Jacqueline Jones Talks Lucy Parsons, the Black Woman Anarchist That History Forgot

by Stassa Edwards, via Jezebel

History has nearly forgotten Lucy Parsons (c. 1853-1942), the radical anarchist and orator who enthused working-class audiences for decades with her rhetoric of resistance and violence. She struck fear into the hearts of the Chicago police and businessmen, agitating for workers to seize their rights by whatever means necessary, including violence. By 1887, one newspaper warned that authorities in Chicago “feared this one woman more than all of the chief Anarchists combined.” Another described her as “one of the most notorious women.”

If authorities feared Parsons, then it was because of what they perceived to be her dangerous rhetoric. “Learn the use of explosives!” Parsons wrote in a late 19th-century essay, imploring the laboring poor to rebel against exploitative capitalism, and those who profited from it. Despite the fact that Parsons was a virtual celebrity, followed by newspaper reporters and tracked by police, history has largely been unkind to her legacy, eclipsed in part by her husband, Albert Parsons, one of the anarchists executed in the wake of 1886’s Haymarket affair. In her new book, The Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical, Jacqueline Jones revives the life and legacy of Parsons by following her from her early life in Texas to her rise as a famous anarchist.

Jones describes Parsons as a “walking contradiction of terms.” As Jones deftly demonstrates, Parsons’s life was defined by ironies. Parsons was born into slavery but denied that she was black, creating instead a romantic origin story that purposefully obscured her racial identity. Likely born in Virginia, Parsons was forced to relocate to Waco, Texas by her owner (and likely biological father) in the middle of the Civil War. Once free, she sought out education and eventually met Albert, the Confederate solider-turned-Republican-turned-socialist-turned-anarchist. Unwelcome in Texas, the interracial couple relocated to Chicago where they both quickly established themselves as leaders in the labor movement and, eventually, became fierce and vocal anarchists. It was in Chicago, while Albert was on trial for his alleged role in the Haymarket bombing, that Lucy reinvented herself, claiming that she was born to Mexican and Native American parents.

It was a fiction, of course, but Parsons cultivated many personal fictions, even as her fame as a radical agitator grew. After Albert’s execution, Lucy toured the United States, imploring the working classes to take their rights by force if necessary. Her fiery and idealistic rhetoric was often at odds with her personal life. She disagreed with Emma Goldman on the issue of free love (eventually leading to a feud between the two), even as she took numerous lovers. Those contradictions extended into her family life as well. She advocated for freedom but Parsons infamously had her own son committed to an asylum because of political differences, where he would die 20 years later.

Jones deftly explores Parsons’s contradictions, offering an in-depth look at a complicated woman, as well as new insight into Parsons’s surely difficult life in Texas. What emerges is a woman whose legacy is present, even if her name has been forgotten. Parsons’s work lives in our more expansive understanding of free speech and her legacy haunts contemporary debates on class, economic justice, and capitalism.

I spoke to Jones about her book, Lucy Parsons, and Parsons’s enduring legacy. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

* * *

JEZEBEL: Why Lucy Parsons? What was so attractive that you decided to write this big biography?

JACQUELINE JONES: I’ve been teaching American history for a while now. When I teach the survey to students I’m always interested in introducing them to interesting women in American history. Lucy Parsons name has come up in my lectures for many years, yet I was pretty reliant on a biography that was written about her in 1976, Carolyn Ashbaugh’s biography [Lucy Parsons: An American Revolutionary] It’s good, it gives the chronology of her life, but it says nothing about her origins.

I got to thinking that with all of the new resources, especially digital resources, that it was time to revisit Lucy Parsons and to see if I could find something out about her background, as well as introduce her to a new audience. People today have never really heard of her. I guess I’m not surprised, but when I told people I was writing a biography of Lucy Parsons, many people, even people who knew a lot about history, said, “Who?” That’s too bad because during her time she was quite the celebrity. The news media followed her obsessively and she was known coast to coast. She was a tremendous speaker and her speaking career lasted from 1886 until she died in 1942. That’s quite a long life.

You brought up that many people don’t know about Lucy Parsons. Frankly, before reading your book, I only knew about her as the widow of one the Haymarket bombers.

Alleged bomber! Her husband Albert Parsons was executed in November 1887 for his alleged role in the Haymarket bombing. He did not throw the bomb. The prosecutor, the judge and the jury knew that he didn’t throw the bomb, he wasn’t even in Haymarket Square when it was thrown. He was several blocks away in a tavern.

In any case, it’s definitely true that her career has been overshadowed by his. Many people who do know her think of her as Albert Parsons’s wife or widow without know that she had a very long and fruitful career after his death as a public speaker, as an agitator, and as a writer and editor. She was really a remarkable woman. Maybe we only have so much room in the pantheon of women to acknowledge a few women anarchists. There is certainly Emma Goldman—with whom Lucy Parsons famously feuded. There doesn’t seem to be much knowledge about Parsons and her background. It’s too bad; she had such an interesting life, full of contradictions and full of ironies. She always denied that she had been born into slavery and claimed this false Hispanic/Native American identity for herself. She’s so interesting in so many ways.

Why do you think her reputation, or at least knowledge of her, has been eclipsed by other women like Goldman, or even Mary “Mother” Jones? Certainly, their reputations have survived in histories of labor and anarchists but Parsons seems to have fallen by the wayside. Why has she fallen by the wayside while Goldman has not?

I’m not really sure. Certainly, Goldman was a powerful speaker, she was an agitator, she propounded free love and she was the editor of Mother Earth. So, she was constantly in the public eye, but so was Parsons. She edited two radical journals, Freedom and Liberator, she had many speaking tours around the country. Parsons was also a prolific writer, she thought deeply about political theory and history. It’s not clear to me why she isn’t remembered. I know why Goldman is remembered—she was outspoken and deported in 1919, sent to the Soviet Union and returned from there deeply disillusioned. They have very different trajectories.

As I said, Goldman was a proponent of free love, she thought monogamy was not the natural order of things. Ironically, Lucy Parsons, though an anarchist, claimed that the nuclear family and monogamy were the building blocks of a just society. When in fact, she lived a very liberated life, sexually. She had a baby in Waco, Texas and the father is unknown—it might have been Albert but it might have been a named Oliver Benton, a man who claimed her as his wife. After Albert died, she had a series of love affairs with younger men, a couple of which ended in spectacular fashion in the newspapers. She dragged them to court. On some level, she presented herself as a very prim, Victorian wife and mother and her private life, I think, was subsumed under this rhetoric.

It’s quite an interesting question. I think she did pioneer resistance to efforts to suppress free speech. She was a real First Amendment proponent; certainly the efforts of the Chicago police to silence her in the late 1880s and 1890s, that was the beginning of free speech campaigns that other groups, like the Wobblies or the Industrial Workers of the World, continued well into the 20th century. Parsons was really there at the forefront of these free speech campaigns. She deserves a lot more credit historically than she’s been given.

I wanted to return to Lucy Parsons’s origins for just a moment. You uncovered new information about her birth and really untangled this mess of her self-made origin story. Could you talk a bit about the challenges of tracking Parsons’s early life, from her birth in Virginia to her life in Texas? This seemed to be a contentious issue during Parsons’s career, fueled in large part by her.

When Carolyn Ashbaugh wrote her book, she only devoted three pages to Parsons’s first 21 or 22 years. Ashbaugh barely mentioned [Parsons’s] years in Waco before she left for Chicago in 1873.

The short part of the story is that I sat in front of a computer for many weeks and managed to track her down. I found an article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in 1886 which I consider the Rosetta Stone of Lucy Parsons’s life. That article gave me the name of her mother, Charlotte. It told me that her mother had married a man in Waco named Charlie Carter, it gave me the name of [Lucy and Charlotte’s] owner, Tolliver. He was from Virginia and was a Confederate surgeon who brought his slaves to McLennan County in Texas during the Civil War. It also gave me the name of the man who claimed Parsons as his wife. He was called Oliver Gathings by white people, but the name he took after slavery was Oliver Benton.

