Listen to the Episode — 62 min
Clara: The Ex-Worker;
Alanis: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Clara: A twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Alanis: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Clara: Hello, and welcome back to another globe-trotting edition of the Ex-Worker. After a few listener requests, we’re going to take another detour to Eastern Europe, to try and make sense of the situation in Ukraine, and, amid the madness, try to analyze what we anarchists can learn from it.
Alanis: We’ll also hear other news and updates, a review of magazines for the internationally-savvy-insurrectionary anarchist, and more. I’m Alanis…
Clara: …and I’m Clara, and we’ll be your hosts. To access additional information about everything we talk about on today’s show, including the transcript, or listen to our past episodes, visit us on the web at crimethinc.com/podcast. You can also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, and if you do so, why not take a few extra seconds and give us a rating?
Alanis: If you’d like to give us feedback or suggestions for upcoming episodes, hit us up at email@example.com. We wanna hear about what you wanna hear.
Clara: Let’s jump in.
Clara: First up we’ve got the Hotwire, our look at resistance and revolt happening around the world. Alanis?
Alanis: An anti-police demonstration in Albuquerque, New Mexico took over the city and the interstate to protest the March 16th police shooting of James Boyd, a man experiencing homelessness. Police deployed tear gas on the crowd and arrested six participants, who were charged with disorderly conduct. Mainstream media reports that there was graffiti and vandalism along the route, and that at least one officer was injured during the protest, another officer was spit on and hit with a rock, and yet another was trapped inside a patrol car.
Clara: A few days after the 12-hour demonstration, four police stations and substations were found vandalized, splattered and sprayed with copious amounts of red paint.
Alanis: Nice one, Albuquerque!!
Clara: On the night of Friday, March 21st, around 100 rowdy people staged a noise demonstration in San Francisco, marching to the current jail as well as the site of a proposed jail expansion. The communiqué for the demo stated: “We participated in this demonstration both to express our disgust for the proposed jail expansion, but also to express solidarity with current prisoners.” Upon reaching the jail, fireworks were lit for those inside. Police vehicles and the jail itself were vandalized with rocks, spray paint and paint bombs.
Kid: ANARCHY! ANARCHY! ANARCHY! I don’t know what it is, but I love it!
Alanis: On the other side of the continent, in New York City, another jail noise demonstration took place– but this time, on Motorcycles! A caravan of NYC activists –in solidarity with immigration resistance– rode in “Ride for Freedom: an Anti-deportation Internationalist motorcade”, to arrive to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention Facility in Queens for a noise demonstration in solidarity with the ongoing hunger strike in the ICE immigrant detention centers in Washington and Texas. Clear communication took place between the demonstrators and the prisoners, an no arrests were made.
Clara: Both men and women inmates of Koridallos prison in Greece refused to return to the cells after the end of recreation time as a sign of mourning and rage over the recent death of their fellow prisoner Ilia (Ilir) Kareli.
In the men’s prison, slogans were painted on walls of the yard while inmates shouted chants such as “And now one slogan that unites us all: cops, pigs, murderers,” “The blood is still flowing seeking revenge,” “Fire and arson to all the prison cells.” In the women’s prison, inmates chanted slogans against cops, prisons, and Golden Dawn thugs, like: “Fascist scum, soon you will be hanged at the gallows”, “Rage and consciousness, negation and violence bring chaos and anarchy,” “The States are the only terrorists; solidarity with armed guerrillas,” “Fire and blast at this brothel.” A related solidarity demonstration also took place outside Domokos Prison.
Alanis: In Russia, the Earth Liberation Front / Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for an arson on deforestation equipment in a sand quarry, estimating the damage to be about 200,000 US dollars. Their attack took place in the middle of the night while workers were present.
Clara: And in France, the Animal Liberation front torched a van and a car belonging to the town of Rodilhan’s pro-bullfighting Mayor.
Alanis: The ALF also [thoroughly dismantled])http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2014/04/01/italy-alf-destroys-all-cages-at-new-mink-farm/) an under-construction Mink farm in Capergnanica, Italy.
Clara: Around 1,000 activists gathered in Maoming, a city in southwest China, to protest the proposed construction of a petrochemical plant. Those who oppose the plans are particularly worried about the paraxylene (PX)—a pollutant that can damage abdominal organs and the nervous system if inhaled or absorbed through skin—the plant would manufacture.
Although mass protests are still rare in China, where it’s illegal to demonstrate without an official permit, there have been a number of environmental protests in recent years. Police have, with a few exceptions, been mostly tolerant of them, However, that all changed in Maoming. Pictures of baton-wielding cops chasing members of the public, people lying in pools of blood, and burning debris blocking roads flooded Chinese social media channels on the day of the demonstration, and were quickly deleted by the authorities.
Alanis: In Turkey, police attacked a massive crowd that showed up to attend the funeral of Berkin Elvan, a boy who sustained severe head injury from a gas canister in June 2013 and who died on March 11th, 2014. Berkin had just turned 15 while still in coma.
During post-funeral resistance in the neighborhoods of Pangaltı and Kurtuluş, banks were also destroyed and the ruling party AKP’s election office was wrecked and set on fire.
Alanis: Also in Istanbul, a group of nearly 50 people from the anarchist milieu and different left tendencies gathered in district of Beşiktaş to jointly occupy a former Greek school which has been standing empty for decades, in order to turn it into a non-commercial social centre.
Their attempt was met with negative reaction from conservative residents, as well as immediate aggression by fascists, who carried wooden sticks and harassed the group as soon as they entered the building. The police rushed also to the spot, and of course stood promptly at the side of the fascists, asking the activists to leave. The fascists were driven back eventually. However the group gave up the space, after the homeowner appeared out of nowhere, and suddenly seemed to have very big plans for the building…
No injuries or detentions were reported.
