The Trump presidency has seen a boom of fascist organizing and anti-fascist resistance in North America. Strategies and tactics that originally developed in the European context have spread around the USA. Meanwhile, in Russia, both Nazi violence and anti-fascist activity have died down to a mere fraction of what they were at the peak of the years of confrontation, 2002-2011. In the following text, a participant in the Russian anti-fascist movement suggests some conclusions about how to train for anti-fascist confrontations.
In publishing this perspective, we aim to facilitate dialogue between those fighting fascism in a variety of conditions all around the world. We believe it is crucial for anti-fascists to learn from history and from each other’s experience. If the Russian model for anti-fascist action reached its limits based on internal factors, as described below, we should take care not to reproduce those elements in our own organizing. Likewise, we encourage readers to bear in mind the political, social, and legal differences between the Russian and US contexts; you’ll do no one any good by ending up in prison on weapons charges unless the alternative would have been even worse. In the long run, fascism won’t be defeated simply by individual courage or force of arms, but by building a broad-based, participatory movement that addresses the social and economic problems fascists capitalize on to recruit for their organizations.
Introduction from the Author
Unfortunately, this text cannot go into detail about the history of Russian anti-fascism. That text has yet to be written. You can get a general sense from two texts that appeared between 2009 and 2011, before it was obvious that the situation was about to change:
There are a number of reasons why both fascist terror and anti-fascist organizing have drastically diminished in Russia over the past decade. First of all, Russian society is less dysfunctional. During the economic crisis of the 1990s, entire communities were devastated due to drugs and crime; people born in the 1980s were among the most affected. When this generation reached their twenties in the following decade, they were prone to violence and mayhem. Almost all the major Nazi terrorists were born in the 1980s. Since then, the majority of those still alive and not in prison have settled down somehow.
The police are also taking fascists and anti-fascists more seriously. A decade ago, you could bribe beat cops to get out of trouble; sometimes you could even bribe officers of the FSB (the successor to the KGB). Nowadays, beat cops contact the Center of Counteraction Against Extremists (E-Center) or the FSB, and they do not accept bribes anymore. The government has also heavily suppressed the football hooligan subculture, which used to be the biggest youth subculture in Russia.
A third reason is changing fascist strategies. Russian fascists have oscillated between organizing wide mass movements and underground terror. In the 1990s, Barkashov’s party Russian National Unity boasted hundreds of thousands of supporters; by the late 2000s, nothing remained from those days and fascists were concentrating on underground terror cells. The most prominent of those was the Fighting Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), the speciality of which was high-profile murders, including those of anti-fascists Ivan Khutorskoy, Fyodor Filatov, Ilya Dzhaparidze, Stanislav Markelov, and Anastasia Baburova.
All the known BORN members have been dead or imprisoned since 2013. During the cycle of protests against election fraud in 2011-2012 and Alexei Navalny’s rise to prominence on an anti-corruption and anti-immigrant platform, fascists rediscovered their lost hope of building a mass movement and joined liberals and leftists in mass demonstrations—not without occasional fights with anti-fascists, however. New terror groups still occasionally emerge, such as the group around 20-year-old Pavel Vojtov, which murdered at least 15 homeless people in the Moscow area from 2014 to 2015. But this is nothing compared to the situation of the previous decade.
The last major Nazi attack on an anti-fascist concert was in summer 2010, when a group of Nazis aiming to assault a show by Moscow Death Brigade dispersed after warning shots were fired with a shotgun. The arms race had reached its logical conclusion; both anti-fascists and fascists lost interest in attacking the gigs of their opponents.
After the collapse of the movement against election fraud, the fascist movement was in a crisis, just as the rest of the opposition was. The war in Donbass (a region in eastern Ukraine torn by a Russia-backed insurgency) was another devastating blow, as Nazis were bitterly arguing about which side of the conflict to support. Eventually, both Nazis and anti-fascists ended up fighting in both sides of the front. Even anarchists have failed to reach a common position about the war in Donbass.
In a way, Russian anti-fascists had achieved a victory, as the movement was always organized around the goal of defending shows, not combating racism in Russian society in general. Since Nazis do not come to shows anymore, there is little organized anti-fascism left.
Because of all these factors, racist violence has dropped dramatically in Russia. According to SOVA center statistics, there were 692 incidents in 2007 and 93 in 2016—a whopping 86% drop. The real drop might be even more, as readiness to report crime grows as crime drops.
The reasons for the rise and fall of fascism and anti-fascism in Russia were rather local; there are probably not many universal lessons to draw from this. However, we can offer some notes regarding the practice in the streets.
The following suggestions are drawn from the experience of those years in Russia. All of this is basically common sense, but judging from what I’ve read online lately, some people may still benefit from these suggestions.
Note that self-defense in this text refers also to precautionary offense, as you cannot expect a state of peace with fascists to last indefinitely.
1. When it comes to physical confrontations, there is a strict hierarchy of tools.
A blunt weapon almost always wins against bare hands. A sharp weapon almost always wins against blunt weapons. A gun always wins against knives.
This hierarchy of tools is much more important than any disparity in size and strength; it also erases most disparity in skills. With a sharp weapon, you can easily defeat an unarmed opponent twice as heavy as you. Take this into account if you are small and weak.
Because of this…
2. There is no universal practice of self-defense.
The appropriate practice of self-defense depends completely on the cultural and legal context. For example:
-In Western and Central Europe, confrontations usually involve bare hands, sometimes blunt weapons. Most of these countries have a cultural aversion to using sharp weapons, although knives are sometimes drawn. Guns are almost never used, as firearm ownership is strictly regulated.
-In Greece, the mere possession of sharp weapons is heavily penalized. As a consequence, confrontations typically involve blunt weapons.
-In Finland, carrying knives is not unusual, and you should be prepared for the possibility that your opponent will be carrying one. Guns are also more available than in the rest of the Europe.
-In the USA, gun regulations are lax. You should operate under the assumption that your opponent may be carrying one.
-In Russia, the cultural framework is fluid. According to tradition, conflicts should be solved with bare hands, and gun legislation is rather strict. However, due to the escalation of conflict between 2002 and 2011, trauma guns and knives replaced fists; then shotguns replaced trauma guns and knives. Shotguns created a balance of terror and confrontations died out for the most part. Because of cultural and legal pressures, both of these shifts took a few years.
Antifa was born in Germany and originally spread in Western and Central Europe, but the practice of fighting barehanded is not applicable in places where the cultural and legal framework does not confine confrontations to those terms. There is no sense in training in unarmed self-defense if your opponent is likely to carry a blunt weapon. There is no sense training in self-defense with blunt weapons if your opponent is likely to carry a sharp weapon. If your opponent is likely to carry a gun, there is no sense training in self-defense with sharp weapons.
In addition to cultural and legal frameworks, scenarios also matter. I read an article about anti-racists setting up a powerlifting gym in the USA in order to be prepared for confrontations with racists and sexists in the streets and clubs. However, lifting weights is of very little use if you expect to confront a fascist demonstration. If the scenario is confronting a random racist, sexist, or homophobe in the street or serving as a bouncer at a benefit party, appearing big enough may solve the problem without violence.
This brings us to our next point…
3. Understand your priorities.
Unless you are a teenager or 20-something and plan to be a self-defense professional, you should prioritize. You cannot prepare for all scenarios; you should pick a few of them. Even if you do not have studies, a job, or a family now, you are likely to have any or all of them during the next 10 years that it will take you to become a universal expert.
You have a choice to make. If you expect to face unarmed opponents, train in unarmed self-defense. If you expect to face armed opponents, figure out how to survive the situation. If you only expect to face random harassers or drunken assholes at parties, you may lift weights. But most likely, you wont be able to prepare for all of these scenarios. Concentrate on what is most likely to keep you alive and healthy.
4. Do not train in Mixed Martial Arts.
Or at least do not concentrate on grappling, unless you only plan to be a bouncer and you do not anticipate any serious confrontations. This goes for anything related to ground fighting, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling.
If you have to fight against several opponents and you go to ground with one of them, someone will kick your head or stab you in the back. If you want to stay alive, you never want to go to ground in any serious situation. You should know something about holds, but spending years studying the complex art of grappling makes no sense if the goal is to survive in the streets.
I always feel sad when I read about anti-fascists training in MMA. Obviously, it is a beautiful form of art. However, it has little to do with the kind of self-defense you may need in political confrontations. Yes, anti-fascist MMA tournaments have been organized in the former Soviet Union since 2009, but this choice is not due to street realities but due to culture. Pulling a knife is considered disgraceful; this is why people kept training and competing in MMA even when everyone was already carrying a knife or a trauma gun.
Avoid any fancy Japanese or Chinese technique with a thousand-year-old noble tradition unless studying it is your chief goal in life. These arts were developed for the purposes of a professional caste in feudal times; they require years of full-time study to master and involve impractical and outdated weapons. If you are landed gentry, perhaps you can afford to become a samurai. Otherwise, that is unlikely.
You know best what to do with your own life. Mastering Kwan Dao or Katana might be just as fascinating as mastering model train collecting. But in the streets, all three of those options are comparably useful unless you always carry a Kwan Dao or Katana with you.
If you have a job or other demanding commitments in your life, you haven’t studied martial arts since childhood, and you do not possess natural talent, you should concentrate on learning the most essential and rudimentary skills. If you expect to face an opponent in an unarmed confrontation, the first thing to learn is how to deliver kicks and punches. Muay Thai is good for this. If you live in an area where it is more likely that you will find yourself in a scenario involving blunt and sharp weapons, I recommend Filipino martial arts such as Kali or Escrima—and nothing else. If you live in an area where everyone has a gun and issues are likely to be resolved through confrontations with firearms, just get a gun and learn how to use it.
5. Be prepared to use your weapon.
Even in countries where there are strict cultural norms or laws against weapons, they are sometimes used. Sticks and stones are everywhere; your opponent will probably find one if he is really in trouble. There is no country in which you should concentrate only on unarmed training.
Even if you do only prepare for unarmed confrontation, you should think about how to protect your knuckles. You are not going to go around with boxing gloves—nor would you want to use them in a serious confrontation, anyway. But if you break your hand with your first punch, you are in trouble. You should think about this. Always be prepared to protect your knuckles.
And when you train with weapons…
6. Do not spend much time studying disarming techniques.
Most likely, you will never have the opportunity to use them. Attempting to disarm a person of any weapon is always extremely dangerous. You should only try it if your opponent is obviously drunk and inexperienced and there are no other opponents around. Otherwise, you should not attempt to disarm someone, but rather, use your own weapon instead. If you don’t have a weapon of your own and there is no way to escape… you’re probably in trouble.
But besides training…
7. Be prepared to use what you have learned.
There is no point training in Filipino martial arts if you do not carry a weapon with you. It is pointless to do target practice if you don’t carry a gun. When you have learned your art, you should always carry your weapon anywhere that you expect you may be involved in confrontations—and sooner or later, even where you do not expect them. If you are not able to do this, you should be prepared to deal with confrontations without your weapon.
8. What about running away?
Self-defense gurus often say, “First of all, you should attempt to run away.” This is often good advice—but not always. First, it is always easier to catch someone than to run away, so it only makes sense to run if you believe that you are faster and you know your escape route. Second, you may not be the only one whose life and health is at stake. What if you are able to escape, but that would mean leaving your comrade to face your adversaries alone?
Obviously, it is a good idea to stay in good shape and do cardio training. Almost any street confrontation requires stamina and at least a bit of running. But you should be prepared for situations in which running away is not an option.
But even if gurus sometimes give bad advice…
9. Always train with professionals.
Or at least study under very experienced trainers. It might be nice to hang around and practice with your friends from time to time, but in order to learn something and to develop your skills, you have to join a serious group.
Yes, many trainers and people in clubs are assholes. Both trainers and regular students might be unfriendly, unsupportive, sexist, or otherwise insensitive. However, the people you’re likely to face in street confrontations will not be nice, either.
I’m not saying that you should pay to participate in a class that is almost unbearable. If the other people are such assholes that you can’t concentrate on the exercises, it’s not worth the money. But any major city has plenty of options; if one trainer or club doesn’t suit you, look for another one. You should only train exclusively alone or with friends if there really is no other choice.
However, although it is better to train with professionals, a professional trainer is probably not the best person to seek life advice from. If you ask your trainer how you should train and how much, she or he will probably answer that you should train six days a week and go to a competition on the seventh. Perhaps you only want to train to win in the streets, or at least to stay alive out there. Your trainer will probably have different life priorities than you. Not every anti-fascist has to be a professional trainer or fighter. If the art of your choice can only be useful after you’ve been practicing it three times a week for five years, it’s not a good choice. One of the stupidest choices I made in my life was to train in ancient varieties of kung-fu for years. I never had enough time or skills achieve anything in them.
And at last of all…
10. Practice sparring in every training.
Only sparring can prepare you for serious confrontations. You should practice with many different rules and many different scenarios, such as one person against many people and many people against many people. You should train to draw your weapon fast. Do this in every training, even if you’re a beginner. If your trainer does not understand importance of sparring, change classes.
Don’t take it too hard, as you don’t want to have CTE. But don’t take it too easy either.
I would like to thank Jew Bear, xAx, and CrimethInc. agents for valuable comments.
Dane Powell, the first of the J20 defendants to be sentenced, just completed his four-month sentence after taking a non-cooperating plea deal in which he pled guilty to two felony charges. During the demonstrations against Trump’s inauguration, Dane was filmed risking his freedom to save a child who was brutally attacked by riot police. Dane teamed up with Joseph Buddenburg, another political prisoner serving two years for Conspiracy to Violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, to compose the following guide to surviving jail, prison, and transportation between holding facilities. Whether you are preparing for the possibility of doing time yourself, getting ready to support someone else through a sentence, or simply curious to learn more about life inside the prison-industrial complex, read on for a wide range of essential tips.
When you’re facing a possible prison sentence, the anxiety can be overbearing. No person who is in prison knows what lies ahead from one day to the next. It is quite literally a step into the unknown.
When I first got to jail, I kept notes on experiences that might help ease some confusion for my codefendants. I had no idea I would be transported hundreds of miles to the sunshine state over a three-week period.
Roughly a month at Coleman Federal Correctional Institution, I was introduced to Joseph Buddenburg, another political prisoner, who is serving a 24-month sentence. Joseph was originally serving time in California and was sent to the east coast, away from his support, as a form of punishment. I shared this writing project with him and we decided to combine our energy and experiences. Our goal is to give tips and tricks we had to learn the hard way. These are things we agree that we should have known before we heard the first door lock behind us.
I. Washington DC Jail
Prior to being sentenced, if found guilty, you will go through presentencing. This office will interview you and send a report to your sentencing judge. This report recommends a sentence. Be careful with how you word things during this interview, as everything you say can and will be used against you. I recommend your lawyers be present for this interview. For example, certain substances are legal in Washington DC, but if you’re found guilty of a felony you’ll be doing federal time / federal probation.
Once you’re in the DC jail, it can hard to reach anyone for a very long time. It took me almost three weeks to get in touch with support because I didn’t have numbers. Prior to the day of sentencing, I recommend making a list of ten people including their phone numbers and addresses. You get one free five-minute call after you’re processed in and seen medical. You can acquire a pen and paper prior to this call and call the one person with that list. You should also have someone lined up to pick up your clothes and other person belongings as they’re only kept for 14 days. Unless you want your support to be the ones making your wish list for reading material, you should already have this done as well.
DC Jail Schedule
Food comes about every eight hours to your cell. Breakfast comes at the odd hour of around three am. When you’re in intake you get about one hour of rec Monday through Friday. The rest of the time you’re locked down. This changes when you get into general population (genpop). I was in this lockdown of intake for three weeks and I only managed to get put into genpop by going on a hunger strike. Once you’re in genpop you’ll be out of your cell for about 8 hours a day. You also get two video visits a week and your support will need to sign up for this.
Random Jail Tips
If you’re having any issues on the inside, it will almost never be resolved the way you would like. The #1 thing to do is tell your support and have them put outside pressure on the jail. This works 99% of the time.
The mailroom was shit in DC. My support was calling daily as my mail wasn’t getting through. The mailroom kept telling them they were backed up by two weeks. You can get books but they need to come from a publisher and can only be softcover (this has varied at different locations but this is specific to DC). Legal mail can only be opened and looked through in front of the prisoner and shouldn’t be read.
There are no lines (in the sense of queues) in jail or prison for things like computers or phones. For a turn on the phone, you ask who the last person is and let them know you’re after them.
If you require a special diet, tell the Chaplin it’s for religious purposes. This still took me a month to get, though.
To check your canteen account and order commissary, they have touch screen computers installed in the units. Don’t order any commissary until you get to genpop [general population]. If you order it in Intake, they’ll take your money and not give you anything. You can get it back, it’s just a pain in the ass. When you first log into this computer, you’ll need to use your DCDC number (your number as a prisoner) for your username and password. You’ll be asked to set your password at this point.
The clothing exchange is the worst! You only get your clothes washed once monthly, so every day you have to wash your clothes with you in the shower.
Your toilet is in your cell and offers no privacy between you and your celly. There places in the wall that you can shove a spork into; then you can hang a blanket from the spork in order to build a temporary wall for a bit of privacy. You should save about 8 sporks for this purpose and to hang clothes-drying lines.
You should really be saving everything you can get a hold of like salt, sugar, pepper, and other things like that. You can make an air freshener with a bottle of nose spray and the green cleaner they use on the floor. Chaplains give out free holiday cards and sometimes free phone calls.
When you write a complaint, sometimes the officer you whose behavior you are addressing in the complaint will be the one to take the complaint out of the box. When this happens, there’s a good chance that that complaint will get “lost.” There is a workaround for this: you go to the law library or the chaplain’s office and put your complaint in their box.
The sole of your shoe can serve as a pencil eraser. Treat the detail crew on each block with respect and they’ll treat you right. They’re the ones who bring bathroom supplies, food to the door, and other things like this.
Tips for LGBTQ
My celly for a week of my time in Intake was an amazing person. When I told him that I was writing this, he wanted to give tips for any gay comrades who might be coming to DC jail. So these tips are coming from a gay man. He told me the gay community sticks together almost like a gang. If you have any issues, you go talk to other gay prisoners before anyone else, and they will help you faster than anyone else. You can ask to be housed with other gay men / trans women if you identify as such. Trans peeps should see the Chaplin for hormones (if needed), magic shave, and bras. If a celly is making you uncomfortable, you need to speak up ASAP.
In part two I’m teaming up with Joseph Buddenburg to talk about our experiences with being transferred all around the United Snakes. He has experience from the Cali to FL and I have been all over the east coast.”
II. In Transportation
Other than the time I’ve spent in the SHU (Solitary), being transported is the most stressful part of my experience while incarcerated. I’ve been held at six different federal prisons / holdover jails over the last seventeen months. That’s a bit of an anomaly; if you’re a “short-termer,” you should spend the majority of your time at one facility, with a short stint in transit at holdover facilities.
For folks designated to a federal prison on the East Coast, you’ll be bussed or fly ConAir to USP Atlanta’s holdover facility before transport to your designated facility. For folks designated to the West Coast, you’ll pass through Oklahoma City Federal Transfer Center, or Pahrump, NV—a privatized Corrections Corporation of America facility that functions as another Western Region Processing Center for federal prisoners.
In my experience, these holdover facilities freak out when a political prisoner arrives. I was held in max custody at Pahrump, and at Oklahoma City I was thrown in solitary for the duration of my time. If this happens to you, it’s important to keep in mind that this is only temporary; once you get to your designated prison, you’ll have more “freedom”, access to the outside, and more contact with your supporters. I was held at Pahrump for three days and Oklahoma City for two weeks.
If you’re thrown into solitary, there is very little stimulation. Use the time to work out, write, and engage with the prisoners on the housing block, who are just as bored and frustrated as you are.
During transport itself, I found it important to fast and not drink water. You’ll be cuffed and shackled, and access to the bathroom is nearly impossible. On ConAir flights, the US Marshals allow you one chance to use the bathroom on a several hour flight. They go row to row at a time chosen by them. They’ll yell and threaten you if you try to stand up or walk to the bathroom. The meals are disgusting and you’re only given an eight-ounce bottle of water anyway. You may be “black boxed” during transports, which is especially uncomfortable. Because I was convicted of a “domestic terrorism” statute, this happens to me. You’ll be cuffed and shackled, and if black boxed, a black plastic contraption will be locked to the handcuffs, creating wrist discomfort and near immobility of your hands. Make sure the handcuffs are somewhat loose. Cops are assholes, but they can be reasoned with, sometimes.
I found the bus rides are generally much longer, with no air conditioning, and less space. If you manage to get a window seat, try to sleep throughout the ride. Other things that helped were attempts at meditation, deep breathing, and just talking to other prisoners. Keep in mind that your designated facility will be nothing like these shitty county jails and holdover facilities, and that the misery of transfer is temporary. Most likely, you’ll be designated to a low security prison, with access to recreation, “programs,” college classes, and the like.
If you’re vegan or have other dietary considerations, be prepared with a number to call your support person to pressure the jail, and perhaps to go on hunger strike. At Oklahoma City, they threw me in the SHU; they don’t allow prisoners in the SHU use of the phone until 30 days have passed. They also (illegally) don’t allow prisoners to have stamps—you can send out three letters a week, only on Wednesdays. This resulted in my being unable to contact friends or supporters, so I had to refuse meals until they finally put me on a “no flesh” diet. This was not always vegan, but there’s enough vegan sustenance to survive on. Ask for a celly when you first arrive, so you’ll be able to trade food.
I was awoken around 4 am in my cell in DC. The cop told me “pack your shit, you’re heading to the Feds.” I was so new to everything, I thought I was already with the Feds. After all, I was put into the custody of the US Federal Marshals after sentencing. I was excited when my celly told me the Feds are “easy time.” On the other hand, I had just got settled in and had a nice collection of books. You can’t bring anything with you except for legal papers (put your contact list on your legal papers). So I left my books and letters as property that was to be picked up, and I stepped off again into the unknown.
From the morning I left DC, it took me three weeks to get to Coleman, FL. The process of waking you up at 4 am was repeated each time we would be transported. In my three weeks, I saw one jail and two prisons before getting to Coleman. The first morning, after leaving DC, we were brought to Warsaw, VA. We were put into a large, dormitory-style housing unit with TVs, phones, and video calling. We were at this holdover area only for a few days until we were moved once again.
