Anarchaeology – The Black Trowel Collective

I recently came across this manifesto from a group of anarchist archaeologists, the Black Trowel Collective. It appears at one point they had a website but the link is currently not working. With neo-liberal apologists for state power like Steven Pinker continuing to garner unwarranted media attention with they inaccurate and biased views of life in non-hierarchical anarchistic societies, it is good to see that there is a growing community of archaeologists and anthropologists who are debunking the potted histories of the contemporary successors to Thomas Hobbes, who argued that without coercive political power and authority to maintain order, life would be nasty, solitary, brutish and short, a view that anarchists have been critiquing since the times of Elisée Reclus and Kropotkin, particularly in the latter’s Mutual Aid. I included excerpts from Kropotkin and Reclus’ works on this topic in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. In Volume Two, I included excerpts from Pierre Clastres’ now classic work, Society Against the State, and in Volume Three I included material from David Graeber and Harold Barclay on the origins of the state and non-coercive alternatives. This article was originally published as part of the Decolonizing Anthropology series.

Foundations of an Anarchist Archaeology: A Community Manifesto

By The Black Trowel Collective

An anarchist archaeology embraces considerations of social inequity as a critique of authoritarian forms of power and as a rubric for enabling egalitarian and equitable relationships.

The term anarchism derives from an– (without) + arkhos (ruler), but a better and more active translation of it is perhaps ‘against domination.’ An anarchist archaeology insists on an archaeology that is committed to dismantling single hierarchical models of the past, and in that sense, its core incorporates tenets of a decolonized, indigenous, and feminist archaeology, contesting hegemonic narratives of the past. It is a theory explicitly about human relationships operating without recourse to coercive forms like authoritarianism, hierarchy, or exploitation of other humans. Some anarchists extend this argument further to non-human relationships with objects, other species, and the environment.

In keeping with these principles, there is no orthodox, overarching, uniform version of anarchism. There are multiple approaches to anarchist theory and practice tied together by common threads, and it is these commonalities that inform our anarchist archaeology. Here we outline principles for an anarchist archaeology that can be applied towards studies of the past, toward archaeologically informed examinations of contemporary societies, and to archaeological practices, including professional ethics. We offer this as both a manifesto and as a living document open to constant contextual review and revision.

Critiquing Power. We recognize that there are many ways to evaluate and interpret topics like value, domination, coercion, authority, and power. Anarchists, and thus anarchist archaeologists, have long recognized that organizational complexity is not produced simply from elite control, but also forms through heterarchies and networked collaborations. Many anarchist archaeologists strive to uncover lost periods of resistance to domination and exploitation of people by a few elites, which can be termed vertical power, or power of some over others. Thus, an anarchist archaeology seeks to examine forms of horizontal power, the power of people working to coordinate consensus, often in opposition or parallel to emerging or extant forms of vertical power.

Recognizing the Arts of Resistance. Anarchist archaeologists recognize that periods of change, as well as periods where change does not seem to be present, do not require connotative evaluations of either good or bad. An anarchist archaeology does not give preferential treatment to any particular arrangement of ‘civilization.’ In practice and in popular culture, periods of heightened inequity are often seen as periods of cultural fluorescence or ‘climax.’ Terms such as ‘collapse,’ ‘decline,’ or ‘dissolution’ are often applied by archaeologists and others to describe periods in time in which hierarchies end. Language about cultural ‘climax’ and ‘decline’ retains Victorian notions of progress, identified with the state, as opposed to a more active notion of societies against the state. Alternative perspectives reveal the complex and sometimes conflicted struggles of humanity against entrenched exertions of power in hierarchical societies. Many of the so-called ‘collapses’ of the past were periods of greater assertions of local autonomy in the face of hegemonic centralizations of power. Such times are often the product of unrecognized acts of revolt, resistance, and resurgences of alternative ways of life. Thus, these periods can be successes for the majority of people in terms of increasing self-determination and independence. Anarchist archaeologists are committed to theorizing and identifying the material manifestation of such cultural transformations.

