since 2010;
  3. Impoverished campesinos close to bankruptcy, who make up the most important wave of all. The majority are farmers from the Andean region, the Pacific region and the provinces of Santander and North Santander who produce potatoes, onions, rice and milk and who have been affected by the agro-industrial model of economic growth, the massive influx of foreign-subsidized agricultural products and the large network of middle men and speculators. They have continued the string of strikes initiated by coffee growers and coca-growing campesinos during the first semester of 2013;
  4. Civic protesters in towns and neighborhoods who found in these protests the time and place to voice their own protests and demands for health care, housing, jobs. This includes others like the motorbike taxi-drivers, and those impacted by the winter rain floods, the inter-municipal transportation workers or urban youth from impoverished neighborhoods.

As the second coffee-growers’ strike was brought under control, the transportation sector divided, efforts to render the Strike invisible, the regional dialog strategy fell apart in the most conflicted regions, and in the midst of the breakdown of nationwide negotiations due to government tactics the Santos administration, which has used forceful but unequal repressive measures throughout this movement leaving eight unarmed protesters dead, now faces a situation not seen in over a generation: a national strike called by the popular movement that actually impacts this country, that had witnessed the silent and dramatic failures of the 2006 and 2008 strikes organized by the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, and the 2012 strike organized by the COMOSOCOL [COMOSOCOL was created to coordinate Colombian social movements and organizations]. The current rural-based protest movement has surrounded the cities, blocking and paralyzing provincial roads and reducing the delivery of food.

The similarities with the 14 September 1977 National Strike are worth mentioning. It was the largest mass protest of Colombia’s recent history, and took place during the presidency of Liberal Alfonso López Michelsen, whose administration Santos ironically commemorated in recent days. Sadly Clara López, president of the Polo Democratico Alternativo, and Piedad Córdoba, leader of Marcha Patriótica, two political movements opposed to the Santos administration, also commemorated the López administration.

The comparison with the 1977 strike and its demands that our organization has successfully positioned within the current social struggles, allows us to analyze the similarities of both contexts and the frustrated hopes for reform, the social crisis and the initial economic crisis, as well as the important differences that characterize urban involvement and the enormous labour union presence that shaped the 1970s experience.

Anarchism and Class Struggle in Colombia

Anarchism and Class Struggle in Colombia

This current movement also shares similarities with powerful regional strikes that took place during the second half of the 1980s. The current movement is not that large and aggressive yet it is more coordinated at the national level and with a broader or more diverse makeup. We think that the current movement continues our popular tradition of local and national civic strikes as an expression of current/historical discontent.

The outlook of this movement is complex yet optimistic: on the one hand the strength of the mobilization – even though worn out – continues; more civic sectors have joined the protest and the nationwide impact continues to grow. This is exemplified by the smooth coordination led by the Mesa de Interlocucion y Acuerdo, or MIA. The MIA is made up of unorganized independent sectors and the leadership of FENSUAGRO, which is a member of Marcha Patriótica and Dignidad Campesina [potato, rice, onion and coffee growers] influenced by the MOIR [FENSUAGRO is the Federación Nacional Sindical Unitaria Agropecuaria; MOIR is the Movimiento Obrero Indpendiente y Revolucionario; Marcha Patriótica is a left-leaning social and political movement]. At the same time a national strike of health workers organized under the ANTHOC; a national 24-hour oil sector strike that will not halt production called by the USO; a mobilization of public school teachers by the FECODE, the most important union federation in Colombia, that has called a second time for a National Strike – this time for September 10, and a call for a national strike of university students in October by the MANE in defence of the Alternative Law for Higher Education [ANTHOC is the national union of public sector health workers; USO is the oil workers' Union Sindical Obrear; FECODE is the public sector teachers union; MANE is the Mesa Amplia Nacional Estudiantil. The student-led MANE brought down a Santos-proposed education reform with ample social and political support last year].

Yet the government has taken a hardline suspending dialogue, militarizing the regions in conflict, criminalizing organizations involved in the conflict like Marcha Patriótica and starting judicial processes against protest leaders like Hubert Ballesteros. The popular movement, in the meantime, shows a serious limitation because it does not have the organic participation of urban workers, in neighbourhoods and workplaces, a sector that is highly unorganized but decisive due to its demographic and productive importance to push forward some important change at the national level.

