We’ll be speaking, tabling, and performing in several places this month: presenting in the Netherlands on resistance to rising authoritarianism, distributing literature at book fairs in the US and Serbia, and touring Greece to promote the Greek translation of From Democracy to Freedom, among other things. We will continue updating this list as more events are confirmed.
September 13: Amsterdam, Netherlands
At 8 pm, at the Fort van Sjakoo, Jodenbreestraat 24, Amsterdam, we will present an updated version of our talk, “Resistance in the Trump Era.”
How did Trump come to power, and what does his rise tell us about this era? What strategies are anarchists in the US using to counter the rise of grassroots nationalism?
Framing the Trump presidency in a global context, we will discuss the new conditions for social struggle and explore the approaches to self-organization and self-defense that anarchists have employed in the United States since the end of 2016.
September 15: Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair in the US, Bloodshed Fest in the Netherlands
We will be tabling at the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair, as we have every year since 2001. If all goes well, we’ll debut at least one zine design that is not yet online.
At the same time, the hardcore band Catharsis, long associated with CrimethInc. activities, will be playing Bloodshed Fest in the Netherlands. We will also be tabling with a variety of literature at the fest. You can keep up with the extremely sporadic activity of Catharsis here.
September 16: Utrecht, Netherlands
At 3 pm, at the ACU, Voorstraat 71, Utrecht, we will be presenting “Resistance in the Age of Trump” under the auspicious title, “CrimethInc. at the Barricade,” in honor of the location of the talk.
La acción directa–esto es, cualquier tipo de acción que sobrepase los canales establecidos para alanzar sus objetivos de forma directa–tiene una larga y rica herencia en América del Norte, desde el Boston Tea Party y más allá. A pesar de esto, hay muchos malentendidos sobre ella, en parte debido a la forma en que se ha distorsionado en los medios corporativos.
El terrorismo es calculado para intimidar y así paralizar a la gente. La acción directa, por otro lado, busca inspirar y así motivar a la gente para mostrarles el poder que tenemos como individuos para alcanzar nuestros objetivos por nosotros mismos. Mientras el terrorismo es el dominio especializado de una clase que busca hacerse del poder para ellos mismos solamente, la acción directa muestra posibilidades que otros pueden aprovechar, empoderando a la gente para tomar el control de sus propias vidas. En el peor de los casos, una determinada acción directa puede obstaculizar las actividades de una corporación o institución que los activistas perciben que está cometiendo una injusticia; pero esto es sólo una forma de desobediencia civil, no terrorismo.
2. La acción directa es violenta.
Decir que es violento destruir la maquinaria de un matadero o romper la ventana de un partido político que promueve la guerra es priorizar las propiedades sobre las vidas humanas y animales. Esta objeción valida sutilmente la violencia contra los seres vivos al poner toda su atención sobre los derechos de propiedad y no en otros hechos fundamentales.
3. La acción directa no es una expresión política sino una actividad criminal.
Desafortunadamente, el hecho de que una acción sea legal o no, no es una buena medida de si es justa o no. Las leyes de Jim Crow eran leyes después de todo. Oponerse a una acción sólo por el hecho de que es ilegal, es evadir la cuestión más importante de si es ética o no. Argumentar que siempre debemos obedecer las leyes, aunque consideremos que no son éticas o implicar condiciones no éticas, es creer que las posiciones arbitrarias del sistema legal tienen mayor autoridad moral que nuestras propias conciencias y esto nos vuelve cómplices de cara a las injusticias. Cuando las leyes protegen la injusticia, las actividades ilegales no son vicios ni la dócil obediencia a la ley es una virtud.
4. La acción directa es innecesaria donde la gente tiene libertad de expresión.
En una sociedad dominada por medios corporativos con una visión de túnel cada vez mayor, es casi imposible iniciar un diálogo público sobre alguna cuestión a menos que algo ocurra que llame la atención sobre ella. En tales condiciones, la acción directa puede ser un medio para favorecer la libertad de expresión más que de aplastarla. Igualmente, cuando gente que en otras condiciones se opondrían a una injusticia, la aceptan ahora como inevitable; no basta con sólo hablar sobre ella, es necesario demostrar que es posible hacer algo al respecto.
5. La acción directa te aísla.
Por el contrario, mucha gente que se siente aislada por la política tradicional de partidos se siente inspirada y motivada por la acción directa. Distintas personas sienten distintas aproximaciones adecuadas; un movimiento que busca ser incluyente debe ofrecer lugar a un amplio rango de opciones. A veces, personas que comparten os objetivos de aquellos que realizan acciones directas mientras se oponen a sus medios, gastan todas sus energías desacreditando una acción que se llevó a cavo. Al hacer esto, ellos arrebatan la derrota de las fauces de la victoria: sería mejor que aprovechen la oportunidad de concentrar toda la atención en las cuestiones sobre las que la acción intentaba llamar la atención.
6. La gente que practica la acción directa debería más bien trabajar a través de los canales políticos establecidos.
Mucha gente que practica la acción directa también trabaja dentro del sistema. Un compromiso de usar todos los medios institucionales para resolver problemas no necesariamente excluye un compromiso igual de seguir adelante donde los canales institucionales no pueden más.
7. La acción directa es excluyente.
Algunas formas de acción directa no están abiertas para todos, pero esto no necesariamente significa que no tienen valor. Todos tenemos diferentes preferencias y capacidades, y deberíamos actuar de acuerdo con ellas. La cuestión importante es cómo las diferentes aproximaciones de individuos o grupos que comparten los mimos objetivos a largo plazo pueden integrarse de tal modo que pueden complementarse.
8. La acción directa implica cobardía.
Esta acusación casi siempre viene de gente que tiene el privilegio de habar y actuar públicamente sin temer repercusiones; o lo que es lo mismo, de aquellos que tienen el poder en esta sociedad y aquellos que obedientemente aceptan tu poder. ¿Acaso la Resistencia Francesa debiera haber demostrado su coraje y responsabilidad enfrentando al ejército invasor Nazi en pleno día, condenándose a la derrota? Por esto, en un país cada vez más aterrorizado por la policía y la vigilancia federal de prácticamente toda la gente, no es de sorprenderse que aquellos disidentes quieran proteger su privacidad.
9. La acción directa sólo es practicada por estudiantes universitarios/ niños ricos privilegiados/ gente pobre desesperada/ etc.
Este alegato casi siempre se hace sin referencia a hechos concretos, como un calumnia. De hecho, la acción directa es y siempre ha sido practicada de formas variadas por gente de distintos giros de la vida. La única excepción posible podría ser los miembros de las clases más acaudaladas y poderosas que no tienen necesidad de practicar ningún tipo de acción ilegal o controversial; ya que, como por coincidencia, los canales políticos establecidos encajan perfectamente con sus necesidades.
10. La acción directa es trabajo de provocadores.
Esta es otra especulación que normalmente se hace a distancia, sin evidencias concretas. El alegato de que la acción directa siempre es trabajo de provocadores de la policía desempodera: descarta la posibilidad de que los activistas pudieran hacer algo así por ellos mismos, sobreestimando el poder de la inteligencia policiaca y reforzando la ilusión de que el Estado es omnipresente. Igualmente, descarta por adelantado el valor y el hecho de la diversidad de tácticas. Si la gente se siente con derecho de alegar que cualquier táctica que ellos no aprueban es una provocación policiaca, esto cierra la posibilidad de diálogo constructivo sobre las tácticas apropiadas.
11. La acción directa es peligrosa y puede tener repercusiones negativas para otros.
La acción directa puede ser peligrosa en climas políticos represivos y es importante que aquellos que la practiquen hagan esfuerzos de no poner a otros en riesgo. Esto no es necesariamente una objeción contra ella, de cualquier forma –por el contrario, cuando se vuelve peligroso actuar afuera de los canales políticos establecidos, se vuelve más importante hacerlo. Las autoridades pueden utilizar la acción directa como una escusa para aterrorizar a los inocentes, como lo hizo Hitler durante el Reichstag fue prendido en llamas, pero son aquellos en el poder los que deben responder por las injusticias que cometan al hacerlo, no aquellos que se oponen a ellos. Igualmente, aunque aquellos que practican acción directa de hecho corren riesgos, frente a una injusticia insufrible puede ser más peligroso e irresponsable dejara sin contestar.
12. La acción directa nunca logra nada.
Todo movimiento político efectivo a través de la historia, desde la lucha por la jornada de ocho horas al derecho al voto de las mujeres, ha empleado alguna forma de acción directa. La acción directa puede ser un complemento para otras formas de acción política de distintas formas. Si no por otra razón, sirve para subrayar la necesidad de reformas institucionales, dándole a aquellos que las impulsan más palancas para negociar. Pero puede ir más allá de este papel de apoyo para sugerir la posibilidad de una forma completamente diferente de organizar la vida humana, en la que el poder está distribuido de forma equitativa y la gente tiene igual voz de forma directa en todas las cuestiones que les afectan.
What if nobody worked? Sweatshops would empty out and assembly lines would grind to a halt, at least the ones producing things no one would make voluntarily. Telemarketing would cease. Despicable individuals who only hold sway over others because of wealth and title would have to learn better social skills. Traffic jams would come to an end; so would oil spills. Paper money and job applications would be used as fire starter as people reverted to barter and sharing. Grass and flowers would grow from the cracks in the sidewalk, eventually making way for fruit trees.
And we would all starve to death. But we’re not exactly subsisting on paperwork and performance evaluations, are we? Most of the things we make and do for money are patently irrelevant to our survival—and to what gives life meaning, besides.
This text is a selection from Work, our 376-page analysis of contemporary capitalism. It is also available as a pamphlet.
That depends on what you mean by “work.” Think about how many people enjoy gardening, fishing, carpentry, cooking, and even computer programming just for their own sake. What if that kind of activity could provide for all our needs?
For hundreds of years, people have claimed that technological progress would soon liberate humanity from the need to work. Today we have capabilities our ancestors couldn’t have imagined, but those predictions still haven’t come true. In the US we actually work longer hours than we did a couple generations ago—the poor in order to survive, the rich in order to compete. Others desperately seek employment, hardly enjoying the comfortable leisure all this progress should provide. Despite the talk of recession and the need for austerity measures, corporations are reporting record earnings, the wealthiest are wealthier than ever, and tremendous quantities of goods are produced just to be thrown away. There’s plenty of wealth, but it’s not being used to liberate humanity.
What kind of system simultaneously produces abundance and prevents us from making the most of it? The defenders of the free market argue that there’s no other option—and so long as our society is organized this way, there isn’t.
Yet once upon a time, before time cards and power lunches, everything got done without work. The natural world that provided for our needs hadn’t yet been carved up and privatized. Knowledge and skills weren’t the exclusive domains of licensed experts, held hostage by expensive institutions; time wasn’t divided into productive work and consumptive leisure. We know this because work was invented only a few thousand years ago, but human beings have been around for hundreds of thousands of years. We’re told that life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” back then—but that narrative comes to us from the ones who stamped out that way of life, not the ones who practiced it.
This isn’t to say we should go back to the way things used to be, or that we could—only that things don’t have to be the way they are right now. If our distant ancestors could see us today, they’d probably be excited about some of our inventions and horrified by others, but they’d surely be shocked by how we apply them. We built this world with our labor, and without certain obstacles we could surely build a better one. That wouldn’t mean abandoning everything we’ve learned. It would just mean abandoning everything we’ve learned doesn’t work.
One can hardly deny that work is productive. Just a couple thousand years of it have dramatically transformed the surface of the earth.
But what exactly does it produce? Disposable chopsticks by the billion; laptops and cell phones that are obsolete within a couple years. Miles of waste dumps and tons upon tons of chlorofluorocarbons. Factories that will rust as soon as labor is cheaper elsewhere. Dumpsters full of overstock, while a billion suffer malnutrition; medical treatments only the wealthy can afford; novels and philosophies and art movements most of us just don’t have time for in a society that subordinates desires to profit motives and needs to property rights.
And where do the resources for all this production come from? What happens to the ecosystems and communities that are pillaged and exploited? If work is productive, it’s even more destructive.
Work doesn’t produce goods out of thin air; it’s not a conjuring act. Rather, it takes raw materials from the biosphere—a common treasury shared by all living things—and transforms them into products animated by the logic of market. For those who see the world in terms of balance sheets, this is an improvement, but the rest of us shouldn’t take their word for it.
Capitalists and socialists have always taken it for granted that work produces value. Workers have to consider a different possibility—that working uses up value. That’s why the forests and polar ice caps are being consumed alongside the hours of our lives: the aches in our bodies when we come home from work parallel the damage taking place on a global scale.
What should we be producing, if not all this stuff? Well, how about happiness itself? Can we imagine a society in which the primary goal of our activity was to make the most of life, to explore its mysteries, rather than to amass wealth or outflank competition? We would still make material goods in such a society, of course, but not in order to compete for profit. Festivals, feasts, philosophy, romance, creative pursuits, child-rearing, friendship, adventure—can we picture these as the center of life, rather than packed into our spare time?
Today things are the other way around—our conception of happiness is constructed as a means to stimulate production. Small wonder products are crowding us out of the world.
Work doesn’t simply create wealth where there was only poverty before. On the contrary, so long as it enriches some at others’ expense, work creates poverty, too, in direct proportion to profit.
Poverty is not an objective condition, but a relationship produced by unequal distribution of resources. There’s no such thing as poverty in societies in which people share everything. There may be scarcity, but no one is subjected to the indignity of having to go without while others have more than they know what to do with. As profit is accumulated and the minimum threshold of wealth necessary to exert influence in society rises higher and higher, poverty becomes more and more debilitating. It is a form of exile—the cruelest form of exile, for you stay within society while being excluded from it. You can neither participate nor go anywhere else.
Work doesn’t just create poverty alongside wealth—it concentrates wealth in the hands of a few while spreading poverty far and wide. For every Bill Gates, a million people must live below the poverty line; for every Shell Oil, there has to be a Nigeria. The more we work, the more profit is accumulated from our labor, and the poorer we are compared to our exploiters.
So in addition to creating wealth, work makes people poor. This is clear even before we factor in all the other ways work makes us poor: poor in self-determination, poor in free time, poor in health, poor in sense of self beyond our careers and bank accounts, poor in spirit.
“Cost of living” estimates are misleading—there’s little living going on at all! “Cost of working” is more like it, and it’s not cheap.
Everyone knows what housecleaners and dishwashers pay for being the backbone of our economy. All the scourges of poverty—addiction, broken families, poor health—are par for the course; the ones who survive these and somehow go on showing up on time are working miracles. Think what they could accomplish if they were free to apply that power to something other than earning profits for their employers!
What about their employers, fortunate to be higher on the pyramid? You would think earning a higher salary would mean having more money and thus more freedom, but it’s not that simple. Every job entails hidden costs: just as a dishwasher has to pay bus fare to and from work every day, a corporate lawyer has to be able to fly anywhere at a moment’s notice, to maintain a country club membership for informal business meetings, to own a small mansion in which to entertain dinner guests that double as clients. This is why it’s so difficult for middle-class workers to save up enough money to quit while they’re ahead and get out of the rat race: trying to get ahead in the economy basically means running in place. At best, you might advance to a fancier treadmill, but you’ll have to run faster to stay on it.
And these merely financial costs of working are the least expensive. In one survey, people of all walks of life were asked how much money they would need to live the life they wanted; from pauper to patrician, they all answered approximately double whatever their current income was. So not only is money costly to obtain, but, like any addictive drug, it’s less and less fulfilling! And the further up you get in the hierarchy, the more you have to fight to hold your place. The wealthy executive must abandon his unruly passions and his conscience, must convince himself that he deserves more than the unfortunates whose labor provides for his comfort, must smother his every impulse to question, to share, to imagine himself in others’ shoes; if he doesn’t, sooner or later some more ruthless contender replaces him. Both blue-collar and white-collar workers have to kill themselves to keep the jobs that keep them alive; it’s just a question of physical or spiritual destruction.