All of this pointed to some real challenges to recreating her early years. One is that often after slavery, former enslaved men and women took new last names and abandoned the names of their owner. Charlotte did that, she took the name of her new husband, Charlie Carter. Charlie Carter had abandoned his slave name, Charlie Crane. Oliver Benton had abandoned his slave name, Oliver Gathings. That’s one of the challenges; to navigate these name changes over time is very difficult. But once I found the name of Charlotte, I could look her up in the Waco census for 1870 and her daughter who, in 1870, was 19. Her daughter gave her name as Lucia, again another name change because Lucia eventually became Lucy.

There were these challenges to overcoming these barriers to piecing this history together. Once I knew the name of Parsons’s owner, I could find Tolliver in the Confederate military records. He was a surgeon, he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Illinois. He then went back east and got his slaves and brought them to Waco in 1863. He then becomes part of the Waco record.

It was a kind of detective mystery. It was fun to see these pieces eventually fall into place, again to have them confirmed by multiple sources. It wouldn’t have made any sense to take the Globe-Democrat article at face value. I had to confirm all of that information multiple ways before I thought it was true.

Lucy’s origin story or, at least the one she invents, of being Latina and Native American, seems to emerge at a very specific time. She spins this story at the very moment that her husband is implicated in the Haymarket bombing. She already has this very fluid relationship with identity, I was wondering what your takeaway on Lucy’s creation of a new racial identity is? Why is she compelled to create this particular identity?

You’re right that [Lucy’s origin story] takes hold at a very specific time and that’s when Albert has been implicated in the bombing and she’s about to launch her own career as an orator and agitator. I think there are a couple of things at work here: her looks were indeterminate and she felt that she would gain more credibility on a national stage if people thought that she was not African American. I think that she thought that being labeled African American would damage her credibility as an orator on almost any subject. She approaches it as a kind of exotic identity for herself.

Parsons was able to get away with it to a certain extent. People couldn’t really tell by looking at her what her origins were. Also, there was no Mexican-American press in Chicago until the 1920s or 1930s. There was nobody in Chicago to interview her or to ask her about her parents or to comment on the fact that she couldn’t speak Spanish. If you look at her through the years and see what she told census takers, she’s constantly getting her [fictional] parents mixed up—sometimes her father is Mexican, sometimes it’s her mother, other times they’re Native American. She can’t keep her own story straight because it’s a fiction. She’s not that careful about preserving it.

Albert was complicit in this. He claimed later that when he met her, he found a lovely Spanish maiden on her uncle’s ranch in west Texas. Of course, they met in Waco.

Popular print of Haymarket Riots, 1886. Image via Wikipedia.

I love that Albert and Lucy collaborate to create this romantic fiction…

One of the things you bring up in the book is that as Lucy cultivates this identity, of being Latina and Native American, she’s really emphasizing that she is more native than white Americans. I was wondering how that played out in the context of being an anarchist because, of course, many of them were foreign-born. Pointing to foreignness was a common way to discredit anarchists…

She took on that purpose very seriously. Certainly, she claimed that she was more native-born than anyone else—she claimed that her ancestors met Cortés when he came to Mexico. Sometimes she would say that her ancestors met Columbus when he came to the New World. Secondly, her physical appearance played a role, too. She was quite fashionable and she was very vain. Everyone agreed that she was very beautiful. She was very well put together and a very talented seamstress.

The picture on the cover of the book is one of her favorites. She’s in a silk-striped dress, she has a lace collar which has a gold pin at the throat. She’s wearing a hat with black ostrich feathers. Everybody remarked on how elegantly she dressed. She would go speak in places and the cops would be looking around for this firebrand orator and they couldn’t locate her. Then she’d ascend to the stage and they’d all be amazed to find this very beautiful, well-dressed woman was the much-feared Mrs. Parsons. She had a good sense of humor, she was playing with these stereotypes of a bomb-throwing anarchist as an unshaven man from western Europe who couldn’t speak English and who was very alien to native-born Americans.

The newspaper writing that you included in the book is very interesting. It’s essentially men who are both allured by her dress and the fact that she’s attractive but are also very bothered by her indeterminate racial identity. They seem very confused by the contradiction of stereotypes, between her looks and her rhetoric. There’s a bunch of ink spilled over figuring out over what her racial identity could possibly be. You call her a “walking contradiction of terms.” Do you think that’s something that she purposefully courted, perhaps to insert confusion into the coverage of her?

She often claimed that her personal identity—that her background—should be irrelevant. In the Introduction, I quote her saying something like “Nobody cares about who I am or where I come from, they only care about my message.” She is being disingenuous there. On the one hand, she thought that identity should be irrelevant and the message of class struggle should be everything. On the other hand, she loved the attention. If she could make headlines, she was delighted. She craved that kind of press attention. If she could remain a woman of mystery, I think she really embraced that as a way of being in the world.

I do try to make the point that I think that took a tremendous emotional toll on her. Parsons couldn’t speak freely about her background or talk about that long, forced trek from the east to Texas during the Civil War. She couldn’t be forthcoming about the family she left behind in Waco. I think that was an emotional burden that she carried with her.

You can tell in the book that I wasn’t about to write another Lives of the Saints, I wanted to portray her as I saw her. She had her son committed to an insane asylum in 1899. It was shocking, he wanted to join the Army and she thought that would be humiliating to her because she was an anti-imperialist. At the time she was speaking out against the [Spanish-American War] and now, to have her own son go off to the Philippines was too much for her to bear, so she has him committed. He died in that asylum 20 years later and, as far as I can tell, she never visited him.

People who met her said that she was tough. One person who met her described her as bulldozing nearly everyone. She was very sure of her own views and contemptuous of those she considered weak or ill-informed. She was a very formidable personality, but not a lovely one.

Parsons also played with gender, especially the interplay of gender and her incredibly violent rhetoric, which included encouraging crowds to make dynamite and engage in this anarchist war. She used gender to protect herself, or at least ward off suspicion, during Haymarket but also to garner support. As you pointed out, she’s very invested in her appearance as another method to undermine stereotypes. I was wondering, how does gender work either for or against Parsons? Especially considering that she’s not a white woman and the press is very invested in determining her racial identity— while they might not be sure of her race, they are sure that she’s definitely not white.

Her politics were, as you say, pretty violent. I looked at what she wrote in her husband’s paper, The Alarm, before Haymarket. She is one of the proponents of the use of dynamite. There developed a cult of dynamite among anarchists in Chicago in the mid-1880s. They argued that it was the ultimate form of self-defense for the laboring classes and also that it leveled the playing field. They argued that if they had to deal with well-armed police or businessmen backed up with Gatling guns, then they needed dynamite to protect themselves. Often this rhetoric veered away from self-defense to calling for the use of dynamite as a weapon in class warfare. She contributed to this.

It was interesting that during the Haymarket trial, the prosecution introduced many different kinds of evidence and one piece of evidence was her essay called “Two Tramps.” The essay ends with the sentence, “Learn the use of explosives!” She had a very demure personal presentation, all the while, her writings were very provocative. Authorities in Chicago loved to use words to describe her that invoked the Great Fire of 1871. They said she was a firebrand, that her comments were inflammatory or incendiary, that she was bound to unite the spark of revolution, and set the laboring classes on fire. There are all of these firey allusions to her.

After the Haymarket trial, the police detective Michael Schaack, who was the great nemesis of Chicago anarchists, was asked if he would go after the women next. The question referred to Lucy Parsons and Lizzie Swank [another anarchist and close friend of Lucy and Albert]. People often complained that Lucy got away with this murderous rhetoric only because she was a woman. And, to a certain extent, she did. Her husband was executed basically for saying things that she said as well. His writings were very provocative and very violent. He denied that later on, but that was certainly the case. When they were looking for suspects for the bombing, he and other editors and orators were rounded up—the usual suspects, I guess. It is interesting that she was kind of inoculated against a kind of vigorous prosecution.

She also has a really fraught relationship with gender. She used a lot of gendered language in her speeches—challenging men to be men, for example. But when she’s working with the Working Women’s Union, she’s also deeply frustrated by these attempts to unionize and mobilize working women like herself. This history of working women often goes unexplored in big histories of labor and anarchism. I was wondering if you could speak a bit about Parsons, the Working Women’s Union, and the organization of women in that period?