It is clear that despite the fact that former right-wing president Alvaro Uribe’s movement has lost its control over this popular movement due to its neoliberal and antimilitarist positions, it can still be used by the ultraconservative Uribe to capitalize on the discontent generated by the lack of communication, the lack of food supplies, the cells of ill-directed violence, as well as the fear of renewed class warfare and possible social change.

In the current situation organized anarchists in Bogota have participated according to our limited but growing strength in some of the actions of agitation, solidarity and protest carried out in the city and the province of Cundinamarca, mainly in the marches that took place on August 19 in the city of Facatativá and as students and popular educators on August 29 in the National Day of Struggle.

Workers' Struggles Have No Frontiers

Workers’ Struggles Have No Frontiers

For our group, the lessons of the movement are clear: we should promote a broad campaign of solidarity with all people in struggle working for conscious and programmatic unity of the struggles in the rural and urban sectors preparing for the National Strike (Paro Nacional), promoting the strength of popular organizations and their ability to fight in those areas in which anger explodes and extend the protests to new territories.

In that sense we must defend the legitimacy of the Strike, especially the blockage of major roads as the main form of struggle and popular political violence as a tool of self-defence, as we seek the participation of local communities, projecting the organization and the collective control of direct action decided upon by the base to contain their negative effects by that same base, while at the same time we help diversify the repertoire of actions for the eventual response.

We believe we must work to change the Strike into a laboratory of our own power, generating and struggling for our own needs and aspirations for social change, increasing direct action and organizing among urban workers and launching our link with the more dynamic rural sectors, fighting against the Santos administration and the neoliberal model, as we at the same time deepen and open new spaces for the libertarian battle against Capitalism and State control.

Grupo Libertario Vía Libre, Bogotá

Anarchism and Revolution in Colombia

Anarchism and Revolution in Colombia

David Graeber: Bullshit Jobs

Help-Desk-jobs

Here is a piece by David Graeber from the online Strike magazine, which even elicited a rebuttal from that venerable organ of capitalist propaganda, The Economist. The loss of meaningful, productive work is something that both Paul Goodman and Noam Chomsky have often commented on. I included pieces by Goodman and Chomsky in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas and by Chomsky and Graeber in Volume Three: The New Anarchism (1974-2012).

capitalism

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialize? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.

So what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers” tripled, growing “from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.” In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be).

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.”

work to live_2

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.

I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.

useful_work_v_useless_toil.large

Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: “who are you to say what jobs are really ‘necessary’? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the ‘need’ for that?” (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralyzing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyze London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorized stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

David Graeber

Food Service Workers on Strike for a Living Wage

Food Service Workers on Strike for a Living Wage

From Taksim to Rio to Tahrir… and Everywhere

Protesters return to Tahrir Square

Protesters return to Tahrir Square

With the media carrying stories about huge public demonstrations now again in Cairo and other parts of Egypt, with millions of people demanding an end to the Morsi regime, and the Egyptian military threatening to intervene to restore “order,” this open letter from the “Comrades from Cairo” collective is as timely as it is relevant. Check out these links: http://roarmag.org/2013/06/from-tahrir-and-rio-to-taksi…ne%29; and http://www.glykosymoritis.blogspot.com.

Open letter by the Egyptian activist collective ‘Comrades from Cairo’

To you at whose side we struggle:

June 30 will mark a new stage of rebellion for us, building on what started on January 25 and 28, 2011. This time we rebel against the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood that has brought only more of the same forms of economic exploitation, police violence, torture and killings.

References to the coming of “democracy” have no relevance when there is no possibility of living a decent life with any signs of dignity and decent livelihood. Claims of legitimacy through an electoral process distract from the reality that in Egypt our struggle continues because we face the perpetuation of an oppressive regime that has changed its face but maintains the same logic of repression, austerity and police brutality. The authorities maintain the same lack of any accountability towards the public, and positions of power translate into opportunities to increase personal power and wealth.

June 30 renews the Revolution’s scream: “The People Want the Fall of the System”. We seek a future governed neither by the petty authoritarianism and crony capitalism of the Brotherhood nor a military apparatus which maintains a stranglehold over political and economic life nor a return to the old structures of the Mubarak era. Though the ranks of protesters that will take to the streets on June 30 are not united around this call, it must be ours — it must be our stance because we will not accept a return to the bloody periods of the past.

