Russian Anarchism Today

Autonomous Action

Autonomous Action

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

autonomous action banner2

AUTONOMOUS ACTION: WHO ARE WE

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

OUR IDEALS AND OUR AIM

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

HOW WE ARE ORGANIZED

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

HOW WE TAKE ACTION

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

WAY TO OUR GOAL

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

OUR ALTERNATIVE

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

autonomous action march

IDEALS AND DIRECTIONS

ANTI-AUTHORITARIANISM

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

ANTICAPITALISM

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

ANTI-FASCISM, ANTI-NATIONALISM

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

ANTI-BOLSHEVISM

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

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SELF-GOVERNANCE

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

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

ANTI-MILITARISM

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

ECOLOGY

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

FEMINISM

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

NEW HUMANIST CULTURE

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

ANTI-CLERICALISM

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

HOW TO START RESISTANCE?

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

AUTONOMOUS ACTION

"Anarchy is Good"

“Anarchy is Good”

Anarchism and the Ukrainian Civil War (2014)

Street scene from Odessa, May 2014

Street scene from Odessa, May 2014

Below I reproduce excerpts from an article by “Antti Rautiainen” of the Russian anarchist group, Autonomous Action, regarding Ukrainian anarchist responses to the current situation in Ukraine. The article was prompted by the fire at the House of Trade Unions in Odessa on May 2, 2014, the result of armed clashes between pro-Russian militia and right wing Ukrainian nationalists resulting in some 42 deaths. The full article can be found here. In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several excerpts regarding the anarchist movement during the Russian and Ukrainian civil wars of 1918-1921. Although the Ukrainian anarchist movement today is tiny by comparison, the difficulties facing it, and the people of Ukraine, are no less significant.

Civil War in Ukraine

War does not require personal hatred between people, geopolitical and economical reasons are good enough for that. And in the Ukraine, the geopolitical interests are far greater than in Yugoslavia. If you have an interest in flaring up ethnic hatred or war, a rather small ethnic rift is enough. A few abuses, murders, and kidnappings, and everyone will be ready for battle. This has succeeded now in Ukraine, just as it has succeeded in many other places.

At the moment, the Western «left» seems to be pretty much clueless in terms of the events taking place there. This is because the «left,» broadly speaking, is not a very useful concept in the former Soviet Union, as it can mean anything from social-democrats and anarchists, to stalinists supporting Putin. Personally, I prefer to always write the word in quotation marks. I identify with anarchists, not the «left,» since, for quite a while now anarchists have been the only political force in Russia which united the ethos of opposing racism, sexism and homophobia to the ethos of social equality. Until very recently, there had not been much of any Western «new left» in Russia, with the exception of a handful of Trotskyists.

A split within the «left» in Ukraine is completely predictable and even necessary. In Kharkiv the streetfighting, Stalinist organisation, «Borotba» (meaning Struggle), has been on the opposite side of the anarchists. In this region of the former Soviet Union, 99.9% of the «left» will always support imperialism for the sake of «being with the people.» It is about time that anarchists refuse the «left» label. We have nothing in common with these people.

But anarchists, too, can be easily manipulated with buzzwords such as «self-organisation» and «direct democracy.» For example, Boris Kagarlitsky, a Russian intellectual widely known amongst the Western «left» and a frequent guest of World Social Forums, has found favorable ground in the West by using these buzzwords.

Apparently, the Ukrainian and Russian anarchists could not foresee the developments which lead to the civil war. Maidan had only been discussed from the point of view that it could offer something better than the Yanukovich regime. It was not expected that Russia would react to a Maidan victory with a conscious escalation of the conflict, and which could eventually lead to civil war.

Whereas Russia is the major propaganda machine and arms provider in the conflict, Western countries are not doing much better, as they only acknowledge the interests of the new government in Kiev and present the movement in Eastern Ukraine as mere Russian puppets.The armed wing of the «federalists» are definitely Kremlin puppets, but if it were not for the widespread discontent and protests against the new regime in Kiev, this armed wing would not have emerged.

I do not believe that a civil war was the Kremlin’s aim. First of all, it wanted to destablize Ukraine to the maximum in order to have Kiev give up any attempts to gain back control over Crimea. Now the situation is out of the Kremlin’s control, and it may have to send regular troops to Ukraine in order to fulfill the promise of support it has given to the «federalists.»

The government in Kiev has given so many «final ultimatums», which were quickly forgotten, and has announced so many [nonexistent] «anti-terrorist operations,» that it is clear it has very few battle-ready troops. A few times, the central government troops have actually taken action and the results have been tragi-comic. Thus, the government understands that it’s still in question whether it would succeed in a full-scale civil war. However, it also understands that war can help discipline society and stabilize the new order to the extent that any promises given to Maidan would be forgotten. With time, both sides have come to understand that a full-scale war might be necessary for their interests, even if neither was initially planning for this.

