NAASN Statement on the Protests Against Police Violence

NAASN Statement on the Protests Against Police Violence

The North American Anarchist Studies Network condemns the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Nicholas Gibbs, Chantel Moore, and the countless other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) lives stolen by police violence and white supremacy. The long history of racist police brutality and murder has been facilitated by a culture of impunity that encourages such violence. We therefore stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and other anti-racist groups in condemning police murders and the violent repression of protests, demanding and fighting for racial justice, and calling for long-overdue radical structural changes. These include defunding, divesting from, and abolishing police and prisons, and investing in community-led health, education, and safety alternatives. As anarchist scholars and activists, we also denounce the scapegoating of anarchists and anti-fascists to delegitimize this movement for justice, excuse further violence against protestors, and criminalize dissent.

These and many other instances of flagrant abuse of police power are stark examples of systemic injustice and racism. Police terrorize BIPOC communities, LGBTQ+ communities, people with disabilities, and poor and unhoused people on a daily basis. The coercive threat of police violence and imprisonment is omnipresent. Militarized police forces throughout the globe enforce violently racist, ecologically destructive and white supremacist systems of capitalism and settler-colonialism.

Because of the inherently violent and unjust nature of the system of policing, we stand with organizations like MPD150 who demand that police be held accountable, defunded, and ultimately abolished. True justice is not possible until the systems that beget injustice are dismantled. Astronomical budgets for oppressive, militarized prison systems and police forces should be diverted to communities in need. Instead of devoting public funds to policing and imprisoning unhoused people, for example, these funds should be used to make housing a human right. Police justify their existence by filling necessary social roles, from responding to emergencies to guiding traffic. While violent and racist police activities should cease to exist altogether, roles like emergency response should be filled by accountable, unarmed, community-based, and democratic organizations.

As a transnational network of researchers and writers operating both inside and outside the official system of higher education, we add our voices to the call for all educational institutions to both divest from local police and defund, disarm, and disband their own policing forces. We call on all academics, faculty members, and public intellectuals to use their positions to both critique oppressive institutions and organize to remove them from our communities.

As a community of scholars dedicated to the study of anarchism in North America, we recognize the danger when President Trump and others blame “anarchist thugs” and anti-fascist activists for instigating violence, thus cynically deflecting attention from the white supremacist and far right violence he has encouraged and enabled. Authoritarian leaders have long deployed the “bomb-throwing anarchist” stereotype to delegitimize protest and justify police violence against popular movements for social justice. Indeed, following World War One, the American government fomented an anti-anarchist “red scare”. This reactionary period saw mob violence, beatings, arrests, censorship, mass deportations of working-class activists, and executions, including the execution by electric chair of two immigrant radicals, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

Now, we see the same story begin to play out in the United States as a fearful president threatens to suspend civil and human rights to “dominate” the “rioting anarchists.” We call out such craven propaganda tactics for what they are: facile attempts to distract the American public from the real sources of violence, inequality, and racism. We note in response that anarchists have played useful and productive roles in almost every major horizontal (non-electoral) social movement in modern North American history. Rather than demonizing anarchists, we invite consideration of the wisdom and insight to be found in non-hierarchical organizing methods and radical political thought, including especially the long tradition of radical black political thought and practice, from Abolitionism to Anti-Racist Action to Black feminism and beyond.

To end, we repeat the words Sacco and Vanzetti wrote shortly before the State of Massachusetts killed them 93 years ago.  

“What I wish more than all in this last hour of agony is that our case and our fate may be understood in their real being and serve as a tremendous lesson to the forces of freedom, that our suffering and death will not have been in vain.”

  • Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, 1927

Sacco and Vanzetti’s words ring true for all others killed by police and the prison system, who fill the history books of the USA and so many other countries. Through movements for freedom, we learn from each other’s struggles and stand together against interlocking systems of domination. We will ensure that these deaths were not in vain. 

In solidarity through the endless struggle,

The North American Anarchist Studies Network, 2020

Insurgent Makhnovists: Down With Fratricide (1920)

Nestor Makhno and the Insurgent Army

In May – June 1920 the Makhnovist Insurgent Army in Ukraine was fighting the Czarist counter-revolutionaries and the Bolshevik Red Army, which was seeking to consolidate the burgeoning Bolshevik dictatorship. This is a manifesto issued by the Makhnovists, appealing to the Red Army soldiers to come over to the side of the anarchist social revolution.

Makhno, wife and comrades c. 1920

Down With Fratricide!

Brothers in the Red Army! The stooges of Nicholas kept you in the dark and ordered you to fratricidal war with the Japanese and then with the Germans and with many other peoples for the sake of increasing their own wealth; to your lot fell death at the front and complete ruin at home.

But the storm cloud and the fog, through which You could see nothing, lifted; the sun began to shine; You understood and were finished with fratricidal war. But it was the calm before a new storm. Now once again you are being sent to fight, against us, “insurgent Makhnovists,” in the name, supposedly, of a “worker-peasant” authority, which is once again dispensing chains and slavery to You and riches and joys to this horde of a million bureaucratic parasites, created with Your blood. Is it possible that in the course of three years of fratricidal war you have still to this day failed to understand this? Is it possible that even now You will shed your blood for the newly made bourgeoisie and for all the half-baked commissars who send You to war like cattle?

Is it possible that you still, to this day, have failed to understand that we, the “insurgent Makhnovists,” are fighting for total economic and political emancipation of the working people, for a free life without any of these authoritarian commissars, chekists, etc.?

Let day break in Your camp and show You the path which leads to the abolition of fratricidal wars between working peoples. By this path you will reach us and in our ranks you will continue to fight for a better future, for a free life. Before each encounter with us, in order to avoid shedding brotherly blood, send us a delegate for negotiations; but if this does not work and the commissars force You to fight after all, throw down the rifles and come to our brotherly embrace!

Down with fratricidal war among the working people!

Long live peace and the brotherly union of the working peoples of all countries and nationalities!

Insurgent Makhnovists

May 1920

CrimethInc. – Surviving the COVID-19 Corona Virus Crisis

Here is another anarchist perspective on the COVID-19 Corona virus crisis from CrimethInc.

Surviving the Crisis

Let’s be clear: totalitarianism is no longer a threat situated in the future. The measures being implemented around the world are totalitarian in every sense of the word. We are seeing unilateral government decrees imposing total travel bans, 24-hour-a-day curfews, veritable martial law, and other dictatorial measures.

This is not to say that we should not be implementing measures to protect each other from the spread of the virus. It is simply to acknowledge that the measures that various governments are implementing are based in authoritarian means and an authoritarian logic. Think about how much more resources are being poured into the military, the police, the banks, and the stock market than into public health care and resources to help people survive this crisis. It’s still easier to get arrested for loitering than to get a test for the virus.

Just as the virus shows us the truth about how we were already living—about our relationships and our homes—it also shows us that we were already living in an authoritarian society. The arrival of the pandemic just makes it formal. France is putting 100,000 police on the streets, 20,000 more than were deployed at the high point of the gilets jaunes protests. Refugees in need of asylum are being turned away along the borders between the US and Mexico and between Greece and Turkey. In Italy and Spain, gangs of police attack joggers in empty streets.

In Germany, the police in Hamburg have taken advantage of the situation to evict a self-organized refugee tent that had been standing for several years. Despite the quarantine, the police in Berlin are still threatening to evict an anarchist collective bar. Elsewhere, police dressed in full pandemic stormtrooper regalia raided a refugee center.

Worst of all, all this is occurring with the tacit consent of the general population. The authorities can do virtually anything in the name of protecting our health—right up to killing us.

As the situation intensifies, we will likely see the police and the military employing increasingly lethal force. In many parts of the world, they are the only ones who are able to gather freely in large numbers. When police comprise the only social body that is able to gather en masse, there is no word other than “police state” to describe the form of society we live in.

There have been signs that things were heading in this direction for decades. Capitalism used to depend on keeping a massive number of workers available to perform industrial labor—consequently, it was not possible to treat life as cheaply as it is treated today. As capitalist globalization and automation have diminished dependence on workers, the global workforce has shifted steadily into the service sector, doing work that is not essential to the functioning of the economy and therefore less secure and well-paid, while governments have become increasingly dependent on militarized police violence to control unrest and anger.

If the pandemic goes on long enough, we will probably see more automation—self-driving cars pose less threat of infection to the bourgeoisie than Uber drivers—and the displaced workers will be divided up between the repression industries (police, military, private security, private military contractors) and precarious workers who are forced to take on great risk to make a few pennies. We’re accelerating into a future in which a digitally connected privileged class performs virtual labor in isolation while a massive police state protects them from an expendable underclass that takes most of the risks.

Already, billionaire Jeff Bezos has added 100,000 jobs to Amazon, anticipating that his company will drive local stores everywhere out of business. Likewise, Bezos won’t give his Whole Foods employees paid leave despite the constant risk they face in the service sector—though he is giving them a $2 raise through April. In short, he still considers their lives worthless, but he admits that their deaths should be better paid.

In this context, there is bound to be revolt. It is likely that we will see some social reforms aimed at placating the population—at least temporary ones to mitigate the impact of the pandemic—but that they will arrive alongside the ever-increasing violence of a state that no one can imagine doing without, insofar as it is misunderstood as the protector of our health.

In fact, the state itself is the most dangerous thing to us, as it enforces the drastically uneven distribution of resources that compels us to face such imbalanced distributions of risk. If we want to survive, we can’t just demand more equitable policies—we also have to delegitimize and undermine the power of the state.

Strategies of Resistance

Towards that end, we’ll conclude with a few strategies for resistance that are already getting off the ground.

Rent Strikes

In San Francisco, the housing collective Station 40 has led the way by unilaterally declaring a rent strike in response to the crisis:

“The urgency of the moment demands decisive and collective action. We are doing this to protect and care for ourselves and our community. Now more than ever, we refuse debt and we refuse to be exploited. We will not shoulder this burden for the capitalists. Five years ago, we defeated our landlord’s attempt to evict us. We won because of the the solidarity of our neighbors and our friends around the world. We are once again calling on that network. Our collective feels prepared for the shelter-in-place that begins at midnight throughout the bay area. The most meaningful act of solidarity for us in this moment is for everyone to go on strike together. We will have your back, as we know you will have ours. Rest, pray, take care of each other.”

For millions of people who will not be able to pay their bills, this makes a virtue of necessity. Countless millions who live from one paycheck to the next have lost their jobs and income already and have no way to pay April’s rent. The best way to support them is for all of us to go on strike, rendering it impossible for the authorities to target everyone who does not pay. Banks and landlords should not be able to continue profiting on renters and mortgages when there is no way to earn money. That’s just common sense.