Though our networks are still weak we draw hope and inspiration from recent uprisings, especially across Turkey and Brazil. Each is born out of different political and economic realities, but we have all been ruled by tight circles whose desire for more has perpetuated a lack of vision of any good for people. We are inspired by the horizontal organization of the Free Fare Movement founded in Bahía, Brazil in 2003 and the public assemblies spreading throughout Turkey.

In Egypt, the Brotherhood only adds a religious veneer to the process, while the logic of a localized neo-liberalism crushes the people. In Turkey a strategy of aggressive private-sector growth, likewise translates into authoritarian rule, the same logic of police brutality as the primary weapon to oppress opposition and any attempts to envision alternatives. In Brazil a government rooted in a revolutionary legitimacy has proven that its past is only a mask it wears while it partners with the same capitalist order in exploiting people and nature alike.

These recent struggles share in the fight of much older constant battles of the Kurds and the indigenous peoples of Latin America. For decades, the Turkish and Brazilian governments have tried but failed to wipe out these movements’ struggle for life. Their resistance to state repression was the precursor to the new wave of protests that have spread across Turkey and Brazil. We see an urgency in recognizing the depth in each others’ struggles and seek out forms of rebellion to spread into new spaces, neighborhoods and communities.

Our struggles share a potential to oppose the global regime of nation states. In crisis as in prosperity, the state — in Egypt under the rule of Mubarak, the Military Junta or the Muslim Brotherhood — continues to dispossess and disenfranchise in order to preserve and expand the wealth and privilege of those in power.

None of us are fighting in isolation. We face common enemies from Bahrain, Brazil and Bosnia, Chile, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Kurdistan, Tunisia, Sudan, the Western Sahara and Egypt. And the list goes on. Everywhere they call us thugs, vandals, looters and terrorists. We are fighting more than economic exploitation, naked police violence or an illegitimate legal system. It is not rights or reformed citizenship that we fight for.

We oppose the nation-state as a centralized tool of repression, that enables a local elite to suck the life out of us and global powers to retain their dominion over our everyday lives. The two work in unison with bullets and broadcasts and everything in between. We are not advocating to unify or equate our various battles, but it is the same structure of authority and power that we have to fight, dismantle, and bring down. Together, our struggle is stronger.

We want the downfall of the System.

Comrades from Cairo

Egyptian protesters storm the Muslim Brotherhood

Egyptian protesters storm the Muslim Brotherhood

Solidarity with the Gaucho Anarchist Federation and the People of Brazil

brazil free

As mass protests against neo-liberal policies continue in Brazil, the authorities are now trying to pin the blame for the unrest on the Gaucho Anarchist Federation (FAG), raiding its office on June 2o, 2013. Below, I reproduce an international statement of solidarity with the FAG. In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from the FAG’s statement of principles, which advocates a form of “especifismo,” namely that the task for anarchists today is to participate in and be part of popular struggles against capitalism and authority. The massive protests in Brazil, and the many years of work of Brazilian anarchists within broad based social movements for change, illustrate how fruitful such a strategy can be.

Brazilian Protests Continue

Brazilian Protests Continue

Solidarity Against the Persecution of the Federação Anarquista Gaúcha in Brazil

In Porto Alegre, on June 20 last, about 15 officers from the Civil Police raided the Ateneo Batalha da Varzea, the political and social premises where the Federação Anarquista Gaúcha is located, without a warrant.

In this city where, since the beginning of the year, there have been massive demonstrations for popular demands concerning public transport, health, education, against corruption, with the aim of creating social change for their locality and their country.

This is a country where thousands of people are taking to the streets to denounce that everything is rotten and that it is necessary and urgent to change it. Faced with so much opulence of the powerful, with the stadiums being built for the Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup, faced with so much sustained repression, displacement and militarisation of working-class neighbourhoods, the almost total neglect of public health and education, the usury and theft that – as a corollary – is the cost and quality of transport.

And now they are seeking to criminalise the FAG, and make it responsible for all the anger and fury that the population of the whole country feels. They are seeking to accuse the FAG, saying that they came across anarchist literature in their premises. What did you think you would find in anarchist premises? The FAG is accused of being in collusion with the far right, when its work has been in places that the right rejects, such as the Popular Resistance committee, the waste collectors movement, trade unionism, the peasant movement, the student struggle, activities to involve more comrades in practices of a libertarian nature.

