From Oblivion to Political Responsibility: An Anarchist Sister Reviews DEAR SISTER: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence
By AK Press | May 18, 2016
Sara Rahnoma-Galindo from the Institute for Anarchist Studies has written an amazing review of Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence by Lisa Factora-Borchers. It appears in the new issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, an issue devoted to the topic of Anarcha-Feminisms and that is jammed with essays, manifestoes, reviews, personal reflections, and more.
You can get Perspectives here.
You can get Dear Sister here.
And you can get Sara’s powerful review below!
Radicals, including many anarchists, are involved in actively organizing against gender and sexual violence around the world. For example, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault in Egypt; Las Kallejeras in the shantytowns of Santiago, Chile; the Colectiva de Gafas Violetas in Mexico; and countless other local initiatives all confront perpetrators in workplaces and organizing work. Yet, the task of addressing sexual violence, even in anarchist circles, continues to be singled out as primarily the job of survivors and their most immediate circles, instead of as a collective political responsibility. As an issue that we are socialized to meet with silence and stigmatization, sexual violence is commonly underemphasized or obscured amongst both radicals and society at large. Take for instance, ignorance of the fact that one out of three women in the world will be raped at some point in their lives. Or that, in the US, ninety-one percent of reported rape survivors are women, the most vulnerable being queer and gender nonconforming youth and people with physical disabilities, and fifteen percent of children are survivors of rape and incest. It is critical that our politics be aware of and address this. We need to be more diligent and active in both understanding sexual violence and linking it to radical organizing.
Consider reading Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence (AK Press, 2014), an anthology containing fifty insightful pieces, written by survivors from all walks of life, as part of this process. The book features an introduction by African-American incest and rape survivor and filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons, and is edited by Philipina-American feminist author and survivor advocate Lisa Factora-Borchers. Known for having extensive involvement with survivors via coalition work, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education before piecing together Dear Sister, Lisa Factora-Borchers was first approached by Black feminist author Alexis Pauline Gumbs who asked her to write a letter of support to a friend who had just been raped. Not knowing the survivor’s situation, her name, or much else about her, Lisa Factora-Borchers nevertheless acknowledge the situation and communicated support. Hence the idea for the book was born.
Lisa Factora-Borchers repeats this act of letter writing in Dear Sister, but this time with the assistance of a wealth of direct experiences from dozens of survivors, sharing experiences that have pushed their survival forward. Taken together, these brave narratives, and in particular those from women of color, queer, physically disabled, and working class perspectives, are valuable in and of themselves because they are not readily available elsewhere. I encourage readers to review the biographies at the back of the book to learn more about these amazing survivors.
The book is thematically organized and presented as a collection of traditionally-styled letters, poetry, essays and interviews with the editor. The first section is entitled “What Every Survivor Needs to Know,” in which the authors remind readers of the importance of self-value while trying to understand the larger scheme of power disparities. Contributor ‘An Ally’ opens up with an affirmation, “yes…maybe the whole world is broken…but there is something that is not broken. You can find it” (29). Shanna Katz speaks about survivor resilience and how “the power to re-enter the world as a strong(er), powerful woman” is the survivor herself (34). Renee Martin assures us that things will change for the best, because change is inevitable and survivors will “put this beside you and not behind you” (41). Lisa Factora-Borchers interviews Zoe Flowers, the author of Dirty Laundry: Women of Color Speak Up About Dating and Domestic Violence, who recalls the legacies of patriarchy and colonialism on survivors of color, reiterating that “we have been ‘free’ for a shorter period of time than we were oppressed” (48). Zoe Flowers’s analysis highlights the ongoing impacts of colonialism and patriarchy, which perpetuate both objectification and violence against poor women of color.
“A Child Re-Members,” is the name of the second section of the anthology. It takes on child rape and incest, gendered double-standards imposed on minors, and domestic violence against the entire household. Though sporadic and maybe too brief, authors give insight into the complexities of the nuclear family, gender norms instilled at birth, and the need to break out of them for everyone’s survival. Juliet November shares that she always understood being a woman meant being prey to someone or something (73), and how heteronormativity designated the female body to a predisposition of abuse and violence (78). Contributor Sarah Cash explains being physically punished and labeled a bad girl, a flawed child, by a relative who “caught her being raped.” Working through this experience, many years down the road, Cash learned to love herself as an outcast and in turn learned to love and struggle among society’s flawed (61). Mary Zelinka consoles readers about not having a defined path forward, but shares her story encouraging all to always remember that, in one’s journey of understanding, the violence incurred during our childhood is the fault of someone who chose to hurt us, and that it’s not the survivor’s fault (63). This section also includes a short essay by Kathleen Ahern that laments the death of her sister to commercial sexual exploitation as a child (70). [Their/her/his] mention of the early formation of coping mechanisms and the continuation of their repercussions into adulthood is a topic I wish had been formally introduced in the book, since it is randomly mentioned but not bundled for focused thinking.
The third section, “Family Ties,” expands the described and reflected upon experiences to include the complexities of the nuclear family in relation to capital, immigration, and incarceration. The stories shared spill outside personal experience to include survivors’ larger communities. Authors speak about class; about how poverty is the main reason battered moms and abused children had to stay at home with their perpetrator fathers despite abuse (81); and how survivors had to lie and intervene against social workers and police to avoid being put in foster care, or their family members being put in prison. Activist Mattilda Berstein Sycamore’s essay reflects on the need to deconstruct masculinity so that the “brothers” don’t fall into patriarchal cycles of violence. She recalls seeing “the way that masculinity created the walls I was trying to escape,” and demands our accountability towards unlearning it (84). In a very thorough and beautifully written piece, organizer Amita Y. Swadhin bridges the connection between her survival of incest and that of other people the system had failed, in her case youth of color (101). She highlights how her organizing efforts helped channel rage into youth power and work that could fight “back against all the forms of injustice that had derailed my own youth” (105). If you take anything away from this anthology it should be this: many survivors have been effective in connecting their own stories of violence and survival to those of other disadvantaged sectors of society.
“From Trauma to Strength,” the fourth section, gathers essays in support of self-definition and suggests paths for moving forward. While there is no uniform method, some pieces throughout the anthology mention the need for accountability and a few bring up transformative justice. As I understand it, transformative justice (TJ) propose respecting the survivor’s agency. TJ also seeks accountability from those who harm, as well as community accountability and transformation of social conditions that perpetuate violence. Mia Mingus, a queer, physically disabled Korean organizer writes a superb essay to explain how the transformative justice framework “could hold the complexities of intimate and state violence, accountability, and healing and systemic and personal transformation” (140). Mingus explains that TJ is about addressing violence in ways that “don’t cause more harm…don’t collude with state (prison, police, the criminal legal system, etc.) or systemic (racism, sexism, etc.) violence…[and seek] individual and collective justice” for all those impacted. It would be naïve to think that survivors seek only individual justice, and Mingus speaks of healing as a far-reaching endeavor (145), similarly to what keysha willias and Leah Kashmi Piepza-Samarasinha say when speaking of this healing being counter-intuitive to the capitalist logic of destruction. They proclaim a halt to the self-destructive tendencies of our communities, as we are all interdependent (150). In their eyes, the opposite of destructiveness would be constructing something else, perhaps not Transformative Justice necessarily, but what that is is yet to be defined.
The fifth section is titled “Radical Companionship,” in which author Alexis Pauline Gumbs contributes an entertaining free verse piece titled “&,” expressing supportive words amidst daily activities, intended not only during high points but also during low ones. Rebecca Wyllie de Echeverria shares the effects of incest and its physical aftershocks that inevitably manifest in survivors’ long-term health. She encourages self-care and the shared [nature/condition] of struggle, emphasizing that “surviving is the process of finding new connections each day” (168).
The final section of Dear Sister is titled “Choose Your Own Adventure.” It highlights many different activities and various directions survivors have gone in order to process and deal with the violence that did not kill them. The editor of the impactful book, The Revolution Starts at Home, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, gracefully shares her “Healing Mix Tape” music recommendations (188), while sci-fi author and co-editor of Octavia’s Brood (IAS/AK Press, 2015), adrienne maree brown, encourages the overriding of shame or guilt to remember that “everything we do to survive is smart.” (198) She cheerfully points out that counseling and sci-fi writing helped her a great deal. The final essay in this section is an interview the editor held with the Los Angeles poet Sofia Rose Smith. Together they point to the concepts of trauma with respect to the decision of whether or not to forgive perpetrators, referring back to Transformative Justice principle of humanizing those who have harmed us. In conjunction, they discuss the binaries of survivor and perpetrator, along with the cultural norms of imposing the pace and modes of survivor healing. Whereas the beginning of the book apologizes to survivors and readers for showing no defined path to follow, the contributors focus not on one single way towards healing, restoration or reconciliation, but rather take for granted that they have gathered only a handful among myriad potential paths.
To understand sexual violence, it does not suffice to read about patriarchy, capitalism, or colonialism from a solely theoretical standpoint, even if you think you understand the complicated intersections that have rendered Black, brown, female, gender non-conforming, and queer bodies as disposable and subject to inevitable violence. Just as you would appreciate hearing workers’ stories, testimonies about fighting police violence as a young brown person, or about neighbors resisting evictions, you should also be willing to hear survivor narratives like these. Some will say this is way too heavy of a topic for a such a little book, and that it can only be read in little bits at a time. I say the opposite: absorb it all, all at once. Read every single line to become well acquainted with the characteristics of this dominating apparatus. Dear Sister will place your survivor or supporter feet on firmer ground, as we work to build the necessary culture and counter-institutions to walk alongside all survivors.
Sara Rahnoma-Galindo is a survivor of sexual violence, anarchist person of color, office worker, student and board member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies, currently living in Los Angeles.