Clara: In Germany, Refugees have evicted themselves from an encampment in Berlin’s Kreutzberg neighborhood, which has served as a focal point for the ongoing conversation about German and European asylum policy. The self-eviction is a stunning example of how reformist moves on the part of the state can lead to people being more effective police than… well, the police.
At the beginning of last month, officials offered to put the refugees’ deportation on hold for another six months, under the condition that they take down the camp and move to housing provided by the city. A number of the refugees, wary of conditions in the camp, saw this as a great opportunity, while others saw it as a manipulative move that would derail their cause with a few empty promises. Last tuesday morning, a group of migrants armed with hammers, crowbars, and knives moved into the camp and began demolishing the huts they had established on the square. Ignoring the pleas of other refugees, and residents who didn’t want to abandon the fight, they gradually destroyed all the tents and dwellings. Tensions rose between different factions, and knives and crowbars were brought out, leading again and again to serious confrontations between a melee of refugees and activists. No police turned up on the square until late in the afternoon.
These events were the result of a tactical approach conceived months ago by the city of Berlin, whose integration minister pledged to solve the problem in January, and did so by inviting delegations from the camp to a meeting and systematically diving them by including or excluding those whose expectations and demands didn’t match up with the city’s.
Alanis: In Santiago de Chile, on March 29th, the Day of the Combatant Youth, four anarchist comrades were arrested in the conflictual neighborhood of la Victoria, and charged with attempted arson, attempted murder of a police officer, possession of incendiary devices, and trespassing. The comrades have already been punished with broken teeth and head injuries from the arrest, but if convicted, they are also facing five to ten years in prison. http://en.contrainfo.espiv.net/2014/04/02/santiago-chile-four-comrades-arrested-in-la-victoria-on-march–29th–2014/
Clara: And, Crimethinc. operatives staged speaking events on 3 continents this past month: We toured the Northwest United States talking about our text “Beyond Self-Care,” while “The Anarchism and the New Global Revolts” tour has been making its way through Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, and Serbia, stopping at the anarchist book fairs in Zagreb, Croatia and Prague, Czech Republic. The tour also promoted a new german translation of our book “Work.”
Alanis: We also tabled and did a presentation about the Ex-Worker at the Anarchist Bookfair in Santiago, Chile on April 12th and 13th.
Clara: Truly, we are everywhere.
Clara: And now it’s time to share a piece of the Crimethinc. Contradictionary. This episode is brought to you by: Proxy War & Greater Good
For more information on the war in every word, visit Crimethinc.com/contradictionary.
Clara: So, Alanis– have you been following the stuff going on Ukraine?
Alanis: Well, I’ve been trying… But… – I feel kind of bad about this – it’s so incredibly confusing to me that when I try and read about it, my eyes just sorta glaze over and I don’t even really take in the information.
Clara: No kidding. Speaking of confusing, I was doing research for this episode and I read this anecdote from back in the fall about a nationalist artist in the Maidan encampment using images of Ukranian anarchist Nestor Mahkno, who we talked about a little bit in our last episode, alongside fascist rhetoric and imagery.
Alanis: That is… weird
Clara: Yeah, it’s nuts. But it also feels really indicative of the kind of thing that characterized the beginnings of all this stuff going on in Ukraine. Things that we think of as fundamentally anarchist – whether it be images of Nestor Mahkno or of people occupying buildings, feeding each other, and clashing with riot police – are being undertaken by fascists and also nationalists and right-wingers. Anarchists and leftist are not only confused about how to interact with these things, they are actually unable to in a lot of circumstances, forced into a totally defensive position. In places in the East, where pro-russian activists have staged armed takeovers of government buildings, people have been beaten in the street for not expressing pro-russian sentiments. It’s possibly worse in pro-Ukraine sections, where we’ve heard of people being “tested” at informal checkpoints for speaking proper Ukranian, and being beat down if they appear to be a native Russian speaker.
Alanis: It has been difficult to stay in touch with comrades on the ground– they’re beyond exhausted from defending themselves against the state and the right-wing.
Clara: As with most things, our starting point has to be somewhat humble: we can’t pretend to understand what people there are in the middle of right now. However, we can try to take a look at it and see if we can relate to any of what’s going on. So, let’s get caught up:
Alanis: Last November, a movement began to develop in the Ukraine which involved a longstanding occupation of the Independence square and a surrounding area in Kiev, including riots, blockades, and occupations of official buildings. Since that time, the occupations have spread from Kiev to other regions of the country. This movement has been dubbed “Maidan” or “Euromaidan,” after the square occupation, and its initial demand that the Ukrainian government would ratify an admission treaty and join the European Union.
Soon after the protests began, this demand was overshadowed by another demand– more prominent, pressing and obviously much more able to mobilize large numbers of people: overthrowing president Yanukovych. Since coming to power in 2010, Yanukovych has pressed forward with a series of wildly unpopular reforms, including privatization of the rail lines, healthcare and pension reforms, and adjustments to utility costs. Though Yanukovych was initially just a puppet of powerful oligarchs, he has become an ambitious businessman himself. His elder son has accumulated vast powers; the so-called "Family” occupied important positions in the government, monopolized control over capital flows, and started fighting with oligarchs who had been their sponsors previously. Naturally, the traditional oligarchic clans didn’t like this either, so the Maidan protests also contained an elite dimension.
It seemed like just about everyone wanted Yanukovych out, but that’s where the similarities end. As we mentioned at the top of the theme, the movement has been characterized by strong involvement of far-right organizations and prevalence of nationalist ideologies, combined with traditionally anarchist tactics. Clashes continued through early January, despite the installation of draconian anti-protest laws and the deaths of several protesters. In February activists relenquished Kiev City Hall in exchanged for the 234 prisoners being released without charges, but street clashes continued, violence increased, and the government buildings were eventually taken back. February 20 saw Kiev’s worst day of violence for almost 70 years; at least 88 people were killed within the span of 48 hours, many shot by snipers on the roofs of government buildings.