First of all, I should point out that Parsons was more of an agitator than an organizer. She didn’t really have the patience to work with ordinary laboring women. She wanted to get up in front of a big crowd and declaim. The experience with the Working Women’s Union she found instructive because she found that it was not going to be her destiny. The problem with that group is that it was composed mostly of middle-class women who were well-educated and well-read. They were very interested in political theory and would have meetings at night where they would discuss fine points of political ideology. Parsons didn’t seem to understand that working women—women who toiled as seamstresses or domestic servants for ten or twelve hours a day—were really not interested in that kind of evening activity.

They weren’t eager to commit to a union because they considered wage work to be temporary. They didn’t think that they would be doing this forever. They believed that they were doing this labor until they got married and then they could retreat from the paid labor force. Lizzie Swank found this out, too (she and her sister worked as labor organizers in what was essentially a sweatshop). They found that it took a lot of courage to walk out; these women would have been fired if they walked out of their jobs, left without pay, and likely blacklisted. These women just didn’t have the emotional resources to confront their employers and demand higher wages. It was a really brutal system. It is true that these women were getting a lot of discouragement from their brothers and father who believed that women should not be working because they depressed the wages of men. They were encouraged to think of labor as a temporary state. Beyond that, they’re tired at the end of the day, they want to spend their Sunday afternoons relaxing and not going to union meetings.

Parsons loved the debating and talking about political history. She was extremely well read and really enjoyed in-the-weeds discussions of political theory. Working women had no patience for Parsons’s approach. She made no headway and the Working Women’s Union collapsed very quickly. It was a struggle to organize women in the garment industry well into the twentieth-century, until the 1930s, and even beyond.

One of the thing that’s still a bit of a mystery is how and when Lucy Parsons becomes so radical. You follow her in Texas, and we know she’s in school at some point. She marries Albert and, because of racial and political discrimination, they move to Chicago. At what point does Lucy herself turn from a newly free woman with a child at home to a radical firebrand encouraging workers to make dynamite?

If we take her at her word, it was Great Strike of 1877. It was the summer of 1877 when railroad employees across the country went on strike and other workers joined them in solidarity. In Chicago, the strike was a very bloody one, it lasted about a week and several people were killed. Albert was a major figure that summer because of his rhetorical abilities. He gave several speeches to large crowds. That was the first time he really came to the attention of the authorities in Chicago, including the police and powerful businessmen. Lucy Parsons says that that experience radicalized her. She realized that capitalism was predatory, that the police were aggressive in their violent attacks on workers and that the laboring classes must defend themselves at all costs.

I see her starting to contribute to a magazine called The Socialist in Chicago in the late 1870s and then she continues to write for other periodicals. The Alarm started in about 1884 and she begins writing there. You can tell from her writings that she’s reading a lot during that period. Some of her writings for The Socialist indicate that she’s reading popular women’s magazines, as well as local newspapers, and dense political theory. She’s self-taught but she’s clearly brilliant—she had to be. She only had two or three years of formal education in a school with other children of [formerly] enslaved people. That was a rudimentary kind of learning that she got there. She read a lot her own; there was a lot of study groups, the Socialists were very big on meeting in the evening and discussing very dense tracts of political theory. Albert and Lucy were very involved in that.

Now that you’re done with this project and the book is out, what do you think Lucy Parsons’s legacy is today?

She was a fearless speaker. At one point, I suggest that she was never happier than when she was dodging the police. She did it so often, I came to believe that she came to relish it—it was something awful that she had to contend with, but it became part of who she was. Getting on stage or standing on a street corner and having the police tell her to move, then going to another street corner or spending the evening in jail—that meant that she was fearless when it came to speaking her mind. When you look at the late 80s and 90s in Chicago, she’s giving speeches and the cops are demanding that she show the American flag when she speaks, and she refuses. Instead, she shows the red flag or the black flag, or anything to aggravate and antagonize the cops.

When I think of Chicago’s Red Squad—an elite group of police officers who were supposed to keep track of radicals in the city—I think she was really an impetus for the formation of the Red Squad. Certainly, after the Haymarket trial, the police become very convinced that they have to monitor all radical activities in the city. She knew whenever she spoke that there were undercover police in the audience. She knew that detectives followed her. I see her as a fearless proponent of the First Amendment. She also demonstrated a great deal of physical courage, as well.

She was very prescient. She warned against machines taking people’s jobs. She warned that, as machines took jobs, no one would be able to buy anything or sustain the U.S. economy—she turned out to be half right about that. She called out both political parties, she didn’t think they were adequate to address the nation’s ills; she was right about that. She decried the role of money in politics, saying that money corrupted the political process. She was right about that. She’s really identifying the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the dispossession of so many workers. When you read her today, it really does sound like she is talking about our current time. She really was quite prescient.

But the personal life is filled with ironies and contradictions, and that’s what makes her so fascinating. She had a rich and turbulent life and she tried to smooth that over in her public persona. It’s just who she was.

In the classical Marxist sense, at least in the 19th century, she felt that her focus should be on the urban laboring classes, particularly factory workers. She and her husband, virtually all of their comrades in Chicago, ignored the struggles of black working people. It’s not just because she was born enslaved that I think she should have been more attentive to that community but, as positioning herself as a radical, she and her comrades should have really understood the very difficult position that black workers were in. As it was, these white agitators and labor organizers, they demonized black workers as strikes breakers, the same way they demonized the Chinese as workers who would take low wages and put white workers out of jobs. That was a very short-sighted way of looking at the laboring class. That’s, unfortunately, part of the legacy of American radicalism and, of course, Lucy Parsons.

Via: anarchistnews.org

Edited for mb3-org.com


Iran deploys Revolutionary Guards to quell ‘sedition’ in protest hotbeds

By: Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

The protests, which began last week over economic hardships suffered by the young and working class, have evolved into a rising against the powers and privileges of a remote elite, especially supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The unrest continued to draw sharply varied responses internationally, with Europeans expressing unease at the delighted reaction by U.S. and Israeli leaders to the display of opposition to Iran’s clerical establishment.

Defying threats from the judiciary of execution if convicted of rioting, protests resumed after nightfall with hundreds hitting the streets of Malayer in Hamadan province chanting: “People are begging, the supreme leader is acting like God!”

Videos carried by social media showed protesters in the northern town of Nowshahr shouting “death to the dictator”.

In a sign of official concern about the resilience of the protests, the Revolutionary Guards commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said he had dispatched forces to Hamadan, Isfahan and Lorestan provinces to tackle “the new sedition”.

Most of the casualties among protesters have occurred in those regions of the sprawling Islamic Republic.

The Revolutionary Guards, the sword and shield of Iran’s Shi‘ite theocracy, were instrumental in suppressing an uprising over alleged election fraud in 2009 in which dozens of mainly middle-class protesters were killed. Khamenei condemned that unrest as “sedition”.

In Washington, a senior Trump administration official said the United States aimed to collect “actionable information” that could allow it to pursue sanctions against Iranian individuals and organisations involved in the crackdown.

But in Paris, President Emmanuel Macron said the tone of comments from the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia was “almost one that would lead us to war … a deliberate strategy for some,” and stressed the importance of keeping a dialogue with Tehran.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel expressed concern about the situation escalating.

“What we urgently advise against is the attempt to abuse this internal Iranian conflict … internationally. That is not going to ease the situation any way,” he said.

In a state-sponsored show of force aimed at countering the outpouring of dissent, thousands of Iranians took part in pro-government rallies in several cities on Wednesday morning.

State television broadcast live footage of rallies where marchers waved Iranian flags and portraits of Khamenei, Iran’s paramount leader since 1989.

Pro-government marchers chanted: “The blood in our veins is a gift to our leader (Khamenei),” and: “We will not leave our leader alone.” They accused the United States, Israel and Britain of inciting protests, shouting, “The seditionist rioters should be executed!”

In the Shi‘ite holy city of Qom, pro-government demonstrators chanted “death to American mercenaries”.