By AK Press | May 17, 2016
We’ve sent one of our favorite recent manuscripts off to the printer! Anatole Dolgoff’s memoir of growing up at the center of the twentieth-century anarchist movement. The book centers of Anatole’s dad, Sam Dolgoff, and includes a cast of dozens well known, forgotten and never known. It was a real joy working with Anatole. His humor and critical insight shine through on every page of the book.
You can order a copy here (at 25% off for the next few weeks). In the meantime, here is a sample:
An Interlude: I Take Sam to See Reds
Road to Freedom had a nominal co-editor who seldom showed up, and never worked. His name was Hippolyte Havel. Sam did not know him “at the height of his career as a militant anarchist writer, editor, close friend of Emma Goldman, and well-known member of the Greenwich Village Bohemian community.” When Sam knew him he was pretty much incapable of doing anything, was entirely supported by comrades and what he could cadge from gullible strangers passing through. Sam remembered him as “an ill tempered, abusive alcoholic, a paranoiac who regarded even the slightest difference of opinion as a personal affront. Nor could he carry on a discussion on any subject for more than a few minutes without constant interruptions, abruptly launching into a tirade on totally unrelated matters. It was most painful to witness the deterioration of a once vibrant personality.”
Many years later, in the 1940s, Sam attended The Iceman Cometh, Eugene O’Neil’s bitter commentary on lost illusions, cowardice, and betrayal. One of the characters spends the entire play sprawled across a table in Harry Hope’s funereal bar, drunk; every now and then he rises to spout something vehemently incomprehensible before collapsing again. “That’s Hippolyte Havel!” Sam exclaimed. There was no doubt!
Hippolyte Havel, flesh and blood human being, morphed into a character in an O’Neil play! That provides me the solution to a problem I have had. How to make accessible to people who were born after Sam died the breadth of his experience and the myriad people he knew so many years ago? Simple chronology—you know, first Sam did this, and then he said that—cannot convey to you the richness of Sam’s lifetime journey in the anarchist movement, which he embarked upon when he joined Road to Freedom. But we do have the movies, and a special one at that.
Reds was the film I dragged Sam to so many years later, in 1982, for he disliked going to the movies. The film was finishing a fairly long run and the only theater showing it was at a Mall in Northern New Jersey. I had to drive him there. He insisted on paying for his own small paper cup of coca-cola in the lobby. “A buck fifty? Why you can’t be serious man! Maybe you should wear a mask and gun?” Sam growled. The young fellow behind the counter, probably a suburban high school kid born into an entirely different world, caught the glint of humor in Sam’s eyes and smiled indulgently. That was the last bit of indulgence he received as he proceeded to wreck the film for the sparse audience scattered throughout the dark cavernous space that mid-week afternoon.
Reds is a three-hour long, romanticized but fundamentally accurate depiction of the life and times of the brilliant American journalist John Reed (Warren Beatty). The man cut quite a figure. He rode with the Mexican bandit/revolutionary Pancho Villa. He was closely associated with the Wobblies and good friends with Big Bill Haywood. He was active in the rich New York radical/ bohemian scene, knew everybody, was in on everything. He witnessed the Russian Revolution first hand; his Ten Days That Shook the World remains a classic account of that momentous event. He became a committed Bolshevik and was instrumental in founding the American Communist Party. He died young of a terrible ill- ness, typhus, in Moscow where his remains were interred in the Kremlin Wall. Numerous old-time radicals and writers—them- selves, not actors—appear throughout Reds and comment on the characters depicted in the film. I thought Sam would enjoy Reds and on the whole he did. (“Who ever thought Hollywood would make such a film?”)
The problem was in the details. Sam was nearly deaf at this stage so I had to trundle him up front, where, with his swollen belly, he sat on the edge of his too small seat, leaning forward on his wooden cane, breathing noisily, trying to catch the dialog. He knew personally or was familiar with nearly every character in Reds. This included many of the aged witnesses, who were, after all, his contemporaries. As the film got going, Sam became involved and growled comments on the proceedings, his gravel baritone blasting into the darkness. There followed from the audience, like a Greek Chorus, a call and response session.
Sam, viewing one of the old-timers on screen, blares: “Henry Miller! The man was a bohemian in Paris. He knows nothing about these things.”
An aged lady I do not remember appears on screen. Sam: “Her!”
The scene shifts to Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union: Sam: “Him I can respect. That’s more like it.”
Response: An intolerant “HISSS!”
Big Bill Haywood shows up in little more than a bit part for a line or two.
Sam waves his hand in disgust at the actor. “Nothing like him! The man has no stature. Haywood had stature! Haywood had one eye, but he never wore a patch like this fella!”
Response: Shut the fuck up! Call the manager!…
Then, toward the end, there is the touching if slightly absurd montage of the devoted Diane Keaton, in the attempt to reach the dying Beatty, hiking through the Soviet snow in a blizzard. Apparently, she is not allowed to enter Moscow directly.
Sam: “Now that is ridiculous. Those days anyone could get in! The regime was looking for support. Did you know that Bryant married the American Ambassador after Reed died?”
The audience response ends here; instead a flashlight skips through the darkness and two young ushers find us up front. “Sir, we must ask you to leave!”
“Why? What did we do?”
“Come on, it is almost over anyway,” I say.
Outside, in the bright sunlight of the parking lot, some of the film’s patrons can barely contain spitting at us; seeing an old man in suspenders with white socks showing beneath the cuffs of his pants made them angrier. Their fury was directed at a character that could have walked directly out of the film.
On the way home, in the car, I search for something about which Sam and I can agree: “How did you like the guy who plays Eugene O’Neill?” It was Jack Nicholson, who has an affair with Bryant in the film. I enjoyed his performance.
“No good? I thought he was very good. Why?”
“Well, O’Neill must have been a gloomy guy, right? Look at his plays!”
“But he was not gloomy in that way.” Sam insisted, “He was a good fella to have a drink with. He had that Irish wit. He didn’t wear his troubles in public like a hair shirt, going around depressing everybody!”
Their paths had intersected in the radical, artistic, bohemian circles of the time. Early on O’Neill had shipped-out—that is, worked as a merchant seaman—and had been a Wobbly, and hung out with anarchists. He was not yet Eugene O’Neill.
Sam’s off-hand comment surprised me. “You know that? You knew Eugene O’Neill? You drank with him? Why didn’t you tell me?” I felt, while not hurt, put-out.
“Why should I tell you? What earthly difference does it make if I knew Eugene O’Neill?”
I suppose he was right in the scheme of things.
Sam was always pulling surprises like that. He did not think that knowing famous people was important. Sometime later, I mentioned a PBS documentary on Diego Rivera. Sam smiled and said simply, “Diego was a good guy. You couldn’t help but like him.” They had met several times in the early thirties at radical meeting halls on lower Broadway and at a Union Square diner so infested with Communists it was called The Kremlin.
As I’ve mentioned, the purpose of my autobiographical, cinematic diversion is to make accessible the richness of Sam’s life nearly a century ago. He came to know personally virtually everyone who mattered in the radical movement of his day or he came to know of them intimately through their friends and enemies. Not that he thought his life was rich; it was simply his life.
Order LEFT OF THE LEFT: My Memories of Sam Dolgoff: https://www.akpress.org/left-of-the-left.html
By AK Press | March 7, 2016
“Here in Kronstadt has been laid the first stone of the third revolution, striking the last fetters from the laboring masses and opening a broad new road for socialist creativity.”
On this day in 1921, the Bolshevik government launched its attack to suppress the uprising in Kronstadt. Soldiers, sailors, and workers had come together in the garrison town to declare their independence from the state dictatorship, and to launch what they called “the inevitable third revolution” against the cops and bureaucrats who had derailed the revolutionary process and installed themselves as the new “Communist” rulers of Russia. Lenin and Trotsky didn’t tolerate such working-class disobedience for long. Tens of thousands died or were wounded, thousands more were imprisoned, but while the revolutionary commune lasted it produced some of the most inspiring declarations of working-class (as opposed to bourgeois) democracy and self management.
The following statement is from the March 8th, 1921, edition of the Izvestiia of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee of sailors, soldiers and workers of the town of Kronstadt. Libcom.org has a collection of every edition here.
What Are We Fighting For?
After carrying out the October Revolution, the working class had hoped to achieve its emancipation. But the result was an even greater enslavement of the human personality. The power of the police and gendarme monarchy passed into the hands of the Communist usurpers, who, instead of giving the people freedom, instilled in them the constant fear of falling into the torture chambers of the Cheka, which in their horrors far exceed the gendarme administration of the tsarist regime. The bayonets, bullets, and gruff commands of the Cheka oprichniki–these are what the workingman of Soviet Russia has won after so much struggle and suffering. The glorious emblem of the workers’ state–the sickle and hammer–has in fact been replaced by the Communist authorities with the bayonet and barred window, for the sake of maintaining the calm and carefree life of the new bureaucracy of Communist commissars and functionaries.
But most infamous and criminal of all is the moral servitude which the Communists have inaugurated: they have laid their hands also on the inner world of the toilers, forcing them to think in the Communist way. With the help of the bureaucratized trade unions, they have fastened the workers to their benches, so that labor has become not a joy but a new form of slavery. To the protests of the peasants, expressed in spontaneous uprisings, and those of the workers, whose living conditions have driven them out on strike, they answer with mass executions and bloodletting, in which they have not been surpassed even by the tsarist generals. Russia of the toilers, the first to raise the red banner of labor’s emancipation, is drenched in the blood of those martyred for the glory of Communist domination. In this sea of blood, the Communists are drowning all the great and glowing pledges and watchwords of the workers’ revolution. The picture has been drawn more and more sharply, and now it is clear that the Russian Communist party is not the defender of the toilers that it pretends to be. The interests of the working people are alien to it. Having gained power, it is afraid only of losing it, and therefore deems every means permissible: slander, violence, deceit, murder, vengeance upon the families of the rebels.