Those are the costs we pay individually, but there’s also a global price to pay for all this working. Alongside the environmental costs, there are work-related illnesses, injuries, and deaths: every year we kill people by the thousand to sell hamburgers and health club memberships to the survivors. The US Department of Labor reported that twice as many people suffered fatal work injuries in 2001 as died in the September 11 attacks, and that doesn’t begin to take into account work-related illnesses. Above all, more exorbitant than any other price, there is the cost of never learning how to direct our own lives, never getting the chance to answer or even ask the question of what we would do with our time on this planet if it was up to us. We can never know how much we are giving up by settling for a world in which people are too busy, too poor, or too beaten down to do so.
Why work, if it’s so expensive? Everyone knows the answer—there’s no other way to acquire the resources we need to survive, or for that matter to participate in society at all. All the earlier social forms that made other ways of life possible have been eradicated—they were stamped out by conquistadors, slave traders, and corporations that left neither tribe nor tradition nor ecosystem intact. Contrary to capitalist propaganda, free human beings don’t crowd into factories for a pittance if they have other options, not even in return for name brand shoes and software. In working and shopping and paying bills, each of us helps perpetuate the conditions that necessitate these activities. Capitalism exists because we invest everything in it: all our energy and ingenuity in the marketplace, all our resources at the supermarket and in the stock market, all our attention in the media. To be more precise, capitalism exists because our daily activities are it. But would we continue to reproduce it if we felt we had another choice?
On the contrary, instead of enabling people to achieve happiness, work fosters the worst kind of self-denial.
Obeying teachers, bosses, the demands of the market—not to mention laws, parents’ expectations, religious scriptures, social norms—we’re conditioned from infancy to put our desires on hold. Following orders becomes an unconscious reflex, whether or not they are in our best interest; deferring to experts becomes second nature.
Selling our time rather than doing things for their own sake, we come to evaluate our lives on the basis of how much we can get in exchange for them, not what we get out of them. As freelance slaves hawking our lives hour by hour, we think of ourselves as each having a price; the amount of the price becomes our measure of value. In that sense, we become commodities, just like toothpaste and toilet paper. What once was a human being is now an employee, in the same way that what once was a pig is now a pork chop. Our lives disappear, spent like the money for which we trade them.
Most of us have become so used to giving up things that are precious to us that sacrifice has become our only way of expressing that we care about something. We martyr ourselves for ideas, causes, love of one another, even when these are supposed to help us find happiness.
There are families, for example, in which people show affection by competing to be the one who gives up the most for the others. Gratification isn’t just delayed, it’s passed on from one generation to the next. The responsibility of finally enjoying all the happiness presumably saved up over years of thankless toil is deferred to the children; yet when they come of age, if they are to be seen as responsible adults, they too must begin working their fingers to the bone.
But the buck has to stop somewhere.
People work hard nowadays, that’s for sure. Tying access to resources to market performance has caused unprecedented production and technological progress. Indeed, the market has monopolized access to our own creative capacities to such an extent that many people work not only to survive but also to have something to do. But what kind of initiative does this instill?
Let’s go back to global warming, one of the most serious crises facing the planet. After decades of denial, politicians and businessmen have finally swung into action to do something about it. And what are they doing? Casting about for ways to cash in! Carbon credits, “clean” coal, “green” investment firms—who believes that these are the most effective way to curb the production of greenhouse gases? It’s ironic that a catastrophe caused by capitalist consumerism can be used to spur more consumption, but it reveals a lot about the kind of initiative work instills. What kind of person, confronted with the task of preventing the end of life on earth, responds, “Sure, but what’s in it for me?”
If everything in our society has to be driven by a profit motive to succeed, that might not be initiative after all, but something else. Really taking initiative, initiating new values and new modes of behavior—this is as unthinkable to the enterprising businessman as it is to his most listless employee. What if working—that is, leasing your creative powers to others, whether managers or customers—actually erodes initiative?
The evidence for this extends beyond the workplace. How many people who never miss a day of work can’t show up on time for band practice? We can’t keep up with the reading for our book clubs even when we can finish papers for school on time; the things we really want to do with our lives end up at the bottom of the to-do list. The ability to follow through on commitments becomes something outside ourselves, associated with external rewards or punishments.
Imagine a world in which everything people do, they do because they want to, because they are personally invested in bringing it about. For any boss who has struggled to motivate indifferent employees, the idea of working with people who are equally invested in the same projects sounds utopian. But this isn’t proof that nothing would get done without bosses and salaries—it just shows how work saps us of initiative.
Let’s say your job never injures, poisons, or sickens you. Let’s also take it for granted that the economy doesn’t crash and take your job and savings with it, and that no one who got a worse deal than you manages to hurt or rob you. You still can’t be sure you won’t be downsized. Nowadays nobody works for the same employer his whole life; you work somewhere a few years until they let you go for someone younger and cheaper or outsource your job overseas. You can break your back to prove you’re the best in your field and still end up hung out to dry.
You have to count on your employers to make shrewd decisions so they can write your paycheck—they can’t just fritter money away or they won’t have it to pay you. But you never know when that shrewdness will turn against you: the ones you depend on for your livelihood didn’t get where they are by being sentimental. If you’re self-employed, you probably know how fickle the market can be, too.
What could provide real security? Perhaps being part of a long-term community in which people looked out for each other, a community based on mutual assistance rather than financial incentives. And what is one of the chief obstacles to building that kind of community today? Work.
Who carried out most of the injustices in history? Employees. This is not necessarily to say they are responsible for them—as they would be the first to tell you!
Does receiving a wage absolve you of responsibility for your actions? Working seems to foster the impression that it does. The Nuremburg defense—“I was just following orders”—has been the anthem and alibi of millions of employees. This willingness to check one’s conscience at the workplace door—to be, in fact, a mercenary—lies at the root of many of the troubles plaguing our species.
People have done horrible things without orders, too—but not nearly so many horrible things. You can reason with a person who is acting for herself; she acknowledges that she is accountable for her decisions. Employees, on the other hand, can do unimaginably dumb and destructive things while refusing to think about the consequences.
The real problem, of course, isn’t employees refusing to take responsibility for their actions—it’s the economic system that makes taking responsibility so prohibitively expensive.
Employees dump toxic waste into rivers and oceans.
Employees slaughter cows and perform experiments on monkeys.
Employees throw away truckloads of food.
Employees are destroying the ozone layer.
They watch your every move through security cameras.
They evict you when you don’t pay your rent.
They imprison you when you don’t pay your taxes.
They humiliate you when you don’t do your homework or show up to work on time.
They enter information about your private life into credit reports and FBI files.
They give you speeding tickets and tow your car.
They administer standardized exams, juvenile detention centers, and lethal injections.
The soldiers who herded people into gas chambers were employees,
Just like the soldiers occupying Iraq and Afghanistan,
Just like the suicide bombers who target them—they are employees of God, hoping to be paid in paradise.
Let’s be clear about this—critiquing work doesn’t mean rejecting labor, effort, ambition, or commitment. It doesn’t mean demanding that everything be fun or easy. Fighting against the forces that compel us to work is hard work. Laziness is not the alternative to work, though it might be a byproduct of it.
The bottom line is simple: all of us deserve to make the most of our potential as we see fit, to be the masters of our own destinies. Being forced to sell these things away to survive is tragic and humiliating. We don’t have to live like this.
Acción directa, en pocas palabras, significa cortar a los intermediarios: resolver problemas por ti mismo en vez de solicitárselo a las autoridades o depender de instituciones externas. Cualquier acción que evade las regulaciones y representaciones para lograr su objetivo directamente es acción directa. Incluye cualquier cosa desde bloquear aeropuertos hasta ayudar a refugiados a escapar de forma segura y organizar programas para liberar a tu comunidad de su dependencia del capitalismo. Aquí presentamos una guía paso-a-paso para organizar y realizar acción directa, desde las primeras etapas de planeación hasta los informes al final, incluyendo el apoyo legal, estrategias mediáticas y seguridad.
Hay incontables escenarios en que puedes querer aplicar la acción directa. Puede ser que los representantes de corporaciones trasnacionales viles estén invadiendo tu comunidad para una de sus reuniones y tú quieres hacer más que sólo sostener un cartel; tal vez esas trasnacionales tienen ya tiempo en tu comunidad operando franquicias que explotan a los trabajadores y destruyen el medio ambiente y tú quieres parar sus fechorías; tal vez quieres organizar una fiesta callejera, festiva y orientada a la comunidad. La acción directa puede plantar un jardín público en un lote abandonado o defenderlo paralizando buldócer; puede ocupar edificios vacíos para dar casa a las personas en situación de calle o tomar edificios de gobierno. Bien sea que estés actuando en secreto con un grupo de amigos de confianza o en una acción masiva con miles de persona, los elementos básicos son los mismos.
Acción directa en pocas palabras: una guía paso-a-paso.
Primero que nada…
Lluvia de ideas: elige un proyecto y arma un plan.
La lluvia de ideas puede empezar con un problema que quieres resolver o una contribución social que quieras hacer. Puede tomar forma por los recursos que tienes, el tipo de experiencias que quieres o la gente con que quieres trabajar. Puedes planear una sola aventura breve o una campaña de largo aliento. Frecuentemente, las mejores lluvias de ideas se dan mientras soñamos despiertos en una conversación informal. Es una buena política confiar en que tus ideas más locas pueden volverse realidad e intentar realizarlas.
En el mismo sentido, incluso cuando asistas a eventos organizados por otros, es mejor traer un plan propio para poder contribuir a tu modo.
Si tiene sentido para tu acción organizarse de forma abierta, establece un formato, como una asamblea pública, en que se pueda elaborar una estrategia y tácticas. Invita amigos, o circula volantes, o ve de puerta en puerta anunciándola. Elabora tu propuesta por adelantado en caso de que a nadie más se le ocurra una.
Para acciones más clandestinas, organiza tu lluvia de ideas en un ambiente seguro, con uno o dos amigos de confianza. Guárdense sus acuerdos para que no salgan a la luz antes de que estén listos para intentarlos.
Objetivos: Establece y prioriza los objetivos de la acción.
¿Para quién es tu acción? ¿Está dirigida a alguien que estará en el lugar, a los espectadores de los medios corporativos, a los dueños de una corporación específica, a sus inversionistas, a la policía y al gobierno, a otros miembros de la comunidad o a los participantes mismos?
¿Qué quieren lograr?¿El objetivo es comunicar ideas, llamar la atención sobre una injusticia, inspirar a la gente, obtener recursos, establecer un cierto tono, causar daños materiales significativos, para disuadir, para sentar un modelo que otros puedan aplicar, para que sirva como un aprendizaje para los participantes?
Que todos tengan una comprensión compartida de los objetivos de la acción desde el principio ahorrará muchos dolores de cabeza después cuando los planes deban ajustarse y se puedan presentar conflictos.
Grupos de afinidad: Trabajar de cerca con aquellos que conoces
Una de las formas más eficientes y seguras de organizar acción directa es con el modelo de los grupos de afinidad. Un grupo de afinidad es un grupo de amigos que confían el uno en el otro profundamente y comparten un objetivo común; al trabajar juntos durante un largo periodo de tiempo se vuelven eficientes y efectivos.
Para una acción pequeña los miembros del grupo de afinidad pueden adoptar diferentes roles. Para acciones más grandes, los grupos de afinidad pueden trabajar con otros grupos de afinidad en conjunto, con cada grupo jugando un rol. Esto puede hacer de las tomas de decisión algo más sencillo de lo que sería entre una gran masa, ya que cada grupo puede enviar a un representante al consejo de voceros. Los conjuntos de grupos de afinidad pueden trabajar juntos durante largos periodos de tiempo, ganando confianza y efectividad.
Reclutar: Traer a otros individuos y grupos con cuidado
Una vez que tienes un plan que proponer, piensa cuánta gente necesitas para realizarlo. Si tu plan requiere ser secreto, invita sólo a gente que confíes que pueden guardar secretos y que estás seguro que le va a interesar sumarse, a cualquier persona que invites y al final no participe es un riesgo de seguridad. Invita a las personas o a los grupos de afinidad uno por uno para que aquellos que decidan no participar no sepan nada sobre los demás involucrados. Empieza por hacer preguntas generales sobre qué tipo de participación les gustaría tener y no reveles detalles críticos del plan tales como objetivos exactos o fechas hasta que él o ella esté lista para adoptar un compromiso. Cuando la gente entra en un plan y luego trae a más gente, asegúrate de que todos tengan claro el nivel de seguridad necesario.
Entre más gente se involucra con el proyecto, es importante que todos tengan claro cuánto compromiso se espera de ellos. A veces aquellos que presentaron primero el plan estarán más interesados en él que otros; si ellos se preparan por meses sólo para que un grupo del que dependen abandone el proyecto de último minuto, todo el trabajo será en vano. Todos comparten la responsabilidad de ser honestos desde el principio sobre qué se puede esperar, siendo realistas, de ellos. Al mismo tiempo, quienes iniciaron el proyecto deben tener cuidado de compartir la autoría con todos los involucrados.
Dinámicas: Asegúrate que el poder está distribuido equitativamente en tu grupo.
Tomen todas las decisiones de forma participativa y consensual. Si tu grupo es lo suficientemente grande para permitirlo, emplea un proceso de reuniones para el consenso, formales o informales, para asegurarte que la voz de todos sea escuchada. Definan juntos una agenda para cada reunión y elijan a un facilitador para que lleve las cosas por buen camino. En la medida en que todos participen, las decisiones que tomen estarán mejor informadas.
Ten cuidado con dinámicas internas que pueden estar desbalanceadas, tales como aquellas provocadas por gente con diferentes antecedentes o entre organizadores locales y participantes externos. Entre más participemos todos en planear y preparar la acción, estaremos todos más interesados en su éxito. Un grupo con una buena dinámica interna es más inteligente de lo que ningún individuo puede ser; los individuos pueden aportar ideas pero un grupo puede encontrar la mejor forma de aplicarlas en conjunto.
Asegúrate de que todos se sienten apoyados y cómodos dentro del proyecto. Manténganse todos en contacto tanto dentro como fuera de las estructuras formales. Aunque a veces se subestima, mantener la moral es un aspecto crítico para organizar exitosamente la acción directa. Mantén la cabeza fría frente a las sorpresas e incertidumbre.
Cultura de Seguridad: Circula información con sólo lo que cada uno necesita saber
La cultura de seguridad es una forma de evitar la paranoia malsana, minimizando el riesgo en todo momento. Si tú y tus amigos siempre se orientan con prudencia, tendrán menos miedo a la infiltración y la vigilancia.
La esencia de una cultura de seguridad es que la información se comparta con base en lo que cada uno necesita saber. En algunos casos, todo el pueblo debe enterarse sobre la acción para que ésta funciones, en otros casos, es crucial que nadie hable de ella fuera de aquellos directamente vinculados. Todos deben compartir, previo a la acción, qué nivel de seguridad se ha considerado apropiado y respetar las necesidades de los otros en lo que respecta a seguridad.
El consenso es tan importante en la seguridad como es en las relaciones sexuales, nunca es aceptable violar los deseos de otro en las cuestiones de seguridad. Asegúrate de explicitar tus necesidades de seguridad desde el principio, hagan un juramento de silencio si es necesario. Nunca hables de otros involucrados en acciones pasadas, sin importar cuánto tiempo haya pasado, a menos que tengas su permiso expreso.
Cuando se forme un grupo para trabajar en un proyecto, asegúrate de que todos los participantes sean tenidos por confiables por el resto del grupo. Para protegerse unos a otros, debes estar listo incluso para guardar silencio bajo interrogatorios y presión legal.
Desde el inicio del proyecto, debes operar con los niveles de seguridad necesarios, siempre puedes ser más descuidados después pero si empiezan con descuidos se les cierran muchas opciones.