Embracing Everyday Anarchy. To understand histories of human resistance, resilience, and maintenance of equity or heterarchy, an anarchist archaeology must also be an archaeology of everyday life, not just elites and monuments. We acknowledge that people operate outside structures of power, even when entangled in strong power structures. Contextualizing a quotidian anarchy allows an interrogation of when different sources of power are in operation and when they are silent/silenced or unused. This is where an anarchist archaeology can build upon an existing strength of the discipline, as archaeologies of non-elites and of resistance movements are already prominent fields of knowledge. The interests of an anarchist archaeology lie in the building of coalitions and consensus, so contexts where we can find alignments with people in the field of archaeology and outside are critical to the development of the movement. The archaeology of everyday anarchy is also a good reminder of the ways we can integrate anarchist practices into our own present, with an eye towards the future. One does not have to self-identify as an anarchist to embrace and contribute to everyday anarchy. Simple, self-confessional acts in the classroom, test pit, and elsewhere provide myriad opportunities to deconstruct hierarchies of power that perpetuate harmful stereotypes in the past, present, and future.

Visioning Futures. An anarchist archaeology perceives that vanguardism (i.e., a traditional Marxist revolutionary strategy that attempts to design cultural change with the hope of a pre-determined outcome) often represents an extension of present power structures, either intentionally or otherwise, and rarely succeeds in the long term. Instead, anarchist archaeologists examine material culture across time using prefigurative practices as decolonized visioning. This means that they examine the material record and their discipline with the recognition that people who act within the present in ways that create change towards a desired future, are more likely to implement broadly beneficial change (anarchists call this “making a new society in the shell of the old one”). This practice of visioning the future in the present moment aligns an anarchist archaeology with the commitments of a contemporary archaeology, even if the material under investigation is one of the deep past. An anarchist archaeology recognizes that the past can only be investigated within a deep present rife with conflicts, conversations, and politics. This does not repudiate perspectives of archaeology as a science. Instead, it recognizes how culture interacts with and informs scientific analysis. The shedding of hierarchy from scientific practice opens its predictive potential beyond the traditional realm of archaeology (i.e., the past) towards future places.

Seeking Non-Authoritarian Forms of Organization. An anarchist archaeology attempts to reimagine, redistribute, and decolonize processes and positions of authority within communities, the academy and discipline, and its many publics, while doing research, facilitating student learning, and engaging in heritage management. These reconfigurations, though, can only happen in an inclusive environment, and one imbued with recognition of the perils of layering present perspectives uncritically upon the past. This means that an anarchist archaeology is also an archaeology that is committed to community, encompassing multiple voices, and a deep critical engagement with research. Anarchist archaeologists seek alternatives to the traditional hierarchical modes of knowledge production and management of past places and time, in favor of egalitarian ways of bringing people together to learn, to protect places, and to understand the relevance of the past for the present.

Recognizing the Heterogeneity of Identities. Anarchist archaeologists understand that people live in many different social spaces. More importantly, they encourage people, including archaeologists, to live in and explore many different positions, worlds, and identities. An anarchist archaeology is necessarily intersectional. It understands that people are not products of one simple form of identity (i.e., not essentialist), nor even one very complex form of identity, but they are created, and continually recreated, by the constant intersection, erasure, and addition of these many different aspects of themselves. In fact, it is this very act of recognizing each other’s multivalent identities/positions/standpoints that offers a powerful method for building equity between individuals, groups, cultures, and other cultural constructs.

Exposing Multiple Scales from the Bottom Up. An anarchist archaeology works at many different scales. This means that it works at global, regional, community, and personal levels. Most importantly, an anarchist archaeology recognizes both the roles of assemblages as encompassing individual people, places, materials, and animals, as well as larger collections of those social influences. It is cognizant of the agency of social participants to author how and where they are situated within the scales of the social environment. This contextual, feminist, decolonized, and non-human/humanism integrates with anarchist archaeologies, anchoring it to place. This means that research, interpretation, and advocacy often focus on individuals or localities, and then expand to encompass a more global scale. The grassroots scale of people and lived places provide the critical building blocks for a re-imagining of higher systemic-level changes. This is the space where the scales of archaeological analysis—from the sherd, to the place where it was found, to the regional context—help us to build connections between many scales of order that allow us give voice to the past and present.

Recognizing Agency in Change and Stability. An anarchist archaeology is agentive. Anarchist archaeologists understand that if placed in equitable systems, all humans/nonhumans have the ability and capacity to enact change. Most archaeologists recognize that the power of our discipline derives from its understanding of human capacity for shaping the environment, the material world, and spiritual realms through action. Combined, these agents allow archaeologists to add people, instead of only objects, back into the past (and the present). Recognizing that all people are important means that an anarchist archaeology is an archaeology of social relations that uses how people interact to understand the archaeological record. An anarchist archaeology focuses especially on those people who are least likely to have contributed to dominant narratives from the past.