The long-suffering patience of the toilers is at an end. Here and there the land is lit up by the fires of insurrection in a struggle against oppression and violence. Strikes by the workers have flared up, but the Bolshevik Okhrana agents have not been asleep and have taken every measure to forestall and suppress the inevitable third revolution. But it has come nevertheless, and it is being made by the hands of the toilers themselves. The generals of Communism see clearly that it is the people who have risen, convinced that the ideas of socialism have been betrayed. Yet, trembling for their skins and aware that there is no escape from the wrath of the workers, they still try, with the help of their oprichniki, to terrorize the rebels with prison, firing-squads, and other atrocities. But life under the yoke of the Communist dictatorship has become more terrible than death.
The rebellious working people understand that there is no middle ground in the struggle against the Communists and the new serfdom that they have erected. One must go on to the end. They give the appearance of making concessions: in Petrograd province roadblock detachments have been removed and 10 million gold rubles have been allotted for the, purchase of foodstuffs from abroad. But one must not be deceived, for behind this bait is concealed the iron hand of the master, the dictator, who aims to be repaid a hundredfold for his concessions once calm is restored.
No, there can be no middle ground. Victory or death! The example is being set by Red Kronstadt, menace of counterrevolutionaries of the right and of the left. Here the new revolutionary step forward has been taken. Here is raised the banner of rebellion against the three-year-old violence and oppression of Communist rule, which has put in the shade the three-hundred-year yoke of monarchism. Here in Kronstadt has been laid the first stone of the third revolution, striking the last fetters from the laboring masses and opening a broad new road for socialist creativity.
This new revolution will also rouse the laboring masses of the East and of the West, by serving as an example of the new socialist construction as opposed to the bureaucratic Communist “creativity.” The laboring masses abroad will see with their own eyes that everything created here until now by the will of the workers and peasants was not socialism. Without a single shot, without a drop of blood, the first step has been taken. The toilers do not need blood. They will shed it only at a moment of self-defense. In spite of all the outrageous acts of the Communists, we have enough restraint to confine ourselves only to isolating them from public life so that their malicious and false agitation will not hinder our revolutionary work.
The workers and peasants steadfastly march forward, leaving behind them the Constituent Assembly, with its bourgeois regime, and the dictatorship of the Communist party, with its Cheka and its state capitalism, whose hangman’s noose encircles the necks of the laboring masses and threatens to strangle them to death. The present overturn at last gives the toilers the opportunity to have their freely elected soviets, operating without the slightest force of party pressure, and to remake the bureaucratized trade unions into free associations of workers, peasants, and the laboring intelligentsia. At last the policeman’s club of the Communist autocracy has been broken.
Excerpt from GOALS AND MEANS: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, by Jason Garner
By AK Press | March 4, 2016
Goals and Means: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica is back from the printer. This book is a detailed and fascinating history of the formation of the CNT and the relationships among the various players, especially syndicalists and the anarchists in the FAI.
You can get yourself a copy (at 25% off for another few weeks) here. Below is a brief excerpt about the debates around the the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks, and the invitation they gave the CNT to join the Cominterm…
Belief in the victory of the Russian Revolution meant belief in the victory of a Spanish revolution. However, from late 1918 onwards the supporters of the October Revolution began to differentiate between support for the social revolution in Russia and support for Bolshevism as a political ideology. This was most evident in the pages of Solidaridad Obrera where, as Antonio Bar has pointed out, a series of editorials had been equally qualified in their treatment of the revolution, praising its achievements whilst using language that made the ‘statist’ orientation of the Bolsheviks clear by constant reference to the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, seizure of power, ‘government of the people,’ et cetera.
This change in attitude was also evident in anarchist circles. In November 1919, the Catalan Anarchist Federation reappraised its previous ideological stance vis-à-vis Bolshevism in a manifesto which differentiated between economic and political organisations: “Syndicalism – a means of struggle based on direct action – ends in the implantation of libertarian communism … whilst State socialism – a means of labour struggle based on multiple action – ends in the implantation of authoritarian communism.” The essential point in all the ideological debates was the growing realisation that Bolshevism did not encompass the libertarian principles of Spanish revolutionary syndicalism. However, this did not lessen support for a revolutionary overthrow of an imperialist state. Whatever the arguments surrounding the merits of the Bolsheviks, the CNT’s connections with Russia remained at the level of press commentary and factory debate. Beyond the solidarity of one revolutionary workers’ force with another there was no contact. This changed as news of the decision to establish a new International in Russia arrived in Spain.
The CNT’s membership of the new International was discussed at its national congress held in Madrid in December 1919, the first since 1911. The dramatic rise in social agitation had led to a sharp increase in membership of the CNT. The congress provided a necessary forum for taking stock of the changes that had occurred both in Spain and within the CNT’s own ranks since 1911. As if to emphasise the confederation’s priorities, the main debate of the congress revolved not around Bolshevism but the proposed unification of the CNT and the socialist Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT). After the debates over the situation in Spain and internal CNT matters, the congress turned its attention to the Russian Revolution.
A resolution on Russia was split into two parts. The first referred to the means of combating the blockade of Russia by international capitalism whilst the second dealt with international relations, specifically whether or not the CNT should join the Third International. Buenacasa opened the debates with a strong defence of the revolution as a fact in itself but did not broach the question of the International, which was surprising, given the attention he had given to the issue in the pages of Solidaridad Obrera since 1917. The debates also demonstrated that information about the exact nature of Bolshevism was still scarce. Hilario Arlandis from the Levante urged that the CNT unconditionally join the Comintern. Basing his arguments almost entirely on a report on the first Comintern congress (held in March 1919), he accepted that differences existed between the Bolsheviks and the CNT but felt that this was because it was “very difficult to find a concrete formula to unite all the proletariat of the world and satisfy all the tendencies.” However, he concluded, the Third International “exemplifies all our aspirations,” Significantly, Andreu Nin, at this point a member of both the Socialist Party and the CNT, concurred: “I am a supporter of the Third International because it is a reality, because above the ideologies it represents a principle of action, a principle of coexistence between all the clearly revolutionary forces who aspire to implant communism immediately.” Both Arlandis and Nin would soon become staunch supporters of Moscow.
Doubts about the dictatorial tendency inherent in Bolshevism were raised by the Asturian Eleuterio Quintanilla. Quintanilla agreed that the CNT should welcome the Russian Revolution but also argued that the revolution did not “embody, in principle, the ideals of revolutionary syndicalism.” The CNT needed to be wary of the Bolshevik Party’s principles because “the way in which the Russian dictatorship has acted represents a serious danger to us.” His main point was the evident conflict between the tactics and aims of revolutionary syndicalism and Bolshevism. The followers of the latter believed that the unions should be “subject to the demands of the state and offered themselves to it unconditionally,” he said. The Comintern, Quintanilla continued, was simply Bolshevism on an international level, and, as such, was a “specifically political organisation … where we have no reason to be represented.” Instead the CNT should help to build a “pure” International that was “specifically syndicalist [and] would conserve CNT principals and follow the tradition of the First International.”
Salvador Seguí, the most respected and influential militant of the Catalan section of the CNT, accepted Quintanilla’s criticism, but argued that the CNT must be represented in the Third International. “Not due to its theories which we oppose, but for the need to be realistic, we support entering the Third International because this is going to endorse … the call that the CNT is going to make to the syndicalist organisations of the world to form the true, the unique, the genuine workers’ International.” Furthermore, he argued, as the CNT was the largest labour movement in Spain, its position needed to be recognised internationally, and being associated with the International in Moscow would reinforce its revolutionary credentials. In the end, the congress compromised, provisionally adhering to the Comintern whilst at the same time stressing that support for the Comintern was due to its revolutionary and not ideological character and stressing that the CNT’s ideological base rested on the anti-authoritarian wing of the First International:
The National Committee…with reference to the theme of the Russian revolution, proposes the following:
First. That the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo declares itself a firm defender of the principles that guided the First International, as conceived by Bakunin.
Second. Declares that it affiliates, provisionally, with the Third International, due to its revolutionary character, whilst the International Congress is organised and held in Spain, to define the basic principles that will govern the true International of workers.
The affiliation of the CNT with the new International did not represent an acceptance of the principles of Bolshevism as was clear from the adoption of a motion put forward by various delegates (and supported by the national committee) which was attached to the resolution on the Comintern:
Bearing in mind that the tendency that has the greatest force at the heart of the workers’ organisations of all countries is that which leads to the complete, total, and absolute liberation of humanity morally, economically and politically, and considering that this objective cannot be achieved until the land and the instruments of production and exchange are socialised, and the tyrannical power of the state disappears, propose to the congress, that in agreement with the essence of the proposals of the workers’ International, [it] declares that the ultimate goal of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo in Spain is libertarian communism.
So at the very moment that the confederation agreed to join the Comintern, it made a clear commitment to an ideology that was fundamentally at odds with the centralised and politicised doctrine of the Third International’s founders. This contradiction can only be explained by the continuing confusion over Bolshevism, the belief that revolution in Spain was imminent, and more specifically the belief that the Comintern would be an autonomous revolutionary International and not be dominated by the Bolsheviks. Having decided to join the International, the CNT then had to select delegates to go to Moscow to present its membership as well as to find out more about the Bolshevik regime. At first, Quintanilla and Pedro Vallina (who had attended the International Revolutionary Syndicalist Congress in London in 1913) were chosen but both declined, so instead the committee chose Eusebio Carbó (a prominent member of the Valencian region of the CNT who spoke both French and Italian) and Salvador Quemades (a member of the committee of the Catalan CRT).
11 Bar, La CNT en los Años Rojo, 436–51, 525–37, provides the best overall analysis of anarchist and syndicalist reaction to the revolution. Of the books published in English, only Meaker, The Revolutionary Left in Spain, 103–8, 222–24, 243– 48, treats the subject in any depth. See also the articles by Iwan Kurok on Russia in the anarchist publication Acracia, November 15 and 22, 1918, and in an article entitled “Qué hacemos pro-Rusia?” in Guerra Social (Valencia), December 20, 1919. Opinions in the only periodical publishing in late 1918–19 of which sufficient numbers remain (except for Solidaridad Obrera, which was proscribed in January 1919 and did not reappear again until 1923) – Acción Social Obrera – remained confused, and even as late as July 12, 1919, an article by Pedro Gaspert, “Bolcheviquismo,” appears to confuse the aims of Bolshevism with those of anarchism.