And there are more and more things that separate the FAG from that which has been its enemy in a historical constant, such as the raid that occurred in 2009 under the orders of governor Yeda Crusius, when the anarchist organisation held her responsible for the assassination of activist Elton Brum.

So, it has itself been against the powerful, those at the top and their allies in power. This raid is above all ideological, because it is the persecution of our ideas that is principal. It is this that they want to erase: all meaning of rebellion and liberation that our struggles can adopt; class independence, direct democracy, the building of people’s power.

We therefore express our greatest concern and alert on the issue and will follow up on the matter by responding where we find the stories of our struggles!

Down with the repression of the Brazilian people’s movement!

Down with the criminalization of the FAG!
Forward with those who struggle!
Arriba los que luchan!

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Turkey: An Anarchist’s Observations

PoliticansMadeUsAnarchoBanner

In Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included two selections by Andrew Flood, one on the Occupy movement, and the other on the Zapatistas in Mexico. Andrew has just posted a report from Turkey regarding the unrest there. I have reproduced some excerpts below. For the full report, click here. You can also follow Andrew on Twitter.

Tear gas in Taksim Square

Tear gas in Taksim Square

Tear gas is a very good place to start trying to understand what is happening in Turkey.  The main purpose of tear gas is to terrorize and thus break up large crowds of people.  In Istanbul over the last weeks huge quantities have been used over and over to prevent large anti-government demonstrations developing. This wasn’t about ‘riot control’ — generally there was no riot to control…

The clouds of gas choking entire streets along with yet more dangerous blasts of water canon is what you have seen online and on the TV.  But those clouds also tell you something essential about the nature of Turkish ‘democracy’. And that is even if the prime minister, Erdogan, is properly elected there is little room for dissent and protest.  There are always differences between the expectation of a ‘right to ‘protest’ and reality. Occupy Wall Street also saw the use of tear gases on protesters.  But in Turkey that disconnect is particularly severe due to the way gas is used. An article in the English language daily Hurriyet revealed that 130,000 canisters of tear gas had been used by police in the first 20 days of the protests.

Many of those tear gas canisters were fired horizontally at close range at protesters resulting in a huge number of head injuries, a dozen people losing eyes and along with other causes, including one death from live ammunition, at least four deaths.  At all the entrances to Taksim square street traders had replaced their normal goods with piles of construction hats, goggles and dust masks.  I generally reached Taksim by walking the length of Istiklal, the long shopping street familiar from photos because of the strings of decorative lights overhead.  As you neared Taksim you would see more and more people with bandaged forearms, heads and eyes.  Even the BBC journalist Paul Mason got hit in the head (he was wearing a helmet) during the weekend he spent reporting from Istanbul.

Turkey Erdogan

Sunday 16th June, the day after the huge police assault that have cleared Gezi Park, served as an illustration of Erdogan’s democracy.  On the one hand thousands of free buses and ferries had been used to bring people to an enormous pro-government rally on the outskirts of Istanbul.  As many as 300,000 people were gathered there to listen to a two hour tirade from the Erdogan during which he laid down his paranoid fantasies about Gezi park being part of the international conspiracy against Turkey.

Meanwhile in the rest of Istanbul squads of police equipped with tear gas and rubber bullets spent the entire day swooping on any attempt by protesters to meet up, even in small numbers.  They were backed up by water cannon and armoured personnel carriers that appeared whenever a larger crowd appeared. All the while, secret police snatch squads in plain clothes waited up the side streets to scoop up unwary protesters who had become isolated.  Later in the day Amnesty International had released a statement demanding to know what had become of those detained — an estimated 400+ people.  After Erdogan’s rally ended there were multiple reports of youth members of his AKP party carrying sticks and knives accompanying police patrols…

The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey estimated that around 640,000 people had participated in the anti-government demonstrations by the 5th June.  When you factor in the other rallies Erdogan is staging its probable that both sides are mobilizing similar numbers, although of course one has free transport and the other gets free tear gas. But again we are talking of a society fractured down the middle, not polarized on class lines but roughly along urban v. rural, religious v. secular and old v. young lines.