On Tuesday, the 78-year-old Khamenei had accused Iran’s adversaries of fomenting the protests.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has sought to isolate the Tehran leadership, reversing the conciliatory approach of predecessor Barack Obama, said Washington would throw its support behind the protesters at a suitable time.

“Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!” Trump wrote in the latest of a series of tweets on Iran’s turmoil.

In contrast, the leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, played down the protests as economic discontent, saying they were not rooted in the political issues which spurred huge numbers to demonstrate in 2009 and would end soon.

He described them as “nothing to worry about”.

The protests seem to be spontaneous, without a clear leader, cropping up in working-class neighbourhoods and smaller cities, but the movement seems to be gaining traction among the educated middle class and activists who took part in the 2009 protests.

More than 100 Iranian woman activists voiced support for a new uprising in a statement on Wednesday. Several prominent Iranian lawyers, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, urged Tehran to respect people’s right to freedom of assembly and expression, guaranteed under the constitution.

Some labour unions as well as minority Kurdish opposition groups have also thrown their weight behind the protests.

In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief urged Iran to rein in security forces to avoid further violence and respect the right to peaceful assembly.

Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for “thorough, independent and impartial investigations of all acts of violence”.

Hamidreza Abolhassani, a regional judicial official, said a European citizen had been arrested for leading rioters in the Borujerd area of western Iran and was suspected of having been “trained by European intelligence services”. The detainee’s nationality was not given.


The protests have heaped pressure on President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who championed a deal struck with world powers in 2015 to curb Iran’s disputed nuclear programme in return for the lifting of most international sanctions.

Via: uk.reuters.com

Edited for mb3-org.com

Determining a Threat When You’re the Target: A Response to Several Authors

Common Ground

It’s worth mentioning that there is some shared intent here. I take issue with Jason’s framing of it as being ‘liberal’ but appreciate his search for common ground. I assume that we are all:

  1. Opposed to fascism: Although we debate its exact boundaries, there is a clear center mass that we are all opposed to.
  2. Opposed to the state and using it as the means of defeating fascism: We are anarchists and libertarians. We distrust any scheme the state offers as a defense against fascism because we know that more often than not they are traps and often lay the foundation for fascism anew. As an extension, we are critical of strategies that (explicitly or implicitly) rely on state violence such as the military, police, Border Patrol, ICE, or SWAT including those that expand the capacity for state violence such as many forms of legislative reform. We don’t call the cops and we aren’t snitches.
  3. Opposed to unprovoked violence: We will debate about the exact nature of aggression and self-defense but I think that it is worth noting that none of us are excited about the prospect of widescale violence. We are reticent and thoughtful about violence even if we debate what is morally or strategically advisable and necessary.
  4. Opposed to racism, nationalism, homophobia, anti-semitism, and the like: We disagree about how to reduce harm, create positive norms, and what to do about the various forms of bias (structural and interpersonal) and discriminatory violence but we all do seek to minimize or destroy these viruses.
  5. Support freedom and liberty: We all recognize that positive freedom is the complicated antidote to the repression and populism of fascism and authoritarian domination.
  6. Support the protection of communities at risk of fascist violence: We see fascist gangs and white supremacy, whether state sanctioned or not, as being antithetical to our values and seek to eliminate harm against those it targets even though this ‘protection’ may look different to us.

By mentioning these, assumedly, shared values I am not seeking to gloss over our differences which are dramatic. I mention them only to emphasize and encourage good faith in the recognition that we do have some shared goals.

On War and Violence

As antifascists, it should be clear that our brand is empathy and liberty. We stand not only on the side of love, but also on the side of joy. We fight nazis because we want a world where speech can be free. The contradiction of a shallow first glance fails to capture us. Sometimes the best way to maximize freedom and liberate love, is to resist that which would destroy or silo them into inbred cesspools of homogeneity. When we punch nazis, or spend years researching, infiltrating, and exposing them, we do it for love, not out of a vulgar brutalism. Don’t ever let someone steal that truth from us.

I also think it’s important to mention that I have experienced homophobic and transphobic violence. By mentioning having been physically and verbally assaulted for a marginalized identity (primarily for being a visibly queer transwoman) I am not trying to play a trump card that functions as an epistemic closure. Direct trauma is after all, not the end all be all of understanding a thing. But it does offer certain insights that can get lost in the abstracted discussion of justifiable threats to violence. Fear often functions as a set of biases towards action or paralysis, for better or worse. This trauma-based fear can lead to reactionary behavior or subtlety depending on the nature of the wielder. But in my direct experience, and the experiences of so many of my networks, the speed with which a situation shifts from anti-trans hostility to physical aggression can be the blink of an eye, and generally is. Sometimes you don’t have any warning and it comes seemingly out of nowhere. When, particularly libertarian, critics of antifa discuss the importance of awaiting the initiation of aggression, it often betrays a lack of experience with real-life, non-philosophical violence. I find myself thinking, “What would make you happy? Do you want us, the targets, to make scouting teams that, follow every single nazi around town until they reach their homes? Do you realize how impractical this is?!!” It’s not just impractical, it’s impossible. We do our best to minimize harm which sometimes means minimizing fascist threats. When you’re a hunted minority it’s easy to develop paranoia when there are, in fact, a lot of people that want to kill you, and even more people unwilling to go that far, but delighted by the possibility of harming you in any number of other ways.

I’m also a well-trained firearm owner. As the bathroom bill movement ramped up in the U.S. there was a concomitant call for people to kill and murder transwomen they found in women’s bathrooms. Because of my occupation, I found myself in public women’s bathrooms a lot constantly paranoid and knowing my rate of passing as cis is roughly half. As problematic as passing is as a concept, coupled with a variety of other surface or contextual indicators, passing is often the difference between being able to pee unhampered and being accosted (while still needing to pee). My experiences of intense transphobia and trauma stretches back as far as early childhood but as fascism began to more substantively rear its head again in the mainstream U.S. (and global) political landscape, things changed dramatically. I’m also a denizen of the internet which means I’ve been dealing with transphobes brutal desire to maim, rape, and murder me for a long time. But seeing that cesspit congeal into a coherent movement with physical street fighting operations, goose-stepping down main streets echoing Nazi slogans and throwing Roman salutes, I began to feel another echo. I had seen this before, but differently.

In my time living in a Kurdish area on the Turkish side of the borderlands with Syria, I came to be deeply involved with a wide range of activists from the Syrian revolution who had widely differing positions but all of which were generally opposed to the authoritarian regime of the father and the son–the Assads. I moved there under invitation in order to support a variety of local activist efforts and ended up also working in free migration issues. Somewhere in my heart I had hoped to learn some deep lesson that would make the appeal of non-violent direct action seem more viable as a core tenet of my anarchism. Unfortunately, the lesson I learned was quite the opposite. I left with a greater certainty that in situations where fascists come to takeover your village, that not only will the state not save you, they’ll exploit your death. Pacifism will get you and everyone you love killed. You will fight, flee, or die and many will die regardless. Wherever possible fascist movements will congeal rabidly into fully-fledged military movements, tactictly employed by the state to destroy minorities and imagined fifth-column subversives and enforce fascist rule. The myth of palingenesis draws in brutalists from across the world to fight for a disgusting dream. War isn’t just cruel, it’s the intense magnification of the worst crimes of which societies are capable. These crimes are then reiterated, again and again, forming complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as the inability to bury your dead, much less grieve, compounds. Warfare is a tragedy so far beyond comprehension that it defies the transmission of experience between those who’ve seen it and those who haven’t. Fascism means a uniquely brutal form of warfare that many remember and many forget.