Valuing the Heritage of State and Non-State Societies. An anarchist archaeology contests conservation and preservation of heritage by questioning why and how some sites and regions are chosen to be protected while others are not. Anarchist archaeologists understand that preserving sites and communities that only represent states, or what are usually perceived as the precursors for states (i.e. vertical hierarchies with elites) means that we create a past that sees state and state-like societies as models of success. Societies that are not states, often intentionally preventing the emergence of hierarchy as they evolve, become implicit examples of failure. An anarchist archaeology is asking that we start to change our understanding of what success looks like, and that this theoretical shift is accompanied by action in how we understand whose heritage is deemed significant. This is where an anarchist archaeology can powerfully parallel and support an indigenous archaeology. These biased decisions on what heritage is valued also decrease our historical imagination. Removing or limiting the archaeological, historical, and cultural presence of horizontally organized societies through preservation decisions can have dramatic impacts on the ability of future societies to envisage and enact alternatives to present hierarchies.

No Paradigms––A Multitude of Views and Voices. Anarchist archaeology acknowledges that a multiplicity of viewpoints exist, and rejects the false dichotomy that all who promote these ideas must self-identify as an anarchist or archaeologist. Labels limit people’s ability to find utility in anarchist theory. For instance, people do not need to call themselves anarchists to promote anarchist ideas and ideals in the same way that people do not need to call themselves archaeologists to promote the use of material culture as a social science and a historical method. This standpoint allows us to be theoretically promiscuous and claim that it is scientifically fruitful to consider alternate theories and methods from the normal paradigm, thus engaging in epistemological anarchism.

A Heterarchy of Authorities. As anarchist archaeologists, we do not recognize ourselves as one community. Instead, we recognize ourselves belonging to, and claiming, many connected communities. We support the idea that decentralizing our knowledge and authority does not deny any expertise we may have. We recognize that while we have the skills of our craft and expertise concerning material culture and knowledge about the past, it is an expertise that derives from a certain perspective that is without sole authority. Our knowledge should be open and our expertise should be available so that we do not create a situation in which archaeologists (or historians) alone obtain authority over the past, especially as concerns the heritage of descendant peoples. Further, we recognize that many kinds of expertise exist outside of our discipline, and indeed outside of the realm of ‘academic’ knowledge. An anarchist archaeology is about respecting the many kinds of experts that can speak to the past and the present.

Decentering the Human––Recognizing Relationships with Non-Human Entities. An anarchist archaeology understands and encourages us to examine how non-human agents may create social change. Thus, place, space, the environment, material objects, and the supernatural can all be agents of change. Moreover, the patterns of human behavior may be structured by their relationships with non-human entities, as geontologies, whether it is perceived agents within the landscape, climate, plants, animals, or spirits. We acknowledge that since people in past cultures often saw themselves as equal to or lesser than non-human entities, decentering the human may help us understand how past peoples arranged themselves. Such a stance also helps us to reimagine our own subject positions in relation to the environment, to places, to plants, animals, and spirits.

An Archaeology of Action. Anarchist archaeologists recognize that even though our research can often tackle incredibly difficult and sensitive topics, that archaeological research should be pleasant and joyful. Simultaneously, archaeology should be conducted and reported with respect. While our subject matter can be fraught with violence, we look at finding ways to study these topics that are not themselves violent. Following the many successful acts of resistance that use humor to contest violence, such as marchers protesting injustice armed with puppets, we also think that presentations of difficult topics can be broken up with artistic, poetic, or revolutionary interventions. But most of all, we see an anarchist archaeology as a call to action, and we invite those who are interested to join us. Do research. Write an essay. Compose an epic poem. Contribute song lyrics. Offer a painting or photograph. Do something big, or do something small. Do something different. Write a classic. Do what feels right. Do it for archaeology’s potential to help us build a better world. Make it grand. Make it humble. Make it brilliant.