This idea has already been circulating in many different forms. In Melbourne, Australia, the local branch of the Industrial Workers of the World is promoting a COVID-19 Rent Strike Pledge. Rose Caucus is calling for people to suspend rent, mortgage, and utility payments during the outbreak. In Washington state, Seattle Rent Strike is calling for the same. Chicago tenants are threatening a rent strike alongside people in Austin, St. Louis, and Texas. In Canada, there is organizing in Toronto, Kingston, and Montreal. Others have circulated documents calling for a rent and mortgage strike.

For a rent strike to succeed on a countrywide level, at least one of these initiatives will have to gain enough momentum that large numbers of people will be certain they will not be left high and dry if they commit to participating. Yet rather than waiting for a single mass organization to coordinate a massive strike from above, it is best for these efforts to begin at the grassroots level. Centralized organizations often compromise early in the process of a struggle, undercutting the autonomous efforts that give such movements power. The best thing we could do to come out of this experience stronger would be to build networks that can defend themselves regardless of decisions from on high.

Labor and Transit Strikes

Hundreds of workers at the Atlantic shipyards in Saint-Nazaire went on strike yesterday. In Finland, bus drivers refused to take payments from riders in order to increase their safety from contagion and protest against the risks they are being exposed to, showing in the process that public transit could be free.

If ever there was a good time for the embattled and precarious working class to show strength through strikes and work stoppages, this is it. For once, much of the general population will be sympathetic, as the interruption of business as usual can also diminish the risk of the virus spreading. Rather than seeking to improve the individual circumstances of particular employees through wage increases, we believe the most important thing is to build networks that can interrupt business as usual, disrupt the system as whole, and point towards the revolutionary introduction of alternative ways of living and relating. At this point, it is easier to imagine the abolition of capitalism than to imagine that even under these circumstances, it could be reformed to serve all of our needs in a just and equitable manner.

Prison Revolts

Revolts in Brazilian and Italian prisons have already resulted in several escapes, including mass escapes. The courage of these prisoners should remind us of all the targeted populations that are kept out of public view, who will suffer the most during catastrophes like this.

It can also inspire us: rather than obeying orders and remaining in hiding as the entire world is converted into a matrix of prison cells, we can act collectively to break out.

IWA-AIT Statement on COVID-19 Crisis

Solidarity

Here is a recent statement from the anarcho-syndicalist federation, the IWA-AIT, setting forth some minimal demands during the COVID-19 crisis. I note that fast food workers in California are now organizing a strike. Now is not the time to go meekly into the night.

This System is Making Us Sick

Statement of the IWA Secretariat in Response to the Situations Surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic

In many countries now, people are confronted with a huge health issue. Due to the nature of the capitalist system and its abuses towards working class people on so many levels, many more of us may become victims of ruling class negligence and disdain – the disease that already afflicts our society and social-economic relations. In this situation, like all others, we really need to rely on each other to preserve our health and our lives.

The Sections of the International Workers’ Association have responded to their local situations in different ways. As advocates of the general strike to weaken the power of those who oppress and abuse us, we see no better time for the working class of certain countries to use this tool of struggle, to act in self-defense, to protect their health and promote the strength of collective action against the power of state coercion and capital.

Our unions have put forth various demands and calls for action on the local level and are engaging in some concrete struggles in a number of workplaces. On the global level, there are several general positions and demands which need to be propagated in response to the current pandemic.

1. All workers who have been forced out of work because of state-enforced measures employer decisions, economic cutbacks or other reasons or who are ill need to receive paid leave.

A great majority of the working class around the world barely make ends meet and cannot afford to lose income. Those that do are threatened to become victims again – among others, the victims of landlords and creditors. Several governments have already announced aid packages to businesses, but the elites are much less generous to working people.

After the pandemic has decreased, the working class must struggle to make paid leave a permanent right for everybody.

2. We advocate the immediate stoppage of work (with paid leave) for all the workers of non-essential industries and services in all areas which are threatened by the spread of this virus. Where the bosses or state threaten and coerce people to continue working despite the risks, we call for the organization of strikes, solidarity strikes and other forms of direct action. We need concerted solidarity and mutual support to show that we will not be stopped.

3. We demand immediate and significant wage increases for all medical workers (including other “non-medical” personnel in medical centers, such as cleaners). These wage increases are to be permanent. One of the greatest pathogens facing many countries around the world is lack of access to healthcare, caused by gross underfunding, as governments decide to divert money elsewhere, away from the most essential human needs. Many medical workers are severely undervalued and have spent years in struggle. They are exploited and disrespected on an everyday basis – yet we expect their total dedication to saving other people’s lives in situations like this and it is sometimes at great risk to their own health and well-being. We must struggle to force the State – which we view as only the temporary custodian of our public collective money – to properly secure the health security of the population by readjusting social priorities. Further, the IWA reminds the working class that the State has usurped the power of people to decide things themselves and usually acts mainly in the interest of capital. We must take power back from it to introduce a truly social and egalitarian system of taking care of all the members of our society collectively.

4. We demand immediate bonus payments to all the other workers who are needed in various functions still so vital to keeping things running smoothly – from supermarket cashiers to food deliverers, producers and suppliers, from social workers to sanitation workers. Anybody who is working in increased risk and still working while others stay in their houses deserve our mutual aid and support. Where possible, we also call on people to help these people with their jobs, to give them a rest and to share the burden. If such workers are forced to work a lot of extra hours due to the situation, they should be given extra paid leave as soon as possible when the situation stabilizes.

We need to stress that many of these categories of workers, without which life itself would be barely possible in urban centers (such as farmers and other workers on the food supply chain) are among the worst paid workers in many countries. We must agitate and struggle to egalitize the value of labor and eliminate the huge contradictions of the capitalist logic, which fails to adequately compensate huge parts of the workforce they consider only as replaceable parts, not as vital members of our human community.

5. We demand absolutely free access to health services for all who may be affected by this current crisis. We must keep this demand as an area of permanent struggle.

6. We demand special emergency assistance for all people who do not have a roof over their heads or who live in poor sanitary conditions. In general, homelessness, housing poverty and various forms of tragic displacement lead to many deaths and illnesses each year, on top of the general misery. This is a problem of huge proportions on the world level. It must be dealt with, in particular by society’s assistance and a permanent struggle against the class of those with capital who profiteer off their access to and possession of private property. The world has also responded poorly to numerous humanitarian crises caused by war and natural disaster, leaving its victims in precarious and often life-threatening conditions.

7. We demand that any materials which are needed by the population be provided, especially where people cannot afford it. Our collective public money should be used to ensure that vulnerable segments of the population have access to hygienic products, prophylactics and medicine.

These seven demands are the minimum we need to push for and, in order to make the situation a little healthier in the end, we need to press for more social protection for the general population. This cannot remain a privilege of the rich.

The working class should finally realize that it is not the state or the bosses that keep the society running, but the working people themselves.

The expenditures we demand, to ensure the safe and fairer running or society as a whole, is our collective money and we have the absolute right to decide what kind of society we want to live in: one that treats the elderly, sick, less-privileged masses of people like expendable or one that cares for everyone and treats everybody as important and with respect. The State, the bosses and the others that live off the labor or working people must not be allowed to run things like they have any longer. Too many people have been made ill by this all and it has been going on for years and years. Enough is enough!

The system is ill and we need to cure it.

The best medicine against the disease ravaging our populations – and we are not talking about Coronavirus now – is mutual aid and solidarity of people.

During this time when many people are affected, we have witnessed various acts of solidarity initiated from the bottom up, sometimes so necessary where the system has failed to protect a vulnerable member of our human community. We call on people to embrace solidarity and to make it a part of their lives, not only in times of tragedy, but also as something regular. Solidarity builds community and community is something that can help any social struggle to gain benefit for everybody.

From the IWA, we wish all working class people health, safety and strength in the struggles and challenges you may face at this time. Remember that solidarity is our weapon, one that is so useful in times like these. We all need to organize – not only for now, but to fight for a better world for us all in the future.

IWA Secretariat
Warsaw
March 16, 2020

 

Kropotkin: Against the State

Kropotkin Words of a Rebel Black Rose

This February marks the 99th anniversary of the death of Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921). Kropotkin’s funeral was the last anarchist mass demonstration of the Russian Revolution, which was coming to a close as the Bolsheviks consolidated their dictatorship. Today I reprint excerpts from Kropotkin’s article, “The Breakdown of the State,” which was included in his collection of essays, Words of a Rebel. This is from the George Woodcock translation published by Black Rose Books. Iain McKay is working on a new translation of Words of a Rebel, to be published by PM Press. Sadly, much of what Kropotkin wrote remains true today. The modern state remains in a condition of permanent crisis, which is then used to bolster its supports.

Kropotkin-Quote-In-existing-States-a-fresh-law-is-looked

The Breakdown of the State

Today the State takes upon itself to meddle in all the areas of our lives. From the cradle to the grave, it hugs us in its arms. Sometimes as the central government, sometimes as the provincial or cantonal government, and sometimes even as the communal or municipal government, it follows our every step, it appears at every turning of the road, it taxes, harasses and restrains us.

It legislates on all our actions. It accumulates mountains of laws and ordinances among which even the shrewdest of lawyers can no longer find his way. Every day it devises new cogwheels to be fitted into the worn out old engine, and it ends up having created a machine so complicated, so misbegotten and so obstructive that it repels even those who attempt to keep it going.

The State creates an army of employees like light-fingered spiders, who know the world only through the murky windows of their offices or through their documents written in absurd jargons; it is a black band with only one religion, that of money, only one care, that of attaching oneself to any party, black, purple, or white, so long as it guarantees a maximum of appointments with a minimum of work.

The results we know only too well. Is there a single branch of the State’s activity that does not arouse revolution in those unfortunate enough to have dealings with it? Is there a single direction in which the State, after centuries of existence and of patchy renovation, has not shown its complete incompetence?

The vast and ever growing sums of money which the States appropriate from the people are never sufficient. The State always exists at the expense of future generations; it accumulates debt and everywhere it approaches bankruptcy. The public debts of the European States have already reached the vast, almost incredible figure of more than five milliards, i.e. five hundred million francs! If all the receipts of the various States were employed to the last penny just to pay off these debts, it could hardly be done in fifteen years. But, far from diminishing, the debts grow from day to day, for it is in the nature of things that the needs of States are always in excess of their means. Inevitably the State seeks to extend its jurisdiction; every party in power is obliged to create new employment for its supporters. It is an irrevocable process.

Thus the deficits and public debts continue and will continue, always growing, even in times of peace. But as soon as a war begins, however small, the debts of the States increase at an alarming rate. There is no ending; it is impossible to find our way out of this labyrinth.