This time, we were moved to Petersburg, VA. At holdover here, we were all put into solitary (SHU), and we didn’t come out from there once. We even had showers in our cells and were denied out daily recreation time due to our transportation status. We could yell to each other, but that was it. We had no books or anything to keep our minds busy.
This was the hardest week of my life, and I’ve been through a lot. I hear about people doing months or years in solitary; they have my highest respect. Only those who have been separated from human contact like this know the barbarism it takes for a human being to do this to another and the pain and suffering this torture causes. I hope I’m not affected from this time long term, but only time will tell.
After climbing out of the bolus of hell, I was brought to Atlanta Federal Institution. My experience in Atlanta was like a combination of the two previous locations, as we were mostly locked down due to two stabbings on the compound.
When you’re being transported, you should try to be first in line if you are trying to get a window seat. I think I got a window seat once; the three other times, when I didn’t, the only thing I could think of, the whole trip, was to tell others to get a window seat. I would fall asleep and with every bump I would smash my face on the seat in front of me. You’re chained up with cuffs on your hands and ankles and the cuffs are attached to a chain around your stomach. When the guards are putting on the abdomen chains, you should protrude your stomach as much as possible. That way when you’re sitting normally, it won’t be too tight.
Normally, your support will get instructions on how to setup a prepaid account when you call them the first time. Every single prison and jail I’ve been to has had a different phone system. At all the places except for Petersburg, I was told that the next place would have the same system and support could load up on their prepaid accounts, but this was never the case. Once you get into the federal system, those systems are all the same; but your support won’t need to set up anything at that point.
Some of the best advice I can give about being thrown into new environments so frequently is just to be observent. You shouldn’t really be asking too many questions unless you absolutely have to. You should ask your fellow prisoners if that situation occurs. At the same time, don’t bombard other prisoners with questions. Don’t come off as someone who’s new to the system, even if you are. You can learn everything you need to know by just sitting back and watching what others do. This takes time but it’s the safest way to approach this unknown. If you follow this, you’ll be a step ahead of most others.
III. Federal Custody
I did most of my time at medium facilities, in terms of the levels of violence, the programs, the “freedoms” afforded to me, and general demeanor, politics, and culture of prisoners.
There’s a rating system for prisoners: 0-11 points means you go to camp, 12-15 to a low security facility, 16-23 to a medium, and 24+ high security. The following factors determine federal custody levels:
detainers / pending charges
severity of current offense (mine was moderate, 3 points)
criminal history score / past convictions (0-1 past convictions is 0 points, 2-3 is 2 points)
history of escape attempts (should be 0, unless you’ve been found guilty of past failures to appear)
history of violence
voluntary surrender status (0 for no voluntary surrender, -3 for receiving a self-surrender)
age (8 points if 24 or younger at the date of sentencing, 4 points if 25-35 years old)
education level (0 points if you have a copy of your high school diploma/GED in your presentencing report, 2 points for “non-verified HSD/GED)
drug or alcohol abuse / convictions (0 for never or more than 5 years previous, 1 point for any drug use or convictions in the last 5 years).
If your charge is political, the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) will likely place a “management variable” of greater security or a “public safety factor” on you. This will make you ineligible for “Club Fed”: federal prison camps, in which there is no fence and you have more freedom of movement. Political prisoners will go to low security or higher.
A “management variable” will bump you up one level, so if you’re at camp level, you’ll go to a low; low points go to mediums; and so on. Only long-term prisoners or those with a serious criminal background will be sent to a penitentiary.
Make sure to clean up any pending charges or warrants before resolving your case—I ended up getting 7 points added for a pending misdemeanor, which bumped me from camp points to low so the BOP sent me to medium security facilities. Also, be sure to have a copy of your high school diploma or GED included in your “pre-sentence report” prior to sentencing. The pre-sentencing officer won’t track this down, it’s on you to track down a copy—this will subtract two points from your custody scoring and could mean the difference between a low and medium security facility.
Ask your attorney to request a “self surrender” from the judge. This typically allows you to turn yourself in to the US Marshals / prison to begin your sentence. That will subtract 3 points from your score and gives you around 60 days to clear your affairs before turning yourself in. My sentencing judge doesn’t give self-surrender, but my attorney convinced him to give 24 hours to self-surrender, thus lowering my points.
Low security prisons are devoid of convict politics. Snitches and sex offenders are everywhere, but you’ll find a few solid people—usually older guys who have worked their way down from penitentiaries. It will be rare to find anyone who shares your politics, but for the most part other prisoners will respect you for “being standup”: for standing up for what you believe in and not snitching.
The prison bureaucrats may fuck with you, pinpointing you for harsher treatment or fucking with your mail or outside support. If this happens, be prepared to have your support pressure the prison, BOP, and oversight bodies and seek assistance from radical attorneys.
The most difficult thing about prison for me has been the isolation and interference by the BOP, and I regret not fighting it from the beginning. Don’t fear their retaliation and petty games: the nature of being a political prisoner will get you targeted from the beginning. Having support is your best weapon to fight back, so never hesitate to call your people and the movement in general for help.
Depending on how one looks at it, I got lucky for spending my federal time in a low. There’s a lot less prison politics in a low, which is good for political prisoners who don’t want to deal with racist prisoners, but it also has drawbacks. With prison politics low, prisoners are less likely to “check in” snitches and child molesters (i.e., to force them into protective custody). With a yard full of snitches, it’s almost impossible to organize anything unless you start running with groups that check papers.
Ask your lawyer to send you your sentencing papers as soon as possible. These papers will prove you’re not a snitch or a sex offender and you’ll likely need them to prove your story.
One of my cellies told me over and over that they were in for gun charges but refused to show papers. He always had an excuse as to why he couldn’t get them. Most prisoners see right through this, as I did. Turns out, this celly is in prison for trying to have sex with a fake 9 and 11 year old. I judge good jail praxis by whether the act of retribution gets the person who administers it caught or if they can pull it off without the recipient knowing. Someone had great praxis.
During my time at Coleman, I was welcomed into the native community. Some facilities’ native groups allow white people to sweat with them and some do not. If you’ve done a sweat before, the ones done in prison will likely be different. We would have a pipe ceremony every Saturday and this is where new natives or invites would bring their papers and introduce themselves. The papers would be checked by all to ensure that no sex offenders or snitches would sweat with us. It was nice knowing those guys could be trusted.
When coming from a jail, you might be told your mail will be forwarded. It’s very unlikely that any jail will forward your mail; you should just assume it won’t be. Your funds will be forwarded. For me, it took about 20 days once I got to Coleman to receive my funds from DC.
If where you’re sentenced and where you’ll be released are different, and you’re going to have probation, you’ll need to get a transfer. If your probation isn’t transferred before you get out, you will have to report to probation in the district you were sentenced, even if you have no place to go. To get the transfer, you’ll need to see your case manager and have an address to live at which there are no felons or guns, among other things. It takes about a month to properly transfer your probation.
I had issues with the email system that was offered to us. You’ll need to add your friend’s email address as a contact on the computer system. When you add it, that email address will receive an email for them to set up an account through TRULINCS (the system the BOP uses). From what I’ve seen and heard, this process can be confusing. If they get past this and they have an account, they can email you. They need to understand that when a prisoner emails them, they will not get an email notification to their actual email address alerting them of your message. They will have to sign into TRULINCS to see your emails every time. For some reason, a lot of people didn’t understand this.
There are also private secondary services out there through which you’ll be assigned a phone number and friends can text this number. The company then sends you an email with the text message and you can respond to that email and they text your message to your correspondent. This service costs about $15 a month and you’ll likely need someone on the outside to set it up for you.
Most of the clothing you’ll need (like gym shorts, sweats, and shoes) can be bought in your housing unit. The most common forms of currency are stamp books (flats) and packages of mackerels (macks). Prisoners make a job out of fixing up shoes and clothing that was trashed and repurposing them. You can pick up items for a fraction of what the commissary sells them for; the ones available from commissary are normally made by prisoners at sweatshops in the numerous other facilities the BOP runs.
I saved the best tip for last. To bring hot sauce into the chow hall, put it in a medicine bottle and your food will be more bearable.
The autonomous region of Rojava has gained international visibility as a beacon of struggle against the Islamic State and other forms of autocratic power, an experiment in which many anarchists are currently participating. Yet Rojava is not the only region in which a struggle for self-determination has expanded to open a path towards total liberation. In north Africa, in the region of Kabylia, an ethnic minority oppressed by racism and state oppression has initiated in a series of revolts comparable to what the Kurds have accomplished in Rojava and the Zapatistas in Chiapas. Throughout decades of struggle, they have established zones of autonomy and built bridges to others in revolt, in hopes of bringing about “a genuine emancipatory social revolution.” Read on to learn about this underreported struggle.
By Michael Desnivic and Habiba Dhirem-Kasper.
This translation has allowed us to share a recent resistance movement that, until now, was completely unknown to English-speaking countries and still largely unknown outside of Algeria. The author, a French writer, filmmaker and documentarian, Matouf Tarlacrea, was very happy to see its release into English. In 2014, he traveled to a commune called Barbacha in northern Algeria with some friends for two days and collected personal stories and documents to present “Échos de la Commune libre de Barbacha” as both an article and short documentary video. Matouf’s specialty is primarily in resistance movements around the world. His grandparents are from northern Algeria and he currently lives in Toulouse, France and is active in supporting CREA (Campagne de Réquisition, d’Entraide et d’Autogestion or Requisition Campaign for Mutual Aid and Self-Management), a squatted communal building inhabited by people of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds united under one common banner: the total and complete rejection of all authority.
Kabylia or Kabylie is a region in northern Algeria just east of the country’s capital city Algiers, inhabited primarily by the indigenous Kabyle people. Outside of Belgium and France, Berbers and Kabyles are fairly unknown to Westerners: Algeria and all of North Africa are imagined to be exclusively populated by Arabs. The Kabyle people are an ethnic division of the Berbers, among many other Berber ethnic groups. Most Kabyles and other Berber ethnic groups currently speak Arabic, Algeria’s official language, as well as regional Berber dialects; French, introduced via colonialism, is also common, especially in business and education.
Who are the Berbers? They are the original inhabitants of North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia) and parts of West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger). But they did not call themselves Berbers: like the names of most indigenous peoples (e.g. “Indians”), this name was given to them by invaders. It comes from the Greek word barbarous and the Latin cognate barbarus; root of “barbarian,” originally denoting a person with a primitive civilization. The original inhabitants of this region called themselves Imazighen, which roughly translates to “free people,” known individually as Amazigh (masculine) and as Tamazight (feminine), who speak the Tamazight language. Their land was known as Tamazgha, renamed the “Maghreb” by the Arabs. In Antiquity, the people of this land had close relations with Ancient Greeks and Romans.
As with many ancient people, contact with outside cultures alternated between friendship and hostility, with the Berbers playing the roles of both conquerors and conquered. Their contribution to the developing cultures of Antiquity and the Middle Ages has left a mark on African and even European culture (for example, historians suspect St. Augustine may have been an ethnic Berber). More recently, Situationist International cofounder Guy Debord noted in his 1955 article “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography” that the term “psychogeography” was coined by “an illiterate Kabyle” he and his friends had known.
Algeria has a rich history of revolt against the various forms of oppression and tyranny that have menaced it, including French colonialism and theocratic autocracy. Algerian-born Albert Camus noted the immense racism the Kabyles experienced through socioeconomic exclusion, extreme poverty and famines instigated by the French settler-colonialists in his essay “Misère de la Kabylie.” In We Are Imazighen, Fazia Ailel states, “Berbers were denounced as a creation of France” as a means to intensify discrimination from the dominant Arab ethnic group. Generation after generation has resisted this racism. The struggles against discrimination and colonialism led to struggles against other forms of oppression as well. As is to be expected, throughout history, revolutionary attempts in Algeria to overthrow dictatorial systems of colonization and, later, state bureaucracy have consistently been co-opted by various “liberators” attempting to secure power for themselves via political, economic, military, or religious leadership roles. This is as true on the African continent as it has been in Europe and Asia.
Kabyles in particular have a long, vast history in avoiding authority and hierarchy, rejecting French colonialism and bureaucracy, by implementing local village assemblies; government in itself has mostly been alien to them. In his 1902 book Mutual Aid, Peter Kropotkin noted the rejection of authority that seemed to be imbedded in Kabyle culture.
“The Kabyles know no authority whatever besides that of the djemmâa, or folkmote of the village community. All men of age take part in it, in the open air, or in a special building provided with stone seats. and the decisions of the djemmâa are evidently taken at unanimity: that is, the discussions continue until all present agree to accept, or to submit to, some decision. There being no authority in a village community to impose a decision, this system has been practiced by mankind wherever there have been village communities, and it is practiced still wherever they continue to exist, i.e., by several hundred million men (sic) all over the world.”
“Mutual support permeates the life of the Kabyles, and if one of them, during a journey abroad, meets with another Kabyle in need, he is bound to come to his aid, even at the risk of his own fortune and life; if this has not been done, the djemmâa of the man who has suffered from such neglect may lodge a complaint, and the djemmâa of the selfish man will at once make good the loss. We thus come across a custom which is familiar to the students of the mediaeval merchant guilds. Every stranger who enters a Kabyle village has right to housing in the winter, and his horses can always graze on the communal lands for twenty-four hours. But in case of need he can reckon upon an almost unlimited support. Thus, during the famine of 1867-68, the Kabyles received and fed every one who sought refuge in their villages, without distinction of origin. In the district of Dellys, no less than 12,000 people who came from all parts of Algeria, and even from Morocco, were fed in this way. While people died from starvation all over Algeria, there was not one single case of death due to this cause on Kabylian soil. The djemmâas, depriving themselves of necessaries, organized relief, without ever asking any aid from the Government, or uttering the slightest complaint; they considered it as a natural duty. And while among the European settlers all kind of police measures were taken to prevent thefts and disorder resulting from such an influx of strangers, nothing of the kind was required on the Kabyles’ territory: the djemmâas needed neither aid nor protection from without.”
On July 5, 1962, Algeria was granted independence after nearly 8 years of war and 132 years (exactly to the day) of colonization. The brutal war, depending on the sources, left around 400,000 to 1.5 million dead. Confusion, fear, disillusionment and atrocity seem to be inevitable byproducts of war, and the end of the occupation (as with the end of so many) led to the rise of despotic leadership.
But after the colonial forces left, something unusual happened. Coming to power at the end of the War, the workers and peasants of the country decided to implement autogestion or self-management. Quickly, the working class took over much of the industry and the peasants much of the countryside. Thus the Algerian War of Independence suddenly became the Algerian Revolution.
Algeria’s self-management revolution (1962-65) united the entire working class, Berber and Arab, as well as even ethnic French pieds-noirs1 to build a socialist (some might even say “libertarian socialist”) revolution that shook off the dead weight of political parties, including the Leninism and Stalinism that numerous bureaucrats were struggling to implement in Algeria and throughout most of the freshly decolonized countries. The struggle of the Algerian workers, peasants, and students was consistently hammered and wedged between various ideologies: religious conservatism, Leninism (or “vanguardism”), capitalism, nationalism, ethnic identity. Unsatisfied by each of these, an Algerian proletariat—people who had not read Marx and Engels, brought a communist party to power, or possessed any interest in centralizing power and the means of production in the hands of the State—had successfully done what socialists in the Cold War era were bent on preventing working people from doing: taking power for themselves.
“After independence, the Algerians turned to socialism, which to them meant self-management.” (Autogestion ouvrière et pouvoir politique en Algérie (1962-1965), Monique Laks, 1970.) Revolutionaries in Algeria were quickly superseding Marxism and its apologists. Ukraine, Germany, Russia, France, and especially Spain are historically seen as the bastions of anarchist and libertarian socialist insurrection by means of self-management, especially in the form of workers’ councils. The revolutionary reorganization of society got underway in Algeria along similar lines, with far less influence from Western thinkers, pushing itself to challenge both state control and private ownership of capital.
With an uncertain socio-economic future in post-independence, the new rulers of Algeria appeared inept. After the war, the General Union of Algerian Workers (Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens or UGTA) issued the following appeal: “…our battle is soon going to take a new form… The resumption of economic activity will allow the workers to take the initiative to be present everywhere, to participate, to direct and control the economy of our country.” The UGTA continued an appeal to the newly-formed government and the French former owners of the farms and factories to reopen them. The UGTA stated that if there is “a negative answer, the government must organize a system of management by the workers.” The request fell on deaf ears at first, but workers’ self-management continued to come into discussion and was granted official status by Ahmed Ben Bella, the first President of Algeria, in September 28, 1962 in his inaugural speech (plausibly, however, to outstrip his bourgeois competitors with his bureaucracy). After Ben Bella was overthrown by Boumédienne in a coup d’état, self-management and the workers’ movement were targeted by the new regime that blended Islamic fundamentalism and technocratic state-planning, destroying self-management in a few years’ time.
The movements of the “Arab Spring” were particularly intense in Algeria; but they were proceeded by several Berber Springs. In 1980, a lecture on Kabyle poetry by Moulod Mammeri was banned at the University of Tizi-Ouzo. This sparked the first spontaneous Berber Spring, a series of riots and strikes aimed at demanding status for Tamazight as a national or official language, and culminating in other attempts to change Algerian society. Another Berber Spring broke out in 1988. A civil war erupted in 1991 and lasted until 2002.
On April 18, 2001, an event occurred that again put Algeria and the Kaybles in the international spotlight. Guermah Massinissa, an eighteen-year-old high school student arrested in Tizi-Ouzou, a city in Kabylia, was shot by police while in custody under very mysterious circumstances. Rioting broke out almost immediately, causing what was dubbed the “Black Spring.” As often occurs in uprisings against State-sponsored murder, the entirety of the society and everything it produced was called into question. A movement emerged for an autonomous Kabylia.
This revolt elucidated what the insurrectionaries were ultimately attempting to do and what they wanted to communicate to Algeria and the rest of the world: they refused to be led or dominated by anyone, French, Arab, or Kabyle.
Men, women, and children all over Kabylia participated in this third Berber Spring. The common slogan chanted was “You can’t kill us, we are already dead!” (Somewhat more intimidating than “We are the 99 percent.”) Kabyle women were particularly active in the revolt, voicing their disgust against the possible State-sponsored murder of their brothers, husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and sons.
Government offices, courts, police stations—all repressive infrastructures of the State—were put to the torch. Showing a thoroughgoing critique of all the different things that restricted their liberation, the rioters went after the buildings of political parties and Islamic fundamentalists. The Islamists, whose ideological terror paralleled the State’s autocracy culminating in the deaths of countless Algerians, saw their meeting places turned to ash. By the end of the month, the entire region of Kabylia was in total revolt. Every attempt at negotiation with the Algerian government was rejected by the communities of resistance. Police and Islamic fundamentalists were consistently driven out of villages and cities. Labor unions and left-wing parties were shunned as all attempts to take authority were considered traitorous, including voting in the elections.
The people of the region recreated the aarch (similar to Kropotkin’s aforementioned system of the djemmâa), a method of coordinating the needs of the community with revocable delegates from the village assemblies (see Wolfi Landstreicher’s Autonomous Self-Organization and Anarchist Intervention). Via aarchs, the community runs decisions by consensus and assembly. By rejecting hierarchy, it purges the old Algeria—and the old world itself—that asserted its assault on freedom through the police state and Islamic fundamentalism.
Habiba’s father, an ethnic Kabyle, was married with two daughters during the Algerian War of Independence. He was a harki, something he did not like to talk about. It was a poignant subject in their household. Why would anyone choose to fight against his country and people? Wearing these two badges of shame, a harki and a Kabyle, was not easy.
The word harki has generally come to mean “traitor”: in the Algerian context it refers to an Algerian soldier who fought on the French side of the war—sometimes not by choice. Habiba’s father was told his family would be killed if he did not help the armed forces of France keep Algeria as their colony. In return for fighting at their side against the anti-colonial forces, he was promised asylum in France. He found a new life in France, where Habiba was born. Obviously, the transition wasn’t easy for the family. They would have preferred that their country regain its independence from France, and it did, but they never were able to savor the victory. As a child, Habiba visited Algeria with her mother, but things were not the same as her mother had left it. As for Habiba, the experience was very disappointing. She had hoped for acceptance but instead encountered disdain from children in the village her mother grew up in. Being called a dirty Arab back in France was normal, almost expected, but to be called a dirty French in the land of her ancestors left her disheartened and confused.
It was a few years before she understood what it all meant. She was the daughter of a traitorous harki, a man who had betrayed his country and fled with hundreds of thousands of others. Or at least that was what those kids were told she was.
After that trip she had a better understanding of where she came from and she was never the same again. Everything she thought she was came crumbling down. It was only after decades that she discovered her true background: her parents had been Arabized; they were Kabyles assimilated into the Arabic culture and language, and all her life she was made to believe she was part of a culture that deep down she knew she was never part of. Today she is proud to say that she is part of the Kabyle people, some of the most resilient and courageous people in North Africa. Today she hopes that the people of Kabylie will keep fighting for their rights, for their language and to regain their independence.
In translating this piece and presenting the existence of the movement in Barbacha to the English-speaking public, we strongly felt their struggle needed to be known to a wider audience. We did so not just simply to offer a mere news piece to enlighten the Anglosphere on the zeitgeist in northern Algeria, but to inspire others, to move people out of pessimism and fatalism, to show them resistance and change are not impossible. Furthermore, we do so for the people of Barbacha’s request for support and solidarity outside of Algeria, as they have stated plainly that they wish to unite with everyone across the world who yearn for freedom from oppression. We present this project to serve as outreach in order that their struggle might connect with other struggles against authoritarianism, hierarchy, capitalism, and racism.
Echoes of the Free Commune of Barbacha
“Échos de la commune libre de Barbacha,” by Matouf Tarlacrea (with the gracious help of Amazigh, Morgane, Da Taïeb, Mabrouk, and Da Elhamid) in Article 11, 2014. Translated from the French by Michael Desnivic and Habiba Dhirem-Kasper.
Barbacha is a small region in Kabylia, made up of 34 villages with 27,000 inhabitants. Since 2012, the people there decided to forego holding the reins of municipal authority to instead develop diverse forms of self-management, notably via their Open General Assembly (OGA). Matouf Tarlacrea was there a few months ago accompanied by friends. He brings with him this collective story.