Protest in Taksim Square

Protest in Taksim Square

This means Gezi Park has a more of a resemblance to Occupy and the [Spanish] M15 movement than to Tahrir and the fight for Egyptian democracy.  The struggle in Turkey is not a struggle for parliamentary democracy — this already exists and, while there are flaws, they are not of a different magnitude than the similar problems found elsewhere in Europe or North America.  The difference is also apparent when the defence of the square is analyzed: in Tahrir, Egyptians took up cobblestones and catapults in huge numbers to prevent their eviction by hordes of police using tactics similar to Istanbul.  Hundreds died in the conflicts that followed but they held the square.

In Istanbul defence was often passive, barricades were built but generally not defended, stone throwers were few and far between.  Crowds would form out of side streets, perhaps build a barricade and then be tear gassed and disperse only to reform when the police had moved to attack a crowd elsewhere…  Active defence of the barricades was mostly tokenistic unlike the Tahrir spring when the air was often dark with cobblestones heading for police lines… There were a couple of instances of Molotovs being thrown but in the best documented case this appeared to be undercover police sent in to create excuses for more severe police intervention around Gezi park later that day.

The limit to confrontation — at least from the Gezi park occupiers side — went so far as to create chains of protesters to prevent clashes with the police, presented as a defence against provocateurs.  Some North American insurrectionists denounced this online but generally they failed to understand the very different context of the movement in Istanbul in comparison with, say, Oakland…

While stone throwing or window smashing at Occupy Oakland was presented as a PR problem by those opposed to it, in Istanbul it was feared that these actions would present an excuse for a much more forceful police presence and, perhaps, even military intervention. The European Minister warned, “From now on the state will unfortunately have to consider everyone who remains there [Gezi Park] a supporter or member of a terror organization.” Erdogan was also describing the occupiers as terrorists in the media.  In a context in which many were afraid that, if an excuse were provided, they would face live ammunition, they opted to limit themselves to tactics that might confine repression to tear gas and high pressure water jets.  The historical context being the suppression of the left in Turkey in the 70’s and 80’s that saw similar brutality, torture and disappearances to the suppression of the South America left in the same period.  Those keen to discuss the adoption of such tactical positions on part of the Gezi Park occupiers should make some effort to at least address the reality faced there, which may be very different from their own.

Gezi Park Map

Gezi Park Map

Tweeting the cycle of squares

Gezi Park is the start of the 4th round of struggle around squares, if we understand this starting in 2011 in Cairo, continuing to the global  Occupy movement, and then to M15 in the Spanish state.  All of these have unique characteristics of their own but also significant aspects that they have in common include inspiration, methodology and appearance, not least the # appearing on just about every piece of literature, banner and poster.  All are part of a common learning process as we watch and learn from each other and indeed visit and participate. One of the first serious injuries in Istanbul was to a visitor from Cairo.  In my own time spent in Gezi, I met people from all over Europe, North America and further afield — a tiny minority of the total crowd, but people who felt that we were all on a common journey…

I spent some time in Gezi talking to one of the DAF (Revolutionary Anarchist Action) militants about where she saw this struggle fitting into both Turkish and global politics.  As is now usual we exchanged web addresses and emails and on checking the website of the anarchist group most visible in the square, DAF, I found they had not only written a detailed analysis of Occupy & Tahrir but they had also translated it into English.  At least for a few days in June, Gezi park was the focus point of a movement that is global and everyone I talked to there was well aware of that.

Part of the background noise of this period has the organizations of the old left rubbing against these new movements, often in counterproductive ways.  This includes the demand that the new movement use old organizational forms and adopt old terminology for expressing itself despite the fact that it is the new forms and expressions that created these movements. Central to this process is the transformation of organizational methods made possible by the internet — a transformation that in many ways is sweeping away the remaining usefulness of old left forms of organization.  To stroll into Gezi was to stroll into a world where twitter hashtags adorned every surface, banner and poster — even the tents were covered in hashtags. When you were elsewhere in Istanbul you could tell when fresh rounds of police repression were underway because you suddenly started to see a lot of people walking around staring at their smartphones…

The Istanbul revolt should end the empty debate over whether social networking is important in real world organizing — that distinction itself has no real meaning anymore.  When Erdogan declared “Social media is the worst menace to society” and that “There is now a menace which is called Twitter” he was simply expressing the outrage of a ruler who discovers his comprehensive control over media and information was no longer as powerful.