The States of the world are heading full steam for ruin and bankruptcy; and the day is not distant when the people, tired of paying four milliards of interest each year to the bankers, will declare the failure of State governments and send the bankers to dig the soil if they are hungry.

Say “State” and you say “war.” The State strives and must strive to be strong, and stronger than its neighbours; if it is not so, it will become a plaything in their hands. Of necessity it seeks to weaken and impoverish other States so that it can impose on them its laws, its policies, its commercial treaties, and grow rich at their expense. The struggle for preponderance, which is the basis of economic bourgeois organization, is also the basis of political organization. This is why war has now become the normal condition of Europe. Prusso-Danish, Prusso-Austrian, Franco-Prussian wars, war in the East, war in Afghanistan follow each other without a pause. New wars are in preparation; Russia, Prussia, England, Denmark, all are ready to unleash their armies. And at any moment they will be at each other’s throats. There are enough excuses for wars to keep the world busy for another thirty years.

But war means unemployment, economic crisis, growing taxes, accumulating debts. More than that, war deals a mortal blow to the State itself. After each war, the peoples realize that the States involved have shown their incompetence, even in the tasks by which they justify their existence; they are hardly capable of organizing the defence of their own territory, and even victory threatens their survival. Only look at the fermentation of ideas that emerged from the war of 1871, as much in Germany as in France; only observe the discontent aroused in Russia by the war in the Far East.

Wars and armaments are the death of the State; they accelerate its moral and economic failure. Just one or two great wars will give the final blow to these decrepit machines.

But parallel to war outside is war within.

Accepted originally by the people as a means of defending all men and women, and above all of protecting the weak against the strong, the State today has become the fortress of the rich against the exploited, of the employer against the proletarian.

Of what use in fact is this great machine that we call the State? Is it to hinder the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist, of the peasant by the landlord? Is it to assure us work? To protect us from the loan-shark? To give us sustenance when the woman has only water to pacify the child who weeps at her dried-out breast?

No, a thousand times no! The State is there to protect exploitation, speculation and private property; it is itself the by-product of the-rapine of the people. The proletarian must rely on his own hands; he can expect nothing of the State. It is nothing more than an organization devised to hinder emancipation at all costs.

Everything in the State is loaded in favour of the idle proprietor, everything against the working proletarian: bourgeois education, which from an early age corrupts the child by inculcating anti-egalitarian principles; the Church which disturbs women’s minds; the law which hinders the exchange of ideas of solidarity and equality; money, which can be used when needed to corrupt whoever seeks to be an apostle of the solidarity of the workers; prison-and grapeshot as a last resort-to shut the mouths of those who will not be corrupted. Such is the State.

Can it last? Will it last? Obviously not. A whole class of humanity, the class that produces everything, cannot sustain for ever an organization that has been created specifically in opposition to its interests. Everywhere, under Russian brutality as much as under the hypocrisy of the followers of Gambetta, the discontented people are in revolt. The history of our times is the history of the struggle of the privileged rulers against the egalitarian aspiration of the peoples. This struggle has become the principal occupation of the ruling class; it dominates their actions. Today it is neither principles nor considerations of the public good that determine the appearance of such-and-such a law or administrative decree; it is only the demands of the struggle against the people for the preservation of privilege.

This struggle alone would be enough to shake the strongest of political organizations. But when it takes place within States that for historical reasons are declining; when these States are rolling at full speed towards catastrophe and are harming each other on the way; when, in the end, the all-powerful State becomes repugnant even to those it protects: then all these causes can only unite in a single effort: and the outcome of the struggle cannot remain in doubt. The people, who have the strength, will prevail over their oppressors; the collapse of the States will become no more than a question of time, and the most peaceful of philosophers will see in the distance the dawning light by which the great revolution manifests itself.

Peter Kropotkin

Kropotkin The State

 

Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin

David Lester, illustrator, artist , writer and musician, is working on a graphic novel-biography of Emma Goldman. Above is an excerpt commemorating her deportation from the United States to Russia on December 21, 1919, which is also Kropotkin’s birthday. This reminded me of Goldman’s recollections of her meetings with Kropotkin. Below I set forth an excerpt from Goldman’s My Disillusionment with Russia, where Goldman  describes her visit with Kropotkin in the summer of 1920, when both were witnessing the consolidation of the growing Bolshevik dictatorship. Kropotkin suggested that rather than working with authoritarian state socialists, despite their revolutionary slogans, anarchists should work to strengthen revolutionary workers’ movements, like anarcho-syndicalism, and movements to create alternate economic relationships, such as the cooperative movement (both of which were being suppressed by Bolshevik regime). Less than a year later, Kropotkin was dead, with his funeral marking the last mass anarchist demonstration in Russia for about 75 years.

Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman at Kropotkin’s funeral

Peter was interested to know my impressions [of the Russian Revolution] since he saw me last. I related to him how confused and harassed I was, how everything seemed to crumble beneath my feet. I told him that I had come to doubt almost everything, even the Revolution itself. I could not reconcile the ghastly reality with what the Revolution had meant to me when I came to Russia. Were the conditions I found inevitable, the callous indifference to human life, the terrorism, the waste and agony of it all? Of course, I knew revolutions could not be made with kid gloves. It is a stern necessity involving violence and destruction, a difficult and terrible process. But what I had found in Russia was utterly unlike revolutionary conditions, so fundamentally unlike as to be a caricature.

Peter listened attentively; then he said: “There is no reason whatever to lose faith. I consider the Russian Revolution even greater than the French, for it has struck deeper into the soul of Russia, into the hearts and minds of the Russian people. Time alone can demonstrate its full scope and depth. What you see to-day is only the surface, conditions artificially created by a governing class. You see a small political party which by its false theories, blunders, and inefficiency has demonstrated how revolutions must not be made.”

It was unfortunate, Kropotkin continued, that so many of the Anarchists in Russia and the masses outside of Russia had been carried away by the ultra-revolutionary pretenses of the Bolsheviki. In the great upheaval it was forgotten that the Communists are a political party firmly adhering to the idea of a centralized State, and that as such they were bound to misdirect the course of the Revolution. The Bolsheviki were the Jesuits of the Socialist Church: they believed in the Jesuitic motto that the end justifies the means. Their end being political power, they hesitate at nothing. The means, however, have paralysed the energies of the masses and have terrorized the people. Yet without the people, without the direct participation of the masses in the reconstruction of the country, nothing essential could be accomplished.

The Bolsheviki had been carried to the top by the high tide of the Revolution. Once in power they began to stem the tide. They have been trying to eliminate and suppress the cultural forces of the country not entirely in agreement with their ideas and methods. They destroyed the cooperatives which were of utmost importance to the life of Russia, the great link between the country and the city. They created a bureaucracy and officialdom which surpasses even that of the old regime. In the village where he lived, in little Dmitrov, there were more Bolshevik officials than ever existed there during the reign of the Romanovs. All those people were living off the masses. They were parasites on the social body, and Dmitrov was only a small example of what was going on throughout Russia. It was not the fault of any particular individuals: rather was it the State they had created, which discredits every revolutionary ideal, stifles all initiative, and sets a premium on incompetence and waste. It should also not be forgotten Kropotkin emphasized, that the blockade and the continuous attacks on the Revolution by the interventionists had helped to strengthen the power of the Communist regime. Intervention and blockade were bleeding Russia to death, and were preventing the people from understanding the real nature of the Bolshevik regime.

Discussing the activities and role of the Anarchists in the Revolution, Kropotkin said: “We Anarchists have talked much of revolutions, but few of us have been prepared for the actual work to be done during the process. I have indicated some things in this relation in my ‘Conquest of Bread.’ Pouget and Pataud have also sketched a line of action in their work on ‘How to Accomplish the Social Revolution.’” Kropotkin thought that the Anarchists had not given sufficient consideration to the fundamental elements of the social revolution. The real facts in a revolutionary process do not consist so much in the actual fighting, that is, merely the destructive phase necessary to clear the way for constructive effort. The basic factor in a revolution is the organization of the economic life of the country. The Russian Revolution had proved conclusively that we must prepare thoroughly for that. Everything else is of minor importance. He had come to think that syndicalism was likely to furnish what Russia most lacked: the channel through which the industrial and economic reconstruction of the country may flow. He referred to Anarcho-syndicalism. That and the cooperatives would save other countries some of the blunders and suffering Russia was going through.

Emma Goldman

Kropotkin, Bakunin and Goldman – for anarchist socialism

Sébastian Faure: Anarchism as a Force For Revolution (1921)

Portrait of Sébastian Faure by André Claudot, June 1923

In his forthcoming anthology of libertarian socialist writings, A Libertarian Reader, Iain McKay has included a speech from January 1921 by the French anarchist, Sébastian Faure, in which he discusses various movements as forces for revolution – the socialist movement, free thought, trade unionism and the co-operative movement. Here, I reproduce his conclusion, in which Faure argues that anarchism represents a synthesis of the other forces. Within the anarchist movement itself, Faure advocated an “anarchist synthesis” combining the best aspects of anarchist individualism, syndicalism and communism. Faure had to admit that by 1921, anarchists had become a small minority on the revolutionary left, but argues that it is better to be clear and consistent in one’s ideas and actions than to achieve mass popularity by compromising one’s own principles. Faure’s speech was published as a pamphlet, including an English translation by Red Lion Press in 2005.

Anarchism as a Force for Revolution

Anarchism is, in fact, like the union of all the forces of which I have spoken tonight, it is, as I have said, the synthesis: anarchism is with free-thought in the struggle it wages against religion and against all forms of intellectual and moral oppression; – anarchism is with the Socialist Party in the struggle it pursues against the capitalist regime; – anarchism is with trade unionism in its struggle for the worker’s redemption against the exploitative employers of labour; – anarchism is with co-operation in its struggle against commercial parasitism and against the middlemen who are the profiteers of this parasitism. Was I not right to say that anarchism is like the synthesis of all the other forces of revolution; that it condenses them, crowns them and unites them all?

Yes, it is the summarisation and consummation! Anarchism respects no form of domination of man over man, no form of exploitation of man by man, since it attacks all forms of authority:

Political authority: the State.

Economic authority: Property.

Moral authority: Fatherland, Religion, Family.

Legal authority: Judiciary and Police.

All social powers interchangeably receive the well dealt, vigorous and incisive blows that anarchists bring them. After all, anarchism rises up against all oppression, against all constraints, it has no boundaries to its actions, for it considers the whole person in his body, in his mind and in his heart. It looks at human nature, it sees tears fall and blood flow; it looks at the person who suffers and asks him where his sufferings come from!

Where does his suffering come from? The anarchist knows that they are due almost entirely to a defective social state. I set aside the sorrows inherent in nature itself, but all the other sufferings, all the other sorrows are caused by a bad social organisation.