Anarchist Black Cats in Ukraine

Anarchist Black Cats in Ukraine

Disagreements within the anarchist movement

Over the course of events, the Ukrainian and Russian anarchist movements have split into three different sides. A first group concentrated on producing internet-statements against both sides of the conflict. For them, keeping out of any social processes is a matter of principle, and they only want to monitor and assess. Participation in the social protest is not a goal for them, as they prefer to keep their hands clean. Since every process has input from either disgusting liberals, hated nationalists, awful stalinists, all three at the same time, or other undesirables, one can never fully participate in anything and the only alternative is to stay home and publish statements on the internet about how everything is going from bad to worse. However, most of the time these statements are just self-evident banalities.

A second group was made up of those who got excited about all the riot-porn and anti-police violence in Kiev, without considering who was carrying out this violence and in whose interests. Certain antifascists drifted as far as to defend the «national unity» in Maidan, and threatened particular Kiev anarchists due to their criticism of Maidan and refusal to participate. Most of the people in this camp are just fans of anti-police violence without any theoretical frame[work], but some want to give Maidan an imagined anti-authoritarian flavor, by equating the general meeting of Maidan («Veche») with the revolutionary councils established during 20th century revolutions. They base this claim on the social demands occasionally presented at Maidan, but these demands were always at the periphery of the Maidan agenda.

One of these peripheral demands was the proposal that oligarchs should pay a tenth of their income in taxes and was generally in tune with nationalistic populism. However, the demands of the Kiev Maidan were still far from returning the billions stolen by oligarchs back to society. In Vinnytsa and Zhitomir, there was an attempt to expropriate factories owned by German capital, but this was the only case going beyond the national-liberal context that I am familiar with.

In any case, the main problem at Maidan wasn’t the lack of a social agenda and direct democracy, but the fact that people did not even demand them. Even if everyone kept repeating that they did not want another «orange revolution» like in 2004, nor for Yulia Timoshenko to return, at the end of the day chocolate industrialist Poroshenko and Vitaly Klitchko are leading the polls. This was the choice the people made as they grew weary of the revolutionary path as proposed by the radical nationalists of the Right sector. As of now, people want to return to «life as usual,» to life before Yanukovich, and are not prepared to make the sacrifices that further revolutionary developments would demand. Representative democracy is indeed like a hydra, if you cut one head, two will grow in its place.

However, none of the fears of a «fascist takeover» have materialized. Fascists gained very little real power, and in Ukraine their historical role will now be that of stormtroopers for liberal reforms demanded by the IMF and the European Union — that is, pension cuts, an up to five times increase in consumer gas prices, and others. Fascism in Ukraine has a powerful tradition, but it has been incapable of proceeding with its own agenda in the revolutionary wave. It is highly likely that the Svoboda-party will completely discredit itself in front of its voters.

But anyone attempting to intervene, anarchists included, could have encountered the same fate — that is, to be sidelined after all the effort. During the protests, anarchists and the «left» were looking towards the Right sector with envy, but in the end all the visibility and notoriety, for which they paid dearly, was not enough to help the Right sector gain any real influence.

If Kiev anarchists would have picked the position of «neutral observers» after Yanukovich had shot demonstrators, it would have completely discredited them. If after being shot, the working class, or more exactly «the people,» that is, the working class along with the lower strata of the bourgeoisie, would have failed to overthrow Yanukovich, Ukrainian society would have fallen into a lethargic sleep such as the one Russian and Belarusian societies are experiencing. Obviously, after the massacre there was no choice left except to overthrow the power, no matter what would come in its place. Anarchists in Kiev were in no position to significantly influence the situation, but standing aside was no longer an option.

And thus, we come to the third, «centrist,» position taken by anarchists — between the brainless actionism and the «neutral» internet statements. The camp of realist anarchists understood, that even if the Maidan protests pretty much lacked a meaningful positive program, something had to be done or the future would be dire.

Russian Anarchist Street Fighter

Russian Anarchist Street Fighter

The limits of intervention

In Kiev, anarchists took part in a number of important initiatives during the revolutionary wave — first of all the occupation of the ministry of education, and the raid against the immigration bureau by the local No Borders group, which was looking for proof of illegal cooperation with security services of foreign countries. But the most successful anarchist intervention was the one in Kharkiv, where Maidan was relatively weak but also freer of nationalistic influence.