DAF (Revolutionary Anarchist Action)

DAF (Revolutionary Anarchist Action)

Class

Gezi Park had at least one major difference to Occupy in that it lacked almost completely the crude class analysis of the 99% versus 1%.  (I call this analysis ‘crude’ because that is what it is, not as a put down.)  While I saw countless banners and posters with #OccupyGezi on them I don’t believe I saw or heard a single use of the 99% meme. Given the popularity of Erdogan with Turkey’s rural poor, the lack of any class perspective coming from Gezi meant that one of the few tools that might have undermined the rural versus urban polarization was not present. The demands of the Taksim Platform do not go beyond the issues of environmentalism, corruption and police repression.  Even in terms of the broader movement, class or economic issues didn’t really feature — the expanded scope instead was summarized on Wikipedia as being limited to “freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the government’s encroachment on Turkey’s secularism.” Another measure of the lack of a class struggle aspect to Gezi was that a remarkable “48 percent of the 137 CEOs in Turkey said they had visited Gezi Park during the anti-government protests and around 90 percent of them found the protesters’ claims justified.”

The lack of a class struggle perspective was curious because the organized left and union movements were visibly much more central to Gezi than they were to almost any Occupy camp.  The more radical unions called ‘general strikes’ against repression, though union membership is very low in Turkey and radical unions account for perhaps 2% of the workforce at best. Libcom’s “Sleepless in Istanbul” blog has a good analysis of the realities of Turkish union militancy…

A poll by Bilgi university found that the vast majority of protesters had no connection to any political party.  The primary motivation for joining the protests was anti-authoritarianism.  More than 90% cited various aspects of authoritarian politics as what they opposed.  Nearly 82% defined themselves as libertarian, in the European rather than North American sense of the word, as 75% also said they were not conservative.  92% had not voted for the ruling AKP.

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Inside Gezi Park

The issue that sparked the movement was the planned cutting down of the trees in the park as part of a construction project.  The project was already well underway which meant large areas of the square were already partly demolished, in particular the western side where the park was raised four or so meters above the square and the buildings sunk into that part at ground level on the square had been partly demolished.  Between scaffolding, construction hoardings and rubble, there was a lot of material in Taksim for the construction of barricades.

The park is in fact raised from street level on all four side with the difference being considerable on two of them.  Even before the construction of barricades it was already quite a defensible space.  By the time I visited, all of the unpaved [areas] inside the park were packed with tents — hundreds of them — turning the park into a warren of narrow streets decked out with banners and posters fixed to trees. Various organizations, including the anarchist DAF , had set up stalls in the more open areas.   At the centre of the park where there is a fountain, a stage was set from which music was played and announcements made.

The bottom southeastern corner of the park had some larger tented areas which provided services including a medical clinic and a kitchen where free meals were distributed.  Scattered throughout were tables on which bottles of cloudy Malox solution were available in case of tear gas attack.  A number of commercial street stalls sprang up, some selling food, many others supplying their new customers with construction helmets, dust masks and swimming goggles.

The atmosphere in the early evening in particular was festive as hundreds of people came into the park and thronged its pathways.  Because my first experience had been the near mass panic of the huge tear gas attack in the square, I found these times a little nerve-wracking as I imagined the panic that would be caused by tear gas suddenly descending into all the claustrophobic and crowded corners amongst tents packed in between the trees…

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An intersectional practice?

Through the physical act of sharing public space and the need to collectively resist a common state repression taking the very concrete form of tear gas and water cannon, Gezi Park was in some respects a practice of intersectionality.  The span of organizations that had set up tents and stalls seemed enormous — the left, various nationalists, feminists, LGBT groups and environmentalists all had banners and posters up.   A strikingly large number of individual tents had Anarchist circled A’s on them and there were a lot of anarchist banners as well as a large stall of the Revolutionary Anarchists at the entrance plaza just behind the barricades on Taksim Square.  There was conflict internally, as I saw a couple of angry exchanges both between the Kurdish left and right-wing Kemalist Turkish nationalists. Given the extreme divergence between their views and the bloody history of Turkish nationalism, these were mild.

I can’t describe the working methods of Taksim Solidarity, the umbrella organization beyond saying that, when the response to the meeting with Erdogan was being debated, I sat in on an assembly of more than forty people discussing what to do, which took place the evening before the final (to date) violent eviction.  The dynamics and methodology of the assembly were similar to those of many Occupy assemblies elsewhere, with no visible hierarchy amongst speakers.  Everyone was able to participate in a fairly loose, informal setting involving a lot of discussion time.