12 El Comité de la Federación de Grupos Anarquistas de la Región Catalana, “Los anarquistas en nuestro puesto,” Espartaco (suplemento), November 8, 1919.
13 For Arlandis’s intervention, see Memoria del Congreso celebrado en el Teatro de la Comedia de Madrid, los días 10 al 18 de diciembre de 1919 (Barcelona: Cosmos, 1932), 347–52. Thereafter Memoria (1919). Despite admitting that he had seen few documents on the subject, Eusebio Carbó speaking at the Congress, , 352, gave unqualified support for the Bolsheviks, mainly due to the fact that the reformist socialists were criticising them. Carbó, along with Arlandis, was one of the major defenders of Bolshevism at the Madrid congress. Their views may have been influenced by their meeting with two Finnish Bolsheviks who were sent to Valencia to gain support for the CNT’s affiliation to the Comintern. Archives Nationales de France, Paris, F/7/13440, police report, September 23, 1919.
14 For the information on Nin’s affiliation with the CNT, see Pelai Pagès, Andreu Nin: Su evolución política 1911–37 (Bilbao: Zero, 1975), 73–74. For more general texts on Nin, see Victor Alba, Dos Revolucionarios: Joaquín Maurín, Andreu Nin (Madrid: Seminarios y Ediciones, 1975); F. Bonamusa, Andreu Nin y el movimiento comunista en España (1930–37) (Barcelona: Anagrama, 1977).
15 Memoria (1919), 355–67. Quintanilla’s position was echoed by the delegate from the Madrid Toymakers Trade Union (either José Cernada or Tomas de la Llave): “At the moment, the Russian revolution has many defects; it embodies, more than anything, the Marxist principal, and we, revolutionary syndicalists, have as our base Bakuninist principals. Up to now, the Russian revolution has not managed to implant more than a type of communism, a type of socialism that kills individual energies.” Translated from ibid., 346.
16 Ibid., 367. Seguí’s position throughout this period was remarkably consistent, as evidenced by his intervention in the Madrid debates and at the Zaragoza conference in June 1922 as well as his articles on the subject. For example, see Salvador Seguí, “A Organizacao sindical,” A Batalha, October 29, 1920; Salvador Seguí, “La posicion doctrinal de los sindicalistas libertarios frente a las internacionales socialistas,” Cultura y Acción, October 21, 1922.
17 Translated from Memoria (1919), 372–73. The resolution was drawn up by the national committee.
18 Ibid., 373. The resolution was drawn up by twenty-four militants, including six of the eight members of the national committee, and was not intended as an attack on Bolshevism. Rather it related to the concerns of a number of militants about what they perceived as a growing reformism within the CNT.
By AK Press | February 17, 2016
Our pals at the Institute for Anarchist Studies are planning an important issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory about”Anarcha-Feminisms.” They’ve got an Indiegogo campaign started to help pay for printing and mailing costs. Remember: these folks all volunteer their time and energy to produce this vital contribution to our movement, so let’s help them out by donating here.
After you’ve done that, take a look at this thoughtful review of their last issue that aired on the CrimethInc podcast. You can also listen to the audio version here if you prefer. And check out the IAS themselves here.
Perspectives on Anarchist Theory’s recent issue tackled the theme of “Justice” – quite a can of worms for the contemporary anarchist! The journal opens with a reflection on the theme written by the editorial collective, and quickly sets a thoughtful and inquisitive tone as it explores different dimensions of what justice might mean to anarchists in political, economic, ecological, and intra-movement or community contexts. It uses a series of rhetorical questions to prompt readers to examine our thoughts and values relating to justice without authority and the practical challenges posed by social oppression and reliance on state structures. While I sharply disagreed with their partial defense of certain principles of the US’s adversarial legal system, overall I found the introduction to be highly thought-provoking, and an excellent lens through which to read the forthcoming pieces.
The opening article from Sarah Coffey offers a synthesis of interviews she conducted while working as a legal observer with a wide range of local participants in the Ferguson uprising. It foregrounds the voices of the folks on the ground while exploring the range of divergent perspectives and experiences of those who came to the streets after Michael Brown’s murder at the hands of police.
From Layne Mullett, an activist with Decarcerate PA, comes an article titled “Brick by Brick: Creating a World Without Prison,” which I found to be one of the most comprehensive summaries of the anti-authoritarian critique of the contemporary prison industrial complex I’ve encountered. I’d love to see it circulate as a separate zine, especially for books to prisoner groups and general anarchist outreach.
Brooke Reynolds from the Jericho Movement contributes a profoundly compelling analysis of the hunger strike as a political tactic, as deployed by “war on terror” prisoners in Guantanamo and Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Its thoughtful analysis, punctuated with defiant statements and moving poetry from prisoners, proved one of the highlights of the journal for me. In particular, its unflinching deconstruction of a US Army manual on procedures for dealing with hunger strikers was both so viscerally horrifying as to be almost unreadable, and yet also a moving testament to the unbreakable will of resistant prisoners in the global police state.
Another highlight was Brad Thompson’s article “Breaking the Chains of Command: Anarchist Veterans of the US Military,” which drew on his interviews with former soldiers and army personnel who had become radicalized and emerged from the military as advocates for resistance, highlighting their voices while drawing some careful but insightful conclusions. I’d especially recommend it to folks living in towns with military bases who want ideas on how to connect with potentially radical service members.
The issue also includes pieces that address community accountability efforts and domestic violence; a critique of Deep Green Resistance, the discredited ecological organization led by Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith; and two well-written book reviews.
All in all, the journal is a credit to the editorial collective and to the IAS’ mission of advancing thoughtful anarchist discourse. MacPhee’s design is elegant and creative, making it a pleasure to look at as well as to read. At 134 pages, bound neatly by Eberhardt Press in Portland, Oregon, it’s a solid but not intimidating read. While I had critiques of and disagreements with some of the pieces, all of them reflect a high level of quality in the writing and editing, and together offer food for thought on a range of issues.
It’s worth mentioning that the theme of “Justice” is interpreted quite loosely; all of the pieces do relate in some way, but with a theme so broad, it’s hard to imagine any anarchist discussion that wouldn’t at least tangentially connect to “justice.” The thought-provoking questions set out in the introduction about the nature of justice within a framework of anarchist values and institutions remain largely unanswered, which I was sad about at first – mostly just because I found them to be so fascinating, as well as timely and pressing! Still, that’s not a critique of the pieces that do appear, which offer valuable insights into various topics. Hopefully future anarchist writers and theorists will take up these questions and travel further in the directions indicated in the introduction.
It’s also worth noting that what the journal means by “theory” is understood in a broader sense of critical evaluation and praxis, not merely abstract reflections on principles and philosophies and frameworks. With the exception of the introduction and the article analyzing hunger strikes, there’s not a lot in this issue that I’d classify as “theory” in that more limited sense. The pieces focus more on either summarizing or critiquing contemporary struggles, or presenting the voices of participants in them; and of course, there are theoretical dimensions to these accounts, as the authors grapple with different ideas and frameworks. Let’s put it this way: on the one hand, if the word “theory” makes you roll your eyes and imagine annoying, head-in-the-clouds radical eggheads or abstracted academics, then don’t worry, you won’t be put off by the pieces in this journal. On the other hand, folks who’ve cut their teeth on Foucault or Agamben or Tiqqun shouldn’t expect to find that style of theorizing here. Again, this isn’t a critique of the pieces themselves, but just a clarification that this journal is setting out to do something different. It manages to present a wide array of nuanced and critical articles while remaining accessible, which is quite refreshing in an era in which radical discourse too often either soars to heights of wanky abstraction or dives to depths of trollish inanity.
All in all, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory is well worth a read for anyone interested in insightful reflections on contemporary struggles from an antiauthoritarian viewpoint. The forthcoming issue N. 29, which should appear this spring, will be on the theme of “Anarcha-Feminisms,” so I’m definitely excited to see that. You can order the print version of Perspectives, including back issues, by going to AK Press here!
To hear the full CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective broadcast, #46: International Anarchist Reflections on the New Year, go here!
To read the full transcript, read here!
The CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective (CWC) is a decentralized anarchist collective composed of many cells which act independently in pursuit of a freer and more joyous world. For more information on CrimethInc., Go Here!
By AK Press | January 25, 2016
Here is a taste of Walidah Imarisha’s powerful new book Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption. You can read blurbs and a description, and order it, here
THROUGH THE GATES
“Ma’am, you’re going to have to check the underwire from your bra, or I’m not letting you in.”
She was a squat woman, bleached blonde wisps leaking out from her California Department of Corrections baseball hat. The mud brown uniform drew color from her face. In the unforgiving fluorescent lighting of the prison processing center, her features bled away, leaving only razor-edged eyes that bored into me, a mouth twisted with impatience.
The people waiting behind me in line, shoes and belts in hand, shifted irritably. I understood. We had all been on our feet for an hour and a half, up early enough to see the sun crack dawn over the lonely highway that, for us, dead-ended at a wall wrapped in concertina wire.
In the bathroom ten minutes earlier as I hurried into a stall, I passed two women who had the movements of birds, faces heavy with makeup too hastily applied. Using the box cutter with the chipped orange handle given to me by the dour-faced guard, I ripped the seams out of my new black bra, the metal skeleton underneath as exposed as I felt. Meanwhile, the women preened in front of the warped bathroom mirror, one reapplying the dark stain of lipstick every few minutes. The other spoke of her man’s sentence as though it was a communal one they shared: “Girl, we only have 148 days left!” One woman, red-faced from her obvious hangover, laughed too loudly as her friend pointed to the hickie on the side of her neck. She murmured an embarrassed “thank you” and re-adjusted her collar to cover it.