Barbacha—Iberbacen in Tamazight, the Berber language—is a region in Little Kabylia, Algeria, self-managed by its inhabitants since the end of 2012. “Barbacha is just a small hamlet left aside from all the treasures of Algeria,” says Da Taïeb, an elder of the Commune. “It’s a poor region located in a mountainous area. We have no trails or roads.”
As in other regions, the peasants and workers of Barbacha fight day by day to live a dignified life confronted with all the forms of exploitation and oppression imposed by the State and capitalism. But in Barbacha, something else has also created itself. The 27,000 residents of these 34 villages comprising the population of Iberbacen, effectively self-organized through the Open General Assembly (OGA), established a collectively-occupied building. “In Barbacha, we have created this house to protest against the system that crushes us endlessly. The system that governs us right now is rotten,” says Da Taïeb. He and a few others welcomed us in February 2014 with their story and showed us their archives.
Here are a few sketches of these roads drawn by the people of Barbacha—paths for all those who are fighting for emancipation all over the world.
A Tradition of Insubordination and Autonomy
The region of Barbacha has been a site of Berber resistance against all colonization as well as a place of continuous battles for Tamazight culture and language. This has been imbedded in the long history of the struggles of the Kabyle people for autonomy and independence. The region cultivates this with the methods of practicing mutual aid and solidarity, insubordination and insurrection that are passed down from generation to generation. “It’s a movement that was born in 1979. And this fight for culture, for language, for everything, continues. Because we are not [yet] independent!” says Da Elhamid, a welder in central Barbacha.
Like most parts of Kabylia, the region revolted in 2001. Among what was obtained were cultural rights, and those revolts allowed the inhabitants to eliminate numerous police stations and gendarmeries2 which were opposed to all forms of struggle and any autonomous social life.
On top of the harassment, the racketeering and the systematic brutalities, the Algerian State for a long time applied a strategy of tension based on murder and civilian abductions as a form of permanent counter-insurrection. Faced with an exceptional regime, the people did not give in. In 2001, they expelled the police and military forces in the Barbacha region and burned down their buildings. Mabrouk, an English teacher in the commune, explained that the population was doing without security services for thirteen years: no gendarmerie, no police. During those thirteen years, no crimes or infractions were committed.
Amazigh, a youth from the region, has determined that the gendarmerie “is of no use. On the contrary, it oppresses. It’s not there for our security. For twelve years, we organized ourselves in village committees. Each village assures its security by its own residents.” It is in this collective self-defense experiment that new forms of communal self-organization have been created. Mabrouk further explains, “We organized ourselves. Each village has someone responsible. And the people of these villages organize together. If there is an enemy that wishes to enter, we create a security post at night and we organize with everyone to help in teams.” He goes on to explain that after four years, people got in the habit of living without these security teams. “But as soon as there’s a problem, everyone will come together and organize and fight.” In Barbacha, there are not even State-run courts: justice is rendered on the traditional model of the aarchs, the councils of the wise.
The Shutdown of the Daïra3 and Its Replacement by the Open General Assembly
The direct conflict with the Algerian State and its structures grew even more divisive during the preparation of the municipal elections of November 2012. During this time, the Wali (governor) Hemmou Hmed Et-Touhami actually refused to register the PST,4 largely supported by the residents of Barbacha. They decided to fight so that the PST could be registered. And they won this cause. In the elections of November 29, the PST finally got 39% of the vote, with six out of fifteen elected. Clearly their list is the majority.
Except that the four other parties on the list formed an alliance to impose another mayor, Benmeddour Mahmoud, of the RCD. And this occurred despite the existence of a law declaring that a list that has obtained 35% of the vote can nominate the new mayor. The election was held even without the PST member list present, who had not even been notified of this. This “shameful alliance,” as Barbacha’s residents called it, united the RCD,5 the FLN,6 and the FFS,7 parties initially opposed to one another, in their struggle for state power.
The population of Barbacha rose up against this manipulation. They closed the Daïra, then city hall, and collectively requisitioned the local village hall in order to create the Axxam n Caâb8—the House of the People—where, since then, the Open General Assembly (OGA) of Barbacha’s villages meet. A banner hangs there: “Long live the struggle, for only struggle pays off.”
Within this assembly, only alcohol, drugs, and “lack of respect” are prohibited by collective decision. Da Taïeb explains how it operates: “As soon as there is a problem, we meet, we make decisions; our words matter. This is our strength, the law of the people. […] This house, we acquired it with our collective power. No one can shut it down, and here we speak of whatever we wish to speak of, we say whatever we want. Letting anyone step on our toes is out of the question.” The welder Da Elhamid adds, “Everyone has the right to speak. And the people there are there as volunteers. That is democracy, true democracy, because it comes from the people. […] We organize ourselves for marches, for contributions, for everything, everything, everything. We must always fight.”
Mabrouk, the English teacher in his thirties, specifies that, “We fight against corruption, for the dignity of the people.” Faced with the “power of the State” which describes them as “a mafia of young people who spend their nights in a house,” Mabrouk states that the people that come to the Axxam n Caâb are “the peasants, the intellectuals, the artists.” “It is a place of one hundred percent freedom: there are no currents, neither religious nor political, inside this house; there are no ideas of the PST or any alliances with the FFS, only the ideas of the peasants and the inhabitants.”
After each assembly, someone is in charge of writing a communiqué that is dispatched to prisons, to citizens, and posted on all the walls of the commune. It is even sent to the security services, “Because we don’t do this behind closed doors!” says Mabrouk.
An excerpt of the very first bulletin of the OGA, broadcasted and posted in the villages of the commune states:
“We citizens, the men and women of the Commune of Barbacha, organized as an Open General Assembly, strongly reaffirm our rejection of Daho Ould Kablia’s9 instruction which opens the path to clientelism, and we consider the installation of the pseudo-mayor by decree of the Wali of Bgayet (Prefect of Béjaïa) dated December 17, 2012, to be annulled and invalidated. […] Furthermore, we hold the public powers and those elected in the so-called coalition responsible for the decay of this situation (blockading the Daïra and city hall, the treatment of communal workers, etc.). We reserve the right to create large-scale actions. […] LONG LIVE THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE! STAY IN SOLIDARITY! LONG LIVE THE STRUGGLE!”
-Communiqué No. 1 of the Open General Assembly of the Residents of Iberbacen, December 26, 2012.
Little by little, the Open General Assembly of the residents of Barbacha has replaced the centralized and authoritarian management of city hall. At first limiting itself to the struggle against the State, it extends itself, little by little, to different domains of collective life. A path to the basics has anchored in a unique history.
The Autonomy of Struggle and the Struggle for Autonomy
It’s in this battle against the installation of a fraudulent mayor by the State and the big political parties that the Commune of Barbacha creates self-organization. While the swindler mayor tries to settle in the PCA (the People’s Communal Assembly, Assemblée populaire communale, or “city hall”), accompanied by an attorney general, a crowd assembles a first time to prevent access. Resolutely determined to solve the problem, the residents decide to block all access to city hall. Hundreds of them, including activists from the FFS and the RCD, in disagreement with the elected parties, mobilize day and night, occupying and blocking all municipal services (the registry office, etc.) and prohibit the slightest meeting of these elected puppets.
“The interests of the Commune, which is in a state of stagnation, come before all other interests, and our interest today is to place Barbacha back on track; this can only happen by the resignation of all elected officials,” announces the second Communiqué of the OGA (December 30, 2012). Communiqué No. 3 points out the strategies of rottenness exercised by the State against the population to create divisions among those mobilized against them. This text calls for the dissolution of the PCA, the nomination of a temporary leader of the Daïra to manage administrative affairs, and a rally for January 5 at the headquarters of the Wilayah of Béjaïa. The assembly signed off, “To the peoples and populations of the world fighting for real sovereignty: may the year 2013 be a good and happy one of solidarity struggles and all that can be gained from them!”
To get to Béjaïa from Barbacha, it’s about 40 kilometers (25 miles). Not exactly next door. The demonstration of January 5, 2013 nevertheless unites over a thousand people. The protestors block the main road leading to Béjaïa to demand the organization of new elections. This demonstration marks the effective involvement of the residents of other communes in other Wilayahs. A solidarity even more valuable emerges knowing that legal proceedings would be charged against militants accused of blocking city hall.
Communiqué No. 4 shows that in the space of autonomous struggles, there emerge new forms of collective organization:
“In detailing its durations of battles, the General Assembly (GA) made the following propositions:
The reinforcement of its self-organization by the integration of more delegates and volunteers of all villages by their distribution into commissions according to the tasks it has accomplished and the demands to stop and take charge;10
An improved organization of volunteer actions concerning vigilance and security as well as trash collection, particularly around Suq n Tlata;
-Taking charge of repairs in different sectors: the supply of drinking water, sanitation, public lighting, etc.;
Scientific and cultural activity in organizing nightly festivities after the GA’s tasks are completed;
Quarantining those elected by the shameful alliance, requiring that they resign within 24 hours, the denunciation of their sponsors and support as well as all participants in the various attempts at manipulation in the instrumentalization and intimidation of high school (and other) students and communal workers;
-The construction of a general strike and other large-scale actions.”
Therefore, the General Assembly is not just an organization for struggle and resistance. It has become an everyday meeting place and takes charge of various aspects in the maintenance of the commune: trash collection, the distribution of fuel for schools, cleaning, etc. Mabrouk spoke also about how the employees of the People’s Communal Assembly (PCA) hadn’t been paid in four months: “These are people who have four, five, or six children. In order to take care of them these past four months, we organized together to find money and food, to respond to their needs… In addition, we help the sick who may be in need of passports to travel to France or Belgium for healthcare, and we take care of that for them. We also do the same for the maintenance of schools, supplying them with fuel and supplying their cafeterias.” Some business owners and residents even contributed to finance certain projects. Mabrouk recounts: “This is how we’ve worked from then until today. We have assemblies all the time, we work in solidarity. We want a PCA of the people, not a PCA of power.”
This collective handling of the organization of the commune leads to a form of revolutionary radicalism. In its “Open Letter to Everyone” dated January 22, 2013, the OGA announces:
“We will spare no effort to build any bridges necessary to expand our movement to all the Algerian people for a genuine emancipatory social revolution to federate our multiple discontents, oh so legitimate, and all of our actions. In Sidi Buzid, it was a suicide. In Barbacha, it was a ray of hope that shined through.”
January 26, 2013: the six legitimately elected members of the PST and the NRD (Rassemblement national démocratique11) resigned and gave their power of attorney to the Assembly to move toward the dissolution of the PCA and to provoke new elections. The Assembly also decided to demand the resignation of the entire prefecture. In its Communiqué No. 6 of January 29, 2013, it calls on the entire population of Barbacha and “every person convinced of the justness of our battle, wherever they may be” to stage a general strike on commune territory on January 31, with “the shutdown of all access from midnight to 4 pm.” The communiqué ends, “Long live the people, organized and conscious. Long live the people’s solidarity. We are moving forward.”
But on January 30, the FLN building is burned down. Claiming their strategy to be “peaceful,” the OGA condemns this action which it sees as provocation from the State to justify its repression. Communiqué No. 7 of January 30, 2013 proclaims:
“We are telling all Hamhamists,12 enemies of the people at the bottom of society, that these kinds of acts will only reinforce our determination to fight you, you and your sponsors, until victory. Our battle is neither tribal nor individualistic. It is a real class struggle that started in Barbacha. It is the will of the people against the will of bourgeois and mafia power that, instead of serving the people at the bottom of society, offer themselves as servants to global and imperialist capitalism.”
The exceptional regime applied for so long in Kabylia and the regimes of repressive terror deployed during the Berber Springs and the 1990’s both left permanent scars on the relationships in Algerians’ movements regarding the use of violence. In Barbacha, the majority of the population—which participated in the burning down of a police station thirteen years earlier [in 2001]—seems to prefer occupations and blockades of buildings, roads, or towns as well as mass marches and general strikes. But in the debate between the residents (which we attended), the partisans of armed insurrection, although in a minority, are not stigmatized or cast aside; they are respected in their perspectives and are integrated into the struggle. It seems there is a predominant will to minimize employing acts of violence the more co-opted they can be by power and the more useful they could be to justify the remilitarization of the territory, while completely undertaking all forms of offensive direct action when the situation necessitates it. For example, a young anarchist in Barbacha who is very involved in the Assembly prefers what he calls “nonviolence,” and says, “even in my interventions within the movement, I defend the idea of sometimes utilizing violence, such as, for example, burning the ballots next April 17 [the date of the presidential elections]. I see all the psychological scars of past movements, like the events of 2001. Just seeing a gendarme makes us want to burn everything down.” In Barbacha, these debates seem to uplift the movement rather than dividing it.
The general strike of January 31, 2013 is a success. During the popular meeting at the end of the day, much of the population decides to organize a march and then a sit-in in front of the Wilayah of Béjaïa on February 3. The OGA adds “a more radical action, namely the blocking of street traffic access to both entrances of Béjaïa.” Both of these actions are massively implemented, but they don’t suffice for the Prefecture to give in. In Communiqué No. 9 of February 4, 2013, the Assembly speaks of the risk of a “fratricidal bloodbath among Barbacha residents” if the demands of the population are not met. Faced with the “masquerades” of a power that’s attempting to criminalize them, they become from then on an organ of people’s self-management.
“Our movement is jealous of its own independence. It is above all parties and all partisan logic. We pronounce our decisions in total democracy (direct, we should say) in an Open General Assembly that we have adopted as a popular commitment to our conscious organization. […] We forbid you to judge our method of struggle. We have already declared that we have passed the stage of rioting. Our movement is highly peaceful and of an exemplary maturity.”
On February 11, the minority opponents of the OGA try again to enter the PCA to reinstall the “Mafioso” mayor, but they are stopped by the local population blocking access to city hall. In response, the Assembly calls for a new gathering in front of the Wilayah on February 17. The Wilayah’s administrator agrees to meet with the representatives of the OGA and the PST. During this meeting, the decision is made to reopen the Daïra, but without its official leader, and confer limited administrative powers to the General Secretary of the Daïra, Toufik Adnane. He is in charge of the Assembly’s management of the “current affairs of the commune,” meaning mainly administrative records, the payment of municipal employees as well as the deliverance of birth and death certificates (which the population needs to proclaim its rights). In consequence, the representatives of the OGA decide to cancel the rally scheduled for February 17. But they plan a new “peaceful” march and encampment in front of the Wilayah’s headquarters on March 24.
That Sunday, March 24, marks a turning point. Faced with 2000 demonstrators blocking the headquarters of the Wilayah of Béjaïa, the Wali calls on riot police who intervene with extreme brutality, injuring many people—one young demonstrator even has both legs broken.
Twenty-four people are arrested, including Sadeq Akrour, the PST mayor, who is released—with bandages around his head from the beatings—after 24 hours from the pressure and acclamations of hundreds of people that came to wait for his release. On March 25, the OGA announces a new general strike in Barbacha to pick up the comrades that were arrested the day before in Béjaïa.
Emotions run high in Kabylia as they do in the entire country. Especially since during this time news has spread of the government’s use of police force against the demonstrations of unemployed workers in the south. “This is how, while struggling for the unconditional liberation of our six comrades under judicial control, it is now more urgent than ever to find new methods of struggle in order to prevail with the success of the so-called principal demands,” states Communiqué No. 20 of March 26.
The mobilization does not weaken. On Sunday, March 31, hundreds of Barbacha’s residents demonstrate again in front of the court of Béjaïa where six of their own are scheduled to appear for a hearing. They demand all legal proceedings be suspended. They also announce national actions for upcoming days to impose the dissolution of the municipal council and to demand new elections. The OGA calls for a general strike in Barbacha and a gathering in front of Béjaïa’s courthouse on April 9, the trial date of the 24 arrested. More than a thousand demonstrators rally in front of the court to protest and the general strike is massively undertaken.
All this pushes the population to further develop methods of self-organization. Communiqué No. 23 of April 11, 2013 states:
“The path is still long and difficult. Therefore, the reinforcement of the self-organization of the population must be our permanent task: it is necessary to strengthen the current village committees and create new ones in villages and neighborhoods not yet organized. Because the relative return of the maintenance of the Daïra and City Hall constitutes an important step in our fight, the real development of our Commune must be our strategic objective. […] These are our true battles: the Buâmran mine, the mini-dams, town fuel resources, the high school, the CEM of Tibkirt, RN 75, 13 the Commune’s and Wilayah’s roads, telephone and internet services, machines, agriculture and forestry, youth and leisure, etc. A true synergy of the people at the bottom of society is more than indispensable to move forward and succeed with this project.”
April 19 and 20, 2013, the Assembly is in charge of organizing the festivities commemorating the Berber Springs of 1981 and 2001. It is in this context that the idea emerges and gains momentum that a people’s assembly is the best and most legitimate means to solve the problems of the inhabitants and collectively improve their lives. In their Communiqué No. 26 of May 2013, the OGA states that it’s convinced that the nomination of the General Secretary to manage the Daïra does not bring desired solutions for the population. The Assembly also denounces “all tentative desire to rehabilitate the mayor of the alliance and his team in order to put them in command of our glorious commune.” Rightfully, on May 22, Mohamed Benmeddour, his team, and the members of the “alliance” tried once again to enter city hall. But they were again pushed out by the crowd. However, the Assembly decided in favor of a concession: the reopening of city hall. This is as much about managing “current affairs” as much as it is of “the critics.”
During the summer, the Wilayah blocks all power of signature from the General Secretary—the only finances it leaves at his disposable are for “a closure,” destined to protect the Daïra as well as the means to reinstall the gendarmerie. The General Assembly challenges the unwillingness of the Wilayah, stressing the fact that the population has accepted making concessions (notably, the reopening of city hall). In the “Appeal of September 21,” the OGA thus denounces: the reduction of communal services to a strict minimum; the fact that communal workers were receiving their payments bit by bit, and, if they’re lucky enough to receive them, months late; the refusal of the Wilayah to approve the budget of 2013 (which stifles the communal treasury); the shutdown of all construction sites, especially of the local high school; the end of the school bus service (the bus drivers have not been paid and neither have any of the suppliers for the school’s cafeteria) and the “squatting of the local commune by the gendarmerie.”
Finally, after a long wait, on October 1, the General Secretary is authorized by the Minister of Interior to divide the budget and pay the commune’s employees. But during the entire fall of 2013, the “shameful alliance” tries many times to get back into city hall. Each time, the people of Barbacha, united and determined, prevent them. To present their discontent about the installation of the mayor, a large popular meeting is organized on November 29, 2013. A thousand residents participated, voting by a show of hands against the shameful alliance. “Of the more than one thousand people responding to our call, only three hands were raised (one ironically) in approval of the installation of the infamous mayor of the RCD-FLN-FFS shameful alliance, Mohammed ‘Mahmoud’ Benmeddour, whom we had generously invited to speak. It was an authentic referendum worthy of a real people’s direct democracy, unknown anywhere else,” stated Communiqué No. 32 of December 6, 2013.
The struggle doesn’t budge. However, the demands directed to the State and public powers for the shutting down of judiciary pursuits, the dissolution of the PCA, and the funds destined to develop the commune are all unsuccessful. More radical perspectives emerge among the population.
And What if the People’s Assembly Completely Replaced City Hall?
The battle for new elections and to establish a “legitimate” city hall comes with numerous concessions. It begins with the return of the gendarmerie, although it would be kept out of the commune and will avoid all conflict. Mabrouk says that the State justifies the reinstallation of the gendarmerie as a measure to protect the population against “terrorism.” Additionally, Da Elhamid tells us that not very long ago, the gendarmes would have arrested us for having our discussion. “Nothing has changed, it’s still the same system. Because even the gendarmes [might as well be] colonial gendarmes,” he says.
The reinstallation of the gendarmerie is not the only concession. The residents that are in favor of having new elections plan also to give the House of the People back to the PCA as a measure of goodwill. This is summarized in Communiqué No. 30:
“If the logic of appeasement and advancement moves toward the final unblocking of this conflict, and the return of the meeting place (the Axxam n Caâb) to the Commune (nobody questions its character as a communal good) can help reinforce this dynamic, we are ready for this. However, the public powers must know that it’s because of this meeting place that the movement has remained peaceful and refined in wise judgment. In any case, the General Secretary was allowed to use it whenever the necessity arose. By default, each one of us will assume responsibilities. […] We are neither terrorists nor are we cowards. We are the planners of adventures and are consciously organized with the single goal of allowing our commune to have its part in development and that our proud people have the means to assume their full duty to contribute to the veritable liberation of our dear country, Algeria, and so that it can contribute to the construction of a universal project that can liberate all of humanity.”
A city hall, even if it’s far-left and sincerely engaged with its residents, cannot do anything that can radically change the lives of people. It would remain a manager, a hierarchy, a link in the network of the powers of the state and capital. It may represent the people, but it is not the people. Mayor Saddek Akrour summarized the role attributed by the state to the PST while in office during the preceding mandate: “We suddenly found ourselves in a feedback loop of public finances between oil profits and private enterprises.”14 In this context, and since the basic demands for the economic development of the commune were not carried out, a growing number of the residents are conscious of the fact that the Assembly should not just be reduced to a tool only for struggle, but that it could become a structure of political, economic, and permanent social self-organization.
By the end of the month of December 2013, the state still had not satisfied the demands that the OGA had presented in exchange for the return of the leader of the Daïra. Those in the camp that think that the People’s Assembly should completely replace all forms of State power are again reassured. Da Taïeb, whom we meet in February 2014, sums up his strategy. “We have to completely destroy the Algerian system. It’s not just about Bouteflika,15 his ministers or his walis: the state must be completely destroyed. Only generals live well in Algeria, the people have nothing. Rich state, poor people! This is why the people revolt. To take back our rights. Because there is a way! This is hoggra.16 Look! A Member of Parliament gets 35 million dinars per month or more, plus an international passport, while any other employee in the commune makes only 15,000 dinars! […] We are protestors and we wish for other marginalized people like us come to our aid, that we all unite, that we help one another.”
He is interrupted by a friend, “What interests us is not the elections, but in assembling together […] to struggle against this system.”