After Yanukovych’s impeachment by the Ukranian parliament and subsequent installation of an interim government, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin waged complaints that the Revolution was funded and directed by the U.S. and European Union. At this point, most of the international coverage shifted away from Kiev and toward Crimea, a strategically located peninsula in Southern Ukraine; Pro-Russian troops began to creep into Crimea, widely believed to be simply Russian soldiers whose uniforms don’t bear insignia. While this easily digestible duality between pro-Russian and pro-Ukranian nationalists has dominated the media, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many other axes of conflict going on at the same time. The presence of the left or anarchists has been almost completely erased.
In mid-March, a referendum was held in Crimea, and while nearly 96% percent of people who voted opted to join Russia, some minority groups such as Crimean Tatars, who have bad blood with Russia and would’ve voted for Ukraine, either boycotted the referendum or simply didn’t receive voting cards. For whatever it’s worth, the United Nations, United States, and European Union have all declared the referendum illegal. Aside form quality of life declines – the Ukranian currency has devalued 50% – there are larger strategic questions, such as the fact that most of Ukraine’s oil supply comes from Russia but the pipelines that bring Russian oil to the rest of Europe run through Ukraine.
Clara: Back on the ground, since the Crimean referendum, more protests have flared up, particularly in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, where pro-Russian demonstrators have pushed for a repeat of the Crimean scenario. Protesters’ threats got serious enough that Kiev authorities are set to discuss a draft resolution, and currently those regions are in a state of emergency.
So where does this leave us? Aside from being confusing, – and, I guess at this point I’m gonna step out my semi-formal “reporter” role – it’s been really… emotionally weird for me to sit here, in the United States, watching these videos of armed groups taking over buildings, or like, the other day I was watching the video of people in Donetsk, a bunch of men in military fatigues, sitting around in a room deciding that they were forming a new government.
And I just sat there, in my kitchen, and like, cried. And it’s weird, because I don’t usually feel that affected by international politics– I think I have this filter that my anarchist analysis puts on everything, and I can just say “oh this is just the spectacle, this is just power changing hands.” And I don’t think that’s untrue, but something about this situation has been holding my attention.
But the more I read about Ukraine, the more obsessed I get with it, and I think it’s partially because I can see myself reflected in it– I was a part of Occupy here in my town in the U.S., and also I was visiting in Greece and Spain when the big plaza occupations were happening. And I know that those situations are different than in Ukraine – they obviously have this whole insane history of being a part of the Soviet Union and also a much stronger right wing than here in the US. But when I think about how I move in the world, and how I choose to be involved in these mass situations, or how I feel empowered to affect my surroundings… it gets me thinking.
So now we’re going to take a step back and read from a text analyzing the beginnings of this protest movement, titled “The Ukranian Revolution and the Future of Social Movements.” We hope that some of these reflections from the earlier parts of this movement will prove helpful for understanding how things got to where they are, and what our place in these things can look like, as anarchists.
The events in Ukraine must be understood as part of the same global trajectory of revolt as the Arab Spring, the plaza occupations in Spain, Occupy, and the Gezi uprising in Turkey. This is not good news.
In each of the previous examples, initial police repression caused a single-issue protest to metastasize into a generalized uprising, transforming a square in the heart of the capital into a fiercely defended urban autonomous zone. This seemed to offer a new political model, in which people cohere around tactics rather than parties or ideologies. (It is telling indeed that Occupy was named for a tactic rather than a goal.) All these revolts could be broadly interpreted as reactions to the consequences of capitalism, though anti-austerity proved too narrow a frame: Turkey and Brazil saw protests over the effects of ascendant economies, not recessions. In any case, the majority of the participants have not described these movements as anarchist or anti-capitalist, framing them simply as grievances with specific governments and economic policies.
When photos began to circulate of the protests in Kiev, it’s not surprising that many in the English-speaking world assumed approvingly that these were part of the same phenomenon. Once again people were criticizing the government, occupying a central square, fighting the police. The specific organizers and demands had always seemed incidental—whether it was ¡Democracia Real YA! or Adbusters, the departure of a dictator or canceling a fare increase, we assumed that the important thing was the antagonism these upheavals facilitated against state control.
Then we read in horror that nationalists and fascists were at the forefront of the confrontations and dominated parts of the organizing. Many reacted by disclaiming any connection, concluding that the events in Ukraine were simply a fake revolution funded and orchestrated from above.
But all the secretive manipulation in the world wouldn’t suffice to generate uprisings where there is no popular discontent. Comrades in Ukraine have emphasized that the revolution was produced by a genuine grassroots social movement, not only a far-right putsch fostered by capitalist interests. Anarchists in Venezuela have said the same about the protests occurring there, in which right-wing politicians have seized the opportunity to mobilize against the socialist government. In both of these countries, reactionary forces are taking advantage of the same popular ferment that anarchists considered so promising elsewhere.
In fact, there have been signs of this possibility all along. In 2011, Greek flags suggested the presence of nationalists in Syntagma Square in Athens; fully-armed militia members showed up to Occupy Phoenix in Arizona. Frustration with the government and the economy do not automatically suggest anti-state and anti-capitalist solutions. In Ukraine, caught between Russian colonialism and “corruption” on one side and European Union neoliberalism on the other, nationalist movements make more intuitive sense to many people than a movement to abolish nations.