What was being debated was whether or not to leave.  A number of positions were expressed:

  • that the park was in danger of being isolated from the population so what could be achieved by staying was limited
  • that an example of direct democracy should be created, whatever the cost, to inspire the world that was watching
  • radical unions proposed removing all of the tents, except for the token presence of a large tent
  • that enough time should be made for a proper discussion, with a decision period over the following three days rather than immediately

I left before that sub assembly was moving towards a decision. The following day, confused reports emerged. It seemed like the proposal to have a token presence of tents was adopted but no one was to be compelled to pack up, which meant the big political tents mostly left but many individual ones stayed.  In any case, that evening, the police launched a massive operation against the park using tear gas, water cannons, and then APC’s to sweep in and bulldoze whatever remained.  People who fled the park, as well as those who gathered to protest, were subjected to further tear gas in the surrounding streets.  Others who took shelter in the Davan hotel were trapped for hours as police tried to gain entry. Tear gas was thrown into the lobby at one stage, despite the presence of a number of people trapped in the building.  Attempts to reach the park continued long into the night with police repeatedly tear gassing the surrounding streets as, rather bizarrely, city workers planted flowers in the now empty park.  A rather peculiar PR exercise that someone perhaps foolishly thought would distract from the gas and water cannon footage.

Turkey MultiLingualGezi

The final[?] repression of Gezi

The media tendency has been to describe the 36 hours of tear gassing that spread across Istanbul following the parks eviction as rioting.  I’m not sure of the accuracy of this term as from what I could tell there was very little offensive action against the police (i.e. stone throwing) and very little property destruction.  Instead, the police attacked groups of protesters as they attempted to form up anywhere in the city or as soon as they started to moved towards Taksim.  Where they did manage to meet in any number, protesters would construct elaborate barricades. There is a lot of construction underway in central Istanbul and protesters were quite skilled at working together in dozens to move material from construction sites to road junctions via long human chains, passing whatever was available from hand to hand.  Very substantial barricades that offered some protection from police vehicles attempting to run people down sprang up in this manner.

Particularly when the meeting with Erdogan was underway, huge amounts of police were deployed in the area around Taksim, presumably out of fear of the consequences for commanders if the square was reoccupied mid-rant.  This pushed the barricades a long way from the square, even to the Galatia bridge, where trams had stopped their crossings, perhaps 1.5km from Taksim.  Regular rounds of tear gas explosions could even be heard in the tourist quarter of the Golden Horn.  Meanwhile, from many of the distant suburbs, similar stories emerged of large numbers taking to the streets, blocking roads and being tear gassed and shot with water cannons in punishment.

Earlier that day, in Ankara, police attacked the funeral of a protester killed earlier that week with tear gas and water cannon.  A striking photo circulated showing the front of the funeral cortege in thick tear gas as a water cannon jet cut through the gas close to the pall bearers carrying the coffin.  There were over 400 arrests.  Many of those arrested disappeared for 24 hours or more before they appeared in the formal detention system.

This massive repression prevented re-occupation of the park in the short term but failed to shut down the movement. Five of the smaller unions declared a two day ‘general strike’. Publicly visible protest reappeared through the ultra-pacifist ‘standing man’ actions where people literally just stood in Taksim square and elsewhere. This tactic spread from Taksim and took in other issues including honouring  Hrant Dink the Armenian journalist assassinated in 2007 and the 5 workers who died from methane inhalation at a recycling plant last week due to lack of health and safety regulation & equipment.

Police initially tried to end the ‘standing man’ protests through arrests but more people just started to stand and the nature of the tactic means that its almost impossible to present arrests as anything other than repression.  Bizarrely the deputy prime minister tried to claim that standing still for longer than 8 minutes was bad for your health – as if that somehow justified the arrests.

Standing Man Protest

Standing Man Protest

The assembly process spreads

Most importantly, assemblies started to happen in public spaces all over the city, the largest involving thousands of people.  At the time of this writing, these neighbourhood forums reportedly took place in 35 parks across Istanbul. One of them was described as follows:

“From 9pm, thousands of mostly young people assembled in and around the amphitheater in Abbasaga Park under the motto ‘every park is Gezi’ .. to assess what has happened since the Gezi Park occupation began and where the movement is going. Hundreds lined up behind the stage to talk for two or three minutes each, while the assembled crowd signaled agreement and disagreement by waving their hands or crossing their arms.”