Mantente atento a todas las formas en que tus acciones pueden ser monitoreadas o rastreadas: cámaras de vigilancia, las compras que haces, los lugares a los que vas y las personas con quien te ven, los lugares de sus reuniones, lo que tiras en tu basura, las páginas web que visitas, los archivos en tu computadora, las huellas digitales que dejas (en las baterías de adentro de una lámpara o fuera de ella, por ejemplo), y prácticamente todo lo que tenga que ver con un teléfono. Genera códigos y prepara coartadas si es necesario.
Apoyo Legal: Prepara infraestructura para prestar apoyo durante y después de la acción.
Todos los involucrados en una acción deben tener claro y estar listos para afrontar el riesgo que están tomando de potenciales cargos criminales contra ellos. Es importante no llevar las cosas más lejos de donde te sientas cómodo. Si te lastimas o te arrestan mientras estás involucrado en un nivel de riesgo para el que no te sientes emocionalmente preparado, el efecto puede ser terrible. Es preferible que empieces lento construyendo un involucramiento sustentable en proyectos de acción directa que pueden durar toda una vida a que te apresures de más, tengas una mala experiencia y te alejes de la acción directa por completo.
Si su acción puede terminar en arrestos, prepara una estructura de apoyo legal para los participantes. Esto puede incluir un número de apoyo legal al que los arrestados puedan llamar, observadores legales para monitorear y documentar las acciones de la policía, dinero para fianzas, abogados para apoyo inmediato a los arrestados que puedan representarlos en la corte y un círculo de gente lista para ofrecer apoyo emocional, financiero y logístico durante un caso en la corte.
El número de apoyo legal debe poder recibir llamadas en todo momento durante la acción. Ten presente que en algunos casos no podrás hacer llamadas de celular desde la cárcel. El número de apoyo legal no debe ser incriminatorio para los arrestados o la gente que llama. Si parte de su cuartada es que no se conocen entre ustedes, no llamen al mismo número desde la cárcel. Si temes olvidar el número, escríbelo con plumón permanente en alguna parte oculta de tu cuerpo. La persona operando la línea de apoyo legal debe conocer el nombre completo de esos que pueden ser arrestados, para poder estar al pendiente de su situación.
Para sacar a alguien de la cárcel con fianza puedes o bien pagar el monto completo de la fianza a la corte, en cuyo caso recibirás tu dinero de vuelta cuando el proceso acabe, o pagar alrededor del 10% a una afianzadora, en este caso, la cuota de la afianzadora puede costarte una significativa cantidad de dinero. Si nadie puede pagar la fianza, el arrestado deberá esperar detenido hasta su fecha en la corte, aunque en casos de infracciones menores puede ser que la policía libere a gente sólo para no tener que lidiar con ella.
Si estás en riesgo de ser arrestado, decide si quieres portar identificación para hacer más rápido el proceso o no para que no puedan identificarte inmediatamente. Un gran grupo de personas arrestadas que se niegan a dar información pueden entorpecer el proceso legal y ganar algún terreno de negociación. Si necesitas algún medicamento intenta llevarlo en tu persona o traer una nota del doctor explicando lo que necesitas.
Encuentra a un abogado solidario de confianza o tal vez a más de uno ya que un abogado no puede representar a más de una persona en el mismo cargo. Puedes investigar qué abogados han tomado casos similares en el pasado o acercarte a la American Civil Liberties Union o a la National Lawyers Guild. Si no les das datos sensibles, puedes preguntarles a abogados solidarios sobre los riesgos implicados en ciertas acciones hipotéticas o especificarles las fechas y horas en que puedes requerir sus servicios. Pero no les digas nada que los pueda involucrar. Para poder hacer su trabajo, ellos deben poder probar que no estaban vinculados a nada ilegal.
Cualquier comunidad cuyos miembros están en riesgo de ser arrestados hace bien en preparar un fondo para fianzas por adelantado, esto puede ahorrar mucho ir de aquí para allá en caso de emergencia. Organicen shows para recaudar fondos, vendan playeras, pidan donaciones a simpatizantes con recursos, busca a compañeros en la universidad que puedan conseguirte espacios remunerados para hablar. Asegúrate de que el fondo de fianzas esté en manos de alguien justo, confiable y fácil de encontrar.
Igualmente, considera cuál será tu estrategia mediática, si es prudente llamar la atención y el apoyo público directo a los arrestados.
Medios: Establecer qué tipo de cobertura necesitan
Mucho antes de la acción, cuando estén estableciendo y priorizando los objetivos, decidan exactamente cuánta cobertura mediática quieren, de qué fuentes y cómo es que van a obtenerla o evitarla. Esto puede implicar redactar y distribuir notas de prensa (Quién, qué, cuándo, dónde, cómo, por qué) o un comunicado, elijan a un vocero para representar al proyecto frente a la prensa, invitando a medios corporativos o independientes a la acción o a una rueda de prensa, enviar faxes o llamar a la prensa, ofrecer entrevistas (en persona o con un teléfono desechable), o teniendo miembros en tu grupo que se encarguen de documentar ellos mismos. Si quieren evitar cierto tipo de cobertura de prensa puede ser bueno que asignen a un compañero a asegurarse de que los fotógrafos no apunten su cámara hacia ti.
Si deciden comunicarse con medios, compongan unos puntos claves que su vocero pueda repetir para que se aseguren que entren en los reportes de los medios. Denle a los representantes de la prensa tan poco material como sea posible para que tengan que usar las partes que ustedes quieren que usen. Presta atención a qué reporteros suelen dar una cobertura positiva y aproxímate a ellos personalmente. Si tienes una página web, asegúrate que sea reproducida en la cobertura mediática para reorientar al público a tu medio. También puedes informar al público directamente con posters, radios pirata, mítines o empezando conversaciones de puerta en puerta.
Si tu acción requiere mucha seguridad envía tu comunicado de forma segura: por ejemplo, desde una computadora que no registre quién la ha usado. Ten cuidado de cómo los dispositivos que usas pueden incriminarte.
Trabajo de base
Planeando: Estudia el contexto, arma una estrategia, planea para distintos escenarios
La planeación adecuada es esencial para una acción directa segura y efectiva. Mantenegan sus objetivos y prioridades en mente junto con los recursos que tienen para trabajar, plantéense y comparen distintas estrategias; sopesen los riesgos y las potenciales recompensas de cada una: siempre opten por el modo más seguro de obtener su objetivo y asegúrense de que pueden hacerle frente al nivel de riesgo que eligen. Suele pasar que en la medida en que se desarrolla el proceso de planeación, un proyecto se hará más ambicioso y con más riesgos, hasta que algún involucrado empiece a tener dudas. En este punto, puede ser necesario encontrar una versión más segura y a menor escala del plan para poder mantenerlo en pie.
Hay incontables factores a tomar en cuenta a la hora de planear. Deben elegir las tácticas más efectivas en su contexto social y político. Deben elegir la mejor ubicación para su acción y tomar en cuenta todos sus atributos. Debes elegir la mejor fecha y hora para actuar. Deben tener en cuenta a la gente que estará en el área al momento de la acción y cómo reaccionará (¿sentirán simparía o serán vigilantes hostiles que intentarán impedir su acción?) Deben coordinar los tiempos de los distintos momentos de su acción, previendo cuánto tomará cada uno y pensando cómo aquellos involucrados en la acción se comunicarán.
Cuando intenten predecir la respuesta de otros, por ejemplo la policía, tengan en cuenta los factores que los afectan: ¿Se esperan la acción que ustedes tienen en mente o tienen el elemento sorpresa? Si tienen el elemento sorpresa ¿cuánto les durará? ¿Habrá mucha atención en el evento? ¿Será inmediatamente obvia su acción? ¿Habrá ciudadanos de clase media o periodistas alrededor y serán ellos un factor en motivar la respuesta de las autoridades? ¿Cuál será la estrategia de la policía, basados en sus comportamientos en contextos similares? ¿Querrán sus jefes que usen mano dura contra ustedes o que eviten montar una escena? ¿Qué tan bien comunicados están, qué tan rápido se moverán, dónde se encuentran, qué rutas tomarán?
No subestimes el desafío que implica las cuestiones logísticas simples como son el transporte o la comunicación en situaciones complejas. Tampoco se olviden de planear una estrategia de escape.
Ya que los planes rara vez se dan cómo esperábamos, es importante tener respaldos en caso de distintos escenarios: “Si__, entonces, si__ entonces___”. Tengan algunos objetivos diferentes en mente, en caso de que el principal objetivo sea inalcanzable. Tener una estructura básica de comunicación y toma de decisiones les ayudará a prepararse para situaciones que no se den como ustedes esperaban.
Tengan cuidado de no arriesgar a nadie con sus acciones, las autoridades probablemente van a levantar los peores cargos posibles contra cualquiera a quien logren ponerle la mano encima; por ello es importante tanto cuidar que quienes toman el riesgo de la acción salgan con seguridad del área como asegurarse que no puedan echarle la culpa a nadie más. En algunos casos, pueden formar grupos en varios niveles en los que todos conozcan la meta general pero sólo unos pocos conozcan los detalles críticos tales como el objetivo concreto o quiénes realizarán actividades riesgosas.
Prepárate tanto para el mejor como para el peor escenario. Las ideas nuevas, cuando son buenas, tienden a fallar porque las personas no las llevan lo suficientemente lejos. Pero también, las ideas más viejas tienden a fallar porque son demasiado familiares para todos, incluidas las autoridades. A veces los mejores resultados se obtienen al aplicar tácticas familiares en escenarios nuevos.
Busca precedentes con tiempo, ocasiones en que acciones similares se intentaron en contextos parecidos. Pueden ser muy instructivos. En la medida en que reúnas años de experiencias y aprendas de las victorias y fracasos de otros, podrás generar nuevas estrategias para predecir y preparar para una amplia variedad de situaciones.
Preparación: Reúne equipo y vístete adecuadamente
Una vez que han elaborado su plan, haz una línea del tiempo hasta la acción, haciendo una cuenta regresiva hasta el gran día para establecer fechas límite para que todas las piezas vayan cayendo en su lugar.
Desde las primeras etapas de la planeación, deduce qué fondos, materiales y otros recursos necesitas y cómo obtenerlos. Si la seguridad es prioritaria, obtén todas las cosas que necesites de tal modo que no puedan rastrearlas hasta ti, grupos de afinidad de fuera de tu comunidad pueden adquirir materiales que pueden ser incriminatorios lejos del lugar de la acción.
Asegúrate que todos tengan la ropa adecuada para la acción, incluyendo diferentes capas de prendas si es necesario. Toma en cuenta las cuestiones de seguridad relativas a la ropa. Si todos se visten de negro para mantener el anonimato, asegúrense que la ropa de nadie tenga características que ayuden a identificarles. Igualmente, si la idea es pasar por unos transeúntes cualesquiera, recuerda que los civiles no se visten igual en Miami que en Seattle. Si el tiempo es importante, asegúrense que el reloj de todos esté sincronizado.
Cerciórate de que todo esté listo para cuando llegue la fecha. Hagan prácticas, al menos de forma verbal. Si los participantes no conocen el área, distribuyan mapas. De ser necesario, deja materiales necesarios en el lugar de la acción por adelantado, teniendo cuidado de no delatarte en el proceso.
Exploración: Estudia el sitio de la acción y mantente al pendiente en caso de cambios
Antes de la acción, estudia el área con cuidado. Localiza rutas seguras para entrar y salir, busca escondites, obstáculos, objetivos potenciales y cámaras de seguridad (incluyendo las de cajeros automáticos y semáforos). Nota cuánto tardan en recorrer distancias clave y ten presente la visibilidad en las locaciones clave. ¿Qué tan cerca están las autoridades, cuánto tardarán en llegar? ¿Puede retardarse su llegada? ¿Quién más está en el área?
Mientras exploras, ten cuidado de no llamar la atención o dejar alguna huella de tu recorrido. Procura hacer algo de exploración a la misma hora del día en que la acción está planeada. Y, si es posible, haz un chequeo rápido inmediatamente antes de la acción para asegurarte que nada ha cambiado. Si tu acción requiere alguna tarea complicada, como escalar un techo muy inclinado, puede ser bueno hacer una práctica real en algún punto.
La información la puedes obtener de fotos, mapas, folletos; mapas aéreos y planos pueden estar disponibles. En algunos casos puedes obtener información de un centro turístico, o llamar y preguntar con algún pretexto (como un estudiante haciendo una tarea, por ejemplo), o incluso recibir un tour guiado. Una vez que has reunido bastante información, puede ser útil consolidar las partes importantes en un mapa adecuado a tus necesidades. Ten cuidado de desechar todos los archivos y papeles e forma segura.
Roles: Dividan responsabilidades y formen una estructura de toma de decisiones
Identifiquen los roles necesarios para realizar su plan y asegúrense de que todos estén cubiertos. Algunos roles potenciales pueden incluir
– enlaces con la policía
– voceros para los medios
– medios internos
– contactos para apoyo legal
– observadores legales
– “plantas” (por ejemplo, gente disfrazada como transeúntes inocentes que estén listos para intervenir de ser necesario o que puedan sonar su claxon amablemente mientras una barricada se levanta frente a ellos)
– auto de escape
– gente que transporte materiales
– gente que reciba información y pueda tomar decisiones tácticas
– gente que realice la acción en sí misma
En algunos casos es bueno tener remplazos para roles fundamentales en el caso de que alguien no pueda participar de último momento. Esto es especialmente importante si no sabes de entrada en qué fecha será tu acción. Por ejemplo, si esta ha de coincidir con un evento que no puedes predecir, tal como el anuncio de un veredicto o una declaración de guerra.
Diplomacia: Considera la forma en que tu acción afectará a otros.
Si su acción tendrá lugar durante o como parte de un evento más grande, puede que haya reuniones más grandes en que grupos diferentes intenten coordinar sus esfuerzos. Esto puede ser útil, pero suele consumir mucho tiempo y energía; así que asegúrense de tener esto presente al involucrarse en procesos así, teniendo claro qué objetivo quieren alcanzar.
Bien sea que estén actuando en medio de miles de activistas o muy lejos de todos, tomen en consideración la forma en que sus acciones afectarán a otras personas. ¿Pondrán a otros en riesgo? ¿Provocarán represión policial? De ser así ¿Tendrán otros que llevar la carga y hay alguna forma de compensar esto? ¿Hará tu acción que se vuelva más difícil para otras personas hacer algo importante en alguna comunidad? ¿Hay alguna negociación o consenso en la que deberás participar antes, durante o después de la acción?
Respeten sus acuerdos con otros grupos, algunos pueden estar dispuestos a ayudarles, con o sin conocimiento de los detalles exactos de lo que planean hace. Con el tiempo, si demuestran ser confiables y considerados, podrán construir alianzas con ellos.
Durante y después de la acción
Conciencia: Mantente alerta durante la acción
Estar alerta es clave para el éxito de cualquier acción. Con frecuencia, la atmósfera puede cambiar rápidamente. Es importante estar al pendiente de lo que está pasando a tu alrededor y establecer por adelantado cómo responder a ciertos escenarios. Por ejemplo, ¿es grave si llega una sola patrulla? ¿Qué tal si llegan 10? ¿Es común que la policía escolte las marchas en esta ciudad? Aunque nunca pueden estar seguros de qué pasará, revisar escenarios posibles por adelantado y tener una idea de cómo tu grupo quiere hacerles frente les dará a todos una idea más clara de cómo reaccionar, y cómo no reaccionar, con el desarrollo de la situación.
Cuando informes a otros de lo que pasa, diles la información tal cual, no las conclusiones que tú sacas de ella (“La policía se está poniendo las máscaras de gas” y no “Van a gasearnos”), para que otros puedan sacar sus propias conclusiones. Resiste la tendencia a entrar en pánico o a dejarte llevar.
Comunicación: Mantén a los otros informados
Durante la acción, exploradores pueden mantenerse al tanto de los cambios en el terreno tales como la llegada de policías, movimientos de multitudes, otras actividades cerca y zonas seguras. Pueden usar sistemas de comunicación como teléfonos desechables, mensajes de texto encriptados, radios de dos vías o silbidos para mantenerse en contacto; señales audibles o visuales como claxons o fuegos artificiales también pueden servir. Un escáner policiaco puede servir para monitorear las comunicaciones policiacas.