Still, such centrism has its own problems. For one, you might unintentionally help the wrong forces gain power, also discrediting radical protest. A second problem would be that you might end up fighting a fight which is not your own. When AntiMaidan attacked the Maidan in the city of Kharkiv, its imagined enemy was not the anarchists, but NATO, EU or Western-Ukrainian fascists. Since anarchists had joined Maidan, it would have been cowardly to desert once the fight started. Thus anarchists ended up fighting side by side with liberals and fascists. I do not want to criticize the Kharkiv anarchists, after all they made, perhaps, the most serious attempt among Ukrainian anarchists to influence the course of events, but this was hardly the fight, and these were hardly the allies, they wanted.

And so comes the point when desertion becomes imperative, and that is when civil war begins. As of now, it’s still too early to make any final assessment of the anarchist attempts to influence Maidan, but after the beginning of a civil war, Maidan will no longer play a role. From now on, assembly will gradually turn to the army, and assault rifles will replace Molotov cocktails. Military discipline will replace spontaneous organisation.

Some supporters of the Ukrainian organisation, Borotba (meaning Struggle), and the Russian Left Front claim that they are attempting to do the same things as the anarchists did at Maidan, that is, direct protest towards social demands. But AntiMaidan has no structures of direct democracy, not even distorted ones. It quickly adopted the model of hierarchical, militaristic organisations. The AntiMaidan leadership consists of former police and reserve officers. It does not attempt to exert influence through the masses, but with military power and weapons. This makes perfect sense, considering that according to a recent opinion poll, even in the most pro-«federalist» area of Lugansk, a mere 24% of the population is in favor of armed takeovers of government structures. That is, AntiMaidan cannot count on a victory through mass demonstrations.

Whereas at its essence Maidan was a middle-class liberal and nationalistic protest, supported by part of the bourgeoisie, AntiMaidan is purely counter-revolutionary in tendency. Of course, AntiMaidan has its own grassroots level. One could attempt to intervene, but an intervention by joining would mean supporting a Soviet, imperialist approach. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Borotba, the Russian Left Front and Boris Kagarlitsky have all joined this Soviet chauvinist camp. Intervening in Maidan made sense only as long as the enemy were Berkut police forces and paid thugs. When the opponents are misled AntiMaidan participants, it no longer makes sense to fight in the streets.

When looking at either side of the conflict one can see a dangerous tendency, which every anarchist and anti-authoritarian will face in the future: the recuperation of anti-authoritarian rhetoric and terminology for the purposes of hierarchical ideologies. On the one side, «autonomous nationalists» who have found sympathy amongst many anarchists, and on the other, intellectuals such as Boris Kagarlitsky. Both characterising warring factions with attributes such as «direct democracy» and «self-organisation.» In reality, these characteristics are either present in a distorted form or not at all. When two different flavors of nationalism are «self-organising» in order to maim and murder each other, there is nothing to celebrate. Subsequent to the events in Ukraine, it is clear that anarchists must explain the essential difference between «self-organisation» and self-organisation to the world.

According to the opinion poll referenced above, in Eastern Ukraine as a whole, only 12% of the population supports the «federalists’» armed actions, whereas the Kiev government is supported by some 30%. The remaining 58% supports neither, and in conditions of civil war, this is the majority on which we should count. We should encourage desertion and conflict avoidance. Under any other conditions, and if anarchists had more influence, we could form independent units against both warring factions.

Unarmed civilians have stopped bloodbaths in several places by moving in between the troops as human shields. If not for this kind of civil disobedience, a full-scale war would have been launched much earlier. We should support this movement, and attempt to direct it against both «federalist» and government troops simultaneously.

In case Russia reacts either by occupying parts of Eastern Ukraine or the country as a whole, we could take the example of anarchist partisans in World War II era France and Italy. Under such conditions, the main enemy is the occupying army, as it will antagonize the whole population very quickly. But it is also necessary to keep the maximum distance from the nationalistic elements of the resistance, as any alliance with them would hinder anarchists from realizing their own program in the framework of the resistance.

The events in Odessa are a tragedy, and it is possible that among those who died in the House of the Trade Unions were also people who played no part in flaring up the violence. People who threw molotov cocktails at the House should have understood the consequences. Even if the fire igniting was not solely due to them, it is not for lack of trying.

In case civil war spreads, these deaths are just the beginning. No doubt that on both sides the majority only wants a better life for their close ones and their motherland, and many hate governments and oligarchs to an equal extent. The more sincerely naïve people die, the greater the pressure to support one of the factions in the war, and we must struggle against this pressure.