A few years ago, it was possible to hope that the coming insurrections would be a naturally fertile ground for anarchist resistance. Now it is clear that, although anarchists can find new affinities within them, nationalists can capitalize upon them just as easily. This may be an inherent problem with movements that cohere around tactics, and it poses serious strategic questions to anarchists. Would we have done anything differently in 2011 had we known that we were developing a protest model that fascists could appropriate wholesale?
What had been a purely symbolic conflict over space with Occupy became full-on paramilitary urban warfare in Ukraine. By taking the front lines in confronting the authorities, nationalists and fascists have won themselves legitimacy as “defenders of the people” that will serve them for many years to come. Surely fascists around the world have been watching, and will be emboldened to try the same thing elsewhere when the opportunity arises. Fascists, too, are plugged into a global imaginary; we ignore this at our peril.
But it is not simply a question of fascists emboldening other fascists. The real danger is that the popular imagination about what it means to resist will become militarized—that those who wish to be “effective” will conclude that, like the Ukrainian rebels, they should form hundred-person fighting units with a strict hierarchy of command. We are not opposed to armed confrontation, of course—as we have argued elsewhere, it is essential for any social movement aimed at liberation to be able to push back against the police, and this is rarely pretty in practice. But different formats for confrontation encode different power relations and forms of social change within them. The model we have seen in Kiev opens the way for fascists and other reactionaries to recreate the ruling order within resistance movements—not just by reinserting formal hierarchies and gender roles, but also by confining the substance of the struggle to a clash of armed organizations rather than spreading subversion into every aspect of social relations. Once nationalism is added to this equation, war is not far away.
The other edge of this sword is that, if burning barricades are branded “fascist,” those who oppose fascism will avoid building them for fear of being misunderstood. We can imagine both fascists and pacifists wishing to promote this misunderstanding. Yet it would not be wise to cede barricade-building to fascists in a time of escalating upheaval.
All this serves to remind us that we are not simply in a conflict with the state in its present incarnation, but in a three-way fight against it and its authoritarian opponents. The present social order will regenerate itself indefinitely until a form of resistance emerges that is capable of overthrowing governments without replacing them. This is not just a contest of arms; it is a clash between different forms of relations. It is not just a struggle for physical territory, but also for tactics and narratives—for the territory of struggle itself.
More upheavals of this kind are in store. Those who take the initiative in shaping how they begin will determine the stakes of much larger social struggles.
The movement in Ukraine is not the only one to occur in Eastern Europe; it’s just the most spectacular. It was preceded by tremors in Slovenia, Bulgaria, and elsewhere; more recently, Bosnia erupted, though thankfully most of the participants there explicitly disavowed nationalism. Barring world revolution, the crises inflicted by capitalism will continue to provoke social unrest until the emergence of some massive new mechanism of control or appeasement.
In a globalized world, state structures are forced to impose and perpetuate these crises, but are increasingly powerless to mitigate the effects. This makes the state a sort of hot potato; any party holds the reins at its own risk, as Morsi’s downfall showed in Egypt. On the other hand, in moments of crisis, whoever is capable of effective action against the repressive forces of the state will accumulate popular credibility. This is how our present era is anarchist even where fascists are concerned.
In the case of the Ukrainian revolution, this means that the right-wing Svoboda party could lose their credibility as victory forces them to become the shock troops of neoliberal reform, whereas the more extreme Right Sector could come out ahead, having set a precedent in the streets regardless of how Ukrainians vote in the next election.
If the state is a hot potato, it follows that the most important conflicts play out between the antagonists of existing states, not just between them and the state itself. Identifying ourselves, via word or deed, merely as antagonists is not clear enough when we are not the only antagonists of the ruling powers. Our opposition to all hierarchy and domination must be communicated in everything we say and do; otherwise, we risk bolstering a reactionary opposition. Pursuing escalation for its own sake won’t necessarily communicate our politics, nor open a path to liberation; it could even equip our enemies to do the opposite. But avoiding escalation will have even worse consequences.
The fact that these movements can be hijacked by nationalists does not mean that we should remain aloof from them. This was the initial reaction of many anarchists to the plaza occupations in Spain and Occupy in the US, and it could have been disastrous. Standing aside at a moment of popular confrontation with the state permits rival antagonists to seize the initiative, connecting with the general public and defining the stakes. No, we should be there with all we’ve got—for what is at stake in each struggle is never just a single issue, but rather the spirit of opposition itself. We have to be in the front lines if we wish to set the terms of engagement and determine the narrative. For anarchists, that does not mean forming paramilitary organizations, but rather offering points (in space, tactics, and discourse) around which much larger social bodies can cohere according to a logic that challenges both the state and its authoritarian opponents.
We fear that many of our potential comrades will respond to the news from Ukraine by avoiding future confrontations—effectively siding with the preservers of the status quo and leaving the field of struggle to authoritarians. On the contrary, the events in Kiev show what that path leads to.
As far as we can tell from reading the reports, anarchists and others who had avoided the demonstrations were compelled to get involved after all when the stakes were raised to dictatorship or revolution. But at that point, the front lines were dominated by fascists, who attacked anarchists and feminists when they tried to organize under their own banners. So anarchists had to participate on others’ terms, and their contributions may have strengthened a movement from which fascists are deriving new power.
Of course, different crises offer different opportunities, and Ukraine was a worst-case scenario from the beginning: relatively small anarchist and anti-fascist movements, entrenched nationalist traditions and organizations, and the situation of being torn between authoritarian Russia and the neoliberal European Union. Even if a powerful anarchist movement capable of self-defense had been prepared to show up to the Euromaidan protests from day one, what position could anarchists have taken on the question of trade with the EU without opportunistically violating their principles or gratuitously alienating the rest of the protesters? (To be fair, we have read that Right Sector does not endorse integration into the European Union, either.) If nothing else, this situation drives home the importance of initiating contagious responses to today’s crises on our own terms wherever possible, before history beats us to the punch.