The anarchist, while considering human sorrows, is emotional, for he has a sensitive heart, he is revolted, for he has good conscience, and he is resolute, because he has a firm will.

After having, thanks to his lucid brain, considered the truth, the anarchist extends his helping hand towards those who suffer and says: “Fight with us against all those who make you suffer: against the property which makes you homeless and without bread; – against the State which oppresses you by unjust laws and crushes you with taxes; – against your boss who exploits your labour by giving you a meagre wage for eight, ten or twelve hours of work a day; – against all the Profiteers who devour you; – against all the Wolves who swindle you; – against all the evil Forces, against all the Powers of the day!…”

That is what the anarchist says to the oppressed, to the suffering.

It was hoped that such a high philosophy, such a pure doctrine, would be spared from the harmful influence of the [First World] War! Alas! this did not happen. I say this to our shame and disgrace! Amongst the most notorious anarchists, including those we were accustomed to consider as spiritual guides – not as leaders, there are none amongst us, but you know as well as I do that there are voices which are listened to more than others and minds which seem to reflect the minds of other anarchists – we had the anguish to see that some of those whom we regarded as our elder brothers, as our spiritual guides, suffered accursed failure! They believed that this war was not like the others, that France had been attacked and needed to vigorously defend herself; they became collaborators in the “Sacred Union” and made a pact with the defenders of the nation, they were warriors, diehards…

And the misfortune is that, since then, they have not recognised their mistake either; they dug in their heels. Go and ask someone who thinks he has the makings of a leader to recant! Do ask someone who until then had proclaimed truths before which others seemed to bow without question, go ask that man to recognise that he made a mistake! This man, believing himself an anarchist, will look down on you and never admit he could be wrong.

Like all the chiefs and leaders of people, like all drivers of the masses, the anarchist-warriors have been victims of their hubris, and they have placed their personal vanity above all else. And yet, I imagine that when a mistake has been committed, it is proper and dignified to recognise it honestly and the only way to correct it is to proclaim it publicly.

We did not need, we anarchists, to expel these diehards, to drive them out: they understood that they had nothing in common with us, that they had to remove themselves, and they stayed at home.

I mention no names, but you all know them, those who, anarchists before the war, after having declared for twenty years that there was no holy war, that all war was accursed, and that, if it broke-out, the duty of every anarchist was to refuse to serve, they urged their fellows to the massacre. After betraying, after denying their past, these men are now alone. Without having taken any sanction against them, without having made any condemnation against them[1], they condemned themselves voluntarily to solitary confinement, and this is their punishment; they are surrounded today only by their loneliness and abandonment…

Of all the forces of revolution I have mentioned, anarchism is perhaps the least numerous. We do not deceive ourselves about our numerical strength, we know that we do not have, like the Socialist Party, trade unionism and co-operation, compact battalions: the anarchists have always been a minority, and – remember what I say – they will always remain a minority. It is inevitable.

Ah! we, too, would like to recruit, that is understood and we do it; but recruitment is not easy amongst us. First, our ideal is so high and so broad! Moreover, it is an almost limitless ideal that becomes daily, with events, higher and broader, so that, to embrace this ideal, to follow it and propagate it, advanced men are needed, so to speak.

I do not look very modest saying that, and yet I must say it because it is the truth and it is my feeling; and then, there is no vanity to speak favourably of yourself and your comrades, when you do it frankly and honestly.

Yes, you must be part of an elite, you must be an advanced man to rise to such heights, to rise to such altitudes, to rise to the heights where the anarchist idea soars. What makes anarchist recruitment especially difficult is that there is nothing to gain with us; nothing to gain and everything to lose… We have, after all, no tenures, no positions, no remits, no anything… not even notoriety to offer to our adherents.

I am mistaken: there is, on the contrary, much to gain amongst us; but these gains of which I want to speak without doubt only attract this minority, this elite of which I spoke a moment ago.

There is nothing to gain like a position or money, but there is much to be gained if you are willing to be content, by way of compensation, with the pure and noble joys of a satisfied heart, of a tranquil mind, of a raised consciousness. And, indeed, the anarchist finds incomparable joys and which are worth infinitely more in his eyes than material advantages and baubles of vanity.

We are therefore a minority, but such is the common destiny of all new ideas; these never gather around them but a small minority. When an idea begins to group around it an imposing minority, it is that reality which is in motion (and it is always without every stopping) had brought forth a new idea, more exact or more youthful, and it is this idea, which is younger, bolder, more just, which groups around it the elite. Under the Empire, the minority (that is to say the elect) was formed by the reds, by the republicans; during the first years of the Republic, and as recently as ten or fifteen years before socialism became petty-bourgeois and reformist, socialism was only a tiny minority, it was the elite of that time. Today, it is anarchism that unites this elite.

A minority, yes: but it is not necessary to be many to do a lot of work; it is even better, sometimes, to be less numerous and be the best: here the quality outweighs the quantity. I prefer a hundred individuals who are everywhere, who go where there is work to be done, where there is intelligence and activity to be deployed; I prefer a hundred individuals who speak, who write, who act, in a word who are engaged passionately in propaganda, than a thousand who remain quietly at home and imagine that they have done their duty when some have made donations and others have voted.

Anarchists are and will therefore always be a few, but they are everywhere. They are what I will call the yeast that raises the dough. Already, you see them permeating everywhere. Beside the few thousand declared anarchists who are organised, we see thousands and thousands who are in other groups: some in Free-Thought, others in the Socialist Party, others in the C.G.T. [French trade union federation]. I even know a large number, in such-and-such small towns and in the countryside who, feeling the need to do something, driven by the desire to become involved with local struggles and the propaganda being made amongst them and around them, join the socialist movement; they do not abandon their anarchist ideas; there are also some in trade unionism, in co-operation, there are everywhere… There are even some who are unaware! For as soon as they are told what anarchism is, they say: “But if that is true, I am an anarchist! I am with you!” Yes, anarchism is everywhere…

Such are the forces of revolution that it was essential to review this evening. I conclude, for it is almost two hours since we started. It would have taken a whole lecture to examine each of these forces and we would not even have covered everything. Tonight I delivered a simple monograph on each current, on each organisation, a quick and brief monograph, of the forces that deserve a more detailed description: I have merely produced a sketch and I neglected a certain number of other currents, other forces, other groupings which are not without value and which, on the day of the Revolution, would influence the general movement;  these are, for example, feminist groups and neo-Malthusian, temperance and anti-militarist currents, and amongst others, the Republican Veterans Association, which has the purpose of grouping in particular those who are the victims of the last war. Lastly, we have above all the socialist, trade unionist and anarchist youth, nurseries of the active militants of tomorrow. It is this youth who are our hope and who, today the seed, will be the abundant harvest of tomorrow!

There is then, as you see, a whole legion of groups full of good will and eager to move forward.

I spoke this evening only of the great currents because I obviously could not dwell on each of these smaller but real forces.

The great currents of which I have spoken tonight are autonomous; the forces we have just examined are independent; each of them largely deploys its flag on the terrain that is particular to it. The enemy senses the danger, it is organised and united: never has the repression been so severe, never have the bosses been so firmly organised, never has the police been so arrogant, never has the judiciary handed out sentences with such a tireless hand, never, in a word, was the enemy more stoutly defended. It is therefore a question of engaging in battle with all our forces united. For that, we ask no one to sacrifice his principles, his doctrines, his methods, his action: we wish, on the contrary, that each group keeps and preserves its methods, its doctrine, its principles, so that all these can be used when the time comes, because we have a goal to reach, a great work to accomplish, and all these associated forces will be indispensable. The social structure threatens doom. It is not ready to collapse, make no mistake: there are cracks; however, the social structure is still solid and it will take a hard shove to destroy and overthrow it. What is needed at the present time is that a powerful wind of revolt rises and passes over all men of good will, for the arrogance of our masters is made from our servility, their strength is made from our weakness, their courage is made from our failure and their wealth is made from our poverty! The spirit of submission has lowered personalities, revolt will raise them; the habit of obedience has bowed backs, revolt will straighten them; centuries of resignation weighing heavily on humanity have been its ruin, the revolution will save it.

As for us anarchists, we do not want to live as slaves anymore. We declared a ruthless war on Society, yes, a war to the knife. We know that we have to conquer or die, but we are resolved. We are therefore determined to do battle, constant battle with all shackles and all constraints: Religion, Capital, Government, Militarism, etc.

And we are determined to fight this battle until victory is complete. We want not only to be free ourselves, but also that all men be [free] like us. As long as there are chains, even if they are gilded, even if they are light, even if they are loose and weak, even if they bound only one of our fellows, we will not lay down our arms: we want all chains to fall, everyone and forever!

Sébastien Faure, January 25, 1921

[1] It must be noted that many anarchists did write articles refuting the pro-war anarchists in the anarchist press, reiterating the anarchist position on war that they had so recently advocated. For example, Kropotkin was answered by the likes of Malatesta, Berkman and Rocker (amongst others). [Note by Iain McKay]

Yes You Can Support the Kurds

Turkish bombing of Rojava

For all you armchair anarchists out there, yes you can provide much needed financial support for the Kurds from the safety of your own home, as Turkish, Russian and Syrian forces attack them. Regardless of what you think of the ecumenical politics of Avaaz, they are a reputable organization. You can donate money now to support the Kurds through the Avaaz website by clicking on this link.

No War Against Children

For more information, check out the CrimethInc. website. Here is a summary from one of their recent podcasts:

As the news breaks of a Russian-Turkish alliance determined to stamp out Kurdish autonomy, what’s at stake in the international fight to defend Rojava? This episode continues our exploration of the embattled revolution in northeastern Syria through interviews with a variety of anarchists who have engaged in international solidarity work there. One recounts the women’s movement and the impact on gender roles of the autonomous social experiments in Rojava, while another provides an inside look at the armed forces and the struggle against ISIS. Participants in the Internationalist Commune describe their educational and ecological projects, and two anarchist combat medics serving with the SDF in the war zone describe their experiences. We hope these will deepen your understanding of this complex effort to remake society from the ground up amidst war and fascism on all sides—and strengthen your solidarity efforts, as we fight to support the resistance in Rojava.

As we mentioned last time: even though we’re focusing on the crisis in Kurdistan again for this episode, let’s not forget that even as the Turkish bombs are falling, other important rebellions are taking place across the world—in Chile, in Catalunya, in Ecuador, in Haiti, in Lebanon, in Hong Kong, and beyond. We’ll have more coverage of these and other revolts through the Ex-Worker and on the CrimethInc. blog in the days and weeks to come, so stay tuned!