Whereas it may occasionally be worth it to swallow tear gas or to feel the police baton for a bourgeois revolution, it makes no sense at all to die in a civil war between two equally bourgeois and nationalist sides. It would not be another Maidan but something completely different. No blood, anarchist or otherwise, should spill due to this stupidity.

Antti Rautiainen, May 2014

Autonomous Action

Autonomous Action

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

South Africa munic

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

The problem with our Alliance politics

lucien van der walt

Lucien van der Walt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CNT-1mayo2010

The need for revolutionary unions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More revolutionary than the parties

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

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

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

As a revolutionary threat.

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

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

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

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

Workers Self Management no bosses

Working class democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLOOR: Laughter…

The need for counterpower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revolutionary unions anmovements, not party politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is something wrong in that situation…

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Taking the state seriouslyOutside and against it

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

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

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

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

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

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

States cannot be wielded by the working class.

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

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

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

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

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

The Soviet Union against the workers

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

No, the proof is something else entirely.

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

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

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

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

These traditions of political thuggery we see?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Confusions on the state

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Internationalist Anarchist Declaration Against War in Ukraine

Plebiscites Are the Counter-Revolution

Plebiscites Are the Counter-Revolution

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

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Declaration of Internationalists Against the War in Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Declaration supported by:

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

No War But Class War

No War But Class War

ZACF: The Class Struggle for Anarchism in Africa

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Last year, one of my most popular posts was an interview with Sam Mbah, co-author with I.E. Igariwey of African Anarchism (1997), regarding the situation in Nigeria and the prospects for anarchism in Africa today. I included excerpts from African Anarchism in Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. In southern Africa, the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) has recently published a statement of principles regarding the need to create anarchist specific class struggle organizations in order to create an anarchist society based on self-management and libertarian communism

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What does the ZACF stand for?

Zabalaza means struggle, the continual struggle of the working class to access real freedom. We mean freedom from the repression of the state, and oppression by multi-national as well as local companies. Too long has a small elite been in control. Workers and their communities have risen up many times in the past but have always been crushed by the police forces of the state. In the past the working class – including the poor and unemployed – has protested but often lost: social movements have burnt out and trade union leaders have made bad deals with the bosses.

We advocate workers’ self-management over the mines, factories – and all other workplaces. Also, self-management in our communities to make our own decisions on the resources we need to run our lives, to have access to water, electricity, jobs, housing and to receive decent education.

We cannot achieve this under the system of the state and political parties, because these only serve the small ruling class elite. This ruling class enjoys the lion’s share of wealth and power, and uses the resources of society to benefit itself, first. So, there is not enough public transport, but there are factories making BMWs for the elite few; there is not enough food for the people, but rich people spending millions of Rands on parties, billions are spent on arms deals while the poor die in run-down government hospitals.

Anarchist ideas, made real through political education and mass organizing, will confirm the power within the working class to organize and smash the state and company system. Anarchist ideas are not as widespread within southern Africa as in other parts of the world.

To build for anarchism, we all need to be in agreement about our strategic plan and our political ideas. So, we need to reflect on the past mistakes and successes in order to regroup. Mass movements will be stronger if we are all clear on one vision. Once we are all clear on the same position we can proceed to the revolution to overturn the state, and live in a true communist society not run by political or “worker” parties, or vanguards.

This new (anarchist) society will be self-controlled. It will be based on working class power from below, grassroots democracy, production for need not profit or elite power, and a democratic militia (army) under the control of the working class.

We want a revolutionary front of the oppressed classes. We want to organise in the southern part of Africa from South Africa to Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi. In all these regions the vast majority of the working class is black. Most of these countries fought for liberation from imperialist powers and local colonialism, but today we, the working class, are still oppressed in our work environment, and still have to continually struggle for equal access to land, water and electricity. This can only end by revolution from below. It cannot change through elections, which betray the people, or politicians, who cheat the people, or capitalists, who exploit the people.

Anarchist specific organizations in Southern Africa and the rest of the world need to keep comrades in check to not be hijacked by political parties. Because ultimately the state is the enemy, it will not solve the class struggle – it serves the ruling class, not the people. So, we must organize outside of elections, outside of the system, from below, in mass organizations that are democratic and that have a clear political (anarchist) line.

Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front

Related Link: http://zabalaza.net

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The New Anarchism

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

Volume 3

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

Three volumes on anarchism not to be missed

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

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Kurdistan Anarchist Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kurdistan Anarchist Forum (KAF)

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

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

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

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CrimethInc: What to do while the dust is settling

CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective

CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the Crest

After the Crest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crimethInc perspective

Keep perspective.

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

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

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

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

Toronto G20

Toronto G20

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

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

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

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

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Push the envelope.

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t regress to outmoded strategies.