I took in the processing room that never had enough chairs as I walked back towards the counter after the dissection of my bra. White faces dotted the institutional green. Even when it wasn’t their first visit, they always looked like it was. Most faces, however, reflected me back as I met eyes briefly: Black and brown, female. Tired. No men by themselves; only women alone, shifting on swollen ankles they had spent all week on. Many were mothers of the men warehoused here. On their faces was stamped the dogged resignation that comes from going to see your child week in and week out in a place surrounded by razor wire.
Some waiting were like the young woman in line next to me. Her carefully ironed shirt, laid out lovingly the night before, was now creased like the frown on her face as she tried to manage three wildas- weeds children, who shot questions about seeing daddy in rapid fire succession. The wide-faced baby in her arms shifted fitfully as the mother separated out the six diapers and two clear baby bottles allowed in.
Two bright-faced and dark-skinned boys tumbled past me, giggles streaming in their wake. Before their mothers had a chance to rope them back under control, one of the guards behind the processing desk boomed out, “No running in the waiting area!” The boys’ faces froze more than their bodies—eight-year-old bodies that would soon grow into young Black men bodies: dangerous property, to be handled only by professionals.
As an anti-prison organizer, my work takes me behind the walls, into cages where dignity is stripped and humanity denied, where rehabilitation is nonexistent and abuse is a daily practice. I have spent years visiting political prisoners, which this country denies having. Most of them are from the hopeful, chaotic, and turbulent 1960s and 1970s, when they believed revolution was a single breath away. Now they strain to draw each lungful in the stifling atmosphere of incarceration. Many of them have spent more years in prison than I have on this planet. I have been to the white-hot hell of Texas’s death row, and to the stainless steel brutality of Pennsylvania’s most infamous restricted housing unit. I have gone behind the walls, and I have the heartbreaking privilege to walk out of them every time.
That day’s prison in California looked like so many of the newer institutions: sprawling three-story concrete buildings, windows like slitted eyes squinting in the harsh sunlight. All new prisons look the same from the outside. And thanks to the prison-building boom in the 1980s and 1990s, almost all prisons are relatively new.
California prisons spread faster than a forest fire during a drought and became a symbol for prison growth across the country. 1852 marked the first California state prison, San Quentin. In the first hundred years of California penal institutions, nine new prisons were constructed. That state now operates thirty-three major adult prisons, eight juvenile facilities, and fifty-seven smaller prisons and camps, the majority of which have been built since 1984. The prison-building brushfire of the 1980s often relied on the same corporations and the same plans to build institutions quickly, quietly, and profitably. The corporations profited in dollars, and the state profited from the control of potentially rebellious bodies. There wasn’t time for creativity to grow in the shadow of gun turrets.
Now over 2.3 million are incarcerated across this country. One in one hundred adults are living behind bars, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, and over seven million are in prison or on parole. This means one in thirty-one adults is under some form of state control or supervision, by far the highest rate in the world. American prisons account fully for one-quarter of the entire world prison population. Is this the “number one” people are always shouting about?
At the California prison where I was, there had been an attempt at beautification. Art pieces decorated the sterile visiting room, including a piece from my adopted brother, all flames and burnt black tree limbs. A garden was planted along the walkway to the visiting building. The inmates tended it. It was, my adopted brother told me, a coveted job, because you got to be outside, working with your hands, instead of washing someone’s dirty underwear or scraping meatloaf off 3,769 plates each dinner service. The prison’s designed capacity was seventeen hundred, but three times as many people are crammed in: 7,538 feet in shoes three sizes too small. This meant triple bunking: three prisoners lived in a cell designed for one. The gym was no longer used to release frustration; it was used as dormitory-style sleeping, where two hundred people lived on top of each other. Fifty-four people shared one toilet.
This is not unique to this prison. The majority of prisons across the country are filled until the seams are bursting, but California is an extreme case. The entire system warehouses almost double the number of people it was designed to hold, and the federal government has been forced to intervene. In May 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling: California’s prison system violated the Eighth Amendment, the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, though not so unusual in this nation. The Supreme Court ruled the state must parole or transfer thirty thousand prisoners in the next two years.
Thirty thousand: everyone with a loved one in California began dreaming it would be them. One in five: much better odds than the lottery. We were so busy whooping with cries of celebration, the second word of the ruling was drowned out: transfer. California argued the whole time that it could solve the overcrowding issue by new construction (during an economic collapse) or by transferring prisoners to be held in other states’ prisons. Ultimately they only had the second option. They brokered deals; they sent prisoners to Texas, Arkansas, Missouri. The State of California will still continue to pay for these prisoners, but technically the California prisoner population will be reduced—for now. Yet this is only a stopgap measure.
This is not how we stop the hemorrhaging.
“An Interview with Osvaldo Bayer, Argentinean Public Intellectual and Social Historian” (from Perspectives on Anarchist theory)
By AK Press | November 5, 2015
We will be publishing two books by Osvaldo Bayer in the upcoming year. The first, The Anarchist Expropriators, is just about to go to the printer—and with be available in December. The second Rebellion in Patagonia is scheduled for next June. In the meantime here’s a nice interview Fernando Lopez Trujillo did with Osvaldo. It was published in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory way back in 2001 (you can read it in pdf form here).
An Interview with Osvaldo Bayer, Argentinean Public Intellectual and Social Historian
By Fernando López Trujillo *
Translation by Peter Larsen
I am with Osvaldo Bayer in his austere study in the residential district of Belgrano in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. As would have happened normally, Bayer himself receives the inconvenient visit with his usual friendliness. Exile has cut his life in two. Now he has a home in Germany, where his companion, children and grandchildren await him. Far away, however, in this Buenos Aires, is where he spends the majority of his life. As always when in Buenos Aires, Bayer is at home alone. But this tranquility is an illusion; Bayer’s days in this city are incredibly fatiguing, with lectures, talks and invitations to events and meetings throughout Argentina. The Department of Human Rights founded by him in the School of Philosophy and Humanities of the University of Buenos Aires, although abandoned by him only last year, has not been able to do without him. I had mentioned to him by telephone that I wanted him to tell me something about the ´30s and the activities of the FACA (Federación Anarquista Comunista Argentina) and Bayer upon receiving me bypasses the question.
But you’re asking me about the ´30s, I don’t know anything about the anarchism of the ´30s…”
Obviously not! How old were you at that time, ten?
Well look, in 1940 I was thirteen. My contact with anarchism started in the ´60s, when the building was in Humberto Primo Street1 with all the old guys, who died one by one…
The FORA was in Humberto Primo Street? (Ed: Federación Obrera Regional Argentina, Argentinean Regional Workers’ Federation2
No, the Argentinean Libertarian Federation’s building was.
You made contact with people of the FACA?
Well it wasn’t really called the FACA. It was called the FLA(Federación Libertaria Argentina,3 and they remembered the FACA as something of the remote past. Shortly we had to move because of the continuation of 9th July Avenue4 to Brazil Street [the present location of the FLA], premises which I have known since their birth.
I wanted to ask you about your book Severino Di Giovanni. Was it the first militant activity of anarchism in Argentina that you became acquainted with?
Yes, absolutely. It was the first, then came Los Anarquistas Expropiadores [The Expropriator Anarchists]. I started in the year’s ´65 and ´66, and I had the luck that, except for those killed by the police, the majority of the compañeros of Severino’s group were still living. And those that belonged to groups hostile to Severino, too, like Abad de Santillán, for example. And the men who had founded La Antorcha in the early ´20s, they were all living, and a few of the memories were still alive, too. In fact, so many were that they didn’t like it at all that I was dedicating time to Severino Di Giovanni, who was an enemy. They still expressed solidarity with López Arango6 and his compañero, Diego Abad de Santillán. Santillán did every thing possible to stop me from writing this book. The wounds were still very much open and there was a lot of hate involved. For them Severino was the antithesis of anarchism, not only him, but the people who surrounded him too.
But amongst them there were thoroughly proven anarchists like Morán7…
Like Morán, yes, doubtlessly… But Severino got the full brunt of Santillán´s hate. He made statements to me about Severino, that I later proved to be false. On the other hand there were others who worked in La Antorcha and appreciated him very much, such as Alberto Bianchi(8). For me Alberto Bianchi was one of the most important fighters for this tendency, which, of course, didn’t foresee that the FLA was going to turn into a place for meetings and weekends. Then there were very valuable people, who came from the FORA or the interior of the country, who met in the FLA, like Borda, who was a great fighter, who was in La Forestal,9 a quiet man, but who made it perfectly clear for me that Severino had never betrayed the cause or any thing of the sort. What happened is that Severino´s attacks were used by the police to persecute anarchists who were militants at surface level [with] the objective of criminalizing the entire libertarian movement. And a lot of anarchists complained saying, “…but Severino should’ve warned us…”, but Severino, who was always running from the police, could never warn anybody of anything. So that’s how I was able to reconstruct, bit by bit, both of these tendencies. Those two tendencies of the ´20s were really hard on each other.
Were you able to see Fina then?10
No, Fina didn’t want to receive me. She was tired of the “crows”, the journalists who sought sensationalist material and cops-and-robbers treatment of the case. But then, when the first edition was published, when she saw that it was something different, she phoned me and explained why she hadn’t received me before. She was happy with the book because of how it handled the love between Severino and her, but she wanted to know where I’d found the material and the letters that I’d quoted. Of course, I’d studied all of the material in the court records, in the police records of the case, I’d done the entire circuit, I’d visited the places they’d lived in, I’d even arrived as far as the country-house in Burzaco where they lived together and which was Severino´s last dwelling. She was a girl of sixteen… She’s always denied it! She phoned me up and said, “No Bayer, you have to make this correction in the book. I wasn’t sixteen, I was seventeen…” What a difference! Of course, being seventeen, she was a young lady, because the main point of the press attack was that he was living with a minor.