Like the Occupy movement, the radical nature of the movement in Turkey lies not in its formal demands but in its processes.  In fact, as we have seen, although the violent repression of the Turkish state makes the movement appear more radical, its actual demands (as represented by the Taksim Platform) are very moderate indeed. As with the M15 movements, the movement in Turkey refuses to accept Erdogan’s rationale that ‘we are the democratically elected government’ as a reason to end the protests. Sometimes, this is dressed up in language that insists the government is ‘really’ a dictatorship: in Gezi park there were a couple of posters representing Erdogan as Hitler.  This liberal window dressing – of Erdogan as dictator – masks a deeper reality that what is being rejected is the fundamental basis of parliamentary democracy.  Another illustration of this is, like the movements elsewhere, there is very little identification with political parties, the Biligi survey (above) reported that “only 15.3 percent said they felt close to a political party” – this is very close to the similar figure reported from surveys of the mass protests in Brazil.

For anarchists, the massive rejection of parliamentary democracy and its replacement with forms of direct democracy cannot be anything other than exciting. Most of the left is horrified, insisting that the protesters need to move into ‘real politics’.  Because many of them are young this is often presented in a patronizing ‘they will grow up to understand this’ manner that completely fails to understand that this rejection is based as much on the failed historical experience of left parties as anything else.  The concept of forming parties of the left is hardly new in Turkey. It had and still has a very substantial revolutionary left.  In short it is not the protesters who need to learn lessons about parties, it is these commentators trapped in old certainties.  A new form of fighting for social transformation is clearly developing but we need to get beyond seeing it, simplistically, as a repeat of 1848 or the Paris Commune, leading to an inevitable channeling into Social Democracy.

Turkish People's Assembly

Turkish People’s Assembly

On the other hand, these movements have not yet evolved a path to social transformation.  The assemblies may represent the new world growing within the old but as yet no collective program exists to overcome and replace the repressive state.  Perhaps most importantly, although some unions have had serious mobilizations to support Gezi and similar movements elsewhere, the assembly form has only come into existence in public spaces and neighbourhoods.  We can be fairly certain that CEO approval rate of the movement will plummet if (and, hopefully, when) workers start to assemble in their workplaces to discuss the future of the companies they work for. It is probably not till this happens that concrete economic measures can be formulated, not so much as abstract slogans but as concrete practices that can be implemented.  We have seen such forms emerge in the past:  they emerged rapidly in terms of the Occupied factories of the Argentine crisis of 2001.  But there they were very much a defensive measure to prevent factory closure and the loss of livelihoods.  In Turkey, in particular with its growing economy, a movement of assemblies in the workplace is unlikely to develop as a defensive protection of livelihoods.

Anarchists need to make greater progress in adapting themselves to the realities of these new movements.  This means being flexible enough to move beyond criticisms that they may not be taking the form we might wish for.  Anarchists have long and well established theories and practices of direct democracy. We need to think of ways to present these that are useful, reducing the need to reinvent the wheel.  Collectively, we have a deep understanding of how wealth and power connect.  Can we bring that understanding into movements, popularizing it in ways that go beyond the limitations of the 99% meme?  In recent decades, sections of the anarchist movement have developed with other movements — in particular feminist, anti-racist and queers — a much deeper understanding of the way oppressions intersect with each other.  These offer real potential to work with other ‘movements of the square’ to develop into the start of real efforts to achieve collective human liberation.

As I conclude this piece, the assembly movement appears to be spreading across Turkey.  Enormous demonstrations have erupted in Brazil.  We are all watching new moments in a cycle of struggles that started in Tunisia in 2010, now running into its third year.  So far, all have faded short of victory, although gains have been made.  Still, clearly, we are engaged in a global learning process that is generating a new revolutionary politic. The promise of achieving what our methods failed to realize in the 20th century — freedom for all — remains.  For anarchists, the question is:  how can we best build and influence this movement in the context of remembering the hard lessons of previous failures and without becoming stuck in the historical memory of brief moments of past glory?  We must be midwives of this new movement rather than archivists of the old.

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