Upon arriving back to the states I knew more deeply than ever that the state will repress legitimate anti-fascist community defense and yet, that we needed it intensely. Many that oppose my ideas in this exchange will no doubt support robust community and self-defense efforts. On the other hand, I am of the ilk that is happy to read about anarchists destroyingGolden Dawn offices in Greece or killing their leaders in the streets. I smile not because I enjoy violence. My neural architecture is corrupted by my various domestic and international exposures to violence. I am opposed to it in the most visceral and logical sense. I’m an empath who will puke at a stranger’s blood loss. I have even written extensively about the role of peacebuilding and transformative tactics in long-term antifascist strategy. I am happy not because I’m a vulgar brutalist, but because I see meaningful defense. I am happy because the alternative is a carnage far worse. I am happy because I subsequently read about a former Golden Dawn member stating that “The only real threat to Golden Dawn is the anarchists.” I am happy because I smell, hear, and see a much more dramatic outbreak of violence as currently teetering on the brink of the possible and I wish, deeply that we were more prepared to stop it. I am happy because it frightens me that we might lose and I get some hope from our victories.

The casual observer may see an anarchist murder some Golden Dawn member, who has no swastika tattoos and is wearing a suit and thinks (as Will rightfully described), “My goodness! They’ve killed that innocent business man!” The conservative outrage machine would post pictures of the nazi doing community service for little Aryan children. The liberal sympathy machine would raise money for his neo-nazi wife. Little would they all know that the anarchists had been following him for years as he attempted to organize (yet keep his hands clean) the firebombing of African bars in echoes of the pogroms against guest workers by civilian “police” forces in Poland. When commanders such as these, die or drop-out of organizing after doxxing, so too does their organizational memory, their leadership acumen, and their connections.

We, in the so-called Western world, may not yet be on the brink of war as it is deeply known by those in the so-called Global South. More often we export our war. However, anyone who has lived in real U.S. American poverty has seen glimpses. Many of us have lived amongst gang warfare, racialized by a thriving legacy of Jim Crow era policies and structural racism. Working class anti-racists fight to hold their lines in the race rules of prison. Whether we are already in the race-war the fascists (and many leftists) think they want or not, matters less than the realistic dynamics of how violent confrontations work. Violent conflict is a battle not an egalitarian anarchist (or liberal) conversation. Ethical corruption is constantly perversely incentivized. Anarchists don’t understand war. We care too goddamn much to fully embrace the sociopathic bloodlust needed to play a violent team sport and win. Even the consequentialists amongst us (such as myself and Will) draw certain hard lines that lose us points where brutality wins. Even as I support broad defense I recognize that we must embrace voices of restraint lest we fall into cognitive, affective death spirals.


In violent conflict the rules of engagement change. This is not a free pass. We are no longer anarchists if we abandon the empathy and love of liberty that characterizes and weakens us against ultra-violence. I respect both Jason and Grayson. Despite several years of frustrated mutual plunking of keys at each other on these topics, I appreciate their calls to thoughtful reticence and engagement. I acknowledge that they notably attempt to deeply engage, and even meaningfully frame comprehension of the positions they argue against. They, and others in their ideological vicinity, have impacted me in the sense that their thoughtful (even if occasionally wildly wrong-headed) conclusions represent aspects of my own consciousness and the problems at play that are worthy of attention.

Other antifa critics such as Babcock relegate their critiques to Libertarian and Republican echo chambers through their lack of exposure to the nuance present in antifascist groups. While burning a Marxist (and Trotskyist) caricature of a predominantly anarchist movement, he ironically casts the world into a quite dialectical binary of liberal and illiberal motivations conveniently creating a perfect team based trench system to defend or dismiss. This kind of rote simplification is worse than a strawman, it’s disingenuous. No one in this mutual-exchange is an ML, but many may be socialists. Grant does not show a great amount of exposure to the distinction between libertarian-socialism and Stalinism. Further, those that advocate punching nazis are not somehow illiberal authoritarian communist monsters bent on gulaging anyone with a different perspective. His lack of exposure is again exposed when he tries (possibly ironically?) to play an idpol epistemic closure in describing antifa demos as a fundamentally masculine endeavor stating, ““One of the advantages of nonviolent tactics, in contrast to street brawling, is that people who are not able-bodied men are full and equal participants in the fight, rather than being relegated to support roles. ” Fun fact about actually existing antifa groups, there are tons of femmes, neuro-diverse people, queers, trans folks, and people of color involved and generally in the front lines. The particular groups with shitty masculinist track records often get ostracized by the larger networks. The assumption that only men can fight and that situations of physical confrontation innately relegates non-men to support roles, speaks for itself. More offensive though than these naive assumptions is his repeated notion that anyone who would want to use violence against nazi political assembly is primarily motivated by a desire for violence. In the response section I hope to see Grant increasingly engage with the real people he faces instead of some authcom strawman.

Conversely, I see Edelhoss making a similar mistake from the opposite direction. Placing a primacy on the involvement in antifa groups as the only form of antifascist activism and assuming that everyone who doesn’t or isn’t involved is an “ignoramus.” There are lots of ways to support antifa groups without being a member (send them intel, flyer, cook for them, babysit, provide them self-defense training, etc.) although I am in full agreement with you that membership does generate certain nuance and knowledge about the depth of care with which the majority of longstanding antifa groups approach their work. But, while I disagree incredibly firmly with many, or even most, of the critics of antifa. I won’t go so far as to lump them all into a category of idiocy even if I do think some of their ideas are disastrously wrong or limited.

A common critique of antifascist political violence (the smarter critics recognizing that this is only a small, but important short-term piece of what antifa groups do) is that it militarizes and popularizes the fascist movement amongst mainstream republicans and fence-sitters while creating martyrs. There is of course truth to these critiques of anti-fascist action broadly speaking, such as that some people are sympathetic to the perceived extremism of antifa and are drawn to fascism as a result. But these people that would be drawn to fascism, were already drawn to it, that’s how attraction works. Another part of this critique is that getting doxxed or beaten can in some situations lead to increased group cohesion amongst fascists or fence-sitting conservatives caught in the crossfire. Well sure, when you get smashed in the head by someone you certainly don’t think, “My god maybe they do have a point!” but this is a gross simplification. Tons of military history and conflict transformation research studying the “radicalization” of terrorist groups backs this idea up. But these are often looking at foreign invaders, occupying far-flung lands with a history of colonial exploitation, then creating a huge swath of civilian deaths through things like nightly drone bombing campaigns and the like. This is wildly different than what more aptly resembles a civil conflict (mostly with sticks and pepper-spray) even with the knowledge of global geo-political meddling. As far as martyrdom goes, Da3esh (ISIS) has plenty of dead martyrs but Raqqa has fallen. Might never makes right, but it can spell a tainted kind of victory.

Although the person punched and doxxed at a rally might become radicalized, it’s not about the one person, it’s about the people who decide not to partake as a result. The same way that infiltration is designed not just to reveal information but also to create inner panic. These are of course statist war-games. But that doesn’t make them ineffective. In fact, in hierarchical organizations such as many neo-nazi orgs and gangs, it makes them more effective. Should we constantly check our compass of efficacy and ethics? Of course. We need strong accountability. But hand-waving the situation just allows escalation, and escalation means death and extreme suffering.

When Jason describes the importance of distinguishing between peaceful and violent nazi rallies, he acknowledges the need for readiness for defense, but seems nearly dismissive of the ease with which we can recognize patterns and draw predictive conclusions especially with regard to certain specific nazi groups such as NSM, Identity Evropa, or anything that draws in the “Proud Boys.” Obviously not every III-percenter rally is motivated by white supremacist violence but we can see through the word games that other groups employ to mask their genocidal lust. Just because not every nazi event featured violence doesn’t mean it’s not a pattern. That’s not how correlation works. Every historical nazi rally didn’t end with a Romani or guest worker pogrom (or the Munich Putsch) but the ones that did were devastating beyond all reason. Most of Hitler, Mussolini, and the National Front’s early rallies were framed as proper upstanding citizens types of events. Traditionalists love to see themselves as clean and proper. Yet given the chance, there is regular anti-minority violence at these rallies aside from the sheer trauma that these festivals of intimidation provide.