Notes and Links

Trump and Erdoğan seal the fate of the Kurds

Here is a report from an anarchist in Syria when Trump gave Turkey the green light to massacre the Kurds (also from the CrimethInc. website):

I’m writing from Rojava. Full disclosure: I didn’t grow up here and I don’t have access to all the information I would need to tell you what is going to happen next in this part of the world with any certainty. I’m writing because it is urgent that you hear from people in northern Syria about what Trump’s “troop withdrawal” really means for us—and it’s not clear how much time we have left to discuss it. I approach this task with all the humility at my disposal.

I’m not formally integrated into any of the groups here. That makes it possible for me to speak freely, but I should emphasize that my perspective doesn’t represent any institutional position. If nothing else, this should be useful as a historical document indicating how some people here understood the situation at this point in time, in case it becomes impossible to ask us later on.

Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria is not an “anti-war” or “anti-imperialist” measure. It will not bring the conflict in Syria to an end. On the contrary, Trump is effectively giving Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan the go-ahead to invade Rojava and carry out ethnic cleansing against the people who have done much of the fighting and dying to halt the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS). This is a deal between strongmen to exterminate the social experiment in Rojava and consolidate authoritarian nationalist politics from Washington, DC to Istanbul and Kobane. Trump aims to leave Israel the most ostensibly liberal and democratic project in the entire Middle East, foreclosing the possibilities that the revolution in Rojava opened up for this part of the world.

All this will come at a tremendous cost. As bloody and tragic as the Syrian civil war has already been, this could open up not just a new chapter of it, but a sequel.

This is not about where US troops are stationed. The two thousand US soldiers at issue are a drop in the bucket in terms of the number of armed fighters in Syria today. They have not been on the frontlines of the fighting the way that the US military was in Iraq.1 The withdrawal of these soldiers is not the important thing here. What matters is that Trump’s announcement is a message to Erdoğan indicating that there will be no consequences if the Turkish state invades Rojava.

There’s a lot of confusion about this, with supposed anti-war and “anti-imperialist” activists like Medea Benjamin endorsing Donald Trump’s decision, blithely putting the stamp of “peace” on an impending bloodbath and telling the victims that they should have known better. It makes no sense to blame people here in Rojava for depending on the United States when neither Medea Benjamin nor anyone like her has done anything to offer them any sort of alternative.

While authoritarians of various stripes seek to cloud the issue, giving a NATO member a green light to invade Syria is what is “pro-war” and “imperialist.” Speaking as an anarchist, my goal is not to talk about what the US military should do. It is to discuss how US military policy impacts people and how we ought to respond. Anarchists aim to bring about the abolition of every state government and the disbanding of every state military in favor of horizontal forms of voluntary organization; but when we organize in solidarity with targeted populations such as those who are on the receiving end of the violence of ISIS and various state actors in this region, we often run into thorny questions like the ones I’ll discuss below.

The worst case scenario now is that the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA), backed by the Turkish military itself, will overrun Rojava and carry out ethnic cleansing on a level you likely cannot imagine. They’ve already done this on a small scale in Afrin. In Rojava, this would take place on a historic scale. It could be something like the Palestinian Nakba or the Armenian genocide.

I will try to explain why this is happening, why you should care about it, and what we can do about it together.

To understand what Trump and Erdoğan are doing, you have to understand the geography of the situation. This site is useful for keeping up with geographical shifts in the Syrian civil war.

First of All: About the Experiment in Rojava

The system in Rojava is not perfect. This is not the right place to air dirty laundry, but there are lots of problems. I’m not having the kind of experience here that Paul Z. Simons had some years ago, when his visit to Rojava made him feel that everything is possible. Years and years of war and militarization have taken their toll on the most exciting aspects of the revolution here. Still, these people are in incredible danger right now and the society they have built is worth defending.

What is happening in Rojava is not anarchy. All the same, women play a major role in society; there is basic freedom of religion and language; an ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse population lives side by side without any major acts of ethnic cleansing or conflict; it’s heavily militarized, but it’s not a police state; the communities are relatively safe and stable; there’s not famine or mass food insecurity; the armed forces are not committing mass atrocities. Every faction in this war has blood on its hands, but the People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) have conducted themselves far more responsibly than any other side. They’ve saved countless lives—not just Kurds—in Sinjar and many other places. Considering the impossible conditions and the tremendous amount of violence that people here have been subjected to from all sides, that is an incredible feat. All this stands in stark contrast to what will happen if the Turkish state invades, considering that Trump has given Erdoğan the go-ahead in return for closing a massive missile sale.

It should go without saying that I don’t want to perpetuate an open-ended Bush-style “war on terror,” much less to participate in the sort of “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West that bigots and fundamentalists of both stripes have been fantasizing about. On the contrary, that is precisely what we’re trying to prevent here. Most of the people Daesh [ISIS] have killed have been Muslim; most of the people who have died fighting Daesh have been Muslim. In Hajin, where I was stationed and where the last ISIS stronghold is, one of the internationals who has been fighting Daesh longest is an observant Muslim—not to speak of all the predominantly Arab fighters from Deir Ezzor there, most of whom are almost certainly Muslim as well.

The Factions

For the sake of brevity, I’ll oversimplify and say that today, there are roughly five sides in the Syrian civil war: loyalist, Turkish, jihadi, Kurdish,2 and rebel.3 At the conclusion of this text, an appendix explores the narratives that characterize each of these sides.

Each of these sides stands in different relation to the others. I’ll list the relations of each group to the others, starting with the other group that they are most closely affiliated with and ending with the groups they are most opposed to:

Loyalist: Kurdish, Turkish, jihadi, rebel

Rebel: Turkish, jihadi, Kurdish, loyalist

Turkish: rebel, jihadi, loyalist, Kurdish

Kurdish: loyalist, rebel, Turkish, jihadi

Jihadi: rebel, Turkish, Kurdish and loyalist

This may be helpful in visualizing which groups could be capable of compromising and which are irreversibly at odds. Again, remember, I am generalizing a lot.

I want to be clear that each of these groups is motivated by a narrative that contains at least some kernel of truth. For example, in regards to the question of who is to blame for the rise of ISIS, it is true that the US “ploughed the field” for ISIS with the invasion and occupation of Iraq and its disastrous fallout (loyalist narrative); but it is also true that the Turkish state has tacitly and sometimes blatantly colluded with ISIS because ISIS was fighting against the primary adversary of the Turkish state (Kurdish narrative) and that Assad’s brutal reaction to the Arab Spring contributed to a spiral of escalating violence that culminated in the rise of Daesh (rebel narrative). And although I’m least sympathetic to the jihadi and Turkish state perspectives, it is certain that unless the well-being of Sunni Arabs in Iraq and Syria is factored into a political settlement, the jihadis will go on fighting, and that unless there is some kind of political settlement between the Turkish state and the PKK, Turkey will go on seeking to wipe out Kurdish political formations, without hesitating to commit genocide.

It’s said that “Kurds are second-class citizens in Syria, third-class citizens in Iran, fourth-class citizens in Iraq, and fifth-class citizens in Turkey.” It’s no accident that when Turkish officials like Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu list the “terror groups” they are most concerned about in the region, they name the YPG before ISIS. Perhaps this can help explain the cautious response of many Kurds to the Syrian revolution: from the Kurdish perspective, regime change in Syria carried out by Turkish-backed jihadis coupled with no regime change in Turkey could be worse than no regime change in Syria at all.

I won’t rehash the whole timeline from the ancient Sumerians to the beginning of the PKK war in Turkey to the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the Arab Spring and the rise of ISIS. Let’s skip forward to Trump’s announcement on December 19: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

Has ISIS Been Defeated? And by Whom?

Let me be clear: Daesh has not been defeated in Syria. Just a few days ago, they took a shot at our position with a rocket launcher out of a clear blue sky and missed by only a hundred yards.

It is true that their territory is just a fraction of what it once was. At the same time, by any account, they still have thousands of fighters, a lot of heavy weaponry, and probably quite a bit of what remains of their senior leadership down in the Hajin pocket of the Euphrates river valley and the surrounding deserts, between Hajin and the Iraqi border. In addition, ISIS have a lot of experience and a wide array of sophisticated defense strategies—and they are absolutely willing to die to inflict damage on their enemies.

To the extent that their territory has been drastically reduced, Trump is telling a bald-faced lie in trying to take credit for this. The achievement he is claiming as his own is largely the work of precisely the people he is consigning to death at the hands of Turkey.

Under Obama, the Department of Defense and the CIA pursued dramatically different strategies in reference to the uprising and subsequent civil war in Syria. The CIA focused on overthrowing Assad by any means necessary, to the point that arms and money they supplied trickled down to al-Nusra, ISIS, and others. By contrast, the Pentagon was more focused on defeating ISIS, beginning to concentrate on supporting the largely Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) during the defense of Kobane in 2014.

Now, as an anarchist who desires the complete abolition of every government, I have no love for the Pentagon or the CIA, but if we evaluate these two approaches according to their own professed goals, the Pentagon plan worked fairly well, while the CIA plan was a total disaster. In this regard, it’s fair to say that the Obama administration contributed to both the growth of ISIS and its suppression. Trump, for his part, has done neither, except insofar as the sort of nationalist Islamophobia he promotes helps to generate a symmetrical form of Islamic fundamentalism.

Up until December, Trump maintained the Pentagon strategy in Syria that he inherited from the Obama administration. There have been signs of mission creep from US National Security Advisor John R. Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who ultimately hope to undermine Iran on account of it supplying oil to China. This far—and no further—I can understand the concerns of a pseudo-pacifist “anti-imperialist”: war with Iran would be a nightmare compounding the catastrophe brought about by the war in Iraq. So yes, insofar as the YPG and YPJ were forced to coordinate with the US military, they were working with unsavory characters whose motivations were very different from their own.

To sum up: what has brought about the by-now almost total recapture of the territory ISIS occupied isn’t rocket science. It’s the combination of a brave and capable ground force with air support. In this sort of conventional territorial war, it’s extremely difficult for a ground force without air support to defeat a ground force with air support, no matter how fiercely the former fights. In some parts of Syria, this involved the YPG/YPJ on the ground with US backing from the air. Elsewhere in Syria, it must be said, ISIS was pushed back by the combination of Russian air support and the loyalist army (SAA) alongside Iranian-backed militias.

Outside Interventions

It would have been extremely difficult to recapture this territory from ISIS any other way. The cooperation of the YPG/YPJ with the US military remains controversial, but the fact is—every side in the Syrian conflict has been propped up and supported by larger outside powers and would have collapsed without that support.

People employing the Turkish, loyalist, and jihadi narratives often point out that Kobane would have fallen and YPG/YPJ would never have been able to retake eastern Syria from Daesh without US air support. Likewise, the Syrian government and the Assad regime were very close to military collapse in 2015, around the time Turkey conveniently downed a Russian plane and Putin decided that Russia was going to bail out the Assad regime no matter what it took. The rebels, on their side, never would have come close to toppling Assad through military means without massive assistance from the Turkish government, the Gulf states, US intelligence services, and probably Israel on some level, although the details of this are murky from where I’m situated.