We are not faulting our Ukrainian comrades for how things have turned out. They are doing their best against incredible odds. Rather, we need to understand what has happened in Ukraine so we can be prepared before the next situation like this arises.
The higher the stakes, the messier the fight.
If we understand the Ukrainian revolution as part of the same wave of protest that overthrew several governments in North Africa, the tremendous impact of this phenomenon on global politics becomes clear. It is no trivial matter to bring Russia to the brink of war with a nation of 45 million. A variety of capitalists and state actors must be evaluating these protest movements as a way to pursue politics by other means. As more resources flow into the hands of reactionary participants in social struggles, we will likely see more developments like those in Ukraine and Venezuela.
Likewise, powerful governments will not stand by and let common people get a taste for overthrowing them. They will be pressed to intervene, as Russia has in Ukraine, in hopes that war can trump insurrection. War is a way of shutting down possibilities—of changing the subject. It is a risky business, however—it can help governments to consolidate their power, but history shows that it can also destabilize them.
With war looming, even the limits of violent nationalism become obvious. Mere protest militancy is worthless in the face of the Russian military; only contagious disobedience could serve to even the odds when a social movement does battle with a superpower. This is the one thing anarchist opposition to the state has going for it today: in a globalized world, all insurrections must ultimately become international or perish.
And as long as capitalism produces crises, there are bound to be insurrections.
Strategies for the Worst-Case Scenario
From this great distance, we have struggled to understand what different strategies Ukrainian anarchists and anti-fascists have employed to make the best of this situation, and what conclusions they have drawn about their effectiveness. We would be grateful to hear more from Ukrainian comrades about this.
We have read about some supposed anarchists and anti-fascists, including the group Narodniy Nabat (“People’s Bell”) and football fans associated with Arsenal-Kiev, who have tried to work alongside nationalist groups in hopes of influencing them or at least getting access to the same public. Such alliances of convenience strike us as a dangerous mistake; the weaker ally is more likely to absorb the logic of the stronger, and to strengthen the position of the stronger ally rather than their own. Though we have heard contradictory assertions about whether groups like “Autonomous Resistance” qualify as nationalists or fascists in the conventional sense, it is clear enough from their gender politics that they are not comrades.
At the same time, we agree with one Ukrainian syndicalist that standing aside completely in such contexts can only strengthen the state, and that it is inappropriate to justify this on anti-fascist grounds when there are fascists on both sides of the conflict.
We have read some Ukrainian comrades arguing for the establishment of a separate front of struggle outside the Maidan occupation. As a long-term strategy, this seems sound. But it seems to us that opening another front shouldn’t mean simply falling back on what is familiar—the forms of protest and labor organizing that have been less and less effective over the past century. We doubt that the strategy of workplace organizing will be any more effective in Ukraine than it has been elsewhere around the world since the triumph of capitalist globalization; workers in revolt are increasingly finding one another in the streets, not the workplace. Presumably, the Euromaidan protests have been so successful in part because they are contemporary in the same way that Occupy was: rather than starting from the increasingly unstable foundation of the workplace (or the marginality of subculture), they contested the center of society—literally in urban space, figuratively in political discourse. Any attempt to establish a second front should study what made Euromaidan such an important front in the first place.
Finally, we have heard rumors about anti-fascists who were able to keep fascists out of the protests in Kharkiv. This sounded promising until the newspapers reported that Viktor Yanukovych had fled to Kharkiv—if anti-fascists were able to keep fascists out of the movement only in the parts of Ukraine in which the movement was too small to threaten the government, that is not particularly good news. We await more updates from Kharkiv; it will be especially interesting to hear how anti-fascists are interacting with pro-Russian demonstrators there now.
Clara: And now we’re going to hear an interview with a member of Belarus ABC about repression and anti-repression in Eastern Europe, produced by our comrades at A-Radio Berlin. The voices have been re-recorded to protect the identity of the interviewee.
Q: What is the current status of the prisoners?
A: Their situation is constantly changing and we are trying to give updates in English at abc-belarus.org each month, summarizing all the changes. So people who speak English can check it out on our website. The latest update is for January. An update for February will be posted soon.
Q: Ihar Alinevich wrote a book in prison, based on his diary. How is it being distributed and what has the reaction been like in Belarus?
A: The book itself was published in 2012 with help of the publisher Radical Theory and Practice, an anarchist collective. It was published in Russia, as there is no way to do so in Belarus. Right now, the book is being distributed at several bookshops and some cultural events, as well. Ihar received an award for best book written in prison in Belarus in 2013. In 2012, 1000 copies were printed for Russia and Belarus and another 1000 were printed in 2013, just for Belarus. We have seen a lot of interest in the book in the political part of society. The book has also managed to bring anarchist ideas to people who were not so close to them. It didn’t necessarily turn them into anarchists, but it showed them that anarchism exists and is a serious political theory.
Q: What is the situation of anarchist work in Belarus at the beginning of 2014 and especially of antirepression work?
A: There are several anarchist groups that are working actively in the country: the Initiative against Gentrification, Food Not Bombs, Revolutionary Action, the Anarchist Black Cross. Except for Revolutionary Action, all of the groups have a specific focus or issue.
Q: Antigentrification is an ever-growing issue in Germany. Could you briefly describe the form that gentrification has taken in Belarus and what people are doing against it?
A: It is indeed a growing problem. In many cities around the country, the old city centers are getting “reconstructed” into something ugly. The main focus of the antigentrification initiative right now is Minsk, where it is most visible. In Minsk, gentrification is happening not only in the city center but all over the city. Housing prices are increasing and companies are building houses in the small backyards of other houses, just to make it as packed as possible.