Para volver la comunicación más eficiente, los exploradores pueden reportarle a un individuo o a un sub-grupo al centro de la acción. En un escenario más grande, pueden reportar por teléfono sus hallazgos a una cierta base de información, a la que otros pueden llamar para hacer preguntas.
Así como el equipo de comunicación puede hacerlos más eficientes y efectivos, también pueden aumentar sus riesgos de ser vigilados. Pueden usar códigos y nombres código, pero sean cuidadosos, los códigos complicados son fácilmente olvidados y los fiscales pueden alegar que los códigos tienen un significado más drástico de lo que realmente significaban. Incluso en el caso en que no se utilice ningún otro sistema de comunicación, puede ser útil tener la opción de una señal de emergencia para abortar.
Dispersarse: Abandona mientras estás a la cabeza
Un escape seguro es normalmente pasado de largo a la hora de planear una acción directa. Asegúrense de tener una estrategia de salida planeada. Si estarás en un grupo grande, especialmente con otros que no han sido parte del proceso de planeación, piensa en cómo evitar la mentalidad de rebaño que mantiene a las multitudes reunidas después del punto en que sería mejor que se dispersaran. Tengan claro cuándo aprovechar sus ventajas y cuándo renunciar, cuándo correr tan rápido como puedas y cuándo caminar tranquilamente. Desháganse de todas las cosas que pueda incriminarles, de preferencia en lugares donde no podrán ser encontradas. Espera para cambiar tu apariencia hasta que estés seguro de no estar más bajo observación.
De ser necesario, reúnanse en un lugar seguro después para asegurarse que todos son tenidos en cuenta, reúnan dinero para fianzas, busquen asistencia externa, declaren pronunciamientos de prensa. Mientras todos los involucrados siguen en los alrededores, consigan información de contacto de cualquier persona que pueda declarar y ofrecer evidencias para apoyar a los detenidos.
Reflexión: Reagrúpense para discutir qué salió bien y qué lecciones pueden aprender
Después de la acción, destruyan toda la evidencia que pueda ser usada en su contra, mantengan las herramientas relacionadas con la acción en un escondite fuera de casa. Si puede ser que tengas que declarar en un juzgado en algún futuro, piensa en escribir todos los detalles que puedes necesitar recordar en un pedazo de papel y resguárdalo en algún lugar donde estés seguro que nunca lo encontrarán. Reúnanse en un espacio seguro y revisen lo que pasó. Pónganse al día de los asuntos, tales como apoyar los casos legales, clarificar al público los objetivos y las ideas detrás de la acción e intentar resolver conflictos. Celebren sus victorias, critíquense creativamente entre ustedes, aprendan de sus errores y hagan planes para su siguiente proyecto.
Following up on our book about the Bolshevik seizure of power, The Russian Counterrevolution, we look back a hundred years to observe the anniversary of the first time that the Bolsheviks used the Russian military to crush protests from the workers and peasants who had helped to put them in power. If we don’t want tomorrow’s revolutions to turn out the same way, it’s up to us to learn from the past.
August 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of a bloody milestone in the evolution of the Bolshevik counterrevolution: the suppression of the rebellions in Nizhny Novgorod and Penza. Both of these were protest movements spurred by the Red Army’s policy of “requisitioning” food and other materials they deemed necessary from the common people. The protests and subsequent mass executions carried out by the Bolsheviks took place in a context of growing clashes that saw the Russian Revolution shift into the Russian Civil War. It was the first time the Bolsheviks used mass executions and terror not just against their political opponents, but against the peasants and workers as a class. This terror came to characterize their relationship with peasants and workers over the following years.
Bolshevik apologists justify their actions by citing the extreme violence on all sides, as the White Army sought to reimpose the brutal tsarist regime. Some even go so far as to claim that the peasants who were protesting in the Penza region were White agents. A hundred years after their murders, we have to examine these claims. In order to do so, we must begin by studying what the Bolshevik strategy—their obsession with controlling state power—had done to the Revolution after ten months.
The peasant protests were sparked by “requisitioning,” a central part of the policy of “war communism” adopted by the Bolsheviks in June 1918, just two months earlier. “War communism” was a cruel euphemism for wholesale theft by bureaucrats and commissars of everything the peasants had. In theory, the Red Army and Bolshevik commissars were allowed to take the “surplus,” but there were no mechanisms for accountability, and many Bolsheviks had no experience with farming and no idea what constituted a surplus and what constituted the food supply of peasant families. Essentially, party members were given absolute power and impunity to enrich themselves at the cost of the peasants.
What’s more, ignoring the pleas of his erstwhile comrades, Lenin signed a peace treaty with the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires in March 1918, ceding them what had been the breadbasket of the Russian Empire in Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltics. This almost guaranteed a famine in Moscow, Petrograd, and other cities, forcing the Bolsheviks to squeeze the countryside to the east even harder. To stomp out dissent and cement his hold on power, Lenin effectively pitted the cities against the countryside, putting the former in acute danger of starvation and forcing the latter to accept total subjugation even worse than what had occurred under the tsarist regime.
To fan the flames and motivate the Red Army to requisition pitilessly, Lenin and his party apparatus spread the myth of the kulak, the wealthy peasant who acted as a rural capitalist, exploited landless laborers, and condemned city residents to starvation. In reality, peasants in a wide range of different circumstances were punished under war communism. A tiny minority of peasants had amassed lands and wealth after the end of serfdom, but the Bolsheviks systematically labeled landless, impoverished peasants “kulaks” to justify arresting and executing them. Lenin himself was largely ignorant of peasant life—he was financed by his wealthy mother throughout his first decades of activism, even in Siberian exile, where he spent the time translating, swimming, and hunting. In his writings, he used the “kulak” as a politically expedient scapegoat.
Unlike the anarchists and Left SRs, the Bolsheviks did not effectively support land redistribution in the countryside, so peasants of all stripes had cause to protest against their rule. And when the “requisitioning” began, these protests only spread. The peasants of Penza and elsewhere had a realistic understanding of their own interests. In just a few years of war communism, millions of peasants starved to death as a direct result of Bolshevik policies. By the time war communism ended and the New Economic Policy was inaugurated in 1923, bringing capitalism back to Russia, the peasants had been effectively crushed as a social force; this is one of the reasons Stalin was able to reorganize them in state “collectives,” essentially a plantation system with forced labor not so different from the ones that provided the basis for value extraction in the American and British models of capitalism.
The peasants were right to protest against war communism from the beginning. In hindsight, we can see that the policy was justifiable neither as an end nor as a means.
On August 5, 1918, protests against the requisitioning gained momentum among peasants in the Penza region. This movement quickly spread to neighboring areas. Penza had also been a theater of the Pugachev Rebellion in the 18th century, a multicultural peasant and indigenous uprising against serfdom and Russian imperialism. It was a region with a history of standing up to oppression.
Accounts vary as to the nature of the movement. The Bolsheviks referred to it as a revolt, whereas many other sources merely refer to protests. There were certainly armed peasant revolts against Bolshevik power over the following months. It’s likely that the events of August 1918 constituted nothing more than a rowdy protest movement, but that after the Bolshevik response of mass murder and terror, the peasants got a look at the true face of the new state and realized that if they wanted to change things, mere protest wouldn’t suffice.
In any case, the chairman of the Penza soviet, Kurayev, wasn’t particularly concerned about this revolt. He thought that the Bolsheviks should respond with propaganda, not armed force. Lenin disagreed. By August 8, just three days later, Bolshevik troops had crushed the protest movement in Penza. Not content with simply regaining control, Lenin sent a telegram on August 9 to Nizhny Novgorod, perhaps the largest city in which protests had broken out. Claiming that the protests were a clear sign of a “White Guard” conspiracy, and thus denying any agency or claims to survival of the peasants themselves, Lenin wrote:
“Your first response must be to establish a dictatorial troika (i.e., you, Markin, and one other person) and introduce mass terror, shooting or deporting the hundreds of prostitutes who are causing all the soldiers to drink, all the ex-officers, etc. There is not a moment to lose; you must act resolutely, with massive reprisals. Immediate execution for anyone caught in possession of a firearm. Massive deportations of Mensheviks and other suspect elements.”
On August 11, three days after the protest movement had been suppressed, Lenin sent a telegram to the Central Executive Committee of the Penza soviet:
“Comrades! The kulak uprising in your five districts must be crushed without pity. The interests of the whole revolution demand such actions, for the final struggle with the kulaks has now begun. You must make an example of these people.
(1) Hang (I mean hang publicly, so that people see it) at least 100 kulaks, rich bastards, and known bloodsuckers.
(2) Publish their names.
(3) Seize all their grain.
(4) Single out the hostages per my instructions in yesterday’s telegram.
Do all this so that for miles around people see it all, understand it, tremble, and tell themselves that we are killing the bloodthirsty kulaks and that we will continue to do so. Reply saying you have received and carried out these instructions. Yours, Lenin.
P.S. Find tougher people.”
Only on August 18, after these instructions went out, did an actual armed uprising break out in the Penza oblast, in the town of Chembar. The uprising was led by Left SRs. It was also crushed.
The White Threat
Communist apologists today justify Bolshevik mass murder on the grounds that imposing “discipline” on the masses was necessary in the face of the far worse White threat. It is true that from early on, the White Army executed anarchist and Bolshevik prisoners and massacred villagers suspected of supporting the revolution. However, the claim that White violence forced the Bolsheviks’ hand is an excuse for a Bolshevik strategy that had already been in progress for a long time. Bolshevik political repression against their opponents dates to the very first months of the Soviet government. Already in April 1918, the Bolsheviks attacked 26 anarchist offices and social centers in Moscow, killing dozens and arresting hundreds, in response to anarchist propaganda critical of Bolshevik power. They also carried out raids and arrests in Petrograd and numerous cities in the interior, such as Vologda, where anarchists had growing support from peasants and railroad workers.
What’s more, the White threat cannot justify Bolshevik repression in Penza in August 1918 because at that time, there was not really a White Army to speak of. In June of 1918, the White Army only numbered less than 9000 troops, and they were based over 1000 kilometers away, having fled to Kuban after losing nearly every battle. Even their supreme commander, Kornilov, had been killed. In August, they were in disarray and on the defensive, rearranging their chain of command and desperately trying to recruit more troops. Until the end of 1918, when Great Britain, France, and the United States began providing significant material support to the White Army and General Denikin began an offensive in the Caucasus after having gained the support of numerous cossack fighters, the chief threats to Bolshevik power came from the Left. Lenin speaks of a “White Guard” organizing the protest movement, but as he well knew, it was the Left SRs, the enemies of the White Army, who were most active among the peasants in the Penza region.
Another major force on the field was the Czechoslovak Legion, which contained as many as 60,000 veteran fighters who had been recruited during World War I to fight against the Austro-Hungarian Empire (occupier of Czechoslovakia). Caught in Ukraine when the October Revolution broke out, they stayed on the front to stop multiple German advances, while negotiating with Soviet authorities for safe passage to the port city of Vladivostok, so they could be transferred back to Europe and continue fighting on the Western Front.
In May 1918, three months after they had been granted permission to ship out from Vladivostok, the Legion was spread all across the Trans-Siberian railroad. None of them had been evacuated, as Soviet authorities had obstructed the process and requisitioned the Legion’s weapons. A dispute broke out when trains taking Hungarian POWs to be repatriated were given priority—Hungary being one of the countries occupying Czechoslovakia, and, as an ally of Imperial Germany, one of the countries with which Lenin had signed a peace treaty. The repatriation of Triple Alliance troops and the stonewalling of the Czechoslovak Legion’s return to the war via Vladivostok substantiated their suspicion that Lenin was still working on behalf of Imperial Germany, the same accusation made by the Left SRs when they quit the government in March 1918.
Lenin ordered the arrest of the Legion, at which point they rebelled and took over the railroad, constituting an autonomous armed force in Siberia. Only several months later did the Czechoslovak Legion join the White Army, though they consistently supported the democratic factions of the Whites (the ones in favor of the Constituent Assembly) and occasionally opposed the tsarist faction. Their chief political goal was to achieve independence for Czechoslovakia, which led them to follow the directions of the Entente powers and support the Whites.
The Czechoslovak Legion was one of the most effective fighting units to oppose the Bolsheviks; they seized nearly every city in Siberia at some point in 1918. Yet the conflict with them was provoked almost entirely by Bolshevik policies. It was either Lenin’s paranoid distrust of autonomous forces or his secret collusion with Germany that caused him to order the arrest of the legionaries, which is what sparked their rebellion in the first place. The rebellion was spontaneous, going against the orders of Legion leadership and the plans of the Entente to ship them back to Western Europe. Lenin’s use of repression as a first resort helped the White Army to recruit, furnishing them with their most potent force in the first year of the Civil War; this, in turn, encouraged the Entente powers to intensify their interventions in the Russian hinterland.
In any case, the Legion did not get any closer to the Penza uprising than Samara, about 400 km away—at that moment, they were focused eastward on Vladivostok, not attempting to break through to Penza.
Neither the White Army nor the Czechoslovak Legion posed a threat anywhere near Penza at the time of the peasant protests, as Lenin well knew. His claims of a “White Guard” conspiracy represent demagogic manipulation designed to cover up the fact that the demonstrators in Penza were common people protesting Bolshevik authority.
The Left SRs
The presence of Left SRs in Penza after the peasant rebellion had already begun makes perfect sense in context. They were a socialist party that had long championed land reform, retained strong support among the peasants, and had recently been suppressed in Moscow after an unsuccessful uprising.
Whereas the chief objective of the Bolsheviks was to seize power, the SRs had some basic principles they stuck to, although this probably made them less effective as a political party. It could be said that they had maintained a principled opposition to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the disastrous peace treaty with Imperial Germany. When it was signed in March, they quit the Soviet government; in July, Cheka units in Moscow controlled by Left SRs assassinated the German ambassador Mirbach and tried to take over government and telegraph buildings. They hoped their action would sabotage the peace with Germany, and that in the process they could replace the Bolsheviks at the head of the Soviet government. Their revolt was not designed to suppress the Soviets, but to set the revolution back on what in their minds was the right course.
Of course, the SRs were just another political party trying to control the revolution. No one should not romanticize them. Their suppression simply illustrates that the Bolsheviks were more adroit at power plays: they did not hold back from using any tactics to stay in power, nor did they remain loyal to principles that were not politically expedient. If the SRs had come out of the revolution on top, it probably would have been as a result of using tactics similar to those of the Bolsheviks.
In any case, as far as the Penza uprising is concerned, the involvement of Left SRs confirms the falsity of Bolshevik claims. Far from being White sympathizers, the only organized element among the Penza peasants were Left SRs, who had always stood on a platform of agrarian reform for greater peasant autonomy. They were committed opponents of the Whites.
The Red Army
It is also possible that the Left SRs decided to rebel in July 1918 because the preceding month, the Bolsheviks had solidified their control over the Red Army by bringing back an aristocratic hierarchy (led overwhelmingly by ex-tsarist officers), ending any vestige of self-organization, and appointing political commissars as well as a vast network of spies and snitches to ensure political obedience.
For nearly a year already, the Bolsheviks had taken action against revolutionary elements in the military. Foremost among these was the Dvinsk Regiment. To tell their story, we have to go back to 1917.
The Dvinsk Regiment was comprised of tens of thousands of soldiers on the Eastern Front who had engaged in mass disobedience against the war. Alongside the guerrilla resistance in Ukraine, this provided one of the principal examples of the kind of revolutionary warfare with which anarchists proposed to topple both the Russian Empire (whether under the tsar or Kerensky) and the imperial states on the other side of the battle lines.