And the jihadis—Daesh, al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, and the others—would never have been able to take control of half of Iraq and Syria if the US had not been so foolish as to leave an army’s worth of state-of-the-art equipment in the hands of the Iraqi government, which effectively abandoned it. It also helped them that a tremendous amount of resources trickled down from the above-mentioned foreign sponsors of the rebels. It also helped that Turkey left its airports and borders open to jihadis from all over the world who set out to join Daesh. There also appears to have been some sort of financial support from the Gulf states, whether formally or through back channels.

The Turkish state has its own agenda. It is not by any means simply a proxy for the US. But at the end of the day, it’s a NATO member and it can count on the one hundred percent support of the US government—as the missile sale that the US made to Turkey days before the withdrawal tweet illustrates.

In view of all this, we can see why YPG/YPJ chose to cooperate with the US military. My point is not to defend this decision, but to show that under the circumstances, it was the only practical alternative to annihilation. At the same time, it is clear that this strategy has not created security for the experiment in Rojava. Even if we set aside ethical concerns, there are problems with relying on the United States—or France, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or any other state government with its own state agenda. As anarchists, we have to talk very seriously about how to create other options for people in conflict zones. Is there any form of international horizontal decentralized coordination that could have solved the problems that the people in Rojava were facing such that they would not have been forced to depend on the US military? If we find no answer to this question when we look at the Syria of 2013-2018, is there something we could have done earlier? These are extremely pressing questions.

No one should forget that ISIS was only reduced to their current relative weakness by a multi-ethnic, radically democratic grassroots resistance movement, that incidentally involved international volunteers from around the globe. In view of Trump’s order to abandon and betray the struggle against ISIS, every sincere person who earnestly wants to put a stop to the spread of apocalyptic fundamentalist terror groups like ISIS or their imminent successors should stop counting on the state and put all their resources into directly supporting decentralized multi-ethnic egalitarian movements. It is becoming ever clearer that those are our only hope.

What Does the Troop Withdrawal Mean?

I’m not surprised that Trump and the Americans are “betraying an ally”—I don’t think anybody here had the illusion that Trump or the Pentagon intended to support the political project in Rojava. Looking back through history, it was clear enough that when ISIS was beaten, the US would leave Rojava at the mercy of the Turkish military. If the forces of the YPG/YPJ have dragged their feet in rooting ISIS out of their last strongholds, this may be one of the reasons.

But it is still very surprising and perplexing that Trump would rush to give up this foothold that the US has carved out in the Russosphere—and that the US military establishment would let him do so. From the perspective of maintaining US global military hegemony, the decision makes no sense at all. It’s a gratuitous gift to Putin, Erdoğan, and ISIS, which could take advantage of the situation to regenerate throughout the region, perhaps in some new form—more on that below.

The withdrawal from Syria does not necessarily mean that conflict with Iran is off the table, by the way. On the contrary, certain hawks in the US government may see this as a step towards consolidating a position from which that could be possible.

However you look at it, Trump’s decision is big news. It indicates that the US “deep state” has no power over Trump’s foreign policy. It suggests that the US neoliberal project is dead in the water, or at least that some elements of the US ruling class consider it to be. It also implies a future in which ethno-nationalist autocrats like Erdoğan, Trump, Assad, Bolsonaro, and Putin will be in the driver’s seat worldwide, conniving with each other to maintain power over their private domains.

In that case, the entire post-cold war era of US military hegemony is over, and we are entering a multipolar age in which tyrants will rule balkanized authoritarian ethno-states: think Europe before World War I. The liberals and neoconservatives who preferred US hegemony are mourning the passing of an era that was a blood-soaked nightmare for millions. The leftists (and anarchists?) who imagine that this transition could be good news are fools fighting yesterday’s enemy and yesterday’s war, not recognizing the new nightmares springing up around them. The de facto red/brown coalition of authoritarian socialists and fascists who are celebrating the arrival of this new age are hurrying us all helter-skelter into a brave new world in which more and more of the globe will look like the worst parts of the Syrian civil war.

And speaking from this vantage point, here, today, I do not say that lightly.

What Will Happen Next?

Sadly, Kurdish and left movements in Turkey have been decimated over the past few years. I would be very surprised if there were any kind of uprising in Turkey, no matter what happens in Rojava. We should not permit ourselves to hope that a Turkish invasion here would trigger an insurgency in northern Kurdistan.

Unless something truly unexpected transpires, there are basically two possible outcomes here.

First Scenario

In the first scenario, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) will make some kind of agreement with the Assad regime, likely under less favorable terms than would have been possible before the Turkish invasion of Afrin; both sides would likely make concessions of some kind and agree to fight on the same side if Turkey invades. If Russia signs off on this, it could suffice to prevent the invasion from taking place. Either YPG/YPJ or SAA will finish off the Hajin pocket, and the war could be basically over except for Idlib.

Both the Assad regime and the various predominantly Kurdish formations have been extremely hardheaded in negotiating, but perhaps the threat to both Rojava and the Assad regime is so extreme that they will choose this option. It is possible that this is one of the objectives of the Turkish threat, or even of Trump’s withdrawal: to force YPG to relinquish military autonomy to the Assad regime.

YPG, PYD, and company are not in a very good bargaining position right now, but the regime knows it can at least bargain with them, whereas if northern Syria is occupied by Turkish-backed jihadis and assorted looters, it is unclear what would happen next. Rojava contains much of Syria’s best agricultural land in the north, as well as oil fields in the south.

I can only speculate what the terms of this theoretical agreement might be. There’s lots of speculation online: language rights, Kurdish citizenship being regularized, prior service in YPG counting as military service so that soldiers who have been fighting ISIS all these years can return to being civilians rather than immediately being conscripted into SAA, some kind of limited political autonomy, or the like. In exchange, the YPG and its allies would essentially have to hand military and political control of SDF areas over to the regime.

Could Assad’s regime be trusted to abide by an agreement after they gain control? Probably not.

To be clear, it’s all too easy for me to speak abstractly about the Assad regime as the lesser of two evils. I’m informed about many of the atrocities the regime has committed, but I have not experienced them myself, and this is not the part of Syria where they did the worst things, so I more frequently hear stories from the locals about Daesh and other jihadis, not to mention Turkey. There are likely people in other parts of Syria who regard the Assad regime regaining power with the same dread with which people here regard the Turkish military and ISIS.

In any case, there are some signs that this first scenario might still be possible. The regime has sent troops to Manbij, to one of the lines where the massive Turkish/TFSA troop buildup is occurring. There are meetings between the PYD and the regime as well as with the Russians. An Egyptian-mediated negotiation between the PYD and the regime is scheduled to take place soon.

This first scenario does not offer a very attractive set of options. It’s not what Jordan Mactaggart or the thousands and thousands of Syrians who fought and died with YPG/YPJ gave their lives for. But it would be preferable to the other scenario…

Second Scenario

In the second scenario, the Assad regime will throw in its lot with Turkey instead of with YPG.

In this case, some combination of the Turkish military and its affiliated proxies will invade from the north while the regime invades from the south and west. YPG will fight to the death, street by street, block by block, in a firestorm reminiscent of the Warsaw ghetto uprising or the Paris Commune, utilizing all the defensive tactics they acquired while fighting ISIS. Huge numbers of people will die. Eventually, the Assad regime and Turkey/TFSA will establish some line between their zones of control. For the foreseeable future, there would be some kind of Turkish-Jihadi Rump State of Northern Syrian Warlordistan.

Any remaining Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, Christians, and other minorities would be expulsed, ethnically cleansed, or terrorized. TFSA and related militias would likely loot everything they could get their hands on. In the long run, Turkey would probably dump the Syrian refugees who are now in Turkey back into these occupied areas, bringing about irreversible demographic shifts that could be the cause of future ethnic conflicts in the region.

We should not believe any assurances from the Turkish state or its apologists that this will not be the result of their invasion, as this is exactly what they have done in Afrin and they have no reason to behave differently in Rojava. Remember: from the perspective of the Turkish state, the YPG/YPJ are enemy number one in Syria.

Now let’s talk about Daesh. Despite the looming threat of invasion, SDF is still finishing off the Hajin pocket of ISIS. If it weren’t for the fact that Turkey is throwing Daesh a lifeline by threatening to invade, Daesh would be doomed, as they are surrounded by SDF, SAA, and the Iraqi army. Let me say this again: Trump giving Turkey the go-ahead to invade Rojava is practically the only thing that could save ISIS.

Trump has repeatedly said things to the effect that Turkey is promising to finish off ISIS. To believe this lie, you would have to be politically ignorant, yes—but in addition, you would also have to be geographically illiterate. This describes Trump’s supporters, if no one else.

Even if the Turkish government had any intention of fighting Daesh in Syria—a proposition that is highly doubtful, considering how easy Turkey made it for ISIS to get off the ground—in order to even reach Hajin and the Euphrates river valley, they would have to steamroll across the entirety of Rojava. There is no other way to get to Hajin. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, look at a map and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The Assad regime holds positions right across the Euphrates River from both the SDF and Daesh positions, and would be willing and able to finish off the last ISIS pocket. As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather see the regime take the losses there to accomplish that than see YPG overextend itself and bleed any further. But the point here is that when Trump says something to the effect that “Turkey will finish off ISIS!” he is sending a blatant dog whistle to Turkish hardliners that they can attack Rojava and he won’t do anything to stop them. It has nothing to do with ISIS and everything to do with ethnic cleansing in Rojava.

If nothing else, even if Assad allies with the Turkish government, we can hope that the forces of the regime will still finish off ISIS. If Turkey has its way and does what Trump is talking about, beating a path all the way through Rojava to Hajin, they will likely give Daesh’s fighters safe passage, a new set of clothes, three meals a day, and this village I’m living in in exchange for their assistance fighting future Kurdish insurgencies.

So there it is: in declaring victory over ISIS, Trump is arranging the only way that ISIS fighters could come out of this situation with their capacities intact. It’s Orwellian, to say the least.


The only other option I can imagine, if negotiations with the Assad regime break down or PYD decides to take the moral high road and not compromise with the regime—who are untrustworthy and have carried out plenty of atrocities of their own—would be to let the entire SDF melt back into the civilian population, permit Turkey and its proxies to walk into Rojava without losing the fighting force of the YPG/YPJ, and immediately begin an insurgency. That might be smarter than a doomed final stand, but who knows.

Your silence is the echo of the bombs—a solidarity demonstration in Milan, Italy.