The reflection on the elections and the political parties has effectively evolved amongst the residents of Barbacha who have invented a way to manage themselves and their own lives. The position of the welder we met is clear: “The political parties, I don’t like them. Because with parties, you raise a person up, and once they’re at the top, ‘the king is dead, long live the king’—it’s always been like that. Because I have spent a long time in political parties, they don’t interest me anymore. Because as soon as someone is at the top as a Member of Parliament or a mayor, once he goes up, that’s it, you never hear from him again, and then the day he needs the people, he comes back, he whines. ‘We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that…’ and at the end there’s nothing. These people are only interested in power and money.”
Confronting the state and capitalism that are ravaging its territory and very existence, the people of Barbacha lead a continuous struggle for a dignified life. Through the practices of mutual aid and collective resistance, they invent an emancipated society on an everyday basis. Like others before them, notably in Chiapas, they do not attempt to take state power but to dissolve it, along with capitalism, via federated self-organization in communes. Like the Zapatistas, they know that solidarity is a weapon when coordinated struggles come together.
This is the welder’s conclusion: “We have to fight where we are. If everybody fights together, in France, in Morocco, here… we can improve things.” And as the elderly Da Taïeb tells us, “Alone, the residents of Barbacha won’t be able to throw this out. So we are trying to create a great movement, a bulldozer, to destroy it.”
European supporters of and participants in the Algerian Revolution were referred to later as pieds-rouges.↩
Generally unknown in English-speaking countries, a “gendarmerie” is a French word (and French invention) for a military police force involved in the law enforcement of rural regions. In Algeria, they are substantially militarized and brutal, thus particularly despised. —Trans.↩
Subdivision of a Wilayah (prefecture), that is to say, a sub-prefecture. [A Wilayah (an Arabic word) might be better understood in English as “region,” “province,” “county,” etc. A Daïra, unique to Algeria and the Western Sahara, can be best translated as “district.” —Trans.] ↩
PST: Parti Socialiste des Travailleurs (Socialist Workers Party), an anticapitalist and internationalist party founded in 1989, a member of the Fourth International. ↩
RCD: Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Démocratie (Rally for Culture and Democracy), social democratic party created in 1989 founded after the formation of the Mouvement culturel berbère.↩
FLN: Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front), current party of the State under the ruling military junta. ↩
FFS: Front des Forces Socialistes (Socialist Forces Front), social democratic party founded in 1963. ↩
Axxam n Caâb: this is Tamazight, not Arabic. —Trans.↩
Daho Ould Kablia (born 1933), former Interior Minister of Algeria in charge of Algeria’s gendarmerie, among other bureaucratic affairs. —Trans.↩
This peculiar phrasing at the end of the sentence is in the original French. —Trans.↩
National Rally for Democracy, liberal party founded in 1997. —Trans.↩
Opportunists that only act to fill their bellies. ↩
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, current President of Algeria, in power since 1999. —Trans.↩
In the Algerian Arabic dialect, the word hoggra (also spelled hogra), often translated as “oppression,” means having one’s rights denied to them, being cheated, exploited, humiliated, or scammed by a ruler, authority figure, or government. The term was used frequently during the Arab Spring in Algeria. One conducting hoggra is known as a haggar.—Trans.↩
This year is the centennial of two revolutions in Russia: one in which the people toppled the Tsar and another in which the Bolsheviks seized state power. Within twenty years, the Bolsheviks had executed or imprisoned most of those who carried out the revolution. Today, as the hashtag #1917live trends on twitter, we should remember the #1917undead, the anarchists who strove to warn humanity that statist paths towards social change will never bring us to freedom. Some of them, like Fanya and Aron Baron, were murdered in cold blood by authoritarian communists in the Soviet Union. Others managed to survive, betrayed by their supposed comrades, to witness the totalitarian results of the Bolshevik coup. Their voices cry out to us today from the grave. Let’s listen.
Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin had sought total centralized power in the name of the proletariat, promising that this was a step towards the “withering away” of the state. From this historical vantage point, their cynical efforts to blot out any model for social change besides the tyranny of state capitalism are clear enough; if it is still difficult to envision what anarchist revolution might look like on a massive scale, we can blame those who systematically exterminated anarchists in the name of socialism. Being the foremost opponents of tyranny, the anarchists were among the first victims of Soviet prisons and firing squads. Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and many others tried to warn the world of the horrors of Lenin and Stalin, but most people only learned about the gulag archipelago much later from Aleksandr Solzenhitsyn.
Although Bakunin passed away more than 40 years before the Russian Revolution, he predicted exactly what would come of Marx’s authoritarian prescriptions for socialism. Those who attempt to excuse Marx, suggesting that Lenin failed to apply his instructions correctly, should take note that Bakunin saw the tragedies of 1917 coming a half century in advance.
Scrutinizing Marx’s conduct in the revolutionary struggles of the 19th century, rather than the books he wrote, we can see today what Bakunin saw then. Marx began his career in the 1840s by attempting to form revolutionary cabals, then purging everyone who did not toe his ideological line—especially working class thinkers like Wilhelm Weitling and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who were more suspicious of the state than he was. Marx mocked Bakunin for attempting to foment an uprising in Lyons in 1870, though it was precisely the absence of other revolutionary footholds in France that doomed the Paris Commune in 1871. During the Paris Commune, Marx sent Elisabeth Dmitrieff, a twenty-year-old with no experience, to assume control of women’s organizing in Paris, intending to supplant organizers like Louise Michel who had been active for decades. (After the Commune, Dmitrieff disappeared from radical politics, a casualty of authoritarian burnout.) After the Commune fell, Marx took advantage of the fact that the participants—most of whom did not subscribe to his politics—were slaughtered or in hiding to speak on their behalf, announcing that the Commune confirmed all of his theories. In the First International, Marx passed unpopular resolutions in closed-door meetings while the opposition were imprisoned or in exile, rigged majorities at the congresses, and finally attempted to kill off the organization entirely by moving its headquarters to New York when it became clear he could not control it. (Although most historians pass over this, the International survived for several more years as a topless federation run on anarchist principles, whereas the Marxist splinter group became immediately moribund.) Afterwards, from the safety of his study in London, Marx continued to mock Bakunin and others who risked their lives in uprisings while emphasizing that workers should join political parties and subject themselves to party leadership. Marx was no enemy of state oppression.
With the 20th century behind us, Bakunin appears to us as the Cassandra of the 19th century, warning us against the butcheries, betrayals, and gulags to come. Whatever his own shortcomings, he remains a voice from the grave, urging us to beware of anyone who proposes that the state could render us equal or give us freedom.
“Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.”
“I hate Communism because it is the negation of liberty and because humanity is for me unthinkable without liberty. I am not a Communist, because Communism concentrates and swallows up in itself for the benefit of the State all the forces of society, because it inevitably leads to the concentration of property in the hands of the State, whereas I want the abolition of the State, the final eradication of the principle of authority and the patronage proper to the State, which under the pretext of moralizing and civilizing men has hitherto only enslaved, persecuted, exploited and corrupted them. I want to see society and collective or social property organized from below upwards, by way of free association, not from above downwards, by means of any kind of authority whatsoever.”
— addressing the League of Peace and Freedom, September 1868
Leon Trotsky himself deserves no tears from those who love freedom, egalitarianism, and human decency, as he personally oversaw the butchery of countless thousands of anarchists and other rebels in the course of the Bolshevik conquest of power. But early in his career, before he joined the Bolsheviks, he foresaw presciently exactly how Stalinism would arise from Lenin’s approach—how the party would substitute its own conquest of power for the proletariat, and a ruthless dictator then substitute himself for the party. The All-Russian Congress of Food Industry Workers later confirmed this in March 1920, on the basis of experience: “The so-called dictatorship of the proletariat is really the dictatorship over the proletariat by the party and even by individual persons.”
Despite this foresight, Trotsky still joined the Bolsheviks as a consequence of their apparent success in the revolution. When Stalin’s lackeys butchered Trotsky with an icepick, it was poetic justice. Trostsky died because he failed to heed his own insights, and above all because he broke solidarity with other foes of capitalism. He died because, like so many after him, he substituted pragmatism for principles, believing it would be more expedient to go rapidly in the wrong direction than to proceed slowly towards genuine liberation.
We can hardly remember him as a tragic figure, as millions suffered at his hands—but we can take his example as a cautionary tale.
“In the internal politics of the Party these methods lead, as we shall see, to the Party organization “substituting” itself for the Party, the Central Committee substituting itself for the Party organization, and finally the dictator substituting himself for the Central Committee.”
Peter Kropotkin was an old man by the time of the 1917 revolution. Desiring to legitimize Bolshevik authority with the reputation of a universally respected anarchist, Lenin maintained cordial relations with Kropotkin; Bolshevik propagandists took advantage of this to publicize the lie that Kropotkin was more or less in favor of the Bolshevik program. In fact, Kropotkin opposed their authoritarian program, as he made clear in a series of statements and protests. Far from endorsing Lenin’s seizure of state power, Kropotkin is quoted as saying “Revolutionaries have had ideals. Lenin has none. He is a madman, an immolator, wishful of burning, and slaughter, and sacrificing.”
Kropotkin’s funeral, on February 13, 1921, was arguably the last anarchist demonstration in Russia until the fall of the Soviet Union. Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman and many other prominent anarchists participated. They managed to exert enough pressure on the Bolshevik authorities to compel them to release seven anarchist prisoners for the day; the Bolsheviks claimed they that would have released more but the others supposedly refused to leave prison. Victor Serge recounts how Aaron Baron, one of the anarchists who was temporarily released, addressed the mourners from Kropotkin’s graveside before vanishing forever into the jaws of the Soviet carceral system.
“Is there really no one around you to remind your comrades and to persuade them that such measures represent a return to the worst period of the Middle Ages and religious wars, and are undeserving of people who have taken it upon themselves to create a future society on communist principles? Whoever holds dear the future of communism cannot embark upon such measures.”
After seven years in the Tsar’s prisons, Makhno was released from prison by the upheavals of 1917. He eventually became a leader in the anarchist forces that fought in turn against Ukrainian Nationalists, German and Austro-German occupiers, the reactionary Russian White Army, the Soviet Red Army, and various Ukrainian warlords in order to open a space in which anarchist collective experiments could take place. Makhno and his comrades repeatedly bore the brunt of the White Army attacks, while Trotsky alternated attacking them with the Red Army and signing treaties with them when the Soviets needed them to keep the Whites at bay. On November 26, 1920, a few days after Makhno had helped to definitively defeat the White Army, the Red Army summoned him and his comrades to a conference. Makhno did not go; everyone who did was summarily killed.
Authoritarian socialists have expended rivers of ink attempting to discredit Makhno and those who fought at his side in order to excuse this cold-blooded betrayal and murder. They accuse Makhno of authoritarianism in hopes of justifying a far more authoritarian state. They suggest that his struggle contributed nothing to the liberation of the proletariat, when in fact he was struggling against those who ruined and discredited the notion of revolution while ensuring that Russian workers would remain in subjugation for at least a century more.
Makhno and his comrades surely were not perfect; Emma Goldman records that some Russian anarchists questioned the anarchist credentials of the Ukrainian uprising. But history is written by the victors: there is so little information about Makhno’s achievements precisely because the Bolsheviks and other reactionaries sought to erase them from the historical record (just as a few Ukrainian nationalists have recently sought to appropriate and distort them). Fortunately, we can still read statements from the Makhnovist rebels in their own words describing their values and goals, and historical accounts from participants such as Peter Arshinov.
“State-socialists of all denominations, including Bolsheviks, are busy swapping the names of bourgeois rule with those of their own invention, while leaving its structure essentially unchanged. They are therefore trying to salvage the Master/Slave relationship with all its contradictions…
“While a bourgeois government strings a revolutionary up on the gallows, socialist or bolshevik-communist governments will creep up and strangle him in his sleep or kill him by trickery. Both acts are depraved. But the socialists are more depraved because of their methods.
“Government power will never let workers tread the road to freedom; it is the instrument of the lazy who want to dominate others, and it does not matter if the power is in the hand of the bourgeois, the socialists or the Bolsheviks, it is degrading. There is no government without teeth, teeth to tear any man who longs for a free and just life.”
After serving a decade in prison under the Tsar, Lev Chernyi was released in 1917 and participated passionately in anarchist organizing. On March 5, 1918, foreseeing the wave of attacks the Bolsheviks were about to launch against anarchist organizing in Moscow, Chernyi denounced the Bolshevik government, arguing that it was essential to paralyze the mechanisms of government itself. In April 1918, the Soviet secret police raided anarchist social centers around Moscow, gunning down at least forty people and arresting many more. The Bolsheviks claimed that the anarchists were engaged in “banditry” on account of their efforts to redistribute wealth and set up social centers around the city—accusing them of precisely the same activities that the Soviet government was carrying out on a much larger scale.
Chernyi was later captured and charged with counterfeiting in order to discredit him and take him off the streets. In August 1921, an official report announced that Chernyi and nine other “anarchist bandits” had been shot without hearing or trial. The authorities refused to release his body, leading many to conclude that Chernyi had actually been tortured to death.
After seven years in exile from Tsarist Russia, Fanya Baron returned to her homeland in 1917 to organize alongside other anarchists for social liberation. Within four years, she had been imprisoned and murdered by the Soviet secret police.
“This big-hearted woman, who had served the Social Revolution all her life, was done to, death by the people who pretended to be the advance guard of revolution. Not content with the crime of killing Fanya Baron, the Soviet Government put the stigma of banditism on the memory of their dead victim.”
Kropotkin dying of hunger, Berkman by his own hand, Fanny Baron biting her executioners, Mahkno in the odor of calumny, Trotsky, too, I suppose, passionately, after his fashion. Do you remember? What is it all for, this poetry, This bundle of accomplishment Put together with so much pain?
— Kenneth Rexroth, “August 22, 1939,” written on the anniversary of the murder of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.
A Jewish exile from the Ukraine, Aron Baron organized with the Industrial Workers of the World and worked with Lucy Parsons in the United States before returning to revolutionary Russia. He fought alongside Nestor Makhno and edited the anarchist paper Nabat. After two decades of harassment, arrests, imprisonment, and internal exile, he was shot on August 12, 1937 in Tobolsk along with many other anarchists, including Prokop Evdokimovich Budakov, Zinaida Alekseevna Budakova, Avram Venetsky, Ivan Golovchanskii, Vsevolod Grigorievich Denisov, Nikolai Desyatkov, Ivan Dudarin, Andrei Zolotarev, Andrei Pavlovich Kislitsin, Alexander Pastukhov, Anna Aronovna Sangorodetskaya, Mikhail G. Tvelnev, Vladimir Khudolei-Gradin, Yuri I. Hometovsky-Izgodin, and Nahum Aaronovch Eppelbaum.
The Kronstadt Rebels
In February 1921, in response to Soviet crackdowns on labor organizing and peasants’ autonomy, the crews of two Russian battleships stationed at the island naval fortress of Kronstadt held an emergency meeting. Many of these were the same sailors who had been on the front lines of the revolution of 1917. They agreed on fifteen demands, and Kronstadt rose in revolt against the Soviet authorities.
The Bolsheviks attempted to portray the rising as the work of foreign reactionaries. Read their demands for yourself and decide whether this was the work of counter-revolutionary capitalists:
Immediate new elections to the Soviets; the present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be held by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda for all workers and peasants before the elections.
Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and for the Left Socialist parties.
The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant associations.
The organization, at the latest on March 10, 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, soldiers, and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt, and the Petrograd District.
The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to working class and peasant organizations.
The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.
The abolition of all political sections in the armed forces; no political party should have privileges for the propagation of its ideas, or receive State subsidies to this end. In place of the political section, various cultural groups should be set up, deriving resources from the State.
The immediate abolition of the militia detachments set up between towns and countryside.
The equalization of rations for all workers, except those engaged in dangerous or unhealthy jobs.
The abolition of Party combat detachments in all military groups; the abolition of Party guards in factories and enterprises. If guards are required, they should be nominated, taking into account the views of the workers.
The granting to the peasants of freedom of action on their own soil, and of the right to own cattle, provided they look after them themselves and do not employ hired labor.
We request that all military units and officer trainee groups associate themselves with this resolution.
We demand that the Press give proper publicity to this resolution.
We demand the institution of mobile workers’ control groups.
We demand that handicraft production be authorized, provided it does not utilize wage labor.
Two weeks later, on the 50-year anniversary of the Paris Commune, 60,000 Red Army troops captured Kronstadt, killing and imprisoning thousands. Just as the bourgeois republic that came to power in France in 1870 stabilized its reign by slaughtering the rebels of the Paris Commune, the Bolsheviks stabilized their reactionary seizure of the Russian revolution with the bloodbath at Kronstadt.
Apologists for the Bolsheviks have argued that it was necessary to slaughter the Kronstadt rebels to consolidate power for the Soviet state; perhaps so, but that is no argument for any state! If it was admirable and appropriate for the Kronstadt sailors to rise against the Tsar, it was equally admirable and appropriate for them to rise against the new tyrants.
The failure of the Kronstadt uprising is above all a lesson in solidarity: if the Kronstadt rebels had risen up in April 1918 when the Bolsheviks were carrying out their first attacks against anarchists in Moscow, the Bolsheviks might not have had a firm enough grip on state power to defeat them. What is done to the least of us will be done to all of us. This is why solidarity is such an important value to anarchists.
Alexander Berkman, an anarchist who served 14 years in prison for the US for an act of vengeance against the union-busting industrialist Henry Clay Frick, set out enthusiastically for Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, only to discover that the state was just as authoritarian under Lenin as it had been under the Tsar. He was fortunate to escape alive. He summarized his experiences in The Bolshevik Myth, and also assisted with Letters from Russian Prisons, documenting Bolshevik oppression.
“Grey are the passing days. One by one the embers of hope have died out. Terror and despotism have crushed the life born in October. The slogans of the Revolution are forsworn, its ideals stifled in the blood of the people. The breath of yesterday is dooming millions to death; the shadow of today hangs like a black pall over the country. Dictatorship is trampling the masses under foot. The Revolution is dead; its spirit cries in the wilderness… I have decided to leave Russia.”
— Berkman’s diary, 1922
Emma Goldman shared Alexander Berkman’s enthusiasm for the initial apparent triumph of the October Revolution1 and his dismay at its dismal results. She traveled with him to Russia, witnessed the first years of the revolution firsthand, and afterwards shared his conviction that Bolshevik authoritarianism was responsible for the results.
“Lenin had very little concern in the Revolution… Communism to him was a very remote thing. The centralized political State was Lenin’s deity, to which everything else was to be sacrificed. Someone said that Lenin would sacrifice the Revolution to save Russia. Lenin’s policies, however, have proven that he was willing to sacrifice both the Revolution and the country, or at least part of the latter, in order to realize his political scheme with what was left of Russia.”
Malatesta began his career as a revolutionary in Italy in the 1870s, working with Bakunin within the famously insurrectionist Italian section of the First International—arguably the first properly anarchist movement on record. From the start, he opposed statist models for social change, having seen how republican nationalism had only brought a new regime to power in Italy and reinforced existing social inequalities. He went to jail and prison again and again in the course of his efforts to open the way to freedom.
In the 1880s, when Malatesta’s former comrade Andrea Costa renounced anarchism, entered the Italian Parliament, and set out to convince the movement that electoral politics were the best way to seek social change, Malatesta sneaked back into Italy, despite facing a variety of unresolved charges in his homeland, and challenged Costa to a public debate. Costa attempted to weasel his way out of it, but was ultimately compelled to meet with Malatesta, then fled the city after being trounced in the discussion. Having won the argument, Malatesta went directly to jail.
Later, after escaping Italy concealed in a box of sewing machines, surviving an assassination attempt in New Jersey, and organizing one clandestine newspaper and uprising after another, Malatesta witnessed the 1917 revolution and the mass defection of anarchists to the Communist Party when the state communist model suddenly appeared more “effective” and “pragmatic.” If not for these wrongheaded conversions, there might still have been hope for emancipatory revolutions in the 20th century.
“It seems unbelievable that even today, after everything that has happened & is happening in Russia, there are people who still imagine that the difference between socialists & anarchists is only that of wanting revolution gradually or quickly.”
— Errico Malatesta, Umanita Nova, September 3, 1921
Victor Serge started adulthood as an anarchist. However, after the Bolshevik seizure of power, he joined the Party and served them as a journalist, dutifully excusing the imprisonment of honest anarchists, the butchery of the Kronstadt rebels, and many other steps in the Bolshevik counterrevolution. In this regard, he is an example of the millions of rebels and common laborers shifted their allegiance from anarchists to statists after the apparent victory of the Bolsheviks in Russia.
How did it work out for Serge? A few years later, he was expelled from the Communist Party, thrown in jail, sentenced to internal exile, and in the end barely managed to escape the Soviet Union with his life. Had he remained faithful to his anarchist politics, he might have saved himself a lot of grief—and above all, he would not have been complicit in setting the stage for the slaughter and imprisonment of millions.
Peter Arshinov participated in the anarchist uprising in the Ukraine alongside Nestor Makhno between 1919 and 1921, at which point he narrowly escaped the Bolshevik counterrevolution with his life. Fleeing west into Germany, he authored the History of the Makhnovist Movement (1918–1921). He also co-authored the “Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists.” Eventually, he renounced anarchism and returned to the Soviet Union to join the Communist Party, only to be purged and executed. If not even the original Bolsheviks were safe from Stalin’s Terror, it was foolish to imagine a former anarchist might be.
Once the Bolshevik Terror was underway, it became increasingly difficult to get information about what was happening to anarchists and other rebels behind the borders of the Soviet Union. Fedor Mochanovsky was one of countless anarchists who vanished in the course of this repression. By 1928, the Soviet authorities had moved Mochanovsky from the Butyrka prison in order to cut off international support, effectively disappearing him. He almost certainly died in the hands of the Stalinist state.
“In 1918 the Bolshevists organized an anti-anarchist front to seek the destruction of the anarchists in Russia. Throughout the land and in every sphere of life across the territory of the soviet republic, they took up arms against the anarchists. They shut down their presses and their literature. They shut down anarchist clubs and bookshops. They resorted to all sorts of means in order to undo the organization of their congresses and they arrested the anarchists. And when the opportunity presented itself, they shot them down on one pretext or another.”