Cossacks refused to execute the resisters; instead, thousands were imprisoned. The prisoners were released in September 1917 after major public protests. At this point, they constituted a revolutionary regiment. The Bolsheviks tried to take control of the regiment, but instead, the regiment elected Grachov, an anarchist, as its leader. In the October Revolution, which saw fierce fighting in Moscow, the Dvinsk Regiment was at the front of the fiercest clashes, seizing City Hall, the Hotel Metropole, and the Kremlin.
Grachov was critical of the authoritarian direction of the Bolsheviks. He began carrying out a plan to arm the workers on nonpartisan grounds, sending weapons and munitions to factory committees. At the end of November, the Bolsheviks summoned him to Nizhny Novgorod, supposedly to discuss military matters. Away from the rest of the regiment and the anarchist bastion in Moscow, he was shot to death inside the military commissariat. The Bolsheviks claimed it was an accident. Subsequently, Lenin and Trotsky disbanded the Dvinsk Regiment and all the other revolutionary units that had taken part in the fighting in the October Revolution.
Over time, it became clear to the Bolsheviks that eliminating individual figures would not be enough. In June 1918, the Bolsheviks were preparing to introduce war communism. They would need a military fully under their control, capable of carrying out any atrocity—much like the tsarist army that had upheld the old system. So they abolished of worker control, canceled the election of officers, re-instituted saluting, drastically increased the pay and privileges for the officers, imposed top-down discipline, carried out a massive recruitment of old tsarist officers, and fully integrated the Cheka—the political police—with the military. By the end of the Russian Civil War, 83% of Red Army officers had served under the tsar.
While the Bolsheviks convinced many tsarist officers to serve in the Red Army by blackmail, holding their families hostage, others served voluntarily, realizing that tsarism was dead and the Bolsheviks were to become the new defenders of privilege. After 1917, the surest way to hold onto their privileges was by becoming communists.
The revolution did not need tsarist officers to succeed. All the prominent leaders of the anarchist formations in the Civil War—Maria Nikiforova, Nestor Makhno, Fyodor Shchuss, Olga Taratuta, Anatoli Zhelezniakov, Novoselov, Lubkov—were chosen by their comrades according to their abilities. They were workers or peasants, but they were among the most effective on the battlefield, frequently defeating White armies that fielded several times more troops. Trotsky repeatedly called Zhelezniakov and Makhno to the front when the White Army was gaining ground against the Red Army.
Considering the authoritarian changes to the Red Army, it is not surprising that in August 1918, the Bolsheviks sought a military solution to the peasant protests. In June, Lenin and Trotsky had decided to make the basis of their power a hierarchical military and a policy of forced requisitioning and mass starvation. This established them as the enemy of the peasants of the workers, provoking a conflict they could only win through force of arms.
If we are to be charitable and believe that Lenin was a sincere revolutionary, we can only conclude that the problem was his Jacobin theory of revolution—in which it was necessary to seize the state in order to impose the revolution through mass terror. Unless we to take the view of many of his contemporaries, who believed that he was simply a power-hungry dictator, the only explanation for his actions is that, conflating the success of the revolution with the seizure of state power, he was willing to put principles aside in order to do whatever was necessary to increase the power of the Soviet government. Yet the more power his government amassed, the more enemies he made, and the more violence was necessary to preserve his position.
Lenin made an alliance with Imperial Germany as a political expedient to free up the Russian army for domestic deployment against the supporters of the Constituent Assembly, but it caused the Left SRs to rebel. The Bolsheviks had to crack down on anarchists in April 2018 because anarchist propaganda and criticisms of the Bolshevik government were mobilizing increasing numbers of supporters, but this caused anarchists to redouble their efforts. After the Bolsheviks gave Ukraine away to Germany, they need war communism in order to feed the cities without giving concessions to the peasants. But war communism provoked more peasant protests. To stop the protests, Lenin crushed them with military force, and this catalyzed actual popular uprisings against the communist state.
An iatrogenic condition is an illness caused by medical treatment. As the song goes, “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly…”
At the end of August 2018, SR Fanny Kaplan carried out the first attempt on Lenin’s life. Immediately thereafter, the Bolsheviks instituted the policy of Red Terror. They claimed that the Terror was necessary to defend the revolution from a White conspiracy—but in reality, the White Army had not yet begun any effective offensive. The immediate causes of the Terror were the criticisms, protests, and attacks that the Bolsheviks were facing from anarchists, SRs, and the ordinary workers and peasants whose interests Lenin claimed to represent.
The purpose of the Terror was to defend the Bolsheviks from the Revolution. The authoritarian political character of their project becomes clear from a statement in the Bolshevik press: “Anyone who dares spread the slightest rumor against the Soviet regime will be immediately arrested and sent to the concentration camps.” This was a reference to the gulag system, already established after just ten months of Bolshevik authority, part of the apparatus of Bolshevik repression that would eventually claim millions of lives.
Today, one hundred years after the Bolsheviks turned their newly consolidated military might against protesting peasants, we can reflect on the folly of their strategy, and any similar belief that the state has revolutionary potential as a tool for liberating the masses. The state can only preserve its existence by controlling and repressing the masses. By very nature, it is a counterrevolutionary instrument.
The Bolshevik party contained many sincere revolutionaries, but they surrendered their free will to the dictates of a hierarchical party. In obeying their leaders, in believing in the revolutionary potential of the state, they became torturers, censors, jailers, and executioners. Those who refused, those who opted for more peaceful approaches or for tactics based in solidarity, were pushed out of the way. Only the bloodiest and most ruthless could rise in the party ranks, egged on by Lenin himself. Just ten months after seizing power, the Bolsheviks already had a functioning system of hit men, secret police, and concentration camps for revolutionaries who refused to accept their authority, and they were ready to use mass murder against the peasants and workers who did not bow down before them.
From there, it only got worse.
Paul Avrich, “Russian Anarchism and the Civil War,” The Russian Review. Vol.27 No.3: 296–306. July 1968.
Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists. Oakland: AK Press, 2006.
Nick Heath, “Bolshevik Repression against Anarchists in Vologda,” libcom.org October 15 2017
Nadezhda Krupskaya, “Illyich Moves to Moscow, His First Months of Work in Moscow” Reminiscences of Lenin. International Publishers, 1970.
George Leggett. The Cheka: Lenin’s Political Police. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Lenin, “Telegram to the Penza Gubernia Executive Committee of the Soviets” in J. Brooks and G. Chernyavskiy, Lenin and the Making of the Soviet State: A Brief History with Documents (2007). Bedford/St Martin’s: Boston and New York, p.77
James Ryan. Lenin’s Terror: The Ideological Origins of Early Soviet State Violence. London: Routledge, 2012.
Voline, The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921. New York: Free Life Editions, 1974.
Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Panne, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stephane Courtois, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.
In the United States, a practically unprecedented prison strike is underway, setting new precedents for coordination between struggles in prisons and detention centers and for solidarity from those not behind bars. Meanwhile, August 23-30 is also the sixth annual week of global solidarity with anarchist prisoners, when anarchists around the world coordinate solidarity struggles between different countries and continents. We strongly believe that every prisoner is a political prisoner, and that the best way to support anarchist prisoners is to build a movement against the prison-industrial complex itself. At the same time, the week of global solidarity is an excellent opportunity to get context from our comrades in other parts of the world about the different strategies of repression that various governments are employing today and how to counter them.
In the following text, we’ll explore contemporary patterns of repression targeting anarchists around the world and some of the ways that movements have responded. Looking at this as a microcosm of the way that repression functions in relation to the broader population can give us a way to understand prisoner solidarity as one part of wider struggles against prisons and towards freedom for all people. As anarchists, we aim to analyze state tactics of repression in order to develop better security practices, build international connections, and become more skilled at supporting and caring for each other.
Waves of Repression, 2017-2018
The first two decades of the 21st century have seen steadily intensifying repression directed towards anarchists and their comrades. Some of the most widely known examples of the past few years include the Tarnac case in France, an investigation of “terrorism” that started in 2008 and concluded this year with the defendants completely exonerated; Operations Pandora, Piñata, and Pandora 2 in Spain, which began in December 2014 and concluded this year; Scripta Manent in Italy, since 2017; Operation Fenix in the Czech Republic, since spring 2015; the raids the police have been carrying out across Europe since the battle of Hamburg in summer 2017; the Warsaw Three arson case in Poland, 2016-2017; and mass repression in the United States resulting from the occupation of Standing Rock and the resistance to Trump’s inauguration, the latter case finally having concluded this past July. We are also witnessing ongoing repression in Belarus dictatorship and Russia, most recently with the “Network” case.
All around the world, states and their police forces choose from the same assortment of tactics to achieve the same ends. The specific choices they make vary according to their context, but the toolbox and the fundamental objectives are the same.
For example, the same computer programs are used in many different countries to carry out online censorship. In some countries, they are only used to shut down a few websites, while elsewhere, they block a vast array of content; but the same principle is at work in both cases, and all it would take for the former situation to become the latter would be for the authorities to check a few more boxes in their repression software. The same goes for other forms of police repression. This shows how the difference between a supposedly permissive liberal democracy and an autocratic dictatorship is quantitative, not qualitative.
When police in one part of the world develop a new strategy or begin to employ a specific tactic more often, that often spreads to other police agencies around the world. For example, we can draw a line between the various entrapment cases in the United States—Eric McDavid, David McKay, Bradley Crowder, Matthew DePalma, the NATO 3, the Cleveland 5—and the subsequent Operation Fenix case in the Czech Republic, in which agents provocateurs attempted to seduce people into planning an attack on a military train and attacking a police eviction squad with Molotov cocktails. In the beginning, Operation Fenix was framed as a campaign against the Network of Revolutionary Cells, a network that had claimed responsibility for various arsons against police and capitalists; at the end, it concluded as an unsuccessful attempt to stigmatize anarchists and restore the legitimacy of the Czech police in the eyes of the public.
Likewise, we can also understand Operation Fenix in the context of decades of efforts from police in Italy, the US, France, Spain, and elsewhere to set a precedent for fabricating terrorist conspiracy cases with which to discredit and imprison anarchists. Viewed individually, the Marini trial in Italy, the Tarnac 9 case, Operations Pandora and Piñata, and Operation Fenix are nothing more than perplexing examples of prosecutorial overreach. But when we consider them as part of a global pattern in which the repressive forces of the state have been seeking a new method via which to neutralize the networks that connect popular social movements, we can recognize what they all have in common. In this context, it also becomes clear how the Russian tactic of torturing arrestees into signing false confessions could spread to other countries, if we don’t take steps immediately to publicize it. This is why it is important to take a global approach to studying state strategies of repression.
Growing International Police Cooperation
Across the globe, police forces are cooperating more than ever before. Continent-wide repression in Europe shows international police collaboration and the extremist and terrorist laws in action.
The recent Aachen bank robbery case in Germany illustrates this: a European arrest warrant, the sharing of intelligence between police forces, and the intensification of cooperation between various legal authorities following two bank expropriations in 2013 and 2014. Spanish and German police cooperated in obtaining the DNA of the alleged expropriators, who were convicted of robbing the Pax Bank, the bank of the Catholic Church.
We can also see evidence of this trend in the last case connected to the SHAC campaign (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty), which targeted current animal liberation prisoner, Sven van Hasselt. Six European states collaborated in his arrest.
We are also seeing police in different countries exchanging education and experience on a more organized basis. For example, the College of European Police (CEPOL) held a seminar about terrorism in Greece in July 2012, at which the Italian authorities offered an in-depth overview of the repressive measures they have used against the insurrectionary anarchist movement. The European Police Office (EUROPAL) publishes an annual report, the Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE-SAT), in which you can find a chapter dedicated to supposed left-wing and anarchist “terrorism.” This kind of collaboration has gained momentum in other venues, such as the European Union Intelligence and Situation Center (SitCen); European Union Member States also cooperate on the legal level through institutions like Eurojust.
Governments in the Global North routinely equip and train states in the Global South to employ their technology and repression strategies. For example, Germany and Israel made a fortune equipping Brazil ahead of the 2014 World Cup. In an extreme example of this Great Britain is now looking to outsource imprisonment to Africa, building a new prison wing in Nigeria. All of these are good reasons to interlink our struggles.
Terrorism Discourse and Legislation
Laws and rhetoric against “extremism” and “terrorism” are some of the most powerful contemporary tools to criminalize and delegitimize social struggles. Many states developed anti-terrorist laws as a result of the previous generation of political movements, such as the Basque independence groups in the Spanish State or the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany in the 1970s. In a way, this can make the framework of “terrorism” somewhat outdated when it comes to contemporary social movements, which usually lack formal hierarchies like the RAF.
The chief function of the “terrorism” framework is to legitimize the suspension of legal rights, in order to empower police to employ unlimited surveillance, indefinite detention without charges or trial, total isolation in prison, torture—all the tactics that were once used to maintain colonial regimes, monarchies, and dictatorships. Since September 11, 2001 and the declaration of the so-called “war on terror,” anti-terrorist laws have been upgraded all around the world to make these tactics available to repress anyone who might be able to threaten the stability of the reigning order.
This is why the most liberal European democracy can concur with the authorities of a virtual dictatorship like Putin’s Russia that the same legal framework should be used against both anarchists who defend the public against police violence and fundamentalists who carry out attacks on random civilians for the Islamic State. These two cases have nothing in common in terms of tactics or values or goals; the one thing that connects them is that they both contest the centralized power of the prevailing government.
Repression: An International Language with Local Dialects
“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”
There are some new developments in the field of state repression. For example, we see an rapid development in repression tactics in Russia with the example of the “Network” case, in which many activists have been kidnapped, threatened, beaten, and tortured via electroshocks, hanging upside down, and other methods. Using these tactics, the officers of the Russian Security Forces (FSB, the successor to the KGB) have forced arrestees to sign false confessions corroborating the existence of an invented group called “the Network” which was allegedly planning to carry out the terrorist attacks during the presidential elections in March 2018 and the FIFA World Cup. These tactics created an atmosphere of fear, isolation and uncertainty in Russia, making it very difficult to mobilize solidarity.
The innovation here is using torture to confirm the existence of a “terrorist network” invented by the state. Torture itself is not a new thing to anarchists and other prisoners in post-Soviet countries; it remains one of the most powerful tools in the context of a penal system that is notoriously corrupt and permissive towards the police, giving them even less legal oversight than police experience in places like the United States. The Russian and Belarusian contexts are distinct in that in both cases, the state is openly authoritarian, not hesitating to crack down violently even on basic forms of expression such as banner drops.
Currently, this strategy seems to be working in Russia and Belarus, but in the long run heavy-handed oppression makes the authorities vulnerable to sudden outbursts of pent-up anger. In Belarus, for example, despite tremendous pressure from the totalitarian government, anarchists were at the forefront of one of the most powerful social movements of 2017.
By contrast, in the “Western” countries, we see more legalistic strategies of repression, such as extreme bail and release conditions that function to isolate and pacify individuals via attrition. This presents subtler forms of repression that are more socially acceptable to those who like to think of themselves as the citizens of a democracy. One police research report described the repression of the SHAC campaign as a process of “leadership decapitation” achieved through lengthy prison sentences and extreme bail and post-prison conditions aimed at absolutely isolating people from their movements.
Police cooperation between different European states does not always take the same form. For example, while Greek, Italian and German conferences take place regarding anarchist “terrorism” and “extremism,” countries that have experienced fewer militant actions and less popular unrest employ different approaches. Many states carry out intelligence gathering in the guise of academic research in “extremism and terrorism studies,” in order to monitor the presence of particular ideas or tactics. This was clear in the Czech Republic, where such studies were used to analyze the local anarchist movement. For example, despite lacking any demonstrable links to the FAI/FRI or Conspiracy of Cells of Fire, recent anarchist actions in Czech Republic from the aforementioned Network of Revolutionary Cells were described and charged mostly via academic and police research that presented them as a manifestation of the former groups.