*          *          *

Simply, we offer an anarchist archaeology as an alternate way to think about the past and to consider our methods and practices in the present. An anarchist approach reminds us to consider relations of power and to question whether those relationships are authoritarian or coercive, whether in past societies we study, among archaeologists as teams in practice, among archaeologists and descendant communities concerning heritage, or in the relationships between archaeology and contemporary nation-states. The vast bulk of societies in the past were anarchic societies, organizing their lives without centralized authorities. This is one primary reason that an anarchist archaeology can be of use for understanding the principles and dynamics of societies without government. Moreover, sustained critique of power can help us better recognize the forms of resistance within centralized societies. Finally, anarchist principles can help us better attain more egalitarian and democratic practices among archaeologists and others with interests in the past. This approach can also engage archaeology to invigorate the historical imagination and present alternatives to contemporary top-down oriented political and economic structures of authority. In short, an anarchist archaeology can help us to expand the realm of the possible, both in relation to our interpretations of the traces of past lives, and in terms of our understandings of what is possible in the future.

The Black Trowel Collective: We come to anarchism and archaeology from many backgrounds, and for varied reasons. Most of this document comes from a conversation started at the Amerind Foundation in April 2016 (made possible by a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation), where we began to put the ‘sherds’ of an anarchist archaeology into a coherent framework. Since then, many of us have continued to work together on this and other projects relating to anarchist archaeology, and our circle has widened as the project evolves.

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

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

ifvoting700iv5

Golden Dawn and the Fascist Counter-Revolution in Greece

Pavlos Fyssas

Pavlos Fyssas

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

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

Greek Police Attacking Anti-Fascists

Greek Police Attacking Anti-Fascists

Turning a Blind Eye to Fascist Violence

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

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

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

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

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

However now it is too late.

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

Leonidas Oikonomakis, September 2013

Memorial to Pavlos at his murder site

Memorial to Pavlos at his murder site

National Strike in Colombia

National Strike in Colombia

National Strike in Colombia

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

Colombia3

On the National Strike and Wave of Popular Disobedience in Colombia

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

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

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

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

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

Anarchism and Social Organization

Anarchism and Social Organization

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

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

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

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

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

Anarchism and Class Struggle in Colombia

Anarchism and Class Struggle in Colombia

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

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

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

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

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

Workers' Struggles Have No Frontiers

Workers’ Struggles Have No Frontiers

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

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

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

Grupo Libertario Vía Libre, Bogotá

Anarchism and Revolution in Colombia

Anarchism and Revolution in Colombia

Solidarity with the Gaucho Anarchist Federation and the People of Brazil

brazil free

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

Brazilian Protests Continue

Brazilian Protests Continue

Solidarity Against the Persecution of the Federação Anarquista Gaúcha in Brazil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brazilian Movements Against Neo-Liberalism

Protest & Revolt in Brazil

Protest & Revolt in Brazil

Here I reproduce two recent pieces on the protests in Brazil. The first piece is by Peter Storms, from ROARMAG.org. The second is by an active participant, part of a movement for free transportation that goes back to 2005. The Brazilian anarchist movement has deep roots. For Neno Vasco’s 1920 comments on anarcho-syndicalism and anarchist communism, click here. For contemporary Brazilian anarchist writings, click here.

In Brazil, a dual struggle against neoliberalism

In Brazil, students and the indigenous may be fighting different fights, but they are ultimately part of the same struggle against the neoliberal state. While the world has been watching Turkey, another country is experiencing revolt: Brazil. Just like Turkey, Brazil has recently experienced relative success in economic terms. But just as in Turkey, the spoils of this economic growth are divided extremely unequally. Just like in Turkey, a relatively small provocation has sparked a much more widespread chain reaction. Unlike in Turkey, that provocation is a direct attack on living standards. But the anger exploding as a result of it appears to run just as deep

Brazil has seen strong economic growth in the past decade, although this is slowing. In 2010, the economy grew 7.5 percent; for 2011, the official IMF estimate is 2.7 percent. This temporary slowdown is supposed to be followed by stronger growth in 2013, although, with IMF statistics, you can never tell. However, the parallel with Turkey — also a rapidly developing economy gradually moving into slowdown — is striking. Economies like Turkey and Brazil are becoming quite an important force in the world economy. What happens there matters to the rest of the world. Better watch out — and better be prepared to extend the hand of solidarity when it is needed.