As I have said on many occasions, counter-recruitment, skilled rebuttal, and liberal hugs can be very strategic. I support the one-two punch of antifa pushing back a nazi incursion and then liberals scooping them up and kindly pointing them to the fact that they have literally become nazis. The beautiful cases such as Derek Black are important, even as they are completely and wholly unfeasible as central organizing principles for a movement that intends not to get slaughtered. Grayson keenly pointed out the historical interplay between more militant and more pacifist movements, stating:

Many advocates of violent action acknowledge this, and propose that violent and nonviolent strategies be employed simultaneously. They observe that nonviolent strategies like those of Gandhi or King were employed side by side with violent strategies that made them more appealing to those in power. There are few things worth considering in light of that observation. It doesn’t establish any particular advantage for violent or nonviolent action. It also seems likely that there are relevant differences between strategies aimed at changing established political institutions and those aimed at effecting broader cultural change (the two are, of course, not totally independent). Lastly, it seems to assume that violent and nonviolent actions generally interact harmoniously rather than antagonistically. That assumption is clearly unwarranted.

Although I agree to an extent with this take, I don’t think that we need to, or are arguing for the dominance of political violence in our tactics. Further, I think that the antagonism he describes is that often, the peacenik contemporaries of social movements often end up being the ones who collaborate with the state in the repression of radical community defense. In my personal experience, just about every single protest has some white hippy mom who goes to the police to help identify the “violent anarchists” completely of her own accord. This is not to say that all non-violent direct action activists are this particular breed of loathsome. In fact most of the committed ones, disagree as they may, would never facilitate state violence against their more aggressive fellow demo-goers. But nonetheless, when Jason and authors point to Gene Sharp, it is is of course timely to reference Gelderloos and his research on how certain forms of non-violence in the wake of Gene Sharp, have actually served to cede huge symbolic victories while maintaining the complete structure of deep marginalization in tact, such as when a dictator is overthrown and a new leader inherits their brutal secret police operations.

As we said in my opening essay, fascism is dangerous not because it’s true, but because it appeals to many people. It has an inherent hook. Because of this inherent hook, public debate with nazis is dangerous. In terms of debate, although often inadvisable, if you’re going into it there are a lot of strategies. Some of the most important and contradictory ones are to troll harder, be incessantly earnest, make sure to control the framing of the debate, cede no ground, be better at their game then them, define the terms, know your shit, expose the brittleness of their meta-strategies, don’t let them corner you, keep your cool, be calloused (as in have already done your time in the troll mines so you’re not shocked by incredibly violent and terrible shit), be strict and serious but clearly maintain that you are fighting for joy and love. Our opening essay stands similarly to Jason when he writes:

Of course, intellectual confrontations with fascists are not as simple as the best ideas automatically winning through the pure light of reason. Nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a thousand, fascists do not engage in good faith. They deliberately misrepresent both your ideas and theirs, having mastered subrational forms of communication to silence reason and amplify prejudice. These conversations can look like a normal debate to unsuspecting onlookers, who can mistake the fascist’s sophistry for bold truth-telling and find themselves infected….. Their goals are in pushing things away from sincere debate and into sophistry and violence. This can’t be too obvious, so they try to mask every attempt at subverting rational discourse as engagements in it. Their attacks on liberalism are almost always parasitic on it, gleefully saying their enemies smashed up a “free speech” rally, or balking at “triggered” interlocutors who supposedly can’t handle reasonable conversation. Their apparent arguments are often red herrings, so critiquing them on their own terms is fruitless.

Relatedly, in his discussion of belligerent rationality, Grayson points out how, much of the modern alt-right couldn’t really care less about whether race is actually a meaningful biological distinction. Fascism is a power movement first and foremost not a truth movement. They’re trolls but we too can troll. One of my favorite examples of political trolling that was non-violent and effective was when a liberal group called Deutschland Exitthat helps to counter-recruit neo-nazis made a fundraiser where every step that nazis in a particular rally took, was sponsored by donors to donate to the organization’s efforts. So in effect, the longer the march, the more money they raised for counter-recruitment efforts. In the end, the nazis raised over 10,000 Euros for the anti-extremist org. Clever underminings like this, while not capable of being the only pillar of defense, are excellent methods of taking the wind out of their sails.

With regard to the many battlefields of engagement with nazis, Jason argues that:

All these tactics must be practiced with serious care. Do not argue with fascists unless you’re skilled at cutting through sophistry; do not go to rallies armed unless you thoroughly trust your judgment in relevant situations and know how to properly use that weapon. You must know what you’re getting into, and where your talents place your comparative advantage in the anti-fascist division of labor.

While this is true, this is also a time of learning. Newfound radicalism is always annoying and reckless. No doubt the influx of baby antifa groups and new found anti-nazism will sprout some tremendously cringey, or even dangerous mistakes. But that is no reason for people to stop. That is reason for mentorship, guidance, practice, research, experimentation, and debate.

One of the topics that Jason and others and I fight about that has not been addressed here is the void of what could be considered truly reliable quantitative research on the efficacy of violent and nonviolent resistance to fascist movements. Unfortunately, it is far too high of a variable problem with too little by way of controls or clean comparisons to do proper data collection. However, although anecdotes do not constitute repeated evidence, they are a type of information. We do know that in the period where there wasn’t antifa groups, white supremacists controlled more neighborhoods in both Paris and Portland and that as antifa groups began to sprout up and apply a range of techniques to deal with the threats, the incidences of violence committed by these groups in those very same areas decreased as it became harder for them to carry out business as usual. Of course these are not perfect data points but they are still a kind of evidence and in lieu of other stronger evidence it is important to weigh them appropriately. What’s more, these invaluable histories of resistance are quite well documented and not only by antifa groups themselves but also by very serious historians of antifascist activity.

In discussing the role of the internet in modern no-platform battlefields Jason writes:

Consider the takedowns of the Daily Stormer and Stormfront; p. Predictably, both sites are back online. When fascists’ profiles get shut down on payment sites like Patreon or Gofundme, they just create their own explicitly fascist-friendly alternatives. Fascists will have websites, and some of those websites will be able to fund their activities.

But this is still a type of victory Jason. Push them farther into their own servers and they have less DDoS protections and things like this, making them more vulnerable. If they’re forced into the deep-web, sure they may retain some anonymity but they also lose a huge body of the populace who won’t or don’t know how to access the unlisted, or hidden-service web. Also, not all platforms are created equal. The point is also about normalizing the dismissal of fascist speech as inane. We don’t need the ideas to not exist– that’s impossible and undesirable– we want them to be relics that are looked upon with disdain and disinterest. In the long-term, none of us want to be fighting nazis tooth-and-nail. In the long-term, I do believe that fascists should be able to speak on the street-corner freely as long as they pose no real threat but we’re not there yet. It’s a deformed ideological market that privileges cruelty and the path towards positive freedom is a treacherous and narrow road.

The Right to Fear

There are a number of topics that I did not address in this essay either because I believe they’ve been well covered by other writers (such as slippery slope fallacies and the diversity of what antifa groups actually do) or because I think they would be distractions (a philosophical debate about consequentialism and deontology). However, it’s worth mentioning in no uncertain terms, that the fear that minorities feel about fascists is not only legitimate, it’s real. When discussing strategy and the efficacy of resistance against fascism I won’t play the reactionary leftist game of saying only the most brutal and oppressed are the most serious and legitimate, but I also won’t cede ground to those for whom the possible deaths of people like me and those even more at risk are but a minor philosophical point that distracts from the purity spiral of their ideological doctrine. While hopefully no one here would be so reckless, I say it because it’s common. The stakes are incredibly high. The targeted beings have a right to be triggered, to make mistakes, to garble and confuse their talking points even as we strive to hold each other to a higher standard. Objectivity is often the luxury of the removed after all, whether through healing or lack of exposure. When Alex remarks on the white cis-maleness of much of the left-market anarchist and libertarian milieus I am sure it is not to silence but to question. How can we best protect those at risk? How can we honor the experiences of those that have suffered and hold the memory of fascism and racist violence in their bodies? The answer isn’t brutality but it also isn’t ideologically “pure” rigidity. It’s very possible to be culpable and have clean hands. But amidst these dire tensions, there is common ground. I trust that people here all hate fucking nazis and want to see fascism wiped from the earth. In building a world free of fascist power, where liberty, empathy, mutual-aid, and that (James) Baldwinian love reign, I hope that we can keep our priorities in order. We don’t just want to survive, we want to build a world where we can thrive. Destroy nazism to cultivate empathy and freedom. Punch a nazi for love.