Learning from Successful Support Campaigns
“We learn a thousand times more from defeat than we do from a victory”
-Ed Mead, member of George Jackson Brigade and Men against Sexism, long-term anarchist prisoner and gay liberationist
It’s not easy to measure the effectiveness of repression. A campaign of repression could be said to succeed if the targets receive prison sentences—or if the movement they are associated with is effectively divided, pacified, or destroyed—or if the social struggle that the movement is engaged in becomes co-opted.
So, for example, you could say that Operation Fenix was unsuccessful because the legal charges that were pressed did not succeed. However, Czech police were able to collect an enormous data on the anarchist movement in the Czech Republic—and despite failing to win the case against the defendants, they succeeded in implanting anti-terrorist rhetoric and “anti-extremism” sentiment in the public discourse. Yet, despite this, Czech anarchists gained a lot of support from all around the world, which was very important for the people who were behind bars, isolated and charged with extremism.
One the most inspiring recent support campaigns was the defense of the J20 arrestees in the US, a case that ended in almost complete defeat for the state. We can see another inspiring example under much less favorable conditions in the campaign against the ongoing “Network” terrorist case in Russia, where defendants’ parents have created a “Parents’ Network” supporting their children and opposing the totalitarian regime.
Undertaking Movement Defense
Repression often imposes isolation and other hardships. Everyone is unique, but in general, those on the receiving end of repression need some of the same things: financial support, emotional support, support for the family and friends of defendants, secure or at least reliable channels of communication, publicity about the case, and—most importantly—continuing the struggle.
Different groups can play different roles in the fight against repression. There are groups that form in order to react when repression hits, such as the campaign to support the J20 defendants, or Solidarat Rebel, which spreads information about the Aachen bank robbing case, or the Antifenix initiative, which promotes analysis and resistance against Operation Fenix in the Czech Republic. These projects are very important in that they respond to an immediate and urgent need for support. There are also groups that maintain consistent long-term anti-repression organizing, such as the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC). The Anarchist Black Cross is an international network of anarchist groups engaged in practical solidarity with prisoners that is now a century old.
We can work to counter repression on several levels. We can raise awareness about the usefulness of security culture and the different tactics of repression so as to prepare for the inevitable response of the state to our efforts to create a better world. We can also build up material resources—raising money to pay legal fees and related expenses such as travel costs and to support prisoners during their sentences and when they are released. This can involve organizing fundraising events or seeking donations in other ways. Most importantly, we have to provide care and emotional support to the targets of oppression and to others who support them.
Finally, we can spread information about legal cases and prisoners and how to do support work through various media channels including websites, pamphlets, podcasts, books, speaking tours, and social networks both virtual and real. For example, this zine composed by various ABC groups around Europe introduces the basics of Anarchist Black Cross organizing.
We have to understand our efforts to support specific prisoners as part of a much broader struggle against prisons themselves. If we are already organizing in solidarity with prisoners in general, anarchist prisoners will be in a much better position. That means supporting prisoner organizing, sending reading material and resources to prisoners, acting in solidarity outside the prisons when prisoners revolt, and spreading a popular discourse that identifies what everyone stands to gain from dismantling the prison-industrial complex.
From a Week of Solidarity to Prison Abolition
Anarchists are fighting on the front lines of the struggle against prison society alongside other poor people, people of color, indigenous people, and everyone else who is targeted by the prison system worldwide.
The sixth annual week of solidarity with anarchist prisoners is one of many opportunities to connect all these different struggles, seeking to set an example of what long-term coordinated anti-repression work might look like. The date of the beginning of the week is the anniversary of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian-American anarchists, in 1927. They were convicted with very little evidence, punished above all for their anarchist views.
Anarchists are not always the chief targets of the state, which often prioritizes attacks on people of African heritage, migrants, Muslims, and other ethnic groups on the receiving end of colonial violence. Nevertheless, we are almost always somewhere on the list of targets because our values and our actions threaten the hegemony of the state. Prison is the glue that holds capitalism, patriarchy, and racism together. As we strive for a society based on cooperation, mutual aid, freedom, and equality, we inevitably come into conflict with the police and the prison system. Let’s build a broad movement against them.
So long as there are prisons, the most courageous, sensitive, and beautiful among us will end up inside them, and the most courageous, sensitive, and beautiful parts of the rest of us will be inaccessible to us. Every one of us can become a prisoner. No one is truly free until all of us are free.
Till All Are Free—the hub organizing the International Week of Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners
As the effects of the toppling of the Confederate statue at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill continue to ripple out, we’ve obtained two narratives of the night’s events. The first statement is from Maya Little, the Black graduate student who helped catalyze the revolt against the statue by participating in a sit-in against it and then, when that did not succeed, dousing it in paint and her own blood. The second is from another anonymous anarchist, who connects the victory in Chapel Hill with the events of “All Out August,” a month of resistance to fascism, prisons, police, and other manifestations of white supremacy and oppression.
Whose Streets? A Statement from Maya Little
On Monday night, August 20, 2018, students, workers, neighbors, and comrades reclaimed Chapel Hill in an ungovernable enactment of justice. We marched in our streets and the badged and unbadged racists moved out of the way. We looked out for each other and refused to yield when fascists and cops attacked our comrades. We memorialized and reawakened histories of resistance against the white supremacist institution and its followers and honored the martyred Black and Brown people in our area. People masked up in force rather than in isolation, limiting the power of fascists and police. Finally, the statue was pulled from its plinth and Silent Sam’s smirking face was buried in the dirt. For the first time, we stood taller than Silent Sam.
This victory, cathartic and much more collective than previous efforts, challenged sanitized historical production, directed the conflict against the racist university, and aligned intersections of resistance against the institution to demand action alongside the most marginalized in our community.
In focusing on reclaiming and recovering histories of Black and Brown resistance, unlike objectified, depersonalized, and passive academic histories, the protest chose targets that rendered explicit the commitments to white supremacy that UNC and Chapel Hill maintain to this day. The focus on physical spaces brought UNC’s shadowy behavior to light, challenging the university’s abuse of Black students and workers. By directing attention to the protected existence of monuments, buildings, and plaques produced specifically to honor oppressors, organizers connected these physical racist symbols to years of racist policing, gentrification, and abuse of Black and Brown workers, students, and community members. In recontextualizing these racist monuments, Black students expressed solidarity with Charlottesville and memorialized Sandra Bland and the countless people of color murdered in our area. The fact that these were physical targets also enabled activists to reimagine spaces through the recovery of resistance histories—for example, in the Hurston Hall movement, the plaques put up to honor Pauli Murray, and the planting of placards last spring detailing many of the acts of police brutality and protest in Silent Sam’s last 50 years.
At every step, the university opposed activists, confiscated materials, and used surveillance and harassment to stop the recovery and rejoicing in reclamation. It remains important for the university to portray resistance as an outlier, the unusual behavior of so-called “outside agitators.” This is why Monday’s 20-foot-tall banners memorializing the many murdered by white supremacy and honoring “Those who have fought against the white supremacy UNC upholds” were a critical element, helping to create an alternate campus that empowered and brought together anti-racist protestors without chancellors, police, or city officials.
The banners not only presented a different vision—they became our own plaques, our own memorials. Students, workers, and community members carried and protected the banners, using them to create a space that police and fascists could not take back. We carried them, fought for them, and worked together to put those banners up surrounding Silent Sam.
The violence that police demonstrated in response to our protecting the banners clarified their opposition to our freedom and united people in reclaiming the area. This demonstration did not involve marginalized people acting alone or demonstrators alienated from a sense of struggle. We were connected by our resistance to the united front of cops and Confederates.
Along with other Black students, I spoke about the pain and danger of being daily abused under Silent Sam’s gaze by our university and racist visitors. This time, instead of behaving like hesitant and elevated allies, white students, workers, and comrades acted as “supportive accomplices.” As people acted together, the banners were put up and the statue taken down. Backed into a corner and afraid of our power, the university has revealed that all it really knows how to do is to repress and seek revenge.
Their racist monument was taken down in an act of community power. Now UNC chancellor Carol Folt, the cops, and city and state officials in Raleigh are scared. Along with Harry Smith, Margaret Spellings, and Haywood Cochrane, Folt issued the boldest statement that I have ever seen from the Chancellor’s Office. They promised retribution for the toppling of the statue through the use of extensive university and state funds supported by the SBI. Direct action and confrontation with the university and its police has been the only way to draw the administrators and cops out of their usual equivocating and shadowy operations to show their real colors. White demonstrators witnessed the force that the university regularly uses to crush Black dissent.
The demonstration last year, the marking of the statue with blood, and the memorialization and toppling on Monday have forced the admins and cops into a corner and now they bare their teeth. That’s good. They fear the commitment to justice that we demonstrate; thereby, they make clear what they actually care about: money and maintaining white supremacy.
Fear was also present in the announcement of the expected results of the historical commission planned for Wednesday, August 22, a microcosm of every institution in this country and the obsessive need to compromise at the expense of Black lives. In this fear and in the aftermath of seeing what ungovernability can look like, in Raleigh we saw a show of force by the state in direct opposition to justice. Valerie Johnson, the sole Black commission member, quoted MLK in the minority vote in favor of monument removal: “American history is replete with compromise. The Missouri compromise that spread of slavery, Plessy v. Ferguson. Let’s not continue compromising.”
And yet they did—the reformists acted as they always do, choosing comforts over equality. They further insult the North Carolinian Black and Brown heroes by deciding to place their statues next to the massive, suffocating monuments dedicated to the racists who murdered them. Yet only two days after Silent Sam’s toppling, the institution again met resistance. One woman stood up to read a statement against the racist statues and was immediately mobbed by police and dragged to a vehicle outside. The mere hint of dissent is beginning to frighten them more and more.
In every instance of action, whether it be the clever renaming of UNC buildings after Hitler and David Duke by students supporting Hurston Hall in 1999, the guerrilla history connecting resistances, or a crowd coming together to run off UNC police and topple a 105-year-old statue celebrating the Confederacy, we have seen clearly which side the university stands on. The university, its leadership, and its institutions do not stand with us. We want liberation, they want to push their brand. We topple white supremacy, they uphold it.
Moving forward, looking to the courageous rebellions taking place against white supremacy on a broader basis such as the national prison strike and the unrelenting demonstrations for Black lives in Chicago and Toledo, we can draw inspiration from the actions in Chapel Hill on Monday night. In recovering the histories of resistance, in taking direct action against racism, surveillance, neoliberalism, greed, and institutional power, we brought about a new togetherness and a demonstration of our own power.
All Out August: A Statement from an Anonymous Anarchist
The actions of August 20 in Chapel Hill took place against the backdrop of a tumultuous month many have taken to calling All Out August. Starting as a joint social media and poster campaign among several informal autonomous anti-fascist networks across the so-called US and Canada, the hashtag rapidly came to stand for more than just countering far-right rallies.
This campaign became a nationwide effort encompassing several different issues—a modest attempt to present a common narrative tying together many different demonstrations, including some supporting the prison strike that began on August 21. This seems to have succeeded in addressing people beyond established anarchist and antifascist networks, strengthening popular mobilizations against various forms of fascism from Portland and Austin to DC and Chapel Hill and blurring the lines between ordinary demonstrators and those sometimes called “militants.”
The following personal reflection on a few moments of joy and determination on the streets of a sleepy Southern university town aims to highlight how this happened.
By only a few minutes after 7 pm, the entire plaza was overflowing with protestors. The energy was already palpable—the tone serious, hundreds of people silently giving the speakers their full attention. Students of color spoke of how the statue functioned as a reminder that they were not welcome on this campus, that they were not safe. Two Black students vowed to wear nooses around their necks from that day until the statue’s removal as their own reminder of what Silent Sam represents to them. Thanks to a combination of luck, determination, and uncompromising direct action, they only had to follow through on their vow for a few hours.
After a rowdy and inspiring round of speeches below the backdrop of the twenty-foot-tall gray banners that would soon shroud Silent Sam forever, the crowd was invited to march across the street to the statue. As speakers finished, they openly expressed their support and solidarity for the people who would be masking up—in defiance of North Carolina’s mask law—to help protect their identities from far-right doxxing and state surveillance. Over the microphone, we were reminded that those who dedicate their lives to fighting racism and fascism must sometimes cover their faces to protect themselves.
We pulled the freshly printed Carolina blue bandanas across our faces: three arrows pointing down alongside the words “SAM MUST FALL.” Solidarity was written across our faces. More banners appeared out of nowhere. The electricity in the crowd grew.
As soon as we crossed the street, the 10 or so cops that had been hanging around the statue attempted a show of force by targeting those who were wearing masks. They walked into the crowd, taking their authority for granted, yelling at each demonstrator clad in Carolina blue, “Remove your mask! Take your mask off!” Some pulled their masks down temporarily; the police unsuccessfully attempted to rip masks off other comrades. The police thought they had an opportunity to separate the troublemakers from well-meaning non-confrontational student protestors and went in to arrest several masked individuals. They thought this show of power could weaken us, giving them the upper hand. Not this time. This time, we wouldn’t be stopped, we wouldn’t be scared. We were more powerful than them and we knew it.
The moment the cops went in to snatch several of our comrades, dozens more came to their aid. Banners appeared between the grabbing hands of the police and the fast-moving protestors; people held tight to those who were targeted. Smoke erupted, and a human tug of war ensued. A crowd surrounded the few visibly confused officers, chanting fiercely. Of the several people the officers tried to apprehend for covering their faces, they only successfully captured one. One very large officer covered the arrestee with his entire body, and the determined crowd was unable to remove his massive weight. (The arrestee didn’t report any injuries, and only was charged with two misdemeanors). Later, we learned that a police officer only a few feet away from the confrontation had reached for his gun.
The police were thoroughly distracted by the melee. The four gray banners were already almost entirely installed around the statue by the time they regained their bearings. Once the rowdy crowd realized it could do no more for this one comrade, people retreated to the statue, surrounded it with a ring of additional banners. During these chaotic initial moments, a lone white supremacist tried to intervene and succeeded in pulling down one of the gray banners encircling Silent Sam, but it was quickly reclaimed and the aggressor was ejected from the crowd. We were everywhere at once—unarresting our friends, removing fascists from our midst, putting up banners, chanting, moving, taking care of each other.
This moment defined the evening. The police had assumed that this crowd could be tamed. Yet as soon as we arrived at the plaza, we were a single defiant force with one goal clear before us, although none of us expected to accomplish it that very night. The students, teachers, alumni, anarchists, and community members of all kinds were together in this moment, tired of waiting for politicians to give us concessions. The crowd was diverse in age, race, and background, but that night there were none of the disagreements that have become so commonplace in demonstrations. There were no apologists demanding that we stop trying to rescue our comrades from the hands of the police. Confused by our unity and determination, the police stood back. They knew that any moves against any of us would be difficult and potentially dangerous.
Elated by our initial victory, we lost track of time surrounding the statue; it could have been moments or hours. No longer visible, Silent Sam was shrouded on all sides by a wall of gray. The words “For a world without white supremacy” waved valiantly over where Sam had stood as a threat to students of color for one hundred and five years. The other banners formed a line, creating a visual display of resistance. A few police and random fascists stood around the edges of the quad.
A distance opened, and those of us holding banners began to feel exposed to police and other attackers. At that moment, the crowd of joyous, uncompromising marchers encircled the monument, singing, dancing, chanting, and keeping our energy alive. This seemed to indicate that at least some of the demonstrators were aware that the police would target the people holding banners first in order to take out a line of defense. It would be harder to justify this if a crowd of “normal-looking” students surrounded this line with locked arms, chanting. It was becoming ever clearer that this time, no one was interested in the usual divisions around tactics that often hinder our activity.
We all stood around, unsure of our next move. We had made it to our goal quickly, surprising ourselves. We thought it was over and it seemed the crowd was about to thin out. As the night fell, the summer heat did not lift, and we were all hot and tired, yet ready for more. Some rowdy folks got on the microphone and led some new chants:
“How do you spell Nazi? “C-O-P”!”
“Say no no to the po po!”
“Nat Turner, John Brown, anti-racists run this town!”