Near the end of his life, Max Nettlau, one of the greatest historians of the classical anarchist movement, having witnessed the Bolshevik victory and the subsequent nightmares of Leninism and Stalinism, summarized the essence of Marx’s political incoherence in a letter to a friend. This little-known excerpt casts considerable light on the contradictions within Marx’s thought, which have been the cause of so much misfortune:
I call Marx “triple-faced,” because with his particularly grasping spirit he laid a claim on exactly three tactics and his originality no doubt resides in these pan-grasping gests. He encouraged electoral socialism, the conquest of parliaments, social democracy and, though he often sneered at it, the People’s State and State Socialism. He encouraged revolutionary dictatorship. He encouraged simple confidence and abiding, letting “evolution” do the work, self-reduction, almost self-evaporation of the capitalists until the pyramid tumbled over by mathematical laws of his own growth, as if triangular bodies automatically turned somersaults. He copied the first tactics from Louis Blanc, the second from Blanqui, whilst the third correspond to his feeling of being somehow the economic dictator of the universe, as Hegel had been its spiritual dictator. His grasping went further. He hated instinctively libertarian thought and tried to destroy the free thinkers wherever he met them, from Feuerbach and Max Stirner to Proudhon, Bakunin and others. But he wished to add the essence of their teaching as spoils to his other borrowed feathers, and so he relegated at the end of days, after all dictatorship, the prospect of a Stateless, an Anarchist world. The Economic Cagliostro hunted thus with all hounds and ran with all hares, and imposed thus—and his followers after him—an incredible confusion on socialism which, almost a century after 1844, has not yet ended. The social-democrats pray by him; the dictatorial socialist swear by him; the evolutionary socialists sit still and listen to hear evolution evolve, as others listen to the growing of the grass; and some very frugal people drink weak tea and are glad, that at the end of days by Marx’s ipse dixit Anarchy will at last be permitted to unfold. Marx has been like a blight that creeps in and kills everything it touches to European socialism, an immense power for evil, numbing self-thought, insinuating false confidence, stirring up animosity, hatred, absolute intolerance, beginning with his own arrogant literary squabbles and leading to inter-murdering socialism as in Russia, since 1917, which has so very soon permitted reaction to galvanize the undeveloped strata and to cultivate the “Reinkulturen” of such authoritarianism, the Fascists and their followers. There was, in spite of their personal enmity, some monstrous “inter-breeding” between the two most fatal men of the 19thcentury, Marx and Mazzini, and their issue are Mussolini and all the others who disgrace this poor 20th century.
The tragedies brought about by the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 did not end in Russia. Once there was a state that supposedly represented the revolutionary socialist agenda, revolutions and revolutionaries all around the world were sacrificed in cold blood to advance the imperatives that drive all states. As his temporary pact with Hitler illustrates, “Stalinism” was not a coherent ideology but a mishmash of all the things Stalin had to do to continuously pursue power for himself and the Soviet Union.
Not wishing any revolutionary movements to triumph elsewhere in the world that did not answer to his Comintern, Stalin made sure to undermine the anarchist and republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. The Stalinist faction within the struggle against Franco was small, but because they controlled access to resources from outside Spain and did not shrink from open betrayal, they were able to centralize control of the defense in their hands. In the end, many Spanish anarchists were murdered by Stalinists rather than by the fascists they were supposedly fighting together.
An associate of Malatesta and fierce critic of Trotsky as well as Stalin, Luigi Berneri was a well-known Italian anarchist organizer who traveled to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War. He was offered a position in the Council of the Economy, but refused to participate in the government.
When clashes between anarchists and the Stalin-controlled Communist Party broke out in Republican Spain, the house Berneri shared with several other anarchists was attacked. He and his comrades were labeled “counter-revolutionaries,” disarmed, deprived of their papers, and forbidden to go out into the street. On May 5, 1937, Stalinists murdered Berneri along with another Italian anarchist, Francisco Barbieri.
“What evil the Communists are doing here too! It is almost 2 o’clock and I am going to bed. The house is on its guard tonight. I offered to stay awake to let the others go to sleep, and everyone laughed, saying that I would not even hear the cannon! But afterwards, one by one, they fell asleep, and I am watchful over all of them, while working for those who are to come. It is the only completely beautiful thing.”
The Soviet model for seizing power and repressing dissidents of all stripes spread far outside Stalin’s sphere of influence, sealing the fates of anarchists and millions upon millions of other people.
Park Yeol, the anarchist whose high-profile trial and imprisonment was dramatized this year in the South Korean movie Anarchist from the Colony, fought long and hard against capitalism and imperialism only to be disappeared by a state communist regime. After 22 years in prison, Park was released at the end of the Second World War, only to be captured by the North Korean army. He subsequently vanished.
Alberto Miguel Linsuain
The pattern that began in Russia in 1917 and then spread to Spain, China, and Korea repeated in Cuba and elsewhere around Latin America, too.
Alberto Linsuain was the son of a well-known revolutionary who participated in the Spanish Civil War. Linsuain fought against the Batista dictatorship and joined the rebel forces under the command of Castro’s brother, Raúl Castro. He became a lieutenant in the Rebel Army on account of his bravery in battle. After the armed struggle, he dedicated himself to union organizing. His fellow workers elected him General Secretary of the Federation of Food, Hotel, and Restaurant Workers of the Province of Oriente. When the communists began to take over the organized labor movement, Linsuain fought back. They threw him in jail without trial, along with many other anarchists who had participated in the revolution.
When proponents of state socialism accuse anarchists of being sectarian for not desiring to work together for common ends, we have to ask: do we share the same goals, really? What can we have in common with those who believe that guillotines, courts, judges, prisons, gulags, and firing squads can do the work of liberation?
If history is any guide, partisans of the state will not hesitate to use those against us and anyone else that hinders their pursuit of centralized power. Tens of millions murdered by the state cry out to us from the 20th century, urging us to heed their warnings, so their deaths might not be in vain.
Bakunin’s “Critique of State Socialism,” available in our archives as a charming comic book reviewing how the history of authoritarian communism throughout the 20th century bore out Bakunin’s analysis.
The Bolshevik seizure of power was known as the October Revolution even though it transpired in November according to the Western European calendar. At the time, Russia was so backwards that its calendar was literally two weeks behind. ↩
Months pass, years pass, yet the situation in France remains unstable as the rhythm of social and political struggles accelerates. The events we will describe here are a consequence of the political situation in France and in Europe as a whole: the repercussions of the 2008 international financial crisis are still noticeable in our daily lives, European governments and their security policies can’t contain or palliate the “refugee crisis,” the ISIS attacks, the State of Emergency, the COP21, increasing disillusionment with traditional political parties, never-ending austerity measures, elections in which the far right is gaining more and more power.
As is typical in France, the end of the summer holidays heralded the resumption of struggle. Indeed, the newly elected and self-proclaimed “revolutionary”1 French President Emmanuel Macron and his government are preparing a new liberal version of the labor legislation that was the cause of the struggle against the loi travail.. The current version was imposed by the previous Socialist government only a year ago, under Hollande’s presidency, despite a wave of social upheaval that shook France in protest against it.
Facing this new offensive aimed at making labor conditions and life itself ever more precarious, people once again took the streets on September 12 to fight against the new “Loi Travail XXL.” You can read a short review of the events here and watch a video here. More demonstrations are planned to increase the pressure on the new government and its neoliberalism-2.0 vision of society. In anticipation of the first major demonstration against the new work reform, Emmanuel Macron addressed the local French community while visiting Athens:
“(…) Democracy here is fragile; the peace that we have invented in Europe after the War is fragile; the spirit of culture that we have defended and carried here is fragile; this universal drive that brings you here today is fragile. This is why all of this is so fragile that I want to say two things in conclusion. I will be absolutely determined and I will not concede anything—neither to the lazybones, nor to the cynical, nor to the extremists. And I ask you to have the same determination, every single day. Do not concede anything—neither to the egoists, nor to the pessimists, nor to the extremists.”
We can appreciate the contempt and cynicism of this quote.
But the most significant events of September 2017 took place inside the High Court of Paris. Some 16 months after the events, nine individuals faced trial for participating in a spontaneous action and counter-protest in which a police car was set on fire. The trial was scheduled for September 19-22, 2017.
The Day We Stole Fire
Lundimatin summarized the context surrounding the fire that happened on May 18, 2016 at Quai de Valmy.
In, May 2016, while the upheaval against the Loi Travail was still at its height, a police union named Alliance seized the République Square in Paris, the site of the ephemeral French movement Nuit Debout. The union’s main objective was to stage an illusory reconciliation between the French population and their police. To do so, the union invited some major figures from the Front National, the far-right and fascist French political party. As police agents took pictures with fascist stars, other police units that were still on the clock protected their colleagues’ gathering.
Tensions increased between counter-protesters and law enforcement units, who were shoving and pepper-spraying activists as usual. A spontaneous march broke out in response. On its way through the streets of Paris, the crowd encountered a police car stuck in traffic. The car was attacked and set on fire.
In response, Manuel Valls, then Prime Minister, said that he wanted “relentless sanctions” inflicted on the individuals who took part in the attack. The judicial machinery didn’t take long to designate and arrest its first suspects. When the trials started, two defendants remained incarcerated, six were under judicial control, and another individual couldn’t be found, as he never responded to the summons sent by the court.
Threatened by the uncontrollable rage rebels had unleashed in the streets, which sent sparks of insurrection flying throughout Paris and other cities, the French government saw in this event a perfect opportunity to re-establish order and reassert its authority. As the trials approached, we all knew that they would be dramatically publicized and politicized, as they would pit anti-authoritarians against the institutions of the police and the state itself—and also because the authorities could use the verdict to intimidate anyone who might wish to express opposition towards the state, its laws, and its policies.
Will they succeed? That has yet to be seen.
Reducing Their World to Ashes
The following text has been assembled from translations and adaptations of various reports on the trial hearings and articles related to the case. In sharing these narratives, we hope to offer a broader understanding of the case, and to reveal the obvious political repression and spectacle organized by the court, the police, and the state against our companions.
Paris: Report on the First Day of the Trials Concerning the Police Car Set on Fire
Large numbers of people converged in front of the 14th chamber of the high court, even before the starting hour of the hearing. Journalists were there too. First, they took pictures of those who wanted to be photographed; then they snapped away at the defendants when they were asked to enter the courtroom. Their microphones hovered over the heads of the supporters. Part of the crowd protested and reacted: some umbrellas were opened and brandished so no pictures could be taken, several familiar faces were heckled, and later on, some stickers were stuck on camera lenses. During the defendants’ exit, by a side door, a welcome stampede enabled the crowd to push the journalists away while they were trying to steal some images.
Meanwhile, people rushed in front of the closed barriers and slowly started to warm up by asking for a bigger courtroom. Numerous lawyers also entered the room one by one.
There were at least 18 people in lawyers’ clothing inside the room.
The police let the judiciary press enter the room until the box was full; then they let the defendants’ families enter one by one after checking their IDs. Cops insisted on selecting who was allowed to enter the room and who was not, so only those considered “really close,” “the parents,” “the dad and the mom” were allowed to enter the room. Eventually, however, they ended up letting some of the defendants’ close friends enter without asking for any ID. Finally, they announced that five or six seats were still available for the public.
Inside, some seats remained available, as well as some space for those who preferred to remain standing, but a large part of the public stayed outside with the rest of the journalists.
Once the judges were seated, a lawyer took the floor to complain about the lack of space and demanded a bigger room “in the name of all the defense lawyers.” Someone in the audience pointed out that the room was also way too small to welcome all the relatives and the public who wanted to show support at the trial. The judge replied curtly that this person was not allowed to speak.
But as an answer to the lawyer’s request, the hearing was suspended a first time.
It resumed after half an hour. Some additional chairs were brought for the lawyers and in order to enable more journalists to enter the room.
When the judge tried to call the roll of the defendants, the lawyers went further by explaining that the conditions of the trial were not “worthy of a normal defense,” as they were prevented from having physical access to their files. A lawyer added that it was important to let the journalists enter the courtroom, as it was a “symbolic case” involving police violence. Another took the prosecutor to task for being personally responsible for scheduling the trial in such a small room. In their turn, journalists put pressure on the court to allow their colleagues outside to report on the hearing. To that end, they even threatened to leave the courtroom all together.
The president of the bar, previously called by the defense lawyers, asked for some calm and to take into consideration the observations and requests made by the defense. The judge responded that additional chairs had already been brought to the room. The latter was also talking at some point about letting everyone in the audience sit in on the hearing by establishing some kind of rotation, to take place every two hours. He also insisted on the “serenity” wherein the trial had to take place.
Meanwhile, outside, the slogan “a bigger room” was amplified to such an extent that we could actually hear it over the repeated calls for calm made by the Judge. Throughout the entire hearing, we would hear inside the courtroom all the slogans chanted by those who remained outside and continued to demand “a bigger room” and freedom for the prisoners.
The defense lawyers stood up to officially protest.
One of them explained that it would be impossible to rotate the public: how to choose among them? How to deal with those who would not want to leave? Should we rotate the journalists too? He asked for the hearing to be suspended for the rest of the day and for the trial to resume in a bigger room the next day.
Another comment: even with the added chairs, the lawyers didn’t have access to their computers, and couldn’t open their files properly, while the prosecutor was comfortably seated on his chair with a direct access to a computer. There was no “equality of arms.” The Judge told him not to be so excessive, and asserted that this problem is always solved in practice.
A lawyer threatened to move the arguments to the juridical field and cited the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the rights of the defense. He threatened to file requests to nullify the trial if it continued under such circumstances.
The judge took him at his word and said that the court was ready to deliberate on referral requests as well as on nullity requests if they were formulated, and this after the prosecutor’s opinion. The lawyers confirmed.
The prosecutor didn’t have any opinion of the adjournment’s request, as he didn’t know the availability of the other rooms in the court. He insisted on saying that “since the first minute of the hearing, the defense’s rights were respected” and insisted on the efforts provided by the court, explaining that the day’s circumstances were the fault of lawyers who added their names to the original list of participants, and that the public and the journalists already had enough space.
The room growled inside. We could still hear chants and shouts coming from outside.
The hearing was suspended once again so the judges could rule on the request for adjournment.
In their turn, the judges announced the end of the hearing for the day. The trial would resume the following day (Wednesday September 20) inside the 16th Chamber at 1:30 pm, one floor downstairs. We were expecting a criminal chamber (like that day) with probably more space for the lawyers and at best 20 to 30 more people in the public, but probably no more “serenity” than that day.
Anyway, the cops took the people gathered outside of the room off the premises of the high court as they chanted numerous slogans, including “Fire to the prisons!” and “Freedom for all!”
Paris: Report on the Second Day of the Trials Concerning the Police Car Set on Fire
On Thursday, the hearings began at 10 am in the 16th Chamber. The pressure was set up from the entrance of the Court where gendarmes physically searched bags after checking them through x-ray scanners. They were especially looking for stickers, handouts, and umbrellas as they had received the order to seize such items. These security measures blocked the progress of the waiting line. As a result, numerous supporters found themselves stuck outside, as well as four defendants who hadn’t been summoned. The latter finally gained access to the courtroom at 1:50 pm.
The hearing opened with the roll call of the defendants and the civil parties, the reminder of the charges, and the roles attributed to everyone involved in the case.
Then, several lawyers argued to nullify the trial. First, the lawyers of two individuals still incarcerated claimed that their detention was irregular, as no written decisions were published after the previous hearing on July 17, 2017. Another lawyer filed a conclusion concerning the inadmissibility of considering the police union Alliance as a civil party in this trial. They based their argumentation on specific case laws that specify the conditions in which a professional union can or cannot form a civil party during a trial.
The Alliance lawyer answered this request by contesting the admissibility of the conclusions, arguing that Alliance has been a civil party since the beginning of the trial, and such criticism should have been made earlier.
After the lawyers replied to the arguments presented by the prosecutor, the court left the room for a moment, then returned. It was decided that the “incidents would be added to the content,” which means that the decisions regarding the requests to nullify would be pronounced only during the verdict of the trial.
A dozen police officers from Alliance occupying two rows in the back of the room were making comments such as “Can’t they force these assholes to stand up?” (referring to the individuals who refused to stand up when the members of the court entered the room), to which some people answered them: “Shut up!”
Then the judge began summarizing the facts. The testimonies of some storekeepers were read, numerous videos were presented and watched, and the statement of Allison Barthélémy—the passenger officer in the burnt car—was read, even if she wasn’t present inside the courtroom.
Next, Kevin Philippy, the driver of the car, was interrogated at the bar. Some laughs were heard inside the room when he asserted that his “aggressor” was targeting his head because he “wanted to put him on the ground so he could finish [read: kill] him.”
The judge continued the summary of the investigation, mentioning the interrogations of some individuals arrested on May 18 but not accused in the case, as well as the testimony of the anonymous cop who testified against four of the defendants. A lawyer highlighted that the chronology in the judge’s account was incorrect, as the latter hadn’t mentioned the interrogations of the actual defendants yet, while people were arrested before the publication of the testimony of the anonymous police officer (the intelligence police officer code name during the trial was T142). The judge justified himself saying that he did so “to be clearer.”
The first defendant was interrogated. She appeared before the judge in custody and accused of throwing a small metal post into the front windshield of the police car. The judge quoted her previous interrogations and commented on several pictures attached to the file, but the questioning ended soon as the defendant refused to talk.
A second defendant was called to the bar. He was accused of hitting the car and one of the police officers with a metallic rod. He recognized the facts and explained them by the increasing anger he felt while taking part of several demonstrations and realizing the disproportionate police violence during them. He ended his explanation by saying that he regretted his actions and apologized to the police officer. For almost two hours, the judge and the prosecutor interrogated him. They confronted him with other videos of the demonstration, in order to try to demonstrate that he was also violent towards police officers on other occasions.
After a hearing suspension, the judge reviewed the calendar of the trial. He announced that the discussions would start on Thursday and Friday at 10 am and the verdict would be given on Friday September 29.
Then a third defendant was called to the bar. Only accused of “participating in the gathering,” he was questioned on some elements found during a house search, in particular on his helmet collection, on the choice of the brand of his jacket, on the events of the demonstration, and on the fact that the latter was unauthorized. The question of knowing when he decided to put his hood on seemed to be really dear to the judge’s heart, who was showing at the same time a pixelated picture in which we were supposed to see the defendant putting his hood on. The room protested, but according to the favorite sentence of the judge, “everyone will appreciate this.” (We thought that it was his role to “appreciate” whether the evidence was correct and admissible, but whatever.)
In turn, the fourth and last defendant of the day was called to the bar. He was accused with the same charges as the previous one, but also for refusing to have his DNA taken during his arrest. In a situation similar to the previous one, an object was extracted from the sealed evidence in order to learn whether it was a truncheon or a broken stick of a shovel. Then a debate began regarding the presence of “tear gas” in his house (we supposed that the judge was referring to pepper spray).
The courtroom reacted when the judge presented some pictures that supposedly showed the defendant. It was obvious that it wasn’t him in the pictures, especially because the individual in the so-called evidence was a smoker, while the defendant is not. His lawyer protested that there was no objective element in the accusation. The defendant admitted his presence at the demonstration but insisted that he wasn’t next to the car during the attack and that he wasn’t masked.
At 8 pm, the hearing was over. It would resume the next day at 10 am for the interrogations of the other four defendants.
The police intercepted two individuals as they exited the court and forced them into an unmarked police car. They were sent to an unknown destination, maybe because they were seen on video cameras putting stickers inside the Court premises.
Arrests at the Exit of the High Court, during the Trial Concerning the Police Car Set on Fire
It seems that a small group of people were blocked at the exit of the court with their identity taken. Finally, two individuals were immobilized in one corner of the courtyard (the walls had bars on them) before being taken away for having put some stickers inside the premises. The police may have used video surveillance to bring these charges. Some of the people present during the arrest reacted and tried to block the police car that was taking the two arrestees away.
If the crowd had been more numerous and more determined, it would probably have been possible to make this arrest more difficult to manage, or at least not to let the cops do their dirty work so quietly.
Paris: Report on the Third Day of the Trials Concerning the Police Car Set on Fire
The hearings took place from 10 am until 7:30 pm, with an hour break at noon.
The four defendants who hadn’t been interrogated the previous day were questioned one after another. The first one was accused of hitting the driver and breaking the back windshield of the car with a post. The second one was accused of having been present in the area during the attack. The third was accused of having pointed out the cop car during the movement of the crowd through the street and for having raised his arms to the sky when the police car was set on fire. The fourth and last defendant was accused of having broken the back right side window of the car with a small post.
Then the judge presented the evidence against the ninth defendant, accused of throwing the flare inside the car. This defendant wasn’t present in the courtroom and wasn’t represented by a lawyer.
The atmosphere inside the courtroom was tense. Two individuals who came to support the defendants were expelled, and one of them was directly thrown off the court premises. Gendarmes were threatening us with expulsion if we looked at our phones, while the Alliance cops (who came to support the civil parties) seemed to play “Candy Crush” in the back of the room. On several occasions, there were loud reactions among us concerning the remarks of the prosecutors or the behavior of the gendarmes and Alliance cops.
At one point, the gendarmes in front of the courtroom tried to admit a pro-cop individual dressed in a blue, white, and red shirt (patriotism is fashionable). It was the same individual who had been insulting people the previous day. Some supporters decided to block him, but unfortunately police officers took that opportunity to expel some supporters from the premises of the high court. The pro-cop guy was permitted to stay in the courtroom while most of the evicted persons were not allowed to re-enter the court.
The two individuals arrested the previous day were released after 24 hours in jail, with no further action taken against them so far. Inside the corridors of the court, an investigation was taking place. Two police officers with photos of anarchist stickers were wandering around looking at the walls. At some point, the closest restrooms were entirely disinfected and cleaned—but not for long, as soon after, they were covered with graffiti and stickers once again.
In addition, the previous night, a total of 1500 square meters of police barracks containing vehicles and offices had been set on fire in Grenoble in solidarity with the defendants. The next afternoon, during the demonstration in Paris, the cortège de tête (the head of the march) was chanting: “A la 1re, à la 2,e à la 3e voiture brûlée, liberté pour tous les inculpés.” (“At the 1st, at the 2nd, at the 3rd car set on fire, freedom for all the defendants.”)
Paris: The Prosecutor Requests Years of Prison in the Case of the Police Car Set on Fire
The verdict, initially scheduled for September 29 at 11 am, was postponed and delivered later. A more precise date was given the following Wednesday, September 27, the day when the lawyers would finish their pleas from 9:30 am until 1 pm, during a final hearing. Moreover, at the end of the day, around 9:30pm, the court had to decide whether to release Kara and Krem, still incarcerated at the time of the trial. The court refused to release them. In solidarity, part of the audience shouted “Freedom” and “Courage” inside the courtroom.