Via: c4ss.org

Edited for mb3-org.com

01-02-2018 Anarchy Radio

LISTEN HERE: http://archive.org/details/AnarchyRadio01022018

Iran erupts, eastern North America in deep freeze. Joey from Deep Green Bush School in New Zealand reports. Late 2017 rampant violence: mass shootings, pig violence. Latest urban horrors, reefs dying, air worsening.The “Brilliant” episodes 59-63 on technology critique: Huh? Action news, one call.

Via: anarchistnews.org

Edited for mb3-org.com

Anarchist social organization

FORA march in Buenos Aires

posted by:s.nappalos

A piece discussing debates over the role of political ideas within social movements, and the debate within anarchism over political organization applied to the current context of North American anarchism.

Originally published in Ideas and Action

The rise of the right and the impotence of the institutional left organized in non-profits, business unions, and electoral political parties to offer an alternative is pressing the crucial question for our time: what is our strategy in pre-revolutionary times? The revolutionary left focuses on the other hand is fixated on the ruptures and revolutions of history, and this has done little to prepare us for the present. Without concrete projects and practices that make a revolutionary approach clear to the exploited, anarchism and socialism remain abstract ideas. In the United States there are no nation-wide social movements to draw upon in forging a new social force. Resistance remains largely fragmented, and more often than not abstracted from the struggles of daily life and carried out by a semi-professional activist subculture. The challenge then is where to begin, or more specifically how to move beyond the knowledge, experiences, and groups of the past two decades towards a broader social movement?

There are some experiences we can draw on however from the heyday of the anarchist movement, where similarly radicals in a hostile environment began to discuss and craft strategic interventions. An overlooked and scarcely known debate within anarchism was between so-called dualism and unitary positions on organization.[i] That framing for the disagreement largely comes from the dualists who were supporters of specific anarchist political organizations independent from the workers organizations of their day. This was contrasted against the anti-political organization anarchists in the libertarian unions[ii] who proposed a model of workers organizations that were both a politicized-organization and union.

The portrayal of anarchosyndicalists as inherently against political organization and as advocating unions exclusively of anarchists is a straw man. If anything the orthodoxy supported political organizations including: Pierre Bresnard, former head of the International Workers Association (IWA-AIT), the Spanish CNT (through its affinity groups, specific organizations around publications, and the FAI), along with others in the various revolutionary unions of the IWA-AIT. A more balanced picture of the movement would be (at least) a four way division within IWA-AIT organizations including: class struggle syndicalism that downplayed anarchism and revolution (both with defenders and detractors of political organization), the dominant position of revolutionary unionism influenced by anarchism but striving for one big union of the class, political anarchists focused on insurrectionism and intellectual activities, and a fourth position that is likely unfamiliar to most readers.

That position I will call the anarchist social organization for lack of a better term. Elements of this position have existed and persisted throughout the history of the syndicalist movement, but found its core within the revolutionary workers organizations of South America at the turn of the century. In Argentina and Uruguay in particular a powerful immigrant movement of anarchists dominated the labor movement for decades, setting up the first unions and consolidating a politics in an environment where reformist attempts at unions lacked a context enabling them to thrive.[iii] This tendency spread across Latin America from Argentina to Mexico, at its zenith influenced syndicalist currents in Europe and Asia as well. It’s progress was checked by a combination of shifting context and political reaction that favored nationalist and reformist oppositions. Both Argentina and Uruguay underwent some of the world’s first legalized labor regimes and populist reform schemes to contain the labor movement combined with dictatorships that selectively targeted the anarchist movement while supporting socialists and nationalists across the region. The anarchist movement of el Río de la Plata was dealt heavy blows by the 1930s and began to decline.

The theorists of Argentina’s Federación Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA, Argentina Regional Workers’ Federation) in particular laid out an alternative approach to politics that was highly influential. Argentina perhaps vied with Spain as the most powerful anarchist movement in the world and yet is scarcely known today. The FORA takes its name from an aspiration towards internationalism and one of the most thorough going anti-State and anti-nationalist currents in radical history. The FORA inspired sister unions throughout Latin America many with similar names such as FORU (Uruguay), FORP (Paraguay), FORCh (Chile) and unions in Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia just to name a few. They even won over the membership of established IWW locals in Mexico and Chile to their movement away from the IWW’s neutral syndicalism.

The ideas of the FORA came to be known as finalismo; so named because in Spanish fines mean ends or goals, and the FORA made anarchist communism it’s explicit aim as early as 1905. Finalismo was a rejection of traditional unions and political organizations in favor of the anarchist social organization.[iv] In the unions, FORA saw a tendency to divert the working class into reforming and potentially reproducing capitalist work relations. Unions they argued are institutions that inherit too much of the capitalism we seek to abolish.[v] The capitalist division of labor reflected in industrial unions in particular could be a potential base for maintaining capitalist social relationships after the revolution, something that the FORA argued must be transformed.

“We must not forget that the union is, as a result of capitalist economic organization, a social phenomenon born of the needs of its time. To retain its structure after the revolution would imply preserving the cause that determined it: capitalism.”[vi]

This critique they extended to apolitical revolutionary unions like the IWW and even with anarchosyndicalism itself, which was seen as arguing for using unions, vehicles of resistance that reflect capitalist society, as cells of the future structure of society. Their goal was to transform a society built to maintain class domination to one organized to meet human needs; something the existing industries poison.

“Anarchosyndicalist theory, very similar to revolutionary unionism, is today confused by many who approach the workers movement, and even participate in it, because they consider that all anarchists who take part in unionism are automatically anaarchosyndicalists. Anarchosyndicalism is a theory that bases the construction of society after the emancipatory revolution in the same unions and professional associations of workers. The FORA expressively rejects anarchosyndicalism and maintains its conception that one cannot legislate the future of society after revolutionary change…”[vii]

While participating in class struggle on a day to day basis, members of the FORA similarly rejected the ideology of class struggle. Class struggle as ideology was seen as reflecting a mechanistic worldview inherited from Marxism, that ultimately would reinforce the divisions derived from capitalism which would sustain obstacles to constructing communism after the revolution. Class and worker identity are too tied to capitalist relationships, they argued, and are better attacked than cultivated.[viii]

The foristas were skeptical of political organizations separate from workers organizations, and believed they posed a danger. Such organizations would tend to over-value maintaining their political leadership against the long term goal of building anarchist communism.[ix] The world of political anarchism was seen as drawing from intellectual and cultural philosophies abstracted from daily life, whereas the anarchist workers movement drew it’s inspiration from connecting anarchist ethics to the lived struggles of the exploited.

“Anarchism as a revolutionary political party is deprived of its main strength and its vital elements; anarchism is a social movement that will acquire the greater power of action and propaganda the more intimately it stays in its native environment.”[x]

In their place, partisans of the FORA proposed a different type workers organization and role for anarchists. Emiliano Lopez Arango, the brilliant auto-didact and baker, emphasized that we should build organizations of workers aimed at achieving anarchist society, rather than organizations of anarchists-for-workers or organizations of anarchist-workers.

“Against this philosophical or political anarchism we present our concept and our reality of the anarchist social movement, vast mass organizations that do not evade any problems of philosophical anarchism, and taking man as he is, not just as supporter of an idea, but as a member of an exploited and oppressed human fraction… To create a union movement concordant with our ideas-the anarchist labor movement- it is not necessary to “cram” in the brain of the workers ideas that they do not understand or against those that guard routine precautions. The question is another…Anarchists must create an instrument of action that allows us to be a belligerent force acting in the struggle for the conquest of the future. The trade union movement can fill that high historic mission, but on condition that is inspired by anarchist ideas.”[xi]

This position has often been misunderstood or misrepresented as “anarchist unionism” i.e. trying to create ideologically pure groupings of workers. The workers of the FORA however held in little esteem the political anarchist movement, and did not believe in intellectuals imposing litmus tests for workers. Instead they built an organization which from 1905 onward took anarchist communism as its goal, and was constructed around anarchist ideals in its struggles and functioning.