Someone finally got a sound system working, playing loud political hip-hop. A small dance party ensued. Once we began to lift up our spirits again, the crowd began to move. We spilled out into the street; linking arms in a classic form of resistance and solidarity, we moved together down to the next intersection. Pink smoke rose from the crowd and we formed a ring around the intersection, still arm in arm. We all faced each other, joined together with our new friends. We stood a moment in rest, listening to the voices of students of color on the megaphone, calling out the names of the revolutionaries who came before us. There was a solidarity in the air that words can hardly describe—hundreds of strangers who had come together, done what we needed to, and now held each other up. The line between street action that is categorized as confrontational and action that is described as “non-violent” became blurred. We linked arms to hold space, to breathe and celebrate together.
As we marched, we refused to let the fascists who wanted to bait us into argument distract us; however, we did not compromise in pushing them from our ranks. This occurred over and over that night. While we would never shed tears for a bigot who got himself bloodied, the crowd was wise to use just enough force to expel these people from our ranks and no more. The straggling right-wingers didn’t pose much of an immediate physical threat; outnumbering them, screaming in their faces, and shoving them beyond an established perimeter held by banners did the trick without causing a brawl that could have distracted us from our goals. Even when it came to people deploying smoke bombs, those only seemed to appear at the right moments, to serve as a distraction or conceal activities. These tactical decisions were made in the moment, between friends and strangers alike. For a few rare hours, we knew our power.
Our celebratory moment in the street ended when shouts rang out that some people had stayed behind at the statue and were now facing harassment. There was no hesitation among the crowd to return to the site for our comrades. We came marching back, much to the surprise of the small line of police trying in vain to protect Silent Sam. They were soon surrounded by an angry crowd; some tossed empty water bottles at them. These served as warning shots, letting them know that we meant business. This was our moment, our place. Their laws and their violence meant nothing to us. They stood fast at first with fear and confusion visible on their faces. But as soon as the bottles flew, the police immediately tapped each other on the shoulder to back off in retreat.
A few lone right-wingers remained, insisting that they were “just bystanders.” In the moment, this was obvious code, as they refused to join in the protest or get out of the way. The crowd opened, offering them a path out. When they refused, they were pushed through this opening; they turned around, fists cocked, only to find a crowd of masked people confronting them, and banners quickly shutting behind to block their view of those who had just removed them. Like tattletales in elementary school, they ran to the police: “Mr. Officer! They shoved me!” Once again, we let the police know that they did not rule over us. The march down the block had renewed us and we were ready for anything.
The night was built of moments like this. Fascists repeatedly tried to stand among us to gather intelligence but were immediately identified and neutralized. We always began by telling them to leave; then people around them would begin to chant in hopes of driving them out with voices. If this was not enough, one quick push could get them out of the crowd. A banner would move into place between the fascists and the crowd, and we could shift our attention to other things. Everyone seemed to have a similar understanding that we would set our boundaries very clearly with both the police and the fascists but never let them distract us from our goal.
It must also be said that there were many other bystanders who came to watch; these people were more than welcome and some joined in. Those who had brought banners often passed them on to enthusiastic newcomers who had been observing how to use them as defensive tools against state surveillance and attacks. The media will always describe us as “an angry mob,” attempting to foment fear about the threat we supposedly pose to the community, but that’s just propaganda. The only people who were unsafe in this situation were the thinly-veiled fascists who support monuments to white supremacy and advocate for the genocide of Black people and other people of color. They should be afraid. On the night of August 20, even the police had nothing to fear as long as they didn’t try to arrest any of us. All genuine bystanders, community members, and future troublemakers are welcome to join us.
Once police and fascists were cleared from the statue, word spread that it was going to come down. A rope had materialized around Silent Sam’s neck. We all moved out of the way; despite the chancellor’s fear-mongering statement later that night, there was never any risk that the statue would fall onto any of us. We all stepped back together to see if it would fall. To be honest, for a moment, we didn’t believe it was possible. The chants that had filled the air fell silent as we all waited in anticipation.
After a few seconds of pulling to no avail, a deep metal grating noise rang out and we knew that Silent Sam would stand no more. We erupted in uninhibited joy and shrieks of delight as the statue lurched through the gray banners and fell into the dirt. All at once we were jumping, hugging, crying in disbelief. Immediately, multiple clouds of pink and orange smoke rose up; people began throwing dirt on the statue as it lay face down in the mud. Banners were unfurled once again as people danced together and embraced.
As our cheers died down and we pulled our masks from our smiling faces, the rain that had been forecast all evening finally began to fall. This perfect timing completed a night that already felt magical and surreal. It was as if the natural forces were working with us, aligned with us, and now we could cool off from the heat and begin to wash away all the pain that Silent Sam’s legacy has inflicted upon all our communities. Those struggles are far from over, but that moment was ours. The rain grew heavy; jubilant and still alight with adrenaline, we disappeared into the night.
For those of us who have dedicated ourselves to a life of struggle towards liberation from capitalism, the state, white supremacy, and oppression in all the other forms it assumes, it’s easy to become accustomed to losing. Over the centuries of our struggle and the years of our own lives, we have experienced so many losses that we dare not count them. The powers that be rip through our communities and try to break us, yet we keep going. We lick our wounds and continue forward because that is the only direction we know how to go.
When Silent Sam made his nosedive into the dirt of the university, we remembered what it was like to win. These tiny moments are a breath of fresh air; they are the fuel that keeps the fires within us burning. It is like falling in love again after heartbreak—we know that it may not last forever, but it is worth it. It is worth everything they will try to do to destroy us, because we know what it is like to feel alive.
The joy that we felt when the statue fell is the joy we feel when we take control of our own lives. We are raised to believe that someone else will solve our problems for us, that we must rely on the police or the state to change the conditions of our existence. In North Carolina, the state has don us a favor by literally barring politicians from removing the statue, leaving direct action the only option. Once we learn what it is like to taste freedom, we never forget. Felling the statue with our own hands provided the kind of catharsis that could actually heal some of the wounds that 500 years of colonization, slavery, and oppression have left on our collective psyche.
Imagine the statue being removed by the city at a designated time by people paid to wear yellow safety vests! Would we have felt that sense of victory in that moment? Or would we have just felt a muted satisfaction, perhaps even a touch of resentment at the officials smiling smugly for the photo op, proud to benefit from the one concession they have given to the same communities that their police officers murder with impunity, harass daily, and kidnap to fill their jails and prisons? Our elation in this moment of healing is so powerful because we took it for ourselves, because we worked together as a community to establish our autonomy and self-determination. We were effective because for a few hours, we did not fight with each other. We allowed people to be confrontational, militant, and assertive without policing each other, and we eschewed any unnecessary escalation that would have distracted from our goals.
There is an argument that our success was only possible because of a police force that was not heavily invested in protecting the statue. There may be truth in this, though the police will surely deny it; but in any case, we know that our success was our own. There was a palpable affinity amongst the crowd: though strangers, we came together with a single goal, and we learned quickly how to work together. This also attests to the organizers reading the situation correctly. If a police force is not able to muster the will to act, why not take advantage of their weakness to solve a longstanding problem? We struck a blow that will ring out for a long time.
At the same time, this brings up questions about how some of the authorities might try to use the outrage surrounding monuments to recuperate our struggles into more state-approved methods of so-called social change. How will “progressive” politicians latch on to the “people power” that took down statues in Durham and Chapel Hill to bolster electoral campaigns full of empty promises, that won’t actually shake the foundations of institutionalized white supremacy?
While All Out August still isn’t over, we can begin to see its success in a multitude of ways, as combative solidarity demonstrations have kicked off in multiple cities in support of the prison strike and there are rumors that another monument somewhere else in the South could be next. The so-called “Alt-Right” that attempted to regain its previous momentum has largely failed, with pitiful showings in every city this month besides Portland. Even there, their numbers were dwarfed by the anti-fascist opposition, and they were only able to march on account of extreme violence on the part of the Portland police, who nearly killed a protestor.
One lesson we might glean from all of this is that while it is absolutely necessary to oppose the far right when they attempt to build street power, we’ve been stuck in a reactive loop for the past year. Now we are regaining the initiative. If there is a monument to white supremacy in your town—and they aren’t all Confederate statues—why not take the offensive against it now? In some cities, it has appeared that people are waiting for a far right group to make the first move, but we can see clearly from Chapel Hill that a crowd that takes the initiative can accomplish far more than just impeding a far-right group from organizing.
We must also be thinking about what comes next. All Out August has been a first step towards connecting the legacy of the Confederacy and the enslavement of human beings to contemporary struggles against prisons and police. This is a huge first step, on a national scale, but there is a long way to go. How can we make these connections with even more clarity? Not just through posters and hashtags, but with actions on the ground, with real people? How do we increase our capacity to block ICE operations and to defend those actions against fascist intervention, while connecting the fight against ICE with the fight against colonial exploitation of the land? We’ve seen glimpses of these moments in the streets—through the clouds of smoke following the fall of a statue that came down with the complicity of people who might have called masked demonstrators “troublemakers” just a year ago.
As we desire for these actions to spread, we know that our victory in the streets of Chapel Hill was the product of creativity, flexibility, and uncompromising solidarity. It does not stand alone in the fabric of history, but rests on a foundation of decades of effort. We won because we refused to fight each other, because we set the terms of how we would take the space. We won because we seized the moment and learned to work together. We won because we took the opportunity to turn our desires into action. That moment reminded us that when we build collectively, look out for each other, and take control of our lives, even a small group of people can topple giants.
We saw that even something that seems permanent and inevitable might actually be nothing more than a hunk of cheap bronze shoddily attached to a pile of concrete. It doesn’t take that much to see it come crashing down.
After 12 years of fruitless searching, federal agents have captured Joseph Dibee, accused participant in the Earth Liberation Front. Dibee is charged with arson and conspiracy. The following statement from our collective, It’s Going Down, and a network of anti-fascist groups explores why his case matters today.
In the 1990s, environmentalists and animal rights activists engaged in campaigns to put a stop to climate change, animal exploitation, and the destruction of biodiversity. They shut down board meetings, interrupted construction projects, organized demonstrations and sit-ins, held public outreach events at punk shows and vegan potlucks, liberated animals from captivity, and occasionally utilized vandalism, sabotage, and arson against corporations involved in particularly egregious behavior. Across the world, informally organized groups claimed anonymous actions in the names of the Animal and Earth Liberation Fronts.
International networks grew out of these movements. Struggles emerged against superhighways, gold mines, luxury ski resorts, old-growth logging, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and animal testing facilities on several continents. For years, corporate profiteers had cause to fear that they would face consequences when they perpetrated ecological harm. At that time, it was still possible to imagine that humanity could avert the catastrophe that is unfolding today in the form of ever-rising temperatures, hurricanes, droughts, forest fires, and mass extinctions.
At the turn of the century, federal authorities counterattacked, launching a campaign of repression to crush the Earth Liberation Front and subdue environmental movements of all kinds. Their goal was to protect business interests at any expense—even if that meant making the world uninhabitable. At the same time, increasing attention on climate change from the likes of Al Gore served to professionalize environmental activism, imposing the logic of the non-profit industry and bribing activists to moderate their tactics and targets in return for salaries. This two-pronged assault set back environmental movements a full generation or more.
The cataclysm that is unfolding today can be laid at the doorstep of the law enforcement agencies that have paved the way for it by making it so difficult for ordinary people to defend themselves against ecological devastation. If we don’t stop them, they will frogmarch us directly into the apocalypse, profiting all the way—and when the last well is poisoned and the last forest burns up, they will be the last to die.
The Green Scare
At the end of 2005, the FBI escalated its assault on earth and animal liberation movements with a new wave of indictments. This offensive, dubbed Operation Backfire, was intended to obtain convictions for many of the unsolved Earth Liberation Front arsons of the preceding ten years.
Of those arrested in Operation Backfire, 12 of the accused became federal informants, collaborating with the authorities against their former comrades and the struggle against catastrophic climate change. The collaborators arrested include Stanislas Meyerhoff, Kevin Tubbs, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, Suzanne Savoie, Kendall Tankersley, Jennifer Kolar, Lacey Phillabaum, Darren Thurston, and, much later, Briana Waters. Daniel McGowan, Jonathan Paul, Nathan Block, Joyanna Zacher, Justin Solondz, and Rebecca Rubin all refused to collaborate. William “Avalon” Rodgers passed away in an apparent suicide following his arrest.
This case took place alongside a variety of similar operations, including the proseuctions of Marius Mason, who is still serving a 22-year sentence for environmental sabotage of a GMO facility, Eric McDavid, who served 9 years of a two-decade sentence before a judge threw out his conviction because the prosecution had withheld thousands of pages of exonerating evidence, and other earth and animal liberation prisoners, including Rod Coronado, Jeff “Free” Luers, and Chrisopher McIntosh. The campaign “Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty” faced multiple waves of repression, including the infamous SHAC 7 case, in which all six of the accused served up to six years in prison for maintaining a website. Other people refused to testify before grand juries, a commonly used tool for repressing autonomous movements, and served time for resisting FBI fishing expeditions against environmental activists.
For many years, federal authorities ranked anarchist environmental activism over white supremacist mass shootings and abortion clinic bombings as the number one domestic threat—even though it involved no injuries to human beings whatsoever. Yet despite all the resources they invested in this witch hunt, it took the FBI decades to capture some of their targets. Operation Backfire target Joseph Dibee remained free until August 9, 2018. As of this writing, one of the accused remains at liberty. Our thoughts are with them, wherever they are.
Operation Backfire Defendant Joseph Dibee Arrested in Joint Cuban-US Operation
At 4:53 pm, on August 9, 2018, Joseph Dibee, 50, was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center by federal agents. Detained by authorities at an airport in Cuba, he was brought to Oregon via a secretive international policing operation. The next day, Billy J. Williams, US Attorney for Oregon, announced his arrest. Williams received Donald Trump’s support in 2017 and advocates for even more aggressive repression of undocumented immigrants.
Joseph Dibee is accused of participating in environmental direct action in the 1990s with the Earth/Animal Liberation Front. Specifically, he is accused of participating in the sabotage of a horse slaughtering facility that resulted in the permanent closure of the company. His charges include arson, conspiracy to commit arson, and destruction of an energy facility.
He has been wanted by federal authorities for 12 years, during which he is alleged to have traveled in Mexico, El Salvador, Cuba, Lebanon, Syria, and Russia.
Defend Joseph Dibee—Defend Autonomous Movements
Why is the state still persecuting environmentalists nearly twenty years after actions that never injured anyone? Because as the consequences of resource accumulation and ecological collapse intensify, cracking down on resistance is becoming an ever more urgent priority for the authorities. In The Dawn, Friedrich Nietzsche suggests that you can measure the health of a society according to the number of parasites it can tolerate; today, the custodians of order know that they cannot tolerate any resistance whatsoever, on pain of insurrection.
As prisoners across the country prepare for a nationwide strike against forced labor and undignified conditions, the authorities are preemptively cracking down on organizers. Many rebellious black protesters are imprisoned for attempting to engage in proportionate response to racist extrajudicial police murders in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charlotte, Milwaukee, and elsewhere around the US. Indigenous and non-native water protectors faced unprecedented violence from state counterinsurgency forces and private security firms during the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota. Over 200 anarchists and other anti-fascists faced eight or more felony charges apiece in one of the largest conspiracy cases in US history on account of participating in protests against the inauguration of President Donald Trump, during which anarchists smashed the windows of corporate storefronts, clashed with police, and burned a limousine. Those charges were finally dropped in July after a year and a half of punitive mass intimidation directed at the arrestees.
The state is pouring all its resources into repression at a time when self-organized revolt and mutual aid are needed more than ever. Fascists and neo-Nazis are targeting hurricane relief organizers while Facebook and Google censor radical content online. Tech giants like Amazon and Palantir are working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to capture undocumented people while landlords and developers collaborate with IBM and finance capitalists to reimagine cities emptied of the working class, transforming vibrant and rebellious communities into enclaves for the wealthy.