So, you wrote this book in the ´60s, but you were aware of the Patagonia issue earlier…
Yes, I already knew that topic, because my father was a history buff, who had lived with my mother in Rio Gallegos11 during the entire strike. It interested him a lot and he collected the workers’ leaflets and newspapers of the period. That way, I had a lot of material as well as my father’s accounts.
Then you moved to Santa Fé?12
No, they moved to Neuquén.13 What happened is my mother went to Santa Fé, where her sisters lived, to have her last two children. The eldest was born in Rio Gallegos, Franz, the second, was born in Neuquén. Then they moved to Concepción del Uruguay14 and I was born, but my mother went to Santa Fé to have us. But I was conceived in Concepción del Uruguay! Imagine that! [he laughs]…they decided to go to live in Tucumán.15 So, my first four years were spent in Tucumán and I still have memories of when I was four. It’s incredible how I still remember the carts loaded with sugar cane passing by.
But when I was four, I went to live in Bernal en the Province of Buenos Aires…when I was seven we came to live in Belgrano [from suburban Buenos Aires, Bernal, to a residential district in the City of Buenos Aires, Belgrano]. Then I lived here till I got married.
How did you take up contact with the libertarian movement?
Since my student times in Germany, I’d been strongly attracted to the libertarian movement. I’d read a lot. Over there I’d become a militant of the Socialist Students’ League, who were left-socialists, left of the social democrats. They had a very libertarian tendency and there I read the classics. So, when I came back from my studies in ´56, I already had a libertarian posture. What happened is I wanted to enter the Socialist Party here, but the internal disputes were so tremendous that they didn’t accept me. The old guys who represented the right wing of the party and feared the growth of the youth thought that I’d come to break the voting tie in the committee to their disadvantage, because the assembly of associates had to accept me. I remember that assembly, it was pathetic! It embarrassed me, because they tied twice or three times! And all I wanted was to be a member. So, I thanked them, and good bye, never again, … never again the Socialist Party! Then I started to go now and then to the lectures at the Libertarian Federation in Humberto Primo Street.
How big of an influence did the FLA have in the social movement at that time?
I’d say very little, because peronism had completely defeated anarchism. And anarchism had committed some grave errors. All the people who were against Severino Di Giovanni when I started my research took me to be an enemy. And there were those who had openly collaborated with the “Libertadora.”16. Openly! So much so that some syndicates [until that moment they were peronist] were taken by the marine infantry. These syndicates held a banquet in the Libertarian Federation for Admiral Rojas.…17 Well, they were ferociously anti-peronist and unbearably anti-communist. Furthermore, I arrived there with my surname of German origin, and some said that they had to check out if I was nazi or not. It was a really shitty environment, controlled by the old guys, the old guys who had lost to peronism.
You have told me that you were once a sailor. When was that?
That was before I went to study in Germany. I had to work to save for my studies, and first I worked in an insurance agency belonging to some Germans. My third job was in the merchant marine. One of my brothers was an officer there, and he had me enter as an apprentice commissary. The commissaries were the ones who did the administrative paper pushing on the ships. But on the second day Captain Almirón saw me and said, you’re not going to stay here doing numbers in the office. Come to the bridge, You’re going to be an apprentice helmsman. So, for six months I was an apprentice helmsman. We went from Buenos Aires to Puerto Caballero to the North of Asunción along the River Paraná. It was a very nice period, dangerous because the crew was Paraguayan then. The Paraguayans and Correntinos18 held shindigs on top of the barges with an accordion and some played the harp19 really well and they danced all night long, those nights of full moon and heat. At the beginning I went but it was very dangerous because I was the only pale face there. I was going to have to close myself up in my cabin [he laughs]. Those trips were really nice, until the Maritime Workers’ Strike was called because they wouldn’t accept Perón’s decree, by which, I can’t remember, seven or eight percent of their earnings were to be discounted for the Eva Perón Foundation [founded by Eva Peron to give money to the poor]. So the Maritime Workers said “no”. The Maritime Workers and the Railway Workers were the only unions still in the hands of the socialists and the anarchists. Well, the anarchists still had influence within the sailors union, not amongst the leaders but amongst the rank and file members, amongst the mechanics. I attended the assembly where the automatic discount was rejected – it was to be voluntary, he who wanted to donate, should donate. We embarked upon the steamer Madrid, and the strike started before we arrived in Rosario.20 So, I said to the captain, “O.K., I’m on strike”, and he answered, “You’re not going to fool around, you’re not going to strike if no one’s going to stop working here”. “What do you mean, nobody’s going to stop working – we have to follow the decisions of the assembly?” “Look, not one Paraguayan or Correntino’s going to stop working here”. And that’s the way it was, I was the only striker on the steamer Madrid, and of course when we arrived in Rosario, they disembarked me and told the Coast Guard that I was a striker. It was 2 o’clock in the morning. A jeep came to pick me up and took me to the Coast Guard Station. They made me stand at attention for about six hours straight.
And it was then that they tore up your card?
Ah, I’ve already told you about this, then. Yes, then the Under-prefect came and said, “Watch what I’m going to do with your embarkation card”. He tore it up into little pieces and threw them in the garbage. And he said, “You are never going to sail again on an Argentinean vessel.” And he was right.
Had you already registered at the School of Philosophy and Humanities?
First I registered in medicine, because I wanted to learn about the body before learning about the soul. I passed my first year of medicine…and I left medicine to enter philosophy. There I became acquainted with… well, “they” came to speak to me about peronism! Peron had given the School of Philosophy and Humanities over to Catholic Fundamentalism and the Right, so you only saw Saint Thomas and Saint Augustine. The CEU, Centro de Estudiantes Universitarios [University Students’ Center] were the peronists who dominated the School and kicked the shit out of you. Their boss was Jorge Cesarsky,21 you remember…After that, I continued with journalism until [eventually] I accepted to go to Patagonia [with the Esquel22 newspaper]. I went with a contract with the owner of the chain of newspapers of Chubut,23 who [contracted] me for the Esquel paper. I went there with all my family, because I intended to stay for a few years. But right after a year they kicked me out, the gendarmerie24 that is, because of my subversive articles, Because, they said, Esquel was a border town. And so it was that I returned to Buenos Aires as a sort of national journalistic hero, because they had kicked me out and they had put me in the can. The day I arrived in Buenos Aires I started working for the newspaper Clarín. Only a short time afterwards, they elected me to be Adjunct Secretary General of the Press Workers’ Syndicate and I immediately went on to be the General Secretary, the journalists’ maximum commander. There was also the Journalists’ Association, a minority union of gorilas [reactionaries]. There, in the Syndicate, I learnt a lot.
Were you independent within the union or did you belong to any certain tendency?
No, I belonged to a tendency…, there were two “lists” [tendencies] in the union, one Blue and White,25 who were right peronists on the absolute Right and more a group of intelligence servicemen and collaborators, always mixed together with the SIDE [Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado, State Intelligence Secretariat]. We were the Green List, the independent list, formed out of radicales,26 socialists, communists and anarchists. The list, because of the communists, was introduced orders from the Central Committee [of the Communist Party]…We carried out a lot of struggles…in the assemblies and the interior of the country. I traveled throughout the world and I was under arrest for 63 days. That was in ´63, a little after Illia’d been elected [President of Argentina] and took power on the 12th of October. I was arrested during the dictatorship that had Guido as president, after the milicos’ coup d’étàt, and I was under arrest from the 2nd of April till the 20th of June, in the women’s prison. After that, that was everybody ’s joke with me! [he laughs] They had moved all the women because there wasn’t enough room in the men’s prisons – they were all full! In our pavilion there were seventeen communists and two others. Well, I was there for 63 days. You learn a lot… Well, after that my life went back to its normal work, and little by little I started with my research projects.
When you had gone to Esquel, was that your first contact with Patagonia? Did you start to do research there?
Yes, yes, mostly to collect data, because someone always appeared who knew something. There was an old journalist and I once wrote an article on him. The Horse-back Journalist he was called and he wrote his articles on horse back. He went to all the villages, always on horse back. He has a really beautiful book. One day we’re going to do a reproduction with some publisher. Any way, when I got back [from Patagonia]… the communists really betrayed the posture we had chosen, which was a completely independent one. They wanted to bend it, twist it, and so finally I didn’t want to have anything more to do with that [Green] list. I left it and continued completely independently. At that time I was director of a magazine called Imagen, a current events magazine of German style, which went pretty well. But then the owner sold it to Alberto J. Armando27 and to that son of a bitch of a painter, the one that always has ads calling him the best painter, what’s his name?…Pérez Celis, unbearable. I had to deal with him. He’s miserable, egotistic, a horrible painter. I don’t know how he keeps pulling off what he does. He’s considered to be the best Argentinean painter, any way, let’s leave him. Well, I carried on with my work there.
Yes, I started to work on Di Giovanni, and then the Clarín positioned me as the Chief of Politics and one of my reporters was named Félix Luna. So, one fine day he told me, “I want to start a history magazine. Would you help me?” and I said, “Yes, I’m very interested.” and he asked me, “What would you like to do?” “I’d like to do research on the crimes of the beginning of the century, really get into the nitty-gritty, and describe it all.” And he said to me, “O.K., do it. But do some history too.” And so I started to collaborate with the magazine Todo es Historia. I signed the cop-and-robber articles with a pen name and the other ones with mine. The first issue started with the Palomar28 affair. I liked the topics where I could still find the participants, not from the previous century, where all you have left are the newspapers and documents. I always liked doing research where I could find people to interview. And in all the research work I found the participants alive – the members of Di Giovanni’s group, the members of the expropriator bands and groups. Absolutely everybody of La Patagonia was still living, the soldiers were 62 years old. So all my historical articles are based on oral testimony, except for one topic, which interested me very much, which was the sinking of the Rosales, the only Argentinean ship that sunk with the saving of all of the officers and the drowning of all the other crew members. It was the first time that the matter was researched. The work on Di Giovanni appeared in two pretty long articles. After that, the editor of the Galerna publishers called me to say, “We’re going to publish a book [on Di Giovanni].” So I told him I had tons of material and that I’d had to summarize to fit all of it into the magazine. Then I started to put the book together. It was among the highest sellers for 24 weeks, I think.