Another force behind gentrification is business. In the city center, there isn’t very much space left for office buildings, so they try to get the best spaces they can, even by destroying public infrastructure. For example, one project is to destroy the new bus station and build a business center for the Russian gas company Gazprom in it’s place.
The World Hockey Championship is yet another reason for gentrification. An entire single use infrastructure is constructed for the arriving tourists.
People mostly use legal means of struggle: writing complaints, participating in public debates and so on. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not. Some people also occasionally do some illegal actions, like destroying fences, blocking workers from going to work, or holding illegal demonstrations against the construction plans next to their houses.
Q: What does your anti-repression work at ABC Belarus entail, concretely?
A: As far as antirepression work goes, you can split it into two parts - preventing repression and dealing with its consequences. The first part includes educating different groups on how to deal with repression. From time to time, there are trainings about how to communicate with police, dealing with police raids, secret police tactics and so on. These trainings are planned taking the specific target group in account and the threats that group might face from the state apparatus. The second part takes place once the pressure is already on people, when they are detained, arrested, confronted by the secret police. In these cases, we try to provide people with advice on what to do and best practices, and also to support them financially, where necessary. Right now, there are two cases against antifascists in Brest that require financial support for lawyers, fines, products and books in prison. Apart from that, we try to advocate for the necessity of taking security precautions before anything happens. Sometimes you have to explain to people why do they need a training or why they should read a brochure if they are not facing repression right now. The general level of repression is still quite high, people get in trouble just for being noticed participating in some initiatives.
Q: What is your political strategy for obtaining the release of the prisoners who are still inside?
A: Well, right now there is not so much we can do concerning political prisoners. We don’t have a lot of leverage with the EU, to force them to deal with the situation of political prisoners more honestly. Moreover, human rights activists are starting to divide the whole list of political prisoners to different categories, which set political leaders of the opposition as a higher priority and only leave a bit aside for anarchist prisoners.
From our point of view, we can’t count on getting people released before the end of their sentences. If this does happen - it would be a nice surprise, but somehow not so much depends on us as the ABC group as far as getting them out of prison goes. Social tensions and a higher protest dynamic might have changed the situation, but for now it’s not clear how society is going to react over next few years, with the economic situation getting worse.
Q: Do you have the impression that the strategy is working? In what way?
A: Well without a direct strategy, we can’t analyze whether or not it is working. Including anarchists in the list of political prisoners did affect their situation and gave way more publicity to their cases in the opposition media and outside of the country. And the whole thing helped one of the guys to get out of prison, although he had to write a letter of apology to the president. Now he is safely outside of the country.
Block 3 (Solidarity across borders: Ukraine, Russia)
Q: The Ukraine, a direct neighbour of Belarus, is experiencing major changes at the moment, even with the possibility of war. Do you have contacts with comrades there? If so, how can solidarity be expressed in this context?
A: We do have contacts with people in the Ukraine but the information we get about the situation differs, depending on who is sending it. For sure, right now the movement requires everything from money to psychological support. However, people providing support should be aware that some groups started working with nationalists and their support might end up in hands of those nationalists.
Q: Can you tell more about these anarchist groups working with nationalists? This sounds like a strange alliance…
A: Those groups justify doing so as a neccessity of revolutionary times, and also with the fact that these nationalists are using more and more leftist rhetoric in their criticisms of the economic and social system. The solutions they suggest are also a mixture of anarchism and nationalism. As far the individual groups, it is hard to point out which ones specifically are doing this, as the situation is quite unclear, but Narodniy Nabat, for instance, is working with Autonomni Opir (autonomous-nationalists).
Q: In Russia, Vladimir Putin is clamping down on the possibilities of civil society, and especially for the LGBT community, life is getting very hard over there. Through your contacts to ABC Moscow, and other groups, have you gotten the impression that there is an increased necessity for antirepression work in Russia or is the Western view of a rapidly evolving police state there a distorted view of the situation?
A: The situation with so-called political freedoms in Russia is getting worse and worse each year. It is not developing so rapidly as it has in Belarus, for example, but judging from news and information from comrades, it’s clear that repression is growing worse as the Russian government becomes more and more reactionary. Taking this into account, more and more antirepression work is necessary to allow the movement to survive and grow even in the face of permanent state repression.
Q: Starting in April, you are planning a new solidarity and information tour through Europe. Where can people meet you?
A: Well, they can meet up with us in Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic and maybe some more countries in Eastern Europe. The specific dates for different countries have different statuses right now - some haven’t been confirmed yet. If you are living in one of those countries and interested in the topic, just check your local anarchist events and maybe we will be there.
Q: What’s new about this tour? What can people learn who were already at one of your events last year?
A: On this tour, we want to focus a bit less on the subject of Belarus as such and a bit more on the current state of the repression of the anarchist movement and our ways of dealing with it. We don’t want to talk so much about the country we are coming from, but rather about the experience we have had fighting everyday repression in that country.
Q: Last year and already in 2011, you made tours through Europe. What were your experiences with them: on a political, financial or even human level? Were you able to establish long-lasting links?
A: Both infotours were important. We were able to get in contact with people who are doing solidarity work. We learned from people and managed to bring up issues that people were not so familiar with, as well. We raised some money, which we are still using right now. We also were able to get in touch with people who are providing us with longterm support, sending funds from time to time and helping us with other important things. On these infotours, we found comrades and friends with whom we are developing common projects and bringing the world closer to the Utopia we are fighting for.
Clara: More from A-radio Berlin can be found at aradio.blogsport.de, and you can click on the tab titled english / castellano for more english- and spanish- language content.
Alanis: This week on the chopping block, we’re doing a compound review, titled Internet publications for the Internationally-savvy-Insurrectionary Anarchist.