Joseph Dibee was arrested with the collaboration of Cuban authorities in a coordination between rival authoritarian powers that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. As climate chaos, popular uprisings, and economic uncertainty continue to shake the globe, we are witnessing unprecedented collaboration between states in policing and extradition. It remains to be seen what this means for other rebels from previous eras—such as Assata Shakur, who has lived in Cuba for many decades despite being at the top of the FBI’s “most wanted” list. What is clear is that all who oppose the coordinated international suppression of resistance must organize now to defend those who are currently being targeted, lest the authorities be emboldened to expand their scope still further.
Imagining a New Horizon of Struggle
The resurgence of street-level fascism in the US on the coattails of the Trump campaign is merely the tip of the iceberg. Worldwide, we have seen a wave of reactionary populism that will continue to circumscribe the popular imagination for a number of years. As sea levels rise and natural disasters continue to displace poor and working class people in Latin America, the Middle East, Indochina, and Oceania, warlords, right-wing gangs, xenophobic governments, and broad sections of the wealthy and ruling classes will collaborate to produce fanatical nationalist and life-denying discourses. Refugees from across the world are already being denied safe passage into the gated communities of the global north.
It is no longer realistic to imagine that climate change and ecological chaos can be prevented. But this only makes it more paramount to defend what wildness remains, impose consequences for the most environmentally destructive activity, and defend those who take risks to make the world hospitable for both human and nonhuman life. If we do not want to spend the next century locked in ethno-nationalist, religious, and racial warfare, we have to foster new struggles against climate change and ecological destruction, we have to build mutual aid networks capable of surviving in disaster zones, and we have to resolutely defend everyone who fights for a world without cages. Free Joseph Dibee.
You can send letters of care and encouragement to Joseph. DO NOT write about his case or reference anything illegal. Write him here:
Joseph Dibee #812133
Multnomah County Detention Center
11540 NE Inverness Drive
Portland, Oregon 97220
Working with comrades in Sweden, we have prepared Swedish versions of our classic poster series, What Does Democracy Mean? We’ve also added a new poster in English, “Democracy Means Bureaucracy.” With elections coming up in Sweden on September 9 and in the United States in November, we hope these posters can help to undermine the popular assumption that democracy is the solution for all of the problems it causes and propose an alternative approach based in horizontality, decentralization, and direct action. For more on the anarchist critique of democracy, consult our book, From Democracy to Freedom.
Broadly speaking, democracy and capitalism were stabilized throughout the 20th century via the progressive inclusion of populations that had previously been excluded from the privileges of voting and property ownership. This began with women’s suffrage and the Fordist compromise, continued through desegregation and the end of the European colonial empires, and concluded with the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Since then, almost the entire world has been integrated into neoliberalism, an economic system premised on the ceaseless concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands at the top and a race to the bottom for wage-earners. Now that it is a worldwide system, there are fewer opportunities to draw in resources with which to continue expanding the pyramid scheme.
Between ecological catastrophe and growing inequality, the average participants in globalized capitalism no longer have cause to expect an ever-improving quality of life. State governments are dismantling the programs that once served to offset the vicissitudes of the market, feeding every resource into the fire in order to keep their economies competitive as the crisis accelerates. Contemporary democratic governments preside over an increasingly invasive security apparatus intended to preserve order at any price.
In 2010-2014, a wave of movements around the world proposed to solve these problems with a more participatory democratic model. Yet those movements ended in new dictatorships in Egypt and elsewhere in the global South, while they were reabsorbed into representational politics in Europe and the United States—most notably in the cases of Syriza and Podemos. As these efforts reached their limits, a new generation of far-right and outright fascist politicians used the democratic process to gain power: Golden Dawn in Greece, Donald Trump in the United States, Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, the Lega Nord in Italy, and the Swedish Democrats in Sweden.
In much of the world, faith in democracy is collapsing. The New York Timesreports that in 2017, only 18 percent of Mexicans surveyed said they were satisfied with democracy—a sentiment reflected around much of Latin America. Those who understood democracy as promising liberty, equality, and universal fellowship are discovering that representational politics serves to maintain the old concentrations of power. In this regard, it is a lot like capitalism: it rotates the figures that appear at the apex of power while rendering inequality itself structural and permanent.
Dissatisfaction with democracy will not necessarily produce more inclusive or liberating alternatives. Aiming to preserve the status of traditionally privileged demographics as neoliberalism generates new instability, various nationalists and authoritarians are proposing new criteria for exclusion from political participation, including citizenship, religion, ethnicity, and gender. All of these already have a longstanding history as dividing lines in previous iterations of democracy.
Narrowing down the number of people who are granted rights and privileges within the prevailing order will undermine all the mechanisms that stabilized capitalism and democracy up to this point. This will almost certainly generate new revolts. The question is whether these revolts can coalesce around new models of decision-making and power relations that do not consolidate control in the hands of the few.
It’s up to us to show how capitalism and democracy have failed to deliver the dignity and self-determination their proponents promised and to propose alternative ways of organizing our lives, lest we leave the field of critique to proponents of even more authoritarian systems.
Our forebears overthrew kings and dictators, but they didn’t abolish the institutions by which kings and dictators ruled: they democratized them. Yet whoever operates these institutions—whether it’s a king, a president, or an electorate—the experience on the receiving end is roughly the same. Laws, police, and
bureaucracy came before democracy; they function the same way in a democracy as they do in a dictatorship. The only difference is that, because we can cast ballots about how they should be applied,
we’re supposed to regard them as ours even when they’re used against us.
The more people are governed by a given democratic system, the fewer can actively participate in the decision-making. To function on a mass scale, democracy requires formal processes, protocol, credentials, and so many levels of representation as to effectively exclude most people. The result is a tremendous expenditure of resources—caucuses, conventions, forums, registration, paperwork, lobbying, electoral campaigns—just to maintain the façade of public participation.
Without all this red tape, there would be anarchy: we would participate directly in the decisions
that shape our lives. Instead of petitioning the authorities or waiting on the arbitrary edicts of government agencies, we could experiment with solving our problems together on our own terms.
On August 12, Charlottesville fascist Jason Kessler attempted to hold the sequel to last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Washington, DC. It did not go well for him. In the end, 2000 police struggled to protect two dozen fascists from thousands of anti-fascists and other foes of tyranny. To get some perspective on these events, we spoke with David Thurston—arts director for No Justice No Pride, a member of the steering committee of the DMV’s Movement for Black Lives, and a core organizer with Resist This—and also with an anonymous anarchist involved in organizing the anti-fascist bloc, among other aspects of the mobilization. The interview follows our comments below.
The US government spent $2.6 million to force the fascist rally upon the people of Washington, DC. Let’s do the math: that’s over $100,000 per fascist for a rally that lasted at hour at most. Would the US spend anything like that to protect a rally organized by any other sector of the population? On the contrary, when anarchists and other advocates of liberation organize public events, the government usually invests millions of dollars in repressing us, even illegally. This shows what a farce the “free speech” defense of fascist recruiting drives is—this is not an abstract question of rights, but a concrete matter of the US government asymmetrically investing resources in promoting the spread of fascism.
To put a number on it, then, the kind of “free speech” that enabled Kessler and his like to recruit someone to murder Heather Heyer is worth $100,000 per hour per fascist to the US government. That’s your tax dollars at work.
We were especially inspired by the fierceness with which the black population of DC turned out to face down the police and fascists on August 12. We have some questions about whether it makes sense for anarchists to act separately in a distinct anti-fascist contingent when other sectors of the population are mobilizing so courageously and assertively. It might be more effective for some anarchists to seek to connect with other rebels on the street, in order to bring about an interchange of tactics and ideas.
We’ve seen some alarmist reporting on the clashes, such as the following video. Permit us to repeat that what is happening here is that the US government is forcibly extorting money from its population which is then used to fund the violent imposition of fascist rallies on communities that only stand to suffer from the expansion of fascist movements. It should be no surprise that people defend themselves from police violence to this end.
One more topic bears mention: a few reactionary media outlets have taken this opportunity to accuse anti-fascists of being “violent” towards journalists for discouraging them from filming. This is the same thing they did last year two weeks after the violence in Charlottesville, when the editors of various corporate media publications attempted to create a false equivalency between fascists recruiting to carry out murder and genocide and anti-fascists mobilizing in self-defense.
In a time when fascists go through video footage identifying anti-fascists in order to intimidate and terrorize them and far-right Republican Congressmen are attempting to aid and abet them via new legislation, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that anti-fascists discourage people from filming them without permission. If these journalists are really concerned about this issue, they should prioritize helping to create a world in which no one needs to fear being documented, identified, and attacked by fascists or police just for attempting to defend their communities from fascist activity. Instead, many journalists have prioritized assisting fascists like Kessler in getting his message out.
Read on for the interviews. For one perspective on the history of anti-fascism in DC, read this.
Two Organizers on the August 12 Mobilization
What were your goals going into August 12? What did you think a best case scenario would be for the day?
David Thurston: For the past month, I’ve been working as the arts organizer for the mobilization. My first job was to make sure the rally in Freedom Plaza and the three direct action contingents got the brilliant, vibrant, colorful, and radical banners that the 411 Collective crafted. I also co-emceed the rally with Aiyi’anah Ford of the Future Foundation—we met through the organizing around the National Equality March in 2009. I wanted to see the Nazis vastly outnumbered and I wanted to see DC and DMV activists organize around a synergy and diversity of tactics—allowing us to welcome people into the movement who may never have heard of anarchist theory, but who over time could be introduced to our praxis of non-hierarchical, anti-sectarian, and revolutionary politics.
Another anarchist organizer: I wanted to make Nazis too afraid to come to DC. I also wanted to block their march. The former did not happen due to some last minute infighting, but the latter did happen.
Overall, I would say the action was an overwhelming success. Anarchists provided a great deal of labor in every aspect of the mobilization.
What did the anti-fascist demonstrators do well? What could have gone better?
David Thurston: We succeeded in overwhelmingly outnumbering our opposition, marginalizing their toxic politics, and putting forward an organizing model that can be advanced upon in the future. There were a number of internal challenges and conflicts that took shape in the lead-up to A12, but for the most part, the various components of our effort worked from a space of deep-rooted solidarity.
Another anarchist organizer: We overwhelmed neo-Nazis numerically, but because of some tactical and intelligence failures, we did not get the chance to actually confront them. But when you have thousands of people mobilizing and holding space, do you really need to escalate when the fascists are already too afraid to come out? The fact that the black bloc did not escalate when there was no reason to do so enabled us to hold space, stay disciplined until the end, and demonstrate an ability to show restraint when necessary in order to accomplish our goals of the movement.
On January 20, hundreds of people were mass-arrested during Trump’s inauguration and indiscriminately charged with eight or more felonies apiece. How did the legacy of the J20 case influence planning ahead of August 12? How do you think it influenced those who did not participate in the planning, but came to participate?
David Thurston: The fact that there were absolutely no convictions for J20 defendants was probably a big factor explaining why our city’s multitude of police forces were relatively restrained. My inkling is that someone above or in the orbit of Chief Newsham realized that it was not in the city’s interests for local police to play the role of being the extreme right’s de-facto storm troopers. That said, the massive deployment of state power was obscene. My guess is that a few million dollars of city money probably went into massive police overtime.
There may have been some folks who were afraid to come out, but my opinion is that that was probably because of what the neo-Nazis represent, and not because of anything that went down with J20.
Another anarchist organizer: We thought long and hard about how to avoid isolating ourselves from other social movements and argued against others trying to marginalize radicals. Considering that our movement had set up the tech support, website, security, trainings, and other essential aspects of the mobilization, it was impossible to isolate us on the sidelines where we would be easy targets for police violence.
Did it make sense to call for a distinct anti-fascist bloc, when so many people turned out to oppose the fascist rally with their own ways of being militant? Why or why not?
David Thurston: I think it was great to have an anti-fascist bloc that could plan direct action based on the worst-case scenario of a sizable far right turn-out. It was also good to have a space where the lessons of prior direct actions, especially J20, could be debated in depth.
In practice, there was a lot of synergy between the direct action contingents and the two permitted rallies, even though the permitted rallies gave voice to ideas more in line with traditional left liberal thinking.
Another anarchist organizer: I think the strategy of the bloc that day was to be able to
defend our communities
show a specifically radical presence that day.
A year after the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, what do the events in DC tell us about the current political situation in the US?
David Thurston: I think last weekend’s events make it clear that the far right is in political, ideological, organizational, and interpersonal disarray. After the debacle of Jason Kessler’s pitiful mobilization, he went on a twitter rant attacking the rest of the self-proclaimed alt-right, calling them cowards for not mobilizing, and describing them as would-be Nazis living in their parents’ basements. While trying to get a permit in Charlottesville, Kessler managed to dox his own followers by turning over encrypted Signal threads, emails, and more to the state.
But we can’t rest on our success last weekend. While joining a proto-fascist organization remains a marginal idea for the millions of white people who voted for Trump in 2016, specific neo-Nazi proposals and talking points—especially around immigration, border security, and global imperialist hubris—remain appealing to wide swaths of low-income, working-class, and lower-middle-class white folk in our nation.
The radical left has immense potential to grow if we can shed the baggage of years of being fairly marginal to political debate. Anarchists need to organize creatively, finding space to work in alliance with left-leaning liberals, but also with socialist groupings with whom we have significant differences.
Another anarchist organizer: I think the rally on August 12 shows that militant anti-fascism works. A year ago, there were 500 fascists marching in the streets of Charlottesville. This year, less than 25 showed up because they were afraid. At least on the East Coast, anti-fascism has made sure the far right is demobilized.
So we’ve pushed back on-the-ground white nationalists… but as a movement, how do we use that strategy to disrupt other forms of organized white supremacy? How do we scale that strategy up to take on local right-wing lobbyists, local Republicans, police union officials, the Chamber of Commerce, DHS, and ICE officials?
The fascistic turn of the United States has been a 30-year process, and there are local people with local power who are marching us there. We need to figure out how to demobilize them.
Trump did not come to power because of the “alt right”—the alt right was able to use Trump to enter mainstream politics. Now our social movements need to identify the social leaders who pushed our local communities to the right and destabilize their political power.
The chief takeaway from this weekend is that even if we did not push the limits of the struggle, we did push a mobilization that was specifically anti-fascist. Anarchists and anti-fascists wrote the original call to action for the mobilization, provided experience, and pushed a strategy that allowed for numerous communities to come out and confront fascism.
The most challenging dynamic we had to navigate was engaging with liberals who wanted the day to look like “Boston” [the massive anti-fascist mobilization that took place there in response to a fascist rally a week after “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville] but did not emotionally prepare for the real possibility that the fascists could have mobilized hundreds.
Do you have any particularly instructive anecdotes to share from August 12?
David Thurston: My favorite moment was when the permitted march from Freedom Plaza entered the periphery of the “Rise Up Fight Back” contingent anchored by Black Lives Matter DC. They organized a block party near Lafayette to celebrate black joy and resistance, making the point that no neo-Nazi mobilization was going to intimidate them or cast a pall on the vision of black liberation that this movement was articulating.
On a personal note, I encountered a brother named Amir who introduced himself to me at the rally. I didn’t recognize him, but Amir told me that he was one of three young black men who tried to mug me near my neighborhood in DC. Amir apologized for his actions. I was so moved and thanked him, letting him know that I wish him the best, and never wanted anyone to go to jail for something as petty as trying to take $10 from me. To see him in the struggle for a radically different future on A12 made an impact on my psyche that I have a hard time adequately explaining.
We are living through perilous times. If we organize creatively and synergistically, radicals can lay the foundation for movements that could, within a decade or so, lead to revolutionary transformation in our country and around the world. But if we fail, the threat of global political, economic, and ecological cataclysm is immense. I have friends working hard to elect left-liberal to social democratic candidates for public office, and friends whose focus is on direct action and community based organizing. We need to build a radical tent broad enough for all of the above if the revolutionary potential of this moment is to be realized.