Right now, what is happening in Brazil and Turkey is revolt. In Turkey it was the defence of Gezi park that provided the spark. In Brazil, it is transport fares that drive people to the streets in anger. On 2 June, authorities in the metropolis of Sao Paulo raised the price of a single fare from $1.40 USD to $1.50. This hike, moreover, is being made in a context of 15.5 percent inflation. And for thousands of Brazilians, it proved to be the proverbial last straw. From June 10 onwards, the city was rocked by four consecutive days of demonstrations and riots. On June 13, 5,000 people took to the streets and clashed violently with police.

According to the BBC, “the demonstrators were mostly university students, but the authorities said there were also groups of anarchists looking for a fight.” The idea that some students might be anarchists by conviction, and that some anarchists go to college because they like to learn, apparently does not occur to either “authorities” or the BBC. And the ones “looking for a fight” were above all the rabid police troops themselves, who used excessive amounts of teargas and rubber bullets against mostly unarmed demonstrators, some of whom did attack shops and set fire to tires. But that’s what desperate people do if you make their lives even harder by raising the prices of public amenities in a context of rapid inflation.

Overall, more than 50 people were left injured and the number of arrests exceeded 200. According to the BBC, “police say they seized petrol bombs, knives, and drugs.” Sure. And yes, “police acted with professionalism”, according to the state governor. Obviously. After all, repression is their profession.

All of this was reported on the BBC website on June 14. The next day, the Guardian had more. Demonstrations in Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and the capital Brasilia itself; 130 people detained; at least 100 demonstrators hurt; 12 police officers injured as well. At times, police attacked entirely non-violent crowds. At times, demonstrators displayed their anger by painting graffiti onto walls, smashing shop windows, setting garbage on fire, and so on.

Brazil protest V

According to police, they decided to attack because the protesters took a different route from the one agreed upon with authorities, and because they threw objects at police. The police charges themselves were ferocious, replete with rubber bullets, tear gas and truncheons. Even the mayor of Sao Paulo was forced to admit that police have not been following “protocol” and announced an official investigation.

Why the anger? Of course there’s the price hike for subway and bus tickets — but there is more. “It’s about a society that is sick of corrupt politicians not making good on their promises to make improvements…” said one 24-year-old protester. “We want decent education, healthcare and transportation. That’s what the fight is all about.” It is the same story all over again: while the state pushes for economic growth, inequality grows. People protest, the police attack, and the revolt deepens and broadens.

But there’s more going on in Brazil than protests against the rising price of transportation. There is revolt in the countryside as well. The fact remains that Brazil has built its neoliberal capitalist economy on the back of slavery, land robbery and downright genocide of its indigenous population. The struggle against colonialism and for indigenous liberation continues unabated. In this struggle, communities clash with all kinds of resource exploitation and infrastructural projects that form the building blocks of neoliberal development.

Indigenous Anti-Dam Protesters

Indigenous Anti-Dam Protesters

In recent years, numerous actions have taken place against a giant dam project at Belo Monte. This project threatens to harm the lands and ecosystems on which indigenous communities depend in order to make a living. On May 28, there was an occupation of the building site — not the first of its kind. On June 6, meanwhile, there was yet another major protest rally in the capital of Brasilia.

In the meantime, a shrill light is shed on a colonial and genocidal past that, sadly enough, continues today. Recently, a previously unpublished report by the state institution responsible for indigenous relations surfaced detailing the state’s treatment of indigenous people, and containing a chilling series of horror stories — ranging from thirty villagers being attacked and killed from the air with dynamite, to the purposeful spreading of smallpox, a deadly disease, in order to get rid of people. The list goes on, exceeding 1,000 crimes specifically mentioned in a 7,000 page text.

The report was submitted in 1967, but “disappeared”, as did so many of the victims. Only this spring, it reappeared, a fate that was not granted to the victims themselves. In the meantime, the military dictatorship has gone, but the terror instigated by landowners and agricultural capitalists against indigenous people and landless peasants continues regardless. So, fortunately, does the resistance.

BRAZIL-PROTESTS INDIGENOUS

In Brazil, the indigenous people are confronting an enemy that is not just colonial but neoliberal. They are attacked and murdered because they are in the way of profitable export-oriented agriculture, and of the giant infrastructure needed to feed energy to Brazil’s rapidly developing industries. The same neoliberal monster that drives the prices of subway and bus tickets to unbearable heights is driving the indigenous people from their lands; marginalizing the poor in the favelas; and keeping millions of young people out of university and out of work — just as it prioritizes investment into useless World Cup stadiums over investment in much-needed schools and hospitals.