Clara: Nice alliteration.
Alanis: Thanks. We’ll be taking a look at three publications which can be found on the internet but are intended to be printed out and distributed publicly and hand-to-hand.
Clara: As overwrought, anarcho-workaholic podcasters, we figure that we’re not the only ones who just don’t have endless hours to sift through lengthy poetic communiqués and extensive lists of attacks. So, we put one of our flu-stricken operatives on the job of spending an entire day poring through these publications, in order to offer you the abbreviated versions, the best-of-the-best, and some recommendations for where to spend your precious time.
Momo: Not having left the couch in four days, my perception of the world is already pretty screwed up. But I’m finally feeling well enough to sit up halfway, so I decide to take a dive into the weird world of international social-war publications and spend my entire day reading lengthy analytical communiqués, action reports, theoretical ramblings and, of course, cheesy individualist poetry.
Five cups of throat coat tea, four pieces of half-finished toast, and nearly two hundred photocopied pages of small-print, incendiary text later, I emerge, victorious. Here are my findings:
I started out with Dark Nights, the little sister and semi-regular print supplement to the mac-daddy of social war news sources, 325 magazine. Usually Dark Nights is only 4 or 6 pages, but the 40th issue contains a full 20 pages of updates, mostly pertaining to struggles from within Greek prisons. You have to give the folks at 325 points for consistency– they’ve been putting together the magazine, website, and this printable supplement for almost 10 years, complete with their signature psychedelic stylings.
The headlining pages of this issue covered the recent prison break of Christodoulos Xiros, a recently escaped member of the Revolutionary Organization 17th November, a marxist-leninist armed struggle group that was active in Greece from the 1970’s until just before the Athens Olympics in 2004. The coverage included some history about the group, making the coverage much easier to place in context.
The issue also included writings from imprisoned Conspiracy Cells of Fire member Christos Tsakalos, as well as interviews with anarchist prisoner Claudio Lavazza and members of Individualists Tending Toward the Wild, an anti-civilization group active in Mexico with Ted Kacynski-esque politics who have carried out attacks on biotech researchers.
Next I tackled the brand new issue of “Avalanche,” a publication with only two issues that is available in both English and French and bills itself as “anarchist correspondence.” I’d never heard of it before, but the aims set out in the introduction to the preliminary issue appealed to me: continuing in the tradition of creating mediums for subversive, anarchist conversations, carried out in print media, in order to quote “refine methods, explore ideas, develop perspectives or sharpen affinities.” So, it’s less of a news sheet like “Dark Nights,” and more of an attempted medium for conversation.
The second issue offers translations of texts from Spain, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Brazil and Chile. Most of the articles seemed to be from the internet, although the introduction solicits responses from readers. I worry a little about this format – in my experience, submissions solicited in this manner don’t come easily – but I hope this isn’t the case for them.
One piece, oddly titled “Facts and Disfacts,” caught my attention as an interesting analysis of how anarchists relate to spectacle, or more specifically the news media. I also found the reflections on the struggles in Belgium against the new prison and increased measures of social control really well-thought-out and clearly articulated. Interestingly enough, mentions of English speaking countries – Canada, the UK and the US – don’t appear in either of the first two issues.
As I enter hour four of my reading binge, the inconsistent translation quality of Avalanche has my attention span waning. I drink more throat coat. I resist the urge to defect from the task at hand and watch back-to-back episodes of “Adventure Time.” I press on.
The opening pages of “Return Fire” were a long-winded breath of fresh air. This publication starts out by expressing a desire to make their material accessible to people who might not be familiar with a lot of the jargon-y terms anarchists tend to use in our propaganda. Without compromising anything for simplicity, they jump in with some of the best definitions of terms like anarchy, civilization, domestication and insurrection that I’ve ever come across.
“Return Fire” covers a gamut of topics from an insurrectionary, anti-civilization perspective, including mental health, violence, morality, romantic love and organization. It’s more varied in form and explicitly “green” than the other two, from information about medicinal herbs to a piece about the Fukishima disaster and nuclear fallout nearly brought me to tears… or maybe it was just my eyes watering from sneezing so much. There’s also prison revolt updates, news, reviews and even poetry. Hour 7: words like “polymorphic struggle” are starting to blur together, and my couch has become a pile of blankets, used tissues, cats, and photocopied black-and-white pages…
So what’s my recommendation if you don’t have ten hours to comb through these tomes yourself? It depends on what you want. Dark Nights wins for accomplishing its goal of offering timely, printable updates on the cases of current prisoners and struggles. But, like it’s parent site 325, reading it efficiently involves keeping up with a soap-opera cast of anarchist armed-struggle acronyms, groups, actions and prisoners, some of which its hard to find context for in english. I don’t fully understand the situation in Greece, but the emphasis on armed struggle begged me to reexamine some of my previously held convictions on the relationship between form and content… namely, if a group espouses anarchist ideas but their actions take the form of marxist urban guerrilla struggle, what does that mean?
Return Fire was my overall favorite– I found its particular brand of individualism tolerable, and their anti-civilization analysis resonated strongly with me. This publication has a little bit of everything– if I were trapped on a desert island with only one magazine, I would want this to be it – and at nearly 100 pages, it could keep you entertained for a while.
I felt excited about the stated goals of Avalanche – a forum for communication – and I think it serves as a great overview of struggle from within a certain time period. If you want a well-curated digest that you can read in your hands instead of on screen, it’s great, however, I think it falls a little short of it’s stated goals. In the future, I’d hope for more original analysis and content.