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

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

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

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Beware of rising expectations.

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

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

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

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Quit while you’re ahead.

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

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

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

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Be prepared for burnout and depression.

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

Save energy for the fallout.

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

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

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

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Repression hits hardest at the end.

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

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

Hold your ground.

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

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

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

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Golden Dawn and the Fascist Counter-Revolution in Greece

Pavlos Fyssas

Pavlos Fyssas

In a recent post at roarmag.org, Leonidas Oikonomakis, a contributing editor of ROAR Magazine, a rapper with Social Waste, and a friend of Pavlos Fyssas, a.k.a Killah P, whose recent assassination by the Greek fascist party, Golden Dawn, sparked massive public protests, discusses the rise of Golden Dawn and its connections with the Greek police, army and security apparatus. In the excerpt below, Leonidas tries to answer the question, why have the Greek authorities turned a blind eye to Golden Dawn’s fascist violence? His comments remind me of something Luigi Fabbri said about the original fascists in Italy in his 1921 book, Fascism: The Preventive Counter-Revolution, excerpted in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas:

Fascism “champions the same social interests, the same class privileges over which the state itself mounts guard. Fascism is an ally of the state, an irksome, demanding, inconvenient, embarrassing and insubordinate ally—all of these things—but an ally nonetheless… [a] sword of Damocles to dangle constantly over the heads of the working classes, so that the latter can never be fully at ease anywhere, even within the parameters of the law, and forever fearful of its rights being violated by some unforeseen and arbitrary violence.”

Greek Police Attacking Anti-Fascists

Greek Police Attacking Anti-Fascists

Turning a Blind Eye to Fascist Violence

If the Greek media and government knew about the murderous actions of Golden Dawn, why did they decide to turn a blind eye to it until today? I argue that there are basically three reasons:

First, let’s not forget that only two years earlier, with the process that was set in motion with the occupation of Syntagma and the other squares of Greece, Greek society was radicalized to an unprecedented extent, endangering the representative two-party political system as well as the neoliberal policies promoted by successive governments. In its place, the movement of the squares demanded autonomy, horizontality and direct democracy. Neighborhoods all over the country experienced this “dream” through numerous neighborhood assemblies, while a number of local and national movements put the neoliberal policies of the Troika and the Greek governments into question. Golden Dawn played the role of stopping and distracting this radical process and re-directing it towards the struggle against fascism, which became the number one priority for the Greek left over the past two years.

Second, Golden Dawn appeared on numerous occasions as the protector of the owners’ interests, at times — like in the case of the shipyard workers of Perama — directly and violently attacking the left-wing workers’ unions. With a rhetoric of protecting “Greek” investments as long as “our ship-owners” keep employing Greek workers instead of immigrants, they have terrorized the Greek Workers’ Unions and have, in their own way, helped safeguard the political and corporate elite and push forward their neoliberal agenda.

Third, Golden Dawn was there to terrorize all free voices that were being raised against the country’s neoliberal and fascist downslide. As former Golden Dawn members have said in their interviews, Pavlos Fyssas was a target for his antifascist songs. And it is true that in the past years there was a sentiment of fear all over the country when it came to criticizing Golden Dawn. I have to admit here that even in the case of my little hip-hop group and our upcoming album, which has a number of antifa songs in it, we were concerned that we might become a target of or face threats by Golden Dawn.

It seems that after the assassination of Pavlos, though, the Greek elite has decided that Golden Dawn is not useful to them anymore, and has abandoned its former ally. At the same time, while the main opposition party of the left (SYRIZA) appeared to be surpassing the ruling conservative party (Nea Dimokratia) in the polls, it seems that the latter has decided to abandon its plan of forming a coalition with Golden Dawn — which they have admitted they had been considering — and dissolve the party instead. In order, of course, that they may take the credit for cracking down on Nazism, while stealing away the right-wing votes.

However now it is too late.

If the country’s elite and government had decided to counter Golden Dawn earlier — and they did know about its criminal actions way before — many human beings wouldn’t have been brutally beaten up in the streets of Athens and other cities of Greece. Many antifa activists wouldn’t have been tortured in the police headquarters and others wouldn’t have been injured by the fascists or their collaborators in the police during antifa demonstrations or direct actions. At the same time, the Greek left-wing movement would have been able to develop further its radical direct democratic proposition, and many neoliberal policies that led to the loss of jobs and lives (suicide rates have skyrocketed in Greece in the past years) may have been overturned. And, above all, Shehzad Luqman and Pavlos Fyssas would be alive today…

Leonidas Oikonomakis, September 2013

Memorial to Pavlos at his murder site

Memorial to Pavlos at his murder site

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