The prosecution’s closing speech was delivered by the two prosecutors, Olivier Dabin and Emmanuelle Quindry. They said it was “the trial of some rioters” organized “in a horde.” Other choice quotations included, “Where and who are the fascists and extremists when we fight the police, the justice system, the journalists?” “During a house search, we found the stickers of the ultra-left movement.” “I challenge anyone to say that justice covers police violence.” “The great Lénine said, ‘Anarchists are reactionaries.’” “For the uncompromising ones, silence is a right but it is also a silence of approval.”
The charges and threatened sentences:
Against the individuals accused of participating in “a gathering with the objective of committing violence,” but also for “voluntary violence on a PDAP” (Person in Charge of Public Authority), with 4 aggravating circumstances: violence in an assembly, use of weapons, and masked face:
Joachim (Swiss): 8 years imprisonment coupled with a detention order (he is currently on the run; an arrest warrant has been issued, as he is accused of throwing the flare that set the cop car on fire).
Antonin: 5 years imprisonment with a one-year suspended sentence coupled with an order to be kept in jail and forbidden to take part in any demonstration in Paris for 3 years. He already served 10 months of preventive detention.
Nicolas: 5 years imprisonment with a two-year suspended sentence without a detention order (due to his “clear act of contrition during his hearing” and the absence of “recidivism risk” according to the prosecutor), and being prohibited from taking part in any demonstration in Paris for 3 years. He already served 13 months of preventive detention/remand.
Krem: 4 years imprisonment, currently kept in detention and facing a ban on taking part in any demonstration in Paris for 3 years. He had been in preventive detention/remand for 7 months.
Kara: 3 years imprisonment with a one-year suspended sentence and a 3 years ban of entering the French territory (due to her US nationality). She had been in preventive detention/remand for 16 months already.
Thomas: 3 years imprisonment with a two-year suspended sentence coupled with a ban on participating in any demonstration in Paris for 3 years. No detainment order (this means he faces one year of actual imprisonment).
Against the individuals only accused of having taken part in “a gathering with the objective of committing violence”:
Angel: one-year suspended sentence and a ban on taking part in any demonstration in Paris for 3 years. He already spent 42 days in preventive detention/remand.
Bryan: one-year suspended sentence and a ban on taking part in any demonstration in Paris for 3 years. A €1000 fine for refusing to give his DNA. He already spent 4 days in preventive detention/remand.
Leandro: one-year suspended sentence and a ban on taking part in any demonstration in Paris for 3 years. He also already spent 4 days in preventive detention/remand.
Requests made by the “civil parties”:
The police union Alliance asked for €5000 for “moral prejudice” regarding their professions (with arguments such as “these acts of violence are similar to terrorist acts”). The lawyer of Alliance is Ms. Delphine Des Villettes.
Kevin Philippy, the cop who was driving the car, asked for €30,000 of “damages and interests” (his lawyer is Ms. Michèle Launay). Kevin Philippy, security assistant, tried to pass the official exam to become a policeman four times without success. Thanks to the incident of the police car arson, he was exempted from the exam and accepted into the police school of Sens, from which he “graduated” on March 20, 2017. Currently a trainee police officer, he will be given tenure in March 2018.
Report on the Last Day of the Trial for the Police Car Set on Fire
The defendants Kara and Krem attended, but in custody, under arrest.
This morning, the atmosphere was really quiet inside the Court. Absolutely no noise from outside disrupted the pleas of the two lawyers besides the anxious sound of the sirens of police cars.
The hearing started with the plea of Antoine Vey, the lawyer representing Nicolas.
In front of a rigid, even stoical judge, Antoine Vey began by denouncing the political aspect of the trial: the instructions of Manuel Valls, who had been Prime Minister at the time, but also the use of police premises during custody in which flags of the police union Alliance (known for extremely reactionary politics) were displayed on the walls.
He also highlighted the fact that the prosecutor shook hands with the civil parties when she arrived at the court that morning, adding, “You would never do that with the defendants!”
He explained that the defendants having been described as guilty even before the trial took place, and that this had had serious consequences for them.
Antoine Vey defended Nicolas affirming that he “did not handle the events, he did not manage this violence. He did not claim it.” After quoting Foucault about “the facts, the sanction, the torture,” the lawyer asked for the sentences to be personalized.
“Because there is violence during demonstrations, we should not take part in them? (…) Is it the ideas that are on trial?”
Antoine Vey came back to Nicolas’s personal political path, how he had been shocked by the violence of law enforcement agents towards demonstrators during the protests against the Loi Travail. Nevertheless, his client is not an “ideologue.”
“Madam the prosecutor, you remind me of Javert!” the lawyer said frankly concerning the severity of the sentences demanded by the two prosecutors on Friday, September 22. (In Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables, Javert is a police inspector who becomes obsessed with the pursuit and punishment of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict.)
“Being armed doesn’t mean wearing a black vest, a beanie, and some sunglasses!”
Then, he explained that the “weapon” wasn’t an iron bar but a flexible metallic rod. He demanded that Nicolas should be judged with clemency. “He was severely punished, he is inserted in society. There is absolutely no more reason to put him back to prison, except for the sake of a putrid political message.”
Antoine Vey concluded his plea affirming that: “If you send him back to prison, you would have judged him, but you would have not brought back justice.”
Then, it was the turn of Arié Alimi, Antonin’s lawyer, to plead.
He started his speech by showing some compassion towards the civil parties, then reminded the court that his grandfather was a police instructor in Algeria during the state of emergency.
He explained that since the events in Sivens (where the young demonstrator Rémy Fraisse was murdered on the night of October 25, 2014 by a police grenade), there has been a clear change of doctrine regarding law enforcement.
“How can we explain why there are no more children and strollers during demonstrations nowadays? (…) Before, the doctrine was to keep the crowd away, today it is to hurt and to discredit a social movement.”
He said to spare a thought for Rémy Fraisse, the Traoré family, Théo, and the Bergson’s student (all victims of police violence). He expressed himself strongly against the imbalance in the prosecutors’ closing speech.
“An eight-month suspended sentence for the police officer who fractured the nose of the high-school student of Bergson—against eight years imprisonment coupled with an arrest warrant for a flare thrown inside a police car! This is not intelligible!”
For several years, Antonin was constantly targeted by the DRPP (the Intelligence department of the Parisian police). In the 11 cases the DRPP presented against him, Antonin was discharged, or the cases were dropped.
“This is a calumnious denunciation against my client, I can go so far as to say so.”
The lawyer denounced the administrative logic of the famous “notes blanches” (“white notes”) of the Intelligence service. “The anonymous testimony doesn’t make any sense anymore.”
Arié Alimi analyzed the anonymous testimony (“T142”). The police officer indicated at numerous occasions that he didn’t want to answer the lawyers’ questions. According to Arié Alimi, the testimony is no longer credible. The police officer’s refusal to explain his statements could allow the defense to initiate legal proceedings against him.
Antonin had an injured wrist in May 18, 2016, an injury that he received a month and a half before the day of the demonstration, “therefore, he couldn’t lift the post during the events” explained his lawyer.
“We are confronted with a method in which we want a result, an answer, from the very start!”
Then, Alimi returned to the clothing and physical details mentioned during the hearings that were used to charge Antonin. Nike shoes, for example, are a very common brand among young people. Keeping your phone in your pocket is only doing “what everybody else does.” Antonin has dark rings under his eyes? A lot of young people “spend their nights in front of the television or partying.”
The lawyer brandished several pictures taken from videos and printed on cardboard paper to support his arguments concerning the common clothing features of demonstrators. According to Arié Alimi, the prosecutor didn’t use all the pictures available in the file. The prosecutor “lied intentionally.” The testimony of the police officer was that Antonin was wearing a neck warmer and not a hood; moreover, during house search, they didn’t find the incriminating vest. “He is not the aggressor!” said his lawyer. The “kung-fu” police officer (a nickname given to Kevin Philippy, the police officer assaulted during the events) didn’t even recognize Antonin behind the one-way glass.
“What additional proofs do you want? (…) Why did we stubbornly and against all odds accuse Antonin? (…) We absolutely wanted to condemn a political opponent. Politics contaminate our justice, we are in France, not in Russia!”
Arié Alimi asked for discharge for Antonin.
The verdict of the trial was to be delivered on Wednesday, October 11 at 10 am.
The court cleared out while Krem and Kara were handcuffed before being sent back to prison. Shouts of “Freedom!” echoed in the hallway of the high court of Paris.
Then, Slowly, the Fire Spreads…
Solidarity has always been a core principle of anarchist values. Without a doubt, it is an extremely important weapon, especially during moments of hardship or isolation. As in every upheaval that ends with massive waves of repression, the demonstrations against the Loi Travail in 2016 sadly resulted in numerous people being injured, arrested, and prosecuted.
Nevertheless, acts of solidarity broke out immediately. Activists snatched arrestees back from the police during demonstrations, preserving their freedom. People gathered in front of police stations where friends were arrested and organized benefit shows to cover arrestees’ legal expenses.
Regarding the arson trials, you can find a detailed list of solidarity actions here. A version of this list is available here in English.
One action even made the national news. In the middle of a week of the trials, some people decided to send a clear message to the state and all forms of authority, expressing love and solidarity with the defendants. On the night of Thursday, September 21, a group entered a police barracks and set it on fire. Here is the translation of their communiqué:
This Thursday (Sept. 21), at 3 am, second day of the trial of the burnt cop car.
We have entered the gendarmerie barracks of Vigny-Musset. We set on fire 6 intervention vans and 2 logistics trucks. The garage and the warehouse were devastated for more than 1500 square meters.
This action is part of the wave of solidarity attacks with the individuals on trial during these days.
Big hugs to Kara and Krem.
A thought for Damien, who was beaten up by cops recently.
Whatever the outcome of the trial will be, we will continue attacking the police and their justice.
Our hostility is a spreading fire.
…and the Pressure Increases
Needless to say, the attack against the gendarmerie station, as well as the intensity of the arson, caught the attention of the French government. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, the Minister of the Interior, Gerard Collomb, who is well known for his authoritarian tendencies, announced his “consternation” and “indignation” about this attack. He added: “The gendarmerie will do everything possible to seek and identify the authors of this particularly serious act, so they can be accountable for their actions in front of the court. (…) All measures are being taken so the equipment and the vehicles can be replaced rapidly.”
Another mainstream article, this time from Libération, explains that the entire offices of the gendarmerie were reduced to ashes, including the criminal investigation department. Moreover, the “wave of attacks” mentioned in the arson communiqué echoes the arson of five police vehicles in Limoges on Tuesday, September 19, 2017, a few hours before the opening of the trial. In the same article, we learn that local authorities noticed that, lately, numerous anonymous arsonist actions and communiqués were posted on independent medias platforms such as Indymedia. According to the journalist, this reveals a special use of arson among some radicals, especially against “necro-technologies”: arson against a mobile phone antenna in Ardèche last July; arson of Enedis’ vehicles and offices in Grenoble last May and in the department of Drome last June (Enedis, or ERDF, is the company that controls and manages the electrical network in France); or against “social control,” like the arson of CCAS vehicles in Grenoble last March.
Immediately following the appearance of this arson communiqué, the French authorities once again undertook to employ the chief tools at their disposal, fear and intimidation. Even if we all know that the state will always defend its legitimacy and power by all means necessary, we can perceive an obvious escalation of state repression against anarchists and radicals. One of the best examples is the aftermath of G20 in Hamburg. After the rebellion against the G20 summit that lit up this past summer, in addition to several trials and sentences requested against people arrested during the G20, the German government struck back against “left-wing extremism” by shutting down Linksunten Indymedia and raiding several houses.
In France, several hours after publishing the communiqué on their website, Indymedia Grenoble received an email from the Office Central de Lutte contre la Criminalité liée aux Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication (a police organization dedicated in fighting cyber-criminality), asking them to remove the arson communiqué within 24 hours and threatening to shut down the media platform. The communiqué is considered to be “advocating terrorist acts.” You can read a copy of the email sent to Indymedia Grenoblehere. Indymedia Nantes also received this official request. Surprisingly, and without giving a clear explanation of their decisions, both websites decided to give way to the authorities’ request. You can read their communiqués (still in French) here and here. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets published the same communiqué without receiving any threats from authorities.
These events raise several questions: How independent can alternative media be? Why obey the threats of the police and the state? How “safe” are we when we use such platforms? How far are authorities willing to go to track down anarchists and other radical activists? But also—how can we effectively resist this escalating repression? It is more important than ever to discuss these issues as the witch hunt continues in the streets, the courtrooms, and online.
The Verdict: The State Attempts to Extinguish the Flames
The following is an adaptation and translation of an article posted on October 11, 2017 by lundimatin.
Quai Valmy: Summary of the Sentencing
The nine defendants were condemned to a total of 30 years of prison and more than 40,000 euros in damages.
The police presence was particularly visible this morning in front of the high court and inside the halls of the palace. Numerous gendarmes were also supporting the walls of the courtroom. Once the defendants sat down, the hearing started with the conclusions raised in limine litis. The court stated that having the police union Alliance as a civil party in this trial was admissible, and that the detention orders against Kara and Ari (aka Krem) were legitimate.
Then the court examined the content of the case file and the main charges selected. The president invoked a restrictive use of the concept of participating in a gathering with the purpose of committing violence, and concluded that the simple fact of hiding one’s face wasn’t enough to confirm this charge. Regarding the intentional element mentioned in the charges, he reckoned that the individual had to show a will to participate, or for others to participate, in these acts of violence.
Concerning the anonymous testimony, without discussing the quality or legitimacy of the witness, the court insisted on its convincing force, but pointed out that this testimony itself wasn’t enough to establish guilt. Therefore, other elements and evidence should support it. Regarding the acts of severe violence, he highlighted that, apart from the use of the metal bar, posts, and flares or smoke bombs, the fact of hitting an immobilized vehicle with bare hands, while two persons where still inside the vehicle, was sufficient to be characterized. Concerning the destruction of the vehicle by arson, the Court concluded that the collective action contributed to the realization of the damage.
Then, the court discussed the facts.
Regarding Angel and Bryan, the court concluded that the charge of participation in a violent gathering couldn’t be used against them from the moment that the investigation failed to establish where the two defendants were during the assault on the car, so the court discharged them. However, Bryan was sentenced for refusing to give his DNA.
Concerning Kara, the court reminded the audience that she recognized her culpability. Then, via the voice of its president M. Alçufrom, the court talked at length about the hypothetical consequences of her action… “And what if the windshield had shattered? The two police officers would probably be dead…” The president even discussed Kara’s journey: she came from the US, then stayed in Germany and Kurdistan, adding that “she held back from assaulting police officers in other countries,” and affirmed that somewhere else, for such actions, “she could have vanished into thin air in the proper sense, as well as in the figurative sense.” According to the president, she “took the liberty of acting that way” because she knew the behavior of the French police.
Regarding Nicolas, the president noted that he immediately recognized the facts, then insisted on the seriousness of the committed acts. M. Alçufrom considered that when exiting his vehicle in flames, the police officer “tried to escape from a certain death,” this is why it is important “to honor the courage of M. Philippy,” who “wasn’t a kung-fu police officer, but a courageous man.” Considering the regrets expressed by the defendant, the court estimated that “his recidivism risk was low.”
In the case of Antonin, the Court mentioned the “blunt identification” made by the anonymous witness. Then he took every single photograph presented by Arié Alimi (Antonin’s lawyer), examined all of them, and noticed some differences with the assailant. He even mentioned a different coloring of the eyebrows between the two individuals. However, the different color tones of the clothing could be attributed to the different angles and point of views of the pictures taken… On the fact that the anonymous witness (who pretended that he was constantly looking at Antonin during the action) didn’t see Antonin changing clothes, the president concluded, “there were too many people to see everything.”
The court retained as incriminating evidence the contradictory declarations of Antonin during the investigation, declarations that all turned out to be false. The court even asserted that the tracking and triangulation of his cellphone enabled them to locate him near the store he said he had spent the afternoon in, but unfortunately, there was nothing to prove that he was actually inside of it. The court imputed the blows against the driver to him, as well as the insertion of the post in the back windshield of the car, due to “the perfect correlation between the attacker and Antonin.” In the meantime, the court invoked “the absence of any reasonable doubt” regarding his identification. The president qualified these as acts “of extreme gravity” which embodied an “urban guerilla scene,” and asserted that Antonin attacked the police officers as some others would “attack black people because they are black.” Finally, the court also condemned the absence of regrets expressed from the defendant, the refusal to discuss the violence endured by the two police officers, and multiple internet researches on the effects of different acids. The president concluded by asserting the existence of a risk of recidivism.
Concerning Léandro, prosecuted for participating in a violent gathering, the court concluded that his behavior wasn’t passive, that he encouraged the authors of the violence by his presence. The president reminded him that when the court asked him why he didn’t step back when the attack started, he answered during the hearing that “he didn’t have to step back.” The court concluded with a “characterized” participation to the violent gathering.
Regarding Thomas, the president recalled in detail his behavior during the demonstration, mentioning the blows and punches he administered to the car, though this aspect hadn’t even been mentioned in the file previously. He was convicted for acts of violence and degradation.
Concerning Ari, the Court concluded that his passport picture matched in all criteria the picture of the assailant taken in the metro (his eyebrows and his two moles—note that this picture also precisely matched two other individuals at the beginning of the investigation…). Regarding the specific strand of hair, the court explained that they only based their identification on the black and white picture that was handed to the defense (and not the color photo inside the official case file). Then, they mentioned that the clothes seized in the squat (sunglasses and black gloves) were identical to those visible on the videos. Considering Ari guilty as charged, the court said that his silence didn’t enable them to know his motivation, but anyway, “no cause could justify the use of violence.”
To finish, the court concluded that Joachim (from Switzerland) had been identified in the picture, and that the study of his phone record allowed them to establish his actual presence in France during the events. The president concluded saying that Joachim could have killed the police officers and that a flare was at least as dangerous as, or even more dangerous than, a Molotov cocktail… [sic]
In conclusion, the following sentences were pronounced:
Bryan: Discharged for taking part to the gathering, but sentenced to a €1000 fine, with a reprieve of €500, for refusing to give his DNA.
Léandro: Guilty for taking part in the gathering, 1 year suspended prison sentence (and no ban on participating in demonstrations).
Thomas: Guilty, sentenced to 2 years imprisonment with a 1 year suspended sentence.
Kara: Guilty, sentenced to 4 years imprisonment with a 2 year suspended sentence, held in detention.
Ari: Guilty, 5 years imprisonment with a suspended sentence of 2 years and 5 months, held in detention.
Nicolas: Guilty, 5 years imprisonment with a suspended sentence of 2 years and 6 months, without a detention order.
Antonin: Guilty, legal recidivism, 5 years imprisonment with a 2 year suspended sentence without an order for detention.
Joachim: 7 years imprisonment with an arrest warrant.
The last six defendants were also condemned to pay a total of €5000 to the police union Alliance; €6100 to the State judicial agent for Mme. Allison Barthélémy; €7300 to the State judicial agent for M. Kévin Philippy; €10,000 to Mme. Barthélémy for her moral prejudice, and €12,000 to M. Phillipy for the prejudices endured. Finally, each of them would have to pay €600 for procedure costs…
Yesterday, Today, or Tomorrow: The Fire Will Never Go Out!
Several gatherings were organized to greet the verdict of the trial on October 11, 2017. Many people gathered outside the court around 10 am to support the defendants. As mentioned in the article by lundimatin, numerous law enforcement units were protecting the surrounding area and entrances to the high court, which is located on Ile de la Cité in the center of Paris. According to one article, when the verdict was pronounced, people outside the courtroom shouted “Tout le monde déteste la police/la Justice,” “Ni oubli, ni pardon,” “Liberté!” (respectively, “Everyone hates the police/Justice,” “No forgetfulness, no forgiveness, “ “Freedom!”) before being pushed out of the building by police forces.
Later that night, several hundred people gathered in Ménilmontant despite the deployment of police forces in all the neighboring districts (between République and Bastille). According to an article published by Paris Luttes Info, there was a similar police presence on the night of the last presidential election.
The action started, but rapidly police forces intervened and managed to block part of the crowd. However, the police didn’t succeed in containing the collective rage and euphoria of the night. The greater part of the procession avoided the police lines and rushed through the narrow streets of Paris, determined to express their love and solidarity with the defendants and to show their hate for the state and its justice. Walls were repainted with messages, the storefronts of banks, a clothing company, a business school, and jewelry stores were smashed, and several trash containers were set on fire. Then the storm dispersed and vanished into the darkness of the night.
Meanwhile, the mobilization against the “Loi travail XXL” continues. The last demonstration took place on October 10, 2017, drawing between 210,000 and 400,000 people everywhere in France. (In France, like everywhere else, authorities and organizations are always at odds as to the number of people taking the streets). After the afternoon demonstration in Paris, several hundred people decided to occupy the Institute of Geography at the Sorbonne University. Police units swiftly blocked the entrance so no one could enter the building. While the occupation was in effect, the occupiers published the following communiqué:
We, occupiers of the Institute of Geography, occupy this site for several reasons. First, we refuse all neoliberal and security policies, whether from Macron or not. We occupy in the same state of mind as the ones who filled the movement of spring 2016 with life. We also occupy in solidarity with the defendants of the Quai Valmy case. We ask for the release of all the defendants, knowing that this is the trial against the Loi Travail. Finally, we occupy to protest against the filthy feast of the managers of the biggest companies in France, who are coming to celebrate the victory of “France as a Business” on October 12 at the “pré Catelan” in the Bois de Boulogne. To their wealthy banquet, we oppose our feast and invite anyone who relates to this occupation to come and support it. Particularly, we are calling academics and intellectuals to take position in favor of the occupation, so the threat of eviction that it faces will be harder to carry out.
Against the capitalist occupation of the world, let’s occupy universities!
You can read the communiqué in its original version here.
The heavy verdicts in the arson trials remind us once more that police and the justice system are simply two arms with which the state dominates the population. Whatever type of political system you live under, from dictatorship to social democracy, police and the justice system will always fulfill the same purpose: enforcing the power and authority of the state while imposing a supposedly “natural” social order on society via intimidation, harassment, and violence.