In this sense, demonstrating university students and occupying indigenous peoples may be fighting different fights, but they are ultimately part of the same struggle — the struggle of humanity against neoliberalism, and of the self-liberating people against an oppressive state apparatus built on racist and colonial foundations. Better keep an eye on how that dual struggle unfolds in the coming weeks, months and years.

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Report from a Brazilian Activist

After spending the last few days in São Paulo, I return to Florianópolis with all my thoughts taken up by the subject that has monopolized conversations in the city: the demonstrations of the Free Pass Movement [MPL]…
On the way home, I was seized by a whirlwind of memories that forced me to write… It was then that I began to remember the first meeting of the “Free [Transit] Pass São Paulo” that I participated in at the headquarters of the JOC (Working-Class Catholic Youth) in March 2005, even before that group formally joined the Free Pass Movement, which came about between June and July of that year, shortly before the 2nd ENMPL (National Meeting of the Free Pass Movement). I also remembered that tumultuous and fateful meeting in Campinas: after the “Public Transportation and Free Passes – the de-commodization of public transport” seminar, again in October of that year, when I first had contact with the guy who came to “change everything”, Lúcio Gregori, who introduced the idea of the Zero Tariff to us. Then came the National Week of the Fight for Free Passes at the end of the same month…

After that, it is impossible to list everything that followed: the fight against the increase in 2006, when for the first time the demonstrators exceeded the hundreds and we gathered thousands of people in the demonstrations that we called, and many, many more activities. I remember how hard it was to speak about Zero Fares at that time – we were simply labelled as crazy by everyone and it took a huge job of training, preparation and discussion, seminars, lectures, and a myriad of activities until the proposal began to be understood and minimally accepted by different sectors of society, including within even the left.

brazil action

In over eight years of the movement, be it in São Paulo or in Floripa, there were innumerable decisive moments which went to create what I am today, as well as all the great people and great friendships I made. There were many, many people who passed through the movement, the discussions, the controversies, tensions, crises… I know that I dedicated, along with many other comrades, hours and hours of work, meetings and activities to the movement. There were many who spent a considerable part of their “best years” of their youth in this movement, losing their hair, acquiring grey hairs and gaining a few extra kilos. And it was not always easy: on the contrary, the “low” moments may have exceeded those where the MPL was on the rise. There were many doubts, and those moments of disbelief where we would ask ourselves: “Is it really worth it?”

All these collective efforts in order to widen not only the organization but also the ideological aspect of the struggle, of convincing the population about the correctness of this agenda, I now see being added to the spontaneity of the thousands that are coming out onto the streets today – in São Paulo but also across Brazil and in many cities throughout the world. And from the merger between organization and spontaneity, we are witnessing this moment, rich in mobilization, in the development of practical direct action, in horizontality and autonomy, principles which are dear to the movement. The organization of the MPL is adding itself to the courage and strength of thousands of people, from all walks of life, who with all the violence and brutality of the State have faced repression, trial and all the manipulation of the mass media, and are continuing to rock São Paulo and threaten to stir up the whole country in a difficult process of analysis and foresight.

If you remained isolated, if each one of you were obliged to act on your own, you would be powerless without a doubt; but getting together and organizing your forces – no matter how weak they are at first – only for joint action, guided by common ideas and attitudes, and by working together for a common goal, you will become invincible.
Mikhail Bakunin

Bakunin

Bakunin

Thus we come to the present, the culmination of all our history, without doubt surprising all expectations. We have arrived at the centre stage of national politics, gaining unprecedented prominence and recognition.

I do not know what will become of it all – beyond being sure that the repeal of the increase will come about in São Paulo. One way or another I know that I, and many others besides me, today hold enormous pride in having contributed in some way to writing this story. With great conviction, even in the worst moments of doubt and distress, we carried the knowledge that we would never regret it all. A certainty based on a gamble, because when we fight nothing is ever guaranteed.

The only thing I keep thinking now is: it was worth it. We are writing History, friends, friends, comrades, comrades in struggle and class.

What will happen from now on cannot be predicted. But I have learned that everything we do today, however small it may seem, can have repercussions tomorrow. In the words of Errico Malatesta on voluntarism:

We believe … that the revolution is an act of will – the will of individuals and of the masses; that it needs for its success certain objective conditions, but that it does not happen of necessity, inevitably, through the single action of economic and political forces.

Brazil anarchism