Looking Forward

Personally, I want to see the Syrian civil war end, and for Iraq to somehow be spared another cycle of war in the near future. I want to see ISIS prevented from regenerating its root system and preparing for a new round of violence. That doesn’t mean intensifying the ways that this part of the world is policed—it means fostering local solutions to the question of how different people and populations can coexist, and how they can defend themselves from groups like Daesh. This is part of what people have been trying to do in Rojava, and that is one of the reasons that Trump and Erdoğan find the experiment here so threatening. In the end, the existence of groups like ISIS makes their authority look preferable by comparison, whereas participatory horizontal multi-ethnic projects show just how oppressive their model is.

Overthrowing Assad by military means is a dead project—or, at least, the things that would have to happen to make it plausible again in the near future are even more horrifying than the regime is. I hope that somehow, someday, there can be some kind of settlement between the regime and YPG/YPJ, and the regime and the rebels in Idlib, and everyone else who has been suffering here. If capitalism and state tyranny are the problem, this kind of civil war is not the solution, although it seems likely that what has happened in Syria will happen elsewhere in the world as the crises generated by capitalism, state power, and ethnic conflicts put people at odds.

What can you do, reading this in some safer and stabler part of the world?

First, you can spread the word that Trump’s decision is neither a way to bring peace to Syria nor confirmation that ISIS has been defeated. You can tell other people what I have told you about how the situation looks from here, in case I am not able to do so myself.

Second, in the event of a Turkish invasion, you can use every means in your power to discredit and impede the Turkish state, Trump, and the others who paved the way for that outcome. Even if you are not able to stop them—even if you can’t save our lives—you will be part of building the kind of social movements and collective capacity that will be necessary to save others’ lives in the future.

In addition, you can look for ways to get resources to people in this part of the world, who have suffered so much and will continue to suffer as the next act of this tragedy plays out. You can also look for ways to support the Syrian refugees who are scattered across the globe.

Finally, you can think about how we could put better options on the table next time an uprising like the one in Syria breaks out. How can we make sure that governments fall before their reign gives way to the reign of pure force, in which only insurgents backed by other states can gain control? How can we offer other visions of how people can live and meet their needs together, and mobilize the force it will take to implement and defend them on an international basis without need of any state?

These are big questions, but I have faith in you. I have to.

Revolt in Chile

Rebellion against the precariatization of life.

Just a few days behind on this one, but it is time for me to start posting again, highlighting the various uprisings against capitalism and the state across the globe. Here is a call for solidarity from a group of Chilean anarchists posted at the CrimethInc. website.

Call for Solidarity from Chile

The Revolt Is Growing Despite Brutal State Repression: This Monday, October 21, We Move on to the General Strike for Everything

One week ago, when the subway fare in Santiago reached the stratospheric price of 830 Chilean pesos (USD 1.20), the unbridled student youth proletariat—which has the virtue of denying this world in practice, refusing any kind of dialogue with power—launched an offensive calling for the “mass fare-dodging,” self-organizing a gigantic movement of disobedience that instantly earned a tremendous backing among our class, since this means of public transport is used by at least 3 million people daily. The State responded by sending hundreds of riot police to protect the stations, provoking severe confrontations in the subway system, which left hundreds of people wounded and detained.

On Friday, October 18, the rupture occurred: during a new day of protests against the fare hike, Santiago’s subway lines began to close completely, one by one, starting at 3 pm. This caused an unprecedented collapse in the metropolitan urban transport system. That day, the spark was ignited and the proletarian class demonstrated its power, as thousands of people threw took to the streets, overwhelming the repressive forces and staging major riots in downtown Santiago that surpassed any forecast. The corporate building of ENEL (an electrical company operating in Chile) burned in flames and several subway stations suffered the same fate. The Capitalist State showed its true face to the population, decreeing a “state of emergency”, which meant that the military was brought out for the first time since the end of the Dictatorship as a result of a social conflict. From that night on, nothing will ever be the same.

On noon Saturday, a call to meet at Plaza Italia, in downtown Santiago, quickly led to a general revolt with insurrectional features that reached every corner of the city, despite the strong military presence on the streets. And literally, the uprising moved on to all of the cities in the Chilean region. Like an oil stain, it began to spread with cacerolazos (pot-banging), barricades, attacks on government buildings, sabotage of infrastructure strategic to the circulation of capital (toll plazas and fare meters on highways, 80 subway stations partially destroyed and 11 totally reduced to ashes, dozens of buses burned, etc.), 130 bank branches damaged, 250 ATMs destroyed, some attacks on police stations and a military facility in Iquique, and what has most irritated the ruling class: the looting of supermarket chains and large malls.

In this scenario, which for us has been a party, in which the proletariat is self-organizing and facing its conditions of extreme precariousness, the “state of emergency” has been extended to approximately a dozen cities that have joined the fight, which have also faced a relentless “curfew” controlled at gunpoint by the military and police vermin that currently stand at 10,500 troops who have the green light to shoot to kill.

Looting and the Immediate Satisfaction of Human Needs

The sacrosanct status of private property was radically questioned by tens of thousands of proletarians who supplied themselves with everything they could at most supermarkets and large stores, which have been thoroughly plundered, and in many cases burned, as a terrified bourgeoisie looks on and constantly calls on its representatives to crush without reservation what they call “a small group of violent elements and vandals.” However, the reality is far from this, since, although they deny it continuously, this is not the action of a minority, but a massive phenomenon that has been expressing itself with irrepressible force.

Those of us who have been stripped of everything and survive as we can, indebted, without being able to make ends meet, have affirmed in practice that we have no reason to pay to access what we need to meet our needs. The reproduction of the commercialized daily survival in this way of life imposed upon us is, at all times, subordinated to the accumulation of capital by the bourgeoisie, at the expense of wage laborers and the life of misery that we must endure day in and day out. We have done nothing more than expropriate what belongs to us and what has robbed us our entire lives, and this they cannot bear. In short, widespread revolt means claiming ourselves as human beings and denying ourselves as merchandise.

The Press: Spokespersons for Capital and Defenders of Merchandise

The press has played a crucial role in the defense of “common sense” and channeling what is called “public opinion,” that is, the dominant logic of the capitalist system, according to which material things and the production of goods matter more than human lives, emphasizing time and again the defense of “public order,” “individual rights,”, “private property,” and “social peace” to justify the massacre being promoted by the capitalists and the most reactionary sectors of society.

Through the misrepresentation and/or concealment of information, the spreading of lies and false stories, the criminalization of social subversion, the entire press has shown itself to be an accomplice to State terrorism: they must assume the consequences for all this. Some examples of this include the following:

  • Hiding the number and cases of assassinations by the repressive forces, and not reporting repeated allegations of “excessive use of force in arrests, child abuse, mistreatment, blows to faces and thighs, torture, undressing of women and men and sexual abuse,” as indicated by the National Institute of Human Rights (NHRI).
  • Communicating that there has been looting of “farmer’s markets” in some municipalities such as La Pintana, Puente Alto, among others, which is totally false. People have reported on social and alternative media that these have been plainclothes police who have tried to provoke infighting within our class.
  • Promoting fear among the population by emphasizing that looting will also affect private homes and small businesses, when there have been just a few completely isolated events of this, which our class must firmly reject.
  • Differentiating between “citizens” and “criminals,” between “peaceful” and “violent” protesters, betting on the division and isolation of the most radicalized elements that are part of the movement and that are trying to promote an anti-capitalist orientation in the development of the revolt.
  • Remaining in complicit silence regarding the water supply cuts that have directly affected several municipalities in the southern sector of Santiago, which are “suspiciously” also the places where the combat against the state and capital have developed in the most direct manner against their institutions and where authority is most flatly despised.

The Government Recognizes 8 Dead, but We Know There Are Many More

As President Piñera declares that “we are at war against a powerful enemy that respects nothing and nobody,” the despicable Andres Chadwick, Minister of the Interior, made a brief statement on television claiming that 7 people had “died”—and not been killed at the hands of the state—without offering any further details. We who have been present in the struggle and coordinating with comrades in different parts of the country know that the number of the dead is much larger. Videos and photographs have been shared on social media and counter-information websites, which are being systematically removed from the internet, showing people killed by soldiers and cops in various places where they are resisting. At least by our count—which we are still unable to confirm due to the deliberate campaign of concealment and misinformation of the capitalist state—this figure is 16 people: 1 person in Quinta Normal, 2 in San Bernardo, 5 in Renca and 2 in La Pintana, who died as a result of fires during the looting, 1 person killed in Lampa after being deliberately run over by the police, 1 by military bullets in Colina, 3 in La Serena, and 1 in Pedro Aguirre Cerda who died as a result of police repression. We know that this partial assessment might grow even further, since as we are quickly writing this text, severe confrontations continue under the curfew with the military, cops, and undercover police in several places within the Chilean region.

The General Strike on Monday, October 21—and Some Perspectives

Tomorrow, Monday, October 21, a diverse grouping of mass organizations have called for a general strike, the first one that may be highly effective, directly affecting production, due to the collapse of the transportation system, at least in the city of Santiago. The state is doing everything possible to ensure that “people go to work”: they have partially enabled Line 1 of the subway system, they are trying to reinforce the bus service, and they have called on the population to show “solidarity” by helping their neighborhoods reach their jobs. The capitalist class is only interested in producing for themselves; we are only useful to them for producing and moving their merchandise and increasing their accumulation of capital. For this reason, we are calling on people to not go to work and to actively participate in the strike, as the subway workers’ union has, due to the “police and military repression.” In addition, we believe it is important to spread the following perspectives:

  • Do not fall into the dynamic of fighting among ourselves over food, water, and the satisfaction of our needs: that is the state’s game, to divide and conquer. To solve our problems, we must organize ourselves in our communities, there is no other solution.
  • Do not allow the political parties and social democracy to present themselves as our “representatives,” to appropriate the struggle and sit down to negotiate with the state to extinguish the fire of the revolt, attempting to steer the resolution of the conflict towards cosmetic, superficial reforms that do not aim to eradicate the root of the problems that afflict our class.
  • Occupy all educational facilities and turn them into places of resistance, debate, meeting, and self-organization, places to gather food and medicine, and spaces to assist our wounded.
  • Organize grassroots assemblies in the territories where the struggle is developing, in order to collectively decide the direction of the ongoing revolt.
  • Demand the freedom of the nearly 1,700 detainees who are being prosecuted for their participation in the revolt.

TOWARDS THE GENERAL STRIKE FOR EVERYTHING!
LET’S MOVE TOWARDS LIFE!