There is a key difference between being an ideological organization doing organizing versus organizing with an anarchist orientation. The workers of the FORA tried to create the latter. Counterposed to raw economics and the ideology of class struggle, they emphasized a process of transformation and counter-power built through struggle but guided by values and ideas.[xii] Against the idea that syndicalist unions were seeds of the future society, they proposed using struggles under capitalism as ways to train the exploited for revolutionary goals and a radical break with the structure of capitalism with revolution.[xiii]

In doing so they organized Argentina’s working class under the leading light of anarchism until a series of repressive and recuperative forces overwhelmed them. The CNT would eventually follow FORA’s suit some three decades later with its endorsement of the goal of creating libertarian communism, but it’s vacillations on these issues (predicted by some foristas such as Manuel Azaretto)[xiv] would prove disastrous. CNT scored a contradictory initial victory, but floundered with how to move from an organization struggling within capitalism to a post-capitalist order.

Anarchist Social Organization Today

The insight of the FORA was its focus on how we achieve liberation. These organizing projects are centered in struggles around daily life. Working in these struggles aims at creating an environment where participants can co-develop in a specific environment guided by anarchist principles, goals, and tactics. Ideas develop within through a process of praxis where actions, ideas, and values interact and come together in strategy. These are particular weaknesses we have in recent anarchist and libertarian strategies in the US.

In both political organizations and organizing work, anarchists have failed to put themselves forward as an independent force with our own proposals. Anarchist ideology is kept outside the context of daily life and struggle; the place where it makes the most sense and has the most potential for positive contributions. Instead ideology has largely remained the property of political organizations, while anarchists do their organizing work too often as foot soldiers for reformist non-profits, bureaucratic unions, and neutral organizations hostile to their ideas. This is carried out without plans to advance our goals or independent projects that demonstrate their value.

Similarly as I argued[xv] against the debates over the structure of unions (craft vs. industrial), the divisions over dual vs unitary organization carry important lessons but displace more fundamental issues. At stake is what role our ideas play in the day-to-day work of struggle in prerevolutionary times. The foristas were correct in seeing a positive role of our vision when combined with a practice of contesting daily life under capitalism, while constantly agitating for a fundamental transformation. Many dualists miss these points when they seek to impose an artificial division between where and how we agitate by organizational form.

Still these issues don’t preclude political organizations playing a positive role for example with crafting strategy, helping anarchists develop their ideas together and coordinate, etc. There has been an emphasis in political thought to speak in generalities, about forms and structures, and thereby missing the contextual and historical aspects of these sorts of debates. More important than the structure of an organization is where it stands in the specific context and work on its time, and how it manages to make its work living in the daily struggles of the exploited. That can happen in different ways in a number of different projects.

Today such a strategy can be implemented within work already happening. For those who are members of existing organizations such as solidarity networks, unions, and community groups, militants should begin networking to find ways to formulate an anarchist program within their work, advance proposals to deepen anarchism’s influence over the organizations and struggles, and move towards an anarchist social organization model of struggle. With experience and a growth of forces, we could contest the direction of such organizations or form new ones depending on the context.

The existing political organizations similarly can contribute to this work by advocating for anarchist social organizations, contribute to agitation within existing organizing projects, and collaborate on the creation of new projects. In some cases this may require locals of political groups themselves forming new organizing efforts alone. Ideally this would be carried out with other individuals and groups through a process of dialogue. There are at least three national anarchist organizations all of which benefit from having the capacity to influence the debate, and could intervene on the side of advancing anarchism as an explicit force within social movements. The alternative is for it to remain obscured, clumsily discussed, and largely hidden from view of the public.

Where there is sufficient interest and capacity, new groups should be formed. Workplace networks, tenants and community groups, solidarity networks, and unions can be created with small numbers of militants who wish to combine their political work in a cohesive social-political project. In the United States such a strategy has not even been attempted on any serious scale since perhaps the days of the Haymarket martyrs and their anarchosyndicalist International Working Peoples Association (IWPA). The unprecedented shift in the mood of the population brought on by the crisis of 2008 has made these sorts of experiments more feasible if not pressing. It is up to us to take up the challenge and experiment. Yet the primary work in front of us is to find ways to translate a combative revolutionary anarchism into concrete activities that can be implemented and coordinated by small numbers of dedicated militants, and allow us a bridge to the next phases of struggle.

[i] This debate was mirrored in the councilists in the aftermath of the aborted German Revolution of 1919 with the splits in the AUD vs. AUD-E. They adopted the term unitary organization to pick out a group that rejected political organization, and is similar to the approach I will lay out with the exception that they rejected organizing around the daily lives of workers, which differentiated them from the FAU at the time until later when the AUD was in decline and the AUDE moved closer to anarchosyndicalism and the KAPD organized in the AUD moved closer to pure political organizations. Unitary organization it should be said is confusing as those anarchists who are called unitary organizationalists by the dualists repeatedly polemicized supports of unitary organization in their writings, by which they meant people who supported a single united organization for all workers with all ideologies inside.

[ii] This will be explained in greater detail but includes some members of Solidarity Federation, IWW, and other revolutionary unions today, and historically militants of the FORista unions and also currents in the CNT aligned with FORA ideas in the debates of the 1920s.

[iii] Solidarity Federation. (1987). Revolutionary unionism in Latin America:

The FORA in Argentina. ASP LONDON & DONCASTER https://libcom.org/library/revolutionary-unionism-latin-america-fora-argentina

[iv] Lopez Arango, E. Syndicalism and Anarchism. Translated by SN Nappalos. https://libcom.org/library/syndicalism-anarchism

[v] Lopez Arango. E. (1942). Means of struggle – Excerpt from Doctrine, Tactics, and Ends of the Workers Movement, the first chapter of the 1942 Posthumous collection called Ideario. Published in Anarquismo en America Latina. (1990). ed. Ángel J. Cappelletti y Carlos M. Rama. Prólogo, edición y cronología, traducción: Ángel J. Cappelletti. https://libcom.org/library/means-struggle

[vi] Lopez Arango, E. & de Santillan, DA. (1925). El anarquismo en el movimiento obrero. Pg. 32 http://www.portaloaca.com/images/documentos/El%20anarquismo%20en%20el%20movimiento_obrero2.pdf

[vii] La FORA Anexo 208. Translation of the passage by SN Nappalos. Quoted in Lopez, Antonio. (1998). La FORA en el movimiento obrero. Tupac Ediciones. Pg. 73-74.

[viii] Antilli, T. (1924). Lucha de clases y lucha social. https://libcom.org/library/lucha-de-clases-y-lucha-social

[ix] Lopez Arango, E. Political leadership or ideological orientation of the workers movement. https://libcom.org/library/political-leadership-or-ideological-orientation-workers-movement

[x] Lopez Arango, E. & de Santillan, DA. (1925). El anarquismo en el movimiento obrero. Pg. 77 http://www.portaloaca.com/images/documentos/El%20anarquismo%20en%20el%20movimiento_obrero2.pdf

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Lopez Arango, E. The resistance to capitalism. https://libcom.org/library/resistance-capitalism

[xiii] Ibid. Means of struggle

[xiv] Azaretto, M. (1939). Slippery Slopes: the anarchists in Spain. Translated in May-June 2014 from the Spanish original by Manuel Azaretto, Las Pendientes Resbaladizas (Los anarquistas en España), Editorial Germinal, Montevideo, 1939. https://libcom.org/history/slippery-slopes-anarchists-spain-manuel-azaretto

[xv] Nappalos, SN. (2015). Dismantling our divisions: craft, industry, and a new society. https://iwwmiami.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/dismantling-our-divisions-craft-industry-and-a-new-society/


Edited for mb3-org.com


Anarchy Radio 12-19-2017


Elijah sits in. Somnox, the world’s first sleep robot. California still burning, AMRAK and other mass transport crashing. Swiss prepare for end of civilization. World’s largest airport loses power. World’s largest cruise ship: “Independence of the Seas” (geddit?) Artists on VR. E-waste piling up, 1/3 of all food grown is wasted. Progress. Action news, one call.

Edited for mb3-org.com