In these strange times, when blatant new waves of nationalist and fascist ideology are spreading alongside virulent economic and neo-liberal reforms, when a permanent state of emergency supports a steady stream of new authoritarian policies, it seems undeniable that more obstacles, hardships, political repression, and uncertainties are to come.
However, let’s not surrender, never! There’s too much at stake.
This is why our love, solidarity, and thoughts are with those behind bars or in courtrooms facing charges, as well as with everyone still out there in the streets, on the run, or hiding somewhere in the shadows, who continue fighting with all their hearts against authority, capitalism, and the state without any rest or truce.
Our insatiable thirst for freedom will always be stronger than any of their laws, bars, or walls, stronger than the concrete and steel they continuously surround us with. Let our love and rage speak through an unstoppable and uncontrollable incendiary storm!
From the J20 in the US to the G20 in Hamburg, from the streets of Paris to the Greek prison cells—
Fire to the prisons! Fire to their justice! Fire to the state! Fire to their world!
In November 2016, while running for president, Macron published a book entitled Révolution, in which he tried to embody a new political posture, supposedly more pragmatic, and claimed to supersede the traditional opposition between Left and Right. ↩
On September 30, several hundred fascists participated in a march in Gothenburg called for by the Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR), a neo-Nazi organization that openly professes the doctrines of Adolf Hitler. Over the past year, members of the NMR have bombed several refugee homes and a left-wing bookstore in Gothenburg, while members of the Finnish branch of NMR murdered a passer-by at a demonstration in Helsinki. In Gothenburg, over 10,000 counter-demonstrators utilized a diversity of tactics to block the NMR march from reaching its starting point; although the police were the ones who physically stopped them, previous precedents show that the police will support and protect the neo-Nazis unless forced to do otherwise by grassroots anti-fascist momentum. It should give us pause that neo-Nazis in a country as small as Sweden could produce a rally on the scale of the one that fascists organized in Charlottesville last August. Here, we present an account from one of the many groups that participated in the counter-demonstration.
The following report was authored by Andreas of the group “Inte rasist men…” You can find an extensive photo gallery of the aspiring murderers and bullies who participated in the Nazi rally here. For a Swedish take on why it is a mistake to rely on police to keep fascists in check, read this.
On September 30, the openly fascist Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR) intended to march in Gothenburg. This date was not chosen by chance. They chose it as a result of the year-long debate about far-right publication Nya Tiders’ (New Times) right to attend the annual book fair taking place in Gothenburg at the same time—and also because it was Yom Kippur. NMR has well-documented ties to Nya Tider; like others on the far right, they claim that modern literature and media are to blame for the supposed downfall of Western Civilization. Add to this the media exposure from Nazis marching outside the book fair and the opportunity to disrupt one of the most sacred Jewish holidays and you can see why this date was attractive to the NMR.
On the day of the march, more than 10,000 antifascist counter-demonstrators filled the streets of Gothenburg to await the arrival of the Nazis. Among them, a small group of around 50 people, dressed up like members of the Rebel Alliance from Star Wars, clearly stood out. This group was coordinated by the non-profit anti-racist activist and research collective “Inte rasist, men…” (“Not racist, but…”), or IRM, of which I am a member. The plan for the day was to ridicule the Nazis by marching parallel to them and blasting the Imperial March on a huge portable loudspeaker while dressed up like Jedi, X-wing pilots, C3PO, Yoda, and Princess Leia. We sent a box of Darth Vader masks to one of the Nazi leaders before the event, sarcastically inviting them to join our “Star Wars LARP.” Fortunately, we could not execute this plan, as the Nazis were blocked, beaten by police, and had their leader arrested. They didn’t even make it to their planned starting point.
IRM is a group of eight people and consists of researchers, writers, podcasters, techies, and even a cartoonist. Over our five-year existence, we have amassed a fairly big following, some of who volunteer with us, and we have become something of a household name in Sweden. Our work consists chiefly of researching and exposing the racism, sexism, and homophobia of politicians belonging to the racist Sweden Democrats (SD) party. We estimate that our work has helped remove at least 200 SD politicians from their positions. Of course, in a party like the SD, there’s always another racist waiting to step up.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve also ventured into street activism, which has led to us taking on a larger part of the Swedish extreme-right movement. For example, when NMR marched in the Swedish city of Falun on May 1, we borrowed the German “Right against Right” concept by donating money to an anti-fascist charity based on the distance the Nazis walked. On the day of the march, our activists lined up by side of the planned route, holding signs with messages like “Nazis against Nazis,” “A small step for a Nazi, a big step for humanity,” and “You march, we donate.” The Nazis were not amused. On another occasion, we succeeded in planting a sign with our logo right behind the party leader of the Sweden Democrats while he was being interviewed during the annual Swedish politicians week, so that every single picture of him in the media also contained our logo.
From the start, our strategy has been aimed at humor and exposure. Our internal motto is “Make racism awkward again.” We have also made an effort to be inclusive, as we feel that a broad anti-racist movement which transcends the traditional right/left boundaries of Swedish party politics is needed to counter the momentum of racist and fascist groups in Sweden. The Sweden Democrats have been growing steadily for ten years. According to some polls, they are now the second biggest party in Sweden, a worrying development. This has resulted in a creeping and hard-to-notice normalization of racist and fascist rhetoric and ideas, which has pushed the bar for what is acceptable and enabled organizations like NMR and Nya Tider to grow. We want to push back, and we feel that the best way to accomplish that is to address the root cause by exposing the SD for what they really are.
Leading up to September 30, NMR had been negotiating with the police. Their initial request for the march route was denied: they wanted to march through the city center, past the book fair and a synagogue. They were given a shorter and less central route. The Gothenburg city office stepped in and shortened the route even more, so that they were only permitted to walk a few blocks some distance from the city center and the synagogue and book fair.
Two weeks before September 30, 50 people from the NMR appeared unannounced in the Gothenburg city center, marched down the parade street, and gave a few speeches in a city square. The police, who had been tipped off about the action a few days earlier but claimed to have “misplaced” the information, gave the Nazis a police escort. When the news spread, anti-fascists rushed downtown and you could soon hear chants of “Alerta, alerta antifascista!” in the streets. The Nazis were gone by then. To many, this march was a worrying display of their power.
Afterwards, police officials defended the right of Nazis to march without a permit, made it clear that they would not attempt to identify the organizers of the march despite having filed a criminal report, and denied that the Nazis were engaging in hate crimes such as “agitation against an ethnic group.” This is indicative of where the police stand in regard to fascist organizing in Sweden.
On September 30, IRM met up with our participants, went over our strategy for the day, and then found a good spot to start our little parade. At the same time, the NMR assembled in the parking lot of a supermarket a few kilometers outside of town. They began to walk towards their designated starting point, accompanied by journalists and police.
Then the news came in that the Nazis had attempted to depart from their permitted route to aim for the city center. In response, the police pushed them into a corner near another supermarket and formed a ring around them. When people on the streets of Gothenburg heard about this, they headed for the spot where the Nazis were being delayed and managed to completely block the streets leading into the city from there. This gave the police no option but to hold the Nazis there for the time period that their demonstration permit allowed, then let them make the humiliating walk back to their assembly point. As one Swedish journalist put it, “What was going to be the biggest Nazi march since World War II ended up being a humiliating walk between two supermarkets.”
While we were a little disappointed that our Nazi-trolling plan could not be fulfilled, we took our group and walked around the city center, much to the amusement of our fellow counter-demonstrators, who spontaneously burst into applause when we arrived. All in all, it was a glorious day. Gothenburg showed that there is no room for Nazis on our streets.
We considered it especially important that a large number of the activists who joined us to protest the Nazis were first-timers. They were a diverse range of people from teenagers to a grey-haired old lady, none of whom had experience taking to the streets. It was encouraging that they chose to join us in this demonstration, against the most violent Nazi organization Sweden has ever seen. We also received countless messages on social media cheering us on and asking when our next activity will be so that others can join in. We feel that this is how anti-fascism should work: it should be a broad movement of all ages, sexes, and religions, coming together to fight, regardless of political affiliations or preferred methods.
We hope that this text can be an inspiration for others to start their own anti-racist or anti-fascist organizations, or to broaden the scopes and approaches of existing ones. The rise of racism and fascism is global, and we need to share ideas and work together to overcome it. No pasarán!
In dominant American discourse, white people are always the protagonists. Their problems and dilemmas, pleasures and pain, are treated as everyone’s primary concern. Even if you are not included in this narrative, you’re forced to reckon with it. While we anarchists would like to see a world in which no character is a caricature, in which people are not divided by race and only take delight in our differences, we are all currently obliged to pay attention to the problems of white people because, in their pain, they frequently lash out at those they perceive as their enemies. The opioid crisis is a prime example.
In an interview on National Public Radio, author Margaret Talbot describes a scene she witnessed at a softball practice in West Virginia:
“There were a bunch of middle school-age girls sitting on the ground comforting each other and crying, there were two little kids running around crying and screaming, and there were a lot of adults trying to help them and escort them away from the scene because two parents who had come to their daughter’s practice, a man and a woman, had both overdosed simultaneously and were lying on the field about six feet apart and in obvious need of resuscitation. Their two little younger children who had come with them were trying to get them to wake up. So Michael and his colleague were able to revive the parents using Narcan, which is the antidote to opioid overdoses—reverses them. But as is increasingly the case, it took several doses to revive them because they had probably had heroin that was cut with something stronger, possibly fentanyl. And so this was the scene that was witnessed by many people in this community who were at this softball practice on an afternoon in March.”
Some of those adult witnesses, Talbot says, were encouraging the EMTs to let the parents die. This inhumanity is shocking; it’s no mystery why people like the ones in this story are trying to get high. Few people feel like their lives are worth much these days; constant low-level stress over money, family, relationships, social disorder, health, and work are features of everyone’s lives. When you’re poor, and perhaps socially isolated, those things compound. Poverty is only occasionally dramatic or joyful; mostly, it’s crushingly boring and stressful. If you are prescribed pain medication because of an injury or chronic pain, the euphoria and floating freedom may be the best you’ve felt in years. This is how most people now start their opioid addictions.
In the 1990s, US doctors were reconsidering their beliefs about pain. Recognizing the toll that constant, low-level pain can take on the body—much like the effect of poverty upon the spirit—doctors began to prescribe pain medication more freely, believing that being free from pain might speed recovery, as well as being a boon in itself. Pharmaceutical companies told doctors that their latest pain medications were not likely to be addictive.
This claim is true for some—some people can take opioids for a couple of days after surgery and then switch to over-the-counter medicines without a hitch. But opioids hit other people’s brains differently: they experience intense pleasure and comfort, and after a couple of weeks of ease, going off the medication can feel unbearably bleak. So people kept going back for more—and, eventually, word began to circulate about which doctors would freely prescribe pain medications. Some of these offices were the frequently-exposéd, cynically-motivated “pill farms”; others just trusted their patients. Pain is pain, the doctors reasoned, and addiction is not a sin; is it really so bad to prescribe people what they need to feel OK in the world? What is the line between Adderall and speed, Oxycontin and heroin? Only legitimacy. For people who were not comfortable thinking of themselves as criminals, it felt more possible to exaggerate to a doctor than to buy heroin on the corner.
As word spread about the accessibility of these opioid pills, heroin dealers saw their market slipping away. Cartels in Mexico, Guatemala, and other countries took notice, and started producing heroin so pure that it could be cut much more, producing a larger amount of product that could be sold for less. They also began cutting it with different chemicals, which made it far more potent and potentially deadly; and, of course, cutting heroin to sell on the black market is not an exact science.
When the government finally started tightening regulations for prescribing opioids and raiding pill farms, millions of addicts were left desperate, and turned at last to explicitly illegal drugs, which were now more affordable than ever—and far more dangerous. While rates of opioid and heroin addiction are not actually higher than they used to be, the rate of people dying from overdoses has skyrocketed. The doses people are used to taking may be five times as potent as before. Surely no one wants to get high at their kids’ soccer practice: what they want is to feel normal rather than ravenous for a fix, able to cheer their kids on, so they fix a hit before they arrive… but sometimes, instead of enabling them to function, the medicine knocks them out.
It’s obvious that this crisis is receiving very different coverage than the crack epidemic of the 1990s or the heroin epidemic that preceded it in black communities. Those waves of drug use became a pretext for mass incarceration, mandatory minimums, three-strikes laws, permissible racial profiling, and militarized schools, all of which put a disproportionately black and brown population in prison, disenfranchised of voting rights and unable to find legal work once they emerge. These ex-prisoners are therefore unable to exert even the slightest leverage on the government policies that incarcerated them via the traditional political means of voting, lobbying, and cutting deals. They are likely to be forced to break the law to survive, which may mean they return to prison.
A cynical person might speculate that it’s no coincidence drug laws are being reformed precisely when white people are experiencing this crisis. White people have always used drugs, of course, but it has only recently been considered a major problem. Although 33,000 people died from overdosing in 2015, there does not seem to be a corresponding wave of repression directed at that population. The liberal affect about the epidemic is one of intense sadness and loss, as though they are surveying the damage left by a hurricane—something beyond anyone’s control. Conservatives, as usual, have plenty of judgment to offer: users are depicted as trailer trash, judged for the very poverty that may have driven them to use. But there’s often a second note of anger: both impoverished white community members and the politicians they elect are looking for someone else to blame.
It’s no surprise who the scapegoat is. Black and brown people are always blamed for white despair. The same old tired narratives are trotted out: these drugs are coming from south of the border; they’re taking our jobs; their civil unrest is wrecking our communities. White people reminisce about when their towns used to have industry—jobs for lower-class people that supposedly promised a possible way out of poverty or at least allowed them to remain poor in a stable sort of way. Few white people, however, have turned towards radical politics in response to deindustrialization; most of the predominantly white communities that benefit from Medicaid expansion drug treatment still voted for Trump, who promised to repeal Obamacare. This is not entirely bad news, as it suggests people cannot be easily satisfied—they want something wholly different, not just harm reduction—but it is disturbing in light of how Trump’s presidency is likely to continue to affect black and brown people.
Many black people in the 1970s and ’80s fought against police harassment and for black self-determination and community involvement in drug user recovery—and sometimes, unfortunately, for heavier legal penalties and increased police harassment of predominantly black drug users. In contrast, white people seem less eager to take responsibility or demand change along those lines. The self-declared sons of white America feel robbed of their birthright, and they want it back from their black, brown, immigrant, and off-shore brothers… never considering that it could be their own parents who are to blame. Some whites acknowledge that reforming their own behavior is part of the solution to their social problems, but many of them—such as the Proud Boys—aim to do so only in order to glorify and renew the misogynist, racist foundations of “Western civilization.”
There is another way out. In his book, In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Dr. Gabor Mate reviews studies performed on rats that illumine an alternative solution to the dilemmas of white America. Mate describes how researchers addicted rats to cocaine. Predictably, the rats came back for more cocaine regularly, even feverishly. But when the rats were removed from solitary, clinical surroundings and put in a natural environment in which they could find each other and engage in more interesting activity, the rats, though already addicted, were much less interested in cocaine than in the rest of their lives.
People are not rats, and cocaine is not an opiate, but the implications are clear enough. To put an end to the problem of harmful addictions in our society, we have to make our world livable. This is also a way to understand the anarchist project.
As anarchists, we aspire to fight the causes of unhappiness and poverty, to counter the strategies that our oppressors employ to drain us of emotional and material resources that could be employed outside their marketplace. We aim to interrupt the destruction of our world and our relationships and our ability to share. If we love people who are suffering from drug addiction, regardless of their race, we must make the world a more livable place. Let’s create a world no one would want to escape, in which the idea of a drug that would make us feel less alive—or a cellphone or a video game or any other product—is self-evidently undesirable.
This means maintaining cooperative projects to support those fighting to free themselves of addiction—even Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by people reading the anarchist Peter Kropotkin to learn about how groups based in horizontal organizing and mutual aid could address their own needs together. But it also means attacking the foundations of authority in this society. When we fight against the power that capitalism and the state currently possess to determine all the possibilities of our lives, we are also fighting against the causes of addiction, racism, and despair.
Part of this undertaking is refusing to let white people blame other broke people for their difficulties. We have to show clearly who the enemy is and create avenues for finding affinity and solidarity across racial lines while demonstrating the kind of activity that it will take to solve our shared problems. We must refuse to sanction scapegoating, yet simultaneously resist the urge to treat groups of people as monsters—even those who scapegoat. The divisions that racism imposes in our communities are responsible for much of the suffering that white people experience, too—everyone has a stake in abolishing white supremacy as well as the institutions that depend on it to maintain their sway. We must introduce an [anarchist tension] (https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/alfredo-m-bonanno-the-anarchist-tension) into all these ongoing struggles for survival.
When we imagine this task on a global scale, it appears almost impossible. Fortunately, we encounter it broken up into smaller steps every single day.
On October 1, during a referendum on Catalan independence, Spanish police attacked crowds of voters, smashed out the windows of schools hosting polling stations, and beat senior citizens at random. In response, a massive general strike took place in Barcelona on October 3. By setting up this opposition between the violence of the Spanish police and the self-organization of Catalan voters, proponents of independence have created the impression that nationalism and democracy offer a solution to state oppression and police violence. In the process, they’ve invested Catalan police and politicians with renewed legitimacy. Yet what if democracy, nationalism, and police violence are not opposing phenomena, but three aspects of same thing? Here, we argue that the way to achieve self-determination is not to create a new state, but to abolish the state as a model for human relations.
Don’t take our word for it, though. Let’s back up and see if there’s any coherent way to resolve this conflict over state sovereignty besides the anarchist model of abolishing all states.
Which Side Is Democratic?
Both sides claim to be fighting for democracy. The Spanish police present themselves as the defenders of law and order, while the proponents of Catalan independence say they seek self-determination through elections. These are two different visions of what democracy entails.
Or are they? Let’s look closer.
If democracy simply means being assaulted by police in the name of Constitutions ratified before you were born and laws passed by career politicians, there isn’t much to distinguish it from dictatorship. The fact that the salaries of the officers who beat you are paid with tax money they extort from you just adds insult to injury. The Spanish state needs to legitimize those laws, police, and taxes with democratic elections or else it will be obvious to everyone that their rule rests on force alone. This explains some of the innuendo about how the majority of Catalan people don’t actually want independence.
But the partisans of Catalan independence face a version of the same paradox. What weight will their referendum carry if the result is not implemented via laws, police, and taxes? In calling for an independent Catalan state, they are calling to replicate everything they currently object to in Spanish rule. Catalunya already has its own police and tax collectors, which treat those who resist them just as violently as the Spanish police treated aspiring voters on Sunday.
So it’s not a question of which side is democratic. They both are. The question, rather, is which elections, laws, and police should hold sway—the Spanish ones or the Catalan ones? To answer that question, we have to confront a deeper problem, the question of sovereignty.
What Makes Elections Legitimate?
Was the referendum on October 1 legitimate? The Catalan government asserts that it was. Meanwhile, Spanish President Rajoy maintains that “a self-determination referendum in Catalonia didn’t happen,” in the longstanding tradition of politicians like Donald Trump who proclaim reality by fiat.
What does it take to make a referendum legitimate? Is it a question of what proportion of the population participates? Or is the important thing whether the vote adheres to an established protocol?
According to the Catalan government, 90 percent of the ballots cast on Sunday were for independence. On the other hand, only 42 percent of registered voters participated in the referendum—2.2 million people out of 5.3 million registered voters. That still seems like a pretty good turnout, considering that 12,000 Spanish police were violently attacking voters all over Catalonia, inflicting nearly 900 documented injuries and surely a great deal more that went unreported. But it still accounts for less than half of the registered voters and considerably less than half the population.
Opponents of Catalan independence boycotted the election. Even if they hadn’t boycotted it, most of them probably wouldn’t have risked being beaten by Spanish police in order to vote for those police to continue to wield authority. It is entirely possible that the majority of the residents of Catalunya don’t want independence, regardless of the results of the referendum.
Others argue that what makes an election legitimate is not what proportion of the population participates, but whether it takes place according to proper protocol. This argument is most popular with the extreme center, the sort of people who are sticklers for the rules regardless of what the rules are or who wrote them. Before we buy into this argument, let’s recall that it was protocol that kept women and people of color from participating in elections for the first century and a half of US democracy, just as the current rules still serve to prevent many people of color from voting today. Adherence to protocol is no guarantee of inclusion or egalitarianism.
But the real problem with relying on protocol is that it returns us to the problem of sovereignty. If two different governments establish two different sets of rules, how do we determine which is legitimate? Every existing government came to power by rejecting the authority of its predecessor. We can’t simply do whatever the authorities tell us; we have to make our own decisions about what is right.
The Problem of Sovereignty—Democracy, Nationalism, and War
What should determine which polity people belong to? Nations generally determine this according to place of birth or parentage. The former approach perpetuates the feudal system; the latter makes nationality a kind of caste system. Neither of these models is “democratic” in the sense of guaranteeing everyone equal rights and participation in society. They also don’t offer any guidance as to what we should do when competing polities both demand our fealty, as will occur in Catalunya if this conflict intensifies.
Should the answer to this question be determined by majority rule? There are many problems with that approach. For example, it doesn’t address the question of scale. Partisans of independence comprise the majority of the population of Barcelona—does that mean they should be able to force their agenda on the minority that opposes it? Catalans comprise a minority within the Spanish state—does that mean Spain should be able to force them to remain Spanish subjects? Spain comprises a minority within the European Union, which itself is a minority within the United Nations. Should world politics simply be a matter of ever bigger majorities forcing decisions on minorities?
Nationalism has developed as a response to this quandary. Understanding the question of sovereignty as a competition to amass majorities at all costs, people form blocs on the basis of superficial similarities such as ethnicity, language, religion, and citizenship. These blocs contend for control within each state and in conflicts between states. This struggle takes place nonviolently as democracy and violently as war—wherever you find democracy, war is never far away.
There are two grievous problems with this approach. First, it exacerbates internal hierarchies; second, it imposes conformity and the struggle to dominate others as the dual basis of all relations. In practice, nationalism means being oppressed and exploited by people of your own ethnicity, language, religion, or citizenship. To defend ourselves against those who aim to rule us, we have to join forces across the boundaries of identity, forming common cause on the basis of shared aspirations for freedom and peaceful coexistence. Nationalists promise to deliver self-determination on the basis of shared identities, but true self-determination demands symbiotic relationships that transcend identity.