-Some communist/anarchist proletarians participating in the revolt

Chilean punks for Rojava

George Barrett: Direct Action v. Parliamentarianism

Freedom Press in England has recently published a collection of essays on anarchism by George Barrett (1888-1917), Our Masters Are Helpless, edited by Iain McKay. Barrett wrote for the London based anarchist paper, Freedom, and published his own paper, The Anarchist, and several pamphlets on anarchism. Two of his best known pamphlets were the posthumously published Objections to Anarchism (Freedom Press, 1921) and The Anarchist Revolution (Freedom Press, 1920). Here I reproduce his answer from Objections to Anarchism about why Parliament cannot be used to achieve a social revolution, and the section on direct action from The Anarchist Revolution, in which Barrett sets forth the anarchist alternative to parliamentary (or electoral) methods. Both topics retain their relevance today, particularly with respect to the current political debacle in Britain regarding its exit from the European Union and Boris Johnson’s attempts to usurp the British Parliament.

Objections to Anarchism No. 2

The House of Commons and the Law have been used by the present dominant class to gain their ends; why cannot they be used by us to gain ours?

This question is based upon an extraordinary misunderstanding. It seems to be taken for granted that Capitalism and the workers’ movement both have the same end in view. If this were so, they might perhaps use the same means; but as the capitalist is out to perfect his system of exploitation and government, whilst the worker is out for emancipation and liberty, naturally the same means cannot be employed for both purposes. This surely answers the question sufficiently so far as it is a definite question. In so far, however, as it contains the vague suggestion that government is the agent of reform, progress, and revolution, it touches the very point upon which Anarchists differ from all political parties. It is worthwhile, then, to examine the suggestion a little more closely.

It is thought by the enthusiastic politicians that once they can capture government, then from their position of power they would be able very quickly to mould society into the desired shape. Pass ideal laws, they think, and the ideal society would be the result. How simple, is it not? We should thus get the Revolution on the terms promised us by the wonderful Blatchford — “without bloodshed, and without losing a day’s work,” But, alas! the short cut to the Golden Age is an illusion. In the first place, any form of society shaped by law is not ideal. In the second place, law cannot shape society; indeed, rather the reverse is true. It is this second point which is all-important.

Those who understand the forces behind progress will see the law limping along in the rear, and never succeeding in keeping up with the progress made by the people; always, in fact, resisting any advance, always trying to start reaction, but in the long run always having to give way and allow more and more liberty. Even the champions of government recognise this when they want to make a drastic change, and then they throw aside the pretence of the law and turn to revolutionary methods.

The present ruling class, who are supposed to be a living proof that the Government can do anything, are in themselves quite candid in the admission that it can do very little. Whoever will study their rise to power will find that to get there they preach in theory, and establish in fact, the principle of resistance to the law. Indeed, curious as it may seem, it is a fact that immediately after the Revolution it was declared seditious to preach against resistance to law, just as today it is seditious to speak in favour of it.

To sum up, then, if there was any logic in the question, which there is not, we might restate it thus: “Since the present dominant class were unable to gain their ends by use of the House of Commons and the Law, why should we hope to gain ours by them?”

Direct Action

To make it quite clear what is meant by the expression Direct Action, let us take an illustration. Not very many years ago, if there was a great national calamity, such as an outbreak of plague, the religious people used to declare that the only remedy was for us as a nation to pray that God might remove his curse. These good people were very much shocked when scientists came along and began taking merely sanitary precautions to stamp out the disease. The first was the indirect method: prayers were sent up to heaven so that God might send down his good influence on the plague. This was a very indirect route to reach a disease which was, so to speak, next door. The scientist attended to the disease itself, studied its nature, and tried to find a means of stamping it out. This was direct action.

To-day in very much the same way the people are divided with two methods. In their factories and homes they find themselves discontented, and some of them propose to influence the chief of society — the Parliament — so that it will exercise its power to put things right. These in their turn are shocked when advanced thinkers come along and declare that the way to get a remedy is to study the nature of the trouble and apply the cure directly to it. The former believe in the indirect or legislative method, for it is a long way from home to Westminster and back home again. The latter are the direct actionists, and they recognise that if anyone is going to put the factories in order, it will be the workers who spend their lives in them, and not the politicians.

Imagine the utter absurdity of a group of politicians sitting in the House of Commons earnestly discussing the welfare of the people. While they are doing so, are there not countless bakers, builders, and tailors walking about the streets, unemployed, and cut off, by the laws which these same politicians have passed, from the means of production, machinery, and tools with which they might produce what they need. To break down the laws and allow these people to produce what is necessary for their welfare, on equal terms with the other workers, is the way to abolish poverty.

It is clear that, if we are to rid ourselves of the troubles that best us at present, we must organise an entirely new system of wealth distribution. I do not mean by this that we must divide up, but I mean that the wealth which is produced must be stopped from flowing to the rich man who produces nothing; the stream must be diverted so that it will come to the producer.

But who is it that distributes the wealth? Is it the politician? Certainly not; as a matter of fact, it is the transport workers. If, then, the workers who produce want an alteration in the present distribution, to whom must they apply? To their comrades, the transport workers, and not to the politicians, who have nothing to do with the matter. Similarly when better conditions are needed in the factories — larger sheds, better floors, and more efficient lighting and ventilation — who are the only people capable of doing this? It is the workers who need these reforms, and the workers who can carry them out. The task before the worker to-day is as it has been in the past: the slave class must rid itself of the dictating class — i.e., of those in authority.

Such is the simple logic of the Direct Actionist, and it is already clear how it necessarily leads to the Anarchist Revolution. We must, however, be careful how we follow this principle — not that we fear being taken too far, but lest it does not take us far enough. The expression has been used so much in contradistinction to legislation, that any one who throws a brick through a window is generally supposed to be a Direct Actionist. He may be and he may not.

To be logical and true to the real meaning of the term, every act should, of course, be on the direct road towards the desired end — in our case, the Social Revolution. Sometimes it is difficult to be entirely consistent, but it is nevertheless of the utmost importance that there should be at least a minority of the workers who understand what is the direct road, so that every skirmish may be made by them a step towards the final overthrow of Capitalism.

At the risk of repeating myself, then, let me try to state the position very clearly. We have two classes — the governing, ruling, and possessing people on the one hand, and those governed and without property on the other; in a word, a master class and a slave class.

When this slave class becomes discontented and restive, it has several courses to consider before deciding which will give better conditions. It may be argued:

  1. That since the present masters do not give enough of the good things of life, these must be turned out and a new set selected from among the slave class; or
  2. That since the slave class is composed of the producers, and the master class is, therefore, dependent on it, the former is clearly in a position to force the masters to give them more food and everything that may be desired; or
  3. That since the slave class is the producer of all that is necessary for life, there is no need to either ask or demand anything from the master class. The slave class need simply to cut off supplies to the masters and start feeding themselves.

The first of these arguments, it will be seen, is that of the politicians; and it may be dismissed without further comment, since, as will be understood after what has been already said, it obviously misses the point. It is not a question of who shall be master, but it is a matter of the essential relationship between master and slave, quite irrespective of who either of them may be.

The second argument is that of the non-Parliamentary but non-Revolutionary Trade Unionist. It is right in that it recognises where lies the true power of the workers in their fight against the capitalists, but it is wrong in that it proposes no change in the relationship between these two.

If the slave class is to be better housed, fed, and clothed from the masters’ store, it means that the slaves will become more and more completely owned by the masters. It is not revolutionary, because it proposes to retain master and slave, and merely attempts to better the conditions of the latter.

The third argument is, of course, that of the revolutionist. It agrees with the second as to the weapon to be used, but it says that the task before the workers is to feed, house, clothe, and educate themselves, and not to spend their energies in making better masters of the capitalists.

To cut off supplies to the capitalist and to retain what is produced for the workers are the main points of the revolutionary fight.

In every industrial dispute there are really two, and only two, essentials. On the one hand are the factories, warehouses, railways, mines, etc., which may be termed industrial property; on the other, the workers. To unite these two is to accomplish the revolution; for with them will be built the new society.

The capitalist and master class in general can hold their position only so long as they can keep the workers outside the warehouses and factories, for within are the means of life, and the common people must be allowed to use these only on the strict understanding that they make profit and submit to the conditions dictated. To come out on strike, then, is merely rebellion, and is essentially not the revolution, however thoroughly it is done; to stay in and work in the condition of equality, free from the dictates of a useless master class, is the real object of the revolutionist.

Direct action, therefore, in this strictly revolutionary sense would mean the taking possession of the means of production and the necessities of life by the workers who have produced them, and the reorganisation of industry according to the principles of freedom.

The doctrine of Direct Action does not boast of bringing the workers easy salvation. It is, indeed, a recognition of the terribly simple fact that nothing can save us except our own intelligence and power. We, the workers, are the creative force, for is it not we who have produced all the food, clothing, and houses? Assuredly it is we who need them. What, then, has the politician to do with this? Nothing, absolutely nothing! What use is it to hand over to the master class all that we produce, and then keep up a continuous quarrel as to how much we shall be allowed back? Instead of this we have to stop supplies, reorganise our industries, not from above but from their source below, and see that in future all that is produced goes to the producer and not to the dominant class. This is the meaning of direct action, and it is Anarchism.

But, alas! it is easier to accomplish a revolution on paper with cold logic than it is to bring it about in industrial life. We have to fight the lack of understanding on the part of the worker and the craft of the politician ever at work to increase this; and in addition we have the certainty that the class in power will attempt to resist the change, with the only argument that remains on their side — brute force. While, therefore, it is important to understand that direct action properly applied means the actual “conquest of bread” and the taking possession of the factories, we must be content probably for some little while longer to use our weapon of direct action simply according to the second of the three arguments given above — that is, to demand better conditions from the capitalist class.

It is not, however, too much to hope that in the very near future the Anarchists will form a militant section of the workers, which will give to every great industrial rebellion the revolutionary character which is its true meaning. Worker as well as capitalist is beginning to recognise that a well-planned scheme for feeding the strikers is more than possible. Such a scheme would entail the capturing of the bakeries, and this is surely the first step of the revolution.

Beside this real problem, simple but great, how hollow and grotesque are the promises of the politicians. How absurd the idea of gaining liberty through the ballot-box. These hopeless government men, who talk with such sublime imbecility of feeding, housing, and clothing, only add insult to injury. The House they stand in to make their senseless speeches was built and furnished by the workers, and it is the workers who house and feed them.

And beyond our own doubt and hesitation, what, after all, stands in our way? Let us gain inspiration from the hopeless position of our foes. How helpless they are! Is not the policeman’s baton shaped by the worker, and his absurd uniform stitched by underpaid women? The soldier’s rifle is certainly not made by the master class — in every particular they are hopelessly our dependents. Every instrument of oppression is supplied to them by us, and we keep them alive by feeding them day by day. Surely, then, it is apparent that this change must come. Those above are powerless for good, or for evil; the revolution can be brought only by an upheaval from below — from the one vital section of society, the workers.

George Barrett