It has to be the historical number one best seller of the history in the Argentinean press. I still see kids of 20 or so reading it as if it were the Bible.
Yes, it was, until it was prohibited by that son of a bitch, Lastiri,29 before Peron did it. And then began the whole adventure with the film, which was going to be done on Di Giovanni.
Did you actually write a script?
Yes, first with Roberto Bezza. Then there was Fabio [Leonardo Fabio, movie director], who had it for ten years or more, and after Fabio the famous Italian, the one who made “Christ Stopped at Eboli”, Gino? I wish he’d made it. Just when he was about to make it the bombing took place in Milan, a bomb in a bank that killed sixteen people, and he said to me, “No, in no way are we going to do the life of a terrorist.” Well, that’s the way it stayed till I returned from exile…In the mean time there was Fabio again, who spoke to me from Columbia. I remember it was snowing in Germany and he phoned me at three in the morning saying, “We’re going to do it on the Côte d’Azur, it’s all set.” Imagine, what a title, “Severino Di Giovanni on the Côte d’Azur” [he laughs]. After I got back here in ´83 and Olivera [who had the rights after Fabio] finally gave it up.
Why did he give it up?
He was really enthusiastic, we’d already started with the wardrobe, everything was ready, with the script written and everything else, and one day he phoned me and said, “Look Osvaldo, I can’t do it.” I asked him, “Why not? Don’t just tell me that.” And he answered, “Look, Severino’s a nice terrorist and each time he places a bomb, the people in the cinema are going to give him a tremendous applause. It’s going to cause some really messy problems, and I’ve already had enough of the experience of La Patagonia Rebelde [Rebellious Patagonia]”
But it [the movie] was the success of his life…
True, but there was no way. And then who called me? Fabio, who had every thing all ready. He described each scene to me, everything… Well, after Fabio appeared Desanzo, the one who did Evita. And I flatly refused him. He said, “I’ve got great news, Bayer, Fabio’s just given me the rights.” I asked him, “Who is Fabio to give the rights to you?” Desanzo went on, “I’m really very happy, it’s the dream of my life…” And I asked again, “Who is he to give you the rights? Stop fucking around with me, don’t hassle me with this stuff any more. That gentleman had no right! Keep yourself out of these things…” Poor Desanzo… So, well, after Desanzo nobody touched the stuff again, until the matter with Luis Puenzo31 began…
Now Luis Puenzo has the rights, is he considering filming?
I don’t know. I hope not, because he’s trash.
Give us your evaluation of the situation, today, half way through 2001. What is the situation of progressive politics, of the Left, of humanists faced with the offensive of the Right, of capitalism at its most voracious point?
I’m encouraged by the picketeers’ movement32 and by the movements of the campesinos and the unemployed. It’s really curious, because they appear spontaneously… They are living examples of the phenomenon of the [Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Disappeared)]. When there are demonstrations, people go into the streets. It is as if the absolute and total defeat of ten years ago had somehow been overcome. These movements are calling the attention of the First World. The huge demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, the system isn’t working. The system is finding absolutely no solution to any problem either of the First World or of the Third World…I have real confidence that we’re going to have a more and more revolutionary climate! You see that the bourgeois parties don’t know what to do. They change one guy, put in an other one, they make ridiculous speeches… If you listened to the thing in Tucumán…, it’s just one more radical speech, it seems like they’d looked for one of Yrigoyen’s33 speeches…“All of us have to be united, all of us have to be together…” Yeah! Who united, who?! “Unite! The Mother Land is in danger!” Such stupidity, at least the peronists put a little salt on things, they at least seem to be revolutionaries when they speak…
One sees more and more people who are excluded, marginalized. Those who are integrated and who have an income are terrified of loosing it, of loosing their integration. All the movements which you have mentioned are all movements which have nothing to do directly with production. You’ve mentioned the Madres and the picketers, are they generally outside the system?
They’re outside the system, in one way but in an other they’re the ones who made the French Revolution, right? The ones who started to throw stones, thinkers aside, the urban plebes. They threw stones and started the whole thing. All the rest, you see, stayed back…Communism has been defeated. Look, socialism doesn’t exist any more – socialism as a party. The parties which try to organize are organized by village priests who know the poor and distribute food…or by the Right, isn’t it so? With torturers who are recognized by the people and say, “These guys’re tough and they’re going to kill the delinquents, right? Finally!” That is how the Right thinks and there are more than a few of them…like Bussi34 [General Domingo].
There is always a public for the Right…
Always, yes always. And especially when there’s some big danger, like now: Cavallo35 falls and inflation will take its toll. We will relive the last few months of Alfonsín’s36 presidency. And what will happen then? Then suddenly someone [will] launche a proclamation, it could be Rico,37 Seineldín,38 or Patti,39 or it could be Bussi again. You can just imagine how the Avenida the Mayo,40 is going to be opened up so that they can parade…And we thought that it had already finished, but it hasn’t. At any moment, imagine – not the same ones as before – [a military figure] makes a proclamation saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is chaos, the army has to keep vigil over the destiny of the Mother Land.”…Any way, there’re people in the streets, yeah, people in the streets…
Why anarchism today?
Well, because libertarian socialism is the way…or as I prefer to say, libertarian solidarism, that’s where we can find the essence of a better world, the essence of a society formed from the grass roots up, through the people’s discussion, the protagonism of the people. That is the most beautiful poem of all…Now, we have to be practical but one can think that finally, after so many problems, humanity’s going to start to think and … the only way is by the people being the protagonists within an enormous mutuality…
* Fernando López Trujillo, Argentinean activist and writer, received a grant award from the IAS for his project, The FACA and the Anarchist Movement in Argentina, 1930-1950.
1 A street in the old district of San Telmo of Buenos Aires
2 Federación Obrera Regional Argentina, Argentinean Regional Workers’ Federation.
3 FLA, Federación Libertaria Argentina, the continuation of the FACA, Federación Anarco Comunista Argentina, Argentinean Anarco Communist Federation
4 A centrally located multi-laned avenue, the construction of which determined the demolition of many city blocks.
5 Anarchist publication, opposed to La Protesta.
6 Secretary of edition of the anarchist daily, La Protesta, who, according to most testimonies, was assassinated by Di Giovanni in 1929 as corollary of an extensive ideological and political battle fought in libertarian publications in Argentina. For further details see Bayer’s book.
7 General secretary of the maritime workers’ union, one of the most important of the workers’ movement of the ´20s and ´30s, as well as being a well-known expropriator and proponent of direct action.
8 Rector of the University of La Plata and important militant of the FACA.
9 Workers’ struggle against a British tannin company, which occupy decades of history of the workers’ movement in Argentina.
10 América Scarfó, Di Giovanni´s adolescent lover.
11 Coastal town in the extreme South of continental Argentina.
12 Small city in northeastern Argentina on the River Paraná.
13 Small city in northern Patagonia.
14 Town in northeastern Argentina on the River Uruguay.
15 Largest city of northwestern Argentina.
16 Term used to designate the military coup d’étàt against the peronist government on 16th of September, 1955, and the succeeding dictatorial process, which lasted three years, until the results of the elections of 1958.
17 The vice-president after the ultra-reactionary coup d’étàt of December 1955, when he together with Aramburu dislodged moderate military command, who had carried out the coup d’étàt in September, from power.
18 Argentineans from the Province of Corrientes, on the River Paraná, opposite Paraguay.
19 The national instrument of Paraguay, surprisingly similar to the Celtic harp.
20 First large port upstream.
21 Famous rightist and leader of combat groups of peronism of the right.
22 Town in west-central Patagonia.
23 Central province of Patagonia.
24 Border guard corps, who, presently, are the forces used throughout the North and South of Argentina, in the province of Salta, for example, specifically for the repression of the movements of popular demands, and have thus abandoned the tasks they were originally created to fulfill.
25 The colors of the Argentinean flag.
26 Members of the Partido Radical, the Radical Party, liberal bourgeois party. Successive use of radical implies of the Partido Radical.
27 Conservative, populist president of Boca Juniors, the most popular Football team of Argentina.
28 Famous case of corruption involving the donation of a large tract of land to be used as the site for the National Military School, and its subsequent fraudulent purchase and resale to the state, involving military officers and radical politicians, and obviously huge quantities of money.
29 President of the House of Representatives, who in 1974 because of the Campora’s renunciation, assumed the Presidency of the Nation before Peron’s assumption
30 Bayer speaks about “la Strage di Piazza Fontana”. “It was a bomb in the Banca Nazionale di Lavoro, in Piazza Fontana in Milan, December 1969. It was in fact the bombing of which Pinelli was accused.” [Thanks Leslie Ray, who gives me these data]
31 Director of the film The Official Story, Oscar award winner in the ‘80s. Although good, it is based on “the theory of the two demons” (Teoría de los dos demonios, the reactionary, official view about the dictatorship years)
32 Movimiento de los piqueteros, a protest movement, of which the basic tool is blocking the flow of traffic on roads and highways, which has gained considerable strength in Argentina in the last ten years and which in July of this year was declared illegal.
33 Radical, twice President of Argentina, removed from power in his second term by the military coup d’étàt of 1930.
34 Appointed inspector-general of the province of Tucumán during the military dictatorship, against whom the lawsuits for genocide and torture have yet to be concluded, and who, nevertheless, was elected Governor of Tucumán during the ´90s.
35 Neo-liberal “Chicago boy” (Milton Friedman disciple), President of the Central Bank during the military dictatorship, Minister of Economy under Ex-president Menem, present Minister of Economy in De la Rua’s radical government.