The principle of majority rule itself is the problem. On the one hand, the theory of majority rule suggests that we are obligated to accept whatever the majority desire, prescribing a complete abdication of ethical responsibility. On the other hand, the practice of majority rule tacitly implements the principle that might makes right, reducing all relations to cutthroat competition.
Because majority rule is the foundation of democracy, we should not be surprised when democracy serves to legitimize and mobilize the violence of the state, in turn provoking rival states to do the same thing in response. This is the dual risk posed by the independence movement in Catalunya: it could establish a new state just as oppressive as the previous one, but more difficult to question on account of appearing more representative—and it could trigger open hostilities between entrenched state actors who become incapable of imagining each other as anything other than enemies. The latter scenario appears very unlikely for now, but we are not the only ones to speculate that as economic and ecological crises intensify, the Syrian civil war will become a more common template for the politics of the future than the social democracies of the 20th century.
Anarchists have long sought a way out of the traps of nationalism and democracy.
In place of citizenship, that holdover of feudalism and the caste system, we propose voluntary associations that do not claim exclusive control of populations or places. In place of nationalism, we propose mutual aid across all lines of identity. In place of the state, we propose true self-determination on a decentralized basis. In place of democracy, the principle of majority rule, we propose the principles of horizontality and autonomy. In place of the wars that nationalism and democracy always foment, we propose solidarity and transformative justice.
What could this mean in Catalunya today, where partisans of Spanish sovereignty clash with partisans of Catalan independence? Our answer is utopian, but it offers a point of departure to imagine what we could aim to accomplish in our social movements besides setting up new state structures.
Let Spain be a voluntary association comprised of everyone in every land who identifies with it, and let Catalunya be another such voluntary association among a thousand more. Let all of these associations coexist on the condition that none seeks to rule the others or deprive them of resources. Let each association set out to create commons rather than to amass private wealth, and let all join forces to defend themselves whenever anything threatens these commons or the liberty of the participants.
In this vision, each person could participate in as many different associations as she saw fit. Each association would function as an experiment in collective creativity, shaped alternately by consensus-based decision-making and by the spontaneous interplay of the participants’ self-directed activities. In place of the cutthroat competition of capitalism and statecraft, each of these associations would strive to offer the most fulfilling model for cooperative human relations. A process of natural selection would reward the most generous and nourishing projects rather than the most selfish and brutal, without reducing them to a lowest common denominator or imposing competition as a winner-take-all zero-sum game.
This vision predates the anarchist movement; it has antecedents in a variety of indigenous societies and federations. It is already the model via which anarchists in Barcelona and elsewhere around the world organize themselves in networks of assemblies, social centers, organizations, and affinity groups. Even if we can’t implement this vision on the scale of a region or a continent yet, we can act according to its logic, building networks of mutual aid and standing up to tyranny wherever we encounter it.
From this vantage point, we can see that when police attack people attempting to utilize voting booths, anarchists should intercede—not to defend the voting booths, but to protect people from police. We should make it clear that winning referendums will not bring us closer to the world of our dreams—the important thing is to develop the capacity to create the relations we desire on an immediate basis. At the same time, we have to make clear everything that connects the Catalan police to the Spanish police and other police the whole world over. We have seen the Catalan police attack demonstrations over and over, the same way the Spanish police did on Sunday. If they provoke less outrage when they attack migrants, workers, and anarchists than when they attack voters, that only shows us how far we have to go.
On Sunday, October 1, the Catalan government held a referendum about Catalan independence from Spain in flagrant defiance of the Spanish government. Massive open clashes between Catalan voters and Spanish police took place throughout the region. A general strike is called for October 3 as a showdown looms between rival politicians and, perhaps, rival states. This situation poses complex challenges: how do anarchists show solidarity to partisans of Catalan independence against police repression without legitimizing nationalism, democracy, or a new Catalan state and its police? We spoke with several anarchists throughout the region and translated these three reports to offer insight into how Catalan anarchists are approaching these questions.
The Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan police) announced that the polling locations would be closed or evicted by 6 am Sunday morning. This can be understood as a way to to encourage people to turn out to protect the voting centers. The Guardia Civil and riot police of the Policia Nacional (Spanish police) had been ferried into Catalunya on cruise ships and accommodated at hotels. They began evicting voting centers early in the morning, inflicting at least 844 documented injuries across Catalunya. Over a hundred people were hospitalized, some in serious condition. The actual number of injuries may be considerably higher. In one instance, an old man had a heart attack after a police charge; police attacked again as people were trying to revive him. Another was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.
First Perspective: An Overview
Yesterday, October 1, the referendum for Catalan independence took place in the middle of an enormous police operation. The government in Madrid threatened to close the places where voting was going to take place; in order to prevent that, people occupied those spaces two days ahead of time, including half of the high schools in all of Catalunya. In some towns, people even took off the doors so that they could not be closed to lock out potential voters.
People came together starting at 6 am to protect the ballot boxes, while police showed up outside at many polling stations to remove them. The watchword of the day was to defend the ballot boxes nonviolently and within this framework were seen many diverse shows of spontaneity: tractors blocking roads, people running and organizing themselves to make sure that all of the points where police could go were covered. In some towns, the police were stopped with barricades. One highlight for me is that in the town of Sant Carles de la Rapita, the Guardia Civil were forced back with a hail of stones.
In thousands of towns, people opposed the police. It’s difficult to know how far self-organization reached, although in the big cities, most people drank the Kool-Aid of nonviolence and let themselves be beaten. This created some surreal situations: police beating people who wanted to vote and confiscating ballot boxes in order to “defend democracy,” firefighters forming security cordons to protect voters from police, confrontations between Spanish and Catalan police. All this generated sympathy from the people towards the Catalan police (who are known for being real motherfuckers), to such an extent that people applauded when they saw the Catalan police vans pass by. It was Kafkaesque.
At the end of the day, President Rajoy was pleased with the actions of the police and affirmed that in Catalonia “there had been no referendum.” On the other side, Puigdemont, the Catalan President, said that Catalonia would apply the referendum law according to which they must proclaim the new Catalan Republic in the days following the referendum, and appealed to European and international heads of state to mediate the process.
There is no single anarchist position on all of this. All anarchists reject institutional politics, bourgeois nationalism, and class collaboration, and we will never applaud the Catalan police. At times, the situation is not inviting to anarchist participation. Even so, there are many who affirm that where they live, they find themselves on the side of those who decided to take the streets. What anarchist can stay indoors while police threaten and beat people who desire to have more of a say in their lives? It is tempting to want to break up the Spanish state or, if not to destroy it, at least to debilitate it through a popular struggle. And when people are in the streets, this presents the possibility that things might overflow, exceeding their limits… although at the moment, this is difficult, since it is politicians who hold the initiative.
Anarchist and antiauthoritarian organizations and unions and independent unions have called for a general strike on October 3. Yesterday, at the eleventh hour, the CCOO and the UGT (the “fire-extinguishing” unions that re-absorb and domesticate popular struggles) and the ANC along with the Omnium Cultural (the organizations that articulate bourgeois nationalism in its purest form) joined the call for the general strike.
Visca la terra lliure de patriotismes! Here’s to an earth free of patriotism!
Second Perspective: Mixed Feelings
I’m writing this to you just after getting out of an assembly because tomorrow there will be a general strike in Catalunya. Actually, they don’t consider it a strike, more like a work stoppage. From the neighborhoods, people are organizing piquetes [blockades] and some demonstrations. These have been tireless days, filled to the top. I’m guessing you have seen the images of the day’s events on October 1, which were really, really crazy.
Anarchists have showed up late and ill-prepared for the independence process. For five years, the proposal for independence has been gestating, from both the Generalitat (the Catalan government) and leftist, independentist Catalan political parties like the CUP. Anarchist and anti-authoritarian movements haven’t really kept up with the movement for an independence referendum. So this whole thing has caught us almost by surprise, which doesn’t put us in a good light, considering that it’s been going on for five years. Often, we live in our own bubble while the world changes and forces build without us realizing it.
Starting some months ago, various neighbors, including some who belong to the (independentista) National Assembly, others to the CUP party, and other people who are closer to the independentista movement all started to organize themselves into committees in defense of the referendum. Spanish censorship was ramping up ahead of the vote, and the state was taking measures to control what appeared on the internet, especially in the moments right before the referendum.
Through these neighborhood defense committees, people organized assemblies that are not controlled by the (indepedentista) National Assembly, nor by the Catalan government, which is the driving force behind the referendum. There have been tensions between representatives from the National Assembly, the government, and the neighborhood assemblies because the assemblies questioned instructions from the Catalan government about how to defend their towns. In the days leading up to the referendum on October 1, there was a lot of nervousness on the part of the government because there were many parts of the independentista movement that they couldn’t really control. In the end, the neighborhood assemblies were responsible for much of the logistics of what happened on voting day, determining how people organized themselves and how they defended the polling stations.
Anarchists hadn’t thought about what to do in relation to this movement until the referendum was approaching and the Spanish state began to crack down on civil liberties. Faced with the censorship imposed by the state, a large number of anarchist groups from different parts of Barcelona, who have already been organized in their own neighborhood assemblies and social centers, decided to give support to the local independentista movements.
Within the anarchist movement, there are people who support the referendum itself, and also people who don’t. Independentist people are demanding basic democratic rights and civil liberties, such as the right to vote, and some anarchists believe that anarchists should be out there with them. There are also people involved in the independence movement who we lost track of years ago when the political parties like CUP and Podemos that gained momentum after the 15M movement in 2011 institutionalized the energy from the streets. Now, with the referendum, people are returning to the streets, so we decided it was an important moment for us to be out there too. But this has created a good deal of debate within and between anarchist collectives, because we are definitely not coming from the same place politically as many of the independentistas.
For us, it has been really complicated. For me personally, sure, I hold contradictory positions all the time, like supporting certain reformist campaigns or engaging with single issue movements… but to defend a democratic process towards national independence… it’s very hard to figure out where I stand. Many of the comrades in our neighborhood are trying to figure it out too.
We have been organizing ourselves and coordinating with independentista groups that have been active in the neighborhood. We attended some assemblies and announced that on the day of the referendum, we would open up our social center as an info-point with food and outlets for charging cellphones, a place where you could rest up and get hydrated. This was also a way of suggesting to people who believed in self-determination, albeit through statist means, that there are other ways to take direct control over our lives, in these spaces at the margins of society.
So yes, we decided to lend our support. Yesterday was the day of the vote, and there was no other topic either on the news or in discussions on the street. It was the only subject of conversation.
On the street where I live, there were two polling stations. Starting at 5 am, we went out onto the street and erected barricades. Catalan police came to tell us we weren’t allowed to do that. Then they marched, and from 8 am the whole voting thing commenced. There were so many people out. Honestly, it was difficult not to get swept up in what was happening—lots of elderly people, lots of excited people. On one hand, it was really exciting; on the other hand, it was a bit ridiculous, in that the independentista voters were acting like they were doing the most clandestine, badass thing in the world.
I’m sure everyone has already seen the scenes of violence showing the Policia Nacional and the Guardia Civil in high schools in Barcelona and other towns around Catalunya. We heard that the Policia Nacional were deployed close to where we were. Things intensified from there and that lasted the whole day.
Many Catalan anarchists have voted. I voted too. The truth is it was difficult not let yourself get carried away by the moment.
As for an anarchist analysis of what’s going on…
Many of us went home yesterday very annoyed because we had a lot of differences with what was happening. About two weeks ago, the anarchist collective here in my neighborhood had a discussion about whether or not to defend the process of national “self-determination.” There were many people close to us, with whom we share a lot of political affinity, who said it was better to struggle against the institutions of a Catalan state because it would be a smaller state. Many people also supported the process in hopes of destabilizing the Spanish state because at the moment the Spanish state is very weakened. It’s a moment that could tip either way.
Personally, I don’t like either of the options. We can’t lose track of where we stand as anarchists. I think we should be supporting people in the streets, but I truly believe the worst thing that could happen to us would be if a Catalan state gained independence. In the end, it’s just a way to legitimize the social and political exclusions that exist today to believe that we’d have more control over them in a smaller state. But it’s hard for people to see a Catalan state as something other than their own, especially after struggling for years to achieve it.
While people went out to vote impassioned to the point of tears, several police murders have taken place in Barcelona in the last several months without any response. Meanwhile, thanks to the referendum process, the Mossos d’Esquadra have gotten a PR makeover as the good guys; until this, they always received negative press coverage. The Policia Nacional (Spanish police) have practically tortured people, leaving many with visible injuries. On the good side, they’ve turned public opinion against them. So the militarized Policia Nacional now look very dirty, and the Mossos de Escuadra seem more “clean”—although their current “clean” image just means they will be able to utilize this legitimacy to employ violence with fewer obstacles.
I believe we have to acknowledge the disobedience of the Catalan people, their confrontation with the police, and the resistance that they’ve demonstrated. It has been incredible. Like I’ve mentioned, the anarchist movement has arrived late and ill-prepared to a process that has been gestating for five years already. We can’t expect to do the work of years in just a couple weeks. Carving out our own space is difficult and we have to take a humble approach to it.
Third Perspective: Some Analysis
The point isn’t to help build a new state, but rather to demonstrate through practice that self-organization, networks of mutual aid, and assemblies are the real alternative to the Spanish state, and through this we find each other, some of us being anarchists, but many others too. What is clear is that the struggle against statist hierarchies is not on its way out: it simply continues in a different context. If a Catalan state comes to exist, we will maintain our opposition to the state from the very same networks with our own practices, our own communities, our own economies of mutual aid.
My enemy continues to be capitalism, the military, the clergy, the farcical politicians and bankers. Anarchists don’t stop being anarchists just because they express solidarity with people facing retaliation from the state. I know perfectly well what happened in 19371 and that we must not abandon our memory of the previous times we were betrayed by statists, but we also must oppose current state repression—or else will we simply stay put, watching? Our struggle is to be present in the streets to offer our vision and denounce the violence of the state, whether it be Spanish, Catalan, or Chinese!
We must learn about what happened in the past, when anarchists were betrayed. We should try to make sure it doesn’t happen again, which is to say, we should foment a consensus among anarchists and anti-authoritarians for when this situation is over, when we will continue building self-organization. I, at least, for many years now, have been working for this 24/7, and whatever happens I will continue doing it as I’ve done every day.
Anarchism is not a dogma, neither is it a religion. It is a form of life, a way of feeling and acting as a human in harmony with the earth. Every era has its context, and it’s true that those who believe in the state have betrayed us before, but we forget that without us, they won’t change either! We will continue influencing society despite ourselves.
The Anarcho-Independentista current is criticized by comrades who are more “orthodox” or dogmatic, depending on how you see them. There are some who support the idea of independence without a state. It’s not a majoritarian position, but I consider it a valid one. For a long time, anarchists have not focused attention on the subject of independence. Now this issue has served to inspire debate and discussion; we disagree with each other, but we try to come to some consensus.
I don’t know if we ought to vote or not, but I do know that the Spanish government is getting more fascist by the day. It’s not that it surprises me, in any case I am against a government that approves the slogan “better bloody than broken,” referring to the Iberian peninsula and so-called Spain, which already indicates how old this subject is—something that has been going on for centuries.
#Jo també soc anarquista.
As for which anarchist organizations have taken positions on this issue…
The CGT has called for a general strike in Catalonia which will be supported by the CNT-AIT, the historic organization that nowadays is much smaller than the CGT, an anarcho-syndicalist union that is more “open” and participates in union elections, with over 25,000 members in Catalunya. The CNT-AIT, sadly, does not represent even a 25th of this amount. The other CNT has a very hard split with the Independentistas and is against anarco-independentistas.
The Cooperativa Integral Catalana, despite not being a specifically libertarian (i.e. anti-authoritarian) organization, has many members who are activists. Their structure is horizontal, based in non-hierarchical assemblies, and they make decisions by consensus. It’s dedicated to building self-organized economic networks and protecting small non-hierarchical projects in Catalunya. They are supporting the strike.
Oca Negra and Proces Embat are anarco-independentista organizations that organize with the CGT in some aspects of the struggle.
Here we refer to the situation created by the ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia), the Catalan State, and the PSU (Communist Party) in 1937 in the middle of open revolution and civil war. They were determined to annihilate anarchists and wipe out their important contributions to the collectivization of farms and workplaces and to the struggle against the fascist reaction led by Franco. They forcibly integrated anarchist militias into the state military. There were fierce confrontations between the Stalinists and the anarchist CNT-FAI, who had the support of non-authoritarian communists of the POUM. This produced numerous armed confrontations between both sides. Let’s just say that many comrades remember this and don’t want to have anything to do with the contemporary ERC, even less with the Catalan Democratic Party (PD Cat), nor with the CUP, although this last party seems to harbor certain libertarian tendencies in its ranks. ↩
Last week’s elections in Germany brought the ultra-nationalist, neo-fascist, and partly neo-Nazi party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) into the German parliament for the first time with approximately 13% of the vote. They join the far-right parties that have significant political power in over a dozen other European countries. Why is the far-right gaining ground in German politics? And what can partisans of freedom and equality do to halt their advance?
The victory of the AfD is just the latest consequence of a process that has been unfolding over several years. We can situate them in the continuity of fascist political activity in Germany since 1945. Starting in 2014 with the rise of far-right street movements like Pegida, an acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,” a large part of German society has moved towards reactionary positions.
This was part of the global wave of reaction beginning that year in the wake of revolutionary upheavals from Greece and Egypt to Spain, Turkey, and Brazil, including the Occupy movement in the US. After the window of revolutionary potential closed, the far right struck back, taking advantage of the unresolved crises to rally people against scapegoats—for example, fomenting anti-immigrant resentment in response to the waves of refugees arriving from economic disaster areas and war zones in Central America, North Africa, and the Middle East. Nationalists took the lead in political conflicts like the Ukrainian revolution and won a series of electoral victories culminating in the election of Donald Trump. When we fail to solve the problems generated by capitalism and colonialist war, this leaves the field of social change to proponents of tyranny and oppression.
Germany has remained an island of the 20th-century prosperity and social democracy, benefiting economically from the crises in southern Europe and the developing world. Yet here, too, society has been slowly and steadily polarizing. In July, massive riots took place in response to the G20 summit in Hamburg, despite the efforts of over 31,000 officers to impose a police state. The right wing has taken advantage of this to call for even more repressive policing.
AfD started as a party combining market-liberal ideas with a strong nationalist wing. Founded in part by elite conservatives who opposed Germany’s financial bailout of Greece, the party has always sought to turn Germany into a gated community; the identity of the outsiders that nationalists promise to protect against always shifts according to convenience. Over the past few years, the ultra-nationalist right wing, the so-called Kyffhäuser Flügel, gained more and more control over the party, shaping it into a neo-fascist project. The cooperation between AfD with neo-Nazi movements like “Die Identitären” is well-documented.
The AfD won the greatest gains in former East Germany, where almost no refugees have been resettled. People are always most afraid of that which they have not themselves experienced. Neoliberal capitalism has taken a toll on many communities in East Germany, drawing away the youngest and most ambitious parts of the population, but many AfD voters are disproportionately wealthy. The AfD victory is not simply a reaction to economic hardship, but rather a case of demagogues manipulating fearful, bigoted populations for their own gain.
Even before this election, AfD was already pushing German politics in an authoritarian direction from their position within the regional governments. For example, they asked several dozen times for the government to ban linksunten.indymedia.org, which was finally executed by the conservative minister of internal affairs. They also shifted the frame of what is acceptable to say in a political context in Germany, breaking down social taboos against expressing openly racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic ideas.
The political parties of the German establishment have been caught flat-footed by the rise of PEGIDA and the AfD. Sarah Wagenknecht, spokesperson of the left-wing Die Linke party, even expressed some sympathy for them. During the so-called refugee crisis, the AfD helped shift the government from a more liberal approach towards a more reactionary position.
The AfD bears some similarities to the so-called alt-right movement in the US. Members of AfD have gone to great lengths to appropriate the discourse of “free speech” to legitimize fascist organizing. Both movements aim to normalize racist and fascist discourse in order to push society towards totalitarianism and smooth the way for neo-Nazis to take state power. All sorts of “democratic” groups and structures that do not share the goals of the AfD have offered them platforms to spread their ideas in the name of “dialogue.” Yet if they gain power, neither the “alt-right” nor the AfD will have any more use for “free speech”—this much is clear.
In the beginning, anti-fascists weren’t sure how to respond to the AfD. Some hesitated to attack them, as they did not appear to be old-fashioned street-based neo-Nazis but “ordinary concerned citizens.” Over the past year, however, it has become clear that this is a neo-fascist mass movement. In response, anti-fascists have carried out more and more actions to openly interfere with their organizing. Immediately after the elections, protests against the AfD took place in Berlin and many other cities. In Berlin, in an attack reminiscent of the fascist murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville last August, a cab full of AfD members drove into some protestors, injuring two of them.
We have to stop thinking of members of the AfD as lunatics and take them seriously along with the threat that they pose. Immediately after the elections, some AfD supporters went to a building housing refugees, screaming that they would burn it down and waving AfD flags. Meanwhile, in parliament, they are planning their next attacks on emancipatory movements.
Some anti-fascists have feared that in resisting far-right parties, we could drive more right-wing conservatives into supporting them. But fascists are not created by opposition to fascism—they are the result of successful fascist recruiting. We should seek to alienate people from the far right by all means—for example, by excluding AfD members from all public events, including family gatherings, bars, and concerts. It should not be possible for them to create the impression that they receive tacit support from the rest of the population, nor to cultivate an air of political and social legitimacy.
In some German cities, such as Flensburg, the AfD have been unable find locations to host their events, and when they have organized public activities there has been so much resistance that these could only take place due to a major police presence. Where the AfD has met with powerful street resistance, they have not been able to increase their percentage of the vote as significantly. This may simply be correlation, rather than causation, but no one joins a fascist party to be a victim. When participating in fascist activity fails to help them achieve their goals or give them an outlet for their agency, we can hope that they will ultimately focus on other things.
The struggle against fascism can only be won in the streets, in society as a whole, not in the voting booth. As parties like the AfD gain momentum all around the world, we have to step up to fight them while also working to create genuinely liberating solutions for all the problems created by capitalism and other forms of hierarchy. From Germany to the United States—good luck, comrades.