I’m an admitted sucker for print media; like the editors of Avalanche, I actually still think that the hand-to-hand distribution and back-and-forth conversation of anarchist writing is really important for us. So thanks to the editors of all these publications for treading the boundaries of internet and print media, and keepin’ it IRL.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS
Alanis: Last but not least, we’ve got some events coming up in the next few weeks: Clara: The Comox Valley Anarchist Bookfair will be taking place May 3 in Unceded Coast Salish territory, AKA Cumberland, British Columbia. For more information about events, workshops and tabling, please visit cvanarchistbookfair.blogspot.ca
Alanis: Tribal communities, farmers and ranchers from along the Keystone XL pipeline route will ride into Washington on horseback April 22 for a five-day encampment to protect the climate, land, water and tribal rights threatened by this disastrous pipeline.
Clara: From the 24th to the 28th of April 2014, the 3rd ‘Good night macho pride’ anarcha-feminist festival will take place in Kiev, Ukraine. To get in touch, email gnmp [at] riseup [dot] net.
Alanis: On April 26th, activists in Germany are calling for a re-occupation of the Hambacher Forest, a stretch of forest near Köln that is some of the last remaining old growth in Germany. The forest is being threatened by massive open pit mining. The “Build Resistance Skillsharing Camp” will also be taking place from April 12–25th, in preparation. More information at hambacherforest.blogsport.de.
Clara: Wobblies in the Bay Area have called for an ecological general strike, days of action from Earth Day on April 22 through International Workers Day on May 1st. To email event or action proposals or endorse this assembly, contact us at ecogeneralstrike [at] riseup.net
Alanis: And we have quite a few political prisoner birthdays coming up this month: here we go:
Clara: On April 11th, Chip Fitzgerald, a black panther who was sentenced to death after his role in a police shootout, now serving life after California abolished the death penalty in 1972.
Alanis: On April 16th, Walter Bond, the “lone-wolf” cell of the Animal Liberation Front
Clara: On April 18th Rebecca Rubin, who is serving 5 years for Earth Liberation Front actions which occurred between 1996 and 2001, after being on the run for 8 years.
Alanis: On April 19th, Brent Betterly, one of the NATO 3, who were set up and subsequently arrested and convicted of making molotovs at the Chicago NATO summit in May of 2012.
Clara: On April 24th, Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and supporter of MOVE, was framed for the murder of a cop. His death sentence was just overturned last year, and he is now serving his time in general population.
Alanis: On the 25th, Janine Phillips Africa, one of the MOVE 9.
Clara: And on April 27th, Brandon Baxter, one of the Cleveland 4, who were set up by an FBI infiltrator in planning several bombings.
Alanis: And that’s it for this episode of the Ex-Worker. Thanks to all of our correspondents who’ve provided information on the ever-changing situation in Ukraine, our comrades at ABC Belarus for the interview, Anonymous internet anarchists everywhere for the review material, and, as always, Underground Reverie for the Music.
Clara: Alanis, I dunno if you can believe this, but May 1st is the one year anniversary of the podcast… remember our first episode about the history of Mayday?
Alanis: Oh, wow, you’re right. We’ll be back next week with an exploration of another very special Mayday – France in 1968. And if you have anything in the meantime, you know where to find us: podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Clara: Until next time…
ANARCHY! ANARCHY! ANARCHY! I don’t know what it is, but I love it!
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
This episode’s theme segment borrows largely from the recent Crimethinc feature The Ukranian Revolution and the Future of Social Movements. That article also contains links to a list of english-language primary sources and interviews from anarchists and anti-fascists in Ukraine. We also drew from the interviews presented in How Nationalists Took the Lead.
Believe it or not, some of the best, on-the-ground coverage we’ve found is coming from, of all places, Vice Magazine. In the ongoing video series Russian Roulette: The Invasion of Ukraine, Vice news correspondent Simon Ostrovsky has captured some truly historical moments and interviewed just about anyone who would talk to him. Hint: Fascism is always a “Don’t”
This week on the show, we reviewed three different publications: Dark Nights, the little sister of 325 magazine, Avalanche, a new bilingual journal with two issues out, and Return Fire, a British insurrectionary-individualist-anti-civ publication that we’ve dubbed “ultimate desert-island reading.”
We missed this in the news, but here’s a link to a statement from anarchist prisoner Michael Kimble on the work strike going on in Alabama Prisons. Prisoners are requesting phone calls to the Warden, the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Correction, and the Governor of Alabama, to check on the situation. Please call:
Warden Gary Hetzel (Holman Prison): (251) 368–8173
Commissioner Kim Thomas (Alabama DOC): (334) 353–3870
Governor Robert J. Bentley: (334) 242–7100
From Next Week’s News: Clara: The Comox Valley Anarchist Bookfair; Anti-Keystone-XL Pipeline mass demonstration; Kiev ‘Good night macho pride’ anarcha-feminist festival; Hambacher Forest Re-occupation and Build Resistance Skillsharing Camp; Ecological general strike.
Upcoming prisoner birthdays:
Romain “Chip” Fitzgerald #B–27527 [April 11]
Kern Valley State Prison
P.O. Box 5101
Delano CA 93216
Please address outside envelope to Romain, inside card or letter to Chip.
Walter Bond #37096–013 [April 16]
USP Marion CMU
PO Box 1000
Marion IL 62959
Rebecca Rubin #770288 [April 18]
11540 NE Inverness Dr.
Portland OR 97220
Brent Betterly #2012–0519001[April 19]
PO Box 089002
Chicago IL 60608
Mumia Abu-Jamal #AM–8335 [April 24]
301 Morea Rd.
Frackville PA 17932
Janine Phillips Africa #OO–6309 [April 25]
SCI Cambridge Springs
451 Fullerton Ave
Cambridge Springs PA 16403–1238
Brandon Baxter #57972–060 [April 27]
P.O. BOX 5010
Oakdale LA 71463