36 Hyperinflation and civil unrest.
37 Nazionalist military officer who stood out during the Malvinas-faulkland Islands War.
38 Military companion of Rico’s, from whom he took distance upon the arrival of Menem’s peronist government in 1989; imprisoned for a frustrated coup d’étàt during the ´90s; these days maintains relations with a chavista -so named after the Venezuelan general Chávez- group within the army.
39 Ex-police official and torturer who received support from scared sectors of the middle class who he convinced with the promise of law and order during the campaign -which he won- for mayor of Escobar, a small city in northern metropolitan Buenos Aires.
40 May Avenue, central avenue of Buenos Aires leading from Government House and Plaza de Mayo to the Congress Building, which is used for protests and demonstrations not for military parades.
By AK Press | October 28, 2015
There’s a new issue of the Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library out, number 84 to be exact. It’s not available online yet, but they’ve kindly given up permission to reprint Barry Pateman’s lead-off article, a great series of ruminations on the practice of researching and writing anarchist history.
When you are done, you should check out the KSL in all its glory. The main site is here. Viewable back issues of the Bulletin are here. And if you want to support their project (and get the Bulletin before it appears online), go here.
You can find a selection of KSL pamphlets here (we’re reprinting others that were destroyed in our recent fire).
Anarchist History: Confessions of an Awkward Pupil
When the KSL issued our first publication, George Cores’ “Personal Recollections of the Anarchist Past” in 1992 there really was a shortage of good, accurate and informative books, articles or pamphlets about the history of anarchism. The works of Paul Avrich were the gold standard – exhaustively researched and reliable – and other occasional gems shone out of the pile. Some of the available material, though, was disturbingly erroneous and we have to put that down partly to a lack of primary material that led authors to make strange assumptions about people and their ideas. Within twenty-odd years, matters had changed beyond recognition. In 1992 I had read more or less every book and pamphlet on the history of anarchism. Now there has been a relative explosion in the material available. Books, pamphlets, articles and blog posts are appearing constantly and, in a rather comforting way, it is impossible to read them all – especially the latter, and this is not even taking into account the once rare and inaccessible newspapers and pamphlets that are now available to read online as well as the digitization of letters and pamphlets that, once, one would have had to travel the world to see.
Why is that? Why the recent flood? Well I do remember Albert Meltzer speaking of academic research muttering grimly “When the buggers have finished with Marxism they’ll start on us,” but I’d like to think that there is in all of that a growing genuine interest in what anarchism is, how it developed and what influences it had on the world about us. Anarchists themselves are keen to preserve and display their own history and they are keen for others to have access to it. I find it especially interesting because a while ago I entered history myself. For a while a spate of students, mainly, were looking to interview me about the anarchist actions and movements I had been involved in. I have to say it was a little flattering, at first. I’d never seen myself as particularly important (I’d always put the stamps on the envelopes and book the meeting rooms, etc) but perhaps I really was a player – even if many of their questions were if I knew so and so and what were they like. It all got a little disturbing though. They knew more about me than I did. They’d quote a flier I’d written here, a meeting I had spoken at there – none of which I could remember with any clarity at all. I began to worry that I wasn’t giving them the answers they wanted. They were often like kindly teachers trying to lead the awkward pupil to the correct response. One young man in particular was very concerned about my casual statement that much of what I had written was not exactingly thought out but intuitive and often a space-filler so we could have the paper ready for printing the next day, and I couldn’t even remember the pseudonym I’d used to write it. Reluctantly I ended these relationships. We weren’t going anywhere. I knew it would end in tears, so I had to walk away.
A free man, left to my books and memories, the world took on a very late summer glow. I basked in the sun of age, gave a few talks thinking I had advice to offer the young ones (in retrospect I had fuck all worth saying) and then packed up the bags and retreated into history. When I surfaced I began to read, for pleasure, some new publications – blog posts, books/ theses whatever, about events I had been part of, and papers I had helped produce. The problem was that I really couldn’t really recognize what was being written about. It wasn’t as I remembered and it didn’t feel at all like they said it did. There were probably good reasons for that – not least some of us not being interviewed, and our grouping/ publication/ support group probably not being considered as particularly important by the writer. After all you can’t cover everything, can you? Any historian has to have some priorities. I shrugged the shoulders and went back to obscure anarchists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. To be honest that was giving me enough problems. Something, though, wouldn’t settle and I couldn’t let it lie. If I couldn’t recognize in these “histories” the movements and activities I had been part of, what could that suggest about all the histories of other places, people and periods that were being produced?
What I think we have been doing in the field of anarchist history during the last twenty or so years is the job John Locke described philosophers as doing. We have been under-labourers in the garden of knowledge. We have been clearing the rubble from the garden of history to find the patterns beneath it and letting others plant it. The rubble has been the rubble of time and the rubble of previous writers, many of whom lacked the access to this flood of primary material mentioned earlier, or were simply distorted by their own prejudices as to what anarchists were and anarchism was. And clearing away the rubble is no easy task. It’s often lonely work, sometimes maddeningly pedantic and demanding a patience and relentlessness that can be quite exhausting. Of course when we clear the rubble, we put piles of it behind the garden shed or next to the garden wall and these piles can create problems of their own, but there can be no doubt that some fine and exciting work, in the tradition of Paul Avrich, has taken place within this context. We have had to re-think what we thought we knew about our ideal; we have had our eyes opened to the substantial presence of anarchists and anarchism in countries where we had originally thought they had the most minimal of traces. Our understanding of what we might call “prominent figures” has grown, revealing them as far more complex people than we previously thought. In some cases we have been able to see more clearly the anarchist milieu they were part of and consequently have been able to chart some of the social, personal and political dynamics of that milieu and how it may have shaped their writing. Read the rest of this entry »
By AK Press | October 27, 2015
Taking Sides: Revolutionary Solidarity and the Poverty of Liberalism, edited by Cindy Milstein, promises to piss a lot of people off. Not that the essays it contains all agree with one another, but each of them does challenge some familiar aspect of activism-as-usual. Below are some fighting words from “A Critique of Ally Politics,” by M. [Oh, and you can get the whole book here.]
A Critique of Ally Politics
The liberal concept of allyship is embedded in a rights-based discourse of identity politics. It works with the ideas that there are fixed groups of people (black people, women, gay people, and so on) that have been wronged by the structural oppressions of our society, that we must work across these differences to achieve equality for all, and that this responsibility falls especially on those who most benefit from structural oppressions. It centers on the idea that everyone has different life experiences that are shaped by our perceived identities, and so if you have an identity that is privileged in our society, you cannot understand the experiences of someone with an identity that is oppressed.
According to ally politics, in order to undermine whatever social privileges you benefit from, you must give up your role as a primary actor and become an ally to the oppressed. A good ally learns that if you can never understand the implications of walking through this world as an oppressed [fill in the blank with a person on the receiving end of a specific oppression], the only way to act with integrity is to follow the leadership of those who are oppressed in that way, support their projects and goals, and always seek out their suggestions and listen to their ideas when you are not sure what to do next.
It starts to get real complicated, real fast, however, as you discover that there is no singular mass of people of color—or any other identity-based group—to take guidance from, and that people within a single identity will not only disagree about important things but also will often have directly conflicting desires.…
In an attempt to find brown folks to take direction from, white folks often end up tokenizing a specific group whose politics most match their own. “What does the NAACP, Critical Resistance, or the Dream Team think about X?” Or they search out the most visible “leaders” of a community because it is quicker and easier to meet the director of an organization, minister of a church, or politician representing a district than to build real relationships with the people who make up that body. This approach to dismantling racism structurally reinforces the hierarchical power that we’re fighting against by asking a small group to represent the views of many people with a variety of different lived experiences. When building an understanding of how to appropriately take leadership from those more affected by oppression, people frequently seek out such a community leader not simply because it’s the easiest approach but also because—whether they admit it or not—they are not just looking to fulfill the need for guidance; they are seeking out legitimacy, too.…
To be an ally is to shirk responsibility for your own actions—legitimizing your position by taking the voice of someone else, always acting in someone else’s name. It’s a way of taking power while simultaneously diminishing your own accountability, because not only are you hiding behind others but you’re also obscuring the fact that you’re in control of making the choices about who you’re listening to—all the while pretending, or convincing yourself, that you’re following the leadership of a nonexistent community of people of color or that of the most appropriate black voices. And who are you to decide who the most appropriate anything is? Practically, then, it means finding a black voice who agrees with your position to justify your own desires against the desires of other white people—or mixed-race groups.
Perhaps you’ve watched or participated in organizing that seeks to develop the leadership of individuals who live in a specific neighborhood or work in a particular kind of labor force. This language seems to offer the benevolence of the skills of the organizing group to those who haven’t been exposed to such ideas. It is coded language describing a reductive and authoritarian approach to imposing an organizing model on a community of people from the outside. It also conveniently creates spokespeople who can then be used to represent the whole of that (often heterogeneous) body of people. Over the last several decades, an entire elite class of politicians and spokespeople has been used to politically demobilize the communities they claim to represent.
I frequently hear from antiauthoritarian “white allies” that they are working with authoritarian or nonpartisan community groups, sometimes on projects they don’t believe in, because the most important thing is that they follow the leadership of people of color. The unspoken assertion is that there are no antiauthoritarian people of color—or none who are worth working with. Choosing to follow authoritarian people of color in this way invisibilizes all the anarchist or unaligned people of color who would be your comrades in the fight against hierarchical power. Obviously, there is at least as broad a range of political ideologies in communities of color as there are in white communities.
By AK Press | October 5, 2015
As you have probably heard, Grace Lee Boggs died today. She was 100 years old. We were lucky enough to publish a great interview with her in Uses of a Whirlwind, edited by the Team Colors Collective. The interview was conducted by Stevie Peace and captures Grace in all her energetic glory. You can read it in PDF format here.
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